Tag Archives: childhood obesity

Bloomberg’s In the Right on Soda Restrictions

8 Jun

Well, I never saw this day coming. I found an issue on which I disagree with Jon Stewart.

I know! But before you throw anything at me, check out his take on NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s recent decision to ban the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz.

“It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect!” Stewart joked.

Stewart (and, ok, all of the other critics here) is incorrect in terms of the probable results, and off point in terms of the underlying value of the ban.

First, let’s address the fundamental misconception that this is actually a real ban. By banning the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz., Bloomberg is actually in no way restricting your right to drink your nine cans of Mountain Dew a day — he’s just making sure you are buying them one at a time. By making it more difficult to obtain the same amount, the hope is that basic levels of human consciousness kick in, and people may start to limit the intake in which they otherwise blindly participate.

Second, evidence predicting the “probable lack of results” doesn’t actually exist, because bans like his have not been widely enacted. But the evidence available does suggest that bans and restrictions work — indeed, that they might be the only thing that does to restrict consumption.

In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Kelly D. Brownell, a professor at Yale, and Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote that “for each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child’s becoming obese increases by 60 percent.” Sugary beverages are now the number one source of calories for most Americans, making up about 10% of the caloric intake of children and teenagers. These increased calories lead to record-high rates of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

So, the increased consumption of sugary beverages does likely lead to increased obesity and other health risks. And what’s more, a Yale study of soda in public schools and private institutions found that for every 10% increase in price, consumption of soda dropped by 7.8%, suggesting that deterrents to purchasing sugary beverages actually does help reduce consumption.

You won’t find me arguing that decreasing our consumption of soda is the only thing that’s going to reverse the American obesity crisis. But it sure as hell isn’t going to hurt.

So shall we move on to the accusation of Draconian government overreaching?

Mark Bittman’s column this week addresses the oft-repeated criticism of the nanny state and infringements on civil liberties by reminding us the myriad ways in which we, as a society, accept government restrictions on individual freedoms when they are deemed in the best interest of society as a whole. Smokers may not like smoking bans, and drinks may not like alcohol restrictions — but we deal. Because we all know that it’s bad for kids to breathe second-hand smoke and get hit by drunk drivers.

The ridiculous overburdening of the American food system with sugary and fatty foods is the same thing. Bittman calls it the tobacco of the 21st century, and he’s right (as we’ve discussed with regard to marketing towards children here). Americans consume more than 50 gallons of soda per person per year, and obesity costs the nation’s healthcare system upwards of $147 billion a year.

This is not a coincidence. So while a restriction like the one in New York might not single-handedly solve the issue, and while conservatives (or liberal comedians) might like to accuse this of government overreaching, in (I bet as little as) five years time, we will see this as a logical step, something we can’t imagine ever existing, like smoking on airplanes.

How Far Should Food Industry Regulation Go?

7 Feb

For this week’s dialogue post, I’ve found a recent and particularly controversy-inspiring editorial from Raj Patel, writing in this case for The Atlantic. Patel makes the case we’ve heard before paralleling the food industry with the alcohol and tobacco industries to argue for the regulation of junk foods, but he goes one step further and wonders whether there isn’t a case for fully abolishing the food industry as we know it. If you can make the argument for tobacco, Patel says, food is close behind.

First up for conversation of course, is the validity of a parallel between tobacco and big food, which Patel supports with mounting evidence of the neurological addictive properties of sugar. A study released last week in the journal Nature provides the strongest case yet for significant and severe health consequences from sugar. The authors of the study advocate alcohol-like regulations as a result of their findings.

Second comes the matter for debate of whether tobacco and sugar are marketed in parallel ways. That is, do we have more of a choice when it comes to junk food than tobacco? I’ve discussed in a previous post the resemblances between old-school tobacco marketing towards children, and the food industry’s strategies, and Patel elaborates on this in the editorial. Recent evidence has demonstrated the overly-sugary properties of the foods marketed most heavily towards children.

Third, and finally, we have to ask ourselves whether moderate regulations are not sufficient to counter any of those dangers. We’ve explored here before individual municipal initiatives like the San Francisco Happy Meal toy ban, and cities across the country have tried similar sin-tax approaches to restricting the sale of soda, for example.

Of course, small government proponents aren’t fan of that idea, and economic research suggests the tax might best be targeted towards the producer, rather than the consumer, of the problem product.

For Patel, all of this points in one direction:

The breadth of products controlled by the food industry — amply toxic and less so — is itself a symptom of a deeper problem that has public health symptoms, but a political economic cause. The food industry is an oligopoly that has transformed not only what we eat but how we eat it, and what we think of food.

and thus, we could make a case for completely upending the system as we know it.

What do you think? Do we need complete, from-the-ground up reform, or should we try moderate regulation first (or at all)? Which, if any, of these individual claims would you dispute, or provide an alternate answer for? Leave a comment and join in our conversation!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week

3 Feb

Quite a variety of happenings in the world of food this week.

The Good

An illuminating new report out by the cooking & nutrition charity Share Our Strength provides concrete evidence that low-income families do cook at home more often than they eat fast food, and would like to be able to do so even more. I like Marion Nestle’s coverage, as she’s not afraid to nod towards some of the corporate influence the report contains. Good news, nonetheless.

Colorado is considering a state-wide ban on trans-fats in school lunch programs. Colorado is also, interestingly, the least-obese state in the nation (you can’t really say “thinnest” in a country where obesity is over 30% across the board). Coincidence?

In more school lunch reform news, the USDA announced this week its new rules (yes, actual rules here) that will increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables, and eliminate some meat requirements in its school lunch program. As Mark Bittman says, imperfect as the new rules may be, 32 million kids are about to start eating better.

Jane Black has a nice piece in The Washington Post discussing the rise in flexible CSA options. While I think her editorial brushes off the consumer benefits of a regular CSA too dismissively, I’ve loved my past flexible CSAs for the access they provided someone who couldn’t afford a full share.

The Bad

This article isn’t bad so much as slightly annoying. A new study out of the Washington State University purports to help reform the beef industry’s image by claiming cattle ranches are significantly more environmentally-friendly than thirty years ago. File under — yes, and…?

I mentioned one lawsuit Monsanto is currently facing. Here is another! A class-action case that claims the company spread toxic substances all over a town in West Virginia in the course of producing a chemical component of Agent Orange. The toxic substances listed are mainly dioxins, which have been linked to cancer.

and the (very) Ugly

The Humane Society of the United States (which has, in the last few years, done a really impressive job ramping up its advocacy of livestock animals along with homeless pets) released a new undercover video documenting standard pork industry practice for raising pigs.

Graphic images included.

Tom Philpott’s analysis cuts to the core:

The remarkable thing…is how banal it is. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model.

The video even got NYTimes sustainability blogger Andrew Revkin interested. He’s got a response from the Oklahoma Pork Council (which suggests that images were “taken out of context,” leaving me to ask — is there a context in which these practices are acceptable?) and takes the opportunity to wonder if this might continue to make the case for test-tube meat. Not if the omnivores here on We*Meat*Again have anything to say about it, right?

Happy Weekend, All!

 

Links Roundup & Food Rules Giveaway Winner!

27 Jan

First, your weekly dose of links from around the world of food…

Gary Hirshberg, CEO of organic pioneers Stonyfield Yogurt, announced this week he will be stepping down from that position to take full part in the new Just Label It! campaign to promote GMO-awareness.

On Mother Jones, Tom Philpott has two great articles detailing some of the momentous GMO-related announcements the USDA tried to sneak in before the new year (along with the earlier-reported cave on antibiotic regulation). One on how Dow Chemical is teaming up with Monsanto here, and another on Monsanto’s new GM-corn here. You can read the original USDA announcements here.

This one’s not current, but I just found it this week, and thought I’d share: Best Colleges Online has a list of the 10 Most Impressive Farm to School programs.

And along those lines, CBS This Morning had a great segment on the notion of “the nanny state” and the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. Watch the whole segment for the amazing Chef Jose Andres and his eloquent, concise explanation of why the answer is yes, yes they should.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The winner of We*Meat*Again’s first-ever giveaway, for a brand new copy of the illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules!

Our winner is #5: John!

When asked what his favorite food rule is, John wrote:

Buy local, fresh, *often*. Maybe daily.

A problem with buying real food — especially local organic food — can be the price, and the fact that the food goes bad in the fridge after a few days and you end up throwing half of it out. Well. If you can find a convenient place, especially on your way to/from work/school/whatever, just plan for the night’s meal en route and buy what you need for that day, that day. Making daily stops at the local grocer or co-op can be much more cost-effective than trying to work too far ahead, when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.

Of course, We*Meat*Again LOVES John’s take on the food rules — words for us all to live by! Congratulations, John! I’ll be in touch regarding details of delivery soon.

In all seriousness, though, the giveaway was to celebrate the recent blog milestone of 10,000 site visits. I’m so thrilled and humbled that this little blog is worth that much attention. When I started it last May, I had no idea we’d be here — and I have all you to thank. So thank you for being a part of our We*Meat*Again community, come back often, and as always, let me know what you’re thinking, what you’re wondering, or what you’d like to see more of!

Are Corn Syrup and Corn Sugar Really the Same?

26 Jan

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times did a year-end post called “Notes from a Blogging Discomfort Zone.” Here’s what he meant:

Many blogs try to create a comfort zone where the like-minded — whether liberal or libertarian — can bond and bolster each others’ spirits.

Dot Earth will always be more a discomfort zone.

Learning should not always be comfortable, particularly when the issues at hand — like figuring out the mix of innovation and regulation that can best limit environmental risks — are complex and contain no simple answers.

Reading his post, I realized how much I truly want We*Meat*Again to be a place of learning, and how often I am guilty of falling into the “preaching to the choir” tone here. I’d like to try and change this. Now, I’m a pretty opinionated person, and when I have an opinion, I’ve worked hard to figure it out and support it with the best available information. So the opinions aren’t going away, that’s for sure. But there’s no reason people here should feel afraid about asking questions, needing clarification, or challenging anything I’ve said.

I thought I would inaugurate this new mode (or try to) with a post explaining something I’ve let go unstated here too long: the issue of corn syrup. I know I’ve railed against the corn industry, and high fructose corn syrup, but I don’t know that I’ve taken the time to explain why I believe it to be problematic.

I’ll let links and information do most of the talking, but feel free to ask if you’d like anything explained rather than reading the detailed study.

You may have seen the Corn Refiner’s Association’s new national ad campaign trying to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar. If not, check out a sample spot below, or their websites cornsugar.com and sweetsurprise.com

 

First off, it’s important to realize that corn syrup is, chemically, not corn sugar. Sugar is a result of direct extraction, whereas syrup is produced as a result of refining. The FDA has actually asked the Corn Refiner’s Association to stop using the term as intentionally misleading, but has no direct power to regulate the false advertising.

One of the claims the commercial makes is that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference.” Only beginning research exists on this, and it’s controversial, but the earliest studies on rats suggest that there may be a correlation between corn syrup in particular, and weight gain. However, the commercials are actually relying on the findings of this lit review study, which conclude that almost no data exist on the subject. So the truth is we don’t have a significant biological understanding of whether or not a difference exists. This is sort of like the distinction between being found not guilty in a court of law and being innocent.

Setting aside then, the reality that we can’t make a claim about different physiological impacts, let’s move on to the real issue. No one who objects to high fructose corn syrup is simply suggesting that if we just replaced all our corn syrup with cane sugar, we’d be just fine. The real issue here is that we consume too much corn syrup. The process by which corn syrup is refined (and the amount of federal subsidies spent on corn production) make this sweetener unbelievably inexpensive. So inexpensive we’ve been adding it to things that don’t need sweetening, simply to use it up.

The impact of this has been a sharp increase in the total amount of sweetener consumed by Americans, even as the amount of table sugar consumed decreases. Myriad studies exist to support the connection between an increase in sweeteners and an increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, etc.

The commentary on that last study? Note that one of the authors is Dr. Barry Popkin, of the University of North Carolina. He’s quoted as an expert on cornsugar.com — a quote taken from that commentary. I think if you look at the quote on the website and the title of the linked essay here, you can see that the Corn Refiner’s Association has taken his remark out of context to make their point.

Do those sound like the actions of an industry being open and honest with their consumers?

What questions do you have about high fructose corn syrup, the corn industry in general or  about the connections between diet and obesity issues?  What other issues would you like to see challenged, clarified, or opened for discussion here on We*Meat*Again? Leave a comment or drop me an email and let me know!

And stay tuned for tomorrow’s link roundup post, when I will announce the winner of We*Meat*Again’s first giveaway!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week (1/19)

20 Jan

Some news from around the world of food this week…

Many of you may have already heard that Paula Deen has (SHOCKINGLY) revealed she has Type II Diabetes. Now, my little sister has been insulin-dependent with Type I Diabetes since just after her ninth birthday, so I will refrain from unleashing my vitriol at obesity-inflicted Type II Diabetes here. But here are some interesting observations about the Deen situation: how conveniently the announcement coincides with (rather than a change of heart or cooking style) Deen’s contract to shill for a new (and dubious) medication, and the mounting evidence correlating meat-eating habits with diabetes.

On a more creative note, my awesome writer-friend Amy Weldon has a really interesting essay up on her blog exploring the connections between food and Southern femininity.

The “Just Label It!” campaign against unknown genetically modified ingredients in our foods officially launched this week with a new video by Robert Kenner (director of Food, Inc.), and Ecocentric has a good blog post covering the basics of GMOs and the labeling campaign for those who want more information.

This is a bit of a food tangent, but some may have heard that Newt Gingrich is gaining ground in South Carolina with a new ad calling President Obama the “food stamp” president (accusing him of putting more people on food stamps — not because the economy has tanked — but because he just looooves government handouts to poor people, is my read). This reminds me of my recent post taking down Rick Santorum for similarly offensive racial/food political slurs.

The Daily Meal released its annual list of the 50 Most Powerful People in Food. If you click through from the bottom up, you’ll spend the first half cheering at the familiar food advocate faces (Bittman! Bourdain! Allen! Mahler!) and then notice a very distinct shift into the corporate world. Here’s hoping 2012 is the year the balance starts to shift

In good news along that front: Food Corps is open for applications for its next cycle, and is expanding this year after a successful pilot program. They need more people in more states, so if you’re interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, nutrition, education, cooking, gardening or advocacy, this is a great way to — literally — get your hands dirty.

Now before you head off for the weekend, make sure to stop by last week’s post and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win a copy of the new, illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, as We*Meat*Again celebrates our 10,000th site visit!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week 12/15

16 Dec

I owe all you We*Meat*Again readers an apology. In the whirlwind of new job, new place and new revisions on the book that has been this semester, and especially the last month or so, my blogging performance has been spotty. As I head into winter “break” (during which I have to plan three new classes for spring semester and continue said revisions) I promise to focus on quality, even if that means a solid, consistent three posts a week instead of five short, fragmented ones.

If you haven’t noticed a change in the blog, well, then, nevermind.

The first things I want to shape up are my sadly out-of-date “What I’m Reading” page, which I will tackle this weekend, and to get into a more consistent rhythm with the end of the week links roundup posts. There is a lot of great writing out there on food, and when I miss a links post, you all miss a lot, too.

So here are some things worth checking out between/instead of holiday shopping this weekend.

A cool NPR feature on an increasing focus on the local in America — while not exclusively a food-related story, I think the food movement deserves a lion’s share of credit for re-popularizing small, local businesses.

Related: a reminder from the USDA blog that many farmers’ markets are still open throughout the winter (maybe even at a different/indoor location) so check your local listings.

In rabble-rouser news, AlterNet has good coverage of the food movement on Occupy Wall Street that I wrote about earlier this week. Barry Estabrook’s (always) gorgeous prose in the latest Gastronomica describes some of the ecological innovations of the San Joaquin Valley.

And in rabbles that need rousing news, Perennial Plate continues its online documentary series with a subtle, powerful photo essay of tomato workers in Florida.

Food Safety News’ Michele Simon writes on Grist in response to the First Lady’s recent decision to shift the “Let’s Move” campaign focus back onto exercise and away from eating habits (a decision I personally feel is largely motivated by politics–rather than engage in a national conversation, the Obama administration wants to shy away from accusations of becoming a “nanny state” during an election cycle).

This is particularly relevant in light of recent findings detailing just how cozy the national school lunch program is with the food processing industry, and the serious health consequences this relationship is having on our children. I’m ALL for increased activity in youth, but to very pointedly ignore diet in favor of exercise only is disingenuous.

Inequality in Our Food System

12 Dec

A few events, some louder than others this week got me thinking about just how unequal our current food system is. The protestors on Wall Street are angry because income disparity leads to a disparity in political representation and access to education, improvement, etc. The food system, as it currently exists in this country, has the same results. The poor stay poor (and less healthy), and the small farms fail, so that the large corporate farms may survive.

In fact, the first event this weekend that reminded me of the parallels between food and finance was the first major gathering of farmers at Occupy Wall Street. Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Trader’s Organization, spoke to The New York Times last week about why he’d be making the journey from Maine to join the protests:

He said farm gate prices — wholesale prices for farm products, excluding transportation — were the lowest he had ever seen. “And the price of food in supermarkets is higher than it’s ever been. So, farmers are hanging on by their fingertips, and consumers are paying through the nose.”

“The money that gets made in between,” he continued, “is going to companies, and the government isn’t doing anything about it.

“And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”

*

Gerritsen’s quote is so valuable in that it reminds us that the current system of wholesale food distribution harms both producers and consumers. Just as big finance is constructed to continually insulate those in positions of power, to reward and encourage their risk-taking on the backs of a working class who suffers when these high-stakes maneuvers fail, so too is the food systm constructed to encourage consolidation and cheap growing methods that cause higher prices for less healthful foods.

And the people suffering most are the consumers with the least.

*

The second event was much more quiet, in terms of news coverage anyway, and much more disturbing. After a seven-hour stand-off last week, a woman in Texas shot her two children, and then herself, in the head. The reason? She was at the end of her rope, having repeatedly been denied food stamps by the state.

She and her children bathed in hoses outside of their trailer park. She begged at the back doors of restaurants for their food waste scraps. But her child support payments were greater than her expenses, so she was deemed able to care for her children without assistance.

Clearly, this was not the case.

*

Last Monday, at a campaign event in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum promised to significantly reduce federal funding for food stamps, citing the nation’s obesity crisis as evidence that the program was being fradulently misused.

If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?” Santorum asked.

I had to re-read the last part of the sentence a few times to fully understand what it meant.

Set aside for the moment the complete lack of understanding of the roots of the obesity crisis (a significant increase in the consumption of certain types of foods, such as refined sweeteners combined with a sharp increase in the prices of whole foods due to the above mentioned consolidations) that this quote shows. Set aside for the moment the reality that SNAP has actually been proven to help grow the economy by protecting the poorest consumers.

I think it’s important to take a minute to address what Santorum meant by “among the people who we say have a hunger program.”

Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m pretty sure what he’s saying there is that poor minorities tend to be those receiving federal nutrition assistance, and also tend to have the highest rates of obesity. I think what he’s saying is, why do black people need food stamps when they are already so fat?

*

Santorum isn’t wrong. According to the most recent data, adult obesity rates for Blacks and Latin@s were higher than for Whites in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Why? Do we believe, as Rick Santorum seems to, that this is because black and Latin@ people eat more? Are lazier?

Or could it be this: 35.3 percent of adults earning less than $15,000 per year were obese compared with 24.5 percent of adults earning $50,000 or more per year.

Could it be that we need food assistance from the federal government not in spite of increased obesity rates among the poorest, but because of those rates?

Could it be that our government’s food system, as its finance system, rewards the lowest-brow, cheapest, poorest-quality investment, and that the customers for those shoddy investments — in this case, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and soda — are the least fortunate among us?

That those who have the least choice suffer the most loss.

*

Internet comments on stories about the Texas family are too cruel to replicate, but include standard lines about the selfishness, or laziness, or incompetance of a woman who would turn to such desperate (and indefensible) measures when faced with an 18-page form and proof of income and employment.

But of nearly $262 billion in farm subsidies paid by the federal government over the last fifteen years, the farms with the highest top ten percent in annual incomes raked in more than 74%. $165.9 billion. And no one is calling them lazy.

Links Roundup & Vindication

2 Dec

A few of this week’s most disturbing food news stories center around issues of food relating to children. Now, I’m not a parent, so I try my best to report on these issues without offering judgment. But this year (on Jan. 14th and then again on Nov. 16th) I became an honorary auntie to a couple of brand new bundles of hope and I already feel a fierce protectiveness towards them. The idea that kiddos in this country might be drinking apple juice laced with inorganic arsenic (a known carcinogen) makes me feel pretty fiesty.

Remember the San Francisco city law mandating nutritional standards for any fast food meals marketed towards children with a toy packaged in? Well, it officially goes into effect this Monday, and McDonald’s has found a way to keep the food, keep the toy, and not suffer a loss at all — just offer the toy as an option for an extra ten cents on the meal. Not really in keeping with the spirit of the law, I think…

We now live in a world where some children are so obese that they are being removed from their parents care on the grounds of neglect. So maybe the food industry system could work a little harder to keep kids healthy, too.

