Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Oct 31 2019

Happy Food Politics Halloween

No getting around it.  It’s candy time again.

Researchers (somebody has to do this) tell us that candy popularity varies by state.

 

Here are a few items I’ve been collecting for this occasion.

Best of all is the candy industry’s advice for Halloween.

“Since there are many treats being handed out on Halloween, it’s a good time to keep balance in mind. Also, be sure to check out our 2019 press release.

As families gear up to go trick-or-treating, the National Confectioners Association is keeping consumers in mind with Halloween Central, a digital resource offering a variety of tools to help consumers understand the unique role that chocolate and candy can play in a happy, balanced lifestyle.

Here is everything you ever wanted to know about U.S. pumpkin production.

Trick or treat!

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Oct 30 2019

The Zombie Center for Consumer Freedom is back. Its target? Plant-based meat.

Just in time for Halloween, the zombie is back.

I can hardly believe that the deeply discredited Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)is on the attack again with another one of its snarky full-page ads in the New York Times (Monday, October 28).

The Center is infamous for secrecy about who pays for such things.

In this case, it’s easy to guess that the meat industry must behind it.  The most likely candidate is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on the basis of its already aggressive campaign against plant-based meat alternatives (see below).

If beef producers are hiring the Center for Consumer Freedom, you know that their industry is in real trouble.

If they are employing the CCF, they deserve to be in trouble.

NCBA Lobbying

CleanFoodFacts.com:  Does it exist?  I can’t find it online.

FoodNavigator-USA has a report of the press release for this, and the Center’s vague discussion of where the funding comes from.

Oct 29 2019

Who gets trade aid? Big Ag, of course.

I’m catching up on posts put on hold for quieter times.  Here’s one that’s worth a look.

The Environmental Working Group’s analysis finds that more than half of the $8.4 billion aid meant to compensate farmers for the loss of export sales went to the top 10% of farmers.  Check this for yourself in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database.

The  Farm Bill Law Enterprise points out that almost all of it went to white farmers.

Nearly 250 farms received more than $375,000 — the highest amount permitted — out of a total of more than 550,000 recipients.

Politico wrote about the second round of trade aid:

USDA last week rolled out details of the new $16 billion package, an estimated $14.5 billion of which will be sent to farmers in the form of direct payments…under trade aid 2.0, it will be easier for farmers to collect more money. USDA raised the payment limit to $500,000 per person or legal entity, and also loosened a means test that had disqualified farmers earning more than $900,000 a year in adjusted gross income from receiving assistance under the 2018 program. Those earning above that threshold can collect trade aid this year as long as 75 percent of their income comes from agriculture, a change Congress directed in recently enacted disaster-aid legislation.

The Politico article notes that farms are legally allowed to get around payment caps.  Multiple family members or business partners can receive subsidies as long as they appear to be “actively engaged” in the operation.

Politico cites one example from the EWG database: “The top recipient of 2018 trade assistance, DeLine Farms, registered three partnerships at the same address and collected $2.8 million.”

Comment: This is a rigged system that could not be better designed to put small farms out of business.

Oct 28 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: avocados yet again

The study: A Moderate-Fat Diet with One Avocado per Day Increases Plasma Antioxidants and Decreases the Oxidation of Small, Dense LDL in Adults with Overweight and Obesity: A Randomized Controlled Trial.  Li Wang, Ling Tao, Lei Hao, Todd H Stanley, Kuan-Hsun Huang, Joshua D Lambert, Penny M Kris-EthertonThe Journal of Nutrition, nxz231, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxz231  Published: 14 October 2019

The Press release: One avocado a day helps lower ‘bad’ cholesterol for heart healthy benefits  (thanks to reader Effie Seftel for sending).

Conclusions: “One avocado a day in a heart-healthy diet decreased oxLDL [oxidized LDL]in adults with overweight and obesity, and the effect was associated with the reduction in sdLDL [small-density LDL–the bad kind]…Avocados have a unique nutrient and bioactive profile that appears to play an important role in reducing LDL oxidation, hence decreasing LDL atherogenicity.”

Funding:  “Supported by a grant from the Hass Avocado Board.”  [I’ve written previously about other studies funded by this Board].

Author disclosures: LW, LT, LH, THS, K-HH, and JDL, no conflicts of interest. PMK-E received funding from the Hass Avocado Board to conduct this study and is a member of the Avocado Nutrition Science Advisory. The Hass Avocado Board had no role in the design and conduct of the study; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or in the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Comment: Thanks to Jeff Nelson for sending this one (his interview with me is online)He points out that the diet of the group eating one avocado a day also ate less saturated fat and more fiber, which could help to account for the favorable result.  I love avocados (who does not?) but worry about what our demand for them is doing to Mexican food culture and personal safety.  Does the Hass Board really need to do this?

Addition, October 31

The London Daily Mail has, of all things, a critique of this study:  “Eating an avocado a day will NOT cut your cholesterol: Statistician debunks the ‘hilariously unimpressive’ results of study funded by ‘big avocado’.”

Oct 28 2019

Study of the week: Mushrooms, prostate cancer, Japan—Gastro-patriotism!

