Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen

I just recently purchased this summer, the book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry. I haven't got to read but only a bit from Chapter 5

Grub* (grub), n.
1. Grub is organic and sustainably raised whole and locally grown foods;
2. Grub is produced with fairness from seed to table;
3. Grub is good for our bodies, our communities, and our environment. *Grub should be universal ... and it's delicious.

Chapter 5
"Health 411: Will the Real Source of Foodborne Health Threats Please Stand Up?

While the jury may still be out on the exact nutrient-by-nutrient benefits of eating organic, the jury is certainly back-and has rendered its verdict-about what you don't get when you eat organic foods. Exactly what Avery's fear-mongering distracts us from. The cases Avery highlighted, for instance, made up less than 1 percent of the total 22,607 cases of food borne illnesses in his year of choice. In other words, he ignored over 99 percent of illnesses from E. coli and Salmonella and other food borne illnesses associated with industrial farming.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 76 million people-or roughly one out of four of us-suffer from food borne illnesses each year in the United States, accounting for 325,000 hospitalizations and more than 5,000 deaths. These illnesses cost us between $5 and $6 billion a year in direct medical expenses and lost productivity annually, according to the National Institutes of Health. E. coli 0157:H7 alone accounts for roughly 73,000 illnesses every year, with thousands of hospitalizations and dozens of deaths from infection and complications. None of these illnesses has come from organic food.

Ironically (and tragically), the real culprit is not organic farming, but the very industrial farming Avery advocates. The virulent E. coli strain 0157:H7 wasn't first reported until 1982. It emerged as a direct result of the introduction of factory farming and the conditions it breeds: close confinement of animals, increased antibiotic use, and poor hygiene in the slaughter, production, and distribution of meat. Weak standards and lax enforcement in meat processing plants has also allowed this strain of E. coli and other increasingly potent food borne pathogens to spread. Journalist Christopher D. Cook notes that two-thirds of U.S. meat inspectors surveyed in September 2000 agreed that under current federal regulations, "there have been instances when they have not taken direct action against contamination (feces, vomit, metal shards, etc.) that they observed."

Food borne illnesses in general persist in large part because of the promotion of industrial farming and the failure of policy to protect our public health, not because of the spread of organic farming. A foray into the federal food recalls website might help you capture the scope of the problem: in just one year, 2002, ConAgra recalled 19 million pounds of potentially E. coli-tainted beef, enough for one-fourth of the entire U.S. population to have eaten a burger contaminated with the deadly strain of the bacteria. That same year, poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride recalled 27.4 million pounds of meat-or 146 million servings.

In 2004, 2.3 million pounds of meat was recalled by the USDA, the majority from concerns about Listeria and E. coli contamination, but also included such unwelcome surprises as chicken "adulterated with extraneous materials (small pieces of metal)" and meat containing shards of glass and fragments from a handheld calculator. Yikes. Organic and "natural" foods did not account for even one recall.

Something to keep in mind when you learn about these federal recalls: the Food and Drug Administration does not have the power to protect our health by ordering mandatory recalls. These recalls are voluntary. Industry decides, and thousands of consumers are sickened, and some die, because of it ..." (pp. 82-82)

There is also an Eat Grub web site and a Getcha Grub On blog.

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