Food

Food security and global warming: Monsanto versus organic

Organic farming beats genetically engineered corn as response to rising global temperatures

This week Science published research ($ub. req'd) detailing the vast, global food-security implications of warming temperatures. The colored graphics are nothing short of terrifying when you realize the blotches of red and orange covering the better part of the globe indicate significantly warmer summers in coming decades. The implications of the article are clear -- we need to be utilizing agricultural methods and crops that can withstand the potential myriad impacts of global climate change, especially warmer temperatures. The article significantly notes, "The probability exceeds 90 percent that by the end of the century, the summer average temperature will exceed the hottest summer on record throughout the tropics and subtropics. Because these regions are home to about half of the world's population, the human consequences of global climate change could be enormous." Whether you believe global warming is part of a "natural cycle" or a man-made phenomenon is irrelevant. The bottom line is that our earth is rapidly warming, and this is going to drastically affect our food supply. We must undertake both the enormous task of reducing our carbon emissions now to avert the worst, while at the same time adapting our society to the vast and multitudinous effects of unavoidable global climate change. Failing to do either will, as the Science article indicates, have dire effects on a large portion of our world's population. Determining the best course of action for ensuring food security in the face of global climate change remains a challenging task. Recognizing that climate change is slated to affect developing countries and small-scale farmers the most is a crucial point. Such understanding enables people to realize that viable solutions must be accessible, affordable, and relevant to the billions of small-scale farmers in the developing world. Unfortunately, it appears that some of the solutions on the table fail to meet these criteria. Last week, Monsanto made a big public relations splash by filing documents with the FDA regarding a drought-tolerant GM corn variety it is developing with a German company, BASF. Monsanto claims that in field trials, the corn got 6-10 percent higher yields in drought-prone areas last year, but the release is extremely short on details. Regardless of the reality, Monsanto is presenting the corn as a way to help improve on-farm productivity in other parts of the world, notably Africa. Yet, absent from the media hype were the many technical and social problems with Monsanto's corn.

Choice nuggets

Interesting food articles from around the web

My browser's blowing up again with interesting tidbits from around the web. Time to serve up another platter of choice nuggets. • I've been obsessing over a New York Times blog post on "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating," which originally ran way back in June but was recently revived because of its popularity. The choices have been declared by nutritionist Jonny Bowden as packed with nutrients. They're also all extremely flavorful, and (with one exception) economical. Most of them carry a kind of unearned stigma. Beets, for example, are one of our most glorious vegetables, but their reputation has been ruined by deplorable canned versions that prevailed in the '70s. Why don't Americans revere cabbage? I can't imagine a better way to consume something fresh and crunchy in the winter than a red-cabbage salad, dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil. Canned sardines? People tend to recoil from this nutrient-dense, abundant, and, yes, delicious fish. I used to despise them, too; now I can't remember why. (Check out this recipe I conjured up for pasta with sardines a few years back.) And prunes (delicately called in the article "dried plums")? Fantastic -- and unjustly scorned. In an ideal world, this sort of list would be getting hung up in school-cafeteria kitchens across the land, where skilled cooks would debate about how best to teach children to love them. In our own fallen world, school-cafeteria kitchens barely exist (they been replaced by reheating centers for churning out Tyson chicken nuggets), and skilled cooks have long since been sent packing.

Iffy pop

Why conventional popcorn sucks, and what you can do about it

Dear Lou, What about popcorn? Is it safe, healthy, and free of pesticides? What exactly is in the artificial butter flavor? Thanks,Greenee Trailer Trash from Mississippi

Maintaining healthy wild-oyster beds isn't quite as easy as oyster pie

Pearl, interrupted. I have long been partial to oysters. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to understand the environmental challenges they face. Many folks assume that water pollution poses the main threat to oysters. Turns out the real damage comes from water scarcity — specifically, a lack of freshwater draining into coastal areas, often due to overdevelopment. At a Southern Foodways Alliance a couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Robb Walsh, a Houston-based food journalist. Walsh had heard about the attempts of conservationists and the states that border …

Quicksilver lining

Jeremy Piven's sushi addiction: good for mercury awareness

Whether you believe the Hollywood rumor that Jeremy Piven dropped out of the Broadway production of Speed-the-Plow due to a heavy regime of partying and a subsequent rehab session, or his doctor's assertion that the star was ill due to mercury poisoning from a high dose of sushi (two servings per day, Pivs? Good Lord), the winner in this agent's nightmare is awareness of mercury contamination. Piven went on Good Morning America on Thursday to explain himself, warn about excessive consumption of fish high on the food chain like tuna, and point people to BlueVoice.org. BlueVoice correctly pins the blame largely on coal-burning power plants and their propensity to sprinkle lakes, rivers, and oceans with emissions high in methylmercury that bioaccumulates up the food chain. I'd call that, um, a quicksilver lining.

Shall I compare thee to a yummy filet?

An ode to the sea kitten

Today we give a tip o' the carp To the bitterlings at PETA Who've thought of yet another way To make us better eatas. Agog at all our fishy friends That on sharp hooks have bitten, They've launched a cutesy-boots campaign Called, yes, "Save the Sea Kitten!" If fish were "kittens," so they say, You'd view them differently -- Your tuna would change if today's lunch Were Kitten of the Sea.

Farm-policy reform -- where to start?

Trying to restructure the House Agriculture Committee might not be worth it

Michael Pollan suggested at a recent Grist potluck -- note to editors: for future reference, I make a mean lemon-cilantro chicken -- that we could improve "the situation for food policy" in Congress if we could: Make the House agriculture committee exclusive. The most important committees in the House -- Energy, Finance, etc. -- are "exclusive," which means their membership has to be drawn from diverse geographical and ideological sources. Ag isn't exclusive, which means it can be (and is) packed with representatives of Big Ag. It's where decent ag legislation goes to die. Pollan has been advocating this kind of committee reform for a while. In fact, he mentioned the idea in a Q&A follow up to his "Farmer in Chief" manifesto in the New York Times. But I think it's worth pointing out what it does and does not mean to make a House committee exclusive, and why it might not accomplish much. Warning: This post gets fairly deep into the weeds on House committee structure. Exclusivity does not, according to the Congressional Research Service, require geographical or ideological diversity. What exclusivity does is distribute plum assignments and ensure that individual members don't serve on too many powerful committees -- a member who sits on an exclusive committee can sit on no other committee. Only a few committees are considered powerful enough to warrant such limits (keeping in mind that each party can declare its own set of exclusive committees). Out of 18 committees, five are exclusive for Democrats: Rules, Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services. The last two have only recently been promoted, and thus only members who joined since the committees were made exclusive are limited to a single assignment. To put that in context, nonexclusive committees include the still very powerful Armed Services, Budget, International Relations, and Judiciary Committees. And no one is arguing those are packed by region or controlled by a particular interest group.

Hope and the new USDA chief

Coming together to work toward a sustainable food and farm future

On Wednesday, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack began his confirmation hearing to become the 30th U.S. secretary of agriculture with the promise to be a forward-looking leader who would make the USDA a 21st century agency. While his nomination has been unpopular among some members of the sustainable-agriculture community, there is hope that under his guidance the USDA can grow into a very different agency than it has been during the past four decades, when it's been run by secretaries such as Earl Butz. As the next head of the USDA, Vilsack will be charged with revamping a sprawling agency that has an annual budget of $89 billion and more than 92,000 employees, a task that he is uniquely qualified to do. In Iowa, which my family has called home for six generations, Vilsack is known to be a smart, capable administrator who has been willing to listen to the concerns of family farmers and rural advocates. While attending a Practical Farmers of Iowa conference this past weekend, where many of the state's most progressive and sustainable farmers gathered, there was almost universal agreement that Vilsack is capable of much more at the national level than he was as the governor of a former red state, where almost any progressive policy he would have put forward would have been blocked by a Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate. CAFOs and GMOs That said, many are still upset over Vilsack's 1995 vote as a state senator to repeal local control (H.F. 519), which stripped local elected officials from having a say in where confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are located. His promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has concerned members of the sustainable-ag community even more. They fear that his closeness with agribusiness companies will only prolong U.S. farm policies benefiting corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers. Here in Iowa, while we have been disappointed with many of our political leaders, we are pragmatic and understand when it is important to work with them and when it's time to hold them accountable.

Umbra on raw milk

Dear Umbra, My husband was raised with milk straight from the cow that he milked himself every morning, so he and his parents are very into organic milk. However, I am concerned about the benefits/dangers of some of the milk they are giving to our toddler. Could you elaborate on the differences of non-homogenized vs. homogenized, non-pasteurized vs. pasteurized, and any issues/benefits of drinking milk that is from a local farm but does not follow FDA regulations? Meaning it can’t legally be sold to you because it doesn’t follow all of the processing regulations that are required for milk to …