Food Ink 8

Podcast, Avocado Oil, Cow Farts, Big Oil, Mystery Seeds, Privilege...

Hello friends and farmers,

Pretty excited to share that I was on the Sustainable Dish podcast last week. I first connected with Diana Rodgers when I was moving out here to the farm because of her book, Sacred Cow, which just dropped, and her upcoming film, also Sacred Cow. I haven't started the book yet, but I'm grateful for the research-based approach she's taken to present the case for meat amidst all of the plant-based hype.

On the podcast, I talked with the new host of the show Lauren Stine about making a drastic career change, how my mom reacted, being an Asian American in agriculture, and the morality of eating meat. I've been on a podcast once before, for the Paleo meal delivery business I started several years ago, but that was before podcasts became mainstream. It was nerve-wracking to be on a podcast this big! Lauren and I ended up chatting for a while after we stopped recording - she's a first-generation farmer herself, having left a career in law, so I had tons of questions for her. I wished we had captured that for the podcast because I was less nervous by then, but after listening to the episode, it turned out pretty well after all.

Listen to the full episode here. Challenge: count how many times I say "like." It's a lot. I'm working on it.


🥑 The avocado oil in your "healthy" snacks and condiments is probably rancid. In a study at UC Davis, "scientists analyzed 22 samples of commercially available avocado oil: 15 had gone rancid before their best-by date, while six were likely cut with large quantities of other, cheaper oils." Three of them were 100% soybean oil. This is why I'm always suspicious of new food trends and any products, ingredients, or marketing claims that pick up steam quickly. Remember how a dozen plant-based meat alternatives popped up last year as Beyond Meat stock soared? When giant food companies can churn out a "new" product that quickly, I call bullshit. It's a clear sign that the product is still heavily entrenched in the current industrial monocropping paradigm, which is neither healthy for us nor the environment. The only thing that really changes is the marketing.

It's also why I stick to animal fats, usually bacon fat that I save but I sometimes also render my own tallow from beef. Here's a good step-by-step guide on How to Render Lard the Right Way, which is basically the same thing I do for tallow. Hint: lard = pork fat, tallow = beef fat.

🌱 Going further on our new "healthy" snack foods, if you look at consumption data, they give a pretty strong signal that grains and seed oils might be to blame for our modern health woes. We're eating more grains, seed oils, and sugars, which is precisely where the profit margins are and where our health issues come from. Further centralization of our food system, from the likes of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, will accelerate this trend, making our health, environmental, and economic woes worse, not better. We need to support better meat, not "innovative" Frankenfoods.

👑 And definitely not climate red herrings. Burger King recently launched an ad campaign promoting beef from cattle fed lemongrass to reduce their enteric emissions. While I'm sure many of their ad execs thought this was a great campaign to benefit both their image and the environment, if you know anything about agriculture or the carbon cycle, you'll know that this ad campaign was ill-informed and idiotic. It's not far off from the way plant-based meat misses the mark on a solution, instead opting for a lesser evil.

First off, it's cow belches, not farts, that are responsible for the enteric emissions of cattle. Second, the impact of methane is widely misunderstood; while it's true that methane is more potent than carbon dioxide in its warming effect, its half-life is an order of magnitude shorter than that of CO2. Yes, reducing methane, along with other greenhouse gases, is important, but it's also critical to understand that it, like carbon dioxide, is part of a cycle when it involves animals and plants. On the other hand, the extraction and use of fossil fuels is largely a one way street. Finally, looking to alter or supplement cattle feed to reduce enteric emissions is inane without considering the larger context of how they are raised. Are they confined to feedlots where the concentration of their manure is detrimental to their health as well as ours and that of the land? Or are they out in pastures, grazing and moving around, where their manure is beneficial in enriching the microbial activity in the soils, encouraging grass regrowth, and sequestering carbon in deep root systems.

Thankfully, after the initial backlash they received for this campaign, Burger King seems to have acknowledged their misstep and appears to be exploring what a true root cause solution would look like. Read more about that here.

⏪ In related climate mishap news, the UN recently deleted their tweet claiming that meat causes more green house gases than oil companies. It may seem like a small, even insignificant thing, but the importance of this can't be overstated. We so often fall back on appeals to authorities when it comes to complex and important issues like climate change, health, etc. so it's important that we hold those "authorities" accountable to factually accurate information, as their stances often become conventional thinking. Very grateful for smart and vigilant people like Frank Mitloehner, who appears to have been involved in this effort and is one of the folks consulting with Burger King on how they can make productive, not performative, change.

The climate impact of agriculture is constantly overstated. Yes, it is important, but it is not the leading contributor, not by a long shot. The real value of examining agriculture's role in climate change is in the potential for reversal as opposed to the mitigation-minded approach of most sustainability efforts. More on that to come.

📬 ICYMI: Evidently, mysterious packages of seeds have been showing up in people's mail. State agriculture departments are urging recipients not to open them, plant them, or dispose of them haphazardly. The Georgia Agriculture Commissioner said "I hope that it is harmless, but I am concerned that it could be clandestine of some sort." It's wild how much fear this is causing, but attack via invasive weeds apparently goes back to biblical times, when it was considered a crime under Roman Law.

Over a dozen of the plant species have been identified, and they appear to be ordinary garden varieties. I wonder how much of the fear is fueled by xenophobia due to the origin of these seeds. The xenophobia itself is ironic, as we continue to leverage cheap manufacturing in China for so many of our goods, including consumables like plant-based proteins, while condemning China's labor, safety, and health practices and more recently, fanning the flames of blame for the coronavirus. Beyond the xenophobia, it's astounding the amount of fear that can be generated by something as ordinary as mailed seeds. On the one hand, a threat to our agricultural system can be disastrous so it's prudent to be vigilant. On the other hand, this could very well just be a marketing scam to boost the seller's Amazon rating.

🙅🏻‍♂️ In the last newsletter, I referenced David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech where he said "that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about." To further illustrate the difficulty of mere recognition, here's Jordan Peterson, psychologist and widely revered author and speaker, rationalizing how White Privilege doesn't exist. He's considered by many to be an incredibly intelligent person, and his views on political issues are what brought him notoriety. In this talk, he connects the idea of intersectionality to an extreme form of individualism to undermine the basis for Black Lives Matter and the very notion that any sort of systemic oppression or marginalization exists. Peterson's thinking here demonstrates exactly how self-preservation of the ego works. He wants to attribute his success to his own hard work, as we all do, but beyond simply shutting out the possibility of any other possible explanation or contributing factor, he rationalizes it away. Rather than acknowledge and accept that he benefits from being White and male, he argues against the very existence of such a notion. This is very dangerous territory and is exactly what makes this strain of ideological virus so persistent.

🎥 For a very different perspective on the subject of racism, I Am Not Your Negro is now streaming on Netflix. It's an incredible film exploring the stories and perspectives of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. - all three friends and critical figures in the civil rights movement. Their stories are woven together by James Baldwin, mutual friend of all three and a talented writer and important influence in his own right. If you've been on Instagram at all since the explosion of activism spurred by George Floyd's murder, you almost certainly came across some clips or quotes of James Baldwin. The film offers an important and often overlooked perspective of American history and the civil rights movement. It's also a good reality check on how far we've actually come versus how far we think we've come: many of the clips and quotes seem like they could have been filmed today. Watch the film here.



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Betting the farm,