What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, May 1 2018

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com. (The common theme in this digest: farming. I need your help giving attention to a broader range of articles!)

Firstly, a study that confirms that vegetables are less nutritious than they were in previous generations:

The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows.

Urban farming has so many different benefits that I think at times we are comparing projects with very different goals, still, it seems important to grow a stronger body of evidence to trace out the contexts and stories that help us understand when and how urban agriculture has benefits. A review looking at the environmental benefits of urban agriculture, found that:

Overall, the review shows that urban agriculture is extremely diverse…It is, therefore, not possible to draw a simple conclusion regarding the environmental benefits of urban agriculture.

When it comes to financial benefit, a Citylab report found that those running urban farms in the U.S. were not making a living:

She and her colleagues found that about two-thirds had a social mission that went beyond food production and profit. She also found that, regardless of their mission, roughly two-thirds of urban farmers say they’re failing to make a living, reporting sales below $10,000 per year.

More affordable urban land is also highly contested, with developers and urban farmers both trying to gain access to ‘vacant’ land:

“People who live near [vacant lots] should have a say in how they’re developed, and most of the time people want to grow gardens, parks and farms,” says Mara Kravitz, director of 596 Acres, an organization that maps vacant lots in New York City and advocates for community stewardship of that land.

While urban farming is not the answer to all the challenges of the food system, it’s an interesting and important thread. In Flanders, the (urban) farm to fork movement is taking off:

Tierens’ father, a retired farmer, was sceptical when he outlined his plans; a small holding, no fertilisers and a few old-fashioned, second-hand tools: “My father told me, ‘Koen what are you doing? You studied at university, you have a PhD! Are you going to be an ancient Belgian farmer doing how they did it in the middle ages?’”

 

The Italian town of Mals, facing pressure to begin to produce commercial apples, voted to ban pesticide use in their municipality:

It had the backing of the Governor of the South Tyrol Province to which Mals belonged. Two experimental orchards had already been planted; their purpose was to test which apples and other fruits were best suited to the area. The citizens of Mals realized they needed to act fast if they wanted to choose their own future.

In response, over 60 residents formed the Promotorenkomitees für eine pestizidfreie Gemeinde Mals (Advocacy Committee for a Pesticide-Free Mals). Their initiative asked the mayor of Mals to pass legislation that would (1) protect the health and diversity of people and the economy; (2) promote organic and biodynamic agriculture; and (3) prohibit toxic chemical pesticides within municipal boundaries.

This is tangible evidence of the momentum to move towards agroecological farming, as this article argues for:

“We have to leave behind the idea of “coexistence” [between industrial and agroecological farming],” Peterson said. “The dominant paradigm must change; there is no possible combination of paradigms here. You can’t scale up agroecology if policies continue to support agribusiness.”

Here’s a really interesting interview with a veteran farmer reflecting on his years of farming, which he’s recently turned into a book:

The industrial farming of today is almost unrecognizable compared to the artisanal scale farming that I knew in the 1950s. The changes could be summarized as mechanization, commodification, and globalization. And it’s not done yet. An engineer friend tells me that the future of agriculture is drones and robots. Dismal prospect!

Motherjones describes the rather scary rates of phthalate exposures in people who ate out:

We found that people who eat out more at full-service restaurants, cafeterias, and fast-food restaurants have nearly 35 percent higher phthalate exposures than people who bought their food from a grocery store, and are presumably eating at home.

 

Finally departing from the urban agriculture theme, here’s a really fascinating read about mangos from Munchies– reminding you that your mangoes probably don’t taste very good. Which led me to another beautiful Munchies story, reminiscing about food in Sydney, Australia.

MSG is not as bad as we once thought– and this article tells the fascinating story of how MSG was demonized:

Just because there isn’t a scientific association between a given food and negative health effects doesn’t mean the pain or discomfort experienced by diners is imaginary. People who suffer after eating MSG may be experiencing the nocebo effect, the lesser-known and poorly understood cousin of the placebo effect. The phenomenon is what happens when suggesting that something can cause a negative reaction induces precisely those physical symptoms.

Lastly, the Korean peninsula is suddenly hopeful for peace, and food at the Korean summit was an important part of striking the right tone, as the Guardian shares. Though apparently a map featured on the dessert was controversial, not to Korean delegates, but to the Japanese.

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