Changing Food Landscape

It’s been a long time since I’ve put pen to page but there’s been some interesting things going on lately that I wanted to put to words.

Cow farts kill the planet?

The first thing, I heard recently from a colleague that meat production contributes to over half of greenhouse gasses.  Supposedly the official number is something like 18%, but the World Bank revised that upwards to 51%. I passed this by Lisa and she said she had heard similar numbers.  Apparently, the original estimate was based on industrial production and didn’t take into account the methane and CO2 production, plus the land and water usage of the living animals themselves.  If that is accurate, and honestly even if it’s not, it should spark a lot of thought about the way we eat and grow food.  Here is a link (albeit an old one) about the World Bank study. Based on this info, all the recycling and hybrid cars in the world aren’t going to even put a slight dent in climate change. Kinda scary.

Now, I love a steak as much as the next guy and I’m in no danger of turning into a militant vegan, but we eat a LOT of meat in this country and we also waste a lot.  Not just the gray expired stuff at the store that gets thrown out, but how much of the animals we don’t use.  Back in the old days every single part had a purpose.  Lisa and I don’t eat a lot of red meat, we mostly eat chicken and fish.  Occasional pork and on even rarer occasions beef.  Lately we’ve also experimented with some meat alternatives.  Lisa got a great deal on some black bean crumbles (kinda like ground beef) and some tofu “Chik’n” strips.  Now, one of the things I have a problem with the alternatives is when they try to pretend to be something else.  If you want to eat tofu, that’s great.  But what’s wrong with a block of tofu? Why do you have to cut it in the shape of a turkey and call it tofurky? But, I digress.  Turns out, the stuff isn’t half bad.  The strips made really good grilled “chicken” tacos, and we also made tacos with some of the crumble that was already Mexican seasoned.  The best was actually using some of the unseasoned crumbles to make sloppy joes.  That was good.

I’ll admit when I was younger I was pretty excited to order that 18 ounce steak.  I don’t need that now, really no one does, and anyway I can’t eat that much anymore anyway.

Oysters are awesome!

Ok, well we mostly knew that, but now they aren’t just awesome to eat! Recently there was an article about a picture posted online of two dirty fish tanks and how quickly some oysters cleaned one of them.  Here’s a post that sums up the original tweet and some of the amazing responses to it. One of the main takeaways I had from this article is not only that they can clean the water, but that the way they are raised, even the “farmed” variety, is incredibly sustainable! I would assume that this applies to other shellfish as well, such as clams, mussels etc.  Here’s another article, which is aimed at kids, but explains how cities can build structures, boardwalks, decks etc on the coast and grow oysters under them as a way to clean up the coast.  How cool is that?

GMO Labels.

The last big thing that happened recently was a vote in Colorado and Oregon to force food companies to label if their products contained GMO or genetically modified organisms.  Genetic engineering pulls small portions of DNA from bacteria (which are super easy to grow) and implants it into plants to change attributes of the host plant.  Some people equate this to hybridizing plants (like mixing two breeds of apples to make Honeycrisps) while some people equate this to “playing God” and messing with things we ought not be messing with.  As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but it’s murky.  Not a lot is known about the health effects of eating these products.  On the one hand, there isn’t a lot of data that says they are harmful.  But on the other hand, there’s not a lot of data that says they are safe either. More research needs to be done.  Both Colorado and Oregon rejected these bills in the vote, however, while the Colorado vote was strongly opposed (65+ percent) the Oregon vote was much closer with only 51% against. I don’t know a lot about the Colorado proposal, but here’s some thoughts I had about the Oregon bill and why I think it may not have passed.

Alcohol is exempt – Since alcohol does not fit the FDA definition of “food” it is exempt from the labeling law.  I don’t know if this is really a big deal since I haven’t heard anyone yelling to boycott “Frankenstein beer” but GMO use is pretty predominant in grain growing and I’d imagine those major adjunct brewers are using some of that “high yield” corn.

Animal feed is exempt – Cat food, dog food, and livestock feed are exempt because, well, animals don’t count right? Again, I think this is a technicality in the definition of “food” in the bill as grown and prepared for human consumption, but this raises a serious loop hole in the wording of the bill.  Fresh meat, milk and eggs from animals feed with GMO grains would NOT be labeled as containing GMOs.  Now, whether any of the GE material remains in the animal is probably unknown, but because the grain would not be labeled you wouldn’t know whether the feed was GMO or not.

Costs increase? – The opposition to this bill loudly proclaimed that food costs would increase and would certainly effect the poorest populations (who supposedly buy a lot of cheap pre-prepared food?) the hardest.  I have a hard time believing this would actually do anything to the cost of food.  Labels would cost the same and it only takes a couple seconds to switch labels mid run.  Yes, it would be annoying to have to label some stuff for the states that require it and not label it for those that dont but hey, you could always just switch the regulated label for ALL products whether it’s required or not.. novel idea yes? Also, claims about having to make separate food plants and separate storage areas for GMO and non-GMO is a bit far fetched.  I can’t imagine someone who is using GMO products is going to suddenly create an entire new non-GMO line for one state.  It would be more economical to either decide to label it or stop selling in that state.  This would achieve what the proponents are looking for though.

“May contain” – I couldn’t find the exact wording in the bill, but supposedly some products would need to have a label that proclaimed they “May Contain GE materials”.  I’m not sure if this was a “items made in the same facility” type thing in the same way as allergens, but at least with allergens it makes sense.  This has the potential to cause confusion and also tarnish products that may be GMO free.  The proponents of the bill wield this like a weapon to scare consumers into thinking certain food products are harmful to them.  I hate this kind of fear mongering no matter what context in which it’s being used.  The “food prices will go up” rhetoric by the opponents of the bill is the exact same thing.  Both sides are guilty of it and it’s disgusting.

It’s redundant – If you want to avoid GMO foods there is already an extremely easy way to do it.  Products that are certified FDA Organic cannot contain GE materials.  A lot of companies also already voluntarily label products as “GMO-Free”.  What this labeling initiative would accomplish that these other programs wouldn’t is a little baffling.

 

So, my apologies for not writing for 6 months and then blasting you with a wall of words, but these are just some things that have caught my attention lately and stuff I wanted to write about, and fit my themes of both food and health for the blog so there ya go!

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  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.