Sunday, January 26, 2014

Meatless Monday Hits Close to Home

A few days ago a friend alerted me to something posted on the Dillon’s website. This friend was shocked to see a message extolling the environmental benefits of meatless Monday.  Yes, this is our Dillons, the grocery store down the block, the store that offers points toward your next gas purchase. This is the same Dillons supermarket chain that started right here in Kansas, and the same Dillons offering that a good way to go green would be to abstain from meat on Mondays.
My first reaction was that they must have forgotten their roots and that is seemed a little funny for a store to promote not buying their product. Dillon’s customers viewing the sight were informed that going “green” could mean forgoing the consumption of meat because it was the most resource intensive food on our table. They went on to say that animal agriculture requires large amounts of water, grain land and soil. Finally, the website stated that reducing the amount of meat we consume would be the single most sustainable decision that could be made.
Before you start a boycott of Dillons, it must be said that following e-mail protests the posting was taken down and the procurement manager had promised that the meatless campaign had been shelved. So for the time being, its seems as though this crisis has been averted by an alert rancher with the awareness to address the situation quickly. Hopefully there were not too many consumers who saw this bad information and fewer still who acted upon it.
However, there is a greater message to come from all of this. Groups who would try to damage animal agriculture are making in-roads into nearly every aspect of our lives. When you have propaganda straight from PETA and HSUS seeping into main-stream grocery store websites with totally false information, you have a problem that must be addressed. That means each and everyone of us should be an advocate for agriculture
Our problem is one of public relations; we are not doing a very good job of getting the word out about how great farmers and ranchers are as stewards of the resources entrusted to us. We take a very limited about of natural resources and produce more food than could have ever been imagined even ten years ago. We also do a wonderful job of protecting the air, soil and water. I would offer up that the meat on your table is actually environmentally friendly.
All agricultural producers constantly strive to develop production methods that leave a smaller environmental footprint. I do not know a single farmer or rancher who isn’t committed to protecting the natural resources that we all depend on. At the same time we are charged with feeding a growing world population and the idea that a grocery store chain would be saying otherwise is mind boggling.
I know that they are victims of bad information. Groups like HSUS and PETA are very successful in extrapolating data and twisting facts to promote their agendas. The fact of the matter is that meat, of any kind, is a nutrient rich food that is a vital part of a balanced diet and should be on our plates every, single day. All the while, you can feel reassured that it has been raised in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The fact remains that meat is an efficient use of our resources. Animals can utilize large areas of land that cannot be farmed by grazing the naturally occurring grasses. They also can process grains much more efficiently and produce a product with much needed proteins and vitamins. We also know that farmers and ranchers constantly work to insure that our soil and water, in fact they are many times cleaner now than they have ever been historically.
We must tell those truths to everyone we meet. I truly believe that the public wants to trust us, but are too susceptible to bad information disguised as helpful information. We have all heard the adage, “I read it on the internet so it must be true.” Those opposing us are very good at spreading their propaganda; they know what they are doing. However, we have something they do not have, facts.
We must all be ready to respond when we notice things like this seemingly benign posting on a grocery store website.  I applaud the alert producer who noticed this poorly thought out posting, we all owe you a pat on the back. I hope this will alert Dillons to the need to be more attune to the information they put their name on. We are all in this together.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Maybe a Tropical Vortex?

