The future of the farm bill

Moving toward responsible agriculture

North Dakota senator Kent Conrad calls the farm bill a "legislative battleship that you cannot turn around quickly." As of mid-November 2007, this year's $286 billion farm bill appears to be having engine trouble. It is stalled in the Senate, and there is talk of a presidential veto. Should farmers be able to receive more than $250,000 in subsidy payments? What should the funding be for biofuels, for school lunches? Most of these arguments are about the speed of the battleship, or which flags it should fly, not the direction. For generations, that direction has been the maintenance and continued acceptability of high-input, industrialized agriculture -- "production agriculture" to its defenders. The farm bill is the legislative and financial instrument by which we attempt to turn an agriculture that is economically, socially, and ecologically unsound into something that is politically acceptable. This is getting harder and harder to do.

In which we attempt to calculate how much an organic feast would cost

There’s something about Thanksgiving that seems to prompt people to think about where their food comes from. Maybe it’s all the cornucopias and sheaves of wheat depicted in supermarket circulars, or maybe it’s the focus on the harvest. Visions of farmers bringing in the crops may lead people to think about how food gets to their table, and whether it would make sense, or even make a difference, to try to buy organic food for the holiday meal. The Grist editors asked me to create a Thanksgiving menu and compare the costs of using organic ingredients versus using conventional ones. …

Practice of composting animals raises red flags for greens

A growing number of states are allowing farmers to bury their deceased horses, cattle, and chickens and allow the remains to decay into compost. Environmentalists are leery of the practice, concerned that livestock pumped up with antibiotics and growth hormones might leach chemicals into groundwater as they decompose. Growth hormones in the water, growth hormones in the milk — watch out, orange juice. You’re next.

Readers share instructions for tasty Thanksgiving treats

Try your hand at reader recipes. Photos: iStockphoto A couple of weeks ago, we asked you, dear readers, to send in your favorite Thanksgiving recipes. We got a smorgasbord of replies, from Dilly Dip to The Best Pressed Pie Crust In the World — and nary a hint of tryptophan in sight. We’ve collected your scrumptious ideas here, and welcome more from the rest of you in the comments section below. Bon appetit! Appetizers/Sides/Sauces/Stuffing Dilly Dip Cointreau Cranberry Sauce Sherried Leek and Wild Chanterelle Sauce Cranberry-Orange Relish Tempeh and Wild Rice Stuffing with Toasted Hazelnuts Quinoa Stuffing Entrees/Veggies/Soups Sweet Potatoes …

Locavore is New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year

The word “locavore” has received the esteemed honor of being the New Oxford American Dictionary 2007 Word of the Year. For you non-locavores, the word is defined as “a person who endeavors to eat only locally produced food.” It was coined about two years ago by four San Francisco women who popularized the idea of the 100-mile diet. The eco-friendly terminology beat out such worthy contenders as “tase” (to stun with a Taser) and “cougar” (an older woman who romantically pursues younger men).

A recipe for no-boil pumpkin lasagna

For most of my adult life I’ve been anti-lasagna. It’s not that I refuse to eat it. Quite the reverse! I love to eat lasagna. I just refused to make it. The idea of boiling giant, unwieldy sheets of pasta always got on my nerves. It didn’t seem worth it, no matter how delicious the result. For years, a little depiction of a pan of lasagna superimposed with one of those internationally recognized “No!” circles occupied the part of my brain where enthusiasm for making lasagna should reside. Recently, though, I heeded the siren call of no-boil lasagna noodles. It’s …

Frito-Lay hopes to manufacture eco-friendly potato chips

You know it’s crunch time when a potato-chip factory goes green. A Frito-Lay factory in Arizona has plans to produce, yes, carbon-neutral potato chips: sliced, fried, seasoned, and bagged in a plant nearly entirely off-grid and powered with renewable fuels. The company’s Casa Grande plant will make do in its desert locale by recycling water, and will advertise that it’s using solar power to make SunChips. Frito-Lay — which is owned by PepsiCo, the nation’s biggest buyer of renewable-energy credits — hopes to replicate successful measures in other factories.

Funny stuff

McSweeney’s satirizes the quest for eco-eats

“Understanding food labels you might encounter at Whole Foods”: Natural: Pretty much everything is natural, including this sentence. What makes it natural? The fact that it has the word “natural.” Conventional: Conventional says, “I love the system,” and we’re not even sure why you’re shopping here. You don’t want paper or plastic — you have a bag made of the skin of a clubbed infant seal. Local: This is food grown by local farmers who dislike you because you’re living in the subdivision that used to be prime farmland owned by their grandparents. Read the rest — if you like …

Subsidies and the agony of modern farm policy

A response to my critics

Last week’s Victual Reality column startled a lot of sustainable-food advocates, particularly folks not immersed in the details of U.S. farm policy. Subsidies, I argued, do not cause the ravages of industrial agriculture; rather, subsidies are a symptom of a food policy gone wrong. Moreover, I continued, gutting subsidies won’t end the ubiquity of cheap and empty calories in the U.S. diet; or stop the devastation of waterways from fertilizer runoff; or make CAFOs unprofitable; or treat any of the other ills of industrial agriculture. I concluded that reckless attempts to end subsidies should not be seen as a panacea, …

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