Tom Philpott

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

Guest blog: Searching for food in the school cafeteria

What parents can do

Ever since I wrote a piece on Ann Cooper, the “renegade lunch lady” bent on returning real food to school cafeterias, I’ve been meaning to follow up on what parents can do to improve their kids’ cafeteria experience. Well, like the good lunch lady she is, Chef Ann is always sharing recipes for action. Yesterday, she sent me the following op-ed by Kate Adamick, former director of the SchoolFood Plus Initiative in New York City, a broad effort intended to improve the eating habits, health, and academic performance of New York City’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren by incorporating more locally …

Dean Foods says no to cloned milk

A dairy giant does the right thing

Erstwhile Gristmiller Sam Fromartz, true to form as an ex-reporter, has breaking news on his personal blog. Sam reports that Dean Foods, the dominant U.S. dairy supplier (you can find a list of its many brands here) has decided not to accept milk from cloned cows, despite recent USDA approval of the stuff. This is big news, and it puts the lie to the claim that consumer choice doesn’t influence food politics. If Dean holds to its promise, the whole cloned-cow thing could die an ignominious death, rejected by increasingly aware consumers. Similar consumer outrage is also convincing big dairy …

Starving the beast: How to avoid Archer Daniels Midland

Must one do business with ADM?

Responding to my latest critique of Archer Daniels Midland and its business practices, a reader writes in to ask, “If I want to stop supporting ADM when grocery shopping, is there a list somewhere of what products to avoid buying?” That’s a great question. The short answer is, the best way to stiff ADM is to avoid processed fare and stick to actual food: fresh produce, dried beans, grains, rice, etc. If you’re a meat eater, you’ll have to stick to free-range, grass-finished products. ADM is a huge supplier of livestock feed and distiller’s grains, a byproduct from the ethanol …

How Archer Daniels Midland cashes in on Mexico’s tortilla woes

Much has been made in the U.S. press about Mexico’s “tortilla crisis” — the recent spike in the price of its definitive corn-based flatbread. Media reports tend to focus blame on U.S. ethanol production, which has surged over the past year, causing the global price of corn to double. The situation stoked the food vs. fuel debate, showing that even marginally offsetting gasoline with corn-based ethanol can have dire consequences for eaters — especially ones on a budget. Traditionally made tortillas are a masa-have commodity in Mexico. Photo: Dayna Bateman But while our ravenous — and dubious — appetite for …

The Senate slaps sustainable ag

And what you can do about it

Ask small-scale, sustainable-minded farmers where they go for tips, and invariably they’ll mention ATTRA, an information clearinghouse funded by the USDA. Just this morning, I went to attra.org to get information on how to make organic potting-soil mix for starting seeds. Like many farmers, I’ve printed out copies of ATTRA’s indispensable guides to cover crops and soil management and keep them in a prominent place in the farm office. As a new farmer, I can’t imagine a world without ATTRA, which stands for Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas. That’s why my blood began to boil this morning when I …

The farm bill: round up the usual suspects

Bush’s USDA plays footsie with ADM, Cargill, and even the API on farm policy.

Federal investment in agriculture is a very wise, thoughtful investment. How we do it is the critical issue. At the end, I believe strongly it must be predictable, equitable, and beyond challenge. Thus spake USDA director Mike Johanns, commenting recently on negotiations around the 2007 farm bill. That’s awesome. So who will he be approaching for input as the farm bill debate opens? Well, he did spend a lot of the last year on the road, holding forums with farmers across the country. No doubt those talks made some impact on the proposal he submitted to Congress. But I suspect …

Bush, Iran, and the House of Saud

Here we go again

Bush’s babble about Iran has taken on a darker tone of late. Just a couple of days ago, the president claimed with certainty that an elite Iranian unit had been supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with deadly weaponry. He acknowledged a rare bit of uncertainty over whether the Iranian government had ordered the weapons transfer, but added this: “We do know that [Iranian weapons are] there and I intend to do something about it. And I’ve asked our commanders to do something about it.“ Oh, dear. Sounds like the administration is cooking up a scheme to engage the Iranian military …

Global warming: How it's playing in Cleveland

No big deal, say Ohio meteoroligists

Guess the IPCC report really was sort of a bust. Dave reports that a big swath of the pundocracy says global warming sucks, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Oh well. Over in Cleveland, a bunch of meteorologists aren’t even sure it sucks. They say it’s just not that big of a deal. Says one: We have maybe 100 years of data on a rock that’s 6 billion years old … Mother Nature tends to even herself out, and the fact is, the Earth is cyclical. Yawn. Another can’t resist a potshot at Al Gore: “Where’s Al Gore …

How a cookbook renaissance heated up the sustainable-food movement

In the postmodern United States, a cultural critic laments, “The pleasures of the table are rarely appreciated at face value.”      Speak truth to flour. A near-hysterical concern with health has replaced common sense, he continues, leading to all manner of dubious decisions: “Americans blithely drink sodas filled with artificial flavors and sweeteners, yet paste warning labels on bottles of wine; they decry the dangers of eating butter and claim that margarine, a completely manufactured artificial product, is better for you.” For Americans, he worries, eating has been drained of joy and imbued instead with anxiety. “Are we so out of …