(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘agribusiness

“On any given day… 5% of Americans will consume a fresh orange, 21% will consume orange juice.”*…

How concentrated and ready-to-pour orange juice– originally a dumping ground for extra oranges– conquered the morning menu…

The staid carton of orange juice has long sat next to tea and coffee at the breakfast table. It’s bright, but somewhat boring, and bears the dubious halo of being something good for you. Few of us give it much thought, other than to recall its oft-trumpeted Vitamin C content.

But processed orange juice as a daily drink, you might be surprised to learn, is a relatively recent arrival. Its present status as a global phenomenon is the creation of 20th-Century marketers, dealing with a whole lot of oranges and nowhere to put them…

How orange juice took over the breakfast table,” from @BBC_Future. [TotH to friend MK.]

USDA

###

As we get sweet, we might recall that it was on this date in 1821 that Spain formally transferred sovereignty over the territory we now know as Florida– the center of the orange juice industry– to the United States. (Spain had, of course, traded Florida to England [for Cuba] in 1763, but had regained it as a product of the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.)

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 17, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese”*…

Unintended consequences…

The year was 1981, and President Ronald Reagan had a cheese problem. Specifically, the federal government had 560 million pounds of cheese, most of it stored in vast subterranean storage facilities. Decades of propping up the dairy industry—by buying up surplus milk and turning it into processed commodity cheese—had backfired, hard.

The Washington Post reported that the interest and storage costs for all that dairy was costing around $1 million a day. “We’ve looked and looked at ways to deal with this, but the distribution problems are incredible,” a USDA official was quoted as saying. “Probably the cheapest and most practical thing would be to dump it in the ocean.”

Instead, they decided to jettison 30 million pounds of it into welfare programs and school lunches through the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. “At a time when American families are under increasing financial pressure, their Government cannot sit by and watch millions of pounds of food turn into waste,” Reagan said in a written statement. The New York Times declared that the bill would “give poor Americans a slice of the cheese surplus.”

But the surplus was growing so fast that 30 million pounds barely made a dent. By 1984, the U.S. storage facilities contained 1.2 billion pounds, or roughly five pounds of cheese for every American. “Government cheese,” as the orange blocks of commodity cheese came to be called, wasn’t exactly popular with all of its recipients

The long, strange saga of ‘government cheese’: “Why Did the U.S. Government Amass More Than a Billion Pounds of Cheese?,” from @DianaHubbell in @atlasobscura.

See also: “How the US Ended Up With Warehouses Full of ‘Government Cheese’,” from @HISTORY (source of the image above).

* G.K. Chesterton

###

As we chew on it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Joseph L. Kraft was grated a United States patent for processed cheese… the very process used to create ‘government cheese.”

Kraft had become curious about an issue that plagued his industry: cheese went bad, very fast, especially in the summer. He hypothesized this was caused by the same bacteria that produced the cheese in the first place. He began experimenting with different heating techniques to destroy the bacteria while preserving the cheesy flavor and consistency; he perfected the process in 1914 and patented it two years later.

Though the cheese industry condemned Kraft’s creation as an abomination, by 1930, 40 percent of all cheese consumed in the United States was made by Kraft.

source

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”*…

Staying yesterday’s agribusiness theme: George Monbiot on the extraordinary challenges facing the world’s food system…

For the past few years, scientists have been frantically sounding an alarm that governments refuse to hear: the global food system is beginning to look like the global financial system in the run-up to 2008.

While financial collapse would have been devastating to human welfare, food system collapse doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet the evidence that something is going badly wrong has been escalating rapidly. The current surge in food prices looks like the latest sign of systemic instability.

Many people assume that the food crisis was caused by a combination of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. While these are important factors, they aggravate an underlying problem. For years, it looked as if hunger was heading for extinction. The number of undernourished people fell from 811 million in 2005 to 607 million in 2014. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. Hunger has been rising ever since: to 650 million in 2019, and back to 811 million in 2020. This year is likely to be much worse.

Now brace yourself for the really bad news: this has happened at a time of great abundance. Global food production has been rising steadily for more than half a century, comfortably beating population growth. Last year, the global wheat harvest was bigger than ever. Astoundingly, the number of undernourished people began to rise just as world food prices began to fall. In 2014, when fewer people were hungry than at any time since, the global food price index stood at 115 points. In 2015, it fell to 93, and remained below 100 until 2021.

Only in the past two years has it surged. The rise in food prices is now a major driver of inflation, which reached 9% in the UK last month. [Current estimates are that it will be 9% in the U.S. as well.] Food is becoming unaffordable even to many people in rich nations. The impact in poorer countries is much worse.

So what has been going on?…

Spoiler alert: massive food producers hold too much power – and regulators scarcely understand what is happening. Sound familiar? “The banks collapsed in 2008 – and our food system is about to do the same,” from @GeorgeMonbiot in @guardian. Eminently worth reading in full.

Then iris out and consider how agricultural land is used: “Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.”

… and consider the balance between agriculture aimed at producing food directly and agriculture aimed at producing feed and fuel: “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare.”

Hélder Câmara

###

As we secure sustenance, we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Dorothea Lange; she was born on this date in 1885. A photographer and photojournalist, she is best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.

Lange’s iconic 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother [source]
Lange in 1936 [source]

“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams”*…

Loading bees for transport

And moving those bees…

About 75% of crops and one-third of the global food supply rely on pollinators such as honeybees, according to Our World in Data. But farmers have to rely on commercially managed honeybees trucked in from other states to help pollinate certain crops, such as almonds, because there aren’t enough wild bees to do the job. And trucking bees hundreds or thousands of miles is not simple…

Honeybees are disappearing due to shrinking habitats and the growing use of pesticides. When there aren’t enough bees to pollinate fields of crops, companies pay beekeepers to transport their colonies of bees for pollination season. 

“The great pollination migration” happens every year in February when the almonds bloom in California.

Pollinating the seemingly endless fields of almond trees in California requires 85% to 90% of all honeybees available to pollinate in the U.S… Bees are trucked into California from across the country…

Earl and Merle Warren are brothers, truck drivers and co-owners of Star’s Ferry Transport, based in Burley, Idaho. They started hauling bees for a local beekeeper in 1990 and moved about 50 loads of approximately 22 million bees each last year for companies such as Browning’s Honey Co.

“This is not like a load of steel or lumber. These are live creatures. This is those beekeepers’ livelihoods, so we do everything possible to keep them alive,” Earl Warren said.

Some beekeepers estimate that every time you move a truck of bees, up to 5% of the queens die… Minimizing stress for bees is critical, so beekeepers rely on experienced truck drivers to navigate difficult situations such as warm weather, few opportunities to stop during the day and inspections…

A fascinating link in the modern food chain: “A day in the life of a honeybee trucker,” from Alyssa Sporrer (@SporrerAlyssa).

* Henry David Thoreau

###

As we ponder pollination, we might spare a thought for a scientist whose very field of study was (and is) made possible by bees, Anders (Andreas) Dahl; he died on this date in 1789.  A botanist and student of Carl Linnaeus, he is the inspiration for, the namesake of, the dahlia flower.

220px-Double_dahlia
Dahlia, the flower named after Anders Dahl [source]

“Corn is a greedy crop, as farmers will tell you”*…

With harvest season nigh, the corn should be “as high as an elephant’s eye,” as the old Rodgers and Hammerstein song has it. Time to get that water boiling for the corn on the cob?

Sure. But most of the corn we consume isn’t on the cob, in a can, or frozen. Sweet corn is actually less than 1 percent of the corn grown in the United States. Popcorn, our third standard type of corn, is also less than 1 percent of the American corn crop.

Educators Renee Clary and James Wandersee have explored the history of corn, from the first domestication of maize about 10,000 years ago to today’s ubiquitous “commodity corn.”

According to Clary and Wandersee, we should be flush with the hundreds of varieties of corn crafted by human selection over the centuries. But the United States, the world’s largest corn producer, almost exclusively grows field corn, which is also known as dent corn, or, in the futures markets, “commodity corn.” It is not delicious with butter and salt.

Commodity corn is a bit magical, however, because it can be transformed into a plethora of products. Food is still a big part of the corn equation, but indirectly. Meat, for example, is actually transmuted corn: Four-tenths of the U.S. corn crop goes to feed chicken, pigs, and cattle. And since cattle evolved as grass eaters, they have to be dosed with antibiotics because corn isn’t healthy for them.

Many processed foods are built on the back of corn. High-fructose corn syrup, much cheaper than sugar, is the most obvious of these corn-based ingredients in our food system…

Clary and Wandersee have their students survey what’s in their home pantries. There’s a lot of corn hidden in food labels. Caramel color, lecithin, citric acid, modified and unmodified starch? Corn. The same with ascorbic acid, lysine, dextrose, monoglycerides, diglycerides, maltose, maltodextrin, and MSG. Xanthan gum? Well, there’s no such thing as a xanthan gum tree.

But the corn story is even more complicated. Corn can be chemically manipulated into all sorts of unexpected uses. There’s ethanol, for instance, which is basically alcohol used as a fuel supplement.

You’ll also find corn used in the production of antibiotics; aspirin; books; charcoal briquettes; cosmetics; crayons; disposable diapers; drywall; dyes and inks; fireworks; glues; paper, and plastics. The spray cleaner Windex has at least five corn-derived components. Spark plugs, toothpaste, batteries, and running shoes can all be made with things that started out as corn, in a field, under the sun. In 2001, Goodyear introduced tires made with a starch-based filler made from corn. DuPont naturally has a corn-based synthetic fiber.

While we’re at it, Stephen King’s 1977 story “Children of the Corn” gave rise to a movie franchise starting in 1984, and there’s a new Children of the Corn movie scheduled for release next year. Corny as horror movies can be, we apparently can’t get enough of them—or of corn itself.

… all of which goes to show why, as Michael Pollan says “farmers facing lower prices have only one option if they want to be able to maintain their standard of living, pay their bills, and service their debt, and that is to produce more [corn].” Indeed, corn is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas; 13 billion bushels of corn are grown in the United States alone each year (on 91.7 million acres, the largest crop in the U.S.).

The history of corn, from the domestication of maize 10,000 years ago to today’s ubiquitous “commodity corn,” to teach about biodiversity… and its lack: “Corn is everywhere!

* Michael Pollan

###

As we give a shuck, we might send artificially-sweetened birthday greetings to Oliver Evans; he was born on this date in 1755. An engineer and one of the most prolific and influential inventors in the early years of the United States, he was a pioneer in the fields of automation, materials handling, and steam power. He created the first continuous production line (the first fully automated industrial process), the first high-pressure steam engine, and the first (albeit crude) amphibious vehicle and American automobile.

But given the subject of today’s post, we might note that he also created the automatic corn mill.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: