Saturday, September 22, 2012

Monsanto, Roundup, and the Devil We Didn't Know

Female (9255) fed with the GMO
alone (22%) and developing a mammary adenocarcinoma
in a fibroadenoma
(day 645) photo: Criigen website

So what do we know? We know that Roundup-tolerant corn is approved for human consumption on the basis of 90-day rat trials. We know that groundwater levels have been approved on the strength of 90-day rat trials. We know that food activists (among whom I number myself) have been saying for years that 90-day rat trials are not really the best way to approve a radical new technology. We know that Monsanto, Cargill, and other plant science patent holders have said that all they need to do are 90-day rat trials, and that those trials are sufficient to approve and use a “substantially equivalent” genetically modified organism. And we know our governments have agreed.
But that was yesterday. Today is a different world. Today, the paper, "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize" reporting on a study conducted by a team of scientists led by molecular biologist and endocrinologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, (co-director of the Risk Quality and Sustainable Environment Unit at the University of Caen, France, who is an authority on studies into the health impact of GMO's and pesticides) has been published. This is the first study of both NK603 Roundup tolerant GM maize, and water containing Roundup at levels permitted in drinking water and GM crops in the US that has followed the test rats longer than the required 90 days—in fact, the study followed them through their entire 24 month life span. And the news is not good.
Whether the test rats were fed NK603 Roundup-tolerant maize (illegal in France, where the study was conducted, the maize had to be imported from Canada, where its use is approved), or whether they received a measured dose of Roundup in their drinking water, they developed two to three times more tumours than the control group. Tumours appeared in the male rats after four months and in the female rats after seven months. Tumours only began appearing in the female control group after 14 months, and in the male control group after 23 months.
Three groups were given Roundup in their drinking water, at three different levels consistent with exposure through the food chain from crops sprayed with the weedkiller: the mid level corresponded to the maximum level permitted in the US in some GM feed; the lowest corresponded to contamination found in some tap waters. Three groups were fed diets which contained different proportions of NK603—11%, 22% and 33%. Three groups were given both Roundup and NK603 at the same three dosages. The final control group was fed an equivalent diet with no Roundup or NK603 but containing 33% of equivalent non-GM maize.
So test populations dosed with Roundup-contaminated water, Roundup-tolerant NK603 maize, and both Roundup-contaminated water AND the NK603 maize. And as it turns out, it didn't matter. Both the maize and the Roundup, individually and together, triggered the same problems: Females developed fatal mammary tumours and pituitary disorders. Males suffered liver damage, developed kidney and skin tumours and experienced problems with their digestive system. Treated males suffered severe liver and kidney dysfunction. Liver congestion and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher than in the control group. There were also 1.3 - 2.3 times more instances of "marked and severe" kidney disease. And this happened regardless of whether the rats received the lowest or the highest dose, or whether they received either the maize or the Roundup.
This tends to indicate that the doses exceed some important threshold level. Worse, the 50ng/L of glyphosate in R-formulation (that is to say, the lowest concentration of Roundup in drinking water in the tests) was a level found in some contaminated tap waters, a level of contamination which is legal in some jurisdictions, caused the same reaction as the higher levels of contamination.
Dr Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist at Kings College, London, and a member of the CRIIGEN scientific council, says:
"This is the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats. It shows an extraordinary number of tumors [sic] developing earlier and more aggressively - particularly in female animals. I am shocked by the extreme negative health impacts."
"The rat has long been used as a surrogate for human toxicity. All new pharmaceutical, agricultural and household substances are, prior to their approval, tested on rats. This is as good an indicator as we can expect that the consumption of GM maize and the herbicide Roundup, impacts seriously on human health."
And corn is contained in almost every manufactured food. Corn is ubiquitous in the food system as it is currently constituted, and practically all that corn is genetically modified maize (this does not apply to sweet corn as far as I know. Only to the maize grown for feed and industrial use).
This isn't just bad news for Monsanto, or other manufacturers of glyphosate. This throws into doubt every test done on food additives that was ended after 90 days. This study has not only dropped a bomb on GM corn, it has dropped one on the whole structure of additive approval. We have not been testing for long-term effects, and this study has demonstrated that we need to change that.

As is to be expected, there has been reaction to the study. Primarily, they seem to be centred around the statistical analysis and the sample size (ie. not enough rats). Tom Philpott, over at Mother Jones, has written a well researched piece on the burgeoning controversy:
Predictably, industry-aligned scientists are raising questions about the study, but even long-time critics like Consumers Union's Hansen have concerns. Now, Hansen stresses that the new paper is "longer and better designed than any of the industry studies," adding that the journal in question, Food and Chemical Toxicity, is "well-respected."
But the sample size—ten males and ten females per group—is simply too small to draw any conclusions, Hansen says. Moreover, he adds, the researchers used a strain of rat that is known to be highly prone to developing mammary tumors. That factor, plus the small sample size, means that the prevalence of mammary tumors found among the treated female rats could be happenstance, he said.

However, Hansen told me, while all of the individual comparisons—say, kidney dysfunction or mammary tumors between 10 females eating a certain level of GMO feed and 10 females eating non-GMO feed—are "statistically insignificant" because of sample size, taken as a whole, the results paint a troubling picture. Overall, the study made 54 comparisons between treated rats and control rats, and in all but four of them—two involving females, two involving males—the treated rats showed worse outcomes. "That's suggestive that there's something going on and there that should be further research," he said.
And, unlike me, Philpott has access to events like the press conference with study author Gilles-Eric Séralini, where he raised some of the concerns with the study design. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), said:
 he's "intrigued" by the results, but isn't convinced. "I don't want to trash" the study, he said, "but I just don't see enough there that's very persuasive to me at this point." He added: "It does suggest to me that we need longer term feeding studies with GM foodstuff, in a standardized way with the right number of animals in each group so we can pick up the changes and be confident that they exist." He stressed that using enough rats to show robust, statistically significant results would be very expensive.
The expense of a larger sample size trial seems to be the reason the French study was so small. Large sample long-term animal studies are really expensive. Small non-industry-aligned groups, like Criigen, simply don't have the necessary cash to do massive studies. But, as said above, with the results viewed together this study does paint a troubling picture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Top Twenty

Ploughman, via Wikipedia
The Royal Society has listed "The 20 Most Significant Inventions in the History of Food and Drink" this month. A group of fellows--including a Nobel winner--narrowed the field of 100 innovations down to the following twenty:

The Top 20
  1. Refrigeration
  1. Pasteurisation / sterilisation
  1. Canning
  1. The oven
  1. Irrigation
  1. Threshing  machine/combine harvester
  1. Baking
  1. Selective breeding / strains
  1. Grinding / milling
  1. The plough
  1. Fermentation
  1. The fishing net
  1. Crop rotation
  1. The pot
  1. The knife
  1. Eating utensils
  1. The cork
  1. The barrel
  1. The microwave oven
  1.  Frying
Some I might argue--like the microwave over rat-proof granariesor the amphora. After all, the amphora did manage to keep wine on board a sunken Roman ship in good shape for a thousand years (you know, until the Calypso crew opened and drank it). Some are really inarguable, like grinding/milling. After all, that helps transfer more calories than the consumption of whole grains. And cooking makes more calories available as well. And fermentation, wow! Beer AND bread!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Food Price Deflation / Inflation

