Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

Look at the Label Campaign

There are many ways to support an Eat Local habit.

If you really want to go crazy, you can try a zero mile diet, a backyard garden. Or in some cases, the two block diet or the 5 ½ block diet (my choice, since that’s how far my community garden plot is).

More likely — and a lot less work — feeding your Eat Local addiction could be buying produce or preserves at a farmers market or craft fair. It might be supporting a local food retailer or buying via a CSA program (community supported agriculture) or food co-op.

Or even more simply, it could be as effortless as checking the label at the supermarket, and choosing products with a tell-tale red, Made in Canada maple leaf on the package.

Announcing the Look at the Label Campaign

Really, it’s not a big deal. You don’t have to sign a placard or worse, carry a placard. To be part of the Look at the Label Campaign, you just have to, well…look at the label. Find out how far your food has traveled to reach you, and choose options that are produced nearer to home. While you’re at it, you can look for additional benefits.

  • Look at the labels in the produce section to find out where your fruit and veggies come from, then choose the ones from closest by and grown with the best farming practices. Choosing items that are currently in season will help support your local farmers year round.
  • Read the labels in the bakery to find out which goods were made locally and which were shipped a great distance. If they’ve come a long way and have a long shelf life they’ll have had to be pumped full of preservatives. Real food, the kind with nutritional value, will rot. Pseudo food, does not.
  • Examine the labels in the sauces and canned goods aisles. I’ll bet you can find the lots of local sources for your favourite flavours amidst the dizzying array of options.
  • Check out the labels in the coffee and tea aisles. I can’t find coffee that’s grown nearby, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving it up! I can, however, choose locally roasted and/or fair trade beans that give farmers a living wage.
  • Definitely look at the label in the meat department. Nearby sources are good, organic and grain fed are even better. Meat and poultry are prime sources of secondhand pesticides, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Face it, eventually, we eat what they’ve eaten.
  • Be sure to check the label of eggs and dairy products both to ensure the animals have been raised humanely, and to be sure you know what you’re eating. For example, “frozen dessert” instead of “ice cream” on a label is code for “made with petroleum by-products,” which is just gross.

Michael Pollan said it best when he described his rules for buying food. If the ingredients are not something you would find in your grandmother’s pantry, don’t put it in your mouth.

Is Organic Meat Worth It?

While chatting about trends in organic food, my friend Sandra boldly declared, “I don’t care if it’s grass fed or spoon fed. I just want to know if it tastes good.”

She has a point. If it doesn’t taste good, the discussion ends there. However, organic meat does taste good, very good. So if that’s all you need to know, consider the issue resolved. If you still aren’t sure why you’d want to pay more to get the good stuff, you may want to know a bit more about what you’re actually eating when you sit down to that nice, juicy steak.

As I’ve become more aware of what’s involved in meat production, I’ve also become much more keen to source organic, grass fed beef for the occasions I choose to eat it.


On the organic side of the equation it boils down to this: the last thing I want entering my body is genetically modified corn, pesticides (sprayed on the corn), hormones and antibiotics, passed down to me in the form of beef.

  • Cows in the industrialized meat industry are fed GMO corn.
  • Corn is a grain, which cow stomachs are not designed to digest.
  • Mass-produced cattle are also fed animal by-products. Note: cows are herbivores. Feeding them their kin is messed up on many levels. Remember “mad cow” disease…
  • Cows are ruminants, they chew their cud. In the industrialized food process, cows are kept closely packed together and cannot lie down to chew their cud.
  • Cows are kept in such close quarters and in such great numbers that disease is easily spread, hence the heavy dosing of antibiotics.
  • The only priority in commercial farming is profit, so cows need to fatten up quick. That’s where the growth hormones come into play.

Cutting out the carcinogenic chemicals and going organic was a no-brainer, especially when I learned that all the nasty stuff collects in the fat of the animal. Fat is also what gives food its flavour so if you want tasty meat, you are eating fat.

Grass Fed

Then there’s the “grass fed” part of the equation. Why  not choose beef that’s organic and be done with it? Or choose “naturally raised” beef?

Well, if you’ve never seen how mass-produced cattle are raised, just wonder for a moment why it’s called “factory farming.” Really, it’s just like that. No pastoral scene of mother and calf, this.

  • Grass fed cows eat grass. Not grain and not other cows. That’s more healthy.
  • Grass fed means a cow has had access to grass. In a field. At liberty. With other cows, doing what cows do.
  • Cows need to chew their cud to digest their food. It’s what nature intended. In a field, there’s room for a little ruminating.
  • Stockyards used to be where cowboys drove their cattle after life on the open range. Now, they may live almost their entire short life there. To me, that is inhumane.
  • Cows are animals, not machines. The research is very clear — they have feelings, they need to socialize, they develop bonds. Providing them an opportunity to live without undo stress seems the least we can do.

If you are still one of the few who believe the treatment of animals is no big deal, you can hold to that opinion and still recognize the value of grass fed beef. When I thought that way, I still couldn’t believe there was much nutritional value in a cow eating food it was never meant to eat, in an unnatural environment.

The Final Word

Don’t take my word for it that. You need to know enough to decide what matters to you. Just don’t stay in the dark about where your food really comes from.

The resources are endless, but here are a few to get you started:

Our Daily Bread the Movie
FRESH the Movie
King Corn the Movie
Food, Inc. the Movie
The Food Revolution by John Robbins
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Ecoholic by Adria Vasil

Readers, I welcome your comments on books, movies or other resources you’ve found helpful in understanding all that goes into choosing healthy food. Please leave a comment and share…

An Evening with a Lunatic Farmer

In collaboration with UBC Farm, Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks is pleased to announce a fund raising evening with Joel Salatin, holistic farmer, author, educator and activist. Join them for an educational, humourous and inspiring evening with Joel as he discusses his family’s logical, “beyond organic”, sustainable approach to farming, and his new book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer.

Monday, September 27, 2010 @ 7:00 pm
H.R. MacMillan Building, 2357 Main Mall, UBC  Map

On Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, Joel and his family nurture a non-industrial, food production oasis. Instead of conventional methods of farming that include overcrowding, medication and processed feeds, the Salatins debunk all conventional food production with their refreshing paradigm that respects the natural physiology of animals, the land, the rhythms of nature and human connectedness to it all. A key personality in documentaries such as Fresh and Food Inc. and in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Joel has been instrumental in supporting a new sustainable food production movement.

Tickets for this event are $45 and will include a signed copy The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer. Proceeds of ticket sales benefit UBC Farm. Tickets are available exclusively through Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. Please call 604-688-6755 for more information and to purchase tickets.

A Mountain of Corn and Not One Bird on it

Just last week I saw King Corn, a film by Aaron Woolf, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney. Well, it’s a documentary about corn. It fundamentally retraces the corn segment of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, but throws an interesting spin on it.

The two main characters move to their ancestral home town of Greene, Iowa and plant an acre of corn which they then follow from seed in the ground to wherever it goes, which was very enlightening. It was very nice to see what Michael Pollan was talking about in his book and there are actually a few interview segments with Michael in there too.  I found the whole effort very balanced and less pointed than the Omnivore’s Dilemma but it, none the less, conveyed the same message.

But the thing that struck me the most about what I saw was probably totally unintentional. A number of times in the movie we see humongous mounds of corn that could not fit in the town elevator silos and there’s not one bird on it!

All of my childhood experiences related to handling any kind of food in a rural setting dictate that the corn would be literally covered by opportunist birds, but no. Is it because the corn they grow in Iowa is essentially inedible or perhaps all the chemistry involved in growing it killed off the birds 500 miles around Iowa? I have no idea but it sure is odd. The next thought, naturally is, why the hell would we eat that corn if birds don’t. And yet we do. Mind is boggled. Off I go to pick some kale from my garden, I need a green smoothie to regain my balance.

Related Post: Cheeky Corn Syrup Commentary

Thoughts on Food, Inc.

I watched Food, Inc. last night and enjoyed it in a horrifying, “Gross, I just bought chicken. I wasn’t thinking about how it’s farmed when I made the impulse, grocery store purchase. Now I don’t know if I can actually eat it” sort of way.

Much of the information was nothing new from what I’ve seen in other similar documentaries such as Our Daily Bread (warning: do not eat in front of the TV) and the Supermarket Secrets exposé series from the UK (don’t get all superior, the exact same things happen here).

I assure you, I may have seen much of it before, but it’s no less disgusting and infuriating. Whether we’re talking about how animals are “farmed” — and I use the term loosely — or the Big Brother tactics of seed companies, or even industry/legislator incest in food regulation, I hope we start waking up en masse to the seriousness of these issues. Sooner than later.

There were a couple of angles in the film I particularly appreciated. First was an interview with Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt company, especially the extended version in the special features section of the DVD. He talks about the power of consumers and business to shape how industry and mega-corporations behave, in this case Wal-Mart.

When Wal-Mart gets on the organic food bandwagon you know the concept has gone mainstream. They are in it for the profit, without a doubt, but that profit is driven by consumers. And the side effect is many more tons of pesticide and poison NOT spilling into our watersheds, as well as less crap in our food. How is that a bad thing? (Watch for a brilliant clip where a farmers happily tells Wal-Mart execs who’ve come to visit, “Wow, I’ve never even been in a Wal-Mart store, we boycott them.”)

Another great element of the film is dialogue with a farmer who clearly describes the benefits both health and environmental of choosing small scale, integrated farming methods. Watch for the description of how keeping cows, pigs and chickens together creates mutually beneficial side effects and reduces the need for artificial interference with medication and chemicals. Again, it’s worth watching the extended interview.

And finally, my favourite thing about Food, Inc. was how, after showcasing the sorry state of affairs, they wrap things up on a high note with a list of things anyone can start doing right now to vote with their dollars. The film does an excellent job of highlighting many of the entwined issues surrounding food security, then offering ways for you and I to get involved and contribute to resolving the problem. And it’s not even that hard!


Effects of the American Diet

I’m in the midst of reading my personally autographed copy of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, which advocates (among other things) eating real food vs. “edible food like products.” So, I got a chuckle today when my cousin passed along this forwarded email  “commentary” of the American diet:

Michelangelo’s David to be Returned to Italy

Michelangelo's David

After a two year loan to the United States Michelangelo’s David is being returned to Italy…

Michelangelo's David after a USA holiday

During his stay his Proud Sponsors were:

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Michael Pollan at UBC Farm

I had a chance to take in the UBC Farm Fundraiser with Michael Pollan last weekend, a well attended event for all ages.

Not yet having read In Defense of Food — my newly autographed copy is now on the top of my stack of 20+ must-reads — it was interesting and novel to hear his abbreviated version of how we’ve come to be in this place where we need, as he put it, an investigative journalist to tell us what and how to eat.

It IS more than a little odd that in a few short decades we as a society have moved so far away from the land and any sense of the source of our food.

During his humorous and sometimes tongue in cheek presentation, I was gratified to hear Pollan talk about many of the things that I’ve come to believe about the value of choosing more local food options — even without me having read his book:

  1. Eating food, real food not “food-like edible products,” has a huge impact on our overall health.
  2. Farmers markets build community. Research shows people have 10x more conversations at a farmers market than in a grocery store. I have experienced this on a regular basis.
  3. Many worldwide issues are addressed in shifting to a local food focus, including reducing greenhouse gasses and carbon footprint, reducing health issues, creating sustainable farming…
  4. And my favourite, no one idea will be the solution to our ills, we need to use multiple approaches: urban farming, organic, sustainable farming practices, innovation, etc.

I don’t believe in having a narrow approach or that the same approach will be right for everyone (i.e. I am not, and do not believe I ever could be, vegan). It’s not about finding THE answer, it’s about finding AN answer. And another one, and another one.

Now I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into In Defense of Food

UBC Farm Fundraiser with Michael Pollan

Not to be missed, the final in a series of six Provenance: You are What You Eat, is “UBC Farm Fundraiser with Michael Pollan” of the bestseller, “In Defense of Food”.

Saturday, June 6 at 1:00 p.m.

The series concludes with an afternoon presentation and book signing with author Michael
Pollan, on tour with the paperback edition of “In Defense of Food”. At this fundraiser for UBC Farm, Michael will share his manifesto for eating: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Guests will receive a copy of “In Defense of Food” and will have the opportunity to have books signed by Michael.

“Understanding the Provenance of Meat”

It’s not too late to get in on a stellar line up of presentations on sustainable food systems, brought to you by FarmFed and Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks.

Understanding the Provenance of Meat, session 3 of 6 in the Provenance: You Are What You Eat series gets underway on May 5th at 6:00 pm.

At tonight’s event, Anthony Nicalo will be joined by Jason Pleym, founder of Two Rivers Specialty Meats, a purveyor of fine meats that are free of antibiotics, hormones and chemical free additives. While you may already know that all meat is not created equal, Jason will shed light on what is really going on in grocers and butcher shops.

For details on all the remaining sessions, including the big wrap-up UBC Farm Fundraiser with internationally renowned Michael Pollan, visit FarmFed online.

To purchase tickets call Books to Cooks at 604.688.6755.

I can’t make the event tonight, but if you attend, let me know how it goes.