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Think globally, act globally
April 28, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Eating local, organic foods may not be the best option. The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions stem from food production, not transportation, and production inputs for organic food are typically higher. Third world countries that have a food system that is organic and local by default are suffering from lack of infrastructure and investment in basic production technologies that could improve nutrition for millions of people.

Additionally:

Organic food is not more nutritious nor is it safer than conventional food.

Using organic fertilizer on all food crops would require a vast area of land dedicated to feeding cattle to supply manure to achieve the same level output per unit of land.
posted by stinker (153 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there supposed to be a link in the final statement / sentence of the FPP? I'd like to learn more about the concept that cattle manure is required for organic food production.
posted by hippybear at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


But what about the deer with electronically augmented senses? Won't thinking globally drive it insane?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


If I buy food grown locally it's because I want to support local producers. I don't give a rat's arse about saving the rest of the world.
posted by HTuttle at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Anyone interested in a cask of single-origin, artisanal HFCS? Absolutely unique, devastatingly complex terroir redolent of sunshine and sloth. Perfect accompaniment to a range of flash-frozen processed food products.

Email's in my profile.
posted by felix betachat at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


I don't give a rat's arse about saving the rest of the world.

I mean, what do we need a habitable planet for, amirite?
posted by EarBucket at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


The great thing about this debate is that it's entirely settled and both sides have conclusively determined the answer.
posted by proj at 12:29 PM on April 28, 2010 [24 favorites]


If I buy food grown locally it's because I want to support local producers. I don't give a rat's arse about saving the rest of the world.

This is actually a pretty good capsule statement of Michael Pollan's worldview.
posted by grobstein at 12:29 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


hippybear I am looking for some good data, but in the meantime my understanding is that the difference between using or not using manure comes out to a huge difference in yield and soil health (larger yield difference than that between chemical fertilizer vs. manure).

There may be other organic fertilization alternatives I am unaware of, but as far as I know high yield organic farming is highly dependent on manure sources (and thus dependent on the livestock farming that produces said manure).
posted by idiopath at 12:30 PM on April 28, 2010


So, can we just say we're doomed until we invent nuclear fusion and leave it at that?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:32 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


People eat too damned much. What is needed is some kind of Soylent Green product, although obviously not made of human remains, but a uniform nutritional product that is can be simple and sustainably manufactured, would provide enough vitamins and fibre to live on, and which could serve as a default meal for at least three meals a day, five days a week. Something like this probably already exists, althought I'm not quite sure what it would be. Some kind of power bar, probably.
posted by Faze at 12:33 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, so industrial farming IS green. Who knew I was an environmentalist all this time!
posted by basicchannel at 12:37 PM on April 28, 2010


although obviously not made of human remains

It's not obvious to me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:37 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is there supposed to be a link in the final statement / sentence of the FPP? I'd like to learn more about the concept that cattle manure is required for organic food production.

This information is in the first linked article. There may be more information about it in the second link.
posted by stinker at 12:37 PM on April 28, 2010


locavore, recycling, and organic food are just distractions from the real problem of overpopulation.
posted by bhnyc at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2010 [27 favorites]


This is actually a pretty good capsule statement of Michael Pollan's worldview.

It seems pretty clear to me that Pollan is peddling what is basically a half-baked agrarian producerism. It's not nearly as new or interesting as people like to give it credit for.
posted by enn at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, so let's just decide right now how we want to die, once and for all.


What is needed is some kind of Soylent Green product, although obviously not made of human remains, but a uniform nutritional product that is can be simple and sustainably manufactured, would provide enough vitamins and fibre to live on, and which could serve as a default meal for at least three meals a day, five days a week.

PlumpyNut?
posted by anniecat at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gosh stinker, what's your opinion of the organic food movement?
posted by Think_Long at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2010


Something like this probably already exists, althought I'm not quite sure what it would be. Some kind of power bar, probably.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a PowerSauce bar stuffed in a human face - forever.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Harry Harrison's already got you covered Faze - Make Room! Make Room! (the "inspiration" behind Soylent Green) described the Soylent products as being Soya and Lentil based steaks. No people involved.
posted by Lizc at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2010


This can end well ... eat local organic and export healthy organic soylent green.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:43 PM on April 28, 2010


That article seemed like half a dozen random straw men roped together.

I don't think anyone's seriously arguing that locally-sourced, organic, 'heritage' crops are a solution to feeding the world's poor. The whole 'eat local' movement is about preferring foods with known provenance, grown with care and selected for flavour rather than yield. Which is fine for those who can afford it, and provides a much-needed boost for small-scale producers in developed countries.

None of that stops us from simultaneously feeding the world's growing population by the magic of high-yield, chemically-assisted modern agriculture, does it?
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:43 PM on April 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


locavore, recycling, and organic food are just distractions from the real problem of overpopulation.

Actually, the first linked article lays out pretty clearly that the scenario in Africa is not overpopulation. There is more than enough land to feed the people. The problem is that they can't produce enough food with basic agricultural inputs (such as irrigation) and access to roads. Also, I would argue, subsidizing of first world crops hurts these producers by hampering their ability to compete.

Let's not get side-tracked with a discussion of population pressure. It's a separate issue and immaterial to this discussion.
posted by stinker at 12:44 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's the root issue, actually; but let's not try to direct the discussion of our own post, mmkay?
posted by entropicamericana at 12:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers

This is pretty disingenuous.

When "improved seeds and fertilizers" include modified seed that doesn't bear crop without expensive proprietary fertilizers, and then gives infertile seed so the farmers have to buy next crop seed again... the only thing which has been really improved is profits.

Being against this is not the same thing as being against schools, roads, and tractors, anymore than being against finance corruption is the same as being against people getting paychecks.
posted by yeloson at 12:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [63 favorites]


Yet again, organic food is criticised for not being things it doesn't claim to be (more nutritious, smaller carbon footprint).

Organic food is great because it reduces pesticide and herbicide inputs to the environment, and doesn't have pesticide residues.

Incidentally, the Mayo clinic link in the FPP does NOT say that organic food isn't safer. It says that "most experts agree ... that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk."
posted by unSane at 12:53 PM on April 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


Organic food is not more nutritious nor is it safer than conventional food.

You link does not support this assertion.
posted by peeedro at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


Actually, the first linked article lays out pretty clearly that the scenario in Africa is not overpopulation.

As far as quality of life (and I mean all life), it's plainly obvious to me that there are already far too many people. I believe this to be self-evident.
posted by belvidere at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


then gives infertile seed so the farmers have to buy next crop seed again.

Buying seed yearly is a pretty well established practice. Most hybrids don't come true from seeds, so if you want to grow a hybridized plant year after year, you have to buy seed.
posted by electroboy at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


unSane, organic food doesn't "claim" to be anything -- it's a diffuse movement with different viewpoints. A quick perusal of AskMe posts tagged with organic reveals that many, many people do in fact think that organic equates to more nutritious. Further, I have often heard the argument that buying organic has a smaller carbon footprint because it does not encourage petroleum-based fertilizers. Finally, many people conflate organic and local to mean the same thing, even though they are not, so it's often difficult to adjudicate between claims.
posted by proj at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


some kind of Soylent Green product, although obviously not made of human remains

Wait, why not? Humans are the one thing we've got too damn many of.

I hear they taste like bacon.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:57 PM on April 28, 2010


locavore, recycling, and organic food are just distractions from the real problem of overpopulation.

Well, what do you propose to do about overpopulation? It's not something you can change. Besides, the earth's population is actually stabilizing, and will actually start to decline (after it reaches its peak of 10 billion) by the middle of the century. There are enough resources on the planet to sustain a population of 10 billion, provided these resources are used in a sustainable way. This means no more fishing, period. A drastically reduced carbon economy. No more diverting food/water resources to the livestock industry. No more car culture. Etc.

But a 10 billion person planet is inevitable. You can complain about it, but what good will complaining do?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:58 PM on April 28, 2010


Yeesh,

I buy, organic, local and grassfed when I can because it tastes the best and has the most nutrients for the least calories. I also support Unicef. Sure, in a perfect world, we could all afford to eat well. But if sub-saharan Africa needs Plumpy'nut, then I'm supporting it.

