Why Do You People Eat This Stuff?

Welcome to a new irregular feature of grouchyfarmer.com, Why The Hell Do You People Eat This Stuff? (Hopefully a very irregular feature because researching all this stuff takes a lot of work and time and, well, I’m lazy, okay? Can’t help it. It’s — genetic… Yeah, that’s it, it’s genetic. Not my fault, blame my ancestors…)

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It’s Back

Hmm? What? Oh, yeah, sorry, got off the track there. Back to the topic. Uh, what was I talking about, anyway? The bloody cats got me up at 4:30 in the morning again to feed ’em and I’m still a bit woozy — Oh, that’s right, It is back, isn’t it? The so-called “McRib”.

Yes, the abomination that is the “McRib” sandwich is once again available at the home of the leering clown. And along with this culinary horror also comes the usual hype and B.S. associated with it. The fast food chain has sent out the usual PR fluff items trying to gin up sales of the thing, launched TV and internet ads, it has an app you can use to find where it’s being sold, it’s even making a big deal out of starting a relationship with Uber to deliver the things. So let’s take a look at it.

First of all, just what the hell is it, anyway? If you deconstruct a McRib, take that patty off the bun, pick off the onions and pickles and wash off the corn syrup they laughingly claim is BBQ sauce, what you have is, well, it’s just nasty looking, but ignore that for the moment and just look at that piece of meat.

Now I’ve been a farmer, and I’ve worked on farms on and off for decades, and frankly, I don’t know what that thing is. That didn’t come off of any animal I ever saw. That’s because it is something called a “restructured meat product”. And before you ask “what the hell is a restructured meat product, I’ll let the inventor of the process, Roger Mandigo, a meat scientist from Nebraska and member of the “Meat Hall Of Fame” (yeah, seriously, there is a meat hall of fame), tell you in his own words in an interview in 1995:

“Restructured meat products are commonly manufactured by using lower-valued meat trimmings reduced in size by comminution (flaking, chunking, grinding, chopping or slicing). The comminuted meat mixture is mixed with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins. These extracted proteins are critical to produce a “glue” which binds muscle pieces together. These muscle pieces may then be reformed to produce a “meat log” of specific form or shape. The log is then cut into steaks or chops which, when cooked, are similar in appearance and texture to their intact muscle counterparts.”

So basically the McRib is, well, kind of sausage, really. (Trivia Tidbit: It was originally going to be a boneless pork chop)

Now what’s actually in that sausage is a matter of hot debate out on the internet. And the internet being what it is, some of the notions about what’s in it are, well, frankly too disgusting to go into in detail. But let me assure you that there is nothing nasty in that meat. Seriously. What it’s really made out of is ground up pork shoulder, and pork shoulder is a perfectly fine piece of meat.

But it isn’t, well, a rib, now is it? There is absolutely no actual rib meat in the thing. It’s more of a “McPorkShoulder” sandwich if they were honest about it.

So, how in the world do they get away with calling a hunk of pork sausage that has no rib meat of any kind, a “McRib”? Isn’t that blatantly mislabeling the product? I have no idea how they get away with it. If you want to know that, you need to go have a little chat with the FDA or FTC or USDA. Maybe it’s a menu naming thing. Calling it what it really is, a “McGroundPorkShoulder Sausage Extruded Into a Vaguely Rib Shaped Patty That Doesn’t Have Any Rib Meat In It At All” wouldn’t fit on the menu board.

Now, the sauce… Oh, dear lord, the sauce… Basically it’s corn syrup with a bit of tomato thrown in, some spices, a lot of vinegar and some smoke flavoring.

The whole thing from start to finish is a fraud misleading. It isn’t made from ribs. It isn’t even a cut of meat. It’s a sausage dipped in flavored corn syrup.

And if you think the sandwich is a bit iffy, take a look at all of the hype and hysteria you see in the media about the thing because that’s even more questionable than the sandwich is. If you believe the press releases McD and it’s advertising agencies put out, people are absolutely wild for this thing, will drive cross country to get one, and when it isn’t on the menu they pine away, wasting away into nothing like crazed drug addicts until it shows up again and…

And it’s all BS. All of it. If people were actually that wild about the thing, the chain would have it on the menu all the time because, well, money. The fact of the matter is that when it was first introduced in the 1980s, sales were horrible. People just didn’t like the thing. It was pulled off the menu in 1985 because sales were terrible. Outside of a few regional areas, it just didn’t sell. (For some reason it sells well in Germany.)

They kept trying, though, for some reason. The chain tried promotional events for it, limited runs, various marketing schemes, etc. It tried to tie it to the Flintstones movie in 1994. Sales “did not meet expectations”, as they say. And finally in 2005 the chain seemed it was finally going to give up on the thing entirely and dump it once and for all and announced it was going away forever.

And then something rather odd happened. An on-line petition popped up to save the sandwich. It was all rather tongue-in-cheek and silly, almost satirical. Other websites started petitions to keep it. The chain announced a “farewell tour” of the product, and gradually the petitions and news stories about demand for the sandwich started appearing in the media. News media that really should have known better started finding people who were desperate, or claimed they were, to “save” their favorite sandwich, and the hype drove sales up. A second “farewell tour” was launched the following year with even more hype being generated and…

Well, it was all a marketing scam. The on-line petitions were, for the most part, outright frauds. The original website with the petition turned out to be owned by the company. Most of the media stories about demand for the sandwich were also misleading. A lot of the “news stories” were actually supplied by the advertising company running the campaign. There were no huge numbers of people clamoring for the sandwich to remain on the menu.

Now, every fall, the cycle repeats. The McRib is brought back with the accompanying hysteria, all of it generated by the company’s PR firms. You’ll see the same headlines, the same stories, appearing year after year because they just keep recycling the same press releases.

Look, there’s nothing actually horrible about the sandwich. Yes, it has way, way too much salt. The BBQ sauce is mostly corn syrup. The bun is your standard, generic, mass produced bread like substance. It is edible. Personally I think it tastes horrible. I bought one the other day to do research for this. I took one bite and, well, the rest went into the trash bin. But if you like it, fine. It’s no worse than anything else on their menu over there.

What really upsets me is the blatant manipulation of people by this whole marketing campaign of theirs. All of this hype, the phony demand for the sandwich, the people who are “addicted” to it, the long lines, the frantic searches to find it — it’s all a PR stunt, it’s all deliberate manipulation of people in order to sell a product no one needs and almost no one actually wants. And that, in my opinion, is the worst part of all of this.

Catching Up With Stuff

I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting this blog recently because, well, to be honest, not a heck of a lot is really going on this time of year.

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The tomatoes are going crazy this year. They’re almost chest high and at least 4 feet wide at this point, and loaded with fruit. In about a week or two at the most we’re going to be able to start picking tomatoes. If we manage to avoid blossom end rot and other problems this year, we’re going to have more tomatoes than we know what to do with.

I’m not sure why they became this ridiculously prolific this year. MrsGF pointed out that we added a lot of compost to the beds this year and top dressed with a very mild fertilizer. But even so, this is a bit much. The wire tomato cages are starting to collapse from the weight of the plants and I’ve had to put in additional rods to keep the cages from collapsing.

I don’t know why I bother with the wire tomato cages they sell in the garden centers around here. They just can’t handle the plants we grow here. I think I’m going to have to go get some rebar or something like that, fire up the torch and weld up my own.

We put in 2 varieties, Early Girl and Wisconsin 55, and both seem to be doing equally well.

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We’ve been getting raspberries too this year. MrsGf’s sister gave her about a dozen plants a couple of years ago and they’ve completely taken over the corner of the garden where they were planted.

We aren’t getting a huge number, but enough to give us a nice sized bowl full every few days. I’m not supposed to eat them anyway. I have  diverticulosis which, fortunately, has never flared up on me, but I still need to be careful. I’m supposed to avoid eating things with seeds and chopped nuts, which means raspberries are on the avoidance list. But, well, come on, fresh raspberries right off the plant? I’m afraid probably half of the berries we get never make it into the house.

IMG_0935I picked up one of those goofy little roses in a teacup that you see at discount stores sometimes for MrsGF one day because I thought it would look neat on the window sill in the kitchen for a few days, and then it would probably die and we’d toss it and that would be the end of it. Well, MrsGF transplanted the dopy thing into a larger pot, stuck it outside and it’s been going crazy just like the tomatoes have. It’s quadrupled in size and has been putting out brilliant red flowers ever since.

