Friday Food Links

Compiled by Maywa Montenegro de Wit

Maywa Montenegro de Wit is a PhD candidate in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, where she focuses on seeds, agroecology, and the politics of access to genetic resources. Before coming to Berkeley, she completed a master’s in science journalism at MIT and worked for six years as an editor at Seed Magazine in New York City. Now, as Communications Coordinator for the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems, she enjoys collecting newspaper stories, research articles, and opinions from around the world related to food and agriculture. On occasional Fridays, she posts these in a collection of “Friday Food Links” which you can find archived here. Your feedback is always welcome:

The opinions expressed in “Friday Food Links” are those of Maywa Montenegro de Wit and do not necessarily represent the views of the Berkeley Food Institute or the University of California, Berkeley at large.


Friday Food Links for November 6, 2015

  • How One of the Most Obese Countries on Earth Took on Soda Giants – Especially after NAFTA, processed foods and sugary beverages have been edging out traditional Mexican foods. Soda consumption has soared — and Mexican waistlines and diabetes rates are expanding to match. The power of Coca Cola, meanwhile, reaches deep and wide, funding everyone from television networks to exercise scientists to the Mexican Diabetes Association. But in 2013, the country passed a nation-wide soda tax, stimulating wins in Barbados, Chile, St. Helena, the US Navajo Nation, and Berkeley, and leaving industry shaking its head. How did they do it? This superb long-read from the Guardian shows how big soda “was confounded by three things”: a government desperate for tax money, the rise of nimble consumer social movements, and a giant infusion of gringo cash.
  • Who Owns the Patent on Nutmeg? – Really more about knowledge than nutmeg, Twilley profiles sketches India’s experience with biopiracy, and creatives effort to fight back. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library emerged during the 1995 turmeric wars, and recently helped the Indian government quash Colgate-Palmolive’s latest bid: a patent on nutmeg mouthwash and herbal toothpaste. TKDL’s team of linguists, botanists, IT specialists, patent examiners, and practitioners of traditional Indian medicine are compiling and translating traditional knowledge into a legally defensible database. Now they can show patent examiners in far-flung offices that there is nothing novel or non-obvious — to Indian people, anyway — about using herbs to clean your teeth. The rub? Such repositories can have a double-edge. “We created the library to prevent misappropriations, not to support misappropriations,” Gupta said. “If we give access, these multinationals will steal everything.”
  • EPA Used Monsanto’s Research to Give Roundup a Pass – The US Environmental Protection Agency concluded in June that glyphosate poses no risk as an endocrine disruptor. But on what basis did it find “no convincing evidence” for harm? In this incisive Intercept report, Sharon Lerner uncovers several layers of trouble. First, 27 out of 32 studies included in the EPA’s review were either conducted or funded by industry. Second, even those studies often found serious effects — for example, decreased number of pregnancies in rats — that were later discounted by the study’s authors. Third, many authoritative studies were left out of the review altogether. Some say that asking chemical companies to conduct their own tests only makes financial sense. After all, Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow labs are vastly better resourced that EPA. But who conducts the research biases how any given study is designed or carried out. It affects how the results are analyzed and interpreted. And as one endocrine expert puts it to Lerner, the process can begin far upstream, when a company chooses which lab will perform its tests. “Industry is very aware of companies they can hire that have never found an estrogen positive chemical.”
  • Freedom From Fries & Can Big Food Get Healthy? – Two recent pieces with remarkably similar themes relate Big Food’s challenge to become — or be seen as — healthy. From the New York Times’ Michael Moss, “Can Big Food Get Healthy” is a video version of his bestselling Salt, Sugar, Fat. Moss takes us to Nestle headquarters where food technicians are sprinkling salt on snack food surfaces (to reduce internal salt content while retaining flavor profile), and elongating fat globules (to reduce fat grams while hanging onto mouthfeel). Specter, meanwhile, treks to McDonald’s global headquarters, where he is treated to  experiments in artisanal chicken and Egg McMuffins made with real butter. “Butter tastes better, and it is more in line with where our society’s mind-set is moving,’’ says McDonald’s chef-in-chief. But neither Specter nor Moss are betting money, in the end, on the transformative power of Big Food. Both offer the same reasons: risk aversion. For companies that operate at such a large scale, says another McDonald’s exec: “The word ‘nimble’ is not in our DNA.” Instead, both Moss and Specter both suggest, the real excitement is with food startups, often run by defectors from the big companies. Moss mentions Jeffrey Dunn, former president of Coca-Cola, who now packages baby carrots for a living (“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook.”). Specter profiles fast casual chains like Lyfe Kitchen and Sweetgreen that are going far beyond Chipotle in sourcing and selling more nutritious, sustainable food. Whether these “food disrupters” as Moss dubs them, can survive without selling their “small-batch souls” is an open question. For Moss, what startups need most is marketing genius: “industry veterans’ hard noses for profits and tricks of the trade.” But Specter makes a decidedly more interesting turn: let’s remake the US agricultural system: “The big chains and the newer alternatives have clashing world views and different problems: McDonald’s can’t afford to sell only fresh local, seasonal products, and Lyfe Kitchen can’t afford not to….To offer those choices on a national scale will require an agricultural system that rewards regional farming networks.” Though neither New Yorker nor Times versions are inquisitive enough about the internal contradictions of profit-driven social change, both are a fascinating peek into the world of industry makeovers, breakaway startups, and the convulsions created when the public no longer loves what you are selling.
Small Bits:

Friday Food Links for October 2, 2015

  • The US doesn’t have enough of the vegetables we are supposed to eat, according to a new data from the USDA. “Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes,” writes Traci McMillan. “Lettuce came in third as the most available vegetable…And while the USDA’s own dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, the agency’s researchers found that only 1.7 cups per person are available.” Marion Nestle tells McMillan that misdirected commodity programs and price effects have a lot to do with this schism. “We have a serious disconnect between agriculture and health policy in our country.”
  • Is Millet the Next Supergrain? “While millet is grown and consumed in vast quantities in places like Africa, India, and parts of Europe, the ancient grain is much less popular here. In fact, it is mostly marketed for bird seed rather than for human consumption.” Civil Eats describes how two UC Berkeley researchers — one in science, one in business school — came together recently to launch the Millet Project. Supported with a seed grant from the Berkeley Food Institute, the project is aimed at “rediscovering the traditions of cultivating millets and further reintroducing them into our diet.”
  • Building, Defending, and Strengthening Agroecology is a new multimedia publication that looks at agroecology from a social movement perspective. As grassroots movements from Mali to Minnesota continue to press for reforms to undemocratic food systems, they are looking to agroecology and food sovereignty as twin pillars of workable and just solution. This joint project of the AgriCultures network and Coventry University offers an unconventional spoken, written, and visual ‘view’.
  • Eat: The Story of Food. A six-part series that premiered last year on the National Geographic Channel, Eat combines high-gloss production quality, more than 70 talking heads, and archival footage to create something that is part pedagogy, part food spectacle. The first episode, Food Revolutionaries, examines contributions made by Julia Child, Christopher Columbus, Auguste Escoffier, chef Hector Boiardi and others in changing food history. Later episodes investigate meat (“Carnivores”), sweets (“Sugar Rushes”), seafood (“Hooked on Seafood”), and grains (“Baked & Buzzed”). While folks will rightly note some editorial exclusions (the Revolutionaries are mostly white and European), the series is worth checking out. My favorite is “Guilty Pleasures,” which documents the post-war rise of processed food: from mass spectrometry that enabled reverse engineering of flavor to US interstates that spurred the drive-thru restaurant; from microwave ovens that ‘set women free’ to Betty Crocker boxed mixes that urged them back to the kitchen, at least to crack an egg. The fierce competition for “stomach share” — just watch how a Dorito gets crunch-tested — has never looked so savory.
  • Bitter is of the five basic tastes, along with salty, sweet, sour, and umami. But it is also much-maligned and misunderstood. In this episode of Gastropod, we learn about the evolutionary history of bitter-sensitive genes, how bitterness persists in culture and cuisine, and why breeding for continually sweeter crops may not be such a healthy — or delicious — idea.
  • McDonald’s reveals its first organic hamburger. Called the “McB,” the new burger features beef sourced from organic farms in Germany and Austria and will be available in German restaurants on October 1. The move is part of the company’s effort to attract younger eaters rapidly defecting to fast casual chains like Chipotle, and is part of a larger campaign, announced earlier this year, to transition to “sustainable” beef by 2016. While the Golden Arches going organic could have tremendous supply chain implications, heightened attention to the wholesome goodness of this new patty — see this German PR video — also has the ironic effect of raising the question: “What’s in the rest of its burgers?”

From the Academic Desk:

Friday Food Links for August 21, 2015

  • Farming had an earlier start than we previously knew, says a new study from Harvard and Tel Aviv University. It may have originated 23,000 years ago, thousands of years before the 10-12,000 b.p. date commonly understood as agriculture’s start. Researchers are basing their findings on the discovery of large number of seeds at an ancient burial site in Israel. Many of the seeds had scars — the mark that distinguishes cultivated seed, they say, from wild forms.
  • Agroecology is a tool for liberation in El Salvador, says Miguel Ramirez, National Coordinator of the country’s Organic Agriculture Movement. In this interview, Ramirez relates some of the triumphs of the movement, as well as persistent challenges, including strong state-agribusiness ties across the region, and an entrenched orthodoxy at the national university: “The faculty, wittingly and unwittingly, defends agrotoxic agriculture, and they continue to educate professionals who follow that line.”
  • In 2014, Nicholas Blechman’s Extra-Virgin Suicide graphic shed light on the high-stakes adulteration of Italian olive oils. Now the artist is back at it, with a NY Times infographic whose 14 colorful panels animate the supply chain intricacies of San Marzano tomatoes. What makes these designs notable, says New School Professor Fabio Parasecoli, is how Blechman “has chosen to delve into details to which the American Public usually does not give much thought.”  Things like World Trade Organization standards for country-of-origin. Or how a Marzano tomato can be tracked globally through ID numbers, seals, labels, and the basic rule of thumb that they are “never sold crushed, diced, or pulped.”
  • The Corn Wars is a crazy tale of geopolitics, food security, and high-stakes proprietary seeds. As Chinese executives roam corn fields in Iowa and Illinois pilfering high-yielding GMO hybrids, the US Department of Justice is treating the seed heists as a national security threat. Snatching seed is as old as corn agriculture, the author points out. But with plans by Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer to secure a Chinese corn market stumbling on the emergence of China’s own gene giants, the modern tale puts an ironic spin on things. It’s the US seed companies that have been aggressively lobbying China to “Americanize”  its agriculture: promoting land consolidation, GMO seed, and subsidies for fertilizers and harvesting equipment. Meanwhile, the DOJ can’t do much about China’s biotech savvy, but it can crack down on agri-food trade secrets with a severity normally reserved for weapons intelligence — heightening the “unsettling conflation of the interests of large corporations with that of the country itself.”
Short links:

From the academic presses:

Friday Food Links for August 7, 2015

For summer time, a set of food links that is not all ‘news,’ but worth reading or revisiting.

