Eating Liberally

Eating Liberally Blog

The O’Brien Retort: Are The Iowa Floods An Unnatural Disaster?


Most folks are assuming that the catastrophic floods in Iowa are a natural disaster, caused simply by too much rainfall. But, leaving aside the question of whether climate change is partly to blame for all that rain, a growing number of environmental experts suspects that the flooding may have been caused in part by agricultural practices that have severely impaired the landscape’s ability to absorb excess rainwater.

As the Washington Post reported last Thursday
, “Most of the wetlands are gone. Flood plains have been filled and developed,” and added that “Between 2007 and 2008, farmers took 106,000 acres of Iowa land out of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to keep farmland uncultivated…That land, if left untouched, probably would have been covered with perennial grasses with deep roots that help absorb water.”

So now that we’re looking at some four million acres of washed out crops, the New York Times reports that Senator Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) is calling on the USDA “to release tens of thousands of farmers from contracts under which they had promised to set aside huge tracts as natural habitat,” so that they can plant more corn.

This sounds like a really bad idea if the loss of water-absorbing habitat is what made the floods so severe in the first place. But what do I know? I’m not an Iowa farmer. Happily, though, I know someone who is—Denise O’Brien, the organic farmer who ran for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa in 2006 and nearly won, with 49% of the vote. So I asked Denise for her thoughts on what role industrial agriculture might have played in this disaster.

As luck would have it, Denise just had a letter to the editor published in Sunday’s Des Moines Register addressing this very subject, so she forwarded it to me and I’m reprinting it here, in the hopes that more people will consider the possibility that these floods were as much an act of man as an act of God:

In all of my reading about the floods and rebuilding Iowa, there is no mention of the role of agriculture on these recent events. Out of this catastrophe needs to come some understanding that industrial agriculture has caused many of the issues that happen down river from the cultivated land. A deterioration of good conservation and resource management practices over the last fifty years has helped make these "rain events" even more catastrophic.

There was some discussion about this after the floods of '93 but agriculture policy continued to ignore the environment and implemented more policies that allowed Iowa to become the sacrifice area for agribusiness corporations--putting profit before stewardship. Senator Harkin worked hard to get the Conservation Security Program in place but has had to continually fight for appropriations for this project.

A good many Iowans understand the importance of agriculture in this state, but few understand that while Mother Nature may reckon us with gully washers, human beings have added to the devastation by draining wetlands, plowing up waterways and planting only two crops - corn and soybeans.

There are many things that can be done to have an agriculture that is good for the economy, the environment and the people - it is called sustainable agriculture. Many innovative farmers in the state have been working diligently to retain their soil while making a profit. Many, many more farmers need to embrace conservation and stewardship in order to help prevent future catastrophes such as the floods of '08.

We need strong ag policy that promotes conservation and natural resource management in order to curtail the effects of the ravaging and raping of the land. No, actually we need to curtail the corporations control over the natural resource that we all need to provide life and sustenance - the soil.

Lower The Heat To 350--Unless You Want To Broil


You know how those amps in the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap had a dial that went all the way to eleven? Twenty-four years later, we've become a nation of Nigel Tufnels, twiddling with the earth's thermostat and pushing it past its natural limits. This time, it's not so funny.

We're so busy worrying about $4-a-gallon gas--or the prospect of $140-a-barrel oil--that we've lost sight of a much more fundamental number: the amount of carbon dioxide, aka CO2, that's building up in our atmosphere. Right now, we're at about 385 parts per million, or ppm.

If we keep letting the C02 build up, we're heading for a Titanic catastrophe--except that there won't be any 'iceberg, right ahead!' There won't be any icebergs left at all.

Yeah, yeah, you've heard it all before, all this clucking from the Chicken Little/Cassandra contingent. Except that you haven't. There's something new. Our foremost experts on global warming, faced with mounting evidence that our climate is changing much faster than anticipated, have recently concluded that the European Union's goal of capping our CO2 levels at 550 ppm is insufficient, assuming we want to preserve life as we know it.

James Hansen, NASA's chief climatologist, put it in his stark but scholarly way:

"...if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

Hansen's been trying to get us to pay attention to this stuff for decades, along with a few other folks I can think of. Neil Young's been warning us for THIRTY EIGHT YEARS, going back to "After The Goldrush," when he sang, "look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies." Now, he's amended it to "look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century."

And Marvin Gaye, were he only alive, could do a remake of his 1971 hit, "Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)" without changing a word:

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue sky go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north, east, south, and sea
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Radiation in the ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can you stand?

How much, indeed? In 1989, Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature, the first book about global warming for us non-wonks. McKibben warned us that we were changing the planet irrevocably and would have to make some fundamental changes in the way we live if we want life as we know it to continue.

OK, so here we are, a couple decades later, and I am pleading with you all, will you for once please just LISTEN to this guy? He wants to have a word with you. Or rather, a number. The number is 350. As in, 350 parts per million. That is the number that James Hansen and his climate change colleagues have established as the CO2 level we need to aim for if we hope to avoid six irreversible tipping points, including a massive rise in sea levels and huge changes in rainfall patterns (hello, Cedar Rapids.)

So McKibben's launching a new campaign, 350.org, with the help of a wonderful, wordless video from the folks at Free Range Studios, who gave us The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix. 350.org: Because The World Needs To Know is a universal call to arms--or to legs, actually, as in, go ride a bike! Can we pedal our way to a CO2 level of 350 ppm? I don't know, but one thing's for sure: James Hansen's checked the coordinates, and this is one destination we can't get to by car.

Let’s Ask Marion: How Does Japan’s New Waist Management Plan Measure Up?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Japan recently passed a law requiring companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. Those who exceed the government's limits--33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women-will be given three months to lose weight, and if that doesn't do the trick, "those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months," according to the Times, which adds that "the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets."

Obviously, this would never fly in the U.S., but do you think it's a good idea?

Dr. Nestle: I'm stunned by the proposal and hardly know where to begin. Talk about a cross-cultural experience! In Japan, we have one of the healthiest and long living populations in the world on the verge of putting on weight and developing heart disease and diabetes just like our society. But unlike ours, the Japanese government is taking the situation head on. The plan is so not American in this level of social engineering. We don't do things quite like this.

One striking similarity is the focus on personal responsibility. Where is the social responsibility? Not a word about that. What is the Japanese government planning to offer in the way of advice to eat less, control portion sizes, and move more? And does it plan to address changes in the food environment needed to promote healthier choices by individuals? Has the government thought about encouraging food companies to offer smaller portions, make healthier foods the default, promote traditional Japanese diets instead of fast food, and take other such actions?

Evidently, the Japanese government is serious about keeping its citizens healthy, and that's great. But is it serious enough to tackle the environmental as well as the personal determinants of overweight? Or, alas, is this another government that views weight gain strictly as a matter of individual responsibility without asking food companies, employers, and legislators to take some responsibility too. If so, maybe the Japanese are more like us than we think. I, for one, will be watching what happens there with great interest.

Following In My Father’s Modest Carbon Footprint

My dad’s a true conservative, which is to say that he actually conserves—i.e., uses things sparingly. This leaves him utterly at odds with our rampant consumer culture, but strangely in sync with his lefty-blogger-daughter, despite our obvious political differences.

My dad’s always been ahead of his time in some ways; he was a computer geek, complete with pocket protector, way before it was cool. He’s an early adopter--he owned one of the first personal computers, the long-since obsolete Osborne—but you could call him a late discarder, too. I think he only just got rid of his dot-matrix printer about a year ago.

He hates to throw things out, or buy things he doesn’t really need, and he can’t stand wasting anything, whether it’s water, or electricity. When we were officially in a drought in California (as the Central valley is again, now), he dutifully saved our bathwater and used it to water the yard or flush the toilet. My parents’ car of choice was a used Toyota, and they planned their trips carefully to save gas, even when it was cheap. At Christmas, we exchanged simple, inexpensive gifts; material things have never held any allure for my dad, with the possible exception of a faster Mac.

All of which makes him kind of a crackpot by current conservative standards. Our whole economy’s based on getting us to run out and buy stuff whether we need it or not—not to mention whether we can afford it, or how much it’s screwing up the environment. From the perspective of low-flush-toilet-hating harpy Ann Coulter, it’s downright un-American to tell folks to conserve:

This is a prosperous country. We will not live like Swedes. We want 18-ton Ford Exploro-cruisers, cell phones, CDs, hot showers, blow dryers, DVD players and jet skis.

Fuel is the metric of prosperity, and conservationism is an acknowledgement that we are in decline of prosperity -- that this is the beginning of the long bleak twilight of civilization. If you posit that we have fixed energy sources and we have to ration them, then we are dying as a species.

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet -- it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view.

Where does she get her monstrous vision of our relationship to the earth—the King Kong edition of the bible? This, from the woman who calls liberals “godless.”

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of folks on the right who reject the views of Coulter and her fellow climate-change-naysaying wingnut, Rush Limbaugh. Whether it’s eco-evangelicals worried about global warming, or NRA members alarmed by the loss of wildlife habitat, some conservatives are finally daring to buck the party line and embrace the notion of treading more lightly on the planet.

All over the country, today, fathers will be receiving gifts of one sort or another, whether it’s another useless tie or an electric shaver or a copy of Tim Russert’s Big Russ And Me: Father And Son—Lessons of Life, which has leapt to the top of the bestseller list since Russert died so unexpectedly last Friday.

I didn’t buy anything for my dad, because he honestly doesn’t want anything, except maybe a little appreciation. So here it is, Dad—thanks for teaching me that, contrary to the current conservative orthodoxy, there is virtue in thrift, and we don’t need a lot of stuff to make us happy. Hey, Dad, are you sure you’re not a closet liberal?

Let's Ask Marion: Why More Money For The FDA Now?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: We've known for ages that the FDA is so grossly underfunded that it can't even begin to assure the safety of our food supply. Now, all of a sudden, in the wake of the tomato salmonella scare, the Bush administration's asked Congress to allocate an additional $275 million to the FDA in next year's budget. What gives? Why now? Are salmonella-tainted tomatoes more of a hot potato than E. coli-contaminated spinach?

Dr. Nestle: No, tomatoes are not a worse political problem than spinach. What's happening is that we are at the end of an administration, not the middle. In the last year, several major reports have exposed the way Congress has weakened the FDA by giving it tons more to do with no money to do it with. As incident after incident has occurred--spinach, green onions, pet food, peanut butter, and now tomatoes--the FDA's situation has become increasingly embarrassing. But $275 million? A pittance.

What's really needed is a major overhaul of the entire food safety system, from the bottom up. We need a food safety system that goes from farm to table, and preferably under a single food safety agency that unites and rationalizes the functions of the FDA and USDA. Until we have that, expect these incidents at regular intervals. Next administration, anyone?

Take Out: A Story of Stir-Fried Servitude

Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

If Lou Dobbs could wave a magic wand and make all those pesky undocumented workers disappear, he'd do it in a heartbeat. And while that might be a triumph for law and order, it would also be kind of a hollow victory--pretty soon our empty stomachs would begin rumbling, and we'd be grumbling:

Who's going to pick our produce?

Who's going to pluck our poultry?

Who's going to chop up and stir-fry our chicken and broccoli?

Who's going to deliver it to our door?

Millions of illegal immigrants make enormous sacrifices-leaving behind loved ones and paying smugglers a fortune--to come to the U.S. and work long hours for low pay doing lousy jobs. You probably don't give that a whole lot of thought when you dial the Chinese restaurant down the block to order your won ton soup and lo mein.

Filmmakers Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou are out to change that with Take Out, a day-in-the-life saga about one of those guys you grab your bag of food from and hand a dollar to before you shut the door and forget his face. The film opened last Friday at the Quad Cinema in New York City, where Take Out takes place, and illuminates the lives of an ignored but integral segment of our population.

Take Out stars Charles Jang as Ming Ding, an illegal Chinese deliveryman who pedals his way through a drizzly day made more dismal still by ruthless loan sharks. Ming's morning starts with a bruising wake-up call from his debtors, who barge in to the cramped apartment he shares with umpteen other immigrants and demand that he come up with $800 in interest on the massive debt he owes his smugglers by the end of the day.

Ming borrows much of the money from friends but has to double his usual take in tips to make the difference. His scramble to cram as many deliveries as he can into his day takes him-and us-from the hallways of housing projects to opulent lobbies and every class of New York City dwelling in between. His customers run the gamut, too, from kind to curt to cruel, or just surly and obnoxious. Not content to provide a sampler of New York stereotypes, Take Out gives us flashes of humanity behind those front doors--and inhumanity, too.

