Is Natural Gas ‘Clean’?

The question is whether the natural gas “revolution,” which is a real thing — production is up about a third since 2005 — is also a good thing.

One reason natural gas is called “clean” is because it emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal when you burn it. Thus it’s seen by some as a “bridge” fuel until zero-carbon-producing renewables can take over. But natural gas isn’t clean in the way that solar is clean. It’s clean-er than coal. It’s better than the worst; that’s all.

And the situation is actually too dire for a bridge fuel: experts say we must stop adding carbon into the air within the next 30 years [1] or face a climate “feedback loop” in which global warming continues regardless of subsequent activities, a point at which we would be able to make things worse but not better. If switching to natural gas long delays the dominance of renewables, it’s not doing us much good.That’s why action now is important.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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Late-Summer Links

A struggle that all of us should get behind: Fast food workers around the country are organizing (including with widespread strikes) to protest untenably low wages. (McDonald’s, more than any other restaurant operator, has worked to suppress pay rates, enforce harsh work procedures and prevent unionization.)

Speaking of  critical work in food and labor, Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, a longtime leader in the national farmworker movement, has died at 93. She was one of the first woman members and organizers of the United Farmworkers of America in Fresno, Calif.

The editors of Scientific American think mandatory G.M.O. labeling is a bad idea. Rather than providing consumers with useful information, they suggest, labels would only heighten the misconceptions that genetically modified foods endanger our health. The same would be true for anything else questionable, I suppose; sounds like a dumb position for a sometimes-smart magazine.

 Read the rest of this column, here.

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Zuke Alors!

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.27.08 PMNobody complains about too many cucumbers, tomatoes or eggplants. But zucchini, summer’s most underloved vegetable (technically, yes, it’s a fruit), comes in for a lot of grief. It’s so prolific! It’s so cheap! What are we going to do with all of it?

I suppose it’s not just zucchini’s omnipresence but its mild flavor — and indeed, the difficulty of bringing out some of its character — that makes us feel challenged.

Read the rest of this article, here.

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A Practical Farmer Who Showed the Way

Dick Thompson was a farmer near Boone, Iowa, whom I kept meaning to visit but did not. That was a mistake; he died on Aug. 17 at 81.

He will be missed, in no small part because he embodied the clear, pragmatic kind of thinking for which Midwestern farmers were once known, before so many became beholden to Big Ag.

Thompson began farming in the 1950s and was anything but beholden. He challenged every assumption and, especially as he matured, never accepted the reigning “wisdom.”

But when he first started working his 300 acres, he was a farmer’s son with degrees from Iowa State University and an enthusiastic member of that first generation of farmers to embrace industrial techniques. He set about modernizing his parents’ farm with a vengeance: “We purchased everything the salesman had to sell,” he said, meaning every line about intensive farming and every chemical it took to support it.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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The New Nuclear Craze

There is a new discussion about nuclear energy, prompted by well-founded concerns about carbon emissions and fueled by a pro-nuclear documentary called “Pandora’s Promise.” Add a statement by James E. Hansen — who famously sounded the alarm on climate change — and, of course, industry propaganda, and presto: We Love Nukes.

Before we all become pro-nuclear greens, however, you’ve got to ask three questions: Is nuclear power safe and clean? Is it economical? And are there better alternatives?

No, no and yes. So let’s not swap the pending environmental disaster of climate change for another that may be equally risky.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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How to Make Jam

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 6.50.51 PMThis is the time of year to make jam. Find the nearest bush or tree, go to a farmers’ market or pray that your local C.S.A. comes through in the next couple of weeks, but get it done.

You might never have considered making jam. You might be wary of it. But this isn’t old-fashioned jam we’re talking about, with Mason jars, canning tongs, pots of steam, near-guaranteed burns, loads of sweat and possibly even tears. This isn’t so much about preserving the harvest (that’s what freezers are for) but about making the kind of jam you keep in your fridge for a week or two. All that is needed is delicious fresh fruit and a half-hour of your time.

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Not All Industrial Food Is Evil

I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?

The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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It’s Wild-Salmon Season

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Atlantic salmon is an endangered species, but it’s also always in season: we have fish farming to thank for that, if “thank” is the word.

Therefore almost all wild salmon is Pacific. And in flavor, texture and color, the Pacific species of king (or Chinook), sockeye and coho are all superior to any farmed salmon.

Wild salmon is seasonal, and we’re smack in the middle of that season. Unless you live in Alaska or the Northwest, where fresh wild salmon are practically flung onto your doorstep along with the morning paper, these fish remain a rare treat, shipped to markets around the country for a few precious weeks in mid- to late summer.

Read the rest of this article, here.

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11 Trillion Reasons

Here’s a good line: “[U]nenlightened farm policy — with its massive subsidies for junk food ingredients — has played a pivotal role in shaping our food system over the past century. But that policy can readily be changed.”

With the possible substitution of the word “might” for “can,” this is pretty much an inarguable statement. It comes from “The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Money and Lives, and How We Get There,” a report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists (U.C.S.) to be introduced at the farmers’ market[1] at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital Wednesday.

That’s a big number, $11 trillion, but even if it’s off by 90 percent (it’s difficult to put a value on lives), who’s to scoff at a trillion bucks? In any case, this summary of current research, which contains the argument that even a tiny increase in our consumption of fruits and vegetables would have a powerful impact on health and its costs, agriculture and the economy, is compelling.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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Farmers’ Market Recipe Generator

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When the farmers’ markets are full of white eggplants, shell beans, baby squash, multicolored carrots and greens whose names you don’t even know, it’s time to go shopping: without knowing what you’re looking for, without any kind of plan, just shopping to buy what looks or tastes good — or what the farmer tells you is good. The Recipe Generator is essentially a one-armed bandit of ingredients and techniques, offering more than 50 combinations of things you’re most likely to find in a market or your C.S.A. basket, with recipes that make wonderful use of them.

See the Farmers’ Market Recipe Generator, here.

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