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Submitted by KAT on Thu, 04/19/2007 - 11:59am.
Why are we treating our kids like cattle? We herd them into school cafeterias and pump them full of grain-based by-products, and confine them to classrooms to cram for all those No Child Left Behind tests. It’s like a federally mandated feedlot for tots, a government sanctioned program whose goal seems to be No Child Left Without a Big Behind.
And then we wonder Why Johnny Can’t See His Feet. “Eat more fruits and vegetables!” they tell him. “Get out and play!” they say.
Surely, nourishing our children well is a high priority for our government when it crafts a new farm bill every five years.
Except that it’s not. Our agricultural policies push “commodity” crops like corn and soybeans at the expense of so-called “specialty crops,” i.e. all those fruits and vegetables they tell us to feed our kids. So we fatten the bottom line of industrial agriculture, which in turn fattens our collective waistline and fosters an epidemic of obesity related illness.
As a bonus, industrial agriculture also poisons our environment, pollutes our waterways, depletes our soil, abuses animals, squanders fossil fuels, and exploits workers. Your tax dollars at work.
And yet you’ve probably never even thought about our nation’s farm bill. It sounds both too bureaucratic and too bucolic to have any real relevance to your life.
Well, wake up and smell the CAFOS. Michael Pollan, on the frontlines of the “real food” revolution, tells us why the farm bill matters to every American in a NY Times Magazine article entitled “You Are What You Grow:”
But Pollan’s optimistic that this year’s farm bill will be different, because the good food movement is gaining steam, giving even perennial pessimists like me reason to hope. Much of my newfound optimism comes courtesy of my colleagues in the New York City Food Systems Network, a coalition of nutritionists, anti-hunger activists, farmers’ market advocates, sustainability scholars, and other fine folks dedicated to changing the way we grow our food and feed our families.
One of the driving forces behind the NYCFSN, Hilary Baum, also founded the Baum Forum, a non-profit dedicated to promoting local agriculture, better food in schools and a healthier food system for everyone.
Her Baum Forum regularly hosts stellar-paneled conferences that feature the finest foot soldiers in the battle for better food, and she’s got another amazing conference lined up for this Saturday, April 21st: “Schools, Food and Gardening: Cultivating a Healthy Future,” a day-long conference at Columbia University co-sponsored by the Nutrition Program at Columbia’s Teachers College.
We’ll get the sustainable scoop from organic pioneer Joan Dye Gussow, whose memoir This Organic Life persuaded me to plant paw paws, and a dose of post-Katrina progress from Anthony Recasner, who heads the charter school that’s home to the New Orleans Edible Schoolyard.
And I can’t wait to see the demonstration of those self-watering Earth Box planters, so efficient at growing produce that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has adopted them as part of The Growing Connection campaign to help communities all over the world grow their own food.
If you’re in our neck of the woods, we hope you’ll join us, but you can board the real food bandwagon wherever you are. Get up to speed by reading Daniel Imhoff’s Foodfight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, with a forward by Michael Pollan. Imhoff’s taken a dry topic and made it wry with his well-illustrated and entertaining compendium of all the collateral damage our misguided agricultural policies have wreaked on ourselves and our environment.
But Imhoff doesn’t just diagnose the many sicknesses of our food system, he offers the antidote, which, not surprisingly, calls for a massive dose of citizen activism:
And who wouldn’t be in favor of all that? I mean, aside from Archer Daniels Midlands, Cargill, Monsanto, and all their Big Food buddies. Do we live in a democracy, or a cornarchy?
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 04/18/2007 - 12:52pm.
Farmers markets are the fastest growing segment of our food industry, and the “buy local” boom is sure to get a big boost from stories like this one from the AP today:
Thanks to our globalized food chain, we’re eating more imported foods than ever, much of it from countries with lax food safety standards.
It would make sense, then, to allocate additional funds for the FDA to step up its inspections. But no:
I’m no mathematician, but my dad is, and I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that divvying up our food safety dollars in this fashion is utterly assbackward—except that my father, gentleman and scholar that he is, would never use such a vulgar term, and wishes I wouldn’t, either (sorry to keep disappointing you, Dad.)
Given a choice between food from far off places that’s been OK’d by an overworked, faceless bureaucrat, or the locally grown “food with a face” that Michael Pollan champions in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, many Americans are opting to put their food dollars right in the callused hands of the farmers who plant the produce that fills their eco-friendly reusable canvas totes.
But as more shoppers flock to the farmers markets, the food-with-a-face movement is facing a new dilemma. As the LA Times noted last week, the extraordinary growth of the farmers’ markets means that farmers have to spend more and more time at the market, which eats into the time they need to spend back on the farm actually growing the food.
“It's like a chef having to stop cooking in order to hand-deliver every plate,” adds the LA Times.
Well, yeah, when you put it like that, it does sound pretty inefficient.
Howell Tumlin, executive director of the Southland Farmers' Market Association in Southern California, told the LA Times that farmers will have to find better ways to get their produce to consumers, such as CSA’s or selling through local supermarkets.
And maybe that’s not so bad, because it would make more local foods available to folks who can’t make it to the farmers’ market.
Tumlin acknowledges that “the face-to-face interaction with farmers is one of the benefits that draws customers to the market.” Ironically, that’s one draw we stand to lose as the farm stands’ popularity skyrockets.
The sad reality, according to Tumlin, is that we’re destined to look back wistfully on the days that we could “still stand across a battered piece of plywood and have a conversation with the folks who grew your food. It's a shame, but it just doesn't make sense as a way to do business."
So get to know your local farmers now, because their rising star may keep ‘em down on the farm in the future.
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 04/17/2007 - 2:07pm.
It’s official. Those of us who watch Comedy Central’s fake anchors are better informed about current events than viewers of Fox news. What a topsy turvy world we live in when satirical shows intended to entertain us are more edifying than “straight” news broadcasts. Now that network news divisions and cable news channels are all about the profits, a well-informed populace is a luxury our culture apparently can’t afford.
So it’s entirely fitting that the Reverend Billy, a fake preacher, offers us true redemption through his Church of Stop Shopping. If you’re not familiar with Reverend Billy, you will be soon, when Morgan Spurlock’s What Would Jesus Buy? hits the theaters. Reverend Billy’s companion book by the same name warns of the impending “Shopacolypse:”
Kurt Vonnegut was less forgiving of our wasteful ways, telling Jon Stewart back in 2005, “I think we are terrible animals, and I think our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of us, and should.”
But Reverend Billy’s message to Stop Shopping and Start Loving lifted vinegary ol’ Vonnegut out of his Thinking Man’s Andy Rooney routine just long enough to bless the front cover of Reverend Billy’s book with this beyond-the-grave blurb:
We were amongst the enraptured on April 14th, when Reverend Billy brought his greenhouse gasp gospel to Manhattan’s Battery Park to ignite the Step It Up 2007 Sea of People rally against global warming.
After Reverend Billy got the crowd all hot and bothered about our compulsive buying, Step It Up founder Bill McKibben took the stage to make his own pitch for more mindful living.
McKibben’s been trying to tell us for, like, 18 years—since the publication in 1989 of his watershed book, The End of Nature—that we’re irrevocably altering our environment (and not for the better.) But his Methodist madness is just too mild mannered to hammer the message home with the efficacy of a fictitious firebrand like the Reverend Billy.
That’s why, as my regular readers know, I’ve been trying to harness the power of The Secret to get McKibben his place in the sun, aka Oprah’s sofa. Evidently I need to wish even harder, though, because so far, I’ve only managed to get him booked on last Friday’s Newshour With Jim Lehrer, where he told Ray Suarez:
And they’ve had plenty of help from Rush Limbaugh, “Global warming's most popular denialist,” as James Wolcott notes in his brilliant, must-read lambasting of Limbaugh in the current Vanity Fair. With all the brouhaha over Don Imus’s ho-paux, I wish people could work up a fraction of that outrage over the way Rush Limbaugh has brainwashed millions of listeners into believing that global warming is a liberal elite hoax. As Wolcott notes:
But there’s a ray of hope on the horizon. I saw it on Saturday, when Tiffany Cordero, a preternaturally self-possessed 12 year-old New Yorker, took the Step It Up stage to declare “A lot of people are thinking just of now. But we won't have a 'now' if we don't focus on the future.”
Why is it that a 12 year old can connect the dots, while doddering Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, can’t? Stevens admitted to NPR’s Steve Inskeep on April 10th that climate change is altering Alaska’s environment, but Stevens blew a gasket when Inskeep asked him if one of his pet proposals, drilling in ANWAR, might exacerbate the problem:
The question is, how could you not? But then we’re talking about a guy who thinks that the Internet is “a series of tubes.” And Senator Stevens was the driving force behind the $315 million dollar Bridge to Nowhere. Which is exactly where his kind of “leadership” will take us. I think I’d rather cast my lot with Reverend Billy’s carbon-curbing congregation.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 04/16/2007 - 2:29pm.
