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Anna Lappe's Posts

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Should the “Nobel prize for food” go to a Monsanto exec?

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In a move that has disturbed many anti-hunger advocates, including the 81 global leaders of the World Future Council and laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, the World Food Prize -- often known as the Nobel prize for food and agriculture -- has given this year’s award to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley.

Fraley shares the prize with two other scientists responsible for launching the “technology” behind the biotech business three decades ago, after developing a method for inserting foreign genes into plants. For an award that claims to honor those who contribute to a “nutritious and sustainable food supply,” genetically modified organisms miss the mark on both counts.

GMOs do not create a more nutritious or sustainable food supply. Twenty years after the commercialization of the first GMO seed, almost all are limited to just two types. Either they’ve been developed to resist a proprietary herbicide or engineered to express a specific insecticide. (No surprise, since the product development is led by chemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.) While these crops have proven profitable to the companies producing them, they’ve been costly to farmers. And for the cash-poor farmers, who make up 70 percent of the world’s hungry, this technology worsens dependency on purchased seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals. As GMOs exacerbate farmers’ dependency on these inputs -- all at volatile and rising prices — many small-scale farmers are driven to despair.

In terms of sustainability, GMOs also do nothing to reduce the agriculture sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, mined minerals, and water -- all natural resources that will only get more costly as they become more scarce.

While the genetic engineers promise that their technology can deliver, experts I’ve interviewed here and around the world are doubtful. Instead, they point to the studies showing the productivity and resilience of organic and agroecological methods, especially in the face of drought and other extreme weather. Organic production methods outperform chemical methods in drought years [PDF] by as much as 31 percent. Other benefits? Organic methods can use 45 percent less energy and produce 40 percent less greenhouse gases [PDF]. Real numbers, real solutions.

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Down with the clown: Third graders stand up to McDonald’s junk-food marketing

Last week at the McDonald’s shareholder meeting, the world’s largest fast food chain heard from a brave 9-year-old, Hannah Robertson. She was among a growing chorus of parents, teachers, and kids calling out the company for its relentless marketing to kids, especially with the use of its iconic clown, Ronald McDonald. (Who, by the way, I’ve always found creepy). "It would be nice,” said Robertson at the company’s annual meeting in Chicago on Thursday, “if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time.” CEO Don Thompson responded, “We are not marketing unjustly to kids.” …

Read more: Food, Living

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On Earth Day, eight ways to eat with the planet in mind

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What’s food got to do with loving the planet? Everything. The global food system -- from production to consumption to waste -- contributes to one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is the single largest user of land, worldwide, and agricultural chemicals pollute lakes, streams, and rivers.

The good news is that we can grow food abundantly without hurting the environment. In fact, sustainable farming practices play a key role in remediating watersheds, protecting soils, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And, since we all eat, each of us has a role to play in choosing food that protects the planet. Here are eight ways to eat with the planet in mind.

1. Don’t panic, go organic. When you choose organic-certified products or sustainably grown food, you’re supporting production methods that are good for the planet. Sustainable farmers use ecological practices to manage pests or “weeds.” These farmers develop fertility on the farm, instead of relying on energy-intensive mined minerals and artificial fertilizers, which can runoff and create aquatic dead zones that leave oceans choked with algal growth.

Read more: Food, Living

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Force-fed: How corporate sponsorship poisons nation’s top group of nutritionists

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Seven years ago, when I was conducting research for my second book about food, farming, and healthy eating, I spent some time digging into the website for the American Dietetic Association (what’s now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). What did the nation’s association of registered nutritionists tell us about healthy eating? Stuff like monosodium glutamate (or MSG) is a great flavorant for seniors whose taste buds might be fading, never mind that there have been health concerns raised about the additive. Scroll to the bottom of the MSG webpage, though, and you’d discover that the ADA nutrition fact sheet was sponsored by Ajinomoto, the world’s leading maker of -- you guessed it -- MSG. It didn’t take long to discover this conflict of interest was rampant across the nutrition information presented by the academy. Nutritionist friends would send me programs from the annual meeting with workshops about the benefits of dairy and beef consumption -- sponsored by the dairy and meat industry.

In a powerful just-released report [PDF], public health attorney and author Michele Simon delves into just how deep the ties are between America’s food industry and those dieticians and nutritionists who are supposedly helping inform the public about what’s good to eat.

In her report, Simon documents how the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), a 74,000-member trade group, has longstanding partnerships with dozens of food companies, including Coke, Hershey’s, and more. Since 2001, the academy has tripled the number of food-industry sponsors listed in its annual report. Perhaps most shocking to me was the engagement of food corporations to run continuing education units for academy members. All AND members are required to take educational courses every year, and many of the approved food-industry providers include companies like Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo. It also turns out that many of the corporate-sponsored courses are offered for free.

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Who’s behind the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and why it matters

Photo: USFRAOn Thursday, Sept. 22, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, a new trade association made up of some of the biggest players in the food industry -- including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Dupont, and Monsanto -- hosted what it called "Food Dialogues" in Washington D.C., New York City, U.C. Davis, and Fair Oaks, Ind. The USFRA describes the Food Dialogues, and its broader multimillion-dollar media campaign, as an effort to amplify the voice of farmers and ranchers and help consumers know more about "how their food is grown and raised." Sounds good, on first blush. Most of us …

Read more: Factory Farms, Food

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A snake in the Olive Garden

Photo: RickYesterday, to much fanfare, the First Lady announced that the Darden Group -- owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden, among other restaurants -- will voluntarily improve their menus, cutting calories and sodium and making healthier options available for kids. In an allegedly bold move, the company is specifically committing to cutting calories and sodium on its menu by 10 percent over the next five years. What does this really mean? Let's imagine you're dining out at Olive Garden one evening. You've got an appetite, so you order your favorite, the fried calamari appetizer. For an entrée, you go …

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Sorry, NY Times: GMOs still won't save the world

With all due respect, Nina Federoff’s New York Times op-ed reads like it was written two decades ago, when the jury was still out about the potential of the biotech industry to reduce hunger, increase nutritional quality in foods, and decrease agriculture’s reliance on toxic chemicals and other expensive inputs that most of the world’s farmers can’t afford. With more than 15 years of commercialized GMOs behind us, we know not to believe these promises any longer. Around the world, from the Government Office for Science in the U.K. to the National Research Council in the United States to the …

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Green crush: A restaurant, a cause

For the series "Grist dared me to make a change," we challenged author and activist Anna Lappé to write love poems to her favorite green groups in NYC. Read her first, second, third, fourth, and fifth here. And support her dare with a gift to Grist! The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York emerged out of organizing by the surviving workers of Windows on the World, the restaurant on top of the World Trade Center North Tower. First came Colors, a cooperatively owned restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Restaurant Opportunities Center of NY was formed soon after as a way to …

Read more: Food

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Green crush: The ballad of the green table

For the series "Grist dared me to make a change," we challenged author and activist Anna Lappé to write love poems to her favorite green groups in NYC. Read her first, second, third, and fourth here. And support her dare with a gift to Grist! Mary Cleaver and the entire team at Cleaver Co. bring to life some of the most delicious and sustainable meals I've had in the city. They're also dedicated to supporting many of the food justice organizations in the city, including being generous supporters to our Small Planet Fund event every year.

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Green crush: How does your garden grow?

For the series "Grist dared me to make a change," we challenged author and activist Anna Lappé to write love poems to her favorite green groups in NYC. Read her first, second, and third here. And support her dare with a gift to Grist! Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, with views of the United Nations and the East River, is a spectacular farm that combines growing great food and building community with fabulous weekly programs. Learn more at rooftopfarms.org. ("Annie" is Annie Novak, co-founder of Eagle Street and a New Agtivist.)

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