What We’re Reading: January 11, 2014

flickr_gulf Patrick Feller

Our editors consider some of the food system’s biggest debates this week with reads on the reality of Fair Trade certification, GMO-phobia and the Gulf’s so-called “dead zone.”

Wendell Berry chats with Bill Moyers for a rare interview that explores his life’s work as a writer, political activist and — above all else — farmer.

Marissa FinnThe Truth About Fair Trade Coffee (VIDEO) — Huffington Post
Some of the biggest issues from our food system arise when labels become meaningless. Does food labeled “organic” have the same appeal when it’s tainted with E. Coli or is planted on monocultures that deplete our precious resources? Is there anything “natural” about “Honey BBQ All Natural Potato Chips containing 20 ingredients, among them monosodium glutamate, yellow food color and undoubtedly genetically modified corn and soy, but “no hydrogenated fats and gluten free”? Vocativ‘s video about Fair Trade Coffee reveals the truth behind the Fair Trade certification and what it means (or doesn’t mean) for producers and consumers around the world. In the video, the chairman of a fair trade growers co-op in Kilimanjaro describes the rigorous inspection process and limited freedom. He says, “our voice is not heard in fair trade.” As with all food and drink, it turns out that if you don’t grow it yourself, it’s pretty damn hard to know what you’re getting.

Betsy Davidson: Moments in Morocco — Perennial Plate
In a vain attempt to cure a severe bout of January wanderlust, I am treating myself with episode after episode of vicarious travel and eating via the folks at The Perennial Plate. Reality demands that I stick around these parts. Thankfully, these videos take me worlds away.

Amy ZavattoThe Drunken Botanist — Amy Stewart
One of my New Year’s resolutions: Read more stuff I like. And try to do it every day. The first book on that list is Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. I’d heard such great things about it, and none of it was wrong. From history dating back to 7,000 BC to Stewart’s own observational quips (“I am certain that at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn in plucking a weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters”), it’s such a fun, fascinating, invigorating read. It makes want to simultaneously construct an indoor herb garden (until I can bring it back outside — but then again, I hear the weather is once more going from, nearly literally, 0-60 by Saturday, so who knows?) and then rip it apart to construct some equally aromatic and delicious drinks. Cheers.

Eileen M. DuffyA Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops — The New York Times
I met Amy Harmon, the author of this piece, at a party last month, and she was agonizing about writing this story. Months of reporting had her doubting the prevailing wisdom of anti-GMO crusaders. She wanted to know Edible’s position. I had to tell her the truth: there’s not an arrived consensus, but our stories generally reflect Mark Bittman’s position: Label ’em. GMOs are money makers for Monsanto and Cargill, companies that represent the opposite of what Edible celebrates: “At the heart of our company is a commitment to sustaining the unique local flavors and economic viability of the communities we serve. As individuals and professionals, we live, breathe and literally, eat these values. They are reflected in our work and in our lives.” I have yet to make up my mind, but Harmon’s article, and the backlash she faced in the comments, provides interesting food for thought. By the way, she’s won two Pulitzer Prizes. 

Lauren Wilson: A River Runs Through ItFood & Environment Reporting Network
I still remember the day in my Intro to Environmental Studies class when I learned about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of those indelible lectures that left me baffled as to how and why society continues to allow this widespread and documented environmental destruction persist. One of my favorite science (and also frequent Edible) writers Paul Greenberg traces the Mississippi to investigate this phenomenon that has now spread to roughly 5,700 square miles. For perspective, that’s bigger than the state of Connecticut.

Featured photo credit: Flickr / Patrick Feller

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