Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Multistory

Issues with urban agriculture are going to come increasingly to the fore as conditions worsen and people struggle to maintain their food supply through some very dark times. Over at AgWeek, they're running a story about some of the problems UA is facing in one neighbourhood:
NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. — From the front, nothing about the house in suburban New Brighton appears that different.
 A car sits in the driveway near a flower bed of towering magenta amaranth
 plants. A small pirate flag waves from atop a picnic table, a nod to
the “Peter Pan”-inspired name the women who live here gave the half-acre
 property when they moved in seven years ago.
Behind the one-story house, however, is a different scene.
There, you see sprawling vegetable gardens, berry plants, bee hives and lots
of fowl. A large coop extends from the back deck and houses about 15
laying hens, a dozen quail, a few heritage turkeys, a couple ducks and
one Serama rooster. A basket brimming with vegetables sits on a table
near a garden bed. Next to it is a bowl full of multicolored eggs.
The collection represents a day’s harvest at “Lost Boys Acre,” an
experimental urban farm operated by four women in the quiet residential
neighborhood near Silver Lake Road and Interstate 694.
Let's be frank; a half-acre property isn't all that big, and that is a lot of fowl. New Brighton doesn't have any bylaws regarding urban agriculture practices, so everything the four women are doing at Lost Boys Acre is legit.  But that's a lot of noise for a suburban neighbourhood....
The rest of the article makes it pretty clear that much of what's going on is a simple neighbours dispute (the primary complainants really don't like the four women in the house for reasons that have nothing to do with urban ag), but conflicts like this are going to become more and more frequent. Now, I don't actually expect municipal governments to get in front of this issue (cough Havana cough), but they really should be noticing this on their radar and setting some rules.
this is also aan opportunity to set some rules on acceptable treatment of livestock: cattle not allowed on areas less than two acres, say, or chickens needing so many square metres of space for roaming about. The setting of such limits will be subject to abuse (of course), but once in place can be changed by subsequent administrations. these kinds of bylaws can also provide some guidelines for the ethical treatment of livestock in more rural areas.

Which leads to a story from back where I used to farm; Alberta. The CTV news programme W5 ran some undercover footage of an egg operation about 20 km away from our family farm. The story is typical--120,000 birds in battery housing, dead birds not removed from cages, horrific environment, etc.
Down a quiet road, deep in Alberta farm country, not far from Edmonton, is a massive egg production facility known as Kuku Farms. Housing about 120,000 battery hens, they live out their lives in cramped cages, producing almost an egg a day for a year until they are considered spent and killed.
The video shows row upon row of hens crammed into battery-cages. Nearby are dead birds that appeared to have been there for some of time, birds with missing neck feathers and some with severe urine scalding on their backsides.
A few kilometers away is another barn, Creekside Grove Farms. In this barn about 100,000 chicks spend the first 20 weeks of their lives crammed 50 to a cage, standing on barren wire. These are chicks that will eventually become egg-layers.
The undercover video shows some chicks injured while others clamber over them for access to food and water.
Other chicks can be seen escaping from the crowded cages to end up on the hopper, where they are covered in feces and sometimes mangled by the machinery. Perhaps most disturbingly, sick or injured chicks are seen being killed by a practice called "thumping" -- where a bird is smashed against a hard surface to kill it. On several occasions the video shows birds that survived but are left in a garbage bag along with a pile of already dead chicks
Nobody can defend this-- but heaven knows, someone will.  Egg producers are policed by their own group--who are primarily concerned with whether producers are following the quota rules, rather than the proper treatment of animals. However:
On Monday, Egg Farmers of Canada released the following statement from its chairman, Peter Clarke:
"As a fifth-generation egg farmer and chair of our industry, I have visited hundreds of Canada's more than 1,000 egg farms. I have never seen hens treated in the manner shown. I share in the public's response to the video. The images were unacceptable. However, I object to any perception that this is in any way common, tolerated or representative. It simply is not.
Actually, I don't buy that. After a trip to the University of Alberta experimental farm a few years back, it was clear that standards were developed with producers, not the chicken's, requirements in mind. And the problems with factory farming of chicken  are myriad; from arsenic in the meat to issues of manure disposal. But as reported:
W5 found that the industry group tends to focus more on whether eggs are safe for consumption and whether the farmer has the right number of chickens allotted under the industry's market quota system rather than on the well-being of the animals laying the eggs.
The Mercy for Animals investigator told the program that when she was undercover at Creekside Grove, workers were given 24 hours' advance notice of an inspection and that the facility passed inspection.
Until this is top-of-mind for consumers, Egg Farmers of Canada won't give a damn about how the animals are treated. Only when it impacts the bottom line will it matter.

Over at the Guardian, they have a lovely graphic about how much food is wasted from farm-to-fork. The figures were put out by Tesco, a major food retailer, and funnily enough, they show that 16% of food is wasted or destroyed on the farm and by consumers, but less than 1% is wasted by food retailers. Sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this. The EU reports:
Food waste in industrialized countries is as high as in developing countries:
  • In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing;
  • In industrialised countries, over 40% occurs at retail and consumer level.
 (emphasis mine).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ancestral vs Industrial: Two Stories

via Mother Earth News
This is "glass corn," a traditional, multi-coloured translucent variety, a picture of which made the rounds last year. Lovely, isn't it? Honestly, I wouldn't have a clue how to cook with it, but that doesn't make me covet it less. Mother Earth News has the fascinating story of the man who recovered this heritage variety; the original seed was obtained from Carl L. Barnes of Oklahoma.
Carl is of half Cherokee, half Scotch-Irish ancestry and was born in the family’s original farmhouse about a half-mile from his current home. His father had moved the family west, where they acquired land and set up farming on the High Plains. Carl spent his childhood on this homestead, and the family lived through the 1930s Dust Bowl years, staying to survive the ordeal rather than leaving as many did at that time in our history.
As a youth, Carl began to seek out his Cherokee roots, exploring the knowledge of his own ancestors and of Native American traditions in general, by learning from his grandfather. Much of this quest centered on the ceremonies surrounding planting, harvesting, and honoring seeds. Carl went on to earn a degree in Agricultural Education, and later in his adult years worked with the Cooperative Extension Service. He also spent several years serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. Carl continued working the farm, along with his wife Karen, and they raised a family.
In the course of growing some of the older corn varieties still being farmed at that time, Carl began noticing ancestral types of corn re-appearing in his crops. As he isolated these, he found many of the variants to match up with traditional corns that had been lost to many of the Native tribes – particularly those peoples who had been relocated during the 1800s to what is now Oklahoma. Thus, he was able to re-introduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes, and this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural identities. The corn is, to them, literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they are.
 The Globe and Mail today has an interesting story about the traditional remedies and how they are not always what they seem:
...when scientists from the University of Guelph scoured the DNA in a number of herbal products, they found that many times the labels on the merchandise didn’t accurately reflect what was in the container.
Some products contained fillers like wheat or rice that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated with other plant species that could have caused toxicity or triggered allergic reactions. And still others contained no trace of the substance the bottle purported to contain.
“It says gingko biloba ... and we didn’t find any gingko DNA at all in the bottle,” said Steve Newmaster, an integrative biology professor at the university who was the first author on the paper.
In fact, about a third of the 44 products Newmaster and his co-authors tested were instances of what he called product substitution – alfalfa sold as gingko, for example. He said those two substances in powder form would be indistinguishable without testing.
People buying herbal products need to know they may not be getting what they are paying for – and they may be ingesting something they aren’t expecting, said Newmaster, who is also the botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, which is the home of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding.
“Because you spend a lot of money to buy a health product, you care about your health, and then you’re not getting what you think you’re getting.”
The study is being published Friday in the journal BMC Medicine.
About a third of the products tested had products substituted. That is a hell of a lot of fraud. And the manufacturers of herbal supplements  have successfully fought against actual testing of the contents of these substances. But this is outright consumer fraud. Even without requiring some kind of proof to back up claims made about results from use, at the very least can't we have the actual product in the bottle?

World Food Day This Weekend

via Grain
Get out there and say something!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Forward Only Looks Like Backwards

via Wikipedia

From the Hindu Business Line:
Climate change is inspiring farmers in the Sundarbans to go back in history to a time when their forefathers grew indigenous varieties of rice using green manure.
Giving the modern high-yield varieties of rice a miss, farmers are going back to the pre-Green Revolution days and opting for traditional seeds which have unique properties such as ability to tolerate salinity and floods.
“The switch over was difficult but slowly we realised that our traditional rice varieties like ‘Dudheswari’ has low input costs and tolerates salinity more easily than the modern ones,” farmer Uttam Maity who lives in one of the islands under Pathar Pratima block says.
Rising sea levels, increasing instances of floods and salinity of water due to various factors including climate change is threatening to convert fertile agricultural land into barren wasteland in the Sundarbans.
 Again, the way forward in world food production starts with a retreat from the blind alley of industrial food production.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Innovation Inside Tradition

via SciDevNet

Take a look--these are all potatoes. Beyond the skin colour, some even have coloured flesh. There used to be hundreds of varieties of potatoes alone--now, worldwide, we depend on about 30 crops for the majority of our food. More science isn't the answer. We've had plenty of science. We need farmers farming in traditional ways with research support to clarify what's happening and help traditional farming do better. After all, it already does as well or better than the industrial version in production of calories per acre.
SciDevNet has an article up on innovation in traditional farming practice:
Indigenous knowledge is innovative, not static, says Krystyna Swiderska. Protecting it will help food security.
When policymakers think of innovation they tend to think of laboratories or the spaces where designers and engineers create solutions to pressing problems. But this ignores a more longstanding and widespread form of innovation.

Communities that live close to nature continually create innovative approaches in farming and other sectors by building on knowledge and practices refined over generations. For instance, farmers around the world experiment with local crops to develop varieties that cope better with drought or pests.

This kind of innovation does not fit easily into policy frameworks. But its value will grow as the climate changes and population increases bring more mouths to feed.

Yet the biological and cultural diversity this innovation depends on is in steep decline. And modern systems of farming threaten to swamp traditional innovation. Now more than ever, it needs to be recognised and protected.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Way Forward

I've been reading Andrew Nikiforuk's The Energy of Slaves this week (check out the pop-up interview with him on CBC' radio show The Current) and it has been a great read and an interesting take on the links between the hydrocarbon economy and the slave economy. He also dedicates a chapter to what he calls "The Unsettling of Agriculture": the change from solar to slave to hydrocarbon-based production.
In the chapter on agriculture, he looks at the example of China between the 8th and 12th centuries: during that time, China constructed
...a unique agro-energy empire, diverting enough natural flows of energy to feed nearly half a billion people. It did so by carefully marshaling solar energy in intensely farmed plots of millet and wheat int he north and of rice in the south. Innovations in rice farming--the artificial flooding of land and multiple cropping--tripled the yield of an average peasant family. One square mile of carefully tended land could feed 225 peasants. Peasants hoed, fertilized, and irrigated these highly nutritious crops like some great garden. The land was manured with human shit.
But even this system faced problems. As the population grew from 100 million people in the 12th century to 500 million in the 18th, the country inevitably ran into a series of energy and environmental shocks. they ran out of land, and they ran out of wood. The amount of food necessary increased, but the crop surpluses declined.  No empire, co government, no country can withstand a collapse in caloric stocks (I've talked about Empires of Food  by Fraser and Rimas before (Check out Evan Fraser's discussion here)). the basic structures of Chinese solar energy harvesting remained until the 1970s. This steady-state agriculture finally collapsed under the assault of oil and oil's industrial agriculture programmes--leading to China becoming an ag-product exporter, but, as has been mentioned before in the posts on honey laundering, not one without problems.
We've been through these issues before, too. In 1973, energy analyst Earl Cook pointed out that it was taking 26,745 calories to produce 3,300 kilocalories of food. In 1930, in a manifesto called  I'll  Take My Stand, a group of southern US farmers said that machines did not emancipate farmers, but in fact evicted them from their farms. In 1943, Sir Albert Howard, in An Agricultural Testament (pdf) pointed out that the replacement of animal traction with mechanical traction came with a significant drawback--mechanical traction doesn't produce urine or manure. he predicted that a people fed on improperly grown food would eventually become dependant on "an expensive system of patent medicines, panel doctors, dispensaries, hospitals, and convalescent homes".
In the end, Andrew Nikiforuk looks at the Cuban experience and takes, as I do, hope from it. Slavery, whether human or hydrocarbon, is a dead end, suitable only for short-term gains, but antithetical to long-term sustainability. The hydrocarbon economy is, at best, a dead-end side road we've mistakenly diverted down. As in the video below, sometimes we discover that the only way to go forward is to move a ways back.

Shaped by Hand from Elias K. on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Art Of The Memoir

I've just finished Bob Spitz' memoir The Saucier's Apprentice, which, I have to say, has been a real relief from Breadlines Knee Deep In Wheat and Food Banks And The Welfare Crisis. The only crisis in Apprentice are bad cooking schools and a broken heart--neither of which are particularly world-in-peril stuff.

The book can be described fairly simply: person reaches a point in their life that requires a re-evaluation of said life. Person realizes that one of the things they really like to do is cook. Person pursues an education in cooking that also enables them to re-evaluate their life. Cut to narratively elegant wrap-up. Ba-da-boom, satisfying read.
And don't get me wrong, The Saucier's Apprentice is a satisfying read. Spitz expresses just enough self-reflection and exposes enough personal angst to make him a sympathetic character (although I did want to smack him a few times). He writes well about his experience as a dilettante ADD-like cook-wannabe travelling around France and Italy attending various cooking schools. When he confronts a problem with a school experience, he is careful to differentiate between whether the problem is one with the school, or if it's a problem with what he needs from a school. That is to say, if the teaching is okay, but simply not teaching him what he wants/needs to know, or if the actual instruction is less than advertised or less than satisfactory for a paying student. This is an important distinction....
There are some very nice info chunks in the book; why to pursue both Italian and French cooking (because together they form the two pillars of modern cuisine), how the approaches differ (French is more disciplined, Italian more expansive), and he includes some of the best recipes he learned while on the road. Of course, what he can't tell us are the techniques he learned. Knife skills are not a topic that communicates best through writing.... About halfway through the read, I came across his description of working with a Michelin-starred chef, who taught him how to make an omelet. I'd previously read a version in the Best Food Writing series, so it was a treat to come across it again. And it's an excellent piece of writing, describing how the chef challenges him, and when he sees Spitz' failure, quickly drops his "great chef" persona and becomes a journeyman cook again, teaching a technique that must be got right, for a result that is simply perfect.
But the actual technique (involving striking one's wrist three times boom boom boom to fold and finish the omelet) is not something that can be communicated on the page. It is the practice that teaches. Here we can only get Spitz' reaction to the teaching, how exhausted he becomes with the repetition necessary to acquire the skill, and how it feels to see his final, perfect omelet be taken away from him and sent to a customer.
This is common to all of the books in this genre; we can only experience the learned skill vicariously, through the narrator's reaction to learning. We don't become better at using a knife while reading about Julia Child honing her knife skills in My Life In France. Our sauce-making ability is not improved by reading The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. What instead we share is the narrator’s internal journey, and it is how this journey resonates with our own journey that makes a memoir of this type matter or not to us.
And I have to say, I love these books. I'm not in the position to pack up and leave for France tomorrow (if, indeed, ever). But the desire is there, and a good writer (like Julia Child, Bob Spitz, Kathleen Flinn, or Julie Powell) gives me hope that I could still make the transition from mediocre cook to decent one.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Land Grab or Investment Opportunity?

screencap from African perspectives

The always-interesting Aljazeera takes on the question of massive foreign purchases of land on the African continent:
Escalating energy and food prices have triggered a global scramble for Africa's land and water resources. Eager to feed their growing populations, countries are buying up prime farmland in Africa at rock bottom prices. Land eight times the size of the UK has already been bought up by hungry investors.

via Aljazeera

Eight times the size of the UK. That's a lot of land. On South2North, Redi Tlhabi talks to former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian politician and Oxfam trustee Nkoyo Toyo and Philippe Heilberg, a land investor from the US.
The problem is, this land is being industrially farmed for food for non-African countries--the food being grown is primarily for export. That doesn't do a lot for the affected countries. Investment in peasant agriculture following agro-ecological principles would do a lot more towards both feeding the population and growing the local economies. It's like Walmart coming into a country. It doesn't do the local economy any good--they bring some minimum wage jobs, but the destruction of small businesses and the asset stripping of the local area causes far more damage than any benefit from the local employment.
One of the interesting things about the discussion is how Philippe Heilberg acknowledges that he's a disaster capitalist, and he invest because he can get exponential growth and returns on his investment--without regard for local conditions.
Heilberg argues that the statistics from the UN are highly distorted because they are not closed or official deals. He says that his own figures have been doubled in some accounts.
"Land is cheap in Africa, but there are many reasons why it's cheap. In many parts of the continent there is little to no infrastructure whatsoever .... The frontier markets offer incredible risk-reward opportunities. Because when the growth happens it's exponential."
Toyo disagrees that these deals have always been above-board and that they benefit local communities.
"That's not what we are seeing on the ground. We are seeing incidences of violence. We are seeing incidences of forced evictions. We are seeing incidences of homelessness, farm lands being taken away ... The fact is that most of the grabs that are going on, the owners don't even know about them, so there isn't even a basis for that conversation to happen. The negotiations are happening sometimes with powerful people in secret negotiations. These non-transparent processes are depriving people down the line."

Monday, September 23, 2013

“The rose speaks of love silently, in a language known only to the heart.”

I get depressed, sometimes. Reading about the industrial diet, the more I understand the fragility and corruption of the international food system digging into the structural problems of food production, all of these things can become overwhelming. I write with the desire to change things, but sometimes it feels like all my posts look the same:
The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.The system's broken. We're all gonna die.
I know that urban farms are springing up across North America, that Joel Salatin's leading the charge to more sustainable farming out east, Milkwood Permaculture is doing the same sort of thing down south, and hundreds of people are making moves towards a better tomorrow. There is hope. Really.
So a couple of days back I was thinking about what it says at the top of the page: Discussion of farm policy, food security, and food. With recipes. And as I walked the dog out in the park near where I'm currently living, I noticed that the feral rose bushes were covered in hips. My head was ping-ponging between the Depression of  the 1930s and the current state of affairs, and I had been considering differences in how people ate, then and now. So I came back a couple of hours later with both the dog and a jug and picked the rose hips at the top of the page.
They were in great shape:

As you can see, the hips had ripened and maximized their flesh (that little 0.3 mm thick layer between the skin and the seed package). I pulled the flower ends off each hip, tossed the hips in a pot, added a bit of water, and boiled them until they popped. After the hips had cooked down to mush, I strained the seeds and skins out of the pot, and began to boil the remainder down.
Once everything had begun to evaporate, I added a couple of cups of sugar, on my way to jam. the, wondering if I had any pectin in the house, I looked out the kitchen window, and spotted these:

There's the remains of a quince tree slowly being killed by a holly in the front yard. There was a fairly big (well, relatively big, for this tree, under these conditions) fruit visible from the window. When I went out, I found a small handful of the fruit.
Quince has an extensive history of use, but the one I was interested in comes from the fruit's high pectin content. I took the largest fruit, diced it up small, and tossed it into the jelly.
As the quince cooked in, I continued to intensify the jam. I had a few of those little tiny jam jars you get in hotels, so I cleaned them out, made sure the lids fit. And used them, and a larger two cup container, to hold the jam. I used the small ones because I know that I'm going to be asked for a sample of the rose hip jam, and these make perfect testers.
The jam is strongly scented, hasn't properly set (which is pretty normal, as far as I can tell. I've never seen/tasted rose hip jam that had fully set), and tastes somewhere between really great and inedible. It also has a slightly mealy texture.
I've made this before--the last time was more than twenty years back. This time, of the three ingredients, two were grown within 100 metres of here. If I had a beehive, this could have been the most local jam I've ever made. Probably still is.
This sort of thing helps. I love cooking, and making something like this jam reminds me that the earth would actually rather have us here. We serve an ecological purpose. We just have to remember that, and try to fit ourselves into the world, rather than demanding the world adapt to what we want. Now I just need to make some sourdough bread with local wheat flour.

Monday, September 16, 2013 c'est la même chose

I'm reading Jan Poppendeik's book, Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat and, early on in the book, she looks at the early days of the US' Great Depression. In 1930-31, the breadlines had formed in almost every city, town, and village in America. 1931 saw the first great drought—though not yet the extended “Dustbowl” drought—of the depression. As Amartya Sen has written, when a famine occurs, there are three alternatives for people: First, get a new, or additional, job. As this was the Great Depression, this wasn't possible. Second, rely on extended family. By 1931, this option was pretty much exhausted. And third, rely on charity.
This was the position of most of the jobless in the US. When the drought hit, it was also the position of a great many farmers. Charity was being administered by local governments (primarily at the municipal level) and the Red Cross. There were a patchwork collection of programmes and initiatives across the country; some, like the relief gardens which were planted (and the surplus canned by civic, fraternal, and religious organizations), encouraged by members of the federal government. But most programmes were only local and, under Hoover, the US federal government wanted nothing to do with relief programmes.
Except, of course, when they did. By 1931, there was two billion dollars (that's two billion depression-era dollars) budgeted for business and financial sector relief. And a couple of years earlier, farm price supports had been instituted, with the US government buying up wheat and slowly releasing it into the international market, to slow price fluctuations, and try to ensure that the American farmers got a livable price for the grain they were growing. Which makes sense; if your crop all comes in at once, prices tend to tumble around harvest. Farmers able to store large volumes of grain can take advantage of the price differential between fall and spring, but most people needed money by the end of the growing season. Mostly because that's when the operating loans are due.
The problem in the US was that the government had accumulated a very large storehouse of wheat; by 1931, a hundred and sixty million bushels. Which cost money to store—about $0.18/bu/year.  The US also had a significant population reliant on charity—in particular, reliant on charity for food. To various politicians and reformers, it seemed like a no-brainer to release a portion of the wheat stores held by the federal government for relief.
The Hoover administration was never too open about it's opposition to releasing the wheat. But they certainly encouraged opposition. The big roadblocks were two: concern about the release of "free" wheat on the US market, and the belief, at least among the more conservative members of Congress and the Senate, that reports of hunger in the US were overblown.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hey! It's Pizza Day!

The Local Community Food Centre has posted a video to Vimeo that's just great!It's all about their summer programme with a bunch of local kids doing a make and bake pizza day.

this is so much fun--kids raiding the garden to make their own pizza for dinner. As you watch, listen to how many different foods the kids are putting on their pizza--everything from olives to carrots. My favourite moment is when the young boy listens to the slightly older (and a little bit bossy) girl tell him that what he's eating is just tomatoes. Quietly but firmly he says "No they're not. They're groundcherries."  meanwhile, he just can't seem to get enough of them.
Such an excellent programme for teaching kids about food and the value of local and self-grown. And what a way to get something good into them. I'm reminded of watching Jamie Oliver's School Dinners programme and seeing kids who wouldn't eat a fresh strawberry picked from the garden--seemingly because it didn't come from a store. And now here's a programme where the kids can't get enough fresh food.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

That Persistent Animal Question

photo via National Cancer Institute

Over at David, the question of eating animal protein once again raises its confusing head. 
Jenna Stoner, the Summer Masters Student and writer, comes up with four bullet points about eating animal protein:

1. Trying to compare the environmental impacts of different dietary proteins is not easy

2. Trying to compare the environmental impacts of different dietary proteins is not easy... but researchers around the world are doing it

3. What the research is saying about environmental impacts of different dietary proteins

4. Beef, chicken, fish, pork, tofu, beans... Which should you choose?

 Thankfully, Ms. Stoner doesn't try to give a definitive answer. My readings on the topic suggest that trying to come up with one answer to the question "should we be eating animal protein" is a mugs game. Ms. Stoner writes: "A 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group found that eating one fewer burger every week for a year was the equivalent of taking your car off the road for more than 500 kilometres, and if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week for a year it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road." Clearly, industrial meat production has a hell of an environmental impact on the planet.
But raising meat as it's done in North America isn't the only way to raise meat. Once you begin comparing Guinea pigs being raised in a Peruvian backyard to Spanish black-hoofed hogs being fattened up in oak orchards, well, the math is going to get pretty tricky.
There are a few points to remember when thinking about whether or not to eat animal protein.
  • Different animals have different feed conversion rates. Chickens are much more efficient than beef animals, for example.
  • Animals--particularly those outside the NA big three of hogs, chickens, and cattle--serve to bring otherwise unused land into the food chain. 
  • Organic agriculture really needs animals--they are a good way to create organic fertilizer. And grazing animals often improve the land they evolved to graze.
  • Animals--particularly hogs--can and should be used to recycle food waste. And food waste in the developed world runs at about 40%+  between the farm and the point at which you push your plate away. 
  • Animal protein is nutritionally efficient. You can eat a balanced vegetarian diet (and my family lived a vegetarian life for eight years), but it is more difficult. And you have a lot of food waste to recycle (don't forget all that peeling and preparation). Chickens and pigs help with that.
That all being said, yes we can certainly stand to reduce our meat consumption. Particularly industrial feedlot meat. that stuff is nasty, environmentally horrendous, and not doing us a lick of good.
But before you go rushing off to buy the soy-based substitutes, read up on how that is produced. It's looking no better for us than the industrial beef....

Monday, August 26, 2013

Plus ça change...

In other words, the stigma of the deserving and non-deserving [poor] has been re-emphasised, and less eligibility as a general concept has not disappeared. The purpose is obvious: to make sure that wage demands are held down in a period of high unemployment, and to encourage the jobless to take work at any price. The euphemism is "work incentive programmes" such as the one introduced in Saskatchewan in 1984 under the guise of welfare reform. Benefits to unemployed employable people on social assistance were first cut; some of the money saved was put into short-term job creation and training schemes for which clients were eligible after a three-month waiting period; and the employable clients were then told that if they did not accept what was offered, they would be cut off welfare. Similar schemes with local variations operate in a number of other provinces. In this way, the victims of structural unemployment are individually blamed and made to suffer for situations beyond their control.
The food banks, unwittingly it would seem, play their part in promoting these policies by acting as the voluntary back-up to a public safety net that has fallen apart. If and when they become accepted as a permanent feature of the Canadian welfare system, perhaps receiving federal grants  through the Canada Assistance Plan for which they are undoubtedly eligible, then their long-term function of social control will become clearer. People already feel stigmatized and inadequate by having to turn to social assistance. If they then cannot manage on the parsimonious benefits they receive, one can only imagine their feelings of sheer helplessness at having to turn to the food banks.

So says Graham riches on page 126 of Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis, a book I have finally finished reading. It came out in 1986, covering the fist half of the decade and the birth of the neo-conservative attacks on Canadian society. And here we are, twenty seven years later, and food banks are an established part of the welfare system, allowing the 1% to skive off from their responsibility to the system that allowed them such success and unimagined wealth.
Food banks are in a difficult position; both an honest and humanitarian response to the problem of hunger, and a way to allow untenable social policy to become a fixture in our society. By getting caught up in the difficult business of acquiring food and "food" for distribution, we are too damned tired to pursue the necessary action for political change that must happen in order to change the system that's causing the problem in the first place. From a politician's point of view, volunteerism is perfect; bad policy can be pursued and no one will yell at him about it.
Doesn't make it right, though.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friend Don't Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon

farmed salmon are fine--kept on land. But in open net farms planted in the ocean, they're a killer. Alexantra Morton has been warning about the damage fish farms are doing to the wild stock for decades. Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team have heard the message. When you buy salmon, look for west coast wild-caught salmon. Or buy pink salmon (so cheap no one bothers to farm them).
If in doubt about what fish to buy, check out either Dr. David Suzuki's list, or the one from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Because I Thought It Funny

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pandora's Lunchbox

After reading Michael Pollan's Cooked, I thought that Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox: How processed food took over the American meal  would be a quick read, going over the same old ground. I was very pleasantly surprised.

PBS interview with author Melanie Warner

Ms. Warner starts with leaving food around her office past its "best before" date and then wanders back through the history of processed food in America from Kellogg to current trends. And she makes it an interesting ride.
She's not the first person to note the disconnect between what food scientist's do and what they eat (most don't eat the "food" they design), but she's very careful not to be too condemnatory. In the end, despite all she uncovers about the actual nutritional value and consequences of manufactured food-like substances, she still cannot call for an outright moratorium on the consumption of processed foods. Instead, she calls for a proportional reversal: from 70% processed and 30% home cooked, to the reverse, with 70% of our food being made from raw ingredients in the home kitchen.
With Ms. Warner maintaining a conversational "mom-to-mom" tone throughout, this book would be great to introduce friends or family to the concerns we have with processed foods.  there's not a lot that's actually new in this (although she does a good bit of original research and reporting), but it is very well presented. Kudos, Ms. Warner.
BTW, you can check out the Kirkus review here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Peasant Agriculture Is Not Enough

via Naomiklein.org
As Naomi Klein has so ably dissected in her book The Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism has learned how to maximize profit during periods of social crisis. If necessary, these same disaster capitalists (people like Dick Cheney, with his deep ties to Halliburton), will engineer crisis' in order to move additional wealth into their (and their corporation's) pockets. This is one of the reasons that the modern corporation can be seen as psychopathic: what to normal sane human beings seems like horror and destruction (places such as Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan) are seen by disaster capital as opportunities to be created and then exploited. Particularly if public money can be funnelled into their private profits.
it is not new thinking that communities in crisis---crisis such as war or natural disaster or other such upheavals--are communities which are vulnerable. Simply imagining or remembering a crisis in your own family and extrapolating out to a city, country or social grouping should display the degree of vulnerability these communities experience. But what happens when the crisis is planetary?
via Mother Jones

Global warming, or global climate change, is such a crisis. But because it is so slow moving (like an avalanche, it starts slow and build up size and power as it continues), we're having trouble recognizing it. And because the initial effects are felt most in the developing world, we in the developed world (by virtue of our institutionalized alienation from the natural world) can choose to avoid and ignore the first overhangs of snow breaking loose and starting down the mountainside.
Currently, farming is in crisis. A recent Bloomberg article remarked:
The global food system will remain “vulnerable” in the years to come as a growing population boosts demand for crops and climate change makes weather disruption more frequent, according to the World Bank. 

Friday, August 16, 2013


I read what seems to be a lot of books. I don't really think it is--I read around 80-100 books a year, mostly non-fiction, and mostly about food issues. When compared to my Significant Other, the writer Paula Johanson (author of, among others, Fake Foods: Fried, Fast and Processed and Fish: From the Catch to Your Table and the codifier of Johanson's Law: "When a system achieves the same outcome regardless of stated goals and altered tactics, then the outcome is the goal"), I really don't read all that much--she probably averages 200 books a year. Even among my peer group, I don't read all that much--but my peers aren't exactly a statistical snapshot of "average" Canadians.
I mention this only because I've had a pretty good run, recently, of interesting reading. Michael Moss' Sugar, Salt Fat started the run.
 I really enjoyed the read--Moss looks in depth at the way in which each of the three titular ingredients affects the "food" we eat. Along the way, we get a history of the industrialization of food and an excellent example of how Johanson's Law can be applied: for all that the food companies claim to want to serve us safe, nutritious food, we still get food that is addictive, damaging to the environment and the public, and very very profitable. Thus, the stated goal is the smokescreen, the desired outcome is the one we are dealing with. After all, why would food companies want us to eat a nutritious and balanced diet? There's no real money in it. Maximizing profits, that's the real goal.

The Hazards of Backyard Hens

I hadn't thought this through. There are real concerns...

Nope, she's not wrong.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Birds Follow Bees

CBC is reporting:
The mystery surrounding dozens of paralyzed birds that were discovered in B.C.'s northeast has deepened after veterinarians ruled out West Nile virus but found wing and leg fractures.
Last month, dozens of paralyzed ravens and crows were dropped off at a Dawson Creek rehabilitation clinic, sparking concerns about West Nile, which can also affect humans.
Despite efforts to save them, all 30 birds eventually died.
But that's not all. CBC also reported:
Animal experts are trying to figure out what may have killed dozens of black birds that fell from the sky in Winnipeg's North End on Wednesday [August 7, 2013].
Conservation officers have picked up more than 50 dead birds near the intersection of King Street and Dufferin Avenue, while the Winnipeg Humane Society took in 11 birds that were still alive.
Erika Anseeuw, the humane society's director of animal health, said all the living birds were reasonably bright and active, although they cannot stand or fly.
The birds will be euthanized and sent to a pathology lab for autopsies.
Anseeuw would not speculate on what exactly may have killed the birds, but she suspects they may have accidentally gotten into something.
"My suspicion is this is what it's going to be rather than any kind of apocalyptic foretelling of birds falling from the sky," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Up to Speed program.
Possible factors may include exposure to disease or toxins, Anseeuw said.

"Possible factors may include exposure to disease or toxins." Isn't that what we heard about the bees?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Open-Source Rice

Tom Phillipot at Mother Jones alerted his Twitter followers to an article on Asian Scientist about a new rice cultivar. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, the scientists involved
 state in the abstract:
The genetic improvement of drought resistance is essential for stable and adequate crop production in drought-prone areas1. Here we demonstrate that alteration of root system architecture improves drought avoidance through the cloning and characterization of DEEPER ROOTING 1 (DRO1), a rice quantitative trait locus controlling root growth angle. DRO1 is negatively regulated by auxin and is involved in cell elongation in the root tip that causes asymmetric root growth and downward bending of the root in response to gravity. Higher expression of DRO1 increases the root growth angle, whereby roots grow in a more downward direction. Introducing DRO1 into a shallow-rooting rice cultivar by backcrossing enabled the resulting line to avoid drought by increasing deep rooting, which maintained high yield performance under drought conditions relative to the recipient cultivar. Our experiments suggest that control of root system architecture will contribute to drought avoidance in crops.
Asian Scientist contascted team lead Yusaku Uga and got more insight into the new cultivar:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Different Valley Fever

There's a rising problem in California. And it gets a boost from dry, dusty soils--like those spreading from global warming. Mother Jones covers the problem in a video report.
From the YouTube page:
Valley fever is hard to diagnose, even harder to treat, and potentially fatal—and the number of cases is rising dramatically. Mother Jones senior editor Kiera Butler visited California's Central Valley to learn more.
 Produced by Brett Brownell & Kiera Butler Chart & Map by Tasneem Raja
Music: Justin Marcellus - "Lost in the Fire" Jami Sieber - "Dancing at the Temple Gate" Human Factor - "Careful Where You Step"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Food For Thought--The Airline series

From the YouTube page:
Launching on 1 August on Air Canada, Food for Thought is a new series that takes you on a journey across three continents to see how poor rural people are producing more food in an increasingly challenging environment...from making good use of migrant money in the Philippines and revitalizing wasteland in Brazil, to spinning new business opportunities from old traditions in Guatemala. Watch more episodes on your next Air Canada flight 

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Nope, not an app for desperate singles, AppliFish was developed with help from the FAO:
You want to know more about the fish you are eating or going to buy? Is it maybe an endangered species? AppliFish will tell you. This free mobile application developed by the fisheries and biodiversity knowledge platform i-Marine makes aquatic-related information available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

While human consumption of fish products has doubled in the last half century, policies for sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems must address the challenges facing global fish stocks.

Some 30 percent of the world's marine fish stocks assessed in 2009 were overexploited, according to FAO's State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012.
"With AppliFish, consumers can choose fish that's not endangered, helping ensure that there will be enough for future generations," says FAO's Marc Taconet, Senior Fishery Information Officer and chair of the iMarine board. "Consumers can also use the application to learn more about species, capture levels and habitats, as well as the level of threats faced by these species."


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Framing the Food System

Pretty simple, don't you think?


Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition
Volume 4, Issue 3-4, 2009
Special Issue: Food Systems and Public Health: Linkages to Achieve Healthier Diets and Healthier Communities 
Principles for Framing a Healthy Food System 
DOI: 10.1080/19320240903321219
Michael W. Hamma*


Wicked problems are most simply defined as ones that are impossible to solve. In other words, the range of complex interacting influences and effects; the influence of human values in all their range; and the constantly changing conditions in which the problem exists guarantee that what we strive to do is improve the situation rather than solve the wicked problem. This does not mean that we cannot move a long way toward resolving the problem but simply that there is no clean endpoint. This commentary outlines principles that could be used in moving us toward a healthy food system within the framework of it presenting as a wicked problem.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Slow Motion Famine Continues

Well, lead author Valerie Tarasuk Ph.D. (along with Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner), professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of Toronto has released the results of a new study (pdf) into food insecurity in Canada between 2008 (the year the bubble burst) and 2011. Little surprise, things are not looking good. Bigger surprise, just how awful things actually are.
Dr. Tarasuk sums up the state of food insecurity in Canada quite succinctly in a statement she made:
Almost 3.9 million Canadians experienced some level of food insecurity in 2011. This marks an increase of over 450,000 people since 2008. It includes 1.1 million children living in households that have worried about running out of food, made compromises in the quality of their diets, ate less than they felt they should, and possibly gone without eating, all because they did not have the money to buy more food. The seriousness of this situation, its impact on individuals, families, communities, on our health care system and economy over all, cannot be overstated.
In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, she points out that the only exception to this Canada-wide increase is in Newfoundland and Labrador--the only places where an aggressive anti-poverty program has been running during the same time period.
What's worse:
One of the most "disturbing" findings in the report, she said, is that almost one million households in 2011 were food insecure but relied financially on employment.
"That says something really bad about the things we are doing to support people in the labour force," Tarasuk said.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Food Culture, High and Low

It's a truism that all haute cuisine is, at heart, in inspiration, peasant cooking.  Chefs relentlessly scour the world's cooking for inspiration in the same way that haute couture designers feed on street fashion. There is a feedback loop in each of these worlds, where one inspires the other. Fashion drives design down to the street where, to paraphrase William Gibson, the street finds its own use for it. Magazines, cookbooks, and The Food Network perform the same function for food and flavours, down to where the street pushes back.  
Both food and fashion are driven by perpetual ferment, and, not coincidentally, both are open source businesses. Haute couture is ripped off the second it hits the runway, being ripped and remade in hundreds and thousands of sweatshops, to appear in your local Target or WalMart. Food is the same, with spices, recipes, and plating ideas circulating quickly through the culture.
But the nature of the peasant class has changed over the last century. Where it used to be rural-based farmers, it is now urban-based, and, increasingly, minimum waged. Where they used to eat fresh, locally-grown regional dishes, they now eat processed, cheap, convenience foods. In Canada, at least, this new kind of peasant cooking has been given the name "caker" cooking. As Brian Francis describes it in My Caker Journey:
I don’t remember the first time I heard the word, or the context in which it was said. I didn’t know what a "caker" was, let alone a "mangiacake." It was only years later, when I settled into life with my Italian partner, that the word began popping up more and more.

“What’s a caker?” I asked him once.

“You know,” he replied. “Canadian.”

“But you were born here. Aren’t you Canadian?”

“Yes, but I still consider myself Italian.”

“So then all Canadians are cakers?”

“No. Only the ones who cook with Cheez Whiz.”

I thought back to the years of casseroles I’d consumed, the packets of Dream Whip, the frozen Tater Tots, the Wonder Bread and Ritz crackers. I was raised in the ‘70s within an Anglo Saxon cultural fog. Part Scottish, part Irish, part I-don’t-know-but-does-it-really-matter? Like so many of my friends, I grew up with no sense of Old World traditions. We were, well, Canadians. But we weren’t cakers.

Were we?
Yup. Sure were. But "caker" is particularly Canadian. As Brian explains in the FAQ, there is a difference between caker and white trash cooking:
Caker cooking seems to be uniquely Canadian. White trash cooking is American. White trash cooking is about cheapness. Caker cooking is more about convenience.  White trash cooking takes pleasure in its garishness whereas caker cooking is more dignified. Bottom line is that you’ll never see a crown roast made of hot dog wieners on this blog.
Judging from what I've been seeing on the Food Network, Discovery Channel, and at Taste of Edmonton a couple of weeks back, caker (and, in the US, "white trash") cooking is providing the inspiration for a new world of haute cuisine. I had a McDonald's Filet o' Fish at Taste of Edmonton; the difference was that it used mahi-mahi, and had been cooked not long before serving in a lighter oil (and less prone to burning) than you would find at a Mickey D's. So too was the mac and cheese; replacing processed American cheese with a locally produced, apple wood smoked cheddar and sprinkled with crumbled apple wood smoked boar bacon on a house-made pasta.
Clearly, these were not industrial food. But equally clearly, they were inspired by industrial food and caker cooking. This is the new peasant cooking, and it is inspiring haute cuisine.
We've been seeing the reverse, as well. Wild mushroom soup is stocked on the shelves of my local market. Good soup, but still an industrial food product drawing inspiration from the work of better cooks.And it also helps extend product lines and increase profits, as per Michael Moss' new book Sugar Salt Fat.
I'm not thrilled by this, of course. A bit appalled, actually. While it is nice to remember that caker cooking can be done well, with local fresh ingredients and the like, I'm not so thrilled that these are the flavours we're pursuing. Industrial food is, after all, the flavours that have lead us down the path to obesity, diabetes and heart failure on a grand scale. And where would we be without the regional cooking styles of, say, Tuscany, or the cheeses of, oh, Parma?

Monday, July 29, 2013


via Wikipedia

So, having had a lovely week away visiting family, I end up spending another week getting over a trip-acquired cold. Which leads to a little more TV than usual and ends up with re-watching a classic overlooked film; The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Made in 1954, about 17 years after the discovery of the coelacanth (the "living fossil" fish thought to have gone extinct in the Late Cretaceous but discovered still very much alive in 1938), the film posits the existence of a Gill Man  living somewhere in the Amazon Basin.

