Archive for February, 2010

How a Foodie Got Duped and Seduced By Mass-Market Produced Fast Food

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I’ll be honest. I love the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s really tasty—I ain’t gonna front, as the kids say (do the kids still say that? Crap, when did I turn 32?) But, probably like many of you, I haven’t eaten there in many years. I just don’t trust them to source their chickens responsibly, sustainably, or humanely. I’ve seen Food, Inc. Those poultry factory farms will break your heart.

Self-described foodie Deirdre Heekin had to wrestle with her own conscience recently when a friend pulled the old “it’s a family recipe psych I got it at KFC” gag on her. She writes about the difficulty of trying to source fast-food chicken (or anything else, for that matter) in this article for AlterNet:

On a snowy, yet moon-driven New Year’s Eve, we drove south along two streams to our friends’ house for a late buffet supper and holiday celebration. The house was warm with a fire roaring in the grate, guests mingling casually between several rooms, and glass after glass of champagne to ring in the new decade. A few of the guests had gotten together to provide the dinner for all of us. There was a cave-aged Gruyere fondue, pate, deviled eggs and baked ham. There was a green salad, beets. There was fried chicken. There were fluffer-nutters, little elegant tea sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. This was a down-home buffet, a cozy and rather self-satisfied scene.

All the dishes were delicious, but it was the fried chicken that had everyone buzzing. “This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had!” could be heard through the halls and bouncing off the corners of rooms. And it was true. It was the best fried chicken any of us had ever had. Spicy with plenty of black pepper and salt, maybe a dash of white pepper, it was juicy and crisp at the same time without being heavy. I grew up in a part of the country where fried chicken is served as part of the local cuisine. This was better than the chicken at the Hornet’s Nest, or Horsketters Tavern, or the Darmstadt Inn. It had umami, that elusive element that somehow makes flavor three-dimensional.

Our culinary hostess smiled, a bit wickedly and deliciously I might add. “It’s an old Kentucky recipe,” she said. Earnest questions and exclamations followed. “Are you from Kentucky?” ”Is your grandmother from Kentucky?” “This is delicious!” “You outdid yourself!” “Where did you learn to do this?”

“Oh, it’s just a little old thing I picked up,” she said. “It’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, Original Recipe.”

Sometimes it’s worth doing something for the shock value, to wake people up, to get them to think and respond. This revelation had a good-natured shock value among all the guests. While some were truly dumbfounded, others, myself included, laughed, and said, “I can’t wait to get my next bucket!”

But this clever party trick has caused some personal angst and questioning. I’m a restaurateur with a fierce devotion to local provisioning. We even grow a goodly amount of our own produce. I’m a sommelier of sorts with a fairly proficient nose and palate. How could I be duped, and then seduced by mass-market produced fast food? It’s enough to lose sleep over. Could it be that KFC is a fast-food anomaly and sources responsible, even sustainably? Could the food revolution really be infiltrating our fast-food nation?

Read the whole article here.


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WATCH: Animal Antibiotic Overuse Leading to Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

There’s no question that animal antibiotics are being overused in factory farms, leading to drug-resistant bacteria that go on to attack humans. Antibiotics are administered to animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to make them bigger and fatter faster and to keep diseases from spreading like wildfire in their cramped, often unsanitary conditions. It’s not about keeping the animals healthy: it’s about preserving large-scale livestock farmers’ bottom line.

CBS News had this report:

Watch Now

(CBS) “It’s scary, I mean, you just can’t describe it really,” said Bill Reeves.

Two years ago, 46-year-old Bill Reeves, who worked at a poultry processing plant in Batesville, Arkansas, developed a lump under his right eye.

“It went from about the size of a mosquito bite to about the size of a grapefruit,” he said.

CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports doctors tried several drugs that usually work on this potentially deadly infection: methicillin resistant staph or MRSA – before one saved his life.


“You go from a just regular day to knowing you may die in a couple of hours,” Reeves said.

He wasn’t the only worker from this farming community to get sick. Joyce Long worked at the hatchery, handling eggs and chicks. She got MRSA at least a dozen times, and had to try several drugs as well.

“It was real painful. Shots don’t help, because it’s so infected, it don’t help much,” she said.

Within weeks, 37 people at the hatchery got sick. They’ve filed personal injury claims against the company, Pilgrims Pride, which has no comment.

This is not an isolated incident and chickens aren’t the only concern. A University of Iowa study last year, found a new strain of MRSA — in nearly three-quarters of hogs (70 percent), and nearly two-thirds of the workers (64 percent) — on several farms in Iowa and Western Illinois. All of them use antibiotics, routinely. On antibiotic-free farms no MRSA was found.

Health officials are concerned if workers who handle animals are getting sick – what about the rest of us? Drug resistant infections have sky-rocketed over the past two decades, killing an estimated 70,000 Americans last year alone. It’s an emerging health crisis that scientists say is caused not only by the overuse of antibiotics in humans, but in livestock as well. Antibiotics fed to healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease.

“My fear is that one of these days we are going to have an organism that’s resistant to everything that we know, and we’ll be left powerless,” said Thomas Cummins, Batesville’s chief medical officer.

Read the whole article here.


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LISTEN: Raw Milk Revolution Author David Gumpert on The Power Hour

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Author/journalist David E. Gumpert (The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights) appeared on The Power Hour with Joyce Riley last month to discuss the raw milk debate—raw milk: health food or health hazard? Is it a food safety issue, or a citizens’ rights issue? Have the FDA’s enforcement tactics been too heavy-handed? Are small farmers being unfairly targeted? And what does it all mean for you?

Here’s a partial transcript:

David Gumpert: I’m a writer, I’m a professional journalist. I have spent many years writing about small business and entrepreneurship. I’ve written a number of books about how to start your own business, and how to run a business, how to raise money for a business. I’ve been a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, I’ve been an editor with the Harvard Business Review. So I’ve had a writing career, I guess you could say, a journalistic career, and in terms of what got me to write the book—

What got me to write the book was some of the things you’ve just talked about earlier, in regard to the, some of the things that have been happening to small farmers. I saw things like undercover investigations of small farmers, I saw sting operations, I saw questionable lab testing. I saw a number of things going on being directed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I saw this happening in late 2005, early 2006, and I said, you know, there’s something wrong here.

I should say that at that time I didn’t even know that people still drank unpasteurized milk. That part was a revelation to me. The more I learned, the more I investigated, the more convinced I became that these farmers were being done, dealt an injustice, and, uh, in many cases. And I also learned that, I met many people who told me about their experiences, having improved their health by drinking raw milk. Now, having said that, I should say there aren’t a real lot of studies to that effect, but as far as I’m concerned, people are having certain experiences, you have to respect that. And I respect those experiences, and I respect their right to have access to consume raw milk.

Watch Part 1 now:

Watch all four parts here.



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“Commencement”: An Excerpt from DIY U

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz. It has been adapted for the Web.

I have visited the university of the future.

Its classroom is a van bumping over dirt roads in Baja California, Mexico. The curriculum includes technology, economic and social development, anthropology, sociology, pedagogical techniques, and leadership and teamwork skills. Noah, a nineteen-year-old Princeton sophomore, is on his laptop in the front seat doing some last-minute debugging of an interactive storytelling software program—giving a new meaning to “mobile development,” he joked—while Ricardo, a master’s student at Stanford, is translating the program’s directions into Spanish.

We spend the next two days meeting with indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec children at migrant farm workers’ camps with haphazard access to doctors and schools. I watch kids as young as six pick up palmtop devices and tiny netbook computers made in China and programmed in India and Argentina, and within a few minutes, helping each other, with almost no directions, they’re playing games that teach math skills, and writing and illustrating their own original stories.

Paul Kim, the chief technology officer of Stanford University’s School of Education, has user-tested this “Pocket School” idea in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and India over the past three years. His passion is to connect people around the world, from all backgrounds and circumstances, and empower them to teach themselves using appropriate technology that is designed and redesigned by an informal network of students and volunteers to be responsive to their needs. “Why does education need to be so structured? What are we so afraid of?” he asks, his penetrating questions always softened with a warm smile. “The more you expect from a kid, the smarter they’re going to get.”

Over the course of a few days, I witness him applying this approach not only to the children in the campos but to the students in the van. Noah, a self-taught programmer who plans to major in politics, is learning on an as-needed basis, with immediate feedback from his users (the children) and collaborating with students from other institutions. His “personal learning network” includes the world at large—when he has a question about a finer point of Flash or ActionScript 3, he simply Googles the key words, he says, “to see how someone else solved it before me.” The BA he earns at Princeton will be valuable, but equally important to the course of his life will be the experiences he takes with him, not to mention the portfolio of socially engaged educational software programs and games he is creating.

Everyone explores, virtually and actually. Everyone contributes something unique. Everyone learns. This is the essence of the DIY U idea. It takes us back to the basics—the universitas (guild) and the collegium (community). People everywhere will have a greater ability to create their own learning communities and experiences within and outside institutions. This is happening now and will inevitably happen even more in the future. But how transformative will it be? Can the growth of these technologies and practices truly address the major challenges of cost, quality, and access? And if so, which of them are most valuable and most worth celebrating, supporting, and expanding?

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. The promise of free or marginal-cost open-source content, techno-hybridization, unbundling of educational functions, and learner-centered educational experiences and paths is too powerful to ignore. These changes are inevitable. They are happening now. Innovative private colleges like Southern New Hampshire and for-profits like Grand Canyon, upstarts like BYU–Idaho and Western Governor’s University, and community colleges like Foothill-De Anza represent the future.
  2. However, these changes will not automatically become pervasive. Many existing institutions, especially those with the greatest reserves of wealth and reputation, will manage to remain outwardly, physically the same for decades, and to charge ever-higher tuition, even as enrollment shifts more and more toward the for-profits and community colleges and other places that adopt these changes.
  3. In order to short-circuit the cost spiral, and provide access to appropriate education and training for people of all backgrounds, there is much hard work to be done in the way schools are funded and accreditation and transfer policies are set. College leaders need to have the will to change, as Chancellor Kirwan did at the University of Maryland, recognizing the central importance of efficiencies and changing the relationship between universities and their funders. Political leaders need to legislate change, as Senator Dick Durbin is by calling for open textbooks, and Bob Shireman by proposing to link funding for student loans to a college’s proportion of Pell-eligible students. Above all, learners and their families need to recognize that alternatives to the status quo exist and demand change.
  4. The one thing that can change dramatically and relatively swiftly is the public perception of where the true value and quality of higher education lies. It’s no longer about the automatic four-year degree for all. Institutions can’t rely any more on history, reputation, exclusivity, and cost; we now have the ability to peer inside the classroom as professors are lecturing and see students’ assignments published to the world. So we have both the ability and the obligation to look at demonstrated results.

Both learners and providers need to get comfortable with identifying meaningful objectives—and meeting them. For individuals, the true value of education has to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. It can’t be just about gaming the system, gaining the imprimatur of some exclusive external organization. The point of those one year, two years, four years, or ten years after high school is to help you figure out what you want to do, and to give you the ideas, skills, and connections you need both to do it, and to prove that you can do it. Period. For institutions, likewise, being allergic to talk of productivity and efficiency won’t do anymore. Parents and families are going to vote with their dollars, and better options are only a click away.


The Reformation didn’t destroy the Catholic Church, and the DIY educational revolution won’t eradicate verdant hillside colonial colleges, nor strip-mall trade schools. DIY U examples will multiply, though. Most likely, in bits and pieces, fits and starts, traditional universities and colleges will be influenced by them to be more open and democratic, to better serve their communities and students. Along the way, we’ll encounter rough spots, growing pains, unintended and unforeseen consequences—but the alternative is to be satisfied with mediocrity, and insufficient supplies of it at that.

Certainly, when only one-fifth of the relevant population worldwide is enrolled in existing higher-education institutions, there is a whole lot of greenfield space to cultivate variations. “We have what I call a law of thirds in this country,” Peter Smith, who has spent a distinguished career in higher education and now works for the forprofit Kaplan University, told me.

About one-third don’t graduate high school in ten years. The second third—actually more like 40 percent of the total—get a little college. And the third third gets an associate’s degree or more. This has been pretty flat for the past thirty years. When you juxtapose that against the workforce needs of the country, we’re several million down now and we’ll be 7 to 8 million down within a few years. And in this global economy, we’ve got—let’s take China as an obvious example. As soon as they become as productive as we are they will swamp the economy with qualified workers. We have to do better than “sort of ” educating one-third plus a few to an associates’ degree level. We don’t need incrementalism— we need new models.