Oddly enough, I've found that once I've made the trek to the farmer's market, that the items I buy there, organic, local and grassfed, are about the same in price, or lower in price, than the factory farmed stuff I could get at Kroger. So I'm not spending any more money, and I'm getting something that I enjoy a LOT more.

Dude, you should have tasted the strawberries we ate for dessert the other night. OMG, they tasted so sweet...and like strawberries! I haven't had an honest strawberry in forever.

Oh, and for the record. Grassfed cattle doesn't have e-coli, so there's something to think about.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Developing organic and localized food pipelines will save the human race when the oil runs out and we have no more petrochemical-derived pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and no means to cheaply shuffle food thousands of miles around the world.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


unSane, organic food doesn't "claim" to be anything

Oh, bollocks. It claims to be organic. i.e. raised without artificial pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. All the rest is hand waving.
posted by unSane at 1:05 PM on April 28, 2010


Oh, and for the record. Grassfed cattle doesn't have e-coli, so there's something to think about.

That may not actually be true.
posted by electroboy at 1:06 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Organic food is not more nutritious nor is it safer than conventional food.

You link does not support this assertion.


Yes. Saying there is no evidence for A is not the same as saying not A.
posted by ekroh at 1:07 PM on April 28, 2010


What is needed is some kind of Soylent Green product, although obviously not made of human remains, but a uniform nutritional product that is can be simple and sustainably manufactured, would provide enough vitamins and fibre to live on, and which could serve as a default meal for at least three meals a day, five days a week.

Yeah, even the worst-case scenarios of worldwide starvation and large-scale post-apocalyptic Mad Max-inspired warfare over food and water supplies sound better than this.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:12 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a terrible, ax-grindy post but the comments almost redeem it.
posted by Skorgu at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2010


Oh, and for the record. Grassfed cattle doesn't have e-coli, so there's something to think about

For the record, it has lower levels of the strain of E. Coli that causes problem in humans, and the E. Coli that it does have is less dangerous because it's not as resistant to stomach acid. The cattle does "have" E.Coli because many (most?) mammals do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:18 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


While I agree with the overall premise ("organic" farming is very temporary step in the process towards a sustainable food system), these articles are so full of conflations and specious claims it's a bit overwhelming.

Is there a reason these authors seem to think that organic fertility management automatically translates to the application of animal manures?
posted by phyllary at 1:19 PM on April 28, 2010


Oh, and for the record. Grassfed cattle doesn't have e-coli, so there's something to think about.

That may not actually be true.


Can we at least agree that buying ground beef from a sustainable farm is better than buying a frozen beef patty from the supermarket that is an amalgam of low-grade cow parts "cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces" and which require a dunk in an ammonia bath to sterilize, and which, by the way, come from cows pumped full of antibiotics, creating strains of resistant pathogens?
posted by ekroh at 1:19 PM on April 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


What is needed is some kind of Soylent Green product,

I thought's that what Red Bull was.

although obviously not made of human remains,

Oh, I guess that's not Red Bull.
posted by philip-random at 1:20 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we at least agree that buying ground beef from a sustainable farm is better than buying a frozen beef patty from the supermarket that is an amalgam of low-grade cow parts "cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces" and which require a dunk in an ammonia bath to sterilize, and which, by the way, come from cows pumped full of antibiotics, creating strains of resistant pathogens?

Sure, but that's not the same thing as not having e coli.
posted by proj at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hear they taste like bacon.
Not really like bacon as I think of it. But, yeah, kind of like salt-cured ham. Of course, I wasn't tasting a particularly fatty area of flesh, so maybe other parts of the human body are more bacon-y.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2010


> Something like this probably already exists, althought I'm not quite sure what it would be. Some kind of power bar, probably.

Indeed it does: Nutraloaf

It has been determined in the courts to be nutritionally complete and can be served to a prisioner for all meals 24x7x365. Tasty!
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:25 PM on April 28, 2010


My preference is local (if mostly organic) first, then organic. And I absolutely will not eat industrial food, by which I mean the cheap processed stuff that fills most of many grocery stores. Why? 1) What I eat tastes better by far. I mean, there just isn't any comparison in the taste of tomatoes, berries, lettuces/greens, meats, eggs . . . I could go on and on. 2) I refuse to eat pesticides, even if the health risk is "small," if I can eat none, and also help to keep some soil free of them. 3) the way animals are handled in the industrial food system is revolting. I refuse to support that sort of cruelty. 4) The way workers are treated in the industrial food system -- including fast food workers -- is revolting too, and I won't support it. (Check out Fast Food Nation for more details.)

Finally, I try to be environmentally responsible. As the Mayo Clinic link says,

Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil.


As for you, stinker, do as you like.
posted by bearwife at 1:26 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


It really is too bad that cows are the only manure-producing creatures available to agriculture. If only there was another sedentary creature that produces vast quantities of shit. Man, I'm stumped.
posted by fartknocker at 1:26 PM on April 28, 2010 [21 favorites]


Dude, you should have tasted the strawberries we ate for dessert the other night. OMG, they tasted so sweet...and like strawberries! I haven't had an honest strawberry in forever.

This.

I contend that the reason why a lot of people eat crap is because they don't know what the good stuff is SUPPOSED to taste like.

(Yes, I know about food deserts and I know lower income people sometimes have a hard time accessing 'real' food at a price they can afford. Let's set that aside for a second and not call me a class warfare-ist quite yet).

See, I grew up eating awesome vegetables from the 1/2 acre garden in my great-grandmother's backyard. (My mom grew stuff too, but Grandma Dorothy's garden was about a zillion times more kickassier). I know what real tomatoes taste like. I know what unfrozen broccoli tastes like. Those "tomatoes" on your salad at PrettyMuchAnyRestaurant might as well be the fabled power bar stuff we're talking about above, because they taste about as good.

I feel sorry for kids today who are missing out on all the awesome real flavors I got to experience. And you know what? My family didn't have money for shit when I was growing up. My great-grandparents were old, on a fixed income, and they still managed to knock it out of the park food-wise. We lived in a rented duplex and my mom still figured out how to grow some stuff in the backyard. We foraged for berries nearby because there were TONS OF THEM, just sitting there ripe for the taking.

How many people do you know who could afford to eat "real" food that's actually good for you and tastes awesome still eat crap?

/stepping off soapbox now
/my great-grandma was OG locavore, yo.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:29 PM on April 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I hear they taste like bacon.

Not really like bacon as I think of it. But, yeah, kind of like salt-cured ham. Of course, I wasn't tasting a particularly fatty area of flesh, so maybe other parts of the human body are more bacon-y.


Please expand on this backhanded remark indicating that you have eaten people. I am particularly interested in how I can ethically do this myself.
posted by grobstein at 1:30 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


phyllary: "Is there a reason these authors seem to think that organic fertility management automatically translates to the application of animal manures?"

As far as I can tell, your choices, if you want a decent yield with organic food, are either manure or high quality compost, in combination with rotating fields with nitrogen fixating crops. Until a sustainable infrastructure exists for getting industrial quantities of kitchen compost from cities back to farms, animal manure or very low crop yields are pretty much the choice you are left with. So in practice, right now, organic farms that produce enough to stay in business mostly use animal manure.
posted by idiopath at 1:31 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the low-grade cow parts require a dunk in an ammonia bath to sterilize.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:31 PM on April 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


It has been determined in the courts to be nutritionally complete and can be served to a prisioner for all meals 24x7x365. Tasty!

From the article: "Prisoners sue over Nutraloaf with some regularity"

At least it doesn't seem to cause incontinence.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:31 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, the elephant in the room is sustainability. Yes, getting most of your food from a monoculture grown halfway across the world can be both cheaper and involve less greenhouse gas than growing it locally... but if the merry-go-round ever breaks down, you and your people will starve and die. Local food is a necessity, not a luxury.

