Corn Commentary

Hands Off the Popcorn!

New York City Mayor Bloomberg seems intent upon transforming the “City that Never Sleeps” into the “City that Never Eats.”

The latest food banning proposal being considered by the New York City Council would limit sizes of treats like popcorn and milkshakes. They have already agreed to put the ban on large size sodas up for a public hearing July 24.

Mayor Bloomberg did away with trans fats in the city back in 2006. He also started the National Salt Reduction Initiative to “help food manufacturers and restaurants voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their products.” Talking about the initiative in 2010, Bloomberg admitted that he likes salt. “I put salt on my popcorn — as a matter of fact, popcorn without salt is not popcorn,” was the quote.

Well, popcorn without more popcorn isn’t popcorn either!

There’s no doubt that movie theater concession sizes have more than super-sized over the last 20 years. I used to work at a movie theater in high school and our small popcorn was actually small and only cost 50 cents! The “small” sizes today were large sizes a couple of decades ago – but they cost a lot more.

Still, when families and groups of teenagers go to movie theaters together they often share large tubs of popcorn between them. When you divide a tub of popcorn between several people, it’s not that much. Will the New York City Council account for that? Will they just make it a law that you have to prove how many people are in your party to purchase a tub?

This is pure insanity. When I posted about the Salt Reduction Initiative two years ago, I used the following quote from a character in the movie “Demolition Man” who was speaking against the futuristic society that had bans on everything it considered “bad” for people:

I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, “Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?” I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I’ve SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing “I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener.”

Could we have a future with only banana-broccoli shakes for food? No super-sizes, of course.

Celebrity Chefs Forget a Pinch of Humility, Whip Up Bitter Baloney

This election year, Americans are already growing increasingly agitated with pompous, self-important celebrities who feel an uncontrollable desire to pontificate upon politics. Qualified only by having played a politician in a made-for-TV movie or having co-written a B-side flop, these self-anointed bearers of the divine torch of celebri-smarts help us regular folk understand our mistaken, unworldly personal ponderings.

Honestly, who could take a multi-millionaire who plays dress-up for a living seriously when he or she banters on about the plight of the common folk? Did they learn about Main Street in a Method class?

Another group of sell-out celebrats, the chefs of cable TV, who not only feed actors but often host their own insightful television programs, want to tell average Americans how to think about the farm bill.  In a letter proudly coordinated by the Environmental Working Group, intellectual icons including Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio trumpeted their opposition to big, rich commodity farms while wrapping themselves in the trendy terminology of the local, organic and environmental movements. As much as they criticize the Senate legislation, how many of these signers even read it?

To be frank, it seems a tad hypocritical to take the bully pulpit preaching a populist gospel while rubbing elbows with the sophomoric socialites who get a kick out of menus that offer greater detail about each truffle-decorated tapa than their letter offers about the world-changing policies proposed. It’s like they all live in Portlandia.

The only advice these elitist epicureans have the expertise to dish out pertains to the dishes in their ovens. Most Americans cannot afford to dine at their establishments; America cannot afford to bite into their half-baked policies.

Farmers feed us in a meaningful, sustainable fashion. So, call the trendy wannabes out for what they are and stand by a classic.  America’s farm families need a farm bill now.  America’s top chefs need a new hobby.

Consumers Just Might Like HCFS Better

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may have denied a petition to officially change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to corn sugar, but the marketplace might just discover consumers actually like HFCS better.

After making a big deal two years ago about switching the recipe for Hunt’s Ketchup to include sugar instead of HFCS, ConAgra has apparently now quietly decided to switch back. According to Food, ConAgra officials say consumer demand for the product was “not as strong as expected.” The company will continue to keep one line of ketchup, labeled as “all natural,” with sugar in place of HFCS.

The company has sent out no formal release on the change and Food Navigator USA gets the credit for breaking the story, although it means it’s not getting out there in the mainstream media. You would think that ConAgra would want to let consumers know that they are giving them back what they want.

Several other companies have created HFCS-free product lines while retaining original versions with HFCS, but ConAgra decided two years ago to make the switch for “every bottle” of ketchup. There can only be one reason why they are now going to offer one version with HFCS and one without – their sales must have dropped when they changed the recipe.

Go figure. We consumers are funny that way. We tend to buy what we like. So, perhaps if the food companies decide to create separate lines of products with and without HFCS they will find that consumers prefer the one that tastes the best.

Warning! Exposure to Organics Shown to Cause Self-Righteous Snobbery

Online parodies have long poked fun at the self-righteous rantings of the food elite. Now, a scientific study proves what many with foodie friends have long known.  Eating organic can actually turn you into a jerk.

In all seriousness, the study, published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science, found that exposure to organic foods can “harshen moral judgments.”

Why doesn’t the earth-loving, nurturing persona used to market these foods encourage their target market to act in kind? Because, to no small extent, the feeling of superiority and wholesomeness conferred by their dietary choices leads to self-congratulatory self-righteousness.  Taking the old saying “you are what you eat” to heart, organic devotees look down from their pesticide-free pedestal on those who have not committed to living a similar lifestyle.

What moral quandaries do those who partake in the halo effect ignore?

For many Americans, organics simply are not an option. The price premium placed on these products may seem small to the Whole Foods set, but the majority of ordinary folks in line at the local Aldi’s call the place “Whole Paycheck” for a reason.  An average family, already coping with the remnants of a recession and ever climbing prices at the pump, already makes hard choices about what must be foregone just to get by.  Paying extra for foods that are nutritionally identical makes little sense to the common shopper who still has common sense.

Moreover, these supposedly earth-loving ecovores show little concern for the planets other inhabitants.  The world population will grow to more than nine billion people by 2050. To keep up with that growth, more food will have to be produced over the next 50 years than has been during the past 10,000 years combined. Given that this must be done using finite resources, biotechnology, and other un-trendy technology, provide the yield increases and input decreases necessary to feed these new humans. Promoting starvation might seem harsh, but turning a blind eye while bashing the tools that might feed the hungry really is not all that different.

Finally, they ignore the facts.  400 scientific papers on the health impacts of organic foods have found no difference in nutritional value.  Moreover, consumption of biotech foods has not been shown to produce any effect on human health.

Buying organic has become the modern equivalent of purchasing indulgences.  U.S. farmers work hard to produce an abundant array of affordable safe, nutritious options for our country’s wide variety of consumers to enjoy.  The halo floating over organic-only heads turns out to be a bit tarnished and a tad askew. It is time for the healthier-than-thou crowd to come back down to earth.

To Improve as an Agvocate, Ask If You Serve Conversational Honey or Vinegar

“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Watching CommonGround Colorado volunteers Danell Kalcevic and Cindy Frasier during a live television interview broadcast on Denver’s News9 last week, I remembered this metaphor, which the nuns who ran the high school I attended often used during my tenure.

These two women, facing the cameras for the first time, met remarks which may have ruffled other’s feathers with calm, patient, open understanding.  In return, they gained the trust and respect of the station staff and, most probably, many viewers as well.

Adding a bit of sweetness to their already pleasant personalities, they brought cookies.  Meat cookies to be exact.  So, immediately, they drew interest that, when coupled with the way in which they told their story, helped start a real conversation about food rather than a battle.

The lesson applies to everyone who dedicates time and effort to helping further the public discourse on farming.  Had Danell or Cindy become combative or defensive, the conversation would have stopped.  If we allow ourselves to put up that wall, it shuts out the people who most need to hear the real story of today’s family farmer.

Agvocates need to cultivate their interactions with the same care given to their land.  Imagine how it feels to have someone bluntly call a statement wrong.  Now, imagine a smiling face offering their perspective from what they have seen.  Which agvocate would more likely build a real, productive conversation?

Take a moment to evaluate how implication, tone and non-verbal cues affect a conversation.  Bring honey with you to agvocacy instead of vinegar.

Notably, it never hurts to bring a plate of Beef Cookie Recipe too.

Thanks Dominos For Not Caving to HSUS Whims

Farmers are always getting asked these days to get involved; write a letter, call your Congressman, but how about eat a pizza?  Now activation by the slice is something I think we can sink our teeth into and all wrap our minds around.