  • Boston Public Market, the “first year-round, sustainable market in the United States” houses more than 35 New England farmers, fishermen, and food producers. One distinctive feature of the market, which opened on July 30, is its commitment to educating customers on nutrition, sustainability, and food preparation. In a space called “The Kitchen,” cooking classes and demonstrations will be offered, alongside free lunchtime Q&A sessions with vendors, film screenings, and community events.
  • Farming for flowers is a side of agriculture we don’t often hear about. But horticulture for “ornamentals” relies on the same key ingredients — land, labor, seed — as farming for food. In 2011, the Smithsonian Magazine reported on Colombian flower agriculture, where cheap labor and sunshine contributes to $1billion in annual exports, dominating the US market.
  • China molds a modern supercity around Beijing – As de-agrarianization policies press millions of farmers to leave the land, China’s cities have swelled to immense scales. Now, a plan to knit several cities together will create a megalopolis roughly the size of New England. The obvious question: How do you feed a city of 130 million people? When urban eaters soar amidst rural demographic decay, the answers tend to be something not so palatable: a combination of large-scale industrial agriculture and cheap, imported food.
  • Food: An Atlas, published in 2013, is a collection of crowdsourced maps that examine themes of food production, distribution, security, and identity. Led by UC Berkeley professor Darin Jensen, the “guerrilla cartography” project includes “drowning in fast food” in Los Angeles, a visualization of the global almond trade, and a graphical exploration into how Okinawan food security might be undermined by the US-Japan national security agenda. The full Atlas is downloadable here.
  • Free Trade and the Kimchi Wars – With China pledging to overturn previous allowances for South Korean kimchi exports, the ruling could pave the way for a boom in fermented cabbage exports from China. Neither nation is part of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership, but the episode over kimchi — “a source of deep culinary and cultural pride in South Korea” — shows the turbulent economic tides rippling across Asia, as China pursues a string of bilateral free trade pacts.
  • An alternative vision for food sustainability is visible in South Korea on the Food Sovereignty tours (upcoming in 2015 and 2016 are tours to Hawaii, Basque Country (Spain), Chiapas (Mexico), Cuba, Oaxaca (Mexico) and Piedmont (Italy)). Travelers will see first-hand the impacts of US food aid, trade liberalization since the 1980s, and weakening of the country’s ability to provision itself. They’ll also see the flipside: emerging movements to build organic agriculture cooperatives, organize against Korea free trade pacts (see above), and begin regaining control of Korean sovereignty.
  • Scientists Make The Case For A 6th Taste – “They call it “oleogustus,” or the taste for fat. According to scientist Rick Mattes, however, it’s far from delicious. Found in rancid food, it may have evolved as a warning for eaters to avoid things gone rotten. And food companies are more than savvy to the fact, doing their best to keep down oleogustus-producing fatty acids to undetectable levels.
  • Sound is the forgotten flavor sense,” says experimental psychologist Charles Spence. In this episode of Gastropod, listeners learn how manipulating sound can transform the experience of food and drink, “making stale crisps taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey.”
  • A “slow fuse” piece on GMOs begins not with golden rice or Roundup Ready corn, but with Rachel Carson and DDT. As anthropologist Glenn Stone’s story unfolds, we find troubling parallels between wartime pesticide and engineered seed. Scientific consensus was that DDT was “safe” — and not until 2007 were its carcinogenic effects exposed. The piece is a brilliant look at the scale of safety, or as Tim Wise put it, “There is truly no way to know the health effects in such a historically short time span with such a broad and differentiated set of exposures.” It’s also a look at the risks of hubris in science, where technology lands beyond the scrutiny of scientific methods, and the necessary studies are deligitimized, or remain simply undone.

From the academic press:

  • A study of maize farms across the Northern Great Plains affirms the importance of diverse agroecosystems. Increased species diversity, community evenness, and markers of healthy biological networks (linkage strength and centrality) all correlated with significantly reduced pest populations.

Photo of the week:

Friday Food Links for May 15, 2015

  • The U.S. Senate Advances Fast TrackOn Tuesday, progressives cheered when it looked like Senate Democrats had put a roadblock in passage of fast-track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership. But Thursday, a new turn of events: Never ones to let terrible ideas die, a coalition of pro-trade Dems split the vote on a currency bill, allowing fast-track to go through. According to NPR, Senate leaders were “all smiles” after breaking the 24-hour impasse. The very curious thing about their glee? The documents have been kept so secret, that few Senators even know what they are voting for, or against: “I bet that none of my colleagues have read the entire document. I would bet that most of them haven’t even spent a couple hours looking at it,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has acknowledged he has yet to read every single page of the trade agreement. That secrecy is one of 10 Confabulations of TPP  Salon has put together, alongside job creation, the shellgame of changing law (corporate lawsuits will have no effect?), and “stopping China.”
  • Fast-Food Workers Deserve a Raise – In his latest budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed raising the New York State minimum wage to $11.50 in NYC and $10.50 elsewhere. The legislature rejected that proposal, so last week he announced, “I am taking action” — impaneling a Wage Board to recommend what adequate pay for fast-food workers should be. In a letter to the editor, NRA President Dawn Sweeney responds, “His decision to bypass the legislative process through a self-appointed commission that will review wages without representation from anyone within the restaurant industry will lead to the elimination of many of these jobs. Worse, he will kill opportunity.” But, according to the Berkeley Labor Center, “job elimination” is mostly a trope, unsubstantiated by reams of good research. (See: Why Raise the Minimum Wage?)
  • How Drought Is Impacting California’s Black Families – Until at least the 1960s, black households and family farmers who lived across California’s arid, agricultural midsection were prevented by racial discrimination from gaining capital and connectivity to schools, roads, sewers, and other basic infrastructure. Today they’ve been hit with a doubly whammy: “disappearing well water and large corporate farms that can afford to siphon out what little underground water remains.”
  • Are All Sweet Potatoes Transgenic? – Researchers have found that all cultivated sweetpotatoes are “naturally transgenic” because they contain transfer DNA (T-DNA) sequences from Agrobacterium.  Gene-transfer via Agrobacterium is a naturally occurring process, harnessed by scientists to create genetically modified crops in the lab.
  • Soil Erosion Linked to Food Security Risk – “Ever since humans developed agriculture, we’ve been transforming the planet and throwing the soil’s nutrient cycle out of balance,” said the paper’s lead author, Ronald Amundson, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley. “Because the changes happen slowly, often taking two to three generations to be noticed, people are not cognizant of the geological transformation taking place.”
  • Alot to Ingest at the Milan Food Expo – Marion Nestle takes snapshots at the 2015 Milan Food Expo, noting “this one is beyond enormous. It seems to have everything.” At the Coca-Cola Pavilion, she registers for a personalized data chip and marvels at the company’s curated commitment to the environment and physical activity (“Hello Marion, let’s talk about sustainability”).
  • “GMO’s Cancel Our Extraordinary Diversity” –  Also participating in Milan, the Colditierri Company runs an anti-GMO marketing campaign seldom seen stateside:  “What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy. Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity. Because they suffocate many to reward one. Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it. Because food certainties belong to ‘free research.’ “
  • How Seed Suppliers Pick their Fields –  Ever wonder how and where seed companies decide to grow their seeds? In upstate Washington, a prime spot for cabbage and lettuce, the process is still governed by brass and thumbtacks. In a biannual “pinning day” competitive seedsmen briefly cooperate, spacing parcels well enough apart so as not to cross-pollinate, and rotating to fend off disease. (Ownership of the land is unclear).
  • Southern Sustainability in Focus – This episode of Victory Garden’s Edible Feast on PBS takes us to Charlotte, North Carolina, a hotbed for mushroom hunters, farming for social justice, and great eating with local foods.
  • Italian Olives Under Threat – “The NY Times is the latest media outlet to freak out about Italian olives. There’s quite a lot to freak out about. Xylella fastidiosa, the bacterium that is believed to have caused serious damage to perhaps a million trees in Puglia, Italy’s heel, can be spread widely by insects and attacks a wide range of hosts, including citrus and grapevines, where it causes Pierce’s disease.”
  • Monsanto Bets $45 Billion on a Pesticide Soaked Future –  “On Friday, Syngenta’s board rejected a $45 billion takeover bid. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Tuesday afternoon, Syngenta’s share price was holding steady at a level about 20 percent higher than it was before Monsanto’s bid—an indication that investors consider an eventual deal quite possible.”

Friday Food Links May 1, 2015


  • You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees – “Save the Bees!” is a common refrain these days, but it’s not honeybees we should be worried about. There are some 3,999 other bee species rapidly going the way of the dodo. Pesticide-coated seeds, we’ve just learned, are a likely cause. More broadly, however, monoculture farms, lawns, and parking lots squash the ecological complexity —  floral resources, nesting grounds, chemical-free flyways — that bees need in order to eat, reproduce, and live.
  • Native Pollinator Meadows to Open at UNCA – Doing its part to protect wild pollinators, UNC Asheville is planting several new native pollinator meadows throughout the campus. The project will support both public education and research on bee behavior and plant responses. Later this year, UNCA will host a workshop for other colleges and institutions to begin brainstorming their own pollinator-friendly campuses.
  • What Does Urban Farming Really Yield? – Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Royte has covered bottled water mania and the life of modern trash. Here, she goes on the trail of urban agriculture to find out what it can produce. The answer, surprising to many, is a lot of food — yet also a lot more than food.
  • Who Are the New Farmers? – In the first of a two-part series on minority farmers in Western North Carolina, the Mountain Xpress profiles women breaking the demographic mold, and black farmers overcoming slavery’s sting to turn discarded parcels into edible “peace gardens”.
  • Pesticide Plants Bridge Tradition Knowledge and Lab Science  – Researchers in Tanzania, such as Angela Mikindi, are building on traditional botanical knowledge to fend off crop pests and reduce farm-level food loss. Extracting pesticidal powders from four local plants, Mikindi is applying her powders to cowpeas, a popular legume in East Africa vulnerable to insect infestation. Prior research has shown success in the lab, so she’s taking that research to the live farm, trying to replicate the way local farmers grow and store their beans.
  • Saying ‘No’ to MonsantoOn Tuesday, more than 30,000 doctors and health professionals in Argentina became the latest to voice their opposition to Monsanto, asking the federal government to ban its products after recent studies found they may contain carcinogens. They are joining a wider campaign including doctors, scientists and environmentalists across Latin America, where some 50 million hectares of genetically modified soy crops are sown each year, made possible by ~600 million liters of glyphosate.
  • A Seasonal Produce Guide – The La Times has a nifty interactive guide to choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s for Southern CA only, but still worth a look.
  • Why the TPP is Bad for Food and Farming – This new interactive website, by IATP and Arc 2020, details how the Trans-Pacific Partnership will likely affect the agriculture and food system. From public procurement (eg. “farm to school”) to food safety to intellectual property, so much is at stake and yet so little is known. Let’s make ‘fast track’ and ‘state-investor provisions’ a lingua franca – read up, learn, and share.
  • Chipotle Goes GMO-Free, Sort Of – Chipotle, the reigning king of fast-casual, announced this week that it has removed all genetically modified organisms from its menu. While many applaud the move, a closer look at the ingredients Chipotle left untouched or swapped in – salt, herbicide-tolerant sunflower oil, meat raised on GM feed – raises doubts about the companies motives. Oh, and soda doesn’t count either.

Friday Food Links for April 10, 2015

  • Raíces en Asfalto – “City and countryside have kept profound links throughout history, so they cannot be understood separately. The book Raíces en el Asfalto (Roots in Concrete) follows this theme, tracking the urban theories and the main historical episodes in which social movements and local communities have grown food in the city.”
  • Are Almonds Nuts in California? – The Splendid Table talks to Tom Philpott about the lunacy of California almonds. Despite their thirsty nature (more total water than any other crop), and despite the state’s deepening drought, 48,000more acres were sown with almond last year.
  • Navajo Nation Taxes Junk Food –  Native Americans in the US suffer diabetes and obesity at several times the national average. This month, the Navajo Nation did something that no other tribe has successfully done: tax junk food and soda.
  • Photogenic Plant Pests – In an effort to call attention to plant pests — from sawflies to pine beetles to diamondback moths — the International Plant Protection Convention sponsors a photo contest.
  • The World’s Most Lucrative Crops – An infographic sizes up the world’s most planted, most planted, most fecund, and most revenue-generating crops in the world. (Hint: not all are for eating).
  • Going Wild to Protect Potatoes – Researchers find a gene for potato blight resistance in Solanum microdontum, a wild relative of the domesticated tuber native to Brazil and Argentina.
  • Superior Red Wigglers – Indian researchers breed a new worm species “Jai Gopal” (Perionyx ceylanesis). Described as a “voracious feeder” with superior vermicastings, it’s being marketed as bioreactor to multiply beneficial soil micro-organisms.
  • McDonald’s Turns ‘Progressive’ – With the Golden Arches losing ground to competitors like Shake Shack and Chipotle, the company’s moves on wages and antibiotics seem less about transformation than catch-up.
  • Seed Laws Criminalize Farmers – ‘A new booklet and poster from La Via Campesina and GRAIN documents how big business and governments are moving to stop farmers from saving and exchanging their seeds, and shows how farmers are fighting back.’
  • The Biggest Source of Plastic Trash You’ve Never Heard Of  – Elizabeth Grossman navigates the acres of sheeting, the miles of twine, the tapes, trays, films and pipes of modern agriculture (chemical and organic alike). It adds up to billions of pounds of plastic each year. What can we do to reduce the impact?
  • Woman in Mangoes – A worker walks amongst piles of fruit at a market in the outskirts of Hyderabad. Amazing.

Friday Food Links for March 20, 2015

  • A Timeless Intervention – In an interview with the Splendid Table, UCB’s own Liz Carlisle dishes on the biological and social movements of the Lentil Underground.
  • Ancient Grains are New Again – modern wheat is but one species in a large genus of wheats, including einkorn, spelt, and emmer. Other so-called ancient grains include quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and triticale. In the US, foodies and high-end chefs are waking up to what farmers have long known: that diversity is quite delicious.
  • What Have We Done to the Chicken? – As American obsession with white meat shows no signs of abating, recent studies chronicle changes to the bird we call chicken. In just 60 years, broilers that weighed just over 900 grams (~2 pounds) now weigh more than 9 pounds. The graphics in this blog illustrate why graphics, while often superfluous and distracting, are occasionally awesome.
  • No Scrubs –  As with chickens and eggs, science transformed the American cow into a meat and milk machine. Nicola Twilley and team reconstruct the history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied the breeding revolution. “Something extremely bizarre took place in the early decades of the twentieth century, inspired by a confluence of trends,” writes Twilley. “Scientists had recently developed a deeper understanding of genetics and inherited traits; at the same time, the very first eugenics policies were being enacted in the United States. And, as the population grew, the public wanted cheaper meat and milk. As a result, in the 1920s, the USDA encouraged rural communities around the U.S. to put bulls on the witness stand—to hold a legal trial, complete with lawyers and witnesses and a watching public—to determine whether the bull was fit to breed.”
  • Secrets of Food Porn – the Times divulges how their food photographers create allure and delight in megapixel form. The question is: can images help make unjust food ugly, ugly fruit normal, and normal more like agroecology?
  • Keep it In the GroundOn Monday, the Guardian newspaper joined in a targeted divestment campaign. They are urging the world’s two biggest charitable trusts – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust – to pull their moneys out of fossil fuels.
  • What Does “Hidden Hunger” Look Like? – In Stuttgart, experts convene to discuss “hidden hunger,” deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, iron, zinc and calcium, required in small amounts for proper growth and development. Diversity, it turns out, is a good antidote.
  • Pain from the (Surplus) Grain – “Record corn production with no increase in demand – as well as a leveling off market for ethanol – have led to the lowest prices in six years: $3.80 a bushel, down from an all time high of $8.49 a bushel in August 2012.” As NPR reports, the impact of crashing corn prices ripples widely: on farms, at the tractor companies, and in small town beer and burger joints alike.
  • Why You Should Stop Eating Three Squares – Breakfast, lunch, and dinner – spread evenly throughout the day – is the mantra of many a health guru. But, argues Kiera Butler, “Dogmatic adherence to mealtimes is anti-science, racist, and might actually be making you sick.”
  • The Slow Death of Home Cooking? – Despite the surging popularity of cooking blogs, cooking specialty stores, and food TV, the percentage of meals actually cooked at home continues a long, steady slump. For women and men alike, across socioeconomic strata, the trends in kitchen time are moving in the same direction, making the US the country where people spend less time cooking each day than any other developed nation.

Friday Food Links for February 27, 2015

  • What’s Motivating Hayes? – A new mini-documentary, part of the New Yorker pilot series “The New Yorker Presents”, tells the story of how UC Berkeley biologist (and affiliated MVZ faculty member) Tyrone Hayes became the target of agribusiness giant Syngenta. (Direct link to view the video. The Hayes section starts at 12:30 minutes in.)
  • Why Are There Still So Many Hungry? – Hilal Elver, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, undercuts the production thesis. “Poverty and hunger prevail because of economics, not scarcity.”
  • Farming in a National Park – Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio pilots a novel program for integrating agriculture into nature conservation. In May, it will announce the latest call for applications in a program that awards 60-year leases to farm on park land.
  • Bet the City or the Farm? – Tensions flare along the Mississippi River, as the Army Corps of Engineers considers whether to cordon off high-value farms from an important floodplain — potentially putting nearby towns at risk.
  • Big-Box Superstores Help Supersize People– “A group of economists argues in a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that the prevalence of restaurants and big-box grocers and warehouse clubs contributes mightily to weight gain.”
  • Campesino-a-Campesino – As part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, Food First dips into its archive of seminal works. In this 2006 essay, Eric Holt-Giménez discusses the decentralized farmer-to-farmer method that transformed agricultural learning and practice in Latin America. He also asks: “If sustainable agriculture is so great, why aren’t all campesinos doing it?”
  • Behind New Dietary Guidelines, Better Science – For decades, we’ve been told to limit our salt intake, curb high-cholesterol foods, and pay attention to the percentage of calories we consume as fat. But many of these guidelines were based on epidemiological studies, as opposed to randomized control trials, which can establish causality. Things are now changing, says Dr. Aaron Carroll, and for the better.
  • Putting a Price on Food Waste – A new report compiled by the UK anti-waste organization WRAP estimates that about 60 million metric tons of food is wasted a year in the US, with an estimated value of $162 billion. Worldwide, the total costs of food waste could run as high as $400 billion per year. Though this write-up leaves to one’s imagination how the expenses were tallied (costs of foregone sales? in which markets? at what link in the food supply chain?) and how direct or indirect savings might be (savings from shrunken municipal waste management systems? from reduced climate change damage to cities, farms, people?), it suggests that policymakers will react to 12-digit figures.  Of course, as George Naylor would remind us, food today is generally so cheap that “worrying about food waste becomes an inconvenience.” It is not too difficult to imagine, either, that wasted food keeps demand artificially high — and may be preferred by those with a supply to sell.

Friday Food Links for February 20, 2015

  • Seed Libraries Fight for the Right to Share – Seed libraries, a type of protected commons for sharing diverse, unpatented seed varieties, are sprouting up across the US. From Richmond to Boston to Omaha, communities hope that this borrow-return model will expand biodiversity and food access. But, as Christopher Cox reports, state officials see trouble in unregulated seed, and are already cracking down. Several states are now applying laws meant for large commercial seed producers to small, citizen-run seed libraries. In response, the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) is spearheading a national  campaign called Save Seed Sharing to research and publish analyses of 50 state seed laws, and pressure policymakers to “create clear legal space for seed libraries and seed sharing.” You can sign their Save Seed Sharing petition.
  • Got Farmland? China is buying According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Chinese nationals owned $81 million worth of U.S. farmland in 2011. A year later, that number jumped to $900 million. Another Chinese company then bought Smithfield Foods—a Virginia-based company that processes 32 million pigs a year.” The CIR investigates the country’s aggressive push for foreign pork.
  • From Rice Fields to McMansions – “In the Dianshan Lake region, less than 40 miles west of central Shanghai, the appetite for speculative real estate has driven developers into China’s most fertile land, the Yangtze Delta.”
  • A CGIAR Reality TV Show – Shamba Shape-Up, a Kenyan reality television show that works with CCAFS and other partners, is working “to spread information on low-cost, climate-conscious solutions for small-scale farmers.”
  • South Africa Cracks Down on Foreign Landholding – “Foreigners will be barred from owning land in South Africa and no individual will be able to own more than 12,000 hectares, the equivalent of two farms, under legislation currently in the works, President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.”
  • Peasants and Rural Workers Claim Rights as Guardians of Mother Earth –  In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council set in motion a process to develop a draft UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. To reinforce the process, La Via Campesina, and numerous other organizations recently submitted a joint declaration to the UN, in support of small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishers, indigenous peoples, and other rural workers.
  • Wage Hike at Wal-Mart – The titan of “everyday low prices” announced on Thursday plans to raise the minimum wage to $9.00/hr in April and $10/hr by next year. Though changesWa will only affect about 40% of the company’s workforce (full-timers already average $12.85), Wal-Mart’s drop-in-the-bucket has the tendency to make waves. The Washington Post reports that profit motives are behind the sparkling move: “It’s getting out ahead of laws that could force it to raise wages anyway — and tamping down a union drive that would cause bigger problems down the road.”
  • The Farm Bill – Bill Gates takes over as guest editor of the Verve for the month of February. In this opening piece, he asks: Can GMOs End Hunger in Africa

Friday Food Links for January 30, 2015

  • A Single Food Agency Again? Really? Yes!On Thursday, Senators Richard Durban and Rosa DeLauro introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would create a single, independent food safety agency. Marion Nestle, amongst others, is excited.
  • Asheville Man Begins Land Partnerships for Urban Farmers – Sunil Patel cultivates six plots of land in North Carolina — yet doesn’t own an acre. Through a CSA-style partnership, Patchwork Urban Farms puts a cooperative twist on share cropping. Landowners allow growers like Patel to use their land in return for a portion of the crops harvested from all plots.
  • A New Wave of Unregulated Biotech Crops – From Simplot potatoes to the loblolly pine, a new generation of GE crops is escaping federal regulation, says Gurian-Sherman. While the USDA claims no oversight authority, a little-known law suggests otherwise.
  • The Urban Underground – “London is one of the biggest cities in the world. But even inside this sprawling metropolis, urban farms are popping up – or down, as the case may be – in the most unlikely of places. A 2.5 acre network of tunnels 33 metres under Clapham in London, originally built as a WWII bomb shelter, is being used to grow salad vegetables for Londoners.”
  • Ocean and Land Grabbing in Africa – Eight organizations from across Europe and Africa convene in Kampala to discuss continuing acquisitions of land and ocean in and around the Sub-Sahara.
  • Why Are the Feds Abusing Research Animals? – Tom Philpott reflects on Michael Moss’s exposé of the US Meat Animals Research Center.
  • Deep Democracy in Action –  As IATP’s latest report, Deepening Food Democracy, illustrates, “for every corporate lobbyist exercising control in Washington, there is a food movement participant changing the food landscape in their local community.”
  • Satellites on Urban Ag – In the first global assessment of urban farms, published the journal Environmental Research Letters (open access), satellite imagery shows 456 million hectares – 1.1 billion acres – cultivated in and around the world’s cities. This area is roughly the size of the European Union.
  • The Great Cage Debate – On New Year’s day, a landmark animal welfare law took effect in California that abolishes close confinement of farm animals in cramped cages and crates. The new regulations also apply to imported chicken and eggs, making California’s move bolder than those by other states’ — and causing a great deal of hand wringing over higher egg prices. A cage measuring 116 square inches isn’t much, but it sure beats previous minimum size requirements of 67 square inches per bird. That’s “just a tad more than a standard iPad,” says Mark Bittman.
  • A Bug in the System – New Yorker contributing writer Wil S. Hylton on why last night’s chicken made you sick.

Friday Food Links for November 14, 2014

  • Opening Keynote: How to Change the Food System and Feed 9 Billion – Mark Bittman’s speech this week at the NYC Food for Tomorrow conference debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the nine billion.”
  • New Exclusive Apple Clubs – An increasing number of new apples are “club apples” —  varieties that are not just patented, but also trademarked and controlled in such a way that only a select “club” of farmers can sell them.
  • Nature News: Rice by the numbers (Infographics) – Millions of people around the world rely on rice as the bulk of their daily diet. This snapshot of the crop’s production, consumption and trade shows an overall surplus, but population growth in future decades may affect the situation.
  • Land & Resource Grabs in the United States: 5 Sites of Struggle and Potential Transformation – In this Food First Policy brief, the authors explore how land intersects with labor, race, finance, water, and climate, mapping historically embedded power relations at each nexus.
  • Forget the Ugly Fruit – A French supermarket introduces lumpy and misshapen fruit and vegetables – sold at a 30% discount – to combat food waste. With marketing slogans such as “A Hideous Orange Makes Beautiful Juice” and “The Failed Lemon: From the Creator of the Lemon,” the campaign has so far been a smashing (or smashed?) success.
  • Meanwhile, in Germany, Culinary Misfits is part of a new trend to utilize the misshapen produce. Three other young Germans have hit international headlines with their campaign Ugly Fruits, which uses suggestive slogans to attract consumers to rejected greens.
  • The Plant Microbiome Revolution – “Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard about the human microbiome. Research into the composition, function, and importance of the galaxy of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that, when we’re healthy, live in symbiotic balance in and on us has become one of the fastest moving and most intriguing fields of scientific study. But it turns out that plants have a microbiome too—and it’s just as important and exciting as ours.”
  • The Coming Antibiotic Crisis – “This 14-minute TED talk by Ramanan Laxminarayan discusses the history, the challenges, and the squandering of antibiotic use, beginning with the story of penicillin.”

Small bits

Friday Food Links for October 31, 2014

  • China’s GMO Stockpile – MIT Technology Review reports: “With its world-leading research investments and vast size, China will dominate the future of genetically modified food—despite the resistance of its population.”
  • Chocolate Candy: What’s in It? (Video) – Chocolate sales and prices are rising, and the variety pack may have the biggest impact this Halloween.
  • Critics of Dow’s 2,4-D Sue U.S. EPA Over Approval – A coalition of U.S. farmer and environmental groups, including the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network,  filed a lawsuit last Wednesday seeking to overturn EPA approval for 2,4-D, the herbicide developed by Dow AgroSciences.
  • The Rise of “Ancient Grains” – Food companies are now marketing “ancient grains” as a wholesome addition to a healthy diet. Watch for “Cheerios + Ancient grains” to appear on grocery store shelves in January.
  • In Ethiopia, Fearing Famine and Farming Teff –  The Perennial Plate team reports back from a trip to Ethiopia, where fear of famine keeps farmers faithful to pesticides and ‘improved seeds’, even while they meld traditional cultivation practices with chemical sprays.
  • Serving Up Fries, for a Living Wage – Hampus Elofsson ends his 40-hour workweek at Burger King, pays his rent and bills, stashes away savings, and still has cash left over for some entertainment. This, says the Times, is because “he earns the equivalent of $20 an hour — the base wage for fast-food workers throughout Denmark and two and a half times what many fast-food workers earn in the United States.”
  • Seeds for Needs: Papua New Guinea – In tribute to the International Year of Family Farming, Bioversity International presents a glossy publication on its ‘Seeds for Needs’ initiative in Papua New Guinea. Using GIS to identify which varieties of sweet potato and taro crops will work well under future climate scenarios, the project aims to introduce ‘climate-ready’ seeds into farmer fields.
  • Good Bread – 99% Invisible — a radio show dedicated to design, architecture, and “the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world” — talks to Aaron Bobrow-Strain about white bread, race, and social fear of food.
  • What Big Dairy Is Doing for Andean Crops – A new study in the journal Ecosystem Services talks ecological governance in a highland Peru, where small farms face the dual challenges of globalization and climate change.
  • The Buzz on City Farms – Urban farms and gardens are the best habitat for bees according to the results of the first Great British Bee Count this summer.
  • Plant This Movie – Watch the trailer for “Plant this Movie,” a new documentary film about the urban ag movement, narrated by Darryl Hannah and featuring Miguel Altieri. Come to SERC’s screening on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Friday Food Links for October 10, 2014

