The Counter

Is California giving its methane digesters too much credit?

California is treating factory farm gas systems at dairy farms like they are devices that suck carbon from the air. This story was published in partnership with Grist. Every year, California dairy farms emit hundreds of thousands of tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane, which gets released when livestock operations pool manure in open-air lagoons. To put a lid on these emissions, the state is lavishing the industry with lucrative subsidies to capture methane before it escapes into the atmosphere. Such efforts are currently on track to prevent 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a standard unit for measuring greenhouse gas emissions, from being emitted annually by the end of this year. It’s an essential part of the Golden State’s plan to shrink methane emissions by 40 percent of 2013 levels by the end of the decade.
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Your car is killing coho salmon

Pacific Northwest rains wash the toxic chemical that weatherizes your car tires into the watershed—a death sentence for salmon. The Nisqually Tribe and researchers are trying to find a solution. Highway 7 runs north-south through western Washington, carving its way through a landscape sparsely dotted with residences, farms, and...
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The pandemic has transformed America’s dining landscape into an oligopoly dominated by chains

Big, sit-down restaurant brands are winning on a local level by offering dining experiences that appeal to the broadest audience possible. Familiarity is their secret sauce. One of the greatest pleasures I had as a child growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the mid-1980s was delving into an unctuous slice of French Silk pie at Bakers Square. I couldn’t tell you how many Bakers Square locations existed back then, there were a lot. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that as a 10-year-old boy when my family anxiously piled into one of its ample, textured vinyl banquettes.

California is moving toward food assistance for all populations—including undocumented immigrants

Lawmakers and advocates are urging Gavin Newsom to remove immigration and age restrictions from the state’s food assistance program. Undocumented immigrants experience food insecurity at much higher rates than other populations, yet they are largely unable to access government food assistance programs. This may soon change in California. Advocates...

Babka, borscht … and pumpkin spice? Two writers talk about Jewish identity through contemporary cookbooks.

How do today’s culinary guides reflect—and reframe—ideas about Jewishness?. Writer Charlotte Druckman and editor Rebecca Flint Marx are both Jewish journalists living in New York City. And they both love cookbooks. So they convened to have a conversation about recent-ish Jewish cookbooks—and ultimately, what it means for a cookbook to make a claim about its very Jewishness.

How some big grocery chains help ensure that food deserts stay barren

Supermarket chains can keep low-income communities from easy access to food, with a dastardly (but legal) provision they write into lease agreements. Last fall, first-year law student Karissa Kang arrived at Yale University and quickly set out to find a supermarket within walking distance. “I like cooking,” she explained, and she didn’t have a car. Her hometown of Atlanta was loaded with shopping options like Publix and Kroger so she was surprised to discover that the only full-service grocery choice in her New Haven neighborhood was one Stop & Shop about a half-mile from campus. Adding to her surprise was the fact that she never encountered other law students shopping there—anyone with wheels drove to a Trader Joe’s in another town. Why, wondered Kang every time she made the walk to the store, “does [this part of] the city only have one national grocery chain?”

More regenerative farming may be a climate solution. But another climate solution is impeding its progress

Farmers are giving up much-needed cropland to solar companies, but can the two work in tandem?. Back around 2011, Jonathan Cobb and his wife, Kaylyn, had what he calls a “simple game plan.” They’d take a few hundred acres of both leased and family-owned central-Texas farmland—land that for decades had grown row crops of corn and cotton—and give it “what it wants back,” he said.

Happier employees, higher profits: Restaurant owners spend more, and it pays off

Cutbacks have defined the pandemic era restaurant—but when owners invest more in their employees, everybody wins. Like many restaurant operators over the past two years, Greg and Daisy Ryan, co-owners of the French-inspired bistro Bell’s in Los Alamos, California, sweated over how their business would survive a global pandemic. All around them owners were turning to takeout, to retail, or to closing their doors indefinitely.

Mentors aren’t saviors. And industry training programs need to understand that.

Programs to advance mentees’ careers often fall prey to faulty assumptions about expertise and the very barriers they profess to want to change. Philadelphia’s public transportation is known to be unreliable: In 2019, the city was ranked 89th of 100 U.S. cities using factors including safety, convenience, and accessibility. Yet many employers don’t take this spotty service into account when considering the punctuality of workers who rely on this particular public service for their daily commute.

The hardest story to write

I’m writing with news I hoped I’d never have to report. After nearly seven years publishing some of the most provocative and memorable food stories in journalism, The Counter will cease publication on May 20. We are journalists in a community of journalists; we know there will be...

The campaign for “bird-friendly beef”

The National Audubon Society’s new certification program measures eco-benefits using a single, simple metric: birds. It’s a quietly radical approach that’s upending conventional wisdom about both cattle ranching and conservation. In the spring of 2018, at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve in New York’s Hudson Valley, a...

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality is facing its second complaint for permitting hog waste operations in poor communities of color

The EPA is investigating whether it’s discriminatory for Eastern North Carolina’s hog waste operations to be centered in poor Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities. Residents in Eastern North Carolina’s Duplin and Sampson Counties have to learn to live in close proximity to hog waste. Sometimes it’s just the stench of it, but depending on where they live, it could also mean that the waste is sprayed onto their homes, leading to health issues and attracting an array of pests–especially during the summer when flies are already in abundance.

Arizona’s future water shock

Smaller cities. Soaring water prices. Scorched desert towns. Arizona confronts a highly uncertain future. This piece from Circle of Blue is part of a collaboration managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News. For more stories in the Tapped Out series, click here. The Biggest Dry: Arizona, third of three reports....

Unsafe yield: Severe drought, dead wells, political division are pushing Arizona steadily closer to water supply peril

WILLCOX, Ariz. – Nobody who knows Peggy Judd would mistake her for a political progressive. At age 59, Judd is in her second term as one of three supervisors in Cochise County, a nearly 4 million-acre expanse of mesquite and cholla cactus, irrigated cropland, and pecan orchards silhouetted by towering mountains in southeast Arizona. Raised on a Cochise County farm and true to her allegiance to private property rights, Judd has no interest in hampering the development of this high desert county’s farms and ranches, which are an economic growth sector accounting for over $100 million in annual sales.