Out in the foodshed

NYC's Scott Stringer releases a plan for remaking the urban food system

For those of us wondering what it would take to "localize" urban food systems, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has some answers. In a just-released study called "Food in the Public Interest," Stringer's office analyzes the New York City "foodshed" (a term we'll be hearing a lot of in the future) and comes up with a lengthy set of recommendations. If it does anything, the report emphasizes just how daunting a task it will be to reform food policy in this county. Much of what Stringer hopes to accomplish (especially in the area of nutrition programs) will be handled at the federal level. Still, the report emphasizes the outsized impact on issues that involve land use and commercial development that the control over zoning and business licensing regulations gives to local authorities. Attempting to eliminate food deserts in low-income areas by creating "Food Enterprise Zones" and reducing red tape in the permitting of food processing companies is exactly the kind of thing that zoning and licensing reforms can address. Interestingly, the report's conclusions on food deserts align with a recent study by two SUNY-Buffalo researchers. They suggest the solution may lie in thinking small (increase the number of neighborhood grocery stores) rather than big (spending tax money on attracting chain supermarkets). Indeed, the same focus on local regulations applies to the expansion of urban agriculture (first step: overturn New York City's beekeeper ban!) and to the development of a wholesale farmers' market and food storage network (so that industrial and commercial buyers can better take advantage of local agricultural output).

Meat Wagon: Layoffs at the factory farm

Farmers take the hit as the CAFO model comes under pressure

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. ----- The industrial meat giants have entered a crisis phase. As I've reported before, the world's biggest chicken packer, Pilgrim's Pride, is languishing in bankruptcy, squeezed by high feed costs, its own addiction to cheap capital from Wall Street, now dried up, and ruthless competition from rival Tyson. Facing a similar situation, Smithfield Foods, the globe's biggest pork packer and hog producer, announced it's shuttering six plants and hacking away 1,800 jobs. Pilgrim's Pride has deftly used its bankruptcy to shunt much if the pain onto the backs of its farmer-suppliers, The Wall Street Journal reports (see extremely interesting related video). The article shows the massive risks required of the farmers who supply the nation with meat. Get this:

UN unveils ambitious ‘green’ food programme

NAIROBI — The UN Environment Programme has unveiled an ambitious seven-point plan to feed the world without polluting it further by making better use of …

The Mustache goes organic

Thomas Friedman enthuses over 'eco-friendly alternatives to fertilizers'

It was a Thomas Friedman column like so many others: the pundit careens through the roads of India, breathlessly marveling at the innovation he sees. Ain't globalization ... awesome? But this is Thomas Friedman 2.0, green version; this time, he's not being squired about by a loquacious and colorful local taxi driver, but rather by a pair of young Yalies in a "a plug-in electric car that is also powered by rooftop solar panels." And rather than gape slack-jawed at some software wizard's handiwork or a gleaming new factory, the pundit is bowled over by stuff like "organic farming in Andhra Pradesh, or using neem and garlic as pesticide." And that's not all. Friedman and his entourage visit a "local prince's palace to recharge their cars," and discover that his highness' business was "cultivating worms and selling them as eco-friendly alternatives to chemical fertilizers." Friedman once proclaimed that prospects for world peace hinged on dotting the globe with McDonald's franchises. Now he's blustering over organic farming. It's enough to make you gush about universal progress.

Doomsday seed vault’s stores are growing

CHICAGO — The stores of seeds in a “doomsday” vault in the Norwegian Arctic are growing as researchers rush to preserve 100,000 crop varieties from …

E.U. foiled in bid to force France, Greece to allow GM crop

BRUSSELS — The European Commission was foiled Monday in its bid to force France and Greece to allow genetically modified maize from U.S. biotech giant …

A plague of Wal-Marts

Until real middle-class wages start rising, we can't end agricultural subsidies

Watching this gripping animation (h/t Ezra Klein) that charts the spread of Wal-Marts across the country got me thinking. I felt like I was really watching the spread of wage stagnation across the country. I'm not suggesting there's any clarity as to which came first -- Wal-Mart or the grinding halt in middle-class wage growth. But Wal-Mart's accelerated growth in the 1980s matches this chart on wage inequality nicely (note the bottom two lines). It's a pointless chicken-and-egg debate at a certain level. You can't blame Sam Walton (much less Sebastian Kresge or James Sinegal) for the fact that discounters that thrive on downward price pressure represent the only means most Americans have of maintaining the illusion of a rising standard of living.

Dime bag

Ten reader food quandaries solved!

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. Lettuce know what …

Farm subsidies, bitter and sweet

Tufts study: Corn subsidies are a sop to HFCS industry, but don't alone make bad food cheap

I have a complex and much criticized view of farm subsidies.  On the one hand, I acknowledge that the "commodity program" embedded in the Farm Bill is a back-door sop to agribusiness giants like meat titan Tyson and grain-processor Archer Daniels Midland. By encouraging farmers to produce as much corn and soy as possible even when prices are low, subsidies push down the price of commodity crops -- and fatten the profits of the firms that buy them. On the other hand, I disagree with sustainable-food activists who claim that subsidies are the root of our food-system problems. Take them away, I've argued more than once, and you'd still have a food system that mainly produces junk churned out by a few big companies. Plus, rather than campaigning to end subsidies, I think we should be pushing to redirect them to more useful purposes: like rebuilding local and regional food infrastructure. A study just released by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts illustrates my point. The authors -- veteran Tufts researcher Tim Wise, plus Alicia Harvie -- look at the effect corn subsidies have had on consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, the U.S. food industry's favorite sweetener. They essentially pose two questions: 1) Do HFCS producers benefit from the subsidy program?; and 2) Can the rise in obesity/overweight and diabetes rates be tied to corn subsidies through HFCS?  Their conclusions might surprise you.