Posts Tagged ‘newspaper articles’

Methinks Someone at the Denver Post is on the Big Ag teat.

April 12, 2010 1 comment

This Denver Post editorial from today’s paper just smacks of Big Ag influence to me. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but come on: the editor is defending keeping pizza in school lunches (as an “example”). Has the mighty agriculture lobby resorted to paying off newspaper editors to influence public opinion before laws get to close to passing? It’s the only explanation to me for defending the need for “palatable” unhealthy choices in school cafeterias.

The article expresses concern over how far the new legislation (called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) could go. According to USA Today, it aims to “bolster the safety and nutritional value of school lunches.” The Post editors worry that

the potential that nutritional standards, yet to be developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, might be written so strictly they would effectively eliminate local control and individual choice.

The editors don’t seem to acknowledge the results of kids having that “individual choice.” Personally, I keep hearing about how kids tend to pick the tater tots, pizza, and Taco Bell when given the choice. Of course they do. Those things taste better to kids. Maybe they know they should be eating something healthier, and yeah, the idea of giving them a choice is nice and all, but I’m kind of a realist on this one: American kids don’t care about the healthy option. Some of them may have been hazed enough to know that they probably don’t want to be fat the rest of their lives, but what justification is there for slapping a burger and fries in front of them every day? They will eat it. The salt and fat will taste good to them, and they will continue to want that burger or pizza or taco every day.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I realize I am coming off as a bit of a totalitarian food Nazi- the children will eat what I say they will eat! But that’s not the case. I think kids should be allowed to eat food that tastes good to them. There are plenty of delicious nutritious options that I’m sure the lunch-ladies (and lunch-gentlemen) can handle cooking and serving. We need school lunch reform because the current options are lazy, underfunded, and bad for the kids. We need the bad-for-you stuff out because it keeps the kids hooked on the junk and headed towards obesity and diabetes. We need to present the message in our SCHOOLS (places of education!) that certain foods are healthy, and that we won’t subject our younglings to the food that will harm their bodies in the long run.

Here’s an analogy that probably most people will roll their eyes at: We do not put pornography in school libraries. We don’t because we believe our kids should not be subjected to certain things. We want the library to be a fascinating place that develops their love for reading, exploring, and imagination. We don’t want it to be the place where they are exposed to the seedy, sexualized world of adults. That would be bad for their development, their psyche, their health. So why do we still expose kids to unhealthy food in our school cafeterias? Because they’ll eat it? That’s the reason? We might not want to think so, but kids will look at porn if it’s sitting on the school bookshelf. They will. And they’ll eat the pizza if it is offered a-la-carte as a competitive food in the lunchroom.

Okay, so different stories, food and porn, I know. But am I that far off-base here?

Put burgers and pizza in schools, and kids will think: I am allowed to eat that. My prinicipal, lunchlady, and parents allow it to be there, so it can’t be so bad, right? I believe as much as anybody that proper nutritional education starts with the parents- they are the voice of reason, the ones who identify good and bad food. But why provide the mixed message of meat, cheese, and milk at every single lunchtime? Stay on-message, people!

I am not yet a parent, so you can take all of this with that grain of salt. But I care about our food system, and I see how corruption, corporate influnce, and poor governance have brought the National School Lunch Program to it’s current status: broken. It is an obvious symptom of the broader industrial-food system disease we have become accustomed to: one that has been warped by improper subsidies, lax regulation, corporate lobby, Wal-Mart-thrift-obsessivness, and our view of food items as tongue-masturbators. OK, eye-roller, that’s another unnecessary one, I know… But the food-porn hedonism I see in the U.S. these days is disgusting enough to me that I feel justified in using such language. If we look at food solely as a source of pleasure, we’re going to get a food system that reflects only that: cheap food that tastes good. Not healthy food that reflects our own personal values.

It starts when we’re kids. Do we want our children to make food choices on base flavor instincts (me want salt and fat!), or do we want them to think about where their food comes from, how it nourishes them, and  how their choices affect the world?


Veterinarian Ignored by USDA

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

 The US Dept, of Agriculture apparently has no problem with slaughterhouses that butcher conscious pigs or drag downed calves through excrement before slaughter. That is, as long as nobody hears about it.

Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian for the USDA’s food safety and inspection unit, spoke to a Congressional committee today about how his recommendations were overruled when he cited certain slaughterhouses for inhumane practices and food safety violations. From USA TODAY:

(Wyatt’s charges) detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious.

So a guy does his job, finds violations and animal cruelty, and his bosses threaten his career for attempting to punish the violating slaughterhouses. Sounds about right. Job well done, Big Ag.

