Are we eating "designer" food?


Everyone has to eat—it is essential to life. Whether you are a college student who is surviving on ramen noodles or a bourgeois businessman from the Upper East Side, the human blueprint is designed to consume food in order to thrive. Ever-increasing conversations are routinely focusing not only on what we eat…but where our food comes from. Food safety and engineering is not new; crossbreeding and inbreeding are age-old techniques that are now being used alongside genetic modification methods and steroids.

a duck farm. photo credit Wall Street Journal

Nevertheless, there comes a moment when one must take a step back and look around. Food is obviously no longer being produced in the same manner as it was in previous centuries (and millenniums for that matter). Farmers were not producing copious quantities of high fructose corn syrup from their corn crops in the early 1900’s; neither were they ripening their tomatoes with gas.  But, are these new methods actually an improvement on the old or could they use revision themselves?

Farmers have committed their lives to growing exceptional produce; ranchers, the most tender beef; Ms. Daguin, the perfect duck. In the Wall Street Journal’s recent article, “Fancy Food Maven Gets Her Ducks in a Row,” Ms. Daguin is heralded as a woman who has her priorities straight. “Little by little people are changing their priorities,” she says. “They are understanding that well-raised animals have the best results on the plate.”

The pursuit of creating quality food is essential to the health of product, consumer and environment. Ms. Daguin demonstrates her understanding of this principle at Cochecton Farm, located in upstate New York's Sullivan County. Cochecton Farm uses state of the art technology to create artisan ducks. Ms. Daguin takes food safety and engineering to an entirely new level all for the “best results on the plate.” The farm uses artificial insemination, provides a strict diet and maintains temperature-controlled environments for the well being of the ducks. But, is this a “well-raised animal” or only a way to hyper-regulate the treatment of ducks in order to achieve a uniform flavor?

While it is certainly easy to understand that inhumanely treated animals are not “well-raised,” it is harder to see why seemingly well-treated animals are not as “well-raised” as we may first think. Unfortunately, there are no governmentally acceptable methods for raising animals that benefit farmer, animal and environment. And frankly, although Ms. Daguin’s method appears humane, it seems to take the duck right out of duck! She is not breeding ducks but designing ducks.

Before long, we may find that our food is no longer raised, but engineered. Although Ms. Daguin’s farm upholds a strong commitment towards the “well-raised” animal, we must be wary of designer ducks.

What is to follow next? Will it be designer beef and pork? Maybe we should find someone to engineer the perfect salmon—the Saks of seafood. It would produce good result on the plate and the animal would be “well-raised,” but it is really what we want to eat? An animal should not only be well-raised for the sake of the plate, but also for the health of the farmer (or maybe we should say engineer), consumer and environment.  Before too long, we might be living in a world that retains only replicas of the food we once ate. Because, let’s be honest, designer ducks are a far cry from the healthy ducks your grandfather once shot in the backyard pond.