The Nation gets real about food

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Food - June 28

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Sainsbury's giant carrot washer, and the rejected royal roots

Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian
How the mass market for 'local' produce sidelined a leading organic farmer and the Prince of Wales
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They were unfortunate suppliers to sack: Prince Charles's Highgrove farm and the head of the leading organic food and farming charity, but Sainsbury's did it anyway, and without notice. And while it was about it, it fined the director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, £3,380 plus VAT through his account manager, for delivering a load of carrots that its quality control system rejected.

The saga of Mr Holden's vegetables and the rejected royal roots involves thousands of food miles, tonnes of carbon emissions, enormous waste and a giant washing machine, designed to wash and polish carrots so that "when displayed on the supermarket shelf, even weeks after washing, they still look like wet, fresh carrots". According to Mr Holden, who has spoken exclusively to the Guardian, it is a saga that shows that the supermarkets' current structures cannot deliver sustainable food, whatever they may claim. Sainsbury's says its customers and quality are the final arbiters.
(26 June 2007)
Supermarkets say that consumers demand cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables. I wonder what the cost is in money, food miles and greenhouse gases? -BA


No bananas, but lots of tomatoes

Barbara Kingsolver, The Guardian
In these extracts from her new book about a year spent eating only local food, Barbara Kingsolver describes the agonies - and the unexpected joys
(27 June 2007)


Battling the "ick" factor in Seattle

Kristin Dizon, Post-Intelligencer
Do you know what goes in a yard-waste bin? No, the answer's not that easy -- but county to tell you

King County's program to recycle food and yard waste into compost makes it a national leader. But its citizens haven't followed its lead -- currently about 38 percent of the trash sent to the county's landfill is food.

So, the county is starting an educational campaign -- with TV and radio ads, direct mailings and more -- to urge residents to recycle their food waste in the yard-waste bin.

Their message: please, please do it. Oh, and it's pretty easy.

The average family in the county (excluding Seattle) produces around 40 pounds of food and related paper waste each week. More than 137,000 compostable tons (256,000 tons if you count commercial food waste as well) went to the landfill last year.

"An awful lot of that still goes into the garbage and we would like that to be diverted to the compost," said Tom Watson, a project manager for the King County Solid Waste Division.

...The biggest hurdles seem to be that people aren't sure what, exactly, to throw in the yard- and food-waste bins and they're grossed out by the odors and potential mess of storing food scraps. "We call it the ick factor," Marx said. "Somehow it's just so gnarly that people are afraid to try it."
(27 June 2007)


Getting Real About Food

Donna Schaper & Molly Schwartz, The Nation
Nation editor: Minister and activist Donna Schaper offers a meditation on the blessings of slow food. And artist/animator Molly Schwartz traces just how far food travels from field to fork.

This is the first in a series of essays from Donna Schaper's Grassroots Gardening: Rituals for Sustaining Activism, published by Nation Books.

It was early evening, I was really hungry and the only relief in sight was the Ramapo Thruway so-called service station. I put gas in the car and went in to see what gas they had for me. I grew up before the Thruway went in and listened to nothing but my extended family's extended conversations about how the road would destroy upstate. Later in my life, as the contracts were let for which agribusiness would manage the food on the Thruway, I wrote an article about local food. At the time I didn't know what the local food movement was, just that local restaurants, instead of franchises up and down the automotive spine of the state, might be a way to limit the damage. I proposed to the Thruway Commission that local owners put up locally owned restaurants at each exit. That would make driving more interesting and keep fast food from threatening the feast of life. I imagine pork and sauerkraut at Exit 19, arugula salad at Exit 20, etc. I got confirmation that this was a good idea last Wednesday night as I sought nourishment in Ramapo.

Anyway, searching for my meat in due season, I realized there are only two franchises at Ramapo. One is McDonald's and the other is Uno's, a pizza place. I settled on the pizza place, only to observe that the warming tray was dead empty. I practically wept as I asked the young woman behind the counter if there was any hope for one such as I to get a pizza. "Sure," she said, "I'll make it fresh for you." "You will! How long will that take?"

My thoughts went utopian and my stomach gurgled. I was both thrilled at the idea of slow food on the Thruway and distraught at waiting for a freshly made pizza. She took care of my gurgle and left my utopia alone. "One and a half minutes," she said. So it was that I entered my own country of ambivalence about food. I want it slow and I want it fast. I want it local and I want it cheap. Mostly, when it comes to food, I want it now. When we have it now, it tends to taste like that "fresh" pizza in Ramapo. Its virtue was that it was warm. Its sin was that it was made of something that long ago was grain, the white flour and something long ago, the tomato, that was fruit. The cheese was no longer cheese and if the pepperoni ever was food, I'll be surprised. As I wolfed down my warm glob of chemicals, I thought about the sources of my food. In Florida the tomato pickers get a pittance a bushel. Nobody could possibly pay the migrant workers any more than that because otherwise I'd never get that round, warm, 800-calorie, nutritionally worthless globule for just $6.99. You have to add the truck and its gas, the middleman's middleman's middleman, the lawyers they hire to fight the migrants so they don't get more for picking the tomatoes.
(25 June 2007)
Alternate URL: www.thenation.com/doc/20070709/watch_your_foodometer

Another article by Donna Schaper at The Nation: Lady With a Lawnmower.

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