Thanks to Clare Finney, writing for the Guardian, for a reminder, and some cases surprises, about foods we may love but should consider the consequences of:
Deforestation. Child labour. Pollution. Water shortages. The more we learn about the side-effects of food production, the more the act of feeding ourselves becomes fraught with anxiety. How can we be sure that certain foods are “good” or “bad” for society and the planet? As Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University of London and the co-author of Sustainable Diets, puts it: “When you come to ‘judge’ food, you end up with an enormous list of variables, from taste to health outcomes to biodiversity.” Here are some of today’s most controversial products – and some thoughts that may help you when shopping. Continue reading
A 1758 map of Robinson Crusoe Island. Photograph: Antiqua Print Gallery/Alamy Stock Photo
A treasure like this, irresistible as gold may be, must remain a thing of the imagination wherever it is buried.
Bernard Keiser, who has been searching for the hoard for more than two decades, has been granted permission to excavate a 400 sq metre plot near Puerto Inglés on Robinson Crusoe Island, one of the three main volcanic islets that make up the Juan Fernández Archipelago 600 miles off the Chilean coast. Continue reading
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
In my occasional posts about Amazon over the past few years, it is becoming clear to me that I am concerned about the dangers that come from some of the foundational principles of business management, such as excellent customer service, and scale. I have not read his new book yet, but I listen to and read Tim Wu whenever I see an opportunity. His publisher has this to say:
So, I look forward to learning more about it. Today’s episode of The Daily has useful commentary on Amazon-related topics. Thanks to David Leonhardt for bringing Tim Wu’s new book to my attention:
In one industry after another, big companies have become more dominant over the past 15 years, new data show.
The popular telling of the Boston Tea Party gets something wrong. The colonists were not responding to a tax increase. They were responding to the Tea Act of 1773, which granted a tea monopoly in the colonies to the well-connected East India Company. Merchants based in the Americas would be shut out of the market.
Many colonists, already upset about taxation without representation and other indignities, were enraged. In response, dozens of them stormed three ships in Boston Harbor on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and tossed chests of East India tea — “that worst of plagues, the detested tea,” as one pamphlet put it — into the water.
A major spark for the American Revolution, then, was a protest against monopoly. Continue reading
The short-tailed weasel, or stoat, decimated native bird populations after it was introduced to New Zealand. Altering the genes of invasive animals might save threatened species, scientists said, but could also have devastating consequences. Credit DeAgostini, via Getty Images
Two days ago we were intrigued by the notion; today, not so much. Is it a cat fight between two of the science writers most often linked to in these pages? Or perhaps it is an example of how scientific consensus is built:
In 2013, scientists discovered a new way to precisely edit genes — technology called Crispr that raised all sorts of enticing possibilities. Scientists wondered if it might be used to fix hereditary diseases, for example, or to develop new crops.
One of the more intriguing ideas came from Kevin M. Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University: Crispr, they suggested, could be used to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive. Continue reading
A researcher used a pipette to release coral larvae into trays to encourage settlement and growth. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times
This feature story suggests that even as we stress nature on a global scale, there are creative scientists working on fixes for particular challenges:
As reefs die off, researchers want to breed the world’s hardiest corals in labs and return them to the sea to multiply. The effort raises scientific and ethical questions. Continue reading
Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:
To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.
Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading
A great gray looks up after plunging into the snow, while hunting north of Two Harbors, Minn. The great gray is one of the world’s largest species of owl. Derek Montgomery for MPR News
We have never had, nor can I picture us having this debate at Chan Chich Lodge or any other wildlife setting we are responsible for managing; nonetheless, since we all live in glass houses of one sort or another, it is worth a moment to read this and ponder (thanks to Dan Kraker and Minnesota Public Radio, USA):
Earlier this winter, photographer Michael Furtman was driving along the North Shore of Lake Superior in search of great gray owls. Several of the giant, elusive birds had flown down from Canada looking for food.
He pulled off on a dirt road where he had seen an owl the night before. One was there, perched in a spruce tree, but so was a pair of videographers filming them.
“I backed off, I was going to just let them have their time with the bird,” Furtman says. “And then I saw them run out and put a mouse on the snow.” Continue reading
Redwood national park in California. Photograph: Jeffrey Schwartz/Alamy
We like what we see of the madly determined folks risking their professional careers in the interest of the environment and social justice:
As we approach our 8,000th post on this platform we realize that for the nearly six years we have been posting there was plenty of hopeful, helpful news related to community, collaboration and conservation–the themes we committed ourselves to at the outset.
Times seem different now, to state the obvious. And yes we are “mad” about what is happening around us. Madly determined. It will take discipline to remain focused and find the news that fits our purpose here. But we intend to.
