Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 9 2014

New book for city folk: The Rooftop Beekeeper

Megan Paska: The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees.  Chronicle Books, 2014.

Megan Paska sent me a copy of her new book and I’m so glad she did.  I know lots of people who want to try raising bees in their home towns but don’t know how to start.

Now I know what to tell them.  Read this book.

It covers what bees are, why they matter, why you should raise them, why cities are great places to raise them, how to start, what you need—hives, nets, food, and the like—where to put them, and how to take care of bees in every season.

And it provides recipes for doing wonderful things with the overabundance of honey your bees are likely to produce.

I particularly like this section:

What to say to your neighbors.

Bee stings hurt.  It’s easy to see why many people assume that they’re going to die when they get stung by a bee…The fact is that bees already live with us, even in a city…Next time you are at a park or see a planted flowerbed on the street, consider not only the honeybee but also other wild pollinators you will likely see there, drifting from flower to flower…As beekeepers, it’s part of our job description to enlighten others to this simple fact: Bees are not so different from us.  They live for one another, and they can’t thrive without community.

Jun 6 2014

Why would school nutritionists oppose healthier meals?

Understanding why school nutritionists want to scrap the USDA’s nutrition standards takes some effort.

The question: Why is the School Nutrition Association (SNA)—the organization that represents the interests of “lunch ladies”—supporting Republican attempts to derail the nutrition standards?

The SNA has a long and honorable history of fighting for better nutrition for children, and it supported the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act—the one that gave USDA the authority to mandate healthier meals.

Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the daily Hagstrom Report, took a stab at explaining why SNA shifted position:

When the school-lunch program started, most schools cooked their own food. As the number of children participating in the school-lunch program grew, the need to provide more food led the schools to buy prepackaged, processed food, which led to the companies making those foods becoming big players within SNA.

Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico adds to the explanation:

The story behind the school lunch flip-flop is a complicated web of lobbying change-ups, industry influence and partisan posturing inside the Beltway…Interviews with more than a dozen former and current SNA officials reveal a dramatic shift in SNA’s policy platform, and even more so, its approach: choosing to wage war on Capitol Hill — pitting the association against [Michelle] Obama and her team — instead of trying to win more concessions directly from the Department of Agriculture…[This] has sparked a civil war within the nutrition community and the association itself. Nineteen former SNA presidents wrote to appropriators last week urging them to reject calls for a waiver — a break in ranks that was painful but necessary, signers said.

She adds this critical piece of information:

Several former presidents of the organization said they are worried that food companies have influenced the group’s agenda over concerns that the nutrition standards for the $11 billion program will take a big bite out of sales of popular items like pizza and salty snacks…About half of the group’s $10 million operating budget comes from food industry members.

Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told Jerry Hagstrom that the SNA’s current leadership is making a “serious mistake” is supporting members of Congress who want to block USDA’s standards.  If the SNA lobbies for permanent blockage of the standards, he thinks they will be “playing with fire.”  SNA, he said, is isolated on the issue.   “The stakes are really high for the future of the country,” he said. “It is a battle worth waging.”

Is SNA isolated?  Indeed it is.  Here’s the list of organizations that support the new standards, compiled by the American Public Health Association.

Jun 4 2014

Guess who funded the contradictory fructose study?

Today, Michael Goran and his colleagues published an NIH-funded study demonstrating that the proportion of fructose in products made with high fructose corn syrup is often higher than 55%—as much as 60% to 67%.

This matters because of concerns that high intake of fructose might induce insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

Today also, a different group of investigators published a study saying just the opposite.  Fructose in products, it says, is in close agreement with the amount expected.

Who funded this one?  The International Society of Beverage Technologists, whose executive board represents soda companies.

Really, these kinds of results are so predictable that all I have to do is see the results to guess who must have funded the study.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

 

Jun 3 2014

Dietary Guidelines Committee under attack for caring about how food is produced

I received an e-mail from the communications director of the Independent Women’s Forum, a group whose mission is to “improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

Interesting.

The group and its friends have just sent a letter to USDA and HHS complaining that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is exceeding its mandate.

Among our most acute concerns is the “mission creep” of the Committee, which has expanded to include non-dietary factors such as “carbon footprints,” “climate change,” “urban agriculture,” and “green cleaning and pest control practices.”

This likely reflects the composition of the Committee, which is nearly all epidemiologists from elite academic institutions with no direct experience in the practical realities of how food is produced and what average Americans may choose to eat.

We need only consider the strongly negative reaction to recent changes to the school lunch rules to understand what is at risk if this Committee attempts to dictate over-reaching changes to the American diet.

This would be funny if it weren’t part of the Republican agenda to roll back improvements in nutrition advice and practice aimed at preventing obesity and its related chronic diseases.

What the IWF is saying is that its members know better about what’s good for health than all those elite epidemiologists, scientists, and other experts on the committee who are worried about what climate change will do to our food supply.

Let’s hope the agencies ignore this letter.

Jun 2 2014

Sugar politics: Kara Walker’s “Marvelous Sugar Baby”

Don’t miss the Kara Walker installation at the old, molasses-stained, about-to-be-demolished Domino sugar refinery in Brooklyn, practically under the Williamsburg bridge.

Kara Walker_2

the colossal sphinx is plastered with 35 tons of sugar, much of it on the floor by this time.

What is this about?

Kara Walker_1

The sign says:

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby

An Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

The installation is open Friday to Sunday, free.  Details here.

A word of advice to Citibike users: Check the availability of docking stations before setting out.

May 30 2014

FDA to hold hearing, take comments on new food label: deadline August 1

The FDA is holding a public meeting on June 26 to solicit comments on its proposed rules for Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels.

The meeting’s purpose is to

  • Inform the public of the provisions of the proposed rules and the rulemaking process (including how to submit comments, data, and other information to both dockets)
  • Respond to questions about the proposed rules
  • Provide an opportunity for interested persons to make oral presentations.

Instructions and information

Deadlines for the hearing

  • June 12, 2014: Closing date for request to make Oral Comment
  • June 12, 2014: Closing date to request special accommodation due to a Disability
  • June 20, 2014: Closing date for Registration

The deadline for comments on the proposals has been extended to August 1: Submit either electronic or written comments to FDA’s Division of Dockets Management.

Here’s your chance to weigh in on the proposed label changes.  Don’t miss it!

May 29 2014

Historic! First Lady and President actively support school nutrition standards

Today, the House Appropriations Committee will discuss the annual spending bill for the Agriculture Department, meaning that it will consider proposals to weaken nutrition standards for school meals.

In what has to be a groundbreaking move, First Lady Michelle Obama has an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times.

Yet some members of the House of Representatives are now threatening to roll back these new standards and lower the quality of food our kids get in school. They want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.

…Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches? You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense. Yet we’re seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools.

Our children deserve so much better than this.

Yes, they do, and how terrific that she is saying this.

Also a must read is ObamaFoodorama’s account of the President’s position on all this.  From White House press secretary Jay Carney:

It is “inappropriate to let politics and pressure from the food industry” change federal law.

“The President and First Lady both feel very strongly about the need to continue moving forward when it comes to school nutrition and not allowing politics to pull us backward,” Carney said.

Carney made his comments during a gaggle aboard Air Force One when asked about the President’s “reaction” to the First Lady’s event on Tuesday with school nutrition pros.

For a nutritionist like me, this is history in the making.  Cheers to both and let’s hope their efforts work.

Addition, June 2:  If you cannot understand why the School Nutrition Association is pushing for the waiver and elimination of the rules, see Jerry Hagstrom’s lucid explanation: they don’t cook.

When the school-lunch program started, most schools cooked their own food. As the number of children participating in the school-lunch program grew, the need to provide more food led the schools to buy prepackaged, processed food, which led to the companies making those foods becoming big players within SNA. Under the new rules, those companies have to come up with tasty products with less salt, sugar, and fat and use whole grains. At the same time, the fruit and vegetable requirements—which bring more business to the United Fresh Produce Association—threaten to take up more of the school-lunch budget.

 

May 28 2014

Let’s Move! on the move to rescue school nutrition standards

At a time when Michelle Obama is under widespread criticism for complicity with the food industry (see Fed Up!, the movie), she and her Let’s Move! staff are doing everything possible—openly and overtly—to preserve the nutrition standards in the school meals program.

As I’ve written previously, a House subcommittee voted to allow schools to waive the new standards.  Waivers mean that Congress is interfering—on political grounds—with nutrition standards established by scientific committees of the Institute of Medicine.

Here’s what the White House is doing:

(Audio) USDA — Hosted media call on nutrition and military readiness

Mission: Readiness urges vigilance against special interests

Roll Call — National Security Will Suffer With Derailment of School Nutrition Standards

It’s impressive that the White House is taking on this issue so forcefully.

Support the Let’s Move! staff.  Sign CSPI’s Change.Org petition and write your legislators.  They are discussing this issue right now.  Tell them now!

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