Some call for “climate smart” agriculture, which sounds a little bit like more and improved. There could be a number of improvements: fertilizers and pesticides, but applied with greater efficiency; cell phones for farmers in poor countries to get up to date weather advice; genetically-modified seeds that are more drought-resistant.
To be sure, the conventional cocktail of fertilizer and herbicides will help some farmers increase food production in the short term – if farmers can afford these inputs.
For many poor farmers, though, such methods would only increase their costs and debt, making it harder for them to compete and leaving them in a more vulnerable situation.
Such was the story of the last Green Revolution from the 1930s to 1960s. The environmental costs of these technical improvements are well known – increased water pollution, reduced biodiversity, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. So not really a “smart” solution at all.
Others call for “agroecological” methods – farming practices that mimic nature by adding organic material to soil, planting trees on cropped fields and using natural enemies to attack insect pests. Largely underfunded, this is nonetheless a growing scientific field.
Studies have also shown that agroecological methods can build resilience in the face of climate change. Hurricane Mitch, one of the five most powerful hurricanes of the century in the Caribbean, caused over 10,000 deaths and over $6.7 billion in damage in 1998. But it came attached with a small blessing: a chance to see whether farm techniques mattered for recovery. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz found that farmers using agroecological methods before the hurricane had more vegetation, lower soil erosion and less economic loss.
What was more, Mr. Thompson’s machine proved to be a mirror of midcentury American history. For bound up in the story of its introduction is the story of Jewish assimilation, gastronomic homogenization, the decline of trade unionism, the rise of franchise retailing and the perennial tension between tradition and innovation.
If Mr. Thompson’s brainchild, in the eyes of grateful consumers, democratized the bagel, there remain mavens who charge that his machine, along with those of later inventors, denatured the soul of a cherished cultural artifact. To these stalwarts, centered in the bagel redoubts of New York and Montreal, even invective-rich Yiddish lacks words critical enough to describe a machine-made bagel, though “shande” — disgrace — perhaps comes closest.
“Is what happened to the bagel a good thing or a bad thing?” Mr. Goodman said on Monday. “To me, it’s kind of a tragic story. What happened is that the bagel lost, both literally and metaphorically, its Jewish flavor.”
"We have a serious disconnect between agriculture and health policy in our country," said Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition researcher and author at New York University. "The USDA does not support 'specialty crops' [like vegetables] to any appreciable extent and the Department of Commerce' figures show that the relative price of fruits and vegetables has gone up much faster than that of fast food or sodas." So while Americans are told to eat fruits and vegetables for their health, the government has meanwhile mostly just subsidized other crops that end up in cheaper, less healthy processed food. "Price has a lot to do with this," she adds.
Although this week's USDA report focuses on the limited variety of vegetables available to American shoppers, other agency data suggest that the country simply doesn't offer enough vegetables, period. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated that the U.S. vegetable supply would need to increase by 70 percent — almost entirely in dark leafy greens, orange vegetables and legumes — in order for Americans to meet recommended daily allowances at the time.
Youssef insists there’s much more to his work than helping big companies make money and providing exotic experiences for the well-heeled. “People say, ‘What the hell does it matter if a red strawberry mousse is rated as being 10-12% sweeter if you put it on a white plate than on a black plate? Who cares outside of some pretentious chef, some pretentious diners?’” he says. But he’s adamant that employing lessons from psychology could allow producers to create healthier foods. Altering the colour of foods and packaging, for example, could enable a reduction in sugar content. “Now we are starting to tackle obesity, diabetes and lots of other health-related issues that come from sugar. So where is the pretension in that?” says Youssef.
It’s not such a wild idea. In 2012, Cadbury unveiled its new Dairy Milk bar, its previous hard edges replaced by a curvier configuration. Complaints followed, most of them concerned not with the way it looked but how it tasted. Consumers were convinced it was sweeter, yet Cadbury’s maintained the recipe hadn’t been tinkered with. Spence believes it’s a case in point of shape influencing flavour, and he thinks Cadbury’s missed an opportunity. “[You’d] think there would have been a health opportunity to reduce the amount of sugar – change the shape and keep the perception in the mind of the consumer exactly the same,” he says.
