As the ground shifts under their feet, food giants experiment with new strategies

When you smile, the food world smiles with you … maybe. Photo: Original by heatkernel For more than a generation, the major corporations that process and sell the vast bulk of our food have had it pretty easy. They’ve had access to cheap energy to ship food over globe-spanning distances and run giant food-processing plants; reveled in cheap inputs like corn and soy, transforming them into everything from breakfast cereal to chicken nuggets; and relied on low-paid, abundant, and politically disenfranchised workers to do the dirty jobs. Together, these elements formed a kind of tripod propping up the industry’s enormous …

Drought grips Iraq, threatening crops and water supplies

On top of Iraq’s myriad other problems, drought has hit the country hard recently, impacting crops and water supplies in many regions. Rainfall this winter was about 40 percent lower than usual in Iraq and Turkey, and as a result, the Tigris River near Baghdad is at its lowest level since 2001. In the country’s main grain-growing area, Diyala province, some irrigation canals have dried up completely. In many areas, patchy access to electricity — from American bombing of the country’s infrastructure in the first stage of the invasion, bouts of civil war, the ongoing occupation, and other problems — …

Simple cooking can produce delicious results — like old-fashioned Austrian pancakes

Get cooking, sonny. Too many people in this country have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked, flim-flammed, conned, and hustled. They’ve been bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from the freezer at the nearest Walmart. They’ve learned to believe that cooking is a chore — like laundry or washing windows — to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when it can’t be. I understand that some people just plain don’t like to cook. That’s fine. But there are also those who would actually enjoy it, if they hadn’t been …

Check out the carbon

Will eco-labeling contribute to consumer shopping confusion?

Ben Tuxworth, communications director at Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. ----- British supermarket shoppers face increasingly bewildering claims about the ethical qualities of products. In one of retail giant Tesco's stores, shoppers can opt for goods branded with the Soil Association's organic standard, the Fairtrade Foundation's logo, the British Farm standard, or chain-of-custody marks from the Marine Stewardship and Forest Stewardship Councils. They can linger over footprint information from the Carbon Trust or dolphin-based evaluation of the fishing methods used to catch their tuna. On another spectrum altogether, they are offered "Finest" and "Value" brands on Tesco's own goods. And on most products they're also expected to wade through nutritional assessments, guideline daily amounts, glycemic index counts, information on allergies, and of course, brand, quantity, and price. As one weary consumer observed, supermarket shopping has become more like visiting a museum, with plenty to read and a clear educational agenda. Check-Out Carbon, a new report from my organization Forum for the Future, explores attempts to reduce the carbon intensity of the weekly shopping trip, and makes challenging reading for anyone hoping shoppers are taking it all in. After interviewing industry experts, conducting focus groups with consumers, and commissioning a survey of 1,000 U.K. adults, we found a surprising consensus: Despite the race to get ethically branded goods into stores, we're all expecting too much of shopper choice.

USDA pessimistic on hunger outlook

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated that 849 million people across the globe were “food-insecure” — consuming less than 2,100 calories a day, or, in a word, hungry. But in its 2006 Food Security Report, the agency took an optimistic view of the situation, suggesting that the number of malnourished would fall to 800 million by 2017. Well, so much for that idea: In the just-released 2007 Food Security Report, the USDA estimates that 982 million people currently go without full bellies, and that that number will leap to 1.2 billion in a decade. The assessment makes the …

World Bank responds to Guardian biofuel report

Bank chief Zoelick hints his old boss Bush is full of it on biofuels and food prices

As I reported a few days ago, the Guardian recently uncovered what it called a “secret” World Bank assessment holding U.S. and European biofuel boosterism largely responsible for the recent run-up in global food prices. You know, the one that has pushed 50 million new people under the poverty line globally, and essentially priced tens of millions of already-poor folks out of food markets. (The government-engineered biofuel boom has also unleashed a veritable tsunami of petrochemicals onto farmland globally — supercharging the profits of agribiz input suppliers — and pushed farmers onto millions of acres of ecologically sensitive land; but …

Conservation land in flood zone opened to grazing

Livestock grazing will be allowed on thousands of acres of Midwest land that had been set aside for conservation, Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaeffer announced this week. Under the federal Conservation Reserve Program, landowners are paid to let their acreage just chill out and be wildlife habitat. But after the region’s recent spate of flooding, Schaeffer gave in to the requests of several state and federal officials to allow grazing on CRP land in counties designated as presidential disaster areas. “Flood waters inundated thousands of acres that cannot be salvaged for production this growing season,” explains Schaeffer, “and it …

Salmon lesson

Atlantic Salmon restoration efforts face grim realities

Stocks of wild salmon in the North Pacific are in trouble. That's news. What isn't news is that the spring has passed us by in Massachusetts again without returning more than a handful of wild Atlantic Salmon. The river closest to me, the Connecticut, saw just 132 salmon return, nearly all of which were captured at either of two dams and whisked away by biologists working for the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration program. The fish are bred at hatcheries so next spring the young can be released back into the river, hopefully to grow, go to sea, and return (others were tagged and released upstream of the dams to breed naturally this fall). But is it worth the effort?

Nuts to you

The unshelled story on the nutty side of our food supply

This post marks the launch of our new food-advice column Checkout Line, by talented, funny, and food-obsessed Lou Bendrick. Ever get confused in the supermarket, wondering which “all-natural” label is legit? Ever wonder what you’d actually say to a farmer at a farmers market, or whether organic is better than local, or how you can stretch your dollar when you’re buying for the whole family? Lettuce know what food worries keep you up at night by writing us at Dear Checkout Line, I love nuts, but I am always wondering what their origin is, since it rarely says on …

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.