Attention Whole Foods Shoppers Summary

Sustainability versus World Hunger

  • Current preoccupation with food in the West
    • Help local farmers
    • Fight climate change
    • Prevent childhood obesity
  • But can eating sustainably really help others?
    • Focus has been drawn away from helping feed the world’s poor to this trend of sustainability
    • “Food may be today’s cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most.”


Too Much Focus on Food Prices

  • April 2008
    • Cost of rice for export had tripled in just 6 months
    • Wheat reached its highest price in 28 years
    • “World Food Crisis”
    • Robert Zoellick
      • Warned that high food prices would be, “particularly damaging in poor countries, where there is no margin for survival”
    • April 2010
      • Rice prices down by 40%
      • Wheat prices down by more than half
    • Yet the number of people chronically undernourished has grown!

Facts about Undernourished People

  • 62% live in either Africa or South Asia
  • Most are small farmers or rural landless laborers
  • Are shielded from global price fluctuations by their own governments
    • Also by poor roads and infrastructure
    • Cut off from many urban markets
  • Poverty is the primary source of hunger in Africa
    • Caused by low income productivity
  • Food insecure people in Africa
    • Those who consume less than 2,100 calories a day
    • Will increase 30% over the next decade

Real Solution vs. Our Misguided One

Real Solution

  • Improved roads
  • Modern seeds
  • Less expensive fertilizer
  • Electrical power
  • Better schools
  • Better clinics

Our Current Solution

  • Sustainable eating!
    • Advocacy against agricultural modernization
    • Against foreign aid
    • Idea of organic, local, and slow



Green Revolution A Failure?

  • In the present, many claim that the Green Revolution has done more harm than good
  • People claim that the Green Revolution:
    • Has brought nothing to India except “indebted and discontented farmers”
    • Has been a factor in the rise in world hunger


Setting The Record Straight: Asia

  • New seeds
    • Lifted small farmers out of desperate poverty
    • Ended the threat of periodic famine
  • India
    • Doubled wheat production
    • Was able to terminate all dependence on international food aid by 1975
    • Rural poverty fell from 60% to 27%
  • Small farmers took up new technology just as quickly as big farmers
    • Dramatic income gains and no increase in inequality or social friction
  • Good for both agriculture and social justice


Setting The Record Straight: Latin America

  • When powerful new farming technologies are introduced into deeply unjust rural social systems, the poor tend to lose out
  • Seeds
    • Increased income gaps
  • Peasants were pushed off land by absentee landlords to be replaced by commercial growers
    • Many rural poor became slum dwellers
  • YET
    • Prevalence of hunger has still declined more than 50% between 1980 and 2005


Setting the Record Straight: Africa

  • More like Asia than Latin America
    • Due to relatively equitable and secure distribution of land
  • “If Africa were to put greater resources into farm technology, irrigation, and rural roads, small farmers would benefit.”




Hang-ups with Industrial Food Systems

  • Focus on critiques of American and European food systems
    • But such concerns cannot be transferred or applied to the developing world

Health and Safety Issues

  • CDC has found that over the past several decades the U.S. food supply has become steadily safer
    • Industrial-scale technical improvements
  • Since 2000, E.coli contamination in beef has fallen 45%
  • Most hospitalizations and fatalities come from mishandling or improper preparation of food
    • Not from contamination
  • Example: Spinach Scare in 2006
  • Contamination still remains a major risk in the developing world
  • Africa
    • Open-air markets
    • Estimated 700,000 people die every year from food and water borne diseases
      • Compared to 5,000 in the U.S.
  • Food grown organically is NOT an answer
    • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
      • No nutritional advantage of organic foods over conventionally grown foods
  • Mayo Clinic
    • “No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food”.


Why Isn’t Eating Organic an Answer?

  • Doesn’t organic food have lower pesticide residues?
    • FDA states that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the US are so trivial that the safety gained from eating organic is insignificant
    • Exposure is less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity
  • Doesn’t organic food protect the environment?
    • Nitrogen fertilizers created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico
    • BUT, having all farmers go organic would cause even worse environmental problems


Problems with Total Organic Production

  • Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production
    • Would need a lot more composted animal manure
    • Would need a fivefold increase of the U.S. cattle population
    • Those animals would have to be raised organically
      • Most of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture
  • Organic crops have lower yields per hectare
    • Europe
      • Would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland
      • Equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark


Smarter Ways to Protect the Environment

  • Reduce synthetic fertilizer applications
    • Taxes
    • Regulations

Modern Farming is Sustainable!

