Imagine an Italian chef tossing fresh pizza dough aloft in slow motion. Now imagine a drunk frat boy eagerly wrestling his pizza box from the underpaid delivery guy. Do you hate happiness and magic? Do you want both of those imaginary pizza commercials to DISAPPEAR?
Coke, speed, MDMA -- so yesterday. The new black market score is local, organic Brussels sprouts.
Sister Julie Newman and other nuns at the Dominican Farm and Ecology Center in Wicklow, Ireland, have been growing organic Brussels sprouts to sell at local farmers markets -- no small feat, as the veggies take two years to mature. But last week, thieves broke into the convent’s garden and stripped out the sprouts, stalks and all. According to the Independent, the haul was worth about $412:
The theft was deliberate, according to [Newman], and she believes the sprouts will now be sold as high-end organic produce for the Christmas market ...
“We would have the odd bit of pilfering of potatoes and onions, but this was deliberate. It wasn’t just someone looking for a few vegetables for their dinner.”
For shame! Steal from God and you’re gonna get smote. (Or at least get your daily dose of vitamin C and sulforaphane.)
More than a million gallons of crap were let loose following agricultural accidents in Wisconsin this year.
No, we aren't talking bullshit. We're talking about cow shit, the E. coli- and nutrient-laden fruits of the state's dairy industry. This is the kind of pollution that causes green slime to grow over the Great Lakes and that leads to dead zones at the other end of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that already this year farming accidents have spilled 1 million gallons of livestock manure in the state. That's more than five times the amount that was leaked during similar accidents last year. The figure only includes the most spectacular explosions of poo, not the cow pats that are washed off grazing lands into creeks and rivers during rains.
The Food & Environment Reporting Network has a nice piece by Elizabeth Royte about farmers opting out of genetically engineered seeds to take advantage of emerging non-GMO markets. I’ve covered this ground myself, and like me, Royte had no problem finding farmers who said they could make more money without transgenics.
One new point of interest: It seems that small seed companies are rising to meet the demand. Royte suggests that the large companies protect their investment in GE seed by charging artificially high prices for their non-GE varieties. And that’s buoying upstarts:
Into this breach, smaller companies that specialize in non-GMO seed have leapt. West Des Moines–based eMerge Genetics has averaged 30 percent growth in each of the last five years. Sales at Spectrum Seed Solutions, based in Linden, Indiana, have doubled every year of the four it’s been in business.
Its president, Scott Odle, believes that non-GMO corn could be 20 percent of the market in five years.
Set aside, for a moment, any questions about how genetically engineered foods affect health or the environment. Set aside all the intellectual property arguments. Let’s ask a more basic question: Is genetic engineering useful? That is, is this technology fruitful enough that it merits further research?
According to the most hyperbolic rhetoric, genetic engineering is going to save the world. This is the technology that is going to liberate us from farms that run on fossil fuels. It will feed more people off fewer acres than ever before. And it will end our reliance on harmful pesticides. I say hyperbolic because no scientist I’ve talked to has ever suggested that genetic engineering is the only solution. But when the rhetoric heats up you’re likely to hear some version of this refrain: We don’t have any choice! We need this technology.
Recently, Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, made a convincing case that genetic engineering, or any kind of crop improvement actually, isn’t of primary importance. If we really wanted to feed ourselves responsibly, here’s how we'd do it: Reduce food waste, eat less meat, and make fertilizer and irrigation available to the farmers that need it.
Riffing on this reasoning, Doug Gurian-Sherman, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, took it a step further, pointing out that there is an opportunity cost to genetic engineering research. Essentially, public investments in genetic engineering eat up money and energy that we could instead be investing in more effective approaches.
So which is it? Do we have no other choice but to embrace this technology? Or is it basically the 8-track of agriculture? I wish I could argue one extreme or the other here -- it would make this essay more dramatic. But as usual, the answer is: It depends. There are some goals of genetic engineering that are probably a waste of time. And then there are others that will almost certainly bear fruit.
Think community gardens are sweet cooperative spaces where a neighborhood can come together to cultivate food and companionship? You poor sucker. Modern Farmer has the lowdown, and it's pretty low. Turns out those idyllic little greenspaces are actually hotbeds for theft, hard partying, vandalism, and culture clashes.
Chris Godfrey, design student, knows what gamers want: to play the games they got as presents on Christmas and not interact with other humans beings who are not currently also engaged in playing video games. Therefore, he created Christmas Tinner -- one can containing all the processed food a person would need to achieve some approximation of eating a traditional Christmas meal. It’s like the gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except hopefully it will not turn you into a sugarplum.
The product consists of nine layers of processed festive food, including scrambled egg and bacon, two mince pies, turkey and potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts or broccoli (for those who don't like sprouts) with stuffing, roast carrots and parsnips, and Christmas pudding.
Objections to this product: Salt content through the roof, eating home-cooked meals with extended family is sort of nice and occurs only a few times each year, what happens when the broccoli accidentally gets mixed into the Christmas pudding, why scrambled eggs??
As fast food workers go on a one-day strike for higher wages across the U.S., it’s a good moment to reflect on what we are buying when we pay for cheap food.
The strength of the fast-food business model is that it is accessible to all: It’s so cheap that even the poorest people in America eat at McDonald's. And in some cases it’s not just cheap, it’s the cheapest. If you don’t have time to cook dinner, or the means to buy unprocessed food in bulk, it makes perfect economic sense to dine out at the closest greasy spork. And so there’s an argument to be made that the poor actually need more fast food, or at least Wal-Mart-style cheap food.
But that argument fails to consider the trade-offs these companies are making to deliver those low prices. One of the biggies: Cheap food depends on low wages. This is a circular argument: You need cheap food to feed the underpaid. And you need low pay to keep prices down. As Michael Pollan put it, it is:
Q.I always buy organically raised beef, when I do buy beef. I read that ground beef you get is a mixture of beef from different animals. How do I know the beef I am getting is, in fact, organically grown? Could it be mixed with other feedlot beef? Also, when it comes to processing the animal, how are the organically raised cows treated? Any better or different than if they were just regular cows?
Suzy P. Denver, CO
A. Dearest Suzy,
When I got your letter, I imagined you reading it aloud in with a suave accent: “I don’t always eat beef. But when I do, I prefer organic.” And well that you do: There are important differences between the lives -- if not the deaths -- of organically raised cattle and their conventional, feedlot-bound siblings.
On the moon, there's little gravity, little air, little water, and a whole lot of radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations. These are not ideal conditions for gardening. But NASA is going to try. It's designed a tiny habitat -- about as large as a coffee canister, according to NPR — that researchers think will allow plants to, if not thrive, at least exist on the moon:
The plant habitat that [plant scientist Bob] Bowman and his colleagues have designed contains seeds, as well as a nutrient-rich paper and enough air and water for the seeds to germinate and grow. The canister also has features that regulate light and temperature, and cameras that the researchers will use to track the plants' progress over five to 10 days.
The idea, of course, is that one day people will be living off-Earth for long enough periods that living off freeze-dried food will be unsustainable (and possibly cause space madness).