As the August 13 recall of eggs from Wright County Egg Farm expands, it continues to show us all how fragile our nation’s food supply is while highlighting the risks we run by concentrating our egg production in vast warehouses. A single group of battery caged hens appears to be affecting millions of people in the West and Midwest. Another day, another big food recall—it’s not a surprise—but it is a good example of how our food system fails us in almost every way.
Salmonella is an unintended consequence of industrialized food production. No one set out to design a system that promotes disease; they just wanted to produce cheap food. However, it is a biological fact that if you keep animals in large numbers in a confined environment then pests and diseases will inevitably spread. Recent research has shown a direct correlation between flock size and confinement and the presence of salmonella. The bigger the flock and the more confined, the greater the risk of infection.
“What makes a good steak?” asks Mark Schatzker in his new book, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef (Viking, 2010). Schatzker is a man who loves steak, unambiguously and with abandon, and he makes the perfect guide for an adventure filled with cowboys, cattle and rib eyes. His devotion to his favorite food and his interest in how steak comes to be steak—good and bad— kicks off an always fascinating, often hilarious, around-the-world search for the best steak ever.
More than just an excuse for the author to eat a variety of steaks of varying degrees of fabulousness, Steak is an exhaustive, highly entertaining study of the traditions and science of steak. In America, steak has a cultural reputation as weighty as Tiffany’s: both are symbols of prosperity and opulence. But like so many once-revered emblems of the good life, the quality of steak in the United States has steadily diminished, even if its reputation hasn’t.
Just about everyone has eaten something that comes from a crop doused with pesticides so toxic that no one is allowed in the field for five days after it is sprayed. Or that must be stored for six months after harvest to allow the pesticides to fade. What crop is it? Learn that and so much more in the young readers edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Dial Books) by Michael Pollan, adapted by Richie Chevat. Based on Pollan’s adult book of the same title, the new version is simplified and updated, contains informative side notes and visuals and concludes with a new afterward, eating tips, a question and answer section and empowering resources. Though intended for ages 10 and up, Pollan’s detective work, substantive content and eloquent writing will engage readers of all ages interested in food production.
To solve the modern “omnivore’s dilemma” (we can eat anything, but how do we know what to eat?), Pollan investigates four meals representative of four different food chains – the system for growing, making and delivery food. He wants to share with us where our food comes from and what exactly it is we are eating. So, he starts in the farms and fields where our food is grown and personably chronicles its creation and consumption.
What if our newest invasive species is one that started in the lab and was unleashed on an unsuspecting world despite abundant warnings from scientists and others? And what if it is not even really “natural” to begin with? And what if this new invasive species, once liberated from a controlled setting, became even more potent and more persistent in the wild? Then you would be talking about genetically modified (GM) canola, which according to a report presented Friday at the Ecological Society of America, is now growing in the wild and is busily evolving into a plant that will outstrip our best efforts to contain it. It also has the potential to cross-pollinate and swap genes with other non-GM wild plants.
More than 83% of the wild canola tested by researchers traveling through North Dakota tested positive for GM genes. But this is what’s really terrifying: some of the plants tested positive for resistance to both glyphosphate (Roundup) and glusfosinate (Liberty). Commercial GM canola is resistant to either Roundup or Liberty, not both. The dual resistance evolved in the wild, after the plants had escaped. The wild canola is doing what living things do—mutating and selecting for traits that will best ensure its survival. And all without our help.
I don’t often find much to cheer about when I read the food and farming news. But a new report from the influential National Research Council (NRC) on the future of U.S. farming had me reaching for my pom-poms.
On the face of it, the NRC’s report, “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century,” might not seem like headline-grabbing stuff. But this report really is big news for anyone interested in a sustainable future for farming—and not just because its conclusions represent another damning indictment of industrialized farming.
You see, the NRC is a prestigious, independent U.S. scientific body, established in 1916 “to provide elected leaders, policy makers, and the public with expert advice based on sound scientific evidence.” And in publishing this report, the NRC joins a growing number of leading global scientific organizations in effectively throwing down the gauntlet to Big Ag, publicly criticizing the negative consequences of industrialized farming and calling for a more holistic approach to food production in the face of increasingly scarce natural resources and the growing threat of climate change.