Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 8 2011

Books about food politics: continued

A few more for summer reading pleasure and enlightenment (for others see previous post):

Poisoned, Jeff Benedict, Mariner 2011: I blurbed this one: “In telling the entwined stories of childhood victims of food poisoning and the lawyers [Bill Marler et al!] wrangling over just compensation, Poisoned is a fast-paced thriller, a riveting illustration of how the political—in this case, the inadequate food safety system—becomes personal.”

The Sorcerer’s Apprentices, Lisa Abend, Free Press, 2011. What is a book about the celebated Spanish restaurant El Bulli doing on a food politics list?  Abend is a terrific reporter who spent a year observing how the place runs: almost entirely on the labor of dozens of food professionals who gave up their real jobs to work for six months at a time as unpaid volunteers.   The cooks are essentially piece workers.  They never see or taste the final dishes served in the restaurant.

State of the World, 2011, Worldwatch Institute. The 2011 annual report focuses on “Innovations that nourish the planet”—anti-hunger and farming projects throughout the world that are successfully improving the health of people and the planet.  Read and be inspired!

Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook, Andrews McMeel, 2011. This book is a welcome expansion of Estabrook’s stunning, prize-winning article in Gourmet.   Estabrook writes a compelling account of the injustices and social costs of industrial tomato farming to farm workers and to the environment.  We could and should do better, and Estabrook explains how.  Tomatoland scored a rave review in the New York Times, most deservedly.

…And for the under 2 set:

Rah, Rah, Radishes: A Vegetable Chant, April Pulley Sayre, Beach Lane, 2011:  It comes with gorgeous photographs of vegetables and could be fun to read to little kids:

Oh boy,

Bok choy!

Brussels sprout.

Broccoli, cauliflower.

Shout it out!

Jul 7 2011

Food politics books: so much to read, so little time

I haven’t been reviewing books on this site, mainly because so many of them flood into my office that I cannot keep up with them.  But the public relations reps for a couple of recent books have been pushing hard for mentions.  The books are good, important contributors to the food movement, and deserve readers.

I’m listing them in alphabetical order by title in two batches, now and tomorrow.  Some of them I’ve blurbed, some not, but all have plenty of useful and interesting to say.  Enjoy!

Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu, Clarkson Potter, 2011. The owners of Fleisher’s butcher shop in Kingston, New York, tell the story of how a couple of vegetarians came to open butcher shops that specialize in grass-fed and organic meats, done right.  I know lots of vegetarians who would eat meat from animals raised sustainably and humanely, and this book is a how-to guide to finding the right butcher or doing it yourself.

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience, Fred Kirschenmann, Kentucky, 2010: Kirschenmann describes himself as a farmer-philosopher and so he is as he ruminates on his vision for sustainable agriculture as practiced on his own farm.  My blurb points out that he’s “right up there with the other agronomic philosophers–Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson…It should inspire everyone to start planting and to think deeply about the food we eat.”

Fair Food, Oran Hesterman, Public Affairs, 2011: Hesterman is an agronomist who used to work with the Kellogg Foundation and now heads the Fair Food Network to work for sustainable food systems in Michigan.  The book advocates for public policies that promote sustainability and food justice and explains how to work toward that goal.  You want to change the system but don’t know how?  Start here.

Farm Together Now, Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker, Chronicle Books, 2010: The authors interviewed and photographed 20 farmers throughout the country who are producing food in ways that advocate for food justice, sustainable agriculture, and local food movements.  The book should inspire anyone to get out and farm.

Milk, Deborah Valenze, Yale, 2011: I blurbed this one: “Milk is the place to go to begin understanding how we got from dairy maids to industrial milk production and the current debates about the value of raw.”  This is a serious work of history with great illustrations.

More to come….

Jul 6 2011

How to pay for a better food system?

At TPMDC, Brian Beutler explains why the U.S. does not have enough money to pay for food assistance programs, safety regulation, better school food, or support for sustainable agriculture.

 

Jul 5 2011

Resources for advocacy: school food and ag policy

My San Francisco Chronicle column on food advocacy includes a severely edited list of organizations working on food issues, particularly school food and the farm bill.   I thought the entire list might be useful.

Note that information about how to contact government officials appears at the end.

I consider this list preliminary.  Please use the Comments to add to it.  And pass it along, use, and enjoy!

Organization Advocacy resources
General
Edible Communities ~60 Edible magazines throughout U.S.  Useful for identifying local food resources
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Advocacy and lobbying for a broad range of food and nutrition issues, school food among them.
Slow Food USA Promotes policies favoring slow, as opposed to fast, food
Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments Promotes policies to improve corporate and government practices that affect food and activity environments in California
Community Food Security Coalition More than 300 organizations working to build sustainable, self-reliant, local and regional food systems, and promote a healthier farm bill.
School Food
Background legislation 

 

 

The Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 

Proposed nutrition standards for school meals

USDA programs Team Nutrition: supports child nutrition programs through training 

Chefs Move to Schools: partners chefs with schools

Public Health Advocacy Institute Promotes use of the legal system to improve school food
National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) Lobbies for federal policies and programs to improve school food and activity environments (a project of CSPI)
Public Health Law & Policy  

 

Offers a policy package with goals and actions for school wellness policies, and a fact sheet on the schools section of its website
National Farm to School Network Promotes connecting farm produce to schools
California ProjectLEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) Helps develop school wellness policies and healthier food and activity environments (a joint project of the California Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute)
CANFIT (Communities, Adolescents, Nutrition, Fitness) Community-based initiatives to improve diet and fitness among low-income, minority adolescents
Center For Ecoliteracy Rethinking School Lunch Guide shows how to incorporate ecological understanding into school meals
School Food Focus Focus: Food Options for Children in Urban Areas
One Tray More direct connection between local farms and school meal programs
Better School Food Community-based connection of school food to health
Cook For America Culinary training to support healthy school lunches cooked from scratch
The Lunch Box Online toolkit with information about healthy lunch options
Let’s Move Salad Bars to School Supports salad bars in schools
Project Lunch Improves Marin County school lunch program
Nourish Life Food and sustainability in schools and communities
PEACHSF How-to guides and resources
Farm Bill
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Public policies for food and farming 

 

Food and Water Watch Bring agricultural policy in line with health and environmental policy
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Promotes healthier and more sustainable systems for small- and medium-size farms, farming opportunities, fair competition
Organic Trade Association (OTA) Supports organic food production, large and small
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) Protect and expand food assistance programs 

 

Environmental Working Group Exposes inequities in food subsidies; provides data on who gets what
PolicyLink Working to get Healthy Food Financing Initiative into the Farm Bill

 

How to contact federal and state government officials

The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

Members of Congress http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt

State officials: http://www.congress.org/legislative_protocol

Local media: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/

 

Jul 3 2011

Food Matters: How to shape policy: Advocate! Vote!

My monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about how you as an individual can influence food policy:

Q: I know you say “vote with your fork,” and I do, as often as possible, but it seems so small a gesture. In what other ways can we, as consumers, speak out or act to change our food system?

A: Vote with your fork and vote with your vote. Today’s food movement gives you plenty of opportunity to do both.

Voting with your fork means buying and eating according to what you believe is right, at least to the extent you can.

When you vote this way, you support farmers, processors, retailers and restaurant chefs who are working to create a food system that is healthier all around – for the public, farmworkers, farm animals and the planet.

You set an example. You help make it socially acceptable to care about food issues. You make it easier for others to shop at farmers’ markets, join CSAs, grow food at home, stop buying junk food and teach kids to cook.

Part of taking personal responsibility for food choices also means taking social responsibility. When you act, you make it easier for everyone else to do what you do. And yes, one person makes a difference.

My favorite current example is the work of an NYU graduate student, Daniel Bowman Simon, who researches – and advocates for – public policies to promote growing vegetables.

By chance, a food stamp (SNAP) recipient told him that she used the funds to buy plants and seeds to grow her own food. Could this be possible?

