Students in Elaine Fleming's writing class at Leech Lake Tribal College recently completed research projects about the food they eat. The class created skits from their research, and made meals for the tribal college and for the Cass Lake Community Family Center's Family Togetherness Day last week. Elaine said they were able to replace a processed meal of hot dogs and chips at the family center with one that was local and organic.
Cheri Goodwin was one of the students in Elaine's class. Her paper about local eating is both well-researched and personal.
Time for Healthy Changes
By Cheri Goodwin
In our modern day lives, we’ve evolved as humans to become dependent on fast foods, although eating healthier foods would be better for us in the long run. Our society has diverted away from growing and processing our own foods. My research has given me a chance to review my eating habits, evaluate local foods, and look at the way I take care of my body. In the end I hope the research I’ve done will have a positive effect on my family and me. A few of us are somewhat overweight and do very little physical exercise. The following statement from the grocery store I shop at hits my research thoughts right on the nose. In an ad they placed in our local Sunday paper, Luekens Village Foods had the following quote:
I resolve in 2008 to eat more organic & natural foods. Besides, I’m worth it. I deserve the best. My health is too important to me. But there are a few things I
need. I need great taste AND great price. I need to feel good about myself for buying organic & natural foods. No more excuses. 2008 is the year I change my
life. Time for some healthy action. I will look back on this year and be proud. I
won’t have any regrets. Life is wonderful—why not eat wonderful food?
So speaking of wonderful food, I’ve never thought of where the beef in my quarter pounder with cheese came from or my children’s chicken nuggets. I guess I always presumed they came from a cow that was raised on a farm, in the country. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I learned about the way cattle are raised. Raising cattle to feed billions of people is not a very natural thing to do. Cattle begin their lives on a ranch. There they live the first six months of their lives. Calves need to nurse from their mothers; they are then weaned to various types of grasses. Once weaned, they are ready to go to the feed lot, “A feedlot is very much a premodern city; however, teeming and filthy and stinking with open sewers, unpaved roads and choking air rendered visible by dust” (“Omnivore” 72). According to Pollan, “The only reason contemporary animal cities aren’t as plague ridden or pestilential as their medieval human counterparts is a single historical anomaly: the modern antibiotic” (“Omnivore” 73).
I previously believed that antibiotics were only used for human sickness. Contrary to that fact that antibiotics are used to heal us is “Antibiotics are used in agriculture to promote growth in healthy animals” (“Omnivore” 79). For these reasons, I currently think twice about eating my quarter pound cheeseburger meal from McDonalds, even though due to hunger and time constraints I still have found myself going through a fast food drive-through.
The only thing I’ve ever known cows to eat was grass. I’ve now learned that once cows leave the ranch they are switched from a grass fed diet to a diet of flaked corn, due to the economic logic behind switching their diets. It’s much more economically feasible to feed cattle corn than have them graze on grass. Economics dominate our lives, even so far as evolving cows to eat a different diet to save money. One of the downfalls of cows eating corn is that it can cause bloat. Corn dominates more of our food chain than we think about. Corn is put through what is called a wet mill, “these mills are called wet to distinguish them from the traditional mills where corn is simply ground into dry meal for things like tortillas” (Pollan, “Omnivore” 86). Pollan writes that every bit of a piece of corn is processed into some sort of food science.
The first rough breakdown of all that corn begins with the subdivision of the kernel itself: Its yellow skin will be processed into various vitamins and nutritional supplements; the tiny germ (the dark part nearest the cob, which holds the embryo of the potential future corn plant) will be crushed for its oil; and the biggest part, the endosperm, will be plundered for its rich cache of complex carbohydrates. (“Omnivore” 86)
As you can see, our food chain has evolved into so much more than when we produced our own food. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to raise chickens at my place of work. I had a volunteer who was from Germany; she was raised on a farm there. She came up with the bright idea that we could make a portable chicken coop, utilizing our unusable wheelchair wheels. It sounded brilliant! We provided her with all the materials to build a chicken coop for our elders to observe. She built it right in our main gazebo. All of our residents got to either watch from the window or come outside to watch. One of the reasons she wanted to have our coop mobile was because of our limited green space. After the coop was done, we ordered and purchased chicks from the local food co-op. She picked out chicks that we could butcher. Over the summer, we all watched our chicks go from “cute little chicks” to big chickens. Our coop ended up being difficult to keep clean and hard to move around. Although our chicks did survive the summer, we found out that due to our limited green space they were quite a hassle to raise.
We had decided early in our project that we’d have a feast once our chickens were ready to butcher. On our big day everyone was very excited and willing to help out. One of our residents whose nickname was Farmer, had plenty of experience raising farm animals. Farmer gave us lots of advice and was very excited to be helping out. A few of our staff members had experience butchering chickens, so they volunteered to help. One staff member brought her axe used for chopping chickens’ heads off and a big kettle used for scalding feathers. We even had races to see which one of us could pluck feathers off the fastest. It was a big event for our staff and residents. On that same day our kitchen staff happened to be serving chicken. I overheard one of our lady elders whispering to another lady elder, “I didn’t eat the chicken.” I laughed to myself. This just goes to show all the work that’s involved in raising your own meat compared to going to the store to purchase your food.
Another way we’ve evolved is that we’re not used to raising our food and then processing it to eat. I believe that our raising of chickens at the nursing home was the first time in many years that chickens were raised on our reservation. Raising our chickens also brought back memories of my grandmother, Audrey. She informed me that when she was a young girl, she’d be in charge of preparing her family’s Sunday dinner. She described to me how she’d go out to the barn yard, pick out a chicken to butcher, cut its head off, dress it, and cook it (Cobenais). We now treat our animals we raise as pets, rather than food for our table. Due to modern civilization, it’s way easier for us to purchase our food than to raise our food, although not healthier.
Speaking about healthier, I’ve recently had the opportunity to listen to two local speakers; they both thrive on living healthy lives. One of our speakers was Dennis Montgomery. He and his wife decided last year that they were going to eat local foods within a one-hundred mile radius of their home and business for a year. On February 14th, he spoke to our class. One of his biggest reasons for his decision to eat a local diet was that he wasn’t happy with the “carbon footprint left from food” (Montgomery). He explained that he prefers to support local farmers versus distant farmers, due to the high cost of transportation and packaging. Another factor that concerned him was that big factories were “treating animals as a product instead of a living animal” (Montgomery). He also informed us that if our national transportation system would shut down for three days, our grocery stores would have no food. After listening to him talk, I came to believe that for the most part they already were living a fairly healthy life-style. I also noticed that he had a well built body frame, very lean and muscular. Compared to mine, his body looked very healthy. Mine, as the saying for cow’s meat goes, is nicely marbled.
Our other speaker, Patricia Heart, spoke to our class on February 28, 2008. She also had her own philosophy on healthy living. Like Dennis, Patricia also appeared to have a well maintained body frame. She informed us that she feeds her inner spirit as well as her senses. Her eyes need to be “fed” food, which she gets from having bright colors around her like plants and rocks. She also needs to have food for her soul. Some examples she gave were the sky and watching plants grow. She feeds her ears by not exposing herself to cussing, loud sounds, and gossip. She enjoys smelling natural odors, her woodstove, and her flowers. Finally, she feeds her mouth. She prefers to consume very little meat, dairy products, and definitely no pop. She grows her own fruit and vegetables and buys her food from a buying club. She explained to us that a buying club was a way for her to purchase bulk organic foods at lower costs. She also is very physical; she enjoys ballet and chopping her own wood.
After listening to her speak, I was under the impression that her lifestyle must take up a great deal of her time. I thought that maybe she was the type of person who needed little sleep. She informed us that she sleeps about eight hours a night. I found out she has the unique opportunity of not needing to work outside her home due to the fact she receives alimony from her former husband. For me living her kind of life-style would take a great deal of hard work and time to be successful. I think the majority of us, deep inside, crave this “old style” type of life.
Our class needed more research opportunities for our paper. Our instructor Elaine requested us to look into how many fast food restaurants we have in our local city that tempts us every time we drive by them. I counted fifteen. Fast food restaurants are “the most advertised, thus their foods are consumed the most” (Spurlock). Personally, my family eats at a fast food restaurant about three times a month. I was curious to know how many people these fast foods businesses draw from. “The total population of Bemidji in the 2000 census was 11,917 people, and the community hub was over 55,000 people” (Wikipedia). A community hub is the surrounding communities of a city. Of all the different ethnic groups represented in Bemidji, the total for our people, Anishinaabe, is 11.52 % (Wikipedia).
