Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Food Security Link-straveganza

Been a busy couple of weeks--from friends in hospital to a broken tooth and trying to deal with taking four courses and agreeing to cover the volunteer coordinator at the Rainbow Kitchen for a day , I'm pretty much in full flight from reality this week.
So, as a reality check, about how many calories are you supposed to be eating in a given day?  I'm not going to mention the food pyramid--Marion Nestle's book Food Politics pretty much disabused me of thinking it has any real-world validity. What I'm talking about is the actual volume. We have a strong tendency to underestimate the caloric value of foods--as well as the volumes on our plates--so it might be worth reviewing. Thankfully I don't have to do anything other than embed this lovely short film on that exact topic (Thanks to the lovely people over at the BC Food Security Gateway for pointing me towards this in the first place).


The topic of honey laundering raised its evil little head again this week. So, also thanks to the BC Food Security Gateway, I headed over to the USP Food Fraud Database to check what adulterants are most often found in honey. There were 125 hits; one for using honey in adulterating saffron and 124 where honey had been adulterated with corn syrup, inverted syrups, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar syrups from corn, sugar cane, sugar beet, and maple syrup. That's on top of the current technique of heating honey and running it through ultra-fine filters to remove any trace of pollen from it. That way it cannot be traced to its country of origin and can be sold around the world to adulterate local honey.
When it comes to adulterating other foods, The Salt blog over at NPR is a good place to start reading. From losing your extra-virginity:
Extra-virgin olive oil is a ubiquitous ingredient in Italian recipes, religious rituals and beauty products. But many of the bottles labeled "extra-virgin olive oil" on supermarket shelves have been adulterated and shouldn't be classified as extra-virgin, says New Yorker contributor Tom Mueller.
Mueller's new book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, chronicles how resellers have added lower-priced, lower-grade oils and artificial coloring to extra-virgin olive oil, before passing the new adulterated substance along the supply chain. (One olive oil producer told Mueller that 50 percent of the olive oil sold in the United States is, in some ways, adulterated.)
The term "extra-virgin olive oil" means the olive oil has been made from crushed olives and is not refined in any way by chemical solvents or high heat.
"The legal definition simply says it has to pass certain chemical tests, and in a sensory way it has to taste and smell vaguely of fresh olives, because it's a fruit, and have no faults," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "But many of the extra-virgin olive oils on our shelves today in America don't clear [the legal definition]."
to the ongoing

Raw, sliced horse meat, served in Japan as Basashi   Via Wikipedia

 horsemeat-as-beef issue:
How did the Romanian horse meat wind up in the British spaghetti sauce? Follow its path, and you'll get a quick tutorial in the complexities of the global food trade.
Since horse meat first turned up in Irish burgers four weeks ago, the saga of horse masquerading as cow has become a pan-European scandal. Horse meat has turned up in beef tortellini in Germany; cottage pies sold at schools in Lancashire, England; and frozen lasagna in Norway, England and other countries.
Investigators seeking the source of the horseflesh say it may have come from two slaughterhouses in Romania, with perhaps a detour in Poland, before wending its way through at least six other European countries. Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities for it to have been mislabeled, repackaged or misrepresented.
Here's The Associated Press's tale of the trail:
"At least some of the horse meat originated at abattoirs in Romania, and was sent through a Cyprus-registered trader to a warehouse in the Netherlands. A French meat wholesaler, Spanghero, bought the meat from the trader, then resold it to the French frozen food processor Comigel. The resulting food was marketed in Britain and other countries under the Sweden-based Findus label as lasagna and other products containing ground beef."
 to the "hucksters [who] sometimes use Sudan red dye to amp up paprika, which in its natural state is often a demure reddish brown. Sudan red is a potent carcinogen, banned for use in food worldwide," and why
via Wikipedia

 Illinois is worried about the use of lion meat, all in all, The Salt is a pretty good source for food news.

I've talked before about Will Allen and Growing Power, the intensive farming operation centred in Milwaukee, WI that produces food year round. It's a well-thought-out integrated system that uses waste water from a tilapia pond to water plants, heat from composting material to heat the greenhouses and tilapia pond, and other such innovations. Well, from the look of things, someone else has noticed and gone large-scale commercial with many of the ideas found at Growing Power.
Farmed Here is doing much the same thing. From HuffPo:
Occupying 90,000 square feet of a formerly abandoned suburban Chicago warehouse, FarmedHere is not only the first indoor vertical farm of its kind in the nation -- it's also the largest.
Celebrating its grand opening in Bedford Park, Ill., on Friday, FarmedHere utilizes a soil-free, aquaponic process to grow organic greens that are both tastier and more sustainable than traditional farming.
Here's how it works: Plants are grown in beds stacked as much as six high by using a mineral-rich water solution which is derived from tanks of hormone-free tilapia offering up nutrients to the plants in a controlled environment that ensures optimal growing.
And, finally, Bill Gates is taking up the cause of global food security. From an article he wrote for Mashable:
The global population is on track to reach 9 billion by 2050. What are all those people going to eat? With billions of people adding more animal protein to their diets — meat consumption is expected to double by 2050 — it seems clear that arable land for raising livestock won’t be able to keep up.
That’s one reason why I’m excited about innovations taking place now in food production, which especially interests me as someone who worries about the poor getting enough to eat. 
I tasted Beyond Meat’s chicken alternative, for example, and honestly couldn’t tell it from real chicken. Beyond Eggs, an egg alternative from Hampton Creek Foods, does away with the high cholesterol content of real eggs. Lyrical has drastically reduced fat in its non-dairy cheeses. Even things like salt are getting a makeover: Nu-Tek has found a way to make potassium chloride taste like salt (and nothing but salt) with only a fraction of the sodium.
All this innovation could be great news for people concerned about health problems related to overconsumption of fat, salt and cholesterol. It’s important too in light of the environmental impacts of large-scale meat and dairy production, with livestock estimated to produce nearly 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
 Well, we survived the Mulroney/Reagan/Thatcher years, hopefully we'll survive this as well. Gates impresses me (particularly after reading his book back in the 80s) as a guy with loads of money, loads of influence, a disproportionate belief in the benefits of technology, and opinions based on talking to the first three people he meets. He's thrilled by the idea of turning plants into mock-meat with no consideration of the energy imbalance this requires. He repeats the common wisdom that the feed to meat conversion ratio is 10:1--Simon Fairlie, in Meat: A Benign Extravagance, points out that while that's reasonably true for cattle, the conversion ratio is much better for pigs and is great for poultry, and that ruminants are the best way to bring otherwise unusable land into the food chain. This also ignores the fact that animals are the simplest, most effective way of building soil. This kind of technological imperative thinking generally brings disaster, as it forgets that we are messing about with an interconnected system, and as such we need to be a lot more careful about changing parts of it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Decline and Fall of Food Audio Documentary

With thanks to who originally found this. A short audio documentary from the Scientific American website.
Duke University evolutionary biologist Greg Wray and Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Kelly Brownell, help explain the tragic downfall of food. From the North Carolina State Fair, to the diet food aisle in your local grocery store, this audio piece tells the story of calories—how they went from being our most valuable, most sought out obsession, to being a dirty word.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Garilic Smuggling in the EU

The BBC is reporting that 2 British nationals are being held in a case of garlic smuggling:
Swedish state prosecutors claim to have cracked one of Europe's more seemingly strange, if lucrative, smuggling rings.
They say two British men are believed to have made millions of euros smuggling Chinese garlic from Norway into Sweden.
The EU imposes a 9.6% duty on imported foreign garlic.
The supplies are said to have been shipped to Norway - a non-EU state where no garlic import tax is applied - and then smuggled into neighbouring Sweden and the rest of the EU by lorry, thus avoiding EU import duties.
It's not the first time garlic smuggling has made the headlines.
In December 2012, a man from west London was sentenced to six years in jail for smuggling garlic from China into the UK.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Food Security Link-straveganza

via Wikimedia Commons

Another week vanished, another Friday, and another mass of stories and comments that all fit into an overall narrative about the food system--a narrative I'm having a hard time detailing, but one that is clearly scary.

Samuel Palmer - At Hailsham, Sussex- a Storm Approaching

As to that, the Guardian website is hosting a narrated slide-show about the current state of British farming. In a word: bleak. Farmers are actually, literally, on the breadlines. Harvests have been reduced, of poor quality, or simply non-existent. Lamb prices have crashed, pasturage is so poor that sheep are not getting pregnant, and disease is causing stillbirths and spontaneous abortions. British self-sufficiency in agriculture has declined from 70% to 50%. Here on Vancouver Island, it's declined to 10%. So far the ferries haven't stopped for more than about twelve hours, so panic has been avoided. But as the power of storms increase with the rise in global temperatures, this too will change.

