Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another domino was Home Ec...

As part of the last generation to remember schools preparing women to be primarily mothers and housewives, it now seems there was more than a little logic to it.  People who know the basics of kitchen sanitation are the best defense against food-borne pathogens.

"We're paying Martha Stewart to teach us the home ec stuff that's been taken out of the schools. Parenting, fashion, food. That's all home ec. The reality TV shows are merely picking up on that and making money from it."
She offers more evidence of the popularity of human ecology in noting the knitting club at Western, the farmers' market held Tuesdays at Brescia and the fact the Bernardin Canning Company can't offer enough courses in canning to meet demand. "They're backed up for months and months."
And she discusses the need now, and more than ever, for the skills taught in this field.
There is the obesity crisis in North America, with 26% of young people aged two to 17 deemed to be overweight.
The necessity of ensuring safe food and water for all is another example, and a local one, with lead water pipes back in the news. [More]
Say what you will about fried chicken, but hot grease kills pathogens pretty effectively.  But as we placed less emphasis on things like cooking and kitchen basics, the health responsibility for food passed up the line, especially hitting the meat industry.  Demands for food safety led to intense regulation which led to this:

What struck me as a high fastball directed at my head was a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined from 1,211 to 809 between 1992 and 2008 while the number of small farmers of livestock increased by 108,000 in the last five years.
At first blush, I considered this uptick in farmers naive and committing economic suicide if they can’t get their product processed in a timely fashion to sell at their markets starving for locally produced meats. It is akin to crates of lettuce rotting on my dad’s packing platform because the truck transporting the goods to the produce market broke down.
That is precisely the scene described by the Times for many livestock farmers in Vermont and upstate New York. By the time they travel long distances or wait for an opening at a slaughterhouse, the animals are stressed and unfit for butchering. Some farmers make reservations for the slaughterhouses before their cows, pigs or sheep are even born.
The decline of slaughterhouses is both economical and environmental. Animal rights activists such as People For The Preservation of Animals (PETA) play a small role. Even in farming communities, no one wants them in their back yards.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Times interview “It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this. Particularly in the Northeast, where there is indeed a backlog and lengthy wait for slaughter facilities.”
The increase of small, independent livestock farmers is part of a movement for America’s local-food movement, championed by so-called locavores. But, it is what my dad would say was “putting the cart before the horse” if the supply chain is interrupted.
“There are a lot of people out there who raise great animals for us to use, and they don’t have the opportunity to get them to us because the slaughterhouses are going away,” said Bill Telepan, chef and owner of Telepan, a high-end restaurant in New York.
The newspaper quotes Randy Quenneville, program chief for the Vermont meat inspection service,. that small, family-owned slaughterhouses started closing when strict federal rules regarding health control went into effect in 1999.
The result was large corporations such as Cargill began to take over much of the nation’s meat market. [More]
I agree with the author that the greater threat will not be HSUS and PETA, but a broken value chain for agrarian production. Perhaps market demand will encourage new small slaughterhouses, but I am skeptical.

It could be the trend to industrial food production is irreversible within the current risk-tolerance of our culture. I'm not sure this can't be changed, however. But of all the threat to meat consumption they are on the horizon, I think food safety in the home is where we should be focusing.


Anonymous said...

In Ontario we have lost I would think 75% of our small abbatoirs as gov't just keeps adding more reg's and adding to there COB until they give up...never heard of anyone around here dying from eating farm freezer beef....last multi species little slaughterhouse is just 5 miles north of where you will be speaking in Leamington and too add injury too there business a 100 acre greenhouse has been built around them 5' from there property line and residence on 2 sides...and we have a provincial battle over selling unpasteurized milk as that is illegal....hmmm as one of the pork leaders said never let a good crisis go too waste---we can either get bitter or better-regards-kevin

Anonymous said...

There have been several articles, most recently in Saturday's NYT, about the shortage of local slaughterhouses. If the demand is there they will be find a way to operate but premium pricing for their product will be necessary.