The repetitiveness of Ming's day, the seemingly endless series of hallways and elevators and apartment doors and customers thrusting dollars, makes for a movie that's monotonous in a mesmerizing kind of way. The filmmakers opted for a neo-realist approach that made a virtue out of their bare bones ($3,000) budget, forcing them to film the movie in a real Chinese restaurant while it remained open for business. The end result blurs the line between documentary and drama, but yields a sharply drawn portrait of a life most of us couldn't imagine and would prefer not to think about.

The film is perfectly cast and its cinema verité approach makes its message all the more compelling. While the Broken Borders brigade is fixated on erecting barriers, Take Out asks us to step outside of our individual fortresses, just for an hour and a half, and see the view from the other side of our front doors. It's a powerful ploy; as Nathan Lee wrote in his review of Take Out in last Friday's New York Times, "I'll tip more, I promise!"

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

I was served woodchuck stew for dinner last Thursday at an upstate farm and thought it was quite a novelty, but apparently it’s just the latest thing; today’s New York Times offers a recipe for woodchuck au vin along with tales of woe from gardeners weary of sharing their prized homegrown produce with gate-crashing critters.

The woodchuck I ate had romped and chomped his way through a farmer’s fields like a shoplifter at an open-air salad bar, poaching the gorgeous organic greens already bought and paid for by the farm’s CSA members. So the woodchuck had to go. And since he had to be sacrificed so that others might eat, they figured it was the honorable thing to do to eat him.

One gardener profiled in the Times piece—who requested anonymity out of fear that slaughtering and sautéing up woodchucks may still be just a little outré— overcame his initial squeamishness and ultimately killed 19 woodchucks, altogether:

He was finally able to make a little bit of peace with shooting the woodchucks on his property by cooking and eating them. “It was a way of taking full responsibility for taking a life,” he says. “Almost like a spiritual journey.”

Matt and I have taken less lethal--but potentially illegal--steps to deal with the woodchucks in our garden, so I’d best not give the details. One more humane method of handling hungry invaders is to simply plant extra, or, as another gardener tells the Times:

“I do what the Bible says: Leave the corners of your field unharvested for the poor and strangers among you.”

This is all well and good, unless, like us, you’ve only got a fifth of an acre and most of it is a steep, shady slope. There’s no extra space to “plant extra”. We share the berries with the birds, and the squirrels steal most of our hazelnuts, so I am sympathetic to farmers and gardeners who feel driven to drastic measures.

And this conflict between two-legged and four-legged eaters is only going to heat up; as today’s Wall Street Journal notes, higher food costs are inspiring more and more folks to rip out their lawns and plant veggies instead. The growing recognition that maintaining a lawn is a catastrophic waste of resources is contributing to the boom in vegetable seed and seedling sales, too, while flower sales are falling.

But edible landscaping also feeds the hunger to spend our leisure time doing something more gratifying than, say, shopping or plopping down in front of the tv at the end of the day—or mowing the lawn on the weekend.

Artist Fritz Haeg has been challenging the tyranny of turf and helping front yard farmers homestead for several years with his Edible Estates installations. The most recent Edible Estate was recently installed in Baltimore, where the Eat Well Guide’s Leslie Hatfield was among the eager green thumbs pitching in to help a neighbor get growing.

Leslie was also present for the woodchuck stew last Thursday, along with the rest of the Eat Well gang and our fellow blogger and Greenhorns filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, with whom we went off on a field trip to visit some of those new American farmers that we’re always championing. Severine’s posted her eloquent take on the decline and renewal of the American landscape over at her blog, The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles.

It does look as though the tide of lawn lemmings is at long last turning. But this mass conversion of grass to veggies may bring an influx of other rodents to our backyard buffets. Will we let them nosh, or will we quash and sauce them?

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

I was served woodchuck stew for dinner last Thursday at an upstate farm and thought it was quite a novelty, but apparently it’s just the latest thing; today’s New York Times offers a recipe for woodchuck au vin along with tales of woe from gardeners weary of sharing their prized homegrown produce with gate-crashing critters.

The woodchuck I ate had romped and chomped his way through a farmer’s fields like a shoplifter at an open-air salad bar, poaching the gorgeous organic greens already bought and paid for by the farm’s CSA members. So the woodchuck had to go. And since he had to be sacrificed so that others might eat, they figured it was the honorable thing to do to eat him.

One gardener profiled in the Times piece—who requested anonymity out of fear that slaughtering and sautéing up woodchucks may still be just a little outré— overcame his initial squeamishness and ultimately killed 19 woodchucks, altogether:

He was finally able to make a little bit of peace with shooting the woodchucks on his property by cooking and eating them. “It was a way of taking full responsibility for taking a life,” he says. “Almost like a spiritual journey.”

Matt and I have taken less lethal--but potentially illegal--steps to deal with the woodchucks in our garden, so I’d best not give the details. One more humane method of handling hungry invaders is to simply plant extra, or, as another gardener tells the Times:

“I do what the Bible says: Leave the corners of your field unharvested for the poor and strangers among you.”

This is all well and good, unless, like us, you’ve only got a fifth of an acre and most of it is a steep, shady slope. There’s no extra space to “plant extra”. We share the berries with the birds, and the squirrels steal most of our hazelnuts, so I am sympathetic to farmers and gardeners who feel driven to drastic measures.

And this conflict between two-legged and four-legged eaters is only going to heat up; as today’s Wall Street Journal notes, higher food costs are inspiring more and more folks to rip out their lawns and plant veggies instead. The growing recognition that maintaining a lawn is a catastrophic waste of resources is contributing to the boom in vegetable seed and seedling sales, too, while flower sales are falling.

But edible landscaping also feeds the hunger to spend our leisure time doing something more gratifying than, say, shopping or plopping down in front of the tv at the end of the day—or mowing the lawn on the weekend.

Artist Fritz Haeg has been challenging the tyranny of turf and helping front yard farmers homestead for several years with his Edible Estates installations. The most recent Edible Estate was recently installed in Baltimore, where the Eat Well Guide’s Leslie Hatfield was among the eager green thumbs pitching in to help a neighbor get growing.

Leslie was also present for the woodchuck stew last Thursday, along with the rest of the Eat Well gang and our fellow blogger and Greenhorns filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, with whom we went off on a field trip to visit some of those new American farmers that we’re always championing. Severine’s posted her eloquent take on the decline and renewal of the American landscape over at her blog, The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles.

It does look as though the tide of lawn lemmings is at long last turning. But this mass conversion of grass to veggies may bring an influx of other rodents to our backyard buffets. Will we let them nosh, or will we quash and sauce them?


Warning: This Film May Give You Hives

Are you ready for the Every Third Bite diet? Like many weight loss strategies, it relies on portion control. But the Every Third Bite diet—unlike any other diet I know of--won’t require any will power on your part. It works by simply eliminating one third of our nation’s food supply.

The secret to its success? Crop failure, brought to you courtesy of colony collapse disorder (CCD). Basically, the bees are bailing on us. And without their powers of pollination, a wide range of crops, from almonds to zucchinis, could be about to vanish from our lives, along with the bees.

“Oh, no, that would be terrible!,” as a delightfully dorky, gap-toothed kid declares in the opening moments of Every Third Bite, the short but sweet documentary on our embattled honeybees that premiered last week at the Media That Matters film festival. Every Third Bite delivers a stinging truth: at the end of the day, our hyper-industrialized system of agriculture can’t wing it without these fuzzy little farm workers, who get schlepped from state to state like mini migrants to pollinate about $15 billion dollars worth of fruit, nut and vegetable crops each season.

Häagen-Dazs, faced with a meltdown over the loss of key ingredients for nearly half its ice cream flavors, has launched a campaign to help save the honeybees, donating $250,000 to help fund research on the cause of CCD. Scientists are still puzzling over whether this new malady is caused by pesticides, viruses, mites, a fungus, or some combination thereof. Stress and poor nutrition may be weakening the bees’ immune systems, too.

Mary Woltz, one of Every Third Bite’s small scale beekeepers, notes that commercial beekeepers, in order to survive, have to harvest all the honey from their hives, leaving none for the bees, who are fed high fructose corn syrup instead. Woltz, by contrast, sets aside enough of the honey from her hives to feed her bees in the winter and spring.

But industrial beekeeping not only deprives bees of their natural diet, it puts them on a grueling work schedule, shuttling them from one farm to the next all season long. As David Graves, a New Yorker who tends a dozen hives on the rooftops of New York City, tells the filmmakers:

“People say, well, you keep your hives in New York City, poor bees! But they don’t realize that there’s such a variety of plants down here, and I don’t move the hives, so there is a period of time during the summer and in the fall when they rest. Bees need to rest just as us humans do.”

