Disclaimer: As I’ve said many times throughout my blog I’m just a patient not any kind of expert, particularly not of food or nutrition, so thoughts stated in this post are just my own observations.
When I started my blog I put a few recipes up and just expected it to be read by half a dozen British people with histamine problems. I had no idea the number of visitors I would have from other countries, particularly America, which has made me conscious of the differences in foods between the UK and other countries.
There have been a couple of excellent documentaries on tv here in the past couple of months. One of which was Horizon which looked at the environmental cost of meat production and consumption. It was difficult for me as a vegetarian to watch, and I kind’ve sneaked a peak from behind my cushion at all the dead bloody carcasses hanging up, but quite an eye opener in terms of how food is produced particularly in the States.
I’ve read about Paleo diets in the course of my health investigations and they all mention eating “grass fed beef”. It’s always had me a bit stumped – what on earth else would you be feeding cows other than grass?! I had no idea that on large scale American beef farms there is not a blade of grass in sight and that cows are fed on a dry diet made from corn. In contrast, Britain is a tiny country and simply doesn’t have room for farming on this scale. All our cows are put out to pasture for most of the year, although obviously in deep winter there is no grass production and they are fed on sileage (a grass product grown in summer and stored for feed in winter) and other dried cereal food mixes.
One argument against vegetarianism is that there isn’t enough land for us all to grow plant foods, but it’s such a load of old tosh. Cattle and sheep take up vast areas of land for grazing, and on top of that we have to put a similar amount of land aside to grow cereal crops and grass for sileage to feed cattle in winter (and in America all year round). Without sheep and cattle we’d have vast areas of agricultural land. In recent years there has been a small push here in the UK to try and get people to have one meat-free day per week to try and reduce our beef consumption in particular, though I’m sad to say it hasn’t really worked. In terms of milk and milk by-products like cheese IMHO we need to focus on goats, sheep or hardier cattle breeds which can survive on non-agricultural land, eg. heathland and hills (or in America more desert-like conditions as goats do in Africa).
Our current large scale cattle farming methods means we have a huge problem with animal by-products (or poop to you and me). I live next door to a dairy farm and trust me when I say they produce humongous amounts of poo. It never crosses the average consumer’s mind where all this stuff goes to and I’m sure they’d be horrified to know that much of it ends up in our fresh water supply, along with the chemical fertilizers used to grow the grass for the cows in the first place!
I had no idea that cows were routinely given antibiotics in America which are actually banned here in Europe. It makes me glad that, for many years, I’ve bought organic dairy products wherever possible, because the over-use of drugs in dairy herds is widespread on both sides of the pond, and although some drugs are still allowed in organic farming they’re not anywhere near on the scale of those used in non-organic. It now makes perfect sense to me why health-conscious Americans are so careful about what kind of beef and other meats they consume.
The other thing I’ve never understood when reading about American food is “high fructose corn syrup”. I had no clue what this was as it simply doesn’t feature on English food labels. I discovered that in Europe HFCS is called Fructose-Glucose Syrup and, although is still doesn’t seem to feature anywhere near as highly in Britain as America, you will often see it in biscuits and cakes.
I also didn’t understand the whole “corn” debate in America as the only corn we consume here is the odd tin of Sweetcorn, until I realised that “corn” is actually what we call “maize” and is fairly widely grown (though not as widely as wheat). We don’t think of maize as being unhealthy in any way however and the little girl my parents sponsor in Africa lives on the stuff (along with yams and goat’s meat, milk and by-products) and she’s as fit as a fiddle. Maize has been around since pre-historic times according to Wikipedia, (which blows the paleo non-grain eating ancestor theory totally out of the window) so I guess it all boils down to what you do to it post-harvest, ie. the mixing of it with sugars to form HFCS!
However, in Britain and Europe we don’t grow genetically modified maize (corn) or any other GM crop, and I’d certainly feel differently about eating maize if we did. America, on the other hand, is the largest GM growing country in the world. The problem with growing GM crops is that it negates choice. Once GM crops are grown they naturally cross-pollinate with non-GM crops resulting in contamination. In Britain, no-one would be allowed to class their crops as “organic” if they were GM contaminated and none of us would have the choice of eating non-GM crops if we so desired. With GM, it really is a case of once the Genie is out of the bottle there is no way of putting it back in. Not everyone agrees, however, as this recent article in the Observer newspaper points out.
We have an ever increasing population and ever dwindling land and resources with which to feed us all. The problem is vast and complex. On the one hand people in certain parts of the world are starving and on the other in some western countries three quarters of the population are obese.
We in the developed world throw away obscene amounts of food, and food packaging, every day. One thing making everything from scratch has taught me is to be less wasteful – you don’t spend hours slaving away in the kitchen to then chuck the food in the bin, and I scrape every last drop of the sauces I make out of the jar! I personally would like to see the issue of food waste tackled rather than growing GM crops or feeding cows in ways that are so removed from their natural habit it’s grotesque.
There are solutions to our food production and consumption problems, but they’re incredibly difficult to implement. It’s easier to just grow more food (let’s ignore the fact that half of everything we produce goes to landfill!) than to change people’s food buying and cooking habits (which for a start would mean every company which produces TV dinners would go out of business). One thing is for sure – the current state of affairs isn’t working and simply can’t carry on.