I’ve long thought GMOs were the most overrated scary issue current liberals care about. But I never quite had the right words. Mark Bittman does:
Then there are G.M.O.’s: OMG (the palindrome is irresistible). Someone recently said to me, “The important issues are food policy, sustainability and G.M.O.’s.” That’s like saying, “The important issues are poverty, war and dynamite.” G.M.O.’s are cogs in industrial agriculture, the way dynamite is in war; take either away, and you have solved virtually nothing.
By themselves and in their current primitive form, G.M.O.s are probably harmless; the technology itself is not even a little bit nervous making. (Neither we nor plants would be possible without “foreign DNA” in our cells.) But to date G.M.O.’s have been used by companies like Monsanto to maximize profits and further removing the accumulated expertise of generations of farmers from agriculture; in those goals, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. They have not been successful in moving sustainable agriculture forward (which is relevant because that was their claim), nor has their deployment been harmless: It’s helped accelerate industrial agriculture and its problems and strengthened the positions of unprincipled companies.
But the technology itself has not been found to be harmful, and we should recognize the possibility that the underlying science could well be useful (as dynamite can be useful for good), particularly with greater public investment and oversight.
Let’s be clear: Biotech in agriculture has been overrated both in its benefits and in its dangers. And by overrating its dangers, the otherwise generally rational “food movement” allows itself to be framed as “anti-science.”
Right–technology is neither a miracle nor evil. GMOs are part of the larger problem with modern agribusiness but it’s not like monstrous Frankenfood is going to destroy your body or put chips in your brain so that Obama can follow your thoughts. The actual evidence that GMOs are harmful is pretty much nil and while I do think there are problems around patents and non-reproducing plants that are serious, this is one left of center issue I just can’t relate to.
Thanks 7-Up. This 1953 book of suggested recipes to incorporate the soda into cooking will change your life,
as will much of American cooking from the Cold War. Mother’s Day is a mere week away and I know Mom will love that tasty drink mixing 7-Up and milk.
A few victual related items for your Friday afternoon:
1. The fad of celebrity chefs making “runway food” to promote the conspicuous consumption of rich people that then gets celebrated like the 80s is stupid. Is Anthony Bourdain turning into a sort of modern version of Robin Leach, at least for one form of consumption?
2. The rise of tequila (and
increasingly mezcal). This is a bit more of a celebratory post than I’d like because there are some real legitimate questions about the sustainability of the agave-based booze industry. As my wife is a scholar of Mexico specializing in Oaxaca, I spend a decent amount of time there when she is researching. So I’ve been lucky enough to explore mezcal a bit and the quality can be really outstanding. At this point I generally prefer it to tequila while drinking straight, although I tend to think the smokiness of it overwhelms cocktails. The cost however isn’t really all that cheap, even in Mexico, especially if we compare it to bourbon. The bottle I brought
back last summer of a weird forest-based mezcal runs about $70 here and I got it for around $45 at a mezcal fair (at which you pay a $4 admission fee and then can taste all the mezcal you want). I assume the real difference is that it’s just much more expensive to produce because of the size of the plant, as opposed to the corn that makes up bourbon.
3. Agribusiness is now funding feature documentaries on the greatness and responsibility of the current agricultural system. Very convincing, I’m sure.
4. The bacon of Israel.
There may be many reasons not to eat meat, but there are no good reasons not to eat wild boars which are an invasive species tearing up southern and midwestern ecosystems like there’s no tomorrow.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal complaint against conditions in an Alabama poultry factory.
Beatriz Navedo began to feel dizzy as she worked a processing line at the Wayne Farms poultry plant.
As the line zipped by, her chest also began to hurt. It was a heart attack.
But Navedo wasn’t sure what was happening. She just knew she needed help. She went to the plant’s nurse, but the nurse wouldn’t call the hospital, instead offering aspirin. Navedo’s daughter, who also works at the plant, left her shift early to take her mother to the hospital. Both women were punished by having points added to their employee files. Workers who accrue too many of these points are automatically fired.
It was another example of the abuse workers endure at the plant. Navedo had previously been threatened with firing for reporting on-the-job injuries. “We were promised a dream, but what we really got was a nightmare,” said Navedo, who no longer works at the plant. “I felt like a slave.”
The SPLC filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) today charging that workers at the Enterprise, Ala., plant have been forced to either endure unsafe and abusive conditions or lose their jobs.
OSHA is so underfunded and the meat industry so politically powerful that the largely immigrant workforce in these once unionized and now union-free jobs are treated like garbage, effectively bringing the dangerous working conditions of the Gilded Age of past America to the present and the outsourced dangerous factories of the developing world back to the United States.
It’s also worth remembering that every meal you eat has a labor history to it and if you are eating pretty much any meat, it’s extremely likely it is produced on the back on dangerous labor. That’s not to say don’t eat meat. It is to say that lending your voice to the fight for safe working conditions in food processing needs to be central to any food movement.
I strongly recommend Michele Simon’s article on how Tyson Foods and the USDA have pushed forward drastic increases in chicken production line speeds that would increase the profits of meat companies at the cots of workers’ lives:
But let’s back up a bit. As Mother Jones magazine explained last year, “Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute.”
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the proposal under the guise of modernization (an industry code word for deregulation) and claims the new standard would actually reduce bacterial contamination. However, Food and Water Watch found numerous food safety problems with the USDA’s pilot project owing to company inspectors missing defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass.”
The rule is especially terrible for workers, who already suffer unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries and even lifelong disabilities. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a disturbing account of worker injuries and health problems in Alabama poultry slaughterhouses due to what it called “punishing” line speeds. Workers were made to “endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns and respiratory problems.” Also, for many immigrant workers, as the law center put it, “Threats of deportation and firing are frequently used to keep them silent,” making the USDA’s attempt to spin the recent NIOSH data particularly disturbing.
Federal agencies appear to be ganging up on the USDA — and rightly so. The Government Accountability Office published a report last year criticizing the USDA’s plan on the basis of inadequate and faulty safety data. Of course, the chicken industry loves the proposal. In fact, the National Chicken Council would prefer not having any limits on line speeds at all.
The Agricultre Department basically operates as the tool of agribusiness at this point and that’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and DOA are basically at war, with NIOSH’s director directly calling out the Food Safety Inspection Service for lying about its data. The meat we buy from the store not only comes from a system that treats animals awfully, it destroys the lives of workers as well. It’s awful hard for the government to do much when one agency is fighting to make these factories safe for workers and other is fighting to make them unsafe.
Wal-Mart is introducing a line of organic food at low prices:
Walmart plans to announce on Thursday that it is putting its muscle behind Wild Oats organic products, offering the label at prices that will undercut brand-name organic competitors by at least 25 percent.
The move by Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and grocer, is likely to send shock waves through the organic market, in which an increasing number of food companies and retailers are seeking a toehold.
“We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries,” said Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.’s grocery division. The Wild Oats organic products will be priced the same as similar nonorganic brand-name goods.
So good, right? Well, yes and no. One of the legitimate criticisms of organic food is that it is too pricey, making it something for the nation’s elite. This would help reduce that. But what is the real cost of cheaper organics? Who makes up the difference? It certainly isn’t Wal-Mart. Rather, we can expect Wal-Mart to do what it does on apparel and foreign-made consumer products–put the screws on producers to lower production costs. That means labor, especially in a food production system without the same kind of chemical inputs as conventional food. How will the workers producing this food be treated? The article is silent on this, as are most similar articles that focus on this issue from the perspective of consumers and to a lesser extent from the corporate view. The voices and views of labor are completely erased from the conversation. And if we know one thing from Wal-Mart, it’s that people at work will suffer to produce this food.
As Mark Bittman has argued, food costs need to be higher and wages need to go up in order to allow the poor to eat it. This of course means in part taking the world back from the retail corporate domination of the Wal-Marts, Targets, and Gaps. A tall order, but just offering cheaper organic food under an exploitative labor system is not much of an answer to our ailing food system.
Since a cow isn’t an animal but an industrial product, I’m sure these plans will be totally successful and we will be able to continue on our ecologically destructive diet.
The Obama administration’s launch last month of a plan to curb methane emissions has given fresh relevance to climate-friendly technologies for cattle that range from dietary supplements and DNA gut tests to strap-on gas tanks.
Juan Tricarico, director of the Cow of the Future project at the Innovation Center for US Dairy, an Illinois research institute, said the initiative had boosted his quest to create the “star athlete” of the bovine world.
C-Lock, a South Dakota company, sells a feeding station that gives animals dietary supplements such as basil to cut methane production and measures the content of their breath by pulling it towards trace gas sensors with a vacuum.
Patrick Zimmerman, C-Lock’s founder, says prices start at $45,000 but stresses the economic benefits of improved efficiency. “Of the energy the animals eat, 3 to 15 per cent is lost as methane and that’s a waste,” he says.
At Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology, scientists have created backpacks that collect gas via tubes plugged into cows’ stomachs. A typical animal emits 250-300 litres of methane a day and researchers say this could be used to power a car or a refrigerator for a day, but Jorge Antonio Hilbert of the institute says the tanks’ use on a large scale is “totally improbable”.
Jonathan Gelbard of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, says: “Anyone who can come up with a cost-effective way to harness that methane is going to make a lot of money.”
Ilmi Granoff of the Overseas Development Institute said an alternative to controlling cattle emissions would be to cut the number of cows.
“Forget coal, Forget cars. The fastest way to address climate change would be to dramatically reduce the amount of meat people eat,” he said. “But that involves cultural preferences and they are difficult to touch.”
Where’s the pitchforks and torches! Someone needs to get that traitor Ilmi Granoff for suggesting something so crazy. He must be a food Luddite to suggest that we can’t engineer our way out of these problems!!
Well, maybe not. But anyway, this is pretty gross:
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.
France’s republic has a strict secular tradition enforceable by law, but faith-related demands have risen in recent years, especially from the country’s five-million-strong Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.
“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”
The anti-immigrant National Front has consistently bemoaned the rising influence of Islam in French public life.
France has seen periodic controversies over schools that substitute beef or chicken for pork from menus to cater to Muslim children. Some of the FN’s new mayors have complained there are too many halal shops in their towns.
Nothing freaks me out like Muslims eating meat butchered in a fashion that affects me in no demonstrative way. I haven’t been that scared since I noted the lack of bacon at my town’s Jewish deli. What’s the deal with that? My entire identity is no more. I’m now voting for the most racist politicians I can find.
Also, I’m glad the French are so much more culturally and socially advanced than we Americans. I’m sure I won’t mention this the next time someone from France talks to me about how screwed up the U.S. is.
In Gilded Age cities, people were separated from meat production for the first time in American history. Even in early 19th century American cities, meat was produced nearby. Pork could be something of an exception (they didn’t call Cincinnati “Porkopolis” for nothing), but it salted so well that people were comfortable with it. Beef, chicken, lamb, etc.,–these were a lot more sketchy traveling long distances.
Local butcheries could handle most of this but the explosively growing cities of the Gilded Age made this no longer possible for many. Packaged meats replaced fresh meat for millions. And that quality of that packaged meat, well, allow me to quote the New York Evening Post (although I do not have a date):
Mary had a little lamb
And when she saw it sicken
She shipped it off to Packingtown
And now it’s labeled chicken.
This reference is from Jeffrey Pilcher, Food in World History, p. 59
California farmworkers remain nearly as exploited as fifty years ago. Filthy, substandard housing, a lack of water in the fields, pesticide poisoning, and poor sanitation define too much of their lives. These workers, migrant and beneath the radar of the Americans for whom they produce food, live horribly and it is unacceptable:
For California’s farmworkers, toiling all day in the brutal, sun-scorched fields is hard enough; the homes they return to each night are often in even worse conditions. Though the reforms won by previous generations have extended basic labor and safety protections to seasonal and immigrant farmworkers, many remain shut out of the right to decent accommodations.
According to a new report published by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), the housing crisis in the agricultural workforce has worsened over the last generation. Despite the locavore fads and slow-food diets that have infused today’s farm-fresh produce with an air of glamour, as a workplace, the fields still echo the social marginalization and scandalous poverty that sparked the groundbreaking grape boycott of the late 1960s.
Don Villarejo, the longtime farmworker advocate who authored the report, tells In These Times that growers have “systematically” reduced investment in farmworker housing over the past 25 years in order to reduce overhead costs and to avoid the trouble of meeting state and federal regulations, which were established as part of a broader overhaul of agricultural labor, health and safety standards during the 1960s and 1980s. According to Villarejo, workers’ modern material circumstances are little improved from the old days of the Bracero system. That initiative—the precursor to our modern-day guestworker migrant program—became notorious for shunting laborers into spartan cabins, tents and other inhospitable dwellings on the farms themselves, beset with entrenched poverty and unhealthy, brutish conditions.
Even today, however, surveys and field reports have revealed that a large portion of workers are squeezed into essentially unlivable spaces. Some dilapidated apartments and trailer parks lack plumbing or kitchen facilities, much less any modicum of privacy; others are exposed to toxic pesticide contamination or fetid waste dumps. Workers can “live in a single-family dwelling with perhaps a dozen to 20 [people] crowding in,” Villarejo says. In some residences, “mattresses are lined up against the wall because during the daylight hours you could not be able to walk through the rooms owing to all the mattresses on the floor at that time.” Though many such dwellings house single male laborers, whole families with children are also known to live in crowded multiple-household units.
This is the “market-based” answer to the rickety labor camp of yore: Though workers are now renting from a landlord rather a farm owner, Villarejo says, “their conditions are certainly no better than they were in the kind of labor camps against which we were protesting back in the ‘60s and ‘70s about horrid living conditions.”
We have a very generous welfare state in this country. Amanda Marcotte:
After three decades of stasis, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is getting an overhaul, with a special emphasis on making it easier for parents to buy fresh produce for their children. Throughout most of its history, WIC has only covered what were perceived as “basic” foods: bread, eggs, milk, infant formula, canned tuna fish. In 2007 there was an interim policy that allowed parents to also buy fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or vegetables. This finalized policy goes beyond that, expanding the allowance for each child’s fresh produce purchases by 30 percent.
On paper, this sounds like a big deal and really good news, but it’s actually a depressing reminder of how small-minded this country has become when it comes to dealing with the problems of poverty and nutrition. As Reuters reports, that 30 percent produce expansion amounts to a measly $2 a month per kid. According to the cost-of-living index website Expatistan, in Indianapolis, that extra $2 will get you about a pound of apples (so, two or three apples) or a little more than a pound of tomatoes for the whole month. If you want to save money by going frozen, you’re not getting a whole lot more. You can get one bag of frozen peas or one bag of frozen corn, with a few coins left over for a small orange, if you’re lucky. Or perhaps you want one can of green beans with enough left over for a banana.
Really, isn’t that can of green beans going to show your 8 year old that the only way to live is off the state? I for one am very uncomfortable with the dependance and laziness that giving that child an extra banana every month is going to create.