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Where farm subsidies came from, and why they’re still here

Note: This is the second of a three-column series on the 2007 farm bill. The first article is available here; the third here. Last week, I argued that it makes sense for society to support farming. Everybody needs to eat, and most would prefer to do so without devastating the environment or exploiting labor. Well, no one can accuse the United States of failing to commit significant resources to agriculture. Between 1995 and 2005, the Environmental Working Group calculates, the government paid farmers $164.7 billion. That averages to about $16 billion per year -- substantially more, for example, than the …

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The Airspeed Velocity of an Uneaten Swallow

Food imported by air may lose organic certification in Britain Foods imported into Britain by airplane may not qualify as organic if the country's main certification body has its druthers. On Friday, the Soil Association announced it will spend a year considering a proposal to factor flight distance into its organic standards. While it will ponder different labeling options, fair-trade schemes, and carbon offsets, Director Patrick Holden says there is "a pretty strong chance" that the association will end up giving the boot to flown-in foods. The Soil Association certifies more than 70 percent of organic produce sold in Britain; …

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Lettuce Eat Veggies

An occasional meat-eater faces the brutal truth Upon reading about the history of vegetarianism in the new tome The Bloodless Revolution, food writer and occasional meat-eater Tom Philpott wonders: will the consumption of sentient animals one day be widely denounced as immoral? It's not inconceivable, he says -- but for now, Americans eat a stunning three-quarters of a pound of meat per day. While large-scale agricultural production may deserve more ire than meat itself, Philpott says in his latest Edible Media column, it's still time to cut back -- and encourage others to follow our lead.

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Why the vegetarian critique of meat-eating should make meat-eaters squirm

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. It's been a rough couple of months for meat eaters. In late November, the FAO issued a startling report claiming that livestock production emits fully 18 percent of global greenhouse gases -- more than all the automobiles in the world. Then out comes a big book: The Bloodless Revolution by British scholar and proud "freegan" Tristram Stuart. The book seeks to trace the "cultural history of vegetarianism from 1600 to modern times." The existence and long history of vegetarianism should make us meat-eaters squirm a …

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David James Duncan rows through a wheat field to save salmon — and we’ve got pictures

Photo: Frederic Ohlinger "The miracle meal after the Sermon on the Mount was both loaves and fishes," says author and storyteller David James Duncan. "Not one or the other. Both." It's a sentiment that helps to explain why Duncan and a variety of compatriots were photographed in 13 colorful dories, rowing and casting lines -- into a golden field of wheat. The image appears on a poster distributed by Save Our Wild Salmon, a collaboration of conservationists, fisherfolk, and others interested in the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state. Fisherfolk: Soon to be extinct …

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But why?

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. British supermarkets are now competing to go green. Two big retailers have just launched initiatives to tackle climate change. Marks & Spencer, which sells food and clothing to Britain's middle classes, promised this month to cut waste, sell fair-trade products, and make the company carbon neutral within five years. Environmentalists praised its 100-point "eco-plan." Greenpeace U.K. said, "If every retailer in Britain followed Marks & Spencer's lead, it would be a major step forward in meeting the challenge …

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Why federal farm support deserves a fresh look

Note: Over the course of three weeks, as Congress begins discussion of the 2007 farm bill, Victual Reality will be devoted to analyzing the political economy of farming and teasing out an agenda for a socially and environmentally sustainable farm policy. It's more exciting than it sounds, we swear! [Read the first installment below, the second installment here, and the third here.] Like a barnyard sow basking in attention at a county fair, the farm bill -- that monstrously complex five-year plan for federal agriculture policy -- has suddenly gained a high profile. If it were only that simple. Photo: …

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Maverick chef Ann Cooper aims to spark a nationwide school-lunch revolution

Even the most intractable pathology can disappear, sometimes relatively quickly. A sign above a water fountain proclaiming "no coloreds" would cause any American to flinch today. Just half a century ago throughout the South, such abominations formed a banal part of the built landscape. Ann Cooper puts a fresh spin on school lunches.Photo: Chronicle/Craig LeeI got to thinking about deep-rooted problems and rapid change a few days ago while talking with Ann Cooper, a former star chef who now proudly styles herself a "renegade lunch lady." Cooper is on a mission to transform the nation's abysmal school-lunch system. I met …

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Thoughts from a small farm during the midwinter lull

Before I became a farmer three growing seasons ago, I lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and reveled in the array of top-flight local produce available from mid-spring to late fall. Long about January, though, a kind of local-food withdrawal would set in. Frosty, with a chance of failure. Photo: iStockphoto By this time of year, the legendary produce aisle of the Park Slope Food Co-op would be given over mainly to dull vegetables trucked in from the mega-organic farms of California, Arizona, and Mexico. My beloved Clinton Hill CSA -- which introduced me to the community-supported agriculture model now in use …

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The latest beneficiary of biofuel subsidies: industrial feedlot operators.

So far, a huge amount of the government's lavish support for biofuel has ended up on the bottom line of Archer Daniels Midland, the king of industrially produced, environmentally ruinous corn. Now another type of model corporate citizen is in line for a cut of the action: huge-scale confined-animal feedlot operation (CAFO) players like Tyson and Smithfield. This AP story details the efforts of a couple of oil men to set up a biodiesel plant outside of a Missouri industrial chicken-processing plant owned by Tyson, the world's largest meat producer. The plan: to transform chicken fat into biodiesel. Now, at …

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