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Algae-based biofuels: ready or not?

Not — yet, anyway

I know there are Gristmill readers with high hopes for algae-based biofuels. They will enjoy this piece in Popular Mechanics. Here's the hope: Solix addresses these problems [algae's finicky growing habits] by containing the algae in closed "photobioreactors" -- triangular chambers made from sheets of polyethylene plastic (similar to a painter's dropcloth) -- and bubbling supplemental carbon dioxide through the system. Eventually, the source of the CO2 will be exhaust from power plants and other industrial processes, providing the added benefit of capturing a potent greenhouse gas before it reaches the atmosphere. Given the right conditions, algae can double its …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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'Tis the season (to celebrate our ties to the earth)

A sampling of recipes for Passover

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about meals that express our connection to and appreciation for the earth. In keeping with this theme, I'll start with Marge Piercy's new book, Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own. My interest in seders (the meal served at Passover) started when I was in high school and worked as a "hostess helper" for families who were hosting seders. Having been raised Catholic, I had never experienced a seder before, and was deeply moved by the beauty and ceremony of it. As someone who loves food …

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Equal opportunity organic

Sustainable food meets social justice

  Grassroots organic is alive and well, even in the concrete jungles of New Haven and Boston. Today I spent an hour and a half at a talk called "Food Policy: Addressing Social Justice in the Sustainable and Local Food Movements." The event's keynote speakers were two women who work for urban sustainable food initiatives. One of the organizations, CitySeed, is located in New Haven, Conn. At the talk, CitySeed's executive director, Jennifer McTiernan, spoke about how her organization works with Connecticut politicians to give low-income eaters access to fresh food and urban farmers' markets. The other organization, The Food …

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Corn ethanol myopia

We need to rethink all food based biofuels

The lion's share of biofuel bashing on Grist deals with corn ethanol, because we Americans primarily use gasoline for our cars and ethanol runs fine in them, with few modifications. However, our pals in Europe drive a lot of diesel cars and the biofuel crisis over there revolves primarily around biodiesel. I think it is time we recognize that their problem is also our problem. A comment from Pcarbo alerted me to Monbiot's latest take on biofuels. He has now gone so far as to propose a ... ... moratorium on all targets and incentives for biofuels, until a second …

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Also amusing

The Daily Show on cloned meat:

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BBC on 'feeding the world'

The perils of cooking with greenhouse gas.

The BBC has issued a pretty clear-eyed report on food production and climate change, the podcast of which you can download here. The report makes no brief for sustainable ag, but it does cogently question industrial ag's ability to "feed the world" as climate change saps water tables and population continues to grow.

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More beef = fewer babies?

Growth promoters in beef may damage sperm

As reported by the BBC, a University of Rochester study found recently that men whose mothers ate lots of beef during their pregnancies had lower sperm counts than the sons of women who ate little or no beef while pregnant: Among sons of mothers who ate a lot of beef, 17.7 percent had a sperm concentration below the World Health Organization sub-fertility threshold of 20 million sperm per millilitre of seminal fluid. The figure for the sons of lower beef consumers was 5.7 percent. Lead researcher Professor Shanna Swan said the findings suggested that exposure to growth promoters contained in …

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Now’s the time to discover the myriad pleasures of growing food

"A natural diet lies right at one's feet." -- Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution It's springtime here on my mountain farm, and that means an explosion of activity. We're starting seeds in one greenhouse, and finishing construction on another. Fields are being tilled, and we're putting in the very first sugar-snap peas and spring onions. We're depleting a pile of composted manure bucket-load by bucket-load, building up raised beds for a season of salad-greens production. All this can be yours. Photo: iStockphoto But the activity that really inspires me is taking place underfoot, in the soil itself -- the billions …

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Punishment for gluttons?

Rising costs affect consumers

One of the side effects of the rapid increase in ethanol consumption in the U.S. is that corn -- the main feedstock for ethanol -- has gotten much more expensive. Just take a look at the futures markets: the July 2007 corn contract started climbing last fall, which was about the time people started to realize just how quickly demand for corn-based ethanol was growing. Obviously, rising costs trickle down to consumers in all sorts of ways. If corn prices stay high, meat, poultry, and dairy products will all get more expensive, since the animals are fed lots of corn. …

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Food or fuel?

Biofuels force the choice on us

Lester Brown says the diversion is already happening: If you think you are spending more each week at the supermarket, you may be right. The escalating share of the U.S. grain harvest going to ethanol distilleries is driving up food prices worldwide. Corn prices have doubled over the last year, wheat futures are trading at their highest level in 10 years, and rice prices are rising too. In addition, soybean futures have risen by half. A Bloomberg analysis notes that the soaring use of corn as the feedstock for fuel ethanol "is creating unintended consequences throughout the global food chain." …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food