What Causes Weight Gain

If I ask you what constitutes “bad” eating, the kind that leads to obesity and a variety of connected diseases, you’re likely to answer, “Salt, fat and sugar.” This trilogy of evil has been drilled into us for decades, yet that’s not an adequate answer.

We don’t know everything about the dietary links to chronic disease, but the best-qualified people argue that real food is more likely to promote health and less likely to cause disease than hyperprocessed food. And we can further refine that message: Minimally processed plants should dominate our diets. (This isn’t just me saying this; the Institute of Medicine and the Department of Agriculture agree.)

And yet we’re in the middle of a public health emergency that isn’t being taken seriously enough. We should make it a national priority to create two new programs, a research program to determine precisely what causes diet-related chronic illnesses (on top of the list is “Just how bad is sugar?”), and a program that will get this single, simple message across: Eat Real Food.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Save our Children!

1. Lunch

Allow me this generalization: Healthy food initiatives threaten profits and are therefore fought or deflected or co-opted at all costs by the producers of hyperprocessed food. This is true even when those costs include producing an increasingly sick population — and a disproportionate number of defenseless children — and an ever-growing portion of our budget spent on paying for diet-related illness. Big Food will continue to pursue profit at the expense of health as long as we let them.

And the relatively honest members of the political right will say that it’s not enough to prevent new legislation; their goal is to roll back or damage existing laws or programs that benefit people.

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Posted in Food Politics

Food News from Around the World and Beyond

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I suppose we count this as progress: A Florida elementary school has agreed to stop its longstanding policy of giving kids Mountain Dew as brain fuel before the state’s most important standardized test.

Taco Bell is launching U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, which will feature a menu of 10 “premium” tacos.

Your web browser is on its way to becoming a Walmart.

A new study suggests that climate change is to blame for the polar vortex, which gave us an extremely dry, warm winter on the West Coast. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet is likely unstoppable. The Obama administration released a study demonstrating that the effects of human-induced climate changeare already being felt in every corner of the United States, which was preceded by a boast the day before about record levels of carbon-fuel production. Huh?

Get the rest of the news here

Posted in Food Politics

An Inconvenient Truth About our Food

“Fed Up” is probably the most important movie to be made since “An Inconvenient Truth,” to which it’s related in a couple of ways.

One of its producers is Laurie David, who also produced “An Inconvenient Truth.” Climate change, diet and agriculture are inexorably intertwined; we can’t tackle climate change without changing industrial agriculture, and we can’t change industrial agriculture without tackling diet.

Like “An Inconvenient Truth,” too, “Fed Up” can be seen as propaganda. (As can “Farmland,” the beautifully shot movie that looks and feels like a Chevy commercial and seems to take as its underlying premise that most Americans mistrust, even hate, farmers. It’s more than a little defensive.)

“Fed Up” says: “Here is a problem, a problem that vested interests have no interest in solving, and a problem that must be dealt with if we’re interested in our survival. It’s something worth fighting about.”

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Posted in Food Politics

Leave “Organic” Out of It

The ever-increasing number of people working to improve the growing, processing, transporting, marketing, distributing and eating of food must think through our messages more thoroughly and get them across more clearly. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I can say that a couple of buzzwords represent issues that are far more nuanced than we often make them appear. These are “organic” and “G.M.O.’s” (genetically modified organisms).

I think we — forward-thinking media, progressives in general, activist farmers, think-tank types, nonprofiteers, everyone who’s battling to create a better food system — often send the wrong message on both of these. If we understand and explain them better it’ll be more difficult for us to be discredited (or, worse, dismissed out of hand), and we’ll have more success moving intelligent comments on these important issues into the mainstream.

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Posted in Food Politics

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