“How cold is it outside”, asked both kids in a single chorus. With great flare and fanfare, I announced, “It is the coldest temperatures you have ever seen in your lifetime!” OK, at that moment I realized that I would fail as a motivational speaker. I could not imagine why they were slow and whiney putting on their heaviest winter clothing to do chores. This was historically cold weather, the thing legends were made of.
Years from now I can just hear them telling their kids about the winter of ’14 just like I was telling them about the winter of ’83 or was is ’88. You remember, it was the year it was so cold we had to thaw the matches out to start a fire (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The weather man said we were in for a polar vortex. Really a polar vortex, is that a new term, do they make this stuff up as it happens?
In any case, it was going to get cold, bone chilling cold, the coldest temperatures in twenty plus years. The preparations on our farm started days in advance. Extra hay was hauled; water tanks were de-iced and barns were winter-proofed.  We even bought heated water buckets. Never in my life did I think I would pay that much for a stupid water bucket.
Saturday dawned cloudy but tolerable.  Final preparations for the Arctic experience shifted into a frantic pace. Lambing was expected to start at any minute and the most burgeoning patients were ushered into the lambing barn complete with heat lamps, deep straw and insulated walls. Our big red barn was outfitted with more heat lamps (I have the distinction of having a higher electric bill in January and February than the summer) and deeper straw. On a side note, yes heat lamps and straw may seem to be a bad combination but I highly recommend the heat lamps with the plastic safety covering.
OK, back to our big red barn, the next wave of expectant sheep was moved in to one of the two pens.  The walls may not be insulated but they at least block the wind. That barn managed to stay a relatively balmy fifteen degrees on the positive side when the cold cruel world outside was in the negative. We filled the feeders and unrolled more hay for the critters that did not have a barn. Finally, in a flash of near brilliance I made a wind break with round bales for the animals in the barn yard.
That evening we headed to the house after ten hours of intense barnyard remodeling. The final thing to do was to bring our three dogs inside for a couple of rare nights by the fire. Our dogs are outside dogs and pride themselves in that fact. It took quite a bit of convincing to get them to come through the door. However, later on that evening I am quite convinced that they were the only ones who thought the polar vortex was a good thing.
That night and most of the next two days were spent feeding the wood stove and worrying in between trips out to the maternity ward to check on the ewes. The funny thing about those trips was that it took longer to get ready than it did to actually check. Thankfully, our ewes were much brighter than I give them credit for being and no lambs were born during the much ballyhooed vortex.
Chores were the focus of our attention during this frigid extended weekend (town kids may have gotten a day off, but farm kids would have preferred to be in school). Each morning we headed to the barn and with the speed and precision of a NASCAR pit crew we blew through chores in record times. I guess I should be more honest; they were really more like a NASA space walk, slow because of bulky, awkward clothing because of the dangerous environment we were working in.
Then came Tuesday morning, school resumed and my chore help left me. I was not scared, the forecast called for a relative heat wave of nearly thirty degrees. The light at the end of the tunnel was the bright shining sun in the sky; we were going to make it. After all, everything had survived and I had all of my fingers and toes. Life was good. That was when I found out both outside hydrants were frozen. I am rooting for a tropical vortex in the near future.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bad Dietary Advice From the Internet

I admit it; I am a social media junkie. Facebook and Twitter take up way too much of my time. In brief moments of clarity, I fear as a society we are substituting this for real conversations and interactions. It is not all bad; I have reconnected with many old friends, made new friends and caught up with family. I find many entertaining items, some that make me laugh and others that make me think. However, too often I find really bad information shared by good people with the best of intentions.
I have read posts chiding abstinence from dairy products because they produce mucus in our systems and cancer cells feed off of the mucus. Wow, that is appealing. The same post also claimed that a meat based diet is acid and cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment. It also leaves you with the equally appealing visual when it states that meat is hard to digest and this undigested meat rots in your colon.
The person who wrote this lovely little piece of creative writing claims to have information from John Hopkins. I can only assume this is a gentleman named John Hopkins who must have a vivid (if not gross) imagination. It cannot possibly be tied in any way to any validated, peer reviewed research by a credible university or hospital. Oh and this person also advocates avoiding tap water because of the heavy metals and distilled water because it is acidic.
This is not an isolated piece of misinformation; Facebook and Twitter are very good at spreading bad ideas. I have seen posts linking food consumption to all kinds of maladies and diseases with absolutely no credible facts to back up their claims.  Unfortunately that does not stop the authors from making their wild accusations and even more unfortunately it does not stop well-meaning people from believing them.
Don’t get me wrong I am no nutritionist, but I do think I have a good grasp on nutrition. In fact, at times maybe I have too good of a grasp of nutrition. I certainly fall in the category of do as I say and not as I do when it comes to eating. I am as guilty of not eating a healthy diet as anyone, but I understand where I go wrong.  I do understand the fundamentals of proper nutrition and it is not all that complicated.
The grains, vegetables, fruits and meat we grow are healthy in their most basic forms. This is regardless of whether they are local, organic, natural, anti-biotic free, conventional or gmo, almost all food ingredients in their purest forms are healthy. We are the ones who make our food unhealthy. We process it, put additives in it, sugar it, salt it, fry it and adulterate our food to death (literally).
Probably the best rule of thumb, when it comes to food, is that the more processed the food item, the unhealthier it is.  I know, we are all busy and cooking takes time so it is easier to grab fast food, snacks from a vending machine or something down the isle of the nearest mini-mart. Believe me, I am the worst example of reaching for fast foods, but I realize I am wrong and I blame myself and not the ingredients.
While we are on the subject of eating, it is also important point out that too much of anything is not good. We live in a world of super-sized portions and little balance. Again, this is a problem that is very familiar to me. I tend to find something I like and eat too much of it. I patronize places with large portions. Balance and moderation are good themes to live by.
Too often I see “experts” blame the food with wild claims that cannot be proven by any credible, unbiased research. Often these “experts” have other agendas. We all want to blame something and too often it is too easy to blame food, farmers and others than really examining our own lifestyles, diets and taking responsibility for our own actions.
Just remember as you browse through the minefield of social media that hidden among the bloopers, cute kid footage and other entertainment is some really bad information. Before you spread bad and false information, please take the time to research the source and cast a critical eye on wild claims.  Remember, there really is nothing more uncommon than common sense especially in the realm of social media nutritional advice.