The (Real) Green Revolution

Just as I believe that no one benefits from Republican Party policies but rich white men, so too do I think that proponents of GMO crops are either paid by Big Ag to vilify anyone questioning the value of those crops or are allowing themselves to be misled by propaganda issued forth by the very companies that profit from them.  But that is neither here nor there.  Vociferous proponents of GMOs are becoming more and more irrelevant as the two truly biggest players, the consumer and the farmer, are slowly changing the face of agriculture in this country.  Public distrust of GMOs is growing.  A Pew Research Center study conducted this year shows that 57% of Americans believe GMOs are unsafe.  The study made no claims on the veracity of the majority belief; it simply illustrates a fact.  And industry is responding.  A recent example of how consumers shape the market can be found in the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of AquaBounty’s genetically altered salmon.  Immediately after the announcement sixty grocery store chains, including Walmart and Costco, have stated they won’t sell the product.  Other chains include Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Given the strength of consumer demand, more and more farmers are switching from growing GMOs to organic, and most are doing so simply to satisfy their bottom line.

Even though the market for organically grown products is relatively small, it continues to grow as demand dictates.  The number of organic farms in Iowa, for example, grew to 612 last year, making it “the 10th-largest producer…in the United States.”  According to Ginger Harris, a statistician with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), “Iowa is definitely playing a role in this sector of agriculture.  People find it profitable being in organics, so Iowa producers are meeting market demand.”  Joseph Reilly, an administrator with NASS, said farmers “expect to expand U.S. organic production in the coming years.”  A specific example of a farmer switching from growing GMO corn and soybeans to farming organic comes from Soper Farms, Inc. of Emmetsburg, Iowa.  The Soper family works an 800 acre farm and switched to organic in 2010.  The transition wasn’t entirely smooth and took about three years before it was successful, but in the end Soper Farms managed to increase their net income from $180 per acre with GMOs to $578 with organics.  Harn Soper, manager of the farm, added that they “reduced their costs by as much as 40 percent by eliminating expensive GMO seeds and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”  Harn further stated that “the benefits of going organic were more than financial.  We don’t have superweeds…we use nature and crop rotations to deal with weeds.”  Harn also noticed an improvement in the soil.

The economics of switching from GMO crops to non-GMO crops is dependent on more than consumer demand.  Farmers are beginning to see that the costs of growing GMO crops are rising.  An Iowan corn breeder, tired of dealing with superweeds, stated recently that “the insect and herbicide traits are losing effectiveness with increased resistant rootworm and weed species.  Growers are tired of paying for input costs that are reduced in efficacy and funding additional forms of crop protection.”  And despite claims by Big Ag that non-GMO yields are smaller, farmers such as Harn Soper and the corn breeder have noticed that “the yield performance of non-GMO hybrids is similar to or greater than traited (GMO) hybrids.”  Farmers across the country evidently agree that growing non-GMO crops is beneficial.  Seed companies report selling more non-GMO seeds than ever before.  Tim Daley of Stonebridge, Ltd., says that ‘some companies have seen a 50 percent increase in sales of non-GMO seed, and some have said they’ve sold more non-GMO seed this year than in the last five.”  Iowa State University weed specialist Bob Hartzler says that “there is continual and accelerating growth in organic.  There has been more conversion to organic by farmers recently than I’ve ever seen.”

Consumer demand coupled with increasing costs and inefficiencies of GMO methods may very well mean the eventual demise of large-scale GMO farming.  Indeed, Monsanto’s “earnings fell 34% in its first fiscal quarter” and its “shares have decreased nearly 3% since the beginning of the year.”  As people become more skeptical of genetically altered foods, real or imagined, the market will simply follow.  Walmart not only is stocking more organic products but is also cutting costs so people can afford the food.  McDonald’s has been losing money for years, and in fact closed more restaurants than they opened last year for the first time.  They, too, are considering adding organic options to their menus.  General Mills recently paid approximately one billion dollars to acquire Annie’s Homegrown, a maker of all organic products, and nearly everyone is saying no to the GE salmon.  Walmart is still, in my book, an evil giant, and Annie’s foods, even though organic, are still all processed with high amounts of sodium, fat and sugar, but it is the perception people have that organic is better, and if purveyors of food wish to maximize their profits they will follow the will of the people.  And farmers wishing to make the most of their acreage will also follow the market.  When the USDA approved the GE salmon, a sense of futility settled in briefly.  Then I saw that, despite the power of Big Ag to impose its will on our government, what the majority of consumers demand determines how the market will respond.

Recipe of the Week

This soup is of Tuscan origin.  It’s a little different, but I found the taste to be quite good and it’s entirely vegetarian.

Tuscan Soup with Farro, Garbanzo Beans and Wild Mushrooms

1 large leek, white part only, chopped

1 cup organic canned tomatoes, pureed

1 cup dried garbanzo beans

1 cup farro

1/2 lb wild mushrooms, chopped.  I used chanterelles, which were silken and very tasty

2 tsps. fresh thyme, minced

lots of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Soak the garbanzos over night in plenty of cold water.  Pour all the soaking water and the beans into a large soup pot and simmer until done, about two hours.  While the beans cook, saute the mushrooms and leeks in about 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.  Add the thyme, and when the beans are almost done add the mushrooms and leeks to the soup pot.  The cooking water is serving as the broth, so make sure you have at least three cups in the pot when the beans are done.  Add the tomatoes and the farro to the simmering water and cook for about 1/2 hour.  When the soup is done, add salt and pepper and another 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.  It’s good the way it is, but sprinkling with a good pecorino adds a nice flavor.

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Climate Change, Terrorism and GMOs

“If we are going to see an increase in drought, flood and extreme weather disturbances as a result of climate change, what that means is that people all over the world are going to be fighting over limited natural resources.  If there is not enough water, if there is not enough land to grow crops, then you’re going to see migrations of people fighting over land that will sustain them, and that will lead to international conflicts…When you have drought, when people can’t grow their crops, they’re going to migrate to cities, and when people migrate to cities and they don’t have jobs, there’s going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al-Qaeda and ISIS are using right now.”  In the last Democratic debate Bernie Sanders went on record by making a direct correlation between climate change and terrorism for which he has been mocked.  Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal said Sanders’ comments made him look “slightly daffy,” while Jeb Bush has declared that “climate change isn’t in the top ten greatest threats to the U.S.”  There is ample evidence, however, that bolsters Mr. Sanders’ comments.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report this year examining “the risks of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems…especially for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities.”  The U.S. Department of Defense has also issued a report citing that “more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict…[and] these gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”  And the Union of Concerned Scientists believe that a reduction in rainfall in “regions of the world that depend on rain-fed agriculture may require irrigation, bringing higher costs and conflict over access to water.”

It is widely accepted, for instance, that the effects of climate change were responsible for the worst drought on record in Syria from 2006 to 2011, which created instability for farmers and threatened the country’s food supply.  As Syrians did indeed migrate to the cities, unrest followed.  A paper published this year establishes a direct link between climate change and the rise of ISIS.  What happened in Syria is just as likely to occur elsewhere. According to the U.S. Department of Defense – funded Strauss Center project on Climate Change and African Political Stability, increasing events of floods and drought have turned agricultural land into desert and heat waves are killing crops and farm animals.  Over time, the people of these affected regions will be forced to migrate to the cities, which will in turn stress already unstable governments and create the same sort of chaos as exists in Syria.  Michael Werz of The Center for American Progress says that “all the indicators seem to fairly solidly convey that climate change – desertification and lack of water, or floods, are massively contributing to human mobility.”

As I discussed in my last post, UPOV 91 – A Real Threat to Sustainable Agriculture,” there continues to be a global emphasis on agricultural practices defined by multinational corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta.  The corporate model relies on vast amounts of energy, water and fossil fuel based synthetic pesticides.  Manufacturing and transporting these pesticides uses ever larger amounts of energy and produces greenhouse gases.  Given, as I stated in UPOV 91, that this model of agriculture uses 80% of the world’s arable land and 70% of the world’s water, while at the same time contributing more to climate change than organic farming, it should be obvious that the world’s governments need to reevaluate their financial priorities.  Rather than force the world to abandon ancient sustainable farming traditions in favor of the unsustainable methods inherent in the promotion of GMOs, we should be subsidizing organic farmers.  We also need to dismantle the corporate production of meat which currently occupies 30% of the land surface on the planet.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by the sheer volume of their numbers, livestock production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases.

Obviously there are other pressing concerns about how to curb climate change that need to be addressed, but food sustainability certainly must be considered as human misery resulting from its effects will destabilize the globe.  We must realize, as Michael Pollan has done when he wrote a letter as a part of the Letters to the Future campaign, that “I want to explain what things were like back in 2015, before we figured out how to roll back climate change.  As a civilization we were still locked into a zero-sum idea of our relationship with the natural world, in which we assumed that for us to get whatever we need, whether it was food or energy…nature had to be diminished.”

Far from being “slightly daffy,” Bernie Sanders appears to belong to a very small group of politicians who are intelligent enough to make connections between growing poverty and political instability because of our disregard for the consequences of our wasteful actions.  Buy local.

Recipe of the Week

Potato and Greens Soup

3 large russet potatoes, partially peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

2 quarts homemade chicken stock

1 bunch kale, washed, ribs removed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 small carrot, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Pour the oil into a large soup pot.  Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute over medium high heat until the onion is transparent.  Add the stock, potatoes and kale.  Cook on low heat until the potatoes are done, about 1/2 hour.  Add copious amounts of black pepper and salt to taste.

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UPOV 91 – A Real Threat to Sustainable Agriculture

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, or UPOV (and colloquially known as “The Monsanto Law” in South America), was initially established in 1961 and was originally intended as a means of imposing common rules for recognizing and protecting the ownership of new plant varieties by plant breeders.  The act was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991.  So far, 70 countries have accepted the conditions set by UPOV.  In all cases individual farmers were given no consideration or say concerning the implementation of the rules, and in fact some trade agreements forced governments to accede to the provisions.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, for instance, obliged Mexico to join UPV 91.  That agreement directly restricted seed saving.  UPOV 91 has evolved into a trade agreement system that benefits the multinational corporations in the global North while threatening food security in the South.

Three lobbying organizations, The International Seed Federation, The International Community of Breeders of Asexually Ornamental Fruit Plants and CropLife International, represent Monsanto, DowAgroSciences, Syngenta, Bayer and DuPont Pioneer.  These groups have proposed further conditions to UPOV member countries that would force them to accept a single registered plant variety chosen by the breeder.  Member countries would then be held responsible for the implementation of the proposed rules established by the multinational corporations.  According to the Institute of Science in Society, the lobbyists’ proposals “will compromise the right of UPOV member states to control the processing and examination of plant variety protection applications, and hence their national right to control their own food system in accordance with local climactic and ecological conditions that can decide the success or failure of a crop.”

