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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

England v. Canada on Climate Change

Via Wikipedia

From the Guardian:
Droughts could devastate food production in the England by the 2020s, according to a report from the government's official climate change advisers. Without action, increasingly hot and dry summers may mean farmers will face shortfalls of 50% of the water they currently use to grow crops. The report, from the climate change committee (CCC), also warns that current farming practices may be allowing the country's richest soils to be washed or blown away.
The future risks to England's food supply are becoming more apparent, with MPs warningthis month that the government's failure to protect the most valuable farmland from flooding "poses a long-term risk to the security of UK food production" and food experts cautioning that crop yields are reaching their maximum biological limits. Extreme recent weather – the wettest recorded autumn followed by the coldest spring in half a century – cut wheat yields by one third, leading to the import of 2.5m tonnes of wheat, the same amount that is usually exported.
"If we don't start acting now we will be in serious trouble," said Lord John Krebs, who led the CCC report. "We already rely on food imports to a significant extent." About 40% of the UK's food is imported.
Friends of the Earth's Andrew Pendleton said: "Climate change poses a devastating threat to our environment, food supplies and security, which could trigger future economic crises. Urgent government measures are needed."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Food related--just barely!

Well, we can chalk up another thing that never happens to me. Metro News in Vancouver is reporting that sometime after 7:00 pm last Tuesday night, the occupants of a Burnaby home discovered they were being visited by a naked chef. The thirty year old man was apparently cooking up eggs in their kitchen when they discovered him. for some reason, they raised a ruckus and the cook fled--only to be picked up by police a short time later and not too far away.
Now, I'm in no way advocating naked frying of anything. But darn it all, no one ever breaks into my place to cook me eggs....

Friday, July 5, 2013

More Friday Food Linkstraveganza

Postmedia is reporting on the latest iteration of a survey done on food purchasing habits of Canadians by BMO:
The third annual BMO Food Survey of consumers’ grocery patterns, released Friday, finds Canadian provinces are true to their respective identities when it comes to the food and drink they source locally. Quebecers like their bread and cheese, Albertans are all about the region’s beef, British Columbians favour newly plucked fruits and veggies, Maritimers dine on fish so fresh you can taste the saltwater, and Ontarians wash it all down with a glass of Niagara wine.
In fact, virtually all Canadians (98 per cent) say they sometimes, frequently or always buy at least one locally sourced product when they grocery shop, with the top motivations being superior freshness and taste; a desire to support the local economy; support of local farmers; and the creation of jobs in the community.
“We’ve been doing comparable studies for years and each time, regardless of the economic circumstances of the day, the responses are pretty stable. Canadians have a consistent desire for food that’s locally produced,” said David Rinneard, director of agriculture and agribusiness for BMO.

So, good news for local producers--we have a base to build from.

CJME in Saskatchewan is reporting:
Despite damage from flooding, hail and disease last week, there is plenty of optimism on the farm. Crops are rated in fair to excellent condition with nearly two thirds at the normal stages of development.
Sixty-eight per cent of pulse crops are on schedule — followed by winter and cereals at 63 per cent, spring cereals at 61 per cent and oilseeds at 60 per cent.Livestock producers are also gearing up for the hay harvest. Producers have six per cent of the perennial hay crop cut and less than one per cent bailed. Northeast producers have three per cent cut.
If the weather this week continues, McLean said haying operations will be going full steam ahead.
“With the warmer dry weather we’ve experienced, and it looks like the next short while, it provides a good opportunity for individuals to advance their haying.”
This is not necessarily good news for producers. farmers want to have bumper crops while everyone else has theirs destroyed in order to maximise returns.  With prices down 1% worldwide according to the UNFAO, it's looking like breathing space for the planet's food supply this yeaar.

There's a heartbreaking bit of video footage from the Star, about bee losses in Ontario.
Like many apiarists in Ontario, the Schuits, who make organic honey in Elmwood, Ont., say their bees have been dying en masse every spring in recent years. They estimate they lost a staggering 37 million bees in 2012 alone, representing more than half their entire brood. The sudden decline forced them to sell their old 40-hectare property in December, and persuaded their eldest son to jump ship on the family industry.
“We just can’t continue on like this,” says Erika, mother of the seven Schuit children. “It’s very stressful as a family, and you need to put food on the table.”
Recent declines in bee populations have been documented around the world, prompting a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder and raising fears over the consequences of losing a species vital to the pollination of many plants. In Canada, the bee population has dropped by an estimated 35 per cent in the past three years, according to the Canadian Honey Council.
Several suspected causes have been studied, including the loss of flower habitat, disease, bee mites and parasites.
The Schuits, however, are convinced widely used “seed treatment” pesticides called neonicotinoids are to blame for the seizure-like deaths of their European honeybees.

Whatever Happemed To.... Ferran Adria?

"We are trying to tell a story through the history of cooking, asking what cooking really is, through the process of cooking."
                              Ferran Adrià
I've blogged about Ferran Adrià and el Bulli before, watched him introduce Anthony Bourdain to a slice of a simple dry cured ham before exploding every concept of what food is, and thought about his deconstruction of food for years. He closed el Bulli a few years ago and kind of drifted off the radar. Now he's back, with an exhibition at Somerset House and is interviewed by Tim Hayward Below (thanks to the Guardian).

 Ferran Adrià, the former head chef at the legendary Catalan restaurant el Bulli, tells Tim Hayward about the exhibition devoted to him at Somerset House in London.

This summer, Somerset House will host a major retrospective exhibition on a global icon of gastronomy, Ferran Adrià, and the restaurant he built to become the world’s best, elBulli. In partnership with Estrella Damm, elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food is the world’s first exhibition dedicated to a chef and his restaurant. The retrospective will showcase the art of cuisine and cuisine as art by taking a behind-the-scenes look at the legendary laboratory and kitchen of the internationally renowned restaurant, which delighted diners in Cala Montjoi, a small picturesque bay on the Catalan coast near Roses, for over 50 years. Charting the evolution of elBulli, the exhibition will feature an in-depth, multimedia display of each of the essential ingredients that make up the culinary creative mastermind of Ferran Adrià and his team: research (handwritten notes and hand-drawn sketches); preparation (plasticine models, which were made for all the dishes served as a means for quality control of colour, portion size and position on the plate, and the specially-designed utensils used); presentation (original tasting menus, cutlery laid on the tables and salivating shots of the creations taken from the catalogue to be published by Phaidon next year), and plaudits (original restaurant reviews and other press clippings).  Combined with archive footage of the chefs and clientele, the exhibition’s ephemera are testament to Adrià’s abundant talent, genius and ambition.

Friday Food Link-straveganza

With a warning that Canada should be paying particular attention to--but won't--the Guardian is reporting on the public policy failure around floods.

Flood on agricultural land
A high proportion of the most valuable agricultural land is at risk of flooding, the MPs said. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images  via The Guardian

Ministers are failing to protect the UK's most valuable farmland from flooding, posing a long-term risk to the security of UK food production, according to an influential group of MPs.
A run of poor weather since 2011 has led to extensive flooding of properties but has also severely dented the production of many foods, with the UK now being a net importer of wheat.
The environment select committee's report also said the government's spending by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to protect homes from flooding is not keeping pace with the rising risk, which is increasing as climate change intensifies downpours, and were also failing to act effectively to block the building of new homes on floodplains.
"Record rainfall in the past two years has led to extensive flooding, cost the economy millions and caused disruption and distress to householders and communities across the UK," said Anne McIntosh, a Conservative MP, and chair of the commons select committee on environment, food and rural affairs.
Extreme weather events are not just a problem for the UK. In a related article, the Guardian reports on the new UN World Meteorological Organization report that points out the unprecedented climate extremes seen around the world over the last decade.
If you think the world is warming and the weather getting nastier, you're right, according to the United Nations agency committed to understanding weather and climate.
The World Meteorological Organization says the planet "experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes" in the ten years from 2001 to 2010, the warmest decade since the start of modern measurements in 1850.
Those ten years also continued an extended period of accelerating global warming, with more national temperature records reported broken than in any previous decade. Sea levels rose about twice as fast as the trend in the last century.
A WMO report, The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Climate Extremes, analyses global and regional temperatures and precipitation, and extreme weather such as the heat waves in Europe and Russia, Hurricane Katrina in the US, tropical cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, droughts in the Amazon basin, Australia and East Africa, and floods in Pakistan.

Looking at something a bit lighter, let's learn how to make an excellent lamb kofte, shall we?  Felicity Cloake writes in the Word of Mouth blog about the process. As an aside, this is part of a series of posts; How to Cook the Perfect. And this is how you present a recipe in a blog post, people. We've really got to up our game. This gives you the information you need, the context to work from, and a sense that maybe the writer has actually tried to make the recipe (I'm reminded of the scene in Julie and Julia where Julia Child discovers that Ms. Rombauer hasn't checked the recipes in Joy of Cooking to see if they even work). It's like linking to source articles when writing an opinion piece--it adds a level of verifiability to your work.

So here's Felicity herself to tell you about the process of making kofte.

There's also a report that world food prices have fallen--not much, but still...
Global food prices fell 1% in June due to improving supply prospects, the United Nations' food agency has said , raising forecasts for wheat and maize output in the new season.
Food prices spiked during the summer of 2012 due to a historic drought in the US but prospects for a rebound in global grain supply and good weather forecasts are now weighing on markets.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) price index that measures price changes for a basket of cereals, oil seeds, dairy, meat and sugar, fell for a second month running to 211.3 points in June – its lowest level since February.
 That puts food prices below the threshold for civil unrest, according to NECSI--the New England Complex Systems Institute, about whom I've blogged before.

If you haven't discovered it yet, there's a lovely interactive map  sponsored by The economist that lets you see where you--and pretty much everyone else, ranks in terms of food security. Click on your country (or the country you're interested in) and pull up the world ranking of food security and what went into generating that rank. Canada, by the way, ranks 8th worldwide. Among the key findings?
Falling national incomes hurt food security in some developed countries over the past year.
Greece recorded the steepest fall among developed nations, dropping six places. Greece’s GDP has plummeted by more than 20% since the 2008-09 global recession. Income per person dropped in most advanced economies in the past year, the result of weak economies. Although this reduced food security in these countries, they remain, for the most part, in the top 20% of the index and thus are not in serious danger of food insecurity.

And, finally, if you're not following the Journal of Peasant Studies, you're missing out. Open source, peer reviewed.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Four New Environmental Research Letters

Implications of regional improvement in global climate models for agricultural impact research 
Global climate models (GCMs) have become increasingly important for climate change science and provide the basis for most impact studies. Since impact models are highly sensitive to input climate data, GCM skill is crucial for getting better short-, medium- and long-term outlooks for agricultural production and food security. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) phase 5 ensemble is likely to underpin the majority of climate impact assessments over the next few years. We assess 24 CMIP3 and 26 CMIP5 simulations of present climate against climate observations for five tropical regions, as well as regional improvements in model skill and, through literature review, the sensitivities of impact estimates to model error. Climatological means of seasonal mean temperatures depict mean errors between 1 and 18 ° C (2–130% with respect to mean), whereas seasonal precipitation and wet-day frequency depict larger errors, often offsetting observed means and variability beyond 100%. Simulated interannual climate variability in GCMs warrants particular attention, given that no single GCM matches observations in more than 30% of the areas for monthly precipitation and wet-day frequency, 50% for diurnal range and 70% for mean temperatures. We report improvements in mean climate skill of 5–15% for climatological mean temperatures, 3–5% for diurnal range and 1–2% in precipitation. At these improvement rates, we estimate that at least 5–30 years of CMIP work is required to improve regional temperature simulations and at least 30–50 years for precipitation simulations, for these to be directly input into impact models. We conclude with some recommendations for the use of CMIP5 in agricultural impact studies.

