MoJo Author Feeds: Tom Philpott | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en 40 Percent of Restaurant Workers Live in Near-Poverty <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It isn't just <a href="" target="_blank">fast-food empires</a> that rely on a l<a href="" target="_blank">ow-paid, disempowered, and quite-often impoverished workforce</a>. As a stomach-turning new report (PDF viewable <a href="">here</a>) from the Economic Policy Institute shows, the entire restaurant industry hides a dirty little labor secret under the tasteful lighting of the dining room.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/10-percent_1.jpg"></div> <p>Here are some highlights:</p> <p><strong>&bull; The restaurant industry is a massive and growing source of employment.</strong> It accounts for more than 9 percent of US private-sector jobs&mdash;up from a little more than 7 percent in 1990. That's nearly a 30 percent gain.</p> <p><strong>&bull; The industry's wages have stagnated at an extremely low level. </strong>Restaurant workers' median wage stands at $10 per hour, tips included&mdash;and hasn't budged, in inflation-adjusted terms, since 2000. For nonrestaurant US workers, the median hourly wage is $18. That means the median restaurant worker makes 44 percent less than other workers. Benefits are also rare&mdash;just 14.4 percent of restaurant workers have employer-sponsored health insurance and 8.4 percent have pensions, vs. 48.7 percent and 41.8 percent, respectively, for other workers</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/poverty-line.jpg"></div> <p><strong>&bull; Unionization rates are minuscule.</strong> Presumably, it would be more difficult to keep wages throttled at such a low level if restaurant workers could bargain collectively. But just 1.8 percent of restaurant workers belong to unions, about one-seventh of the rate for nonrestaurant workers. Restaurant workers who do belong to unions are much more likely to have benefits than their nonunion peers.</p> <p>&bull; <strong>As a result, the people who prepare and serve you food are pretty likely to live in poverty. </strong>The overall poverty rate stands at 6.3 percent. For restaurant workers, the rate is 16.7 percent. For families, researchers often look at twice the poverty threshold as proxy for what it takes to make ends meet, EPI reports. More than 40 percent of restaurant workers live below twice the poverty line&mdash;that's double the rate of nonrestaurant workers.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/wage.jpg"></div> <p><strong>&bull; Opportunity for advancement is pretty limited. </strong>I was surprised to learn that for every single occupation with restaurants&mdash;from dishwashers to chefs to managers&mdash;the median hourly wage is much less than the national average of $18. The highest paid occupation is manager, with a median hourly wage of $15.42. The lowest is "cashiers and counter attendants" (median wage: $8.23), while the most prevalent of restaurant workers, waiters and waitresses, who make up nearly a quarter of the industry's workforce, make a median wage of just $10.15. The one that has gained the most glory in recent years, "chefs and head cooks," offers a median wage of just $12.34.</p> <p>&bull; <strong>Industry occupations are highly skewed along gender and race lines.</strong> Higher-paid occupations are more likely to be held by men&mdash;chefs, cooks, and managers, for example, are 86 percent, 73 percent, and 53 percent male, respectively. Lower-paid positions tend to be dominated by women: for example, host and hostess (84.9 percent female), cashiers and counter attendants (75.1 percent), and waiters and waitresses (70.8 percent). I took up this topic in a <a href="" target="_blank">piece</a> on the vexed gender politics of culinary prestige last year. Meanwhile, "blacks are disproportionately likely to be cashiers/counter attendants, the lowest-paid occupation in the industry," while "Hispanics are disproportionately likely to be dishwashers, dining room attendants, or cooks, also relatively low-paid occupations," the report found.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/health-insurance.jpg"></div> <p><strong>&bull; Restaurants lean heavily on the most disempowered workers of all&mdash;undocumented immigrants. </strong>Overall, 15.7 percent of US restaurant workers are undocumented, nearly twice the rate for nonrestaurant sectors. Fully a third of dishwashers, nearly 30 percent of nonchef cooks, and more than a quarter of bussers are undocumented, the report found. So a huge swath of the people who feed you pay payroll taxes and sales taxes yet don't receive the rights of citizenship.</p> <p>Thus you can't opt out of supporting deplorable labor conditions for the people who feed you simply by refusing to pass through the Golden Arches or to enter the Burger King's realm.</p> <p>So what can you do? One thing is to seek out restaurants that explicitly pay their workers a living wage. Two I can think of offhand: Austin's <a href="">Black Star Co-op</a>, a cooperatively owned gastro-pub that's managed by a "workers assembly" as a "democratic self-managed workplace." Another is Chapel Hill's excellent <a href="">Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe</a>. I'd love to hear about more examples in comments.</p> <p>But these examples are vanishingly rare. The only real solution to the industry's bottom-feeding labor practices are legislative, the EPI report makes clear. That means reforms like a much higher minimum wage and a path to legal status for undocumented workers. Anyone who wants to learn more about working conditions in our nation's eateries should read Saru Jayaraman's outstanding 2013 book <em><a href=";printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=inauthor:%22Saru+Jayaraman%22&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=Jez8U7ukCcW-8gHl_YC4BA&amp;ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">Behind the Kitchen Door</a>. </em>(Read the <em>Mother Jones</em> review <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p> <p>And just for fun, here's the <em>Mother Jones</em> fast-food wage calculator, which will give you a sense of what some workers are up against:</p> <div><img alt="" class="image" id="fast-food-banner" src="/files/big-mac-02_2.png"></div> <div id="fast-food-calculator"> <form id="calculate_this"><label for="household">How many people are in your household?</label> <select id="selected_household" name="household"><option value="1P0C">One Adult No Children</option><option value="1P1C">One Adult One Child</option><option value="1P2C">One Adult Two Children</option><option value="1P3C">One Adult Three Children</option><option value="2P0C">Two Adults No Children</option><option value="2P1C">Two Adults One Child</option><option value="2P2C">Two Adults Two Children</option><option value="2P3C">Two Adults Three Children</option></select><label for="state">Which state do you live in?</label> <select id="selected_state" name="state"></select><label for="locale">Which area do you live in? (Area data not available for households without children.)</label><select id="selected_locale" name="locale"></select><label for="salary">How much do you make in a year?</label> $<input id="input_salary" name="salary" type="number" value="26000"><input id="calculate" type="submit" value="Submit">&nbsp;</form> <div id="calculated" style="display:none;"> <p>In order to make $<span id="salary">___</span> a year, the typical fast-food worker has to work <span id="salary_hours_per_week">__</span> hours a week.</p> <p>A household like yours in <span id="fast_food_calculator_locale">___,</span> <span id="fast_food_calculator_state">___</span> needs to earn <strong>$<span id="fast_food_calculator_living_wage_annual">__</span></strong> annually to make a secure yet modest living. A fast-food worker working full time would have to earn $<span id="living_wage_hourly">__</span> an hour to make that much.</p> <p>The average fast-food employee works less than <strong>25</strong> hours a week. To make a living wage in <span id="fast_food_calculator_locale2">___,</span> <span id="fast_food_calculator_state2">___</span> at current median wages, s/he would have to work <span id="living_hours_per_week">__</span> hours a week.</p> <p>In <span id="living_hours_per_week2">__</span> hours, McDonald's serves <span id="mc_d_customers_served">__</span> customers and makes <strong>$</strong><span id="mc_d_money_earned">__</span>. That's about <span id="big_mac_count">__</span> Big Macs.</p> </div> </div> <!-- data is in here --><script src=""></script><script> var median_fast_food_worker_wage = 8.94; // Source: National Employment Law Project, July 2013; var work_weeks_per_year = 52; var months_per_year = 12; var average_fast_food_worker_hours_per_week = 24.4; var average_weeks_in_a_month = 4.348; var hours_worked_at_full_time = 40; var days_in_2012 = 366; //leap year var McDonalds_customers_per_day_in_2012 = 69000000; // Source: McDonalds 2012 Annual Report var hours_in_day = 24; var mcD_systemwide_restaurants = 34480; var mcD_served_per_hour = McDonalds_customers_per_day_in_2012 / hours_in_day; var mcD_earnings_in_2012 = 27567000000; // Source: McDonalds 2012 Annual Report var mcD_earned_per_hour = Math.round(mcD_earnings_in_2012 / days_in_2012 / hours_in_day); var cost_of_big_mac = 4; var first_state = 'AK'; var first_locale = 'Anchorage, AK HUD Metro FMR Area'; var state_abbr = { 'AL' : 'Alabama', 'AK' : 'Alaska', 'AS' : 'America Samoa', 'AZ' : 'Arizona', 'AR' : 'Arkansas', 'CA' : 'California', 'CO' : 'Colorado', 'CT' : 'Connecticut', 'DE' : 'Delaware', 'DC' : 'District of Columbia', 'FM' : 'Micronesia1', 'FL' : 'Florida', 'GA' : 'Georgia', 'GU' : 'Guam', 'HI' : 'Hawaii', 'ID' : 'Idaho', 'IL' : 'Illinois', 'IN' : 'Indiana', 'IA' : 'Iowa', 'KS' : 'Kansas', 'KY' : 'Kentucky', 'LA' : 'Louisiana', 'ME' : 'Maine', 'MH' : 'Islands1', 'MD' : 'Maryland', 'MA' : 'Massachusetts', 'MI' : 'Michigan', 'MN' : 'Minnesota', 'MS' : 'Mississippi', 'MO' : 'Missouri', 'MT' : 'Montana', 'NE' : 'Nebraska', 'NV' : 'Nevada', 'NH' : 'New Hampshire', 'NJ' : 'New Jersey', 'NM' : 'New Mexico', 'NY' : 'New York', 'NC' : 'North Carolina', 'ND' : 'North Dakota', 'OH' : 'Ohio', 'OK' : 'Oklahoma', 'OR' : 'Oregon', 'PW' : 'Palau', 'PA' : 'Pennsylvania', 'PR' : 'Puerto Rico', 'RI' : 'Rhode Island', 'SC' : 'South Carolina', 'SD' : 'South Dakota', 'TN' : 'Tennessee', 'TX' : 'Texas', 'UT' : 'Utah', 'VT' : 'Vermont', 'VI' : 'Virgin Island', 'VA' : 'Virginia', 'WA' : 'Washington', 'WV' : 'West Virginia', 'WI' : 'Wisconsin', 'WY' : 'Wyoming' } var selected_state = jQuery("#selected_state"); var selected_locale = jQuery("#selected_locale"); var selected_household = jQuery("#selected_household"); for (var state in bfjo) { var option = jQuery('<option value="' + state + '">' + state_abbr[state] + ''); selected_state.append(option); } var fill_locale_selector = function(state_object) { selected_locale.html(""); for (var locale in state_object) { var option = jQuery('<option value="' + locale + '">' + locale.replace(/,.*$/, '') + ''); selected_locale.append(option); } } fill_locale_selector(bfjo[first_state]) selected_state.bind("change", function() { var state = $("#selected_state option:selected").val(); var state_object = bfjo[state]; fill_locale_selector(state_object); } ) /* var fill_household_selector = function(locale_object) { var selected_household = jQuery("#selected_household"); selected_household.html(""); for (var household in locale_object) { var option = jQuery('<option value="' + household + '">' + household + ''); selected_household.append(option); } } fill_household_selector(bfjo[first_state][first_locale]) */ selected_locale.bind("change", function() { var state = $("#selected_state option:selected").val(); var locale = $("#selected_locale option:selected").val(); var locale_object = bfjo[state][locale]; //fill_household_selector(locale_object); } ) enable_disable_locale = function() { var household = $("#selected_household option:selected").val(); if (household === '1P0C' || household === '2P0C') { selected_locale.attr('disabled', 'disabled'); } else { selected_locale.attr('disabled', ''); } } selected_household.bind("change", function() { enable_disable_locale(); } ); enable_disable_locale(); jQuery("#calculate_this").bind("submit", function() { var state = $("#selected_state option:selected").val(); var locale = $("#selected_locale option:selected").val(); var household = $("#selected_household option:selected").val(); var salary = parseInt($("#input_salary").val()); var annual_living_wage = bfjo[state][locale][household]; console.log(state); console.log(locale); console.log(household); console.log(annual_living_wage); var hourly_for_living = annual_living_wage / months_per_year / average_weeks_in_a_month / hours_worked_at_full_time; var hours_to_live_per_month = annual_living_wage / months_per_year / median_fast_food_worker_wage; var weeks_to_live_per_month = hours_to_live_per_month / hours_worked_at_full_time; var salary_monthly = salary / months_per_year; var hours_to_salary_monthly = salary_monthly / median_fast_food_worker_wage; var weeks_to_salary_monthly = hours_to_salary_monthly / hours_worked_at_full_time; var hours_living_a_week = hours_to_live_per_month / average_weeks_in_a_month; var hours_salary_a_week = hours_to_salary_monthly / average_weeks_in_a_month; var commify = function(number) { while (/(\d+)(\d{3})/.test(number.toString())){ number = number.toString().replace(/(\d+)(\d{3})/, '$1'+','+'$2'); } return number; } var salary_string = commify(salary); var yearly_living_wage_string = commify(annual_living_wage); /* while (/(\d+)(\d{3})/.test(salary_string.toString())){ salary_string = salary_string.toString().replace(/(\d+)(\d{3})/, '$1'+','+'$2'); } while (/(\d+)(\d{3})/.test(yearly_living_wage_string.toString())){ yearly_living_wage_string = yearly_living_wage_string.toString().replace(/(\d+)(\d{3})/, '$1'+','+'$2'); } */ jQuery("#calculated").show(); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_hours").text(Math.round(hours_to_live_per_month)); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_state").text(state_abbr[state]); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_state2").text(state_abbr[state]); if (household === "1P0C" || household === "2P0C") { jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_locale").text(''); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_locale2").text(''); } else { jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_locale").text(locale.replace(/,.*$/, '') + ','); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_locale2").text(locale.replace(/,.*$/, '') + ','); } jQuery("#salary").text(salary_string); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_time").text(Math.round(hours_to_salary_monthly)); jQuery("#living_hours_per_week").text(Math.round(hours_living_a_week)); jQuery("#living_hours_per_week2").text(Math.round(hours_living_a_week)); jQuery("#salary_hours_per_week").text(Math.round(hours_salary_a_week)); jQuery("#fast_food_calculator_living_wage_annual").text(yearly_living_wage_string); jQuery("#mc_d_customers_served").text( commify( Math.round( Math.round(hours_living_a_week) * mcD_served_per_hour ) ) ); jQuery("#mc_d_money_earned").text( commify(Math.round(Math.round(hours_living_a_week) * mcD_earned_per_hour)) ); jQuery("#big_mac_count").text( commify( Math.round( Math.round(hours_living_a_week) * mcD_earned_per_hour / cost_of_big_mac ) ) ); console.log(hourly_for_living); var hourly_for_living_clean = Math.round(hourly_for_living * 100) .toString().replace(/(\d+)(\d{2})/, '$1'+'.'+'$2'); jQuery("#living_wage_hourly").text(hourly_for_living_clean); return false; } ) </script></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:00:09 +0000 Tom Philpott 259191 at Now Your Food Has Fake DNA in It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Like many novel technologies in this age of TED Talks and Silicon Valley triumphalism, synthetic biology&mdash;synbio for short&mdash;floats on a sea of hype. One of its founding scientists, Boston University biomedical engineer <a href="" target="_blank">James Collins</a>, has called it "<a href="" target="_blank">genetic engineering on steroids</a>." Whereas garden-variety genetic engineers busy themselves moving genes from one organism into another&mdash;to create tomatoes that don't bruise easily, for example&mdash;synthetic biologists <a href="" target="_blank">generate new DNA sequences</a> the way programmers write code, creating new life-forms.</p> <p>It may sound like science fiction, but synbio companies have already performed modest miracles. The California-based firm <a href="" target="_blank">Amyris</a>, for example, has harnessed the technology to make a malaria drug that now comes from a tropical plant. In order to do this, company scientists leveraged the well-known transformative powers of yeast, which humans have used for millennia to turn, say, the sugar in grape juice into alcohol: They figured out how the wormwood tree generates artemisinic acid&mdash;the compound that makes up the globe's last consistently effective anti-malarial treatment&mdash;and programmed a yeast strain to do the same thing.