aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, November 05, 2007
Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the stars of the just-released documentary King Corn,
first developed an interest in food and agriculture as classmates in college. After graduation, they moved to Greene, Iowa, to find out where their food comes from. With the help of government subsidies, friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and potent herbicides, they planted, grew, and harvested a bumper crop of corn from a single acre of farmland. Curt's cousin, documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, came along to direct this hair-raising, heart-sinking foray into our corn-fueled food chain.
Berkeley food blogger Eve Fox interviewed Ellis and Cheney last week, and gave them some great questions to sink their teeth into, so we’re pleased to be posting her Q & A here. King Corn is currently playing-or about to open--in cities all over the country. Check KingCorn.net for theaters. Please go see it!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Working for a better Farm Bill
Michael Pollan had an OpEd int he NYTimes yesterday. Weed it and Reap:
On Capitol Hill, hearings on the farm bill have been packed, and newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle are covering the legislation as closely as The Des Moines Register, bringing an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress. Sensing the winds of reform at his back, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a reporter in July: “This is not just a farm bill. It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.”
Right now, that stake is looking more like a toothpick. Americans who eat have little to celebrate in the bill that Mr. Harkin is expected to bring to the floor this week. Like the House bill passed in July, the Senate product is very much a farm bill in the tradition- al let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold. [...]
For starters, the Old Guard on both agriculture committees has managed to preserve the entire hoary contraption of direct payments, countercyclical payments and loan deficiency payments that subsidize the five big commodity crops - corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton - to the tune of $42 billion over five years.
There are a number of programs in the bill - “mere fleas on the elephant in the room” - for “Americans who eat,” but the underlying architecture of our industrial food system remains unchanged and therein lies the problem:
We would not need all these nutrition programs if the commodity title didn’t do such a good job making junk food and fast food so ubiquitous and cheap. Food stamps are crucial, surely, but they will be spent on processed rather than real food as long as the commodity title makes calories of fat and sugar the best deal in the supermarket. We would not need all these conservation programs if the commodity title, by paying farmers by the bushel, didn’t encourage them to maximize production with agrochemicals and plant their farms with just one crop fence row to fence row.
And the government would not need to pay feedlots to clean up the water or upgrade their manure pits if subsidized grain didn’t make rearing animals on feedlots more economical than keeping them on farms. Why does the farm bill pay feedlots to install waste treatment systems rather than simply pay ranchers to keep their animals on grass, where the soil would be only too happy to treat their waste at no cost?
However many worthwhile programs get tacked onto the farm bill to buy off its critics, they won’t bring meaningful reform to the American food system until the subsidies are addressed - until the underlying rules of the food game are rewritten.
There’s still hope:
Mr. Harkin’s bill will be challenged on the floor and very possibly improved. One sensible amendment that Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, are expected to introduce would put a $250,000 cap on the payments any one farmer can receive in a year. This would free roughly $1 billion for other purposes (like food stamps and conservation) and slow the consolidation of farms in the Midwest.
A more radical alternative proposed by Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, would scrap the current subsidy system and replace it with a form of free government revenue insurance for all American farmers and ranchers, including the ones who grow actual food. Commodity farmers would receive a payment only when their income dropped more than 15 percent as the result of bad weather or price collapse. The $20 billion saved under this plan, called the Fresh Act, would go to conservation and nutrition programs, as well as to deficit reduction.
What finally emerges from Congress depends on exactly who is paying closest attention next week on the Senate floor and then later in the conference committee. We know the American Farm Bureau will be on the case, defending the commodity title on behalf of those who benefit from it most: the biggest commodity farmers, the corporations who sell them chemicals and equipment and, most of all, the buyers of cheap agricultural commodities - companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
In the past that alliance could have passed a farm bill like this one without breaking a sweat. But the politics of food have changed, and probably for good. If the eaters and all the other “people on the outside” make themselves heard, we just might end up with something that looks less like a farm bill and more like the food bill a poorly fed America so badly needs.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Big gulp, bottomless thirst
So do you really think you need a quart to quench your thirst?
