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?

Icon_NFMW (1)

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

To gluten or not to gluten

This spring the EdX course on The Ethics of Eating (Cornell X) began with a couple of very funny video clips. One was the scene from an episode of Portlandia where the restaurant patrons, after asking many questions of their server, decide it would be best to visit the farm where the chicken they are contemplating eating was raised. The second was one in a series of spoofs on new age lifestyles called "How To Become Gluten Intolerant" - which sends up all those situations of the dinner guests from hell, who not only have very specific dietary requirements, but forget to tell you about some of them until you are serving the meal.

Recognizing that some people have celiac disease (1% or so of the population, 1:133 from epidemiological studies) and some people have wheat allergies (far fewer as it turns out). I have tried to be tolerant of the gluten free craze, but haven't really succeeded.

So, it was good today to find a well balanced article on the BBC News web site.
Turns out there are about 6% of folks who are gluten sensitive but don't have celiac disease. But compare that to the more than 1 in 4 folks in the US who are avoiding gluten. What!?!

Some of this is related to the paleo-diet mythology, of course. If you think this might be a good idea, read Paleofantasy first.

Two things that amused me from the BBC article. The writer cites the author of The Gluten Lie, who opines that Britons who feel better giving up gluten may attribute it to "the placebo effect, combined with the fact that they are not drinking five beers a night."   

And another "Whaaat?" that made me laugh out loud is this paragraph:
The tennis star Novak Djokovic believes he owes his stellar 2011 season to giving up gluten. In his book Serve to Win, he describes the moment his nutritionist Igor Cetojevicv gave him a slice of bread and told him to hold it against his stomach while he held his other arm out straight. Then Cetojevicv pushed down on his arm. "With the bread against my stomach, my arm struggled to resist Cetojevicv's downward pressure. I was noticeably weaker," the tennis star writes. "This is a sign that your body is rejecting the wheat in the bread," Cetojevicv told him. 

And one thing that gave me pause. Elimination diets (like gluten free) are often effective for weight loss, because they limit choices which often causes one to eat less. But the author of the BBC piece points out that elimination diets may give rise to disordered eating, with serious negative consequences.

See the whole article here: