Tag Archives: Food

Exposing Abuse on the Factory Farm

by The Editorial Board

chickenfarm

While most Americans enjoy eating meat, it is hard to stomach the often sadistic treatment of factory-farmed cows, pigs and chickens.

Farm operators know this, and they go to great lengths to hide these gruesome images from the public. A popular tactic pushed lately by the agriculture lobby is the so-called ag-gag law, which makes it a crime to secretly videotape industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses for the purpose of exposing animal mistreatment and abuse.

These laws, on the books in seven states, purport to be about the protection of private property, but they are nothing more than government-sanctioned censorship of a matter of public interest.

On Aug. 3, a federal judge struck down Idaho’s ag-gag law for violating the First Amendment — the first time a court has ruled on such a statute.

Idaho lawmakers passed the bill last year in response to the release of undercover videos taken by Mercy for Animals, an animal-welfare group, at local factory farms. According to the judge’s decision, one showed farm workers “using a moving tractor to drag a cow on the floor by a chain attached to her neck and workers repeatedly beating, kicking and jumping on cows.”

The law’s sponsor complained that the videos exposed the industry to “the court of public opinion,” as though that were a bad thing in a free-market society.

Under the law, a violator, whether a journalist or farm employee, faces up to a year in jail and fines of double the “economic loss” a farm suffers as a result of its abusive practices being made public.

But “food production is not a private matter,” Federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in striking down the law. The activists’ undercover methods, he reasoned, “actually advance core First Amendment values by exposing misconduct to the public eye and facilitating dialogue on issues of considerable public interest.”

The judge pointed to the value of undercover investigations on programs like “60 Minutes,” and to one of the earliest and most famous examples of this sort of exposé: “The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair, who lied to get a job at a Chicago meatpacking plant. The horrors he documented led to major federal food-safety legislation. Under Idaho’s law, Judge Winmill wrote, “Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution.” As for the state’s interest in protecting private property and business, the judge pointed to existing laws against trespass, fraud and defamation, which do not trample free speech.

In a country that lavishes love and legal protections on house pets, factory-farmed animals are left out in the cold, exempt from almost all animal-cruelty laws. As a result they suffer torture and other mistreatment to a degree that is hard to imagine. The only way to make it stop is to ensure that Americans can see for themselves what goes on behind the factory doors.

The New York Times / Sunday Review / Published: August 8, 2015
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Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World?

by Mark Bittman

The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact. And industrial agriculture isn’t working perfectly, either: the global food price index is at a record high, and our agricultural system is wreaking havoc with the health not only of humans but of the earth. There are around a billion undernourished people; we can also thank the current system for the billion who are overweight or obese.

Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.

On Tuesday, Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report entitled “Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.” (Agro-ecology, he said in a telephone interview last Friday, has “lots” in common with both “sustainable” and “organic.”) Chief among de Schutter’s recommendations is this: “Agriculture should be fundamentally redirected towards modes of production that are more environmentally sustainable and socially just.” (To access a press release about the launch of the report, click here (pdf). To read the full report click here (pdf).)

Agro-ecology, he said, immediately helps “small farmers who must be able to farm in ways that are less expensive and more productive. But it benefits all of us, because it decelerates global warming and ecological destruction.” Further, by decentralizing production, floods in Southeast Asia, for example, might not mean huge shortfalls in the world’s rice crop; smaller scale farming makes the system less susceptible to climate shocks. (Calling it a system is a convention; it’s actually quite anarchic, what with all these starving and overweight people canceling each other out.)

Industrial (or “conventional”) agriculture requires a great deal of resources, including disproportionate amounts of water and the fossil fuel that’s needed to make chemical fertilizer, mechanize working the land and its crops, running irrigation sources, heat buildings and crop dryers and, of course, transportation. This means it needs more in the way of resources than the earth can replenish. (Fun/depressing fact: It takes the earth 18 months to replenish the amount of resources we use each year. Looked at another way, we’d need 1.5 earths to be sustainable at our current rate of consumption.)

Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual — much research remains to be done — and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization. Many adherents rule out nothing, including in their recommendations even GMOs and chemical fertilizers where justifiable. Meanwhile, those working towards improving conventional agriculture are borrowing more from organic methods. (Many of these hybrid systems were discussed convincingly in Andrew Revkin’s DotEarth blog last week.)

Currently, however, it’s difficult to see progress in a country where, for example, nearly 90 percent of the corn crop is used for either ethanol (40 percent) or animal feed (50 percent). And most of the diehard adherents of industrial agriculture — sadly, this usually includes Congress, which largely ignores these issues — act as if we’ll somehow “fix” global warming and the resulting climate change. (The small percentage of climate-change deniers are still arguing with Copernicus.) Their assumption is that by increasing supply, we’ll eventually figure out how to feed everyone on earth, even though we don’t do that now, our population is going to be nine billion by 2050, and more supply of the wrong things — oil, corn, beef — only worsens things. Many seem to naively believe that we won’t run out of the resources we need to keep this system going.

There is more than a bit of silver-bullet thinking here. Yet anyone who opens his or her eyes sees a natural world so threatened by industrial agriculture that it’s tempting to drop off the grid and raise a few chickens.

To back up and state some obvious goals: We need a global perspective, the (moral) recognition that food is a basic right and the (practical) one that sustainability is a high priority. We want to reduce and repair environmental damage, cut back on the production and consumption of resource-intensive food, increase efficiency and do something about waste. (Some estimate that 50 percent of all food is wasted.) A sensible and nutritious diet for everyone is essential; many people will eat better, and others may eat fewer animal products, which is also a eating better.

De Schutter and others who agree with the goals of the previous paragraph say that sustainable agriculture should be the immediate choice for underdeveloped countries, and that even developed countries should take only the best aspects of conventional agriculture along on a ride that leaves all but the best of its methods behind. Just last month, the U.K.’s government office for science published “The Future of Food and Farming,” which is both damning of the current resource-intensive system (though it is decidedly pro-GMO) and encouraging of sustainable, and which led de Schutter to say that studies demonstrate that sustainable agriculture can more than double yields in just a few years.

No one knows how many people can be fed this way, but a number of experts and studies — including those from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the University of Michigan and Worldwatch — seem to be lining up to suggest that sustainable agriculture is a system more people should choose. For developing nations, especially those in Africa, the shift from high- to low-tech farming can happen quickly, said de Schutter: “It’s easiest to make the transition in places that still have a direction to take.” But, he added, although “in developed regions the shift away from industrial mode will be difficult to achieve,” ultimately even those countries most “addicted” to chemical fertilizers must change.

“We have to move towards sustainable production,” he said. “We cannot depend on the gas fields of Russia or the oil fields of the Middle East, and we cannot continue to destroy the environment and accelerate climate change. We must adopt the most efficient farming techniques available.”

And those, he and others emphasize, are not industrial but sustainable.

The New Times / The Opinion Pages / Published: March 8, 2011

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The Plate Project: Provocateurs


What We’ll Be Eating in 35 Years:
Food & Wine asked some of the most original thinkers we know to sketch out their predictions on paper plates. The results are beautiful, inspiring and provocative.

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Dirty Dishes

by Gail Simmons, F&W Special Projects Expert and Top Chef Judge

“In 2013 we are just beginning to understand the profound connection between the food we eat and the earth we inhabit, but the notion has still not taken root universally. By 2048, I hope we will see this as no longer a voluntary lifestyle choice but a fundamental responsibility. If we continue to impose ourselves on the land, it may just bite back. If we learn to adapt, life will taste a whole lot sweeter.”

theplateproject_2

No More Waste

by José Andrés, Chef

“The average person eats at least three meals a day, which represents 1,095 paper plates a year. The US wastes approximately 749 pounds of paper a year—per person. Each ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 682,50 gallons of oil and 3.3 cubic feet of landfill space. One tree provides enough oxygen to support three people. The US throws away 40 million tons of paper that could have been recycled every year. The food of tomorrow is today’s sustainability.”

theplateproject_3

Improved Fisherman’s Special

by Paul Greenberg, Author

“The American seafood diet exploits declining wild fish and promotes industrial fish farms. Both practices hurt the ocean. My plate does the reverse: Farmed shellfish clean waterways; kelp clears our coasts of harmful nitrogen, providing protein in the process. Peruvian anchoveta, normally wasted as salmon feed, feed us omega-3s instead.”
fourfish.org

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Pharm to Table

by AvroKo, Architects and Designers

“Everyone knows food is the ultimate addiction. In our playful—and somewhat tongue-in-cheek—vision of the future, we’ve cut out the middleman and imagined a world where food and drink take a quicker and more direct route to the pleasure centers. Don’t forget to eat your garnish!”
avroko.com

theplateproject_5

Our Changing World

by J. Kenji López-Alt, Blogger

“The two things I’ll miss most in the future? Good fresh, wild fish. (Farmed fish just ain’t the same.) And Twinkies. (Little Debbie Cloud Cakes just ain’t the same).”
seriouseats.com

theplateproject_6

Food of the Future for the 1%

by Anthony Bourdain, Chef, Author and TV Host

[Photos © Antonis Achilleos]

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Va La

This little vineyard of family farmed wines in Avondale, PA is brilliant. A little bit of everything local (from dips to wood fired pizza, olive oils and chocolate wine truffles, and of course, wine), delicious (all of the above), and beautiful.

A little slice of perfection // 8822 Gap Newport Pike

As the name beckons, seriously, go there.

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From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can

by Tara Parker-Pope

How much food does your family waste?

A lot, if you are typical. By most estimates, a quarter to half of all food produced in the United States goes uneaten — left in fields, spoiled in transport, thrown out at the grocery store, scraped into the garbage or forgotten until it spoils.

A study in Tompkins County, N.Y., showed that 40 percent of food waste occurred in the home. Another study, by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, found that 93 percent of respondents acknowledged buying foods they never used.

And worries about food safety prompt many of us to throw away perfectly good food. In a study at Oregon State University, consumers were shown three samples of iceberg lettuce, two of them with varying degrees of light brown on the edges and at the base. Although all three were edible, and the brown edges easily cut away, 40 percent of respondents said they would serve only the pristine lettuce.

In his new book “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food” (Da Capo Press), Jonathan Bloom makes the case that curbing food waste isn’t just about cleaning your plate.

“The bad news is that we’re extremely wasteful,” Mr. Bloom said in an interview. “The positive side of it is that we have a real role to play here, and we can effect change. If we all reduce food waste in our homes, we’ll have a significant impact.”

Why should we care about food waste? For starters, it’s expensive. Citing various studies, including one at the University of Arizona called the Garbage Project that tracked home food waste for three decades, Mr. Bloom estimates that as much as 25 percent of the food we bring into our homes is wasted. So a family of four that spends $175 a week on groceries squanders more than $40 worth of food each week and $2,275 a year.

And from a health standpoint, allowing fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to spoil in our refrigerators increases the likelihood that we will turn to less healthful processed foods or restaurant meals. Wasted food also takes an environmental toll. Food scraps make up about 19 percent of the waste dumped in landfills, where it ends up rotting and producing methane, a greenhouse gas.

A major culprit, Mr. Bloom says, is refrigerator clutter. Fresh foods and leftovers languish on crowded shelves and eventually go bad. Mr. Bloom tells the story of discovering basil, mint and a red onion hiding in the fridge of a friend who had just bought all three, forgetting he already had them.

“It gets frustrating when you forget about something and discover it two weeks later,” Mr. Bloom said. “So many people these days have these massive refrigerators, and there is this sense that we need to keep them well stocked. But there’s no way you can eat all that food before it goes bad.”

Then there are chilling and food-storage problems. The ideal refrigerator temperature is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should be zero degrees, says Mark Connelly, deputy technical director for Consumer Reports, which recently conducted extensive testing on a variety of refrigerators. The magazine found that most but not all newer models had good temperature control, although models with digital temperature settings typically were the best.

Vegetables keep best in crisper drawers with separate humidity controls.

If food seems to be spoiling quickly in your refrigerator, check to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s care instructions. Look behind the fridge to see if coils have become caked with dust, dirt or pet hair, which can interfere with performance.

“One of the pieces of advice we give is to go to a hardware store and buy a relatively inexpensive thermometer,” Mr. Connelly said. “Put it in the refrigerator to check the temperature to make sure it’s cold enough.”

There’s an even easier way: check the ice cream. If it feels soft, that means the temperature is at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit and you need to lower the setting. And if you’re investing in a new model, don’t just think about space and style, but focus on the refrigerator that has the best sight lines, so you can see what you’re storing. Bottom-freezer units put fresh foods at eye level, lowering the chance that they will be forgotten and left to spoil.

Mr. Bloom also suggests “making friends with your freezer,” using it to store fresh foods that would otherwise spoil before you have time to eat them.

Or invest in special produce containers with top vents and bottom strainers to keep food fresh. Buy whole heads of lettuce, which stay fresher longer, or add a paper towel to the bottom of bagged lettuce and vegetables to absorb liquids. Finally, plan out meals and create detailed shopping lists so you don’t buy more food than you can eat.

Don’t be afraid of brown spots or mushy parts that can easily be cut away.

“Consumers want perfect foods,” said Shirley Van Garde, the now-retired co-author of the Oregon State study. “They have real difficulty trying to tell the difference in quality changes and safety spoilage. With lettuce, take off a couple of leaves, you can do some cutting and the rest of it is still usable.”

And if you do decide to throw away food, give it a second look, Mr. Bloom advises. “The common attitude is ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’” he said. “But I try to give the food the benefit of the doubt.”

The New York Times / Well / Published: November 1, 2010

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The Scales Fall

by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is shaped like a child’s idea of a fish, with a pointy snout, two dorsal fins, and a rounded belly that gradually tapers toward the back. It is gunmetal blue on top, and silvery on the underside, and its tail looks like a sickle. The Atlantic bluefin is one of the fastest swimmers in the sea, reaching speeds of fifty-five miles an hour. This is an achievement that scientists have sought to understand but have never quite mastered; a robo-tuna, built by a team of engineers at M.I.T., was unable to outswim a real one. (The word “tuna” is derived from the Greek thuno, meaning “to rush.”) Atlantic bluefins are voracious carnivores—they feed on squid, crustaceans, and other fish—and can grow to be fifteen feet long.

At one time, Atlantic bluefins were common from the coast of Maine to the Black Sea, and from Norway to Brazil. In the Mediterranean, they have been prized for millennia—in an ode from the second century, the poet Oppian describes the Romans catching bluefins in “nets arranged like a city”—but they are unusually bloody fish, and in most of the rest of the world there was little market for them. (Among English speakers, they were long known as “horse mackerel.”) As recently as the late nineteen-sixties, bluefin in the United States sold for only a few pennies a pound, if there were any buyers, and frequently ended up being ground into cat food. Then, in the nineteen-seventies, the Japanese developed a taste for sushi made with bluefin, or hon-maguro. This new preference, it’s been hypothesized, arose from their exposure, following the Second World War, to American-style fatty foods. The taste for hon-maguro was, in turn, imported back to the U.S. Soon, fishing for bluefin became so lucrative that the sale of a single animal could feed a family for a year. (Earlier this year, a five-hundred-pound Pacific bluefin went for an astonishing three hundred and forty dollars a pound at a Tokyo fish auction.) First, the big bluefins were fished out, then the smaller ones, too, became hard to find. Tuna “ranching,” a practice by which the fish are herded into huge circular nets and fattened up before slaughter, was for a time seen as a solution until it was shown to be part of the problem: as fewer bluefins were allowed to reach spawning age, there were fewer and fewer new fish to fatten.