People sat down to a large bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and were told to eat as much as they wanted. Unbeknown to them, the soup bowls were designed to refill themselves (with empty bottoms connected to machinery beneath the table). No matter how much soup the subjects ate, the bowl never emptied. Many people just kept eating until the experiment was (mercifully) ended.
The general rule seems to be, “Give them a lot, and they eat a lot.” Those who receive large bowls of ice cream eat much more than those who get small bowls. If you are given a half-pound bag of M&M’s, chances are that you will eat about half as much as you will if you are given a one-pound bag. The reason is simple: packages “suggest a consumption norm--what it is appropriate or normal to use or eat.” In fact, most people do not stop eating when they are no longer hungry. They look to whether their glasses or plates are empty.
* It’s behind a pay wall; I quote it liberally here.
Apparently that’s a sensitive subject in the UK today because the Brits are getting fatter fast:
Two just-released reports show that the number of obese adults in Britain has tripled since 1980, earning it the distinction of being the fattest country in Europe.
Government officials and health experts are suitably alarmed, and anxious to find ways to turn more Brits from fat to fit. Britain’s health secretary, Alan Johnson, calls the obesity epidemic a “potential crisis on the scale of climate change.”
How fat are they?
Rates as a percentage of the total population:
Czech Republic 14.8
(Source: Health Profile of England 2007, with data from the World Health Organization’s June 2007 Health For All Database.)
The U.S. remains the fat champion of the world. Could it be because we mistake portion size for quality?
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Holy Mackerel: sushi as global good
I guess, since I don’t go to Wharton, I just don’t get it, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. From a Knowledge@Wharton review of Sasha Issenberg’s ode to globalization, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy:
For Issenberg, the story of the sushi economy is the story of tuna. Originally reviled in Japan (so greasy it was only good for cat food), the bluefin was the beneficiary of a post-World War II shift in the Japanese diet toward heavier, fatty meats. The overwhelming popularity of the bluefin’s buttery flesh meant that by the early 1970s, the Japanese had overfished their waters and were on the lookout for new sources of their favorite dish. The moment coincided with the rise of Japan Airlines (JAL), which was doing a tidy export business but needed to find something to fill its freight cabin on return flights. In an inspiration that would change the culinary profile of the planet, a JAL executive partnered with the fishermen of Prince Edward Island, Canada, who caught plenty of bluefin, but who had no use for it. Devising a means of gently freezing bluefin to preserve it during the long journey back to Japan, JAL inaugurated the era of global sushi.
Issenberg devotes considerable time to charting Japan’s internal sushi economy, with special emphasis on Toyko’s Tsukiji market, where fish imported from around the world are auctioned daily to bidders well versed in the arcane science of evaluating meat they have not tasted. At Tsukiji, we learn, a single bluefin regularly goes for $30,000 or more at auction; once all but worthless, bluefin has become one of the world’s hottest and most wholesome commodities. Detailing how Tokyo’s Narita International Airport has become—paradoxically—Japan’s most important fishing harbor, Issenberg explains how even in Japan, sushi is a jet-age commodity. While sushi’s roots go back hundreds of years to an era when fish was packed in rice to ferment and preserve it, the nigiri and maki that signify sushi today are only as old as the technological means of transporting highly perishable fish swiftly and efficiently from one end of the world to the other.
In the end it’s acknowledged that “the growing global passion for sushi has led to massive overfishing of bluefin” but there’s not word one on how flying all these fish around is sustainable or good for the environment.
Through detailed, highly localized accounts of restaurants and chefs, fishermen and middlemen, markets and appetites, Issenberg casts sushi as an enormously positive example of globalization. An exceptionally unusual ethnic food that has kept its integrity while spreading its appeal, sushi melds the hunter-gatherer purity of long-line fishing; the sophistication of state-of-the-art transport; the hands-on, humane exchange of the auction; and the immense act of international trust undertaken by the millions who are willing to eat raw fish without knowing its origins or history. An index to a nation’s worldliness, sushi expresses not only the sophistication of a country’s taste, but also an equally sophisticated confidence in the procedural purity of an industry with great potential for corruption and adulteration. [...]
Issenberg is at his most fascinating when he outlines how sushi is at once preserved and reinvented in every new market it meets: Crab and avocado found their way into rolls in California, because that’s what was available. In Brazil, California rolls are made with mango rather than avocado, again because that’s what’s available. In Singapore, one can find California rolls with both avocado and mango—and one can also find curry rolls and halal sushi bars. Hawaiians retain a World War II-era taste for sushi made with Spam. In Marrakech, one can eat maki made with couscous.
Contradicting the scare stories proffered by other recent chroniclers of global foodways (think Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Issenberg serves up a singularly appealing picture of how our almost insatiable globalized hunger for new experiences, new things, new services—and, crucially, new foods—might be able to co-exist with our increasingly urgent desire to preserve local traditions and protect the environment. Combining a hunter-gatherer purity with a sophisticated international market organized around swift transit and state-of-the-art refrigeration, wealthy consumers and artisan chefs who continually reinvent sushi according to local tastes and ingredients, sushi seems to reconcile the conflict between [Thomas Friedman’s] Lexus and the olive tree. Sushi extends the possibility that we might actually be able to have our globalization and eat it, too.
I do have to admit I’m glad to have it here in landlocked rural Georgia. Catfish sushi anyone?
Sunday, August 12, 2007
This little piggy got lucky
Every time we go through one of these “ain’t he cute, we’re so great, we saved an animal” feel-good human interest stories I am appalled. We pat ourselves on the back and gush about how humane we are for saving a single animal, without even a nod to how the rest of them fare:
Of the 60 million pigs in the United States, over 95 percent are continuously confined in metal buildings, including the almost five million sows in crates. In such setups, feed is automatically delivered to animals who are forced to urinate and defecate where they eat and sleep. Their waste festers in large pits a few feet below their hooves. Intense ammonia and hydrogen sulfide fumes from these pits fill pigs’ lungs and sensitive nostrils. No straw is provided to the animals because that would gum up the works (as it would if you tossed straw into your toilet). [...]
The stress, crowding and contamination inside confinement buildings foster disease, especially respiratory illnesses. In addition to toxic fumes, bacteria, yeast and molds have been recorded in swine buildings at a level more than 1,000 times higher than in normal air. To prevent disease outbreaks (and to stimulate faster growth), the hog industry adds more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates. This mountain of drugs—a staggering three times more than all antibiotics used to treat human illnesses—is a grim yardstick of the wretchedness of these facilities.
That from Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer and cattle rancher who is writing a book about the meat industry. She learned about the condition of pigs from her work as an environmental lawyer touring hog confinement operations to evaluate their polluting potential.
For more on that polluting potential, see Boss Hog - Pork’s Dirty Little Secret from the December 2006 Rolling Stone. A snippet:
The [holding ponds for industrial pig waste called] lagoons...are so viscous and venomous that if someone falls in it is foolish to try to save him. A few years ago, a truck driver in Oklahoma was transferring pig shit to a lagoon when he and his truck went over the side. It took almost three weeks to recover his body. In 1992, when a worker making repairs to a lagoon in Minnesota began to choke to death on the fumes, another worker dived in after him, and they died the same death. In another instance, a worker who was repairing a lagoon in Michigan was overcome by the fumes and fell in. His fifteen-year-old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker’s cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker’s older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker’s father dived in. They all died…
I’m no Animal Rights advocate, I lean towards Animal Welfare and would like more of us to debate the difference. (I link to my quoting of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma because I have yet to discover a source I trust on the differences in definition. Most seem more anti-PETA - I am not - than pro animal welfare).
For more on all of this I urge you to listen to the five-part podcast of the Food, Ethics and the Environment conference held at Princeton last fall. It includes a particularly compelling (and optimistic) speech by Eric Schlosser.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Truth in advertising?
