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Don’t be a Cheap Food Family

Posted in Food for Thought

When you buy food, what is your number one concern? Is it how healthy the food is? What chemicals might be in it? Or is your number one concern how cheap the food is? Buying cheap isn’t limited to buying the cheaper off brands at the supermarket. I would consider anything you buy at the supermarket to be cheap food. 

I know what some of you are thinking: “It costs so much to feed my family.” That’s true, but it’s not as expensive as it used to be. In 1950 the average family spent about 30% of their income on food. Today we spend less that 13% of our income on food.[3] That’s not because we’ve suddenly started eating less, if anything, we’re eating more. No, the reason is that food has gotten cheaper. 

The price of basic food items has risen only 3-5x in the last 60 years. However, the price of processed food has increased 10-15x. A small bag of potato chips costs you over $8.00 a pound.[1] Meanwhile, potatoes run about $1 a pound. A 20oz soda also costs about $8.32 a gallon.[2] Suddenly, raw milk at $7.00 a gallon doesn’t sound so bad. I explain this in more detail in my article, Local Food isn’t too Expensive, Conventional Food is too Cheap.

How much Effort do You Put into the Food Your Family Eats?

If you want to show someone how much you appreciate them, the best way is to spend some effort on them. Wives care more about effort than how much their husband spends on them. Kids would much rather their parents spend time with them than get more presents. Remember the last time you were really impressed at a restaurant or other business? Chances are, it had to do with effort. 

Going to the drive thru is about as little effort as you can put out. Conversely, going to the farmers market, joining a co-op, and visiting a local farm shows that you really care about the quality of the food you eat. Local food takes more effort to buy and more effort to cook. This effort shows your family that you care about them. 

When the De Beers diamond company came up with the idea that men should spend about 2 months salary on an engagement ring, they understood something important. Not that diamonds should be expensive, but that women care about effort. It takes effort to buy a ring that costs 2 months salary. 

If a millionaire bought the same ring as a truck driver, his fiance would be insulted. The millionaire could make that much in a few days, whereas the truck driver’s fiance is overjoyed. He spent a good six months saving up for that ring. That’s effort. 

But by all means, go get drive thru, or pick up some microwave meals. That will show your family how much you care. 

 

Your Family Deserves Better Food

You know the old saying, You Are What You Eat. Well, it’s true. Where do you think your body’s cells come from? From thin air? No, you body is constantly replacing old cells with new ones, and to do that, it needs nutrients from the food you eat. That’s why eating quality food is so important. Quality counts.

Eating cheap food is like building a house using rotted wood. You may have gotten a good deal on it. But it’ll cost you later. Every time your child eats, their body uses that food as building material. Is that building material quality? Or is it the cheap rotted wood that cost half as much? 

Look at the pizza rolls in your freezer or the sugary cereal in your pantry. Do you seriously believe that this food is healthy? Are you confident that it is providing quality building materials for you child’s growing body? Are you satisfied with the synthetic vitamins listed on the nutritional guidelines label? 

Sustainably raised food has been proven to be more nutrient dense than conventionally raised food. Buying sustainable food is easier than you think. There are farmers markets, where the farmers come to your area.  Likewise, buyers clubs and coops will usually deliver to your neighborhood. It’s true that it’s more expensive, but you’re worth it, and so is your family. 

 

References

  1. 1.85 oz bag of chips at $.99 x 8.65 = $8.56
  2. 20 oz bottle of soda at $1.30 x 6.4 = $8.32
  3. www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-america-spends-money-100-years-in-the-life-of-the-family-budget/255475/ 
  4. www.thepeoplehistory.com/1950s.html 
  5. www.bls.gov/opub/uscs/1950.pdf 

Environmentalism by Abandonment

Posted in Food for Thought

Herbivores, and especially livestock have been blamed for ruining the environment. Environmental scientists claim that overgrazing by livestock, namely cows, has resulted in desertification (land turning to desert.) It’s true that mismanaged livestock has caused environmental damage, but this does not mean that livestock itself is to blame.

For decades, the official policy to protect and restore land in national parks and elsewhere was to eliminate livestock. This policy has not been proven to work. Land in national parks is no better than it was before, much of it is worse. Nature doesn’t abandon land, she fills it with animals.

Grasslands developed over millennia with large numbers of herbivores. Huge herds of buffalo, elk, gazelles, zebras, and other even larger herbivores that have gone extinct. These animals lived in tight herds to protect themselves from pack hunting carnivores. A large herd of herbivores would quickly defecate all over the ground and their food, forcing them to move to fresh ground. This prevented them from overgrazing the grass.

What Happens When We Abandon Land?

Grass, once it is fully grown, must decay or be removed before the next year’s growing season. If it’s not, the grass and soil begin to die. If grass cannot decay biologically, it shifts to oxidation. This is the brown grass you see in pasture that’s not been grazed recently. Oxidation can take up to 60 years to complete in drier environments. Meanwhile, this dead grass smothers new growth, leading to a shift toward woody shrubs with bare ground in between.

Bare ground cannot hold water and is easily eroded. In my article, The Conventional Food System is Fragile, I wrote about how erosion has affected cropland. In America, we’ve lost as much as 30% of our topsoil in the last 200 years.[3, 5] That’s the power of erosion.

Fire is another hazard created by abandoning grassland. Dead, dry grass is very susceptible to fire. Just look at california. Not only is fire dangerous to humans and wildlife, it’s dangerous for the environment. French research has shown that a one and a half acre grassland fire releases more carbon dioxide than 3,694 cars per second and more nitrous oxide than about 1,400 cars per second.  Biomass burning accounts for 40 percent of C02 production annually.[2]

One of the reasons, that desert stays desert is because the ground cannot hold water. Soil needs organic matter to hold water. It needs plant matter to protect it from the hot sun and it needs organic materials to hold onto water. Without these two things, water runs right off and evaporates within hours after rainfall ends.  

Grass Wants to be Cut

When a plant, such as grass, reaches maturity, it stops growing and begins to die off. This is the brown grass you see in many pastures. The life cycle of a grass plant is short, only a couple months. When grass reaches the end of its life, it wants to be pruned off so it can start over. Without that pruning, the leaves are left to decompose on their own.

You might think that animals trampling and eating grass would kill it. But that’s not true. Grasses are specifically designed to lose significant parts of itself, yet thrive afterward. Think of cutting the grass in your lawn. That’s a violent endeavor. You’re taking a fast spinning sharp blade and cutting the top few inches off the plant. Imagine if someone came along and cut your arms off. Would you thrive afterward? No. But grass does. Grass loves to be mowed, weeds do not. This is grass’ competitive advantage.

How Do We Maintain Billions of Acres?

Your first thought might be to use large lawn mowers, also known as brush hogs. It makes sense at first, homeowners use lawnmowers. Why not use them on grasslands? Well, for one, there’s over 12 billion acres of dry rangeland that needs to be cared for. Does anyone really think that mowing 12 billion acres is realistic? Even if we only mowed 1 billion acres, who’s going to pay for it? To put this in context, 1 billion acres would be like mowing every single acre in Alaska, Texas, and California.

Not only would this be expensive in terms of dollars, it would burn up a lot of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels in the name of carbon sequestration. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. So, i’ll consider that a no for the majority of grasslands.

Our second method to maintain grassland is to burn off the dead vegetation, to make way for new growth. The forest service has used this method to restore land and to prevent wildfires. I’ve already established how polluting a grassland fire is. Not to mention how big a threat it is to wildlife and people’s homes. I’m going to say that burning is not the solution. Just ask any californian if they’d like more grassland to burn.

We Need Livestock to Mow Grass

The third solution would be to use animals. Animals don’t run on fossil fuels and don’t cost money to run, other than management costs. The idea behind abandonment is to let the wildlife return to haw they grazed hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the numbers of wildlife required to maintain grasslands. Not only do we have too few animals, but the prairies in north america and other countries has been divided up by human settlement. People live there. That interrupts the natural migration patterns of wildlife.

If we can’t rely on wildlife, then how about livestock? Using electric fence, livestock can be managed in a way that mimics the wild herds that built prairies around the world. Now to make the animal rights people happy, let’s suppose we run these millions of herbivores for the sole purpose of mowing grass, letting them die of old age or predators. Okay, who pays for it? We end up with the same problem we had with mowing.

When you run a herd of livestock without harvesting any of them. They become recreational. Someone has to pay the ranchers to manage these herds. They can’t manage themselves. But, when you allow the ranchers to sell their animals, suddenly this becomes a business that can pay for itself. It’s sustainable. It doesn’t need a check from the government or a non-profit.

Don’t Blame the Cow

One of the hurdles to using cows to maintain grassland is that cows produce methane during digestion. Because of this environmentalist and vegans want cows to be eliminated. This is a problem that can be overcome with proper management. Methane production is aggravated when livestock eat poor quality grass.[4] This happens with continuous grazing where the pasture quality declines over time.

Yes, it’s true that cows produce methane. However, when managed properly, their carbon sequestration more than offsets their methane output.[6] Research at the University of Louisiana has demonstrated that enteric methane emissions can be notably cut when cattle are regularly moved on to fresh pastures.[4]

Cows have also been unfairly blamed for ruining the environment by overgrazing land until it turns to desert. As if cows have a personal vendetta against the climate. This is simply not true. Cows are a tool, they can be used to restore the environment, or misused and end up destroying the environment.

As an example, let’s use a kitchen knife. Knives can be very useful. They can turn a pile of vegetables and meat into a delicious stew. But that very same knife can also be used to murder someone. That’s not the knife’s fault. No one blames the knife for a stabbing.

In the same way, no one should blame the cow for harming the environment. The ones to blame are the ranchers who leave them to overgraze, and the environmentalists who remove them only to find the land degrades even faster with zero grazing.

Livestock Can Sequester Carbon

“A growing body of research shows that livestock grazing can enhance biodiversity.”

Ecosystems of California – university textbook

Since I’ve established that livestock are the only viable option in maintaining land, let’s talk about how they can also help to fight climate change. To understand this, you should understand a little about how grass grows. Grass goes through roughly three stages as it grows. The first is when it’s small, either a seedling or just been mowed. The second is the growth spurt on the way to maturity, this is when most of the carbon sequestration happens. The third stage is maturity. This is when grass stops growing and will eventually go dormant.

As you probably concluded, we want to keep grass in the growth spurt stage a much as possible. The only way to do that, is to keep mowing it. And the best way to mow it is with livestock.

Data collected from the Michigan State University proves just how beneficial managed grazing can be. The cattle raised in feedlots averaged over three times as much carbon emissions per kilogram as cattle raised in managed grazing.[6] Their carbon sequestration vastly out weighted any slight increase in methane production. In April 2014, Seth Itzkan published a 34 page paper where he concluded that holistic managed grazing could sequester between 25 and 60 tons of carbon per hectare per year.[7]

Effective sequestration isn’t just about growing more plant matter. Carbon sequestration means putting carbon into the soil. This is how the fertile soils of the midwest were formed. Carbon is sequestered in a cooperative process between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. A protein called glomalin holds the carbon, making up 15% to 20% of the organic matter in the soil.

Livestock is the only farming method to achieve this. When you till soil, the mycorrhizal fungi are injured, reducing carbon sequestration. The UK Soil Association found that plowing up grazing lands in the UK results in 1.6 million tons of carbon releasing into the air every year.[1]

Support Sustainable Farms, Fight Climate Change

One of the most effective ways for you to fight climate change is by changing your eating habits. The UK soil association found that organic farming increases soil carbon levels. And not just a little bit, the average carbon levels were over 20% higher than non-organic farming.[8]

Sustainable farming doesn’t pollute. It doesn’t stink up the neighborhood. It doesn’t truck its food all over the world. Sustainable farmers try to leave the environment better than they found it. They feed their cows grass instead of grain. They grow their crops with little to no tillage. They raise animals outside, a revolutionary idea nowadays.

There’s yet another reason to buy food from a sustainable farm, economics. When you buy grass finished beef instead of feedlot beef, you’re voting with your dollars. Buying from a small sustainable farm means a lot more than buying from a billion dollar food company. While a huge food company will hardly notice your lost purchase, your small farm purchases may mean the difference between that farmer needing a day job and being able to go full-time. That’s why local farmers are so grateful to their customers.

 

References

  1. www.soilassociation.org/media/4954/policy_soil_carbon_full_review.pdf
  2. www.savory.global/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/climate-change.pdf
  3. Food, Energy, and Society, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, 2007
  4. Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2014
  5. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David R. Montgomery, 2012
  6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003
  7. http://planet-tech.com/upsidedrawdown
  8. https://www.soilassociation.org/media/4954/policy_soil_carbon_full_review.pdf

The Conventional Food System is Fragile

Posted in Food for Thought

Many people think that growing food the conventional way is the only way to feed the world. After all, that’s what they’ve been told for years. Conventional farming practices have created a system that is fragile because it relies on many outside factors to continue functioning. The failure of any one of these could lead to higher food prices or worse, the failure of millions of acres of crops or widespread death of livestock.  

Reliance on Drugs, Pesticides, and Herbicides

When an industrial farm crams thousands of animals into a building, they create an ideal environment for pathogens. The same goes for cropland. When you have thousands of the same plant in a relatively small area, pests that target that plant have a virtually unlimited supply of food.

In confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) this requires the use of antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Herbicide resistant weeds are showing up in croplands. Nature abhors a monoculture and is fighting back against these unnatural farming practices. Nowhere in nature will you find only one species of plant or animal. Nature thrives on diversity.

The question is, what happens when we run out of effective antibiotics? At our current trajectory, it’s not a matter of if, but when. Most confinement operations feed antibiotics on a continuous basis. Some of these antibiotics are not even necessary. Some operations feed antibiotics to speed growth. Others to prevent disease. All the while, bacteria are reproducing and mutating.

According to the CDC, overuse and misuse of antibiotics leads to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics.[4] Once that happens, this bacteria quickly become the dominant bacteria since there is no other competition. It’s unclear how many drug resistant diseases were developed in factory farms. Some undoubtedly came from us. After all, livestock farms are not the only ones abusing antibiotics.

In 2013, the CDC published a report outlining the to 18 drug-resistant threats. Among them were: Clostridium difficile which causes 250,000 infections each year and 15,000 deaths. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) causes over 80,000 infections each year and over 11,000 deaths. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia and meningitis in the United States with 1.2 million infections and 7,000 deaths.

The Electricity Cannot Go Out

This is mostly a problem for industrial animal operations. Namely pig and chicken farms. These farms use electricity for ventilation, distributing feed, and monitoring the operation. These buildings need constant ventilation to keep methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxins from building up. If the fans stop running for even a few minutes, the pigs or chickens will start suffocating.[1]

A few years back, a wind storm blew through northern Virginia. Most of the region was out of power for over a week. Many confinement operations lost thousands of pigs and millions of chickens. Meanwhile at polyface farm, a pasture based sustainable farm, most of the animals had no idea the power was out. The only real damage was from the wind storm itself. Many pasture shelters were blown away, leaving the chickens to wonder what happened to their shade. These chickens were quickly herded up in temporary shelters until their individual shelters could be rebuilt. Very few chickens died at polyface, because they did not depend on electricity.

What if the Water Runs Out?

Conventional farming uses a lot of water. You may have heard about the struggle between Los Angeles and the farmers upstream on the Colorado river. Los Angeles claims that the farmers are using too much water leaving them with a water shortage. The farmers claim that they need the water or they’ll go out of business.

High yield corn does not mean that a corn plant produces more corn per plant. What it really means is that you can plant more plants per acre. More plants need more water. Whereas an acre of corn decades ago might have been able to survive on rainwater, a high yield acre of corn needs to be irrigated. Either from groundwater or rivers.

You’ve likely seen the round fields of the Midwest. Many round plots next to each other. You might wonder why they don’t make them square to use all of the land. The reason they are round is that they are using a center pivots to water the crops. A long arm rotates around a center which provides water to sprinklers. Most of these center pivots use groundwater. And they use a lot.

“Corn production in the U.S. erodes soil about 12 times faster than the soil can be reformed, and irrigating corn mines groundwater 25 percent faster than the natural recharge rate of groundwater.”[2]

David Pimentel, professor at Cornell University.

Cropland is Eroding Away

It may not surprise you, but bare ground is very susceptible to erosion. Without dense cover, rain and wind can easily break soil apart and carry it away. Think of grass like clothing. Grass is essentially clothing for soil. You wouldn’t go outside without clothes on, why should the Earth have to go without its clothes?

“Row crops are highly susceptible to erosion because the vegetation does not cover the entire soil surface.”

Food, Energy, and Society by David and Marcia Pimentel[7]

A project conducted by the Land Stewardship Project showed that pasture used for grazing can have up to 80% less erosion than cropland.[8] This is not a small problem. The estimated acreage for the four major crops, corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton is approximately 240 million acres.[10] This type of farming, which leaves its soil exposed for much of the year has caused the United States to lose as much as 30% of its topsoil in the last 200 years.[7, 9] Remember the dust bowl?

The saddest part about this, is that a majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the US are not necessary. Corn ethanol production is hopelessly inefficient. It takes more than a gallon of fossil fuel to make a gallon of ethanol. Feeding grain to cows is another waste. Cows are perfectly capable of living off nothing but grass, yet we burn millions of gallons of fossil fuel every year to grow and transport grain to feed them.

As disappointing as this is, it’s not surprising. After all, there are no subsides to raise cattle and conserve grasslands. All federal farm subsidies go toward grains, which require plowing.

Farmers are Getting Old

As of 2012, the average age of farmers in America is 58 years old.[6] This number has only been going up, and will probably continue to go up. Why? Because getting into conventional farming is expensive. To be a chicken farmer, you have to spend $200,000 to $400,000 up front to build the specialized buildings required by the poultry companies. Hog farmers face a similar situation.

Independence is being wrung out of modern farmers. Open markets have all but been eliminated. A hog farmer who doesn’t have a contract with a pork company will find himself getting even less money for his hogs at auction. Chicken farmers don’t even own their birds, so losing a contract means their expensive buildings sit empty, losing money with every mortgage payment.

Crop farmers have also faced the consequences of the USDA’s “get big, or get out” doctrine. With grain prices lower than the cost to grow the grains, farmers rely on subsidies to survive. Even with subsidies, many farmers still have to take on jobs to pay the bills.

Needless to say, many children of farmers are moving to the city to get higher paying jobs. And their parents aren’t necessarily upset. They would rather their children make a good living than struggle like they do every day.

Industrial Farming Needs Cheap Energy

Energy is cheap. In fact, energy is the cheapest it has ever been in the history of the world. Never before has it been so cheap to ship products across the country or the world.

It’s never been so cheap to farm. Tractors running on cheap fuel have revolutionized farming. An acre was originally defined as the amount of land a farmer with oxen could till in one day. One acre a day. Now a farmer can till many dozens of acres a day. All from the comfort of his climate controlled tractor.

This is only one small part of the whole system. The entire conventional food system relies on cheap energy. It needs cheap fuel to transport components thousands of miles. It needs cheap energy to run the factories. It needs cheap mining and cheap refining to provide cheap fertilizers.

If energy becomes expensive, several things happen. It suddenly becomes very expensive to transport food thousands of miles. Manufacturing of chemical fertilizer becomes expensive. Transportation costs turn cheap grain into not-so-cheap grain. All of this would lead to food prices going up, way up. The more processed a food is, the more cheap energy it needs.

We all know how volatile the price of oil can be. All it takes is a hurricane in Louisiana and the price of oil goes up by nearly $70 a barrel.[11] The more oil we pump out of the ground, the harder it becomes to find new sources. We’ve gone from finding oil literally spewing out of the ground to searching miles offshore in the ocean. Many experts worry that we will eventually run out of oil. If that is true, then say goodbye to cheap energy.

Sustainable Farming is Inherently More Resilient

When the electricity goes out on a pasture based farm, most of the animals wouldn’t even know. They’re all outside, or in shelters that don’t need electricity to operate. The small amount of electricity required to run certain parts of the farm can be supplied by generators until the power comes back on.

While cheap energy benefits sustainable farms like it does industrial farms, they don’t require it. Sustainable farms don’t need massive machines to operate. Many small sustainable farms don’t even have small tractors. With fuel usage so low, even a doubling in the price of oil would not significantly impact a sustainable farm. At Polyface farm, a sustainable farm in Virginia, Joel Salatin estimated that fuel cost only accounted for about 5% of their expenses. They could afford to pay 2 to 3 times as much for fuel and still be okay. Try paying twice as much for gas with a conventional farm.

Pests and disease cannot thrive in a diverse environment. When a chicken pathogen hatches out in chicken manure, it needs to find a chicken to infest. In a confinement farm this is easy. But on a sustainable farm, the chickens are moved everyday to new ground, leaving those newly hatched pathogens behind before they can infest a new host.

Water is another resource that sustainable farms do not need as much of, especially per acre. This is mainly because sustainable farms raise less animals per acre. Proponents of industrial farming would claim that this is less efficient, and that’s true. But is also easier on the environment. Nature is not designed to have thousands or millions of animals living on an acre in perpetuity.

Conventional farming may be facing a lack of new talent, sustainable farming is attracting a lot of folks who want to get out of the cubicle and help the environment. It isn’t even about the money for some, it’s about communing with nature. That’s the beauty of sustainable farming, not only is it good for the environment, it’s good for the farmers as well.

 

References

  1. Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2010
  2. news.cornell.edu/stories/2001/08/ethanol-corn-faulted-energy-waster-scientist-says
  3. www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest_threats.html
  4. www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/about/antibiotic-resistance-faqs.html
  5. www.tesh.com/story/health-and-well-being-category/life-on-10-a-gallon/cc/6/id/12440
  6. agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Farm_Demographics/#average_age
  7. Food, Energy, and Society, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, 2007
  8. Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2014
  9. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David R. Montgomery, 2012
  10. usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/Acre/Acre-06-29-2018.pdf
  11. oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/What-Affects-Oil-Prices.html

Why Pastured Chickens Need Shelters

Posted in Food for Thought

Chickens raised on pasture are healthier, happier, and more nutritious. But being out on pasture means they’re exposed to several dangers. We have to protect them from the hot sun and cold rain yet still allow them to get sunshine when they want it.

Chickens, especially meat chickens, are easy and tasty meals for nearly every predator you’ll run into. Raccoons, possums, and foxes are the most common. You’ve heard about the fox in the hen house. But aerial predators like hawks, eagles and owls are also a problem. This is where chicken shelters come in. they offer protection from all of these things while still allowing the chickens to have fresh clean grass every day.

Keep the Predators Away

Chickens are tasty treats for predators. They don’t see well in the dark. When they can’t see, they tend to stay put. This makes them especially easy to catch at night. A Fox or raccoon merely has to grab them and start eating. Many predators are so relaxed that they eat the chickens in the coop and leave what they don’t eat for the us to find the next day.

This situation is bad enough with athletic egg layers. It’s even worse for lethargic meat chickens. Americans have become accustomed to plump cornish-cross meat chicken. These chickens grow very fast, even on the natural feed we use. They don’t need hormones or antibiotics to grow fast, they’re bred to grow fast on their own. This fast growth rate makes them tire easy. It takes a lot of energy to haul around twice as much weight as a normal chicken.

Cornish-Cross’ large size makes them slow. It’s harder to get that much weight to move quickly. They can’t just jump away when a predator grabs them. That makes them sitting ducks, or chickens.

So far the only predators I’ve talked about were ground predators. Chickens also have to deal with aerial predators. Eagles, chicken hawks, and other predatory birds like to swoop down and grab a chicken, then take off with it. Fences will keep out the ground predators, but aerial predators simply fly over. This is why our chicken shelters have roofs. The roof keeps the aerial predators out, but also serve two more important functions.

Shade from the Hot Sun

Meat chickens are raised in the summer, when it’s hot out. They don’t do very well in the winter. It’s cold. Meat chickens don’t have as many feathers as normal chickens. This cold makes them, uncomfortable, grow slower, and not to mention, dealing with frozen water sucks. It’s uncomfortable for both the chickens and for the farmer.

These are just a couple reasons sustainable farmers choose not to raise their chickens in the winter. The only exception are some farms in the south where it doesn’t get so cold in the winter. This means raising them in the summer. In most parts of the country it gets hot during midday. Pastured chickens love sunbathing in the morning when it’s cool out, but once the temperature rises, they go waddling for the shade. Heatstroke is a real problem for livestock, especially meat chickens.

The metal or plastic roof provides a cool barrier against the sun. Farmers make a point to include vents near the bottom to allow airflow. Hot air rises, this pulls cooler air in through the vents, providing a natural cool breeze.

Shelter from the Weather

Being out on pasture means weather. That means rain, cold temperatures, and wind. Frequently at the same time. Rain and wind together are a double whammy to chickens. Meat chickens live on the ground. They’re too big and clumsy to roost. They would also be too heavy. Ten full grown meat chickens would collapse most roost poles.

Being on the ground can be a good thing. Grass can provide a soft warm place for the chickens to snuggle together. Not to mention, it’s clean. Good pasture will absorb lots of water. Even in a steady rain you can look inside the shelter and see nice dry ground. Only when the rain starts pouring do farmers have to bring out the straw to give their chickens a dry place to lay.

Being a pasture based farmer, means worrying about the weather. While you may get to sit inside watching the thunderstorm in comfort. They’re out in the rain stuffing straw under the shelters so their birds can get dry. Wet birds can get sick rather quickly. This is the commitment to humanely raising the best meat in the world.

Keep Them out of Yesterday’s Poop

Moving chickens everyday leaves yesterday’s poop behind. Being in a shelter means they are separated from it. This eliminates most of the disease vectors that chickens suffer from. Many diseases have about a 24 hour incubation period. Poop dropped 24 hours ago contains pathogens looking for a new host. When a farmer move his chickens, those pathogens are left stranded to die in the sunshine. This is how sustainable farmers are able to raise chickens without antibiotics.

Another benefit of moving chickens every day is that it gives the chickens fresh grass and bugs to eat. We’ve all been told we need to eat our greens. Well that goes for chickens too. Chlorophyll is a detoxicant. You’ve probably seen chlorophyll tablets in the health food store. Fresh grass provides vitamins and nutrients to keep pastured chickens healthy. You can’t get any fresher than eating it off the ground.

These nutrients that pastured chickens ingest go into their meat. That is why pasture raised chicken is so much healthier than factory farm chicken. Farmers move their chickens everyday, sometimes twice a day, because the grass gets dirty quickly. You wouldn’t want to eat dirty food, neither do chickens.

Pastured Chickens like their Shelters

Occasionally while moving the chicken shelters, one or two chickens will get out. You might think that they would run off, happy to have their freedom. This doesn’t happen. A newly freed chicken will look around for a moment, then run over to the shelter and begin looking for a way back in. They will circle the shelter looking up and down for a hole to climb through.

Perhaps this sounds crazy. Why would a chicken want back in? Isn’t it happy to be free? Not necessarily. Chickens are social creatures. They live in flocks. When one gets separated it wants to get back to the flock. Meat chickens are not used to being outside the safety of their shelter. It’s scary. Maybe if they got used to it, they would like it. If they survived long enough.

The truth is, pastured chickens like being in their shelters, it’s what they’re used to. They get plenty of fresh air, and as much sunshine as they want, but not too much. Pastured chickens have more than twice the amount of room as factory farm chickens.

As you can see, sustainable farmers are not putting their chickens in chicken shelters to be mean. They’re doing it because they love them. You wouldn’t let your baby crawl around wherever it wants, you keep it safe. That’s what playpens are for. They keep babies safe. Chicken shelters keep Pastured chickens safe and comfortable. They allow us to raise the best chicken possible.

Pastured Pork, the Other Red Meat

Posted in Food for Thought

 

You may have heard pork advertised as the other white meat, but that’s not true. Pork is classified as a red meat, along with beef and mutton. The only reason the pork council could get away with calling pork white meat is because their meat tends to be more pale. Pastured pork is not the pale flabby meat you’ll find in the supermarket. This meat has color, and color means nutrients. That’s why I don’t call pastured pork white meat. That would be selling it short.

Pastured Pork is Healthier

Pastured pigs have 300% more vitamin E and 74% more selenium in their milk than pigs raised in confinement. The meat also contains much more vitamins that conventional pork. The standard practice of feeding confinement pigs synthetic vitamins does not achieve the same results since artificial vitamins are absorbed poorly.[4]

Many nutrients in pork are contained in the fat, as with most meats. Those boneless skinless chicken breasts you may like are not very nutritious. Pigs that are raised outdoors and forage show higher levels of vitamin D than pigs kept indoors and fed soy, casein, cornmeal, and synthetic vitamins. Eating pork fat may also improve triglycerides because fat is especially good at helping us achieve satiety and stable blood sugar.[1] Eating more fat makes us feel full faster.

Pork fat also contains a novel form of phosphatidylcholine that possesses antioxidant activity superior to Vitamin E. This may be one reason why lard and bacon fat are relatively stable and  not prone to rancidity from free radicals.[1]

Pork fat is 50% monounsaturated, mostly consisting of oleic acid. Oleic acid is one reason olive oil is so prized. Monounsaturated fat is lauded for lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation. The palmitoleic content in pork fat has antimicrobial properties and can help keep plaque at bay. Another 40% of the fat is saturated. This is why lard and bacon grease are so stable and and unlikely to go rancid. People have been cooking with lard for thousands of years. Saturated fat has been vilified by mainstream medicine, but

Saturated Fat is not Your Enemy

Saturated fat has been vilinized since the 1960s. In 1980 that vilification became government doctrine with the publication of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Claims of consensus turned out to be untrue. Many scientists opposed the recommendation to reduce fat in the diet.[7] However, politics proved stronger than science as the government decided to ignore the results of studies that didn’t confirm the diet-heart hypothesis. The remaining studies championed by diet-heart supporters turned out to not be so conclusive after all. Despite the lack of consensus and weak evidence, dietary guidelines have recommended grains and vegetable oils over saturated fats.

Saturated fats play many important roles in the body. The lungs and kidneys cannot work without saturated fat. Saturated fats provide integrity to the cell walls, promote the use of essential fatty acids, enhance the immune system, protect the liver, and contribute to strong bones. Over half the fat in the brain is saturated.[12]

Our bodies need saturated fat. If we don’t have enough, our body will make it out of carbohydrates and excess protein. There is saturated fat in breast milk. Humans have been consuming saturated fats for thousands of years. Heart disease, obesity, stroke, and diabetes are recent epidemics. A century ago they were rare, now they are commonplace.

No Antibiotics Necessary

Around 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock. Pig farmers use on average, four times as many antibiotics as cattle farmers.[6] This makes sense when you realize that these pigs live their entire lives in large buildings with thousands of other pigs. No sunshine, no fresh air, and only the cheapest feed. Is anyone surprised that these pigs would need antibiotics?

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Pigs raised on pasture are healthier. They have much fewer problems with rhinitis, respiratory diseases, and foot and leg problems.[3] Back when I raised pastured pigs, I never had to give my animals antibiotics or any other drugs. It’s amazing what sunshine, and fresh ground can accomplish. A survey published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, showed that pigs raised on pasture had the lowest health costs.[3]

Antibiotic resistance has also shown to be improved with pastured raised pigs. A herd of pasture raised pigs that had not been given antibiotics for over 10 years was divided into two groups. The first group continued to live on pasture, the other was moved to standard confinement. Over the course of 20 months, fecal coliforms were tested for resistance to standard antibiotics. Samples from the pasture raised pigs were much less likely to be resistant.[5]

Pigs Need Exercise

Exercise builds muscle. Bodybuilders don’t sit around on the couch all day, they exercise. You can eat all the protein shakes you want, but if you don’t exercise to build your muscles, you’re only going to get fat. Meat is muscle. While we say we want to fatten up an animal, what we really mean is we want to build up the muscle. After all, the government says fat is bad.

Sitting has been called the new smoking.[8] This is because our bodies need to move. Moving increases circulation. Being stationary is linked with a nearly 50% increased risk of death from all causes and a 125% increased risk of cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack.[8] When a bunch of pigs are corralled in a small pen for their whole life, there is little exercise to be done.

Pigs Need to be Treated Humanely

Factory farmed pigs are raised by the thousands in large windowless warehouses. Pigs stand on slatted floors so that their excrement can be collected underneath. However, poop doesn’t just fall through on it’s own, it has to be pushed through the slats by the pigs lying or stepping on it. Needless to say, these buildings smell worse than the dirtiest rest stop outhouse you’ve ever encountered.

These buildings need constant ventilation to keep methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxins from building up. If the fans stop running for even a few minutes, the pigs will start suffocating. But even with constant airflow, the smell is still unbearable. This is what the pigs live in their entire lives. And lest you think they don’t mind, I’ll remind you that a pig has one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom.

This is not only horrible for the pigs, it’s also a horrible working environment for the workers who must tend to the pigs. Workers have died trying to tend to hogs in buildings where ventilation had broken down.

Superbug Factories

Up to 97% of hogs in confinement facilities are given antibiotics on a constant basis to promote growth and Stave off diseases.[9] this constant use of antibiotics breeds stronger and more resistant bacteria. The industry tries to stay one step ahead by using multiple antibiotics or adding in new and stronger antibiotics. However, this only works for so long, meanwhile they are killing off most of the bacteria. The ones left have developed an immunity to that antibiotic. If another antibiotic doesn’t come along and kill the bacteria, it will go on to thrive and build a large community of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the FDA randomly sampled 200 packages of ground meat in Washington DC area grocery stores. Salmonella bacteria were found in 6% of beef, 35% of chicken, 24% of turkey, and 16% of pork. Of the salmonella strains isolated in the sampling, 84% were found to be resistant to at least one antibiotic.[9]

To Nitrite or not to Nitrite

When I used to sell meat at farmers markets in St louis, I had several customers who would insist on buying “nitrite-free” cured meat. An interesting note, nowhere on my packages did it say “nitrite-free”. The USDA requires that “nitrite-free” bacon be listed as uncured due to the unpredictability of the nitrite-free process.

“This notion of ‘nitrite-free’ or ‘organically cured’ meats is a public deception.”

Nathan S. Bryan, PhD, University of Texas Houston Biomedical Research Center [2]

Traditional bacon is cured using sodium nitrite salts. This is a very controlled method, the processor knows exactly how much nitrites have been added to the meat. Nitrite-free bacon is cured using a solution of celery juice powder and salt which contains about 50% nitrate, along with a starter culture of bacteria. This bacteria transforms the nitrate into nitrite, curing the meat. This is a natural process, but it tends to generate more nitrite than would be added in traditional bacon. In fact, “nitrite-free” bacon can contain up to twice the nitrite content as traditionally cured bacon.[1, 10] According to Dr Nathan Bryan, “Some convert 40 percent, some convert 90 percent, so the consistency of the residual nitrite is highly variable.”[1]

However, this whole nitrite-free movement may be a waste of time. It turns out that most of the nitrites and nitrates you’re exposed to don’t even come from food. They come from within your own body. Up to 90% of the nitrites you get will come from salivary nitrites.[10] You didn’t think that saliva was simply there to keep your mouth from going dry. No, it is the first step in the digestion process.

Research is beginning to show that nitrites and nitrates may actually be good for you.[1,10,11] Or at the very least, not bad for you. If you’ll recall in my article, Everything I Know About Food I Learned from PR Companies, a lot of the scientific findings touted on the news are promoted by PR companies working on the behalf of companies. Some want to promote their product, others want to discredit a competing product.

This is not to say that processed or cured meats are suddenly good for you. Much of the processed meat you’ll find in a supermarket is still full of other chemicals and preservatives. Studies have linked processed meats to cancer, but I do not believe that nitrites or nitrates are solely to blame.

A promising trend I’m seeing is many small meat processors moving to more natural meat cures. My local processor recently switched to a simpler bacon cure with only 7 ingredients: water, salt, sugar, brown sugar, maple sugar, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. A definite improvement over the previous cure, which had over 10 ingredients, including MSG. Ask your farmer if their meat processor offers more natural meat cures.

Buy Local Pork

When you buy your pork from a local sustainable farm, you get to see how they were raised. Industrial farms don’t want you to see how their pigs are raised. It’s embarrassing. Sustainable farms are proud of how they raise their animals. Even if you don’t visit the farm in person, you can probably still see pictures of the pigs on the farm’s website.

Most small farmers who raise pastured pigs will sell you pork by the whole or half. Many farms also sell pork by the piece. It’s more expensive this way, so investing in a small freezer could easily pay off.

 

References

  1. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/save-your-bacon-sizzling-bits-about-nitrites-dirty-little-secrets-about-celery-salt-and-other-aporkalyptic-news/
  2. www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com/Media/MediaManager/nitrites_and_nitrates.pdf
  3. Kliebenstein, J.B. et al. 1983. A survey of swine production health problems and health maintenance expenditures. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Vol. 1. p. 357-369.
  4. Mutetikka, D.B., and D.C. Mahan, 1993. Effect of pasture, confinement, and diet fortification with vitamin E and selenium on reproducing gilts and their progeny. J. Anim. Sci. 71:3211.
  5. Langlois, B. E., K. A. Dawson, et al. (1988). “Effect of age and housing location on antibiotic resistance of fecal coliforms from pigs in a non-antibiotic-exposed herd.” Appl Environ Microbiol 54(6): 1341-4.
  6. www.upi.com/Health_News/2015/03/22/Antibiotics-in-meat-on-the-rise-worldwide-especially-bacon/1141427062677/#ixzz3VB8G4J2W
  7. The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz, 2014
  8. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005
  9. Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2010
  10. chriskresser.com/the-nitrate-and-nitrite-myth-another-reason-not-to-fear-bacon/
  11. Skovgaard N.   Microbiological aspects and technological need: technological needs for nitrates and nitrites Food Addit Contam. 1992 Sep-Oct;9(5):391-7.
  12. Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig Phd, 2001

 

Any Food Label You Can Use, Industry Can Use Better

Posted in Food for Thought

Organic, natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised, cage-free –  these food labels used to mean something. They meant food raised on small local farms. Food raised with care and respect. They meant that the farmer’s goal was improving the environment, not pillaging it.

But nowadays, you can’t be so sure. The food industry has taken these terms and twisted them to make their products appear to be the same quality as those from sustainable local farms. This co option of said terms dilutes their value. What is the average consumer to think? They see natural, cage-free, or grass-fed on a package and assume they’re getting the same quality as what they might get from a farmers market, but much cheaper.

Look! We’re Certified. Aren’t We Great?

Industry has millions of dollars to spend on branding, marketing and pr. They love certifications. Certifications are easy to slap on a label then hide behind it. Certifications also make it easy for lazy consumers to feel like they’re buying a superior product when in reality, it may only be marginally better, if at all.

Certification is no guarantee of quality. Many people buy organic because they think it’s healthier, that it has more nutrients. But that’s not necessarily the case. Organic certification has nothing to do with nutrients. Organic specifies what’s not in the food: GMOs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. While eliminating these things is important, it’s only half the battle.

Most organic certified food is raised in the same systems as their conventional counterparts. Organic chickens are still raised in cramped buildings, I’m sorry “free-range barns”, as conventional chickens. Organic produce is raised in the same massive monocultures that you would be hard pressed to tell apart from conventional. That organic yogurt you bought at the store probably came from an industrial dairy. The only real difference required is the lack of antibiotics and that the feed is certified. Organic standards don’t specify that the cows must be on fresh pasture, access to a dirt yard will suffice.

There’s a pizza company in Iceland called Pizza Express, they released a brand called Artisana Range Pizzas. Sound’s artisanal, doesn’t it? That’s the idea, and the scam. Factory made pizza is anything but artisanal.

Many terms used to describe the healthfulness of food are not regulated. Anyone can call their products natural. Any meatpacker can call their beef grass-fed. Consumer Reports surveyed 1,000 adults and found that more people buy natural than organic. “We’ve seen time and again that majority of consumers believe the ‘natural’ label means more than it does,” says Urvashi Rangen, Ph.D.[1]

Everything is Natural

I had a friend who used to tell me this fifteen years ago. And he was right. Everything is natural, everything comes from the earth. That doesn’t make it inherently healthy or dangerous. But it does sell product. While, he used this as an excuse to eat whatever he wanted, food companies use it to whitewash their industrial processed crap. Are Twinkies natural? They could be. Depends on your definition.

Natural has been twisted to make even the most unhealthy food sound healthy. People believe that products labeled as ‘natural’ will contain no antibiotics, GMOs, artificial colors, etc. The fact is, ‘natural’ means nothing. There is no standard definition for the term. No one is regulating how it is used. So companies use it however they like. Hostess cupcakes contain ‘natural flavors’. Natural flavors sound good, don’t they? After all they’re natural. But the reverse is true. Natural flavors can mean a lot of things, one of them is MSG.

More Terms That Don’t Mean What You Think

Vegetarian Fed does not pertain to where the animal was raised, only what they were fed. GMO corn and soybeans are allowed. These animals are typically raised in the same confinement buildings and feedlots as their conventionally raised counterparts.[2] they have to be because Chickens are not Vegetarians.

Cage Free laying hens are taken from small cages and placed in crowded houses.[2] In fact, it’s probably the same house with the cages removed. There’s still thousands of hens, but instead of being stacked in cages, they’re all crammed on one floor. Also there may have a small door in the side that leads to a dirt yard. You know, because natural.

