Guest Article: My Food Journey

Oshi Shola

My Food Journey

Jesse Haskins

Whether my parents intended or not (probably not), I built my cultural identity around food. I grew up loving my maternal grandmother’s rice dishes. She recognized this as fundamental to her Jewish-Afghanistan heritage. I remember being particularly fond of her “oshi shola” recipe, a recipe of which I still have the basics recorded approximately a decade after I learned it from her, lightly edited below:

Oshi Shola

  • Cut onion, chop chicken, then let it cook.
  • Grate the carrot if you want or cut it around small pieces
  • Add tomato paste or tomato sauce. One small can of tomato paste is too much, but with tomato sauce, one small tomato sauce can, have some water and let it cook.
  • Remove from heat, cut cilantro
  • Serve over rice with fresh dill and lemon.

On my father’s side, my food journey has been a bit more academic. My father is from Atlanta, so I decided to read Matzoh Ball Gumbo by Marcie Cohen Ferris–a great book that covers the history of Southern Jewish food, sprinkled with recipes. I learned, for example, how during the Civil War, New York Jews and Philadelphia Jews reached beyond their political and geographic allegiances to supply the Jews of Savannah, Georgia with three thousand pounds of matzah–unleavened bread that’s the necessity of the Passover holiday. From the same book, I made spoon bread, a Yiddish recipe consisting mostly of grits and cornmeal.

Matzoh Ball Gumbo
Matzoh Ball Gumbo

The point is that food is a heart the heart of so many different cultural identities. The stuff is so profound it united opposing sides in a time of war. Local food systems are vital to our environmental health. And as coronavirus has made painfully clear, local sustainable food systems provide us with economic security. The convergence of these three ecologies–the cultural, the environmental, and the economic–lies at the heart of Ecology Florida’s work. Ecology Florida advances the three ecologies by operating community gardens, seed banks, and farm to table dinners (at least when there is no pandemic). Through each of these activities, Ecology Florida strives to strengthen local food systems to help people connect with cultures, promote environmental harmony, and empower communities economically.

COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Frailty of America’s Food System

COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Frailty of America’s Food System

Dell deChant

By now most Americans have seen images of long lines at food banks around the nation – thousands of cars bumper to bumper in Cleveland, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Pittsburg, and many other cities.  The images are devastating.  How could this happen? The question echoes across the nation, and certainly with urgent distress for those waiting in those thousand-car lines.  How could this happen in our rich nation with the world’s most powerful economy and its most productive agricultural system?  Why has the COVID-19 pandemic left so many Americans desperately short of food?

The answers are many: the administration’s clumsy reaction to the crisis, widespread job losses in the nation’s massive service sector due to tough “stay-at-home” edicts, fear and panic-hoarding, and politicization of responses to the crisis.  Besides these obvious explanations, there are others that are less apparent and unlikely to get much coverage in the 24-hour news cycle, but perhaps more telling.  

While the pandemic reveals government ineptitude, it also reveals the precariousness of other foundational systems.  Healthcare, economics, the media, and education have all been staggered by the sudden eruption of this contagion.  What is failing are the systems themselves – most dramatically, our food system.  

In urban centers around America, grocery stores are facing shortages of basic commodities.  There are empty spaces on shelves, and not just in the paper aisles but also in the food aisles.  Food insecurity has increased, exacerbated by economic inequalities and driven even harder by the collapse of the service sector.  Long and lengthening lines at foodbanks are leading to shortages there as well. Ironically, in the midst of this food crisis, farmers are plowing under crops, dumping milk and eggs, and laying off workers.  

National Guardsman hand out food in Baton Rouge during COVID-19 Pandemic

Why Is This Happening?

Why is this happening?  Those who have been researching America’s foodways have long been aware of the liabilities of the contemporary food system. As a culture, beginning in the 1950s, the industrial food system began a rapid conquest of America’s foodways. This system relies on inflexible structures of the consumerist economic order: long supply lines, with low wage jobs every step of the way; just-in-time inventory processes; enormous mono-crop farms that destroy whole ecosystems; giant food processing plants, stock yards, and slaughterhouses; and vast extractions of oil, water, and phosphates.  

