Category Archives: food safety

Are these apps changing our lives?

Hello! I’ve been writing a lot lately about how new apps and the proliferation of smart phones are changing our lives. Since I’ve neglected this blog for way too many months, I wanted to bring you up to date with some of these recent articles.

capbikeshareLast week, the Washington City Paper ran my cover story on the “sharing economy.” In a departure from my usual third-person style, I was able to call on couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer” for this story. I also talked to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, and interviewed pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.

READ THE STORY

Photo courtesy of Asthmapolis

Photo courtesy of Asthmapolis

Earlier in February, the Washington Post published my latest story on “geomedicine,” an emerging field in which doctors and other caregivers use mapping tools and “Big Data” to gain insights into their patients’ lives so they can offer better treatment and advice.

The story features Asthmapolis, a company that makes a new asthma inhaler that has a GIS sensor for mapping the patient’s every puff. Other experiments in “geomedicine” are using social medial platforms to share information, not just about illnesses, but about environmental exposures, as well as mapping farmers’ markets, healthy eateries, parks and other recreational outlets. It’s proponents say the geo-mapping can help us understand the environmental factors driving an individual’s health problems and then map out ways to address them.

READ THE STORY

ItalyTrashScientific researchers are also using geographical information and mapping to delve more deeply into the precise origins of illnesses and how environmental factors play a role in health. Italian researchers, for instances, have linked skyrocketing cancer rates, birth defects and other illnesses in communities outside of Naples to mafia-related dumping of industrial waste in an area that has come to be known as “the triangle of death.”

READ THE STORY

Big Ag + Us

After coasting for decades on the popularity of all that is “fast” or frozen, the food industry was caught off guard a decade ago by the unsavory revelations in the bestselling book “Fast Food Nation.” It maintained deer-in-the-headlights stance through an onslaught of books and documentaries extolling Big AGs many failings.

All that muckraking nurtured today’s vibrant farmers markets movement and locavor initiatives, and started a  transformative national conversation about where our food comes from and how it’s made. None of this benefitted big food companies, however.

Now the industry is hoping to change to subject. According to news stories this week, a recently formed umbrella group with a folksy-sounding name is taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, with public relations campaign meant to reassert industry’s influence over public opinion …  or as executives at the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance told the New York Times, they hope to “reshape the dialogue”.

“There is a feeling across the board in agriculture that Americans have concerns about the food supply, and those are best addressed by farmers,” Chris Galen, a founding member of the alliance said to the Times.

The only thing is the “farmers” represented by the group include agribusiness giants such as Monsanto and DuPont. According to the story, members of smaller, organic and natural farming operations and food processors are skeptical that the $11 million campaign aims to do more than restore credibility to industrial agriculture.

Maybe you think that no amount of PR spin could make you forget that the cows that end up on the dinner menu are fed ground-up chicken and pig parts that, in turn, were fattened on such delicacies as brain, bones and spinal cords.

Then, again, you might be wrong. These sorts of PR campaigns have succeeded before in making public opinion on hot button issues and may very well get us to forget that we abhor CAFOs or Frankenfish.

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Check out my new website, articles

Dear Readers,

I finally got around to setting up a website, www.christinemacdonald.info. Please come visit for news and information about my book and my latest journalistic work. Right now, you’ll find links to do new packages of stories on corporate sustainability published this month in E Magazine and Miller-McCune Magazine.

The Importance of Forests, Farmers + Product Safety

A few news stories of note this morning:

Seeing the forest’s role: “By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population may experience water-stress conditions. Forests capture and store water and can play an important role in providing drinking water for millions of people in the world’s mega-cities.” The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization calls on countries to recognize the links between healthy forests and drinking water supplies and do a better job protecting both.

Small farmers lead the way: In a just released short film series, TVE Asia Pacific profiles farmers in Cambodia, the Netherlands, Niger, and South Africa who are members of Prolinnov, a global network  that promotes local level innovation by small farmers.

New Consumer Product Safety Database targeted by “Koch congressman” – Quick, before U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo gets his way! Check out the government database Pompeo has targeted for extinction, some say as a way of paying fealty to his political patrons at Koch Industries.

Appalachia Rising in DC

Grace Burke protests Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in front of the White House Sept. 27.

People from Appalachia and around the country marched to the White House today to send a message to President Obama about mountaintop removal coal mining: Stop it immediately.

Mountaintop removal — or “mountaintop mining” — as coal companies such as Massey Energy prefer to call it — is a form of strip mining. The companies use explosives to blast off the tops of the mountains and heavy machinery to scoop up the valuable coal seams underneath. Tons of so called “waste rock” (the parts of the mountain of no use to coal companies) are trucked down into valleys, where they are dumped, a process called “valley fill.” Since mountaintop mining began a few decades ago, hundreds of mountains in Appalachia have been blown apart in this way and a couple of thousand of miles of streams and lakes have been buried under waste rubble, according to the EPA.

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Cows will be Cows

Cows will be cows. Chesapeake Bay Foundation photo

Earlier this week, this blog discussed the dilemma facing people everywhere who want both spot-free dishes and clean watersheds. Well, yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted another part of the Chesapeake Bay‘s chemical runoff problem: It announced a crack down at the chicken and dairy farm run by the Petersheim brothers of Lancaster County, Pa.

