If I were to be forced to focus on only one area of study and public/consumer education, it would be Nutrition; the source of our food supply, and what the human body actually needs. The learning curve of understanding "processed food" is lacking on a much larger scale than I think most realize. People assume grocery stores and markets look out for human health, and only sell healthy food. I don't believe the majority even wonder where the food comes from--how it is grown or manufactured. Shoot, if it weren't healthy for human consumption, they surely wouldn't be allowed to sell it, right? WRONG! Regulations are so flimsy, that until a collection of population illness, disease or even death occurs, and law suits filed; nothing is typically done or flagged by the USDA or FDA. Label laws are not enforced nor reviewed on a regular basis. Government, politics and political lobbyist own our mass food supply--what is grown and how, sold, and any and all regulations. Sad, but true.
So what can we do? First, we can understand what we and our families need to eat and
drink, to obtain and maintain great health. We need to learn how to read a label, and understand that anything that is altered from its natural state, with a list of ingredients, whether listed as "all natural" or synthetic, is a processed food. We need to understand the body does not recognize processed food the same as "real food", so it makes an incredible difference with your day to day health.
SUMMARY: Ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest. Try looking for products that list whole foods as the first three ingredients and be skeptical of foods with long lists of ingredients.
People assume the most important thing about food is calories, which is completely false. The body doesn't recognize or count calories. It recognizes nutrition or junk, and will either use it for energy or store it as a toxin or waste--period.
Nutrition is the #1 influencer around health; what we eat and drink every single day is either making a healthy deposit or unhealthy withdraw. So it really is important that we do our homework to understand the truth around processed food and our food supply. We are only as healthy as our cells--their growth and replication. So we can either eat and live to grow and replicate healthy cells, or simply the opposite. We do have a lot of control over our health outcome.
Great Health is 80% Nutrition and 20% Exercise.
Which brings me to my focus: What American states are growing and contributing to our food supply. After traveling around California for the last 30 days, I realized it represents a whole lot more than Hollywood, earthquakes, sunshine, beaches, political discussion and or controversary. The Top 5 agricultural and food producers are: 1)California, 2) Iowa, 3) Nebraska, 4) Texas, and 5) Minnesota. There are more big producers like Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Indiana, but we will focus on these Top Five.
California is the #1 agriculture provider in the USA.
We all should know that California's constant sunshine grows a lot of produce, and food--period. But, I don't think people understand exactly how much food is grown--produced from this state, and the constant hardships it suffers trying to make that happen. To me, this is important to know--recognition and appreciation.
Over one third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruit and nuts are grown in California. Top commodities include: almonds, pistachios, dairy and dairy products, wine and walnuts. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as cherries, pears, berries, pomegranates, lettuce/leafy greens, tomatoes, flowers, and cattle make up this overall significant contribution. Over 400 commodities come from California agriculture which totals 90% of the US production of organic almonds, artichokes, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, dates, figs, grapes, strawberries, lemons, plums, walnuts and lettuce. We should know and understand what it takes to keep this food supply going.
The California almond industry represents a $6.5 billion dollar crop. Did you know millions of dollars of crops are lost every year from wind damage to trees? I certainly didn't.
To grow one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water, and to grow a pound takes 1900 gallons per pound. All other nuts require the same, but the almond is in a much higher demand at this time. With that said, let's talk about water, and what it takes and where it comes from when this food growing state gets very little rainfall. The average annual precipitation for California is 21.44 inches, with 9 out of 10 days dry.
So where does California's water supply come from?
So where does the water come from that grows this enormous amount of food, and provides for 39 million (2019) people? California depends on two sources for its water: surface water and groundwater. The water that runs into rivers, lakes and reservoirs is called "surface water." Ground water is found beneath the earth's surface in the pores and spaces in between rocks and soil. These are called aquifers (photo on left), and you can spot these all throughout north and central California. But the number one source of California's drinking water is the Colorado River (photo on the right).
