Has Your Chicken Been to China?

Real food is not only slow food–it’s local food. Ideally, it’s what’s grown in our backyards or nearby farms or cities, because logically the closer it is to its source the higher the quality. Yet given the norms of our current industrialized food system, we often don’t know how far our food has traveled or how it’s been processed, modified or enhanced to survive its journey to our plates.

An extreme example of this is that the USDA allows both US sourced chicken and seafood to be shipped to China for processing, and then sent back again for the enjoyment of American consumers. Yes, your lovely Coq Au Vin might well have been around the world and back before passing your lips, but it’s been so prepped and preserved you’d never know.

Almost as bad is the fact that California produces a vast majority of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts consumed in America. If you live on the east coast, that means that those big fat strawberries that look so scrumptious have had a cross country trip between you and the soil. And that’s not the only problem. Apparently, in the most productive farming areas of California, the soil is so abused with chemical fertilizers that high levels of nitrogen have tainted the drinking water, putting the local farm worker communities at risk for birth defects, cancer and other health problems. It’s enough to make you think twice about that salad bar.

It’s a fair bet that most of us don’t care for our food to be jetting around the world or taking long road trips on the way to our table. Yet given what’s made available in the supermarkets, in many cases it’s our only alternative. Unless we are mindful and supportive of our more local food sources, we are reliant on the industrial practices that have come into place over the last half century.

The  growing demand for real food has vastly improved our farm-to-table options. With neighborhood farmer’s markets, memberships in community supported agriculture (CSA’s), and supermarkets that feature produce grown within a certain radius, the choice becomes our own. Asking how far the food has traveled before you buy is a powerful step, not only in your own quest for real food, but in the transformation of a broken system. So even if it’s not as close as your own backyard or a neighbor’s field, you can be sure you don’t have to eat a chicken that’s been to China and back.