Monday, December 20, 2010

The 'Ethics' of Food

"And God said 'See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.'" Genesis 1:29

"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is , its blood." Genesis 9: 3-4

For a long time that was the only 'food ethics' I considered. If it moves or brings forth seed we are allowed to eat it. I grew up in the country, cattle country; there was a chicken farm right next to the local school, and I was in a state where almost everything is local to within a couple hundred miles, if not a couple dozen.
The horror stories of factory farms and mistreated animals were PETA propaganda that would be laughable if so many people didn't believe them. The meat of the animal is the muscel, and you don't get muscel if you raise the animal in standing room only. Unhealthy, uncared for animals will only get you unpalatable, unsellable product. No one is going to mistreat their meat animals, it's distroys one's livelihood. Besides, I'd personaly seen beef, pork, chicken, and even turkey ranches/farms. The animals were content and well cared for and slaughtered humanely.
Where I grew up the local store bought almost all the 4-H animals, and even labled which packages of meat came from the blue ribbon winners. And the farthest you could expect produce from was oranges from Florida when the local ones were out of season. (Well, I guess bananas were imported from wherever it is that they grow) There is almost nothing that isn't grown of raised in the Northwest, and that dwindles even further when you add in some citrus and tropical fruits from California.
I rolled my eyes at the 'animal rights' crowd and felt sorry for the people that actually believed that crap. And, having seen the difference between crops grown with and without insecticides, I washed my produce and ignored that overpriced 'organic' section. Only earth first freaks or those that were gulible enough to believe them bought a 97 cent apple for $3.
Then I moved.
I went to the local store and couldn't find the chicken. Oh, they have these little game hen things they insist on calling chickens, all 'plumped with up to 12%' who knows what. But there was no CHICKEN. And they wanted almost a $1 more a pound (on average) for these chicken-esque things than the normal ones back home. chicken, where's the beef.
The 'fresh' beef had clearly been frozen. Isn't 'never been frozen' the definition of 'fresh'? How old was this stuff? And why was it so bloody expensive. And...what? 'Injected with up to 12%' what the *bleep*? I had known that some chicken, the really cheap stuff used by like questionable diners and roadside lunch trucks used chicken that had been 'plumped' but beef? I didn't even know you plumped beef! Ok...where's the pork?
The clearly 3rd rate pork they were passing off as 'fresh' was frozen too. And since when were pork chops that small?
"Fresh trout: farmed in the UK, dyed to improve color" EXCUSE ME?
I broke down and bought some overpriced, injected, and frozen 'fresh' beef. And off to make dinner. Fast forward a few hours.
Wait, what happened to my meat? The 2 lb roast looks more like a 1 lb roast, that's not enough to feed us! And..oh bleck! That's not beef! What did they do to this?
Took me about 2 months of eating weird tasting beef for me to figure out what they had done to it... In Oregon people raise cattle on grass and hay (or alphalfa if it's really good beef) and fatten it on rolled oats and other grains. Over here they feed them corn. Corn! You don't feed a cow corn! They can't digest it properly, they get all bloated and don't develope the muscel and fat correctly. You feed cracked corn to chickens, not cows! No wonder this beef sucks.
The undersized chicken is tasteless and stringy. The pork IS 3rd rate, undersized, and tastes old to-boot. Never have gotten up enough courage to try the so called fish.
And then there is the produce. The apples are hit and miss at best. The rest is barely eatible at best. And it's all so old as to be almost pointless. Apples go bad in a week. Bananas are lucky to last 3 days, and that assumes you buy them green. Pears are worse then pointless, they're rock solid in the store and go directly from unripe to rotten, the pulms, nectorines, and peaches follow suit. The citrus might last a couple of weeks, but it's all tart and sour anyway so why bother? And the vegetables are rarely better.
Peppers start rotting almost immediately. Lettuce is limp from the store. My potatoes rotted under the cupboard in a week. ROTTED! Potatoes don't rot, they sprout! What in God's green earth do you have to do to a root vegetable to make it rot as opposed to sprout? What they do? Irradiate them then store them for 3 months before putting them out for sale?

2 years ago I would have flatly refuted the existance of wide-spread animal cruelty or poor living situations in the food market. Now I'm not so sure. I'm not sure there is another explaination for what passes as 'food' in the Midwest. I still think the organic section is just overpriced malarky, but when I'm staring at plums from Chile, pears from China, or Peruvian peaches, that overpriced, wormy produce is starting to look better and better, especially since it might taste like something other than gasoline and cardboard.
The dairy is right there too. Growing up the milk came from local, family owned farms and went from cow to shelf in 48 hours or less. It all says 'hormone free'. The first time I tasted milk over here I thought I'd got a gallon that had gone bad. More than a year later the milk still tastes funny (I'm going to guess they feed their milk cows corn too) and the cheese tastes more like colored plastic than cheese, that is, when it tastes like anything at all.
Oh, and they don't even sell 'grade AA' eggs. And everything in the stores is pasturized! Where's the raw apple cider? Even the farmer's market meat is frozen and liquid/cheese is pasturized. I actually had a meat seller at the farmer's market try to tell me there was no difference between fresh or frozen meat. (Even more unbelievable that meat defrosted in the microwave tasted no different than never frozen meat). THIS is what people who grew up here really think meat is supposed to taste like?
I still try to cook from scratch but I've got to wonder if, given what I have to work with if my home cooking is any better than store bought stuff?
And now I hear the FDA is holding hearings on the safety of food dyes (in pretty much any packaged food).
So what's my point? I'm not sure really, because I haven't made any decisions yet. But what I do know is that I've been confronted with a reality that is quite a bit different than what I thought was a universal (that and a strong urge to open a chicken farm to sell real chickens locally).
What's the food like where you live? Are you aware it's different elsewhere? What do you think about the ethics of food?


Anonymous Suchada @ Mama Eve said...

When I first started reading I wasn't sure where you were going with it . . . lol . . . because the whole thing about animal rights and not believing it. You were very, very fortunate to grow up and know what humanely processed meat tastes like, and fresh local fruits and vegetables.

I'm thoroughly convinced the reason people don't like fresh fruits and vegetables is because they haven't tasted any good ones. The flavor, color, texture, and scents can't be beat -- but we've replaced it all with pretty cardboard cutouts that taste terrible and are covered in toxins.

I laughed at the potatoes rotting. No, natural potatoes don't rot. Yes, they treat them with chemicals so they don't sprout, which causes them to rot instead. Scary, right?

Love your perspective . . .

10:58 AM  
Blogger Jespren said...

I loved a wide variety of fruits and vegetables but since moving here I can barely stomach them. So I'll 2nd that.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Wilson said...

I know exactly how you feel. We grew up in the same area, I never really KNEW the difference until I moved to San Francisco and I ran into the same troubles you have, what I did find was over processed, pumped full of hormones or I could not find it at all (animals rights activists in the area). I live in Central Oregon now and it is not so bad, we actually buy a cow from a local farm so we know what it is fed and how it is cared for.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Tracy said...

It's exactly why I don't eat meat. I'm not a vegetarian who says we shouldn't eat meat, but rather that we should not be eating THIS meat. It's not what it should be and certainly not what it could be.

Not only for our own welfare, but for the animals too. I don't see a problem with killing an animal for food if it's had a good life and is killed humanely. But that quality of life is important to me. And obviously important to the taste and quality of meat too.

I buy local when possible and our eggs come from a local farm through the farmer's market and I TASTE the difference in our produce and eggs. That rich orange colour from a fresh egg? The taste is unbelievable. And yet, most people don't know what the even tastes like. I think Suchada got it right that most people don't like certain foods because they've simply never had the chance to try what they REALLY taste like!

Might I ask what you do now for meat???

7:51 PM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Tracy, ironically I prefer the milder store bought eggs now that I have grown accustomed to them. We *always* had chickens growing up, from as early as I could remember til we moved to the city when I was late in my 15th year we had chickens, and thus eggs. I know farm fresh eggs are better for you, and they certainly taste (and look) different. But I'm not actually a huge fan of eggs, other than devilled eggs and egg whites from hard boiled egss I've really never been a fan. I'll eat scrambled eggs and omletts, but nothing with soft or separate yellows. So the very mild, nearly tasteless store eggs has made scrambled eggs and omlets more paletable to me.
As far as meat is concerned, while it might taste nasty due to being corn fed, it is local, Amish grown not 30 miles away. So I'm not concerned with the animals having been treated inhumanely. I've seen the cattle herds, and I know how Amish keep animals. The beef anyway. I try not to buy pork, I don't know where it comes from and 3rd rate pork makes me *very* nervious from a safety standpoint. As for the chicken, it's simply a matter of bad chicken from questionable sources or no chicken. I'm trying to get sources for grain fed beef and farm fresh chickens, there is a farm that sells to the local farmer's market but I have a lot of difficulty getting there, but, mostly, it's a choice between meat or no meat. I'm a firm believer that a healthy diet must contain meat products, so poor quality meat is better than no meat. Every once in a while I put aside some extra money and buy the (ironically not local) organic, free range, grain fed beef that you can find in some of the specialty stores. But it's too expensive to live on.
It's actually the fruit and veggies that worry me more. What *do* you have to do to a potato to make it rot? Can I trust *Chile* to make sure my veggies are grown in clean water? Or *China* to properly regulate dangerous pesticides on my fruit? Cows eat corn willingly, and while it makes them *taste* bad I'm not worried we're going to get sick on corn fed beef. But fruit from a place where they still use leaded gas? That is far more troubling. (Btw, still won't even try the 'sea food'!)

6:08 PM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Btw, just wanted to add that I know feeding cows corn is monumentally stupid and causes all kinds of e-coli problems, I just figure I'm safe from getting it from the meat itself as long as I handle and cook it properly. In fact if I could change only one thing about how 'food' is produced and grown in the US it would be to stop feeding corn to cows!

5:16 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I agree on the produce front - it's my biggest concern too which is why I do local whenever possible. And when not, I try to pick countries where I know the standards are good (e.g., Australia).

I buy meat for my hubby (I'm vegetarian, almost vegan) but only buy it from a butcher here than specializes in what I call "happy cows" that are local. Almost all of those places have grain or grass fed cows so I know their diet isn't a concern. It's hard though on all fronts. Sad because we really shouldn't have to worry this much about food. I mean, it's FOOD! Ugh.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Yeah, I always like it when I can find produce from New Zealand, I mean, talk about ridiculous to ship from there to here, but at least I trust the content! And I'm strongly considering switching to independant small butchers and direct-from-farm meat purchases, but the logistics (one car family and my husband communtes to work nearly 30 miles) is difficult.

8:41 AM  

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