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USDA secretary resigns; industrial-corn man takes charge

Big doings at the USDA yesterday: Mike Johanns, the reliably pro-agribiz former governor of Nebraska, resigned from his post as USDA chair -- right in the middle of Farm Bill negotiations, now in the Senate. He says he's going to run for the Senate seat that Chuck Hagel is vacating. Chuck Conner, currently the USDA's no. 2 man, will be the agency's acting secretary. Conner joined the Bush administration in 2001 as the president's "special assistant" on ag issues, and joined the USDA in 2005. Before working for Bush, Conner spent four years as executive director of the Corn Refiners …

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There’s no lead-free lunch

Have you heard the one about the "healthy lunch" campaign that used lunchboxes found to contain lead? No joke.

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A good NYT piece on Alice Waters

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism. Alice Waters is so beloved and renowned in the sustainable-food world that her status approaches that of a saint. Inevitably, all that reverence gives rise to a certain amount of irreverence. I don't think anyone's gone after her with the vitriol that Christopher Hitchens once unleashed on Mother Theresa ("the bitch of Calcutta," etc.) But no one as pure of heart and pantry as Our Lady of the Mesclun can get by without a bit of ribbing. I even engaged in some once. Then, every once in a …

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On kids, zucchini, and an experiment with pizza soup

A few weeks ago, when I made zucchini blueberry bread with my friends' kids, it was revealed that one of them didn't care much for zucchini in its non-dessert incarnations, seeing as how it was a vegetable and all. So I challenged myself to invent some kid-friendly zucchini dishes to see if I could get him to enjoy it and include it in his list of things he might -- might -- consider eating. Do I have to? Photo: iStockphoto As part of my strategy, I contemplated the things about zucchini that kids might not like, and came to the …

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More than half of U.S. families bought packaged meat last year. Gross

The phrase "luncheon meat in pouches" strikes me as singularly unappetizing -- industrially grown meat, lashed with God-knows-what chemicals, and stuffed into plastic. Even as an industrial-food-scarfing child, the slippery wetness and sketchy pink color of such food always struck me as just wrong (not that it stopped me from digging in). Can't be easy on the landscape, either, given the undeniable depredations of industrial meat, and the lifecycle-spanning horrors of plastic. And yet, and yet ... "lunch meat in pouches" is taking the convenience-food world by storm. Reports a trade journal: US households spent about $3.75bn on luncheon meat …

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Songbird endangered in France hunted as a culinary delicacy

Ortolan is a French delicacy: a tiny songbird, roasted whole and swallowed in one bite, bones and all. Ortolan hunting has been banned in France since 1998 to protect the species, but the birds have a high price on the black market, and as many as 30,000 a year are fattened up and sold by poachers to high-end chefs. Apparently freedom fries just aren't good enough for them.

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Mercury moves from coal plant to fish dinner as fast as its name implies

A Scientificblogging post explains that it only takes three years for mercury emitted by coal-fired plants to travel up the food chain into fish that we eat: "Before this study, no one had directly linked atmospheric deposition (mercury emissions) and mercury in fish," says study co-author Vincent St. Louis of the University of Alberta. The experiment filled a major gap in scientists' understanding of how mercury moves from the atmosphere through forests, soils, lakes and into the fish that people eat. It's immediate value is that it provides undeniable proof of a direct link, said St. Louis, who specializes in …

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Umbra on the impact of food purchases

Hi Umbra, I practically live on Lean Cuisine (that brand specifically -- they are frequently on sale for $2 each). In my community, the plastic tray is recyclable, as is the cardboard box. The only thing that goes in the trash is the film that covers the tray. Microwave time averages five minutes per entree. Total dirty dishes: one fork. I have a friend who swears I'm a hypocrite -- that cooking is "better" for the environment. I maintain that more packaging goes into the trash when cooking, and certainly the stove is burning for a lot longer than five …

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Easy, affordable recipes for baby and toddler food

Never mind the intro, take me to the recipes! If you are what you eat, then the developing years are surely the most important time to eat well. As a parent, you may not be able to give your baby or toddler fresh, homemade foods every day -- but there are real benefits when you do. Her face and your floor will enjoy homemade food too. Homemade food is more nutritious than commercially prepared baby foods: it retains more nutrients, especially vitamin A and B; it doesn't contain additives like food dyes and thickening agents like cornstarch, flour, chemically modified …

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A handy health checklist for pregnancy

Talk about a double whammy. It's challenging enough to be green when you're solo, and then pregnancy comes along and gives you twice the eco-angst (not to mention more hormones than you know what to do with). Photo: iStockphoto The cause for alarm is real: pregnancy is the most critical time for establishing your baby's well being. It's also the time when you're vulnerable to the alphabet stew of harmful chemicals in the world, which are increasingly making their way into women's bodies, wombs, and breast milk. But there is good news: Simple measures like eating organic, nutrient-rich foods before …

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