Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Oct 19 2018

Weekend reading: Fruitful Labor

Mike Madison.  Fruitful Labor: The Ecology, Economy, and Practice of a Family Farm.  Chelsea Green 2018 (short at just 164 pages).

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Every now and then, Chelsea Green sends me a book this publisher thinks might interest me.  And right they are.  This book is a perfect example of why I’m so impressed by what Chelsea Green chooses to publish.

Fruitful Labor is a conversational how-to manual for anyone thinking about doing small-scale, sustainable farming and wondering whether it could be fun and provide a decent living.  Madison’s optimistic yet realistic outlook makes it clear that both are possible.  He raises 200 or so vegetables and fruits on his own farm of 20 acres or so near Sacramento.

The book covers the specifics of what equipment and tools you need and what you need to do to raise animals, take care of the soil, and, yes, make a living.  Madison philosophizes about such matters as spacing of trees, what to do about wild animals, water quality, care of tools, the cost of electricity, and other such details.

He provides a copy of his IRS profit-and-loss statement and explains what it means to have enough income.

Dianne and I have never been motivated to be rich in terms of money.  We live in a beautiful place, we have many friends, we’re healthy, we have meaningful work, and we have wholesome food to eat and good local wine to drink–what would we want with more money?

Later, he explains the reality:

The increasing price of farmland in this area has far outstripped the rising prices of other assets, most notably labor, to the extent that a young couple starting out today has no possibility of replicating our experience….the price of farmland reflects not only its agricultural value, but also its value as an instrument of financial speculation and a place for a homesite; it is the latter two that primarily drive the price….In this context, our farming system is not sustainable.

This is a thoughtful, useful book, a pleasure to read and an inspiring plea for what used to be understood as agrarian values.

More than ever, we need such values.  Thank you Mike Madison, and thanks also to Chelsea Green.

Oct 18 2018

Who is suing whom? Food politics lawsuits

FoodNavigator-USA has collected its recent articles on food industry lawsuits.  As it puts it,

There have been hundreds of class action lawsuits directed against food and beverage companies in the past five years, spanning everything from added sugar, ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ claims, to glyphosate residues, and alkaline water claims. We take a look at some high profile cases, some emerging hot topics from Non GMO claims to a new wave of kombucha lawsuits, and what’s coming up from the FDA, from plant-based ‘milk’ labeling guidance to a fresh look at ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ labeling.

I’ve organized these into categories.

GMOs

Warnings about chemicals in foods

Compliance with labeling and health claims requirements

And here’s a more recent one from CBS News:

  • LaCroix ingredients: Lawsuit alleges “all natural” claim is falseLaCroix sparkling water is facing a lawsuit alleging its claims of “all natural” and “100 percent natural” are misleading because…”Testing reveals that LaCroix contains a number of artificial ingredients, including linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.”

Oct 17 2018

The Honey Smacks Salmonella outbreak: an update

I wrote about the recall of Honey Smacks cereals last June when its Salmonella outbreak was just past its peak, but a post from food-safety lawyer Bill Marler made me think this outbreak is worth another look.

The CDC says the Honey Smacks outbreak is over now.  But it also says you should still be careful not to eat Honey Smacks with a “best if used by” date of June 14, 2019 or earlier (the packages I saw on the shelf at the Ithaca Wegmans were dated May 19, 2019—oops).

Marler got my attention by pointing out what the FDA found in its June 2018 investigation and reported in its warning letter to Kerry, Inc, the manufacturer of this Kellogg’s cereal.

Between September 29, 2016 and May 16, 2018, you repeatedly found Salmonella throughout your facility, including in cereal production rooms. During this time period, you had 81 positive Salmonella environmental samples and 32 positive Salmonella vector samples (samples taken in response to finding a positive on routine testing)…Further, you had repeated findings of other Salmonella species in some production lines and rooms used for the manufacture of cereal.

What?  Over a period of a year and a half, the manufacturer’s testing identified 113 samples positive for Salmonella—and did little or nothing to prevent Salmonella from getting into the cereal?

The damage was hardly trivial.The Food Safety and Modernization Act set rules governing the safe production of foods.  Clearly, some companies, this one apparently, did not bother to follow them.

This, then, is a matter of inadequate enforcement.

Do food companies need to be forced to follow standard food safety procedures?  Apparently so if public health is to be protected.

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 16 2018

Connecting the dots: The trade war with China and feeding America’s poor

I was struck last week by an article in the Wall Street Journal with this intriguing title: “Food Banks Reap Unexpected Bounty From Trade Disputes.”

I thought this was an especially poignant example of food politics from a food systems perspective—looking at the big picture context of what we eat, from production to consumption to waste.

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Our current trade war with China is having a series of effects:

  • China has retaliated by putting import tariffs on US food products, reducing their sales in that country.
  • Because we greatly overproduce food, and depend on exports to sell it, we now have a glut of products that can’t be sold—soybeans mainly, but also pork, apples, cheese, figs, peanut butter, orange juice, and others.
  • The Trump Administration says it will help farmers hurt by the trade dispute by buying their products to the tune of $1.2 billion so far.
  • Food banks have no idea how they can handle all of what will be dumped on them—950 million pounds on top of the 700 million pounds they usually get—because they do not have the money to process and store the donations (one organization says this costs 23 cents per pound of food).
  • The food bank trade association, Feeding America, is calling for $200 to $300 million to pay for distributing the excess burden of food donations.

None of this makes sense to me.

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better to

  • Prevent or end this trade dispute?
  • Ensure that food banks are unnecessary?
Oct 15 2018

Unsavory Truth: A peek at page 2

Coming October 30: My new book about food company sponsorship of nutrition research and its effects on public health.

Here’s what page 2 has to say:

Oct 12 2018

Lucky Australians: Sandro Demaio’s The Doctor’s Diet

Sandro Demaio.  The Doctor’s Diet.  Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018.

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I don’t usually say anything about diet books or cookbooks, and this is both, but Demaio is someone I know, the book is worth reading for its food systems approach to eating, and the proceeds go to charity:

Author royalties from the sale of this book will go to th Sandro Demaio Foundation to fund public health and nutrition projects across Australia.

What I like about the book is his straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is commentary on today’s food environment.  Here’s what he says about snacks, for example.

A concept invented in the 20th century by the food industry simply to get us to eat more food and boost sales, snacking isn’t a natural part of a healthy diet,  Snacking between meals is a major source of unwanted sugars, additives and calories for adults and kids alike…Avoiding snacks will improve your appetite for your next meal.

The book is full of tips for navigating the hazards of ubiquitous food marketing and his invitation to “come cook with me” demands a yes.  

The book reminds me a lot of Sam Kass’s terrific Eat a Little Better.

Let’s hope there’s a U.S. edition soon (although he tells me it can be ordered here).

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Oct 11 2018

Annals of marketing: “Free from.” A Bakery & Snacks Special Edition.

From the daily industry newsletter, BakeryAndSnacks.com, I learned that “free from” is an entire marketing category.  Here is its collection of recent articles and videos on the topic.

Special Edition: The rise of free from

What is driving the free-from trend – grain-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, fat-free, and so forth – and will it have legs? Which businesses are already tapping demand for free-from snacks and bakery products? We look at the alternatives the traditional snack ingredients, and who supplies them. Also, a peak into the manufacturing challenges in creating snacks and baking in the free-from category.

Oct 10 2018

French National Assembly issues tough report on ultraprocessed foods

An article in FoodNavigator.com got my attention.  It said the French food industry was outraged by a report from the French National Assembly calling for actions to make heavily processed (“ultraprocessed”) foods healthier.

The Assembly issued its non-partisan report in two parts:

The report includes recommendations for a wide variety of measures to improve the food supply, especially for children.

With respect to ultraprocessed foods, the report is tough.  It provides evidence that the industry’s voluntary measures to improve the nutritional quality of its products are neither adequate nor effective.

Therefore, the Assembly proposes measures like these:

  • Limit the number of additives that can be used in processed and ultraprocessed food products; require them to be labeled.
  • Introduce regulations limiting the salt, sugar, and trans fat content of processed foods.
  • Restrict TV and other electronic marketing of products likely to harm the health of children.
  • Guarantee the quality of food marketed overseas by restricting their sugar content.
  • Make food education compulsory from pre-school on; include school meals in the education program; train teachers and staff.  This applies to all schools by 2019-2020.
  • Implement Nutri-Score* on all processed and ultraprocessed food products produced in France.
  • Require labeling of origin for processed and ultraprocessed products.
  • Distinguish artisanal from industrial pastry products with a “made on site” label.

*Nutri-Score, as I have previously discussed, is a front-of-package labeling scheme that awards a letter grade to processed foods based on a combination of its desirable and undesirable nutrients (A is healthiest).

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No wonder French food companies are upset.  The French National Assembly wants to hold them accountable.