The article suggests that we need "to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West"... all so we can have an even larger human population, which is even more dependent on complex, vulnerable global systems, and even less suited to survival in the areas in which it lives. Personally, I don't think that this is a positive goal. In fact, the article is basically suggesting that we re-create the circumstances of the Irish Potato Famine on a global scale: monocultures over local foods, numbers over sustainability, and a population whose food production depends largely on the whim of uncaring foreigners. Only without a New World full of food available when something finally goes wrong.

The fact is that there are too many people already. We can have natural, continuous, small-scale starvation in the third world, or we can have an unsustainable, petrochem-driven population boom followed by a crash. Given the extent to which we've already cashed-out many of our food sources, those are pretty much our choices over the long run. Unlike natural starvation, population crash carries with it plague, murder, and war, as well as the strong possibility that the shortage will take down the global food system.

On preview: But a 10 billion person planet is inevitable.

No, it's not. A 10 billion person planet is inevitable, unless we experience one or more forms of mass death before we learn to "use our resources in a sustainable way". Personally, I'm not betting on it.
posted by vorfeed at 1:33 PM on April 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


uniform nutritional product

The problem with this idea is that then you're growing vast quantities of just a handful of crops, so you get all the problems (disease susceptibility, etc) of monoculture farming. Efficiency and reliability are usually opposite goals. A uniform nutritional product might be efficient to produce, but we'd really be fucked when the soybean blight hits.
posted by echo target at 1:33 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


>If only there was another sedentary creature that produces vast quantities of shit.

Biosolids are frequently applied to cropping systems. Significant problems related to heavy metals, pharmaceuticals (notably, endocrine disruptors), and pathogens are some of the issues associated with nutrient recycling from sewer waste streams.

These are being worked around though, and diverting the bottomless pit at the end of our food chain is indeed a salient issue.
posted by phyllary at 1:34 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some organic farms use "green manure" cover crops, like clover, rather than animal manure to incorporate nutrients into the soil. You work it under before it goes to seed, and the nutrients go into the soil. Some small farms use "chicken tractors" to distribute chicken poop over the soil. I volunteer at a farm that uses green manure, and it seems to work well.
posted by samsaunt at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2010


Define "local."
posted by wuwei at 1:36 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


But seriously ...

What is needed is some kind of Soylent Green product, although obviously not made of human remains, but a uniform nutritional product that is can be simple and sustainably manufactured, would provide enough vitamins and fibre to live on, and which could serve as a default meal for at least three meals a day, five days a week.

Faze, the problem with this is that food is a huge part of culture: the growing, nurturing and cultivation of the ingredients, the preparation, the presentation, the sharing. What you're suggesting here is akin to saying okay, "People need to dance. Let's just give them endless James Last medleys."

We need to do a lot better than this, or what the hell, why not just be food ourselves?
posted by philip-random at 1:38 PM on April 28, 2010


a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles

Are elite circles like crop circles, only terrestrial in origin?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


locavore, recycling, and organic food are just distractions from the real problem of overpopulation.

Well, what do you propose to do about overpopulation? It's not something you can change.


I don't have the stats on hand but I've heard it put more than once that, short of war, catastrophe, disease etc, the only surefire way to effect depopulation is to educate women. The higher level the education, the more effective.

Here's to more highly educated women AND better food.
posted by philip-random at 1:42 PM on April 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


It all depends on the efficiency of farming practice and local conditions.

This is the key sentence here. Allow me to explain:

Shopping at Whole Foods does not help save the world.
Tearing out your lawn and replacing it with a permaculture garden does help.
posted by mek at 1:44 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Some organic farms use "green manure"

Ugh, I hate it when I have that. It usually happens when I've got the runs real bad.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I eat organic fruits and vegetables because I like to avoid neurotoxins. I know this is a radical stance. Eating grass fed beef is important because industrial beef is linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mad Cow disease is probably vastly underreported in the US. Frankly, I am completely uninterested in eating foods of unknown origin until our food supply chain is significantly safer.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Please expand on this backhanded remark indicating that you have eaten people. I am particularly interested in how I can ethically do this myself.
Here's my chance to pretend to be a serial killer...

Ok, no -- During some oral surgery, it was necessary to get part of my gums out of the way, and instead of using a scalpel, the doctor used a kind of heat-gun to burn away the excess flesh. This resulted in a disturbing phenomenon - I could taste myself (until the burns healed). So I haven't eaten human flesh, just tasted it. And yeah, it was kind of salty and pork-ish.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone on it. Hunger is a problem of distribution - that is, politics and economics - not of production. Take a look at some writing by George McGovern or particularly Amartya Sen, who points out that there's never been a famine in a country with democracy and a free press.
posted by nickmark at 1:49 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


One 2003 study (2) looked at the energy requirements of orange juice produced on a large scale in Brazil, and shipped as concentrate to Europe, versus apple juice processed on a small scale in Europe.

How can that be a valid study? It's like comparing OH SHIT MY CLICHE METER JUST EXPLODED
posted by Nothing... and like it at 1:50 PM on April 28, 2010 [81 favorites]


what about Aquaponics!

posted by armlock at 1:50 PM on April 28, 2010


Well, what do you propose to do about overpopulation? It's not something you can change.

I don't have the stats on hand but I've heard it put more than once that, short of war, catastrophe, disease etc, the only surefire way to effect depopulation is to educate women. The higher level the education, the more effective.


A Daily Show guest said as much in a recent appearance.
posted by ekroh at 1:51 PM on April 28, 2010


Pesticide exposures remain a serious problem in the developing world, where farm chemical use is not as well regulated, yet even there they are more an occupational risk for unprotected farmworkers than a residue risk for food consumers.


haha...I mean EVEN in backwater countries where they'll just dump whatever kills all over plants and farmworker alike, folks who eat this stuff aren't at risk anymore than us rich folk who use the most high-tech pesticides causing our fieldhands to go sterile. See...we're more alike than you suspect. What a small, filthy world.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:52 PM on April 28, 2010


Messed that up. Link should go here. And for what it's worth his name is Fred Pearce and he's written a book about it.
posted by ekroh at 1:52 PM on April 28, 2010


nickmark: "there's never been a famine in a country with democracy and a free press."

By that logic, no countries have had democracy and a free press in a time of famine. Hungry citizens are dangerous to the powers that be. People do desperate things when their lives are in danger. If you really wanted the government overthrown in the US a good first step would be to eliminate food stamps.
posted by idiopath at 1:54 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I am completely uninterested in eating foods of unknown origin until our food supply chain is significantly safer.

This is also my primary reason for going as local as possible for produce and meat. We know where it came from, how it was treated, what they ate, and so on. Being able to look your food producer(s) in the eye(s) is a big deal to me.
posted by jquinby at 1:56 PM on April 28, 2010


I buy my food locally because fuck if I'm going to go all the way to the other side of town for flan bases and tins of beans.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2010


there's never been a famine in a country with democracy and a free press.

The Dust Bowl doesn't count?
posted by electroboy at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It seems like there would be a market for high-yeald crops that use as little labor, petrochemicals, and manure as possible. Unfortunately, much of the world relies on nonrenewable energy to plant, harvest, transport, and refrigerate produce. Small scale farming is a wonderful hobby, but it lacks many of the efficiency gains made by economies of scale.
posted by Human Flesh at 2:00 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well I was replying to the logical implications of his statement, not the veracity of it.
posted by idiopath at 2:01 PM on April 28, 2010


Amartya Sen, who points out that there's never been a famine in a country with democracy and a free press.

No millionaire has ever starved to death under a freeway overpass. That doesn't mean the secret to being rich is not sleeping outside.
posted by EarBucket at 2:01 PM on April 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Developing organic and localized food pipelines will save the human race when the oil runs out and we have no more petrochemical-derived pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers

Re: no more pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers ... that'll be a long, long, looooooong time. You don't need barrels and barrels of light, sweet crude to make this stuff.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:07 PM on April 28, 2010


We can have natural, continuous, small-scale starvation in the third world, or we can have an unsustainable, petrochem-driven population boom followed by a crash.

Maybe not. Take India for example:
Six lakh acres increase in a farming system that does not use chemical pesticides, and is also phasing out chemical fertiliser, that too in matter of few months, is a record of sorts. And all this has happened without any push from the government agencies and the private sector. I see no reason why this environmentally safe, and a farmer-friendly system of sustainable agriculture, cannot cover 200 million acres across the country in another ten years or so if the government gets serious.

Also, this report on the "International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development" argues that the ONLY way to fight hunger is to integrate traditional knowledge, focus on small farmers and sustain soil fertility by applying little and only organic fertilizers (via German Bundestag publication Das Parlament)
posted by Glow Bucket at 2:07 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The more I know about my the actual food on my plate, before I eat it, is what I want. Buying organic food and locally produced food does that for me. I have a better idea of where it's from, who the farmers are, how the farmers farm their food, what kinds of pesticides and chemical additives are not in my food. Will industrial farming do that for me? And if they do that for me, will I like the answers I get?

When you look at random processed food on a shelf, say, a Twinkie, you might chuckle when you can't identify 75% of the ingredients on the label. You know what? That's not really funny at all. I think it's a generally good idea to be able to identify what you're putting in your body. The more knowledge, the better, so if you're comfortable eating cellulose gum after reading what it is, then all the power to you.

It looks like I'm arguing 2 different things, but I'm not. I'm not saying that the organic movement or the locavore movement gives you more info on what's in a Twinkie. But they do give you more information on what you're eating. That's all I want: an informed decision. If I'm putting unnatural chemicals in my body, at least tell me what they are.

I'm not against eating industrial produce, or processed foods. I do both quite often. But I do have a preference for local and organic foods, in part for the reasons stated above.

But the argument for supporting the world's poor with my own diet is a convincing one, and I'll have to look into ways to do so without sacrificing my own ease of mind.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Make Room! Make Room! (the "inspiration" behind Soylent Green) described the Soylent products as being Soya and Lentil based steaks. No people involved.

Yum!

the problem with this is that food is a huge part of culture

That IS the problem, Philip-Random. Food must be removed from its central place in our culture, and relegated to the status of a health maintainance duty that is not necessarily for pleasure -- like brushing your teeth or having a colonoscopy. Eating all-in-one food patties formulated by biochemists to contain all necessary nutrients (including some satiation triggers) would free us from the tiresome rituals of family and social dinners, fast food restaurants, and sounds of loud, sloppy eating that have made going to the movies an ordeal. Unless we all want to die of starvation, food must go.
posted by Faze at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would be very surprised if most of the people who insist on eating local actually know where their food comes from, the conditions in which the animals live, etc. What percentage of consumers visit and monitor the farms that supply their foods? Further, the idea that just because a farm is local somehow means they will be ethical is beyond absurd. Are the unethical producers not local to anyone?
posted by proj at 2:09 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


By the time I figure out what the heck I'm supposed to buy, I'm too tired to cook it.
posted by JanetLand at 2:13 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


People like to point out the risks of monocultures with the implication that scientific agricultural techniques somehow necessitate crop uniformity. Genetic diversity can be engineered easily.
posted by Human Flesh at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pointing to population is changing the subject, eating locally still does nothing. Maybe in some alternate universe where there won't be ~9 billion people it's a viable choice, but even in that universe, it didn't create those conditions. It's an outcome of having a sustainable population, not a cause. It's just a bit of make-believe to pretend you are already living there, so how is it even ethical at all?
posted by AlsoMike at 2:16 PM on April 28, 2010


By that logic, no countries have had democracy and a free press in a time of famine.

You misunderstand Sen's logic. His point is the same you make, that hungry people are dangerous to the powers that be - and that in a political system where the leaders are responsible to the people, and information flows freely, the powers that be respond to the precursors to famine in a way that prevents mass starvation (by providing emergency food, by adjusting tariffs, or whatever). Sure, eliminating food stamps would be a great way to produce a hungry, angry mass of people - but how politically realistic is it in the US?

The Dust Bowl doesn't count?

I think Sen would say no - it's been a while since I read it and I can't remember if he addresses it directly, but the Dust Bowl, while a significant economic and agricultural disaster, didn't result in mass starvation and death in the same kind of scale that you see in the Irish Potato Famine, or more recently in various famines in Africa (say Ethiopia in the '80s). I suspect Sen would argue that one reason there wasn't a higher death toll in the Dust Bowl was the ability - the freedom - of people in the Midwest to go elsewhere. Sen would probably argue that the combination of democracy and a free press forced the government to respond to the crisis - see your article's section on the US government.
posted by nickmark at 2:17 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions stem from food production, not transportation, and production inputs for organic food are typically higher.

Your second link does not support this statement either. Your link is an article reporting on a narrow study that suggested that industrialized large scale agriculture might realize energetic economies of scale that dwarf losses from large transport distances. From what I can tell, the study didn't conclude this, since economies of scale are undemonstrated.

Now, it is true that the majority of GHG emissions from industrialized food does come from farming: indeed it comes from fertilizer, especially nitrogen. But if you're farming organic, your not using nitrogen fixed using Haber-Bosch, so there's a huge energetic and emissions gain right there. You're also not importing potassium and phosphorous from large mines around the world.

I'm not at home right now, I can dig up links and references to peer reviewed literature later if there's interest.
posted by bumpkin at 2:21 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm not at home right now, I can dig up links and references to peer reviewed literature later if there's interest.

Please do!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 PM on April 28, 2010


That IS the problem, Philip-Random. Food must be removed from its central place in our culture, and relegated to the status of a health maintainance duty that is not necessarily for pleasure -- like brushing your teeth or having a colonoscopy. Eating all-in-one food patties formulated by biochemists to contain all necessary nutrients (including some satiation triggers) would free us from the tiresome rituals of family and social dinners, fast food restaurants, and sounds of loud, sloppy eating that have made going to the movies an ordeal. Unless we all want to die of starvation, food must go.

I think that bit about finding meals with other people tiresome might be something that's mostly you. I for one enjoy a good meal, with nice food, friends and family. That's an enjoyable activity for me and 99% of the rest of the population. The fact that you're anti-social doesn't mean that the rest of need to start eating nutraloaf.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:31 PM on April 28, 2010


You're also not importing potassium and phosphorous from large mines around the world.

I'm pretty sure rock phosphate is a-ok for organic farming.
posted by electroboy at 2:31 PM on April 28, 2010


This is a terrible, ax-grindy post but the comments almost redeem it.

It was like a softball setup.

I contend that the reason why a lot of people eat crap is because they don't know what the good stuff is SUPPOSED to taste like.

I contend that the reason why most people eat crap is because it is loaded with SUGAR, FAT, and SALT. Why do you think "no one can eat just one"?

I know how good a great organic strawberry or peach tastes. But I'm still going to stuff my face with chips and salsa.

Can we at least agree that buying ground beef from a sustainable farm is better than buying a frozen beef patty from the supermarket that is an amalgam of low-grade cow parts ...

Not to mention that some of us consider the welfare of the animals that we (do or don't) eat. Chickens, pigs, and cows raised industrially are in hell on earth.

Organic food is not more nutritious nor is it safer than conventional food.

Is this Tesco study bunk?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:32 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I am completely uninterested in eating foods of unknown origin until our food supply chain is significantly safer.

That's probably the most important factor. Is there a reason why there is near-zero transparency into industrial food production? In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food inspections; in 2006, the FDA conducted less than 9,200.

Really, the treatment of animals and the safety of food are very much in doubt for me, when it comes to *any* sort of farm.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:37 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eating all-in-one food patties formulated by biochemists to contain all necessary nutrients (including some satiation triggers) would free us from the tiresome rituals of family and social dinners

Yeah, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your view is probably in the minority.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:40 PM on April 28, 2010


Seriously, is anyone suggesting that organic farming is more efficient than industrial farming, that it somehow feeds more people? Is anyone suggesting that ALL farms be converted to organic farms? As someone who frequently purchases organic and locally grown vegetables, these bogus notions never even occurred to me, much less do they comprise the reasoning behind my decisions.

