Top Stories Of 2009: Project Envision Examines Food
Thursday, December 31, 2009
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Well what you eat certainly affects your health, and food today is cheap and abundant. Many people would argue that’s a good thing. Yet most of us have no idea what goes into developing our food supply. KPBS investigative reporter, Joanne Faryon, tracked our food from the dinner plate to its source. And she joins me now to talk about it. So that was your top pick for 2009? Our food supply?
JOANNE FARON (KPBS Investigative reporter): It was and I’ll tell you why. Everybody eats and it affects so many parts of our lives, really: our health, our daily budgets, and the environment.
PENNER: And that’s it. What about our health?
FARYON: Well let’s start with what we’re eating. The way we set up this project is we went out to find out where’s our food coming from. We live in San Diego County and we live on the coast so we wanted to know are we eating fish that is coming from local waters? Are we eating beef that is coming from Ramona where we know there are a lot of cattle? Are we eating oranges that we’re growing in our own county? It affects our health because ultimately we want to know what's in our food and how is it being raised? What we learned is that cattle raised just about anywhere in the US is injected with hormones. The fish that we’re eating, half of it is actually farmed fish. It’s not coming from local waters, and in fact those farmed fish are being fed cattle byproducts. And it actually has four times as much fat if you look at farmed salmon then wild salmon. Those were the kinds of things we were discovering. Obviously all of them affect our health.
PENNER: Were any of those really surprises in terms of discovering stuff that you didn’t sort of suspect in advance?
FARYON: I was shocked to learn that if I ate a piece of farmed salmon, that that salmon may have been raised by being fed cattle byproducts or chicken feathers. Yes, I was surprised.
PENNER: Cattle byproducts?
PENNER: Like what?
FARYON: Well when cattle are slaughtered, about 50% of the bodyweight is really stuff that isn’t put into the regular food supply, that we don’t buy as meat products. So it’s all rendered, which means it’s boiled down. It can be shaped into pellets and some farmed fish are being fed this kind of a product. So yes I was shocked. I was also shocked to learn that oranges, a lot of the oranges that I'm buying in our local grocery stores are actually not from San Diego County despite the County growing so many oranges.
PENNER: So why is there such a large disconnect between the consumers here and the supplier of food somewhere else?
FARYON: Well I think a lot of us when we go to the grocery store, we have these images in terms of the food coming from farm; the childhood memory of a farm or coming from the grove. We see groves all around us in this county. I think we make these assumptions that our food is still coming from places like that. It’s really not. A lot of, let’s take chicken for example, a lot of poultry is being raised in what most people would call a factory, on a factory floor. Cattle are being fattened in feedlots, which are really giant pens. It doesn’t look the way we maybe think it should look.
PENNER: So what difference does it really make, let’s say, to our health or our lives?
FARYON: Well I think it’s more about education. I think it’s more about we should know what’s in our food. We should know how it’s being produced. We should know why it’s cheaper than it used to be, relatively speaking, so we can make informed choices. If the chicken you buy says no hormones, you ought to know that it’s actually illegal to put hormones in any chicken.
PENNER: Ok, that was 2009.What are you looking at fro 2010?
FARYON: A very different topic: prisons. As most of our audience probably realizes by now, our prisons are overcrowded. A federal court has ordered that a number of prisoners be released. We are looking at aging inmates. They are a growing number right now in California prisons. They cost the system more and so we’re looking at that demographic.
PENNER: And we’ll be looking for your reports. Thank you, Joanne Faryon.
FARYON: Thank you, Gloria.