With many corporate players caving in to environmental whackos and misinformed consumer groups it is refreshing to see a major player in the restaurant industry like Dominos Pizza tell The Humane Society of the United States to “hold that thought” when they asked them to require pork suppliers to stop housing sows in gestation stalls.

When HSUS asked stockholders to bow down before their warm fuzzy image and the millions in lobbying and PR dollars they wield, Dominos shareholders rejected the resolution.  A Domino’s spokesperson explained that the company relies on animal experts to determine the best way to raise an animal that’s used for food.

Ok, now it is time for full disclosure on my personal bias. Unlike HSUS – that hides behind their false image as the savior of puppies and kitties, while giving a pittance to actual animal shelters.  When I was in college I have to admit to having a real gastronomic romance with Domino’s Pizza. The food was inexpensive which is critical to a student on a budget and they delivered faster than any other food establishment. Also, an important factor for those who get a random hunger for pizza late at night.

I still have that pizza problem today…love it, eat it weekly and still a fan of Dominos. I can openly live with this “pizza problem.”

One has to wonder how HSUS employees sleep at night knowing full well that they are spending their vast resources to drive a vegetarian agenda and hides a lifestyle choice as a moral cause. And they do so while constantly misrepresenting themselves to the general public.

Thankfully many people are taking note of the online “Farmers Paying It Forward with Pizza” campaign that was the brainchild of Clarence, Missouri pork producer and Ag blogger Chris Chinn.

The Brownfield Network became the most recent public entity to take note of Dominos act of corporate heroism. A logical decision really, but heroic none-the-less given the lack of spine and sense of right that seems to have invaded much of corporate America.

So, thanks to Chris, Brownfield and many others for bringing this into the light of day and challenging us all to show support of Dominos. And for the record I like my activism with parmesan sprinkled on top.

Destroying Basic Principles of American Society, One Occupation at a Time

Property rights sign vandalized by occupy protesters.In coverage of the recent “occupation” of agricultural research land at the University of California- Berkley, one essential point was striking in its absence.  While a public university, the land these so-called activists forcibly took over is, in fact, private property.  Their actions in doing so showed complete disregard for the principles upon which our nation was founded, for the well-being of the institution’s students and for the rapidly growing world population whose food security depends upon the products of agricultural research.

Clinging to worn-out rhetoric shrouded in a mindless, trendy façade, these protesters stand against a fundamental principle upon which the nation is based.  The ownership of private property has been held as a fundamental value of American society since the revolution.  The nation’s forefathers enshrined it in the Constitution, and, in doing so, created a country to which many have fled in order to gain this protection.  Placing their judgment above that of the university governing board, state government and of the people which those legislators represent, this fringe group forcibly chose to repurpose land to suit its own agenda.

What did the people who support this university lose?

They lost a valuable asset that provided the university with an outdoor laboratory.  Agricultural research often culminates in necessary field trials that allow scientists to test how new varieties or products will react in circumstances similar to those in which they may ultimately grow.  This land was not a common area without a stated purpose.  These protestors stole a valuable resource.

They lost the valuable time.  Right now, the future food security of the world depends upon agricultural research.   In next 40 years, farmers will need to produce more food than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined to ensure the food supply keeps up with population growth.  In light of this challenge, taking fields used for research into the products which will make this possible is tantamount to taking food from the mouths of those who will need it within our lifetime.

Actions have real consequences.  The “Occupy the Farm” movement has shown how disregard for the basic ground rules governing our society, no matter how supposedly well-intentioned, results in real harm.  Their lack of foresight and careful scrutiny of the possibly consequences of their actions shows the irresponsibility inherent in policies they espouse.

Starvation Through Snobbery

Think that everyone should eat only organic foods?  A new study published in Nature magazine disputes this notion as, if a move of this sort were made, many people would not eat at all.

Ignoring ongoing disputes over the value of different types of farming, many of which are based on anti-technology myths and misinformation, the study finds that, in most cases, truly organic production practices cannot meet the demands of a hungry world.

“Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices,” the article cites. “Organic agriculture performs particularly poorly for vegetables and some cereal crops such as wheat, which make up the lion’s share of the food consumed around the world.”

In the end, the choice of whether to select organic or conventionally grown food comes down to consumer preference.  America’s farmers work hard to provide an abundant, affordable variety of safe options every year.  Don’t take away the very tools helping ensure that they can continue to do so.

News: Common Sense No Longer Common

Today, the Associated Press demonstrated why common sense is no longer common and often does not make a significant amount of so-called sense.  In a story written to promote a Eurocentric anti-modern meat agenda, the media source rambles on about the evils of administering antibiotics to sick cattle, pigs and chickens. Fear-mongering at its finest, the author uses sparse quotes from agenda-driven groups, unaccredited consumers and specialty producers who would personally benefit from a ban, to supplement the single, credible quote from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which states clearly, when taken on its own, that indiscriminant antibiotic use is not favorable.

The questions ignored are myriad.  Do antibiotics have a role to play in animal agriculture? How are they actually used on a normal American farm? Why do the current regulations remain in place?

The author, through crafty copy, attempts to sway the reader from asking these basic, simple questions through a subtext appealing to the idea that all readers with common sense would make the same assumptions he does.  If using antibiotics can be bad, it cannot ever be beneficial.  If the interest groups and niche marketers seem like good, conscientious people, then the family farmers who day in and out produce safe, nutritious, affordable food choices in abundance for the country must be the party at fault.  The more modern technology, here in the form of medication, used to produce that food, the higher the chance that it will not be as wholesome as what our forefathers and mothers ate.

Useless nostalgia for a past seen through rose-tinted glasses aside, Americans today benefit from the safest food supply in recorded history.  They have a much wider array of healthy, safe choices than could have been conceived in a pre-penicillin past.

How can the average person find information, both facts and firsthand accounts, from knowledgeable sources willing to explain what they say?  In the case of food questions, CommonGround volunteers across the country share true accounts of how they grow and raise food on their own farms.  Plus, their stories are supported by credible, complete information from actual experts.

If you want to know more about antibiotics than the mainstream media is able to provide, take a moment to meet Teresa Brandenberg, a cattle rancher from Kansas.  A young mother who cares deeply for both her family and her cattle, Teresa understands the government regulations for antibiotic use, the reasoning behind those rules and how it affects families, both hers and yours.

Maybe, it could more accurately be said that common sense still plays an important role in the life of most Americans.  With so many urban and suburbanites far removed from the farm, asking questions about what feeds their families both natural and responsible. Talking to the people who live that story makes a lot of sense.

Listening to over-hyped, sensationalized accounts of farming written by Washington media? Maybe that is what doesn’t make sense after all.

Putting Your Time and Energy Where Your Heart Is

Joan Ruskamp and HyVee shoppers talk foodNo matter how great a product may be, a bad name can lead to a serious uphill battle.  Veterans of the war to correct misinformation about high fructose corn syrup understand this problem intimately.  Now, cattle ranchers have found that the public may turn on a food ingredient, despite previous clamor for the benefits that it provides, if it goes by the unfortunate nickname of “pink slime.”

As many blog away or create infographics for social media dispersion, Nebraska CommonGround volunteers hit the aisles of a local HyVee grocery store last weekend to speak with customers about what the so-called “pink slime” really is and does in person.

The grocery store, which had previously issued releases and fact sheets about their use of the product, welcomed the women, who brought a more intimate understanding of beef to their discussions than even the meat department employees could offer.

Hurried shoppers took a moment to pause, speaking with women like volunteer and cattlewoman Joan Ruskamp, about not only “pink slime”, but also hormone use in meat production and organics.  Together, the farmers and shoppers alike built a mutual understanding through conversations that highlighted both consumer concerns and shared a rancher’s unique understanding of the meat she produces.

Embracing an opportunity to start real, meaningful conversation, the Nebraska volunteers laid the groundwork needed for an ongoing dialogue about food between the farmers and ranchers who grow it and those who eat it.  Taking a moment out of their packed days, the consumers also played a key role in opening a dialogue sharing their concerns and insight.

Real progress takes time and effort, but it is worth everything invested.  So take a moment to consider the real questions that underpin gut reactions to a seemingly off-putting food name.  Take a moment to ask them if you are a consumer. Take a moment to discuss them if you are a farmer.  Together, we share a food system.  Let’s take another step toward improving it for everyone involved.

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