Indeed, protests among indigenous farmers in a few Latin American countries are beginning to have an effect.  Last year in Chile, Secretary General Ximena Rincon, who has led an effort to oppose the passage of the new UPOV restrictions on the use of local seeds, succeeded in causing the Chilean government to withdraw support for implementation of the new bill.  Lucia Sepulveda of the Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network of Chile, explained that “The Monsanto Law…would allow companies to register patents for the vast majority of seeds in Chile, and require small and medium producers to pay those companies for the right to use similar seeds.  This…would create a barrier for small and medium producers to use strains of seeds that have been developed and used by farmers and indigenous communities for generations.  Producers would be faced with renewing their seed rights every year for a high price, or leaving agriculture altogether.”  Another concern of the Chilean government is that the multinationals generally produce exclusively for export, leaving the Chilean population with less access to quality produce as well as causing a decline in small scale agriculture.

Colombian farmers, too, have successfully managed to force the government to at least put a moratorium on a resolution passed by the Colombian Institute for Livestock and Agriculture (ICA) in response to the passage of a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia that was signed into law in 2011 by President Obama.  The resolution was labeled 9.70 and resulted in a raid conducted by the ICA and riot police that “led to the destruction of 4,271 tons of seeds of rice, potatoes, corn, and other vegetable products.”  “Legal actions were also taken against [the farmers] for breaking the law.”  Victoria Solano released a documentary called 9.70, which revealed the destruction and the farmers went on strike.

The revised UPOV conditions are also meeting large scale resistance in Argentina.  In 2012, the Minister of Agriculture Norberto Yahuar and Pablo Vaqueros, President of Monsanto Argentina, announced plans to incorporate the provisions of UPOV 91 into law.  The National Indigenous Peasant Movement released a document which garnered huge support among civil groups and individuals.  In part, the document stated that “this paves the way to further expropriation and privatization of agriculture and wild biodiversity in Argentina.  The bill makes possible the greater privatization of Argentina’s genetic resources and native biodiversity by expanding so-called plant breeders’ rights.  In addition, it makes illegal or gravely restricts practices that have existed since the beginning of agriculture:  seed selection, breeding, improvement, saving, reproduction, and exchange based on the previous harvest.”

The cultivation of GM crops for food production, counter to the duplicitous claims of Big Ag, is an unsustainable use of resources.  GM crops feed approximately 30% of the world’s population while using 80% of the world’s arable land and 70% of the world’s water resources.  Small scale agriculture, on the other hand, feeds 70% of the world’s population while using fewer resources.  We ignore these facts while continuing to push forward damaging trade agreements that favor multinational corporations above all other considerations.  Currently, the U.S., under President Obama’s pressure, is aggressively seeking to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) which is not only pushing for the full implementation of UPOV 91 but is also seeking to extend patenting to animals.  Indigenous people, however, are awakening to the reality that their ability to feed themselves and others is being eroded by corporate interests; perhaps they will eventually prevail.

Recipe of the Week

This “salad” makes an exceptional sandwich.  It can be vegan or you can add cheese.

Olive and Marinated Veggie Salad

2 cups mixed kalamata and green olives

1 small jar of pimientos

1/2 cup marinated mushrooms

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts

1/2 cup minced red onion

3 cloves minced garlic

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup spicy peppers

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 pound provolone

Mix all ingredients.  Taste for vinegar.  I hollowed out a loaf of French bread, added the ingredients, wrapped the whole thing in foil and weighed it down with a cast iron frying pan for a few hours.  Not necessary, but it helped incorporate the flavors into the bread.

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A Renewed Call For a Tax on Sweetened Drinks

The facts concerning the consumption of sweetened drinks are in and they’re solid.  Drinking soda or any other sugary drink is a leading cause of obesity, particularly in children, and contributes to diabetes and heart disease.  The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) estimates that “people who consume sugary drinks regularly – 1 to 2 cans a day or more – have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”  They also cite a study which followed 40,000 men for twenty years and found “that those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks.”  And Americans are consuming more sweetened drinks than ever before, due in part to aggressive advertising as well as an increase in portion size.  A 2005 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated that “carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet.”  Conversations concerning the ill effects of consuming too much sugar have been occurring for many years now, but I doubt many people are aware of the very serious health issues that can develop over consuming even relatively modest amounts.  It is also doubtful that doctors ask their patients about their diets, including how much soda they drink in a week.  It would appear, nevertheless, that the availability of sweetened drinks and the propensity of the average American to consume as much as they do is a very real and prominent public health issue.  And aside from a couple of failed efforts to reign in consumption with modest taxes on sweetened drinks, it doesn’t appear that anything is being done to curtail overall consumption.

The HSPH, however, has laid forth a few sound suggestions to lessen public consumption of sugary drinks which would at the same time provide revenue “that could be used to fund other obesity prevention interventions.”  In their study published this year, the HSPH provided specific suggestions in order to combat childhood obesity.  The authors of the study propose that a public policy agenda should include: “a sugar sweetened beverage excise tax; elimination of the tax subsidy for advertising unhealthy food to children; restaurant menu calorie labeling; nutritional standards for school meals; [and] nutrition standards for all other food and beverages sold in schools.”  An implementation of the first three of their suggestions were found by the authors to save “more in health care costs than they cost to implement.”  This study most assuredly based its conclusions on the success of the anti-tobacco campaign in which state legislatures and the federal government combined forces to pass tobacco taxes and ban the advertising of tobacco on television.  An article published last month in The New York Times said that taxing tobacco certainly had an effect on the use of tobacco products as “a robust literature now exists showing that the resulting higher prices really did push down cigarette sales, particularly among young people.”  The New York Times article also looked at the success in Mexico after a tax on soda was passed in 2013.  It has been widely reported that “preliminary data from the Mexican government and public health officials in the United States find that the tax prompted a substantial increase in prices and a resulting drop in the sales of drinks sweetened with sugar…The long-term effects of the policy remain uncertain, but the tax is being heralded by advocates, who say it could translate to the United States.”  Indeed, soda consumption in Mexico, post tax, fell by 17% as of December 2014.

As can be expected, however, the American Beverage Association is fighting hard against such taxes as they did in California.  The ABA spent $10 million in order to defeat measures introducing a soda tax in San Francisco, where it failed, and Berkeley, where it passed.  They pose arguments against the effectiveness of a tax, calling instead for an emphasis on education, which is certainly valid, but a significant drop in corporate profit is a more likely factor in their anti-tax battle.

Given the overwhelming data confirming the health risks involved with even modest consumption of sweetened drinks, I believe our governments should do everything possible to restrict their sales.  If we are ever able to stop the plague of obesity in this country, state and federal governments should examine the HSPH study and follow its recommendations.

Recipe of the Week

This chicken recipe has Spanish overtones and is absolutely delicious.  It also tastes better a few days after it’s made.

Spanish Chicken with Olives

1 large chicken, preferably organic, cut into pieces and skinned

3 Tbls. olive oil

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsps. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground ginger

3 cups homemade chicken stock

1/2 cup olives of your choice, chopped

1 large lemon plus 2 Tbls. lemon juice

1 Tbls. paprika

Cut the large lemon into 8 slices.  You can abstract the juice from a couple of the slices, but don’t throw them out.  Heat the oil in a large stew pot to medium high.  Add the onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Saute for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, spices, lemon juice and lemon slices and stir briefly.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper as well and add to the pot.  Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes, turning the pieces from time to time.  Remove the chicken, turn up heat and cook the sauce down until it resembles thin gravy.  Return the chicken to the pot along with the olives.  Cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the lemon slices and toss them out, and taste for salt and pepper.  It’s certainly good on its own, but I liked to swirl a little non-fat yogurt into the sauce.

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Fruit Cake

No time to do anything at all this week, but at least I got to my fruitcakes.  My mother made them always, and one of the most fabulous things I remember is my mother’s banana bread.  I’ve never been able to replicate it, nor have I tasted anyone else’s that came close to hers.  She was a baker.  Her fruitcakes, however, suffered from whatever induced women to buy and use colored and perhaps dyed fruit.  But she did it every year and then she couldn’t and I wanted to do something in her memory.  I make 14, one pound fruitcakes every year, and it takes all day.  But unless  you are thoroughly against fruitcakes on principle, this one is quite satisfying.  And her recipe, written on a note card, was called Texas Fruitcake.

Texas Fruitcake

This recipe makes, as I said, 14 one pound cakes.  You can buy these tins very cheaply almost anywhere.  Halve the recipe if you want.

3/4 lb dried dates

1.5 lbs dried figs

3/4 lb dried cherries

3/4 lb dried currants

1 lb dark raisins

1 lb golden raisins

2 lbs roasted hazelnuts, chopped

1 lb butter

3/4 lb brown sugar

3/4 lb organic white sugar

12 eggs

1 lb flour

1 tbls cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1.5 tsps fresh ground nutmeg

1.5 tsps baking soda

1 tsp salt

2.5 tbls. milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

zest from all lemons used

1.25 tbls vanilla


brandy (almost an entire fifth), and Christian Brothers is fine.

wax paper

tin foil

Cut up any fruit that needs cutting up and mix all the fruit and nuts in a large bowl.  Melt the butter, then add it to the sugars and blend well.  Beat eggs well and add to the butter mixture.  Weigh out the flour, extract 1/2 cup and mix it in with the fruit/nut mixture.  Mix the remaining flour with the spices, soda and salt.  Add to egg/sugar/butter mixture.  Add the milk and lemon juice, zest and vanilla to egg mixture.  Mix well.  Pour over the fruits and nuts.  Mix well.  Grease bread tins, line with wax paper and grease again (I use butter).  Fill pans all the way up, pressing down to even out the mix.  Bake in a 250 degree oven for at least 1.5 hours.  Check at that time by pressing into the cake with your fingers.   This is the trickiest part of cooking the cakes.  I cook mine for about 1  hour 45 minutes, but every oven is different.  They’re done when if you press into the cake, it has give and feels a little under done.   Place the cakes on cooling racks (I use a bunch of chop sticks).  Let sit for about 15 minutes, and then remove them from their pans, leaving them on the cooling racks.  Cool out of their pans completely.  Wrap each cake doubly in cheesecloth, soak in brandy and then double wrap in foil.  Put them in a cool, dry place for at least a month.  I make my cakes at the end of October and they’re good for Christmas.


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How Consumer Demand Can Shape an Industry

Just this week Subway Restaurants announced that by March 2016 they will offer meals made with antibiotic-free chicken.  A full phase in is expected within two to three years, and they’re promising antibiotic-free pork and beef meals by 2025.  The restaurant chain follows Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Chipotle’s Mexican Grill and Panera in eliminating antibiotic laden chicken from their menus.  Subway, with more than 27,000 outlets in the U.S., which is more than any other chain, was targeted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  The NRDC had planned to deliver 300,000 petitions demanding that the company change its policy regarding the use of antibiotic treated animals, but Subway made their announcement prior to the actual delivery.  Subway is being lauded for their decision, and it’s certainly a positive step, especially given the immediate dangers and negative consequences of the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry.  But the fact that this decision is a voluntary move rather than one dictated by the federal government is troubling.  However, it also attests to the power of consumer demand.

The only reliable poll I could find identifying consumer concerns about antibiotics in meat was conducted in 2012 by Consumer Reports.  Its findings indicated that fully 86% “agreed that customers should be able to buy meat and poultry raised without antibiotics at their local supermarkets.”  The poll also showed that “more than 60%…would be willing to pay more for meat raised without antibiotics.”  What makes the decision by a few of the bigger fast food chains possible, of course, is the availability of antibiotic-free chicken.  Perdue, the third largest producer of chickens behind Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s, has been raising birds without the use of antibiotics for over a year.  Considering that overall conditions in their factory farms have not changed, which includes overcrowding, Perdue had to come up with an alternative means of keeping chickens from getting sick.  Two methods employed by the company seem to be working.  The first involves the use of probiotics.  Bruce Steward-Brown, an executive at Perdue, explained that probiotic use “is a significant part of our program…the idea [being that] all these ‘good bacteria’ can crowd out the harmful microbes that make chicken sick.”  Perdue also eliminated animal byproducts from their feed after noticing that chickens appeared healthier on a vegetarian diet.  Tyson Foods, the country’s largest poultry producer, also announced this year that it would stop feeding its chickens any antibiotics used in human medicine.  Tyson will continue to use antibiotics, however, although the class of antibiotics called ionophores is not used by doctors.

Sourcing beef that’s antibiotic-free, however, presents problems.  Currently, in order to sell the public a burger clear of hormones and antibiotics, CKE Restaurants, Inc., which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., must import beef from Australia.  Chipotle’s also imports some of its beef from Australia.  Beef producers envision more damage to their profits since cattle live three times as long as chickens before slaughter.  The elimination of antibiotics, therefore, introduces a much greater risk should an outbreak of disease occur among the herd.  Although the costs to Perdue by eliminating antibiotics were elevated, the increase proved not to be a significant barrier.  The beef industry, however, would face the prospect of altering or dismantling their operations as they currently exist.  The Concentrated Feedlot Operation (CAFO) simply could not stand without the use of antibiotics.  Conditions in a CAFO consist primarily of overcrowding which leads to an unsanitary environment.  Cows that are not sick are fed antibiotics in order to prevent inevitable diseases occurring precisely because of these conditions, as well as to increase weight gain.  The beef industry is simply unwilling to change their standard operating procedures.

Some politicians have attempted to pass legislation that would force the meat industry to change its ways and vastly reduce the use of antibiotics.  In particular, Rep. Louise Slaughter has presented a bill, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would “phase out the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed and water, prohibit the use of antibiotics in animals that aren’t sick,” and, among other provisions, would “make it illegal to routinely give animals antibiotics for disease prevention.”  Slaughter has introduced PAMTA to Congress in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now again in 2015.  Lobbying efforts by the National Beef Packing Company and the National Pork Producers Council have ensured that PAMTA has almost no chance of passing.  Many other industry groups also oppose the bill, such as Eli Lilly & Co., the National Turkey Federation and Merck & Co.  With the kind of money involved, it seems unlikely the federal government can produce the muscle to override industry efforts to derail any bill concerned with the reduction in use or elimination altogether of antibiotics in their operations.

Notwithstanding that powerful forces oppose government interference, public opinion, I believe, will eventually cause the entire meat industry to capitulate to demands that antibiotic use be discontinued.  If in fact 86% of Americans prefer to buy meat that is antibiotic-free, the industry will change in  order to fully participate in an emerging market.  The sales projections of the Carl’s Jr. burger exceeded company projections, so much so that they have included a second “clean” burger on their menu.  McDonald’s and others have also received accolades for their decisions to remove antibiotics from their food.  And as Subway is now aware, their initial foray into providing healthier meat to the public has received nothing but positive remarks.  Our political system fails in many regards, but capitalism also allows that consumers can expect their wishes to be acknowledged.

Recipe of the Week

Mussels were on sale at my favorite store, so I decided to make a simple pasta dish.

Mussels with Linguine, Tomatoes and Garlic

1.5 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and beards removed

4 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces linguine

1 basket cherry tomatoes, sliced

fresh chopped parsley

Place a pot of salted water on the stove and turn the heat to high.  When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until just al dente.  Put the olive oil in a large pan and add garlic.  When garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes, turn down the heat and cook until the tomatoes are soft.  Add the mussels, cover and cook until they all open.  If any do not open, discard them.  When the pasta is almost done, drain it, saving a little of the cooking water.  Add the pasta to the mussels, stir it in, and add a little of the remaining water if necessary.  Cook until pasta is done, add the parsley, taste for salt and serve.

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How The Intractability of the Meat Industry Hurts Us All

Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services appoints a committee of ten to fifteen nutrition experts to revamp the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.  This has been going on since 1980.  The committee writes the guidelines, presents them for public comment, and then the USDA and HHS decide what recommendations should be included.  The new set of guidelines won’t be released until later this year, but the committee recommendations have proven to be controversial.  For the first time, in addition to the expected exhortation that people need to eat more fruits and veggies, the committee provided an opinion concerning sustainability.  The exact wording is that “consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods…and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with a lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet.”  Given that the Guidelines are put forth by the federal government, they are not a mere admonition against the meat industry, and indeed included two phrases allowing that “lean meats can be part of a healthy dietary pattern,” and that Americans can achieve more sustainable diets “without excluding any food groups.”  In other words, be conscious and educated about what you consume and the effect a moderate diet will have on personal health and the health of the planet.  The meat industry, as one would expect, had a hissy fit and fought back.

