Thursday, September 30, 2010

Breaking the Natural Cycle

There is always a cycle, or rather a broken cycle that leads to many of the world's problems. Does over population lead to poverty, or does poverty lead to over population? Has world hunger been caused by land degradation or vice versa? These topics are always never ending debates in many of my environmental sociology classes. There are always arguments for both sides and every situation is different, especially when comparing the growth and development of first-world countries during the colonial era versus the third-world countries that are attempting to develop now for one example. One of the cycles that I feel is very important to connect to the current problem of trying to solve world hunger is the issue of land degradation and displacement from land.

The way that I see this new pattern, is it first begins with some reason that people are forced to make a shift in their lifestyle. Generally it involves some shift on the level of the how the people live and relate to their environment. A company comes in a buys land from the government rather than the people, a drought or some environmental new problem; either way, there becomes a disconnect from the land. In other times people could simply move to another area to solve their problems, however today people are more attached to their land, as sometimes there is no other place to move to. Global conglomerates have the ability to deal with governments directly and can been seen as a way to bring development into an area. However more often than not, this hurts the people rather than help. Companies have been known among other things, to destroy land, forcing more people off their land and into working the factories. At this step people no longer can survive off of what they are able to produce, since their work, all though might deal with picking or processing food goods, results in physical money. Now the price they pay for food is no longer the amount of effort put into growing or gathering but into predetermined amounts set by a third party. The amount they work does not equal what they are paid and thus they are often unable to sufficiently feed themselves or their families.

Another aspect of this is land degradation. The shift in global climates has caused many problems throughout the world. While one area is being flooded, another is suffering from a long drought. Either way unstable climate conditions can cause crops to fail. Another way crops can fail is if the land is being polluted by a factory or the natural settings are being harvested at an unsustainable rate. An example of this is from an article from BBC about logging in the Congo basin in Cameroon. The Ngola Baka are hunter-gatherers the rely on the forests for food. Despite attempts in proving their ownership of the land, the Ngola Baka cannot keep the loggers away. Removed from their food source, they are forced into poverty and can no longer feed themselves. 

The Ngola Baka is just one example of how breaking the connection between land and people often leads to hunger. In a first world country where most people are entirely disconnected from any form of food production, this does not seem like a problem. The difference is we have the means to get money to pay for the food. Even so in the US there are still people going hungry, while we export our surplus elsewhere. In third world countries, there is often no means of obtaining money. People that could produce their own food have had no need for money. When land is removed, the people have no way of growing food, and thus have to rely on some form of making money to survive.

I believe that in order to best help many of these struggling areas is to force companies to take responsibility for their actions and either clean up the environment they polluted, pay their workers more, collect resources in a sustainable way that compensates the true owners of the land, or simply leave. Once a connection is made back to the land, that is no longer being harmed, there is once again hope that people will be able to support themselves.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The South Bronx Obesity Epidemic

My friends and I always buy cheap snacks from a local convenient store, two blocks away from our high school, Bronx Science. It’s a pretty local thing; not some fancy 7-Eleven-type gig. The store is lined with cheap snacks, most of the brands not heard of anywhere else. And probably for good reason too. One of the more notorious snacks, our personal favorite, is the Iced Honey Bun, manufactured by Cloverhill Bakery Snacks, Co., and composed of a whopping 610 calories (97% DV sat. fats, 55% DV total fat, 22% DV carbs, etc.)- it sells for a dollar.

This cheap and disastrous alternative to a well-rounded diet is easily avoidable for most people. Yet the snack is still cheaper than a medium bag of Lays ($1.25) or even a medium bag of semi-healthy Wheat Thins ($1.75). Such is the basis for the Bronx obesity epidemic. Bronx high school students, caught between the standard $1.50 charge for a skimpy school lunch and the cheaper more tempting treats, often choose the latter. According to a recent New York Times article linking the South Bronx obesity epidemic, ironically, to poor food security in the area, “A 2008 study by the city government showed that 9 of the Bronx’s 12 community districts had too few supermarkets, forcing huge swaths of the borough to rely largely on unhealthful, but cheap, food.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/nyregion/14hunger.html?_r=2)

So in fact, this is not just an issue confronting the Bronx’s teenage populace, but in fact, a systemic problem plaguing the entire community. The correlation between poor food security and rising obesity rates has been delineated by Raj Patel as an inevitable burden placed upon the powerless through a food system hyped up on ‘individual choice’. Overall, our food system looks like it runs in a vicious cycle: the impulses of well endowed consumers bias market growth in the direction towards cheaper processed food, which become the only affordable choice for those with less. The trapped underclass in turn, feed this growth, eventually driving up the prices of less demanded, but healthier food choices like fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat. But in fact, there is still time for moral restitution. What is a few extra bucks spent each week on healthier foods for the average middle class consumer, in comparison to a lifetime of obesity for the financially oppressed? This growing systemic ill can be easily overcome the minute we take up our consumer responsibilities.

The Obesity-Hunger Paradox, by Sam Dolnik- NYTimes, March 12, 2010

www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/nyregion/14hunger.html?_r=2 


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Define "All Natural"

After our class discussion today about the various issues involving GM foods I began to wonder what even is considered natural anymore. I found this article on NPR about the Ben and Jerry Ice Cream company and thought it might be an interesting article since it discusses just that. What is considered natural anymore, or like the article implies, does natural now mean "with minimal processing."

Ben and Jerry's was asked to take their "all natural" off of their logo containers on some of their ice cream because it contained some "unnatural" ingredients. One of these ingredients was corn syrup which seems to me actually has become a natural ingredient because it happens to be one of the staples of our diet. Although this may not be on purpose, it certainly raises the question what is considered natural anymore?

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/09/27/130158014/ben-jerry-s-takes-all-natural-claims-off-ice-cream-labels

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pseudovariety


While flipping through kottke.org I came across this blog post.


I’d always known that Pepsi and Coca-Cola have had far-reaching empires, but I never thought that they, along with Dr. Pepper (which I always thought was owned by Pepsi, for some reason) would produce 89% of the soft drinks out there in the American market. That's some crazy CR3.

A zoomed-in version of the diagram can be found here , so you can actually read all of the companies’ names. I found myself roaming around this for hours, seeking familiar brands and finding that they are, in fact, tied back to Coca-Cola in some way or another.

Add in the fact that while not completely under Coca-Cola’s (or Pepsi’s or Dr. Pepper’s) control, most other soft drink companies are in competing markets. These three mega-companies produce and distribute drinks of all varieties – no lemonade, tea, or energy drink manufacturer can get away from “the big three”, and have to match their prices to the larger corporations’.

The diagram presented in this post represents pseudovariety. We have so many choices as to what flavor of softdrink we should get, but all these varieties are really concealing a lack of any real choice as to who we give our money to.

Agribusiness concentration

Analysts of the food system use a figure called CR4, which stands for the concentration ratio of the top four companies in a particular sector.  For example, more than 83% of the market in beef packing is controlled by the top four beef packers, which as of 2007 are Tyson, Cargill, Swift & Co., and National Beef Packing Co.  So we can say that in beef packing, the CR4=83%.

Phil Howard, a sociology professor at Michigan State University, made this graphic to represent the level of concentration in a number of different sectors of the agri-food system.


Notice that concentration in these sectors is increasing.  Why do you think this is?  Are you surprised at this level of concentration?

Notice that the colors represent particular companies. What do you think it means that some companies are in the top four of multiple sectors?  How do you think that affects farmers?  How do you think it affects you?


Check out Phil Howard's website for more awesome infographics about food and agriculture.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Not Your Average Joe's

The following items in my pantry have traveled hundreds of miles (I’m talking specifically since I’ve purchased them) to be perched on my shelf, awaiting the moment when I get a craving: Oreos, wheat thin crackers, dark chocolate, and olive oil (which I normally don’t crave, but do use in other yummy dishes). Why such a long journey you may ask? Because they come from Trader Joe’s, and not a-one of those stores can be found in the Capital Region. This absence needs to be fixed. I know I may sound like I drank the Trader Joe’s kool-aid (or rather, their fruit juice NOT from concentrate) but I honestly am a big proponent of the chain.

The basic reason TJ’s needs to join us here in Troy (or Albany, I’m flexible) is because the store is FOR EVERYONE.

If you consider yourself more earthy-crunchy than the average consumer who indulges in Pop Tarts and microwave pizza at a whim, you can find a plethora of organic options at your finger tips which will satisfy both your conscience and your cravings. And, if I may insert my humble opinion, you can no longer claim that the ‘healthy food’ version doesn’t taste as good as the ‘junk food’ version in regular stores. I can personally testify that TJ’s Oreo cookies, which do not have trans fats (or partially hydrogenated oils) in them, taste just as good if not BETTER than those from Nabisco.

If you consider yourself to be on a strict college student budget – insert sad violin music here- or perhaps you’re on a fixed income as an elderly person, or even if you’re just a regular Joe (pun intended) who simply don’t feel like paying SKY HIGH prices for better quality food (no offense, Whole Foods), then Trader Joe’s is right up your alley. Those Oreos I told you about: $2.49/box at TJ’s, $3.29/package at Price Chopper.

If you want to ENJOY your grocery shopping experience, walk into a Trader Joes, you’ll find that those employees with the tragically unfortunate Hawaiian shirts are some of the nicest, most personable and helpful grocery store people you’ll meet. It’s similar to shopping at a farmer’s market, where complete strangers take the time to talk with you as you shop or check-out. (Note: Trader Joes is not a farmer’s market, and their products should never be advertised as such. I am merely noting the social similarities of the venues, and the pleasant atmosphere they both have.)

If you want to be a part of the IN-CROWD, then go shopping at Trader Joe’s. It’s no doubt, the chain is a fad, but THAT my friends is one of the strengths of the brand. Trader Joe’s image makes it COOL to buy brown rice, or parmesan cheese by the wedge, organic olive oil, or those AMAZING Oreos! This trend which propels consumers to buy- to desire- better food is what we NEED. Because sooner or later, corporations will start paying attention to the purchasing decisions we consumers make, and my guess is they’ll want a bite of the profit. (From what I understand, the profit is pretty sizeable: see the following article for more information about Trader Joe’s business.)

In conclusion, I hope you’ll consider bringing your reusable*ahem* shopping bags to a Trader Joe’s next time you’re near one. And if you happen to hear rumors about TJ’s opening up near RPI, please PLEASE let me know.

-Leslie Vorce

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Labeling and GE salmon

A frequent topic in our class discussions deals with consumer knowledge of the food industry. This NYTimes article in particular deals with the facet of labeling regarding genetically engineer foods. Genetically engineered salmon is on the cusp of entering our food markets but right now it’s caught in a triangle between multiple major consumer groups, the FDA, and the representatives of the food and biotechnology industry responsible for the salmon. If it were to enter supermarkets, it would be the first genetically engineered animal to be offered to the American food supply, and whether the American public should know is the struggle at hand. Labeling could make it or break it, and the main argument for those producing the salmon is that “a ‘genetically engineered’ label would be akin to a skull and crossbones, killing sales.” 

I think this particular case should be treated as a landmark; we’ve come so far in biotechnology’s entanglement in our food and are also so cornered by the power of big food corporations that we have gotten here and can do almost nothing about it. Conclusive testing and effects of consuming take much more time than the big company is will to put in - their product is hot and by comparison to regular raised fish will reap in a huge profit. Labeling might be the last defense, but in the grand scheme of the supermarket, so much information has been tucked away and mislabeled that it almost seems as though one more addition would hardly make the difference. This brings me to my last point: the majority of the American consumers might not care that this huge and inexpensive cut of salmon is only partly-animal, mostly science experiment. I didn’t know about genetically engineered salmon but personally, I’m horrified that they might be selling this in my local supermarket without letting me know that these animals weren’t engaged in their normal, evolutionary life paths from the very beginning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

sugar beat ban

sugar beat ban

I found this article very interesting because there are different viewpoints from different political agencies (mainly the courts and the USDA) based on what those agencies goals are.

What i think is most surprising and unusual is that unlike most crops and people, this sugar beat is guilty until proven innocent. this is the type of practice that is upheld in European governments for pesticides, herbicides, and similar new technologies that can effect human life. This type of "justice" protects the rights and the health of the consumer at the cost to corporations. I agree with this style of treating new entities to be introduced into the biota, but i am pleasantly surprised that there is this small victory over powerful agribusinesses by the courts ruling. As we had seen in our readings large companies like Monsanto (the producers of the GMO beat) had the power to up root many family farms and influence industrialization on farming techniques.

Unfortunately the USDA is trying to temporarily allow its cultivation under controlled conditions which "might" be an acceptable compromise, but it is still risky especially considering that the farmers have to be very wary of those blotters which could spread the genetic information of these beats to native species or other plants where farmers can be sued for patten violations. Even worse, these beats could give their herbicide resistance to weeds to create supper weeds. To top the list of risks is the unknown nutritional value and health risks of consuming GMO beats. This risk will not be fully known until years of health studies, making the consumer the guinea pig. All of these risks of GMO beats are placed on the consumers and farmers, not Monsanto.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fast Growing Atlantic Salmon

I found this article on NPR's website. It is about genetically engineered fast growing salmon and how because they can be grown twice as fast will make for a more sustainable fish product in the future. It also discusses various environmental and food safety questions as well and some consumer perspective.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129939819

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On September 13, 2010 there was an article in the Chicago Tribune, Healthy lunch is in the bag; Parents, children and manufacturers rethink their choices for school meals. The article focuses on large manufacturers such as Kraft, General Mills, Campbell’s Soup Co., and ConAgra Foods switching to healthier lunch options for kids. Their products now have reduced calories, reduced sodium, more fruit and vegetables, and clearer packaging. Due to their changes Kraft has seen a 10% increase in their Lunchable sales.

This brings back my memories of grade school, when I ate Lunchables almost every lunch period. However, one day I opened up my favorite box of bologna, cheese and crackers, bit in and experienced the nastiest taste in my life. I do not know why this happened, my taste buds might have changed or it could have been the case of bad packaging. Either way, I never touched Lunchables ever again. Kraft ‘s reasoning for their large increase in sales is that kids want healthier foods. To me this seems like a bunch of phony bologna. My early childhood memories are of people telling us young students about the perils of candy. Yet, candy taste good and we kept eating it. It was even given to us as a reward and for holidays.

When I was in elementary school our major topic of health was smoking. Students were always trying to stop their parents from smoking. They would come into class, and tell stories of their confrontations with their parents, such as, hiding cigarette packs, and having sit downs. The ironic thing is, many years later, some of my past classmates have indulged in smoking. It seems to me that humans like to do things deleterious to their health. Some think it comes with the right to the pursuit of happiness. I believe Kraft’s sales are most likely do to better advertisement, than more health conscious children. More health conscious children would go to the grocery store and beg for fruits and vegetables. Instead they are just buying the new Lunchables options available to them. To close, I side with the nutritionist who believes healthier school meals are a step in the right direct, but they do not equal the benefits of eating fresh healthy non-packaged foods.


Reference:

Emily Bryson York. Healthy lunch is in the bag; Parents, children and manufacturers rethink their choices for school meals. Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Sep 13, 2010. pg. 4 http://proquest.umi.com.libproxy.rpi.edu/pqdweb?did=2136299911&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=8470&RQT=309&VName=PQD