Every food product we consume travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table. We are all dependent on massive quantities of food making this 1,500 mile trek, relying on a rigid, complex system, over which local governments, businesses, and individuals have little control or authority.  We are simply consumers, receiving only what the system delivers to us.  If the system breaks down or even stumbles, there is little that can be done except ask for help, hope the mega-corporations and their complex system can retool quickly enough to avert catastrophe, or look to the federal government for assistance.    

This is exactly what is happening today.  The process is not working. The industrial food system is reacting slowly and with mixed results (watch for more shortages and significant cost increases in basic commodities), the federal government is stumbling into action, and local leaders are hoping for help feeding the food-insecure.  But when it comes to food supplies, there is very little local leaders can do besides hoping and asking for help –  because in most communities there does not exist a viable local food system.  We are at the mercy of systems beyond our ken and out of our control.

The poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the homeless, and all others experiencing chronic food insecurity are facing grave challenges in this moment. They are now joined by countless others, millions nationwide, who likely never had a concern over food in their lives.  As the coronavirus  has highlighted the dramatic weaknesses and tragic inequalities in America’s healthcare system, its consequences may bring to national awareness the dangerous lack of resilience in the industrial food system upon which we have become dependent. Hopefully this will happen and prompt reform, but what would this reform look like?  

What Reform Would Look Like

The reform would have to begin with the recognition that what is happening now is not a fluke, it is also not nearly as serious as it could be.  Image what would happen if more meat-packing plants shut down, if there was a sharp decline in the number of farmworkers harvesting crops, if climate change caused a collapse of grain production in the Midwest, if cheap transportation of food was no longer available, if we lost even more pollinators.  Imagine what would happen if the federal government did not buy up surplus food from the industrial food system and facilitate its distribution.  Imagine if the industrial food system found it more profitable to destroy surplus commodities rather than teaming with food-relief networks.  Imagine a virus even more lethal than COVID-19.

Imagine what would happen if any of those possibilities occurred. Where would our food come from then? The industrial food system is too frail to withstand large-scale cultural traumas, and if reform does not occur, what is happening today will happen again, likely with more dire consequences.  Reform is not impossible, and can begin today, taking many forms, with many options.  It would have food banks also act as seed and seedling banks – offering seeds and seedlings along with basic food supplies.  It would include community vegetable gardens as a part of every public park, and a line item for urban farms in every city’s budget.  Cities would fund staff positions for agricultural  directors and urban gardeners. Local governments would require that new developments include not only green space, but farm space as well.

Government at all levels would offer tax-incentives for replacing lawns and ornamental plantings with vegetable gardens, giving fruit trees to propriety owners, restoring agriculture classes in public schools – especially urban schools. It would include agriculture programs at every public university (not just the land-grant schools) and courses in horticulture as mandatory graduation requirements for all bachelor’s degrees. From pre-school through college, equal or greater stress would be put on learning gardening as is put on learning cyber systems today.

This is not an impossible vision. Not at all. If only a fraction of spending by the USDA, state and local governments, schools of higher education, charities, and emergency feeding organizations was diverted to reforms such as these, the food-crisis we face to today might never have occurred – and if we act now, it need never occur again.

Here are some  articles for additional background reading on the impact of the pandemic on the food system:

The Coronavirus Reveals The ‘Invisible Inequalities’ In Our Food System, Huff Post

Farmers plowing under crops, dumping milkNew York Times

What the Coronavirus means for Food InsecurityThe Hill

Supply chains stressed, but are run by ‘incredible foragers,’ USF expert says, Tampa Bay Times

April saw the sharpest increase in grocery store prices in nearly 50 years, Boston Globe from The Washington Post

US grocery costs jump the most in 46 years, led by rising prices for meat and eggs. CNBC

Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida.  He is a Master Instructor and has served at USF since 1986. The author of three books, over 40 articles in professional publications, and chapters in twelve books, deChant’s specialization is religion and contemporary cultures. His current research focuses on religious, literary, and ecological expressions of Agrarianism as they manifest in American popular culture.  

