1.26.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 8

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 8: Southern California and Los Angeles - a tale of two farms

Summary:

Los Angeles is notorious for its lack of green space, but is adjacent to some of the country's most productive farmland.  A mountain range creates a clear barrier between the two land uses.  As is common in urban areas, Los Angeles homes the very rich and the very poor, and clear socioeconomic divides can be drawn on racial lines: white neighborhoods afford two to three times more access to fresh food than do neighborhoods populated predominately by people of color.  Food instability is rampant, despite the area's high productivity.  Hearteningly, those without food access have begun to grow it for themselves.  Additionally, the city has assembled a Food Policy Task Force.

While Los Angeles county now boasts around 70 community gardens in addition to hundreds within the school system, not all such gardens are safe from the march of "progress."  After the "LA Race Riots" of 1992, the director of a food bank in South Central LA suggested that a community garden space in the neighborhood could help alleviate the community's dependence on the bank.  The gardens were quickly established by "Latinos with extensive agricultural experience."  They thrived, producing food while providing a much needed green space for the area.  An inventory revealed over 100 different kinds of plants being grown.

And then the seemingly inevitable occurred.  The original owner of the land, seeing its transformation, decided that it did in fact have value.  The city sold the land back at essentially its original price, and all parties expected the gardeners to simply give it up.  After a decade of working the land, the "gardeners" were evicted.

But they didn't give up.  Instead they organized, calling themselves the South Central Farmers Feeding Families.  They were crushed anyway.  "On the morning of June 13, 2006, Los Angeles police in riot gear used chainsaws to cut through the fencing to enforce an eviction notice.  Farmers and protestors who didn't go quietly were arrested.  Shortly thereafter, bulldozers razed the more than 350 garden plots."


Photographs of the eviction from LA Times
As of the publication of this book, the plot remains unused.  (Note: Per Wikipedia, the plot remained vacant as of May 2014.)  A documentary was made about the "garden" and its demise.

Despite this violent and unjust reclamation of the land by the city, the farmers have found ways to continue growing food elsewhere and now service two counties with Community Supported Agriculture programs.

Discussion:

There's no use mincing words about it: I found this chapter excruciating.  I yelled at the book.  A LOT.  Some of it was in exaltation:

WE'VE FINALLY STOPPED TALKING ABOUT PRIVILEGED WHITE PEOPLE.  139 pages in, we get to acknowledge that people of color also have an interest in urban gardening.  Some of them even need to grow food, rather than just wanting to!  It's a miracle!

Granted, we still spend a portion of the chapter talking about "Michael Ableman... an aspiring photographer and back-to-the-lander" who worked at "an agrarian commune managing a hundred acres of pear and apple trees..."  His farm was saved, with the "support of a community - wealthy donors foundation grants, and regular farm customer..."  Yeah, all that and the fact that that dude is totally and extremely very white.

Cockrall-King explains that "[a] group of disenfranchised Angelinos (read: Latinos) from South Central Los Angeles did not have such advantages..." You don't say?  Well I'll be darned.  We might also note that the person who was allowed to buy back the South Central Garden land was - you guessed it - a white guy.

Also, that wonderful documentary that made people besides the farmers care about the land being ripped away from them?  Yeah, he was a white guy too.  (I do think it's worth watching.  It is sometimes available on Netflix, though not right now it seems.)

It's almost as if to have any agency, to have your voice heard, or to be treated anything like fairly, you have to be a white male.  WEIRD.  Anyone else noticed this?  Have I come upon a brand new, unexplored idea?!

I realize that I'm directing too much of my anger about what happened to this community - what happens to so many communities, and what is withheld from so many others - at Cockrall-King.  Which is of course unfair.  At least she included them in this book, complete with a long section on her talk with Tezozomoc, one of the organizing farmers.  But I can rightfully be mad about this:

Somehow the author gets through the chapter without mentioning ONCE that one of the largest food labor strikes in US history occurred in California - you know, that whole deal with Ceasar Chavez et al.  A minor thing really.  Easy to overlook.  (Just a moment - my head has exploded from sarcasm.  Please come back later.)



1.25.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 7

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 7: London - Capital Growth

Summary:

Russia leads the pack in home food growing, mainly out of necessity.  Berlin is also heavily engaged in the practice.  The UK, like the US, is steeped in industrial food, but is showing increased interest in urban farming.  One city farm in Bristol raises both crops and food animals, and runs a cafe that serves the food it produces.

Canadians carry on the
British allotment tradition
Allotment gardening, traditionally a pastime of the food-insecure of Brittan, has become popular with young urban professionals in the past decade - so much so that allotment wait lists can be years long.  This has encouraged some to develop effective methods of vegetable growing in small spaces such as balconies.  With a substantial investment of time and upkeep, such spaces can be as or more productive than the typical allotment.

The Crouch End neighborhood of London boasts the world's first grocery store rooftop vegetable garden.  Such endeavors help maintain biodiversity of food plants in urban areas, and support urban bee and butterfly populations.  However, such large-scale endeavors can require funding beyond earnings from produce sales even once the garden is fully productive.

During the London Olympics of 2012, efforts were made to feed athletes, staff, and visitors with the most local food possible.  Such endeavors help to normalize less industrial food practices in a food environment that has been completely industrialized.

Note: there are large sections in this chapter about urban vineyards.  I could not possibly care less about urban vineyards as they have zero implications for food security or anything else of import; they are absolute luxuries and every human on earth would be just fine if there was never another bottle of wine, ever.  So I'm not summarizing or discussing those sections.

Discussion:

This is a short chapter that touches on a number of subjects, and seems to again focus on relatively privileged people who have the means and access to purchase locally grown organic vegetables, but would rather grow their own.  This is certainly a trend that can be seen in many American cities, including right here in New Orleans.  After all, growing vegetables is physical, time-intensive work.  That might not look attractive to someone who perhaps works on their feet all day and has childcare to think about, even if they did have the space.

Crouch End might have had the first grocery rooftop veg garden, but it's not the only one.  In fact, we have one right here in New Orleans!  The Louisiana-owned Rouses chain frequently touts its Roots on the Rooftop garden at its Baronne Street location in local media, though shockingly little information is available about it online.  The video below gives a nice primer though.

Finally, I find the concept of normalizing non-industrial food to be fascinating - mainly because until at most 150 years ago there was no such thing as industrial food.  Moreover, it didn't become "normal" until the 1950s in the average household.  A few generations pass, and the way food was grown and distributed for centuries becomes unattainably foreign.  What short memories we have.

1.23.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 6

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 6: Paris - The Roots of Modern Urban Agriculture

Summary:

The urban gardens of Paris in the 19th century stand out as a model of local, sustainable urban production.  By increasing heat in garden beds with sunlight and composting, city farmers produced high-value, out-of-season crops.  The system was largely dismantled by the end of the century, as cars replaced horses (making manure less available) and land inside the city became more valuable.  But it never completely died out; there remain a few small gardens in operation.  The King's Garden at Versailles is one of the few extant "maraicher-style" gardens that has operated continuously since the 1700s.  It remains productive and now functions as a teaching garden.

Map of the King's Garden at Versailles
After a low point in the 1990s, urban gardening regained popularity in Paris in the 2000s with the help of guerrilla gardening efforts and a green-minded mayor. Besides vegetable gardening, beekeeping is another agricultural endeavor that adapts well to urban environments and has become popular in cities.  For a variety of reasons, city hives tend to produce more honey and are less susceptible to colony collapse disorder than those in rural areas.  London's bees are even more prolific than Parisian hives.  Toronto also boasts productive urban hives.  Each honey's flavor bears unique markers of its provenance.  Urban honeys, sourced from a broader variety of pollens, have more complex flavors than those produced by rural hives which usually feed on single crops.

Discussion:

This chapter begins Cockrall-King's exploration of urban agriculture movements in a number of cities - including Paris, London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Detroit, and Chicago, among others - which will be discussed in later chapters.  The Parisian system seems in no small part to have depended on the use of manure, a substance that was an outright nuisance to the city due to the prevalent use of horses.  There is no similar such resource to be utilized in, for instance, present day New Orleans.  Or is there?

Click here to see a larger image
Consider: We all waste food.  Whether it's the ends of carrots, the peels of potatoes, the leftovers we didn't quite get around to eating, or the produce that we had grand plans for at the grocery but didn't manage to cook, we're all guilty of throwing away food that could have been eaten.  In fact, bodies such as the EPA and USDA estimate that between 30 and 40% of all edible food available in the US lands in the garbage - billions of pounds of food that goes to landfills each year and does little but generate greenhouse gases.  The problem is profound enough that EPA and USDA have formally challenged other groups to actively work to reduce food waste.  If we're wasting the calories that could have been available to the >14% of US households that go without enough to eat, the very least we can do is compost it and use it to grow more food.

For those of us who are able to house a compost bin, our home-generated food waste should never go into a landfill.  All produce and most leftovers - all leftovers if you're vegan - can be put in the compost bin, as well as coffee grounds, lawn clippings, paper towels, and other biodegradable waste items.  My husband and I have had our compost bin for about two years and, while we've never made use of the compost within it, we've used the bin to naturally process and greatly reduce what was likely hundreds of pounds of waste that would have otherwise gone to the local landfill.  Upcycyled plastic composting barrels like the one we use are available at Hollygrove Market and Farm.  (So are rain barrels - more on that another time.)

Much wasted food is lost in shipping and at grocery stores, which we as individual consumers have little ability to address.  Little, but not none.  If you're able to make a friend in a produce department and have the ability to compost on a large scale, you might be able to personally take on composting items that would likely end up in a landfill otherwise.  You could petition a grocery or restaurant to begin on-site composting, as is done at the New Orleans Food Co-Op and 3 Potato 4.

Or even better from a food waste standpoint, you could try to keep that food from being wasted in the first place.  Store owners or managers can sometimes be convinced to donate bruised or lightly damaged produce, which is otherwise edible but excluded from the sales floor for cosmetic reasons, to community feeding efforts such as Food Not Bombs.  You could also request - and ask other shoppers to request - that such "sub-prime" produce is offered to consumers at a discounted rate.

Glass recycling area at the
Metairie Target - always overflowing!
More progressive cities such as San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR offer curbside composting pickup, just like trash and recycling are collected elsewhere.  Given that it was a bit of a coup to get basic recycling back in the city after the storm, that that took over five years to accomplish, that they pick up only once a week (and sometimes not even), and that we still don't recycle glass, I am not holding my breath for the City of New Orleans to begin offering compost pickup.  But it's still nice to know that such a thing is possible.  A pickup option is available for area businesses and restaurants for a "small fee" through Nola Green Roots' New Orleans Composting Network.

To be sure, composting is a partial and imperfect answer to food waste - meat and dairy products cannot be composted, for instance.  It's also difficult to impossible for people living in apartments or otherwise have limited access to outdoor spaces.  But partial, imperfect answers still seem better than giving up.  And as far as urban gardening is concerned, compost is an excellent and often free source of a rich, nutrient-filled soil amendment.

Impressively, the USDA "walks the walk" when it comes to the food waste produced in their own cafeteria, as depicted in the hilarious video below.  Enjoy!

1.20.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 5

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 5: The New Food Movement and the Rise of Urban Agriculture

Summary:

In the 1990s, Tim Lang of the SAFE alliance tried to educate policymakers regarding the impacts that proposed trade agreements might hvae on food environments the world over.  In 1992, a television appearance allowed Lang to illustrate the concept of food miles to British viewers.  The concept caught on, and in 1994 SAFE released a report entitled The Food Miles Report.  It was followed in 2001 by a collaborative report called Eating Oil.  Concurrently in Italy, Carlo Petrini had begun organzing what would become the international Slow Food movement.

In the 2000s, consumers began to demand more local and regional foods.  Farmer's markets, which had experienced a resurgence in the 90s, continued to multiply.  Authors such as Michael Pollan brought industrial food's issues to a broader and more mainstream audience.  In 2007, "locavore" was named the Oxford American Dictionary's "word of the year."

Currently, as an ever-greater proportion of the population moves away from rural settings and into the city, we are beginning to understand that food access bust be considered as a part of urban planning.  Localized agriculture now accounts for less than 1% of available food.  A transition, if it is occurring, is still in its infancy.  But as resources are depleted, the movement will have no avenue but to progress.


Discussion:

In chapter 5 we get to what Cockrall-King really wants to be talking about: urban gardening.  It's a brief chapter that addresses the resurgence of urban gardening in the mainstream, white, western world.  That is of course the world she lives in (as do I), so there's a certain amount of logic in it.  I look forward to the chapters on Cuba and Detroit, as I'm hoping they'll provide a different perspective.

The recent history presented in this chapter is interesting.  The papers and presentation noted are dated but still relevant.
I was hoping to find the video, but no luck.

If you're a New Orleans area resident and you have the interest, ability, and space to begin doing a bit of home vegetable growing but aren't sure where to start, one great option is Green Light New Orleans.  In addition to switching your regular ol' lightbulbs for CFLs, this local non-profit will come to your house and build a small vegetable garden plot for free, complete with soil, seedlings, and seeds.  If you're really interested in increasing Nola residents' ability to grow their own food, you can also volunteer to help build plots.  If you live in an apartment or otherwise have nowhere to put a plot, you can look into community gardening at places like Nola Green Roots and Parkway Partners.

If you do not in fact have the interest, ability, or space to garden where you live or anywhere else, check out this awesome graphic on what foods are best each season in New Orleans from the Crescent City Farmer's Market team.  If you can't grow it at home, often you *can* buy it locally grown!

1.19.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 4

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 4: A World in Food Crisis

Summary:

In moves to make food more profitable, we've also made the food system less resilient and more vulnerable.  One major point of vulnerability is its dependence on oil, and particularly on cheap oil.  This need has created a direct link between food prices and oil prices.

The cheap food that was supposed to solve world hunger has actually driven down incomes, and has ultimately exacerbated poverty and the hunger that comes with it.  Despite fifty years of proof that cheaper food is not the answer to hunger, Big Ag is still pushing the need for "more food" to feed the world's growing population.  People get poorer when food gets cheaper, so many of the world's hungry remain too poor to afford even our "cheap" food.

During the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, American food banks were unable to keep up with demand.  We were actually lucky: dozens of other countries experienced outright food riots.  Rioting over food occurred again after various weather abnormalities caused production shortages around the globe.  In essence, the system is too vulnerable to weather events and too dependent on finite resources to continue producing at its current rate and price.

**Editor's note: At this point the author notes that transportation and methane emitted by garbage as the primary generators of the greenhouse gasses driving global warming.  Upon reading this passage, I cursed aloud and tossed the book across the room.  I may have experienced some bleeding from my ears.  More on this later.**

Greenhouse gases are fueling climate change, which is causing more catastrophic weather events.  The concentration of single crops in limited geographic regions means that one such even can remove a food from the entire system.  A coinciding reduction in national grain stores around the world has allowed large grain companies to "take control of the global grain trade - to their great profit."

The search for more arable land is leading to the exploitation of developing regions - particularly in parts of Africa and South America.  Alarmingly, the arable land in notably food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia is being leased to grow food for export.  This is seen as an investment opportunity for corporations.  Domestically, American and Canadian farmers are posting record losses and selling land cheaply to international speculators.  Cheaper food very simply means that farmer are being paid less; these are the results.

Meanwhile, we're running through non-renewable resources.  Oil production may peak and begin to drop off in the near future.  Fresh water resources may also become scarce in the next century due both to how quickly they're being used and because of contamination.  Tragically, as industrial farming becomes ubiquitous, knowledge of traditional (less oil and water intensive) farming methods is being lost.

Discussion:

About that global climate change situation.  To fail to address the impact of animal agriculture in the production of greenhouse gasses is lazy at best.  Agriculture both accounts for a larger percentage of global greenhouse gas production than transportation, and involves an enormous amount of transportation itself!  Those food miles aren't racked up on magic flying carpets.  And all that's not to mention that energy production creates more gasses than either agriculture or transport.

If a person were somewhat conspiracy-minded, that person might be led to think that a book about the food industry written in 2012 that regularly refers to UN FAO studies and yet ignores its major study on the food industry that is readily and freely available is doing so intentionally...  But none of that craziness here, right?

On a totally separate topic, did y'all know that Cowspiracy is now available online?  ;D



ANYWAY.  On Sunday I noticed grapes at the Broad Street Whole Foods.  My first thought was, ooh, grapes!  My second though was... from Chile?  Chile is 4,500 miles away from New Orleans, give or take.  At $2.39 per pound, somehow I don't think that the true cost of those grapes is represented in its price.  Did you know that bell peppers are a seasonal food?  And from what I can tell at WF, they're only grown organically in Holland.  What gives?  Is it REALLY cheaper to fly peppers in from Europe than to source them locally?  Are there SO many levels of bureaucratic red tape necessary that it's just totally unfeasible to supply shoppers with these products?  So many questions.  Also, it's high time I figure out the wonky system at Good Eggs.


1.18.2015

A note to you fine fine readers.

Hi all!  I hope you're enjoying the new content on the blog.  It's fairly different from what I've been doing for the past year or two, and it's just the change of pace I needed around here.

But if you, uh, don't like it, might I suggest you follow my Twitter feed?  It's populated primarily by pictures of tasty vegan things I eat around town, and should be right up your alley if you're missing the old format of the blog.  You might also want to check out my Instagram, which is a combo of food pics and photos of cool things around town (ummm and my hair and My Little Pony stuff).  And of course I do hope you'll follow on Facebook, where I post links to articles for local happenings as well as information from around the world.

Any way about it, happy fooding green New Orleanians!

Me with king cake bread pudding at Breads on Oak!

1.17.2015

A Little Liberty.

Last week I had the pleasure of eating at the new location of Liberty's Kitchen in the Broad Street ReFresh Project.  The community center's tenants include the cafe, The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, FirstLine Schools' central offices, Boystown Center for Children and Families, the offices of Broad Community Connections and Crescent City Community Land Trust, and an on-site teaching farm in partnership, as well as a Whole Foods grocery store as its anchor.

Liberty's Kitchen not only provides meals for school children, but also runs a restaurant where it employes at-risk youth to allow them to attain valuable work skills and experience, all while providing practical life supports:
Liberty’s Kitchen’s Youth Development Program provides disconnected youth with workforce and life skills training to become employed and self-sufficient. We address the many issues that create barriers to self-sufficiency with wrap-around support including health care, mental health, housing, GED completion, parenting issues, and financial literacy.
Its menu is small and centers around lunch foods such as sandwiches and salads, along with some traditional New Orleans fare.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they do offer one vegan dish - red beans and rice - and several other veganizable options including a black bean burger and a roasted vegetable sandwich.

I am somewhat disappointed that the cafe serves coffee from Starbucks rather than one of our local coffee chains, but otherwise I appreciate the true community effort happening in this small but artistic space.  They were also very cool about letting my coworkers bring me in a vegan birthday cake from the Whole Foods next door, and even provided us with plates and serving utensils.  I can wholeheartedly support them, and I can personally attest that their red beans and rice as well as their black bean burger are quite delicious.  So stop by and show them some love!

Red Beans and Rice

Black Bean Burger

Birthday Cake!



1.14.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 3

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 3: Industrial Eaters

Summary:

Industrial food has been adopted in many parts of the world.  Industrial eaters tend to consume large portions of meat, processed carbohydrates, and dairy products - all high in fat, salt, and sugar and typically low in fiber and other necessary nutrients such as vitamins.  This is commonly called the "Western diet" or "Standard American Diet," and it is rapidly spreading across the globe.

Supermarkets became larger and more widespread in the 1990s as international trade increased and food cheapened.  Unable to compete in the expanding global market, small and midsize farms continued to be squeezed out.  Industrial food, cheaper than ever, began traveling ever-increasing distances.  By 2001, the average grocery store item had been shipped 1500 miles from its origins to its consumer - powered, of course, by fossil fuels.

During this time span, farms also moved further away from growing a variety of foods and further toward monocropping - the practice of growing one crop on many or all acres of farmland.  Because entire regions were monocropping the same produce, most foods began being shipped elsewhere for various "value added" processing and then redistribution.  For example, Iowa doesn't process or eat most of the corn it grows, and gets most of the food it does eat from elsewhere.  Government operated terminal food wholesale markets have given way in the past decade to privately owned (and totally opaque) operations, making it difficult or impossible to track food miles anymore.

The manure lagoon of a CAFO - read more here
The livestock which become part of our industrial food system are also consumers of it.  Most food animals are now raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs or factory farms), and are fed the same few crops that make up most of our processed foods: corn, wheat, and soy.  The CAFO system leads to intense concentration of animals on a small area of land, along of course with their waste.

CAFOs allow the creation of cheap meat, which is in demand as more of the world converts to industrial eating.  Raising livestock results in diverting plant calories to livestock feed, which is extremely inefficient: an average of 10 pounds of feed is needed for each pound of meat produced.  That pound of meat also requires about 2000 gallons of water when all stages of the process are accounted for.  Further, we've outsourced our CAFOs to take advantage of cheaper land outside the US, and rainforests in South America are being clear-cut at a rate of 90 acres per minute in some areas - all to make room for cattle and the grains that feed them.

Rising fossil fuel costs caused a spike in food prices in the late 2000s.  This had the odd effect of encouraging the use of food crops as fuel - which just raised the price of food even further.  Even so, we in the US pay relatively little of our household budgets on food.  What we pay at the register, though, does not reflect industrial food's "true cost," which includes environmental and health impacts.  Per Raj Patel, the true cost of a fast food hamburger, for instance, is about $200.  We've moved most of these costs to the developing world, the residents which do not have the power or agency to push back against their governments and our corporations.  The healthcare costs that result from eating industrial food, though, can be seen right here at home.  To add insult to injury, our own government supports subsidy plans that encourage cultivating the very crops that are killing us.

Discussion:

This chapter covers many of the issues that initially encouraged me to go vegan back in 2006.  Each step in the industrial food process where animals are concerned is morally and logically repulsive to me, and once I knew how things were being done I knew that I neither wanted give my money to that system nor put its products into my mouth.  Unfortunately, being vegan doesn't remove me from eating industrial food.  Sure, when I manage to get to a farmer's market or to Hollygrove I am sidestepping it.  But when I buy a box of organic pasta from the Broad Street Whole Foods, I am buying in to monocropping, long food miles, and all the rest.  I am trying to do better.

This chapter also hits on the interesting notion that when we feed grain to food animals, that food being taken out of the human food system.  Livestock do consume enormous amounts grain.  Per the EPA, "about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production."  So it's true, but not directly: most of the crops we grow to feed to livestock can't be fed to humans.  If we want to grown human food where livestock feed is now being grown, there's at least one extra step.  Different crops would need to be grown!

On the issue of feeding grain and specifically corn to livestock, it's not actually an appropriate food for them.  Cows, for instance, are made quite ill when they are fed corn.  And yet this is common practice at CAFOs.  It's done because corn is subsidized and monocropped and therefore cheap, and because it makes them fat quickly.  (It stands to reason and there's some evidence that it makes us fat quickly as well!)

The film King Corn does a great job of discussing how prevalent corn is in our industrial food system, both in the processed foods we buy at the grocery and as animal feed.  You can watch it right here for free, as long as you don't mind Spanish subtitles!

1.11.2015

King Cakes Everywhere... including Mexico!

A stack of sadly dry vegan king cakes
at Whole Foods Broad Street
Three cheers for Carnival time - there's king cake everywhere!  Some stores even began selling it *before* King's Day (January 6th), an unforgivable transgression.  But nevermind that.  Most king cakes are made with milk and eggs, but there is plenty of vegan king cake out there for us, and it's delicious!  Breads on Oak's vegan king cakes shine this year, and I'm looking forward to trying the offerings from Shake Sugary, The Peacebaker, and Girls Gone Vegan.  (You can skip the Whole Foods cakes unless in dire need; they are once again dry bread with sugar on top.  But it's really pretty sugar tho?  They're edible if you microwave them for about 20 seconds to soften them up...)

An interesting note on king cake: we're not the only people who eat it!  January 6th is King's Day because it is twelve days after the birth of the baby Jesus (or the date on which we've chosen to celebrate his birth, anyway).  Twelve days is how long it reportedly took the "three kings" or "three wise men," Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar, to arrive in Jeruselem following the bright star that appeared at the birth of the Christ.  Their arrival, then, is king's day, also known as the Epiphany which means "manifestation of a divine being."  Because the significance of the celebration springs from Catholic traditions, it's unsurprising that other cities of strong Catholic culture also celebrate the day.  And with Catholics, a celebration ALWAYS means food.

Rosca de Reyes - picture from http://instagram.com/andivert/
Such is the case with this Mexican king cake, shared recently by my friend Andrea.  Their "Rosca de Reyes" is more of a bread, and is delicately flavored with orange blossom water.  It's topped with various combinations of dried fruits and sugar.  It is eaten only for King's Day, not through the entire Carnival season.  Like our king cakes, there are less traditional versions of the rosca available with a variety of fillings.  And like ours, they're usually not vegan!  The one pictured was special-ordered from a vegan-friendly bakery in Tijuana.

The rosca does contain a baby, and whoever gets it must buy tamales for people on February 2nd, a day of celebration called Candlemas.  The day marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox; we celebrate it as Groundhog's Day.  It was also the first day of the year in the Aztec calendar.  The tamales specifically are nod to traditions of pre-Columbian days and are an offering to Aztec gods for a good harvest.  Depending on the social circle, the baby recipient might have a party with the same people the cake was cut with on Candlemas and serve tamales.

Regardless of what religion you adhere to or whether you believe these bits of history and folklore, what can't be denied is that king cakes have an interesting and storied history and are a pleasure to eat!

1.08.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 2

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  See the summary and discussion for Chapter 1 of Food and the City here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 2: Industrial Food

Summary:

Food has changed profoundly in the past few generations.  At the turn of the 20th century, specialized markets and backyard gardens were the norm.  Home farming grew in popularity through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.  Excess produce from home gardens was canned for winter eating: growing and canning food were considered both patriotic and practical.  Not until after WWII did processed food become commonplace, as war industry resources shifted focus to food production and the Greatest Generation understandably embraced an ethic of convenience.

In the early 1900s, synthetic fertilizers were developed in response to fears of food shortages, followed by pesticides and herbicides.  Eliminating food insecurity was a priority for the US after WWII, and parts of the "war machine's infrastructure" were converted for use in industrial food production - particularly with regard to the manufacture of these agricultural chemicals.  In the span of 50 years, use of these chemicals moved from brand new innovation to accepted conventional practice.  Rather than feeding a starving world, producing more food actually exacerbated the problem: following the laws of nature, the population grew in step with the growing availability of food.

In the 1950s, the US began to export its excess food supply to developing countries to fight against the potential invasion of communism amongst populations struggling for basic needs.  The expansion of industrial food and its practices pushed out many small farmers - millions in Mexico alone.  Farming families unable to farm any longer sought opportunities in Mexico's cities and in the US.

Panic in the 1960s surrounding unprecedented population growth (being fueled, of course, by the ever-greater availability of food) led to further industrialization of food production in the developing world.  The population unsurprisingly continued to grow as more and more food became available, and because farming was no longer a viable profession people continued to move away from arable land in the country and into cities.

Even our synthetic petroleum-based fertilizers can't keep up with today's scale of monocropping: yields have begun to drop.  So agribusiness has turned to developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in an attempt to recreate the magic once sparked by agricultural chemicals.  Having been grown commercially for less than twenty years, these genetically modified plants can now be found in about 70% of processed foods.  These plants can spread their modified, patented genes to heritage crops through channels such as wind and bees, causing legal problems for farmers who are sued for growing a patented product to which they do not have rights.  Further, use of Roundup-resistant GMO seeds which require heavy doses of the herbicide has led to the development of "superweeds" that cannot be killed.

Differing visions have emerged about the best way to produce and distribute enough food for a global population set to grow by another 2 billion in the next 30 years.  Surprising no one, agribusiness is pushing for more food to be grown through their own patented (and expensive) technologies.  Industrial food is currently controlled by a small number of companies: Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta, and BASF control half of agricultural chemicals.  Monsanto controls 20% of "proprietary seed production."  Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Bunge control a stunning 90% of grain production and distribution.  These near-monopolies lead to the problems expected under such conditions.  Big Ag's deathgrip on rural farms may be a good reason to revive small scale farming in residential and urban areas.

Discussion:

In this chapter, I again feel like Cockrall-King is dancing around but never quite hitting the nail on several important issues.  In her discussion of food monopolies, for instance, she neglects the intense concentration of the meat industry. As discussed by the Tufts University report "Hogging the Market," four companies control over 80% of beef production.  Similar concentration is seen in pork (66%) and chicken (58%).  These conditions lead to little competition, relieving any pressure for meat producers and packers to hold themselves to higher standards.  The idea that the USDA might enforce better standards is laughable, due to a severe lack of resources stemming from years of cutbacks and industry influence.  The meat industry is at this point essentially self-regulated.

That industrial food is the primary food type in New Orleans cannot be denied.  Even with a recent surge of farmer's markets, fresh local food sources are outnumbered at least three to one by the more common supermarkets.  As far as the amounts of food offered by each sort of establishment, an individual farmer's market is a small drop in the bucket compared to the vast aisles of foods in any single Rouse's or Winn Dixie.  The differences, of course, are that farmer's markets are local and fresh and also more expensive, while the supermarkets have more food - but that food comes with infinitely more food miles attached as well as intense industrial processing.

In its report "Building Healthy Communities," the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee (which seems to have gone defunct in 2013) makes ten recommendations to either the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana as a whole regarding tactics to improve access to healthy foods for its citizens.  A paper entitled "Re-Storing the Crescent City" that shares several authors with "Building Healthy Communities" looks closely at food access for three New Orleans neighborhoods.  I will certainly be talking about the concept of food deserts in the future, but for now I'll say this: mere presence of supermarkets does not alleviate the lack of access to healthy foods seen in these areas.  This is due, in no small part, to the fact that supermarkets sell almost nothing but industrial food.  As a rule of thumb, the more processed a food is, the less healthy it becomes...