Industrial food and fuel forever!

If we just trust Monsanto and ADM, we can eat and drive to our heart’s content

I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of industrial agriculture for a while. I’ve also been known to utter unkind words about the government’s extraordinary, multibillion-dollar effort to promote ethanol. But I’ve changed my mind. I now believe chemical-dependent, monocrop agriculture can be counted on to not only “feed the world,” but also keep its hundreds of millions of cars on the road — now and forever. What turned me around? This news: Archer Daniels Midland Co., DuPont Co., John Deere, Monsanto, and the Renewable Fuels Association have banded together to launch the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy. And guess …

'Lazy locavores,' revisited

The WSJ reports on lavish second-home gardens

I got a bit of flack for my post on “lazy locavores” earlier this week. Riffing off of a New York Times “trend” piece, I questioned the practice of “outsourcing one’s veggie patch” — paying someone to install, tend, and harvest a home veggie garden. I accused folks who use such services of having a “hyper-consumerist” take on local food — of wanting the trappings and status of a home garden without getting their hands dirty. Several people — including energy blogger extraordinaire Bart Anderson – cogently critiqued my position. “Is it not a good thing to support local organic …

A gastronomic renaissance

Farmers markets and local agriculture: age-old systems for the future

We often think that farmers markets are products of our times as they spring up in cities and small towns across the country. Truth is, a farmers market is the traditional way of selling agricultural produce around the world. The really nice aspect of this transaction is that the farmer receives just compensation for his product and the eater can be assured the product is fresh, local, and grown in a manner that is acceptable to all. If these criteria are not met, the consumer can look for another farmer whose products better suit his or her needs. After the industrialization of agriculture, farmers still sold at farmers markets, but it was just a matter of time before supermarkets were developed and farmers started selling to large companies that moved food all over the world; many Americans stopped planting gardens because it was so much easier to get "everything" at the store. We certainly have gained something through the globalized food system: more variety, foods we cannot grow in cold climates, and, of course, cheap food that is mass-produced by underpaid farmers and farm workers. Some good news, some bad. I certainly like coffee and chocolate, but I want to know the growers and workers were paid fair wages and that the crops were grown in an environmentally-responsible manner. I would like to be sure all the food I need to buy meets those same standards, whether imported or locally grown.

Farm-subsidy shenanigans

Beware of U.S. trade officials bearing gifts

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab made headlines this week by offering to reduce U.S. farm subsidies. The context was the so-called Doha Round of trade talks — the WTO’s latest, oft-stalled effort to grease the wheels of global trade. Among sustainable-food advocates, there’s a reflexive tendency to cheer whenever farm subsidies go on the chopping block. But as is often the case in the farm-policy debate, this progressive-looking offer is anything but. First of all, let’s look at the conditions of Schwab’s offer. According to the Financial Times (via the indispensable blog Farm Policy): [U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab] said …

After a mass bike ride across Iowa, a slow-food chef picks up the pace

Do the ride thing. Photo: David Wade Every year for the last 36, Iowa plays host to a unique event. At the beginning of the last full week of July, more than 15,000 people dip the rear tires of their bicycles in the Missouri River — and seven days and about 450 miles later, they dunk their front tires in the Mississippi. That ceremonial immersion draws to a close a ride that is sometimes called “Burning Man on Wheels,” or “The World’s Longest Pub Crawl,” but is formally referred to as RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. …

EPA to ban pesticide carbofuran from food in U.S.

In an unexpected move, the U.S. EPA announced Thursday that it will act to ban the pesticide carbofuran from food in the United States before next year’s growing season. The EPA said the pesticide can cause “nausea, dizziness, confusion, and — at very high exposures — respiratory paralysis and death”; the pesticide has also killed millions of birds and other wildlife. Carbofuran isn’t widely used in the United States, but farmers in developing countries use it on bananas, coffee, corn, rice, sugar cane, and other crops, so the ban could have a significant impact worldwide. “It’s one of the most …

Starfruit punch

Declaring an ‘emergency,’ EPA allows a restricted pesticide in Florida

If you love starfruit, you may want to consider giving your habit a rest for a while. A friend emailed me this bit from [PDF] from Wednesday’s Federal Register. Declaring an “emergency,” the EPA has established a “time-limited tolerance” for residues of fludioxonil, a pesticide, on starfruit. According to the EPA, Florida starfruit is being scourged by a fungus that evidently can only be repelled by fludioxonil. I’m in the process of figuring out exactly how toxic fludioxonil is. In the meantime, I find this interesting: Consistent with the need to move quickly on the emergency exemption in order to …

<em>The NYT's</em> 'lazy locavores'

The paper of record identifies — sort of — a new trend

New York Times food reporter Kim Severson has declared a new trend: “lazy locavores,” people who want to “eat close to home” but are too time-strapped (or lazy) to put much effort into it. According to Severson, “a new breed of business owner” has arisen to cater to their whims. She opens her piece with a San Francisco entrepreneur who “will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves.” Wow, outsourced home gardens — that is pretty lazy. The question, …

Book review: Caffeinated reads

Javatrekker and God in a Cup on the culture of coffee production

When I jumped on a plane one year ago and headed off to Guatemala with Seattle-based coffee roaster Caffé Vita, there was little more than the occasional blog post telling "the story behind coffee." The majority of the writing about coffee I could find was focused on the history of the bean-like-seed: stories of cunning Dutch merchants, over-caffeinated whirling dervishes, and besieged Austrians, but nothing talking about the places and people that presently grow the second most valuable crop on the planet. When Vita and I dropped down in Guatemala City, I didn't know a damn thing about the bean: where it was grown, the politics that drive it, the human factor that shapes it, let alone the variety of ways it is processed, tested, sold, shipped, and ritualized. I simply knew that I adored the stuff when it was prepared in a careful manner. Now, with trips to farms in Ethiopia, Brazil, and Guatemala and with several thousand of my own words under my belt I can honestly say -- I still really don't know a damn thing about the bean. But I am happy to refer authors who do. Here are a couple of books that might not make The New York Times' bestsellers list, but certainly will give you a slight peek inside the dynamic world of coffea arabica.

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