In today’s America, one in four Americans live in poverty. Since 2007, number of working families living in poverty or near poverty rose by 25 per cent. The official poverty rate rose to 15.9 per cent this month. This is happening despite the presence of Wal-mart which is supposed to be creating jobs and helps in economic growth. Since 2007, 10.4 million more Americans have had their incomes fall below the official poverty line. I can’t believe this. And we are made to believe that the country must follow the US economic model if it has to grow, to remove poverty and to eliminate hunger. What a fallacy.
This analysis is from an Oxfam report. http://bit.ly/SewjEf
Author(s): Biplab Das
CIATARSENIC accumulation in rice is something that is largely unexplored. A study has now found that the heavy metal can disrupt amino acid synthesis in the grain, a staple diet for many. This can reduce the levels of essential and non-essential amino acids found mainly in rice which are essential for a healthy life.
Essential amino acids like lysine, phenylealanine, histidine and methionine not only improve digestion, stimulate hormonal release and enhance memory, they are also the building blocks of all proteins. Deficiency of glutamic acid, a non-essential amino acid, has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.
For the study, researchers from India and the UK analysed arsenic and amino acid contents in 16 rice genotypes grown in arsenic-contaminated soils in West Bengal. They chose three regions—Chinsurah in Hooghly district, Purbosthali in Bardhaman district and Birnagar in Nadia district. They found that the levels of arsenic in groundwater of the three sites were 17, 27 and 53 microgramme/litre (mg/l) respectively. The concentrations of arsenic in soil varied from 10.4 mg/l in Chinsurah to 12.6 mg/l in Purbosthali and 15.5 mg/l in Birnagar. The acceptable limit for arsenic in groundwater, according to WHO, is 50 mg/l and the permissible limit of soil arsenic as set by the European Union is 20 mg/kg soil.
The rice genotypes were then divided into two categories based on the arsenic accumulation behaviour—low arsenic accumulating rice genotypes (LAARGs) and high arsenic accumulating rice genotypes (HAARGs).
The researchers found that the levels of essential and non-essential amino acid differed significantly in HAARGs and LAARGs. In most of the genotypes the levels of amino acids reduced significantly as the arsenic concentration rose. The researchers say this is due to the heavy metal altering the degradation of the proteins and subsequently leading to inhibition of amino acid synthesis. The levels of essential and non-essential amino acids in rice were the highest in Chinsurah.
They also found rice varieties that resisted arsenic accumulation in areas with high levels of the heavy metal in soil and vice-versa. The study will be published in the October 1 issue of Environment International.
The findings can act as a guide to identifying rice varieties suitable for growing so that the grain has minimum arsenic concentration and highest levels of required amino acids, says Rudro Deo Tripathi, scientist at National Botanical Research Institute.
By Lester Brown
26 July, 2012
Earth Policy Institute
In the early spring of 2012, U.S. farmers were on their way to planting some 96 million acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.
The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world’s feedgrain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the U.S. grain harvest. Internationally, the U.S. corn crop exceeds China’s rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains – corn, wheat, and rice – corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.
The corn plant is as sensitive as it is productive. Thirsty and fast-growing, it is vulnerable to both extreme heat and drought. At elevated temperatures, the corn plant, which is normally so productive, goes into thermal shock.
As spring turned into summer, the thermometer began to rise across the Corn Belt. In St. Louis, Missouri, in the southern Corn Belt, the temperature in late June and early July climbed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher 10 days in a row. For the past several weeks, the Corn Belt has been blanketed with dehydrating heat.
Weekly drought maps published by the University of Nebraska show the drought-stricken area spreading across more and more of the country until, by mid-July, it engulfed virtually the entire Corn Belt. Soil moisture readings in the Corn Belt are now among the lowest ever recorded.
While temperature, rainfall, and drought serve as indirect indicators of crop growing conditions, each week the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a report on the actual state of the corn crop. This year the early reports were promising. On May 21st, 77 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated as good to excellent. The following week the share of the crop in this category dropped to 72 percent. Over the next eight weeks, it dropped to 26 percent, one of the lowest ratings on record. The other 74 percent is rated very poor to fair. And the crop is still deteriorating.
Over a span of weeks, we have seen how the more extreme weather events that come with climate change can affect food security. Since the beginning of June, corn prices have increased by nearly one half, reaching an all-time high on July 19th.
Although the world was hoping for a good U.S. harvest to replenish dangerously low grain stocks, this is no longer in the cards. World carryover stocks of grain will fall further at the end of this crop year, making the food situation even more precarious. Food prices, already elevated, will follow the price of corn upward, quite possibly to record highs.
Not only is the current food situation deteriorating, but so is the global food system itself. We saw early signs of the unraveling in 2008 following an abrupt doubling of world grain prices. As world food prices climbed, exporting countries began restricting grain exports to keep their domestic food prices down. In response, governments of importing countries panicked. Some of them turned to buying or leasing land in other countries on which to produce food for themselves.
Welcome to the new geopolitics of food scarcity. As food supplies tighten, we are moving into a new food era, one in which it is every country for itself.
The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening. The progress in reducing hunger in recent decades has been reversed. Unless we move quickly to adopt new population, energy, and water policies, the goal of eradicating hunger will remain just that.
Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability– than most people realize.
Lester Russel Brown is an United States environmentalist, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. BBC Radio commentator Peter Day calls him “one of the great pioneer environmentalists.” His forthcoming book is Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, due to be published in October 2012.
Copyright © 2012 Earth Policy Institute
*NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Guardian on July 24, 2012.
From man’s daily bread to ward off hunger, a basket of agro-horticulture
produces, protein-rich metric nutrition with onset of industrialisation, ethnic cuisines, organic food, to highly post-modern personalised food habits when the affluent even fast in style, the “food evolution” has had an encyclopaedic vastness alongside man’s own.
Though largely Euro-centric, it impacted the world’s stage at large, as the history and culture of “food” waved through with its paradoxes. A fascinating peep into it came at a recent Indo-German encounter in a little known corner of Tamil Nadu, at St. Xavier’s college (Autonomous) in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, once hailed as the “Oxford of the South”.
Even subalterns may stagger at over 300 years of “food history” in western Europe, particularly in countries like France, Britain and Germany.
“You know, until 1850 large sections of the population were feeding mainly on potatoes, ” Dr Detlef Briesen, Professor of History and Cultural Studies at the
Justus-Liebeg-University Giessen, Germany, startlingly posed. Incredible, but substantially true! After nearly three centuries of “prosperous living” in western Europe, mainly in the German-speaking countries, between the 14th and 17th centuries, Europe went through a period of “food crisis” in the pre-modern period, Dr Briesen drove home.
Outbreak of famines
The perpetual European wars, a big climate change caused by the “little ice age”, periodic outbreak of famines and agriculture stagnation cumulatively led to what he termed a “hunger crisis”, often resulting in undernourishment or even plain starvation. This was a powerful motivation for Europeans to “get
aggressive to conquer other parts of the world.”
For more than 150 years’ “standards of mass nutrition decreased constantly”, when 60 per cent of the European population simply struggled for survival, nothing more, he noted. However, since the 17th century, as European powers set up colonies in other parts of the world, new products began arriving in Europe, which had been “developed abroad to serve the needy European consumers there”.
The foundations for a new food cycle were, ironically, laid outside Europe. Potatoes, for instance, originated from South America, liquor in large quantities was first distilled in the English colonies in North America, refined sugar imported from the Dutch, French and later English colonies, coffee initially from Mauritius and Sri Lanka and others.
“The demand for colonial commodities and the nutrition crisis modified European, including German, agriculture and led to the production of sugar beet, potato, and chicory. This production had a deep impact on agriculture and induced an often underestimated technological revolution in agriculture,” contended Dr Briesen, also a visiting Professor at JNU, Delhi.
Thus, it was only after 1850, that Europe began to witness replacement of an undernourished diet with a prosperous pattern of food consumption, as he put it. Partying times were ushered in with serving of wine, beer, large quantities of beef, milk, cheese, sausages, vegetables and of course bread.
People began to “celebrate their status by trying to emulate the consumption patterns of the French nobility”. After the French Revolution though, what emerged was a “French bourgeoisie cuisine as the paradigm of good, nutritious and genteel food for more than a century,” he explained.
Across Europe, the post-1850s generally marked a “return to prosperity” in eating habits. But this process was rudely interrupted during the two killer World Wars. “The real prosperous consumption of Food” in German-speaking countries in particular came only from the 1950s,” he said.
Simultaneous developments in the post-Civil War United States saw people with a much higher income level taking a “more pragmatic approach to nutrition”. Though American cooking was “mainly influenced” by British traditions, a strong German influence and elements of French Haute cuisine, rapid industrialisation, new products, mass production, standardisation of nutrition, abundance and prosperity led to what he termed an “even more rapid and far-reaching” dining table revolution in the US!
While the early 1950s’ unfolded a new pattern of consumption in the US “with more chicken, salad, corn flakes, rice, noodles, tropical fruits, less potatoes, bread, pork, etc.,” the “Coke” and supermarket culture spread to the European continent predominantly only after World War II. The emergence of the “European Common Market”, a television market and advertisement were key factors which aided this transformation, he said.
Spanning this amazing historical journey of Food over 300 years, the food culture has now got more “egalitarian and ethnic”, thanks to migrant populations in different countries, even as it has spawned a “wonderful diversity of nutrition”, in Prof. Briesen’s analysis.
From “gourmet food, organic food, pragmatic food introduced by modern nutrition, traditional food with its regional variations, extremely selective food by the upper class, experimental nutrition coming from the chemical industry’s lap for athletes and women who need to be slim, to overeating of prefabricated high calorific food for underclass children,” this huge variety in the food scene now turns age-old cookery upside down.
People in higher echelons now consciously limit their consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Good enough, but it is also paradoxical, says Prof Briesen. “Today, it is not the rich, but the poor who are overweight or even obese, and abundance had become the main factor for untimely demise and diseases like cancer, heart attack or blood pressure.”
Would Prof Briesen get such a platform to share these insights on “Food History” that is largely people-centric if Indo-German encounters had been confined only to the grand tradition of Indological studies in the line of great scholars like Max Mueller, Prof Daussein and so on?
Fr Biritto Vincent, College Rector and Assistant Professor at St Xavier’s Folkore Department, had no ready yes for a reply. For him, what enabled such dialogue was a less known tradition which also shaped Indo-German relations, thanks to the Grimm Brothers of Germany who first systematically collected German folk tales and myths in the early 1800s and compared them with other oral folk traditions in India.
Edick blames the problems on the store’s chronic understaffing and Walmart’s lack of respect for the skilled labor needed to handle the nation’s food supply. At her store, a former maintenance person was made produce manager. He’s often diverted to other tasks. “If the toilets get backed up, they call him,” she said.
Tracie McMillan, who did a stint working in the produce section of a Walmart store while researching her forthcoming book, The American Way of Eating, reports much the same. “They put a 20-year-old from electronics in charge of the produce department. He didn’t know anything about food,” she said. “We had a leak in the cooler that didn’t get fixed for a month and all this moldy food was going out on the floor.” Walmart doesn’t accept the idea that “a supermarket takes any skill to run,” she said. “They treated the produce like any other kind of merchandise.”
That’s plenty to give a shopper pause, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to be concerned about Walmart’s explosive expansion into the grocery sector.
Growth of a giant
In just a few short years, Walmart has become the most powerful force in our food system, more dominant than Monsanto, Kraft, or Tyson.
It was only 23 years ago that Walmart opened its first supercenter, a store with a full supermarket inside. By 1998, it was still a relatively modest player with 441 supercenters and about 6 percent of U.S. grocery sales. Last year, as its supercenter count climbed above 3,000, Walmart captured 25 percent of the $550 billion Americans spent on groceries.
As astonishing as Walmart’s national market share is, in many parts of the country the chain is even more dominant. In 29 metro markets, it accounts for more than 50 percent of grocery sales.
Seeking an even bigger piece of the pie, Walmart is campaigning to blanket New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other big cities with its stores. It has made food the centerpiece of its public relations strategy. In a series of announcements over the last year, Walmart has deftly commandeered high-profile food issues, presenting itself as a solution to food deserts, a force for healthier eating, and a supporter of local farming.
It is a remarkably brazen tactic. On every one of these fronts, Walmart is very much part of the problem. Its expansion is making our food system more concentrated and industrialized than ever before. Its growth in cities will likely exacerbate poverty, the root cause of constrained choices and poor diet. And the more dominant Walmart becomes, the fewer opportunities there will be for farmers markets, food co-ops, neighborhood grocery stores, and a host of other enterprises that are beginning to fashion a better food system — one organized not to enrich corporate middlemen, but to the benefit of producers and eaters.