</p> <p>And there could be more innovations on the horizon. In 2011, <a href="" target="_blank">Craig Venter</a>, the scientist/entrepreneur who spearheaded the mapping of the human genome, vowed to synthesize an algae that would use sunlight to unlock the energy in carbon dioxide. If successful, this attempt to replicate photosynthesis could transform CO<sub>2</sub> from climate-heating scourge into a limitless source of energy. Synthetic biologists also aim to conjure up <a href="" target="_blank">self-growing buildings</a>, streetlight-replacing <a href=";_r=0" target="_blank">glowing trees</a>, and medicines tailored to your body's needs. No wonder the market for synbio is expected to reach $13.4 billion by 2019.</p> <p>So how soon can you expect glowing trees to light up your block? Well, no one knows. That's because thus far it has been much easier to create novel life-forms than to control how they function. Venter, for example, hasn't yet figured out how to cheaply grow enough of his synbio algae to make it competitive with fossil fuels. And malaria is rapidly developing resistance to artemisin drugs, which could eventually render the synbio replicant as useless as the real deal.</p> <p>But while synbio likely won't sort out our climate and health woes anytime soon, it just might transform our&hellip;ice cream. By creating yeasts that produce high-end flavorings, a Swiss company called <a href="" target="_blank">Evolva has created synbio vanillin</a>, the main flavor compound in the vanilla bean&mdash;and it insists its product tastes much better than the petroleum-derived synthetic vanillin that now comprises virtually all of the vanilla market. Evolva is also preparing to release a synbio version of resveratrol, a compound with antioxidant properties naturally found in grapes and cocoa beans. Next up: a better-tasting version of stevia, a natural, low-calorie sweetener that the soda industry hopes can replace synthetic chemicals in diet sodas. After that, Evolva hopes to make a dizzying variety of lab-grown analogues, including musk, truffle flavoring, and even breast milk.</p> <p>What could possibly go wrong with vanilla flavoring brewed by DNA-manipulated yeast? Well, like genetic engineering, synbio falls into a regulatory void that often allows products to go from lab to grocery store with little or no oversight. Evolva's vanillin and resveratrol will likely sail through the Food and Drug Administration's approval process&mdash;and end up in your food without any special labeling&mdash;because they are versions of already-existing compounds and thus have "generally recognized as safe" status. The Environmental Protection Agency&mdash;which is supposed to evaluate the environmental implications of new products&mdash;requires companies to file a report on novel microbes but doesn't always mandate testing.</p> <p>And what happens to farmers when their jobs are taken over by designer yeasts? <a href="" target="_blank">Jim Thomas</a>, the research program manager for the Canada-based technology watchdog ETC Group, points out that synbio companies are so far targeting stuff grown in the Global South, which could have devastating economic consequences for the poor farmers who produce the natural versions. In addition to vanilla (grown in Madagascar, Indonesia, and Mexico) and stevia (China, Paraguay, and Kenya), Evolva's projected roster of products includes saffron (Iran), turmeric (India), and ginseng (China).</p> <p>Evolva CEO <a href="" target="_blank">Neil Goldsmith</a> says that Thomas raises a "legitimate question" but doesn't think farmers will ultimately be harmed. He argues that synthetic vanillin has existed for decades without taking business away from natural vanilla producers. But that could be because consumers are willing to pay more for the real version. If Evolva is allowed to market its vanillin as a "natural" flavoring rather than a synthetic one, then it could compete directly with vanilla farmers&mdash;and it looks like Evolva is aiming to do just that: A recent press release called the product "natural vanillin for global food and flavor markets."</p> <p>Indeed, Goldsmith claims that his process is "as natural as bread." Yeasts used in commercial bakeries have been carefully selected and cultivated. Now, you may consider creating new genomes to be an entirely different matter, but whether you find it creepy or cool ultimately doesn't matter: Because synbio foods won't have to be labeled as such, you'll likely soon be eating them&mdash;without even knowing it.</p></body></html> Environment Food and Ag Science Top Stories Wed, 20 Aug 2014 10:00:11 +0000 Tom Philpott 258716 at Read the Emails in the Hilarious Monsanto/Mo Rocca/Condé Nast Meltdown (UPDATED) <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last week, <em>Gawker</em> <a href="" target="_blank">uncovered</a> a hapless tie-up between genetically modified seed/pesticide giant Monsanto and Cond&eacute; Nast Media&mdash;publisher of <em>The New Yorker, Bon Appetit, GQ, Self, Details</em>, and other magazines&mdash;to produce "an exciting video series" on the "topics of food, food chains and sustainability."</p> <p>Since then, I've learned that Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast's Strategic Partnerships division dangled cash before several high-profile food politics writers, in an unsuccessful attempt to convince them to participate. &nbsp;</p> <p>Marion Nestle, author of the classic book&nbsp;<em>Food Politics</em> and a professor at New York University, told me she was offered $5,000 to participate for a single afternoon. Nestle almost accepted, because at first she didn't know Monsanto was involved&mdash;the initial email she received only referred to the company in attachments that she didn't open, she said.</p> <p>"It wasn't until we were at the end of the discussion about how much time I would allow (they wanted a full day) that they mentioned the honorarium," she wrote in an email.&nbsp;"I was so shocked at the amount that I had sense enough to ask who was paying for it.&nbsp;Monsanto.&nbsp;End of discussion."</p> <p>James McWillams, author of <em>Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly</em> and a pundit on food issues whose work appears in <em>The Atlantic</em> and other publications, got offered even more, in a conversation with a Conde Nast rep on Aug. 6. "They were not evasive or misleading" about Monsanto's involvement, he told me, "just not immediately forthcoming&hellip;within a question or two it was clear that this was a PR project."</p> <p>He wouldn't tell me on the record how much they dangled, but described it as "more money than I've ever been paid to talk" and "considerably north" of Nestle's offer. He declined.</p> <p>Apparently, the infamous gender gap in pay lives on, even in the market for corporate flackery. I would have thought that snagging Nestle, a longtime industry critic, would be worth much more than bagging McWilliams, who has written <a href="" target="_blank">favorably about GMOs</a>. Nestle, who is quoted frequently in major media articles on food topics, also arguably has a considerably higher public profile than does McWilliams.</p> <p>Then there's Anna Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span>, author of the book <em>Diet for a Hot Planet</em> and prominent critic of the agrichemical industry. She forwarded me an August 4 email a representative of her Small Planet Foundation received from someone identified as "Senior Director, Strategic Alliances, the Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast Media Group." The email, printed below, invited Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> to participate in an "exciting video series being promoted on our brand websites (i.e: <em>Self</em>, <em>Epicurious</em>, <em>Bon Appetit</em>, <em>GQ</em> &amp; <em>Details</em>) and living on a custom YouTube channel," centered on "food, food chains and sustainability." It didn't mention Monsanto, but added that "[c]ompensation will be provided, along with travel two/from the shoot location."&nbsp;It contained no mention of Monsanto, or specifics on the compensation offer.</p> <p>Coincidentally, Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> was already wise to the Monsanto/Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast tie-up. Back in June, she had been forwarded an email about a forthcoming web-based TV show sponsored by Monsanto and produced by Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast, in search of experts to appear as talking heads. Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> wrote critically about the project in <a href="">an <em>Al Jazeera America</em> column</a> published August 1, just days before the Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast rep approached her. "I guess they didn't read the column," Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> says.</p> <p>She replied to the Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast proposition on August 7, complaining that "it was misleading to approach me about participating without divulging the series is being funded by Monsanto." She never heard back.</p> <p>That same day, <em>Gawker</em> came out with its <a href="" target="_blank">post</a>, which contained a leaked email from another Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast employee to unnamed charity group, which contains similar language to the one Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> received. "We are contacting you to see if there might be a person at [charity group] who could speak to one or two of the episode subject," the email states. (The email also names documentary film maker Lori Silverbush as someone Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast hoped would be part of the panel. Silverbush's husband, the famed New York City chef Tom Colicchio, later <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>, "Lori declined the Monsanto 'opportunity' when it was first offered, for reasons you can imagine.")</p> <p>The series' host, the email continued, would be Mo Rocca, a famed comedian and correspondent for <em>CBS Sunday Morning</em>. Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span>, McWilliams, and Nestle were also informed that Rocca would appear as the show's host. "When I looked up Mo Rocca, he sounded like fun," Nestle told me.</p> <p>Soon after the Gawker item appeared, Rocca wrote a <a href="">note</a> to the publication denying his involvement. "Yes, I was pitched that project but before I gave my answer a letter went out suggesting I was signed on," he wrote. "That's not the case. I'm not involved with it."</p> <p>I've reached out to Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast for comment, and will update this post if the company gets back.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE: </strong>Michael Pollan, author of <em>The Omnivore's Dilemma </em>and the most high-profile US food-politics writer, was also invited to participate in the project, he informed me Friday. In a July 22 email to Pollan's lecture agent, a Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast rep talked up an "exciting video series being promoted on our brand websites," centered on "food, food chains and sustainability," but didn't mention Mo Rocca or compensation. Nor did the email mention Monsanto&mdash;as with the case of Nestle, the company's name only appeared in an attachment. Pollan's agent "declined before money was mentioned," he said.</p> <p>Here's the email Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span>'s associate got from Cond<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span> Nast:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/email-1_0.jpg"></div> </div> <p>And here's Lapp<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&eacute;</span>'s response:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/email-2.jpg"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Fri, 08 Aug 2014 00:55:22 +0000 Tom Philpott 257996 at The Toxic Algae Are Not Done With Toledo. Not By a Long Stretch. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last weekend, Toledo's 400,000 residents were sent scrambling for bottled water because the stuff from the tap had gone toxic&mdash;so toxic that city officials warned people against bathing their children or washing their dishes in it. The likely cause: a toxic blue-green algae bloom that floated over the city's municipal water intake in Lake Erie. On Monday morning, the city called off the don't-drink-the-water warning, claiming that levels of the contaminant in the water had fallen back to safe levels. Is their nightmare over?</p> <p>I put the question to Jeffrey Reutter, director of the Stone Laboratory at Ohio State University and a researcher who monitors Lake Erie's annual algae blooms. He said he could "almost guarantee" that the conditions that caused the crisis, i.e., a toxic bloom floating over the intake, would recur this summer. But it's "pretty unlikely" that toxins will make it into the city's drinking water. That's because after the weekend's fiasco, a whole crew of public agencies, from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to the US Environmental Protection Agency to the City of Toledo, have been scrambling to implement new procedures to keep the toxins out. "I think they have a pretty good plan in place," he said. But "you can't guarantee [there won't be a recurrence] because you can't predict "how bad the concentration of the toxins going into the plant [from the lake] is going to be."</p> <p>Reutter added that he "anticipated" that the new system for protecting Toledo's drinking water would be more expensive than the current one. Back in January, local paper the<em> Blade</em> <a href="">reported</a> that Toledo "has spent $3 million a year battling algae toxins in recent years, [and] spent $4 million in 2013."</p> <p>And those hard realities highlight a hard fact about our way of farming: It manages to displace the costs of dealing with its messes onto people who don't directly benefit from it. The ties between Big Ag and Toledo's rough weekend are easy to tease out. "The Maumee River drains more than four million acres of agricultural land and dumps it into Lake Erie at the Port of Toledo," the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="">reports</a>. More than 80 percent of the Maumeee River watershed is <a href="">devoted to agriculture</a>, mainly the corn-soy duopoly that carpets the Midwest. Fertilizer and manure runoff from the region's farms feed blue-green algae blooms in the southwest corner of Lake Erie, from which Toledo draws its water. &nbsp;</p> <p>And those blooms don't just tie up oxygen in water and push out aquatic life, creating dead zones. They also often contain the compound that triggered the water scare: microcystin, a toxin that can cause <a href="">nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, fever, and even liver damage</a>. Apparently, a particularly noxious chunk of algae floated over Toledo's water intake equipment, causing the microcystin spike.</p> <p>Back in early July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Michigan <a href="">delivered</a> their forecast for this year's bloom on the western part of Erie: It would likely be much smaller than it was in 2011, when a record 40,000 metric tons of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) accumulated, but likely much higher than the past decade's average of 14,000 metric tons&mdash;the researchers forecast a 2014 bloom weighing in at 22,000 metric tons. The blooms don't peak until September, which is why Reutter is convinced that the condition that created last weekend's troubles will likely re-emerge.</p> <p>Here's a chart from the report:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/deadzone.jpg"><div class="caption">Chart: NOAA and University of Michigan researchers</div> </div> <p>The bottom half of that chart tracks the flow of phosphorus, the component of fertilizer and manure that triggers freshwater algae blooms, into Lake Erie. Of course, farm runoff isn't the only way phosphorus makes its way into the lake. Municipal sewage and industrial waste play a role, too. But reforms imposed by the Clean Water Act in 1972 minimized those sources, pulling Lake Erie from the brink of death.</p> <p>The below chart, taken from a 2013 Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force <a href="" target="_blank">report</a>, shows the sources of Lake Erie phosphorus over the past several decades. Under pressure from the Clean Water Act, pollution from "point" sources like wastewater treatment plants and factories have been severely curtailed. But the CWA doesn't regulate "non-point" sources, mainly agriculture. "Harmful algal blooms were common in western Lake Erie between the 1960s and 1980s," NOAA <a href="">notes</a>. "After a lapse of nearly 20 years, blooms have been steadily increasing over the past decade."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/pload.jpg"><div class="caption">Chart: Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force</div> </div> <p>Climate change plays a role, too&mdash;both because longer, warmer summers give algae more time to build up, and because warmer mean temperatures are also likely <a href="">driving a steep increase of heavy rains in the upper Midwest</a>, which force more phosphorus off farm fields and into waterways. Changes in the way farmers apply fertilizers are also apparently making phosphorus more mobile as this 2012 <a href="" target="_blank">article</a> by Jessica Marshal for the Food and Environment Reporting Network shows.</p> <p>Of course, western Ohio isn't the only Corn Belt region encountering toxic algae. "A reported chemical spill on the Des Moines River above Saylorville Lake Wednesday turned out to be a blue-green algae bloom," the Iowa Department of Natural Resources <a href="">reported</a> in late July. More recently, the Army Corps of Engineers <a href="">issued</a> an advisory against swimming in two beaches of Lake Red Rock, Iowa's largest lake, "in response to the presence of a significant blue-green algae bloom which has the potential to impact the health of humans and their pets."</p> <p>The website <a href="" target="_blank">Toxic Algae News</a> tracks blooms nationwide. Here's its latest map. Red pins in a state mean harmful algal blooms recur annually in "many" lakes; orange pins mean they recur in one or two lakes.</p> <p><iframe frameborder="0" height="500px" src="" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>And phosphorus isn't the only fertilizer component that feeds algae blooms. Nitrogen does to saltwater what phosphorus does to freshwater&mdash;and every year, the <a href="">Mississippi River carries titanic amounts of nitrogen into the Gulf of Mexico</a>, <a href="">more than half of which comes from corn and soy farms</a>. These flows feed a vast algae bloom that creates an aquatic dead zone that can reach the size of New Jersey&mdash;blotting out a wild, abundant source of high-quality seafood, in order to grow crops that mainly go to feed <a href="" target="_blank">livestock, cars,</a> industrial-cooking <a href="" target="_blank">fats</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">sweeteners</a>. This year's dead zone clocks in at 5,008 square miles&mdash;"roughly the size of Connecticut and&hellip;three times larger than the 2015 goal established by a task force specifically created to address the problem," the Mississippi River Collaborative <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> Monday.</p> <p>Such sacrifices are what economists call "externalities"&mdash;the costs of doing business that don't show up on the bottom lines of farmers, or the companies that buy their goods for animal feed and ethanol, or the firms that sell them the seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers that facilitate mass monocropped plantings.</p> <p>Residents of places like Toledo are left holding the bag. Many people there are <a href="" target="_blank">questioning the safety of their water supply</a> and turning to pricey bottled water instead, <em>USA Today</em> reports. And now, the city's taxpayers (or some public entity) will likely be paying more than ever to keep algae toxins out of the tap water.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 06 Aug 2014 10:00:09 +0000 Tom Philpott 257721 at Tom's Kitchen: ¡Ceviche! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm reading Paul Greenberg's superb new book <a href="" target="_blank"><em>American Catch</em></a>. In it, Greenberg teases out Americans' weird relationship to the sea. "We are a nation of coasts," he writes, in which "nearly half of the population chooses to live less than ten miles from the sea." Yet on average, we eat just 15 pounds of fish and shellfish annually per capita, vs. 100 pounds of red meat. Don't even get me started about how growing loads of Midwestern corn, mainly for livestock feed, <a href="" target="_blank">takes out huge swaths of the Gulf of Mexico, the mainland US's greatest fishery. </a>Of the fish we do eat, a startling 91 percent is imported&mdash;much of it <a href="" target="_blank">farmed under dodgy conditions</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">barely inspected by food safety authorities</a>. Meanwhile, we export nearly a third of our own abundant wild catch.</p> <p>Contemplating these contradictions made me want to eat some damned fish. So I went to Austin's stellar old-school fish monger <a href="">Quality Seafood</a> to see what I could get from the seascape nearest me, the Gulf of Mexico. The display included a gorgeous stack of black drum filets, a firm white fish subtly streaked with red&mdash;and rated&nbsp;a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">"good alternative"</a> by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which scrutinizes fisheries based on their sustainability. Contemplating the brutal heat outside and my stash of produce at home&mdash;tomatoes, a red onion, serrano chiles, limes, etc&mdash;inspiration hit me: ceviche, that sublime, no-cook Latin American answer to sushi. Well, it's not exactly like sushi&mdash;the acid in the lime juice breaks down the fish, effectively cooking it. Which beats the hell out of firing up the oven on a hot day.</p> <p>So I snatched a filet of black drum and got busy with the cutting board. Here's what I did. This dish brings together a lot of sharp, bright flavors in a lovely way.</p> <p><strong>Simple Ceviche</strong><br> 1 pound filet of a firm white fish&mdash;preferably from a nearby source&mdash;cut into &frac12; inch chunks<br> 1 red onion, cut into 1/4 inch chucks<br> Sea salt and black pepper<br> 4 limes, juiced; and at least one extra, in case<br> 1 ripe tomato, cut into &frac12; inch chucks<br> 1 clove of garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced into a fine paste<br> 1 hot chile pepper, such as serrano or jalape&ntilde;o, minced fine&lt;<br> A little extra-virgin olive oil<br> 1 avocado, cut into &frac12; inch chucks<br> 1 small head of cilantro, chopped</p> <p>Put the fish, the onions, and a good dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the lime juice and toss. There should be enough juice to fully submerge the fish. If not, juice another lime and add it to the bowl. Let the fish/onion/lime juice combo sit in the fridge, covered, for an hour or so (here's an excellent <a href="">Serious Eats guide</a> to how long to let ceviche marinade based on your taste).</p> <p>To finish, add the tomato, the garlic, the chile, a lashing of olive oil, and the avocado and cilantro (if someone in your crew hates cilantro, parsley and even mint work great). Toss, taste for salt, and serve with chips.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Wed, 06 Aug 2014 10:00:08 +0000 Tom Philpott 257581 at 40 Million People Depend on the Colorado River. Now It's Drying Up. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Science papers don't generate much in the way of headlines, so you'll be forgiven if you haven't heard of one called <a href="">"Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin</a>," recently published by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers.</p> <p>But the "water security of the Colorado River basin" is an important concept, if you are one of <a href="">the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water,</a> a group that includes residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. Or if you enjoy eating vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach during the winter. Through the many diversions, dams, canals, and reservoirs the river feeds as it snakes its way from the Rockies toward Mexico, the Colorado also provides the irrigation that makes the desert bloom in California's <a href="" target="_blank">Imperial Valley</a> and Arizona's <a href="" target="_blank">Yuma County</a>&mdash;source of more than two-thirds of US winter vegetable production.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/08/southwests-water-crunch-even-worse-we-thought"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Climate Change Food and Ag Top Stories Mon, 04 Aug 2014 10:00:15 +0000 Tom Philpott 257561 at Bud and Miller Are Trying to Hijack Craft Beer—and It’s Totally Backfiring <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>InBev and MillerCoors loom over the US beer landscape like&hellip;well, like one of those monstrous inflatable Bud Light bottles that spring up at certain football tailgate parties and outdoor concerts. Together, the two global giants own nearly 80 percent of the US beer market. InBev alone, corporate owner of Budweiser, spends a <a href="">staggering $449 million on US advertising</a>.</p> <p>But also like those vast blow-up beer bottles, their presence is not-so-faintly ridiculous and always teetering. The industry's signature light beers are suffering a "slow, watery death," <em>BusinessWeek </em>recently <a href="">reported</a>, their sales declining steadily.