It’s not easy to change the culture of the institution you work for, but that’s precisely what Dr. Joe Leonard, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hopes to do every day, a little bit at a time.

If you didn’t know the USDA had a secretary of civil rights, you’re probably not alone. But at a time when Black farmers make up less than 2 percent of U.S. agriculture, and the sector is still recovering from generations of documented discrimination against Black and Native American farmers, the fact that few lay-people are aware of his work doesn’t appear to be slowing Leonard down. Read more

It’s one of the great ironies of the holiday season: Many of us donate food this time of year, but it’s not usually the type of food that improves the diets of food-insecure folks.

Patrick O’Neill, the founder of a new crowdfunding site called Amp Your Good, estimates that upwards of 75 million people make donations to food drives around the country every year. “All those people are well-intentioned,” he says.But it’s often the wrong kind of food.” Think boxed macaroni and cheese, canned fruit in heavy syrup, and other canned and processed options. Read more

I have a friend who likes to ask: “Do you want to talk about it? Or be about it?”

For years, whenever author and New York Times food systems columnist Mark Bittman was considering his next move, he’d ask himself a similar question. After writing and talking about the nation’s most pressing food system problems, demystifying home cooking, and proselytizing about the benefits of eating more plant-based foods, he decided to get up from his desk and start doing more to help engage people in solutions. Read more

Since Sam Kass left his position as assistant White House chef and executive director of the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign late last year, he has had no shortage of things to do. For one, he’s preparing to join the NBC News team as a senior food analyst. But first, Kass is planning some very important meals.

This December, 25,000 delegates from 190 nations will be meeting in Paris for the United Nation’s Conference of Parties or COP 21. The goal is to ensure every nation takes action to keep the average global temperature increase below 2 degrees centigrade by achieving a “binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.” Read more

Many in the food world were shocked by this week’s announcement of the sale of Niman Ranch to poultry giant Perdue. As one of the go-to brands behind Chipotle’s antibiotic-free pledge, and a relatively accessible alternative to industrially-produced meat, Niman Ranch has carved out an important niche in a market where demand for antibiotic-free and humanely produced foods are steadily on the rise. Read more

Not every writer can speak to both seasoned experts and curious newcomers, but that is precisely what Barry Estabrook can do well. In his 2011 book, Tomatoland, Estabrook took a deep dive in the modern tomato industry, shining a light on labor abuse in Florida, and the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. In addition to telling a riveting and complex story full of pesticides poisoning, escape from slavery, and tense court cases, Estabrook helped bring attention to one of the most important American labor struggles of the last few decades. Read more

Do you ever wonder why so much organic food also carries animal welfare labels?

The short answer is that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards are very precise about pesticides and other growing practices for the crops people and animals eat, it doesn’t include very many specific instructions about the way the animals themselves are raised. Read more

In the 2009 documentary Objectified, former New York Times magazine columnist and branding guru Rob Walker said something especially cogent.

“If I had a billion dollars to fund a marketing campaign,” said Walker, “I would launch a campaign on behalf of things you already own.” The idea, he went on to explain in OnEarth magazine, would be to shift consumer attitudes regarding the value of “newness.” Read more