A Greener, Cleaner Diet
If food security isn’t national security, what is? For the latest, human food chain implications of the tainted pet food debacle, see this week’s Word of the Week at www.greenerpenny.com. But before you get too alarmed, check out some frisky creatures in the real O.C. at http://greenmangreenerpenny.blogspot.com/.
Back to the news: For weeks, U.S. pets have been made ill, and several have been killed, by a contaminant in the wheat and rice gluten used to fortify pet food. The culprits are wheat and rice gluten imported from China and laced with melamine, a common fertilizer.
Now, it turns out that some Northern California pigs raised for human consumption have eaten some of the suspect pet food, and their urine shows traces of melamine, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). While CDFA and USDA were able to warn most buyers of the suspect pigs before their meat could enter the commercial food supply, two custom slaughterhouses, American Hog Farm and Bar None, had already sold some of the meat to private customers, whom CDFA is contacting. For more info, see www.cdfa.gov or call 916-654-0504.
Food insecurity is rampant enough with domestic products, not to mention imports like wheat and rice gluten floating around undetected in processed food. Last year we had fatal outbreaks of E. coli that caused recalls of spinach. There were also recalls of ground beef and lettuce, and salmonella in tomatoes sickened many, as well. Earlier this year, peanut butter was recalled due to salmonella. Looking down the road: As demand from Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers increases sourcing from abroad, will organic food from China be safe? It depends on whether vigilant inspectors enforce organic standards on farms and in processing plants.
Organic or not, it’s processed foods rather than fresh whole foods that more easily thwart ready solutions to food contamination problems, if only because of their many ingredients, which can be sourced from all over the globe. For instance, the exact ingredient causing the sickness in pets has yet to be identified; melamine is thought to be a non-lethal indicator of the presence of more toxic substances. For lists of recalled pet foods, go to www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/petfoodrecall/
Another link to national security is our food system’s heavy consumption of fossil fuels. The thirty percent of the average American’s diet that consists of meat, eggs and poultry is responsible for the release of 3,274 lbs of global warming emissions a year. This comes from the petroleum used to make the fertilizer and pesticides used to grow conventional corn and soy for animal feed, the fossil fuels burnt in transporting animals and their products, and the methane gas released by cattle intestines (which some enterprising dairy farmers are capturing for use as biofuel).
What to do?
It’s simple. Follow these tips.
Eat less red meat (because it’s heavy in saturated fats, you’ll be doing your cardiovascular system a favor, too.)
Vegetarian diets release half the carbon of a 30% meat eaters’ diet.
Substitute poultry and eggs for red meat, and you’ll still save over 950 lbs. of carbon a year.
When you do eat red meat, make it special. Choose certified organic or certified humane, which restrict animals to vegetarian feed, or meat from grass-fed animals raised by farmers who provide written assurances of such. When cattle are fed a grass-only diet for the last five days before slaughter, E.coli in their guts is reduced by 1000%.
Choose more locally grown meat, dairy and produce, and you’ll reduce fossil fuels used in shipping food an average 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table, as the Worldwatch Institute reports. See www.worldwatch.org
Eat whole, rather than processed, foods. Processed foods are cheaper than fresh vegetables and fruits because of U.S. government subsidies, as Michael Pollan writes in the April 2nd New York Times Magazine. Processed foods are also full of added sugars and fats, warns Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Food Safety and What to Eat? Because of this cheap but fattening food, 32% of Amerians are obese—and growing, Pollan and Nestle concur.
Know where your food comes from and how it was produced by buying it from farmers’ markets and relying on meaningful labels. For where to find local food sources, from farms to restaurants, see www.eatwellguide.org, www.localharvest.org and
www.sustainabletable.org. For the farmers’ markets nearest you, http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm.
Missed a tip? Don’t worry. See my Daily Tips blog at www.greenerpenny.com. And please tell your friends to visit.