Articles by Tom Philpott
Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.
When Bush wants to kill a program or a department, he picks a clown to run it. Think of FEMA's disgraced "Brownie," who did such a "heck of a job" when disaster struck the Gulf Coast.
When the president sees something real at stake for his corporate clients, though, he tends to anoint an ultra-qualified pro: someone, typically, with direct ties to the industry in question. In surely the most spectacular example, Bush placed responsibility for creating energy policy in the crude-stained hands of Dick Cheney.
The world of agriculture presents its own examples. Over on Bitter Greens Journal last year, I documented how the president planted an industrial-corn man, with ties to corn-processing behemoth Archer-Daniels Midland, as deputy head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now I present you with Richard Crowder: erstwhile president of the American Seed Trade Association, a 15-year veteran of Dekalb Genetics Corporation (now part of Monsanto), former exec at Conagra and Pillsbury -- and newly minted chief agricultural negotiator for U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.
Two takes on Monsanto crossed my path yesterday. One came from the stock market, the other from Fedco, the small vegetable-seed purveyor that supplies many small, sustainable-minded farms across the land, including my own Maverick Farms.
The market applauded Monsanto Tuesday, driving its share price to an all-time high; Fedco, in its 2006 seed catalogue that arrived at Maverick the same day, gave it the finger.
A society that relies on cheap food also relies on cheap labor. Look at the meat-processing industry.
Worker conditions are so wretched, so little changed from Jungle days, that Human Rights Watch saw fit to issue a scathing report on the industry last January.
Because meat is perishable and prohibitively expensive to keep frozen over long journeys, meat processing cannot readily be sent overseas -- unlike, say, manufacturing. So the trick, as the Human Rights Watch report shows in wrenching detail, is to recreate working conditions prevalent in places like Guatemala, here.
Things are different in the large-scale fruit/vegetable business. Tomatoes, for example, can be picked green, shipped long distance with minimal refrigeration, and gas-ripened near the point of sale. Will vegetable farming move overseas?
Over the past 20 years, Joel Salatin has emerged as a sort of guru of the sustainable-food movement. His 500-acre Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va., is legendary among a small circle of foodies for its robustly flavored beef, pork, chicken, and eggs. Among farmers, Salatin has won cult status for his innovations in multi-species, pasture-based […]