Nearly 75 percent of the available surface water (rain and snowfall), originates in the northern third of the state (north of Sacramento), while 80 percent of the demand occurs in the southern two-thirds of the state. The Colorado Aquaduct, built in the 1930s, transports water from the Colorado River to Southern California, and is the region's primary source of drinking water. There continues to be a lot of conversation between city, county and state leaders on creating more options for a sustainable water supply. The aquifer system continues to be over pumped in many areas, especially with the ever growing competing needs for water.
When you travel through the Central Valley and California Delta, it should blow every mind to see how much water it takes to grow this amount of food. During my 30 plus days of travel throughout the sunshine state, we received ZERO rainfall. The Delta region of California is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers--the heart of California's water system. In addition to the Sacramento and San Joaquin, the Mokelumne, Cosumnes, and Calaveras rivers – and numerous tributaries – deliver approximately half of the state's annual runoff to the San Francisco Bay by way of the Delta. While the region is known for its waterway configuration, the Delta is also unique for its fertile soils. The soils range from peat to mineral. The peat soils are the remnants of decomposed tule marshes, and the mineral soils are the result of alluvial deposits from waterways. These soils were reclaimed in the mid- to late-1800's when levees were constructed to contain water within channels, allowing "islands" to be farmed.
The area of the Delta is approximately 738,000 acres. The majority of this area – over 500,000 acres – is agricultural land spread over five counties: San Joaquin, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, and Contra Costa. Food, fiber, and forage are grown in the Delta. You will see endless miles of vast vineyards, pear, and cherry orchards, along with leafy greens, corn, hay, sugar beets, alfalfa, tomatoes and asparagus.
Organic production encompasses over 2.5 million acres in the state and California is the only state in the US with a USDA National Organic Program. Why is this important? Because when there is an outbreak of salmonella, or e coli, you can guarantee it isn't coming from an organic or grass-fed food supply. Organic regulations prohibit growing methods that can create a toxic growing environment, much different from conventional growers.
While California goes days and months without rain, many midwestern states are receiving non-stop down pours that literally destroys a different food supply. So if we are paying attention, we can see every day the serious struggles of farmers relying on mother nature to help them do their jobs.
All Top 5 agricultural producers featured in this article include cattle in their total receipts, along with corn, soy and miscellaneous grain production. It is important to note that the majority of these grain crops are used for animal feed, processed food, ethanol and alcohol. From beef to pork and sheep, what these animals are being fed, determines the quality of the protein, which matters to our health...or at least it should.
#2 IOWA is the USA's #1 corn, pork and eggs producer, utilizing 90% of the state's land for agriculture--farming (30 million acres). Every county in the state grows corn. They are second in the nation for soybean (13.3%), and red meat production.
#3 NEBRASKA is also #3 in corn production--it's most important crop, (CORN HUSKERS;) with much of it going to feed cattle and hogs. Other leading crops are soybeans, wheat, hay and grain sorghum.
#4 TEXAS generates over $22 million in agricultural receipts. I think it might surprise most to hear that this state is the #1 cotton producer in the US, and has been since 1880, with the highest value commodities being in cattle, calves, horses, sheep and goats. This BIG state also leads the way as a top producer of hay, vegetables, citrus, peanuts, pecans, corn, sorghum and rice.
The economic impact of the
Texas food and fiber section totals about $100 billion.
• 86% of the land in Texas is in some form of agricultural production.
• 98.5% of Texas’ agricultural operations are still run by individuals or families.
• Agriculture employs one out of every seven working Texans.
• Texas ranks first in the nation in the number of cattle and calves, accounting for 13% of the U.S. total. Texas also ranks first in the number of cattle operations and the value of all cattle and calves.
• Agricultural exports are live animals and meat, cotton and cottonseed, feed grains and products, hides and skins, wheat and products, and feeds and fodder.
