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Farmers and eaters: Why can’t we be friends?

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A farmer from Iowa recently told me a story about visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. He chatted up foodsellers at the Ferry Building farmers market, visited the wine country, and met a lot of nice people. But he also noticed that whenever he told anyone that he was a corn and soybean farmer, the temperature in the room seemed to drop. Oh, that kind of farmer. In the Bay Area, saying "I grow corn and soy" is the real world version of saying Voldemort.

This antipathy runs both ways, of course. Visiting Iowa, I felt a similar chill at times when I revealed that I was a California food writer. Another farmer asked me how I thought we should deal with the problem of people demanding organic foods.

But I truly believe that we’re natural allies. The farmer and the eater should be friends! We all want the same thing: A sustainable system, one that provides fair compensation for food producers and makes the world a more healthy, delicious, and beautiful place with every bite. We should be breaking the path toward this goal together. And yet, instead of mutual respect, there’s acrimony, suspicion, and anger.

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From single malt to sauvignon blanc: Scotland warms up to wine

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Ach, Scotland! Land of elves playing folksy instruments, statues of Mel Gibson in face paint, and a refreshing glass of riesling to go with your haggis! Wait, what?

That old specter of climate change strikes again, but this time it’s helping the Scots diversify their options for getting hammered. Climbing temperatures are slowly turning Scotland from the land of sheep and plaid to wine country.

Bloomberg News reports that famed Scottish foodie Christopher Trotter has started up his own vineyard outside the city of Edinburgh, and he’s preparing to bottle up an inaugural harvest this year. In recent years, Scottish summers have been unseasonably warm enough to inspire Trotter to go into the winemaking biz. According to Scottish government data, the average temperature of the 2000s so far has been nearly 1 degree Celsius higher than the average measured between 1961 and 1990, and regional annual average temperatures are expected to increase by another 2.6 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2080.

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This new study shows that vegetarians have worse health. Should we care?

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David Jones

Diet-related health findings have been all over the news lately, particularly a new study of 1,320 Austrians published in Nutrition and Health. The provocative paper spewed some pretty damning findings about vegetarians, including that they’re more likely to have cancer, food allergies, and anxiety or depression. Vegetarians also take fewer vaccines and have fewer preventative check-ups, researchers noted, before throwing down some major smack-talk:

Overall, our findings reveal that vegetarians report poorer health, follow medical treatment more frequently, have worse preventive health care practices, and have a lower quality of life.

Them’s fighting words!

To temper that a bit, the study also notes that vegetarians had the lowest BMI, and a recent review of 39 studies found that vegetarians have lower blood pressure. (And there's, you know, all of the climate- and resource-related benefits.)

But the real message here is that this study shows correlation, not causation. No one can say for sure that going vegetarian will make you depressed, give you cancer, or kill you. As several Redditors suggest, maybe people with food allergies or cancer go vegetarian in an attempt to eat healthier (which would definitely skew the results).

Read more: Food, Living

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Now you can get raw milk from a vending machine

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John Kroll

What if buying fresh milk from local cows were as easy as getting a Sprite? It is in Europe, of course (an entire continent seemingly dedicated to inspiring jealousy).

Modern Farmer reports that raw milk vending machines are commonplace in countries like France, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Expat Rebecca McCray raves that not only do local farmers own all of Slovenia’s raw milk vending machines, or mlekomats, but the unpasteurized stuff simply tastes better:

[T]he unskimmed milk from the mlekomat is utterly unrecognizable compared with the bluish, watery counterpart I bought in the U.S.

True that. Skim milk is nobody's idea of a good time.

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Can I get a Dasani, bro? Not in this national park, you can’t!

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Bear photo: Eric Gorski

“Man,” said one bear to the other, prying open his Dasani water bottle with one claw. “It’s gonna be such a bummer once they ban these babies.”

“I feel you, dude,” his ursine friend responded, gnawing at a bottlecap. “I cannot get ENOUGH of these things!”

This exchange is clearly fictional. Contrary to popular commercial imagery, bears don’t drink out of bottles. Even if they did -- which they don’t, seriously -- those taking up residence in national parks across the United States are going to start finding it a lot more difficult to get their paws on some Aquafina. More than 20 national parks across the country  have now banned the sale of plastic water bottles, with more parks expected to enact bans of their own this year.

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Here’s how rooftop gardens can empower women and tame population growth

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If you care about the environment (at least according to Bill Maher) you’ve got to be thinking about population growth. The best way to level off population growth (at least according to world history) is to give women power to choose if they want to have babies or not. Perhaps the best way to empower women is to literally give them power by giving them the means to earn money. And investing in small-scale farming is often the most effective way to lift people -- especially women -- out of poverty.

You can keep looking for the next link in this chain of argument -- but it's so much easier, and more rewarding, just to take 10 minutes and watch this film. There, you will see how a rural Indian teen’s rooftop garden can quietly erode the patriarchal force pushing her toward early marriage and a big family.

Megan Mylan, who won an Academy Award for a previous short documentary, directed the film, titled After My Garden Grows. It’s part of the Sundance Institute’s Short Film Challenge.

It's true that I'm a sucker both for kickass women and for creative farmers, so I may by prejudiced, but I'm now a fan.

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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?

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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

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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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