March 19, 2012

Know your farmer; know your food

The USDA has a dandy website at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/knowyourfarmer?navid=KNOWYOURFARMER that is a good place to start. Check out their new Know Your Farmer; Know Your Food Compass too.

But isn't the USDA the agency in the line of fire for not requiring "pink slime" or beef trimmings to be on our ground beef labels? And for allowing 7 million pounds of ground beef containing pink slime to be in our National School Lunch Program?

Then the agency proclaimed that they'd "provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef." Talk about semantics, calling the additive Lean Finely Textured Beef doesn't make it a meat product in my mind.

Then there's the really gross mechanically separated chicken (see my November 2011 post on that topic) that looks like cotton candy. And it goes into most chicken nuggets. So NOT appetizing!

So the bottom line is that it's not sufficient to know your farmer--without knowing your meat processor. I'd prefer to know if ammonia has been sprayed on my "meat trimmings" ground beef. Even better, look for that "USDA Organic" label. Better yet, listen to good ole Mom and eat your vegetables.

And become a frequent shopper at your local farmers market. That season is right around the corner. Check out the Williamsburg Farmers Market schedule and list of local vendors.

By the way, last February, McDonalds joined Burger King and Taco Bell in discontinuing the use of boneless lean beef trimmings in their food. Now that's a happy meal. But it may remain in your school cafeterias for quite some time.

Speaking of pink slime — I found it quite ironic that the current top official of the FDA is Dr. Margaret Hamburg. I wonder if her diet includes hamburgers with beef trimmings treated with ammonia gas so they are safe to eat?

Are you confused about who is responsible for our food safety? The Food and Drug Agency or the U.S. Department of Agriculture?  You are not alone. The FDA is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, and they have shifted their focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

The USDA, through their Food Safety Inspection Service, is responsible for ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of egg products, poultry and meat (excluding game meats, such as venison) is safe and correctly labeled and packaged.

You can learn about almost daily recalls of foods on my blog. (See the top left of the welcome page.) It’s no wonder that 33 percent of Americans now eat meatless meals on a regular basis. Meatless Monday has been a huge success. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Small farms — Make up 88 percent of all farms in the U.S., but only produce 34 percent of our food. How many local farmers do you know?
In addition to all the wonderful vendors at Williamsburg’s Farmers Market, Zina’s Produce (on Route 5 across from Governor’s Land entrance) is a great place to buy local foods. I’ve tried her hens’ eggs, York River oysters, Virginia ice cream and Charlottesville donuts recently. All winners!

You and your family can participate in her farm’s “Our Farm Is Your Farm Day” on April 21. It may be your best opportunity to plant, weed and harvest a row of veggies this year. Your family can keep half the harvest and donate half to Avalon Center for women and children. Put this date on your calendar; bring your seeds and garden tools.