Food Politics: Jan. 25, 2011

Only posting one day late.  You’ll see why – it’s a long list.

International Food Politics:

Beddington said the world’s food system was already failing on two counts. “Firstly, it is unsustainable, with resources being used faster than they can be naturally replenished,” he said. “Secondly, a billion people are going hungry with another billion people suffering from ‘hidden hunger’, whilst a billion people are over-consuming. The project has helped to identify a wide range of possible actions that can meet the challenges facing food and farming, both now and in the future.”

Book Review:

In one of the personal vignettes that punctuate “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America,” the food historian and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris takes a trip with her mother to Houmas House, near New Orleans. One of a string of former plantations along Louisiana’s River Road, the estate bears witness to a cruel history. Harris, who is black, speculates aloud that much of the place was built by slaves. The remark draws an unexpected response. “What artistry,” her mother says. “What beauty they created for people who thought we were nothing but goods, not even human beings!”

This observation runs like a golden thread through Harris’s lively if wayward account of how African slaves, thrust into a strange land, carried with them the taste memories, cooking techniques and agricultural practices of their homelands and transformed the way Americans ate.

Domestic Food Politics/Issues:

I do want to note, however, that what Gingrich is trying to pull off is not just old-fashioned Republican-style “leave corporate polluters alooooone!” Don’t get me wrong: Newt wants to remove constraints on polluters! But he knows (unlike his buddies in Congress) that such a baldly retrograde position will not be popular with the public, which actually likes clean air. So he needs some kind of alternative. That’s why he’s proposing to replace the EPA with something called the Environmental Solutions Agency.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, have organized a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.  “Business for Democracy” will stage its first-ever event on the one-year anniversary of the court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. The group opposes the controversial ruling, which allows companies to spend money from their general treasuries on political activities and rolled back a ban in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform that set limits on when the money could be spent.

The Taco Bell roundup:

It looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

But perhaps the biggest engineering triumph of all lies in the dessert menu. Taco Bell does feel the need to include actual pork amid the “Roast Pork Flavor.” Even its inamous “seasoned beef” contains 34 percent beef. Truth-in-advertising attorneys take note: Taco has successfully engineered the strawberries out of the “Strawberry Frutista.” I’m not sure what a frutista is; the word doesn’t exist outside the confines Taco Bell-world. But I know what a strawberry is, and I don’t see even one on this ingredient list.

Also in the fake AND/OR gross food category:

The Walmart roundup:

For anyone who likes food, the news is ambiguous. On one hand, Walmart’s famously efficient distribution system, combined with its matchless market reach, has the power to drive down prices and bring healthy eating options within reach for millions of Americans. On the other hand, advocates of organic foods and good nutrition reasonably worry that in embracing the marketing potential of wholesomeness, Walmart will dilute the meaning of the organic paradigm.

If history is any guide—and history is with us in the kitchen and the market, as Rachel Laudan points out in a Food for Thinkers post—both possibilities are likely to play out in a complex dialectic.

Food Labels Roundup:

Food Safety:

In response to a new federal food safety law and growing consumer interest, vast amounts of new data are being generated about the complicated path that food takes from field to supermarket shelf.  And, increasingly, some of that information is being offered to curious shoppers, who in some stores can wave a smartphone above an apple or orange and learn instantly where it was grown, who grew it and whether it has been recalled. They can even contact the farmer, if they feel moved.

A provision of the federal food safety law passed last year requires that all players in the country’s food supply chain be able to quickly trace from whom they received a food product and to whom they sent it. They’ll have to maintain that information in digital form, creating deep wells of information that, in some cases, consumers could tap into through their computers or cellphones.

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