Posted By Cathryn March 26, 2012
Every now and then, the dedicated bloggers at Corn Commentary run across something so interesting and in-tune with what they want to say that they, with the permission of the original author, choose to share it in its full form. While looking for new insight into the debate surrounding high fructose corn syrup, a blog post from twitter friend @thefarmerslife surfaced. Read on for some interesting insight into how the sugar industry is obscuring the full truth of the similarity between sweeteners through allegations that HFCS is processed. While true, it turns out that sugar undergoes quite a process prior to reaching supermarket shelves too.
High fructose corn syrup is processed food?
Yes it is. Corn needs to go through a process to become HFCS. A whole lot of people think this is a bad thing. I have a question for those people. Where do you think “natural” sugar comes from? I’m assuming when many use the term natural they are referring to nice, white table sugar that comes from sugar cane. But the sugar cane plant doesn’t grow pods on it full of white crystals ready for consumption. Therefore I must ask another question.
Cane sugar isn’t processed food?
I’ve been contemplating this post for a couple of months, but until now I never sat down at the computer to actually write it up. Luckily for me when I started searching for some info on how sugar cane becomes table sugar I found that Sweetscam.com had already done the work for me. They have some great videos that summarize the processes involved in making several types of sweeteners. Since the videos do such a great job of explaining and visualizing the process involved I’ll let them to the talking for me.
Let’s take a look at HFCS to see how it’s made.
Now let’s do cane sugar. (Spoiler alert! It’s a process!)
No they are not the same process, but you can see some similarity. The point I’m making is that both corn and sugar cane must go through some changes to become the products we eat. A process. I don’t have a problem with cane sugar. In fact, I like it quite a lot. I’m just pointing out that what most perceive as natural sugar can’t just be picked off a tree like an apple an eaten on the spot. Rather than saying cane sugar isn’t natural because it is processed, I would argue that sugar from other sources is just as natural as cane sugar. What do you think?
Posted By Cathryn March 21, 2012
If something is mainstream, why bother defending it? Popular logic would dictate that behaviors considered normal by the majority of society do not require an active defense. Society relegates personal accountability for maintaining our cultural norms to elite academics and social leaders.
Action takes an investment of time, energy and emotion. With so many tasks requiring daily, immediate attention, who has the time?
Right now, hopefully, many carnivores do. The New York Times issued a call for essays explaining the ethical case for eating meat this week. As the winning essay or essays will be published in the news industry heavyweight, a lot is on the line.
For decades, vegetarians and vegans have claimed the ethical high ground in the dietary debate. Issuing carefully constructed diatribes on the fundamental question of if it is right to eat meat, this minority group has dominated the more bookish discussions underpinning something as fundamental as what people should or should not eat.
While the anti-meat minority has not parlayed its philosophical success into popular adoption of the tenets it espouses, a halo hangs over the heads of those willing to eschew their carnivorous cravings in many American minds.
Instead of blithely dismissing actual vegetarians as too malnourished to win a cultural war, carnivores need to take a stand. Surely, many meat-eaters consider their consumption ethical. It is time to climb the ivory tower and issue a proclamation of our own.
Entries are due by April 18 for consideration in the NYT contest. So, take a moment to ponder while enjoying a pork chop. Then, put pen to paper.
Silence is oft construed as an admission of the opposing side’s superiority. Send a message that meat-eaters make ethical dietary decisions. It just so happens that they are delicious too.
While the New York Times will run only the essays it judges to be “the best”, Corn Commentary also welcomes your submission. Click here to send a copy of your submission directly to our bloggers. Then, check back the week of April 23 to view a collection of the best submissions.
Posted By Cathryn March 13, 2012
Every once in a while, someone phrases a sentiment underpinning a social push in such a succinct, crystal-clear manner that it cuts away the superfluous ramblings that obscure the true issue.
“There’s this tremendous push to be paternal over farmers, as if somehow they’re too dumb to take care of themselves,” said William Field, a professor at Purdue University who studies agricultural health and safety. “This language comes from people who have never been in agriculture, who don’t live on a farm and understand the complexities of living there.”
While Field’s quote comes from a longer interview with National Public Radio on that misinterpretations of child safety statistics often cited in debates over proposed child labor restrictions for farms, it sums up a significant amount of the public debate around agriculture recently. People with little to no knowledge of modern farming techniques, tools or practices interject themselves into complex arguments over the nuances of an advanced production system that benefits from cutting-edge research and generations of practical knowledge.
Self ordained experts from lawyers who wish they were scientists to chefs who wish they were nutritionists wrap themselves in a cloak of self-righteous indignation to hide their lack of actual knowledge. For-profit environmentalists bite the very hand that feeds the country, and armchair agriculturalists blast biotech on their blogs.
Something is seriously wrong.
Asking questions about where food comes from is natural. It makes sense to be concerned with what we feed ourselves and our families. What does not seem logical is the seeming mass acceptance of the answers that agenda-driven non-experts provide. If you want to know about how your food is actually produced, why not ask the men and women who grow it?
Today’s farmers are technology-savvy entrepreneurs who run incredibly productive operations that grow more food using fewer chemicals and resources. They thrive because they take the time to learn about the newest, best ways to improve. They understand why they grow their crop in a certain fashion in incredible detail, and many have volunteered to act as a resource for consumers who would like to learn about it.
An informed public has every right to ask questions about food. They have every right to come to the table and discuss this with the people growing it for them. Allowing propaganda and misinformation perpetuated by anti-experts unwilling to understand the very practices they criticize places American agriculture at risk.
Farmers know enough about the industry they so love to allow most Americans to live off of the farm. Take the time to benefit from their knowledge.
Posted By Cathryn March 7, 2012
Who doesn’t love sampling something delicious for a taste test? Momentarily throwing daily calorie counting to the wind, for science of course, to issue an expert opinion on which option really is the best? The time honored tradition, from the simple bake-off to the meticulously conducted research testing new candies, continues to elevate everyday eaters to connoisseurs willing to share their opinion with the broader public.
Today, National Corn Growers Association staff selflessly participated in just such an experiment for Director of Biofuels Pam Keck. An accomplished baker, Keck decided to combine her interest in Distillers Dried Grains, an ethanol co-product popularly used in animal feed, with her culinary craftsmanship whipping up a batch of oatmeal cookies. Splitting the ingredients into two distinct portions, Keck then added a fiber and protein packed punch to one set by mixing DDGs into the dough.
This morning, Keck placed her handiwork in a prime location- directly across from the office coffee service. As coworkers sauntered in to prepare their caffeine fix, they caught site of the treat. As anyone who has worked in a similar environment knows, home-baked goods never last long when craftily situated so close to the java. So, the test began.
As DDGs are not yet widely used in foods produced for human consumption, Keck clearly labeled each batch, knowing that her peers clearly understood the safety and dietary benefits of her addition. By mid-morning, the piles both dwindled rapidly and, while some voiced a preference for the traditional batch, many found that they preferred the new concoction.
Both varieties of the oatmeal and craisin cookies offered a moist, mildly sweet background punctuated by tart berry bursts, but the version containing DDGs also left a wholesome-tasting nutty flavor with a pleasant chewy texture. Keck’s culinary acumen certainly played a large role in determining the quality of the cookies, but, without additional alteration to the recipe, the power-packed batch baked to a fantastic finish as well.
The real message of the taste test came across loud and clear to the corn-conscious crowd. In an era of false food-versus-fuel debate and fever-pitched skirmishes over almost every aspect of nutrition, simple answers still await those willing to explore the possibilities. An ethanol co-product that packs a nutritional punch into crave-worthy craisin cookies? It is time to wake up and open our eyes to the possibilities just waiting for us, sometimes right next to the coffee.
Posted By Cathryn February 23, 2012
Bill Gates, respected for his visionary work as founder of both Microsoft and the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called for a new digital revolution today. This time, instead of promoting software to improve office productivity, he passionately advocated for application of the advanced technology to help end world hunger.
Many stop reading the story here, assuming that through massive donations Gates will provide the cash needed to revolutionize farming in the developing world. A closer look turns up a more interesting, nuanced viewpoint, one which requires public recognition of the amazing technologies American farmers use today.
In short, supporting the Gates Foundation’s fight against hunger does mean supporting the use of advanced farming techniques including genetically-engineered seed varieties.
While Mr. Gates may not have always been known for his ability to fit-in or follow the “cool” crowd, he changed the world around him for the better by having the intellect to analyze a situation fully, evaluate each facet meticulously and act accordingly even when doing so required courage.
As he turned his attention to the plight of global hunger and malnutrition, Gates encountered a wealth of information on possible farming practices. Most consumers in the United States have access to a great deal of the same sources today because of Microsoft innovations he fostered decades ago. Instead of unquestioningly buying into bogus arguments cloaked in a soft, fuzzy, nuevo-hippie, organic wool sweater, he delved into the science.
What he found was that to feed our world’s growing population we need to use the most productive, innovative techniques available. To grow more food using fewer resources and creating less waste, we need the rapid-paced developments brought about by biotech engineering. Using what many consider a “dirty word”, Gates outspokenly promoted wide-spread public acceptance of biotechnology.
Afterward, when reporters questioned him during a roundtable, Gates refused to back down encouraging doubters to “go out and talk to people growing rice and say do they mind that it was created in a laboratory when their child has enough to eat?”
Pragmatic and effective, Gates sees what many do not. He sees that failure to embrace agricultural advancements directly impacts the ability of farmers to achieve their potential productivity. At the same time, feeding the world requires them not only to meet it but to push beyond its current bounds.
Join the real, active movement to end hunger by embracing Gates’ message. Farmers, scientists and their allies are working hard to create change with palpable results that fill empty bellies and nourish real people who are really hungry right now. Have the courage to be like Bill. Billions of lives depend on it.
Posted By Cathryn February 16, 2012
Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog entry from Jennifer Elwell, Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, CommonGround team member and author of the popular blog, Food Mommy! Following the CommonGround Shared Voices Conference, Elwell took a moment to share her thoughts on the volunteers that she met, the state of agriculture today and to suggest that her readers take advantage of the valuable resource that they have in CommonGround volunteers.
I remind myself everyday how lucky I am to work for farmers. The world of agriculture is like a family to me, and I have built some very strong relationships within my state and across the nation. The exciting part is that my family continues to grow.
For the past year, I have been witness and huge nurturer of a sprouting seed called CommonGround. Farm moms and women are becoming empowered to talk about life on their farms and how they are working to raise safe, nutritious, ethical and environmentally-responsible food. And for the first time in my career, I am working with young, vibrant ladies who represent all facets of food production!
From Shana Beattie who raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, beef cattle, 8 million pounds of pork and her four children alongside her husband on a 100+ year old farm in Nebraska to Mary Courtney, who raises vegetables for local customers through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Kentucky. She and her husband bought a new farm and are working to support their two young children with one on the way. Linda grows organic produce and crops to enable a livable return on their small farm and Ashley farms several thousand acres of grain in which her family is able to support 14 families by providing jobs in their community. Did I mention they voluntarily participate in an environmental certification program? The best part is that they all support each other.
As a mom of two, I embrace the concept of CommonGround: being able to have a conversation with my peers. I have learned so much by listening to these ladies, and I feel better than ever about making a trip to the grocery store. I also know that I want to support local farmers like the Courtney’s, because I have a connection with them, and I know that getting produce closer to the source tastes better. And… wait for it… I no longer look at organic food as some evil marketing scheme trying to dupe me out of my money. It takes a lot of work to comply with certification standards, and a farmer willing to do that should be paid more for his or her labors.
There is room on my table and in my refrigerator for it all, and I can feel good about what I am feeding my family. I have developed trust in my farmers because they are willing to be open with me about why they choose to grow my food in the manner that they do. They are also willing to listen to my concerns and tell me if they can do better. That is meeting on CommonGround, and I am proud to support the movement.
My plea to my readers is that the next time you hear of a food issue in the news or from a fellow friend who may not get their knowledge first hand, seek out one of these fabulous ladies and just ask. You can find them at http://www.findourcommonground.com/. Bookmark it! You can also find many of my farmer friend’s blogs by clicking on the tab at the top.
Follow Jennifer at www.facebook.com/foodmommy and www.twitter.com/foodmommy.
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2012
For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes. The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types. Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive. Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.
At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture. Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.
Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.
Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia. The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns. The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.
Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices. Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.
Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own. With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s. Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.
As a public, we should applaud this effort. Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today. They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more. They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings. They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.
So become a fan. Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy. So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.
BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.
Posted By Cathryn January 20, 2012
The volunteer farm women involved in CommonGround state programs across the country are talking and, increasingly, the evidence shows that urban and suburban moms are joining in the conversation. With many states recently launching their programs or preparing to do so this spring, the buzz surrounding this open, honest approach to discussing food is spreading too.
Earlier this month, CommonGround Kansas launched its program with a full court press during the University of Kansas women’s basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
The Lady Jayhawks may have fallen to Kansas State University’s Lady Wildcats, but the ladies of CommonGround stood tall as they explained how they grow food and the facts about modern agriculture. For a few hours on the cold January evening, volunteers shared in outstanding Kansas City barbeque and in conversations on subjects including the locavore movement, organic fruits and vegetables, sustainability and livestock production to a group of reporters, bloggers, government representatives and community influencers.
