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Load of carp

Can we eat our way out of the invasive carp problem?

Fish and Chips
James

Humans did in the dodo; annihilated the Great Auk; likely mowed down the moa; and definitely pwned the passenger pigeon. What can we say? We were hungry.

But what if we used the power of our collective munchies to SOLVE problems, rather than cause them? As NPR reported yesterday, entrepreneurs along Midwestern waterways are trying to turn back the tide of invasive Asian carp by frying them in breadcrumbs -- or at least by convincing someone else to.

Asian carp breed like rabbits and are about as popular on contemporary American dinner plates (though broiling Bugs gets plenty of media coverage, the nation isn't exactly lapin it up). They slipped into our rivers in the '70s and can now be found all along the Mississippi River watershed, throughout a dozen states. In some places, the fish's density is as high as 13 tons per mile. Picture that load of carp.

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Wait, why are we dunking so many of our seeds in neonic poison?

mustard seed
Shutterstock

In the same way that America's fast-food industry fooled us into accepting that a burger must come with a pile of fries and a colossal Coke, the agricultural industry has convinced farmers that seeds must come coated with a side of pesticides.

And research suggests that, just like supersized meals, neonicotinoid seed treatments are a form of dangerous overkill -- harming bees and other wildlife but providing limited agricultural benefits. The routine use of seed treatments is especially useless in fields where pest numbers are low, or where insects, such as soybean aphids, chomp down on the crops after the plant has grown and lost much of its insecticidal potency.

“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known," said Peter Jenkins, one of the authors of a new report that summarizes the findings of 19 peer-reviewed studies dealing with neonic treatments and major crop yields. "What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic."

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Climate change is going to turn the Earth into a planet of hungry kids

hungry kid
Shutterstock

Talk of climate change-induced disasters probably brings to mind Pacific islands disappearing into the ocean, powerful storm surges, overwhelming floods, and raging wildfires. But some of the impacts -- stemming in part from some of these same phenomena -- will be more prosaic, but just as deadly.

Take food. A report released Monday evening by Oxfam America, an anti-poverty organization, finds that, “food prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change.” The result? “There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change.”

We're not talking about kids in the backseat whining that they want their chicken McNuggets posthaste. This is about already impoverished families in the world's poorest countries that will be pushed to starvation by rising prices for their dietary staples.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Making food deserts bloom takes more than just a baptism of kale

It took the nonprofit Philabundance to open a grocery store in Chester, Penn., but that's just the first step in getting locals to eat better food.
Fare and Square
It took the nonprofit Philabundance to open a grocery store in Chester, Penn., but that's just the first step in getting locals to eat better food.

Last year, Whole Foods built a new store in Detroit, to great acclaim and excitement. It deserved at least some of the attention: This was the first national chain to open a grocery store in Detroit -- often cited as a food desert -- in over a decade. But some of the hoopla came from the fact that the store seemed to confirm a satisfying, but simplistic, narrative, which goes something like this:

There are tons of people in urban food deserts yearning for fresh fruits and vegetables, but the blinkered (and maybe prejudiced) grocery executives don’t want these people as their customers. Cast off those blinkers and everyone wins: The grocery stores profit by meeting the demand for good food, the people switch from fast food to root-vegetable stews, and unicorns paint the sky with rainbows.

Whole Foods in Detroit looks like it proves the point that people are just waiting in food deserts to buy bundles of arugula. The store “is exceeding our wildest expectations,” Whole Foods Market Co-CEO Walter Robb said. But they set those expectations pretty low, with much smaller margins then they normally see. And Whole Foods only came in after the plunging population had stabilized and the city became a destination for a young, middle-class demographic.

“Suddenly cities are cool again, and people are moving back, and there’s lots of interest in getting grocery stores into urban areas,” said Alphonzo Cross, co-owner of Boxcar Grocer in Atlanta. “Nobody gave a shit 20 years ago.”

Nobody, that is, except for the people who were living in those neighborhoods. In 2013, as Whole Foods was opening, another store across town, the locally owned and operated Metro Foodland, was getting ready for its 30th year in business. It had opened in the midst of Detroit’s depopulation and found a way to thrive while offering healthy foods, year after year.

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Ask Umbra: Are chemicals in my garden hose polluting my veggies?

watering-can-hose-garden-cropped
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I have heard that there is triclosan in new garden hoses. My old hose is spouting leaks everywhere now, but I cannot find any references as to where I can find a chemical-free garden hose. I grow lots of veggies and don't want our family to be eating toxins. Any idea where I can source one?

Jacqueline
Adelaide, Australia

A. Dearest Jacqueline,

The ubiquity of chemicals in our daily lives is rather dispiriting, isn’t it? Here you are engaged in the very healthy, sustainable practice of growing fresh veggies for your family, only to learn your innocent-looking garden hose may be showering tonight’s salad with toxins? Good grief.

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How to make alcoholic ginger beer from scratch

gingerbeerfeat.jpg
Catherine Lamb

This article originally appeared on Food52.com.

There are two types of people in this world: people who like their ginger beer sweet, subtle, and unassuming, and people who like their ginger beer to kick them hard in the back of the throat. (I guess there are also people out there who don't like ginger beer, but for now I'm going to pretend they don't exist.)

You know real ginger beer if you've tasted it. The second you take a sip, it stomps on your tongue with steel-toed boots, taking glee in reminding you how spicy raw ginger truly is.

My version of ginger beer is like the unfiltered, uncensored, hardcore stuff, but with a teensy little bonus: alcohol. While England has been sipping on alcoholic ginger beer for hundreds of years, America has just begun to discover this gem. Well, Brits, your secret's out.

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Bt resistance is futile

What’s all this about a GMO-eating bug?

Diabrotica_virgifera_LeConte,_1868
Udo Schmidt

If you've been on Twitter or Facebook this last week, you might have seen the headline: Worm beats GMOs! Shockingly, this was just one incremental development in a long-unfolding story. Here's what you should know to understand what's going on here.

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The clean energy industry is turning Nevada green

Nevada
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Few things could be less sustainable than an entertainment mecca in the middle of a desert. But there's more to Nevada than the Vegas Strip, and investors in the Silver State are finding better ways of wagering their money than in slot machines.

On Thursday, leaders from both major parties joined forces to tout Nevada's clean technology sector. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) held a press conference to laud the $5.5 billion that has been invested in the industry in the state since 2010.

The figure was calculated by the Clean Energy Project, a Las Vegas-based advocacy group for the renewables sector. The group credits state tax breaks for growing clean energy investment. From its new report:

Due to Nevada’s vast solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass resources, the state has excelled at meeting demand in and out of its borders leading to significant clean energy capital investments. As of 2014, Nevada has 480 MW of clean energy developed or being developed to meet its energy demand and 985 MW of clean energy exported to other states.

The cumulative capital investments for both in-state and out-of-state clean energy projects, including transmission lines to move the clean electrons, total $5.5 billion since 2010. Nevada’s Investment of $500 million in tax abatements has attracted $5.5 billion of capital investment in clean energy projects to the state.

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Billions of pounds of sea life die every year to feed our seafood appetite

Entangled ring seal.
NOAA
A ring seal entangled in fishing equipment -- aka bycatch.

For every pound of sashimi, barbecued shrimp, or grilled sea bass that you stuff into your mouth, you're basically spitting four ounces of marine life onto the floor.

The nonprofit Oceana published a detailed report on Thursday cataloguing the egregious problem of bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Bycatch is a word that refers to the sharks, turtles, whales, non-edible fish, and other critters that are inadvertently hauled into fishing boats or caught up in the gear of fishing fleets that are pursuing more palatable and lucrative species.

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Waste deep in the big muddy

Has modern agriculture cleaned up its dirty runoff act?

Even the best conservation measures could be thwarted by severe weather leading to floods like this one in North Dakota, 2013
USDA photo by Keith Weston
Even the best conservation measures could be thwarted by severe weather leading to floods like this one in North Dakota, 2013

While I was in Iowa recently, Chris Jones, an environmental scientist at the Iowa Soybean Association, showed me this fascinating graph (based on this study). It basically shows how much dirt was in one of the main rivers flowing through Iowa's farmland over the last century:

Graph
Christopher Jones

It doesn’t look like much at first, but becomes more and more interesting as you study it. Because the span of time here is so long (1916 to 2009) and because changes in agricultural policy have had a big effect on the erosion of topsoil into rivers, you can see historical events reflected in these numbers.

That big peak in 1973? That came just after Earl Butz, then the secretary of agriculture, urged farmers to plant fencerow to fencerow. Farmers cut into marginal land, and then heavy rains followed in Iowa. The newly disturbed soil washed off the fields and into the rivers, creating the spike on the graph.

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