Global crop exposure to critical high temperatures in the reproductive period: historical trends and future projections

Long-term warming trends across the globe have shifted the distribution of temperature variability, such that what was once classified as extreme heat relative to local mean conditions has become more common. This is also true for agricultural regions, where exposure to extreme heat, particularly during key growth phases such as the reproductive period, can severely damage crop production in ways that are not captured by most crop models. Here, we analyze exposure of crops to physiologically critical temperatures in the reproductive stage (Tcrit), across the global harvested areas of maize, rice, soybean and wheat. Trends for the 1980–2011 period show a relatively weak correspondence (r = 0.19) between mean growing season temperature and Tcrit exposure trends, emphasizing the importance of separate analyses for Tcrit. Increasing Tcrit exposure in the past few decades is apparent for wheat in Central and South Asia and South America, and for maize in many diverse locations across the globe. Maize had the highest percentage (15%) of global harvested area exposed to at least five reproductive days over Tcrit in the 2000s, although this value is somewhat sensitive to the exact temperature used for the threshold. While there was relatively little sustained exposure to reproductive days over Tcrit for the other crops in the past few decades, all show increases with future warming. Using projections from climate models we estimate that by the 2030s, 31, 16, and 11% respectively of maize, rice, and wheat global harvested area will be exposed to at least five reproductive days over Tcrit in a typical year, with soybean much less affected. Both maize and rice exhibit non-linear increases with time, with total area exposed for rice projected to grow from 8% in the 2000s to 27% by the 2050s, and maize from 15 to 44% over the same period. While faster development should lead to earlier flowering, which would reduce reproductive extreme heat exposure for wheat on a global basis, this would have little impact for the other crops. Therefore, regardless of the impact of other global change factors (such as increasing atmospheric CO2), reproductive extreme heat exposure will pose risks for global crop production without adaptive measures such as changes in sowing dates, crop and variety switching, expansion of irrigation, and agricultural expansion into cooler areas.

Assessing climate change impacts on sorghum and millet yields in the Sudanian and Sahelian savannas of West Africa
Sub-Saharan West Africa is a vulnerable region where a better quantification and understanding of the impact of climate change on crop yields is urgently needed. Here, we have applied the process-based crop model SARRA-H calibrated and validated over multi-year field trials and surveys at eight contrasting sites in terms of climate and agricultural practices in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The model gives a reasonable correlation with observed yields of sorghum and millet under a range of cultivars and traditional crop management practices. We applied the model to more than 7000 simulations of yields of sorghum and millet for 35 stations across West Africa and under very different future climate conditions. We took into account 35 possible climate scenarios by combining precipitation anomalies from −20% to 20% and temperature anomalies from +0 to +6 °C.
We found that most of the 35 scenarios (31/35) showed a negative impact on yields, up to −41% for +6 °C/ − 20% rainfall. Moreover, the potential future climate impacts on yields are very different from those recorded in the recent past. This is because of the increasingly adverse role of higher temperatures in reducing crop yields, irrespective of rainfall changes. When warming exceeds +2 °C, negative impacts caused by temperature rise cannot be counteracted by any rainfall change. The probability of a yield reduction appears to be greater in the Sudanian region (southern Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Togo and Benin), because of an exacerbated sensitivity to temperature changes compared to the Sahelian region (Niger, Mali, northern parts of Senegal and Burkina Faso), where crop yields are more sensitive to rainfall change. Finally, our simulations show that the photoperiod-sensitive traditional cultivars of millet and sorghum used by local farmers for centuries seem more resilient to future climate conditions than modern cultivars bred for their high yield potential (−28% versus −40% for the +4 °C/ − 20% scenario). Photoperiod-sensitive cultivars counteract the effect of temperature increase on shortening cultivar duration and thus would likely avoid the need to shift to cultivars with a greater thermal time requirement. However, given the large difference in mean yields of the modern versus traditional varieties, the modern varieties would still yield more under optimal fertility conditions in a warmer world, even if they are more affected by climate change.