Interesting comparison of food shown in the menu and the orignal food served to the customer. On the left is the Menu photograph of the food and on the right is the actual food served to the customer.
DCP has more pics.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Food Miles challenge
James E. McWilliams is the author of “A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America” and a contributing writer for The Texas Observer in a NYTimes OpEd today:
On its face, the connection between lowering food miles and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a no-brainer. In Iowa, the typical carrot has traveled 1,600 miles from California, a potato 1,200 miles from Idaho and a chuck roast 600 miles from Colorado. Seventy-five percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, the writer Bill McKibben says, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. These examples just scratch the surface of the problem. In light of this market redundancy, the only reasonable reaction, it seems, is to count food miles the way a dieter counts calories.
But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more - or less - to food miles than meets the eye.
It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of measuring a product’s carbon footprint through food miles alone, the Lincoln University scientists expanded their equations to include other energy-consuming aspects of production - what economists call “factor inputs and externalities” - like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.
Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit. [...]
“Eat local” advocates - a passionate cohort of which I am one - are bound to interpret these findings as a threat. We shouldn’t. Not only do life cycle analyses offer genuine opportunities for environmentally efficient food production, but they also address several problems inherent in the eat-local philosophy.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Our Polyface Visit
Joel Salatin says farms should be aesthetically and aromatically pleasing and invites anyone to come, look around, and see for themselves.
On our way from Georgia to PA, we got off I-81 in Staunton, VA and made our winding way out to the farm. We arrived just as they were cleaning up from the slaughter of about 100 chickens.
I was reminded of Michael Pollan’s call for glass walls and Joel’s prideful transparency - “No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.” The young apprentices greeted us warmly, gave enough general direction for us to find our way around, and sent us on our way.
Crocs were obviously not the best shoe choice for tromping through a landscape nutritionally healed by poultry that is genuinely free range, so after briefly checking out the incubator and the eggmobile we made our way to the dirt road and wondered off to find the pigs.
Thinking we had made a wrong turn and about ready to give up, we came upon the feeder, an oddly shaped aluminum contraption. We stood ogling it for a moment when, to our surprise, a pig approached, flipped up the flap with his snout and began to chow down. Soon a few more approached.
Impressed at the simple truth of it - “Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.” - we made our way back to the house and bought a chicken as a gift for our Harrisburg hosts.
Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. [...]
We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.
Compare and contrast: Joel Salatin’s hog heaven; Smithfield Foods pigs in shit.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
A Fishy Gore story
Digby turns up a fishy Jake Tapper assertion that Al Gore ate some Chilean Sea Bass - a program manager for the Humane Society International calls it “arguably one of the world’s most threatened fish species” - at the rehearsal dinner for his daughter’s wedding:
Is Gore to be chastised for every fish that shows up on his plate? It’s not as if he was eating a Bald Eagle. (Whoops—weren’t those just taken off the Endangered Species List!)
On the other hand, could this be seen as the environmentalist version of Sen. David Vitter’s public santimony/private enjoyment of love with a red-lit glow?
Says Digby, “Unless somebody at the wedding was schtupping the fish wearing a diaper, I’m not sure I see the analogy.”
Chilean sea bass have returned to our Seafood Departments after a seven year hiatus. In 1999, it became clear that this popular species (also called Patagonian toothfish) was being overfished at an alarming rate, threatening its extinction. In accordance with our strict sustainable seafood policy, Whole Foods Market stopped selling Chilean Sea Bass in August, 1999.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an independent non-profit body dedicated to sustainable fishing practices and ocean health, recently certified a fishery operating out of South Georgia Island for the sustainable harvesting of Chilean sea bass. This island is near the South Sandwich Islands located in the extreme southern Atlantic, where harsh prevailing weather conditions and active volcanism make it difficult for fishermen. While poaching remains a serious threat to Chilean sea bass in other areas, this remote fishery has proven itself to be a responsible one dedicated to sustainable practices as documented by the MSC.
Returning to Tapper’s question then, should Gore be chastised? Writes he, “you be the judge.”
