Industrial Agriculture says: Put Photographers in Jail

Pigs resting comfortably in a farm field after being transported according to industry standards. If you looked at this picture, you may have committed a crime (Big Ag may make the animal-porn legislation retrooactive). (Photo by CALM Action/Flickr)

Industrial agriculture is salivating over its latest Big Idea for preventing scrutiny of its brutalization of animals, mistreatment of employees, contamination of the food supply and emissions of pollution. The big idea: make it a crime to know about the practices. The industry-owned legislators of four states are promoting bills that would make it a crime to make, transmit, or even possess audio or video recordings of agricultural operations. Continue reading

Killing Waters in the Heartland

Farmer Fact of Life: You can't get seed into a field like this one in Iowa, and if you did it wouldn't come up. And most of the fields in 20 states look like this. (Photo by David Morris/Flickr)

While the nation largely ignores the developing, historic flood of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it is totally oblivious to the rising threat of ordinary — well. perhaps not ordinary, but certainly less dramatic — rain to current and future harvests in the nation’s breadbasket. The fact that the Corn Belt is soaking wet, where it is not completely inundated, does not bode well for food prices, or for the food supply, in the US or the world. Continue reading

Free the Food: A Tea Party Worth Having

WARNING: Buying this produce from the person who grew it could be extremely beneficial to your health, and illegal. (Photo by pmulloy2112/Flickr)

Here and there around the United States, groups of activists are taking their country back from a tyrannical government and declaring their independence in a critical area of their lives. It’s not the Tea Party, and it’s hardly an Arab Spring, but it could be significant if it takes hold. Three towns in New England and one city in California have acted to pry the government’s cold, dead hands off their food supply. The New England towns have passed what they call a “food freedom” ordinance; and San Francisco had decriminalized urban farming. Continue reading

Meat Industry: Have MRSA on Us

How to lose at Russian Roulette: 1) point this undercooked burger at your mouth, and 2) bite. (Photo by Marshall Astor, Food Pornographer/Flickr)

If the study released yesterday had found that half of all the bottled water on store shelves was contaminated with infectious bacteria, America’s streets today would look like Egypt’s Tahrir Square just before Mubarak fled. And if the industry had responded by saying, “Hey, it’s perfectly safe if you boil it, what’s the problem?” make that Egypt after the Six-Day War. Yet what the study found was in two respects much worse than that, and it has thus far produced mostly yawns of protest. Continue reading

Quinoa and the Ugly American Consumer

A quinoa salad, the latest sneeze among boutique eaters who are mostly oblivious to the consequences of their enthusiasm. (Photo by Karen and Brad Emerson/Flickr)

The epigraph for the book The Ugly American, an account of the destruction wrought by American good intentions in Southeast Asia, is a quote from Graham Greene (in which the word “dumb” means incapable of speech, not stupid): “Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.” A new incarnation of the syndrome, the Ugly American Consumer, wanders the world bestowing money on its natives, presuming that he is bestowing blessings. Case in point: quinoa. Continue reading

World, US Food Supplies Faltering, Prices Rising

The biggest and most persistent myth about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s? That it is over.

If we were to forget all about climate change and peak oil, the two most real and present dangers to our future (of course it’s a silly thing to do in the face of the evidence, but do the exercise: pretend you’re an American politician), we would still be confronted by the third, and conceivably the gravest danger — peak food. The strains on the natural systems on whose health we depend for life itself are titanic (pun intended) and growing. A breaking point has already come for millions of the world’s poor, and cannot be far off for the world’s most privileged. Continue reading

California Reaming: Big Ag Trashes Central Valley

First you blame me for global warming cause I get gas. Now you tell me there's crap in your water? (Photo by Gabrielle Gagne)

California’s Central Valley is probably the best example of the past success and imminent failure of industrial agriculture. The signs of the scope and proximity of the failure are accumulating fast, but while the past success has many wealthy fathers, the coming failure is an orphan. Continue reading

Industry: Living off the Low-Fat of the Land

If you eat this you will get fat/atherosclerosis/high cholesterol/diabetes/lockjaw and/or you will die. True or false, and why, and according to whom? (Photo by VirtualEm/Flickr)

A brief excursion into dietary “science” shows us why and how industrial science is destroying our world, with our happy acquiesence. By industrial science I mean “science” conducted by people in the employ of industrialists such as Cargill and the Koch brothers, the handful of giant companies that engineer and market the food-like substances that have turned America into a country whose population is at once overweight and undernourished. Continue reading

Peak Phosphorous: Worse than Peak Oil?

Whether in a farm pond like this, or the Gulf of Mexico, algae blooms stimulated by wasted fertilizer are deadly to marine life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we're running out of fertilizer.

Here’s the bottom line, obvious to all but the most arithmetically challenged: when you base an entire civilization on the rapid consumption of a limited resource, you guarantee the collapse of that civilization on the day the resource is exhausted. But the ride to that final day is not a smooth one; you also guarantee that chaos will ensue from the time that there is not enough left of the depleted resource to meet all demands. Running completely out of water is a shared disaster, but when there’s enough water for some but not all, choosing the “some” gets ugly, real fast. It has gradually dawned on a growing number of people that this is the bottom line for oil, but it is not yet widely accepted that the same bottom line, with the same potential for destruction, exists for a number of other substances, especially phosphorous. Continue reading

Forecast: Hard Rain Gonna Fall

Food rioters face police in Algeria. This is a weather-related event.

“What are you so worried about?” goes the old comedy routine. “My future.” “What makes you so worried about your future?” “My past.” On this basis alone — what has happened in our world in the past few months — we should be very worried about our future. It does not matter if you are one of the 37 people remaining on the planet who do not “believe” in climate change, evolution or gravity (if you are in that select group, by the way, congratulations on your new Congressional committee chairmanship). If artillery shells are exploding in rapid succession, ever closer, you might want to take cover; we can discuss later whether you believe in high explosives. Continue reading