Food, Inc. reviewed by Lee Burdett, July, 2009

     In thinking about what to say in order to review this movie the typical words used to praise movies just seem awkward to apply.  I want everyone possible to see this movie. I think it has an immediate and urgent message for every person in this country.  Everyone needs to know the information presented in this move.  But it is not a pleasant message to hear. 

     Food, Inc.  is a movie that asks the question, “Exactly where does our food come from?”  The answers may surprise you.  However you may not be surprised to discover that the fast food giants started it all.  Today fast food is still the driving force behind much of what is wrong with this nation’s food chain.

     Food, Inc. tells us that McDonald’s is our country’s largest purchaser of ground beef, potatoes, pork, tomatoes and lettuce.  They say it is McDonald’s appetite for nationwide uniformity in its menu items (a hamburger purchased in Florida will taste exactly like one purchased in Oregon) that began the, frankly, frightening changes in farming.  On the surface these changes appear positive.  We are producing a lot of food on a small amount of land at an affordable price.  But the investigative reporters for Food, Inc. took a deeper look and they show us that it isn’t the small family farmer with the picturesque red barn that’s raising this food.  It is three or four multi-national companies in control of it all. It isn’t farming; it’s mass production, exactly like a factory.  The employee farmers aren’t all happy, but they’re so trapped by massive debt they can’t quit while the CEOs get richer and richer. 

    “Much of the diversity of foods we see on supermarket shelves is really not diversity at all but rather just a clever rearrangement of corn.”  This statement segues Food, Inc. into a candid look at factory farming.  We grow so much corn in the U.S. that fully 30% of our nation’s land is planted in corn.  In the previous century a corn farmer could grow about 20 lbs. of corn per acre.  Now it is 200 lbs. of corn on that same acre.  This glut of corn has led to chemists experimenting with a multitude of uses for corn.  Big companies like Cargill, A.D.M, and Tyson employ modern-day George Washington Carvers who have developed thousands upon thousands of ways to use this excess corn.  [The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is a good place to read more about this.] Their goal? To engineer foods that don’t stale. 

    Americans consume about 200 lbs of meat per person per year.  That breaks down to slightly more than a half a pound for every man, woman and child per day. This is about twice the average meat consumption for the rest of the world. In order to keep up with that enormous appetite the industrial farms feed corn to the chickens, cows, pigs and even now are teaching farmed fish to eat corn. This is despite the fact that none of these animals were created to exist, much less thrive, on this kind of diet.  It does, however, make them grow fat very quickly.  These operations are called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – do a quick Google search on that and see what you find!).

    But there are side effects, unintended consequences if you will, of this practice.  Obvious consequences are seen in the alarming treatment of these animals who give their lives to feed us. Other consequences are less obvious. Some show up on the national news headlines in the form of food recalls due to lethal strains of E.coli that kill our children and elderly.  Others show up at the doctor’s office with Type II diabetes reaching epidemic proportions.  Even more show up in the form of families leaving their home countries recruited with the promise of steady jobs in meat packing plants only to find themselves arrested by immigration police and their families torn apart. 

    Regulatory agencies set up to protect the consumer are now run largely by former industry heads.  Giant seed companies have their special interests protected by Supreme Court justices who are also former employees.  (Soon 90% of the world’s food crop seeds will be owned, patented, by one company who legally forbids anyone from saving the seeds from their own gardens to plant again the next year.)

    Lest you think Food, Inc. is entirely doom and gloom there are definite bright spots throughout. Movie watchers are treated to stirring interviews with Polyface Farm owner Joel Salatin. (Visit their website at http://www.polyfacefarms.com ) Joel’s dedication to sustainable, pasture-based farming is a beacon of hope showing us that there is another way, an alternative to the industrial feedlots scarring our nation.  The Polyface philosophy is to show respect to the animals and healing to the land.  In stark contrast to the Tyson, Perdue, Smithfield and other industrial farms that declined any interview and fired farmers who allowed the movie cameras to film their farms, Polyface has an open door policy that allows anyone to visit anytime. “No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible” is boldly announced on their website.

    Another bright spot shows Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and CEO of Stoneyfield Farms.  A trained biologist, Hirshberg has spent his career dedicated to organic farming practices.  His Stoneyfield Farms brand of organically produced products has become so wildly successful that they are now found in mass merchandising stores throughout the U.S.

    Food, Inc. shows retail giant Wal-Mart responding to its customers by offering more organic and sustainable choices on its store shelves. (A very funny moment in the movie comes when Wal-Mart executives travel to a dairy farm that is part of the Stoneyfield co-operative.) Wal-Mart does not do this because they want to be a model company; they do it because it is profitable.  Consumers use their purchasing power to effect change in these retail stores by making it profitable for them to make these changes.

    The success of Food, Inc. in my opinion is not going to be determined by the box office dollars it earns.  In fact they really ought to open the theaters and show it for free over and over and over until everyone in every town has viewed it.  The success of this movie will be determined by the response its viewers give through their subsequent actions.  How many people will write letters to their state and national officials demanding changes in business, farming and regulatory agency practices?  How many people will change their spending habits to favor farms and businesses that promote organic methods, humane treatment of animals and good stewardship of the earth and its resources?  How many people will look for local sources for their food choosing farmer’s markets, co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions over national chain grocery stores?  How many people will plant a garden, even a small one?  The answers to these questions will ultimately determine the success of Food, Inc.

    What can we do right now, even without seeing the movie? (Although I wish you would just to support this kind of dissemination of information.)  We can read labels and choose foods without questionable ingredients.  We can vote with our dollars when we shop for our groceries.  We can cook and eat at home instead of relying on restaurants and convenience foods.  We can get food stamps to be accepted at farmer’s markets so that even the poorest of our citizens can have access to fresh, local food. We can write our politicians. We can spread the word.   

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Get Cultured!

GET CULTURED!

 

Welcome to the world of Lacto-Fermentation!  Yee-haw!  Are you ready?  This post is part 2 of my earlier post, "Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose."

 

First, a quick – and possibly boring – and maybe technical – review:

 

Your digestive system is your body’s primary defense against sickness and disease.  This is not only where your body absorbs its nutrients from your food, but it is also where your body produces the weapons to fight off disease.  Therefore we need to be especially careful to eat foods that are easily digestible, that won’t kill the healthy gut flora but will help to replenish it instead.  God designed our bodies and the world to work together to accomplish this naturally.  Throughout time people have eaten fermented foods without knowing or understanding it because it was the only means of food preservation.  Today, this concept is mostly foreign to us because we have had modern refrigeration to preserve our food for us.  We have therefore lost the many health benefits of fermentation and are experiencing the negative results in our health, whether it is a frustrating chronic cough or sinus condition, or something bigger such as autism, mental illness, ADD, etc.

 

Fermenting foods is simple and easy.  It is also super cheap!  Fermentation typically involves the same general process:  some type of culturing agent (whey, for example, or a special starter culture, or sometimes even salt), room temperature, and time.  If you are culturing dairy products, all you do is mix the culturing agent with the dairy product, cover, and let sit on the counter for a day or so.  If you are fermenting vegetables, you will first chop the vegetables, and then add the culturing agent, cover, and let sit on the counter for a day or so.  That is basically all there is to it.

 

Crème Fraiche is probably the easiest cultured dairy product to make.  All you need is one pint of good quality cream (raw cream is best, pasteurized is ok, but ultra-pasteurized is never ok), and one tablespoon of whole milk buttermilk.  Pour the cream into a clean glass container, such as a canning jar, add the buttermilk, stir well, cover tightly and place in a warm spot for 20 to 24 hours.   When the time is up, your cream will have thickened to the consistency of sour cream and will taste like it too.  Keep it in the fridge and use it just like sour cream.  Crème Fraiche is a healthy food but it is not as loaded with healthful bacteria as other cultured dairy products.

 

In Crème Fraiche, the buttermilk is your culturing agent.  But in many lacto-fermented recipes whey is the culturing agent.  Whey  is the clear liquid that you typically find floating on top of yogurt and is incredibly easy to obtain.   Just get a large carton of good quality plain whole milk yogurt (Seven Stars Farm, available at Whole Foods, is excellent).  Set a strainer over a bowl.  Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a thin clean dishtowel.  Pour in the yogurt, cover as best you can, and let it stand at room temperature for several hours (most of the day).  The whey is the clearish liquid that runs into the bowl.  When the dripping slows, very gently tie up the towel (don’t squeeze!!!) and hang it on a wooden spoon set atop a pitcher so even more whey can drip out.  When the bag finally stops dripping, you are done.  The whey is in the pitcher/bowl.  What you have left in the bag is a bonus – cream cheese!  Put each into its own container, cover tightly, and refrigerate.  The whey will keep for 6 months and the cream cheese for 1 month. 

Here is cream cheese made from kefir:

And here is whey:

You will need whey to make many lacto-fermented foods. Sometimes you can substitute salt for the whey, but not all the time.  My family loves lacto-fermented salsa.  The recipe comes from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, page 103:

 

4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 small onions, finely chopped

¾ cup chopped chile pepper, hot or mild (any spicy pepper will do)

6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (optional but remember garlic is extremely good for you and even better when it is lacto-fermented so really don’t skip it)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (parsley can be substituted)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon sea salt (unrefined, such as Celtic Sea Salt or RealSalt)

4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an additional 1 tablespoon salt)

¼ cup filtered water

 

Mix all ingredients and place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.  Press down lightly with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer, adding more water if necessary to cover the vegetables.  The top of the vegetables should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.  Cover tightly (very important – the metal canning lid really helps make the jar airtight) and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.

 

It is especially important to carefully follow the directions and make sure your hands, work area, and utensils are clean.  You also need to use the freshest, best quality ingredients.  When the time is up, your jar may make a popping sound when it is opened. This is normal.  You may find that the salsa is a little bit effervescent, which is a sign that all of the right things have happened inside the jar.  If it isn’t effervescent, that is ok, it is still good.  In fact the only reasons not to eat the salsa would be mold on top or a putrid smell (there would be no doubt) both of which indicate there was some type of contamination during the chopping/mixing.  The salsa will be extremely colorful and extremely fragrant.  Use it to top anything – we love it on omelets. 

Here is the salsa, freshly made and ready to culture on the counter for a couple of days … notice the color … compare this to a jar of bland salsa from the grocery store:

Lacto-fermented foods are a condiment that should be eaten in small amounts with every meal for optimum benefits.  You might say that these foods are God’s probiotics.  It seems that lately there has been a lot said in the media about probiotics.  Yogurt companies are really competing to have the brand with the most probiotics.  Ironically many of these yogurts are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners – no wonder they need probiotics in them!  You can even buy probiotics in capsules to take like medicine.  But this is not news.  Lacto-fermented foods have an ancient history in all cultures. Cultured dairy products are easy to trace back to ancient times.  That delicious yogurt-cucumber sauce at Greek restaurants is a good example.  But Kefir is probably the “big daddy” of all cultured dairy products, and maybe even all lacto-fermented foods. 

Here is a jar of beautiful, fresh, living, healthful, homemade kefir:

Kefir is such an amazing food I hardly know where to start telling you about it.  It is made with milk, and resembles drinkable yogurt.  It has the tart taste of plain yogurt, but the texture can range anywhere from that of buttermilk to a milkshake.  Kefir contains completely different microorganisms than yogurt and is a natural antibiotic.  In fact, there are so many different strains of antibiotics/probiotics in kefir that they have not all been identified and named yet.  Kefir is some super powerful stuff.  It can stop a nasty stomach bug right in its tracks.  You can make whey from kefir just like with yogurt, but the resulting whey is many times more potent.   If you are lactose-intolerant, you may still be able to drink kefir even though it is a milk product.  This is because the good bacteria and beneficial yeast growing in kefir consume most of the lactose as well as provide lactase which also consumes whatever lactose may be left.  (did you catch that?  say it 3 times really fast)

Kefir is the only cultured dairy product that produces grains.  Kefir grains are little gelatinous, creamy colored globs.

