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A Guide to Fixing School Food

June 8, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

By Dana Woldow of P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food

I’ve been working on fixing school food in San Francisco since 2002, and have served as co- chair of my school district’s student nutrition committee for over 7 years. I don’t work for the school district and never have; I am a parent volunteer. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with others who are hoping to drive change in their own school districts. Here are a few key points to understand before jumping into the battle:

1) Fixing school food is a team sport. You will get nowhere on your own, so be sure you have a core group of supporters who share your goals.

2) You have to make the decision going in that, no matter what, you will never, ever ,ever give up until you attain your goal.

3) Change is hard for a bureaucracy, and good bureaucrats always want to do what is easiest; that’s usually just doing what they have always done. You must make these folks realize that you are not going to give up and go away (see #2), that you are going to keep coming at them , and that each time you do, you have more people behind you. Eventually they will realize that it is easier to just give you what you want, rather than continue to do what they have always done while trying to fight you off, and at that point, you will prevail.

4) Fixing school food is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want everyone in the world to like them. There will be those who won’t like you, those who will call you “the food police” or worse, and you may even make a few enemies; you have to be able to shrug that off. I always tell people who are put off by my blunt attitude that fortunately I am not running for Miss Congeniality.

5) Nothing happens overnight. It’s okay to dream big, but break your dream down into smaller pieces which can realistically be achieved. Celebrate every success, even if it is just baby steps. Getting to your ultimate goal will take years; you need to be in this for the long haul.

6) You may not know as much as you think you do about fixing school food. Much (really most) of the media coverage of this issue has been faulty, sometimes misrepresenting the situation, sometimes outright untruths. Some of the loudest voices in the debate have their own agendas to push, which skew the public debate. Try to be aware of who might have partnerships with businesses that may be focused on profit as much as on kids’ health, or a book, TV show, movie, consulting business or service to promote, and be a little skeptical when deciding what to believe. Keep an open mind and be ready to learn from every experience.

7) Every school district is different, and something which works in one place may not work somewhere else. Among the differences are cost of labor, availability of outside funding, quality of facilities, and socioeconomics of the community.8) School food is highly regulated by the government and you have to be aware of all of the regulations; it takes a lot of reading and asking the right questions before you can really understand what is involved in getting to your ultimate goal. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this!

So, with those key points in mind, here is my Everybody’s Guide to Fixing School Food.

Getting Educated

Your very first step towards fixing school food should be Getting Educated. School food is tightly regulated by the USDA; your state and even your own school district may also impose further regulations. If you don’t understand the regs, you will get nowhere with your student nutrition director, and without the cooperation of your student nutrition director, you will get nowhere with fixing school food. A great place to start is with Janet Poppendieck’s excellent book “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.” However, at a certain point, you are going to have to confront The Beast – the sections of the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) that deal with school food. Here is the link:

http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/regulations.htm

Start with SubChapter A – Child Nutrition Programs, Part 210; this part deals only with the National School Lunch Program; the School Breakfast Program has its own enormous set of regs, but if you understand the lunch regs, it will be easier to understand breakfast. Don’t try to read this all in one sitting; rather, think of it as a resource, the first place you go to try to find out what the regulations are. Skim through and get a sense of what is there.

It is important that you be at least familiar with all of the regs Janet P. discusses in her excellent book. There may come a time when someone who does not want to give you what you are requesting tells you that “the regs won’t allow it” and you must be informed enough to know if this person is telling you the truth or just bluffing to make you go away. You will also find that you have to be a teacher of the regs as well as a student; it will be up to you to make sure that others you come into contact with, including your supporters, key district officials, and the media, all understand the regs too. Right now it is a safe assumption that 99% of them don’t; you will have to understand well enough to be able to teach others. This is a process; you don’t need to understand everything before you begin. Just keep at it and try to learn a little more each week.

Getting Organized

Next step is to find a posse of other like minded individuals – parents, students, teachers, school nurses, health care professionals – who are willing to work with you. I call this Getting Organized. This isn’t as hard as it sounds; lots of people recognize that school food is a problem, but most of them don’t know what to do about it, and for sure they don’t want to be the ringleader. You have to be the ringleader, but once you assure people that they don’t have to lead, just follow, you would be surprised at how many people will sign on. Start at your own kids’ school, but branch out from there. If your school or school district has a parent listserv, that can be useful for finding people who share your concern. If you can get just 8-10 people to start, that’s plenty.

Have a meeting and let everyone share their concerns about school food. Brainstorm about what you would like to change. What would your ideal meal program look like? Prioritize the changes – what is most important to your group? Try to break big changes down so that they are manageable, because for your first challenge, it needs to be something you can actually win. A big win early on really galvanizes a group. So, for example, don’t pick something like “switch to scratch cooking” or “use all organic ingredients” for your first challenge – no one gets that on the first try. Instead, something like “Offer fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch” is much more doable.

Pick a good name for your group and get everyone’s e-mail address so you can easily stay in contact even if you can only meet in person once a month. If you have a group member who is willing to set up a website for your group, that can be hugely helpful moving forward. When you wage your various campaigns, it is so much easier if all of the information people need to have about the issue can be found in one place. That way, you don’t need to explain the issue to each person, you can just refer them to your website where they can find everything they need including background, who to contact, what to say, etc. You can also use the site to promote your group’s successes, archive your press releases, and solicit new members. Visit www.sfusdfood.org to see an example of such a site.

Getting Connected

Once you have organized your core group, you need to start Getting Connected; this is where you research your school board members to find out which one(s) are most likely to be sympathetic to your cause. Look for people with a medical background, or those with youngish kids in the public schools, or those who have fought similar battles in the past, especially battles based on the idea of social justice, that low income students deserve the same respect and services as higher income students. I think it will be obvious once you know about your school board members, which ones are the likely candidates to support you.

When you have identified one or two, make contact. Don’t be intimidated by these people – generally people on school boards are just like you – concerned citizens who think that they can make the schools a better place for the kids. Call or e-mail your target and ask for a meeting; explain that you represent a group of concerned stakeholders who have some practical ideas for improving kids’ health and academic performance through better school food. Make your pitch for better school food, but make sure your target understands that you are not asking (at this point) for a complete overhaul of school food, but rather for the one thing that your group decided upon – our hypothetical is “Fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch.” Try to get your target to agree in principle that better food would mean better nourished kids; have the documentation with you showing the connection between better nutrition and better academic outcomes (not hard to find on the internet.) Remind your target that when the food gets better, more kids eat the school meals and that brings in more income for the meal program, which in turn funds the purchase of better food. Make sure they get it that you are not asking for something which would bankrupt the school nutrition program. If you sense resistance, at least ask for a pilot at your own kids’ school; be sure you have your school Principal on board with this. The most likely response you will get from your target school board member is some form of “Let me think about it.” That’s fine, but even if you get an outright “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, move on to the next step.

Getting Active

Now it is time for Getting Active. After the meeting, have everyone in your group write to the school board target and thank him/her for meeting with you, and express support for whatever it was you requested. Ask each member of your core group to get just two of their best friends to send a similar e-mail; group members can even write up key talking points and send to their friends to cut and paste into their own message (the easier you make it for people not directly involved in your crusade to support you, the more likely they will do so.) If you have already gotten your website set up, put up all the information there, and then just refer people to the site, where they can get all the info they need (including e-mail address) to write to the school board member. If you can get 25-30 people to e-mail your target about this, all saying more or less the same thing, it is really likely that your target will support it. Individual e-mails are much more impressive than petitions; you want to fill up your target’s inbox, and petitions don’t do that.

At a certain point, your target is likely to refer you to someone within the district administration – either the student nutrition director or that person’s boss. You may need to start the process all over again here, but with luck, now you have the support of your school board target; make sure the district person knows that, as it is invaluable. Make your request; have your supporters e-mail to show their support, and let the district person know that you are not just one parent asking for this, but a group. Be sure to cc your school board supporter on your correspondence with district administrators.

Getting Coverage

Let’s say you asked for a switch from canned fruit to fresh fruit 3 days a week at lunch, and you got this relatively small change approved; make sure everyone knows what you have achieved. Getting Coverage is essential to moving forward. I highly recommend trying to get one of your core supporters to agree to take the role of PR person for the group; this is a big job and really needs its own dedicated person. If anyone in your group has a media or PR background, that’s the person to court, but really anyone who is comfortable writing can learn to do this.

