It has been a while since I posted here. WordPress reminded me that this November was Thought+Food’s eight year anniversary. When I started out, blogs were the thing, and everyone was starting and growing their blog. Somewhere along the years, the conversation shifted to social media: some Facebook groups but mostly on Twitter. Absorbing all the information that social media brings up, involvement in the discussion, all of this takes up time and energy and the blog gets pushed to the to do list.
I intend to make space for the longer pieces once more. To get back into the reading-writing mode, I was browsing reviews of food books for the year. The Smithsonian has an interesting list here. I have not read any of these, so topping my list is “Where the Wild Coffee Grows” by Jeff Koehler; nice review here.
Looking forward to interesting discussions!
A great story I had to share! Research in Vietnam found alternative to burning rice straw: it can be used as a growing medium for mushrooms. Consequently, rice straw prices are high, and mushrooms farmers are benefitting by increased production as well. The huge added benefit is the lowering of pollution which used to result from burning the rice straw.
(Image Courtesy: annankkml, freedigitalphotos.net)
The way we buy our groceries and prepare our food has evolved over time. As people started settling down and bringing produce to sell and exchange with others, markets became the central civic space for social interaction. When cities developed, the process became indirect involving traders as middlemen, that link grew weaker and in the era of the modern supermarket, there is virtually no human interaction at all. Even cooking is an optional activity with stores doing huge business in ready to eat meals. This piece suggests that farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban and backyard gardens would bring back that social engagement.
The idea is interesting despite some assumptions such as the identification of fresh and organic food with farmers’ markets, and conventional produce coming from industrial farms. According to the USDA, 97% of the farms in the US are family owned and organic produce is readily available in most supermarkets. While the popularity of farmers’ markets has certainly risen in recent years, recent research found that, of the different options for food sourcing, farmers’ markets were the least preferred. So while they do not fulfill all the requirements for grocery shopping, the reason for their proliferation might just be the social setting they provide.
(Image Courtesy: “Fruit on A Wooden” by start08, freedigitalphotos.net)
I’ll admit when I heard that Sonny Perdue was nominated as President Trump’s pick for the USDA Secretary I was a bit underwhelmed. Perdue’s name had been floated around for months, I wasn’t personally familiar with him, and all I knew was that he was the former governor of Georgia. But now that he has been nominated and I’ve done Continue Reading
Source: Who Is Sonny Perdue?
In this piece, the writer follows a farmer practicing no-till farming for a year, instead planting a cover crop of fodder radishes. No–till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. The idea is to protect the soil, allow it to soak up more water, and replenish the nutrients, thus boosting soil health.
Does it work? In this story the yields were comparable to conventional farming using ploughing and the farmer was hoping to recoup the big upfront cost of buying the machinery which would allow him to sow seeds directly into the cover crop in future years from lower input costs, and the benefit of good harvests from the richer soil. Good development for a sustainable future!
I have been away from the blog for a while, part of that time was spent in taking a MOOC course offered by Cornell University: “The Science and Politics of the GMO”. This was an excellent and enriching experience, balanced in its presentation of the issues while exploring them in depth, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interesting in being a part of the discussion on GMOs.
As part of the course, we learnt how the communication of the issues surrounding GMOs is a fraught issue. There are so many possible answers to the question, “what is a gmo”, for instance! Why is is that so many people see the risks as much larger than the benefits? Why does evidence and data fail to convince while anecdotes from friends or acquaintances carry so much weight?
So a recent piece in Time, caught my attention for laying out the case for GMOs: why we need them, specially with climate uncertainty, how we accept genetic modification in certain areas like medicine (the author has an unexpected example of this acceptance!) but are so opposed or ambivalent when it comes to our crops; and for saying all of this in a beautiful, poetic way.
All the time we present the studies and the data, and it comes across as dry and distant while the other side makes its case with anecdotes and is seen as green and nurturing. But it is precisely because we love the woods that we are glad to have the possibility of bringing back the American Chestnut! We just have to share our enthusiasm in a way that cuts through the fact free fog and speaks not just to reason but to the heart…
It was an unexpected delight to read this piece on the Moringa plant! Unexpected because I have grown wary of the term “superfood”, but I was curious: what is this moringa? The delight was at discovering that the spotlight was on a favorite vegetable from my childhood, known to us as “drumsticks”.
The spotlight on the Moringa tree is welcome as it thrives under very hot and dry conditions which bodes well for its cultivation in times of climate uncertainty and water scarcity. And that is just the start, because here is what we learn about the Moringa:” it produces edible leaves that are unusually rich in protein, iron, calcium, nine essential amino acids, and Vitamins A, B, and C. Its seedpods, which are as thick as the meaty part of a drumstick and about a foot long, are also high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Jed Fahey, a biochemist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has collaborated with Olson on Moringa research for more than a decade, has found that the tree’s leaves and pods have strong anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties, and may also contain enzymes that protect against cancer. Mature Moringa seeds can be pressed for vegetable oil, and the seed cake that is left over can be used to purify drinking water. (It contains a protein that makes bacteria glom together and die.) When dried, crushed seeds can also serve as a good fertilizer.”
As I read this, I can almost taste the steaming bowl of stems cooked in lentils from all those years ago, for once, “superfood” might just be an accurate description!
If one front in the effort to combat the impact of climate change on food production involves taking a second look at resources that have been neglected in the past, another strategy is to use technology to bring to farmers the information and data they need to make optimal decisions. An interesting read on how this is working in Africa is here.
Combating global hunger in a climate uncertain time will require all the tools we have, taking another look at old ones and trying out some shiny new ones as well.
(Image courtesy of zirconicusso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)