</p> <p>Meanwhile, independent breweries cranking out distinctive product&mdash;known as craft breweries&mdash;are undergoing an accelerating renaissance. "Sales of craft beers grew 16 percent in volume over the past year versus a 1.7 percent decline for the biggest U.S. beer brands," Bloomberg <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> in January. And new craft breweries are budding like hop flowers in spring. Here are the latest numbers, just out from the <a href="">Brewer's Association</a>. Note that that the number of US craft brewers has nearly doubled since 2010, and grew 20 percent in the past year alone.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/craft1.jpg"><div class="caption">Chart: The Brewers Association</div> </div> <p>Now, here's an historical look at the situation, a chart that I also included the <a href="">last time I looked at the craft-beer revival</a>, back in 2011. Note that the number of breweries plunged with the coming of Prohibition, surged with the onset of legalization in the 1930s, and then began a long, slow decline as the beer industry consolidated into the hands of giants like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. By the end of the 1970s, the entire US beer market was being satisfied, if that's the word, by fewer than 100 large brewing facilities.</p> <p>And then, starting in the early '80s&mdash;with the gradual demise of <a href="">Prohibition-era restrictions like the one that kept breweries from selling beer directly to the public</a>, as well as people's growing distaste for watered-down swill&mdash;the craft-brew revival, the one reaching full flower today, emerged.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/us_brewery_count_biodesicthumb400x339.jpg"><div class="caption">Chart: Biodesic</div> </div> <p>For its part, Big Beer has responded to the declining popularity of its goods in two ways. The first is relentless cost cutting. When Belgian mega-brewer InBev bought US corporate beer giant Bud in 2008, it very <a href="" target="_blank">quickly slashed 1,400 jobs, about 6 percent of its US workforce</a>. And the laser-like focus on slashing costs has continued, as this aptly titled 2012 <a href="" target="_blank"><em>BusinessWeek</em> piece, "The Plot to Destroy America's Beer,"</a> shows.</p> <p>The second is to roll out phony craft beers&mdash;brands like Shock Top and Blue Moon&mdash;and buy up legit craft brewers like Chicago's Goose Island, which InBev did in 2011. Other ersatz "craft" beers include Leinenkugel, Killian's, Batch 19, and Third Shift. The strategy has been successful, to a point. Bloomberg reports that InBev has seen its Goose Island and Shock Top sales surge.</p> <p>But there's a catch: These stealth Big Beer brands aren't "putting the microbrewers who started the movement out of business," Bloomberg <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>. Rather, "the new labels are taking sales from already-troubled mass-market brands owned by the industry giants peddling these crafty brews." In other words, consumers aren't dropping Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head and reaching for the Shock Top. Rather, Shock Top sales are being propped up by refugees from Bud Light and the like.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the beer world is buzzing about what would be the granddaddy of all mergers: rumors are swirling that InBev is preparing a bid to takeover SABMiller, a move that would give the combined company 30 percent of the globe's beer market. The motivation, reports the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>St. Louis Post Dispatch</em></a>: "A-B InBev could reap $2 billion in cost-savings through an acquisition of their largest rival, through global procurement and shared services, and eliminating job redundancies."</p> <p>While Big Beer attempts to solve its problems with crafty marketing and yet more giantism, US craft brewers are trying out innovative business models. Big-name craft brewers <a href="" target="_blank">Full Sail</a> (Oregon), <a href="" target="_blank">New Belgium</a> (Colorado), and <a href="" target="_blank">Harpoon</a> (Boston) are all fully employee-owned. Here in Austin, <a href="" target="_blank">Black Star Brewery and Pub</a> is cooperatively owned by 3,000 community members and managed by a "workers assembly" as a "democratic self-managed workplace." It may sound like it should be a cluster, but the place is always packed, the service is brisk, the food is good, and the beer is excellent. And the employees proudly refuse tips, citing their living wage as the reason. Meanwhile, a forthcoming worker-owned project, <a href="" target="_blank">4thTap Brewing Co-op</a>, is creating excitement among Austin beer nerds with its promise to "bring radical brewing to the forefront of the Texas craft beer scene."</p> <p>For me, all of this ferment underlines an important point about the US food scene: It may be dominated by a few massive, heavily marketed companies at the top, but that doesn't stop viable alternatives from bubbling from below.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Corporations Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 30 Jul 2014 10:00:07 +0000 Tom Philpott 257181 at Midwestern Waters Are Full of Bee-Killing Pesticides <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A while back, I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote about</a> how the US Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting a slow-motion reassessment of a widely used class of insecticides, even as evidence mounts that it's harming key ecosystem players from pollinating bees to birds. Since then, another federal entity with an interest in the environment, the US Geological Survey, has released a pretty damning study of the pesticide class, known as neonicitinoids.</p> <p>For the paper (<a href=";from=rss_home#.U9K1y4LQnFI">press release</a>; <a href="" target="_blank">abstract</a>) published last week in the peer-reviewed journal <em>Environmental Pollution, </em>USGS researchers took 79 water samples in nine rivers and streams over the 2013 growing season in Iowa, a state whose vast acreage of farmland is largely devoted to neonic-treated corn and soybeans. Neonics showed up in all of the sites, and proved to be "both mobile and persistent in the environment."</p> <p>Levels varied over the course of the season, spiking after spring planting, the authors report. At their peak, the neonic traces in Iowa streams reached levels well above those considered toxic for aquatic organisms. And the chemicals proved to linger&mdash;the researchers found them at reduced levels before planting, "which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years,&rdquo; USGS scientist Michelle Hladik, the report's lead author, said in the press release. And they showed up "more frequently and in higher concentrations" than the insecticides they replaced, the authors note.</p> <p>Other studies have shown similar results. Neonics have shown up at significant levels in wetlands near treated farm fields in <a href="" target="_blank">parts of the High Plains&nbsp; </a>and in <a href="" target="_blank">Canada</a>, as wells as in rivers in ag-heavy areas of <a href="" target="_blank">Georgia</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">California</a>.</p> <p>These findings directly contradict industry talking points. Older insecticides were typically sprayed onto crops in the field, while neonics are applied directly to seeds, and then taken up by the stalks, leaves, pollen, and nectar of the resulting plants. "Due to its precise application directly to the seed, which is then planted below the soil surface, seed treatment reduces potential off-target exposure to plants and animals," Croplife America, the pesticide industry's main lobbying outfit, declared in a <a href="" target="_blank">2014 report</a>.</p> <p>Yet the USGS researchers report that older pesticides that once rained down on the corn/soy belt, like chlorpyrifos and carbofuran, turned up at "substantially" lower rates in water&mdash;typically, in less than 20 percent of samples, compared to the 100 percent of samples found in the current neonic study. Apparently, pesticides that are taken up by plants through seed treatments don't stay in the plants; and neonics, the USGS authors say, are highly water soluble and break down in water more slowly than the pesticides they've replaced.