Stop Feeding the Beast and Start Feeding the People
Have you ever wondered how anyone makes any money on a $2 bag of nacho-cheese flavored corn chips or a .25¢ apple? Economists and policy wonks have been talking about how we privatize profits and socialize loss here in the U.S. for at least a decade. If your eyes glazed over when you read that, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to ignore how this big picture idea affects each and every one of us. What does it mean for Main Street America?
How we grow our nation’s food is the perfect snapshot. Organic activists and locavores have also been talking about the same concept for just as long, if not longer: The hidden costs of cheap, industrial food.
We have a system of predatory agriculture in which corporations (aka Big Ag) pursue private gain relentlessly regardless of the social consequences. To bring it closer to home, social consequences can be defined as anything from polluting our water, land and air to impacting the health of our families to making the business of farming economically unsustainable.
Costs such as environmental degradation, declining health and economic insecurity aren’t reflected in the price tag because they aren’t included in corporate budgets. This is one big reason why there are plenty of profits to be made in toxic agricultural chemicals, junk food and GMOs. But these costs are a burden on us all. Like every parent tries to teach their children: Actions have consequences.
All the garbage that allows Big Ag to make obscene profits is left to our communities to clean up. Take, for example, the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico dead zones. Although caused in part by the overuse of synthetic fertilizers and poorly-timed applications of raw manures and biosolids, the negative effects and the “bill” for clean-up go to the American public.
We are what we eat, and we are carrying the costs of corporate greed. In the private profit/social loss equation farmers lose, consumers lose and communities lose.
But life cycle or true cost accounting when it comes to our food system is a numbers nightmare. How do we weigh and measure things like erosion, chemical leaching and run-off, and loss of pollinators like the honeybee and other biodiversity? How do we make a solid connection between food production/consumption and the insidious health impacts of chronic, low-dose exposure to agricultural chemicals and our obesity epidemic?
In a global summit last December whose goal was to “investigate why our current economic system makes it more profitable to produce food in ways that damage the environment and human health, instead of rewarding methods of production that deliver benefits,” world leaders recognized that not all agricultural systems are created equal. Farming that not only sustains status quo, but creates a healthier environment is possible. “Some farming methods have public benefit,” wrote Dan Imhoff in his coverage of the summit.
Luckily, it doesn’t take a global summit or a panel of researchers to figure out what to do: We need to support the organic farmers who are creating a public benefit. It isn’t just about growing more, bigger, faster. It is about nourishing ourselves, our families, our communities and the farmers who choose to feed us rather than feeding the corporate beast.
Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.