Here’s my heartfelt attempt at starting a conversation to bridge the gap between New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the beef community.
Dear Ms. Ocasio-Cortez,
First, I want to say – WOW. You’re by far the most exciting thing to happen in politics in my lifetime. As a mom to a preschool-aged Latina, I can already see the pages of your very own Little People Big Dreams fully authored and illustrated – and your political career has just begun! In case you were wondering, my daughter’s favorites from the series are Simone de Bouvier and Madame Curie.
Aside from the “z”s at the ends of our names, time spent slinging drinks to make ends meet, and a history in the Bronx, there’s something else I understand we have in common: the desire for better health for all.
You see, the struggles and concerns of your most vulnerable constituents are what led me to become a dietitian in the first place. I’ve been on the 2 train, lamenting the sight of a young mother feeding her child a Sunny Delight and Little Debbie for breakfast, not because she doesn’t necessarily know better, but because she’s pressed for time and resources are low. I’ve worked with recent immigrants in the South Bronx, who, never mind have questionable access to nutrient-dense foods, but don’t even have a kitchen in which to prepare them. I’ve talked to moms who would rather keep their teenage daughters cooped up in their apartments, rewarding them with corner-store treats, than have them face the known harassment and potential violence that awaits them outside their door. I hear you on air quality – an unfortunate reality of life in the Bronx (thanks, Robert Moses!) – and it’s why my husband and I picked up and left upon the birth of our daughter. Born at 29 weeks, I couldn’t sleep at night with the thought of how our proximity to the highway (visible from her window) was impacting her pulmonary health.
By no means am I writing to sway your personal stance on meat consumption. I’m a firm believer that there’s room for all of us to eat as we see fit, and for some, that excludes animal products. I even have some vegan energy balls chilling in my freezer as I write this! However, just because we don’t partake in something, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to understand it, especially when we’re working toward a more sustainable food system for all.
The production of animal proteins, and beef in particular, has seemingly been cloaked in mystery for decades. After spending a substantial amount of my own time getting to know all sorts of farmers – from those who raise chickens, tend to cattle, and grow the most beautiful peppers – I can tell you that this was never intentional. They’ve each expressed the same refrain: it’s not that there’s anything to hide. It’s just that farmers have always been, well, farming, and never gave much thought to the necessity of telling their stories.
Let’s hone in on beef here and another common thread between us. Despite neither of us coming from a ranching family or possessing degrees in animal agriculture, our names are both somehow attached to it (yours, of course, on a MUCH grander level). I didn’t give much thought to where my beef came from until I took note of how it was continually vilified – by certain professors, in the media, and at the retail level. So when the opportunity arose, I went to the source – the farmers and ranchers. I could list numerous facts here on the beef industry’s continuous benchmarks on sustainability, how there are more lean cuts on offer now than 20 years ago, or that beef can play a role in an overall balanced meal pattern by providing its “Big Ten” nutrients – some of which, might I add, are considered shortfall nutrients amongst Latinas more often than their Caucasian counterparts. But you and I, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, can do better than a mere exchange of facts.
On Saturday, April 13, I’ll be visiting Thunderview Farms outside of Poughkeepsie in upstate New York. This isn’t a press event or even an “influencer” event (PS, I despise that term), but rather an opportunity for farmers to gain insight into some best practices. The folks at Thunderview have been recognized for their environmental stewardship, and since they’re located between two of the state’s biggest reservoirs which supply drinking water to the nine million residents of New York City, I thought this might be of interest to you. The day will start with fresh-baked muffins, so I’m told, and when the tour is wrapped up I’ll be filming a farm fitness routine. Should be a really fun day!
If you can’t make it, I’m going to ask you this: please, please find the time to get to know some of the folks who work so hard to bring nourishment to our plates. It breaks my heart to see you bashed on Twitter every day over what appears to be a misunderstanding about greenhouse gas emissions. These are already divisive times (surely I don’t have to remind you), and a little understanding would go a long way. I don’t work for the beef industry – I’m just an impassioned advocate for modern agriculture – but I’m glad to make things happen to help you gain some insight.
Until then, keep dancing, shine bright, and, one last thing…
Enjoy your food! Enjoy your life!
Nicole Rodriguez, RDN