Everyone has an opinion about what they eat, and our first Special Food Issue [Sept. 11] received much mail. Slow-food aficionados, vegetarians, carnivores, vegans, organic gardeners, animal lovers, gourmets, gastronomes and activists wrote to tell us what we did right (a lot) and wrong (a little) and to add to the salad of ideas for the next Special Food Issue. –The Editors
State College, Pa.
I commend you for publishing the Food Issue. As a longtime Nation reader, I found it a refreshing change from your usual “not left enough” idealism, which leaves one feeling angry and impotent. The Food Issue offers readers examples of things to do (and people who do them) that can have a positive impact on everyday life.
As co-chair of the board of directors of Slow Food USA and a longtime Nation reader, I was especially happy to see the Food Issue. Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s founder, has noted that we are all co-producers; how we spend our food dollars determines who produces our food and what and where food is produced. October 26 to 30 Slow Food will convene Terra Madre in Turin (www.terramadre2006.org/terramadre/welcome.html). This gathering of 5,000 small artisan food producers from around the globe (this year joined by 1,000 chefs and 100 university researchers) posits an alternative to our industrial system of agriculture. The timing seems right for The Nation to add food to its regular list of topics and concerns.
PETER DE GARMO
There is no more apt expression of “the personal is political” than our food choices, as very well represented in The Nation‘s first (and, with the editors, we hope not the last) Food Issue. That most Americans eat about forty land animals a year warrants more discussion–especially in a progressive magazine like The Nation.
We are a nation of animal lovers (Gallup finds that 96 percent of Americans oppose cruelty to animals), yet the animals Americans eat have their bodies mutilated without pain relief, are given growth-promoting drugs that often cripple them and are cooped up in their own waste for their entire lives. They’re slaughtered in ways that are illegal in the European Union. Every stage of the process would warrant felony cruelty charges were dogs or cats so abused. There is no ethical difference between eating a dog or a pig, a chicken or a cat. If anything, eating your dogs or cats would be morally preferable, since they would have led a good life until you killed them. We challenge readers to view www.meat.org. If you oppose cruelty, try vegetarianism. We’ve got more than 1,500 kitchen-tested recipes, cookbook recommendations, meal plans and more, at www.vegcooking.com. Happy eating!
BRUCE G. FRIEDRICH
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
For the past twenty-four years, World Farm Animals Day (wfad.org) has continued in famed social critic Upton Sinclair’s footsteps, exposing the atrocious conditions of animals raised for food in the world’s factory farms and slaughterhouses. Folks who eat animals owe them at least a decent life and humane slaughter. They should refuse to patronize a meat industry that cannot meet these minimal standards.
I believe strongly in the values expressed every week in The Nation. I long ago stopped shopping at Wal-Mart. I work in my community to encourage smart growth and create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment. But reading your Food Issue made me realize just how difficult it is to be a progressive in today’s world. I found the issue short on practical advice on how to eat organically and eco-friendly. My family drinks about six gallons of milk each week. The organic milk is almost $3 more per gallon. As someone living from paycheck to paycheck, whose small salary increase was more than offset by increases in the cost of health insurance, I can’t keep pace with inflation, let alone pay more to eat healthier and more responsibly. I shudder to think what it’s like for people poorer than me.
Your Special Issue did not address a highly relevant point: Low-income families cannot purchase these fine foods with food stamps. Here in the Appalachian region of southeastern Ohio, home mini-farms and farmers’ markets have been multiplying. It is great that it is occurring in a region that needs all the help it can get. However, low-income families on food stamps cannot shop for these healthy home-grown foods, because farmers’ markets can’t accept their stamps!
San Bernardino, Calif.
You do a disservice when you produce a Food Issue but don’t point out the health benefits of exclusively eating whole plant foods. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell shows the science behind the conclusion that eating only whole plant foods will virtually eliminate most of the diseases that debilitate and kill Americans: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus), osteoporosis, kidney stones and macular degeneration. While some may not be willing to forgo meat, dairy and refined foods (sugar, soft drinks, white bread, white rice, etc.), a significant number would choose this path to a long, healthy life once introduced to the scientific evidence.
