Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Many Hogs' Worth of Bacon We Eat a Year

This is my soapbox manifesto. Mostly I just wanted to articulate it for myself, but thought I'd share it with anyone who was interested.

A Little Background and My Driving Factor

I've been thinking a lot this past year about the various food movements: "slow food," "real food," "raw food," "traditional diet," "organic," "sustainable," "fresh foods," "unprocessed," etc.

I hadn't given much thought to any of this other than, perhaps "they're health nuts," "they're liberals," "they're environmental extremists" or "they're crunchy hippies." Then I saw the (propaganda-laden, no doubt) film Food Inc [Part 1 and links to the rest are here]. After that I started doing tons of research.

You know what? It made a lot of sense to me.

There's nothing "liberal," "extremist," "hippy" or "nutty" about the unprecedented rise in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infertility, and obesity of this past half century, not roughly but precisely correlated to the demise of the family farm and the takeover of the industrialized food mega-corporations.

What finally hit home for me, though, was the outrageous number of fake foods that effect our hormones and fertility. Bearing the painful cross of infertility myself, that's when it got personal.

The Basic Principles

For anyone unfamiliar with these movements, the basic principles are:

1. God's food (fruit, vegetables, grass-fed meat, raw milk) is good.
2. Artificial food (chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, fillers, genetically modified grains, soy-fed animals) is bad.
3. Local, in-season (zucchini in Summer), fresh (picked ripe and recently), minimally processed, sustainable food (cultivating rather than damaging the earth) = good.
4. Imported (Chinese apple juice, Taiwanese shrimp), out-of-season (strawberries in December), weeks-old (picked pre-ripe and ripened with chemicals sprays), ultra processed/ultra-pasteurized, unsustainable (soil toxicity, increase of pesticides, earth damaging) food = bad.

Some of the blogs I frequent, nowadays, where you can find more are: Kitchen Stewardship, Heartland Renaissance, Food Renegade, Gnowfglins, Cheeseslave, and The Nourished Kitchen.

Harsh Realities of Living It

But how do you get local oranges in Iowa, or corn in Florida? Well, as in everything, use prudence. The idea is, what you can get locally, you should, even if it's a higher price (the principle of subsidiarity, and of supporting your local economy).

Once you start to shift your paradigm and attempt to live the principles of these movements, however, you get slammed with reality.

Either you have to start making, growing, and raising the bulk of your own food, which is practically a full-time job (and was for many of our great-grandmothers and all of their mothers), or you have to pay through the teeth to buy organic, grass-fed, raw local food.

I don't work out of the home anymore, and I'm finding that setting up a daily rhythm allows me to make bread and freeze summer produce between math lessons and vocabulary quizzes. Yes, it's work, but it feels more human, and is much more fulfilling.

How I'm Incorporating the Principles into Our Lives

We are so dependent upon processed packaged foods that the idea of doing all of this was, at first, overwhelming. But I started with what I considered the most pressing and the most expensive. Putrid feed lots that can be nosed several miles away and e. Coli infested slaughterhouses scare me.

I'm blessed to be married to a farmer and have access to a few acres I can play with. We bought a milk cow and some chickens to start with because there's no way I can afford raw milk ($10 a gallon and $8 per pound of butter; other raw dairy products aren't even available) or pastured poultry ($4 a dozen eggs and $15 for a whole pastured chicken).

Our fat cow still hasn't had her calf, but once she does we'll be able to raise some hogs for grass and milk fed pork.

My goal for the next year is to raise all of our own meat.

Putting It Into Perspective 

When I first embarked upon this step of raising our own meat, I put the pencil to the paper to figure out how much we would need to raise.

Chickens: We were buying about 3 packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts a month. Wings? Blah. Thighs? Never. Legs? On occasion. Organs? Do chickens still have those? Quick calculation: 18 chicken breasts a month (9 chickens)... that's 108 chickens a year for 2 people! But no, that's just 108 chicken's worth of breasts. We'd eat less than half that many chickens if I cooked with the legs and the thighs (and we'd buy zero chicken stock and no bouillon if I used the bones).

Pork: We were going through a pound and a half of bacon a week. That's 78 pounds of bacon a year. A pig (roughly, and it does vary) has about 18 pounds of bacon on it. We're going through 4 hogs of bacon a year!! A family of 4 could comfortably live on one hog a year!

