Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lebanese Flu

The health minister has confirmed 3 cases of swine flu in Lebanon today

Friday, May 29, 2009


Hamed send me this fascinating story (posted with his permission whith slight edits that he authorized)

"I am pleased to share with you a new story that I have just heard about regarding natural resource management in a village in Iran.

Aabesk (آب اسک) is a village in the north of Iran, 90 Km away fromTehran toward Caspian Sea. Every year and by the second month ofspring, people in Aabesk perform very interesting ceremony that is called, Barfchal (برف چال/ Barf: Snow / Chal: Ditch) and Zanshahi ( /زنشاهیZan: Woman / Shahi: Kingdom).

By the first or second week of the second month of spring, all men from 7 to 70 years old in the village go to the mountain and cut pieceof snow. Then they carry the cut pieces and bury them in a special ditch by 12meters depth and 10 meters width. During this time when men are out of the village, women perform a womanly ceremony and call the ceremony as “Women Kingdom”. During the day the whole village is under authority of women and they dance in the streets and present breakfast and lunch to the inhabitant. In case they find any man in the village they would catch him and detain him in a stable, or even hit him hard! So no man dares to remain in the village whatsoever!

Barfchal is more than 600 years old. People who were suffering from water shortage during summer invented this way to save water in order to be used for their cattle and even their own water consumption. the ceremony was mingled with the religious belief among people and now a days it also consider an religious ceremony for village inhabitants to distribute some free food stuff according to avow they made for God.

As you can see in the photos, they have some flags close to the ditch on which it is written "یا ابوالفضل العباس" that refers to the role of Abu Fadl el Abbas, the son of Imam Ali and half brother of Imam Hussein as the water-carrier of Imam Hussein family during the battle of Karbala. This is the nice combination of religion and national ceremonies that is common in Iran.

Note: Recently this ceremony has got good reputation in Iran and tourists from all over the country come to participate."

By my friend Jamelie Hassan

The title of the exhibition, “At the Far Edge of Words,” pays homage to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died in 2008. His poem begins, “I come from there and I remember” and concludes with “I learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one: Home.” Hassan’s survey exhibition is, itself, political art expressed poetically. (421 Ridout St N, London ON)


Rasha Abu Zeki wrote these 2 long articles on Lebanon's accession to the WTO. She calls it a nightmare.


The new issue of Badeal in Al Akhbar: My editorial: Bitter Politics, on the relationship between food and politics. Rameh Hamiyyeh writes from the Bekaa on rose cultivation, and Muhammad Muhsin on flowers traditionally used for food in Lebanon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The last days of the rose harvest in the hills of ksarnaba

To rise again

"Food prices will rise again by 2015, when economies are expected to have recovered from the global recession, pushing up demand once more, says a recent UN report. 2008 is seen as the year of food crises, prompted in part by high fuel prices, but these started declining as the global recession got underway in late 2008 and eventually returned to 2006 levels, though food prices in many developing countries are still higher than they were then. "This has been a temporary respite," said the report, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Asia and the Pacific, by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). " (Thanks Daniel)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


"The government said that it was no longer acting just to prevent swine flu, but that it was carrying out part of a plan to clean up the zabaleen, to finally get them to live in sanitary conditions. Egypt has tried this before. Several years ago the government tried to hire private companies to collect the trash. But the waste of Cairo overwhelmed the private companies, and little changed for the zabaleen." (Thanks D.)
"About 100 Akhdam families (700 individuals) were among the most vulnerable people affected by the floods, according to Andrew Knight, UNHCR Yemen's external relations officer. They have received durable shelters from UNHCR."

I have posted before on Al Akhdam, the poorest and most excluded people in Yemen. I read a fabulous Arabic novel last year about them, I will try to remembers the title. A must read.

UAE, Kuwait, Egypt

"Confirmed cases of A(H1N1) influenza, commonly known as swine flu, have been reported in new countries in the Middle East. Hitherto only Israel had reported cases of the new influenza virus. " (Thanks Rania)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Community farming

"Pawson manages a community farming scheme on the outskirts of Glastonbury that helps raise awareness among young people about fresh produce. As community grower at Torganics Community Sustainable Agriculture – so called because it is on the north side of the Glastonbury Tor – he encourages people to work on the land in return for a share of the harvest. The three-month old project is supported by the Soil Association and the charity-run Paddington Farm Trust that owns the land."

Need a boost?

"The combined profit of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region's listed fertiliser companies fell 14 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from a year earlier as the global financial crisis took its toll on the sector, according to new data."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Marach Street, Burj Hammoud

I went to buy fabric for the Bedouin cushions (we have a name for the brand "Nawf", a word used to describe a woman of magical beauty). One of the graphic design students had told me to check Marach street in Burj Hammoud, which is the predominantly Armenian district of Beirut. I found pure cotton popeline in various colors, ideal for the cushions, but I was also awed by Marach street, which is the closest thing to a souk in present day Beirut. What attracted me most was the quantity of shops selling traditional and not so traditional foodstuffs side by side. The place resembles the Aleppo souk much more than Lebanon's souks, and the products are rarely seen in Lebanon. These include a wide variety of dried fruits and vegetables, like dried,ready-to-stuff aubergines and bell peppers strung together. We usually dry and string together dried okra in Lebanon, but I had never seen other vegetables.

There were also cases of Damascene roses used to make rose water and jams with the petals, and vine leaves for stuffing and rolling.

I also found huge artichoke hearts cleaned and prepared and beautiful nuts and dried fruits including several types of raisins as well as dried cherries. There was also malban with nuts, a sort of long sausage made with nuts and with a paste prepared with crushed raisins. This is a Syrian specialty. The shops look strange because they have everything in them, from fabricated sweets to natural terroir products. One of them had arranged different grains: wheat, barley, 3 types of burghul, kidney beans, white haricots, lentils all in a very nice tiled mosaic.

In the same street, I also bought FABULOUS Armenian meat pies (lahm bi `ajeen) from a tiny bakery: 500 LL each (30 cents). This is the cheapest excellent meal you can have in Lebanon.

Canada wheat board resists GM wheat

"The organization, which sells wheat and barley in Western Canada, was strongly opposed to the introduction of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat in 2004. Fitzhenry said that while “resistance to a certain herbicide is all very good”, the CWB would want to see added benefits such as tolerance to disease - and greater consumer acceptance - before it would support bringing GM traits to market.

“Right now there is no way to segregate GM from non-GM,” said Fitzhenry. “At present even one kernel of GM wheat is unacceptable to customers. We think there is still a long way to go and we can’t see a market value or greatly improved agronomics…All the evidence we have is that there is still a lot of resistance from consumers.” "

COOL and the gang

" asked readers for their views on US country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in light of Canada’s World Trade Organization complaint. Below is a selection of attributed responses:

“I feel that as a consumer COOL is a good thing, I want to know where my products come from, if Mexico & Canada are worried it tells me that they think people think their products are of lower quality and they need to correct their image not make us change our laws.”

“COOL is just another step in the direction of Protectionism… spelling disaster from farmer to consumer. Open and fair competition has and is the only driver for effectiveness, efficiency, honesty and better ways for bringing products to the market place. Further government control of the food chain will lead to greater inefficiencies from lack of competition which will drive higher consumer prices and food shortages.
As a consumer I demand freedom of choice when buying farm products: best quality, selection and price…regardless if it is produced in Canada or elsewhere!
‘COOL’ is not cool…it should be put on ice – immediately.”

Friday, May 22, 2009


"Abu Tareq had told him how they murdered two of his children before his eyes, and also the story of the three young girls (Samer age of 9, Amal age of 7, and Sahar age of 4) who were murdered by an Israeli criminal while he was eating chocolate."

This is the story I refer to in my Badael editorial

"On the morning of 4 May 2009, Israeli troops set fire to Palestinian crops along Gaza's eastern border with Israel. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that 200,000 square meters of crops were destroyed, including wheat and barley ready for harvest, as well as vegetables, olive and pomegranate trees.

Local farmers report that the blaze carried over a four-kilometer stretch on the Palestinian side of the eastern border land. Ibrahim Hassan Safadi, 49, from one of the farming families whose crops were destroyed by the blaze, said that the fires were smoldering until early evening, despite efforts by the fire brigades to extinguish them.

