The American food supply and you

America has always been the “land of plenty” it seems.  Thousands flocked here each year, fleeing famines, wars, and oppression, and their offspring are now known as “us.”  In tracing my own ancestry, as well as DNA testing, we’ve discovered where our ancestors came from, as well as when they arrived here, and its interesting to compare immigration to America with the history of the country being left behind.

Then, my ancestors left Ellis Island and New York City for farm country.  They were almost all farmers, and census records show that they rented farms for years before finally moving on and buying their own farms.  Some were craftsmen and storekeepers, but they too chose to live in rural communities, close to the food supply that ensured their own livelihood.  In researching life in the small towns and not-very-big-cities of the 1700 and 1800s, it soon becomes apparent that the average family often had a large garden, and often had their own milk cow or cows too.  Fruits and vegetables were “put up” by the women of the house, bread was usually home baked, and meats usually came from a local butcher if they weren’t butchered right at home.  Preparing meals was far from the quick and easy process it is for us today, as the same wood stove we now call “old fashioned” was once a very new invention, with the baking and cooking occurring in an open hearth fireplace in the kitchen.  Kitchen fires were so common that during much of the year, food was prepared in an external kitchen in more well-to-do households.

We may get a bit nostalgic about the simplicity of “days gone by”, but few of us would want to take on the labor of daily life in a household before modern appliances either, when not only was there no dishwasher or microwave, but even laundry was done by hand with a wash tub and scrub board.  Even bread making, something that we can do nearly automatically even “from scratch” in bread makers, mixers, and food processors…but it also required more kneading by hand, and incredible raising time too.  Bread was actually mixed and kneaded in the early morning hours, and spent the entire day raising and proofing!

It wasn’t as hard to know the source of your food when you bought your flour from the miller, the meat directly from the butcher, and raised almost everything else yourself in your garden and orchard.

Then, with the age of industrialization, food became a commodity that was often made in distant places, packaged and preserved, and then came the concept of profit without regard for quality, as well as some serious errors in the science behind the method.  Food products were often adulterated, lead was common in canned foods, and patent medicines were often more toxic than helpful.  The FDA (Federal Food Administration) was born out of a need to protect society from profiteers that were causing so many people so much harm.

Somehow, along the way, the FDA has apparently ceased to be the consumer’s advocate and friend, and turned into a corporate-favoring monster that protects corporations with a rabid fanaticism, while leaving the consumer once again in a victim state.

Truth in labeling, minimum standards for production facilities, standards for maximum level of contaminants in products, and other laws regulating the production, transportation, and sale of foods and drugs were all originally designed to ensure that the end consumer received a safe product.  But, with that goal in mind, what is on the market today?

One huge controversy is the whole idea of food safety.  With that in mind, it seems that good ol’ Uncle Sam has decided that HE is the only one who can determine whether or not a food is safe for consumption.  So what would this mean if this trend continues?

It means that gardening and the traditional home production of food is really in danger of becoming an illegal activity, and for the first time, Uncle Sam will be regulating the average citizen’s home kitchen and pantry with an iron fist.  No more gardening, no more home canning, no more freezing of ample foods for later consumption because it isn’t safe.  Gone too would be the days of keeping a few hens or a milk goat/cow for home use.  Don’t even THINK about sharing your excess withe friends, family and neighbors–the price would be a massive fine and/or prison terms.  No one would be exempt, and private organizations for mutual benefit of goods such as raw and local foods would be completely prohibited.  Membership in such organizations would be construed as domestic terrorism and organized crime.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Look again.  One farmer in Wisconsin is facing charges just such as that already, as a result of selling his milk to the other members of a private organization.  It should be legal, even if it may be construed as risky by some, because these members have established an acceptable risk level, educated themselves, and have assumed the responsibility of ensuring their choices are safe and healthy, rather than passing that responsibility to a government entity.  (See article here.)  In this arrangement, it is as though the  members are cooperatively owning the cows in question, which means the milk is their milk, and the farmer is merely paid to care for the cattle.  This is apparently the only possibly legal method of procuring raw milk for the consumer in Wisconsin, and that method is also being challenged by the courts.  It’s only a short step from that to forbidding anyone from using or consuming raw milk from a cow maintained personally by the person in question.  In other states, dairies, retail stores, and farmers’ markets have been invaded by federal agents, forced to close down, and products have been destroyed as a result of federal accusations of illegal foods.