While bringing together farm women and the people who speak to urban and suburban moms on a large scale started a conversation, what truly matters is knowing that the dialogue opened that night made a difference. Judging by an article featuring volunteer LaVelle Winsor that ran in the Lawrence World Journal, the stories these women have to tell and understanding they offer about food scored with attendees.
In explaining the program’s goals and offering it as a resource, the article spread the word that there is another source of information for moms concerned about the foods they prepare for their family.
“We aren’t trying to tell anyone how to eat,” Winsor was quoted as saying in the article. “But we would like them to know what actually happens on our farm.”
Want to learn more? “Like” the CommonGround Facebook page and look to see if there are upcoming events in your area.
Posted By Cathryn December 30, 2011
Sometimes nostalgia gets the best of everyone. Through the rose-tinted spectacles of memory, people tend to remember a time when life was safer, things were more affordable and a simpler way of doing things produced a better result. No longer reserved for elderly grandmothers, this form of wistful longing for a bygone era now permeates popular culture as Williams and Sonoma schleps replica Star Wars lunch boxes to prematurely jaded Gen Xers who hold onto compuserve email addresses as a badge of “authenticity”.
While a desire to identify with a younger version of self may be natural, it can also wreak mental havoc as less-favorable aspects of the idealized period fade. As the facts are obfuscated, the ability to maintain a clear perspective of the present is lost. This inability, if left unchecked, has real world implications.
Today, there is a growing sense that food used to be somehow safer. From the bologna sandwiches that filled the original sci-fi themed lunch boxes to the milk grandma drank nearly straight from the cow as a girl, the deeply imprinted memories created when first smelling and tasting a favorite food can bring back a flood of emotion and create a strong picture of a better world.
This innate response is then compounded by media-driven fear. In a race for ratings, news programs sensationalize report of food borne illnesses which, in said yesteryear, would not have warranted more than a passing mention. Fanning the flames of hysteria, reporters search out the culprits behind each outbreak much as they would a serial killer. Snippets of information briefly interrupt the barrage of infographics that fly across the screen as blaring music, which has the calming effect of the average tornado siren, pushes more delicate members of the viewing public toward collapse.
Is food borne illness a serious matter? Certainly. Should everyone follow proper food safety protocol? Definitely. Does it make sense to pay careful attention to recall alerts? Without a doubt.
Is the general impression that food today is unsafe well-founded? Absolutely not.
Sepia-toned memories and frantic media sideshows aside, the facts show food in the United States is actually safer today than at any other point in documented history. In fact, the FoodNet 2010 report, a report card on America’s food safety created for use by the Centers for Disease Control, its partners and policymakers, shows a downward trend in food borne infections. Their website offers the real facts and shows that now, more than ever, Americans enjoy a safe supply of quality food choices.
It is time that conversations about food look toward the future and examine the real world steps that consumers and farmers can take together to even further improve food safety. Progress, in its essence, is forward facing. So, take off the rose-tinted hippie glasses of the past and put on some readers. It is time to bone up on modern agriculture.
Posted By Cathryn December 12, 2011
Imagine how differently a day at the office might have been in 1961. A secretarial pool takes the place of word processing software. Googling a subject might take hours and physical labor sifting through back editions of the paper or encyclopedias and still yield limited results. Email communications require a phone call, paper memo or even a written letter sent through courier or mail without the Internet. Once out of the office, communication ceases unless a coworker dials a landline nearby.
While most people have capriciously wished for an end to modern technology following a particularly annoying late-night text from an employer, only the smallest minority actually advocates a return to the workplace technology of 50 years ago.
So, why do so many people outside of agriculture think that a return to equally antiquated technology would actually improve farming?
Recently, a column in Stock and Land magazine examined the impact of a large-scale return to the farming methods of our forefathers, a romantic notion with dismal consequences. Instead of growing a crop large enough to share with the world, U.S. farmers would produce only enough food to feed half of the country’s current population. Maintaining levels of dairy, meat and milk production would require two-thirds more land. Increased environmental degradation and social unrest further complicate this already hungry scenario.
Simply, removing technology and scientific advances from modern life seriously damages productivity and effectiveness whether done in corporate or agrarian America. Notably, the negative impact on farming creates a food shortage thus depriving an incredible number of those in towns and cities of the sustenance needed to survive.
Instead of buying into the soft-focus vision of farming that replaces knowledge and understanding with a vague sense of nostalgia, get the facts. Question the farmers and ranchers who produce food about how and why they use the technology and practices that they do. Look at the bounty of healthy options U.S. agriculture offers. Become part of national discussion about food that seeks a better tomorrow instead of a rose-tinted version of the past.
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