Impacts of recent climate change on Wisconsin corn and soybean yield trends 

The US Corn Belt supports agroecosystems that flourish in a temperate climate regime that could see significant changes in the next few decades. Because Wisconsin is situated on the northern, cooler fringes of this region, it may be the beneficiary of a warmer climate that could help support higher corn and soybean yields. Here we show that trends in precipitation and temperature during the growing season from 1976–2006 explained 40% and 35% of county corn and soybean yield trends, respectively. Using county level yield information combined with climate data, we determined that both corn and soybean yield trends were enhanced in counties that experienced a trend towards cooler and wetter conditions during the summer. Our results suggest that for each additional degree ( °C) of future warming during summer months, corn and soybean yields could potentially decrease by 13% and 16%, respectively, whereas if modest increases in total summer precipitation (i.e. 50 mm) were to occur, yields may be boosted by 5–10%, counteracting a portion of the negative effects associated with increased temperature. While northern US Corn Belt regions such as Wisconsin may benefit from a warmer climate regime and management changes that lengthen the crop-growing period in spring and autumn, mid- to high-latitude crop productivity may be challenged by additional summertime warming unless adaptive measures are taken.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Marketing of Foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar to Children

From the new WHO report on marketing to children:

The promotion of potentially unhealthy food and beverage products is now widely recognized in Europe as a significant risk factor for child obesity and for the development of diet-related noncommunicable diseases. Reviews conducted for WHO, for European parliamentarians  and for national agencies in Europe and the United States of America  have all concluded that, despite substantial gaps in the evidence, advertising and the promotional marketing of foods and beverages have enough effect on children’s diets to merit action.
As a result, a series of policy responses have emerged in the last decade. The WHO 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health  stated that food advertising messages that encourage unhealthy dietary practices should be discouraged, and that governments “should work with consumer groups and the private sector (including advertising) to develop appropriate multisectoral approaches to deal with the marketing of food to children, and to deal with such issues as sponsorship, promotion and advertising” (paragraph 40(3)).
In May 2006, WHO held a stakeholder forum and expert technical meeting on the issue in Lysbu, Norway. The resulting report urged Member States to take “bold, innovative action at both national and global levels” to reduce the promotion of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor food and beverages to children. It noted that advertising to children included: (i) promotion that is deliberately targeted at children and scheduled to reach them, and (ii) promotion targeting other groups but to which children are widely exposed.

