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Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The High Price of Cheap Food & The Big Box Response

For several years, I was a vegetarian, and one of those years, I was vegan. Being vegetarian, especially a vegan vegetarian is a serious commitment, when following the lifestyle in a healthy way (getting enough protein, etc.) As a chef, it isn't only taste that concerns me, but the origin of the foods I eat. Now, I'm a vegetarian who fell off the wagon, so to speak, although, I'm not enjoying meat with wild abandon.

My years spent as a vegetarian were also spent educating myself on the black abyss known as Agribusiness. Voraciously reading journals, articles, books as well as viewing documentaries such as Food Inc., helped me to understand the origin of much of the food we eat in America.

Agribusiness is a complex issue, fraught with contention and mis-information. I'm a blogger and editorial writer, not an author of books, so I'll try to be succinct with this post. Did you know that 5 agribusiness conglomerates control the majority of the foods we eat in this country? That's, right - 5! From fresh food to processed food, most of whatever ends up on your table has been shepherded there by companies like ConAgra and their ilk are literally planting the seeds and watching them grow, with the help of lobbyists and lawmakers.

What I learned as I transitioned back to carnivore, after munching on greenery and lentils is that I wanted to be in touch with the story of the food I was putting in my body for my health, but also for the well-being of the animals that would pay the ultimate price for my indulgence.

Chefs love food, it's sort of a pre-requisite, so the idea of singling certain food groups out of our diets can be counter-intuitive. Of course, taste is high on our priority list, so eating food we enjoy is also something not to be discounted. As I began to eat meat, I made the decision that I would do so only consciously, which meant that I would not knowingly and thoughtlessly buy meat from companies that do not practice safe or humane handling and processing, I would not eat meat that I knew had been cooked thoughtlessly and without care, and I would not knowingly contribute to the neglect or mistreatment of livestock by purchasing dairy products (milk, cheese, eggs) from companies who did not ensure the welfare of their animals.

I subscribe to newsletters and participate in forums via advocacy groups like Slow Food and Food Inc. Today I learned that Costco is sourcing pork from a company in Iowa who is being investigated for brutal livestock handling practices, see the link here:,8599,2080546,00.html

Kroger, Safeway, and another retailer are conducting investigations and Kroger has gone so far as to suspend purchases from Iowa Select until their investigation has concluded. I was discouraged to read that Costco is investigating, but will continue to do business with Iowa Select because "cutting off business with one particular farm in such a large industry would be ineffective."

I was appalled and horrified to learn that a chain as large as Costco, with the power of millions of members standing behind them, do not think that pulling the plug on Iowa Select would be an "effective way" to address the horrific practices perpetrated by factory farms.
I called Costco Customer Service to ask what their response is to the Time article and the representative then read (dispassionately) a statement issued by Costco's PR department, indicating that Costco was, in fact, still purchasing pork from Iowa Select.

I always feel like I'm about to jump out of my skin when someone says, "but I'm only one person, what difference could I make?" I want to shout at them, "A BIG FREAKING DIFFERENCE"!!! If everyone subscribed to that defeated manner of thinking, nothing would ever change. As the saying goes, "out of many, there is one". No cause is too big or issue impossible if all of the "ones" would make their convictions known. Think of all of the huge social issues and laws that were affected because a collection of "one" came together to influence change - slavery, the civil rights movement, sufferige, even freedom and independence from oppressive government. We will celebrate the 4th of July Monday because individual men and women knew that there was a better way to live.

Before you discount my argument as melodramatic or an overstatement, consider what we have at stake. Without higher standards in the processing of our food, with lobbyists making our choices for us, our bodies and overall health are subject to the special interests of very ignorant people. Those lobbying lawmakers are not doctors, nurses, scientists, or dietitians. Those who make the decisions about what we eat are woefully ignorant on the subject. They must think that because they EAT food, it makes them an EXPERT on food and nutrition, as well as ecology and animal welfare.

The great news is that people are waking up and making better choices, in spite of the garbage (literally and figuratively) being shoved down their throats by people who are the least qualified to dictate what we should and should not be eating. Farmer's Markets are booming, local food companies are gaining traction, publications like Edible Wow are being shared with enthusiasm.

From a PR perspective, Costco really blew it on this one. Who would have thought Kroger would have outsmarted the soccer-mom friendly superstore, Costco? Instead of setting a trend and taking a stand (even if it were all a carefully calculated PR move), Costco could have shown that Big Box could Think Big, and have a Big Heart. Unfortunately for them, Big Box made a Big Mistake.

Call Costco (800-774-2678) and tell them that their unwillingness to take a stand on behalf of their members is shameful. Even better, write a letter. Better than that - send this and the Time Magazine article to as many people you know, because out of many, there is one.

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Blogger caroline said...

great post. just an update, according to the Chicago tribune as of June 30th Costco is thankfully no longer carrying prok from Iowa Select.

July 7, 2011 at 1:22 PM 
Blogger Stacy Sloan said...

Thanks, Caroline! I saw this and was so grateful that they decided that was their decision. It's so encouraging to see what can happen when people speak up!

Thanks for reading!

July 7, 2011 at 7:37 PM 

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