Digest – Features: Berry vs. Dyson, California overachievers, young farmers needed

starstarWendell Berry vs. Freeman Dyson: Our favorite farmer-philosopher pens a letter to the New York Review of Books in response to our former favorite physicist-philosopher’s rhapsodic essay titled "Our Biotech Future." Writes Berry, in typical measured, thoughtful fashion:

It is disconcerting to see an eminent scientist such as Freeman Dyson using his own prestige and that of science as a pulpit from which to foretell the advent of yet another technological cure-all … Industrial technology, as brought-in industry and as applied by agribusiness, has been the cleverest means so far of siphoning the wealth of the countryside — not to the cities, as Mr. Dyson appears to think, for urban poverty is inextricably related to rural poverty — but to the corporations.

Dyson’s rebuttal is pure petulance by comparison. (New York Review of Books, hat tip to Worldchanging)

starCalifornia’s invisible hand: A good overview of the Food and Farm Bill’s paralyzing grip on agriculture concentrates on California’s seemingly miraculous ability to deal with risk without the aid of the subsidies commodity growers get, and yet still outproduce every other state. "If California vegetable farmers got crop subsidies, we might all still be eating iceberg lettuce," says one economist. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Sticks and stones and spin: Stop talking about “debeaking” a chicken — that bothers people. Instead, let’s call it “beak conditioning”! (NWAnews.com)

starPlease welcome Generation O: Zoe Bradbury explains why a young, college-educated woman like herself wouldchoose farming, an unglamorous, low-paid career choice, instead of say, investment banking. "As obvious as it may be to me, it’s not always easy to explain to someone who hasn’t seen and smelled the mercury shatter of dew on a field of broccoli at dawn, or tended a tomato all the way from seed to sauce." Beautiful. (Edible Portland)

starEscaped from the Deathstar of Pork: Mike Jones, a refugee from North Carolina’s factory hog farms, teaches his sustainable pastured-pork practices to other farmers. "I began to get callused to animals’ suffering, and this bothered me," he says. "I thought, ‘This is how human rights abuses get started.’ First the animals get abused, then the people." Let’s get this man an op-ed platform, please, (Independent Weekly)

A lousy business: Hit by a new study saying conclusively that farmed-salmon sea lice are endangering wild stocks, Vancouver’s fish farmers are eyeing closed-containment technology as a way to address the big concerns — parasites, disease, escapes, waste. It’s the same old question: We’ve given it to consumers for so cheap, how can we raise prices now to do it better? (Globe and Mail)

Ontario premier candidate pledges that schools, hospitals will buy local (Toronto Globe and Mail)

Eating local is surprisingly easy in Quebec (Montreal Gazette)

Willing in Illinois: Although Illinois is considered a "farm state," it imports more than 95% of its conventionally grown food and 95% of its organically grown food. Some enterprising farmers, grocers and restaurateurs are trying to change that, one case of produce at a time. (The Pantagraph)

Prep cooks: Gardens and mini-farms are popping up at some of the nations top prep schools. The plots are used for science class, to grow food for the dining halls, and as an inspiration for nutrition lessons. And, of course, to show these lucky kids where some of their food comes from and how much work it takes to grow it. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer via AP)

The machines cometh: Nervous about a future without immigrant workers to pick the grapes, Napa vintners are flirting with mechanical harvesters. (L.A. Times)

Someone’s been reading "The Omnivore’s Dilemma": CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta has discovered that "If we are what we eat, Americans are corn and soy." While he interviews Michael Pollan’s source for this moldy news flash, he doesn’t credit him. (CNN.com)

starEgging us on: City dwellers who raise chickens are springing up around the country. (New York Times)

Alice can cook: Alice Waters shops for lunch at the Union Square Greenmarket then cooks it in Kim Severson’s kitchen, to promote her forthcoming book, "The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes From a Delicious Revolution." The fact that Alice doesn’t have a romantic partner seems tragically unjust. (New York Times)

A $43 grass-fed steak that isn’t: Kudos for Scott Haas for looking more closely at the steak served at Boston’s pricey Rialto hotel restaurant. Wolfe’s Neck Farm turns out to be a brand name used by the Pineland Farms Natural Meats company of Maine, a family-farm collective that follows the "no antibiotics and no hormones, strictly vegetarian" rules. They’re also called "grass fed" — but these are fed grain for 150 days before slaughter to up the fat quotient — standard industry practice. (Boston Globe)

We would like to see exactly how these questions were worded: The International Food Information Council surveyed Americans about their attitudes toward biotechnology and food and found they weren’t too concerned. Nearly half (46%) said they were "somewhat" or "very" likely to buy meat, milk and eggs from cloned animals if the FDA determined they were safe, and when the phrase "from cloned animals" was replaced with "from animals enhanced through genetic engineering" the percentage jumped to 61%. The article also reports that 53% reacted positively to the statement "animal biotechnology can increase farm efficiency." Huh. Wonder how many would react positively to the statement "You are being used as a lab rat because the government is too cheap and too in the pocket of agribusiness to fund independent, large-scale, long-term studies?" (MeatPoultry.com)


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