Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weekend Update

At least five people and one United Nations soldier have been killed in Haiti as angry crowds rioted over the price of food.

The Haitian parliament fired its prime minister shortly after president Rene Preval announced plans to cut the price of rice.

The cost of food in Haiti has risen at least 50 percent in the last year, a cause for extreme hardship in a country where the average resident earns less than $2 a day. Many Haitians have been supplementing their diets with pies made out of dirt.

U.N. troops were brought in to restore order. According to the U.N. a soldier returning to his barracks with food was pulled from his vehicle and killed execution style.

Even bankers meeting in Washington were moved to comment on the growing worldwide unrest over spiking food prices. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that if prices do not abate, "thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will be starving."


Will soaring food costs put a dent in America's big bellies?

Probably not. In fact, it was recently noted that the daily calories available for consumption by the average American have actually increased from 3,600 to 4,000, or about twice what most humans actually need.

But if you look closely at your plate next time you are dining out, you may see that your portion has shrunk a little. Or maybe the plate has gotten smaller to make your shrinking steak look bigger. Or maybe some simple vegetables have been added to the a la carte items to make them seem more filling.

These are just some of the strategies restaurants are using to cut costs while making customers think they're getting the same old whopping portions. You might also see prices change from $10.95 to $10.99. Apparently, in the new food economy, every penny counts.

The Washington Post this morning is giving the story front page treatment.


Also making national headlines was the cancellation of the salmon fishing season in California and Oregon for the first time ever.

Scientists and government officials are expecting this year's West Coast salmon population to be one of the smallest ever, because of the collapse of Sacramento River chinook, one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," said Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Scientists are still studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in response to the salmon shutdown and asked the Bush administration to declare a federal fisheries disaster. Schwarzenegger said the loss of the salmon fishery could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

State Fish and Game estimates canceling the salmon season could cost California $255 million and lead to the loss of more than 2,200 jobs.


Meanwhile, closer to home here in the nation's capitol, Virginia watermen met to consider whether to file a class action lawsuit against government officials for a decline in the Chesapeake Bay, where the local blue crab population is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Crab harvests are at record lows. Professional crab fishermen argue that part of the reason is the increasing pollution and worsening health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Officials in Virginia and Maryland are considering sharp restrictions on crab harvesting this year in an attempt to revive the sagging crab population. Virginia has already announced new measures, including lowered limits on the number of crabs that can be taken, caps on the number of watermen who can participate in a winter dredge season and increases in the size minimums on young crabs, called "peelers," from 3 inches to 3.25 inches until July 15 and then to 3.5 inches for the rest of the season.

Regulators warn that those limits could be just the beginning. When this year's winter dredge survey results come out, as is expected in the coming weeks, Maryland and Virginia officials say they will decide how far to cut the commercial harvest. The options include an all-out ban on commercial crab harvesting, an unlikely but possible decision.

"We don't expect this population dredge survey to show good news," said John M.R. Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. "The question is, whether it's bad or it's catastrophic. And if it's catastrophic, all bets are off."


On a happier note, there is talk of an Ellwood Thompson's Local Market opening in our neighborhood.

This area of the District of Columbia was hard hit by the 1968 riots. The once-vibrant commercial hub was all but destroyed and has languished until recently. But where there once was blight and empty lots, huge new developments are taking place, including national brand department stores, restaurants, services and residential buildings.

Now comes the Richmond, Virginia-based Ellwood Thompson, which specializes in local produce and foods free of additives and high-fructose corn syrup. Ellwood Thompson reportedly is in final negotiations for a lease. We say it's high time we had a place where we can buy locally-grown food every day, and not just the few hours when the farmers markets are open.

Bon appetit....

No comments: