Tag Archives: food movement

GMO Sugar Beets Lawsuit Can Impact Michigan Farmers

Frank Morton, a seed farmer in Oregon is spearheading a lawsuit charging that the USDA approved Roundup Ready sugar beets without assessing potential environmental impacts, like genetic contamination and herbicide resistance.

Read full Article on Market Place

Seattle Times Article

This fight is directed toward Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) sugar beets, and it can have a huge impact on Michigan’s sugar beet industry because most of the states sugar beet crop comes from GMO seed.

The problem is that plants like beets can spread their pollen in the wind. This means that a field of GMO sugar beets can combine with an organic or non-GMO field next to it and pass on the GMO traits. GMO sugar beets can also affect table beets and related crops like chard. Monsanto, who owns the patent on the GMO seeds, has sued farmers whose plants took on the GMO traits for patent infringement.

Morton contests, “If biotech traits show up in my seeds, then my seeds are worthless. If my traits show up in conventional or biotech seeds, it’s not a big deal to them, it does not destroy their value.”

Genetically engineered soy beans, and corn are also a concerns for organic farmers.

Zelig Golden, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, is moving the court to issue a permanent injunction to halt the sale and planting of GE sugar-beet seeds now and into the future, until the USDA does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike. This can take years to resolve.

The parties meet in court next month. In a similar case, a judge banned Roundup Ready alfalfa; Monsanto’s appealing that decision to the Supreme Court. If there’s a ban on sugar-beet planting nationwide, it’s doubtful there’s enough conventional seed in storage to lay in a crop next spring.

Thinking locally with food and living in Michigan, I was excited to have access to a ready supply of white beet sugar. This meant that I could still have my local cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately there was more to my local cake story. The GMO sugar beets was the elephant in the room I was willfully ignoring in order to justify my 5LB bag of Big Chief brand white sugar. I do not knowingly support and buy GMO foods, so my bag of local white sugar will have to go. I did a half hearted search for organic michigan sugar, but have yet to find any probably because it does not exist.

What is wrong with GMO foods? For one, the whole point of a GMO plant like sugar beets is to allow them to resist the effects of an herbicide. So you are buying food that is sprayed, and not organic. For two, the question of GMO food safety and environmental impact is still not out.

And if a GMO trait can spread to other plants like beets, who is to stay it will not spread to the same or other weeds that they are trying to prevent? We can be creating herbicide resistant super weeds making this whole study a complete waste of effort, and worse than before.

It is unfortunate that sugar beets farmers in Michigan may take a hit if planting comes to a halt because of the lawsuit. But why was a conclusive environmental impact study not done before farmers were allow to grow GMO sugar beets, and why was there no back up plan from the states agriculture extension services to stock pile seed in case these GMO plants were found unsafe? And what is the back up plan for corn and soy for that matter?

The fact that most sugar beets come from GMO seeds that have been modified to resist herbicides. This means that my bag of michigan sugar most likely comes from GMO seeds/plants. There is no way of knowing this for sure because there is currently no labeling laws for GMO produced foods. This is because the GMO industry fought against it, out of a rightful fear that consumers would avoid GMO labeled products. I, for one would like to know if the food that I am eating came from GMO ingredients.

The other end of this is that GMO sugar beets can potential pass traits on to the beets and chard in my home garden. If that happens will a company come after me or my fellow community gardeners with a patent infringement lawsuit? It seems naive to think that they can’t or won’t. Just because we home gardeners are not big farmers or may not live in a big agriculture economically dominated community does not mean that we are safe.

An Oasis in an Urban Food Desert

We have it lucky in Ann Arbor with access to fresh food. With in a few miles of my house there is Plum Market, Kroger, Meijer, Arbor Farms, the Peoples food Coop, Kerry Town Market, Fresh Season (which may be relocating), and in season the Ann Arbor Wednesday and Saturday Market Farmer’s Market, and the Westside Farmers Market. A little further down the road is Bush’s, Trader Joes and two Whole Food Markets. And a new discount grocer is being built across the street on Maple and Dexter from Plum Market. Ann Arbor is a fresh food Oasis.

By contrast certain places in Detroit and other urban cities are “Food Deserts.” From an article from the metro times by Larry Gabriel:

According to the study, these are areas (food deserts)where fringe food locations — gas stations, liquor stores, party stores, dollar stores, bakeries, pharmacies and convenience stores — are … uh … more convenient than mainstream grocers. In fact, about 550,000 Detroiters, well over half the city population, live in out-of-balance areas where the nearest grocery store is twice as far away as the nearest fringe food location. Combine that with a lack of a good mass transit system and you have a nutrition drought. Those severely out-of-balance areas are defined as food deserts.

