Category Archives: food

Michael Pollan’s rules for eating

Michael Pollan posted a request earlier this year in the NYT for reader’s rule about eating. Here is his illustrated list of the top 20, and here is a sample…

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My personal favorite rule is Miss Piggy’s: Don’t eat more than you can lift.


World Bank: biofuels have increased global food prices 75%

From the Guardian:

 Sys-Images Guardian Pix Pictures 2008 07 03 Corn-460X276

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush. (more…)

Summary from Green Car Congress:

• Rapid income growth in developing countries (e.g., India and China) has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.
• Successive droughts in Australia have had a marginal impact.
• The EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.
• Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate. (more…)

Michael Pollan at Google

…talking about In Defense of Food (one hour). March 4, 2008

New discovery: Google has over 300 “talks@google” on YouTube. This will keep me busy…

Drought and food

From the NYT (“A Drought in Australia, a Global Shortage of Rice”):

(…) The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Drought affects every agricultural industry based here, not just rice — from sheepherding, the other mainstay in this dusty land, to the cultivation of wine grapes, the fastest-growing crop here, with that expansion often coming at the expense of rice.

The drought’s effect on rice has produced the greatest impact on the rest of the world, so far. It is one factor contributing to skyrocketing prices, and many scientists believe it is among the earliest signs that a warming planet is starting to affect food production. (…)

Drought has already spurred significant changes in Australia’s agricultural heartland. Some farmers are abandoning rice, which requires large amounts of water, to plant less water-intensive crops like wheat or, especially here in southeastern Australia, wine grapes. Other rice farmers have sold fields or water rights, usually to grape growers.

Scientists and economists worry that the reallocation of scarce water resources — away from rice and other grains and toward more lucrative crops and livestock — threatens poor countries that import rice as a dietary staple. (…)

20080416 Warm2 Graphic

Food for SUVs

Econbrowser calls it:

How should a well-fed American react when some of the world’s poorest citizens in Haiti and Bangladesh riot over the rising price of food? To be sure, there are many factors influencing food prices. But to me it’s natural to begin with the element that represents a deliberate policy choice on the part of the United States. I refer to America’s decision to divert a significant part of our agricultural production for purposes of creating a fuel additive for motor vehicles. USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber predicts that 4.1 billion bushels, or 31% of the entire U.S. corn crop, will be devoted to ethanol production for the 2008/09 season.

On one level, the question of whether it is morally acceptable for us to divert the food that might have fed the hungry for purposes of driving our SUVs is no different from similar questions about any of a number of other details of how the well-off dispose of their wealth. But I’m thinking that the profound inefficiencies associated with this particular disposition of resources may also be relevant. As a result of ethanol subsidies and mandates, the dollar value of what we ourselves throw away in order to produce fuel in this fashion could be 50% greater than the value of the fuel itself. In other words, we could have more food for the Haitians, more fuel for us, and still have something left over for your other favorite cause, if we were simply to use our existing resources more wisely.

We have adopted this policy not because we want to drive our cars, but because our elected officials perceive a greater reward from generating a windfall for American farmers. But the food price increases are now biting ordinary Americans as well. That could make those political calculations change, and may present be an opportunity for a nimble politician to demonstrate a bit of real leadership. I notice, for example, that although Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was among those who voted in favor of the monstrous 2005 Energy Bill that began these mandates, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) were among the 26 senators who bravely voted against it.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of them actually tried to make this a campaign issue?

Grains gone wild

Krugman on food prices (NYT):

Grains gone wild

The financial crisis gets most of the attention from the business press — but in terms of sheer human impact, the current food crisis may well be a bigger deal:

“Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.

The moves mark a rapid shift away from protecting farmers, who are generally the beneficiaries of food import tariffs, towards cushioning consumers from food shortages and rising prices.

But economists warned that such actions risked provoking an upward spiral in global food prices, which have already been pushed higher by rising demand from emerging markets like China and India and pressure on land from the growing production of bio-fuels.”

What I don’t quite understand is why food prices have spiked so dramatically. Demand has been rising for a number of years; bio-fuels is a big thing, but how much bigger is it this year than a year or two ago? It can’t be speculation: that raises prices by inducing stockpiling, and stocks of wheat and rice are at or near record lows.


Worsening food supply problems

From the WSJ (sub. req.)

Rice Hoarding in Asia Pressures Supply

BANGKOK — As rice prices hit new highs, farmers across Asia are hoarding their crops, raising the prospect of a shortage in Asia and Africa that could lead to widespread unrest.

Rice prices in Asia have doubled since the beginning of the year, driven higher by rising demand, a steady depletion of government stockpiles and a pest outbreak in Vietnam, the world’s second-largest exporter after Thailand.

Baked-RiceOn Thursday, medium-grade rice exported from Thailand — a de facto market benchmark — reached $760 a metric ton, up from $360 a ton at the end of last year.

Governments around the region are curbing exports to safeguard their domestic supply, putting further upward pressure on prices.


Protests have broken out in several countries, including Guinea, Egypt and the Philippines, as prices of basic foodstuffs soar. The situation is exacerbated by higher fuel costs, which add to the cost of shipping food, as well as dwindling government stockpiles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts global rice stocks will fall to their lowest level in 25 years in 2008.

In China, the government said it will pay farmers more for rice and wheat and has frozen the retail prices of rice, cooking oil and other goods in an effort to rein in food costs that jumped 23.3% in February from a year earlier.

In the Philippines, the world’s biggest importer of rice, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is considering a moratorium on converting agricultural land for building housing developments or golf courses. Her cabinet ministers are urging fast-food restaurants to offer half-portions of rice in order to cut down on the country’s rice bill.

Rice prices trundled along at a relatively low level earlier in the decade after global rice inventories hit 150 million tons in 2000. Rice traded at under $300 a ton until 2006. The price increases began accelerating in the fourth quarter last year when widespread flooding in Vietnam and the Philippines stoked demand when inventories were falling.

Continuing growth in China, India and other parts of the developing world has placed an additional strain on the world’s food supplies as their increasingly wealthy populations increase their food intake.

Urbanization has encouraged much wider consumption of rice, too, because it is easier to store, more nutritious and easier to prepare than many other staple foods. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have begun switching to rice over the past 20 years, taking up a greater portion of the rice exported from Thailand and Vietnam.