What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, April 26, 2013 by Slow Food USA
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces.
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.
Why are losses on the farm so high? There are many contributing factors, but a big one that you and I play a part in is consumer demand for cosmetic perfection—for perfectly shaped peppers and uniform, bright red strawberries that seem to get bigger every year. The whole supply chain, from the farm to the grocery store. is geared toward meeting that expectation. From apples to zucchini, produce has to fit within very specific ranges for size, shape, color and other parameters. Some produce that doesn’t make it goes to a processor for juicing or other uses, but many of the imperfect fruit and vegetables never make it out of the field.
Other factors contribute to high waste rates as well. Contracting practices that are common in the produce industry, as well as the threat of bad weather, pests and price volatility, encourage growers to overplant. Labor shortages that are exacerbated by the sorry state of U.S. immigration policy are a factor too.
What’s more, when prices at the time of harvest are below the cost of getting the crop to market, it can make economic sense for farmers to leave some or all of their production in the field unharvested. Product specifications are also set by entities with enormous market power—such as major retail chains—while most of the risk associated with bad weather, supply gluts that force down prices, and Nature’s imperfections land in the laps of farmers.
And what else is wrong with this picture?
Let’s begin with the waste of food itself. As NRDC points out, reducing overall food waste by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. Even though “the marketplace” may not want the crops that go to waste every day, current waste levels make no sense when looked at in the context of hunger, obesity, food justice and the impact of poor health on our economy.
Environmentally, crops that don’t make it to market involve significant uses of water, fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. For instance, NRDC estimated that the unsold broccoli grown in just one county (Monterey County, California) required 2.5 billion gallons of water to grow (yes, that billions with a “b”, in a state where the water wars will only intensify as water becomes more scarce). Chemical fertilizers and pesticides impact farmworkers and the environment whether the product makes it to market or not.
Wasted crops also hold “imbedded carbon.” Carbon is released into the atmosphere when soil is tilled. Diesel fuel powers farm equipment and many agricultural chemicals start out life as crude oil. Further, only 3 percent of the food that is wasted between the farm and the fork is composted. When unsold crops end up in the landfill, they emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
And as noted above, farmers pay the price when they grow a crop only to plow it under or leave the edible-but-imperfect to rot. Farmer incomes are adversely impacted even though our fruit and vegetable producers grow the healthy foods that are needed by an increasingly unhealthy country. The irony is hard to beat.
Fortunately, a number of initiatives hold hope for addressing these issues. For instance, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council recently put out new food procurement guidelines calling on restaurants and institutional buyers to “buy lower on the beauty chain” by purchasing smaller and less aesthetically perfect produce. A commitment by colleges, schools, hospitals and other institutions to purchase such “seconds” could make a real difference back on the farm. Several states in the West provide tax credits to farmers who donate crops to state food banks (providing a more effective incentive than charitable donation deductions). The California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program uses paid, skilled farm labor to harvest unmarketable produce that is then made available to food banks at greatly discounted prices. The European Parliament has even set the aggressive goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2020.
These are steps in the right direction, but overall, food waste largely remains a hidden problem in the U.S., shrouded in a belief that we can afford to be wasteful and that waste doesn’t have real consequences. Alas, we all pay the price for perfection.
Posted on Sat, April 20, 2013 by Slow Food USA
While Section 733, called the “Monsanto Rider” by some, did not make it into the Ag Appropriations Bill, similar provisions were included in the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, which was not debated nor adopted by the House of Representatives.
By Ed Yowell, Slow Food USA Regional Governor, NY, NJ, CT
GMO foods are a source of continuing controversy about long-term effects on humans, wildlife, and our food chain. GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), GE (Genetically Engineered), GM (Genetically Modified), or “transgenic” foods are meats and plants that are changed through genetic engineering.
Although we have genetically modified animals and plants for thousands of years, we did it through selective breeding over decades and even centuries. Now, technology enables the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another to create different, theoretically desirable, variations.
According to the February 12, 2012 New York Times article, “Modified Crops Tap a Wellspring of Protest,” by Julia Moskin, “...about 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States were grown from…transgenic seed. Most processed foods (staples like breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing) contain one or more transgenic ingredients according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, though the labels don’t reveal that. (Some, like tortilla chips, can contain dozens.) Common ingredients like corn, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, soy protein, lecithin, monosodium glutamate, cornstarch, yeast extract, sugar and corn syrup are almost always produced from transgenic crops.”
Moskin continues, “...consumer resistance to transgenic food remains high. In a nationwide telephone poll conducted in October 2010 by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio, 93 percent said if a food has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients, it should say so on its label — a number that has been consistent since genetically modified crops were introduced. F.D.A. guidelines say that food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s, don’t have to say so and can still be labeled ‘all natural’.”
The House of Representatives FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill almost contained a rider (Section 733), innocently and strangely, entitled the “farmer assurance provision.” According to the Center for Food Safety, if adopted, the rider would have stripped “federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of illegal, potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) crops while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses potential hazards. It also would inexplicably force USDA to allow continued planting of a GE crop even if a court of law identifies previously unrecognized risks. In addition, Section 733 (would) target vital judiciary oversight over USDA approvals by barring courts from compelling USDA to take action against agriculture policies that may harm farmers and the environment.”
While Section 733, called the “Monsanto Rider” by some, did not make it into the Ag Appropriations Bill, similar provisions were included in the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, which was not debated nor adopted by the House of Representatives.
According to Colin O’Neill, of the Center for Food Safety, “...these (biotech industry-friendly) riders have the potential to completely eliminate the critical role played by our most important environmental laws. They unreasonably pressure USDA with impossible deadlines for analysis and decision, while at the same time withhold funds to conduct necessary environmental reviews and limit the regulatory authority of other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These riders create multiple backdoor approval mechanisms that would allow for the premature commercialization of untested biotech traits to enter our food system. Insulated from pushback, the industry riders also force USDA to adopt a controversial policy that would for the first time set allowable levels of GE contamination in crops and foods. It’s an unprecedented and dangerous path that is being carved out.”
In November, 2012, California voters had the opportunity to vote on mandatory GMO food labeling. In an August 22, 2012 Forbes article, “Monsanto, DuPont Spending Millions to Oppose California’s GMO Labeling Law,” Amy Westervelt writes, “(Proposition 37)...could have broad implications for food producers throughout the country: whether or not to require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Other states have tried to pass similar measures and failed, but California is taking the issue directly to voters, who have largely been in favor of labeling. Prior to the vote, the supporters of Proposition 37 were polling far ahead of the opposition…but that doesn’t mean the vote is all sewn up.”
Westervelt’s premonition was correct. Despite seemingly overwhelming popular support, Proposition 37 was narrowly defeated.
A group called the “No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme,” was formed to stop the measure. The group’s major donors of the $25 million effort included Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing the interests of PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg and several other large food and beverage companies.
According to the Forbes article, “The primary arguments against Prop 37…(were) that it would cost food producers money – both to re-label products and in the form of lost business due to customers who are scared off by the label – and thus raise food prices for consumers, and that it could lead to frivolous lawsuits.”
While the “Monsanto Rider” did not prevail, as many opponents anticipated, it didn’t go away. On March 21, the House adopted the Senate-passed appropriations continuing resolution (CR), which will fund federal programs through the end of the federal 2013 fiscal year.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), despite efforts to the contrary led by Senators Jon Tester (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), in addition to other regressive agricultural policy roll-backs, “The bill… (included) a… rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of transgenic (GMO) crops. The rider permits USDA to deregulate genetically modified crops even in the case of a court ruling invalidating or vacating such a deregulation. This is a clear violation of the separation of powers and judicial review. Conventional (non-biotech) and organic farmers have suffered economic losses due to contamination from biotechnology products, and this policy rider likely makes that situation worse in the future.”
It is expected that Congress will get back to the Food and Farm Bill in April or May 2013. Marker Bills and platforms, pointing the way to a 2013 Food and Farm Bill process, are being written and revived. There will be opportunity for us to demand that the “Monsanto Rider” does not ride again, thereby retaining federal courts’ authority to halt the sale or planting of biotechnology products that have not been reviewed adequately for environmental and economic impact.
Posted on Tue, July 17, 2012 by Slow Food USA
We’ve teamed up with Daniel Klein and the folks over at Perennial Plate to deliver monthly video stories, our first dispatch features highlights from An American Food (Road)Trip.
Nearly two-and-half years ago, Daniel Klein and his colleague Mirra Fine over at Perennial Plate set out to tell the stories of real food in the United States. In their first two seasons, they filmed several terabytes of coverage and more than 100 episodes in nearly every state. This season, they will embark on a bold new journey—telling the story of food culture internationally! Beginning this month, we’ll by teaming up with Perennial Plate, as a video content partner, for a regular monthly feature here on the Slow Food USA blog, lifting up new and interesting food stories told through video. Over the next few months, we’ll be looking back at some of our combined highlights. So without further ado, here’s one of their season recaps. And don’t forget to tune in next month for more fun from the road!
Posted on Fri, June 22, 2012 by Slow Food USA
The Senate has passed their version of the Food and Farm Bill, so who won?
Written by Tim Smith, Slow Food USA’s Associate Manager of New Media
Last week, Washington became the food capital of the country as the Senate debated the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, culminating in the passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 yesterday afternoon. Like most people in the country, your next thought most likely is: what does this mean for me?
Well, it means that we are one step closer to approval of the single biggest piece of legislation that governs what we grow and eat in this country, and how it is distributed. It is a 5-year, $969 billion bill that touches every single person’s life in this country. Every farmer, parent, cook, eater, student, and activist is impacted by the policies the Bill addresses and we only have one chance every five years to influence it. Now that the Senate has passed their version, it is up to the House of Representatives to pass their own version before the bill can officially become law.
Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, you’re probably wondering: is the Senate Bill a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I guess that depends on what you’re priorities are. Back in March, Slow Food USA sent a letter to the leaders of both the Senate and House Agriculture committees outlining our priorities and asked for a good, clean, and fair Food and Farm Bill. You can read the letter here for more specifics, but we basically boiled it down to three key points:
Posted on Mon, June 11, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Dan Imhoff & Michael Dimock argue that after 80 years, the time has come to rescue agriculture from the farm bill — and to improve the health of Americans in the bargain.
Written by Dan Imhoff, author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill and Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change and chairman emeritus of Slow Food USA
This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times
In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the very first farm bill, formally called the Agricultural Adjustment Act, he told the nation that “an unprecedented condition calls for the trial of new means to rescue agriculture.” That legislation, passed as the country struggled to emerge from the Depression, was visionary in the way it employed agricultural policy to address significant national issues, including rural poverty and hunger.
It may not seem obvious while standing in the aisles of a modern grocery store, but the country today faces another food and farming crisis. Forty-six million people — that is, 1 out of 7 Americans — signed up for food stamps in 2012. Despite some of the highest commodity prices in history, the nation’s rural regions are falling deeper into poverty. In 2010, according to theU.S. Department of Agriculture, 17.8% of those living in rural counties fell under the poverty line. Unemployment in Fresno County, the nation’s top agricultural producing county, stood at 17.4% in March of this year. Industrial agriculture has become a leading cause of soil and water pollution. In California, for example, fertilizer and manure pollution have so contaminated the Salinas and lower San Joaquin valleys that the groundwater will be undrinkable for the next 30 to 50 years.
After 80 years, the time has come to rescue agriculture from the farm bill — and to improve the health of Americans in the bargain.
Posted on Wed, March 21, 2012 by Slow Food USA
In an effort to defend Colorado’s North Fork Valley from a “land attack”, Slow Food Western Slope organized the Rocky Mountain region to save the Slope.
