Have You Ever Thought About Your Food Choices?

  
Here in the United States we are spoiled on so many levels, but especially when it comes to our food. I stopped by the grocery store on my way home last night and started thinking about how our stores in the US differ from from groceries I have shopped abroad especially differences related to size and selection. We have so many choices when it comes to food:

Gluten-Free, Fat-Free, Sugar Free, Reduced Fat, Whole Grain,

Snack Size, Family Size, Bulk

Production Methods – conventionally, organically, grass fed, grain fed,

Cage-Free, Brown, Vegetarian, Pasteurized,

Grape Nuts, Captain Crunch, Wheaties, Chex (no less than 5 kinds), Cheerios, Fruity Pebbles,  Cheerios,

Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Fuiji, Gala, Yellow Delicious, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Braeburn,

Not to mention we can buy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

Meat is much more affordable.

Most products you can buy multiple sizes, brands, flavors etc.

I think you get the picture, but have you ever really thought about it? Because of our abundant and affordable choices in this country we get worked up over food and people (especially moms) are often shamed because of the food they choose for their families.

I am so glad that I do not have to purchase the same food my neighbor, mother, or co-worker purchases, that is the beauty of it! I can choose how I want my food the be raised, fed, grown, packaged, cooked etc. and it is my decision. Just because I buy particular items doesn’t mean you have to, isn’t it great?

Let us strive to be appreciative for the many choices we have. Maybe you don’t like the abundance of choices big grocery stores provide, you can also be thankful to have options of CSA’s, independent stores and farmer’s markets during the the summer, we have choices even before we get ready to actually go and purchase.

Next time you’re in the grocery store looking at no less than 6 different types of apples, 35 different kinds of cereal, 21 types of fruit juice, 30 types of coffee I would encourage you to appreciate the choices. You don’t have to embrace all of them, but be thankful for to have the choice. d40ce-dsc_0820

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There’s More to Pizza Than the Tosser

Dewey's pizza STL

On Monday I noticed it was #NationalPizzaDay, after seeing the hashtag on Twitter, naturally I felt like I HAD to have pizza. St Louis has a unique style of pizza that is somewhat growing on me. It is as thin as … Continue reading

Can You Pick Out a GMO?

We live in a label-happy society. When you are in the grocery store especially there are so many labels: natural, hormone free, gluten free, GMO free, No MSG etc. It is really difficult to know sometimes what these labels mean. Unfortunately many times companies use labels to try to give their product a competitive advantage over their competitor.

In the next few weeks I am going to do a series on food labels and what they mean. This morning The Skimm, a daily email news blast included a small tidbit that that caught my attention and the attention of many others: skimm gmo strawberries The statement is correct in that GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, but there are no strawberries sold that are GMOs.

There is some about what GMOs are, how we produce them, how they stand up nutritionally etc.but, do you know a GMO if you see one? There are actually only eight genetically enhanced crops here in the United States, they are: corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and summer squash.

GMO Crops

Photo Credit: GMOanswers.com

Strawberries is not a crop where you can find genetically modified varieties. Valentines Day is next week and strawberries are quite popular for this holiday, especially those of the chocolate covered persuasion. If strawberries are not GMOs then how do we get them this time of the year?

I happen to be a big fan of strawberries and have a carton in my refrigerator.

IMG_3489These strawberries I bought from my local Schnuck’s Grocery store.They are “big and red,” but why wouldn’t they be? Here in the United States we are pretty fortunate to have access to pretty much any fruit and vegetable we would want at any time of the year. You may have to pay a premium to buy certain fruits and vegetables during their off season, but that option is there for you if you choose to buy them.

Just because these strawberries look and taste good does not mean they are a GMO. There are a couple ofthe y reasons as to why we have such good looking fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

First of all these strawberries were not grown in Missouri. Strawberries could not grow and flourish in a Missouri winter (or really a winter at all) so we know they are not from a local farm. However, there are certain areas of the country where strawberries can be grown year round like California and Florida.

Because we have the infastructure to get the berries sent from one part of the country to another, we can enjoy  these berries all year, it is not unnatural, it is logistics.

