Sunday, April 6, 2014

On the Austrian Vegetarian Study

 Researchers at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria, recently published a study that included an analysis of vegetarian diets (available in PDF here). Lots of European papers (and a few in the U.S. as well) are reporting on the study with titles like, "Vegetarians are 'less healthy' and have a poorer quality of life than meat-eaters". Frequent D&O reader and my husband, JH, responds to the study: 
. . . It's worth noting that this study has some pretty significant limitations: it only followed 330 vegetarians, all of them Austrian, and apparently didn't attain a representative sample, as over 75% of the subjects for the study were women.
So, I think we should take this one with a pretty big grain of salt (while of course open-mindedly waiting to see if any of these findings are replicated), especially given the fact that the general consensus among folks who study nutrition goes sharply in the opposite direction.  So, for example, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the world) published a position paper on this a few years ago and found, based on a huge meta-analysis of the relevant science, that vegetarians were healthier than nonvegetarians in a number of areas, including lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Their official position is that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."
An independent meta-analysis published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Nutrition in 2012 concluded that "vegetarian diets have not shown any adverse effects on health" though they do note that "restrictive and monotonous vegetarian diets may result in nutrient deficiencies with deleterious effects on health."  So, vegetarians do of course have to be smart about what they eat.  But then, so does everyone else.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Help stop antibiotic misuse on factory farms!

Food and Water Watch recently launched their Healthy Farms, Healthy Families campaign to end antibiotic misuse. They are calling on specific cities to pass city-wide resolutions urging Congress to take action on this issue. Madison is the latest city in which they're working.

You can help by signing the online petition to support this work in Madison. Ask the city council to pass the resolution urging Congress to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms!

What's the issue?

Antibiotics are for saving lives, not for saving factory farm profits

Antibiotic resistance is coming to be a serious public health crisis right now in the U.S. Last fall, the Center for Disease Control reported that two million Americans contact antibiotic resistant infections, and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result. Antibiotics are a foundation of modern medicine that we all take for granted, but it's clear that if don’t act now, antibiotics may not work for us the next time we get sick.

There are several different reasons why these lifesaving drugs are losing their effectiveness, and a major one is overuse. While most people are aware that antibiotics are over-prescribed in humans, few realize that the vast majority of antibiotics in the U.S. are used in industrial agriculture.

Right now, 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used for raising livestock. These drugs are routinely fed to animals that aren’t even sick to make them grow faster and to compensate for filthy living conditions. This type of routine use of these drugs creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, many of which are the same drugs we rely on to treat infections in people. The antibiotic-resistant bacteria that develop on factory farms can spread throughout our environment and the food supply, putting us all at risk whether or not we eat meat, and regardless of where we live.

To make matters worse, regulators don’t even collect basic data about antibiotics used on factory farms, let alone effectively regulate how these critical drugs are used. This lack of information and monitoring is a serious threat to the usefulness of antibiotics in the treatment of infections, and the Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary efforts are simply not enough to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine.

The fact that nothing is being done to protect antibiotics, despite scientific consensus about the severity of the problem, is a political issue, which is why we need legislation to save antibiotics and stop their misuse on factory farms now. There are two bills in Congress that would ensure antibiotics are only given to animals when they’re sick: Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA,  S. 1256) in the Senate, and Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA, H.R. 1150) in the House.

But we know that we have to demonstrate overwhelming public support for them to be passed.

That’s why Food and Water Watch launched their Healthy Farms, Healthy Families campaign in cities across the country this spring, with the goal of passing the first seven city-wide resolutions urging Congress to take action on this important issue. In February, Providence, Rhode Island became the first city to pass this historic resolution, with several other cities poised to follow close behind.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the movement is clearly gaining momentum and making significant steps toward landing on the desk of our city council. With over 500 petitions, 75 photo petitions, and a growing coalition that 22 local health professionals, farmers, and organizations have already signed on to, it’s clear that Madison citizens want our elected officials to step up to the plate for our public health and ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. The campaign, comprised of dedicated community members, is planning big steps in the upcoming months, including presenting the resolution to the city council and hosting a large public forum on public health and our food system. Though we are making progress, we cannot win without demonstrating the overwhelming public support.

You can help!

Sign the online petition asking the Madison city council to pass the resolution urging Congress to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Foodie Valentines

Now, for something a little lighter, check out these food-inspired valentine cards:

Find, and send, the whole spread here.

Which are your favorite?

UPDATED: Even more foodie valentines here, at the Kitchn!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Walmart Supports Coalition of Immokalee Workers

There's big news in the [agricultural] justice world, as Walmart signed on to the Fair Food Program, which protects laborers and human rights in the US produce industry. 

Walmart representatives John Amaya and Tom Leech, and CIW’s Lucas Benitez and Gerardo Reyes Chavez [plus Nely Rodriguez, not pictured] sign historic agreement at a Lipman Produce farm outside of Immokalee, FL.

The Fair Food Program was initiated by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. According to its website, CIW is a "worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of corporate social responsibility, community organizing, and sustainable food. The CIW is also a leader in the growing movement to end human trafficking due to its groundbreaking work to combat modern-day slavery and other labor abuses common in agriculture."

Several other retailers have reached agreements with the CIW in the past, but Walmart's participation is huge, given the retailer's enormous market power. There is significant hope that this move will help expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and beyond the tomatoes that have been the primary focus of the CIW so far.

I'm very happy to hear this news.

Read more of the responses to this move from Michael Pollan and others, here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Debate: Don't Eat Anything With A Face

Recently, a friend shared this Intelligence Squared debate on the motion: "Don't Eat Anything With A Face". Four experts debated the pros and cons of vegetarianism from a variety of perspectives.

The whole video is worth watching, for sure:

I liked the opening comments from the moderator, in which he highlighted the oft-cited (but still oft-ignored) reason that many people are comfortable with meat-eating: they just avoid thinking about it. 

He said, "The simple act of eating a hamburger is, when you really think about it, one of the great
acts of human denial, because what is a burger? It's edible protein in the shape of a disk every single time. And you can order it rare, you can order it well done, you can dress it up in ketchup, you can put a little onion hat on top of it, you can push it around on your plate, you can leave half of it behind, and never once have the thought cross your mind, as you're chomping away, I wonder what she looked like, the cow this burger came from. I wonder where she lived. I wonder how she died. Our thoughts just don't go there..."

This debate encourages us to think about those questions, to engage with the ethical, environmental, nutritional, aesthetic issues involved in our daily acts of consumption.

Watch, and let me know what you think!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey at Thanksgiving

In his book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer offers this thought: "If this entire book could be decanted into a single question—not something easy, loaded, or asked in bad faith, but a question that fully captured the problem of eating and not eating animals—it might be this: Should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving?"

Should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving?

This is his whole book in a sentence. The chapter goes on to explore the dark side of turkey production in the U.S.  (Read short versions of similar stories here, here, or here).

But in classic Foer fashion, he leads up to this "single question" with a personal take on the meaning of Thanksgiving and of storytelling. The way he recounts his own Thanksgiving memories, and their embeddedness in some bigger ideas about a good meal, is beautiful:
 . . . Two dozen or so mismatched chairs circumscribed four tables of slightly different heights and widths, pushed together and covered in matching cloths. No one was fooled into thinking this setup was perfect, but it was. My aunt placed a small pile of popcorn kernels on each plate, which, in the course of the meal, we were supposed to transfer to the table as symbols of things we were thankful for. Dishes came out continuously; some went clockwise, some counter, some zigzagged down the length of the table: sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, my grandmother's wildly incongruous kugel, trays of gherkins and olives and marinated mushrooms, and a cartoonishly large turkey that had been put in the oven when last year's was taken out. We talked and talked: about the Orioles and Redskins, changes in the neighborhood, our accomplishments, and the anguish of others (our own anguish was off-limits), and all the while, my grandmother would go from grandchild to grandchild, making sure no one was starving. 
Thanksgiving is the holiday that encompasses all others. All of them, from Martin Luther King Day to Arbor Day to Christmas to Valentine's Day, are in one way or another about being thankful. But Thanksgiving is freed from any particular thing we are thankful for. We aren't celebrating the Pilgrims, but what the Pilgrims celebrated. (The Pilgrims weren't even a feature of the holiday until the late nineteenth century.) Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but there's nothing specifically American about it—we aren't celebrating America, but American ideals. Its openness makes it available to anyone who feels like expressing thanks, and points beyond the crimes that made America possible, and the commercialization, kitsch, and jingoism that have been heaved onto the shoulders of the holiday. 
Thanksgiving is the meal we aspire for other meals to resemble. Of course most of can't (and wouldn't want to) cook all day every day, and of course such food would be fatal if consumed with regularity, and how many of us really want to be surrounded by our extended families every single night? (It can be challenge enough to have to eat with myself.) But it's nice to imagine all meals being so deliberate. Of the thousand-or-so meals we eat every year, Thanksgiving dinner is the one that we try most earnestly to get right. It holds the hope of being a good meal, whose ingredients, efforts, setting, and consume are expressions of the best in us. More than any other meal, it is about good eating and good thinking. 
And more than any other food, the Thanksgiving turkey embodies the paradoxes of eating animals: what we do to living turkeys is just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world. Yet what we do with their dead bodies can feel so powerfully good and right. The Thanksgiving turkey is the flesh of competing instincts—of remembering and forgetting.  
. . . This will be the first year we celebrate in my home, the first time I will prepare the food, and the first Thanksgiving meal at which my son will be old enough to eat the food the rest of us eat. If this entire book could be decanted into a single question—not something easy, loaded, or asked in bad faith, but a question that fully captured the problem of eating and not eating animals—it might be this: Should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving? [p. 244-245]

For those of you who haven't read Eating Animals, I'd highly recommend it. And I hope this passage from Foer and a consideration of factory farm production of turkeys gives us all something to mull over as we plan our menus in the week to come.

To find local, ethically-raised turkeys in your area, check out Eat Wild.

Or, go turkey-less for the holiday! I'll be sharing my own vegetarian Thanksgiving/Hanukkah menu later in the week.

Some other Thanksgiving food related links worth checking out:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Items of Interest

The last couple of weeks have been filled with a number of big news items in the food world, plus lots of interesting musings. Some especially worth checking out:
Washington State Votes Down GMO Labels:

The FDA Moves to Ban Trans Fat in Processed Foods:

Fascinating video series explores the journey
from field to fork: How Does it Grow?

Agricultural Innovation Prize promises $100,000 for great agricultural ideas
(a good friend of mine is running this excellent program!)
 Time Magazine's 13 Gods of Food
And a useful companion piece: Goddesses of Food
Finally, to get us in the seasonal spirit: 50 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Main Dish Recipes

What else have you all been reading lately?