OK. Remember when Levain and Auriga and Five closed, Seth left Cosmos, and I announced I was out on the ledge, so to speak, over the local state of restaurant affairs? Well I am back on a ledge. Except this time, it’s the ledge of global food production, world hunger, and the threat to our international security.
I have been abroad for a while, and after coming home, I can tell you with utmost assurance, from both anecdotal and scholarly resources alike, that we are in for a sh*tstorm of problems related to the rice panic, the rise of Chinese and Russian food demand, and the falling strength of the dollar. I was in three European countries last week and spent a lot of time with farmers, fishermen, and restaurant employees. The situation in Europe is terrible, and you will read a lot about it in the coming weeks, I am sure.
The French housing market is about to crater, the average EU citizen is facing unprecedented economic uncertainty as food prices eclipse the reach of single earner families in the middle class and lower income families with two wage earners. The cover of the International Herald Tribune even ran with a story about this phenomenon. And watching Al Jazeera, BBC News, and China News for a few weeks would scare the crap out of the average American. Anti-Americanism, fear of economic uncertainty, rising Chinese nationalism of the type that burst into the news last year in Russia (remember the Putin youth stories!?), and a tidal wave of problems rumbling across the Middle and Near East (Pakistani political clashes, Muslim Brotherhood threatening Egypt’s Mubarak oligarchy, Iranian obstinateness, Iraqi everything . . .) are making traveling and news watching uncomfortable.
There seems to be a solution for our ailing image abroad in all this, and it’s food related. Why doesn’t the United States stand up tomorrow and announce a global hunger initiative aimed at getting food into the hands of the world’s hungriest? Why don’t we single-handedly take care of the UN World Food Programme’s money crunch? Why not stand up and show the rest of the world that in our country, we stand alongside the least fortunate in time of need? Well, probably because we can’t even do that in our own country.
A report out on Tuesday from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production examined the impact of the growth and rampant use of factory facilities masquerading as farms where huge numbers of the cattle, swine, and poultry (some right here in Minnesota) are concentrated in such large numbers and in such close quarters for the sole purpose of speeding up both the growth process and the slaughtering timetables. The report’s conclusion was that we must end this practice or continue to create an ever-widening epidemic of environmental and health problems. To quote, ”There is increasing urgency to chart a new course . . . (These facilities) often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves.” And the canard we have been sold for too long is that all of this is good for farmers. Wrong! As an AP story I caught so succinctly put it, “it is good only in that it has shifted rural Americas economic power from farmers to livestock processors.”
Remember, when only three companies control two-thirds of the beef processing in this country, something is wrong. It creates untenable health risks and an ad hoc food cartel, which will very soon have OPEC-like powers that will continue to marginalize the average consumer when it comes to choice and access to healthy, inexpensive quality food. Mark my words, this is happening right now. Eating well is becoming a class issue in this country and around the world.
And if that doesn’t piss you off and give you food for thought, check out these links:
Here is a link to a PDF of "CAFO's Uncovered". Do you know how much tax we pay to clean up after these sh*tholes—literally?
Here is a link to the new Pollan article in the NYT Magazine about the impending climate doom and why someone should plant a garden, or not.
Slate has an article on how food writers don't necessarily write about the cost of food. True enough, but that’s not every food writer’s job, is it? That being said, there is a cool idea or two in here.
Has anyone seen the Vanity Fair green issue? This Monsanto article is amazing in its ability to show you the reach and power that companies like this one have in our world today.
Truth in Labeling bugging anyone other than me? Chipotle's nutritional info just doesn't add up.