Safadi says he was present when Israeli soldiers fired small bombs into his field, which soon after caught ablaze. He explained that "The Israeli soldiers fired from their jeeps, causing a fire to break out on the land. They burned the wheat, burned the pomegranate trees ... The fire spread across the valley. We called the fire brigades. They came to the area and put out the fire. But in some places the fire started again." According to Safadi, he lost 30,000 square meters to the blaze, including 300 pomegranate trees, 150 olive trees, and wheat. " (Thanks Marcy)


Badael is back and these interruptions are starting to get on my nerves. This week, Samar Sleiman, our newest recruit wrote about the drive by Gulf countries and other rich countries to grow food on land in poor countries. My editorial: Alone...the people of Gaza are alone. And Muhammad Muhsin tells us the story of kabees (pickles)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Iraqi cuisine

"Recipes for four dishes are here for you to try:

1. Kubbat Mousel is one of the most famous and authentic Iraqi dishes. It was created in the city of Mousel (240km north of Baghdad). The size is a matter of great pride to the Mouselites and a way of showing guests a warm welcome.

2. Fasangoon is most probably Iranian in origin and became part of Iraqi cuisine through Iranian visitors to the shrines in the cities of Najaf and Karbala (150km south of Baghdad) and the close relations and marriages that resulted.

3. Sheikh Mahshi is one of the most loved stew dishes in Iraq and usually served with white rice fortified with roasted almonds and raisins. Great as a starter or a full meal, it can be easily transformed into a vegetarian dish by replacing the minced meat with a vegetarian version or leaving it out all together.

4. Timman Jazar is one of my favourite dishes, delicious, aromatic and very easy to make. The vegetarian alternative is as delicious if not more so - omit the minced meat (add a cube of vegetarian stock, if you so wish) or replace it with vegetarian mince."

By Lamees Ibrahim


"Eating high-fat curries may not be as bad for us as we thought - at least, not if we lace them with turmeric. Scientists at Boston's Tufts University found that mice fed a high-fat diet that contained curcumin, a component of turmeric, put on less weight." (Thanks Muna)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Organically exploited

"Plenty of people, including me, prefer organic produce because it is healthier and safer. But this certification does nothing to ensure that it was produced with sustainable agricultural practices.
The little strawberry I'm munching is part of a bigger story that begins in the fields and ends on your plate. It's the story of a lucrative industry that offers consumers a commodity at a low-cost but with high consequences.
Forming the backbone of this industry are the oft-forgotten armies of farmworkers who travel California's freeway arteries to plant and harvest crops in every corner of this region. The policies that oppress the 2 million people who grow our food betray its true costs.
Food writer and activist Eric Schlosser, speaking at the Slow Food Nation conference in San Francisco last fall, said that he would rather eat a conventional tomato picked by well-treated workers than a local heirloom variety harvested by oppressed workers." (Thanks Marcy)

We should look at this in the Lebanese organic sector.

Skyrocketing in Gaza

"The decimation of wide swathes of agricultural land, as well as cattle and sheep farms, has added to Gaza's growing food insecurity.But the war only intensified an already dire humanitarian situation, economists say, which has its roots in Israel's economic siege that hermetically sealed Gaza's borders in June 2007.The shortage of all but "essential" goods and a flow of only a trickle of fuel have sent prices of food and other products skyrocketing over the past two years, making them unaffordable to many households in the Gaza Strip." (Thanks Marcy)

82 years old

"According to the Evansville Courier Press, the warrant for Young’s arrest alleges he asked a USDA staff member during a phone call, “Do I have to get attention by going down to the (Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service) office and shooting somebody or blowing something up?”

If he is convicted at trial, which is set to begin June 30, the 82-year-old could face up to five years in prison." (Thanks Marcy)


"The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report and accompanying Scorecard rates companies that market organic soy foods, such as soymilk, tofu and “veggie burgers,” based on ten criteria that are important to organic consumers—showcasing companies that are truly committed to the spirit and letter of the organic law while exposing those that do not rate highly or were unwilling to share their sourcing and production practices in our survey.

The scorecard sheds light on questions such as:

- Do the soybeans come from American organic farmers, or are they imported from China, India or South America?

- Is the company devoted to supporting organic agriculture by sourcing only organic soybeans and marketing only organic products?

- Does the company use loopholes in the organic standards to source cheaper non-organic ingredients even when organic ones are available?"

