by Marion Nestle

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Jun 18 2021

Weekend reading: Peter Hoffman’s food memoir (“foodoir”)

Peter Hoffman.  What’s Good: A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients.  Abrams Press, 2021.

Peter Hoffman, the chef-owned of the much loved and late-lamented Savoy restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo has written an account of its rise and fall along with a close examination of what went into it, foods, ingredients, and emotions.

As I read it, this is two separate books joined together.  One is his version of how he got interested in food, learned about it, trained to cook, and started, ran, and eventually closed the Savoy.  This is a compelling narrative, despite its sad ending.  Full disclosure: I loved the Savoy.  The food was always interesting, the ambiance lovely, and the service warm and welcoming.

The second book is an almost academic discussion of specific ingredients and how Peter used them in his cooking.  These are fascinating and I learned something about every one of the ingredient chapters.  These are followed by a recipe using that ingredient.

The book’s overall structure joins them together in sequence: memoir chapter, ingredient chapter, recipe.  Repeat.

In the midst of writing a memoir myself, I wanted more of the memoir and a faster moving narrative, but also greatly enjoyed the ingredient chapters.  These cover such things as maple syrup, garlic scapes, rosemary, and ice.  I particularly loved the chapter on garlic scapes because there is a large patch of wild garlic growing near my house upstate in Ithaca.  Now I know what to do with the scapes when they appear.

Peter writes well.  Here are a couple of excerpts.

From a memoir chapter: My Spring Awakening:

With Bocuse as a beacon to steer towards, I devised a plan of escape from the tyrannical narrowness of high school.  I’d test the culinary waters by taking a year off—now called a gap year—and get a cooking job.  My parents were supportive, some of their friends mortified.  I remember fighting back tears of fury at my dad’s best friend;s insistence that I’d never go to college if they let me take a uear off, a slippery slope into hell, implying that my parents’ permissiveness was a grave mistake.  I persisted with my plan, doubling up on core requirements, taking English literature in summer school, and graduated a year early.  I moved to Vermont, worked construction in a hotel renovation, and parlayed that into my first kitchen job in the hotel’s kitchen as a dishwasher and prep guy, at a place called Topnotch, where the food was anything but.   (p. 49)

From the ingredient chapter, Garlic:

Keith’s garlic was different.  At the cutting board I immediately noticed that there was less surrounding leaf paper; the cloveswere generally all the same size, a single row circulating around a hard inner stem, the hard-neck; and easy to peel, maybe even pleasurably so, especially after countless instances of having my fingers gummed up with garlic oil and lots of thin clove paper confetti.  Roasted, the flesh was creamy and sweet; rubbed raw on some toasted bread for bruscchetta it was delightfully pungent, not at all acrid; and tossed into a mushroom sauté with chopped parsley and oive oil, Italy’s culinary holy trinity, it rounded out the perfect balance of earthy, herbal, and fruity flavors.  This wan’t just well-seasoned food, this food sang.  (p. 137)

I enjoyed reading this, but it made me hungry.

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Jun 17 2021

Eating insects: the hot new food trend?

Apparently so.

They do have nutritional value, although studies of their nutrient composition are limited in number and scope and show high variability in results.  Nutrient composition is usually given in 100 gram (about 3 ounces) portions and that seems like a lot of insects, way more than anyone might eat at one time.  It’s also hard to imagine how many insects you would need to get three ounces worth.

Some recent items on this topic, inspired by the hatching of the most recent Cicada brood.

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Jun 16 2021

Covid-19 infections among meat-packing workers: trends and analysis

One of the great revelations of the Covid-19 pandemic had to do with working conditions at meat-packing plants.  Keeping the plants open under crowded conditions led to rapid transmission of illness.

In the absence of government tracking, Leah Douglas of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has been collecting and publishing data on cases and deaths among meat-packing, food production, and farm workers.

Here data show that as of July 1, “at least 90,166 workers (58,856 meatpacking workers, 18,155 food processing workers, and 13,155 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 400 workers (297 meatpacking workers, 60 food processing workers, and 43 farmworkers) have died.”

