Babies

Delilah had a cute kid.

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And so did Sadie.

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I wish those were our only baby stories these days.  But we also have poor Betsy, mourning her kid, who didn’t make it. 

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And so it goes.

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But is it prechewed?

Here’s a device someone has invented that will allow a person to eat without having to leave his computer or video game:  “The Ultimate Food Feeder Gaming Helmet.” (read more about this great advance for humanity HERE).

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It serves “Fridge Raiders,” described on the company’s facebook page as “the ultimate snack for gamers.”

As I reflect on things such as this, my mind turns (as it so often does) to Wendell Berry.

Patrons of the entertainment industry, for example, entertain themselves less and less and have become more and more passively dependent on commercial suppliers. This is certainly true also of patrons of the food industry, who have tended more and more to be mere consumers — passive, uncritical, and dependent. Indeed, this sort of consumption may be said to be one of the chief goals of industrial production. The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into our mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so. We may rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way. The ideal industrial food consumer would be strapped to a table with a tube running from the food factory directly into his or her stomach.

From “The Pleasures of Eating” (1989)

No doubt some entrepeneur is already trying to find a way to make the Ultimate Food Feeder Gaming Helmet less labor-intensive.

“Natural”

If you see the word “natural” on a package of chicken in a supermarket, what comes to mind?  Chickens that matured while roaming around outside, eating their natural diets? 

If so, you’d be mistaken.  The USDA permits the word “natural” or “all natural” on food products as long as they don’t contain any artificial ingredients or artificial colors.  In other words it can be “natural” chicken, according to the USDA, yet be as naturally unnatural in origin as you can imagine.

And as I’ve frequently mentioned in the past, the USDA allows chicken and eggs to be labelled “free range” or “free roaming,” as long as the chickens had “access to the outside.”  Typically food with this label comes from chickens that have never seen sunlight or breathed natural air, although theoretically they had “access” to it.

This is just one of many examples of why the claims that appear on the packaging of industrial food products are so often worthless.

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Consider this impressive list of completely meaningless claims on a carton of “Nature’s Harmony” eggs (“Nature’s Harmony” is a Walmart brand): 

  • “100% All Natural”–absolutely meaningless.  This is true of all eggs, no matter how unnaturally they were produced, as long a they aren’t artificially colored.
  • “Specially Selected”–what the heck is that supposed to mean?  I’d wager these eggs just rolled off the conveyor belt and into the cartons like the eggs from  every other egg factory.
  • “Farmer’s Market Fresh”–more meaningless baloney.  This one is designed to mislead buyers into thinking these eggs are comparable to those at farmers’ markets, which is nonsense unless someone at a farmers’ market is selling eggs from a grocery store.
  • “No added hormones*”–I love the asterisk and the small print:  “see inside lid.” Inside the lid are the words “No hormones are used in the production of shell eggs.”  The inference is that “hormones” may be used in the production of other “shell eggs” (but not “Nature’s Harmony”).  In fact, industrial egg producers have never found any use for  hormones in their operations and the USDA requires the inside-the-lid fine print.  This claim is purely nonsense designed to mislead.
  • “No antibiotics”–I’m not sure what they mean by this one.  If they mean the chickens that laid the eggs weren’t given antibiotics, then color me skeptical, but that would be a good thing.  My guess, however, is that they are merely claiming that the eggs themselves have no antibiotics in them, which is a worthless claim since the USDA doesn’t permit the sale of eggs containing antibiotics.
  • “100 mg of omega 3”  Industrial egg companies make claims about Omega 3s that are all over the map.  Some boost omega 3s by adding fish oil or flax seed to chicken feed.  In a study from a couple of years ago Mother Earth News reported that eggs from free-range pastured hens average 660 mg of omega 3s.  So 100 mg is nothing to boast about, particularly since eggs (even the most nutritious) are not significant sources of omega 3s.

Don’t be fooled by labels intended to mislead you into believing your food was raised naturally.  If at all possible, try to get your food from real farmers and take the time to ask them how it was raised.  Better yet, schedule a visit to the farm and see it for yourself.  That’s the best label of all.

The Greatest Wound

The greatest wound true Christianity ever received was struck in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured a flood of riches, honours, and power upon the Christians; more especially upon the Clergy….Thus, when the fear of persecution was removed, and wealth and honour attended the Christian profession, the Christians did not gradually sink, but rushed headlong into all manner of vices….Then, not the golden but the iron age of the Church commenced.
 
John Wesley
adapted from “The Mystery of Iniquity”

Corporate CSAs

Industrial agriculture doesn’t intend to lose any “market share” to small sustainable farmers without a fight.  Our movement emerged under the term “organic.”  That word was soon co-opted and today 80% of the food sold as “organic” is produced by one of the big corporate agribusinesses.  Most of us aren’t even legally allowed to use the word “organic” anymore.   And supermarkets have things like “organic Oreos.”

Informed consumers who have avoided being taken for a corporate organic ride have chosen to get their food locally.  Many have joined CSAs.  This is not lost on the industrial complex however.

So now we have grocery stores trying to imitate the CSA model and food conglomerates trucking in food that has no identity to a particular farm, underpricing local farmers and calling their stuff “local.”  Sometimes the claims are just plain false and other times they’re merely misleading.

Bottom line:  shake the hand that feeds you (to borrow some advice from Michael Pollan).  To the extent possible, make sure that when you trade money for food, you place your money in the hand of the farmer who grew the food, not some middleman or corporate employee.  If you shop at a farmer’s market, make sure the vendors you support are truly local.  Ask about their farm.  Find out if they are farmers or just middlemen/employees.  Maybe sneak a look at their fingernails to see if you can spot any dirt under them.

The best way to assure that you’re getting what you want and expect out of “organic” and “local” food is to establish relationships with a few local farmers.  In my experience most of them love getting to know their customers and take pleasure in helping them improve their diets and health.

In the meantime, beware of corporate CSAs and phony “local” food.

Valentino

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We have a new buck in our breeding paddock.  Johnny’s still there and I expect he’ll continue to be in command, taking care of all the necessary duties for the foreseeable future.  But to keep him properly motivated, we’ve introduced Valentino to the paddock.

That’s Valentino with his mother Nellie in the photo.  He’s a fine looking young goat with thick horns and a reasonable temperament.

Our previous second-string billy goat Ramon died last last month.  I had planned to replace him from outside our herd.  But Cherie suggested Nellie’s kid.  After all, she said, he’s a good looking healthy goat from a very good mother, with a good personality who’s never been sick.  It was a  great idea.

As I considered it I realized there were several other advantages to Nellie’s kid as well.  We would only introduce a new buck if he was young (just weaned).  Only at that size would Johnny not perceive him as a threat.  Adding him as a kid would allow him to acclimate to the herd (and they to him) without a goat battle erupting.  But with Ramon that meant he came in at the bottom of the goat hierarchy and without friends.  He had a lonely and isolated life growing up.  But since it was also time for Nellie to breed, I could add her and her kid together and that would give the lad a natural ally.  And since Nellie is an alpha goat (meaning she gets her way), he wouldn’t get bullied or crowded out at feeding time.  Basically, Nellie protects him during his vulnerable stage.   Finally, as a practical advantage, it was time to take him to market and he was the only marketable kid left.  Moving him to the other paddock would save me a trip to town.

So we solved our temporary buck shortage by promoting from within.

Cherie dubbed the little guy Valentino.  She had the Bangles in mind.  I thought of the Kinks.

So far Valentino is doing well.  He stays close to Nellie and Johnny hasn’t even seemed to notice him.  But from the way he’s growing, I don’t expect that to last much longer.  Hopefully Valentino will have a long happy life on the farm.

Ave Francis, Vale Benedict

I think it’s wonderful that the new pope has chosen the name “Francis.”  It’s hard to believe that he’s the first pope to do so.  But I suppose it shouldn’t be.  Historically the Church has seemed to treat St. Francis a bit like a lovable, but somewhat daft, uncle.  That is to say, kindly but not too seriously.

I’m hoping that Francis will reflect the qualities of his namesake.

I don’t follow papal pronouncements very closely, but here’s a quote from Benedict that would serve well as the basis for as a worthwhile legacy, in my humble opinion.

Human beings let themselves be mastered by selfishness; they misunderstood the meaning of God’s command and exploited creation out of a desire to exercise absolute domination over it. But the true meaning of God’s original command, as the Book of Genesis clearly shows, was not a simple conferral of authority, but rather a summons to responsibility.

Benedict XVI, Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace 2010.