Tuesday, December 29, 2009

recent thoughts about food and life

let me paint a picture for you.

you are standing in an open field. it's summer. the sun is just beginning it's descent to the west. there is prairie grass as far as the eye can see. dandelions, thistle, a beautiful pasture of green. the wind is ever so present. just strong enough to send a breeze through the air and across your skin. you inhale deeply, and all you can smell is earth. it's refreshing, it's natural, it's real.

to your left, you see cattle grazing on the honeysuckles, whipping their tails with delight. they are free to roam the countryside, and the hills are their buffet. over and to the right, you see a mud hole. there are pigs making their way back and forth from the mud hole to the grass, eating and splashing. you know this is their element. you can see it in their eyes. they are happy, they are dirty, and their bellies are full. in the distance, you see a farmhouse. there is a big tree out back, with a tire swing. you can hear laughter, and a screen door slam shut. two kids run from the house to the yard where a picnic table is waiting, piled high with food. as you walk closer, you see the watermelon, the strawberries and the baskets of fresh bread. there is corn on the cob, pink lemonade and a stack of hamburgers at the center of the table. a family gathers around, says a prayer for the meal, and digs in.

here are some questions for you. right before you "dig in", do you wonder what you're eating? do you think about where it came from, how it was produced, or whether or not it's good for your body? do you think about whether or not your body will be able to easily digest it, if it will cause you to gain weight, or if it's full of vitamins and minerals? Or on the other side of the coin, if it's plump full of antibiotics, pesticides and other harmful toxins that your body was not meant to consume? have you ever wondered if what you're eating made it from the farm to your plate in an ethical manner? i could keep asking questions, but i'll let you rest, for a moment.

i think it's safe to say that most of us don't think about these things before we take a big bite out of a juicy hamburger. we don't think twice before we ravage a bag of chips or inhale a package of m&ms. we just eat. we eat because we're hungry, because it makes us feel good and because it's fun. eating is enjoyable and what once was something we did to stay alive, has turned into a reason to get together with friends and family, a solution for a bad day, and an excuse to spend lots of money.

let's go back to the picture i tried to help paint for you at the beginning. when you think about farms, is that how you picture it? cattle and pigs roaming the open fields, filling up on grass and living life the way God intended? if that IS how you picture it, you're not alone. i think most of us would like to believe that is how it works. we feel better picturing our steak that way. it seems ethical, healthy and...right. however, this "idea" of a farm, is getting harder and harder to come by. these types of farms hardly exist anymore. what has replaced them, is the answer to our society's demand for cheap, convenient food.

they are called stockyards. in a stockyard, animals live in a fenced in area so small they can hardly even lay down. they trample each other, they stand in their own manure all day, and many of them eat corn and animal parts (instead of grass). they get diseases and are often given "antibiotics" to heal them. then, after their very short time on earth, they get slaughtered in ways that we don't like to think about and they end up in our local grocery store chains at a price we like to see. (SALE: T-Bone Steaks for just $3.99 a lb!)

We don't like to think about stockyards, yet we are the ones that have allowed it to happen. Without even realizing it. We hit up the drive-thru at McDonald's and want a tasty burger, at a good price. Oh, and we want it NOW. As a society, we demand two things: cheap prices and convenience. I don't think we meant to get this way, but it's been the natural progression - and to go backwards, wouldn't make sense. Some of us couldn't comprehend what it would be like to have to place an order for a pound of ground beef and pick it up at a farm 3 days later. That seems outrageous. Who would do that, right?

