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Locavorism vs. Globavorism

locavorism

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The App to Stop Food Waste

The App to Stop Food Waste

“Why you should care

This is just one simple way to use technology to solve an age-old problem: getting good food to people at a reasonable price.

The U.S. wastes up to 40 percent of its food. This is not only sad, considering how many people struggle to feed their families, but also costs America’s economy an estimated $165 billion a year.

But don’t despair just yet; PareUp has a plan.

This New York-based app developer aims to prevent food waste by letting its users connect with restaurants and grocery stores to buy their excess product before it’s thrown away. PareUp’s online marketplace is launching in early August and the mobile app will be available on Apple Store by mid-September.

“We want to change the cultural conversation around what it means to consume food and the life cycle of food,” says co-founder Margaret Tung. “Because we’re throwing out a lot more than needs to be.”

Together with Jason Chen and Anuj Jhunjhunwala, the PareUp creators have designed what aims to be a win-win system that benefits businesses and clients alike.

Using PareUp’s platform, food retailers can showcase inventory and indicate excess items together with a discounted price and the time when they’ll be ready for sale.

This helps stores and cafés make money by selling products that they could not donate anyway, either because of food safety regulations or because they don’t meet the minimum weight required to arrange a pickup with a food bank or shelter.

Meanwhile, people using PareUp can call dibs and get 50 percent off their favorite treats, from chocolate cookies and artisanal baguettes to BLT sandwiches and quinoa salads.

Trial users claim it’s also a way to explore the city. “I’ve found one of my new favorite spots in Williamsburg because of PareUp,” says Sinead Daly. “I went there with friends to buy handpies after we got a PareUp notification. My two friends lived across the street from the place and had never been! Now they go there every morning.”

PareUp makes a profit by taking a small fee from every transaction, but the app is free to download for both users and retailers.

Still, getting people to eat food that was previously doomed for the trash might take some convincing. Tung admits to a perception problem. “The key is to stop labeling such items as ‘leftovers,’” she says, adding that no products are actually expired.

The startup is looking to create a network of businesses including both mom-and-pop grocery stores and trendy retailers like Breads Bakery, Pushcart Coffee and Oslo Coffee Roasters.

For now, PareUp will only be available in New York City but its creators are looking to expand as soon as possible. The next destination will likely be Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., but the team says it’s received interest from retailers in London, Sydney and Toronto.

Of course, an app won’t end food waste, but it might help reduce the volume. And it easily beats dumpster diving.”

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What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping

What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping

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Seeking A Saner Food System, Three Times A Day

July 31, 2014 2:54 PM ET
Not all cows get to spend their days with soft green grass under hoof. For many, the picture isn't so pretty, according to the book Farmageddon.

Not all cows get to spend their days with soft green grass under hoof. For many, the picture isn’t so pretty, according to the book Farmageddon.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“For Philip Lymbery, head of the U.K.-based Compassion in World Farming and his co-author Isabel Oakeshott, a visit to California’s Central Valley amounted to an encounter with suffering.

In Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, Lymbery and Oakeshott write that the mega-dairies of the Central Valley are “milk factories where animals are just machines that rapidly break down and are replaced.” At one huge dairy they visited, cows stood idly outdoors, some in shade and some in the sun. No grass cushioned their feet and certainly none was available to eat since, like almost all factory-farm cows, the animals were maintained on an unnatural diet of crops such as corn. The stench in the air was “a nauseous reek.”

The True Cost of Cheap Meat
by Philip Lymbery

This same scene was repeated “every couple of kilometres, all with several thousand cows surrounded by mud, corrugated iron and concrete.”

The hurt in Central Valley extends beyond cows to humans.

The 1.75 million cows in California generate, according to Lymbery and Oakeshott, more fecal waste than the human population of the U.K. Most of the waste matter flows to lagoons near the farms. But some escapes into the air as gas and into the ground (and water supply) through seepage. Water and air pollution, linked in part to the mega-dairies, is an immense worry for residents of the Central Valley, where, the authors report, children have a rate of asthma nearly three times above the national average and adult life expectancies are lower by up to a decade than the national average.

Similar disastrous circumstances surround mega-piggeries and industrial chicken farms in the U.S. And when those animals are turned into meat, there’s enormous wastage. The single saddest statistic I have read in the realm of animal welfare comes fromFarmageddon: the amount of meat discarded globally each year is equivalent to 11.6 billion chickens or 270 million pigs or 59 million cattle.

Lymbery and Oakeshott’s answer to “Well, what can we do?” hit home for me. Positive change is in our hands, they insist. In the U.K. where they live, the scale of industrial agriculture is not yet huge and, even in countries like the U.S. where it is huge, there’s hope. They write:

“Avoiding Farmageddon is easy as long as we buy products from animals reared on the land (free-range, organic), favour local producers or retailers that we trust, eat what we buy and therefore reduce food waste, and avoid overeating meat, we can fill our plates in ways that benefit the countryside, our health and animal welfare.”

“Easy” sounds too Pollyanna-ish to my ears, but I did love the mantra adopted in the book:

“Each of us has three great opportunities a day to help make a kinder, saner food system through the [meal] choices we make.”

It’s a simple yet powerful message: At every breakfast, lunch and dinner, we make food choices that move us either toward a saner food system or further away.

My review of Farmageddon, published last week in the Times Literary Supplement, was positive. Even so, I gave Lymbery and Oakeshott a bit of a hard time for avoiding the topic of vegetarianism.

No, I’m not suggesting that everyone become vegetarian (or vegan) or that people who don’t are somehow morally inferior. Though I don’t eat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, goats or cephalopods like the octopus, I do eat fish on occasion and I have recently sampled insect cuisine (cricket cookies and grasshopper tacos). I’m no purist on this topic.

And I remember from last year Tania’s “can’t we all just get along?” post: none of us benefits by judging others’ food habits (or worrying excessively that others are judging ours).

Still, in a book that tackles how we might eat smarter for the environment, for other animals, and for ourselves, I think it’s too timid to stop at “eat less meat” and not discuss the “eat no meat” option.

And what about “eat no fish”? On this topic, Farmageddon has something thought-provoking to say, as I noted in my TLS review:

“‘Fish farms are the forgotten factory farms under the water’, according to Lymbery, ‘and one of the fastest-growing sectors of intensive animal rearing.’ Cataracts and fish and tail injuries plague the farmed salmon and trout confined in tiny spaces. Around the world, about 100 billion fish are farmed every year, a number that exceeds all the terrestrial farm animals put together.”

“The result of all this effort is bleak: consumers eat fatty, chemical-laden fish, and the farmed fish, when they escape (Lymbery describes ‘mass breakouts’), harm the wild fish stocks, through competition for food and places to spawn, and outright cannibalism.”

About my pescatarian diet, and the type of fish I choose now and again for lunch or dinner, I’m thinking twice.

And three times.


Barbara’s most recent book on animals was released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter:”

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Economists Say Inflation Is Tame; Consumers Aren’t Buying It

Economists Say Inflation Is Tame; Consumers Aren’t Buying It

“…”It’s kind of hard to even buy milk and bread,” said Kimberly Acevedo, a bank teller who was shopping at a Best Market in Harlem. To search for lower prices, “you could find yourself going to four supermarkets … one for meat, one for fresh fruit, and one for other things.”..”

 

What blows my mind is that it used to be that you HAD to go to different stores for these items. We have been brainwashed into thinking that convenience outweighs the benefits of thinking through your purchases and comparison shopping for the best possible products.

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‘Eating On The Wild Side:’ A Field Guide To Nutritious Food

July 10, 2013 2:27 PM

Eating on the Wild Side
 
Eating on the Wild Side

The Missing Link to Optimum Health

by Jo Robinson and Andie Styner

We like to think that if we eat our recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, we’re doing right by our bodies. Think again, says health writer Jo Robinson.

In her new bookEating on the Wild Side, Robinson argues that our prehistoric ancestors picked and gathered wild plants that were in many ways far healthier than the stuff we buy today at farmers’ markets.

But this change, she says, isn’t the result of the much-bemoaned modern, industrial food system. It has been thousands of years in the making — ever since humans first took up farming (some 12,000 years ago, more or less) and decided to “cultivate the wild plants that were the most pleasurable to eat,” she writes. More pleasurable generally meant less bitter and higher in sugar, starch or oil.

“Basically,” Robinson tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, “we looked around at all this wild food that we had been eating for millennia, forever, and we kind of said to each other, ‘We’re getting tired of eating this bitter, chewy, fibrous, low-sugar food, and we can do better than that!'”

But over the centuries, Robinson says, those choices in human agriculture led to a dramatic loss in the nutrient value of the plants we eat most commonly — something she says we had no way of knowing until recently, when modern technology made it possible to do so.

But Robinson isn’t arguing that we should all go back to foraging for our dinner. Rather, she calls her book “a field guide to nutritious food.” Drawing on hundreds of scientific studies, she uses her book to lay out which commonly available foods offer the best nutritional bang for the bite.

We learn, for example, that longer cooking can boost tomatoes’ health benefits. And that broccoli begins to lose cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours of harvest — that’s why it’s one of the foods that Robinson suggests people eat “as fresh as possible.”

On prehistoric bananas

“To peel them you had to get a machete or something similar to that to take off the skins, so we looked around and one of our remote ancestors came upon a mutant banana. This was nature’s mutant — nature is making mutations all the time — and that’s how we get all of the varieties that we have in our fruits and vegetables. Well, this particular mutation did away with the seeds, so that the seeds had been diminished to tiny black dots, and if you look at the bananas in our supermarket, that’s what you’ll see: no viable seeds but just these little dots.”

On her focus on ‘phytonutrients’

“These are molecular nutrients; they’re not macronutrients, and the reason that I’m focusing on them is that we’re just beginning to realize that these plant compounds — the technical name for them is ‘polyphenols’ [but] I call them ‘phytonutrients’ — they play a role in every cell and system of our bodies, and every month, new information is published showing these phytonutrients are really essential for optimum health. … [T]hese are the things we’ve reduced more than any of the other nutrients.”

On why we should eat dandelions

For 15 years, author and journalist Jo Robinson has been researching the foods we eat and the nutritional losses they've undergone over thousands of years.

For 15 years, author and journalist Jo Robinson has been researching the foods we eat and the nutritional losses they’ve undergone over thousands of years.

Frances Robinson /Little Brown and Co.

“[G]o out and find a dandelion leaf, rinse it well, and take a bite, and pay attention to your senses. For the first 10 seconds you won’t sense much at all, except you’ll notice that the leaf is hairy, and quite dense, quite chewy. Then, this bloom of bitterness [will] come at the roof of your mouth and go down your throat, and it’s going to stay there for about 10 minutes. And many of the wild plants that we used to eat had levels of bitterness similar to that dandelion. … Compared to spinach, which we consider a superfood, [a dandelion] has twice as much calcium, and three times as much vitamin A, five times more vitamins K and E, and eight times more antioxidants.”

On maximizing the nutrients in lettuce

“If you take your lettuce right from the store and rinse it and dry it and then, if you rip it into bite-sized pieces before you store it, you’re going to increase the antioxidant activity … fourfold. The next time you eat it, it’s going to have four times as many antioxidants.”

On which produce you should eat as fresh as possible

“There [are] fruits and vegetables that also burn up their antioxidants and their sugar at a really rapid rate, and they happen to be those superstars of nutrition that we’re all encouraged to eat. So I’m just going to give you a list of things you should get as fresh as possible, perhaps from a farmers’ market, which … is going to be probably fresher than from the supermarket, and eat as soon as possible. So it would be artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, parsley, mushrooms and spinach. …
I think you should have an ‘Eat Me First’ list on your refrigerator of those [foods] that you should eat the day you bring them home, or the next day. It could [make] a measurable difference in your health.””

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July 11, 2013 · 3:09 pm

From the Mouths of Babes

I’ve been on food stamps since August of last year to help me feed myself while I interned  at a theatre in Louisville, KY. My internship paid me $1000 for 8 months, that’s roughly $30 a week, and it kept me working for over full time (sometimes hitting 60 hours a week). Food stamps helped me make ends meet on top of a $600/mo. apartment plus utilities of $30-80/mo. and phone bills of $80/mo., etc. I got $200/mo. from food stamps which helped out enormously. I view it as the government investing in my future because I’ve paid taxes since I was 15 and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have parents that paid out of pocket for my college education so that I wasn’t saddled with any debt. But, that also means that they don’t have much more left to help me survive now. So, what do you think? Am I part of the entitled poor that are sucking up tax-payers money? – Claire E Jones

 

 

 

 

By 

Published: May 30, 2013

“Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 31, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: From The Mouths Of Babes.”

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May 31, 2013 · 7:44 pm

Pollan Cooks!

MARK BITTMAN April 17, 2013, 9:05 pm

“The seven most famous words in the movement for good food are: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They were written, of course, by Michael Pollan, in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the follow-up to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Now Pollan might add three more words to the slogan: “And cook them.” Because the man who so cogently analyzed production and nutrition in his best-known books has tackled what he calls “the middle link in the food chain: cooking.”

But Pollan isn’t about to become a cookbook writer, at least not yet. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” out Tuesday, he offers four detailed recipes, used as examples to explore how food is transformed: for Bolognese, pork shoulder, sauerkraut and bread, each an illustration, he says, of the fundamental principles of cooking.

The recipes, while not exactly afterthoughts, are less important than his insistence that cooking itself is transformative. Almost as soon as we sit down in my living room, he says: “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.

“You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”

He points out that it isn’t just that industrially produced meal replacements are cheap; they’ve also reduced the cost of the time needed to make food and foodlike products. Some would even argue that you should be working more, outsourcing as much cooking as possible — effectively defining cooking as a waste of time for anyone making more than, say, $20 an hour.

But, says Pollan: “If we decide to outsource all our cooking to corporations, we’re going to have industrial agriculture. And the growth of local, sustainable and organic food, and farmers’ markets, is going to top out if people don’t cook. Because big buys from big, and I have little faith that corporations will ever support the kind of agriculture we want to see. That’s why the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

We know why people don’t cook: because the marketers of prepared food have taken over our kitchens; the Food Channel fetishization of cooking has made it look intimidating, especially for those who grew up without parents in the kitchen; and people say they don’t have the time — or they just don’t like it.

“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”

And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the ’70s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even “feminist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”

“We need to complete that uncomfortable conversation about the division of domestic labor, which the food industry deftly exploited to sell us processed food,” he says. “But if we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking, it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.”

How does that happen? “First, we need to bring back home ec, but a gender-neutral home ec. We need public health ad campaigns promoting home cooking as the single best thing you can do for your family’s health and well-being. A tax on prepared food, but not on raw ingredients, is another good idea. And Michelle Obama could use her bully pulpit to promote home cooking, rather than spend her considerable capital persuading food manufacturers to tweak their products.”

With an increasingly progressive population we have the potential to create a gender-agnostic cooking culture. There’s no longer a stigma attached to males cooking, and cooking is not only a democratic pleasure, it is also daily creativity, it’s economic, it’s healthy, and it’s a link to the natural world. And though it may take time, cooking can be about patience and letting things happen. Good things, on many levels.”

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April 22, 2013 · 2:02 pm

Halve meat consumption, scientists urge rich world

Beef carcasses at a wholesale meat market in Paris

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Beef carcasses at a wholesale meat market in Paris. The quest for ever cheaper meat has ’caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health’, a UN report says. Photograph: Francois Mori/AP
 
 

People in the rich world should become “demitarians” – eating half as much meat as usual, while stopping short of giving it up – in order to avoid severe environmental damage, scientists have urged, in the clearest picture yet of how farming practices are destroying the natural world.

They said the horsemeat scandal had uncovered the dark side of our lust for meat, which has fuelled a trade in undocumented livestock and mislabelled cheap ready meals. “There is a food chain risk,” said Prof Mark Sutton, who coined the term demitarian and is lead author of a UN Environment Programme (Unep) study published on Monday. “Now is a good time to talk to people about this.”

The quest for ever cheaper meat in the past few decades – most people even in rich countries ate significantly less meat one and two generations ago – has resulted in a massive expansion of intensively farmed livestock. This has diverted vast quantities of grain from human to animal consumption, requiring intensive use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and, according to the Unep report, “caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health”. The run-off from these chemicals is creating dead zones in the seas, causing toxic algal blooms and killing fish, while some are threatening bees, amphibians and sensitive ecosystems. “The attention this meat scare has drawn [highlights] poor quality meat. It shows society must think about livestock and food choices much more, for the environment and health,” said Sutton.

The answer, Sutton said, was more vegetables on the plate, and less animal protein. “Eat meat, but less often – make it special,” he urged. “Portion size is key. Many portions are too big, more than you want to eat. Think about a change of culture that says, ‘I like the taste, but I don’t need so much of it.'”

By filling plates with vegetables as well as the meat, people will be better nourished. “Most people don’t notice,” he said, citing a recent UN event at which the chef used a third the amount of meat, more vegetables to make up for it, and more than 90% of guests were just as satisfied.

Sutton was speaking about the rich west, the US and Europe in particular. He wants the change in diet to be pioneered in Europe, as the US will be a tougher nut to crack. The UN scientists said people in poor countries should be allowed to increase their consumption of animal protein, which billions of people are lacking. But if that is so as not to cause environmental harm, the move to meat in the developing world must be balanced with a reduction in the amount consumed in developed countries.

Chicken and pork are likely to be the meats that cause less environmental damage in relative terms, though standards of welfare and the circumstances in which livestock are raised can make a big difference. “Chicken is one of the most efficient [meats] as it grows very quickly and you can collect the manure,” said Sutton. Meat production accounts for 80% of the nitrogen and phosphorus used in farming, according to the Unep report, entitled Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution. These nutrients are produced at great expense globally, but most of them end up wasted through the animals’ manure. In some areas of the world, the nutrients are in short supply, resulting in lower crop yields.

Unep warned: “Unless action is taken, increases in pollution and per capita consumption of energy and animal products will exacerbate nutrient losses, pollution levels and land degradation, further threatening the quality of our water, air and soils, affecting climate and biodiversity.”

The report also set out a variety of measures by which farming could be made more environmentally friendly, from simple steps such as storing fertilisers more securely and using them more sparingly, and capturing greenhouse gas emissions from their production. Nitrogen use could be cut by 20m tonnes by 2020, saving £110bn a year. Reusing waste, such as manure, and treating sewage using modern methods would also save hundreds of billions.”

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February 20, 2013 · 9:01 pm

Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 05.14 EST
 
Bolivian woman harvesting Quinoa

“A Bolivian woman harvesting quinoa negro. ‘Well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here [are] unwittingly driving poverty there.’ Photograph: George Steinmetz/Corbis

Not long ago, quinoa was just an obscure Peruvian grain you could only buy in wholefood shops. We struggled to pronounce it (it’s keen-wa, not qui-no-a), yet it was feted by food lovers as a novel addition to the familiar ranks of couscous and rice. Dieticians clucked over quinoa approvingly because it ticked the low-fat box and fitted in with government healthy eating advice to “base your meals on starchy foods”.

Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.

Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes”, a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grainhas pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That’s the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.

Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.

In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.

There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat. But in the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.

• This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.”

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January 19, 2013 · 10:43 pm