Food

Yet more on Obama and USDA

Prez-elect urged to name progressive farm-policy chief

Rather than name a USDA chief, Obama keeps floating trial balloons. The names range from the deplorable, like Big Ag lobbyist Charles Stenholm, to the relatively innocuous, like Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius is a former chair of the Governors Ethanol Council. Predictable, given that she leads a big farm state; inevitable, almost. But still. However, she gets props for saying no to coal-fired power plants. That has little to do with ag, but does show a willingness to take on powerful interests. On Thursday, The Washington Post published a short list of USDA candidates that included Stenholm and Sebelius, …

Meet Shmeat

Test-tube flesh, coming soon to a hot dog near you

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. Lettuce know what food worries keep you up at night. —– Dear Lou, I hear that PETA has come out in favor of the development of test-tube meat. What’s up with that? I like to eat meat, and I try to be conscious about it — but I can’t tell if the prospect of test-tube meat should make me feel relieved or horrified. Lisa Blinding meat with science! Dear Lisa, You heard right. Earlier this year, People for …

Long forgotten, chestnuts are coming back with a vengeance, and make a delicious holiday pudding

  Nuts about chestnuts.   I first learned about chestnuts from “The Christmas Song” (most likely, the Chipmunks’ version), not from tasting one. That happened much later. A couple of years ago, a farmer brought locally grown chestnuts to the back door of the restaurant where I worked. My coworkers and I were excited to see them and, of course, we wanted some. However, we had no idea what to do with them in their raw form — not one of us had ever cooked with them. Chestnuts seemed almost exotic to us — I assumed they must be of …

Tomato concentrate

Time to slice up the tomato industry?

What happens when a few large buyers dominate a market? Anyone who keeps up with my posts — still there, mom? — knows what’s coming next: The buyers gain the power to dictate to dictate terms and conditions to sellers. For farmers, the results of concentrated markets are devastating. As a few giant companies like Smithfield and Tyson came to dominate meat packing, they managed to drive down the farmgate price of chickens, pigs, and beef cows. As a result, hundreds of thousands of farmers were driven out of business. Survivors took on debt and scaled up, in a desperate …

A taste test of seven ‘natural’ frozen dinners

  I have fond memories of microwaveable TV dinners from when I was a child: mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken nuggets, unidentifiable green lumps, mushy brown things. The wonder surrounding them was probably due to the fact that we weren’t usually allowed to eat them. Mama Shep is a great cook, and since we grew up on a vegetable farm, there were plenty of foods available that hadn’t been processed, frozen, and packaged months earlier. So TV dinners were a special treat. Now that I’m responsible for feeding myself, I usually try to actually cook, in the tradition of Mama Shep. …

Thorns and roses

The not-so-fragrant side of fresh-cut flowers

In conventional development dogma, the fresh-cut flower industry makes plenty of sense. Nations in the global south need foreign exchange and jobs; folks in the industrialized north have plenty of disposable income for buying pretty things. Moreover, land tends to be cheap in the south and dear in the north. Pursuing the promise of what economists call "comparative advantage," why not set up a vast fresh-cut flower industry in places like Ecuador, designed to supply markets in the United States? Of course, that is precisely what has happened. According to the trade group Society of American Florists, floriculture has blossomed …

Burger and fr ... uh, what was I saying?

Study links fast-food diets to Alzheimer’s

As the economy plunges into an abyss, consumers are cutting back on spending. They’re desperately seeking bargains, including culinary ones. While most companies deal with declining demand, McDonald’s saw its U.S. sales jump 5.3 percent in the last quarter. At the supermarket, meanwhile, sales of stuff like Spam and Dinty Moore canned stew are surging. But as economic crisis makes highly processed, junky food ever-more attractive, evidence of its ill health effects mounts. The latest, from Reuters: Mice fed junk food for nine months showed signs of developing the abnormal brain tangles strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, a Swedish researcher …

Meat Wagon: Chicken-shit blues

NYT: Maryland poultry CAFOs snuff out Chesapeake oyster industry

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. —– I write this on the second day of December — one among a string of months that end in “r.” That means, for those of us who live near the sea, it’s time to consider the oyster, that glorious bivalve mollusc. In her great essay “Consider the Oyster: Love and Death Among the Molluscs,” MFK Fisher notes the “strange cold succulence” of the raw oysters she sampled in her youth in France. But oysters provide more than just sensual pleasure; they’re also packed with …

Agrofuel proponents hone tactics

The food price blame game

Tactic No. 1: Create a straw man. Nobody in their right mind can claim that corn ethanol has no impact on corn prices, or that corn prices have no impact on food prices. You can only debate the extent of the corn’s impact. Here’s a conclusion from a study released this year [PDF] that supports all previous studies: A system of five equations representing the U.S. corn market is estimated by 3SLS. Results show that increasing ethanol production has a significant impact on the national average U.S. corn price. The positive price change is consistent with previous research. You can …