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Twilight Greenaway's Posts

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Beyond porkwashing: Food service company commits to humane meat

Aaron Miller of Miller Livestock in Kinsman, Ohio. Bon Appétit buys half of all his hogs. (Photo by Sarah Piper.)

Last week, McDonald's announced it was making a move to end the use of gestation crates -- the especially despicable practice of confining pregnant sows in spaces roughly the width of their bodies. By May, their announcement read, they’ve requested concrete plans from their producers to phase out the practice.

In other words, the company managed to make a splash in the news without committing to a timeline. Of course, one of McDonald's biggest suppliers, Smithfield Foods, is supposedly four years into a 10-year process to phase out gestation crates by 2017 –- but it’s hard to know how much stock to put into their pledge considering the complaint filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with the Securities and Exchange Commission in November alleging that Smithfield has been making false and misleading claims about their practices.

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An invitation to chat with Laurie David

Pour yourself a cup of tea and get ready to chat with Laurie David on Feb. 22.

Editor’s note: The chat’s now over, but you can replay it in full.

Laurie David -- film producer, climate activist, and author -- is chatting live with Grist readers.

David is probably best known for producing the 2006 Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, for authoring the best-selling Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You!, and coauthoring The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming.

After a decade working to bring the issue of global warming into mainstream popular culture, David has expanded her purview: Now she's taking on sustainable eating and reforming our broken food system.

Read more: Food

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Local in winter: An invitation

This string of dried peppers was a gift from Annabelle Lenderink, a farmer I know. When she handed them to me on one of her last days in the Berkeley Farmers Market for the season, I remember her saying, "They look really nice when the sun shines through them." So I took her advice and hung them in my kitchen, where I can pull one or two down at a time to crush and flavor a pot of soup here and a pot of beans there. And every time I do, I think of Annabelle, who runs a beautiful farm called La Tercera, right beside the larger farm she works for called Star Route. Every time the sun catches the peppers, I'm reminded of the rows of chicories and puntarella she grows there and the crew of workers she treats with dignity and respect.

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Monterey County says no to methyl iodide

A Strawberry farm near Castroville in Monterey County. (Photo by USDA.)

Last month, I wrote about the very real possibility that Monterey County -- one of the biggest farm counties in California -- would pass a resolution to ban the fumigant methyl iodide.

Well, on Tuesday morning, Valentine's Day, the Moneterey County Board of Supervisors did just that. They'll join Santa Cruz County (another big ag county) in urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to re-examine the registration and approval of this known carcinogen on farms.

Methyl iodide is being seen as a replacement for the ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which will be phased out of use in the state by 2015. And while farmers appear to be holding off on using this highly toxic chemical (only a handful of applications have been recorded in the state so far), that fact hasn’t stopped anti-pesticide advocates from pushing lawmakers to to reconsider the decision.

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Breaking through the myths: New book seeks to redefine urban farming

In 2010, Grist ran a series of posts chronicling a road trip across American by a team of young men looking to document our nation’s urban farms for a book called Breaking Through Concrete (you can see a list of the posts over on the right of the page). Sponsored in part by WHYHunger, David Hanson (writer), Michael Hanson (photographer), Charles Hoxie (videographer), and Edwin Marty (farmer and writer) drove across the country in a biodiesel-fueled, internet-enabled short bus.

This month, the book, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, finally hits the shelves. To mark the occasion, we caught up with David Hanson to get the lowdown on the book and hear his observations about this moment in urban farming.

Q. Which came first: the book deal or the road trip across the country to document urban farms?

A. We wrote a book proposal and got a deal with University of California Press. We had the idea long before then, but the deal was what sent us on the road trip.

We wanted to make a book celebrating urban farms -- and not some sort of doomsday, “we’re all going to die because we’re eating bad food” kind of thing. There’s some truth to that, but we wanted to make it a real celebration and kind of glorify those great projects that are addressing the problems [in our food system].

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Farm Bill update: Fewer secrets, more hard work

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is one of two bills sustainable ag advocates will be rallying around this spring. (Photo by fieldsbh.)

