Blog

Is Food the New Sex?

That's the title of an article by Mary Eberstadt from a couple years ago in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review.  I found the whole thing fascinating.  In the piece, Mary describes the complete reversals that have happened with food and sex.  Over the past half century, sex has become much more liberalized, and much that was taboo is now o.k.  Precisely the opposite has happened with food.  

Here's one interesting sentence

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.

Slovenia

I'm excited to be in Slovenia this week giving a couple talks at the European Association of Agricultural Economists triennial congress in Ljubljana Slovenia.

One of my talks is an invited plenary address on the implications of behavioral economics for food policy.  The paper version of the talk was recently published by the European Review of Agricultural Economics.

A couple views just outside my hotel.

slovenia.JPG

An exciting food future

This article in the NYT by Kate Murphy provides a nice anecdote to the prevailing view that the way forward for food is to look backward and be more "natural".

She writes:

Following Steve Jobs’s credo that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” a handful of high-tech start-ups are out to revolutionize the food system by engineering “meat” and “eggs” from pulverized plant compounds or cultured snippets of animal tissue. One company imagines doing away with grocery shopping, cooking and even chewing, with a liquid meal made from algae byproducts.

Her proposal sounds like an excerpt out of a book proposal I have in the works . . 

Buffalo extermination - environmental catastrophe or savior?

Given my Wall Street Journal article earlier this week, I've received a large number of questions and comment about beef cattle production and the environment.  One comment on the piece in the WSJ made an observation that had never occurred to me.

One of the big concerns with beef production is methane emissions.  Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.  Cattle are ruminants, and their digestion produces methane (which is released not from the back-end of the cow as is typically asserted but rather the front-end).  

In any event, it seems a common presumption of many who are worried about this issue is that if we got rid of all the beef cattle in the US (or at least drastically reduced their numbers), that would be a great thing because we could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and help curb climate change.

In fact, we did something very much like that in the US in the mid to late 1800s, and it is almost universally considered a tragedy.

According to some environmental groups, there was once more than 20 million bison roaming the Great Plains.  This number may not be far fetched.  According to one academic paper, the bison carrying capacity of the Great Plains in 1860 was estimated between 13.78 to 20.67 million bison.   According to EPA calculations, American bison generate as much or more methane as do beef cattle on a per-head basis (compare table A-184 to A-187).  

In 1990, there were only about 50,000 head of bison in the US.  Today there are less than 200,000.  Thus, there has been a 100 fold reduction in bison numbers since the mid 1800s.

Were these bison causing climate change back in the 1800s?  Is it a great victory for the environment that they were almost eradicated?    

Logically consistency would seem to dictate that we think about the methane emissions of the ~20 million American bison in the 1800s the same way we think about the methane emissions of the ~29 million beef cattle in the US today.   I suspect the total amount of methane emissions from 1860s bison population and 2014 US beef cattle population are roughly similar (according to the EPA, feedlot beef cattle have much lower per-head methane emissions than bison - about half as much).  

So, bison depopulation - environmental boon or ecological travesty?  Neither?  Both?

Assorted Links

A great story about my older sister, Keri Moore, on the front page of the Lubbock paper

Good nuanced discussion on climate change by Charles Mann in the Atlantic

Interesting speculation on link between antibiotics given to children and obesity

Long piece on high-profile anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva in the New Yorker; the writer's general discussion GMOs reflects the growing awareness by journalists about the scientific literature on the subject

Bruce Ferree writing for Quality Assurance and Food Safety has some nice things to say about my Food Police book