Filed under: baking, project updates, where the flour went | Tags: Chicago, Chicago Reader, Cliff Doerkson, meat pies, Mike Sula, mince pies, pot pie, road kill, scavenging, Sheila Sachs, venison
Back to the flour stories! Recently I received the second of two notes which pertained to the making of meat pies on special occasions. Despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian – or maybe because of it – these stories were worthy of particular admiration. The first, received on Christmas day, really needs no further explanation as to why:
Date: Sat, December 25, 2010 11:38:02 AM
Subject: Venison Pot Pie
This Wisconsin Road Kill Venison (collected and butchered by M) Pot Pie was topped with Sour Dough Pastry Biscuits by you and me and enjoyed by many in Chicago.
Thank you so much for your time and effort on the Industrial Harvest project in Chicago.
Your legacy lives on.
On second thought, I should note that the road kill in question was butchered by my Chicago housemate while I was living with him this summer. No, I did not witness the butchering, that was done in Wisconsin on a weekend trip. But still, I lived with bloody deer parts in a freezer for a good part of the summer, and so feel a special attachment to it – and some serious respect for my housemate. I think this was his first road kill butchering.
Then yesterday on the Industrial Harvest facebook page, Mike Sula from the Chicago Reader posted his story of the mince (meat) pies that he and Sheila Sachs made for the memorial to writer Cliff Doerksen, who passed away in December. Cliff won the James Beard award for his 2009 Chicago Reader story on the history of mince pie in America. The award was well deserved; Cliff’s tale is a great ride through an odd bit of US culinary history which probably would have otherwise been completely forgotten (Mike’s note sent me off on multiple internet tangents, and not knowing anything about Cliff or mince pie previously, they were welcome and entertaining diversions). Mike and Sheila’s sweet tribute – seven mince pies, with crusts made with Industrial Harvest flour, fed 200 people at the memorial. It was an honor to play even a small part in that. Thanks to Mike and Sheila for including me and creating such a thoughtful send-off to Cliff.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Thought I should pass along these excellent articles on commodities speculation and food prices. Thankfully, this issue seems to be gaining more and more traction as of late.
The Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks and Investors are Starving the Third World, by Ellen Brown, truthout, Feb 2011
How Goldman Sachs gambled on starving the worlds’ poor – and won, from Johann Hari (the Independent), July 2010
There’s also a few groups out there doing some organizing around these issues. This is one of the most comprehensive sites I’ve seen so far – including a fledgling divestment campaign to educate institutional investors on the dubious ethics (and financial pitfalls) of commodities index funds.
As part of the financial reform bill passed last summer, the CFTC recently proposed position limits for commodities (as well as some other rules; see a factsheet here and a Q&A here; prepare to glaze over). The agency is currently taking public comment on those rules, if we can only figure out what to comment on and what to say before April. I have yet to see a specific critique of what sort of changes might be warranted, seems like folks might still be figuring that out. If you have any guidance on this or links that would help, post it in the comments…
Filed under: Commodities trading, hunger, the wheat market | Tags: algeria, biofuels, climate change, commodities, commodities trading, egypt, food prices, food riots, fuel prices, jordan, peak oil, political instability, population growth, speculation, staple crops, trading, tunisia, unrest, wheat prices
Over the past weeks / months, this blogspace has been largely populated by emails and a few letters from people that have done all these good deeds with the flour they’ve received from this project – bringing people together to enjoy a good meal, feeding others that are tired from work / studying, need of some inspiration, or just plain hungry. As great as these stories are, one could look at this blog and forget the impetus behind the Industrial Harvest project, and that’s not my intent at all.
If you need a reminder as to what this project is all about, all you need to do is look at the news. Food prices have continued to go up – right now, the price of food is higher than it’s ever been, even higher than the food price crisis in 2008. All that unrest in Tunisia and Egypt? It may be good for democracy, but it was largely fueled by anger at skyrocketing food prices, which in developing nations are more closely linked to commodities. In the Middle East and North Africa, wheat is the commodity of choice – Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer. Algeria (the #4 global wheat importer) also saw food riots recently, along with Jordan. As a friend explained to me, wheat is a relatively small market (dwarfed by corn and soy) and therefore more vulnerable to price swings, and these places are highly reliant on that particular staple crop as a source of nourishment. Big problem – regardless of the regime that’s in place.
There’s no shortage of debate as to what’s making food prices go up. Some argue that it’s basic supply and demand: Global population is increasing and urbanizing – and as people in developing nations gain wealth, they consume more meat and more food and more land previously used for farming (as we in the “developed” world consume boatloads of everything, like we always have). So it is now more difficult to carry over a surplus of staples from year to year, and any uncertain weather or political event event that lowers expected yields will cause prices to spike.
Oh yeah, and those uncertain weather events? Things like floods, cyclones, droughts, wildfires, late freezes? There are more and more of those these days, thanks to global climate change, and they certainly impact the global food supply. Paul Krugman and Joseph Romm at Climate Progress have articulated this argument nicely. I can’t imagine it yields a lot of satisfaction for the climate scientists, who have been predicting these sorts of things for years, to be vindicated now.
And then there’s the price of fuel, which tracks closely with the price of food – industrially grown commodities require a large amount of energy to grow and transport. The Peak Oil crowd points out that as oil supplies decline, the prices of both food and fuel will go up even further. To make things worse, in our desperation for an oil substitute, we are dedicating a significant amount of food crops to producing biofuel.
Other folks point to the devaluation of the US dollar and Bernanke’s policy of “quantitative easing” as the root of the problem. Ironically, a cheaper US dollar in relation to other currencies drives up the demand for (and subsequently the price of) commodities.
Lastly, there’s the argument that the growth in commodity speculation has played a role – the financialization and deregulation of the commodities markets (along with the bust in the tech and mortgage derivative markets) have led to an explosion of commodity hedge funds, pension funds, index funds, derivatives, swaps, and on and on. All that nasty stuff that got us into trouble with the credit and housing crisis is now impacting the food system.
So are Wall Streeters disrupting the food supply in their desire to make a buck? Well, yes – I think they probably are, and yes, it’s part of the point of this whole Industrial Harvest thing. Frederick Kaufman’s excellent article for Harpers’ in July was what personally convinced me once and for all, but Kaufman is not the only one sounding the alarm. Some EU countries – primarily France – have recently spoken up in favor of stronger regulation of commodity markets. France, as the leader of the G20 this year, is poised to push this issue. The UN Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) is right there with them. And all of a sudden, in the midst of all the hubbub around Egypt, a few mainstream news outlets seem to be starting to pick up the story as well. Better late than never, guys (see here, here and here).
Of course, it’s unrealistic to pretend that what’s going on with food prices is based on any single factor. Nor can I be 100% sure what’s going on. But, if someone asked me, I would sum up my view of the situation as increased demand and a host of other factors (climate events, biofuels, monetary policy, etc.) magnified by a pretty large and unstable speculative system, which is in turn driven by a few huge, powerful, vertically integrated corporations. This is all exacerbated by the fact that with markets it doesn’t matter what’s actually happening – it just matters what people think is happening – and what people think people think is happening (and so on). The fact that this house of cards could be brought down by any of, oh, 5 or 10 or 100 different and / or random events (or all of them, or some of them) is not only discomfiting. It also makes it easy for any single party to point the finger at the others, effectively diffusing responsibility, perpetuating ignorance and causing those who should care to throw up their hands in inaction and confusion.