Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Class: The Politics of Food

Chew On It: New J-Term Class Delves Into 'The Politics of Food'

After just a few days in the class, several students had already altered their eating habits. Third-year Rashawnda James gave up eating chicken after watching "Food, Inc." and seeing how factory farms cram chickens into cages so tiny that they can never spread their wings. One line from the film, "We're not breeding chicken; we're breeding food," conveyed the objectification and inhumane treatment of animals endemic to factory farming, James said.

Pape noted that he personally buys organic milk. When a student asked why, he noted that he didn't want to serve any additional hormones to his 12-year-old daughter.Freedman noted that he also purchased organic milk for his family, and had a hard time explaining, even to himself, exactly why he made that choice. "I think it's a little superstitious. I think a lot of my food choices are tied not to reason, and not necessarily even to preference or taste, but to practice and tradition and habit."

From the description in this story, it appears that the entire class is focused on politically motivated films and books, with an agenda critical of modern agriculture and most family farms. Perhaps there should be a co-requisite or a companion course that also looks at the science and environmental impacts of food choices. Perhaps it could convince Mr. Freedman to give up on his superstitious practices.

Just presenting some basic facts might help Mr. Freedman deal with his superstitions. Somatotropin receptors in human cells cannot recognize bST. (the hormone he probably doesn't even realize he's concerned with). Residue levels of hormones in food have been demonstrated to be safe,and are well below any level that would have a known effect in humans. Given no conclusive scientific link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and clinically important antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, more effort should be placed on judicious use in humans.

Facts relating to the environmental impacts of these lagely personal and political choices wouldn't hurt either. For example, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef are increased three-fold in grass-fed beef cattle vs. conventional, excluding the positive benefits of growth enhancing pharmaceuticals.

More information:


rBST -Cornell University Dept of Animal Science

Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
Volume 5 Issue 3, Pages 71 - 137


Foy Update - Garden Cook Write Repeat said...

Plants and People was one of my favorite college classes. Although I didn't learn a lot about the industrial food process until I lived in Panama for two years with out electricity and I read about two books a week from the Peace Corps library. There were a lot of books on Agriculture.

But even before that I knew people who were suprised potatoes came out of the ground. That expected pumpkins just to grow out of the ground with no vine or foliage. That didn't know peas came in a pod. Who believed the news cast about the spaghetti crop failure.

I don't consider myself to be perfect when it comes to food choices, but I like to think I try.

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