We’re going to try to keep it through the winter and see what happens. If it makes it, great. If not, no big deal. It only cost me something like $5

Other Stuff:

I just realized the other day that I’ve put more miles on the bicycle than I have on the Corvette this summer. Nothing wrong with that but it does seem a bit odd for someone who enjoys driving as much as I do. MrsGF and I haven’t really managed to get away on a vacation this summer. Since, oh, 2007 or so, we’ve managed to get away for a couple of weeks or so to go somewhere, usually out west. And I used to go to South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming at least once during the summer by myself if I could. One year we took a three week road trip on the motorcycles with Eldest Son out to Maine.

One reason is MrsGF has been crazy busy this summer. The state is trying to bring an electronic health records system on-line before winter and she’s involved in that and you wouldn’t believe how difficult and complex that project has been. Plus she’s going to be on the road now for two days to do audits. She’s managed to get a few days off here and there, but any kind of real vacation for her is going to have to wait until October.

She’s still planning on retiring in March and is really looking forward to that. She’s already been looking into getting into the Master Gardener program. One local charity is pushing to get her on the board, and I’m threatening to run her for town council <grin> just to keep her busy..

Amateur Radio Stuff:

Right now there is considerably controversy about the Technician class license, which has become the entry level license for amateur radio.

AR is in a rather odd situation at the moment. We are seeing record numbers of new licensees. The latest number I’ve seen is that there are over three quarters of a million holders of an amateur radio license, most of them holding the Technician license. This may sound like amateur radio isn’t doing too bad since we have more than 750,000 people in the hobby and that number is growing every year. But there are some concerns.

First, most of those new Tech licensees don’t seem to be actually using that license. We should be hearing them popping up on those parts of the spectrum where they are licensed to operate. Only we aren’t. Tune in the local repeaters around here (and everywhere else, apparently) and you almost never hear any of the new licensees on the air. And we never hear them down on the HF (shortwave) frequencies where they are permitted to operate.

Second, the vast majority of Tech licensees never upgrade their licenses to General or Extra class to get access to all of the HF spectrum. They get the Technician license and stay Technicians.

A lot of people find this troubling. If these people are getting their licenses and never actually using those privileges, or using them only very rarely, why aren’t they? Obviously they were interested in amateur radio in the first place or they wouldn’t have gotten the license. So why aren’t they actually using it? And why aren’t they eventually upgrading to the General or Extra license?

The ARRL thinks it’s because the Techs only have extremely restricted access to the HF bands. Below 50 mHz, Techs can legally only use a very small portion of the 10 meter band for voice and CW. And below the 10 meter band they only have access to an even smaller range of frequencies, and there they can use CW (morse code) only. The ARRL believes that if Techs were granted expanded privileges on HF they would be more interested in AR and actually get on the air, and even become interested enough so they would upgrade their licenses to gain more privileges.

The problem with that is there is no actual evidence to support that belief. The ARRL is basing that on the results of a very flawed survey that almost no tech licensees actually saw or responded to, and on little more than wishful thinking.

The ARRL’s thinking in this is fundamentally flawed, I believe. The Technician licensees they’re so worried about haven’t upgraded because either A) they aren’t interested in HF at all and are only interested in VHF/UHF, or B) they aren’t interested in amateur radio in the first place and got the license for emergency communications, storm spotting, flying drones or are “preppers” of one variety or another.

In any case, any Tech who is interested in the HF frequencies can get access simply by taking the General license test. It isn’t that hard. Seriously. It isn’t. A current Tech license holder could easily pass the General with minimal preparation.

I don’t particularly care if the ARRL gets this past the FCC or not, to be honest. It isn’t going to effect me one way or the other. I rather doubt the FCC is going to grant the ARRL’s petition. I suspect the FCC will point out to the ARRL that if Techs want access to HF they should just take the General test.

 

“Milk Date Labels Contribute to Food Waste | Agweb.com” article offers potentially dangerous advice

“Ohio State Researchers: Milk Date Labels Contribute to Food Waste”

Source: Ohio State Researchers: Milk Date Labels Contribute to Food Waste | Agweb.com

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 5.29.01 AMSo I ran across this item this morning over at Agweb and while I agree that the dating system used on most food products is often highly misleading, there are statements in that article that I find troubling.

Generally speaking, the dates you see on most food products you buy in the grocery store are pretty much completely bogus. I certainly agree with that. Often those dates have nothing to do with the safety of the product.

Most of the time the date is about product quality. After the date on the label, the product begins to lose flavor or the texture degrades. There is nothing actually wrong with the product, it just might not taste as good as one would like. Sometimes the dates are utterly ridiculous. I was looking at dried beans for soup the other day and noticed there were “use by” dates on them and found myself wondering how in the world dried beans could go bad because they pretty much can’t. As long as they’re stored properly, don’t get wet, and the packaging is intact, those dried beans should be perfectly fine for food for years and years. I’ve even heard that a lot of those dates aren’t based on any kind of research, but are just picked out of thin air by the manufacturer.

But when it comes to dairy products, meat and other food items that require refrigeration, I become a bit more wary, and here is where I begin to disagree with the article over on Agweb. It makes this statement:

“Pasteurized milk is safe past the sell-by date unless it has been cross-contaminated. While it may not taste as good — it can go sour and have flavors that people don’t like and may make them feel nausea — but it isn’t going to make them sick.”

Now wait just a minute…  Your senses of smell and taste are your first line of defense against spoiled or contaminated food that could potentially make you ill. If your milk smells sour, has “off” smells, has an odd texture or doesn’t seem right in some way, don’t use it. Yes, it could be “safe” in that it won’t actually make you sick, but can you tell the difference between milk that has merely gone a bit sour or milk that is actually gone bad? Do you want to take the chance?

And that statement about nausea? Really? Foods that make you throw up are fine to eat? Look, if consuming a food product makes you feel nausea or makes you throw up, that food has, by definition, made you sick. Nausea is not a normal reaction to consuming food. It is a symptom that something is wrong.

So yes, the sell-by dates on most food products are pretty much bogus. But you need to use common sense. I don’t care what this guy says up there in that quote. If a food product does not smell right, looks odd, and doesn’t taste right, don’t use it. Yes, it might be “safe”, but do you want to take that chance?

 

Food and Cooking, Pie Crust, and Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Sake

I love food. A bit too much as you would see immediately if you met me in person. I also love to cook. And I’m pretty good at it. But for years now my nemesis has been the pie crust. I couldn’t turn out a decent pie crust for anything. I tried all of the tips and tricks that people and cookbooks recommended. Nothing worked. It either turned out soggy or hard as a rock, or the flavor was bad.

The problem is, of course shortening. Shortening is basically plant oils that are normally liquid at room temperature. They are heavily processed, modified chemically and altered to make them solid. And despite the push to eliminate hydrogenated vegetable oils from our food because the health problems it causes, the stuff is still in most shortenings because it’s difficult to make a shortening that is solid at room temperature without it.

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Mmmm…. yummy, yummy lard…

Once upon a time the fat used in cooking came from animal sources. The type of fat used specifically for making pastry was leaf lard, which was rendered from specific areas of pigs. It was favored because of it’s texture and because it had very little flavor of its own, and it resulted in tender, flakey pastry. There are all sorts of reasons why people switched from lard to vegetable shortening. I could write a whole series of articles just about that so I won’t get into it. But we now know that the hydrogenated vegetable oils that the advertisers have been telling us for years were so “healthy” for us, are a serious health risk and should be avoided.

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My home made chicken pot pie. The edge of the crust looks rough because I misjudged the size and had to “back fill” with extra dough to seal it, but wow it tasted good.

To make a long story short, I’ve given up entirely on shortening and found a pie crust that uses butter instead of shortening, a food processor to do the mixing, and wow, what a difference. I experimented on the family (come on, if you cook, you’ve used your family as test subjects too) and the results were unanimous, the butter crust was a hands down winner over shortening. The texture, flavor, appearance, the butter crust won in every single category.

Okay, so yes, it’s a lot more expensive than shortening. Butter is currently going for around $4/lb. for the generic brands around here, so that means there is about $2 of butter alone in a pie crust. But pie is a treat. It isn’t something we make more than once a month or so or during holiday seasons. A pie is supposed to be special, savory, flakey, delicious. A good pie isn’t just food, it’s part of a celebration. So I’m more than willing to spend the extra money to get the results I want.

And then there’s this new sushi restaurant we went to in Green Bay the other day, Sushi Lovers. Well, it isn’t new, it’s been around for a while now, but it’s new to me, and it was actually pretty good. And it had Hakutsuru junmai draft sake.

If someone had told me about 30 years ago that I’d be eating sushi and drinking sake and enjoying it at this point in my life, I’d have thought they were nuts. And if someone had told me that here in the land of deep fried cheese, beer and whiskey sours and sausages, that sushi restaurants would be popping up all over the place and a lot of grocery stores would be selling it in the deli section, I’d have suggested they need therapy. But that seems to be the case.

The problem is finding a good sushi restaurant. We have all manner of them around here. Some are pretty high end, where each table has it’s own individual chef who makes everything right there in front of you, to places where you sit at a counter with a water trough in front of you and pieces float past you on little boats, to the “chinese buffet” style places that seem to have moved into all of the old Hardee’s fast food joints that closed down a few years ago. And price has little to do with the actual quality of the food. Some of the cheaper places we’ve found have better sushi than some of the over the top fancy places. There are one or two up in the Fox Valley where a party of four won’t get out the door for less than $400 -$500 and the food they crank out there isn’t any better than Sushi Lovers where they charge $18 per adult for all you can eat, plus drinks.

But I really wanted to talk about sake. And like a lot of things dealing with drink, it gets complicated, so bear with me.

First of all, sake is not rice wine as many people call it. Sake is actually brewed from rice like beer, and traditional sake making is a very lengthy and labor intensive process. If you want to see what it’s like, click here for a Youtube video. Like everything else, though, making sake has become industrialized in order to reduce costs and increase quantities, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune for a bottle of traditionally made, hand crafted sake if you want good sake.

There are two different types, junmai-shu and honjozo-shu. The first is made only from rice, water, yeast and koji, which is the same mold that is used in the fermentation of miso. The second type is brewed in the same ways, but has a small amount of distilled alcohol added to it. Some people prefer the honjozo type, claiming the extra alcohol makes the sake more aromatic, while some prefer the junmai type.

Until a few years ago, junmai meant that at least 30% of the rice kernel had been polished away before the rice was used in brewing. So, you ask, why would you polish off that much of the rice? Because when brewing sake what you want is the rice starch, and most of that is concentrated in the middle of the kernel. The outer layers of the kernel has most of the minerals, fats and proteins that can introduce flavors that some people don’t like.

But the polishing requirement for junmai has gone away now, it seems. The major sake brewers convinced the government to change the definition. Junmai style sake still has only rice, water, yeast and koji, but it no longer needs to be polished to meet the legal definition, I’ve been told. Most brewers still adhere to the old 70% rules, but you have to check the bottle to make sure.

There are other terms as well that refer to how much of the rice is lost in polishing or milling. Ginjo means it’s polished to 60%, and seimaibuai and daginjo are milled to 50%, and are usually labeled junmai gingo and junmai daiginjo. (If it says honjozo instead of junmai it means some distilled alcohol has been added.)

And there is a difference in flavors. Junmai sake tends to be less aromatic and more, oh, earthy than the gingo and daginjo style, and goes better with richer, heavier food.

Oh good grief, listen to all that guff, I’m starting to sound like one of those wine snobs, aren’t I? And there is still a lot more, like whether it should be served hot or cold. And the answer to that is: well, maybe?

Traditionally sake was served hot for the same reason we serve beer ice cold here in the U.S., to disguise the fact it doesn’t taste very good. Until about 50 years ago, sake was often very woody, with heavy flavors that were often unpalatable, and heating it helped to mask this. But that has changed and the sake produced now often has very pleasant, lively tastes and aromas, and heating would destroy the flavor and fragrances that the brewers work hard to create.

Generally speaking, better quality sake should not be chilled, but should be cool, a bit below room temperature. Some of the sakagura will list on the label the temperature they feel will bring out the best of their product. But it all depends on the individual drinking it and what they like.

Now, to get back (finally!) to Hakutsuru. The company has been around since something like 1740, and they are now a major brewer in Japan. And while it’s mass produced it is still a pretty good product. It’s considered to be well balanced, a good match for a lot of different foods, with a slightly earthy aroma that isn’t overpowering. It’s one of the better sakes that is available locally.

I can’t believe I’ve babbled along about this for so long. Here’s a picture of the last rose of the season to make up for boring you with all of this guff.

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More Farm Stuff

There’s been a lot going on in the agriculture world so let’s take a look.

FDA May Remove Heart Healthy Labels on Soy Products: For years now some soy based products have been claiming that they are “heart healthy” based on a claim that using soy caused a reduction in cholesterol. But we’ve known since at least 2005 that consuming soy has little or no effect on reducing cholesterol. It looks like it only took FDA twelve years to figure that out and announce that it was going to make the 300 or so soy products that make that claim to stop using it.

Why the confusion over the issue? It’s suspected that the initial reduction in bad cholesterol that was shown wasn’t caused by soy, but by the participants in the study replacing red meat with soy products. It was the reduction in meat consumption that reduced the cholesterol, not the soy.

Food Waste and Bogus Statistics: Then I ran across this item over at AgWeb which tries to claim that there is virtually no food waste when it comes to eating meat. They claim that about 20% of fruit and vegetables get thrown away rather than eaten, but that only 3% of meat gets thrown out. Therefore, they claim, buying fruit and vegetables is far more harmful to the environment than meat production The article goes on to say that eating meat is “more satisfying” than the equivalent amount of vegetables or fruit, and that meat tastes better than plants and loading meat animals up with antibiotics is just fine and dandy because …

Oh, brother, I just can’t go on any more…  She is basically claiming that because consumers throw out only about 3% of the meat they buy, meat is somehow enormously better for the environment than fruit and vegetable production, and that producing fruit and veg is actually harmful to the environment because people throw away some of it..

I’m not even going to try to follow the mental gymnastics that she goes through to try to come to that conclusion.

But I do notice one thing, that the article completely ignores the fact that almost half of a steer is inedible. Assuming you have a 1,000 lb. steer, only about 600 pounds or less is going to be useable meat. The rest; the head, innards, bones, skin, fat, etc. is inedible. Once you add in things that are trimmed off by the consumer after purchase like fat and small bones that are discarded, etc., you quickly discover that almost half of that steer can’t be used as food.

So in one way, yes, when you get that steak home you’re going to eat almost all of it. But that’s because all of the waste has been trimmed off long before you even see it in the grocery store.

Clovis Withdraws Nomination: Sam Clovis withdrew his name from consideration for a post at USDA as undersecretary for research. The job requires a thorough understanding of agriculture, scientific research methods, and basically was intended for someone who is, if not a scientist, at least someone with a thorough understanding of farming, agriculture, and science. So what were Clovis’ qualifications? Is he a scientist? No. Is he a farmer? No. Has he ever worked in any kind of business related to agriculture?  No. He is a former talk radio host and a political science professor. Well, here is the man’s own words in response to questions from the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow:

“Please list all graduate-level courses you have taken in natural science,” the second of 10 questions requested.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please list all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations,” the third question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please describe any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science,” the fourth question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

Sigh…

Dicamba. Yes, Again: The apparently never ending saga about the herbicide dicamba continues. According to a report by the University of Missouri dicamba damaged 3.6 million acres of soybeans this past year. That’s a hell of a lot of beans.

The EPA has issued new labeling requirements that more strictly control how the dicamba herbicide blends from Monsanto, BASF and DuPont are used in an attempt to eliminate the problems, but the problem has been so wide spread that some states are considering issuing outright bans on the product. And a lot of people doubt that the new application restrictions and guidelines are going to do much to get a handle on the problem.

I think they’re playing with fire here. So far everyone has been focusing on the damage done to soybeans. Considering how easily this stuff seems to vaporize and drift long distances, it could very easily begin damaging large areas of ornamental plants, food crops, etc.

I’ve even been hearing conspiracy theories from some people. They’re claiming that the herbicide blends were deliberately made to drift like this to force farmers to plant Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans whether they want to or not.

USDA Kills “Farmer Fair Practices Rules” (GIPSA): On Oct. 18 USDA announced it is totally dumping the FFPR, a set of rules that attempted to correct many of the abuses endured by “contract” farmers, farmers who don’t actually own the crop or animals they are growing. The famers own the land, the equipment, buildings, provide the labor, etc. but the product they are growing actually belongs to the company and is grown under a contract for a fixed price. Almost all of the chickens raised in the US are produced this way.

They may be “independent farmers”, because the big companies don’t own them, but they have only one client, and that client controls everything. They are essentially indentured servants with few if any rights. These companies are accused of price fixing, blacklisting farmers, canceling contracts on a whim, and engaging in retaliation against farmers who make waves.

The FFPR was intended to help give the famers a bit more control and flexibility to sue in cases of blatantly unfair practices.

I’m not going to get into this any deeper because it would take many, many pages to describe the whole situation. You can go do the research yourself if you’re interested. But as Chuck Grassley, a senator from Iowa said about killing the FFPR: “They’re just pandering to big corporations. They aren’t interested in the family farmer.”

Just What Is Organic Anyway?  I don’t know about you, but when I think of the term “organic” the definition definitely does not include acres of green houses containing thousands of trays of robotically tended plants under grow lights being grown by soaking the roots in a chemical nutrient solution. In other words, hydroponics.

But according to the National Organic Standards Board, it is. The NOSB has ruled that hydroponics is organic.

Look, I have nothing against hydroponics. It’s an extremely useful technology. But isn’t “organic” a lot more than just producing herbicide free food?

That Organic Food You’re Buying May Not Be. Oh, and a Cat Picture.

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With demand for organics growing every year, the US can’t produce enough to meet the demand, and hasn’t been able to for some time. At least not at a price that US consumers are willing to pay. So we rely on imports from other countries to fill the gap. Imports of organic produce, cattle feed and other organic products has been increasing every year for a long time now.  We imported about $1.2 billion worth of organic products last year, and that number is going to keep growing.

That brings up the question of how you know that a product labeled as organic, produced 7,000 miles away, is really organic? You can’t know, of course. You have to rely on government agencies to do the proper inspections, certifications and tracking to make sure the stuff you are buying is really what the seller claims it is.

And apparently USDA and its Agricultural Marketing Service, isn’t doing a very good job of doing any of that according to USDA’s own internal audits. A story originating at Bloomberg reports that USDA’s internal audits indicate that the AMS couldn’t prove that cargo labeled “organic” coming into the US were actually organic. It couldn’t even properly track whether or not the product came from an actual certified organic source.

To quote the report, “The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that non-organic products may be imported as organic into the United States”.

The problem isn’t just with a potential failure to grow the product according to organic standards, it’s shipping as well. A lot of products, especially bulk shipments of grains, beans, etc, are routinely fumigated by storage facility operators and shipping companies to reduce the formation of mold, prevent rodent infestations, etc, which, of course, violates organic regulations.

So the agency responsible for making sure that organic products coming into the US actually came from certified organic sources, and weren’t fumigated or treated with non-organic substances along the way, pretty much can’t do it’s job.

Kind of depressing, so here’s a picture of one of the cats staring at me while I’m writing this, wondering why I’m not playing with her.

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The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention. Source: The great nutrient collapse

I don’t lead off these epistles with links to outside sources very often, but this one at Politico, of all places, is a wee bit scary and it’s something that effects all of us because it’s about our food.

So here’s the background: We’ve known for some time that the nutrient density in the plants we eat has dwindled over the last century. Concentrations of minerals, vitamins, etc. in plants has been shrinking. Our produce, on average, now has fewer nutrients per kilo of plant material than it had when the measurements first began. It’s been assumed that there were two reasons why.

First, our farming techniques have changed drastically over the last hundred years. We’ve moved to “industrial” farming, which relies on heavy applications of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. By dramatically altering the environment the plants grow in, we’ve also alters the chemical composition of the plants.

Second, over the centuries we’ve bred plants to grow faster, produce more fruit or grain, and to produce fruits that last longer after picking and which are tough enough to tolerate rough harvesting and shipping conditions. When selecting plants for these traits, we’ve often ignored things like the nutrient content of the plant and flavor. So we’ve ended up with plants that produce fruit that can be stored longer, is easier to harvest, etc. but which is lower in nutrients and flavor.

But that isn’t all that’s been going on, it seems. Apparently increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere seem to have played a significant role in decreasing the nutrient levels in plants.

Maybe… The thing is, this is difficult to test for. The testing requires extensive, difficult to accomplish, and rather expensive experiments, and while there are scientists who would like to do the testing, it has been difficult to get funding to actually do it.

As of right now I don’t think the science is actually settled. The preliminary testing that has been done tends to support the belief that increased atmospheric CO2 levels can indeed result in lower nutrition levels in the plants. But there is still a lot we don’t know. We also don’t know how serious of a problem this may be. A  lot more testing and experiments need to be done to answer all of the questions that need answers.