Smokin' greens

The eco-depredations of the tobacco industry

Brad Plumer points to what is no doubt going to be a fascinating story on the environmental evils of the tobacco industry. Clicking the link reveals that the story itself won’t be available until Oct. 1, but using his prodigious powers of precognition, Brad excerpts this bit: Without even factoring in the paper wrapping, packaging, and print advertisements–which require as much paper by weight as the tobacco being grown–nearly 600 million trees are felled each year to provide the fuel necessary for drying out the tobacco. That means one in eight trees cut down each year worldwide is being destroyed …

EPA may soon approve toxic alternative to ozone-depleting pesticide, despite criticism

To replace the toxic, ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide — a favorite of stubborn U.S. berry growers — the U.S. EPA is reportedly set to soon approve an alternative that doesn’t deplete ozone but is “one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing” according to opponents, including six Nobel Prize-winning chemists. Even though the replacement pesticide, methyl iodide, is injected into soils and not applied directly to crops, health advocates, including 54 scientists and physicians who wrote a letter to EPA head Stephen Johnson about their concerns, worry about “pregnant women and the unborn fetus, children, the elderly, farmworkers, and …

Suffer the little children -- from carbon offsets?

A clean tech firm accuses a carbon credit nonprofit of forcing kids to do fieldwork

You might blame a leading carbon-offset provider of forcing poor kids to work, according to The Times of London. Or not. Carbon credit firm Climate Care pays families in India to use human-powered treadle pumps to get water out of the ground for drinking and farming. As a result, half a million foot pumps have replaced diesel ones, which pollute and cost a lot to fuel. Unfortunately, Climate Care doesn't ensure the diesel pumps are retired instead of finding new life with other owners. Nor does it stick around to make sure that kids aren't doing all the pumping. It probably never crossed the minds at the British nonprofit that this would come into question. Children have done backbreaking farm work for eons in regions where sustaining an income in the field is a family necessity. And the foot pumps are supposed to be easier to operate than hand pumps.

Time to find that special turkey

Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food; it is about relationships

The Thanksgiving holiday serves to focus our attention on man's relationship with nature. In a celebration of the fall harvest, we express our appreciation for the bounty we have received. In American tradition, the Pilgrims' survival in the New World was enabled by the Native Americans, with whom they joined in a great feast of thanks. Every year Americans set aside a day to hold their own feast of Thanksgiving which features traditional foods that are native to the Americas, such as, turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, turnips, and pumpkin pie. Our celebration of Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to reinforce our connection, not only with the earth which still provides us with such a bounty but also the members of our community who have made raising these foods their life's work. While opening a can of yams, defrosting a frozen industrial turkey and buying a boxed pumpkin pie may have meaning in continuing some parts of the Thanksgiving tradition, I suggest we celebrate our relationship with the present as well as the past by making an extra effort to eat as many of these traditional foods from local, humanely raised sources as possible. Here in the Northeast that is pretty easy for most of the meal, but what about the turkey?

ADM's man at the USDA

USDA secretary resigns; industrial-corn man takes charge

Big doings at the USDA yesterday: Mike Johanns, the reliably pro-agribiz former governor of Nebraska, resigned from his post as USDA chair — right in the middle of Farm Bill negotiations, now in the Senate. He says he’s going to run for the Senate seat that Chuck Hagel is vacating. Chuck Conner, currently the USDA’s no. 2 man, will be the agency’s acting secretary. Conner joined the Bush administration in 2001 as the president’s "special assistant" on ag issues, and joined the USDA in 2005. Before working for Bush, Conner spent four years as executive director of the Corn Refiners …

There’s no lead-free lunch

Have you heard the one about the “healthy lunch” campaign that used lunchboxes found to contain lead? No joke.

Edible Media: The revolutionary hedonist

A good NYT piece on Alice Waters

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism. Alice Waters is so beloved and renowned in the sustainable-food world that her status approaches that of a saint. Inevitably, all that reverence gives rise to a certain amount of irreverence. I don’t think anyone’s gone after her with the vitriol that Christopher Hitchens once unleashed on Mother Theresa ("the bitch of Calcutta," etc.) But no one as pure of heart and pantry as Our Lady of the Mesclun can get by without a bit of ribbing. I even engaged in some once. Then, every once in a …

On kids, zucchini, and an experiment with pizza soup

A few weeks ago, when I made zucchini blueberry bread with my friends’ kids, it was revealed that one of them didn’t care much for zucchini in its non-dessert incarnations, seeing as how it was a vegetable and all. So I challenged myself to invent some kid-friendly zucchini dishes to see if I could get him to enjoy it and include it in his list of things he might — might — consider eating. Do I have to? Photo: iStockphoto As part of my strategy, I contemplated the things about zucchini that kids might not like, and came to the …

'Luncheon meat in pouches' ... ew

More than half of U.S. families bought packaged meat last year. Gross

The phrase "luncheon meat in pouches" strikes me as singularly unappetizing — industrially grown meat, lashed with God-knows-what chemicals, and stuffed into plastic. Even as an industrial-food-scarfing child, the slippery wetness and sketchy pink color of such food always struck me as just wrong (not that it stopped me from digging in). Can’t be easy on the landscape, either, given the undeniable depredations of industrial meat, and the lifecycle-spanning horrors of plastic. And yet, and yet … "lunch meat in pouches" is taking the convenience-food world by storm. Reports a trade journal: US households spent about $3.75bn on luncheon meat …