Simon found the 1973 food stamp legislation and read the fine print. There it was. He joined others and formed a group to publicize this benefit (see www.snapgardens.org).

Today, SNAP recipients throughout the country are encouraged to grow food – not bad for what one person can do.

I particularly like school food as a starter issue for advocacy. Improving school food is nothing less than grassroots democracy in action.

Schools matter because kids are in them all day long and they set a lifetime example. If you have children in school, take a look at what they are eating. Could the food use an upgrade? Start organizing.

All schools are supposed to have wellness policies. Find out what they are and talk to the principal, teachers and parents about how to improve access to healthier food and more physical activity.

Another well-kept secret: The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers technical assistance to help schools meet nutritional standards. The USDA encourages advocacy. It says its work is easier when parents push the schools to do better.

Many groups are devoted to school food issues. Some have published guides to getting started or developing strong wellness policies. They range in focus from hands-on local to national policy.

Other groups are gearing up to advocate for changes in one or another provision of the Farm Bill, now up for renewal in 2012. This legislation governs everything having to do with agricultural policy in the United States – farm subsidies, food assistance programs, conservation, water rights and organic production, among others.

In this era of budget cutting, every stakeholder in this legislation – and this also means everyone interested in creating a healthier food system – will be lobbying fiercely to defend existing benefits and to obtain a larger share of what’s available. Let legislators hear your voice.

And now is an excellent time to identify candidates for office who share your views and are willing to fight hard for them.

The ability for individuals, acting singly and together, to exercise democratic rights as citizens holds much hope for achieving a more equitable balance of power in matters pertaining to food and health.

Join the food movement. Use the system to work for what you think is right. Act alone or join others. You will make a difference.

Resources

The following are among the many groups advocating for healthier school food or farm policies [I submitted a much longer list but it got edited out.  I will post the rest of it in the next day or two].

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Community Food Security Coalition

Environmental Working Group

Food and Water Watch

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

E-mail Marion Nestle at food@sfchronicle.com.

E-mail questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

This article appeared on page H – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

Jul 1 2011

How Washington gives marketing to kids a free pass

The saddest thing I’ve read in ages is the FTC’s rebuttal to industry charges that it is trying to regulate food marketing to kids.  Not so, says FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection head David Vladeck:

The preliminary voluntary principles proposed in April by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children have got people talking about kids, advertising, and nutrition…Here’s my take on some of the myths that have been percolating about the proposed principles.

MYTH #1:  The FTC plans to sue companies that don’t adopt the Working Group’s proposed nutrition principles.

Not so.  The Working Group’s job is to submit a report to Congress.  That’s all.  That’s what Congress told the group to do.  A report to Congress by an interagency working group provides no basis for law enforcement action by the FTC or by any of the other agencies participating in the Group.

MYTH #2:  The Working Group’s proposal is regulation by the back door.

Second verse, same as the first.  This is a report to Congress, not a rulemaking proceeding, so there’s no proposed government regulation….the FTC couldn’t issue a rule on this subject if it wanted to, which it doesn’t.  Simply put, a report like this can’t be a rule — whether it’s delivered to Congress by the front door, the back door, or the kitchen door.

And so it goes through ten more of the same.

Alas, food companies are not going to self-regulate themselves out of marketing to kids because they will lose sales if they do.

That’s why some government regulation would be helpful.  Isn’t government supposed to promote public health and rein in industry excesses when necessary?

Additional point: You still have time to submit comments.  Send them to the FTC by July 14 through this link.  Organizations that wish to sign on to the Food Marketing Workgroup’s letter should email Bethany Hanna Pokress bpokress@cspinet.org by Monday, July 11.

 

 

Jun 30 2011

Pepsi’s “health food” initiatives in trouble?

As I keep saying, public concerns about obesity put food companies in an impossible dilemma.  Even if companies want to produce healthier products and stop marketing to kids, they can’t.  If they do, they lose sales.