The answer is, a lot of people do that. We just don't hear about them, and it's a world most of us know nothing about. My husband and I knew very little about this world, until recently. About a month ago, we got Netflix, and we've been watching a lot of movies. We are big documentary geeks, and one of the first ones we watched (after some weird movie about a rock band called "Anvil" that never made it big) was FOOD INC. It blew both of us away. Out the door and down the street actually. It was a huge eye-opener.

the jist of the movie is simple. we, as a society, know very little about what we eat, where it came from and whether or not it's good for our body. It talks about how there is a handful of corporations that monopolize the entire food industry and how they have put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our environment. i think the reason i loved and hated this movie so much at the same time, was because i knew by seeing it, i had come to a turning point. i was in one of those places where to go on as normal, wouldn't be ok anymore - but - to make serious changes, would require effort and would be hard. however, here i was, and it was time to make a decision. good thing mark felt the same way. we had been introduced to a whole different perspective. this "organic/green/sustainable" stuff meant very little to us. we had heard about it from time to time, and we knew some people that were "into it" but we just didn't know enough to care or make any changes. after this movie, we both felt a similar conviction. we wanted to do what we "could do" to make a difference.

so, what does that look like for us, thus far? a few things. first, we have decided to limit our fast food consumption. it would be easy to say "oh, i will never eat fast food again." however, i know that isn't practical. i will. i know i will. BUT, i won't do it nearly as often. i didn't eat much fast food to begin with, but this whole conviction has really motivated me to cut it out of my life even more, if not altogether.

second, we've decided to start buying the majority of our groceries from a local co-op. it's crazy how you can discover several alternatives to eating healthy and making wise food choices when you actually LOOK for them. a co-op, in case you aren't familiar with the term, is basically a community owned grocery store that sells locally grown goods (produce, meat, dairy etc) and organic products. we have found that though some things are a little more expensive, the pricing is a lot more comparable than we thought it would be. it was hard at first, to fork over the big bucks for some beef and a 1/2 gallon of milk, but i got over it. i just had to remind myself that me choosing to do this, IS making a difference. it's supporting local farmers, it's supporting the environment, it's supporting the notion of raising animals in an ethical way, and it's supporting my own body by choosing to fill it with things that are more natural and healthy. if i still haven't convinced you, look at it this way. If you eat whatever you want now, you'll pay the consequences later with your health. If you pay a little more NOW for that carton of eggs or that gallon of milk, you might just live a long, healthy life and nip all those medical bills in the bud.

third, we are going to start buying meat and dairy from a local farm. our friend hope lien told us about a local farm that she buys milk from, and we thought we would give it shot. we haven't purchased through them yet, but we've studied their web site and we're more than excited to start working with them. i think it will be a great experience and it feels good to know you CAN cut out the middle man and do things old school if you want to. it's so great to know that we have options, and we can utilize them if we dig around and find them. i think all too often, i would walk into Rainbow or Cub and not even consider that i had a different option. i believed that there was no other choice. well, it's not true. there are other choices. you can stick it to the man - if you want to.

well, in conclusion, i hope if you actually read all of this you learned something from it. it took me three hours to say what i wanted to say and i feel like i only touched the surface!

i would encourage you to check out these films and web sites for more information.


Food Co-Ops in MPLS
The Wedge
Linden Hills
Eastside (this is the one i shop at!)
North Country


  1. I didn't even know u had a blog! Let me know next time u go to the co op! I'll join u! Ur starting to convince me...:)

  2. beautiful. couldn't have said it better my self!

  3. julie, i would LOVE for you to come with us some time! we go once a week. usually on a saturday/sunday. let me know! oh, and ps - also found this web site to be informative and it has some other great resources:


  4. Wow. This is good. I really like your story- it does paint a vivid picture, doesn't it? I hope that you don't mind... but I think I would like to send the link to this to a couple people.

  5. HI, I was forwarded this blog from another member of a traditional foods group we belong to. My husband Chuck and I have one of those ideal, sustainable, pasture based farms you were talking about in the beginning. The reason we farm that way is because we saw a documentary in the early ninties that was similar to Food Inc. (Which I hope everyone sees)We were living in Mpls at the time. Eating our fast food and happy in our oblivion.

    We now own Thompson's Painted Hill Farm. We raise grass fed beef, pastured pork, free-range eggs, chicken, turkeys and ducks. We have a little store on the farm but we also deliver by monthly.
    Eat Well,
    Heidi and Chuck Thompson