¡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.

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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.

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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

How to Feed the World

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 7.52.48 PMIt’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet on the eve of World Food Day, Oct. 16, the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage. Yet there are other, better options.

Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population.

“Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one. But if it worked that way, surely the rate of hunger in the United States would not be the highest percentage of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than of Britain.

 Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Midsummer Links

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U.S. agriculture and food companies are struggling to attract enough workers, a problem the industry concedes is getting worse.

Twenty-two primary-school children died in India after eating free lunch prepared with oil that was believed to have been stored in an empty insecticide container.

In a setback, the House approved a bill that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards ensuring that hens have room to spread their wings. Related: Yet another study has reinforced the idea that keeping animals in confinement and feeding them antibiotics prophylactically breeds varieties of bacteria that cause disease in humans.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Giving up Tuna? Breathing Is Next

If you’re like most people (including me, up until a month or two ago), you know that tuna and other top-of-the-food-chain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury and that childbirth-age women and nursing mothers, especially, are warned off these fish. What you don’t know, probably (I didn’t), is the mercury’s source, or how it gets in these fish.

Turns out that about three-quarters of it comes from coal-burning power plants; it dissolves in water, where micro-organisms convert it to methylmercury, a bio-available and highly toxic form that builds up in fish. The longer a fish lives, the more mercury builds in its flesh.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

Welfare for the Wealthy

The critically important Farm Bill [1] is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

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Posted in Food Politics

Make Peace With Meat

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.01.16 AM                   I probably eat a third as much meat as I used to and, on the not-rare (three times a week?) occasions that I do indulge, I eat less of it.

I’m reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle two weeks ago; there were about six ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.

The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.

I’m betting that you eat meat more consciously (and less of it) than you once did. The health, environmental and ethical concerns affect the attitudes of almost everyone I encounter, and although our priorities differ, few people I know indiscriminately fill their supermarket carts with shrink-wrapped meat and leave. Not long ago, almost all of us did that.

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Posted in Food Politics, Recipes