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In Food We Still Trust?

March 1, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt seems like every week a new “food issue” makes the news. The headlines are sensational, the comments more so.

They’re trying to kill us! We should know everything about how our food is produced (even though we don’t want to know until there’s a sensational headline!). We should go back to when there were less chemicals. The “factory food system” is toxic, comment sections insist.

Why is that the case at all? Yesterday on our Facebook page I touched on a quote from a book by Maureen Ogle called “In Meat We Trust“.

“In 1820, only about 7 percent of the nation’s 9 million inhabitants lived in a town or city.But from the 1830s on, the percentage of urbanites soared, and by the 1860s about a quarter of the then 31 million Americans called the city home. But those averages obscure an important fact that would shape the geography and structure of livestock and meat production for the rest of that century and into the next: urbanization was skewed to the eat. In Massachusetts, for example,60 percent of residents lived in towns. Five percent of all Americans lived in just three eastern cities: New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia.” In Meat We Trust – Maureen Ogle

Even 150 years ago cities were changing the demand for meat (and other food) and where/how it was raised. They wanted meat, but not the raising of it or slaughter near them.

“The standard version of the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, signed into law in 1906,goes like this: In that year, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle and exposed horrific sanitary conditions in American meatpacking plants. Outraged citizens demanded that Congress do something. Congress complied and passed legislation aimed at safeguarding the nation’s food supply.As is often the case with historical events,however, that account bears little resemblance to the facts.The Pure Food and Drug Act had little to do with meat, and The Jungle was the final straw, not the first blow. By the time Sinclair’s book appeared, Americans had been fretting about food safety and debating food and drug regulation for more than fifty years. Back in the 1880s, for example, when the dressed-beef men first threatened the power of the railroad-stockyard-abattoir stronghold, their enemies lobbed accusations of tainted meat precisely because they knew such charges would resonate with consumers already wary about their food supply system. Opponents accused the meatpackers of processing diseased cattle and dousing their beef with ammonia and other toxins.

This isn’t new folks – but sounds much like today. At this point, as documented in the book, they’d gone from butchering hogs and beef in New York City to raising it ‘out west’, dressing it in Chicago and moving the meat, not the cattle, to the cities. People went from using the entire animal to using the choice cuts, proclaiming the rest for lower class people. So for 150 years Americans have demanded OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmore, wanted to pay less, doubted more, distrusted the food system and demanded the government do something about it.

They did. It’s been honed to where now issues are found even without people getting sick, or with few people getting sick in comparison to the hundreds of millions of people eating daily. Yet the same things are charged that have been said for 150 years. The same fear based tactics, the same distrust of the food supply.

When is each person going to get tired of being afraid and do something? Or, perhaps, the majority of people aren’t as afraid as we are led to believe. Still, food safety issues are ongoing. Food is not sterile, it can never be sterile.

That said, from farm to processor to consumer, we all must do as much as possible to insure that food is as safe as possible. We have opportunities and food possibilities those in the mid 1800s could only imagine.

Can we do better? Of course. May there come a day when, in an ideal world, no child or elderly person gets sick from food. May listeria never kill another unborn child. May we find a way to minimize risk and strive for perfection, knowing we’ll never attain the elusive zero.

If you’re interested in an in depth look at history and food, check out Ms. Ogle’s book. Definitely worth the read at how we got here, and a lot more in common with our grandmothers and great-grandmothers day than we might think.

Learn about your food supply and make food choices, not fear choices.

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