2.2

Big Ag? GMOs? Antibiotics? I need “Food Science for Dummies.”

Understanding food science research is confusing.

And depressing.

I do want to get to an actual meal for this One Hundred Meals project. But we need to start with some information first. We need neutral information before we launch. Homework first, then the test.

So, my fellow activist Ellen and I have given ourselves this task of understanding and respecting the viewpoint of big, industrial farmers. Check.

One topic comes to the fore which seems pivotal to understanding—research. We ask our new Big Ag friends, for example, what they think of the recent FDA decision to reduce antibiotic use in livestock. The response is both from the gut and experience (which we honor and respect) as well as to cite organizations and research they trust – FDA, USDA, land-grant university studies.

If I’m doing my job right, I hear them out and guess what? I get that if that were the body of knowledge I had always known and was the bulk of what I’d heard for years, and I was in the business of earning a living following those principles—sure enough, I’d reach the same conclusions the Big Ag folks have reached. I would be comfortable with the current antibiotic use in animals. I would be comfortable with GMOs in our food system. So there you go—I can understand and respect Big Ag (Agvocates*) where they stand.

Turning it around, I hope they feel the same.

So are we done?

Well, if we were, contention about our food system would not exist. So, no.

Now imagine this. In my effort to internalize and understand Agvocates’ viewpoint (kinda like running a second operating system on your computer!) I read a bunch of literature and research coming from their “camp.” As I do, I’m careful to note who funded the literature, what the biases are. And there are lots and lots of biases.

But here’s the thing: When I turn the mirror inward, I see, sure enough, that you find biases and questionable funding of “my” literature also.

Gridlock.

That is where my brain is right now. Stuck. Ellen, for her part, is just getting depressed.

And it gets worse: There is no arbiter for this.

You’d like for it to be the FDA and the USDA, because that’s actually supposed to be their purpose for existing. But recently, if you’re following along, you’ll know that the FDA is just now getting around to acting on its findings from 35 years ago. And they’re only doing so because a judge forced them to. So I am hard-pressed to trust the FDA as the reliable arbiter of truth we’re looking for on these tricky questions!

Look, I do not come from a long history of conspiracy theory, but the more I research, the more I start to sound like such a person.

In some weird way, I’m starting to distrust that a research duel will help us. I may find some research I trust. I’m not saying I can’t find that, but I am not sure pitting one body of research against another will lead us anywhere because even if the greater percentage of society or a government agency like the FDA finally chooses one body of evidence over another, does that matter? Will it lead to anything when the “other side” is still going to stay entrenched in their beliefs regardless?

If you’d like to disagree with all this gloominess, then answer one of these two simple questions:

  • If you currently disagree with antibiotic use in animals for growth purposes, whose research to the contrary would you believe? Who could turn your firmly held beliefs completely around?
  • If you currently agree with the use of antibiotics in animals for growth purposes, whose research to the contrary would you believe? Who could turn your firmly held beliefs completely around?

They’re rhetorical questions.

I will say, even being confused and depressed is better than not thinking about our food at all.

And Ellen and I are certainly thinking about things! We’re getting familiar with all the entities and interests on the Agvocate side of things. We’re learning the acronyms like GRAS, FOIA and CSPI. We’re learning how to spot influence and bias (ProTip: follow the money, which is often only barely hidden by a public service-style organization with a clever name). We’re reading the data from the Farm Bill. All in the hopes of having some solid background information before we start.

We’ve been busy brainstorming a starter list of Meals We Hope To Eat and we’ve posted them here for you to look over.

And we hope, soon, to sit down and eat with someone so we can get this show on the road!

*Agvocates — for the sake of clarity, from here on out, we’ll refer to Big Ag folks as Agvocates, which is what they are calling themselves these days. We’ll call the other side — the sustainable, local, Slow Food side — Agripreneurs.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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lJfb Oct 10, 2012 7:06pm

154818 524915Depending on yourself to make the decisions can actually be upsetting and frustrating. It takes years to build confidence. Frankly it takes a lot more than just happening to happen. 459594

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Grant Kessler

Grant grew up a picky eater, surviving on peanut butter until a year spent living abroad in high school expanded his food interests. Okay, mussels were still weird, but the emergency stash of peanut butter went largely unused. With his growing love of food and cooking, he became a freelance food photographer based in Chicago, working with chefs in the top restaurants. For years he chased their styles in his own cooking, creating elaborate meals at home and for friends. But as he became exposed to produce from farmers markets and the thinking behind buying local, in-season foods, without packages and from people with names, he realized simpler is better. Grant knows exactly where 95% of what he eats comes from, how it grew, how it was raised and by whom. His blog MyFoodshed delves into local food, backyard gardening and more and he hopes to learn more about the complex food system via his One Hundred Meals project. You can follow Grant on twitter at @OneHundredMeals and @GrantKessler and find One Hundred Meals on facebook.