Swedish farmer from Wikipedia

A report from Radobank in the Netherlands is being reported on (primarily) in the business press, suggests a rather miserable year or so ahead for consumers. As reported in the Guardian, the American drought of this summer has started off a mass cull of grain-fed stock, due to rising feed prices. This means primarily hog and beef herds are being rapidly reduced, but on can expect poultry to be next if prices continue to rise (chickens are one of the most efficient converters of grain to protein, but even they can become uneconomical if prices rise too far).
In the very short term, this liquidation means lower meat prices as farmers cut their hog herds back (hog herds can be rebuilt much quicker than cattle--six months or so as compared to a year and a half for cattle).
But even with the near term drop in prices, the long term outlook being predicted by Radobank is a 14% rise in the price of the average developed world food basket--primarily because of a rise in meat prices. Meat and dairy account for about 52% of the cost of the standard global food basket, so an increase in meat prices has a greater inflationary effect.
Nicholas Higgins, a Rabobank commodities analyst and author of the report, said: "There will be an initial glut in meat availability as people slaughter their animals to reduce their feed bills. But by next year herds will be so reduced that there won't be enough animals to meet expected demand and prices will soar."
The current liquidation has depressed pork prices, but by mid-2013, demand is expected to outstrip supply, and futures markets are already forward pricing a 31% increase for pork delivered in July 2013.
Rabobank predicts the overall price of the basket will soar to a record 243 on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) index next summer, which is well above the numbers the New England Complex Systems Institute suggest bring social unrest.It is not very likely that we will experience food riots in North America, as we have access to food alternatives--we can always switch back to staples if meat prices rise too high, so hunger is less of a factor here. But as I've said before, it's a hell of a way to test a theory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trans-Fatty Acids, An Ongoing Problem

image from Wikipedia

Trans-fatty acids (transfats or TFAs) occur in industrially hydrogenated oils--such as margarine. The process of hydrogenation (adding hydrogen atom pairs to, in this case, unsaturated fats in the presence of a catalyst) converts unsaturated fats into saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature) and TFAs. In the early 1900s, apparently half of the whale oil being harvested was treated this way to create a butter substitute similar to margarine.
That TFAs,when consumed in volumes of 5 grams a day or more, lead to an increased chance (23%) of coronary heart disease, is well established. Soft margarine contains far fewer transfats than a fully hydrogenated hard margarine, and some, like Becel, use a different technique for hydrogenation that produces very few transfats. Canada has only voluntary limits on transfat content in food, as does Europe. BMJ online is reporting:
In 2005, a large serving of French fries and nuggets, 100g of microwavable popcorn, and 100g of cake or biscuits or wafers provided more than 30g/100g of TFA in five EU countries in Eastern Europe and between 20g and 30g in eight Western European countries.

In 2009 the analysis revealed that the TFA content in French fries and nuggets had fallen substantially in all the European countries studied. But while the TFA content of popcorn, cakes and biscuits had fallen in Western European countries, this was not the case in Eastern Europe where it remained high.

The same portions still provided high TFA content of between 10g and 20g in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.  But the equivalent menu in Germany, France and the UK provided less than 2g.

Clearer food labelling is one way of curbing trans fatty acid intake, but most countries still rely on food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the TFA content of their products, the authors point out.

Only a few countries—Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Iceland—have gone down the legislative route and forced industry to limit the amount of TFA used in foods to 2% of the total fat.

But foods containing trans fats, which can comprise up to 60% of the total fat content, can still legally be sold as shop bought packaged goods, or unpackaged in restaurants and fast food outlets elsewhere in Europe, the authors emphasise.
Clearly, we still have a long way to go. And yet, somehow creating actual regulations around food safety is off the table. Maybe I'm just too old-school; food purity regulation has been a responsibility of government since, well, forever--just as the problem of food adulteration has been around forever. And it strikes me that government failing in ensuring the provision of good food is a failed government. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pushback II

It's Baaack!!! photo:

