Friday, April 24, 2015


For some time I have been wondering if the anecdotal evidence about foods containing GMO crops (my cat won't eat it, I seem to be allergic to it, etc.) isn't more about glyphosate residues than about the effects of genetic engineering. The EPA is re-examining glyphosate for evidence of carcinogenic properties, but no one really knows what long term exposure (its use was minimal until the last few decades) to low levels is doing. It may be a hormone disrupter or contributing to increased antibiotic existence.
Glyphosate residues are now found in 38 states, in many waterways, in rain water, and in the systems of farm workers. Some countries are banning it or considering a ban.
Read a nice review of the current state of our knowledge here:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An interesting observation

Severe storms this winter have disrupted the delivery of commodities, affecting supply chains and causing waste and loss. It appears that climate change, with increased temperatures and more severe storms, will trouble not just food production, but food distribution.

An article in yesterdays FERN ag insider concludes that the answer will be more local food production and smaller regional and sub-regional food hubs.

We knew this was a good idea, right? But it appears it may not just be an attractive idea, but a necessary one to strengthen the resiliency of local food supplies.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why not food purchasing guidelines for congregations?

Yesterday when Michael Dimmock mentioned the L.A. food purchasing criteria I got very interested. Here's the description on their food policy council's page:

I've continued to recommend LOAF to congregations whenever I get the chance. (Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fair-traded)

But here are 5 categories in which the City of Los Angeles and LAUSD is trying to improve it's food purchasing:
(1) local economies, 
(2) environmental sustainability, 
(3) valued workforce, 
(4) animal welfare, and 
(5) nutrition

I think these maybe clearer and more comprehensive than the four categories of LOAF. But curiously they spells levan, which with a little tweaking could be levain or leaven.

Wouldn't it be great if our congregations could track their progress in improving the impact of their food and beverage purchases using these?

Food is more than nutrients

The last week or so has been very busy here in Sonoma County. And there's lots of food system news from further afield.

The thread running through everything for me is that food is more than fuel, and even more than the right fuel.

It began for me in the middle of the week with our monthly Food System Alliance meeting. With lots of new members and some significant work behind us we are trying to find a new focus. The conversation was the best yet about this. But there's some wondering going on about whether the entry point of health which has kept us going for the last several years will change as grant and staff support from the county health department goes away in the middle of this year. Could it be that we are looking at economic justice (or social equity which seems to be a phase that sells better these days) to be our new focus? Where are the places in our food system that are perpetuating or increasing inequality? Or, more positively, how can our local food system promote greater equity?

On Thursday - news from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the first time suggests that the environmental impact of our food choices are to be considered as part of the picture. Hooray!
Eat your eggs with whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and veg; lower your meat consumption, watch the saturated fats, sodium and added sugars. The feds have caught up with us!
Read in full and comment (for the next few weeks) here:
A sensible environmentally aware diet. Call it Mediterranean or Nordic depending on your cultural tastes - or combine them into what I am calling the Norditerranean diet. (Much better than the Medic diet.)

On the same day we had our Sonoma County Hunger Index Forum. While the focus was clearly and deliberately on reducing the meal gap, I was surprised to see people representing so many different aspects of the food system and our foodie culture there. What a gathering at the Redwood Empire Food Bank! We add a delicious supper, premiering the new vegetarian option from the Council on Aging's Meals on Wheels, prepared for 200 people on the federal SNAP allowance per meal of $2.27. Really - the meal made me wish I were eligible for the program - though thankful that my only qualifying stat is the age number.

My sense is that to make further progress on providing the 34 million missing meals here, two things will be necessary. One is in the area my panel covered, grassroots action. We need more community gardens, and just plain more community and neighborliness. We must develop policies that support such activities, rather than regulations which frustrate them. (The gleaners in the county are working hard to resist the latter, for example.) The other thing we need is more opportunities for people to earn a living wage. Reducing the income gap would contribute greatly to reducing the meal gap.

Friday evening and Saturday I took a break from all the food system work and just enjoyed it. My great niece was visiting, so we picked up dinner from Ruthy's Real Meals on Friday, tasted at a few wineries and Vella Cheese on Saturday stopping for lunch at El Molino in Boyes Springs, and ate in on Saturday evening with a nice winter soup (even though winter here was a 70F day) made with produce from my garden and Imwalle Gardens

Speaking of enjoyment, of food being more than nutrients, what about the news from the San Francisco school district, where work is underway to improve choices and ambience in school cafeterias? More fresh foods alone were not enough. Wouldn't it be wonderful if school dining everywhere could be made slower, more pleasant, more constructively social? Go SFUSD!

This new week began, and this frenzied period of food system activity wrapped up, with the annual conference of the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. The best yet. And I came away with so many ideas that I am going to write part 2 of "more than nutrients" later.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A classic case of unintended consequences

and why one size fits all doesn't work, and today's solution begets tomorrows problem.

The New York Times reports that there is considerable use of mosquito nets for fishing in African communities located near marshes, seashores and other bodies of water.

People are hungry - and eating today takes precedence over longer term strategies of disease prevention. Sewing together the free or low cost mosquito nets provided for a family result in a much larger and much much cheaper fishing tool.

Using the nets as seines creates four problems. The nets are coated with insecticide, which can kill marine organisms. The nets are fine, which means young fish and shellfish, and the macro-organisms on which they feed, are caught as well, reducing tomorrow's catch. Seining with the nets in shallow areas can destroy breeding grounds of fish and shellfish. And the increased efficiency the nets provide means that total catches increase greatly over traditional methods, such as handmade basket fish traps, and thus fish stocks are dropping.

It's just a disaster all around.

What really annoys me is that the promotions of some NGOs which collect donations to buy such nets mention the fact that they are coated with toxins in the fine print - or not at all.
Why aren't more Americans angry that they have been giving money for items which, while reducing rates of malaria in certain areas, have been harming marine and aquatic environments. Why have we been buying toxins with our charitable dollars?

At least Episcopal Relief and Development is upfront about the insecticide.
"A simple insecticide-treated net can protect children and families from a needless, preventable death. "
The misinformation is in the word simple - the net may be, but as a solution it's not so simple.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Okay, now it's really gotten ridiculous

I spotted this product when checking out at my neighborhood Oliver's today.

Yes, that's right - organic kale candy in seasonal flavors. Vegan plus gluten and guilt free. Unless you feel guilty about the approximately $50 you spent on 10 little packets to get a pound of candy.

That's more than most CalFresh recipients receive per week in benefits.

How about kale (or dark leafy green of your choice - I prefer chard) as a vegetable, and a little honest seasonal candy for dessert?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I finally finished reading the Los Angeles Times series on farm labor in Mexico.

Here's a link to a moving page of portraits of these men, women and children:

Now I sit here not knowing what to say. Pay is low, working conditions are terrible, and the housing and company stores offer too little for way too much.  And the children. The image of a small hand rapidly picking jalapenos and serranos which are then moved from container to container, through a series of wholesalers to their final retail destination, often on the West Coast, where one of our hands picks them up and puts them in a produce bag - this is what sticks with me.  If only there were a way to reach out across the many degrees of separation, touch that hand, somehow raise farm wages so that families don't depend on what children can earn, and children can go to school.

It's pretty clear to me that consumer solutions are not enough. Not shopping at Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and the other chains which sell produce from exploitative farms would be easy. For that matter, so would not buying any produce from Mexico, just sticking to things when they are in season here. But what would these actions accomplish? How could some concerted pressure be brought to bear?

The Times series offers no ideas about how to remedy the situation.