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Great article in the NYT about how environmentally friendly straw houses are, but then the twist: they’re great in an earthquake!

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I have written before about straw building here, that time inspired by the New Orleans Common Ground Collective, who was using straw bale building as a cheap way to house returning Orleaneans.

Nothing inspires me more than this kind of thinking and utilization of resources!! 🙂

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Just in case you weren’t convinced that our synthetic surroundings were causing you cancer and countless other illnesses, here’s an article from treehugger stating the following disturbing findings:

TreeHugger has been reporting for years about the dangers of phthalates, the endocrine disruptor that is used to make vinyl flexible. We have noted previously that it might cause “phthalate syndrome”- smaller penises, and undescended or incompletely descended testicles- in humans…

But NOW:

Now a new study links it to autism. Scientific American says that the Swedish study was looking for something else, a relationship between phthalates and allergies, but found that “Infants or toddlers who lived in bedrooms with vinyl, or PVC, floors were twice as likely to have autism five years later, in 2005, than those with wood or linoleum flooring.”

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Obama Picks Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture CNN reports Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack, the former Governor of Iowa.
The Organic Consumers Association argues that he “originated the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, effectively blocking local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown,” (Wikipedia) making him a dangerous choice for head of agriculture for the whole nation.
The issue of Genetically Modified Food is a hot one. For a president in precarious circumstances, like President Obama, it must be particularly difficult to pick sides on the topic. On one side is the argument that food prices are skyrocketing and people are in difficult times, so any technology that increases crop yield will be a positive component to solving the economic crisis. On the other had, it is arguable that GMO’s are completely dismantling any remaining “clean” food, by inseminating non-GMO crops. If this is the case, in the long run, this choice would have the opposite effect, causing billions of dollars in health care costs after years of VIRTUALLY EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN being exposed to high levels of genetically altered food, which has been linked to cancer.

An open letter from the New York Times to President Obama.

A Yahoonews article explores the coming shift in attitudes about food from the White House.
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Rick Bayless, the chef of that restaurant, Topolobampo, says Obama’s comfortable demeanor at the table — slumped contentedly in his chair, clearly there to enjoy himself — bodes well for the nation’s food policy. While former President George W. Bush rarely visited restaurants and didn’t often talk about what he ate, Obama dines out frequently and enjoys exploring different foods.

Obama, has expressed increased support for small farmers, and in interviews has been more open about his diet and values than Bush. I take this as a step in the right direction. There are so many movements springing up about local growing, personal gardening, and community gardens over the past five years that it’s becoming a force that’s hard to ignore. Hopefully this president will be a more positive role model and leader in this crucial matter.

The BBC reports today what may seem obvious to those of us thinking about our ever increasing population and decreasing space for viable food production: That in order to feed all of us, we have to start thinking outside the box…and fast.
Copied in full:

Food needs ‘fundamental rethink’
By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Food crops, agriculture and biodiversity cannot be separated from one another

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of “new fundamentals”, according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing “structural failures”, such as “astronomic” environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government’s newly formed Food Council.

“Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s,” he told BBC News.

“It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

“At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers.”

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people’s diets and public health.

We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food
Raymond Blanc,
Chef and food campaigner

“But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected,” he explained.

“Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment.”

Thirty years on and the world was now facing an even more complex situation, he added.

“The level of growth in food production per capita is dropping off, even dropping, and we have got huge problems ahead with an explosion in human population.”

Fussy eaters

Professor Lang lists a series of “new fundamentals”, which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

* Oil and energy: “We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets.”
* Water scarcity: “One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water,” Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK’s vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.
* Biodiversity: “Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land.”
* Urbanisation: “Probably the most important thing within the social sphere. More people now live in towns than in the countryside. In which case, where do they get their food?”

Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The UK’s Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, recently set up a Council of Food Policy Advisers in order to address the growing concern of food security and rising prices.

Farm working cutting kale (Getty Images)
The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land
Professor Tim Lang

Mr Benn, speaking at the council’s launch, warned: “Global food production will need to double just to meet demand.

“We have the knowledge and the technology to do this, as things stand, but the perfect storm of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity, threatens our ability to succeed.”

Professor Lang, who is a member of the council, offered a suggestion: “We are going to have to get biodiversity into gardens and fields, and then eat it.

“We have to do this rather than saying that biodiversity is what is on the edge of the field or just outside my garden.”

Michelin-starred chef and long-time food campaigner Raymond Blanc agrees with Professor Lang, adding that there is a need for people, especially in the UK, to reconnect with their food.

He is heading a campaign called Dig for Your Dinner, which he hopes will help people reconnect with their food and how, where and when it is grown.

“Food culture is a whole series of steps,” he told BBC News.

“Whatever amount of space you have in your backyard, it is possible to create a fantastic little garden that will allow you to reconnect with the real value of gardening, which is knowing how to grow food.

“And once you know how to grow food, it would be very nice to be able to cook it. If you are growing food, then it only makes sense that you know how to cook it as well.