• The Texas Department of Agriculture’s Family Land Heritage Program has recognized more than 4,700 farms and ranches in 232 counties for being maintained in continuous agricultural operation by the same family for 100 years or more.
# 5 MINNESOTA is the nation's #1 turkey supplier (45 million birds raised by 450 growers on 600 farms), and 4th in corn production followed by soybeans. Yes, still a primary producer of hay, sugar beets, wheat, barley, flaxseed, and oats. It is important to note with 11 million acres of state cropland producing $2 billion worth of corn and soybeans; 85% of total acreage is given over to crops humans cannot eat, except after processing. What does this mean? Most of the agriculture produced is for animal feed, ethanol, and then the processed food market. Sugar beets are primarily used for animal feed.
#6 Runner Up Illinois is #2 in corn production, and uses 90% of its land in corn, soybean and wheat production. They typically rank #4 in pork production, and first in the nation with $180 billion in processed food sales. This might be great for food manufacturing companies, but it doesn't do much for creating healthy humans. Final note on Illinois facts: Bill Gates is the largest land owner with 17,940 acres. This is certainly not by accident that our largest contributor to processed food has a lot in common with this artificial food promotor.
Does It Really Matter? CAFO (confined animal feeding operations)
and Grass-Fed Cattle for Food
Today, more people than ever are showing genuine concern for where their food comes from. Farming and food processing practices are under more scrutiny as people educate themselves with the help of the internet, not to mention modern scientific advances regarding the effects of unnatural food. The beef industry, in particular, has become home to one of the most highly-publicized debates: grass-fed beef vs factory-farmed beef.
Is one healthier than the other? Is one more humane than the other? Some consider it a non-issue, while others have dedicated their lives advocating a particular side. For me, traveling through the state of California and seeing both operations up close and personal, there is no contest of what I prefer to eat, and I will explain why.
One thing is certain, there’s no denying that the food a cow eats has a verifiable effect on its beef. The nutrient composition is markedly different depending on a cow’s diet. Let’s look a bit deeper into why this is the case and how this information should affect our choices.
What do factory-farmed cattle eat and why does it matter?
Factory-farmed cows are typically fed some combination of the following: hooves, skin, blood, hair, feathers, plastics, chemicals, drugs, manure, diseased animals, same-species (rendered) meat, copious amounts of grain, euthanized dogs and cats, dead horses, roadkill, and other animal waste.
In recent decades, the processes surrounding how cattle and other animals are raised and fed have changed a lot. The advent of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) has lead to a sharp decrease in the number of farms nationwide. These “animal factories” have also resulted in the adoption of questionable, yet unfortunately legal, practices. These feedlots are always devising ways to save money. With almost no consideration for the health of animals or humans, they’re constantly revising the definition of animal feed. Everything is becoming more and more unnatural and inhumane at the expense of the bottom line. These decidedly low standards affect not only the cows but also the humans who consume their meat.
Personally, if you have never actually seen one of these operations up close and personal, you should before buying your next cart full of meat from Walmart, Tyson, or pork from Smithville.
What effect do animal antibiotics have on their meat?
Antibiotics are constantly being pumped into factory-farmed animals. These chemicals are designed to promote growth and provide artificial compensation for less-than-ideal living conditions (unsanitary, stressful, crowded). The millions of pounds of non-therapeutic medicine administered to feedlot animals every year have a concerning effect on humans who consume this meat, lowering our antibiotic resistance. Many of the antimicrobials given to cattle (designed for parasite control) have arsenic in them. Traces of arsenic are consistently found in the meat of these animals and often contaminate water supplies near these feedlots. NOTE: All of the e coli outbreaks--recall on meat, come from these factory farms, not organic, or 100% grass-fed operations.
The negative effects of feeding cattle too much grain
Cattle are natural grass eaters. Factory-farmed cattle, however, are forced (for lack of a better word) to eat grain – and a lot of it. This dense grain diet is rich in corn and goes against the natural design of a cow’s digestive system. This often results in liver abscesses, highly acidic digestive systems, and other health problems directly caused by over-consumption of grain. In turn, more drugs are administered to quell these problems.
