Why Are Teenage Girls Maturing Earlier? Don’t Blame Milk!

February 23, 2011

A recent Facebook posting from an old friend got me thinking; why do our daughters seem so much older than we did at that age? I mean, we can’t blame it all on Brittany Spears, Facebook and fashion trends.

“You know, it’s all the hormones they give cows these days; it’s crossing over into milk and that’s what’s making our girls mature so much faster and grow so much bigger,” my friend, Corinne wrote. I’ve heard that before.

There is a lot of misinformation out there on various websites and no shortage of opinions and food-purchase recommendations made by well-intentioned, but untrained (in the world of food science) fitness gurus, people like Jillian Michaels of “America’s Biggest Loser.” Jillian has managed to leverage her gig as a tough fitness trainer into a multi-million-dollar health and fitness empire. I think she’s credible when it comes to sculpting chiseled abs. I mean, look at that woman! (http://www.jillianmichaels.com), but offering nutrition advice?

Knowledge in one area doesn’t necessarily translate into credibility in another. So, just because Jillian Michaels writes, “Organic free-range dairy tastes better and has no antibiotics or hormones and more omega-3s,” it doesn’t mean it’s scientifically proven.

According to Stephanie Clark, PhD, a much-published food scientist who specializes in dairy production at Iowa State University, there is NO SUCH THING as ‘hormone free milk.’ She says all milk has hormones; organic, conventional, grass-fed or corn-fed, you name it. In fact, Dr. Clark says even plantshave hormones (http://www.iowafarmbureau.com/article.aspx?articleID=27032). Dr. Clark says well-intentioned marketers who are in the business of selling their product for a few pennies more are making a lot of health claims out there; we have to wade through the spin to find the science.

So, I asked, why are teenage girls today so much taller and maturing earlier than in “our day”? (“When dinosaurs roamed the Earth” as my 13-year-old likes to say!) Clark says that yes, we probably can, in some respect, look to food for that growth spurt; it’s because we have better nutrition than our ancestors and better access to improved vaccinations and health care.

It’s clear: milk has so many nutrients, protein and amino acids, that no matter what kind you pick at the grocery store, it’s important that you pick it, period. As the second-most-regulated and inspected food item in your grocery cart (next to seafood), you can rest assured that milk is a healthy choice for your family. I think we should all drink to that…..

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

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Small-Town Grocery

February 22, 2011

When you live in a small, rural Iowa town, you learn to live without many of the conveniences that city folks take for granted. Since moving out of the city, I miss going to movie theaters on weeknights, ordering Chinese delivery and the all-hours access to gourmet coffee.

While I don’t live near a 10-minute oil change shop or a fitness club, I’m thankful that our small town still has a grocery store just a few blocks from my home.

Our neighborhood grocery store is open seven days a week, until 9 p.m. every night, which comes in handy when we run out of coffee or have unexpected guests for dinner.

Yet talking with my neighbors, I discovered that many people don’t shop at the local grocery store. Instead, they drive to the big-city stores, where the prices are often cheaper, the produce is more exotic and the ice cream cooler stretches a quarter-mile long.

Admittedly, I’m also guilty of driving out of town to shop for groceries. I typically shop at three to four different grocery stores in a given month, a luxury of living close to Des Moines.

I prefer the meat counter at one nearby grocery store and the fresh produce selection in another. In addition, my husband and I occasionally splurge at ethnic and gourmet food stores, since we prefer to cook at home rather than drive to a restaurant.

But a few weeks back, I heard on the radio about a study highlighting the importance of rural grocery stores. The study, conducted by the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, found that rural grocery stores serve as economic drivers, community builders, employers and meeting places.

Unfortunately, Iowa has lost almost one-half of its rural grocery stores over the last decade, from 1,400 stores in 1995 to a little more than 700 stores in 2005, according to the study. (See the full report at http://www.cfra.org/renewrural/grocery.)

Without rural grocery stores, local residents don’t have a choice of where to shop. They are forced to drive long distances to buy food, which isn’t an economical or viable option for the elderly or financially insecure families.

Needless to say, this news made me re-evaluate my own out-of-town shopping habit. Now I’m making an effort to shop at my local grocery store at least once a week. I’m finding that shopping close to home frees up more of my time and saves an extra trip to the gas pump.

I even had a revelation on one recent shopping trip. I wanted to try a recipe for pomegranate cookies, but I didn’t want to drive 20 miles just to buy a pomegranate. So I stopped at our local grocery store, and sure enough, there were pomegranates in the produce aisle.

That’s when I noticed that the small-town store actually had a lot more to offer than just eggs and milk. I found gourmet olives, cheeses and breads. I also discovered that many of the prices were the same as those at the big-city grocery stores.

It’s good to know that next time I’m craving pomegranate cookies, or bananas for my morning bowl of cereal, the small-town grocery store will be there to serve my family’s needs.

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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February 3, 2011

Having the ability to choose is perhaps one of the greatest joys of living in this country. Too bad choices were few and far between on a recent episode of Oprah as the Most Famous and Influential Woman in the World had her staff of 387 ‘voluntarily’ go vegan for a week (http://www.oprah.com/showinfo/Oprah-and-378-Staffers-Go-Vegan-The-One-Week-Challenge).