Brian Lamb, an educational technologist at the University of British Columbia, sketches out for me one potential vision: “For universities, here’s the nightmare scenario. Imagine Google enters a partnership with the two or three top educational publishers, builds on the existing open-educational resources already released, uses the reach of Google to coordinate discussion and peer-based networks and develops a series of tests that they also certify. What then?”

Judy Baker at Foothill-De Anza both has an idea of what a new model will look like, and is in a position to help it happen.

The way I see it, higher education, ten, twenty years from now is going to look very different. It won’t be the brick and mortar and the semester and a course in this and a course in that. It’s going to be more outcomes based and skill based, project based. You don’t have to take these sixty courses or whatever it is to be a journalist. Someone will identify your gaps and then you address the gaps, in whatever way is possible. And that may mean taking an online course from New Zealand, being in a discussion forum with people in Canada, an internship in Mexico with Habitat for Humanity. You just need to get the knowledge and skills whatever way you can and then test out or present a portfolio. And when you add it all up, a few years later, you actually are ready to be a good journalist.

The science of evolution teaches us that new dominant species emerge when environments shift, and that small changes can have greatly amplified effects over time. Even more fascinating than predicting which of these higher-education models might ascend within ten or twenty years, and which are the dinosaurs, is the potential of DIY U practices to release great stores of what Paul Kim calls the world’s last renewable resource: human creativity.

The whole project of formal education has been based on the idea of society transmitting its ideas, values, and technologies from one generation to the next, and from dominant civilizations and cultures to “backward” or “primitive” ones. In the modern era we added the task of making and incorporating new discoveries into the curriculum year after year. As our society got more complex, we developed bigger and bigger institutions to teach more and more people more and more things.

Well, now the world is changing too fast, and the need is growing too much, for institutions to keep up. Scientists say we have less than ten years to reinvent how we get energy, how we get around, and how we make things if we don’t want our civilization to collapse from the effects of global warming. And to do that, we as a species also have to find better ways of communicating, making decisions, and understanding and weighing each others’ needs.

No one person knows how to do this; it requires a new synthesis of the wisdom of the ancients and cutting-edge discoveries. Our best hope is to get better at empowering individuals to find answers for themselves. In other words, forget about giving the guy a fish, or teaching him how to fish, either. Teach him how to teach himself, and he’ll always be able to acquire the skills he needs to find food, skills you haven’t even thought of yet for things you didn’t know you could eat. Fishing itself, it happens, is a great example of this. Today, 90 percent of fish species are overexploited. Fish farming is people’s fastest-growing source of food and will probably remain so through 2025, says James S. Diana of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The world needs people who can figure out new ways to repair the oceans and to find or grow renewable sources of food.

The lucky thing is that we humans are hard-wired to learn and discover. Jaak Panskepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, studies emotional systems in mammals. In the sniffing and outstretched neck of a rat combing a maze for food, he sees a universal mammalian urge, as basic as rage or fear. Writes Emily Yoffe in Slate:

It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, “Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems.” . . . For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

This ongoing search—the heartbeat of DIY U—is crucial to our evolution and our survival.


Climate Change Deniers, Step Up and Answer Some Questions

Monday, February 8th, 2010

By Keith Farnish, author of Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis

Here’s a situation you might be familiar with: you are doing something at work that you are particularly good at, having gained those skills through study, experience, and learning from your mistakes. Along comes a person who you know of by reputation to be a bit of a seen-it-all, done-it-all, bought the t-shirt type; they always insist they can do everyone’s job better than the specialist can. Most of the time the specialists politely decline his “help”, after which he insists that he could have still done it better and brays whenever the specialist makes a mistake.

This person rudely interrupts you while you are in the middle of a particularly difficult piece of work and, true to form, tells you to let him have a go – he is bound to make a better fist of it than you can. Instead of politely declining you tell him to go ahead – take on the whole job – but on one condition: if they make a mistake then they have to take the blame; all of it.

What do you think they would do?

What would Viscount Monckton of Brenchley do? What about Timothy Ball, Ian Plimer or Fred Singer? How would Patrick Michaels or Stephen McIntyre deal with this situation?

If you recognise some of these names, then you will also know that they are currently some of the most vocal, yet also most ill-informed people involved in whatever climate debate remains, and they all revel in their playing the climate change denial circuit. So come on guys, put yourselves on the line and tell us what you will do as the climate keeps changing?

Hang on a minute! What do I mean the climate is still changing? It’s been a cold, cold winter where I live, and 2009 wasn’t the global heatwave some meteorological organisations were warning against – surely the warming has stopped. Now, this is where it gets complicated, because among the list of people above, and quite a few more besides, there is a mixture of those who say the climate is not changing, those that agree that the climate is changing but humanity is not responsible, and those that agree the climate is changing and humanity is responsible for a very small bit of it. Ignoring that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows civilized human activity to be responsible for at least 90% of the observed change, you have to wonder what motivates the deniers across such a range of opinions: is it money, fame, notoriety, ideology or perhaps just a bloody-minded desire to hang onto traditional views? Actually, it’s all of these and more; but again, this isn’t what really matters as far as this article is concerned.

What will they do?

Let’s accept that the climate is changing: there is even more certainty of this than the link with human activity, through the observations of a vast network of atmospheric physicists, meteorologists, botanists, marine chemists, naturalists and even people like you and me who notice the small but subtle and progressive changes taking place in our gardens, parks and countryside. This certainty is, to all intents and purposes, unequivocal – you would have to be an extremely deluded person to deny it is happening at all. Quite how much it will change and what effects it will have are still open to debate, which is why climate science lies at a critical point in guiding future policy and, more importantly, human behaviour in general. But it’s changing, and it’s fair to assume it will keep changing: the first decade of the twenty-first century was the warmest decade since empirical measurements began in the mid nineteenth century; 2009 was, surprisingly for many, the joint second warmest year in recorded history, and 2010 may be hotter than even 1998.

As the climate changes, then the natural biological and chemical processes that regulate all life on Earth will undergo changes, some of them will be damped by negative feedback, but a significant number – particularly those affected by rainfall, ground cover and ice – will be drawn into positive feedback loops, such as those I described in a recent article. These types of changes rarely settle down until a significant, new plateau has been reached: it might be no rainforest in the Amazon, no ice in the Arctic, or it might be a sixth great extinction of life. We honestly don’t know.

But the climate change deniers seem to have it sorted. They keep telling those that are prepared to listen that it’s not our fault, and we don’t have to do anything that might damage the economy, our consumer culture or their reputations. Keep denying and everything will be ok. Meanwhile, the climate is still changing, we remain in thrall of their comforting message and…

Sorry to be so bleak, but you can deny as much as you like that something is your fault; you can walk into the road, safe in the knowledge that when the car hits you it will not have been your fault; you can be carried to your grave, replete with the inscription, “It wasn’t your fault!”

But it still happened.

So come on Christopher, Tim, Ian, Fred, Phil and Steve; you think you know best. What are you going to do!

Keith Farnish is the author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis”, which is published by Chelsea Green in the USA, and Green Books in the UK. He is also the founder of The Earth Blog and The Unsuitablog. He lives in Essex, UK, with his wife, two children and a much-loved garden.

Italian Critics Trash McDonald’s Nationalist Food Bid

Monday, February 8th, 2010

In an attempt to improve their image in Italy and foster better relations with that country’s government—and also, perhaps, placate the vocal Slow Food movement—fast-food restauarant chain McDonald’s is adding an item to their menu there: a burger with a nationalist twist.

The imaginatively-named </sarcasm> McItaly gives natives and tourists exactly what I assume corporate executives think they want in home-grown Italian cuisine: a meal sporting the colors of the Italian flag—red, white, and green. Not surprisingly, the multinational corporation is getting some push-back from Italy’s Slow Food movement—most notably from Carlo Petrini, author of the upcoming Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities.

From Reuters:

ROME (Reuters) – Fast food chain McDonald’s has teamed up with the Italian government to cook up a hamburger with a national twist, but the unusual initiative is giving some food lovers cultural indigestion.

The “McItaly,” hawked with the slogan “McDonald’s speaks Italian,” is made entirely of Italian DOP products (Protected Designation of Origin) and the meal’s ingredients make up the colours of the Italian flag — red, white and green.

“We’re out to defend our identity and the ‘Made in Italy’ trademark,” Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said in a statement, adding that the venture was designed to “promote the taste of Italy,” particularly to young people.

“We want to give an imprint of Italian flavours to our youngsters,” he said.

But the flag-flying burger, which comes with a choice of artichoke spread and Asiago cheese or onion, lettuce and smoked pancetta, has come under heavy criticism by food critics both in Italy and abroad.

Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement that promotes quality food, genuine ingredients and local produce, accused the government of undermining Italian cuisine.

“Globalising a taste does not promote it but rather standardises and homogenises it,” he said in an open letter in an Italian newspaper.

“This isn’t about supporting Italian farmers and products, it’s about making money by working with a multinational that actively takes power away from local producers,” Petrini, who in 1985 failed to stop McDonald’s from opening its first restaurant in Italy, told Reuters.

But Zaia, the agriculture minister, defended McItaly as a healthy option which would use 1,000 tonnes of Italian agricultural products a month, giving a “huge boost to farmers.”

Read the whole article here.

Why Small Organic Farming Is Indeed Radical (and Beautiful)

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

At the 2010 Eco Farm Conference, Chelsea Green’s own Makenna Goodman got to witness firsthand one of the most well-attended and inspiring talks: organic farmer Eliot Coleman on the subversive power of the small farmer.

Coleman adapted his address for AlterNet. Here’s a snippet:

An observer today cannot help noticing the continuation of a trend that started at the beginning of the industrial revolution, a trend away from autonomy and independence for human beings and towards manipulation, consolidation, and control by large corporate entities.  The early destruction of small farms in the 18th century drove the dispossessed peasants into the cities and a bleak existence in the “dark, satanic mills” as William Blake so aptly termed them.  The propaganda in favor of becoming larger, more industrial and more centralized is so subtly pervasive and so effective that the majority of people have little idea of what has been regimented into their lives.  Massive industrial conglomerates that look upon people as anonymous passive serfs, obedient cogs in a mechanistic world, now control far too many aspects of human existence.  Circuses and bread, bread and circuses are presented as diversions for the masses today as they were for the masses of Rome.  But it is worth noting that according to the historians, it was the Roman consolidation of land into ever-larger farms that ended up destroying Roman agriculture, and resulted in the lack of bread that led to Rome’s eventual demise.

So I’d like to suggest a foe of Rome’s power as the perfect figurehead for the small family farmer holding out indomitably against the economic forces trying to subjugate the whole planet.  Our hero’s name is ASTERIX, and he is an immensely popular French comic book character.  In France there is a natural connection between the persona of Asterix and the fight against all things corporate.

Asterix and his buddy Obelix live with other members of their self-reliant community in a fictional Gallic village in northwest Brittany.  Asterix and Obelix hunt wild boar together and Obelix makes “menhirs”, those prehistoric stone monuments that are scattered all over Brittany.  The year is 50 BC.  Rome has conquered all of Gaul.  Well, not quite all because this one little village of indomitable individuals is still resisting – still holding out against all the soldiers that an ever more frustrated Caesar sends against them in a vain attempt to complete his conquest.  The village cannot be defeated because of the super-human strength the villagers get from a magic herbal potion produced by the resident village druid.

Read the whole article here.


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Hugely Successful Signature Gathering Means Legalized Pot Measure Almost Certainly Headed for Ballot

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

A signature drive by the group Tax Cannabis 2010 was easily able to gather 700,000 signatures—far more than necessary—to ensure the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010″ will show up on the ballot in California this November. The law would make it legal for private citizens 21 years and older to own up to an ounce of pot and to grow a limited amount for personal use. It would, of course, still be illegal under federal statutes.

From the San Francisco Chronicle at

Proponents of a state initiative to legalize marijuana said Thursday they have turned in about 700,000 signatures to place the measure on the November ballot, significantly more than required.

If enough signatures are verified and the measure approved by voters, it would become legal for people 21 and older to grow and possess up to an ounce of marijuana under state law. Local jurisdictions could tax and regulate it. Marijuana would continue to be banned outright by federal law.

“This is a historic first step toward ending the cannabis prohibition,” said Richard Lee, owner of Oaksterdam University in Oakland and a major backer of the initiative. Lee said he spent about $1 million on the signature gathering effort, and said proponents are planning to raise and spend $10 million for the campaign.

Supporters turned in signatures to county clerks in all 58 counties in the state and, depending on the number of signatures verified through a random sample, the measure could qualify for the ballot in about seven weeks. The initiative needs 433,971 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Multiple initiatives to legalize marijuana are circulating in the state, but this is the first submitted for a signature count. A proposal in the Legislature to legalize marijuana passed through a critical committee, but the legislative clock ran out on the bill and it cannot advance further for now.

Leading the campaign effort are Lee and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray. Gray, who describes himself as conservative, said he has never tried marijuana and only would if a doctor specifically recommended it for him.

“It is really clear that what we’re doing with marijuana in our state and country simply is not working,” said Gray, who added he is confident the measure would pass in November. An April Field Poll found that 56 percent of state voters supported the idea.

Read the whole article here.


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WATCH: On Salatin’s Livestock Farm, Grass Is King

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Ask Joel Salatin what he does for a living and chances are he’ll tell you he’s a grass farmer. If that brings to mind images of burritos stuffed with sauteed Kentucky blue, or biofuel cars that run on lawn clippings, you’ve probably never seen Food, Inc. or read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Called “the high priest of the pasture” by the New York Times, Salatin has developed a system of pasture rotation that produces nutrient-rich grass and maximizes the composting of animal waste. Each species on the farm is dependent on another. That makes for happy cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits.

This video report from Discovery News has more.

So you just pull [the chicken tractor] and the chickens walk, and they have a new section of pasture. They have new bugs, grasshoppers, grass, clover, and all the things that the pasture wants. And of course the beauty is they moved away from their manure. Their manure then fertilizes the pasture right on the grass, makes the grass grow better for the cows, and the birds get a fresh salad bar.

Watch it now.

Read the whole article here.


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Michael Pollan’s Food Heroes

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

In a recent interview with’s Joanne Camas, slow food advocate Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) revealed seven of his “food heroes,” farmers and writers who epitomize the slow/local/simple/real food movement. And guess what three out of seven of those people had in common. Go on. (Hint: it rhymes with Spelsea Spleen.)

Aw, heck, I’ll just tell you: Joel Salatin, Eliot Coleman, and Joan Gussow are all authors whose books are either published or distributed by Chelsea Green. We’re immensely proud to be a part of the growing movement away from the fast, high-fructose corn syrupy, pre-packaged, gas station fare that seems to have become a staple of the American diet and towards a more responsible, natural diet. And while simple isn’t necessarily easy, getting your meals from the farmer’s market or your local natural food co-op, or even growing it yourself, is really a win-win-win: better for you, better for the planet, and just plain tastier.

From Today on

Epicurious: If “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is an eater’s manifesto, did you write “Food Rules” as a guide to putting the manifesto into practice?

Michael Pollan: That’s the basic idea. After reading “In Defense of Food,” several doctors told me, “I’ve got patients I’d like to give the background to, just a list of rules.” People were sending me their own rules, and I set up a Web site where they could post them … There was that repository of wisdom about food out there that we didn’t have. I’ve compiled information from doctors, anthropologists, folklorists, and more.

Epi: Do you have a favorite Food Rule?

MP: It changes, but probably, “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” And this one’s weird because it’s so blunt: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”

Epi: The Food Rules are very simple though not always easy to act on. Which rule is most difficult for you to follow?

MP: I don’t have much trouble with them, but if I had to name one, probably Number 46, “Stop eating before you’re full.” That’s a challenge for Americans, who’ve been trained to eat till they’re full and finish what’s on their plate.

Epi: A related rule, “Leave something on your plate,” surprised me. Isn’t waste against the principles of ethical eating? Wouldn’t it be better to simply shrink portions to eat less?

MP: It’s a form of self-discipline, instead of your plate dictating when you’re full. I’m talking about a bite or two, not leaving a big pile of food.

Epi: Do you think there’s hope for improving the Western diet, or are we too far gone?

MP: I think there’s hope as we’re starting to recognize the toll this diet takes: One third of the population is now obese; there are soaring rates of Type 2 diabetes. Eating this way is going to bankrupt the country. The same kind of feedback on smoking changed our habits, and the smoking rate has gone down significantly; we’re on course for that kind of change in food.

Read the whole article here.


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