Thursday, December 23, 2010

Farmers and Consumer Groups Fight Consolidation of Food Suppliers

In December, a coalition of consumer and farmer groups urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to follow up its final competition workshop with concrete actions to address the anti-competitive practices that benefit a few large players in the food system.

At a press conference at the National Press Club, national consumer group Food & Water Watch joined farmers and ranchers to discuss how consolidation in the retail sector has affected the marketplace. Consolidation has given the largest retailers considerable purchasing power that allows them to exert influence over food manufacturers, meat processors, produce shippers and other suppliers to reduce their prices and require specific packaging and manufacturing practices. Suppliers also pressure farmers to lower their prices and workers to lower their wages. This trend leads to a few large companies controlling the entire market, forcing consumers to choose less healthy foods.

"The American food chain is shaped like an hour-glass where a handful of large powerful companies stand between more than 300 million consumers and two million farmers. Thanks to mergers and consolidation, vibrant competition in the retail grocery industry is all but dead," said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. "There is an illusion of choice between many different but similar processed foods, but almost all of them are sold by the same few companies."

Food costs have risen considerably over the past decade. Food inflation was especially high during 2007 and 2008. The higher prices are especially difficult for lower-income consumers. According to a 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service, even a 4 or 5 percent increase in the price of food has a significant impact on the purchasing power of lower income families.

A majority of studies reviewed by the USDA found that increased grocery chain consolidation contributed to an increase in consumer grocery prices. As prices increase, families turn to lower cost processed foods over more healthful options.

With 40 percent of American households earning less than $39,000, a small increase in the price of food can dramatically erode family food security. The USDA recently reported that one out of 7 households is suffering from hunger and one out of 4 children do not have enough to eat.

"Children are the ones left out on the margins," said Hauter. "As food has become more consolidated, processed foods have become more prevalent and kids have become more obese. It’s no coincidence that 75 percent of snack chips and 80 percent of kid’s cereals are sold by the top four firms, and the four biggest cookie manufacturers sell two-thirds of all cookies."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Clean Water for Haiti

One in eight children in Haiti don’t live to see their fifth birthday because of illnesses they get drinking dirty water, and more infants die of preventable waterborne diseases than in any other country in the western hemisphere.

All Hands is responding by producing biosand water filters as a simple solution to provide safe, clean drinking water. They’re small enough to put in homes and schools, and can filter water from common sources like rivers, pumps and wells for ten years or more.

A gift of 20 dollars this holiday season will give a person clean water for 10 years or more. 100 dollars sponsors an entire filter, providing clean water to a family in need. This holiday season you have the opportunity to change someone’s life. People should never have to be without safe, clean drinking water.

For more information or to help purchase biosand water filters for Haiti, visit All Hands Volunteers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Food Insecurity in the United States

According to USDA data, more than 50 million Americans are food insecure (lack consistent access to a well balanced diet). In 2009, this data translated to 1 in 4 children (more than 17 million children) as being food insecure.

To get involved with feeding the nation's hungry, visit your local food bank or help at the national level. One organization that is working hard to feed America is Seashare.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are Farm Raised Shellfish Healthy?

In North America, aquaculturists grow high quality farmed oysters, clams, mussels and bay scallops. Farm raised shellfish are known for being uniform, clean, healthy and full of nutrients.

Farmed shellfish are also good for the environment. A single adult oyster can filter up to 60 gallons of water a day. Shellfish aquaculture is a booming industry in the USA and Canada. Most operations have a reputation for being sustainable, while providing safe, high quality shellfish.

In addition to commercial shellfish farms, small scale shellfish gardening on privately owned waterfront property is gaining popularity. These micro-systems, tended by environmentally concerned citizens, support oysters, blue mussels, clams and other shellfish.

Friday, December 3, 2010

California Judge Orders Destruction of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

According to AP News, A federal judge in California has ordered that plants grown to produce seeds for genetically modified sugar beets be removed from the ground, citing the potential for environmental harm.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White has again raised questions about the use of genetically modified crops and what will happen if growers aren't allowed to plant GMO seeds.

About 95 percent of the sugar beet crop has been genetically modified to resist the weed killer Roundup. The crop provides roughly half of the nation's sugar supply.

In his decision, White cited, "a significant risk of environmental harm."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Heirloom Greens - Wintercress

Healthy food enthusiasts along the Atlantic Seaboard can sometimes find wintercress (winter cress) during the winter season. This nearly forgotten member of the mustard family originates from Europe. The small green herb grows wild in parts of North America, and is often described as a weed or wildflower.