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
iHop and Applebee’s
Yesterday was four years to the day that I’ve been here. At a party this weekend someone asked, “what was the most difficult adjustment?” Without missing a beat I answered, “the restaurants!”
The most accurate way to describe the food at Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill is “well-slathered.” Nearly every dish comes drenched in sauce, usually either a deep-red ketchup derivative or a ranch dressing variant. Applebee’s trademark Riblets, for example, are bathed in enough tangy BBQ sauce to make a diner forget that he’s chowing on extraneous pig parts.
Applebee’s cuisine is considered so-so even by chain-restaurant standards. In the latest customer survey by the trade magazine Restaurants and Institutions, Applebee’s food scored below that of Chili’s, O’Charley’s, and the Cheesecake Factory, though it did top the deep-fried grub at T.G.I. Friday’s, Bennigan’s, and Hooters. But despite its middling food, Applebee’s is by far the largest casual-dining chain in the United States, with annual sales of around $3.6 billion-over $1 billion more than Chili’s, its closest competitor.
Started in Atlanta by 2 brothers in 1980, and spread by targeting “underserved areas-primarily exurban and rural strip malls” (yeah, that’s us) iHop is paying $1.9 billion in cash. No word on whether or not Aplebee’s met this 2005 goal:
America’s appetite for cheap, filling sit-down meals surprised even Applebee’s. Franchises have opened at a rate of more than 100 per year, and...the latest projection is for Applebee’s to top out at 3,000 restaurants, about 1,300 more than it has today.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
The Democrat divide over the farm bill
A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from “red” states, which backed President Bush’s reelection in 2004 and where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections.
At stake in the new farm bill are billions of dollars affecting the fortunes of farmers, as well as groups that include soft-drink manufacturers using corn sweeteners and poor families relying on food stamps. In 2006, more than 475 organizations reported lobbying on agricultural issues, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. [...]
The debate over subsidies is coming in the midst of nearly unprecedented prosperity in U.S. farming. Farm income and the value of farmland and farm assets have been rising, spurred by strong exports and a boom in the demand for corn, which is used to make ethanol.
This week, the Agriculture Department predicted that the value of harvested corn will reach $40 billion this year, up from $22 billion in 2005. The prices of wheat, milk and livestock are at or near record levels.
RELATED: Farm Bill Girl Argues that farm subsidies are a symptom of a worse disease: agri-business’s hijacking of the government. (Dump Terry McAuliffe). The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a good Farm Bill Action Center. (Via MyDD’s Food & Farm policy for all post.) And don’t miss Slate on ethanol madness.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Mmm-mmm good! 2
At the Grand Central Market…
Monday, June 25, 2007
At the Chelsea Market…
Monday, June 11, 2007
My kind of happy meals
My friend Sam sent an email, “remember those ‘family’ meals?”
Indeed I do.
He and I spent a decade together waiting tables in some of the finer New York restaurants of our era, and together we savored that hallowed restaurant tradition known as the family or staff meal:
It’s the time when people who make and serve food for a living finally get to take a busman’s break and feed themselves. In European kitchens, such meals tend to be sit-down affairs, a final civilized huddle before the hordes arrive. In America, the meals can take wildly different forms, too often that of warmed-over takeout - “a lot of hot wings thrown in a pan,” as Christopher Monaco, an expediter at Per Se, put it.
There are notable exceptions, like Chanterelle in SoHo, whose staff meals are so elaborate they yielded their own cookbook. And in the empire of [chef Thomas] Keller, recently named restaurateur of the year by the James Beard Foundation, their importance takes on an almost religious intensity, a feeling that they are as integral to his restaurants’ success as a preternaturally perfect brunoise.
I was gone before Keller came on the scene, but I am among the lucky few to have had a number of family meals at Karen and David’s table. Though I was never brought on as permanent staff, I count at least one of their alumni among my lifelong friends.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Bovine Rights Now
“COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COWS.
Cows are not machines-we are equals in the interdependent circle of life. All our rights begin with this right.
COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO GRAZE.
