I want to talk about the FDA and food safety. It is up to me and you to determine the “safety” of our food. I know, I know. Supposedly that is why we have the FDA. But think about it for a minute. Think about how our food system has changed over the last 50 years or so. Ostensibly, the mission of the FDA is to protect us through regulating and monitoring our food system. The only problem is that our food system has gotten farther and farther away from the personal, hands-on farm-to-table operation that existed before the 1950’s.
Food in our country is now an industrial operation. Large mega-corporations have taken over the farming industry in the United States and corrupted it to a point that it no longer resembles the farm image that you no doubt hold in your mind. Likely you have an image in your mind where your vegetables are being grown on a lovely little family farm. You may envision is quaint farmhouse with children and dogs playing in the yard and perhaps a few chickens pecking around in the back. That’s not what it is anymore. And it is not just animals that are mistreated. Vegetables are severely mistreated as well.
Whether animal or vegetable, they are grown in tight conditions in mono-crops. Each year it requires more input in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to continue to produce the same amount of vegetable food on the same piece of land. The soil is dead and dying. More and more water is required as the soil no longer holds the moisture. In nature diversity is required for an ecosystem to survive and thrive.
Now bring the FDA into the picture. How do you think that works? In your mind are your FDA representatives out there interacting with the farmer and his or her family? Are they getting advice and input from the consumers regarding their issues with food? Perhaps it is time for a reality check. Let’s look at what is really happening.
We place people in positions of responsibility in Washington DC and depend on them to guard our food supply and support our children and the future. When I hear people speak about these government officials, oftentimes I hear awe in their voice. I hear them speak of these government agencies as if they were all powerful, infallible, and wondrous creations. They are our saviors and “what would we do without them?”
Perhaps it is because I work at a government facility that my perception is altered and does not quite fit with that of the greater population. People in government positions are just like you and me. And you know what? We are all just people. We could be your neighbor – and may be your neighbor. We are not infallible. We are not all-powerful. Though I must admit we are all wondrous creations. So for a reality check today, let’s look at what is really happening with the FDA.
From my perspective, what we have is a group of people like you and me who work in Washington DC. They are doing the best they can for their jobs and their families. I do not have exact figures. However, I would venture to say that very few of these people have ever lived on a diversified family farm (as opposed to the modern factory farm). I can say that mostly because so few exist anymore. Our FDA representatives are far removed from the people (and machines) actually producing the food that we eat. They must rely on reports and studies to provide the needed input to make decisions that ultimately affect your and I when we shop at the grocery store. (As an aside, we are all very far removed from the people who produce our food today. Much of it is imported. It is imported from countries like South Africa, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, China, Japan, Pakistan, and India. There are many more.)
Much of the produce that you purchase in your grocery store comes from California. So unless you live in California, your food is shipped to a location far from where you are. Heaven help us if the trains and trucks every stop running. In my case, vegetables in my supermarkets have traveled nearly to the east coast. Even at my local coop in Roanoke the produce is obtained from California and from overseas or South America. Something like 5% is grown locally.
What ideas do you have about how the FDA is able to monitor all of that food? Are we to hiring enough inspectors to watch every piece as it moves through the process? And what about the stuff we get from other countries? Do you really think the FDA is monitoring that sufficiently? It would take an army of people that they do not have. So is it any wonder that the food can become contaminated anywhere from its point of origin until your point of consumption? It is so unlike how food used to be guaranteed safe to eat. Do you recall how it used to be done? Here are some ideas.
Before our farms were consolidated into factories it was the farmer that guaranteed his or her product was safe. How did they do that you wonder? It was simple. If someone got sick it was likely to be your child, a cousin, an aunt or a parent. Perhaps it was your neighbor, the mayor, or the local librarian. There was a very personal and vested interest in producing the best product possible. Today you have a stranger in some packing plant 3,000 miles away who is dreaming about being somewhere else while handling your food. There is no vested interest in whether it reaches you in good condition and without contamination.
The smart idea is purchasing and consuming vegetables grown locally. By finding and utilizing local resources you afford yourself the opportunity to know where your food came from, how it was grown or raised, and who the people are and what values they hold regarding nourishment for themselves and their families.