A reader, Jeff Nelson (whose interview with me is online here), sent me a link to this Japanese study that identified a link between eating mushrooms and prevention of prostate cancer.

The study:  Mushroom consumption and incident risk of prostate cancer in Japan: A pooled analysis of the Miyagi Cohort Study and the Ohsaki Cohort Study.  Shu Zhang, et al.  International Journal of Cancer. First published: 04 September 2019. 

Conclusion: “The present study showed an inverse relationship between mushroom consumption and incident prostate cancer among middle‐aged and elderly Japanese men, suggesting that habitual mushroom intake might help to prevent prostate cancer.”

Funding: “Our study was supported by the NARO Bio‐oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution.”

I looked up NARO:

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization or NARO is the core institute in Japan for conducting research and development on agriculture and food. Our overall mission is to contribute to the development of society through innovations in agriculture and food, by promoting pioneering and fundamental R&D. We conduct technological development to make agriculture a competitive and attractive industry, and contribute to increasing the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate.

Jeff’s question: “Is this considered commercial research? Mushrooms’ magical impact of preventing cancer?”

My response: “Gastro-patriotism

I would classify this one as ideologically driven more than commercially driven.  Mushrooms are part of traditional Japanese diets and this institute promotes commercialization of Japanese agricultural products.

The result is far-fetched enough (mushrooms prevent prostate cancer, really?) to be suspicious, but this looks more like gastro-patriotism to me than the result of mushroom industry lobbying–if such exists, it was not disclosed.

Gastro-patriotism is a term I just this minute coined.*  It describes the promotion of nationalism and civic pride through a country’s cuisine.  Examples leap to mind with French cuisine leading the way and anything having to do with terroir.  The Greek government’s promotion of olive oil is another example.

* Addition October 29

A reader, Polly Adema, reminds me that the term is hardly original. There is, she says:

an established concept and practice of gastronationalism. It is a recognized variation of gastrodiplomacy, one getting increasing attention within various academic circles…Lots of articles will come up if you search gastronationalism in google scholar or your search engine of choice.  The term is from and grows out of Michaela DeSoucey’s 2016 book, Contested Tastes: Foie Gras and the Politics of Food.  Here is a link to an earlier DeSoucey piece: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0003122410372226#_i11

Oops.  Apologies to Michaela DeSoucey, for not citing her excellent book, which I had read, blurbed, and posted as weekend reading, but did not think of in this context.

 

Oct 25 2019

Weekend reading: Kid Food (!)

Bettina Elias Siegel.  Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.  Oxford University Press, 2019.

Image result for siegel kid food

I did a blurb for this book but it is so good, so well written, and so important that nothing I can say can do it justice.

Everyone who cares about what kids eat must read Bettina Siegel’s fabulous Kid Food.  This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field.  Kid Food provides the evidence and the resources; it should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies—right now.

The book is a treasure for what it says about feeding kids in America today—an instant classic.  Its Appendix alone makes the book a must-have: it lists resources for how to feed kids but also for how to advocate for them.

I could have picked excerpts from anywhere in the book but I’m taking the easy route and quoting from the book’s ending as an example of why this book is so worth reading.

Right now, American children are being shortchanged daily by a diet that feeds but doesn’t nourish, that staves off immediate hunger but opens the door to later disease.  The factors leading to this tragic outcome are all too human: naked corporate greed; parental ignorance, confusion, and fatigue; practical necessity, for those who can’t afford healthier food; and, in the case of “treats,” even simple love and affection.   Improving the current paradigm will require not just pushing back against powerful corporate interests, but also shifting a deeply entrenched food culture.  That’s a very heavy lift, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t make it any less urgent or critical.  And the good news is, there is no shortage of opportunities to pitch in.

Oct 23 2019

Ultraprocessed foods: US vs. UK

Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, is interested in getting rid of artificial food additives.  She asks an interesting question.  If American companies can eliminate them for sales in Britain, why can’t they do that here?

She has put together lots of surprising examples.  Here is just one.

Impressive, no?

I hope this encourages some changes on these shores.

Oct 22 2019

The U.S. Dairy Industry: A disaster (especially for small farmers)

Rick Barrett at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has written a series of articles under the heading “Dairyland in Distress.”  

  1. Chapter One: “Dairy farmers are in crisis — and it could change Wisconsin forever”
  2. Chapter Two:‘Struggling to tread water’: Dairy farmers are caught in an economic system with no winning formula”
  3. Chapter Three: “Americans love soda, fancy water and fake milk. Can the dairy industry keep up?”
  4. Chapter Four:Wisconsin farmers helped the world get hooked on dairy, but those customers are becoming competitors”

The articles come with data: The changing market for dairy in 7 charts

These explain the enormous increase in world milk production and its effects on Wisconsin farmers.  The supply is so great that farmers cannot sell their milk at a price high enough to break even.

 

The answer, of course, is production controls but good luck with that in today’s agricultural politics environment.

USDA policies include incentives for increasing production; they work well for doing precisely that.

Rescuing small and mid-size dairies requires political will and willingness to pay the real costs of milk production.

Otherwise, we will be getting our milk from the cheapest possible sources, and that does not bode well for quality or public health.

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