via Wikimedia Commons
Damian Carrington, at the Guardian, writes about how the EU was stymied this week in trying to put a short-term ban on neonicotinoids--which have been implicated in colony collapse disorder. Germany and the UK were the primary opponents:
The chemical companies that dominate the billion-dollar neonicotinoid market, Bayer and Syngenta, were relieved. Syngenta chief operating officer, John Atkin, said: "We are pleased member states did not support the EC's shamefully political proposal. Restricting the use of this vital crop protection technology will do nothing to help improve bee health."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs defended the UK's abstention: "Bee health is extremely important but decisions must be based on sound scientific evidence and rushing this through could have serious unintended consequences both for bees and for food production. We are not opposing the EU's proposals. But as we do not have the evidence yet it is impossible for us to vote either way."
But Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Stirling and who led one of the key studies showing that neonicotinoids harm bumblebees, told the Guardian: "The independent experts at EFSA spent six months studying all the evidence before concluding there was an unacceptable risk to bees. EFSA and almost everybody else – apart from the manufacturers – agree this class of pesticides were not adequately evaluated in the first place. Yet politicians choose to ignore all of this."
Yet all is not quite lost. Aljazeera is reporting:
At the end of another year of painful austerity and mouting debts, Greece's battered economy is seeing over 1,000 workers lose their jobs every day.
On the surface, many cities still looks prosperous, but the nation's deep crisis is clearly reflected in the windows of hundreds of empty shops.
More than one million Greeks are unemployed, which is one-quarter of the workforce, and the country is facing a youth unemployment rate of 58 percent.
But while many are struggling to survive in this harsh financial climate, others are returning to the land from the towns and cities that onced promised so much.
Up until a month ago, Kostas Bozas was a city banker. Now he is unemployed and has moved to his father's house in a village outside Thessaloniki, going back to his roots in search of a future.
"I come a from a steady job, and now at the age of 50 it's the right opportunity to become a farmer ... my father will teach me the things he knows from his father."
Thousands have taken the road back to farming in recent years - while the rest of the economy is in free fall, the farming sector is actually adding jobs.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hugelkultur. No, really.

wood-edged bed at Ghost Town Farm

Novella Carpenter's latest post over at Ghost Town Farm talks about the random nature of her raised bed construction. I love it--the use of whatever free materials happen to be found, being pressed into service to form beds. We're currently in a community garden, and I'm all about straight edges, and not looking sloppy so I don't tick off the neighbours. Not that anyone actually cares, it's just my mindset.
But Novella (have I told you yet to go read/buy her books?) just cheerfully tosses stuff together with a freedom I envy, making beds that are not intimidating. The random nature emphasizes that gardening isn't a one-size-fits-all process, but rather an activity that is meant to suit the gardener.
But as I'm browsing the comments, I notice one from Paula (not my life-partner Paula, a different Paula) who writes one of the best titled gardening/urban agriculture blogs around; Weeding For Godot. I am going to be eating my liver over not thinking that one up for weeks....
Regardless of my title envy, and to continue the story,  Paula mentions that Novella should be looking into hugelkultur, what with the access to all that lovely wood. I think to myself "Hugelkultur? Was is das "Hugelkultur"?" (No, really. I often think like that. I don't pretend to understand my brain, I just hope it keeps working...) And I came across this nice little video explaining the basics of hugelkultur:

So, to quote Patsy from Ab Fab; "Right. Cheers. Thanks a lot." Thanks, Paula and Novella.

"We Let Them Starve"

via right to food

Over at is an interesting interview--well, part of an interview translated from the German--with the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Zeigler. Pretty much a no-holds-barred kind of interview, Zeigler talks about his new book called , "Mass Destruction: The Geopolitics of Hunger" (the French title) or "We Let Them Starve: The Mass Destruction in The Third World" (the German title). There's no English title available yet.
Zeigler holds us all complicit in allowing starvation, particularly in the developing world. Primarily because we allow the continuance of a system that ensures starvation. Some of the translated interview from stwr:
Löpfe: [Your] book's title is "We let them starve". I am not aware that I let anyone starve.
Ziegler: That is true, but we are all accomplices. We allow multinational food corporations and speculators to decide every day who is eating and living, and who is starving and dying.
Löpfe: What should the individual do? Donate money? Eat less meat?
Ziegler: It is mainly about becoming politically active in order to put an end to the murderous activities of food speculators and multinationals. We can do so, we live in a democracy.
Löpfe: Food speculation has existed for thousands of years. What is wrong when a farmer seeks insurance against bad harvests or when a baker ensures that his supply of flour is stable?
Ziegler: Nothing. But that is not the point ... The commodities market was 'financialised'. Speculators are making billions, while millions of people starve to death.
A very provocative interview.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who Owns The Fish animated short

A nice little animation from the Center For Investigative Reporting.Who Owns the Fish? tries to recap the history of fishing, overfishing, and national boundary issues in less than six minutes.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Overwhelmed Monday Link-straveganza

via Saanich Fair website

Seriously, there is so much going on this past week. I attended the Farmer2Farmer conference at the Saanich fairgrounds, which was a great day, which I really want to talk at length about, and which left me with some hope. But that will have to wait for another post.
Pink slime--mechanically seperated lean beef that 's been treated with ammonia--is still around.
graphic via
Reuters is carrying a special report (.pdf) on Beef Product Inc.'s lawsuit against ABC, Diane Sawyer and others on their reporting of the use of "lean finely textured beef" in ground beef products like hamburgers. The suit has all the earmarks of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit, particularly with the potential damages heading north of a billion dollars.
The lawsuit, originally filed in South Dakota state court, is hinged partly on a state product-disparagement statute designed to protect farming interests. Twelve other states have similar laws - dubbed "veggie libel" measures by critics - but they have rarely been invoked.

Under the South Dakota version of the law, plaintiffs must show that defendants publicly spread information they knew to be false and stated or implied "that an agricultural food product is not safe for consumption by the public."

If BPI were to win on that claim, under the law it could be awarded triple the damages that were caused. That means that the company's claim of more than $400 million in projected lost profits could balloon to damages of more than $1.2 billion.
But you can see why they feel they have to silence criticism--BPI has gone from 4 plants and about $650 milliion (US) in revenue to 1 plant and about $130 million (US) in revenue. And, as usual, buy direct from a farmer--make sure they get whatever profit's to be made and have the security of knowing where your food comes from.

image via

NewsRx Science is reporting on the potential for urban agriculture in one of the US' most depressed cities: Detroit.

Transforming vacant urban lots into farms and community gardens could provide Detroit residents with a majority of their fruits and vegetables.
As city officials ponder proposals for urban farms, a Michigan State University study indicates that a combination of urban farms, community gardens, storage facilities and hoop houses - greenhouses used to extend the growing season - could supply local residents with more than 75 percent of their vegetables and more than 40 percent of their fruits.
The study, which appears in the current issue of The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, evaluates many aspects of the production potential of the Motor City's vacant properties, from identifying available parcels of land to addressing residents' attitudes toward blending agrarian traits with their urban lifestyles.
"What's clear from our production analysis is that even with a limited growing season, significant quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Detroiters could be grown locally," said Kathryn Colasanti, the graduate student who led the study for the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU. "And investments in produce storage facilities and hoop houses would increase this capacity substantially."

Now we just need some political will. CBC is reporting that Sudbury's city planning staff is getting onboard, but the councilors are dragging their heels.
It is just an idea at this point — and something many other cities are considering — but city Coun. André Rivest said right now his vote would be a no.
"You got houses that are worth a lot of dollars and you want to keep that,” he said.
“You start having chickens in backyards ... I sense that wouldn't be well received."
But city planner Kris Longston said Sudbury's long-range plans should focus more on urban agriculture.
You can listen to the report here.
And that's the problem, innit? Political will.In a city you have to be willing to stare down local developers--who carry a lot of political and financial weight. And the ability to scare the public with the thought that the value of our homes may decrease. Canadians have become utterly reliant on their homes as their savings accounts--and on increasing home prices fueling consumer purchases--so any threat to house prices threatens the entire myth that we currently function under. The question of just who is expected to pay inflated prices for houses when all the boomers decide to retire isn't one that gets asked--because there is no real good answer. Wealth inequity is becoming more and more pronounced in Canada, and the middle class is starting to lose people off the bottom. The Fear, as Hunter Thompson used to describe it, is starting to set in.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pandora's Lunchbox Author Interview

Regretfully, not an interview I did. Rather, Amy Goodman, the public face of Democracy Now!, interviews Melanie Warner, the author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.

If you don't want to watch the interview, I'll post the transcript below:

March 1, 2013
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue deep inside the $1-trillion-a-year "processed-food-industrial complex," we turn to look at how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most abundant, most addictive and most nutritionally inferior food in the world. And the vitamins and protein added back to this processed food? Well, you might be surprised to know where they come from. That’s the focus of a new book by longtime food reporter Melanie Warner, author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.
Melanie, welcome to Democracy Now! She’s joining us from Denver, Colorado. Vitamins, vitamin-added food. You think you go to the grocery store, and you want to get a little added punch, and you want to ensure that your kids, that your family, has added vitamins. What’s the problem with that?
MELANIE WARNER: You know, one of the things with processed food that I found while doing this book, is not only that it has an abundance of the things that Michael was talking about—salt, sugar, fat—it’s also what it’s lacking, which, it turns out, is naturally occurring nutrition, in many cases. So that’s vitamins and minerals and fiber and things like antioxidants.
So, you take something like cereal—you know, you walk down the cereal aisle, and you’re bombarded with health messages: It’s high in vitamin D, a good source of calcium, fiber, antioxidants. You see these things all over the package. And one of the things—one of the questions I asked myself when I was starting to work on this book was: Why is it nearly impossible to find a box of cereal in the cereal aisle without vitamins, added vitamins and minerals, in the ingredient list?
And it turns out, because most cereal has very little inherent nutrition. And this is in part because of processing. The processing of food is very intensive. It’s very—it’s very technical, and with cereal, can be very damaging to naturally occurring nutrients, especially vitamins and oftentimes fiber. So, what manufacturers do is they add back in vitamins. So, essentially, you see all these wonderful claims on the package, but essentially—and you look at the panel, and you’re getting 35 percent and 40 percent of your recommended daily allowance of these vitamins, but they’re essentially added in like a vitamin pill, which many people maybe are already taking in the morning.
And I was really surprised to learn where some of these vitamins come from. I never really thought about it in much detail, as probably most people don’t. But it turns out that they’re—these vitamins are not coming from the foods that contain them. Like vitamin C does not come from an orange, and vitamin A does not come from a carrot. It’s very far from that. They come from things that really aren’t actually foods. Vitamin D, for instance, was probably the most shocking. It comes from sheep grease, so actually the grease that comes from sheep wool. You have giant barges and container ships that go from Australia and New Zealand over to China, where most of—a lot of our vitamins are produced. About 50 percent of global vitamin production comes from China inside these huge factories, very industrial processes. A lot of vitamins are actually chemical processes.
[More after the jump]