  • Many of the damaging insecticides were banned and replaced by chemicals that could be applied in lower volume and were less persistent in the environment
    • Carson’s Silent Spring
  • Drop in soil erosion
    • “No-till” seed planting
  • Conservation of water through drip irrigation
    • Also leveling of fields with lasers
  • GPS equipment
    • Starting in the 1990s
    • Precise adjustments in chemical use
  • Infrared sensors
    • Can tell farmers how much more or less nitrogen might be needed
  • Development of technology to reduce wasteful nitrogen use
    • Insertion of fertilizers into the ground
  • Also known as PRECISION FARMING



  • In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a review of the “environmental performance of agriculture” in the world’s 30 most advanced industrial countries
  • Results
    • Between 1990 and 2004, food production continued to increase by 5% in volume
    • Adverse environmental impacts were reduced in every category
    • Land area taken up by farming decreased 4%
    • Soil erosion fell
    • Greenhouse emissions from farming declined 3%
    • Excessive fertilizer use fell 17%
    • Increased biodiversity




Africa’s Food Crisis

  • Population versus food production?
    • Not the cause
  • Current food production versus the potential of the land
    • African farmers still use almost no fertilizer
    • Only 4% of cropland has been improved with irrigation
    • Yields are low because lack of use of scientifically enhanced seeds


Why Does Africa’s Food Crisis Persist?

  • Diminished assistance from international donors
  • Food -aid over development assistance
    • Can cause long term-dependency


Easy Alternative

  • Foreign assistance for agricultural improvement!
    • Previous success
  • 1960s
    • Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the US
    • Made Asia’s original Green Revolution possible!
  • Assistance to India
    • U.S. Agency for International Development + World Bank
    • Helped finance fertilizer plants and better infrastructure
  • Africa
    • World Bank has documented average rates of return on investments in agricultural research in Africa of 35% a year



Reading Summary Week 7

Food Fighter

This was an article about the importance of class in the food debate. Tom Philpott, a columnist, is one of the only American journalists to confront the class issues in the US food system. He quit his job as a journalist and opened Maverick Farm, an educational nonprofit farm that promotes sustainable agriculture and family farming as a community resource. The article was an interview where he discussed the problems at hand. He spoke about the broken food system, and how the food industry is a massive business and is one of the biggest employers for people in the country. Food system employees are some of the lowest paid and are forced to eat the cheapest foods. Wages have not been adjusted for inflation, making it very difficult for these people to make ends meet. Also, the USDA encourages farmers to grow as much crops as possible to drive the price of food up. This promotes the use of pesticides and GMOs. He also spoke about economics and how economists don’t pay much attention to the food industry and vice versa. For economists, the food industry is not a concern and for the food industry, economics isn’t a concern. The price of organic and healthy food is extremely high and makes it difficult for most people to eat, while processed food is cheap and easily accessible. It is much easier for families of lower income to buy fast food than ingredients to make a healthy meal. However, Philpott points out that everyone has the personal choice of eating healthy and cheap. Healthy choices can be made more available to all by small projects that can serve as models for policies. Examples of these projects include Growing Power in Milwaukee, which promotes growing food in small places, the French Intensive  style of farming. By farming in small places in urban cities (such as rooftops, ect.) there would be more availability to healthier foods. There is great importance of having incentives for food policies, such that water and electricity have. Incentives for small projects such as urban agriculture would cause more people to start this type of farming. Discussing politics, he said that the ideas were good, but mot executed very well. For school lunches, Obama asked for $1 billion, which would only increase the average school lunches by $0.20. However, the $1 billion was cut in half. It is hard to make such a change with an increase of $0.10 a lunch. What needs to be done to solve these problems? Not simply a cut in farm subsidies, but to invest in infrastructure and create incentives for farmers.

Farm Subsidy

In theory, subsidies provided by the government are meant to help agricultural producers manage the variations in agricultural production and profitability from year to year. However, there are problems with the program. The subsidies tend to target 5 areas of crops; corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. The subsidies help mostly large and finally secure farms. So what happened to the small farmers?

  • Programs
    • Direct Payments
    • Counter-Cyclical
    • Payments Marketing Loans
    • Disaster Payments
    • Conservation Reserve Program

Farm Subsidy Facts

Farms in the United States received $7 billion in farm subsidies from 1995-2014. 62% of farms in the US did not collect any subsidy payments.


Texas ranked  1/50 in the US for farm subsidies, collecting $30.08 billion from 1995-2014. 81 percent of farms in Texas did not collect subsidy payments

Rhode Island

Rhode Island ranked 50/50, receiving only $19.4 million from 1995-2014. 92 percent of farms in Rhode Island did not collect subsidy payments.


Florida ranked: 28/50 collecting $3.01 billion from 1995-2014. 90 percent of farms in Florida did not collect subsidy payments

The Top Subsidity Programs:

  1. Corn
  2. Wheat
  3. Cotton



“Beating Obesity” by Marc Ambinder

This reading was kind of a rollercoaster for me. The author, Marc Ambinder, talks about the first hand struggles of being obese, as he had lived them. He talks about effective ways of dealing with obesity, about how people can prevent or work towards not being obese, and about several political things that have helped or made obesity rates worst. One thing that he said that I found to be true is that being obese comes at a high price. Unfortunately, obese people are more prone to be depressed, to attend less school or work, and over all spend 42% more on health care than healthy individuals. Often, when people think of solutions to obesity, they think of the “big two’s:” reduced food, and increased exercise. However, this fails to take into account physiological as well as societal forces that may influence an individuals weight.

Sedentary lifestyles, as well as an increase in fast food and portion sizes all have an increase in obesity. So does neurochemical addiction to certain foods, and a rise in stigma. Somethings that are often overlooked is that obesity tends to affect those of lower socioeconomic status. Not because they don’t exercise, or eat healthy. Often, it is because they lack supermarkets, or places where healthy food is sold. This, as we have mentioned in class, is referred to as a food dessert. They also have less access to healthcare such as preventative care that could stop a person from reaching obesity.

Marc Ambnider was a big proponent of bariatric surgery. He had it done, and successfully lost weight, and is until today at a healthy weight. As seen in his article, he is under the impression that this is a good solution. This is probably the only thing I disagree, from the viewpoint of someone that has had several health complications, I don’t believe it is necessary to reach these lengths. Of course, there are special cases, and I respect any one who chooses to take these measures, but I don’t necessarily believe it should be promoted as an easy solution. Another thing I agree is when he says that watching obese people has become a spectacle. This increases stigma, and is counterproductive to helping.

Finally, Marc addressed federal policies and regulatory approaches that could help regulate the food industry. So who do you think is more responsible for obesity? Individuals, or is it a combination of structural initiatives (access to gyms, parks, walking places), or lack there of, food giants, and political strategies?


In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

“This is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question                                                                of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.”

This is the first line of the book, and it basically tells what the next chapters will talk bout. Michael Pollan published In Defense of Food, after writing An Omnivore’s Dilemma. An Omnivore’s Dilemma focused on ecological and ethical dimensions of human’s eating choices, and it didn’t focus on human health. In this next book, he attempts to answer a question that a lot of his previous readers had asked: So, what should i eat? As starters, I think its weird that we have come to a point where people don’t recognize what is healthy and what they should eat. It has transformed to a point where we have minimal connection to our food, and food is a necessity rather than a commodity. Pollen states that for years, it had been culture, traditions, and parental figures that told us what to eat. Nowadays, it is nutritionists, scientists, and ultimately the government that is the most concerned with what we eat. (This being said, don’t you think its in their best interest to want to keep us healthy?)

The rise of highly processed food, known as the Western diet, has shaped not only “Western” cultures, but it has had a toll globally. However, with the increase in farmers markets, and more organic food available due to a rise in the organic movement, it is possible to leave the Western diet behind. This is, if we stop thinking of food as something bad, and start looking at the bigger picture. This, as Michael Pollan refers to, is called Nutritionism. Nutritionism, not to be confused with nutrition, is the paradigm that assumes  that scientifically identified nutrients in food determine the value of the individual food, rather than what the food is. This movement was effective because nutrients are somewhat abstract and invisible to the regular human, therefore we tend to listen to scientists or governments when they refer to something either as good or as bad. But no one ever says this orange is good. What they say instead is, the vitamin C in this orange is good. Or no one says this fish is good. They say the fatty omega 3’s in it are healthy. By this logic, people start misunderstanding the actual value of food, and even processed foods can be deemed healthier and natural foods, as what is being looked at are the ingredients.

I have always enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s books, articles, opinions, and collaborations. He was a part of Food Inc, which we watched a while back. I think his knowledge and point of view on food is very informative, and something everyone should get behind. I know the difference between good and bad calories. For example, although 100 calories of Doritos is not that much, it is still worst than 100 calories of strawberries. Caloric count, as well as nutrient composition, don’t always make up foods. However, I never thought about nutritionism, and everything that Pollan talked about. These terms, good vs bad, are what create phobias and promote eating disorders. For example, bad carbohydrates, bad polysaturated fats, bad sugars, all of these things create a war on food. I have also seen several nutritionists growing up, and have talked to many people about food. Yet, after reading this book, I truly have a different idea of what actually is healthy in foods.

Week 2 Reading Summaries

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World – There is new evidence that the banana may have actually been the fruit that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. If the Garden of Eden was in the Middle East, where it was believed to be, then the land is horrible for growing applies but great for growing bananas. Bananas are very difficult to breed for genetic modification and are hard to ship because they immediately start to ripen once they are cut down off of the plant on the plantation. After the Civil War, bananas were seen as a luxury in the United States. Lorenzo Baker was the 1st person to export bananas to the U.S.; he exported them from Jamaica on a whim to see if he could earn some extra money. In 1885, Baker and Andrew Preston partnered to create the world’s 1st commercial banana company. The company was Boston Fruit, now known as Chiquita. Joseph Vaccaro started Standard Fruit a few years later, known today as Dole. Central America has the perfect climate for growing bananas, but it did not have the available land or infrastructure in the 1800s. Henry Meiggs went to Chile & built a railroad; he made a deal with the government that if he built the railroad he could have the cleared land along the side to plant banana plantations. Meiggs and Preston teamed up and renamed the company United Fruit; Preston went on to create the world’s first refrigerated shipping system so the company could export bananas from Central America to the U.S. without them browning.  In the 1950s, Panama disease hit and wiped out nearly all of the Gros Michel banana plantations. The banana industry and scientists rushed to find a solution; a new Panam disease resistant banana took over the market – the Cavendish. In the 1990s, the Cavendish became susceptible to the Panama disease when the industry attempted to plant it in Malaysia. Because Malaysia was home to native bananas that evolved over time, diseases evolved over time as well. Today, Panama disease and other diseases remain a big problem. Mapping of the banana genome began in 2001 in an attempt to genetically modify it to resist all serious diseases. Another common approach is to spray chemicals on the plantations, but this can be harmful to the workers and the consumers; it can also cost owners an extra $500 per acre every time the chemicals are sprayed. Potential solutions to the banana crisis include: growing organic only, giving up eating bananas in places where they cannot be grown, and genetically modifying the banana to resist disease.


In Praise of Fast food by Rachel Laudan looks the history of our food culture. She talks about how food has changed dramatically in the last few centuries. Instead of men doing manual labor in the fields all day and women working in the kitchen preparing foods all day we now have more time to spend on other things thanks to processed food. The article also addresses culinary Luddism that is the idea that we should go back to the older more natural ways. In my mind it is not that realistic, but Luddites are right that we need to know how are foods are prepared and that we need to think about foods with a modern unbiased perspective.

Tangled Routes by Deborah Barndt is in interesting read that talks tomatoes and their shift from subsistence agriculture to industrialized and globalized food production. Mayans and Aztecs were first to domesticate tomatoes, but it wasn’t until the Mexico started to really export them in the 1880’s that they became popular. The article then focuses on the differences between the production in the United States using machines and lasers to pick and sort the tomatoes and Mexico who hand picks and sorts them. The next stage is the transport, trade, and distribution to Canada and the United States. With the average shelf life of a tomato being 4.7 days the transport process has to be quick. Mexico ships 700,000 tons of tomatoes annually to the United States and Canada. Then having a high demand for tomatoes seeds are now modified so they do not contract diseases and at times the tomatoes are sprayed with ethylene to speed up the ripening process. Ethylene is poisonous for people to inhale, so the tomatoes are locked in a room for 24 hours when sprayed. It is clear that most companies like McDonalds want nice industrialized beefsteak tomatoes that will slice nicely rather than the plump delicious hand picked tomatoes.