Archive for the ‘Rants and Raves’ Category

Hey guys! Guess what? Maybe the USDA inspection process isn’t bulletproof!
After a Humane Society worker released disturbing footage of animal abuse at a Chino, CA slaughter plant that supplies (of all things) the school lunch program, the USDA shut the plant down and is scrambling to cover its sprawling, bureaucratic ass.

He’s watching…even if the USDA isn’t
Photo from Mark Lorch’s fllickr stream

Actually, I *am* disappointed that this kind of oversight could occur. Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck these people are doing. On the one hand, you have small-time meat producers who can’t get their product to market because of USDA regulations and on the other, big, USDA-inspected plants where all kinds of shenanigans are going on while the inspection regime is asleep at the wheel.

This is just bullshit.

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What happened to “Have it your way”?

What are the good people at Burger King trying to say here? Thanks to the 99 cent bacon cheeseburger, I can pay rent this month and still eat, too! Is this ironic? Am I a dick for thinking that this might be ironic? You know, because I’m an effete culinista, out of touch with the people, not eating the BK and telling people to buy a $15 chuck roast they can’t afford and don’t have the time to cook instead of a $1 cinnamon bun that is both affordable AND easily snarfable?

OK, so I’ll admit that I’d sooner blog about Burger King than actually eat there and that probably makes me an elitist asshole. And to top it off, I took the photo of the ad with my boyfriend’s iPhone! But self-flagellation and acknowledging the parody I’ve become is not the point. The point is that this ad is some weird shit.

Or actually, the point is this: Fast food (and processed food) is cheap. Cheaper than anything I’ve eaten in recent memory. There’s just no denying that. You can have a full meal at Burger King for around $3 if you order from their value menu. That’s a lot of calories for very little money. So hey, why *not* advertise that fact to people who might be interested in a little value?

There are actually a number of these ads around, one of which claims that you could have a meal at Burger King w/ the change you find in your sofa cushions – so maybe even $3 is off the mark. I can tell you that I haven’t dug around in the sofa cushions for change since I was about 7 – and that if I’d found that much money in there, then you can bet your ass I’d have gone to Burger King to celebrate. That, of course, was back when you could “have it your way” and I really, really wished my mom would feed me “real” (read: American) food like Fruit Roll-Ups instead of yucky rice and fish. Now that I’m being called a sadsack who can’t make rent by these venerable burger purveyors, I’m not so sure.

Of course, I *am* fortunate enough to be able to pay rent and not have to eat that crap, but that’s another story.

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But here’s how my mom feeds 360 pounds of Asian:

Clockwise from top: boiled chestnuts, hard-boiled eggs, sliced meatloaf, broiled salmon, sauteed lotus root with sesame seeds, salt-pickled chinese cabbage with sesame oil, sliced persimmons, brown rice

There’s a great audio clip circulating the internet of an irate Texan giving Jimmy Dean a dressing down for shrinking their sausage packages from 16 oz to 12 oz. 12 oz of sausage, a couple dozen eggs and a T-bone steak are apparently *not* enough food for what he calls “600 pounds of MAN!” to eat first thing in the morning.

Now, food is a tremendously cultural matter, so I can’t really say that what this guy should do is ditch the cholesterol gut-bomb for breakfast and eat Mama Hoshino style. But then, let’s be serious here. Eating that kind of crap for breakfast is just not healthy, even if it makes me feel like a snooty food chauvinist to say so. 6 grams of saturated fat in a 56 gram portion?? How is that even possible?

And as an aside – I’m not really sure what this guy is so hyped up about. A cursory stroll through the Jimmy Dean website indicates that their sausage is indeed still available in a 16 oz. package (or a 32 oz., or a 48 oz., for that matter). Maybe Randy Taylor, Texas Man, should have reserved his ire for the local supermarket.

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Sow in a gestation crate
Photo from
clstal’s flickr stream

No, really. I’m seriously asking that question. It’s not a rhetorical jumping off point for me or others to express their indignation.

See, the Humane Society of the United States, among other animal rights groups, is circulating a petition to get enough signatures to add a ballot measure in California that would ban the use of gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates in hog, egg and veal production, respectively. Being that I’m not a hog farmer, a manager of a laying hen operation, animal behaviorist, large animal veterinarian, etc., I honestly don’t know if this is a good thing or not. But I *am* a consumer of all those things (well, maybe not veal), I have an irrational love for farmers and I vote, so I wonder about the merits or drawbacks of these management systems.

Hens in a battery cage
Photo from clstal’s flickr stream

But as it turns out, it seems damn near impossible to get a well reasoned and impartial exposition of the issue. Virtually all the material on the pro side is from hysterical, Chicken Little PETA fascists who, you get the feeling, would inveigh in the most strident tones against anything hinting at people using animals for anything other than cuddling…or something. The pro side is basically non-existent, at least on Google (perhaps less so at a diner in Iowa, but I can’t get to that from my computer). So I turned to the American Farm Bureau’s blog to try to find a real, live conventional hog farmer to ask. In response to my request for more information, I got this nuclear blast of rhetoric.