Pasture-raised – It’s true that these animals spend their time on pasture. However, the quality of that pasture is not specified.[2] Most cows on pasture are continuous grazing. Meaning that they stay on the same pastures until there may be no grass left. Or they selectively graze only the types of grass they like, leaving the weeds to take over. This type of grazing can destroy pasture. When grass is constantly eaten back down and cannot regrow, it dies out or grows thin. Properly managed pasture can have up to three times as much grass per square foot as poorly managed pasture.

Pasture-raised does not mean grain-free. Cows raised on said pasture can be fed as much grain per day as a feedlot cow.[2] Since cows prefer the high carbohydrate grain, they may eat very little grass. However, they will eat grass. This helps them tolerate some of the conditions that grain feeding create. So pasture raised is still better than feedlot raised.

No Routine Antibiotic Use – Sounds like they don’t use antibiotics, doesn’t it? Instead it means that the animals are not fed continuous antibiotics in order to stimulate growth or prevent disease. However, they can be given antibiotics if they get sick.[2] And getting sick is rather likely given the conditions they live in.

Local is supposed to mean from a small farm within a few hundred miles. But local can be twisted to mean just about anything.[2] A couple years ago a restaurant near us began buying meat from a local farm. Everything was great for a couple months, then they stopped buying. When the farmer investigated, the restaurant told them that they went back to buying from their distributor. The distributor said that there was a CAFO located about 100 miles away, so the meat was technically local. The restaurant got to continue using the word local to promote themselves, while buying the same cheap meat as any other restaurant. Meanwhile the customers are being duped and the local farmer is one customer closer to not being in business.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Certifications

Certified Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, Non-GMO. These certifications are only necessary when you don’t know where your food is coming from. Not to mention, certification is no guarantee. The USDA cannot possibly test and check every product labeled organic. No certification agency can watch every farm and food company all the time.

Putting all your trust in third party or government agencies is not a good idea. These entities can be infiltrated by industry to get concessions. Food companies are constantly lobbying to get loopholes and other concessions in the organic standards. The very existence of organic cheese puffs is proof that the organic standards have been diluted.

When you get to know your farmer, you don’t have to rely on third parties who may or may not be overworked. Customer inspection is the best kind of inspection. Let’s take a farm serving 200 households. Perhaps 50 of those customers will want to come see the farm. That’s 50 inspections. Many of them will be short notice or even a surprise. There’s nothing like having customers around to keep you honest.

So next time you’re at the farmer’s market, ask the farmers if you can come out and visit their farm. If they say, “Sure, come on out.” then you can be reasonably sure that they’re doing things right. You don’t even have to go out yourself. As long as you know that other customers are going to the farm, you can rest assured that your farm is customer inspected. No certifications necessary.

References:

  1. www.consumerreports.org/natural-foods/the-difference-between-labels-on-organic-and-natural-foods/
  2. http://www.gracelinks.org/499/glossary-of-meat-production-methods

Chickens Are Not Vegetarians

Posted in Food for Thought

While browsing through Whole Foods awhile back, I came across a package of eggs from “vegetarian fed chickens”. That got me thinking. What did they have to do to force their chickens to be vegetarians? Chickens are not vegetarian by nature. I know, I’ve raised chickens my whole life. I never found any vegetarian chickens.

One activity we liked to do as kids was grab some bugs or worms and throw them into the chicken yard. Then stand back and watch as the chickens chased them around and ate them. The moment a chicken sees a bug moving, it zeroes in for the kill. This is a natural response. Chickens have been doing this for thousands of years. Wild chickens didn’t have a feeder stocked full of corn, they had to find their own food.

According to Wikipedia: “In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards, small snakes or young mice.” Eating insects is not vegetarian. Eating lizards, snakes, and mice is certainly not vegetarian.

Turkeys are even more voracious hunters. From as young as a week old, baby turkeys will stalk and attempt to eat any fly that lands nearby. This is instinct, they didn’t learn it from us, they didn’t learn it from their mother. In the brooder, they only have each other to learn from.

Vegetarian Fed Means Kept Indoors

When I see “vegetarian fed” on a carton of eggs, or a package of chicken, I feel bad for those chickens. They’re clearly not living their lives out in the pasture. If they were, you couldn’t call them vegetarians. The only way to ensure that a chicken only eats what you want, is to lock them in a building. Controlling their environment ensures that they don’t eat any of those nasty bugs or worms.

The word ‘fed’ in vegetarian fed sounds like a weasel word. Chickens, even ones in buildings, may still be able to find bugs to eat. Bugs that crawled or flew in. Manure attracts bugs. That said, there’s no bugs or animal products in the feed. Hence, vegetarian fed.

“Eww! Chickens eat bugs! That’s gross.”. No, it’s not gross, it’s natural. What isn’t natural is forcing chickens to eat only what you consider fit for consumption. I find it rather amusing that someone wanting to eat meat would want to force that meat to be vegetarian. I have no idea where this idea even came from. Surely not from vegetarians, they don’t eat meat. Are that many consumers grossed out about chickens eating bugs?

Bugs are the most nutrient dense things a chicken can eat. When a chicken eats bugs and other non vegetarian things it turns the pale yellow yolk of an industrial chicken into the healthy orange yolk of a pasture raised egg.

When you deprive chickens of their natural diet of bugs and grass, you have to replace it with vitamin supplements. Man made vitamin packs and mineral supplements are never going to be as good as simply letting a chicken eat their natural diet. Not to mention, locking thousands of chickens in a building is not healthy, nor humane.

Why are store bought egg yolks a pale yellow? Because 10,000 hens locked in a barn with a small yard have nothing to eat except the same premixed chicken feed. There are no bugs to be found and any grass in the yard is quickly eaten and scratched down to dirt. There’s very little nutrition in a dirt yard. In my article, Pastured Raised Eggs, I explain why raising chickens on pasture makes for healthier eggs.

Sustainable farms raise chickens out on pasture, where they’re meant to be. This makes for happier chickens and healthier eggs. Raising chickens in the pasture is more work, but they don’t mind. Seeing those happy hens everyday makes it worth it. I hope you agree.

Raw Milk

Posted in Food for Thought

Many Americans don’t know that there is such a thing as raw milk. They think all milk is the same. That it all comes from the grocery store in plastic jugs. Of course, this is exactly what the dairy industry wants. They’re the ones selling pasteurized milk.

Raw milk has been a staple food for humans for many thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows that as long as 30,000 years ago, ancient people in the Sinai Peninsula were using fences to confine and breed antelope for their milk.[2]

Humans are mammals. A defining characteristic of mammals is that all females nurse their young with milk. The class Mammalia comes from the latin word ‘mamma’ which means breast.[1] We are designed from birth to be milk drinkers. Some people claim that we shouldn’t drink milk, but I think you’ll find that much of the problems identified with milk come from pasteurized milk.

Conventional Milk Should be Pasteurized

In confinement dairy systems the animals are often so sick that only the overuse of antibiotics allows milk production to continue in otherwise intolerable conditions. The most notable affliction is mastitis, which is an infection of the udder. Milk from a cow with mastitis will contain high amounts of bacteria and pus. This is not an uncommon occurrence. The National Mastitis Council states that as many 40% of all dairy cows have some form of mastitis.[5] That’s nearly half. Nearly half the milk coming to a processing plant contains pus. No wonder we have to pasteurize.

Somatic cell count (SCC) can be an indicator of mastitis(pus) in milk. According to a veterinarian at the University of Nebraska: “The normal SCC in milk is generally below 200,000 per ml…an SCC above 250,000 is considered abnormal and nearly always is an indication of bacterial infection causing inflammation of the udder.”[2] The Federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance allows an SCC of up to three times as much (750,000 per ml). In other words, pus in your milk is okay.

Distillery Dairies, The First Factory Farms

For thousands of years the idea of boiling or pasteurizing milk was unheard of. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that mega dairies began opening up next to large distilleries making whiskey. The leftover slop from the whiskey production was disposed of by feeding it to the dairy cows. As these diaries grew they pioneered the use of confinement in the production of milk. I consider the distillery dairies to be the first factory farms.

The confinement of hundreds of cows in a single building led to sanitation issues. Dirty, contaminated milk was being sold. People began getting sick. In cities like New York and Philadelphia, the infant mortality rate for children under five went from 25%-30% in 1814 to over 50% in 1840.[2]

When the problems with distillery milk was identified, two solutions were implemented to solve it. Certification commissions were formed to certify milk from approved and trustworthy dairymen. These dairies were inspected to ensure the quality of their milk.

Pasteurization was the other solution. Pasteurization killed off most of the pathogens found in the distillery milk, making is safe to drink. In 1893, Nathan Straus began opening milk depots for the distribution of low priced pasteurized milk. He sold the milk at a loss in order to keep the milk cheap.

This led to the pasteurization of all milk, but certified raw milk. Enforcement of diary hygiene rules was practically impossible. New york city was supplied by over 40,000 dairies. Many other cities were in similar positions. The government couldn’t police all these farms. Pasteurization was seen as a technological fix that would solve the milk problem. If milk didn’t come from a certified dairy, it had to be pasteurized. Certified raw milk coexisted alongside pasteurized milk for 50 years.

In the late 1930s, corporate dairies began a publicity campaign against raw milk. They hired writers to make drinking raw milk seem barbaric. Articles ran in magazines and newspapers across the country. Articles in Ladies Home Journal and coronet claimed that thousands of cases of Undulant fever were caused by raw milk. This was a total fabrication. Record from the US public health service showed no more than 256 cases of Undulant fever between 1923 and 1944.[2, 4]

This campaign eventually worked. Raw milk sales were outlawed in all but a few states. And while pasteurization is an added expense, it’s cheaper than raising cows properly. Pasteurization allowed the distillery dairies to continue abusing their cows. Their inferior and infected milk was suddenly deemed safe for consumption. Instead of fixing their dairies and treating their animals with respect, they simply boiled their milk.

Pasteurized is Not the Same

Pasteurization has been successful in making cheap milk safe to drink. Unfortunately, it also makes it less nutritious, even if it was poor quality to begin with. Claims that pasteurized milk and raw have the same nutrient value is just wrong. The CDC even warns against using a microwave to heat breast milk because excess heat can destroy vital nutrients in the milk.[3]

Beta-lactoglobulin is a protein in milk that increases absorption of vitamin A. Heat destroys this protein and also degrades vitamin A.[9] Vitamin D assimilation is cut in half by pasteurization.[10] This is why vitamin D is usually added back to milk. Studies also show that vitamin B6 and B12 are poorly absorbed from pasteurized milk.[11] These are just a few nutrients that have been studied. But there is more than just nutrients in milk.

