The MOF&G Online
Reviews and Resources
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
Timing, in life as well as comedy, is everything. Food Politics was published in 2002 just after Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation had shocked North America. Now, a new book from a respected nutritionist (Chair of New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition in Health) was saying that deception was endemic across the entire food industry, not just in the fast food portion. Primed on Fast Food Nation, the country was ready to hear Nestle's larger message.
People continue to read the book (currently in its seventh printing), not just for its surprising statistics, but for Nestle's style. Here's how she sums up the current dilemma of agribusiness:
"The food industry is in trouble, in the sense that it is in a hugely competitive environment. Our country has available in the food supply 3,900 calories a day for every man, woman, and child in the country. That's roughly twice what the actual population needs. Food companies are beholden to stockholders. They have to grow in order to maintain their stock prices. We already have 3,900 calories a day and 320,000 different food products in the American marketplace. They can't all keep growing in that situation. So all they can do is to try to get consumers to eat their products instead of somebody else's, or to eat more in general, and they're just terrific at doing that.
"Remember, that 3,900-calorie-a-day figure is 600 calories higher than it was in 1970. A hundred of those calories came just between 2001 and 2002. So the food supply is expanding, putting increasing pressure on food companies to sell more in a competitive environment."
Her experiences as managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition in Health are equally insightful:
"We were struggling not only with the complexity of nutritional advice but also with lobbying activities from food companies, that made it impossible for the surgeon general's recommendations to say eat less of anything. So if you look at those recommendations, those recommendations are: Choose lean meat. The report couldn't say: Eat less meat. Eat a diet moderate in sugar. The report could not say: Consume fewer soft drinks. This was, after all, the Reagan administration. It was very pro-business, and it really wasn't possible to put in any "eat less" messages. That is still true. If you look on the Web sites of the major federal organizations and agencies that are dealing with the obesity epidemic, not a single one of them says, 'Eat less.' They all talk about activity. Now, mind you, activity's very important and I'm for it. But I think we have to talk about diet as well."
If you haven't read this book yet, pick a rainy day when you're inside anyway and take the time to digest it thoroughly. If you've followed the National Organic Standards, the Terminator Technology and genetically modified organisms, nothing Nestle says in the sections on corporate "Undermining Dietary Advice" and "Working the System" will surprise you; however, she provides a larger context for these activities than most other Web sites or books. Nestle's section on "Exploiting Kids, Corrupting Schools" was the first comprehensive look in the general media at advertising to children and the exclusive soda contracts in public schools. Her work helped convince school districts to either revoke existing contacts or not sign new ones.
The section on "Deregulating Dietary Supplements" explains how the supplement industry managed to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), which allows supplement manufacturers to vary their ingredients without reflecting the change on their labels and to make health claims without proving that their products fulfill those claims.
"Inventing Techno-Foods" gives a history of fortified foods in the American diet.
Nestle's "Conclusion" summarizes the book, and an appendix on "Issues in Nutrition and Nutrition Research" explains how nutrition researchers design studies.
Although sustainable agriculture growers and consumers are considered small players (between 2 and 4% of all expenditures on food) in the food marketplace, they will never expand into the double digits unless the "small players" are fully aware of how the "big players" are controlling the game. Food Politics will give you that knowledge so that you can either market or purchase foods with a clear eye on the competition.
Frost Heaves-A Year of Farming in Levant, Maine
E.B. White wrote a collection of essays observing daily life on his coastal Maine farm. The volume was published in 1944 and was called One Man's Meat, after the original column where the essays appeared. The collection draws a simpler Maine as it chronicles one New York family's adaptation to life on a salt water farm, in the classic voice of the author. White did not mince words. He was, after all, the co-father of the terse (and college required) Elements of Style.
White may now have a protégé, not solely in style, but in subject matter as well. John Chisholm, an organic farmer in Levant, recently completed a book of nonfiction stories titled Frost Heaves--A Year of Farming in Levant, Maine, published by The Levant Heritage Library.
With a writing voice reminiscent of White, Chisholm offers a year of his farming trials in straightforward words. He weaves family life throughout, describing his son ruining their tractor not once, but twice; his wife's consolation after an injury sustained on their shed roof; the way the women in their household are its salvation. The reader is blessed by an intimate view of family life. The stories evoke a simpler Maine, a place with dogs curled by the wood stove and ripe apples on the trees outside.
But Chisholm does not candy-coat his experiences. This is an honest portrayal of the struggles inherent to small farming: beavers flooding the fields, hornet nests, leaky roofs, deteriorating equipment, and of course, the joys of wood heat. The stories have educational value, perhaps, to those who have never spread manure in the spring: "It's important to spread the manure before the grass is up, but after the frost leaves. If it's spread too early, the nutrients wash away with the snow. If it's spread too late, the hay smells like manure when it's cut. The cows won't like that. You won't either." There are humorous observations: "People…drive by the house and gaze at the property. 'Oh, look at the pretty apple trees,' I imagine them saying. Their car windows are always rolled up. Cows are pretty to look at but not to smell. In addition, flies can't bother you through the glass…"
A moment during a power loss makes one yearn for simpler times: "With the furnace out, the refrigerator off, the pump not working, the radio, TV and stereo all silent, the subtle sound of cards falling can be noticed. My son hangs over my shoulder and gives my hand away in excitement. 'Play the five, Dad.'"
In this slim paperback, each essay is prefaced by a photograph of the farm taken from the same location on the same day of each month--a fascinating study of seasonal light in Maine. February is February, white and frozen. March truly is March, right down to the edge of mud peeking through the snow. One can smell the thaw of damp mud in the air. July's image makes a person ache for that sunlit afternoon of swimming in the pond.
Frost Heaves does not involve farming politics, regulations or technical detail, but it does provide an interesting, yearlong trip into family life on a small organic farm. E.B. White, after his time spent making mistakes, grew to love his Maine saltwater farm, and in fact, never left it. His adoration showed in his writing. So too for Chisholm, as we hear hints of awe and admiration for all those who "can't escape manure. It's part of living."
Two Farms is just what you need before going to sleep at night. Whether you've been busy during the day getting beans planted, harvesting hay, chasing sheep, or taking action against immoral public policies, Janet Galle's quiet essays on country life will calm and nourish you and bring you back to a state of grounded peace.
The book is a collection of about 80 essays that Galle wrote for The Times Record in Brunswick, Maine. It is, she says, "essentially the stories of our family, our animals, and the interactions with the farm and natural environment around us. We lived for 17 years on a small saltwater farm and in 1985 moved to our large Bowdoinham farm which we call Apple Creek; the direction our lives have taken is a direct result of living on these two farms in Maine. My husband grew up on a large truck farm in Ohio, and we moved to Maine in 1963. Although we market our sheep and hay, our major purpose in farming has been to feed our family well, which we do from our organic vegetable garden."
Galle writes poignantly about her sheep. "The first and the one hundredth birth are not much different. They are all a wonder." She laughs about her experiences with geese and wonders about the English carol in which someone gives his true love six geese a-laying for Christmas. "Six geese a-laying are more appropriate for one's worst enemy. I know. I speak from experience." Anyone who has tried to raise sweet corn or chickens in an area populated by "SWAT teams" of raccoons, as Galle calls them, will sympathize with descriptions of her adventures with the masked bandits.
Each season brings deep reflection from this farmer/gardener/teacher (of English and Science). "November is the month which strips the land bare," she writes, "and demands that I look at it. It is now that I must see the land for what it is-my life support system-and I must respond to that seeing and consider my place in the cycle of things."
Having offered land, feed and shelter to three bunnies myself, I enjoyed Galle's description of Richard, her semi-tame but cage-free rabbit, "…a creature who didn't hog the grain bin, didn't run about honking and chasing everyone, and didn't act like a scatterbrained chicken. This newest farm member was silent, polite, and ate very little." Galle watches Richard lick the face of a newborn lamb and writes, "This unimportant little rabbit has shown me that caring for a good friend may be the most important thing I do today."
Reading about Galle's son Jacob and his desire to plant a weeping willow "for pirate wars and Indian hideouts" reminded me of my own daughter's desire to plant a weeping willow here on her sixteenth birthday. And Galle's story of crawling on the ground to try to get a cat's eye view of the world is wonderful!
If you need a dose of warmth and sanity in your life, pick up this book and read a few short sections each night. These and the illustrations by Galle's son Arek will delight you.
Living Within Our Means Beyond the Fossil Fuel Credit Card By Kamyar Enshayan Copyright 2005 $12 & $2.50 shipping for first book, $1 for each additional book, from UNI Local Food Project, University of Northern Iowa, Center for Energy & Environmental Education, Cedar Falls IA 50614-0293; (319) 273-7575; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former MOFGA apprentice Kamyar Enshayan earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and now directs the very successful Local Food Project at the University of Northern Iowa. He is "an ecologist by marriage" to Laura Jackson, a conservation biologist at UNI; and he is a seriously funny guy.
In Living Within Our Means, Enshayan has combined and updated five important essays that he wrote for the Cedar Falls Times with striking old and new photos [including some of ice harvesting in Richmond, Maine; of a bicyclist riding past a gas pump ("passing gas"); and more]. The result is a strong, attractive, short, sometimes funny and always serious book that you can read in an hour and think about for days and months and years.
In her introduction to the book, Laura Jackson writes, "Individuals acting alone are too small and relatively powerless, making virtuous personal sacrifices in energy savings while others live it up, high on the energy hog. The Federal Government may be too large and cumbersome-not to mention fatally indebted to Big Oil-to initiate any useful change. So it makes sense that communities-small towns and cities-are in the best position to plan for…the post-peak oil era. So far, it doesn't look like anyone is going to do this for us."
As an engineer and city councilman, Enshayan has thought of ways for communities to plan. In one essay, he marvels at how engineers of the past made and used ice houses, which functioned elegantly without external power supplies (except human and animal power). Even his native Iran used ice pits. Then, with oil and gas, we "drifted into using the fossil fuel credit card for everything." Now "we should go ahead with aspects of 'back then' that were already advanced" and "live within our means energy-wise."
In "The Oil Happy-Hour," Enshayan says that now that the party is almost over, "we need to get busy and figure out a sane exit strategy" so that when the oil era ends, we have a "soft landing" rather than a "nasty crash." He laments the silence of politicians and the lack of curricula in "hire" education on the topic. "Makes Y2K, a software issue, look like a picnic; we're talking hardware here!" he exclaims.
"The Emperor's New Energy" critiques alternative sources of energy, while "The Magic of Ethanol" shows, through words and through photos of severe soil erosion on corn acreage, some of the issues associated with biological fuels.
The last essay, "Living on Solar Income: Cedar Falls, Iowa in 2050," is my favorite. Here Enshayan describes a walkable, bicyclable city without leaf blowers and lawn mowers, with hens and clothes lines in back yards; where SUVs and vans "already equipped with entertainment centers and cell phones" have been converted to efficiency apartments for college students; where free land and tax incentives promote food production; where conservation is combined with wind, solar and hydro power to create a good life after AP (the Age of Plunder, as Russell Libby calls it; as distinguised from BP, Before Petroleum).
I urge you to buy a copy of this book for your local selectmen, planning board and/or library. In the process, you'll be supporting the UNI Local Food Project and the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Campaign, which receive contributions for the book.
Planting the Rights Seed: A Human Rights Perspective on Agriculture Trade and the WTO
Published by 3D ® Trade, Human Rights, Equitable Economy and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
This report is the first in a series designed to analyze the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). "The trade liberalization agenda promoted by the WTO is seriously undermining people and their human rights," says Carin Smaller, author of the report and associate at IATP's Trade Information Program. "It's time for governments to start negotiating trade policies that focus on improving people's lives rather than simply expanding trade."
