Corn

Industrial Agriculture

The American diet in one chart, with lots of fats and sugars

This is a non-interactive version of the chart. Also check out the interactive version, by Civil Eats and the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course.Over on Civil Eats, Andrea Jezovit has put together a terrific interactive chart on the U.S. diet. Using USDA data for “average daily calories available per capita, adjusted for spoilage and waste,” it tracks our eating habits since 1970, separating our foodstuffs into basic categories: grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, proteins (“meat, eggs, and nuts”), added sugars, and added fats. For me, the most interesting categories are the latter two. They represent what could be called …

Farmers in U.S. running out of land

Despite planting record amounts of corn and soybeans this year, U.S. farmers are sitting on unexpectedly small stockpiles of both crops. Meanwhile, the demand for corn is crowding out use of land for other crops, including cotton. The USDA reports underscored that U.S. farmers are reaching the limits of arable land in the world's biggest crop exporter … Spring wheat sowing, while among the biggest in decades, could yet shrink. A Reuters analysis suggests that this year could see the largest corn harvest in U.S. history, and yet food prices are forecast to rise 3.5 percent, threatening unrest in countries …

De-CAFO-nated

Introducing … the Vegan/Omnivore Alliance against Animal Factories

Every day, Americans eat more than a half pound of meat per capita — one of the highest rates on the planet. The vast majority of it is produced with methods that abuse the environment, animals, workers, and public health as a matter of course. The handful of companies that dominate U.S. meat production suck in more than 40 percent of the corn grown by our farmers — that’s more than 15 percent of the corn grown worldwide. Industrial corn, of course, is our most ecologically destructive crop. In our society, I can think of two broadly defined groups that …

Country cousins and city cousins

It’s the ‘burbs, stupid: on the Ezra Klein/Tom Vilsack dustup

Carried away: Ezra Klein and Tom Vilsack ride an imaginary “raft of subsidies.” This week, an interesting — and, I think, bizarre — argument broke out between Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The topic was whether rural residents deserve what Klein called a “raft of subsidies,” when in fact, “we still need cities.” Klein’s contributions to the debate were widely hailed as “brilliant” and Vilsack’s were widely deplored (see here and here); but I was left wondering what precisely the two were arguing about — and whether either one of them actually knew what …

Berry patch

USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic, Wendell Berry

A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama’s food and ag policy was “giving me whiplash,” because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo.   Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo — see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops — and deploys what the political scientists call “soft power” (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit. Two events last …

Collin-oscopy

Minn. Rep. Collin Peterson’s crusade against climate policy rages on

Collin Peterson — a Democrat even the Koch brothers could love.Photo: Name Your Frame & Photography via Collin PetersonThe sad saga of climate legislation under Obama — its harrowing ride through Congress and final collapse — features many villains. For me, the most maddening isn’t some Tea Party ideologue railing against the “climate conspiracy.” Rather, it’s a powerful Democrat named Collin Peterson, rep from Minnesota, the House’s ranking Agriculture Committee member, and the man I once deemed the corn jihadi.   Peterson’s opposition to climate policy doesn’t stem from any insane denialist creed. Indeed, he once even welcomed global warming …

no rain, no grain

The world is one poor harvest away from chaos

An Indian woman sifts grain from a previous harvest. Water shortages could drastically affect this year’s harvest.Photo: World BankIn early January, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that its Food Price Index had reached an all-time high in December, exceeding the previous record set during the 2007-08 price surge. Even more alarming, on Feb. 3, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January as prices climbed an additional 3 percent. Will this rise in food prices continue in the months ahead? In all likelihood, we will see further rises that will take the world …

I pity the fuel

With global grain prices surging, corn ethanol looking dumber than ever

There’s nothing green about wasting corn for ethanol.Grist has been tracking rising food prices for some time — and we’re not the only ones. New York Times columnist and Nobel economist Paul Krugman has been writing on the subject, including some interesting analysis of the interaction of climate risk and food prices. Here’s a key nugget from him regarding soaring wheat prices: Why is production down? Most of the decline in world wheat production, and about half of the total decline in grain production, has taken place in the former Soviet Union — mainly Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. And we …

Grains of truth

Ask Umbra Book Club: Did Paleolithic hunter-gatherers eat healthier than we do today?

Corn of plenty? Maybe not so much.Photo: Big Grey MareDearest readers, Welcome to the second day of our conversation of At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. You can catch up on yesterday’s chat here. If you have yet to get a copy of the book, jump in anyway. As a quick catchup, you can listen to Bryson read the introduction here. Growing plants for food is really a very recent innovation. Early in the book, we learn that in Jericho, the “world’s first true city,” people settled but did not farm. They stopped wandering and …

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