Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 21 2014

Weekend reading: a fresh take on the soda industry

Bartow J. Elmore.  Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism.  Norton, 2015.

 

Elmore is an historian at the University of Alabama, whose book takes a fresh look at how soda companies managed to make fortunes selling cheap sugar water.   Advertising, he says, is only a minor factor in generating soda profits.

The real profits came from a business strategy that offloads the costs and risks onto suppliers, bottlers, and taxpayers.  Soda companies depend on taxpayers for the cost of city water supplies, the recycling discarded cans and bottles, the cleanup of containers that are not recycled, the transportation of sodas to the military,  and the health care of overweight consumers.

The public, he says, should be setting and collecting the price for use of public resources, rather than “accepting the bill for corporate waste.”

 

Nov 20 2014

What Dan Glickman is doing these days: bipartisanship

Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary (1995-2001) has been turning up in my mailbox newsletters a lot lately.  Here’s a small collection.

On making the connection between agriculture and health

The food, agriculture, health, hunger and nutrition sectors need to create new ways of working together that harness their shared commitment to improving health through food and nutrition. And we need government and industry to work together in a way that transcends typical political and business interests….The food industry can do more to reinforce healthy diets through marketing, incentives and other strategies, including product formulation, placement, packaging, and portion sizes. And government needs to amplify its existing efforts to ensure consistent and affirming nutrition and health messages for consumers.

On the need for bipartisan approaches

While a healthy, civil debate among those with differing viewpoints is an essential component of our democracy, the current partisan tone in government is impeding progress. Through the Democracy Project and events like Bridge-Builder Breakfasts, political summits and timely policy discussions, BPC [Bipartisan Policy Center ] is fostering an ongoing conversation about how to overcome political divides and help make our government work better.

He is a co-chair of AGree–Transforming Food and Agriculture

AGree seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority.  [Here is what AGree agrees on]

And here he is on the implications of the midterm elections’ for the “rural-urban divide:” 

Notwithstanding the very strong farm and agricultural economy the past few years, the Democratic Party and its leadership are having a great deal of trouble connecting with farmers and rural citizens and small-town America…a sustained effort at the highest political level by Democrats to connect with rural issues and concerns is necessary if they want to broaden their popularity and build bigger and more successful electoral coalitions and succeed in this country’s many rural congressional districts.

…It is no secret that casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were borne by a disproportionate number of young men and women from these areas. The economic recession has also hit rural America very hard and many towns have not seen much impact on their lives from the rebounding American economy.

The White House and Democratic Party gurus need to recognize that they are failing to connect with rural America….The future of American leadership on nutrition, farming and hunger is in jeopardy without positive action to rebuild and maintain these bipartisan coalitions.

In his post USDA years, Glickman has become a strong spokesman for bipartisanship and bipartisan decisions about how to link agricultural policy to health policy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if he succeeds?

Nov 19 2014

Progress on ending soda industry marketing to kids? Not much.

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has just released its 2014 Sugary Drink FACTS report.

Screenshot 2014-11-19 17.37.49

Some of the findings:

  • Beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks in 2013, and increase since the previous year.
  • Children and teens remain key target audiences for that advertising.
  • Much marketing is done through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and advergame apps.
  • Pepsi spent $16 million on Spanish TV advertising in 2013, up from none in 2010.
  • Dr Pepper Snapple spent $20 million (up from $7 million in 2010) to support its regular sodas.
  • African-American teens watch more than three times as many ads for Coca-Cola as do white kids.

Useful Rudd Center resources:

Nov 17 2014

Brazilian dietary guidelines are based on foods, food patterns, and meals, not nutrients

Brazil has just released the final version of its Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian population in English as well as in Portuguese (I wrote about the draft version in an earlier post).

Screenshot 2014-11-16 20.47.15 - Copy (2)

As explained in the press release (also in English), the guidelines include ten steps to health diets

  1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
  2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
  3. Limit consumption of processed foods
  4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
  5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
  6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
  7. Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
  8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
  9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
  10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Traditionally, families based their diets on natural and minimally processed foods.  The guidelines are based on the actual, traditional dietary patterns of a substantial proportion of the Brazilian population of all ages and classes throughout the country.

Carlos Monteiro, the Brazilian nutrition professor listed as the technical formulator of the guidelines, was in Washington DC last week to speak at a conference on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.   Monteiro’s speech is here.  Tweets sent during the meeting are here.

I hope everybody listened.

Nov 14 2014

Weekend reading: food history!

Paul Freedman, Joyce E. Chaplin, and Ken Albala.  Food in Time and Place: The American Historical Association Companion to Food History.  University of California Press, 2014.

I was happy to be asked to do a blurb for this one:

This book is a treasure.  Its clear and lively chapters on global food history instantly explain why food has become an essential entry point into the most intellectually challenging problems of our time.  Any reader interested in the role of food in history, culture, or politics, its production or consumption, or the teaching of critical thinking will find this book hard to put down. 

Nov 13 2014

White House delays even more food rules

This morning’s Politico Pro Morning Agriculture says that FDA menu labeling (see Monday’s Post) is not the only food rule being held up by the White House.

The issue: The White House is supposed to sign off or reply within 90 days, or formally request an extension.  That’s not happening with menu calorie labeling or four others:

  • The Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry rule: this refers to what you can call meat and poultry with added water, salt or other ingredients.  The White House has been sitting on rule for review since April 30.   Chicken producers love it.  Some meat producers don’t.  Here’s the initial proposal.  It’s not clear whether or how it’s been altered.
  • Child Nutrition Program Integrity and Child and Adult Care Food Program proposals: these rules, also sent in April, deal with USDA’s implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The integrity rule deals with mismanagement.  The other one requires USDA to update the meals to comply with dietary guidelines every 10 years.
  •  USDA’s catfish inspection rule: Sent to the White House on May 30, this would implement a section of the 2014 farm bill that puts USDA, not FDA, in charge of catfish inspections (see previous post on this).
  • EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014: This was sent August 22.  The White House has not extended the review period.  f the administration does take more time to officially complete its review, it could push the release of the rule governing how much ethanol needs to be mixed into gasoline for 2014 into 2015.

What’s going on?  Politics, of course.  But I can only speculate on what they might be.

Nov 12 2014

The New York Times does Food for Tomorrow

I attended the first day of the New York Times’ Food for Tomorrow conference at Stone Barns, worth the trip to hear Mark Bittman’s inspiring keynote.  My summary: feeding the growing world’s population is not about increasing food production; it’s about ending poverty.

Fortunately, the Times is making videos of the sessions available online.

But never mind all that.  Check out Bittman’s  speech.

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 11 2014

Does the USDA deliberately make it difficult for retailers to accept SNAP benefits?

A colleague and reader who recently took over a small food business wanted to continue to make it possible for people enrolled in SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a.k.a. Food Stamps—to buy his products.

The business had already followed the steps needed to become an authorized SNAP retailer and had been accepting Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT cards) for a couple of years.

His new ownership required him to start over.  He filed the application with the USDA last April.  As he explained last week:

About six months later now, after repeated follow-up and efforts to move it along and resubmitted paperwork and things not mailed back, we’re finally learning that our accounts were approved for use in August. Probably the 8th person we spoke to since starting was able to tell this to us nonchalantly today. Everyone prior has had *virtually* no idea what’s going on or good answers for us other than “start over” or “I’ll have someone call you.”

Six months to set up EBT, surely among the largest transaction types in the country (in terms of the funding body and the process). The USDA & FNS must be woefully understaffed….

So our EBT accounts were finally approved and activated. What’s fascinating then is the number of companies that reach out to tell us (paraphrasing) that “due to recent changes in the Farm Bill, retailers are no longer able to get free processing equipment from the USDA so call us today to get low-cost equipment and a low-cost monthly flat-fee for your EBT processing needs.”

Obviously our bi-cameral, newly monocular Congress will only care about fraud with respect to EBT. So any responses to bureaucratic inefficiency will not likely result in reform, only reduction.

Alas, he is right about that.  Although Congress, in passing the Agricultural Act of 2014 (a.k.a. the Farm Bill), did not make the deep cuts in SNAP that many Republicans wanted, it did make some mean-spirited changes.

For example:

Section 4002: The Secretary shall require participating retail food stores to pay 100% of the costs of acquiring, and arrange for the implementation of, electronic benefit point-of-sale equipment and supplies, including related services (exceptions: farmers’ markets, nonprofit food coops, etc).  So yes, my reader’s small business has to pay for this.

Here’a another example:

Section 4018: Prohibiting Government-Sponsored Recruitment Activities.  No funds authorized shall be used by the Secretary for:

  • Recruitment activities designed to persuade an individual to apply for SNAP benefits
  • TV, radio, or billboard ads designed to promote benefits and enrollment
  • Agreements with foreign governments designed to promote benefits and enrollment
  • Compensating persons who conduct outreach activities relating to SNAP participation or who recruit others to do so.

It’s possible that the long delay in USDA approval of his EBT accounts could be due to staff incompetence, but it’s clear that Congress does not want anything done to promote SNAP or make it work well for anyone involved in the system.

Let’s hope the USDA is better about approving the eligibility of recipients.

As of August 2014, 46.5 million Americans received SNAP benefits at an average of $124 per month.   The USDA needs to do a better job of serving them and the retailers they buy from.

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