Sunday, June 1, 2008

Weekend Update

Where are the shad?

We used to love shad roe--long, meaty passels of it--fried with butter and bacon. But all up and down the East Coast, the fish have taken a powder.

On the Susquehanna River in Maryland, the shad population has plummeted as much as 90 percent over the last seven years. On the Hudson River in New York, the shad count has dropped so low that restrictions were placed on shad fishing for the first time.

Shad, a silvery, very bony fish, is sometimes referred to as the "founding fish" because of its important role in sustaining the early American colonists. Scientists aren't sure what's behind the fish's stark decline. Striped bass--once endangered but now proliferating--like to feed on shad. But there is also speculation that someone may be targeting shad for massive harvesting out in the Atlantic.

Fishing for shad is already banned in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but not in New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina and other states. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is planning public hearings to consider whether uniform restrictions are needed.

And so our list grows longer: Atlantic salmon, Atlantic cod, monkfish, red snapper, bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, chinook salmon, Chesapeake Bay blue crab, shad....


Diverse family farms continue to disappear, giving way to bigger and bigger mono-cropping operations that fit perfectly into a food scheme we call "industrial agriculture." It's bad for food, bad for the environment, and bad for rural communities. But up till now, most states have insisted that even the biggest farms be owned by individual people or families, not corporations.

In 1982, Nebraska voters approved a ban on farm ownership by corporate entities other than families. But in 2006, a federal judge ruled that law unconstitutional and efforts to revive the ban in the state legislature failed.

Recently, a group incorporated in Delaware (just about everyone incorporates in Delaware) has purchased nearly 20,000 acres outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. It isn't even clear who's behind the purchase. The corporation is called, simply, Lincoln Farm LLC. The "LLC" stands for "limited liability corporation" and that's what has people worried.

How do we feel about big corporations owning America's farmland? What if hedge funds and investor syndicates decided they wanted to get in on the act, too? Is this the beginning of a country completely given over to unaccountable corporations?


We've always suspected that cows left to graze on grass in the open were happier and healthier than cows locked in a barn and forced to eat corn and soy out of a hopper. A British study now shows that the milk from those grass-grazing cows is also healthier.

The University of Newcastle study found that milk from cows raised organically on fresh grass contained more good fatty acids such as omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid known as CLA9 than milk produced at intensive commercial dairy farms. The difference was even more marked during the summer with levels of CLA9 about 60 per cent higher in milk from cattle that graze in fields.

Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the university's Nafferton Ecological Farming Group, who led the research, said: “Our work has not looked at the impact on human health, but I would say organic milk should be better for health from what we know of the benefits of these good fatty acids." She added: “They are effective in combating cancer, coronary heart disease and type II diabetes.”

Researchers on now looking at ways to improve the cows' diets during the winter months, when the weather forces them inside and they feed on conserved forage.


Many Mexicans still believe the North American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as NAFTA, was a bad deal for Mexican agriculture. It meant the free flow of subsidized American corn into Mexico, undercutting the corn grown by local Mexican farmers.

With food prices going through the roof, Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced that the government is eliminating tariffs on wheat, corn and rice as part of a plan to counter rising food prices that have provoked street protests. The government also plans to abolish import taxes on nitrogen fertilizer and chemicals needed to manufacture fertilizer.

Mexico's consumer prices rose 4.55 percent in the 12 months ending April 30, led by the cost of tomatoes, chicken, bread, avocados, plantains and cooking oil. It was the biggest inflation increase since 2005. Last year, tortilla prices doubled, in part because of the U.S. ethanol boom, provoking street protests.

Farm groups accuse Calderon of offering only short-term solutions that would do little to help consumers and would hurt producers.

"The government is making emergency imports, but its policy is not accompanied by a serious reflection of the failure of Mexican agriculture," said Margarito Montes Parra, secretary-general of the General Union of Workers and Peasants.


And that brings us to the subject of healthy junk food. Didn't know junk food could be healthy? Well, you have to give the food industry credit for trying.

Now Kraft is marketing a healthier Kool Aid. Kraft says it is adding the antioxidant vitamin E to its sugar-sweetened Kool-Aid formula and changed its formula for its Kool-Aid Singles so that one packet can be used to flavor 17 ounces of water. Previously, two packets were needed. Kraft also says its sugar-free Kool-Aid products have been reformulated to taste closer to regular unsweetened Kool-Aid.

The changes follow Kraft's introduction of its own "nutritional guidelines" in 2005 and on consumers wanting healthier options for their children.

"Our consumers have been telling us for a couple of years now they are looking for choices that meet their family's needs," said Kirstie Krall, senior brand manager for Kool-Aid.

We are so happy we can now look past the refined sugar to all the health benefits of Kool Aid.

Bon appetit....


Jeena said...

Very interesting thanks. I have never heard of a Shad fish before.

WeekendFarmer said...

wow Shad! This fish in Bengali is called Hilsha fish and you can get them at Indian Groceries in big cities that sells fish from Bangaldesh. A lot many poems, stories has been written on this fish and the fishermen that depended on it. Usually it is prepared as a curry and also deep fried (served HOT/warm with a green chilli and steamed rice: ) Last I bought one from the Bronx - I had to pay $25 for a medium sized fish. Thanks for the post about it!

grace said...

FYI - there is an environmental education program that harvests shad eggs, fertilizes them, and brings them to DC-metro area classes. over the course of the week, the eggs will hatch, and the small fry are released back into the potomac or anacostia rivers. from what i understand (understood?) this has been a successful project to help with the shad populations. let me know if you want more info.

Ed Bruske said...

Jeena, shad are very big around here. Or, they used to be.

WF, seafood is getting incredibly expensive. We should probably consider focusing much more on farmed varieties such as striped bass, catfish, trout. Or maybe time to pull out some of those recipes for squid.

Grace, I'm glad I'm not one of those shad fry being released into the Anacostia River. No offense, but YUCK!