The big squeeze
Walmart’s rise as a grocer triggered two massive waves of industry consolidation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One occurred among supermarkets, as regional titans like Kroger and Fred Meyer combined to form national chains that stood a better chance of surviving Walmart’s push into groceries. Today, the top five food retailers capture half of all grocery sales, double the share they held in 1997.
Go big or go out of business.Photo: Walmart StoresThe second wave of consolidation came as meatpackers, dairy companies, and other food processors merged in an effort to be large enough to supply Walmart without getting crushed in the process. The takeover of IBP, the nation’s largest beef processor, by Tyson Fresh Meats is a prime example. “When Tyson bought IBP in 2001, they said they had to do that in order to supply Walmart. We saw horizontal integration in the meat business because of worries about access to the retail market,” explained Mary Hendrickson, a food systems expert at the University of Missouri. Four firms now slaughter more than 80 percent of cattle. A similar dynamic has played out in nearly every segment of food manufacturing.
“The consolidation of the last two decades has created a food chain that’s shaped like an hourglass,” noted Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, explaining that a handful of middlemen now stand between 2 million farmers and 300 million eaters.
Their tight grip on our food supply has, rather predictably, come at the expense of both ends of the hourglass. Grocery prices have been rising faster than inflation and, while there are multiple factors driving up consumer costs, some economic research points to concentration in both food manufacturing and retailing as a leading culprit.
Farmers, meanwhile, are getting paid less and less. Take pork, for example. Between 1990 and 2009, the farmers’ share of each dollar consumers spent on pork fell from 45 to 25 cents, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Pork processors picked up some of the difference, but the bulk of the gains went to Walmart and other supermarket chains, which are now pocketing 61 cents of each pork dollar, up from 45 cents in 1990.
Another USDA analysis found that big retailers have used their market power to shortchange farmers who grow apples, lettuce, and other types of produce, paying them less than what they would get in a competitive market, while also charging consumers inflated prices. In this way, Walmart has actually helped drive overall food prices up.
What Walmart means when it says “local”
Last year, Walmart announced that it would double the share of local produce it sells, from 4.5 to 9 percent, over six years.
Come and get your Georgia peaches.Photo: Walmart StoresThis doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers will soon find a variety of local produce at their nearest Walmart, however. Walmart counts fruits and vegetables as local if they come from within the same state. It can achieve much of its promise by buying more of each state’s major commodity crops, such as peaches in Georgia and apples in Washington, and by using big states like California, Texas, and Florida, where both supercenters and large-scale farming are prevalent, to pump up its national average.
“It speaks to the weakness that we’ve all known about, which is that ‘local’ is an inadequate descriptor of what we want,” said Andy Fisher, former executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition. “It’s not just geography; it’s scale and ownership and how you treat your workers. Walmart is doing industrial local.”
Walmart’s sourcing is becoming somewhat more regional, but the change has more to do with rising diesel prices than a shift in favor of small farms. It’s a sign that Walmart’s Achilles heel — the fossil-fuel intensity of its far-flung distribution system — might be catching up with it. According toThe Wall Street Journal, trucking produce like jalapeños across the country from California or Mexico has become so expensive that the retailer is now seeking growers within 450 miles of its distribution centers.
“They see the writing on the wall. They know the cost of shipping from California back to Georgia and Mississippi is high now,” said Ben Burkett, a Mississippi farmer who noted that Walmart is now meeting with producers in his region. He’s hoping to sell the chain okra through a cooperative of 35 farmers. “We’ll see. My experience in the past with Walmart is they want to pay as little as possible.”
That skepticism is shared by Anthony Flaccavento, a Virginia farmer and sustainable food advocate. “If multimillion-dollar companies like Rubbermaid and Vlasic can be brought to their knees by the retail behemoth, how should we expect small farmers to fare?” he asks.
Local is the new organic — and Walmart does both the corporate, industrial way.Photo: Walmart StoresWalmart’s promise to increase local sourcing is reminiscent of its pledge five years ago to expand its organic food offerings. “They held true to their corporate model and tried to do organics the same way,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute. For its store-brand organic milk, for example, Walmart turned to Aurora Organic Dairy, which runs several giant industrial milking operations in Texas and Colorado, each with as many as 10,000 cows. In 2007, the USDA sanctioned Aurora for multiple violations of organic standards. Earlier this year, the agency stepped in again, this time revoking the organic certification for Promiseland Livestock, which had been supplying supposedly organically raised cows to Aurora.
These days, Walmart’s interest in organic food seems to have ebbed. “Our observation is that they sell fewer organic products and produce now than four years ago,” said Kastel. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association agrees. Today, he says, “the proportion of their sales that is organic is the lowest of any major supermarket chain.”
Leveraging food deserts
Walmart has renewed its push to get into big cities, after trying and failing a few years ago. This time the company has honed a fresh strategy that goes right to the soft underbelly of urban concerns. In July, Walmart officials, standing alongside First Lady Michelle Obama, pledged to open or expand as many as 300 stores “in or near” food deserts.
Walmart sees underserved neighborhoods as a way to edge its camel’s nose under the tent and then do what it’s done in the rest of the country: open dozens of stores situated to take market share from local grocers and unionized supermarkets. Stephen Colbert dubbed the strategy Walmart’s “Trojan cantaloupe.” For example, an analysis by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office estimates that if Walmart opens in Harlem, at least 30 supermarkets, green grocers, and bodegas selling fresh produce would close.
For neighborhoods that are truly underserved, it seems hard to argue with the notion that having a Walmart nearby is better than relying on 7-11 and McDonald’s for meals. But poor diet, limited access to fresh food, and diet-related health issues are a cluster of symptoms that all stem from a deeper problem that Walmart is likely to make worse: poverty. Poverty has a strong negative effect on diet quality, a 15-year study recently concluded, and access to a supermarket makes almost no difference.
Neighborhoods that gain Walmart stores end up with more poverty and food-stamp usage than communities where the retailer does not open, a study published in Social Science Quarterly found. This increase in poverty may owe to the fact that Walmart’s arrival leads to a net loss of jobs and lowers wages, according to research [PDF] by economists at the University of California-Irvine and Cornell.
Walmart has also been linked to rising obesity. “An additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases … the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points,” a recent study concluded. “These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.”
The bottom line for poor families is that processed food is cheaper than fresh vegetables — and that’s especially true if you shop at Walmart. The retailer beats its competitors on prices for packaged foods, but not produce. An Iowa study found that Walmart charges less than competing grocery stores for cereals, canned vegetables, and meats, but has higher prices on most fresh vegetables and high-volume dairy foods, including milk.
Local? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.Photo: Walmart StoresThe future of food?
We stand to lose a lot if Walmart keeps tightening its grip on the grocery sector. Signs of a revitalized food system have been springing up all over — farmers markets, urban gardeners, neighborhood grocers, consumer co-ops, CSAs — but their growth may well be cut short if Walmart has its way.
“People need to keep an eye on the values that are at the root of what is driving so much of this activity around the food system,” said Kathy Mulvey, policy director for the Community Food Security Coalition.
Walmart is pushing us toward a future where food production is increasingly industrialized, farmers and workers are squeezed, and the promise of fresh produce is used to conceal an economic model that leaves neighborhoods more impoverished. Are we going to let it happen, or are we going to demand better food and a better world?
|How many times have you found yourself burrowing into the very bottom of a Baskin Robbins tub after a bad breakup? Or caught your gob stuffed with a burger in the middle of a stressful day? Food might not fill that void in your heart, but it can help you perk up enough to pick up the pieces of a shattered heart or the yellings of an erratic employer to start afresh.
The bottom line: Good food gives you hope. You just need to eat the right kind.” The key to understanding the connection between the food we eat and our mood and levels of alertness lies in knowing about how the brain functions,” says consultant neurologist Dr Rajesh Kumar, Rockland Hospitals, New Delhi.
“The brain communicates by chemical substances passed from one nerve cell to the next. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are made in the brain from the food we eat. The neurotransmitters that are most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting the mood are serotonin, nor epinephrine and dopamine.”
Dopamine and nor epinephrine are alertness chemicals to help us think and react faster or get motivated. Serotonin is a calming chemical to dissipate stress and tension.
Foods that cure depression
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Foods that wake you up