Tom Laskawy

A 17-year veteran of both traditional and online media, Tom Laskawy is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a contributing writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy. Tom's long and winding road to food politics writing passed through New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Florence, Italy, and Philadelphia (which has a vibrant progressive food politics and sustainable agriculture scene, thank you very much). In addition to Grist, his writing has appeared online in The American Prospect, Slate, The New York Times, and The New Republic. He is on record as believing that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. Follow him on Twitter.

square peg, meet round hole

The ‘small problem’ with GMOs and Africa

Drought in Ethiopia.The Des Moines Register‘s Philip Brasher is in Africa reporting on the potential for GMO crops to help alleviate hunger in the developing world. The current focus is on drought-tolerant crops for obvious reasons: I grew up in western Texas and covered the Midwest’s devastating drought of 1988. I know what a drought looks like, but I’ve never seen anything like the devastation to a portion of the Rift Valley near the Tanzania border. The savanna, where locals said the grass should be as much as 2 feet high, is barren except for scattered acacia trees and cattle …

Our government: where reform goes to die

‘An overwhelming bias toward inaction’

Anyone who wants any kind of reform in this country need to grapple with Ezra Klein’s important and clearly argued insight into our current system of “government”: The U.S. Congress is hostile not only to liberal power, but also to conservative power, and for that matter, to majority governance. The rules trump the election, trump the organizing, trump the 50-plus senators in support of the public option, trump all of it. Liberals will never have 70 votes in the Senate, and, in a useful symmetry for the purposes of coalition building, nor will conservatives, and nor, it seems, will people …

E15 or Fight!

EPA punts on raising ethanol ‘blend wall’

I have been following the Great Ethanol Blend Wall fight for some time. In a nutshell, ethanol companies have been struggling mightily during the recession. In response, industry group Growth Energy petitioned the EPA to allow gasoline to contain up to 15 percent ethanol rather than the current 10 percent. This demand also had the strong support of the big farm groups as well as of USDA Chief Tom Vilsack himself. The auto industry, the marine industry, and just about anyone who sells a gasoline engine opposes the idea on the basis that at higher blends the corrosive effect of …

Shocking developments on the farm

Do diesel-based farmers dream of electric tractors?

Writer George Monbiot’s recent Peak Oil article entitled “If Nothing Else, Save Farming” included this comment: There are no obvious barriers to the mass production of electric tractors and combine harvesters: the weight of the batteries and an electric vehicle’s low-end torque are both advantages for tractors. I read this and immediately tweeted the question “Where are the electric tractors?” Well, scientist-turned-farmer John Hewson has responded to Monbiot’s assertion with an explanation that lacks Monbiot’s, shall we say, sanguinary spirit: [T]o anyone who has worked with farm machinery, especially on smaller and poorer farms, the idea of electric tractors will …

Oh, SNAP!

More NYC farmers markets accept food stamps and sales soar

The NYT’s Cityroom blog offers some hopeful news on getting more healthy food into low-income neighborhoods: Food stamp purchases at the city’s Greenmarkets have more than doubled in the last year, due in large part to publicity campaigns and the addition of more farmers’ markets to the program. Food stamp sales from July to November, when the stamps are valid at the markets, doubled to $226,469 in 2009 from $100,772 in 2008, according to numbers released by the City Council on Sunday. While that is but a small fraction of the $200 million that New York’s surging food stamp population …

just another bill to pay

Treat energy efficiency like a utility

With David Leonhardt’s piece on a new weatherization program/jobs bill nicknamed “Cash for Caulkers” generating buzz, as well as questions, it seemed a good time to resurrect a post I wrote about a year ago on the general subject of energy efficiency improvement. I had been inspired by a lengthy Grist post on a post-carbon economy which observed that the way to jumpstart efficiency and incentivize improvements is to copy the British and set per square foot emissions levels for building (unlikely, I know). But more practically, we should also make energy efficiency a “utility” like electricity, gas, or water. …

Infrastructurally unsound

Grist Exclusive: Will Whole Foods’ new mobile slaughterhouses squeeze small farmers?

Jennifer Hashley processes a chicken on her Massachusetts farm. Massachusetts poultry farmer Jennifer Hashley has a problem. From the moment she started raising pastured chickens outside Concord, Mass. in 2002, there was, as she put it “nowhere to go to get them processed.” While she had the option of slaughtering her chickens in her own backyard, Hashley knew that selling her chickens would be easier if she used a licensed slaughterhouse. Nor is she alone in her troubles. Despite growing demand for local, pasture-raised chickens, small poultry producers throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and even New York can’t or won’t expand for …

Tuna Blues

So long and thanks for all the fish

There was some hope recently that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the organization charged with managing the Atlantic tuna fishery, would listen to its own scientists and ban commercial Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing so that the species might survive. Nope: Environmentalists on Sunday warned bluefin tuna was on its way to extinction after a international meeting of fishery ministry officials trimmed catch quotas but upheld continued hauls of the fish, prized in sushi dishes. “After meeting for 10 days, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) refused to end fishing for Atlantic bluefin …

survey says!

Feed the world sustainably by 2050? Yes, we can!

Adding a bit more data to food system reformers’ arguments, a new study led by Germany’s prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research takes on the question of whether we can “feed the world” while preserving the planet come 2050. Short answer: Yes! Researchers modeled various agricultural styles, growth patterns, and diets. Here’s what they say: Despite pushes from agribusiness to intensify farming to feed a growing global population that is expected to reach over nine billion by 2050, the researchers found that a diet equivalent to eating meat three times a week would allow forests to remain untouched, animals …

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