A die-hard City Girl reconnects to the natural world… in the city.


Don’t Let the Sticker Fool You

So I hope I have satisfactorily explained how complicated and confusing the ‘organic’ label can be. Today I’d like to provide you with a concrete example as well as expand on it a little bit.

In discussing my newfound discoveries with a friend, she gave me a dissenting view- try all you might, it doesn’t matter. You can’t escape the beast. Sometimes I have to admit that it feels that way. And when it boils down to the most basic conclusion, if I’m not growing the food or hunting and gathering the food myself, she’s probably right. I can’t fully and completely unplug if I am reliant on others to provide my sustenance.

To drive her point home, she sent me this link with the words “why it doesn’t matter”. Except it didn’t change my mind or make me feel daunted. Because, as I mentioned in the organic blog, there’s a difference between organic meat and pastured meat. And I have moved to only eating PASTURED meat. And PASTURED meat, unlike ORGANIC meat, has a very low chance of containing the virulent strain of E. Coli O157:H7. This is why “going organic” isn’t quite good enough if you truly are looking to protect your health, especially when it comes to your meat.

I’ve said it before but I think it’s so important that it bears repeating- cows are not meant to digest grain. As Washington Farmer Erick Haakenson explains in his January Newsletter:

…the specific strain of E-coli that is fatal to humans (O157:H7), was unknown before 1980, when the first feed-lots were started and when beef in the US started its shift from being nearly 100% grass-finished to being 100% grain finished. This is a new phenomenon whose appearance was made at the exact time the feed-lots appeared. The gut of grass raised cattle is acidic, as ours is. E-coli O157:H7 is a microbe that needs a neutral environment to survive; hence this kind of E-coli cannot survive in the acidic stomach(s) of grass-fed cattle. But when cattle are fed large amounts of corn and grain, the pH of their stomach rises to the point of becoming neutral, and as such, becomes a suitable host for this virulent E-coli.

So this brings me to another important point. All cattle, even feedlot cattle, start their lives off grass-fed. It is entirely too expensive and there is too high a death rate if they feed the cattle grain right off the bat. But because of USDA food labeling laws, you can technically say your meat is grass-fed, even if it wasn’t grass-FINISHED.

Ahh, so what is grass-FINISHED? It means that the only time your cow left its wonderful grass pastures was for its once-in-a-lifetime visit to the butcher-man. The cow started its life on grass and ended its life on grass. It was not ever fed grains or anything other than God’s green earth. (The reason for the grain feeding is so your steaks get that nice marbled look that people seem to like so much. I love beef fat but it’s not that serious.)

My father and I took a trip to a natural food market and he picked up some ground beef and showed it to me. “Is this good?” he asked. I looked at the label. 100% Grass-fed!  But all cattle is grass-fed at some point, I know. I call for the butcher. “Excuse me is this meat grass-FINISHED?” I ask. “No it isn’t. It’s grass-fed and grain and potato finished”. Now this answer came from a NATURAL FOOD MARKET. At least my father can feel good knowing that his E. Coli would be “organic” E. Coli. <Insert Eye Roll Here>

 Will you ever completely get rid of food poisoning? Probably not. I think it’s sad, however, that the simple act of feeding cows something it’s not meant to eat causes such a significant increase in food-borne illnesses. I find it sadder that no one feels we should just change this. Isn’t grass cheaper anyway? I mean, it’s certainly abundant. I know a few yards that could use some attention.

So be mindful. Don’t assume that the label is telling you the whole truth. Find out for yourself. I’ve only been eating this way for about 3 weeks and already one of the butchers at my local market knows me. And he already has my answers. I pick up some stew beef and he tells me the name of the farm it came from and whether or not it’s what I want. Now that, my friends, is service.


Is “Going Organic ” Good Enough?

In a nutshell, the answer to the title question would be “maybe”. Going to an all organic diet would certainly be much better for you and the planet in the long run but would it be enough? Probably not, especially if conventional METHODS are still used to supply the organic products- grocery stores.

