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Corn utensils not helpful without widespread public composting

As an alternative to non-recyclable plastic and Styrofoam, some restaurants have begun offering corn-starch-based utensils and takeout containers. But does cornware really provide a guilt-free way to eat your vegesustainorganaturalocal meal? Though touted as compostable, corn-based utensils can't just be thrown into your garden; they don't biodegrade unless professionally composted at high temperatures. Thus, customers who take corn utensils away from restaurants usually end up contributing to landfills anyway, since they're unlikely to bring cornware back to the establishment to be dealt with properly. And trying to boil 'em down yourself doesn't work, as restaurant manager Casey Anderson can attest: …

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Mother Earth's triple whammy

Why North Korea was a global crisis canary

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is reprinted here with Tom's kind permission. ----- Gas prices are above $4 a gallon; global food prices surged 39 percent last year; and an environmental disaster looms as carbon emissions continue to spiral upward. The global economy appears on the verge of a TKO, a triple whammy from energy, agriculture, and climate-change trends. Right now you may be grumbling about the extra bucks you're shelling out at the pump and the grocery store, but, unless policymakers begin to address all three of these trends as one major crisis, it could get …

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Oprah off the meat-free wagon

The all-powerful talk-show host ends her vegan cleanse

Well, Oprah is no longer a caffeine-free, sugar-free, gluten-free vegan. She says her "21-day cleanse" has been "enlightening." I will forever be a more cautious and conscious eater. That's my commitment for now. To stay awakened. Hopefully along the way she's also enlightened some of her million-bajillion faithful followers.

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Boon for bluefins

The European Union closes fishing season early

It's been said over and over again: Eastern bluefin tuna cannot handle the pressure they face from overfishing. These sleek and powerful fish are unlucky enough to be among the world's most coveted seafood species, and for years scientists have called for a moratorium as a last-ditch effort to save these genetically pure, irreplaceable creatures. While strict quotas have been in place for years, poor quota enforcement and illegal fishing have driven the bluefin to the brink of extinction. On Monday, the European Union ended the fishing season for most of the Mediterranean's purse seine fleet -- the ships that …

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After the deluge

As Midwest floods recede, what’s being washed into the groundwater?

Flooded road in eastern Iowa. Photo: Dan Patterson Things are grim in Iowa, arguably the epicenter of global industrial food production. If Iowa were a nation, it would be the globe's second-largest corn producer, behind only China. The state leads the U.S. [PDF] in the production of corn, hogs, and eggs, and ranks number two in soybeans. In short, it's a rotten place for a massive, flood-inducing early-summer deluge. Of the state's 99 counties, 24 have been declared disaster areas by the federal government (the state has designated 83 counties disaster zones). Thirty-six thousand people have been displaced. Sixteen percent …

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Icky disease afflicting Alaskan salmon

Alaska's prized wild salmon are suffering from a disease that scientists suspect of being boosted by -- you guessed it -- global warming. The emergence of Ichthyophonus as a threat to king salmon has coincided with a steady warming of Yukon River water over the past few decades, which scientists say has welcomed cold-averse parasites northward. "Climate change isn't going to increase infectious diseases but change the disease landscape," says federal marine ecologist Kevin D. Lafferty. "And some of these surprises are not going to be pretty." Literally: Fish infected with "ich" become covered in white, pimply spots, smell funky, …

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Minimizing meat

The great Mark Bittman on how to push meat off the center of the plate

I'm no vegan. I believe that the only truly sustainable agriculture involves raising crops along with animals. I also adore the globe's cooking traditions, most of which involve integrating meat and/or dairy products with vegetables, grains, and spices. And yet, I'm appalled by this fact, from the USDA: In 2005, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) amounted to 200 pounds per person, 22 pounds above the level in 1970. Two hundred pounds per year works out to more than half a pound per person every day. That's got to be out of balance -- for our bodies and …

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As corn and soy fields drown in rainwater, the food crisis deepens

A cornucopia of bad circumstances. Here in the United States, we grow 44 percent of the world's corn crop, and 38 percent of its soy. For the great bulk of that massive harvest, we rely on a single region: the Midwestern farm belt. And over the past couple of weeks, torrential rains have hammered that area, at a particularly sensitive time for its grand swath of corn and soybean plants. An unusually wet spring had already pushed farmers to plant their crops late and forced them to keep some land fallow. With the recent deluge, a bad situation has turned …

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Brooklyn's hopeful gardeners

Low-income nabes lead the way in urban farming

The Garden of Hope -- the new community green space I covered this week on Grist -- is just one facet of Brooklyn's community gardening scene. While writing this story I spoke with Susan Fields of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's GreenBridge program, which reaches out to neighborhoods all over Brooklyn to encourage and to support many levels of gardening -- from the "Greenest Block in Brooklyn" contest all the way to the Urban Composting Project. "There's a growing focus on urban food production," she told me. In the Red Hook waterfront neighborhood, for instance, the group Added Value transformed a …

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Monsanto: still reading blogs

PR firm Edleman launches charm offensive for the GMO giant

Not so long ago, I was an utterly obscure farmer-blogger dashing off indictments of industrial agriculture for some 30 loyal readers (many of them house-mates and relatives). And then, evidently by the miracle of the Google search, a functionary from Monsanto's legal office discovered my blog and fired off a cease-and-desist letter. I published it, added a tart response, and alerted a few editors to the exchange. Within days, my site meter showed thousands of readers piling in. Within months I had a paid writing gig. Thanks, Monsanto! Evidently, the GMO seed giant is still paying folks to scan Google …