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Monday, February 29, 2016

Gluten: Friend or Foe

Gluten free has been a booming trend lately, but what is this “gluten” that is making its way out of every American’s diet?

I found myself asking that same question when my sister discovered she had a thyroid disease. Due to the complications of the disease, she had to avoid eating foods that contained gluten. The months leading up to the removal of her thyroid, my family and I had to become more aware of what foods contained gluten and learn more about this key ingredient of wheat.

Webster Dictionary states that gluten is a “substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough.” Basically my sister could not eat any grain or wheat products, unless they were gluten free. After her thyroid was removed, she was free to go back to her normal diet and she could once again eat all her favorite cereals.

My sister’s illness made me more aware of what was happening in the gluten free trend. While stocking shelves in the grocery store where I worked, I noticed things that had “gluten free” labels. What confused me the most was that some of these foods wouldn’t have gluten in them in the first place, such as strawberries. And later, I came to college, where I lived with many girls who ate gluten free diets; some girls have Celiac disease, others are very allergic to gluten, and some just choose to eat gluten free foods. I found myself wondering what was so harmful about gluten, so I did some research.

I found that choosing to eat a gluten free diet can actually be dangerous if not done carefully. Foods that contain gluten are a huge source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This is when I decided that gluten isn’t a terrifying entity that is ruining the health of Americans, as some articles will lead you to believe. While it’s okay to choose to eat gluten free, for whatever reason, it’s important to be knowledgeable. The Scientific American tells us that before we go gluten free, we should be checked out by a physician and make sure to replace gluten-containing foods with other foods that are naturally gluten free and contain the nutrients that your body needs.

However, gluten isn’t detrimental to your health if you don’t have a gluten intolerance. In fact, gluten-rich foods are a fantastic source of nutrients that keep you healthy. So before you go gluten free, make sure that you’re informed and stay healthy!  

Your bread-loving friend, Danielle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Life on a French Swine Farm

This past July I had the opportunity to intern on a swine farm near Auvers-le-Hamon, France. During the month, I lived alongside the Huet family who was the most welcoming and generous family. The family included Alexis, the father, Domonique, the mother, their daughter Anais as well as their sons Esteban, Arthur and Antoine. Needless to say, this experience was one of the biggest learning experiences I have ever had. I was able to learn about French agriculture and observe the similarities/differences to American agriculture.

The house that I lived in with Esteban and Arthur in France
While on the farm, I worked mainly with the sows and their litters. My duties included assisting with farrowing, weaning of piglets, insemination, giving shots and vaccinations as needed, and maintaining the animal stalls among other tasks. The Huet’s operation was truly a family effort with family members working directly on the farm and others working to regionally market their product. The Huet’s utilized the Label Rouge, or red label, program when marketing their product.

 Products with the above seal on them are certified under the Label Rouge. This program guarantees that its products have met a specific set of characteristics establishing that is of higher quality to similar products. Food products and non-food agricultural products such as flowers are eligible for certification under this program. In all that translates to about 500 products being certified under this program in France. For pork, some of the criteria deal with feeding, breeding conditions and age at the time of slaughter.

The most challenging and rewarding part of the internship was working alongside people who spoke almost entirely no English while I spoke very poor French. At the start communication was a big obstacle to overcome when trying to accomplish basic farm tasks. After a few days, we were able to establish a routine and communicate effectively through body language and the few words of French and English that both parties knew. Even though I was not able to have a conversation with the workers, I could tell that they truly cared about their profession and raising their hogs in a healthy environment was their top priority. This showed me that no matter where you may find yourself that producers in both the U.S. and abroad care about the quality of products that they provide to consumers and make agriculture a unique industry due to that characteristic.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns send them my way. I would love to hear them!

Signing off,
Wyatt Pracht

Friday, February 19, 2016

Weeds Have A Place… On Your Plate?

“A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo courtesy CBS Sunday Morning
Growing up on a traditional farming operation, weeds were always the enemy. They were the pesky nuisances that were somehow able to survive and prosper in the most disturbed environments. Of course, they were always found entrenched in the most inconvenient place for the farmer, too – the field.

This is why I had the preconception that weeds were bad, bad, bad. Wrongo! Weeds are simply a plant out of place.

I recently took a weed science course in which I discovered that people… were eating…weeds. I was a little taken aback when I learned of this idea.

First, I was concerned about people eating poisonous weeds. (Note: I wasn’t the best at identifying weeds, I later learned through my ID quizzes in the course, so this would be a big concern for me as a weed-eater. Ha!)

Secondly, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that people ate weeds for enjoyment. It just seemed preposterous to me!

However, after watching a video my instructor showed during class (which can be found at 6:40 on this link, if you’d like to see for yourself), I quickly learned eating weeds is just like eating any other kind of grown plant or crop.

