In 1900, the average dairy cow in America produced 424 gallons of milk each year. By 2000, that figure had more than quadrupled, to 2,116 gallons. In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the incredible science that transformed the American cow into a milk machine—but we also uncover the disturbing history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied it. Read more
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Kiera Butler’s fascination with 4-H began in 2011 after she attended a county fair for the first time. A senior editor at Mother Jones, Butler grew up in “unleafy” Sommerville, Massachusetts, where country living wasn’t an option. Flush in the middle of a love affair with CSA-boxes, urban chicken coops, and Michael Pollan-inspired farm-to-table food, Butler writes about her first trip to the Alameda County Fair: “You might be wondering why a grown woman was displaying toddler-like delight at the prospect of seeing barnyard animals. The truth is I was going through a livestock phase.” Read more
Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it’s not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.
Just five miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border you’ll find one of these places. Idyllic red farm buildings sit in the shadow of the main abbey, all tucked in a stony valley. At the Abbey of St. Walburga, cattle, water buffalo and llamas graze on grass under the watchful eye of Benedictine nuns. Read more
Animal rights activists and poultry farmers are often at odds. But, increasingly, the two camps are starting to work together. In the video below, which was released today as part of Compassion in World Farming (CWF)’s Better Chicken Campaign, Leah Garces, the U.S. director of the UK-based organization, gets invited to tour the farm of Craig Watts, a contract poultry producer for Perdue. Read more
For years, beef has been Public Enemy Number One for environmentalists and health advocates alike. Headlines warn that livestock production, particularly for cattle, poses the worst environmental risk than anything else in the world, and that eating red meat can substantially increase your chance of dying from heart disease or cancer.
If you’re like most good food advocates, calling for a drastic reduction in beef production is a no-brainer. Right?
Nicolette Hahn Niman, vegetarian rancher, environmental lawyer, and wife of Bill Niman, founder of the eponymous Niman Ranch, lays out a compelling case in her new book Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production. As she sees it, if we want to fight climate change, we may want to actually raise more cattle. Read more
At first glance, writing an exposé on the pork industry might seem outside Ted Genoways’ wheelhouse. He’s the author of two books of poetry and has penned a biography of Walt Whitman—not necessarily what one expects from someone writing about modern meat production in the U.S.
But Genoways, who has written on factory farming for Mother Jones and is the grandson of a former packinghouse worker from Omaha, Nebraska, brings his interests together by focusing on working class Midwestern life. His newest book, The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, is a chilling indictment of today’s pork industry told through the story of one company, Hormel Foods. Essentially, it’s The Jungle for the modern era.
We recently spoke with Genoways about his new book, Hormel, and the fact that much of our food has become less safe over time. Read more
So you’re cutting back on steak to lower your cholesterol or your carbon footprint but you don’t want to live on beans and tofu alone. Can you subsist on veggie burgers with the flavor profile of emulsified paper? And should that faux-chicken really have 37 ingredients? What is autolyzed yeast extract and “natural vegan flavor” anyway? Read more
McDonald’s announced today that it’s making a greater effort at offering transparency and engagement to the public, in a new campaign it’s calling “Our Food, Your Questions.” McDonald’s has a serious image problem and a sagging bottom line, which might explain its sudden willingness to fling the barn door open as a way to shed its reputation for serving mass-produced, unhealthy food. Showing the public how the sausage is made may win favor with some consumers, but a better strategy for the fast food giant would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability. Read more
For years Dan O’Brien raised cattle on his ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After enduring beef’s punishing boom and bust cycle and experiencing first-hand the environmental toll that cattle took on his land, O’Brien made a dramatic change. He started raising North American Bison*, the great icon of the Great Prairie, instead. Read more
Update: The 6-state lawsuit mentioned in this piece has since been thrown out by a U.S. District judge.
Ed Olivera is making a sizable investment in his San Jose, California-based egg operation this year. And just in time. He and other egg producers in the state now have less than four months to meet new, more humane standards for laying hens set to go into effect on January 1, 2015.
Olivera is “taking out partitions,” between the battery cages many of his laying hens live in, making the remaining cages larger. He’s also putting in a brand new building filled with an “enriched colony system,” or enriched cages, which will house 200,000 hens. The standard battery cage is only 67 square inches (see the photo to the right), and has a footprint smaller than a letter-sized piece of paper, but the new cages hold more birds and allow around twice as much space (116 square inches) per bird. Now the legal standard for all laying hens in Europe, enriched cages are still a new concept in the U.S. (See an example from the EU below.) Read more