I hope you enjoyed the previous edition of Eat This Newsletter.
Because I was away, I have a bit of a backlog of stuff I’ve collected, and because I am not making podcast episodes I have a bit of time to spare, which means I can do the newsletter more often.
At least until I have cleared the backlog.
If around one in five of your harvest is putrid, I reckon you have a bigger problem than a few rotten apples. But I don’t write the headlines for Policy Forum pieces in Science. The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness is behind a paywall, so I am grateful that there is also a press release: Revealing Brazil’s rotten agribusinesses.
Accusations that illegal deforestation in Brazil lies behind its massive exports of beef and soybeans are frequent, common, and frequently denied. In a study focused on exports to the EU, researchers examined “815,000 individual rural properties in order to assess where illegal deforestation associated with soy and beef production are taking place and how much of these products is reaching the EU”.
The answer is really complex, but the bottom line would seem to be that “roughly 20% of soy exports and at least 17% of beef exports from both biomes to the EU may be contaminated with illegal deforestation”.
The complexity stems in part from the complexity of food supply chains. For example, soy is a vital ingredient in feeds for chickens and, especially, pork. And the EU is the world’s largest pork exporter. Indirectly, then, the global appetite for pork is driving illegal deforestation in Brazil.
Figures for beef are likewise obscured by supply chains. The study found that about 500,000 head of cattle slaughtered — roughly 12% of the total — were raised on illegally deforested land. But cattle also move from ranch to ranch as they are fattened, and those flows are not monitored. Taking those animals into consideration ups the total raised on illegally deforested land to about 60% of all slaughtered cattle.
Until now, both the Brazilian government and the EU have said that the supply chain is too convoluted to monitor properly and that they cannot tell legal from illegal deforestation, giving both a reason not to act.
Raoni Rajão, lead author on the study, says there is no longer any excuse:
Not anymore. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe. Now, Brazil has the information it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.
There have been calls for consumers to boycott Brazilian agricultural products. Given the tangled food chains, though, and the importance of Brazil as a global supplier, it is hard to see how that would work. Maybe, with this newly available information, the EU can use some of its collective purchasing power to drive change.
The Original Captain Boycott
Heyrick targeted shoppers rather than lawmen, urging them to abandon Caribbean sugar in favour of that from the East Indies. Sugar from India and Malaysia, cunningly marketed as “not made by slaves“, enjoyed quite a vogue, despite being produced by indentured labourers who earned almost nothing for their labour; after all, they weren’t legally enslaved.
Did boycotts hasten the end of slavery? The article suggests that a slave uprising, Sharpe’s rebellion, had a greater impact. But it also points out that Samuel Sharpe was “[h]eartened by the news that many people in the faraway capital of the empire were actually sympathetic to him and his fellows”. The article also links to a more detailed examination of ethical boycotts — ‘Not made by slaves’: the ambivalent origins of ethical consumption — that is well worth a read.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against all global trade. I do, however, believe we need to at least think in more depth about some of the consequences of absolutely free trade.
Take cashews (about which I have a thing). Global demand has been increasing by about 7% a year for the past few years. Many countries where cashews were never a big thing, including Ghana and Ivory Coast in west Africa, have embraced the opportunity. The sector expanded hugely in Ghana, through a continuing government effort that gives cashew seedlings away for free, supported by donors such as USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Great; cashew nut exports are way up, providing income all along the supply chain.
The cashews are being grown on land that once grew food crops. As a result, some of that extra income is being used to buy food, and Ghana is importing 70% of the rice and 15% of the maize it needs. At the same time, something like 98% of the cashews are exported in a raw state to India and Vietnam, where the real value is added by turning raw cashew nuts into edible cashew kernels. And monocropping cashews, especially in forest margin areas, threatens biodiversity.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Covid-19 is proving to be a bit of a blessing to Ghanaian cashews by damping down international trade. The processing plants in India and Vietnam are having to work at reduced capacity. So there’s a glut of raw cashew nuts. So the price has come down. So local, Ghanaian, processing companies, which had been forced to mothball because traders were stockpiling nuts for export, have been able to re-open and capture more of the value of cashew kernels.
Will the miniboom last? No idea. And how, as consumers, could one support Ghanaian cashew producers, if one wanted to? Again, no idea, although in researching this item I did come across one enterprise that, at least on first glance, looks worthy. I doubt, however, that they are branded as such on the shelves.
Covid-19 has also had an impact on another worthy nut — the peanut. Apparently, the lack of baseball crowds in the US means that San Francisco Giants fans alone will eat almost 15 tons fewer peanuts this year than last. What’s to become of all those nuts?
Katherine Preston — one of the two Botanists in the Kitchen — turns to George Washington Carver and some of the “105 Ways of Preparing It For Human Consumption” he devised. In addition to her thoughts on Carver and #BlackBotanistsWeek (which is still going strong and still very interesting) she also takes the opportunity to revisit her original post on peanuts, which I don’t think I have ever shared before.
I too have my heroes, here on my office wall.
And in that spirit, I think I’ll share again my post on the convoluted story of Peanuts and world affairs.
Where, by “I”, I mean Jay Rayner.
Six brilliant suggestions, three on food, three on not food, all of which I strongly endorse (not that that counts for anything).
If you clicked on that final link, were you surprised where it took you? I know I was.
All the best, and take care,
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