Weeds are actually a valuable food, loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and protein!

A farmer sows his seed, nurtures it, watches it grow, and eventually harvests the plant. This is for weeds and crops alike.

It may not seem like a person who grows organic weeds for consumption is practicing agriculture, but they are.

Both parties grow food for consumption, whether it is growing it for themselves, selling it at a local farmer’s market, or selling it to an agricultural cooperative (also known as a farmers’ co-op) as a traditional farmer would. Another similarity I found was there are even edible-plant tours around Central Park in New York City, comparable to an agri-tour on a farm!

Though many farmers still don’t particularly enjoy weeds growing amongst their crops, I have learned they do have a place in our environment.

I can’t say my research or the video provided has changed my mind about eating weeds, but it has enlightened me on another form of agriculture.

If you are looking for more ways to spice up your meals and you are much braver than me, check out this link for a list of some edible weeds and ways to eat them!


P.S. if you are going to eat weeds please make sure to wash them thoroughly before consumption, avoid chemically treated areas, and KNOW YOUR WEEDS!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

GMO Wheat, Strawberries and Tomatoes

What do wheat, strawberries and tomatoes have in common?

Wheat field in Kansas in early spring.
Not much except they AREN'T GMOs. Yep, that's right - contrary to many internet infographics and Facebook posts, there is no such thing as a GMO wheat plant, strawberry or tomato.

Simple as that.

There is however a fairly short list of GMO foods that are available in the U.S.:
  • corn
  • soybeans
  • cotton
  • alfalfa
  • sugar beets
  • papaya
  • squash

Two other GMO plants have been approved, the Arctic Apple and the Innate potato. However, the apples will not be available on the market until fall 2016, in limited quantities. Innate potatoes have been available in small quantities for the past few months.

There are a lot of reasons to develop new GMO varieties and one that I am very passionate about is food waste. For example, according to GMO Answers, the Innate potato bruises about 40% less than conventional potatoes and will not show black spots or browning when peeled and prepared. This can help reduce an estimated 400 million pounds of waste that go to landfills each year. Additionally, since we are less likely to eat a gross, black and bruised potato, we as consumers will throw away fewer potatoes at home. Fewer wasted potatoes means that farmers can market more of their crop and reduce pesticide, water and carbon dioxide from farm production. I know I am less likely to eat a potato if it has a big black spot and how much goes to waste by cutting out the black bits?

Obviously, nutrition is a big component of all food products and the Innate potato delivers. Innate potatoes have up to 70% less acrylamide than conventional potatoes when cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in most starchy foods but is a probable carcinogen in laboratory animals when consumed at high doses. Subsequent generations of Innate promise to lower acrylamide by 90% or more, providing a healthier option for consumers. Healthier for humans and the environment!

Similarly, Arctic Apples are a non-browning apple - who likes brown apples a mere five minutes after you bite into it or slice it up?! Not me. They also don't brown after they have been bruised which leads to fewer being thrown in the bin because of nasty bruise. Again, this all contributes to less food wasted and I think we can all agree that less food waste = a healthier planet.

I hope if you have questions about GMOs you will reach out to a reputable source, such as, a FFT member, a state agriculture association or better yet, a farmer or rancher! Who better to talk to you about the food you eat than the farmers and ranchers who grow it?

So the next time you see a strawberry and a tomato melded together in a Facebook "infographic" be confident that it's not a genetic experiment gone wrong. It's merely food fear at work - don't play into the hands of those who wish to scare you. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared!

Questions about GMOs? Leave a comment!

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

All facts taken from*

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

14 days without Ranch Dressing: My Trip to Brazil

Oi! ("Hi!" in Portuguese)

This past summer, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel abroad on a faculty-led study tour. I went to Brazil for two weeks and could not have had a better experience to cap off my years as an undergrad and transition into my Master’s program. Because this class was for course credit, we were assigned with writing a blog and reflection piece. I never chose to publish mine, but thought Food for Thought might be a great means to share a little bit about my trip and my post-trip reflections.

Day 1: Travel

Day 2: Arrived in Cuiaba and enjoyed our first Brazilian barbeque. The first thing I tried was a chicken heart (not on purpose...), everything after that point was delicious!

Day 3: Toured the wetland region via horseback and boat called the Patanal. This area supports not only wildlife, but a herd of Nelore cattle and is a place where cattlemen worry about the threat of jaguars and large snakes to their animals. No extra charge for caiman crocodile.

Day 4: We visited Fazenda Kamayura, a Nelore-Angus ranch. Nelore cattle are a Bos Indicus breed that are ideal for the heat and humidity of Brazil. We also visited Anna Sophia Ranch, which raises cattle and teak wood.

