More Food in the News

Lunch Doesn’t Have to Suck

More schools and universities seem to be jumping on the sustainable, local agriculture bandwagon. Yet another story hits the New York Times on the subject of public and private schools seeking locally grown alternatives to the products of corporate agriculture.

One reason cited for the growth of this trend is the attempt by administrators to get kids and young adults to eat more healthy food as a means to fight the growing obesity epidemic. Even though transitioning to locally grown foods often leads to higher food costs, especially in the short term, many administrators are sold on the idea of helping kids learn to like and eat more healthy foods.

“Children’s obesity issues have highlighted the farm to school program,” said Marion Kalb, director of the national farm to school program for the Community Food Security Coalition. “It appeals to taste as well as nutrition and how to get kids to change their eating habits.” The nonprofit coalition works to build sustainable food systems that ensure access to affordable, nutritious food.

Another factor cited in the article for the growing number of school systems turning to local alternatives is the rapid increase in oil prices.

Considering that oil just reached a record seventy dollars a barrel today, and might go over one hundred dollars a barrel due to the devestation of Hurricane Katrina, my prediction that prices for non-locally produced fresh foods will jump may come true sooner than I had expected.

I will make another prediction: I think that more and more institutions like schools will turn toward locally produced food as the artificially low prices on non-local petroleum-based agricultural products begin their inevitable rise. I also think that we will see more farmer’s markets open up, and more small farmers get into the game as demand rises for local products.

Why the Hell is Organic Food So Damned Expensive, Anyway?

So, now that I have your attention, I want you all to trot on over to Grist Magazine and read this article by Christy Harrison. You remember that irritating column by Julie Powell in the New York Times, where she claimed that those of us who eat organic food are a bunch of elitist food snobs and railed about how awful it was that the stuff was so expensive? Remember how shallow it was, in that it pointed out a problem in regards to organic food production, but didn’t give any thought as to why that might be, and instead decided to fling accusations and call people names? (Artful mudslinging is a hallmark of fine yellow journalism.)

Well, this article answers some of the legitimate questions that were raised in her column, and explains, in a much more succinct fashion than I could manage myself, why organic produce is often more expensive in the grocery store than its conventionally produced corporate counterparts. (It does ignore the basic fact that if you buy at a farmer’s market, that same organic food is often cheaper than the price they charge in a grocery store, but that is apparently a side issue.)

Here’s a little peek at what is inside the article:

Conventional crops are heavily subsidized by the federal government in the United States, making them artificially inexpensive. Couple those subsidies — which have been in place since the New Deal — with the cost of cleaning up pollution and treating health problems created by conventional farming, and we’re paying a lot in taxes in order to pay a pittance at the grocery store.

“When we make the argument that low-income people can’t afford organics, we’re assuming that the prices of conventionals are the prices we should be paying,” says a USDA economic researcher who asked to remain anonymous. “But those prices externalize a lot of costs, like pollution and higher energy inputs.”

A study last year by Iowa State University economists showed that the annual external costs of U.S. agriculture — accounting for impacts such as erosion, water pollution, and damage to wildlife — fall between $5 billion and $16 billion. (For context, that’s as much as twice the EPA’s 2005 budget.) And Michael Duffy, a coauthor of the Iowa paper, says his team’s estimate is conservative.”

There is a lot more in that gem–it is worth a read–trust me.

How to Find a Mad Cow

Now, y’all just know it wouldn’t be Food in the News at Tigers & Strawberries if I didn’t make some mention of BSE. Yes, bovine spongiform encephalopathy is one of my favorite hobby horses, because it is a nightmare of humanity’s own making; someone, somewhere, at some time thought it might be a good idea to feed an herbivorous life-form protein rendered from meat. More specifically, some dipshit took a dead cow, rendered it down into cattle feed and fed it to live cows, and thought that was just fine and dandy.

Right.

My grandpa never went to college, but he raised cows most of his life, and he could have told said dipshit exactly why that was a bad idea. “Cows were meant to eat grass! They are built to eat it. If they were meant to eat meat, they’d have teeth like dogs or cats!” I can hear him ranting now.

Well, anyway, the news this week is, there may be a new test on the way to detect BSE and its human counterpart, Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, in the bloodstream of cattle and humans before they show symptoms or drop dead with holes in their brains. Basically, it increases the number of prions already present in a given blood sample in order to make them detectible. This would eliminate the need for samples of brain tissue to confirm a case of BSE.

This new procedure has the potential to help prevent the spread of the human form of the disease through transfusions, and it might make it easier to diagnose and destroy sick cattle before there is a risk of them wandering into our food supply.

Well, it might help keep sick cows out of our food supply so long as the USDA actually went to the effort of testing a decent number of the cows in the US herds. And since the USDA doesn’t seem overly eager to test very many cows in the first place, I am not so certain that it would work.

But it is a nice idea, and I applaud the fine researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for coming up with the procedure.

It isn’t their fault that the USDA is in the pocket of the cattle industry.

And with that sarcastic remark, thus concludes the second installment of Food in the News.

Y’all eat well, now, y’hear?

4 Comments

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  1. I have to say all the colorful language makes for quite the interesting post. ;)

    Informative as always – Thanks!

    Comment by allen wong — August 30, 2005 #

  2. Eh, I was in a fractious mood, Alan, as you can tell. Mostly, when I do Food in the News posts, I am trying to be amusing while pointing out serious news stories.

    That dipshit part in the BSE post–well, that is genuine, and it is toned down. I don’t have a very high opinion of whoever it was who came up with the brilliant idea of making herbavores carnivores, and not only carnivores, but cannibals. Why someone couldn’t have forseen that such an action would have the potential to rack up serious consequences, I don’t know.

    But I can feel my Grandpa wanting to rise from his grave and give someone a good clout about the ears over it every time I read about BSE.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 30, 2005 #

  3. Thanks for linking to the Grist article. I read it, and especially enjoyed the thoughtful comments following. Very intelligent.

    I blog about small farms, and it’s clear to me that loving them as I do, I am voting with my dollars. I go to as many farmers markets a week as I can.

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I very much appreciate seeing that it matters to other people, as well. I could throttle that simpleton, Julie Powell. It’s abundantly clear to me that she has no taste. How ironic is that? Heh.

    Comment by Tana — August 30, 2005 #

  4. Hey, Tana–welcome!

    Yeah, well. I’ve said a lot about Powell’s illogical and incorrect assertions, and made a few cracks about her character on the side, so I won’t go any farther except to say that I was disappointed in the piece. It -could- have been a well-written bit of rant, but it wasn’t. And I think that is a shame to show that much ignorance in a high profile publication like the NY Times.

    Yes, the Grist piece was great–I will be following their stuff from now on, and when I find good nuggets that will be of interest to my readers, I will pass them along.

    I saw your blog–it is great! I am going to link to it, definately. It looks like we share a lot of interests.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 30, 2005 #

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