Archive for the Environmental Concerns Category

The Economist: It’s OUR view for the future of FOOD

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

There was an article in a November issue of the Economist titled “How to Feed the World.” The article begins: “In 1974, Henry Kissinger, then America’s secretary of state, told the first world conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry.”

The article blames the rise of crop prices on agricultural ‘failings,’ that have not gone away. What those are, it does not specify quite enough–however, we do know that the world’s population will rise by a third in 2050 and demand for agricultural goods will rise by 70%, demand for meat, will double.

Here is another little snippet: “Countries need to do two things, invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets. Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.”

This is partly something I can agree with, and partly not. I believe that what this article is trying to get at ignores the complexity of the uneven food market, the fact that rich countries can subsidize crops and boost their products and then sell them to poor countries for cheap, for example. The fact that markets for rural farmers have to grow is true, and acting at a local level (which I think has been undermined by the Bigger levels) is crucial. The article says, GM crops have to have a role in the agriculture and thankfully suggests that the technology should be distributed in a localized level as opposed to controlled by Monsanto.

Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of opening up trade between nations as opposed to shifting towards a self-reliance in agriculture. This, the article argues, is ‘in nobody’s interest.’ I don’t disagree, but I would add the importance of fair trade and a further examination of the inequality in the market.


Meat–A special of the Worldpresses

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Since the 1950’s global meat production has been on an increase. Production has risen from 44 million tons in 1950 to 253 million tons worldwide today. In 2003, the average person consumed 41 kilograms of meat, double the number of half a century ago.[1] The industrialization of meat production has permitted for a product that was once a considered a luxury for a majority of the population to become a daily commodity for many. In this essay the trends of the rise in meat consumption in developing Asian countries will be examined in light of recent concerns focused in that area. The rapid furthering of industrialization taking place in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan has led to the urbanization that analysts argue leads to a rise in income and meat consumption.  The fear of growing meat consumption in industrializing countries is directed not just at growing consumption, but also and arguably more importantly, at the reproduction of Western and specifically American meat production methods.

The following posts will be an investigation of this phenomenon and my attempt to formulate solutions from a structuralist perspective.

[1] Lester R. Brown. Outgrowing the Earth: Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures. UK 2005 Bath Press Ltd, Bath


Posted in Environmental Concerns, World Food on December 11, 2009 by alejandracuellar

In the following posts I will be writing about the debate about GMO’s that currently holds a crucial place in international politics. Although the technology is well underway, has been in place for over thirty years and continues to grow there is strong opposition coming from many sides. Europe for example, has been a strong opponent of American genetically engineered foods. Their fear comes from the difference in regulation imposed by the USDA within the food production itself and Europe. In essence, Europe fears the technology more than the United States. It is important to note that it is not the people who fear, but rather the institutions who import, although the people do fear as well; it is the political leverage of that fear that matters more in Europe than it does in the United States. The question I will be asking is, what is there to fear in the prospect of having genetically modified organisms enter into agriculture world wide?

Here is one view on the matter.

GMO’s are and have been the reason that the planet can support the 6.2 billion people it does today. Had it not been for the Green Revolution, the Malthusian Curve would have come at last and starvation would have been (even more) rampant. The fact that we can produce more food per acre using the same, if not less land is the miracle of the 20th century. Now that we face the prospect of even more overpopulation (with population estimated to grow to 9.1 billion in 2025) and the urgency to feed the planet, GMO’s are the solution to the problem of food productivity. If we can make plants that are resistant to harsh weather, perhaps even salt so that plants could be watered with sea salt, chemicals and pests, why should we even question the imperative of the technology for genetically modifying foods?

Here is another view on the matter:

The problems that have taken place in the most GMO intensive areas (i.e the U.S mostly) will be reproduced in all other areas of the world and particularly in developing countries where many farmers are already living under situations of dependency. One of the specific and most contested traits in GMO seeds is the dependency they create. When you buy a seed from a company that owns the technology with a patent, Monsanto for example, you are forced to return to them to buy more because you cannot save the seed. Because genetically manipulated seeds have been modified to resist X or Y, the second harvest will not necessarily yield the same kind of plants. The second argument against GMOs has to do with the possibility of losing unique strands of plans that act as possible deterrents to disease. If all plants have the same genetic combination and a pathogen attacks them, the chance of it wiping out an entire population is more likely.

What do you think?

The Big Rise in Meat Consumption in East Asia and Why it Concerns Everyone

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

This is a map that scales meat consumption globally. It shows that China consumes 25% of the world's meat while having 20% of the population

Amongst the growing list of environmental concerns, the rise of meat consumption in Asia is one that warrants attention. It is a phenomenon that could be easily explained by saying that as the Asian powers grow economically, so does their middle class, and so does the desire of the middle class to eat more meat. It is the inevitable trend of societies, a tragic but predictable outcome of wealth accumulation: people just want to eat more meat. This explanation is partly true, but partly and more importantly, it is overly simplistic and in being so, it ignores the golden glove of the global market.

Lester Brown, one of the founders of the Worldwatch institute put the complex relationship between growing wealth and growing desires well:

If industrialization is rapid, the loss of cropland quickly overrides the rise in land productivity, leading to a decline in grain production. The same industrialization that shrinks the cropland area also raises income, and with it the consumption of livestock products and the demand for grain. Ironically, the faster the industrialization proceeds, the more rapidly the gap widens between rising demand and falling production.

There is no better example than China to illustrate the reality of Brown’s words. Today China’s arable land is about 7% of its total land, and its population is 1.3 billion. Livestock, back when they still ate their natural diets would have required long stretches of land to feed off of. Since the industrial meat system cuts that part out of the equation and instead subjects animals to cage like spaces and uses grains and others to feed the animals, this is no longer a requirement. However, if China is to feed its growing population of animals, it will need to find this land elsewhere (i.e. look at the post on China’s land grabbing in Africa).

The point I want to stress about this issue is found between the tension of the consumer preference and the producer’s role. It is all too easy to remain oblivious to the role of the mega meat corporations in the global meat market and say that consumers are to blame for all of the market’s surges and plunges. People just want more meat again, is overly simplistic and it ignores the part that giant meat packaging companies have had on consumption. The aggressive tactics that have been utilized to open up Asian markets to American meat imports is appalling, in the past fifteen years, imports of not just meat, but the model for producing meat in the United States have been copious and unabashed.

In following posts, I will like to bring up several key points: the first will be the environmental impact of global meat consumption present and future, second I will trace the history of the big meat packing corporations (Tyson, Cargill, IBP, Smithfield), and third I will speak to the resistance in countries like South Korea against foreign meat imports.

Soy: 15 Myths and Facts to Blow your Mind

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on November 5, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Myth: Use of soy as a food dates back many thousands of years.

Truth: Soy was first used as a food during the late Chou dynasty (1134-246 BC), only after the Chinese learned to ferment soy beans to make foods liketempeh, natto and tamari.

Myth: Asians consume large amounts of soy foods.

Truth: Average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day. Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods.

Myth: Modern soy foods confer the same health benefits as traditionally fermented soy foods.

Truth: Most modern soy foods are not fermented to neutralize toxins in soybeans, and are processed in a way that denatures proteins and increases levels of carcinogens.

Myth: Soy foods provide complete protein.

Truth: Like all legumes, soy beans are deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. In addition, modern processing denatures fragile lysine.

Myth: Fermented soy foods can provide vitamin B12 in vegetarian diets.

TruthThe compound that resembles vitamin B12 in soy cannot be used by the human body; in fact, soy foods cause the body to require more B12

Myth: Soy formula is safe for infants.

Truth: Soy foods contain trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors led to stunted growth and pancreatic disorders. Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D, needed for strong bones and normal growth. Phytic acid in soy foods results in reduced bioavailabilty of iron and zinc which are required for the health and development of the brain and nervous system. Soy also lacks cholesterol, likewise essential for the development of the brain and nervous system. Megadoses of phytoestrogens in soy formula have been implicated in the current trend toward increasingly premature sexual development in girls and delayed or retarded sexual development in boys.

Myth: Soy foods can prevent osteoporosis.

Truth: Soy foods can cause deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, both needed for healthy bones. Calcium from bone broths and vitamin D from seafood, lard and organ meats prevent osteoporosis in Asian countries-not soy foods.

Myth: Modern soy foods protect against many types of cancer.

Truth: A British government report concluded that there is little evidence that soy foods protect against breast cancer or any other forms of cancer. In fact, soy foods may result in an increased risk of cancer.

Myth: Soy foods protect against heart disease.

Truth: In some people, consumption of soy foods will lower cholesterol, but there is no evidence that lowering cholesterol improves one’s risk of having heart disease.

Myth: Soy estrogens (isoflavones) are good for you.

Truth: Soy isoflavones are phyto-endocrine disrupters. At dietary levels, they can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Eating as little as 30 grams (about 4 tablespoons) of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue.

Myth: Soy foods are safe and beneficial for women to use in their postmenopausal years.

Truth: Soy foods can stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors and cause thyroid problems. Low thyroid function is associated with difficulties in menopause.

Myth: Phytoestrogens in soy foods can enhance mental ability.