</p> <p>In another <a href="">document</a>, Croplife claims that neonicotinoids "have been used in the United States for many years without significant effects on populations of honey bees." But the paper shows that neonic use didn't start in the heart of corn/soy belt until 2004, and then quickly ramped up. The below graphic, lifted from the paper, shows usage data on the three major neonic chemicals, with the chart on the bottom right depicting total use. According to the USDA, colony collapse disorder <a href="" target="_blank">started in 2006</a>. Correlation doesn't prove causation, but the industry's "many years without significant effects" claim doesn't hold up to scrutiny.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202014-07-25%20at%205.49.37%20PM%20copy_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Neonic use in Iowa. </strong>Chart: USGS</div> </div> <p>In leaching from farm fields, neonics follow a pattern established by spray-applied herbicides like atrazine, the authors note, which undergo a similar <a href="">"spring flush</a>" into waterways. That means that each spring in Iowa, critters like frogs and fish find themselves immersed in a cocktail of damaging chemicals.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the use of seed treatments is surging&mdash;it <a href="">tripled over the past decade.</a> And not just neonics. Fungicides&mdash;chemicals that kill fungal pests&mdash;are also being applied to seeds at record rates. According to Croplife, "today&rsquo;s seed treatment market offers pre-mixture products containing combinations of three, four or more fungicides." It also boasts: "The global fungicide seed treatment market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.2 percent and is expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2018."</p> <p>And these chemicals, too, are <a href="">emerging as a threat to honeybees</a>. They also may be fouling up water. In 2012, the USGS released a <a href="" target="_blank">research review</a> on fungicides and their effect on waterways. The report noted plenty of "data gaps"&mdash;i.e. a dearth of research&mdash;but also evidence of "significant sublethal effects of fungicides on fish, aquatic invertebrates, and ecosystems, including zooplankton and fish reproduction, fish immune function, zooplankton community composition, metabolic enzymes, and ecosystem processes, such as leaf decomposition in streams, among other biological effects."</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:00:15 +0000 Tom Philpott 257021 at Boy, Hipsters Sure Are Defensive About Their Almond Milk <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When I penned my <a href="" target="_blank">little opus about almond milk</a> last week, I really didn't intend to insult anyone's intelligence, provocative headline aside. What I really wanted to do was encourage people to think about what they're buying when they buy this hot-selling product. My editors chose the title and I went along, because they know more than me about what makes people click. And people clicked! I'm pretty sure that "Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters" is my most-read piece ever at <em>Mother Jones.</em></p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202014-07-24%20at%201.40.50%20PM_4.png"><div class="caption"><strong>It takes a gallon of water to grow a single almond. <a href="" target="_blank">How does an almond's&nbsp;water footprint stack up to other foods'? </a></strong></div> </div> <p>Reactions mostly hovered in a range between mild annoyance and blind rage. One guy dropped by the Facebook page of the farm I helped found, Maverick Farms, to inform me that he planned to keep drinking almond milk&mdash;and spilling it, even. To drive his point home, he even looked up the farm's phone number and repeated his pledge on the answering machine. Thanks for the update!</p> <p>The <a href="">oddest response</a> came from <em>Gawker's</em> Hamilton Nolan, who took the opportunity to school me in the art of the "food troll":</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="">This fool</a> is talking about how almond milk is not as good as just eating almonds. False comparison. I eat tons of almonds. <a href="">Love em</a>. And I drink almond milk too. Love it. I can have both. You love regular almonds so much? Do you eat more almonds than me? Not a chance. I eat more almonds than you. And still drink almond milk. Case closed on that particular argument I guess.</p> </blockquote> <p>Still not convinced? Nolan adds the <em>coup de grace</em>: "If I puked up almond milk it probably wouldn't even taste that bad relative to other kinds of puke."</p> <p>Right. Meanwhile, several people thundered that since I dare question the value of almond milk, I must be a tool for Big Dairy. "Were you paid off by the Dairy Farmers of America to write that piece?" one wag <a href="">wondered</a> on Twitter, adding, helpfully " PS I'm no hipster and I love my Almond Milk!"</p> <p>Actually, my piece did not purport to judge almond milk against the standards of dairy milk and find it wanting. "I get why people are switching away from dairy milk, I wrote, since "industrial-scale dairy production is a <a href="">pretty nasty business</a>." I did cop to drinking a bit of kefir, a fermented milk product. But my intention wasn't to promote Big Dairy, but just to point out that almond milk is nutritionally pretty vapid compared to other products. An eight-ounce serving of Helios brand organic kefir contains 16 grams of protein, vs. 1 gram per serving in most almond milk brands. That's a remarkable difference. But of course, people consume things for all sorts of good reasons, not just protein content.</p> <p>Now, I didn&rsquo;t get into much of an ecological analysis in my piece, but there is an interesting one to make here. Back in May, my colleagues <a href="">Julia Lurie</a> and <a href="">Alex Park</a> looked at the literature and found that it takes 23 gallons of water to produce a glass of almond milk and 35 gallons to produce a serving of yogurt. Let's assume that it takes a similar amount of water to make Helios kefir, which is essentially fermented skim milk. On the surface, the almond milk looks a lot easier on the water supply. But if you look at it on a protein basis, almond milk looks like a disaster: it takes 23 gallons of water to produce a gram of almond milk protein&mdash;and less than two gallons to produce a gram of kefir protein.</p> <p>Even though kefir costs more than $4 per quart vs. about $2 for almond milk, it starts to look like quite a bargain on a protein basis.</p> <p>Almond milk's dilute nature lies at the heart of the critique made by <em>Slate's</em> <a href="">Maria Dolan</a>, the most thoughtful one I've seen of the piece. My basic complaint against almond milk is that it's a watered-down product: you take something that's quite nutrient-dense and deluge it with water, essentially selling people a few almonds and a lot of water. &nbsp;</p> <p>I'm thinking about it in the wrong way, counters Dolan. "Is drowning them in water to create almond milk really a bad thing from an environmental perspective?" she asks. "Just as making meat a garnish, not the centerpiece of your meal, thins the environmental impact of eating beef, so consuming almonds sparingly&mdash;by diluting them into milk, for instance&mdash;reduces their ecological impact."</p> <p>But I'm not sure that almond milk works to moderate people's almond consumption. California's <a href="" target="_blank">rapid, and ecologically troubling, expansion of almond production</a> is largely driven by booming exports, mainly to Asia. But US consumption is booming too. According to the <a href="" target="_blank">Almond Board of California</a>, the US market consumed 394 million pounds of almonds from the 2007-'08 harvest and 605 million pounds in 2012-'13. That's a 50 percent jump in five years. And as I noted in my post, almond milk sales are surging at an even faster clip. It seems to me that the almond milk craze, whatever else it is, reflects a clever food industry strategy to sell yet more almonds, not a way for consumers to reduce their environmental impact.</p> <p>The Almond Board also reports that California now provides 84 percent of the globe's almonds. Given the state's <a href="" target="_blank">severe water constraints</a>, and that current levels of production already require <a href="" target="_blank">60 percent of managed US honeybees</a> for pollination, often to <a href="" target="_blank">disastrous effect</a>, we may all have to ease up&mdash;not just on the almond milk, but also on almonds themselves. Hell, even ignorant hipsters like me love almonds.