Join the Banana Revolution

Join the Banana Revolution

I have a new hobby horse. Bananas.

“For well over a century, the banana conglomerates, specifically Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Bonita and Fyffes, have influenced every level of social, economic, and political history in Latin America. They have controlled the fate not only of the millions of workers who toil on their plantations, but have also been responsible for determining national lending, tax credit, land allotment, environment, and labor policies, even dictating the fate of the highest government officials. The most infamous case occurred in 1954, when the United Fruit Company (predecessor of Chiquita Brands) received the support of the CIA to back a military coup against Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz, because his land reform policies interfered with the company’s expansion plans.”

I’m not pleased to be learning that many of these giant banana companies not only ravage the earth and abuse their workers, but also employ child labor. Just think: the ubiquitous yellow fruit that is packed in our kids’ lunches or cut upon their cereal might have been picked by a child just like them.

This isn’t once a year at Halloween candy time (which is bad enough); this is daily, for most of us.

Bananas are fascinating anyway – did you know that the strain most of us currently eat is not the strain our parents ate (which died out)? And the current banana will go extinct in the next generation or so, leading to yet a new “regular” banana?

I’m telling you, this fruit is ripe with possibilities. I hope the author of Tomatoland, my most favorite recent fruit expose, is working on it!

Buy fair trade bananas. The link above will take you to Equal Exchange, where you can read more about all of this (the quotes in this post are from the article). In one fair trade cooperative, “the members have voted to spend 80% of the Fair Trade premium they receive ($1 per box) for the sale of their bananas on community medical clinics, teachers, and a school for autistic children.” They’re doing the right thing.

Let’s do right by them.

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JR Organics Farm Tour 2013

Rodriguez Family FarmFarm TourRecycled Crayon Blockscolour blocksformerly-crayonstwig pencils
rock paintingmorning snackfresh fruitlemonade mustacheescondido farmlandCalifornia farms
hands in the dirtJoe the farmercoolerdon't panicFarmer JoeOrganic farm
tractorcactusbaby tomato plantsbaby broccoliseedlingsrow by row

JR Organics Farm Tour 2013, a set on Flickr.

Lately a lot of people have been asking me about our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In addition to providing us with a box of fresh local produce weekly, our CSA membership buys us an annual tour of the farm, where we see and learn about where our food comes from. If you belong to a CSA, ask to tour the farm! It’s a great experience, especially for kids.

Palm Oil’s Dirty Secret

Would you buy a donut that kills orangutans? You probably already have.

DunkinDonuts_640

So maybe you have noticed the proliferation of palm oil in your food products (I sure have). Turns out, all that oil is coming our way courtesy of rainforest clearing – the habitat enjoyed by, among others, those noble, most human-looking apes: orangutans.

I’m not recommending eating at Dunkin Donuts (got a lot of other issues with them), but a huge bravo for their decision to source their oils sustainably from now on! Click the link above for more on this story.

Eggs: A Simple Guide

Last night at our screening of Food, Inc the question was raised about how to choose eggs wisely.

at least I'm not shopping for eggs...

Eggs…why’d it have to be eggs…?

This can be more complicated than Indiana Jones and the Hall of Holy Grails.

So when a friend this morning mentioned she wants to up her egg intake, I offered (at her request!) the following suggestions which I have gleaned from my studies of the food system.

I try to base my opinions on the hardest evidence I can find and not be especially emotional or anthropomorphic. I do subscribe to Slow Food Principles (Good, Clean & Fair) and hold a personal spiritual conviction that we are stewards of the earth and animals, responsible to them – and to our fellow humans – to carefully consider our impact.

That said, this is just from my personal observations and reading, and I haven’t done a ton of specialized research. So if I’m wrong about something, by all means please leave a comment and correct me! We are all here to learn. (But no need to comment about how “eating all eggs is evil” or something because that’s not the purpose of this post. We’re changing the food system from the inside; there’s certainly a place for those who wish to boycott as well, but I’m writing this for the “buycotters” out there.)

So…disclaimers & provisos finished with, let’s move on…

If you want to eat eggs & chicken that were raised the closest way possible to their natural God-given behaviors, here’s what they do: they want to be outside. They scratch the ground. They forage and eat bugs. They take dust baths and flap around a lot. They are social creatures with established networks (yes there is a “pecking order”).

Not your grandma's chicken coop

Not your grandma’s chicken coop

So, battery cages – standard practice in the egg industry – are really against their natural behavior. If eggs are cheap you can bet they’re from cages. Same goes for that $2.99 rotisserie cooking under the heat lamps…sorry to disappoint.

But this post is about eggs, specifically. And the language you see on egg labels is mighty confusing. Here are what a few of the standard terms mean:

What cage free looks like

What cage free looks like

Cage Free: exactly that, but nothing more. Usually means kept in a dark, hot barn, with thousands of hens (one friend called it a “sea of chickens”) crammed in together. They are not in cages but they’re running around in their filth and eating god knows what (but mostly corn). Diseases do spread. Natural behaviors are minimal. Note: Organic chickens can be raised this way. They just have to be eating organic corn/soy.

Free Range or Free Roaming: this is up for debate (and there are no standards universally anyway) but most of the time it does mean some measure of outside time. I understand it to mean a step better than Cage Free. Animal activist websites do claim that Free Range is no different, and it may not be in some (many?) cases.

Fertile: means they were exposed to a rooster, which increases the likelihood of the chickens being actually roaming. Also, boy & girl chickens together is more natural than not. It is very, very difficult if not impossible for a large farm to maintain roosters, so fertile eggs will usually be from a smaller operation (but note that the smallest backyard enthusiasts also usually can’t keep roosters because they are loud, make babies, and can be rather mean – they didn’t start cockfighting because these were cuddly creatures).

[Roosters btw are a whole other issue – male chicks at large operations are gassed to death at one day old, en masse – thousands and thousands per year. They are an unusable byproduct of the egg industry. You can’t guarantee you’re not contributing to that unless you know the farmer and know what they do with their males – most family farms will raise the males for meat, which is preferable IMO.]

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

Vegetarian: hens are not naturally vegetarian. I think this is used to trick ovo-vegetarians into feeling comfortable because they know the hen hasn’t been eating, say, dead animals (which isn’t very common). But actually what it means is that the hen’s diet was controlled, i.e. she ate corn and/or soy exclusively. This isn’t a natural diet for a hen, and it means she couldn’t have been freely roaming. As mentioned above, if given her choice, she would also be eating seeds, grass, and bugs. So I avoid vegetarian or vegetarian-fed eggs.

pretty eggs

Easter eggs – no dye required!

Brown: Color doesn’t matter. Egg colors just vary based on the type of chicken that laid them. Some lay beautiful pink, purple, orange, and multi-colored eggs. There is no nutritional difference between a brown or a white egg (it’s not like bread…and even then, just brown bread doesn’t mean it’s healthier…but that’s another post).

Now, obviously, if you can keep your own chickens for eggs, more power to you. As long as you commit to it and your hens don’t wind up at the Humane Society because you bit off more than you could chew (a common problem in places I’ve lived such as Berkeley, where it was fashionable to build a coop but somebody forgot to point out there was a learning curve), this is the very best way to get eggs, hands down. And if you have a friend willing to do that work and give/sell you eggs, so much the better!!

But if you can’t raise them and your friends don’t either, then here is my “pecking order” (ha ha) for how to choose eggs wisely:

ce_chickensongrass1. Farmer’s market eggs ($5-7/dozen ouch!) when I’ve talked to the provider and trust her/his methods. Note that not all FM eggs are raised right – I’ve seen eggs at the FM from caged hens or big operations, even just carted over from the supermarket. An alternative would be to seek out a CSA (be it veggie or meat) that includes eggs.

2. Fertile free range or free roaming eggs

3. Organic free range – USDA organic isĀ supposed to carry some modicum of humanity in the animal treatment. And usually anything raised in an organic manner is better for the environment. Also, supposedly organics can’t contain GMO ingredients (although I’ve just been told that non-GMO corn doesn’t exist any longer…so organic corn would be GMO…I have to check on that).

4. Organic cage free from a local store I trust is using my dollar wisely – because I will balance the benefit to my local economy and a well-paid worker, plus the fossil fuels saved by local shopping, against the welfare of the chicken, just like I will also take into account the environmental health of an organic vs. non-organic production method.

If I can’t at least meet #4 I will skip eggs until I can do better. The best part about buying an egg from a chicken that lived well? It tastes soooooooooooooooooooooo good!!!Today chickens are happy

Hope this is helpful, and please do leave a comment – whether you like it or if I’m unknowingly giving bad or wrong advice!

Happy cows!

Here’s a dose of happy for your Monday morning:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/opinion/sunday/kristof-where-cows-are-happy-and-food-is-healthy.html

If you prefer watching to reading, this video basically says it all (plus cute cows!): http://nyti.ms/PclBRA

The only thing not in the vid that I loved from the article is the part about how he’s running a “bovine retirement home” – when a cow is too old to be profitably productive, instead of slaughtering her, Bansen may trade her to a smaller family farm, or use her to suckle newborn calves. I love that!

I can’t imagine that older (grand)mama cow doesn’t get a little satisfaction from being wet nurse to the little ones!