Ralph Nader

I went to hear Ralph Nader this evening at our local independent bookstore – Book Passage – talking about his new book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. There was a large crowd to hear him, and it included a fair number of young people.

He started with the conclusion – “It’s easier that we think.”

The book is about convergences. It’s about getting past the Left-Right, Liberal-Conservative, Red State-Blue State feuding that paralyses this country and finding areas of common ground on 25 key issues, including:

  • UunstoppableRequiring the Department of Defense budget be audited annually
  • Adjust the minimum wage to inflation
  • Break up the “Too Big to Fail” banks
  • Push community self-reliance
  • Revise trade agreements
  • End corporate personhood
  • End the ineffective war on drugs
  • Prioritize the protection of the environment

Two issues that resonated with me were:

  • Protect children from commercialism and it physical and mental exploitation and harm
  • Oppose the patenting of life forms, including human genes

Nader talked about going to a meeting of evangelicals a few years ago and getting a standing ovation after his talk about protecting children from rampant commercialism. Through direct marketing aimed at children, parents have lost control over what their children see and the choices they make. We are raising a generation of children who have been marketed to eat junk foods, and buy addictive products such as tobacco, alcohol and medications. The results of this are record levels of child obesity and young teens dealing with addictions. This is an issue that needs convergence to take on the hucksters who are profiting off of our children.

The issue of patenting life forms touches on GMO products, but also the work done and patents issued on gene research. But it is especially in the area of GMO labeling that the corporate state dominates. According to Nader, 90% of the American people want labeling on genetically engineered foods. However, Monsanto has prevailed over the majority. There is a growing movement to get labeling laws passed at state and local levels, but a nationwide movement is needed.

We have to reclaim our power and make the people in Washington, DC or state legislatures address them by speaking up, marching, writing letters, making phone calls and – most importantly – getting people to vote. When politicians know that people are engaged and willing to vote for or against them based on how well they listen to them, things will get done. Several examples of this was stopping the move to intervene in Syria in 2013 and the grassroots effort to stop the Orwellian-named Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) a few years ago.

It doesn’t take a lot of people to make these convergences work, usually less than 1% of the population, but it takes persistence and talking to people to help these ideas spread.

I would like to add a few more convergences that I think could find some common ground. They are:

  • Food labeling
  • Subsidizing organic foods – fruits and vegetables

Along with the labeling of GMOs, we also need to revise the current food labeling laws so that we get more information about the types and amounts of sugars in food and clearer information about harmful additives.

In this country, as I’ve written about before, we subsidize the foods that make us overweight and sick, instead of organic fruits and vegetables. There are large numbers of people who want to eat healthy, but find they can’t afford these products. It’s time to make our voices heard on this issue.

Nader is a realist – he’s been doing this work too long to be otherwise – he knows that there are challenges in making these convergences happen. But he comes back to the conclusion – It’s easier than we think.

Let’s get to work!

Action Items for a Better Planet, a Better You

Elizabeth Kucinich

I found a great article by Elizabeth Kucinich, policy director at the Center for Food Safety and wife of former congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. They are both vegan and animal rights activists.

The article We Can Reverse Climate Change by the Way We Grow Food, has information about the research and studies showing the impacts of how we grow and process food is ruining our environment.

After laying out the research, she provides some concrete steps we can all take to improve the situation and also your health

What can you do to help mitigate climate change?

  • Grow or buy local
  • Buy organic
  • Reduce food waste — 50 percent of food produced in America is wasted
  • Eliminate industrial meat, dairy and eggs from your diet and reduce overall consumption of animal products and if choosing to eat meat, seek out 100 percent grassfed products.
  • Protect local agricultural land from land grabs and wasteful development

What will this do for you?

  • Reduce your consumption of and exposure to chemicals
  • Reduce your carbon footprint
  • Increase your health — a diet rich in plant-based foods can help reverse diseases can reduce the risk of health problems such as Type II diabetes, heart disease,and high cholesterol whereas meat and dairy can increase these risks
  • Increase your food security by supporting your regional foodshed.

