October 29, 2009

Big Ag in the White House

Sigh. I know that he's got a lot on his plate, but some times I wonder WTF the current resident of the White House is thinking. If, during your campaign, you say you will not hire former lobbyists, then, you know what, don't do that, or at least try.

Some back story from the indispensable Tom Philpott here, including this:

President Obama has nominated one of [Big Biotech Ag's] own as the chief agricultural negotiator at the U.S. Trade Office.

To take the post, Islam “Isi” Siddiqui will have to leave his current perch as vice president for agricultural biotechnology and trade at CropLife America, the trade group representing the U.S. agrichemical industry (member list here). Its mission: to hip the public (and the government) to the ““benefits of pesticides and crop-protection chemicals.”

This is the crew that chided Michelle Obama for daring to opt not to use “crop protection” (i.e., toxic pesticides) in the White House Garden. ...

As the Doha round of global trade talks lurches on, Siddiqui’s position will be an important one. Southerm-hemisphere nations like India and Brazil are pushing for lower U.S. crop subsidies, while the U.S. is demanding wide-open markets for U.S. goods—everything from foodstuffs like industrial corn to agrichemicals. Siddiqui can be counted on to push that agenda hard.

So, if this nomination sounds like a bad idea to you, go here please and type in the requisite info.

October 27, 2009

Au Natural Necco?

Now I have to get a pack to see if I can taste the difference...

Necco, short for New England Confectionary Co., cranks out about 4 billion of the roughly quarter-sized wafers each year, packaging them in large rolls (36 wafers) and junior rolls (nine wafers). Beet juice, purple cabbage, cocoa powder and turmeric -- a spice often used in curries -- are some of the natural ingredients in the new wafers, which will be phased in at retail stores before and after Halloween.

October 26, 2009

Scrapin' Up A Few Bits... Policy Style

Serious food issues actually in the news. It's not just health care reform and Jon & Kate. Who knew?

Cracker Jacks, which I'll admit I enjoy, would be hard to characterize as a nutritionally "smart choice." But that didn't stop Frito Lay from smacking a "Smart Choice" label on it, as part of the larger, snack-food industry backed Smart Choices Program. [UPDATE: Per a note from a Cathy, who purports to be a Frito Lay employee, Cracker Jack was not included in the Smart Choices program. My bad. And, more importantly, the Associated Press's bad. Which, in turn, means the bad of about a gazillion news outlets, including little ones like the Washington Post, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal...] I guess it's decisions like the Cracker Jack's Froot Loops one that led to the program's voluntary termination.

Industry leaders launched the program this year to highlight foods that meet certain nutritional standards with a green label on package fronts.

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that such programs may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods, and it told manufacturers it will crack down on inaccurate labeling. It did not criticize specific products or label programs or give a timeline for enforcement.

Froot Loops were also considered to be a smart choice. 'Nuff said, I guess.

And the Obama administration, despite its many challenges on many fronts, appears to be -- with an extra emphasis on "appears" -- getting serious about improving nutrition in schools.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack challenged the nation’s middle schools and high schools on Wednesday to provide healthier meals and more time for exercise and physical activity for their students.

My understanding is that schools often have their hands tied as to what they can serve, where they can procure the food they serve, and, of course, having the kitchen staff who can do anything more than reheat frozen food items.

I mean, don't get me wrong, the "taco in a bag" on the menu at my son's elementary school sounds great. His description is that it's taco meat in a bag with tortilla chips and some cheese. Also called nachos, I suppose. And I would suspect made with the finest factory-farm ground beef -- "slaughterhouse trimmings and mash-like product" and all.

In other words, the very definition of nowhere to go but up.

And speaking of healthy school lunches, Baltimore City schools have implemented "meatless Mondays." ABC News covered it the other evening. And the Center for a Livable Future puts the kaibosh (sp?) on questions about whether these meatless meals are depriving children of much-needed protein.

The United States is among the very few wealthy nations in the world where people derive the majority of their dietary protein from animal sources. The global average is 30% of dietary protein from animal sources, including dairy and eggs, and 70% from grains, vegetables, and fruit.

If Mr. Riter had bothered to contact the Baltimore City Schools he would have found that each meat-free meal contains more than the amount of protein required by the USDA. My guess is that Mr. Riter jumped to his mistaken conclusion after reading misleading quotes from a meat lobby organization, or he really needs to brush up on his basic biochemistry.

