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Tom Philpott's Posts

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Great places, great food (and beer): part two

You can't have a great place without great beer.In part one of my musings on food and "great places," I painted a bleak picture of the U.S. food landscape: one in which a handful of companies churn out mountains of low-quality food, competing not to see who can put out the best product, but rather to see who can most deftly and deeply slash costs. The fixation on cost-cutting gives rise to all manner of dysfunctions, including the erasure of skilled food trades like that of the butcher and the rise of a vast, low-wage, low-skill army of food-system workers. …

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Great places, great food: part one

Is this your idea of a great place? Didn't think so.Photo: Robert TerrellDavid Roberts has been sketching out a positive, unifying agenda for progressives under the banner of what he calls "great places." It isn't enough, David argues, to rail against the snarling philistinism of Sarah Palin or engage endlessly in the "decrepit political arguments that dominate U.S. politics." Instead, he urges us to: see things with fresh eyes, to think anew about the unique challenges and opportunities of our historical moment. We're in a time of profound, rapid change and we need an agenda that looks to the future …

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Now that the FDA itself has found BPA in canned foods, will it regulate the poison?

Oh, yes we can: It's time for the FDA to act on its own information regarding canned foods and BPA.The next time an FDA panel convenes to discuss whether to ban BPA, the endocrine-disrupting industrial chemical used in can liners, it will have new data to consider -- a study by the agency's own scientists. In a just-released report, they tested a range of commonly used canned foods, from peas to chili, and found "detectable" levels of BPA in 71 of 78 samples. Given that millions of Americans consume these foods daily and that the dangers of BPA have been …

Read more: Food, Scary Food

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Small bites from the Big Apple: delicious eats in New York City

I recently visited New York City to attend the ceremony for the James Beard Awards in food journalism. I had been nominated for one in the category of column writing. I didn't bring home a Beard in the end, but I did notch a few victories in the field of the palate. Here are the top food experiences of my brief and memorable trip. You don't have to go to Italy for a great pork sandwich.Photo: PorchettaPorchetta Years ago, I spent a spell working on a farm in Le Marche, a state along Italy's Adriatic Coast. The farm was a …

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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How industrial agriculture makes us vulnerable to climate change, Mississippi floods edition

An "ephemeral gulley" that carried soil and agrichemicals from an Iowa farm toward the Gulf of Mexico during a 2010 storm. Photo: Environmental Working GroupNancy Rabalais, marine scientist and executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is probably our foremost authority on the vast, oxygen-depleted "dead zone" that rears up annually in the Gulf of Mexico, fed by fertilizer runoff from large Corn Belt farms. (I interviewed her for my podcast last year.) In a report on the PBS Newshour blog, Rabelais delivers some bad news: Floods in the Mississippi River watershed this spring are washing tremendous amounts of …

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Innovative farmer Eliot Coleman speaks [AUDIO]

Eliot Coleman.Eliot Coleman is one of the most innovative, successful, and influential small-scale farmers in the United States. Eliot runs Four Seasons Farm in Maine, where he has become legendary for producing top-quality vegetables through Maine's harsh winters. His books, which include The Winter Harvest Handbook, and Four Season Harvest, are considered bibles among farmers trying to extend their seasons in cold climates. But Eliot isn't just a guru of the field and the greenhouse. He's also an intellectual with a commanding grasp of the history of agriculture. In this edition of Victual Reality, the podcast about food politics for …

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What we know — and don’t know — about the safety of eating GMOs

GMOs ahead: Proceed at your own risk.Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? The conventional answer is "yes," and it's not hard to see why. Since their introduction in 1996, genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy seeds quickly conquered U.S. farm fields. Today, upwards of 70 percent of corn and 90 percent of soy are genetically modified, and these two crops form the basis of the conventional U.S. diet. Nor are they GM technology's only pathway onto our plates. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. cotton is now genetically engineered, and cottonseed oil has emerged as a …

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Tom’s Kitchen: A recipe for simple, incendiary, and addictive ‘salsa macha’

Many people claim they don't have time to cook fresh meals "from scratch." In Tom's Kitchen, Grist's food editor discusses some of the quick and easy things he gets up to in ... well, his kitchen. Salsa macha: my new obsession.Photo: Tom PhilpottCertain taquerias and street-food establishments in Mexico feature a fiery-hot, delicious condiment of dried chile peppers ground to a coarse paste and mixed with oil. As a chile-pepper fanatic, I've always found it irresistible. I discovered on a recent trip to Mexico that the singular salsa has a name: salsa macha. ("Macha" being the female form of the …

Read more: Food

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Factory farms the only way to ‘feed the world’? Not so, argues Science paper

To "feed the world" by 2050, we'll need a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. At least that's the conventional wisdom. Even progressive journalists trumpet the idea (see here, here, and here, plus my ripostes here and here). The public-radio show Marketplace reported it as fact last week, earning a knuckle rap from Tom Laskway. At least one major strain of President Obama's (rather inconsistent) agricultural policy is predicated on it. And surely most agricultural scientists and development specialists toe that line ... right? Well, not really. Back in 2009, Seed Magazine organized a forum predicated on the idea …

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Coke, BPA, and the limits of ‘green capitalism’

Don't drink the Coca-Cola Kool-AidPhoto: Oleg Sklyanchuk"Coca-Cola goes green," announced a 2010 Forbes article. Indeed, the beverages giant maintains partnerships with Big Green groups like Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund. It recently even completed its takeover of Honest Tea, an organic bottled-tea company. It would clearly like to be seen as a paragon of "green capitalism" -- the idea that doing good and doing well go hand in hand. Let's put aside questions over what can possibly be "green" about a business model geared to sucking in huge amounts of drinking water, blasting it with what are probably toxic …

Read more: Food, Scary Food