Indoors Or Out?

April 24, 2009

Pork burgers on the grill

Pork burgers on the grill

One of the best things about the return to spring is the return to ‘grill season’. My husband is quite the ‘master griller’ and likes to try new recipes all the time. In the hands of a good cook, I can’t tell the difference between ‘free range,’ ‘grass-fed,’ or ‘organic’ from anything else—(except the price tag, of course). But now, in addition to the price, a health study points to another possible reason to give pork raised indoors preference over those raised in ways that some consumers now prefer.

The journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin and found that free-range pigs carried much higher rates of salmonella than confinement-raised pigs; (54% vs 39%). “Free range” also had much higher rates of toxoplasmosis (6.8% vs 1.1%), and two carried the parasite trichina (zero confined pigs had it). That’s kind of troubling, considering toxoplasmosis is considered the third-leading cause of death in food-borne illnesses.

But you know for me, the thing that causes even more concern than this ‘contaminated free-range meat’ study, is the motivation behind the choices that are steering a non-farming, common sense consumer towards ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’ in the first place; it has to do with ‘feelings’.

Feelings. Fuzzy close-ups of kittens, puppies, little lambs; hey, I get it; I’m an animal lover too. I count a dog, two cats, a hamster, two frogs and three fish as members of our family. They’re almost as important to me as my daughter and husband. But, if my house caught fire, I’d race to save my daughter before my dog.

If you’ve had a child, you may know the important yet different feelings you have for your child and your dog. There’s a place in your heart for your child that defies weeks of colic-induced sleep deprivation, piles of dirty laundry, water-glass rings on new coffee tables, unmade beds, adolescent eye-rolling, hours of off-key clarinet practices and every other kind of teenage transgression yet to come.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a lot of information on their website about the ‘feelings’ of hogs and cattle and chickens. They talk about ‘feelings’ because their purpose isn’t really to get us to be a little more decent to each other; it’s to turn us all into vegetarians (vegetarians who give them a lot of money so they can continue lobbying on Capitol Hill!) They want you to love that hog you’ve never met as much as the dog slumbering at the end of your bed and the child you’ve birthed. But to me—someone who has lived on a farm, has a child, and now lives in suburbia and continues to love animals—I have a problem with that. And that problem is called ‘common sense’.

Common sense dictates real farm experience before opinions are formed. Common sense acknowledges generations of animal caretaker knowledge (and yes, ‘feelings’) of Iowa farmers who know more than a thing or two about the creatures they’ve dedicated their families’ lives to raising.

Now if you’d rather have a hog sleeping on the foot of your bed every night, playing fetch with your daughter, going for long walks on a leash, then yeah—I guess you’d easily be swayed into a vegetarian lifestyle. That’s fine—thank goodness our great country is all about choices. But as for me, I’d rather keep the dog on the leash and the pork chop on the grill. That’s the kind of common sense that keeps me coming back for second helpings.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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April 22, 2009

The Decorah Teddy Arctos used their knowledge of wildlife, aquatics, forestry, soils and biodiversity to capture the 2009 Iowa Envirothon title.

The Decorah Teddy Arctos used their knowledge of wildlife, aquatics, forestry, soils and biodiversity to capture the 2009 Iowa Envirothon title.

Just when we thought that all hope was lost, that the next generation will need a universal-sized intervention to pry their pasty, nature-deficient fingers from their video game controllers, I bring you hope.

After reading last week about the generation of children that is seriously addicted to video games and technology, I’m happy to report that not all hope is lost. I’ve seen some of those kids…in the woods…totally unplugged…and very knowledgeable about nature.

I watched Earth Day in motion the other day at the 2009 Envirothon state competition at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie County. The contest pits the state’s top 15 high school teams against each other as they demonstrate their knowledge in wildlife, soils, aquatic ecology, forestry and a presentation about biodiversity.

While there were a few teams that were there for the fun experience, others were there to make the most of the experience. At stake were bragging rights of a state title, along with an expense-paid trip to the national competition in North Carolina this summer.

I served as a runner, meaning I helped lead them through the park’s maze to each station and ran their finished tests to the education building for scoring.

It was fun to watch them debate their way to an answer.

And it was really fun to see them so disconnected…to technology, that is. It was a technology-free zone. No cell phones. No i-pods. No mp3 players. No calculators.

They had to go “old school” and use pencils and paper and tools of the naturalists’ trade such as a Biltmore stick, a compass and a Munsell color charts.

Huddled in their little groups with hoodie strings stretched to their limits, the kids worked their ways around the park. They crawled in a six-foot deep pit to study the soil. They fished out water from the pond to measure sediment. They tromped around in the forest to get a closer look at the trees.

And they had so much fun. Watching the teams interact with each other and nature was incredibly inspiring.

Pat Schlarbaum, a wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, admired their work as he manned the wildlife station.

“I look to you to be great citizens of the natural community,” he told one group before sending them to their next task. To me, he added, “The conservation leaders of the future are here. This is it.”

I hope he’s right. No, I take that back. I know he’s right.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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