Use whatever parent listservs are available to get news out directly to parents. Then make a list of all of the reporters from every news outlet in your town who ever cover school or children’s or health issues, everything from TV down to the smallest weekly shopper newspaper. Write up a press release lavishing praise on the student nutrition director or his/her boss, whoever it was that agreed to the change you asked for, as well as the school board member(s) who supported you. This is KEY – do NOT claim the credit and praise for yourself or your group! Thank the district official for supporting student health, and also thank your school board friend(s). It is vital to tell the public that these people value student health and good nutrition for kids above all else (especially if you feel that they only gave you what you wanted grudgingly and maybe they don’t really value student health….) because once you have announced it to the world, what the hell are they going to do – say they DON’T value student health? Make it all about them, and what a hero they are, and how they are following in the footsteps of Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan. This makes it so much easier when you go back to them in another month and ask for the next thing on your list. They need to understand that the decisions they make about your requests are going to be made very public, and that they can be the hero and support better food for kids, or it can go the other way and the public will hear about and react to that, too.

If you can’t get any of the media to cover this as a story, try writing it as an opinion piece for the largest newspaper in town (if they won’t run it, go to the next largest paper, and keep going until someone runs it.) As a last resort, try writing it up as a letter to the editor. Be sure to check the guidelines for letters which your local paper probably has online. If they say letter should be limited to 150 words, don’t go over the limit; keep it short and to the point.

Letters to the editor are a good way to promote your work any time there is an article in the paper which is relevant, maybe something about child obesity, or about the poor quality of school

lunches nationwide, or about growing interest generally in higher quality food, or the White House getting involved in student nutrition. This is a perfect opportunity to let people know that the local angle on this national story is that your schools now offer fresh fruit three times a week instead of canned fruit, thanks to the visionary leadership of Ms. Nutrition Director and Mr. School Board Member, who both prioritize student health above all else, because they know that malnourished students can’t learn. Thank you, thank you Ms ND and Mr SBM! Signed, You, Chair of the Yourtown Student Nutrition Group. This short letter accomplishes so much – it promotes the school meal program and lets people know that there is fresh fruit being served; it highlights the “vision” of two key players whose support you need to move forward; it connects student health with academic achievement; and it lets people know that your group exists and has a voice.

That’s it – lather, rinse, repeat. You are on your way to fixing school food! Good luck! Return to “How To Guides” home page

Return to P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food

You can also learn more from Chef Ann Cooper at www.thelunchbox.org

Crazy Sexy Brownies?

June 7, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, Getting Started, News, Recipes, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

I am a huge fan of a woman named Kris Carr. She has absolutely taken cancer to task. Not only did she conquer the disease, but she also dismantled a lot of the barriers that prevent us from accomplishing seemingly impossible goals. And she helps others to do the same.

Kris challenges convention, unbridles creativity and inspires others to create the changes that they want to see in their lives. And her work is absolutely heroic.

So when her blog recently suggested making brownies with black beans, I had to laugh at how crazy that sounded. Always a fan of black beans (I grew up in Texas) and always on the hunt for variations on sweet-treats for my kids, I couldn’t quite picture how to weave the two together, and I loved the challenge.

So I am going to give this one a try. And if you are interested in doing the same, as well as learning more about Kris, her New York Times best-selling books and her incredible take on life, visit Kris’ site for added inspiration at Crazy Sexy Life. And bookmark it.

Black Bean Brownies

Originally seen on Crazy Sexy Life by Meredith Terranova, RD

-15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
-2 bananas
-1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or molasses
-1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
-1 tablespoon cinnamon
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)
-1/4 cup instant oats (gluten free if preferred)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8- by 8-inch pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scrapping sides as needed. Stir in the oats. If too soft, add another 1/4 cup oats or flour.

Pour batter into the pan. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing.

Notes: Because there isn’t any flour these brownies come out pretty dense.
Rolled oats may be substituted for the instant oats. Put the rolled oats in the food processor.
Use optional sugar if your bananas are still green and not very ripe.

A Meat Producer Sheds Light: “It Isn’t Just About Food”

June 3, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Over the last few years, we have had the honor of meeting some remarkable people doing extraordinary things. And more often than not, social media has enabled a lot of these connections.

Rod Morrison is no exception. He is the CEO of a meat company and his constant efforts to educate consumers about the safety of meat are inspiring.

So when we recently asked him if he’d be interested in writing about his work for AllergyKids, he asked what he should write about, and we said: What inspired you?

Rod Morrison’s answer is below:

You asked, What inspires you? Well it happened while I was mindfully trying to ask myself what does inspire me. My cell phone rang and I picked it up, on the other end was a good friend that I had just visited with the day before.

He said, “I forgot to ask you yesterday if you had heard.”

“Heard what?” I said, about Glen. “No, what?”

“Damn, I was hoping you had” he said.

It was then that I realized I was about to hear some bad news.

The words that came next were not in the least what was flashing through my head, car wreck, divorce, sold the farm. No, worse than that. He had not been feeling well for the last few months and had just received word that he had cancer of the pancreas and the liver, a death sentence.

Now at this point I could go into all the life events that Glen and I have experience together but most of what we did would only lead to more questions and wonderment. Let’s just say we have been to hell and back on several occasions. Glen is, to this day a conventional farmer and a damn good one. Glen never left the farm. Even given the chance he would not have changed his position in life of being a conventional farmer. And for that effort, Glen has just received the time line that every person with cancer must ask, how long do I have? What he was told was 3 months to 5 years. I know Glen well enough that he will take this time line and live life to the fullest because that who he is. And as I’m setting hear putting words to paper I am for certain that both of us are asking the same question. Why did he continue down the road of conventional agriculture? His yearly use of chemicals and fertilizers that have never been tested for their affects on human tissues is certainly weighing on his mind as it does on mine.

One event that both Glen and I had experienced was the effects of malathion. Malathion is a pesticide that is widely used in agriculture, residential landscaping, public recreation areas, and in public health pest control programs such as mosquito eradication. In the US, it is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide. This was back in the 70’s Glen had an infestation of alfalfa weevil in a large field so he had it sprayed be a local crop duster. Five hours after the application Glen and I went to look at the field.

What we both saw convinced the both of us that we would never use malathion ever again. Hundred of dead birds that had been feeding on the weevil were scattered on the ground outside of the field. Glen and I were both sick because neither of us were made aware of the environmental impacts of this pesticide let alone the human impacts over time. For me to write that I find inspiration in the slow demise of a long time personal friend sound heartless or mean, what I really feel is anger about the loss which then I turn into the inspiration to keep moving in an organic direction.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?

Change in the area of how and what we eat can be overwhelming. It requires time (reading, talking, and seeking reliable resources to understand a fairly complex system that we thought we could trust, a system of food production and marketing that is deeply imbedded in our culture). And what you discover on this journey is initially difficult to face. And if you do take control of your food consumption behavior, you will have to pay more for your food. Neither of these changes (time and money) are attractive. I will be frank, it isn’t easy. But is it worth it? Yes.

As I write this, it is early Spring. Farmers are on their tractors preparing ground for another growing season. Yesterday we had a light rain and I note an overnight hint of green in the winter-brown grass, trees are budding and geese are honking the overhead highways back north. Everything is hope and promise. And I connect all that hope and promise to the land, to the sun, to the waters that presently reside in the snow-covered mountains.

But I also know that soon I will see enormous plastic containers of synthetic chemicals and toxins stitching their way across fields. Small planes will spray these fields with poisonous concoctions. The big seed companies will begin shipping tons of genetically engineered seeds that insure a “perfect” looking vegetable–but at what cost? Suddenly convenience and cheap prices seem like twin sins. I don’t use that word lightly, but it seems to fit.

So, my hope is finding another way. And how, in the end, can you argue with food choices that not only help you become more healthy, but that give you more control and even offer you the opportunity to get to know your farmer? I have met more incredible people with the most fascinating stories . . . my life is richer, perhaps not financially, but richer, nonetheless.

Change is difficult. But once you start, you can’t go back. I just urge people to take that first step. Perhaps reading this is that first step.

Or perhaps you’ll discover what I discovered: it isn’t just about food, it’s also about relationships. When people buy my meat, I feel we are all sitting at the same table. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy talking at the table.

To learn more about Rod Morrison, his work and the process of meat production, please visit www.rockymtncuts.com

Dirty Dairy: What You Need to Know About Milk

May 12, 2011 •  64 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

The journal Pediatrics that 15% of American girls are expected to begin puberty by the age of 7 (with the number closer to 25% for African American girls), perhaps it’s time for a little history lesson about the introduction of artificial growth hormones into the American milk supply in 1994.

For the past 16+ years, much of our nation’s milk has come from cows injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. Since it was never labeled, most of us had no idea that this hormone was introduced into our dairy in 1994. The hormone has two interchangeable names: recombinant bovine somatropine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

RBGH has dominated the milk market almost since the FDA approved it in 1993. It was the first genetically engineered product ever brought to market. And the Associated Press (AP), the New York Times and the rest of the media have called it “controversial” (the AP headline actually referred to it as “a bumper crop of controversy”).

So what is rBGH anyway? Although the product is made in a lab, it’s designed to mimic a hormone that’s naturally produced in a cow’s pituitary glands. It’s injected into cows every two weeks to boost their hormonal activity, causing them to produce an additional 10 to 15 percent more milk, or about one extra gallon each day. And within the first four years of its introduction in 1994, about one-third of the nation’s cows were in herds being treated with this growth hormone.