These fast food places contribute to our peoples numerous health problems. One of the biggest for our people is diabetes. Risk factors in developing diabetes is obesity. “3 in 5 diabetics are overweight or obese, 1 in 2 diabetics have sedentary lifestyles, 1 in 4 diabetics have no leisure time physical activity, and 1 in 5 diabetics are current smokers” (Minnesota Department of Health). I’m currently in the process of getting all of my blood levels checked; I hope my results come back negative. I know I’ve gained weight over the past couple years, and I don’t participate in an active lifestyle. So, it looks like if I don’t take some action soon, I’ll be heading for a life with multiple health problems. One thing I’m proud of is that I’ve finally quit smoking.
During my research on improving my eating habits, I took a shopping trip to Harmony Natural Food Co-op, located in Bemidji. Harmony foods is a local food co-op that has all types of organic and locally grown foods. Right when I entered the store, I noticed it was very “earthy.” The sun was shining in their two big southern facing windows. They had lots of live plants sitting in front of their windows, and I even noticed a sign advertising wireless internet connection for their customers. When I first encounter a new store, I look over all the available products and then take mental notes of products comparable to what I use. After I surveyed the store, I picked up a basket and started through the store again. The first section was their fruit. I decided to purchase a bag of organic apples from the state of Washington, and they were comparable to what I usually pay, three pounds for $4.29. Another thing I noticed was that their fruit didn’t look as fresh as fruit in my local food store. It seemed to me that there were not enough consumers purchasing their fruit. I then noticed organic avocados on sale for $1.45. Wow, I thought! Now that’s a good deal. During my initial survey, I also noticed a collection of packaged organic dips; I selected a package of guacamole dip to mix with my avocados. My thoughts were that I’d have a delicious snack for my family that night, baked potato chips and organic dip.
I looked their dairy products over. They had organic milk, butter, and juice. Most of the dairy products sold were much higher in price than I was used to paying. I settled on purchasing a dozen organic eggs raised on a local farm in Bagley, Minnesota. The eggs cost me $2.99 a dozen. The packaging was very simple with just a sticker and the farm’s name on the carton. The next product that caught my eye was organic whole wheat macaroni. Macaroni is a big hit at our house! They also had large cans of organic fire smoked tomatoes, which they sold two cans for $6.00 with an in store coupon. Great deal for me! Visions of my meal for that night were of very healthy and delicious foods.
My trip to the local food co-op was a very informative and educational experience. In their freezer section, they had grass fed beef which came from Menahga, Minnesota. This hamburger sold for $5.98 a pound. That night all of my family members enjoyed our organic supper; we all actually enjoyed the taste of wheat macaroni. My husband does the majority of the cooking at our house; he cooks delicious meals for us. When we had breakfast, my husband boiled both types of eggs I had in my refrigerator, organic and inorganic. We all agreed that the organic eggs tasted much better than the inorganic eggs.
My husband also hunts deer every fall for us. He makes sure to get enough deer to last us throughout the year. The majority of our deer meat is ground up and mixed with extra lean ground beef. We usually mix our meat eighty percent deer to twenty percent beef. As far back as I can remember, it’s been a family event for us to wrap and date our meat. The younger children enjoy writing on our packages. My husband also has a friend who raises his own pigs. We buy one-half a pig from him about two times a year. The pig is taken to a local butcher who processes and wraps up our meat. These are examples of our family efforts to eat locally and in a healthy manner.
I also kept track of my food intake for a week. I now see that I lack adequate amounts of dairy products and fruit in my diet. More physical activity needs to be incorporated into my life. Another thing is that my food portions are more than my body needs. After all my research, I’ve decided to take a stand for my health and live a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been procrastinating for a very long time on starting an exercise program. I’ve researched the internet and found a site that gives me good tips on being healthy and setting exercise goals. I’m now on my way to tracking my exercise activities. This site I’ve signed on to is sponsored by our government. Even the name of this web sight encourages me, Small Steps. Doing a little something to improve my health is better than doing nothing. By implementing healthy steps into my life, I hope to set a good example for my family and live a healthier life-style.
Cobenais, Audrey. Personal Interview. 8 Aug. 1999.
Heart, Patricia. “Local Diet.” Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass Lake. 28 Feb. 2008.
Luekens Village Foods. Advertisement. 17 Feb. 2008.
Minnesota Department of Health Fact Sheet. Diabetes in Minnesota. 6 Mar. 2008
Montgomery, Dennis. “Local Diet.” Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass Lake. 14 Feb. 2008.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penquin Books, 2006.
Super Size Me. Dir. Morgan Spurlock. DVD. Kathbur Pictures, Inc., 2004.
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