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rachelg
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« on: September 17, 2008, 08:28:51 PM »

Wouldn't it be nice if you were required to have country of origin labeling on food. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/17/world/asia/17milk.html?_r=1&sq=melamine&st=cse&oref=slogin&scp=2&pagewanted=print
 
September 17, 2008
Baby Formula Sickened Many More, China Says
By JIM YARDLEY

BEIJING — China's health minister on Wednesday reported a third death from contaminated baby formula and said more than 1,300 babies remained hospitalized, including 158 for acute kidney failure, in what has become a rapidly widening food safety scandal.

The minister, Chen Zhu, presented the figures just a day after the government said a dangerous chemical additive had been discovered in samples of infant milk powder produced by 22 Chinese dairy companies. Before that disclosure, officials had focused their investigation on a single company, the Sanlu Group, which has acknowledged producing formula powder laced with the additive, melamine.

At a news conference Wednesday morning carried on national television, Mr. Chen said that in total 6,244 babies had been sickened so far by the tainted powdered formula. Most of the children had recovered.

On Tuesday, China Central Television, the state-run network, reported that an inspection of 175 dairy companies had found traces of melamine in some batches of baby formula at 22 of them, including Sanlu.

Dairy companies quickly began recalling products, including the country's largest dairy operation, Mengniu. At the same time, the government has sent more investigators to inspect dairy companies across the country.

The scandal is especially charged politically because government officials pledged to reform food safety regulation after a spate of problems last year. In one highly publicized case, thousands of pets in the United States were sickened by pet food made with a Chinese ingredient tainted with melamine.

Melamine is an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer. But in the past, Chinese farmers have admitted using the chemical to artificially inflate protein levels in feed or other agricultural products.

Infants sickened by the tainted formula have developed kidney stones and other ailments. On Monday, less than a week after the first disclosures about the bad formula, the Ministry of Health announced the second infant death and said that 1,253 babies had been sickened over all, including 53 still hospitalized in serious condition. The revised figures on Wednesday included 6,244 babies sickened.

The third death was reported in Zhejiang Province; the earlier ones were in Gansu Province.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities announced Tuesday that traces of melamine had been discovered in frozen yogurt made by the Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group. In response, the Hong Kong supermarket chain Wellcome announced that it would stop selling frozen yogurt made by the company, according to news agency reports.

Public anger seems to be rising. This week, parents of sickened children have congregated outside the Sanlu Group corporate headquarters in the city of Shijiazhuang, in Hebei Province.

China News Agency, a government service, reported that the company's chairwoman, Tian Wenhua, stepped down Tuesday. The company has blamed suppliers for providing tainted milk.

Chinese officials have blamed the company for failing to come forward about the problem. Parents with sick children began complaining as far back as March, and Fonterra, a New Zealand dairy corporation that owns a large minority stake in Sanlu, said it learned of the problems in August and tried to prod Sanlu into making a public recall.

Sanlu did not do so until state media reported the problems last week.

The police have announced the arrest of two more suspects, a farmer and a milk dealer in Hebei Province. Earlier, two brothers who worked as milk dealers in Hebei were arrested.

Dairy farming is a rapidly expanding business and competition is fierce. Some dealers have admitted to diluting milk with water, but doing so lowers protein levels. As a result, melamine, rich in nitrogen, is sometimes used to artificially inflate those levels.

Huang Yuanxi contributed research.

« Last Edit: May 11, 2011, 11:35:05 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
DougMacG
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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2008, 10:39:27 PM »

I agree with Rachel regarding country of origin labeling.  From my point of view, instead of banning trade or taxing trade, content and origin in labeling either required by industry groups or government would cause informed trade which is better than restricted trade.  Even state origin or more specific yet would be helpful.  Besides food poisoning scares I know that people wanting to lessen their energy footprint prefer to buy things from closer to home.

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rachelg
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« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2008, 06:12:28 PM »

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/11/opinion/11kristof.html?em=&pagewanted=print
December 11, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Obama's 'Secretary of Food'?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed "secretary of food."

A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.

Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

"We're subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket — high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we're doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food," notes Michael Pollan, author of such books as "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food."

The Agriculture Department — and the agriculture committees in Congress — have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.

But let's be clear. The problem isn't farmers. It's the farm lobby — hijacked by industrial operators — and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it.

I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., where my family grew cherries and timber and raised sheep and, at times, small numbers of cattle, hogs and geese. One of my regrets is that my kids don't have the chance to grow up on a farm as well.

Yet the Agriculture Department doesn't support rural towns like Yamhill; it bolsters industrial operations that have lobbying clout. The result is that family farms have to sell out to larger operators, undermining small towns.

One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year you, the American taxpayer, send me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That's right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon.

Modern confinement operations are less like farms than like meat assembly lines. They are dazzlingly efficient in some ways, but they use vast amounts of grain, as well as low-level antibiotics to reduce infections — and the result is a public health threat from antibiotic-resistant infections.

An industrial farm with 5,000 hogs produces as much waste as a town with 20,000 people. But while the town is required to have a sewage system, the industrial farm isn't.

"They look profitable because we're paying for their wastes," notes Robert P. Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. "And then there's the cost of antibiotic resistance to the economy as a whole."

One study suggests that these large operations receive, in effect, a $24 subsidy for each hog raised. We face an obesity crisis and a budget crisis, and we subsidize bacon?

The need for change is increasingly obvious, for health, climate and even humanitarian reasons. California voters last month passed a landmark referendum (over the farm lobby's furious protests) that will require factory farms to give minimum amounts of space to poultry and livestock. Society is becoming concerned not only with little boys who abuse cats but also with tycoons whose business model is abusing farm animals.

An online petition that can be found at www.fooddemocracynow.org calls for a reformist pick for agriculture secretary — and names six terrific candidates, such as Chuck Hassebrook, a reformer in Nebraska. On several occasions in the campaign, Mr. Obama made comments showing a deep understanding of food issues, but the names that people in the food industry say are under consideration for agriculture secretary represent the problem more than the solution.

Change we can believe in?

The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position. A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed "the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry." And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, "Department of Food and Agriculture." I'd prefer to see simply "Department of Food," giving primacy to America's 300 million eaters.

As Mr. Pollan told me: "Even if you don't think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we're not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture."

Your move, Mr. President-elect.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2008, 11:04:29 PM »

PJ O'Rourke had a very powerful chapter in his "Parliament of Whores" about the Dept. of Ag.    It would make sense to me to abolish the whole thing.
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rachelg
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« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2008, 08:21:04 PM »

The Vilsack pick while not unexpected is disappointing.

http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2008/12/17/pollan_vilsack/index.html
 
"About two weeks ago, some prominent activists for agricultural reform, including Michael Pollan, wrote a letter pleading with Barack Obama to break with tradition on agriculture policy.

Noting this letter, in which Pollan et al. suggested some potential appointees Obama could choose, I pointed out that they were fighting tradition, as "the job of agriculture secretary is often a token post for a Farm Belt politician, who presides over a department largely interested in the interests of agribusiness."

Well, now Obama has chosen former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for the post, about as Farm Belt politician as it gets. Here's what Pollan told Salon about the appointment:

    Am I thrilled? You know look, if I missed something, he didn't use the word food in his comments this morning. His focus is very much on production and agriculture. His record in Iowa does not give much one much reason to believe he's going to bring a reformist agenda to the Department of Agriculture. Though there are some glints of light in that record. He's shown some interest in developing local food economies in Iowa, which is encouraging. He's in favor of capping subsidies in a serious way and moving the savings to conservation. The fact that he's Tom Harkin's pick gives me some grounds for hope.

But, Pollan noted, Vilsack presided over a huge expansion of confined animal feeding operations, and is very close to the biotech industry.

    He was biotech governor of the year. And he has very close relations to Monsanto. As with every other pick, the focus is on the Nixon-in-China scenario, the hopeful fantasy, which is that these people will be able to drive reform in their bureaucracies -- that's the story of this Cabinet. Whether that comes true or not, we're just going to have to wait and see."
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2008, 01:48:59 AM »

If I remember correctly, the Dept of Ag was virtually wiped out until Bush resurrected it  angry angry angry
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rachelg
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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2009, 10:12:48 PM »

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/05/opinion/05berry.html
A 50-Year Farm Bill
By WES JACKSON and WENDELL BERRY

THE extraordinary rainstorms last June caused catastrophic soil erosion in the grain lands of Iowa, where there were gullies 200 feet wide. But even worse damage is done over the long term under normal rainfall — by the little rills and sheets of erosion on incompletely covered or denuded cropland, and by various degradations resulting from industrial procedures and technologies alien to both agriculture and nature.

Soil that is used and abused in this way is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government.

Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.

To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological "solutions" for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.

Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.

For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.

Any restorations will require, above all else, a substantial increase in the acreages of perennial plants. The most immediately practicable way of doing this is to go back to crop rotations that include hay, pasture and grazing animals.

But a more radical response is necessary if we are to keep eating and preserve our land at the same time. In fact, research in Canada, Australia, China and the United States over the last 30 years suggests that perennialization of the major grain crops like wheat, rice, sorghum and sunflowers can be developed in the foreseeable future. By increasing the use of mixtures of grain-bearing perennials, we can better protect the soil and substantially reduce greenhouse gases, fossil-fuel use and toxic pollution.

Carbon sequestration would increase, and the husbandry of water and soil nutrients would become much more efficient. And with an increase in the use of perennial plants and grazing animals would come more employment opportunities in agriculture — provided, of course, that farmers would be paid justly for their work and their goods.

Thoughtful farmers and consumers everywhere are already making many necessary changes in the production and marketing of food. But we also need a national agricultural policy that is based upon ecological principles. We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities.

This is a political issue, certainly, but it far transcends the farm politics we are used to. It is an issue as close to every one of us as our own stomachs.

Wes Jackson is a plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute in Salina, Kan. Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer in Port Royal, Ky.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2009, 12:51:52 AM »

I am quite sympathetic to the point about the unmeasured costs of industro-agriculture AND completely unpersuaded that putting the government in charge is a good idea.  Have you ever read PJ O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores"?  The chapter on the Dept of Ag in particular is quite devastating.

PJO'R wrote in the early Clinton years IIRC, and then the Gingrich Revolution nearly finished off the Dept of Ag, which would have been a tremendous blow for freedom, but in one of his worst of many bad moves, President Bush resurrected the Dept of Ag in order to buy mid-west farm votes.  It wasn't necessary politically, it was simply Republican corporate welfare.

Anyway, it is against this sense of things that I measure the idea of a 50 year plan.  Even Lenin and Stalin were humble enough to limit themselves to 5 years tongue     Right now it appears that we are about to see the human global warming hysteria of the eco-liberal fascist-MSM-academic matrix blown up.  The people who said in 1973 that we would be out of oil by 1993, and said the world was cooling, then that the world was warming and that we had to DO SOMETHING!  PUT GOVERNMENT IN CHARGE OF MANAGING THE CLIMATE OF THE PLANET!!! are now about to be wrong once again.

But BO is about to pass out trillions of dollars and I am shocked! absolutely shocked! that articles like this written by two guys who hope to get their fingers in the pie just like Halliburton did  evil would appear in the NYT. cheesy

Somehow the idea of a 50 year government plan for the management of dirt does not appeal , , ,

So what IS to be done?   One thing is to get out the word about the superior nutritional value of organic food.  Bring out the points about minerals and trace minerals missing from humans whose diet is industro-ag.  Look at how the organic food products are developing and deepening into the food chain.  People increasingly want this! 

Look for market driven analysis and solutions.
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G M
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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2009, 05:44:10 AM »

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081119-lost-cities-amazon.html

 
 
Superdirt Made Lost Amazon Cities Possible?
John Roach
for National Geographic News
November 19, 2008
 
ON TV Lost Cities of the Amazon airs Thursday, November 20, at 9 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel. Details >>

Centuries-old European explorers' tales of lost cities in the Amazon have long been dismissed by scholars, in part because the region is too infertile to feed a sprawling civilization.

But new discoveries support the idea of an ancient Amazonian urban network—and ingeniously engineered soil may have made it all possible.

(See Ancient Amazon Cities Found; Were Vast Urban Network [August 28, 2008].)

Now scientists are trying to recreate the recipe for the apparently human-made supersoil, which still covers up to 10 percent of the Amazon Basin. Key ingredients included of dirt, charcoal, pottery, human excrement and other waste.

If recreated, the engineered soil could feed the hungry and may even help fight global warming, experts suggest.

(Interactive map: "The Embattled Amazon.")

Before 1492

Scientists have long thought the river basin's tropical soils were too acidic to grow anything but the hardiest varieties of manioc, a potatolike staple.

But over the past several decades, researchers have discovered tracts of productive terra preta—"dark earth." The human-made soil's chocolaty color contrasts sharply with the region's natural yellowish soils.



Video Clip From Lost Cities of the Amazon Documentary 


Research in the late 1980s was the first to show that charcoal made from slow burns of trees and woody waste is the key ingredient of terra preta.

With the increased level of agriculture made possible by terra preta, ancient Amazonians would have been able to live in one place for long periods of time, said geographer and anthropologist William Woods of the University of Kansas.

"As a result you get social stratification, hierarchy, intertwined settlement systems, very large scale," added Woods, who studies ancient Amazonian settlements.

"And then," he said, "1492 happens." The arrival of Europeans brought disease and warfare that obliterated the ancient Amazonian civilizations and sent the few survivors deep into the rain forest to live as hunter-gatherers.

"It completely changed their way of living," Woods said.

Magic Soil?

Today scientists are racing to tease apart the terra-preta recipe. The special soil has been touted as a way to restore more sustainable farming to the Amazon, feed the world's hungry, and combat global warming.

The terra-preta charcoal, called biochar, attracts certain fungi and microorganisms.

Those tiny life-forms allow the charcoal to absorb and retain nutrients that keep the soil fertile for hundreds of years, said Woods, whose team is among a few trying to identify the crucial microorganisms.

"The materials that go into the terra preta are just part of the story. The living member of it is much more," he said.

For one thing, the microorganisms break up the charcoal into smaller pieces, creating more surface area for nutrients to cling to, Woods said.

Anti-Global-Warming Weapon?

Soil scientist Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University is also racing to recreate terra preta.

The Amazonian dark soils, he said, are hundreds to thousands of years old, yet to this day they retain their nutrients and carbons, which are held mainly by the charcoal.

This suggests that adding biochar could help other regions of the world with acidic soils to increase agricultural yields.

Plus, Lehmann said, biochar could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere from the burning of wild lands to create new farm fields. (Learn how greenhouse gas emissions may worsen global warming.)

For example, specialized power plants could char agricultural wastes to generate electricity.

The process would "lock" much carbon that would have otherwise escaped into the atmosphere in the biochar. The biochar could then be put underground, in a new form of terra preta, thereby sequestering the carbon for centuries, Lehmann suggests.

Current Amazonian farming relies heavily on slash-and-burn agriculture—razing forests, then burning all of what's left.

By reverting to the ancient slash-and-char method—burning slowly and then mixing the charcoal into the soil—Amazonian carbon dioxide emissions could be cut nearly in half, according to Woods, of the University of Kansas.

With slash-and-burn, he noted, 95 percent of the carbon stored in a tree is emitted to the atmosphere. Slash-and-char emits about 50 percent, he said.

"The rest is put into different forms of black carbon, most of which are chemically inert for long periods of time—thousands of years."

In addition, the technique would allow many farmers to stay sedentary, Woods said.

Because the soil would apparently remain fertile for centuries, "they don't have to cut down the forest constantly and send it up into the atmosphere," he said.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2009, 09:33:31 AM »

The depth and diversity of your knowledge continue to impress  cheesy  Very interesting.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2009, 10:16:57 AM »

I don't see anything logical or empirical about the owners of the farm land wanting or allowing the destruction of their own top soil.  There is a role for government in regulating what they allow to runoff onto other property or water supplies, but we have another federal department for that - the EPA.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture IMO plays a very important role in public safety.  The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA has had a quite a successful record for a government agency in achieving and maintaining public confidence in our food supply - so far.  We'll see how it goes with mad cow, bird flu and whatever is next, but the need for public safety and industry oversight is real.

