Jack Jones (who asked that his real name not be used) takes care of a small organic pear orchard for a farmer south of the San Francisco Bay Area. This spring, as the trees have begun to blossom, he’s been spraying them with a small amount of the antibiotic tetracycline to prevent a disease called fire blight.
Last year, when the perfect storm of warm, wet air first brought the bacteria to the farm, he tried removing infected branches and getting rid of cover crops, which were providing nitrogen that fed the disease. But to no avail—the disease had established itself in the trunks.
“It just devastated the orchard. We lost 80 percent of our trees in one season,” he recalls. Read more
Brahm Ahmadi spends a lot of time thinking about something most people take for granted: grocery stores.
But it hasn’t always been this way. As one of the founders of the nonprofit People’s Grocery in West Oakland—the Bay Area’s most notorious food desert—he and his colleagues started out with more affordable, less ambitious projects, like a mobile food delivery service and a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) box. But it quickly became clear—as several grocery chains tried to enter the neighborhood and failed, and residents were left relying on corner stores or taking long trips by public transportation to other neighborhoods—that the area needed a reliable, independent grocery store. Read more
If Proposition 37, California’s GMO labeling measure, gets voted down today, it will be unfortunate and frustrating for many. But it won’t happen for lack of a movement.
Last month, in a much-quoted New York Times Magazine article, Michael Pollan framed this state-level ballot initiative as an important test with national implications. If we can translate the growing consumer awareness about the value of organic and local food into a movement with real political will, he argued, then surely this ballot initiative was a reason to pull out the stops and push this burgeoning movement to its limit. Read more
By now, you know that not all meat is created equal. That familiar fable about Old MacDonald and his happy barnyard menagerie is a far cry from the cruel reality of factory farms, where cows, pigs, and chickens are crammed together in giant warehouses, fattened on grain, and pumped full of antibiotics, then rolled out to the slaughterhouse to become the next Big Mac or box of McNuggets.
In regulatory lingo, these meat factories are called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. (Pronounced “cay-fo.”) Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about them—and a few things you’d probably rather not know. Read more
It happens like clockwork; every few months, a rant against local and/or organic food appears in one of the papers of record. The author is nearly always an educated man who uses the words “elite” and “elitist” at least 175 times while defending today’s corporate food system and implying directly or indirectly that changes to the status quo—which often inherently begin with those who can afford to make them—should be seen as suspect at best, and downright damaging at worst.
The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, the latest animated short from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR)—the folks who brought you last summer’s The Price of Gas—takes a big-picture look at the web of problems associated with industrial beef production. The video hits all the most important points, but what’s most noteworthy is the actual number the reporters arrived at when calculating the hidden—or externalized—costs of the average burger: $1.51 (or $72 billion for the 48 billion burgers Americans eat every year).
On the CIR website the video’s co-reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo explains how she and co-reporter/producer Carrie Ching arrived at this number with an environmental consulting firm called Route2 Sustainability. The annotation reads:
We looked at a range of ways beef is produced and came up with an average that is close to how a cow would be raised in Fresno, Calif.: about 1 pound of greenhouse gases per ounce of beef, or about 6½ pounds of greenhouse gases per quarter-pounder. We looked at studies that showed the health costs of treating overweight people and associated illnesses, such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes—that’s about 75 cents per burger. Then we looked at how much water it takes to produce a pound of beef—that’s about 50 cents per burger. We also looked at the price of a ton of carbon—that’s remarkably small for the U.S., less than one-hundredth of a penny. But in the European Union, because it has a functioning carbon market, the price would be about a nickel per burger. Daniel Lopez Dias, the lead economist on the calculations, notes that these figures are conservative and don’t include effects from air and water pollution, effects of low wages that slaughterhouse workers receive and the high risk of injury they face, or general effects of urban sprawl.
Rita has worked for the same Missouri-based pork processing company for 13 years. And yet she feels like she could lose her job at any time. If this 49-year-old mother of four is late for work by as little as five minutes, that’s one strike. If she takes more than her allotted seven minutes to race to the bathroom and back, that’s another strike. Three strikes is all it takes.
Rita (not her real name) cuts pork on a line she says has sped up considerably in recent years. The factory has reduced its staff, but demands the same amount of work from the employees that remain. She has to move fast, with a sharp knife, on her feet, for eight to 10 hours a day. “I’ve never seen so many people with heart problems,” she said of her co-workers over the phone recently. “I think it’s because of the stress. Where there used to be four of us, now there are two people. [The managers] say, ‘You all can do this.’”
In recent years, some workers have started talking about the conditions they face and trying to organize for better ones. Whenever this has happened, the company takes two approaches, Rita tells me. They start with a small raise (most meatpacking workers make a dollar or two more than minimum wage) to calm everyone down. If that doesn’t work, they’ll start firing people. Through all this, Rita has stayed on at the plant. “There are no other jobs,” she says. Read more
If you’ve noticed more carrot-crunching, more orange-peeling, and an abundance of leafy green salads lately, it’s probably not a coincidence. As The Washington Post reported last week, Americans eat more fresh foods than they did five years ago.
The WaPo story was based on a national phone survey conducted by the Kellogg Foundation, which found that the majority of Americans are trying to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are shopping at farmers markets at least on occasion, and say they know “a lot or a little about where their fresh fruits and vegetables come from.” These findings are interesting—and they speak to the success of a whole array of efforts to get more of us cooking, examining what we eat, and honing in on the place where healthy and truly delicious foods intersect. Read more
We hear a lot about recalls these days. But last night it wasn’t ground turkey, cantaloupes, or peanut butter that was taken off the market. It was one of the most hotly contested pesticides in recent memory: methyl iodide. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Arysta Lifescience, the makers of the fumigant, announced on Tuesday evening that they’d be suspending sales of the product (also known as Midas) in all U.S. markets. Read more
Today, most of us see “local” as shorthand for fresh, delicious food that comes with a story attached—and that serves an alternative to consolidated, anonymous, commodity-based farming. But that hasn’t always been how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sees it.
USDA is known for creating, subsidizing, and promoting industrial agriculture. So the agency’s effort to dip its toes into the local food movement in 2009 with its Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program (KYF2) raised eyebrows and questions. Could USDA really help create a thriving bottom-up food system? Or would it spread the term local, and the ethos behind it, so thin as to make it meaningless? Read more