Beef Trimmings and Ammonia

January 4, 2010 1 comment

Beef Products, Inc. is a company in South Dakota that provides a type of ammonia-treated ground beef filler to most of the major burger joints in the world including McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Cargill. This filler is…

a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

– from the December 30, 2009 New York Times cover article Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned by Michael Moss

Big Food companies like this “beef” because it makes their patties cheaper. That is why the national School Lunch Program uses BPI beef as well.

The scariest thing about this filler beef to me is that they can get away with simply calling it ground beef just because it is technically meat from a cow. They don’t have to call it what it really is: fatty beef trimmings (the stuff that meat packers normally shave off onto the floor to be discarded) that are run through a series of machines, which seperate the fat from the protein, and then treat the leaner stuff with ammonia to kill the E. coli (which is more common in trimmings like this). As mentioned above, the USDA does not require them to list ammonia as an ingredient.

This filler beef makes up a small percentage of a typical burger patty, like 10 or 15%. It saves everybody  involved millions of dollars. It keeps Big Macs cheap.

The Conversation is Ignored

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m not sure why I feel like posting this article; it is an op-ed in The Detroit News by some dude who works for one of Big Food’s lobby groups, the “Center for Consumer Freedom.” I guess I just find it funny. This is a person whose job entails protecting the status quo of the American industrial food system, and his editorial reads like a C high-schooler’s essay on why vegetarians are stupid. Read it if you want. You won’t get much out of it except maybe a chuckle and a reinforced sense of how weak the arguments against our lifestyle are. Don’t say I never look at the other side of things…

The Conversation Gets Louder

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a link to some letters written to the New York Times editor in response to Gary Steiner’s November 22 op-ed in the NYT. I found it interesting to see what the Times found fit to print. It has ethical vegans writing in their support of Steiner’s views, as well as the opposing side’s arguments. What I noticed in the latter was a lot of the defensive, uninformed flawed logic that we vegans encounter a lot; justification based on human evolution, the theory that you hurt animals no matter your diet, and the supposed hypocrisy of a vegan with a pet. All of these omnivore excuses are still incredibly weak to me, even if  they are written by supposedly ethical intellectuals. I am so glad to see the ethical eating conversation in a big national venue. I know I am biased, but it is great to see those arguments fail yet again.

My Open Letter to Whole Foods re: Overfishing

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

So, I work for Whole Foods. As a vegan, it works really well for me, and there are some things I just have to grin and bear. Overall, I am proud to work for a progressive, environmentally conscious company, and see their continued success as a positive thing for the planet. There has been one thing gnawing at my vegan ideals, however: selling seafood, possibly unsustainably. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the oceans are in huge trouble, and I decided it was time I use my position as a WFM employee to speak my mind on the topic, so I sent the following letter to some of the higher ups at my company… Click here to read on….

Hamburger E. Coli Roulette

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment


(slaughterhouses) with aggressive testing programs typically find E. coli in as much as 1 percent to 2 percent of their trimmings, yet some slaughterhouses implicated in outbreaks had failed to find any.

– from the cover story of Sunday’s New York Times by Michael Moss

I am thoroughly impressed with the New York Times lately. In the last couple weeks, I have seen high-profile coverage of the shortcomings of our country’s food industry. In Sunday’s cover article, featuring a picture of the likely paralyzed E. coli victim Stephanie Smith lying on her back, Michael Moss exposes some of the inner workings of the ground beef industry.

Smith ate an E. coli tainted Cargill-brand beef patty in fall 2007 (a frozen “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patty”) and ended up with hemolytic uremic syndrome. This led to severe kidney problems, seizures, an induced coma, and eventually paralysis from the waist down and brain damage. While she was in the hospital, Cargill recalled over 800,000 pounds of beef.

Smith is an extreme case, but she’s not the only one to get sick. In the last 3 years, over 8,000 people were sickened over the course of 16 outbreaks of E. coli tainted beef. The USDA encourages but does not require slaughterhouses to test for E. coli. To be more cost effective, Cargill gets ground beef from several different meatpacking companies around the country (plus Uruguay), which makes it harder to determine the intial source of contamination in cases like Stephanie Smith’s. One of those sources is  a company called Beef Products Incorporated. BPI’s pride and joy is a meat derivative made from fat trimmings that are salvaged from typical meat-cutting at slaughterhouses. The company’s process “warms the trimmings, removes the fat in a centrifuge and treats the remaining product with ammonia to kill E. coli.” You can see the machinery involved, and the queer-looking gray “meat” final product in the excellent documentary Food, Inc. (out on DVD in November, yay!).

I love the work being done by the NY Times, as it is a sign of the growing public interest in where our food comes from. Hopefully, the trend of investigative journalism into Big Food’s dirty kitchen continues. In the meantime, I’ll stay away from the burgers (duh) and hope the overflowing cow manure doesn’t taint our spinach with E. coli again.

Check out the article, or at least watch the little video on the side on

Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.