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Tag Archives: Food

Where Will Everyone Go?

Early in 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.

Even as hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled north toward the United States in recent years, in Jorge’s region — a state called Alta Verapaz, where precipitous mountains covered in coffee plantations and dense, dry forest give way to broader gentle valleys — the residents have largely stayed. Now, though, under a relentless confluence of drought, flood, bankruptcy and starvation, they, too, have begun to leave. Almost everyone here experiences some degree of uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Half the children are chronically hungry, and many are short for their age, with weak bones and bloated bellies. Their families are all facing the same excruciating decision that confronted Jorge.

The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 60% in some parts of the country, and the amount of water replenishing streams and keeping soil moist will drop by as much as 83%. Researchers project that by 2070, yields of some staple crops in the state where Jorge lives will decline by nearly a third.

https://features.propublica.org/climate-migration/model-how-climate-refugees-move-across-continents/

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2020 in Reportages

 

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Met de smokkel van pesticiden verdienen criminelen fortuinen

De rechter in Rotterdam is helder als in oktober vorig jaar een Engelsman met een naam die een Oost-Europese afkomst doet vermoeden zich moet verantwoorden. Hij wordt verdacht van de grootschalige invoer van illegale pesticiden vanuit China naar de Rotterdamse haven. ‘Het gebruik ervan kan risico’s en gevaren voor mens, dier en milieu inhouden (…). De verdachte heeft met zijn handelen het bovenstaande gevaar in het leven geroepen door niet-toegelaten gewasbeschermingsmiddelen op de markt te brengen. Dit rekent de rechtbank de verdachte zwaar aan. Dit zijn dan ook ernstige strafbare feiten, waarop zal worden gereageerd met het opleggen van zowel een geldboete als een gevangenisstraf.’

De zaak begint te rollen in 2014 als een oplettende inspecteur van de douane in het meldingssysteem ziet dat er enkele dagen later een verdachte zending zal binnenkomen. Het gaat om het gewasbeschermingsmiddel fungiciden, een schimmelbestrijder, uit China en die combinatie is op voorhand verdacht. Uit vervolgonderzoek en controles blijkt het zelfs om drie containers te gaan met in totaal 7200 jerrycans van vijf liter. De verdachte die het in China heeft ingekocht had het willen doorsturen naar bedrijven in Polen.

https://www.groene.nl/artikel/simpele-misdaad-weinig-risico

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2020 in Reportages

 

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“Only when the tide goes out,” Warren Buffett observed, “do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” For our society, the Covid-19 pandemic represents an ebb tide of historic proportions, one that is laying bare vulnerabilities and inequities that in normal times have gone undiscovered. Nowhere is this more evident than in the American food system. A series of shocks has exposed weak links in our food chain that threaten to leave grocery shelves as patchy and unpredictable as those in the former Soviet bloc. The very system that made possible the bounty of the American supermarket—its vaunted efficiency and ability to “pile it high and sell it cheap”—suddenly seems questionable, if not misguided. But the problems the novel coronavirus has revealed are not limited to the way we produce and distribute food. They also show up on our plates, since the diet on offer at the end of the industrial food chain is linked to precisely the types of chronic disease that render us more vulnerable to Covid-19.

The juxtaposition of images in the news of farmers destroying crops and dumping milk with empty supermarket shelves or hungry Americans lining up for hours at food banks tells a story of economic efficiency gone mad. Today the US actually has two separate food chains, each supplying roughly half of the market. The retail food chain links one set of farmers to grocery stores, and a second chain links a different set of farmers to institutional purchasers of food, such as restaurants, schools, and corporate offices. With the shutting down of much of the economy, as Americans stay home, this second food chain has essentially collapsed. But because of the way the industry has developed over the past several decades, it’s virtually impossible to reroute food normally sold in bulk to institutions to the retail outlets now clamoring for it. There’s still plenty of food coming from American farms, but no easy way to get it where it’s needed.

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/06/11/covid-19-sickness-food-supply/

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2020 in North America, Reportages

 

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The Conscience of a Human Being

Sometimes, I wonder whether average human beings possess a conscience—an ability to independently judge and be motivated by moral truths—or if they instead possess only the instinctive disposition to conform to social conventions and the demands of the powerful. Most seemingly ethical behavior could be explained by such conformity—for instance, it could be that the reason why most refrain from robbing, raping, and killing other people is that those behaviors are contrary to the conventions of our society and the commands of our government. This would not require most human beings to possess a genuine conscience. The test of whether one has a conscience would have to be about whether one recognizes and is moved by moral considerations when those considerations fail to align with the social conventions, the law, or the commands of the powerful. The majority of human beings, by my read, fail that test about as badly as one could fail it.

For example, we know from the famous obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram that close to two thirds of people can be persuaded to electrocute an innocent person if ordered to do so by a man in a white coat.[1] We know from history that large numbers of people can be induced to participate in a genocide when so commanded by their government. In our own society today, most citizens are untroubled by behavior on the part of the powerful that would outrage us if performed by those without political power: If an ordinary person forcibly extracts money from his neighbors to fund his own charity organization, that person is a thief and an extortionist; if the government does the same, it is merely pursuing normal tax policy. If an ordinary person kills large numbers of people in order to bring about some political change, that person is a vicious terrorist; if our society’s dominant group does the same, this is a standard military operation.[2]

https://www.cato-unbound.org/2020/02/10/michael-huemer/conscience-human-being

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Reportages

 

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Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?

Where did the virus causing the current pandemic come from? How did it get to a food market in Wuhan, China, from where it is thought to have spilled over into humans? The answers to these questions are gradually being pieced together, and the story they tell makes for uncomfortable reading.

Let’s start at the beginning. As of 17 March, we know that the Sars-CoV-2 virus (a member of the coronavirus family that causes the respiratory illness Covid-19) is the product of natural evolution. A study of its genetic sequence, conducted by infectious disease expert Kristian G Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and colleagues, rules out the possibility that it could have been manufactured in a lab or otherwise engineered. Puff go the conspiracy theories.

The next step is a little less certain, but it seems likely that the original animal reservoir for the virus was bats. Andersen’s team showed – like the Chinese before them –that the sequence of Sars-CoV-2 is similar to other coronaviruses that infect bats.

Since other bat coronaviruses have transited to humans via an intermediate animal host, it seems likely that this one did too. That animal was probably one that some Chinese people like to eat, and that is therefore sold in “wet” markets (those that sell fresh meat, fish, seafood and other produce). This animal may have been the scaly mammal called a pangolin. That can’t be conclusively proved, but several groups have found sequence similarities between Sars-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses that infect pangolins.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/is-factory-farming-to-blame-for-coronavirus

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2020 in Reportages

 

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In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In late February, farmers in central and northern Kenya began to breathe sighs of relief. The billions of desert locusts that had been decimating their crops — eating as much food a day as Kenya’s entire population — were beginning to die off, just in time for a new planting season. Many of the swarms were killed by pesticides sprayed from the air; others died of old age.

But far from being over, East Africa’s locust nightmare may just be beginning.
Before they died, the swarms of locusts bred and laid eggs across wide swathes of Kenya and southern Ethiopia (and probably in parts of Somalia too, although information from here is patchy). Most of these eggs have now hatched, and the adolescent locusts are gathering strength. These adolescents are known as hoppers: they are bright pink, to deter predators, and cannot fly yet. Instead, they move across arid areas on the ground, eating voraciously to fuel their growth.

https://mg.co.za/article/2020-04-01-in-east-africa-the-locusts-are-coming-back-for-more/

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in Africa

 

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The Year of the Locust

The Empty Quarter does not get a lot of water. This is one of the harshest deserts in the world, centred in the triangle of land that connects Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and even today it is a place where humans tread with extreme caution. “It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease,” wrote Wilfred Thesiger, the explorer, in Arabian Sands.

Thesiger made his name by becoming one of the first Europeans to traverse the Empty Quarter. He was in the Arabian Peninsula on official business: it was his job to survey and map the population of desert locusts. As inhospitable as the conditions in the Empty Quarter may be, it is here that some bands of locusts have made their home.

The desert locust in its solitary phase.
For the most part, these creatures live in small groups that are easy for the casual observer to miss. Their brown, chitinous exoskeletons (pictured left) are hard to spot against the backdrop of the desert. At this stage in their life cycle the insects mostly keep to themselves. It is a lonely existence, dedicated only to survival.

https://mg.co.za/article/2020-02-21-the-year-of-the-locust-2/

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Reportages

 

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How ultra-processed food took over your shopping basket

Nearly three decades ago, when I was an overweight teenager, I sometimes ate six pieces of sliced white toast in a row, each one slathered in butter or jam. I remember the spongy texture of the bread as I took it from its plastic bag. No matter how much of this supermarket toast I ate, I hardly felt sated. It was like eating without really eating. Other days, I would buy a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes or a tube of Pringles: sour cream and onion flavour stackable snack chips, which were an exciting novelty at the time, having only arrived in the UK in 1991. Although the carton was big enough to feed a crowd, I could demolish most of it by myself in a sitting. Each chip, with its salty and powdery sour cream coating, sent me back for another one. I loved the way the chips – curved like roof tiles – would dissolve slightly on my tongue.

fter one of these binges – because that is what they were – I would speak to myself with self-loathing. “What is wrong with you?” I would say to the tear-stained face in the mirror. I blamed myself for my lack of self-control. But now, all these years later, having mostly lost my taste for sliced bread, sugary cereals and snack chips, I feel I was asking myself the wrong question. It shouldn’t have been “What is wrong with you?” but “What is wrong with this food?”

Back in the 90s, there was no word to cover all the items I used to binge on. Some of the things I over-ate – crisps or chocolate or fast-food burgers – could be classified as junk food, but others, such as bread and cereal, were more like household staples. These various foods seemed to have nothing in common except for the fact that I found them very easy to eat a lot of, especially when sad. As I ate my Pringles and my white bread, I felt like a failure for not being able to stop. I had no idea that there would one day be a technical explanation for why I found them so hard to resist. The word is “ultra-processed” and it refers to foods that tend to be low in essential nutrients, high in sugar, oil and salt and liable to be overconsumed.

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/feb/13/how-ultra-processed-food-took-over-your-shopping-basket-brazil-carlos-monteiro

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Reportages

 

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Lab-grown food is about to destroy farming – and save the planet

It sounds like a miracle, but no great technological leaps were required. In a commercial lab on the outskirts of Helsinki, I watched scientists turn water into food. Through a porthole in a metal tank, I could see a yellow froth churning. It’s a primordial soup of bacteria, taken from the soil and multiplied in the laboratory, using hydrogen extracted from water as its energy source. When the froth was siphoned through a tangle of pipes and squirted on to heated rollers, it turned into a rich yellow flour.

This flour is not yet licensed for sale. But the scientists, working for a company called Solar Foods, were allowed to give me some while filming our documentary Apocalypse Cow. I asked them to make me a pancake: I would be the first person on Earth, beyond the lab staff, to eat such a thing. They set up a frying pan in the lab, mixed the flour with oat milk, and I took my small step for man. It tasted … just like a pancake.

But pancakes are not the intended product. Such flours are likely soon to become the feedstock for almost everything. In their raw state, they can replace the fillers now used in thousands of food products. When the bacteria are modified they will create the specific proteins needed for lab-grown meat, milk and eggs. Other tweaks will produce lauric acid – goodbye palm oil – and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – hello lab-grown fish. The carbohydrates that remain when proteins and fats have been extracted could replace everything from pasta flour to potato crisps. The first commercial factory built by Solar Foods should be running next year.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/08/lab-grown-food-destroy-farming-save-planet

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2020 in Reportages

 

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Is fair trade finished?

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just
a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a
bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told
if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came
from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t
invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children
went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked
up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or
chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about
the people who farmed them.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jul/23/fairtrade-ethical-certification-supermarkets-sainsburys

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2019 in Reportages

 

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