Category Archives: Published Works

At the End of the 3 Line, East New York Farms! Grows

EB-Logo-Summer_16_V2Published by Edible Brooklyn, Issue 44, Summer 2016.

Take the 3 train to the penultimate stop on a summer Saturday. The barren roofscapes you see from the elevated track don’t hint that you’re entering the neighborhood with the most community gardens in the city. But walk down Livonia Avenue under the tracks, and the scene changes: there are gardens on every block, some threatening to spill through their fences, others tamed into neat raised beds. Follow signs for the farmers market—the hand-painted signage on the fence, the tempting smells and the reggae/R&B/salsa mix. Round the corner onto Schenck and you’ve found the heart-beat of this community, in the midst of the impromptu dance party, the Caribbean breakfast specialties, the hot peppers ranging across the rainbow (and Scoville scale), and the young people proudly hawking their greens and bitter melon.

The market is run by East New York Farms!, a partnership between United Community Centers (UCC) and neighborhood residents to address food justice by promoting local sustainable agriculture and community-led economic development. Founded in 1998, almost a decade before The Omnivore’s Dilemma helped to popularize sustainable food nationally and, well before Brooklyn became synonymous with artisanal pickles, East New York Farms! was far ahead of the local food trend—because growing food together turned out to be an excellent way to organize the community.

…read the rest at Edible Brooklyn–or in the magazine, available around NYC this summer…

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A Path Forward: Innovations at the Intersection of Hunger and Health

Published by WhyHunger, November 9, 2015

When it comes to hunger and health, there is a big difference between feeding and nourishing.

For decades, our nation’s emergency food providers have worked tirelessly to provide food to those in need, yet we are still in a hunger crisis. One in six Americans is food insecure—uncertain where their next meal will come from. And hunger still kills. In the U.S. in 2015, it is less often as a result of chronic food deprivation; instead hunger’s victims suffer from heart disease or diabetes or myriad other symptoms of poor health and malnutrition. With
limited capacity, food pantries and soup kitchens are often forced to provide unhealthy, processed food to their clients—food that may fill a person up but is linked to serious diet-related illnesses and long-term health consequences.

When we talk about success in addressing U.S. food insecurity, we generally use metrics that tout pounds of food distributed, with the implication that the more pounds of food we can distribute, the closer we are to ending hunger. This narrow lens hides the malnutrition that is strongly correlated with disease and morbidity. For most Americans, malnutrition is a symptom not of insufficient food but of insufficient healthy food and balanced nutrition: malnutrition is lack of nourishment.

…the rest of this publication, featuring practices and philosophies of three innovative food providers in New York and New Jersey, can be found here (PDF)…

A Tree Grows in Gaza

Modern FarmerPublished at Modern Farmer, December 5, 2014

An olive branch is a universal symbol of peace, but as the decades-long struggle between Israelis and Palestinians continues, it has become yet another source of conflict.

In the West Bank and Gaza, almost half of the arable land is planted with olive trees, from saplings to some that have produced fruit for a thousand years. Nearly 80,000 Palestinian families depend on the annual fall olive harvest for their livelihood. But in recent decades, the conflict in the region, which recently flared up once again, has taken a devastating toll: Israeli settlers and military personnel have cut down, uprooted and burned an estimated 800,000 olive trees since 1967, including approximately 49,000 in just the past five years, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees of Palestine (UAWC) wants to turn this dire situation around. Ali Hassouneh, the group’s board chair, believes that the olive groves represent a shared inheritance. “If I have an olive tree that is 1,500 years old, I think: Who planted it? How many thousands of people have eaten from it? The trees are our heritage – my heritage and [the Israelis’], too.” The UAWC, one of the oldest Palestinian NGOs, has worked with farmers in the West Bank and Gaza on water and land access since 1986. It also provides annual support with the olive harvest.

The walls separating the West Bank and Gaza from Israel cut through many Palestinian farms, separating families from their orchards and grazing lands. Farmers cannot cross the wall regularly to tend their trees and other crops; they must apply for a special permit for the olive harvest. According to the UN, as many as 42 percent of these permit requests have been denied in recent years. Those who do get a permit often face harassment and violence, and they sometimes arrive only to find their trees destroyed.

…read the rest at Modern Farmer

5 Reasons the Tyson-Hillshire Buyout is a Big [Meat] Deal

civil_eats_logo.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale     Published at Civil Eats, September 3, 2014

Although it has been in the works for months, the merger of Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands went public the week before Labor Day, when the U.S. Justice Department approved the deal. The merger brings together the largest meat processing company in the U.S. (Tyson) and the 11th largest (Hillshire), for $7.7 billion. And even if you buy mainly sustainable and grassfed meat, this merger is worth watching. Here’s why:

1. You’re probably eating Tyson meat without even knowing it.

Tyson was interested in Hillshire in part for its branded products: Jimmy Dean, Ball Park Franks, and Hillshire Farms. The “frozen handheld breakfast sandwich” is one of the company’s specialties. Tyson hasn’t had similar success with its own forays into branded meat products (Day Starts frozen breakfasts, anyone?) and sees the merger as an opportunity to direct meat from its processing empire into an already successful national brand. Until now, Tyson has excelled at selling unbranded meat to restaurants and cafeterias and it is the national leader in “private label” meats–those sold as in-house supermarket brands. So when you eat bacon at a restaurant or chicken salad at the supermarket deli, if it doesn’t feature the name of the farm, there’s a pretty good chance it’s from Tyson.

