sustainability

Food Rules to Get You Through the Winter

rules

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan crammed a world of food choices into those seven words. During the summer months of stone fruits and heritage tomatoes we’re all believers. But Labor Day has come and gone, the farmers markets will soon pack up their tents, and Pollanesque choices will start to dwindle. What will we eat then?

Pollan compiled a list of rules to back up his simple edict.
A mention of the project on his blog resulted in literally thousands of reader-submitted suggestions. He culled and compiled to create the easy-to-digest principles and instructions of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

It’s no easy feat to navigate the landscape of modern food.
We want our food to be nutritionally sound with no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or growth hormone. The sodium should be low and the carbs complex. We want our food growers and manufacturers to trade fairly with their vendors and pay a living wage to their employees. They should conserve energy, limit emissions, and recycle. And somewhere in there we also want our food to taste good.

Ultimately, Michael Pollan settled on 64 food rules.
It’s mostly common sense guidance: Avoid foods you see advertised on television (#11); Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (#36).
So go aheadEat your colors (#25); treat treats as treats (#60); and best of all, break the rules once in a while (#64).

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What’s The Pig Idea?

pig

image via oinksters.com

 

Before garbage disposals and Hefty trash bags; before street cleaners, incinerators, sanitation departments, and curb-side composting; we had pigs. 

Pigs are the original recycle bins, turning food waste into food.
Throughout history, rural families fed food scraps to the household pig, and villagers saved theirs for the local hog farmer. Even a city like New York had herds of free-roaming, designated trash pigs that cleaned the streets through most of the 19th century.
Now we’re hearing a new call to bring back the pigs.

Trash pigs can keep food waste out of landfills.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, we toss nearly as much food as we eat. Food now takes up more space in landfills than paper or plastic, and the gases released as food decomposes account for 16% of the methane emissions in the U.S.

Pigs are contributing to global hunger.
Pigs are currently fed crops that are fit for humans like wheat, corn, and soy, while at the same time a billion people go hungry every day. The United Nations estimates that by substituting food waste for just one-third of the grain in livestock feed, we would free up enough food to completely eliminate hunger on the planet.

Trash to swill to feed is a winning proposition on all sides.
Laws vary from state to state, but federal regulations require that recycled food discards containing meat or other animal products be boiled to prevent swine flu and other food-borne illnesses. Since restaurants, supermarkets, and households all currently pay for waste disposal, we all benefit when processors take it off our hands for free. After its heat treatment, the processor makes a profit selling the clean waste to farmers, who are happy to pay less than they would for commercial feed. The meat itself is as safe and palatable as grain-fed, and in countries like Japan and Korea where similar systems are already in place, it’s even marketed at a premium as eco-pork, in recognition of the waste and greenhouse gas emissions it avoids.

There are already success stories in this country.
Rutgers University, with the third largest student dining operation in the country, has been diverting more than a ton of cafeteria discards a day to local farms for 15 years. Rhode Island is reviving its ambitious food-scrap collection program involving in-ground bins installed along driveways where local farmers make weekly curbside pickups. Even the MGM Grand Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip—no stranger to waste and excess—feeds 3,000 North Las Vegas hogs with the overflow of crab legs and prime rib from its casino buffet.

The United Nations is leading a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors. Learn about why we create so much waste, why it matters for the planet, and what you can do to combat it at the UN-sponsored website: Think.Eat.Save.

 

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Detroit: From Food Desert to Food Sovereignty

 

 

movie still, Grown in Detroit

movie still, Grown in Detroit

 

There aren’t enough jobs, enough people, or enough tax revenue, but one thing Detroit has plenty of is vacant land.
The city is barely standing after decades of a free-falling economy, fruitless renewal efforts, and a local government that was feckless at best and more often corrupt. Two-thirds of Detroit’s residents streamed toward the exits, leaving 40 square miles of abandoned buildings and empty lots—a space equal to the entire city of Boston—that arson, bulldozers, and nature are transforming into a massive urban prairie.

Most people look to Detroit and see a ruined space prowled by looters and packs of wild dogs; some see a field of dreams.
Visionary citizens and a progressive administration are rehabbing and reshaping the city. To them it’s not blight but unplanned green space, and a prime test case for large-scale urban farming. Detroit has become the nation’s hub for advocates of urban agriculture and the shrinking cities movement that reimagines distressed, post-industrial cities as smaller metro cores surrounded by green belts of food production.

In April 2013, Detroit passed a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance that changed the way the city is zoned.
Urban zones traditionally fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special zones (school, hospital, airport, etc.). Zoning establishes dedicated land uses; the local government can regulate the activity but it also offers legal protections. Detroit’s ordinance established agriculture as an urban planning priority. It gave formal legal status to an array of land uses including community gardens, rainwater catches, and aquaculture, and permits even small, backyard gardeners to sell homegrown produce from their own farm stands.

The ordinance has been embraced by a public and private cross-section of the city.
Citizen groups like Be Black and Green and My Jewish Detroit have helped to establish the nearly 2,000 gardens flourishing in the city’s ethnic enclaves. More than 1,000 volunteers showed up for last weekend’s spring planting day at the for-profit Hantz Farm, creating the world’s largest urban farm. The school district has converted one of the city’s many abandoned public schools into 27 acres of gardens to provide produce to its school cafeterias. 
Even the automakers have joined in with projects like the Cadillac Urban Gardens which has recycled and repurposed hundreds of steel shipping crates into raised-bed planters.

