Digesting Our Politically Correct Food

By Susan Lutz

Eating well means we must understand what healthy ingredients are. Then, we must find, prepare, and finally consume them. In each one of these steps, a pile of information, contradictions, and blockades pop up like a viscous video game, trying to keep us away from our goal of optimum health.

I find it hard enough to battle my own appetite in the quest for good health. Sugar tastes really good. So does salt. Between the battle of calories between chips and candy, I think I’m doing well for my health by choosing vegetables, fruits, and organic products. Yet, I fall short and cave in occasionally. Something I notice when I chew on a chip or down some ice cream is how much cheaper it is to fill up on this stuff.

I started reading food labels back in college when the idea of health and watching what we ate and what it was composed of became more mainstream. I focused on trying to avoid food additives, food coloring, and sugar. Every year since then, it seems another ingredient is added to the list of things-that-are-horrible-for-you. When I was a kid, doughnuts were thought of as kind-of healthy. (I mean they had wheat in them.) We’ve probably all, at times, thought we were “wholesome” products such as granola, cookies, or pizza only to find out that they’re loaded with corn syrup or low-grade industrial cooking oils, or refined grains.

Turns out, many of these not-so-healthy ingredients are subsidized by the government. And if we aren’t eating soy, grains like wheat, corn, rice, our livestock are. Even if we make a huge effort to stay away from these foods, we probably eat them at some time or another. According to this New York Times article:

Between 1995 and 2010, the government doled out $170 billion in agricultural subsidies to finance the production of these foods, the latter two in part through subsidies on feed grains….Most are used as feed for livestock, turned into biofuels or converted to cheap products and additives like corn sweeteners, industrial oils, processed meats and refined carbohydrates.

Trying to avoid these foods seems impossible. Fill up a bag with organic foods and a comparable bag of “regular” food. Feeding a family with the former is really difficult for most budgets. In addition, the government wanted to allow the non-labeling of food.

The Dark Act, a bill to stop labeling of GMO food, failed in the Senate in March of 2016. Free to move forward, the Vermont’s law requiring food to be labeled took effect July 1, 2016.  Those opposed to GMO foods, claim victory only for now, yet still fear a reconstructed form of the bill could come forth in the year to come.

Information drives a consumer to make choices. Price can be the final factor. When choosing to feed a family, many of us must opt for those products because they are cheaper. And then, we get hooked. Our diet is constructed around these products. Changing my eating habits and information took years. Stopping for an organic, grass-fed, dairy cow’s ice cream could be out of the budget and often out reach, literally, for many families. Frozen ice pops in the local market’s freezer in fun-filled flavors are always ready, available, and priced to sell.

The Fight for a Decent, Fair Cup of Coffee

By Susan Lutz

One week coffee gets a bad wrap, the next a good one. Which is it? Is coffee good for us? Killing us? Destroying the environment? Causing cancer? Delightfully tasty? Or all of the above? From the deep grind of espresso to the convenient, light fair of the K-Cup, we love it. However, are we taking care of the earth and the growers as we sip down our brew and satiate that morning, afternoon, and even evening desire?

One day with a few minutes to spare on an errand run, I stopped in Dunkin’ Donuts. When I was growing up, the brand stood for doughnuts – lots of them. It was a sinful, delightful treat and soon became a sign of too much. Yet, Dunkin’s found a way to turn the focus more on coffee and a bit less on the doughnut part. In part, getting a sugary latte-something will replace a hole a doughnut is waiting to fill. When I approached the door, I saw a Fair Trade sticker on a poster advertising that Dunkin’ Donuts buys Fair Trade beans for espresso. I was thrilled to get my double espresso over ice knowing it was Fair Trade. The joy goes down a notch when I’m handed the disposable cup – a glitch in all take-out facilities. The cup I received wasn’t Styrofoam, though I know Dunkin’ was famous for those white cups. NYC banned Styrofoam take-out containers. Dunkin’ says it’s working on phasing out the material all together.

On the other side of the block, Starbucks takes on the same issues: the material of the take-out cups, the origin of the coffee, and the treatment of the people who grow and pick the beans. Starbucks purchases from Fairtrade International and other sources, including the company’s own Coffee and Farmer Equity Program called Ethically Sourcing. Starbucks claims 95% of their coffee is ethically sourced:

The cornerstone of our approach is Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices, one of the coffee industry’s first set of sustainability standards, verified by third-party experts. Developed in collaboration with Conservation International (CI), C.A.F.E. Practices has helped us create a long-term supply of high-quality coffee and positively impact the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and their communities.

On the other side of taste and quality comes the K-Cup. Sales tripled just a few years ago. The convenient one-cup brewer tripled, making an increase of over 200% and over 31 billion in sales in 2011. Perhaps campaigns to kill the small plastic cups with just a one-time use put a dent in sales.

Today, the outlook looks a bit bleaker for the convent cup. Holiday sales reported a sixth straight quarter loss in sales by Keurig. The sale of the little cups is down too. Consumers are heading back to the barista and other traditional ways to make coffee. The first time I saw one of these machines, a natural “yuck” look came across my face like I’d just sucked on a lemon. Instinctively, I imagined that all that plastic making one little watery cup of coffee was just a bad idea. Today, I notice the machines pushed further back into the corners of offices, the dying K-Cup tossed asunder, forgotten, and ignored. Keurig’s slow response to changing the plastic cups into something recyclable by 2020 must not have sat well with coffee drinkers. Really? 2020? (Read my article on The Many Shades of Green for more information). The consumer has spoken.

This year, the Dietary Guidelines for the U.S. looked at coffee and health. They concluded that coffee was part of a “healthy lifestyle.” Not just one or two cups of coffee but up to five.

“Strong and consistent evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range…is not associated with increased risk of major chronic diseases.”

Eating five celery sticks is healthy; five glasses of water is great, but five cups of coffee? Studies like this succumb to our coffee desires. We will continue to get reports about the good and the bad of coffee. I’m waiting for more studies to look at the high level of pesticides used to grow the crop and the effect this has on workers and consumers.

Though sales go up and down, the desire grows and the consumers of coffee get younger. I watch kids order from coffee houses with ease and authority. They sit at tables with a steamy cup of joe. Coffee hooks us with the smooth image of connection. At the coffee house, neighborhood store, coffee machine in the corner, we’re drawn towards getting along for that sweet amount of time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

mapCommodities inherently demand we get along on a global scale. We can’t drink, eat, and wear things when we have no idea where they came from. We can’t ignore the people planting and picking the crop. A simple map quickly shows who wants the coffee and who grows it.

We can no longer take for granted whether or not a product is good for us, environmentally sound, and treats the farms well just because it’s packaged well or the latest scientific study says it’s healthy. We’re smarter than that. We have the power to demand more from the giants who sell us our daily grind.

How the Purchase of Cotton Pants and Panties Can Change the World

By Susan Lutz

When shopping, the world sits on my shoulder. I feel it. Products scream at me: buy me! I’m a deal! Good for your pocketbook! Just what you want – what your kids need – stylish! I slide shirts down the rack, wondering who made it, what chemicals were used in the fields, and if the product is GMO. Food tops the list when we think of buying organic and fair trade. However, cotton must be added to our list and be a part of our consciousness as it’s an important crop to choose organic and fair trade.

The Organic Consumer’s Association highlighted aspects of a report by The Institute of Science in Society. It called cotton a “triple-threat…because it produces fiber, food, and feed….Monsanto Corporation has been a major source of genetically modified (GM) cotton lines.”

Cotton ranks as one of the highest producer of GMOs, falling in line with soy, canola, and corn. The Environmental Justice Foundation put out a report siting the commodity of cotton and the dangers it poses to workers, which include children, in the fields.

Pants, shoes, shirts, yoga clothes, and even panties, can be produced with organic cotton and fair trade certification. So much bedding, pillows, shoes, and of course clothes contain cotton. The cotton crop is estimated at $32 billion yearly.

