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Articles by Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

All Articles

  • Why Tom Friedman makes a dubious green.

    My man David Roberts has been quite impressed by the recent writings of NYT uber-pundit Thomas Friedman.

    Friedman is a crude but effective writer, and I'm glad to see he's enlisting his thunderous arsenal of platitudes in service of conservation, etc. Undeniably, he makes some good points.

    But I fear that the world's problems are a bit more complex than can be dreamt of in Friedman's neoliberal philosophy. The hyper-globalized system of trade that he breathlessly champions may itself be too energy intensive to be sustained -- even by "green" energy. Why should the global south gear its productive capacity to producing for the northern countries? Why should the U.S. essentially outsource its working class thousands of miles away to China?

    I don't reject global trade. But I think wise public policy minimizes it, not subsidizes it at every level. I'd like to see a national-level pundit who champions local culture, who calls on governments and NGOs to bolster it where it flourishes. Among the many benefits of gearing local economies to produce mainly for themselves would be much less energy-intensivity.

    And by no means would such pronouncements have to be couched in the dour, anti-hedonist terms that tend to characterize enviromentalism. If production were geared to be local, people would generally eat and drink much, much better.

  • Why greens should join forces with gardeners to face down the bull dozers in LA.

    Even though I abandoned Brooklyn for the Appalachians, I'm no sentimental pastoralist. I'm a long-term disciple of the great urban theorist (and champion of cities) Jane Jacobs. Human history since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago has been a history of cities. Cities are the future; as David Owen's superb article "Green Manhattan" (PDF) shows, they may be our only hope. The trick is to create agricultural systems within and just outside of cities, minimizing the ruinous effects of long-haul freight transit, slashing the fossil-fuel inputs embedded in food production, maximizing availability of fresh delicious food, and boosting local and even neighborhood economies.

    Farmers' markets have been the most visible effort at creating sustainable urban food networks. Equally if not more important, although virtually invisible to well-heeled urban foodies who laudably support farmers' markets, inner-city gardening projects represent a vanguard in the effort to overthrow industrial food and reintroduce sustainably grown, delicious food to populations that were knocked off the land a generation or two ago.

    There's been a lot of talk around here about whether or not humanity's future requires messing up Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s ocean view from "the Vineyard." (I say, the hell with him. Mess it up!) This story may be more important, though: An LA developer wants to bulldoze a 14-acre community garden, with 360 family plots, right in the middle of an industrial zone in South Central. The city should be paying these people to do what they're doing, for all the environmental and social benefits they're creating. At the very least, the city should buy the land back from the developer and make the garden permanent.

    LA greens, and I know you're out there, get out and man the barricades with those brave gardeners.

  • Village riot highlights stress between development and rural land in China.

    Like all rapidly developing nations, China is ripping into its countryside to develop industry and Western-style infrastructure (e.g., superhighways).

    Over the weekend, cops cracked heads in a village in south China, not far from Hong Kong. Here's how the NY Times article on the story opened:

    A week of protests by villagers in China's southern industrial heartland exploded into violence over the weekend with thousands of police officers brandishing automatic weapons and using electric batons to put down the rally, residents of the village said today.

    The lead emphasizes that the riot took place in an "industrial heartland." A few paragraphs down, though, we get the real story: rural villagers upset over unchecked development.

    [T]he latest confrontation between villagers and a large-scale deployment of security forces has occurred in a rural enclave encircled by some of China's biggest and fastest growing industrial cities. Indeed, demonstrating residents of Panlong village said their anger had been sparked by a government land acquisition program they had been led to believe in 2003 was part of a construction project to build a superhighway connecting the nearby city of Zhuhai with Beijing. Later, the villagers learned the land was being re-sold to developers to set up special chemical and garment industrial zones in the area.

    The article doesn't say, and I'd like to know, if Panlong is a farming village. I wish the villagers luck in stopping the government from turning their area into yet another production point for the global consumer and industrial markets.

  • A UK study links dietary change over the past 50 years with rising menl-illness rates.

    I've written a lot about the environmental depredations built into our industrial food system.

    Over in Britain, researchers are making a link between the ubiquity of processed food and rising rates of mental illness, BBC reports.

    Here's the BBC:

    The report said people were eating 34% less vegetables and two-thirds less fish - the main source of omega-3 fatty acids - than they were 50 years ago. Such changes, the study said, could be linked to depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer's disease.

    Sounds perfectly plausible to me. Then again, maybe my ability to reason has been compromised by all the Big Macs I ingested as a youngster.