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Samuel Fromartz's Posts

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Reflections on the state of organic from an old pro

Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation and a longtime presence in the world of California -- and national -- organic farming, published a provocative essay recently on where organic came from and where it's headed. He discusses the hidden history that brought organic regulations into the USDA (which I also talk about in Organic Inc.) and suggests where organic needs to go. Most of all, he provides a much-needed perspective on the debates engulfing the organic world right now, which are leading some consumers to question its worth: I think the debate has not taken into …

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Zombie hens survive euthanasia

In a truly bizarre story, laying hens who have survived euthanasia have walked out alive from compost piles. Neighbors in Sonoma County dubbed them "zombie chickens." The Santa Rosa Press Democrat slugged the story "Recycling Chickens," though the news was really about the birds that desperately tried to avoid such a fate. When Jim Stauffer of Petaluma saw a chicken crawling out of a mound of compost like the living dead, he knew something had changed at the egg farm next door. "We called them zombie chickens," Stauffer said. "Some of them crawled right up out of the ground. They'd …

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A nice bit of TV

ABC World News is running a three-part series on organic food that concludes tonight. It's worth viewing, if only to see the messages the "mainstream" is getting. The first segment, on the mainstreaming of organics, made the point that there were, uh, problems with the ramping up of organic food. (Full disclosure: they interviewed yours truly.) The issue was dealt with deftly, but my favorite part of the segment was when an organic cattle rancher in Marin County actually called his cows and they came. Not being from a farming life, I found that quite amusing. The second piece, on …

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Food retailer boosts salaries of top executives

Success breeds imitation breeds competition, and Whole Foods is feeling the heat: its stock dropped more than 20 percent on news of slowing sales. Said CEO John Mackey on his blog: There has been an explosion in interest from our supermarket competitors in virtually everything we are doing, from copying many aspects in the design of our stores to selling more organic foods of all types, other supermarkets are studying and emulating us in dozens of different ways in their attempt to compete more aggressively against us. Ouch! After it announced the sales slowdown Thursday, the company's stock took its …

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Should we eat them?

Michael Ruhlman, a food writer who has penned books with the likes of Thomas Keller (The French Laundry), has an interesting thread on his blog about cooking balls (yes, the ones between legs). I haven't put a lot of thought into the ethics of eating balls, or castrating for that matter, or whether these bits demand their own particular consideration vis-a-vis the rest of the animal. But the recipe-intensive discussion is amusing, so click ahead (as long as you're not a vegetarian). My immediate take: if you're going to eat meat, why waste the offal and balls or anything else …

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Slow Food event in Italy

Slow Food recently wrapped up its biennial event, Terra Madre, in Turin, Italy. The conference gathers food producers from around the world to share information, stories, and food. Slow Food had a running blog of the event, with pictures and audio. We are the voices of Terra Madre. We believe in good, clean and fair food. These are our stories, our pictures, our questions and answers, our problems, concerns, fears, failures and successes. So mangiati il fegato (eat your heart out).

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More research on what kind of diet makes people healthy

Sir Robert McCarrison is not a household name, but in the 1920s this honorary physician to the King, head of post-graduate medical education at Oxford and proponent of nutrition, played an influential role in the birth of the organic food movement in Britain -- and perhaps in contemporary nutrition research as well. I thought about him again, reading a New York Times article on calorie restriction and longevity, a field of study gaining more weight (so to speak). Based on studies McCarrison had done in north India starting in 1907, he found that a simple "peasant" diet of beans, whole …

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BP factory accident traced to cost cutting

The Wall Street Journal: Federal investigators said cost cutting at oil giant BP compromised safety at a Texas refinery and helped cause a deadly explosion at the plant in March 2005, in findings that significantly raise the legal and financial stakes in the disaster for the London-based oil giant. Will this story (sub. required) cut yet another pillar out of BP's sustainability campaign? It suggests that the mundane concerns of business -- expenses and profits -- weigh directly against other social concerns like safety. BP faces a criminal probe into the accident, which took place at its refinery in Texas …

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Will it really be green this time?

So how do you feed the poorest? The Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have an answer but skeptics abound. The Rockefeller and Gates Foundations recently launched Green Revolution 2.0, aimed at Africa. Noble cause: feeding the poorest. The question, though, is whether the tools of intensive agriculture really work. The first Green Revolution (1950-1960s) is still controversial. Critics denounced the environmental costs of intensive pesticide, fertilizer, and water use (which also requires energy resources). More pointedly, they questioned the whole notion that it did, in fact, bring food to the poor. Food output rose during this time, but so did costs, …

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Local or organic? It’s a false choice

This essay was adapted from the book Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew. A couple of years ago, I visited an organic vegetable farm in southeast Minnesota, not far from the Mississippi River. Nestled in a valley that sloped down from rolling pasture and cropland sat Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables, a 40-acre farm. Do your stem sell research. Photo: iStockphoto. Featherstone was part of a local food web in the upper Midwest, selling at a farmers market, through a CSA (community-supported agriculture), and to co-op stores in the Twin Cities. But the partners, Jack Hedin and Rhys Williams, …

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