Healthy Eating and Ecology Work Together, a Reminder

GMO Rice Comparison

We all know how important it is that we continue to educate the public about the difference in food production and its benefits via environment, health and ecology.  Too many people still think that food should be cheap and that there no difference between using corn oil for cooking compared to the more expensive cold-pressed virgin olive oil.  Or that genetically modified vegetables are as nutritious as organic, non-GMO.  In both cases they are wrong.  When we eat better our health is better.  When we grow better crops our soil is better. With the right knowledge we work to improve our environment with a healthier effect on the overall ecology.

To learn more about the wisdom of the above and how to change the thinking and approach…this excellent paper is a primer for those of us who strive  to make our lives and gardens a good investment in time and health.  With better knowledge we can explain the importance of a cleaner environment and why it matters in the long run.

Read “Investing in Healthy, Sustainable Places Through Urban Agriculture” and share with your friends.  Let’s get this better way of living and eating rolling in the right direction.
-Ecology Florida staff

GMOs by Country

From ‘Sustainable’ to ‘Regenerative:’ The Future of Food

Food Future Ecology Florida

by André Leu and Ronnie Cummins

edited by Marilynn deChant

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”

Is “sustainability” meaningless to consumers and the public? Some say it’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.

But rather than come up with one definition for the word “sustainable” as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.

Degenerative is toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies.

Regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests,  replenish water, promote food sovereignty, and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.

In the 1970s, Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond simply “sustainable.”

The dictionary defines “sustainable” as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time. In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them.

Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn’t come close to “not using up or destroying natural resources.”  Their hope is that consumers will view “sustainable” products as superior to mere “conventional” products, or better yet, equate the word “sustainable” with “organic.”

It’s a Regeneration Revolution. And it goes well beyond “sustainability.”

André Leu is president of IFOAM Organics International <> , and on the steering committee of Regeneration International <> .

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association <> , and on the steering committee of Regeneration International <> .

Read the full article here.

A Land With Too Much Plenty: Food Collapse and Florida’s Future

Too Much Food

A Land with too Much Plenty: Food Collapse and Florida’s Future

Not Feeling the Pinch in the Land of More Than Enough,

Joel Bourne’s The End Of Plenty, Food Collapse and the Florida Future

Editorial: Ecology Florida

Did you get enough to eat yesterday?  For folks reading this article, the answer is probably “yes.” “Yes, thank you, more than enough.”

In America when it comes to food, like just about everything else, we have enough, and more than enough.  We have enough cell phones, computers, cars, dress shoes, cool homes in climate-change summers, cool playlists on iphones, skirts, running shoes, pets, posters, vacation plans, work pants, house plants, business cards, microwave ovens, logo t-shirts – enough, and more than enough.

We certainly have enough food – at least in America, at least for now.

Nearing the End – At Least of Plenty

This is not true in other parts of the world, and those other parts of the world are growing – apparently quite quickly.  According to Joel Bourne, author of the just published, The End of Plenty, we are nearing the point of food collapse – i.e., insufficient food supplies to feed large numbers of the planet’s human residents.