Raw milk contains various beneficial bacteria. These lactobacilli are likewise destroyed during pasteurization. Our bodies need good bacteria to survive. They help us to absorb minerals from our food, and much more.[9] I go into more detail about beneficial bacteria in Your Body is not Sterile.

Healthy Cows Make Healthy and Safe Milk

The healthfulness of a cow’s milk depends on what the cows eat. There’s a saying in the technology industry: “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t feed a cow slop and expect to get healthy milk. They have to get their nutrients somewhere, and a bag of synthetic vitamins won’t cut it. Cows are meant to eat grass. Grass is full of nutrients. Herbivores are uniquely designed to digest grass, not grain, not animal byproducts.

A Report by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that dairy cows that graze on grass produce higher levels of beneficial acids ALA and CLA. ALA is believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and CLA is believed to have many positive effects on heart disease, cancer, and the immune system.[13]

Pasture also has an effect on the safety of the milk. When a cow is moved every day to fresh pasture, they leave behind their manure which may carry pathogens. By leaving it behind, the pathogens can’t spread between animals. The Journal of Dairy Science reported that milk from cows that had grazed on intensively managed pasture had lower bacterial counts than milk from conventional dairies.[8]

Raw milk has been shown to have a beneficial effect on allergies.[16] Children drinking raw milk had 41 percent less asthma and half the rate of hay fever. This was linked to whey proteins in milk which are damaged by heat.[14]

Milk allergies are becoming a big problem. Pasteurized milk has become one of the top ten allergenic foods. Milk allergy is usually attributed to casein intolerance. As I explained previously, pasteurization destroys the beneficial lactic-acid bacteria. These bacteria produce enzymes that break down the casein molecule. Therefore, it stands to reason that raw milk could be consumed by people with a mild milk allergy.[15]

Industrial Cows Aren’t Healthy

An industrial dairy cow’s diet leaves much to be desired. The grain provided is usually GMO and cheap. Feedlots typically put additives in the feed to increase milk production. Animal byproducts are not uncommon. The 1994 Feed Industry Red Book lists common feed additives like: blood meal, hydrolyzed poultry feather meal, fish meal, meat and bone meal, and poultry by-product meal ( necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines).

On the bright side, the dairy industry no longer grinds up whole dead cows to feed back to dairy cows. That practice led to the massive outbreak of mad cow disease. I wonder if feeding these other animal byproducts will lead to another such disease outbreak in the future.

According to the Journal of Dairy Research, “The more milk a cow produces, the more dilute the vitamin content of her milk.” Today’s super milk cows produce twenty times the milk required to sustain a healthy calf.[6] In 1910, the average dairy cow produced just over 2,900 pounds of milk per year. By 2005, the average milk cow produced a whopping 19,951 pounds of milk a year.[13] That’s almost 7 times as much! It’s not possible for this milk to contain as many nutrients as milk from lesser producing cows.

Now let’s talk about living conditions. Modern milk cows are raised in much the same conditions found in distillery diaries of the 1800s. Some dairies tether their milk cows inside a stall for her entire milk cycle. Even the cows in free range barns suffer. Concrete floors found in a dairy barn are are hard on a cow’s hoof. Veterinarians at UC Davis found that hooves wore 35% faster on concrete than on dirt.[2]

Allowing cows to roam freely inside a barn allows for even more damage. Excessive walking on concrete creates concussion damage and leads to sluggish blood flow and edema.[2] Perhaps that’s why some cows are tethered.

As you may have guessed, lameness is a major cause of suffering for milk cows.[2, 13] The combination of bigger cows on concrete floors is a recipe for problems. A report done for the state of minnesota showed that out of every 100 dairy cows, there were 35 to 56 cases of lameness annually.[13]  Milk from happy cows indeed.

Pasteurization can’t Fix Bad Milk

Pasteurization in not what you may think it is. First of all, pasteurization is not sterilization. It is not intended to kill all the microorganisms in food. It’s aim is to simply reduce the number of pathogens.[7] This is why pasteurized milk still has an expiration date and stays drinkable only slightly longer than raw milk. Another thing to consider, Bacteria does not simply disappear after pasteurization. Residue of dead bacteria remains in the milk.

But does pasteurization excuse such filthy conditions? After all, it doesn’t matter if the milk is dirty or contaminated, it’ll be pasteurized. It doesn’t matter if there’s pus in your milk, it’s dead pus. Well, most of it. What’s not dead does cause illness on occasion.

In 1985 and 1986 two waves of antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella typhimurium infections sickened over 16,000 people in Illinois. This was the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States. Surveys suggest that as many as 197,581 persons may have been affected. Nearly 3,000 people were hospitalized and 18 deaths occurred.[17]

The cases were traced back to two brands of pasteurized milk from one dairy plant. The same strain of salmonella was confirmed to have caused both waves, suggesting that the bacteria had persisted in the plant, repeatedly contaminating milk after pasteurization.[17]

This is an example of why industrial agriculture is a problem. When food production is centralized in mega facilities, the amount of people affected is much larger. If a small raw milk dairy has an outbreak, at most a few hundred people might be affected. A widespread outbreak is nearly impossible with small decentralized farms.

Pasteurized milk may have something to do with Crohn’s disease. Paratuberculosis, suspected of causing Crohn’s disease is now routinely found in pasteurized milk (19% of samples tested).[18]

More Dangerous than Raw Milk

Raw milk is hardly the most dangerous food on the market. You are nearly 6,500 times more likely to get sick from other foods than from raw milk. According to a 2011 CDC article, there are 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illnesses each year.[20] With 312 million people in the US[21], that’s 1 out of every 33 people. According to Dr Ted beals, the average number of illnesses attributed to consuming raw milk each year is 42. In 2008 approximately 9 million people reported drinking raw milk.[19] This would put the illness rate at 1 in 214,285. (214,285 divided by 33 = 6,493 times more likely)

There are 515 times more illnesses from Listeria Monocytogenes due to deli meats and 29 times more from pasteurized milk than from raw milk. Per serving, deli meats are 10 times more likely to cause illness than raw milk.[22] These statistics matter since deli meats are consumed without further cooking.

But food isn’t the only place that bacteria can survive. Salmonella enteritidis can survive up to 9 days on coins and up to 17 days on teflon. E. Coli has been shown to survive for up to 11 days on coins.[23] In other words, wash your hands, and your cookware. And don’t forget, your cell phone is dirtier than your toilet seat.

Yes We Can Drink Milk

There are people who say that humans should not drink milk. Milk has gained a bad reputation in the last few decades. It’s been linked to iron deficiency, heart disease, obesity, constipation, excess mucus production, and other “western diseases”. I think I’ve thoroughly proven that these associations can only be made to pasteurized milk.

In 1929, Dr J. R. Crewe of the Mayo Clinic wrote an article entitled: “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases.” Dr Crewe used raw milk for over 15 years in the treatment of various diseases such as tuberculosis, cardiovascular and renal conditions, and hypertension. He saw striking results in cases of the heart and kidneys.[24] In other words, Dr Crewe used raw milk to treat heart disease. Keep in mind, the Mayo Clinic was over 60 years old at this point.

Before that in 1909, Charles Sanford Porter, MD published Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease. He treated over 18,000 patients in his 37 year practice.  Mr. W. F. Kitzele, a city official from Burlington Iowa, wrote to Dr Porter to report that he had lived for more than 50 years on raw milk alone. At the age of two, he drank concentrated lye which damaged his throat. Unable to eat any other food he could only drink milk.[2]

Veterinarians will tell you to never give cats milk. Once again, this is true when referring to pasteurized milk. Dr Francis Pottenger conducted extensive studies involving cats over the course of 10 years. Some cats were fed raw milk, others were fed pasteurized milk. The cats fed pasteurized milk became ill and eventually were unable to reproduce. Conversely, the cats fed raw milk were exceedingly healthy, producing generations of healthy offspring.[2]

Buy Your Milk From a Local Farm

I’m not saying that we should do away with pasteurized milk altogether. If people want to buy cheap milk, that’s fine. But everyone should have the option to buy raw milk if they choose. That said, i don’t think that raw milk should be sold in supermarkets. Because once you can buy raw milk in supermarkets, you lose the connection to the farmer. The disconnect between consumer and farmer has led to the disaster we now have as a food system.

Selling raw milk in supermarkets next to pasteurized milk would most likely lead to disappointment. Raw milk is typically two to three times the price of pasteurized milk. People shopping at a supermarket are typically price sensitive and not particularly health conscious. All it would take is one look at the prices and the raw milk would be left on the shelf.

Buying raw milk doesn’t have to require a three hour trip to a farm miles out in the country. Many raw milk farmers have set up scheduled delivery routes. You simply tell them where you are and they will find a delivery point near you. The farmer doesn’t mind driving 200-300 miles if it means delivering 100+ gallons of milk. It’s a win-win for everyone.

 

References

  1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammal
  2. The Untold Story of Milk, Ron Schmid, ND, 2003
  3. www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm
  4. US public health service, “Summary of milk-borne disease outbreaks, 1923 – 1941”
  5. Dairy Cattle Science, M.E. Ensminger, 1993
  6. Jensen, S. K. “Quantitative secretion and maximal secretion capacity of retinol, beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherol into cows’ milk.” J Dairy Res 66, no. 4 (1999): 511-22.
  7. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasteurization
  8. J Dairy Sci 75(1): 96-104).
  9. Said and others. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;49:690-694; Runge and Heger. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Jan;48(1):47-55.  
  10. Hollis and others.  J Nutr. 1981;111:1240-1248; FEBS Journal 2009 2251-2265.
  11. Studies from Randleigh Farms.
  12. BJN 2000 84:S91-S98; MacDonald and others. 1985
  13. Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2010
  14. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Online August 29, 2011.   
  15. Meisel and others. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 1999;76(1-4):207-15
  16. Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 2007 May; 35(5) 627-630.
  17. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1987;258:3269 jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/369661
  18. Appl & Environ Microbiol 2002 May;68(5):2428-35
  19. www.realmilk.com/safety/those-pathogens-what-you-should-know/
  20. Scallan E, Hoekstra RM, Angulo FJ, Tauxe RV, Widdowson M, Roy SL, et al. Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Major Pathogens. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011;17(1):7-15. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1701.P11101
  21. US Population on Sep 1st 2011 – 312,097,413 www.census.gov/popclock/
  22. Interpretive Summary – Listeria Monocytogenes Risk Assessment, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Sept. 2003, page 17
  23. J Food Protection, 1999;62(7):805-7.
  24. Crewe, J. R. “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases.” Certified Milk Magazine, January, 1923, 3-6

Local Food isn’t too Expensive, Conventional Food is too Cheap

Posted in Food for Thought

What is cheap? Think about that for a moment. Cheap is relative.

