April 25, 2014

The CLF Week in Links: The Cost of Food, Healthy Mondays, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

The cost of bacon has risen 53 percent in 4 years.

The cost of bacon has risen 53 percent in 4 years.

Rising food prices. This USA Today story addresses something we’ve been talking about for some time now: “In recent years, drought in the western U.S. has driven up the prices of meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables. Parts of California, the Southwest, and the Great Plains have suffered from three consecutive years of drought … [and] more than two-thirds of California is currently covered by extreme drought.” Of course, one of the impacts of drought is increased food prices. Read the article for a list of top increases, among them bacon (53 percent in four years), ground beef (35 percent in four years), and chicken (22 percent in four years). The common connection? All rely on corn and soybean animal feed. Our high meat diet with its heavy dependence on massive production of thirsty row crops for animal feed lacks resilience. With increasing uncertainty about water in the face of climate change, we have another compelling reason to decrease our consumption of meat.

Monday is a good day for health. It seems the Meatless Monday campaign in on to something. According to this story from The Atlantic, a new study, to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that health-related Google queries peak on Monday and Tuesday. The Monday Campaigns founder Sid Lerner is quoted: “Friday is payday. Saturday is play day. Sunday is pray day. We’re trying to make Monday the ‘all health breaks loose’ day.” I am pleased to have been associated with Sid since he launched Meatless Monday more than ten years ago.

Food labeling in Vermont. This week The Vermont House voted 114-30 to adopt a state Senate labeling bill for products made with genetic engineering technology, and the Wall Street Journal reports that the governor will sign it. The law would go into effect in 2016. From the article: Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, which advocates GMO labeling, said the bill’s two-year timetable gives farmers and companies plenty of time to adjust. “There is no reason this would put a real burden on farmers, food makers or consumers,” she said. Powerful industrial agriculture forces, however, are already rumored to be applying pressure on the do-nothing Congress to do-something to pass a national law preempting the rights of states to enact this kind of food labeling bill. The consumer needs to be vigilant and to let his or her Congressperson know that the right to know what we are eating is an important part of an open society.

China’s water pollution. This week The Guardian reports that nearly 60 percent China’s groundwater is polluted. This is a serious challenge for China—in addition to the challenges posed by their soil pollution and air pollution. The country’s reckless approach to economic growth has now created scarcity of potable water, which is not a good omen for stability or development.

Skip the chicken. Here’s an interesting commentary in the Baltimore Sun regarding the water footprint of chicken—about nine gallons per bird. The author mentions Meatless Monday and Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6, both of which aim to provide an easy way for Americans to remember to eat less meat.

Swedish meatless meatballs. Swedish furniture store IKEA, which has made many commitments to sustainability, has announced that it will soon offer an alternative to its famous Swedish meatballs made with beef. There will be a vegetarian option and a chicken option. The chain’s restaurant serves 48 million U.S. customers every year—one-sixth of the country’s population—and the top-selling item is meatballs. This USA Today story gives more details.

Pollan on Wall Street. This article from Vox by Ezra Klein includes a lot of Michael Pollan’s thinking on how capitalism has done us wrong vis-à-vis our food systems. Along with other topics, like fake meat, the EPA’s move on curbing methane, and the Obama Administration’s (in)action on food policy, Pollan talks about the “fixed stomach” problem in the food industry, and how capitalism overcame that.

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