Tuesday, February 26, 2008

#180 - How Sweet It Is

Buying Local Honey (And Using More of It)

I've been paying close attention to the foods we eat around here. I feel great when I feed my family locally-grown, organic fruits and veggies. I don't feel so great when they grab some Hello Kitty Froot Snax or commercially prepared granola bars - both of which are made with the ubiquitous American food additive - corn syrup.

The overproduction of corn in America has been getting a lot of press lately. From farm subsidies to ethanol, from corn syrup to corn feed. It seems like everything these days is made from corn. This overproduction of a single crop can have a detrimental effect not just here in America, but across the globe. Here are a few reasons why:

Any farmer worth his salt will tell you that crop rotation is an important factor in keeping the ground fertile. Due to the great demand created for corn products, many industrial farms no longer practice crop rotation - they simply grow corn every year. Repeatedly planting these corn crops in the same spot will suck the same nutrients out of the soil each growing season, leaving behind depleted soil. Not only that, but the same crop will attract the same pests year after year after year. This depleted soil will require lots of chemical fertilizers and the bugs will require pesticides. And neither of those are good for the planet.

Also, the huge increase in demand for corn - for everything from food additives, to feed for cattle and pigs, to ethanol for bio fuels - means an increase in the price of grains worldwide. Grains, if you remember your from gradeschool, are the base of the food pyramid and make up the bulk of a decent diet. An increase in the price of grains could have a terrible affect on poverty stricken nations whose people will no longer be able to afford these food basics.

And if that doesn't sway you, how about the fact that it's contributing to the obesity crisis here in America. According to an article at Grist:

Cheap corn, underwritten by the [Farm Bill's] subsidy program, has changed the diet of every American. It has allowed a few corporations -- including Archer Daniels Midland, the world's largest grain processor -- to create a booming market for high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of the caloric sweeteners added to processed food, and is the sole caloric sweetener for mass-market soft drinks. Between 1975 and 1997, per-capita consumption jumped from virtually nothing to 60.4 pounds per year -- equal to about 200 calories per person, per day. Consumption has generally hovered around that level since.

So basically, it's also making us all fat. Ok, fat-ter. 200 calories per day fatter, to be specific.

Plus, it's just a little freaky. I mean, have you read Omnivore's Dilemma? Have you seen King Corn? Yeah me neither, but they're on my to-do list. And I've heard a lot about them. From what folks are saying, both the book and the movie imply that corn is damn near impossible to avoid in our pre-packaged foodstuffs society. I don't like that. It's like a cheap filler that's used for the sole purpose of keeping the ingredient count up.

And did you know that there is some evidence to suggest that eating local honey will help to minimize seasonal allergies? I've got two kids who live on on Zyrtec six months out of the year, so that is a HUGE bonus!

And so, in an attempt to avoid some corn syrup, I'm going on a honey kick. For both me and the kids. I've been using it on my oatmeal in the morning and I made a batch of granola bars for the kiddos last month. I prefer honey to other sweeteners because I can easily find local sources, they're all bottled in glass and it's yumm-o-riffic . Win/Win/Win. Plus? Honey Butter. 'Nuff said.

Well now that I've got this wild corn hair up my ass, expect to see more posts from me on other ways to avoid corn derivatives. In the meantime, go grab a little honey (take that however you want to).


Wendy said...

I have ... or rather "am" reading Omnivore's Dilemma, and at this point, I'm well beyond the first section that talks all about how corn is in everything - and it is listed under names you'd never suspect, like "malto dextrin" - it's corn. Anything that's processed from soft drinks to fish sticks probably has some corn derivative in it, which is why we try to avoid all processed foods. I can't say as it's made much of a difference in my waistline, but I couldn't very well continue eating those things given the knowledge.

On a side note, I was so obsessed with sharing the information I was reading with ANYONE, that I probably said too much around my impressionable young children. One day we were riding in the car, and my youngest says, "Mom, is it true we are made of corn? Or are we really made of skin?" I can't imagine what visual was in her little head ;).

gregra&gar said...

Yes, yes, yes, Erin.

Yes to observing the evils agribusiness wreaks on basic biodiversity and the poisons used to make up for lack of crop rotation.

Yes to observing the ubiquitous obesity enhancer corn has become in the US diet.

Yes to changing to local food of any kind just for the allergy relief alone, much less the grow your own movement. Honey is the only sweetener needed for anything.