Turn us loose to graze in pastures free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. We will take only what we need and we will refresh the soil. You will be happier for it, too. Our milk will be delicious and delightful. Promise.
COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO JUST SAY NO TO DRUGS.
The days of experimentation are over. Stop pushing the synthetic hormones and antibiotics! Organic is the right way for Sisters everywhere.
COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY AND JOY.
When we are free to move about outdoors, it’s our best opportunity for dignity, health and joy-and a chance at joy should be the right of all living things. Even dogs.
COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DECENT HELP.
Sure, us cows are the all-stars, but the time has come to say thanks to the little guys-the organic family farmers. We can’t do this alone. Fair pay for an honest day’s nurturing and care. It’s all we ask. Viva la family farm!
COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR.
Nothing makes us breathe easier than local customers. When you choose milk from pastures close by, you reduce trucking. It’s pretty nifty. Less air pollution, less fuel used, and support for your neighboring farmers, all from one little milk choice.”
But do please keep in mind that there is a distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. I come down on the welfare side of that distinction.
Via Eating Liberally.
RELATED NON SEQUITUR: An artist’s disembodied, robotic cow tongues. Yuck.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Farm Bill blogging
In 2005, a Kellogg Foundation-sponsored poll conducted in Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota found clear preferences for a strict $250,000 cap on farm program payments, which is the proposed cap in the Dorgan-Grassley bill reintroduced two weeks ago. All three states are considered farm states, and both farmers and non-farmers were surveyed. You can find the poll here. [...]
[V]oters in these three states strongly endorse programs that create rural jobs, conservation programs, and nutrition programs.
But what if you survey farmers only? And shouldn’t more states be surveyed, including the South, the supposed home of vast enthusiasm for unlimited farm program checks?
Every time a farm bill rolls around, the Farm Foundation surveys agricultural producers in multiple states. This time they surveyed over 15,000 farmers and ranchers in 27 states, and they group results by state and region.
In Iowa, currently a politically key state, you find the following:
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 representing the strongest support, Iowa producers ranked “targeting support to small farms” at 3.94 and “Eliminate the Three-Entity Rule” (a key loophole in payment limits ) at 4.12 - both significantly higher than support for the payments themselves. Iowa producers ranked the importance of direct payments at 3.47, counter cyclical payments at 3.65 and loan deficiency payments at 3.75.
And while the Southern cotton and rice interests supposedly favor the glaring loopholes necessary for enormous subsidy checks, we can actually see this isn’t true. For the entire Southern region surveyed (Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida) there is substantial support for eliminating the three-entity rule and eliminating unlimited commodity loan gains-two of the most-abused loopholes in farm program payment limits.
You can find the whole poll here (2MB PDF). It is a fascinating look at farmers and ranchers’ preferences. To be objective, I should say some of the positions that the Center for Rural Affairs advocates are not viewed so favorably. But the consensus is clear on farm subsidy programs- close the loopholes and enforce a strict payment limit.
SEE ALSO: Farm Bill or Food Bill?
Monday, June 04, 2007
Busting organic chops
In his review of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Reason’s Ronald Bailey puts his bona fides up front:
The steaks, chops, and roasts in our dining room deep chest freezer were often labeled with the names of the cows and pigs from which they came. About ninety percent of the food I ate growing up came from the pastures, fields, and the garden on my family's farm. The garden was fertilized with manure that I personally shoveled from the dairy barn and our house was heated with wood that I personally chopped and stacked every summer. I know from farming. So I have been some what bemused by the recent spate of pretentious back-to-the-land, eat local books including Michael Pollan's absurdly overwrought The Omnivore's Dilemma and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon's Plenty. Pollan actually went out and killed an animal and then ate it—just imagine! How deliciously and primitively recherché! The latest of these is the New York Times bestseller, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by novelist Barbara Kingsolver with help from her daughters and husband.
