by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

May 14 2015

Milan Food Expo: A highly preliminary assessment

Throughout my travels in Italy the last couple of weeks, I was constantly asked for an assessment of the Milan Food Expo.

My answer: it’s too early to tell.  It’s only been open for two weeks and has lots more to do between now and the end of October.

In my posts on the Expo, I’ve talked about the logistics and a few of the pavilions.

But what about the overall content and take-home messages?  Expos are trade fairs, but this one is about feeding the planet—adequately and sustainably.

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The U.S. Pavilion carries out this theme:US

Most countries created exhibits based on these themes.  Many displayed vegetable gardens in raised beds or, in the case of the US pavilion, on a long, undulating wall.

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It’s useful to start with the United Nations’ Zero Hunger Pavilion.  Its gigantic ticker-tape display tells you the price of food commodities throughout the world in real time.

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The scrolling messages in English and Italian:

  • The food sector: reality vs. abstraction.
  • Extreme price volatility is a threat to food security.
  • The gap between supply and demand is mainly caused by increasing food consumption, climate variability, expansion of agro-energy production, and financial speculation.
  • Lack of transparency and profits for a few speculators intensify inequality in food distribution.
  • New rules are needed for agricultural governance.

Like most of the exhibits, this one states the problems and says what is needed to solve them.  But it leaves it up to you to figure out how to set or obtain the new rules for agricultural governance.

My view from this brief visit: The very existence of Milan Food Expo 2025 is a strong statement that food issues are worthy of serious public attention, worldwide.

For that alone, it succeeds magnificently.

May 12 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Coldiretti Pavilion

I especially enjoyed the pavilion of Coldiretti, an association of Italian farmers.

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“No party” can—and is supposed to be—read two ways: no fun, or no political clout.

The pavilion houses a farmers’ market promoting the products of its members.

Coldiretti doesn’t have much use for GMOs, but for reasons we don’t often consider in the U.S.

2015-05-02 15.54.56In case you can’t read the photo:

What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy.

Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity.

Because they suffocate many to reward one.

Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it.

Because food certainties belong to “free research.”

Whatever you think of such views, I’m hoping the Milan Food Expo will get visitors thinking about these food issues and more.

May 4 2015

The Milan Food Expo: food politics in action

The slogan of the Milan Food Expo, May 1-October 31, is “Feeding The Planet, Energy for Life.”

The U.S. has a gorgeous pavilion framed by an undulating wall of vertical vegetables.

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A video featuring President Obama greets guests.  Check out what he says:

ObamaEven more, he adds:

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Good, safe, healthy food for all!

Creating sustainable food systems!

Yes!

More to come…

Apr 13 2015

Write to Congress. File comments on the Dietary Guidelines.

Everyone I speak to in Washington, DC says the same thing: if you want policies to change in favor of healthy food systems, you must contact members of Congress and say what you think they should do.  If they get comments on issues, they listen.  If they don’t, nothing will change.

It’s not hard to send an e-mail or telephone your representatives.

Thanks to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the invaluable Hagstrom Report, for producing instant guides and contact information to members of the Senate and House agriculture committees.

As for the contentious 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the comment period has been extended to May 8.  The agencies make it easy to file comments.  Do it here.

The comments don’t need to be long or complicated.  Just indicate identify yourself, state the topic you are concerned about, say what you’d like the guidelines to say, and if possible add a reference or two.

Do this and you will be encouraging the agencies to do the right thing.

If you don’t, who will?

Addition, April 14:  Here’s a video explanation of how to file comments on the dietary guidelines.

Mar 24 2015

My Plate, My Planet: Support Sustainability in Dietary Guidelines

I signed an today’s ad in the New York Times to encourage support for considering sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

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We need health policies that consider agriculture and agricultural policies that consider health.

Here are:

Mar 20 2015

Weekend reading: Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids

Kiera Butler.  Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids & How its Lessons Could Change Food & Farming Forever.  University of California Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

 

Kiera Butler usually writes for Mother Jones (her latest is about how McDonald’s markets to kids) but this time took on an investigative reporter’s immersion into the world of 4-H, the venerable youth-mentoring program aimed at “growing confident kids.”

Although the program’s website says “4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System & USDA,” you have to look hard to see how it relates to its farming origins.

Butler follows several individual 4-H members, young teenagers, who are deeply engaged in raising and showing animals at county fairs.  She follows their experiences for a year and observes their demonstrable growth in skills, confidence, and the handling of disappointment.  These are the impressive accomplishments of this program.

But she is also well aware of the many contradictions of 4-H: the high cost of participation, its lack of racial and ethnic diversity, its promotion of the values of industrial agriculture, the divide between urban and rural members, and the surprising lack of attention to what agriculture is about and its importance to the economy and society.

Her conclusion: 4-H needs to be challenged to promote critical thinking about agriculture.

Raise is a good read and is thoroughly convincing about the need for such thinking.

Mar 6 2015

Where food comes from: thought for the weekend

Kate Pine, a reader of this blog, sends this winter scene from Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

 

Minnesota

 

Her poignant comment:

I thought you might like to see this billboard…Note the snow on the street since I took this photo a couple days ago. This is part of why the public is so ill-informed about where and how food is produced.

Postscript: Daniel Bowman Simon writes: “This appears to be an ad for Bushel Boy, a year-round greenhouse tomato growing operation in MN.”  He also sends this link to a story in Crain’s about how Bushel Boy is financed.

 

Jan 30 2015

USDA’s farm “typology” report: defines small, midsize, large

The USDA has just posted its enormous—more than 700 pages—2012 Census of Agriculture (Farm Typology) report.

Its definitions and results are impressive.  Definitions are based on a metric called Gross Case Farm Income (GCFI):

  • Small             <$350,000
  • Midsize          >$350,000 but less than $1 million
  • Large              >$1 million but less than $5 million
  • Very large     >$5 million

Another metric: average number of acres per category (one square mile is 640 acres):

  • Small:  GCFI between $150,000 and $350,000:   961 acres
  • Midsize:             1582 acres
  • Large:                 2926 acres
  • Very large:       4673 acres

And some basic facts:

  • 88% of farms are Small (GCFI <$350,000).
  • 12% are Midsize and Large, but they account of 80% of agriculture sales.

That’s US agriculture in a snapshot.

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