Why being a foodie isn’t ‘elitist’

The cheapness of today’s industrial food is an illusion, and the real cost is too high to pay. While the Farm Bureau Federation clings to an outdated mind-set, companies such as Wal-Mart, Danone, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Compass have invested in organic, sustainable production. Insurance companies such as Kaiser Permanente are opening farmers markets in low-income communities. Whole Foods is demanding fair labor practices, while Chipotle promotes the humane treatment of farm animals. Urban farms are being planted by visionaries such as Milwaukee’s Will Allen; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is defending the rights of poor migrants; Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is fighting to improve the lives of food-service workers; and Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver and first lady Michelle Obama are pushing for healthier food in schools.

Calling these efforts elitist renders the word meaningless. The wealthy will always eat well. It is the poor and working people who need a new, sustainable food system more than anyone else. They live in the most polluted neighborhoods. They are exposed to the worst toxic chemicals on the job. They are sold the unhealthiest foods and can least afford the medical problems that result.

A food system based on poverty and exploitation will never be sustainable.

Eric Schlosser | The Washington Post

Is the world too big to fail?

Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.

This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.

Noam Chomsky | Tomdispatch.com

Call it Ecocide

In the cradle of civilization, young women have become terrified about having children.

This is the news I take with me into Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude and family togetherness: that doctors in Fallujah, the Iraqi city we devastated in two military assaults in 2004, have begun documenting a startling rise in birth defects – about 15 times the pre-invasion occurrence of early-life cancers and brain and nervous-system abnormalities, according to the U.K.’s Guardian.

A group of British and Iraqi doctors have petitioned the United Nations to investigate the situation, which is clearly related to the U.S. invasion and occupation. According to their letter: “In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 newborn babies, 24 percent of whom were dead within the first seven days (and) a staggering 75 percent of the dead babies were classified as deformed.” In comparison, the letter said, in August 2002 – before the invasion – 530 babies were born; six of them died within the first week, with a single birth defect reported.

Young women in Fallujah, the doctors wrote, “are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs.”

What might be causing this nightmare? The most likely factors are chemical or radiation poisoning, according to the Nov. 14 Guardian article, which noted: “Abnormal clusters of infant tumors have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.”

Finally, this is just another story about ecocide – the murder of a nation’s ecosystem, both intentionally and as a predictable consequence of military actions – which is the true name for war. When the New York Times and all other mainstream outlets see the need to write about the future ecocide ventures we are now preparing for, or the current ones we are always in the process of throttling down or up, I wish they’d stop using the romantic word “war.” The modern manifestation of this exercise in mutual and collective insanity is so toxic and destructive, its effects cannot simply be absorbed by the human race, the environment in which our lives are possible or even our DNA.

Whatever we think we’re doing – defending ourselves, securing our interests, bringing democracy to the Third World – we are first and foremost committing ecocide, in collusion with our enemies, perhaps, but this hardly reduces our own responsibility for such consequences as widespread PTSD and, oh Lord, birth defects.

Robert C. Koehler | CommonDreams.org

Last Call for Obama

Tomorrow is Obama’s big healthcare speech. This is his last chance to significantly alter the downward spiral of American culture.

We are dying a slow death of poison-by-status-quo. The way America has been doing things — financially, militarily, medically, and environmentally — is not only not working, in each area our actions are so unsustainable that continuing on the same path can only lead to massive chaos and human suffering.

In each of these areas, Obama came with a sense that he definitely got it and was prepared to usher in monumental change. Financially and militarily he has been, at best, a continuation of Bush. Bankers are still getting richer while the rest of us get poorer, and we’re still dropping bombs on Iraqi and Afghani civilians in pursuit of policies that benefit no one but military contractors.

Environmentally, he has been better than Bush, barely. But mostly he’s still defending status quo industries like coal and automobiles when, again, what the planet needs is monumental change.

Healthcare “reform” has been the hardest to watch. When we discount the people’s voice right from the outset — strong majorities of patients and doctors favor a single payer system — it’s a clear sign that the status quo is ruling the day.

The unsustainable status quo in American healthcare is insurance and pharmaceutical industry profits, including shareholder dividends. That is the main reason American healthcare costs too much. It is unconscionable to have a great nation brought to ruin, and for its people to needlessly suffer, so that a small overfed elite can make money.

That’s what Obama needs to say. When they scream “Socialism” he has to say “Yes, when it comes to healthcare, that is the best way.” He has to unequivocally remove the profit motive from American medicine.

If he fails, then the status quo rules, and a once great nation continues its downward spiral.

Michael Sky | Thinking Peace

Food Is Power and the Powerful Are Poisoning Us

Food shortages have been tinder for social upheaval throughout history. But this time around, because we have lost the skills to feed and clothe ourselves, it will be much harder for most of us to become self-sustaining. The large agro-businesses have largely wiped out small farmers. They have poisoned our soil with pesticides and contaminated animals in filthy and overcrowded stockyards with high doses of antibiotics and steroids. They have pumped nutrients and phosphorus into water systems, causing algae bloom and fish die-off in our rivers and streams.

Crop yields, under the onslaught of changing weather patterns and chemical pollution, are declining in the Northeast, where a blight has nearly wiped out the tomato crop. The draconian Food Modernization Safety Act, another gift from our governing elite to corporations, means small farms will only continue to dwindle in number.

Chris Hedges | CommonDreams.org

Headed Toward a Breakdown in Our Food System

At some abstract level Obama sees that he’s not going to get his health care costs under control unless we change the way Americans eat. Because the crisis of rising costs in the American health care system can be translated very simply as the catastrophe of the American diet, which represents probably half of what we spend on health care in America. We spend about $2 trillion a year. The Centers for Disease Control says that 1.5 trillion goes to treat chronic disease. Now you’ve got smoking in there, alcoholism, but other than that, chronic disease is mostly food related. So you really can’t get control of that system unless you are preventing some of those chronic diseases.

Michael Pollan | AlterNet

Toxic Chemicals: A Culpit Behind the Autism Outbreak

Over the past 30 years, toxic chemicals, like Teflon, plastics, and formaldehyde have increasingly invaded our homes. We used to think these substances were harmless, but a rising tide of evidence has turned the spotlight on chemical exposures as a possible poison to our children’s developing brains.

One group of substances of particular concern is a ubiquitous family of hormone twisting compounds, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These substances are the focus of intense scrutiny because: 1) they’re found in every home in America 2) they’re increasingly linked to human disease 3) our exposure to them has risen in parallel with the surge in autism diagnoses and 4) they may theoretically affect the developing fetal brain.

In recent years, research has mounted against a virtual police lineup of EDCs, like BPA (in food cans, hard plastic water bottles), phthlates (in soft plastics, cosmetics) and fire retardants (in sofas, computers, flame-resistant clothing). Multiple animal and human studies have linked EDC exposure (during or after fetal development) with a host of hormone-related disorders, like low sperm count, cancer (breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular), congenital malformation of the genitals and even obesity.

Harvey Karp | AlterNet

The Global Warming Lie Detector

The economic harm projected from high levels of military spending is far larger than the damage projected from the Waxman-Markey bill. Given this situation, we would have expected that all the oil and coal industry folks, who are now so concerned about the average family’s well-being, would have been screaming about the economic pain that would result from sustaining the Iraq war levels of military spending.

Did anyone ever hear them raise this issue? Does anyone recall members of Congress giving speeches about how the job loss from the Iraq war levels of spending would be devastating? Does anyone recall any newspaper columns or editorials making this point? How about a news story that analyzed the economic impact of higher levels of military spending?

For some reason, job loss and economic pain associated with the military are just not worth mentioning. These items only become newsworthy when the issue is saving the environment. And the elites wonder why the public has so little confidence in the country’s institutions.

Dean Baker | CommonDreams.org

Betraying the Planet

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it – and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists – a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Paul Krugman | CommonDreams.org

Biotechnology Has Failed Us, So Why Promote It Abroad?

Instead of teaching poor countries to fish, so to speak, we are selling them the fish with the hook still in its mouth.

That hook infers dependence, but there is also another catch: depleted resources. Biotechnology as it is used right now cannot be sustainable. It relies heavily on three things that are waning: surplus water, cheap oil and a stable climate. As much as biotech proponents claim their technologies could be used for sustainable aims, we dont have decades to wait while the technology is perfected. And what if it is never perfected? In addition, in putting all of our eggs in one basket with biotech, the problem is misrepresented, and solutions that are already out there are being ignored.

Paula Crossfield | CommonDreams.org