Written by Jim Brett, Slow Food Western Slope (CO) Chapter Leader
On December 7, 2011 (a day that will live in infamy again) western Colorado’s North Fork Valley received an early holiday gift from the Bureau of Land Management’s Uncompaghre Field Office, which announced that 22 parcels of over 30,000 acres will be up for oil and gas lease sale set for August 2012. Looking at the BLM map, we could see that the North Fork Valley is completely surrounded by these parcels.
This Valley is an agricultural gem that embodies Slow Food’s principles of envisioning a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the planet, and good for those who produce it.
There are over 70 winemakers, farmers, orchardists, ranchers and agricultural businesses in North Fork Valley - all of which depend on good and clean water, air and soil. If oil and gas interests start production on these leases, the very lifeblood of the agricultural producers will be seriously threatened and probably ruined since the parcels include the watersheds of the entire Valley. And just as damaging, air pollution will engulf the Valley. These circumstances are totally unacceptable to us.
Posted on Wed, January 25, 2012 by Slow Food USA
My favorite veggie burgers have a “no genetically modified ingredients” label, where is this label on the rest of my food? Tell the FDA to ‘Just Label It’
by Slow Food USA Associate Director of National Programs, Angelines M. Alba Lamb
This weekend I sent my partner to the grocery store for the weekly shop. He ventured out in the snow, and in exchange I put the apples in their bowl and the cornbread box in the pantry. As I was putting my favorite box of veggie burgers into the freezer, I noticed a label I’d never paid attention to: “No genetically modified ingredients.” Did all my food have this label? I took the cornbread back out, and read all 6 sides. I learned that if I ate one piece, I would ingest 3 grams of protein. I learned my favorite corn bread used corn flour, corn, and baking soda. But I didn’t learn where the corn came from. Was it genetically engineered, like 80% of all corn grown in the U.S.?
Why didn’t my cornbread have the same label as my veggie burger? Because companies don’t have to disclose genetically modified ingredients. Some do but most corporations don’t. They didn’t disclose any ingredients until later in the 20th century. Cigarettes didn’t get warning labels until 1966, years after evidence was found of their ill health effects. Ingredient boxes and health warnings appeared after people, just like you and I, demanded that their government do everything in their power to protect consumers. Protecting consumers means informing consumers. If you pick up a cigarette, knowing that it can cause cancer, then that is your right. If you choose to eat genetically engineered corn despite the label, then that is your choice. But we don’t have a choice with genetically engineered food.
Just Label It – a national initiative to secure labeling for genetically engineered food- is demanding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require all food that is genetically engineered, or made with genetically modified ingredients, be marked like my veggie burgers. They need you and I to add our voices and send a message to the FDA consumers want this labeling. Add your voice by sending a comment to the FDA letting them know how important this issue is to you.
Right now the soymilk smoothie you are sipping on could have been made with genetically modified soy. The alfalfa sprouts topping your salad could have been engineered in a lab. And you have a right to know and a right to choose if you want to put that into your body or feed it to your family. We don’t know yet how genetically engineered food interacts with human bodies. There isn’t enough research. But don’t you want the chance to make that decision for yourself? I sent a comment to the FDA because I want all of my food, including my corn bread, to have the same label like my veggie burgers. Join Just Label It and me and send your own comment.
Posted on Thu, December 15, 2011 by Slow Food USA
2011: a Slow Food USA year in review by Josh Viertel.
by Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA
2011 started with a very important question.
In January, we asked President Obama what he was doing to make it easier to feed our kids fruit than Froot Loops. He said Walmart would fix it. You didn’t buy it, and neither did we. So together, we went about fixing it ourselves.
When industrial agribusiness tried to make it a felony to take pictures of farms (so they couldn’t be held accountable for animal abuse) we said, “A good farm has nothing to hide.” And we buried legislators in four states, not just with petition signatures, but with pictures of the incredible sustainable farms that make us proud. The Slow Food “Farmarazzi” saved the day—and the bills died in all four states.