Now I’m not trying to say grocery stores are the direct issue so much as I’m saying that the need to put food into grocery stores is. You basically end up with multi-national conglomerates trying to get food into nationwide grocery stores. Grocery store products travel an average of 1500 miles to get to you. What they have to do to make that happen is pick the food before it’s ripe (meaning it hasn’t reached its peak of healthfulness), ripen it in transit with ethylene gas (GROSS!), coat it with a fancy wax (made of petroleum- HELLO!- so it LOOKS like it’s in better shape than it is) and truck it across the country from farm to store. Let’s add to the conventional produce all the toxins that went into its production and, well, no thanks.

Now the question is, what makes shopping at Whole Foods any different than your local Kroger/Safeway/Publix/Piggly Wiggly if either way, this is going to be the case? Not only that, but these national grocery chains don’t want to buy from hundreds of different farms and suppliers. This means the suppliers themselves have to be massive. Grocery stores buy from DOZENS of suppliers, not HUNDREDS. Think on what that means for a moment. And Whole Foods is not much different (though a better alternative than conventional any day).

Then there is the whole debate on what organic even means. To you and me, organic means that the food was produced the way it would be in the wild. It means we’re lucky enough to go to the grocery store and pick it up off a shelf as if we hunted it and gathered it ourselves- without the hunting or gathering. To the USDA and Big Food (essentially they’re the same entity), not so much. This is direct from the USDA website:

“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

The underlining is obviously mine. Buying organic doesn’t mean you get NO pesticides on your produce. It means you get fewer. And you’re probably spared the worst of the lot.  So organic produce is much better than non-organic produce but don’t think you don’t need to be mindful of where it came from.

Meat, however, is another very complicated matter. If you watched The Meatrix videos, you learned that the animals that eventually end up on your dinner plate are being fed horrifying things. For cows, they’re being fed grain which is something they are not evolved to eat or digest. This elevates E. Coli and other bacteria and, well, you end up with a recipe for disaster. Did you know that the only difference between an organic steak and a conventional steak is simply that the grain it’s fed has no pesticides?

Well, either way, it’s still eating grain. This grain- probably corn- ends up making the animal fat (and thus it makes us fat), detracting from the nutrients it provides us and still contains elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria. It also doesn’t guarantee the animal is humanely raised.

SIDENOTE: Even if you’re not an animal rights activist, if you’re a meat lover then you care that the animal is humanely raised. Let’s not even get into what kind of person would want to treat an animal badly or the kind of negative energy you’d be ingesting. Animals raised in food lots are constantly under high stress conditions. This means their bodies are flooded with hormones and chemicals that affect how the meat tastes and how tender it is. So there, you want humanely raised meat. It’s tastier.

So is eating organic better? Yes, it’s definitely better than conventional. Is it good enough? I would say my answer would be no. Because if the USDA is the one slapping the certified organic sticker on the product, I’ll take my chances shaking my local farmer’s hand and looking him in the eye as I ask him how he raises his cattle and produce. I’d rather give him the thousands of dollars I spend annually on feeding my family.  (And supporting your local farmer? How is that wrong? If everything went to hell in a handbasket, wouldn’t you want to know someone who could feed you was close by?)

What should you do? Go to your favorite search engine and type in Community Supported Agriculture  and your zip code. Find a local farm that provides boxes of fruits and vegetables grown fresh on their farm or through farm co-ops. Go to eatwild.com and find meat and dairy that has been PASTURED (raised on a farm and eating what it’s SUPPOSED to eat) and figure out how to get your hands on it. And don’t tell me you don’t know of any local farms. There isn’t a single state in the union that doesn’t have farms and that is a fact. I just gave you resources. Use them! In the meantime, Happy Eating!

Revolution: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend, I sat down with my daughter and we watched several documentaries about food and health. Later that evening once I was all alone, I decided I’d watch another called The Future of Food (the above is a clip of the beginning). I was nearly in tears by the end of it. I have hit a new height of anger and fear and it has pushed me to a new level of advocacy I was not expecting or prepared to pursue. But this is not something I can sit back and just accept.

This is akin to slavery- yes, I said it.