Now for some more hopeful news. The Iowa State (Go Cyclones!) Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture released last week its latest research on the production efficiency of organic versus conventional agriculture and the news is good across the board.

Jocelyn Zuckerman (former Gourmet editor) has a beautiful essay at OnEarth profiling innovative, sustainable farmers in high-density, high-poverty urban areas — in Africa. That’s like the trifecta of inspiration.

And finally, a little note of personal enjoyment. Last week, I made an argument on the blog that I couldn’t make to my composition class, comparing Joe Camel and the Trix Rabbit (among other processed food company icons). This week, I received in the mail a free copy of the newest edition of a composition text I’ve used before, with an anthology of readings included in the text. The readings are organized by subject, and this is one of the ‘controversial issues’ explored:

Welcome to 2011, folks — it’s the new food order. We’ve made it into the rhetoric texts. Happy Weekend, everyone!

The Weird & Wacky World of Food Marketing & Policy

29 Nov

Sometimes, as a composition teacher, I get very sad at the world.

Sometimes I have to walk around in a world where many people speak, think and behave in the very ways I try to convince my students not to. They use flawed illogical assumptions. They repeat ideas without verification or citation. They trust a single source without questioning its authority or credibility. And they build their own knowledge base with this rotting foundation.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of food policy.

This is a world where it makes more sense for the government to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on direct subsidy payments to farmers to grow corn we don’t need, and allow corporations to profit by injecting this corn into every known food substance to the detriment of the nation’s health — rather than  to change the policy.

This is a world so upside-down-backwards-on-its-head that very little makes sense any more. And I think of this whenever I try to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t spent as much time in this world as I have, whenever people ask questions like “Why is it such a big deal for my vegetables to come from Mexico?” or “But isn’t corn-fed beef the best kind, you know, according to the USDA?

So I have a brief policy roundup for you all today, to use as fodder whenever you are up against opposition that’s so dramatically different from your world view you don’t know where to start. Because we have to start. It’s up to all of us who care about food to have those tough conversations, and to have them with compassion, not condescension. The education has to begin by explaining just how weird food policy becomes when Big Ag marketing strategies and lobbying budgets get involved:

  • The Freakonomics blog calls a relocalized food system “inefficient” in comparison to modern industrial agricultural systems. Nevermind that industrial ag grows corn that becomes steak or salad dressing emulsifier or bread-browning agent or gas that costs more to make than its worth, whereas locally grown produce becomes, you know, food. That would be inefficient. (Anne Lappe has a great take-down of the Freakonomics post featuring actual economics, here.)
  • Congress failed to pass new regulations mandating certain amounts of certain types of actual vegetables in school lunches (considering the existing standards adhere to federal dietary suggestions from 1989, and include items you may have seen in headlines like the tomato pasta in pizza sauce) in a patently obvious fold to industry pressure. The frozen food industry didn’t want to have to repackage their meals to be “less palatable” to children, so instead our children get to eat whatever the frozen food industry can produce cheap and easy (see above. Corn is a vegetable, right?). This is where all those “Pizza is a vegetable” headlines are coming from.
  • A national marketing strategy document for the innocuously-named “Center for Food Integrity,” (sponsored by, among others, Monsanto and Smithfield) suggests the following for responding to consumer trends towards more sustainable farming methods:

As consumer values change, the food system needs to evaluate and potentially modify current practices and fundamentally change the way it communicates in order to maintain consumer trust.

See the rest of the document yourself to decide whether you think the CFI is looking to modify its practices or just to change communication strategies to make themselves sound more sustainable. See Tom Philpott’s coverage of a Sara Lee rebranding plan for Hillshire Farms to see proof of these communication strategies in action.

My point here is that the modern agricultural industry is an industry. I do not believe everyone who works for Monsanto is evil, nor do I believe that large corporations have no place in a new food system. I don’t think there is a giant, nation-wide conspiracy to force-feed us all corn (well, I kinda do). But industries behave like industries. The job is a CEO is to turn a profit, and he will do this with a billion dollar lobbying budget, campaign financing, public relations and marketing strategists and any other tool at his disposal.

So when we hear information on food policy, even from the federal government, we must trace that information back to its source and run a credibility check. If the author of a marketing memo stands to turn a profit from getting his audience to believe that “corn sugar is just sugar,” perhaps we should find out whether “our body can’t tell the difference” from a medical, rather than a marketing, expert.

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