They look gross but they are powerful — they are what ferment the milk and fill it with all those good little critters I’ve been telling you about.   Making kefir is very simple and very inexpensive.  All you need are kefir grains and milk.  You can purchase good quality grains over the web but if you know someone who is “kefiring” then you can get grains from them for free. Kefir grains are constantly multiplying and regular kefir-makers are always looking for someone to take their extra grains.  Once you get the grains, you put them in a mason jar and add milk, cover loosely with a paper towel and rubber band, and set it out of the way on your kitchen counter.  You want it a nice room temperature, not too hot or cold.  About 12 hours later you can start to check it.  When it gets thick enough or tart enough for your tastes, then your kefir is ready.  Strain out the grains by setting a fine strainer over a glass bowl and pour the contents of the jar into the strainer like this:

Gently but vigorously shake the strainer so that all of the liquid drains out into the bowl.  The strainer will be full of kefir grains like this:

The remaining liquid is now kefir.  It will be noticeably different than the milk you poured in:

See how it is thicker?  This is kefir.  Put the kefir in a jar and put it in the fridge.  Take the grains that you strained out, put them in a clean jar and repeat the whole process.  The whole process of straining the grains and starting a new batch takes about 5 minutes.  If you do this regularly, your grains will grow very healthy and will multiply quickly.  How economical!  You can use kefir in place of buttermilk or yogurt.

When first starting to eat kefir, go easy on it.  Start with small amounts and work your way up or you may get a stomach ache.  Some people enjoy drinking kefir straight.  It is a bit tart for me.  My family loves to make kefir smoothies.  Pour one cup of kefir into the blender, add one frozen banana and a cup of any other fruit or fruit combo that you like.  We love blueberries, or cherries, or another whole banana.  Blend that up well and then add raw honey to taste.  If I am just using cherries I also like to add a teaspoon or so of vanilla and the result is like a cherry vanilla shake.  Also, for added nutrition, I like to melt a tablespoon of good quality coconut oil and add that.  It gives the smoothie a tropical flair in addition to giving my body more digestive and thyroid support.  My whole family loves kefir smoothies for breakfast or lunch.

 

It truly is best to prepare these foods yourself at home.  But as more and more people are seeking out true nutrition, entrepreneurs out there are making them commercially available.  Many, if not most, commercial food products are not good for your health but there are a few good companies and products out there.  This is helpful because there are some things I just have not had success making for myself and one of those things is Kombucha.  It is an extremely healthful and delicious lacto-fermented beverage (google it for more information) and I was thankful to discover a reputable brand available at Whole Foods.  It is G.T.’s Kombucha and you can find it in the refrigerated section with other bottled drinks.  Another brand of commercially available lacto-fermented food is “Bubbies.”  They make pickles and sauerkraut; both are good.  Beware of the commercially produced kefir and read the labels very carefully.

  

Well, I realize that this is head-twisting.  Intentionally leaving your food out on the counter is just not what we were raised to believe.  There is a difference between letting your food spoil and carefully controlling the environment to encourage healthy bacteria to grow.  I also realize that some of this sounds disgusting, especially the kefir with its gelatinous grains.   Not only that, but time is an issue.  Our modern lifestyles are busy.   Yes, I totally understand all that.  I just wanted to be sure and give you a choice other than “up your nose with a rubber hose.”  Isn’t your family worth the trouble?

 

Remember, be good to your gut and it will be good to you! 

Pizza and Perspective

Last night, I didn’t have a dinner plan.  I will spare you all the reasons why; they aren’t important.  But at 6:15pm, I was without a plan and had about 45 minutes to get it figured out.  I wanted to fix pizza but the pizza dough in the freezer was frozen solid, and, there wasn’t enough left for our whole family.  I was mad with myself for not being on top of this like a “really good wife and mother”.  There was a battle going on in my head —  Perfectionist and Self-Loather were letting me have it and I could hardly think through my options for all the noise.  I almost called my husband and told him we’d meet him somewhere for dinner; I was that desperate.  But what a hassle that would be!  We’d have to put on clothes suitable for being in public, hair would have to brushed, shoes located, and then it would be late by the time we got home; plus, it would just be expensive.  I considered calling my husband and having him stop at the grocery store on the way home.  Self-Loather had brought along Helpless and Hopeless.  I was ready to give in.  I repented for ever judging anyone who fed their family prepared foods, and told myself this healthy eating from scratch thing was just too hard. Then Stubborn showed up.  She and Perfectionist make a great team and suddenly I knew what I would do:  stop feeling sorry for myself, suck it up, and just make pizza from scratch.  The voice in my head was loud:  I will NOT give in!  I will NOT give in!

