Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Squeezing the Middle

Farming in America is becoming increasingly polarized.

We have the very small farms (<$50,000/year in farm revenue). These farms are booming at the moment, with farmer's markets and CSA's cropping up all over the country. New York State is a fine example, with most of its farms falling into this category. These are largely organic, bio-dynamic, or simply higher quality then their larger competition. They have more transparency, and have a reason to produce better products - livelihood.

On the other hand we have Mega Farms (>$250,000/year in farm revenue). Cal-Organic, Earthbound Organic, all the produce of your local supermarket, whole foods, etc. These farms are equipped to supply the supermarkets of the country, almost all of which are national or regional chains which can impose price restrictions that are impossible to meet for small or mid-size producers. Additionally they are lowering standards and quality as carefully as they can. Here is a (not very well written, sorry) article about Horizon Organic Milk, and the degradation of standards.

The Middle is dying. At a rate of almost 10% every 5 years. Read more on that here. The author, Tom Philpott discusses the mid-size farm squeeze.
These mid-size farms are largely family owned operations with decent production potential and less industrial waste and pollution potential then large operators. But they have been squeezed out of the market by large buyers (Wal-Mart and its organic counterpart Whole Foods) who can save more money via single contract with Cal-Organic then they can via 10-20 individual mid-size farms.

He also talks about the ways to save the middle. Philpott's solution is simple: return to locally owned markets and co-ops. Let these drive the market, buying locally from the mid-size farms. This has been tried successfully successfully.

Why is mid and smaller better?

"4. Smaller farms are more productive
Mid-sized and small farms are more productive than large farms when measured by total farm output per acre rather than the yield of a single crop, according to a review of the literature published several years ago by the non-governmental organization Food First. Mid-sized farms were also found to be better stewards of natural resources. But a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that commodity payments to support row crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton go overwhelmingly to large operations that are pushing mid-sized and small farms out of business. The report also found that farms that receive commodity payments tend to grow even bigger. Currently, two percent of U.S. farms qualify as "small" (less than 50 acres), and 67 percent are considered "large" (1000 acres or more)."

read the full survey here.

There are many other reasons, but I will not further belabor the point.

Be Well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hidden Costs

The single biggest hindrance to farm raised pastured meat (hogs, heifers, broilers primarily) is the cost.

At the farmer's market in Union Square the cheapest beef is $7.99/lb.  And that is for chop meat.

When I talk to friends and family they all say the same thing - "it's just too expensive".  And they are right.  I went out and bought a rib-eye steak from the local butcher about a month ago, it was $21.99/lb.  It tasted about twice as good, so I guess I got my money's worth.  
But it begs the question, "why is it so expensive?".  

But actually, the important question is this:  Why is the other stuff so cheap?  I looked at Food Emporium's online prices for their Union Square store and they had Chop Meat for $2.99/lb.

What about Chicken?  A pasture producer will generally be selling in the $3-4.50/lb range if she wants to remain viable.  How does this compete with food emporium's CAFO chickens? $2.29/lb at the Food Emporium. 

How can I tell my friends and family to eat better meat if they can reduce their costs by 66%, or about $5-7/week?  

The answer of course lies in the steaming pile of shit that is at the end of the money trail. 

Literally.  The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations produce so much manure that the government has stepped in to clean up the mess.  And herein lies all the problems and hidden costs.  When the government steps in, you guessed it, the taxpayers are footing the bill.

What other costs do the CAFO's add to our tax burden?  Manure management amounts to a tax burden of over $5 billion.  Public Health costs can only be reliably estimated as between $1 and $3 billion, but are potentially much higher, considering the deterioration of the american diet, and the scourges held within, heart disease, cancer and diabetes (the 1st, 2nd, and 6th leading causes of death in the US as of 2004).
Additionally, CAFO's lower land value, by an estimated $26 billion, when dispersed over the 9,900 CAFO's in the country.  Not to mention grain costs.  Forget all my rambling, just look at this chart by the USCA:

If we add up all the hidden costs, then divide them evenly among the approximately 117 million taxpayers in the US, we come up with a hidden cost of about $343 per taxpayer per year.  Or about $6.50/week.  Roughly the same amount that can be "saved" by purchasing the CAFO meat.

What does all this mean?  Can you say corporate welfare?

Be well.

animals should live on farms! who knew??

from the USCA report on CAFO's:

"There is clearly a major advantage in linking livestock to crops, which can be readily achieved by re-locating livestock near crops."

eating local in the DR

This was taken by a close friend who just returned. 


USCA - Union of Concerned Scientists
CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation
SNAFU - read all about it here.

be well.

farming and blogging

Plenty Mag has a blog run by farmer Ragan Sutterfield, read it here!

eco-news and its food blog

Plenty Magazine is a nice resource for good environment related information.
They also have a series of blogs, including a food blog that is terrific, check it out here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

local food, organic farming.

So we returned from our great New Hampshire Journey.  We did some hiking, some exploring, and some farming.  The trip was terrific.  Northern New Hampshire is a majestic, wild, beautiful place.  

We set out on wednesday evening, arriving late at the Gale River Motel.  It was indeed pleasant and pet friendly, though we had no pets with us.  The purveyor, Kevin (i think) was really nice, and gave us hiking and food suggestions that were helpful and accurate.  I'll save the rest for trip advisor.  

Hiking was fantastic, here is the view of Lafayette from Bald Mountain:

On thursday evening we arrived at the home of farmer Tim Wennrich and his family.  Tim runs Meadowstone Farm.  He agreed to host the remainder of our stay in return for one day of work on the farm.  

Meadowstone is an amazing place.  It is primarily a produce operation, entering a second year of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this term.  In livestock, they have about 100 laying hens, broiler chickens, pigs and the latest addition - 2 goats.  The farm has been Certified Organic for several years, but Tim was telling me that they decided to drop the certification, more on that at a later date. 

The farm sits strategically between the towns of Littleton and Bethlehem, so most of their business is done on the farm stand.  They occasionally range to markets as far as Plymouth (about 40 miles south).  

One thing I noticed outright was the family's close interaction with many different members of the local community.  People came by the farm or the house at various times to talk with Tim about this or that bit of news and business.  We weren't the only ones helping out last friday.  A couple of others dropped by to help out at times, and Lyle, the previous owner of the farm dropped by to see how things were going, and to barter a bit with Tim.

The farmhouse was also alive with small voices, as Tim's wife and a few of her friends opened an absolutely lovely school there when they bought the farm.  It is a modified one-room schoolhouse serving kids from ages 5-14.  One of the first things we saw upon entering the farm friday morning was one of the students chilling out on the yard in front of the house reading a book.

The farm is a great example of everything we need to support in agriculture.  It is a farm that produces clean healthy food, absolutely terrific eggs and meats from healthy happy animals that have rich diets and strong immune systems (read: no hormones, antibiotics, poor living conditions, etc).  It is the centerpiece of a fine example of Permaculture.  Translated, this means that the farm, the schoolhouse and all involved are part of a Local food and culture system that defies all facets of industrial culture.  If we find and support farms such as this, we lift ourselves and those around us.  Our diets are healthier, our minds are sharper, our values are consistently raised, rather then subversively lowered.  Is this too much?  Am I pontificating? 

My answer to both question is simply this:  Try the eggs!  They taste like eggs should taste, but seldom do.  Then remember that the eggs you normally eat come from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, the site of industrial waste that is destroying our eco-systems, antibiotic and hormone laden animals that are slowly eroding our nutritional health, conditions that are ethically abominable for any living creature and decreased profitability for all smaller producers via market aggregation.  Everything about the eggs we normally eat points toward poorer health and less human interaction, away from local integrative culture, via vertically integrated industrial animal production.  

What the industry of mass-produce (including Cal-Organic and Earthbound, the companies that sell most of your organic fair) and CAFO's are hoping is that we all forget what it was like to know our neighbors.  If none of our neighbors produce food (or even cook it, as our organic TV dinners become more popular) then we slowly lose all connection to the sources of our food.  If we lose all connection to these sources, then these sources become less and less value driven, instead they become more and more mass-market driven.  Again, to complete the circle, the less the consumer knows the lower the product quality must be.  Call it Ikea Culture. 

All this came home in my mind while attempting to drive a fence post into frost-hardened earth.  The mind numbing thrusts of the digging pole could not force these inspiring thoughts from my mind.  Why would any of us shop at Wal-Mart?  The quality is just terrible, and the prices are not much less then a farmer's wares at a farm stand.  I am not talking about cities, or large suburban areas, I am talking about the Wal-Mart in Littleton, NH, exactly 4.7 miles away from Meadowstone farm.  Luckily for those that live up there, there is a viable alternative to Wal-Mart, and my hopes for the continued success of Meadowstone and the like are very high.

For us down in the city, there are ever increasing numbers of Farmer's Markets.  NY state has become a pretty good place for a small farm, with farmer's markets appearing in new towns every season, there are CSA's cropping up all around the city.  They fill up fast, so you have to get on it NOW!  JustFood NYC has a great page:  click here for their NYC Map of CSA's in NYC. For another handy map based farm and market locator, Local Harvest is the way to go, click here.

That's all for now, Be well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Well, I have begun some harder research into soy.  You will get just a tidbit this morning, as I have a test in a couple hours, and I have to go to Bensenhurst to take it.

The Chinese did not consume this bean until they invented a fermentation process (1800-2000 years ago).  The fermentation process makes a more palatable product and eliminates some unpleasant acids.  A short while later the Chinese figured out that they could use other acids or salts to treat the bean curd, and came up with Tou Fu.  Tou Fu was never consumed in large amounts, but used rather to supplement meals already rich in other proteins.  It never reached the heights of its fermented brothers.

Fermented Soy:

here is a list of fermented soy products. We know several of them in the west, Miso, Tempeh, Tamari, Soy Sauce.  

Non-Fermented Soy:

Tou Fu is your big one, Soy Protein, Oil, and all the residual products being produced by our industrial food system are the others.  According to this article, 90% of current Soy production is genetically modified.  Non-fermented Soy products are far less likely to be of Organic sources, thus they are far more likely to be a child of mega AG-Business conglomerate Monsanto, subject of a fine piece of ultra-liberal smear in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. Read all about it here!

So, Tou fu and all the residuals are essentially trypsin inhibitors.  Trypsin breaks down protein.  Yes, you read that correctly - Soy products may INHIBIT digestion of protein.  Let that sink in for a little while.

Additionally, un-fermented Soy is high in acids called Phytates, which inhibit the uptake of several vitamins and minerals, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.  

So...eating un-fermented Soy blocks protein digestion and the uptake of vitamins and minerals.   hmm.  

you may now be asking why we eat it?

My answer is:  follow the money!  That will be my next post.  But it will not arrive until I have returned from a real farm, one that doesn't grow Number 2 corn, and that isn't on the shipping docket for an industrial feedlot.  

until then, Be Well.


vacation on the farm

Well, tonight I set out for Northern New Hampshire.

I have been planning this short (3 days) trip for months, and I could not be happier, as I am about to escape the city.  The best part about it is that I will be staying and working on a farm as part of the trip.

Meadowstone Farm up in Bethlehem, NH will be hosting myself and the lovely Karina on thursday and friday nights.  Friday, during the day, we will work on the farm as payment for lodging.  It is an organic Chicken, pig and produce farm just north of the spectacular Franconia Notch (site of the monumental and now withered Old Man of the Mountain).  

I will have much fun to report upon return.

Be Well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

i know...

the last post fizzled out a bit.  Admittedly, I was exhausted by the time I got to Beef.  

and the next thing I have to write about is no better.
Just thinking about the gargantuan mindfuck that is the Soy industry is giving me fits of anxiety.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

clearing up some congestion on the pasture

I think I need to be more clear on how to eat meat and poultry/dairy.  I will start with poultry products, then i'll talk about pigs, then the bovines.

Eggs - as a preface - Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids exist in many foods.  Eggs should have about 1.3:1 ratio (O6:O3).  Humans should have a diet that is about 1:1.  Since the vegetable oil revolution and the introduction of corn and soy feed to laying hens, this ratio has climbed.  In a 1986 study in Greece, a ratio of 19.4:1 was discovered in "supermarket eggs".  

What has this done?  In a nutshell - too much Omega 6 = bad.  For more information read this article.  It is well sourced.

also - my taste conclusions are entirely subjective, based on my own experiences with different egg producers.  I have never done a strait taste test...I'll have to get on that.

from worst to best:

Factory Farmed eggs.  Non Organic.

These are easily the worst.  The eggs from these birds are also most likely to be sold for $1-2 per dozen.  
The hens will likely live in massive houses - 20,000-50,000 hens in a house.  These birds do not need to look good, as they will be discarded with the other industrial waste once they have lay'd their last egg.  (laying hens do not produce their whole lives, laying their last at about 120 weeks of age, or 2 1/2 years)  As a result they do not need to be kept happy and healthy.  Most will rub their breasts against their cages, an expression of agony (this is not an anthropomorphizing statement, these birds are miserable, you will never see a hen mutilate itself on a farm)
Their feed will be corn and soy feed that is full of chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc...all designed to increase egg production in the short lives of the birds.  Eggs that make it down are washed and boxed.  Washing is a completely absurd process.  It pulls off the protective sheet of antibody mixture that the mother hen slimes each egg with.  
NOTE:  washing eggs is ILLEGAL in france, which has an entirely intact pastured chicken food culture.
this whole industrial process is heavily regulated, and so favors larger productions in which regulation costs can be spread out over a wide area.  The regulations are identical from top to bottom of the market which, again, favors the larger producers.

Nutrition:  poor.  a healthy egg comes from a healthy chicken.  The eggs from large producers have less nutritional value across the board (see earlier posts on this subject below).  Omega 6:Omega 3 - up to 20:1.  
Taste:  poor.  slightly better then powdered eggs.
Ethics:  poor.  Unhealthy, disgracefully treated animals.  
Price:  $1-2/dozen
Overall:  Drive a Hummer?  These are your eggs.

Factory Farmed Eggs - Organic

The advantage here is the lack of chemicals in the feed.  Many producers are now adding kelp or fish oil to the feed to decrease the Omega ratio.  

Nutrition:  fair.  no bad chemicals.  but a lack of greens and insect foraging still keeps the eggs from gaining the robust nutrition most humans have eaten over the generations.  The hens are treated just as badly physically in these houses, as there is no reason to treat them better, decreasing the nutritional value.
Taste:  fair/poor:  pretty similar to the non-organic ones.  (again, this is my personal experience, take it or leave it)
Ethics:  poor, see above.
Price:  $2-4/dozen
Overall:  you can at least be confident that you are not getting roided out eggs.  But your eggs will still be coming from the industrial corn/soy agri-business producers, as all their feed is corn and soy.  These producers which have destroyed traditional american agriculture. (perspective:  the Iowa Corn Belt soil has lost 2 full feet of topsoil in the last 30 years)
They are like the Hybrid SUV.

Factory Farmed Eggs - "free-range" organic

These are almost exactly the same as the factory farmed organic eggs in terms of nutrition and taste.  The "free range" distinction is acquired when the birds either A) have a yard to wander into, outside of the house (they NEVER use it, from what I have read) or B) they live on the floor of a chicken house.  These chickens will have to be de-beaked - so they do not peck each other to death.  Their stress is phenomenal in these houses - and stressed chickens produce shitty eggs.

Overall:  no better then the factory organics

Farm eggs - pastured (organic status not important)

A farmer that pastures her eggs produces the healthiest, most diverse eggs.  They will not all look or taste the same.  Hens that forage are healthy, happy, cared for.  Organic is not an issue here, because the birds will eat mostly forage.  If the producer uses feed (which all do, for a very small portion of the feed) then you want to find out where they get their feed, if it is not organic or if it is organic.  Either way, you want local feed producers that are not tied into subsidy farming.   

Nutrition:  low Omega ratio, high vitamin content.  
Taste:  like night and day compared to the others.  Thick pasty orange yolk, albumin (white) that has integrity (read:  it won't slide all over the pan, it will stay together), and the taste is exactly what an egg should taste like, only eggier.
ethics:  no waste.  no chemicals.  natural food source (sun, grass, insects).  Happy, healthy animals.
Price:  $2-4/dozen
overall:  These are so much better then the competition, that it begs the question:  why eat any others?  The price is similar to the factory organics.  The only problem is that they are far less available.  They are sold only in farmer's markets.  Make sure to ask your local vendor at the farmer's market about pasture - some of them are loosely veiled factory producers.  Be vigilant!

CHICKEN - broilers.

Most of the information above is similar when applied to broilers.  The difference is that broilers need to be "processed".  If you can possibly get a chicken from a farm that process its own birds then you are in good shape.  Otherwise, we have to settle for second best.  

To remind you though.  The difference between a pastured chicken and a non-pastured chicken is massive.  So if you can get it, go for it.  You will pay the same or less for pastured birds then you will for the bell and evans or D'artagnon, or murray's or whatever.  


As their diet is similar (omnivorous) to chickens, most of the above applies.  But, pigs are not foragers in grassland.  They are diggers, nosing their way into soil and roots and such to find food.  They eat literally anything, so it is vitally important to have a good idea of their food sources.  Is it local?  Is it organic?  It should be both.  
The other issues here are is density.  How many pigs are living together.  Pigs have a relatively nasty temperament, when they live too close together they are constantly biting each other.  Many pigs are now given psycho-active drugs as part of their feed to combat their growing neurotic behaviors on feedlots.   

One good way to eat pig product is to get imported treated products.  Such as italian prosciutto.  In europe the production of food has not changed to fit industry.  Their foods are almost exactly the same as they have been for generations.  In many cases, food that would be considered bio-hazard here in america (raw milk and cheese) is completely normal in Europe.


Here is the real trouble.  I'll say it strait away:  There is NO substitute, NO other option.  You can ONLY drink pastured cow milk, and eat pastured beef.  We are dealing with Ruminants here.  They cannot digest corn and soy without chemicals that alter their entire digestive system.  This causes their immune systems to break down, requiring antibiotics.

The meat from the industrial system has so many problems.  This includes ALL organic producers that are not pasture based.  And I am not talking about "access to pasture"  or simply "grass-fed".  I mean cows and steers raised, fed, and finished on the pasture.
The industry cows are overlarge, many times to the point where they cannot even stand on their legs.  This is from the hormones, which make them grow larger, and quicker - meaning more product in less time.  

If you could care less about the beeves themselves, think about the laborors - unskilled, many times illegals with no access to health care.  The number of mutilating injuries is astronomical.  The conditions are terrible, and there is little oversight, as we found out recently in the news.

A pasture farmer will generally need to work through a smaller slaughterhouse, which will mean more oversight, more sanitation, and less worker injury.  

Overall, there is simply no comparison.  

But then there is the price - in my local butcher shop, grass fed rib eye's are $21.99/lb.  Painful really.  But this is a result of the top heavy regulations.  Small producers have to meet all the fees/fines/regulations that the large producers do, even though their entire business model is smaller, safer and cleaner.  There is absolutely NO flexibility or exemption for small producers of pastured animals.  For instance, if I wanted to raise 10 steers a year to slaughter, I would not be allowed to slaughter on my farm, which would be cheaper, safer (no transit), and cleaner.  Instead I would have to move the animals to a slaughterhouse, move the carcasses back, and then sell them.  But not on my farm stand, as that would be illegal without proper regulations.  This means they have to spend a much higher percentage of total budget on regulations.  Their pricing is increased vastly by this alone.

To review:  Pasture = good.  Everything else = bad.  Pastured are unfortunately only available at farmer's markets and almost nowhere else.  

I am exhausted by this.  I hope it helped.  

Be well.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Who are your heroes?

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA is one of mine. If you have some time (over an hour of his talk and Q&A) check out this talk at Berkeley from 2005.  Michael Pollan introduces the man.  Salatin is a zealot for better farming, sounding more like a Preacher then a farmer. He talks about "romancing the next generation" to the beauty and quality of Agriculture that restores the land to its natural pathways.  

This is a true libertarian American who has literally gone around the industrial agribusiness infrastructure to create a highly profitable, ecologically exuberant farm system that ties itself deeply into his surrounding community.  His raising of Cows, Steers, Pigs, Chickens, Rabbits and Turkeys uses a fraction of the Natural Resources that the Industry uses to produce the same meats.  For instance, he can run a full size tractor for a day on 1 gallon of gasoline; his feeds use no industrial products, are all GMO free, when he uses feeds at all of course.  Most of what his divinely raised animals eat is grass, and the small life forms that inhabit this first soil layer.

The key to his success?  Symbiotic layering.  Or, in more approachable terms:  an elaborate system of Pasturing which mimics nature's pathways:  large mammals graze in a continuously moving pattern, managing and diversifying the grasslands;  Birds follow the large mammals soon after, picking out larvae and other insect life from the manure, they in turn nitrogenate (i made that word up perhaps?) the soil, further boosting the diversity and propagation of the grasses - which are then grazed again by the large mammels.  The system has more and more layers as the years go on, Polyface Farm is constantly evolving, using every possible innovation of modern technology.  

Don't want to sit through a lengthy talk (you're missing out!) then check this out:

Be well.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

coming soon

I am working on a piece on Soy.  look for it soon.  sorry for the delay.

be well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

the problems with soda

I am sorry for the big break.  I have had quite a week. I guess I always knew that when life asserted itself I would run out of time to prattle on about food.   But here I am with a bit of time.   So I turn my attentions to that nefarious beast:  Soda.

I have been working all morning to find more about the sugar/high fructose corn syrup content of Coca Cola.  At the moment all I have found is the current numbers:

In 12 Oz. of Coca Cola there are 39g of HFCS.  This amounts to 11.4% of the beverage's content. This is a fair bit of fructose, to be sure.  What I have been trying to determine is if Coca Cola has been increasing the amount of HFCS in their recipe over the years to soak up the surplus' of corn provided by agri-business.  What I have learned is that more research is necessary.  

But, in the process I have found out some fun things about the Coca Cola Co.  Who happen to not be the happy friendly folks that you might think of while watching infant Polar Bears sliding down icy hillsides into the bosom of their loving mother, and a coca cola classic.  

Coca Cola and Cocaine
As it turns out, Coca Cola still uses Coca Leaves in production.  Their plant, in Maywood, NJ imports massive quantities of "non-narcotic" or "spent" coca leaves.  This plant is a stunning exemption to the anti-narcotic regulations of the DEA.  It is the only plant in the country that imports the leaves.  This is possible due to the massive lobbying power of the Coca Cola Company, who spent over $1 million on lobbying in 2006 alone.  However, It is highly unlikely that these leaves are providing americans, who drink over 400 cans each of Coca Cola a year, with a quick narcotic fix.  Studies have shown only trace amounts of the stimulant, not enough to have any kind of effect on our physiology.