Produce Pete explains how you can get strawberries throughout the year from different areas of the country.

Wild Strawberries: early June, where available
Local Strawberries: in most areas, mid-June and early July
California Strawberries: January through November, with peak in March through May
Florida Strawberries: December through May, with peak in March and April
Imports: from New Zealand and Chile, November through April; from Mexico and Guatemala, early spring

When I looked, I noticed my strawberries were from Mexico. Good thing we are able to ship fruits and vegetables around otherwise in the winter time we would miss out on our favorite fruits and vegetables. Just because you see a good looking item of produce in the winter does not make it unnatural.

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This is not how GMOs are made. Interested in knowing how we get GMOs? Check out this YouTube video.

When looking at fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, you may see signs stating “Non-GMO” or see a photo of a syringe in a tomato, apple etc. ask yourself is this one of the eight?

1. Corn

2. Soybeans

3. Cotton

4. Alfalfa

5. Sugar Beets

6. Canola

7. Papaya

8. Summer Squash

If not, you are more than likely paying for a label, literally, a label. Don’t pay extra for a GMO free label on a product.

Let’s take a quiz! Can you buy a GMO…

Pepper?

Apple?

Carrot?

Onion?

Peach?

Cabbage?

Lettuce?

How did you do? The answer to all of these is NO!

Next time you’re in the grocery store, I’ll challenge you to take a look at signs and labels, see if you find a sign or label that is for a product that does not have a GMO variety. Hopefully you’ll feel more informed and will save some money as well.

 

Additional Thought (2/6/15 9:48AM)- Not all sweet corn you buy in the grocery store, or all squash is GMO. In the coming week’s I’ll write a follow-up explaining why some is and some isn’t.

What About Our Rights?

Here in the United States we are pretty fortunate. We have so many rights and freedoms that people in other countries do not have. One of those that is special is the right to own property. If you own property to an extent you can do as you please (with some exceptions). However there are some events that have transpired recently that has caused concern as the rights of property owners have been endangered or taken away. Recently there are two counties in Oregon that were in the news, Josephine and Jackson counties are adjacent to each other in southwestern Oregon. They both have passed bans on the planting of genetically engineered crops by popular vote in the last few weeks. Jackson county has around 200,000 residents and their website says that “Industries that show steady growth in Jackson County include wine, film, and farming—pointing to how Jackson County is distinguished as a place where entrepreneurship thrives.” I do not see how passing a GMO ban allows farming or entrepreneurship to thrive, but alas that is what they claim. Both of these counties have a lot of agricultural production and are large producers of sugar beets. Sugar beets is one of the eight crops in the U.S. that are approved GM crops. There are two major concerns I see from this ban. First of all it is interesting that in Jackson County only 52% of those registered to vote actually voted. 33% of the registered voters voted yes for the ban. That 33% made a decision for the majority. Folks, this goes to show the importance of voting, that 33% may have been the only people in the county who wanted GMO’s banned, but they got their way. Secondly, this ban takes away the rights of the citizens. Farmers can no longer make decisions on the types of crops they will grow on their OWN property. Both organic and conventional farmers have lost the choice they once had as to the type of production method they would choose. Shouldn’t all farmers have the right to farm how they want? Farming is a business, a business that is in the business of feeding people. If legislation like this continues to be passed we will not only lessen the amount of food we produce, but it takes away the rights of US farmers to make production decisions. GMO issue? Just a ban? It appears to be a limitation on rights. Another battle that is being fought across by farmers and landowners across the country is with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their definition of “navigable waters.” “Navigable waters” currently means water such as rivers, streams and lakes (which makes sense-you can actually navigate them), they are used for business or transportation. Recently, the EPA has been working on The Waters of the United States Initiative and proposing changes to this definition. Are you ready for this? The EPA is proposing that puddles, ponds, ditches, ephemerals and isolated wetlands fall under the Clean Water Act. When I first heard about this maybe a year or two ago that this was being considered I literally laughed out loud. puddle This would expand the authority of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA and the Army Corps have the authority over the “navigable waters,” and if this were to come about it would make it extremely difficult to farm and be competitive and profitable. Let’s say it rains a couple of inches and a puddle forms in my field. If I were to go out and spray my soybeans or till the soil to prepare for planting this would be considered a “discharge” to those so-called “navigable waters,” (aka that puddle). Activities that are considered a “discharge” cannot legally go forward without the required permit. If this legislation was to pass the EPA will have the ability to approve and deny a discharge permits. If denied, this would greatly restrict a farmer’s ability to operate their farm. If the permit was approved, the farmer would then need to provide paperwork and meet strict requirements. If you violate the law? Violations would fall as penalties of unlawful “discharges” which could cost you up to $37,500 per violation PER DAY. If this were to pass this would be a huge blow to the US Farm Economy and even to anyone who owns property. That mud puddle your children play in is considered navigable. I know our government is often said to be “by the people, for the people,” but sometime you really have to look a little deeper at issues to see what the motives really are. If this legislation was instated by the EPA, it would hurt farmers and their ability to produce food which means food prices go up for everyone. Just something to think about. (If you would like to exercise your right as citizen to contact the EPA about The Waters of the United States Initiative, please do and tell them to #DitchTheRule you can take action here on the American Farm Bureau’s website.

UPDATE: October 7, 2014

We are now in a public comment period with the EPA. Anyone can go online by clicking here and provide comments to the EPA as to why you are for/against this proposed legislation. I would HIGHLY encourage you to let them know your thoughts on the issue. If you are a homeowner this is something you should be concerned about.

Here are a couple of stories on the proposed rule.

New York Times

See Maps Showing How Far Their Reach Would Go In Your State

That’s Enough- “Let It Go” Parody by Missouri Farm Bureau

Tell EPA to “Ditch the Rule” Video

Auburn Ag Students Believe in Work, Hard Work

In a previous post I explained Auburn University’s creed that George Petrie authored that is a set of principles and ideals that members of the Auburn Family are to have.Probably my favorite lines of the creed is:

“I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.”

Growing up on a farm and in a Christian home (Colossians 3:23) my brothers and I were always taught to work hard. I am actually not sure if it was necessarily taught, but it was definitely expected and I’m thankful for it.

Sadly many in my generation have never learned to work which can be frustrating when you have to work with these people. However this past week I have been encouraged by some outstanding young people I have had the privilege to work alongside. 

If you follow me on any other social media platform you may have seen my posts and Tweets about Auburn’s Ag Week. This week we in the College of Agriculture looked for ways to bring awareness to agriculture and the way it provides for us. 

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Monday we started with a lecture/panel discussion called “Feed Me the Truth About My Food”, we had Tea and Tie-Dye on the concourses where we handed out Milo’s tea (an Alabama food product), information about Alabama agriculture and allowed students to tie-dye Peace, Love and Ag t-shirts. Wednesday we had the annual Ag Hill Picnic which included a special guest this year, Clyde the Camel for Hump Day. This event always brings people from all over campus and this year with Clyde many folks from other colleges stopped by Ag Hill to have their picture taken. 

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Thursday we had Breakfast on the Green where College of Ag students served an “Alabama Grown Breakfast” to students as they got off the transits for class. We served Mary B’s Biscuits, Conecuh Sausage and eggs from the university’s poultry farm. Booths were set up by each of the College of Agriculture’s clubs and they each shared a ag fact with students. Thursday night we had a social event for College of Ag students that was competition style called Ag Island, a lot of fun for all. Friday we had students from two local Boys and Girl’s clubs that came to learn about agriculture at get “Ag-tive Day.” Saturday was a day for friends, family, alumni, and prospective students as we had Ag in the Park, which unfortunately did not go as planned due to weather. 

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We had A LOT of events going on this week, it has probably been one of the busiest weeks I have had while being at Auburn. The week went great, we were fortunate to have good weather (minus today) and we reached many students across campus and hopefully challenged them to think a little more about where their food comes form. 

It would not have been nearly as successful of a week without some OUTSTANDING help. Like I mentioned earlier many people in my age group do not know how to work, but that cannot be said about most of the students in the College of Agriculture. I am involved in various organizations and activities on campus and I have never seen good work ethics like I have this week. 

We had an abundance of volunteers and not only were they willing to volunteer, but they looked for additional ways to help while at the events, some were not even singed up to help. When events were over people went to work taking down and cleaning up, they did not have to be told minus a few directions about where certain things needed to go. There was not people standing around and talking while a few people worked, it was great. 

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Thursday night especially I had to ask for help several times during our Ag Island competition, there was no complaining or grumbling, but willing helpers. A few competitors even stayed late to help set up for the next day’s activities. I was rushed to make it from an event to class on Friday, parked in a questionable spot and got stuck. My brother had went home for the weekend and embarrassed I called a friend/classmate at 9:00pm and he was so kind to come and get my truck out of the mud. I have no idea what we has doing on Friday night, but he was so sweet to come right then and help  me. 

I say all this to say I have been blown away this week by our students in the College of Ag. I have helped with a lot of events over the course of my short life and I usually frustrated by people’s lack of work ethic. I’m not saying there aren’t other kids at Auburn that know how to work, or that there are no other people my age who know how to work, but I am saying we’ve got some great ones over on what we call Ag Hill. I don’t know why they are that way, it can be a number of things; upbringing, faith, growing up working in a farm/rural setting, living The Creed, or other reasons, but all I know is I am so thankful for their help this week and the fun times had and just to know so many great agriculture students I’ll hopefully be working alongside in my career as we work to feed the world.

Pie and Peanuts

Seeing that today is March 14 it has been dubbed as Pi Day, pi like 3.14159265359 or to you mathematicians, the distance around a perfect circle, or the circumference, divided by the distance across it, or the diameter. Nerds everywhere have celebrated this day today, I decided to celebrate by making a pie, a peanut butter pie to be exact because it is National Peanut Month.

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Peanuts are grown in numerous states across the United States, but seven states account for 99% of the peanuts produced. Georgia, Texas and Alabama are the top three producing states. 50% of peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100 mile radius of Dothan, Alabama! There are four kinds of peanuts grown in the United States and you can learn about them here.

ImagePeanuts are different than most plants, the peanut plant flowers above the ground, but fruits below ground. It takes 4 to 5 months for the peanut to reach maturity. Planting usually happens in April or May and harvest is typically in September or October.

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About 10 days after planting a green leafy plant will grow on top of the ground, but interestingly the fruit (peanut) is below ground. Peanuts like water and need 1 1/2-2 inches of water a week when the pods are filling out. When the peanuts have reached maturity. the farmer will drive a digger through the green rows of peanut. The digger has long blades that run four to six inches under the ground. The plant is loosened and the main root is cut. Just behind the blade, a shaker lifts the plant from the soil, shakes the dirt from the peanuts, rotates the plant and lays the plant back down in a “windrow”—with peanuts up and leaves down. The peanuts will then lay exposed in the field for several days in order to dry out moisture. Here is a great video showing the inverting process.

After the peanuts dry they are combined where the plant is separated from the nut portion. The peanuts are put in trailers and air is blasted into the trailers to further dry the nuts. There can be no more than 10% moisture in order to store them. There are enough peanuts harvested from each acre so that you could make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches!

Peanuts are good for you! They contain protein, mostly good fats, fiber and more than 30 essential vitamins and nutrients. Peanuts are used for products like roasted peanuts,peanut butter and oils for cooking and the hulls are often used in chicken houses instead of wood shavings. George Washington Carver came up with over 300 uses for peanuts including shampoos, laxatives, dyes, etc.

My favorite use for peanuts is for cooking purposes. Peanut butter fudge and pie being my two favorites. Since it was Pi day I whipped up a simple peanut butter pie that is quite tasty and so simple.

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Peanut Butter Pie

  • 1 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1 package (8 Ounce) Softened Cream Cheese
  • 1-1/4 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 package (8 Ounce) Cool Whip, Thawed
  • 1 prepared graham cracker crust (or if you are feeling froggy you can make one)

To Make:
Beat the peanut butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add in the thawed Cool Whip and beat mixture until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.

Pour filling into crust, evening out the top with a knife or spatula. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Hungry for more peanut info? Check out some fun facts from the National Peanut Board.

