Food

Buying the farm

Fighting for the right to grow food in L.A.

South Central Farm activist Kati Lopez with armload of fresh corn leaves.Black Valley FilmsJust how much trouble can one community garden start? For starters, three years of court proceedings, two eviction notices, one assault charge, countless allegations of corruption, and $16 million worth of fundraising. Even with all the legal crap, the gardeners still had to pay for manure. Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Garden,” tells the story of a 14-acre plot in Los Angeles that became a community garden in 1992, a community-building effort undertaken in the wake of the Rodney King riots. For 12 years, the South …

Political engineering

Monsanto dropped a cool $2 million on lobbying in Q1 2009

Jolly gene giantSource: ETC Group Monsanto dominates the global market for GMO seeds like Microsoft dominates the operating-system software market.  You don’t skirt around antitrust enforcement like that without having good friends in Washinton. And to make friends, you’ve got have guys in suits working the Hill and the agencies. La Vida Locavore’s ever-enterprising Jill Richardson got her hands on Monsanto’s first-quarter lobbying disclosure form (PDF). Turns out, the GMO-seed giant spent $2 million pushing its agenda in Washington the first three months of the year. Conspiracy theorists fixated on a food safety bill called HR 875–insisting that Monsanto is …

Lunch drunk

Why the USDA’s squashing of Philly’s universal school lunch plan bites

The outcry over the USDA’s announced end to Philly’s excellent Universal Feeding program–a program that automatically enrolls poor children in the federal free school meal program and which I wrote about the other day–is getting louder. And the ironies are coming faster, as well. From today’s Inquirer: Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Rendell are protesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to end Universal Feeding here – a program wanted by New York and Los Angeles – and go with a plan that would cost the district $1 million more annually in paperwork and likely deprive meals to thousands of …

Slicing and dicing reality

From “local” Lays to Oprah’s KFC promo, hypocrisy abounds in the food world

War is peace, junk food is real food….Nobody likes hypocrites, despite the fact that everyone is a hypocrite to one degree or another: the smoker who tells her kids not to smoke; the closeted politician who works against gay rights; the police officer who throws the book at stoners but who himself gets high. But in the matter of marketing food, hypocrisy reaches a fever pitch. Take last month’s flap about Oprah Winfrey’s KFC promotion. While the MSM focused on the feeding frenzy that ensued, and the near-riots when KFCs across the country ran out of food or people couldn’t …

Who's king now?

King Corn, meet Big Oil

Drilling for oil in a corn field: will Big Oil squeeze out King Corn?Back in March, Tom Philpott flagged some moves from Shell Oil and Valero Energy (the largest U.S. oil refiner) that indicated Big Oil was falling for biofuels. Now, the NYT shows Tom had it right with a piece detailing the increasing amount of money Big Oil is spreading around to biofuel startups. This comes despite Big Oil’s historical hostility to the ethanol industry. In fact, their objections to conventional ethanol might sound strangely familiar: For decades, the big oil companies and the farm lobby have been fighting …

The Victorian moralist

Nicholas Kristof on African hunger

Nicholas KristofNicholas Kristof, the much-celebrated columnist for The New York Times, is essentially a Victorian-style moralist. In a typical column, he alights on some harsh scene–a slum in an Indian megopolis, a dirt-poor village in Cambodia–and delivers a heart-wrenching report. He then prescribes an extremely narrow “solution” to the problem he has uncovered–one that typically leaves its root cause unaddressed (and, often, involves a heroic role for Westerners). His most famous campaign involves child prostitution in South Asia. In the literally dozens of columns he’s devoted to the topic over the years, I’ve never once seen him address structural poverty, …

Leverage on a bun

What the financial collapse can teach us about the food system

In a recent New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten published a lucid, entertaining essay on the financial collapse. Titled “The Death of Kings,” it focuses on the hedge-fund managers, stock gurus, and private-equity wizards who reaped billions from the credit bubble.Is Big Ag running the food system into the ground the same way Wall Street wrecked the economy?iStock Photo What were those people thinking? Turns out, Paumgarten relates that during the flush times, many in the world of finance had a “moment of clarity, an inkling of doom” about what was coming. “The sky was full of signs,” Paumgarten writes. For many, …

A mighty wind

Of cow burps, beef, and methane

My climate for a cow fart? Dear Checkout Line, I read recently that meat is a huge emitter of greenhouse gas–more than even cars! It got me to wondering–does that mean all meat, or just from animals grown on factory farms? For example, I know that cow farts and burps contribute lots of methane. But don’t grass-fed cows burp and fart, too? I guess my bottom-line question is, is any beef really sustainable, in greenhouse gas terms? Thanks, Beef-loving Ed Dear Beefy Ed, Count your blessings! If we blamed global warming on human flatulence, beer and Mexican food would be …

Can the Internet help small farms act big?

Wired Science has a good piece on the potential for tech startups to play a “disruptive” role in commercial food distribution. The post looks at several web services that are trying to replicate the restaurant supply chain system dominated by produce distribution giant Sysco and its ubiquitous trucks via a network of small farmers, iPhones and the Internet: The food supply industry is ripe for ‘disintermediation’ because of the internet,” said Alistair Croll, a startup consultant working with FarmsReach. In other words, middlemen beware: Food could undergo a transition like the one that swept through classified ads, air travel and …

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