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Archive for January, 2010

My Dirty Secret

I have a confession to make. I want to be a homemaker.

I’ve wanted to be for some time. I can remember, even as early as middle school, or earlier, imagining how it would be. I was never sure of any male element, but it was always me, and a bunch of friends, and the kids I would foster, and horses. There were always horses. We lived on a farm, in a house at the end of a long lane, and every day I would take the horses to the end of the lane to pick the girls up from the bus, and we’d all ride back to the house. There was a huge kitchen, and I was always cooking. People would come to visit, and I’d answer the door with a towel in hand, having just been cooking something or washing a dish. I had some vague idea that I’d be sewing for a living, though later, after actually working on a farm, this translated to farming for a living.

But I never would admit it. For a long time, it was the thing I wouldn’t tell anyone, the one secret no one knew. All I wanted, really wanted, was to stay at home. I wanted to cook. I wanted to sew. I wanted to take care of a family. But I certainly couldn’t admit that. Tell anyone, anyone at all, that I wanted to forego a college education and career? To cook and clean and grow a garden and sew and mend? It was anti-feminist. It was anti-intellectual. If going to a top-tier, career-orientated art school was “wasting my brain,” as my teachers told me in high school, can you imagine what they would have said if I told them I wanted nothing more than to stay at home and take care of the people who mattered to me?

The idea cemented itself sometime during college. The idea of having a home, a farm, was just a dream, and I gave it up. I needed a career, after all, something I could make money at. And in college, pursuing a fashion degree, I thought I could at least find a career doing one of the things I loved, sewing. But it was all business, it was all trying to figure out how to sell things to people. Nothing but marketing. And I felt empty, constantly. But I finished college anyway. Because I thought I had to.

And slowly, without me even realizing it, it happened. I discovered that I loved to feed people. It made me happy. I loved making people I loved clothes: shirts, pants, pajamas. Especially pajamas. People loved the pajamas. They were warm, and comfy. And my food made people happy- my family, my friends. I thought for a while of opening a restaurant, of starting a bakery, of just having a sewing business and sewing full time- but it wasn’t the same, when you added the business element. Nothing made me so happy as taking care of the people I cared about.

And so I struck upon this farm idea. I had always imagined living on a farm. I had never really thought about farming. But then I worked on a farm- and was happier than I had ever been, doing any of those other things, for strangers. Small farming wasn’t about growing food just to make money- it was about community, about feeding people, about them eating well and being healthy and me having a part in it. And slowly it dawned on me. If I was farming, I could be growing food. I would have food for myself, and for my family. I could make big dinners, I could have a place where the people I cared about could live, could work, could do work that didn’t feel empty, and meaningless, where I could sew, and be outside, and spend evenings sitting around talking, and where I could eventually have a horse, and ride down to the end of the lane. I could, under this guise, finally get what I always wanted.

But I’m going to come clean. I’m reading a book that talks about homemaking, not in terms of shame, of some dirty secret we’ve all got to keep hidden, but as an answer to so many of the problems that plague our modern society. I was talking about it with my mother just this morning, as she remembered fondly how much healthier she had been when I lived at home and did all the cooking. And that is a worthwhile pursuit. No longer will I be ashamed that I spend so much time canning, and preserving, and baking my own bread and insisting on making my own clothes, not buying them. No more will I be afraid to admit that all I really want to do is cook dinner for lots of people, and see the smiles on their faces as they all sit down to eat, talking and laughing over their food.

I want to be a homemaker. I want to stay at home. I don’t want to do things for money. I want to have a home. I want to have the people I love there with me. I want to garden, make home remedies, sew clothing, make dinner. I want to clean. I want to feed chickens. I want to raise children, read them stories. I want that to be possible. I want it to be acceptable for anyone else who wants it, who wants that dream to be real.