2. Independent meat producers are an endangered species.

Tyson has become powerful by vertically integrating its operations: It buys up all the component parts of its supply chain, from grain dealers to breeding facilities to slaughterhouses, and incorporates them into the company to gain control over prices and production. As other companies have followed suit, encouraged by market forces and the “get big or get out” policies that prevail across agriculture, independent farmers and their supporting businesses have been bought out. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. lost about 70 percent of its hog operations–150,000 farms–between 1993 and 2012 and with them went much agricultural infrastructure. As a result, the few independent farmers producing pastured pork humanely often have to drive 200 miles each way to a slaughterhouse. By buying up so many pieces of the farm supply chain, Tyson has contributed to an environment where many of the producers working outside their system must struggle to survive.

3. Tyson has its eye on the sustainable meat sector.

If you eat “better” quality meat, you might not pay much attention to Tyson. But Tyson is paying attention to you. Organic is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. food economy and even two years after Lay’s advertised its potato chips as local, corporations have not slowed their pursuit of the natural and sustainable markets. And meat is one of the biggest potential growth areas. Most of the nation does not have access to high quality, locally-raised meat in the grocery store, particularly value-added products like sausage and hot dogs. A few towns are beginning to rebuild their local slaughterhouses or sausage companies, but the infrastructure is rare. If the expanded Tyson/Hillshire sets its sights on this vast market and starts putting out greenwashed imitation products, it could block regional efforts to rebuild truly sustainable meat production.

…read the rest at Civil Eats…

Soylent is…

The new “food substitute” Soylent has been around the news of late — somewhat mysteriously, as maybe best expressed by a good friend who loves food and cares about where it comes from, who emailed me, “I was starting to think I was losing my mind, not understanding why anyone is paying this soylent goop ANY MIND.” Indeed.

I had pointed her to The Soylent Revolution Will Not Be Pleasurable, the New York Times‘ appropriately skeptical and wry take. The New Yorker was much more in-depth and perhaps more credulous in Could Soylent Replace Food?, and I thought there were some significant gaps in the piece. I’m pleased that the magazine saw merit in the argument I sent, and published my letter this week. (I also loved the letter than followed mine–follow the link to read it–and tracked down its author today to thank him for making the other main point I wanted to make.)

 

The-new-yorker-logoPublished in The New Yorker, issue of June 23, 2014

Greener Soylent
Lizzie Widdicombe rightly points to agriculture as a leading cause of climate-warming emissions, and Rob Rhinehart, the creator of the food substitute Soylent, calls nonindustrialized farms “very inefficient factories” (“The End of Food,” May 12th). But, until Rhinehart engineers Soylent from algae, his product will depend on chemical- and fossil-fuel-reliant grains grown in monocropped fields and refined in energy-intensive processing plants—an inefficient nutrient-delivery system, from an emissions perspective, if ever there was one. Meanwhile, studies show diversified small-scale agriculture to be one of the best ways to both mitigate and adapt to a warming climate. Healthy soils built through crop rotation and organic fertilizers sequester carbon and fare dramatically better in both droughts and floods. Food production is part of the problem of global warming, but it will become part of the solution as we learn to cook and eat a wider variety of foods, instead of turning to a food substitute whose components rely entirely on climatically inefficient industrial farming.

 

How Congress Is Moving to Crush Protections for Small Meat and Poultry Producers (And Why You Should Care)

civil_eats_logo.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scalePublished at Civil Eats, June 11, 2014 

As comedian John Oliver said last week in his much-watched primer on net neutrality, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” Big Ag has known this strategy for years and perhaps no one does it better than the meatpackers and poultry companies—companies like Tyson, Smithfield, and trade organizations like the American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council.

They’ve got a head start because the struggle over their domination of the marketplace has taken place over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspectors, Packers, and Stockyards Administration, known as GIPSA. Under the cover of a bureaucratic sounding name and an obscure government agency, meat companies have quietly flexed considerable lobbying muscle to kill one of the most important policy reforms for livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers—and therefore one of the most important policy reforms for those of us who care how our meat is raised.

The GIPSA rules—let’s call them “fair farm rules” for short—were proposed back in 2010 and designed to address the growing power of just a few corporations in the increasingly consolidated meat industry. Nationally, the top four companies in each industry slaughter four out of every five beef cattle, two out of three hogs and three out of five chickens. At the local or regional level, one company often controls an even larger percentage of the market.

Tim Gibbons, of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says that consolidation has meant “the meatpackers report huge profits, while farmers’ share of the retail dollar has gone down dramatically—and consumers still see food prices rising at the grocery store.” In Missouri, Gibbons adds, thousands of independent small and mid-size family hog farmers have gone out of business because they don’t have access to a fair market. “Because of massive corporate control of the market, we’ve lost 91 percent of hog producers in Missouri since 1985. That’s over 20,000 farmers and many, many jobs in our rural communities.”

It’s not much better on the consumer side. As the Washington Post points out, “Americans have never had so few options in deciding what company makes their meat.” Even as a growing number of local and niche markets make it easier for some consumers to trace the source of their meat, the trend in the rest of the marketplace is towards rampant consolidation. Just this week, Tyson Foods, the second largest meat producer in the world, sealed a bid to take over processed food giant Hillshire Farms, seller of Jimmy Dean and Sara Lee. When just a few companies control most of the market—and can use their power to keep out or buy up competitors—consumer choice is something of an illusion, and questions about food safety, antibiotics or other additives, animal welfare, and even taste can be tough to answer.

…read the rest at Civil Eats…