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In Conversation with Joan Gussow

Paula Crossfield, Civil Eats
Few would argue that Joan Dye Gussow is the mother of the sustainable food movement. For more than 30 years, she’s been writing, teaching (she is emeritus chair of the Teachers College nutrition program at Columbia University), and speaking about our unsustainable food system and how to fix it. … Michael Pollan, for example, has said, “Once in a while, when I have an original thought, I look around and realize Joan said it first.”

Gussow lives what she teaches, growing most of her own food year-round in her backyard.

Gussow says:

… I must say that compared to the reception my ideas got thirty years ago, its quite astonishing the reception they’re getting now. I am excited to see the kinds of things that are going on in Brooklyn, for example. People are butchering meat, raising chickens, and it’s become the sort of “heartland” of the food movement. But whether or not there’s going to be sea change in the whole system is so hard to judge.

… I obviously feel that the life that I live, in which I attempt to consume minimally, and don’t waste things and don’t buy things often, I consider it very life affirming. I really do believe that people would be so much happier and creative if they had some limitations and if they acknowledged their limitations. What I love about the way I eat for instance is that basically I eat what is available. Going to the supermarket to try to figure out what to eat is so deadly to me. It doesn’t feel good at all. What does feel good is that you don’t have to go out and shop, you can make do with what you have.
(12 January 2011)

Organic and Beyond

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, Counter Punch
… Organic is not enough. Organic will be an effective proposal for change only to the extent that it is integrated into the local and global movements that carry on the fight for food sovereignty, climate justice, ecological debt, women’s rights and labor organizing; and against enclosures of common goods, as in the case with patents on seeds; for the defense of water and seed as inalienable human rights, for the human right to housing, education, health care and food. In a single word: justice.

This means that the concept “organic” cannot be the only criterion when passing judgement on agricultural production. There are other elements that must be considered.

… there is a multiplicity of values and criteria to consider, which go way beyond dollars and cents, even beyond narrow concepts of environmental protection. To those mentioned by Mejia-Gutierrez I would add more: friendship, solidarity and patriotism.

Patriotism, as in the case of Raul Noriega, who has been working his farm continuously for over twenty years, and has been an organic producer since 2000. The farm, located in the Barrio Pasto community in the municipality of Aibonito, where four generations of Noriegas live together in a humble little house, has been in the family’s possession for over 150 years. Raul has had a heart attack, a stroke, and more recently an amputation, and nevertheless he is still dedicated to agriculture with the same fire and energy as when he started practicing. He is a founding member of the Madre Tierra Organic Farming Co-op and board member of the Agrocomercial Farm Co-op, Puerto Rico’s oldest farm co-op, with over 70 years of existence.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is an author, investigative journalist and environmental educator. He directs the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety …
(14 January 2011)

The American Fast Food Syndrome

Kristin Wartman, Civil Eats
Working with people as a nutritionist, I’m often met with resistance. I try to explain making healthful food choices without using trigger words like organic, sustainable, or even local. “When I hear the word organic I think of Birkenstock-wearing hippies in Cambridge, Massachusetts or Berkeley, California,” one of my clients told me recently. Other clients have referred to whole, organic foods as “yuppie food.” There’s no doubt that food choice and diet is an indicator of class and culture, but what perplexes me is this notion that eating a diet of processed, sugary junk foods is what the “real” Americans eat.

… The preferred food of the rich is now considered elitist and scoffed at by many Americans. In fact, there is data to suggest that even though many Americans can afford higher quality foods, they chose to eat cheaper and less nutritious foods.

… Within the span of three short generations, Americans have come to accept industrial food as their mainstay—not only have they accepted it, they defend it like they’d defend the American flag as a symbol of their patriotism and allegiance with “real” America.

Kristin Wartman is a food writer living in Brooklyn. She has a Masters in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and is a Certified Nutrition Educator.
(13 January 2011)

Food Crises Pummel the Poor, Austerity Multiplies Pain

Raj Patel, Guardian/UK
… The poor spend a greater proportion of their income on food and fuel, and so, when the prices of both start to rise, poorer households suffer more. Petrol, diesel, sugar and cereal prices are all up. Poor women, invariably responsible for household food purchases, are hurt far more than men – which is why they’ve protested in India, where food inflation soared to 19.8% just last month.

In the UK, today’s inflation figures of just 3.7% caused alarm – containing much higher rises in food and fuel costs and disproportionately hitting poorer families there as elsewhere. Of course, it’s not just Britain or the subcontinent where staples are becoming more expensive. The UN announced that its global food price index is now higher than it has ever been. Already this year, protesters have taken to the streets in India, Jordan and Algeria.

Whence the price rises? One of the reasons for food and fuel inflation lies in bullish views of the economy. The price of oil is nudging $100 a barrel again. Not only does this bump the price of fossil fuels directly, but it hits food too. When the price of oil is high, it becomes economically attractive to divert crops from use in food to use in biofuels.

Others blame the weather for the inflation
(19 January 2011)

Can We Feed 9 Billion People?

Climate & Capitalism
The world’s population is projected to pass 9 billion in 2050. An important new study asks the question: Can nine billion people be fed sustainably?

The Agrimonde project, organized by France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and International Agricultural Research for Development Center (CIRAD) has been researching this question for several years. The final report, Scenarios and Challenges for Feeding the World in 2050, was released this week.

The researchers compared two scenarios.

* Agrimonde GO is based on the “Global Orchestration” framework of the UN’s Millenium Ecosystem Assessment: agriculture would continue to develop as it has in past decades.
* Agrimonde 1 involves “increasing yields by using the ecological and biological functionalities of ecosystems to the greatest possible extent.”

A complex model examined the year-by-year impact of these approaches to 2050, in six regions: Middle East-North Africa; sub-Saharan Africa; Latin America; Asia; former Soviet Union; and OECD countries.

The project aimed not only to see if agriculture could provide the minimum number of calories to support life, but also ensure that each person has access to a healthy and balanced diet produced by systems that respect the environment, bearing in mind the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, and taking social needs into account.

The report concludes that both scenarios would produce enough food, but that the Agrimonde GO scenario would lead to significant environmental degradation. Agrimonde 1 would allow production to expand sustainably, if three conditions are met: …
(13 January 2011)