And I will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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It’s funny, this has come up several times over the past couple days, and finally when I got one of those emails that people pass around with the latest, “this is how you can fight cancer!” news, I decided to write something on it. I feel like I know a little more about cancer than some, having lost several relatives to cancer, and I’ll be the first to say a good diet and exercise won’t make a damn bit of difference if you’re smoking heavily or living next to a power plant or drinking contaminated water. A good diet may reduce your chances of getting cancer, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will prevent you getting cancer if you’ve got too many toxic compounds in your body. So eat well, by all means. It will certainly reduce your risks of getting cancer, and it will definitely reduce the risk of other diseases- heart disease especially. But ultimately the goal should be to eliminate the most obvious source of cancer: a toxic environment.

It is important to include these two cancer facts (according to this email, from Johns Hopkins):

1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion. When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.
2. When the person’s immune system is strong, the cancer cells will be destroyed
and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.

Now here is where I am going to diverge from this article. In my humble opinion, a healthy diet consists of whole foods: not things you buy at whole foods, but foods that have one ingredient in them. For example, broccoli. That is a whole food. I would also specify real foods, by which I mean ones that have been grown fairly sustainably, and certainly organically (but not necessarily certified, there are all kinds of loopholes in those laws). This is because broccoli grown in sterile soil with the help of petroleum based fertilizers and under the influence of herbicides and pesticides is not broccoli. It is some strange mutant that resembles broccoli, but certainly tastes nothing like it, and certainly does not have the nutritional content of broccoli. Like people, plants need nutrients to be healthy. They get their nutrients from bacteria and fungi and small microbial things in the soil, which are not present under the onslaught of chemicals. And if there are no nutrients in the soil, the broccoli will be unhealthy. It will have no nutrients. And therefore when you eat it, you will have no nutrients. It’s not rocket science.

This article tells us that in order to prevent cancer, you need to deprive cancer of the foods that encourage it. All right. A good argument. According to this, those include:
1. Processed sugars. No argument here. Also, apparently, table salt, which it recommends replacing with sea salt, which I would recommend anyway. It tastes better.
2. Milk. Well. Yes, ok, too much milk DOES cause quite a lot of health conditions. It’s high in animal proteins which most humans have difficulty with in too high quantities. But really, I would be willing to make a fairly steep bet that RAW milk as opposed to pasteurized would in fact help FIGHT cancer, having so many healthful properties designed by nature to boost the immune system. See the post below for more info. I especially disagree with this article in that it recommends soy milk as a replacement: bad plan. Most people have a really hard time digesting unfermented soy in any form (including tofu and soy milk) and it produces all kinds of weird compounds that build up in the system and suppress thyroid function and all kinds of nasty things that probably LEAD to cancer. I’m going to be posting more on this later though, so I’ll leave it at that.
3. Meat. Oh dear. Yes, this one is also sort of true, but here’s the trick: it’s the overconsumption of meat that causes cancer. It’s also the overconsumption of grains, especially GMO grains. See, like plants and humans, cows need nutrients. And cows get nutrients by eating grass. However, most cows do not eat grass anymore, they eat genetically modified corn and soy beans. These are not good for cows. Cows get sick and fatty and have very little nutrition to pass on to you- making them really bad to eat in quantity.

This is really the point I wanted to address by posting bits of this cancer article. We, as a society, tend to see things in blacks and whites. Even fairly healthy eaters (cough many vegetarians cough) tend to see ALL meat as bad as opposed to factory farmed meat. The full bit from the article read:

“Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork. Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.”

They’re making an assumption, and if you haven’t educated yourself, you would never catch it. I asked some of my students if they could catch it, and a few of them, who have been out to farms, picked up right away. I’ll run it past you again:

“Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.”

Meat raised in feedlots and poor industrial conditions, as opposed to animals raised in the manner they evolved to be raised, as in, outside, on grass, in the sunshine, eating foods their bodies are adapted to eat, not grains, DO NOT contain antibiotics and growth hormones, because there would be no point (it would be a waste of money), and very very rarely contain parasites and pathogens, because they are HEALTHY animals.

The article wraps up by saying, eat lots of fresh veggies, eat lots of grains and seeds and nuts, don’t drink caffeine (come on, duh), don’t drink toxic water, and don’t put plastic in the microwave. Because it MELTS. Seriously, people, don’t put your food in plastic at all. Glass all the way. Plastic will inevitably leach into your food, especially if you keep heating your food up in it. And you shouldn’t eat plastic.

Or, for that matter, imitation food.

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You know what milk tastes like? Cow. It’s thick and kind of sweet initially, and then you get kind of a grassy taste- not unpleasant- but the taste that is the equivalent of a bright, sunny day in a green, healthy pasture, with the heady scent of clover and cow laying low in the air- because cows smell like grass, and sun, and something distinctly animal and musty and full of hot, slow-burning life.

You can taste all that, in milk.

Of course I’m talking about raw milk from pastured cows, not store milk from industrial cows. I’m talking about real milk. There’s quite a bit of difference. Raw milk is closer to cream in texture, it’s full fat, it’s almost yellowish, a creamy toasted color. It looks like something you might actually want to drink. When I use it to make yogurt, it forms a thick, tangy, fatty yogurt that melts in your mouth. It does the same with cheese. It separates easily because it isn’t homogenized. It still contains all the same nutrients it had when it came out of the cow. And it’s really, really good for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about raw milk lately, and was excited to hear Sally Fallon Morrell speak this past weekend at the NOFA-NY conference I attended, which I will be babbling about for the next few weeks. She rambled on about all the benefits of raw milk, how much healthier it is, how it protects against pathogens, that sort of thing, most of which I already knew. I was disappointed, however, when I asked her what people in states where the sale of raw milk is illegal could do to change the laws in their states. She directed me to the chapter director of MD, but that’s not what I was looking for- I can find that information for myself, thanks- I was hoping for a broader discussion of how to fight, how to get access to raw milk if your neighbor isn’t allowed to sell it to you, though they’d certainly love to do so.

After the lecture someone came up to me and said they could help me get milk, a farmer in Pennsylvania, not far from where I live, and I met him later after the conference at his vendor booth, where displays of fermented vegetables and hardy looking breads greeted my eyes. I told a woman (his wife?) I was there about raw milk, and she told me to wait for him to finish with another customer, glancing around as she did so. Finally he came over and gave me their price list, explaining it was legal (somehow) for them to ship me milk, via Fed Ex, or that I could drive up to their farm to purchase it because so far it is not illegal to transport across state lines, or to be in possession of raw milk. I took the list and a jug of fresh raw milk that he produced from a cooler stashed out of sight behind their table- there were no signs advertising the presence of the milk, even though there, in NY state, it is technically legal to sell raw milk with a permit.

I drove my raw milk home with me, thinking all the while about how frustrating it was that to get milk I, like everyone else I know, would have to drive up to PA once a month to get it, when my neighbor, not five minutes down the road, would happily sell it to me if only she were allowed. Why wouldn’t she? Right now she can only sell wholesale, and for far less than if she were to sell it straight to me and charge a retail price I’d only be too happy to pay. I don’t know about the current price of wholesale milk (what the farmer can get for it, I mean), but I’d put it at less than a dollar a gallon, and probably much less. I bought a half pint from the guy from PA for $4, and it was worth every penny. The stuff is super food. Even only drinking two ounces or so I felt like my body could fight off diseases.

Sally Fallon did comment on this phenomenon- that MD legislators keep saying they don’t want to legalize raw milk sales because PA dairies would out compete ours and small MD dairies would go out of business. I don’t believe that for a minute. The only reason we drive to PA is because we can’t get it at home. But why would I drive two hours for my milk if I could drive five minutes? Why would anyone? It’s just another excuse to keep money in the hands of the major dairy corporations, and out of the hands of small farmers, who almost ALWAYS make more money selling direct than through wholesale. But MD has some of the absolute worst raw food laws in the country.