In America, supposedly the land of the free, it is already illegal to sell or commercially serve many foods that are legally and safely consumed in other countries.  These traditional ethnic foods do not meet American standards for food products, and without a large enough commercial base to make them financially profitable to come up with a commercially viable and legal production method, the only option is for the consumer to raise the raw material, whether vegetable or animal in origin, and then process it themselves…practically in secret.

Do we really need Uncle Sam to become a food Nazi?

We already know that fast food is bad for us, yet that remains legal.  It’s a corporate product with high profits, so it is apparently not coming under fire from the FDA for further regulation or being banned.  While the number of people who die each year as a result of regularly consuming fast food is unknown, it’s probably a lot more than the number of people who die from consuming home canned food, raw milk, home raised eggs, or home slaughtered meat each year.  It’s also a fact that few people are actually going to go to the work of raising a garden, chickens, livestock, or using raw milk for any purpose either.  Even the making of jellies, jams and pickles, among the easiest of home food preservation processes, is relatively a small segment of the population.  That is part of the reason that my few jars of them that are given as gifts during the holidays remains such a treasure to the recipient.

Next is the “Genetically Modified Organism” or GMO that refers to strains that have been genetically modified for specific traits.  This isn’t the tried-and-true method of breeding plants and animals for desirable traits, but rather the untested method of inserting different genes into the DNA to create “Frankenfood”.  Monsanto is one of the largest companies, and it has been under fire from many people for this world-wide.

So are GMOs safe?  It seems that no one knows for sure.  Monsanto claims it is, the other side claims it is not proven to be safe.  In addition, it seems these Frankenfood strains of crops have contaminated other fields of more traditional seed, resulting in many issues with seed stock.  Monsanto has claimed it was “theft” while the contaminated crops owners’ have claimed vandalism.  In the meantime, the consuming public is still in the dark about safety.

The big question is…if it is so safe, why are these corporations fighting so hard to not only prevent being forced to label their products as genetically modified, but also in forbidding products from being labeled as “GMO free”?

I’m suspicious, I will admit that.  It’s changed how I shop too.  I know that almost all corn, soybean, canola (aka rapeseed), cotton and wheat products contain GMOs.  I avoid high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, and canola oil.  I reluctantly accept soybean oil as “okay” because of the economics of not having any inexpensive vegetable-based oils to use regularly, and I regard it as the least offensive source of GMOs.  I try to buy more organic products because these are still required by law to be GMO free, and this is the ONLY source of GMO free consumer products that I can purchase with confidence.  I reluctantly accept that the meat I purchase has probably been fed a diet high in medications and GMO feed, and has probably encountered a number of chemicals between the time it was alive and I purchased it.  (We don’t have a local source for organic meats and eggs.)

It seems that Uncle Sam’s FDA has become a corporate puppet, leaving the consumer with a dubious choice in the grocery store as their wallets are increasingly slim and choices even slimmer.  When examining relationships between companies, it seems that most of our name brands are also associated with Monsanto in some way, increasing my suspicion of food safety despite the FDA’s heavy hand in food regulation.

Seriously, would you eat at someone’s house, knowing that they dipped their steaks into ammonia solutions a day or two before you came for their barbecue?  Or mixed their ground meat with ammonia, a long list of unpronounceable named chemicals, and then added flavorings and texturizers to mask it’s foul smell?

I wouldn’t.  Apparently the FDA thinks this is “safe” though, while my home canned products are a danger to national security.

Go figure.

So, the next time bills are being considered regarding food safety, further regulation, additional powers for the FDA, etc., maybe you should do a bit of research and reading before you jump on that official band wagon.  It might just turn out that the biggest victim of that crusade isn’t going to be the corporate villain with their listeria contaminated food product, but Granny’s kitchen and Sunday dinner with the family.  How many of those oh-so-traditionally-Southern church potluck dinners will continue to be held when each dish has to be prepared in a FDA approved-and-inspected kitchen?

About giascott

Writer, blogger, cook, grandmother, mother, wife, radio personality, outdoor enthusiast, dog enthusiast, crafter, artist, and part-time nut~~I've earned a lot of t-shirts in my day! I'm one of those crazy independent women who can cut down a tree, build you a shed, sew you a dress, cook your dinner, make some soap, pitch a tent, build a fire, catch some fish, dig in the garden, chase a kid or two, write you a poem, paint you a picture, and a dozen other things...just don't ask me to sing! I'm also embarking on a relatively new portion of my life, one of being disabled. I'm learning some lessons along the way about a lot of things too.
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