FERN’s Friday Feed: Fighting back against pig pollution

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

North Carolina communities fight swine manure

Gravy (podcast)

In Duplin County, home of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork company, hogs outnumber humans 40 to 1. Those hogs produce a lot of waste, which is stored in giant manure lagoons. The stench from these lagoons, to say nothing of the many environmental and health problems, has made life unbearable for the people who live nearby—mostly African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. “Your eyes start running water, you start coughing and gagging … [T]hey just take every freedom that we have away from us,” says 69-year-old Elsie Herring. “It’s an inhumane way to make people live.” Fed up, she and various environmental groups filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA, claiming that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s failure to regulate the farms discriminates against communities of color.

How protein conquered America


“Just as one might look at all the world’s religions and decide that, while none is correct, there must be ‘something out there,’” writes Casey Johnston, “one might look at all the world’s weight-loss diets and note that, while they contradict each other in many ways, they all seem to preach protein, so protein must be good.” Johnston tracks the growth of Muscle Milk from a niche supplement popular with bodybuilders, to a commonplace companion to a “healthy active lifestyle.” Sure, protein could help with muscle recovery or even weight loss. But the explosion of the protein supplement industry suggests that the products tap into something deeper than a desire for fitness.

Lack of childcare is a hidden factor behind the farm labor crisis

The New Food Economy

President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have been cited as a factor in the decline of Mexicans coming to work in U.S. farm fields. But two new studies suggest that a lack of childcare may be an even bigger factor. “Most of those surveyed reported missing shifts because of childcare issues,” writes Danielle Beurteaux, “and most reported that they would work more if they had access to childcare—particularly female respondents. Eighty-two percent of women surveyed said they would even accept significantly lower pay if free childcare was offered as a benefit.”

Algae, an essential polar nutrient, is under threat


A new study found that ice algae is the “basis of the food chain” in the Arctic. “If there are no ice algae, then there are no zooplankton, no fish, no seals, no polar bears,” says a sea ice ecologist. But as climate change melts sea ice, the timing of ice algae blooms is changing. “That could potentially reduce the amount of food available to fish and, therefore, higher-level predators such as seabirds, when they breed later in the season,” writes Randall Hyman. Scientists are racing to figure out the effects of this and other climate change outcomes across the Arctic.

A lost history of rice, discovered in an unlikely place

The New York Times

On a trip to Trinidad, a Charleston, South Carolina, chef who has dedicated his career to the preservation of Gullah-Geechee cuisine rediscovered a long-lost rice variety that was once grown by enslaved blacks in the Southeast. “It is hard to overstate how shocked the people who study rice were to learn that the long-lost American hill rice was alive and growing in the Caribbean,” writes Kim Severson. Since the discovery, chefs and researchers have been working to find ways to bring the rice back into cultivation in the region.

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