Rice stories. Rice is one of the world’s most important crops. It’s grown all over the world, from California to China. Three pieces for you to read today. Appearing in California Sunday Magazine: “Uncharted.” James Beard award-winner Lisa Hamilton has written an in-depth piece that tells the fascinating story about how scientists are seeking the wild ancestors of rice…in Australia. They hope their discovery will increase the world’s food security. This is a beautifully written piece. Hamilton accompanied the researchers on one trip; it reads a bit like an Indiana Jones adventure. Hamilton takes her own photographs, which are truly exquisite. If you haven’t checked it out, visit Hamilton’s Real Rural multi-media project to see more of her work and what she terms “the rest of California.” Closer to home: An NPR The Salt piece about experimenting with rice production in Wisconsin. Most U.S. rice production is centered in California and Arkansas…but drought and climate change make that future uncertain. Marquette University researcher Michael Schläpp is having some success with rice trials. Susan Bence reports. Stay tuned. Appearing in Lucky Peach: “A People’s History of Carolina Rice.” Historian Michael Twitty pens a piece about “culinary justice”…and the production of Carolina Gold Rice. The timeline format reflects larger cultural themes. #goodread. Visit Twitty’s Afroculinaria website to learn more about his work, which explores the culinary traditions of “Africa, African America and the African Diaspora.”
#CAdrought. There has been excellent reporting on California’s drought. Some of the best work has come from the staff of the Los Angeles Times. Two pieces to share: Less water may be plenty for California…and conservation is only the start. Californians have embraced water conservation…and the results thus far have exceeded expectations. Which raises new possibilities – and questions – for those tasked with managing California’s “hydrological future.” Peter H. King reports. The Salinas Valley is sometimes called “America’s salad bowl.” And the region has seemed somewhat immune to the state’s persistent drought. But concern is growing about the region’s reliance on a single water source: groundwater. Rosanna Xia reports.
Sorting through the complexity of food politics: researchers enlisted in lobbying efforts? GMOs seem to polarize people, more than nearly any other topic of scientific debate. This weekend brought the issue to the fore yet again, when a New York Times report by Eric Lipton detailing how Monsanto and the food industry enlisted academics in GMO advocacy efforts was published. (The Twitterverse immediately lit up). Per Lipton, emails obtained show the relationship between some university researchers and company officials, although there is no evidence that research was compromised. The article also discusses the same “3rd-party” advocacy approach on the organics side of the debate. An important comment to this story was provided by Marion Nestle, an academic and author who writes the Food Politics blog. Nestle unknowingly ended up on Chuck Benbrook’s “B-list” of organics influencers (she discovered this via a Tweet). Benbrook is an organics industry spokesperson turned academic at Washington State University (he is now off the WSU payroll and on to other things). I value Nestle’s work for a number of reasons, including her ability to help me sort through the backstory on many research studies. Kevin Folta, a researcher from the University of Florida, is a key figure in Lipton’s New York Times article. He has responded to the New York Times piece with a blog post and a Recent Events FAQ defending his record; both are worth reading.
This is an issue that is larger than the GMOs/organics debate. It speaks to the role that academics and researchers play in explaining science, extending information and lending their expertise to shape public policy. Lipton quotes a Monsanto spokesperson in his piece: “It is in the public interest for academics to weigh in credibly, not only to consumers but to stakeholders like lawmakers and regulators as well.” That is a difficult point to argue with; there are clearly enormous public benefits to using research for policy making. But that’s only part of the equation.
Have a great day.