Tagfood

New Evidence Suggests Neanderthals Cooked and Ate Vegetables

Neanderthal

Researchers in the US have found grains of cooked plant material in the teeth of the remains.

The study is the first to confirm that the Neanderthal diet was not confined to meat and was more sophisticated than previously thought.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The popular image of Neanderthals as great meat eaters is one that has up until now been backed by some circumstantial evidence. Chemical analysis of their bones suggested they ate little or no vegetables.

BBC News: Neanderthals cooked and ate vegetables

Can Vertical Farming Scale?

Vertical farming

Some researchers, such as Ted Caplow, an environmental engineer and founder of New York Sun Works, a non-profit group, argue that even using renewable energy the numbers do not add up. Between 2006 and 2009 Dr Caplow and his colleagues operated the Science Barge, a floating hydroponic greenhouse moored in Manhattan (it has since moved to Yonkers). “It was to investigate what we could do to grow food in the heart of the city with minimal resource-consumption and maximum resource-efficiency,” says Dr Caplow.

The barge used one-tenth as much water as a comparable field farm. There was no agricultural run-off, and chemical pesticides were replaced with natural predators such as ladybirds. Operating all year round, the barge could grow 20 times more than could have been produced by a field of the same size, says Dr Caplow.

Solar panels and wind turbines on the barge meant that it could produce food with near-zero net carbon emissions. But the greenhouses on the barge were only one storey high, so there was not much need for artificial lighting. As soon as you start trying to stack greenhouses on top of each other you run into problems, says Dr Caplow. Based on his experience with the Science Barge, he has devised a rule of thumb: generating enough electricity using solar panels requires an area about 20 times larger than the area being illuminated. For a skyscraper-sized hydroponic farm, that is clearly impractical. Vertical farming will work only if it makes use of natural light, Dr Caplow concludes.

One idea, developed by Valcent, a vertical-farming firm based in Texas, Vancouver and Cornwall, is to use vertically stacked hydroponic trays that move on rails, to ensure that all plants get an even amount of sunlight. The company already has a 100-square-metre working prototype at Paignton Zoo in Devon, producing rapid-cycle leaf vegetable crops, such as lettuce, for the zoo’s animals. The VerticCrop system (pictured) ensures an even distribution of light and air flow, says Dan Caiger-Smith of Valcent. Using energy equivalent to running a desktop computer for ten hours a day it can produce 500,000 lettuces a year, he says. Growing the same crop in fields would require seven times more energy and up to 20 times more land and water.

But VertiCrop uses multiple layers of stacked trays that operate within a single-storey greenhouse, where natural light enters from above, as well as from the sides. So although this boosts productivity, it doesn’t help with multi-storey vertical farms.

The Economist: Vertical Farming: Does It Really Stack Up

The article suggests that rooftop farming may be a more practical alternative in the near term. Here’s what VertiCrop looks like:

urban farming

Latest Foodie Craze: Insects and Worms

sanos de maguey

My wife’s said that insects are the food of the future. But some are embracing that future voluntarily already. San Francisco-based “chef and artist” Phil Ross is bringing insects and worms to fine diners in San Francisco and New York, with unexpected results.

You really want to go green? Try this. “I have my month’s meat growing in my office,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s taking up almost no space, it’s organically raised, it’s as fresh as I want it to be and the waste from it is garden compost.”

Mr. Ross first brought a group of San Franciscans together to chow down on cooked insects a year ago, and he was surprised when the guests started buzzing around him for raw samples. “I was like, ‘O.K., go for it,’ ” he said. “And then that just led to this very weird erotism moment when people were practically hugging each other while eating these live insects.” The spirit of the moment overflowed, leading, in a few cases, to groping and kissing in a corner.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.

New York Times: Waiter, There’s Soup in My Bug

(via David Forbes)

Be sure to check out the slideshow.

African Food Production Challenged by ‘Land Grab’ for Biofuels

African land grab

European Union countries must drop their biofuels targets or else risk plunging more Africans into hunger and raising carbon emissions, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE).

In a campaign launching today, the charity accuses European companies of land-grabbing throughout Africa to grow biofuel crops that directly compete with food crops. Biofuel companies counter that they consult with local governments, bring investment and jobs, and often produce fuels for the local market. […]

Producers argue they typically farm land not destined, or suitable for, food crops. But campaigners reject those claims, with FoE saying that biofuel crops, including non-edible ones such as jatropha, “are competing directly with food crops for fertile land”. […]

Sun Biofuels, a British company farming land in Mozambique and Tanzania and named in the report, criticised the charity’s research as “emotional and anecdotal” and said that its time would be better spent looking into ways to develop equitable farming models in Africa.

Guardian: Friends of the Earth urges end to ‘land grab’ for biofuels

Anyone know more about this situation?

(via Chris Arkenberg)

Impediments to a Post-Scarcity Future

Make Yourself by Steven Ansell
Comic by Steve Ansell

Kevin at Grinding asks some questions about the social impediments to a post-scarcity future. He looks at the legislative restraints on P2P file sharing and wonders how that mess will play out when we’re able to copy things in meat-space:

A friend of mine who collects action figures shows me a custom mod of an Optimus Prime Transformer figure. I asked him how much it bugged him to dismantle a classic figure and he smiles and tells me he just scanned the parts he needed of his old one with a 3D scanner and built most of the new one with a 3D Printer. And that’s just one example of how 3D printing is slipping into my everyday life. We’re rapidly approaching the point where duplicating Things for a fraction of the original resources is easy – and by “rapidly approaching” I mean people you know are rapid prototyping and cloning items as we speak. It’s not too much of a jump to think we’re not that far from something resembling nano-assembling – rendering ideas like “original” meaningless. We’re exceedingly close the age where “remix culture” can remix Things with nearly the ease it can remix digital media.

