Food Fright

This post was featured by BlogHer on July 17, 2012.

Something’s awry in the 630s and the 338.19s.

cauliflower

cauliflower

Recently I ventured into the 630s and 338.19s at the downtown branch of the Wichita Public Library. Those are the Dewey Decimal call numbers for farming and production.

I was looking for a book that could help me address the concerns of yet another well-intentioned friend who watched Food, Inc. and hit the panic button.

Food giant Cargill headquarters its meat operations in Wichita. Kansas ranks seventh among states for total agricultural production. You’d think this prairie town would be dyed-in-the-wool pro-ag. Not so fast.

Instead of books about the dignity of farming and food production, here’s a sample of the titles I found:

The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply–And What You Can Do About It

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American  Soil

Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization

Really?

Did you eat today? How about yesterday? Last year? Do you plan to eat again?

Did you have trouble finding food? Or did you have your choice of food at your choice of markets? Is someone preventing you from growing your own food if you want to do so?

I know your food didn’t kill you or you wouldn’t be reading this.

steak

steak

I have a child. To borrow a line of reasoning from Katie Pinke, because I have a child, do you think I abuse him? How about my dog? Do you assume I abuse her?

If you have children or animals, should I assume you abuse them? How about livestock or poultry? If a farmer raises livestock or poultry, is it a foregone conclusion that those animals are abused?

You know how I feel about milk.

Did you find insects in your produce? How about fungi on your fruit? Was your corn sweet and robust or wimpy and weedy? Was it dripping with chemicals?

Bad things happen in agriculture. There are accidents and outbreaks. There are crimes. Sometimes animals are abused. Sometimes people die.

There’s always room for improvement.

Bad things happen at local swimming pools. And at city halls. In factories. Police departments. Schools. Daycares. Animal shelters. Fortune 500 companies. Convenience stores.

There are accidents and outbreaks. There are crimes. Sometimes animals are abused. Sometimes people die. There’s always room for improvement.

Bad things happen, but they’re not the norm.

They’re certainly not the intention of the majority of people who work in these sectors. Crimes should be prosecuted. Innocent people shouldn’t be attacked.

Research, funding, and lifetimes of labor by dedicated farmers go into improving farming and our food. The result is one of the safest, most plentiful, least expensive food supplies in history. We have choices of what to eat.

Surely there must be something right about farming and food.

Much of what’s wrong appears to be grown and harvested on a bookshelf of misinformation. And don’t even get me started about what’s on the internet.

radicchio

radicchio

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow. Psalm 25:4 NLT

The Farmer’s Song by Murray McLaughlin. Thanks for the meal, here’s a song that is real from a kid from the city to you.

I snapped the food photos in this post at The Fresh Market in Wichita, where conventional, organic, homegrown, and imported foods are sold from the same shelves.

What’s your take on this? What are your concerns about farming and food? What would you like to stay the same? What would you like to change? 

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30 Comments

Filed under America, food & farm

30 Responses to Food Fright

  1. Aimee, fear has been used as tactic by non-farmers to scare people about where their food comes from. Having worked extensively with California farmers I have seen more variety in food production than just what is our North Dakota family farm. I think the key is people need to get to know farmers. Ask questions and understand why we use technology. Don’t pit one side of food production against another because we need all types of it to feed numerous different types of people. Affluent to starving. Thank you for linking to my blog and thank you for boldly sharing your voice. I am proud to calling you a friend. You are a gifted writer, blogger, wife, mother and amazing woman of God.

    • Thank you for your kind words. You are such an encouragement to me, Katie! You named it when you said, “Don’t pit one side of food production against another bc we need all types of it to feed numerous different types of people.” Sensationalism needs to yield to reason, facts, and choices in this debate.

  2. Great post!! Thank you for highlighting this topic! I try to help educate people on agriculture and food on my blog as well. It just amazes me that these types of things are happening and things its so unfortunate that people are getting “food fright” because of organizations and extremists who present biased and false information to people who are uninformed or misinformed about agriculture. My hope is that by continuing to have these conversations and sharing our stories with consumers, we can try to help people understand where their food comes from and help them realize that farmers aren’t out to ruin society or their health. They are honest, hard working people who make their livelihood from harvesting wholesome, nutritious food for their families and just so happen to sell it to thousands of others as well.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  3. Great post, Aimee, and thanks to Katie PInke for pointing me in this direction! I understand your frustration, and feel the same way myself. It’s so easy to find books, movies, and blogs that talk about the “negatives” of agriculture and farming, but very difficult to find ones that focus on the positives, and what is really going on. As you said, everyone eats, and certainly everyone has an opinion about what they eat and why. Good for everyone, you should have an opinion! But I get frustrated when an opinion is formed by “someone told me” or “I heard once” or “everyone knows.” Coming from a scientific background, I want to know the science and facts behind things, not just what my neighbor down the road is doing, and not just what the “expert” who wrote the one-sided opinion book has to say. I’m trying to broaden the horizon of “real ag” at http://www.agricultured.org. I hope you’ll stop by and say hi sometime!

    • Marybeth, thank you for reading and commenting. It’s always good to welcome new readers.

      I suspect we don’t see the positives of farming and food because we take them for granted. It’s more sensational to trash a technology than to tell how many thousands of bushels of corn it helped produce. The facts gets lost somewhere in the mix as people overreact.

      You have a lovely blog and lovely cows, btw. Thank you for sharing the link! If you haven’t read Milk Wars, I hope you will. I think you’ll like it: http://everydayepistle.com/2011/06/20/milk-wars/

  4. Colin N. Clarke

    Aimee, thought provoking post. Thanks for writing and sharing. I work for a company that is involved in everything from seed selection through to final food production. Almost the entire value chain. What I’ve learned about natural & organic vs. “conventional” food is startling and people like you are just starting to peel back layers of the onion (thank you for doing so!). In our operation, FDA rules require us to take steps to eliminate specific micro-organisms in food. SOME of are naturally occurring in plants and soil and not harmful to humans or animals (our forefathers consumed these all the time), BUT we are required to remove them anyway. And in order to do so, we use detergents and sanitizers to clean everything with food contact. A good thing, right? HOWEVER, when we run organic production we are not allowed to use cleaning supplies. Hot water only. SO… although FDA has its standards we are not allowed to fully sanitize for organic production. Connect the dots. If this is true for all companies producing organic foods, what micro-organisms are in those products? What is right? What is best? Conventional food produced on sanitized equipment per FDA standards, or food produced on “clean” equipment to meet organic standards? I don’t have the answer. Just another layer of the onion. Thanks for asking the tough questions Aimee! (sorry for the long response)

    • Great response, Colin, and it wasn’t too long at all! So glad you stopped by.

      You bring up some really good points and further questions in this debate. There are differences between conventionally-produced and organic foods, but the differences are probably not what consumers think. I’m not saying one is better than the other; I’m all for choices. But we also need clarity and facts in order to make the right choices for our own needs and the needs of our families, our country, and the world American farming happens to help feed.

      This idea about the differences between conventional and organic food has been bugging me ever since Milk Wars last year (http://everydayepistle.com/2011/06/20/milk-wars/). Thanks for reminding me I’m not the only one who wonders about this. Some research and writing on my part is in order, and this is a great inspiration to do it!

  5. Love that you were doing research at the library :). The days of the Dewey Decimal system seem to be giving way to the likes of Wikipedia.

    • Tessa, I’m old school that way, lol! You can’t beat the internet for convenience and instant gratification in information gathering, but there’s a certain comfort and gravity to holding a book in your hands, at least I think so. Glad you stopped by to read and comment!

  6. Aimee, how have I not come across your blog before? I love it! You definitely have a new reader here.
    I’m an Iowa farmgirl, and will support traditional agriculture {that is ever changing!} until the day I die. I currently live near but work at Iowa State University. Even though we are one of the leading Universities in agriculture and its practices, the people in the community and surrounding towns {many I know personally} are sure un- or misinformed dearly! Or, they just choose to listen to or read what they want.
    It seems that people think ‘organic’ means ‘healthy’. Wrong! Is your processed ‘organic’ canned or boxed processed food better than my homegrown or handmade food? I think not.
    This week alone, about 40 high school students visited a research farm where the agronomist was not giving traditional farming the respect it deserves. She was talking about how farmers should diversify crops more, due to the soils we have. True. But is the market there? Proper transportation? Equipment to plant, manage, & harvest? No. I called her out on what she was sharing, and added my own information, which she then backed as well. But in my mind, if we are here to educate youth and individuals in general, let’s get ALL the facts right and share them.
    In response to Colin’s comment, I had no idea of those standards the FDA has. Thanks for sharing Colin! These details are needed! For example: I know lots of people give high-fructose corn syrup a bad rap, thinking it is too processed. But where do they think liquid sugar comes from? Sugar cane is not harvested in liquid form! {I saw a video sharing the process of both, but have no idea where I saw it. Sorry.}
    And shoot. Sorry I got long winded. :)

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, farmgirlchaos! It’s great to have new readers and new voices on this issue. And you don’t have to apologize for length. The floor is yours when you comment.

      There’s so much confusion and misinformation. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I want to dig to find what I can and share it. People like the agronomist you mentioned, who should know better, tend to go with the talking points they’ve heard. It’s the Clinton principle: say it often enough and people will believe it’s true. We repeat and believe what we’ve heard without considering the credibility, source, or motivation of the original message.

      Bottom line: I want to have choices about what I buy and feed my family. And I want to weigh facts rather than hype to make those choices. Looks like it’s time to dig deeper!

  7. Colin N. Clarke

    “Add a little dirt to your diet.” How appropriately timed! Check out the NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/opinion/lets-add-a-little-dirt-to-our-diet.html?_r=3

  8. Aimee, this is so well-written. I read it this morning and now again after being away from the computer all day. I think there’s so much distance between the average consumer and the farm that it becomes perfectly reasonable for them to see one animal abuse video and assume every farmer abuses their animals. Yet we can hear of a horrific child abuse case and not assume every parent abuses their children. The difference is our experience and what we know. And that’s a difficult gap to bridge – not impossible but difficult. Thank you for doing your part to share the truth and promote conversations!

    • “The difference is our experience and what we know.” I think you nailed it, Holly.

      And I agree with your assessment that it’s difficult but not impossible to bridge the gap. People are open to learning and finding out the truth. I believe most of them want facts to help them make choices rather than hype that limits their choices or guilts them into making unnecessary sacrifices.

      Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and sharing this post!

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  10. Another great post Aimee! I love to read your work and how you do such a wonderful job of tying in with bible verses. I hope that someday you will travel out to Nebraska so that I can meet you and give you a tour of my cattle farm :)

    Please know that I work really hard every day to ensure that the beef that you purchase at the grocery is safe and healthy. I am not perfect, but each day I get better and better at what I do. I know that healthy cattle make healthy beef, and I feed that beef to my family in addition to yours. I love what I do, and I am so thankful to be blessed with the talents that allow me to care for animals and grow food.

    I thank you so much for believing in me and other farmers. You have no idea how much it means.

    Anne

    • Anne, I’d be honored to take you up on the offer to meet you and tour your farm! That would be awesome!

      You echo the sentiments of the vast majority of farmers, ranchers, and others who work to bring food to our tables. Thank you for sharing your work and heart with us. I believe consumers want choices in food and facts to make the best choices for their families. And I appreciate people like you who want to provide both!

  11. I’m likely one of the “well-intentioned types” that you describe and have read most of the books you mention. Have you? People are not blaming farmers for the changes in their food, they blame the fairly new ‘more-chemicals-the-better’ approach to agriculture that is being forced on the industry by the bio-ag companies, such as Monsanto, Dow, Simplot and the like. A seed monopoly, mono-cropping and heavy reliance on Round Up is the big concern, even for my neighbors who bleed John Deere green. I’m writing from a farm in North Dakota where we grow with current methods and more recently, organic. Thanks for the post – glad this conversation is happening.

    • Heather, thank you for commenting! I’m glad this conversation is happening, too. You can expect more of it here. We need different voices like yours to help understand the issues.

      I’ve heard people echo what you wrote. That they don’t mind the farmers; it’s the big companies they don’t like. Well, I don’t think it’s that easy to separate the farmer from her practices. If farmers choose to use biotech, then an attack on biotech companies is an attack the farmers, too.

      To me it comes down to choice. You as a farmer know the projected amount of food needed to meet the world’s demand is growing. Isn’t there enough room at the table for organic and conventional growers? My family and I eat both organic and conventionally produced foods. We like to have a choice; in fact, we feel blessed to have it in abundance.

      If you are convicted to operate as organic, great! If others are not convicted similarly, shouldn’t they be given the same freedom to farm conventionally without the persecution apparent in the book titles and elsewhere? As you demonstrate by your own example, no one if forcing you to use biotech. No one is forcing you to farm organic either. You have a choice.

      If I’d love to hear back from you if you get a chance to respond. And I hope to hear from you on future posts as well!

      PS: To answer your question about if I’d read the books, I really like books and checked out all the ones mentioned in the post except for The End of Food which I found to be boring. Plus I picked up a few more last week. I had to return Tomatoland to the library because another patron requested it, so I didn’t get to the part where the author insinuates vegetable growers in Florida are engaging in human trafficking and slavery. Good grief! Maybe next time…

      It’s a lot to plow through, pardon the pun. One book I can recommend so far is Problems of Plenty by Douglas Hurt, a historical account of farm policy in the U.S.

      • Bonnie

        The fact is that there have been verifiable incidents of human trafficking in Florida agriculture, let’s keep to accuracy and it would be wise to actually read a book before commenting on it.
        As far as chemical use is concerned, We use 20 times the pesticides we did 50 years ago, while crop losses due to insects have DOUBLED. (USDA satistics). There are also increased herbicide resistant weeds due to herbicide use. To accuse people who disagree with your farming methods of “attacking” you certainly does not invite reasonable discussion

        • Aimee @ everydayepistle.com

          Bonnie, thanks for reading and commenting. This blog is open to all respectfully-expressed opinions. I apologize if you felt I was not inviting reasonable discussion.

          First, I need to clarify that I’m not a farmer. I like food, and I support food choices. I buy what my family will eat regardless of whether it’s organic, conventionally-produced, homegrown, imported, heirloom, or biotech.

          As I stated in the post, bad things happen in agriculture just like they happen in all industries. If farmers in Florida are involved in human trafficking, I believe they should be prosecuted same as anyone else who commits a crime.

          As a result of my Milk Wars post, I’ve gotten to know a lot of farmers during the past year. I can say without a doubt they do not participate in human trafficking. Nor are they out to poison the environment or our children. They work very hard to produce healthy foods with the best practices. Some choose to do this organically, some conventionally, and some with a mix of both.

          An onslaught of sensational books, headlines, movies, or whatever that implies farming is all bad slanders these farmers and their work. It would be wise to speak with farmers before commenting on their practices. You can visit and interact with some of the farmers I know if you go to my page The Social Network and click on the Farm & Food blogs.

          I searched for the statistics you mentioned, but was unable to find them on USDA. If you get a chance, please provide links. I would like to see what you’re reading before I comment. Also, if you will notice in my conversation with Heather above, I’m still plowing through the books. Which ones have you read that you’d recommend?

  12. Sorry for the late response and I actually do agree that there is room for organic and conventional growers. I’ve never seen it any other way. I don’t think it’s possible to ‘go backwards’ in terms of knowledge and technology but I also think that we are gaining new information all the time and that new information should be incorporated into our applications. The organic aspect of my farm is a fairly new ‘experiment’, set up mostly for me to learn what goes into organic farming exactly. I got to the point where I could only read so many books and articles and I realize I had to learn the hard way. (And pulling weeds with no spray is – surprise! – HARD.) My biggest concern today is the weather and that 55% of the US is facing drought. I worry about our neighbor, South Dakota, and what that means for our national crops. Thanks again for facilitating the conversation and for the book recommendation as I am forever the student…

    • Aimee @ everydayepistle.com

      Thank you for coming back by, Heather. And thanks for spotlighting this post on BlogHer. It’s an honor.

      Another resource you may be interested in following is One Hundred Meals. They are facilitating some powerful content and conversations between organic and conventional farmers and proponents. Bottom line is as you said, there is room for organic and conventional. We need it all to meet the diverse and growing needs for food. Check out http://onehundredmeals.com/

      Hope to see you here again as future posts address more on this topic.

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  14. Jacki Cook

    My family owns and operates a farm in Tennessee, and have done so since the late 1950s.While the images are out there that large “factory” farms dominate our food supply,small farms still play a hefty role. The idea of organic sounds great but is not feasible on a small market (and most large market scales). And while organic farms claim to not spray or use any sort of chemical on their crops, most seed these days are genetically engineered (with chemicals) to lessen the use of contact sprayings. This also brings out the issue of “organic” livestock such as free range chickens. Caged chickens aren’t pretty, I agree, but science has proven they live a healthier life than those grown on free range farms. They are less likely to contract disease and therefore less likely to contaminate our food supply.

    Jacki
    Bottom View Farm

    • Aimee @ everydayepistle.com

      Thanks, Jacki. There’s so much consumers, myself included, don’t know or understand about modern farming. Confirms the need for more sharing and dialog. We’re deluged with a lot of information that seems fear-based and is devoid of important facts like the ones you mentioned. I hope to see you here again as I’m working on more farm & food posts!

      PS: I grew up in NC, and I love TN. Also, do you blog about your farm? If yes, please reply with a link to it. I’d love to learn more about your operation. Thanks!

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