Is a coffee pot cheap? How about a refrigerator? A refrigerator costs a lot more than a coffee pot, but it can still be cheap. It really depends on what brand you buy or where you buy it. You can spend $10 on a coffee pot, or you can spend $500. $500 is expensive for a coffee pot, but not for a refrigerator.

Take gas as an example – is $2 a gallon cheap? You probably didn’t think so in 2002, when gas was in the $1.50 a gallon range. $2.00 a gallon is cheap when compared to $3.00 a gallon. But it’s expensive when compared to $1.50 a gallon.

How Much Should Food Cost?

In my article, What is Elitist, I explore how inflation affected the food industry differently than the rest of the economy.

When I look at the 1950s prices for food, then adjust them for inflation, you’ll see that something’s not right. Eggs were $.60 a dozen in 1950, adjusted for inflation they should be $5.00 a dozen. Instead, they’re $1.50 a dozen. Milk was $.82 a gallon, it should be $6.85 a gallon. Chicken was $.43 a pound then, it should be $3.60 a pound now. All of these staple items should cost 2-3 times as much as they do.[2]

I also discovered that this price discrepancy only pertains to basic food items such as: meats, eggs, milk, etc. You know, the type of stuff you would buy from a local farmer. Processed food prices have gone up by 1,300% or more. While at the same time, the amount of money the farmers make off this food has gone down.[2]  

Bread was $.15 in 1950, inflation says is should only cost $1.25. Instead is costs $2.00 or more. Soda cost $.07 in 1950. It should only cost $.58. Instead it costs about $.75.[2]  

Is it any wonder so many people think that locally raised food is too expensive? We’ve become accustomed to cheap food. So, let’s explore how our food became so cheap.

Economies of Scale Favor Big Corporations.

When a processing plant butchers 250,000 chickens a day, paying several inspectors is cheap. However, when a small local processor only butchers 600 a day, paying even one inspector becomes expensive. But that’s not the only expense.

FSIS regulations require that every processing plant have a separate office and bathroom for the inspector. They wouldn’t want to soil themselves by using the lowly employee bathroom. This of course, means building two bathrooms, and an extra office. Not a problem when your plant is 30,000+ square feet. But for a local plant that may be 2,000 square feet, that extra 100 square feet is a much bigger cost.

Inspection is not a guarantee, unless you’re a mega processing plant. Small processors may employ one inspector a week, sometimes less. Meanwhile mega processors can easily employ half a dozen per week or more. This gives them priority over the small guys. If the inspector for a small plant calls in sick, the work has to stop. That’s not the case for a mega plant, they’ll just continue on with one less inspector.

Mass production is great for cars, coffee pots etc. because these things are not alive. Warehousing sheet metal in cramped buildings doesn’t hurt anyone. However, when you start viewing animals the same way you view sheet metal, you stop caring about what conditions they live in.

Abusing Animals

Cows aren’t cars. Pigs aren’t iphones.Chickens aren’t bottles of soda. You can’t just force millions of animals into a rigid system like you do a car, or a bottle of soda. Nature doesn’t do that. Can you think of anywhere in nature where thousands of chickens live in a small area with no other animals? I can’t.

But industrial agriculture doesn’t care about how animals live in nature. Conventional farming crams animals into warehouse like buildings where they are fed hormones, steroids, and antibiotics to make them grow fast. Then they are slaughtered quickly before they die.

These buildings can be smelled from a mile away. The poop buildup creates a noxious environment for the animals to live in. When you have 30,000 chickens or 5,000 hogs in a building, keeping them clean is impossible. These buildings require constant ventilation to keep the animals alive. If the ventilation fails for even a short period of time, methane buildup can occur, killing the animals.[12]

Studies have been done that link cruelty to animals with sociopathic tendencies. What could be more abusive that forcing animals to live in their own feces for their entire life. Death is a welcome relief for these animals.

Exploiting Farmers & Food Workers

A conventional farmer in the US makes a small percentage of a dollar spent of the food they raised. Why is that? The answer is simple. Middlemen.

Much of the processed food consumed today goes through as many a five different companies before it reaches the consumer. In order for this to be profitable, the farmer cannot be paid a substantial amount. After all, each one of the middlemen have to make a profit. No one cares if the farmer does. That’s what subsidies are for, right?

Workers at processing plants are also notoriously underpaid. Many processing plants have taken to hiring migrant workers who are more willing to accept low wages.

Workers at processing plants are hired to to a very specific task. Hang birds on hooks, cut the wings off a bird, etc. these tasks require very few moves, but need to be repeated very quickly. Many processing plants butcher up to 140 birds a minute. This breakneck pace causes repetitive stress injuries.[12]

Subsidies Unfairly Promote Big Corporations

The price you pay at the supermarket cash register is not the true cost. Much of it has been subsidized with tax dollars.

Let’s pretend that the government decided to subsidize every car sold in the US to the tune of $5,000 per vehicle. Except Toyota. because reasons. Would it be right to get mad at Toyota because their cars cost more? It’s not Toyota’s fault that the government decided to leave them out.

Grain subsidies have allowed the price of grain to go down over the last 40 years. This in turn has made meat and processed food cheaper. Meanwhile the cost to grow that grain has gone up along with everything else. In August 2016 a bushel of corn cost $2.88.[4] However, in August 1974 a bushel of corn brought $3.32.[3] That’s $16.00 in 2016 dollars.

I’m sorry, what? The price of corn has gone down over five and half times in the last 40 years. Who’s paying for that? Taxpayers and farmers. Grain subsidies come out of tax dollars. Every taxpayer is paying for them whether they want to or not. That means that vegans are paying for subsides to feed cattle and chickens that they’ll never eat.

Farmers are also paying for it. In the 1970s the USDA encouraged the consolidation of farmland. Farmers had to “get big or get out.”[1] In other words, farmers had to grow more crops to make the same amount of money. And it’s worked, farmers grow four times as much corn as they did in 1970.[1]

And while it’s true that economies of scale account for some of the price reduction, the question still remains. Do we really need 12 billion bushels of corn every year?

If you’re Tyson, then yes, you do. According to researchers Tim Wise and Alicia Harvie at Tufts, the lower prices of corn and soy have saved chicken producers $11.3 billion between 1997 and 2005.[6,7]

You might say: ‘Well that’s good for farmers.’ Not if they’re growing for Tyson. Tyson growers don’t buy the feed, or the chicks. They are merely paid to raise the chickens. Tyson alone is reaping the profits of low cost feed.

On the other hand, most local farms use NON-GMO or organic feed. Neither of which has subsidies. In other words, we’re Toyota.

Cheap Fuel & Cheap Pollution

When you truck food thousands of miles, you need cheap fuel. Bananas are cheap for one main reason. Mass transit using cheap fuel.

Currently our conventional farm system relies on mining the earth and oceans to make cheap fertilizer. This fertilizer is used on soil that has long since been depleted of its fertility. Hence the need for fertilizer. This fertilizer is made in chemical plants that pollute the environment.[11]

Farmers routinely over fertilize their fields. They call this insurance.[8] This extra fertilizer cannot be absorbed by the soil. It ends up being washed away by rain or irrigation. The fertilizer contaminated water makes its way to the nearest creek or river, eventually making its way to the mississippi river and out to the gulf of mexico. A dead zone occurs every summer in the Gulf of Mexico when runoff from industrial farming makes its way down the river.[9, 10]

The worst industrial disaster in history was caused by a pesticide plant. In 1984 the Union Carbide company operating in Bhopal india, had a gas leak. Over 500,000 people were exposed to Methyl Isocyanate. The death toll was at least 3,787, but more deaths are claimed.[5]

If more farming converted to Organic and subsequently we reduced our use of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides we’d see petroleum prices drop. We would also see our environment improve and reduce associated costs.

Are You a Cheap Food Family?

If the only food you buy for your family is the cheapest food available, what message does that send? Does eating cheap food make your kids feel special? Or does it send the message: “you’re not worth buying good food for.”

Our children learn from our example. You can preach and lecture all you want, but your actions speak louder than your words. If you talk about eating healthy, but continue to buy cheap food, your children will see through your hollow words.

Every time your child eats, their body uses that food as building material. Is that building material quality? Or is it like building a house using rotted wood. You may have gotten a good deal on it. But it’ll cost you later.

Look at the pizza rolls in your freezer or the sugary cereal in your pantry. Do you seriously believe that this food is healthy? Are you confident that it is providing quality building materials for you child’s growing body? Are you satisfied with the synthetic vitamins listed on the nutritional guidelines label?

Local pasture raised meat and eggs are an excellent example of nutrient dense food. Grass finished beef has up to six times the Omega 3 fatty acids as feedlot beef. Grass finished beef has over four times the Vitamin E as feedlot beef.[13] The list goes on and on. But it boils down to one thing. You get more nutrients for your money with local pasture raised food.

 

References

  1. www.motherjones.com/food/2012/02/america-food-spending-less/
  2. www.thepeoplehistory.com/1950s.html
  3. www.iowaagriculture.gov/agMarketing/historic/1974GrainPrices.asp
  4. www.iowaagriculture.gov/agMarketing/historic/2016GrainPrices.asp
  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Carbide
  6. grist.org/article/2010-03-25-corn-ethanol-meat-hfcs/
  7. grist.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/pb09-01sweeteningpotfeb09.pdf
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, 2016
  9. www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110804_deadzone.html
  10. www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/01/meat-industry-dead-zone-gulf-of-mexico-environment-pollution
  11. grist.org/article/miracle-grow/
  12. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser, 2012
  13. www.eatwild.com

Your Body is not Sterile

Posted in Food for Thought

Our culture has taught us to be afraid of bacteria. We believe that our bodies are sterile and bacteria invade and attack, making us sick. If you stopped an average soccer mom on the street and told her that there are trillions of bacteria in her guts, she would probably freak out and run for the antibiotics. What she doesn’t understand is there are good kinds of bacteria. We need this bacteria. If our intestines we’re truly sterile, we would most surely die.

