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Get off my lawn! Organic farmers just can’t get along with GMO-growing neighbors

grumpy farmer
Shutterstock

Another day, another bunch of old, white guys complaining about their neighbors screwing up their property – except this time, it’s quite warranted.

A new survey from Food & Water Watch has found that over 80 percent of organic farmers across the country are worried about how genetically modified crops in nearby fields are affecting their own. These farmers have incurred significant financial losses due to GMO contamination and the measures taken in attempts to prevent it.

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It’s official: People around the world really are eating more and more alike

fruit-still-life-food-dull
Shutterstock

You've probably heard that the food people eat worldwide is getting more and more homogeneous. As the Western diet spreads, we are relying on just a few staple grains and meats. This is a commonly held belief -- yet it's never been authoritatively studied.

Now it has. The results were just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (one of the more prestigious journals) -- and it turns out that this commonly held belief is ... totally right, and actually more dramatic than some expected.

See? Sometimes conventional wisdom really is wise.

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Henry David Thoreau would have given “12 Years a Slave” the Oscar for best picture, too

12 yrs a slave 2
Fox Searchlight

I’m glad to see that 12 Years a Slave won a few well-deserved Oscars Sunday night, including best picture and best adapted screenplay. Those who’ve been following me know that I used this film as one of the starting points for my blog, and as a lens for examining the intersection between environmentalism and social justice. I’ve been curious if there were others who saw in the movie the same crimes against nature I saw, along with the crimes against black people.

The film includes scenes of enslaved Africans hacking away at dense fields of sugarcane stalks, and chopping away trees in the plush forests of Louisiana, all at whip- and gunpoint, and all in efforts to expand the plantation state. This, to me, made it clear that director Steve McQueen was trying to show not only how slavery exploited and devastated African Americans, but also how it did the same to the American environment. He said as much when describing his cinematic vision: “The story is about the environment, and how individuals have to make sense of it, how we locate the self in events.”

McQueen drew his inspiration from the book on which the film was based: The memoir of Solomon Northup, an African American born free but sold into slavery. And as it turns out, there were many people during Northup’s time who were making the same observations about how slavery was wrecking the nation racially, physically, and biologically. Among them was Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century naturalist and political philosopher.

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Feedlot frenzy: Should we shun grass-fed beef for the sake of the climate?

Photo by istock.

We eat too much meat in the United States, and eating less of it is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint. But in certain parts of the world where people are malnourished, meat can be the most efficient way to get people nutrients like iron. So what do you do about that?

Recently a group of researchers, many from the International Institute for Applied Systems in Austria, concluded that we probably shouldn’t be raising the price of meat to discourage people from eating it. Instead, we should be raising animals in more efficient ways so as to make meat available to the poor without pumping out as much greenhouse gas.

On the face of it, this seems to be saying that feedlots are environmentally correct. I have no doubt that some will wield this study as a bludgeon against anyone arguing for grass-fed beef. (“If you don’t like CAFOs, you want the Earth to cook and the poor to starve!”) Before that starts, let’s look at what this analysis actually shows.

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Round up the usual suspicious studies (but don’t link to them)

monsanto-roundup-flickr
Vilseskogen

Earlier today, we posted a brief item in Grist List about a new study reporting that the herbicide glyphosate has come to permeate air and rainfall in the Mississippi Delta.

That study is alarming in itself, assuming you don't relish having a weed-killer atmosphere. Glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, has become a massively used chemical in Big Ag farming, in good part because it's the cornerstone of Monsanto's GMO business. The company's "Roundup ready" crops are designed to take a glyphosate dousing and keep on growing. That works fine for a while -- until glyphosate-resistant weeds start sprouting, at least; but it can also lock farmers into a cycle of dependence, which is why the whole program has been dubbed "agricultural heroin" by some.

Unfortunately, in seeking to explain why we might not welcome our new glyphosate overlords, we went looking for information about glyphosate's toxicity and health risks, and we fell for a bit of junk science that we should have steered clear of. We linked to a paper -- "Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases" -- that has been widely debunked, for instance here. (As that post points out, any paper that uses a phrase like "exogenous semiotic entropy" ought to set off alarm bells.) We should have known better -- particularly since we've recently run some in-depth coverage of glyphosate as part of our Panic-Free GMO series.

We're sorry. The post was up for only a few hours before we corrected it and removed it from our homepage and other listings. We're not taking it down completely; rather than "disappear" the evidence of our goof, we're laying it all out for you. Because that's, you know, the right thing to do.

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Salami made from Kanye West and James Franco would make for the weirdest sandwiches ever

bitelabs-celebrity-meat

Meat production is wasteful. Lab-grown meat is sometimes offered as a solution ... but not everybody's on board. BiteLabs thinks it can take you from a “meh” to a “YAY!” by creating meat from your fave celebs’ tissue. (Forget TMZ. This is how your celebrity sausage gets made!)

BiteLabs wants to offer salami made of meat cloned from James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen Degeneres, and is enlisting fans to tweet at the celebs and implore them to donate tissue samples. If nothing else, this would have made for the best Oscars Night charcuterie spread ever.

Is it just publicity stunt? Almost certainly, although Vice is oddly convinced. We don’t think Jennifer Lawrence salami will ever be a reality -- sandwiches on us if we’re wrong -- but it’s funny to think about:

jennifer-lawrence-salami

And obviously there’s the environmental angle. Writes BiteLabs:

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Tempeh-rature rising: Here’s a tasty spin on vegan chili

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: A New Kind of Vegan ChiliNew Veganism columnist Gena Hamshaw gives us a recipe for vegan chili with a classic texture, minus the meat. 

tempeh_chili
Food52

Editor's note: Did you miss National Chili Day on Feb. 27? Have no fear. This vegan chili is delicious any day of the year. Plus, if you perfect this recipe now, you'll be a shoo-in at your local Environmentally Friendly Chili Cook Off 2014!

Whether you knew it or not, there’s a good chance you’ve had meatless chili before. Chilis made with beans (for example, black bean and sweet potato chili) are fairly ubiquitous, and most of us have crossed paths with them at some point or another. But tempeh chili? Well, that’s another story.

Unlike fellow soy product, tofu, tempeh remains a somewhat exotic ingredient in American kitchens. This is a shame, because tempeh is versatile, nutritious, and satisfying in ways that some other meat substitutes are not; it has a dense, chewy texture and a nutty taste. And when you grate it on a box grater, it takes on a texture that is not unlike ground beef. Could anything be more perfect for a pot of vegan chili?

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Celery’s an aphrodisiac — too bad no one told Steve Buscemi

Heirloom tomatoes: hot. Kale: hip. Brussels sprouts: dead sexy, especially with parmesan. But celery? Not so. In this characteristically bizarre yet amusing Portlandia sketch, a teaser for the new season, watch Steve Buscemi struggle to make celery the new “it” food -- OR LOSE EVERYTHING:

Celery, as Carrie Brownstein’s character points out, is kind of a hard sell. “It’s full of soluble AND insoluble fiber! You don’t understand -- that’s very hard on the digestive system,” she tells Buscemi. On the plus side, it’s also rich in vitamins K and A, which can help keep skin, eyes, and bones healthy.

Too bad Buscemi didn’t know that celery’s an aphrodisiac -- or at least the ancient Romans thought so. “It contains the pheromone androsterone, released by men’s sweat glands to attract females,” attests the U.K. Express. Adds food writer Amy Reiley:

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Organic eggs are so expensive because the chickens eat fancy imported food

organic eggs
Elle_Ann

There are lots of reasons to pony up a few extra dollars for organic eggs -- they have those rich, deep yellow yolks, for instance, and you get the satisfaction of knowing the chickens who laid them lived better lives than the chickens who laid the sad non-organic eggs. But man, they are spendy.

One reason, Dan Charles reports at NPR, that organic eggs are expensive is that the chickens eat fancy imported food. American farmers aren't growing enough organic feed to feed the chickens that produce organic eggs:

Most chickens eat feed made from ground-up corn and soybeans, but America's farmers are not growing enough organic corn and soybeans — especially soybeans — to feed the country's organic animals. ...

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How big meat recalls hurt small cattle ranches

West Marin cattle
Terrie Schweitzer

Whenever there’s a giant meat recall, the first and often only reaction is disgust. It’s entirely justified self-interest: People want to be sure that their ground chuck hasn’t ever shared a vat with pathogens. But these recalls also have an effect on the other end of the food chain, which we rarely consider.

After “diseased and unsound animals” were killed without a full inspection, the USDA closed the Rancho Feeding slaughterhouse in Petaluma, Calif.  While the numbers sound huge -- 9 million pounds were recalled -- the reality is fairly small scale. As Grist commenter Rachel pointed out, 9 millions pounds translates to killing fewer than 10 cows an hour over a year. Large operations slaughter hundreds an hour.

Rancho won’t reopen; at least not in its current form. The abattoir lost its right of inspection, meaning it will have to start from scratch, rebuilding and replacing equipment to bring the facility up to modern standards.

Meanwhile, the ranchers that rely on the plant are struggling to survive. Having a local slaughterhouse is vital to maintaining local agriculture. Much of the land around Petaluma is ideally suited for raising seasonal, grass-fed cattle. But without a means to kill those cattle, those ranches won’t be viable. The next nearest slaughterhouse is a three to four hour drive away. As my colleague Heather Smith has pointed out, if omnivores want to eat local, we have to kill local.