Now, the film is not actually about a Gill Man and the attempts to capture it. It is actually a meditation on sexual repression and tension in the 1950s. It was beautifully filmed and can hold up against any A-list film of the time.
But in it, Julia Adams character references the Kamongo when talking about evolutionary throwbacks. (And honestly, isn't the word Kamongo worthy of its own creature feature?)  I was moved to see if the kamongo was something that really existed or was invented for the film. At first it looked to be invention, but then I found a great blog called Monsterminions and the post Kamongo is Swahili for Lungfish. Turns out, the Kamongo really does exist and is threatened or endangered.
But kamongo is also a food fish--although a polarizing one; those that like it really like it, and those that don't run screaming. Someone who does like it is Lawi Joel, who writes a charming piece in the Tanzania Daily News about searching for kamongo, a childhood food, in order that he can introduce his kids to it.
My father had been a fishmonger and butcher interchangeably. He raised me mostly on the dish of fish the biggest part of which was kamongo. It would therefore be an irony if I returned home in Dar es Salaam without some of this delicacy when indeed I was just coming from a city of people whose staple dish it was. I was determined to scour Kisumu until I got it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Taste Of Edmonton

I'm in Edmonton this week, visiting family this week. And today was the opening of Taste of Edmonton, an annual event where local restaurants try and convince you that you should never eat anywhere else. So, on two sides of Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton, a double row of food stalls line the streets offering samples of two of their foods--a taste of either one should convince you that this is the restaurant in which you should spend your life.

Each food stall has a poster with their two features and a picture of the head chef. At Normand's Bistro (above) they were offering beef short ribs and mash or smoked bison carpaccio. As I seldom eat beef anymore and can seldom resist a piece of bison, I convinced my brother-in-law that we should try the smoked bison.

Very small plate. Bit of salad with a spiced oil/vinegar dressing. And three pieces of smoked bison.  The dressing was nice, but the bison was great. Excellent flavour and good texture; I just wanted a big chunk to rip and tear at with my teeth and wash it down with a strong red wine.

Kyoto was an easy choice--Canada maki. A salmon roe added colour and Bob snagged my wasabi after my sushi (below) disappeared in a single bite.

I loved the massive cauldron of Chicken Bhoona bubbling away. I'm a sucker for drama--especially when it involves food--but I didn't try the bhoona, just loved looking at the cauldron bubbling away. With my volunteering at the soup kitchen, this is a scale of cooking I can appreciate.

Bob tried the beef and wasabi slider, which was tasty, but the wasabi mayo was a little under-spiced.

 The Hat resto Bar looked interesting. I thought I'd look at the Mahi Mahi sliders.

 It was decided that I wasn't going to be allowed to leave with only one slider. I was supposed to eat two.

The sliders were really just filet o'fish reinterpreted by a chef. Excellent fish, battered, with a tartar mayo on a slider bun.  Two of these with a beer? Yeah, I'm down with that....

 Select was a last minute addition. I was getting pretty full in the day's heat, and was more interested in my nephews lemonade (lots of lemon, not too much sugar) than in eating something else. But Smoked Mac and Cheese with Boar Bacon?
 This is about the correct amount. Both the cheddar and the boar bacon were apple-wood smoked. Select offers the mac and cheese as a table serving--enough for everyone to get a small amount. That's a great idea. This was all I could reasonably eat before feeling my heart slow down. The boar bacon was terrific!

 Post exploration, my niece had to have her Chocolate-dipped Strawberries for dessert. I completely understood.

 There was a tonne of great flavours available for the tasting. And the day was perfect for it. There was a general agreement to use local products where available, but not to be restricted to local foods. Boar bacon, bison, beef, all these were local products. Bacon-wrapped scallops? Not so much. Nor was the mahi mahi. But the food I sampled was prepared with care and attention (of course, the sample was a bit self-selecting). All in all, a great time, and an interesting contrast to the local food fair at Peppers (just up the block from my home) the day before I left for the week.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Ongoing Horsemeat Scandal

As we've been taught by Yes, Minister, if you don't want to get to the bottom of things, send it to a committee. Well, the horsemeat scandal in the UK has been sent to committee, and the complaints that the work is too slow, not getting anywhere, and generally not getting to the bottom of things shows that the committee is doing its job.
The Guardian is reporting:
A complex and highly organised network of companies mislabelling meat and trading it fraudulently is behind the horsemeat scandal, according to an influential group of MPs. They are critical that UK and Irish authorities have failed to acknowledge the extent of the network or prosecute any companies involved.
MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) select committee said they were "dismayed at the slow pace of investigations" into how horsemeat came to be passed off as beef in millions of "beefburgers" and ready meals.
The committee also found that the official UK response to the adulteration was hampered by the fact that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) did not have sufficient powers to deal with the scandal because part of its responsibilities had been taken away and given to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
So things are going exactly as planned.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Crisis Management

You may have seen this, I don't know. But this is Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck talking about the company he leads and its vision of the world. In this clip (apparently from the "We Feed The World" documentary) Brabeck talks about water, and in so doing, defines the problem with the food system. He says, and this is an approximate quote, "There are two views on water. One is that it is a human right and that everyone should have access to it. This is an extreme view." He has since commented on this himself.
He, quite naturally, is pro-privatization. Because he has to be--this is the job of capital; to slice the world ever more thinly and sell it back to the population at a profit, and to find ever more resources that can be owned and sold. This isn't one sociopathic individual with no concern for anyone else, this is the raison d'être of capitalism. There's all kinds of writing about how this maximises use of resources and minimizes costs and suchlike, and it's all very lovely inside the economic models. It is also the "invisible worm that flies in the night"  that is destroying the life of our planet. And is at the heart of the food crisis. 
Peter Brabeck doesn't want to kill millions of people and destroy the future of human life on this planet. I'm sure he's a very nice guy who loves his wife and dandles his grandchildren on his knee and worries about their future. But he's also trapped inside a $65 billion/year machine that is busy eliminating those grandchildren's future. 
I'm not anti-business. I've both been there and done that. My wife is a freelance writer. We ran a farm that survived on selling vegetables in a competitive environment to the public. I've both introduced new products to market and developed a market for them, and seen the truth of what Adam Smith said : “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”(Seriously, we all need to read Adam Smith--modern capital has only focused on his recommendations for a free market, but he's so much more than that).
What I am saying is that capital has its own rules, its own drivers. And when left with control over necessities of life, it ends in craziness and excess. And many many dead bodies--just ask South America or check out The Shock Doctrine. Unrestrained capitalism and democracy are not partners, but antithetical. Unrestrained capital is the enemy of democracy. Unrestrained capital is a criminal enterprise dedicated to complete dominance and its linkages to government result in fascism.
Leaving capital in charge of our food is really nuts. Countries and populations are better served by numerous small businesses rather than a small number of enormous corporations. And until we take on the excesses of unrestrained capital, we will always have a food crisis, a water crisis, a global climate change crisis.