Seventh Generation + Walmart

Last week, Lia posted a link to a New York Times article about Walmart’s far-reaching sustainability efforts, including sourcing more local produce and developing a “sustainability index” to help the company evaluate suppliers and guide consumers’ purchases.

Today, this commentary from The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based market research firm, highlights a subtle but powerful indicator of Walmart’s commitment to sustainability: the world’s largest retailer now carries products by Seventh Generation, the company that produces green home- and baby-care products.

“For some, Seventh Generation’s entry into Walmart, after several years of gradual debunking-of-Walmart’s-intentions-toward-green by the company’s co-founder and Executive Chairperson Jeffrey Hollender, is a watershed event, though of the sort that might short-circuit not just a few well-meaning, green-oriented minds,” notes The Hartman Group. “From various circles that have condemned Walmart for its effects on community economics, worker’s rights and a host of other perceived impacts, the several-year evolution in thinking from aversion to acknowledgment described by Mr. Hollender in his blog, has been a bit like watching a company formerly portrayed as Darth Vader having a well-meaning Jedi Knight over for tea on a regular basis–and then signing up the well-meaning Knight to work among the ranks of imperial storm troopers.”

Of course, as the commentary notes, Walmart has had green cleaners and other products, such as Clorox GreenWorks on its shelves for some time now. But the entry of Seventh Generation, a company with a strong commitment to sustainability, is a particularly sought-after stamp of approval for Walmart’s green efforts.

Celebrate World Oceans Day

Nowadays, all eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico as the BP disaster unfolds day after day. But tomorrow’s World Oceans Day isn’t about lamenting what’s been done; it’s about celebrating what we still have, deepening our connection to it and making strides to protect it for the future.

The United Nations designated June 8th as World Oceans Day in 2008 as a way to raise international awareness for the world’s water. Each year, organizations and individuals plan events and initiatives to help people learn about and take action to preserve our oceans and the ecosystems they encompass.

For our part here at NOURISH Evolution, we have a week full of goodies for you. To start, look out for our 7 Super Sustainable Seafood Picks on Tuesday (click here for last year’s … all still solid choices). We compile our lists by cross-referencing numerous sources to find fish that are sustainably sound and safe for us to eat. Then we add in a third factor … whether or not it’s easy to evaluate at the fish counter.

It may seem a dire time for the world’s oceans. But simple steps like talking to your fishmonger, learning more about the issues and buying only sustainable seafood will take us a long way towards a healthier future.

Understand Ecosystems

In this age of green, the term “ecosystem” gets tossed around quite a bit–from technology to tide pools. But it’s an important concept to grasp, as in really understand, when talking about creating a sustainable food system.

Traditionally, we’ve talked of the food chain. But an ecosystem is more like thousands of threads braided together than it is a neat series of links (plankton, small fish, big fish). Whether you’re talking about agriculture or aquaculture, wide open ocean or wild prairie plains, each has a unique set of environmental and biological factors that make it home to a specific mix of plants and animals that, when in balance, all thrive together.

Why is this important? Because trying to alter an end result—be it saving a vanishing species of fish or curtailing greenhouse gas—while ignoring the native ecosystem is like trying to light a candle while it’s underwater. Julie Packard of Monterey Bay Aquarium believes we need to evaluate aquatic ecosystems as a whole in order to save the oceans (and the life within them), rather than working on species-specific solutions. And many believe we need to shift toward more traditional, closed-system farming techniques (where, for instance, manure produced by cows is used to fertilize the land that grows their food) in agriculture.

It’s a little word, a big concept, and the foundation of talks to come.

This week, lock on to the meaning of ecosystem.

Heritage Meat and Poultry: Eat it to Save it!

By Jacqueline Church

I dined on a Mulefoot pork chop at Cochon restaurant in New Orleans with a rush of pleasure, anxiety, and guilt. If this hog breed is endangered, should I be enjoying it so much? I thought. But in truth, the pork is what brought me to the restaurant; by eating the endangered breed, I was actually helping to save it.

heritage-breedsThe Mulefoot is just one threatened breed listed by Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. Both organizations seek to preserve endangered foods, including vanishing breeds of pigs, turkeys, cattle, and poultry. For example, did you know over half the swine breeds listed in the USDA Agriculture Yearbook of 1930 have disappeared?

Once modern, large factory farms emerged in the 1920s, pigs, turkeys, chickens and cows were bred to be docile and mature quickly. Animals were moved from pastures to crowded feedlots and fed cheap food that often made them sick (which led to widespread antibiotic use). And stressed animals on unnatural diets produce meat that is inferior in taste and quality. The good news is, conservation, biodiversity and superior taste are all part of the re-emerging food values inherent in heritage breeds.

Heritage breed farmers like Lisa Richards, owner of Mack Hill Farm in Southern New Hampshire, practice environmentally sound biodiversity. She and her husband raise Tamworth pigs–hardy foragers prized for lean, fine-grained meat. The farm is also home to sheep that yield milk for making yogurt and cheese (as well as whey that feeds the pigs), and chickens and Midget White turkeys that pick through manure in the pasture, breaking the parasite-bacteria cycle so the pigs can safely root the manure back into the soil as they forage.