Beef Products Inc. has made a splash this past week. After the eating public decided that they didn't really want ammoniated "lean finely textured beef" in their food chain--yes, the "pink slime" issue--BPI's business took a punch to the face. After Jaime Oliver's piece on ammoniated beef ran on ABC, " the firm says that what it describes as unfair coverage caused its sales to drop by 80 per cent, forcing the closure of three of its four plants. Roughly 700 workers were laid off, and the company estimates that it is still losing $20m per month in revenue." (The Independent). So they're taking pretty much everyone who ever used the words "pink slime" to court, having filed a lawsuit asking $1.2 billion (US) in damages from ABC.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I generally assume that by the time I know anything, everyone else already knows about it. Mostly, this is born from experience. But apparently its not actually the case when it comes to corporate ownership of organic brands. the New York Times is reporting that, while a battle is raging in California about adding "genetically modified" to labelling requirements.
Prop 37 is being fought tooth and nail--or dollars to pennies--by the major "Food manufacturers" like Kraft and Dean Foods. But Many of these corporate behemoths own various organic food producers--like Kashi.
From the article:
Their opposition stands in sharp contrast to smaller, independent organic companies, which generally favor labeling products that contain genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s. And it has raised a consumer reaction on social media that has led some of the organic brands to try to distance themselves from their corporate parents.
“We want to be clear that Kashi has not made any contributions to oppose G.M.O. labeling,” the brand said in a statement issued late last month after its Facebook page was inundated with comments from consumers saying they would no longer buy its products because its corporate owner, the Kellogg Company, has put more than $600,000 into fighting the ballot initiative.
But as recently as last week, consumers were still peppering the sites of Horizon, owned by Dean Foods; the J. M. Smucker Company, which has a number of organic products, and Kashi with expressions of betrayal and disappointment. “It is unconscionable for you to be funding the effort to defeat Proposition 37,” one post said.
Yes, but those dramatic growth rates for organic brands and foods, and those nice profit margins attract corporate America's attention. If for no other reason than industrial food production has essentially plateaued, delivering steady but unimpressive profits.
This is why we're seeing a radical change in the organic food landscape. Corporate farms using external organic inputs, and having finally got a labelling system in place that allows a certain amount of chemical and non-organic components, are seeing increased profits.
Corporate America is also willing to let others do the hard work of developing new products and new markets before coming in and buying up the business for long term exploitation. The money involved is impressive, as is the money the opponents of Prop 37 are putting into the fight.
So far, opponents of Proposition 37 have committed roughly $25 million to defeat it, with the largest contributions coming from Monsanto ($4.2 million) and DuPont ($4 million), which have made big investments in genetically engineered crops.
Several food companies are not far behind. PepsiCo, Nestlé, ConAgra Foods and Coca-Cola, which owns the Odwalla and Honest Tea brands, have each put more than $1 million in the fight, while General Mills, which owns organic stalwarts like Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm as well as popular upstarts like Lärabar and Food Should Taste Good, has spent more than $900,000.
Yup. $25 million to make sure you and I don't really know what's going on with our food. You have to figure that they see the expense as worth it. Some of us might not feel quite the same way.
So if you're in California, you might want to support Prop 37. After all, this is exactly the same way we got better emission and mileage standards in cars back in the '70s. Cali passed the first laws, and eventually the federal government had to follow suit.
Outside California, you might want to shop the outer edges of the supermarket pretty much exclusively. And plant a garden, eh?

Friday, September 14, 2012

More, Please

A good friend of mine tweeted about the "Feed a chicken, milk a goat" weekend planned by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Open Farm Day is set to involve about 60 farms and as many people as they can get to come out and visit.
"Open Farm Day is a backstage pass for consumers to see, first-hand, the hard work, skill and dedication of our farmers," said Beth Densmore, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, in a news release. "It helps reconnect people to where their food is coming from."
In Nova Scotia, there are about 3,900 farms employing about 5,200 people. In 2011, the industry generated $539.7 million in farm cash receipts and $229 million in international exports. The dairy sector  was the primary revenue generator--which makes sense, because farmers produce under the Milk Marketing Board. It means we pay more for milk than people do in the US, but it also means that our farmers are paid something a lot closer to the actual cost of production. 
But things like farm visits are important. People, in my experience from doing fresh markets, want to connect with their food, their farmers, and the land.  