When Fast Food said that it had value for everybody and Slow Food was just for the elite, we proved them wrong. On one day, at more than 5,500 shared meals all over the country, 30,000 of you sat at the table together and took the $5 Challenge, cooking Slow Food for less than fast food. People shared their tips, tricks, recipes, and what made it a challenge. Together, we are taking back the value meal.
And when a handful of congressional leaders tried to sneak past a “secret farm bill” cooked up for the corn and soy lobby, we brought Congress a Recipe for Change, written and signed by over 13,000. No “secret farm bill” was going to slip through on our watch.
We couldn’t have done any of it without your support. And in 2012 we’ve got even more work to do.
2012 is going to be about building change from the bottom up: community by community; farmers market by farmers market; garden by garden. Slow Food’s chapters are building grassroots solutions to a broken food system.
Already, Slow Food chapters have built over 300 school gardens. They reach over 33,000 kids. And they make it happen as volunteers. One inspiring example is Slow Food Miami, where chapter volunteers planted an astounding 63 school gardens in 44 days.
If we can support 650 more leaders like these to make this kind of change in their own communities, we can build more gardens in schools than McDonald’s has franchises!
But, really, we can’t do any of this without the support of the Slow Food community. We’re all in this together.
Posted on Fri, December 02, 2011 by Slow Food USA
Food policy was front in center in November, we recap where we were and where we’re going with the Food and Farm bill.
Now that November has come to an end, it’s hard to forget the ruckus Congress stirred up in the food and farming world—some of it good and some of it bad. Organizations and lawmakers from all ends of the spectrum made sure to voice opinions about how the government should be involved in food and farming. From introducing legislation to help local food economies, to attempting to cut food stamps as part of the Super Committee process, November saw a lot of folks weighing on the future of our food system. Many of you weighed in too, by endorsing our Recipe for Change.
November began with the release of Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown’s Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. Two days later, the National Sustainable Agriculture Committee (NSAC) hosted a farmer fly-in, bringing over 50 farmers, advocates, and scientists from across the country to Washington DC to show support for the bill.
Alex Loud, a fly-in participant and Slow Food Boston chapter leader, describes why the Act is an important step for rebuilding the economy:
Small farms are a growing and increasingly important part of the American economy and the American food system. The Federal government is not doing enough to support them—and indeed in some cases is even hindering their growth. The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act will, if enacted, start to change this.
The legislation addresses issues from across the board – including rural development, reforms to nutrition assistance programs that will allow food purchase at farmers markets, and boosts to programs that support farmers struggling to obtain a USDA certified organic status.
What more could we ask for than the introduction of a bill like the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act? How about 13,000 supporters of Slow Food USA’s Recipe for Change! Introduced at the end of October on Food Day, the Recipe for Change continued to accumulate signatures in the two weeks leading up to November 17th when names were hand delivered by us to each of the Super Committee member’s DC offices.
In the end, the Super Committee failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan by their November 23rd deadline. This does not mean, however, that your voices were not heard or that the message of the Recipe for Change will not be important for the next big obstacle to come – the 2012 Food and Farm Bill.
November may be over but the fight for better food and farming policy is just beginning. Follow the developing Food and Farm Bill campaigns of these organizations to stay in touch with what is going on and learn how you can get involved:
Posted on Fri, October 28, 2011 by Slow Food USA
Two developments this week indicate that massive congressional budget cuts might not spell disaster for nutrition programs and support for small farmers after all.
In this time of national financial crisis, agricultural funding has been flagged to take a big hit. Two big developments this week indicate that congress is waking up to the potential that regionally focused agriculture holds for job creation, improvements to public health, and economic development.
The first came earlier this week—on Food Day—when Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced a bill that she plans to introduce to the House: The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. The bill will provide new kinds of support to farmers growing healthy food; make it easier to use food stamps at farmers markets; and require USDA research to focus less narrowly on genetically modified plants. A companion bill is on its way to the Senate.
Tell your Congressmen to be a part of the Recipe for Change by supporting the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.
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.