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  • And other revelations from the latest big-media expose of local food

    About a year ago, The Economist ran a big article purporting to show that eating locally is actually worse for the environment than typical supermarket fare. I debunked the article here. About six months later, the NYT op-ed page ran a piece making similar arguments. And I responded again. In both of these pieces, the […]

  • What a fossil-fuel free agriculture might look like

    At some point in the future, humanity will have to produce its food without the help of fossil fuels and without destroying the soil. In a well-researched and succinct new essay, "What will we eat as the oil runs out?", Richard Heinberg analyzes the main problems with the global agricultural system, and proposes a solution: a global organic food system.

    Heinberg lays out four major dilemmas of the current system:

    The direct impacts on agriculture of higher oil prices: increased costs for tractor fuel, agricultural chemicals, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs ... the increased demand for biofuels ... the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events caused by fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions...[and] the degradation or loss of basic natural resources (principally, topsoil and fresh water supplies) as a result of high rates, and unsustainable methods, of production stimulated by decades of cheap energy.

    He then goes into more detail concerning these four horsemen of the agricultural apocalypse, and shows how, even now, these crises are leading to a decrease in global food production.

    Later in this post I will propose a thought experiment solution, based on Heinberg's solution of a fossil fuel-free agriculture:

  • As food series ends, the story is just beginning

    During my trip to the Midwest this summer, I saw many unsettling sights: vast monocropped landscapes lashed regularly with chemicals, insidious low-slung buildings that imprison thousands of animals and concentrate their waste. Yet I returned oddly invigorated, buzzing about Iowa’s promise as a sustainable-ag mecca. Amid the cornfields and the CAFOs, I saw thriving homestead […]

  • Images of a sustainable-food revolution

    Imagine a place where residents pull together to create a thriving store and restaurant serving fresh, local food. Imagine a place where the money appears, the dreams become real, the produce and pastured meat taste like home. Imagine a place where officials support these dreams with policies that fund organic farmers and encourage the purchase […]

  • In the farm belt, a look at the extremes of agricultural production

    When I arrived in Iowa on a reporting trip this summer, I expected to experience it with city eyes: frankly, as a rural backwater. I’ve lived on a farm in the Appalachians of North Carolina since 2004, but the ten years before that, I lived in Mexico City and New York City. I don’t know […]

  • Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food; it is about relationships

    The Thanksgiving holiday serves to focus our attention on man's relationship with nature. In a celebration of the fall harvest, we express our appreciation for the bounty we have received.

    In American tradition, the Pilgrims' survival in the New World was enabled by the Native Americans, with whom they joined in a great feast of thanks. Every year Americans set aside a day to hold their own feast of Thanksgiving which features traditional foods that are native to the Americas, such as, turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, turnips, and pumpkin pie.

    Our celebration of Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to reinforce our connection, not only with the earth which still provides us with such a bounty but also the members of our community who have made raising these foods their life's work. While opening a can of yams, defrosting a frozen industrial turkey and buying a boxed pumpkin pie may have meaning in continuing some parts of the Thanksgiving tradition, I suggest we celebrate our relationship with the present as well as the past by making an extra effort to eat as many of these traditional foods from local, humanely raised sources as possible. Here in the Northeast that is pretty easy for most of the meal, but what about the turkey?

  • Strengthening community is an important benefit of eating locally

    The following is a guest essay originally posted at AlterNet by David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

    Some 30 years ago NASA came up with another big idea: assemble vast solar electric arrays in space and beam the energy to earth. The environmental community did not dismiss NASA's vision out of hand. After all, the sun shines 24 hours a day in space. A solar cell on earth harnesses only about four hours equivalent of full sunshine a day. If renewable electricity could be generated more cheaply in space than on earth, what's the problem?

    A number of us argued that the problem was inherent in the scale of the power plant. Whereas rooftop solar turns us into producers, builds our self-confidence, and strengthens our sense of community as we trade electricity back and forth with our neighbors, space-based solar arrays aggravate our dependence. By dramatically increasing the distance between us and a product essential to our survival, we become more insecure. The scale of the technology requires a global corporation, increasing the distance between those who make the decisions and those who feel the impact of those decisions. Which, in turn, demands a global oversight body, itself remote and nontransparent to electric consumers.

  • ‘Extreme localism’ in the New Yorker

    Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism. Whatever else it has accomplished, the local-food movement has certainly conquered the appetites of New York’s influential food-media editors. Following the lead of Gourmet, glossy mags like Food & Wine and Bon Appetit now offer regular paeans to place-based eating. The New York […]

  • How to stick it to the ice-cream Man

    I’ve written a lot about the consolidation of U.S. food markets, and have become jaded to facts such as: just four firms slaughter 83.5 percent of cows, and so on. But I actually gagged on my ice cream when I read this bit in BusinessWeek: The days of mom-and-pop parlors and local brands are fading […]