Cal State LA

Today we were lucky to be hosted by Cal State LA, a small and beautiful campus filled with lots of energetic, healthy young people who want to learn and grow. 

We started off upstairs on the third floor with a plentiful breakfast buffet, filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, rolls and iced tea. I got to meet the dedicated Rachel, who is part of SDA, and who had the initial idea to host a screening at Cal State. It was a somewhat late arriving crowd, and an unusual hour for one of the event on our tour thus far. Doris, the president of the Student Diatetic Association, and MJ, president of the Food Science & Tech Club gave a warm introduction to the 40 breakfasters, as did  and from there we moved down to the newish theater on the main floor where about 50 of us watched the documentary. 

There was a wide array of knowledge on the panel. John, who is very tall, with a matching presence, raises cattle and spoke passionately about the importance of eating good food. Pay your farmer now, or your doctor later he said to laughs throughout the auditorium.

Maurice talked about growing up on a dairy farm, the youngest of 10. By the time he came around, all the jobs were spoken for, and so he ventured off. He worked for a number of years as a part of the farmers market, selling local food to people in the market for it. 

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Lessons Learned

Left super early to avoid a repeat of Tuesday's traffic-induced stress, and arrived more than two hours early to Pitzer College. 
Sent out e-mails, and imagined hiking, or some other activity that does not include staring into a screen. 
At 3:45, walked up to Pitzer, and met Evalleggos, the professor hosting the event. We talked inside the smallish venue where about 40 folks joined us for the afternoon. 
Dean Freudenberger, an 83 year old man with a deep knowledge of agriculture, talked about many things- about the limitations of documentary to show all of the solutions that are needed, about the importance of health in the soil, health of the micro-organisms. About how the solutions involve growing animals and vegetables in tandem. He twice repeated Aldo Leopold's assertion that a thing is right when it adds to the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community, and a thing that tends not to, is wrong. 
Dave Fikel talked about farming, and about how he hopes that New Frontier farm will be a community space. They've made strides in this direction, as they've opened up portions of their land to be a community garden, and they also frequently welcome visitors. After the screening, it looked as if Dave may have found some new customers, and interns. 
Evaggellos talked about the climate challenges that livestock produce, about recent studies that have placed the percentage of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere at anywhere from 18-51% of the total in the atmosphere. An astonishing figure, and one that certainly gets left out of many conversations about agriculture. 
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We are what we eat part 3

How could something as seemingly insignificant as buying food have such a huge impact on our every day lives? It couldn't right? How is it possible that spending money on one piece of meat and not another influences the way farmers take care of animals? Do my decisions as a consumer actually impact what happens at far away farms? The answer is yes, yes they do. Food choices matter.

Big corporations that buy meat from farmers want to pinch pennies wherever they can. If they can cut costs by serving consumers low-quality, low-cost meat and charge a premium for it, that's what they are going to do. Why? because consumers are willing to pay for the low cost meat (even if it has adverse health effects). Some people blame the higher cost of sustainable and organically raised meats for why most consumers can't get access to them, which is a valid point. If we as a nation, however, collectively demand organic grass-based meat so much so that that method becomes ubiquitous in all of farming, farmers and big corporations will spend money to lower the cost of organic farming. The companies that don't spend money to lower the costs of organic farming methods won't survive. 

If given the opportunity, many conventional farmers would make the switch over to more sustainable farming methods. Farmers are pragmatic and their jobs don't leave much room for error. If you approached a farmer with a farming method that could potentially increase the profits from raising animals and do it in a way that's good for the environment, most would jump at the opportunity. That's where we as consumers come into play. If the farmers are going to take the risk of switching over from industrial methods to organic farming operations, we need to make sure we are meeting their supply with a high demand. This gives the consumer immense power; the power to ultimately influence the way in which food is put on our plates. Our food choices matter and we have the power to make sure our voices are heard.

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Here We Go Again :)

Well, many of us have heard about how congested car traffic in Los Angeles is. And I suppose, that before today, I'd never really been nailed by it before. 

What should have been an hour's drive, turned to two and half, and I arrived at Casa Loma in Redlands University at exactly 6:30, at the exact moment that Rosa Perlman, superstar undergrad environmental advocate, began to introduce the documentary. 

