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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I-wish-I'd-writtten-that department

Here's some straightforward writing about feeding 9 billion from Mark Bittman.

It's not a production challenge, it's a challenge to address and end poverty.

There's a video of the talk Bittman mentions in the article here:
I would have been happy to embed it - but it's on You Tube in bits and pieces - too tricky for me.
Besides, you can watch videos with other luminaries like Fred Kirschenmann and Michael Pollan on the conference site. The link above will take you there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I find this to be somewhere between creepy and immoral:

I wouldn't be attending a seminar about investing in anything anyway, since my wealth is mighty small, but I'm sure this is not supportive of a just agricultural system.  How can they call it Harvard Alumni for Agriculture? Perhaps the assumption is that if you are for something, you corner the market on it.  Sigh.

So - after gasping some more I read on, exploring the web site.  There is a nod to sustainability on this web site, but it may be more about economic sustainability than environmental sustainability.
There's also an annual student contest on food system innovation. It's sponsored by the Law School and the School of Public Health.  Hmmm.

And so - should I join this group to find out more about what they are up to?  Or would it annoy me more than I need to be annoyed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Food System Scorecard

Fun and informative:

See how your senators and representative voted, or have fun entering names of legislators in the news.  When it comes to food security and agricultural sustainability, is it any surprise that it's Pelosi 100 vs Boehner 0?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Debunking "superweeds"

This report brief got my attention:

Weed scientists report that the problem of herbicide resistance in weeds is primarily due to an evolved resistance due to repeated application of one class of herbicide. Using an approach integrating a variety of methods of weed control - many physical, not just chemical - could lessen this effect.

While genes from genetically engineered canola, wheat and sunflower can enter wild relatives, and do sometimes, GM corn, soy and cotton don't have any wild relatives in the US and Canada, so gene flow is negligible.


Monday, September 29, 2014

I can hardly wait!

Most of us gardeners know that all the brassicas we grow are at least kissing cousins.  Now two of them, with a little human assist, have been doing more than kissing.  And if you haven't had enough kale, you are going to be really excited with the result - it's Kalette, a conventional hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts.  It grows like the sprouts, but looks like little colorful kale.

Johnny's will be the source of seeds for home gardeners in the U.S.  Read their press release here:

Oh - and of course the Kalettes have their own Facebook page - just search for that name.

But I still think "the Kalettes" sounds like a barbershop quartet of nutritionists.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

color coded eating

Goodness.  I've had a two month vacation!

Bountiful Gardens on Facebook alerted me to the Huffington Post article with the link to this infographic you can print out and post on your fridge.

I'm going to - though for the next few weeks I will be eating and processing the bounty without a lot of thought about what colors things are.  Red (tomatoes), white (apples), yellow and orange (squash) , green (the last of the green beans).  I wonder if figs count as purple?  Oh well, cocoa and wine do! Who knew?

Friday, July 25, 2014


An alert from CropMobster just called my attention to this organization:
Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture or MESA
They are engaged in crowd funding for some new initiatives in food justice including farmer-to-farmer exchanges and developing an on-line curriculum in global agro-ecology and local food systems.
I'm often suspicious of crowd funding campaigns, but when I saw that Ecology Action and Bountiful Gardens are supporting this one, it was a no brainer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

We knew this!

...but now the data supports our assumptions - and then some.

The Weizmann Institute of Science recently completed a study revealing that among animal foods, beef has an environmental impact one order of magnitude higher than the other most common animal foods in the U.S. diet (dairy, eggs, poultry and pork).  They looked at land use, irrigation water use, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen inputs.  Beef production requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times more than the average of the other four animal foods!

The method they used can now be used to compare environmental impacts of other animal and plant foods. 

Here's an excerpt from the abstract of the peer-reviewed paper in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences):
"Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions....We show that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively."   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A blog to follow

There are some fascinating byways on this blog:

Drought report

Here's a summary of the most recent UC Davis report on the drought.

Many of the numbers are small percentages, but if one looks through them the impact of many individuals, workers and farmers, could be heartbreaking.

I'm curious about the fact that prices for grapes, nuts and dairy won't be much impacted.  It will be interesting to see if they rise anyway, with the drought as an excuse.

Most shocking - California has not statewide plan for groundwater management.  Who has been snoozing? cowardly about addressing this?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Food, good and neighborly

The e-news of the Association of Episcopal Deacons linked to this story.  It made me hungry even though I'd just had dinner.  Let's hear it for deacons who don't just offer food aid, but good food, and find ways to fund it which connect community.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Availability vs Prohibition

Catching up on reading some e-newsletters led me to poking around resources for the "healthy corner store" movement.  "Healthy" here means a healthy business selling healthful food.  (I will stick to the usage conventions I learned!)  One thing that fascinates me is that none of them talk about banning certain products, but about increasing healthful alternatives and promoting them effectively.  And why not?  My experience is that kids at the Teen Center, next door to a corner market, ask for fruit for after school snacks, and are disappointed if the Gleaning Project or neighbors haven't donated any lately. Emphasizing the positive choice is contrary to the impetus here in Sonoma County - banning tobacco, alcohol and sugar in corner stores.
Prohibition didn't work!
I found this nice guide for merchants in the materials from Philadelphia:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

First the Padres

then the Giants.  Oh for better food and some fresh alternatives at Athletics' games.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When consumers speak

apparently even Cargill listens.
Yesterday's Ag Insider pointed me to a story about Cargill's development of an identity-preserved, conventionally bred (that's the positive way of saying non-GMO - and really, a much better description) soy bean oil.  It's processed in Des Moines, in response to consumer interest.
Details here:{DBA637A4-C4B0-41A2-9C42-261D59984855}&cck=1

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Love Olive

Here's a story from yesterday's Sac Bee about the growing trend of growing olives in California.