Many factors are contributing to the planet’s food collapse, and most are either not well known or of little concern to Americans. Bourne tells us plenty about these factors in The End of Plenty.  As observed by Dave Davies of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air:

While the Earth’s population is growing rapidly, our ability to feed it is undermined by a loss of arable land due to climate change, growing water shortages, the use of valuable farmland to grow biofuels and the fact that many of us eat so much meat, which is a highly inefficient way to use the grain we grow. [6]

Bourne’s Pinch

These factors are not news to readers of ECFL News, which has editorialized on this topic from time to time – first in 2012, in “Dining and Dreaming at the Top of The World.”[3] Bourne reminds us of what we already know, but which many others do not – at least many who are still dining at the top of the world.   He tells us that:

Here in the United States, we’ve had 2012-2013, you know, we had the worst drought since the Dust Bowl days – cost us $30 billion. So – and what we’re dealing with is sort of the new normal. You know, the researchers say that now we’re going to have to, because of the increased demand from population growth, increased meat consumption in developing parts of the world, that we’re going to have to double our grain production, our food production, by 2050 to make sure everyone’s reasonably fed. And yet, climate change is just starting to really hammer it down, so we’re in a bit of a pinch. [6]

All right, Joel!  A bit of pinch indeed.  We are not feeling it – not yet.  It is still too easy for us to get food (or substance that passes for food).  Food is inexpensive in America. It is also easily accessible.  And so Joel’s bit-of-a-pinch is not being felt by most, and hardly at all by leaders who could be making a difference.

Here is another pinch we are not yet feeling, and of which our leaders appear oblivious:  “we’re looking at having to grow as much food in the next forty years as we have since agriculture began 10,000 years ago. It is the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced, and we have to do it without destroying the water, the oceans, the soils, that we all depend on. It’s just – it’s a staggering challenge.” [6]

Two Places to Watch

In the near future, we may begin to see what this challenge looks like, and start to feel a bit of Bourne’s pinching.  The two places to watch are California and the American Midwest.   These are major food production centers for the world, and certainly for the US.  California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history, at the same time that the state has become the source for vast quantities of fruits and vegetables.

Much is being made in the skeptical media that this is not the “worst drought” in California’s history.  It apparently is not.  What is certain, however, is that it is indeed the worst drought in California’s history since the state became the primary supplier for most of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables. Climate Progress tells us:

Eaten a salad recently? Odds are the lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Have a soft spot for stone fruit? California produces 84 percent of the country’s fresh peaches and 94 percent of the country’s fresh plums. It produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the United States, and 94 percent of the broccoli. As spring begins to creep in, almost half of asparagus will come from California. [2]

The odds are pretty good, even in Florida, that these fruits and vegetables are coming from California, despite the fact that Florida can grow them all, and do so with less stress on the environment.  Ironically, in the midst of this stunning drought, California is exporting vast quantities of water – in the form of fruits and vegetables. Here in Florida, we can grow a multitude of fruits and vegetables year round, and we still have pretty good water supplies, but we support further drawdown of California’s water table by importing California water in the form of California produce. Needless to say, Floridians are also financially supporting Big Ag’s exploitation of California’s water and other natural resources with every purchase of California produce that we make. We can do better than that as a state and a nation. See our earlier editorial, “We Can Do Better Than California Broccoli.”[4]

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, the Ogallala Aquifer continues being over pumped to support industrial agriculture in the midst of a drought, as noted by Bourne (above), and produce grains for livestock, bio-fuels, and some human consumption.  As with California’s fruits and vegetables, the American Midwest is still producing grain at a remarkable clip. In both cases the production is occurring at a considerable (and largely hidden) cost – the depletion of water reserves. But the water has not run out in California or in the Midwest, and so the only pinch we feel is a rhetorical one.

Ask Folks You Know

Ask folks you know if they are aware of the California drought and how it relates to our getting enough (and more than enough) to eat.  Ask them if they are even aware of the rapid depletion of water supplies for the “breadbasket of the world” – you don’t need to use the word Ogallala.  Most will not be aware of what is happening. Why should they?  They have enough and more than enough, and so do we all in America, in the restaurant at the top of the world, where food travels an average of 1500 miles to reach our plates and we can wash down our Chilean Sea Bass with some Sapporo Premium beer in air-conditioned comfort during the hottest year on record.

Hopefully, we’ll resolve our food policy challenges before the end of plenty becomes a reality – and we really feel the pinch.  If we don’t, we may be in for a lot more than a pinch.

Sources: Those Cited and Others For Further Reading

[1] Joel Bourne, “The Global Food Crisis”

[2] Climate Progress, “California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System”

[3] Ecology Florida, “Editorial: Dining and Dreaming at the Top of the World”

[4] Ecology Florida, “Editorial: We Can Do Better Than California Broccoli”

[5] Kirkus, “Kirkus Review: The End of Plenty”

[6] NPR, Fresh Air, “As Global Population Grows, Is The Earth Reaching the End of Plenty?

EDITORIAL: New Toxins and GMOs Headed Our Way

Corn Rows

New Toxins and New GMOs Headed Our Way:

The Next Roundup for the GMO Corral


A new poison may soon be coming to an ecosystem near you.  This is Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo, a close relative to Monsanto’s aggressively marketed and wildly popular Roundup.  Dow’s powerful herbicide is on the fast track to approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[1]

Should Enlist Duo be approved, it will permit the use of yet another powerful plant toxin, and allow the introduction of a new wave of GM food crops.  In short: (1) more poisons in ecosystems and food crops, and (2) more Genetically Modified (GM) produce entering the food chain.

It is rather remarkable and somewhat troubling that the EPA has allowed only a thirty-day window for public comment on its review of the key compound in Dow’s chemical, a substance called “2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide.”  The window closes on May 30, 2014.  Please read the section below about making your comments to the EPA.

We encourage anyone committed to a healthy natural environment to offer a comment before the May 30 deadline.  We especially encourage larger environmental, health, and cultural organizations to motivate memberships to send comments to the EPA.  Sustainable farmers, community garden groups, food co-ops, organic restaurants and markets should all be mobilizing folks to oppose approval of this herbicide, which (we note) is designed for initial use on GM corn and soybean crops.  You can send comments to the EPA here.

GMO -- How it used to be

Analysis and Commentary

The challenge as we see it is not just the toxins in Enlist Duo (which is a major concern), but the related challenge of yet another wave of GM crops being released into our shared environment.  Remember, soy or corn derivatives are found in nearly all processed food, and most soy and corn is already genetically modified.[2] Remember also, the Food and Drug Administration does not require food producers to inform consumers of the presence of GM products in their commodities. Thus, by approving Enlist Duo, the EPA doubles our risks – allowing more herbicides in our ecosystems, our food, and potentially our bodies, and more GM organisms in those same places.  Just as there is no GM label on canned and packaged food, we can assure you that there will be no Enlist Duo label on those products, either.

As of Tuesday afternoon (May 13) the EPA had received only 356 comments regarding their assessment of Enlist Duo.  We suspect that if more people knew about the review process, and the contents of Enlist Duo, there would be far more than 356 responses.  Obviously, it is in the interest of Dow (and any other broad-spectrum plant poison manufacturer) to have a short public review period for the proposed EPA decision to register Enlist Duo.  The EPA has done the American public no favors by allowing only 30 days for public comment.

Besides the innocuously titled “2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide,” Enlist Duo also contains the powerful herbicide, glyphosate –  the same plant-killing toxin found in Monsanto’s Roundup.

In requesting a 90-day extension of the public comment period, George Kimbrell and Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety remind us that the intent of the new “2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide” is directly related to yet another wave of Genetically Engineered (GE) plants.

2,4-D-resistant crops are among the first of many “next-generation” GE crops engineered for resistance to multiple and more toxic herbicides. As such, they raise numerous, in part novel, human health, environmental and agronomic concerns associated with sharply increased use of and farmer dependence on the linked herbicides. EPA itself acknowledges that: “This is an issue of high public interest and concern so the Agency feels it is important to get feedback from stakeholders before a final decision is reached.”[3]

Like the GM crops developed for use with Roundup (the familiar “Roundup Ready” plants), we can expect to soon find “Enlist Duo Ready”plants in farms and fields around the world – and soon enough the toxin and its “ready” GM plants in every hardware store and garden center in America.