Reading Elizabeth’s bio, I found out she was an Executive Producer for the documentary GMO OMG. Here’s the trailer. I can’t wait to see this.

Vermont Governor Signs GMO Labeling Law


Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday signed Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill into law on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Joining him was Brigid Armbrust, 11, of West Hartford (in black), who launched a letter-writing campaign in support of GMO labeling. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Vermont Legislature passed and the Governor has signed the first GMO labeling law that does not have a trigger mechanism – for example, other states have passed GMO labeling laws that only take effect if neighboring states also have these laws.

From an article by VTDigger, a statewide news website:

Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. It will also likely be the first state to defend the GMO labeling law in court, state officials say.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”


Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, was the lead sponsor of the bill to require manufacturers to label products containing GMOs. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Leading the charge for this legislation has been State Senator David Zuckerman, an organic farmer who I would regularly see selling his produce at the Burlington Farmers Market, who has worked nearly two decades while a legislator and now senator to pass a GMO labeling law. He believes Vermont’s law will cause a “domino effect” across the country.

“This is one of the cases where grassroots democracy really did win the day and hopefully we can carry it on into the future,” Zuckerman said.

The bill sets aside funds to cover the expected lawsuits from seed, chemical and food companies. The law is set to take effect July 1, 2016.

If you live in California, there is a GMO labeling bill, SB 1381, that needs a push from citizens to get it to the floor of of the Senate. The Organic Consumers Association has information on senators to call to make this happen.

Vermont was also the first state to call for an amendment to the Constitution to reverse the Citizen United ruling by the Supreme Court allowing unlimited campaign contributions and to put language in the Constitution that corporations do not have the same legal rights as persons.

Once again, the work of one person made this happen.

Earlier in the session it appeared there was no appetite in Montpelier for such a resolution, but a call to Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, from one of his constituents got the ball rolling, he said.

“Dr. Steven Berry is a minister in Manchester,” Sears said. “He contacted me, and I’ve known him for several years, and we talked about it, and the more I heard, it made sense to me.”

Sears said he decided to put the resolution back on the “fast track” by holding hearings on the topic and eventually bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote where it passed 25-2.

“I think it’s an important resolution,” Sears said. “Congress isn’t going to act, and we’ve got to do something to get this country back under control.”

I hope this will get other states to pass similar calls for this amendment. It takes 34 states to call for a convention to add amendments to the Constitution and 38 states to ratify them.


The Law of Unintended Consequences – GMO Edition

Non-GMO Project

Poor General Mills. In January they announced that original Cheerios would be Non-GMO. However, getting there wasn’t easy, according to an article by Reuters – “U.S. food companies find going ‘non-GMO’ no easy feat

U.S. food companies are rushing to offer consumers thousands of products free of genetically modified ingredients but are finding the effort costly and cumbersome in a landscape dominated by the controversial biotech crops.

The hurdles are so high that the growing “GMO-free” trend could result in a price spike for consumers, industry experts say. Eighteen years after GMO crops were introduced to help farmers fight weeds and bugs, they are so pervasive in the supply chain that securing large and reliable supplies of non-GMO ingredients is nearly impossible in some cases.

According to the article, General Mills spent a year tracking down the ingredients they need – particularly corn and sugar, there are few GMO oats grown – to make Cheerios non-GMO free.

General Mills said it spent millions of dollars installing new equipment for processing non-GMO ingredients and setting up distinct transportation and handling facilities to keep non-GMO supplies from mixing with biotech supplies.

This says a lot about how pervasive these GMO crops have become. When a company with the buying clout of General Mills has to spend a year to find the ingredients it needs, no wonder the average consumer has a hard time finding and verifying non-GMO food – and why we need a national, mandatory verification and labeling standard.

Absent a national standard, many companies are using the Non-GMO Project‘s verification standards. According to the Project, the number of verified products has grown quickly.

