Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 18 2017

Reports about sustainable and local farming: one after another

Sustainable Food Trust has a report on a conference on the True Cost of American Food.

Health is the obvious cost, but others include:

  • the cost of nitrate and pesticide pollution of ground and river water from agro-chemicals, which in some areas of the US are so high that the water industry is struggling to provide drinking water within legal limits,
  • air pollution from CAFOs shown to be increasing respiratory infections and other diseases in people living nearby,
  • the loss of biodiversity, including the decline of farmland birds and pollinating insects,
  • soil degradation and erosion from continuous monoculture crop production,
  • the human health costs to employees working in stressful conditions in food processing plants.

The American Farmland Trust and Growing Food Connections have published GROWING LOCAL: A Community Guide to Planning for Agriculture and Food Systems.

This is an enormously useful how-to guide to developing local food systems with lots of facts and figures .  Here is an example:

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis , of all things, has issued “Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.”

Harvesting Opportunity…highlights models for collaboration between policymakers, practitioners and the financial community, and discusses research, policy and resource gaps that, if addressed, might contribute to the success of regional food systems strategies.

New Food Economy has an analysis by Katy Kieffer on who really owns America’s farmland

While urban commercial real estate has skyrocketed in places like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., powerful investors have also sought to turn a profit by investing in the most valuable rural real estate: farmland. It’s a trend that’s driving up costs up for the people who grow our food, and—slowly—it’s started to change the economics of American agriculture.

Aug 17 2017

Cane versus beet sugar–A difference?

As a result of yesterday’s post, readers asked questions about sugar.  Here’s one:

Q: Is there a difference between cane and beet sugar?

A: It depends.

Both are 99.95% sucrose.

But the plants are different.  Sugar cane is grassy; sugar beets are a root vegetable.

The sucrose is extracted and refined by different methods.

And that remaining 0.05%: chefs say it makes a difference in cooking properties.

The San Francisco Chronicle did some comparative baking and then ran blind taste tests.

These showed big differences, with cane sugar a clear winner.

Who knew?

Just for fun, here’s another difference: sugar beets are about 95% GMO; sugar cane is non-GMO.

Related image

Also for fun, here’s cane-plus-beet versus high fructose corn syrup:

You know the drill.  Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar—no matter whether it comes from cane, beets, or corn.

Aug 16 2017

Sugar industry: here’s what we think about advice to eat less sugar

I am a faithful subscriber to Jerry Hagstrom’s Hagstrom Report on issues having to do with agriculture.  He attended the International Sweetener Symposium in San Diego and took notes.  If you want to know how the sugar industry is dealing with the “eat less sugar” message, here are some hints (wish I’d been there):

From José Orive, executive director of the London-based International Sugar Organization:

There is “sugar diarrhea” in the media, Orive said, referring to the many articles urging reductions in sweetener consumption.  “We need to talk the bull by the horns in pointing out the role of sugar in human nutrition” and talking about the importance of exercise.

From Craig Ruffolo, an analyst with McKeany-Flavell in Oakland, CA:

We need to get back to positivity, not negativity. The sugar industry has a really great message. It starts with 15 calories per teaspoon.

From Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Sugar Association:

“We have this obesity crisis that has become a massive economic problem,” Gaine said. The pressures on governments to address the human and economic costs of obesity have combined with “a public health community that does not trust industry” she said.

A lot of the food companies “who should be our friends” are instead reformulating products and advertising they are using less sugar, she said. Coca-Cola is replacing its “Coke Zero” with a label that reads “Coke No Sugar” and is already supplying Delta Air Lines with napkins bearing that slogan.

From Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, a Chicago market research firm:

“Products making low sugar claims won’t be going away anytime soon”…The “no high-fructose corn syrup” claim “is not losing its power.”

Hagstrom’s summary comes with references:

▪  American Sugar Alliance – “An Evaluation of the Global Sugar Market Environment” by José Orive
“Sugar Market Outlook” by Craig Ruffolo
“The New State of Play for Sugar: Trends, Policy, Consumption and Activism” by Courtney Gaine
“Consumer Trends and Industry Response” by Ron Sterk
“Trends in sugar, sugar reduction, and sweeteners” by Lynn Dornblaser

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Aug 15 2017

Agroecology: it’s the hot issue in agriculture, but what does it mean?

If you are like me, you may have trouble understanding what this term means, but it’s the hot new word in alternative agriculture.

Farms of the Future says agroecology is the only way forward.  It is collecting signatures on a petition to make agricultural production practices tore ecological.

But what does that mean, exactly?

The Wikipedia definition is no help at all.

Agroecology is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. The prefix agro- refers to agriculture. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term is often used imprecisely and may refer to “a science, a movement, [or] a practice”. Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organicintegrated, or conventionalintensive or extensive.

Thanks a lot.

Does agroecology mean the same thing as sustainable agriculture?

Fortunately help is at hand.

Start reading!

 

Aug 14 2017

Coconut water—fad or superdrink?

I like the way it tastes, but oh the hype about its health benefits.

I haven’t posted anything about industry-funded research for a long time, mainly because I’m working on a book on the topic.  Here’s one asking whether coconut water works as well as Gatorade for rehydration after exercise.

Of course it does.  Both have water.

Study title: Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men.

Authors: Douglas S KalmanSamantha FeldmanDiane R Krieger, and Richard J Bloomer

Results: Regardless of which drink the study subjects were given, they

  • Lost and regained similar amounts of weight
  • Had the same amount of fluid retention
  • Had similar exercise performance
  • Experienced similar levels of bloating and stomach upset

Competing interests: Financial support for this work was provided by VitaCoco® Company (New York, NY). The investigators have no direct or indirect interest in VitaCoco®. RJB has received research funding or has acted as a consultant to nutraceutical and dietary supplement companies.

