Author Claire Hope Cummings dishes the dirt on genetically modified food

One of the most encouraging things about the sustainable-food movement is how effortlessly it crosses traditional political-party, religious, ethnic, and other lines. The right to good, clean, and fair food, to borrow Slow Food‘s shorthand, seems to unite people who’d never otherwise find themselves chatting at the same party: Home schoolers and dreadlocked hippies, libertarian DIYers and heartland moms. Claire Hope Cummings. Photo: Bart Nagel But there are little pockets of polarization where brawls can break out. One of them is the so-called elitism of such food. The biggest hot-button issue by far, though, is that of transgenic crops. The …

Good news for modern farm animals

From New Jersey, bad news for factory farms

Thomas Hobbes famously described life in a “state of nature” as “nasty, brutish, and short.” The U.S. meat industry appears to have taken Hobbes’ statement as a prescription for proper animal husbandry. Every year, millions of farm animals are slaughtered without ever knowing anything besides life in a grim, crowded cage. Many are subjected to painful mutilation, as in the case of “tail docking.” In a sense, cows may have it worst of all. They typically spend the first six months outdoors, munching the pasture they evolved to eat. It must be a shock when they’re loaded into trucks and …

Biofuel bombshell

World Bank finally releases ‘secret’ report on biofuels and the food crisis

Remember a few weeks ago, when The Guardian leaked word of a “secret” World Bank report that essentially blames U.S. and (to a lesser extent) E.U. biofuel policies for causing the global food crisis? You know, the food crisis that continues to generate excoriating hunger in the global south? Well, the World Bank quietly released a modified version of the report this week. Actually, The Guardian posted the original bootleg version, dated April 8, a week after its scoop; I missed it at the time. Well, now I’ve read both versions, which are substantially the same (the new version has …

More on 'lazy locavorism'

Edible landscapes can outgrow the elite

Monday's New York Times had a great opinion piece about My Farm's Trevor Paque -- the same guy recently profiled in the Times' Style section. In fact, I had to look twice to make sure it was the same T. Paque because the two articles emphasized such different aspects of the urban CSA mission. Kim Severson, in the style piece, describes it thus: Call them the lazy locavores -- city dwellers who insist on eating food grown close to home but have no inclination to get their hands dirty. Mr. Paque is typical of a new breed of business owner serving their needs. She devotes so much time and script to the eco-chic aspect that I, like Tom Philpott, was initially put off by the idea of armchair gardening. But just like Tom, who later posted that he was "too hard" on it, I softened after reading Allison Arieff's opinion piece. She writes:

Getting to the meat of the matter with Boston chef Jamie Bissonnette

Jamie Bissonnette. In my most recent article, I described my experience attending a hog-butchering workshop led by Boston chef Jamie Bissonnette. He mentioned during the workshop that he had been a vegan when he was younger. I wanted to find out more about what would make someone change his eating habits so dramatically, so I set up an interview with Jamie to talk about the influences and experiences that led him to follow a different path than the one he set out on as a young man. After settling into a comfortable seating area near the bar at KO Prime, …

Sustainable biotech crops -- solution or oxymoron?

Industry report touts potential for biotech crops to combat climate change

I am always a sucker for a catchy sounding report -- like the one the World Business Council for Sustainable Development released last week: "Agricultural Ecosystems: Facts and Trends." It had it all: the noble sounding "Council," the association between agriculture and ecosystems, and the appeal to my inner science-geek with words like "facts" and "trends." I printed it out enthusiastically and got out my highlighter, ready to read all of the fascinating new insights into agriculture, food, and the environment. I was intrigued by the beginning section on consumer patterns which detailed the increased demand for meat in developing countries and the impact this might have worldwide. One section focused on the role of animal production in climate change. I skipped along to the climate section nodding my head in agreement the entire time: converting grasslands to agriculture is a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions; conventional agriculture can threaten biodiversity; and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated by integrated crop management and minimum tillage. I balked a bit when they cited that agriculture produced 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2000 (since then the United Nations has stated that animal production alone produces 18 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions), but I still felt confident that the report might be worth something. Maybe I set my expectations a bit high.

Nuts about global warming

Grape-Nuts releases global warming ad

I have no idea what this ad means. But I saw it in Newsweek and had to scan it onto the blog:

An economist's eye view

Outline for a move to a sustainable agriculture system

The agricultural industry is one of the biggest users of water, energy, and chemicals on the planet. Overall it poses one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity, which is why it deserves significant attention from the environmental community. But when it comes to defining what is meant by "sustainable agriculture," there is a lot of confusion. Many people think "organic," or "local," or "non-GMO," or even "biodynamic." It will come as little surprise that economists don't think of the issue in this way; they primarily examine the basic conditions for the efficient use of resources in the agricultural sector. The following outline is the beginning of what a move toward a sustainable agricultural system would entail:

Dispatches From the Fields: From tepary beans to arugula -- and back

Can locavores embrace a truly place-based agriculture?

In "Dispatches From the Fields," Ariane Lotti and Stephanie Ogburn, who are working on small farms in Iowa and Colorado this season, share their thoughts on producing real food in the midst of America's agro-industrial landscape.   The architectural remnants of an ancient agrarian civilization known as the Ancestral Puebloans cover the Southwest. Photo: Stephanie Ogburn. It's somewhat astonishing that there's a thriving local food scene where I live, in Montezuma County, Colorado. Not because the area is poor, rural, and thus removed from the trendiness of the local food movement that has hit most large population centers -- rather, because it's so difficult to grow food here.   In a normal year, towns in Montezuma County get between 13 and 18 inches of precipitation. The growing season is short; although most of the region falls into zones 6a/5b on the USDA hardiness map, it frosted here on June 12 this year, and that's not unusual. Temperature variation between day and night can easily range 40 degrees, as the thin desert air heats up with the sun but fails to retain any of that heat due to the lack of humidity.

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