Tag Archives: farming

Organic Spinach Recall

1 Jun

The other day, I was checking out at the grocery store, and when I swiped my shopper’s club card, the cashier told me there was a recall notice that would print out on my receipt.

When I got the receipt, it turned out that the brand of packaged organic baby spinach I buy on pretty much every trip was being recalled for a potential salmonella contamination. I could bring the package back to the store for a full refund.

By the time I got the recall notice, the package of spinach was already empty and in my trash, so as you may guess based on the measured nature of this post, I did not, in fact, get salmonella. Since the contamination can cause nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, etc. I think I would have noticed. But of course, this brings up some interesting issues to ponder here.

First, yes, even organic vegetables are in danger of becoming contaminated. For those who haven’t heard about the salmonella spinach, listeria cantaloupe, etc. of the last year or so, a brief refresher: many packaged produce products are handled at the same facilities, or shipped in the same trucks, that transmit contaminated meat products or animals, which are rarely cleaned. All it takes is one trip for potential contamination to occur.

Second, and larger, this is an important wake-up call for someone like me. I’m stuck in a situation where I resort to buying pre-packaged organic produce shipped in from distant ports (or, you know, California). And it’s important to remember that’s truly not the same thing as buying organic, local produce. Produce from a small-scale farm that doesn’t use chemicals. A farm with a small staff and easily-observable hygiene standards. A farm far from the potential contamints of the larger food industry because it’s not a part of that industry, but rather a part of a local foodshed. Produce from people whose hands I can shake.

Oh, how I wish all the produce was that kind of produce. Until we get there as a nation, let’s all of us, individually, remember to prioritize the local and transparent above all else, and not be lulled into the false sense of security a USDA organic label can give us. Organic is vitally important, especially from a larger environmental perspective, but organic can still be industrial.

Basically, the reminder here is to wash your veggies, even if you buy organic (whether for this reason, or just ot rinse of the lovely local dirt that comes with fresh farmer’s market produce!), and to keep yourself in the loop to advocate for stricter health and safety standards on a food industry way out of control.

We’re In This Together

11 May

The recent NYTimes contest calling for essays advocating for the ethics of eating meat produced some interesting responses. My take on it was similar in thought process to the winning entry. But for now, I’m interested in the reactions from around the world of food to the very idea of the contest.

In peoples’ responses, I saw evidence of the beginning of a splintering in the food movement, between those who advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet, and those of us becoming known as “selective omnivores”–who advocate a diet that includes meat but focuses on local and sustainable sourcing.

Here’s an example of the take that ethical vegetarians seemed to have to the contest:

Do ethical vegetarians…pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries that the Times Magazine must now invite its millions of readers to shout them down? … We find it disturbing that the Magazine would organize such a one-sided contest, and moreover that Ariel Kaminer should introduce it with such frivolity. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Kaminer writes, caricaturing vegans as members of a “hard-core inner circle” who have “dominated the discussion.” With her very breeziness (“Bon appetit!”), Kaminer seems intent on trivializing the warrant for ethical veganism.”

Michele Simon, a public health lawyer whose work I normally greatly admire had a similarly dismissive take on the notion that the ethics of meat eating are worth discussing:

Was this really a burning problem that needed solving, the lack of justifications to eat meat? What do you suppose has caused America’s love affair with meat in the first place? …  It saddens me that given all the pressing problems of our day, many of which caused by excessive meat eating (global warming, contaminated air and water, chronic disease, worker injury, and yes, animal suffering, just to name a few) the Times is promoting such a self-indulgent contest.

I’ve heard similar rumblings from some of the sustainable meat producers I know — those who raise grass-fed cattle or run small-scale slaughter operations — that the push for meatlessness is misdirected, and hurts those who are striving for a more sustainable, animal-friendly meat. One farmer friend suggested that “Meatless Mondays” should be renamed “Pasture-Raised Meat Mondays” to better support his business, and draw the line where it should be placed.

Ironically, after calling the contest self-indulent and accusing meat-eaters of being brainwashed by industry, Simon  finishes her entry by saying:

Moreover, we don’t need even more ways to polarize people over personal dietary choices. Let’s stop the infighting and focus on the core of the problem: corporate control of the food supply.

