Tom Philpott

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

Corn-based ethanol: the biggest greenwash ever?

Unintended or not, the consequences were predictable

It’s hard to imagine what politicians and corporate chiefs are intending to do by crafting a corn-based ethanol boom, beyond rigging public policy (and raiding the public purse) to generate huge private profits. But whatever their intentions, they’re methodically creating environmental and social disasters — while brazenly brandishing the “green” flag. Before I go on, let me make two points for the millionth time: Without extended, ongoing, and financially generous government intervention, no market for corn ethanol would exist. If ethanol delivers any net energy gain at all over petroleum gasoline, it’s razor thin. Here are some of the consequences …

In India, bullets fly as farms succumb to chemical factories

A ‘Maoist insurgency’ in a global information-technology hub?

Did you know that India, hub of the global information economy and destination of untold numbers of outsourced U.S. jobs, is in the grips of a Maoist insurgency? A recent Reuters article referred (a bit casually) to: the Maoist insurgency that has spread to about half of India’s 29 states and has been described by Prime Minister Singh as the country’s biggest internal security challenge since independence in 1947. Whoa! And what’s the root cause? It turns out that the government is evicting smallholder farmers en masse from their land — in many cases prime farmland — and handing it …

If organic food is so popular, why are so few farms transitioning their land?

On a recent trip to Austin, I visited the flagship Whole Foods — a vast space where people gather en masse to render financial sacrifice to that new god, organic food. From the depths of the parking lot, as you make your way up to the store, you’re urged again and again by a sign that simply says, “Love where you shop.” From the doe-eyed look of the supplicants making their way up, and the glazed-eyed look of those carrying their treasure down, most clearly do. A puzzle to the core. While few Whole Foods stores have the buzz of …

'Drop-dead gorgeous guts'

Metamucil’s bold new marketing, uh, move

Most people know intuitively that when they eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, they feel better and probably even look better. It’s a virtuous circle, and you can try it at home. Eat fresh produce. Feel better. Look better. Crave fresh produce. But the food-pharmaceutical industry (yes, they’re related) doesn’t make much money when you eat a lot of fresh produce. It makes much more sense to them if you eat a lot of “value-added” (i.e., highly processed) food, and then have all sorts of troubles for which they can sell you the cure — including, uh, bathroom troubles. …

Colorado’s inmates-as-farmworkers plan says plenty about our food culture

Last summer, the Colorado General Assembly passed some of the nation’s most rigorous anti-immigrant policy laws. Debate was fierce — but only because some GOP lawmakers fumed that the Democratic-engineered crackdown wasn’t draconian enough. How times have changed. Essentially, the state’s political elite — backed editorially by The Denver Post — took aim at its low-wage workforce: the people who clean bedpans, prep food in restaurants, harvest vegetables, and perform other “low-value” tasks. The new code denied most “nonessential” services, including non-emergency health care, to undocumented workers (although it didn’t exempt them from paying sales tax). It also upped identification …

My address to the Southern Appalachian Youth on Food conference

One crop to rule them all. Photo: USDA Tucked into the rolling hills of North Carolina’s Swannanoa Valley, Warren Wilson College is essentially surrounded by a farm. The school’s 800 students not only tend the 275-acre farm — which includes pastured livestock and vegetables — they also provide the labor to run the campus. They do everything from accounting to plumbing to cooking in the cafeteria. I’ve had the privilege of hosting several Warren Wilson kids at Maverick Farms, and I’ve been amazed at how well those kids know how to work, and have plenty of fun while doing it. …

Diet Coke + vitamins = healthy beverage!

Uh, no it doesn’t

News flash: Coca-Cola has responded to consumer demand and is now producing “healthy” beverages. “Diet and light brands are actually health and wellness brands,” Coke’s CEO E. Neville Isdell told The New York Times. He was referring to a new product called Diet Coke Plus, which is Diet Coke plus a few vitamins. Where do I start? Diet Coke consists of artificially blackened water tinged with synthetic chemicals. Here are its ingredients, from most prevalent to least: carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate (to protect taste), natural flavors, citric acid; and caffeine [emphasis added]. To protect taste? …

Reviving a much-cited, little-read sustainable-ag masterpiece

The real Arsenal of Democracy is a fertile soil, the fresh produce of which is the birthright of nations.– Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health Sir Albert Howard. Around 1900, a 27-year-old British scientist named Albert Howard, a specialist in plant diseases, arrived in Barbados, then a province of the British Empire. His charge was to find cutting-edge cures for diseases that attacked tropical crops like sugar cane, cocoa, bananas, and limes. To use the terms of the day, his task was to teach natives of the tropics how to grow cash crops for the Mother Country. The method …

Edible media: Bee here, now

Please?

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. Of mites and men (and bees) [Insert perfunctory "buzz" reference into lead:] Buzz about the collapse of domesticated honeybee populations hit the front page of the New York Times yesterday. The steep drop in bee numbers is alarming: A bee laid its little tentacles on the flower that produced every fruit, vegetable, and nut you’ve ever eaten. And that means you, too, vegans: these little animals are a critical, inevitable part of the food chain. Plus, raw honey is really good stuff, and I don’t …

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