Q & A with Maureen Ogle, Author of “In Meat We Trust”

I have the perfect gift for the foodie in your life: “In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America,” written by Maureen Ogle, it traces the origins of our food system and its meat-centric bias. “The moment European settlers arrived in North America,” Ogle says, “they began transforming the land into a meat-eater’s paradise.” Today, we Americans consume about the same amount as the colonists, an astounding 250 pounds a year per man, woman, and child in this country.

This book traces our food system from its colonial origins to today. It is a fascinating journey through crowded and noisy streets filled with pigs, sheep, and cattle, and slick and redolent with animal urine, feces and blood to today’s highly efficient system that is hidden from most of us.

You may want to dismiss her book as merely history, but if you ignore the real story she tells, the history, you allow storytellers to fabricate a mythical past that never was and preach “solutions” that will never be. As Ms. Ogle told me in an e-mail interview:

“Much of the discussion about our ‘broken’ food system is simplistic. Too simplistic, in that simplifying causes can (and in this case does) lead to simplistic and impractical solutions. I believe (and hope!) that if all of us take time to understand how and why we got to where we are—the actual complex history of that how/why—we can have a more informed, substantive conversation about agriculture’s future.

“An example of ‘simple’ is that mythology about agriculture in American history. Our myth revolves around the sturdy yeoman farmer, living off the land in perfect harmony with nature, etc. Many well-meaning critics of today’s food and ag systems want to return to that imagined past. But that past is just that: imagined and mythological. It can’t and won’t address the complex problems of feeding not just an urban nation, but large parts of the world, too.”

What was the impetus to write a book on meat in America?

“What links my four seemingly disparate books (plumbing, Key West, beer, meat) is my [historian’s] desire to understand what it means to be an American. In that respect, meat was a perfect vehicle to further my quest for understanding: as the cliché says, food and diet tell us much about a people. I believed that if I dug into our meat culture, I would learn more about the American character. And, hooray, I did!”

Many, such as food writer Michael Pollan and chef and organic advocate Alice Waters, believe that organically grown food would be much lower impact. What leads you to disagree?

“Pollan and company tend to regard ‘organic’ as a kind of silver bullet that will repair our (allegedly) broken food system. That’s both a misleading and overly simplistic way to view the situation. I’ve got nothing against organic, in the field or on the table. What I object to is the notion that switching to organic farming is a practical alternative to meeting demands. Organic farmers will tell you that it’s a hard field to till: the bugs and pests and blights are all out there and they’re gonna attack whether you want them to or not.

“If we can figure out how to create an intensive organic agricultural system using the same amount of land and labor that we use now, well, go for it. But the reality is: we can’t. It seems to me that organic is more a smokescreen than a practical alternative; by offering up organic as the solution, critics can avoid dealing with hard questions.”

What was your biggest “aha!” discovery about our food system?

“Frankly, just how complex it is. I suspect that I’m like most Americans: I take food for granted. It’s everywhere I want to be and then some. But I’d never thought about the logistics of feeding a big nation, or the complexities involved when the majority of a society is urban and farmers are few in number. And that despite having lived in an agricultural state (Iowa) my entire life. So my ‘aha!’ moment was: Wow. This. Is. Complicated.”

* * *

Maureen Ogle, author of In Meat We Trust

To sum up, this book, “In Meat We Trust” tells the true story of our food system. Our system evolved for rational reasons that still apply today. “We may not agree with the decisions that led to that state of affairs,” Ms. Ogle says, “and there’s good reason to abhor the consequences, but on one point we can surely agree: real people made real choices based on what was best for themselves and their families.” That is a real American story.

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Guest Commentary: National Wildland Fire Management Policy and Firefighter Deaths…more rhetoric, no solutions

This is a version of an Op-Ed by Kenn & Susan McCarty that appeared in the Lake County Record-Bee.

Susan is a 16-year wildland firefighter veteran and a former United States Forest Service Hotshot Firefighter. Kenn is a 33-year fire service veteran and is presently a fire hand crew supervisor for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Continue reading

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It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Top Five Green Stories for 2012

This has been submitted to the Lake County Record-Bee

 It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Top Five Green Stories for 2012

Tis the season for looking back on the previous year; here are my picks for 2012’s top environmental stories plus a bonus story:

1. California’s Cap and Trade Program Begins.

Global Warming

Global Warming (Photo credit: mirjoran)

As U.S. CO2 emissions hit a 20 year low, the California Air Resources Board began its cap and trade program by auctioning off allowances of one metric ton of CO2 equivalent (greenhouse gas – GHG). The goal of the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006, was to bring statewide emissions down to its 1990 levels by 2020. Depending on who spun the story, the first auction, which raised significantly less revenue, than projected, was a qualified success or a fool’s errand.
There are two more auctions to go, but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the state may expect less than one-third of lawmakers’ budget projections.

 2. California’s Proposition 37 Ballot Initiative to Label Food Developed Using Transgenic (Genetically Modified) Methods Defeated.

While Europe looks longingly at the U.S. for our lack of labels on genetically modified crops, a ballot measure was solidly defeated that would have legislated more stringent requirements than Europe. Still, groups continue to fight to have labels placed on food that the Food and Drug Administration maintains is virtually identical to food that was developed through crossbreeding methods.
In other news, in October, Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad whose regime has slaughtered more than 33,000 people, issued a ban on GM food “to preserve the health of human beings.”

3. Earth Summit – Rio + 20.

Some 50,000 people including world leaders, bureaucrats, non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and others converged on hedonistic Rio de Janeiro last June to consider how to “reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.”

Since the data show those things happening without them, they cancelled their trips and did things that were more productive. Not.

4. Italian Scientists Sentenced for Failing to Predict Earthquake.

Rubble on a car
The Italian courts sentenced six Italian scientists and a civil servant to six years in prison and $10 million in fines for failing to communicate the magnitude of risk before the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake that ultimately killed 309 people. The prosecution contended that people were ill prepared due to the seven downplaying earthquake risk following several minor tremors in the area.

Expect scientists and civil servants now to err with reports of direr consequences for any and all events. One-tenth inch of light rain predicted? Close all roads and evacuate the county. We cannot be too cautious now can we?

5. Extreme Weather Events.

From the U.S. drought to megastorm Sandy, it was a year of proofs in the media that catastrophic global warming is occurring due to our releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. BusinessWeek ran an article, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
Time magazine had an article that said, “In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. [Recent] record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries.”
The Time article was written in 1974…about a coming Ice Age.
“Extreme events, like the recent U.S. drought, will continue to occur, with or without human causation,” John R. Christy, PhD, Alabama State Climatologist stated in testimony to congress. Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies, notes, “Flooding has not increased [in the United States] over the past century, nor have landfalling hurricanes.” Pielke adds that, even with this year’s drought, droughts have decreased over the past 100 years.

Because our climate and our earth’s weather have always been in flux, preparedness is our best strategy. Just like earthquakes, extreme weather events happen from time to time. We have seen them in the past; we will see them in the future.

6. Bonus story: December 21, 2012 – The Mayan Apocalypse.

The Mayan calendar ended on the winter solstice in 2012, which, naturally meant the world was ending then. Did you really think that a people who did not predict the conquistadors’ invasion could predict the end of the world?
See you next year.
Sources/Further Reading:

  • Is Weather More Extreme In A Warmer World? The Answer is in the Ice. (EnergyTribune.com)
  • The Birth of Carbon Pricing and Delivering California’s First ‘Climate Dividend’  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-sandler/california-carbon-pricing_b_2205089.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003)
  • Today’s Tornado Outlook: High Risk of Global Warming Hype  http://www.drroyspencer.com/2011/05/todays-tornado-outlook-high-risk-of-global-warming-hype/
  • Guest Commentary: Climate spin is rampant – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_21752735/climate-spin-is-rampant#ixzz2FR3VI9aN
  • “Another Ice Age?” Time. June 24, 1974 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914,00.html#ixzz2FhLcAdhM
  • “First cap-and-trade auction a bust for California budget.” November 21, 2012. http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/11/first-cap-and-trade-auction-a-bust-for-california-budget.html


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