Category Archives: Food System

Permalink to 2012 Food Resolutions

2012 Food Resolutions

What are you planning to do differently in 2012 that will help make an impact on our food system?

Since it’s the season of cleansing, organizing and setting some goals, it’s a good time to think about what some of your food resolutions might be for 2012. Hopefully you’ve taken a peek around the site, browsed through the blog, and learned more about the food system. To do some food good in the world, here are a few resolutions you might consider making:

  • Read at least two books about the food system. Knowledge is power, so kick off your shoes and snuggle up with a book that will help you learn more about our broken food system and the people who are trying to change it. Need a little inspiration? Check out our Reading Room! Need even more inspiration? Check back later this year to join The Giving Table Book Club (launch TBD)!
  • Participate in Meatless Monday. The factory farm industry isn’t treating the animals we eat with care. Supporting local farmers with grass fed beef is one way to help reduce demand for industrialized products. If everyone went meatless just one day per week, it would save 1.4 billion animals per year from life on a factory farm. Learn more in my recent blog post on the subject
  • Prepare more meals at home. Cooking at home with organic produce is a great way to limit your intake of processed foods, sodium and trans-fats. Your body will thank you. 
  • Shop at the Farmers’ Market at least once per month. Think of this as a leisure activity. With busy schedules, it might not be realistic to go every week, so pack up your family at least once per month and spend a couple of hours browsing stalls of fresh produce. Maybe pick up a vegetable you haven’t tried before! You can also join a CSA or farm fresh delivery service.
  • Stay informed. Sign up for a newsletter that will keep you informed about happenings in the food industry, such as Food Democracy Now or Civil Eats. 
  • Designate funding to organizations fighting hunger. It doesn’t have to be a lot (just $1 can help connect a child to up to 10 nutritious meals through Share Our Strength), and every little bit helps. If you have the capacity, consider a small monthly gift to an organization helping to alleviate hunger and poverty in the US or abroad. Visit our Giving page to find an organization that suits your needs.


Permalink to Farm Bill Hackathon

Farm Bill Hackathon

Earlier this month, Food & Tech Connect brought together 120 people in-person and virtually to participate in a “hackathon” for the Farm Bill. During a 12-hour period, teams brainstormed new tools and visual aids to educate the public about the farm bill and related food issues.

First prize went to “FARM BILL of Health.” You can view the presentation below. It simplifies Farm Bill spending by showing how the government disproportionately subsidizes the foods it recommends to the public in its new MyPlate food pyramid.

Facts shared from the presentation:
  • $72 billions dollars is spent every year on food-related illnesses (e.g. diabetes, obesity, cancer)
  • $33.1 billion spent on commodity crops (e.g. corn, soy, wheat)
  • 4.3 billion spent on specialty crops (e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts)
A Clean Bill of Health

View more presentations from FoodTechConnect

Permalink to Food, Politics and Wendell Berry

Food, Politics and Wendell Berry

Politics is one of those contentious topics most people don’t like arguing about. But regardless of party affiliation, the food we eat is becoming increases singly political topic. A recent blog post by Slow Food USA puts this issue front and center:

“Changing food and farming is political (not to be confused with partisan)—and by that we mean it has to do with issues of power and inequality. It raises questions about who controls our infrastructure and who has limited choices because of it, who defines the dominant culture (fast food vs. slow food, diverse or not?), who stays well-nourished and who is hungry or suffering from a diet-related disease.

The reality is that industrial agribusiness and government policies have more control over what farmers grow and what we eat than we do! Basta ya! Over the past decade, we’ve started to take back the power one meal, one non-GMO crop, one Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at a time. But we’re fighting a continuous uphill battle—and it isn’t right. This is our moment to level the field, to change the food system from our plates to our policies.”

While digesting this concept, I also simultaneously read some of Wendell Berry’s beautiful essay, “The Pleasures of Eating.”

“I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.” If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want — or what they have been persuaded to want — within the limits of what they can get. They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold: How fresh is it? How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing or packaging or advertising add to the cost? When the food product has been manufactured or “processed” or “precooked,” how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?”

If eating is an agricultural act and the government controls most agricultural policies in this country, then there’s no getting around the fact that food is political. We can no longer be the “passive consumers” Berry writes of. Instead, we must pay attention, engage and make choices that support the the food future we want. Sometimes the phrase “vote with your fork” can seem meaningless. Does it really matter which eggs I buy or if the spinach is local? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your small actions don’t matter, but they do.

Permalink to The Price of a Tomato

The Price of a Tomato

How much does a tomato cost? $1.29 a pound? More? Less? What if the true cost of a tomato weren’t measured in change at the check-out counter but in the health of a farm worker who lives in deplorable conditions in order to ensure that tomatoes are stocked in your local grocery store year-round?

