Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

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 …

Food Safety

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 …

Food

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 …

Sustainable Farming

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 …

Scary Food

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 …

Industrial Agriculture

Monsanto-tied scientist abruptly quits key USDA research post

Roger Beachy: back from whence he came. On a slow Friday afternoon, a surprising bit of news came down the pike: Roger Beachy, head of  National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the main research arm of the USDA, has officially resigned his post, effective May 20. Who is Beachy? When Obama hired Beachy in 2009, I got a case of policy whiplash, because it seemed to me that the administration kept whipping back and forth between progressive food-system change and agribusiness as usual. Beachy, you see, came to the post from the Danforth Plant Science Center, where he had …

Food

Is Walmart our best hope for food policy reform?

Photo: Code PoetTwo years into the Obama administration, most of the energy around food-policy reform resides in the East Wing, in the form of the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. So far, Let’s Move has been about Michelle Obama pursuing what I have called a “soft power” campaign — that is, using her stature to nudge private companies to reform their ways in the absence of real policy change. So far, the centerpiece of Let’s Move! has been a non-binding deal the first lady and her staff worked out with Walmart in January, in which the retail giant vowed to …

Food

Donning stilettos, Beyonce says: Let’s Move your booties, kids [VIDEO]

As a fan of R&B divas — I stand second to no one in my admiration for Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse — I found this Beyonce video irresistible. Produced on behalf of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to improve children’s health, the choreography and staging dazzle, Beyonce plays the camera like it’s a fiddle, and what she does in 6-inch stilettos is an athletic feat worthy of Lebron James. And as someone who can’t dance and wishes he could, the idea of inspiring kids to move their feet with rhythm seems great to me. Nietzche — who apparently could …

Corn

Government-backed corn ethanol lurches on, paving a road to nowhere

During the Bush II administration, I used to groan that the closest thing we had to a concerted policy response to climate change was the federal government’s slew of goodies for corn-based ethanol. It was a monumentally depressing situation, because propping up corn-derived fuel is expensive and (despite industry hype) doesn’t actually do much, if anything at all, to mitigate climate change — but contributes actively to ecological disasters like the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.” Now, two years into the Obama administration, we still have no concerted policy response to climate change, and the corn ethanol program abides, sucking …

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