Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 19 2018

Weekend Reading: The New Bread Basket

Amy Halloran.  The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists are Redefining Our Daily Loaf.  Chelsea Green, 2015.

Image result for the new bread basket

I missed this when it came out, but Chelsea Green just sent me a copy.  I’m happy to have it, because it starts out by talking about the people behind the Community Supported Bakery (CSB) program I belong to in upstate New York around Ithaca: Stefan Senders’ Wide Awake Bakery and Thor Oechsner who grows and mills most of the grain for that bakery.

Halloran interviewed many local and national people in the various categories of her book’s subtitle.  If you want to know how and why there is now so much fabulous bread available in so many places in America, her book explains all.

Bread lover that I am, I am grateful to all of them.

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Jan 18 2018

Durians: a market for durian-flavored products?

I was fascinated to read in FoodNavigator-Asia that the Chinese like durians so much that they have created a demand for durian-flavored food products.  Alibaba, the Amazon of China. offers plenty of durian products, but FoodNavigator mentions cookies, cakes, pie fillings, coffee, and much else.

Durians, shown below, are—to put it mildly—controversial.

People either love them or hate the way they smell and taste.

Singapore has banned them on subways.

Their, how shall I put this, unique odor comes from a variety of sulfur compounds.

For people who love them, they are worth eating for their nutritional benefits (like those of any other fruit).

Durian pizza, anyone?

Jan 17 2018

Crop insurance, like much else these days, goes to the rich

Crop insurance is the big issue in the forthcoming farm bill.  The American Enterprise Institute doesn’t like it much, and for good reason.  On the theory that one picture is worth a thousand words, here’s why

The blue bars are the percentages of total farm bill subsidies.  The yellow bars are subsidies per acre.  If you thought that subsidies helped small or medium farms, think again.

Whether you agree with the AEI or not, its American Boondoggle reports are always worth reading for their remarkably clear explanation of the hugely complicated farm bill issues.

This one, for example, tells you everything you need to know about how crop insurance really works—and at taxpayer expense.

Jan 16 2018

Front-of-package labels: Do they work?

The Hartman Group has a handy Infographic on the effects of front-of-package labels on purchasing patterns.  I haven’t seen this summarized so nicely anywhere else.

And here’s the whole thing.  It would make a great poster, no?

Too small to read?  Try this excerpt:

Jan 15 2018

Defections from the Grocery Manufacturers Association: adding up

Nonrenewals of membership in the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are adding up (see my previous post on this).  Helena Bottemiller Evich at Politico is keeping score (this may be behind a paywall):

  • Hershey
  • Cargill
  • Tyson
  • Unilever
  • Mars
  • Campbell Soup
  • Nestlé (my non-namesake)
  • Dean Foods

The GMA has long behaved as if the food movement doesn’t exist and its industry can continue to take consumer-unfriendly positions on food issues that the public cares about—with no consequences.

Politico quotes a spokesman for the GMA:

GMA and its board are continuing our work to build the new GMA for the future to meet the needs of long-time and new member companies and of consumers…The food industry is facing significant disruption and is evolving — and so is GMA. We all will continue to evolve and change at an even faster pace.

I have some suggestions for this evolution:

  • Listen to consumers.
  • Understand why sustainability and health are issues that matter so deeply.
  • Help food companies produce healthful, sustainable products.
  • Stop fighting measures aimed at health and sustainability.
  • Become part of the solution; stop being the problem.
Jan 12 2018

Weekend reading: Diet and the Disease of Civilization

Adrienne Rose Bitar.  Diet and the Disease of Civilization.  Rutgers University Press, 2017.

Image result for Diet and the Disease of Civilization

I did a blurb for this one:

Bitar’s fascinating thesis is that diet books are ways to understand contemporary social and political movements.  Whether or not you agree with her provocative arguments, they are well worth reading.

I also took some extra notes because the publisher wanted a particularly short blurb.  As you might suspect from my brief comment, I have some quibbles with some of Bitar’s arguments, but the book is interesting, well written, and worth a look.

Bitar deals with four categories of diet books: Paleolithic, faith-based, South Seas paradise, and detox (this last category strangely includes Michael Pollan’s and my work).

Here’s a sample from the chapter I thought strongest, the one on Paleolithic diets.  It refers to classic images of man arising from apes, and then degenerating into obesity.

These images suggest what is much more explicit in the text—that the diet is a story about humanity, about evolution, about civilization and dis-mankind.  The body of the individual dieter is situated in a long, deep history of mankind.  The dieter is biologically indebted to the Paleolithic Era and, in turn, the coming generations will be indebted to him.  Everyday body practices of the individual—eating, sleeping, walking—are elevated to symbols of mankind’s ascent or descent, failures or triumph, in the grand narrative of progress (p. 41).

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Jan 11 2018

Dietary Reference Intakes are now political???

Is nothing in nutrition safe from congressional intervention?

The American Society for Nutrition has a useful policy newsletter that ran an item that caught my attention: 

DRI Committee Becomes Political: Many Republican members of the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Agriculture and Labor and Human Services two House Appropriations Committee subcommittees sent a letter December 5, 2017 to the President of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine raising concerns about the composition of the ad hoc Committee to review the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for Sodium and Potassium, which was announced October 31, 2017. The letter shares concerns including “At least six of the 12 proposed members have published multiple papers or have been quoted in the press expressing their unequivocal view that current sodium intake is excessive, or publicly dismissed science that runs counter to this view….”

The DRIs are standards for daily intake of nutrients.  The ones for sodium and potassium were last updated in 2005.

I don’t think anyone thinks that potassium intake is debatable, but sodium is hugely controversial.  Doctors generally advise reductions in sodium intake as a means to prevent high blood pressure.  Some think sodium reduction unnecessary or potentially harmful.

I cannot imagine that anyone appointed to this committee lacks an opinion.  The point of the deliberations is, or ought to be, to review the research and try to come to some consensus about what the issues are and what to do about them.

Its best if Congress stays out of this.  I wonder which lobbying group or groups got to these members.

Jan 10 2018

Our Orwellian USDA doublespeaks again

FERN’s Ag Insider reports: USDA’s top lawyer says politics has nothing to do with the recent reassignment of senior officers.

Of course it doesn’t.

Stephen Vaden, the former Trump transition official now serving as the USDA’s interim chief lawyer, says politics played no part in the reassignment of 13 of the department’s top-rank and highest-paid civil servants since the new administration took office. Four of the career employees retired rather than accept the new posts.  “All reassignments were based on organizational need,” said Vaden in a seven-page letter released within hours of a request from all 10 Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee for information about the personnel moves.

Does he really think anyone believes this?

Statements from USDA these days are easily interpreted.  They mean the opposite.

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