My Trip to An Alabama Dairy Farm

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about something I know little about.; dairy farming. When you think of dairy states you think of Wisconsin, and maybe California, you don’t think of Alabama.  Alabama actually ranks #43 in milk production. The top dairy state in the United States are 1. California, 2. Wisconsin, 3. New York, 4. Pennsylvania, and 5. Idaho, however dairies are found in all 50 state and Puerto Rico.

If you go back several decades we used to have quite a few dairy farms in Alabama, but many have went out of business. When I heard that there was a gentleman in Lee County who had started dairy farming recently I was very intrigued and asked if I could come visit.

Meet Dr. Darrel Rankins:

Darrel Rankins Lee County Alabama Agriculture

Dr. Rankins and his family reside in not too far from Auburn, Alabama on their family farm. An Illinois native, he came to Auburn University 1989 and worked with livestock producers of Alabama for 25 years with his expertise in nutrition in beef cattle through research, teaching and extension. Rankins retired in April of 2013 after his 25 year tenure with Auburn University.

“I decided after 25 years I was ready to do something different” Rankins explained to me.

Rankins decided he wanted to get in to the stocker heifer business (having female calves usually 6-9 months old that you are feeding until they are of harvestable weight) or have a pasture dairy. After much consideration Rankins decided to enter the dairy business. He started visiting other pasture dairy farms across the Southeast to get a better idea of how he wanted to build his farm.

In April of 2013 after his retirement he started working daily on building his milking parlor (which is where the cows are brought to be milked). He built his parlor from the ground up all on his own.

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On November 15, 2013 DarLin Dairy officially opened for business upon the arrival of the cows. The cows are pasture raised and are therefore grass fed. There is no difference between milk that comes from pasture fed and those who are not. If cows aren’t raised in a pasture what do they eat? Dairy Carrie has a great blog post about “What Do Cows Eat Anyway?”

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Right now Rankins is milking anywhere from 50-56 cows, 2 times a day. The number he milks varies depending upon when some of the cows are in their “dry period”. After giving birth the mother produces milk usually anywhere from 10-12 months and then has a dry period which is when milking is terminated about 60 days before the next calf is expected to be born. Since November, Rankins has had 18 calves to be born.

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Rankins milks in the morning and in the evening.

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His parlor can milk 12 cows at a time, but it holds 24 at a time so that he can be preparing the next 12 while the first 12 are being milked. I was surprised the cows knew when it was time for milking and they made their way to the barn with a little encouragement from Rankin’s sons.

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Into the milking area they went.

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Why So Many Kinds of Eggs ?

This last weekend I was planning to do some baking so I stopped at my local Kroger to pick up an extra dozen eggs. I buy a lot of eggs, I cook them and use them in baking, and not to mention they are cheap and full of protein and vitamins. But have you ever really noticed all the different kinds of eggs in the grocery store?

eggs

You may have noticed there are different sizes of eggs. The size is dependent upon the mass of the egg.

egg-sizes

Jumbo- Greater than 2.5 oz. or 71 g
Very Large or Extra-Large (XL)- Greater than 2.25 oz. or 64 g
Large (L)- Greater than 2 oz. or 57 g
Medium (M)- Greater than 1.75 oz. or 50 g
Small (S)- Greater than 1.5 oz. or 43 g
Peewee- Greater than 1.25 oz. or 35 g

Aside from different sizes there are other different kinds of eggs. Does it matter which ones you buy? Are some better than others? I took the time to look at the different types of eggs this particular day, there may be more in your grocery store than you might think!

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Pasteurized Eggs: $4.95 a dozen

Due to USDA rules all eggs are pasteurized! The reason you would consider buying pasteurized eggs is for cooking purposes when needing to use raw eggs in dishes like merges and ice cream. They have been heated a little more than your typical egg. The reason all eggs are pasteurized on the outside so salmonella found on the shells Is killed.