I find this all unfortunate because this issue could in fact land on a ballot next year, and 36 and a half million Californians could conceivably be called upon to vote on it. And aside from that, we all eat and we have an ever-increasing number of opportunities to vote for or against a particular farming method with our dollars. It would be nice if we could all make an informed decision, both at the polling station and the supermarket. Wouldn’t it?

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*Not* the soup to be used in your green bean casserole
Photo from landotter’s flickr stream

Here I was, ranting and raving about Kraft OWNING the holidays with their green bean casserole, not even realizing that apparently, they INVENTED the thing to begin with. At first, I felt like it was perverse that the dish that every red-blooded American has to have with their Thanksgiving meal is actually a 50 year-old marketing vehicle for Kraft to push canned soup and canned fried onions to the tune of $70 million a year.

But on the other hand, it *is* easy to make, people do really love it and frankly, you don’t have to have the foggiest idea how to cook in order to make a passable version of it. It may not meet my definition of what food is, but I suppose it’s a step up from some of the other insane crap food companies try to pass off as recipes…after all, not everyone has the time or the inclination to make food out of actual unprocessed ingredients, right? Right?

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Are you ready for this dish to totally DOMINATE your holiday home?
Photo from m-e-c’s flickr stream

From a BrandWeek profile of Kraft’s plans for a “holiday comfort food home invasion”
(emphasis mine):

“Our goal is to own the holidays,” said Ken Stickevers, VP of marketing for Hearty Soups at Campbell Soup, Camden, N.J.
A Cream of Mushroom push will focus on Campbell’s 50-year-old holiday classic, the green bean casserole. “There are about 30 million green bean casseroles prepared between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year,” said Stickevers. “We will be driving awareness of the dish every week [now] through Christmas.”

I admit to being an insufferable food snob, but am I really crazy for finding it disquieting that Kraft wants to OWN THE HOLIDAYS? Sheesh.

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No, no, no. EARL BUTZ, not butts.
Photo from cobalt123’s flickr stream

For some people, the name Earl Butz conjures up, well, nothing other than maybe some giggles. But for others, he seems to be famous for having uttered the following with regard to small farmers: “Adapt or die”.

Now, I’m not sure he actually did say this. And I’m also not in a position to pass judgement on whether or not he really did preside over the trend toward mega-agribusiness and relentless vertical integration in food production that currently prevails. That is something for the experts to decide.

But aside from the weighty questions of agricultural policy Mr. Butz’s name conjures up, what I’d also like to know is the following.

Did the man who is either admired for making American agriculture efficient or reviled for destroying small farms really SAY this, provoking a furor that led to his resignation?:

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

This statement was apparently preceded by an anecdote about “intercourse between a dog and a skunk”.

I swears I never fucked no dog, even if Mr. Butz sez I dids! Srsly!
Photo from fieldsbh’s flickr stream

WTF? What?
So if the naysayers are right, presumably Mr. Butz’s lapses in judgement were *not* restricted to unleashing the likes of ADM and Cargill on the American agricultural landscape.

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Not a farm (Photo from Mr. Wright’s flickr stream)

Perusing the Congressional Budget Office’s 21-page Cost Estimate of HR2419, otherwise known as the Farm Bill (or at least, the version that passed in the House), is enough to make your head explode. Everyone knows the bill is a staggering behemoth filled with an incomprehensible number of different appropriations, but seeing the fine print is truly illuminating. A couple million here, a few billion there and soon you’re looking at some serious cash.

It’s no wonder we’re talking about $877 billion over a period ranging from 2008-2017:

$408.6 billion for nutrition programs (e.g., food stamps)
$88.7 billion for commodity programs, including direct and countercyclical payments plus loans and loan deficiency payments for growers of “covered commodities” (i.e., grains, oilseeds and cotton)
$70 million/year for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
$2 million for a Federal Milk Marketing Order Review Commission
$2.3 billion for the Wetland Reserve Program
$221 million for the Market Access Program
$294 million for Rural Development Programs, defined as “grants to producer organizations to enhance the value of agricultural commodities”
$800 million to “cover the subsidy costs of guaranteed loans for biofuel plants”
$265 million for direct spending on research of organic agriculture and specialty crops (keep in mind that “specialty crops” are anything other than commodity crops like grains, oilseeds, cotton, rice, corn and soybeans)
$11 billion for foreign food assistance programs from 2008-2012 (procured, of course, stateside and not necessarily close to the area in need of the assistance)
$220 million from 2008-2012 for programs to “promote and research energy production from agricultural and other biomass sources”
$193 million for “miscellaneous provisions” for a “wide variety of programs” including grants to reduce the production of methamphetamines from anhydrous ammonia and the creation of a National Drought Council, among others.

I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of worthy things being funded in the Farm Bill. But how on earth can anyone keep track of where it’s all going?? I should have a line in there somewhere. Shit, if some guy living in Manhattan can pocket a few thousand, I don’t see why I’m missing out. Wouldn’t be but a rounding error in the general scheme of things.