If you continue to rely on the people in Washington DC you will continue to be exposed to questionable food. The industrial model is in no way sustainable or in alignment with how nature works. Therefore, it is destined to fail. I believe the people who work in Washington DC at the FDA are doing the best that they know how and if they are able to do. I cannot imagine that they intentionally allow poor quality food to be distributed to the citizens of the United States. However, it is up to you and I to make sure our food is safe. Even though we pay these people to do a job, it is simply not possible for them to know, inspect, verify, and reassure you that the food you are purchasing in your grocery store is safe. There are not enough of them. They are only educated in running and unsustainable food system. And worst of all, the agency itself is heavily influenced by the large manufacturers of this so-called food. Decisions made regarding regulations are going to favor the manufacturer. Decisions made regarding inspections are going to favor the manufacturer.
So you might be wondering why I’m ranting on about the FDA. Simply put, I got burned. I got burned badly. Here’s my story.
One of the larger issues that I have with the FDA (and other agencies like them) is that my taxes pay for these people to do a job that is impossible for them to perform to my satisfaction. Therefore, I am paying for service I am not receiving. No matter how much I pay to these “disorganizations” I still find it necessary to grow my own food. Or at the very least to purchase it from a farmer whom I’ve met, questioned and whose integrity I can vouch for because I know them personally. I can trust them.
I was shopping in Wal-Mart to my great disgust (another behemoth organization driving small business into the dirt). I find myself there from time to time even though I loathe it because there simply is no one else left in our small town. On this particular day my laziness was going to cost me dearly.
I was tired after selecting my purchases and actually went to the grocery part of the store to buy fresh produce. Actually that is not really true. There really is no such thing as fresh produce in Wal-Mart. Their leaf lettuce is wrapped in plastic. Their baby spinach is wrapped in plastic. You know – the kind of plastic wrappings that contain a special gas that keeps the vegetable from deteriorating at its normal rate. That way they can keep it far longer than is possible in nature. As soon as the bag is opened, the gas escapes and the vegetable begins to deteriorate very rapidly. I picked up a bag of spinach and looked at my husband and said, “I hate buying this stuff.” But I bought it anyway. I also bought a head of green leaf lettuce.
On Tuesday morning, while preparing for work, I made my usual salad that I would eat at lunch. It contains about a cup and a half cup chopped lettuce, 1/2 cup celery, a couple of tablespoons of green pepper, half a dozen grape tomatoes, and about a cup of chopped spinach. I had my salad for lunch. This was somewhere around noon. About four o’clock in the afternoon I suddenly became extremely fatigued. I felt exhausted. I was glad when it was time to go home. A couple of hours later I was feeling chilled and continue to feel exhausted and made the first of many trips to the bathroom. There were three more trips during the night. I won’t go into details. The next morning I felt okay.
Because I was feeling unwell my husband made his own dinner that Tuesday evening. I told him to take the spinach and cook it because I did not feel it would last more than a day or two. He cooked all but about two handfuls of the spinach. He wanted to save me some for my lunch the next day. He’s thoughtful that way. He cooked his spinach only slightly. That’s the way he likes it.
The next morning I created the same salad as I described above. I had my salad for lunch at noon. Again, by four o’clock in the afternoon I was exhausted and ready to go home. It came on suddenly as on the previous day. I was so glad to be going home. This time by the time I got home which was about 20 minutes later, the chills had already started within another half an hour I was shivering uncontrollably. While on the way home, my husband mentioned to me that he did not think that I had a bug as he was having difficulties as well. He surmised that there was a problem with the spinach. That was Wednesday. It would be Sunday afternoon before my husband and I were whole again.
The issue with this kind of poisoning in our food system is a direct result of mono-cropping vegetables and the subsequent factory processing of those vegetables. This is a how our industrial food system now operates. This is the food system that the FDA oversees. I am doing everything in my power to opt out of that food system.
Each summer I attempt to grow vegetables in my garden. I am semi-successful. Because I’m not home during the week, my garden gets overrun with weeds. I only have Saturday and half of Sunday to try to maintain my garden. Still I endure. I grow what I can. And still it’s not enough. I am not able to keep a supply of lettuce and spinach growing to supply my salad needs. As of today I am searching for a CSA that will work for me. I simply cannot continue to buy vegetables in a grocery store. It will be tricky – again due to the weekly travel. I mentioned in a previous blog how important it is to be able to consistently pick up CSA shares weekly. I think I’ve found one that works for me and that I can support. I am incredibly grateful for this farm and what they do.