Sunday, September 13, 2009

Food News Round-Up: September 12, 2009

Biddy Martin: UW invites you to sift, winnow on food this fall
First-year UW-Madison students received copies of this year's choice, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." The author, Michael Pollan, is best known for his perspectives on a safe, healthy food supply and for his criticisms of food production methods in the U.S. and around the world. In his book, Pollan explains what he believes to be problems with the "Western diet" and the "nutritionism" or food science that supports it.
This book was chosen because it raises issues of interest to faculty, staff, students and community members from a variety of backgrounds. The issues are of particular importance in Wisconsin, where the economic impact of agriculture is almost $60 billion a year.

A lot meant by an allotment
It is almost 70 years since the nation was encouraged to use every available piece of land to Dig For Victory. It’s now high time the Government repeated that green-fingered campaign in a bid to ensure there’s enough food on our plates, argues AM Leanne Wood.

Regenerative Agriculture: The Transition.
In the face of peak oil and in order to curb carbon emissions, methods of farming that depend less on oil and natural gas, respectively to run machinery and to make synthetic fertilizers, must be sought. Such options are to be found within the framework of regenerative agriculture, but the transition from current industrialised agriculture to these alternative strategies will prove testing.

Plans for White House farmers' market move forward
The quiet revolution spreading steadily across the US in the way Americans produce and consume food is about to acquire a powerful endorsement in the form of a farmers' market planned for one of the better-known corners of the capital. It will be sited a block away on the north side of a large white house and will have the backing of its occupier, one Michelle Obama.

Michael Pollan: People Are Finally Talking About Food, and You Can Thank Wendell Berry for That
Certainly these are heady days for people who have been working to reform the way Americans grow food and feed themselves -- the "food movement," as it is now often called. Markets for alternative kinds of food -- local and organic and pastured -- are thriving, farmers' markets are popping up like mushrooms and for the first time in many years the number of farms tallied in the Department of Agriculture's census has gone up rather than down. The new secretary of agriculture has dedicated his department to "sustainability" and holds meetings with the sorts of farmers and activists who not many years ago stood outside the limestone walls of the USDA holding signs of protest and snarling traffic with their tractors.

Big Food vs. Big Insurance
The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about putting a farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea of taxing soda.
But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet.

The way we eat is trashing the fragile conditions that make human life possible
Producing and distributing lots and lots of calories, leveraged by fossil fuel and synthetic fertilizers and poisons, may solve certain short-term problems; but the practice also creates long-term ones that won’t be easily solved.

In June, a study emerged showing that so-called inert ingredients in Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used flagship herbicide, can kill human cells even at low levels—“particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells,” reports Scientific American. This is an herbicide that’s used on virtually all of our nation’s corn and soy fields, covering tens of millions of acres of cropland. (It’s also widely used by landscapers and on home lawns.)

Feeding the future: Saving agricultural biodiversity
(CNN) -- When the chips are down, the world may one day owe a debt of gratitude to a group of potato farmers high up in the mountains of Peru.

Thanks to a new $116 million global fund established this summer, the Quechua Indians are being paid to maintain their diverse collection of rare potatoes and ensure that they will be available to help the world adapt to future climate change.

Lush Land Dries Up, Withering Kenya's Hopes
A devastating drought is sweeping across Kenya, killing livestock, crops and children. It is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.

The twin hearts of Kenya’s economy, agriculture and tourism, are especially imperiled. The fabled game animals that safari-goers fly thousands of miles to see are keeling over from hunger and the picturesque savanna is now littered with an unusually large number of sun-bleached bones.


The Ultimate in Eating Local: My Adventures in Urban Foraging
Rabins is another breed, and an older one -- he doesn't grow food, he finds it, and he does so mostly around the city of San Francisco and its neighboring towns and shores. He's also among a growing band of urban foragers who have been sprouting through sidewalk cracks all across the country as the economy tightens belts and the local-foods movement gains popularity. And thanks to Rabins, I got to spend a day seeing what's it's like to start looking at your neighborhood as a potential meal.

Warming turns global poor's staple into poison
SYDNEY: Cassava - the staple of 750 million impoverished people in Africa, Asia and Latin America - is turning more toxic with much smaller yields, thanks to global warming and carbon levels.

Monash University researcher Ros Gleadow and her team tested cassava and sorghum under a series of climate change scenarios to study the effect on plant nutritional quality and yield.

India food prices surging on poor monsoon
New Delhi: Indian food prices surged nearly 15% in the year ended August as a poor monsoon hit crops, but analysts said moderate price pressures elsewhere in the economy meant an interest rate rise was unlikely for now.

The annual change in the overall wholesale price index was negative on 29 August for a 13th week, although a return to inflation looked imminent in September as the effect of last year’s high fuel and commodity prices fade out of calculations.


The Food Wars
Neither the recent global food shortages nor the impending world energy crisis will be unfamiliar to readers, yet the link between the two has only recently been discussed.

Walden Bello, renowned activist, academic and voice of the global South, situates the origins of the current food crisis within the neo-liberal reforms occurring on a global scale, describing the marginalization of the peasantry by global systems of production and distribution that service mainly the world’s middle class and elite.

When Cocaine and Monsanto's Pesticide Collide, the War on Drugs Becomes a Genetically-Modified War on Science
At the intersection of cocaine and Roundup in rural South America, Monsanto and the U.S. government are struggling to keep up appearances. That's becoming more and more difficult as the unanticipated hazards of genetic modification become clearer.

Back in April, Argentinean embryologist Andrés Carrasco gave an interview with a Buenos Aires newspaper describing his recent findings suggesting the chemical glyphosate, a chemical herbicide widely used in agriculture as well as in U.S. anti-narcotic efforts, could cause defects in fetuses in much smaller doses than those to which peasants and farmers in his country were already being exposed. Loud calls for a ban on the substance were issued by Argentinean environmental lawyers, and the country's Ministry of Defense banned the planting of glyphosate-resistant soya crops in its fields:

Cornucopia Blues
When in 2003 famine pushed 14 million Ethiopians to the brink of starvation, it did so despite the fact that Ethiopian farmers had recently reaped a series of unprecedented bumper harvests . . . Drought was the proximate cause of the 2003 famine, but the true culprit, as Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman make clear in Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, were the policies known as "structural adjustment" that Western governments--under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank--have forced on Africa since the 1980s.

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