Alzheimer's Me

That's not cauliflower...

George Monbiot has brought to our attention that there seems to be a strong link between "junk food" consumption and Alzheimer's--now in the process of being renamed type 3 diabetes.
Even if you can detach yourself from the suffering caused by diseases arising from bad diets, you will carry the cost, as a growing proportion of the health budget will be used to address them. The cost – measured in both human suffering and money – could be far greater than we imagined. A large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer's is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it: they call it type 3 diabetes.
New Scientist carried this story on its cover on 1 September; since then I've been sitting in the library, trying to discover whether it stands up. I've now read dozens of papers on the subject, testing my cognitive powers to the limit as I've tried to get to grips with brain chemistry. Though the story is by no means complete, the evidence so far is compelling.
About 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease worldwide; current projections, based on the rate at which the population ages, suggest that this will rise to 100 million by 2050. But if, as many scientists now believe, it is caused largely by the brain's impaired response to insulin, the numbers could rise much further. In the United States, the percentage of the population with type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to obesity, has almost trebled in 30 years. If Alzheimer's, or "type 3 diabetes", goes the same way, the potential for human suffering is incalculable.
This is not about obesity, as such. This is about the ways in which we process our food.  The food we eat has been produced by, as George Monbiot says, "A scarcely regulated food industry [which] can engineer its products – loading them with fat, salt, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup – to bypass the neurological signals that would otherwise prompt people to stop eating." How are we supposed to fight that? It takes a committed government intervention to ensure that, even if it does no real good, at least our food system does no harm. Yet we have a Prime Minister in Canada who is religiously committed to removing all regulation on business.
We can resist as individuals, but we are caring for the results as a society. It would seem, therefore, that we could insist, as a society, that first we do no harm. And the funny thing is, if we did brign about the revolution in our food supply that we so desperately need, it would also serve to democratise the wealth in our food system as well. More producers sharing the pot, well, that's something we can't even imagine in Harper's Canada.
BTW, a fully referenced version of George Monbiot's The Mind Theives can be found here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Water and Food

The Stockholm International Water Institute has released a paper titled Feeding a Thirsty World: Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future.(.pdf) From the Note to the Reader:
Today, in 2012, nearly one billion people still suffer from hunger and mal- nourishment, in spite of the fact that food production has been steadily increasing on a per capita basis for decades. Producing food to feed eve- ryone well, including the 2 billion additional people expected to populate the planet by mid-century, will place greater pressure on available water and land resources.
This report provides input into the discussions at the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm, which is held under the theme of Water and Food Security... It features brief overviews of new knowledge and approaches on emerging and persistent challenges to achieve water and food security in the 21st century. Each chapter focuses on critical issues that have received less attention in the literature to date, such as: food waste, land acquisitions, gender aspects of agriculture, and early warning systems for agricultural emergencies

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More Response to the Stanford Study

I must say, I'm impressed by how fast this stuff is coming in. Here's Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate in the US, talking to Bill Moyers on her initial reactions to the Stanford study.
(from the Bill Moyers website)