Forcing me into an action involuntarily, deliberately keeping me ignorant to the truth, taking something from me that is a HUMAN RIGHT is slavery and oppression and to attempt to view it in any other way is to prefer to dwell in ignorance. And yet this is what Big Food does.  They lie to you, they manipulate the facts, they prevent truths from getting out into the open, they’ve taken over one of the most intimate human functions- eating. This is absolutely, irrevocably, fundamentally wrong.

The hope is that people in positions of power would do the right things on behalf of those that aren’t. It is a constant and painful disappointment that they usually do not. People in power will do whatever they can to maintain and expand that power and all at the EXPENSE of the Little People. And in the meantime, the Little People severely underestimate their own power. We forget that the Have Nots will ALWAYS outnumber the Haves. That the power of those in charge is tenuous so long as we ALLOW them to have that power, allow them to manipulate us and keep us in ignorance.

So for all the people that say the following: “No no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” “It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never beat the system” and my personal favorite “I’m only one person, how can I possibly promote a change”, then I give you Sister Rosa Parks who by a small gesture of refusing to take it any longer sparked a national debate. And of course there is Dr. Martin Luther King who, through sacrifice and courage, became one of the most powerful voices this country has ever known.

Humor me a moment. “You’re only one person, what could you possibly hope to accomplish” is one of the most cowardly cop-outs I’ve ever heard in my life. Yes, I am only one person. And you’re only one person and they’re only one person and so on to the tune of 350 million “one-persons” in the United States of America. Now in changing how I eat, I’ve not only taken my “one person” out of the equation but also my family. So we’re three people. What if ten million mothers like me who had a 3 person household decided to make the same change? We’ve now become 30 million people. And that’s only 10% of the population.

What if all 10 million households purchased these documentaries and books and mailed them to the White House? Do you not think that 10 million movies and books showing up on their doorstep wouldn’t get their attention? Is that not, at its very core, the true essence of freedom, voice- of POWER? Because if there is one thing all of these Big Food people have in common it is the dependence on the All Mighty Dollar- and this will always make them vulnerable. It is a mighty big Achilles Heel to aim at. If it’s one thing we as Little People must do, it’s spend money to eat. What if, with your dollars, you enacted your protest? What if 10% of the population enacted protest solely based on where they purchased their food? Would you still think no one was listening?

First Lady Michelle Obama has decided that she will take on health and obesity. If she was truly serious, she’d recognize how much the food we eat contributes to it. She would take on and challenge Big Food. She would would be a force in her husband’s ear to truly enact change and bring hope. Except he just signed the new Food Safety Bill which is NOT a friend to the small farmer- or YOU the consumer (EDUCATE YOURSELVES!).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Almost always, the creative and dedicated minority has made the world better”. All revolution has been the minority against the “majority”. At what point do you start to realize your true power, oh “one person”? For me, that time is now.

Turning Over a New Leaf

So you’re still hanging in there with me I see. Well I am very grateful. For every person who decides enough is enough, it is one more person who uses their purchase power to tell Big Food we won’t have it anymore. And if you haven’t noticed, Big Food is listening. They know people are growing more and more savvy about their food and they’re trying to make us think they’re catering. McDonald’s recently started offering whole grain oatmeal and fruit on their breakfast menu.

Which is great until I remember that package of apples I got once that never rotted. Ever. 2 months after being opened the apples looked as if they’d just been peeled and cut. I was disgusted and refused to let my daughter eat them. I was still too afraid to delve deeper into their food, however. Which is a shame. As a parent you want to do what’s right for your children, what will promote strong and healthy growth….

 I spiraled into a shame pit for a moment but we’re back and I’d like to share with you the decisions my family made (which reads as the decisions I made and forced on my family though they’re on board for the most part) to move toward a new lifestyle of clean eating. They were:

  1. No more meals from a box or package, no meals that can go in the microwave or be placed in the oven straight from the freezer (meals meaning something already prepped that requires no work from me).
  2. We will have one vegetarian night per week. . Veggies will take center stage on our plates and make meat the side dish and not the main dish.
  3. We will no longer buy meat from a grocery store (except our co-op). We will only eat pastured meat and dairy products.
  4. We will have no meat in our lunches (except for our growing Diva. I’ve been told by her doctor not to restrict her calories and let them be as diverse as possible).
  5. We will eat organic produce as much as possible.
  6. No more processed condiments, sauces, dressings, etc. We will make our own or at least make sure the ingredients would be what I would put in it.
  7. No more fast food. Dining Out will occur more infrequently.
  8. If we do buy packaged food (like bread, cheese, etc.) it will be organic and processed in a recognizable way and have ingredients that The Diva can pronounce and recognize.