Approximately 70 percent of the world's poorest people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their income, food supply and livelihoods. Yet agricultural policies around the world focus largely on increasing production and trade rather than on livelihoods. Human rights law provides tools that can help define a global food system that guarantees human rights for all. All WTO members have ratified at least one of the international human rights treaties and should use these instruments when designing trade policies, the report concludes.
The WTO AoA came into force in 1995 and among its aims are to raise living standards, ensure full employment and increase incomes. The AoA is specifically meant to further the WTO's aims by "establishing a fair and market-oriented agricultural trade system." The report claims that these aims are not being realized and found four ways in which the WTO AoA adversely impacts human rights:
1. It promotes the "right to export" over human rights.
2. It fails to tackle corporate control. In fact, trade liberalization has increased the market power of transnational agribusiness while taking power away from farmers.
3. It allows agriculture export dumping at artificially low prices to continue. The AoA rules do not address the root causes of dumping: excess production and the market power of corporations. Dumping hurts developing-country farmers who cannot protect themselves against under-priced imports.
4. It locks developing countries into an uneven playing field, which deprives them of the policy space they need to take steps to manage the flow of imports or prevent dumped products from abroad.
The report found that the WTO AoA does contain provisions that could protect particular countries -- or groups of people within countries -- from the harmful effects of trade liberalization. Although these tools have not been aggressively implemented, they do offer openings within current trade rules to allow WTO members to meet their human rights obligations.
The background report recommends:
"To promote true development and fulfill human rights, States must implement policies that have an explicit focus on the needs and capabilities of poor people," the report concludes. "This does not preclude the expansion of trade, as trade can be a valuable tool for development. It does, however, require that trade policy be clearly people-centered. Trade seen as an end in itself will not improve enjoyment of human rights or contribute to lasting economic or social development."
Resources: Carin Smaller, Geneva; 41 22 789 0734; email@example.com; Caroline Dommen, 3D, Geneva; 41 79 412 7207; firstname.lastname@example.org; Ben Lilliston, U.S.; 612-870-3416; email@example.com.
NOFA Handbooks on Organic Growing
The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) has produced 10 handbooks of organic principles and practices, written by Northeast farmers for organic farmers and gardeners. Volumes are 60 to 108 pages, 6" x 9", shiny softcovers. They are:
Books are $7.95 & $2 postage each. Order online at www.nofa.org or by mail from Elaine Peterson, Dept. Ic, NOFA Handbooks, 411 Sheldon Rd., Barre MA 01005. For more information, call 978-355-2853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vegetable MD Online
Cornell University has posted fact sheets, photos, news articles and more about diseases of major vegetable crops at http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/. The site also lists disease-resistant varieties. Some of the information is available in Spanish.
Organic Ag Info Online OrganicAgInfo.org is a free database of research reports, farmer-to-farmer information, outreach publications and more. It can be searched by key words, region, crop or livestock type. Growers can even upload information that they think would be useful after creating a user name and password. The information is reviewed before being posted. OrganicAgInfo.org is hosted by North Carolina State University and was funded by a grant to the Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research and the Organic Agriculture Consortium from the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems through the USDA. FMI: Kathy Bielek at email@example.com or Brise Tencer at Brise@ofrf.org.
Web Site Helps Grow Farm Businesses
The National Farmers Union has launched E-cooperatives.com, which allows consumers to locate and purchase products from family-farm producers, their cooperatives and other rural businesses. The site maintains a growing, searchable database listing farmer controlled businesses categorized by general products, location, growing practices, specialty products and niche items. Individuals and co-ops can have their farm or business included in the database by completing an online form describing their farm or businesses. Basic charter listings are free. For more information, see www.nfu.org/newsroom_news_release.cfm?id=1289.
Source: ATTRA News, April 6, 2005
Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management
By Brian Caldwell, Emily Brown Rosen, Eric Sideman, Anthony Shelton and Chris Smart
A new resource loaded with information on how to control insects and diseases will be available by mid-June this year. This guide was developed as a useful reference for organic farmers and agricultural professionals searching for information on best practices, available materials and, perhaps most importantly, the efficacy of materials that are permitted for use in organic systems. A major objective of this guide has been to review recent literature for published trials on material efficacy in order to provide reliable information that can be used by farmers to effectively manage pests. Another goal was to identify materials that have shown promise but need more research.
The Guide is divided into three sections. The first provides cultural information and describes the best pest and disease management practices for a number of important vegetable crop families. Materials are recommended for pests and situations where cultural methods fail to meet the need.
The second section is a set of generic fact sheets about specific materials that can be used in organic systems. The fact sheets provide background information about the type of material, how it is made, how it works, and the types of pests it will control. It also provides application guidelines for each material's use and describes its effects on the environment and human health. Efficacy is summarized and graphed based on data from trials reported in Arthropod Management Tests, Fungicide and Nematicide Tests and other sources. This rating groups materials into three categories of effectiveness (good, fair and poor control). Results of studies in which a material was combined or alternated with another could not be classified and are not included, although in practice such a strategy may be effective.
The last section contains appendices with useful information about additional practices, such as plant resistance, trap cropping, spraying guidelines, habitats for beneficial insects, the concepts of induced or systemic acquired resistance, materials exempt from pesticide regulation, and additional resources.
To purchase this guide, contact the MOFGA office at 568-4142 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The price had not been determined when we went to press.
Organic Agricultural Products: Trade and Marketing, by Mary V. Gold, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. This is a CD with resources, links to marketing information, recent studies on market shifts and consumer preferences; laws and regulations pertaining to organic sales; and more. Free from email@example.com or 301-504-6559.
2005 Cornell Guide for Integrated Field Crop Management. $11.50 & $5 shipping for first copy from www.cce.cornell.edu/store; firstname.lastname@example.org; 607-255-2080; or check or money order payable to Cornell University at Resource Ctr., PO Box 3884, Ithaca NY 14852-3884.
"Understanding the Dichotomy Between Industrial Agriculture and Sustainable Agriculture: Types and Characteristics of Maine Farms," by Stewart Smith, Pamela Bell and Andrew Files. Report about the character and degree of sustainability on Maine farms, with profiles and other farm-based information to help farmers choose practices. At www.umaine.edu/mafes/elec_pubs/sare/ SARE_Final_Report_Oct04.pdf.
Directory for Organic Cotton and Organic Cotton Products, at organiccottondirectory.net/. One-quarter of all insecticides and one-tenth of all pesticides are applied to conventionally grown cotton. This directory promotes sustainable alternatives and links the worldwide cotton chain, from growers to gins, mills, manufacturers and retailers. First compiled by the Pesticide Action Network North America and now expanded and maintained by PAN Germany, the directory provides information on organic certification, cotton production and retail outlets in a wide range of countries. Contact Pestizid Aktions-Netzwerk e.V. (PAN Germany), Nernstweg 32, D - 22765 Hamburg, (49 40) 399 19 10-0, fax (49 40) 390 75 20; email@example.com; www.pan-germany.org/.
Free Video on Poultry Diseases
The USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has a free, 15-minute video to help small-flock poultry owners and bird fanciers prevent exotic Newcastle disease (END) and avian influenza. The video is part of USDA's "Biosecurity for the Birds" campaign, which was created after an outbreak of END in California and other Western states in 2002 and 2003. It was designed to inform noncommercial poultry owners and bird fanciers about the signs of serious poultry diseases; prompt them to report sick birds; and provide them with information on keeping their birds safe and healthy.
The video also is available in DVD format. Either can be ordered from (301) 734-7799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Agriculture Today, April 17, 2005; Maine Dept. of Agriculture; www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/nb4.htm.
Proceedings from the Growing Together Conference for Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan, November 2004, are now available. Transcripts of Elizabeth Henderson's keynote address, CR Lawn's closing remarks, and notes from many workshops are in the 32-page booklet. ($8 postpaid) A CD including a PDF file of the Proceedings and pictures from the conference is available for $3.50 postpaid. ($10 for both) Contact CSA-MI, 3480 Potter Rd, Bear Lake, MI 49614 or 231-889-3216. No credit cards.
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