By Andrew Gunther
| March 12, 2012
On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community.
And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG’s new report, “Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program – Organic Milk,” exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
“What makes a good steak?” asks Mark Schatzker in his new book, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef (Viking, 2010). Schatzker is a man who loves steak, unambiguously and with abandon, and he makes the perfect guide for an adventure filled with cowboys, cattle and rib eyes. His devotion to his favorite food and his interest in how steak comes to be steak—good and bad— kicks off an always fascinating, often hilarious, around-the-world search for the best steak ever.
More than just an excuse for the author to eat a variety of steaks of varying degrees of fabulousness, Steak is an exhaustive, highly entertaining study of the traditions and science of steak. In America, steak has a cultural reputation as weighty as Tiffany’s: both are symbols of prosperity and opulence. But like so many once-revered emblems of the good life, the quality of steak in the United States has steadily diminished, even if its reputation hasn’t.
Just about everyone has eaten something that comes from a crop doused with pesticides so toxic that no one is allowed in the field for five days after it is sprayed. Or that must be stored for six months after harvest to allow the pesticides to fade. What crop is it? Learn that and so much more in the young readers edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Dial Books) by Michael Pollan, adapted by Richie Chevat. Based on Pollan’s adult book of the same title, the new version is simplified and updated, contains informative side notes and visuals and concludes with a new afterward, eating tips, a question and answer section and empowering resources. Though intended for ages 10 and up, Pollan’s detective work, substantive content and eloquent writing will engage readers of all ages interested in food production.
To solve the modern “omnivore’s dilemma” (we can eat anything, but how do we know what to eat?), Pollan investigates four meals representative of four different food chains – the system for growing, making and delivery food. He wants to share with us where our food comes from and what exactly it is we are eating. So, he starts in the farms and fields where our food is grown and personably chronicles its creation and consumption.
Ninny Nu’s Organic Farm by Tanya Sousa with illustrations by Amber Alexander (Radiant Hen Publishing) is a classic tale of farm animals competing to produce the best crop ever for the Mayor.
P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and if he were alive today, he would probably be cozily ensconced in the corner office of a large agricultural company–particularly one that makes its profits selling industrialized animal farming to the public. Award-winning journalist David Kirby’s gripping new book, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (St. Martin’s Press), exposes industrialized agriculture for the cruel, polluting, disease transmitting, manure-soaked con game that it is. Think that’s too harsh? By the end, one of the everyday heroes that makes the book such a compelling read, hardy ex-Marine Rick Dove, ends up with a severe case of antibiotic resistant E. coli after a tumble in a creek flooded with chicken manure from a nearby industrial chicken operation. The infection nearly kills him.
Rick Dove is just one of the ordinary citizens-turned-activists that Kirby follows in Animal Factory, and he wisely lets the power of their stories drive the narrative. For Rick Dove of New Bern, North Carolina, Helen Reddout of Yakima Valley, Washington and Karen Hudson of Elmwood, Illinois, farming originally meant what we’ve all been taught to believe—happy animals standing in lush grasses with a welcoming red barn in the background. It’s not until Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, known as CAFOs, move nearby, complete with stench and large manure spills, that they begin to realize what today’s industrialized agriculture really represents. Polluted fields and waterways, cruelly confined and mistreated animals, dreadful working conditions, fish kills, stink, illness.
In the changing agricultural landscape of the 21st century, Americans are rediscovering their connection to food and how it’s produced. In the process, they are also discovering a desire to hear the stories of the visionaries, farmers and ordinary people guiding how food is produced so that it better reflects our values and ideals.
The stories are out there—books and films that chronicle the people and events vital to ensuring safe, humane, nutritious food reaches every table. Animal Welfare Approved is pleased to be launching a new section of its website dedicated to finding and reviewing the books and films that inform, educate and inspire.
We’re kicking off our reviews with a look at Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Published last year, it’s already a classic in the field.