Carrying the jug of raw milk around the conference, I felt like I should be hiding it under my coat. Every time I’ve gotten milk in state, I’ve felt like I was making a drug deal, arranging a time and reassuring the farmer I wouldn’t tell anyone else where I was getting it. Others who get raw milk will glance around furtively before whispering that they have “connections,” and I’ve heard of drop offs as diverse as someone’s house or the back of a candy shop, where you have to know who to ask for and exactly what to ask about. I’m fairly certain it’s easier to buy hard drugs- at least I know where to go for those, and have been propositioned for them on more than one occasion in the city. But raw milk? Healthy, nutritious, REAL milk from REAL cows? Fat chance.

And now, sitting here eating my raw milk yogurt (mixed with blackberry jam I canned over the summer, yum), I wonder what I can actually do. Sally Fallon, queen of the traditional food lobby, had no answers for me, and I’m still at square one and contemplating getting people in my area together to join a co-op where we can take turns driving to PA for our milk. It seems like a defeat, and it certainly is for our own farmers, who could be supporting themselves on the sale of real milk. And aside from trying to find a farmer willing to take the risk to sell their milk underground, I can’t think of what else to do- other than lobbying, and we’ve seen what good that does in other states. The government will never side with legislation that takes money out of the hands of corporate entities and puts it in the hands of REAL farmers.

If you want to learn more about why raw milk is so much healthier than pasteurized, check out the Real Milk website by the Weston Price Foundation, and this powerpoint by Sally Fallon (its the one she gave at the conference): Real Milk

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Originally posted on 25 September 2009.

I love this town.

No, I really do. Whenever there is a need, the entire town comes together to support that need. And the need last night was to support Colchester Farm, CSA, the place where so many of us get our food from June to October. The evening started with a cocktail hour, featuring delicious local foods (I went back for the roasted pepper ravioli several times), most of it made by local chefs, including Kent County High School, and several of the Colchester Farm board members. This was followed by a showing of Food, Inc., which, if you haven’t seen yet, you should. Soon.

I wanted to start by praising our town though- we’ve kind of taken food on as our issue, for whatever reason. Possibly its just because we have access to so many wonderful local foods, grown by so many wonderful people who are such a part of the community. We’re proud of our food, proud of the fact that we’re a town in the so called middle of nowhere, which in reality is the middle of a cornucopia of delicious things to eat. And so fortunately we don’t constantly have to look the full brunt of the realities of the industrial food system right in the eye. We at least have other options.

So in some ways Food, Inc. didn’t have much to do with us. But in others, it hit a point very close to home. Most of the farming done on the Eastern Shore is in commodity crops- corn, grain, soybeans- and most of it goes to feed chickens down on the lower shore. Actually, there are plenty of chickens up this way too. If you sit out on 213 late, late at night you can watch the empty trucks go north, and if you wait long enough, you can watch them come back again, full of chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse.

The movie isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t want to see the inside of a chicken house (and I have to say, this was a pretty decent chicken house, as far as they go- there were no cages and it actually had windows), don’t watch this movie. If you want to continue to eat industrial food completely unawares of what you’re putting in your body, of the horrors you’re supporting by eating that cheap chicken, don’t watch this movie. But if you’re interested in what plagues our food system- what plagues us, right here, on the Eastern Shore, then watch this movie.

I’ve talked so much about what’s wrong with the food system on this blog that I don’t currently feel the need to reiterate. The movie didn’t reveal anything to me that I didn’t know- but I’ve also made it my life’s work to take on the industrial food system, so I’d be curious to hear the reaction of someone who actually (for some reason?) still eats fast food. But the movie made a good point- not only do most people not know what’s going on behind the scenes in the places their food comes from, they’re not allowed to know.

If you want to trace your food back to the source, good luck to you. I hope you have a lot of time and a lot of money. We aren’t allowed to see inside those chicken houses- we definitely aren’t allowed to see inside the slaughterhouses. If we were- as sustainable farmer Joel Salatin says in the movie- our food system would be something rather different. That’s why he slaughters his chickens in an open sided shed, and invites all the people who buy food from his farm to come and watch and participate.