In many parts of the United States, we have access to fruits and vegetables year-round, regardless of seasonality. This means that many Americans will add a rubber band-wrapped bunch of green stems to their cart well into November or December (the growing season for asparagus peaks in April and May).

Ask any chef, foodie, blogger or competent home cook and they’ll likely tell you that the best tomatoes are found in August and September, period. But something disturbing has happened to America’s tomato industry that until recently, was not often in media stories or minds of the modern consumer. Besides, who really wants to know that the modern tomato contains 14 times more sodium than its 1960s counterpart?

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Permalink to Animal Welfare and the Revolution of Meatless Mondays

Animal Welfare and the Revolution of Meatless Mondays

“Our generation should be able to look back and say we took the side of the vulnerable.”

-Paul Shapiro, Humane Society

On November 12th I attended “Ethics and Your Plate,” an inspiring seminar at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History sponsored by Go Vegan Santa Barbara and the National Museum of Animals and Society. The speakers brought a range of expertise on matters of animal welfare, factory farms and sustainable agriculture. Fresh off feeling somewhat melancholy that all we seem to be doing is preach to the choir, I left feeling newly inspired about what we can accomplish together to change the food system.

Paul Shapiro from the Humane Society spoke about animal welfare and gave an overview of animal rights in this country. Pets in the U.S. have a certain amount of legal protection, with several states making abuse of animals a punishable crime. Farm animals, on the other hand, have almost no legal protection whatsoever. This makes them vulnerable to a host of unacceptable abuses.

Interestingly, he cited a survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau in Oklahoma where results showed that Americans care deeply about the way the animals they eat are treated during their lives (e.g. 95% said it is important that animals are well cared for; 75% would vote for laws requiring better treatment). Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the way we feel and how we shop for our meat. The reason? Consumers simply don’t know what they’re eating and what takes place at factory farms.

Paul, a committed vegan, is interested in “common ground campaigns,” or issues that vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike can come together and agree on. He cited 1) banning factory farm practices and 2) reducing the number of animals raised and killed as the two campaigns to pursue to do the most good.

Progress has already been made on many states, but he spent some time recalling the 2008 Prop 2 campaign in California which required animals to have basic human rights including the ability to lie down, turn around and extend their legs. People from all walks of life came together that year to support animal rights. Religious leaders, public health workers, vegans and meat eaters, all believed that our animals deserved better. The proposition passed by a 63% vote, the largest majority than any other state initiative to date.

I was able to speak with Paul after his presentation and he told me that he felt the Meatless Monday campaign is one of the best ways to promote change in our food system. But it can’t only be in our individual homes. Meatless Monday needs to take hold at an institutional level, so that means corporate cafeterias, school lunch rooms and restaurants should collectively promote this effort which would ensure that millions of Americans have at least one meat-free day per week, saving approximately 1.4 billion animals per year from a life on factory farms.

I appreciated his optimism and practical application to an overwhelming topic. I immediately felt more confident not only in my own food choices, but in the possibility to significantly reduce the practice of factory farming in this country. Following are a few more facts from the day you may find interesting

  • North Carolina is the second largest pig producer in the country, but you could drive through the entire state without seeing a pig due to factory farm practices.
  • 1 million animals are slaughtered every hour in the United States; 10 billion are slaughtered each year
  • Due to feed and waste automation, the average amount of time a pig experiences human contact per day is 8 seconds

Permalink to Preaching to the Choir

Preaching to the Choir

It started with UPS. Not long ago I was driving through Los Angeles and while stopped at a light, turned and looked out the window. Directly next to me, parked on the side of the street, was a UPS truck where a driver was presumably taking his lunch break. He was drinking a Coke and eating a small package of crackers with cheese inside. I cringed. It was everything lunch shouldn’t be: mindless, unhealthy and lacking any nutrients that would fuel the rest of his afternoon.

That moment (and in reality, it truly was just a moment), made me think about who we’re trying to reach with all this good food chatter. I don’t need the message, and you probably don’t either. If you’re here or following me on Twitter, you already care enough about food to learn more about the issues facing our food system. I don’t need to tell you to eat healthier or buy your produce from local farms or volunteer at soup kitchens. The people we need to reach are out there, going about their lives, eating crackers and drinking soda for lunch.

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Permalink to TED Video Break: Ellen Gustafson

TED Video Break: Ellen Gustafson

Watch Ellen Gustafson, co-creator of the philanthropic FEED bags, discuss why hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin.

