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Book Review: “Bet The Farm” by Frederick Kaufman

Gloucester: But shall I live in hope?

Lady Anne: All men, I hope, live so.

Richard III, Shakespeare

Frederick Kaufman, journalist, professor, and author of A Short History of the American Stomach, set out to find out why, in an era when we produce so much food (more than twice what we need to feed everyone), people all over the world go hungry. It would seem to be the most basic of questions, and yet… Read more

How Consolidated Agribusiness Harms The Organic Sector

The pioneers of organic agriculture probably did not foresee the day when consumers could buy organic junk food at the supermarket. But now organic is a $31 billion a year big business and the biggest food companies are eagerly moving to capture the profitable and high-priced organic food label. Although many consumers and farmers moved to organic to avoid corporate-controlled and unsustainable industrial food production, the Big Food monopoly is catching up. Read more

Food Policy, Economists, and the Hazards of Assuming a Can Opener

A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat when a can of soup washes to shore. The physicist says: “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says: “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says: “Let’s assume we have a can-opener.”

The attacks coming from economists against the local and sustainable food movement sound a lot like this joke: The arguments are based in flawed assumptions, obfuscated by fancy charts, big words, and complex calculations.  Read more

Why New Dietary Guidelines Can’t Solve the Obesity Crisis

The USDA released a new set of dietary guidelines this week and the updated guidelines were enough to put nutritionist Marion Nestle in “shock”:

I never would have believed they could pull this off.  The new guidelines recognize that obesity is the number one public health nutrition problem in America and actually give good advice about what to do about it: eat less and eat better. For the first time, the guidelines make it clear that eating less is as priority.

She did criticize the guidelines for talking about “food” when it came to things you needed more of (such as vegetables) and “nutrients” when it was time to talk about cutting back (less saturated fat instead of less meat).

But to be honest, I don’t really want to talk about the dietary guidelines. Read more

A Film that Explores The Economics of Happiness

The new documentary screening around the country The Economics of Happiness says everything it should say. Ambitiously, it attempts to explain the many downsides of economic globalization, while offering actual alternatives that the viewer can get behind, and (for a movie just a little over an hour long) it does this concisely and without too much dreadful hyperbole or schmaltz. For this I am thankful. All too often, environmental themed movies rely on over-exaggerations, simplifications, and a preaching-to-the-choir sentimentalities–which result in a product unlikely to perform the educational (that’s entertainingly educational) role it was made for. Read more

A Sunday Supper Club, Cooking Up Lunches for the Week

For the urban office worker, buying your lunch every day can be a drag. It leaves your palate uninspired, your wallet empty, and your butt growing slowly across your desk chair. It can leave you with a permanent distaste for turkey sandwiches and a fear of deli lines.

Christine Johnson and Joanna Helferich—a public health director and a corporate lawyer respectively—came up with a solution for their lunch blahs.  For the past five years the two college friends have been getting together on Sunday evening and cooking their lunches for the entire week. Read more

In Conversation with Joan Gussow

Few would argue that Joan Dye Gussow is the mother of the sustainable food movement. For more than 30 years, she’s been writing, teaching (she is emeritus chair of the Teachers College nutrition program at Columbia University), and speaking about our unsustainable food system and how to fix it. (This excellent article by journalist Brian Halweil showcases her work in detail.) Now more than ever, her ideas have wings. Michael Pollan, for example, has said, “Once in a while, when I have an original thought, I look around and realize Joan said it first.”

Gussow lives what she teaches, growing most of her own food year-round in her backyard. The New York Times profiled her last spring as she was rebuilding her garden after it was destroyed by a flood. When I asked her about her newly rebuilt garden, she said, “It’s given me 10 additional years of life, at least!”

I spoke to her recently about how far we’ve come, the future of the food system, and her new book, Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables.

Read more

Building a Restorative Economy: Buffett, Gates and The Story of Enough

“When is enough enough?”  Bernie Sanders asked during his filibuster against the Lame Duck tax bill in December.  During the speech, he referred to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the world’s richest three people.  (If you haven’t been paying attention, they’ve been pushed down to the number two and three spots by Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecom tycoon who is now worth $53.5 billion.)

The reference to Gates and Buffett in a speech about Enough was a result of their project called the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to give away more than half their wealth.  And while this may not seem immediately relevant to life in the hills of Hardwick or the dales of Dorset, it raises important questions about the meaning of Enough, about ways in which we might, as a society, secede from the cult of He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins and, maybe, just maybe, about ways to put back into the soil—the soil of the restorative economy and the actual soil—what we take out. Read more

How Willie Nelson’s Bedrock, the Family Farmer, Could Save the American Economy

As an advocate for local, and for family farmers, I know that there is immense power in the experiential. When you have a direct relationship with a farmer, you just know that relationship is mutually beneficial. When you see four leggers on pasture instead of concrete, it only makes sense. But, do we have our talking points lined up on a deeper level? Are we ready for that serendipitous moment when online dating sets you up with an agribusiness ladder climber who wants to debate free trade two beers in? Or when it comes time to make policy recommendations or offer a zinger quote to a reporter? Despite being a career local foods non-profit staffer, I don’t always feel prepared when I leave the realm of the story for that of the concrete. Now that consumer awareness of the story of local has reached a critical mass, it is time to take our movement to the next level. Research. Organize. Speak out.

In celebration of its 25th year, Farm Aid, the longest running concert-for-a-cause, has published a report to help us make this push. Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family-Farm Centered Food Systems takes one of the more sensitive topics in the American psyche today, the economy, and convincingly demonstrates the bounty of opportunity that family farmers can bring to local and regional communities. Read more

Rebuilding Rural America and the Economics of Organic Farming

Growing local organic food may be the best path toward economic recovery. It may also be key to building stronger and healthier communities.

“Our [struggling] economy is making a compelling case that we shift toward more local food,” said Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis. “The current system fails on all counts and it’s very efficient at taking wealth out of our communities.” Read more