Meat Wagon: Filthy swine

U.S. officials dither while antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains creep into our pork supply

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. The good news is that people are earnestly trying to figure out if a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria strain is infecting our nation’s vast supply of pork. The bad news is, they don’t work for a government regulator with the power to do something about it. Rather, they’re university researchers and journalists, whose only real power is the public outrage they can generate through their work. Prepare to be outraged by the work of University of Iowa professor Tara Smith and veteran Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Andrew …

One mother’s tips for managing summer eco-dilemmas

It’s painful for you both, but still better than a day inside with SpongeBob. Photo: Tom Twigg When the last school bell rings and summer gets into full swing, we modern parents simply can’t do as the previous generation did: turn our kids loose onto the chemically manicured neighborhood lawns for unsupervised games of kick-the-can, calling them inside only for the occasional application of Solarcaine or snack of tuna melts and Kool-Aid. These days, thanks to growing awareness of the dangers of everything from pesticides to high-fructose corn syrup, parents of my ilk (anxious to the point of bruxism) face …

Garden variety

Why mow the grass when you can harvest salad greens?

Lawn grass is the largest irrigated U.S. crop. “Even conservatively,” notes NASA researcher Cristina Milesi, “I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn.” Wow, that’s a lot of ornamental grass — about 128,000 square kilometers worth, roughly equal in size to the state of Wisconsin. According Milesi, keeping all of that grass green requires about 200 gallons of fresh, typically drinking-quality water per person per day. (Interestingly, Milesi does find that lawns are net carbon sinks, but she doesn’t mention emissions associated with mowing.) Happily, people are increasingly finding more productive — …

All hail Monsanto!

When the benevolent seed giant declares it’s going to save the world, why be skeptical?

Do you worry about where your food comes from? Are you concerned that farmers might use too many toxic chemicals, or that health and safety agencies of the U.S. government might not be looking out for your best interests? Well then, you suffer from too much skepticism. You probably need to learn to trust what you are told more often. Maybe you should consider some pharmacological support for your worry problem. I know. My name is Claire and I'm a skeptic. I thought all you other skeptics out there might like to know that the latest word on our problem comes from a company who knows a lot about food, farming, and chemicals. This week, the CEO of Monsanto Corporation, Hugh Grant, told Public Radio International's Marketplace that he expects people to be skeptical about what Monsanto says but also, given the food problems the world is facing, "skepticism is a commodity the world can't afford right now."

Attack of the killer tomatoes!

FDA warns of salmonella-infected tomatoes in the Southwest

What’s next, tainted buns? In yet another blow to the burger, tomatoes have joined beef and lettuce as star players in that booming industrial-food genre, the disease-outbreak drama. This one involves tomatoes that carry what the FDA calls “an uncommon strain” of salmonella called Saintpaul. Some 57 people have come down with salmonellosis in New Mexico and Texas, involving 17 hospitalizations, and the FDA is investigating salmonellosis cases in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Utah to see if they link to tomatoes. Evidently, industrial-scale lots of tomatoes came into contact with poultry processing. As the FDA puts it, …

Feeding climate change

Still more reasons to eat local and lay off the beef

Photo: Elizabeth Thomsen via Flickr. Increasingly, consumers are trying to reduce the environmental impacts of the foods they eat. But it's not so easy to know what to do, in part because of the bewildering array of food choices the market offers, but also because it's hard to know what food choices carry the biggest impact. This nifty study tries to clear away some of the murk by tackling a fairly straightforward question: If you care about the climate, which is more important, what kind of food you eat, or where that food is grown? To summarize the findings: All else being equal, locally grown food is friendlier to the climate than food grown half a continent away. But if you're looking for a single food choice that will help curb your climate impact, your best bet is to stay away from cows!

U.N. food summit ends without agreement on solutions

A high-level three-day United Nations food summit ended Thursday without wide agreement on solutions to the world food crisis. At the meeting, delegates sparred over trade barriers, biofuels’ role in keeping food prices high, agricultural subsidies, how food aid should be spent, and how much aid to give. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference by declaring that the food situation is so dire now that 1 billion people are going hungry and wealthier nations must collectively spend some $20 billion a year on food aid to feed them. However, by summit’s end only some $3 billion had been pledged …

A primer on organic wines, and a sweet way to bring them to the table

Psst! Organic wine doesn’t suck. About 15 years ago, a friend brought an organic wine to a dinner party I was giving. He explained to me that in addition to being made from grapes that are grown organically, organic wines don’t contain any added sulfites (some sulfites occur naturally as a result of the fermentation process). Since I try hard to use organic products as much as I can afford to, I began to look for organic wines when I went shopping. The choices were few and far between. Wine-industry people I knew seemed to hate the organic wine. They’d …

The farm bill: what went wrong

Michael Pollan calls for crafting a viable alternative for next time

  After many, many months of wrangling, Congress recently passed a farm bill, overriding a veto by the president. In my view, it is not a very good bill -- it preserves more or less intact the whole structure of subsidies responsible for so much that is wrong in the American food system. On the other hand, it does contain some significant new provisions that, with luck, will advance the growing movement toward a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system. You might rightly ask why there was so little movement on commodity subsidies, in a year when crop prices are at record highs and public scrutiny of the subsidy system has been intense. Indeed, the people on the Hill I talk to tell me they have not seen so much political activism around the farm bill in a generation. All the calls, cards, and emails sent by ordinary eaters clearly made a difference. So why so little change on the key issue? Why didn't we get a food bill, rather than another farm bill? Here's what I think happened.

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