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Food Security Link-straveganza

Guerrilla gardening--so much fun!

I really like this kind of approach. Forgiveness is easier than permission, after all.

In India, there seems to be a pretty clear case against Coke. From the Right to Water website:
In a number of districts of India, Coca Cola and its subsidiaries are accused of creating severe water shortages for the community by extracting large quantities of water for their factories, affecting both the quantity and quality of water. Coca Cola has the largest soft drink bottling facilities in India. Water is the primary component of the products manufactured by the company.

From the street food side of things comes a report of food carts using a parabolic solar cooker.
photo: EcoAndina
Good news from the power consumption side of things. I recall reading a Mother Earth News article about using the heat of a compost pile to cook a slow-cooker-like meal. There's also an excellent biogas article at the Ecotipping Points Project. Biogas is one of those neat ideas where you collect waste and use it while creating another, equally important product--in this case, composted materials. Power is where you find it--we've simply become addicted to using one seemingly-unlimited form or another.

Mother Earth News also has a nice little article on building a hooped bed.
via MEN
Essentially what I did over my raised beds at the community garden last year. Works well; I'm still picking fresh carrots and beets, and the couple of shallots left in the ground are already sprouting new growth.

Food Safety News is reporting on more about Honeygate:
Five people and two U.S. honey processors were charged with federal crimes last week as a result of an investigation into illegal importation of honey from China, known as “Honeygate,” led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations.
The government is alleging that Chinese honey — which can be laced with illegal and unsafe antibiotics — was misdeclared when it was imported to the United States and routed through other countries to evade more than $180 million in anti-dumping duties. HSI and Customs and Border Protection said late last week they have stepped up efforts to combat commercial fraud that directly impacts the economy and public health.
The charges come more than a year after an investigation by Food Safety News found that laboratory tests could not detect the origin of more than three quarters of honey purchased at retail locations because ultra-filtration methods remove naturally occurring pollen and make honey impossible to trace. Many in the industry say this practice contributes to honey laundering.

IPS news service is reporting:
No-till farming is a response to climate change that fits well with the needs of the Caribbean: it increases the ability to capture water, while withstanding both drought and excessive rains, says expert Theodor Friedrich, representative of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba.
The Caribbean islands are in dire need of new techniques that can ensure food security amid the threats of climate change.
“I do not see why these islands cannot produce enough for their own consumption,” Friedrich said in an interview with IPS. ”We have to produce more with less, and conservation agriculture is the basis of the strategy recommended by the FAO,” he added.
Of course, no-till farming  echoes the work done by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), who:  
was a farmer and philosopher who was born and raised on the Japanese island of Shikoku. He studied plant pathology and spent several years working as a customs inspector in Yokohama.  While working there, at the age of 25, he had an inspiration that changed his life.  He decided to quit his job, return to his home village and put his ideas into practice by applying them to agriculture.

Over the next 65 years he worked to develop a system of natural farming that demonstrated the insight he was given as a young man, believing that it could be of great benefit to the world.  He did not plow his fields, used no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers, did not flood his rice fields as farmers have done in Asia for centuries, and yet his yields equaled or surpassed the most productive farms in Japan.
 Really, I don't know what to make of this. So much of what we think we know is , well, less than accurate. The problem is figuring out which bit is more accurate than the others.... IPS is also reporting:
Canada’s police and security agencies think citizens concerned about the environment are threats to national security, and some are under surveillance, documents reveal.
The RCMP, the national police force, and Canada’s spy agency CSIS are increasingly conflating terrorism and extremism with peaceful citizens exercising their democratic rights to organise petitions, protest and question government policies, said Jeffrey Monaghan, a researcher with the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Well,  I'm concerned about the environment, but I don't really think that makes me a national security threat. Maybe a threat to the paranoid one percent, but not to the nation. It strikes me that the one percent, with their insistence that every drop of fossil fuel must be burned, that every alternative must be quashed, that the rest of us can burn and  starve and die as long as they get to stay rich beyond all hope of spending, they might be a bit more of a threat than some guy who just likes growing good food and eating it with friends. But that's the state of paranoia among the one percent.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Raj Patel and the Misanthropocene

via Wikipedia

Raj Patel tweeted out the line:
Climate change got you hating humanity? You might be living in the Misanthropocene.
I cracked up. I frequently find myself living in the Misanthropocene--just ask my kids, neighbours, friends. It's something that goes along with my (some would say appallingly naive) love for humanity. Raj was pointing out a new short essay he's written for Earth Island Journal, where he talks about similarities between earthquakes and climate change. I can relate, living in an earthquake zone that is ripe for a 9+ any day now.
I love the way he defines an earthquake as a "ideal disaster" :
Let’s run with this for a moment. An “ideal disaster” has three characteristics. First, it needs to be small enough to do something about. So the sun exploding is not an ideal disaster. It’s paralytic, too big to do anything about.
Second, an ideal disaster is one that is sufficiently far in the future to be able to mitigate. When I was growing up in England we had something called the Three Minute Warning – the time between the detection of Soviet nuclear missiles and the moment when London would be incinerated. This, too, was not ideal.
Beyond being sufficiently clear and insufficiently present, the final and unspoken quality of the ideal disaster is that it be narratable as a disaster. Before we can set about mitigating the worst, we need to be able to tell stories about what “it” is.
Climate change isn't perfect. It's really really big. It's already here. And it's really hard to get a good narrative going about it. That's why I don't actually talk that much about climate change. Instead, I talk about food security. Even without climate change, it's a big challenge. But it is one that I can tell a story about, a story that fits into my personal narrative about my life. From growing up linked to a small old-school mixed farm that I loved, to my dad buying a farm when I was about 14 (where we lived in pretty primitive conditions for years: outhouse, hauling water from the city, no running water), to my family returning to the family farm while my kids were growing up, this is the story of my life. I grew up in a caker household, so I taught myself to cook.
via Harper Collins

I read Heidi and thought of all those wonderful cheese and bread meals she and her grandfather ate. I grew up heavily influenced by hippies, back-to-the-landers, and radical politics. My life narrative seems to be all about food.
So it makes it easy for meto cast my life narrative in food security terms. Climate change, not so much. The earliest I ran into climate change was ~1974 (I think in a book about environmental issues put out by Playboy Press)--and I didn't get it. The essay about how much topsoil was disappearing from Iowan farms was the one I read. Or the over-use of water from the Ogallala Aquifer by farmers growing lettuce in the desert.
Saturated thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer
in 1997 after several decades of intensive withdrawals:
The breadth and depth of the aquifer generally decrease from north to south.
via Wikipedia

Farming is also one of those things I think we can actually do something about. I did it. I went back to the farm, learned how to grow food, and did it without pesticides, herbicides, or off-farm inputs of NPK. We raised animals without industrial methods and sold them to people who were happy to get them. We weren't perfect, but we learned.
I can't change the climate--that requires massive changes in public policy that I probably won't be able to influence (but make me dictator for a day, baby, and look out!), but I can continue to influence how people think about food and how it gets to them. Food is an "ideal disaster" for me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Freeing Women for Food Security

via Wikipedia
 Olivier de Schutter released a report on Gender and the Right to Food (pdf) on Monday. He really didn't beat around the bush:
“Sharing power with women is a shortcut to reducing hunger and malnutrition, and is the single most effective step to realizing the right to food,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, while urging world governments to adopt transformative food security strategies that address cultural constraints and redistribute roles between women and men.
“Family agriculture has become gradually feminized, with men frequently moving away from the farm in search of work. Yet the women who increasingly face the burden of sustaining farms and families are too often denied the tools to thrive and improve their situation – on and off the farm,” Mr. De Schutter stressed as he presented his report on Gender and the Right to Food to the UN Human Rights Council [March 4th] in Geneva.
The UN expert welcomed policy initiatives to empower women, such as quotas for women in Indian public works schemes, but warned that barriers to female participation in society are multiple. “Women will not benefit from female quotas in work schemes if no provision is made for childcare services,” he said. “Individual measures will not suffice – gender roles and responsibilities must be challenged holistically and systematically.”
As an immediate first step, Mr. De Schutter called for the removal of all discriminatory laws and practices that prevent women accessing farming resources such as land, inputs and credit. Meanwhile he called for women to be relieved of the burdens of care responsibilities in the home through the provision of adequate public services such as childcare, running water and electricity. Tasks such as fetching water and caring for the young and the elderly can amount to the equivalent of around 15% of GDP
“If women are allowed to have equal access to education, various pieces of the food security jigsaw will fall into place,” he explained. “Household spending on nutrition will increase, child health outcomes will improve, and social systems will be redesigned – for women, by women – to deliver support with the greatest multiplier effects.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Building Food Security in BC

The British Columbia Food System Network has released a short report on the state of food security (pdf) in British Columbia which echoes Olivier de Shutter's report on Canada (pdf).
The BCFSN  is "comprised farmers, food activists, health promoters, Indigenous peoples, academics, municipal workers, educators, labour union members and others concerned about food security in B.C., with a shared a vision for a more equitable, accessible, viable, and sustainable food system" according to their report. I haven't looked at all the groups involved, but that looks like a pretty broad swath of people all concerned about the same topic.
The report (pdf) is pretty straightforward:
Given local and global trends, food insecurity will continue to adversely affect an
increasing number of British Columbians. Over the past decade, British Columbians have
been impacted by sharp increases and instability of food and energy prices combined
with already high housing costs and several decades of stagnant wage growth.
Increasingly, many are finding it difficult to access healthy and affordable food, with food
bank use becoming far more prevalent in recent years and growing public health concern
over the increasing prevalence of diabetes and obesity.
Meanwhile, many B.C. farms producing food for local consumption are struggling to stay
afloat in a volatile market due to unpredictable weather, price competition with other
jurisdictions, and relatively higher production and property costs. While a handful of
farms in B.C. are quite profitable, many are faced with tight margins and low incomes for
owners and workers alike. As a result, there is little incentive for young potential farmers
to succeed an ageing population of B.C. farmers.
These inter-related policy issues provide compelling reasons to elevate food policy on
B.C.'s political agenda.
While BC has the 4th highest gross provincial product, we have the greatest inequity and the worst poverty rate in Canada. The reason is quite simple; over a decade of a Liberal government pursuing a neo-liberal agenda. The depressing thing is  that even the NDP interregnum  failed to make any progress in adressing this issue. We're but month's away from another NDP government (so say all the polls, at least), but my hopes aren't very high for progress. I can only hope that they surprise me.

Monday, March 4, 2013

WHO Does 20 Questions on GMOs

The World health Organization has produced a 20 question overview of the current thinking on GMOs designed for the lay reader. For 20 questions, it's pretty far ranging and comes off as pretty balanced about the issues surrounding GMOs. Here's the first two questions, the rest are at the link above or downloadable as an English pdf.

20 questions on genetically modified foods


Q1. What are genetically modified (GM) organisms and GM foods?
These questions and answers have been prepared by WHO in response to questions and concerns by a number of WHO Member State Governments with regard to the nature and safety of genetically modified food.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.
Such methods are used to create GM plants – which are then used to grow GM food crops.
Q2. Why are GM foods produced?
GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods. This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both. Initially GM seed developers wanted their products to be accepted by producers so have concentrated on innovations that farmers (and the food industry more generally) would appreciate.
The initial objective for developing plants based on GM organisms was to improve crop protection. The GM crops currently on the market are mainly aimed at an increased level of crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides.
Insect resistance is achieved by incorporating into the food plant the gene for toxin production from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). This toxin is currently used as a conventional insecticide in agriculture and is safe for human consumption. GM crops that permanently produce this toxin have been shown to require lower quantities of insecticides in specific situations, e.g. where pest pressure is high.
Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants. Virus resistance makes plants less susceptible to diseases caused by such viruses, resulting in higher crop yields.
Herbicide tolerance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from a bacterium conveying resistance to some herbicides. In situations where weed pressure is high, the use of such crops has resulted in a reduction in the quantity of the herbicides used.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Food Security Link-straveganza

The United States Department of Agriculture is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months, which would allow equine meat suitable for human consumption to be produced in the United States for the first time since 2007.
So says the article in the New York Times.
The plant, in Roswell, N.M., is owned by Valley Meat Company, which sued the U.S.D.A. and its Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall over the lack of inspection services for horses going to slaughter. Horse meat cannot be processed for human consumption in the United States without inspection by the U.S.D.A., so horses destined for that purpose have been shipped to places like Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
This makes sense. If you're going to eat something, you'd really like to know that it is what it claims to be, that it has been inspected and passed as safe from contaminants and disease, and that it has been handled in a safe manner. All of the things that the European horse/beef problems are based around.

A massive international study involving the University of Calgary warns the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees.
And as agricultural development, pesticides and viruses continue to diminish wild insect populations, crop harvest size and quality will continue to dwindle.
- See more at:
 A massive international study involving the University of Calgary warn the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees. - See more at:
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees. - See more at:

massive international study involving the University of Calgary warns the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees.
And as agricultural development, pesticides and viruses continue to diminish wild insect populations, crop harvest size and quality will continue to dwindle.
- See more at:
A massive international study involving the University of Calgary warns the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees.
And as agricultural development, pesticides and viruses continue to diminish wild insect populations, crop harvest size and quality will continue to dwindle.
- See more at:
A massive international study involving the University of Calgary warns the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees.
And as agricultural development, pesticides and viruses continue to diminish wild insect populations, crop harvest size and quality will continue to dwindle.
- See more at:
A massive international study involving the University of Calgary warns the continued loss of wild bees is hurting agriculture and food production across the globe, including fruit and seed crop harvests here in Alberta.
Researchers have collected and examined data from 600 fields in 20 different countries, including Canada, and found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees.
And as agricultural development, pesticides and viruses continue to diminish wild insect populations, crop harvest size and quality will continue to dwindle.
- See more at:
So says the Calgary Herald. But then, the news about bees has been terrible for so long, it's a wonder we haven't made the shift to soylent green yet....  I mean, just because we're destroying the bee populations is no reason to re-think our approach to industrial agriculture, is it?
The same topic in the Guardian yields the info that:
Scientists studied the pollination of more than 40 crops in 600 fields across every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops including oilseed rape, coffee, onions, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries. Furthermore, trucking in managed honeybee hives did not replace wild pollination when that was lost, but only added to the pollination that took place.
"It was astonishing; the result was so consistent and clear," said Lucas Garibaldi, at the National University in Río Negro, Argentina, who led the 46-strong scientific team. "We know wild insects are declining so we need to start focusing on them. Without such changes, the ongoing loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide."
The study was published in the journal Science. (paywall)

Cotton For My Shroud is a new documentary about the massive number of farmer suicides in India over the last few years. Baltimore is hosting a screening of the film tomorrow, so you may want to keep an eye out for it. The event description:
The documentary reveals the effect of Genetical Modified (GM) crops in India and how it has changed the landscape of Agriculture in India. The documentary highlights 5 years of footage in crisis hit Vidarbha region of India. User discretion is advised because of graphic contents.

Cotton For My Shroud received 2012 National Film Awards of India for best documentary script. National Film Awards honors exceptional movies and documentaries in India, most of them not affiliated with Bollywood film industry.The 2011 census of India confirmed the figure of more than 200,000 farmer suicides in India related to faulty policies of the administration and other social issues.

Association for India's Development (AID) along with it's partner have been working over a decade on sustainable agriculture. AID is also part of the alliance ASHA, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture. AID participated in anti Bt Brinjal campaign, a move by GM companies to push GM Brinjal into India.

Since 70% of India's population is directly related to agriculture, distress in this area has given rise to many other problems across India including slums, poverty, sex trafficking, etc.

This documentary is presented by Association for India's Development and Real Food Hopkins.

There's a character out in Iowa trying to breed a new perfect pig, according to the New York Times. Not an Enviro-pig, which was bred at Guelph, but a cross of two heritage breeds:
Carl Edgar Blake II has tried to breed the perfect pig. Fatty and smooth. Meaty and flavorful.
He crossed a Chinese swine, the Meishan, with the Russian wild boar — emulating a 19th-century German formula created when King Wilhelm I imported the fatty Meishan to breed with leaner native wild pigs in what is now the state of Baden-Württemberg. They called that one the Swabian Hall. With dark and juicy meat, it assumed a place among Europe’s finest swine.
Mr. Blake, 49, has bet that his 21st-century American version — the Iowa Swabian Hall — can be equally delectable.
The early reviews have been promising. Two years after his operation began, his pig won a heritage pork culinary contest in 2010, Cochon 555 in San Francisco.

From Science Daily:
Want to know what you are eating? DNA barcodes can be used to identify even very closely related species, finds an article published in BioMed Central's open access journal Investigative Genetics. Results from the study show that the labelling of game meat in South Africa is very poor with different species being substituted almost 80% of the time.
The idea of having to take my portable DNA scanner to the grocery store to make sure I'm getting what I pay for doesn't really thrill me.... Especially since we have systems in place that are supposed to do that already.
via The Guardian
 And finally:
A recently discovered livestock disease that can cause foetal abnormalities and stillbirth in sheep and cattle has spread to almost all of Britain, with more than 1,500 cases detected, according to government figures.
Data from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), showed Schmallenberg virus had been confirmed in livestock in all counties of England and Wales, as well as to a more limited extent in Scotland.
The virus was detected in the Netherlands and Germany in late 2011 and named after the town in North Rhine-Westphalia where it first emerged. Spread by midge bites, it tends to cause abnormalities to skulls and limbs, and can affect goats. In adult animals it causes fever, loss of appetite and reduced milk production. It was first detected in lambs in eastern England at the start of 2012.
A possible vaccine has been developed and tried out elsewhere in Europe with apparent success. Defra's Veterinary Medicines Directorate has confirmed it is considering an application for use of the Bovilis SBV vaccine, with the process near completion.
Story once again from The Guardian.