Beef: I won't go there. We like tender juicy steaks. And we don't have the freezer space to handle the number of cows we'd have to raise to maintain our current steak consumption.

We are a classic case of the unsustainable diet of many Americans. We pick out the choice cuts and discard the rest. It's not real, and it's not right.

By changing our habits, bacon will be a treat instead of a staple. Chickens won't be valued for their boneless skinless breasts. And prime rib will be a Christmas feast instead of a normal Sunday meal.

The Bottom Line

Since beginning to adopt these principles this Lent, I have more energy, have lost 10 pounds, have clearer skin, have much much much less drastic mood swings, and for the first time since I've been doing NFP charting (almost two years), I'm starting to have real signs of fertility.

I'd really like to hear from any of you to see if/how you've adopted and adapted these principles in your life. Or do you think it's quack bunk? How has your diet, shopping, budget changed? Have you lost weight? Feel healthier? Saved or spent more money? Or what negative effects have you seen?


Paul and Annie said...

I was raised on a farm where we were blessed to be able to live off the land for the most part. We ground wheat for our bread and cooking by hooking up the grinder to a bicycle to make the process easier and more fun!!!

Now that we aren't on the farm full time it is so much harder to eat well. I can always tell the difference. We raise cattle, but we also hunt and venison really gets us through the winter as one of our main sources of protein. Cheap, easy and, when well prepared, delicious!

Love your thoughts. God bless!

Unknown said...

Oh man - I'm with you! I'm just beginning my journey though. We're working on buying grass-fed beef from the local farm here. I'm researching a place to buy our chicken close by (which means I have to learn how to prepare a whole chicken that is cost-effective!). I used to purchase raw milk, but Leo and I are lactose-intolerant. We only use it for cooking and occasional cereal, but as soon as Elena is 1, we'll start again. I want her to drink raw milk!

I have a real hard time with processed junk. I don't really buy it that often. We have Mac'N'Cheese for emergencies (what is that powdered "cheese" stuff anyway?!) and Hamburger Helpers as well. But I'm really just learning to cook so we still eat more than our fair-share of processed foods. I would be losing weight, but this whole "learning to cook" binge has me in the kitchen concocting all sorts of delicious foods!! I can't stop eating!

Nicole said...

My sister-in-law is an environmental policy graduate, and is currently working in the environmental field. She's been trying to get me to eat a more sustainable diet, and it's something I've been looking into a lot lately.

I don't think it's bunk at all. I know I always feel better when I avoid processed foods, stuff that has a long shelf life, and junk food.

Tori said...

Ack! I just lost my whole long-winded comment I was typing. I guess I'll summarize.

Totally in the same boat, seen the movie and was really grossed out. Not just by the food but by the way farmers and food workers are treated. Also read In Defense of Food, which I really liked.

So far, we've cut out many processed foods, and I cook mostly from scratch. We never eat fast food. We get our produce from a food co-op that buys local, or at least regional if some things can't be found locally. Now that the weather is cooling down I'll be hitting the farmer's markets, too.

We cut down our meat portions a long time ago, mostly from expense, but also because we heard that we Americans eat too much meat. I'd love to buy grass-fed but we can't fit it into our budget right now, and we can't raise our own. It's great that you have that option. Grass-fed is a goal of mine and hopefully sometime we can figure out a way to make it happen.

I've definitely noticed a change for myself. I've lost weight due to the combo of exercise and better diet. Processed food just doesn't even taste good anymore. I don't snack as much, and when I do I crave healthy things like fruit. We still have our goodies, but they are mostly home-made. I think we are spending less money...but I'd have to verify that with our budget :)

The biggest hurdle will be financial for us, we have an extremely tight budget and just can't afford to make too many changes at once. But I'm satisfied with what we've done so far, and I'm fine taking it in "Baby Steps".

Thanks for sharing, it's great to see other people coming to the same realizations. It gives me hope that things will change, and we will all have an easier time getting real food!

Deborah Vogts said...

Hi there. I just found your blog. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for sharing your research as well as your thoughts. Very thought-provoking. I look forward to visiting again in the future. Blessings to you.

Farmer's City Wife said...

None of my in-laws hunt, so I can only dream of venison! I love venison jerky.

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