Bacteria are on our skin. Some cause body odor, some manufacture vitamin D when we get sunshine. Bacteria line the membranes of our mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. These bacteria are the first line of defence against foreign invaders.[1] There are actually more cells in your gut flora than in your body.[6] This collection of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, worms, and other single celled organisms is more unique than any fingerprint or any retinal scan could possibly be.

The makeup of this flora is constantly changing. The food you eat, the chemicals you’re exposed to, and any drugs or medication you take will affect it. When I was a teenager, I found out that the more sugar I ate, the more acne I got. If I went easy on sugar for a week, my acne cleared up. No medicine or creams required.

Bacteria is Good for You

Since the advent of germ theory, mankind has feared bacteria. Antibiotics, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, these have become commonplace. Modern families endeavour to live without bacteria. But this is a fallacy. We cannot live without bacteria. Nor can we live without beneficial yeasts, viruses, and other microbes.

Your body uses this gut flora to digest food. They are the ones who break down your food into usable constituents, not your stomach, not your intestines. Your digestive system is merely a place for them to live. Your gut flora assists in the assimilation of nutrients. They create nutrients from your food. They manufacture vitamins for your body to use between meals.

There is a world war going on inside and outside your body every day. Good bugs fighting bad bugs. Bacteria fighting bacteria. Yeast fighting yeast. Viruses fighting viruses. The largest part of your immune system is in your gut. No it’s not a bunch of white blood cells, it’s bacteria, yeast, viruses, and many other single celled organisms. A healthy body has up to six pounds of beneficial flora in the gut.

In addition to protecting us from infections, healthy gut flora protect us from toxins and carcinogens. They do this by either neutralizing them or grabbing onto them. Our stools are up to 90% bacteria. When they are eliminated, they take these toxins out with them.

A study done in 2007 looked at two groups of animals. One group was given antibiotics, while the other was the control. They were given large amounts of organic mercury in their food and water. In the group that we’re not given antibiotics, who had healthy robust gut flora, only 1% of that mercury got into the body from the digestive tract. In the group treated with antibiotics, which wiped out the gut flora, over 90% of the mercury got into their bodies, blood stream, bones, and everywhere else.[1]

Bacteria is Bad for You

Your gut also contains many bad microbes just waiting to take over. These opportunistic microbes are kept in check by your healthy gut flora. When their population is low, these microbes actually serve a good purpose. Only when they get overpopulated do they cause problems.

You can think of these opportunistic microbes as cops and criminals. As long as you have enough cops around, they’ll keep the criminals in check. Like most criminals, opportunistic microbes are waiting to take advantage of the right situation. Most criminals only rob when it’s easy or convenient. That’s why locking your car works. As long as your good gut flora outnumbers the opportunistic ones you’ll be okay.

Modern lifestyles wreak havoc on our beneficial gut flora. Antibiotics are the number one killer of healthy gut bacteria. Whether they come in the form of a prescription or residuals in the meat we consume, they decimate our healthy gut bacteria. Most prescription drugs, contraceptive pills, and chemicals in our food also damage our healthy gut flora.

When our healthy gut bacteria is reduced, the opportunistic microbes begin proliferating, unchecked. This can lead to gut inflammation and leaky gut syndrome, where partially digested food particles enter the bloodstream. These food particles can cause immune system reactions that may get mistaken for food allergies.[5]

When this happens these opportunistic microbes eat our food, convert it into hundreds of toxins that flow into the bloodstream through the damaged gut wall. These chemicals wreak havoc on a person’s body, especially a child’s body.[2]

Is Your Gut Rotting Your Brain?

Perhaps you think this idea is far-fetched. How could our digestive system have anything to do with our brain? They’re so far apart. But is it really that far-fetched? When a doctor prescribes an antidepressant, what does the patient do with it? Do they rub it on their forehead? No. They take it by mouth where it enters the digestive system. Only then does it get absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the brain.

So why should anyone consider it far-fetched that microbes in that same gut might also be excreting chemicals that affect the brain. We already know that bacteria can excrete toxins that rot teeth. Is it possible these chemicals may also be rotting the brain?

“All diseases begin in the gut.” This saying was coined by Hippocrates over 2,000 years ago. Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. Only now are we starting to realize he was right. Probiotics are becoming popular and antibiotics are starting to be seen for what they are. Destroyers of life.

Don’t Feed the Animals

Sugar and carbohydrates are the top foods for opportunistic microbes. Especially yeast. The most common type being the ubiquitous candida species. This is a large family of yeast with about 200 different species known to science so far.[1] Yeast breaks down these carbohydrates into alcohol by means of alcoholic fermentation. The same alcoholic fermentation that beer companies use.

When your digestive system runs out of carbohydrates, your opportunistic microbes start calling for more. Your brain uses hormones and chemicals to regulate thoughts and obsessions about food. Candida, parasites, and other bad microbes have evolved ways to mimic this natural process to trick you into eating more carbohydrates and sugar. However, their influence is only felt when there is an abundance of them.[3]

We’ve all been there. We open the refrigerator and just stare. We don’t know what we want to eat, only that we want to eat something. The reason this is so confusing is simple. We’re not the ones who are hungry, it’s the microbes in our gut that are hungry. They want carbohydrates.

The key to reducing your opportunistic bacteria is to stop feeding it. Reduce your carbohydrate consumption, especially sugar. Processed food contains many carbohydrates, but also chemical flavorings that only pathogenic microbes can benefit from. Our opportunistic microbes do not need the nutrients that healthy food contains. They are perfectly happy to live off junk food.

Repopulate Your Gut Flora

Probiotic supplements are a good place to start. However, you want to be careful what brand you buy. Cheap probiotics contain only contain lactobacilli. Good probiotics contain multiple groups of bacteria. A combination from the three main groups is best: lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and soil bacteria. Potency is also important. Look for at least 8 billion cells per gram. The more the better.[2]

The probiotic I use is Young Living’s Life 9. It has 17 billion live cultures from 9 beneficial bacteria strains. Another thing to consider is how long do the capsules take to break down. Stomach acid can kill most of the probiotic bacteria. Life 9 uses time release capsules so that the probiotics are not released in the stomach.

Years ago, before refrigeration, people had to be more creative in preserving their food. Lacto-fermentation was one of these methods. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. You’ve surely heard of sauerkraut, it gets its distinct flavor from the lactic acid produced by the bacteria fermenting the cabbage. When we eat fresh, unpasteurized sauerkraut, the bacteria go into our gut and help us digest food.

Pickles can also be fermented using bacteria. This is generally done with a starter culture. Pickles you buy in the store are pickled with vinegar. There are no beneficial bacteria to be found. Even if there were, they would be killed in the canning process.

Kefir is a cultured milk product. It’s like yogurt on steroids. But kefir is not yogurt. While yogurt may have 7-10 strains of bacteria, kefir frequently has up to fifty. The types of bacteria are different. The bacteria in yogurt pass through the body in 24 hours. The bacteria in kefir stay and take up residence in your gut.[7]

Kombucha is a fermented tea made by the kombucha culture of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha is proof that healthy doesn’t have to taste bad. Properly made kombucha tastes like bubbly apple cider. But don’t let the good taste fool you. In addition to good bacteria, kombucha contains a beneficial yeast that will help fight off bad yeasts, notably candida.[7]

For instructions on how to make all of these, visit Donna Schwenk’s www.culturedfoodlife.com. You can buy kefir grains, kombucha starter, sourdough starter, pickling culture, and books on cultured food.

Feed Your Good Flora

Once you get some good flora, you want it to flourish. One of the best ways is by drinking bone broth. Broth made from bones provides building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining. They also have a soothing effect on areas of inflammation.[8] This is why chicken soup is good when you’re sick. You can buy broth from the store, but be careful that it doesn’t have chemical flavors. These will harm your beneficial gut flora more than help it. Watch out for MSG, natural flavorings, or yeast extract.

The best broth is the broth you make yourself. You can buy pasture raised beef or chicken bones from local farms for $2 – $5 a pound. This broth will have many times the nutrients as store bought. You can also add vegetables like onions, garlic, and carrots to add even more nutrients and flavor. A good broth will taste like beef stew or chicken soup.

Vegetables are another important food for us and our gut flora. However, not all vegetables are equal. Most of the sweet, bland, and pale vegetables you find in the produce section have only fractions of the nutrients their predecessors had. One easy thing to look for is color. Darker is usually better. Darker green lettuce. Darker yellow corn. Purple is always better. Purple lettuce, purple carrots, purple corn. The darker colors indicate more nutrients.

The best way to get these vegetables is from local farms. Vegetables do not require very much space to grow. This means that urban farms can sell produce that’s just as healthy as large rural farms. It’s all about how the vegetables are raised. Do they use compost or miracle grow? We’re the vegetables picked within a couple days of being sold? Do they use pesticides or natural ways to deal with pests? Just because a vegetable has some insect damage doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, in japan people seek out produce with holes because that means it’s more natural. If the insects think it’s good, then maybe it is.

Meat is also an important part of your diet. Meat is the best source of protein. Some plants may contain high levels of protein, but our bodies don’t assimilate it well. What’s the point of eating lots of protein if most of it gets wasted?

Pasture raised meat from local farms is ideal. If you cannot afford pasture raised, you can buy meat from the supermarket. Buy raw unprocessed meat from the meat section. Processing eliminates many nutrients and adds chemical flavorings that will harm your beneficial gut flora. Making soups and stews is the best way to eat meat. They are easy to make, just throw the ingredients in a crock pot and let it cook.

 

Let’s not kid ourselves. If you want to take control of your health, you’re going to have to start cooking. Restaurants use cheap ingredients grown on the same mega farms that supply your local supermarket. They rely on chemical flavorings to make their food taste like the real food it’s impersonating. Restaurants are not concerned with how healthy their food is. They’re concerned with sales. If that means promising healthier food, then they’ll make a few adjustments. But in the end, they’re still using the same cheap food. It’s up to you whether you will continue to support that system.

 

 

References

  1. www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/gut-and-psychology-syndrome-gaps/
  2. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 51-53
  3. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/why-we-crave/
  4. www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/modernizing-your-diet-with-traditional-foods/
  5. www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/digestive-disorders/food-allergies/
  6. news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160111-microbiome-estimate-count-ratio-human-health-science/
  7. Cultured Food for Life, Donna Schwenk, 2013
  8. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 145