No mention in these articles about corporations suing farmers when their harvest contains crops grown with patented seeds due to the natural dissemination of these. No mention of mass-produced corporate crops destroying the market for small local farmers. No mention of how global markets can contribute to famines when the nonexistence of local farms due to competition with subsidized industrial farming creates a lack of alternatives when prices fluctuate due to market speculation. Nothing about global financiers demanding destabilizing economic conditions as a requisite to release funds to developing nations.

I'm afraid that most of what these articles accomplish (however they are intended) is to serve up soundbite arguments for CliffsNotes Randians who want to bring the culture war to progressive dinner tables because they think making ethical decisions about what one eats is an affront to humanity.
posted by millions at 2:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is there a reason why there is near-zero transparency into industrial food production? In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food inspections; in 2006, the FDA conducted less than 9,200.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2006, the federal government was controlled by people who view government regulation as actively evil. The FDA has a long way to go, but it's stepping up its game (pdf) under the Obama administration.
posted by EarBucket at 2:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some organic farms use "green manure" cover crops, like clover, rather than animal manure to incorporate nutrients into the soil. You work it under before it goes to seed, and the nutrients go into the soil.
posted by samsaunt at 1:35 PM on April 28


Conservation of mass says that manure can concentrate nutrients from a large area into a small area, but there's the same or less nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the manure than in the feed. Maybe the "processing" makes the nutrients more available, but composting should do the same. Otherwise, you are just getting your fertilizer second hand. Or depleting one area of land to benefit another.
posted by 445supermag at 2:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


bitter-girl.com: "I contend that the reason why a lot of people eat crap is because they don't know what the good stuff is SUPPOSED to taste like."

As mrgrimm said, salt fat and sugar are powerful chemicals that our bodies inherently crave. I grew up on a vegetarian diet of mostly organic food (much of it local). A significant amount of our food came from our own back yard organic garden. We never had soda or candy in the house. As soon as I lived on my own and my peers introduced me to normal American food my diet changed radically - I never learned basic self control with junk foods because they were mostly absent from my childhood. I knew all too well what organic healthy locally grown food tasted like and I preferred the taste of junk food.
posted by idiopath at 2:46 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


445supermag: "Conservation of mass says that manure can concentrate nutrients from a large area into a small area, but there's the same or less nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the manure than in the feed. "

"green manure" plants fixate nitrogen from the air into the soil, with the help of a symbiotic fungus. The air is mostly nitrogen.
posted by idiopath at 2:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Late to the thread & maybe it's been said, but here's my 2c:

As far as possible, I've been eating locally grown food (organic or not), main reasons being:

- we have two massive supermarket chains that have a stranglehold duopoly over the grocery market. These assholes bargain growers against each other until farmers scrape by on near bankruptcy (or indeed go bankrupt) while the supermarkets rake in all the profits.

- the supermarkets also aggressively squeeze out regular greengrocers, butchers & grocery stores, by deliberately undercutting whatever produce the others have on special. As soon as the mom & pop stores go under, prices are jacked up again.

- I'd rather eat fresh, seasonal produce than shit that's been frozen half a year or flown in from America. I believe we have lost touch with the seasons & what is good at what time of year, with mega-retailers helping to sever our connection to the production of food.

- Supermarket fruit & vegies tend towards generic, plastic produce that looks good on the outside, but is often lacking in texture & flavour. Tomatoes are a perfect example.

- Local producers experiment more with interesting, flavoursome varieties, like "heirloom" produce. These may not be commercially viable on a large scale; I don't know; but the supermarkets rarely stray from the plastic varieties mentioned above.

- Supermarket meat is particularly dubious, and you lose the expertise of a local butcher in favour of a bland factory-style process where the main objective is to shift units, come hell or high water, as opposed to the personal service & advice you can get from a real butcher.

- I generally support the concept of not trucking or flying food across continents, just to save a dollar.

- The produce is almost always guaranteed to be fresher & taste better from local producers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:49 PM on April 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


Otherwise, you are just getting your fertilizer second hand. Or depleting one area of land to benefit another.

Most of the cover crops referred to as green manure are nitrogen fixing crops that absorb N from the air and fix it via bacteria in their root systems. The crops are then plowed under, allowing the nitrogen to be used by the next crop in the rotation.
posted by electroboy at 2:51 PM on April 28, 2010


I'm pretty sure rock phosphate is a-ok for organic farming.

Yup. OMRI certified! Organic != sustainable, by any means.
posted by phyllary at 3:00 PM on April 28, 2010


Consumers shouldn't be left to fend for themselves when it comes to health and safety. If I walked into a grocery store that had a "glass shard free" section and a "may contain glass shards" section, I wouldn't think it was safe to shop in the "glass shard free" section. I would take my business elsewhere. If you don't think that food safety regulations protect you from being poisoned by normal food, why do you think they'll protect you from being poisoned by food that's labeled organic?
posted by Human Flesh at 3:03 PM on April 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yes. Saying there is no evidence for A is not the same as saying not A.
posted by ekroh at 4:07 PM on April 28 [+] [!]


Well, we also don't don't tend to waste much our time believing things there's no evidence for.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:34 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Something related to this popped up in one of my feeds at work. A bit late to the game, but here's an excessive quote-within-quote:
[M]odern cultivars are selected to beneļ¬t from later nitrogen (N) availability which includes the spring nitrogen applications tailored to coincide with peak crop demand. Under organic management, N release is largely based on the breakdown of fertility-building crops incorporated (ploughed-in) in the previous autumn. The release of nutrients from these residues is dependent on the soil conditions, which includes temperature and microbial populations, in addition to the potential leaching effect of high winter rainfall in the UK. In organic cereal crops, early resource capture is a major advantage for maximizing the utilization of nutrients from residue breakdown.
To perform well under organic conditions, varieties need to get a fast start, to outcompete weeds, and they need to be good at getting nitrogen from the soil early on in their growth. Organic farmers tend to use older varieties, in part because they possess those qualities. Concerted selection for the kinds of qualities that benefit plants under organic conditions, which tend to be much more variable from place to place and season to season, could improve the yileds from organic farms.
-- What are breeders selecting for? (Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog)

You'll need to scroll down a bit to get to the actual post. Abstract of the article is here.
posted by Decimask at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, can we just say we're doomed until we invent nuclear fusion and leave it at that?

We've had working nuclear fusion since November 1st, 1952 (at 3:15 pm eastern standard time)
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on April 28, 2010


I hear they taste like bacon.

I hate to break it to you, but you've got it wrong. Bacon tastes like people.

Also, this is the funniest thing I've read on MetaFilter in a while.
posted by felix betachat at 4:00 PM on April 28, 2010


nickmark: "You misunderstand Sen's logic. His point is the same you make, that hungry people are dangerous to the powers that be - and that in a political system where the leaders are responsible to the people, and information flows freely, the powers that be respond to the precursors to famine in a way that prevents mass starvation (by providing emergency food, by adjusting tariffs, or whatever). Sure, eliminating food stamps would be a great way to produce a hungry, angry mass of people - but how politically realistic is it in the US?"

He seems to think that democracy is a sufficient condition for lack of famine.

My claim, on the other hand, is that lack of famine is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the possibility of Democracy.

Thus my statement about foodstamps: hungry populations are not civil, and without civility democracy fails.
posted by idiopath at 4:01 PM on April 28, 2010


we also don't don't tend to waste much our time believing things there's no evidence for.

Who is "we"? Try telling that to the 5.5 billion-plus religious people on the planet.
posted by ekroh at 4:03 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Labeling has just gone crazy in general. I mean, seriously. a full servings of veggies in a half-cup of pasta sauce! You can't even buy sandwich bags without the cover crowing about how it's perfect for holding 100 calorie snacks. Let food be food and bags be bags. Sheesh.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:10 PM on April 28, 2010


GRAR aside, there could be no conclusive evidence because there haven't been enough studies or big enough studies, etc.
posted by ekroh at 4:11 PM on April 28, 2010


Oh, and for the record. Grassfed cattle doesn't have e-coli, so there's something to think about.

Why wouldn't they have it? You have e-coli growing in you right now. It's only certain types that are harmful.
This.

