What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Thu, December 17, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Now is our chance to speak up. For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Justice is on a fact-finding mission looking at how big business controls food and farming—and they want to hear from YOU before December 31st.
Maybe you’ve noticed prices rising at the supermarket even while most big food companies made record profits this year;
Maybe you are a farmer who has trouble getting your meat to market because there are no small-scale processing facilities in your region;
Maybe you’re concerned about food safety and the spread of bacteria like E. coliwhich happens much faster when meat and vegetables are processed in big centralized locations;
Maybe your local farm has gone out of business because it couldnt compete with the prices set by industrial farms and consolidated buyers.
And you probably know consumers having trouble finding good food at affordable prices, as well as farmers having trouble getting good food into mainstream markets. Please reach out to them today: the Department of Justice needs to hear their stories.
They are specifically seeking comments and stories about how corporate control of the food system affects average citizens. If you’re concerned that just a few big businesses have so much power over where your food comes from and how it’s produced, be a citizen: tell the government! Your comments will help to inform a series of workshops on the issue in the coming year.
(Many thanks to the US Food Crisis Working Group who have put together sample letters and more topic ideas at www.usfoodcrisisgroup.org)
Posted on Thu, November 12, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Alaine Janosy
UPDATE (GOOD NEWS): the FDA has postponed the policy change in order to do more research on feasibility etc. Click here to read their press release.
In 1941, M.F.K. Fisher asked us to consider the oyster in her gastronomical classic and that is just what I have been doing for the past few days. This little mollusk has been dominating headlines due to the proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) post-harvest processing requirement for Gulf Coast oysters, set to take effect during the 2011 harvesting season. If this requirement goes into affect, no one will be able to sell or eat raw oysters from the Gulf Coast between April and October every year. This move by the FDA is meant to reduce the number of people sickened by Vibrio vulnificus (Vv) bacteria, which is a naturally occurring bacterium found in all coastal waters.
Vv bacterial infection can occur from consuming raw oysters, clams or mussels but the majority of people infected each year are actually infected by exposing an open wound or sore to seawater that contains the bacteria. The bacteria primarily causes serious illness only in people with weak immune systems or certain health or medical conditions; healthy people are rarely sickened by bacterial exposure. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers Vv a rare foodborne disease, which makes sense considering that of the FDAs estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness annually, 5,000 result in death, and of those only 15 deaths are attributed to Vv bacteria. Thats 0.3% of deaths annually. Considering that five other bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria, account for over 90% of estimated food-related deaths annually, it is surprising that the FDA would propose implementation of such rigorous regulations over an industry that contributes so insignificantly to foodborne illness on the whole in the United States, and already has mechanisms in place to develop and maintain oyster sanitation rules.
Speaking with Sal Sunseri, owner of P & J Oyster Company of New Orleans, which is the oldest continually operating dealer of oysters in the United States, I was able to get a better sense of how this change in FDA policy would affect the Gulf Coast oyster industry. He told me there are only so many #1s in Louisiana and oysters are one of them, with the Gulf Coast accounting for 66 percent of oyster harvests nationwide. This vital industry accounts for $318 million a year of Louisiana revenue and 3,565 Louisiana residents are employed by the industry. He sees this unjustified and unprecedented move by the FDA as stemming, at least in part, from continual pressure on the FDA from the Center for Science in the Public Interest to establish a regulation requiring oysters harvested from Gulf Coast waters to have non-detectable levels of Vv. Since Vv is naturally present in coastal areas, and in the oysters that live there, the only way to meet this regulation is through post-harvest processing (PHP).
Posted on Mon, November 02, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Food Inc., the movie that caused quite a stir earlier this year by exposing the shocking truth about the food we eat, was released today on DVD and Blu-Ray. As we previously highlighted on this blog, Slow Food USA and many of its chapters were intimately involved in helping to promote and pre-screen this film to shed light on how our food supply is controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, worker safety and our own environment.
What were the reactions of audience members to this film? What were your own thoughts as you watched it? What should we be doing to continue to push big Ag to change their ways? How can we help ensure sustainable farming (and growing, processing, distribution) practices become the norm rather than the exception? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
The DVD release also contains some additional footage and news coverage that you may not have seen around the time the film was released, including:
Celebrity Public Service Announcements
ABC News Nightline You Are What You Eat: Food With Integrity
The Amazing Food Detective and Snacktown Smackdown: Stay Active and Eat Health
Also, n.b.: The Center for Ecoliteracy has published a Food, Inc. Discussion Guide, designed a classroom resource for grades 9 to 12.
The 102-page guide provides questions and activities about the films themes, including health, sustainability, animal welfare, and workers rights. It is designed to help high school students make more thoughtful choices about food and participate in a meaningful dialogue about food and food systems.
Posted on Wed, October 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Setting the scene: young woman and her beau dining out. Later, woman dies of unknown poisoning. Suspect: boyfriend - until its discovered that she contracted an über-deadly new strain of e-coli. Did it come from the restaurant? No! the chef explains, bitterly. She runs a tight ship: it had to have come in from the fields.
Sound like the latest in a string of headlines? Nope, its the story line from the most recent episode of CSI: Miami titled Bad Seed. Yes, Im a sucker for cheesy crime shows, David Caruso one-liners and overt Miami sexiness. I never thought Id see overlap between my own passions and day job, with the CSI franchise, but its telling, I think, of how our movement has managed to get our messages across to the wider American audience. Baby weve made it to primetime! In a way.
Warning: If youre intending to watch the episode Im totally going to give away the ending here!
How so? The episode was complete with shots of corn and tomato monocrops and undocumented farmworkers who work for one of many organic growers contracted by a mega-firm known as Dickson Organics. It just so happens that one of these farmers has an irrigation well where the e-coli contamination seemed to originate from, which of course lies just downhill from a huge cattle compound.
Case closed, right? Fine the farmer for negligent homicide? Well, in another plot twist, the original victims boyfriend has himself suffered from a poisoning, leaving him brain-dead and paralyzed. Turns out that this farmer has become the victim of drift from his neighbors, and water contamination from another, as he explains to the CSI team. Dickson Organics is going after his land and livelihood because they discovered genetic markers from their patented corn on his land.
In an effort to support this farmers fight against a likely lawsuit, the CSI team tracks down the GMO corn genetics. What they find is a bacterial gene has been fixed to the corn in order to better break down cellulose, and in turn allows people to more easily digest corn products. A seemingly beneficial quality of GMO corn, yeah? Except the bacteria is directly related to the bacterial strain that causes botulism and paralysis and the Dickson Organics CEO knew about it.
Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Debbie Lehmann, the editor of School Lunch Talk, a blog about school food. She is currently studying economics and public policy at Brown University.
Ive been feeling relatively optimistic about the USDA commodity program lately. Offerings are heavy on the meat and the cheese, but they have gotten much healthier over the years. When it comes to providing nutritious food, it seems like cafeterias face larger obstacles, such as maintaining student participation and keeping within tight budgets.
Well, at least thats what I thought until this weekend. Now, after reading The New York TimesҠterrifying report about the ground beef inspection system, I am convinced that the commodity program has a critical role to play in changing the school food status quo.
The Times article a scathing indictment of both the meat processing system and our food safety system traced the meat from a hamburger that sickened 22-year-old Stephanie Smith and left her paralyzed for life. The ground beef was produced by Cargill under the label American Chefs Selection Angus Beef Patties, and it was contaminated with a virulent strain of E. coli.
A number of sickening flaws in the meat processing system led to the E. coli in Stephanie Smiths hamburger. Notably, the meat in Cargills patties was a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria. The Times goes on:
Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.
Posted on Sat, October 03, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by biodiversity intern Alaine Janosy
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are being introduced into our food system regularly, and there is no easy way for consumers to know if what they are eating is GM or non-GM. Since the United States has not issued any legislation related to genetically engineered (GE) products since 1986, the general public is left to their own devices when trying to determine the genetic origins of their food. If companies are going to continue to splice genes into plants to make them insect resistance or herbicide tolerant there should be a labeling requirement so each of us can make the personal choice whether or not to ingest them. No new legislation in 23 years is a little ridiculous considering how prolific GMs are becoming in our food system.
Lacking all-encompassing federal legislation, the issue will continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis, generally as a result of a law suit being brought once the GM food has already been in our food system for months, if not years, in courtrooms nationwide, as it was on Monday, September 21, 2009, in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The source of the debate, the sugar beet, which has long been a source of sugar in the United States, and accounts for about 30% of sugar production worldwide.
Although sugar beets have been processed for sugar in the United States since the mid-1800s, it was only recently that genetically modified (GM) sugar beets began to be planted. During the spring of 2008 the first Roundup resistant sugar beets were planted. These beets contain a bacterial gene that makes them resistant to the chemical weed killer, Roundup, produced and sold by Monsanto, a global provider of agricultural products for farmers. Monsanto also licenses the gene that makes the beets Roundup resistant.
Posted on Fri, August 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Biodiversity intern Regina Fitzsimmons
Last month, HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, passed in the House. While this legislation marginally amps up government food oversight by granting the FDA power to force food recalls and increase inspections of food processing plants (a poweryou got itthe FDA can now only recommend), spokespeople for small farmers have big concerns if this bill passes in the Senate. You can read a breakdown of the bill by the Washington Post and keep up on the current Congressional actions at the Library of Congress online.
In sum-up, though, concerns arise from a couple of things: for one, identical regulations will be imposed on both small and large food enterprises. In tangible terms, this bill would require all food handlers. Under this legislation a big company like Kraft would pay the same FDA registration as an artisan cheesemaker with a couple of goats. A second concern is that the legislation also grants the FDA the power to set standards determining how crops are grown, requiring the adoption of tracking technologiesa process significantly more taxing for small operators. Food writers like Gourmets Barry Estabrook are hoping that Senate wont follow in the Houses fast-tracking footsteps and will instead allow a sustained debate with the inclusion of possible amendments like Kaptur-Farr legislation that was glazed over in the House. Estabrook hopes the Senate will address these concerns because as he put it, being a conscientious farmer is a tough business [and] Congress just made it tougher.
It isnt surprising that the House steam-rolled through the review and vote of HR 2749. This bill comes a month after yet another food recall: this time, Nestles Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. In the past three years, weve avoided bagged spinach, ground beef, tomatoes (even though Serrano chile peppers were the real culprit) and peanut butter, among other foods. People are getting sick and we all want to know the answer to the most basic of questions: whats okay to eat?
Posted on Thu, August 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
In Dan Barber’s op-ed in the NY Times on Saturday, “You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster,” he writes about late blight, a disease attacking tomatoes and potatoes across the Northeast this summer. He notes that the huge increase in people growing their own food this year may have actually contributed to the problem. We cant just eat locally we must also buy plants locally. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. When you buy locally grown plants, you not only support local farmers but also protect against the spread of disease. If a disease occurs in a small nursery you can isolate it much more quickly than in an industrial breeding operation that distributes to Home Depot, Kmart, Lowes and Wal-Mart stores all around the country.
Barbers main point, though, is that a healthy food system is a diverse food system. “The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.” For Barber, the “resilient farm of the future” is a farm with 30 plus different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetables (some heirloom, many not).
Here at Slow Food USA we are working to create a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who produce it and good for the planet. Diversity is central to the good, clean, fair food system we envision. In our biodiversity program, we encourage our chapters around the country to recover and promote foods that are adapted to regional climates, soils and cultural traditions. These are foods that are quickly disappearing from our farms and our tables, like Anishinaabeg manoomin, Great Lakes hand-harvested wild rice, and Pineywoods cattle and Gulf Coast sheep, breeds well adapted to the humid South.
Posted on Sat, August 01, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
I love my public radio station. Ill admit I even drive to work some days just to listen to the morning news (note: I live in New York City, where driving to work takes more time, costs more, and is just plain silly). On the way home, Im usually back in the car just in time to hear the tail end of Marketplace, the daily broadcast of the days economic and financial news. Marketplace is a great show they explain complex content simply and with humor (I have a radio crush on the host, Kai Ryssdal) and they always play good music between the segments.
Lately, however, Ive found myself cringing with disgust as I listen. Its not the bleak financial news day after day or the fact that Kai and I mostly likely will never date that causes my reaction, but the fact that Marketplace is now sponsored by Monsanto the biotech company responsible for Round-Up, Agent Orange, GMO corn and soy, and all hosts of other types of evil. And as if it couldnt get any worse, the announcer, in a smug and confident voice, informs me that Monsanto is committed to sustainable agriculture.
If someone asked me to name a corporation that epitomized the opposite of sustainable agriculture, the name Monsanto would be out of my mouth before they even finished the question. But Im not going to rant about Monsanto here, you can read all about how theyre destroying the planet here. And if thats not enough, go here.
What I want to rant about here is Greenwashing. Greenwashing is the process by which a corporation disseminates a false or misleading picture of environmental friendliness in order to conceal or obscure damaging activities. Now, Im not green about greenwashing. I know its all over our food packaging in terms like all natural or made from the best stuff on earth, but Monsantos blatant usurping of the term sustainable agriculture makes my blood boil. Why? Well, for one, theyre insulting our intelligence. And for two, Im scared. Really scared. Scared that people will believe them. Allowing Monsanto to piggyback on public radio, which is seen as a credible, reliable albeit left-leaning (which, lets face it, makes it worse) suggests that their message is all these things.
Posted on Wed, July 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Winnie Yang
Its the moment weve all been waiting for. We dreamt of it in the depths of winter. Its been eagerly awaited by produce lovers, farmers, and Italian grandmas. The height of summer: its finally here, and the farmers markets runneth over with squash, peppers, corn, berries, green beans, and tom Wait. Where are the tomatoes?
As you may have heard (here, for instance), Northeast tomato crops have been decimated by a widespread outbreak of late blight. The highly contagious fungus is believed to have spread from plants in garden stores to backyard gardens and commercial fields, Julia Moskin reports in the New York Times. A rainy June exacerbated the spread of the blight, which thrives in damp, windy weather.
The disease affects both tomatoes and potatoes (a strain of it caused the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s) and is so infectious that plants showing any signs of disease must be destroyed. Burning, spraying and deeply burying infected plants are options for farmers, Moskin writes. Home gardeners should pull plants out at the first sign of the disease. Rather than composting them, the plants should be sealed in plastic bags and thrown away.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.