Detroit’s food activists are aiming for a food sovereign city.
That’s a lofty goal of 51% or more
of the fresh foods consumed in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters within the city limits. It’s especially gutsy when you consider that just a few years ago Detroit was the poster child for urban food deserts, with fully half of its residents living without reasonable access to fresh groceries. Empty lot by empty lot, the city is transitioning there.

 

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Naming and Shaming the Food Brands

 Who’s Behind the Brand?

 

 

The average American supermarket carries nearly 40,000 products.
It sounds like myriad options until you realize that most of them—estimates run as high as 90%—come from fewer than a dozen companies. Acquisitions and consolidation have left us with Unilever-Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, ConAgra-Hebrew National kosher salami, and PepsiCo-Sabra hummus, and all but 15 of the nation’s organic food processors are in the hands of multinational giants.

The melding of brands matters.
When you buy Sweet Leaf organic tea you’re a customer of a company that funds initiatives to block GMO labeling; the parent company of your Morningstar Farms veggie patties is party to the mass destruction of rain forests. Stealth ownership of brands means that your carefully spent grocery dollars are ending up in the hands of the top 10 food and beverage producers who together emit more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway combined. If you care about poverty and hunger, child labor, living wages, women’s rights, and climate change, then you should care about who really owns the brands that are lining the shelves of your supermarket.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign rates the social and environmental policies of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The top 10 companies are megacorporations whose products are sold virtually everywhere on the planet. Millions of people, most in poor countries, rely on them for employment in agriculture and production. Their policies and business practices shape national economies and influence lifestyles for billions of global citizens. Oxfam evaluates the companies according to seven criteria: corporate transparency, women’s rights, labor practices, farming practices, land use, water use, and pollution. While some companies are doing better than others, overall it’s a fairly bleak portrait of the food system.

Oxfam’s campaign highlights the massive reach and global influence wielded by just 10 companies. If these industry leaders can be prodded to use their power responsibly, they could play a major role in the world-wide fight against hunger, poverty, inequality, and climate change.

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Seed Rebels Adopt the Language of the Internet

OSSILOGO-featured

A group of scientists and food activists is changing the rules that govern seeds.
They’re using the open source software development model to create seeds that can be planted for food.

Software is called open source when the source code is right there for anyone to install, learn from, or customize. It’s built and maintained by volunteer programmers and you don’t have to pay a royalty or fee to the license holder. You use open source software everyday if your internet browser is set to Mozilla Firefox or your mobile devices run on the Android operating system.

Seeds were always open source; we just didn’t know it.
For thousands of years farmers and backyard gardeners have experimented with seeds, breeding and adapting them to suit their tastes and needs. At the end of each season they’d share their experience and experiments with the community through seed swaps and exchanges.

Modern agriculture has turned this ancient model on its head. Through genetic engineering, companies like Monsanto and DuPont are able to insert a single new gene into the cell of a plant and claim ownership of all future seeds from the line. Seeds these days are intellectual property. They’re patented like inventions and a grower needs permission from the patent holder to plant them. And the GMO seed industry is playing hardball with its patents. The companies employ a small army of ‘seed police’ operating in rural America, threatening small farmers, shop owners, and community co-ops with patent infringement lawsuits. They’ve gone after farmers for violating patents by saving seeds from a harvest for replanting the next season, and have even sued inadvertent growers when the wind was proven to carry seeds from one farmer’s field to another. They’ve successfully argued patent enforcement all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Open Source Seed Initiative‘s rallying cry is Free the Seeds. 
The group aims to restore the practice of open sharing among growers by keeping certain seeds in the public domain. The free seed movement asserts that genetic engineers are falsely claiming dominion over something that embodies millennia of natural evolution and centuries of innovation contributed by farmers and natural seed breeders. And more critically, seed patents are a threat to the food security of future generations. In this time of climate change we need to preserve biodiversity in agriculture and encourage farmers to adapt and evolve along with the changing agro-ecosystem. Patents limit diversity and concentrate ownership in just a few hands. A single crop failure could be a disaster of unprecedented scale.

The Open Source Seed Initiative has just released the first set of open source seeds—36 varieties of 14 different herb, grain, and vegetable crops. Each packet is printed with the OSSI Pledge that the seeds and their derivatives will be used in a free and unrestricted manner. You can order a home gardener’s seed set of 14 organic vegetable varieties for $25. Proceeds go to the OSSI fund for Open Source Breeding.

 

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The Ethical Easter Basket Tastes Sweeter

fairtradeeastereverybunny_webfairtradeeasterchocolate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the year of the ethical Easter basket, but it doesn’t have to make you a killjoy.

Food activists of all stripes are bringing their agendas to the spring holiday reminding us of all the pesticides and food dyes and GMOs and child labor that create cheap chocolate bunnies and tongue-staining jelly eggs.

Roll your eyes if you must at the litany of fair trade, cruelty-free, shade-grown, bird-friendly, carbon neutral causes, but the designations and certifications aren’t mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee the soundness of manufacturing and growing practices. The hard truth is that a conventional Easter basket is a treat for you but it can be an environmental and humanitarian nightmare for someone else.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ethical alternatives for all your jelly beans, pastel marshmallows, and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs:

tims-real-easter-basket-grass-home

 

Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass
lose the chemical-laden shredded plastic and go organic from the ground up


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YumEarth Jelly Beans
they’re organic with no gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, artificial colors, or dyes

 

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Not Peeps, Veeps
they’re vegan; who knew there’s a pork byproduct lurking in the conventional marshmallow bunnies?


