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Conquering Food Fears

By Sam Fisher

One of the tragedies of status-quo conventional food and farming is the fear and paranoia it has produced among the consuming populace. Many Americans no longer trust food, and much less of it hasn’t been government sanctioned. To me, this indicated a lack of information and knowledge of the subject.

Isn’t it amazing that we look to federal institutions to keep us safe from potentially harmful foods? I have a feeling if we only knew half of the interchange between federal food and medicine regulators, agricultural giants, food manufacturers, and processors like Archer Midland Daniels, Cargill, Monsanto, Dow, and a host of others, we would harbor many more misgivings about the government’s ability to protect us from adulterated or contaminated foods.

Because I like to add other people’s wisdom to my ramblings from time to time, allow me to share an excerpt from Joel Salatin’s most recent book titled, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs (a bizarre title for a book that has little to say about pigs). Here we go:

“Americans fear food….   Why? Because too many of us don’t know anything about it. The official policy of the government food police at the FDA and USDA is to fear food. Why? Because industrial food is a scary thing.

Campylobacter, listeria, salmonella, E. coli, bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This is a brand new lexicon that has only come into common use in the last couple of decades.

Likewise, I never knew anyone who had food allergies. Now we have gluten problems, leaky gut syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and a runaway obesity epidemic. We’re overfed and undernourished. The USDA began telling us what to eat after World War II: hydrogenated fats, carbohydrates, margarine. Meanwhile, big food manufacturers loved that we were exiting the kitchen and giving them proxy status over our menus.

With the kitchen sufficiently demonized as a place where losers and under-achieving non-career women served, a broad food ignorance spread across the landscape. Economic wealth with rising incomes enabled the annual special meal out to morph into daily fast food and processed food service. Devoid of culinary artistry, the kitchen became simply a place to heat up TV dinners. Indeed, no society has ever had the luxury of abdicating a relationship with food this profoundly.

Gone were the nuances about taste, texture, and odor. Neat microwavable packaging with additives to stabilize, sterilize, and sanitize replaced the whole potato, the oven-cooked pot roast, and scratch baking. In food processing, chlorine became the chemical of choice as produce and meat became filthier coming from industrial farms with faster harvesting and growing techniques. Fecal contamination could be sterilized with enough chlorine, and it is used liberally today. Pink slime in ground beef, along with cheap fillers, created a whole new type of food.

Soft drinks replaced whole raw milk. Twinkies replace fried eggs and bacon. Packaged whole meals in Styrofoam clamshells replaced domestic culinary arts. Food was no longer prepared, processed, packaged, and preserved in the home. Those domestic skills were farmed out to professional food manufacturers with laboratories, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, and a host of more unpronounceable terms. As American culture unleashed itself from an ecological umbilical, we became profoundly ignorant and began fearing the unknown.”

I don’t necessarily take to everything Joel has to say in his writings, but the above diatribe hits the nail on the head. We all have a tendency to distrust or fear something we know little or nothing about, don’t we?

How do we get over our fears? I would suggest food fears are like any other aspect of things we’re unsure about. Practice. Practice food craft. We touch it, smell it, examine it, read about it, and prepare it. We embrace a physical partnership with our food.

Here at Freedom Acres, we faced the similar fears and misgivings whenever we considered adding additional enterprises to our farm to create a viable business. Whether it was producing all-grass dairy, 100% grass-fed grass-finished beef, pastured chicken (and turkey), pastured hogs – and now again raising hogs in woodlots. I am always skeptical of the nuts and bolts of it, and always harbor a fear of failure to an extent. But I have found that if we forge ahead on a small scale – for a degree of safety – many of our qualms turn out to be far less formidable than we envisioned them. Of course we have made mistakes – and still do, but the mistakes usually turn out to be the things we learn best to avoid in the future. As the old adage says, experience is the best teacher.

We believe a sense of fulfillment and empowerment follows when we grasp the challenge of the unknown, study the risk, yes; but forge ahead with the knowledge we have at the moment and learn as we go.