Day 5: Visit to Fazenda San Helena, a 150 year old farm that raises purebred Nelore and Panteneiro show horses.

Day 6: Visited Fazenda Luciana, an integrated cattle and farming operation, and Fazenda Tetia, a large corn and soybean operation.

Day 7: Toured Agropecuraria Fazenda Brasil, a large cattle production company, they cover all aspects of production with cow-calf, backgrounding, stocking, and finishing phases. Hint: cowboys on mules are not only awesome but can pull off one heck of a photobomb……

Day 8: This day involved a 40 km ride on Brazilian back roads in our large tour bus only to arrive at the farm and see oil dripping from our bus. Despite being miles away from help, this farm was a little oasis in the middle of nowhere. Thankful to the hospitality of the owner of Cava do Cardeira and its beautiful location, we enjoyed the day AND learned about their sheep and water buffalo production.

Day 9: Toured a JBS packing plant, great experience to see this side of their cattle industry! We also visited a sugar cane farm. Brazil produces ethanol primarily from sugar cane.

Day 10:  Visited a coffee farm from the 1800s and a bovine in-vitro fertilization company. I bottle-fed a cloned dairy calf!

Day 11: Travel day to Foz do Iguaçu

Day 12: Perhaps my most anticipated tourist activity on our trip, the Iguaçu Falls, one of the world's largest waterfalls. First, we toured a bird park. To tour the falls, we loaded into a boat with ponchos and life preservers and were driven up the rapids underneath a "smaller" waterfall. Sounded like a good idea to us!

Day 13: Toured the Itaipu dam between Paraguay and Brazil and began our long journey home. I missed my family and friends, I missed sleeping in the same bed for more than 2 nights, and as the stereotypical Midwesterner, I missed ranch dressing... Brazilian food is very flavorful and condiments are difficult to come by. The day we found ketchup at a restaurant was a very exciting day on the trip.

I could go on about the impressive details of each production system, the warmth and hospitality of the Brazilian people, and the many mishaps and resulting laughs that is a study abroad trip. But, I chose to reflect on the biggest difference and similarity that I noticed between Brazilian and American agriculture.

The major difference was that the majority of cattle producers do not castrate their male animals, but rather feed them out as bulls. This was surprising to everyone, as we correlate castration with better-tasting beef due to the steer’s ability to deposit more intramuscular fat than a bull because of reduced testosterone. When we asked the various producers who did not practice castration what their motivation was, they explained it had to do with the packing companies. In Brazil, there is no financial incentive at the slaughterhouse to castrate because the meat is graded strictly on yield, or quantity. There is no premium for better quality meat, or meat with better marbling. Additionally, as one of the world’s most important beef exporters, the European Union (EU) is an important market to Brazil. This means that they must stay within the regulations laid out by EU political bodies, which eliminates several technologies that often accompany castration, such as implants. It took a while to get used to seeing pens of bulls in a feedlot, but this is a component of the system that makes Brazil such a large exporter, so that was really interesting to learn about.

One similarity to the United States that I noticed, although very broad, is something that I feel can be applied to Brazilian agriculture and all people involved. That is, those that produce livestock seek to do the very best for their animals and their operation. More specifically, they seek to incorporate technology, make decisions based on minimizing input costs, and have great respect to the environment and increasing its sustainability. This seems like it might be a “no-brainer”, but I feel that it is a common theme that those in agriculture seek to share with consumers. Agriculturists all over the world operate with regard to animal welfare and sustainability, both financially and environmentally. Successful operations keep these both in mind. Yes, Americans and Brazilians are raising very different types of cattle in completely different environments, and have different limitations on the types of technology each may implement. However, when it comes down to the bottom line, both they have common goals of contributing to global food production while doing the best they can for their animals. For example, AFB is utilizing data technology to grow and market their cattle and maximize profit, but we noticed in their working facility a sign describing the five animal freedoms and how to work animals with respect to their flight zone. The rancher from Fazenda Kamayura admitted that increasing the amount of Angus genetics in his herd would certainly bring more profit at the packing plant. However, more Angus would create animals that would not tolerate the heat as well and are also too costly to feed, as they require more nutrients than Nelore.

In conclusion, although I have been fortunate to travel to several countries prior to this trip, I feel that I have gained a great deal more from this experience because of the opportunity to study global agriculture. I believe that travel is a very important tool for self-development. I find that when I travel, I return home with greater appreciation and awareness for the blessings in my life, as well as a sort of confidence that comes with seeking to gain world perspective. Additionally, I have always found that no matter how far away I go, humans, and ultimately, agriculture, are more similar than they are different. When trying to articulate my reaction to international travel, I found a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” I will certainly carry the excellent impression I have formed of Brazilian agriculture and beef production with me as I continue to pursue my career in animal nutrition.




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