The soil crisis

Two gray eminences of the food movement lay down the law on farm policy

There's an idea out there that reforming U.S. food policy simply can not be a priority for the Obama administration. We're enmeshed in two wars (three, if you count what our dear Israeli friends are up to in the Gaza Strip), the economy is crumbling, and climate change is accelerating. Under these conditions, how can Obama possibly busy himself with something as trivial as food? The president-elect himself seems to buy into this line of reasoning. By nominating a corn-belt pol with a history of playing footsie with agribiz as his USDA chief, Obama signaled that status quo, not reform, will mark his food agenda, at least early in his presidency. I think the food-reform-can-wait logic is wrong on several counts. As I'll argue later this week in Victual Reality, investing in a new food system could make for an excellent piece of a stimulus package. And on practical grounds, food-system reform is urgent. Anyone who doubts that should read the powerful, concise op-ed in today's New York Times by Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. The sustainable food movement's most revered elders make the case with characteristic bluntness:

For a 'change we can believe in,' dump industrial agriculture

Studies show mono-cultures, GMOs, and globalization are problems, not solutions

With the arrival of 2009, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes nearly a billion people a day go hungry worldwide. While India supplies Switzerland with 80 percent of its wheat, 350 million Indians are food-insecure. Rice prices have nearly tripled since early 2007 because, according to the International Rice Research Institute, rice-growing land is being lost to industrialization, urbanization, and shifts to grain crops for animal feed.

California organic ag's fertilizer-gate

SacBee: California regulators delayed action while fertilizer company duped organic farmers

Did you buy “organic” food at the supermarket in 2006 — say, one of those clam-shell boxes of spinach? If so, there’s a strong chance you got hoodwinked. Get this, from the Sacramento Bee: For years, a California organic-input company was passing off synthetic fertilizer as organic and selling it widely to the state’s organic farms (including nationally distributed giants like Earthbound Farms). The offending company, California Liquid Fertilizer, owns about a 33 percent market share among the state’s organic farmers, the Bee reports. Using an open-records request, the newspaper found that state regulators uncovered the mess in June 2004, …

Edible Media: Delectable food-politics books of '08, part I

Vandana Shiva’s powerful Soil Not Oil

Edible Mediatakes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism. —– In a recent essay in The Nation, the critic William Deresiewicz made a pungent observation about the U.S. cultural scene: An iron law of American life decrees that the provinces of thought be limited in the collective consciousness to a single representative. Like a poor man’s Noah, we take one of each. One physicist: Stephen Hawking. One literary theorist: Harold Bloom. One radical social critic: Noam Chomsky. Before her death, we had one intellectual, Susan Sontag, and one only. (Now we’ve dispensed with the category altogether.) We are …

For those resolving to eat better and more locally in 2009

Ten Thousand Villages, the wonderful chain of Mennonite-rooted fair trade stores, offers two cookbooks perfect for people wanting to eat better, healthier, more sustainable food — much lower on the food web, with little or no meat, in season — while saving money. The first is the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, a nice, basic first cookbook and a sustainable improvement on Betty Crocker. I would give this to any young person starting out in the world. With over 800,000 copies in print, the More-with-Less Cookbook has become the favorite cookbook of many families. Full of recipes from hundreds …

Food is trendy

Time magazine on ‘top 10 food trends’

Proving yet again that everyone’s obsessed with food, Time has included the edible stuff in its Top 10 Everything of 2008 lists. The mag’s “Top 10 Food Trends” list is interesting reading. Bottled water and local food are out. "Nanny-state food regulations," salmonella saintpaul, and recession dining are all in. Actually, local food isn’t really out. The magazine heralds a "local food backlash," but after a (cursory) examination of the evidence, concludes: The bottom line? Buy fresh foods locally. If you must have frozen waffles, don’t sweat their origin. The other, lower bottom line: Don’t read "top 10 trend" lists …

Organic dairy update

Proposed new USDA rule generates controversy

What are you seeking when you shell out extra cash for organic milk? Some folks aim to avoid the synthetic growth hormones and genetically modified, pesticide-treated feed U.S. dairy cows typically find in their rations. As currently written, USDA organic rules deliver that. But what about access to pasture? Cows evolved as grass eaters; forcing them to feed on grain for a significant period of their lives is a relatively recent experiment. USDA code requires dairy farmers to give their cows "access to pasture," but doesn’t spell out precisely what that means. In one way, that’s good. In truly ecological …

Say (artisanal) cheese!

Not all fermented dairy products are created equal

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. Blessed are the cheese makers. Dear Checkout Line, In our search to eat local, we’ve uncovered some lovingly handmade local cheeses. They certainly have more variety — sheep, goat, wallaby (well, maybe not wallaby) — and are definitely lots more expensive than the shrink-wrapped yellow plastic squares of cheddar. But are they actually any better for you? Isn’t one half-pound hunk of hard fat just about the same …

Monica Segovia-Welsh’s Chocolate Panforte

Photo: Justin Russell Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Visions of sugar plums dancing. A partridge in a pear tree. The holiday season is rife with gastronomic traditions, as well as delectable memories of shared meals past. To get in the spirit, and perhaps encourage a few new traditions, we asked some all-star sustainability-minded chefs — including our own food columnists — to share their favorite holiday recipes. So grab a cup of organic ‘nog and dig in! Dan Barber & Blue Hill’s Dairyless Fennel Soup Deborah Madison’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Silky Persimmon Puree Andrea Reusing’s Lion’s Head Meatballs …

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