A Time for Activism

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Countercultures and alternative systems can be nurturing, educational, illuminating, inspiring — and these are not small things — but they do not bring about fundamental change. Food co-ops, for example, make a difference, but they won’t much alter the way Big Food operates. Historically, the route to fixing broken systems goes through struggle, confrontation and even revolution.

Those scenarios are spreading because, as Naomi Klein wrote in The Guardian last week, “[E]veryone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control.” The struggle for positive change is being defined by groups as diverse as the revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt, the strikers in Greece (“Erase the debt and let the rich pay”), the indignados in Spain, the misled but occasionally well-intentioned members of the Tea Party, and certainly those occupying Wall Street (and, in case you missed it, some 1,500 other places, and growing, as of this writing). Now it’s even being embraced by the Democratic leadership.

What we need are more activists who are interested in food than “food activists.” Whether we’re talking about food, politics, healthcare, housing, the environment, or banking, the big question remains the same: How do we bring about fundamental change?

(Read the rest of this column here.)

(Photo: The Whistling Monkey/Flickr)

Posted in Food Politics

Last Week in Food

From the “With friends like these, who needs…etc.” department: Here’s a look inside the American Dietetic Association’s nutrition conference/expo, where you’ll hear all about how processed foods are an important source of nutrients. Argh. And: In an attempt to undermine the FDA’s current efforts to rationalize front-of-package labeling, industry groups have devised a new campaign: change “Nutrition Keys” to “Facts Up Front.” And: Julia Moskin on the newly-formed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a well-funded Big-Ag group that is – incredibly – trying to position itself as an underdog in the current food climate. (Apparently they don’t like the term “Big-Ag,” but when you have $11 million to spend on public relations, and your members include the American Egg Board, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Pork Board, that’s what you are.)

 A 30-year side-by-side study of conventional and organic agriculture concludes that organic is better by every measure. Granted, the study is from the Rodale Institute, which has a vested interest in organic coming out on top, but the numbers are believable.

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Posted in Food Politics

So the F.T.C. calls me up, and they’re like. . .

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A couple of representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, evidently stung by my column last week (in which I called the agency “spineless”), scheduled a phone call to remind me that the F.T.C. doesn’t have the ability to pass legislation that determines how Big Food markets to children.

I knew that. But that doesn’t mean the F.T.C. needs to praise the industry for its ridiculously transparent self-regulation scheme. Here’s Jon Leibowitz, agency chairman, quoted in The Times: “The industry’s uniform standards are a significant advance and exactly the type of initiative the commission had in mind when we started pushing for self-regulation more than five years ago.”

(Read the rest of this post here)

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Food Politics

Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance

Life would be so much easier if we could only set our own guidelines. You could define the average weight as 10 pounds higher than your own and, voilà, no more obesity! You could raise the speed limit to 90 miles per hour and never worry about a ticket. You could call a cholesterol level of 250 “normal” and celebrate with a bag of fried pork rinds. (You could even claim that cutting government spending would increase employment, but that might be going too far.) You could certainly turn junk food into something “healthy.”

That’s what the food industry is doing.

(Read the rest of this article here.)

Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Big Ag’s Big Pal in the Oval Office

Even as a journalist following food and politics, I have trouble keeping up with the revolving door between the Obama administration and the corner offices of huge agrichemical and GMO seed producers like Monsanto and DuPont. The latest announcement to catch me by surprise is that Romona Romero, a DuPont corporate lawyer, has just been nominated by the president to the post of General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So it was great to receive this handy roster from the Organic Consumers Association last week. The list could grow, but here’s the current lineup of Team Big Ag:

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Posted in Food Politics

Bitty’s Book Review: Is Meat for Pussies?

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[I stopped writing book reviews ten years ago, when I angered Marion Cunningham, who I believed to be a flawed goddess who wrote a very flawed book; it’s hard to be honest without angering people. And there’s another intrinsic problem: about half my friends write books, so it’s sometimes tough to be objective. Still; there’s no better way for me to understand the world of food books than to write about it, and I’m starting here. [Why with this book is a good question, but the answer is simply that I found it intriguing.] – mb)

I came to Meat Is for Pussies (John Joseph, Crush Books, $19.50) prejudiced in its favor. I think we eat too much meat; I like in-your-face writing; I think Big Food has too much power; I think our diet needs to change.

Yet do we need a “how-to guide for dudes who want to get fit, kick ass and take names”? What does “take names mean, anyway?” What about chicks, or whatever you call the counterpart of dudes?

Clearly, I’m not the target audience: I’m way too old, I’m not from Brooklyn, and I don’t really know who John Joseph is. But the science here is non-existent, there’s little or no consistency, and it reads like a not-very-well-grounded 200 page rant. Much of it is a well-deserved diatribe against processed foods (in fact there is a section advocating a mostly raw diet), yet there’s a recipe that calls for WestSoy Seitan (brand names abound, by the way), San-J Sweet & Tangy Sauce, Daiya Vegan Gourmet cheddar cheese, and Tofutti Sour Supreme. Who is going to be convinced to change their diet by that? And has Joseph ever read the label of Earth Balance butter substitute, Ener-G Egg Replacer, or Gardein Chick-n Strips, all of which he recommends? How does he define “processed,” one wonders? Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics