A new study by the USDA says that healthy food is actually cheaper than junk food. Say whaaat?

The Chart

We have many excuses for not eating healthy: I’m too busy. I don’t live near a grocery store. I can’t afford healthy food. I don’t know how to cook.

A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service is taking one of those excuses off the table.

Previous studies have shown that eating junk food is cheaper than eating healthy food. But Andrea Carlson, lead author for the USDA study, said the way those researchers measured cost-effectiveness skewed the results.

Carlson and her team analyzed 4,439 foods in three different ways – price per calories (as previous studies had done), price per edible gram and price per average portion. Retail prices were based on Nielsen Homescan data. The average portion was determined from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers found that when they used the price per calories analysis, fruits and vegetables appeared more…

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Picking Berries

If you’re an Adventist, then you probably know what camp meeting is. If you’re not, then I’ll explain it to you: each year, hundreds of church members convene in their respective conferences for ten days of spiritual growth and fellowship, usually in tents. Truthfully, I never really liked going. Being the shy boy I was, going to the meetings and meeting other kids my age was absolutely terrifying. However, there was one perk to attending camp meeting: wild blackberries.

It’s nearly impossible to walk around the redwoods camp meeting without seeing a blackberry bush. They’re literally everywhere. The bushes stand along the side of the roads, with kids and grown-ups alike mercilessly pecking at them. I’ve often wondered how the snack shop they set up every year stays in business, as everyone seems to munching on berries nonstop.

My best memories there involve these berries. There was the time when I slyly handed my sister an unripened one. The joy her puckered face brought was only matched by the relief I felt when I found my grandma, who has alzheimer’s, happily popping berries into her mouth after 45 minutes of searching. Of course, I also felt pretty awesome when I easily picked the hard-to-get berries: the ones nestled in thorns, or the ones to high for my family to reach.

I don’t understand why foraging evokes poverty. I would think that finding food for oneself and knowing exactly where it came from could be a privilege, some sort of honor. Then again, whenever I picked berries, there was always a more substantial meal waiting for me.

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Eating Snobbily

Today, there is a social stigma surrounding organic food. It isn’t necessarily in the food itself, but in its die-hard fans. Foodies and “eco-friendly” people often have a reputation for being arrogant, or snobs. While it doesn’t exactly help that stores like Whole Foods typically sprout in the more affluent neighborhoods, it’s quite possible that some of this stigma is unwarranted. Surely a desire for healthier food doesn’t always equate to a more arrogant attitude.

In a study conducted by Kendall Eskine, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University, subjects were shown images of food and subsequently asked to judge a series of hypothetical situations on a scale from 1 to 10. The subjects were divided into three groups. The first was shown pictures of clearly marked organic food. The second was presented with images of unhealthy comfort foods. The third was shown “neutral” food. All the groups were presented with the same scenarios, including the possibility of second cousins engaging in coitus. The organic group gave the highest scored—an average of 5.5.

The test seems rather skewed. First of all, it doesn’t say that people who buy organic food are more judgmental. Instead, it says that the people they made look at pictures of organic food were judgmental. Yet, two different newspapers reported on it as though it had some insight. If we really want to measure the snobbery of organic food connoisseurs, we should make survey the people themselves. A table outside a Whole Foods might work spectacularly.

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Animals and Dying

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer asks whether animals can can sense when they are about to die. The question is interesting and not at all uncommon, as most people like to anthropomorphize animals to some extent. Still, when Foer asks the manager of a slaughterhouse if he thinks they can, he answers, “I don’t get that impression at all. I mean, they’re going to be scared ’cause they’ve never been here before.” Naturally, the question has been faced with a lot of debate.

There’s actually a fair bit of information that suggests they can sense it. For example, pigs are slaughtered with much care. If they are stressed, lactic acid builds up, and their muscles deteriorate, meaning their meat isn’t as tasty. When it comes time for slaughter, the pigs are picked off one at a time, so as not to cause too much suspicion among the rest. The individual pig is led to a secluded room, far away from workers, pigs and inspectors. Here, the “kill man” stuns it, rendering it unconscious. Afterwards, it is ready to be processed. Foer also tells of a cow who not only managed to escape from its slaughterhouse, but also to run through a field and swim across a lake before being captured. While it may not have known exactly what would have happened to it, the incident implies that it knew something bad was about to go down.

