Today we give a tip o' the carp To the bitterlings at PETA Who've thought of yet another way To make us better eatas. Agog at all our fishy friends That on sharp hooks have bitten, They've launched a cutesy-boots campaign Called, yes, "Save the Sea Kitten!" If fish were "kittens," so they say, You'd view them differently -- Your tuna would change if today's lunch Were Kitten of the Sea.
Michael Pollan suggested at a recent Grist potluck -- note to editors: for future reference, I make a mean lemon-cilantro chicken -- that we could improve "the situation for food policy" in Congress if we could: Make the House agriculture committee exclusive. The most important committees in the House -- Energy, Finance, etc. -- are "exclusive," which means their membership has to be drawn from diverse geographical and ideological sources. Ag isn't exclusive, which means it can be (and is) packed with representatives of Big Ag. It's where decent ag legislation goes to die. Pollan has been advocating this kind of committee reform for a while. In fact, he mentioned the idea in a Q&A follow up to his "Farmer in Chief" manifesto in the New York Times. But I think it's worth pointing out what it does and does not mean to make a House committee exclusive, and why it might not accomplish much. Warning: This post gets fairly deep into the weeds on House committee structure. Exclusivity does not, according to the Congressional Research Service, require geographical or ideological diversity. What exclusivity does is distribute plum assignments and ensure that individual members don't serve on too many powerful committees -- a member who sits on an exclusive committee can sit on no other committee. Only a few committees are considered powerful enough to warrant such limits (keeping in mind that each party can declare its own set of exclusive committees). Out of 18 committees, five are exclusive for Democrats: Rules, Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services. The last two have only recently been promoted, and thus only members who joined since the committees were made exclusive are limited to a single assignment. To put that in context, nonexclusive committees include the still very powerful Armed Services, Budget, International Relations, and Judiciary Committees. And no one is arguing those are packed by region or controlled by a particular interest group.
On Wednesday, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack began his confirmation hearing to become the 30th U.S. secretary of agriculture with the promise to be a forward-looking leader who would make the USDA a 21st century agency. While his nomination has been unpopular among some members of the sustainable-agriculture community, there is hope that under his guidance the USDA can grow into a very different agency than it has been during the past four decades, when it's been run by secretaries such as Earl Butz. As the next head of the USDA, Vilsack will be charged with revamping a sprawling agency that has an annual budget of $89 billion and more than 92,000 employees, a task that he is uniquely qualified to do. In Iowa, which my family has called home for six generations, Vilsack is known to be a smart, capable administrator who has been willing to listen to the concerns of family farmers and rural advocates. While attending a Practical Farmers of Iowa conference this past weekend, where many of the state's most progressive and sustainable farmers gathered, there was almost universal agreement that Vilsack is capable of much more at the national level than he was as the governor of a former red state, where almost any progressive policy he would have put forward would have been blocked by a Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate. CAFOs and GMOs That said, many are still upset over Vilsack's 1995 vote as a state senator to repeal local control (H.F. 519), which stripped local elected officials from having a say in where confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are located. His promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has concerned members of the sustainable-ag community even more. They fear that his closeness with agribusiness companies will only prolong U.S. farm policies benefiting corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers. Here in Iowa, while we have been disappointed with many of our political leaders, we are pragmatic and understand when it is important to work with them and when it's time to hold them accountable.
Dear Umbra, My husband was raised with milk straight from the cow that he milked himself every morning, so he and his parents are very into organic milk. However, I am concerned about the benefits/dangers …
McDonald's is on a roll. Says the NYT: Six years into a rebound spawned by more appealing food and a less aggressive expansion, McDonald's seems to have won over some of its most hardened skeptics.The chain has managed to sustain its momentum even as the economy and the restaurant industry as a whole are struggling. Month after month, McDonald's has surprised analysts by posting stronger-than-expected sales in the United States and abroad. I've been won over all right. Won over to the argument that changing food policy in this country is a quixotic proposition. The article presents as progress that McDonald's responded to flattening beef consumption by going, quoth one executive, "at chicken hard." Firstly, um, ew? And secondly, learning that McDonald's now sells more chicken than beef worldwide doesn't quite feel like the revolution is right around the corner.
About a month ago, high-profile foodies got pretty amped up about whom Obama would choose as White House chef. Three of them -- Berkeley sustainable food doyenne Alice Waters, Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, and New York City restaurateur Denny Mayer -- even got together to pen a letter urging the incoming president to replace the current White House chef with someone who chooses locally grown, organic food -- preferably sourced from an on-site vegetable garden. According to a New York Times account, the letter states: A person of integrity who is devoted to the ideals of sustainability and health would send a powerful message that food choices matter. Supporting seasonal, ripe delicious American food would not only nourish your family, it would support our farmers, inspire your guests, and energize the nation. Last week, Obama defied this gentle effort to convince him to send the incumbent chef packing. Cristeta Comerford, who has been in charge of cooking first-family meals for the Bushes since 2005, will retain her post, the Obama team announced. My first reaction to this news was disappointment. After choosing an agribiz-friendly pol as USDA chief, couldn't Obama at least make a symbolic nod in the direction of the sustainable-food movement by picking a new chef? Now I'm not sure what the fuss was about in the first place.
"Ignoring climate projections at this stage will only result in the worst form of triage." The headline is from the University of Washington news release on a study in Science, "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat" ($ub. req'd). The quote is the study's powerful final sentence. The release explains: Rapidly warming climate is likely to seriously alter crop yields in the tropics and subtropics by the end of this century and, without adaptation, will leave half the world's population facing serious food shortages, new research shows ... "The stresses on global food production from temperature alone are going to be huge, and that doesn't take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures," said David Battisti, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor. Worse, the study must also be considered a serious underestimate of likely impacts since, as is common in such analyses, they based their simulations on "the 'middle of the road' emission scenario, A1B." In 2100, A1B hits about 700 ppm with average global temperatures "only" about 3°C warmer than today. In fact, on our current emissions path, we are going to get much, much hotter. Figure. "Histogram of summer (June, July, and August) averaged temperatures (blue) observed from 1900 to 2006 and (red) projected for 2090 for (A) France, (B) Ukraine, and (C) the Sahel. Temperature is plotted as the departure from the long-term (1900-2006) climatological mean (21). The data are normalized to represent 100 seasons in each histogram. In (A), for example, the hottest summer on record in France (2003) is 3.6°C above the long-term climatology. The average summer temperature in 2090 [assuming A1B] is projected to be 3.7°C greater than the long-term climatological average." The results are still alarming:
Today Grist had the somewhat surreal experience of hosting Michael Pollan, the nation’s premier food writer, for lunch. And just to make it more stressful, we decided to do a potluck — each of us …
Who found it more difficult to get excited about an Obama presidency, the Democratic Leadership Council or the progressive wing of the Democratic party? The DLC folks are riding high, calling themselves "The New Team." The progressives came away empty-handed. Progressives assumed change would extend to President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet, but we never expected the change to be a reflection of the Clinton administration or, worse yet, the Bush administration. We thought change would mean, well, something different. New people, ideas, economic reforms, energy policies, a withdrawal from Iraq, and a new face to the world. The political junkies say Obama has loaded his cabinet with centrists. Progressives can only wonder why the world suddenly turned upside down. OK, it's his cabinet he can pick whom he wishes, but his picks seem a bit out of place. Like Michael Pollan eating a Luther Burger.