“And cooking food will introduce you to the basic knowledge of nutrition. So you can see how this can slowly reintroduce food back into our culture.”

Waste not…

Mr Blanc warned that food prices were likely to continue to rise in the future, which was likely to prompt more people to start growing their own food.

Norfolk black turkey (Getty Images)
Sustainable food helps protect rare breeds and varieties

Raymond Blanc on good food

He was also hopeful that the food sector would become less wasteful.

“We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food.

“In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.

“At least the amendment to European rules means that we can now have some odd-shaped carrots on our shelves. This is fantastic news, but why was it not done before?”

He suggested that the problem was down to people choosing food based on sight alone, not smell and touch.

“The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life.

“Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.

“The British consumer today has got to understand that when they make a choice, let’s say an apple – either Chinese, French or English one – they are making a political choice, a socio-economic choice, as well as an environmental one.

“They are making a statement about what sort of society and farming they are supporting.”

Growing appetite

The latest estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger in 2008 as a result of higher food prices.

This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007.

The FAO warned that the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty.

“World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries,” said FAO assistant director-general Hafez Ghanem at the launch of the agency’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 report.

“The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality,” he added.

Professor Lang outlined the challenges facing the global food supply system: “The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land.”

Link to actual article, reproduced in full:

corn
Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 by The Daily Mail/UK
Why Eating GM Food Could Lower Your Fertility
by Sean Poulter
Genetically modified corn has been linked to a threat to fertility in an official study that could deliver a hammer blow to controversial ‘Frankenstein Food’.

Most of the research on GM crop safety has been conducted by biotech companies, such as Monsanto, rather than outside independent laboratories. A long-term feeding trial commissioned by the Austrian government found mice fed on GM corn or maize had fewer offspring and lower birth rates.

The trial has triggered a call from Greenpeace for a recall of all GM food crops currently on the market worldwide on the grounds of the threat to human health.

Most of the research on GM crop safety has been conducted by biotech companies, such as Monsanto, rather than outside independent laboratories.

GM advocates have argued that the fact the US population has been eaten some types of GM food for more than a decade is proof of its safety.

However, these reassurances have been turned on their head by the study commissioned by the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health, which was presented yesterday at a scientific seminar in Vienna.

Professor Dr Jurgen Zentek, Professor for Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna and lead author of the study, said a GM diet effected the fertility of mice.

GM expert at Greenpeace International, Dr Jan van Aken, said: ‘Genetically Engineered food appears to be acting as a birth control agent, potentially leading to infertility.

‘If this is not reason enough to close down the whole biotech industry once and for all, I am not sure what kind of disaster we are waiting for.

‘Playing genetic roulette with our food crops is like playing Russian roulette with consumers and public health.’

The Austrian scientists performed several long-term feeding trials with laboratory mice over a course of 20 weeks.

One of the studies was a so-called reproductive assessment by continuous breeding (RACB) trial, in which the same parent generation gave birth to several litters of baby mice.

The parents were fed either with a diet containing 33per cent of GM maize, a hybrid of Monsanto’s MON 810 and another variety, and a normal feed mix..

The team found changes that were ‘statistically significant’ in the third and fourth litters produced by the mice given a GM diet. There were fewer offspring, while the young mice were smaller.

Prof Zentek said there was a direct link between the changes seen and the GM diet.

A press release from the Austrian Agency for Health and Nutrition, said the group of mice given a diet of genetically engineered corn saw a significant change in fertility.

It said: ‘The number of litters and offspring decreased in the GE-fed group faster than in the control. In the GE-fed group more females remained without litters than in the control group.’

Monsanto press offices in the UK and USA were unable to provide a comment on the findings.

CropGen, which speaks for the biotech industry, claims GM crops have been accepted as safe by Government authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

British scientists recently unveiled a GM purple tomato they claimed could help people avoid developing cancer. The tomato is high in antioxidants – naturally found in other fresh produce such as blueberrys, cranberries and carrots – which are seen as a protection against ill health.

The BBC reports on the severe consequences that will come if we use the economic crisis as an excuse to ignore the need for sustainable agriculture and living, and the fight against Global Warming.

As the UN prepares to assess the Millennium Development Goals this week, will tension between the consumption of the North and the development of the South doom both to a future of crises and scarcity? Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss argue that allowing the Millennium Goals and their environmental aims to slide would be a false economy.

This week is the 8th anniversary of the first conference on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which focused on “nutrition, energy, water, education, healthcare and environmental protection for one half of the world’s one billion poorest citizens, by 2015.”

The article discusses how two converging crises have put increasing pressure on meeting these goals. The first being the food crisis, with the price of food almost doubling since 2007 and the second being the American financial crisis, which has sent ripple effects across the globe.

This article does a great job of offering an objective, omniscent view of the issues at hand. We cannot let our fears and immediate concerns interfere with trying to solve the issues that remain the basis for these crises.