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.

Department of bad jokes

CAFOs: ‘Above the Law’ like Steven Seagal?

You looking at me, punk? Okay, okay. I’ve got a good one for you. Ready? Q: Why are CAFOs just like B-movie action “star” Steven Seagal? A: Because despite being Under Siege, Marked for Death and On Deadly Ground, they remain Hard to Kill and, even worse, Above the Law. The ultimate example of this has got to be the Excel Diary CAFO in Minnesota. El Dragón from Fair Food Fight has the details: Fair Food Fight reported on Excel Dairy back in 2008, when the dairy became the first CAFO in Minnesota to be declared a public health hazard — …

headless horsemen of the bureaucracy

Is anyone in charge of food safety?

The fact that there remains no one in charge of food safety at the USDA has become a sick sort of joke among food policy types. It’s true that there is a second in command, Jerold Mande — but he’s a cancer doctor with no food safety background and, at best, a caretaker. He has no authority to make policy or initiate reform. Bill Marler’s Food News website has the latest on the search: Though the administration continues to look for a candidate, a high-level USDA official downplayed the importance of having a Senate-confirmed under secretary, indicating that USDA leadership has confidence in the progress FSIS [Food Safety and Inspection …

lies, damn lies, and baseball caps

The American Farm Bureau goes all in

Check out the pitch on agribiz lobbying group American Farm Bureau’s (AFB) new anti-climate bill website: Activists claim there will be droughts, floods, loss of species, and more, if the Senate does not pass the Climate Change bill. But their bill wouldn’t even help the climate … The fact is politics is driving the need for passage — not facts! The cap-and-trade bill does nothing for Climate Change — it’s simply a tax on U.S. energy that gives other countries a free pass. That’s wrong. This is the kind of policy we ask you to stand against today. It’s at …

notable quotable

Jill Richardson’s apt critique of the redesigned Senate Ag Committee website

The entire top half of the page is now dominated by a picture of the many healthy foods that our government’s ag policy does not promote: red and yellow bell peppers, purple cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet corn, onions, and leafy greens. – La Vida Locavore’s Jill Richardson noting the irony in the new Senate Ag Committee website

battle royal

Is Michelle Obama about to take on Big Food?

With all the talk of Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver lately, it’s easy to ignore the person who right now is, given her current address, the most influential voice on food policy in the country. Naturally, I’m talking about First Lady Michelle Obama. While she’s been exercising what diplomats would call her “soft power” for a while, i.e. planting a garden, making speeches on healthy eating, and so on, indications are that she’s quietly developing a set of policy recommendations to reform the food system. Obama Foodorama has been tirelessly reporting on these maneuvers, which have remained under the radar …

more government, please!

Can Jamie Oliver cooking lessons cure obesity?

Jamie OliverPhoto: Downing Street via Flickr What struck me most about the profile of celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver in the NYT Magazine’s Food Issue was not his valiant attempts to re-educate Americans on the importance of scratch cooking. It’s that the poor man could have used some serious therapy as a child. Oliver is severely dislexic, was woken up by his father at 6:30 a.m. every morning by a dousing from the garden hose (“People die in bed,” his father would say), was working in his father’s pub at the age of 6 and cooking there by …

Pollan-ated

Big Ag’s odd obsession with You-Know-Who

I really really really didn’t want to write another post on Michael Pollan. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan. It’s just that reducing the whole of the food movement to Pollan’s work naturally ignores so much else that’s going on. But don’t blame me for this post. Blame Big Ag. These guys just can’t leave him alone — it’s verging on an unhealthy obsession. They seem to think that if they can just share a stage with him wherever he pops up, they’ll show him (and the audience) how wrong he really is. It’s happening all over …

Weed Whacking

The chemical treadmill breaks down and the superweeds did it

Tom Philpott has been tracking the rise of so-called “superweeds” — i.e. herbicide-resistant weeds — for a while now. He’s talked about the chemical treadmill — “the situation wherein weeds and other pests develop resistance to poisons, demanding ever higher doses of old poisons and constant development of novel ones.” Due in part to its reliance on genetically modified crops that are designed to be doused with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, the South has to date faced the worst of this problem. And the struggle against these new superweeds, in particular against a new resistant form of pig weed, got the …

USDA FAIL

Can the USDA really keep our food safe?

Having read and listened to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s attempts at ground beef-related damage control in the wake of the recent food safety revelations, I’m left to wonder if the USDA simply needs to get out of the food safety business entirely. Vilsack himself — in a Minnesota NPR radio interview where he defended the USDA’s dual role as a marketing service and a food safety regulator, its recent shift towards more aggressive testing, and its ability to inspect foreign meat importers — all but admitted that the USDA has fundamentally failed in its mission. How so? The interviewer asked …

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