Interestingly, this particular document induced a flurry of public comments, the bulk of which were in support of the Guideline’s original language.  The meat industry put forth a petition called “Hands off my Hotdog,” which I thought at first was a joke but it’s not, while Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity delivered a petition that included 150,000 signatures.  “Hands off my Hotdog” generated roughly 2,500 signatures.  The issue, however, according to the Guidelines, isn’t that no meat should be consumed, but the types and amount of meat consumed by the average American and its impact on the environment should be a consideration.  The fact remains that Americans, per capita, eat more meat than any other country in the world except Luxembourg.  That the U.S. Dietary Guidelines would attempt to steer people away from products that contain large amounts of saturated fat should be obvious.  The Cleveland Clinic recommends that we consume no more than 10-15 grams of saturated fat per day.  The American Heart Association says no more than 13 grams, while the USDA tops out at 22 grams.  Considering that an 8 ounce steak contains roughly 38 grams of saturated fat, a Burger King bacon cheeseburger contains 22 grams and a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese has 12 grams of saturated fat, and that a quarter of the population eats fast food every day, it’s no wonder that the nutrition committee decided some statement needed to be made.

Another fact that remains is one addressed by the Guidelines, but is discussed in a 2013 report published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that “there may be no single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.”  Forty percent of the world’s land surface is used for agriculture altogether, whereas thirty percent is used exclusively to raise animals.  One third of the world’s fresh water is used to raise livestock.  “The highest total of livestock-related greenhouse-gas emissions comes from the developing world, which accounts for 75% of the global emissions from cattle and other ruminants and 56% of the global emissions from poultry and pigs.”  None of this means that we must stop eating meat, but it does require that we make the meat industry less abusive and that we at least cut back of the amount of meat we consume.  Petr Havlik, the author of the above study, says that what we need is “sustainable intensification.”  He says that “our data can allow us to see more clearly where we can work with livestock keepers to improve animal diets [no hormones or antibiotics] so they can produce more protein with better feed while simultaneously reducing emissions.”  The study simply demonstrates that meat production will have to change as will meat consumption.

The meat industry, however, will have nothing to do with facts and obvious science-based research.  The infantile petition produced by the North American Meat Institute (“Hands off my Hotdog”) asks Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, “to reject these extreme and ill-considered recommendations.”  It also refers to the committee members as “elite academics” and “nutrition despots who seek to impose their personal choices on others.”  The Guidelines simply state obvious truths and ask that people be more aware of how their diet affects  themselves and the planet.  That’s hardly a radical proposition.  But the meat industry’s lobbying muscle and screaming paid off nonetheless.  On October 6, Vilsack and Burwell issued, on the USDA Blog, a retraction that eliminates any discussion of sustainability from the Guidelines.  “The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.”  While I realize that hardly anyone pays attention to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, their stance does affect federal food programs.  Janet Riley, a senior vice president of public affairs for the North American Meat Institute, says that “this could [have] had a huge impact on purchasing programs.  The federal feeding programs are significantly impacted by the federal dietary guidelines.”  Had the Guidelines included discussions of sustainability and the encouragement to eat less meat, millions of school children would have been taught about how to consume meat in a sustainable manner.  We lost a subtle but fine opportunity to educate the public.

Recipe of the Week

I’ve printed this recipe before, but it’s more apt this week as I encourage everyone to eat less meat.  Black beans and rice together form a complete protein, are versatile and easy to make.

Black Beans

Soak 1 1/2 cups of black beans in cold water over night.  Put the beans in a large soup pot and cover with roughly three inches of water.  Add 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and 1.5 teaspoons salt (it’s an old wive’s tale that you can’t salt the beans before they’re cooked.)  Bring to a boil and then simmer until done, usually 2 to three hours.  If the beans aren’t done and the water is getting low, boil more in a kettle and add to the pot.  If the beans are cooked but there’s too much water, simply keep cooking until they are the consistency you like.  Serve with rice or wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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The State Policy Network, ALEC and the TPP

Thomas Roe (1927-2000) was a businessman from South Carolina who, at the urging of Ronald Reagan, established the State Policy Network (SPN) in 1992.  The SPN, philosophically opposed to the federal government, began operations to move the realm of legislation away from a central government by transferring it to the states.  Reagan had previously established a national Task Force on Federalism, which relied heavily on “expert” testimony provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), founded in 1973 by, among others, Paul Weyrich.  John Kasich of Ohio, Jack Kemp of New York and Jesse Helms of North Carolina were also actively involved with ALEC.  ALEC also seeks to promote its own agenda, and the agenda of its corporate sponsors, by influencing state legislative bodies.  ALEC and SPN are both funded by the Koch brothers, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, Kraft Foods, Comcast, Facebook, the Waltons, the Coors family and Monsanto, among many others.  These corporations have a vested interest in maintaining profits derived from the extraction of fossil fuels, large, industrial food operations, pesticide manufacture and use, and the creation of trade agreements that would cement their control and expansion without interference from the federal government.   The SPN and ALEC agenda includes the defunding and privatization of public schools, including universities, blocking access to affordable healthcare, restricting the collective bargaining rights of workers, promoting the privatization of pension funds, opposing renewable, clean energy sources, promoting the use of fossil fuels while repealing pollution restrictions and environmental protections, increasing income inequality by favoring tax systems that benefit those at the top while pushing for flat taxes that hurt middle income and poor people, cutting government services, and opposing minimum wage laws, even to the point of repealing the minimum wage altogether.  These organizations and corporations are the primary force behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), which is heavily touted by President Obama.  And these organizations and corporations have donated about $218 million to senators since 2008 to make sure this trade agreement is passed.

With such power behind the passage of the TPP, it would seem an insurmountable task to oppose its implementation.  But prominent voices continue to expose the dangers to the environment and our sovereignty should this trade agreement go into effect.  Bernie Sanders has called the TPP “a part of a global race to the bottom to boost profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system.”  Paul Krugman, a Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, states simply that “this is not a trade agreement.  It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement.  The big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.”  Elizabeth Warren has been particularly outspoken concerning ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) provisions of the TPP, “an obscure process that allows big companies to go to corporate-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside any court system in order to challenge laws they don’t like.  These panels can force taxpayers to write huge checks to those big corporations with no need to file a suit in court, no appeals and no judicial review.  Now, most Americans don’t think that the minimum wage or anti-smoking regulations are trade barriers, but a foreign corporation used ISDS to sue Egypt after Egypt raised its minimum wage.  Tobacco giant Philip Morris went after Australia and Uruguay to stop their rules to cut smoking rates.”

The TPP would invade every corner of our democracy and erode it until nothing is left.  Ironically, there is one hope in defeating this trade agreement and it lies with the Tea Party.  In their opposition to any and all things promoted by “Barack HUSSEIN Obama,” they very well could derail this disastrous agreement.  Perhaps we can, after all, gain something positive from this noxious political bloc.  In the interim, if you haven’t already, contact your representatives and tell them you will not support future election campaigns if they vote to enact the TPP.

Recipe of the Week

This is a simple alternative to using grated Parmesan cheese on pasta.  Its origins are from Southern Italy, and it works well with most pasta dishes.

Toasted Bread Crumbs with Oregano

2 cups bread crumbs

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbls. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

Cut stale French bread into somewhat smallish pieces.  Put these into a food processor and pulse until very fine.  Heat the oil in a cast iron frying pan on medium heat.  Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring now and again, for about 5 minutes, or until crispy and brown.  Season with salt and pepper.  If you don’t use all of them on one dish, you can keep them in jar in the freezer for future use.

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Nestle v. Cascade Locks, Part lll

In 2008, Nestle began a campaign to gain essential control over the water at Oxbow Springs near the town of Cascade Locks, a small village in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  It continues in its dogged pursuit in spite of public protests and lawsuits brought against it by, among others, Food & Water Watch, which has been fighting Nestle throughout the country over the issue of their water grabs in various small communities.  The fight has survived through two governorships, those of Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhauber, both of whom supported Nestle, and the current governor, Kate Brown, who has tacitly supported the company by remaining silent on the issue.  Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) had decided that Nestle could trade for its legal right to Oxbow Springs, which was upheld by a judge.  The trade was that Nestle would make tons of money selling bottled water from the Springs and in return provide 50 $10 an hour jobs to the struggling community whose current rate of unemployment is at 19%.  Under the terms of this “trade” Nestle would get a discount on the water they buy, paying less for it than local residents.  I’ve written about this issue twice before, once in 2013 and then earlier this year, but now two new developments have taken place that may help tip the scales against Nestle.  Four Indian tribes, the Warm Springs, the Klickitats, Yakama and Umatilla, have added their voice to keeping Nestle out of the Gorge, and local residents involved in the Local Water Alliance organization have successfully filed a citizen ballot measure that would ban commercial water operations in the county.

On September 17, tribal members protested the deal in Oregon’s capital, Salem, which followed a letter from the Warm Springs Tribal Council that had been sent to Governor Brown.  The letter contested the notion of Nestle bottling Columbia Gorge water as well as the process the ODFW had undertaken.  The Tribe stated that they had not been adequately involved.  And in August, a 57 year old woman, Anna Mae Leonard, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, held a five day hunger strike in the town of Cascade Locks to draw attention to the issue at it relates specifically to Native Americans.  Leonard has stated that the deal between the state and the town would violate the Treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and the Four Columbia River Tribes.  “The tribes are supposed to have Senior Water Rights,” says Skeweacuks, a Warm Springs Tribal member.  Wilber Slockish, a Klickitat Chief, added, “The People, the salmon and our natural food supply – we are trying to survive your economic policies.  We are tired of being invisible people.”  The tribes of the Gorge depend on salmon for their incomes, and sell the salmon they catch in the town of Cascade Locks.  All members of a family will work seven days a week from March until October to make enough to live on for the rest of the year.  They are dependent on the increasingly precarious salmon runs and are adding their voice to the protest against a multinational company’s grab for an essential part of their means of survival.

And the residents of Cascade Locks, in a classic move representative of David and Goliath, have successfully filed the Hood River Water Protection Measure to ban “the export of water for water bottling purposes,” the first such measure of its kind.  “When your county is facing record drought conditions, the idea of sending millions of gallons of water a year out of the county in mountains of plastic on the backs of trucks seems particularly irresponsible,” says Ed del Val, one of the measure’s chief petitioners and president of the newly formed Local Water Alliance.  Pamela Larsen, another petitioner, says that “the recent drought has really highlighted that communities that don’t have control of their water supply won’t have control of their future.  We’re sure that Nestle will fight our measure tooth and nail, but we think Hood River County voters are going to agree that our water is our future and we need to protect it.”  They are being supported by Food & Water Watch, which is partnering with the Local Water Alliance.  Food & Water Watch is in the process of hiring a community organizer who will work with the community on education and outreach efforts and will help create campaign materials.

It would save a lot of money and effort if Kate Brown simply instructed the ODFW to stop negotiations with Nestle.  Since this fight against Nestle started, the tribes, local residents and representatives of statewide environmental groups have sent close to 300,000 petitions to Governor Brown’s office; SumOfUs, a local organization, has itself delivered, so far, 252,357 petitions.  It’s time for this fight to end and keep Nestle out of our vulnerable communities.

Recipe of the Week

This is a pretty easy meal to make and will provide leftovers.

Ground Lamb and Rice

1.25 lbs. of ground lamb, locally sourced

1 cup basmati rice

1 large onion, chopped

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbls. ground coriander

1 tbls. ground cumin

1 cup organic whole tomatoes, pureed

sea salt and black pepper to taste

3 cups homemade chicken stock

3 tbls. olive oil

Heat oil in a large, cast iron frying pan.  Add onions and saute briefly.  Add garlic and lamb and cook until lamb is no longer pink.  At this point, you should remove some of the fat from the pan.  Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add the spices and stock and bring to a boil.  After rinsing the rice, add it to the pot, bring back to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to its lowest setting.  Cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for 30 minutes before removing the lid.  Add salt and pepper at this point.  Serve with hot sauce, dollops of yogurt and pita.

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Food Waste in America

Our city government provides a service which allows food waste to be deposited in yard debris containers which are subsequently picked up once a week.  A consequence of this is that our garbage has been reduced to one grocery bag every two weeks (the regular paper bags you pick up at stores.)  We compost leftover vegetable materials so our garbage consists only of packaging that can’t be recycled, of which we have very little.  In the last year or so, after learning of the incredible amount of food waste in this country, my weekly goal is to consume all leftovers and have only inedible food waste to toss out (egg shells, chicken skins, etc.)  I’m conscious of this effort as I prepare food, considering how much to cook and whether or not unplanned leftovers can be frozen.  The statistics are alarming and reveal that the average  American family wastes 25% of food each year, which amounts to roughly $2,000.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a paper in 2012 which outlined how much food is wasted overall in the U.S.  The figure is 40%, which is “more than 20 lbs of food per person every month.”  The paper also discusses food waste from farming and retail operations, etc., but I believe that individuals can have the most impact in reducing food waste.  The Obama administration has recently announced that it would initiate a program with the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030, which presumably involves public education.

The NRDC paper highlights why food waste has such a major impact on our economy and even climate change.  “Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States.  Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten.  This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions.”  And according to the EPA, the amount of food being tossed by Americans has been increasing rapidly every year.  The agency estimates that as of 2012, we threw away 35 million tons of food, which is 20% more than in 2000 and 50% more than in 1990.  It is also three times what Americans wasted in 1960.  We waste more food than all other forms of garbage combined.

One of the questions, then, is why we waste more food now than in the past.  The prevailing argument is that food is getting cheaper relative to rising incomes.  Where the average household spent 17% of its income on food thirty years ago, we are spending 11% today.  I believe, however, that because of the mechanization of food production that occurred after World War II, we developed a dependence on cheap food regardless of its quality.  Home cooking gave way to fast food and cheap, industrial meat.  In my father’s day, chicken was by far the most expensive meat you could buy, and so it was valued much higher than the dollar a pound sickly chicken people buy today.  Since chicken was so expensive, people used every bit of it and would never allow any to go to waste.  We value food less as it means less to us, largely because we have lost the art of cooking from scratch.  Favorite family recipes have been replaced by processed foods, which are cheap but don’t provide any sense of tradition or value.  Attitudes have been slowly changing, however, in some quarters, as people become more aware that industrialized food negatively affects our health and the environment.  Organic food sales are growing.  The Organic Trade Association says that “demand for organic products is increasing, and about 81% of American families reported to be purchasing organic food at least some times.”

But food waste is not just about the quality of food; it is also about economics.  With wages flat, it really should matter to families that they’re throwing away about $400 per family member every year.  The damage to our own economy and the environment, albeit more vague concepts for most people, still should be worth considering, as well as the fact that even though we have enough food to feed everyone, many people go hungry, in part because so much food is wasted.  As the NRDC report revealed, “cheap, available food has created behaviors that do not place high value on utilizing what is purchased.  As a result, the issue of wasted food is simply not on the radar of many Americans, even those that consider themselves environment or cost conscious.”

I would challenge everyone to be conscious every day about how to avoid food waste.  Meal planning is key.  Understanding that “sell by” and “use by” dates rarely have much to do with food going “bad” as they do with “manufacturer suggestions for peak quality.”  Keeping an eye on how much food is prepared so as to avoid uneaten leftovers is also important.  And using as much of any given food as possible is not only economical but reduces waste, such as making stock from meat bones or vegetable bits for non-meat stock.  All of this requires thought and planning, but in the end saves money, food and the environment.

Recipe of the Week

It’s often difficult to predict how much rice will be consumed, particularly if it serves as a side dish.  This recipe will not only use up uneaten rice, but can also use any little bits and pieces of meat and/or vegetables that didn’t get eaten.

Leftover Rice Cakes

For every cup of rice, add one beaten egg.  That’s the basis.  You can add chopped meat, chopped cooked vegetables and 1/2 cup cheese of your choice.  Add any herbs and spices you want.  Form the cakes into balls, lightly flatten and chill for about one half hour.  If you want, you can coat the cakes with breadcrumbs before frying in three or four tablespoons of oil.

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