If that’s what he thinks of Pollan’s killing an animal imagine how unimpressed he’d be at my party for having merely bought one. Luckily I’m not likely to put in an appearance on his RSS reader. Here’s his concluding paragraph:
At one point, Kingsolver makes fun of a vegan movie star who wants to create a safe-haven ranch where cows and chickens can live happy lives and die a natural death. Kingsolver dismissively writes: “We know she meant well, and as fantasies of the super-rich go, it’s more inspired than most. It’s just the high-mindedness that rankles; when moral superiority combines with billowing ignorance, they fill up a hot air balloon that’s awfully hard not to poke.” That pretty much sums up how I feel about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Via The Opinionator.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Death by veganism
WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.
This particular calamity - at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years - may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.
I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.
How about soy?
Too often, vegans turn to soy, which actually inhibits growth and reduces absorption of protein and minerals. That’s why health officials in Britain, Canada and other countries express caution about soy for babies. (Not here, though - perhaps because our farm policy is so soy-friendly.)
Friday, May 11, 2007
Chicken from China?
In China, some farmers try to maximize the output from their small plots by flooding produce with unapproved pesticides, pumping livestock with antibiotics banned in the United States, and using human feces as fertilizer to boost soil productivity. But the questionable practices don’t end there: Chicken pens are frequently suspended over ponds where seafood is raised, recycling chicken waste as a food source for seafood, according to a leading food safety expert who served as a federal adviser to the Food and Drug Administration.
China’s suspect agricultural practices could soon affect American consumers. Federal authorities are working on a proposal to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold here, and under current regulations, store labels do not have to indicate the meat’s origin.
According to Lucius Adkins , president of United Poultry Growers Association , the idea “should be strangled in infancy.” The group represents more than 700 producers in Georgia , one of the nation’s leading poultry producing states.
“You don’t know what conditions existed in that plant [in China]. You didn’t have a government representative there watching [poultry] being slaughtered and processed. It’s going to come here packaged,” Adkins said. “They’re already killing our pets. Do we want to eat their food?
No. But I’d like to see into our chicken slaughtering and processing plants here, too. I don’t want the chicken from China, but I’m thinking food safety is a fig leaf and Adkins would object to the food safety regime I’d like to see here as well.
SEE ALSO: A call for glass walls on slaughterhouses.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Whole Foods: a Goliath coming to the UK
With one store it becomes the largest food retailer in London. The Telegraph:
Whole Foods Market, America’s most aggressive and successful “natural” supermarket, is coming to Britain.
On June 6, the three-floor former Barker’s department store in Kensington, west London, is set to be transformed into the company’s signature hanging gardens of Babylon.
Planet Organic’s largest London store is 5,500 sq ft; Fortnum & Mason’s recently expanded food floors boast 18,500 sq ft. Whole Foods will be 80,000 sq ft - the size of the new Wembley Stadium.
But there’s more:
“We’re looking at 30 to 40 stores in the UK high street, at the rate of one a year,” regional vice-president David Lannon tells me over a sparkling water when we meet in New York at the latest downtown Manhattan branch (72,000 sq ft). A large man who looks partial to the odd organic brownie, Lannon is supremely confident about the company’s first European venture.
Wherever you live in Britain, if you have a favourite natural food store you should take notice, because not much survives when Whole Foods comes to town. It is a behemoth, to which independent retailers are just so much small fry.
As it happens, “small” is the current food buzz-word in Britain. Farmers’ markets are booming; small producers are fÃƒÂªted. We cherish the notion that natural and organic equals small, slow and preferably local. Why is Whole Foods so confidently importing its wholly different approach and why does it think it’s going to work here?
“You journalists,” Lannon chuckles. “You romanticise small.”
You might almost think Whole Foods wants to be to food as Google is to the web, complete with “Do no evil” mantra:
“We believe in a virtuous circle entwining the food chain, human beings and Mother Earth: each is reliant upon the others through a beautiful and delicate symbiosis.” Giving: $10million a year in low-interest loans to help small, local farmers and producers of grass-fed and humanely raised meat, poultry and dairy animals. Hires an “animal compassionate field buyer” to work with producers to ensure that they meet the standards. Sets up Sunday farmers’ markets in the car parks of some US Whole Foods stores.
I’m aware that critics contend “its local, organic and artisanal food is just window-dressing to help sell an ordinary industrial product jetted in from all over the world.” I hope they’ll keep up the pressure and move Whole Foods in an ever better direction. But in the end, I’m with the Telegraph writer who concludes:
[Founder and unsalaried CEO] John Mackey and his [well paid] team bring an idealism that is utterly alien to British supermarket culture. Yes, they are here to make money. But if they sometimes fall short of their stated ideals, they are genuinely trying to make the world a better place. If American customers are anything to go by, many of us will be persuaded.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Chocolate mockolateConnoisseurs: Don’t meddle with chocolate:
“They are trying to pull one over on us,” said Cybele May, 40, publisher of CandyBlog, on which she has encouraged more than 200 people to write the FDA to protest what she calls “mockolate.” “What they are asking for is permission to confuse the consumer for what we readily accept as chocolate.”
Gary Guittard, fourth-generation owner of Guittard Chocolate Co., wants to keep chocolate from the dark side, too. He has enlisted the support of high-end companies such as billionaire Warren Buffett’s See’s Candies to fight the big chocolate makers.
“The process of this thing going through, it wasn’t transparent, and it needs to be brought out into the light,” said Guittard.
Brad Kinstler, chief executive officer of Carson, California-based See’s, is siding with Guittard in the confections controversy.
“If the margarine manufacturers could call their product butter instead of being required to call it margarine, wouldn’t it strike the consumer as being odd?” said Kinstler, whose company sold 30 million pounds of sweets last year.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I’ve been meaning to post this since I heard it last fall in a podcast of the 5-part Food, Ethics and the Environment Conference at Princeton. Events this week make it more timely than ever. I will be quoting it often.
In his keynote speech, “The True Cost of Cheapness,” journalist and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser articulates the limits of personal responsibility and how it plays into the interests of our corporate food system:
[from the podcast at 01:02:13] For the last 25 years we have been preached a gospel of personal responsibility and personal freedom. That is what has been drummed into our head for the past twenty-five years. Personal responsibility. And I believe in that. I believe in personal responsibility and personal freedom.
But I’m now worried that my own work has stressed that element too much. And this whole idea that every purchase that you make is a vote, and that every purchase that you make has a ripple effect, and that we all must be responsible and ethical consumers. Well, I agree with that, but at the same time there is a pressure on all of us to be pure, to be morally pure, to think that we’re really going to change the world by what we buy and...it gets really hard to be pure. It’s complicated. Well, should I be buying organic or local or should IÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ What should I do?
The pressure is on us and I think that what we buy can make a difference and that we are responsible and that we do have an obligation. But I think that changing the world by what you buy is only going to go so far. And it only works to a point. And after that point I think it is delusion that as consumers we are going to change that system fundamentally or we are going to change the world.
Missing from the discourse, missing from the dialog over the last twenty-five years have been a couple of other phrases. One of them is “corporate responsibility” and the other one is “collective responsibility.” And I stand here honestly saying that I’m not pure, my purchases are not ideal, and maybe some of you in this room are pure but it’s hard to be pure in this country in the year 2006. But ultimately the problems that...I’ve tried to outline are not due to individual faults. They’re really not. They have been caused by big systems. Systems of belief, systems of production, systems of making a profit. And without looking at them from a systemic approach there is no possibility of meaningful change...what we do as consumers isn’t going to make a profound difference. And I think we cannot allow this movement surrounding ethical eating to focus only on our personal responsibility and on consumer power.
Last night Katie Couric reported on a congressional hearing held yesterday:
COURIC: Congress is getting serious about investigating the safety of our food supply. Families victimized by tainted spinach and peanut butter testified today, among them Michael and Elizabeth Armstrong; their daughters...got very sick last fall after eating spinach contaminated with e. coli bacteria. Mr. Armstrong said, “I can’t protect them from spinach, only you guys can.”