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  • How Mexico’s iconic flatbread went industrial and lost its flavor

    In a spectacle similar to the one conjured up by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, a Mexican judiciary panel handed the nation’s presidency to Felipe Calderón last week. Even The New York Times, in its circumspect way, acknowledged that the new president-elect’s narrow victory over leftist rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador involved seemingly illegal […]

  • Pollan blogs on corn ethanol and local-food resources

    Did you know that foodie writer Michael Pollan (look for my interview on Tuesday!) has a blog? Probably not, because it's hidden behind the cursed NYT Select subscription wall. Too bad -- it's a great blog, and deserves wider readership.

    The latest entry reviews arguments against corn ethanol that will be familiar to readers of this blog, and concludes with this:

    So why the stampede to make ethanol from corn? Because we have so much of it, and such a powerful lobby promoting its consumption. Ethanol is just the latest chapter in a long, sorry history of clever and profitable schemes to dispose of surplus corn: there was corn liquor in the 19th century; feedlot meat starting in the 1950's and, since 1980, high fructose corn syrup. We grow more than 10 billion bushels of corn a year in this country, far more than we can possibly eat -- though God knows we're doing our best, bingeing on corn-based fast food and high fructose corn syrup till we're fat and diabetic. We probably can't eat much more of the stuff without exploding, so the corn lobby is targeting the next unsuspecting beast that might help chomp through the surplus: your car.

    In another entry, he pulls together a list of resources to help people find local, sustainable food. It deserves to be freed from the insidious NYT wall, so here it is:

  • Beyond organic: A new label

    If you haven't been following the discussion under this post about Wal-Mart selling organic food, I recommend you catch up. It's quite insightful, with a range of views well-expressed.

    One note of consensus seems to be this: "Organic," at least as denoted by the USDA label, falls well short of genuinely sustainable agriculture. Tom is better qualified than I to give a comprehensive description of the latter, but one important element is locality. Food that is grown, sold, and eaten within a single regional foodshed is closer to sustainable than organic mega-farms.

    So, as a couple of people have suggested, perhaps one step in the right direction is a new label, to supplement "organic." This raises two questions:

  • Check ’em out.

    Last year, I tried to keep up with Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon and their campaign to follow a 100-mile diet. I failed, by only blogging about parts one through five. Since then, parts six through eleven have been published, which can now all be found on the 100-mile diet website:

  • Michael Pollan digs into the mysteries of the U.S. diet in The Omnivore’s Dilemma

    In The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan diagnoses the national attitude toward food: angst. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan, Penguin Press, 320 pgs, 2006. Channeling the modern middle-class shopper wandering vast supermarket aisles, Pollan asks: “The organic apple or the conventional? And if […]

  • Umbra on dorm snacks

    Dear Umbra, As a hall adviser at a college where social activism is valued, I find myself stuck when it comes to entertaining en masse. Sure, I buy from local farms when buying snacks for myself, but when leaving goodies for my hall, putting the ever-enticing winter squash outside a resident’s door does not say […]

  • Once the global capital of bad food, London shows the way forward.

    Since I started writing for Gristmill, I've tried to make the point that our food system amounts to an ongoing environmental disaster, and deserves much more attention from greens.

    Over in London, Mayor Ken Livingstone is putting that idea into action. As the Guardian reports, Livingstone recently declared that "The energy and emissions involved in producing food account for 22% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions."

    Ponder that number for a minute. Rather than obsess about hybrids and switchgrass and CAFE standards -- worthy topics, to be sure -- it might make sense to push for policies that make food production more eco-friendly. And Livingstone is doing just that.

    "I want London to set a standard for other cities around the world to follow in reducing its own contribution to climate change. How we deal with food will play an important role in this," he told the Guardian.

    (Thanks to the Organic Consumers Association for bringing this story, which came out way back on Jan. 7, to my attention.)

  • In the heartland of industrial agriculture, a county goes local and organic

    Nestled in the heartland of globally oriented commodity-food production, Woodbury County in Iowa has made a bold move away from industrial agriculture.

    Last summer, the Kellogg Foundation's Food and Society (FAS) website reports, "the County passed an 'Organics Conversion Policy,' offering up to $50,000 annually in property tax rebates for those who convert from conventional to organic farming practices."

    And then in January 2006, FAS continues, the county ...

    ... became the first in the United States to mandate the purchase of locally grown, organic food. The "Local Food Purchase Policy" requires Woodbury County departments to purchase locally grown, organic food from within a 100 mile radius for regular city use. The policy has the potential to shift $281,000 in annual food purchases to a local farmer-operated cooperative, increasing local demand and spurring increased production and processing.

    Why would a county in Iowa, of all places, implement what amounts to a rejection of industrial agriculture?

  • How the feds make bad-for-you food cheaper than healthful fare

    If you’re going to talk about poverty, food, and the environment in the United States, you might as well start in the Corn Belt. So good, and so good for you — until it’s turned into soda. Photo: stock.xchng. This fertile area produces most of the country’s annual corn harvest of more than 10 billion […]