Farming goes online

An essential tool, even in rural areas

August 31, 2011

Farmers’ markets and CSA-subscription farms have long relied on the Internet for marketing purposes. But farmers who aren’t necessarily connected directly with their eaters are climbing on the virtual bandwagon too.

As Gosia Wozniacka reported recently for the Associated Press, more than half of the country's farmers are online. And they’re not just hanging out:

Farmers say they’re increasingly using the Net to speed up their work flow, improve their farming techniques, market their crops, connect with customers and retailers, and fulfill a variety of regulatory requirements.

The relative dearth of high-speed Internet connections in rural areas, combined with the cost of buying electronic equipment, has prevented farmers from keeping up with the rest of America in Web habits. The number-one hindrance, however? Farming itself — which naturally takes up most of the day on a farm.

The squeeze at the farmers’ market

Too many markets, not enough demand

August 30, 2011

Has the market for markets become saturated? »

Science in the field

High tech versus low tech

August 29, 2011

Are science and technology the only ways to feed the globe? »

Brown-bagging it

Tips for homemade school lunches

August 26, 2011

Just in time for the back-to-school season, the Environmental Working Group has posted a list of five tips for improving homemade school lunches:

  1. Get ideas from cookbooks focused on healthy family fare.
  2. Send less and better meat to school.
  3. Pack more fruits and veggies, and try to minimize the pesticides.
  4. Don’t include boxed juice or soda.
  5. Cut down on wasteful packaging, if you can.

And yes, the detailed list online includes suggested menus that EWG staffers actually make for their own kids, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and veggies for snacking.

Take a survey, ponder some books

Roots of Change talks directly to readers

August 25, 2011

The agricultural nonprofit Roots of Change recently posted a survey asking readers to rate their top food-and-farming issues. Do you care more, for example, about environmental issues, or access to healthy food, or labor issues, or farming security? Take the survey yourself to share your opinion.

Roots of Change also posted the results of a Facebook poll asking readers to list their favorite sustainable-food books from this summer. The winners? Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland, Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish, Gary Paul Nabhan, Kraig Kraft, and Kurt Michael Friese’s Chasing Chiles, and yet another book on fowl fancying titled Keeping Pet Chickens.

Ruth Reichl on American food

Her thoughts on our history

August 24, 2011

She likes memoir. »

The dirt on Monsanto

Roundup Ready ain’t much good for plants, soil, or animals

August 22, 2011

Back in July, Tom Philpott wrote on Mother Jones about the all-too-predictable end result of using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide: weeds that have evolved to resist the chemical. (The resulting weeds, naturally, are called “superweeds.”)

This month, Philpott continues the saga, with the news that prolonged use of Roundup damages soil, encouraging the growth of harmful fungi and parasites. Oh, and the livestock that eat Monsanto’s GMO crops designed to withstand Roundup Ready? They’re exhibiting fertility problems.

The feds, as usual, are ignoring the problem, while Monsanto is busy developing ultra-toxic backup poisons.

A different bill of rights

One congressman’s quest for better food and farms

August 19, 2011

Earl Blumenauer tackles the Farm Bill once more. »

The alternative meat diet

Eating insects instead of meat

August 18, 2011

It’s the eco thing to do. »

Salmonella in turkey

Marion Nestle parses the Cargill recall

August 17, 2011

And calls, yet again, for food-industry reform. »

E. coli around the U.S.

The latest outbreaks

August 16, 2011

Just as the news story about the deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe was fading, new outbreak reports are cropping up Stateside. Fresh strawberries sold at farmstands and farmers’ markets in the Pacific Northwest — apparently contaminated by wandering deer — have sickened several and killed at least one. Meanwhile, the USDA has recalled more than 60,000 pounds of contaminated ground-beef products, produced by National Beef and shipped nationwide. And of course, you don’t have to get E. coli from your food at all, as a recent outbreak of the disease in a state-park lake in Pennsylvania has emphasized. Don’t drink the water, OK?

The obesity debate

How much influence do your friends really have on your weight?

August 15, 2011

A few years ago, science announced that obesity was contagious — that, in other words, hanging out with fat people could lead you to become fat yourself.

Now, however, come the contrarian reports, asserting that no, our social habits aren't to blame for our current obesity epidemic. At issue are whether the statistical models used in the original study were valid or not — and the scientists involved can’t agree:

At the heart of the dispute is an old conundrum in social science: How certain can anyone be about conclusions based on observations of how people behave?

Garden greed

Summertime, and the picking is easy

August 12, 2011

As a local story in the New York Times pointed out last weekend, the ripening of summertime crops in community gardens has also meant growth in the garden-theft department. Some thieves are fellow gardeners, while some are strangers, lifting not just plump produce but entire plants. Reactions vary, from frustration and anger to stoicism and creativity:

Garden theft is by no means unique to New York. In 2007, David Tracey, a Vancouver journalist and environmental designer, published “Guerrilla Gardening, a Manualfesto.” Tips from the book appear on Ecolife, a Web site devoted to green living. He says yellow tomatoes are less enticing than red ones; protective fencing and belligerent signs are acceptable; and hiding desirable fruits like raspberries behind beets or parsnips is smart strategy. He also has a Zen-like attitude to dealing with stealing. “Invent some better scenario,” he wrote, “where the stolen food somehow ends up in the stomachs of people who need it.”

For a longer look at guerrilla gardening, check out Guerrilla Gardening, where the movement to beautify spaces with green things (and occasionally prevent theft) hangs out.

The good old days

Food really was better way back when

August 11, 2011

Whether organic food is healthier for you than conventional food is still a bone of contention, but as Natalie Jones recently pointed out on Grist, the food we grow and eat today just isn't as healthy as the food we grew and ate half a century ago. (It’s also not as tasty, either.)

What’s the story? So far, the theory is that breeding for higher yields has led to a decrease in nutrients: “The studies show that as fruits and vegetables get bigger and more plentiful, nutrients get diluted.” Be sure to scroll down for the cool interactive graphic, too.

The biofuel battle

Food versus fuel, yet again

August 10, 2011

It ain’t news that rising food costs are due, in part, to the fact that we use edible plants for fuel instead of food. In July, however, a report confirmed the link between U.S. food prices and plant-fuel production. As the Guardian noted, even as farmers worldwide rush to grow more corn and soybeans, there still isn't enough to feed our demand for both food and fuel. And efforts to produce sustainable biofuels from non-edible plant materials, Reuters recently reported, are at least five years away from mass production.

The junk-food tax

Mark Bittman’s call for a new sin tax raises debate

August 9, 2011

Will such a tax ever happen? Maybe not. »

Food-stamp nation

Reliance on food stamps hits an all-time high

August 8, 2011

As local news outlets around the country have noted lately, the number of Americans relying on food stamps to stave off starvation has hit an all-time high, with more than 45 million Americans enrolled in the federal food-stamp program. (That’s approximately 15 percent of the total U.S. population, or 1 in 7 Americans.) The Economist did a good job parsing the numbers back in July, but the question remains: Will the current financial mess in D.C. mean cutbacks to the food-stamp program just as more and more people need it?

Dead zones

The Chesapeake Bay competes with the Gulf of Mexico

August 5, 2011

Rain this year means the largest dead zones ever. »

Knife work

How to hold a chef’s knife

August 4, 2011

A recent blog post on the Los Angeles Times website gave readers quick tips on how to correctly hold and use a chef's knife. A bit of a spat broke out in the comments section over whether the accompanying image — showing the proper “choke hold” — was correct.

Well-known L.A. Times food writer Russ Parsons had to step in, reassuring readers that, yes, “choking up” on the knife is right, even though it can look counterintuitive, and that the hand shown in the shot really is a cook’s hand, despite the perfectly manicured nails.

For more tips, check out Chow’s videos on how to hold a chef's knife and how to use a chef's knife.

A meat eater’s guide

From the Environmental Working Group

August 3, 2011

The Environmental Working Group — the nonprofit long known for its shopper’s guide to organic produce — recently released a meat eater's guide. The goal? To get meat eaters to choose the healthiest, most environmentally friendly meats, and to not waste any of it once purchased. Tips on the EWG’s website include eating less meat overall and buying grass-fed meat. (The EWG also recommends eating low-fat or nonfat dairy products; these are lower in toxins, but generally more processed.) For more info, read the EWG’s full report.

Science and organic agriculture

Mythbusting and myth repair

August 2, 2011

A spat in the blogosphere over science. »

Michelle Obama, food activist

She goes glam for healthy eating

August 1, 2011

And takes flak for embracing Walmart. »

Sift archive — August 2011

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