This list seems daunting, doesn’t it?  And where on earth do you even start? If the grocery store doesn’t have it, where do you buy stuff like this? What the heck does “pastured” mean? How do you KNOW how it was processed? Did this crazy lady say “make” my own condiments?!?!?

Okay, calm down. If you’re feeling anything like I was after taking the red pill, you want to know how to accomplish clean eating and you want to know NOW. Very well, here is what I did.

I have to preface this by telling you that I live in the Land Where Hippies Dwell. This means I’m surrounded by people who battle “the system” everyday. This works to my benefit, in this instance, because there is a group of co-operative grocery stores started by concerned citizens and farmers that sell only natural foods. And no I don’t mean Whole Foods (you’ll start to see that grocery stores, even well intentioned ones, are a major part of the problem). PCC Natural Markets is awesome, to be cliché. I am lucky enough to be able to go ten minutes down the road and get clean food.

There is also the very helpful website eatwild.com which is where I found my farm that I purchase my meat from and local farms that sell to the PCC Markets. Here there is a list of local farms in your area, farmer’s markets (THIS is where you want to shop if you can!), co-op stores like PCC, restaurants that use only “wild” products, and butcher shops, etc. You can view farm websites here, which I did in my education.

Unlike the Sara Lee website where you can’t locate ANY ingredients lists for their products (and why the hell not Sara Lee? What don’t you want me to readily know about your food?), the farms are remarkably transparent about every stage of their operations. At 3 sisters Beef where I got my (DELICIOUS IS NOT A STRONG ENOUGH WORD!) beef from, she was very honest to tell me that their bacon does contain nitrates and nitrites (yucky stuff)… for now. And this  is how you know how your food was processed. If you can’t find easily learn how it was processed, then they have something to hide and don’t buy that product. It’s more simple than you think once you know what questions to ask.

 From the farms and the farmer’s markets you want to look for PASTURED meat and dairy. It is not good enough to say organic and I’ll explain why in the next post. But pastured means that your cow grew up outside of The Meatrix but still managed to eat grass (as it’s supposed to), laze around in the sun all day and be treated humanely from birth to butcher. It means they eat what God intended for them to eat and ONLY what God intended them to eat. No we don’t NEED meat to live but for those of us who adore it, we can have it and we can have it without the guilt and the expense to the environment or our health.

I am not going to get too much into cost in this post but I will say this. I am so cheap it’s ridiculous. Cheap, frugal whatever you want to call it, I hate spending what I FEEL is more money than I should. So my second response (after the shock and anger, of course) was “how much is this lifestyle change going to cost me?”. I went to the PCC to just look around and price things out. I purchased a meal for me and my husband to eat and then did price comparisons. I was astounded at how little it varied. I could get clean, whole foods for about the same amount of money as the nasty stuff. Amazing.

I regret to inform you that despite their best efforts it is virtually impossible to eat clean from your local Safeway, Kroger/QFC, Walmart, etc. And believe me, they are trying HARD to make you feel like you can. You cannot. Organic Produce is about as clean as you’re going to get. If you MUST then I’d say go to Whole Foods but they’re a part of the problem too (and more expensive than my PCC so I don’t go there either).  I am currently in the process of getting together a group of people and we will buy an entire cow from 3 Sisters Beef. They will butcher it and cut it up and package it for us. My grandmother used to do this with her neighbors. This is the best way to get your food short of hunting it down yourself. And it’s more than worth the hour drive to get it.

I have been cooking our meals every night. Our eating experience has become one that is so amazingly refreshing and pleasant that I now don’t mind. The food we’re eating… well I’ll get into that more when I discuss the benefits so far with you. Which means you have to stay tuned. In the meantime, stop hanging out with a loser like me and go to eatwild.com and start researching how you can get started in your area. It’s time to take the shovel I’ve given you and start digging.