Permalink to NYC meat supplier pushes for a change

NYC meat supplier pushes for a change

George Faison—a meat supplier to some of New York City’s best restaurants—recently wrote a letter to some of his chef clients, urging them to make a change. Currently, Mr. Faison sells both naturally-raised and industrially produced meats, but according to long-time friend and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, would prefer shifting to the former when and if chef’s demanded it.

Mark Bittman printed Mr. Faison’s letter on his website. You can read the full text here.

He begins by citing some of the reasons why our food system is broken, such as beef production being controlled by four industrially producing companies, consumers spending less of their take-home pay on food than any previous decades and the rampant overuse of chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

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Permalink to Top 25 Food Folks on Twitter

Top 25 Food Folks on Twitter

You love food. You use social media. You want to stay informed on what’s going on in food politics, organic farming, nutrition and the global hunger crisis. Say no more.

Here’s my Top 25 (including a few that Michael Pollan recently recommended), in no particular order. Is your favorite tweeter missing from this list? Leave a comment and let me know!


1. Marion Nestle // Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health

2. Slow Food USA // Building a good, clean and fair food system.

3. Michael Pollan // Food writer and advocate

4. Share Our Strength // Nonprofit working to end childhood hunger in America.

5. Mark Bittman // New York Times columnist

6. Ellen Gustafson // Founder, The 30 Project. Co-Founder, FEED Projects + the FEED Foundation. Foodie, Feeder, Fighter for a better food system.

7. Naomi Starkman // Good Food Advocate. Food Policy Consultant. Co-founder/Editor,, Kitchen Table Talks; aspiring organic farmer.

8. Tom Laskawy // Covering food and ag policy for Grist

9. Josette Sheeran // Executive Director, World Food Programme

10. Sarah Wu // No longer anonymous educator who ate school lunch every day in 2010 to raise awareness about school food. Out now: ‘Fed Up With Lunch’ Oct 2011 Chronicle Books

11. // Environmental journalism at its best. A beacon in the smog, if you will.

12. Organic Consumers // Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace and democracy!

13. Earth Eats // Podcast, public radio program and blog from @wfiu. Tweets about local food, food safety, policy, sustainable agriculture, environmental news and recipes.

14. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) // The UN agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

15. Heifer International // Heifer empowers millions to go from poverty to self reliance via gifts of livestock, seeds, trees & training, providing a multiplying source of food & income.

16. Fair Food Network  // We’re a non-profit organization that works to design a food system that upholds the fundamental right to healthy, fresh and sustainably-grown food.

17. Robyn O’Brien // A former food industry analyst, I traded a briefcase for a diaper bag, had 4 kids, wrote a book, gave a TEDx talk on health & founded the AllergyKids Foundation

18. Wholesome Wave // Working to ensure HEALTHY, FRESH, and AFFORDABLE locally grown food is available for all!

19. Anna Lappe // Author, real food advocate, mom, and author of Diet for a Hot Planet, Hope’s Edge, and Grub

20. Bread for the World // A collective Christian voice urging our nation’s leaders to end hunger

21. Food Democracy Now // Creating a sustainable future through positive food and farm policies.

22. Paula Crossfield // Managing editor of Civil Eats, Huffpo blogger, contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show, rookie gardener, avid cook, food policy wonkette

23. Why Hunger // Join WhyHunger in the fight against hunger & poverty. Help create self-reliance, economic justice & equal access to nutritious, affordable food.

24. Andy Bellatti // Registered Dietitian with whole-food & plant-centric approach. Into sustainable agriculture. Food policy activist. Love to call out food industry nonsense.

25. And, The Giving Table, of course!


Permalink to Whole Foods Animal Welfare Ratings

Whole Foods Animal Welfare Ratings

I noticed this chart front and center at my local Whole Foods meat counter. Whole Foods has collaborated with Global Animal Partnership—a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals—to implement its 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Standards in every Whole Foods Market store in the United States and Canada.

The reason for this partnership is explained on their website: “It’s often easy to forget that the burger, steak or drumstick on your plate was once an animal. How was that animal raised? How was it treated? Where did it come from? What about added hormones and antibiotics? Was its growth artificially accelerated to get to market sooner and reduce feed cost? We are committed to answering these questions.”

Visit the Whole Foods website for more information where you can download their brochure providing greater detail on each of the ratings systems.

During a recent visit, I purchased a whole pastured chicken (with the highest rating of 5) for the same price as a caged chicken ($2.79/pound). For under $11, I left the store with a chicken I could feel good about eating. As a consumer, this ratings system has certainly caused me to pause before making choices for what to buy at the meat counter.

What about you? Has anyone else made conscious food choices because of this ratings system, or will you do so in the future?

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Food for Thought

"To care about food but not food production is clearly absurd." // Wendell Berry

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