Oh, how the blue bears begged us to let them join the “Sea of People” who flooded lower Manhattan on Saturday to rally Congress to “Step It Up” and cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. A thousand-plus blue-clad activists united in an undulating human chain more than a mile long to mark how our waterlines could rise if the world keeps heating up.
Coincidentally—or not?—today finds the tri-state area in a state of emergency thanks to the Nor’easter that’s dumped a record-breaking 8 inches of rain on our region. It’s wreaking havoc all over, the AP reports, with residents from Long Island to New Hampshire being evacuated and several hundred thousand households in New York and New England losing power.
"There's something ironic about the fact that we were down on the Battery yesterday, forming a line to show where the new tide line will be in New York with rising sea levels," Step It Up 2007’s founder, Bill McKibben, told the New York Sun on Sunday. "Today, Bloomberg is issuing emergency flood warnings for Lower Manhattan."
Clearly, polar bears aren’t the only ones imperiled by global warming. As the Sea of People demonstrated on Saturday, rising sea levels could leave lower Manhattan submerged under 10 feet of water. That would make for a mighty soggy stock exchange.
Can you see Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe wearing wellies to work? On the bright side, we wouldn’t need to rename Canal Street; we’d just have to get used to hailing a gondola instead of a cab.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to take action now, rather than be forced to adapt to rising floodwaters? We think so, and that’s why we joined the Sea of People to try to persuade Congress that we need to seriously step up our efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
And, in the end, even the blue bears got to attend the rally; after all, a little ursine urgency can make a big splash, as Knut, the world’s cutest polar bear cub, demonstrates on the cover of Vanity Fair’s green issue, on the newsstands now. After Annie Leibovitz shot Leonardo diCaprio posed pensively on an Icelandic glacier, Vanity Fair dispatched her to the Berlin zoo to snap a portrait of Knut, who was then Photoshopped into the picture to share the cover with Leo.
And if we don’t Step It Up now, we face a future where Photoshop will be the only way to get a photograph of a polar bear on an ice cap. Chilling, isn’t it?
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 04/13/2007 - 1:31pm.
Time for a pop quiz: Who do you buy your bananas from?
A) A multinational corporation that’s given guns and money to terrorists, or:
B) A non-profit international university dedicated to sustainable development.
If your bananas bear the Chiquita label, the answer is “A.” And if you continue to buy them after what I’m going to tell you, I’ll have to give you an “F.”
Chiquita bananas—yes, even the organic ones from Trader Joe’s—have been banished from our fruit bowl ever since we learned that Chiquita executives had given $1.7 million to right wing Colombian militias who routinely massacre people.
But our search for an ethical brand of bananas was fruitless. Until, that is, about a week ago, when a display of something called Earth bananas appeared miraculously in the produce department at Whole Foods.
Was it a mirage of shimmering sustainability? The Earth bananas emitted eco-friendly “buy me” rays that drew us closer.
“Aha!” I said. “There’s no price—I bet they’re really expensive.”
“69 cents a pound,” said the Whole Foods employee.
OK, so not only are Earth bananas grown on a low-impact, socially responsible banana farm in Costa Rica which is a model for the banana industry worldwide, but the profits from their Whole Foods sales all go to “support education, entrepreneurship, and sustainable agriculture in the developing world.”
And, they’re cheaper, too. I don’t know how this is possible, but my hat’s off to Whole Foods for giving us an alternative to Chiquita, because according to an article from Wednesday’s Christian Science Monitor, Chiquita’s involvement with the paramilitaries went beyond merely writing checks to actually unloading rifles and ammunition at its Colombian ports which ultimately wound up in the hands of the militias.
The article also includes a chilling eyewitness account of a banana plantation worker being beheaded with a machete by paramilitary thugs.
Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell insisted that the payments were made to protect its employees. "We believe they saved people's lives," he told the Monitor.
If, by “saving people’s lives,” you mean cutting off their heads, I guess.
Meanwhile, Chiquita’s not the only multinational company that’s been accused of underwriting terrorists, according to the Monitor:
Whether any of these corporations will pay a price for contributing to the violence and chaos in Colombia remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you want to buy a banana that’s free of any pesticide—or homicide—residues, look for the label that says “Earth.” Earth to Chiquita: drop dead.
Submitted by KAT on Thu, 04/12/2007 - 12:10pm.
Give a man a steak, and you feed him for a day; give a man a cow, and you feed him for life? I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that’s pretty much the principle upon which Heifer International was founded, and the means by which this wonderful project feeds families the world over.
Heifer ‘s (live)stock in trade is a kind of microloan that you can milk. This anti-hunger initiative was the inspiration of Dan West, a relief worker and Midwestern farmer who had an epiphany back in 1944 while doling out cups of milk to hungry children. It dawned on West, faced with a surplus of kids and a shortage of milk, that “…these children don’t need a cup, they need a cow.”
Happily, West’s flash of inspiration was no flash in the milking pan; founded in 1944 as Heifers for Relief, the organization has evolved, over 60-odd years, into a powerhouse non-profit that’s nourished 7million people in more than 125 countries.
Credit Heifer’s “passing on the gift” concept for creating this impressive and inspiring achievement. A gift of a heifer is a gift that literally keeps on giving, as the calves mature and give birth to the next generation of heifers. This cycle of giving transforms recipients into givers, as they share the offspring with others in need.
Of course, in order for Heifer to keep feeding the needy, the not-so-needy need to feed Heifer’s coffers, which is why Organic Valley hosted an “Earth Dinner” fundraiser for Heifer at Manhattan’s Prince George Ballroom last night.
It was a swanky setting for a sustainable gala, and the food was naturally all-natural, i.e. organic and/or local, and lovingly prepared. The speakers, who included Organic Valley farmer Travis Forgues and the goddess of GRUB, food activist and author Anna Lappé, sang Heifer’s praises while we savored delicious chicken pot pies courtesy of the Cleaver Company, whose founder, Mary Cleaver, is a proud pioneer in the growing field of sustainable, socially conscious catering. As a bonus, the Cleaver Company created a heifer-shaped cookie cutter, a goody to give all the do-gooders in attendance.
As Anna Lappé wryly noted, Heifer is anything but a cookie-cutter kind of operation. From Appalachia to Zambia, Heifer tailors its projects to meet local needs and provide individuals with the resources to create self-reliant, sustainable communities.
Last night’s fundraiser focused on Heifer’s support for America’s family farmers, who’ve been all but plowed under while industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl deplete our soils and our souls. Sustain the family farms, and the family farms will sustain us.
Kind of a folksy message for a fancy fete, but that’s just the point, isn’t it? It takes a farmer to put food on your plate, whether your place settings are secondhand or Haviland.
And, in our case, it took our generous friend Claire, who shares Heifer’s “passing on the gift” philosophy, to give us entrée to the Earth Dinner. Unable to attend, she insisted on buying us tickets to go in her stead. Talk about passing on the gift! Thanks, Claire. I saved you a heifer-shaped cookie cutter.
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 04/11/2007 - 8:24am.
The terrorists hate our freedom. The Center for Consumer Freedom, on the other hand, loves our freedom. One group wants to see us dead, while the other defends our inalienable right to eat, drink, and smoke ourselves to death.
So if the terrorists were really clever, they’d stop killing our soldiers--who are, after all, dying to defend our freedom to make stupid choices--and delegate their Death to America campaign to groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom or the newest entry in the faux grassroots sweepstakes: The Center for Food Integrity (I guess even the Astroturf starts growing in the spring.)
The Center for Food Integrity is a brand new not-for-profit corporation, whose mission is to “increase consumer trust and confidence in the contemporary U.S. food system.”
“Sounds great!” you say. “Can I become a member?” A brand-spanking new nonprofit like the Center for Food Integrity must be eager to sign up members, you would think.
Or not. According to a chef who attempted to contact the CFI, the number provided on the CFI’s website was an answering service, which requested that he provide them with a bunch of information that they would then pass on to the person who handles membership.
“So much for transparency and disclosure,” he noted, “and funding must not be a problem.” Probably not, since their supporters include Monsanto, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Restaurant Association.
Speaking of funding, who supports the Center for Consumer Freedom? Funny you should ask. Apparently, they’d rather not tell you:
Ah yes, those foaming-at-the-mouth food activists, those junk-food jihadists with their transfat bans and high fructose corn syrup hysteria; why do they hate America? I’m talking, of course, about the “food cops” at the Center For Science in the Public Interest, whom the Center for Consumer Freedom accuses of “seeking government control of everything you eat.”
The CSPI sees its mission a bit differently:
The insidious campaign to make America healthier has another ally, the Center for Food Safety, whose stated goals include “curtailing industrial agricultural production methods that harm human health and the environment, and promoting sustainable alternatives.”
Whatever you do, don’t confuse the Center for Food Safety with the Center for Food Integrity; their goals are diametrically opposed. Wish I could say the same about the terrorists and the Center for Consumer Freedom.
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 04/10/2007 - 9:43am.
If President Bush knew anything at all about gardening, we wouldn’t be bogged down in Bagdad. Any gardener knows that you can’t grow a democracy by sowing seeds of chaos. No wonder our soldiers are getting shredded by shrapnel instead of pelted with rose petals.
Dubya’s a lousy rancher, too. Every year, his Crawford ranch yields a bumper crop of something called “brush,” whose only apparent function is to serve as fodder for photo-ops. Since his ranch is just another Rove-approved prop, there’s no need to grow food for people, or feed for livestock, or plants to make biofuels.
And then we have the equally horticulturally handicapped John McCain, spreading manure in a Bagdad market four years after we uprooted Saddam. Whether Iraq was ever fertile ground for freedom, its blood soaked soil seems more likely now to only yield more violence and hatred.
McCain’s also having trouble harvesting campaign cash, unlike some of his Democratic counterparts.
But there’s one senator who grasps the fundamentals of farming, and that’s Jon Tester. The freshman senator spent the spring recess planting peas, lentils, wheat and black barley on his organic farm back home in Big Sandy, Montana.
Most Americans have never even heard of black barley, which is a shame because it’s the whole-est of those whole grains we’re all supposed to be eating more of. Unlike other grains, black barley, also known as purple hull-less barley, needs no processing—it can go from the fields to our food with its bran layer intact. And it’s got a richer, more complex texture and flavor than your standard, garden variety pearl barley.
I discovered this ultra tasty and nutritious grain through Whole Foods Authentic Food Artisans line, which features heirloom grains and beans grown by “a dozen pioneering farmers…growing nutrient-dense organic grains and legumes on their family farms in the Golden Triangle of Montana.”
Thanks to the small scale farmers like Tester who are bringing back biodiversity, Americans are only just now getting acquainted with ancient whole grains and beans that have sustained people in other countries for centuries. Finally, we have an alternative to Agribiz monoculture. I guess if you want progress, it helps to elect politicians who know how to grow stuff that's good to eat, as opposed to brush.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 04/09/2007 - 7:57am.
The failure to see what lies ahead can have awful consequences, as I learned last Friday while walking down 9th Avenue. I was looking down (contemplating my carbon footprint, no doubt) when I collided with a fire alarm call box that I didn’t notice until it was embossing my forehead. Thanks to the decidedly unspringlike weather, I was wearing a fuzzy wool hat that cushioned the blow somewhat, but still—the pain was excruciating.
Matt tried to comfort me, noting helpfully, “That will teach you to look where you’re going!”
Yeah, well, lesson learned. If only it were so easy to knock some sense into the Capitol Hillbillies who refuse to grasp the enormity of the global warming crisis.
Who would have guessed that putting a couple of Texas oilmen in charge of things was not such a hot idea in this era of fossil fueled climate change? I mean, aside from myself and the majority of Americans who actually voted for Al Gore, aka “Ozone Man,” as Bush Sr. derisively nicknamed him.
Now, of course, he’s “the Goracle,” but it’s cold comfort that Gore’s dire warnings about global warming have been validated by the 2,500 scientists who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC’s latest report predicts man-made mayhem on a massive scale: drought, floods, pests, severe food and water shortages.
Poor nations, predictably, will suffer the brunt of this upheaval; the wealthier nations whose petroleum-based prosperity set this sorry chain of events in motion are in a better position to weather the unprecedented change in the weather.
But one thing seems pretty clear; the way we live is going to change dramatically, whether we want it to or not. We can radically rethink the way we allocate our resources, starting now, or we can wait till we’ve passed the proverbial tipping point, when floods and famine will force us to face the fact that we’ve irrevocably altered our entire ecosystem.
President Bush, reacting to the Supreme Court ruling that the federal government has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases, said he thought that the measures he had taken so far were sufficient. And besides, he noted, like a petulant pre-adolescent, if China’s not going to curb its carbon footprint, why should we?
Nevermind that Bush vowed during the 2000 presidential campaign that if elected, he would regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Was he lying, or did he just forget? Once he took office, his administration did everything it could to obstruct any efforts to address the threat of global warming.
And now, leaked documents show that after claiming to support the addition of the polar bear to the list of endangered species, Bush and his carbon-crazed cronies are quietly working to weaken the Endangered Species Act and discourage any discussion of how global warming threatens polar bears with extinction.
So our government fiddles with the findings while the ice caps melt. But you can help us light a fire under their petroleum-soaked posteriors; fire up your laptop and fire off a missive to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to save the polar bear. The deadline is today, April 9th.
Please, take a minute to help the polar bears fight extinction; after all, it’s their planet, too. Do they really have to die for our sins?
Submitted by KAT on Sun, 04/08/2007 - 12:46pm.
May all your eggs be cage free, and your Easter ham pasture raised!
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