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USDA food-safety czar: Ethanol waste causes tainted beef -- and that's okay

Let cows eat vaccines along with distillers grains

In December, a study came out suggesting a link between distillers grains -- a waste product of the corn-ethanol process -- and a spike in cases of beef tainted with the deadly E. coli 0157 virus. You see, the government-mandated ethanol boom has dramatically pushed up corn prices. To cut costs, feedlot operators have been substituting cheap distillers grains for pricey corn. Thus in the past year or so, we've seen an explosion in use of distillers grain as livestock feed, especially for cows. When I heard about the possible E. coli 0157 link, I put two and two together …

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Eco-Farm: California dreaming

Notes on California’s big sustainable-farming conference

Note: This is another in a series of posts from Eco-Farm, the annual conference held by the Ecological Farming Association of California. At Eco-Farm, some 1,400-1,500 organic farmers, Big Organic marketers, and sundry sustainable-ag enthusiasts pack into a rustic, beautiful seaside conference hall an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco to talk farming amid the dunes. Satan gave me a taco: Harvesting talent at Eco-Farm. Photo: Bonnie Powell, Ethicurean Eco-Farm is a bit like summer camp for sustainable-ag nerds. You wind up outdoors a lot, wandering from activity to activity, often pelted by rain. I loved it. No brain-sucking hotel conference …

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Eco-Farm: Buzz kill

A long-time beekeeper’s take on colony collapse

Note: For the next few days I'll be reporting from Eco-Farm, the annual conference held by the Ecological Farming Association of California. At Eco-Farm, some 1,400-1,500 organic farmers, Big Organic marketers, and sundry sustainable-ag enthusiasts pack into a rustic, beautiful seaside conference hall an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco to talk farming amid the dunes. Long-time California bee keeper Randy Oliver gave an interesting session on apiary in an age of colony-collapse disorder. According to Oliver, "everything you've heard in the media about colony collapse is wildly exaggerated or wrong." He says there's no reason to go looking for a …

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Full-time athlete <em>and</em> full-time vegan

Is it possible for an NFL star to go meatless?

Grist recently published my interview with Rory Freedman, one of the authors of vegan diet book Skinny Bitch. The finished piece is just a selection of the topics from our conversation (we had quite a long lunch), and one of the questions that didn't make the cut was about responding to critics who say veganism is unhealthy. Freedman said it's a "non-argument" and referenced the work of a number of scientific organizations (the American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, etc.) saying that a well-planned vegan diet can be very healthy. Sure, if you're a …

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An interview with Rory Freedman, coauthor of vegan manifesto Skinny Bitch

It would be impossible to make it through an entire lunch with Rory Freedman without realizing this simple truth: The bitch loves food. Excuse my language -- or actually, don't. Freedman wouldn't say it any other way. Rory Freedman (left), with coauthor Kim Barnouin. Photo: Tim VanOrden After all, she and former model Kim Barnouin are coauthors of the New York Times best seller Skinny Bitch -- a title that only hints at the sassy writing style within: "You cannot keep eating the same shit and expect to get skinny," the book opens. "Use your head, lose your ass" are …

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Orange County opens recycled-water plant

A sewage reclamation plant officially opened today in Orange County, Calif., and will, sure enough, reclaim treated effluent and turn it into drinking water. Recognizing that its growing population -- currently 2.3 million -- is likely to outpace its supply of fresh water, O.C. is relying on the facility to turn 70 million gallons of water from disgusting to drinkable every day. Officials hope that the plant could eventually churn out up to 130 million gallons per day of water sans bacteria, viruses, carcinogens, hormones, chemicals, heavy metals, fertilizers, pesticides, and pharmaceutical remnants. The reclamation process uses less energy than …

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Eco-Farm: Seeds of ignorance

Investigative journalist reveals serious safety concerns about GM food

Note: For the next few days I'll be reporting from Eco-Farm, the annual conference held by the Ecological Farming Association of California. At Eco-Farm, some 1,400-1,500 organic farmers, Big Organic marketers, and sundry sustainable-ag enthusiasts pack into a rustic, beautiful seaside conference hall an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco to talk farming amid the dunes. I've been writing about genetically modified food since I first took up food-politics writing back in 2005. My lens has always been corporate power and biodiversity. I saw GM seeds as yet one more way corporations siphon profit out of the food system, brazenly claiming …

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Biomass, part III

The most critical assumption on cellulosic biofuels: yields

My most critical assumption with cellulosic biofuels is on land efficiency: tons of biomass per acre, and hence gallons of fuel produced per acre, and more accurately, miles driven per acre. I believe biomass yields per acre will multiply by two to four times from today's norms. The lack of genetic optimization and research on cultural practices, harvesting, storage, and transport with would-be energy crops -- miscanthus, sorghum, switchgrass, and others -- means that there is significant potential for improvement. The application of advanced breeding methods like genetic engineering and marker-assisted breeding, limiting water usage through drought resistant crops, and …

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Eco-Farm: Eric Schlosser on Florida pickers and fair wages

Fast Food Nation author regales organic-farmer audience

Note: For the next few days I'll be reporting from Eco-Farm, the annual conference held by the Ecological Farming Association of California. At Eco-Farm, some 1,400-1,500 organic farmers, Big Organic marketers, and sundry sustainable-ag enthusiasts pack into a rustic, beautiful seaside conference hall an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco to talk farming amid the dunes. The ever-excellent investigative writer Eric Schlosser kicked off Eco-Farm with a hard-hitting keynote. He noted the stark fact that "without agricultural surpluses, there can be no leisure -- and no writers." And he thanked the assembled for their work in the fields and groves. Echoing …

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Toxic tuna

The mercury problem isn’t contained to New York City’s sushi restaurants and markets

In case you needed another reason not to consume the dangerously overfished bluefin tuna: This week, The New York Times had a story about a study of mercury contamination, conducted by the newspaper, of leading sushi restaurants in New York. Guess which species showed the highest level of mercury? In the study, the Times collected samples of tuna sushi from leading restaurants like Blue Ribbon Sushi and Nobu Next Door. The results "found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed …

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