I was fascinated that California farmers are planting olives, a drought resistant crop, in intensive ways (for machine harvest) that seem to negate some of the value of drought resistance. Thus more affordable California olive oil is not necessarily the best thing from a sustainability perspective. But who can afford the boutique oil prices?

Perhaps we should grow our own.  Should community gardens be putting in a few olive trees?  Should we bring back the idea of a communal press, where folks can take their back yard olives?

A few interesting statistics:
97% of the olive oil consumed in the USA is imported - and not all of it is what it seems.
98% of olives grown in the USA are grown in California - though other states are growing more.
4% of California olives were destined for oil in the '90s, but in 2012 it was 46%.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Health" isn't all there is

From an article in yesterday's Washington Post on organic vs conventional:

"Leave aside for the moment whether organic agriculture is better for the planet and whether organic livestock have better lives, although there’s a strong case for both of those arguments. Leave aside flavor, too, because it’s subjective and variable. What motivates many organic buyers, particularly the parents of small children, is health benefits, and there are two questions: Do organics do us more good (in the form of better nutrition), and do they do us less harm (in the form of fewer contaminants and pathogens)?"

I'm just not willing, even for a moment, to leave aside the health of the soil, the well being of animals and the flavor of my food.  This consumerist, reductionist, food as nutrients and toxins only mindset gets up my nose.  

There, I've said it and I'm glad!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chavez on my mind, part II

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

I have felt for some time that an opportunity exists for agriculture, agri-business and those of us on the left to work together, make common cause, and make new friends:  immigration reform.

In an article Saturday the New York Times
explored the impact of lack of such reforms on agriculture in California, with the number of workers declining, and the stable immigrant work force aging out of heavy labor in the fields - workers are just a decade behind the aging farmer population, pushing 50 while the farmers approach medicare age.

One of the happy upshots of this situation is that growers and agricultural advocacy and lobbying groups are getting fed up with the Republican impasse in Congress.  Generations of loyalty to the right on the part of Central Valley growers is being challenged by the aggregate behavior of Republicans.  There are, of course, exceptions - the Times article notes Congress members Valadao and Denham.  But the GOP could lose a key faction of supporters it it doesn't start moving on some sort of immigration reform.

Between the drought and the immigration impasse these are tough times for agriculture in California.  Beyond the present stresses, I wonder about the long term impact on our wallets, our environment and our civic life.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cesar Chavez on my mind

March 24-31, 2014

Water, water - not everywhere

It's raining here in Sonoma County this morning.  I figure where I live we have had about 12" of rain in February and March - which looks rather normal.  But we are still in the midst of a drought.  News this week from Quarter Acre Farm is that they are planting only crops which can be dry farmed.  That means fewer but tastier tomatoes - but no CSA subscriptions this year.

Locally we do not depend on Sierra Nevada snowpack, of which there is so very little this year.  But much of what America eats does.  The long term future of water in the Central Valley is probably not good, certainly fraught with dilemmas and trade-offs.  This article from farmer and writer David Mas Masumoto in last Sunday's Bee explains. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ash Wednesday Is Two Weeks Away

And here's a rather nice resource from Meatless Mondays.  They are celebrating February with a heart-healthy recipe collection.

Some of the recipes, alas, include ingredients that are definitely not seasonal, but there are a couple of wintry pasta recipes - with more veg, less fat and pasta - that look like they'd really be worth trying.

Liturgical traditionalists will, of course, keep Meatless Monday on Wednesday or Friday.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fresh and local - all over the nation

Earlier this month the New York Times published an article on a mid-western trend - moving away from corn for fodder, fuel and HFCS, to growing fruit and vegetables.  Of course!  there is an increasing demand for fresh local produce everywhere in the country, and the income from direct sales of produce is huge per acre compared with industrial corn.  Younger members of farm families are particularly interested in this trend, according to the article.

So, a question relating to a recent post here:  If the Pentagon is getting with the program, and employess of
Archer-Daniels-Midland are joining CSA's, why are so many health care institutions still serving such crappy food?

And then there is this musing?  What if, during this drought, produce started traveling the other way, from Iowa to California?  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not only did I "miss" Christmas

I avoided all those "year in review" shows and lists.

But some few of them are worth checking out, and while catching up on podcasts during exercise sessions, I found this succinct summary on Earth Eats.  If your attention, like mine, wandered at times from food issues during 2013, this is a nice summary. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Invalid food

That's IN-val-id food, although the reason I am writing is that I have had a lot of in-VAL-id food in the last few weeks as I made the progress from hospital to rehab to home.