Clarifications and Elaborations

I see you’ve come back to see what else I have to say which both pleases me (thank you!) and proves that you want to do better for yourself. Like me, you were appalled to learn just how much Big Food is destroying our health so they can increase revenue streams. If you’ve delved as far as I have at this stage then you’re horrified about not only what they’re doing to our food but also to the farmers, the environment and  their contribution to the immigration debate.

Now let’s inject a moment of honesty here. We knew. Certainly we didn’t know everything but we knew to some degree or other that the food we were eating was not altogether the best for us. We knew that the animals that provide our meat, eggs and dairy weren’t raised humanely (there is no way you can supply the American culture with that much food and not know this). We were aware they were putting hormones and antibiotics in the animals. Perhaps we weren’t sure why or what kind but we knew. And we were happy to remain blissfully ignorant to it. Because we are, after all, busy movers and shakers with things to do, places to go and people to see.

And who wants to truly look behind the smoke screen and see what’s really going on? I knew about Food, Inc. the moment it came out in 2008 but I wasn’t ready. I knew that I would learn something that would cause me to completely change my current way of life. But I couldn’t afford it. I walked into Whole Foods once and saw a $25 loaf of bread (not kidding!) and turned around and walked back out. Only rich people can afford to eat healthy, after all, and I am NO WHERE NEAR rich. Not only that but I would have to start making all my food from scratch, maybe even GROW it and who has time for that? And I’d also have to be a vegetarian and NO WAY is that ever happening. So thank you but no thank you, I justified to myself, I’m not ready for the awakening.

Last June I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar (and I’ve been concerned about my weight since I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life at 165 pounds). There have been a few anomalies in my family history but I was blindsided by the cholesterol thing. Not so much the sugar thing because I’m a sugar junkie but the cholesterol took me by surprise. So I decided it was time to make a few adjustments to my diet.

I learned that you can really bring down your bad cholesterol levels by adding more fiber to your diet so I started eating more bread and oats. It’s funny to me now considering what I’ve learned about bread and oatmeal (the Quaker variety specifically). In August I cut out all added sugars from my diet, vowing to only eat naturally occuring sugars like in fruits and vegetables. After a week of a killer detox headache, I couldn’t believe how much better I began to feel. I’ve maintained a low sugar diet ever since. But feeling better, healthier with more even moods and energy levels led me to think harder about what I was eating- and what I was doing to my daughter through her diet.

By November I was ready. I was ready for the kick in the behind that I knew sitting and watching Food, Inc. would give me. I had spoken to several people who’d watched the movie and their reactions told me I would not come away unscathed. And I didn’t. After watching that movie I wanted to go through my fridge and pantry and purge everything in them.

I began reading. Incessantly. I went to Big Food websites and read them but what I was reading more of than I ever had in my life was ingredients lists on the food products. Because I have now learned that the gigantic nutrition label listing all your fat and sodium content is meant to distract you from the really important information- the ingredients.

Let’s use an example.

If I wanted to make 100% whole wheat honey bread at home, I would need the following ingredients: whole wheat flour, honey, butter, salt and yeast. That’s it. Nothing else. Now, I urge you to go and look at your loaf of bread and read the ingredients. I’ll wait patiently while you do………. done? Is your stomach hurting yet?  Did you even know what half that stuff was? My family were big Sara Lee fans. The Nutrition Label made me feel like I was making a good choice- so low in fat and bad stuff! The ingredients, however, prove that the choice was all wrong. All the added sugars alone were enough to scare me. Let’s not even start on all the fake ingredients. 

And yet they make tons of health and nutrition claims on their products. But if the nutrition label says it’s so good for you, why bother reading those teeny tiny ingredients that you can’t pronounce? Well, the real issue is why do we not think it’s a problem that we can’t pronounce them? Our grandparents (or in the case of many of you, great-great grandparents) never cooked with anything they couldn’t pronounce. My grandmother used to make biscuits from scratch every morning. I bet if I called her right now and asked her for the recipe, dextrose would not be one of the ingredients.