Researchers have investigated the effects of those cases on the communities in which these workers live.  Their data show:

  • The presence of a large beef packing facility in a county increases its per capita infection rates by 110%
  • Large pork and chicken processing facilities increase transmission rates by 160% and 20%, respectively.
  • Over time daily case rates converge such that rates observed in meatpacking- and non-meatpacking counties become similar.
  • 334 thousand COVID-19 infections are attributable to meatpacking plants in the U.S.
  • Associated mortality and morbidity costs total more than $11.2 billion.

The North American Meat Institute insists that that the meat industry’s worker protections have made its case rate “more than 85% lower than rates in the general population (18.25 cases per day per 100,000 people) and more than 98% lower than the May 2020 peak in the sector (98.39 cases per day per 100,000 workers).”

The research study offers an explanation: infected workers infect communities.

Jun 15 2021

Beech-Nut recalls, will stop selling, rice cereal

In the latest episode in the ongoing saga of high levels of arsenic in rice cereal marketed to babies, Beech-Nut says it is going out of the rice cereal business.

In addition to issuing the voluntary recall, Beech-Nut has also decided to exit the market for Beech-Nut branded Single Grain Rice Cereal. Beech-Nut is concerned about the ability to consistently obtain rice flour well-below the FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic.

Background: I have been posting about arsenic in rice since 2013.  In 2015, I wrote about how

  • Rice cereals contain higher-than-desirable levels of arsenic.
  • Arsenic gets into rice from natural sources but also from arsenic pesticides.
  • The FDA says these levels do not pose health problems.
  • Consumer Reports recommends not feeding rice cereals to children.
  • The U.S. Rice Federation said the CR recommendation was not supported by science.

In August 2020, the FDA finally set guidelines for upper limits of arsenic in baby foods.  I wrote most recently—in May this year—about pressures on the FDA to set and enforce more rigorous standards and to go beyond its “Closer to Zero” plan to reduce heavy metals in baby foods.

Now the FDA announces the recall of Beech-Nut rice cereal with levels of arsenic that exceed those standards.

The Environmental Working Group asks if you should worry about arsenic in rice.  Its answer: Yes.

Rice, it points out, is a “specifically risky crop. Eating less rice and foods with rice-based ingredients will decrease the amount of arsenic in your body.”

EWG also recommends government actions:

  • Crop monitoring programs
  • Soil testing
  • Elimination of use of sewage sludge as fertilizer (this practice is forbidden in organic foods)
  • Clear communication of risks

At long last, pressures to fix this problem are having an effect.

Lawsuits also might help, as indicated by this item.

Heavy metals in baby food: 86 lawsuits and counting as Beech-Nut decides to exit infant rice cereal category owing to inorganic arsenic concerns:  At least 86 lawsuits have now been filed against firms named in the recent Congressional Subcommittee report on heavy metals in baby food including Beech-Nut Nutrition, which has just announced plans to exit the infant rice cereal category citing difficulties in sourcing rice flour that is consistently below FDA guidance levels for inorganic arsenic…. Read more

Jun 14 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: Coca-Cola

The study: Co-Occurrence and Clustering of Sedentary Behaviors, Diet, Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, and Alcohol Intake among Adolescents and Adults: The Latin American Nutrition and Health Study (ELANS)

Abstract: Poor diet, sedentary behaviors, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and alcohol intake seem to co-exist in complex ways that are not well understood. The aim of this study was to provide an understanding of the extent to which unhealthy behaviors cluster in eight Latin America countries. A secondary aim was to identify socio-demographic characteristics associated with these behaviors by country…. Among 9218 individuals, the most prevalent behaviors were transportation and occupation–sedentary time, SSB and alcohol intake.

Conclusions:  EBRB, particularly excessive time spent on sedentary-activities and SSB intake, commonly co-occurred in a representative sample of LA adolescents and adults. While unhealthy behavior varied across LA countries, nearly half of sampled subjects in Argentina and Colombia presented at least two risk factor behaviors.

Recommendation: Public health policies and behavioral-change strategies should target SB domains (screen-time, occupational, and transportation), diet intake, and SSB and alcoholic intake in combination [my emphasis].

Funding: The ELANS data collection was originally supported by the scientific grant from the Coca-Cola Company (Atlanta, GA, USA) and by grants/supports from the ILSI Latin America branches (Argentina, Brazil, Sur-Andino, Nor-Andino, and Meso-America), Sabará Children’s Hospital, PENSI Institute, University of Costa Rica, Pontifical Catholic University from Chile, Pontifical Catholic University Javeriana, Colombia, Central University of Venezuela/Foundation Bengoa, University of San Francisco, Quito, and Nutritional Institute of Investigation, Peru. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, the decision to publish, or the preparation of this manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

Comment: This is the first study I have seen funded by Coca-Cola since the scandal over its funding of  the Global Energy Balance Network (see my last post on it) and its announcement that it would no longer pay more than half the cost of a study (see policy statement).  This study is co-funded by ILSI (also industry) and universities (independent).  Coca-Cola is still funding lots of studies.  See here and here.

Why would Coca-Cola want to fund a study like this?  The answer lies in the recommendation.  My translation: Do not target sugar-sweetened beverages with tax or warning label policies alone.  If you want to improve unhealthy behavior, you have to target all of those behaviors—screen time, jobs, transportation, dietary intake, and alcohol—at the same time.

Jun 11 2021

Weekend reading: Alice Waters on Fast vs. Slow Food Culture

 

Note to email recipients: I am still having technical difficulties with getting posts mailed out on a regular schedule.  I meant this one to go out today, not yesterday.  Apologies for the duplication.

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Alice Waters with Bob Carrau and Cristina Mueller.  We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto.  Penguin Press, 2021.

This book is about the harm caused by fast food culture, and why it needs to be replaced by slow food.

I particularly like the way this book is organized.

The first section has chapters about the characteristics of fast food culture that get us into trouble: convenience, uniformity, ubiquity, more is better, speed, cheapness.

Chapters in the second section explain why the values of slow food culture are so much better for us and the planet: beauty, biodiversity, seasonality, stewardship, simplicity, interconnectedness.

If you have been paying attention to food issues, none of this will be new.  But it is well said, and from the heart.

It is also from Alice Waters’ experience running Chez Panisse for—can this be possible?—fifty years.  Its anniversary is this year, and well worth celebrating.

The academic in me wishes this book had included references and an index, particularly because there were a few things I wanted to follow up on.

Otherwise, it’s a well written delight and people new to these issues will finding it eye-opening and convincing.

A sample from the chapter on convenience:

The fast food industry certainly wants us to believe that all the laborious work of cooking is drudgery—indeed, that cooking is just that, work—so they can sell us their labor-saving products.  And they’ve been very successful at convincing us.  We have become more and more impatient when we choose what to cook—we want it as easy and simple as it can possibly be, if we’re going to try to cook something at all.  To relieve of of the “work” of cooking, enterprising companies have produced countless gadgets and packaged foods over the past sixty years to streamline the process of cooking at home.  When I was growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s, we didn’t have too many labor-saving “convenience” appliances, except the electric blender we used for making banana milkshakes.  But there were definitely convenience foods in our house: Jell-O, Junket, frozen fish sticks.  And my mother absolutely used them for convenience’s sake; she had six people to cook for, and she was pretty overwhelmed with the washing the drying, the ironing, the housecleaning.  Crucially, she had never learned how to cook when she was young. (p. 19-20)

From the simplicity chapter:

I use the phrase “less is more” all the time.  I don’t like to be served more than I can eat, and when I’m at Chez Panisse I often ask for half-size portions because I don’t want to waste food.  At the Edible Schoolyard, we do serve dishes family style, but our objective is to teach students a lesson in portion size and consideration for others.  That one bowl has to be enough to feed the whole table.  When students serve themselves from the bowl, it is also a lesson in conservation; they are learning that resources are not unlimited, and it helps them appreciate what is on their plate.  I’m sure they take that lesson home with them. (p. 168)

Jun 10 2021

CBD edibles: catching up

Everybody wants to get into CBD edibles.  They have the potential to make lots of money for lots of people.

Here are a few recent items.

CBD ice cream:  Way back in 2019, Ben and Jerry’s, always on the cutting edge, promised to move right in.  I haven’t seen any yet, but can’t wait.

CBD pet food: Martha Stewart, also ever ahead of the curve, is doing a new line of products.

CBD alcohol: Product names or descriptors such as ‘CBD gin’ or ‘rum infused with CBD’ could prove problematic in the UK, says the Portman Group, as it sets out guidance on marketing CBD…. Read more

CBD supplements: Rugby warriors tackle cannabinoid concerns with CBD startup:  Two professional rugby players have created a startup selling third-party tested CBD supplements that give elite athletes and everyday consumers peace of mind over cannabinoid content.. Read

CBD edible hazards: Four children needed hospital treatment in England after eating sweets thought to have contained cannabis. A 12-year-old boy was discharged on May 1 and the other three were expected to be released from hospital in Surrey after being kept in overnight for monitoring and observation.  Continue Reading

CBD hazard regulation (or lack thereof): CBD experts recommend THC limit for finished products.  CBD industry experts have put together a detailed safety review of THC recommending clear policy recommendations to cut market confusion… Read

Regulations are sure to come, and the sooner the better—for reasons of public safety, but also to give startups some guidelines.

Jun 9 2021

Nestlé admits 70% of its products are junk foods

I always like writing about Nestlé, the huge multi-national food company based in Switzerland, because it gives me the opportunity to explain that no, I am not related to it (although colleagues have suggested that I claim to be the black sheep of the family).

Judith Evans, writing in the Financial Times, had a big story about the company (behind a paywall but can also be read at the Irish Times site).

Its headline: “Nestlé says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy.”  She based her story on a leaked internal document.

Nestlé, has acknowledged in an internal document that more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food and drinks products do not meet a “recognised definition of health” and that “some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate”….Within its overall food and drink portfolio, some 70 per cent of Nestlé’s food products failed to meet that threshold [a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system], the presentation said, along with 96 per cent of beverages – excluding pure coffee – and 99 per cent of Nestlé’s confectionery and ice cream portfolio.

Because infant formula, pet food, coffee, and the health sciences products were not counted in this analysis, the data apply to about half of Nestlé’s €84.35 billion ($102.6 billion) total annual revenues—Nestlé is indeed Big Food.

I was interviewed for this story, and quoted:

Marion Nestle (no relation), visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, [*] said Nestlé and its rivals would struggle to make their portfolios healthy overall.

“Food companies’ job is to generate money for stockholders, and to generate it as quickly and in as large an amount as possible. They are going to sell products that reach a mass audience and are bought by as many people as possible, that people want to buy, and that’s junk food,” she said.

“Nestlé is a very smart company, at least from my meetings with people who are in their science [departments] . . . but they have a real problem . . . Scientists have been working for years to try to figure out how to reduce the salt and sugar content without changing the flavour profile and, guess what, it’s hard to do.”

[*]  Oops.  That should have been Professor Emerita at NYU.  I asked for a correction and thought I had gotten one, but maybe only in the Financial Times.

I was also interviewed by Margarita Raycheva at IHS Market Connect(formerly Food Chemical News, and also behind a paywall):

Marion Nestle says labeling systems fail to account for ultraprocessed foods

While Nestlé’s plans to improve nutritional profiles have sparked some hope in nutrition experts like Hercberg, at least one other leading expert remains skeptical. According to Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition expert and professor at New York University, successful efforts to improve nutrition would have to go beyond meeting thresholds set through label ratings.

“What is at issue in this discussion is whether a somewhat healthier option is a better choice or even a good choice,” Nestle told IHS Markit on Monday (June 1).

While label-rating systems may flag some nutrients of concern, they do little to reduce consumption of ultraprocessed foods, which have been linked to both obesity and chronic disease, Nestle noted.

“NutriScore gives points for less sugar and salt, even to foods that are still ultraprocessed, and so do other nutrient-based front-of-package labeling systems, making all of them gameable by taking off a gram or two,” she said.

“Calling for reduction of consumption of ultraprocessed foods is much simpler, but it would exclude most of Nestlé’s products, even with tweaks,” she added.

The Swiss food giant has confirmed it will update its nutrition and health strategy after British newspaper the Financial Times published leaked internal documents acknowledging that nearly 70% of its main food and drinks products, making up about half of Nestlé’s CHF92.6bn total annual sales, do not meet a “recognised definition of health” and that “some of our categories will never be healthy”…. Read more

No matter how much Big Food companies say that want to promote health and wellness, they can only do so if their products continue to make the same kids of profits as do ultra-processed junk foods.  The company knows this and got caught saying so in public.

As for the uncounted other half of this company’s revenues? I’m keeping an eye on pet food.  Pet Food Industry reports that Nestlé is investing 1 billion yuan in pet food manufacturing in China.