B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘farm’ tag

A Pitch to Obama on Food and Farming

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Michael Pollan appeared on Bill Moyers recently, and said he most certainly did not want to be Agricultural Secretary. Can’t say that I blame him, but somebody needs to be appointed, and hopefully, not somebody who is closely aligned with the Monsantos and ADMs of the world.

Produce Center

The fact that a Secretary of Agriculture has yet to be named has some chefs, farmers and animal welfare advocates wondering whether food and farming have been shoved to the Obama D team.

To help move the process along, nearly 90 notable figures in the world of sustainable agriculture and food sent a letter [PDF] to the Obama transition team earlier this week offering their six top picks for what they called “the sustainable choice for the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.”

The hope is that the new secretary will be less aligned with industrial agribusiness and commodity farming than secretaries past. And if he or she embraces the connection between food, health and the environment, well, that’s all the better.

The letter lays out a tall order:

“From rising childhood and adult obesity to issues of food safety, global warming and air and water pollution, we believe our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a vision that calls for: recreating regional food systems, supporting the growth of humane, natural and organic farms, and protecting the environment, biodiversity and the health of our children while implementing policies that place conservation, soil health, animal welfare and worker’s rights as well as sustainable renewable energy near the top of their agenda.”

[From A Pitch to Obama on Food and Farming – Diner’s Journal Blog – NYTimes.com]

The Obamas do seem to enjoy quality eating, so maybe there is still a glimmer of hope for us who are fans of natural foods, local grown produce and the like.

Fridgedaire from the Future…

Written by Seth Anderson

December 6th, 2008 at 4:43 am

Posted in Food and Drink,government

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Zucchini In the Sky

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We’ve been intrigued by Dr. Dickson Despommier’s hydroponic urban utopia ever since he made an appearance on the Stephen Colbert show a few weeks ago. Such a richly imaginative and evocative idea: much better than another parking garage or condo building.

Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, hopes to make these zucchini-in-the-sky visions a reality. Despommier’s pet project is the “vertical farm,” a concept he created in 1999 with graduate students in his class on medical ecology, the study of how the environment and human health interact.

The idea, which has captured the imagination of several architects in the United States and Europe in the past several years, just caught the eye of another big city dreamer: Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president in New York.

When Stringer heard about the concept in June, he said he immediately pictured a “food farm” addition to the New York City skyline. “Obviously we don’t have vast amounts of vacant land,” he said in a phone interview. “But the sky is the limit in Manhattan.” Stringer’s office is “sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm,” and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor’s office within the next couple of months, he said.

“I think we can really do this,” he added. “We could get the funding.”

[From Country, the city version: Farms in the sky gain new interest – International Herald Tribune]

There is a slide show of some possible designs for the building here, a permalink to the New York Times article here, and Dr. Despommier’s Vertical Farm website is found here.

Written by Seth Anderson

July 15th, 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Food and Drink

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Bad Cow Disease

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"The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition" (Upton Sinclair)

Paul Krugman notes, correctly, the reason for so many food safety issues – the conservatives long-term goal of stripping regulatory agencies of any real power to regulate (coupled with staffing of regulatory agencies with officials with conflicted interests)

How did America find itself back in The Jungle?

It started with ideology. Hard-core American conservatives have long idealized the Gilded Age, regarding everything that followed — not just the New Deal, but even the Progressive Era — as a great diversion from the true path of capitalism.

Thus, when Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, was asked about his ultimate goal, he replied that he wanted a restoration of the way America was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

The late Milton Friedman agreed, calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. It was unnecessary, he argued: private companies would avoid taking risks with public health to safeguard their reputations and to avoid damaging class-action lawsuits. (Friedman, unlike almost every other conservative I can think of, viewed lawyers as the guardians of free-market capitalism.)

Such hard-core opponents of regulation were once part of the political fringe, but with the rise of modern movement conservatism they moved into the corridors of power. They never had enough votes to abolish the F.D.A. or eliminate meat inspections, but they could and did set about making the agencies charged with ensuring food safety ineffective.

They did this in part by simply denying these agencies enough resources to do the job. For example, the work of the F.D.A. has become vastly more complex over time thanks to the combination of scientific advances and globalization. Yet the agency has a substantially smaller work force now than it did in 1994, the year Republicans took over Congress.

[Click to read more of Op-Ed Columnist – Paul Krugman – Bad Cow Disease – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com]

Unfortunately, one can’t eat solely from Farmer’s Markets. Remember to thank a Republican next time you hear of a food-safety crisis, or next time you get salmonella.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 14th, 2008 at 8:41 am

Posted in Food and Drink,government

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Corporate Welfare – The Sugar Edition

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Moto Watermelon Cucumber

The US Farm subsidy program has some real consequences to consumers, especially consumers of sweets. Free trade is in reality a myth.

The sugar program may be the most harshly criticized of a number of farm subsidies which are included in the mammoth legislation. The Bush administration had previously called for reform to the decades-old plan, along with other subsidies, at a time when consumers are facing record food and commodity prices.

“There is an overwhelming consensus among economists that it is good for producers, but bad for consumers,” said Russell Roberts, an economics professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Rather than the Bush administration’s called-for reform of the sugar program, the newest version includes increases in non-recourse loan rates, a shift in market allotment policy to guarantee that 85 percent of U.S. sugar demand comes from domestic sugar and restrictions on the disposal of excess sugar supply by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The changes raise the price of a program, which according to its charter is supposed to cost nothing to taxpayers, to an estimated $333 million per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The biggest complaint from the Sweetener Users Association in the latest farm bill is the guarantee of 85 percent of domestic sugar demand to U.S. producers, according to a source at the USDA. The guarantee places a cap on sugar imports with the exception of Mexico, an exemption it gained under NAFTA.

[Click to read more of: Sugar’s money, influence continue to plague domestic candy companies]

The high price of sugar encourages confectioners to relocate their plants outside of the US.

Since 2002, when the previous farm bill went into effect, the price of candy, on average, has increased 17 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“They’re skyrocketing,” said Todd Moore, chief operating officer for Chicago Chocolate Co., of prices. While Moore’s company doesn’t produce its own chocolate – it purchases chocolate from Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co. to make its products – the increase in commodity costs still affects it.

“The price of chocolate has gone up probably 30 to 40 percent, and I’m sure some of that probably has to do with the price of sugar,” Moore said. As Moore spoke, he was in process of writing a letter to his customers informing them of the company’s first price increase in three years.

The current price of domestic sugar hovers around 21 cents per pound, while the world price is near 10 cents per pound.

Some manufacturers have moved to Canada or Mexico to combat what they say are the high sugar prices they are forced to pay. In the past two years, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. moved what were its Life Savers candy operations to Canada. …

Another Chicago company, Ferrera Pan Candy Co. also expanded its candy making operations in Mexico and Canada, while reducing its domestic production.

“You can’t import sugar, but you import candy bars more freely,” Roberts said.

Sugar subsidies also factor in on ethanol manufacturing – corn is cheap, sugar isn’t, so more corn gets grown at the expense of nearly everything else.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 6th, 2008 at 10:54 am

Posted in Food and Drink,health

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