But that is where it ends.  All of the spread the wealth, control the markets, limit the supplies, boost up the prices, divert the use of the land programs are highly unconstitutional, besides wrong-headed. 

I wonder which article of the constitution enumerates the power of the federal government to concoct schemes to use massive amounts of gas and diesel fuel to convert our food supply into more gas and diesel fuel..

Also, I am personally sick and tired of 5 year, 10 year and 50 year government plans and programs.  No congress has the right to bind the next congress and it is arrogant to keep thinking we today know better than those who will follow.  Every tax, every spending program and every regulation should expire every 2 years if not re-approved by those who win the next set of elections. 
« Last Edit: January 07, 2009, 10:19:36 AM by DougMacG » Logged
rachelg
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« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2009, 04:25:11 PM »



I am  certainly also  interested in  market solutions and I try to vote with my dollars on organic food. I hopefully  see the buy local, organic, sun-food movement growing  a lot in the next five years.    It would be great if we could just stop subsiding  big agribusiness.   I have not read the PJ O"Rouke book and I will add it to my list.   However I am taking a brief vaction from conservative books.   I just finished 550 pages of "Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell which was excelent though I don't agree with him on many  things.

I would prefer the world use less fossil fuels more for security reasons than for issues of global warning.  I would prefer Iran, Russia, Venezuela Saudi Arabia, etc  not to have petrodollars. 



If you using a lot of fertilizer the quality of your top soil  does not matter  as much.   
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2009, 06:15:58 PM »

Know that PJ O'Rourke is more libertarian than conservative and is side-splitting funny.   I think you will find him an enjoyable read.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2009, 11:26:51 AM »

Quoting Rachel: "If you using a lot of fertilizer the quality of your top soil  does not matter  as much."

Please source and quantify.  That's twice I've seen you trivialize the importance farmers put on top soil, but never have I heard a farmer (or homeowner with a garden) trivialize the importance of top soil.
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rachelg
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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2009, 02:05:03 PM »

Doug,  Here is a start to answering your question. This is super long but well worth reading IMO.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine&pagewanted=print
Unhappy Meals
By MICHAEL POLLAN

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health. Before long, a dense cloud bank of confusion moves in. Sooner or later, everything solid you thought you knew about the links between diet and health gets blown away in the gust of the latest study.

Last winter came the news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against breast cancer, may do no such thing — this from the monumental, federally financed Women’s Health Initiative, which has also found no link between a low-fat diet and rates of coronary disease. The year before we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we had been confidently told, help prevent colon cancer. Just last fall two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time presented us with strikingly different conclusions. While the Institute of Medicine stated that “it is uncertain how much these omega-3s contribute to improving health” (and they might do the opposite if you get them from mercury-contaminated fish), a Harvard study declared that simply by eating a couple of servings of fish each week (or by downing enough fish oil), you could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack by more than a third — a stunningly hopeful piece of news. It’s no wonder that omega-3 fatty acids are poised to become the oat bran of 2007, as food scientists micro-encapsulate fish oil and algae oil and blast them into such formerly all-terrestrial foods as bread and tortillas, milk and yogurt and cheese, all of which will soon, you can be sure, sprout fishy new health claims. (Remember the rule?)

By now you’re probably registering the cognitive dissonance of the supermarket shopper or science-section reader, as well as some nostalgia for the simplicity and solidity of the first few sentences of this essay. Which I’m still prepared to defend against the shifting winds of nutritional science and food-industry marketing. But before I do that, it might be useful to figure out how we arrived at our present state of nutritional confusion and anxiety.

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, “Eat more fruits and vegetables”?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.

FROM FOODS TO NUTRIENTS

It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by “nutrients,” which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles — things like eggs or breakfast cereal or cookies — claimed pride of place on the brightly colored packages crowding the aisles, now new terms like “fiber” and “cholesterol” and “saturated fat” rose to large-type prominence. More important than mere foods, the presence or absence of these invisible substances was now generally believed to confer health benefits on their eaters. Foods by comparison were coarse, old-fashioned and decidedly unscientific things — who could say what was in them, really? But nutrients — those chemical compounds and minerals in foods that nutritionists have deemed important to health — gleamed with the promise of scientific certainty; eat more of the right ones, fewer of the wrong, and you would live longer and avoid chronic diseases.

Nutrients themselves had been around, as a concept, since the early 19th century, when the English doctor and chemist William Prout identified what came to be called the “macronutrients”: protein, fat and carbohydrates. It was thought that that was pretty much all there was going on in food, until doctors noticed that an adequate supply of the big three did not necessarily keep people nourished. At the end of the 19th century, British doctors were puzzled by the fact that Chinese laborers in the Malay states were dying of a disease called beriberi, which didn’t seem to afflict Tamils or native Malays. The mystery was solved when someone pointed out that the Chinese ate “polished,” or white, rice, while the others ate rice that hadn’t been mechanically milled. A few years later, Casimir Funk, a Polish chemist, discovered the “essential nutrient” in rice husks that protected against beriberi and called it a “vitamine,” the first micronutrient. Vitamins brought a kind of glamour to the science of nutrition, and though certain sectors of the population began to eat by its expert lights, it really wasn’t until late in the 20th century that nutrients managed to push food aside in the popular imagination of what it means to eat.

No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

Naďvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.”

The linguistic capitulation did nothing to rescue McGovern from his blunder; the very next election, in 1980, the beef lobby helped rusticate the three-term senator, sending an unmistakable warning to anyone who would challenge the American diet, and in particular the big chunk of animal protein sitting in the middle of its plate. Henceforth, government dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington. This was precisely the tack taken by the National Academy of Sciences when it issued its landmark report on diet and cancer in 1982. Organized nutrient by nutrient in a way guaranteed to offend no food group, it codified the official new dietary language. Industry and media followed suit, and terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, polyphenols, amino acids and carotenes soon colonized much of the cultural space previously occupied by the tangible substance formerly known as food. The Age of Nutritionism had arrived.

THE RISE OF NUTRITIONISM

The first thing to understand about nutritionism — I first encountered the term in the work of an Australian sociologist of science named Gyorgy Scrinis — is that it is not quite the same as nutrition. As the “ism” suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s exerting its hold on your culture. A reigning ideology is a little like the weather, all pervasive and virtually inescapable. Still, we can try.

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.

But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to “let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion. I’ll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the “French paradox” — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you.

Another potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions between foods. So fish, beef and chicken through the nutritionists’ lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients are on their scope. Similarly, any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).

This is a great boon for manufacturers of processed food, and it helps explain why they have been so happy to get with the nutritionism program. In the years following McGovern’s capitulation and the 1982 National Academy report, the food industry set about re-engineering thousands of popular food products to contain more of the nutrients that science and government had deemed the good ones and less of the bad, and by the late ’80s a golden era of food science was upon us. The Year of Eating Oat Bran — also known as 1988 — served as a kind of coming-out party for the food scientists, who succeeded in getting the material into nearly every processed food sold in America. Oat bran’s moment on the dietary stage didn’t last long, but the pattern had been established, and every few years since then a new oat bran has taken its turn under the marketing lights. (Here comes omega-3!)

By comparison, the typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.

EAT RIGHT, GET FATTER

So nutritionism is good for business. But is it good for us? You might think that a national fixation on nutrients would lead to measurable improvements in the public health. But for that to happen, the underlying nutritional science, as well as the policy recommendations (and the journalism) based on that science, would have to be sound. This has seldom been the case.

Consider what happened immediately after the 1977 “Dietary Goals” — McGovern’s masterpiece of politico-nutritionist compromise. In the wake of the panel’s recommendation that we cut down on saturated fat, a recommendation seconded by the 1982 National Academy report on cancer, Americans did indeed change their diets, endeavoring for a quarter-century to do what they had been told. Well, kind of. The industrial food supply was promptly reformulated to reflect the official advice, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell’s and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume. Which turned out to be quite a lot. Oddly, America got really fat on its new low-fat diet — indeed, many date the current obesity and diabetes epidemic to the late 1970s, when Americans began binging on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils of fat.

This story has been told before, notably in these pages (“What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” by Gary Taubes, July 7, 2002), but it’s a little more complicated than the official version suggests. In that version, which inspired the most recent Atkins craze, we were told that America got fat when, responding to bad scientific advice, it shifted its diet from fats to carbs, suggesting that a re-evaluation of the two nutrients is in order: fat doesn’t make you fat; carbs do. (Why this should have come as news is a mystery: as long as people have been raising animals for food, they have fattened them on carbs.)

But there are a couple of problems with this revisionist picture. First, while it is true that Americans post-1977 did begin binging on carbs, and that fat as a percentage of total calories in the American diet declined, we never did in fact cut down on our consumption of fat. Meat consumption actually climbed. We just heaped a bunch more carbs onto our plates, obscuring perhaps, but not replacing, the expanding chunk of animal protein squatting in the center.

How did that happen? I would submit that the ideology of nutritionism deserves as much of the blame as the carbohydrates themselves do — that and human nature. By framing dietary advice in terms of good and bad nutrients, and by burying the recommendation that we should eat less of any particular food, it was easy for the take-home message of the 1977 and 1982 dietary guidelines to be simplified as follows: Eat more low-fat foods. And that is what we did. We’re always happy to receive a dispensation to eat more of something (with the possible exception of oat bran), and one of the things nutritionism reliably gives us is some such dispensation: low-fat cookies then, low-carb beer now. It’s hard to imagine the low-fat craze taking off as it did if McGovern’s original food-based recommendations had stood: eat fewer meat and dairy products. For how do you get from that stark counsel to the idea that another case of Snackwell’s is just what the doctor ordered?

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rachelg
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« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2009, 02:09:07 PM »

BAD SCIENCE

But if nutritionism leads to a kind of false consciousness in the mind of the eater, the ideology can just as easily mislead the scientist. Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, an approach that even nutritionists who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”

If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.

Scientific reductionism is an undeniably powerful tool, but it can mislead us too, especially when applied to something as complex as, on the one side, a food, and on the other, a human eater. It encourages us to take a mechanistic view of that transaction: put in this nutrient; get out that physiological result. Yet people differ in important ways. Some populations can metabolize sugars better than others; depending on your evolutionary heritage, you may or may not be able to digest the lactose in milk. The specific ecology of your intestines helps determine how efficiently you digest what you eat, so that the same input of 100 calories may yield more or less energy depending on the proportion of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes living in your gut. There is nothing very machinelike about the human eater, and so to think of food as simply fuel is wrong.

Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.

What’s going on here? We don’t know. It could be the vagaries of human digestion. Maybe the fiber (or some other component) in a carrot protects the antioxidant molecules from destruction by stomach acids early in the digestive process. Or it could be that we isolated the wrong antioxidant. Beta is just one of a whole slew of carotenes found in common vegetables; maybe we focused on the wrong one. Or maybe beta carotene works as an antioxidant only in concert with some other plant chemical or process; under other circumstances, it may behave as a pro-oxidant.

Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme:

4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.

This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it does nothing, we like the way it tastes.

It’s also important to remind ourselves that what reductive science can manage to perceive well enough to isolate and study is subject to change, and that we have a tendency to assume that what we can see is all there is to see. When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?

The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating food as compared with nutrients: you don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity to reap its benefits.

The case of the antioxidants points up the dangers in taking a nutrient out of the context of food; as Nestle suggests, scientists make a second, related error when they study the food out of the context of the diet. We don’t eat just one thing, and when we are eating any one thing, we’re not eating another. We also eat foods in combinations and in orders that can affect how they’re absorbed. Drink coffee with your steak, and your body won’t be able to fully absorb the iron in the meat. The trace of limestone in the corn tortilla unlocks essential amino acids in the corn that would otherwise remain unavailable. Some of those compounds in that sprig of thyme may well affect my digestion of the dish I add it to, helping to break down one compound or possibly stimulate production of an enzyme to detoxify another. We have barely begun to understand the relationships among foods in a cuisine.

But we do understand some of the simplest relationships, like the zero-sum relationship: that if you eat a lot of meat you’re probably not eating a lot of vegetables. This simple fact may explain why populations that eat diets high in meat have higher rates of coronary heart disease and cancer than those that don’t. Yet nutritionism encourages us to look elsewhere for the explanation: deep within the meat itself, to the culpable nutrient, which scientists have long assumed to be the saturated fat. So they are baffled when large-population studies, like the Women’s Health Initiative, fail to find that reducing fat intake significantly reduces the incidence of heart disease or cancer.

Of course thanks to the low-fat fad (inspired by the very same reductionist fat hypothesis), it is entirely possible to reduce your intake of saturated fat without significantly reducing your consumption of animal protein: just drink the low-fat milk and order the skinless chicken breast or the turkey bacon. So maybe the culprit nutrient in meat and dairy is the animal protein itself, as some researchers now hypothesize. (The Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell argues as much in his recent book, “The China Study.”) Or, as the Harvard epidemiologist Walter C. Willett suggests, it could be the steroid hormones typically present in the milk and meat; these hormones (which occur naturally in meat and milk but are often augmented in industrial production) are known to promote certain cancers.

But people worried about their health needn’t wait for scientists to settle this question before deciding that it might be wise to eat more plants and less meat. This is of course precisely what the McGovern committee was trying to tell us.

Nestle also cautions against taking the diet out of the context of the lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet is widely believed to be one of the most healthful ways to eat, yet much of what we know about it is based on studies of people living on the island of Crete in the 1950s, who in many respects lived lives very different from our own. Yes, they ate lots of olive oil and little meat. But they also did more physical labor. They fasted regularly. They ate a lot of wild greens — weeds. And, perhaps most important, they consumed far fewer total calories than we do. Similarly, much of what we know about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is based on studies of Seventh Day Adventists, who muddy the nutritional picture by drinking absolutely no alcohol and never smoking. These extraneous but unavoidable factors are called, aptly, “confounders.” One last example: People who take supplements are healthier than the population at large, but their health probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the supplements they take — which recent studies have suggested are worthless. Supplement-takers are better-educated, more-affluent people who, almost by definition, take a greater-than-normal interest in personal health — confounding factors that probably account for their superior health.

But if confounding factors of lifestyle bedevil comparative studies of different populations, the supposedly more rigorous “prospective” studies of large American populations suffer from their own arguably even more disabling flaws. In these studies — of which the Women’s Health Initiative is the best known — a large population is divided into two groups. The intervention group changes its diet in some prescribed manner, while the control group does not. The two groups are then tracked over many years to learn whether the intervention affects relative rates of chronic disease.

When it comes to studying nutrition, this sort of extensive, long-term clinical trial is supposed to be the gold standard. It certainly sounds sound. In the case of the Women’s Health Initiative, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the eating habits and health outcomes of nearly 49,000 women (ages 50 to 79 at the beginning of the study) were tracked for eight years. One group of the women were told to reduce their consumption of fat to 20 percent of total calories. The results were announced early last year, producing front-page headlines of which the one in this newspaper was typical: “Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds.” And the cloud of nutritional confusion over the country darkened.

But even a cursory analysis of the study’s methods makes you wonder why anyone would take such a finding seriously, let alone order a Quarter Pounder With Cheese to celebrate it, as many newspaper readers no doubt promptly went out and did. Even the beginner student of nutritionism will immediately spot several flaws: the focus was on “fat,” rather than on any particular food, like meat or dairy. So women could comply simply by switching to lower-fat animal products. Also, no distinctions were made between types of fat: women getting their allowable portion of fat from olive oil or fish were lumped together with woman getting their fat from low-fat cheese or chicken breasts or margarine. Why? Because when the study was designed 16 years ago, the whole notion of “good fats” was not yet on the scientific scope. Scientists study what scientists can see.

But perhaps the biggest flaw in this study, and other studies like it, is that we have no idea what these women were really eating because, like most people when asked about their diet, they lied about it. How do we know this? Deduction. Consider: When the study began, the average participant weighed in at 170 pounds and claimed to be eating 1,800 calories a day. It would take an unusual metabolism to maintain that weight on so little food. And it would take an even freakier metabolism to drop only one or two pounds after getting down to a diet of 1,400 to 1,500 calories a day — as the women on the “low-fat” regimen claimed to have done. Sorry, ladies, but I just don’t buy it.

In fact, nobody buys it. Even the scientists who conduct this sort of research conduct it in the knowledge that people lie about their food intake all the time. They even have scientific figures for the magnitude of the lie. Dietary trials like the Women’s Health Initiative rely on “food-frequency questionnaires,” and studies suggest that people on average eat between a fifth and a third more than they claim to on the questionnaires. How do the researchers know that? By comparing what people report on questionnaires with interviews about their dietary intake over the previous 24 hours, thought to be somewhat more reliable. In fact, the magnitude of the lie could be much greater, judging by the huge disparity between the total number of food calories produced every day for each American (3,900 calories) and the average number of those calories Americans own up to chomping: 2,000. (Waste accounts for some of the disparity, but nowhere near all of it.) All we really know about how much people actually eat is that the real number lies somewhere between those two figures.

To try to fill out the food-frequency questionnaire used by the Women’s Health Initiative, as I recently did, is to realize just how shaky the data on which such trials rely really are. The survey, which took about 45 minutes to complete, started off with some relatively easy questions: “Did you eat chicken or turkey during the last three months?” Having answered yes, I was then asked, “When you ate chicken or turkey, how often did you eat the skin?” But the survey soon became harder, as when it asked me to think back over the past three months to recall whether when I ate okra, squash or yams, they were fried, and if so, were they fried in stick margarine, tub margarine, butter, “shortening” (in which category they inexplicably lump together hydrogenated vegetable oil and lard), olive or canola oil or nonstick spray? I honestly didn’t remember, and in the case of any okra eaten in a restaurant, even a hypnotist could not get out of me what sort of fat it was fried in. In the meat section, the portion sizes specified haven’t been seen in America since the Hoover administration. If a four-ounce portion of steak is considered “medium,” was I really going to admit that the steak I enjoyed on an unrecallable number of occasions during the past three months was probably the equivalent of two or three (or, in the case of a steakhouse steak, no less than four) of these portions? I think not. In fact, most of the “medium serving sizes” to which I was asked to compare my own consumption made me feel piggish enough to want to shave a few ounces here, a few there. (I mean, I wasn’t under oath or anything, was I?)

This is the sort of data on which the largest questions of diet and health are being decided in America today.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

In the end, the biggest, most ambitious and widely reported studies of diet and health leave more or less undisturbed the main features of the Western diet: lots of meat and processed foods, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything — except fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In keeping with the nutritionism paradigm and the limits of reductionist science, the researchers fiddle with single nutrients as best they can, but the populations they recruit and study are typical American eaters doing what typical American eaters do: trying to eat a little less of this nutrient, a little more of that, depending on the latest thinking. (One problem with the control groups in these studies is that they too are exposed to nutritional fads in the culture, so over time their eating habits come to more closely resemble the habits of the intervention group.) It should not surprise us that the findings of such research would be so equivocal and confusing.

But what about the elephant in the room — the Western diet? It might be useful, in the midst of our deepening confusion about nutrition, to review what we do know about diet and health. What we know is that people who eat the way we do in America today suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (Four of the 10 leading killers in America are linked to diet.) Further, we know that simply by moving to America, people from nations with low rates of these “diseases of affluence” will quickly acquire them. Nutritionism by and large takes the Western diet as a given, seeking to moderate its most deleterious effects by isolating the bad nutrients in it — things like fat, sugar, salt — and encouraging the public and the food industry to limit them. But after several decades of nutrient-based health advice, rates of cancer and heart disease in the U.S. have declined only slightly (mortality from heart disease is down since the ’50s, but this is mainly because of improved treatment), and rates of obesity and diabetes have soared.

No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health. Perhaps what we need now is a broader, less reductive view of what food is, one that is at once more ecological and cultural. What would happen, for example, if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?

In nature, that is of course precisely what eating has always been: relationships among species in what we call food chains, or webs, that reach all the way down to the soil. Species co-evolve with the other species they eat, and very often a relationship of interdependence develops: I’ll feed you if you spread around my genes. A gradual process of mutual adaptation transforms something like an apple or a squash into a nutritious and tasty food for a hungry animal. Over time and through trial and error, the plant becomes tastier (and often more conspicuous) in order to gratify the animal’s needs and desires, while the animal gradually acquires whatever digestive tools (enzymes, etc.) are needed to make optimal use of the plant. Similarly, cow’s milk did not start out as a nutritious food for humans; in fact, it made them sick until humans who lived around cows evolved the ability to digest lactose as adults. This development proved much to the advantage of both the milk drinkers and the cows.
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rachelg
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« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2009, 02:10:39 PM »

“Health” is, among other things, the byproduct of being involved in these sorts of relationships in a food chain — involved in a great many of them, in the case of an omnivorous creature like us. Further, when the health of one link of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the creatures in it. When the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk. Or, as the English agronomist Sir Albert Howard put it in 1945 in “The Soil and Health” (a founding text of organic agriculture), we would do well to regard “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” Our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.

In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.

Note that these ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods, not nutrients. Even though the foods in question eventually get broken down in our bodies into simple nutrients, as corn is reduced to simple sugars, the qualities of the whole food are not unimportant — they govern such things as the speed at which the sugars will be released and absorbed, which we’re coming to see as critical to insulin metabolism. Put another way, our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup. Such a relationship with corn syrup might develop someday (as people evolve superhuman insulin systems to cope with regular floods of fructose and glucose), but for now the relationship leads to ill health because our bodies don’t know how to handle these biological novelties. In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves — a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in South America — cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same “active ingredients” are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems.

Looking at eating through this ecological lens opens a whole new perspective on exactly what the Western diet is: a radical and rapid change not just in our foodstuffs over the course of the 20th century but also in our food relationships, all the way from the soil to the meal. The ideology of nutritionism is itself part of that change. To get a firmer grip on the nature of those changes is to begin to know how we might make our relationships to food healthier. These changes have been numerous and far-reaching, but consider as a start these four large-scale ones:

From Whole Foods to Refined. The case of corn points up one of the key features of the modern diet: a shift toward increasingly refined foods, especially carbohydrates. Call it applied reductionism. Humans have been refining grains since at least the Industrial Revolution, favoring white flour (and white rice) even at the price of lost nutrients. Refining grains extends their shelf life (precisely because it renders them less nutritious to pests) and makes them easier to digest, by removing the fiber that ordinarily slows the release of their sugars. Much industrial food production involves an extension and intensification of this practice, as food processors find ways to deliver glucose — the brain’s preferred fuel — ever more swiftly and efficiently. Sometimes this is precisely the point, as when corn is refined into corn syrup; other times it is an unfortunate byproduct of food processing, as when freezing food destroys the fiber that would slow sugar absorption.

So fast food is fast in this other sense too: it is to a considerable extent predigested, in effect, and therefore more readily absorbed by the body. But while the widespread acceleration of the Western diet offers us the instant gratification of sugar, in many people (and especially those newly exposed to it) the “speediness” of this food overwhelms the insulin response and leads to Type II diabetes. As one nutrition expert put it to me, we’re in the middle of “a national experiment in mainlining glucose.” To encounter such a diet for the first time, as when people accustomed to a more traditional diet come to America, or when fast food comes to their countries, delivers a shock to the system. Public-health experts call it “the nutrition transition,” and it can be deadly.

From Complexity to Simplicity. If there is one word that covers nearly all the changes industrialization has made to the food chain, it would be simplification. Chemical fertilizers simplify the chemistry of the soil, which in turn appears to simplify the chemistry of the food grown in that soil. Since the widespread adoption of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in the 1950s, the nutritional quality of produce in America has, according to U.S.D.A. figures, declined significantly. Some researchers blame the quality of the soil for the decline; others cite the tendency of modern plant breeding to select for industrial qualities like yield rather than nutritional quality. Whichever it is, the trend toward simplification of our food continues on up the chain. Processing foods depletes them of many nutrients, a few of which are then added back in through “fortification”: folic acid in refined flour, vitamins and minerals in breakfast cereal. But food scientists can add back only the nutrients food scientists recognize as important. What are they overlooking?

Simplification has occurred at the level of species diversity, too. The astounding variety of foods on offer in the modern supermarket obscures the fact that the actual number of species in the modern diet is shrinking. For reasons of economics, the food industry prefers to tease its myriad processed offerings from a tiny group of plant species, corn and soybeans chief among them. Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web. Why should this matter? Because humans are omnivores, requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. It’s hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.

From Leaves to Seeds. It’s no coincidence that most of the plants we have come to rely on are grains; these crops are exceptionally efficient at transforming sunlight into macronutrients — carbs, fats and proteins. These macronutrients in turn can be profitably transformed into animal protein (by feeding them to animals) and processed foods of every description. Also, the fact that grains are durable seeds that can be stored for long periods means they can function as commodities as well as food, making these plants particularly well suited to the needs of industrial capitalism.

The needs of the human eater are another matter. An oversupply of macronutrients, as we now have, itself represents a serious threat to our health, as evidenced by soaring rates of obesity and diabetes. But the undersupply of micronutrients may constitute a threat just as serious. Put in the simplest terms, we’re eating a lot more seeds and a lot fewer leaves, a tectonic dietary shift the full implications of which we are just beginning to glimpse. If I may borrow the nutritionist’s reductionist vocabulary for a moment, there are a host of critical micronutrients that are harder to get from a diet of refined seeds than from a diet of leaves. There are the antioxidants and all the other newly discovered phytochemicals (remember that sprig of thyme?); there is the fiber, and then there are the healthy omega-3 fats found in leafy green plants, which may turn out to be most important benefit of all.

Most people associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish, but fish get them from green plants (specifically algae), which is where they all originate. Plant leaves produce these essential fatty acids (“essential” because our bodies can’t produce them on their own) as part of photosynthesis. Seeds contain more of another essential fatty acid: omega-6. Without delving too deeply into the biochemistry, the two fats perform very different functions, in the plant as well as the plant eater. Omega-3s appear to play an important role in neurological development and processing, the permeability of cell walls, the metabolism of glucose and the calming of inflammation. Omega-6s are involved in fat storage (which is what they do for the plant), the rigidity of cell walls, clotting and the inflammation response. (Think of omega-3s as fleet and flexible, omega-6s as sturdy and slow.) Since the two lipids compete with each other for the attention of important enzymes, the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s may matter more than the absolute quantity of either fat. Thus too much omega-6 may be just as much a problem as too little omega-3.

And that might well be a problem for people eating a Western diet. As we’ve shifted from leaves to seeds, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies has shifted, too. At the same time, modern food-production practices have further diminished the omega-3s in our diet. Omega-3s, being less stable than omega-6s, spoil more readily, so we have selected for plants that produce fewer of them; further, when we partly hydrogenate oils to render them more stable, omega-3s are eliminated. Industrial meat, raised on seeds rather than leaves, has fewer omega-3s and more omega-6s than preindustrial meat used to have. And official dietary advice since the 1970s has promoted the consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, most of which are high in omega-6s (corn and soy, especially). Thus, without realizing what we were doing, we significantly altered the ratio of these two essential fats in our diets and bodies, with the result that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the typical American today stands at more than 10 to 1; before the widespread introduction of seed oils at the turn of the last century, it was closer to 1 to 1.

The role of these lipids is not completely understood, but many researchers say that these historically low levels of omega-3 (or, conversely, high levels of omega-6) bear responsibility for many of the chronic diseases associated with the Western diet, especially heart disease and diabetes. (Some researchers implicate omega-3 deficiency in rising rates of depression and learning disabilities as well.) To remedy this deficiency, nutritionism classically argues for taking omega-3 supplements or fortifying food products, but because of the complex, competitive relationship between omega-3 and omega-6, adding more omega-3s to the diet may not do much good unless you also reduce your intake of omega-6.

From Food Culture to Food Science. The last important change wrought by the Western diet is not, strictly speaking, ecological. But the industrialization of our food that we call the Western diet is systematically destroying traditional food cultures. Before the modern food era — and before nutritionism — people relied for guidance about what to eat on their national or ethnic or regional cultures. We think of culture as a set of beliefs and practices to help mediate our relationship to other people, but of course culture (at least before the rise of science) has also played a critical role in helping mediate people’s relationship to nature. Eating being a big part of that relationship, cultures have had a great deal to say about what and how and why and when and how much we should eat. Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never “designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.

The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.

It might be argued that, at this point in history, we should simply accept that fast food is our food culture. Over time, people will get used to eating this way and our health will improve. But for natural selection to help populations adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die. That’s not what we’re doing. Rather, we’re turning to the health-care industry to help us “adapt.” Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But while fast food may be good business for the health-care industry, surely the cost to society — estimated at more than $200 billion a year in diet-related health-care costs — is unsustainable.
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rachelg
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« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2009, 02:12:41 PM »


BEYOND NUTRITIONISM

To medicalize the diet problem is of course perfectly consistent with nutritionism. So what might a more ecological or cultural approach to the problem recommend? How might we plot our escape from nutritionism and, in turn, from the deleterious effects of the modern diet? In theory nothing could be simpler — stop thinking and eating that way — but this is somewhat harder to do in practice, given the food environment we now inhabit and the loss of sharp cultural tools to guide us through it. Still, I do think escape is possible, to which end I can now revisit — and elaborate on, but just a little — the simple principles of healthy eating I proposed at the beginning of this essay, several thousand words ago. So try these few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb, collected in the course of my nutritional odyssey, and see if they don’t at least point us in the right direction.

1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.

5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.

“Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. “Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the “eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less “energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (“flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.

9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of “health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.

BEYOND NUTRITIONISM

To medicalize the diet problem is of course perfectly consistent with nutritionism. So what might a more ecological or cultural approach to the problem recommend? How might we plot our escape from nutritionism and, in turn, from the deleterious effects of the modern diet? In theory nothing could be simpler — stop thinking and eating that way — but this is somewhat harder to do in practice, given the food environment we now inhabit and the loss of sharp cultural tools to guide us through it. Still, I do think escape is possible, to which end I can now revisit — and elaborate on, but just a little — the simple principles of healthy eating I proposed at the beginning of this essay, several thousand words ago. So try these few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb, collected in the course of my nutritional odyssey, and see if they don’t at least point us in the right direction.

1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.

5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.

“Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. “Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the “eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less “energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (“flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.

9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of “health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.
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rachelg
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« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2009, 02:31:36 PM »

I really like Michael Pollan  and that is an excellent article  in general but way too long for this forum.  I'm sorry  didn't realize until I posted it that I would need to split into four posts.     There are probable other articles that discuss soil more specifically I will research and try to find something shorter and more appropriate. 


A gardener would care more about soil than big agribusiness.  As a country we rewards farmers who have a higher yield than higher quality.  This means big agribusiness growing monoculture with lots of fertilizer. If you are concentrating on yield  rather  than quality you  can get by with poorer soil . 



"Chemical fertilizers simplify the chemistry of the soil, which in turn appears to simplify the chemistry of the food grown in that soil. Since the widespread adoption of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in the 1950s, the nutritional quality of produce in America has, according to U.S.D.A. figures, declined significantly. Some researchers blame the quality of the soil for the decline; others cite the tendency of modern plant breeding to select for industrial qualities like yield rather than nutritional quality. Whichever it is, the trend toward simplification of our food continues on up the chain. Processing foods depletes them of many nutrients, a few of which are then added back in through “fortification”: folic acid in refined flour, vitamins and minerals in breakfast cereal. But food scientists can add back only the nutrients food scientists recognize as important. What are they overlooking?"



"5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown."
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Crafty_Dog
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Power User
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Posts: 31847


« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2009, 06:59:37 PM »

I thought the article made a lot of good points.  One I did not agree with was the aversion to animal protein.  Hunting most certainly is an important of the human paradigm.
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DougMacG
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Posts: 6171


« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2009, 11:45:35 AM »

"Doug,  Here is a start to answering your question."  - No, I think you came across something very interesting while looking for an answer to my question. 

For the most part, my view of nutrition is the same as yours.  I would change point 1 from 'eat food' to 'buy (real) food'.  I take some pride in getting to the grocery counter with only fresh meats, whole grains, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh dairy, etc.  I can eat a box of pop-tarts as fast as anyone so I have to control that it doesn't get purchased or carried into my home.  I don't even walk down those aisles.

Another point was 'cook'.  I would change it to 'eat at home or carry a lunch/dinner' as many good foods do not require cooking. 

Fields fortified with human feces are organic while worm ridden apples and arsenic in water are examples of 'all-natural' products.  What is best I think is just to get good information in order to make your own choices.

"Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful..."  - bs IMO - blind allegation, all judgment with no attempt to back it up - and completely away from science, human behavior or economics.  I shop in the same stores as so-called poor people and as an inner city landlord, I clean out their kitchens when they move.  Exotic, diverse species flown in daily from the amazon might be expensive but carrots and oranges and bananas and black beans and spinach leaves etc. etc. are not when compared to the soda and junk food and fried chicken and cigarettes and video games and malt liquor and cd's/ dvd's, cable tv, cell phones, etc. that they spend their money on.  Potato chips are not cheaper than potatoes.  It's about choices people make and as you correctly indicate, the number one nutritional problem for the so-called 'poor in America' is obesity, not famine.

If this search was about my question, nothing I read indicates that farmers don't care about topsoil quality due to availability of fertilizers.  With hydroponics you can grow without topsoil, but the nutrients wash off and must be re-pumped over and over and over.  Nothing about that process is cheaper or more productive that growing in America's heartland with rich, black topsoil.  Growing in clay or sand or depleted, unrotated topsoil requires higher costs to get inferior results to my knowledge.  I will be interested in learning otherwise.

My neighbors do not grow processed corn, beached wheat or over salted soy.  Those are choices made further down the line.  Nor do I ever see them fail to rotate crops or to allow noticable topsoil erosion. 

It is my opinion that the flavorless, nutritionless tomatoes are bred for durability in shipment and longevity for the transport and for presentation at the store.  When we stop buying them, they will stop growing them.  When fresh tomatoes seem like plastic, I buy canned.  The farmers market idea is not always practical for those of us who live where the ground is frozen 6 months of the year.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2009, 11:50:09 AM by DougMacG » Logged
rachelg
Guest
« Reply #21 on: January 31, 2009, 10:09:17 PM »

I'm sorry for the long delay  It has been cold, grumpy,  and busy around here. Today was lovely though.


I just want to start out by saying that I would like to make food choices more like Michael Pollan's  suggestions but it certainly a work in  progress.   In fact the only reason we eat at home as much as we do is because my husband does the cooking. He knew this before he married me. He use to call up every night and criticize the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich I was eating for dinner. (It is really the perfect food)  I do cook occasional though and I have a lot of cook books.   embarassed

 I think or maybe I want  to think that  Michael Pollan's  views on meat  he means  moderation not abstention. He is not a vegetarian.  For many americans. The chunk of meat on our plate  are too big and we  eat meat for too many meals.      A couple generations ago at least in my family  meat was really only served on the Sabbath and Holidays. While it true  we have  a hunter past even a hunter would not be bring down big game every day. However I would think the more you exercised the more meat you would need.  He just thinks as country we eat too much for our heath and the health of the planet. It is much more efficient to grow vegetables than to grow cows.

I actually read this article a couple of years ago really liked it. It is just such a sensible way to think about  eating.  I have siince read three of Michael Pollans books:

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

A really fun book  on how plants evolved to take advantage of humans. It also way  more erotic the article NY Times article  Marc posted.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals


Talks about the problems of the modern food chain

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
 
Some solutions to the problem of our modern food chain


I also read Barbara Kingsolovers-- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

You won't really like her politics but it the story of one family who took themselves of the grid of the modern food chain by  eating  the food they grow themselves in Virginia,  supplemented by the local farmers and only a few non local items like coffee

In the book  s he told a really interesting story about  an  Amish guy  who has  two side by side fields. One which had always been organic and one that been conventional farmed for 30 years. Even after a decade of both being organic  she could see the difference between the two fields.  The corn on always organic side was greener and taller. (pg 162 and 163)

These books were where I got the information on soil degradation caused by conventional farming. It is hard to find Michael Pollan articles to post because they are so long.


It is true that potatoes are cheaper than potato chips.  However you can  get much more calories for your buck with prepared foods than unprepared foods and fresh fruit and vegetables are relatively expensive.  He also means eating organic by eating well which  really adds to your grocery bill.


I was able to locate some shorter scientific articles about soil degradation.
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/197/4304/625

Soil Deterioration and the Growing World Demand for Food

R. A. Brink 1, J. W. Densmore 2, and G. A. Hill 2

1 Professor emeritus of genetics, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706
2 Staff member of the Dane County (Wisconsin) Soil and Water Conservation District cooperating with the Environmental Resources Division of the Dane County Regional Planning Commission

A recent survey of five watersheds in south-central Wisconsin, where corn is now the dominant annual crop, illustrates the soil erosion damage that is occurring on sloping land under modern agricultural technology and prevailing market forces. In 70 percent of the 93 quarter-sections sampled, estimated soil losses, on the average, were more than twice the amounts considered compatible with permanent agriculture. Scattered studies by others indicate that the findings are meaningful for a large area in the United States when row cropping is prevalent on sloping soils.

Pressures on cultivated land, in general, are mounting rapidly because of the rising demand for meat in industrialized nations and the soaring numbers of marginally fed people in Third World countries. The world population-food problem makes increasing stress on U.S. soils inevitable in the foreseeable future. Adequate protection against excessive loss of productive topsoil requires that the level of publicly supported soil conservation activities be promptly adjusted to this circumstance.

http://www.pnas.org/content/104/33/13268.abstract

Data drawn from a global compilation of studies quantitatively confirm the long-articulated contention that erosion rates from conventionally plowed agricultural fields average 1–2 orders of magnitude greater than rates of soil production, erosion under native vegetation, and long-term geological erosion. The general equivalence of the latter indicates that, considered globally, hillslope soil production and erosion evolve to balance geologic and climate forcing, whereas conventional plow-based agriculture increases erosion rates enough to prove unsustainable. In contrast to how net soil erosion rates in conventionally plowed fields (≈1 mm/yr) can erode through a typical hillslope soil profile over time scales comparable to the longevity of major civilizations, no-till agriculture produces erosion rates much closer to soil production rates and therefore could provide a foundation for sustainable agriculture



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DougMacG
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« Reply #22 on: February 03, 2009, 10:17:49 AM »

Rachel,  Thank you for sourcing your view on soil neglect. I will look into it further before commenting other than this, I find it counter-intuitive and it doesn't match my experience that others care more about preserving the quality and value of a resource than the resource owner.
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rachelg
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« Reply #23 on: April 05, 2009, 11:34:24 AM »

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/technology/internet/28farmer.html?_r=1&em=&pagewanted=print
http://www.findthefarmer.com/

March 28, 2009
Forging a Hot Link to the Farmer Who Grows the Food
By BRAD STONE and MATT RICHTEL

America, meet your farmer.

The maker of Stone-Buhr flour, a popular brand in the western United States, is encouraging its customers to reconnect with their lost agrarian past, from the comfort of their computer screens. Its Find the Farmer Web site and special labels on the packages let buyers learn about and even contact the farmers who produced the wheat that went into their bag of flour.

The underlying idea, broadly called traceability, is in fashion in many food circles these days. Makers of bananas, chocolates and other foods are also using the Internet to create relationships between consumers and farmers, mimicking the once-close ties that were broken long ago by industrialized food manufacturing.

Traceability can be good for more than just soothing the culinary consciences of foodies. Congress is also studying the possibility of some kind of traceability measure as a way to minimize the impact of food scares like the recent peanut salmonella crisis.

The theory: if food producers know they’re being watched, they’ll be more careful. The Stone-Buhr flour company, a 100-year-old brand based in San Francisco, is giving the buy-local food movement its latest upgrade. Beginning this month, customers who buy its all-purpose whole wheat flour in some Wal-Mart, Safeway and other grocery chains can go to findthefarmer .com, enter the lot code printed on the side of the bag, and visit with the company’s farmers and even ask them questions.

“The person who puts that scone in their mouth can now say, ‘Oh my God, there’s a real person behind this,’ ” said Read Smith, 61, who runs Cherry Creek Ranch, a 10,000-acre farm and cattle ranch in Eastern Washington. “They are going to bite into that bread or pastry and know whose hands were on the product.”

The FindtheFarmer site is the brainchild of Josh Dorf, 39, a disaffected dot.com entrepreneur who got into the food business six years ago by buying the Stone-Buhr brand from Unilever, the multinational consumer brands company.

Mr. Dorf gathers wheat from 32 farmers in the Pacific Northwest whose methods have been certified by an environmental organization. That wheat is kept segregated from uncertified farmers’ wheat while it is milled at a Spokane, Wash., factory, even though a single flour sack could contain wheat from as many as four farmers.

“Is it gimmicky? Sure, but it has value. Consumers have an interest in dealing directly with and supporting the American farmer,” said Mr. Dorf, who said he was inspired to create the site by “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” a book about the damaging effects of a hyperindustrialized food system.

The author of that best seller, Michael Pollan, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said FindtheFarmer was one part of a bigger effort to reintroduce trust into the food system.

If the peanut processing company that was the source of the recent salmonella outbreak had live webcams in the production facility, “would it have allowed things to get so filthy?” Mr. Pollan asked. “The more transparent a food chain is, the more accountable it is.”

Some in Congress agree and have proposed a traceability measure as part of the proposed F.D.A. Globalization Act of 2009, which would give the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture the authority to require food makers to trace individual products back to the farms that produced them if necessary.

Representative Diana DeGette, a vocal advocate for the provision, said food makers initially resisted the concept but also wanted to avoid more expensive national recalls, which can occur when the specific source of an outbreak is not known.

“What many food producers are now realizing is the cost of upgrading to a traceability system is far less than the financial losses than they have to take if there is some kind of a recall,” said Ms. DeGette, a Colorado Democrat.

Mr. Dorf says the separate manufacturing process adds only a “marginal cost” to each bag, which is priced around $3, similar to other brands of flour.

Several food companies in the United States and Europe are also experimenting with using the Internet to connect customers with the growers. Buyers of Dole organic bananas in the United States can now enter a bar code number on the banana’s sticker on the Doleorganic.com Web site and see photos and details about farms in Central and South America. The company said it plans to expand the effort this year in Europe with a variety of other fruits.

Askinosie Chocolate, a specialty chocolate maker in Springfield, Mo., also encourages its customers to enter codes on its Web site and virtually visit its cocoa bean farms in Mexico, Ecuador and the Philippines — and even read diary entries from farmers.

British supermarkets jumped on the traceability wagon early. The Waitrose supermarket chain lets buyers see information and videos on the farmers of potatoes, sugarloaf pineapples, papaya and coconut. Customers at Tesco, one of Europe’s largest retailers, can trace the source of products like watercress.

The wheat farmers, for their part, appear to be enjoying meeting people at the other end of the food chain.

“We never knew where our wheat went to. The story always ended at the grain bin and the big commodity operations,” said Fred Fleming, 59, who operates Lazy YJ Farms in Reardan, Wash., which is part of FindtheFarmer.

“Now we can actually have a conversation with our city customers. We can get back to the old days,” he said.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #24 on: April 06, 2009, 01:08:39 AM »

Nice read.
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #25 on: April 10, 2009, 08:48:05 AM »

H.R. 875, Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009
by WALTER OLSON on APRIL 8, 2009
The panics over salmonella, E. Coli and unsafe foodstuffs from China have heightened the prospects that Congress will enact a measure known as H.R. 875, the “Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009″. Should the measure in its current form become law, “food establishments”, which to quote Patrick at Popehat “means anyone selling or storing food of any type for transmission to third parties via the act of commerce”*, will have to register with a new federal regulatory agency, submit to federal inspections, and, perhaps most significant, keep “copious records of sales and shipment by lot and label”. Penalties for infractions will be very, very steep.

What could possibly go wrong?

The answer, it seems, is “plenty”. Patrick, and the other writers linked just above, warn that the law may drive out of business local farmers and artisanal, small-scale producers of berries, herbs, cheese, and countless other wares, even when there is in fact nothing unsafe in their methods of production. Many informal makers of ethnically or culturally distinctive food items will go off-books or simply fall by the wayside, overwhelmed by the reporting and batch-tracking paperwork. Many foreign producers who ship in less-than-mass quantities will give up on the U.S. market rather than try to comply with challenging standards that differ drastically from those imposed by European markets or their own countries of origin, which in turn will mean that many interesting and safe specialty foods will simply no longer be available for purchase, at least legally.

The catch-phrase one keeps hearing is “CPSIA for food”.

So now an aggressive campaign of reassurance is underway: FSMA, it’s said, really should be seen as posing no particular threat to farmer’s markets or small producers — at least those that are not sloppy or cavalier about their customers’ safety. At Treehugger, one finds language which with a word changed here or there is virtually identical to the reassuring language one recalls hearing from CPSIA backers:

I can’t imagine this resulting in anything more than a little paperwork and a brief headache for small farmers—they have no reason to worry about a seven figure fine. That amount is intended to account for corporate ne’er food-do-wells, and is therefore a pretty damn good incentive to keep factories and meat packing plants clean.

So even though home orchard proprietors and others operating at far less than a factory scale of production will in fact be exposed to stiff fines should they fall astray of the record-keeping obligations, this particular writer, Brian Merchant, “can’t imagine” stiff fines actually being imposed. You have to wonder whether Mr. Merchant was one of those who as recently as January couldn’t imagine CPSIA posing more than a “brief headache” for thrift stores or handmade toy crafters.

Among those prominent in this campaign of reassurance is the ubiquitous and media-friendly plaintiff’s lawyer Bill Marler, who’s carved out a thriving practice filing (and publicizing) food poisoning suits. Marler’s blog serves as a bit of a clearinghouse for articles vigorously disputing the idea that small producers have any reason, any good reason at least, to be afraid of H.R. 875.

The chief sponsor of FSMA’s Senate version is none other than Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, and among the groups prominently backing the bill is none other than Consumers’ Union. We are now being asked to trust a legislative process in which Durbin and CU will count as insiders to ensure that the law’s provisions are shaped so as not to pose an undue or prohibitive burden on small producers far from the Washington scene. If there was ever a time when I would have trusted Sen. Durbin and Consumers’ Union with such a task, it was before the CPSIA debacle. Not only did the Durbins and CUs of the Washington scene help bring us that debacle, but — much less forgivably — they have continued blindly or mendaciously to deny that there is anything that needs fixing about that law at all, even as its damage has mounted month upon month. They do not deserve our trust on this matter.

Some other views: Slow Food, Ari LeVaux/AlterNet (noting that an alternative bill, HR 759, the “Food And Drug Administration Globalization Act,” may be more likely to pass and poses many of the same issues), Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (oriented toward raw milk defense), Nicole Brodeur/Seattle Times (pooh-poohing concern over H.R. 875, but acknowledging the legitimacy of similar concerns that the animal-tracking program NAIS will render small animal-keeping operations uneconomic). Another source: Twitter hashtag #HR875.

More: & welcome Andrew Sullivan, Eve Tushnet, Hans Bader, Rob Wilson/Challenge and Fun, John Phipps/Incoming readers. And more from the “campaign of reassurance” camp: Hartford Courant (citing views of bill sponsor Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct.); Factcheck.org (criticizing untruths and hyperbole about the bill found in a widely circulated chain email, and seeming to guide readers to the Snopes-like conclusion that concern about the bill can therefore be dismissed). John Cole/Balloon Juice initially agrees in finding grounds for concern, then is convinced by commenters (who warn him against wicked, untrustworthy sites like this one) that it’s all “hysterical” and “nonsense”.

*Some reasssuring accounts of the law describe it as applying only to food in “interstate commerce”, which sounds as if it might not reach local and mom-and-pop operators at all; but the law’s definition of “interstate commerce,” as readers may remember, can include extremely localized doings, as in Wickard v. Filburn (farmer’s growing of wheat for his own consumption deemed “interstate commerce”). Section 406 of the bill reads as follows: “PRESUMPTION. In any action to enforce the requirements of the food safety law, the connection with interstate commerce required for jurisdiction shall be presumed to exist.”

http://overlawyered.com/2009/04/hr-875-food-safety-modernization-act-of-2009/
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rachelg
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« Reply #26 on: June 14, 2009, 10:04:05 PM »

http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/btm/feature/2009/06/12/food_inc/index.html

Beyond the Multiplex
By Andrew O’Hehir

Two warring conceptions of the American food and agriculture business collide in the gripping agitprop documentary "Food, Inc.," the result of a collaboration between filmmaker Robert Kenner and writers Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. I'm using "agitprop" as a descriptor, not a pejorative, since I personally agree with nearly all the arguments made in the film. Furthermore, if "Food Inc." comes off as a one-sided project, it's easy to know where to point the finger, since the biggest meat-processing companies and agribusiness firms profiled in the film -- Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, Monsanto -- universally declined to provide any access or on-camera interviews.

On one hand, we've got the fact that, as Pollan puts it, the production of food has changed more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous 10,000. With the massive application of fertilizers, pesticides and economies of scale after World War II, raising crops and animals for food ceased to be a rural lifestyle based on many small farmers and ranchers, and rapidly became a heavily mechanized (and lightly regulated) industry dominated by a handful of big companies who run on low-wage labor. "Food, Inc." attempts to lift the veil of secrecy from this process. In one remarkable example Pollan provides, the meat in a single fast-food burger might have come from 400 different cows.

This change has had obvious benefits for consumers, a point that leftists, foodies and environmentalists sometimes overlook but that Kenner's film takes pains to notice. While chronic food shortages threaten the poor of Africa and South Asia with starvation, food in America is plentiful, various and exceptionally cheap. (Expressed as a proportion of the average family's budget, food prices have fallen by half in 30 years.) In the movie, Kenner spends some time with a working-class Latino family who say they simply don't spend enough time at home together to shop or cook. While dropping the kids at school and then driving themselves to work, Mom and Dad can feed the whole family at Burger King -- for about $11.

Locavores and organic mavens like Pollan (author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food") or pioneering chef Alice Waters have long argued that the American diet is unhealthy, wasteful of resources and ecologically destructive. But for the vast majority of working Americans, the low prices achieved by the mass-market food industry outweigh their arguments. As anyone knows who has made the switch, organic and locally produced food comes with sticker shock. Although the organic sector of the market is growing rapidly, it only represents about 3 percent of the total food market. If you surmise that that 3 percent correlates strongly with upper-middle-class, college-educated folks in coastal cities and college towns, you're probably right.

Although "Food, Inc." will inevitably be compared to "An Inconvenient Truth" (and there are undeniable similarities), it actually represents an earlier stage in the activist process. The latter film used a well-known public figure to galvanize widespread opinion on an issue that was becoming mainstream. In my conversation with Michael Pollan, he said the food-activism movement in 2009 is roughly where the environmental movement was in 1970, at the time of the first Earth Day. "Food Inc." is meant to be an opening salvo that gets people's attention, not the battle that wins the war.

An engaging and often wrenching film, "Food, Inc." covers a wide range of material, including the horrific, the humorous and the exemplary. Kenner explores cases of E. coli poisoning (from tainted ground beef); the factory farming methods that have produced more, fatter and faster-growing farm animals; and Monsanto's genetically patented, pesticide-proof corn and soybeans that have given them monopoly power over those crops. But he also shows us how far the organic-corporate rapprochement has come, introduces us to a western Virginia rancher who produces natural, grass-fed livestock (the movie's most appealing character) and rides along as Walmart buyers visit a Stonyfield Farms organic dairy.

The agitprop line of attack in "Food, Inc." is twofold. First, the film seeks to cast doubt on the low price of American food, and suggest that a food production system that is so destructive to human health, the lives of captive animals, its own workers and the environment is far more expensive than it seems to be. Secondly, Kenner and his collaborators want to argue that consumer choice -- often derided by social-change activists as passive and ineffective -- can be a powerful instrument in this case.

When Walmart decided to stop selling dairy products from cows treated with bovine growth hormone, the market for such hormones went south, and most farmers stopped using it. When McDonald's decided to phase out genetically modified potatoes, the same thing happened, and odds are there are no GM potatoes in your local store either. A few lefty locavores signing petitions at the health-food store can't do much to change the industrial production methods behind supermarket chicken, beef and pork. But a few million people demanding grass-fed beef at Safeway, Giant Food and Food Lion could transform the system virtually overnight.

I sat down with director Robert Kenner at the New York offices of Magnolia Pictures, the film's distributor. (You can also watch my shorter interview with Michael Pollan and Robert Kenner here.)

You didn't come to this project with any particular knowledge about the industrial production of food, isn't that right?

Yeah, I came in as a filmmaker. I was looking to figure out how our food gets to our plate. On one hand, I think it's kind of a miracle. We spend less of our paycheck on this food than any point in history, and I think that’s a great thing. But at the same time, this inexpensive food is coming to us at a high cost. I thought that would be an interesting subject for an investigation on this food. I didn't realize when I started it that ultimately agribusiness does not want us to look behind the veil to see where our food comes from. I think I could have been making a film about nuclear terrorism and have gotten greater access.

Well, I gather you tried to get many people from the food industry to talk to you on the record, but it didn't really work, did it?

No. We went to one corporation after another, and spent months trying to bring them in. There was very little interest in having us go into the kitchen. I can understand why companies don’t want you to go onto a slaughterhouse floor, or whatever, because Americans are very disconnected from the way their food is made. But they also didn't even want to go on camera and talk about it, and I think that was a mistake. Now that we’re finished making the film, they're very anxious to have their voices heard.

I’m sure they are. We’re talking about mainly the large producers of beef, poultry and pork. Companies like Perdue and Tyson and Smithfield, and of course Monsanto, the chemical manufacturer. One of the things this movie is really about is the tremendous amount of power they have over our food supply.

Well, really the film is about food, and how our food has become less healthy, and about the high cost of this low-cost food. But it goes beyond that. It’s about the concentration of power, it’s about the relationship of these powerful corporations to government, and the lack of transparency in the system. And it could probably be about a number of other subjects, but what makes it all the more powerful is that you have to eat this stuff.

With Monsanto, we spent months trying to bring them in. We had about 11, 12, 13 e-mail correspondences and multiple telephone conversations. They asked us numerous questions about what we were doing, who were we talking with, what we were talking about. They asked if they could talk to our characters. We ended up sending phone numbers of people. I think we went so far above and beyond in trying to bring them in. Finally we sent them a letter -- I think, like, our 13th letter -- saying, "We need you to respond. A lack of response at this point will be taken as a no." Well, now they've put up a Web site about the film, and they say they never declined to be in our film. I feel -- I’m using this word carefully, because my lawyer explained it to me -- I feel that it's a misleading statement to say they never declined. Because they were asked at least a dozen times. Technically they never responded, never said no. They were never going to say no.

You told me earlier that some foodies and environmentalists are disappointed with the film, because they say it's stuff they already know. But you're aiming at a wider and more general audience here, aren't you?

I'm really trying to reach out and bring as many people into this movement, which is an incredibly expanding, fast-growing movement. You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to not want to eat meat with fecal matter on it. We all want to feed our children healthy food. So it's not about ideology at that point. There are some right-wing religious groups who are very active on the matters of food. It's an issue that can unite people. At the same time, we're up against very powerful corporations, and we've grown to love very cheap food. It’s wonderful how little it costs, but we’re starting to see the real damage it does.

You can see the parallels with tobacco. These are powerful corporations that have tons of money, that have great connections with government. They spend fortunes on advertising, and as with tobacco, put out a lot of misleading information on the health of their product. I think we're beginning to see the dangers of this inexpensive food that these big agribusinesses are producing. And the more we can see the cracks in this system, the faster it’s going to fall apart. I'm hoping that this film can help people to start to think about it.

You know, I told my mother-in-law about this film, and that I really thought she should see it. She lives in the South and she's a Republican. She was like, "Is it just going to make me feel bad?" Which strikes me as a good question. I said, "Actually, no, I don’t think it will."

Andrew's mother-in-law: Go see this film! I think that's the big thing. I hope this is a very empowering film. One of the messages is that we as consumers have a lot more power than we think we do. Ultimately these corporations are scared of us. And ultimately, if there’s a movement, the government wants to follow us. So there are a number of empowering points that we try to make, even though it’s a difficult subject. I think if people see it, they’ll feel empowered. But sometimes people are scared and don't want to know where our food comes from.

You have those interesting scenes with the Walmart buyers visiting a Stonyfield Farms facility. I mean, they're not selling organic yogurt out of ideological commitment, right? If Walmart is selling it, it's because people who shop there are buying it.

They’re buying that yogurt. Organic is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry. There are many good things about that. We’re taking chemicals out of the land. There’s some organic food -- I mean, organic Coca-Cola might be coming one of these days. It might not be great for us. But we're having growth in this organic field. And we’re having growth in farmer’s markets, and hopefully that will empower smaller farmers as well. People are becoming much more conscious of their food, and the more we think about it, the more good food we’re going to get.

Do people have to get their heads around the idea that food really shouldn't be as cheap as it is now? Because that could be tough.

I was talking with Michael Pollan this morning, and he was saying that when he was a kid, food cost about 18 percent of the average American's income. Today that food costs 9.7 percent of our income. Basically it’s been cut in half over a 40- to 50-year period. But medical costs have gone from 5 percent to 18 percent, so in aggregate, we’re spending more money for medicine and for food today than we used to. We love cheap food and we love quantity, like a chicken in every pot. Chicken used to be a very special thing. Now we can get it all the time, and it’s very inexpensive.

But it's coming at a cost, and that’s one of the things that we try to point out. They're invisible costs; you might not see them at the checkout counter. One-third of all Americans born after the year 2000 are going to have early-onset diabetes. That's going to bankrupt the healthcare system. Environmentally, we’re going to have tremendously high costs. Ultimately a large part of our carbon footprint is due to this food system. This food is grown in an unsustainable way, it's based on gasoline and it’s based on pollution. When gasoline prices spike, it's going to make this food very expensive. We can no longer drink the water in some farm states. Our topsoil has become totally depleted. And this food that we’re eating has far less nutritional value than the food we used to eat, so we have to eat more and more food to get that nutrition. All these invisible high costs of our food system are starting to become more and more obvious.

"Food, Inc." is now playing in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with wider national release to follow.
― Andrew O'Hehi

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DougMacG
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« Reply #27 on: June 15, 2009, 11:09:49 PM »

"Food Inc."  - Name implies monopoly/conspiracy but the industry exhibits all of the opposite attributes: highly competitive, productive, falling prices, intense competition, etc.

"it's easy to know where to point the finger, since the biggest meat-processing companies and agribusiness firms profiled in the film -- Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, Monsanto -- universally declined to provide any access or on-camera interviews."  - It would appear that this is intended to be an attack film on their business.  Declining to participate after watching the chopping of Michael Moore's films like Columbine makes perfect sense to me.

"production of food has changed more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous 10,000."  -  Yes.  For the better (?)

"With the massive application of fertilizers, pesticides and economies of scale"  - It is a massive industry.  everything is massive.  Are they being wasteful?  I don't see why they would they more fertilizer or pesticide than necessary for healthy crops with expensive materials, scarce resources and low margins?

"industry dominated by a handful of big companies who run on low-wage labor"  - No. Small operators can hire low wage labor.  It is dominated by big companies because of the high cost of the machinery necessary to operate at this level of productivity and competitive profit margins.

"In one remarkable example Pollan provides, the meat in a single fast-food burger might have come from 400 different cows."  - Okay, but are the cows different?  Same genetics raised and fed the exact same way?

"This change has had obvious benefits for consumers.[the film takes pains to notice."  - Good. The Prices would be even more affordable if we weren't stealing farmland to grow energy and if we weren't artificially driving up the cost of fuel to operate food production.


"[Organic]" represents about 3 percent of the total food market."  That is the market making a choice.  " If you surmise that that 3 percent correlates strongly with upper-middle-class, college-educated folks in coastal cities and college towns, you're probably right."  - No.  The affluent in America that can afford to eat well make up a majority, not 3% and the biggest nutritional issue of the non-affluent in America is over-consumption.  They are not faced with no choices,; they are making wrong choices IMO.

"Food, Inc. will inevitably be compared to "An Inconvenient Truth" (and there are undeniable similarities)"  - From the piece, I definitely agree.  Same logic strings are used. Examples below.

Kenner explores cases of E. coli poisoning (from tainted ground beef) - Is there a higher percentage of poisoned food now than previously?  I doubt it and he didn't say.

"...a food production system that is so destructive to human health"  - We keep dying younger and younger...  Oops, it's just the opposite.  We are living longer and longer: http://www.dohc.ie/statistics/health_statistics/table_b1.html

"When Walmart decided to stop selling dairy products from cows treated with bovine growth hormone, the market for such hormones went south, and most farmers stopped using it."  - There's a market solution.  Did low prices end with that correction?  No.

"When McDonald's decided to phase out genetically modified potatoes"  Yet they are still on they dollar menu...

"a few million people demanding grass-fed beef at Safeway, Giant Food and Food Lion could transform the system virtually overnight"  - Offer a choice or demand a prohibition?

"This inexpensive food is coming to us at a high cost."  - Uh, we still don't know that.

"what makes it all the more powerful is that you have to eat this stuff."  - Of course that is not true.  We all still have the option to raise our own food if we are so inclined.

"It’s wonderful how little it costs, but we’re starting to see the real damage it does."  - Uh no, still not demonstrated.

"And we’re having growth in farmer’s markets, and hopefully that will empower smaller farmers as well."  - Is the implied monopoly trying to close them down or are they competing successfully on price and quality?

Do people have to get their heads around the idea that food really shouldn't be as cheap as it is now?"  - The old soften the premise with a question mark trick.

"when he was a kid, food cost about 18 percent of the average American's income. Today that food costs 9.7 percent of our income. Basically it’s been cut in half over a 40- to 50-year period. But medical costs have gone from 5 percent to 18 percent, so in aggregate, we’re spending more money for medicine and for food today than we used to."  - Wow!  That is logic right out of inconvenient truth.  He should give credit to Al Gore.  Also to Obama.  The text did not say that the increased productivity in food production caused the tripling of health costs, but the cadence and the flow pretends that it did.  Very impressive, and no unnecessary scientific studies wasted to back it up, lol.

"But it's coming at a cost, and that’s one of the things that we try to point out. They're invisible costs; you might not see them at the checkout counter. One-third of all Americans born after the year 2000 are going to have early-onset diabetes."  - Wow! That came out of nowhere.  The reader smarter than me must already know that it is caused by improved food production. My guess would have been lazy lifestyles, paying people to do nothing and a more aggressive diabetes diagnostic industry.

"That's going to bankrupt the healthcare system."  - I thought he was a 'filmmaker'.  Now he is an expert on everything?

"Environmentally, we’re going to have tremendously high costs. Ultimately a large part of our carbon footprint is due to this food system."  - Environmentally we would have had to cut down and farm every rainforest on the planet to get this kind of production 'the old way'.

"This food is grown in an unsustainable way, it's based on gasoline and it’s based on pollution."   - I think he means diesel fuel but go with it...

"When gasoline prices spike, it's going to make this food very expensive."   - Gasoline is going to spike because of public policy choices, not unsustainability.

"We can no longer drink the water in some farm states."  - When was our water supply ever better than right now?  Where I live it is cleaner now than 50 years ago.

"Our topsoil has become totally depleted."  - That argument wasn't proven last time it came up either.  His use of exaggeration makes it patently false and reason to suspect other problems with the propaganda.  I can see why business people might not want to go on-camera with him.  Totally depleted??

"And this food that we’re eating has far less nutritional value than the food we used to eat..."  - Our ability to have fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost in all seasons especially in the extreme climate that I live in is nothing short of amazing!  Tell me what fresh blueberries and oranges tasted like on the Minnesota prairie in a January blizzard during the 1800s.  Were they airlifted in from California or Cenrtral America?  I don't think so.  Our choices are far better now IMO.
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rachelg
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« Reply #28 on: July 05, 2009, 08:30:14 PM »

Reading the article it was a bit hyperbolic and not all the arguments were good.  I I have not seen the movie yet therefor I don't know the sources of his arguments.  I meant this somewhat more of  movie review.  I probably won't get to see it until it comes out on video.

