Category Archives: Food

Charts of the day: Big Agra’s rise in Europe

European smallholders, for millennia the backbone of European agriculture, with larger corporate farms on the rise, most notably in Eastern Europe.

First, via Eurostat [PDF], a chart of the overall trends:

BLOG Eurofarm 1

And, second, a nation-by-nation look at percentage changes in agricultural land ownership [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Eurofarm 2

Map of the day II: Water stress by country

The World Resources Institute describes our second WRI entry thusly:

This map shows the average exposure of water users in each country to baseline water stress, the ratio of total withdrawals to total renewable supply in a given area. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited water supplies.

Our analysis finds that 37 countries currently face “extremely high” levels of water stress, meaning that more than 80 percent of the water available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually.

BLOG Water Stress map

Chart of the day II: Agricultural water stress

We continue today’s climate and water theme with two items from the World Resources Institute, first a list of crops under threat from depletion of water supplies already under stress from growing populations:

BLOG Water stress crops

An imperiled treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.

They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.

In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:

BLOG Huichol mask

Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.

Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”

Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.

The Huichols: History – Culture – Art

Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.

BLOG Huichol art car

But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.

And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.

From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:

Huichols and Pesticides

Program notes:

Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.

One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:

The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival

Program notes:

This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.

With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.

To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting:

BLOG Huichol yarn

Chris Hedges hosts a new show on Telesur

Telesur English is getting very interesting. In addition to weekly episodes of shows by esnl favorites Abby Martin and Laura Flanders, the Venezuelan broadcaster has added the inimitable Chris Hedges, former Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times.

In this latest episode of Days of Revolt, Hedges discusses the insidious nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] with attorney Kevin Zeese, co-director of and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. Zeese is a political activist and former press spokesperson for Ralph Nader, and in an unsuccessful 2006 Senate run, he was the only candidate ever nominated simultaneously by the Green, Libertarian, and Populist parties.

From Telesur English:

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

An excerpt from the transcript, discussing the TPP’s provision for overturning the power of the American judiciary in the interests of the corporation:

HEDGES: And they’re not allowed to make any amendments, no changes, nothing.

ZEESE: No amendments. Up or down vote. That’s it. And in the Senate, there’s no filibuster, so it’s only 50 percent. You can’t force them to 60 votes. It’s only 51 they need. And so it’s a very restricted Congress.

And all these agreements, by the way, as Ralph mentions in that quote, greatly restrict each branch of government, and Congress [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, let’s talk a little bit about how they do that, this kind of–part of this kind of creeping coup d’état, corporate coup d’état that’s taking place.

ZEESE: And I just want to say one more thing about this coup d’état. This is just one aspect of it. We’re seeing the corporate power grow in the United States with Citizens United and the buying of elections and all that corruption. But we’re also–out of places like the World Economic Forum, they’ve come out with a working group called the–that’s redesigning, the Global Redesign Initiative that’s redesigning the way governance works to minimize the nationstate and maximize transnational–. They want the UN to become a hybrid government and corporate body. So that’s what the World Economic Forum is working on as this is all going on, too. So this is a big, big fight about where we go. This is the epic struggle of our times, corporate power versus people power.

Now, the way that they–what Ralph was talking about in that quote was one aspect of this, which is the trade tribunal system, which already exists, but this is expanded. For the first time, for example, financial services can use the trade tribunals to overrule legislation to regulate the big banks.

HEDGES: Now, these trade tribunals, they’re three-person tribunals. They’re made up of corporate lawyers. One of the things I think I was speaking with you that you told me is that if you’re a citizen or advocacy group, you’re excluded from even going to these.

ZEESE: Yeah. You know, in our federal court system, which is the third branch of government that–Ralph’s favorite branch, I think. He just opened the museum in his —

HEDGES: Right, a tort museum.

ZEESE: — in his hometown, a tort museum, which is a great museum. People should go to Winsted to see it, by the way.

But, anyway, in our federal court system, an individual can sue a corporation. They can find a lawyer who takes it on retainer, only get paid if they win. You get a jury of your peers to decide it. That’s a real court system. It has lots of weaknesses that need to be improved on. They’ve been cutting back on it is much as they could with so-called tort reform–as Ralph calls tort deform. And so it’s getting weaker. But it’s still an important branch of government.

This overrules that. Our courts cannot review what a trade tribunal does. The trade tribunal judges are three corporate lawyers who can also represent corporations in other cases. So there’s a real conflict of interest here, because if you’re a lawyer who’s filing suits on behalf of corporations at these trade tribunals, you want to broaden the power of the trade tribunal and the corporation. So as a judge, you can decide things that, say, corporations have this power, corporations have that power, no, that the security issue doesn’t matter, the corporation still wins. They can create legal fictions.

Eating ills plague bullies and the bullied

Bullies and their victims share more than a tortured relationship, according to a newly published study.

They also share eating disorders.

From Newswise:

Being bullied in childhood has been associated with increased risk for anxiety, depression and even eating disorders. But according to new research, it’s not only the victims who could be at risk psychologically, but also the bullies themselves.

Researchers at Duke Medicine and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine were surprised to find that in a study of 1,420 children, those who bullied others were twice as likely to display symptoms of bulimia, such as bingeing and purging, when compared to children who are not involved in bullying. The findings are published in the December issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders.

For a long time, there’s been this story about bullies that they’re a little more hale and hearty,” said lead author William Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. “Maybe they’re good at manipulating social situations or getting out of trouble, but in this one area it seems that’s not the case at all. Maybe teasing others may sensitize them to their own body image issues, or afterward, they have regret for their actions that results in these symptoms like binge eating followed by purging or excess exercise.”

The findings come from an analysis of interviews from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, a database with more than two decades of health information on participants who enrolled at age 9. The data is considered a community sample and not representative of the U.S. population, but offers clues to how children ages 9 to 16 could be affected.

Participants were divided into four categories – children who were not at all involved in bullying; victims of bullying; children who sometimes were victims and sometimes were instigators; and children who were solely bullies, repeatedly abusing other children verbally and physically, socially excluding others, and rumor mongering, without ever becoming a victim themselves.

The researchers were not surprised to find that victims of peer abuse were generally at increased risk for eating disorders.

Children who were victims of bullying were at nearly twice the risk of displaying symptoms of anorexia (11.2 percent prevalence compared to 5.6 percent of children who were not involved in bullying) and bulimia (27.9 percent prevalence compared to 17.6 percent of children not involved in bullying).

Children who were both bullies and victims had the highest prevalence of anorexia symptoms (22.8 percent compared to 5.6 percent of the children not involved in bullying) and also the highest prevalence of binge eating (4.8 percent of children as compared to less than 1 percent of uninvolved children) and vomiting as a way to maintain their weight.

More after the jump. Continue reading

The Mafioso, missing beef, and death by arson: A censored story appears, four decades later

esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee for three years, starting in January, 1983. We left because of censorship of stories we reported involving organized crime in California and its ties to politics and corrupt union officials.

What follows is one of those stories, the last we wrote on the Bee’s payroll. It is a story about the Mafia, corrupt businessmen, and a fatal arson.

It is also a story that’s never before been told in its full scope. We submitted it on 28 June 1985 and met with the expected response from an editor wearing a solid gold Rolex with a diamond-studded bezel: “It’s not the sort of thing we’re interested in.”

But it’s a story that should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas, and we think it should be finally told:

An element of mystery still lingers

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened,” said the judge. “There was just too much going on.”

“My feelings are that all of these little arms are part of the same octopus,” said the prosecutor. “I think organized crime is the right adjective. I think it’s totally organized.”

All the investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case agree that they never got to the bottom of it all. But some things can be said for sure about a drama that had been playing out for more than a decade.

Tehama County’s largest stable employer was bankrupted, scores of workers lost their jobs, a arsonist died in a Long Beach because of a fire he had set, and scores of ranchers lost livestock and cash.

The cast of players includes a talented sausage-maker who was less skillful as an entrepreneur, an Arizona businessman with a shadowy past and shadowier linkers to th Teamsters Union, and a mafioso with powerful connections.

The name of then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also surfaced in a nor found in a fugitive’s briefcase that triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The Beginnings

The story opens in 1972.

Nicholas J. Cichirillo Sr. was a skilled maker of Italian sausage and, the the time, principal officer of Messina Sausage Company.

“Cichirillo decided he wanted to expand, explained Roger Boren, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who got to know Chicirillo when he prosecuted him got arson and grand theft.

Cichirillo engineered the merger of four firms into one company. They were: Messina Sausage; Selecto Sausage, an East Los Angeles manufacturer of Mexican-style sausage; Capri Sausage of Covina, another Italian sausage firm; and The Red Devil, Inc., a pizza restaurant chain.