This natural approach means that heritage breeds take longer to reach market weight and require pasture to roam and forage … which costs more than raising them on a feedlot … which means farmers can only raise heritage breeds if there is a market for them. Which brings us full circle.

As my Cochon experience demonstrated, chefs are a crucial link in the farm-to-table journey. Heritage breeds have long enchanted chefs, who are introducing diners everywhere to them. Chefs and consumers swoon over heritage breeds’ distinct characteristics, like high intramuscular fat and rich, fine-grained meat.

But diners are sometimes stunned at the prices of heritage products, which can cost $5-$10 or more per pound (reflecting a truer cost of food production than their conventional counterparts). Nonetheless, there are ways to incorporate heritage meat and poultry into your food budget.

Ask for it. I discovered heritage pork (a Tamworth-Berkshire cross, labeled only as “fresh pork shank”) for $3.99 per pound at my specialty grocer. Costco now carries D’Artagnan, which represents sustainable, humane small family farms and cooperatives. can help you find farmers who sell directly to consumers, at farmers’ markets, and through CSAs in your area.

Eat less meat. The average American consumes 15 cows, 24 hogs, 900 chickens, 12 sheep, and 1,000 pounds of other assorted animals in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That‘s a half-pound of meat per day–almost twice the USDA’s recommended 5 ounces of lean protein for a 1,800-calorie daily diet.

By consuming smaller portions of more heritage meats, buying from farms or specialty grocers, and demanding heritage breeds at your mega-mart, you can help improve your family’s health, the environment, and breed diversity. As the Ark of Taste’s motto says, “Eat it to save it!”

jackie-thumbJacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.

A Farm by Any Other Name . . .

Here’s a question. If you bought a pickled cucumber from Marge’s Farm at the farmers’ market and it made you sick, would you need to sift through a mound of paperwork to find out where that pickle came from? Not so much. But if the pickle that made you sick came from a jar on a supermarket shelf, you (or more accurately, others) would be grateful that the paper trail existed, so that source of bum pickles could be singled out before it caused harm to others. Two completely different scenarios, right? Not, right now anyway, according to the Food Safety Enhancement Act just passed by the House.


This bill embodies both great opportunity (to improve food safety in a largely industrialized food system) and great threat (to quash the burgeoning small and organic farm movement in America), and I could write at length about any number of issues on either side of the coin. Right now, though, I’d like to focus in one aspect that I feel must be addressed not just in this bill, but in the way we view agriculture in America: specifically, that there is a fundamental difference in the way small—particularly organic—farms function and the way large, industrial outfits do.

One takes a long-term view with the goal of creating a healthy ecosystem. The farmer is continually observing, experimenting and adapting to foster the health of his land. It’s an inherently intimate relationship. The other depends largely upon efficiencies: soil amendments to boost short-term production; pesticides and herbicides to kill weeds and pests with minimal labor and cost; seeds that are engineered to increase yield. It, by contrast, is an inherently impersonal relationship.

Now I’m not arguing that all agriculture should be one way or the other; in the world we live in, there’s a need for some form of both. I’m simply saying that the first step to creating legislation that truly protects our food supply—all aspects of it—needs to acknowledge that there are some major differences between small and large.

The good news is, lawmakers are willing to address concerns about the bill before it goes before the Senate this fall. So stay tuned on NOURISH Evolution to learn more about the issues and how to make your voice heard.

Seek Sustainability

Last week, we were at a friends’ house for dinner when talk turned to the Cooking for Solutions conference I was headed to at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “It’s about exploring ways to create a more sustainable food chain,” I said. Brows went up. Heads tilted. And finally the question was asked: “What, exactly, does sustainability mean?”

seek-sustainability-radishesThe answer, it turns out, isn’t so easy to pin down. Over the past few years I’ve come to think of sustainability as a system of practices that is healthy for the environment, economically viable and a positive influence on the community that can be sustained over the long haul. Admittedly, it’s not cut and dry. But maybe, as Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute, suggested at the conference, it isn’t meant to be.

Wes suggested that “sustainability,” like “justice” and “health,” is a value term. While we may not be able to pin down precise meanings for these words, we nonetheless organize entire societies around the concepts they embody and fight tooth-and-nail to defend them. I’d argue that a core ideal of sustainability is making sure we do things in a way that will preserve something for future generations.

That can all sound vague and stern and solemn, but bring sustainability to the kitchen and you’ll find color and life and flavor. When I make this sandwich with spring radishes and arugula from the garden and everything else sourced locally, for instance, it brings an added depth of pleasure to know that I’m nurturing the earth and supporting my local farmers . . . and you can’t get much more economical than bread and cheese.

My challenge this week isn’t about buying local or buying organic or anything that dogmatic. It’s simply about encouraging you to look at the effect your food purchases have–on the environment, on your community, on your budget. Because ultimately, sustainability has to be about what you value if it’s to have any value at all.