The point has not been to ignore the bad news, of which there has been plenty in recent years, but to share a few notices each day that highlight better news. Or possible solutions. The spirit of our intent, which has been to support “the fight” as needed but remain civil to the end, is captured well in this book review:
On January 31st, 2017 New Directions Publishing is bringing this masterpiece, published originally in Brazil in 1984, to an English-reading audience for the first time:
For André, a young man growing up on a farm in Brazil, life consists of “the earth, the wheat, the bread, our table, and our family.” He loves the land, fears his austere, pious father, who preaches from the head of the table as if from a pulpit, and loathes himself as he begins to harbor shameful feelings for his sister Ana. Lyrical and sensual, written with biblical intensity, this classic Brazilian coming-of-age novel follows André’s tormented path. He falls into the comforting embrace of liquor as—in his psychological and sexual awakening—he must choose between body and soul, obligation and freedom.
I was completing a degree in literature the year this was first published, but Portuguese was not an option for my reading, nor was Brazil really on my map at that time. As a result, or for whatever other reasons, I never heard of this book before.
Work assignments took me to Brazil several times in the intervening decades, and Latin America has been home base for most of the last two decades. I know I must read this, and soon, so it has just moved to the top of my next-book list. But for a very different reason the author has my attention, thanks to this:
In 1984, at the height of his literary fame, Raduan Nassar announced his retirement, to become a farmer. Continue reading
Derek Parfit has few memories of his past and almost never thinks about it, a fact that he attributes to an inability to form mental images. Photograph by Steve Pyke / GETTY
Even though we had started a series of posts on the topic of altruism in 2011, our first year creating this platform, it was just after this article was published that we started paying close attention to the topic, and we had forgotten about it until just now.
Derek Parfit communicates convincingly about a logic for the common good being more important than that of the individual, and even put his own life and mortality into perfect context of the logic he was developing. So, though we resist posting obituaries of even our greatest heroes, his passing this week makes us think this profile is worthy of re-reading and sharing.
Even though our early attention to altruism led to hundreds of posts since 2011 for which altruism is at the core, this remembrance may stimulate even closer attention to altruism, a topic more worthy of attention than ever:
An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right? Continue reading
When this particular chef develops a thought into action, we are at least curious. When he shares a short essay on how the future of food might work, such as A Blueprint for the Future of Food, we take note. The following is from Turning Points, exploring how key moments from this year might signal something important coming in the year ahead.
Turning Point: France becomes the first country to outlaw food waste.
Not long ago, just before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she had packed her own water bottle because she disliked wasting all the plastic bottles given out on planes. A few minutes later she was on the phone with another friend, explaining that she was on her way to Europe for the weekend to shop and relax. Continue reading
Nathan Heller is one of the most consistently engaging, most compelling writers out there, and this new article is one more piece of evidence:
We can think of ourselves as an animal’s peer—or its protector. What will robots decide about us?
By Nathan Heller
Harambe, a gorilla, was described as “smart,” “curious,” “courageous,” “magnificent.” But it wasn’t until last spring that Harambe became famous, too. On May 28th, a human boy, also curious and courageous, slipped through a fence at the Cincinnati Zoo and landed in the moat along the habitat that Harambe shared with two other gorillas. People at the fence above made whoops and cries and other noises of alarm. Harambe stood over the boy, as if to shield him from the hubbub, and then, grabbing one of his ankles, dragged him through the water like a doll across a playroom floor. For a moment, he took the child delicately by the waist and propped him on his legs, in a correct human stance. Then, as the whooping continued, he knocked the boy forward again, and dragged him halfway through the moat.
Harambe was a seventeen-year-old silverback, an animal of terrific strength. When zookeepers failed to lure him from the boy, a member of their Dangerous Animal Response Team shot the gorilla dead. The child was hospitalized briefly and released, declared to have no severe injuries. Continue reading
PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC HELGAS FOR THE NEW YORKER
When scanning the hard news, feature stories, reviews and profiles we are on the lookout for stories that address any of a group of themes, generally related to better treatment of the planet we live on. We are interested in creative approaches to making better human treatment of the natural world more likely, more palatable, so to speak. After reading this article about magnificent results from modest parcels of land cared for by relatively common folk, we see a parallel theme in this restaurant review; it qualifies:
“Vegan” evokes two images: judgment for abstemious virtue or scarcity on meat-centric menus. Neither happens at Ladybird.
By Jiayang Fan
…Of some two dozen tapas, the most successful were the least expected and the most unassuming. The olives and cornichons—perfectly pert, coated in seasoned rice flour and gently fried in chili oil—proved to be the kind of addictive nibblers that make you forget the etiquette of communal dining. Continue reading
Photograph: Galazka/Sipa/Rex Shutterstock via The Guardian
We don’t have any religious affiliation here on the site, but understand that the Roman Catholic Pope has a tremendous influence in the world given his position. Any stance that he takes to protect the environment through denouncing pollution and agents of climate change is a good one in our book regardless of the church or theological basis. Josephine McKenna reports:
Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.
In a message to mark the Catholic church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that he launched last year, Francis said the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those who were least responsible for it – refugees and the poor.
A raspberry dessert at Café Gratitude in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
A few days back I was struck by a post on this site about lab-grown foods, and wanted to continue the thought exercise by sharing a few comments on a brief article I had just read elsewhere on the intersection between performance art and food issues. Two more cents to add here, by way of a few excerpts from this fascinating, if alarming, article: