Healthy Labels

Putting labels on food is a historically recent phenomenon and a direct result of increased food production and knowledge.  We have finally developed the ability to produce enough food to give the common person the luxury of choosing what to eat whatever the season.  We have also gathered enough information about food and what the human body needs to function efficiently that there are recommended doses and healthy and unhealthy foods.  The process of eating food used to involve eating when hungry and not eating when not hungry.  Now we are surrounded by labels that tell us what to do and it has become an advertising race to the forefront of the grocery store.  Companies use buzz words like “heart healthy” and “natural” as well as eye-popping designs and wild, noticeable colors.  But with so much motivation from the seller to gain the customer’s attention besides the desire for them to live a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to trust what you see on these labels.

Retailers will do whatever they can to help separate themselves from their competition including stretching the truth in their labels on their products.  If retailers can put labels such as “natural” or “organic” or “grass-fed” on their product, they give themselves the opportunity to charge more.  Unfortunately, these labels do not always tell the whole story of the product because something may be GMO-free but unhealthy in other ways.  This makes it extremely difficult for consumers to decipher what products are healthiest (M. Hardesty, personal communication, September 6, 2015).  The company KIND and their bars have recently come under fire for advertising a gluten-free, GMO-free, antioxidant filled product implying an extremely healthy snack.  Unfortunately for them, the FDA deemed the bar unhealthy citing high saturated fat levels along with other violations of the labeling laws.  The labeling laws were put in place in an attempt to prevent companies from misleading consumer on their products, and KIND was in violation of those laws in their “good source of fiber” claim and their lack of a “not low-fat” label.  It is this kind of false advertising that makes it difficult to trust labels and there should be more enforcement on labels from the FDA and more research by the consumer.

Despite all of this, if we as consumers operate under the assumption that we cannot trust labels, then products with healthy labels are still better than the average product despite their violations.  Obviously, a KIND bar is healthier than a Snickers bar.  Customers then face the question of whether to spend more money on these “healthy” products or save money on cheaper, unhealthier products.  However, if consumers choose to spend the extra money on healthier products, they should have more comfort in knowing that the product is actually as healthy as advertised.  With this in mind, the FDA should do everything in their power to make sure labels are as accurate as possible.


Pamunkey Shad Hatchery: Is it Ethical?

We recently had the opportunity to visit the Pamunkey Indian Reservation in West Point, Virginia.  The Pamunkey Indian tribe has been living with Shad as a big part of their culture and lifestyle for hundreds of years.  They have been connected in a mutually beneficial relationship long before the white man came over from Europe.  They have grown with the fish and developed new ways of cooking and preserving the animal such as slow roasting over a fire to remove the bones and, more recently, the development of fish hatcheries.  But many people view the continued operation of catching shad as unethical because of the extensive issues facing the fish.  The Native Americans have long practiced the philosophy that everything they take out of nature should be put back in, and there is a reason that John Smith described the biological world in 1607 America to be so thick and plentiful.  Unfortunately, ever since John Smith wrote down that thought, the biology in the Chesapeake has suffered.  What came with John Smith and his mates was centuries of stress on the Chesapeake Bay, most notably from overfishing and pollution.  As a result, we as a culture have lost the right to fish certain endangered species out of the bay.  However, that is only our culture, because the Native American culture should not be blamed for this situation and should be able to continue in their practice of catching Shad.

A lecture featuring Kate Livie showed how the amount of Shad in the Chesapeake Bay region has been dramatically reduced over the last century due to overfishing, decreased water quality and the installation of dams preventing the fish from swimming up-river.  They are very sensitive to water quality and will not survive in an area with a high concentration of nutrients (Livie).  Since the white man’s culture has been continuously throwing nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay watershed through agriculture for decades, the Shad have noticeably and dramatically suffered.  Mrs. Livie noted that in 1979 there were only 50 shad in the entire Susquehanna River.  This fish was a huge part of all nearby cultures and our society as a whole before it virtually disappeared.  It was so prominent that everyone around in the early 20th century would be shocked and appalled that many of the younger people in the 21st century have never even tasted it.  This is a fish that everyone ate 100 years ago and has now almost absent from the Chesapeake Bay watershed we love to take advantage of.  There is a certain culture responsible for this and it is not the one that believes in replacing everything they take from nature.

The Pamunkey fish hatchery does a tremendous job of replacing whatever they catch back into the Pamunkey River.  We recently had the opportunity to talk to Warren Cook, a Pamunkey native who has worked with the hatchery flowing Shad eggs back into the river for over half a century.  He showed us how hundreds of thousands of Shad are put back into the river every year.  Warren Cook was very concerned about Shad numbers because they have been in a down cycle for the past couple of years.  He was worried that the low Shad numbers could motivate the state government to move to cut funding for the operation in an attempt to help the Shad population.  Warren shared with us that their main goals while catching Shad is to eat it but also to sell it.  Both the shad and the shad roe especially command high prices due to the lack of supply (W. Cook, personal communication, September 14, 2015).  This should not be an issue with anyone because the Pamunkey tribe have always had the Shad’s best interest in mind and has made every effort to restore any damage done.  It is the other part of our society that has ruined the Shad population and the Pamunkey should not be punished for this.

Dr. John Seidel said during a social science lecture that culture stems from the environment and is directly related to the surrounding ecosystem.  It is often shaped by the surrounding biological world (Seidel).  Shad has been a huge part of the Pamunkey tribe culture for hundreds of years and would and should be today if it was not for mistakes made out of their control.  Pamunkey Indians should have the opportunity to harvest Shad because it is such a big and important part of their culture.

Works Cited

Livie, K. (2015). Shad Fishing on the Chesapeake [Powerpoint slides].

Seidel, J. (2015). Science and Society – Part 1 [Powerpoint slides].

A Respect for the Bay and its People

There is no denying that the Chesapeake Bay at its current state has issues.  Compare today’s Chesapeake Bay with the bay from 150 years ago and this becomes extraordinarily apparent.  It has become a dump zone for all sorts of uninvited nutrients, sediments and waste from sources ranging in the alphabet from agriculture to sewage pipes.

The question of what we should do about the Chesapeake Bay is an ethical one.  We can certainly find out what will happen to the bay and the various markets that depend on it through science equations and projections as well as economic principles.  However, whether we should or should not individually or as a society make an effort to clean up the bay comes down to ethics.  It is ethical because every reasonable solution comes with opposition from another source.  If we do nothing about the problems of the bay, it would anger naturalists and everyone involved with the bay clean-up process.  If we impose sanctions on fishermen and farmers around the Chesapeake Bay watershed in order to decrease runoff and increase aquatic organisms, it would aggravate farmers and watermen but satisfy scientists looking to clean up the bay.  There is not one solution that would make everyone involved one hundred percent content, which is why the solution must come down to ethics.

For me, we will find the best solutions to this overwhelming problem through respect.  We must not only have a respect for the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding environment of the Chesapeake watershed, but also every single person who lives and works within the watershed from New York to southern Virginia.  That means that not only do we need to have an understanding of the science and what will happen to the bay if current trends continue, but we also must have a respect for each other.  The only way we can bring people with such conflicting views as the scientist who wants to save the crab population and the waterman who needs to make a living from catching crabs together is having respect for each other.

We recently had the opportunity to converse with Captain Russel Dize while trot lining in the Choptank River.  He said when crab size regulations recently changed, he kept the crabs that used to be allowed but no longer were in a separate bushel for a day.  He ended up throwing back almost two bushels of crabs and a lot of potential profit and I cannot imagine how disheartening that must have been.  This kind of frustration creates animosity that simply cannot exist if we hope to create an environment of compromise.  The question of what to do about the bay and the reasoning behind these decisions are not always obvious, which is why we need everyone involved on the same page to make the best decision possible.  The way we can do that is through respect for everyone and everything involved, because getting this wrong could have disastrous consequences for everyone.