Rot-gut liquor

Amid a sea of troubles, ethanol now has an antibiotics problem

Hard times for corn fuel Photo: Todd Ehler I’ve been writing for a while now about problems with distillers grains, the leftover mash from the corn-ethanol process. A third of the corn that goes into ethanol winds up as distillers grains. Finding a high-value use for this “coproduct” is absolutely vital to the corn ethanol project. The fuel’s energy balance is paltry — that is, it delivers little net energy compared to how much is consumed producing it. Even the studies that credit the fuel with a positive energy balance, like this one from the USDA, acknowledge that it’s pretty …

Playing with fire

Did Obama screw up ag subsidy reform?

Over the weekend, the NYT detailed the trials and tribulations of the Obama administration’s attempts to trim farm subsidy payments of a certain size: Among the audacious proposals in President Obama’s budget was a plan to save more than $9.7 billion over a decade by putting strict limits on farm subsidies that are disbursed regardless of market conditions or even whether the land is actively farmed. But Mr. Obama’s grand ambitions have run into political reality. The budget outlines approved by the House and Senate on Thursday night do not include limits on farm subsidies at all, and even champions …

Catching up on food news after two weeks in the fog of travel, speechifying, and redesign

After two weeks in the fog of travel, speechifying, movie screenings, and redesign, I’ve missed commenting on a bunch of important stuff. I’ve emerged extremely energized by the potential of our new food “kingdom” — a place to dive deep into all sorts of issues relating the food we eat to the health of the planet. Now to work. • On Ethicuren, the excellent Elanor Starmer has a great backrounder on the furor around HR 875, the House food-safety bill that would, according to internet lore, ban organic farming and lock up even home gardeners. (I weighed in on HR …

Heirloom tomato debate

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that George Will keeps repeating his half truths to deny the degraded state of the climate, but what exactly Scientific American was thinking with this article about how heirloom tomatoes are “hardly diverse and are no more “natural” than grocery-store varieties” is a mystery to me. Except that sacred cows make the best hamburger, maybe. Open pollinated tomatoes are definitely more diverse than their hybrid descendants thanks to traits bred for or discovered over generations (the 10 extra special genes mentioned right in the article itself), and having been developed this way via selective breeding rather than hybridizing technologies, …

Back to the future

Toward a less efficient and more robust food system

Produce at a farmer’s market in North Carolina Courtesy RICHIR on Flickr Editor’s Note: This is a version of an address delivered before the High Country Local Food Summit on March 26, in Boone, N.C., organized by Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Department. The High Country is a three-county region in the mountains of western North Carolina. I’ve been asked to talk about how to create a robust, diversified food system here in the High Country. Now the High Country is a largely rural area, constructed around a relatively small town called Boone. But I’m going to start by doing …

Whole Foods [hearts] Chilean grapes

Photo taken in the produce section at Whole Foods Martet in Seattle, March 31, 2009.

Myth: Using less energy = sacrifice

Mention “reducing demand” to Average Jane American and she’ll assume you mean conservation:  turning off lights, drying clothes on a clothesline, riding a bike to work, wearing a sweater when it’s cold inside. And when she thinks conservation, she’ll generally think, ugh, there go the dirty hippies telling me to feel guilty and be miserable again. Both these associations are bogus. First, when energy wonks talk about demand reduction, they usually mean efficiency. That means consuming the same energy services — the same “warm showers and cold beers” — using less energy. For instance, driving a Prius rather than a …

Markey and Waxman cut the crap

New climate legislation overlooks a major GHG source: industrial ag

Like many others in the climate movement, I have been waiting for weeks (well, years actually) for broad and sweeping climate change legislation.  Back in January the economy captured Congressional attention and I knew global warming legislation would simply have to wait.  Finally, yesterday, Representatives Markey and Waxman introduced their “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009″, a wide-reaching cap and trade initiative with more ambitious emission reductions (83% below 2005 levels by 2050) than President Obama had even advocated for.  For that, and for a variety of other progressive initiatives including those for energy efficiency, green jobs, and …


Using markets to make fisheries sustainable

Around the world, over-fishing is leading to severe depletion of valuable fisheries. This is as true in U.S. coastal waters as it is in many other parts of the world. In New England waters, for example, after two decades of ever more intensive fishing, the groundfish fishery has essentially collapsed. But, we are not alone. According to the United Nations Environment Program, fully 25 percent of fisheries worldwide are in jeopardy of collapse due to over-fishing. Clearly, something needs to be done. Yet, what has long been considered the obvious answer — restrictions on fishing — has been shown time …

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.