EPA inspectors slapped the Petersheims with a $6,000 fine for allowing runoff from animal manure and milkhouse washwater packed with nitrogen and phosphorus to end up in a tributary of Chickies Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and eventually meets the bay.

According to the EPA press release, the brothers’ farm in Manheim, Pa., has about 80 dairy cows and produces eggs from about 36,000 hens. Is that a lot? After reading about the country’s massive factory farming operations that produce most of the eggs — and don’t forget the salmonella! — in the country, the Petersheim operation doesn’t sound terribly large and impactful. And, that just illustrates how diffuse and complicated a pollution problem the Chesapeake is facing. The EPA has outlined its plan to step up the long-running cleanup efforts, here. But the task is daunting and environmentalists have expressed lot of skepticism over the plans rolled out by the states bordering the bay. Meanwhile, the farmers are pushing back: A group of Virginia farmers are coming to Washington tomorrow to complaint about the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach to the cleanup and lobby against stricter new legislation in Congress, according to this AP report.

New Study Shows the Potomac is Cleaner Now than Decades Ago

This wild celery (Vallisneria) by Nancy Rybicki, U.S. Geological Survey

The Washington Post has a front page story today trumpeting the news that the Potomac River is the cleanest it’s been in half a century. Whoopie! Such good news. Unfortunately, before you even get to the jump, the report warns that we’ve still got a boatload of environmental problems in the river that supplies our drinking water here in the District and much of the region.

Still, this partial success story inspires hope that we can also tackle the Potomac’s other woes — such as invasive species, pesticides and other  runoff from farms and lawns, and the mysterious chemical that causes male fish to grow eggs.

Read the WaPo story here. Or go directly to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Neighborhood Farming Cocktail Hour This Sunday

Photo came with the invite!

Has the massive salmonella egg recall piqued your interest in “food activism” and the growing urban farming movement? Well, here’s an invitation I received today that perhaps appropriately combines foodie activities — sampling locally made (or at least organic) snacks and libations — with learning more about something called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative.

Tastings:  Sample a variety of organic wines and samples of locally grown snacks
Topic:  Getting Your Hands Dirty: Food Acitvism in Metro DC, a discussion with the Neighborhood Farm Initiative (NFI)
Date/Time:  Sunday, August 29th  from 2:30-5:00 PM
Place:  Fountain Framing, 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD  20712
Cost:  No charge

What is the alternative food movement and what are people in our area doing to support food activism? Maureen Moodie and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative will discuss food access and food security in the metro DC area.  NFI recognizes our concern for food security, food access and healthy living and will also discuss ways to successfully grow organic gardens at home.   They will bring in produce grown from farms at Fort Totten and Fort Dupont for your sampling. Tax-deductible donations to the organization are greatly appreciated. For more information about NFI, please see their website at http://www.neighborhoodfarminitiative.org or contact neighborhoodfarm@gmail.com

Greenlines: If the chemicals don’t get us, global warming will?

The Washington Post uses this summer’s 28 million box recall of Kellogg‘s cereals to point out that U.S. regulators have no information on the health risks of most chemicals found in the produces we eat, wear, used to clean our house, and so on. The story also discusses new legislative initiatives to update the 1970s law governing how much information companies must disclose. Here’s the story.

The Post is chock full of other lifestyle news today. Besides a flurry of babies possibly conceived during last winter’s blizzard, the District’s newspaper of record gives the lowdown on Metro fare hikes and interviews the folks running the free health clinic at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center this week.  On its editorial page, meanwhile, the Post mentions some of the latest “depressing” news about global warming and makes a rather forlorn call for the country’s leaders to stop waffling and start acting to turn things around.

DC.Streets blog reports on developments in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve new spending on highways and public transit but only after stripping out $200 million in “livability initiatives — money that would have been used to help states coordinate transportation, land use, and conservation policy.”

Researchers in Australia publish a new study linking attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to junk food.

How gauche: DC Metrocentric is having a “floorgasm” over the McMansion-sized houses on Garfield Street in Wesley Heights. 6,000-square-feet, a library and a “tandem garage” for $2.25 million. Can you imagine what this house would cost to heat and cool — not to mention the global warming-inducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Peaches not so Peachie – New Report Ranks Pesticides in Produce

News of this new “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides” came to me via Mother Jones this morning. It’s worth a look. It ranks 47 different types of fruit and veggies by the amount of pesticide residue contain.

iband.com imageWe should all care because eating a bunch a pesticides along with your daily portion of produce is known to effect your nervous and hormone systems. Pesticides are toxins with carcinogenic qualities. Coming in contact with them can also irritate your eyes, skin and lungs, according to the report, which cites a slew of scientific studies.

It also offers tips on how to minimize your exposure but they are pretty limited; The authors suggest go organic. They also put in a plug for pressing lawmakers to demand full-disclosure of pesticides used in growing the food we innocently purchase in the supermarkets. And, once we knew, demand those toxins are limited or eliminated altogether.

Good information but pretty lame advice which has been doled out on this subject for some years now with little movement toward full disclosure by the agribusiness giants in this country and abroad that produce so much of our food supply. Luckily, farmers’ market season is approaching. I am, however, sometimes worried that the small farmers who sell at our neighborhood market in Takoma Park might be using the same old pesticides and simply coasting on their “family farm” looks. What guarantee do we have that farmers market sellers are adhering to better practices and using fewer chemical inputs?

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