First, let me say that I scoff at the concept that her adoring and subservient staff really ever had a choice to refuse the vegan challenge by their boss. That aside, the show began with Oprah’s newest BFF, Kathy Freston, hawking the virtues of veganism.

Freston, a winsome former model with long, blonde hair, skinny jeans and powerful, wealthy people on ‘speed dial,’ is the kind of gal who could sell ice cream to an Eskimo. (Make that, er, tofu yogurt?) Clearly, Freston has ‘sold’ Oprah on the health, spiritual and environmental benefits (as she sees them) of shunning all animal products.

Freston, who only became a vegan a couple years ago, preaches ‘leaning in’ to a meatless lifestyle; in other words…not beating yourself up if you ‘slip’ and have a tuna fish sandwich or a speck of cheese (sigh). But from my perspective as a working mom and farmer’s daughter, there was too much shaming and finger-pointing going on to have this show represent ‘choice’ or a gradual ‘leaning in’ to anything, especially for working women who are already struggling to meet society’s expectations of ‘perfect’ employee, cook, mother, wife and humanitarian.

“It tastes gross; no wonder people lose weight on this stuff,” said one staffer, who mourned her daily burger routine. She was promptly ‘corrected’ by Freston and told her protesting tastebuds and hunger rumblings were because she’s an ‘addict’ going through withdrawal. The rest of the ‘vegan resistors’ were met with similar ‘corrections’ (all on-camera): (http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Struggling-with-the-Vegan-Challenge-Video).

Another guest on Oprah’s Vegan Challenge show was Michael Pollan (author of ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and a devoted critic of modern livestock production). Pollan seemed downright rational compared to Freston (and that’s saying something). There was also a young woman who represented Cargill, the Temple-Grandin-designed meat processing facility, where cows enter and steaks exit. Cargill is proud of their plants and preach the value of keeping animals calm, giving them a dignified, painless death.
But, a slaughterhouse visit is still not an easy thing to stomach for most folks. Many farmers, who spend generations raising livestock with compassion, haven’t been to a slaughter facility. I’ve seen plenty of tough, Iowa farm kids shed a tear when they sell off their 4-H calves during the State Fair, knowing where they’re bound.

The simple truth is a lot of people like eating milk, cheese, eggs and meat. They care how an animal lived its life but may not want a front seat to the ‘end game’. That doesn’t make them bad people. That makes them practical. There are those who want to dictate an animal’s entire life and in this economically-challenged times, sometimes find themselves the subject of a good ole’ Hollywood send-off. Check this out: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2LBICPEK6w).

Tongue-in-cheek aside, in the end, even if Oprah isn’t going to give equal time to livestock farmers on her show, I hope you give equal consideration to the generations of expertise and veterinarian guidance used by today’s responsible livestock farmers. I hope you know how hard Iowa livestock farmers work to take care of their animals, even in the worst of times (http://goo.gl/sAF46).

I really don’t think in these trying times we need to be ‘force fed’ a diet of meat condemnation by former supermodels, whose only credentials are money, an impressive ‘BFF’ and the genetic gift of thinness. As for me, I’ll continue to put plenty of fruit and vegetables on my family’s plates, but I’ll also celebrate the many choices I have at my grocery store’s meat counter. Sure, that kind of balance and common sense probably won’t land me on the NY Times bestseller list or Oprah, but (to borrow Oprah’s mantra) ‘Living My Best Life’ has to be grounded in common sense.

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

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Care and determination during severe weather

February 2, 2011

Dedication during severe weather

The old adage, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” doesn’t just apply to the U.S. Postal Service anymore. When schools, government offices and businesses shut down due to blizzard warnings and subzero temps, livestock farmers are still out in the brutal weather to make sure that heating units and water lines are working to keep their pigs, chickens and turkeys safe. The same is true for cattle and sheep farmers, who make sure their animals have water, stalks for bedding and plenty of food.

I had the opportunity today to follow Jon McClure, a farmer from Dallas County, as he delivered rolls of corn stalks and hay to his cattle. While most people in the city were still digging out of their cul-de-sacs and checking road conditions from their computers,  McClure was moving five-foot drifts of snow so he could get food and bedding to his cattle to maintain their health. Knowing that the health of his cattle depended on him braving the arctic weather, there wasn’t  a question of whether or not he’d do it. This was after McClure spent the night periodically checking on the cows as driving snow and 40 mph winds created near white out conditions in central Iowa. All the while making sure that his herd was fine through some of the worst conditions Mother Nature could throw at him.

McClure’s round the clock attention was even more critical because his cows are just entering calving season. He was quick to say that although the cows can give birth by themselves, it is crucial to get the calves into the warmth of the barn as soon as possible to prevent the calf from freezing to death by wind chill temps hitting a negative 30 degrees.

After watching McClure and many of the other farmers across the state, I always know that when severe weather strikes; whether it be in the gloom of night, driving rain or a blizzard of snow they will be out in it caring for their animals.

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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