Saturday, August 21, 2010

One More Reason to Eat Local

The egg recall this week underscored for me yet one more reason to eat local. While the headlines blared with long lists of brands and plant numbers that might have been affected, and readers from coast to coast went to check whether the eggs they bought in a nearby supermarket that were labeled Lucerne, or Albertson, or Farm Fresh (that one is particularly ironic), or Dutch Farms, or nine (nine!) other different brands could have been affected by a salmonella outbreak all the way over in Iowa, I thought about the eggs I ate that morning and how they came from a farm in Orland, CA, about 90 minutes away from where I live, and went on to read something else in the newspaper.

In fact, I can look up the farm where our eggs are laid on Google Maps and see the grass where the chickens are pastured. Given that an increasing number of industrialized egg producers are starting to market one or two of the many brands they produce to appeal to the organic/health-conscious crowd, plastering buzzwords like "free-range" and "all-vegetarian feed!" on the outside of the carton (which doesn't mean much of anything -- you want to look for the word pastured), it's nice to be able to look up the actual farm and see actual grass. (In contrast, it turns out that many of the seemingly-small-farm egg brands sold around here come from one centralized, industrialized plant with a few big chicken warehouses and no grass in sight, including "Judy's Family Farm" organic eggs and Uncle Eddie's free-range eggs and several others that pretend to be local, family-run enterprises. is a good resource for tracking down real local farms and ranches in your area that produce grass-fed meat and poultry.)

It's not that eating local protects you from ever possibly getting contaminated food (although as the film "Food, Inc" points out, a number of industrialized food practices do increase the chances of disease, either for the animals or for the people eating the food or both). But it seems kind of crazy that a contamination problem in Galt, Iowa, could affect half a billion eggs sold nationwide. And according to this article, the huge livestock firm that may be responsible for the outbreak has already been associated with an array of charges from violating environmental laws to mistreating female workers. How insane is it to think that the store-brand eggs you can buy at a nearby supermarket might come from 2,000 miles away, and that buying those eggs sends your money to an immense and almost invisible firm that has a record of mistreating employees and the environment, not to mention its animals?

I would never in a million years hand my money to people who were known to do things like leave chickens to suffocate in garbage cans, fire employees for their (lack of) religious beliefs, maintain a work environment that a Labor Secretary called "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen," and sexually assault their female workers. But apparently, up until just a few weeks ago, I was doing exactly that.

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