It turns out that olive oil is not the only product where large producers import inferior products then add it to the real thing to cut costs. In honey’s case they are cutting the real thing with high fructose corn syrup and other additives while still calling the product pure honey. Many states, including California, have passed laws making it possible to bring civil cases against those who are engaging in this practice. Their hope is this will induce the Federal government to institute similar protections for the consumer nationwide. Profit is an important motivation for business, however, when it comes to food producers, profit needs to be realized through providing health, safety, and honesty to our customers.
The Surprise Journey Of Learning About Our Food Supply
The recent outbreak of salmonella poisoning causing 500 million eggs to be recalled have people wondering about our food supply. There are two excellent resources that reveal the truth about why these outbreaks occur. They are the movie, Food Inc., and the book, Animal Factory. These two resources document the harmful affect of modern practices in two key areas, cost and safety. While many are vaguely aware of the dangers of factory farming few know the real details that cause nationwide problems.
Most people know the corn industry in the US is subsidized but don’t know what that means. The subsidies actually allow the industry to sell corn for less than the price of production and still make a profit. Because corn is used in one form or another in almost all fast foods, processed foods, and feed for animals it allows those industries to go to market at a greatly reduced price. Also the large factory farms receive the lion’s share of subsidies because the subsidies are based on production and not need. This creates the illusion that locally grown organic produce from small farms is expensive, where as the truth is that in the latter case the price is based on having to cover actual costs not subsidized costs.
Factory farms require very large capital investments to buy the machinery to process large quantities of animals in a small space. This requires animals to live in their own filth. This not only encourages the outbreak of disease and it also encourages the disease to spread very quickly because the animals are packed so closely together. To lessen this tendency factory farms feed the animals massive amounts of antibiotics. This in turn creates resistant strains of bacteria that enter into the general population. In contrast, small farms cannot afford the initial capital investment to allow this kind of farming. It is actually less expensive for the small farmer to use grass fed free range farming techniques thus eliminating all the causes of disease the large factory farms are subject to. The end product is more expensive but again it is because real costs must be covered not subsidized costs.
Small is Beautiful
In 1910 English philosopher, G.K. Chesterton, coined the phrase ‘small is beautiful.’ A popular phrase in the 1960’s was ‘the solution to pollution is dilution.’ We recognize that over concentration is harmful in many aspects of life. In industry it leads to monopolies. We are all told to diversify our portfolio to protect our savings. The list goes on and on but we aren’t told to diversify our food supply. Why don’t the same principles apply? Diversity is practically synonymous with health. A collection of small farms has diversity built into its DNA. It may be more expensive but it is because we are paying for healthier, tastier food and healthier farm land that will be here for generations. Educating ourselves about our food supply might just save our lives.
Quite by accident the other night I caught a show on the Smithsonian channel about Folkways founder Moses Asch. This is the fascinating story of a man who made it his life mission to record all the non-commercial sounds of our world from 1948 to the year of his death in 1986. Over this period of time he made 2,200 albums. That is over one every week. The content includes the folk music of Africa, the Near East, the Far East, Appalachia , Cajun Louisiana, Chicago Blues, Texas Blues, bird songs, animal sounds, junkyard sounds, children songs and much more. He is responsible for the first surviving recordings of Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, and many others thus allowing the rest of the world to hear unusual artists that would have been lost forever. He also produced the historic and legendary Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith. His son has recently put together 26 one hour segments, called Sounds to Grow On, highlighting the vast collection that can be heard for free at the Folkways Smithsonian site. During his 38 year span at Folkways Moses Asch never allowed any of his recordings to go out of print. When the Smithsonian took over the collection the main agreement was that no title can ever go out of print. The Smithsonian continues to add eclectic recordings to the collection to this day. I take my hat off to such a wonderful non-commercial effort enriching us all. Oddly, one of the best selling recordings in the collection is an album of frog sounds with scholarly commentary. Enjoy!