October 22, 2009

Gorilla + Drums = ?????

You'll have to wait to see. It's worth it.

A big hat-tip to NPR's Marketplace, which tipped me off to this old commercial, which, BTW, increased sales of Cadbury products in the UK (possibly Europe?) by 10%.

October 16, 2009


Made an Asian-style soup with curry paste, ginger, lemongrass, lime juice, etc. earlier in the week. It was quite good. At the end of the week, still had some of the ingredients in the fridge.

Which brings me to my point. I've been doing some intense weight training and, along with it, increasing my intake of protein and fiber, among other things, which can leave me with quite a bit of stomach upset.

So today, with said stomach upset in full force, I made a ginger-lemongrass tea. Very simple:

Boiled enough water for a single large mug. When it reached a boil, removed it from the heat and added about 2 tablespoons worth of quarter-inch sliced ginger and a two-inch long segment of lemongrass that had been smashed with the side of a knife.

Let the "tea" sit for about 10 minutes, pour into a mug, add a little honey, stir, and drink.

Within the hour my stomach felt much better. Whether this was due to the tea is really not important, because it was delicious.

October 9, 2009

Pollan Talks Shop w/ Farmers, Jamie O. in the NYT

This is from NPR's "Talk of the Nation."

I'll have to listen to the entire thing soon. Got about halfway through. Really good stuff.

Also, Jamie Oliver's been doing a series of shows about food in America, for the BBC I believe. This lengthy feature about it will also have to be weekend reading.

October 8, 2009

Broken Record Post: NY Times & Beef Safety

The hordes of LBoN readers (snicker, snicker) are familiar with the coverage this blog has given to the safety of one of our country's favorite foods, beef.

As was pointed out on a science journalism blog, just when you thought this territory had been well covered -- that is, that it has been fairly well established that there are some serious problems with beef safety, etc. -- the New York Times' Michael Moss one-ups everybody and rips off this doozy in last Sunday's paper.

It leads with the story of Stephanie Smith, who can no longer walk due to an infection with E. coli that she got from a hamburger. It turns out, Mr. Moss reports, that ground beef, whether it's in a nicely packaged mound or frozen pre-made patties, isn't necessarily always what you think it is...

Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

I particularly like that ammonia bit at the end. "Would you like fries with that? Oh, and we're running a special extra-value meal for burgers with extra ammonia. It's a real bargain, I tell you."

So, as I did once before, I'd like to come back to a letter to the editor (scroll down a bit) that came in reply to my op-ed on the subject of beef safety published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. The LTE came from Mr. William R. Henning, the Emeritus Professor of Animal and Food Science at Penn State University.

Penn State has come under criticism from some in the sustainable ag community because of its cozy relationship with the corporations that make up big ag. They have this one professor, Terry Etherton, who apparently believes that anybody who doesn't think pumping cows full of hormones is the be-all end-all of "progress" is anti-science and anti-agriculture. Nice, I know.

Keep that in mind when you read this bit from Mr. Henning's LTE: [NOTE: From this point forward, all bolded text is mine for emphasis]

I'm confident we have a very safe and affordable supply of this important protein. Strict and numerous government regulations along with strong industry leadership protect the safety of our beef.

And then a little later on in the LTE:

For example, each of the 100 million animals that enter the human food supply is closely inspected by veterinarians and trained inspectors. And the inspection system continues throughout the entire process, including careful examination of both raw and fully cooked products.

I tried to wrap my head around how 100 million animals could possibly be closely inspected, even if there was a fully stocked army of inspectors, which published reports have indicated there is not.

In any case, compare the LTE claims with this from the Times' article:

The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.

Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.

It's almost as if Mr. Moss and Mr. Henning are talking about two entirely different worlds, no? In any case, the article apparently caused enough of a ruckus to prompt a response from the Department of Agriculture, from Sec. Vilsack himself no less.

He talks about additional inspections, new guidelines, better record keeping. But something seemed to be missing: The fact that something can be labeled as ground beef and yet really be "a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin."

Anyone else find that unnerving? Perhaps the "strong industry leadership" touted by Mr. Henning from our state's largest (only?) land-grant university will address that?

Right, right. Dumb question.

UPDATE: Speaking of Big Ag influence on land-grant universities, The Ethicurean provides a primo example, this time involving Michael Pollan.

October 1, 2009

H20 & Manure

Otherwise known as


and ...