Truth: A recent study found that women with the highest levels of estrogen in their blood had the lowest levels of cognitive function; In Japanese Americans tofu consumption in mid-life is associated with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

Myth: Soy isoflavones and soy protein isolate have GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status.

Truth: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) recently withdrew its application to the FDA for GRAS status for soy isoflavones following an outpouring of protest from the scientific community. The FDA never approved GRAS status for soy protein isolate because of concern regarding the presence of toxins and carcinogens in processed soy.

Myth: Soy foods are good for your sex life.

Truth: Numerous animal studies show that soy foods cause infertility in animals. Soy consumption enhances hair growth in middle-aged men, indicating lowered testosterone levels. Japanese housewives feed tofu to their husbands frequently when they want to reduce his virility.

Myth: Soy beans are good for the environment.

Truth: Most soy beans grown in the US are genetically engineered to allow farmers to use large amounts of herbicides.

The Era of Soy Imperialism and what your tofu is not telling you

Posted in Environmental Concerns, World Food on November 5, 2009 by alejandracuellar

“The American Soybean Association is promoting “analogue” dals–soybean extrusions shaped into pellets that look like black gram, green gram, pigeon pea, lentil and kidney bean. The diet they envision would be a monoculture of soybean; only its appearance would be diverse.”

                                                                                     -Vandana Shiva

It’s a strange thing that diversity is being artificially reproduced in this way: it’s as if we were removing our eyes out of our faces only to replace them with glass eyes that resemble our old ones.   

soy products

To begin to talk about this the silent conquest of the soybean I propose two questions: what has been the process of soy taking over the system? What has been lost to the growing dependence of soy? 
The first question begins with the diminishing diversity in our global society. In our incredibly diverse world, different climates, soils and plants give rise to particular food cultures. The fact is that the modern industrial agriculture systems would rather erase the complex indigenous ways and simplify to create mono-cultures of a a few types of food. The soybean has become one of these ‘super-foods’ that have been manipulated to erase the notion of diversity in food. Soy is now infiltrated in about 60% of all food products in the market. 

Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest depicts the case of the mustard seed oil tragedy in India. She talks about the importance of this indigenous oil to the Bengalis, starting from the central place  as the main flavoring in the local cuisine in many regions, to the medicinal value, to women’s roles in cultivating the land to acquire the mustard seeds, and to the way in which smaller community based systems function efficiently and ensure food security. In 1998 there was a mysterious contamination of the mustard oil: in the name of ‘food safety,’ the community-based systems of food and health safety were quickly dismantled and note, quickly replaced by soy bean oil imports.  

Who has been made to believe they should eat soy, and what are soy products marketed as? Health food, meat is bad, soy can save you, you need not worry anymore.


The Cuban Garden Revolution

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on October 27, 2009 by alejandracuellar


The campaigns in Cuba to promote urban and organic agriculture was a novel idea in the highly urbanized country. When Cuba faced food shortage in the 1990’s, the government was forced to create new pathways for the distribution of food. Interestingly enough, part of the problem in Cuba was due to a shortage in fossil-fuels which impacted the production through fertilizers, and the distribution through vehicles. Sounds terribly similar to the threats that face us today..

By proposing and creating incentives, the Cubans began to plant gardens in their homes that grew fruits and vegetables, a departure from the traditional Cuban diet which was ‘redundant in carbohydrates’ as white rice, sugar and sugarated drinks. It was easier to grow vegetables and fruit in the urban setting, as grains and meat require a higher input of energy and are better to grow in rural areas. Before the special period obesity, rates in Cuba were 30% and then fell to 16% due to food depravation. It should be noted that nutritional programs were implemented in order to educate people on the value of a balanced diet composed of fruits and vegetables, and debunking the myth that greens are food for rabbits.

The creation of these gardens was interesting because of the attempt to make them sustainable. Compost for example, can be a misplaced resource. The Cuban ‘Green Revolution’ (not to be confused with the Green Revolution in India) was attempting to reduce waste and use every output and so compost was used as a fertilizer. By being organic and diversified, they eliminated the need for pesticides. Then packaging, refrigeration and transportation were eliminated from the equation, taking away the dependence on fossil fuels. The output of these farms tripled during the 90’s city farms now grow enough food to meet the minimal nutrition needs of the population.

Another interesting element that arose from this system was the creation of an exchange market. When people had a surplus of a vegetable or fruit, they would exchange it for other goods instead of selling them. That way less food goes to waste. Sometimes people would give away their produce, because the focus of this program was to feed its people–not to depend on a market that can thrive in throwing away food in order to maintain a desired market price, while people die from hunger.

What can be taken from this story? That people. in the face of urgency are forced to come up with creative solutions. That people survive and adapt, and that it is possible to bring about positive change through difficult times.