Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Know Where Your Food Comes From

From Haleakala Times

This week’s Food and Drug Administration warning to avoid certain tomato varieties which may carry salmonella, is a reminder, as tomato season begins in many parts of the country, that eating from sources close to home that you know and trust is one way to avoid exposure to widespread foodborne illnesses.

“With the growing number of salmonella cases linked to huge farms and packing plants, now more than ever it is important to know who is growing your food and the conditions under which it’s grown,” says Gloria Cohen, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Edible Hawaiian Islands Magazine. Richard Ha of Hamakua Farms says, “Besides being grown by your local farmer, the vast majority of Hawaii grown tomatoes are Food Safety certified.”

The FDA has determined that homegrown tomatoes are safe to eat. Tracey Ryder, co-founder and president of Edible Communities, Inc., the network of publications dedicated to the local food movement across North America, says that, for many proponents of local eating, the next best thing to homegrown is locally grown on a small family farm. “If there is a problem with a locally grown crop, consumers can trace their food back to its source very quickly,” says Ryder. In the current case of salmonella in tomatoes, FDA officials have been trying to located the origin of the outbreak since May. “We’ve seen this exact situation before with industrially produced food,” says Ryder, “and we’re likely to see it again.”

Monday, June 09, 2008

A New Lexicon

By Tim Lang

A new lexicon is with us. Biofuels, biomass, agrofuels, bioenergy, biodiesel, bioalcohol … suddenly policy-makers are taking decisions and imposing change with the prefix ‘bio’ in front of many words. Essentially these all are part of one very old but now politically very hot discourse: energy. From the Middle East to China to Africa to the Americas and Europe, every government is rethinking its assumption of plentiful oil. The ‘bio’ revolution is about using land to grow energy rather than extracting from deep strata under the earth’s surface in the form of coal, oil or gas.

The so-called first generation of biofuels means mainstream food crops such as maize or wheat are converted to oil-equivalents, usually to put into cars. This mode currently dominates the biofuels market, supported by European and US governments. But it has been criticised for feeding affluent (and obese) westerners’ cars rather than needy mouths, and for driving up basic food commodity prices.

World prices for rice, wheat, soya and maize have rocketed since 2005 when biofuels became internationally significant. In response, technologists propose a second generation of biofuels using waste from food crops or special crops such as miscanthus. And now there is a third generation using algae and fermentation techniques as feedstocks to ‘grow’ energy, with proponents arguing this is the most efficient and most biodegradable form.

Superficially, biofuels seem a sensible thing. The world faces an energy crisis. Non-renewable fuels – coal, oil, gas – have finite limits. The earth + sun + water + human labour + technology can grow crops. So why not grow energy? It’s simple. Energy crisis solved!

The problem is that it’s not so simple. And biofuels do not resolve the energy gap caused by declining oil reserves at a time of rising demand. From a food perspective, the nightmare about biofuels is that they exacerbate existing, let alone future, food crises. China experienced 18% food inflation in 2007 and stopped its biofuels regime, instantly fearing social unrest. But warnings about biofuels not being a policy nirvana have not stopped governments using public policy and funds to nurture the biofuels market and industries.

How has this policy mess come about? The short answer is that, despite warnings about wholesale reliance on petroleum oil as the energy driver of consumerism, western-dominated economies have driven on regardless. Cars, consumer goods, food, housing, tourism …you name any economic sector and it is oil-dependent.

An ‘advanced’ food economy, such as Europe’s, has been calculated as being 95% oil-dependent. Most of the supposed advances in intensive agriculture have relied on fossil fuels. They enabled animals to be replaced by tractors; gave fertilisers; enabled massive transportation of foods; underwrote labour-shedding throughout the food chain— not least on the land.

The realisation of the dangers of the current wholesale reliance on oils has finally dawned on policy-makers in governments and big food business, suddenly conscious of climate change and the need to think carbon and greenhouse gases. The Stern Report on Climate Change calculated that agriculture alone is responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Of those emissions, fertilizers were responsible for 38%.

Livestock was the second greatest source of agriculture-related GHGs, accounting for 31%. A 2006 European Union life-cycle assessment of consumer impacts found the food and drink sector to be the most significant source of GHGs, accounting for 20-30% of the various environmental impacts of the most common forms of European consumption. The most significant sectors were meat and meat products, followed by the dairy sector.

With evidence like this, the pressure is on governments, big oil users and greenhouse gas emitters to plan their way out of the looming crisis. No wonder they have turned to biofuels with such alacrity. They seemed to offer the dream technical fix for the problem. The USA is estimated to be subsidizing its biodiesel industry by $92 billion in 2006-12. 20% of US maize crop now goes to biofuels, with estimates suggesting the figure will rise to 32% by 2016. The European Union agreed a Biofuels Directive in 2003 and in 2005 set a goal to derive 10% of transport fuel from biofuels by 2020. Throughout the world, governments have taken such action, though not all have the EU’s or USA’s deep pockets for promotion.

The problem with this sudden shift of policy is that it hasn’t and will not resolve the fundamental challenge for early-21st-century society: how to consume less, differently, more equitably and more sustainably.

Biofuels have not reduced oil prices. Oil hit $100 a barrel in 2007. The first rush to biofuels as substitute oil is now looking thin. If land goes to biofuels, that’s less land for food. The OECD calculated that the USA, Canada and European Union would need to switch between 30% and 70% of their current crop areas to provide just 10% of their transport fuel needs. Only Brazil’s use of sugarcane has decent efficiencies, and its land use is under scrutiny with regard to forests and climate change.

Any sober assessment of this issue concludes that there is no quick fix. The new policy challenge is how to address all of the new Big Eight Fundamentals: energy/oil; land use; climate change; water; labour; demographics/population; and public health (notably dietary change such as more meat and soft drinks and their consequences).

Two policy futures loom for biofuels. In the first, emphasis is on improving biofuels; hopes hang on second and third generations. Proponents argue that land use for energy can help fill the ga,. The second broad policy position suggests that the energy/biofuels crisis is further evidence that we need to design what a really sustainable food system would look like. It probably means constraint on excessive consumer choice (less for the West, more for the South). Land can be freed to feed more mouths by eating wisely, reducing waste and nurturing rather than mining soils.

One thing is clear. Biofuels are no more a solution to the energy challenge than is genetic modification the single answer to the need to increase food supply. We should be wary of anyone who promotes single solutions. A more complex, multi-factoral world is now upon us. But will policy-makers rise to the occasion? Lives and futures depend on whether they do or not.

Tim Lang is professor of Food Policy at the City University in London, he has written several books on the subject and is a consultant to the British government.

Illustration by Piero Lusso

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Slow Food Nation

Tickets are now on sale for Slow Food Nation, Slow Food USA's first national festival. Organizers have just launched the official website with preliminary schedules, information about special programs, and the ability to purchase tickets online.

Held in San Francisco this Labor Day weekend, Slow Food Nation will bring together tens of thousands of people to experience activities highlighting the connection between plate and planet.

At the peak of harvest season, and on the eve of the Presidential election, Slow Food Nation will bring together local citizens and visitors, farmers and food artisans, political leaders, environmental advocates and health-care experts, community educators and artists. Participants will savor food from across the United States at Taste, a 50,000 square foot pavilion; meet farmers and producers at a marketplace surrounding a 10,000 square foot newly-planted urban garden in the heart of the city; learn from visionary speakers; and engage in political discourse to shape a more sustainable food system. Slow Food Nation will also feature a music festival, workshops, films, dinners, hikes and journeys.

Highlights include:


When: Saturday, August 30, 11:00am until 3:00pm, 5:00pm until 9:00pm and Sunday, August 31, 11:00am until 3:00pm and 6:00pm until 9:00pm
Where: Fort Mason/Festival Pavilion
Cost: $45 – $65
Taste is Slow Food Nation’s grand celebration of good, clean and fair food from across the United States. In-depth taste workshops and hands-on experiences with quality, process and distinguishing flavor factors will connect visitors with the origins and true value of our food. Each of the 15 uniquely designed pavilions showcases a different food through on-site demonstrations and tastes. Featured foods include: Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. The Green Kitchen takes place here, where acclaimed chefs will demonstrate techniques for making simple, everyday dishes sustainable.
Food for Thought Speaker Series:

When: Friday, August 29, from 9:00am until 4:30pm and Saturday, August 30, from 11:30 am until 10:00pm
Where: Civic Center/Herbst Theater and Milton Marks Auditorium
Cost: $5 - $25
Featuring leading thinkers, community organizers, journalists and activists discussing current food issues, from policy and planning to education and climate change. Among the speakers will be Wendell Berry, Marion Nestle, Carlo Petrini, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Vandana Shiva, and Alice Waters.

When: From Friday, August 29 through Sunday, August 31, 9:00am until 4:00pm
Where: Civic Center Plaza
Cost: Free
The Market showcases 60 California farmers and artisans growing and producing good, clean and fair food. Visitors can purchase directly from the producer and learn the significance of regionality, diversity and artisanality in the Bay Area’s food system. Next to the Market, “Slow on the Go” demonstrates how “fast” slow food can be. Visitors can purchase affordable street food from San Francisco’s diverse ethnic community, prepared with fully sustainable, source-verified ingredients.
Slow Food Nation Victory Garden:

When:Friday, August 29 – Sunday, August 31; 9 am – 4 pm
Where: Civic Center Plaza
Cost: Free
In collaboration with Victory Gardens 2008+, Slow Food Nation will herald the era of self-sufficiency through the creation of an ornamental edible garden in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center. Planted on the same site as 60 years ago during World War II, the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden demonstrates the potential of a truly local agriculture practice and brings together and promotes Bay Area urban gardening organizations, while producing high quality food for those in need. The Slow Food Nation Victory Garden will be introduced to the public on Saturday, July 12 in a ceremony with Mayor Gavin Newsom and Slow Food Nation Founder Alice Waters.
Slow Food Rocks:

When: Saturday, August 30, from 11:00am until 7:00pm, and Sunday, August 31, from 11:00am until 5:30pm
Where: Fort Mason/Great Meadow
Cost: For tickets visit:; Tickets on sale June 10
Featuring: Gnarls Barkley; G Love & Special Sauce; the John Butler Trio; Medeski Martin & Wood; New Pornographers and Ozomatli. Additional major headliners to be announced soon.
A two-day outdoor music festival featuring the biggest names in rock, folk, hip-hop, soul, jazz and world music. Produced by the Festival Network, this is one of only three public events permitted on the Great Meadow the entire year.

Petition Launch for a New Vision for Agriculture and Food Policy for the 21st Century:

When: Thursday, August 28, from 4:00pm-5:00pm
Where: Civic Center/Slow Food Nation Victory Garden
Cost: Free
Hosted in conjunction with Roots of Change (ROC), Slow Food Nation will introduce a Vision Statement for Agricultural and Food Policy for the 21st Century drafted by notable activists, practitioners, producers and eaters across the country. The Vision Statement will be a call to action to frame future food and agricultural policies, including the next Farm Bill, to benefit all Americans.
We'll share more information as it becomes available, and hope to see many of you in San Francisco this Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Going once, going twice...SOLD! Slow Food USA's 4th Annual Online Auction

It’s that time of year again. Members and community partners have been busy collecting donations for this month’s online auction, to be held June 16th-26th on eBay. This year we are thinking big, and have collected some really great items for you to bid on from as little as $25 up to $2,500. Bid on unique items such as a wood-fired oven from LA Oven Works, a pair of VIP tickets to any of this summer’s Jack Johnson concert tour dates, a two-night stay in Tuscany, autographed books, artisan food products, artwork, and meals at a number of “Slow-minded” restaurants and cocktail lounges.

Please visit our auction website to view a list of past donors and a hint of what’s to come in a few weeks.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tasting is believing

by Jay Walljasper
Ode Magazine
May 2008

"Esoteric practises, like burying manure inside cows’ horns, has put many people off biodynamic agriculture. Now the sensational flavour—and ecological benefits—of biodynamic produce is winning them over."

The rest of Jay Walljasper's article can be read here, learn why farmers and vintners around the world are turning to the practices of Rudolf Steiner.

Raising and Keeping Chickens for Eggs and Meat - a Slow Food Kaua'i Workshop

Sunday, the 29th of June
4:00pm-6:00pm at North Country Farms in Kilauea

Raising and Keeping Chickens for Eggs and Meat
Overview of a Small-Scale Operation

Led by Renaissance Man, Sky Roversi-Deal of North Country Farms

Please R.S.V.P. by the 22nd of June to, space is limited

$15 at the door ($12 for Slow Food members), light meal included

Chickens are one of the easiest, most economical, and most rewarding livestock to keep. Even a handful of hens can provide a family with enough fresh eggs for their personal use, and turn out a constant supply of organic fertilizer for the garden. A flock of 20 to 30 hens will supply well over a dozen eggs a day, and with the addition of a few roosters or broilers, your very own homegrown, healthy meat. Keeping a flock of chickens is a great introduction for children (or adults) to the agrarian ethos of sustainability and self-sufficiency, makes an aesthetic, pastoral addition to any back yard, and fully exemplifies the living, farm to fork spirit of Slow Food's philosophy.

Almost anyone can have their own flock of chickens. And thus, the aim of Sky's workshop is to take some of the mystery out of chicken raising for the novice, and provide some information and tips to help get you started.

Sky grew up on North Country Farms, where for many years it was his job to look after a flock of two dozen layers, including feeding, coop cleaning, and other chores. As a teenager he even once tried to hatch chicks of his own using a small incubator, with some success. Recently, he has learned about keeping birds for meat as well as eggs, and is currently raising a mixed breed, dual purpose flock of 12 hens and roosters, while also keeping a flock of 18 layers.