Category Archives: Food & Farm

Grocery shopping can be HARD

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Shopping for groceries can be overwhelming. Trying to balance a budget and nutrition while deciphering food labels can challenge even the most experienced supermarket veteran. Most of the terms found in big, bright letters on packages in the supermarket have one thing in common: marketing. Companies are being pressured to change their formulations and their labels by consumers who may or may not know the truth behind the claims made by pseudo-experts and – even worse – celebrities. Fear-based marketing is alive and well, and the supermarket is a true feeding frenzy of misinformation, half-truths and fearmongering.

To help you sort through all the jargon, here are some clues for solving the mystery of buying nutritious, affordable food for your family.

  1. Poultry and pork products labeled “raised without added hormones,” aren’t any different from other poultry and pork. In fact, growth hormones of any kind are not approved for use (I mean their use is illegal) when raising chickens or pigs, so ALL poultry and pork is free from added hormones. Labeling pork and poultry as “raised without added hormones” is about the same as labeling water as “wet.” True, but unnecessary.
  2.  “Antibiotic free” is another tricky one. If an animal gets sick, farmers must provide care for that animal. This isn’t an isolated case – if you or children are sick, you visit a doctor and seek medically appropriate treatment. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to determine the best care plan for their livestock and administer antibiotics judiciously. If an animal is treated with antibiotics, a strict withdrawal period must be followed to allow ample time for the medicine to pass through the animal’s system. Antibiotics used in meat animals don’t enter our food system.
  3. “All natural,” doesn’t even actually have a definition. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don’t have rules about what constitutes an “all natural” food, so beware of products boasting this label and charging a premium price.
  4. GMOs or genetically modified organisms aren’t new to the farm/food scene and they’re not scary. Farmers have been improving plants for more than 10,000 years; biotechnology is just a more precise, efficient way of identifying and selecting traits that improve a plant’s ability to grow and thrive in difficult conditions, all while requiring fewer natural resources and chemicals. GMOs are the safest, most tested foods on the planet and more than 2,000 independent scientific studies agree that GMOs are safe for us to eat. Genetic modification isn’t an ingredient, it’s a plant-breeding method, and that’s why it hasn’t been listed on food packages.
  5. “Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean the food was grown on a small farm or that it was raised without chemicals. Farmers of all sizes choose to grow both conventional and organic crops, and all food, regardless of how it was raised, must meet strict safety regulations before you can purchase it in the grocery store. Organic growers use pesticides, some of them are just different than the ones used by #ModernAg. Further, there is no nutritional difference between organically grown food and that raised using conventional methods. Choose organic if you wish – just don’t be fooled by the propaganda and misinformation.
  6. “Cage Free” poultry is another marketing term that can give consumers fits. Broilers, the name for chickens raised for meat, are not kept in cages. Again, it’s like marketing water as “wet.”

Choices are important to all of us, and there’s room in farming for a wide range of production methods to provide us with in-demand food choices. We are fortunate to live in the United States, where we have the most abundant, affordable and safe food supply in the world. Make good choices, and don’t fear your food!

No. No, Darlin’, you didn’t.

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OK so I’m a Southern girl, and aaallll that that implies ( bonus points for those of you who got the Urban Cowboy reference). I’m also a Southern cook, and – yes – Southern gets a capital S. Being a Southern cook, I don’t always use a recipe. When Mama and Granny taught me to cook, they used measurements like “a little of this” and “a dab of that,” and I either understood or figured it out right quick.

And, as I’ve grown older and cooked more, I have modified some of their dishes to suit my taste and that of the DH. But here lately, I’ve been spending some time on the Pinterest, and I’ve found some good recipes. Like with any other social media platform, though, people can’t just read something and leave well enough alone. Nooooooooo. And my silly self read the comments on some of the recipes.

Bad idea, Darlin’.

Because many of them say “I made this…. but” and that’s where things get ugly. “I made this, but instead of potatoes, I used riced cauliflower.” “I made this, but instead of grilled chicken breast, I used me some fatback pork.” “I made this, but I didn’t like ANY of the seasonings you listed, so I used something completely different instead.” And they wonder why it didn’t turn out.’