If all you knew about rBGH and this hormone was that it increased milk production, you might think it was a good thing. Why shouldn’t we use every means at our disposal to boost the supply of such a nutritious food?

Well, besides increasing milk production, rBGH apparently does a few other things, too.

First of all, the product seems to be hazardous to the cows. The package itself warns of such bovine problems as “increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus,” “decreases in gestation length and birthweight of calves,” and “increased risk of clinical mastitis.” Mastitis is a painful type of udder infection that causes cows to pump out bacteria and pus along with milk, requiring treatment with antibiotics and other meds that can end up in the milk.

When I first read this, I had to stop and walk away from the computer for a few minutes. How many bottles and sippy cups had I filled with this milk? Why hadn’t I known about rBGH when I was pouring countless bowls of cereal for my children? I shuddered at the thought that along with the milk, I had also been giving them doses of growth hormone and antibiotics, not to mention potentially exposing them to cow bacteria and udder pus. How had I not known about this Dirty Dairy?

Want some antiobiotics with that growth hormone?

On top of that, and is often cited in the press (most recently by Laurie David), 80% of antibiotics are now used on our livestock here in the U.S. And overexposure to antibiotics tends to kill off the friendly bacteria in our intestines—bacteria that we need for our digestion and immune system. Many doctors believe that too many antibiotics at too early an age is part of the reason that kids are more likely to be allergic: their immune systems aren’t being given the “microbial environment” that they require. Wonder how many “extra” antibiotics our kids are getting in their milk, cheese, and yogurt? Maybe it’s not just about those hand sanitizers.

And then on top of that, allergies are the body’s response to proteins that it considers “toxic invaders,” and that genetically engineered proteins may spark new allergies. According to CNN and a recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Immunology, milk allergy is now the most common food allergy in the U.S., having risen to the number-one position in the last 10 years. It’s even starting to affect the sale of milk in schools. Might rBGH be a factor in that increase? We wouldn’t have a clue. No human studies were conducted.

But let’s get back to the cows, because rBGH can hurt them in several more ways. The label also warns of possible increase in digestive disorders, including diarrhea; increased numbers of lacerations on the cows’ hocks (shins); and a higher rate of subclinical mastitis.

Bad enough when dairy cows get visibly sick, because then they’re treated with antibiotics that end up in our milk. But what about the cows who are getting sick at a subclinical level—a level so subtle that farmers don’t notice it? Think of the bacteria and pus pouring out of those inflamed udders—infections that aren’t even being treated! How does drinking that milk affect us, our kids, and our babies in the womb?

Those are just the problems acknowledged on the rBGH product label. Another concern is that the extra hormones drain the cows’ bones of calcium, so that they tend to become lame. The Canadian federal health agency actually found that “the risk of clinical lameness was increased approximately 50 percent” in cows that were given rBGH. Partly as a result, Canada has banned the product, concluding that it “presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows.”

rBGH is banned in other developed countries but not in the U.S.

Canada isn’t the only country to bar rBGH. The genetically altered hormone has also been banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, the U.N. agency that sets food safety standards, Codex Alimentarius, has refused to approve rGBH not just once but twice.

Farmers themselves have noticed problems with the product. In addition to the expense of the drug itself, rBGH results in higher feed bills, higher vet bills due to increased antibiotic use, and more cows removed from the herd due to illness or low productivity. One study found that 25 to 40 percent of dairy farmers who tried rBGH soon gave it up because it wasn’t profitable enough to justify the damage to their cows. Other farmers have said that they see how hard the product is on cows, and they don’t want to subject their animals to such treatment.

Okay, so that’s why rBGH hurts cows. But I’m way more concerned about us and our kids. How does having a genetically altered hormone in our milk supply affect us?

Health concerns include possible link to cancer

As early as 1998, an article in the Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, reported that women with even relatively small increases of a hormone known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) were up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer.

And guess what? According to a January 1996 report in the International Journal of Health Services, rBGH milk has up to 10 times the IGF-1 levels of natural milk. More recent studies have put the figure even higher, at something like 20-fold.

Now stop and think about that for a minute, while correlation is not causation, breast cancer used to be something that women got later in life. Premenopausal breast cancer was so rare that when young women presented their physicians with breast cancer symptoms, the doctors often failed to diagnose it, simply because it was so unlikely that an “older women’s disease” would be found among young women.

But according to the Young Survival Coalition, one in 229 women between the ages of 30 and 39 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next ten years. Why are all these young women now getting breast cancer? And what about the effects of IGF-1-laden milk on older women, who are already at greater risk for breast cancer?

In case you think that the rising cancer rates have something to do with genetics, stop and think again. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, 1 in 8 women now have breast cancer. But only 10 percent of those cases can be linked to genetics. In other words, 90 percent of breast cancers being diagnosed today are being triggered by factors in our environment.

How did this happen?

Now if you’re like me, your next question probably is, So, if we know all of this, how did this hormone find its way into our dairy products? How did our government agencies, responsible for ensuring the safety of our food, allow the use of this growth hormone and the sale of IGF-1-laden milk? Why was rBGH not used in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but used so freely right here in our own United States?

Well, the year before the FDA approved the first genetically engineered protein, it said, “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” But at the same time, the corporate communication’s director of the company introducing rBGH said, ” We should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.”

You read that right. It’s kind of a “Who’s on first?” routine. Didn’t we learn anything from the tobacco industry?

So with the jury still out on this one, no long-term human trials ever conducted, a self-regulated industry whose “interest is in selling as much of it as possible,” the increasing rates of antibiotics used on our livestock (not to mention the increasing rates of early puberty and cancer), and the stunning fact that this synthetic growth hormone was never approved for use in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 countries in Europe, maybe it’s time we start to exercise a little bit of precaution here in the U.S., too.

How to Opt-Out of rBGH

Thankfully, we can opt out of this experiment and look for milk labeled “organic” or “rBGH-free”— since by law, these types of milk are not allowed to contain rBGH, a genetically engineered product that was never allowed into the milk, cheese, ice creams and other dairy products in other developed countries. And you can find this milk in Wal-Mart, Costco & Sam’s.

And while correlation is not causation, with the American Cancer Society telling us that 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes and the Centers for Disease Control reporting that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15, a precautionary move like this one just might be what the doctors ordered (at least that’s what they did in all 27 countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Japan).

Written by Robyn O’Brien with excerpts from The Unhealthy Truth

How to Read Meat Labels

May 9, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Michelle Stern, author of What’s Cooking with Kids

First thing’s first – let’s not confuse Natural with Organic.

We’d hope that naturally produced foods were organic, but officially that is not so. We talked about natural products with chicken above. But what does Organic Food Production mean?

The USDA defines the national organic program as one that “is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

Organic meat is meat that is raised according to the National Organic Standards which means that:

  • All ingredients must be 100% organically produced. No chemicals were used, unless the animal needs to be treated. That animal must, by law, be sold to the conventional food market and never be labeled as organic.
  • 100% organic feed is required (the food was produced with no herbicides, pesticides, or petroleum based fertilizers)
  • No added growth hormones are allowed
  • No genetically modified feeds are allowed
  • No animal by-products of any form allowed in feed
  • No antibiotics are allowed. If antibiotics are used to treat a sick animal, then that animal is marketed through conventional channels and is not sold as organic.
  • Restrictions on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
  • No genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge for fertilization
  • No synthetic chemicals, artificial preservatives or harmful additives such as sodium nitrite allowed in processing
  • Annual inspection of producers and processors required for maintaining certification
  • Third party assessment required

While some people may shy away from buying organic because of a “crunchy or hippy” stigma, there are a few key points to remember: When chemicals are used in farming to control insects and weeds, they leach into the soil, air, water and into the farmers growing the food. Organic farming protects growers, food consumers, and the physical environment from any such chemicals. This provides an immediate benefit and a long-term one. And it is clear from our obese nation that people are not typically thinking long-term…and we should.

Organic foods tend to cost more than conventional foods because they meet stricter guidelines and undergo testing and evaluation. They tend to be more labor intensive, because farmers do not take chemical shortcuts. But the overall cost reflects healthier animals, plants, farmers, and most likely consumers. If the long-term costs of health care and environmental clean-up were factored into “cheap” factory meats, it is likely that they would actually cost more than their organic counterparts.

The big picture:

  1. Know who grows your food, or at least find a vendor at your local farmer’s market who can tell you about how their animals were raised and what they ate.
  2. If you can’t know your producer, the next best choice is to look for these labels: Certified Organic AND 100% Pasture Fed and Finished

Michelle Stern is the owner of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green mobile cooking school for children, and author of The Whole Family Cookbook – Celebrating the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. To learn more about meat labels and What’s Cooking With Kids please visit, Michelle’s site.