As we see it, these new toxins present a dual concern for public health and environmental sustainability.  First, they introduce harmful herbicides into the environment to kill undesirable vegetation (weeds); but the chief purpose of these plant toxins appears compromised by the resulting proliferation of new “super weeds,” immune to the herbicide.[1]  In short, Roundup Resistant weeds are now getting the better of the Roundup Ready crops.

combine in the field

So, according to the logic of Industrial Agriculture, a more powerful, more toxic herbicide needs to be developed – in this case, Enlist Duo. It will only be a matter of time until there are super weeds immune to Enlist Duo. This will be followed by yet more powerful herbicides, then more resistant vegetation, then even stronger toxins – and so on.  This is neither a natural nor a safe approach to food production.

Like Monsanto before it, Dow will not win in its chemical struggle with Mother Nature.  The big losers, however, will be consumers, ecosystems exposed to the toxins, and, of course, anyone interested in the restoring natural and cultural ecologies. This is the substance of the first concern.

The second concern is somewhat obscured by the first, but it may actually more significant. Beneath the immediate and very obvious challenges posed by this next generation of super-toxins, is the hidden danger of yet another wave of GM plants – and food crops at that.

Enlist Duo is not just a weed killer for unwanted vegetation in your driveway or patio, although it will surely be used there soon enough. The residential retail version most likely will be developed and marketed (just as with Roundup) through massive advertising campaigns, and persuasive commercials appealing to Americans with money to spend on the curb appeal of their private property.

Retail deployment is a concern all its own, but that is a bit further out.  It is in the primary initial deployment of Enlist Duo as an agricultural poison that lurks the second concern.  Here’s why: For Enlist Duo to work properly, it needs to be applied in an industrial agricultural environment where only crops immune to the Enlist Duo poison are being grown.  This is where the second concern suddenly appears at least as (if not more) significant than the first; because the only way to create crops immune to this powerful herbicide is through (you guessed it!) genetic modification.  So, now we are faced with the undesirable and unhealthy situation of having food crops that are (1) unnatural to start with, (2) doused with herbicides designed to kill all forms of vegetation (except them), and then (3) prepared for human consumption in packaging bearing no public information about their synthetic origins and toxic history.

Action is called for and action is urged.

Here is an excerpt from one of the comments sent to the EPA:

As the manager of a small farm and nursery, I strongly oppose granting approval for the use of 2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide.  There are clearly significant problems with other herbicides of this type (e.g., Monsanto’s Roundup), not the least of which is the proliferation of new “super” weeds immune to the toxin, glyphosate. More fundamentally, the use of glyphosate, together with other toxins (such as 2,4 D Choline) will likely be detrimental to human health and life, and will definitely have an adverse impact on any ecosystem into which it is released.  In short, we do not need another dangerous toxin added to our food-production system, and another poison designed to function properly only when used with genetically modified plants. For the good of American consumers and our shared natural environment, please do not approve 2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide, marketed by the Dow Chemical Company as “Enlist Duo.”

We encourage our readers to share their thoughts on this topic with the EPA. Action is called for and action is urged.  Please let others know about this issue. By the time this is published, there will be less than twenty days left for comments. You can leave a comment here.


Additional Sources

[1] For related article, with a number of embedded references, see Nation of Change: “EPA to Give Green Light to Dow’s Latest Toxic Herbicide, ‘Enlist Duo.'”

[2] For related article, with data on GMO (GE) percentages in the food supply and various specific food products, see The Local Grocer: “Are You Eating GMOs.”

[3] For comment submitted to EPA on “2,4-D Choline salt Herbicide” by George Kimbrell and Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety, see

For related article, on recent findings on toxins in Roundup, see Natural Society: “Monsanto’s RoundUp Poison 125 Times More Dangerous than Regulators Admit.”

For related article, on relationship of Roundup to Enlist Duo, see Mother Jones: “Dow and Monsanto Team Up on the Mother of All Herbicide Marketing Plans.”