Kerry Trueman

What Are We Really Eating? Reporter Goes Undercover to Reveal the Real Story of Our Broken Food System

Tracie McMillan's The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table takes us on a vivid and poignant tour of a place we don't really want to go: the mostly hidden, sometimes horrible world of the workers who form the backbone of our cheap, industrialized food chain. Sound grim? It is, at times, but McMillan's lively narrative and evident empathy for the people she encounters make her sojourn into the bowels of Big Food and Big Ag a pleasure to read.

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Why Danes Are So Much Happier Than Americans

Americans may be deeply divided about what ails our country, but there's no denying we're a nation of unhappy campers.

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Do We Eat Better Than We Did 100 Years Ago?

Poor Uncle Sam's got a lot on his plate these days: a curdled economy, an overcooked climate, a soured populace. It's enough to give a national icon a capital case of indigestion. Anti-government sentiment is running so high that half the country seems ready to swap his stars and stripes for tar and feathers.

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Want to Save the Economy? Change What You Eat

The new documentary Forks Over Knives is, in an eat-your-spinach kinda way, a feel-good movie. Roger Ebert's declared it "a film that could save your life." Once you get past the inevitable indictments of our disease-inducing diet, and the stock footage of obese people waddling down the street, you'll find yourself ultimately uplifted by the vitality the film's formerly sick and unfit subjects exude as they embrace a plant-based diet.

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Why an Anti-Locavore Rant in the New York Times Is Just Plain Wrong

Stephen Budiansky, self-proclaimed "liberal curmudgeon," has stuffed together another flimsy, flammable straw man out of boilerplate anti-locavore rhetoric on the New York Times op-ed page, with the patronizing title Math Lessons For Locavores.

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Inflammatory New Book Attacking Local Food Movement Has One Grain of Truth Buried Under Heaps of Manure

The book Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong And How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly is the literary equivalent of a turd blossom, the Texan term for a flower that pops up out of a cow patty.

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Welcome to the Food Revolution

A swarm of 40,000 to 50,000 locavores will descend on San Francisco this Labor Day weekend to attend Slow Food Nation, a four-day extravaganza of teach-ins and tastings that's being billed as a kind of "Woodstock for gastronomes."

I'd rather go to a Woodstock for garden gnomes, myself -- at least those Lilliputian lawn ornaments share my fondness for front yard farming. Gastro gnomes, on the other hand, sound like elitist elves who are overly fond of artisanal cheeses and grass-fed beef. Do we really need a celebration of such highfalutin culinary novelties at a time when high fuel and food costs are making it harder for people to keep their pantries stocked with even the most basic staples?

Well, yes, we do, because we need to remember that the fresh, unadulterated, minimally processed, locally produced foods that Slow Food Nation is showcasing were our pantry staples, before the military-industrial complex annexed our food chain a half a century or so ago in the name of progress.

Our great-grandparents would be flabbergasted to learn that grass-fed milk in glass bottles bearing the local dairy farm's logo is now a rare luxury item available to only the affluent few who are willing to pay $4 for a half-gallon of milk.

Back in the day, our breads were fresh-baked and free of high fructose corn syrup, and our eggs and bacon came from chickens and hogs that rolled around in the dirt and saw the light of day. The word "farm" still evokes nostalgic pastoral images for most Americans, but there's nothing even remotely benign or bucolic about the fetid, brutal factory farms that supply us with most of our meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products today. And unmasking this unsavory reality is as much a part of Slow Food Nation's agrarian agenda as dishing out local delicacies.

So don't be distracted by the aroma of wood-fired focaccia wafting from the Fort Mason Center "Taste Pavilions"; Slow Food Nation has the potential to spark a crucial dialogue about where our food comes from, how it's grown, and why all that matters. With forums featuring the good food movement's marquee names, including Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser, this Alice Waters-sponsored shindig could be the watershed event that puts America's foodsheds on the map.

Don't know what a "foodshed" is? Don't worry, nobody else does, either -- the word is still so obscure it hasn't earned an entry on Wikipedia. It means, essentially, the area through which food travels to get from the farm to your plate. That would have been a pretty short trip a few generations ago, but in this era of globalization, our foodshed now encompasses the whole world, more or less.

This far-flung food chain has enslaved us with a false sense of abundance, turning the produce aisles of our supermarkets into a seasonless place where you can find berries and bell peppers all year round. But this apparent bounty diverts us from the fact that industrial agriculture has actually drastically reduced the diversity of the foods that our farmers grow.

