Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Ag Gag" Legislation Passes Both Houses

Have you been following the "ag gag" legislation working its way through the Iowa House and Senate? There was a good guest editorial in today's Gazette about the bill, followed by an article saying it passed both houses and is now headed to Governor Branstad, who is expected to sign it. This is really relevant for our discussions and I'd love to know what you think! The legislators in both houses passed the bill with some watered down wording, and of course Big Ag is vitally important to Iowa's economic interests, but is it okay to restrict this sort of whistle-blowing? Check out information on the bill at the GAP (Government Accountability Project) website, as well.


This is an interesting video with a haunting version of the Coldplay song "The Scientist" by Willie Nelson. It's intriguing to see how a company like Chipotle uses this to promote their products.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Linn County Local Farmer and CSA Fair

Over the past twenty years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become an increasingly popular way for consumers to purchase local, seasonal food directly from the person who grows it. A person can become a member of a CSA and in return receive a box or share of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The box can include vegetables or other farm products.

CSA's are sprouting up all over Linn County. On Sunday, March 18, the 3rd Annual Linn County  Local Farmer and CSA Fair will be held at Prairiewoods from 2 pm to 5 pm. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet local farmers, food growers and CSA farmers. Learn more about CSA shares, locally-produced meats and locally-grown vegetables. The event is free and all are welcome.

Linn Area Reads will also be hosting a fair on April 22 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Farm to Market will be held from 1 - 5 pm and include information on local farmers and food growers. We hope you will take some time to come to one or both of these events and learn more about what is available here in Linn County.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"I see the world from both sides now..."

I hope you all have hurried to your libraries or Barnes and Noble to snatch up your copy of this year's Linn Area Reads selection! I always enjoy books that are thought provoking, but I also enjoy books that force me to look at both sides of an issue. Righteous Porkchop happens to be one of those books.

One of the most compelling issues of the book is how to mass produce meat by sustainable means. As Nicolette points out in her book, there are many issues that arise with the current practices of the mass production of meat. Pollution, both by air and water, illnesses among the animals, and cruelty to animals are serious issues that have to be addressed.

However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the world's population currently stands at roughly 6.997 billion people. That's a lot of mouths to feed! The United States exports billions of dollars of food annually, and according to the Iowa Pork Producers website, the United States exported 2.255 million metric tons of pork in 2011. So the question becomes, how do you keep up the production of food to feed close to 7 billion people? Let alone, how do you do it in an environmentally and socially responsible way? Is there even a way to mass produce meat in a way that makes it healthy and affordable for all?

I understand that there are two sides to every issue, and that sometimes the answers are not always there. I'm curious to know as you all continue to read this book, what you might see as answers to the questions I have posted above.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Off my feed...for awhile

My parents like to tell the story of my decision to give up chicken.

Sometime in the '80s, I saw a report on a television newsmagazine (20/20? 60 Minutes?) about the production of chicken. It was fairly vivid, and wholly disgusting. It put me off chicken for quite awhile. 

And then I started eating it again.

Okay, it's not much of a story. It only makes a decent family story because...well, I don't really know why. But it always strikes us as funny.

At any rate, Righteous Porkchop may well have the same sort of impact as that report did back in the day. And it might be equally temporary. 

But it also might not be. 

See, I was just a kid in the '80s, and what I remember most about the story I saw is that it grossed me out. I don't remember that I had any particular concerns about the ethics of the production of chicken, however. 

Indeed, it would be fair to say that the ethics of food production has never been at the forefront of my mind--not even during my college days as a philosophy major. 

What has crept into my consciousness of late, however, is the awareness that the issue is of increasing importance to an increasing number of people. For that reason, I'm pleased that the Linn Area Reads program has taken up the topic. 

Will Righteous Porkchop put me (or you) off my feed? Maybe. It will certainly provide plenty of food for thought--for me and for the community.

Happy Eggs

My older son thinks the eggs we get from Forest Hill Farm taste better than regular eggs.

"They're more creamy," he says.

Well, I heard a story on Splendid Table once, in which the host described an egg taste test that pitted locally-produced eggs from happy chickens
against your standard eggs from battery hens.

The results were split.  Only about half of the tasters thought some of the eggs tasted creamier and "eggier"--those were the eggs from pasture-raised hens.

But it was pretty hard to tell which eggs were from happy hens.  This surprised me.

That doesn't mean that it's not worth eating locally-produced eggs from happy hens.  While they may not really taste any better in a careful test, they are fresher, they promote better treatment of animals, and the profits go directly to the farmer.  And besides, those eggs also contain more Omega 3.

Plus, I love the color of my farm-fresh eggs!  The fresh yolks are round, firm, and deep gold.  My mother always said that food should be visually pleasing--and farm fresh eggs please my eyes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

To Meat or Not To Meat?

So yes, it's a cheesy title for this post, but the first thing I think of when I think of the Linn Area Reads 2012 selection, The Righteous Porkchop, is "Do I even want to eat the porkchop, righteous or not?" Ok, so that's not actually the first thing I think because I already know the answer. For me anyway. I do not. I'm a vegetarian and have been for well over 20 years. It's been a fitting lifestyle for me and I have never once regretted my decision to cut meat out of my diet, but at the same time I do not believe that it is the right choice for everyone - which is exactly why I am not raising my son as a vegetarian. (As the fates would have it, it turns out that I'm not even raising him to like vegetables that much. Go figure.)

I've noticed in recent years that more and more people are experimenting with vegetarian lifestyles and I think this is a good thing. Some people seem to take to it and make it their new lifelong approach to eating. Others do it for a while and find that it's not really for them. I think a lot of this experimenting is the result of some diet trends that are out there, but whatever the cause I think the focus on eating meat being a conscious decision is positive in general. I have known people to say they're trying to cut meat out of their diet, but it's "too hard." It was never very hard for me because it was right choice for me - a natural choice, in fact. I personally believe that if it's "too hard," you probably shouldn't do it - unless the doctor is telling you otherwise, of course. (There are plenty of things I've tried to cut out of my diet that I simply could not do, yet other people seem to do so with relative ease. I choose to believe I am meant to eat those things. Don't force me to believe otherwise, please!) But once you're thinking about the meat in your diet (and deciding you want to keep it there), it's a great time to think about where that meat comes from and where you want it to come from. The Righteous Porkchop's look at the meat industry is an opportunity to become better informed.

If you're thinking that a vegetarian lifestyle might be a better option for you, take a bit of time and look into all the vegetarian options there are now. (And I would also encourage you to discuss any major dietary changes with your doctor.) You are not limited to vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian. You do not have to live by conventional guidelines. Do not be afraid to create an option that fits you best. There are plenty of people out there that are living variations on a vegetarian lifestyle by eliminating certain meats from their diet or cutting meat out of their meals most days, but saving one day a week to indulge in that steak they just can't live without. Be bold and creative a food philosophy that works best for you.

Once in a while my son will be eating a chicken breast or a hamburger or, yes, perhaps a porkchop and he'll say, "This is so good. I wish you could eat meat." I like to respond, "I can, but I've made a choice." For each of us, the choice is ours and I think that's the most important thing to remember...whether you're choosing the porkchop or the Tofurky.

If you are considering a vegetarian diet or are interested in the background and different views on vegetarianism, here is one of the many sites that can give you a bit of information: I find the history and the list of pros and cons provided at this site to be quite interesting.

Don't forget that you can discuss food and lifestyle options and outlooks at the collaborative book discussions throughout the month of March. Help us kick it off at your local library - Cedar Rapids, Marion, or Hiawatha - on Thursday, March 1st at 6:30 pm! You might even be given a copy of the book if you're lucky. Those librarians are so nice!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do I Want to Change?

I haven't finished Righteous Porkchop yet. I may find the going rough--it's non-fiction (and I usually read fiction) and it deals with some uncomfortable truths. And it will force me to ask inconvenient questions. Questions such as "Is it possible to eat well and sustainably at an affordable price?" or "Where can I find sustainable food?" or "Is it reasonable to think that industrialized livestock production is wrong?"

While I read Hahn Niman's book I want to keep these thoughts in mind. While I submerge myself in her research, her opinions and her vegetarian take on meat production, I want to discuss her opinions with a group of other readers, other people who have taken or want to take a stand on this issue. If you love a good discussion, meet one of the Linn Area Reads committee members on March 1 at any of our libraries for an introduction to the book or on March 8, 15, 22 or 29 at Barnes and Noble at 6:30. We will talk about successive parts of the book each week. See you there!

However, if you can't come by read the questions and answers on the Chowhound website. Visit Chowhound's website is dedicated to "Discuss chow in general, including nationally available products, internet & mail-order, national cuisines and tips for chowhounding." Nicolette Hahn Niman and her husband Bill Niman answered online questions for 5 days in July 2009. Many of the questions and answers are ones that I am asking myself.

Now, can I eat and live sustainably? Yes. Do I want to? Most assuredly. How will I start? I already have. Visit your local farms for fresh food. Join a food co-op. Haunt your area Farmers Markets. We have choices.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farming

Has anyone started reading the book yet? If you would like to participate in the community discussions at Barnes & Noble, you can stop at our kick-off book discussion parties at the libraries at 6:30 on Thursday, March 1 -- or just head to Barnes & Noble at 6:30 on Thursday, March 8 for the first discussion. We will be talking about the Foreword and Chapters 1-3 that evening.

If you've ever wanted to do a book discussion before, but either couldn't get the book read in time, or just felt overwhelmed, this format may be your cup of tea: we're splitting the book into quarters and discussing a different section on each of four successive Thursdays: right-sized, bite-sized pieces to facilitate great conversations.

In the meantime, for a little background reading, you can whet your appetite with the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production's recent report: "Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America." The link will get you to the Executive Report, pretty interesting stuff. What do you think?

Interesting Icons

This morning, we noticed here at the Marion Library that some wily patron had changed the labels on the icons on our public catalog computers. Does this have anything to do with the Linn Area Reads title announcement yesterday? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Collaborative Book Discussion--You are invited!

Our 2012 Linn Area Reads selection “Righteous Porkchop” is a wonderful non-fiction book written by a former lawyer who becomes engrossed in the world of factory farming and a crusader for traditional farms and treating animals kindly. When the book was selected we realized it wasn’t necessarily the easiest book to read and it may be somewhat intimidating to get started. That’s why one of our first programs will be a collaborative book discussion. 

On Thursday, March 1, we invite everyone to a kick-off party at each of the three metro libraries: Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha and Marion Public Libraries. Anyone who wants to join in the discussion is welcome! The party will be an opportunity to get copies of the book (while they last), learn more about the Linn Area Reads selection, snack on some treats, and meet other readers. We will be reading and discussing the book in four parts throughout the month of March. You do not have to attend the kick off party to attend the discussion. 

This is a great opportunity for people who may not have participated in a book discussion before. Getting to know a little more about the discussion and the book before you go to a discussion can make it much less intimidating. We invite you to your local library March 1 at 6:30 pm. Hope to see you there!

A new book for 2012

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2012 Linn Area Reads community book discussion blog! We have a number of folks set to talk to you about Nicolette Hahn Niman's book, Righteous Porkchop -- the 2012 selection, and about our programs and ways you can get involved. We'll be sharing information about living a greener lifestyle and eating local foods. We hope you'll share what you know about living and eating wisely so we can all leave smaller footprints. Check back and contribute to the discussion as often as you like.