Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 19 2013

Weekend reading: Food revolution, California style

The California food movement took off after the 1980s.  If you want to know how this particular social movement developed, here are two books explaining how and why.

Joyce Goldstein with Dore Brown.  Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed Our Culinary Consciousness.  University of California Press, 20

Full disclosure.  Joyce Goldstein is an old friend from the days when she ran Square One, very much a part-of-the revolution restaurant in San Francisco, and Dore Brown has been a pleasure to work with on several of my books with UC Press.

With that said, this book addresses this question: Was Alice Water’s Chez Panisse really the start of the good food movement in California?  The short answer is yes.  Everyone discussed in this book seems to have been inspired by Chez Panisse, worked there, or supplied its foods and wines.  Joyce interviewed just about everybody involved in doing interesting things with food and got them to reflect on why they did it and how what they did fit into the larger picture.    She writes from the perspective of a participant passionately devoted to good cooking with excellent ingredients.

Reading the book reminded me of one I mentioned in a previous post:

Sally Fairfax, et al.,  California Cuisine and Just Food.  MIT Press, 2012.

I remembered it because I had written its foreword.  It’s about the development of the food movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, rather than all of California, but it starts earlier and looks at what happened from the perspective of food systems.  Sally Fairfax (also an old friend from my own Bay Area days), and her co-authors examine the roles and accomplishments of everyone along the food chain who produces, transports, sells, prepares, serves, and consumes food.  They describe how the Bay Area food scene (“district,” as they like to call it) evolved to become today’s vibrant community of highly diverse groups working in highly diverse ways to produce better quality food and promote a more just, healthful, and sustainable food system.

Jul 18 2013

The Mayors’ Forum: History in the Making

Last night’s forum with six candidates for Mayor of New York surely marks the first time that political candidates have had to grapple publicly with food issues—those of greatest concern to members of the 12 co-host organizations and 76 supporting organizations involved in planning this event.

The issues:

  • Ending hunger and food insecurity
  • Improving the wages and conditions of food industry workers
  • Getting city food agencies to be more responsive to public concerns
  • Improving access to healthy foods among low-income residents
  • Expanding participation in school meal programs and improving the quality of school food
  • Taking action to reduce the health consequences of obesity among city residents
  • Using the city’s vast purchasing power to support regional agriculture and the food economy
  • Integrating the Hunts Point Produce Market into the regional food economy
  • Promoting use of city land for urban farming

The candidates made it clear that they had thought about these questions and had come prepared to answer them.

The take home lesson: New York City’s food movement is strong enough to make city candidates sit up, listen and take food issues seriously.

The agenda is clear: maintain the momentum and hold the next mayor accountable.

For a recap:

The candidates who appeared:

  • Sal Albanese – @SalAlbanese2013
  • Bill de Blasio – @deBlasioNYC
  • John Catsimatidis – @JCats2013
  • John Liu – @JohnLiu2013
  • Christine Quinn – @Quinn4NY
  • Anthony Weiner – @AnthonyWeiner

 

New Picture (7)

One of the co-host organizations, the Food Systems Network of NYC, puts the agenda in a slightly different way, in its “Recipe for the Future of Food“:

  1. A New Public Partnership for Food (a City of New York Department of Food and an Independent New York City Food Systems Council)
  2. Better Health and an End to Hunger
  3. A Strong Food Economy with Good Jobs
  4. Support for Regional Agriculture through Smart Procurement and Protection of Working Land and Water Resources
  5. New Farm-to-Plate Distribution Infrastructure
  6. Better Food Waste Reduction and Nutrient Recovery

There’s plenty to do.  Do it!

Addition:  The account in the Wall Street Journal.

Jul 17 2013

Mayor’s Forum on the Future of Food in New York City: Tonight!

New Picture (7)

  • The Twitter hashtag is #NYCFoodForum
  • If you can’t be there, you can watch it in real time on the livestream site.
  • For the list of more than seventy sponsoring organizations, see the forum site.

Here are the candidates who have said they are coming (fingers crossed they do):

  • Sal Albanese – @SalAlbanese2013
  • Bill de Blasio – @deBlasioNYC
  • John Catsimatidis – @JCats2013
  • John Liu – @JohnLiu2013
  • Christine Quinn – @Quinn4NY
  • Bill Thompson – @BillThompsonNYC
  • Anthony Weiner – @AnthonyWeiner

Enjoy!  This should be interesting.

Jul 16 2013

Vilsack on the farm bill: “There ought to be outrage.”

Our dysfunctional Congress continues to dither over the farm bill.  Will the House send its SNAP-less, corporate-welfare bill to the Senate?  Will it do terrible things to SNAP first?  Or will it do nothing?

While waiting to find out, I want to mention a speech given by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to the National Rural Assembly.   From the beginning, Secretary Vilsack said that his agenda for USDA was to revitalize rural America—a laudable goal.

Here he is last month calling for outrage over congressional failure to pass legislation in support of this goal.

What do we see from rural advocates? Utter disappointment. Are you kidding me? There ought to be outrage… “It is going to be important for groups like this to express more than extreme disappointment,.. Demand that they pass legislation that is supportive and not destructive. Demand appreciation for those in rural America.

How about that.  A call to action from the USDA!

Jul 15 2013

Food for kids: “The Best Lunch Box Ever”

Hot summer days are good times to try to get caught up with all the good books about food that are coming out.  Here’s one from someone I knew when she was a student in our department at NYU.

She was a great writer even then.  Now she has kids…

Katie Morford, The Best Lunchbox Ever: Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches Kids Will Love, Chronicle Books, 2013.

 

I did a blurb for it, of course:

The Best Lunchbox Ever is a terrific gift to anyone who has to pack a lunch for a kid, and wants that lunch to be healthy—and eaten.  Katie Morford has dozens of interesting and sometimes surprising suggestions for easy, delicious, and nutritious lunch items that kids will enjoy—if parents don’t get to them first.  I wish I’d had this book when my kids were in school.

Enjoy and use!

Jul 12 2013

Congressional posturing: House Republicans (No Democrats) pass farm bill without food stamps

Ordinarily, writing about bills introduced and passed in either the House or the Senate isn’t worth the trouble because they are so likely to be changed later on in the legislative process.

But this one is over the top.  House Republicans, joined by not one Democrat, passed H.R. 2642 — New Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 — its version of the farm bill yesterday.  The shocker?  For the first time since the 1970′s, the farm bill is not linked to food stamps (SNAP), thereby breaking the deal between urban and rural America.

This bill now has to be reconciled with the one passed by the Senate last year, which does include food stamps.  This seems unlikely.  The President has already said he won’t sign it (see the Obama administration’s statement of policy on H.R. 2642).

So this is about politics, not governing the country.

The House bill:

  • Repeals the 1938 and 1949 permanent farm laws
  • Makes Title I — the commodity title — permanent law, if the bill can make it through conference and get President Barack Obama’s signature.
  • Allows virtually unlimited crop insurance subsidies and price guarantees.
  • Maintains the highly unpopular (with sugar users) sugar tariff program.
  • Authorizes about $200 billion to pay for all this over ten years.
  • Saves $12 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate (much less than the House claims).
  • Expands subsidies for crop insurance to cotton, rice, peanuts, and vegetables (well, at least that)
  • And, according to the New York Times, requires additional economic and scientific analyses before putting food safety laws into effect.

House Republicans know this bill isn’t going any further.  Hence: politics.  Their purpose?  Leaving food stamps vulnerable to severe restrictions and budget cutting.

Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger issued this statement:

Today’s vote is the latest smoking gun that the House Majority isn’t truly interested in deficit reduction, they’re interested in supporting special interest groups over hungry Americans. The Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives today is a disgrace and an embarrassment to the American people…Recent Farm Bills have represented the worst of American politics. It’s time to pass a Farm Bill that represents the best.

Good luck with that.

Addition, July 13: Gail Collins’ column in the Times on this fiasco is the best I’ve seen.

So the farm bill got divided…As Ron Nixon reported in The Times, the rate of error and fraud in the agricultural crop insurance program is significantly higher than in the food stamp program. Also, the agriculture part has a lot of eyebrow-raising provisions, like the $147 million a year in reparations we send to Brazil to make up for the fact that it won a World Trade Organization complaint about the market-distorting effects of our cotton subsidies.

And while food stamps go to poor people, most of the farm aid goes to wealthy corporations.

Addition, July 16: I forgot to post the New York Times editorial on the topic.

Now that coalition has been sundered, and the future of food stamps is threatened. If the program is not returned to the five-year farm bill, it will have to be financed through annual appropriations, which puts it at the mercy of the Republicans’ usual debt-ceiling stunts and government shutdown threats. House leaders said they would submit a food stamp bill “later,” but that will probably include the right wing’s savage cuts andunprecedented incentives for states to shut out poor families. Neither will get past the Senate or the White House.

Jul 11 2013

Reading about food politics: The Industrial Diet

Summer is a good time to try to get caught up on with the deluge of books about food.  Here’s one I blurbed:

Anthony Winson.  The Industrial Diet: The Degradation of Food and the Struggle for Healthy Eating.  UBC Press, 2013.

The blurb:

 

The Industrial Diet provides all the evidence anyone needs to understand the problems with our current food system and what to do about it.  Anthony Winson is a compelling advocate for a more sustainable and humane food regime, as he calls it.

 

 

This is a serious work of scholarship but worth the effort.  ‘Humane food regime” is an interesting way to look at all of the ways food systems can be healthy and promote health.

 

Jul 9 2013

New York City’s SNAP Education campaign: Cut the Junk

New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), the agency that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance and food emergency programs, just launched the second year of its “Cut the Junk” initiative.

The campaign features:

  • A booklet.   This explains healthy eating and gives cost comparisons.  It will be distributed at 35 farmers’ markets with SNAP programs
  • Tricycle-based billboard visits to low-income neighborhoods
  • A weekly texting service with tips and recipes (join by texting ‘NOJUNK’ to short code 877877)
  • A You Tube video

The Commissioner of HRA, Robert Doar, says:

good nutrition can both save lives and taxpayer dollars…Cut the Junk presents a common-sense approach to eating healthier with less expensive alternatives than take out and fast food.  Each tip in the booklet can help stretch a family’s food budget or food stamp benefits further. We are very proud to come directly to people’s neighborhoods to start talking about healthy food as an affordable reality for New Yorkers.

HRA did the campaign with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

I think the video works well.  The booklet?  Not so much.

I wish both said more about sodas.  “Grab an apple instead of a soda” doesn’t quite do it.

The video connects viewers with city food assistance resources, and that’s a plus.

Will this campaign encourage low-income residents to choose healthier diets?  I hope an evaluation is in progress.

What to say about the booklet?  Take a look and tell me what you think, please.

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