A first for the US - the USDA and EPA set a voluntary food waste reduction goal by 2030. Financial, energy and environmental benefits.
the press release:
Release No. 0257.15 Contact: Office of Communications (202)720-4623
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USDA and EPA Join with Private Sector, Charitable Organizations to Set Nation's First Food Waste Reduction Goals NEW YORK, Sept. 16, 2015 – Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the United States' first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. As part of the effort, the federal government will lead a new partnership with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation's natural resources. The announcement occurs just one week before world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to address sustainable development practices, including sustainable production and consumption. As the global population continues to grow, so does the need for food waste reduction.
"The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year. Our new reduction goal demonstrates America's leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste."
Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers and has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change. Food loss and waste is single largest component of disposed U.S. municipal solid waste, and accounts for a significant portion of U.S. methane emissions. Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the United States. Furthermore, experts have projected that reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year, helping to sharply reduce incidences of food insecurity for millions.
"Let's feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations" said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Today's announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the U.S., and we're proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills."
Ongoing federal initiatives are already building momentum for long-term success. In 2013, USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, creating a platform for leaders and organizations across the food chain to share best practices on ways to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste. By the end of 2014, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge had over 4,000 active participants, well surpassing its initial goal of reaching 1,000 participants by 2020.
In addition to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA has unveiled several food loss reduction initiatives over the past few years, including an app to help consumers safely store food and understand food date labels, new guidance to manufacturers on donating misbranded or sub-spec foods, and research on innovative technologies to make reducing food loss and waste cost effective. USDA will build on these successes with additional initiatives targeting food loss and waste reduction throughout its programs and policies.
In addition, today, USDA is launching a new consumer education campaign through its Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion with information on food loss and waste facts and reduction tips. Moreover, a new section on ChooseMyPlate.gov will educate consumers about reducing food waste to help stretch household budgets.
USDA and EPA will also continue to encourage the private sector—food service companies, institutions, restaurants, grocery stores, and more—to set their own aggressive goals for reducing food loss and waste in the months ahead. Organizations such as the Consumer Goods Forum, which recently approved a new resolution to halve food waste within the operations of its 400 retailer and manufacturers members by 2025, are helping to lead the way.
The United States is leading global efforts to address the threat of climate change. The first-ever national food waste goal is just one part of the Obama Administration's commitment to protecting our environment for future generations. Since President Obama took office in 2009, the United States has increased solar generation by more than ten-fold, tripled electricity production from wind power, and reduced greenhouse gas pollution in the United States to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years. By setting achievable environmental goals, this Administration is making strides to help boost the economy and protect the health of American families for the long-term.
Making meat is inefficient .. beef particularly so. A paper published in Environmental Research Letters looks at various methods of beef production and their impact on the climate.
Climate impact of beef: an analysis considering multiple time scales and production methods without use of global warming potentials
R T Pierrehumbert1 and G Eshel2
1 Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
2 Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, USA
An analysis of the climate impact of various forms of beef production is carried out, with a particular eye to the comparison between systems relying primarily on grasses grown in pasture (‘grass-fed’ or ‘pastured’ beef) and systems involving substantial use of manufactured feed requiring significant external inputs in the form of synthetic fertilizer and mechanized agriculture (‘feedlot’ beef). The climate impact is evaluated without employing metrics such as CO2e or global warming potentials. The analysis evaluates the impact at all time scales out to 1000 years. It is concluded that certain forms of pastured beef production have substantially lower climate impact than feedlot systems. However, pastured systems that require significant synthetic fertilization, inputs from supplemental feed, or deforestation to create pasture, have substantially greater climate impact at all time scales than the feedlot and dairy-associated systems analyzed. Even the best pastured system analyzed has enough climate impact to justify efforts to limit future growth of beef production, which in any event would be necessary if climate and other ecological concerns were met by a transition to primarily pasture-based systems. Alternate mitigation options are discussed, but barring unforseen technological break- throughs worldwide consumption at current North American per capita rates appears incompatible with a 2 °C warming target.
A surprise for some may be that American feedlot beef has a lower impact than American pastured beef and that American pastured beef is worse than Brazilian pastured beef with rainforest destruction (just on greenhouse gas emissions - there are many other negatives that come with rainforest destruction). The Swedes have a much lower impact system, but it still isn't sustainable and would be impractical at scale with large scale beef production.