As small and mid-size farms got swallowed up by the massive monoculture operations we now call "conventional," the varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on those farms got whittled down to just those few that shipped the best and had the longest shelf life. Breeders chose to focus on species of livestock and poultry that fatten up the fastest, such as big-breasted but bland Butterball turkeys so top-heavy they can't reproduce naturally and have to be artificially inseminated. For this we give thanks each November?

This focus on economies of scale, and the illusory "efficiency" of a food system dependent on cheap fossil fuels and perpetual subsidies, gave us, the richest nation in the world, the cheapest food. And we are all the poorer for it.

Along the way, we lost hundreds of different kinds of plants and animals; currently, "at least 1,060 food varieties unique to North America are threatened, endangered or functionally extinct in the marketplaces of the United States, Canada, and northern Mexico," Gary Paul Nabhan writes in Renewing America's Food Traditions, a new book that celebrates the distinctive culinary regions of our country that Agribiz almost obliterated in recent decades.

But Renewing America's Food Traditions is not just a book; it's an alliance: Called RAFT for short, it's a collaborative effort from Slow Food USA and six other sustainably minded organizations. RAFT's mission is to inspire what the folks at Slow Foods USA call "eater-based conservation" by preserving and promoting the culinary heritage and extraordinary biodiversity that blessed this country for centuries before we shifted gears and became a fast food nation.

Nabhan is participating in a Slow Food Nation forum, "Re-Localizing Food," along with Pollan, Dan Barber and Winona LaDuke, but this powerhouse panel is, alas, already sold out, along with most of the other forums featuring the rock stars of the real food movement.

Thankfully, the Slow Food Nation folks are offering some free events and exhibits, too, including the Marketplace, which promises "to transform San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza into an urban garden, farmers market, outdoor food bazaar and soapbox," and the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden in front of City Hall, whose impressive array of organic heirloom vegetables is being donated to local food banks.

In keeping with its goal to promote all things sustainable, Slow Food Nation aspires to be a "zero waste event:" In addition to recycling and composting food waste, plates, flatware and packaging, Slow Food Nation is joining forces with Food and Water Watch to banish bottled water from the four-day festival. Echoing Food and Water Watch's Take Back the Tap campaign, the event will instead offer five tap water stations where folks can refill their water bottles -- or, if you didn't bring your own, you can buy a reusable, eco-friendly stainless steel canteen.

Not content to just spare us the spectacle of 50,000 good food fanatics washing down all those sustainable snacks with bottled water, Food and Water Watch has posted a much-needed guide on its Web site for the rest of us on how to "Free Your Event From Bottled Water." Pair this with Slow Food Nation's Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture, to be unveiled on Aug. 28 at San Francisco's City Hall, and you've got a virtual road map to a real revolution, even if you're not going to San Francisco.

What Does the NY Times Have Against Local Food and Green Living?

The New York Times giveth, and the New York Times taketh away. On the one hand, Nick Kristof's eloquent plea to treat our farm animals more humanely moved me to tears. On the other hand, I've barely got enough digits to count the noxious "let's not save the planet" columns that John Tierney, Stanley Fish, and Stephen J. Dubner have tossed off in recent weeks like rancid croutons.

John Tierney -- the thinking man's John Stossel -- delivers his trademark contrarian drivel with 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List, in which he gleefully skewers a whole herd of sustainable sacred cows: plastic bags, plastic water bottles, food miles, the Arctic meltdown, and so on. Treehugger tackled half of his half-assed claims, noting that:

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The Return of the Victory Garden

There's an awful lot of b.s. being spread in this election year -- thankfully, some of it's actually being put to good use growing delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables. The rising cost of food and gas is fueling a grassroots movement to uproot our grass and grow our own food instead. Once, throwing tomatoes was a form of protest. Now, growing tomatoes is the way to just say no to the status quo. Isn't that a sad sign of the times?

If only we had a commander-in-chief who called on us to grow our own crops, instead of to shop! It sounds implausible now, but there was a time when our government actually encouraged us to get off our cans and get canning. The current administration is famously reluctant to encourage preserving of any kind, be it sweet or savory.

A couple of generations ago, our government championed home food gardening as a civic duty, a way for average Americans to help ease the food shortages we suffered during World War II. And the campaign worked; in 1943, we managed to grow 40 percent of the vegetables we ate in the U.S.

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