Food Elitism and Labels

I was amazed at the number of emails that I received yesterday in response to my post “Ignorance is Bliss.” The overwhelming majority of them were mildly negative, although I did get some great feedback in support of our local farmers and markets. I feel that it is extremely important to support these guys, as they are currently all that stands between us and a completely governmentally controlled food supply system, which to me, is a very scary concept (Katz, 2006). A government that controls the food supply controls the people. Government induced starvation has been proven over and over again throughout history as a very effective means of quelling any attempt at human rights. Most recently, North Korea springs to mind, as well as China, the former Soviet Union (particularly under Stalin). To set the record straight, I’m no conspiracy theorist, nor do I think that would actually happen here in the United States, not by any means. It is the concept of complete government control that I am opposed to.

By no means do I mean to sound like a food elitist. As a matter of fact, I feel I’m quite the opposite. I’m glad we have grocery stores. I just wish that we were better educated on what we’re getting fed, particularly in the highly processed frozen foods and fast food that most Americans exist on. I think it is a mockery of a system when it is perfectly acceptable under our regulations for excrement to be in our meat, particularly in the lax regulations that govern fast food, but it is illegal for me to humanely raise a cow, slaughter it and sell it to my neighbors. Of course, there is also the pink slime debate, which is still considered to be perfectly safe, since we treat it with ammonia! I’d prefer not to eat anything that has to be treated with ammonia before I can eat it!

We buy locally raised and slaughtered beef anway, of course, there are ways to get around it – it is legal for me to buy a “share” in a crop, which nullifies the cash transaction. The majority of our pork used to come from local sources, but our original source of meat was written up by a health inspector for not utilizing a USDA approved slaughterhouse, which the farmer refused to use as his own premises were far cleaner than any USDA approved slaughterhouse. In short he refused to send his animals, which are dear to him, to a place where they would be treated like this.

The organic label originally began as a grassroots movement to help differentiate small farms from the larger food conglomerates, where genetically modified food crops, pesticides and chemical fertilizers that poison upwards of 25,000 people each year in the United States alone are common (Katz, 2006). The organic brand, through political maneuvering by lobbyists on behalf of the mega-conglomerates, has become perverted through the system and has become too expensive for a small, local grower to obtain. A friend of mine has tried for years to obtain “organic” status for her small farm located in Southwestern Virginia. She has sold rabbits to local consumers and farmer’s markets for years, and wanted to be able to sell them to restaurants, who were clamoring for her rabbit. Her farm was an extension of her house, spotless and perfectly clean. After she opened up her farm for inspection, she was actually fined for not compling with previous inspection attempts. (She had never once received notice of a prior attempt for inspection.) Her attempts to fight the fine resulted in more fees and she eventually gave up. But, I can go to Kroger and buy a rabbit that has been shipped here from China. That makes sense, doesn’t it? (I’m dripping with sarcasm.)

With all that said, do I shop at grocery stores? I do. It’s hard to beat the convenience of running into Kroger for milk and butter, which I can’t legally buy from farmers in Virginia, another fact that drives me a little crazy. The cheese selection in Kroger is also hard to pass over, as are Boar’s Head cold cuts. Flour is also a little difficult to get! But I am ever increasingly mindful of what I buy and I have become relatively obsessed with food labels. I also choose, despite my growing suspicion of the label, organic options for I feel that the label was at least started with good intentions, and I believe that the root of those intentions is still present in the process. I’m not heralding the supposition that we should not visit our supermarkets, but I am promoting that we should do more to support our local farmers.

The biggest reason that people were giving me for not shopping at their local market is that they just don’t have time. I daresay you do, you  just prefer the comfort and convenience of the supermarket over your market, which is normal! As humans, we prefer the familiar. But, hear me out. Laura and I are two of the busiest people that I know. She has a full time job in marketing, and photographs somewhere between forty and fifty weddings a year, in addition to countless newborn, family, engagement, trash the dress, boudoir and bridal sessions. I have two jobs, one full time and one part time. I am a freelance writer, a full time graduate student, a student teacher and I am working on my thesis. We are also expecting our first child. We’ve found that it is actually faster, less stressful and in the long run, cheaper to shop at the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market than it is to buy everything from Kroger, or God help us, Wal-Mart. Try it out – time it. I did. I spent more money for the same ingredients and it took more time in Kroger than at the market. Seriously, what are you doing at eight a.m. on a Saturday anyway?

Another extremely busy person, the author Barbara Kingsolver, resolved for an entire year to only shop from local farms and markets. Her entire family joined in the resolve and she chronicles the year in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it. I’ve haven’t taken my resolve as far as she has, but if she can do it, we all can.

People have told me, “Just wait until the baby comes. You won’t be picky then!” I have never been more hyper aware of what we are eating than I have been since I heard that tiny heartbeat. I’m afraid that my growing phobia over processed food will only escalate when the new addition to our household gets here – but I can’t wait! Hopefully, the child will grow up without ever tasting a chicken nugget. Anthony Bourdain unashamedly writes that he tries to convince his child that “The clown is evil.”

We can’t avoid everything – but we can educate ourselves to make better and more sustainable decisions.

3 comments on “Food Elitism and Labels

  1. Jen Fraley says:

    If our Farmer’s Market was an every day occurance, I’d have the time to actually go there. As is, Wednesdays I’m at work then I have class and Saturday mornings are for the dogs and my husband (and when we have kids, it will be for them too). I miss living in Roanoke sometimes. Their farmer’s market was so awesome.

  2. Ron Matney says:

    Jen – Take your dogs and your husband and go to the market! There are dogs and husbands there! We take Axl sometimes, and he is always welcome and husbands are subject to lots of free samples. 🙂 See you there!

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