Friday, August 28, 2015

Bits of good news

In case you missed them


"BATTLE CREEK, MICH. – A new national survey commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) shows that people in the United States overwhelmingly support current efforts to keep school meals healthy. Among the key findings:
  • 86 percent support today’s school nutrition standards, which are helping more than 31 million kids get their daily nutrition through healthy school meals;
  • 88 percent support government-funded farm to school programs, which help supply school cafeterias with local, fresh produce."
In addition, those surveyed note the improvement in school lunches.


French Supermarkets have a year to contract with charities to recover their food waste.
But - the BBC cites stats from the French Ministry of Ecology:
Apparently we in the USA are not alone in our wasteful household ways. And here I thought the French were different.


Food hardship rates are down nationally and in many states, overall the lowest they have been since this data collection effort began in 2008.


Earlier this week a friend posted on Facebook this stat: egg prices here are up. $3.61 versus $1.45 per dozen a year ago. I pointed out that less than $4 per 1 1/2 pounds of animal protein is still reasonable. The bird flu epidemic in the midwest combined with drought caused higher prices for chicken feed (it's not chicken feed anymore!) and the effects of Prop 2 (anti-CAFOs) have combined in this effect. Personally, I think the chickens are happier, and so am I to be paying what seems like a fair price for their labors. You go girls! 
(Actually, I buy from a neighbor, or Clover organic, so pay a little more.) 

Friday, July 24, 2015

I assume everyone who reads this knows about Civil Eats, but just in case, here's a story from my local paper about this local effort with nationwide (global?) influence.

If I'm remembering correctly, when Civil Eats first appeared it said something about ethics. Perhaps ethics has become an unfashionable word? So now we have "critical thought" as a substitute, just like we have "social equity" instead of economic justice. Hmmm.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

While I was out

I really did not keep up with various news feeds and blasts.

One thing I missed: an article about tree fruit in a drought being smaller and sweeter. Well, that was a no brainer.

Another few articles touched on the subject of Brazil now being the country second in food exports. Has anybody been paying attention? That led me to an article about Brazil-based JBS - now the world's largest food company. (And I probably wouldn't have heard of them even if I did eat meat!)
JBS USA, which is not publicly traded, has been buying up firms like Swift, and attempting to buy up others, like Hillshire.
Here's a map of their presence:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


And how would you pronounce that? 
I just finished reading a long Slate article, published July 15, called "Unhealthy Fixation." It's an interesting treatment of what's wrong with the anti-GMO campaign.
People are always surprised when they find out that while I have many reservations about GMOs - primarily from the perspectives of ecosystem health and justice for the world's poor - I am not categorically opposed to them. I've never been a purist about anything, so they must not know me well. And I tend when I am emphatic to take pro- rather than anti- stances. Pro diversity in crop germplasm and on farms, pro affordable inputs for small scale agriculture, pro thoughtful use of technology, etc. 
The article, by William Saletan, while pretty much pro-GMO, does say right up front that "there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents." But it points out that these concerns are not limited to GMOs. GMO use is a subset of these destructive and unjust practices.
In the section "Organics are not safer" Saletan points out that Bt (a bacterium which is toxic to insects) may have some of its genes engineered into seeds, or may be applied to crops in much higher concentrations. The latter is permissible in organic agriculture.  So, if you buy the unsubstantiated claims that Bt is a health hazard for humans, you may be getting more in GMO free food stuffs than in the engineered variety. Hmmm. The Bt used in organic agriculture is produced and sold by the same companies GMO opponents love to hate - Monsanto, etc.
It  becomes obvious to me reading this critique that the opponents of GMOs may be victims of the same kind of thinking that those who cheerlead unreservedly for any new technology suffer from - that is reductionist thinking. Systems thinking is really necessary to know what the best choices in agriculture are, and to understand the dynamics of any food system issue. Not simple, not black and white.
The opponents of GMOs also extend their arguments beyond anything reasonable by playing on people's fears - which for middle class North Americans (and Europeans, one assumes) have to do most with fears for their own health and mortality. No peer reviewed scientific papers can address this, because as the author points out "fear of GMOs is not falsifiable." 
The article does wrap up by addressing one issue apart from health fears. "While bug-resistant GMOs have led to lower use of insecticides, herbicide-tolerant GMOs have led to higher use of weedkillers."  In doing so, the writer returns to one of the three larger issues mentioned at the beginning of the article, monocultures. It's not just about switching herbicides as weeds evolve, it's about varying and diversifying what's planted. 
You can read the full article here. I do hope it contributes to a real conversation, and isn't just billed as the voice of one of the perfect enemies in the current debate.

Wine Cooler?

As though there weren't enough reasons to tempt one to demonize the wine industry for its environmental impact, I read in the CalCAN newsletter that in drought years wineries use 30% more energy in their processing operations. Most every branch of ag uses a third more energy for pumping irrigation water, but wineries exceed other sectors in the energy used for cooling their product and processes.

That sent me googling, because I was sure some wineries around here have solar panels, and use green energy to keep the vino, offices, and tasting room cool. Not everyone can have a natural cellar to keep things at cellar temperature.

Here's the place to see if your California tipple is produced by a company that uses solar power:

This is going to be increasingly important as the planet heats up and extreme weather events become more frequent.  The question may not be is your wine red, white or pink - but is it green?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

As it turns out

there are many food day calendars.

Google works to turn up some interesting things, or start with this article:

I must say that I don't want lemon meringue pie on my birthday, and I have much more respect for the calendar of food days at which simply identifies it as also Julia Child's birthday.

But none of these calendars seem to capture the food days devoted to advocacy for a better food system.

Oh, here's one from the University of Nebraska that does weeks and months and gives a bit more info on them - except it has neither the national (October 24) or international (October 16) Food Day!

Do we need a food event calendar?

I read in the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative newsletter that national Farmers' Market Week is August 2-8. The web site reminds us that farmers' markets "preserve farmland, stimulate local economies, increase access to nutritious food, support healthy communities, and promote sustainability."

There are also many downloadable resources on the site. I love the social media cheat sheet - canned tweets to post! Perhaps more seriously (I mean, tweets are serious for some) there are tips for advocacy, for "bonding with your legislators."

Which farmers' market will you visit?

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And with all these food related days, weeks, months and events, should we have a calendar to capture them? or is there one?