The number of such non-GMO “verified” products surged to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline, according to the Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate. Sales last year of verified products hit $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, she said.

“We get about 80 new companies enrollment inquiries every week. People want non-GMO,” Westgate said.

One driver for this is the announcement by Whole Foods that all products on their shelves will need to be labeled for GMO content by 2018. Other companies like Chipolte and Post Foods are moving to more non-GMO products.

While it is great to see companies reacting to consumer demand for non-GMO foods – although General Mills said they came to this decision independent of pressure from consumers and non-GMO advocates – it is frustrating to think that there will be a premium paid by consumers for these products – while Monsanto and other GMO seed companies keep pushing their products to more and more farmers.

More than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans now grown in the United States are GMO strains. This means the pipelines for harvesting, storing, transporting, mixing and purchasing the commodities are awash in the biotech supplies.

To supply conventional crops, farmers must plant non-GMO seeds, prevent pollen or other contaminants from drifting in from neighboring fields, and store and transport the grain separately from GMO crops. The separation must be maintained all the way to the finished product.

As consumers, we need to vote with our wallets and buy non-GMO products and ask the stores where we buy our food to push their vendors to make their products non-GMO. It is the only way we’ll be able to loosen the grip on the food market by Monsanto and the other GMO seed producers.

The tide is starting to turn, let’s keep it going.

Michael Pollan on Food Policy

photo Alia Malley

photo Alia Malley

You need to align your agricultural policies with your health and environmental policies, and you can’t have them at cross-purposes. Otherwise, you have a situation where the government is, as it is now, essentially underwriting both sides in the war on Type 2 diabetes.

This is from a fascinating interview with Michael Pollan from Earth Island Journal that includes information about his new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, the “unknowable wildness” of microbes, the continued growth of gardening and the broader food movement, and why it’s OK to have a point of view as a journalist.

Regarding public food policy, Pollan has two thoughts. The quote above continues:

We spend a fortune as a society – and we’ll spend more now with Obamacare – dealing with the cost of Type 2 diabetes when it hits teenagers and kids. Very, very expensive to treat, and the government’s on the hook and insurance industry’s on the hook, because they have to insure everybody. At the same time, we’re subsidizing the production of high fructose corn syrup and making sugar unreasonably cheap, and underwriting the calories that are causing Type 2 diabetes. That’s insane. So how do you adjust your farm policies to support your health policies?

To counter these policies, we need to re-solarize agriculture.

One way you do that is to diversify your crops, because you need to use plants to synthesize nitrogen. You need legumes, and you need more and different crops in your rotation. You need to capture more sunlight, so you need more perennials. Corn is incredibly productive, but if you fly over a cornfield, it’s only green three or four months of the year. All that solar energy is wasted when you see that black ground, which is what you do see all spring and most of the fall. So you need either cover crops, or you need to put it back to pasture, and then let animals harvest that solar-created energy. And suddenly, as you diversify the farm to deal with this input, the energy flows, you will diversify our diet, so that you can solve for the problem of environment and energy and health at the same time, if you keep that as your North Star.

Pollan believes we can make this happen by getting political and pushing Congress and state legislatures to change policies; and using our dollars to support non-GMO and organic food products.

What you have asserted is that the public wants a say in these very important decisions about how their food is produced, and want transparency. The story of how food is produced is of keen interest to people now. And, as Chipotle is learning, people will pay for meat that they can feel good about now. To the extent that companies now have to grapple with that, that the consumer cares not just about the attributes of a food, but the story behind it, that represents a real change, and you’ll see a lot of changes in animal agriculture as a result.

The entire interview is worth reading it captures his passion for food, gardening and how we move forward to a sustainable future.

Towards a Sustainable Global Food Narrative


Interesting article titled Changing the Global Food Narrative by Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, on global food policy. According to him, the current food narrative goes like this:

The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started.

