Food

More sin taxes, please

USDA food-desert report points to need for a soda tax

Obesity machine? The USDA released a new report on food deserts yesterday and the blogosphere lit up like a Christmas tree. Which, honestly, saves me a lot of trouble. Jill Richardson pulls out some excellent data nuggets here. To summarize: Food deserts are areas where residents lack access to supermarkets and other outlets selling a broad, range of healthy food. It turns out that only a small percentage of Americans — 2.2% — live in true food deserts. At the same time, research indicates that there’s little correlation with access to healthy food and low Body Mass Index (BMI, used …

Don't panic ... offsets for organic?

The bad and maybe not-so-bad of the Waxman-Peterson deal

Take this, Collin! Language of the Waxman-Peterson compromise has been released (full text here; and here’s a summary)–and in some ways it’s worse than I originally thought, and in some ways potentially better. The bad part involves the provision around indirect land-use change and ethanol. It would, for the next five years, prevent that the EPA from considering international indirect land-use change when assessing the GHG footprint of ethanol. Yesterday, I declared it a travesty, but added that it didn’t change much on the ground, since the 2007 Energy Act already grandfathered in 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol–a huge …

Our Oil Obsessed Civilization

The oil intensity of food

Today we are an oil-based civilization, one that is totally dependent on a resource whose production will soon be falling. Since 1981, the quantity of oil extracted has exceeded new discoveries by an ever-widening margin. In 2008, the world pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered fewer than 9 billion barrels of new oil. World reserves of conventional oil are in a free fall, dropping every year. As I note in my latest book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, discoveries of conventional oil total roughly 2 trillion barrels, of which 1 trillion have been extracted so far, …

News of a compromise foretold

How bad is the Peterson-Waxman deal on climate legislation?

Big Ag gets its way. [See update below.] Surprising no one–but disappointing many–House energy chief Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has caved in to the demands of the the agribusiness industry over the climate bill. In reality, he had little choice if he wanted his legislation to get through the House. For more than a month, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — an unabashed proponent of agribusiness interests–has thundered and roared about how no climate bill could get through the House without containing his agenda. He had the votes to back up his bluster–26 Democrats on his committee, plus another …

Survey Says!

Consumers no longer want to be kept in the dark about food

A new survey came out indicating that (surprise, surprise) only 20% of Americans trust food companies to “to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy.” While the depth to which food companies’ reputations have sunk is impressive, the phrase from the survey question is both interesting and unfortunate. IBM(!), who performed the survey, put “safe and healthy” together. As a result, we can’t really know which aspect, safety or health, is driving that low number. If I had to bet, I’d say safety since survey results often track media coverage of an issue and there’s certainly been …

Bone of Contention

Ask Umbra on meating your needs

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Hi Umbra, I was shopping in the commissary (our lovely military grocery store) this afternoon when I noticed the “reduced for quick sale” meat section. [As a former vegetarian], I literally feel the weight of the world when I buy meat … but when I saw this meat, it occurred to me that it was going to be thrown away within the next day or two if someone did not purchase it. To me, this is a worse crime: To have had that animal suffer a cruel factory farm existence only to have its …

Big Ag Wins!

Peterson gets his way with climate and energy bill

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday surrendered to agriculture interests on a key provision in the massive climate and energy bill he introduced with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Facing a defection from farm-state Democrats, Politico.com reports that Waxman agreed to change the bill so that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture will oversee the [carbon] offset program for farmers, and the House will seek further guidance from the Obama administration about the appropriate role for the EPA.” Politico further reported that Waxman “agreed to ask the EPA to roll back its new requirements that farmers offset rural land developed in other …

Supermarket gothic

Food Inc. Director Robert Kenner speaks on the ills of the food system

Food Inc. director Robert KennerRobert Kenner never set out to make a terrifying film when he started Food, Inc. But along the way, he found the food industry to be stunningly secretive–and what it’s hiding to be downright scary. The film shines a bright light on the handful of corporations that, behind a cloak of glitzy marketing campaigns, do the dirty work of putting cheap food on our plates. As Variety put it, the film “does for the supermarket what Jaws did for the beach.” Not long after the film opened nationwide, I caught up with Kenner by phone from …

Our genetically modified State Department

Memo to Hillary’s science czar: organic ag isn’t a ‘myth’

Is organic farming productive enough to feed billions of people–or will it always be a yuppie niche in a food system increasingly dependent on agrichemicals, massive animal factories, synthetic fertilizers, and biotechnology? Nina Fedoroff, the State Department’s chief technology adviser, propounds the latter view. A trained scientist with ties to the biotech industry, Fedoroff thinks organic is a fraud. (She attained her current positon during the Bush Adminsration in Condoleeza Rice’s State Department; SecretaryNina Fedoroff, with her previous employer. Clinton has elected to keep her on.) In a recent forum on biotech  in Seed Magazine (in which I also participated), …

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