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Cheetos Sometimes Prosper

Here are two words you never thought you'd see next to each other: organic Cheetos. Yep, it's true -- snack-food maker Frito Lay is entering the organic food market, along with dozens of other huge food companies. Heinz now makes organic ketchup, and General Mills owns Cascadian Farms, an organic brand started in the Northwest in the 1970s. Such companies hope to make a buck off a new USDA logo that, as of next week, will indicate that food has been grown without genetically modified material or irradiation, and with little or no chemicals or antibiotics. Many long-time organics advocates …

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Advice on converting to biodiesel

Umbra, I own a diesel VW Golf, which I bought thinking it was a better choice for the environment than a gasoline engine. Therefore, I was disappointed to read your message that diesel is probably a worse choice. However, you didn't talk at all about biodiesel. Can you give us a rundown on this fuel -- how to get it, how it may be beneficial, and what you might have to do to ensure your car can run on it safely? Thank you. Sputtering in VermontBurlington, Vt. Dearest Sputtering, Here at Grist Command Central, we received an overwhelming number of …

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Carb(on) Loading

Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase production of crops but reduce their nutritional value, according to scientists at Ohio State University. Peter Curtis, a professor of evolution, ecology, and biology, worked with researchers to analyze the effects of climate change on plant reproduction and collated data from 159 studies conducted over the past two decades. The seed production of rice increased an average of 42 percent with increased CO2 levels, while soybean production increased 20 percent, wheat 15 percent, and corn 5 percent. But there's a downside: The level of nitrogen, which is important to building …

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Altering the market to promote sustainable farming

The Aug. 16 issue of Science magazine features an ominous headline: "Dead Zone Grows." To the right of the headline is a map of the Gulf of Mexico with an irregular green stripe hugging the shoreline. This is the Dead Zone, an area of the gulf where oxygen levels are so low that most marine organisms -- including crab and shrimp -- cannot survive. A primary cause of the problem is fertilizer runoff from farms in the Mississippi River watershed. The runoff stimulates algae blooms. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up oxygen in …

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The Seeds of Discontent

Despite a teeming black market for genetically modified seeds in Brazil, the country's leading presidential candidate says he would not lift a four-year ban on biotechnology anytime soon. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers' Party, who by all appearances was the victor in the first round of elections, held this weekend, opposes GM crops, saying they are harmful to small farms. His agricultural advisor, Jose Graziano da Silva, says, "We get premium prices on specialty markets that our competitors -- the U.S. and Argentina -- don't because they plant GM." However, the Brazilian Association of Seed Producers …

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You Can Judge a Food By Its Label

In a big step for the organic food industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is poised to roll out an official "USDA Organic" seal and launch a long-awaited national standard to replace the existing hodgepodge of state and private certification systems. Food will have to contain 95 percent organic ingredients to be eligible for the label, a move that should put an end to the current, er, creative labeling practices of some food companies. Some small farmers are concerned that the 95 percent rule will actually lower the bar for big organic farmers, but most say that, all in all, …

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Running Knows

Climate change is caused by human activities -- and maybe by more of them than previously thought. That was the conclusion of a report released today by NASA, which found that land-use changes such as farming, irrigation, and urban sprawl contribute as much if not more to climate change than does the burning of fossil fuels. According to the report, changing land-uses in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia are redistributing heat regionally and globally; for example, irrigated farmlands in Colorado have contributed to a cooler, wetter climate in the area by adding moisture to the atmosphere, and deforestation in …

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Sea, Sea, My Playmate

More than 200 small grocers, restaurants, and seafood distributors in 40 U.S. states have announced that they will not buy, sell, or serve genetically altered fish. Among those joining the biotech boycott are such celebrity chefs as Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michael Schenk at Oceana in New York City. Whole Foods Market, the world's largest natural foods retailer, also signed on, but big seafood-restaurant chains such as Long John Silver and Red Lobster declined to join the boycott. The campaign, launched yesterday by the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, and Clean Water Action, …

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Sign of the Thames

New water-quality targets being established by the European Union could radically change the face of farming in Europe, forcing farmers to scale back or even abandon their practices in some traditionally agricultural areas. The Water Framework Directive will require all rivers, lakes, and canals to be restored to "good ecological quality" within 15 years -- and the measure of "good" will be far stricter than current standards. Complying with the directive will require wide-ranging changes in land use, from substantial reductions in the number of sheep and cattle that can be kept to restrictions on the size and location of …

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