 

With determination I began flipping through my cookbooks.  My first choice, the King Arthur whole wheat cookbook, had a pizza dough recipe but it was lengthy and complicated.  Not an option.  In my mind I scanned my recipe file; nothing there.  Then I remembered the good old plaid cookbook that had been a wedding gift so long ago.  The Better Homes and Gardens NEW COOKBOOK, copyright 1989. There is always a recipe in there for the most basic of things and sure enough on page 247 I found one for pizza.  A quick scan revealed that it said to pre-bake the crust, then top and bake again.  I started to doubt, then Stubborn told me pre-baking was a waste of time and to hurry up and get busy.

 

So at 6:16pm I started mixing dough for pizza.  The recipe said to combine 1 ¼ cups flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl then add 1 cup warm water and 2 Tablespoons oil.  Beat this with an electric mixer, then gradually add the remaining 1 ½ cups flour while kneading by hand, until the dough was “moderately stiff” and “smooth and elastic.”  I quickly grabbed my bag of King Arthur organic white flour from the pantry and started in.  At 6:20 my dough was “moderately stiff” and “smooth and elastic.”  I couldn’t believe it – 4 minutes!  The recipe said this would take 6 to 8 minutes!  And oh, it felt so good to have my hands in that dough!  I worked Helpless, Hopeless, and Self-Loather right out of my head.  The recipe only yielded 2 pizza crusts so I did it again.  In about 8-10 minutes, I had fresh homemade pizza dough resting on my kitchen counter, enough to feed my whole family.  Ahhhhh, satisfying.

 

As usual, my thoughts turned toward processed convenience foods.  I wondered what the big deal was – this was so easy.   And, I was in total control of the ingredients.  Not only that, but our pizza would have cost more.  I paid $7 for a 5lb bag of organic flour and only used 5 ½ cups – that is barely a dent.  To buy enough pre-made crust for our family would have cost at least $7.  Some of you are gasping at the price of my flour, but you can see that even at that price I am saving money by cooking from scratch.

 

What took the longest amount of time in my dinner preparations last night was not the making of the dough from scratch.  It was the baking of 4 different pizzas, and this would have been true had I used pre-made crusts.  The total cooking time for 4 pizzas baked back-to-back was about 40 minutes.  I made the kid-friendly pizzas first because they would be sitting out longer and would be cooler when it was time to eat.  During the baking time, I threw together a salad and made my own salad dressing.  The girls set the table and my husband stood nearby, nibbling and chatting.  We were home, eating our own food that we prepared ourselves.  We didn’t have to brush our hair, change our clothes, or drive anywhere.  There was no wait to be seated, harried servers, or immodest dress to shield from my son.  And I didn’t have to worry about what scary things were in our food, because I had made it myself.

 

When dinner was over, instead of driving home from a restaurant, the five of us ran outside and played in the yard until just after dark.  My 8 year old daughter joyfully announced, "I love it when we are all outside together!"  Helpless, Hopeless, and Self-Loather were now very distant memories.  Satisfaction and Thankful had just moved in.

 

Was this a gourmet meal?  No.  Would I have preferred a healthier meal than white flour pizza?  Absolutely.  And we could have had all the above had I been a better steward of my time and planned out our meals for the week.  But even when you live by the seat of your pants, you still do not have to buy into the myth that you don’t have time to cook.  And boy, our pizza was delicious.  Next time, I will try this recipe with our freshly milled whole wheat.

 

So, I ask you this:  Where are the savings when buying pre-packaged, pre-made, processed foods if you aren’t saving time or money?  There are no savings.  In fact, ultimately, you lose money – you pay more for these pre-packaged foods, and spend more time and money at the doctor’s office.  The idea that we don’t have time to cook from scratch is just a sales pitch from big companies out to make a profit.  Who are they fooling?  You?

 

"…be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."  Matthew 10:16