But if CCD’s such a problem, why is there still plenty of produce to be found on our store shelves and at the farmers’ markets? In fact, in the year since CCD was first recognized as a new and distinct threat, commercial beekeepers have suffered a historic loss of 36 percent of their hives, up about 13 percent from the previous year. We haven’t seen a corresponding drop in food production because, as Monday’s Quad City Times reports, “beekeepers are working hard to build back their hives.”

And, as Every Third Bite shows, there are plenty of individuals doing their part to help solve the bee crisis, too, with folks taking up small scale beekeeping from rural gardens to urban rooftops. Every Third Bite takes us to the Chicago Honey Co-op, founded in 2004 in a community with few job opportunities, to “help people who wanted to be employed learn beekeeping,” as co-founder Dr. Shamuel Israel explains.

David Graves, the New Yorker who’s been a beekeeper since the early 80’s, dreams of a day when all of New York City will break out in hives. Waving at the acres of bare asphalt surrounding one of his hi-rise apiaries, he says:

“Look at all the empty rooftops where we could be growing things. The sky’s the limit. This city could support easily a thousand hives—easily. I’m just the tip of the iceberg…it takes a lot of people to pull this off, people working together, like the bees.”

And speaking of people working together, The Meerkat Media Collective, who created Every Third Bite, have managed the rare feat of making an uplifting short about a downbeat subject. As New York magazine noted, Every Third Bite’s chosen topic “could make for a very alarmist narrative,” but by focusing on America’s amateur apiarists, Meerkat’s given us “a better bee movie,” an antidote to the scary stats on the state of our for-hire honeybees.

As with all the shorts featured in the Media That Matters festival, you can watch the entire 9-minute movie on their website, which also provides links to several sites where you can take action, whether by learning which bee-friendly plants to grow in your own garden, buying local honey, or starting a hive of your own. To bee, or not to bee; that, literally, is the question. Every Third Bite combs through the web of issues that surrounds CCD and extracts a honey of an answer: we can all do something to help combat CCD. And thank goodness, too, because the prospect of ice cream with no fruits or nuts is pretty chilling.

Let’s Ask Marion: Waste Not, Want Not?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat:The NY Times recently reported that, at a time when food shortages are plaguing so many countries, Americans waste an extraordinary amount of food, equivalent to "a pound of food every day for every American." Moms have been chiding their kids to clean their plates for decades on behalf of starving children in ________(insert deprived region of your choice). And, for decades, kids have wondered what eating those last bites of brussels sprouts could possibly have to do with some poor malnourished kid in Kenya. Is there a connection between America's overloaded plates and empty bowls elsewhere in the world?

Dr. Nestle:Yes, I saw that article. It has a great graphic of all the food a family of four wastes in a month superimposed on a map of the United States. I filed it under the heading of “let’s blame the world food crisis on wasteful Americans.” I don’t buy it. Americans have been wasting food for years. We can afford to. If we couldn’t, we wouldn’t. In any case, half the food dollar is spent on food prepared outside the home, so a big chunk of that wastage is in the production and distribution system. According to the USDA, wastage amounts to about 1,400 calories a day on average for every man, woman, and child in the country (that still leaves us with 2,600 a piece).

Once again, the blame goes on personal responsibility, not policy. The world food crisis is your fault. If you personally didn’t waste so much, children in Haiti and Africa wouldn’t go hungry? Wouldn’t that be nice? Of course we should all be careful not to waste so much, and now that food prices are going through the roof, my guess is that we won’t. But I’ve been collecting reasons for the world food crisis, and wastage is just one of them. Try these:

• Climate change is depressing crop productivity
• Natural disasters--cyclones, earthquakes, droughts, and tsunamis—are disrupting agriculture
• The war in Iraq is disrupting agriculture (among other things)
• The war in Iraq is raising oil prices
• Increased demand in developing countries is raising oil prices
• The war in Iraq is depressing the U.S. dollar
• Our huge trade imbalance with China is depressing the U.S. dollar
• Commodity speculators are raising crop prices
• We are growing too much corn for ethanol
• We all are eating too much meat (animals eat a lot of grain)
• People in India and China are demanding more meat
• Something about reduced interest rates that I don’t quite get

I’m sure there are more. Most of them make sense. Nearly all of them seem more important that food wastage, but OK. We can all do our part and be more careful. But surely the world food crisis is about politics, not personal responsibility.