But how will we react? Will we put DRM on food so it can’t be mass produced? Will we attempt to limit access to production engines? Will we allow “market forces” to keep the poor needy while the top 1% don’t even have a concept of need? Will we rush out to buy iMakers that scan the net to ensure anything you’re producing isn’t a component of a copyrighted product or recipe – or that only produce “family safe” products?

Grinding: Torrenting the Future

One need look no further than the world of food for examples of how post-scarcity is already being stifled. Look at Monsanto’s strong arm tactics and how excess food is handled.

One comment at Grinding points to the fact that file sharing continues online unabated. However, ACTA could be a significant blow not only to file trading but to online freedom in general. Meanwhile, in meatspace, grocery stores are dumping bleach on food to thwart dumpster divers. There’s only so much good routing around problems can do before you must confront the fundamental problems.

Panara Bread Co. opens “pay what you can” store in St. Louis

Panera Bread Co. has reopened a downtown Clayton location as a nonprofit where customers can pay what they can afford. […]

The café, which reopened Sunday as a nonprofit, has cashiers who provide receipts with suggested prices and direct customers to the store’s five donation boxes. The menu is the same, except for the day-old baked goods brought in from sister stores in the area.

The first day was a success, and they’re planning on opening similar locations elsewhere in the country, but won’t say where yet.

St. Louis Business Journal: Panera: Pay what you can afford

(Thanks Josh!)

See also: What the Bagel Man Saw – an article on the economics of the “honor system.”

The rise of backyard farming

Backyard gardening

Lininger calls himself a farmer, though he doesn’t ride a John Deere and never sees a sun set over the fields. Instead, he tends a succession of peewee suburban plots as if they were the sprawling ranches of the Central Valley.

“The sign of success used to be who had the best lawn,” said Lininger, 41, as he pinched the dead leaves off the plot’s lone beet. “Now, it’s all about how much food you can grow.”

Homeowners who want fresh cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes but don’t have time to grow their own hire Lininger’s company, Farmscape, to do the work for them. But don’t call him a gardener: It’s more like farming by the foot. And the 6-foot-4 ex-Marine, skinny as a snap bean, says he can barely keep up with demand.

There’s a mini-boom in such mini farms. Scores of businesses like Farmscape are sprouting up nationwide, from My Backyard Farm in San Clemente to Your Backyard Farmer in Portland, Ore., and Freelance Farmers in New Haven, Conn.

LA Times: For backyard-farmer companies, business is bountiful

See also: sharecropping.

Resilient communities with Jeremy O’Leary – the Technoccult Interview

Jeremy O'Leary

(Photo by Audrey Eschright / CC)

Jeremy O’Leary is a steering committee member of the Multnomah Food Initiative and was an initial organizer of the City of Portland Peak Oil Taskforce. He’s a member of Portland Peak Oil, Transition PDX, and the Portland Permaculture Guild. He’s a contributor to the online publication The Dirt and maintains his own blog Biohabit. You can view his presentation on “20 Minute Neighborhoods and Emergency Response” here.

Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?

Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.

One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.

Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:

Why a Food Initiative?

Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.

It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:

Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.

One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.

Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.

More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.

MFI Goal Framework - Graphic 3-11

How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?

It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.

Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?

This may seem like an aside but it is related….

In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.

Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.

As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.

Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”

Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”

My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.

It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?

I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.

Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.

I think resilience is an example of what folks want.

Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?

On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.

Rainwater cistern

(Above: an example of a rainwater cistern at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver)

What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience – whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?

I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.

If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.

You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.

More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.

It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?

At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.

Columbia Ecovillage

(Above: The Columbia Ecovillage)

Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?

As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.

In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.

People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?

Yes, for this I would refer folks with what Leonard Barrett has been doing – Permaculture for Renters.

Container Food Forest

Above: Image from the Permaculture for Renters post Create a Container Food Forest

So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?

Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.

What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?

Quite a bit fits inside. I would point to books by John Jeavons such as How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I would also point to materials by Toby Hemenway such as The Self-Reliance Myth.

I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?

Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.

Illegal And Controversial Food From Around The World

snake blood wine

Pictured above: snake blood wine.

Tripbase: Illegal And Controversial Food From Around The World

What, no mentioned of Hákarl (fermented shark)?

See also: Steve, Don’t Eat It)

(via Mister X)

Investors see farms as way to grow Detroit

Acres of vacant land are eyed for urban agriculture under an ambitious plan that aims to turn the struggling Rust Belt city into a green mecca.

Reporting from Detroit – On the city’s east side, where auto workers once assembled cars by the millions, nature is taking back the land.

Cottonwood trees grow through the collapsed roofs of homes stripped clean for scrap metal. Wild grasses carpet the rusty shells of empty factories, now home to pheasants and wild turkeys.

This green veil is proof of how far this city has fallen from its industrial heyday and, to a small group of investors, a clear sign. Detroit, they say, needs to get back to what it was before Henry Ford moved to town: farmland. […]

It is the size and scope of Hantz Farms that makes the project unique. Although company officials declined to pinpoint how many acres they might use, they have been quoted as saying that they plan to farm up to 5,000 acres within the Motor City’s limits in the coming years, raising organic lettuces, trees for biofuel and a variety of other things.

LA Times: Investors see farms as way to grow Detroit

(via Brainsturbator)

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