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Photo from Choirbell’s flickr stream

People, come on! Stop eating those Banquet chicken and turkey pot pies right out of the package! Don’t you know that that stuff isn’t ready-to-eat? Don’t you have a frantically, pedantically detailed knowledge of the wattage and inner workings of your microwave? No? Then it must be your fault if you started projectile vomiting last time you crammed one of those things into your gullet.

At least, that’s the line that ConAgra is taking. Check out these excerpts from a press release they sent out in response to salmonella poisoning from their chicken and turkey pot pies (emphasis is mine):

ConAgra Foods today announced that it was contacted by state health officials regarding Banquet Turkey and Chicken Pot Pies. In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ConAgra Foods is advising consumers to not eat these products while the USDA and ConAgra Foods look into these concerns…The company believes the issue is likely related to consumer undercooking of the product…

The company reminds consumers that these products are not ready-to-eat, and must always be thoroughly cooked as instructed on the packages. The cooking instructions for these products are specifically designed to eliminate the presence of common pathogens found in many uncooked products. Microwave cooking times vary, depending on the wattage of the microwave, so carefully following all instructions is important.

Huh? It’s not like the meat is raw in that pie when you heat it up. It’s a convenience food! That means that theoretically, it’s pre-cooked in some plant somewhere so you don’t have to take your kitchen thermometer out and make sure it’s cooked to 165 degrees inside. I mean, I just know that if you’re eating a frozen pot pie that costs 75 cents, you’re definitely going to have a thermometer on hand to bulletproof yourself from food poisoning in case your
$553 Panasonic NN-C994S Genius Prestige 1100-Watt microwave craps out on you.

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Image from Suburbancowboy’s flickr stream

Ah, spinach. It turned Popeye from a week-kneed fool swooning over his beanpole of a sweetheart, Swee’Pea, into a swaggering ass-kicker. Rip open a bag of the stuff, shovel it in and you too, can feel its goodness coursing through your veins, transubstantiating into sheer virility and lifeblood! Oh, but wait. I forgot. Spinach’ll kill you. I know, because USA Today told me so. There’s even a heartrending gallery of the victims of spinach, that leafy green serial killer, just in case you weren’t frightened enough and happened to forget about how deadly spinach is now that a year has passed since THE OUTBREAK.

Now, I’m not trying to cheapen the deaths of five people as a result of consuming contaminated spinach. It’s terrible that such a thing could happen. But before we start rifling through the fridge in a bug-eyed panic, rooting out spinach wherever it may lurk, let’s think about this for a second.

Image from JimmyMac210’s flickr streamThe article makes much hay about the contaminated spinach’s origins in the same 2.8-acre plot in San Benito County, CA. Also mentioned is that this 2.8 acre “farm” yielded 1,002 pounds of spinach that then wended its way through the usual channels through the packers, distributors, grocery stores and into the refrigerators of its unsuspecting victims, who are duly commemorated with a gory rundown of their demise. Mass hysteria ensued. Articles like the USA Today’s screamed headlines of death and destruction at the hands of spinach.

Consumers felt betrayed by spinach – previously considered the most salubrious of salad munchables, it was now poison. Where before, consumers were snapping up those conveniently pre-washed bags of spinach, they were now dropping the habit like a hot sack of shit. Now, the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Board wants to implement a certification system to impose a system of “Good Agricultural Practices” on producers throughout the state because sales still haven’t recovered from the hit they took last year. I’ll let the Community Alliance for Family Farmers speak to the merits or lack thereof of this regime, since they’re certainly more expert on this matter than I.

But what these two phenomena – media alarmism and a heavy-handed regulatory response – have in common is that they miss the point. It is extremely unlikely that spinach is going to kill you! In 2005, Americans consumed 680 million pounds of spinach and spinach consumption has been trending steadily upward, so it’s safe to say that in 2006, it must have been at least slightly more than that. That’s 1,002 pounds of bad spinach in over 680 million pounds! That’s not even half of one percent of the total spinach supply.

I was working on an organic farm when news of the e.coli contamination broke, and people would come by the stand at the farmer’s market and eye our spinach with a mix of dread and skepticism, as if botulism was just going to leap out and strike them dead where they stood. That is just irrational. We’re talking about fresh spinach, harvested the day before, kept cool and brought to market less than 24 hours after it was picked. We’re also talking about spinach grown on a diversified farm with aged compost produced under stringent standards, in soil that has a healthy population of microorganisms to compete with deleterious bacteria. Not spinach that went through all kinds of hands in a processing facility, bagged and trucked 2,300 miles to Wisconsin. Plus, we’re talking about SPINACH, people! It’s good for you. Why would you extrapolate the news about packaged spinach onto all leafy greens?! Ma’am, put those tongs down. That’s spinach you’ve got there. Don’t eat that! It’ll kill you! Instead, eat an Oreo pizza from Domino’s. That’s much better for you and won’t lead to kidney failure. For crying out loud!

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