Most helpful post ever.

Joyce said...

Okay, I'll play the devil's advocate here. I live in central Illinois, and I can tell you, no farmer I know would be stupid enough to skip crop rotation just to make a buck. These are farmers who want to pass on good land to their kids, and they are concerned to protect it. Although there were mistakes made in the past with regards to pesticide use, most practice Integrated Pest Management, which includes crop rotation and other natural means of reducing crop losses, with pesticides as a last resort. After all, the water running off the land does wind up in the farmer's well water!
As we move toward the use of biodegradable corn-based polymers keep in mind that corn may be a great solution to a huge plastic problem.
And, as far as high fructose corn syrup is concerned, no one is pouring that stuff down your throat. Just look at the ingredients before you ingest something and make a sensible choice. Market forces will eventually kick in and make this less of a factor in the corn industry.
All that being said, I read this blog faithfully because, like you, I'm on the path of greening my household because I think protecting the earth for our children and grandchildren is what a far-sighted humanitarian should do. Keep it up, 'Burban Mom! You're an inspiration!

MamaBird said...

right there with ya, got some local honey from our local dairy but it was (gasp?!) in a plastic jar so need to try again. do you know what raw honey means? that is what i got -- do they pasteurize honey if it is *not* raw? don't forget real maple syrup as your other choice mmmmmmmmm

Burbanmom said...


Thanks for weighing in on the issue. I wondered if I had any corn belt readers out there who would comment! :-)

I believe that you are correct in that small farmers do diligently rotate their crops. However, many agribusiness do not, and the practice is spreading.

While I do see corn as a possible solution to some problems (I use the biodegradable corn straws for my kids), I think that it would be foolish of us to look to one single crop to save us from our own dependence on plastic and fossil fuels.

Wind and solar energy are both better producers of electricity and should be chosen over biofuels (IMHO).

Now don't get me wrong. I think America's farmers are the best and we need more of them. But I would like to see them producing a greater variety of crop that is to be consumed without too much further processing.

I agree no one is pouring HFCS down my throat. I, and I alone can do that! But that is why I'm making these changes to remove it from my diet.... one baby step at a time.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you weighing in on other issues too!

Amber said...

Great post Burban Mom! (and by the way LOVE the draft dodgers - thanks so much) My husband and I have always purchased local honey, long before I started on this environmental kick. Our reasons?

Allergies. Although he nor I have any significant allergies to write of, I heard it was good to build immunities to allergies and there fore we made the switch in hopes that we could avoid any in the future (especially with our numerous moves to new environments).

Another reason - taste - way better!

About a year ago we came to NY and I was not able to find local honey on our grocery store shelves (where, I thought, was the only place to buy food). This last shopping trip I made a detour to the Organic section (on a tip from one of your previous posts) and there it was. We truely had forgotten what a finding of gold local honey can bee (pun intended). After tasting it and doing a side by side comparison we are amazed at the taste difference!

One of the best things you could ever do - buy local honey.

organicneedle said...

Honey is one of those great foods that the more you learn about it- the more you love it. Using honey instead of sugar or corn syrup is like cooking with sea salt VS table salt. No comparison in flavor. I don't think people realize all the amazing nuances of the different varieties. Lavender honey is a thing of pure beauty. MMMMMMMMM lavender honey. Having a Homer moment. :)
We don't have anything too local in the city, but I cheat and consider anything in the North East local.

heather t said...

Here's another book for your to-read list: Robbing the Bees - A biography of honey by Holley Bishop. Great read - I learned a ton!

Just went down to Florida and bought some orange-blossom honey - YUM!

Joyce said...

I totally agree that we should think of better ways to get off foreign oil than ethanol. A good friend of mine is a farmer. He said, "I've always prided myself on helping to feed the world. I just can't stand the idea of burning good food in someone's gas tank!" Of course, once his crop goes to the elevator, there's no telling where it will wind up, and, like any of us, it's hard to turn down the blessing of making more money when the corn market is so good.
Change is slowly coming though. My daughter-in-law is a farm girl, and has just convinced her beef-cattle raising dad to add an orchard on his land, so that someday she can be an organic fruit farmer. This is what I mean about farm families taking the longer view. It takes a long time to get an orchard up to full production. And really, that's what environmentalism is all about-taking the longer view.

Gary M. Comins said...

