"veg rant"

USDA approves GE alfalfa, so step it up, foodies/concerned eaters/farmers!

Foodies and advocates of the local/organic/Slow food realm have been posting like gangbusters over the USDA's recent approval of genetically modified alfalfa - and rightly so. (For a thoughtful, clear-headed perspective, click here to view Megan Westgate of the Non-GMO Project.) To me, it opens the floodgates for future GMO approval by our government and ruins our already broken food system. While I am ashamed, outraged and embarrassed by the USDA's ultimate decision, I realize this is a moment that all real food advocates must re-evaluate its tactics, avoid brashness and come together in order to take back our food system in an effective, rational but equally impassioned way. This argument is far from over, and before we carry on, we should take the following in mind:
  • Know the facts about GMOs: Listen up - Genetically modified foods are already on the marketplace! Unless marked as "certified organic," chances are that the food you consume is genetically modified. Unlike the 30 or more countries (including UK, most of the EU and Japan) that have restrictions or bans on GMOs, the U.S. loves GM food (well, the people don't, but big-ag companies do because they know they can get away with it.) As of 2009, 93% of soy and cotton and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GM. And, yes, read any label and you'll notice that almost everything contains soy or corn in some form. Most conventional fruits, vegetables, legumes, oils, meats and fish (yup, even living things are genetically engineered) have had their genetic make-up manipulated for the sake of looking better in the grocery store after their long travels and/or to maintain their artificial tastes. So, alfalfa is just the latest thing to join the club. 
  • Spread the word + join the non-GMO team: Once you've become sufficiently outraged by the reality of genetically modified foods - one viewing of "Food, Inc." (or other food movies/resources listed on this site) can send you on a rampage - it's time to get spread the word via blogs, e-mails, letters to the editor, face-to-face meetings with friends, neighbors or even public meetings. There is power in numbers, and there's a wealth of credible organizations opposed to non-GMO initiatives, including, but not limited it: Organic Consumers Association (click here to sign it's petition "Millions Against Monsanto"); Organic Trade Association;  National Organic Coalition; Center for Food Safety, and many, many others. Follow the work of these groups (RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, whatever!), and stay informed about their missions.
  • Demand GMO-free labeling and transparency: Currently, it's up to individual corporations to list if the products they make are genetically modified or contain such ingredients. News flash: Many do not, especially since it's not mandated by the government. Organic food, by nature of its certification standards, cannot be grown or produced by knowingly* using GMOs. (*I say "knowingly" because even a "100%-organic" label cannot guarantee GMO-free food, including from contamination. Under current National Organic Program guidelines, GM is an excluded method. What this means: GMO seeds or ingredients shouldn't be planted, but the NOP doesn't require testing for GM ingredients.) If you're questioning the ingredients in your favorite products, contact the manufacturer and ask questions. If you suspect hesitance on their part, stop supporting them - their mistake, not yours! To see a list of companies who have supported the non-GMO cause and seal, look here at those who have signed onto the third-party verification process. Encourage your favorite small companies to join the movement as well. 
  • You're the consumer/farmer/responsible eater, so you have the power! OK, so this was just a fancy way of saying "vote with your dollar." The only way to avoid GMOs is to not buy those foods you're suspect of. Grow your own food** (**I'll be writing a post soon on safe sources for seeds) and support organic, no-spray, non-GMO-using growers (local is the best, if it's available to you). You decide what food goes onto your plate and in your body, so be an active eater and always question. 
    Local, organic strawberries. Non-GMO, thank you very much.
  • Don't like the responses and still have concerns? Contact your local ag representative or the USDA. Go to the source - if you don't like the answers or responses from companies or still have questions about GMOs, contact agriculture experts in your area, and you shouldn't hesitate to contact the USDA. Despite skepticism and cynicism in light of recent - ::cough:: - decisions, they work for us, remember?
The battle over GMOs is long from over, so rather than fall apart or fracture the organic/local/Slow/whatever-you-want-to-call-it movement, let's get going. Our passionate tweets and angry blog posts don't mean anything unless we put them into action. Democracy isn't dead, so let's step it up. 

When cheap is challenged...and the cow poop factor

The Wednesday edition of the Colin McEnroe Show featured one reporter's quest to live a week without buying or being dependent upon things made in China. It's definitely an interesting social experiment, simply because America has an affinity for cheap goods - largely those made in China. There's many reasons to boycott things from China, as Danbury News-Times reporter Vinti Singh suggests - questionable labor laws, "lax quality control," environmental implications, etc. (Michael Scott even shows some concern.) 

It's unreasonable to think that we can eliminate imported goods from our increasingly technology-centric, green-tea-polyphenol-loving lives. Yet, there's another reason to question where things are made and, perhaps, why it remains so controversial: How and what we consume and where these goods come from challenges - and, to some, threatens - what it means to be an American.

I get so frustrated when politicians and supposed patriots go on these tirades about how important it is to bring jobs to the U.S., often using American farmers - albeit those single-crop, flannel-wearing (nothing wrong with flannel), big-ag owned, small, "family-owned" ventures - as their poster children. These same individuals will berate you if you don't shop at Wal-Mart and other stores of that ilk. Yet, the products stocked on the shelves are largely imported from countries with subpar labor and human rights standards AND the American employees of these stores can barely survive on their incomes and nonexistent healthcare. Nothing seems more unjust or un-American than an economic, and, in turn, social system based on a shaky foundation of upholding "cheap" and hypocrisy. 

These arguments aren't new, and I'm not trying to point out anything revolutionary. Further, my concerns are also not rooted in some ethnocentric agenda. I have nothing against the people of China, especially its workers; rather I have a problem with the system in which they're forced to work in. We all play a role in their plight.

Which is where Hardwick, VT and McEnroe's second guest fits in. 

If you haven't read Ben Hewitt's "The Town That Food Saved," read it - now. Or when you finish this post. McEnroe interviews "compost king" Tom Gilbert, who is a pivotal individual in the success of Hardwick's rural economy. Gilbert is the executive director of the Highfields Center for Composting. Here's a bit about what the Center does, excerpted from its mission statement: 
Over the last 10 years we have continued ... targeting dairy farmers and promoting their use of on-farm composting as a manure management practice. We conducted farm visits and surveys of local farms to assess their volumes, their interest, their needs and have provided technical assistance. We established a Compost Demonstration Site in Greensboro, Vermont and began a composting operation utilizing the ingredients commonly found on dairy farms so that farmers and government agencies could learn more about on-farm composting practices. We began conducting workshops for farmers as well as for agricultural agencies to familiarize them with the process...
Our original vision of providing technical educational resources, on composting, to the farming community has expanded to emphasize the broader priority of promoting and advancing soil security in Vermont. Composting of manures and food scraps remain a primary vehicle for regenerating agricultural systems. Our programs and research are focused in this area. 
The town of Hardwick, its like-minded surrounding towns, long-standing residents with careers in agriculture and the area's new and burgeoning "agripreneurs" (a term coined by Hewitt) really believe in the success of their economy. It's recently been looked at as the model for rural economic survival in light of the national collapse, often to the dismay of residents who don't want the attention. But Gilbert is making an enormous difference. His keen insight into the innate closed-loop nature of life and death (via compost) and its implications to agricultural ventures (financial stability and longevity, job creation, etc.) reveals much more about how our values as a nation are a bit askew and can set us up for failure. Our disposable culture is over; we don't have time, space or money to continue to simply throw things away and set ourselves up for greater failure. 

Cow poop may not be the end-all solution in our national and global mess of an economy, but it's a valuable concept to look at. There's no simple answer to our incredibly flawed and hazardous economic model, and I'm not sure my rant really adds anything significant except pent-up aggression. Supporting locally made and sourced items, especially those that are produced in a sustainable manner, is a powerful model to follow and uphold. And, certainly, socioeconomics factors into this: What came first - the fact that lower income and most individuals for that matter prefer to, or can only, buy lower cost goods, or that lower cost goods have been a key contributor to such global economic divisions?

Listen to the show for some insightful conversation.