What is the environmental impact of factory-farmed cattle?
Studies over many years have confirmed the negative effects that factory-farmed cattle have on the environment. These include increased soil erosion, decreased water quality, higher fossil fuel costs, and lower natural diversity. Cattle raised on feedlots consume lots of fossil fuel energy. Factory-farmed cattle are almost always fed grain made of up corn and soy. The amount of chemical fertilizer used to grow this corn is immense, which also takes huge amounts of oil. Not only that but if you consider all the trucking and waste removal involved with feedlots, the total fossil fuel consumption is raised even higher. Most factory-farmed cattle locations contribute severely to water pollution. Instead of manure nutrients having a positive effect on the pastures, living conditions allow these nutrients to escape and become water pollutants. This also negatively affects the fertility and organic matter of the soil. And because feedlots typically do not have a permute system of pasture maintenance or grazing management, soil erosion becomes a problem.
What’s the difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised?
These two terms are often confused for one another, but they do not mean the same thing. One refers to WHAT the cow eats (grass-fed) and the other refers to WHERE the cow eats (pasture-raised). Knowing this, you can then make your decision on what type of beef you prefer to consume. For example, choose grass-fed steak if it’s important to you that the cow ate little or no grain. Choose pasture-raised if you prioritize knowing the cow was free to wander and graze freely.
Now comes the question everyone asks: “Doesn’t the pasture have grass on it? How, then, is grass-fed different from pasture-raised? No, it’s still not the same. This is because a farmer in a cold climate may have his pasture covered in snow for large portions of the year, during which time he may feed his cows grain. There can be instances where a grass-fed cow is, in fact, also a pasture-raised cow. In this instance, however, the cow would’ve had to eat grass for most of its life, which is unlikely. Technically, it’s also possible that a cow could be fed hay (grass) all its life and still be housed exclusively indoors. But again, that’s highly unlikely. It’s best to assume a resolute difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised.
How trustworthy is packaging that says “grass-fed”?
Make sure that when purchasing grass-fed meat, the packaging says “100% grass-fed”. Do not overlook this important detail. Packaging is often ambiguous regarding grass-fed vs factory-farmed. If it doesn’t say “100%”, this means it’s possible that the cow was “finished” on grain. This means the farmer fed it grain during its last 60-90 days. Again, make sure the packaging says “100% grass-fed”.
What’s the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed?
Generally speaking, cows that are grain-fed eat mostly soy and corn at the end of their lives. Cows that are grass-fed have eaten mostly grass for their entire lives. That’s the difference. A grain-fed diet is considered unnatural and a grass-fed diet is considered natural. It’s important to note that what is considered grass-fed in the US may be different in other countries; say, Australia. In some countries, grass-fed doesn’t always mean that the cows grazed outdoors, for example.
What’s healthier: Grass-fed or grain-fed?
The fat content of grass-fed beef is lower compared to grain-fed, which means, among other things, fewer calories, and easier digestion. Grass-fed beef also contains more CLA and omega-3 fatty acids; both good things. Other nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and various antioxidants are more abundant in grass-fed. Overall, there’s a slightly higher nutrient count in it compared to grain-fed.
However, grain-fed beef contains many nutrients and is certainly healthy, and is certainly healthier than any "artificial meat created in a lab". Plus, depending on your location, grass-fed beef may be inconvenient to find and expensive. If we can learn to eat a "balanced" diet of "real" food, the health differences between grain and grass fed become very insignificant.
When it comes down to it, your food choice is yours--decided by your personal convictions and preferences. But everyone should know that eating real food will always be healthier than eating processed food and or food-like products. I believe it is also important that we know where our food comes from--how it is grown, and the hard work required from both man and mother nature. Let your principles determine your choices, and always, BE WELL🌻