So, no darlin’, you DIDN’T “make this.” If you were inspired by a recipe to come up with your own, go for it! If you changed half the ingredients so that your dish IN NO WAY resembled the recipe, a knock yourself slick out doing so. But do not go on to someone’s pin or blog or FacePage and tell them “I made this” if you didn’t.

(Yes, I might be cooking supper using a new recipe and blogging at the same time. Go, me!)

Disclaimer: yes, I believe in tweaking recipes, and yes, I do it ALL THE TIME. This is about commenting on some poor chick’s hard-fought attempt at sharing her recipe, and basically telling her how YOU could have done it better. And yes, it’s most always ok to add a dab of bacon grease, unless you’re bakin’ a cake or makin’ a pie.

So, the Cosmos has SPOKEN, Darlin’

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Well, SOMETHING has spoken. Maybe the planets aligned, maybe my inner overachiever has woken up, perhaps it’s simply meant to be. I was on #AgChat last night (if you don’t #AgChat and you are an ag person, you totally should! It’s a Twitter Chat held on Tuesday evenings at 8 eastern, 7 central and will totally connect you with other aggies. Subject is outlined prior, Questions are submitted ahead of time. Check it out.) and those of us who blog were either sharing #AgBrags or (this would be me) bemoaning our lack of performance for the year 2017 and PROMISING to do better in 2018.

Resolutions are like that, right? You get a brand new shiny year, with no screw-ups, and it’s like a kid with fresh school supplies! (My name is Rae, and I have a school/office supply “problem.”)  So the Fates collided (or colluded?) and as my every-Wednesday-morning-9-a.m. alarm went off on my computer, the one that reminds me to post here, I opened my personal email. The email came from National Day Calendar, proclaiming today as National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day.

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That might not be a sign to you, but seeing as how I have had this image:

choc covered cherries

on my desktop since late November, it was a real “AHA!” moment for me. You see, I had been meaning to write a blog post about chocolate covered cherries and the memories they evoke for me. Do not misunderstand – I don’t LIKE them, but my Granny LOVED them, and I loved her, so I ate one when she’d offer it to me when I was a kid.

Isn’t it funny how seeing these on an end cap (this was even her preferred BRAND!) at WalMart can reduce a grown woman to tears?

So. Soak up all that your Granny or your Grandma or your whoever has to give you. Listen to her stories. Learn about the ole days, when they had to walk 10 miles to school, uphill both ways and barefoot. Let her teach you how to cook using measurements like “a little dab” or “about a handful,” or – my personal favorite from MY Granny, “well, till it looks right…”  There will come a time that you, like me, will only have memories. Store up as many as you can.

And for those of you who subscribe to my blog, thank you. I know I have let you down over and over, and I’ve really let myself down more than I have you… I intend to do better with content frequency in this bright shiny new year.

We are more alike than we are not alike, Darlin!

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For the first time in a long time, I found myself with a column deadline looming, and I didn’t immediately know what I was going to write about. Oh, sure, I had some ideas, some subjects, and any of them would have been “fine” for a column.

But you know what? I think that people who take the time to read what I write deserve a lot better than “fine,” so I was in a quandary. As I watched the 2017 Country Music Association Awards, I had an “AHA!” moment and my quandary disappeared. It was on that program that Tyler Perry, an African-American director and actor known for his portrayal of Madea in a number of movies, said these words: “Now it has never been more important, that we all come together, find some common ground, spend some time listening to each other, and realize that we are more alike than we are not alike.”

And he’s right. His remarks were directed at getting people from a variety of backgrounds to come together to make the world a better place, and that’s certainly something we need to do. But I‘m thinking about how very applicable his words are for those of us in agriculture who share our stories about food and farming with the other 98 percent of the population. It’s not always an easy task, often because we know that the non-farm public (by and large) doesn’t “get it,” and they’re different from those of us in agriculture who do.