There was also a strong theme of better regulations for food in the movie. But at the same time, a lot of us are struggling locally to be able to get access to local meats and dairy because of the overbearing regulations of the state of MD. The contradiction came up during the Q&A, but I personally don’t think it’s a contradiction at all. I believe they even said, in the movie, that when you’re selling to a place like WalMart you need those regulations, you need to have had your food inspected and carefully labeled and have the assurance that it doesn’t contain E. coli, because the consumer has no other way of knowing. The shopper at WalMart can’t go out to the farm and meet the farmer and take a look around, because likely the farm is on the other side of the world- and likely the process that food item took to get from that farm to the WalMart would be more than enough to stop the consumer buying the item, anyway.

But in the case of local foods, you have the option of seeing what you’re buying produced first hand. Not everyone wants to watch their chickens get slaughtered- but when I talked to the guy who I plan to get chicken from last night, he invited me right on out to the farm to meet the chickens, allowing me to feel a little bit better about consuming meat. Locally, it really is a case of buyer beware- if you choose to buy locally, you are responsible for checking out the person you are buying from, not USDA. A farmer last night pointed out that this is a big risk for farmers- they could easily get sued- but I’ve heard a great suggestion that would solve that problem all around. What if we were allowed to opt out of the conventional food system? What if, as we do in so many other areas of our life, we were allowed to sign a waiver that said, we don’t want to participate in the conventional food system, thanks so much, and we hereby take responsibility for our food choices upon ourselves, swearing never to sue our local farmers, because we’re part of a community, and its our responsibility as well as theirs to double check on the process and make sure our food is safe?

Can you imagine what WalMart would say to that?

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So here’s the last of the load of links from my old blog. Go over there and read, if any of it sounds curious.

Sweet Surprise (High Fructose Corn Syrup, anyone?)
Part 2 of Sweet Surprise

Ranting about local foods

The Food Crisis

Peeing Outside

Why Burger King is Completely Abhorrent

Green Blow Jobs

Bottled Water! Oh My

End of The Long Summer – Oh this was one of my favorite posts…

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Killer at Large

These movies annoy me. I’m not terribly sure why I continue to watch them. I kept asking myself that exact question as I was watching Killer at Large, the latest in a series of food related movies bemoaning the fact that Americans don’t know what to eat and eat too much junk food and don’t know what to do about it, all featuring Michael Pollan talking about corn.

I do appreciate Pollan’s work, and I definitely wouldn’t have formed the opinions I have of our food system if it weren’t for his efforts to expose the issues. That’s not the problem. I’m generally supportive of movies or books or what have you that expose people to issues so they can make informed decisions. All about it, in fact. But so many of these films, and this one was a prime example, are set up on this outline:

1. Introduce the idea and prove it’s bad. In Killer at Large, the issue is obesity. We see lots of kids who suffered from obesity, most of the girls wearing way too much make up for some reason, and they tell us it’s very bad. Lot’s of people have diseases.
2. Point fingers at everyone who could possibly be blamed. Here we have: the government (particularly the Bush administration- it couldn’t be more blatant that there was Democratic bias, courtesy Bill Clinton, a producer of the film), lobbyists, the school systems, the food industry, the ad industry, the government, the food industry and the ad industry in collusion, parents, and possibly the government especially the Bush administration. Oh, and the media.
3. Offer “solutions” for about two minutes, and then prove how they can’t actually succeed because the government is undermining their efforts. In this case, we have towns who have made it a goal to improve pedestrian and bike paths to encourage people to walk or bike instead of drive, and in an interesting twist have city approved restaurants that offer more healthy choices, and a school that has a garden and has started serving vegetables at lunch. Of course both of them are underfunded, and would be successful if only there was enough money. Of course the Bush administration spends it all on terrorism, which is clearly why these programs are not successful.
4. The movie ends by suggesting that in a democratic society, the real solution is to become an informed citizen and make your opinion heard, presumably by voting.

