Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 28 2016

Small farms: the new math

My former student, Michael Bulger sends interesting tidbits.  This one is an article on 538 by Maggie Koerth-Baker how the USDA’s ways of measuring farm size and number obscure the (a) the increasingly rapid consolidation of large farms and (b) the fact that many small farms aren’t farms at all.

From 2001 to 2011, the number of very large farms — 2,000 acres or more — grew from 1.7 percent of all farms to 2.2 percent. In other words, a relative handful of big farms are getting even bigger, even though the amount of land being farmed stayed about the same.

From 1982 to 2012, the number of very small farms grew from about 637,000 farms of 49 acres or less to more than 800,000.

Big farms and tiny farms are increasing; the ones in the middle are declining.

A lot of this has to do with the definition of a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the reference year.”

$1,000 isn’t much, and this makes it difficult to tell real farms from big backyards.

But changing the definition to up the cut point has consequences.

  • Votes for the Farm Bill: Large farms don’t need government aid; if there are fewer small farms it might be harder to pass the bill.
  • States might lose federal revenues.
  • Land-grant colleges might lose research revenues.

As I keep saying, agricultural policy is hard for mere mortals to understand (but I keep trying).

 

 

Nov 25 2016

Weekend reading: Fig Trees!

Mike Shanahan. Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees.  Chelsea Green, 2016.


I have a particular interest in this book.  The summer before last, I bought a small fig tree at New York City’s Union Square Farmers’ Market and stuck it in a pot on the terrace outside my apartment.   Pleasant surprise: it survived last winter and produced a modest crop of small, brown, sweet figs.

This puzzled me because as far as I could tell, the tree had never flowered.

Mystery solved, thanks to this book.

Shanahan, a rainforest ecologist, explains that figs do flower but the flowers are inside the “fruit.”

Even weirder, the flowers are pollinated by specific species of fig wasps, which works through whatever the “fruit” is and do their work.

The book does not explain what fig wasps are doing in Manhattan or how they found their way to my 12th floor terrace, but the figs were great and I thank them.

I also thank Shanahan for writing a truly informative book about why Ficus species are so important to forest ecology and to reforestation programs, and what figs have to do with Gods (figs in mythology) and Stranglers (a kind of fig tree).

I raise as post-Thanksgiving fig in his honor.

Nov 24 2016

Happy Thanksgiving: Special thanks to farmers

Thanks today for everything there is to be thankful for, and especially to the National Farmers Union for reminding us how small a share our farmers get of the American food dollar.

I know you can’t read this, so try this piece.

Or maybe just this one?

Where does the rest go?  Labor, processing, transportation, marketing, etc.

Ponder that, and enjoy your dinner!

Nov 23 2016

Tonight is Thanksgiving Eve: Eat Pizza?

What with holiday travel and all, it’s a slow news week, so I am indebted to the American Pizza Community for a press release informing me of an American holiday I had no idea existed: Thanksgiving Eve.

Apparently this holiday comes with its own tradition: pizza.

“Pizza,” says the press release, “is tradition for millions of families on Thanksgiving Eve.”

According to the American Pizza Community (APC), pizza is frequently chosen around celebratory occasions and large family gatherings because having a highly-customizable, oven-baked meal delivered to your door is an easy choice for big crowds…The night before Thanksgiving is one of the five busiest days of the year for pizza orders.  Some of the larger pizza companies estimate that they will sell more than one million pizzas on Thanksgiving Eve.

How come?  According to the APC, which is a trade and lobbying association “a coalition of the nation’s large and small pizza companies, operators, franchisees, vendors, suppliers and other entities,”

  • Pizza offers wholesome-quality, customizable ingredients that are sure to satisfy a whole group.
  • Pizza is a flexible option: pick it up, dine in or have it delivered. Any way you slice it, it’s hot, fresh and easy.
  • Pizza is a low-stress choice.  You don’t have to pile everyone into a car to go out the night before a long day of travel.
  • Pizza is the perfect meal to bring people together and for many special celebratory occasions. It’s a convenient and communal meal that is meant to be shared, and is a real crowd pleaser.

The American Pizza Community’s “coalition was formed in 2010 to advocate for policies affecting pizza companies and operators including menu and labeling information, fair wages, work opportunity tax credit, background checks, tax policies and small business access to capital.”

This is the group that succeeded in getting Congress to insist that pizza is counted as a vegetable in school lunch programs, and is doing all it can to make sure that pizza places do not have to put calorie labels on their menus.

Nov 22 2016

Some good news: childhood obesity declines in low-income children–a bit

The CDC and USDA are collaborating to track the prevalence of obesity in children ages 2 – 4 who participate in the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

In a new report, the agencies find obesity prevalence to have increased from 14% in 2000 to 15.9% in 2010.   But here’s the good news:  it dropped to 14.5% in 2014.

More good news: it decreased significantly among toddlers in these groups:

  • Non-Hispanic whites
  • Non-Hispanic blacks
  • Hispanics
  • American Indian/Alaska Natives and Asians/Pacific Islanders
  • 61% of the 56 agencies in states, DC, and US territories

The not-so-good news is that obesity in WIC kids is still higher than the national average among kids 2 – 5 years (8.9%), but this trend is in the right direction.

What accounts for it?  The report lists several possibilities:

Let’s keep doing more of the same and keep that trend heading downward.

Nov 18 2016

Weekend reading: USDA’s analysis of decline in mid-size farms

The USDA has a report out on midsize farms, those with gross cash farm income of $350,000 to $1 million.

The reason for the report is that the number of midsize farms declined by 5% from 1992 to 2012.

How worried should we be about this?  Of the 125,000 midsize farms, the great majority grow grain and oilseeds—animal feed.

USDA finds:

  • The loss in midsize farms is higher among beginning farmers, retired farmers, and renters.
  • Government subsidies helped stave off losses.
  • If past patterns hold, a significant percentage (15%?) of today’s midsize farms will be tomorrow’s large farms.

I can’t wait to see how the next farm bill handles this one.

Nov 17 2016

FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Edition: Food allergy and intolerance

FoodNavigator.com does occasional “special editions” in which they collect articles on particular topics from the perspective of their food-industry audience.  This one is on food allergies and intolerances, about which remarkably little is known.  If you are allergic or intolerant, the best you can do is hope for an accurate allergy test or do everything you can to avoid the food that triggers reactions.  Good luck with that since allergies are hard to diagnose and allergenic ingredients sneak into a great many foods and are not always revealed on labels.

FoodNavigator begins with Food allergy 101: Are you up to speed?

Food allergy is on the rise in many countries, but how many people are impacted in the US? We’ve collected some facts and figures from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the world’s largest private source of funding for food allergy research; the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); and NIAID, the lead institute at the National Institutes of Health conducting research on food allergy… Display [this site has basic statistics on prevalence and basic definitions of terms]

The lowdown on food allergy and intolerance: In conversation with Dr Steven TaylorMost researchers agree that the prevalence of food allergies is increasing in the US. Yet the amount of money spent on finding out why is surprisingly low, says one food allergy expert… Read

Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Is low-FODMAP the new gluten-free? For the 45 million Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, identifying food that they can safely eat without triggering a flare up is a source of deep frustration that also could be a sizable market opportunity for innovative food and beverage companies that can provide an easy solution… Listen now

Allergen-friendly, free-from claims offer marketing potential beyond conventional food, beverageWith the number of Americans with food allergies and sensitivities increasing, free-from claims have become du jour in the conventional food and beverage space, but they remain relatively rare in the supplement segment and as such offer manufacturers a powerful tool to set their products apart. .. Read

Leadbetter’s realigns to focus on allergy-friendly manufacturing: ‘Our growth curve is very steep’San Francisco-based Leadbetter’s Bake Shop has stopped making English muffins, its flagship product, and changed its name to Better Bakeries as it focuses on building an allergy-friendly food manufacturing and co-packing business designed to bridge the gap between Mom & Pop scale operators and the big guns in gluten-free… Read

Elevation Brands CEO: Gluten-free bakery is saturated, but there’s a ton of white space in other allergy-friendly categoriesThe world will probably keep turning without another gluten-free cookie or cracker, but there is a ton of white space for allergy-friendly foods in other parts of the store, and untapped opportunities in c-stores, club stores, schools, and in Mexico, where the gluten-free retail market is set to “explode,” says the CEO of Elevation Brands, the parent company of Ian’s. .. Read

‘First’ entirely gluten-free dining hall opens on US college campusKent State University claims to have opened the first certified gluten-free dining hall on a college campus… Read

Gluten-free products are evolving to be more nutritious, flavorful, Firebird Artisan Mills saysThe gluten free market in the US remains hot, but as the category becomes more crowded, manufacturers must offer products with added appeal to stay competitive – such as a protein boost from pulses or an added dose of fiber and flavor with ancient grains, according to experts… Watch now

PepsiCo rolling out gluten-free Quaker oatmeal range across US retailNational distribution under way following limited launch in selected stores late last year… Read

Enjoy Life Foods: Dedicated allergy-friendly sets in the natural aisle are the best way to merchandise free-from foodsWith one in 13 children diagnosed with a food allergy in the US*, ‘allergy-friendly’ foods are now infiltrating every category in grocery. But right now, it still makes sense for most retailers to merchandise them in a dedicated set rather than spreading them around the store, unless you have very clear signage, says Enjoy Life Foods… Watch now

Early introduction of allergens reduces food allergies, suggests studyResearchers say they have “moderate certainty” that introducing allergenic food such as peanuts or egg at an early age reduces risk of developing allergies… Read

Digestive issues attributed to lactose intolerance may be caused by A1 beta-casein protein, suggests study funded by a2 MilkNew clinical research – funded by the a2 Milk Company – lends credence to its claims that many consumers who believe they can’t tolerate lactose (milk sugar) should really be blaming their digestive discomfort on the A1 beta casein protein in milk products instead. However, more human data is needed before this moves beyond the realm of theory into fact, says the National Dairy Council… Read

Quinn Snacks removes more than gluten from pretzels, shows consumers its supply lineHistorically consumers who wanted a gluten-free alternative to a wheat-based product had to sacrifice nutrition, taste or accept the presence of other common allergens in the ingredient list. .. Read

60-second interview, Beneo: Is rice still the first choice in gluten-free recipe formulation? Rice flours and starches dominated the first generated of gluten-free goods, particularly in the bakery segment, but are they still the #1 choice in formulators’ toolkits? FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Pierre Donck, regional product manager at rice ingredients specialist Beneo Inc, to find out… Read

Nov 16 2016

Sweet post-election thought: how much peanut butter (Nutella, really) is a serving?

I am just getting around to the burning question of how much peanut butter constitutes a serving size.

Earlier this month, the FDA put out a call for comments on this question.  In FDA-speak: “the Appropriate Product Category and Reference Amount Customarily Consumed for Flavored Nut Butter Spreads and Products that Can Be Used to Fill Cupcakes and Other Desserts.”

The FDA is inviting comments (note that a RACC is “Reference Amount Customarily Consumed”)

in part because it recently issued a final rule updating certain RACCs, and the agency has also received a citizen petition asking that it either (1) issue guidance recognizing that “nut cocoa-based spreads” fall within the “Honey, jams, jellies, fruit butter, molasses” category for the purposes of RACC determination, or (2) amend the current regulation relating to RACCs to establish a new RACC category for “nut cocoa-based spreads” with a RACC of 1 tablespoon.

What on earth is this about?  Ask: Who could possibly care?  The answer: Nutella.

As CNN explains, the “citizen petition” comes from Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, which has been trying for two years to get the FDA to reduce the serving size.

Why?  Because the current serving size is two tablespoons—200 calories.

Nutella thinks you might buy more if the serving size were one tablespoon and only 100 calories.

CNN quotes Nutella’s latest petition:

Ferrero’s most recent advertising and promotion has advocated the consumption of a balanced breakfast with the inclusion of Nutella as a tasty, complementary spread to add on to nutrient-rich whole grain breads, fruits, and dairy products.

CNN also notes that

In 2012, Ferrero settled a class-action lawsuit for $3 million after a 4-year-old’s mother claimed she was shocked to discover that the hazelnut-chocolate spread — whose first two ingredients are sugar and palm oil — was nutritionally similar to a candy bar despite being advertised as a healthy breakfast option.

I swear I am not making this up.

If you care to comment, go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2016-N-2938 in the search box.

The relevant documents:

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