Cultivating a new food culture

Notes from Stone Barns’ ‘Young Farmer Conference’

There’s a social movement cropping up in fields and markets across the country — America’s next generation of farmers are stepping up to the pitchfork. Young, excited and energized, they’re facing many challenges, but also reaping many rewards. To celebrate this burgeoning interest in farming, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, New York held their first Young Farmers Conference on Dec. 4 and 5. Bringing together 150 seasoned and new farmers, activists and leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement, the conference focused on a critical component for the future of farming — the next generation. These young …

For some families, the holidays are all about the grub

  This is the holiday season in just about every culture. I was born and raised a Unitarian Universalist, thus of the Judeo-Christian background, so in my house it’s Christmastime. For some folks, Christmas is about peace and good tidings. For others it is a joyous celebration of the birth of their savior. In my family it was, and still is, all about the food. It’s about presence rather than presents. There are many items that must be on the table, or else it simply is not Christmas. Among these are the clam dip, the wild-rice dressing, grandma’s cranberries, and …

Where does your food come from?

I wanted to recommend a story on Emmett Duffy’s Natural Patriot blog about where fast food comes from. This is not a topic I normally post on (or actually know that much about), but I loved this post because it’s a profound message combined with some interesting science.

Me, on film

Food Fight snags documentary honor

For those of you who don’t get quite enough of my writing, you can see me holding forth on the big screen! That is, if the documentary Food Fight finds a distributor. I hope it does; I hear it’s good. (I do get quite enough of my writing, and I’m repelled by the idea of watching a celluloid image of myself talk; so I haven’t been able to watch the review copy I’ve been sent.) Food Fight, directed by Chris Taylor, explores how our food system got so screwed up and what folks are doing to fix it. Interview subjects …

Crunch time for USDA pick

Activists circulate last-minute petition to urge progressive farm-policy chief

The Obama transition team is reportedly going to announce the new USDA chief in the next few days. If the short list of candidates now being circulated is any indication, the president-elect is feeling serious pressure to make an agribiz-friendly choice. But just as pressure can be applied from above, it can also come from below. As I mentioned last week, a group of sustainable-ag activists and writers has sent a letter [PDF] to Obama urging him to make a progressive pick. Initial signees included Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Anna Lappe, and Alice Waters. (Full disclosure: …

Umbra on store-brand organics

Hey Umbra, What with organic foods being so expensive, I’m often tempted to buy the store-brand organic produce that’s cropping up lately. Are the store brands as good (i.e., pesticide free) as any other brand of organic food? I can’t help but be suspicious. Thanks!Confused in Jersey Dear CJ, Organic is a USDA-certified labeling program. Historically, organically grown food represented an alternative to large-scale, mass-produced, polluting agricultural techniques. Organic was and, to some extent, still is a social and ecological movement; today it is also a major branding tool. And since organically certified fresh and processed foods have been a …

The power of peaceful protest

Review of Fields of Fuel

Back in July, I reviewed a documentary film called Fields of Fuel directed by Josh Tickell. That film recently returned to Seattle after being reedited and renamed, Fuel. I actually think this new iteration is worth seeing with the caveat that you take the conspiracy theories and convoluted defenses of food-based biodiesel with a grain of salt. The billing at Seattle’s Varsity Theater website was: “Fuel exposes shocking connections between the auto industry, the oil industry, and the government, while exploring alternative energies such as solar, wind, electricity, and non-food-based biofuels. Director Josh Tickell and his Veggie Van take us …

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 …

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