The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, of which I was a member, released its report today: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. This was a two-year investigation of the effects of our current system of intensive animal production on the environment, communities, human health, and the animals themselves. For me, this was an opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens. The big issues? Antibiotics and waste. The big surprise? Laws exist; they just aren’t being enforced. This was quite an education.
Let’s see if I can explain what the latest food fight is about. The potato industry is talking about a lawsuit against the USDA to allow white potatoes to be purchased with WIC vouchers. WIC is the federal food assistance program for women, infants, and children; the program gives mothers vouchers for certain foods. This WIC “package” includes only one fresh vegetable – carrots. The USDA is proposing to expand the WIC food package to include other fresh fruits and vegetables–but not white potatoes. I suspect that the rationale for this exclusion is that French fries made with white potatoes are already among the top three vegetables eaten in the U.S. and that nobody needs more of them.
Here’s what a representative of the white potato industry has to say: “The problem with it is there is no scientific justification for excluding potatoes from the program…potatoes are an excellent source of magnesium, potassium and calcium. In fact, they are bigger sources of those nutrients than spinach, broccoli and carrots, respectively.” Maybe, but it’s how white potatoes are eaten – loaded with fat, salt, and calories – that turns them into junk foods. The potato lobbyists are hard at work. Stay tuned.
I live in a high-density fast food area of Manhattan and went out today to see how calorie labeling is coming along. Pretty well, I’d say, although not at McDonald’s. My local franchise must be waiting for the final court ruling. The delightful manager at Cold Stone handed me a calorie list and says the info will be up on menu boards as soon as the folks at headquarters in Arizona get to it. Brace yourself: the smallest serving is about 400 calories, and that’s before the extras. Calories are on the menu boards at Subway but they are for the 6-inch sandwiches. For just $2.00 you can upgrade to a 12-inch and double the calories. Chipotle is already posting calories, and why not? It lists ranges: a burrito is 420 to 918, and a burrito bowl is 130 to 628. Not helpful. But Cosi wins my prize for the biggest surprise. How about a tuna melt for 1012 calories or small, medium, and large blueberry-pomegranate fruit smoothies at 544, 725, and 1087, respectively? Will anyone pay attention to this? It’s going to be hard to tell, given that people are eating out less these days anyway, in this era of higher food costs.
I’ve just discovered Graham Kerr’s 60-second videos on how to prepare and cook dozens of different kinds of fruits and vegetables, from apples to zucchini. Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet of prehistoric television, is a strong proponent of healthy eating and does everything he can to make it a pleasure to take care of your health. The videos are a hoot. And the recipes look yummy.
It’s hard to believe that New York City’s attempt to get fast food places to post calorie information is back in court again, but the New York State Restaurant Association is not giving up on this one. The federal judge has delayed the rules again, this time until next Tuesday. In the meantime, Starbucks, Subway, and Chipotle, among others, are supposedly already posting calories. Are they? Go see.
Lots of states are passing laws to try to improve the food environment for kids–schools, marketing, vending, physical activity, farmers’ markets, and lots of other ideas. I can’t keep track of them. Fortunately, other people can and are writing about what they find. Here’s one such paper, sent to me by Joel Moskowitz of UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health. It’s a good place to start if you are wondering whether the environment has anything to do with childhood obesity and, if so, what the legal system can do about it.
Thanks to Pam Wunder for sending the link to an investigative report on Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops. Made by the French journalist and filmmaker, Marie-Monique Robin, it aired March 11 on ARTE, a French-German cultural TV channel. It gives a decidedly European and international perspective on the pros and cons (mostly cons) of GM foods and requires a bit of a commitment to watch as it is nearly 2 hours long. If this sort of thing interests you, by all means take a look if you can (the video does not seem to be available sometimes).
The CDC has just released its latest report on cases of illness due to eating contaminated food in the ten states it uses to track such information. The bottom line: there was some progress prior to 2004 but not much progress since then. Worse, toxic cases of E. coli are increasing. The CDC says you should be following standard food-safety procedures. Of course you should. But how come the CDC isn’t pushing companies to produce safer foods in the first place!