Posts filed under ‘Food Dilemmas’

A Calf Among the Cows: Profile of Organic Farm in Portugal

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© Slide show by Margarida Correia.

This is one in a series of posts on my 10-day experience as a volunteer farmer in northern Portugal.

Rosa had finished drinking from the giant tub when Mila and Tangerina approached to get their fill of water.  They should have known better.  Rosa swung her big horns to chase the younger cows away. 

“She’s asserting her status in the hierarchy of the cows,” said Filipe Antunes, co-owner of Cimo de Vila, a 30-acre organic farm in northern Portugal. Rosa, a nine-year-old cow, was one of the oldest and biggest in the herd of 15.

Queuing up for water were the herd’s lowest-ranking members:  tan-colored calves with small developing horns.  They would be last on the water line.

As I watched, I couldn’t help drawing an analogy between the cows and Portugal’s agriculture system. I compared Rosa, Mila and Tangerina to the big food growers — mostly outside Portugal — supplying the country’s hypermarkets and supermarket chains.  These super-sized food producers and distributors are making it hard for agriculture’s calves — small organic farms like Cimo de Vila — to compete. 

But the calves shouldn’t despair.  They can’t be bossed around forever.  (more…)

June 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment

Grocery Store Operator to Expand Supermarkets in NYC Low-Income Nabes

A citywide initiative to establish and retain supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods under the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program is gaining traction.  The New York City Economic Development Council announced that grocery store operator Bogopa Service Corp. will build a new 10,000-square-foot supermarket in Corona, Queens, and renovate and/or expand five existing grocery stores in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

The planned renovations and expansions will add 36,000 square feet of new supermarket space and create 82 new jobs, according to the NYCEDC. (more…)

June 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm Leave a comment

World of NYC Green Carts Revealed

Moveable Feast photo exhibition

Photo of Bangladeshi Green Cart vendor in Brooklyn by photographer Thomas Holton.

New York City Green Cart vendors, the men and woman who have ventured into some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods to sell fresh fruit and vegetables, are the subject of a significant photography exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.  The exhibition — called “Moveable Feast:  Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart Program” — chronicles the lives of the cart vendors and their customers.

Gabriele Stabile, one of the five featured photographers, follows Patricia Jimenez, a Mexican woman whose produce cart on the edge of a South Bronx neighborhood once dubbed “Death Valley” is described as a “daily point of reference in the community.” (more…)

May 23, 2011 at 8:24 pm 3 comments

How Sweet It Is

Northeast winter carrots are sweeter than carrots just about anywhere else, even the high-quality, organic ones at Whole Foods.  That’s one of the many notable takeaways in a recent interview Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s “On Being” program, had with chef Dan Barber, co-owner of the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

According to a reading on a refractometer — a device that measures sugar levels in fruits and vegetables — the sugar content of carrots harvested mid-February at the restaurant’s farm was off the charts, said Barber.  The carrots were 13.8 percent sugar, sweeter even than the sweetest carrots.  The ones from Whole Foods, in contrast, had no sugar at all, registering 0 on the tell-tale refractometer.

The carrots grown locally in the dead of winter “far, far exceed in sugar and flavor those grown in a monoculture in warmer climates,” said Barber, referring to carrots from places like Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and Mexico.

While Barber is wistful about what the Northeast could be growing in the winter – things like kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts that thrive, he said, “in the intensity of the cold” — he’s not a locavore extremist.  He has a weakness for oranges, a fruit that does not grow in New York, and acknowledges the wonders of modern-day distribution systems that bring consumers oranges and other produce from distant places.

More lighthearted than earnest, the discussion touches on the conflicts and dilemmas inherent in the local food movement, one that Barber describes as the “most exciting social movement in America today.”  When pressed, Barber offers a humorous, unconventional take on the notion of ethical eating.  Eating ethically isn’t some high-minded intellectual exercise, Barber insists.  It boils down to pleasure, pure and simple.

“Doing the right thing,” he said, “is the pleasurable thing,” going on to explain that “if you’re greedy for the best food, then you by definition are being greedy for the kind of world you want used in the right way.”

It’s funny and deep at the same time.  To listen to the near hour-long conversation, clear here.

December 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

What Price Milk?

A pamphlet circulated by the New York City milk cooperative, Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative, for nearly 20 years.

A pamphlet circulated by New York's now defunct Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative for nearly 20 years.

A dime for a quart of milk today sounds like a bargain, but back in the 1930s it was anything but.  With prices fluctuating from nine cents to 14 cents a quart – the equivalent today of $1.34 to $2.08 – milk was unaffordable to Depression-era New Yorkers. 

People understandably grew angry.  In November 1937, following a milk price increase, a mob of mostly women, along with a Holstein cow named Bossy, gathered at Foley Square in Manhattan to protest spiraling milk prices.

Meanwhile upstate dairy farmers were barely getting paid for the high-priced milk. Prices for the struggling dairymen plummeted to all-time lows, leaving many destitute and causing thousands to strike and even threaten to “blow up milk stations and milk trains.”  

Over Spilt Milk,” an online exhibit at the NY Food Museum relives the drama of a turbulent period in New York’s milk history.  The well-documented tale brings to life the villains and heroes of the day. The villains included the detested “Milk Trust”—the three milk distribution giants Borden’s Condensed Milk Co., Sheffield Farms Milk Co., and United States Dairy Products Co., which controlled two-thirds of the city’s milk market.  Other key players included the three-man Milk Control Board, accused by the public of favoritism and unclean ties with the milk lobby.  The Milk Control Board granted milk dealer licenses and stepped in to stabilize fluctuating milk prices. 

Heroes emerged from the chaos, among them community activists Meyer Parodneck and Dr. Caroline Whitney.  They helped organize a milk cooperative—the Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative—that connected dairy farmers directly to people in New York, eliminating the need for “Milk Trust distributors.” The cooperative, formed in 1937, existed until the 1970s when it was sold by its surviving founder. 

The online exhibit is filled with political cartoons and vintage photographs that bring back the tensions and passions of the time.  While the narrative sometimes jumps and leaves some holes along the way, it is a riveting story of the city’s past.  It’s also a harbinger of the modern community supported agriculture movement, which makes it all the more interesting.

May 24, 2009 at 1:06 am 1 comment

Online Farmers Market?

Talk about stretching the truth.  Shrewd entrepreneurs are positioning their companies as promoters of local food when their businesses in fact have little if anything to do with local food. Take Foodzie, a new online artisanal food store offering cheese, chocolate, cookies and other food items from around the world.  The company helps small, independent food businesses reach distant markets.  It does not promote local food or local farmers, as its co-founder, Rob LaFave, suggests in this recent blog post. 

“Buyers are really supporting the local economy and small, independent food makers and growers,” he is quoted saying in the New York Times Bits blog.

The entrepreneur also brazenly likens his online gourmet food store to a farmers market.   “You get a similar experience to a farmers market, when you get the opportunity to meet farmers, but it is much more scalable and you get a better selection,” he says of his store.  Later in the post, the real, live farmers market is irreverently referred to as the “offline farmers market.”

<span style=”It’s very twisted, but not entirely LaFave’s fault.  Throughout the post, the writer erroneously characterizes the store as an “online farmers market.”  It’s not.  Having fair trade organic coffee from Brazil, handcrafted cheese from Colorado, and olive oil from Italy all conveniently located in one place on a Web site is not representative of a true farmers market, where all the food is grown locally and buyers talk face-to-face with the farmers selling their goods. It’s just not. 

January 29, 2009 at 3:02 am Leave a comment

What the World Wants Today

For all the progress and momentum of the local food movement, people are still stuck in the 1970s when the solution to the world’s problems seemed to be a bottle of Coca-Cola.  “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company,” went the jingle in the 1971 hit television commercial.  Young smiling people from around the world sang the song on a hilltop in Italy, each holding a bottle of Coke.  “It’s the real thing,” they crooned, “Coke is what the world wants today.”

And it still is, it seems.  At a food conference held last week at Columbia University, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the administration’s efforts to bring healthier food to New Yorkers.  He mentioned the ban on cigarette smoking in restaurants, the elimination of trans fats in food and the administration’s new food battles:  reducing salt in packaged foods and listing calories in food menus.  It was music to the ears of the thousand food advocates and locavores assembled in Columbia’s grand Alfred Lerner Hall.

But the music suddenly stopped.  When talking about the need for greater access to good-quality food in low-income neighborhoods, Mayor Bloomberg noted that people couldn’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, or low-fat milk, or he said “diet soda.”  Corner bodegas, he said, only had regular soda.

The crowd was aghast. Mayor Bloomberg — introduced by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as a man who “gets it” when it comes to food and the environment — didn’t get it all.

Didn’t he know, the startled audience thought, that soda — whether diet or not — had high fructose corn syrup, which not only is unhealthy but soaks up gallons of fossil fuels to produce?  Didn’t he know that?

Apparently not.  Most people don’t.

While Mayor Bloomberg was delivering his remarks, rocker Gene Simmons of KISS was downtown on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange promoting “Gene Simmons Family Jewels”, a reality television series about the musician’s family.  Simmons took the opportunity while on the air with Fox Business News anchor Alexis Glick to make a pitch for the U.S. capital markets.

“Invest in America,” he exhorted viewers, as stock market prices were falling to new depths. “I’m buying.”

The American economy, he said, just needed to go on a diet.  Stop spending “stupid money” on things like cigarettes, he told the viewers, and take the “throw-away money” and invest it in the market.  If you like Coke, buy Coke, he said.  If you like hamburgers, buy MacDonald’s.

The famous guitarist was charming and gracious in a Gene Simmons kind of way.  “Forget about me,” he said.  “What’s around me is what makes America great.”

Yet for all his patriotism, Mr. Simmons like Mayor Bloomberg didn’t get it.  In the same breath that he recommended buying Coke, he noted that the nation needed to “get out of Mideast oil.”

Mr. Simmons didn’t see that Coke is dependent on Mideast oil for the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow mass quantities of industrial corn.  He didn’t see that connection or understand the havoc that industrial agriculture wreaks on the environment.

Every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it, or around 50 gallons of oil per acre of corn, according to Michael Pollan’s book “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

For all their good intentions, Mr. Simmons and Mayor Bloomberg are missing the point. What the world needs to do is wean itself off Coke and other sodas altogether.  They’re bad for people’s health, the environment and long-term even the economy.  What the world wants today hopefully won’t be anything it will want to touch tomorrow.

November 28, 2008 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

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