Good site! (Thanks Daniel)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pasta a la Chavez

"The Venezuelan government temporarily seized a Cargill pasta processing plant on Friday, claiming that the food giant has broken regulations governing food pricing, according to the Associated Press.
The Chavez government has imposed price checks on a number of staple food items in Venezuela – a move it says is necessary to ensure its poorest citizens have access to basic foods and to curb inflation levels, which reached 28.3 percent last month, the highest in Latin America. Businesses have complained however that the cheap prices make it difficult to make a profit and the price checks are off-putting to outside investors.
The government has said it will run the US-owned Cargill plant for the next 90 days to oversee operations and make sure that it meets the government-imposed threshold of producing at least 70 percent of its pasta at approved prices. "

Kashan Golab

My student Hamed sent me this email (I quote with his permission)

"The end of this month (Ordibehesht –end of April to middle of May) in Iran is the time that people in the middle of Iran; particularly Kashan and Kerman, start producing one of the most important productions that they use to do for thousands of years. They are well-known in production of Rosewater that we call it “Golaab” (Gol means Flower, Aab means Water). Kashan Golab has worldwide reputation and every year all the holy shrines in Mecca getting washed by Kashan Golab before “Haj” ceremonies. Based on Iranian myths, we believe Rose was produced after Prophet Muhammad’s perspiration when it dropped from his face on soil and then rose became exist. So we call Rose in Iran as “Muhammadi Flower; Gole Mohammadi” –گل محمدی-. Golaab has being used as original perfume since long time ago for all religious ceremonies in Iran and it is a common smell for every holy shrine across my country. (it also being used for food and drink)I am please to present some nice photos from making Golaab in Kashan and Kerman in the below links;Hope you enjoy;

Of course we also make our own kashan golab in Lebanon, which we call mawared. The village of Ksarnaba in the Bekaa is known for it. The cover of my book From Akkar to Amel depicts a woman from Ksarnaba harvesting the roses. You can also find more on the Traditional Lebanese Food blog (link on this page). Thanks Hamed!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I wish I could stay in the wilderness

I was in the Bekaa during the week end with the graphic design class of my friend Daniel working with the Bedouin community of Hawsh Sneid. They are looking, among others, at patterns and design created by women. Belo is my friend Hamra (regular veil) with her sister in law Umm `Ali who is wearing the `isba, which is a crown-like veil worn by Bedouin women. Um `Ali made the zirb behind them from reeds and colored thread. She has rolled different colored threads in patterns on each reed (qasab, diameter 2cm) and then arranged tied them all together vertically. If you enlarge you should be able to see the individual reeds. The zirb is used as walls or partitions in the tents. Zirb is used by other nomadic people in the region. Below is a photo of a zirb I took last month in Erbil, Kurdistan, but Umm `Ali's is prettier.
My daughters Suha and Thurayya learned how to milk the sheep. Thurayya is the eldest.

It was also the time of the year where we say farewel to the spring. The wheat is turning golden and the snow on Sannine is almost gone. The rains of last Tuesday extended the life of the late blooms of poppies.

Back to Beirut, with Future Movement electoral rally next door: a weird mixture of military sounding songs, old partisan songs from the civil war and the Lebanese national anthem.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Everyday is al nakba

There is a sea in our garden
At the foot of the hills
Between the olive trees
And the poppy fields
The waves sleep on the meadows

The valley burns in the dying light
The sun caresses the eyes
The sky blushes so shy
Over the marine plains
Perfumed with the scent of thyme

The farmers’ houses are sailing ships
They cut their way through the land
And dance with the wind
And when the sea gets rough
The air fills with ancient songs

I dream of this dewy land
Sixty years of exile
In the alleys of the camp
Like a desperate lover
I long for freedom and return

I’m coming home hills of Haifa
Mount Carmel port of Jaffa
And on the altar of Jenine
I will baptize my children
With the earth of Filasteen

(my translation from Arabic)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aid again

"Dr Sarah Bracking from The University of Manchester says much of the billions of pounds worth of cash described by political leaders as aid are in reality loans, and have little benefit, she says, to the people who need help most of all.
“Over half of what is described as aid goes to the global south in the form of loans for private sector consultancy, technical assistance or works projects and the five richest countries can get up to 90 per cent of the business,“ said Dr Bracking.
“Poor countries, already up to their eyes in debt, are forced to pay it back at great cost to their citizens."

