Greening Our Daily Bread

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Strawberry picking at Restaurant de Kas, from The Garden Chef

Thanks to Phaidon for ideas, presented in snappy cookbooks, about how to green our diet:

9780714873909-620Many of us know that favouring plants and fruits over burgers and fillets is often a wise idea. Still, it’s nice to have your suspicions confirmed. This week’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods can both improve human health, and help the land around us, staving off some of the effects of climate change.

So, where does a would-be vegan, vegetarian or meat reducer (the report does allow for ‘animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-green-house-gas emission systems’) start? With our books, of course!

VeganbookThe Vegan Cookbook Author Jean-Christian Jury might be a reformed meat eater, but he doesn’t want to take the fun out of dining. “For years, my goal was to surprise non-vegans with delicious vegan recipes, to show that meat wasn’t necessary for a delicious and satisfying meal,” he says. His raw nori and vegetable rolls might look like a indulgent, Japanese-style treat, but they actually pack in plenty of sunflower seeds, avocados, and cauliflower florets. It takes about 40 minutes to make, and you don’t even have to use a cooker.

9780714878225-ph620The Garden Chef Our book on famous chefs, restaurants and their accompanying gardens features plenty of highly sustainable operation. Yet even here, Restaurant de Kas in Amesterdam, stands out. “Set in a series of greenhouses that date back to 1926 and which belong to the Amsterdam Municipal Nursery, the restaurant relies on produce from greenhouses and gardens, where it harvests vegetables, herbs, and flowers,” explains our book. “Founder, Gert Jan Hageman, is also the head gardener.”  His barbecued eggplant, with peanut vinaigrette, green curry and herbs, is a wonderful way to bring together late-summer vegetables. Want to try it? The recipe is reproduced in our book…

Read the whole story here.

Learning To Eat Right

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According to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation, along with unsustainable agriculture and food systems, is contributing to greenhouse emissions. Photograph by Lalo de Almeida / NYT / Redux

Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for this reminder of the impact our diet has on the future of the planet:

Deforestation, Agriculture, and Diet Are Fuelling the Climate Crisis

In the Amazon, or in the parts of the Amazon that people have mowed down and converted into grazing pasture, the average abattoir-bound cow has nearly three acres to himself. Nice for the cow, perhaps, but senseless and dangerous in every other way. Every year, on average, tropical deforestation adds ten to fifteen per cent of global greenhouse emissions. Of this amount, around half happens in South America; deforestation in the Amazon recently increased. If the rate continues, scientists have found, it could lengthen the forest’s dry season, triggering even greater warming and drying, killing trees in the nearby (still intact) forest, and eventually causing mass tree mortality and an entire ecosystem shift—from rainforest to savannah. The tipping point in the Amazon would be a rate of twenty-twenty-five per cent deforestation—fifteen to seventeen per cent is already gone. “If you exceed the threshold,” Carlos Nobre, a Brazilian climate and tropical-forest expert, told me, “fifty to sixty per cent of the forest could be gone over three to five decades.” Continue reading

In Our Sight, On Our Mind

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A discarded, tangled net in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: @sea.marshall

It is difficult to look at, but the determination of this man to understand, and help us understand, this otherwise invisible impact of waste is inspiring. He could be sailing and adventuring anywhere, but chose here for a purpose. Whatever the opposite of “out of sight, out of mind” may be, he lends it credibility:

Paddling in plastic: meet the man swimming the Pacific garbage patch

Ben Lecomte is making a trans-Pacific journey to better understand how plastics pollution is affecting our oceans

We thank him for his effort and the reminder:

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Ben Lecomte is swimming through the gyre known as the Pacific trash vortex. Photograph: @osleston

Ben Lecomte is spending his summer swimming in trash – literally. So far, he’s found toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates floating out in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The 52-year-old Frenchman is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. He will swim a total of 300 nautical miles, intermittently travelling by sailboat with a crew of 10 the rest of the way. Continue reading

“Impossible Milk” – Yet Another Animal Husbandry Alternative

Bay Area-based company Perfect Day Foods developed a vegan, lactose-free ice cream containing milk proteins made by microbes rather than cows. Credit Perfect Day Foods

We’ve been writing about “fishless fish” and its beef counterpart quite a bit lately, and for good reason. The environmental impact of animal based agriculture is staggering; even grass-fed cattle raised well outside of industrial feedlots are responsible for carbon emissions.

Entrepreneurs and scientists are becoming great collaborators to develop tasty alternatives that can be healthy for the planet and humans.

Got Impossible Milk? The Quest for Lab-Made Dairy

With advances in synthetic biology, researchers and entrepreneurs strive to create cows’ milk without cows.

In recent years, the alternatives to conventional cows’ milk have proliferated. The local grocery store is likely to offer any number of plant-based options: milks made from soy, almonds, oats, rice, hemp, coconuts, cashews, pea plants and more.

But most nondairy milks pale in comparison to cows’ milk. Plant-based milks are made by breaking down plants and reconstituting their proteins in water to resemble the fluid from a lactating bovine. These proteins differ fundamentally from true dairy proteins, and the results — milks, cheeses and yogurts in name only — often fail to measure up in color, taste or texture. Inja Radman, a molecular biologist and a founder of New Culture, a food company, put it plainly.

“Vegan cheese is just terrible,” she said. “As scientists, we know why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the crucial dairy proteins.”

Dairy tastes like dairy thanks to two key proteins, casein and whey protein. Researchers at several start-up companies, including New Culture, have begun producing these proteins in the lab, with the aim of creating a new grocery store category: cow-free dairy.

Continue reading

Creating A Market For Misfits

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Thanks to Henry Alford for all the references in this New Yorker short piece on efforts to establish market value for produce normally treated as misfits are treated, which is to say shunned at best:

For “Ugly” Produce, Beauty Is Rind Deep

Misshapen fruits and vegetables and the farmers who love them.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

You did not anticipate this plot point: you’ve decided to pony up twenty-three fifty a week to receive a regular shipment of organic “ugly produce,” perhaps because you’ve read that about half of the produce in the United States goes uneaten, or maybe because you’ve been charmed by a Web site that boasts of “rescuing” foodstuffs such as “onions that are too small, potatoes that are shaped like your favorite celebrity, and carrots that fell in love and got twisted together.” You glow with a sense of mission. But, when your first shipment of ugly produce arrives and you peer inside the recyclable cardboard box, you do a double take: the produce is not ugly. And not a single potato looks like Abe Vigoda.

“I would first redefine it as misfit produce,” Abhi Ramesh, the founder and C.E.O. of Misfits Market, said on the phone the other day. (It is Misfits Market’s Web site that is quoted above.) “The market calls it ugly produce, but ‘ugly’ ends up being only a small portion of it. The variations are standard: produce that’s too small or too large or that has slight discoloration.” Continue reading

Algae By Any Other Name

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We have shared so many algae stories on this platform already, I am always on the lookout for the next breakthrough story. Thanks to a story in Sierra, which I almost skipped because of the smile in the photo below, I have learned about a company called nonfood, and found on their website other photos I could relate to (like the one above). The story is worth a read, and we hope to see more by Lewis Page:

The Future of Food Is Algae (Again)

A new generation of futurists look to the promise of pond scum

NONFOOD HAS UTOPIAN IDEALS, AND AN ALGAE-PRIDE MARKETING AESTHETIC. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NONFOOD

A little over a year ago, CNN aired a segment about the future of food. “In 1800, there were a billion people on Earth,” said technology correspondent Rachel Crane. “Today, there’s seven times that. And by 2100, estimates say there could be nearly 12 billion people around the world.” Crane’s quest, then, was to taste-test food for a future with more people and fewer resources—one that would require eating lower on the food chain.

nonfood_smile_1024x.jpgFirst, Crane confronted a platter of sushi made with a tomato-based raw tuna substitute and devoured it approvingly. Then, she opened a silver pouch containing an algae-based food bar made by a Los Angeles start-up named Nonfood.

“Ugh, it smells,” Crane said, recoiling. “Instead of trying to emulate flavors we know and love, they decided to embrace the algae.” She took a bite and gagged. Her teeth were stained slightly green, and her tongue, when she stuck it out, was covered in a dark green paste.

Oddly enough, this was good publicity. After the episode aired, Nonfood, which seems sometimes like a business and sometimes more like an art project, was flooded with orders…

Read the whole article here. And while you are at it you might find the website for nonfood, with its ponderous accompanying photography, worth a visit as well:

RESTARTING THE FOOD CHAIN

nonfood_groupikebana_1024x.jpgWe know that a plant based diet is better for the environment than a meat based diet, but we are also missing out on so many vitamins and nutrients the further up the food chain we eat. Algae is unique because it’s highly efficient at turning sunlight, water and CO2 into vitamins and nutrients, more than any other crop. It is the original source of food for life on earth and continues to be good for us as well as the planet.

Find out why algae will revolutionize the food industry

Organikos & Fair Trade

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Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

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UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

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Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

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Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading

Pondering Extinction Rebellion’s Approach

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Gail Bradbrook, a founder of Extinction Rebellion, speaks to protesters gathered to block roads near the BBC headquarters, during a recent demonstration in London. Photograph by Brais G. Rouco / SOPA / LightRocket / Getty

This article by Sam Knight starts the new week off on a compelling note:

Letter from the U.K.

Does Extinction Rebellion Have the Solution to the Climate Crisis?

The success of Extinction Rebellion, a British campaign of civil disobedience aimed at addressing the climate crisis, has been something to behold. In April, the group, which was formally launched only last October, blocked Waterloo Bridge, which spans the Thames, for more than a week. Across London, activists glued themselves to buildings, climbed on trains, chained themselves to company headquarters, and occupied key intersections, leading to some thousand arrests and messages of support from around the world. The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, said that she had never encountered a protest like it. By the end of the month, Extinction Rebellion activists were meeting with Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and on May 1st, in accordance with one of their demands, Members of Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency, becoming the first national legislature to do so. In June, M.P.s agreed to another Extinction Rebellion request: to convene a citizens’ assembly, made up of a representative sample of the British population, to discuss the climate crisis. Although the assembly’s recommendations will not be legally binding, as the protesters wished, Extinction Rebellion’s language and its policy agenda have moved into the mainstream at remarkable speed. Continue reading

Avoiding Elephants In Zoos

 

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Robin Schwartz for The New York Times

We have rarely written about zoos because they are simultaneously depressing and yet have had an important influence on most contributors to our pages. Thanks to the New York Times and Charles Siebert for this article raising questions about elephants in particular at the zoo:

Zoos Called It a ‘Rescue.’ But Are the Elephants Really Better Off?

Despite mounting evidence that elephants find captivity torturous, some American zoos still acquire them from Africa — aided by a tall tale about why they needed to leave home.

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Arusi, one of the six Swaziland elephants at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan.CreditCreditRobin Schwartz for The New York Times

The “Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley” enclosure at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., is a dreamscape idyll of an elephant’s natural home: five and a half sprawling acres of tree-dotted mock savanna and a 550,000-gallon pond where boated people and wading pachyderms can nearly meet on opposite sides of a discreetly submerged barrier. All eight of the zoo’s elephants were visible when I visited on Memorial Day 2018, two years after the habitat’s grand opening, including six recent arrivals from the tiny southern African kingdom eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), the lot of them moving about with the same slow, tensile synchrony of larger wild elephant herds. Only the background flicker of cars on Interstate 235 disrupted the tableau, as well as my own occasional thoughts of far less accommodated zoo and circus elephant captives over the years, right back to the very first elephant brought to the United States.

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Robin Schwartz for The New York Times

According to historical records, it was in the early spring of 1796 that the America, a sailing vessel captained by Jacob Crowninshield, arrived in New York Harbor from Calcutta. As emphatically noted in the ship’s log kept by one of its officers, Nathaniel Hathorne (whose author son would soon add the “w” to the family name), there was an “ELEPHANT ON BOARD.” A 2-year-old female originally purchased by Crowninshield in Bengal for the bargain price of $450, she was immediately sold in New York for $10,000. Continue reading

Vegan Hooligans @ Abby’s Diner

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When I started reading this short piece below, subtitled “The chefs Roy Choi and Jose Mejia sample the Vegan Hooligans’ plant-based junk food at an L.A. pop-up.” and containing no photos, before getting two paragraphs in I had to see what Abby’s Diner looked like, and found the image above and those below, on Instagram and in a story by KCET, so following is a mix of the sources:

The chef Roy Choi posted up at the counter of Abby’s Diner in Los Angeles recently. Several times a week, the place morphs from a traditional greasy spoon—booths, tiled floor, B.L.T.s—to a greasy spoon that serves vegan renditions of such drive-through classics as the McDonald’s McRib.

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Entrepreneur, social activist and chef Roy Choi takes a journey through his hometown of Los Angeles to explore complex social justice issues including food deserts, food waste and sustainability. Learn more about “Broken Bread.” Watch this trailer.

Sheila Marikar has not appeared in our pages before, but I will be on the lookout for more from her, because even without images (thanks to KCET and the Hooligans’ Instagram account for those here) her words make vegan more compelling:

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Jose Mejia is the man behind the Vegan Hooligans.

“I like to re-create a lot of stuff from fast food so people feel comfortable,” Jose Mejia said. He is a founder of the Vegan Hooligans, which began popping up last February. (The name is a nod to his love of punk rock and soccer.) He wore overalls and a brown beanie. “I wanted to create a brand that didn’t just capture the eyes of, like, vegans,” he added.

BeLeaf.jpgEleven years ago, Choi co-founded Kogi BBQ, a fleet of Korean-taco trucks that fuelled a food-truck renaissance and got him on a number of best-of lists (Food & Wine Best New Chef, Time 100). He is not a vegan. “Kogi, for Pete’s sake, means ‘meat’ in Korean,” he said. But after meeting Mejia while filming an episode of his TV series, “Broken Bread,” a less hedonistic version of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” Choi decided to try more meat substitutes. Now he eats animals maybe once a week. Continue reading

Climate Change, Coffee & Solutions

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A worker harvests coffee near the town of Santuario, Risaralda department, Colombia in May. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In Costa Rica, where we have been paying attention to the plight of coffee farmers in the last year, there are numerous scientific and sectoral organizations dedicated to assisting with the impact of climate change.  Richard Schiffman, who last appeared in our pages nearly a year ago, has this about Colombia’s approach:

As Climate Changes, Colombia’s Small Coffee Farmers Pay the Price

Hundreds of Colombia’s small coffee growers have stopped cultivating the bean in the face of low prices and reduced harvests linked to a shifting climate. As farmers struggle, the nation’s scientists are seeking to develop new varieties that will flourish in a changing environment.

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Women sort coffee beans at the 44-acre Finca El Ocaso farm, near Salento, Colombia. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO

At first glance, Finca El Ocaso, located in the hills outside Salento, Colombia, could be mistaken for a natural forest: rows of squat Arabica coffee trees are interspersed with plantain, banana, and lime and shaded by towering nogal cafatero trees, whose high canopy hosts flocks of chattering parrots and other birds. The 44-acre coffee plantation has been certified by international organizations for being sustainable, climate-friendly, and fair to its workers.

But Finca El Ocaso is struggling under the weight of intensifying economic pressures.

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A coffee weighing station at Finca El Ocaso. Coffee prices have dropped so low that the family-run farm has started hosting tourists to make extra money. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO

“Lots of smaller farms near us have gone out of business,” said farmer Gustavo Patiño. “It is no longer sustainable to have a medium-size farm that pays high taxes and expensive production costs, when in the end they may get paid less for their coffee than their expenses.”

Several years ago, in an effort to keep the plantation afloat, Patiño’s eldest daughter, Carolina, opened the farm to foreign and Colombian tourists. The plantation now attracts more than 1,000 visitors a year. “Our farm can only survive because we offer tours and sell our coffee to the tourists,” Patiño said.

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An aerial view of coffee plantations in Santuario, Colombia in May. Small farms such as these have been hit hardest by climate change and low coffee prices. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In the last 18 months, Colombia has lost nearly 100,000 acres of coffee plantations, more than 4 percent of the land under coffee cultivation, according to a statement issued last week by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (Fedecafé). Continue reading

Could “Fishless Fish” Play a Part Helping Oceans Recuperate?

This salmon, by Wild Type, was grown from cells in a lab. The company is one of several developing seafood alternatives. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

First, there was the meatless burger. Soon we may have fishless fish.

Impossible Foods, the California company behind the meatless Impossible Whopper now available at Burger King, is joining a crowded field of food companies developing alternatives to traditional seafood with plant-based recipes or laboratory techniques that allow scientists to grow fish from cells.

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Good Catch Tuna, made from plants, is available at Whole Foods. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

So far, much of Impossible’s work has focused on the biochemistry of fish flavor, which can be reproduced using heme, the same protein undergirding its meat formula, according to Pat Brown, the company’s chief executive. Last month, Impossible’s 124-person research and development team, which the company plans to increase to around 200 by the end of next year, produced an anchovy-flavored broth made from plants, he said.

“It was being used to make paella,” Mr. Brown said. “But you could use it to make Caesar dressing or something like that.”

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Wild Type held a tasting of its lab-grown salmon last month in Portland, Ore. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

The fishless-fish project is part of Impossible’s grand ambitions to devise tasty replacements for every animal-based food on the market by 2035. Whether that aim is achievable, either scientifically or financially, remains to be seen. But for now, Mr. Brown said, he’s confident Impossible’s plant-based beef recipe can be reconfigured to simulate a new source of protein.

It’s unclear whether consumers — even those who eat meatless burgers — will embrace fish alternatives.

Those faux-beef products owe their success partly to the enthusiasm of so-called flexitarians, people who want to reduce their meat consumption without fully converting to vegetarianism, but flexitarians are not necessarily motivated by a desire to save the planet. Indeed, industry experts say, many of them are drawn to plant-based meat more for its perceived health benefits than for its role in reducing the food industry’s reliance on production techniques that release greenhouse gases. Continue reading

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

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Anna Meyer

Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation. Continue reading

Schools as Frontline Against Food Deserts

These greens are among the hydroponic crops grown by students at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School, in Brooklyn, N.Y. In June, the students started to sell discounted boxes of the fresh produce to community members. Robin Lloyd/for NPR

Thanks again to the Salt for more inspiring stories about communities cultivating more than just smart students.

How Hydroponic School Gardens Can Cultivate Food Justice, Year-Round

After a full day of school a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Rose Quigley donned gloves and quickly picked bunches of fresh lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, mint and oregano. But she didn’t have to leave her school in Brooklyn, N.Y., or even go outdoors to do it.

Quigley is one of dozens of students at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School who in the past year built a high-tech, high-yield farm inside a third-floor classroom. They decided what to grow, then planted seeds and harvested dozens of pounds of produce weekly.

The vegetables never stop coming because the crops are grown hydroponically — indoors, on floor-to-ceiling shelves that hold seedlings and plants sprouting from fiber plugs stuck in trays, each fed by nutrient-enriched water and lit by LED lamps. The students provide weekly produce for their cafeteria’s salad bar and other dishes.

Later that same day, for the first time, Quigley and several of her schoolmates also sold some of their harvest — at a discount from market rates — to community members. It’s part of a new weekly “food box” service set up in the school’s foyer. Each of 34 customers receive an allotment of fresh produce intended to feed two people for a week. Three students, paid as interns, used digital tablets to process orders, while peers handed out free samples of a pasta salad featuring produce from the farm. Continue reading

Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?

The Economist has not been one of our go-to sources for stories because it has an ideology that sometimes gets in the way of deeper investigation. Their stories and explanations are extremely thorough and very compelling, but we can usually guess the answer before the question is even asked.  Every now and then they surprise us, and here is a good example:

The bitter truth behind Madagascar’s roaring vanilla trade

How did hunger for the humble pod lead to greed, crime and riches? Wendell Steavenson travels to Madagascar to meet the new spice barons

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A quality-control chief in a co-operative in Belambo

I follow Felicité Raminisoa and her father, Romain Randiambololona, up a narrow track along the forested slopes of her family’s farm in southern Madagascar. It is lychee season and, as we walk, we break off branches of fruit and peel off the pink, spiky shells. Large yellow jackfruit grow like Chinese lanterns among loquat and clove trees, pepper vines and coffee plants. Sapphire dragonflies flash by as they chase each other over ponds of tilapia dammed into the valley. The air is muggy under the banana leaves but grows fresher as we climb. In all directions we can see vanilla vines winding around tree trunks. Each zigzag stem has been trained so that it grows no higher than Raminisoa can reach. Every so often she stops at a pale-yellow bloom and parts its waxy petals. With a spike snapped from an orange tree, she delicately scrapes away the membrane separating the anther from the stigma in order to pollinate the flower. This is a task that requires perfect timing. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the morning it blooms or the beans won’t sprout.

