Monday, May 2, 2011

Who can you trust?

A fear and frustration of anyone who does any public speaking or writing is that your words will be taken out of context. It has been on my mind for the past week as I contemplated whether or not to write this post. But I finally decided to do it because this topic is too important to not write about it. What is so important and controversial?

Anyone remember back in 2007 when Tyson started advertising antibiotic-free chicken? Did you notice how those ads disappeared? That's because Tyson was lying, and they got called on the carpet by Perdue and then consumers. Like many advertisers, Tyson was splitting hairs with their advertising claim because their chickens were being fed medication on a daily basis -- just like Perdue and other commercial chickens -- but technically the drug is an ionophore, not an antibiotic. Although Tyson admitted no wrongdoing, they quietly settled the lawsuit with Perdue in 2008. The consumer lawsuits were ultimately lumped into a class-action suit, which was settled last year. I'm sorry to say that if you bought Tyson chicken from 2007 to 2009 thinking it was drug-free, the time has passed for you to get your coupons and cash. So, why am I telling you this?

Because it's just another painful example of how corporate America will say anything to get us to fork over our hard-earned cash for their products. And they'll do anything to increase their profits, because that is the only thing they care about. But, as they are quick to point out, it's not their fault because legally corporations only answer to their stock holders, and they are responsible for turning as big a profit as possible.

Food giant Dean Foods, which has gobbled up dozens of smaller dairy companies, has been caught conveniently avoiding the truth and stretching the truth. When Dean bought Silk Soy products, they quietly stopped using organic soybeans without changing the labels, other than to omit the word "organic," and it was months before consumers noticed that they had been duped. In their organic dairies, they've been caught buying conventionally raised, drug-fed heifers as future milkers, even though it's prohibited by organic standards. And now they're fortifying their "organic" milk with DHA Omega-3, which is synthetic and illegal under the organic standards. And what really fries my bacon with this story is that if they kept their cows on a grass-fed diet, their milk would be naturally high in omega-3s.

And it goes beyond organics. Does anyone remember the McDonald's class action lawsuit in the 1990s when McD said they were now frying their french fries in vegetable oil rather than lard. Vegetarians started eating the fries before learning that the new "secret ingredient" in the fries was tallow, which is beef fat. We were vegetarians at the time and starting eating the fries. The only thing I've purchased from McDonald's in at least ten years was a cup of coffee a few years ago when I was desperate to find a WiFi connection, and a sign outside a McD's boasted WiFi, so I figured I could buy a cup of coffee and check my email. Wrong! After I bought the coffee, I asked how to get connected, and I was told I'd have to pay for it. Want to guess when I'll set foot in a McD's again?

And it goes beyond food. When we moved into our house six years ago, all of the appliances were brand new except for the dryer, which we bought in 1993. As of today, all of the appliances have been replaced -- some twice -- except for the stove and the 1993 dryer. And in the last two years, the cost of a refrigerator has gone up $400 -- yes, the exact same refrigerator that only lasted 20 months!

I am so fed up with Big Biz, I could rant all day with one story after another. And although I don't have an answer about what to do with appliances, I do have answers for food. We can't rely on labels, government inspectors, or lawyers and lawsuits to protect us from anything, whether it is ingredients we would prefer to avoid or deadly pathogens. We have to take responsibility and do what we can. Madison Avenue has done a splendid job convincing us that our time is too valuable to be spent gardening or cooking. We should relax in front of the television (so they can convince us to buy more stuff that we don't need). Of course, we can't all grow everything, but farmer's markets are becoming more popular, making it easier than ever to know your farmer.

Yes, a person could lie to you about how they grow their crops, but in my experience most of them adamantly believe that they're doing what needs to be done, and rather than lie to you, they'll try to convince you that you don't really need organic spinach or pork. And if you're a savvy shopper, it is easy to spot the fakers. A couple of years ago, I asked at a farmer's market stand if they sprayed their vegetables, and rather than answering my question, the man said, "Pesticides kill bees," and gave me an explanation that would mean no one could use pesticides. I just walked away, feeling insulted and thinking that I should have started questioning him. But if you frequent a farmer's market, you can get to know the people and learn who you can trust.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but the last thing I want is for people to take away the idea that it's hopeless, and you should just keep buying the cheapest food possible, because you don't really know if organic is organic or not. I want this post (and the blog and my book) to motivate and empower you -- to help you believe that you really can take control of your food choices. You don't have to be a master gardener. I'm not. You don't even need a yard. When we lived in the Chicago burbs, we rented a community garden plot. According to the National Gardening Association, 5% of those who garden -- two million people -- have a garden at a friend's house. And it doesn't take a ton of time. The average amount of time spent gardening every week is less than five hours, which is not even an hour a day -- far less than most people spend watching television.

But if you have a legitimate reason for not gardening or shopping at farmer's market, you can at least start cooking something from scratch. I started baking bread 23 years ago, back when I was drinking two liters of soda a day. Little things add up, and if you keep adding little things, at some point you might find yourself on 32 acres in the middle of nowhere growing the majority of your own food organically.

And if anyone has ideas on how we can get back to appliances that last twenty years, please share!


rachel whetzel said...

Ah, Deb... I love you so much!! I'm so glad to have found you on line... I truly TRULY believe that the KEY is to know your farmer. Know your seller. BUY LOCAL. That means shopping where you can TALK TO the people in charge. The people that talk openly about why they aren't "certified" organic, but don't use pesticides, or hormones? BUY FROM THEM!! The people that invite you to their farm to see with your own eyes how they do things? BUY FROM THEM!! The store owner that listens to what YOU need and makes their purchases with you in mind? BUY FROM THEM!! The people that are doing things the way YOU want them to, aren't always who you think they will be, but when you start asking questions, who they ARE will become very clear. :) This is an awesome post. Thanks so much for writing it!

momanna98 said...

Great post! Sometimes I feel so trapped by the government and the big biz people. It's practically impossible to get away from them! I'm so sick or being lied to or them thinking they know what's best for us!
We garden, can some, have chickens and goats, bake our own bread. I make what I can from scratch. Some days I'm very excited about the road we are on, but other days I'm discouraged by how long it is taking to get there.
One thing you didn't mention was putting up with relatives who think you are wasting your money feeding animals or buying organic. That's hard to deal with.

SkippyMom said...

Buy your appliances in either avocado or harvest gold. :wink: [those 70's appliances lasted forever]

Jane said...

Great post. It is so sad what is going on in our world today. As far as appliances here is what I have done. I have a commercial gas stove. It uses no electric and has no do-dads. I can not imagine anything could ever go wrong with it that could not be fixed because it is so simple. I also have an outdoor wood oven I use for baking. That cant break ;)I do not use a dish washer or dryer. I have a hand crank James washer for doing the laundry. I do have an electric clothes washing machine but if it goes it is not being replaced. I have a refrigerator that is 10 years old. If it goes I will not replace it either. My Husband owns an ice company and I will just use an ice box to keep things cool. I feel the refrigerator causes us to hold onto things we really don't need for too long. Without it you eat fresher. The stumbling block for me is a freezer. I like having one for another form of preserving but mine is over 25 years old. Not sure what to do with that one. I mean, I could live with out one, but I don't really want to. And I am not impressed with modern expensive freezers either that use so much electric in our off grid home. It is a problem.

LindaG said...

Well, I hate to say it, but get rid of unions and bring manufacturing back to America.

Do we make anything of our own any more that isn't imported from somewhere else?

We'd probably have to get rid of stockholders, too. Then companies would have to make products that people wanted to buy again.

Oh, and get rid of mega companies and go back to smaller.

Loved your post! I'm glad you decided to share it with us. Thank you.

Sharrie said...

We are one of the "we do it organic, beef, corn, soybeans, and alalfa, but we aren't certified". Glad to read that some people value what we do. I also don't do Tyson since they didn't treat their union workers fairly here in WI. Keep up your way of life. Hopefully more people will join you.

Mama Pea said...

I think all of us down to earth, back to the land folks clearly see what is wrong and what should be done to change it. The problem is we are not in control of the situation. More and more of our personal rights are being slowly, stealthily taken away from us. All we can do at this point is make ourselves as safe and secure as we can at home. I think the awful situation our nation (world!) is in is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Great post.

homespunheretic said...

Good grief, I had no idea about the Silk soymilk! I only recently figured out that the sporadic and puzzling puking episodes I had been having on and off for about two years was due to the occasional carton of Silk Soymilk I had been drinking. I don't know what's in it now that wasn't there before the company change, but I swore off of it and now I feel even better about the decision.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Great post! A topic close to our farms heart. We chose to be certified organic years ago. We take the rules, the inspections and the labels very seriously. It may be another farmers choice not to be certified organic but please do not label your products "Beyond Organic" as there is no such thing, and do not tell me your products are "non-certified organic when you do not even know what the organic standards are. There is no fault in choosing another way to farm, this is still America, but accountable farmers mean what they say and say what they mean. This of course goes for appliances as well...and clothing...and soap...and...

Vegetable Garden Cook said...

Great post. There's so many deceptive marketing practices that it just makes me sick. I wish that we could just do away with the need for money, as that is what seems to motivate people the most to do the things they do. Even, I hate to say this, but many of those selling raw milk products who clearly turn a blind eye to the safety issues.

The answer for me has been to try to reduce the need for money as much as possible. I try to grow and raise much of my own food (poultry, pigs, goats, large veg garden and orchard.

I truly do believe that money is the root of all evil.

Sarah said...

As always Deb, your posts are fantastic!

In order to have appliances that last twenty years, we would need to spend considerable more money than we do now. Think about it - back in the 50's/60's/70's getting a clothes washer was a BIG THING because they cost so much. And they lasted forever most of the time. People couldn't afford to have a ton of appliances/TVs/cars/etc. like they do and expect to now.

Now days you can buy a toaster for less than you would spend at Starbucks (we got a six dollar one from Target), but it lasts only a few months (and it did only last that long). I wasn't upset that we had to buy a new one so much as I was upset at the idea that it would be wasteful to get another one. I vowed to find the best toaster in terms of quality and lifespan. And to not let my cheap husband talk me into another six dollar toaster.

I can understand why most people just buy the six dollar toaster and throw it away in three months and the cycle continues. It's the path of least resistance. When it's easy to buy chicken in plastic wrapped packages, when it's easy to pluck the fruit off of shelves instead of trees, and when it's cheap and easy to buy cheap and crappy items, most people will do it. Because they don't want to take the time and effort to research items, grow food, etc. It takes away from their leisure time.

I'm not saying that we are lazy so much as I am saying that we don't do much until we are forced to. After all, when tragedy strikes, we all move pretty quick and get stuff done.

But boy, we really do love cheap stuff, even if it really costs more for us and the environment in the long run.

momanna98 said...

I guess relative don't really fit into your post, lol. I was letting my frustrations talk the other day. :-)

John said...

Good post - to get appliances to last, the key is to purchase a simple unit from a name brand. For example, your dryer and washer should have a single rotary dial and a start button. Anything more is asking for trouble. A simple unit will last longer, and be repairable. Repairing appliances may look difficult, but there is really not much inside those large white boxes. That drier with 20 settings - one motor, a heater, a drive belt, and a control unit. (Fridge/freezers would be an exception). Find a local place that sells parts - or if that is not available then an online place like repairclinic_dot_ com will keep things going.

Barb J. said...

This is a great, thought-provoking post. It really is a shame that we can't trust a lot of companies, though. It's enough to make us paranoid!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, and just wanted to say that I'm so happy to have found your blog.
Our family started our journey with 6 chickens back and 2007 and haven't looked back :) We don't completely buy all organic, but what we raise...veggies, chickens (egg and meat), duck, rabbit, goose, and raised that way as much as we know how.
One of your commenters stated that it's hard to deal with friends and family asking "why" and I agree with that. After all, WE all know it's more expensive (especially starting out) and far less convenient. It's also hard to convince people who aren't ready to hear it, and some that take it as a direct insult on how they live, about the MANY benefits and rewards of "raising our own". I also don't want to give anyone the impression that I am telling others how they should live either. So I finally simply started answering..."Well, I just changed my mind." I doubt they really think about the depth of my answer, but I sincerely mean that my way of thinking has entirely changed. But I digress...
About the advertising, I saw a commercial for Taco Bell the other day boasting about how "beefy" their burrito was. I am guessing that is because they couldn't legally call it an actual BEEF burrito? HA! My husband, who has a cynical sense of humor says it's all part of Darwin's theory! Buyer beware.....

alewyfe said...

Well said... they don't make things like they used to. While for some appliances it may be worth investing in newer technology that is more efficient, I love LOVE love my 1953, copper-clad Chambers cooktop and oven, made in Shelbyville Indiana. I'm pretty sure if I ever have kids and/or grandkids, it will still be cookin'... It's beautiful and smart- can burn propane or natural gas with a slight modification... the oven is well-insulated with rockwool and has a cast-iron bottom plate for thermal mass, and the best part? There's a knob that closes the damper on the bottom of the oven, so you can turn the gas off and keep the heat in, much like a midcentury-modern strawbox cooker. Saves fuel and worry about burning the casserole (or the house down) while you go out to milk your goats. See if you can find one- I got mine on craigslist for $300 from some young guy in Oak Park who had inherited his dad's house and wanted a "modern" kitchen. I don't totally trust the pilots to not go out unattended (though once they warm up I've never had them do so), so we turn off the gas-valve when we're not using it (saves a tiny bit of gas too by not burning them all the time)- only takes a minute to light and then you're good to go!
Can't wait till we can finish our house and have a root cellar in the basement and a seasonal cold-box with a temp-controller and a fan- I've always thought it was silly to use electricity to keep things cold inside when you're also heating your house because it's freezing outside- then we can retire the fridge to seasonal summer use! Our friends have a fridge made out of a chest freezer with a temp. controller on it- much more efficient since the cold doesn't fall out every time you open the door. Little things...


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