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U.N. food summit ends without agreement on solutions

A high-level three-day United Nations food summit ended Thursday without wide agreement on solutions to the world food crisis. At the meeting, delegates sparred over trade barriers, biofuels' role in keeping food prices high, agricultural subsidies, how food aid should be spent, and how much aid to give. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference by declaring that the food situation is so dire now that 1 billion people are going hungry and wealthier nations must collectively spend some $20 billion a year on food aid to feed them. However, by summit's end only some $3 billion had been pledged …

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A primer on organic wines, and a sweet way to bring them to the table

Psst! Organic wine doesn't suck. About 15 years ago, a friend brought an organic wine to a dinner party I was giving. He explained to me that in addition to being made from grapes that are grown organically, organic wines don't contain any added sulfites (some sulfites occur naturally as a result of the fermentation process). Since I try hard to use organic products as much as I can afford to, I began to look for organic wines when I went shopping. The choices were few and far between. Wine-industry people I knew seemed to hate the organic wine. They'd …

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The farm bill: what went wrong

Michael Pollan calls for crafting a viable alternative for next time

After many, many months of wrangling, Congress recently passed a farm bill, overriding a veto by the president. In my view, it is not a very good bill -- it preserves more or less intact the whole structure of subsidies responsible for so much that is wrong in the American food system. On the other hand, it does contain some significant new provisions that, with luck, will advance the growing movement toward a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system. You might rightly ask why there was so little movement on commodity subsidies, in a year when crop prices are …

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Old MacDonald had a farm bill

The good, bad, and ugly in our national five-year agricultural plan

We've all noticed higher grocery bills, but did you know Congress passed a $307 billion farm bill in late May that has a much bigger impact on what you will eat for dinner tonight than what you chose to place in the grocery cart? The farm bill has a hand in all that happens before the swallow. The bag of Tyson chicken wings (grain subsidies), gallon of Horizon Organic milk (forward contracting), and pound of Fuji apples (country of origin labeling) are all regulated in some fashion by this policy determining how our food is raised and who profits. But …

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Purdy lil Heifer

Heifer International, a nonprofit that lets people make gifts of livestock to farmers in impoverished areas, gave a shout out to Grist in its March/April WorldArk magazine (albeit using .com in the web address). Now, in the May/June issue, not only does Grist get a shout out with a correction in the letters column, but the whole issue is outstanding. Here's just a sample of the terrific content: The cover story, Our Carbon Hoofprint, provides "a closer look at the indictment of the livestock industry." Because Heifer uses livestock for small farmers to address poverty, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture …

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Leafy laws

Climate bills would save world’s forests

More money for forests and wildlife conservation than has ever been available in history The regrowth of many of the world's forests Massive quantities of greenhouse gases sucked out of the air Those are a few of the benefits of the newest versions of the climate legislation now being considered in the House and Senate. Both the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill [PDF] and Rep. Ed Markey's latest proposal [PDF] include massive financing for forest and land conservation that could save these planetary lungs. Both bills are based on a fundamental recognition that trees suck up vast quantities of carbon dioxide and convert …

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Despite efforts, Chesapeake Bay oysters still struggling

State and federal officials have spent $58 million since 1994 trying to make Chesapeake Bay a welcoming place for oysters -- and it all seems to have been for naught. There are less bivalves in the bay now than there were in the mid-'90s, and the Maryland and Virginia oyster industries have declined in turn. Officials say they're up against numerous factors, including disease that wipes out oysters by the millions and oyster-choking dirt that washes from lawns and fields. But critics say some modes of attempted recovery have been ineffective; for example, healthy oysters are often uprooted and moved …

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Vertical farms and future cities

Sustainability a big theme at the World Science Festival

What do vertical farms, green roofs, soft cars, breathing walls, and Dongtan, China, have in common? They were all subjects of discussion at Friday's Future Cities event in New York City, part of the four-day 2008 World Science Festival. To a packed house, Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier described his vision for feeding the planet's burgeoning, and increasingly urban, population. The vertical farm takes agriculture and stacks it into the tiers of a modern skyscraper. Instead of stopping at the corner pizzeria for dinner, Despommier suggested, you could pluck a nice head of lettuce, maybe some corn, and some tomatoes …

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Bean there, done khat

Tales from a trek to Ethiopia with a Seattle coffee roaster

I have spent the past year traveling the globe with Seattle coffee roaster Caffé Vita in their search for coffee, and I have the more enviable and slippery task of seeking out stories. Many Grist readers know that coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity on the planet, but unlike the elephant in the pole position (oil), we hear very little about the realities of the cherry-red fruit on which we are also dependent. As long as Grist lets me, I will throw out some thoughts from the coffee road, and the other "tablemaking" adventures in which I routinely …

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To create a truly sustainable food system, we’ll have to confront the farm-labor crisis

When I think about what a truly healthy, vibrant food system would look like, I envision more farms: small farms serving specific communities, and diversified, midsized farms geared to supplying their surrounding regions. Many hands make site work. Of course, there would still be interstate and global trade -- you can't grow olives or coffee in Iowa, or enough wheat in Florida to supply the state's bakers. But with more farms across the nation, we could all generally eat much closer to home, consuming fewer resources and throwing off less pollution in the process. Traveling would be more interesting as …

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