Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weekend Update

Coke and Pepsi looked like heroes when they agreed to pull high-calorie soft drinks out of the nation's schools to help combat the obesity epidemic. Now activists fear the move was just a gambit to switch the sugar for artificially-sweetened beverages and sports drinks high in sodium.

The latest twist, according to an e-mail I received from Two Angry Moms: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has introduced an amendment to the farm bill that would pre-empt states from enacting standards to keep drinks laced with artificial sweeteners, caffeine, dyes and sodium out of their schools.

According to Dorothy Brayley of the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition, the amendment, while ostensibly limiting sales of such drinks to low-traffic areas of school grounds where students are engaged in sports, would undermine state laws that are even stricter.

In Rhode Island, Brayley writes in the Two Angry Moms missive, "we know that this means artificially sweetened products that have absolutely no nutritive value. We have seen a myriad of products that don't have the calories but that have caffeine and super fortification. Under this law these products such as the artificially sweetened Red Bull among many others will be allowable in all high schools across the nation. This law opens the door for these products, because it has absolutely no caps set for caffeine nor superfortification, nor other additives. The products are simply required to meet a 10 calorie limit."

Here's a good backgrounder on the issues involved.

Pre-empting states has become a favorite strategy of corporate heavies who would just as soon avoid skirmishing with progressive interests here, there and all over the country. They simply get Congress to cut off debate--as well any semblance of community activism--by passing retrograde legislation containing the proviso that states may not trump the federal law.

It grows increasingly apparent that corporate food interests are determined, one way or another, to extract their pound of flesh from the nation's kids.

For those unfamiliar, the two angry moms are film-maker Amy Kalafa and holistic health counselor Susan P. Rubin, who turned their frustrations with school nutrition into a national crusade. And, yes, there is a movie.


I like my burger rare, with a little carbon monoxide. How about you?

Meat packers, hit by a number of recent recalls of tainted beef, are defending a practice of dosing meat with carbon monoxide to keep it looking fresh. Consumer groups contend that keeping meet cosmetically appealing by artificial means encourages consumers to purchase products after their "sell by" dates have lapsed.

Food retailers Giant and Safeway as well as Tyson Foods discontinued gassing meats after the practice was exposed. Target has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission to put a warning label on meats treated with carbon dioxide.

Hormel Chief Executive Jeffrey Ettinger told lawmakers at a House subcommittee hearing, "Consumers are not eating bad product and are not being deceived by this technology."

An official with the USDA's inspection service said the concern over carbon monoxide is "not a priority."

Obviously, if it looks good, eat it. This from the same folks who say e. coli in beef is okay, as long as it's cooked.


Officials in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, think that what consumers don't know about the contents of their milk can't hurt them.

The state's agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, announced a ban, effective Jan. 1, on all milk labels stating that the milk is free of bovine growth hormone. Many consumers would just as soon not serve growth hormones with their children's breakfast cereal, and milk containing bovine growth hormone is banned in many countries. But much of the U.S. dairy industry embraces the hormone because it increases the amount of milk cows produce.

Monsanto, the manufacturer of the hormone (why is this not a surprise?), along with farmers who depend on it, have spent years lobbying federal and state officials trying to outlaw "hormone-free" labeling.

Wolff, in announcing the Pennsylvania ban, said the labeling "confuses" consumers because it implies that milk that does not carry the label must be unsafe.

Wolff's ban would also apply to labels touting "pesticide free" and "antibiotic free."

Sounds perfectly logical, no?


We've been following more and more stories lately about farmers bucking local laws in order to put their products directly into the hands of consumers. One of the products most frequently forced underground is raw milk. Here's an excellent piece in The Nation looking at the renegade farmer phenomenon, written by David E. Gumpert, who follows the raw milk issue closely on his The Complete Patient blog.


New York Times columnist Mark Bittman recently got a spanking from Edible Nation for posting a recipe using monkfish, which, as any engaged seafood cook knows, is on the "avoid" list at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. (Be sure to scroll all the way down when you get to the Edible Nation site.)

Personally, I felt vindicated by Edible Nation's vigilantism on behalf of sea creatures, in as much as I've been known to scold some of my fellow food bloggers on the same grounds. (Bad me! Bad me!)

But trying to parse out which variety of this or that might be suitable for your dinner plate can be a tricky business. With the oceans' fish populations rapidly disappearing, my own take is that the safest approach is to not eat fish at all. Have some squid instead.

So I am happy to recommend a new campaign that urges kids--and parents--to put the brakes on their fish habit. It's called No Fish in My Dish, and you can get the book here.

And what if you are looking at a restaurant menu and forgot to bring the little wallet card that tells you which fish species are okay to order? Check out the latest technology, a text-messaging service that allows the user to download all the info he needs about sustainable seafood while his partner peruses the wine list.


Finally, the latest survey by the USDA shows that nearly one-quarter of all children in 12 different states don't always know where their next meal is coming from. The "food insecurity" survey (didn't we use to call it hunger?) shows that one of the worst affected jurisdictions is right here in the nation's capital--the District of Columbia.

"Food insecurity" goes hand-in-hand with so-called "food deserts," areas where healthy food is not readily available, or where food shopping is done at a corner convenience store because there are no supermarkets in the vicinity.

Here's an interesting map of D.C. (click on the map to enlarge) that overlays income levels with supermarket accessibility. Guess which income level gets the fewest supermarkets...

Bon appetit


Joanna said...

Your weekend news is always thought-provoking ...

This weekend, I feel a certain unattractive smugness at the thought that I make all the burgers that get eaten in this house - but my student son is very short of money (don't feel too sorry for him, he's been spending it on fun rather than textbooks), so is now living on very very cheap burgers, which are, I suppose, laced with carbon monoxide at the very least.

And fish: I agree, SO confusing it's easier to give it up ... mackerel are still plentiful on our side of the Atlantic, and rope-grown farmed mussels are a good bet, because they clean up the ocean as they grow. Also very good eating. Problem - my husband doesn't much like them.

Talk turned over our dinner table this Sunday to China and economics (as it will, as it will) .... some of your past weekend news clips sprang to mind.

All of this is depressing, so better to think of a twist on a new loaf of bread, your young foodie classes ... optimism rules, okay!!

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, you do some pretty adventurous cooking. I keeping promising myself to take up mackerel, but haven't managed yet. There are some fish still plentiful, such as mackerel--the ones people don't like nearly so much. I concur on the mussels. Also clams. Bivalves and smaller finfish that reproduce quickly should be the focus. Alaska also has a sustainable fishery in Halibut.