"Food Inc."  - Name implies monopoly/conspiracy but the industry exhibits all of the opposite attributes: highly competitive, productive, falling prices, intense competition, etc.

The Food industry is dominated by large business that receive a ton of money from the government  the  current legislation is designed to help large businesses not small businesses There is competition but I wouldn't call it highly competitive.

"it's easy to know where to point the finger, since the biggest meat-processing companies and agribusiness firms profiled in the film -- Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, Monsanto -- universally declined to provide any access or on-camera interviews."  - It would appear that this is intended to be an attack film on their business.  Declining to participate after watching the chopping of Michael Moore's films like Columbine makes perfect sense to me.


Food Inc was not made by Michael Moore.


"production of food has changed more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous 10,000."  -  Yes.  For the better (?)

"With the massive application of fertilizers, pesticides and economies of scale"  - It is a massive industry.  everything is massive.  Are they being wasteful?  I don't see why they would they more fertilizer or pesticide than necessary for healthy crops with expensive materials, scarce resources and low margins?

"industry dominated by a handful of big companies who run on low-wage labor"  - No. Small operators can hire low wage labor.  It is dominated by big companies because of the high cost of the machinery necessary to operate at this level of productivity and competitive profit margins.

"In one remarkable example Pollan provides, the meat in a single fast-food burger might have come from 400 different cows."  - Okay, but are the cows different?  Same genetics raised and fed the exact same way?


If there are 400 cows in your hamburger it is really hard to track  both the good and the bad.  Recall are then massive and you would not be rewarded for having a better product or punished for having a worse prodcut. Market forces would be reduced.


"This change has had obvious benefits for consumers.[the film takes pains to notice."  - Good. The Prices would be even more affordable if we weren't stealing farmland to grow energy and if we weren't artificially driving up the cost of fuel to operate food production.


"[Organic]" represents about 3 percent of the total food market."  That is the market making a choice.  " If you surmise that that 3 percent correlates strongly with upper-middle-class, college-educated folks in coastal cities and college towns, you're probably right."  - No.  The affluent in America that can afford to eat well make up a majority, not 3% and the biggest nutritional issue of the non-affluent in America is over-consumption.  They are not faced with no choices,; they are making wrong choices IMO.

"Food, Inc. will inevitably be compared to "An Inconvenient Truth" (and there are undeniable similarities)"  - From the piece, I definitely agree.  Same logic strings are used. Examples below.

Kenner explores cases of E. coli poisoning (from tainted ground beef) - Is there a higher percentage of poisoned food now than previously?  I doubt it and he didn't say.

"...a food production system that is so destructive to human health"  - We keep dying younger and younger...  Oops, it's just the opposite.  We are living longer and longer: http://www.dohc.ie/statistics/health_statistics/table_b1.html

"When Walmart decided to stop selling dairy products from cows treated with bovine growth hormone, the market for such hormones went south, and most farmers stopped using it."  - There's a market solution.  Did low prices end with that correction?  No.

"When McDonald's decided to phase out genetically modified potatoes"  Yet they are still on they dollar menu...

"a few million people demanding grass-fed beef at Safeway, Giant Food and Food Lion could transform the system virtually overnight"  - Offer a choice or demand a prohibition?

"This inexpensive food is coming to us at a high cost."  - Uh, we still don't know that.

"what makes it all the more powerful is that you have to eat this stuff."  - Of course that is not true.  We all still have the option to raise our own food if we are so inclined.

"It’s wonderful how little it costs, but we’re starting to see the real damage it does."  - Uh no, still not demonstrated.

"And we’re having growth in farmer’s markets, and hopefully that will empower smaller farmers as well."  - Is the implied monopoly trying to close them down or are they competing successfully on price and quality?

Do people have to get their heads around the idea that food really shouldn't be as cheap as it is now?"  - The old soften the premise with a question mark trick.

"when he was a kid, food cost about 18 percent of the average American's income. Today that food costs 9.7 percent of our income. Basically it’s been cut in half over a 40- to 50-year period. But medical costs have gone from 5 percent to 18 percent, so in aggregate, we’re spending more money for medicine and for food today than we used to."  - Wow!  That is logic right out of inconvenient truth.  He should give credit to Al Gore.  Also to Obama.  The text did not say that the increased productivity in food production caused the tripling of health costs, but the cadence and the flow pretends that it did.  Very impressive, and no unnecessary scientific studies wasted to back it up, lol.

"But it's coming at a cost, and that’s one of the things that we try to point out. They're invisible costs; you might not see them at the checkout counter. One-third of all Americans born after the year 2000 are going to have early-onset diabetes."  - Wow! That came out of nowhere.  The reader smarter than me must already know that it is caused by improved food production. My guess would have been lazy lifestyles, paying people to do nothing and a more aggressive diabetes diagnostic industry.

"That's going to bankrupt the healthcare system."  - I thought he was a 'filmmaker'.  Now he is an expert on everything?

"Environmentally, we’re going to have tremendously high costs. Ultimately a large part of our carbon footprint is due to this food system."  - Environmentally we would have had to cut down and farm every rainforest on the planet to get this kind of production 'the old way'.

"This food is grown in an unsustainable way, it's based on gasoline and it’s based on pollution."   - I think he means diesel fuel but go with it...

"When gasoline prices spike, it's going to make this food very expensive."   - Gasoline is going to spike because of public policy choices, not unsustainability.

Almost all oil produces countries suck regardless of price or environmental impact the less oil we use the better.  Do you like giving money to Iran, Venzualla and Russia?

"We can no longer drink the water in some farm states."  - When was our water supply ever better than right now?  Where I live it is cleaner now than 50 years ago.

"Our topsoil has become totally depleted."  - That argument wasn't proven last time it came up either.  His use of exaggeration makes it patently false and reason to suspect other problems with the propaganda.  I can see why business people might not want to go on-camera with him.  Totally depleted??

He definitely exaggerated when he said totally depleted but our topsoil has been depleted.  I did provide evidence for that argument last time and your response was that you would research it further.   Your main argument against Top Soil not being depleted was that if would not be in the farmers best interest.  Business's  sacrifice long term gains for short terms profits or survival  all the time. A competitor of ours currently is really suffering from the cost cutting measures they put in place.

All the better if you can externalize those consequences on to someone else


"And this food that we’re eating has far less nutritional value than the food we used to eat..."  - Our ability to have fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost in all seasons especially in the extreme climate that I live in is nothing short of amazing!  Tell me what fresh blueberries and oranges tasted like on the Minnesota prairie in a January blizzard during the 1800s.  Were they airlifted in from California or Cenrtral America?  I don't think so.  Our choices are far better now IMO.


It is certianly great to get  produce in the winter but our produce does have much less nutritional value than it use to have.  It may be a wash but  organic local food is better for an you and tastes  ways better than the stuff that is not.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #29 on: July 24, 2009, 10:03:57 AM »

Even though this is the NYT, it makes sense to me.
====================================

Farms and Antibiotics Sign in to Recommend
          Published: July 23, 2009

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country are fed to farm animals. These animals do not receive these drugs the way humans do — as discrete short-term doses. Agricultural antibiotics are a regular feed supplement intended to increase growth and lessen the chance of infection in crowded, industrial farms.

These practices are putting both humans and animals increasingly at risk. In an environment where antibiotics are omnipresent, as they are in industrial agriculture, antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases quickly develop, reducing the effectiveness of common drugs like penicillin and tetracycline.

Despite that danger, the Food and Drug Administration had been reluctant to restrict routine agricultural use of antibiotics. The F.D.A.’s principal deputy commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, signaled a welcome change in direction recently, testifying on behalf of a new bill, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. It would allow veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics to treat individual animals or prevent disease, but it would sharply restrict the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals — the practice most closely associated with the development of drug-resistant pathogens.

The legislation is drawing strong opposition from the farm lobby since the restrictions would make it much harder for industrial farms to crowd thousands of animals together in confined, inhumane and unhealthy quarters. But the current practice is dangerously self-defeating: treating more and more animals with less and less effective drugs and in turn creating resistant strains of disease that persist in the soil and water. Congress should stop this now before an entire class of drugs becomes useless.
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rachelg
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« Reply #30 on: November 27, 2009, 08:59:10 AM »

How Transparent is Your Turkey?
By Nancy Watzman on 11/25/09 @ 9:49 am | 0 Comments
http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2009/11/25/how-transparent-is-your-turkey/

When you’re standing in the aisle of the supermarket, trying to decide between this and that brand of fried onions for your famous green bean casserole for the Thanksgiving feast, wouldn’t you like to know—without a lot of bother–all that the government knows about it? Such as whether that brand has been subject to recalls because of bacterial infections, or whether the claims the company makes on the label are trustworthy? The government collects terabytes of data on food—from safety to marketing to subsidies—funded by taxpayers and consumers. But that does not mean this crucial information is available to you on-line and in real time so you can actually do something about it.



Turkey. What are the results of the latest federal safety inspection of the plant where your turkey met its end? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) knows, but it’s hard for ordinary consumers to get their hands on that information. While the agency posts results of bacterial sampling for different type of meat and poultry, it’s not available in a format that consumers could use to compare brands or products.

Cranberry sauce. If you serve the canned kind (my husband always insists on it)—can you believe the claims on the label? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues warning letters to companies that violate labeling laws for offenses such as false health claims (This oatmeal can cure memory loss!) or if it fails to list information about a chemical preservative.  On the FDA’s website, you can search them by company, date, download them, all good stuff. Except that last year the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the agency because it had neglected to post at least 220 warning letters and had also posted some duplicates. We don’t know what the FDA doesn’t tell us.

Stuffing. Was there ever a recall on the brand of stuffing mix you are thinking of buying? While you can sign up to receive alerts on recalls of contaminated products, whether meat (USDA) or not (FDA), there’s no central searchable database where you can look up a particular brand name and research any history of safety problems associated with it. After the scare last year involving salmonella poisoning, the FDA set up such a database; however, it’s restricted to products containing peanut butter (and later one for pistachios). It’s great to have that specific information, but while my five-year-old son thrives on a diet primarily based on peanut butter, most of us like to vary our diets.

Sweet potatoes. Here’s a fresh breath of transparency: in September the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that it was moving forward with a plan to disclose all the “inert” ingredients in pesticides. These are the chemicals contained in a pesticide that are not designed to kill the insect or mold or other pest in question. Instead, they make it easier to spray, or keep the chemicals evenly distributed, or some other function. But until now, the government did not require that labeling include this information, even though many of these chemicals are hazardous and the agency evaluates them along with the “active” ingredients in pesticides. That said, at least for now, it’s tough to know exactly what’s been sprayed on your sweet potato.

The whole farm. As every preschooler knows, food comes from farms. But the sticker price on food doesn’t reflect the entire cost of what we spend on it. As part of the massive economic plan, Congress has provided $28 billion for U.S. agriculture as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This includes funding for a wide range of programs, from direct loans to farmers to wastewater projects to funding for food banks. But while the Obama Administration has pledged to make stimulus spending transparent, much of the information provided has proven inaccurate, conflicting, or has been given to contractors cited for management problems. Last June, the investigative site ProPublica reported that according to Recovery.gov, the USDA had allocated just $610 million, but had paid out $1.68 billion. Then in another place, the site claimed the department had provided funding notifications of $362 million, which was less than a quarter of what Recovery.gov reported had been paid out.

Hat tip to Sarah Klein, staff attorney at Center for Science in the Public Interest, who provided valuable insights for this post.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #31 on: May 15, 2010, 12:25:03 PM »

I doubt an important part of this piece's argument because I suspect that GMO practices lead to de-diversication, thus setting us up for the inevitable mutation(s) that will lead to catastrophic results. Still I post it because it discusses this issue in a reasonable way.
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A REPORT by the National Research Council last month gave ammunition to both sides in the debate over the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. More than 80 percent of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered, and the report details the “long and impressive list of benefits” that has come from these crops, including improved soil quality, reduced erosion and reduced insecticide use.

Related
Health Guide: Genetically Engineered FoodsIt also confirmed predictions that widespread cultivation of these crops would lead to the emergence of weeds resistant to a commonly used herbicide, glyphosate (marketed by Monsanto as Roundup). Predictably, both sides have done what they do best when it comes to genetically engineered crops: they’ve argued over the findings.

Lost in the din is the potential role this technology could play in the poorest regions of the world — areas that will bear the brunt of climate change and the difficult growing conditions it will bring. Indeed, buried deep in the council’s report is an appeal to apply genetic engineering to a greater number of crops, and for a greater diversity of purposes.

Appreciating this potential means recognizing that genetic engineering can be used not just to modify major commodity crops in the West, but also to improve a much wider range of crops that can be grown in difficult conditions throughout the world.

Doing that also requires opponents to realize that by demonizing the technology, they’ve hindered applications of genetic engineering that could save lives and protect the environment.

Scientists at nonprofit institutions have been working for more than two decades to genetically engineer seeds that could benefit farmers struggling with ever-pervasive dry spells and old and novel pests. Drought-tolerant cassava, insect-resistant cowpeas, fungus-resistant bananas, virus-resistant sweet potatoes and high-yielding pearl millet are just a few examples of genetically engineered foods that could improve the lives of the poor around the globe.

For example, researchers in the public domain have been working to engineer sorghum crops that are resistant to both drought and an aggressively parasitic African weed, Striga.

In a 1994 pilot project by the United States Agency for International Development, an experimental variety of engineered sorghum had a yield four times that of local varieties under adverse conditions. Sorghum, a native of the continent, is a staple throughout Africa, and improved sorghum seeds would be widely beneficial.

As well as enhancing yields, engineered seeds can make crops more nutritious. A new variety of rice modified to produce high amounts of provitamin A, named Golden Rice, will soon be available in the Philippines and, if marketed, would almost assuredly save the lives of thousands of children suffering from vitamin A deficiency.

There’s also a sorghum breed that’s been genetically engineered to produce micronutrients like zinc, and a potato designed to contain greater amounts of protein.

To appreciate the value of genetic engineering, one need only examine the story of papaya. In the early 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya industry was facing disaster because of the deadly papaya ringspot virus. Its single-handed savior was a breed engineered to be resistant to the virus. Without it, the state’s papaya industry would have collapsed. Today, 80 percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered, and there is still no conventional or organic method to control ringspot virus.

The real significance of the papaya recovery is not that genetic engineering was the most appropriate technology delivered at the right time, but rather that the resistant papaya was introduced before the backlash against engineered crops intensified.

Opponents of genetically engineered crops have spent much of the last decade stoking consumer distrust of this precise and safe technology, even though, as the research council’s previous reports noted, engineered crops have harmed neither human health nor the environment.

In doing so, they have pushed up regulatory costs to the point where the technology is beyond the economic reach of small companies or foundations that might otherwise develop a wider range of healthier crops for the neediest farmers. European restrictions, for instance, make it virtually impossible for scientists at small laboratories there to carry out field tests of engineered seeds.

As it now stands, opposition to genetic engineering has driven the technology further into the hands of a few seed companies that can afford it, further encouraging their monopolistic tendencies while leaving it out of reach for those that want to use it for crops with low (or no) profit margins.

The stakes are too high for us not to make the best use of genetic engineering. If we fail to invest responsibly in agricultural research, if we continue to allow propaganda to trump science, then the potential for global agriculture to be productive, diverse and sustainable will go unfulfilled. And it’s not those of us here in the developed world who will suffer the direct consequences, but rather the poorest and most vulnerable.


Pamela C. Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis, is the co-author of “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food.” James E. McWilliams, a history professor at Texas State University at San Marcos, is the author of “Just Food.”
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Rarick
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« Reply #32 on: June 05, 2010, 04:06:16 AM »

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2010/05/100527_wheatrust_md.shtml
Kenya:
80% of the wheat crop is gone from wheat rust, the corn crop has a virus? and cannot make up the short fall.

Winds are going to carry this stuff since it is a mold, thru somalia and well out into the Indian Ocean.  I could be expected that India will get this soon, either directly or flowing thru the the Horn of Africa, Persian Gulf/ Iran.............
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #33 on: January 30, 2011, 11:21:40 PM »

Woof,
 Expect to get bent over at the pump and the grocery store.

 www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41311106/ns/buiness-retail

              P.C.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #34 on: February 08, 2011, 11:36:04 PM »

Woof,
 Interesting piece on how wonderful Michael Moore's Communism can be and how the lack of food was used as a weapon of mass destruction.

  www.slate.com/id/2284198/
                           
              P.C.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #35 on: February 18, 2011, 01:22:47 PM »

Agenda: Rising Commodity Prices
February 18, 2011 | 1842 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:



French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a message to G-20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Paris this weekend, calling for efforts to rein in commodity speculators. But STRATFOR’s Peter Zeihan argues that governments and central banks bear some responsibility.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: G-20 finance ministers and central bankers are meeting in Paris this weekend against a background of sharply rising food and commodity prices. Earlier this week, the World Bank’s chief, Robert Zoellick, warned that food prices were at dangerous levels and have pushed 44 million more people into poverty in the last nine months. G-20 is currently chaired by France, and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has struck a characteristically populist note by urging commodity speculators be reined. But is it that simple? Might not governments and central banks bear some responsibility?

Welcome to Agenda, and this week I’m pleased to welcome back Peter Zeihan. Peter, commodity prices have become very volatile, many rising well above inflation levels, particularly for food and some minerals, and seem to bear no relationship to supply and demand.

Peter: Commodity prices are something we keep a close eye on here at STRATFOR, as they have a huge impact on industrial growth and honestly just flat out social stability; if a country can’t feed its people, it tends not to be a country for very long. However we have not actually done predictions on commodity prices for several years, and here’s why. There have been a number of changes in international financial markets over the last decade, but the one that impacts commodity prices the most is the simple fact that there is a lot of credit out there and has been for the last 10 years. The biggest change in the last 10 years is the onset of a very different type of credit cycle. The amount of capital and credit available in the system overall has just expanded logarithmically.

Colin: And why is that?

Peter: Mostly it’s due to the aging of the baby boomers. You have an entire generation, the largest generation in American history, that is all closing in on retirement, so they’re saving up huge amounts of capital and that puts so much money into the system. Another factor is that Asian savings for the first time are actually able to tap the international market; so all the overproduction in Japan and China — the money that it’s generating is mostly flowing back into global supply. But probably the one that is most applicable for today, and really for the last four years, is going to be the money supply of the various major economies. Now the United States catches a lot of criticism for what it’s doing with something called quantitative easing, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s printing currency in order to help bolster asset values here in the United States. And the United States is committed to printing up to $50 billion a month for the next seven months; they started this back in November. What most people don’t realize is that the United States is hardly the only country in play here. The U.S. money supply has expanded by about 17 percent over the course of the last four years. But if you look at everybody else, you’ll notice something very interesting. European, Japanese and Chinese money supply have all expanded by more. In fact, Chinese money supply has more than tripled over that same time period. So of about the $17 trillion of U.S. dollar equivalent that these four countries have added to the money supply, the United States is actually responsible for a very small percentage of it. All of this money has to go somewhere. Now, the countries do this for various reasons. For the Europeans, it’s to try to stabilize their banking sector; for the Japanese and the Chinese, it’s in order to make sure that the banks have sufficient cash so they can subsidize their various industrial sectors that are noncompetitive. But not all of the money stays where it’s intended; a lot of it does make it into investment markets. And so, yes, the U.S.’s expanding the money supply does have an impact upon food prices and oil prices, pushing them up, but not nearly as much as the euro or the yuan.

Colin: So, you’re saying this means more money splashing into investments like commodities. But it used to be the case — the argument, if you like, about speculation — that the more liquid the market, the more reliable the market price as a guide to value.

Peter: Well, certainly the more individual players you have, the easier it will be for prices to settle at some sort of equilibrium. What we are dealing with here isn’t simply more players, but an absolutely massive surge in the amount of capital that is available from two forms. One of course is legitimate forms that people have saved for their own retirement or for any other reason. And two is just this massive money that the various center banks have been pushing into the system. The issue is not so much the number of players, although that does complicate the picture, but just the sheer volume and velocity of money that has entered the system right now. Various central governments have decided that increasing the money supply is a way of smoothing over all of the problems from the financial crisis from late 2007 all the way up to the current day. There is no sign that any of the major central banks are going to change this policy. If you look at the chart, you’ll notice that the Chinese money supply has actually been increasing almost exponentially over the course of the last six or seven years. They need this just to keep their system afloat, and a lot of that money is simply feeding right back into commodity prices.

Colin: Do you see this as a short-term phenomenon?

Peter: So long as you have a sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and so long as you have a Chinese system that is not competitive in the traditional sense, this is a factor that’s going to stick with us for quite some time. Now, if the debt crisis in Europe breaks and the euro goes away, and if the Chinese collapse under their own contradictions, all of a sudden those two central banks are actually gone. And you could go, in theory anyway, back to something that’s a little bit more normal.

Colin: Organizations like the Bank for International Settlements and the IMF will be aware of this, but what can they do about it?

Peter: Yes, I believe that they are aware. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to tackle it. From the European point of view, they are doing this in order to maintain the stability of their government debt markets and their banking sector. They will not change this policy because they see it as their lifeline. For the Chinese, this is how they maintain social stability. They’ve probably exhausted their depositor base and so they have to print money in order to keep their banking sector liquid. Should they stop, they’ll be dealing with a nationwide revolution. Against that sort of core interest, it’s difficult to imagine organizations like the IMF or the World Bank or the BIS having any lever that can be used. This is the new normal for now.

Colin: Fascinating, Peter. Thank you very much. Peter Zeihan, ending this week’s Agenda. Thanks for being with us until the next time. Goodbye.

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #36 on: February 23, 2011, 01:01:32 PM »

By SAMEER MOHINDRU And PATRICK BARTA
SINGAPORE—A rush by farmers to expand plantings in many parts of the world is raising expectations that food prices may retreat as early as the second half of this year if weather conditions remain favorable.

The global rally in food prices over the past year has pushed prices of wheat, corn and soybeans to their highest levels since 2008, when food riots spread across the globe. This time, concerns over food costs have contributed to the latest unrest in the Middle East, and left many national governments scrambling to find solutions to keep disturbances from spreading further.

But the most powerful response seems to be coming from farmers themselves, especially in places like Russia, Brazil and Australia.

Global wheat acreage, for instance, is expected to rise 3.1% to around 224 million hectares in 2011, with production climbing 4% to 670 million tons, the London-based International Grains Council said in a recent report. In Russia, where production fell following a severe drought last year, wheat acreage could rise by more than 15%, according to the IGC.

 .Brazil has begun harvesting what may be its largest soybean crop ever, while rains have given Argentina's soybean crop a boost after dry weather threatened to wipe out its crop as recently as in January.

High prices may raise U.S crop area by four million hectares to 103 million hectares this year, the U.S Department of Agriculture said in its long-term projection released last week. The USDA has projected U.S corn and soybean plantings rising 4.3% and 0.3%, respectively, in 2011.

"Agricultural investment spending has never been higher—orders of magnitude larger than during the previous food-price boom in the mid-1970s," when inflation gripped much of the globe, analysts from UBS wrote in a report released Tuesday.

Although that doesn't necessarily guarantee prices will fall given unpredictable weather and rising demand in places like China, "it does show that economics works, that price incentives lead to an investment response—and this may well become a more salient issue if and when other conditions normalize," the report said.

A number of analysts still believe it is much too early to call a turn in the market, especially if some of the new plantings don't come through—which is always a big risk in agriculture, either because of weather or other factors. Farm production is already at or close to record levels in some countries, and it may prove harder to expand output than expected.

It is also possible that other inflationary forces—including an increase in oil prices, or rising wages in some parts of the world—could filter back through the agricultural sector and keep prices from easing.

Even if production does increase significantly in the next year, analysts say, it might not come close to solving the world's longer-term supply issues, especially as incomes in China and India rise, boosting their demand for foods. A more dramatic expansion of the world's food supply would likely require years of investments to clear new land, expand irrigation and build milling and storage facilities. Achieving all of that will be difficult, especially in developing countries like Indonesia, Cambodia or parts of Africa, which have lots of unused arable land but major bureaucratic hurdles, complicated land ownership rules or shortages of capital for agriculture.

Still, it's possible some regions could see food-price relief faster, depending on their mix of crops and local weather conditions. For instance, economists at Barclays Capital in Singapore argued in a report this month that for Asia, at least, "the impact of higher raw food prices has peaked," in part because of restrained prices for rice. Rice is key to diets in Asia, and improving production in the region has lowered expectations for import demand in 2011-12.

The Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia were major rice importers last year. But the IGC now expects Bangladesh's rice output to rise 5% to 32 million tons in the current crop year to June 2011, meaning lower or no imports. The Philippines, the largest rice importer last year with total imports of 2.45 million tons, has said it expects imports to remain below one million tons this year. Rice prices haven't risen significantly this year, with one common variety, Thai 25% broken rice priced at roughly $475 a ton.

IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm, likewise predicted this month that global food prices would likely ease by the second half of this year as production recovers in some regions following recent weather problems—assuming weather disasters aren't repeated.

View Full Image

Xinhua/Zuma Press
 
Farmers bag raw rice in the city of Baise in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
.The scope for farm-acreage expansion is the highest in the Black Sea region and Brazil, said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary for the Intergovernmental Group on Foodgrains at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 2007-08, there was a collective crop failure in major exporting countries, but when the weather turned around, production rose sharply the following year, he said, suggesting the possibility of a similar outcome this time.

The Indian government, meanwhile, has taken a number of steps, including increased distribution of seeds and fertilizers, to substantially boost production. As recently as in the last decade, India was struggling to push annual wheat production beyond 75 million tons, but it is expected to hit a record 81.47 million tons this year, the third year in a row when output exceeds 80 million tons, making the country a potential exporter. India's oilseeds plantings are also off to a good start, with winter plantings rising 2% from a year earlier.

China's corn plantings rose 4.2% to 32.5 million hectares in 2010, after an increase of 4.4% in 2009, according to China National Grain and Oil Information Center. An even bigger area is expected to be planted this year. China is facing a drought in its wheat-producing regions and authorities have warned production could fall if the country doesn't see sufficient rain in coming months.

Australia, which saw wheat production rise above 26 million tons this year despite a drought in Western Australia and widespread flooding in the eastern states, is aiming for a record output of nearly 30 million tons next year after wheat growers in eastern Australia have harvested their most profitable crop in a decade with gross margins estimated at 350 Australian dollars (about US$353) a hectare. That is A$100 per hectare above the long-term average, said Paul Deane, an agricultural economist with ANZ Banking Group in Melbourne.

If the wheat harvest in the Northern Hemisphere is bigger, as expected, the July-August period can be the turning point for grains and drag wheat down to $6.40 a bushel, said Nobuyuki Chino, president of Unipac Grain, a Tokyo-based commodities trading company. March wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade are currently trading around $8.27 a bushel, just off a high of $8.93 per bushel tested earlier this month.

Write to Sameer Mohindru at sameer.mohindru@dowjones.com and Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com

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« Reply #37 on: February 24, 2011, 07:09:25 PM »

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/how-to-make-oatmeal-wrong/
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« Reply #38 on: March 17, 2011, 09:12:46 PM »

From all the things I have read about how we live wrong and botch up our food supply in particular, with altered cows, stressed chickens, unhealthy school lunches, processed everything, fats, salts, sugars, overuse of pesticides, etc., I was surprised to read, again, that life expectancy just keeps going up: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110316/ap_on_he_me/us_med_us_life_expectancy_1
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« Reply #39 on: May 11, 2011, 11:35:33 AM »



http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1385193/Take-bull-horns-Farmers-America-trade-tractors-oxen-beat-soaring-fuel-prices.html
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« Reply #40 on: July 25, 2011, 02:24:39 PM »

When right and left can agree...  This is an internet radio interview, 2 conservative hosts (Hinderacker of Powerline is one) with MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard about new interagency working group rules about marketing food to children.  Violating substances she alleges include oatmeal and whole wheat bread, cheerios, milk, peanut butter, what?!  Go to the 24:30 minute mark of the show for the part on food rules.  (First half is about the budget.)
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/07/the-hinderaker-ward-experience-food-fight.php
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« Reply #41 on: March 09, 2012, 01:11:01 PM »



http://www.theblaze.com/stories/usda-buys-7-million-pounds-of-pink-slime-for-school-lunches/
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« Reply #42 on: July 19, 2012, 12:50:06 PM »



The Triumph of the Family Farm

Farming is in the midst of a startling renaissance—one that holds lessons for America’s economic future
Chrystia Freeland

WE BURIED MY grandfather last spring. He had died in his sleep in his own bed at 95, so, as funerals go, it wasn’t a grim occasion. But it was a historic one for our small rural community. My great-grandparents were early settlers, arriving in 1913 and farming the land throughout their lives. My grandfather continued that tradition, and now rests next to them on a hillside overlooking the family homestead.

If you’re a part of the roughly 99 percent of the North American population that doesn’t work on a farm, you might guess at what comes next—many a lament has been written about the passing of the good old days in rural areas, the family farm’s decline, and the inevitable loss of the homestead. But in many respects, that narrative itself is obsolete. That’s certainly true in my family’s case: The Freeland farm is still being cultivated by my father. And it is bigger and more prosperous than ever.

My dad farms 3,200 acres of his own, and rents another 2,400—all told, a territory seven times the size of Central Park. Last year, he produced 3,900 tonnes (or metric tons) of wheat, 2,500 tonnes of canola, and 1,400 tonnes of barley. (That’s enough to produce 13 million loaves of bread, 1.2 million liters of vegetable oil, and 40,000 barrels of beer.) His revenue last year was more than $2 million, and he admits to having made “a good profit,” but won’t reveal more than that. The farm has just three workers, my dad and his two hired men, who farm with him nine months of the year. For the two or three weeks of seeding and harvest, my dad usually hires a few friends to help out, too.

My father farms in northern Alberta, but his story is typical of large-scale family farmers across North America. Urbanites may picture farmers as hip heritage-pig breeders returning to the land, or a struggling rural underclass waging a doomed battle to hang on to their patrimony as agribusiness moves in. But these stereotypes are misleading. In 2010, of all the farms in the United States with at least $1 million in revenues, 88 percent were family farms, and they accounted for 79 percent of production. Large-scale farmers today are sophisticated businesspeople who use GPS equipment to guide their combines, biotechnology to boost their yields, and futures contracts to hedge their risk. They are also pretty rich.

“It definitely is not just your father,” Jason Henderson, the vice president and branch executive of the Omaha branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, told me. Henderson is essentially the Fed’s top analyst of the agricultural economy. “In the U.S. and Canada in 2010 and 2011,” he said, “farm incomes have been booming. U.S. net farming incomes rose more than 20 percent in each of those years. Farmers are flush with cash.”

Evidence of the boom is visible throughout the Farm Belt. “Tractor and combine sales have doubled, compared with 2003,” Henderson told me. “Pivot-irrigation-system sales are up. I’ve been driving across Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and I have not seen so many shiny new grain bins, ever.”

Troy Houlder, my father’s local farm-machinery dealer, told me that in the 22 years he’s been in the business, “supply has never been this tight.” The vehicles in highest demand, he said, are midrange-horsepower tractors, which run from $70,000 to $110,000. If a farmer walked into his store in early May wanting to buy that kind of tractor, “he’s not getting one until probably November or December, even if he had a fistful of hundreds.”

Big Money has noticed these trends, and is beginning to pile in. “We are seeing a tremendous uptick in allocations and interest in farmland,” says Chris Erickson of HighQuest Partners, an agricultural consultancy and investor. Erickson told me that big institutional investors—pension funds, insurance companies—have recently been making investments in farmland ranging from “the several hundred millions to the billions.” Erickson said this broad interest is new, and is driven by the fact that “the fundamentals are changing dramatically.”

Jim Rogers, who co-founded the legendary hedge fund Quantum with George Soros, told me he believes farming is “one of the most exciting professions” in the world—and that the recent boom is likely to continue for a long time. “Throughout history, we’ve had long periods when the financial sectors were in charge,” he said, “but we’ve also had long periods when the people who have produced real goods were in charge—the farmers, the miners … All of you people who got M.B.A.s made mistakes, because the City of London and Wall Street are not going to be great places to be in the next two or three decades. It’s going to be the people who produce real goods.”

The rural renaissance isn’t just a curiosity: it’s an important new chapter in the story of America’s ability to thrive in the global economy, and in eras of disruptive technological change. As America struggles to adapt to a new wave of creative destruction that is shaking up the manufacturing and service sectors as profoundly as industrialization transformed the agrarian age, the resurgence of the family farm offers some lessons on how we might survive this wave of change, too.

AT THE HEART of the farm boom are the very same forces that are remaking the rest of the American economy—technological revolution and global integration. When you think of technological revolution, you probably think of geeks in cool coastal spaces like the Google campus, or perhaps of math wizards on Wall Street. But one source of rural prosperity is the adoption of radical new technologies—and a consequent surge in productivity.

Henderson situates the change over the long sweep of history: “Prior to World War II, it took 100 hours of labor to produce 100 bushels of corn. Today, it takes less than two hours.” According to Erik O’Donoghue and Robert Hoppe, two economists at the Department of Agriculture, in 2009 U.S. farm output was 170 percent above its level in 1948, having grown at a rate of 1.63 percent a year. Those figures understate the productivity revolution, because these increasing harvests have been delivered with fewer inputs, particularly less labor and less land.

Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, told me that since 1980, agriculture has been “the second-most-productive aspect of our economy … I’m 61 years old, and in my lifetime, corn production has increased 400 percent, soybeans 1,000 percent, and wheat 100 percent.”

Continuous technological improvements have resulted in a system of crop farming that someone who left the countryside 20 years ago would be hard-pressed to recognize, and certainly couldn’t operate (I stopped helping my dad in the early 1990s, when I became a foreign correspondent, and I am no longer allowed to drive any of his three combines). The computer systems powering a “precision farmer’s” seed drill and combine have been programmed with the exact parameters of all his fields and are synced up with one another. That means the seed drill knows what last year’s harvest was from each inch of land, thanks to data recorded by the combine, and can seed and apply fertilizer accordingly.

The cabs of today’s combines, the most sophisticated of farm machines, look like airplane cockpits, or the control rooms on factory floors. Monitors tell the farmer how many bushels to the acre his land is yielding even as he harvests his crop, give him a read on the moisture level, and tell him how much he is leaving behind on the field. Troy Houlder’s flagship New Holland combine, the CR9090, which sells for $520,000, has a new feature called IntelliCruise, which automatically speeds up or slows down the machine depending on how heavy the crop is. (The CR9090 also features a so-called buddy seat, often occupied by a grandchild, and a small refrigerator, so its owner-operator’s lunch stays cold.)

Fancy GPS systems and space-age tractors are what most excite the farmers I know and astound their city friends. But the most profound change is something an urban civilian driving through the Farm Belt wouldn’t even notice. Ever since people first domesticated cereal crops in the Fertile Crescent 11,000 years ago, farming has followed a seemingly immutable pattern—plow your field, seed your field, harvest your field, repeat. But today, farmers can skip the plowing step.

This historic shift is known as the no-till revolution. No-till was a quirky, fringe idea in the 1970s. Today, it is practiced on one-third of U.S. cropland. It has been made more effective by the genetic engineering of seeds and the adoption of crop varieties with herbicide tolerance or a resistance to pests.

Farmers are rightly proud of their swift embrace of innovation. But the biggest reason rural bank accounts are swelling today isn’t technology (nor is it government subsidies, though those have helped, and may no longer be justified). It is, rather, the growing global middle class. “The single most important factor in all of this is the changing diet in the emerging markets,” Erickson told me. “If people there go from earning $2 a day to $3 a day, they aren’t going to buy a Mercedes, but they are going to buy a piece of chicken or a piece of pork.” That translates into surging prices for feed grains like corn, soybeans, wheat, and canola, and surging farm incomes around the world. In the early 1990s, China, for instance, was self-sufficient in soybean production; in 2010, it was the top importer of U.S. agricultural products.

This shift has made for unusual bedfellows. At a time when the mainstream U.S. political discourse has identified China as a relentless and predatory exporter—and a destroyer of American jobs—farmers are outliers. Farmers “want China to expand,” Henderson told me, “because that means a bigger or broader market” for their crops. Some of America’s biggest supporters of open borders are down home on the farm.

AGRICULTURE, WHICH ONCE employed most of the population and now employs almost no one, is often held up as a grim harbinger of what awaits U.S. manufacturing (and beyond that, white-collar professions that can be partially outsourced or performed by computers). The United States today has more bus drivers than it has farmers. Technological advances have drastically shrunk the number of people required to no-till the land.

Yet today’s agricultural renaissance also shows that there is some light at the end of the tunnel—or, if you will, a good harvest at the end of the furrow. Most encouragingly, the agricultural boom shows that globalization really is a two-way street, and not just for the geniuses at Apple and Goldman Sachs. The rising global middle class wants hamburgers—which is where farmers come in—but it also wants hundreds of other middle-class comforts, and as it grows richer, it will be able to afford more of them. Helping to fill these wants is where many of the rest of us should look for opportunity. And you don’t have to work for a corporate behemoth or have a venture capitalist on your speed dial to take advantage of the changing world economy. One of the most surprising aspects of the farm story is that its heroes are self-employed entrepreneurs, albeit ones who own a lot of land.

Of course, that still leaves open the question of what to do about all those jobs being lost. One of the great, and largely forgotten, triumphs of American society and government has been how smoothly U.S. farmers and their communities negotiated the creative destruction of the early 20th century and emerged triumphant when it was over. Lawrence Katz, a Harvard professor who is probably America’s most esteemed labor economist, has, together with his partner and fellow Harvard professor, Claudia Goldin, studied how they did it. The answer, Katz told me, was heavy investment in education: “Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California—these were the leaders in the high-school movement.”

Katz said this big investment in education was a deliberate response to the rapid technological advances and productivity gains in both agriculture and manufacturing. Farmers could see that machines meant fewer hands would be needed on the land, while new jobs were being created in the cities. So they built schools to educate their children for those new roles. The strategy worked: high school made the children who stayed home better farmers and gave the rest the tools to leave. In fact, the Farm Belt’s high-school movement was so successful that farm children who moved to the big cities soon became the bosses of the native-born urbanites. “They tended to be more educated than the city slickers and move to better jobs in the city than the locals,” Katz said.
The challenge those Midwestern farm communities faced same 100 years ago was remarkably similar to the challenge much of America faces today—an economic transformation that is making the country richer and more productive, but that also means most of our children won’t be able to do the same jobs we do. A high-school education was enough for the children of farmers in the early 20th century. Children today will need college, with an emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills, if they are to thrive.
But while today’s problem would seem familiar to those early-20th-century farmers, today’s response would not. “We did a better job in that period of preparing the next generation for their new context than we are doing today,” Katz said. “These areas made the right level of investment in education. We have not even approached the equivalent today.”

The farming towns of the past saw themselves as true communities, with a collective responsibility to ready their children for the future. That sensibility has broken down. “Areas that had a larger share of older citizens actually were more supportive of education, which is the opposite of today,” Katz told me.

Today’s wealthy farmers, and their prosperous city cousins, are the beneficiaries of a long-ago communal decision to invest in the future. We could learn from their great-grandparents.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #43 on: October 06, 2012, 09:31:38 AM »



http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/06/business/pig-farmers-face-pressure-on-the-size-of-the-sty.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121006
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Rachel
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« Reply #44 on: October 09, 2012, 09:24:15 AM »

 Currently  I'm not interested  in discussing politics and my schedule will probably only permit me to post in the Power of the Word.

This probably fits better in the Health Thread but the original discussion started here and I have dramatically changed my views on animal protein and eating more  meat, fish and eggs has greatly improved my health for the better.  Different macronutrients levels and different diets are right for different people but animal proteins are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. I now eat animal protein and lots of vegetables at every meal. My view that I should be eating less animal protein made me less healthy because I was trading nutrient dense foods for food that was making me sick. Thankfully, not everyone has my reaction to gluten but I would recommend that everyone try going wheat free for a week and then see how they feel.  
 I do still agree with Michael Pollan on many things but my new favorite food philosopher is Robb Wolf.

http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/
I would also recommend It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

http://www.amazon.com/It-Starts-Food-Discover-Unexpected/dp/1936608898/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349724429&sr=8-1&keywords=it+starts+with+food
I have read lots of Paleo books and blogs and listened to hours of podcasts. I am not totally convinced by the science, but when I follow the Paleo diet I feel good and when I don't, it is the opposite.   I have been on the Paleo diet since December and I  now weigh less than when I was in High School and I have less stomach issues, more energy, get sick less often and sleep better.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2012, 09:56:20 AM by Rachel » Logged
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #45 on: October 09, 2012, 11:48:07 AM »

You exemplify the search for Truth Rachel.  cool   Empirical method beats theoreitical method for me too.  Barry Sears' "Zone Diet" made the point you make here about paying attention to how one actually feels in response to a meal.   Like you, this has been of help to me too.   As I sometimes say in an effort to reduce to the essence:

"Food is the origin of the feces.  Eat so you defecate well." grin
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« Reply #46 on: October 12, 2012, 01:18:13 PM »

Marc,

Thank you  for your very kind words.   I really appreciate it. You should check  this out

http://www.squattypotty.com/

Rachel
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« Reply #47 on: October 12, 2012, 02:42:08 PM »

Makes sense to me  grin
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« Reply #48 on: January 01, 2013, 01:03:49 PM »




SONOMA, Calif. — Under rows of old chicken sheds, Jack Chambers has built an empire of huge metal boxes filled with cattle manure and millions of wriggling red worms.






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FARMHAND Jack Chambers owns the Sonoma Valley Worm Farm.



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Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times
 
The farm relies on hundreds of thousands of worms to make vermicompost in its bins.


“My buddies all had planes and boats,” said Mr. Chambers, 60, a former airline pilot. “I have a worm farm.”

Mr. Chambers’s two decades of investment in what he calls an “underground movement” may be paying off. New research suggests that the product whose manufacture he helped pioneer, a worm-created soil additive called vermicompost, offers an array of benefits for plants — helping them grow with more vigor, and making them more resistant to disease and insects, than those grown with other types of composts and fertilizers.

The earthworm’s digestive process, it turns out, “is a really nice incubator for microorganisms,” said Norman Q. Arancon, an assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

And these microbes, which multiply rapidly when they are excreted, alter the ecosystem of the soil. Some make nitrogen more available to plant roots, accounting for the increased growth. The high diversity and numbers of microbes outperform those in the soil that cause disease.

By contrast, Dr. Arancon said, soil that has been heavily exposed to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides lacks microbial richness and diversity, qualities that can be restored naturally by adding the microbes from worms.

Some experts and entrepreneurs hope earthworms can also help with another problem: the growing piles of animal waste from dairy farms and other agricultural operations.

Worm Power, a company in Avon, N.Y., transforms 10 million pounds of manure from a single dairy herd each year — about 40 percent of the cattle’s output — into 2.5 million pounds of vermicompost. Tom Herlihy, a former municipal waste engineer who founded the company in 2003, says it has raised more than $6 million in venture capital and $2 million in grants for research, much of it at Cornell University.

Here in Northern California, Mr. Chambers’s Sonoma Valley Worm Farm produces about half a million pounds of similar compost, an amount he plans to increase in the spring. He loads a long metal bin with cow manure and 300,000 to 400,000 Eisenia fetida, or red wigglers — weighing 300 to 400 pounds. In their wake, the worms leave cattle waste that has been processed into rich and crumbly castings that look like fine peat moss.

It takes six months for a vermicompost bed to become fully mature, by which time a million worms roam the manure. Mr. Chambers continues to add two yards of manure and harvest one yard of worm compost weekly. The finished product is shaved, an inch at a time, off the bottom of the bin. An established bed can go on this way for years.

Both operations pre-compost their manure before they fork it over to the worms. That means piling it up and allowing it to get naturally hot enough to kill unwanted seeds and pathogens like E. coli.

The properties of worm compost are different from fertilizer or manure. “It’s interesting and complicated,” said Rhonda Sherman, an extension specialist at North Carolina State University who has taught vermicomposting around the world for more than 30 years and who holds an annual conference on the subject.

“Certain plants might react well to vermicompost from dairy manure,” she said, “and other plants might react better to food-waste vermicompost.” That has led to “boutique composting,” with different blends for different kinds of plants.

A West Coast company, California Soils, uses worms to break down cardboard waste fibers that are too short to be recycled. The glue used to bind the paper serves as an important source of nitrogen for the worms. “It’s a really good product for nut farmers and stone fruit farmers,” Mitch Davis, a company spokesman, said of the compost, adding that it also helps control nutgall, a fungal disease that afflicts walnut trees.

Worms were said to be Darwin’s favorite organism, and for good reason: it seems they can break down most anything. Studies have shown they can detoxify soil with cadmium, lead and other heavy metals.

Another product made from worm waste is a concentrate, sometimes called tea, that Mr. Chambers extracts using an aerator. Dr. Arancon said even a 1 percent solution of the extract had the same properties as vermicompost.

At Cornell, Eric Nelson, a plant pathologist, is studying how compost suppresses disease. Worm Power’s product, he says, does a better job than traditional compost, perhaps because the worm compost is highly uniform. “The key is understanding why these microbes do what they do,” Dr. Nelson said. Then, perhaps, the mechanism can be enhanced, he said.

The worm compost is considered valuable enough to fetch almost 10 times the price of other composts.

Still, the industry suffers from image problems. “It’s hard to bring it out of the ‘It’s cute to have a worm box in my backyard’ approach and put it on par with other strategies for waste management,” said Allison Jack, who earned her doctorate by studying vermicompost at Cornell and is now teaching at Prescott College in Arizona.

The quality of products varies widely, and because there are no industry standards, anyone can call a product vermicompost.

For a time, the worm business was a haven for swindlers. Companies would sell worms to growers, who were told they could raise more worms and produce vermicompost, which they could then sell back. Some of these offers turned out to be Ponzi schemes.

Still, the properties of vermicompost have long been recognized by growers. Jeff Dawson, the curator of gardens at the Round Pond Estate winery in the Napa Valley, swears by Mr. Chambers’s castings, which he has used for more than a decade.

“A cup or half a cup in the hole as we plant each vine increases the vine’s ability to establish itself at a much faster pace,” Mr. Dawson said. “And it creates a healthier plant.”

This being California, some of Mr. Chambers’s customers are medical marijuana growers, and he likes the way growers do business. “They hand you cash,” he said.
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« Reply #49 on: April 07, 2013, 11:06:16 AM »



http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/opinion/sunday/calamity-for-our-most-beneficent-insect.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130407


Every beekeeper, small or large, hobbyist or commercial, knows that honeybees are in trouble. Over the past decade, bee colonies have been dying in increasing numbers. Last year was especially bad. Perhaps as many as half the hives kept by commercial beekeepers died in 2012. The loss has created a crisis among fruit and vegetable growers, who depend on bees to pollinate their crops.



Last year, researchers identified a virus as a major cause of the die-off; the latest suspect is a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are used to protect common agricultural seeds, including corn. The insecticides are systemic, which means they persist throughout the life of the plant. Scientists have demonstrated that exposure to these chemicals damages bees’ brain function, including their ability to home in on the hive.

In mid-March, environmental groups and beekeepers sued the Environmental Protection Agency to persuade it to withdraw its approval of two of the most widely used neonicotinoids. The manufacturers of these chemicals — notably Syngenta and Bayer CropScience — have claimed again and again that they are safe. And it is true that bees face other stresses. Even so, beekeepers managed to keep their hives relatively healthy before the increased use of neonicotinoids began in 2005.

Bees are essential to modern agriculture. There is no replacing them, no substitute of any meaningful kind. The E.P.A. has sent a team to central California — where more than 1.6 million hives are needed every spring — for “discussions.” That is not remotely good enough. The agency must conduct an immediate analysis of neonicotinoids. The manufacturers’ bland assurances seem empty in the face of this long-term die-off of these beneficial creatures.
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