Something to cheerio up

"Popular US breakfast cereal Cheerios is a drug, at least if the claims made on the label by its manufacturer General Mills are anything to go by, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said."Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug," the FDA said in a letter to General Mills which was posted on the federal agency's website Tuesday." (Thanks Marcy)

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

"But it really did come down to eating real food," he said, the kind of unadulterated whole foods, not snacks, that our great grandparents ate. He also found "that there is no good reason to worry excessively about specific nutrients, that you could safely tune out 99 percent of the nutritional advice that was out there, whether it was corporate, governmental or medical. There has been so much noise, so much static about nutrition," he said. "When you look at the science behind some of these nutrient claims, it did not hold up." (Thanks Marcy)

Pollan on food, refreshingly short

I say potatoes you say votatoes

"Ramping up the public distribution of potatoes, along with a wide range of other government subsidies and alms, has become Ahmadinejad's preferred strategy for buying votes. While the Western world has focused on the incumbent's inflammatory statements about the Holocaust and his confrontationist nuclear policy, his domestic critics have focused their ire on his flawed economic remedies and populist demagogy, in addition to his erratic diplomatic style. Hence, potatoes, and the surprise return of Moussavi, a man little known outside Iran."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Food politics

Leila led me to this excellent blog

Russian wheat

"Egypt's state prosecutor ordered the seizure of all Russian wheat for checks over health concerns, Egyptian state media said on Wednesday, in what Russia's grain lobby said was an attempt to influence prices.

The prosecutor made the move after a complaint that a quantity of spoiled wheat unfit for human consumption had entered the Red Sea port of Safaga without proper quality control approvals, state news agency MENA said."


"Frito-Lay is one of several big companies that, along with some large-scale farming concerns, are embracing a broad interpretation of what eating locally means. This mission creep has the original locavores choking on their yerba mate. But food executives who measure marketing budgets in the millions say they are mining the concept because consumers care more than ever about where their food comes from.
For hard-core locavores, watching the food industry adopt their language is frustrating. But it also means things are changing.
“You know the locavore phenomenon is having an impact when the corporations begin co-opting it,” Ms. Prentice said. “Everyone should know where things are processed. The ‘where’ question is really important.”" (Thanks Leila)

Milking them

"The official and head of the grassroots campaign said that the “latest Israeli action preventing dairy products from entering the Palestinian city of Jerusalem clearly reveals the extent to which the occupation state is attempting to narrow Palestinian culture.” (Thanks Marcy)

Traditional foods legislation

This month saw the final stage in the introduction of a Europe-wide system for registering and protecting geographical names for foodstuffs and drinks.


Joanna Farshakh Bejjali reviews "From `Akkar to `Amel" in Al Akhbar. Thanks Joanna!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lettuce dance...

"The occasion was joyous and the atmosphere relaxed as villagers passed around heads of the famed Artas lettuce so all could take pleasure in the holiday with a sweet, crunchy lettuce leaf on which to munch." (Thanks Marcy)

Subsidies for the rich

"The largest beneficiaries of European Union farm subsidies include an Italian bank in Milan, a French chicken giant and an Irish producer of Weight Watchers meals and Yorkshire pudding, according to previously undisclosed data for 2008.

The statistics, for subsidies in 2008, show that an elite class of beneficiaries got more than 700 payments of at least 1 million euros ($1.33 million). The largest payment, 140 million euros, went to the Italian sugar company Italia Zuccheri. An Italian bank, ICBPI, got more than 180 million euros in five payments." (Thanks Toufic)

Meanwhile in Iraq...

"The farmers fear the government will confiscate their farms. "The Chinese have entered our land without permission and extended their cables. The work has destroyed our farms," one farmer, refusing to be named, said."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On loneliness by Thurayya

By my beautiful daughter Thurayya (she looks exactly like the girl in the drawing). I post with her permission. Click to enlarge

Iran nomads

The Iranian nomads have started the transhumance. Beautiful pictures here (Thanks Hamed)


"Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a "unique global hotspot of diversity".
"A lot of these species are only found in this area," she told BBC News. "It's very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought.
"A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base," she continued. "Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes." " (Thanks Muna)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mediterranean diet?

"Dr Nathan MacDonald, an Old Testament lecturer at St Andrews University, used biblical texts and archaeological evidence to study the ancient diet. He has concluded that there were frequent famines and people's meals often lacked vitamins and minerals. "

Whole Foods

"As the Texas Observer argued recently, "People shop at Whole Foods not just because it offers organic produce and natural foods, but because it claims to run its business in a way that demonstrates a genuine concern for the community, the environment, and the 'whole planet,' in the words of its motto. In reality, Whole Foods has gone on a corporate feeding frenzy in recent years, swallowing rival retailers across the country.... The expansion is driven by a simple and lucrative business strategy: high prices and low wages." " (Thanks Daniel)


I forgot to post yesterday the new badael in Al Akhbar: My editorial: "A thousand epidemics". Mohammad Muhsin covers the HORECA and the new Slow Food Beirut-Tuscany agreement.

Read also this extensive article on Nabatiyeh and her souk by Dani al Ameen

Classic Beirut Spring: Rawsheh in May

Friday, May 8, 2009

Eat the parking

""One group brought the seeds, the other brought the soil. And once a week we'd all get together for a harvest," says Franceschini. "I can't believe we grew all that pak choi, winter squash, lettuce, even tomatoes right across from City Hall," recalls volunteer Johanna Silver, who arrived for the Thursday harvest days. Working there became a social event; Silver remembers conversations she had with the children of 30s sharecroppers and people who had dug their own Victory Gardens 60 years before."

William Shaw on the edible urban gardens movement.

I hear they want to turn the Sanayeh garden in Beirut into a big parking lot.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I went to Aleppo last week end. I love this city. I went to the fruits and vegetables souk and took these pictures:

Olives, cheese, crushed red peppers

Kaak bakery

Strawberries fres from the field

Sheep youghurt and labneh from the back of a pick up truck.
Then I went for a walk in the city and visited the most famous of Aleppo's hotel, the Baron, where TE Lawrence stayed and wrote .

The bar of Le Baron is famous. If you ever go to Aleppo, you must stop there for a drink

Great city!


The Palestine Archipelago (Thanks Omar, and yes, I love maps)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Black farmers

"Of all people, it was Black farmers that dared to make the first Black president accountable for his campaign promise to them. Obama seemed to be reneging on his own legislation and statements favoring billions in payments to Black farmers methodically discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now, his administration wants to cap the payments at $100 million. “Right is right and it doesn’t matter who is in the White House,” said Black farmers leader John Boyd. "


This will help you understand what really happened:
1. Monsanto is one of the most powerful multi-national corporations in the world. The Global One-World Government New World Order conspiracy, of which Monsanto is a part, is aimed at controlling millions via the food they eat. “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people,” said Henry Kissinger in 1970.
2. Monsanto uses overt and covert strategies to accomplish their goals. Monsanto is behind both sides of the battle over HR 875. They don’t leave important matters like these to chance.
3. Monsanto’s tentacles reach into every aspect of our society: government, private industry, the military, law enforcement and, of course, agriculture. Large, small, organic and non-organic farmers—and don’t forget libertarian grass roots activists—are all influenced directly and indirectly by Monsanto. The company that rose to power in the 20th century as a leading chemical giant now focuses on agriculture. In Monsanto’s world, there is no room for the family farmer. The company’s well-known corporate bullying tactics have made this clear. Just ask Percy Schmeiser, the brave Canola farmer who dared to take on Monsanto.
4. HR 875’s vague wording was intentional.
5. Family Farmers (organic and non-organic) are under attack, but not by Congresswoman DeLauro, the author of HR 875 whose husband was a political consultant to Monsanto 10 years ago.
6. The timing of HR 875 coincides with the slow food, Locavore, and urban gardening movements in the United States and, for that matter, any slow food movement anywhere in the world.
7. The E-coli and salmonella outbreaks related to spinach, tomatoes and peanuts are the work of Monsanto’s agents: Things don’t happen; they’re made to happen.
8. Healthy Family Farm owner Sharon Palmer was arrested for selling raw goat milk, and the Ohio food co-op raided Gestapo-style was obviously instigated by Monsanto agents in a move designed to intimidate urban gardeners. (Thanks Marcy)