I contend that the reason why a lot of people eat crap is because they don't know what the good stuff is SUPPOSED to taste like.
Huh, so it's OK to destroy the world if the food you end up eating is tastier? That seems a little short sighted.

Anyway, I don't particularly care if people want to eat food that they think tastes good, but the moralizing of foodies gets old quickly, especially when combined with their paranoia about impurities.

What we need is a carbon tax or cap and trade system in place so that externalities are priced in. If it's true that organic food releases more CO2 then the prices will go up (and producers will have more reason to try using 'carbon free' energy sources. Of course, methane created by cows also needs to be taxed)

Also, non-organic fertilizers are produced directly from source chemicals (including oil), so they don't deplete anything from the environment. The Haber process pulls nitrogen directly from the air, for example. These take a lot of energy too, but if carbon pricing were put into place, these industries would have an incentive to switch to nuclear energy or something.
posted by delmoi at 4:15 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


See, I grew up eating awesome vegetables from the 1/2 acre garden in my great-grandmother's backyard. (My mom grew stuff too, but Grandma Dorothy's garden was about a zillion times more kickassier). I know what real tomatoes taste like. I know what unfrozen broccoli tastes like. Those "tomatoes" on your salad at PrettyMuchAnyRestaurant might as well be the fabled power bar stuff we're talking about above, because they taste about as good.

I feel sorry for kids today who are missing out on all the awesome real flavors I got to experience. And you know what? My family didn't have money for shit when I was growing up. My great-grandparents were old, on a fixed income, and they still managed to knock it out of the park food-wise. We lived in a rented duplex and my mom still figured out how to grow some stuff in the backyard. We foraged for berries nearby because there were TONS OF THEM, just sitting there ripe for the taking.


I just had to quote that in full. In my case, my grandparents (WWII refugees who started in this country with nothing) not only grew their own fruit & vegies (and had blackberries in particular growing wild - annoying weeds, but oh so tasty!), they also ran a poultry farm as their main source of income. Hens, ducks & geese just wandering about the place, mostly foraging for themselves - what would be considered the high end of free-range today (as opposed to just locked in a shed but not in cages).

Fresh eggs straight from the chicken just can't be beat, but damn I can't eat duck or goose with pleasure anymore. Nothing I've been able to buy even comes close to what I ate growing up.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:29 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


He [Sen] seems to think that democracy is a sufficient condition for lack of famine.

My claim, on the other hand, is that lack of famine is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the possibility of Democracy.

Thus my statement about foodstamps: hungry populations are not civil, and without civility democracy fails.


I think you have the causality wrong: Democracy prevents famines, not the reverse. Well, one could imagine a situation where a genuine scarcity of food created a breakdown of civil society and of democracy. But modern famines almost invariably take place in the context of an overall surplus of food -- but with none available to the starving people. So a responsive government (eg "democracy") finds ways to reallocate food (eg via foodstamps) and famine is averted; an unresponsive government (eg "not democratic") has no need to take those steps and a famine can take place.

Remember -- Sen isn't making an argument about all famines through history, or about the unusual cases where all of a society's sources of calories disappear. He's talking about modern famines, which frequently have had the particularly awful feature of simultaneous food exports and mass starvation.

And there are plenty of other mechanisms that could work to reallocate food to prevent a famine, such as religious strictures requiring food sharing, say. Historically, it may be that those have been effective, I don't know. In the modern era, however, those mechanisms have been ineffective compared to democratic governance.

The point of all this, of course, is that the key question is not whether your farming is done by organic or non-organic methods -- it's whether or not your society is sufficiently egalitarian to allow access to the benefits of that farming to the poor. That's a political and social question, not an agricultural one.
posted by Forktine at 5:06 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


getting industrial quantities of kitchen compost from cities back to farms

I'm not sure if it's going to farms, or just back to home gardeners, but our local public utility instituted "organics at the curb" last year. So you put all your scraps in a bin that gets collected same as the normal trash & recycling bins. (And they can take stuff you wouldn't compost at home, which is cool.)

It goes to a local company that does "bulk" composting; I saw pictures at a presentation at our neighborhood association, but can't find anything on the city's website. That company then sells the compost commercially.
posted by epersonae at 5:18 PM on April 28, 2010


Most of the cover crops referred to as green manure are nitrogen fixing crops that absorb N from the air and fix it via bacteria in their root systems. The crops are then plowed under, allowing the nitrogen to be used by the next crop in the rotation.
posted by electroboy at 2:51 PM on April 28


My point was about animal manure, not green manure. I was trying to say that green manure probably has more nutrients than animal manure (per amount of land used to either raise the green manure or raise the cattle feed). I well know about nitrogen fixation, as a kid we would mix a baterial inoculant in with the soybean seed to encourage nodules.
Recently, we went to a feed store and tried to buy clover seed, the guy behind the counter said "most people try to get rid of clover in their yard". Then he added another negative "Plus it attracts bees, a barefoot kid could get stung".
posted by 445supermag at 6:03 PM on April 28, 2010


yeloson -- the idea that the GM crops have to be so restrictive is misinformed.

The two most common modifications done on crops currently are Bt toxin producing and "roundup ready". The former actually *decreases* pesticide inputs as the plant contains a toxin that targets various caterpillars that reduce yield (or produce blemishes that make the product unmarketable). Bt varieties have no additional inputs that any other variety might have. The later does admittedly become more effective to use if you treat with roundup .. but roundup has been off-patent for a while now and is one of the least toxic herbicides used. While using roundup does appear to increase herbicide use, it allows a farmer to only apply it at targeted times (e.g. after the desired crop is just established) rather than dumping lots of herbicides on a field to keep weeds out between crops, much of which just runs off. In fact, the idea of herbicide-resistant crop varieties makes the possiblity of "no till" agriculture at a large scale possible, which would greatly reduce soil erosion and increase accumulated soil nutrients. Right now farmers tend to till in their fields just to keep the weeds down .. but with nothing growing there, the soil erodes easily.

The idea of sterile seed as being actually produced is false. No GM crop has been brought to market with "terminator" genes. There *is* however the issue of hybrids as someone else pointed out, but that applies to conventional as well as GM varieties. It's so common as to make the idea of a terminator gene laughable. The only reason why such things have been considered is for fear of GM crop traits getting into the wild.

In any case, the world of GM isn't just Monsanto and the big agribusiness companies. The Gates foundation, IRRI and others are trying to bring to market GM crops with features like: submergence tolerant rice, grain crops with higher nutrient levels, greater drought tolerance, rust tolerance, etc. But we Europeans and Americans don't trust GM, so why would Africans or Asians?
posted by R343L at 6:09 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


production inputs for organic food are typically higher.

What?! That's BS.
posted by stbalbach at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2010




UbuRoivas FTW

Even Stewart Brand now realizes that it was a mistake for the green movement to oppose genetic engineering.

According to the agricultural science meetings I've been to, we'll need twice as much food by 2050. Even assuming the dramatic increases in crop yields we've achieved over the past 20 years continue (and there's reason to believe they'll plateau), we won't get there with more efficient crops alone. We need to use land better. Valuable and necessary as it is to work on increasing yield, we also need to work on increasing heat and salt tolerance so we can get food from land that was formerly unplantable.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:41 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This post is very misleading and/or editorializing. I'll break it down line by line:

1. "Eating local, organic foods may not be the best option."

..option for what? "Saving the world from hunger", according to the linked article. The sweeping generalized statement in the FPP is misleading, because local, organic foods really are the best options for many other reasons (including saving the world from hunger, IMO, but that's irrelevant).

2. "The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions stem from food production"

Oh really? Not according to the EPA, click on Executive Summary, figure ES-11 - Fossil Fuels totally dominate and the majority of the that is electricity (coal) and transportation (oil).

3. "production inputs for organic food are typically higher"

This statement is vague so it's impossible to defend or attack without further clarification, but it's not backed up with any links, it amounts to editorializing and generalization - even taken on face value it is almost certainly incorrect, conventional farming relies greatly on oil and gas while organic less so.

4. "Third world countries that have a food system that is organic and local by default are suffering from lack of infrastructure and investment in basic production technologies that could improve nutrition for millions of people."

True, but it has nothing to do with organic or not, it's simply old techniques that would benefit from newer techniques. Organic != 3rd world. This sentence reads like a talking point from Big Ag's propaganda department scaring people into thinking organic is backwards.

This is an unfortunate FPP that should be pulled as too much editorializing - worse, making absolute statements of fact that are just simply wrong.
posted by stbalbach at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I started to read this thread, but saved time by punching myself in the dick.
posted by nola at 6:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


So eating blueberries flown from Chile to Toronto is less environmentally damaging than eating Ontario-grown blueberries? And apples trucked from California have been produced and transported using less energy than apples from Georgetown (one hour drive outside TO)? Wow, Now I get to eat foreign fruit that tastes like styrofoam and feel good about it!

/hamburger

When people complain about not eating locally, it's not the grains or concentrates transported by ship or trains -- which are very energy efficient -- that they are largely talking about -- it's fresh food being flown around the world. The blueberries my mom bought have travelled farther than I ever have -- and that really does not help my carbon footprint. I love blueberries, but I'll wait until summer when the Ontario ones ripen. If I want them in winter, I'll freeze some.
posted by jb at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2010


Of course, neither Chile nor California nor Florida are developing countries. In Britain, off-season fruit often came from New Zealand, which is also not a developing country (no matter how hard their old right-wing govt tried to make it one). In fact, I'm pretty sure California counts as more technologically and economically developed than Ontario. But these are the primary places that I see my fresh food coming from other than Ontario.

Am I being paranoid if I suspect that articles like the ones linked re being promoted and paid for by some of the big agri-business and agri-lobbies in states like California and Florida? After all, their bottom line is on the line if large numbers of North American consumers start eating locally and in season.
posted by jb at 7:57 PM on April 28, 2010


It's interesting that the application of massive chemical herbicides, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizer was called the "green revolution"
posted by delmoi at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that the application of massive chemical herbicides, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizer was called the "green revolution"

"Green" refers to the dollars gained from newly input-dependent farmers.
posted by parudox at 8:54 PM on April 28, 2010


parudox: uh, come on. Green just referred to the massive productivity increase. And plants are green. Therefore, "green revolution". The biggest players in the green revolution weren't even companies but people in academia and non-profit institutions. Norman Borlaug -- who likely saved more lives than any other single human being -- should not be insulted so. A lot of the things we saw as problems now weren't well understood when it began and there are solutions and iterative improvements that we can do to make it work better.
posted by R343L at 9:58 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


R343L: I'm a big believer in "better living through technology" - but I don't trust GM foods either.

If you'd followed all the various things that industrial society has produced and sworn was harmless, you'd be spraying your house with DDT and smoking cigarettes for your wind.

And the fact is that most of the new GM products came onto the market during the time that the US Government, at least, had basically stopped even pretending to protect us from the predations of large companies. The fact that the US government has fought tooth and nail to avoid EU regulations that simply require you to identify GMOs in food labelling should give almost anyone pause...

I'd also add that companies like Monsanto have justifiably dreadful reputations that don't encourage trust.

Yes, I understand the argument that producing GMO's is like what people have always done when they breed varieties. I understand that that argument is garbage - you might as well compare a flashlight to a laser. The point is that genetic modification lets you create new varieties thousands of times faster than cross-breeding - this allows whole new forms of failure, in exactly the same way that driving a car allows for new failure modes you never had when you could only run.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:02 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


After personally experiencing the immense improvement in taste alone, I find vegetable gardening to be an enlightening and comfortable practice.

This is not to ignore the benefit of spiritual growth earned from the cultivating of your own land to sustain your own body. Or, as crazy as it might sound, supporting your local cultivator (i.e. farmer) in return for the agriculture they sustain, completely transparently.

There are no trade secrets left in (Capitalistic) Farming, such that in order to maintain market growth for food-producing corporations, artificial scarcity has to be introduced. At least, that's what I suspect the sector to be driving toward, as it seeks to monopolize all means of competition.

So.

"Organic"- at least to the people I know- is less of a label, and more a way of life. But you'll never hear them tell you it's the only way. We'll be over here having fun and feeling healthy, ready to help you figure it out whenever you think it's time to take the plunge...

Wheeee!

posted by pedmands at 10:18 PM on April 28, 2010


Except with most GM crops the number of genes different from the "conventional" variety is usually one or two. And we know exactly what we do. Breeding to, for example, wild relatives is actually *more* dangerous because we have no idea what else we're introducing. Tomato breeders have to be careful when breeding with wild relatives because some of them are poisonous and you can introduce that into your line. Also, many of our modern crop varieties were produced by blindly irradiating plants to mutate them. Yeah, we got some awesome stuff out of that but we don't know what other traits we introduce that aren't readily apparent.

Speaking of Monsanto, it turns out they are doing something really amazing. They apparently found a gene for better shelf life (IIRC for a tomato). They could just GM it in (and have). But they know now it won't be accepted easily. So they have a lot of money. So they are massively growing and crossing plants and then sequencing them to find the exact gene they already found (and proved viable) via GM techniques. Once they've found it (by generating lots of variation via generations and crossing), they can breed that line until they have a stable, "conventionally" bred tomato with the exact gene they want in it. It's expensive and time-consuming but will have the exact result as using GM. Why should they have to do that?

Admittedly Monsanto has a poor image, but dismissing all GM like that is short-sighted and, ultimately, probably going to condemn millions if not billions of people to starvation. Submergence tolerant rice, for example, is being field-tested in Bangladesh and other incredibly flood prone places. These are areas where people literally do depend on the rice crop to live. What should we tell them?

Sure, our industrial society and people and companies in it have lied to us and done awful things. But the response isn't to hide and condemn huge classes of human activity because some actors are bad (or less than consistently good). The response is to go out there and do it right and to support those that do.
posted by R343L at 10:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not trusting GMOs is like not trusting pharmaceuticals. Why would you trust them, knowing who's behind it all? (the shareholders, that is, not some evil ZOG cabal)

So we communicate our distrust in no uncertain terms and a certain dance ensues. If we do it right, nobody gets hurt and we end up with something new (perhaps weird) that might just improve the lot of pregnant mothers and small children (ie: humankind in general).
posted by philip-random at 11:07 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless we all want to die of starvation, food must go.

Every eight hours, your cubicle will be flooded with a nutrient-rich sludge.
posted by Ritchie at 11:20 PM on April 28, 2010


Re: no more pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers ... that'll be a long, long, looooooong time. You don't need barrels and barrels of light, sweet crude to make this stuff.

Back when oil hit $140 a barrel, food prices skyrocketed well above the rate of inflation. The security of our food supply is tied inexorably to our access to geologically "cheap-to-exploit" energy. Making oil from coal would destroy the environment and accelerate climate change even faster than we're doing now. Learning to be more self-sufficient and energy efficient might help us survive the worst to come.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:55 AM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Making oil from coal would destroy the environment

On top of that it would be a net energy loss and indicative of an extreme dependence on, and production shortfall of, oil. Germany and Japan (lacking supplies of light sweet crude) did it towards the end of WWII.
posted by symbollocks at 6:39 AM on April 29, 2010


Back when oil hit $140 a barrel, food prices skyrocketed well above the rate of inflation.

That's not the reason food prices skyrocketed.
posted by electroboy at 6:53 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


FWIW, the Carboxymethyl cellulose link failed to scare me in any way, shape or form.
posted by batou_ at 7:03 AM on April 29, 2010


Nothing I've been able to buy even comes close to what I ate growing up.

True that, UbuRoivas, and it's not just some Proustian madeleine, you know? The reason I like heirloom tomatoes now is not because oooh fancy yuppie tomatoes, it's because they taste more like the ones my family grew. Monsanto and the rest of those fuckers would like nothing better than to have only one variety of tomato available in the world -- the one whose seeds they control. The ones that can make it to the supermarket without falling apart. The ones that can be artificially ripened. Yeah. That SUCKS. It's no longer a tomato, it's a facsimile of a tomato.

idiopath: I knew all too well what organic healthy locally grown food tasted like and I preferred the taste of junk food.

This sounds like my cousin, whose mom wouldn't let him eat sugar and who became a raging bouncyball the second anyone slipped him any. Moderation in all things, you know? I ate junk food growing up. My great-grandma had practically a whole drawer in her bedroom dresser devoted to CANDY FOR GRANDCHILD (for the first 14 years, I was the only one, so it wasn't like she was stocking up for 10 of us). And yes, we're programmed to like sugar, and salt, and fat. But that's not the point I was trying to make, the point is, people don't know what fruit and vegetables really taste like, so they think they're awful, when actually what they're eating is not what they should really taste like anyway due to the homogenization of agriculture.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2010


I trust GM.

I wouldn't trust Monsanto to GM characteristics supportive of sustanible, low-capital farming if my life depended on it.

And other people's lives do depend on susustanible low-capital farming. That includes being able to keep your own seed from your crop, so that you aren't dependent on the vagaries of the market and slim profit margins to buy seed to feed yourself and your family the next year. Lots of farmers in developing countries -- and some in developed -- keep their own seed. But as I heard an agricultural scientist discuss in relation to maize in Mexico, the GM varieties have not been developed with that as a characteristic, and so they tend not to produce well in the next generation.

And this is the problem with the current GM market -- most are being developed to support an energy-intensive, capital-intensive, western style of farming. There are exceptions -- GM crops developed to reduce pesticide use, to survive in harsher conditions. And those I support wholeheartedly.

But exporting NorthAm style industrial farming to the world? yes, it's more productive in the short term, but so energy-intensive and polluting -- we are literally eating oil and shitting in our water supplies. We don't have enough oil or water to do this.

---------

slightly off-topic: one good reason to eat grass-fed beef is that feeding cattle on land that cannot grow arable crops rather than on grain which could feed people is a more sustainable choice.
posted by jb at 7:36 AM on April 29, 2010


But we Europeans and Americans don't trust GM, so why would Africans or Asians?

You misunderstand my point- I think we potentially could have great GMO food, or mass farming techniques.

I just don't trust for-profit business to be the ones to do it for the poor, just because.

Given the history of such businesses of buying up local farmland, devastating farming economies, continuing the practice of pushing farms away from self-sufficiency - instead towards single cash crop farming, of buying off and playing with corrupt governments...

Are we suddenly to expect them to turn around and care about the same human suffering they haven't cared about for decades?

But hey, I'm part of an elitist circle that imagines more people should be fed than currently are, and that they shouldn't have to give up sovereignty of govt. or land to foreign powers to do so.
posted by yeloson at 7:45 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those who worry about too many people, Hans Rosling paints a pretty convincing refutation at TED (see graphics at about 3:20). To philip-random's point, the issues of population and feeding them seems to rest very closely with family/household demographics (here I'm taking life expectancy as a proxy for nutrition).

This says nothing of whether the world will manage a continuing shift of populations adopting American-esque consumption patterns. The point is it'll be the behavior and not the magnitude (much as is the conflict with agriculture).
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:58 AM on April 29, 2010


we are literally eating oil and shitting in our water supplies

You don't know what literally means, do you?
posted by electroboy at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


[The high price of oil]'s not the reason food prices skyrocketed.

Your link does not support that statement. Just because it doesn't say "OIL IS CAUSING HIGH PRICES OF FOOD" in bolded, 20-point font doesn't mean you can't take a stab at interpreting the reasons they list. It's the IMF for crisakes.

- Rising biofuel production In response to high oil prices.

- depreciating US$ Oil is traded in dollars.

Oh wait, I just realized that they did put a pretty blatant statement about oil in there, because look at this item on the list:

- supply adjustment to higher prices has remained slow, notably for oil

Damn, IMF. Losing your edge. You slipped the O-word in talking about economic growth.
posted by symbollocks at 9:41 AM on April 29, 2010


Rising biofuel production In response to high oil prices.

Those are actually attributed to the massive government subsidies for biofuels.

depreciating US$ Oil is traded in dollars.

I'm not sure what that's even supposed to mean.

So if you ignore the five factors other than oil they cite, then yes, it is all about oil.
posted by electroboy at 10:25 AM on April 29, 2010


Good grief. You mean strict, unsubtle ways of thinking lead to incorrect results that need to be fit to assumptions, and straw-man arguments created to prove a negative don't agree?

I'm shocked.

Organic. This word does not mean what you think it means.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2010


Those are actually attributed to the massive government subsidies for biofuels.

But why would the government suddenly start subsidizing biofuels? Other than as a scheme to boost low supplies/production of oil?

I'm not sure what that's even supposed to mean.

The United States government subsidizes the price of oil. That's why gas is so cheap there compared to countries that don't subsidize oil (as much). Why do you think the dollar index mirrors the price of oil? Why did bush conveniently start a war after iraq started trading oil in euros (in Nov. 2000)? Ever heard of petrodollar warfare? Here's a good essay.

I don't mean to say it's all about oil (continued growth, trade policy + related responses, and drought conditions definitely played a part in the 2008 run up), but based on your linked article and the assumptions that can be drawn from it with a little more research I don't think it's inaccurate to say that high oil prices (and the real driver--low supplies, slipping production) lead to increased food prices during 2008.
posted by symbollocks at 12:52 PM on April 29, 2010




But why would the government suddenly start subsidizing biofuels? Other than as a scheme to boost low supplies/production of oil?

The government doesn't "suddenly" start subsidizing biofuels. Subsidies have been on the books for years and stay there because agricultural interests lobby for them and lawmakers from farm states hold prominent positions in Congress.

Biofuels production increases when oil prices are high because the pricing makes more sense. Biofuels are very expensive to produce, and even with subsidies are generally a more expensive alternative to oil. When the price of oil goes up, however, then biofuels start to look more attractive and producers make more to meet demand.
posted by ekroh at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2010


Is this Tesco study bunk?

What Tesco study? I think you're confusing a press release with a study. A study is peer-reviewed.
posted by Justinian at 5:46 PM on April 29, 2010


I used literally not as an intensivefier because I believe that it's not "like" we are eating oil, oil is being consumed to produce our food so we ARE eating oil (indirectly). We're also eating sunshine, but that bit is tasty. We are also sending animal shit into water systems. Lots of nasty animal shit.
posted by jb at 7:39 PM on April 29, 2010


I don't think anyone's seriously arguing that locally-sourced, organic, 'heritage' crops are a solution to feeding the world's poor.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that some people are seriously arguing that. Or perhaps not completely organic, but crops with much less inputs of petroleum-based synthetic chemicals than are commonly used today. In fact, if you took the completely cynical view, I think you could make a pretty compelling argument that, given that climate change is a massive problem which can really only be solved by using much, much less energy, we're going to have to either revert to more traditional farming practices or grow crops using modern methods but for a much smaller population. Probably some combination of both.

Is there much question that people are actually starving right now? It seems like in many ways hunger is more a factor of our economic than our agricultural system.
posted by viborg at 11:22 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The government doesn't "suddenly" start subsidizing biofuels.

Sorry, meant to say: Why would people start taking advantage of these subsidies all of a sudden?
posted by symbollocks at 3:12 AM on April 30, 2010


I mean, holy crap, why is there such a huge pushback to that line of thinking? Industrial agriculture is concentrated-energy-intensive, so why is it so controversial to say that when that kind of energy becomes scarce and expensive the price of food goes up? I didn't think it was so hard to understand. Do others (especially you who are resisting so strongly) think they have a better understanding? A better explanation? I'm interested because I have not heard any other explanation that makes sense (and that causes so many pieces of the big picture to fall into place).
posted by symbollocks at 3:21 AM on April 30, 2010


Just to clear something else up. Organic and integrated farms can be just as productive and often more productive than conventional farms according to peer reviewed studies.
posted by euphorb at 9:19 AM on April 30, 2010


Organic and integrated farms can be just as productive and often more productive than conventional farms according to peer reviewed studies.

To be fair, there's some disagreement on that issue, but there are long term studies like Rodale and Broadbalk that show high productivity with organic methods (although Broadbalk isn't technically organic).
posted by electroboy at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2010


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