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Long-distance organic

Is it really a savior for smallholder farmers in the global south?

In the latest Victual Reality, I addressed the "eat-local backlash" -- the steady trickle of media reports seeking to debunk the supposed social and environmental benefits of eating from one's foodshed. Some of the charges are easy to refute. Hey, in Maine, it takes more energy to produce hothouse tomatoes in January than it does to ship them up from South America! Really? Try eating something besides fresh tomatoes in January in Maine. Hell, if you really want Maine tomatoes in January, organize to invest in community-scale canning infrastructure, and then capture July's bounty for the whole year. There's another …

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Heard it through the bovine

Scientists try to reduce methane emissions by tweaking cow diets

Did you know that cows belch every 40 seconds? I did not. A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor states this fun fact, and goes on to explain how scientists are trying to manipulate bovine diets to reduce the amount of methane that they emit: British researchers have begun a $1.5 million government research program to propose ways to change cows' diets in order to reduce methane production by feeding them grasses with higher levels of sugar, which facilitate digestion. "These grasses present a better balance of nutrients to the microbial population in the rumen and are used more …

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If buying locally isn’t the answer, then what is?

Is long-distance better than local? Photo: Sheila Steele Attention farmers' market shoppers: Put that heirloom tomato down and rush to the nearest supermarket. By seeking local food, you're wantonly spewing carbon into the atmosphere. That's the message of a budding backlash against the eat-local movement. The Economist fired a shotgun-style opening salvo last December, peppering what it called the "ethical foods movement" with a broad-spectrum critique. Among the claims: organic agriculture consumes more energy than conventional, and food bought from nearby sources often creates more greenhouse-gas emissions than food hauled in from long distances. (Here was my response to that …

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Chicago-style Mad Flavor: I heart Lula

In which the author finds his dream neighorhood restaurant

In Mad Flavor, the author describes his occasional forays from the farm in search of exceptional culinary experiences from small artisanal producers. Recently, Mad Flavor was on the ground in Chicago -- the author's ancestral home city -- a veritable garden of delightful food. I've long dreamed of a very particular neighborhood cafe/restaurant. It would lie in the middle of a dense urban neighborhood, looking onto the chaos of the sidewalk. It would be open from early morning until late at night, and seem to transform itself with the hour of the day. It would serve multiple functions: a place …

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Evian Is Just Evil Misspelled

Hatin' on plastic water bottles is all the rage Forget SUVs and Styrofoam: hip-to-the-times green folk are directing their ire at plastic water bottles. In the last few months, the energy-intensiveness of bottled water -- 1.5 million barrels of oil go into making the bottles for the U.S. market each year, and oodles more to transporting the H2O -- has seeped into the public consciousness. Big-city mayors have urged residents to stop hitting the bottle, and highfalutin restaurants are serving filtered tap water. Advocates point out that water flows freely in nearly every U.S. home, while 38 billion recyclable plastic …

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Umbra on organic pork

Dear Umbra, Commercial pork production is a nasty, polluting operation and inhumane to the animals. What makes organic pork different? Simply what they are fed, or does it involve more humane and less polluting production operations? Related, I have been purchasing free-range, organic chicken for several years now. However, recently the free-range, organic chicken breasts have been humongous, conjuring up images of Dolly Parton chickens toppling over in their pecking yard. What's up? Any thoughts? Puzzling over the universe, Pat Emeryville, Calif. Dearest Pat, Another column of little interest to vegetarians. I'm afraid I don't have the time or space …

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Global warming and empty calories

High CO2 crops could be low on nutrition

One of the silver linings of climate change, some have argued, is that high carbon dioxide levels will mean increased crop yields, which will, in turn, be good for combating global hunger (the logic, I suppose, being that if we're frying fifty years from now, at least we won't be hot and hungry). But some underpublicized studies, reported this month in Nature, cast a long shadow on this sunny assertion. (Sorry! It looks like the the article is subscription only, so I'll be as descriptive as possible.) In the 1980s, Bruce Kimball, a soil physicist with the USDA in Arizona, …

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Farm Bill: The 'delicate balance' the House left intact

But key Senators are making noise about rocking the boat

When Mark Udall (D-Colo.) proposed shaving two-thirds of a cent from just one of the subsidies that go to cotton farmers, Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) said, "it is absolutely unfair, once we have reached this very delicate balance within the bill, to reach in and single out one commodity." That amendment -- to cut less than a penny from cotton subsidies and use the savings to protect more than 200,000 acres from sprawl and development -- failed by a vote of 175-251. So what was that very delicate balance that the House of Representatives preserved? Last week, they approved a bill …

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Cage-free eggs: the iPhone of food

Yolk, yolk, yolk …

From the NYT: The toy industry had its Tickle Me Elmo, the automakers the Prius and technology its iPhone. Now, the food world has its latest have-to-have-it product: the cage-free egg. What the cluck, you ask? According to the story, dozens of vendors -- ranging from universities to hotel chains, Whole Foods to Burger King -- are scrambling to get their share of the (somewhat more) humanely raised hen-product. Some companies may have even counted their eggs before they hatched: last fall, Ben and Jerry's laid out a plan to put all their eggs in a cage-free basket, but said …

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Chickens coming home to roost

Hope they don’t want any corn

What? A sharply hotter climate and abundant CO2 aren't good for field crops? But, but ... the coal lobby Greening Earth Society said they would be! Fitting: the photo accompanying this story in The Detroit News shows a huge trailer of corn being deposited at an ethanol plant. Michigan corn may have been knee-high by July, but a scorching summer has made the harvest one of the worst in the nation, federal statistics show. Early hopes for a fruitful harvest have given way to predictions of a 24 percent decrease in corn production in 2006 and low levels of field …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food