A few days ago I blogged about humans’ humanity to chickens, and ways to find out whether your eggs are from humanely raised chickens or battery-caged (or squished-non-caged) factory farm birds…
One of the egg producers readily available at our local Whole Foods, and one I have bought from time to time in the past, is Phil’s Farm Fresh. They are only a couple of hours away from us, so comparatively local. (Thing is, in the Midwest, “local” doesn’t mean “non-industrial”–we live within a few hours of probably most of the worst of the worst faux-food producers…) I tried to find them on the Cornocopia chart, but they didn’t seem to be there…so I was pleased to discover that they carry the American Humane Association Free Farmed label–and this description comes from another site:
For those who seek more humanely produced eggs, wading through product labels is tricky. “Because of depression in the industry as a whole, there are operations that are much more focused on marketing than on production and quality that are now trying to get into specialty eggs,” states Rod Wubbena, general manager of family-owned and operated Phil’s Fresh Eggs in Forreston, IL. Wubbena—son of the product’s namesake—is a second-generation farmer whose operation has raised cage-free hens since its inception in 1959. Focusing on quality and superior taste, Phil’s Fresh Eggs manufactures its own feed and has developed a “happy hour” system in which hens spend time each day in scratch alleys where they can access dust, wood shavings and calcium. “This is a way of life,” Wubbena says. “It isn’t the most financially productive investment out there. Our cost per bird housed is $20 to $26. The cost for a battery cage operation is $5 to $9 a bird.”
Phil’s Fresh Eggs is certified by the American Humane Association (AHA)’s “Free Farmed” label. “This label validates what we’ve been doing all along,” says Wubbena, whose product is available at major Midwest food retailers. Although all of Phil’s Fresh Eggs’ laying hens are “free farmed,” there is currently no requirement that participants in AHA’s certification must meet these standards across their entire production base—which some consider a serious drawback to the free-farmed labeling initiative.
Note that this is not an operation where there are a gajillion hens in a giant room with one tiny open door and a 10×10 “range” that none of them go into…they are all required to spend time outside, doing what chickens do. On the other hand, “scratch alleys” ain’t green pastured fields, idyllic pastoral life in the country, and all that…and if happy “hour” is really only an hour, well, that’s not so great either…more humane than many alternatives. But not more humane than some of the others, like not eating eggs.
No perfect solution yet, I guess. I wish our local farmstand would hook up with a local egg-producer…
So, do your organic eggs come from here?
Or from here?
Yes, both of those are photos of organic egg-producing farms. Kind of scary, isn’t it? I was happy to find this scorecard from the Cornocopia Institute which rates different farms from “exemplary-beyond organic” on down to “ethically deficient.” I haven’t gone to figure out where the ones I can get from my Whole Foods rate on the egg-o-meter…
Sigh. Organic transparency. When farm owners say things like “The push for continually expanding outdoor access … needs to stop.” Of course. God forbid the “cage free” and “free range” markings on the cartons should actually mean something. (And one should note, in that second picture, the hens are technically “cage-free”…)
This kind of thing puts me off omelettes for a while…
This is from the Washington Post; the article is linked here:
Regular Sugar vs. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A colleague of yours recently debunked the idea that regular sugar is necessarily healthier than high-fructose corn syrup. But what about the health of the planet? Corn needs a lot of processing before it can sweeten my soda, but sugar doesn’t sprinkle from the skies. So which one is more environmentally friendly?
It’s true: King Corn is as much a bogeyman for the eco-conscious as the health-conscious. The crop gets a bad rap because it’s so ubiquitous. Thanks to aggressive farm subsidies, 27 percent of America’s farm acres are devoted to corn. According to anti-corn crusader Michael Pollan, modern corn hybrids require more pesticides and more fertilizers than any other food crop; this not only requires major inputs of fossil fuels but also causes significant groundwater pollution.
But it’s not entirely fair to lay all of that at the sticky feet of high-fructose corn syrup, as the maligned sweetener accounts for only about 5 percent of America’s total grain corn production.
Of course, even at just 5 percent of the overall crop, we’re still talking about a lot of farmland: Nearly 4 million acres’ worth of grain corn became high-fructose corn syrup in 2008. Compare that with the 1 million acres planted with sugar beets and 872,000 with sugar cane, the two crops that produce the sucrose we generically refer to as “sugar.”
In 2007, an Australian sugar cane industry group compared the environmental impacts of growing Australian cane, United Kingdom beets and American corn. The products analyzed were 1 kilogram of sugar in clarified juice form from both cane and beets, and 1 kilogram of simple sugar syrup from cornstarch. The researchers found that, on average, fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and the release of acidifying substances seemed highest with corn sugar, while water usage was highest for cane sugar. A big wild card here is that making sweetener from any of those crops returns some useful byproducts that can offset some of the environmental burdens. Sugar cane probably gets the biggest plus in this category, as its waste fiber, known as bagasse, makes an efficient fuel source: Many sugar mills — where cane stalks from the field are converted into raw sugar — run entirely on bagasse, cutting out the need for additional fossil fuels.
So sugar cane seems to be the most efficient producer of sugar and potentially the lightest user of fossil fuels, even though its significant water requirements can’t be ignored.
But to truly compare table sugar with high-fructose corn syrup, we need to look at the latter stages of processing. We know that evaporating cane and beet juice into dry, raw sugar requires significant amounts of energy. Producing the finer stuff not only involves several more steps — evaporating, spinning, melting, chemical decolorizing treatments — it also means more food miles, because these steps occur in a separate facility.
Meanwhile, to turn simple corn syrup into high-fructose corn syrup, enzymes are used to convert 90 percent of the glucose molecules into super-sweet fructose before the resulting solution gets blended back with simple glucose syrup. It’s unclear just what kind of additional burden these final steps account for, but we do know that the entire corn wet-milling process takes a whole lot of energy. According to the consulting firm FTI, it’s the most energy-intensive food-manufacturing industry in America.
As your mom and your dentist have told you, take all things in moderation and you’ll probably be fine; that goes for sugar and high-fructose corn syrup as well. Cutting down on our overall sweetener intake makes a lot more sense than simply switching one for the other. After all, if we boycotted high-fructose corn syrup and instead ramped up our consumption of cane sugar, where would we find enough hot, humid land to put all those additional cane fields? Are you willing to gobble up the rest of Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas just to avoid corn in your Coke?
The beef rant. As promised.
Okay, I love meat. In spirit and desire, I’m a total carnivore. I don’t even like to dress it up with much seasoning or salt–there’s not much I like better than a nice juicy steak. Just lovely and delicious and…wow.
However. I don’t eat them much any more. (In fact, I can’t remember when the last time I had a steak was…unless it was that night Al and I went out to Ruth’s Chris for our schmantzy first anniversary date. That was six years ago. Wow, has it been that long?) I still eat beef occasionally, but usually as a second-billed ingredient and only in things where I can’t substitute something else. And on Superbowl Sunday I relent and actually put beef in the chili. And yesterday’s blog entry did mention how we’ll still do beef lunchmeat from time to time, but I’m working on excising that. Don’t tell Al. (It’s okay, he probably knows.)
Last summer I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This is not a book for anyone who wants to remain in blissful bigfoot ignorance or who would have deep personal pain about never wanting to pull into a McDonald’s drive-thru again. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know, but what will gross you out more is realizing how much of this semi-food you’ve been eating without knowing what was in it and how it got to you. Since then I’ve read a few more books (Pollan’s In Defense of Food is also really good, and sort of less scary.) –but Omnivore is that rare book that has actually hit me hard enough to, overnight, change the way I think of food and eating. Read it. Read both. (Omnivore grossed me out and scared good habits into me, and Defense gave me a way to live those habits with some joy and hope.)
Did you know that cows have to consume 16 times as much grain to produce an equal amount of meat? That’s before even getting to the part about how they are fed food that’s bad for them and makes them sick (corn, which they can’t digest properly…that’s why grass-fed beef is so much more expensive), then pumped full of antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to be fattened enough for market. That’s also without factoring in refrigeration and processing of the cattle into meat. Chicken is better, but only a little–something like 8:1 instead of 16:1. I mean, yes, significantly better, but if it takes 1 acre of rice to meet the caloric needs of, say 8 people, and 5 acres to feed chicken to feed the same 8, and 10 acres for the same caloric result in beef, well, do the math. (These figures adapted from michaelbluejay.com/veg/environment.html –but check around, this is becoming fairly common knowledge.)
Mark Bittman’s Food Matters is another good book on this topic–he explores (and supports fairly well, though with somewhat propagandy if effective hyperbole) the now fairly widely disseminated idea that the single best thing every American could do to reduce their carbon footprint has little to do with consuming less oil and everything to do with consuming less meat. I highly recommend it, although while I’d buy and re-read the Pollan books, I’d probably get the Bittman from the library first. His recipes are good, but their appeal to the greenmama is eclipsed by the skepticism of the speedymama. In fact, it is the book that led to the inception of this blog–I wanted to document at least my own ways of living the values without spending the time his methods seem to require. (He also talks a lot about packaging, like how it takes something like 1600 calories in expended energy to make that plastic bottle the zero calorie water is served in. Sort of appalling.)