As a father, there is perhaps nothing more profound than being mindful, present, and open-minded enough to life’s lessons that my young child incessantly and brusquely thrusts in my face. As a winemaker, little has motivated or reminded me more about our natural propensity to be captivated by our sense of smell and taste, as much as watching my toddler instantly become enraptured with chocolate. In chocolate, at three-years old no less, he likely had already discovered one of the few things that will remain among his favorite pleasures for many decades to come. A remarkable lifetime relationship that will bring virtually uninterrupted pleasure. Anyone think they can compete with that? Sweet dreams.
Earlier this year, I was contacted by a PR firm working for Dow Chemical to contribute a 60-second video for The Future We Create virtual conference on water sustainability the company launches today. As a vocal advocate for strict regulation of toxic chemicals—especially for food and farming—I was surprised the company would approach me. Dow is the country’s largest chemical maker, and profits handsomely from developing some of the world’s most polluting products, many of which are widely used in industrial and consumer goods as well as agriculture.
In the video I submitted, which you can watch below, I stress that one of the greatest threats to clean water is chemical contaminants—and that Dow Chemical has a long history of water pollution. The PR representative e-mailed to say “unfortunately we can’t use your video,” but that she would be happy to include me, still, if I would consider re-recording it. When we discussed what that would mean she said, no “fingerpointing;” they wanted a “positive, inclusive discussion.”
Filmmaker Stett Holbrook will be happy if food reform advocates (like Civil Eats readers) respond favorably to “Food Forward,” a television series he cooked up with old college pal Greg Roden. But he’s really trying to reach an audience who hasn’t heard of Ann Cooper or Will Allen—let alone the rest of the cast of characters the pair have filmed in their travels around the country documenting food renegades changing the way people eat in America.
Holbrook wants his pilot on urban agriculture to appeal to people beyond Berkeley and Brooklyn. “To grow this movement I’m interested in reaching people who eat, say, McDonald’s to help them realize that fast food is lame,” he says. “I want them to see the show and think it’s cool to know where your food comes from, it’s cool to eat sustainable food, and there are lots of cool solutions out there.”
And he’s putting his money where his mouth is. This summer he’s sub-leased his home, taken a sabbatical from his job as food editor at Metro, a Silicon Valley alternative weekly, and he and his young family have hit the road to spread the word about the pilot (and hustle up some significant funding, he hopes, for a 13- part series.)
I buy local and organic food as much as possible, but find that not only do I have to force myself to eat vegetables, but I lack enough ways to cook them besides the handy but boring steaming and stir frying. Many farmers’ market patrons and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members have a similar problem. However, Basics with a Twist (available here), by Kim Sanwald, has truly inspired me to transform my own cooking with the same zeal and enthusiasm as blogger and author Julie Powell had when she cooked her way through Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Unless you travel in food policy or agronomy circles, you probably haven’t heard of Oran Hesterman. It’s time you had.
Hesterman, who runs the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based nonprofit Fair Food Network, has written a book that just might wake you up and get you to care about what’s going on with the food you eat and how it gets to your table.
The movement for reform to our flawed food system is growing stronger every day. Cooks, consumers, and campaigners alike are waking up in increasing numbers to the dangerous and unsustainable impacts of the way much of our food is grown, sold, and consumed.
This progress could not come at a more important moment. Our global food system works only for the few–for most of us it is broken. It leaves consumers lacking sufficient power and knowledge about what we buy and eat and almost a billion people hungry worldwide, millions of whom live here in the U.S.
Sue Ujcic is an innovative farmer and a champion of what’s possible when communities work together. She is as adept in connecting people to good food, good health, and good times as she is harvesting potatoes.
As co-owner of Helsing Junction Farm in Rochester, Washington, just outside of Olympia, Sue and her business partner, Anna Salafsky, have worked since 1992 with almost the same crew of 12 people to farm and grow 30 acres of organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers to serve their 800-member CSA program, one of the most established in the country. Much of their produce throughout the growing season is also donated to the local food bank where they deliver weekly CSA shares directly to recipients, a program funded by donations from their members, which they match.
What issues have you been focused on?
Many Americans, including a high number living in low-income communities, have come to rely on canned tomato sauces, soups, and vegetables to expedite their meal preparations. Yet a new study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reveals that the canned food items on your dinner plate are over 90 percent likely to be tainted with Bisphenol-A (BPA), a primary chemical used in the lining of cans. (For more information on BPA, check out Civil Eats’ previous reporting here, here, here, and here.)
These findings are notable because they underline the fact that BPA levels in cans are variable depending on the type of food, or even within batches of the same food item. This is the FDA’s largest study to date across a wide spectrum of commonly consumed canned food items, including soups, chilis, pasta and pork and beans–foods often consumed by children, who have a heightened risk of exposure due to their body size.
A growing weight of research links routine antibiotic use on factory farms to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria–which are showing up in more and more places worldwide (including, according to recent studies, in your local supermarket). Doctor groups, from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology, have appealed to the government and industry to restrict the practice, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments.
Over the past couple of years, the FDA changed its tune and has finally begun to respond to the threat. Top officials at the FDA have testified of the dangers to Congress. The agency itself is developing “voluntary guidance” that would restrict the practice–which currently sees 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country given to food animals.
Sadly, though, the FDA is still whistling when it should be belting its song to the rafters. In fact, the meat industry has successfully resisted, and in the case of the antibiotic Cephalosporin, turned back via “midnight regulations” by outgoing Bush administration FDA officials, specific measures meant to address this threat to public health.
As a result, a coalition of environmental groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has decided to sue.