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Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks
don’t forget about Annie’s many organic bunny products, available year-round

Full_Tub_of_Organic_Fair_Trade_Milk_Chocolate_Eggs-large

 

Sjaak’s Chocolate Easter Eggs
fairly traded, organic, vegan, and best of all they come in really big tubs

images

 

Lake Champlain chocolate bunnies
always widely available and this year they’ve gone fair trade and organic

 

 

 

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Bang for the Buck: How to Ration Your Organics Budget

pricevalue

 

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

There’s no two ways about it: we pay through the nose for our organics.
But it’s worth every penny when the conventional counterparts are laced with toxic chemicals. That’s good value, regardless of the premium. Have you checked the sticker price of cancer lately?

But an all-organic diet isn’t always practical or available, much less affordable. Thankfully, there are times when it’s not essential. With some foods, there’s room for compromise.

There’s a good rule of thumb when you’re choosing produce: if it’s thin-skinned, leafy, porous, or has a lot of cracks and crevices, you want to go organic. Pesticides tend to leech into the flesh or get trapped in the openings, and even with careful washing and peeling there’s no way to avoid ingesting a good-sized dose.

Reduce your total pesticide exposure by 80% with these organic fruits and vegetables:

•Apples  •Cherries  •Grapes (imported) •Nectarines  •Peaches
•Pears  •Raspberries  •Strawberries
•Bell Pepper  •Celery  •Potatoes  •Spinach

The flesh of thicker-skinned, husked, or podded fruits and vegetables are less susceptible to most contaminations, cold weather crops are grown when pests are less prevalent, and tree fruits often require fewer pesticides because they’re high above the ground where they’re less susceptible to insects.

You can safely stretch your grocery budget with the conventionally-grown versions of these:

•Avocados  •Pineapple  •Mangos  •Papaya  •Kiwi  •Grapefruit
•Onions  •Sweet Corn  •Asparagus  •Peas  • Cabbage  •Eggplant
•Broccoli  •Tomatoes  •Sweet Potatoes 

Conventional processed foods can be a minefield of toxins and contaminants, but it’s impractical if not impossible to keep track of the safer choices among the ever-changing selections and brands. The FDA performs pesticide residue monitoring, but the allowable levels that meet federal safety guidelines are still pretty hefty, to say nothing of the various and sundry dyes, preservatives, and other additives.

You can keep your sanity in the supermarket while still limiting the toxins with a few key recommendations:

•Baby Food
This should be a no-brainer. Baby foods are often cooked and condensed versions of fruits and vegetables, intensifying the chemical levels present in the ingredients. Factor in the baby’s small body size and they can pack a real wallop. Since toxins can also pass through a mother’s bloodstream to a developing fetus, the switch to organics should start in pregnancy.

•Bread
Insects love grains, so it takes a lot of insecticides to keep them at bay. Malathion is especially popular with food processors, showing up in most conventional, grain-based packaged foods like bread, saltines, graham crackers, tortillas, cookies, and breakfast cereals. School lunches are full of it; so are doggie flea dips and head lice shampoo, but there its links to lower IQ and ADHD are less troubling.

•Frozen Lasagne
Beef, cheese, tomatoes, and pasta—four of the big chemical carriers join forces in a single dish. Popular brands even contain DDT-class pesticides. Have you read Silent Spring?

•Pick your poison
Is it chips and salsa? Ice cream? Coffee? What’s your personal favorite indulgence? If you eat a lot of it or eat it often, it’s a good idea to eat it organic. A little bit of a particular toxin can be tolerated, but buildup and overexposure to a single substance can be harmful.

Organic foods can be costly, but they represent long-term investment in our health and environment.  Shop strategically and you and the planet will get the most value out of those splurges.

 

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Every week, each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens tosses out a pair of disposable chopsticks.

chopsticks

Nearly 80 billion pairs in a year– China’s disposable chopstick habit is an environmental disaster.
25 million native trees are cut down annually to keep the chopstick factories humming. Every day 100 acres of old-growth forest are whittled into chopsticks; 20 years of growth ends up with a useful life of about 10 minutes in a bowl of rice before landing in the trash. If China continues to use timber at current levels, Greenpeace China estimates that its remaining forests will be gone by 2020. Even as spilled oil barrels bob in its waters and its cities are blanketed in a miasma of hazy smog, a bunch of wooden chopsticks has emerged as one of China’s leading environmental woes.

It’s cheaper to toss them.
A pair of disposable wood or bamboo chopsticks wholesales in China for about a penny. With reusable chopsticks there’s the initial investment plus the time and energy to wash them. Restaurants are required to sterilize them between users, which can add 15 cents or more to the cost for each use, and wooden or plastic chopsticks degrade and require replacing after a relatively low number of cycles in a commercial dishwasher. Single-use chopsticks are cheap and convenient, until you figure in the environmental costs.

The campaign for chopstick awareness
The Chinese government tried but couldn’t break the habit. Its consumer ministry tried to sell the public on the cleanliness of reusable chopsticks, and the tax ministry imposed a 5% tax on disposable chopsticks. These efforts did little to change consumer behavior.

More successful is the independent Bring Your Own Chopsticks movement that has sprung up among young environmentalists and found a spokesman in U2’s Bono. Its founders looked to replicate the success of the reusable shopping bag movement in western nations by marketing a variety of eco-friendly bags and carrying cases for transporting reusable chopsticks. The movement is gaining traction in the younger, hipper quarters of China’s cities where markets and takeout noodle shops now ask if customers need chopsticks rather than sticking them into checkout bags by default. Some of the newer, entrepreneurial employers will fine workers who don’t bring their own sticks to the office, and trendy restaurants are offering incentives like a free bowl of soup or tea for customers who bring their own utensils.

Here in the U.S., chopsticks don’t have much of an environmental impact.
But we make up for it with the 39 billion plastic forks, spoons, and knives that annually make their way to American landfills.

 

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No Olive Oil, No Pepper, No Sugar: Can a Restaurant Be TOO Local?

image via Square Deal

image via Square Deal

 

When Vinland opens later this fall in Portland, Maine, it will be the first restaurant in the United States to serve 100% local, organic food.
That means that if it can’t be grown, harvested, or produced in Maine it’s not going to be on the menu. That list includes plenty of kitchen staples like olive oil, black pepper, cane sugar, mustard, peanut butter, and chocolate. It also bans avocados, bananas, citrus fruits, most rice and grains, and a very long list of spices, sauces, and seasonings.

Farm-to-table is almost a cliché for contemporary restaurants. It’s become second nature for a chef to showcase seasonal ingredients and to establish working relationships with nearby farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. But nobody has ever pushed the concept to this extreme, with this much purity.

Let’s not forget, we’re talking about Maine, a state that squeezes its growing season between the last frost in June and the first in September.
In season, there’s native seafood and agricultural bounty to rival any other region, but the pickings are slim for most of the year. There will have to be a lot of preserved foods—smoked, dried, pickled, cured, and fermented—to offer some semblance of variety on the Vinland winter menus.

Vinland doesn’t have a menu yet, but it does have a manifesto.
The document references the rising cost of medical care for diabetics, celebrity chef tantrums, confinement-raised animals, the dangers of seed oils, and the misogyny, racism, and homophobia of restaurant kitchens. It slams the Industrial Revolution and the Vikings, praises raw foodism, and quotes both Wendell Berry and Che Guevara. According to its mission statement, Vinland is not just a restaurant; it’s the blueprint for a sustainable food system that will help us survive the coming collapse of a doomed and destructive food industry.

Heady stuff, indeed. It should come as no surprise that the missionary behind Vinland is a first-time restaurateur who is more ideologue than trained chef.
A few years ago, David Levi was a high school English teacher in New York City with a few stints of restaurant work under his belt. A tutoring gig with the son of the renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten helped him land some very high profile internships in legendary restaurants like Spain’s El Bulli, Sweden’s Faviken, and Copenhagen’s Noma. A few more stages and apprenticeships later and he landed in Portland offering cooking classes and a series of pop-up tasting menu dinners.

Levi brought with him an admiration for the culinary and ecological ethos of the New Nordic food movement he encountered while staging in Danish and Swedish kitchens. And he recognized the parallels between the bioregions of northern New England and Scandinavia. Vinland is meant to be a kind of mulligan for the Nordic people in Maine.

Vinland is the original name for the North American settlement of Leif Eiríksson’s Viking followers (presumed to include what is now Maine). While Levi salutes their courage in pushing into the unknown, he recognizes their mistakes and wants to learn from them, the worst of which he says was their ‘antagonism toward the indigenous.’ Vinland will be a second chance: “We are seeking to begin again, not as occupiers this time, but as participants. We hope, belatedly, to learn from the rightful inheritors of this land.  We hope to honor the indigenous and the myriad non-humans who have been so grievously harmed by Western culture.  We hope to earn their welcome as we seek to build, together, a vibrant, indigenous, wild future.”

In case you were wondering, there will be salt. Maine harvests its own salt, and it’s really good. There also will be coffee, even though there are no native coffee growers. Levi just really likes his coffee.

 

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How to be an Ethical Carnivore

cheeseburgerglobal warming

 

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun.
We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa. But red meat, once the cornerstone to a nutritious diet, puts us un an ethical quandary. Beef is a true superfood, dense in protein and nutrients and an important source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium. But it’s taken a lot of hits from defenders of animal rights and the environment. Red meat has lost much of its relevancy to the American diet.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal. 
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine. 
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

 

 

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Organic Water? What Is Wrong With You People?

ImWithStupid  organic-water-bottle---in2ition

We’re used to extravagant claims from bottled water companies.
It’s pure, it’s natural, it boosts brain function, improves memory, speeds weight loss, super-hydrates, and rotates your tires.
The latest ‘organic’ water claims stand out even in such ignominious company.

There is no such thing as organic water.
Water is an inherently inorganic substance. It’s H2O, hydrogen and oxygen. It’s not alive and never was— that requires carbon. No carbon, no life; which, by definition means not organic. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the arbiter of edible organics, specifically excludes water from certification.

Some of what’s passed off as ‘organic’ water is water that’s sourced from beneath certified organic farmland. The Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. It’s utter nonsense. Nuns or no nuns, organic-ness doesn’t rub off on the water.

There is one product that can legitimately call itself ‘organic water,’ although you can probably come up with a few of your own choice words for it. WTF?! comes to mind for me.
Koa Water 
squeezes all the water out of organic fruits and vegetables, and then bottles that. Since it uses all organic ingredients, the end product is organic. But is it water?

The company has developed a secret, proprietary technology (they call it the Koa Blackbox) that allows them to extract all of the taste, color, and aroma from the juices. You’re left with a clear, flavorless, calorie-free liquid with no discernible trace of the fruits and vegetables it came out of. In other words, water.

Of course none of this comes cheap.
The price of Lanllyr water suggests that the company compensates the Welsh nuns handsomely for any inconvenience caused by locating a bottling operation on their pristine land. Over at Koa, there’s the laborious extraction process and pounds of organic produce that go into each glass. But if you’ve got any cash left over after paying for your organic water, I’ve got a bridge we can talk about.

 

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End Food Waste. Stop Tossing the Ugly Ones.

 

image via The Mutato Project

image via The Mutato Project

 

The U.N. wants you to buy funny food.
‘Funny’ is their word. Let’s call it like we see it. We’re talking about ugly fruits and vegetables; the two-legged carrots, blotchy apples, crooked cucumbers, and lumpy lemons. They’re the culinary misfits that are culled by the farmer in the field, tossed out by the supermarket produce department, and if they make it far enough, passed over by consumers. The U.N. partnered with consumers, producers, and governments to launch Think.Eat.Save, a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors.

Farmers plow under more than a fifth of their crops every year because they don’t meet marketing standards for their appearance, and retailers generate another 1.6 million tons of food waste. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s food production goes to waste, and about half of that is for cosmetic reasons. The U.N. says it could feed 900 million of the world’s hungriest citizens with our cast-offs.

Market standards for appearance are often circumscribed with awe-inspiring precision. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s document for greenhouse-grown cucumbers goes on for 10 pages describing the allowable gradients of the curves for cucumbers that bend, bow, or taper toward the ends. Field-grown varieties are guided by a separate document. The color of a red apple is delineated in the following paragraph:

That an apple having color of a lighter shade of solid red or striped red than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. For the striped red varieties, the percentage stated refers to the area of the surface in which the stripes of a good shade of red characteristic of the variety shall predominate over stripes of lighter red, green, or yellow. However, an apple having color of a lighter shade than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of stripes of a good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. Faded brown stripes shall not be considered as color.

The Federal Trade Commission sets additional standards of beauty for fruits and vegetables that are shipped across state lines, and there are separate benchmarks for imports.

The European Union has already loosened its notoriously arcane produce regulations (sample banana spec: The thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27mm). Britain’s Sainsbury’s supermarket further relaxed its own standards, putting forked parsnips and knobby apples on the shelves of its 1,000+ stores.

Here in the U.S. we waste nearly as much as we eat, tossing out 20 pounds of food each month for every man, woman, and child. We spend a billion dollars a year just to dispose of  it. Unlike so many of the challenges we face, food waste doesn’t require a technical solution so much as a new mindset.

 

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Sustainable Farming at its Finest: Pigs Fed on Marijuana Crop Left-Overs

image via BB Ranch

image via BB Ranch

 

The news made for catchy headlines:

A New Take on Grass-Fed Meat
Wake-’N-Bacon
Pigs Living the ‘High’ Life
‘Pot’ Belly Pigs
‘High’ on the Hog

It’s healthy, organic, and local.
That’s why the owner of Seattle area’s Bucking Boar Farm feeds cast off marijuana stems, stalks, and leaves to his pigs.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. Washington State legalized recreational marijuana last year, and crop residue is regularly turned into animal feed. Carrots might be damaged at harvesting or a field of cantaloupes could ripen too quickly. Pigs, which we’ll kindly call ‘versatile omnivores,’ will take it all.

Of course a pig’s diet leaves its mark on the meat. Think of some of the world’s greatest pork products. Prosciutto di Parma is famously flavored by a diet of whey from the local parmesan cheese-making, and Spanish jamón Ibérico de bellota is all about the foraged acorn diet of the Iberian pigs. As for the cannabis diet, Bucking Boar customers rave about the rosy color, beautiful marbling, and a subtle flavor infusion that is especially pronounced in the fat.

The real question on everyone’s mind is Does it get you high?
The answer is no. It’s a tougher call to make for the pigs since they already spend their days lazing about and stuffing themselves on feed. The weed-fed pigs do seem to put on weight faster; the ranch reports a 20% gain over pig that are fed a conventional diet.

It’s cooperative, sustainable farming, and a lot healthier than eating pigs that are stuffed with GMO grains.

The pork is available at the ranch’s own butcher shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. You’ll know it by the little marijuana leaf flags stuck in with toothpicks.

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How Green is Your Supermarket?

 

tote bag from Hayden-Harnett Handbags

tote bag from Hayden-Harnett Handbags

 

It’s a carefully compiled shopping list.
You pay attention to food miles so there’ll be no out of season raspberries. Chilean sea bass is on the Seafood Watch List so you’ll choose local cod instead. You want your eggs cage free, you want milk without rBST, and beef that’s free of antibiotics. And of course you’ll look for lots of organics.
You steer the Prius into a parking space and grab the reusable grocery bags you brought with you. 
You’re ready to shop.

Are supermarkets merely talking the talk?
Supermarkets have done a good job of helping consumers integrate sustainable choices in their daily lives. They’ve been far less successful when it comes to their own environmental impact. There are 36,000 supermarkets across the United States. Some recycle, some are energy efficient, some limit their food waste, and some mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions; very few have managed to piece all the bits of the sustainability puzzle together.

