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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

It stands to reason that larger people eat more than smaller ones, which means that it takes more agricultural production — a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — to feed them, too.

Basic physics also tells us that it takes more energy to move larger people around in planes, trains or automobiles. And unless that transport is driven by sustainably-sourced power, it makes sense that the bigger people are, the bigger (on average) are their contributions to transportation-derived climate change.

That thesis is codified in this week’s edition of the medical journal, the Lancet, by a team from the London School Hygiene & Tropical Medicine which finds that global obesity is a contributing factor to global warming.

“The researchers pegged 40 percent of the global population as obese,” reports Reuters. That’s a lot of extra food and fossil fuel being consumed that could be saved if people just had healthier body mass indices.

This statement of the somewhat obvious might have the unfortunate effect of contributing to prejudices against the obese, for whom achieving a healthy weight is often far more than a mere matter of will power.

But it might drive something positive, too, in the shape of further pressure upon us all to ask hard questions about why so many people make the kind of nutritional and lifestyle choices that result in their becoming obese. If this research helps further discredit the US subsidization of ‘junk’ calories that reside in products like high-fructose corn syrup, for example, we might be able to both help slow the warming of our planet and give its human citizens a healthier, and longer, life upon it.

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– real urban farming

‘Urban farming’ can mean many things.  For some people it amounts to little more than growing herbs on their window sill — admirable, of course, but hardly what you could call a commercial enterprise.

Other urban growers, though, really are farming — in the sense of raising crops in volume that they then sell on to other city dwellers.

Here’s a recent profile of one such farm in Brooklyn, NY.  As journalist Tracie McMillan points out, the result is not only that environment gets beautified, residents gain a new source of fresh produce, and children get to see where their food comes from — people (often with very low incomes) are also making real money from these enterprises.  No wonder that after years of seeing agriculture and urban life as essentially incompatible, many cities are starting to look upon urban farming positively and developing policies to encourage it.

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It’s always worthwhile having one’s most deeply-held convictions challenged. That must have been the thinking behind the UK Independent’s decision to publish today an article arguing against organic food.

“The great organic myths: Why organic foods are an indulgence the world can’t afford,” is by ‘environmental expert’ Rob Johnston.

Among the ‘myths’ Johnston lists are that organic farming is good for the environment, that it is pesticide free and produces healthier food than conventional farming.

Judging from the general tenor of the many comments that the piece has already received, not too many Independent readers were persuaded by Dr. Johnston’s logic.

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A few weeks ago we noted that high prices for industrially-produced food might be a good thing if you wanted people to buy more organics. Even the New York Times came to the same conclusion.

But not so fast, says Tom Philpott over at Grist.org.

Philpott worries that, as supermarket prices for conventional goods rise, people on low incomes will turn to fast food outlets before they turn to organics.

The reality, he says, is that fast food operators “can likely absorb higher input prices and still churn out crap.”

So what should we do? Says Philpott:

The answer, it seems to me, is not just to hope that expensive industrial food drives people toward equally expensive sustainable food. It’s to make sustainable food more broadly accessible and affordable.

As an example of the kind of action he’d like to see, Philpott points to recent legislation in Washington state that encourages schools and food-banks to use locally produced food, even if cheaper food can be imported from elsewhere.

One response to Philpott’s article comes from an agronomist, ‘Pollencruncher.’ He argues that with organics you are buying a better product, so price parity should be less of an issue — and yet thanks to public perception price parity has always been seen as necessary for organic food to be widely adopted.

But now, “We in the Organic community have met the desired goal of Parity prices for the first time in decades,” Pollencruncher observes. Couple that with the better nutrition you get from organics and you have a rationale for not being so pessimistic about what people on lower incomes will do.

Perhaps what people also need, in concert with the kind of policy action Philpott advocates, is better education in health and diet, so they can be better-informed when they weigh the financial costs of any food choice against the likely benefits and risks to their health of eating that food.

That would require, of course, disseminating messages that run counter to the best interests of very large and very influential agribusinesses. But when there’s no voice to counter advertising relentlessly selling cheap but nutritionally-empty food, too many of our collective decisions are likely to run counter to our collective best interests.

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You’d think that as we reap the environmental, health and political consequences of industrial farming techniques that consume vast quantities of fossil fuels, degrade soils and leave us with poor diets, organic produce would become ever more popular.

But two recent New York Times stories reveal a counter-intuitive, but important, reality: that as the problems associated with industrial farming get worse, organic food can easily become an even harder sell than before.

We weren’t alone in surmising that a rise in the price of conventionally farmed foods (mostly caused by a rise in the price of oil and the ethanol boondoggle) might benefit organic farmers, since that price rise ought to make organics more competitive as an alternative.

But the price pressure on conventional foods has driven up the price of organics, too, the New York Times tells us.

Partly it’s a matter of supply out-running demand, in which case we might expect market forces to come into play and bring new organic suppliers into the market. That happened in the last decade, after all, with organic farming enjoying a worldwide boom while conventional farmers received rock-bottom prices for their crops.

But now that conventional crops are commanding record prices, farmers have lost a major incentive to go organic.

The impact on consumers is powerful, too. High prices for conventionally farmed foods may drive people to organics, but they might equally lower our collective resistance to genetically modified foods — foods that are almost always classed as non-organic — the Times reports today.

Pioneer organic consumers never bought organic because it was cheap. They saw themselves as foregoing their present financial comfort for the sake of our long term global benefit. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be needing to call on that altruism — and call on it from a great many more people — for a good while to come.

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That seems to be the message from two stories published today, one on each side of the Atlantic.

In a news analysis, the New York Times notes that:

a reaction is building against policies in the United States and Europe to promote ethanol and similar fuels, with political leaders from poor countries contending that these fuels are driving up food prices and starving poor people.  Biofuels are fast becoming a new flash point in global diplomacy, putting pressure on Western politicians to reconsider their policies, even as they argue that biofuels are only one factor in the seemingly inexorable rise in food prices.

Officials from both the UN and the World Bank have recently voiced concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Independent reports that, “the production of biofuel is devastating huge swathes of the world’s environment” and asks why the UK government wants its citizens to use more of it.

The Independent’s Cahal Milmo also mentions the impact that biofuel production is having on world food prices.  But of equal concern is the environmental damage that careless encouragement of biofuels can cause.  British campaigners, reports Milmo, this week

condemned as “disastrous” the absence of any standards requiring producers to prove their biofuel is not the product of highly damaging agricultural practices responsible for destroying rainforests, peatlands and wildlife-rich savannahs or grasslands from Indonesia to sub-Saharan Africa to Europe.

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if we want to encourage people to produce their own food, here’s a great idea:  tax breaks for gardeners!

It’s the idea of Maine gardener and sustainability advocate Roger Doiron.  He says:

There are different breaks that local, state and federal governments could offer home gardeners. Sales taxes on seeds, seedlings, fruit bushes and trees could be removed. Better still, an income tax break could be administered as is done with home offices where people measure and deduct the square footage of their houses used for business purposes. The bigger your garden, the better the tax break. Those with no yard could deduct the rental fee for a community garden plot.

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