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.

A decadent chocolate cake for your sweetie, minus the animal products

In the many years I worked in the restaurant world, Valentine’s Day meant whipping up confections for other people’s sweethearts. The pressure was steep: People …

Prepping the soil

Vilsack continues to lay the groundwork for reform

There was some curiosity as to what stance U.S. Department of Agriculture chief Tom Vilsack would take in his speech this week before the National Association of Wheat Growers. Surprisingly, he came as the bearer of bad tidings. According to this report: Vilsack called on farmers to accept the political reality that U.S. farm program direct payments are under fire both at home and abroad and therefore farmers should develop other sources of income. In his remarks to the groups he said he intends to promote a far more diversified income base for the farm sector, saying that windmills and biofuels should definitely be part of the income mix and that organic agriculture will also play an increasing role. Um, what? Leave aside the "prepare for a pay cut" thing for a moment. Did Vilsack just use the O-word in front of a bunch of large-scale industrial farmers? Once they stopped laughing, I wonder if they starting thinking about the implications of what he was saying. Maybe this guy is for real. Vilsack's comments certainly jibe with his plans for the new USDA Office for Ecosystem Services and Markets -- an entity that is charged with cataloging the climate impacts of forestry and farming practices. The Christian Science Monitor characterized it thusly:

Umbra on composting tainted food

Dear Umbra, This tainted peanut butter recall is crazy. I have a box of crackers with peanut butter. Can I safely compost them in my …