Food

Umbra on diet soda

Dear Umbra, My name’s Jon and I’m a diet pop addict. My diet right now is 70-80 percent local, organic, or both, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to getting my fix. I drink several 20-ouncers a day of diet and just can’t seem to stop. Is my habit hurting the earth? Common sense says that water from my stainless steel canteen is a whole lot better than chemicals from a plastic bottle, but my addict brain is grasping at straws, hoping that diet pop is one of those rare exceptions. Jon B. Lakewood, Ohio Dearest Jon, …

Even Monsanto rejects synthetic bovine growth hormones!

Evidently, the GMO giant has better things to do than to harass dairies over labels

After years of battling in court to prevent dairies from labeling their milk rBGH-free, Monsanto is apparently udderly fed up. Facing a growing backlash against its genetically engineered Recombinant bovine growth hormone (hence rBGH) that once conquered the U.S. dairy industry, the Gene Giant is selling rights to produce Posilac, its name for the the product. Posilac had become increasingly marginal to Monsanto’s profit growth, which derives mainly from its dominance of the genetically modified corn, soy, and cotton seed markets. Whatever company buys it probably won’t have Monsanto’s deep pockets or litigious zeal for trying to prevent dairies from …

A superbug's life

Another reason to fear the factory farm

Superbugs. An alarming story in this week’s The New Yorker focuses on man-made new diseases that cannot be eradicated with conventional antibiotics, even inside hospitals. The writer quotes Michael Pollan to explain the connection to your local meat factory: “Seventy per cent of the antibiotics administered in America end up in agriculture,” Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at Berkeley and the author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” told [the writer]. “The drugs are not used to cure sick animals but to prevent them from getting sick, because we crowd them together under filthy circumstances. We have …

Why Paul Roberts’ End of Food deserves to be digested

In the Middle East, water-poor nations are using petrol profits to buy farmland in economically depressed countries like Pakistan and Sudan. China, with its own farmland under pressure from development and pollution, is using some of its vast export income to snap up land in Africa and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Brazil — the globe’s emerging agricultural powerhouse and an increasingly important food supplier to China — recently threatened to nationalize its fertilizer deposits. Such a move would rankle huge U.S. grain-trading firms like Cargill and Bunge, which dominate Brazil’s ever-expanding fertilizer market. In other words, food production is rapidly emerging …

Why market conditions mean more M&M-fed beef and less grass-fed

A great WSJ video on the mad economics of cow farming

This wonderful little video by Wall Street Journal Multimedia originally came out in July, but the newspaper embedded it today in an article on feed prices. It contains two highly interesting bits of information. 1) With corn prices hovering at historically high levels, industrial-scale meat producers are turning to junk food as a feed supplement to cling to razor-thin profit margins. A feedlot operator calmly tells the Journal that he’s cutting corn rations with potato chips and a “byproduct from Hershey’s and M.M. Mars” featuring cocoa shells and M&Ms(!). 2) Producers of grass-fed beef are doing even worse than their …

Not a sweet proposition

As GMO sugar beets sneak into the food supply, citizens fight back

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Anthropologist Margaret Mead Even if you’ve heard the above quote many times before, the sentiment expressed is so powerful that I think it’s worth repeating. All around the world, small groups of people are organizing public support for improved food safety and successfully challenging large corporations to change their behavior. That’s exactly what Flint Michigan residents Kathleen Kirby and Mark Fisher are banking on: their power to influence change. They’re participating in a nationwide consumer boycott of …

Aussies should fight climate change by eating kangaroo, says study

Australians who want to make a dent in climate change just need to eat more kangaroo, says a new study in the journal Conservation Letters. The methane-producing burps and farts of sheep and cattle contribute 11 percent of Australia’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions. Kangaroos, however, emit little methane. Researchers say that 175 million kangaroos could produce the meat of 7 million cattle and 36 million sheep, and a switch-to-roo by 2020 could lower Australia’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 3 percent each year. They also note that reducing the number of hard-hoofed livestock tramping around would reduce soil erosion. While some farmers think …

The dog days of summer mean bountiful farm stands and spicy salsas

This is the time of year we flatlanders pine for the snows of January, when it’s a full 100 degrees colder than it is right now, and all the humidity is frozen to our windshields. August in Iowa may be unbearable for humans, but vegetables love it — the hot, sticky dog days bring us sweet corn (different from the “field” corn that feeds confined hogs and ethanol plants), hot peppers, and the very first tomatoes. At this time of the year in Iowa City, you can shop at farmers markets every day of the week, if you pay attention …

EPA refuses to lower requirement for ethanol in fuel supply

The U.S. EPA gave a big, husky hug to corn ethanol Thursday, declining a request from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to reduce the amount of ethanol required to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that 9 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be poured into U.S. gas tanks this year — which will suck up about a third of the U.S. corn crop. The mandate jumps to 15 billion gallons by 2015 — if corn production holds steady, that will be about 55 percent of the corn supply. Perry requested a reduction because …

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