More Monsanto

"The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.”1 On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”1 " (Thanks Marcy)

Workers unite

Courageous article by Nermine el Horr on the rights of sex workers in Lebanon on Worker's Day (Arabic)


Food prices in Lebanon continue to increase according to Kamal Hamdan, an economist who has been mapping the cost of living for decades. "It's just an illusion" say the Lebanese merchants.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


NGO Statement at UN CSD-17

The 17th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) is being held in New York from 4-15 May 2009 to discuss the themes of agriculture, land, rural development, land degradation, drought, desertification and Africa. Please find below the NGO Major Group opening statement.


4 May 2009, Monday

NGO Major Group

CSD-17 is happening at a critical juncture in history where several crises are converging - finance and food, climate and environment, governance, and now, a looming threat of a global health pandemic. Agriculture lies at the core of all these crises, and Agriculture is also a key solution to these crises. The world therefore expects no less than A DECISIVE AND URGENT RESPONSE from CSD-17. The Negotiated Outcome from this session must lead to a RADICAL SHIFT in thinking and paradigm in agricultural development. Business-as-usual is definitely NOT AN OPTION. Sustainable development after all is NOT about business-as-usual.

We urge the CSD to adopt the recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) as basis for international and national policy-making, and planning and investments in agriculture, to attain food security, provide sustainable rural livelihoods, and build the resilience of ecosystems to climate change. Concretely, CSD17 should focus in:

1. Addressing the unsustainability of current agricultural production models that depend on chemical-based inputs and crop and varietal uniformity, supported by neo-liberal trade regime;

2. Mainstreaming agro-ecology and sustainable agricultural practices that are socially-equitable, culturally-appropriate and environmentally-sustainable;

3. Shifting resources and investments to support smallholder farmers;

4. Giving equal importance to indigenous and local agricultural knowledge systems; and

5. Ensuring bottom-up, participatory and multi-sectoral approaches in policy and decision-makingBold actions need to be supported by concrete mechanisms to significantly increase the level of funding, technical support, and assistance for sustainable agriculture [including through extension services, research and capacity building. The means of implementation must be measurable in order to hold governments accountable.

The Right to Food, Right to Water, Right to Land and Food Sovereignty must provide coherence to the Negotiated Outcome of CSD-17. These fundamental rights and principles must not be undermined by the introduction of technological solutions such as biofuels and GMOs, the neo-liberal trade agenda, and by grand agricultural development schemes such as the green revolution in Africa. After centuries of supporting the world, it is now time for the world to support Africa, not grab her land and ravage her agriculture.We dare governments to be bold and radical, to make CSD relevant at this most challenging of times.

Farmed pandemic

"No-one yet knows whether swine flu will become a global pandemic, but it is becoming clear where it came from – most likely a giant pig factory farm run by an American multinational corporation in Veracruz, Mexico.(1)

These factory farms are disgusting and dangerous, and they're rapidly multiplying. Thousands of pigs are brutally crammed into dirty warehouses and sprayed with a cocktail of drugs -- posing a health risk to more than just our food -- they and their manure lagoons create the perfect conditions to breed dangerous new viruses like swine flu. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) must investigate and develop regulations for these farms to protect global health.

Big agrobusiness will try to obstruct and scuttle any attempts at reform, so we need a massive outcry that health authorities can't ignore. Sign the petition below for investigation and regulation of factory farms and tell your friends and family "

From Avaaz

Food security in Palestine

"Food prices in Palestine have been dramatically affected by the increase of the global food prices over the last two years. But while the situation is coming back to normality in most of the other developed countries, in Developing Countries in general, and in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, the food prices of domestic production remain too high as a consequence of the high “transaction costs” resulting from the Occupation and from the policies described above (restriction of movement or waiting at the check points)." (Thanks Marcy)

FRESH is excellent

New thinking about what we're eating

Directed by: Ana Sofia Joanes Starring: Michael Pollan, George Naylor, Russ Kremer, David Ball, Prof. John Ikerd, Mr. & Mrs. Fox

"Pig pig pig... pig pig pig... Come on, pig." The opening words of Fresh sound more like a scene from Deliverance than a documentary about the case for, and the current state of, sustainable farming.
Fresh is the absolutely first-rate documentary from filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes. It resonates even more loudly following the latest headlines that upwards of 68 (mostly young) people are dead today as a result of swine flu, while New Yorkers and New Zealanders shudder on the brink of what may be one of the scariest pandemics seen in a long while, eclipsing the death toll of the avian flu that sent the media and frequent flyers into a tailspin not too long ago. "

From a recent review of Ana Sofia Joanes documentary Elliot V. Kotek (from the 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival).