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Thu, 24 Jul 2014 20:27:03 +0000 Tom Philpott 256906 at That Antioxidant You're Taking Is Snake Oil <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Plants can't move. They're sitting targets for every insect, two- and four-legged creature, and air-borne fungus and bacteria that swirls around them. But they're not defenseless, we've learned. Under pressure from millions of years of attacks, they've evolved to produce compounds that repel these predators. Known as phyotochemicals, these substances can be quite toxic to humans. You probably wouldn't enjoy the jolt of <a href="">urushiol</a> you'd get from a salad of <em>toxicodendron radicans</em> (poison ivy) leaves.</p> <p>But other phytochemicals have emerged as crucial elements of a healthful human diet. Indeed, they're the source of several essential vitamins, including A, C, and E. But according to an eye-opening <em><a href="">Nautilus </a></em><a href="">article</a> by the excellent science journalist Moises Velasquez-Manoff (author of a<a href=""> recent <em>Mother Jones</em> piece on the gut microbiome</a>), our view of how these defensive compounds benefit us might be wildly wrong.</p> <p>The accepted dietary dogma goes like this: The phytochemicals we ingest from plants act as antioxidants&mdash;that is, they protect us from the oxidative molecules, known as "free radicals," that our own cells produce as a waste product, and that have become associated with a range of degenerative diseases including cancer and heart trouble.</p> <p>It's true that many phytochemicals and the vitamins they carry have been proven in lab settings to have antioxidant properties&mdash;that is, they prevent oxidization. And so, Velasquez-Manoff shows, the idea gained currency that fruits and vegetables are good for us because their high antioxidant load protects us from free radicals. And from there, it was easy to leap to the conclusion that you could slow aging and stave off disease by isolating certain phytochemicals and ingesting them in pill form&mdash;everything from multivitamins to trendy antioxidants like resveratrol. "A supplement industry now worth $23 billion yearly in the U.S. took root," he notes.</p> <p>And yet, antioxidant pills have proven to be a bust. In February, a <a href="">group of independent US medical researchers</a> assessed 10 years of supplement research and found that pills loaded with vitamin E and beta-carotene (the stuff that gives color to carrots and other orange vegetables) pills are at <a href="">best useless and at worst harmful</a>&mdash;that is, they may trigger lung cancer in some people. Just this month, a <a href="" target="_blank">meta-analysis</a> published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that antioxidant supplements "do not prevent cancer and may accelerate it."</p> <p>And a <a href="">2009 study</a> found that taking antioxidant supplements before exercise actually <em>negates</em> most of the well-documented benefits of physical exertion: That is, taking an antioxidant pill before a run is little better than doing neither and just sitting on the couch.</p> <p>So what gives? Velasquez-Manoff points to emerging science suggesting that phytochemicals' antioxidant properties may have thrown us off the trail of what really makes them good for us. He offers two key clues. The first is that plants produce them in response to stress&mdash;e.g., pathogenic bacteria, hungry insects. The second is that exercise itself is a form of self-imposed stress: You punish your body by exerting it, and it responds by getting stronger.&nbsp; Leaning on the work of Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, and other researchers, Velasquez-Manoff proposes that phytochemicals help us not by repelling oxidant stresses, but by <em>triggering them</em>.</p> <p>Consider that exercise actually <em>generates</em> free radicals in our muscles&mdash;the very thing, according to current dogma, that makes us vulnerable to cancer and aging. But a while after a bout at the gym or on the running trail, these free radicals disappear, replaced by what Velasquez-Manoff calls "native antioxidants." That's because, he writes, "post-exercise, the muscle cells respond to the oxidative stress by boosting production of native antioxidants." And these home-grown chemicals, "amped up to protect against the oxidant threat of yesterday&rsquo;s exercise, now also protect against other ambient oxidant dangers" like ones from air pollution and other environmental stressors, he writes. In the exercise study, the supplements may have interrupted the process, the study's main author, Swiss researcher Michael Ristow, tells Velasquez-Manoff&mdash;they prevent the body from producing its antioxidants, but what they deliver doesn't offset the loss.</p> <p>Yet phytochemicals found in whole foods&mdash;"the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts"&mdash;may work on our bodies much as exercise does. Velasquez-Manoff writes: "Our bodies recognize them as slightly toxic, and we respond with an ancient detoxification process aimed at breaking them down and flushing them out."</p> <p>To bolster his case, Velasquez-Manoff cites the example of sulforaphane, the compound that gives broccoli and other members of the <em>brassica</em> family of vegetables&mdash;such as Brussels sprouts&mdash;their sulfurous smell when they cook. It's what's known as an "antifeedant"&mdash;i.e., it's pungency discourages grazing (and makes many people hate Brussels sprouts, etc). Unlike many phytochemicals, sulforaphane isn't an antioxidant at all, but rather a mild oxidant&mdash;that is, it mimics free radicals and thus under the old dietary dogma, we should avoid it. And yet...</p> <blockquote> <p>When sulforaphane enters your blood stream, it triggers release in your cells of a protein called Nrf2. This protein, called by some the &ldquo;master regulator&rdquo; of aging, then activates over 200 genes. They include genes that produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression, among other important health-promoting functions. In theory, after encountering this humble antifeedant in your dinner, your body ends up better prepared for encounters with toxins, pro-oxidants from both outside and within your body, immune insults, and other challenges that might otherwise cause harm.</p> </blockquote> <p>In this theory, what causes cancer and general aging isn't oxidative stress itself, but rather a poor response to oxidative stress&mdash;"a creeping inability to produce native antioxidants when needed, and a lack of cellular conditioning generally." And that's where the modern Western lifestyle, marked by highly processed food and a lack of physical exertion, comes in.</p> <blockquote> <p>[The National Institute on Aging's] Mattson calls this the "couch potato" problem. Absent regular hormetic stresses, including exercise and stimulation by plant antifeedants, &ldquo;cells become complacent,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Their intrinsic defenses are down-regulated.&rdquo; Metabolism works less efficiently. Insulin resistance sets in. We become less able to manage pro-oxidant threats. Nothing works as well as it could. And this mounting dysfunction increases the risk for a degenerative disease.</p> </blockquote> <p>While this emerging view of phytochemcials is compelling, Velasquez-Manoff acknowledges that it isn't fully settled. For one thing, it's unclear why isolated phytochemicals in pills don't seem to work the same magic as they do in the form of whole foods. Here's Velasquez-Manoff:</p> <blockquote> <p>Proper dosage may be one problem, and interaction between the isolates used and particular gene variants in test subjects another. Interventions usually test one molecule, but fresh fruits and vegetables present numerous compounds at once. We may benefit most from these simultaneous exposures. The science on the intestinal microbiota promises to further complicate the picture; our native microbes ferment phytonutrients, perhaps supplying some of the benefit of their consumption. All of which highlights the truism that Nature is hard to get in a pill.</p> </blockquote> <p>But human nutrition is a deeply interesting topic precisely because it resists being settled. As Michael Pollan showed in his 2008 book <em>In Defense of Food, </em>humans have adapted to a wide variety of diets&mdash;from the Mediterranean and Mesoamerican ones based mostly on plants, to the Inuit ones focusing heavily on fish. The one diet that hasn't worked very well is the most calibrated, supplemented, and "fortified" of all: the Western one.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Health Top Stories Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:12 +0000 Tom Philpott 256746 at