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Cage Free/Free Range Eggs: $4.49 a dozen

Cage Free/Free-range eggs are laid by hens who have access to nesting boxes, open floor space, perches and outdoor runs. Those called “free run eggs” allow hens to roam freely in a barn. These eggs are higher because the farmer has much more work. Collecting eggs is more of a challenge as is safety and quality of the egg. Eggs raised in this way can come in contact with droppings and dirt. The nutrient content of these eggs is NO different than the nutrient content of eggs of hens raised in conventional cage housing systems.

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Omega-3 Eggs

Eggs naturally contain omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids may potentially help lower blood triglyceride levels which equals out to a healthy heart. These eggs come from hens that are given significantly more flax seed in their diet. If you are looking for a way to get more omega-3′ this may be a good choice for you.

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Brown Eggs: $2.89 a dozen

White Eggs: $1.99 a dozen

What is the difference between these two eggs besides $0.90 in price? Nothing but the chicken that laid the egg. There is ABSOLUTELY NO difference between white and brown eggs except for they are laid by two different breeds. If you forget the breeds you can look at a chicken’s earlobe to tell what color of egg it will lay. (Red ear lobe=brown egg, white ear lobe=white egg)

Is your mind blown or what?

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Brown eggs are laid by Rhode Island Reds

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White eggs are laid by White Leghorns .

All eggs are white inside the hen until the last few hours before it is laid.  This is why the insides of brown eggs are white – the egg starts out white, and gradually becomes more colorful. In the last 90 minutes, the egg is all but ready and the cuticle, fluid (also called the bloom) is added. (The cuticle is protects the egg from infection on the inside) This is also when the hen secretes most of the pigments into the shell.

My freshman year I sold eggs at our farmer’s market on campus and each week I would have people come up and say that our brown eggs were healthier, tasted better, baked better etc. In reality they are exactly the same, they just have a more expensive price tag.

Next time you are in the grocery store be sure to take a look at the egg section and see what other kinds of eggs may exist on your shelves.

Soybeans: What are they used for?

This year after harvesting my wheat crop in July I planted soybeans behind it.

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One of my soybean fields in late August in North Alabama.

Soybeans are quite common in the United States, especially in the corn belt, but in recent years many farmers in the Southeast have began to put a large percentage of their acreage in soybeans.

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Soybeans are typically harvested October-November

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Soybeans are harvested by a machine called a combine

Soybeans originated in eastern Asia and is still part of the food in many cultures. Have you ever had edamane? You were eating soybeans.

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A record soybean crop was planted this year in the United States totaling 77.728 million acres, keep in mind an acre is about the size of a football field. All these soybeans do not go to Asian restaurants, in fact few do. Soybeans are mainly grown for their oil.

I don’t know if you have every paid much attention at the grocery store, but there are a lot of different kinds of oil you can buy to cook with.

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Some of the most popular are vegetable, canola, and olive. Depending upon the grocery store you visit you may find others like sunflower, safflower, peanut, corn, and even walnut oils. Each type of oil has its on flash point. The “flash point” is the temperature at which the oil ignites. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke. It begins to burn at this point and it can be a fire hazard.

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Vegetable oil is from soybeans. Soybean oil  was re-labeled when “all vegetable” shortenings in the 1960s which replaced lard and beef tallow-based shortenings. This continued when certain oils were perceived as healthy in the 1970s, and were promoted in advertisements and labeling. According to the US Soybean Board soybean oil is by far the most predominant oil of the food industry due to its versatility in foods.  More than 80% of cooking oil in commercial applications is soybean oil.

Other food products soybeans are used in are:

Baked Goods

Baked Goods

Non-dairy creamers

Non-dairy creamers

Salad Dressings

Salad Dressings

Soy Milk

Soy Milk

Whipped Toppings

Whipped Toppings

Margarines

Margarines

BBQ Sauces

BBQ Sauces

Other products that soybeans are used for that do not involve food are:

Cosmetics

Cosmetics

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Diesel Fuel

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Animal Feeds- Especially poultry feed here in Alabama

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Inks- both in ink pens and ink used in magazines and newspapers

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Anti-biotics and other pharmaceuticals

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Paints

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Plywood

These little beans may not seem like much, but they are the second largest crop in the United States behind corn and are found in many products we use everyday.

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