The resulting firm was called Messina Meat Products, Inc., and was based in Covina — although Cichirillo incorporated in Utah after buying a corporate “shell” called Wasatch Iron and Gold Co.

It was in 1975 that Cichirillo ran into trouble. That’s when Messina Meat Products acquired Minch Meats of Red Bluff.

A family-owned firm for 41 years, Mich Meats was Tehama County’s largest employer. Minch was an attractive takeover target. The company owned equipment for reprocessing meat — for removing fat and boine and packing the beef into leaner, more nutritious cuts.

In 1974, according to former company president Robert Minch, the firm had done just over $30 million in business and employed over 150 people.

Just how Cichirillo learned of Minch is still an open question in the minds of law enforcement investigators.

Enter ‘Sal the Swindler’

Sources have told the Bee that before the sale to Messina, Salvatore Pisello may have met with one of the company’s owners. Munch, the grandson of the firm’s founder, says he doesn’t recall ever meeting Pisello, although “somebody mentioned that Sal was going to do this or that.”

Though a sale was allegedly discussed, Pisello didn’t buy the firm then — it went to Cichirillo. Pisello surfaced as an owner later, along with one of Southern California’s most prominent citrus and meat magnates. But more of that later.

Pisello had been a target of law enforcement investigators for decades. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have labeled him a member of the powerful Gambino Family from New York.

According to an FBI report, Pisello once bragged to an informant of starting restaurants with “laundered” underworld funds received from Meyer Lansky, the mob’s late financial genius [and model for the Hyman Roth character in Godfather, Part 2].

Pisello has also been linked to frauds in Italy, a ripoff at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and to an alleged scheme to smuggle heroin into the country in airborne lobster tanks used in a fish importing business he once ran.

According to an FBI file, one of his street names is “Sal the Swindler.”

And the troubles begin

Minch and his three partner taded their interest in Minch for a share in Messina and the deal was consummated in July.

But Minch Meats was in trouble even as the deal was being signed. Minch said his company simply couldn’t compete with Midwestern firms, which relied on lower-priced labor, assembly line techniques,m and cheaper feeding procedures.

In the West, Minch said, Safeway set the price standard for beef carcasses, and the price was less than the cost of production. To avoid financial hemorrhaging, Minch remodeled the plant to produce “portion control” prepackaged cuts which, he hoped, could be sold as a higher-priced brand name line.

But stock of beef accumulated in the Minch plant. Buyer weren’t that interested in portion control, and unions refused to accept company-suggested wage concessions.

An attempt to void the existing labor contract failed, despite predictions from company lawyers that courts would strike down the contract, Minch said.

Then disaster fell. Messina filed for bankruptcy on 5 December 1975. When the front doors were locked and workers forced out, some of the plant’s new equipment disappeared — although no one knows where it went, according to William O. Scott, the former Tehama County District Attorney who conducted a seven-year investigation of Messina in conjunction with the district attorney’s office.

Also missing was a large amount of beef for which Tehma County ranchers and feedlots hadn’t been paid.

The investigations commence

Alerted to the missing beef and equipment, Scott began an investigation with the help of Robert Crim, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

According to the public statements of the California Cattlemen’s Association at the time of the collapse, Minch owned $780,000 [$3.53 million in 2015 dollars] to beef producers and $100,000 [$452,000 today] to workers.

At one point the missing beef was reportedly stored in a Sacramento warehouse, but by the time a creditor appeared at the warehouse with a court order, the beef had vanished. Minch speculates that it was unloaded by his former partners for ten cents on the dollar.

During the period of the collapse, one of the four original partners, Donald L. Stroud, had been unloaded his own stock onto another partner, H.L. “Tex” Allen.

According to a lawsuit Allen filed later, Stroud had told him that he had access to 60,000 shares of Messina stock they could acquire jointly at a bargain price.

The stock Allen bought turned out to be Stroud’s personal or family holdings — sold, according to court records, after Stroud had assured Allen that the company’s financial outlook was good.

When Messina collapse, Allen was left holding Stroud’s stock and Stroud was holding $37,000 of Allen’s cash.

[Stroud became a controversial character in Tehama County again in the mid-1980s when his Exchange Enterprises, a barter service exchange, collapse, leaving particpants on the hook for thousands of dollars and leading to another criminal investigation by the county district attorney.]

After the jump, a wiseguy takeover, the lethal arson, Teamsters money-laundering, a political connection, convictions, and more. . . Continue reading