Friday, November 25, 2011

With the failure of the Super Committee

the 2011 Farm Bill is dead. That means it's the 2012 Farm Bill on which we will be working. The challenge, I think, will be to balance necessary budget cuts with the need for innovative programs, and not pit the needs of the poor against agriculture-related conservation programs in a competition for funding.

I prefer to think of it as "eating season"

A couple of weeks ago I saw an ad that, instead of prattling on about the holiday season, simply named it what it is, the shopping season.

I spent no money today and am proud of it. If I do anything to excess in this time between Thanksgiving and Epiphany let it be good food enjoyed with good friends.

Along those lines, I found these pointers for avoiding GMO foods during this season, from the folks at the Center for Food Safety, nicely focused:

1. If you’re eating turkey, try to buy it organic so it hasn’t been given genetically engineered feed. For you Tofurky fans, Tofurky is GMO free.
2. Look out for the Big 5. These are the ingredients most likely to be genetically engineered. You’ll find them primarily in prepared, packaged and canned foods like stuffing mix, oils, prepared desserts, and canned cranberry sauces.
Corn flour, meal, oil, starch, gluten, and syrup
Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose
Modified food starch
Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, and isoflavone
Vegetable oil and vegetable protein
Canola oil (also called rapeseed oil)
Cottonseed oil
Unless 100% cane sugar or evaporated cane sugar, sugar may be

produced from sugar beets which may be genetically engineered.
3. Look for products labeled “USDA Organic,” or labeled as “Non-GMO.” Certified organic products are not allowed to be produced using GMOs.
4. Look for dairy products (milk, cream, butter) labeled “rbGH-free,” “rbST-free” or “USDA Organic,” as they are not produced with genetically engineered, artificial growth hormones.

If you want more, you can download a .pdf for free, or find a free app for your iPhone or Android mobile phone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When I grow up I want to be a melissopalynologist

In the 1970s one of the more studly work boys at Camp Galilee used to wear a t-shirt with a cartoon of a bee on it and the caption "Eat Your Local Honey." Turns out the message is still the same.

In order to be considered proper honey, it needs to a) not be ultra-filtered, removing the pollen and b) have no additives. Most national and store brand honey available at supermarkets, big box stores, and discount drug stores, doesn't pass muster.

Why do we want our honey to contain pollen? because it's how we can tell where it's from. Much of the honey tested was probably imported from China, and ultra-filtered to obscure its origins. Estimates suggest that the FDA inspects only about 5% of honey imports. Unregulated and uninspected imported honey can contain all kinds of toxins and additives you don't want.

Honey from Trader Joe's, from natural food stores, and honey labeled organic had a better chance of being the real thing. But buying it from your local bee-keeper is still your best bet. If you are concerned about pollen allergies and eating honey for that reason, local honey is a better choice anyway.

I know, it's expensive, and getting worse what with colony collapse disorder and the other environmental pressures on bees. Clearly a situation where the solution is to eat the good stuff sparingly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Somebody wasn't paying attention

When I got a forwarded message about the Farm Bill a couple of weeks ago I assumed that it was just another trumped up appeal for funds by a non-profit. I mean, the Farm Bill coming up is the 2012 Farm Bill, right?


Or maybe not wrong...
We'll need to see what happens this weekend.

Here's the story in brief.
Last month the chairs of the agriculture committees, senate and house, agreed to send a farm bill to the super committee by November 1. As of today, they still hadn't done so.

You can imagine that their committees, who are taken out of the loop here, and who represent all kinds of agricultural locales and interests, were not happy.
There is a proposal in the works. It cuts subsidies, conservation programs, and food security programs, but with little of the innovation or new, lower cost (as compared to commodity subsidies) programs we might have wished for. There are also some additional bills, adding in support for new farmers and sustainable ags - not of the committee chairs' making, obviously.

Nobody (meaning sustainable ag advocates - the site above, and some word of mouth here in Sonoma County) knows whether something will get to the Supercommittee by November 7. It may all blow up.

Let's hope it does, because this is not what we had hoped for at the time of the 2007(8) Farm Bill. The conversation about food and agriculture has broadened and deepened in this country, and to not have the public conversation we are poised for - well, it simply underscores the frustration so many of us are feeling - frustration with being dealt out of the political process while the big boys buy and sell influence.

If the bill is delivered Monday, it will be posted, and I'm told that sustainable ag advocates here in California will review it and get their comments to Xavier Becerra, who is the only Californian on the supercommittee. Because we Callifornians aren't part of the wheat-soy-corn trifecta, we win far less than our share of supports and helpful programs. This is especially pointed when you consider just how much of the country's food we do produce.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seems a little curious that NPR ran a story on the rice price crisis of 2008 today - three and a half years later and a week late for World Food Day.
Still, it's a clear and succinct account of how fear and greed created hunger when there was enough to go around. And how globalization and nationalism work at cross purposes sometimes. Certainly India had a right not to sell its rice crop. But that wonderful story of US rice sitting in silos in Japan where it is not wanted, and, unless things have changed, is used for rice derivatives, not for the table as rice, where only Japanese rice is used.

Ah the curious mix of human fraility and sinfulness with cultural pride and preferences.

One wonders when this will happen again.