Of course, even if it can be proven that animals can sense their demise, what exactly would we do differently? Humans have treated each other with even less compassion. At least animals give provide food.

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Let’s Get Ethical

For many people, there seems to be a need to justify eating meat–as if it’s somehow inherently wrong. At the same time, many vegans have to defend their own dietary choices. I don’t think it needs to be this complicated. Instead of explaining ourselves every time we order food, I think we should individually discern our dietary ethics and understand that other people have as well.

In his essay “Give Thanks for Meat,” Mark Bittman outlines the three steps one must take to consider eating meat ethical. According to his philosophy, one must understand that all life on earth is more or less equal, one must show compassion by eating only ethically raised food, and one must give thanks. This notion is elegant, except that it can be hard to know what ethically raised food looks like.

Jonathan Safran Foer argues that chickens raised in factory farms are not slaughtered in especially humane or sanitary conditions. In his detailed account of the process the chickens go through before being sold, he describes the “fecal soup.” After being slaughtered, the birds are boiled and then cooled down. It is not uncommon for dirt or feces covered animals to pass into these cooling tanks. This creates a problem, as the dirt-infested water is allowed to be absorbed, which creates bigger, plumper birds. Under law, the meat processors are only allowed to sell chicken with “slightly more than 11 percent liquid absorption.” I must say, that number seems a little arbitrary. Considering that this is our food, wouldn’t it be better for our food to be free of fecal matter?

I suppose I don’t really have much room to talk, seeing as I’m already a vegetarian. Still, I doubt I could trust anything to be raised “ethically” after learning of this industry standard.

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Corn

When I drove through northern Iowa last summer, I was amazed at how much corn I saw. For miles, corn fields stretched in every direction. I had always known that corn syrup was in a lot of our food, but I didn’t really understand the extent of its influence. Inspired by all of this food discussion, I decided to learn a bit more about this versatile crop.

According to Wikipedia (hate all you want) maize was first transformed from a useless grass into a commodity crop with the help of the Mayans and Olmecs in Central America. Over time, it was spread throughout the Americas. After Europeans made contact in the 15th and 16th centuries, the crop was brought back to Europe, where people discovered it could be grown in a variety of climates. Today, there are two main kinds of corn: sweet corn and field corn. Sweet corn accounts for about 85% of the crop in the United States and is grown largely for human consumption. Field corn, which makes up the other 15%, is intended for animal fodder.

In addition to being the main ingredient of popcorn, ethanol, and grits, corn is also found in ascorbic acid, calcium citrate, cellulose, citrate, citric acid, dextrin, dextrose, malt, maltodextrin…the list goes on. Essentially, it’s in nearly everything.

You might ask, “What’s wrong with that? Corn is good for you.” That was my initial reaction, too. I’m not an expert, but I do know cattle are being fed corn instead of grass because it fattens the animals up faster. I haven’t even mentioned high-fructose corn syrup yet.

If you’re interested, you can find more information about maize here.

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Turkeys and Thought

If nothing else, Eating Animals Jonathan Safran Foer seeks to provide readers with perspective. This is especially true in his fourth chapter, “Hiding / Seeking.” Foer finds himself breaking and entering into a turkey farm with an animal rights activist. Armed with little more than a bottle of water and a section of the California penal code, the two attempt to have a look around the inside of a factory farm, under the flimsy guise of making sure the animals have enough water. Foer is somewhat shocked when he sees the activist slit the throat of a dying bird. Like many of us, perhaps he had assumed an activist such as herself would have gone to extreme measures to save the animal.

The excursion serves as a backdrop for the bulk of the chapter: opinions. Foer compiles the letters of the activist, a factory farmer, and the “last poultry farmer.” The activist writes that she is “not a radical.” Instead, she is an average person who simply wants to spread the unpleasant truth about factory farming. The factory farmer, understandably, has a different opinion. He states that it’s dangerous to “confuse unpleasant with wrong.” In his mind, the factory farming system is necessary. Of course, the “last poultry farmer” disagrees. He raises his turkeys in the same way people did 100 years ago. He claims his birds are healthier because they do not encounter antibiotics. He also believes they trust him with their lives, yet he sends thousands off to slaughter each year.

Matching people with the arguments over factory farming allows one to see the issue in a different light. Instead of having two distinct sides, right verus wrong, it’s more of a “middle of the road issue,” without one clear solution. At least that’s how I understand it.

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