I have a problem with podcasts that goes way beyond making my own. It is that I can really only listen when I am walking, flying, boating or training. Any other time, my attention is distracted by something and I lose the thread. That means I don’t have much time to listen. I do make the time for things that ought to be worthwhile, and sometimes I am glad I did. This is one of those times.
Of course I cannot now remember how I heard about Jonathan Van Ness’ episode Does Old MacDonald Need A Makeover? with Professor Gabe Rosenberg. If you recognise Van Ness’ name, the episode title will make complete sense. For me, a Queer Eye virgin, it seemed odd enough to pursue, and I am very glad I did.
Rosenberg’s take is refreshing, clear and very informative, based on his definition of agriculture as “the process of creating life, managing it, making sure that it reproduces, and then harvesting the .. excess of that reproduction.” The podcast goes off on a few wildish tangents (Ooops, we accidentally legalised bestiality in our push for freedom of sexual expression) but in the end I could appreciate how the control of reproduction linked the various ideas.
The show notes handily pointed me to Rosenberg’s newsletter on Substack, where I homed in on I Don’t Hate Farmers. Rosenberg, who describes himself as “a pointy-headed coastal elite gender studies professor”, explains there in more detail how farmers in the US (and other more developed economies) are business people first and foremost. They may own the land, and they may even perform some labour on that land, but those are incidental to their business: to “generate revenue from the production and sale of agricultural commodities”. As a result,
Farmers have good reasons to prefer lower wages, weak environmental and labor protections, lower taxation, and fewer social welfare programs. It sucks that those are their interests, but, well, that’s the reality of the situation. And these things do not coherently match the interests of people who sell their labor for wages—particularly when those people happen to sell their labor to farmers.
If that is an uncomfortable truth, Rosenberg has many others.
Having discovered an interesting podcast episode and an interesting newsletter edition raises the question of subscribing. For Jonathan’s podcast, probably not; I will just rely on the kindness of strangers to alert me when there’s one about food or farming. For Gabe’s newsletter, still undecided. The ratio of immediate interest to passing interest is a bit low to justify the expense, so I can but hope that he shares new issues with the world via Twitter.
p.s. Scrolling past the farm stuff to the end of the newsletter, I discover that Rosenberg is much taken with Claas Kirchhelle’s book Pyrrhic Progress: The History of Antibiotics in Anglo-American Food Production. Listeners with long memories may recall Kirschelle talking about Antibiotics and agriculture, so they probably won’t find the story quite as eye-popping as Rosenberg did.
Speaking of which …
OK, let’s say you want to make your personal contribution to avoiding what Gabe Rosenberg calls “the most substantial risks associated with widespread antibiotic use in food production”. You look for meat labelled Raised Without Antibiotics. This is what’s known as a credence attribute, one that, as a mere human, you cannot possibly verify. That’s why you need someone like the USDA to offer RWA labels the credence you need. Obviously, then, the USDA checks the truth of the claim before it approves the use of such a label.
A new paper in Science notes that “[a]lthough the USDA occasionally tests for antibiotic residues in meat animals, these tests are not conducted to verify RWA claims”. In all, about 7000 of the 9,000,000,000 animals slaughtered in the US each year are tested, and then only to determine whether antibiotic residues exceed safe limits. That has nothing to do with the claim that animals were raised without antibiotics. Other labelling programs, like “Organic” lend credence to RWA claims. Alas, the paper informs us that “none of these programs require empirical antibiotic testing”.
After screening randomly chosen animals being delivered to a slaughterhouse under a “No Antibiotics Ever” program, the researchers conclude that about 15% of all lots of cattle had at least one animal test positive for antibiotics. Four of the 33 different feedyards supplying cattle to the slaughterhouse had every single animal in a lot test positive. The stark conclusion: “today’s RWA labels lack integrity”.
The paper does offer some suggestions on how to change that, but I’m not holding my breath.
Anna Laurent is a photographer and visual artist with a decidely botanical bent. Not all of the plants she photographs are edible, or even useful — though many are — but all of the pictures are glorious. I was recently reminded of her work on The Iraqi Seed Project, which rang a faint bell of memory. Laurent’s photographs document a few aspects of Iraq’s efforts to preserve and rebuild it’s agriculture.
The Iraqi Seed Project launched in 2009 with Emma Piper-Burket’s desire to make a documentary about the origins of agriculture and local food security in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. As far as I can make out the documentary has not yet materialised, and despite being dedicated to preservation, all the original content on her website has gone extinct (unless you know where to look). How sad, too, that neither Anna Laurent nor Emma Piper-Burket thought to give this woman the respect and recognition she deserves by naming her. For the record, she is Sanaa Abdul Wahab.
Another thing I listened to that you may find worthwhile (if you have gaps to fill).
The Tunisian Baguette Revolt is the first episode of a new occasional podcast series from Whetstone magazine, and looks at the background to the Arab Spring in Tunisia, which certainly has added relevance today. This one I have subscribed to. One note of clarification; when they refer to hard and soft wheat, they are talking about durum wheat and bread wheat, rather than soft and hard varieties of bread wheat. Semolina is durum flour. It is also worth noting that Russia and Ukraine are not responsible for one third of the world’s wheat. They are responsible for one third of internationally traded wheat; still scary, but not as scary as it first sounds.
Oh, and apparently is is OK to call a curry a curry. Phew!