Really, though, we are all alike in a number of ways. That new first-time mom who is terrified of feeding her baby soy-based formula because she doesn’t understand the science behind GMO plant breeding? She’s not that much different than the farm mom who wants what’s best for her baby, too. The cancer patient who is afraid and hurting, and rants endlessly about glyphosate? He saw something on Facebook relating that chemistry to his disease, and in his condition, he wants some answers… and he’s not going to know if the ones he finds are factual or not.

The vegans who think that, by avoiding animal protein, they’re saving the planet? As farmers, we tout our sustainability practices as doing the right thing for the planet. See? More alike than different.

I’m not a mom, so I’ve never had that new-mom fear of everything, but I can imagine that the responsibility that comes with bringing a little one home from the hospital and being on your own for decision-making is cripplingly overwhelming. I’ve lost loved ones to cancer, as we all have, and yes – I want to know WHY. I like to believe that we all want to do the right thing – the best thing, the thing that is good and healthy for our loved ones. Unfortunately, farmers wrongly get a lot of bad press, when you and I both know that farmers are unmatched when it comes to being good stewards of the land.

It’s part of our job as agriculturalists to be open, accessible, transparent and truthful about modern ag practices. I know, sometimes it’s hard not to respond to a question with “that’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” but we have to try, and we have to tell our stories over and over, in person, on social media and at gatherings where we can be heard.

So the next time you hear an all-time contender for “stupidest question ever,” remember that the person asking it is coming from a place of simply not knowing and, maybe, of fear. Remember that we’re more alike than we are different, and do what you can to answer the questions and get rid of the fear.

 

Walkin the walk, Darlin’

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So I have a friend (don’t we all that THAT friend?) who swears by “clean” eating. She has a Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp by her bed and one in her office, she makes noodles out of organic zucchini, and many of her food-related Facebook posts make my eyes roll so hard that there is danger of falling over.

And this struggle, friends, is very real. She’s a wonderful person. I’ve known her for a long time, and she’s a good Christian woman, a great mother and a loving wife. She’s not woo-crazy on the workout train, but she is concerned about her health and the health of her family, as good mothers should be.

As you can probably guess, we have some fundamental disagreements about food, food safety, animal care standards (she’s a sometimes-vegetarian, which I find to be a huge “missed steak,”) and – of course – big, bad GMOs.

This may come as a shock to some, but I am pretty blunt. (I KNOW! Who’d have thought?) I have learned to dial back the bluntness and ask questions about her fears and beliefs before jumping in with a pile of irrefutable scientific data that makes her feel defensive. That’s hard for me, but I am learning. Nobody wants to be wrong, much less be wrong because they listened to some woo-peddling crackpot wanna-be celebrity… so we often simply agree to disagree.

That said, fellow AGvocates, science is on our side! The National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious scientific groups, looked at more than 90 studies and a large amount of disease data. The conclusion remains that there has been no increase in health risks related to the consumption of food from genetically engineered (GE) plants.

None.

The World Health Organization had the same findings, as did The International Council for Science, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and a whole long list (that I keep handy) of reputable scientific organizations from around the world.

But the Non-GMO Verified Project (they’re the ones with the butterfly label that companies PAY to put on their packaging) is still doing a better job than the agriculture community, swaying people into believing that food from GE plants is bad in a number of ways. I generally refuse to buy anything with that label on it, and I’m sure that one person’s purchasing decisions won’t make a bit of difference in the fearmongering marketing strategy of those companies. As those of us involved in agriculture comprise only two percent of the population, ALL of our purchasing decisions put together won’t move that needle.

But I have made it a point, when I change brands because of fearmongering or anti-GMO or animal housing sentiment, to contact the company I can no longer support with my food dollars and tell them WHY. Again, I’m not what my Granny would call “ugly” about it, just very matter-of-fact. I then also contact the company that has GAINED my business because they don’t hold that same position, and tell them WHY I am a new customer.

Sending these emails and making these contacts is tiring, (Pro Tip: keep a fill-in-the-blanks copy on your desktop – Copy and Paste is your friend), and sometimes I feel as if I am wasting my time. But then I remember a great quote from author Max Lucado that applies to so many aspects of life: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

I am someone, and I can do something. You are also someone, and you can do something. Evaluate your purchases. Are you growing perfectly safe GE crops on your farm but buying things with that goofy butterfly on the label? Are you a proponent of renewable fuels who is burning petroleum-based gas and diesel on the farm?

Back to my friend from the beginning: I think she’s misguided and mistaken in her food beliefs and choices, but she is firm in her beliefs and she’s walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Can we in agriculture say the same?

 

On the subject of brown bananas

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So, darlin’, life is short and uncertain. If you know me at all, you know I’m a “seize the day” kind of girl. Yes, we need to make plans for the long run such as 401k and saving for the future, insurance and the like, but I’m talking about little, everyday choices that can enrich our lives.

For instance:

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While great for making banana bread, these are not what I’d want for my morning snack. They’re past their prime, yet for YEARS my mom had some that looked like these on top of her refrigerator. Oh, she’d buy new bananas on her weekly grocery run, but the house rule was that we had to eat the brown, spotty, mushy bananas before we could have the new ones.

We always HAD bananas, but we stayed a week behind. Drove. Me. Nuts. After I was grown and moved out, and numerous events had happened to decrease my tolerance for living “less than,” I was able to convince my mom to pitch the brown bananas and break the cycle. I am happy to report that she has embraced fresh, yellow bananas and never looked back.

I think many folks “save the good stuff for later,” and what if later never comes? What happens is that your kids or grandkids will come clean out your house after you die, and they’ll find brand new housecoats and fancy soaps in the shape of flowers that have long since lost their scent, still wrapped in petrified plastic wrap. And those things won’t do anyone any good.

So, friends, let’s pledge to ditch the brown bananas, use the monogrammed soap while it still has a scent, and LIVE OUR LIVES. If tomorrow never comes, and some day it won’t, I want to be that person who has enjoyed and savored the life with which I have been blessed. I want you to be that person, too.

Summer is a great time to tell your story, Darlin’ !

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Hey y’all! Summer is almost in full swing, and there’s no better time to share your story with the non-farm public. Chances are, you’ve been planting and spraying, doing a little side-dressing, and maybe you even have a pasture full of spring calves. Your neighbors may have some questions, and you have the answers.

Whether in person or online, there are a number of things that those of us in agriculture take for granted that the non-farm public has no idea about. Example: The Kentucky Soybean Board recently co-sponsored a farm tour with the Kentucky Beef Council, and took a couple of busloads of nutritionists and dietitians to Hill View Farms and Cecil Farms, both near Owensboro. These ladies are highly regarded as experts on food and nutrition, including food safety, yet they were shocked to see Suzanne Cecil White hold up a measuring cup to show just how much (or how little) herbicide is actually sprayed on an acre of crop land. Many of these ladies had no idea that more than 95% of the liquid in the sprayer tank is plain water.

These are intelligent and educated ladies, and they would never knowingly mislead their patients. But how are they to know about agriculture? How are they to KNOW that we aren’t drenching, dousing or drowning our crops in RoundUp once a week? Should they be expected to magically know the levels of chemicals that are applied to our crops? I don’t think so.

I think we have to tell them, and others, just what we’re doing on the farm. And sometimes that’s hard, because U.S. farmers know they’re raising the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. Farmers feed their crops to their own families and livestock. Joe Farmer knows that he and his neighbor down the road have nutrient management plans and that every acre of ground has a record of what was applied, when and why. We know we’re doing the right things for the right reasons, and it’s important that farmers – a naturally modest group – talk about the advances we’ve made in erosion control, nutrient management, animal husbandry and precision application of inputs.

The non-farm public is floored to find that the nozzles on the sprayer shut themselves off if GPS tells them there’s already been a droplet sprayed on an area. They have no idea that, thanks to precision planting technology, you know exactly how many seeds per acre are in a particular field. The fact that you can overlay harvest data on top of planting data and weather records blows their minds.

So this summer, whether you’re at a family reunion cookout or selling sweet corn at the local farmers’ market, be approachable. Tell your story. Open your “barn doors” and let folks know that we have nothing to hide, and that we in agriculture are proud of the efficient, sustainable way we are producing food, feed, fuel and fiber for our families, our country and beyond.