The article looks at all of the fallacies in this current narrative and suggests this alternative:

The world faces tremendous challenges to feeding a growing, richer world population — especially to doing so sustainably, without degrading our planet’s resources and the environment. To address these challenges, we will need to deliver more food to the world through a balanced mix of growing more food (while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices) and using the food we already have more effectively. Key strategies include reducing food waste, rethinking our diets and biofuel choices, curbing population growth, and growing more food at the base of the agricultural pyramid with low-tech agronomic innovations.Only through a balanced approach of supply-side and demand-side solutions can we address this difficult challenge.

One of the primary drivers of this changed narrative is changing what we eat.

We could do much to ease the pressure on the global food system by looking first at transforming diets where they are already very rich, like North America and Europe. Shifting to less meat-intensive diets in these regions could have dramatic impacts on the food system. But just as important is to focus on the changing diets of newly affluent people — for example, new middle-class people in the cities of China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere. Will they continue to eat a mostly plant-based diet, with little waste, or will they move toward a meat-rich Western diet? In fact, what these people choose to eat in the coming decades will determine much of the future of the world’s food system.

Here is how our food policy and food choices make a difference in yield today.

the typical Midwestern farm could theoretically provide enough calories to feed about 15 people daily from each hectare of farmland. But there’s a catch: People would need to eat the corn and soybeans these farms grow directly, as part of a plant-based diet, with little food waste. What Cassidy found was that the actual Midwestern farm today provides only enough calories to feed roughly five people per day per hectare of farmland, mainly because the vast majority of the corn and soybeans are being used to make ethanol or to feed animals. Amazingly, feeding five people per day per hectare is comparable to the production of an average farm in Bangladesh today.

Foley also makes the case for why GMO crops aren’t the answer to increasing the amount of food grown worldwide.

Can we meet the challenges of changing food policy in the US and setting an example for other developing nations? I don’t know, but in order to feed the world in the decades ahead, we need to work for a sustainable global food policy and change the current unsustainable narrative.

Do One Thing

The Unhealthy Truth

I discovered the author of this book today and watched her TED talk (see below) about her transformation from a mother who fed her four children the Standard American Diet (SAD) to an activist for healthy, organic food and against the additives and processes – like growth hormones and GMOs –  that are destroying our health.

Her book is called – The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick – And What We Can Do About It – I can’t wait to read it.

Robyn O'BrienRobyn O’Brien‘s journey started the morning her youngest child had an allergic reaction to part of her breakfast. A former financial and food industry analyst, she researched what was happening to the food system and what had caused her daughter’s allergy.

She discovered the additives and processes that are used in the United States, but are banned in Europe, the UK and other countries. She also discovered the impacts of these unhealthy changes – the US has the highest incidence of cancer in the world and we spend the most money on healthcare – with poorer outcomes. Then looking deeper still, saw how our government is subsidizing the companies making the unhealthy products and making it more costly to grow and market organic food.

Robyn founded a nonprofit organization – The AllergyKids Foundation. It’s mission:

Restore the health of American families by addressing the needs of the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma and the role that additives in our food supply are having on our health.  The Foundation also works closely with those fighting cancer, particularly those with specific dietary needs.

Robyn is passionate about these issues and on a mission to change the current system for the health of our families, economy and nation. Her TED talk ends with a call to Do One Thing. None of us can do everything, but we all can do one thing to make a difference.

For me, this blog is how I am doing one thing to make more people aware of the problems with the current system; the impact of the Standard American Diet on our health and the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet.

What is the one thing you can do today to make a difference?

The National Heirloom Expo – Sept 10-13 – Santa Rosa, CA

The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism. The second annual event held mid-September 2012 in Santa Rosa, California drew more than 14,000 people from around the country and beyond. With more than 100 speakers and 300 natural food vendors, the event was the largest gathering in pure food history! The Heirloom Expo has gained incredible interest among home growers, farmers, school groups and the general public–so much so that it is being called the “World’s Fair of Pure Food”!

The Heirloom Expo