With children, and especially with teenagers, grabbing the latest styles is tempting so many brands sell at cheaper prices due to the above-named factors. By dusting the crops with chemicals and using non-fair trade labor tactics, the price point goes down. I look to several practical solutions to introduce the use of organic cotton into our lives. I won’t be able to buy everything fair trade or organic. So, I work on choosing one area I can commit to and get as much out of my dollar while also supporting environmentally friendly products.

  • Going to the thrift store can stretch an item’s use – no one had to work in the fields a second time to put it up for sale. The second use recycles and produces less of an environmental impact all-around.
  • Decide on choosing a few items that will last – a great t-shirt made from organic cotton or a pair of organic cotton fair trade jeans – probably love them more, appreciate them more, and enjoy them more, too!
  • Pick one item and buy only fair trade and/or organic within that department. Green panties are a good start. Just like food, I can’t swing buying all organic; however, I commit to a few items and stick with it.

Never underestimate the power of our voice through out purchases

 

Organic Humor: Videos to Check Out, Share, and Enjoy

By Susan Lutz

The food wars rage on. Good things are happening. We as consumers are getting savvy about what’s in our food and the path it takes to get to our table. Here is a quick look at some of the funny, poignant, and entertaining clips I love. Humor gets the point across like no other. As Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

The more we share these clever ideas, the more it will reach an audience, open a door, and perhaps, start a conversation and a new way of thinking.

Cuke Vador? Ham Solo? My kids love this video and it makes me chuckle every time I see it. The Grocery Store Wars is perfectly timed to circulate again with the new (and old) audiences o Star Wars. The props are funny; the lines are cheeky and clever.

This video captures the ridiculous concept of marketing and the power of the written word. Every time I shop, I laugh and gasp at corporations’ claims that their product is “all natural.” After reading the ingredient list, there’s nothing natural about the preservatives, the dyes, and unpronounceable things that start with “p.” I giggle at the amazing pull of advertising and marketing to make us all feel better about paying for close-enough to organic products. Great script. Hilarious.

This video is clever. The satire is on the mark. Simply and with razor-sharp wit, it questions why we had to mess with nature at all. Guess the job just wasn’t up to Monsanto’s standard.

Genetic Scientists Develop Sheep With Brain Of A Goat – The Onion published this short clip showing the overall ridiculous world of altering life on the planet. I realized that I smiled from beginning to end.

Climate Change Deniers Anthem: Beau Bridges plays the Koch brothers; the singers gather to offer up an anthem, We are the World style, that we’re just fine. The climate’s not changing – polar bears are fine; Al Gore’s a liar; and the earth’s temperatures are not rising. We’re fine!

When something’s funny, it hits a chord. The power of video can spread consciousness in a way that isn’t so preachy. Humor may save us all, as nothing can stand against the wave of its assault. Watch and see.

 

 

 

 

Actions Around the World – Issues to Keep Up with and Watch for the Coming Year

By Susan Lutz

Over the past weeks and months, ideas that began at the grassroots movements finally found movement forward in actions by governments and organizations. As consumers who are opening our eyes, becoming more aware, and utilizing our voices to take action, let’s take a moment to absorb the success and change that has happened so far. Here are a few of the big ones:

1. Microbeads Banned – Those tiny microbeads clogging up the waterways and reeking havoc on the ecosystem were finally banned by the U.S. government. The President signed the bill in late December:

“H.R. 1321, the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015,” which prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads…”

2. FDA Issues New Safety Rules: Strides were made with the new FDA standards for farmers. Some farms will be able to coordinate efforts – a victory seen for small farmers and the reality of modern day food growers. Food safety plans must be implemented, and again, smaller farmers will be given the ability to provide smaller plans, a much more realistic goal.

3. France Bars Big Supermarkets from Throwing Out Food: Legislation in France is banning large supermarket chains from throwing out food and is instead enforcing food donations to local charities. Though not the answer to the seed level issue, the act provides some relief to the problem of food shortages and food waste in the country – something to watch and learn from and a good model for other countries.

4. United States Fish and Wildlife Reclassifies Hunting: The USFW put out a report in December 2015 concerning the classification of animals as endangered. Lions in West and Central Africa will now be considered “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Lions from other parts of Africa, such as in the south and east, will be regarded as threatened. What does this mean for trophy hunters? For one thing, importing lion body parts will be prohibited. And this is a huge part of the bragging rights of a trophy hunter. The effects these changes have on the population and treatment of lions will need to be monitored. Yet, perhaps it’s a step in awareness plus…

As we roll into 2016, what more can we do? Banning microbeads is important, but yet again, at the seed level how was this allowed in the first place? Without question, there will be so much to watch for in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

What the Climate Accord Means at Home

By Susan Lutz

treaty-paris-UN
Photo by UN.org

With the agreement of a landmark accord reached between 196 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and commit to truly working towards change, the planet has a chance to survive. We have a shot at making it.

Something happened when I heard the news of the accord. I didn’t rush to look up all the details of the agreement. Instead of wondering about the facts, I felt a sense of peace. It was as if what we do on the local level and in our homes really does matter. When nations all over the globe decided to finally get to work on these issues, get our priorities straightened out, and look the problem in the eye, it made the daily tasks I do in my home actually feel like they make a difference.

If the nations had fought to no avail, looked the other way, or ignored the problem, and gone home without an agreement, I think all of us would have felt a little differently. Perhaps in a subtle way, we might have stopped working so hard. We might have lost hope. It is hard to fight such a large battle without the unity of nations and without leadership at the highest levels.

Now, I can look again at my habits that help curb waste, lower greenhouse gases, and bring stability and life into our existence. Sorting out trash and recycling, and using that glass bottle over and over again, doesn’t seem like wasted effort. Taking the bus or carpooling feels like a good choice. Buying less stuff finally feels like it adds up to a real solution.

With acknowledgement at the highest levels, we can now look optimistically towards our future. It’s time to look into new ways to lower my impact on the planet. None of this change is easy, but we’ve spent too much time taking the easy way out. There’s something we can do every day to change things for the better.

Now that the big players are part of the game, we have a chance at winning.

We’re Melting

By Susan Lutz

Forests are dying. Polar bears starving, ice caps shrinking. The list grows. We’ve spent a lifetime stomping on the planet and now world leaders gather in the hopes of finding a solution before we hit the tipping point. Can we pull back? Can we save ourselves?

I read positive stories: a community garden in Haiti becomes a center of growth and revitalization; the price of solar power is dropping fast and becoming an extremely viable alternative energy source; climate adapted strategies are manifesting and working to stabilize wildlife. Around towns, I see trees being planted, youth conversing about important issues. This is great. And there are many more examples of success and ideas which are moving us forward.

Yet, I read bad news, too: the UK starts to cut millions of dollars from its renewable resources; the threat of disease increases due to insects gaining the ability to live longer and travel farther; the sea level is rising; and of course, we’ve all seen the pictures of the polar bears starving. Some days, it’s hard to read the news. Some days it does seem like we’re just going to tip over and sink.

I recently heard a lecture on the cause and effect of our actions and the impact our choices have on climate change. The most interesting, and most powerful, I thought, was this: What are we willing to give up? In this country, the majority of cars during rush hour consist of single drivers. Bottled water and soda fill our vending machines, and we don’t give a second thought to the short pleasure we get versus the amount of toxins in each bottle. We like our stuff. We like our creams, cars, deals online, new phones, and processed, over-packaged foods.

The summit on climate change brings together world leaders. The model of coming together to talk; understanding our differences; taking note of those suffering the most; and, moving forward with dialogue. Regardless of how difficult the task is, it is one we must implement from the highest of offices to the grass-roots level.

We wait too long to act. We wait to change gun laws until terror steps into our cafes (if even then). We wait to ban trophy hunting and poaching and watch as species become threatened and face habitat loss and even become extinct. We’re slowly melting under the take-the-money-and-run philosophy of getting what we need, now, and forgetting how it will hurt us in the future.

When my son picked up an acorn the other day, he thought it was the grandest of discoveries. I held it up and told him it was amazing. We carried it with us as if it were a piece of gold. Our food supply, our land, our water – they truly are gold. We must realize this now, or we will watch as the world melts and slowly slips away.