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.