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!