Food in the News

Local food enthusiasts have been trying to make the case that buying food from farmers nearby supports local economies, boosts food security and is better for the environment.

But so far, "local" food still makes up a pretty small fraction of what Americans eat. And given that most agriculture in the U.S. is geared toward producing food crops — from corn to soybeans to almonds — for the global market, it doesn't seem likely that will change.

New ag census data shows that Americans are raising more animals on larger farms than ever before.

You may have hoped that the national attention paid to organic farming, antibiotics, and other issues affecting the food you eat has resulted in a downturn in the number and size of factory farms over the years.

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Organic Farmers Object to Whole Foods Rating System

Like a whale and the myriad barnacles clinging to its sides, Whole Foods Market and organic farmers have long had a symbiotic relationship. 

The grocer has helped stoke the American appetite for organic products, building stores that are essentially showcases for organic fruits, vegetables and flowers tagged with the names of the farmers who grow them.

But that mutually beneficial relationship is now fraying, as Whole Foods faces increasing competition from mainstream grocery chains and as organic farmers find more and more outlets for their produce.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last month someone has come up to me and said something like, “Do you think I should stop eating almonds?” or “I really miss almond butter, but I just can’t bring myself to buy it anymore.”

It’s typical: We focus on a minuscule part (almonds) of a huge problem (water use in California) and see it as the key to fixing everything: If only we stopped eating almonds, the drought would end! (If only we stopped eating “carbs,” we wouldn’t be overweight.) But there are parts of the state where growing almonds makes sense. Using dry farming techniques that take advantage of residual moisture in the soil and rainfall, there is some ideal almond country in California. 

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state. It is the most stubborn part of the crisis: To fundamentally alter how much water the state uses, all Americans may have to give something up.

(And keep in mind how you're NOT contributing by being part of a local CSA! Go you!)

Having radically changed the way we communicate, do research, buy books, listen to music, hire a car and get a date, Silicon Valley now aims to transform the way we eat. Just as text messages have replaced more lengthy discourse and digital vetting has diminished the slow and awkward evolution of intimacy, tech entrepreneurs hope to get us hooked on more efficient, algorithmically derived food.  

When he was 15, an immigration raid at a Japanese flower nursery turned Arturo Flores's life around.

The owners needed a new group of workers to replace the ones removed by immigration officials, and Mr. Flores landed a job cutting flowers. He slowly worked his way up to packaging and delivering them. In the mid-1980s he got a call from two businessmen looking to start their own cut-flower business. They asked him to manage deliveries and distribution. Today Mr. Flores, 50, is the president of Central California Flower Growers in Watsonville, a distributor in Santa Cruz County that sells more than 100 varieties of flowers and other plants.

Farming business in the United States are still dominated by whites, but Mr. Flores (whose last name means "flowers" in English) is one of a growing number of Latinos who own or operate farms in the country.

Food, Not FrackingA contribution from Food & Water Watch's Jessica Wohlander

New York’s food, farms, and agriculture are under threat from fracking, a dangerous gas-drilling method that threatens the purity of our water, air, and land.

In New York, we’re fortunate to have access to fresh, vegetables grown on local farms, yet there are communities around the country who do not have access to such fresh produce. In states where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is underway, farmers’ livelihoods and the food system they support are threatened. We must send a strong message to Governor Cuomo, demanding that he stop this dangerous practice from undermining our own food systems by banning fracking in our state. 

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Read Food and Water Watch's Fracking and the Food System

Organic food really is better for your health than its conventional counterparts. At least, that's the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University and published this week. But not everyone is convinced.

The Oldest Human Poop Tells Us Neanderthals Ate Plants

If you think eating a meat-heavy diet will make you lean like our Neanderthal forebears, you might be disappointed. Researchers analyzing sediment from a mid-Paleolithic era site in Alicante, Spain, report in the June PLOS One that they have the strongest evidence yet that while Neanderthals did consume a lot of meat, they also ate plants as well.

Keeping Health in Stock at New York City's Bodegas

At Sandy Ortiz's bodega in the Bronx, no platanos means no business.

If Dominican customers do not see plantains for their dinner, they walk out without bothering to buy anything at all, Mr. Ortiz said. So he makes sure to keep plantains on hand as well as a growing selection of fresh fruits and vegetables: lettuce, broccoli, green peppers, onions, celery, pineapples, strawberries.

What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong

It’s spring again. Hip deep in asparagus - and, soon enough, tomatoes and zucchini - farm-to-table advocates finally have something from the farm to put on the table.

The crowds clamoring for just-dug produce at the farmers’ market and the local food co-op suggest that this movement is no longer just a foodie fad. Today, almost 80 percent of Americans say sustainability is a priority when purchasing food. The promise of this kind of majority is that eating local can reshape landscapes and drive lasting change.

Except it hasn’t.  Read more

While local food movements are largely focusing on land-based farming, family fishing operations are also gaining momentum through the rising popularity of Community Supported Fisheries (CSF).  Like their more-established siblings, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), have more and more consumers interested in buying their products locally direct from fishermen.  

The Food Movement’s Final Frontier: Taking Care of Workers

Rita has worked for the same Missouri-based pork processing company for 13 years. And yet she feels like she could lose her job at any time. If this 49-year-old mother of four is late for work by as little as five minutes, that’s one strike. If she takes more than her allotted seven minutes to race to the bathroom and back, that’s another strike. Three strikes is all it takes. Read more

To Truly Fix Food System, the Farm Bill Should Restore Fair Markets

The Farm Bill debate is currently in full-swing in the U.S. Senate this week. The sprawling legislation covers food stamps, subsidies, international food aid, research grants—it literally dictates what and how we eat. And right now, the Farm Bill gives all the power to the biggest food companies, which they wield with impunity over farmers and consumers. But an amendment to the bill–the Packer Ban, introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota)–could begin to address this unfair advantage that giant food companies have over farmers. Read more

Smart Shopping for Organic Food

Once the bastion of health food stores and food co-ops, organic food has gone from rarefied to mainstream. In the 10 years since the green "USDA organic" seal began appearing on supermarket shelves, the word "organic" has become part of our vernacular. It is a world that has expanded beyond the brown rice and wheat germ stereotypes of the '70s to include every possible type of food, from chips and salsa to ketchup for those frozen organic fries.

When you buy a product with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal, it means it has been grown or processed without chemicals, drugs or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although organic food has been touted as more nutritious and better for the environment, it is often (and justifiably) perceived as more expensive than its non-organic counterparts. But there are ways to save and stretch your organic dollar.

Here are a few tips to get started, plus how to make the most of non-organic offerings... Read more

Today in Research: Why Eating Fast Food Regularly Is So Sad

Discovered: Eating McDonald's will make you very sad, preventing cancer is easy, the Earth's clock is all wrong, and picky women help a species survival.

  • Eating McDonald's is sad. Or, rather, it will make you sad. But being sad is sad, isn't it? A study of 9,000 fast-food eaters found that those who ate the junk on the regular were 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who abstained for healthier options. "Even eating small quantities is linked to a significantly higher chance of developing depression," explained researcher Almudena Sanchez-Villegas. These fast-food eaters also had less fun sounding lives in general; the research found them to be more likely to be single, less active, smoke, and work more than 45 hours a week.  [The Telegraph]
  • Preventing cancer is easy. Alright hypochondriacs, get ready for this: Over 50 percent of cancers are preventable. Of the estimated 1,638,910 new cancer cases that will be diagnosed this year in the United States, more than half could have never happened. How? "Only, After working in public health for 25 years, I've learned that if we want to change health, we need to change policy," said researcher Sarah J. Gehlert. A lot of cancer development has to do with our poor lifestyle choices. (Like, eating McDonald's.) Unlike DNA or luck, that's easy-ish to change. "Stricter tobacco policy is a good example. But we can't make policy change on our own. We can tell the story, but it requires a critical mass of people to talk more forcefully about the need for change," she continued. [Wash U]

Is Drug Resistance in Humans Coming from Chickens?
Maryn McKenna, Wired Magazine
The CDC says there is enough similarity between drug-resistance genes in E. coli carried by chickens and E. coli infecting humans that the chickens may be the source of it.

Joan Nathan demonstrates 60 minute Challah
Famed Jewish food writer Joan Nathan has come up with a technique that makes two loaves of fresh-baked challah in less than 60 minutes. The recipe, in her new book "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous," flavors the bread with anise and studs it with sesame seeds. Read more here.

Earth Based Judaism – Reclaiming Our Roots, Reconnecting to Nature
A wonderful article in Zeek by Zelig Golden, Co-founder of Wilderness Torah. 

Sustainable Food, Sustainable Faith

A great piece in the Huffington Post by Rabbi Ari Hart, Co-founder, Uri L'Tzedek (Awaken to Justice): Orthodox Social Justice, about the Jewish movement to promote sustainable, ethical eating.

Bringing Organic Sweet Corn back to Long Island
Eve and Chris Walbrecht from Garden of Eve Organic Farm experimented with pheromone trapping and fertilizers to grow organic corn.

Eat Less Meat, Eat Better Meat
The list of Meatless Monday supporters continues to grow across the globe, and surprisingly to some, many of the latest enthusiasts make their living either cooking meat, such as chef Mario Batali or producing it, like rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman. What makes Meatless Monday so successful is its simple and inclusive message which promotes moderation with the goal of improving public health and the health of the planet.