Thanksgiving can reconnect families and revive traditions — like sweet potato rolls

Sweet potato rolls.Photos: April McGregerI remember the look on my grandfather’s face when I tried to politely explain that I couldn’t eat the giblet gravy or the dressing (known in other parts of the country as “stuffing”) that I had always relished. The reason, I informed him, was that I was a vegetarian; those old favorites contained turkey broth. He replied with a blank stare. It was a completely isolating experience. In a family where preparing and sharing food is our strongest form of emotional currency, my rejection of my family’s food was a rejection of their affection and a …

USDA close to approving relatively weak organic standards for fish

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week inched closer to approving organic rules for fish for the first time that would let “organic” fish eat up to 25 percent of their diet from non-organic sources, a move which has irked organic advocates worried about sullying otherwise relatively strict standards for organic meat products.

USDA has crazy idea that organic cows should get time in pasture

Only cows that have gobbled grass in pasture for at least 120 days per year can produce milk labeled “organic,” according to draft rules issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Activists have long criticized a loophole that allowed organic-milk producers to keep their cows in giant feedlots, as long as they were fed organic grain.

Obama and the USDA

Monsanto’s man in the Clinton admin joins the transition team, and more

Update [2008-11-20 5:47:7 by Tom Philpott]: Correction: Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore pointed me to an error in the original post. About former Monsanto vice-president and FDA official Michael R. Taylor, I had written that “He was particularly useful in the effort to prevent abstaining dairies from advertising their milk as rBGH-free.” Not so, Jill informs me. Taylor actually supported allowing dairies to label their milk rBGH-free, so long as they made no health claims. The error has been removed from the below text. I regret the error. Whither Obama’s food/ag policy? I don’t think I’m a jaded enough …

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 …

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