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Prince farming: Discussing Charles’ new book on food reform

Last May, Prince Charles gave an inspiring keynote speech at the Future of Food conference at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Now, Rodale has published the speech in the form of an adorable little book titled On the Future of Food, with a foreword by Wendell Berry and an afterword by Will Allen and Eric Schlosser.

To mark the release of the book, Grist heard from three people whose work echoes Prince Charles' message: film producer and author Laurie David, sustainable agriculture thought leader Fred Kirschenmann, and nutrition professor and author Marion Nestle.

Want to experience the speech yourself? Watch it online here.

Q. What surprised you most about Prince Charles' book? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

Marion Nestle: I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems. He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him. It’s impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Farming the ‘burbs

Prairie Crossing is a 669-acre subdivision in Illinois with small lots, 70 percent open space and 100 acres for food production.

It’s a familiar story: A farming family in a small rural town can’t make ends meet. After generations of farming, they’re forced to sell their land and call in the auctioneer. In 2005, I produced a short film about a family like this in Meridian, Idaho. All but one of the five McKay siblings had chosen to work off the farm, and the son who’d stuck around grew sod to sell to developers who were systematically paving over Meridian to make way for residential subdivisions. It was a doomsday view of the future of rural land and farming in this country.

Almost seven years later, the story, on the surface, hasn’t changed. According to the American Farmland Trust, over 4 million acres of agricultural land -- almost the size of Massachusetts -- were developed between 2002 and 2007. Meridian is now an official suburb of Boise and, despite the Great Recession, small rural towns across the country are still being devoured by urban sprawl. Meanwhile, the urban farm movement is in full swing in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Detroit, and the blighted landscapes of inner cities are increasingly transformed into vibrant plots of vegetables and flowers. Something else is happening too -- this renaissance, or reimagining of agriculture, is starting to spill over into the suburbs.

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How many of us are vegetarian or vegan?

vegetarian signPhoto by Rob Stone.

In the course of writing my two recent posts on vegetarianism, I came across some interesting data. According to a 2011 poll conducted by Harris Interactive:

  • About 2.5 percent of Americans are vegan, saying they never eat meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, or dairy.
  • Another 2.5 percent are lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning they also skip the flesh but still eat eggs and/or dairy.
  • Add those up and you get 5 percent vegetarian (or, if you take into account the margin of error, 2 to 8 percent).

In addition to the vegetarians, 33 percent of Americans eat meatless meals on a regular basis, the poll found.

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Southern hospitality from farm to table [VIDEO]

Meet the farmer, forager, and chefs behind a farm-to-plate event in Georgia. I think this captures the fun, passion, and ideals that go into the interactive dining experiences we've been experiencing all year.

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Why farms want cold winters

Photo by Eric Myers.

Cross-posted from Gilt Taste.

There’s an old Bob Dylan line: “He not busy being born is busy dying.” It’s one to keep in mind when looking at farms in winter, at the brown fields, skeletal orchards, and vineyards waiting for a shot of green. Despite appearances, winter is a surprisingly important time on a farm. There’s a lot going on, biologically, below the surface, much that can influence what we see on market tables for the rest of the year. And much that can go wrong if the winter is warm, as this one has been in the Northeast.

First, the deep, killing, subfreezing cold of winter typically eliminated many damaging insects and pathogens. As Cornell University Fruit Integrated Pest Management Coordinator Dr. Juliet Carroll explains, “A classic example is Stewart’s Wilt of corn. For Stewart’s Wilt, the bacterium that causes the disease overwinters in the flea beetle that feeds on corn. If winter temperatures are low enough, the risk of Stewart’s Wilt may be completely eliminated for a region.” But if that deep cold doesn’t come, an outbreak of Stewart’s Wilt can mean smaller harvests, higher prices, and frustrated farmers.

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Lexicon of Sustainability: Salmon-safe

Editor’s note: This is your weekly installment of images from Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton’s Lexicon of Sustainability. We’ll be running one image every Friday this winter, so stay tuned. If you have your own sustainability terms, you can add them yourself to the Lexicon of Sustainability.

Click for a larger version.
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A challenge to chefs: Make me a delicious vegetarian entree — or stop claiming to care about sustainability

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.

menu board with meaty offeringsVegetarians are out of luck again ...

In his 2000 bestseller Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain swatted down vegetarians on behalf of the foodie elite:

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.

A lot has changed in the last decade. Now all the hot new chefs, and most of the big-name old-timers too, preach the gospel of local, seasonal, and sustainable. They flaunt their friendships with the organic farmers in their foodsheds. Their menus are paeans to the small-scale and the artisanal.

But one thing hasn't changed: Vegetarians still get no respect.

Read more: Living, Sustainable Food

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Scout’s honor: The push for sustainable cookies isn’t over yet

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva.

It’s that time of year again -- time to weigh your love for Girl Scout cookies against your love for the rainforests. That’s right: As we’ve reported in the past, your Samoas are deforesting Sumatra and your Tagalongs are killing orangutans.

Girl Scout cookies are made with palm oil, which has seen a huge spike in demand as both a biofuel ingredient for Europeans and a trans fat-free ingredient in processed foods (like high-fructose corn syrup and similarly evil ingredients, palm oil is everywhere once you start looking for it). As a result, thousands of acres of rainforest -- mainly in Southeast Asia -- have been razed to plant palm fruit trees. In addition to destroying endangered species habitat and old-growth trees, many palm oil plantations have been known to employ children and treat their workers badly.

It’s actually two seasoned Girl Scouts who are putting the most pressure on the organization to stop using palm oil. Ironically, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, 16-year-old Girl Scouts from Ann Arbor, Mich., first learned about the destructive effects of the palm oil industry five years ago, as part of a project to earn a Girl Scout Bronze Award. Last year, they gathered almost 70,000 signatures on a petition to Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA), asking the organization to stop using rainforest-destroying palm oil.

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Making moonshine and molasses [VIDEO]

John McEntire is possibly the only person in the world who grows Crooked Creek Corn, a once-common crop in the South that is now the chief ingredient in Troy and Sons' moonshine. On our trip across North Carolina, we stopped at his farm, heard stories, and tasted both the moonshine and a special juice made from sorghum stalks.

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Lexicon of Sustainability: Cage free vs. pasture raised

Editor’s note: This is your weekly installment of images from Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton’s Lexicon of Sustainability. We’ll be running one image every Friday this winter, so stay tuned. If you have your own sustainability terms, you can add them yourself to the Lexicon of Sustainability.

Click for larger version.
Read more: Sustainable Food