Exploiting California’s Drought

The San Joaquin Valley in California can be stunningly beautiful: On a visit two weeks ago, I saw billions of pink almond blossoms peaking, with the Sierra Nevada towering over all. It can also be a hideous place, the air choked with microparticles of unpleasant origins (dried cow dung, sprayed chemicals, blowing over-fertilized soil), its cities like Fresno and Bakersfield sprawling incoherently and its small towns suffering from poverty, populated by immigrants from places as near as Baja, Mexico, and as far as Punjab, India.

This year, much of its land is a dull, dusty brown rather than the bright green that’s “normal” here, even if “normal” is more desire than reality. With water, this is the best agricultural land in the world. Without it, not so much.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Food News You Need to Know

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The government’s new nutrition labels — the first in 20 years — will let families know whether their food has added sugars for the first time, and reflect more realistic portion sizes.

Related: New W.H.O. guidelines recommend that sugar make up only 5 percent of your daily calories. That’s 100 calories, which at four calories a gram would be 25 grams of sugar.

This is why we’re unhealthy, Buzzfeed explains in a video. For instance: The average person consumes 19 tablespoons of sugar a day, the maximum recommended amount recommended by the American Heart Association is 6 to 9 teaspoons.

Get the rest of the links here.

Posted in Food Politics

Rethinking Our “Rights” to Dangerous Behaviors

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Making Noise about Antibiotics

Some of you have asked me how best to make your opinions heard about routine use of antibiotics in animals, the subject of my column this week. You could:

* Write your local (or national!) newspaper or call in to your favorite radio show.

* Write your Congressional representative and/or Senators. This site will help you find both email and snail mail addresses in a second. Most have Twitter accounts too.

* To officially contact the Food and Drug Administration on this matter, go to www.regulations.gov and insert docket FDA-2010-N-0155. Or call: 888-INFO-FDA. (Good luck with that.)

* Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a Twitter account: @sebelius. The number for HHS is 877-696-6775.

* Then there’s the White House: @barackobama is not likely to be seen by anyone other than your followers and some Secret Service guy, but why not? The general whitehouse.gov comment form seems to be the best bet. You can also start a petition; someone should.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

What I’m Reading

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One-day labor walkouts were staged at fast-food restaurants in 100 cities Thursday, with workers demanding a living wage of $15 an hour. But it’s not just McDonald’s and Burger King employees who are underpaid: Higher-tier fast-food places also stiff their workers. Maxwell Strachan at the Huffington Post thinks we should be tipping them.

Melinda Moulton, the C.E.O. of a redevelopment company, was one of 200 people to take part in the 3Squares Challenge, during which she lived for a week on just $36 worth of food, or around $1.71 a meal. “I don’t know how people do it,” she said. “I am hungry a lot.” (One can do this, you know, but it takes cooking skills and time.) Meanwhile, a Guardian editorial suggests that instead of sussing out food-stamp fraud, which is minimal, Congress should focus on where the real abuse happens—Wall Street. Love that.

First Al Gore announced he is going vegan—now Jay-Z and Beyoncé are giving it a go for 22 days. (See my column last week.) But if you ask me, say what you mean and mean what you say, Beyoncé, and stop shilling for Pepsi. And also? If you are going to go vegan, maybe stop wearing fox fur.

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Posted in Food Politics

¡Viva México!

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.47.01 PMThanksgiving once marked the beginning of a season of belt-tightening, as fresh food became scarce. Now it launches a fury of gluttony — and it’s not as if we’re restrained at other times. Yet with obesity-associated Type 2 diabetes at record levels, it’s widely agreed that we have to moderate this diet. Which means that, despite corporate intransigence, we have to slow the marketing of profitable, toxic and addictive products masquerading as food.

It’s logical to start with soda and other beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which account for 7 percent of calories in the American diet, and many public health specialists have recommended a steep tax to reduce consumption. Ironically, France, which has a relatively low obesity rate, was the first to initiate a significant soda tax, and it seems to be reducing consumption — but its soda drinking was relatively low to begin with. Now, however, it appears we’re going to be able to judge such a tax, as well as the impact of a tax on junk foods, in a country known for obesity. This new tax is scheduled to be imposed in the new year, not in the supposedly progressive public health bastions of New York or San Francisco (though that city looks set to vote again on a soda tax in 2014), but in a country many Americans view as backward: Mexico.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

On Becoming China’s Farm Team

Look at the $4.7 billion purchase in September of the pork producer Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. — the Chinese firm that counts Goldman Sachs among its backers — from the standpoint of the Chinese. As this century’s economic titan, they had to “take a position” in United States pork. China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion is not only growing rapidly but growing wealthier rapidly, and flattering us by emulating our consumption patterns (for better or worse) while having trouble replicating some our production systems.

China has notorious problems with food safety; urban Chinese consumers distrust the quality and safety of their own food system, and express clear preference for imported food when it is available. What to do when you are the largest pork supplier in China, you have production and quality problems, must meet the ravenous demand for more meat from hundreds of millions of paying consumers, and the international supply is abundant? You buy the world’s largest pork producer and processor, together with that firm’s vaunted supply chain, quality controls, brand value and consumer appeal.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

What We’re Reading Now

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.01.45 AMWith cuts to SNAP, 76 million meals will be off the table for the poorest families in New York City alone. Related: A sobering piece by Ian Frazier in the New Yorker about homelessness in New York, which is higher than it’s been in decades.

Here is Andy Borowitz’s take on the Republicans’ flimsy alternative to Obama’s signature legislation. Meanwhile: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, apologized for the failures of the Affordable Care Act website, and Obama has vowed to fix it. Of course, if certain right-leaning states hadn’t refused to set up their own exchanges, fewer people would have had to rely on the federal site.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

More on Chicken

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 3.45.55 PMIn the wake of the salmonella Heidelberg outbreak in chicken, which I wrote about on Wednesday, here are some updates:

Food safety advocates are demanding to know why there has been no recall of Foster Farms chicken. The U.S.D.A.’s Assistant Administrator for F.S.I.S. Field Operations, Daniel Engeljohn, talks about the current state of the inquiry.

Consumer groups are calling on the U.S.D.A. to strengthen its inspection program to prevent contaminated poultry products from being sold to consumers.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Should You Eat Chicken?

I tell this friend about the latest salmonella outbreak, and she asks me, “Should I stop eating chicken?”

It’s a good question. In recent weeks, salmonella on chicken has officially sickened more than 300 people (the Centers for Disease Control says there are 25 illnesses for every one reported, so maybe 7,500) and hospitalized more than 40 percent of them, in part because antibiotics aren’t working. Industry’s reaction has been predictably disappointing: the chicken from the processors in question — Foster Farms — is still being shipped into the market. Regulators’ responses have been limited: the same chicken in question is still being sold.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics