Moms of Fredericksburg asked Flavor magazine to write a guest blog periodically for the site – and we happily agreed. Flavor is a mother-owned independent food and wine magazine that covers and celebrates the sustainable farmers, ranchers, winemakers and food artisans plying their trade between the Blue Ridge and the Chesapeake, and the chefs and restaurants who support them.
“Locavore” is a trendy term that just this week took a hard, and unfair, thump on the head by some idiots at the Washington Post. No offense to any Posties out there… but come on.
If you didn’t see the article, three enterprising young television journalists from Baltimore went to the farmers market across the street from the USDA (I guess they were trying for an added measure of irony) and tested a farmer’s pasture-raised chickens for salmonella. They found it. The Post blared a headline: “DC farmers market highlights an array of food safety issues.”
No, it didn’t. Before you run panicked from your farmers market, let me unpack it a bit for you.
Unfortunately, salmonella is endemic to our chicken supply.
Last year Consumer Reports tested 382 chickens from more than 100 stores in 22 different states. Two-thirds harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease. Worse, 68 percent of the salmonella and 60 percent of the campylobacter organisms showed resistance to one or more antibiotics.
Chickens contract salmonella from the feces of other infected animals. Industrially produced chickens stand cheek to jowl in their own feces 24 hours a day, so salmonella is a fact of life on big industrial farms.
Pastured chickens—the kind mentioned in this article – live in open fields, pecking at grass and insects that can be contaminated with salmonella from other animals. (I like my chances there better).
The contamination of meat occurs during slaughter if the chicken is not handled extremely carefully. Indeed, industrially processed chickens – the cheap, bloated kind you see in supermarket packages – are often water chilled after slaughter, a practice almost guaranteed to spread bacteria, as contaminated and uncontaminated chickens share the same bath. To control but not eradicate bacteria, the government permits large chicken processors to dip their chickens in disinfectant. Yum!
Salmonella is serious business, but it’s common in all American chickens. That’s why the government shifts the burden to citizens to protect themselves. Cook your chicken properly and don’t allow it to cross contaminate other foods in the fridge. For safe handling, read this from Consumer Reports: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/january/food/chicken-safety/what-you-can-do/chicken-safety-what-you-can-do.htm
But The Post’s real journalistic crime was to set up a teetering straw man and then knock it down: People patronize farmers markets because the food is safer + We found salmonella = OMG!
You should buy your meat from small farmers because the animals lived healthier, happier lives. Because they were not cooped up in their own feces, and allowed to wander in fields, eating what nature intended, because their marching grounds were clean, they didn’t have to be pumped full of prophylactic antibiotics (the kind that contribute to antibiotic resistant germs) to keep from getting sick and falling over dead. If you haven’t seen the movie “Food, Inc.” please do. It will cure you of buying industrially produced chickens forever.
Because pastured chickens eat a wide variety of things, their meat is more nutritious, healthier for you, and tastier, too (this also applies to lamb, veal, cows, and goats). Because they are not eating medicated feeds like industrial chickens do, there is no danger you and your family will be exposed to arsenic (Google arsenic and chicken. You’ll see.)
And that’s just the start. Small sustainable farms are better for humans too. The people who work there are not complicit in the mistreatment of animals. Neither do they breathe in harsh chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The workers don’t have to wear face masks to interact with the animal because they are out in the fresh air. They are not part of a massive labor force that is underpaid and abused (again… see Food, Inc.).
Small farms that produce meat are also better for the environment. The animals live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Their poop fertilizes the fields naturally. It’s broken down by air and sun and rain and absorbed and filtered into the soil. In large feedlots, the poop is piled up; there is too much for the Earth to process and consequently when it rains dangerous amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous — in addition to other nasty bits – contaminate the water. There those elements wreak havoc with marine life, causing algae blooms and dead zones. (There is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico totally unrelated to the oil spill that is 6,000-7,000 square miles, created by fertilizer, runoff and soil erosion. The Chesapeake Bay is similarly affected – see the Washington Post story today on the Chesapeake dead zone.)
Shopping at local farmers markets is also good for the local economy.
Produce and meat at grocery stores travel on average 1,500 miles to get to you. When you buy that food, your money is spent on gas for the truck, the truck itself, for the time the driver spent, and ultimately your money lines the pocket of an industrial food producer far away. Even if a small farmers sells to a traditional distributor, he takes home only about 10 percent of what you paid for that peach.
Contrast that with a farmers market: the food was picked that day or the day before, was most likely grown with minimum or no chemicals (ask your farmer), travels an average of just 60 miles, and more than 90 percent of the money goes right into the farmers pocket. It stays in your community.
You should shop at farmers markets for a host of reasons – to eat seasonally, to encourage environmentally sane practices, to support the humanity with which both animals and humans are treated, to support green open spaces, and because fresh, local food just plain tastes better. And you should feel safe eating this food because small, local farmers WANT you to visit their farms and see how well they practice their craft. Just try that at an industrial food production facility (If you need further convincing consider this: In at least five states, legislatures are considering bills to PROHIBIT whistleblowing on big farms; three of them would make clandestinely filming the abuse of animals illegal.)
So go to your farmers market. Talk to the farmer about how the food was raised. Take your kids out to visit the farm. And dig in.