Now that we're beyond all the intrigue and behind-closed-doors shenanigans of the failed Secret Farm Bill, the good food movement is tasked with something even more daunting: staying awake and engaged as the 2012 Farm Bill moves through a more traditional process of hearings, committees, and amendments. I have my party hat on -- do you?

The clock is ticking

Because we’re in an election year, the bill would essentially have to be ready to go by the beginning of this summer for it to pass before the 2008 bill expires in September. And while Tom Laskawy and others think that’s unlikely, it’s not impossible, either. In a recent, super-in-depth rundown of the logistical and political factors effecting the process, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) wrote:

… The Food, Energy, and Conservation Act of 2008 was, in fact, passed in the presidential election year of 2008.  But unlike the current situation, both the House and the Senate had already passed their versions of a farm bill in 2007. The work in 2008 was focused on reconciling the differences in the two bills through a conference committee and then passing the compromise.

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We can fund that! USDA grants help the local food movement grow

Photo by psrobin.

In case you think pickling is just another excuse to put Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in goofy wigs, think again. Along with products like jam, flour, and beef jerky, pickles count as “value-added” foods, and they’re at the core of what it will take for the local food movement to mature beyond an easily parodied trend.

You see, without these higher-value, less perishable products, farmers and ranchers working at a small, sustainable scale and selling their products locally can rarely make a real living. In addition to the home food preservation trend, small businesses are also working to fill the gaps that exist between heavily processed, industrial foods and local produce -- and the result is often minimally processed “value-added products.” Such products allow farmers to extend their season, providing a way for locavore consumers to, say, eat peaches in February, and -- perhaps more important -- providing a product for farmers to sell long after peach season is gone.

Not that it’s easy to expand a farm operation in that way. It takes seed funding, market testing, and food safety chops to grow your business. That’s where -- believe it or not -- our government is trying to help.

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Protein: The lay of the lamb

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.

Photo by Martin Pettitt.

When it comes to carbon emissions, lamb is said to be the worst possible thing to eat. It’s the tall, scary skyscraper in the carbon emissions bar graph (see below), and for good reason. They’re small, gassy animals that spend most of their lives on pasture. Wait, what’s that last part? Yes, some of the animals who seem to spend the least time in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- a good thing, as far as I’m concerned -- also have the largest carbon hoofprints.

It’s a given that eating any meat at all has a larger environmental impact than choosing not to. But, for committed omnivores, choosing a comparatively green option has become increasingly complex. And precisely because lamb has gotten such a bad rap in carbon-centric circles, I thought it might be worth another look.

First the bad news: Sheep are big burpers and, like cows, they release a lot of methane into the atmosphere. Although their production “lifecycle” has around the same climate impact as that of cattle, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that “lamb meat tends to have higher net GHG emissions because lambs produce less meat in relation to live weight than cows.”

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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New food reporting project dives deep into pork drug

Photo by Edmund Yeo.

On Wednesday, thanks to a collaboration with a new nonprofit news organization called the Food and Environment Reporting Network, MSNBC ran an in-depth report on ractopamine hydrochloride, a drug commonly used in pigs and known on the market as Paylean.

The story is important for two reasons. First, it has the potential to widen the public's understanding of a powerful, overused drug, and to help us dig down into what it really means when we hear about the use of growth-promoting drugs in meat. Second, it’s the mark of a new voice in food journalism -- one that’s well worth paying attention to if you’re interested the intersection of food and the environment.

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Can healthy food come from unhealthy workers?

Farmworkers shoulder tools at the end of the day. (Photo by Charles O'Rear.)

I wasn’t surprised when the Associated Press reported last week that Colorado-based Jensen Farms had been fined for housing its workers in unsanitary, unsafe conditions (workers had little choice but to crowd into company-owned "motel" rooms that lacked beds, laundry facilities, and smoke detectors). After all, the huge cantaloupe farm had been found responsible for last fall’s deadly listeria outbreak -- a major food safety oversight that killed at least 30 people, made 146 people sick, and soured melon season for farmers around the nation by planting a fear of cantaloupes in the minds of many eaters.

And although the AP story reads, “The fine was not linked to the outbreak,” it’s clear that there are links between food safety and the treatment of workers.