Overall, I find the notion of criticizing what the Ethicist column chooses to devote a contest to a bit frivolous in itself. But the end of Simon’s letter makes a good point, and is my point in this post: staying strong and united is in our best interests.

Ultimately, ethical vegetarians and ethical omnivores want the same things, and we need to spend more time thinking about what we have in common than on what divides us. Just as the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movements, and now, the LGBQT movement have all struggled with this kind of splintering, the new movement of food advocacy will likely occasionally butt heads over territory or priority.

Advocating for a decrease in overall meat consumption is good for all of us. Most ethical vegetarians believe that we should eat less meat overall, and while sustainable meat producers may bristle at this initially, it’s in their best interests, too. Aside from being better for our health to consume less meat than we currently do, and better for the land overall, a smaller national hankering for meat is one that can be met exclusively by small-scale, pasture-raised operations.

When I met with Bartlet Duran of Black Earth Meats a few years ago, he made an interesting point by saying that his operation isn’t interested in getting into the large chain grocery stores. To produce enough to meet the demands of a Wal-Mart, or Safeway, or Hy-Vee, they would have to scale up. And they like doing things on their scale, because it allows for ultimate control over the animals’ diets, living conditions, slaughterhouse conditions and worker pay. Direct marketing to consumers makes more sense, and that requires being a smaller operation. So if ethical vegetarians get their way, and can convince Americans to eat less meat overall, small-scale producers will be uniquely suited to meet those demands at the most competitive price point.

On the other hand, supporting sustainable meat operations is in the best interest of veg*ns, too. In every conversation I’ve ever had with a vegetarian (including with myself) about her reasons for being one — be they environmental, economic, labor-rights, or ethical — those reasons can be nearly universally addressed by the sustainable meat industry. Every problem a vegan or vegetarian has with meat is actually one they have with the industrial meat complex.

Even vegetarians who are not personally comfortable with a reversal of their diet surely can admit that if some Americans want or need to eat meat, they would rather they come from family-owned, biodynamic operations than anywhere else. In advocating for those operations, no one is suggesting that we force anyone to eat meat — just that we all work to make sure the meat that is available comes from the best possible source.

So rather than fighting with each other, let’s turn our joint attention outward to our common enemy, the industrial food complex. Let’s focus on our common ground, and we can get some real work done.

Working the Food Chain

9 May

Today’s post is inspired by my mounting excitement over the final stages of funding and post-production on a new food documentary that I can’t wait to see: Sanjay Rawal’s FOOD CHAIN, which explores the state of labor within the agriculture sector in the US and the immoral practices that affect the lives of countless thousands of farm workers.

Check out the trailer.

Yes, actual — not sort-of – slavery.

You can find more information on supporting the documentary, which has met its initial Kickstarter goal,  but has a secondary goal to fully fund the film’s graphics, here.

I’ve summarized some of the labor rights issues in the agricultural industry here before, but thought it was worth revisiting, to put faces, and some specific numbers, to the abstraction that is so often associated with the hands who pick our food — even the food we buy at Whole Foods, or Trader Joes.

According to the California Institute for Rural Studies, the typical farmworker in the U.S. is a young man who has left his family to work in the field.  He ususally spends between 12 and 14 hours a day in the field, six days a week, and made between $7,000-10,000 a year for an individual, or up to $13,000 a year for a family. The farmworker has no health insurance. No sick days, no vacation days, and certainly no union. More than 50% have never been to a dentist—about 1/3 have never seen a doctor. Typically, farms provide housing for their workers during the growing and harvesting season, to maximize the picking hours in a day. Workers can expect to pay about $50 a week to live in run-down shacks or trailers, sometimes with as many as 15 other people.

All this, all this our farm workers get in exchange for picking the food we need, for working the third most dangerous job in the country. The odds of dying on the farm are 39 out of 100,000. Farmworkers suffer the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders of any workers in the country, and are more than 25% more likely than the average American to develop asthma, birth defects, tuberculosis and cancer. Children of migrant farm workers have higher rates of pesticide exposure, dental disease and malnutrition.

Because, oh yes, the agricultural industry is exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor regulations. In every other industry, the minimum age to work legally in this country is 16. On the farm, it’s 12.

So why would anyone want to do farm work—if it’s so back-breaking, hot, exhausting, dangerous and underpaid, why would you sign up for it? Because you don’t have any other option, of course. It’s probably not a surprise that the vast majority of California’s farmworkers—and, in fact, a majority of farmworkers across the country—are undocumented immigrants. Close to 90% of farmworkers in the U.S. are Spanish-speaking, and most of those born in Mexico. Over 50% of immigrant farmworkers nationwide are not protected by legal documents, and so, in this country, they have no legal rights. This lack of documentation contributes, along with a tight bottom line and a slim margin of economic error on the farm, to the horrible working conditions of the modern American farm.

*

When sociologists discuss patterns of migration, they have two terms to explain what makes a person move from one place to the next—they call them push factors and pull factors. The pull factors for farm work in the United States are that agriculture is a dangerous industry. Because the jobs are so life-threatening, and the pay is so low, the agriculture industry would either have to raise pay and improve conditions—or recruit workers from abroad, where there are more laborers, fewer jobs and much, much lower wages. The U.S. agriculture industry is primarily located in California, where a cheap and willing supply of labor is close at hand. Why provide healthcare and housing when you can just import undocumented immigrants instead?

The push factors are the things that make a person’s home country worth leaving behind. Let’s put it this way: the push factors are the things that make working 80 hour weeks hunched over in a field under the blazing sun for seven grand a year look like the American Dream come true.

Before you begin to think that the solution here is to close the borders and take those jobs back, I should make it clear that this is a pretty good deal for the U.S. too. Paying migrant farm workers next to nothing and having a constant stream of people willing to work cheap is what keeps us all in fresh produce, all year round, for pennies. It’s the reason why I can walk into a grocery store in the middle of February and buy a head of romaine for 99 cents. And if the cheap food itself weren’t benefit enough, the U.S. Social Security Administration has recently estimated that three out of every four undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes (in addition to paying the same sales and consumer taxes the rest of us pay), and that undocumented workers contribute six to seven billion dollars in Social Security funds that they are not eligible to claim.

Plus, show me the pools of American citizens out there just dying for a job picking lettuce in Oxnard.

*

Next time you consider all the standards to which you currently hold your food, or next time you wonder whether your standards aren’t unreasonably high, take a moment to remember the very real human face of that food. The price tag might look a little different.

To Feed

4 May

A few months back, I had an essay contemplating fertility and motherhood on The Nervous Breakdown. But when I initially conceptualized that essay, it had a much stronger agricultural connection than the final version. In light of recent posts here about parenthood and feeding our children, I thought I’d resurrect some of the scraps of that essay into a short, meditative post on motherhood and feeding.

In describing the sand dunes in the desert in her book, Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams writes “[t]here is musculature in dunes. And they are female. Sensuous curves—the small of a woman’s back. Breasts. Buttocks. Hips and pelvis. They are the natural shape of the earth.”

The earth and the body, shaped by the same forces of biology, and in many ways servicing the same greater purpose. We, the land and the woman, are the providers of food.

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In order to maintain its fertility—the word fertility itself here is a reminder of the links between land and body. Fertile, noun, meaning: capable of sustaining abundant plant growth; producing or bearing fruit in great quantities; capable of breeding or reproducing. In which of these definitions is the woman, in which is the land?—the soil’s nutrient cycle must be strong, constant.

Soil requires a healthy, vigorous root structure, the silken threads of dangling plants umbilical cords, flowing nutrients to the stalk, above the surface. The methods for transferring food from soil to plant to eater. Soil must be fed to be healthy enough to feed.

Soil must also be maintained. Prone to erosion, the ground itself can be swept away by too much wind, water. A soil particle can become detached, dislodged, can become an individual separate from the entity we call land. The roots and the living elements bind soil particles together into an aggregate. Healthy farming practices that reduce tillage, that use the decay of organisms to create nutrients, that limit water runoff by planting only on strong, aggregate soil, all create the elements of this bond.

And because the soil is strong, the plants have food, we have food.

But, in the name of producing food, we are poisoning the food providers. The land is sick. The women are dying.

*

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, agriculture was revolutionized—that is, agriculture underwent what is now known as “the Green Revolution” which is also known as the widespread decimation of industrial agriculture technology. Words crop up in repetition here: modern, developed, improved, synthetic, science-based.

Mostly these technologies consisted of chemicals, and of mechanisms for distributing chemicals. Pesticides to increase per acre yields. Nitrogen fertilizer to eliminate the need for soil recovery time. Plants genetically altered to grow closer together, grow with less water, grow in spite of the pesticides. What we hoped, what the whole hungry starving unequal world of food hoped, was that all these chemicals would feed more and more and more people, that all these chemicals would stop so many from going hungry. We mixed and we doused and we prayed.

We were wrong.

And we’ve known for some time now that we were wrong. We’ve known that instead of nurturing the soil, that instead of feeding the plants that would become food, chemicals are poisoning the soil, are poisoning our food.

Herbicides, meant to protect plants by eliminating weeds, are gradually destroying plant root structures, causing fungal root diseases, reducing the plants’ abilities to absorb micronutrients from the soil.

All these chemicals, too, are creating monsters. Monster weeds and monster bugs capable of withstanding the poison of the chemical. Evolving past death by chemical. So we mix more and we douse more and we pray more even though it’s not working.

Even though we know these chemicals we thought would protect our food are killing it.

*

Author, researcher, cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber writes, upon holding a vial of her own amniotic fluid, “It contains the sap of apples, the juice of oranges, the tea I drank a few hours earlier, and the milk I poured over my cereal that morning.” The food is the land is the body.

Rivers and creeks pass from the land sprayed, so quietly, with pesticides and planted with fertilizers, into reservoirs into tap water. Pregnant women are routinely advised not to drink the water in high-agricultural use areas. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma occurrence rates are highest over the Midwest and Great Plains, the region of highest use of agricultural pesticides.

Our bodies tell us the story, if we are willing to listen. Pesticide residue is detected in body fat, umbilical cords, placentas, breast milk. Pesticides that crumple our genes to damaged shells of themselves, that erect walls around hormone production systems in our bodies, that smother healthy cells, that nourish and encourage tumor growth.

*

Feed is a verb. To feed. To give food to; supply with nourishment. To serve as food for. To produce food for.

Or perhaps, to feed must mean more than simply to produce a commodity that can be ingested. Perhaps to feed has come too much to mean to become a good, consumed.

Perhaps: To supply with something essential for growth. To nourish. To nurture. To sustain.

The Kashi Controversy, Or, Know ALL Your Farmers

27 Apr

A weird new trend is springing up on the internet,  a trend I think of as “viral images.” Not videos. Just single photos that twelve or seventeen of my Facebook friends will post in a 24-hour window. Yesterday’s was the image below, of some Rhode Island grocery store’s sign explaining their decision to stop stocking Kashi.

I promise I’m going to work very hard to make sure the rest of this post doesn’t come off as a lecture. I know a lot of people — you, me, us, the average consumer — may genuinely not be aware of the Kashi-GMO connection, or any of the others that I will detail here. But an organic grocery store just now finding out? Ok, nevermind that.

So I take this as a teachable moment, and the teach is this (in case you don’t feel like reading the rest of the post): All processed food should be treated as suspect.

This doesn’t mean all processed food is bad. But it does mean we need to start changing our definition of “processed.” Most people tend to think that if a food is labeled as organic, natural, containing all-natural ingredients, containing no artificial ingredients, containing whole grains, etc etc etc. then that’s good enough.

But I tend to judge food based on the package it comes in. If you can pick up the ingredient by itself (like a vegetable or piece of fruit) you’re golden. If it’s in a box, a bag, or the freezer section, you should start checking ingredients lists. Sometimes you will find just one or two things — still golden! Frozen fruits and veggies, a bag of plain pita chips, etc.

The real lesson to me, of the Kashi controversy though, is not the length of the ingredients list. The presence of GMO ingredients, as of right now, is not a labelling requirement, so you wouldn’t see those by reading the package. The reason I wasn’t surprised by this revelation from Kashi (aside from knowing about it for some time) is that I know Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s.

Click to view image larger

Yes. Kellogg’s, the 12th largest food processing company in the world. Producer of many fine sugary cereals, currently lobbying against the FDA’s voluntary regulatory guidelines for marketing those same cereal to children Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s, who also, by the way, owns MorningStar and Gardenburger brands.

Like I said, I’m not here to lecture, or to wag my finger and say you should’ve known better.

Because I didn’t used to know either.