The festivities had begun at 6pm, and Chef Mark, and the good folks of Bon Appétit Management Company, had prepared a veritable banquet of finger foods. A wonderful way for people to eat and talk together, before watching a story about farming. 

Introduced the film to about 120 people in attendance, reigniting the familiar trains of thought, and continuing the conversation in Redlands, CA where we had left off at our final screening of 2012 at Hermitage High School in Richmond, VA. 

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We are what we eat part 2

70% of the antibiotics used in the United States are being fed to animals that are not sick. That's a fairly frightening number. The unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans is an extremely controversial subject and many doctors believe  our society over-prescribes medications that many times are not needed. Bacteria can build up immunities to certain types of antibiotics ultimately creating stronger more antibiotic resistant strains.

For the average American though, the idea of choosing antibiotic free meats can seem somewhat daunting. Fortunately we are starting to see the rise of companies like Niman Ranch and Applegate Organic and Natural Meats that provide alternatives to meat treated with antibiotics. We as consumers are in a vey unique position, we have the power to determine what's put on the shelves in supermarkets. Not directly of course, but if there is a collective movement towards a particular brand that specializes in antibiotic free meats, grocery stores will have to either start stocking what customers want or risk loosing customers. This brings us full circle to one of the 3 core goals of our film, to demonstrate to people that food choices really do matter.

The next time you go shopping and are contemplating the kind of deli meat to buy, remind yourself of the impact you can have on food and society as a whole when you make a purchase. It's all about taking small steps, if you choose to only by antibiotic free meats, maybe you can influence your friends and educate them as well. It all starts with an idea, one simple idea to pick up momentum and snowball into something huge. You have the power to get educated and stay informed. The more people you influence the more this movement can pick up steam. In the beginning phase it may not seem significant but if you remember that food choices matter, your one simple decision can lead to very powerful change.

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We are What We Eat

This may be a tough pill to swallow for some but it's a fact of life and must be addressed. That is the issue of antibiotics use in meat production. At the end of the day big agricultural farmers have a business to run, bills to pay and mouths to feed. Many people out there may not support the ways in which big ag farmers get their daily income but it's a part of life. 

It's easy to demonize big ag farmers for raising animals in close quarters or giving them antibiotics when sick but there is always a flip side to every coin. It is important to tell Chuck Wirtz's story because he puts a face to an issue that many people are against; antibiotic use in meat production. Farmers are business people, sick animals can be detrimental to large farming operations and can potentially destroy a farmer's livelihood. For someone like Chuck Wirtz though, moving away from the industrial agriculture system would be next to impossible at this point in his career so antibiotics are his only solution for sick animals. It's too big of a risk not to treat them with antibiotics using his current farming methods. Don't blame Chuck though, the industrial agriculture model is to blame. Farmers produce meat to keep up with the consumer's demand. If we as consumers demand different meat and allow ourselves to accept the higher price, farmers like Chuck can afford to alternate their farming methods. 

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The Joel Salatin Cubicle

Can the grass-based method of farming feed America? When asked that particular question, which Joel Salatin says is his favorites, he replies with a resounding "yes". The one stipulation for being able to feed the world using sustainable grass-based methods is that we would need a lot more farmers. 

Why don't more young people want to get into farming? It's honest work that allows you to be outside and work with animals. Given the choice I think most people working stressful office jobs would jump at the opportunity to do something outdoors with their hands that also paid them. It seems to me that one of the hardest parts for someone just graduating high school or college with no knowledge of farming is taking that initial plunge. Society, from an early age, tells us that we need a big house with a picket fence and a few fancy cars. We are led to believe those things equal happiness, but after seeing what getting those things entails (long hours behind a computer, time away from family, unhealthy lifestyle) I think many young people might reconsider.

Something I don't remember learning a lot about in school is finding your passion, and doing what makes you happy. There are probably thousands of lawyers, salespeople and bankers who long for a life not surrounded by four walls. A great example of this is Luke Conyac, one of our Young Washington Farmers. He may practice law part time, but after watching his video it's clear his passion is for farming.

People need to choose career paths they believe in. The importance and need for young people to step up and take on the challenge of farming has never been greater than now. We need a new generation of young farmers, the average age for an American farmer is in the late 50s, and that number is increasing each year. Get to know a farmer, talk to a farmer and find out what the career entails. You might be surprised at what you learn.


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Connect with a Chef

Chefs and farmers should in theory be best pals. If you are a farmer raising chickens for example, it's absolutely in your best interest to pair up your humanely raised birds with a chef that knows how to prepare them.

This seems like a no brainer but the problem is the disconnect that has occurred between most chefs and most farmers. Factory farmers raise animals for huge corporations that sell to restaurants for extremely low costs. This way farmers, have their supplies taken care of and chefs get cheap ingredients to feed customers that allow them to keep operating costs low.

The one big problem with this system, however, is that consumers are becoming more informed. People are okay with paying a bit more for a meal if they know the animals were treated well and weren't given any antibiotics or growth hormones. This in turn means that people are craving food that has real flavor, not flavor put there artificially but flavor found in ingredients that were cultivated with care and hard work. This is what makes Chef Dan Barber's point so poignant. He truly believes that chefs are most concerned with flavor, and the ones that aren't won't be chefs for very long.

Real ingredients, raised the right way taste better than their artificial, poorly raised counterparts. This makes it in a chef's best interest to buy top quality ingredients paying more for better flavor. 10 years ago it may have been hard to make this argument, but now people want their food to taste better, the best way to do that is get food from farmers who work hard to grow great products.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, BAMCO, Whole Foods and Applegate are all huge companies who have built their businesses off of the notion that people want better quality food. These entities would not be thriving the way they are today if people's mindsets hadn't changed. 

Chef Barber says the demand for wholesome quality ingredients is present, it's the supply that isn't, which brings us back to one of American Meat's core goals. Informing and supporting young farmers. We are here to support young farmers into new farming endeavors. It's up to the next generation of farmers to take the lead and in doing so many others will follow.

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Start ‘Em Young: One High School’s Vision

A few weeks ago, the student club I sponsor had the honor of hosting an American Meat movie night. The club is called “Food Club," and it's sole focus is to educate students about healthy, sustainable food. The Food Club was started by two students after a different movie screening last spring, which prompted them to take action.

American Meat is exactly what Food club is about. With about 150 adults and teenagers present at a screening at our school, Hermitage High School outside Richmond, VA, American Meat planted the seed in so many young people to know where their food comes from, and to find local farmers who are doing good things on their farms like Joel Salatin.

The students were also charged with the idea of becoming farmers themselves. We had another young, local farmer from Keenbell Farm in Hanover, VA who helped to emphasize that point. After the film, several students asked, “Can we take a field trip to his farm?” How many times can you remember a suburban, high school student wanting to go to a farm?! It’s one of those moments that completely warms your heart.

A special thanks to Chipotle for providing a common place for my students to enjoy great, healthy food!

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Amazing grass-fed meat hamburger recipe

This weekend, I paid a visit to Meat Market, a local meat butcher in Great Barrington, MA. After taking home a pound of ground chuck and a pound of sweet Italian sausage (made with heritage pork from Flying Pigs Farm, whose farmers are featured in American Meat, and mixed with fennel and onions), I put together an amazing hamburger recipe. Here’s how I did it.

Makes six burgers.

Mix together in a large bowl:

  • chopped curly parsley and rosemary
  • 1 lb. ground grass-fed chuck
  • 1 heritage pork sweet Italian sausage
  • 3 organic, cage-free eggs
  • 2 tbs. dry red wine
  • 1 tbs. dijon mustard
  • ¼ of an onion, chopped
  • ½ cup of Panko Italian breadcrumbs
  • teaspoon each of freshly ground pepper and sea salt

Let it all sit there for 15 minutes. Have a cup of tea, glass of water, or pint of beer.

Lay out six sheets of plastic wrap. Form patties the size of your palm. Place them in the wrap and pack them up and put them in the freezer. Take them out about five hours before you’re ready to cook them. Cook them as you like and serve them with toasted buns and some kimchi or homemade mayonnaise (egg yolks, dijon mustard, white wine, olive oil).

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