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Posts Tagged ‘food’

The ‘Victory Garden’ idea is getting a lot of play these days.  We’ve already noticed appeals for us to ‘eat-like-there’s-a-war-on.’

Now the UK Independent is excited by the same idea — hooking its version of the story on a new exhibit, ‘Dig for Victory: War on Waste,‘ at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

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“This year, 39 percent of people with backyards told the Garden Writers Association they planned to grow vegetables,” the Christian Science Monitor tells us.

Recent spikes in gas and food prices this spring are turning many in the USA to home-food production, it seems.

We welcome that, of course. We’ve been excited about the whole ‘eat your lawn’ trend for a while now.

The struggles we’re having with our own EarthQuaker garden (much of the plum tree just collapsed thanks to heat and too many plums), also have us looking forward to the renewed appreciation all this home farming should bring the people who do it professionally.

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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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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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What, exactly, is the world coming to? How worried, precisely, should we be about the state of our climate, our energy system, our food supplies, our water, the air we breath? What really is — or might soon — be the problem with any of these?

It’s hard to keep track and easy to feel overwhelmed.

A good place to start feeling a little less swamped and a little more informed this Earth Day might be this useful round up from the folks at AlterNet: “Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not.” To quote the editors:

Alternet picked eight topics — water, global warming, food, health, energy, pollution, consumption and corporations — that pose real dangers to the future of human life and selected a series of recent essays that illustrate these problems, along with links to organizations and further resources that address these issues.

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It’s a slightly perverse argument but we’re not the only ones to be making the connection between the recent rise in US corn prices and the good that might do us all.

As followers of Michael Pollan know well, major subsidies to US corn producers have made processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup much cheaper to buy than fresh fruits and vegetables.  And that has led a great many people on limited incomes to make choices that, while economically smart in the short term, have terrible health consequences over time.

But with corn prices soaring (thanks in part to growing demand for ethanol, the cost of petroleum-derived fertilizers and gasoline for transportation), it’s harder for manufacturers of highly-processed foods to low-ball their not-so-nutritious creations and easier for people looking to sell locally-produced, organically raised produce and meats to compete on price.

The same thought has apparently struck the New York Time’s Kim Severson, who wrote yesterday:

“if American staples like soda, fast-food hamburgers and frozen dinners don’t seem like such a bargain anymore, the American eating public might turn its attention to ingredients like local fruits and vegetables, and milk and meat from animals that eat grass. It turns out that those foods, already favorites of the critics of industrial food, have also dodged recent price increases.”

Kudos to Severson for calling up Pollan himself for a quote: “higher food prices,” he suggests, “level the playing field for sustainable food that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.”

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