Well, the responses are coming in to the Stanford study that suggested that organic foods are nutritionally no better than industrially grown ones.  Typically, they're like this one over at Alternet, talking about the other benefits organic food has, like the reduction on pesticides, or how much better it is for the land.
You can't fault this--the points are all valid. And not everyone (like me) has access to the original paper behind the paywall. Nor are all of us qualified to take on the statistical basis for the study, whether the study (particularly being a meta-study) was designed properly, or decide whether its conclusions are valid. So I said I would wait for those with the necessary academic background and standing to read the report and get back to us.
Well, Charles Benbrook, a professor of agriculture at Washington State University and former chief scientist at The Organic Center, has had a chance to read the study and has reported back. Some of his conclusions?
The team’s answer to the basic question “Is organic food more nutritious or safer?” is based on their judgment of whether published studies provide evidence of a clinically significant impact or improvement in health.  Yet few studies have been designed in a way that could isolate such impacts.
From my read of the same literature, the most significant, proven benefits of organic food and farming are: (1) a reduction in chemical-driven, epigenetic changes during fetal and childhood development, especially from pre-natal exposures to endocrine disrupting pesticides, (2) the markedly more healthy balance of omega-6 and -3 fatty acids in organic dairy products and meat, and (3) the virtual elimination of agriculture’s significant and ongoing contribution to the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently posing increasing threats to the treatment of human infectious disease.
The Stanford team’s study design precluded assessment of much of the evidence supporting these benefits, and hence their findings understate the health benefits that can follow a switch to a predominantly organic diet, organic farming methods, and the animal health-promoting practices common on organically managed livestock farms.
I'm grateful to Benbrook for providing a publicly accessible copy of his paper (in .pdf format). The problem, of course, is that the response will get no where near the coverage that the press release (not even the original paper) has received. It might, had Benbrook titled his paper something like "Organic Food Study Complete Horseshit." Not, I should note, that he says that. Although, from the  carefulacademic language he does use, he seems to be expressing pretty much that sentiment.
A team of plant and food scientists carried out a sophisticated meta-analysis of the “organic-versus-conventional food” nutrient-content literature. The team was led by Kirsten Brandt, a scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.   Their analysis was published in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences in 2011, under the title, “Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables” (Vol. 30: 177–197).
The Stanford paper cites this analysis but does not mention its findings, remark on the study’s scope and sophisticated methodology, nor acknowledge the major differences in the conclusions reached.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mrs Beeton

Ah, Mrs Beeton and her Book of Household Management. Such a delight to slip away from the everyday and let her ornate prose pull you back into a time that seems so much simpler than our own (but, to be fair, was at least as complex and distressing for those living through it).
Isabella Mary Mayson (March 12, 1836 – January 1865), universally known as Mrs Beeton, was the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and is the most famous cookery writer in British history.
Isabella was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London. Her father Benjamin Mason died when she was young and her mother Elizabeth Jerram remarried a Henry Dorling. She was sent to school in Heidelberg in Germany and afterward returned to her stepfather’s home in Epsom.
On a visit to London, she was introduced to Samuel Orchard Beeton, a publisher of books and popular magazines, whom she married on 10 July 1856.She began to write articles on cooking and household management for her husband’s publications.
In 1859–1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.
In October 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume.

I love reading the old recipes and  it bothers me sometimes that so many of the items Mrs. B takes for granted are so much more difficult for the cook to acquire today. Like wild duck and most game....
And Mrs. B's background information is so perfect. Writing about the husbandry of pigs, she writes:
But however few, or however many, young pigs there may be to the farrow, there is always one who is the dwarf of the family circle, a poor, little, shrivelled, half-starved anatomy, with a small melancholy voice, a staggering gait, a woe-begone countenance, and a thread of a tail, whose existence the complacent mother ignores, his plethoric brothers and sisters repudiate, and for whose emaciated jaws there is never a spare or supplemental teat, till one of the favoured gormandizers, overtaken by momentary oblivion, drops the lacteal fountain, and gives the little squeaking straggler the chance of a momentary mouthful. This miserable little object, which may be seen bringing up the rear of every litter, is called the Tony pig, or the Anthony; so named, it is presumed, from being the one always assigned to the Church, when tithe was taken in kind; and as St. Anthony was the patron of husbandry, his name was given in a sort of bitter derision to the starveling that constituted his dues; for whether there are ten or fifteen farrows to the litter, the Anthony is always the last of the family to come into the world.

Of course it makes sense to tithe the small runt to the church. And the  line "one of the favoured gormandizers, overtaken by momentary oblivion, drops the lacteal fountain, and gives the little squeaking straggler the chance of a momentary mouthful" just kills me. So much better than saying "the runt only gets access to a teat when one of the other piglets finishes and falls asleep." "Lacteal fountain"--so cool.
And one of the great things about the internet is how projects like this one become available. I don't think I could put enough people together from my own social circle to pursue a project like this, but with the new connectivity, you can put enough people together from wherever they are.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What I Feared Would Happen...

