Turns out there are good reasons to get behind the idea. Studies have found associations between urban community gardening and increased access to healthy food, opportunities for exercise, stronger social cohesion in neighborhoods, and even higher property values. And like any green space, urban farms and gardens offer essential ecosystem services like moderating temperatures Read More >
The World Animal Health Organisation (Office International des Epizooties, or OIE) recently recommended that the United States’ risk level for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” be lowered from “controlled” to “negligible.” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack celebrated the recommendation as an achievement for beef producers, and for the federal and state agencies responsible for monitoring BSE. Read More >
Today marks what would have been the 102nd birthday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
My father had a knack for finding horseshoe crabs. He’d spot one scuttling along the sand beneath shallow waves, then lift it up by its armored hull—leaving eight chitinous legs and a piercing tail (not intended for combative purposes, as I later learned) waving in the air, searching for stable ground. Those childhood visits to New England beaches fostered my appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.
I recently asked Philippe Cousteau about his first memories of the ocean. When he was six, his mother took him and his sister, Alexandra, to Hawaii. Every day, they ran down to play in tidal pools where they found crabs, tiny fishes and a myriad of other critters left behind by the receding tide. It was, in his words, “a journey of wonder and discovery.” It is perhaps no surprise that Philippe has grown to become one of the leading advocates for the health of aquatic ecosystems. Read More >
In the United States, for every citizen, there is roughly one laying hen. The majority of these birds are confined in battery cages, wire enclosures that typically afford each bird a space smaller than a single sheet of letter-sized paper.
This system is poised to undergo several major changes. Two unlikely allies, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP), are jointly working toward the enactment of H.R. 3798, a federal amendment that would afford laying hens several welfare measures. These include a gradual shift from battery cages to “enriched colony cages,” more spacious enclosures outfitted with perches, nest boxes and scratching areas. Enriched colony cages would allow birds greater freedom of movement and the ability to perform certain natural behaviors. Read More >
According to USDA estimates, the amount of meat purchased by the average American nearly doubled between 1930 and 2007. On average, each American purchases roughly 200 pounds of meat per year (minus spoilage and other losses between farms and consumers), or almost nine ounces per day—roughly twice the global average for meat intake. With a few exceptions, meat purchases have been been on a fairly steady incline, until recently: From 2007 through 2011, estimated levels dropped by over 12 percent and are projected to continue to decline through 2012.
After 70 years, Americans are finally buying less meat. In his recent New York Times opinion piece, author Mark Bittman asks, “Why?” Industry reports suggest the “shocking” decline stems from factors such as a rise in ethanol production, which raised the demand for corn—the main ingredient in most livestock feed—along with the price of meat. Combined with the recent economic downturn, it’s understandable that consumers would turn toward cheaper alternatives.
The report also blames a federal “war on meat protein consumption,” a suggestion that ignores the considerable federal support offered to them in the form of feed subsidies, tax write-offs, research dollars and weak enforcement of antitrust laws and environmental regulations.
Both Bittman and industry literature acknowledge another possible reason: Perhaps Americans have come to recognize the public health, environmental and social justice impacts—to which I would add animal welfare harms—of a model that has come to be known as industrial food animal production, or IFAP. Read More >
The global food system has become largely dependent on a finite supply of oil. Rates of crude extraction are projected to decline in the immediate future, accompanied by a rise in oil prices. Judging from recent oil price hikes, higher food prices are likely to follow closely behind. As a result, populations afflicted by hunger may face a particularly sobering transition to a food system divorced, at least in part, from what has become an almost inextricable bond with oil.
In every potential crisis lies opportunity. In our efforts to prepare for a post-peak oil food system, what measures can be taken to uplift and protect the world’s most vulnerable? Among several other key recommendations, expanding the capacity of local and regional food systems may build resiliency against rising food prices, more expensive agricultural inputs and other shocks related to oil scarcity. By providing greater economic opportunities to the most affected populations, building support around local farmers in developing regions may also help to alleviate hunger. Read More >
The 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John chronicles the life of John Peterson, a man who has been described as a “flamboyant, cross-dressing, hippie-loving third-generation farmer [who] saves his farm… by being different.” A vibrant artist and storyteller, John unabashedly documents the crippling failures, deep losses, passionate loves and soul-searching quests that are part of his ongoing relationship with the land. He is now the owner and operator of Angelic Organics, a biodynamic farm (think organic, with an added appreciation for natural rhythms) with one of the largest CSAs in the nation and a thriving education center.
“We had a big paper-mâché cat head that we installed in the packing barn…”
I took a moment to chat with John at the 2011 Financing Farm to Fork Conference in Chicago.
In a recent Mother Jones article, writer Kiera Butler asks the experts if eating responsibly raised meat can actually be good for the planet. One of the responses comes from Joel Salatin, star of Food, Inc., Fresh and a personal hero of mine. Joel makes some strong points that uphold the merits of an ethically- and environmentally-sound diet that includes animal products. However, one of his arguments struck me as unsound:
“…far more herbivores (bison) existed in the Americas 600 years ago than exist today: The notion that methane from burping herbivores causes climate change is both unscientific and ridiculous.”
With all due respect to Joel, here’s why I think he’s missing the mark.
As I was jogging past the group of giggling teenagers on a stoop, something struck my shoulder. Curious, I picked up the offending projectile: a plastic bag, tied and filled with a dark, crumbly material. The kids on the stoop burst out laughing.
“So what’s in the bag?” I asked, playing along.
After a pause, one of them blurted out,”it’s sh*t.”
“I see,” I replied. “Is it yours?”
“Uh-huh.” More laughter.
“Oh? Well here – take it back!” I flung the bag back in their direction. It tore as I threw it, flinging the contents (which, for all I knew, could have been only dirt) in all directions. Thanks in part to the mood-enhancing endorphins generated by my run, we all had a good laugh.
“That was a good one!” One of the kids shouted as I waved and continued on my way.
This harmless practical joke was unusual for the Baltimore neighborhood where it took place, but plastic bags filled with human feces – flung out windows or onto the street – are not uncommon in urban slums of the developing world. According to the World Health Organization (2006), an estimated 18% of the global population resorts to defecating in open spaces. In areas that lack basic sanitation, these “helicopter toilets” are often the most pragmatic waste disposal method available.
As we give thanks for sustenance this holiday season, we might tip our hats to the life-supporting organisms living beneath our feet. Virtually all that we eat, from tofurkey to turkey, originates on fertile soil. From a consumer’s point of view, the story of a roasted bird begins at the supermarket, but the first chapter in every animal’s life is one of grass and grain converted to flesh. Fish, too, depend on a delicate food web that begins with land-based nutrients from the soil. Even the word human originates from the Latin humus (“earth”), the moist, loamy, earthy-smelling black matter from which life springs.