And it’s not just them. It’s virtually everything you find in the grocery store. Very few items outside of the produce section have any nutritional value to you. And if you watched Part Two of The Meatrix above you’ve found even the milk and dairy aren’t good for you. What’s the City Folk to do if they want to unplug?

First, pick up a book. In the Highly Recommended Media section of this blog you will find many of the books I’ve read on my journey to enlightenment and the first one I read was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In this book, he explains different food systems and creates a meal based off each. This is a good place to start but it won’t help you with the HOW (I will in the next post). What it will do, however, is further educate you on the food systems and what each entails. 

But by all means begin educating yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. I am no nutritionist or expert. I am, however, a very concerned consumer and I think- sometimes- we’re the best educators of all.

I Chose the Red Pill

I was once Leo. In November 2010, I also took the red pill (I watched Food, Inc.). In doing so I uncovered much more than I bargained for as I learned about today’s food and where it comes from. I’m still learning a great deal about it. Alice fell down the rabbit hole. I jumped and I’m still falling. This blog is essentially me taking you along for the ride.

Here, you will learn what I am learning. If you’re not prepared for that, you won’t follow me. And I’m perfectly okay with that. But everyone knows knowledge is power and the sharing of knowledge is a kindness unlike any other. I believe in the Golden Rule- you know, “Do unto others…” and all that. I wish someone had pulled me aside sooner and taught me the things I’ll be sharing with you. Though I am against shoving ideology down people’s throats, I do think that if someone expresses interest in a topic you are knowledgable in, you should share your knowledge. So here I am.

Why should you listen to me? Well, to be honest I don’t think I’m that interesting. I’ll let others be the judge of that. But I am a die-hard and dedicated City Girl. Born and raised in Chicago, I’ve also lived in Atlanta and now currently reside in the smallest town I ever want to live in- Seattle. Any smaller than this and I’ll start getting hives. Sure, I love venturing out to the country every now and then but I equally love watching the skyline rise above me and the concrete embrace me as I head back home.

For me, The Country is a place you VISIT. Whenever we go to Whidbey Island, I have no doubt I stand out- that I reek of the Big, Bad City. I “ew” at everything, pick up leaves with my thumb and forefinger and my pinky up. I refuse to camp unless I know there’s a comfy bed, heat, running water and a functioning toilet. In other words, I’m all about the modern conveniences. Add that I’m a working woman and a wife and the mother of a growing 11 year-old Diva and you start to see how enjoying modern conveniences can also encompass food.

But let me make sure you all understand how much food means to me. This may explain why I’m so upset and angry about the things I’ve learned. I ADORE FOOD. It is one of my three major vices (which used to be four until I quit smoking)- Food, Sex and Alcohol, in that order. Yes, you read that right. Food is ranked higher than sex, that is just how serious it is for me.

Eating is such a sensual and personal experience, one you can easily associate with memories and moments in time. Collard greens and corn bread remind me of watching my grandmother cook in the kitchen, the way she’d make the cornbread as little round patties just for me because that was how I liked them. Thanksgiving Dinner is so much a ritual in my home that to eat anything other than the main staples is almost sacreligious. I still remember the best swordfish steak I ever had in my life and every moment of the dinner I spent eating it… 17 years ago.

But I took the red pill. And the road I now tread is full of some of the most frightening demons I’ve ever encountered in my life. Bottom line, learning where your beloved Velveeta comes from and how it’s made is scary. But since the 1st of January I have embarked on completely altering what kind of food enters our home and our bodies. No more heavily processed food, no more buying from the major grocery stores- ESPECIALLY our meat and dairy. I have a growing, pre-pubescent daughter. I want the hormones in her body to be of her OWN making, the medication to be what I knowingly gave her. Hell, I just want the meat I feed her to really be meat!

So take my hand and traverse this dark and dangerous path with me- if you dare. Take note it’s not for the faint of heart. No more excuses.  Just because I am a city girl, doesn’t mean I have to be a TOTAL slave to the system. As far as my food is concerned, I took the red pill. I have unplugged from the Food Matrix.

It’s time for you to stop being Leo, too.

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