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What is the Health & Wellness of Your Food, Life?

September 3, 2012

Recently I saw a blog post from a chef that had some interesting thoughts in it. The connection from farm to plate is closer for some readers than others. There are some who care about how food was raised, others just care if it’s safe.

All food that is created and for sale has undergone testing for safety, so in that aspect all food “at the store” is safe. However, we all have food choices, and of course there are some foods that are safe for most but not for someone with allergies.

A point from the blog – “For me HEALTH is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. To me WELLNESS evokes the image of a certain lifestyle.” I think most of us can probably agree on that, although what that is precisely may vary on individual perception. I think we’ve all, at some time, been around someone who projected unhealthy “stuff” – be it toxic words towards a waitress or a foul mood at work. There are those people that we just aren’t comfortable being around, and if we’re around them we’re stressed. How productive is that?

I recently did a guest blog post for Just Farmers about emotion in agriculture. Farmers often talk facts and statistics and science because that’s what we deal with. We use those things to make decisions in our operations. We might also feel bad or good about the decision, but must make the decision. If a favorite animal is injured we must decide whether to treat or end suffering and that is an extremely difficult decision that never gets easier.

I also recently attended the Agvocacy 2.0 Conference in Kansas City and in a group of over 100 farmers and agriculture industry folks that are very emotional – passionate – about what they do to bring food to your table. It varied from small to large, from organic to GMO and from those who are of multi-generations to those who married a farmer and are learning as they go. A great deal of conversation was about you, dear reader.

Food choices, food perceptions, food growing and production and, with a couple of awesome meals, food enjoyment! The interest in talking with you the human being who wants to buy food based on your food choices and food perception has never been higher. This blog was created to provide a place to focus on food, apart from our ‘regular farm’ blog. Yet every once in a while I think we need to have a conversation about how that food gets to your plate. It was here the chef’s blog resonated.

“With that thought in mind, focus on one small cross section of our industry; what does health and wellness mean to the animals we care for? As a Chef and consumer, animal health and wellness is paramount to me. Not to get too existential here but the direct and end results of animal wellness or neglect, mishandling and abuse is the starting point of any product or meal being prepared for consumption. This is a fiercely debated subject. The balance of care, feeding, environment, slaughter and processing of any animal has a direct correlation to the animals wellbeing and therefore affects the quality of the end product.”

This isn’t about solely dollars and cents. We keep things as much as possible quiet and stress free. If it comes to the stress of being in an extreme weather situation outside or a climate controlled place inside, animals – like us – will choose comfort. If it’s a stressful, uncomfortable place with tension inside the animals are affected. This perhaps is shown the most in the dairy industry.

Dairy cattle must be comfortable, calm and quiet in the milking parlor. Adrenaline interferes with the letdown of milk, essential for the release. Milkers who are rough, careless, loud and mistreating the animals will get less results than milkers who handle the same cattle calmly. People who see it as a “do as much as you can in 8 hours” don’t make good farm folks with livestock, as it does take patience.

Whether large or small livestock, it does matter how the animals are cared for in order to maximize health and production. There are too often videos or horrible mistreatment of animals, and it’s inexcusable. There is also a bit of a disconnect, in some cases, over normal operations vs. cruelty. And in that vortex of information is the truth and the misconception and the outright myth.

Quality does start from the beginning. It starts with preparation of the soil, selection of the seed, pest and weed control and harvest. It starts with the selection of genetics for animals, the mating of those genetics, birthing and raising animals, design and maintenance of the facilities they’re raised in. It’s as low stress as possible from birth until death, not only from the weather but from pen mates that may bully or threaten them, from predators, from a wide range of things that can create stress. Like any issue, there are many ways in farming to provide that and everyone does what we think is best for our animals.

That, in turn, brings food that is grown with care and, yes, emotion. It’s the same emotion that was present in that group of farmers in Kansas City.

Because doing our best is the right thing to do. After all we eat too.

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