Monday, February 18, 2008

People Want Safe Food

Meat Recall

It seemed like only last week that the CTrib was editorializing about the need to eat local for food safety. Was this story in the works:
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Sunday that a California meatpacking company had launched the recall of 135 million pounds of beef -- the largest meat recall in U.S. history -- following questions about the company's treatment of cattle that were slaughtered even though they could not stand up.

Now, I have two obvious reactions to this article, that is reactions after I decide to blog it. First, could not one argue that this meat was local to someone, someone in California. Is it really an eat local issue? Second, and kind of the flip side issue, one of the stock counters to eat local generally; that is, a processor, this processor, may have had issues, but only through mass/factory production can the population be fed. Together, these issues draw together the complaints that eating local is elitist, expensive and unrealistic. Yet, the very nature of the recall suggests needed change.

I am, first of all, unconvinced that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world. Our agriculture land presently is poorly utilized. So much of it is turned over to corn-soy when it can be used to farm consumer products. Then, you have my favorite idea of converted brownfields and urban agriculture. Food (at least a lot of it) cannot be outsourced. Places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit (especially the latter two) have land that's not good for much else these days. Farm it. I believe the trend is going to be toward bringing food closer to the people. We do not need factory farming that is so prone to careless standards to keep hunger away.

Yet, that gets to the other question here. This operation was local to someone, was it not. Is there any inherent connection between food safety and local? I believe so, believe so for a few reasons. First of all, eating local as an exercise tends to (should) bring you closer to your food providers. There is implicit trust between say me and my friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers. She's not gonna let me down by cutting corners on food safety. There is the issue of transparency that I mentioned last week. Visit your local food. Moreover, the worst in processing operations try to hide themselves. Better to keep the eater from knowing how they do things, and what I mean about doing includes not just food safety but some of the environmental practices of some of our big guys. Eating local does not equal food safety, but eating local stands for food safety, it stands for land stewardship, it stands for real food. It stands for meat that will not be recalled.

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