CRAIG S. JORDAN
Yes, we need to boycott industrial agriculture (Wendell Berry), improve school lunches (Troy Duster and Elizabeth Ransom), maintain and improve biodiversity (Vandana Shiva), change laws (Eric Schlosser) and so on. But we as individuals cannot make any of these changes happen immediately. What we can do today is follow Peter Singer’s advice to become vegetarians or vegans. With our very next meal we can choose not to participate in “the biggest system of cruelty to animals,” which is part of our “not ethically defensible system of food production.” As a vegan of twenty years’ standing, I can put to rest the rumor that this is too radical or too difficult.
Peter Singer states, “Going vegetarian is a good option, and going vegan, better still.” This is not sound advice and is potentially dangerous. Strict vegan diets are deficient in the essential vitamin B12, whose only source in nature, for humans, is animal products. Diets lacking in vitamin B12 can lead to potentially fatal anemia and crippling neurological disease. These complications can be avoided by taking vitamin pills containing vitamin B12.
RONALD F. RIEDER, MD
Isn’t our fast-food landscape/culture a product of new pressures on women’s time, as well as expectations about their service as earners, shoppers, house managers and, of course, fabulous cooks and clean-up wizards? Shouldn’t your smart, progressive writers take women’s real lives into account? I have a hard time imagining the average working mom shopping in six places for locally grown organic ingredients and then taking two hours cooking and dining with the family and then enjoying scrubbing the pots. I’m a farmers’ market nut and organic gardener, but when I think about women’s time and duties and desires, I see the allure of the drive-up window.
I was surprised that you did not discuss crop patenting and single-season seeds. Industrialized farms are commonly planted with patented single-season seeds incapable of producing viable seeds. We are becoming dependent upon infertile crops controlled by industry, which is actually eliminating and/or prohibiting the use of natural seeds. These industries show their good will by “donating” their seeds to Third World countries (replacing replenishable crops with ones that must be corporately replenished). The systematic replacement of the world’s edible vegetation with nonpollenating plants is horrifying.
New York City
The Food Issue documents the emerging movement for food justice and against corporate control of our diet. Similar mobilizing is going on against global tobacco, alcohol, automobile, firearms and pharmaceutical industries, which also profit from products that damage health and the environment. Defining a common agenda and building coalitions among these groups of activists, workers, consumers, health professionals and victims, has the potential to revitalize a progressive movement for social justice, health, environmental protection and democracy.
Broken Arrow, Okla.
In our ancient languages “God,” “good” and “food” had the same mother. Happiness means I have food. Our government’s unholy alliances with the polluters and profiteers is destroying the garden given us to tend. The latest example, promoted by the food conglomerates and headed to the Senate, is the National Uniformity for Food Act. It says that local food laws cannot be stricter on food purity and safety than the watered-down federal law, which violates more than 200 local requirements. It attacks small farmers wanting to produce better, safer and more nutritious food.
J. RAY HUNT
The decline of our food quality coincided with the pitting of farmers against one another for the bottom of the price barrel. As in industry, government favors centralization, consolidation and regulation of ag production. The biggest influence on consolidation is the income tax code, which favors large corporations run by accountants who know the loopholes and the lobbies. One solution is to pass the Fair Tax bill, already in Congress.
Kansas City, Mo.
In the fullness of its supercentenarian wisdom, The Nation has presented a model symposium on conscientious gastronomy. Until proven wrong I shall dare to regard the moment as a signal event in the long course of Brillat’s vindication and to hope that (all other approaches having failed) the way to men’s minds runs through their stomachs.
We get pasteurized milk rather than raw milk, which is twenty times better, so I made up this poem: I’m Lester, 96 years old
Grew up on a farm.
Had learned to face the heat & cold
Thought raw milk could do no harm.
Hauled out loads of cow manure
But what to do about Pasteur?