One California food company has a novel plan for dealing with food waste and cutting down the power bill: Feed it to bacteria. The Kroger Co. plans to chuck all food gone past its sell-by date into an industrial silo, where microbes will break it down to release methane. That methane will in turn be burned to generate electricity.
Kroger's new food-to-energy plant is designed to make the most of the vast amount of food that spoils before it can be sold to customers, while reducing the company's electricity bills. Sludge left over from the new energy plant will be used as agricultural compost. The L.A. Times describes the operation, which was built in a Compton, Calif., distribution center that serves hundreds of Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores:
Several chest-high trash bins containing a feast of limp waffles, wilting flowers, bruised mangoes and plastic-wrapped steak sat in an airy space laced with piping. Stores send food unable to be donated or sold to the facility, where it is dumped into a massive grinder -- cardboard and plastic packaging included.
While most of Washington, D.C., is consumed with the faux scandals du jour, in a few corners of Congress, actual work is getting done. A day 329 days late and a dollar $20 billion short, perhaps, the farm bill, an every-five-years legislative train[wreck], lumbers slowly forward.
Both the House and the Senate agriculture committees have just passed their own versions of the massive piece of legislation that controls U.S. agricultural policy as well as the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps (now called SNAP). A full House and Senate vote is the next step. Congress tried and failed to pass a farm bill last year. The question now is whether Congress can do it this time.
Actually, the question really is whether Congress will ever pass a farm bill again. For the first time, those close to the legislative process are starting to have their doubts. And that may be a really bad thing.
Bah, humbug, you say! The farm bill is larded with bipartisan subsidies for the largest-scale farmers who grow commodities like corn, soy, and cotton. It’s also the bill that authorizes the federal crop insurance program, which has grown like gangbusters over the last decade. Last year (thanks to the drought) farmers received over $17 billion in insurance payouts -- almost all of which benefited large-scale commodity agriculture. A chicken pox on all their coops!
That not an unreasonable reaction. But also at stake in the farm bill are billions of dollars for conservation programs that help farmers mitigate the environmental effects of their work, and pay them to set aside marginal farmland as wildlife habitat. It also contains millions in federal funds that support organic farmers, help younger and “new” farmers get their start, and prop up local food efforts, organic research, and farmers markets.
It appears ag-gag bills can't even hoof it in farm country: Tennessee joins a roster of states who are strangling ag-gag bills before they can reach the killing floor.
Tennessee lawmakers had narrowly approved a bill that would have required anybody who filmed animal abuses to turn over the footage to law enforcement within 48 hours or risk being fined. That would have prevented undercover animal activists from documenting systematic animal abuse by agricultural workers, helping factory farms get away with cruelty.
But Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called BS on the bill and said that he plans to veto it. From a statement issued by the governor on Monday:
First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law [which protects journalism] without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.
I repeat: They are up. My fragile seeds have sprouted into tiny proto-herbs. Miniature leaves unfold by the hour; little stems reach toward the sun. It’s alive, I tell you! I have created life!
Forgive me for going a bit mad with power -- I’m just so excited that my very first foray into growing from seed is actually working so far. Sure, I’ve managed to keep a series of windowsill plants alive in pots over the past few years (bless you, you affable succulents). But I bought all of them as hearty young plants, already strong and bushy and requiring little more than water from me. It’s like adopting a high-achieving college kid -- with all the hard work already done, you can’t exactly call yourself parent of the year.
But my recent seed-bombing expedition awakened something in me. I haven’t yet seen any sprouts from the secret seed bomb I snuck into a corner of my backyard -- my cue to check on the seed-filled clay capsules I lobbed into vacant lots (maybe the dry spell of the past few weeks is to blame?). So while I’m waiting for my guerrilla gardening luck to kick in, I decided to try growing herbs from seed for the first time.
Do you feel like your doctors and your more annoying friends are always telling you to drink more water? Well, they're just trying to help. Water is so important for your health! Sadly, water tastes like, well, water. And since Americans eat like 100 pounds of sugar a year, the taste of water just isn't good enough for us. Even though we are very lucky to have fresh water, we don't get too excited about it -- 20 percent of people say they just don't like how it tastes (i.e., watery). What we do get excited about are artificially flavored, sugar-free water products.
Salt’s membership in junk food’s holy trinity (along with sugar and fat) means it’s one of the food industry’s essential tools for making its products addictively good. (Journalist Michael Moss reveals this in his eye-opening book Salt Sugar Fat, but if you’ve ever housed a box of Cheez-Its solo, you already knew that.) For decades now, limiting salt intake has been part of the public-health mantra; groups like the American Heart Association vilify salt for its links to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and recommend that we all aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of salt consumption.
But all of a sudden a new report is causing a stir by saying that recommendation may be meaningless, and that consuming extremely low levels of sodium could actually be harmful.
Far out. Pass the Cheez-Its!
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple. The report, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confuses more than it clarifies. It looks at studies on sodium intake and health outcomes conducted since 2005 — the last time the U.S. issued dietary guidelines on salt. Back then, the USDA recommended that the general population consume 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day, and that populations at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure limit intake to 1,500 milligrams. The more recent evidence calls those guidelines into question. The New York Times reports:
“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death. …
There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.
“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”
Medical and public health experts responded to the new assessment of the evidence with elation or concern, depending on where they stand in the salt debates.
Some experts worry the report will send the wrong message -- that we’re off the hook in terms of watching our salt. A spokesperson for the AHA said the group “remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back.”
"Terribly sorry, sir. It seems that the kitchen was running a little low on maggots."
If we want to satiate the world population's ever-growing appetite, insect farming should be the next global foodie fad. Or at least that's the gist of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The thorough 187-page report [PDF], published Monday, covers everything from different cultures' attitudes towards eating insects to farming methods to tips for using insects as emergency food during disasters.
Benefits of bug munching are manifold: The report points out that farmers can raise insects on human and animal waste, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and produce less pollution than cattle or pigs, and they use substantially less land and water than other livestock.
A guerrilla veggie-growing occupation of university-owned land in Albany, Calif., was busted by cops early Monday and thousands of zucchini, kale, squash, and other newly planted seedlings were plowed over. But the occupiers proved more resilient than a sprawling mint plant, returning Monday to replant the desecrated farm.
More than 100 activists had gathered at Gill Tract, near Berkeley, on Friday and over the weekend, with some staying on site until the Monday morning raid. They pulled weeds, tilled soil, and planted seedlings. Some pitched tents.
So Dunkin' Donuts and Jack In the Box both have waffle sandwiches, and lot of fancier places are getting all upscale with the waffle as well. Waffles are kind of the bacon of carbohydrates. And so, it is not terribly surprising that Taco Bell would join in with its own waffle experience, which is a "taco" consisting of an egg and sausage inside a waffle.
It's pretty simple, really. Hens lay eggs until they're about three. And then they live for five to seven years after that. Strauss says:
Bear with me here as I do some Urban Homesteader math. One layer hen eats about 1.5 pounds of layer feed per week. (Pastured birds will eat less purchased feed – yet another good reason to buy this book and study it before you design your coop and run.)
If a chicken starts laying at 6 months old (this is a bit later than average but it makes my numbers easy) and has essentially stopped laying by 4 years old, and lives naturally to be 8, a backyard chicken keeper is looking at 3.5 years of egg production time, and 4.5 years of Pets Without Benefits time. That’d be 351 pounds of feed going to a hen that isn’t making eggs!
Current, local prices for the layer rations I feed my hens is $28 per 40 pound bag, or $.70 a pound. Admittedly, this is a bit spendy, but I get the locally produced, happy-hippie, GMO-free feed from the lovely folks at Scratch & Peck. At those prices, it costs $245.70 to maintain a hen into theoretical old age and natural demise while you aren’t getting any eggs.
Perhaps you are fine with that. Perhaps your chicken is cute enough that you want to spend hundreds of dollars to keep it pecking in your backyard. But perhaps it is not. Then, your choices are: Kill that nice chicken and make it into soup, or try to make it someone else's problem.