How to Feed the World

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 7.52.48 PMIt’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet on the eve of World Food Day, Oct. 16, the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage. Yet there are other, better options.

Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population.

“Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one. But if it worked that way, surely the rate of hunger in the United States would not be the highest percentage of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than of Britain.

 Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Midsummer Links

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 9.41.05 AM

U.S. agriculture and food companies are struggling to attract enough workers, a problem the industry concedes is getting worse.

Twenty-two primary-school children died in India after eating free lunch prepared with oil that was believed to have been stored in an empty insecticide container.

In a setback, the House approved a bill that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards ensuring that hens have room to spread their wings. Related: Yet another study has reinforced the idea that keeping animals in confinement and feeding them antibiotics prophylactically breeds varieties of bacteria that cause disease in humans.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Giving up Tuna? Breathing Is Next

If you’re like most people (including me, up until a month or two ago), you know that tuna and other top-of-the-food-chain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury and that childbirth-age women and nursing mothers, especially, are warned off these fish. What you don’t know, probably (I didn’t), is the mercury’s source, or how it gets in these fish.

Turns out that about three-quarters of it comes from coal-burning power plants; it dissolves in water, where micro-organisms convert it to methylmercury, a bio-available and highly toxic form that builds up in fish. The longer a fish lives, the more mercury builds in its flesh.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Welfare for the Wealthy

The critically important Farm Bill [1] is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Make Peace With Meat

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.01.16 AM                   I probably eat a third as much meat as I used to and, on the not-rare (three times a week?) occasions that I do indulge, I eat less of it.

I’m reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle two weeks ago; there were about six ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.

The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.

I’m betting that you eat meat more consciously (and less of it) than you once did. The health, environmental and ethical concerns affect the attitudes of almost everyone I encounter, and although our priorities differ, few people I know indiscriminately fill their supermarket carts with shrink-wrapped meat and leave. Not long ago, almost all of us did that.

Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Food Politics, Recipes

The Frankfurter Diaries

I ate two hot dogs the other day. And now I’m going to talk about my feelings about junk food.

The circumstances were these: an early meeting at The Times, “breakfast” of a banana (and lucky to have that), and a morning of activities controlled by others.

Then there was a drive to the Jersey Shore. Just shy of noon, we stopped at a Garden State [1] Parkway rest area of the new style: a “choice” of bad fast food joints rather than just one. I begged my colleagues for some time to have a bite to eat. (It was a day that would include no lunch break.)

The choices were: prewrapped sandwiches, like smoked turkey with provolone on “whole grain” bread (it wasn’t); Burger King; Sbarro; TCBY; Quizno’s; Starbucks; Nathan’s. I was on the phone with a friend who largely shares my weaknesses and prejudices. I did not want a prewrapped sandwich, especially one that looked so dry and unappetizing. My first inclination was Burger King; he pronounced it “poison.”

O.K., but what wasn’t? Where was the real food? It didn’t exist. I gravitated toward Nathan’s. After all, I grew up going to Coney Island; my mother is from there. Nathan’s may not ever have been the best hot dog in New York, but it was iconic. Probably most important, the hot dog is to me comfort food. And it had been a long time.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Healthy, Meet Delicious

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.21.27 AM

There was a time when few of us thought about what we ate, but that’s been turned upside down since the reigning wisdom first decried salt, then cholesterol, then saturated fat, then almost all fat, then red meat, then carbohydrates and so on. Recent culprits include so many foods and foodlike substances that at least twice a week someone asks me: “What’s left to eat? I feel like nothing is safe.”

Before the end of innocence, when hyperprocessed food dominated the diet, we might eat a breakfast of Pop-Tarts or another sugary pastry, followed by a lunch of burgers, fries and a shake, and a dinner of meat-laden pizza, and feel not even a twinge of guilt. Now, almost nothing can be eaten without thinking twice.

Read the rest of this article here.

Posted in Food Politics, Vegan

Lost in the Supermarket

Last year, it seemed, every book about food that crossed my desk — other than those about cooking, of course — seemed to have one of two titles: “How I Moved to Brooklyn and Became a Roof-Gardening Butcher” or “The Gluten-Free Diet Saved My Life, and It Can Save Yours.”

This year is different; the books are variations on the title “How Big Food Is Trying to Kill You.” We have “Salt Sugar Fat,” my Times colleague Michael Moss’s epic description of the manipulation of processed food to make it even more palatable and addictive tomorrow than it was yesterday, and how the industry is well aware of how destructive of public health this manipulation truly is. We have the excellent “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America” by Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, which details the takeover of our food system by that same crew of corporate cynics.

And we have the cleverly titled “Pandora’s Lunchbox,” by Melanie Warner, a freelance (and former Times) reporter, which is so much fun that you might forget how depressing it all is. This is in part thanks to Warner’s measured, almost dry but deceptively alluring reportorial style, but it’s also because the extent to which food is  manipulated – and therefore, consumers as well — is downright absurd . There are more Holy Cow! moments here than even someone who thinks he or she knows what’s going on in food production could predict.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

The Cosmetics Wars

If all goes according to schedule, next month the European Union will become “cruelty-free,” banning without exception the sale of cosmetics ingredients that were tested on animals.

Don’t celebrate yet.

Because although there may be less animal testing of personal care products than there once was — even here in the United States — and many manufacturers have found new ways of determining that products are “safe,” there are still plenty of questionable ingredients in your bubble bath, many of which haven’t been tested by any means at all.

And animal testing is far from over. In fact, China officially mandates animal testing of cosmetics, which puts manufacturers in something of a bind: they won’t be able to engage in animal testing and sell in the European Union, whereas their products must be tested on animals to be sold in China. Quantum theory aside, they cannot occupy both of those spaces simultaneously.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Coke Blinks

Once again, Coke has blinked. It famously did so in 1985, when it introduced “new” Coke, replacing its original formula with one it thought would have greater appeal with its audience. It was wrong then.

This time it might be right, but it isn’t going to do the world’s best-known brand any good. It’s hurting from decreased domestic sales and smarting from the piles of evidence that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are not only our biggest source of calories, but also among our most harmful. So it has struck back with a two-minute video whose ostensible message is that too many calories will make you fat (true), that those in Coke are no worse than any others (false), and that we’re all in this together (ridiculous).

The video is brilliantly executed. Its honeyed, heart-rending voice-over and stirring images — as American as a Chevy commercial — nearly caused me to go out and buy a case myself, as I recalled those innocent days of the ’50s and ’60s when Coke and cigarettes and Our Country and I were all (it seemed) young together, happy and happening and eating burgers and fries like there was no tomorrow. It took me back to when Coke was the real thing, it was “it,” we were teaching the world to sing together, and even Mean Joe Greene was just a cutie. There’s always been Coca-Cola.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics