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Archive for July, 2009

…On Picking Fruit.

Posted by Steve on July 19, 2009

Yesterday I picked fruit. There’s a number of pick-your-own-fruit farms in town, and while most of them only have strawberries (for which the season is over) there’s one that has blueberries and blackberries. So, I was able to go there enjoy a fun activity outside for a few hours, participate in the local economy, and best of all, get over seven pounds of farm-fresh berries for a price that would’ve only gotten me two or three pounds of not-as-fresh berries at the store. I’ve been eating handfuls of blackberries since then, and I’ve got some pancake mix, so I’ll probably mix up some of that tonight, toss the fruit in, put it in a bowl, and have black & blueberry pancakes for breakfast this week.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like getting local produce at stands or farmer’s markets or the like, and a you-pick farm is definitely in that category. It’s often cheaper, it’s often higher quality (at least in terms of flavor and freshness, although it may not be as large due to not having been treated with polyploidy-inducing fertilizers), it’s often fresher… and I tend to think it’s safer. See, by now we’re used to food recalls: alfalfa sprouts and peanut butter, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, spinach – just a few I can name off the top of my head in the past few years. Now, one of the proposed solutions is to split the Food and Drug Administration into a Food Safety Administration and Drug Safety Administration, bringing some of USDA’s food-safety programs into the new Food Safety Administration. That’s contained in the proposed H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, currently sitting in committee. Incidentally, as of 1:10 PM Eastern on July 18, 2009, there were 36 bills in the U.S. Congress containing the phrase “food safety”, such as the “Keeping America’s Food Safe Act” (H.R. 999 IH), the “SAFER Meat, Poultry, and Food Act of 2009” (H.R. 815, and by the way… aren’t Meat and Poultry both types of Food?), and of course the “Safe FEAST Act of 2009” (H.R. 1332). Apparently safe food is something lots of people in Congress want to sponsor bills about.

Now, I found out about this after someone sent me something on Facebook urging opposition to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 on account of something about it “banning organic food”. Well, 1) my understanding is that it really doesn’t ban organic food, 2) organic food is priced higher (usually – sometimes there’s weird exceptions) than regular food and the farm lobby would never let something ban growing and selling higher-priced food (some of the price is related to farm expenses, but some of it’s a premium – which means higher pure profit), and 3) partially as a consequence of 2, organic food may well be superior environmentally, nutritionally, and flavorly, but it really doesn’t do anything to address food distribution and availability. So I can’t say I’m spurred to action by a perceived threat to organic farming.

I do think, though, that the approach being taken in the bill, which seems to be establishment of a centralized food safety monitoring agency to enforce uniform standards (including to imported food) of safe food growing and processing, isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. And part of it’s on account of that “centralized” issue.

Don’t get me wrong – large scale farming and processing makes large-scale food distribution possible. I’m in Virginia; I can get pineapple year round – because it’s grown in Hawaii in the summer and in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. But, there’s a catch. Processed tomatoes (tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.) are available cheaply throughout the United States… partly because of an economy of scale due to 90% of them being grown in California. And that centralized growing and processing scheme means that widespread distribution of food-borne illness is possible. Hepatitis or E. coli O157:H7 infects a massive farm or processing plant that ships nationwide, and hooray, the disease has now been shipped nationwide. Whereas with local farming… if that farm I picked berries at yesterday had contaminated fruit, I’ll get sick, other locals will get sick, but nobody outside of the immediate area is at risk. And I wonder if dispersion of food production and processing might not be better for safety than centralization, even if it means less monitoring. Sure, it might mean more infections more often – but the infections would never be of epidemic scale.

Not sure, really – agriculture and food safety are hardly my areas of expertise, or really areas of interest. But it’s food for thought, I guess.


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…On Honduras.

Posted by Steve on July 16, 2009

A little late, but whatever. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the U.S. Government is saying that Manuel Zelaya is still the President of Honduras and that he was ousted in a coup. There’s a self-executing provision of the Honduran Constitution that says whoever’s President automatically ceases to be so if they do something, and there’s not any dispute that Zelaya did it. Honduran law doesn’t have a Posse Comitatus Act the way the U.S. does, so there was nothing illegal under Honduran law about the Honduran military enforcing a Honduran court order for Zelaya’s arrest. The only crime was the exile of a private citizen, and that 1) doesn’t really affect the fact that under the Honduran Constitution, Roberto Micheletti is the sole legal claimant to the Honduran Presidency and 2) has been compatible with democracy since ancient times.

And yet the U.S. government – and every other government in the world – supports an usurper, since apparently it’s more important to back the former incumbent than to actually enforce the Constitution that defines the very terms of the office you’re insisting he still has.

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