Food

Industrial ag-onistes

Two studies point to ecosystem damage from factory-style farming

How does chemical-intensive, concentrated agriculture affect surrounding ecosystems — and ones that lie downstream from large operations? Seems like a key question, given that upwards of 95 percent of our food comes from such agricultural methods. Yet there has been surprisingly little study of it. For example, when the meat industry started to rapidly consolidate production into large concentrated-animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) in the 1970s, government regulatory agencies made little effort to find out how it would affect surrounding communities. So we essentially got an uncontrolled experiment –with residents of places like North Carolina’s Duplin County and Iowa’s Hardin County …

I can eat for miles and miles

Food miles are a distraction, climate-wise

One hesitates to agree with Ron Bailey given his doctrinaire libertarianism, but in a somewhat narrow sense I think he’s right about this: in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, food localism is a red herring. That is to say: Eating local out of concern over carbon emissions is misguided. Food travel is not a big part of America’s collective emissions or most individuals’ emissions. And miles traveled is not always a reliable indicator of emissions — hothouse vegetables grown locally may be responsible for more emissions than traditionally grown veggies flown overseas. Building regional, human-scale food networks has considerable merit — …

Corn-fed nation

Confirming Pollan, PNAS study shows that fast-food chains mainly peddle corn

We literally are what we eat; our metabolic function converts the stuff we consume into our material bodies: flesh, bone, hair, etc. In a memorable passage in Micheal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, a biologist analyzes a strand of his own hair; he finds it shot through with corn’s unique carbon signature. Materially speaking, eaters of the standard American diet are corn. Or, as the biologist tells Pollan, "When you look at the isotope ratios, [U.S. residents] are corn chips with legs." Perhaps inspired by Pollan, University of Hawaii researchers A. Hope Jahren and Rebecca Kraft have released a study [PDF] through …

Meat Wagon: Fowl play

Is Tyson trying to drive its biggest chicken competitor out of business?

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. ——– Update [2008-11-18 12:4:19 by Tom Philpott]: The credit-rating agency Fitch has come out with a presentation claiming that a Pilgrim’s Pride bankruptcy is “pretty inevitable” and would benefit its rivals (including Tyson), Reuters reports. PP’s bonds are trading at a 10 cents on the dollar — meaning investors are assuming it will soon slide into bankruptcy. —— Something weird is happening in the meat industry, which is dominated [PDF] by a handful of large companies. The weirdness involves Tyson Foods, which is the largest …

To make the Thanksgiving centerpiece a sure triumph, go heritage — and reach for the deep-fryer

Fry ya later, alligator. In the 11 years between the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution, arguments raged over the future of the nascent nation. One involved the naming of a National Bird. Writing to his daughter on the subject of his choice for the symbol in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey is peculiar to ours.” I’ve often wondered what effect there would have been on our national character had Mr. Franklin prevailed. Nonetheless, thanks to America’s best holiday, the turkey has earned an honored place in our …

GM-Oh, no!

Long-term study: GMOs lower fertility in mice

Under President Clinton, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) entered the U.S. food supply with very little public input or independent testing. The precautionary principle crumbled under the weight of industry influence; Clinton staffed the FDA with biotech-industry insiders like Michael Taylor, who has spent his long career bouncing between the government payroll and Monsanto’s. The official attitude toward testing the health implications of GMO food has been: let the industry conduct the studies. Not so shockingly, industry-funded studies have found no health problems associated with GMO foods. Today, upwards of 90 percent of U.S. soy, and 60 percent of U.S. corn, …

Umbra on cookbooks

Dear Umbra, I am trying to eat local foods within the seasons, but most of my cookbooks include ingredients from multiple seasons in a single recipe. Can you offer any cookbooks or advice for finding more seasonal recipes? Yours locally (and in season or preserved), Katie Somerville, Mass. Dearest Katie, Good for you — and good for you. Isn’t it too bad Gristmahanukwanzakah comes after Thanksgiving? Cookbooks make great gifts, but we need them in advance. I feel thanksgiving for the library, where we can test drive before committing to a wish list. Cooking local: easy as pie? The eat-local …

President Obama, meet King Corn

Will new prez toe the agribiz line on food policy?

Where does President-elect Obama stand on food policy — with the interests of Big Food and its Congressional water-carriers, or with the budding sustainable-food/food-justice movement? I guess the first substantial indicator will come when he names his secretary of agriculture. Until that time, we’ve got some data points to consider. • On the scary side, check out this recent account of remarks by Collin Peterson (D-Big Ag), chair of the House Ag Committee. Peterson, tireless champion of corn-based ethanol that he is, wants Congress to boost the required ethanol-to-gas blend in the national fuel supply from its current 10 percent …

Meat Wagon: All the world's a CAFO

Don Tyson details plans to export the U.S. meat model to global south

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. —– A handful of large companies [PDF] dominate the U.S. meat industry. The biggest of all (besides Cargill whose interests extend well beyond meat) is Tyson Foods, one of the two largest beef packers, the second-largest pork packer, and the second-largest chicken producer. Tyson has exerted tremendous influence over the recent U.S. food culture and economy. It innovated the “vertical-integration” strategy that now dominates meat production, wherein mega-packers breed, slaughter, and process farm animals — mostly leaving the risky job of raising them to farmers …