VitaCoco must want to market its product as a sports drink.  In this instance, neutral (“as good as”) results position this drink as an alternative to Gatorade or its equivalent.

Water works too…

 

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Aug 11 2017

Eight books on food and farming–a recap

Marion Nestle: 8 Books on Farming and Food That Deserve More Attention

May 10, 2016  EcoWatch

https://www.ecowatch.com/marion-nestle-8-books-on-farming-and-food-that-deserve-more-attention-1891129099.amp.html

I’m overwhelmed by the avalanche of outstanding books that I run across or that get sent to me. But when forced to choose, I settle on these eight as some of the best writing and original research in the bunch. They deserve much more attention than they’ve received.

1Food, Farms and Community: Exploring Food Systems by Lisa Chase and Vern Grubinger

Many people don’t understand what food systems are and it’s very hard to explain, so this book is a terrific introduction. The authors take a big-picture approach to explain how our food gets from production to consumption. They also focus on how we can create food and farming systems that promote the health of people and planet. It’s very readable.

2The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World by Joel K. Bourne, Jr.

This book takes a look at industrial farming and discusses how food production must change to meet the world’s demands. But if you think the title sounds depressing, you shouldn’t. The food situation is so much better than it was 20 years ago. There’s so much more organiclocal and seasonal growing. Students are interested in these issues and that’s inspiring to me. You can make progress without overturning the whole system. My personal measure is that when we started food studies at NYU in 1996, we were the only program like that in the country. Now every university offers food studies and has an organic garden.

3. From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone by Paul Thompson

Ethical dilemmas impact the way we shop for food. Should we buy organic or local? Should we care how farm animals are raised? For people who aren’t trained in ethics, it’s sometimes hard to think about these things and this book can help you delve into them.

4. Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States by Brian K. Obach

For me, the discussion of the development of the organic standards is the most interesting part of this book. It explains why it’s so important to maintain strict organic standards and why there’s such intense conflict about them. In fact, the biggest issue facing the organic industry is confidence in the standards.

5. Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry

Terry is an extraordinary cook. He’s really concerned about the health of African Americans, who tend to have much higher levels of chronic disease, so he sets out to demonstrate that it’s possible to cook a healthier, vegan diet using the ingredients of traditional African cuisine, like collards, grits and okra. I’ve never seen a book like this before.

6. Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America by Liz Carlisle

Carlisle is an incredible author (and Michael Pollan’s protégé). To write the book, she simply went to talk to farmers in Montana to find out what they were doing. It’s very lively. I attended her book tour and she actually brought the farmers with her—it was clear she was really passionate. Everyone is always talking about how farmers are failing, but this is a success story. It’s inspiring.

7. Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression by Janet Poppendieck

I have special interest in this one—I wrote the foreword. The author is fabulous and this book is particularly well done. Anyone who wants to really understand the Farm Bill and the fight about food stamps needs to read this book. We’re seeing enormous congressional fighting over SNAP right now and those same issues were there from the very beginning.

8. Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health by Nick Freudenberg

This book is compelling because it draws out the parallels between food issues and things like cigarettes, guns and alcohol. Food producers use the same corporate strategies as these other industries to enrich themselves at the expense of public health. I believe advocacy is the only way to beat the system and Freudenberg writes about ways for organizing against corporate power to create a healthier environment, organize against corporate power for a healthier, more sustainable environment.

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Aug 10 2017

Are we done with pink slime? $177 million says yes.

Remember “pink slime?”  This is the pejorative name given to “mechanically tenderized finely textured beef” an ingredient added to meat products.  Its maker, Beef Products, Inc, sued ABC for defamation.  Disney, which owns ABC, settled the case out of court in June—for $177 million according to Business Insider.

Disney paid Beef Products Inc. (BPI) $177 million to settle the ‘pink slime’ lawsuit that claimed a story ABC ran in 2012 misled viewers and caused hundreds of layoffs.  On Wednesday, Walt Disney Co’s quarterly earnings report revealed that the company spent $177 million “in connection with the settlement of litigation” last quarter.

Addition: Food Safety News says the $177 million is on top of the totality of ABC’s insurance.

Here is ABC’s statement. (don’t you love getting news via Twitter?):

I am hoping that I will never have to write about pink slime again.  For the record, here is a summary of my posts on the topic, dating back to 2009.

 

 

 

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Aug 9 2017

Starting out in food policy: advice

I get lots of inquiries like this one from readers working at not particularly satisfying jobs.  This one came with the subject line: Wanted:

My passions really lie in health and wellness, improving the food industry, and ensuring everyone has equal access to healthy, sustainable foods, and an understanding of nutrition and how to be healthy….I’ve read your book What To Eat, and am currently reading Food Politics…As I also want a career that involves educating people about what they are putting in their bodies, and the complexities of the industry, I would really appreciate any advice you can offer with regards to graduate programs to look into, steps I should be taking, career paths to consider, etc. I am happy to answer any questions you have about my interests or experiences if that’s helpful.

Here’s what I said:

Hi.  I don’t know any shortcuts.  If you want to be treated like an expert, you have to be an expert.  If you want to talk to people about food, learn as much about food, nutrition, physiology, and human behavior as you can.  If you want to talk about the food industry, this too will take work–and lots of time, if you want to do this well.  You need to figure out where you want to fit into the current system.  Do you want personal clients?  To work for institutions?  To write?  To work with community groups?  To teach?  If so, at what level?  One way to do this is to go online and look at lots of agriculture, food, nutrition, public health, and public policy graduate programs.  Lots.  You will soon figure out which ones sound the most like what you are looking for.  Pick the one that feels like the most fun, and go for it!  Time will pass.  Knowledge will accumulate.  Expertise will come.  Courage!

 

 

 

 

 

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