Entries in Geoff Dutton (11)
Across the world, organic (variously called bio, eco or oko) food's cultural cachet and steadily rising market share has caused policy makers to regulate how it is produced and marketed. As the illustration below makes clear, its production has become "vertically integrated," making it harder for consumers to decode and trust than ever. Food bureaucracies are also complicating organic farmers' lives.
Suppose you're a small U.S. farmer who wants to grow healthier food without using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Of course, you want your produce, livestock, eggs, and/or dairy products to be officially certified as "organic." And if you produce processed foods, you need to know what additives you can safely use. With the help of trade organizations, you start collecting information about how to follow best practices and satisfy "applicable regulations." Eventually, you note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs something called the National Organic Program (NOP) that's in charge of regulating organic food production.
So you search for its Web site and go there to look around. There you find the fruit of an entrenched bureaucracy trying to come to grips with a new environmental and consumer ethic, which will keep you up at night for some time to come.
On the Experience Economies bus.
Would you spend ten dollars for a guided tour of innovation hotspots? A hundred Boston-area folks did, one night in February. Associates at the Laboratory at Harvard (described here several months ago) guided them through four local venues where new ideas, companies and products are hatched and incubated, throwing in some performance art and good food to leaven the experience.
The Lab itself hatches ideas. Undergraduate and graduate students who take the lab's courses break into teams and brainstorm ideas for socially useful inventions. Then they prototype them, test them, and sometimes go on to found companies to make, market and distribute them. That's a relatively recent role for Harvard's teaching mission, though it's been part and parcel of MIT's M.O. for decades.
We leave a lot of tell-tail vapor trails as we come and go to the cloud. So do companies we do business with. Details about us lodge in Web sites we visit and at many organizations we never heard of. Many of us are used it and don't mind. Some of us get concerned, but don't have any sure way to avoid it other than staying off the Internet. And sooner or later, you will probably share your personal data with characters you'd rather not know. It happened to me, twice. My credit card was hacked from a newspaper I subscribed to and from a national retail chain's "secure" servers. Make that "at least twice."
It seems that the Internet is a place where everyone knows your name. Where did our privacy go and when will we get it back?
Yes, you read that right, only two percent of Americans would be forced to either buy health insurance under the ACA (Affordable Care Act of 2009; it may be a cynical euphemism, but I refuse to call it "ObamaCare") or pay the full tax penalty for not doing so. According to a new Urban Institute study (brief PDF), 7.3 million people, two percent of the total population (or three percent of the population under age 65) would have to pay full tax penalties if they choose not to buy health insurance. The penalty amounts to well under half of the social security tax they would also have to pay on their incomes. Once they pay, they are free to remain uninsured until next year, but will then face another penalty if their income doesn't sag.
You have probably heard of the movement to move personal and institutional bank deposits out of mega-banks. The best-known group is the Move Your Money campaign, which indicates that in about one year four million bank accounts were transferred from national banks to community banks and credit unions. Many times that number of account holders are expected to join the exodus this year and next. A relatively small number of organized change agents have stoked this movement.
Big pharma and big farming also face revolts, just as intense but harder to track. Epidemics of obesity, cancer, and heart and degenerative diseases link the two. Industrial farming methods have their place, but not when dominated by dependencies on monocultures, GMO seed stock, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, fish farms and feedlots. Citizens pursue many strategies to escape from unhealthy food, some of which FearLess highlights. While it is diverse and still relatively unnoticed, the healthier food movement is growing and changing consumers’ consciousness.
It is harder for farmers and ranchers to escape from the clutches of agribusiness than it is for consumers, because they are roped into seed stock, chemicals and systemic practices that independent operators can't avoid from without help. Small farmers and ranchers also depend on federal agriculture programs that favor industrial producers, whose trade associations have seen to that. But this could change.
Everyone knows that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Well, sort of. Actually, he improved a device to record and reproduce sound in 1877 that others (including Alexander Graham Bell) made better. Edison himself drew on an invention called the phonautograph, which recorded sound with a stylus on paper covered with carbon black and wrapped around a cylinder. That device, invented by Eduard-Leon Scott de Martinville 20 years before Edison's, could record sound but not reproduce it. And as innovative as the phonautograph was, it never went to market.
Edison didn't "invent" the light bulb either; he made them last longer, and then started a company to power them. The difference between Edison and many unsuccessful inventors was that he knew how to hunt down cool ideas and technologies, mobilize people to turn them into working, useful products, drum up the public's interest in what he was doing, and then parlay that into new ventures.
Fit the First
This week, the hot water heater in my basement started leaking. When I got it in September 2003, it came with a six-year warranty. I was happy that it lasted over eight years until the technician who installed the new one yesterday told me a story.
Several years back he replaced a water heater for an elderly man who wanted to upgrade his home before putting it on the market. The water heater was 60 years old and worked perfectly well, but the owner thought a new one would make the place more saleable. The tech took the old water heater home and installed it there, and has been using it ever since.
We at fearlessrevolution.com try to sort out sustainable practices from profligate ones and communicate the difference. Still, at least one aspect of online commerce still haunts me. Despite the many "healthy choices" out there on the Net, I remain a bit afraid to rely on the Web to satisfy my material needs. My worry isn’t because I feel vulnerable to stratagems calculated to command my attention, upscale my appetite, and grab my gelt. No, what haunts me is that e-commerce is loosening longstanding social constraints to deciding to buy, period. That is, we could be making impulsive buying decisions simply because transactions are so much easier and more private than ever. After all, on the Internet, only the data-miners know you're a compulsive shopper, not your peers.
This is an impressive and encouraging example of the power of social media to pursue social and political change. After President Obama nominated FDA insider and ex-Monsanto exec Michael Taylor to be a senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner, a storm of protest resulted. In roles both in and out of government, Taylor helped to keep the GM bovine growth hormone rBGH unregulated and untested. It will take decades to know how humans who consume milk products from rBGH-treated cows are affected. With this appointment, Taylor can do even more collateral damage as a friend of Big Food.