Food

Peru’s guano supply threatened by overfishing

Peru is in deep shit. No, seriously: thanks to an exceptionally dry climate, islands off the Peruvian coast are awash in preserved bird guano, which the country has long exported as non-chemical fertilizer. But while 60 million seabirds were pooping on Peru in the 19th century, the birds now number 4 million; with synthetic-fertilizer costs and interest in organic food rising, the Peruvian government is concerned that guano supply will be depleted by high demand. Guano collection has been restricted to two islands per year, lizards have been introduced to eat seabird-bothering ticks, and armed guards have been posted to …

Industrial ag-onistes

The WSJ on fertilizer markets so manipulated, they might make a Saudi prince blush

For all the misery it has caused, the global food-price crisis has at least forced people to think more seriously about food production. I can think of few things more taken for granted in modern post-industrial society than fertilizer. Few people know people know what fertilizes the fields that produce the food they eat — fewer, I’d bet, than know the source of their drinking water or electricity. To modern consumers, all of these things appear as if by magic. But with food prices hovering at elevated levels and hunger protests simmering in the global south, stuff like fertilizer is …

Farming with smarts and humor

An NC farmer makes the radio

Listen Play the interview One of my favorite things about small-scale farming has been meeting other small-scale farmers. In short, you’ve got to be a bit of a character to decide to spend your days playing in the dirt while also trying to squeeze a living out of it. Gallows humor is a typical characteristic, as is a certain joie de vivre, at least when the the stress level isn’t too high. One of the best and funniest farmers I’ve ever met is John Soehner, who runs Eco Farm with his wife Cindy near Chapel Hill. I was delighted to …

Researchers aim to turn animal waste into plastic

File this under “ew”: Researchers in New Zealand have developed a process to convert animal protein waste — that’d be blood and feathers — into plastic. “The material we can produce has the strength of polyethylene, the plastic used in milk bottles and plastic supermarket bags, but it’s fully biodegradable,” says Dr. Johan Verbeek, adding, “Plant proteins have successfully been used to make bioplastics, but animal protein has always ended up gumming up the extruder.” Mmm — pass that milk bottle! The bioplastic would actually likely end up as agricultural sheeting, seedling trays, plant pots, and the like. Says Verbeek: …

Toward a civil, inclusive national conversation on food — over a savory tart

As the date for Slow Food Nation — the big sustainable-food conference scheduled in San Francisco this coming August — draws near, I’ve been thinking about attitudes toward food in the erstwhile Fast Food Nation. Like a big pot of water that’s been on high heat seemingly forever, our national conversation on food seems to be reaching a boil at long last. Slow Food Nation. Now, my world revolves around food, so I may not be the most reliable gauge of such things. I have a tendency to assume everyone shares my obsession — to the point where I am …

U.N. report forecasts continued high food prices for the next decade

Food prices worldwide are likely to remain relatively high for at least the next decade, according to an analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Biofuel demand, high energy costs, and commodity speculation will continue to keep food prices high in the long term, despite periodic dips in price. Climate change is also expected to increase food prices by driving down future crop yields. The FAO forecast that wheat prices could be up to 60 percent higher in 2017 and vegetable oil prices could rise up to 80 percent. “Biofuels are the largest new source of demand for …

Link dump

Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has an article in The NYT, "The Rich Get Hungrier," which is a good short summary of various causes of higher food prices and increased world hunger, and why they are related even though not the same thing.

Michigan WIC whacks organic

Evidently, women, infants, and children in need don’t deserve organic

The Women, Infants, and Children program provides food aid to “low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk,” according to the USDA website. The federal government funds the program through grants to states, which then decide how to allocate the cash. Evidently, in Michigan — a state undergoing severe economic strain — some bureaucrats have bought into the whole notion that organic food is a luxury for the elite. Check out this extraordinary document [PDF]. It lists product after product available to Michigan WIC …

McDonald’s Australia will sell certified-sustainable coffee

Starting next year, all coffee sold at McDonald’s in Australia will be certified sustainable by the Rainforest Alliance. The country’s 484 so-called McCafés make 5,000 cups of joe per hour; Mickey D’s pockets 20 percent of the more than $1 billion that Aussies spend on away-from-home coffee. The Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee farms that reduce pesticide use and treat farmers decently. Enthuses Catriona Noble, chief operating officer of McDonald’s Australia, “For our customers, the decision means they can feel even better about the great tasting McCafé coffee they love, while for our business it marks another important step forward in …

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