Conversations

Why Food Day “Facts” Aren’t So Factual

Oct. 24 is Food Day, which celebrates healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food. It sounds like a pretty great cause to get behind, right?

As farmers and moms, we support the movement to get Americans to eat healthier and move more. But what really concerns us is pushing out loads of misinformation behind what seems to be fairly noble cause.

Do we agree we should spend less time in the drive-through and more time as a family at the dinner table? Absolutely!

Do we agree that we should strive to eat more balanced diets with fruits and vegetables instead of cartons of greasy fried foods, gooey pastas and sugary desserts? You bet!

But here’s where we simply need to set the record straight:

Food Day urges folks to cut back on “fatty, factory-farmed meats.”

What exactly is a factory farm, anyway? Take a good look around at the 2.2 million U.S. farms. We are hard-working families, not factories. We devote our lives to giving our animals the best care possible, often putting their needs above our own. In any weather and at any time of day, we’re there to ensure our farm animals have the food, water, shelter, space and medical care they need.

We also want our critics to know that cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass. When mature, cattle are sold or moved to feedlots where they typically spend 4-6 months. Feedlots allow ranchers to raise beef more efficiently with fewer natural resources like land, feed and water. Feedlot cattle live in fenced areas that give them plenty of food, fresh water and room to move around. Veterinarians, nutritionists and cattlemen work together to look after each animal every day.

And labeling all meats as fatty? Well, that’s just not accurate. In fact, there are 29 cuts of lean beef and six cuts of lean pork that meet the USDA’s guidelines for lean, heart-healthy meats with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. The trend of avoiding meat because it’s generally “unhealthy” is simply unfounded. Why can’t we all just adopt the attitude of “everything in moderation,” park a little farther from the store and talk a walk more often?

Food Day advocates say “a meat-heavy diet takes a terrible toll on the environment.”

Farmers are the original environmentalists. For generations, we have cared for the land so we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren. We care about what goes into the soil and the air, and we work tirelessly to do more with less inputs and land every day.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, livestock production accounts for 3.12% of total emissions, far from the claim that cows are worse than cars. In addition, modern farming continues to implement sustainable practices that significantly reduce the amount of fuel and chemicals required for food production. There’s an old saying that “You can’t make any more land.” That’s why we work hard to protect what we have.

Food Day activists “are united by a vision of food that is healthy, affordable, and produced with care for the environment, farm animals, and the people who grow, harvest, and serve it.”

Hey, wait! That sounds a lot like our vision as farmers and ranchers. Like any successful professionals, we want to do our jobs better. We are constantly finding new ways to grow safe, affordable food on less land and with fewer resources. If we didn’t care for our animals and our land, we couldn’t stay in business. And if we can’t stay in the business of growing food and fiber for a booming world population, it won’t be long before we’ll have some very serious issues on a global scale.

We are farmers. We are moms. We commit our lives to producing safe, healthy food — the same food we feed our families. To infer that hard-working American farmers and ranchers aren’t producing food with care? Well, we invite you to look again. That’s what we do, day in and day out.

Have a question about your food? Ask us! We’re always happy to share openly about how we grow crops and raise livestock on our Kansas farms. We’ll never tell you what to eat, we’ll just answer your questions so you can make the most informed choices for your family.

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Heart-Healthy Beef? You Bet!

I Heart BeefFebruary is “I Heart Beef” month, and to celebrate, volunteer LaVell Winsor welcomed Hy-Vee dietitian Amber Groeling as a guest blogger on Growing for Tomorrow. We recently met Amber at our first-ever CommonGround Kansas cooking class at the Topeka Hy-Vee.

“Instead of hearing ‘No red meat!’, you’ll now hear Hy-Vee dietitians encouraging the consumption of lean beef as part of a heart-healthy diet,” Amber says.

Amber shares research that shows how lean beef can be part of a heart-healthy diet, as well as the 29 cuts of lean beef. She also shares a recipe for Skillet Steaks with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. Yum!

Head on over to LaVell’s blog and check out the savory news!

 

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Why Santa (and You) Shouldn’t Fear Milk and Cookies This Christmas

Note: This post comes to us from CommonGround volunteer Beth Chittenden, a dairy farmer in Schodack Landing, NY. 

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

While it seems like the holidays come earlier and earlier every year, one time-honored tradition always waits until Christmas Eve. Each December 24, just before heading off to bed, millions of children participate in the ritual of leaving cookies and milk for Santa to snack on. As a dairy farmer, my family and I are proud to serve not only Mr. Claus, but millions of American families, with safe and healthy milk. We work hard each and every day to make sure ALL of our consumers, not just the jolly ones, can enjoy milk without any need to worry about safety.

As a farmer and a mom, I know that between Christmas lists and grocery lists, December can be especially tricky to coordinate. And with all of the added labeling and information found on milk products, the dairy aisle can be particularly confusing. This Christmas, I want to give all moms the gift of peace of mind, because they have absolutely nothing to fear at the dairy case. Here are the facts:

  • Hormones occur naturally in farm animals like dairy cows and even some produce, like cabbage. They are present in our food even when animals haven’t been given supplemental hormones – it’s a natural part of life. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no need to worry about hormones in milk.
  • According to the World Health Organization and the FDA, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of hormones in milk and the rest are broken down during digestion. Pasteurization also destroys harmful bacteria that may be present, including salmonella and E. coli.
  • All milk, whether organic or conventional, is strictly tested for antibiotics on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public.
  • No research shows that milk or other dairy products play a role in early puberty. In fact, girls today drink less milk than their mothers did. Some scientists believe that childhood obesity may lead to earlier onset of puberty, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Happy Holidays!

Beth Chittenden, Dairy Farmer
Schodack Landing, N.Y.

To learn more about hormones as they relate to milk products, please visit the Food Facts page at findourcommonground.com. As always, please send your questions our way. We’ll be happy to share how we operate our farms.

 

About Beth

Beth Chittenden is highly qualified to teach folks about farming and their food – especially dairy. She grew up on a dairy farm, studied animal husbandry at Cornell University, worked as an animal nutritionist, obtained a Master’s degree in Education, and now helps operate a 600-cow dairy and 2,000-acre farm in Schodack Landing, New York. Beth’s goal is to open a full-time education center at Dutch Hollow Farm to teach students and the public about modern agriculture. Her extensive knowledge of agriculture and education give her the skills to explain modern farming in terms urban neighbors can understand.

Beth knows how important it is to answer tough questions about food because her farm is situated near the cities of New York and Boston. “Many topics such as animal care, biotechnology, and antibiotics are sometimes misunderstood by my city neighbors. But, once I explain how we do our best to raise great food and show them around the farm, my urban friends walk away confident in our abilities and commitment as farmers.”

 

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Life on a Kansas Farm

Ever wondered what it’s like to live and work on a farm?

The America’s Heartland TV program recently featured the Brunkow family from Westmoreland, KS. The show shares the story of daily life on their family farm, from providing constant care for their cattle and sheep herds to salvaging what’s left of their crops in the drought-stricken Great Plains. The show recently aired on RFD-TV.

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Noodling Around in the Blogosphere

Nicole Small

Nicole Small, CommonGround Kansas volunteer, recently wrote a guest post on Once a Mom, Always a Cook.

Did you catch last month’s guest post by CommonGround Kansas volunteer Nicole Small on Once a Mom, Always a Cook? If you missed it, now is the perfect time to hop over and check it out.

Once a Mom, Always a Cook is a blog by Audra, wife of a member of our armed services and mom of three. Nicole was excited to guest blog for Audra while she spent time with her husband who was home from serving overseas. We salute folks like Audra who spend months apart from their spouses who are protecting our freedom. Thanks for your devotion to our nation!

In addition to sharing one of the dishes she cooks for her family, “No Boil the Noodle Lasagna“, Nicole also took time to share photos of her children and their family farm in southeast Kansas.

Here’s what Nicole says about the recipe:

I hope you enjoy my favorite Lasagna recipe. It is certainly a favorite of my kids and husband and uses both beef and wheat. We raise both on our farm.

She also discusses how to use fresh garlic and get the most flavor from it using a garlic press. Even her youngest son helped make the dish. As busy moms, we definitely appreciate recipes like this that cut down the preparation time. Not having to boil the noodles for lasagna is quite a time saver!

No Boil the Noodle Lasagna

Check out Nicole’s No Boil the Noodle Lasagna on Once a Mom, Always a Cook.

While we were on Audra’s blog, we also found some other yummy creations that scream summer! Check out these mouth-watering recipes!

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Is Our Food Really “Dirty”?

We had the opportunity to hear a presentation by the talented Dr. Carl Winter this winter at a conference. He’s known as the “Elvis of E. coli” and the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” for his work in providing entertaining, educational and humorous presentations on food safety.

Winter brings a wealth of experience in food safety to the table. He currently is the Director of the FoodSafe Program and Extension Food Toxicologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis.

We heard him speak on “Understanding Food Safety Risks,” and the points he shared really helped us understand just how safe our food industry really is.

Winter told us 96% of consumers say they’re concerned about the hazard of pesticide residues in foods. Much of that concern is fueled by misleading information in the media. He shared with us that samples are taken from produce on its way to market and the majority of samples contain no residue. What few do are well within the limits, and illegal residues — or traces of chemicals not allowed in the United States — are very rare, he noted.

In studies where animals — over the course of their entire lives — were exposed every day to 10,000 times the daily exposure of pesticides, there were no adverse effects observed. Wow! That really put it in perspective for us.

He also explained to us that organic foods are not necessarily pesticide free. They simply have different regulations. One of our fellow farm women at the conference grows organic produce on her farm. She explained that many organic farmers use pesticides, but they go through a different process to be approved for organic use.

You’ve probably heard of the “Dirty Dozen” foods. This list, released annually, can easily spread fear among all of us regarding the safety of our produce. However, that fear is uncalled for. Winter explained that in studies of these foods, researchers found there was very little exposure to pesticides. In fact it was so small that it equaled 1 millionth of the exposure found in a lab rat that had been exposed to 10,000 times their daily exposure. This study received no funding and was peer reviewed, so we can trust that it comes from unbiased sources.

If you’re still not sure about the safety of your food, there is some great information at safefruitsandveggies.com. We also encourage you to ask our volunteers about how they raise crops on their farms in Kansas. Plus, findourcommonground.com has some commonly asked questions that might help answer your questions.

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Antiobiotic-Free Meat is Safer, Right?

Photo © PhotoXpress / Edward Stephens

Based on media reports, many of us are lead to believe that meat raised without antibiotics is safer and healthier for us than the alternative. And because the media reports it, this must be true, right?

Not necessarily.

In a recent post on Food, Mommy!, blogger Jennifer Elwood describes a news segment in Kentucky about antibiotic use in meat and food labels. The segment, repackaged from Consumer Reports, didn’t tell the whole story, so Jennifer shared her thoughts with the reporter.

Jennifer writes:

My “take-a-way” from the story was that superbugs occurred in meat only from animals that were fed antibiotics any time in their lives. You led the viewers to believe that if they purchased meat that says “No antibiotics ever” or “Organic,” this would be a safer option.

She goes on to describe why that’s not completely accurate.

Superbugs can be in any meat from anywhere, whether they were given antibiotics or not. But, I did not hear the Consumer Reports lady say they tested any meat and found superbugs. In fact, she didn’t say she tested meat at all. While contamination can occur, meat is routinely tested. This would have been an excellent opportunity to stress that all meat should be cooked to the recommended internal temperature. Food safety is critical.

Jennifer also highlights a key fact that the reporter failed to mention: All animals must be antibiotic free when they arrive at the processor. “USDA routinely checks this and removes any contaminated product they may find. In fact, they have stepped up their monitoring process,” she writes.

Segments like this one point to the need for consumers to take media reports with a grain of salt, as well as take initiative on their own to research questions by consulting unbiased sources and asking folks on both sides of the issue.

The fact is, the media won’t always tell the full story, nor do they have time or space. It’s up to us as consumers to gather facts from reputable sources and make decisions for ourselves instead of the media filtering information for us. Findourcommonground.com is a great resource for facts and research by reputable sources on topics like antibiotics and food safety.

Jennifer closes her post by mentioning the recent call for farmers and media to talk to one another. One example is farmer Ryan Goodman on CNN’s Eatocracy – No Bull: Start a Conversation with a Farmer. Similarly, at CommonGround, we want to encourage folks to come to our volunteers with questions. We are happy to share our personal experiences raising and growing food, as well as how and why we do things on our farms and ranches. Please let us know what questions you have. We can help provide answers from a farmer’s perspective so you can make informed decisions about your food.

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What’s the Big Deal About Local Food?

Farmers Market, City Market Kansas City

Peppers are displayed at the City Market in Kansas City. Photo from thecitymarket.org.

We recently saw an interesting article come across Twitter (follow us @commongroundks) addressing the local food movement. We’re curious to hear what you have to say about living a locavore diet.

