Monday, May 2, 2016

Do You Eat at Olive Garden Restaurants?

I never have. I can't use wheat or cheese, and all the promotional material I've seen about the Olive Garden restaurants has focussed exclusively on wheat and cheese dishes. Since it's a pricey yuppie chain rather than a locally owned restaurant, I've not felt that I was actually missing much by giving Olive Garden restaurants a miss. Grandma Bonnie Peters, however, reported from Florida that a gluten-and-casein-tolerant friend there often took her and the friend's gluten-and-casein-intolerant adult children to the Olive Garden for special occasion meals, and they did find wheat-and-cheese-free food they were able to enjoy. Huzza.

However, this two-headed petition e-mailed from Food Democracy Now (below) does illuminate some points of major disagreement this web site has with an organization with which we often do agree. Exactly how does any specific farm contribute to real, measurable, local climate change? In what way is any restaurant menu item "unhealthy," for whom, relative to what? Why can't these workers live on $10 per hour--because they live in overpriced, overcrowded city neighborhoods? Why should we be asked to fund that choice, or other choices people may make that aren't healthy or frugal?

So much in Dave Murphy's e-mail begs to be debunked that it could even distract readers from the main point--when "antibiotics...are routinely fed to animals," those animals breed and spread the "super" germs that may make it so much more painful and expensive to recover from your next disease infection. Yes, we in the United States could benefit by reversing much of the twentieth century's misguided "progress" from family farms to factory farms, by making "progress" back to more small farms raising fewer animals in more natural, healthy conditions.

A hundred years ago, Americans normally ate raw eggs, in eggnog-type drinks and parfait-type desserts. (I'm one of the last Americans who, because my parents were "back to the land" types, grew up knowing that the warmish eggs I removed from the nests, after all the hens came around to the front yard for breakfast, were safe to eat raw or cooked.) Raw eggs became a health hazard only when and as the majority of eggs began to be produced by crowded, chronically diseased, factory-farm hens. Antibiotics no longer even slow down salmonella bacteria. Nearly all factory-farm fowl are infected with this disease so today, if we inadvertently bite into an omelet or a drumstick that's not thoroughly cooked, we can safely expect to feel sick by morning. The good news is that most humans have high resistance to most of the salmonella bacteria we consume, and feel sick only as long as the undercooked chicken product is inside us. But on an organic farm, where chickens strut around yards singing like the birds they are, rather than shuffling through rotting excrement in sties, salmonella is not a problem.

And every time a person who's been ill recently coughs, it used to be normal not to have to worry that they had MRSA and were going to have to spend a month in the hospital, taking expensive pills with horrible side effects, and then be coddled like invalids for another year, too. Staphylococcus bacteria may be the most common living things on Earth but, when whole populations of other creatures weren't being fed antibiotics daily to keep bacteria populations from exploding in crowded quarters, Staphylococcus aureus was a mostly harmless species that could be blamed for an occasional infected pimple only if teenagers ate too much junkfood or didn't bathe enough. Now we have humans dying of "Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus" pneumonia because we have factory farms systematically breeding MRSA by overusing antibiotics to breed out the normal strain of this "germ."

I don't endorse the second petition linked below. I do endorse the first one, and recommend it to you. We need to get our eggs and meat from more local farmers raising fewer fowl, with less cruelty.

Darden Restaurants, the parent company of mega-chain Olive Garden, owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants, serves more than 320 million meals a year and employs more than 150,000 workers.
Unfortunately, rather than serving healthy food, Olive Gardens relies on factory farmed meat and dairy products that are raised in horrific, crowded conditions that seriously threaten our health and harms the environment. The truth is that up to 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are routinely fed to animals to help them grow faster and keep them from getting sick in overcrowded, filthy and polluting animal factories. These antibiotics get into our environment and fuel the rise of antibiotic resistance -- one of our nation’s leading public health threats.
Which is why Food Democracy Now! is working with our allies and environmental and healthy food advocates to launch a massive campaign to pressure Olive Garden to use its significant purchasing power to help grow a healthier, fairer and more sustainable food system.
Tell the owner of Olive Garden: Serve meat and dairy raised without routine antibiotics! Every voice counts!
But reducing antibiotics use is just one of many critical fixes needed in our food system. Darden’s factory-farmed meat and dairy pollute our air and water and contribute to climate change. Many of its menu offerings are unhealthy. And it doesn’t pay its workers a living wage. As a whole, Darden’s food policies are a prime example of what not to do if we want to build a better food system. But together, we can change that.
With more than 1,500 restaurants, serving 320 million meals every year, Darden has a lot of power to move our food system in a better direction. By serving smaller portion sizes of more humane and sustainable meat and dairy, and offering more organic and plant-based choices, Darden can improve public health and help reduce food waste, conserve water, curb greenhouse gas emissions and shift production away from factory farms. It can also create better markets for local, independent farmers and ranchers who aren’t at the mercy of large corporate meat companies.
If we can get Darden to act, it will put even more pressure on other restaurants to follow suit. Join environmental, public health, and worker justice activists in this historic campaign to urge Olive Garden and other Darden restaurants to improve their menu offerings and pay fair wages.
Tell Darden, the nation’s largest full service restaurant company: Serve greener meals that are better for our health, the planet and workers!
Even if you don’t eat at Darden Restaurants, their purchasing decisions have a big impact on our food system!
Thanks for participating in food democracy,
Dave Murphy
Founder / Executive Director
Food Democracy Now!