Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy Sunday

» May 17th, 2015

 

Find more photos here.

Avian Flu and You

» May 8th, 2015

An aggressive strain of avian flu—the largest to appear in the United States in over 30 years—has forced Midwestern chicken and turkey producers to cull over 15.1 million birds since early March. Most of these losses have occurred since mid-April. The virus, which doesn’t appear to pose an immediate threat to humans, has spread to 10 states. Iowa and Minnesota have been hit the hardest.

The economic impact of the virus—called H5N2—has been severe. Mexico and China have halted the importation of U.S. birds and eggs. Hormel Food Corps, the nation’s second largest supplier of turkey meat, highlights “significant challenges” as it forecasts lower earnings. Contract growers, who have little recourse under such circumstances, are stuck with mortgaged farms and no income. At a meeting in Minnesota some of these growers broke down in tears. “Are we done?,” Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey asked about the flu. The answer, it seems, is no. Not even close.

How should consumers interpret this situation? The conventional critique of such epidemics is that they result from industrial over-crowding—cramming too many birds into a tight space. GRAIN, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture, articulated this position during a 2006 H1N2 virus outbreak. The virus, it contended, was “essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices.” The proper response, it implied, was obvious: a transition to non-industrial, pasture-based management. Commenting on the current outbreak, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, agreed with this perspective, writing that “the root cause” of the bird flu is “inhumane, overcrowded conditions in the poultry industry.

A direct, causal relationship between avian flu and industrial conditions would be fantastic news. Most notably, it would allow us to begin systematically fighting the disease through a surefire method: providing chickens and turkeys more space to roam. Unfortunately, the etiology of avian flu doesn’t support this connection. The problem of avian flu, it turns out, transcends farm size and stocking density and cuts right to the core of animal domestication per se.

Read more here.

“Local” Vermont Pork Comes From Pennsylvania

» May 4th, 2015

 

As far as media attention goes, April 11, 2014, was a banner day for Greg Finch. As the lone supplier of antibiotic-free, pastured Vermont pork to the highly acclaimed 5-Knives, a specialized supplier of local pork, Finch was offered what amounted to subsidized advertising space in the Burlington Free Press. The paper’s staff reporter, Sally Pollak—who told me she met Finch at a coffeehouse—served as stenographer for Finch, who delivered his talking points:

“To [raise pigs] without the modern crutches of medicine, it’s management that makes you successful…. Doing things the right way all the time…. I take the best information I can find and adapt it to what I do.”

“This time around, with local foods, the farmer is a big part of the market, which is the exciting part of it…. It’s more of a collaboration. It’s much better for the farmer, and more vibrant for the farm.”

“I’m very, very careful about bio-security.”

Experienced observers will recognize these remarks as boilerplate rhetoric, the kind that characterizes much of today’s food writing. A year later, though, Finch finds himself mired in media muck rather than admiration.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture recently revealed that much of Finch’s “Vermont” pork came from Pennsylvania pigs. Twice a month Finch headed south to an auction house in New Holland, purchased 50 or so conventionally raised pigs, and hauled them back to the Green Mountain State, where he had them processed into “local” bellies, hams, and other choice cuts.

It was a profitable move while it lasted. Read more.

Nature/Animal Photos

» April 14th, 2015

My son, 13, has started a small business selling some of the photos he’s taken. He decided to do this after having unexpected success selling prints at an Austin arts fair. Feel free to check out his website and share it with others who might be interested. Most importantly, enjoy.

http://okmphoto.photoshelter.com/#!/index

 

 

Raw Milk=Raw Deal

» March 30th, 2015

 

On March 10 West Virginia’s legislature passed a bill authorizing the consumption of raw milk. Republicans supported the measure on the basis of “farm-food freedom” and “consumer choice.” Democrats, soberly noting that unpasteurized milk can contain high levels of deadly bacteria, opposed it on the grounds that “it’s unwise and unsafe,” as one opponent said.

There’s good reason to fear raw milk. The same day that West Virginia passed its bill, a long-awaited study from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported that raw milk consumption significantly increased the risk of foodborne illness. Detection rates of Listeria and Campylobacter—two common food-related bacteria—were seven percent and three percent, respectively, in raw milk samples. More alarmingly, rates of these dangerous bacteria rose to 20 percent and 22 percent in the milk filters used to remove specks of feces from the milk (cows’ tails frequently brush feces samples into milk containers while they’re being milked).

Dr. Wayne Anderson, director of FSAI, wrote: “While the market for raw milk is small, it remains a serious concern given the well-documented public health risks posed by the presence of pathogens in raw milk. We are therefore recommending that raw milk should be avoided by consumers.” His message reflects what the United States Food and Drug Administration has long noted: that “unpasteurized milk can pose a serious health threat.”

The effort among a vocal cult of consumers to reject wholesale pasteurization highlights how, when it comes to reforming the industrial food system, aesthetics easily trump reason—not to mention public safety. Not unlike the movement among anti-vaccine advocates, proponents of raw milk allow shallow idealizations of purity and free choice to undermine the quest for a food system that can provide safe and healthy food for all consumers all the time. . .read more

Bad Ranchers, Bad Cows

» February 27th, 2015

Livestock have been severely depleting public rangelands for decades. They do so by trampling vegetation, damaging soil, spreading invasive weeds, polluting water, increasing the likelihood of destructive fires, depriving native wildlife of forage and shelter and even contributing to global warming—all of which has been noted in study after study. Global studies. Peer-reviewed studies. Government studies. Lots of studies going back many years.

So why do people get up in arms about drilling for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, demolished forests and polluted streams, but accept cattle trampling wildlife refuges and national parks, forests and grasslands as if that’s a productive use of our nation’s shared landscape?

Why does that damage—amounting to as much as a one billion dollar subsidy to a very small slice of the livestock industry every year—go unmentioned by a media that so eagerly condemns climate change deniers and proponents of fracking? (Read the Daily Pitchfork’s analysis of the destructive economics of public lands ranching here).

Perception.

Everyone can recognize an oil-soaked sea bird, a clear-cut forest, a stream that’s been ruined by industrial pollutants and extreme drought and other destructive weather. But few Americans visit the nation’s public grass and forest lands; fewer still know what livestock damage actually looks like on them.

Read more here.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

» February 18th, 2015

 

I’ll be speaking this Friday in Boulder, Colorado and this Saturday in Denver. Details here and here. Please attend if you can. I’ll be discussing my book The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals.

The Paradox of Expertise

» January 22nd, 2015

Noah Berlatsky writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

RECENTLY I WROTE a story about Star Wars and science fiction for The Atlantic. The comments section, as these things will, featured a large number of people telling me that I was unqualified to write about the topic because I hadn’t read enough sci-fi books, or hadn’t read enough recent sci-fi books, or hadn’t read the right sci-fi books, or hadn’t seen the right sci-fi movies.

I’m sure this is a familiar experience for anyone who’s published work on culture. 

Culture? Try agriculture.

I’ve been writing about the topic for many years and perhaps the biggest blowback question I get is “are you a farmer”?

“No,” I respond, “which is why you should trust me.”

There is a paradox at the core of expertise: those who really know something well, be it sci-fi or growing corn, are often too wrapped up in it economically or emotionally to register opinions that are free of self-interest. Not always, but most of the time.

Critics can say what they will about my thoughts on agriculture but, at the end of the day, I’m a history professor who, although passionate about the topic, has no economic stake in the game one way or another. Zero. I get my paycheck from the state of Texas.

By contrast, take a close look at those who are delivering the most persistent pleas for various forms of agricultural reform, one way or another.

I’m too tired to name names, but when beef ranchers promote the beauties of grass-fed beef, or pig-farmers promote the beauties of pastured pigs, or egg-farmers promote the virtue of Humane Certified eggs, or food writers promote foods that happen to be central to the recipes they write in best-selling cookbooks, I balk.

To be fair, I also balk when—again, without naming names—animal advocates link their activism with their own entrepreneurial product development. I’m not begrudging anyone their quest to make some crumple, but I have no choice but to assume their expertise is compromised as well.

Odd as it may sound, expertise is enhanced with distance from the topic under consideration.

 

The Chicago Tribune On Eating Meat

» January 17th, 2015

 

As promised, I will spend more time this year dedicating space to viewpoints that I deeply oppose. This is especially the case for the following excerpt, which comes from a review of my book,  The Modern Savage. As will be evident to anyone familiar with basic animal ethics, the author’s reasoning would fail an Ethics 101 class. But it passes for intelligent commentary in the mainstream media. I’ll send your well-reasoned and polite comments to the author in a week. 

 

The full review is here.

Plus, there are some problems with those statements [against eating animals].

 

Secondly, not everyone buys sustainable livestock primarily for animal rights reasons. In fact, people who choose to eat “sustainable” meat may put animal rights lower on the priority list than, say, antibiotic use, environmental concerns, taste and personal health than those who abstain altogether. Where is the hypocrisy in that?

Third, those who don’t like to cause animal deaths should not support the cultivation of any crop that encroaches on animal habitats. My point being that all agriculture — plant or livestock — predictably kills and displaces sentient animals, every time. So, in the end, we’re just talking degrees and numbers of deaths.

Fourth, McWilliams assumes that absolutely everyone in this world can both survive and thrive on a vegan diet [ACTUALLY I DON'T]. Anecdotally, I’ve known too many people who’ve tried to live a faithful vegan life based on deep conviction. But their health suffered and only returned when they incorporated some animal products back into their lives — often sustainably raised ones. That said, I’ve also known super healthy vegans.

 

Is Foie Gras Unimportant?

» January 15th, 2015

Mark Bittman’s recent column on California’s overturn of the state’s foie gras ban is—for lack of a better term—weird. Really weird. The gist is that Bittman thinks we’re paying too much attention to the cruelty of foie gras—“the most overrated of luxury ingredients”—while ignoring the reality that the vast majority of animal agriculture is cruel. In and of itself, this claim seems sensible. But it’s the way that Bittman makes his case that ultimately turns his column into a (perhaps unintended) defense of foie gras. Read more here.

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