sad state of food affairs

this is going to be a departure from what i normally post, but it’s been on my mind a lot. i’m really bothered and concerned by the food situation in this country. this post is going to be a bit ranty

there’s basically two classes of food in most major supermarket chains, particularly when it comes to meant / dairy and fruits and vegetables. basically there’s organics and non-organics aka conventional. don’t get me wrong, i am really really grateful for the organics foods production act from the 90’s that set standards for organic (i consider this synonymous with sustainable) production standards. but the markup is pretty real for organics. now, i am lucky enough to be able to afford to pay that premium, but frankly standing in a section with a giant organics label makes me feel weird. like, why are we even allowed to choose whether to eat something that contains pesticides / herbicides? there are clear links between pesticide use in food production and health. it just sucks that conventional farming practices that are known to contaminate our soil and water still permitted.

speaking of organics, the organics situation for eggs is truly insane. yes, organic eggs are generally better. but egg production is a complicated business – there’s a whole range of factors related to chicken welfare and egg quality that the organics certification body does not deal with. take a look at cornucopia’s organic egg score card. unsurprisingly, there are plenty of producers that do the bare ass minimum to be organic certified. did you know that there are what are known as “split operations” where organic and conventional eggs are produced from the same property? in the best case these operations are legitimately trying to transition to full organic standards aka in process of a migration. in the worst and probably typical case they’re engaging in fraud by exploiting the inherent difficulty of ensuring the absence of any cross-contamination and mislabeling.

then there’s all the crap that the food still comes wrapped in: plastic. i’m really sick of seeing single use plastics. at my local market 32 (formerly known as price chopper), they sell saran wrapped cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli… what?? why?? (i mean, i think i can guess why, but it’s still really upsetting to see). if i’m buying four peppers to make stir fry, i don’t need TWO separate packages containing non-decomposing materials that will live for a thousand years and possibly end up in some poor sea creatures stomach. that’s ridiculous. and the worst part of it is? i usually see this type of wrapping in the organics aisle!

this morning i was looking at some of my books and was flipping through marion nestles book called “what to eat” (which taught me most of what i currently know about making semi-informed food decisions in supermarkets) and make the poor decision of reading about fish and seafood. i’m not even talking about mercury – at this point i think most folks are aware of the elevated levels of mercury in basically all of our fish. the rule of thumb / recommendation i think for cans of tuna is roughly one or two cans a week for adults. i’m talking about PCB’s aka polychlorinated biphenyls (i had to type this like 5 types and it’s still flagged by wordpress as incorrect).

PCB’s are man made chemicals that were produced in the 30’s until they were banned in the late 70s because they were found to be toxic. that’s 50 years of active production (!). what do they have to do with fish? turns out bottom feeders in our waters have the highest levels of this compound, and since these creatures become part of the fish food chain (salmon, tuna, etc) they eventually make their way into our bodies. it’s especially elevated in fish raised on fish farms where the levels of PCB’s can be 10x compared to their wild caught counterparts.

if that’s not already bad enough for the fish situation – even if we fixed the PCB AND mercury issues today, there’s still the fact that fishing gear is a whopping 10% of plastic debris in our oceans. for areas like the pacific ocean plastic patch i think that % may be even higher. yes, i know i already complained about food and plastics earlier. in this case, it’s sad in a completely different way – the fact that the plastic waste that likely kill other marine life is coming directly from the means of killing fish. how messed up is that?

the “obvious” solution to all this is to basically opt out of all of it and try to grow your own food. i’m not sure if i’m up for that right now. we do have a small indoor greenhouse that my wife uses to grow small amounts of fruits and vegetables like tomato’s, arugula, basil, etc. but it’s nowhere near the amount we need to actually live on. it also feels a bit defeatist to pursue the whole farming route because these issues are not, like, environmental. they’re man-made. if you really boil it down, there’s the crap practices happening in the production process and he continuing consumption of crap food driven by ignorance or affordability or both. as a consumer myself, the easiest way to contribute is to just vote with my money and choose organics across the board. but that’s pretty low impact!

i’d like consider making an effort towards contributing to either side (or somewhere else entirely) of the effort – if you have any recommendations or ideas particularly related to this area that you find effective (perhaps a non-profit you think is worth donating to) let me know.

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