Actually, it is kind of a cool exemption from regulation, as the leaves have been in the recipe for Coca Cola since its inception in 1884.  And who wants regulation anyway? 

But, (isn't there always a "but"?) to get these leaves the Coca-Cola Co. must constantly manage business ties with Columbia, the major producer of the leaves.  This is not a pleasant business, to say the least.  

now, here's the kicker:
The Coca-Cola Co. has been accused of aiding para-military groups in breaking up union activity in Columbia.  Here is just one of the many articles on these shady dealings.  Dealings that have led to lawsuits in several states, and a full boycott of Coca-Cola products by several Colleges and Universities, including NYU, Carleton College and Oberlin College.  

The Coca Cola company insists that it has had no connections with para-military groups in Columbia, or with kidnappings, torture, and the murder of Union Activists.

Coca Cola in India
To keep this one short:  Coca-Cola Plants in India are exacerbating water shortages and contaminating the remaining water supply and soil.  In some communities, like this one, 80% of the local population rely on functional agriculture for their food resources.  I am just scratching the surface here.

The Aspartame Mythologies
Diet Coke, the savior of the company as America entered the Obesity age.  Diet Coke was introduced in 1982.  It was introduced to counter claims that high-calorie diets were causing Obesity in Americans.  The key here is one word:  Calorie.  Actually it is a Kilocalorie, or Kcal, but we never use that distinction.  Essentially a Kcal measures the amount of energy derived from our food.  It is not a static measure, as food labels mislead.  If food is consumed, the body uses energy to process that food (the Kcal measures how much), and nutrients are extracted in the process (there are not accurate measures of this, as we can measure what comes in more effectively then what it becomes).  With movement and activity we create the need for a balance of food energy extraction and nutrient distribution to our musculature and physiology in general.  
The basic idea was this:  the higher the caloric power of food, the more difficult it is to break down, and the more exercise and activity is needed to distribute the processed food.
But why were we taking in so many "calories" of food in 1982?  From 1976 on, Earl Butz and the Nixon administration's obsession with creating agri-business in America provided us with incredible surplus' of Corn, and other monocultures.  This surplus was then pushed into the food supply, (HFCS was introduced in coca cola in 1980) creating food that had more and more carbohydrates per serving, i.e. more calories.  This in turn began the process of the fattening of America.  
So Coke responded with a Calorie-free beverage.  Using aspartame.  Since 1982, a generation of Americans has bought into the mythology that Calorie-free = healthy.  There are so many problems with this.  First, we stop exercising, thinking that we don't need to break down our food now that it is lower in calories.  Next, we drink more Diet Coke, guilt-free.  Then we ignore the mounting research linking aspartame with Leukemia and Lymphoma.  

But they say it is safe!  This is from the horse's mouth (coca-cola co. of course):
"Aspartame was first approved by the FDA in 1981. Since that time, it has undergone hundreds of studies for safety. All of them point to the same conclusion: Aspartame is safe for consumers. There is no sound scientific evidence that is accepted by food safety authorities linking aspartame, or other low-calorie sweeteners, to cancer in humans. When aspartame was first approved, the FDA commissioner said, ''Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety.''

Scientists outside of the FDA (remember: $1 million lobbying in 2006?) are calling aspartame out.  This article has loads of miserable and incisive information about Aspartame.  The most interesting part?  Aspartame makes you fat.  Go ahead, drink it up!  No Calories!  

What are we to do?  

My answer is to eliminate soda altogether.  Too difficult?  First try and get in under the national average of 400+ cans/year.  Then slowly decrease the amount and see what happens. In my case I have begun to dislike soda, finding it far too sweet.
I think the key here is to eliminate both natural sweeteners and artificial ones.  Sugar in such large quantities clearly will tax the system, eventually to a diabetic state.  Aspartame will likely enable obesity, and potentially cause cancer.  So why bother?  Why be slaves to the consumption machine?  Let's be better then that. 

Be Well.