In some areas, the plant is grown and harvested for consumption during the fall and winter. Look for wintercress at farmers markets, pick-your-own farms or in private gardens. Wintercress is delicious, boiled or steamed with a little bacon for flavoring. The stems are stringy and should be cut short before cooking.

Counterfeit Produce - Farmers Market Fraud

The California farmer's market industry has taken a hit recently as the Los Angeles Times reported on alleged food sourcing fraud.

According to "The largest operator of Southern California farmers markets has protected a vendor who buys produce wholesale and misrepresents it as his own, alleged one of the company's managers, who made the claim at a listening session held by the California Department of Food and Agriculture last week in Santa Monica. The operator has denied the allegation, but the repercussions seem likely to reverberate in the farmers market world."

Read the full article here:,0,3946012.story

Monday, November 29, 2010

December Sustainable Local Seafood

Around the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Coast, December is a prime time for local oyster harvesting. In nearby communities, this is a traditional time in serving oysters. When shopping for fresh local seafood, these shellfish are a good buy.

Oysters are a traditional cold season seafood in the Atlantic region. In addition to fresh wild caught oysters, farmed oysters in the shell are also available during the cool months. Locally, oysters in the shell are sold by the bushel, peck, dozen or piece. When buying oysters, one can expect to need 40-60 standard oysters to obtain a pint of raw shucked oysters and liquor.

Oysters are also available pre-shucked, in their own liquor (juice). The number of oysters per pint varies. The following estimates apply to market sizes for shucked oysters.

Extra Large or Counts - less than 20
Large or Extra Select - 20–26
Medium or Select - 26–38
Small or Standard - 38–63
Very Small - more than 63

When buying oysters for the table, quantities required will depend on the serving method. For raw oysters on the half shell, 6-12 oysters per person is a good rule of thumb.

When serving oysters in the shell, most diners will consume 12-18 oysters each. Steamed Chesapeake Bay or Virginia seaside oysters are served with melted butter, vinegar or other condiments. Sources of oysters in the shell can be found by visiting this seafood directory.

More Information

How to Shuck Oysters

How to Steam Oysters

Karo Offers Free Recipe Booklet

In some cases, manufacturers are offering free samples without surveys. Currently, the Karo® Syrup website is offering consumers a free Karo® Recipe Booklet. The collection is said to include 26 delicious recipes for cookies and bars. For more information, see

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harvesting Wild Foods in Autumn

Fall is one of the best times to harvest wild foods. Biting insects and other woodland pests are less of a problem and in many areas dense undergrowth is reduced after a frost.

 Some of the most popular wild foods of the Eastern U.S. include several kinds of greens, tea berries, sassafras roots, ginseng, persimmons, walnuts, pecans, chestnuts and other delicacies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Cook Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are leafy green vegetables that are often served during traditional holiday meals in North America. These healthy greens are harvested from turnip plants. Not only are the leaves edible, but so are the roots.

In most areas, turnip green leaves are only harvested during the late Fall, Winter and in Spring when their flavor is not too strong.

Turnip green recipe ingredients may include salt pork, bacon, pepper, herbs, cooking oils, wines, baking powder, or other foods.

Cooking methods generally include boiling the leaves for long periods. Turnip greens can also be simmered with a small amount of liquid, steamed or added to soups.

Pangasius War Continues

Struan Stevenson, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Scotland has publicly criticized imported pangasius from Asia, calling Vietnam’s Mekong River where the fish is raised "filthy" and accusing the country’s pangasius industry of "ruthlessly" exploiting workers.

In a recent address to an aquaculture conference in the European Parliament, Stevenson urged members to persuade European consumers to support the continent’s fish farmers and fishermen and buy local.

The harsh comments followed similar sentiment in the USA. In October, the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) began airing TV ads urging the Obama administration to implement a measure that would transfer the responsibility of inspecting catfish and pangasius imports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tv ads describe the Mekong River as "full of contaminants".

The controversial fish remains popular among seafood lovers around the world. In 2009, pangasius was included on the National Fisheries Institute's "Top Ten" list of the most consumed seafood in America.

The Quest for Healthy Foods

This blog seeks to spotlight issues that involve food, cooking and health. Future posts will provide information as well as the author's views about natural, healthy and organic foods. Also included will be information to help identify and promote sources of foods that nourish the body and soul.