Sunday, May 6, 2007

Weekend Update

Pepsi, the maker of soft drinks, Fritos and so much more junk food, has become # 1.

But it's not what you think. We mean # 1 in renewable energy.

That's right, the same company that would love to hook your kid on sugar and cheap carbs has jumped to the top of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency's list of buyers of green power. This after PepsiCo announced plans to purchase one billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy credits.

Pepsi is parntnering with Sterling Planet to spend $2 million funding wind, biomass and hydroelctric power to offset the energy used in its factories, offices and other facilities.

Pepsi beats out Wells Fargo and bumps grocer Whole Foods to the # 3 spot in the green energy race (or would crawl be the more appropriate term?)...

Monsanto would love to corner the market on where we get our food (meaning seeds), but a federal judge in San Francisco this week said not so fast.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer orderd a halt to Monsanto's sale of genetically modified alfalfa seed nationwide until the government can assess the potentional impact on conventional and organic alfalfa varieties.

The Center for Food Safety here in Washington, D.C., has sued Monsanto on behalf of farmers who are fearful that the genetically engineered alfalfa will hurt their own alfalfa crops.

Monsanto seeds have a way of finding their way into the fields of farmers who plant conventionally. The agribusiness giant then swoops down with its team of lawyers and sues the luckless farmers for growing Monsanto's patented seeds, which are engineered to resist one of Monsanto's other products, Roundup, the weed killer.

This is the first nationwide ban on a genetically engineered crop since these bio-freaks were first introduced in 1994 by way of the Flavr Sav tomato.
The U.S. Agriculture Department says it will conduct the ordered study. But the ruling represents the thinking of only one federal judge. We'd look for Monsanto to appeal.

Last week it was author Michael Pollan weighing in on the Farm Bill. Now, two U.S. congressmen say they'd like to eliminate all those fat subsidies for things like corn and soybeans and replace them with programs to promote fresh vegetables.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) represents wishful thinking more than a bill to create actual law. But maybe hope is growing. It certainly seems as though there is mounting public interest in this arcane governmental monstrosity known as the farm bill.

The congressmen suggest re-directing federal funds to enourage farmer's markets, direct farm-to-consumer schemes and other arrangements that make locally grown foods more available and affordable. Of course, all those things exist already. It's just that the federal government up to now has been more interested in supporting with tax dollars the pet concerns of agribusiness, which translates into foods full of cheap sugars and carbohydrates.

A fellow at Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, has chimed in with his own take on the Farm Bill.

Scott Kahan, a physician and postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins, has published 13 books on medicine and nutrition. Writing in The Baltimore Sun, Kahan opines that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is simply schizophrenic in its policies, subsidizing agribusinesses that help make people obese, on the one hand, while designing supposedly healthy food pyramids on the other.

Some $20 billion, more than one-fifth of the Ag department's entire budget, "is sunk into a farm bill that supports many of the foods its recommendations warn against. At the same time, the department virtually ignores incentives to produce, promote and consume some of the healthiest foods: fruits and vegetables."

Kahan notes that very little federal money is used to advertise or support fresh produce. "This is one reason Americans don't eat fruits and vegetables. Although some surveys suggest we eat about four servings daily, this number is greatly exaggerated because French fries and potato chips are counted the same as spinach, carrots or broccoli. In fact, 25 percent of vegetables consumed in the United States are fried potatoes."

Is it any wonder Americans keep getting fatter when we can't tell the difference between broccoli and a French fry?

The Canadian government may be getting ready to crack down on pollution from salmon farms in British Columbia.

According to a report in the Vancouver Sun, fish farmers foresee a moratorium on salmon farming expansion on British Columbia's north coast and the mandatory conversion of existing farms to closed-containment systems following a government review of the aquaculture industry.

One of the reasons we steer clear of farm-raised salmon is the threat of pollution and disease spreading to wildlife in the surrounding oceans. One recommendation of the committee studying the aquaculture issue could be to ban within three years all farming of fish in cages at sea.

Environmentalists would see that as a good thing....

Closer to home, kudos go to The Washington Post for an article on seafood sustainability in the paper's Food Section. The article reads like a roundup of material we've presented here at The Slow Cook, with an emphasis on the Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean seabass) and some description of the sustainability programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Environmental Defense.

The article's real focus is on a chef who recently opened a seafood restaurant called Hook in Georgetown. Barton Seaver is determined to offer only sustainable products and has developed a relationship with fisherman in Tobago who supply him with fish they catch on the hook (get it?).

Normally, chef-centric food coverage irritates us. But in this case it's a good thing. Certain chefs have been been leaders in the fight to save endangered ocean species.

Odd, though, that The Post never mentions that Patagonian toothfish, which Monterey Bay Aquarium still has on its "avoid" list, is sold openly and even agressively at the Whole Foods just five blocks from The Post's newsroom. Nor does the article mention the still controversial "certified sustainable" label that the toothfish at Whole Foods carries from the Marine Stewardship Council.

For the record, the MSC label is granted only to toothfish from the South Georgia fishery in the South Atlantic. Most toothfish otherwise is caught illegally--in other words, pirated.

Finally, we here in the District of Columbia are mourning the devastation by fire of our beloved Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

The historic building in which the market is (was) located was set ablaze and suffered extensive damage, probably as the result of an electrical fire. Come to find out there were all kinds of fire hazards at the market. And we just thought it had that cool, lived-in look.

Eastern Market, in continuous operation since 1873, housed a wonderful cheese shop, a first-class butcher or two, plus vegetable vendors and a funky lunch counter. On weekends, neighborhood residents would line up around the block for a breakfast of "bluebucks," the signature blueberry-buckwheat pancakes, while others shopped at the farmer's market stalls and flea market just outside the building.

City officials have vowed to restore the historic Victorian brick structure. Neighborhood acitivists are mobilizing as well. Meanwhile, vendors are looking for temporary digs at a site nearby, possibly in an empty school building.

We here at The Slow Cook wish the market a speedy recovery. Otherwise, where are we going to get the whole beef briskets we need for our Texas barbeque?


cookiecrumb said...

It's up to us, as individuals. We have to do our own homework and know that Patagonian toothfish (ew!) is off-limits. Don't depend on the store to tell you what to buy.
Also: Energy credits? Remember the Roman Catholic "indulgences"?
It's up to us.
Gosh, life is hard.
I guess it always has been.

Ed Bruske said...

It's all about making choices, isn't it? And there are so many these days...