A Trip To Indian Country

via Wikipedia

I've spent a chunk of the morning in Indian Country--well, I've spent my whole life in Indian Country, particularly now that I live on unceeded First Nations territory. But this morning was spent at the website Indian Country, the First Nations news and culture site. And I've been having a great time.
I've been interested in First Nations issues and culture since reading a biography of Tatanka Yotanka back in elementary school, and his story, and the story of the Lakota, gave rise to my concern for social justice issues. there's an excellent primer on the Canadian situation at 8th Fire.
First Nations also face the problems with our food systems on a reglar basis. There are high rates of diabetes in First Nations communities, for example. A couple of years ago, the CBC ran a documentary about an experiment in low-carb dieting that took place in Alert Bay, here on the West Coast. (There is a short report on the experiment here).
Indian Country, the website,  has a number of interesting food-related articles. A couple of days ago, they reported on recent research into the addictive qualities of carbohydrates:
New research, published June 26 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, proves there's truth behind the belief that food can be addictive.
Brain imaging reveals that after eating highly processed carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice, baked goods and other starches, the same pleasure centers of the brain light up as when a person takes drugs such as cocaine and heroin, The New York Times reports. In both cases, dopamine levels, which trigger happiness and feelings of reward, spike and then deplete, thus fueling addiction.
This isn't news to anyone who has read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.
Moss reports on research going back decades that shows substantial similarities between the brain's experience with salt, sugar, and fat and the brain's experiences with narcotics.
Indian Country also has an excellent recipe section, concentrating on brief histories about First Nations use and preperation of different foods ( like duck and sweetbreads) and a recipe that reflects that history.
IC also reports on a local urban agriculture project affecting one First Nation:
An $8,100 grant from the Maine Community Foundation will help grow more fresh organic food for the Penobscot community on Indian Island.
The Peoples’ Garden began as a collaborative among multiple Penobscot Indian Nation governmental departments that were interested in finding ways to ensure food security for future generations. It is a volunteer, intergenerational community garden group located on Indian Island. The funds will be used to increase production and availability of fresh organic food for the Penobscot community while revitalizing community green space.
During summer 2011, a 30’x70’ high tunnel hoop house was erected at a site where a crumbling basketball court once existed.  The court was removed, the site cleaned up, and the hoop house given to the community for a community garden.
I really need to thank the edotors and writers at Inndian Country for an enjoyable couple of hours of browsing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Corporations Discover Fascism

Let's start out with the response, and then go to the "call", eh? Monsanto posted a response to an article in the nation:
Monsanto did not hire Blackwater nor did we approve of the firm infiltrating any groups as was suggested in the Nation article. In 2008, 2009 and early 2010, a firm called Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS) provided Monsanto ’s security group with reports about activities or groups that could pose a risk to the company, its personnel or its global operations. The safety of our people is our utmost priority and we value the communities in which we operate. All information provided by TIS was developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information. The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning internet blogs and websites. Prior to retaining TIS, Monsanto specifically enquired about and was informed that TIS was a completely separate entity from Blackwater. Beyond the content of the Nation article, we have not engaged people to infiltrate firms/activist groups and we do not condone that type of behavior.
 There's some not unreasonable coverage via YouTube:

But what's the origin of this? Because, if true--or even slightly true--this points out that Monsanto has abrogated the role of government. And when that happens at the expense of democracy, well, that's a textbook definition of fascism.
It all starts back in an article written by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation. In it, he writes:
One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the "intel arm" of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.
Governmental recipients of intelligence services and counterterrorism training from Prince's companies include the Kingdom of Jordan, the Canadian military and the Netherlands police, as well as several US military bases, including Fort Bragg, home of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and Fort Huachuca, where military interrogators are trained, according to the documents. (emphasis mine)
I had to add the second paragraph to point out just how complex and intertwined these corporations are with our governments. Scahill continues, later in the article:
Through Total Intelligence and the Terrorism Research Center, Blackwater also did business with a range of multinational corporations. According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto—the world's largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—hired the firm in 2008–09. The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto's security manager for global issues.
After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to Prince and Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses. Black wrote that Wilson "understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name.... Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for." Black added that Total Intelligence "would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto." Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater "could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally." Black wrote that initial payments to Total Intelligence would be paid out of Monsanto's "generous protection budget" but would eventually become a line item in the company's annual budget. He estimated the potential payments to Total Intelligence at between $100,000 and $500,000. According to documents, Monsanto paid Total Intelligence $127,000 in 2008 and $105,000 in 2009.
Uninterested in Monsanto's products? You're on their list. Pro GMO labelling? You're on their list. And because transnational corporations like Monsanto have done just that--transcended national ties--they are not responsible to anyone anywhere anytime. Practices may be banned in one country, but won't be in another--allowing activities like this (the corporate equivalent of Prism exposed by Ed Snowden) to continue.