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Umbra on plastic bottles and BPA

Dear Umbra, I've been hearing a lot in the news lately about the dangers of certain kinds of plastic bottles. What's the lowdown? Thirstily, Ginger Littleton, Colo. Dearest Ginger, Always happy to be your source for the lowest lowdown around town. Today's lowdown: Don't use plastic bottles, and avoid canned food. All the latest plastics hullabaloo is over bisphenol A, a component of many plastic products. Serious Gristoholic Readers have known for years now that BPA, in its role as an endocrine disruptor, probably poses threats to public health. These readers have been easy to spot at recent cocktail parties: …

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More hidden costs of our love affair with cheap imported goods

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when a Brazilian soy magnate turned a voracious eye on the Amazon rainforest, marveling at how awesome it would be to raze more of it to plant soy? Blairo Maggi, known as Brazil's "soy king," said this: With the worsening of the global food crisis, the time is coming when it will be inevitable to discuss whether we preserve the environment or produce more food. There is no way to produce more food without occupying more land and taking down more trees. Well, I think I may have found an ally for him: the …

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Timothy LaSalle of Rodale on the surprising climate benefits of organic farming

Organic methods: good for carrots and for the climate. The Rodale Institute, founded by organic farming visionary J.I. Rodale, is one of the nation's leading organic-farming research and advocacy organizations. Today, Rodale sits on a 333-acre farm near Kutztown, Penn., home to the longest-running U.S. field trials study to compare organic and conventional farming practices. I had a chance recently to talk with the Institute's executive director, Timothy LaSalle, about Rodale's vision, its work, and how it sees agriculture as part of a crucial response to climate change. Our conversation touched on some of the key findings of the Institute's …

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A vegetarian plea for peace

Via Ezra, a vegetarian proclaims his normality.

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How should sustainable-food advocates respond to the latest farm bill proposal?

For months now, the 2007 farm bill has been in limbo, tied up in reconciliation negotiations between the House and the Senate. On Thursday, the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Report agreed on a final proposal. The latest version will go to the larger House and Senate next week for approval; if all goes well, it will finally go to President Bush's desk. But since this wouldn't be the 2007 farm bill without a final dose of drama, negotiations seem far from over. "The President will veto this bill," USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly declared in a Thursday afternoon communique. The …

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How to use extra-virgin olive oils, from the extraordinary to the merely wonderful

I met with my friend, chef Didi Emmons, on a recent spring morning for breakfast in Harvard Square. We met at the Hi-Rise Pie Company, where we bought a loaf of potato bread and crept up the stairs to the little rooms filled with ancient chairs and tables. Peak oil. Didi pulled a dark green glass bottle from her rucksack. I wondered what the other patrons thought, since it was a bit early in the day for a tipple. But once we tore our loaf of bread into pieces and started dipping it in the liquid that we poured out …

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People’s Grocery is rebuilding food connections in West Oakland

Global Oneness Project has finished a great new series of interviews with Brahm Ahmadi, co-founder/director of People's Grocery. Their food justice work is crucial to Oakland: like many cities, there are usually lots more opportunities to buy beer or smokes on every block than fresh, healthy fruits and veggies. Check out this inspiring 8-minute film to get some new ideas for how we can reconnect urban populations and the planet through food. The sidebar clips are great, too, as are all the short films on this site I've viewed.

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The NYT on urban farming

Viewed through a wide lens, the world's troubles seem overwhelming: climate change, pointless war, spreading hunger, surging food and energy prices, etc. There's a tendency to seek big-brush answers to these vast problems, to ask: what's The Solution? Failing inevitably to find it -- much less implement it -- we plunge deeper into despair and political impotence. Of course, taking a broad view of the world is critically important. But that perspective may be better at providing fodder for analysis than it is at delivering real answers. Our problems may be so big precisely because we tend to think so …

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FT: Midwest rains threaten U.S. corn crop

Remember in February, when a fertilizer magnate raised the specter of widespread famine if any of the globe's big farming regions hit a rough patch this year? Here's what he said: If you had any major upset where you didn't have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you'd see famine. ... We keep going to the cupboard without replacing and so there is enormous pressure on agriculture to have a record crop every year. We need to have a record crop in 2008 just to stay even with this very low-inventory situation. Essentially, he's …

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Umbra on soil health

Dear Umbra, I asked about fava beans about two weeks ago, and have not had a response back. I have had no luck researching it myself, and would really appreciate a response. I asked at what point in the plant's life did it produce nitro for the soil? For fullest nitro replenishment, should I let the plant seed? Die off? If I pull the plant out, will the nitro stay in the soil? I thank you for your time. KLK Aptos, Calif. Dearest KLK, You'll notice that I answer two questions per week -- that's 5 percent of all of …

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