  • GMO’s and Risk: An Investor’s View – An impressive new report by the investment management group Portfolio 21 reviews risk – environmental, social, regulatory, reputational, and financial – of genetically modified crops. The report underlines industrialized agriculture as the broader framework in which GMOs must be assessed, as the power of agro-chemical companies, their product development, and markets for GM unfold in mutually reinforcing ways. For developing-country markets, now the principal targets for GM marketing, the introduction of such crops frequently means transition to commodity-based industrial agriculture precisely because the “GM system cannot function in more traditional, smaller-scale and sometimes organic farming.” Props to a report that parses the risks of genetic engineering as a tool from the systemic risks of GM agriculture in its current incarnation.
  • For Climate Resilient Crops, Look to Conventional Plant Breeding  – When it comes to complex traits such as drought tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency, genetic engineering lags far behind conventional crop breeding approaches, according to a recent Nature news piece. But, says Doug Gurian-Sherman, conventional breeding is also no panacea. It must be coupled with organic and agroecological farming systems, and include meaningful participation from farmers – who after all, were the original crop breeders.
  • Wal-Mart Launches Food Sustainability Initiative – On Monday, Wal-Mart Stores introduced a new commitment to food sustainability, saying the effort would contribute to lowering the “true cost” of food while improving access to healthy food and increasing supply chain transparency. A quick scan of company plans suggests that increasing yields, cutting farm costs, and rolling out a “Climate Smart Agriculture Platform” will be key strategies towards achieving everyday-low-price sustainability.
  • Debt, Drought, and Rice Farming – Household debt is at a record high in Thailand, exports are flat, and dam-holdings suggest an impending water crisis. “For the country’s millions of rice farmers, many of whom supported the government that the military overthrew, debt and water shortage are a one-two punch.”
  • Unraveling the Great Chinese Corn Seed Spy Ring – Al Jazeera reports an uncanny story of hybrid corn seeds, Chinese espionage, and the big Gene Giants: “As China and the U.S. wrangle over cyber espionage, an old-school spy ring was allegedly at work in Iowa’s cornfields.”
  • Women Have Long Ruled the Southern Roost” – Marcie Cohen Ferris, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, looks at Southern food from a women’s history perspective.
  • America Farm to Table – Mario Batali joins a growing number of chefs in the farm-to-table movement with a simple message: To make more delicious food at home, ‘celebrate a local farmer.’
  • A Food Mecca for Holland – Shaped like a giant horseshoe in the sky, the ‘Markthal’, Rotterdam’s newest architectural feat, combines apartments, urban farming, and a soccer-field-sized food court into one ambitious ‘foodwalhalla vor Netherlands’ (‘food mecca for the Netherlands’).
  • Tossed Out: A Special Report on Food Waste in America – From school lunch lines to grocery stores aisles, farm fields to processors, “Tossed Out” examines the mounting problem of food waste in the US food system. The week-long series of radio programs, by Harvest Public Media, aired in September, and now the full TV program is available online.
  • Picturing a Cornucopia of Waste – Vowing to eat only food waste as he cycled from Madison, Wisconsin to New York City, activist Rob Greenfield discovered just how much there is to eat in the modern dumpster.  At each major city, he sponsored “fiascoes” – finding local volunteers to dumpster-dive and then photograph the results.
  • Tell President Obama to Hold the Line on 2,4-D Crops – Dow’s new package of pesticides + pesticide-resistant corn and soybeans is sparking concern from farmers, scientists, health professionals, and the public at large. The Pesticide Action Network has created an online petition to urge Obama to block approval of “Enlist” seeds before they enter the market.
  • Engineered Crops in “Natural” Foods? – A new Consumer Reports’ review of breakfast cereals, chips, infant formula, and other popular products finds that genetically modified ingredients exist in many items labeled “natural.” While there are good debates to be had over “natural” (is agricultural natural?), what is less debatable is the attempt by food manufacturers to obscure their controversial components.

Friday Food Links for September 19, 2014

  • Food Forward, a 13-episode series examining our food system, makes its debut on PBS. In this interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Emeryville filmmaker Greg Roden speaks about the new series, whose mission is to “highlight the agricultural activists who are working to restore a rural food economy.” See profiles of the “food rebels” here.
  • The Anti-GMO Ear – For nearly 15 years, breeder Frank Kufka has been working on a variety of organic corn that can’t cross-pollinate with genetically modified seeds.
  • Hand Harvested Crops haven’t gone entirely the way of the dodo. From saffron to palm oil, these five cash cultivars still resist mechanization.
  • An Alpine Township Considers Banning Pesticides – In a referendum currently before the 5,088 residents of the Italian township of Mals: Should agricultural pesticides be banned to protect the health of the residents, the surrounding ecosystem and the integrity of the township’s historical agricultural practices?
  • Sugar Substitutes Are Linked to Obesity – In a study just published in Nature, researcher find that artificial sweeteners change the human gut microbiome, potentially leading to obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
  • The Lely Vector feed robot, writes K. McDonald of Big Picture Agriculture would “obviously…offer much more freedom to the livestock farmer since feeding is an around the clock job.”
  • In Search of the Perfect Taco – René Redzepi, godfather of New Nordic haute cuisine has fallen “truly, madly, deeply in love with Mexico.”

Friday Food Links for August 1, 2014

  • Harvest of Controversy – “Decisions on genetically modified crops cannot be left to experts;” writes Shiv Visvanathan, “technicalities need to be supplemented by answers to people’s anxieties.” An essay in The Hindu outlines the nature of the GM debate in India, calling for inclusion of dissenting science, iterative debate and analysis, and deep civic participation.
  • A Ride In the Country – “Over the course of eight weeks, Ben Towill, the co-owner of the Fat Radish, and the photographer Patrick Dougherty are biking 4,500 miles across the U.S. to talk to strangers about food.” Each week, they’re filing dispatches for the New York Times about their discoveries in sustainable growing and eating. Proceeds will go to NYC’s Just Food.
  • Need soil info? There’s an app for that! (via agrobiodiversity blog)
  • Fast Food Seeks Virtuous Side – Pushing Chipotle’s “food with integrity” mantra a notch further, several rapidly growing regional chains around the country — including Tender Greens, LYFE Kitchen, SweetGreen and Native Foods — “offer enticements like grass-fed beef, organic produce, sustainable seafood and menus that change with the season.”
  • Herbicide linked to birth defects – the Vitamin A Connection, by Jeff Ritterman, VP of the board of directors of the SF Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
  • Hipsters Get Defensive Over Almond Milk  – Tom Philpott’s jab at almond milk – the hottest milk replacement on the market – turned a prosaic blogpost into his most-read piece ever at Mother Jones.
  • White House announces a $10 billion Rural Investment Fund – “’We’re the of infrastructure and business investment,’ the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, said, referring to the online dating service.”
  • From the Academic Archive: S. Ryan Isakson. “No Hay Ganancia en la Milpa: The Agrarian Question, Food Sovereignty, and the On-Farm Conservation of Agricultural Biodiversity in the Guatemalan Highlands.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 36(4): 725-759. // Awarded the 2009 – 2010 Krishna Bharadwaj and Eric Wolf Prize for outstanding article by a young scholar //

Friday Food Links for July 18, 2014

  • What Does it Take to Attract Pollinators? – The loss of natural pollinators in central Mexico reflects “a larger, ecosystems breakdown that began in the late 1960s with the Green Revolution,” says Holt-Giménez. But this year, using Campesino-a-Campesino methodology, over 150 farming families will improve their yields, strengthen ecosystem resiliency and restore pollinator habitat on more than 300 acres of farmland in dozens of Mexican watersheds.
  • The Rube Goldberg of Rice – Can a low-powered way to hull rice push the limits of small-scale grain farming in the US? The New Yorker reports on movements to tackle the processing challenge.
  • Making the Gene Switch – At Texas A&M, one plant breeder for Bayer Crop Science shifts from introducing transgenes into crop varieties to keeping GM traits out of organic cotton. Is she a rare seed, or the start of a cultural change?
  • A Sweet Contradiction – Kara Walker’s giant sugar sculpture provokes questions about contemporary US food culture, labor at sugar refineries, and the early days of agro-industry on colonial cane plantations.

Creative Time

  • Prepping for the 10th Anniversary of the “Right to Food” – Social movements and civil society organizations representing pastoralists, small-holder producers, indigenous communities, rural women and other constituencies from all regions in the world participated in a “CSO” consultation meeting on 7-8 July 2014 in Rome.
  • We Are Our Bacteria – In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Martin J. Blaser of the NYU School of Medicine “links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions, from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity.” Blaser is also director of the Human Microbiome Program.
  • Fishing In South India’s Troubled Waters – “Selvaprakash Lakshmanan thought he had embarked on a human rights project when he visited coastal communities in South India, where traditional Indian fishermen had clashed with the Sri Lankan Navy. Hundreds of fishermen had been killed in the contested waters of the narrow straits separating the two nations. Thousands more had been attacked, and scores were missing.” What Lakshmanan soon discovered, in making “Life in Troubled Waters,” was a tangled web of industrial development, soil erosion, fishing rights, nuclear power, and caste systems, where “each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

Friday Food Links for July 4, 2014

  • Turning Corn, Wheat, and Rice Into Nitrogen Fixers? – some crops, like soybeans, alfalfa, and peas, are wedded to nitrogen-fixing bacteria in symbiotic relationships. Researchers in Amsterdam are now trying to coax the big 3 into partnership with microbes, eliminating the need for fertilizer.Networking Agroecological Knowledge – At a walking workshop in Bhutan, 25 indigenous mountain communities from ten countries form a new international network to fend against the impacts of climate change on food and farming systems.
  • Finally, Nature News reports that the Mexican scientific community has been torn in two over GM Maize. Some commentary this week, courtesy of Timothy Wise, director of the Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute: “Yet another ‘split’ in the scientific community, like the one over climate change. Really? Where is there actually scientific disagreement? Over whether contamination would take place? No, that is well documented. Over whether centers of origin should be free of GM maize? No, the law is quite clear and science-based there. There is no consensus about the impacts on human health, and Mexico would be the grandest experiment to date in the massive direct human consumption of GM maize. And also what the impacts would be on a center of origin when (not if) contamination happens. Another grand experiment. So really the only split is over the precautionary principle, on which the current injunction is based. It’s just ‘first do no harm’ versus ‘first let private companies make a profit.’ Some scientific schism!”
  • See Wise’s pieces on the Mexico debate for further background:

Friday Food Links for June 20, 2014

  • Soil to Sky contrasts industrial farming to agroecology in a poster-sized infographic.
  • Whitewashed, says Marion Nestle, is Michele Simon’s latest greatest food sleuthing, this time about US government promotion of dairy foods, “no matter what kind or where they appear.”
  • Let them Eat Flies? goes behind the scenes at a “bug farm” in Ohio, where an entrepreneurial engineer experiments with cultivating flies to turn food waste into fish feed.
  • DRYLAND is the latest episode in the Greenhorn’s OUR LAND series, each designed to address a key systemic failure in the agri-food economy.
  • Farmers and attorneys can make for good companions, says Rachel Armstrong, founder of a law firm whose mission is to help small and mid-sized farmers navigate the legal system.

Friday Food Links for May 31, 2013

Friday Food Links for May 24, 2013

Credit: The Independent

  • Fighting Austerity through Collective Farming– In the small Spanish town of Marinaleda, some innovative villagers have found an agrarian solution to the country’s 27% unemployment rate. Giving every villager the opportunity to farm a 2500 acre community parcel has chiseled this small town’s unemployment rate down to a remarkable zero. The Collectivist model has offered a unique solution to a serious problem, as well as a reminder to seek out creativity and innovation. (Via the Agrarian Trust).
  • Soaring Food Prices Make Money a Top Concern – High food prices of the past five years have become normal and are now changing people’s priorities, says a study of rural and urban consumers in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Zambia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam. As John Vidal reports, the failure of wages to keep pace with rising costs of food is putting immense strain on families and communities, with increased levels of domestic violence, and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Farm Worker Photos Win Prestigious Prize for UC Journalism Student – In South Africa, UC Berkeley graduate student Molly Oleson put her camera to work capturing images of farming women who were being forced off land their families had lived on and cultivated for generations. In Brazil this summer, helped by the 2013 Dorothea Lange Fellowship, Oleson will venture deep into the Amazon rainforest to bring back the story of the Kayopo indigenous communities’ struggle to protect their land, culture and livelihoods from destruction by what would be, if built, the world’s third-biggest dam.
  • Africa’s Soil Diversity Mapped – A team of international experts has drawn up the Soil Atlas of Africa – the first such book mapping this key natural resource – to help farmers, land managers and policymakers understand the diversity and importance of soil, and the need to manage it through sustainable use.
  • How Michael Pollan Romanticizes Dinner – In an age of when watching cooking, listening to cooking, writing about, reading about, and talking about cooking are more popular than ever, why are more and more Americans fleeing the kitchen? From class power, to the feminist critique, to the privations of big food, Michael Pollan’s new book is stirring sympathies — and deconstructions — from all sides. Tom Philpott reviews the reviews.
  • Food Chain – A soon-to-be released documentary explores the state of labor within US agriculture and the exploitative practices affecting the lives of countless thousands of farm workers. The film stars dozens of farm workers as well as Eva Longoria (Executive Producer), Dolores Huerta, Eric Schlosser, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Barry Estabrook, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
  • 3-D Printable Food? NASA Wants a Taste –  NASA has bestowed a $125,000 grant upon a research corporation to pursue the development of 3D-printable food, according to a report from Quartz. Anjan Contractor, who runs Systems & Materials Research Corporation, hopes to design a system that will turn shelf-stable cartridges of sugars, complex carbs, and protein into edible food on demand.
  • Kitchen Little – “Children are probably more likely to develop healthier eating habits if their parents cook, and there are countless reasons it pays to cook for your kids,” writes Mark Bittman. “Enter ChopChop, a magazine founded in 2010 by the Boston-area food writer Sally Sampson, which bills itself as “The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families,” but is clearly aimed at kids. Last week, ChopChop was named “publication of the year” by the James Beard Foundation. It would have gotten my vote; it glorifies simple food and the ease with which it can be prepared.”
  • Oprah’s New Farm! – The local food movement has a new poster girl. Only her new farm is worlds away — in Maui, Hawaii, near a palatial farmhouse estate of 60 acres. Situated at almost 4,000 feet elevation on the side of Haleakala, a dormant volcano,  Oprah’s organic mecca (photos) was built by company called Bio-Logical Capital, reportedly according to the Rodale Institute’s principles of “regenerative agriculture.”

Friday Food Links for May 10, 2013

AFP Photo / Joe Klamar

  • Europe Bans Bee-Harming Pesticides – On Monday, the European Commission voted to place a two-year moratorium on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a widely used class of chemicals suspected of contributing to a severe global decline in honeybee health. Meanwhile, says Tom Philpott, the US continues spraying as usual, raising questions about the internal logic of EPA’s vetting process.
  • “Unleash the Potential of Yam” – CGIAR hosts the first-ever global conference on yams. The meeting, which will take place in Accra, Ghana later this year, will “explore the recent innovations on yam improvement, share lessons learned, identify R&D needs and develop global alliances to unleash potential of the crop.”
  • A Photo Gallery of Food Safety and Genetic Engineering – “Once upon a time it was assumed that the United States had the safest food supply in the world,” says National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson.  “These bookend stories, Food Safety and Genetically Engineered Foods, examined whether that is still a safe assumption. What we found was both surprising and far outside our expectations.”
  • Nature Celebrates 30 Years of GMOs – “Genetically modified crops generate hype and hatred,” say the editors, “A special section of Nature cuts through the drama.” The feature includes some excellent infographics on changing trends in GMO production worldwide, but its claims to cleave ‘fact’ from fiction (see A Hard Look at GM Crops) is surely a story in itself.
  • Replanting the Rustbelt – Until recently, the US food revolution has seemed to bypass the Rust Belt, which edges around the Great Lakes from Buffalo to Detroit. Now cities in this region — linked by a shared history of industry, a network of defunct canals and decaying railroads, and thousands of acres of farmland — are seeing the emergence of a new cadre of chefs, butchers, farmers, millers, bakers and brewers, all hoping their craft can help bring local landscapes back into balance.
  • Lunch with the Two Michaels – Writer Michael Pollan told the world about Big Corn and is now one of North America’s most well-known voices in food. Reporter Michael Moss delved into the meat industry, and earned a Pulitzer Prize for his harrowing account. In this short video vignette, the two Michaels meet up to explore the grocery store for a home-cooked lunch.
  • Fighting the Foodopoly – Buying local, organic, and fair-trade will only take us so far, says author and food activist Wenonah Hauter. Another great battle for food system reform pulls us out of the check-out line and into the legal system, where strong antitrust laws must be reestablished, and monopoly power broken. “We, the people, must reclaim our democracy,” she writes.

Friday Food Links for April 26, 2013

  • How Mail-Order Chickens Became a Multimillion Venture – Over the last few years, the idea of chickens as pets, occasionally edible, has exploded nationwide. Fueling that growth are rising numbers of urban and sub-urban farmers, and extensive e-commerce dedicated to everything from henhouses to baby chicks.
  • UK Minister Declares Support for Agroecology – This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. Another report dampens the news, underscoring Heath’s vocal support for the ‘sustainable intensification’ model of farming, embracing techniques like GM crops and defending the use of pesticides, particularly neonicitinoids, in the face of claims they are harmful to biodiversity. “Mr. Heath insisted agroecology could co-exist alongside modern, larger, more intensive, technology-driven farming.”
  • Federal Spigot Flows as Farmers Claim Bias – An investigation by the New York Times suggests that the Obama Administration’s efforts to redress a painful legacy of bias against African American farmers has become a “runaway train” driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress, and work by law firms that stand to gain millions of dollars in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, says the Times, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.
  • ‘A Year in the Garden’ in Los Angeles – The Hiebert family decided to capture their first season in their local community garden on film — all in under five minutes. Watch the time-lapse video of LA urban agriculture, set to the music of local artists, Seis Cuerdas.
  • A Brief History of Our Fertilizer Fetish – As investigators and rescuers move through a destroyed fertilizer factory in West, Texas, Tom Philpott pauses to consider just what nitrogen fertilizer is, and why we use so much of it.
  • Reclaiming the Kitchen – Civil Eats Managing Editor Paula Crossfield chats with Michael Pollan about his new book, Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation.
  • Potato Chip Efficiency – This 3-minute video tells the story of the mechanization at Herr’s Chips factory, where machines have taken the place of most of the company’s workers. With such trends cutting across the processed food industry, these displaced workers won’t have an easy time finding replacement jobs — or putting healthy food on the table.  Ironically, when human labor is too expensive for the potato chip, the chip might just become more popular, as one of few foods the unemployed can afford.
  • Dispelling Myths about Specialty Crops – Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy students take a critical look at new legislation, introduced in the House last week, that would remove restrictions on growing fruits and vegetables from farmers who receive federal subsidies.

Friday Food Links for March 15, 2013

 Genetically modified to be enriched with beta-carotene, golden rice grains (left) are a deep yellow. At right, white rice grains.

  • Genetically modified to be enriched with beta-carotene, golden rice grains (left) are a deep yellow. At right, white rice grains.
    Isagani Serrano/International Rice Research Institute. In a Grain of Rice, a World of Controversy over GMO Foods – A mixture of motives — helping people and promoting biotechnology — sits at the heart of the debate over Golden Rice.
  • Hoping to Save Bees, the EU Votes on Pesticide Bans – In a case closely watched on both sides of the Atlantic, European officials plan to vote Friday on a proposal to sharply restrict the use of pesticides that are implicated in the decline of global bee populations. However, the pro-bee legislation may soon hit a snag in the UK, according to the Guardian. Environment secretary Owen Paterson is not expected to support the proposal, despite polls showing almost three-quarters of the UK public wants a ban on neonicotinoids, the agro-chemicals linked to serious harm in bees.
  • Food Costs Threaten Rebound in China – “Diners looking for beef hot pot on a chilly evening in Beijing pay more than their counterparts in Boston, a discrepancy that shows the challenges China faces in reviving growth as inflationary pressures return….Contributing to food production costs are the loss of farmland and farm labor to urbanization — Chinese cities are swelling as they absorb hundreds of millions of people.”
  • Who’s Minding the Movement? – Andy Fisher, co-founder and former executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition, reflects on the leadership vacuum in the food movement, even while it grows at breakneck speed.
  • The Curve of a Chicken McNugget – They come in four carefully designed shapes: “the bell,” “the bone,” “the ball,” and “the boot.” But why? Although McDonald’s makes a joke of the question,  it turns out that several recent studies have demonstrated a significant relationship between the shape of a food item and its taste.
  • Judge Blocks Bloomberg’s Ban on Sugary Drinks – “A judge struck down New York’s limits on large sugary drinks on Monday, one day before they were to take effect, in a significant blow to one of the most ambitious and divisive initiatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure.”
  • Frankenstein’s Cat –  In her new book, Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts, science journalist Emily Anthes talks about how the landscape of bioengineering has expanded since Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996. Scientists, she says, are now working to create pigs that can grow organs for human transplant, goats that produce valuable protein-rich milk, and cockroaches that could potentially serve as drones for the military. From the surprisingly common practice of cloning prize beef cattle to the rapidly growing industry for “Pharm” animals, Anthes illustrates the animal culture at the new frontier of GMOs.
  • Don’t be Afraid of Genetic Modification, by the same author, entreats us to embrace a future of biotech food. The AquaAdvantage fish, genetically re-jiggered to produce growth hormone year round, can grow to size in half the time of a normal Chinook salmon, meaning a faster, cheaper supply of fish protein. “It’s a healthy and relatively cheap food source,” she offers, “that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks.” Currently under review by the FDA, the AquaAdvantage fish would be the first transgenic animal to enter the human food supply. Interesting how ‘fear’ is manipulated here to diminish valid concerns about GM, and the broader food system it helps propagate; the fearful, she suggests, hurt us all by “closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals.”
  • Tunisia Hosts the 2013 World Social Forum – In Tunisia, March 26-30th, the World Social Forum (WSF) will take place in the city of Tunis. Activists around the world – many belonging to food and agrarian movements – look to the international meeting as an important space for building solidarity and creating an alternative to globalization. (Watch for the New York Times to ignore it.)
  • Best Diet Study Ever? – Last week, a front page story in the New York Times announced results from a watershed study that, for the first time, linked a specific diet to measurable health outcomes. According to researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine, participants in a clinical study who consumed a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil and nuts (the so-called Mediterranean diet) had significantly less incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease. The signal was so strong, in fact, that the scientists stopped the trial early out of ethical concerns for the control group. This week, Tom Philpott points out why the NEJ findings won’t sit well with big food. And Mark Bittman weighs in with classic good wisdom on the sensibility of whole, unprocessed eats.
  • Plate tech-tonics: How smartphones can help stop food waste – “’People in the food industry know how much food they waste, and they don’t like it at all,’ says Roger Gordon, co-founder of one such new platform, Food Cowboy. Still in beta, Food Cowboy works with two large trucking companies and about 20 local charities along the East Coast’s I-95 corridor. Another platform, called Zero Percent, targets retail food waste — you know, like those huge bags of day-old bagels you’d normally have to dive into a dumpster to find.”

Friday Food Links for March 1, 2013

  • Futurefarmers – An eclectic group of artists, researchers, designers, and architects, Futurefarmers uses various media to deconstruct systems such as food policies, public transportation and rural farming networks. “Often through this disassembly,” they explain, “we find new narratives and potential reconfigurations that propose alternatives to the principles that once dominated these systems
“A Variation on Powers of Ten.” Credit: Futurefarmers
  • Wild Bees Good For Crops, But Crops Bad For Bees – A huge collaboration of bee researchers, from more than a dozen countries, looked at how pollination happens in dozens of different crops, including strawberries, coffee, buckwheat, cherries and watermelons. As they report in the journal Science, even when beekeepers installed plenty of hives in a field, yields usually got a boost when wild, native insects, such as bumblebees or carpenter bees, also showed up. Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author in the study, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.  See also Farmers’ lack of bees might be solved by going wild  in the LA Times.  (Science study linked below)
  • The Paradox of Cuban Agriculture – UC Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri and Cuban extension scientist Fernando Funes-Monzote describe the Cuba’s extraordinary agroecological achievements and the fork in the road the island now faces. Will the food security it seeks be based on a model of intensified, monoculture agriculture, or on farmer-to-farmer led diversified systems?
  • A Report Card for Global Food Giants – The antipoverty group Oxfam has come up with a scorecard that evaluates the impact that the supply chains of behemoth food companies have on water consumption, labor and wages, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrition.
  • Quinoa: To Buy or Not to Buy…Is this the Right Question? – Food First’s Tanya Kerssen unpacks the consumption-driven politics of the Bolivian quinoa conundrum. “To address the problem we have to analyze the system itself, and the very structures that constrain consumer and producer choices.”
  • UN Offers Banquet of Blemished Food – To highlight how perfectly edible food is being rejected by European supermarkets, the UN treated 500 European government ministers and officials to a meal of blemished African fruit and vegetables.
  • Why Fighting Food Deserts Demands More Than a Minimum Wage Hike – In his State of the Union Address last month, President Obama called for a much- needed increase to the federal minimum wage. But in the food retail sector, raising that wage might not make much of a difference to those employees who are most vulnerable, says Sally Smyth, a student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy student. In this pithy piece, she lays out what policies could make a change.
  • Pandora’s Lunchbox – A new book by Melanie Warner reveals how processed food took over the American meal.
  • What Kind of Fish is This? –  Many Europeans are fretting these days over horse meat, and whether it might have adulterated their shepherd’s pie. Over here, it’s all about the red snapper.
  • Farming to the Next Generation – According to the trade publication Agri-Pulse, only 14% of beginning farmers are under 35, while those 65 and older make up 32% of farm principle operators. The primary way to start a farm these days is through inheritance.
  • Harsh Lives of the Forgotten Rural Poor – “Urban poverty is well documented,” says Tobias Jones of the Guardian Observer, “but those suffering in the countryside are almost invisible. Rare for writing out of the UK.
  • How Ethanol Policies Are Decimating US Grasslands – Since the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, some 1.3 million acres of grasslands in the Western Corn Belt have been plowed under to grow more corn — a rate unseen since the 1920s and 1930s according to a new PNAS study just released this week. According to the Environmental Working Group’s AgMag blog, the new work bolsters the findings of a 2012 EWG report – Plowed Under – that tracked land conversion in all 50 states.
  • Who Would You Nominate for the World Food Prize? – Co-founders of the Food Think Tank list their nominees, including Charles Benbrook (former chief scientist at the Organic Center), Sarah Scherr (of EcoAgriculture Partners), Lester Brown (of the Earth Policy Institute), and Roland Bunch (an expert in agroecological farming). A polyculture mix, to be sure, but some good folks amongst them!

Friday Food Links for February 22, 2013

  • The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food – Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Michael Moss goes inside the boardrooms of Big Food. It’s a fascinating look at how America got hooked — and heavy — on substances resembling real food.

  • Happy Birthday, GMO’s!! – This month marks the 40th anniversary of transgenic organisms. UC Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela takes a look at their legacy in this  Op-Ed in the Mexican paper, La Jornada. Original is in Spanish, but here is a Google Translated version.
  • New Report on Farmers Markets and Low-Income Communities – In 2009, The Project for Public places, in partnership with Columbia University, launched a study to look at what kinds of food markets attract low-income shoppers, what are the obstacles that prevent low income families from shopping at farmers markets, and how youth-oriented market programming affects healthy eating habits among kids and teens. The results of their study, alongside specific recommendations, were published this week.
  • Recovering Wasted Food in the UK (video) – Supermarkets around the world insist on having the very best products on their shelves – so much so that they’re willing to throw away perfectly edible food, because it doesn’t fit their size and cosmetic standards. Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reports from Kent in the UK on how campaigners are trying to save that waste.
  • Front to Backyard Urban Farms & Gardens –  A crack team of landscapers wants to help city folk plant their own gardens and start urban farms. As they explain on their website, Front to Backyard “will install raised beds, container gardens, herb gardens, and vegetable and kitchen gardens in your front or backyard, or anywhere you have available land.” After a free site visit and consultation, prices range from roughly $1,000 for a full kitchen garden to $125 for a worm composting setup. Beekeeping and Chicken raising….coming soon!
  • The Gaza Kitchen – A new cookbook captures lost history of the Palestinian peoples through food.
  • Pictures Don’t Lie: Corn And Soybeans Are Conquering U.S. Grasslands –  This week, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows actual pictures — derived from satellite data — of a transforming Midwest landscape. The images show that farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska converted 1.3 million acres of grassland into soybean and corn production between 2006 and 2011.
  • Landowners or Laborers? –  Watch the video from “State of Rights and Resources 2012-2013: a panel on the rural development choices facing leaders of developing countries.” Posted February 5, 2013.
  • Saving Seeds, Saving Farmers – The team from Perennial Plate has just returned from 6 weeks of filming in India. In these videos, they sit down with Vandana Shiva to talk about farmer suicides, GMOs, and why preserving agrobiodiversity is so pivotal.

Friday Food Links for February 15, 2013

  • Buffet and 3G Capital Gobble Up Heinz – On Thursday, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway joined with 3G Capital of Brazil in announcing a $23 billion takeover of Heinz. According to the Times’ Dealbook, the deal also signals the rising power of investors from once-emerging markets. Brazilian entities have become prominent buyers of American companies like Pilgrim’s Pride, the chicken producer. Two years ago 3G itself bought control of Burger King, a fitting companion to the American ketchup icon.
  • America’s Farmers: The Blog – “Farmers have one of the most important roles in the world.” “We’re doing the best we can to take of the land.” “We have an extreme passion and love for what we do.” “Just like a city mom, only she farms.” If you are a farmer with a story to tell, Monsanto’s new farmer blog wants you to share it with the world. Country music and heart-warming titles complimentary of the host.
  • Taste the Waste of Water – This video just published by the FAO calls attention to the water embedded in food waste. If roughly 30% of food goes to waste, all the water that went into producing that food is also wasted, or, in some cases, contaminated.
  • Top Billing for Nutrition and Food Security – With the Millennium Development Goals set to expire in just two years, the UN, FAO and other multilateral organizations are urgently vetting ideas and roadmaps for future global development. Last week in Rome, a one-day consultation event held by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) convened some 180 stakeholders from government, international organization, civil society, and the private sector. Their consensus? That food security and nutrition should be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, tightly coupled as they are with eradicating poverty.
  • Calorie Detective (video) – In New York City, most chain restaurants are required to post calorie information on their menus, and soon the Obama Administration will require all restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts. But just how reliable are those numbers? In this Op-Doc video, one curious reporter gathers a day’s worth of fast food, some bomb calorimeters, and some good-natured nutrition scientists to find out.
  • The US Drought is a ‘Perfect Storm’ for Beef – “In writing about climate change it’s hard to avoid the use of catch phrases and clichéd metaphors, as much we try to stop shooting silver bullets and keep all those pesky canaries out of our coal mines,” writes Doug Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “At times, though, such oft-repeated words are used in paradoxical ways, jarring you into thinking about them a bit more deeply. This happened to me a few days ago when, in response to new Department of Agriculture data on the U.S. livestock industry, a beef producer referred to the impacts of the persistent drought as ‘a perfect storm.’”
  • 35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture – K. McDonald of Big Picture Agriculture kicks off the first of a 4-part series on innovative practices to save water when growing our food. While drought-tolerant crops and seeds aren’t all that surprising, Zai pits (hand-dug holes to trap water and increase soil fertility) and Olla irrigation (buried porous clay pots) are rarer findings. See parts Parts 2 and Part 3 here.
  • Antibiotics And Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria In Meat: Not Getting Better – A few days ago, the Food and Drug Administration released two important documents related to antibiotic use in livestock raising, and what the results of that antibiotic use are. Unaccompanied by the usual FDA press outreach, the documents’ sobering revelations — indicating vastly expanding pharma in our food supply — have mostly flown beneath the media radar. A few exceptions are Tom Philpott of Mother Jones, the folks at Civil Eats,and the blog team at the Natural Resource Defense Council.
  • What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Food – Craig Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest dishes the “facts” about GE food –  just as you might imagine a director of biotechnology would see them. Yet even Jaffe underscores that current GE crops are unsustainable and that more food won’t by itself make a dent in global hunger.
  • Plan Puts Garden on Capitol’s Roof in Honolulu – In part of an ambitious “New Day” project to increase local food security in the Aloha state, Governor Neil Abercrombie makes plans to ring his 5th floor offices with an edible garden. Despite some concerns about heavy soils on the historical capitol roof, the idea appears to be a legislative shoo-in: House Bill 1365, which lays out the plan, won  9-0 support from the Agriculture committee last week. If 1365 passes into law, the new capitol farm will be linked to either a farmers market or a community supported agriculture program.

Friday Food Links for February 8, 2013

  • The Complications of Quinoa – In a nod to the traditional knowledge of Andean farmers, the UN declares 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. Under the care of campesinos in a complex agroecosystem, quinoa has evolved into the protein-rich, low-gluten, vitamin-fortified seed that nutritionists now tout as the near-perfect food. But as health-minded folk and crunchy types across the US and Europe clamor for more quinoa, heightened demand is raising all sorts of trouble for the Bolivian people, underscoring the sticky contradictions of a globalized food system. Tom Philpott provides a great rundown here, explaining how a variety of “do-gooder US importers” in the 1990s helped keep traditional quinoa farming alive, by re-establishing its production for export markets. But the effects of that gambit have been double-edged: higher global quinoa prices now mean that fewer Bolivian consumers can afford to purchase it. Even quinoa farmers, now marginally wealthier due to export sales, aren’t eating much of their crop, as it’s become “a product that’s too valuable to eat.” Instead, Bolivians are increasingly buying and eating cheaper foods like packaged pastas, white rice, and white bread — exactly the stuff that Northern consumers toss from their cupboards to replace with the Andean wonder-grain. Some say local farming of quinoa on a worldwide scale is the solution: It could winch prices down to the level where it’s affordable for Andean consumers, and still profitable for Andean farmers. As we’ve noted before, in the Pacific Northwest and the Colorado Rockies, a few farmers are already piloting this approach. Of course, amped-up regional production could also create a global quinoa glut, setting the stage for massive price collapse. If that were to occur, Philpott worries, “Andean farmers’ investments in land and processing infrastructure would be wiped out.” To buy, or not to buy, quinoa then? That is the question…
  • No simpler is what kind of coffee you might sip after your hearty quinoa dinner, as Brie Mazurek of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture writes in Coffee and Sustainability: A Complex Cup.
  • If you are on a budget, D.C.-based MicroGreens illustrates how anyone can enjoy a healthy meal based on a total budget of $3.50 per meal per family of four. An innovative program that works with schools and non-profit organizations, MicroGreens is educating children and low-income families about how to make healthy choices based on a government-supplemented food budget. (Check out their sweet video channel).
  • Probing the Impact of Warming on the World’s Food Supply – One of the few potential advantages attributed to soaring carbon dioxide levels has been enhanced crop growth. But in an interview with Yale Environment 360, botanist Stephen Long talks about his research showing why rising temperatures and an increase in agricultural pests may offset any future productivity gains.
  • City Slicker Farms Breaks New Ground –  A project of City Slicker Farms, the West Oakland Park and Urban Farm officially opened on January 31. The 1.4-acre site, once a vacant industrial lot at 28th and Peralta streets, will include lawn space for running and playing, a vegetable growing area, a community garden, a fruit orchard, a chicken coop, a beehive, and a dog run.
  • Introducing “Ensia” – Nope, it’s not a magic weight-loss pill, nor a new sugar substitute. Ensia is a new multimedia platform just launched by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Designed to cut “across disciplines, ideologies, sectors and continents” and “showcase solutions to Earth’s biggest environmental challenges, director Jonathan Foley says it’s “out change the world.
  • One for the Bookshelf:
    Rebuilding the Food-Shed by Philip Ackerman-Leist – Marion Nestle writes “Rebuilding the Foodshed introduces readers to local food systems in all their complexities.  In moving from industrial to regional food systems, communities must consider an enormous range of factors, from geographic to socioeconomic.  Difficult as doing this may be, this book makes it clear that the results are well worth the effort in their benefits to farmers and farm workers, as well as to eaters. This book is on the reading list for my food advocacy class at NYU this summer.”

Friday Food Links for February 1, 2013

  • GM Food May Get Stamped – Instead of quelling the demand for labeling, the defeat of the California’s Prop 37 has spawned a ballot initiative in Washington State and legislative proposals in Connecticut, Vermont, New Mexico and Missouri. As Washington gets set to vote,  the very companies that defeated Prop 37, including Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, ConAgra, and 20 others, are beginning to press for labeling too.
  • Googling Urban Food Growth – Using Google Earth, a doctoral candidate in Chicago mapped the city’s official community gardens and found that only 160, or 13 percent, were actually producing food. But he suspected more farming going on in unofficial spaces. He was right: tiny backyard gardens and single-plot farms on vacant lots accounted for almost three-fourths of the urban ag total. By neighborhood, Chinatown was a hot spot in terms of garden density, as were neighborhoods with large numbers of Polish and Eastern and Southern European immigrants.
  • Input Costs Are Going Up — and So Is Farmer Debt – Last year’s drought caused higher commodity prices which in turn helped make up for decreased crop yields for the farmer’s bottom line. But, inputs are headed up, and so is farmer borrowing to cover them, from a new report out by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  • Seed Saving: An Alternative to Industrial Ag in India (radio) – the Perennial Plate team has just returned from India, where they caught up with Vandana Shiva and learned about her long running-efforts to restore saving seed to a suffering countryside. In a place where purchased inputs, farmer debt, and farmer suicides are closely entwined, seed saving offers one way to sever farmers’ reliance on agribusiness, increase crop genetic diversity, and keep a rich agroecological knowledge alive.
  • Will IF Make a Difference? – The UK’s bold new anti-hunger campaign ‘If’ launches with call for G8 to act on land deals and corporate tax loopholes — loopholes that, according to a new Oxfam report, could raise some $189 billion annually to fight hunger. But whether If will stand out in the pack of food security campaigns is anybody’s guess. Two British geographers are guessing “no.”
  • Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative – On January 15, the University of Arkansas School of Law launched the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative . This program will be the nation’s first law school initiative focusing on tribal food systems, agriculture and community sustainability.
  • Big Food’s Ties to Registered Dietitians – Michele Simon, president of Eat, Drink, Politics, an industry watchdog consulting group, has just published an exposé of the close financial relationships between food and beverage companies and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • The Fierce Rivalry Over Allotments – Across the pond, UK-ers are lining up in droves for allotments, small plots of public land for individual, non-commercial gardening. But with demand high and land in short supply, some would-be growers are turning against one another: from stolen cabbage to suspected arson, a BBC One documentary covers the tumult as Britons clamor to grow their own food.
  • The first Food Security Futures Conference will bring together senior researchers from CGIAR and FAO to present their perspectives on research priorities for the 21st century. The conference is being held in Dublin, Ireland, the week before the EU Presidency meeting on ‘Hunger – Nutrition – Climate Justice: Making Connections for a More Sustainable World’, 15-16 April 2013.
  • Front Range Energy has reached a deal valued at more than $100 million with Rochester, N.Y.-based Sweetwater Energy to generate ethanol at Front Range’s facility. Sweetwater Energy will convert crop residues and wood biomass into sugar, which Front Range will ferment into ethanol.
  • The company, Vinema, is investing $354 million in Brazil to build ethanol plants that will use sorghum, rice, and oats for feedstock.