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Sustainable Food

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Could insects feed the world? [VIDEO]

Still on the fence about trying some edible insects? This video from Quest might just give you the nudge you need. In it you'll meet several entomophagists (bug-eaters), including Monica Martinez of Don Bugito, a taco stand we covered last fall.

You'll also hear compelling evidence for insects as one answer to feeding a growing population. As one scientist puts it: "Cows and pigs -- they're warm-blooded. When they eat, they have to actually waste a lot of energy producing heat. Insects are cold-blooded. I mean that in a good sense. They don't have to maintain their body heat, so when they eat they don't have to waste energy, they convert that into protein."

The video takes us into the kitchen of a serious bug connoisseur as she prepares roasted figs with sautéed grasshoppers and bee larvae (the "bacon of the edible insect world") -- and manages to make the dish look surprisingly appetizing.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Will old-school green groups sleep through the Earth Summit?

As you may have heard, President Obama is being cagey about whether he'll attend the Earth Summit in Rio next month. You know, it's just the FUTURE OF THE PLANET that’s up for discussion. Nothing big. Maybe he’ll go. Maybe not.

As it happens, we were in the same situation 20 years ago, as the 1992 Earth Summit approached and George Bush Sr. was giving it the old, "Well, maaaaaybe ..."

Back then, a group of the major, mainstream environmental groups in the U.S. rallied for the cause. To convince Bush he should attend, they enlisted none other than Darth Vader. Well, his voice, at least -- the actor James Earl Jones. They made the spooky film clip below, replete with -- is that the Pony Express or the Horsemen of the Apocalypse? -- and then ran it in movie theaters around the country. Jones did the voiceover. Need I even tell you that Bush Sr. decided to attend?

In my research into the 2012 Earth Summit, I’ve noticed very little action from the major U.S. greens. A handful of them, including EarthJustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Nature Conservancy, and the Pew Environment Group, have been involved, along with groups focused on clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and other issues, but where’s the old guard that sponsored the Darth Vader ad two decades ago? I decided to do a little poking around.

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Thousands more farmers markets will soon take food stamps

Photo courtesy of the USDA.

When it comes to giving more people access to fresh, healthy food, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has turned a great deal of its focus in recent years toward farmers markets. And, more specifically, opening farmers markets up to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or  “food stamp” users.

In fact, the agency reports, spending at farmers markets under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has already jumped by 400 percent since 2008 -- and that's with less than a quarter of the country's 7,000 markets participating in the program.

"That's a huge transformation in the farmers market world, in terms of people being able to feel like they're invited to the party,” USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a phone interview.

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Science says: Cut that steak in half to keep the climate in check

Photo by Jack Lyons.

Eric Davidson has no grand plan to turn you into a vegetarian.

But in order for us to avoid catastrophic climate change, this senior scientist and executive director at Woods Hole Research Center says people in developed nations may need to eat half as much meat. Yep -- you heard that right. This isn’t about the way animals are treated, nor is it about reducing heart disease. For the sake of the climate alone, we -- as a culture -- need to eat half as many burgers, and half as much bacon.

According to a recent study from Davidson, this controversial dietary shift is crucial if we want to get serious about reducing emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas.

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By growing food, Occupy the Farm helps a movement grow up

This post originally appeared on the Earth Island Journal website.

All photos by Jeff Conant/Climate Connections.

It doesn’t take an agricultural expert to know that you can’t grow vegetables without water. So it wasn’t surprising that after hundreds of people marching under the banner “Occupy the Farm” took over a University of California (UC) agricultural testing station on the edge of Berkeley, Calif., April 22, UC officials responded by shutting off water to the site. The next day, a late-season storm brought a half-inch of rain to the San Francisco Bay Area, irrigating the thousands of vegetable starts in the ground and lifting the spirits of the urban farming activists who are determined to save the site from development. Score: Occupiers, 1 — UC administrators, 0.

Social change activists in Berkeley, Calif., have always been ahead of the curve. Today, May Day, is the spring reemergence for the Occupy movement as activists around the United States engage in work stoppages, street marches, and various forms of civil disobedience to press their demands for a more equitable economy. The folks with Occupy the Farm got started early. On Earth Day, they marched from Berkeley’s Ohlone Park to a five-acre plot of land in the adjacent bedroom community of Albany. They cut the locks on the gates of the UC-Berkeley and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) field trial plot, pulled up nearly an acre of thick mustard growing there, and got busy working the soil with a pair of rented rototillers. Then, scores of volunteers planted 150-foot rows of lettuce, beans, cucumbers, and leafy greens. By the end of Earth Day, the Bay Area had a new urban farm.

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We catch too many sardines — but should we stop eating them?

Photo by Andrea Nguyen.

On the Mother Jones website yesterday, contributor and author Julia Whitty posed some important questions about a small, less popular fish that’s begun to come back into vogue in recent years.

The post, called "It's Okay to Eat Sardines...Right?," began like this:

Sardines are considered a "sustainable" seafood, one of the few fish you can eat guilt-free, right? Well, not exactly. Forage fish like sardines and anchovies are the key players in huge but delicate food webs known as wasp-waist ecosystems. These are so complex and dynamic that it's questionable whether we have the know-how to manage them well yet.

Whitty went on to illustrate that we don’t, in fact, seem to know how to manage the world sardine fisheries very well. And she presented a telling and useful chart that tracked the global capture of sardines over the last 50 years. It shows a mountain of consumption that rises steeply in 1975 and goes crashing back down again 20 years later. She also points out that although the Marine Stewardship Council approves of sardine eating, Whitty herself has written in the past about what she sees as lapses in judgement on its part, when it comes to the fishing practices surrounding other types of fish.

I was with Whitty through a great deal of her argument, and I can always get with a considered note of caution about what we eat and how much. So I waited patiently for her to get to the discussion of what happens to the rest of the sardines. But it didn’t come.

You see, as many ocean conservationists and sustainable seafood experts point out, the problem isn’t that people are frying or grilling up too many sardines. The problem is the fish we’re not eating, but feeding to other, farmed fish (like tuna and salmon) and industrially farmed animals (fish oil makes pigs, chickens, and cows grow faster).

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Let’s put an end to ‘dietary tribalism’

Every time I’m on social media, I am reminded of a growing trend that worries me -- let’s call it dietary tribalism. I use this term to refer to the many fractured groups with conflicting dietary views who, for the most part, don't realize just how much they have in common.

This recent piece in the New York Times about the "challenges of plant-based eating in a meat-based world” got me thinking, as it described several people’s efforts to adopt a vegan lifestyle and how they were fraught with challenges. Not only did I find this lens problematic (for one, not everyone finds the transition that difficult), but I was struck by how it repeated a familiar, yet inaccurate frame: that one is either a vegan or they'll eat an entire cow in one sitting.

But it bothered me even more that the comments turned, predictably, into "veganism isn't natural" vs. "everyone should go vegan." It was almost the perfect microcosm of what happens in the food world when, rather than discuss issues we have in common, we take sides. All this mud-slinging detracts from a more important conversation.

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How catching salmon can save a forest

The Nerka with Mount Fairweather in the background.

I lean over the rail, whispering sweet nothings to the salmon in the water below. Hooked through the cheek, she stares at me with a turquoise eye. I raise the baseball bat-like gaff with my right hand and promise her, “This will be quick.” When I slam the gaff against her head, her opal scales quiver faintly, then go still. I yank her out of her universe, and into mine. A pool of crimson spreads on the deck. “Thank you.”

My partner Joel glances over. “Nice one!” Like me, he grew up fishing. At 22, he became the captain of the Nerka, his childhood summer home. We’ve run this 43-foot salmon troller together for seven years, selling our catch to his father, who markets our salmon to restaurants, grocery stores, and food co-ops around the U.S.

Not to be confused with trawlers, which drag large nets across the ocean floor, trollers are hook-and-line boats that target as close as possible the intended catch with little harm to habitat. The Nerka putters along Southeast Alaska’s densely forested coastline, trailing four to six lines laddered with hooked lures. Each salmon comes over the rail individually, and is handled with care through the entire process.

From an efficiency standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to comb the sea for 18 hour days, for weeks on end, struggling to catch 100 salmon a day, one at a time.  The challenges and risks far outweigh the financial payoff. Like family farming, our greatest reward is our lifestyle. Between the Gulf of Alaska’s infinite blue swallowing the horizon and the Tongass National Forest’s lush green cloaking the coast, our office is a dreamscape. With whales, sea otters, porpoises, puffins and other sea birds as colleagues, our job involves more than merely catching fish. Occupying a link in this food chain is a privilege; doing it sustainably is a responsibility.

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Texas college turns football field into awesome urban farm

If your football team can’t hack it on the field, perhaps they can grow some kick-ass kale.

At least that’s the sentiment from Dallas’ Paul Quinn College. After the university cut its football program, President Michael Sorrell decided to transform the unused field into a working farm.

The WE Over Me Farm, which covers 57,000 square feet, was a response to the lack of healthy food options in the economically depressed area. Highland Hills, the neighborhood where Paul Quinn is located, is a designated food desert.

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Fowl play: Raising illegal backyard chickens [VIDEO]

Backyard chickens are everywhere. But in many North American cities, keeping a flock of hens is still illegal. We met up with some unlikely outlaws while traveling through Tennessee who are breaking the law by producing fresh farm eggs in their backyards.