Following on the heels of pink slime, mad cow disease (AKA bovine spongiform encephalopathy—or BSE) is back this week after a California dairy cow destined for a rendering plant that makes pet food was found to have the disease. So far, it looks like the beef industry is playing down the finding, hoping to dodge a loss in sales at home and abroad. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was quick to tell Americans that our food supply is entirely safe.
But the re-emergence of mad cow and the conversation around pink slime has re-opened questions about our food system. It has exposed how food safety falls inevitably through the cracks in a country where over 9 billion animals are being slaughtered per year and budgets for the departments that oversee these processes are being slashed. The incredible media coverage of both issues reflects a growing consumer interest in more transparency in what we’re eating and how it’s being produced.
While this is only the fourth case of mad cow in the U.S. to date, experts argue that finding it this time was a stroke of luck. Of the 34 million cows we slaughter annually in the U.S., 40,000 are being tested by USDA for the disease, down from nearly 500,000 in 2005—about one tenth of one percent. Read More
A new coalition is trying to throw sand in the gears of industrial agriculture’s chemical treadmill. And this one just may have what it takes to slow it down. I’m referring to the fight over USDA approval for Dow AgroScience’s new genetically modified corn seeds (brand name “Enlist”), which are resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D.
This is part of biotech’s “superweed” strategy, by which they hope to address the fact that farmers across the country are facing an onslaught of weeds impervious to the most popular herbicide in use, Monsanto’s glyphosate or RoundUp (and in some cases impervious to machetes as well!). Of course, this is a problem of the industry’s own making. It was overuse of glyphosate caused by the market dominance of Monsanto’s set of glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered seeds that put farmers in this fix in the first place. Read More
We all know that “Every Day is Earth Day” and many environmentalists feel that their eating habits are their daily affirmation of a commitment to the planet. But what does it look like to take action for the environment, beyond the fork? There are many options, of course, but one particularly inspirational tactic manifested this past Earth Day in Albany, CA.
On April 22, a week after the International Day of Peasant Struggle, hundreds of Bay Area food sovereignty activists and community members broke the locks on a huge piece of urban agricultural land, tore up mustard weeds, and planted veggies. “Occupy the Farm” was organized as an occupy-style protest, including tent encampments and a “farmers assembly,” but with one very meaningful difference: This act of “moral obedience” (AKA civil disobedience) was the direct outgrowth of years of neighborhood organizing around the piece of land in question. Read More
I grew up planting pumpkins in the backyard with my mom and dad. With names like “Big Max,” “Atlantic Giant,” and “King Jack,” I always hoped come fall I might end up like James and the Giant Peach. Each spring I would eagerly plant my seeds, carefully cover them with soil, and do my best to nurse them through the sweltering Nebraska summers. Evil squash bugs and ever-looming drought aside, I usually ended up with at least one pumpkin that weighed more than I did.
Even though soccer practices (and later, girlfriends) kept me away from the garden for a few years, I’ve always had that experience to show me the importance of growing food. Whether it was the magic of a tiny seed growing into something so huge (unfortunately, never like James’ peach) or the extra responsibility I felt for caring for another living thing, I understood that this was something essential. However, it wasn’t until I traveled over 12,000 miles across the country for my film, Growing Cities, that I realized how lucky I was. Read More
When modern living encroaches on pastoral land, open space and local food access aren’t the only things at stake. What happens to the generations-old land practices that once thrived there? Are they lost forever? What about the people who depend on land for their livelihoods?
The David Brower Center’s current art exhibition features two artists at the forefront of a global resurgence in sustaining farming and shepherding traditions. Land, Use: Works by Amy Franceschini and Fernando García-Dory brings together individual works by each artist–as well as featuring a first-time collaboration for San Francisco Victory Gardens Founder Franceschini and Madrid-based García-Dory. The exhibition runs in The Brower Center’s Hazel Wolf Gallery through May 9. Read More
Part history text, part socio-political commentary and part call to action, Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill offers something for everyone from the seasoned agriculture advocate to the newcomer on the food systems scene. The newly re-issued book by Dan Imhoff comes just as the federal debate over the 2012 Farm Bill is heating up. Read More
Recently pesticide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience agreed to stop selling the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide in the United States. It was a tremendous victory for the 200,000+ farmworkers, farmers, rural residents and environmentalists that worked over the past several years to pull a chemical that one scientist called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” off the market.
One of the central figures of this battle from the get-go, both behind the scenes and in the media spotlight, has been Paul Towers, Organizing & Media Director for Pesticide Action Network (PAN). Read More
When it comes to the chemicals used in food packaging, there is much we still don’t know. After a recent U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) decision last month to not put further restrictions on bisphenol-A (BPA), a new report today in the Washington Post takes a closer look at studies that reveal that such endocrine-distrupting chemicals are not only ubiquitous, they might also be harmful at much lower doses than previously thought. Read More
Young food movement activists may be idealistic but we are not flower children. We are process and results-oriented; we may criticize, but also we learn from successful business models. We’re comfortable with money, know how to network and are handy with a spreadsheet.
Three years ago, I was organizing protests at UC Berkeley. Now I’m at my laptop, speaking with Camilla Bustamante, a Northern New Mexico College Dean. She’s enthusiastically telling me about a student-run, local foods cafe that has just opened at her campus. Read More