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Food & agriculture - Nov 17

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Fast Food Damnation
Eric Schlosser on America's food industry and his delicious new film

Sarah van Schagen, Grist
...In many ways, the jumbo burger is a metaphor for Schlosser's life over the last decade or so -- the fast-food industry looming large as he researched the modern American convenience-based food system, first publishing his findings in a two-part article in Rolling Stone in 1998. The piece generated more mail than anything the magazine had run in years, and soon Schlosser, a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, was at work on a full-length exposé titled Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.

That muckraking book -- which revealed the inner workings of America's food system and its effects on animals, land, and people, from the immigrant meatpacker to the low-wage fast-food worker to the blissfully unaware Big Mac eater -- generated critical acclaim. Schlosser went on to apply his investigative skills to a book on America's black market and, earlier this year, Chew on This, a revamped version of Fast Food Nation aimed at younger audiences.

...Amiable and intelligent, Schlosser is now touring in support of the Fast Food Nation film, a fictional narrative based loosely on the book and directed by Richard Linklater. Schlosser and Linklater collaborated throughout the process, from planning sessions to screenplay drafts to shoots with the big names (Bruce Willis, Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne) peppering the film's cast. The result is an almost shockingly gruesome, but realistic, look at the fast-food industry through the eyes of the many characters (from cattle ranchers to company execs) playing a role in satisfying our appetite for a quick, cheap meal. "One of my favorite shots in the film is [an] aerial view of the feedlot, where it just goes on and on and on," Schlosser says. "I mean, that's insanity."

Hungry for his thoughts on how to change the way Americans view food, I sat down with Schlosser to chat about reinvigorating a holistic, healthy food system, weaning his kids off Happy Meals, and more.
(17 Nov 2006)
Also by Sarah van Schagen:A short review of Fast Food Nation.


Why Roots Matter More

Kim Severson, NY Times
Ms. Steineger’s reach for food grown on smaller farms close to home is part of a larger trend that food industry analysts say is gaining ground among consumers who are willing to pay a little more for quality food. As a result, people who grow food on small farms or make artisanal cheese or other foods on a more regional scale are finding new eaters.

They are also forgoing traditional sales methods and marketing approaches. Instead of trying to break into large distribution chains and fighting for shelf space, they are finding that smaller is better, particularly if there is a good back story. Produce from an upstate New York farm, for example, reinvigorated the image of Great Performances, a Manhattan catering company, earlier this year. In California, a family that makes olive oil dropped out of many mainstream grocery stores in favor of farmers’ markets and Internet sales.

And at Tierra Farms, a 20-acre urban farm near Santa Rosa, Calif., sales are approaching $500,000 with a customer base made up mostly of people who live less than 30 miles away.

The idea is to appeal to consumers like Ms. Steineger, who think that food grown regionally or produced by eco-friendly operations is fresher and tastes better. For these consumers, knowing the exact farm where food comes from provides comfort about food safety while also allowing them to connect to their communities.
(15 Nov 2006)


Scientists: More research needed to balance food, energy needs

Amy Lorentzen, Associated Press via USA Today
DES MOINES - A non-profit consortium of scientists says there is an urgent need to step up research on ethanol production to balance energy needs with climbing corn prices and pressure on food and feed supplies.

"The main thing that we all have to be aware of is the complexity of the feed, food and fuel interaction, and how policy and research have to be conducted in a very conscientious fashion, or we are going to have ourselves out of balance," said John M. Bonner, director of a the Ames-based Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, or CAST.

The international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies released a paper on Tuesday titled "Convergence of Agriculture and Energy: Implications for Research and Policy."

One major area of research should focus on rapidly boosting corn yields while protecting the environment, said Kenneth G. Cassman, the director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a co-author of the report.

"It's the core issue to ensuring that we don't come up short in food supply, and don't have high consumer prices, and can still maintain expansion of the ethanol industry," Cassman said, adding that many key issues are not being studied under current government programs.
(14 Nov 2006)


Australia importing grain - so they can export it

Deborah Cameron, Sydney Morning Herald
AUSTRALIA will import grain to offset a national wheat shortage due to crop failure and for the first time in 10 years faces buying wheat on the international market to honour massive export contracts.

"The drought has had a very, very serious impact on our winter crop," the Minister for Trade, Warren Truss, said yesterday in Tokyo.

There will be no exportable surplus from grain growers in the eastern states and much of the West Australian wheat crop was earmarked for export, he said.

"It is actually cheaper to bring wheat or other grain, probably maize, from other parts of the world to the east coast than it is to shift grain from the west coast to the east," Mr Truss said.

Australia has pledged to major customers in Japan, Korea and Indonesia that it will meet forward orders. Even so, Australian exports would fall, the minister said.

The wheat industry expects the Australian wheat stockpile of about 3 million tonnes from last year's crop will be exhausted by export demand.
(15 Nov 2006)

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