Hospital food was okay.  By the evening of my surgery I was ready to eat something, and there was something to eat.  Given Kaiser's reputation, though, I was a little surprised that most of the vegetarian entrees were Amy's frozen meals.  They are produced locally - but they are frozen, and many are too high in salt for me.  I've tried Amy's foods from time to time, hoping they might be an occasional easy alternative - but they seem to be either high in sodium or bland.

Home food has been pretty good.  Before surgery I tucked a few treats in the freezer (small persimmon cakes and pumpkin breads - that sort of seasonal dessert) and also froze some soups and pasta dish starters (tomato and beans from the summer garden, for example).  Niece Pam was here, and made a big winter squash stew (with the other sisters included) the day I got home.  She also wanted to learn to make mushroom pate, so we dragged out the Deborah Madison and worked through that recipe - somewhat tedious, but a wonderful savory treat, and something to serve friends who dropped by.  Getting back to my usual breakfast rotation was good, too.

But it took several days to pull out of the gloom induced by the rehab food.  Even 50s school lunch seemed good by comparison.  I tried explaining that I was an ecotarian, but would be a dairy vegetarian for their purposes, but I was there four days before I saw anyone from nutritional services.  It said on my menu slip that came with each meal that I as a vegetarian who liked whole grains and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Each tray had canned fruit on it.  It was five days before someone found a banana for the breakfast tray. Oatmeal was gummy, but I gagged it down.  Most days there was some other kind of hot cereal with scum on the top.  Dinners alternated between lightly sauteed tofu and the worst reheated vegetable burgers I have ever seen, mostly canned veg and white rice on the side.  Bread was "wheat" squishy. The only fat on the trays was margarine.  One day I had frozen veg sauteed with garlic.  One lunch I had something quesadilla like.  These two were the highlights. Occasionally I had a meal that was just what everyone else had - minus the meat and dessert.

I would be so ashamed to be serving such crappy food in a sustainable food center like Sebastopol!  But I realized that my first clue should have been the logo on the promotional materials for the rehab facility.  It was a red delicious apple - not the variety we think of when we go local about food in Sonoma County. Somebody is paying no attention to context.

My question, repeated to many staff members in my eight days of food misery, was "Why do you serve such pitiful food and then give everybody a daily laxative?"

I became a supplier while there.  Thanks to the friends who heard my cries, I had pounds and pounds of tangerines and other fruit which I shared with staff.  "Won't you have one of my tangerines?"   I learned that some staff members bring very healthful meals from home.  Others go to the nearby McDonald's.  One talked about her home food garden, which she and her husband and two young children tend.  I feasted on asking the CNA's what they were having for holiday dinners, and asked them why there were no tamales on our Christmas trays!

Meal times got rather prolonged for me, because when my trays arrived I produced the box of decent tea bags a friend brought, and the loaf of whole grain bread, and my prunes or tangerines, and had my CNA fetch my cheese from the refrigerator.  There wasn't much I could do about fresh, seasonal cooked vegetables.

On reflection, I asked myself why this food was so bad.  Several strands contribute to it, I am sure. One is outdated nutritional guidelines, some enshrined in government regulations, because so many patients are on some sort of government funded health program.  (I saw maybe 2 or 3 people on the rehab wing who were younger. That means most of us were on some version of medicare.)  Parallel problems exist with government guidelines for school meals, of course.   A second is budgeting. One way to cut corners is with food. Never mind that a decent and tasty diet is a part of healing.  It's a place to save money, and then rationalize the action by opining that everyone would complain about the food anyway.  A third is that with some older patients, particularly those on the skilled nursing wing, the challenge is to get calories into them, so why not lowest common denominator foods which are familiar?  But as a colleague who does a lot of hospital and skilled nursing visiting points out, the boomers are coming, and we left coast boomers do not want hot dogs and white bread and canned fruit and vegetables. We want our calories to count for something (better nutrition) and stimulate our taste buds.

Before I left rehab I gave some thought to what might be done about this deplorable situation.  I am, after all, a member of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance, and we do have a working group called Farm to Institution.

I don't think the answer is doing is going to be meet your farmer programs such as our F2I group has done for school lunch leaders.  Getting everybody together to talk solutions may be edifying, but it is the laudable actions of particular institutions which, when reported publically, move the agenda forward.

In the best of all worlds, what I would do is to seek out a rehab/skilled nursing facility which would like to become a model of what is possible, growing into an institution which features healthful food, sustainably sourced.  And I don't think I'd focus on the nutrition and kitchen staff, but bring together representatives of various departments and skill levels who care about good food, including those nutrition and cooking people who are capable of envisioning new approaches.  Who knows - the maintenance worker may have an organic vegetable garden, a nursing assistant may come from a long line of good cooks, a nurse may see things and wonder about how patients' food choices and medications work together - or don't.  And all of the staff receive feedback about the meals - it's just a natural topic for conversation when people are confined without a lot of external diversions. Good food must be seen as integral to a healing system.

Our Food System Alliance could work with such an institution, connecting the resources need to make it a showplace of wholesome, local food.