The article from the Grist details a conversation with economic geographer Pierre Desrochers, who wrote “The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet” with his wife Hiroko Shimizu, a policy analyst. Desrochers says the book evolved from a memo on comparative advantage and the importance of trade for areas that can’t support food systems.

Through discussions of history, science and the economics of food supply, Desrochers and Shimizu seek to reveal what they believe locavores overlook or misunderstand. They challenge “local food purists” to step back a moment from the excitement of the movement to carefully consider the potential outcomes of their push to require widespread adoption of locavorism among schools, hospitals, prisons, government bureaucracies, military bases and universities.

Desrochers and Shimizu write:

“If widely adopted, either voluntarily or through political mandates, locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety and much more significant environmental damage than is presently the case.”

It’s a big statement, one that Grist article author Claire Thompson digs into further in a Q&A section with Desrochers. He clarifies that he’s not against local food, it’s the idea of mandating its use in certain public settings.

Desrochers notes that he and his wife are not advocating to eliminate locally grown food outlets like farmers’ markets.

“Good food has to be produced somewhere, and some of that could be in your neighborhood. But don’t make it mandatory, and don’t make a religion out of it, and understand that it often doesn’t make sense to have an extremely diversified local food system,” Desrochers says.

On the other hand, Thompson writes that the vast majority of folks see local food as one piece of a much larger shift, as opposed to an extreme.

So, what do you think?
Is it an all or nothing movement? How does locally grown food fit into the big picture? What are some of the pros and cons of locally grown food? Do you make a point to purchase locally grown foods all the time or just when it’s convenient? Why or why not? Do you have questions about local food versus that grown on a conventional scale? We’d really love for you to share your thoughts with us.

With all the information that’s out there, it’s normal to have questions. There are some great resources in the food facts section at FindOurCommonGround.com. Or, feel free to send your questions our way either through the comments section of this article or through our Contact page. Our volunteers are happy to share how they raise food on their farms and how they make food choices for their families.

Remember, we’ll never tell you how or what to eat, but we’ll answer your questions so you can make an informed decision on what’s best for you and your family.

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I’m Farming and I Grow It

We were pretty pumped to find this parody video by three young farmers from Kansas. They do a great job making it fun to learn about agriculture.

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The Great Meat Debate

© jeancliclac / PhotoXpress

© jeancliclac / PhotoXpress

Recently, Annie Tichenor of Biocadence shared her essay in response to the New York Times contest challenging readers to “Tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat.”

While Tichenor says she was raised to believe eating meat was “devastatingly unethical,” she recently converted to omnivorism in January 2012 after “much research and deliberation.” With her choice fresh on her mind, she submitted her essay, “I Remember.” Here is an excerpt.

Ethical eating … requires feeding our food-source more than we are taking from it. Animals are a mandatory component of this equation. Life in the soil is re-established and maintained through its interaction with animals. Rotation of pasture, harvest, and cover crop allows us to use relatively few acres, nourish the soil, and yield an abundant edible output. Fogline Farm, in Santa Cruz, CA shares, “We graze our animals through our orchards and vineyards, constantly moving them to fresh pasture.” Followed by cover or harvest crop, the benefit of a happy-animal parade is captured. Each ingredient of the cycle is respected in an ethical farming strategy. Animals are incorporated in order to feed the soil while feeding the community.

On her blog, Tichenor also writes, “Our food choices have considerable influence on our future. With immediate ties to health, happiness, and vibrance and effect on our soil, environment, and global relationships, food must be principal curriculum for citizens of all ages and nations.”

Because food is such a vital part of our lives, it’s up to each of us to do our due diligence in researching facts from reliable sources before making choices about how we eat. Part of that research means digging deeper than just what we see in the media. That’s why the CommonGround program is so useful.

Today, most folks are several generations removed from farming, so it’s totally normal to have questions about how food is raised — especially when the media often shows a side of food production that is not representative of the majority of farms. We invite you to send questions our way about how we raise animals on our farms and why we’re confident in our choice to feed meat to our families.

We also encourage you to check out the resources on findourcommonground.com regarding animal welfare, antibiotics, hormones, food safety and other important issues in food and farming.

The ultimate decision of “To Meat or Not to Meat” is up to you.

Thanks to Tichenor for listing our blog post “To Meat or Not to Meat” in her list of related articles.

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