Hopefully we'll find a solution to what's killing off our bees ... and now bats. My concern: http://garycomins.blogspot.com/2008/02/batting-on-beeing-careful.html

Burbanmom said...

Joyce, that is AWESOME that your DIL's father is willing to make some changes that will allow his daughter to grow organic fruits! And I agree that the small farmer, for the most part, is doing what he/she feels is best for the environment, the land, and the future. Unfortunately, the number of small farms is dwindling as Corporate Farming continues to buy out struggling family farms.

Oh, and thanks for writing back. I always feel bad when I disagree with folks on here -- even though I know these discussions are exactly what helps us all learn. :-)

Big D said...

Wow, this discussion is FANTASTIC! Joyce, I really appreciate your devil's advocate comment and the ensuing discussion. It is good to hear from people connected to family farmers. However, I do sort of feel that HFCSs *are* being poured down our throats! We are all pretty lucky ducks, sitting here getting to read Burbanmom's blog on computers. We're educated and interested... but there are SO MANY PEOPLE out there who have no idea what HFCS is - they're completely unaware. Now, part of me is wont to leave this up to Darwin, but another part of me wants to yell, and rage against the machine that has made this possible.

I really, REALLY hope that market forces soon prevail on this, because food is one of the areas where I quickly get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem. We can immediately see how many cups of water we've saved, but it is near impossible to immediately see/feel what food additives are doing to our bodies - it takes a while. And I am definitely energized/motivated by things that bring me instant feedback.

Anyway, I really appreciate the conversation. I have been militantly anti-HFCS since I read Greg Critser's Fat Land and heard him speak at my brother's college convocation.

Also - Burbanmom - THANK YOU for the information about honey! I live in Nashville, which is a big ole bowl of allergens. I am going to go on a honey kick and see where it takes me. Thank you thank you thank you!

Green Bean said...

This is one of your best posts yet, Burbanmom, and that is saying something! I did have to laugh, though, over the line "Have you read Omnivore's Dilemma".

A few years ago, my oldest went through a phase where he just couldn't tolerate any corn products. It is so f'ing hard to find a product without corn in it that I ended up cooking everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, from scratch. 18 months later, he could stomach it but still, HFCS is bad, bad, bad and in virtually everything.

Honey rocks, tastes delicious, is easy to find locally and in glass bottles and will hopefully help keep our honey bees alive.

And one last thing, to Wendy, you are not alone in telling your young kids too much. My husband finally called me to the carpet when my 5 year old asked him if Santa's house was melting because we use too much electricity and would there be a Christmas next year. Oops!

Joyce said...

I know there are some big interests buying up land (around here there are some folks from Japan making offers), but it is important to note that some "corporate farming" is simply family corporations, formed by extended families, especially when the younger members choose other professions and move off the farm. They incorporate with family members and hire someone to do the actualy farming. It doesn't mean they don't pay attention to what their tennant does to the land, it's just a way to manage the place for the financial benefit of the whole family.
Hope the honey thing goes well! I love it too, and we still have plenty of bees around here, but are any of you in colony collapse areas?

Melinda said...

Also keep your eye out for "low-fat" foods. My husband went to cooking school and worked in that industry for a while. When they lower the fat in products, they are adding more sugar to compensate for the lack of flavor.

I've seen King Corn, and I've - er - attempted to read Omnivore's Dilemma a few times. Don't tell anyone, but I found it boring, and I knew much of what was covered. My husband says I should skip past the first section - maybe that would help. His latest book, though, I breezed through and I LOVE it.

I'm growing white beets this year - supposedly they're good for making sugar. I'm not thinking I'll be able to make nearly enough sugar for our needs, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment... we'll see!

I've heard about the idea that honey reduces allergies. I have pretty bad asthma & allergies, so I may put that to the test! Will you let us know if you find a difference in your kids' allergies?

Amy K. said...

The funniest thing about buying local honey is the seasonal differences. There's an apiarist around the corner from me, so I know it's REALLY local honey that he sells from a table in his front yard on weekends. The first jar never crystallized, even after a year. The second jar crystallized in weeks, which I should have guessed when he was explaining that the nectar from the yellow flowers like goldenrod crystallize fastest, so the earliest and latest honeys are the fast crystallizers. Next year, I'll buy my honey in August, not October! spreading it with a butter knife is just not my thing, though it tastes just as great on fresh bread.