Friday, June 25, 2010

Food? Did Someone Say Food?

Remember how I wrote about butchering our own chickens? And that I could not eat them because of how gross it was to reach in and pull their vital organs and guts out?

No more. Since I saw the film, “Food Inc.,” at Court Square Theater last Friday, I’m more than willing to eat our own chickens.

We looked forward to the arrival of our peeps. The husband had spent hours poring over catalogs, deciding which breeds would be best for our purposes. The post office called when the chicks arrived. Stepping into the back room of the post office, I heard them peeping in their little crate. Our grandkids loved looking at the chicks in our homemade brooder. When the birds were old enough, we moved them to one of the three portable coops the husband made. They feasted on pasture grass, weeds and table scraps until butchering day.

To paraphrase my daughter-in-law: “These were happy chickens.”

Compare that to a commercial chicken house crammed with 22,000 birds, none of which can move or spread their wings. The broiler chicken is bred to develop huge breasts within a few short weeks. When the breasts get too big, they’re so heavy the chicken cannot stand up. If it’s not slaughtered by the age of six weeks, it’s likely to die anyway because its body cannot support itself.

Not to mention the conditions in the processing plants. As the film discussed some of the dangers to the workers, I remembered our friend Jimmy, and the injuries he often suffered when he worked in a poultry plant.

I knew this before seeing the film, which is why I butchered my own chickens. But knowing it and seeing it made all the difference in my resolve. Even with a freezer full of my own chickens, I continued to buy the sterile packaged chicken at the grocery store! But now it’s a choice between gross and grosser.

And then there’s beef.

One of the many problems with beef is that feedlot cattle have spent their lives in their own manure. At the slaughterhouse, machines work to clean off the manure so it doesn’t get into to meat. Manure can also get into the meat from the animal’s digestive system. But hey, E. coli happens. And the plant processes so many cattle—up to 400 an hour—that there’s no way of knowing which feedlot or farm the meat came from.

And then there’s corn.

Corn is an ingredient in nearly everything you eat and drink: soda pop, beer, candy, chocolate, canned vegetables, peanut butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressing, mustard, whole wheat bread, yogurt, vitamins, baby food. It’s in your beef, pork, poultry and farm-raised tilapia.

Nearly every food and beverage that is sweet contains some form of corn sugar. Read the labels. Dextrose, dextrin, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, starch, modified starch.Out of 10,000 grocery store products, 2,500 contain corn, according to the Ontario Corn Producers Association.

So what’s the problem? Well, we feed corn to animals for the sole purpose of making them fat. You figure it out. America is the only country where the poor people are the fattest.

So is “Food Inc.” propaganda? Sure, but when I’m looking for information, say, about the toxins contained in sunscreen lotions or the benefits of taking vitamin D, I dis-count the “expert” advice if it concludes by trying to sell me something. This film’s message was pretty much to know where your food comes from. No product to buy, no political party to support.

After the film, a panel member advised the audience to take small steps toward change. I do what I can: We make our own maple syrup, raise hens for free-range eggs, grow a big vegetable garden. We buy beef from our neighbor. I make my own yogurt from raw milk. I make wine from our own berries.

Soon-to-be-made changes include purchasing locally-grown wheat to grind for flour, going back to making my own bread so I know exactly what’s in it and, possibly, raising a hog or two. I may make a trip out to Polyface Farm in Swoope again to get some more ideas.

In the film, Polyface Farm’s Joel Salatin butchered chickens as he talked to the camera. His job was to reach in and pull out the guts. He didn’t, like me, cry or look disgusted.

Still, the next time we butcher, someone else can have that job.

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