Bluefin catches are managed—the word is used here loosely—by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The commission, known by the acronym ICCAT—pronounced “eye-cat”—is based in Madrid, and its members include the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Brazil. In 2008, ICCAT scientists recommended that the bluefin catch in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean be limited to between eighty-five hundred and fifteen thousand tons. ICCAT instead adopted a quota of twenty-two thousand tons. That same year, a panel of independent reviewers, hired by the commission to assess its performance, observed that ICCAT “is widely regarded as an international disgrace.” (Carl Safina, the noted marine conservationist, has nicknamed the group the International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tunas.) By most estimates, bluefin stocks have fallen by eighty per cent in the past forty years. According to other assessments, the situation is even grimmer. Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation at England’s University of York, has calculated that there is now only one bluefin left for every fifty that were swimming in the Atlantic in 1940.

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Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

by Hendrik Herzberg

The Disney Channel showed “Ratatouille” last night, as if in rebuke to the New York City Health Department’s recent decision to humiliate restaurants that value taste over tidiness by forcing them to post letter grades evaluating them for cleanliness—a fine quality no doubt, but one whose traditional place next to godliness might be better occupied by gastronomy.

What with so many awful things happening as we sink into the twenty-tens (global heating, murderous fundamentalisms, chronic warfare, Tea Partisanship, poisoned oceans, media “platforms” that function as scaffolds for journalism), that delicious movie is a reminder of one of the consolations of twenty-first-century American life: the ever-expanding culture of good food and good cooking.

Foodism, as it might be called, won’t cure any global disasters, and its direct beneficiaries are mostly the relatively privileged and comparatively well-educated—the sort of people who shop at Whole Foods, support farmers’ markets, and patronize restaurants that have “executive chefs.” But the benefits have trickled down, as a visit to any midrange chain supermarket will confirm. Compared to the Grand Unions and A&P’s of a generation or two ago, the ShopRites and Safeways of today are a gourmet’s paradise. And at McDonald’s you can now get a salad with that. Let us count our blessings while we can.

By the way, I don’t actually object to the Health Department’s move. Yes, Homo sapiens and Rattus norvegicus have lived together for a long time, and if we ever succeed in getting rid of them entirely we might discover to our regret that in some unforeseen way they had been a vital link in the ecology of urban life. Nevertheless, and “Ratatouille” notwithstanding, it’s probably a good idea to discourage rodents from frequenting restaurant kitchens. Cleanliness in general is a good thing, too, as long as it’s not taken to extremes. (If it weren’t for “germs,” i.e., bacteria, we wouldn’t have cheese.) The evidence is clear: in Los Angeles, which has been rating restaurants for cleanliness since 1998, substantially fewer people end up in the hospital after a nice dinner out.

Like Mayor Bloomberg’s trans-fats bans, smoking bans, and posted calorie counts, awarding A’s, B’s, and C’s for hygiene is an emanation of the liberal Nanny State so scorned by libertarians and conservatives—who, it seems, would prefer a Neglectful/Abusive Parent State and a Tyrannical Stepfather State, respectively. Don’t they know that nanny knows best, and is nicer besides? If the candidates in the next mayoral election are Mary Poppins (Dem.-W.F.P.), Pap Finn (Libertarian), and Mr. Murdstone (Rep.-Cons.), I’m voting for the carpetbagger with the umbrella. Spit spot! ♦

The New Yorker / Good Stuff / Published: July 13, 2010

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