Digest – Features: A game of chicken, school snacks showdown, Romanian rituals

starLocal food needs local infrastructure: Burt's Hilltop Poultry, a family-run custom and organic poultry processor in Utica, Minnesota, is closing down. If no one buys it, say local farmers, its passing will damage the local food network, drive up poultry prices, and push small organic farms out of business. (Worthington Daily Globe/AP)

No Child Left (with a Big) Behind: Those who want to get junk food out of schools' vending machines and snack bars have made a Faustian bargain with the food and beverage industry to create new standards, possibly to be legislated via the Farm Bill, that will still allow diet soda, chocolate milk (low fat!), and Gatorade. (New York Times)

starPigheaded in Romania: In an unusually playful story, The Economist illuminates how the EU's animal-welfare rules may stop Romanians from slaughtering pigs for Christmas in their backyards, a tradition that "survived even the dark, kill-joy years of communism." Romania's 4.5 million farms and smallholdings account for almost a third of all the farm holdings in the EU. (Thanks Dr. Vino!)

India enters the supermarket era: Fascinating story about how Metro, the world's fourth-largest food retailer, is trying to build a supermarket chain in India. Like Wal-Mart, it must figure out how to deal with produce transported in unrefrigerated trucks on India's rough roads with minimal handling knowledge. (Wall Street Journal - free)

Diet for an exploding planet: Anna Lappé is in China, observing an organic food mission. The article's subtitle says she observes a ray of hope through the clouds of smog, but we're less skilled at creative visualization. (Common Ground)

A vine how-do-you-do: Do organic wines, i.e. those without added sulfites, suck? Some say yes, others say it's silly to demonize sulfites. (Salon)

Gee, when you put it that way…: A new survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation in conjunction with Oklahoma State University found that Americans aren't all that concerned about farm-animal welfare. Thanks to what one researcher called an "innovative survey question," consumers said the suffering of one human equaled that of 11,500 farm animals. And while only 18% of consumers agreed with the statement "housing pregnant sows in crates is humane," 45% agreed with this one — "housing pregnant sows in crates for their protection from other hogs is humane." (Meatingplace.com; free registration required)

Getting acquainted before opening your mouth: Learning to eat local in upstate New York. (New York Times)

Beauty that's only skin deep: When given a choice between organically grown apples with surface blemishes or conventionally grown apples, consumers prefer the latter because they "look better," even if they know the advantage is only cosmetic. (ScienceDaily)

Eating local in the dark days: A series of new monthly winter markets will be held in Montpelier to satisfy Vermonters' year-round appetite for farm-fresh foods. (Times Argus Online)

E tu, Bruce?: A farmer writes caustically about another, Bruce, who charges what he thinks are extravagant prices for his produce, such as $3 pound per eggplant: "Picking the pockets of the rich is a fine old tradition. It can seem almost an act of kindness. Many of his customers use price as a surrogate for value." There's no mention of what it costs either of them to grow the eggplant — shouldn't that be more important than which price feels right? (Culinate)

We're big Down Under: In a mystifying yet obviously pleasing turn of events, Australian newspapers have latched on to our terms Ethicurean and SOLE food, applying them to pet food (Sydney Morning-Herald) and to those who shop regularly at their farmers market (The Age).

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