I’m honestly not sure where to start. I’m ok with part 1, and maybe even part 3, though I think the obvious answer to part 3 is to stop waiting around for government handouts and, if it’s that important to you, make it happen ANY WAY YOU POSSIBLY CAN. I bet parents could cut back on a few things (have you noticed there is not a single child these days who does not have some kind of handheld video game?) and contribute to healthy food for their children instead.

It’s parts 2 and 4 that I really have a problem with. And since SO MANY documentaries present these EXACT same issues in slightly different terms, and point the fingers at EXACTLY the same people in each case, I’ll go through one by one.

– Blaming the government.
Seriously people. When are you going to realize the government does not care? The government’s interests are not your interests. Every documentary I’ve seen has pointed this out: the government will make a big show of addressing issues, making lots of speeches on the war on fat, the war on obesity, the war on whatever it is, and then will turn around and do whatever they are told to do by the industries. When the food industries and the ad industries say, no, we do not want regulations, that would cut into our profits, do you think for a minute that the congressmen whose campaigns were paid for by these same industries are going to say, no, really, we cannot allow this to go on big industries?
The thing that’s so frustrating about all this is that everyone knows this is the case. It’s not a surprise. But people get very angry every time it happens and say HOW DARE THEY?! How dare they listen to the interests of corporations with vast amounts of money over the voices of the voters! This is a democracy!
The sooner you acknowledge we do not live in a democracy, the sooner you will stop begging the government for scraps and realize you can blame them all you want (and they are certainly to blame), but they are just doing what all governments in the history of all governments were set up to do. Enabling the people who have resources (money, land, money) to keep those resources. By force if necessary.
– Blaming the lobbyists.
Oh, this one always gets me. The lobbyists! How evil they are! Honey, they’re paid to say those things. They’re paid a lot of money to say those things. It’s their job. Unless you want to get on a bandstand and argue that people should do things they care about that contribute to their communities and landbases for work instead of doing things for money (oh wait! that’s something I would get on a soapbox about!), I don’t want to hear it.
– Blaming the school systems.
See: blaming the government. The interest is not your child’s health. It is not your child’s education. It is gaining as much money as possible, because otherwise our prison system, excuse me, public school system, could not continue to exist. They pointed out that the prison system actually receives more government funding annually than schools. But that’s just because there are more grown ups than kids.
– Blaming the food industry, ad industry, industry in general, ad nausea.
If you think they care about your interests, you are an idiot. I’m sorry. That is cynical and mean. But it is true. They care about taking your money. Stop giving them your money. I know, this is very difficult, because over time the industries have completely demolished traditional knowledge, cultures, and skills that enabled us to survive for thousands of years, all with the blessing of the government. This is because if you are dependent on them for survival (do you know how to get food otherwise?), you will never stop buying their products. Of course they want you to eat too much. That way they can make more money, and then you pay even more money to join gyms, to buy exercise equipment and diet pills and diet books and pay lots and lots of money for health insurance for preventable diseases. See: blaming the government. The goal is to MAKE MONEY.
– Blaming parents.
Actually, the only reason to blame parents is for letting their kids watch tv. One of the parents in the movie actually kept saying the commercials were undermining her authority as a parent, and therefore they should be banned. She kept getting into fights with her kids over it, and other parents, well, they don’t even have time to fight with their kids. It didn’t seem to have occurred to her to turn the television off. Or that if other parents don’t have the time or energy to teach their children good habits (instead of relying on the tv to do so), we have a much bigger problem on our hands.
– Blaming the media.
Oh, please. The media is paid to spit out whatever the government and the industries tell them to say.

I’m sorry if this sounds like a big angry rant, without a lot of focus. Truth is, yes, you can blame all of these groups. You really can. I blame them daily. It’s awful, all of it. But the problem I have with these documentaries is that they present all these issues, all these people to blame, act like its this big confusing mess, and then basically throw up their hands at the end and say, well, whatever, we don’t know what to do. Vote! Write letters! You know. Those things that have created so much change in the past.

No. There is a much more obvious answer. Blame the industries, blame the government. Or make. It. Stop. If you don’t, you really have no one to blame but yourself.

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