Screening in May in several locations on the US East coast. Check here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bedouin designs

When you say "Bedouins", most people automatically think of camels and sheep and strong, bitter coffee. But bedouin women also make beautiful pillows decorated with ancient designs. But these pillows (and the traditional designs) are disappearing as they get replaced with cheap manufactured stuff. I'm helping a group of Bedouin women from the Bekaa set up their little pillow-making and sale operation. Look at these beauties (and these are photos taken with the phone camera).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

UAE celebrates worker's day with gifts to workers

"Mohammad, an Egyptian worker who was filing a complaint against his employer, told Bin Deemas after being notified about the reason for the gift: "I am happy with this surprise but I hope you can help me solve the problem with my sponsor who has been exploiting me. I am here today to complain about him."" (Thanks Toufic)

Yes but do they have a soul?

"Cutting public services, making the poor poorer, putting cash crops and trade before welfare was the old IMF way. It was the IMF that insisted on meters for Ghana's water supply, demanding full cash recovery for the service, steeply raising costs for the poorest. The World Bank insisted on a private insurance model for Ghana's health service that has been administratively expensive and wasteful. The new government rejects it, promising free healthcare for children. The IMF wants subsidies for electricity removed, again hitting the poorest hardest. A market policy of making individuals pay full cost for vital services instead of general taxation has made the IMF hated; Ghana has now voted for more social democratic solutions. Freedom from the IMF feels like a second freedom from colonialism to many countries. "

Polly Toynbee on the new IMF which the old IMF. I especially like this:

"IMF economic thought often enters the soul of finance ministers"

Flies in the face

"In the 18 months since the Katine project began, a common thread has emerged from those involved in the international aid debate: transformative change is not going to be achieved by the slow underpinning of livelihoods envisaged at the outset of the project.
An economist like Paul Collier is convinced that radical steps have to be taken. "African peasant agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing commercial productivity frontier," he wrote at the end of last year in the journal Foreign Affairs. "Based on present trends, the region's food imports are projected to double over the next quarter century." Only large scale farms, he argues, are capable of providing the investment and market access that is essential to produce the surge in food production necessary to keep up with demand.
Rubbish, says development expert Steve Wiggins. "Yes, he is correct to emphasise the need for commercial farming. But no, he is wrong to imagine that this requires doing so on a large scale. His solution is unnecessary, flies in the face of history and carries important dangers."

Anne Perkins on the future of farming in Africa

I keep forgetting...

"Let's just recap on how we arrived at this juncture. Globalisation has led to the development of two groups of countries – those running big trade surpluses and those running big trade deficits. Germany and Japan provided the machines and high-grade capital goods that allowed China to become the source of low-cost manufactured goods. Countries where the industrial sectors had been hollowed out over the decades – such as the United States and Britain – were ready buyers for cheap imports. Inflation fell, allowing interest rates to fall.

But manufacturing was not the only sector to be globalised. Banks became bigger and bigger, expanding their business across frontiers to the extent that national regulators found it harder to supervise them properly. With low inflation making traditionally safe investments less attractive, there was a global search for yield. As we now know, this led to speculative money flooding into places such as Iceland and into complex derivative products that nobody really understood. The banks became so big and had so many different functions that it was beyond the capacity of any chief executive – no matter how brilliant – to manage them properly."

Larry Elliott in the Guardian

Friday, May 1, 2009


In Badael this week: My editorial: From slavery to colonialism on the state of food. Laila Abu Saba on cancer and Lebanese food, and Hamra Goes Green, a good neighborhood initiative by AUB.

Swine flu and Arabic

An excellen Arabic article on capitalism and the swine flu by Fadl Shalak in Assafir today. Shalak was the head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction of Lebanon.