Daily Essentials | 27 May 2015

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101 COOKBOOKS | Lazy Day Peanut Noodle Salad

I dusted off this lazy day peanut noodle salad for lunch yesterday. It’s a perfect, colorful bowl of peanut-slathered soba noodles punctuated with spring onions, tofu, more peanuts, and asparagus. A total crowd-pleaser, and makes a great lunch in a jar if you need a new option for work or travel.


THE GUARDIAN | California accepts historic offer by farmers to cut water usage by 25%

Scores of farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers made the unprecedented offer on Friday in a deal to stave off even steeper mandatory cuts.

… The agreement applies only to so-called riparian rights holders – farmers with direct access to streams. Those who participate can opt to reduce water diversions from streams by 25%, or fallow 25% of their land. In both cases, the reductions will be from 2013 levels.

The delta region represents less than 10% of the state’s total 6.9bn acres of farmland yet the deal is considered important. The Los Angeles Times called it “historic”. The Sacramento Bee said it was a “significant breakthrough”.

The reason, apart from the precedent, is that officials hope to make similar deals with farmers elsewhere. California’s agriculture supplies much of America’s nuts, fruit and vegetables but consumes 80% of the state’s water

PACIFIC STANDARD | What Was Famine?

The United Nations defines a famine as a food emergency in which daily child mortality rates reach four per 10,000 children and at least a fifth of the population subsists on fewer than 2,100 calories per day. Two centuries ago, Ó Gráda notes, these conditions “would probably have been the norm” in most of Europe. That is, what would today be called famine was a constant presence in one of the world’s richest regions. Today, for the first time in human history, famine has nearly vanished (though hunger hasn’t). Rather than being a permanent condition, it is almost always temporary.

For Ó Gráda, perhaps the world’s expert on the history and economics of famine, now is the time to understand this long-standing terror. He asks: What causes famine? What is the best way to alleviate it—vast government programs that distribute food and punish speculators, or the promotion of free trade, in the belief that merchants will rush in to fill food shortfalls? Does aid, as critics allege, overwhelm local farmers and leave societies less able to cope with crises? Are famines often caused by political decisions? Eating People Is Wrong, a series of five linked essays, is mostly intended to answer these questions.

WASHINGTON POST | WONKBLOG | The fried-chicken wars: Inside KFC’s weird new fight to dethrone Chick-fil-A

Now, 75 years after “Colonel” Harland Sanders first served his original recipe at a six-seat dining table in rural Kentucky, the chain is betting $185 million on a massive, bizarre turnaround campaign in hopes of winning a seat again at the fast-food table.

The chain is blasting out TV ads, offering new Southern-style grub and remodeling some of its 4,300 stores with humanized touches, like boards they say will name the regional farm where their chickens came from.


FORTUNE: The War on Big Food

“We look at our business and say, ‘How can we remake ourselves?’ ” said Richard Smucker, CEO of his family’s namesake jelly giant . A second exec—this one at ConAgra, which owns 29 food brands that bring in $100 million in annual retail sales apiece—bemoaned to Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow that “big” had become “bad.” A third conveyed what her industry feared would be the largest casualty of the public’s “mounting distrust of Big Food”—that shoppers would turn away from them for good. “We understand that increasing numbers of consumers are seeking authentic, genuine food experiences,” said Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison, “and we know that they are skeptical of the ability of large, long-established food companies to deliver them.”

And here’s one number to capture that skepticism: An analysis by Moskow found that the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009. “I would think of them like melting icebergs,” he says. “Every year they become a little less relevant.”

ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO | St. Louis is birthplace of GMOs; meet the woman who created them

Mary-Dell Chilton pioneered the field of genetic engineering in agriculture.

She has spent most of her decades-long career working for Syngenta, where she founded the agribusiness company’s research on genetically modified seeds. But Chilton started out in academia. And it was here in St. Louis, at Washington University, that she led the team that created the first genetically-modified plants in the early 1980s.

Her work would transform agriculture — and trigger a heated debate over the safety of GMOs.

At 76 years old, Chilton is still working. The genetically-modified corn, soybeans and other crops that her research helped develop now grow on more than 170 million acres of U.S. farmland. Earlier this month, Chilton’s groundbreaking discoveries earned her a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

FORTUNE | Commercial farming … in your subdivision

A.G. Kawamura in a field of cucumbers he’s growing next to the I-405 freeway in Irvine, Calif. Photograph by Michael Lewis for Fortune Magazine
A.G. Kawamura in a field of cucumbers he’s growing next to the I-405 freeway in Irvine, Calif. Photograph by Michael Lewis for Fortune Magazine
This is what passes for farmland these days in Orange County, Calif., population 3 million: a 22-acre rectangle in Irvine flanked by apartment buildings on two sides, with a Wells Fargo bank on a third. That the plot is thick with organic yellow squash—that it’s “farmland” at all, really—is thanks in part to the electric-power transmission lines towering overhead, which deter its development.

A.G. Kawamura specializes in growing fruit and vegetables on land like this. He farms fields on an active U.S. Naval Weapons Station, an abandoned golf course, and a decommissioned Marine airfield. He leases land destined for development, works it, then moves on just before ground breaking.

Kawamura’s days don’t match the stereotype of a farmer. He spends a good part of his time in his white Chevy Tahoe, negotiating suburban traffic, as he drives among his 40 parcels of land, which are located as much as 40 miles from one another. (“Good tunes and Bluetooth hands-free help tremendously,” he says.) As Kawamura, 59, passes a construction site in his truck, he sounds nostalgic. “See the yellow tractors?” he asks. “They’re building—on top of one of my strawberry fields—a campus for Broadcom.”

KREM 2 |Apple dump across Washington worst in state history

Fruit transporters are dumping millions of pounds of apples across Washington, leaving them to rot under hot sun. State officials call the dumps “historic.”

In Pateros, a hillside is covered with rows of Red Delicious apples. Trucks pull up several times a day, unloading thousands on top of sage brush and flowers.

Apple experts blame a combination of issues. This year, Washington growers produced the highest volume of apples on record. In addition, labor disputes at Washington ports left cargo sitting, sometimes for weeks.

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