Thanks to Colman Andrews, food writer par excellence and now writing for Gourmet.com, for his impassioned defense of food writing as a means of analyzing and making sense of important issues in society. I’m constantly having to defend my academic interest in food against charges that it is too quotidian to matter. Food matters. That’s why my column in the San Francisco Chronicle is called Food Matters.
The Mercatus Institute has produced a report arguing that food miles – the environmental cost of the distance food travels – is a meaningless concept based on erroneous assumptions, and that the “buy local” movement is focused on the wrong issues. I don’t know anything about the Mercatus Institute other than what is on its website, and I don’t recognize the names of its members. Anybody know anything about it? Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about this group in 2004.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a big project on marketing foods and beverages to children. Its most recent report singles out television advertising as the most pervasive medium; even babies watch TV and see loads of commercials for junk foods. The authors, Nicole Larson and Mary Story of the University of Minnesota, provide an excellent one-stop review of methods, expenditures, and other such data, along with useful suggestions for what to do about this problem.
I’m told that FDA laboratories are still finding melamine in milk-containing food products imported from China. In response, the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert, meaning that FDA officials can detain the products without having to examine and test them. The list of detainable products is long and includes not only milk but also yogurt, desserts, cakes and cookies, candies, chocolate, beverages, and- shades of 2007 – dog and cat food.
These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole. Sound familiar?
As calorie labeling initiatives spread across the country, it’s fun to keep track of them. The latest is Westchester County, New York. The easiest way to get the complete list is from the menu labeling web page produced by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
April 9 update: Ulster County New York has just passed one. Here’s the latest map from CSPI.
May 6 update: Here’s where to track CSPI’s 2009 legislative summaries.
The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration. Specifically, it asks the new President to:
- Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
- Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
- Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
- Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”