Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tiny farmers unite!

The largest farmers, we have learned, will have their commodity subsidies cut in the Obama proposed budget.

When I heard "the largest farmers" I had visions of inflated figures - like Macy's parade balloons - in blue overalls, straw hat and red bandanna - all puffed up and looming over a landscape of rice, corn or cotton.

Whyever do we speak of big farmers and small farmers - when what we mean is farmers working a lot of acreage, versus farmers working on a small scale. Would a small farmer be like a Lego figure down on the farm? I'm surprised that farmers don't protest these adjectives of scale.

I recall when some of us realized in the 80s that we weren't working with small congregations, but tiny ones - since ours were smaller that what most people think of when they think small. But is there really any such thing as a small congregation? There are some with an attendance of 20 or 30 on Sundays who make a real difference in their communities, and would be sorely missed. And there are some who see 100 or 200 on Sunday who think small.

Surely a farmer's size is irrelevant to the quality of the farming s/he does.

But I am glad about the proposed subsidy change. I hope the Pres succeeds with this.

There can be enough

The Oakland Institute continues to be a great source of information on global food system issues. Recently they published this paper on ecological agriculture:

It's a kind of meta-study, summarizing information that supports the conclusion that yields from ecological agriculture are adequate to feed the world's population. In fact, there is lots of evidence that organic agriculture improves yields considerably in the developing world, as much as 80%.

The increased yields are greatest for rain fed crops.

The next time some suggests to you that bio-tech interventions are necessary to feed the world, send them this paper to read.

Meanwhile, I am puzzling over why the aggregate data for organic agriculture in the developed world show a slight decline in yields over "conventional". Is this in the transitional stage from industrial ag with fossil fuel inputs to organic? Is it because of the scale of agriculture in the developed world? (Though surely not every rich country has the large scale agriculture of the Central Valley or Iowa!) Is it because of irrigation? Is it because we are unwilling to put the labor into ecological agriculture on a large scale?

One wonders if the anyone will care enough to write a paper exploring this sharp contrast between developing and developed countries' agriculture. It's be an interesting report to read.

Slow Food or Flying Pickles?

Seems like we in the U.S.are not the only ones with a confused, global food supply.

This short story from PRI's The World tells the tale of cornichons imported from India, and French cucumber farmers caving in to the new arrangement and losing a long standing tradition.

One of the dilemmas posed here seem particularly telling: If you are what you eat, but you don't know what you are eating, what happens to your identity?

Americans can do anything

There are stacks of little notes to self on my desk and my desktop - things to post or write about that have been delayed. Travel in early February with iffy internet access followed by a doozy of a headcold and then the catching up with work and life have not been conducive to reflection.

Now it's Lent and I'm air travel free for almost two months. I'll be devoting some time to thinking and writing.

But let's start with the latest thing to catch my imagination:

Jon Stewart's response to Bobby Jindal's response to the President's Tuesday address focused on Jindal's account of a childhood trip to a Louisiana super market with his India-born father. There Jindal pere opined that American's can do anything.

Indeed they can, as this recently introduced product, from a company whose slogan is Everything Should Taste Like Bacon, proves.

Baconnaise is more than a sandwich spread. It's a dip for potato chips and french fries. Thinking about this would trigger my gag reflex even if I hadn't seen Stewart's shennanigans last evening.

But wait - there's more - that good old American can-do - Baconnaise comes in lite - with 1/3 fewer calories.

And - hold on - there's still more - Baconnaise doesn't actually contain any bacon - no CAFOs were involved in the production of this product. It is certified Kosher and vegetarian!

A quick internet search revealed all this - but not a detailed list of ingredients, or what is meant by "bacon flavoring". I guess I will have to go shopping just to read the label.

Monday, February 2, 2009

the peanut saga continues

I discovered that I had a potentially contaminated product in my cupboard - a Larabar, peanut butter cookie flavor. I've been using this brand of snack bars for travel because they seem to include only ingredients I would use in cooking - but maybe not?

Larabar is now a subsidiary of General Mills, and the informative operator, when I called for my refund, thought I would be cheered to know that Muir Glen and Cascadian Farms are also expressions of Betty Crocker goes natural.

I wish I had the time today to go through the list of brands at the market which we think of as alternative to centralized, industrialized, globally sourced and produced brands - and find out who they really are.

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran this article on irradiation - why it might have worked but maybe not on dirty peanut butter -
What the article lacks is a description of how irradiation really works.
And the comments are worth reading if you want to know how fear and illogic on one side (anti-irradiators) and smugness on the other (pooh-poohing scientists) don't lead to meaningful conversation.

Probably my favorite line was in the comments, discussing food safety generally. "Why should they [food processors] profit from our risk?"