With their blazing lights, doorless freezers, and open refrigerator aisles, supermarkets are almost always the biggest energy guzzlers around, using twice as much as energy as the average commercial building per square foot. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) only hospitals and restaurants are more energy-intensive. The electricity and natural gas used by the average supermarket  annually dumps 1,900 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s as if they filled the space with 372 cars and ran the engines all year.

Worst of all are the walk-in coolers, refrigerators, and freezer cases. These are the nation’s single biggest source of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), emissions that are 4,000 times more powerful in causing climate warming than carbon dioxide. While shoppers have been educated to bring reusable bags or to choose paper over plastic—even banning disposable plastic bags in many cities and towns—the EIA reports that HFC greenhouse gases from super­market refrigerators and freezers pose just as great a threat to the environment, yet few stores have been fitted with greener equipment.

What’s good for the goose..
More and more consumers are doing their part. It’s time for supermarkets to step up their own sustainability efforts.

 

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Food Activists and Tea Partiers Team Up to Fight GMOs

image via Whale.to

image via Whale.to

 

It’s said that politics make strange bedfellows.
None stranger than the union of Food Democracy Now and the Tea Party Patriots. 
The unlikely allies are united in their opposition to a small bit of language that was tucked into the emergency spending bill which Congress passed and President Obama signed that keeps the federal government operating through the end of the fiscal year.

The controversial rider, the so-called ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ was quietly and anonymously inserted into the agricultural appropriations portion of the 587 page budget document as it wound its way through Congress. The provision allows biotech companies like Monsanto to ignore pending safety reviews and even federal court rulings on the dangers of their genetically modified seeds. Plants can stay planted and seeds can continue to be sown and sold, and the companies can’t be sued over any damages that result when the crops are consumed. Unless there’s a veto or a court rules it to be an unconstitutional usurpation of judicial review, the provision will last until the spending bill expires at the end of September.

This ugly little bit of legislation was eventually proven to be the work of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), who represents Monsanto’s home state, is a frequent recipient of Monsanto campaign donations, and is a lawmaker with a long record of using legislative tricks to benefit special interests. It somehow appeared in the Senate version of the budget without committee review or debate, and many in Congress claim to have been unaware of its inclusion. It slipped in under the nose of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md), who distanced herself with the statement “As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski’s first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown.”

A common enemy. Sort of.
The Tea Party is protesting the Monsanto Protection Act because it’s rife with abuses of power, special interest loopholes, collusion, and corruption. Tea Partiers aren’t all that worried about the environmental impact and possible health risks of genetically engineered and modified organisms, and in fact their official position is that “It is not the purview of Tea Party Patriots to comment on the merits of GMOs.” But we need to worry about all of it.

The upshot of the legislation is that we’re going to be eating whatever is already out there. And the GMOs and seeds that are already in the ground have this year’s growing season and harvest to spread their funky coding in seeds, pods, spores, and pollen that blow across the land and flow into our water. We have no assurance of consumer safety— there are no independent, long-term studies investigating how this new genetic experiment affects our health, environment, and future food security—and no legal protections or recourse.

Food for thought:
After a recent earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto made a donation of 475,000 tons of genetically engineered and treated seeds to the devastated farmers of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. They chose to burn them rather than plant them.

Join environmentalists, food activists, and even Tea Partiers in the fight to overturn the Monsanto Protection Act. 
Add your name to the petition at Food Democracy Now where they are on their way to a million letters of support.

 

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Don’t (necessarily) Buy Local

[image via Science Photo Library]

[image via Science Photo Library]

 

Buy local food for its freshness. Buy it to preserve open space and support the local economy. But don’t do it to save the planet.

The flawed logic of food miles: here’s where we went wrong.
We always knew that there was something wrong about eating air-freighted raspberries in the dead of winter, and when the term food miles entered the enlightened lexicon it gave us a way to quantify it. Food miles taught us to measure the distance that food travels from farm to plate and to calculate the related carbon emissions based on that mileage. Fewer miles was supposed to mean less environmental impact.
If only it were that simple.

At first glance monitoring food miles seems to be a fine way to reduce carbon emissions. Now we know that it’s not how far the food travels that counts, but how it’s grown and how it gets to market. If you’re not careful, cutting food miles can actually increase your food’s carbon footprint.

Miles are only part of food’s carbon impact, and they turn out to be a pretty small part.
Studies show
that 83% of the carbon emissions produced by the food system come from food production and 5% from wholesale and retail activities. On average only 4% of total emissions are generated by delivery transport from the producer to the retailer. And closer is not necessarily better. Unless your local farmer or wholesaler makes deliveries in a hybrid truck, a big rig hauling tons of produce in a single, long-distance load will produce less carbon dioxide per pound of food. Air-freighted winter raspberries, though, are never the right choice: food that flies can produce up to 15x more carbon emissions than food that’s trucked in, and 100x the emissions than if it traveled by ship.

Whatever the mode of transportation, the environmental impact of food miles is dwarfed by the carbon emissions produced by food production. And once again, local doesn’t always mean better. Even after accounting for the food miles, fruits and vegetables that can be grown outdoors in distant, tropical climates will nearly always be greener than local crops that have to be grown in greenhouses.

The key to eating local foods is to eat with the seasons.
When food is local and in season, the emissions created by both production and transport are limited. And of course fresh, local, seasonal foods just taste so much better.

The National Restaurant Association named local foods a ‘hot trend in 2013.‘ Lay’s potato chips is running commercials featuring farmers who bring the simple happiness of farm life to big cities across America— including one whose ‘local farm’ covers 17,000 acres in 11 states. See how Big Food is co-opting the local food movement in Gigabiting’s Buying Local: Is it style over substance?

 

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Mother Nature for Rent

greenacres

 

 

It starts with a weekly visit to the farmers market.
It’s all fresh, in season, and you see who’s growing your food.

Then you join a CSA.
The food is more abundant, the commitment to sustainable agriculture is greater. Your weekly farm share has you eating with the growing season, and with your pre-paid subscription you’re contributing to the stability of a small and local producer.

What’s next?
Dirt under the fingernails and you’re own diesel rototiller?

Rent Mother Nature takes you to the next level of connectedness while keeping your fingernails clean. Similar to but more direct than a CSA, RMN inserts you into the growing cycle by leasing you your own little corner of the farm. You’ll lay claim to a beehive in the Catskills, an oyster bed on the Puget Sound, or a pistachio tree in the Arizona desert, and for one season the harvest is yours.

Massachusetts-based Rent Mother Nature was started in 1979 as a way of helping small-scale New England farmers improve their pre-harvest cash flow. The company now works with farms across the country and even a few from other parts of the world, so you can lease an organic date palm tree in California, a wild rice bed on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota, or a cocoa tree in the rainforest of Costa Rica.

Rent Mother Nature sends out periodic progress reports during the growing season, and many of the farmers welcome personal visits from lease-holders. There is a minimum guaranteed bounty, and a roll-over to the next season if it’s not met. If it’s a bumper crop, you’ll get first dibs on the larder.

Rent Mother Nature partners with artisanal producers and farmers practicing natural and organic agriculture, and engages in fair-trade in foreign countries. When you lease a dairy cow you’ll get wheels of brie or cheddar from an animal you’re on a first-name basis with. The sap of your leased sugar maple tree is boiled into syrup in a traditional wood-fired sugarhouse in the Adirondacks. The wheat from your leased acre of land is sent to a Rhode Island mill that’s been operating since 1711, and the great-great-grandchildren of the Massachusetts textile mill’s original owner are still shearing the wool and custom-weaving the blanket from your leased sheep.

On the Rent Mother Nature website you’ll find nearly two dozen 2013-2014 leases available for crops and products including prolifically-producing Florida citrus or Georgia peach trees that can be leased in their entirety or by the branch, lobster trap leases that land you the yield from a ten-day fishing trip in Maine, and hive leases for jars of raw, unfiltered honey produced by a single, flower-specific beehive.

 

 

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The U.N. Wants You to Buy Funny Food

 

image via The Mutato Project

image via The Mutato Project

 

‘Funny’ is their word.
Let’s call it like we see it. We’re talking about ugly fruits and vegetables; the two-legged carrots, blotchy apples, crooked cucumbers, and lumpy lemons. They’re the culinary misfits that are culled by the farmer in the field, tossed out by the supermarket produce department, and if they make it far enough, passed over by consumers.

Farmers plow under more than a fifth of their crops every year because they don’t meet marketing standards for their appearance, and retailers generate another 1.6 million tons of food waste. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s food production goes to waste, and about half of that is for cosmetic reasons. The U.N. says it could feed 900 million of the world’s hungriest citizens with our cast-offs.

Market standards for appearance are often circumscribed with awe-inspiring precision. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s document for greenhouse-grown cucumbers goes on for 10 pages describing the allowable gradients of the curves for cucumbers that bend, bow, or taper toward the ends. Field-grown varieties are guided by a separate document. The color of a red apple is delineated in the following paragraph:

That an apple having color of a lighter shade of solid red or striped red than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. For the striped red varieties, the percentage stated refers to the area of the surface in which the stripes of a good shade of red characteristic of the variety shall predominate over stripes of lighter red, green, or yellow. However, an apple having color of a lighter shade than that considered as a good shade of red characteristic of the variety may be admitted to a grade, provided it has sufficient additional area covered so that the apple has as good an appearance as one with the minimum percentage of stripes of a good red characteristic of the variety required for the grade. Faded brown stripes shall not be considered as color.

The Federal Trade Commission sets additional standards of beauty for fruits and vegetables that are shipped across state lines, and there are separate benchmarks for imports.

The European Union has already loosened its notoriously arcane produce regulations (sample banana spec: The thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27mm). Britain’s Sainsbury’s supermarket further relaxed its own standards, putting forked parsnips and knobby apples on the shelves of its 1,000+ stores.

Here in the U.S. we waste nearly as much as we eat, tossing out 20 pounds of food each month for every man, woman, and child. We spend a billion dollars a year just to dispose of  it. Unlike so many of the challenges we face, food waste doesn’t require a technical solution so much as a new mindset.

The U.N. is taking on the global leadership, partnering with consumers, producers, and governments to address waste issues in the food system. It’s just launched Think.Eat.Save, a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors.

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The Happiest Place is Also the Most Organic

Bhutanese photo-illustration via The Weekly Standard

Bhutanese photo-illustration via The Weekly Standard

 

The Happiest Place On Earth®
Disney owns the trademark, but the Kingdom of Bhutan has cornered the market for Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is a quirky little nation perched in the Himalayas between India and China with few roads, no railway, and a per capita income of around $1,400. It has the second worst soccer team in the world, beating Montserrat in FIFA’s World Cup match for that distinction; cigarette smoking is a crime; and television has only been broadcast throughout the kingdom since 2006. But they sure are happy.

BhutanmapInstead of the single, economic yardstick of Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan has always tracked its progress with a multidimensional happiness index. It’s only had a constitution since 2008, but as far back as 1729 the national law stated “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.”

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index takes into account all the usual standard-of-living data like literacy rates, life expectancy, employment rates, and housing stock. The index also incorporates holistic factors like quality of meals, social relations, ecological diversity, and individual ties to community and environment. The Bhutanese have decided that this comprehensive definition of happiness will elude them without a national policy of environmentally-sound and sustainable agriculture.

Bhutan is aiming to be the world’s first 100% organic nation.
In 2011, the government implemented policies that will convert all of the nation’s agricultural land into organic farms within 10 years; a goal that’s all the more significant in a country where two-thirds of its citizens are agricultural workers.

Bhutan is already well on its way there. As a poor, less developed country, many of Bhutan’s farmers engage in sustainable practices by default. Even if they can afford modern equipment and materials, the geographic remoteness and lack of transport have kept pesticides and synthetic fertilizers out of their hands. The majority use local water sources and homemade compost, and farm on land that’s untouched by industry, traffic, and other forms of urban blight. The government roadmap to organic conversion is primarily focused on rural education and organic certifications.

Bhutan should be an interesting laboratory for whether a nation can become organic.
And it will be just as interesting to learn if their Gross National Happiness Index trumps our Gross Domestic Product as the true measure of a nation’s well-being.

Read A Short Guide to the Gross National Happiness Index from the Centre for Bhutan Studies.

The nation’s road map to sustainable agriculture is found in The Royal Government of Bhutan’s Economic Development Policy.

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It Takes 640 Cups of Water to Make 1 Cup of Coffee

images-1

 

imagesYour morning coffee was made with an entire bathtub full of water.
That’s what it takes—about 40 gallons of water—to grow and ship the beans for just a single 8 ounce cup, black, no sugar. That’s 640 cups of water to produce the one cup of coffee. It boggles the mind.

When you say water conservation, most people think of low-flow shower heads and turning off the taps while they brush their teeth. But all the water you see going down the drain is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what we can’t see in our food. Household uses make up just 5% of the water we consume, while the food and drinks on our tables soak up 75% of the total. In fact an entire day’s worth of washing, brushing, and flushing doesn’t add up to the water contained in a single chicken drumstick.

A cup of coffee, a chicken leg; that’s just the beginning. Here are the water totals embedded in some of the foods that get you through your day:

Breakfast: orange juice, two eggs, and toast– 127 gallons
The juice of two oranges = 26 gallons (more if it’s commercially-processed juice)
Two eggs = 46 gallons
Two slices of bread, two teaspoons of butter = 55 gallons (butter’s a killer at around 50 gallons per tablespoon)

Lunch: grilled chicken breast sandwich, little bag of chips, iced tea with lemon and sugar– 209 gallons
chicken breast, bun, lettuce, condiments= 149 gallons (make it a cheeseburger and you’re looking at 673 gallons)
chips = 50 gallons
iced tea= 14 gallons (better than a 16 ounce Coke at 66 gallons)

You’ll think twice about an afternoon snack when you realize that a single serving of peanut M&M’s requires an eye-popping 500 gallons of water in its production and transport.

Dinner: steak, corn on the cob with butter, salad with avocado, red wine– 891 gallons
6 ounces of beef =  700 gallons (if only we ate more goat; the water used to produce 6 ounces of beef would get you 6 pounds of goat meat!) 
1 ear of corn plus 1 teaspoon of butter =  54 gallons 
lettuce, ½ tomato, ¼ avocado, vinaigrette dressing =  117 gallons (it’s mostly the water-intensive olive oil in the dressing)
2 glasses of California wine = 80 gallons

Add in another coffee, maybe some ice cream or a handful of cookies before bed, and over the course of a single day the water contained in a typical American diet will fill and refill that bathtub 38 times.

bathtubs

Generally speaking, plant-based foods are produced with less water than animal products because meat and dairy items are embedded with the water of all the grains that were used as feed. Grass-fed and foraging animals are vastly more efficient and sustainable than water-guzzling, industrially-raised, grain-fed varieties, but pound for pound, animal products have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water usage per calorie or protein contained in the food product.

Where the food comes from also matters. India’s tea industry relies on irrigation while Sri Lanka’s tea plants are fed by abundant monsoon rains. Israel grows especially thirsty crops in the desert but does so with reclaimed seawater and the world’s most efficient irrigation. Still, when you realize it takes nearly 30 gallons of water to make a single chocolate Hershey’s Kiss, the fact that cocoa beans grow in rain-fed tropics is less compelling.

Here in the U.S. where fresh water is so plentiful and well-managed, we tend to overlook just how precious and valuable it is. Water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world, and as our food system grows ever more globalized, water shortages elsewhere become our food security problem. Add in the uncertainty of a future marked by global climate changes, and it’s a good bet that water will become an increasingly important component in both domestic and global affairs.

How-Much-Water-Do-You-Eat

Know your water footprint. National Geographic has an online calculator that tallies your personal usage based on home, garden, diet, and energy practices.

At Water Footprint.org you can explore a water footprint database of 132 countries. Yes, we Americans are the water hogs of the planet.

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