The study says that “unless access to healthy food greatly improves, residents will continue to have greater rates of premature illness and death.”

Detroit isn’t alone. Food and nutrition issues plague every major urban area in the United States. There are diabetes and obesity epidemics across the nation. But, as usual, national problems are magnified in Detroit.

“Detroit is unique in that there are more neighborhoods without this kind of access,” says Kami Pothukuchi, a professor of geography and urban planning at Wayne State University. “The extent of food deserts is smaller in other cities.”

Coming back from a trip to the Detroit’s Eastern Market, I thought how huge and abundant it was. The Eastern Market was probably 20-40 times the size of of Ann Arbor Farmers Market. I thought, Food Desert?, This is an Oasis.” But many do not have a car or access to the market.

Here are a few video of organizations who are trying to make a difference to help feed Detroit.

Charity Dinners at Home: The rising star in the Local Food Movement

Charity Dinners at Home: The rising star in the Local Food Movement

A couple in my town of Ann Arbor, Michigan started offering breakfast to the public for donations to help recuperate their costs(See Selma Post). The breakfasts were only offered one day a week on friday mornings in their home. Their goal was to promote local food producers and farmers and to create community. Local chefs joined in to cook on given Friday’s and volunteers chipped in to help serve and clean up. The food was sourced locally from nearby farms as much as possible and the meals were great. Suddenly there was a place to go in town to get a fresh local tasty meal.

I was inspired by this do-it-yourself idea. I figured if we waited for the food industry to offer fresh, seasonal, locally sourced food, we’d be waiting a long time. Most food service establishments are too big, too standardize with their menu, their customers are not flexible enough, and/or the industry is not interested enough to change from their big suppliers to a network of local growers. Offering local, seasonal meals with an ever changing menu based on seasonal availably is not something a big, low end eatery like fast food or chain restaurants are set up for.

That is why I feel that there is a huge opportunity for small start ups. The local heroes in this story are an example of people doing it from their home kitchen, and with low start up cost. I had high hopes that this idea would grow into a network of local food movement inspired independent micro eateries. Anyone could transform their kitchen into say a single table local food restaurant. At least that is the idea.

Shortly after they started, however, they ran into legal trouble concerning running a “restaurant” in their home. So much for a good thing I thought, but then they got some legal help. It ends up that a person can legally serve a meal in their house in Michigan.

According to the law:

The relevant exemption is this, excerpted from the Michigan Food Law of 2000, Section 289.1107:

(j) “Food establishment” means an operation where food is processed, packed, canned, preserved, frozen, fabricated, stored, prepared, served, sold, or offered for sale. Food establishment includes a food processing plant, a food service establishment, and a retail grocery. Food establishment does not include any of the following:

(i) A charitable, religious, fraternal, or other nonprofit organization operating a home-prepared baked goods sale or serving only home-prepared food in connection with its meetings or as part of a fund-raising event.

In other words, if this couple hosted a meeting or fund raising event for a charitable, religious, fraternal or non-profit organization they could serve food cooked in their home and receive money in the form of a donation. So they needed to fit into one of those four categories.

What this couple did was aline themselves with Slow Food of Huron Valley, a non-profit organization. This relationship basically made their friday morning breakfasts into a non-profit fund raising event/meeting.

The charity dinner angle was a way for local food minded cooks (or any foodie for that matter) to host meals in their home and to get reimbursed. I have attended a few private dinners in peoples homes for charity. This included “secret super clubs” or “underground restaurants” as they are called. Most people who run secret supper clubs will tell you that they do not make much money doing it. They do it to express their inner cook and foodie.

How these people work with in the law in Michigan to allow them to cook a meal in their home and receive payment is by contacting a local charity or non-profit group who then sponsors the meal. Some or all of the proceeds after food cost goes to the charity. The charity gets a little money and buzz. The home cook gets their chef on, and does not go broke. And the guests get a great meal that is usually on par in cost and quality with a great restaurant. Everyone wins. These meals can be a one time fundraising event or an ongoing supper club in the case of the couple with the friday morning meals.

This may only be the case in Michigan, but there may be other states that allow the charity meals exception. I am excited about how charity or non-profit sponsored meals can create of a network of local food eateries. The possibilities are endless from a one day a week breakfast joint to a Tuesday night chicken dinner to any number of ethnic inspired theme meals. These grassroots local inspired meals can gain momentum and a following which can lead to official restaurant start ups. Which can mean that we will have a choice other than fast food and commercial food industry sourced eateries.

I do suggest that anyone interested in doing this would benefit from taking a class on food safety, and/or reviewing the booklet and taking the test to receive a food handler’s card.

So if you have an urge to express your inner chef, but don’t have your own restaurant,

I say start one in your home as a charity fundraiser meal. Shop at the farmer’s market for some fresh local produces, meats, cheeses, grains and baked good and cook up a meal. Invite your friend and get the word out, and see where it goes from there. Before we know it, we can have a network of local food eateries/meal events that provide creative, regional specialties using seasonal ingredients. It starts one table at a time.


Nations Health Decline Because of Dirty Dishes?

Ann Arbor Food

Disclaimer:This is one persons mostly humorous opinion, not a scientific study (yet).

Did you ever notice that they never show people washing dishes on cooking shows? On shows like  Chopped, or Top Chef, after contestants destroy a kitchen during a challenge, they never have a follow up scene with them doing the dishes. When the contest begins again after a commercial, the kitchen is spotless.

Even a seemingly simple 30 minute meals by Rachel Ray creates a huge pile of dirty dishes. She throws pans in the oven to roast, has one pot for a sauce, another for veggies, a saute pan to brown meat, bowls to mix salad, and pots for boiling pasta. She uses a blender, a food processor, and chops raw chicken on a cutting board. There are serving platters for presenting her food, more dishes for dessert, utensils for serving, silverware to eat with and glasses for drinks. “Yumm-o” Rachel says with a smile after tasting her food. Then the credits role. The meal may takes 30 minutes to cook, but cleaning the dishes will take much longer. Is Rachel going to wash all of those dishes?

American’s are spending less time in the kitchen these days, about 27 minutes a day. This is down from an hour in the late seventies. And the time we do spend in the kitchen is more about opening a package and reheating then taking out a pan or a cutting board. There are many reasons for our move out of the kitchen. We can point to the fact that more woman are working outside the home, or the increase of fast, and package foods. But I feel that the unspoken reason why American’s are cooking less is the fear of dishpan hands.

I cook home made meals for my family and I create a lot of dirty dishes in the process. Take tonight’s meal of black bean and shrimp tacos with fresh salsa, home made tortillas, and a cabbage slaw for example. There is the pot for the beans, a broiler pan for the shrimp, bowls for the salsa, the cabbage salad and another for the tortilla dough.

I used the salad spinner to wash the cilantro and then there are the plates and bowls to serve the meal. By the time dinner is ready, and served there is a pile of dishes to do. On a good night someone from the family steps up and the dishes get done.

But on a low energy, lazy, let’s do them tomorrow and watch our favorite cooking shows night, the dishes are left. The laziness from last night continues to the next day and the dishes are still not done. Instead of tackling them, I grab from what is left of the clean pots and pans to make dinner. This adds to the pile.

One or two meals of not doing the dishes and the whole system breaks down. The kitchen is a mess and even the simplest of cooking tasks like making a grilled cheese sandwich is a pain. The kitchen is a dish nightmare. Suddenly take-out menus are starting to look really good.

Packaged, fast food and/or hot bar meals solve for the dish nightmare, and there is no fear getting dishpan hands. This a all too common reality for busy parents these days.

But what has my pursuit of freeing myself from dish duty cost me?

The fear of or lack of will to wash dirty dishes in part is keeping millions of Americans out of the kitchen in my opinion. The desire, skill, and energy to cook is certainly a factor, but so is the desire and energy to tackle clean up too. How many of us have grabbed for the phone to order a pizza for example instead of making a meal from scratch, which include dish duty? I know I have many times. Less time cooking has meant a steady decline of healthy, home-cooked meals.

Most people do not want to wash dishes. After all, our cherished food memories are about grandma’s roasted chicken, but not the dirty roasting pan. But if we want to create a culture around healthy, home-cooked meals again to counter a fast food driven, and obesity burdened society, clean up has to be apart of the conversation. The simple truth is that washing dishes is a part of a home-cooked meal. And behind every Top Chef, 30 Minute Meal, or a health providing, home-cooked dinner is a pile of dirty dishes. The famed chef, author, and cooking show host Julia Child once encouraged us to be fearless in the kitchen. I would take that a step further and say that we have to be fearless at the dish sink as well.