Here’s how I wrote about my moment of discovery in The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat:

Boca burger, according to their website, was founded in the 1970s by a chef determined to make the vegetarian hamburger taste good. What the website doesn’t mention is that Boca was acquired in 2000 by Kraft Foods, the largest food processing company in North America. Up until 2007, Kraft was owned by Altria Group—the new and improved name of the public-relations challenged Phillip Morris, USA.

When I started picking away at the corporate connections in the food industry, I began to feel like an internet crazy. The more I dug, the more I convinced myself maybe I was just making mountains out of molehills—maybe I was looking too hard for something not really there. Maybe it didn’t have to be so hard. Maybe I could just turn away, go back to my old, easy vegetarian diet.

Until I read that in 2001, a U.S. jury ordered Philip Morris to pay three billion dollars in damages to a smoker suffering terminal cancer, a landmark legal victory for the anti-tobacco movement. Phillip Morris appealed the decision, but the next week they went out and raised nine billion dollars, by selling just 16 percent of Kraft Foods. Suddenly, my purchase of a Boca Burger, supposedly free from the stains of corporate greed, just went to helping an evil tobacco corporation from sinking into bankruptcy.

The point is: if the all natural brand is owned by the same multinational corporation that makes the mainstream product you are avoiding, you have reason to distrust their ingredients list, their treatment of workers and animals, and their environmental record.

When I said something like this on Facebook yesterday,  my friend Lindsey made a good point in asking what this all actually means. How can we tell which brands are “good” and which are “evil”? Or at least, which to actually buy.

My short answer there, was, half-jokingly: Organic/natural foods are not all made on communal love-farms.

But the good, well-developed answer isn’t that you must simply avoid any and all corporate products. I still buy mayonnaise and pasta that have been industrially-produced. But being aware of the corporate connections and therefore, potential health, safety, and environmental issues for even our “natural” food products is important if for no other reason than it reinforces an emphasis on whole foods, and on foods made with our own hands, as much as possible.

What are your thoughts on the Kashi controversy? Did any of the connections on the chart above surprise you? Do you remember your moment of realization? Leave a comment and share your story with us!

Hope & Fear in the New Food World

14 Mar

The weather’s turning warm here, warm enough that it’s actually freaking me out a little. Kansan temperatures will get into the 80s this week, and for a child of New England, with its April snow days, a girl of the mountains with snow caps all year round — I can’t help but feel the warmth as a harbinger of the new world, the post-climate change world, in which the havoc we have wrecked is upon us.

But still, there is so much joy in warm weather, in windows open, rolled down, sleeves up, legs bare. As I walked home from school this afternoon, sweating lightly in my short-sleeved dress, I thought about holding on to this dual sense of hope and doom, the equal promise of spring and the fear of global warming. And I thought about food.

I thought of how food offers us both the same reasons to be both hopeful and afraid. Nearly every day, stories pass in front of my eyes that give me cause to shake my head with indignation. Stories about pink slime (demystified well here) and locust-like plagues of corn rootworm from GE seeds. This is the stuff of apocalypse — and that statement grows less hyperbolic each day, in a world where whole countries are relocating to avoid the effects of climate change.

But there is cause for hope, too. There are myriad stories of good news, like the slow and long-overdue phasing-out of the pork gestation crate. But more than tangible, hard news, I see mounting evidence of a sea change in the way people think of food.

I see hope in Seattle, where the city plans to construct a seven-acre public-access food forest.

I see hope in central Iowa, where customers at my old co-op can now buy locally-grown aquaponic tilapia, and the greens fertilized with their waste.

I even see hope in the Twitter debate over banning pink slime from school lunches — where even those from the beef industry are forced to refer to the substance as pink slime, which they would prefer we call “lean finely-texture beef.” Just as with the — in my view — failure of the corn industry’s rebranding campaign of high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar, people are no longer fooled.

We are no longer fooled and we no longer want to be. We know there is much to be afraid of in the world of food – or in this unseasonably warm March weather. But we refuse any longer to turn away from what those dangerous signs are telling us. That is cause for hope — but soon, we must turn it into action.

Iowa Outlaws Undercover Factory Farm Investigation

7 Mar

This past weekend, Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad signed into law the nation’s very first bill making undercover factory farm investigations illegal.This is a major loss for food safety, farmer’s protection and animal rights, so let’s break it down.

The law actually makes lying on a job application to get access to a farm facility a serious misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,500. A second conviction carries harsher penalties.

I’ve already covered why these laws are problematic. Let’s today work to un-do the spin on these undercover videos. They aren’t problematic — they are valuable artifacts of one of our society’s greatest fights, to protect the source of our food.

Proponents of the bill claim that this strikes a balance between protecting farmers from fraudulent job-seekers while continuing to encourage current employees to report animal abuse. The flaw in that logic isn’t something getting a lot of attention, however, because it means acknowledging the differences between who those employees are.

Current employees of farms and slaughterhouses–especially ones contracted with major meat producers–will tend to be lower-income minorities or other marginalized populations, including undocumented immigrants. They are much less likely to endanger their job status by reporting abuse than an activist working for the Humane Society who can afford to take–and then lose–the job to uncover the abuse.

And uncover the abuse they do. Some supporters of the law would have us believe that these videos are only flukes, carefully edited together portraits of rare and occasional abuse that doesn’t need reporting.

Let’s look back just a few months ago to the Humane Society’s release of this video, which documented legal practices of the pork industry, and led pretty directly to McDonald’s announcing it would phase out those exact practices.

The videos lead to change, just as other acts of undercover investigation have in the past.They are an important tool in an ongoing struggle to change the laws and practices of the industrial agriculture industry, and Iowa, which raises more hogs and laying hens than any other state in the nation, has become the center of the problem.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

9 Feb

I’ve never been a gardener.

I know. It seems like someone who rants and raves about fresh food, and the joys of vegetables as much as I do should really have a little patch of her own, right? But the truth is, I’m a terrible plant steward, so I’ve never bothered to try and grow my own food. I’ve mentioned kitchen fails before on the blog. But when it comes to plant fails — nobody’s got me beat. I once killed a plant that was in my care for a single afternoon. Seriously.

But a few weeks ago, my friend Amy mentioned to me that she’d love to see a blog post about how to plant in her enclosed porch, and I got to thinking that maybe this was the year to give it a shot.

I’ve begun doing research for the kinds of planting options that might work for my living arrangements (renting a house with little direct sunlight, but a shared backyard), and here’s what I’ve learned so far. I’ll be blogging my gardening journey as I grow, too, and promise more pictures once the process is underway.

What to Grow

For the smallest, easiest, least amount of indoor effort, it seems an herb garden, which you can grow in small pots on a windowsill with good light, is the best bet. Herebs grow easily indoors, and take up very little space.

But there are plenty of vegetables to grow indoors, too. The easiest seem to be…

  • Lettuce is fast growing, requires less light than other vegetables and is really healthy! I love a variety of mixed greens, so I’m excited about this prospect.
  • Tomatoes and Peppers need lots of full sunlight, so they can be trickier indoors, but the right varieties (small-fruited) and the right lighting choices make them possible, especially since they like especially warm temperatures.
  • Radishes and Carrots grow relatively quickly indoors, with the right technique

There are also all sorts of options for indoor sprouted seeds, such as corn, barley, alfalfa, lentil, etc.

Where to Grow

  • Indoor growing requires containers. You can be pretty creative with containers, as long as they will hold soil and stand up to watering.
  • You have to especially make sure to have provisions for draining the containers as you are watering them — whereas outdoors, you can just let the water pool out, indoors, that might mean a puddle in your kitchen, so a small pan around the pot to catch excess water seems a good idea.
  • Since containers hold a smaller amount of soil, you will likely need to water more frequently.
  • Some people have experimented with using hanging baskets, as certain small fruited plants have varieties developed for growth in those containers.
  • The advantages of containers, though, are great. First, you can be creative & colorful, using recycled materials and interesting yard sale finds. Plus, the containers are easily transportable, so you can maximize your plant’s light exposure.

Even if you don’t have so much as a windowsill, you may be able to garden. Check out community garden options in your area — a fun, social opportunity as well as a way to get fresh veggies. You could even give guerrilla gardening a shot!

How to Grow/How not to Kill and Destroy

When it comes right down to it, the basic requirements for plants to grow big and strong are soil, light, water and nutrients (yes, I have to start out that basic). For each plant and variety, make sure to research the specific needs, modify and meet those needs with your container and location, and take it from there. I have found a lot of good info so far from this Virginia Tech Extension website, and plan to gather specific as I go.

Overall, it seems to me that gardening is a lot like baking: if you have to take one of those things out (say, you can’t get direct sunlight), find a way to replace it (with a clamp-on shop light for example). Don’t be afraid to play around, do some research, and decide what works for your space. As always, feel free to drop me an email to ask a question — we’re in this one together!

What are your tips and tricks for successful gardening — indoor or out? Any advice or pitfalls to avoid for new, inexperienced, or horrifically disastrous gardeners? Leave a comment and share your wisdom, green thumbs! Or, if you’re a black thumb like me, ask a question and see what our We*Meat*Again community has for you!

What’s Conventional About This Agriculture?

2 Feb

About a year ago, Whole Foods Market announced its decision to end a nearly twelve-year battle against the contamination of organic crops by genetically-engineered crops. At the time, this was seen by many in the sustainable food community as a cave from a major player in the natural foods market to industry pressure.

But the reason this is news now is that on January 31, family farmers took part in the first phase of a court case filed to protect farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed, which contaminates organic and non-GMO farmer’s crops and opens them up to abusive lawsuits.

You can learn more about the problem of GMO-contaminated crops in this great article from TIME. But for now, I think that it’s important to see all the ways this particular conflict mirrors the bigger one, the enduring agricultural struggle of our time.

Big vs. small.

Many call this conventional vs. organic. But at a conference a few years ago, a fellow writer (and therefore, analyzer of words) commented to me how strange it was that organic — the natural process unimpeded by human-made chemicals — would be considered unconventional.

The question of Whole Foods not being able to protect organic farmers from Monsanto, to me, echoes the question that has been more recently explore by Tom Philpott and Andrew Revkin of whether Wal-Mart can play a role in the sustainability movement. Or the question of organic subsidary brands owned by multi-national food corporations.

The real question is: Can industrial and natural agricultural practices co-exist in the same food system? Or do we need a new one all together?

I don’t know the answer, but I’ve always sort of leaned towards revolution… What do you think?


What’s Coming for Food in 2012?

10 Jan

Welcome to 2012, We*Meat*Again! Sorry for my lapse in posting, all. The holiday hiatus was more all-consuming than I thought it would be, and I’ve missed a lot of food news. Rather than try to cover it all, I wanted to catch us up with a post about what I think is coming for the food movement over the course of the next year. There is both good and bad news, and in some ways, the two go hand-in-hand.

Food Consciousness Goes Mainstream

I’ve been engaging in a mini personal research project for my book, investigating how and why the average person has become more food conscious, and the answers I’ve been receiving have been remarkable, compelling, and truly important. What I’m hearing is that people like you and me, people with regular jobs and regular incomes, large or small, are finding the many, many ways in which food affects their lives. Their reasons include health & fitness, parenting, economic limitations, social justice concerns, and community investment.

NPR recently had a great piece echoing this on a larger scale, the notion that we’re interested in local food as a source of authenticity in an increasingly out-of-control world. And to me, that’s a very promising trend.

Government Still Behind the Curve

The end of 2011 was mired, for me, by a decision by the FDA that demonstrate what is still wrong with the government’s positions on food policy, especially in terms of changing large-scale corporate agricultural practices to improve health & safety.

Late in the day on December 22, the FDA quietly issued an announcement that it would abandon its pursuit of (again, voluntary) regulation of the use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA has been pursuing this mission since the late 1970s, and we’ve covered here on the blog before why this is important for the health of consumers. The fact that the FDA backed off this mission can be seen as nothing other than giving in to very real industry pressure, just at the time when more and more meat is contaminated with diseases that are dangerous to our health, after a year of at least one major meat recall per month.

We have more people becoming aware of the importance of a food revolution — and a government still shying away from doing anything about it. So I think…

2012 is the Year of People Power

TIME magazine’s person of the year was The Protester. We’re angry. We’re exhausted. We’re broke. And we are prepared to do something about it. In 2011, we saw floods of people globally taking to the streets to begin to try. Mark Bittman’s column last week was a wonderful examination of the ways in which food is a part of this larger trend. Perhaps 2012 can be the year we harness the power of the local food movement to protest the government’s failures to act on our behalf.

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