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A vanilla flower is pollinated by hand

The family began to plant vanilla vines about 20 years ago mostly as “decoration”, says Randiambololona, his big grin punctuated by a missing tooth. At first the family sold fresh green vanilla pods to tourists, surprised that they would pay anything for them. But in 2014 the price of vanilla began to rise. Over the next three years it went from less than $40 per kilogram to more than $600 per kilogram. It felt like money was growing on their trees. In 2016 Raminisoa travelled to the northern region of Sava, where vanilla has been grown for generations, to learn how to cure the green pods into the commodity that was in such demand: pungent and wizened black beans. Continue reading

For Further Consideration

more-from-less-9781982103576_lgWith the most unlikely of titles to catch my attention in a long while, I gave HOW THE IPHONE HELPED SAVE THE PLANET a chance, and am glad for it. The author is the cofounder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, so I was inclined to assume it was an essay titled ironically and give him the benefit of the doubt. Which led to some surprises in the essay, which then led me to read the pre-publication press for the book to the right. Let’s hope that Mr. McAfee is on to something true:

The more than 2 billion iPhones sold since Apple launched it exactly 12 years ago have done a lot of good for their owners, but it seems like they’ve been bad news for the planet. Building that many devices requires a lot of metal, plastic, glass, and other natural resources. Some of them, including cobalt, are mined by hand, reportedly sometimes by children, in desperately poor countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Others, like rare-earth elements, are in comparatively short supply. A project of the European Chemical Society found a “serious threat” that humanity could run out of many of these elements within a century. Continue reading

Are Certifications Doing Enough?

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Cocoa producers of the Yakasse-Attobrou Agricultural Cooperative gather cocoa pods in a certified Fair Trade-label cocoa plantation in Adzope, Ivory Coast. Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Our friends who generally oppose regulations and other efforts to protect people and the environment, saying that these protections inhibit growth and innovation and often fail to achieve the protections they are supposed to create, may sometimes have a point. But from our perspective, they too often point in the wrong direction. Constant monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of these protections is a point we might agree on, assuming we are not ideologically driven on either side of this topic.  With every big step forward towards greater sustainability, it is important to pause and consider the impact. Among other things, we must ask whether we are doing enough:

Fair Trade Helps Farmers, But Not Their Hired Workers

It’s a disturbing question that haunts many shoppers with good intentions: What am I actually accomplishing by buying coffee or chocolate with the Fair Trade label? Does the extra money that I pay actually benefit the people who harvested those beans?

Researchers have been curious, too. They’ve found that, in fact, small farmers in Latin America and Africa do benefit from the minimum price that Fair Trade guarantees and the extra money it delivers to farmer cooperatives. Researchers have documented higher wages, greater participation in community decisions, and even greater gender equity. Continue reading

Where Does Your Plastic Go?

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Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:

What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?

According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.

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Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian

This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.

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Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.

A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.

A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading

Reduce Is Best Because Recycle Is Costly & Re-Use Is The Next Big Thing

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Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot

We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:

Gatwick hosts UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial

Customers buying coffee from South Terminal Starbucks will be able to borrow free refillable cup

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A sign will remind passengers to return their cup before they board a flight

The UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial gets under way this week at Gatwick, offering passengers the opportunity to borrow and return refillable cups in a bid to help cut waste and tackle “throwaway” culture.

Customers buying hot takeaway drinks from Starbucks will have the option to borrow a free reusable cup instead of using a paper cup, which they can then drop off at a designated point before boarding their flight.

The trial – starting on Monday in Gatwick’s South Terminal – will help customers reduce their disposable cup usage in a manageable “closed loop” environment that could be used in any travel hub. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks in partnership with the environmental charity Hubbub with support from Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport. Continue reading

France Acts On Waste

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A dump site in Castries, France. By 2023, unwanted, unsold goods in the country will have to be donated, reused or recycled. Xavier Malafosse/Sipa, via Associated Press

Food waste has been a topic regularly featured in these pages. And reducing carbon footprint obviously involves reducing waste in general. Palko Karasz reports on this almost unbelievable example of waste that had escaped our attention until now, and we are impressed by France’s decisive action:

France to End Disposal of $900 Million in Unsold Goods Each Year

LONDON — France plans to outlaw the destruction of unsold consumer products, a practice that currently results in the disposal of new goods worth 800 million euros, or more than $900 million, in the country each year.

By 2023, manufacturers and retailers will have to donate, reuse or recycle the goods, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Tuesday of the measure, which the government billed as the first of its kind.

“It is waste that defies reason,” Mr. Philippe said at a discount store in Paris, according to Agence France-Presse, and he called the practice “scandalous.”

Under a new measure that will be part of a bill set to be debated by the government in July, destroying unsold goods could result in financial penalties or prison time. Continue reading