Case in point: PepsiCo.  Its investors are unhappy that the company  is pushing its “healthier-for-you” foods instead of doing what it is supposed to: pushing the far more profitable “fun-for-you” products like PepsiCola, Gatorade, and Cheetos.

According to the Wall Street Journal, investors are worried that Pepsi sales have fallen to #3 in rank after Coke and Diet Coke.  They blame the company’s CEO, Indra Nooyi:

Hailed as a strategic visionary since taking PepsiCo’s reins nearly five years ago, Mrs. Nooyi is facing doubts from investors and industry insiders concerned that her push into healthier brands has distracted the company from some core products.

They ask: “Is she ashamed of selling carbonated sugar water?”

Products that PepsiCo calls “good for you” still make up only about 20% of revenue. The bulk still comes from drinks and snacks the company dubs “fun for you,” including Lay’s potato chips, Doritos corn chips and Pepsi-Cola, by far the company’s single biggest seller with about $20 billion in annual retail sales globally.

Advertising Age, of course, thinks the reason PepsiCo has a problem is because it’s not spending more on marketing:

Analysts and investors blamed the decline on PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, who took the reins five years ago….Back in 2005, PepsiCo spent $348 million on soda ads in the U.S.; by last year, the company was spending just $153 million.

Advertising Age (June 20) reports PepsiCo’s sales in 2010 at $58 billion.  It’s profits on this? $6.3 billion.

Along the way, PepsiCo spent $1.01 billion to advertise its products, just in “direct media” (TV, radio, print, and Internet ads that go through advertising agencies).  It probably spent just as much or more on indirect methods such as trade show, point-of-purchase campaigns, and other such things.

Advertising Age gives 2010 marketing figures for specific products (numbers rounded off to the nearest million):

  • Pepsi:  $154
  • Gatorade: $113
  • Quaker:  $56
  • Tostitos: $35
  • Tropicana: $31
  • Lay’s: $25
  • Cheetos:  $11

Wall Street analysts say the company better do something to boost sales of its core products, or else.  Expect to see a lot more advertising dollars spent on “fun-for-you.”  And maybe fewer on “good-for-you?”

The food industry spent billions to convince people that eating tons of junk food is normal, expected, and what adults and kids are supposed to do.  Now, it faces a backlash driven by obesity and its health consequences.

Wall Street insists that companies not only make profits, but grow.  Companies must hit their quarterly growth targets.

Maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at the way Wall Street operates.  We want to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy, right?  How about also bringing investment policy in line with health policy?

Hey, I can dream.

Jun 29 2011

USDA’s new food safety campaign: it’s all about YOU

Yesterday, USDA announced its new Food Safe Families campaign to get you to pay attention to food safety procedures in your kitchen.  These, as always, are:

  1. Clean: Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water while preparing food.
  2. Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards.
  3. Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.
  4. Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.

The media campaign, which reportedly cost $2 million, comes with a graphic that can’t be all that expensive:

So what is the $2 million for?  According to Food Chemical News (June 28):

The campaign, which will feature public service announcements in English and Spanish, centers on “humorous over-the-top depictions of the four key safe food handling behaviors”….The campaign will include ads on television, radio, print and websites, along with an integrated social media program.

As it happens, a reader sent me the preliminary “concept” version of this campaign (thank you kind reader).   Trust me, this campaign is worth a look, and Food Safety News has some of the videos.

Here’s my favorite concept:

Yes, this is a baby pig in a sauna.  Humorous maybe, but how will it convince anyone to clean up the kitchen?

Two other points:

  • None of the concepts seem to have anything to do with food.
  • All of them are about your responsibility for food safety.

But the big national outbreaks we’ve been experiencing lately are from foods that are already contaminated by the time they get to you.  Following food safety procedures makes good sense, but that’s not where the problem lies.  They would not help you much with contaminated raw sprouts, for example, unless you cook them (not a bad idea these days).

To stop food safety problems at their source, we need a functional food safety system.  This means rules that require all producers to follow food safety procedures and a government with the authority and resources to make sure they do.

Will we ever get a food safety system like this?  And how bad will things have to get before we do?

 

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