The last words of the thesis are being written, summer plans are being made, and I’m just waiting with bated breath to see which international organizations would let me work for them (for free!) in the next year to see how institutions can support sustainable agricultural practices. If you have any leads – please do comment 😉
As for now, let’s proceed with the latest reads! There are some good ones there.
First, “Fed Up” is now in theaters and promising to be the next cross between “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Food Inc.”. Check out the trailer below:
As far as I can tell, it brings an interesting perspective on corporate power, influence and advertizing into the food policy debate, and its producers – including Katie Couric – seem legit. I would love to hear your opinions on it!
This Salon interview with Couric highlights some reasons why she decided to get involved in the issue. The title (“Katie Couric vs. Big Food: She’s a strong feminist, but not an activist”) places a strange focus in my opinion – why highlight the feminist vs. activist self-identification as the single most important question of the interview? – but some other parts were fascinating. For example, how she felt stepping into the spotlight as supporting an industry-critical movie:
Yes, it’s a little David-and-Goliath and I think I would have had to be more cognizant about sponsor backlash and about the commercial side of my business than I am now. Maybe it will come back to haunt me — my involvement in this film — but at this point in my career I just thought to be able to… I had no idea that it was going to, as the film sort of took shape, what the end product was going to be. And I think it’s a pretty tough look at this interaction between government, big food, politics, money, commercial interests, etc. But I think at some point public health has to trump commercial interests. So I was willing to take that chance.
As well as the general premise of the movie:
But as “Fed Up” explores, the American food system has been rigged to create obesity for more than 30 years: three decades of nutritional lies and half-truths, of the illusory cheapness of fast food, of Pizza Hut and Mickey D’s replacing school lunches, and of a confused and conflicted government policy in which agribusiness has trumped public health. It’s not actually an inexplicable coincidence that the introduction of reduced-fat processed foods around the end of the 1970s corresponds closely with the beginnings of the obesity epidemic. Nor is it accidental that the nutritional advice dispensed by the Department of Agriculture and by the major food corporations has emphasized the discredited notion of “energy balance” – calories in vs. calories out – and restricting fat intake. That rests, first of all, on the ludicrous assumption that all calories are identical and interchangeable, whether they come from hamburgers, almonds or root beer, and it also draws no distinction between various kinds of fats with far different nutritional profiles.
This differentiation of different types of foods and diaries is also brought up in a recent NY Times opinion piece on why we are “Always Hungry” – according to the authors, it’s because we are eating too many refined carbohydrates which spike our insulin levels and lead to the storage of the calories absorbed directly into fat cells, leaving our system still starved – therefore, we overeat:
The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body’s requirements. If we look at it this way, it’s a distribution problem: We have an abundance of calories, but they’re in the wrong place. As a result, the body needs to increase its intake. We get hungrier because we’re getting fatter.
Now, this research should be taken with a grain of salt – as the authors point out, the few studies that have investigated the correlation have rejected the hypothesis, but have also all been flawed in one way or another. Still, interesting to see how little we still understand about nutrition.
I did recently point out that National Geographic has a new ‘Food’ section, but wanted to remind you that they are constantly updating it – and doing a great job! Right now, there is an interesting article on the new American Dustbowl, a video on the frequency of foodborne illnesses [fun fact: in the US, 80% of foodborne illnesses are caused by unknown pathogens…], and a photo-spread of the inside of the American food system. Cool stuff!
On Sunday, there was another great opinion piece in the Times on “What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong” (do you notice I just got a Times subscription?). The main message: if we want farmers to produce in permaculture, agro-ecological or organic ways – which all are built on crop rotation – we have to be willing to provide a market for all of the rotation crops.
Diversifying our diet to include more local grains and legumes is a delicious first step to improving our food system. Millet and rye are an easy substitute for rice or pasta. But that addresses only the low-hanging fruit of Klaas’s farm. More challenging is to think about how to honor the other underutilized parts of his rotations — classic cover crops like cowpeas and mustard, which fertilize the soil to ensure healthy harvests in the future.
Today, the best farmers are tying up valuable real estate for long periods of time (in an agonizingly short growing season) simply to benefit their soil. Imagine if Macy’s reserved half of its shelf space at Christmas for charitable donations. A noble idea. But profitable? Not so much. By creating a market for these crops, we can provide more value for the farmer and for our own diets, while supporting the long-term health of the land.
Such a simple point, but I have to confess I didn’t really think about it too much before reading.
And finally, an oceanographer sitting in bed with a cold did us all a favor and summarized the latest IPCC climate report. In haikus. With matching watercolor paintings.
[the video has no sound, so I would suggest this soundtrack for adequate dramatic undertones.]
My life is complete. Check out the full collection here.