...seems to be happening. A recent study at Stanford University may indicate that organically produced food is no more or less nutritious than industrially produced food. I say "may" because the study is behind a paywall, making access difficult, to say the least. Most people are reacting to the press release.  But, while access to the study is restricted, the response to it is not. Everyone has piled on board, not the least of whom is Roger Cohen in the op-ed pages of the NY Times, with a piece titled The Organic Fable:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

With Recipies

From The Guardian. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

I don't talk about cooking as much as I think I should--there's always some other lunacy on the part of international food corporations or governments that sets me off. But The Guardian has a lovely piece by Felicity Cloake on fried chicken in Britain.
What I like about the piece is that Ms. Cloake has obviously done a bit of research before writing this post. From reading up on historic recipes, to testing various versions, Ms. Cloake actually give an overview of what's going on with the process of making a piece of fried chicken.

From the post:
It can't be denied that, done well, it's pretty addictive stuff: juicy meat (on the bone for maximum flavour) encased in a crisp, salty and yes, ever-so-slightly greasy crust is always going to be an attractive prospect. And while there are a few trendy food vans serving up gourmet versions, and London's first "fried chicken & beer" restaurant opens in Brixton later this month, for most of us the best way to indulge is at home. That way, you can tell exactly what lurks beneath that finger-lickin' good batter ...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"We'll Make A Killing"

A malnourished infant in Maradi, Niger. Corbis, from The Independent

From The Independent:
Glencore's director of agriculture trading, Chris Mahoney, sparked the controversy when he said: "The environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities.
"We will be able to provide the world with solutions... and that should also be good for Glencore."
Glencore announced pre-tax global profits of £1.4bn.
Because devastation is good for business. Because if you control air, water, or food, you've got your customers by the short and curlies. Fear creates an excellent climate for business--you can justify anything, any price, any change to the rules that control you.
The United Nations, aid agencies and the British Government have lined up to attack the world's largest commodities trading company, Glencore, after it described the current global food crisis and soaring world prices as a "good" business opportunity.

With the US experiencing a rerun of the drought "Dust Bowl" days of the 1930s and Russia suffering a similar food crisis that could see Vladimir Putin's government banning grain exports, the senior economist of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Concepcion Calpe, told The Independent: "Private companies like Glencore are playing a game that will make them enormous profits."
Ms Calpe said leading international politicians and banks expecting Glencore to back away from trading in potential starvation and hunger in developing nations for "ethical reasons" would be disappointed.
"This won't happen," she said. "So now is the time to change the rules and regulations about how Glencore and other multinationals such as ADM [Archer, Daniels, Midland] and Monsanto operate. They know this and have been lobbying heavily around the world to water down and halt any reform."
Fear stops us from acting in the best interests of us all. This is why fear is good for business--it makes us act the way economists think we should act: solely out of self-interest, without regard for others, for our society, or our planet. Fear is the thing we must first resist.  To quote Frank Herbert from Dune:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Action is better than fear. Action, like fear, is a choice. It is imperative that we choose wisely.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chilling methods could change meat tenderness

Chilling methods could change meat tenderness
Science Daily is reporting that  a recent study is showing that "blast chilling" of pork, ("Blast chilling is a rapid cooling of the muscles for at least 45 minutes at less than negative ten degrees Fahrenheit," said Steven Shackelford of USMARC.) leads to a tougher meat after it was removed from storage. The reason pork was used is that pigs are particularly susceptible to stress reactions on the kill line. John Barlow, in Everything But The Squeal points out that in Spain, pigs are killed using carbon monoxide, in order to minimize stress reactions. But then, Spain produces the finest ham in the world (the  jambon iberico negro), and North America produces, well, lots of cheap pork.