Digest – Blogs and opinion: Food pound-gallons (?), friending the FDA, another list for Vilsack

Measuring up: We’ve all heard the average number of miles that industrial food travels from farm to fork (1500), but is that the best way to weigh the environmental impact of our consumption choices? NY farmer Bob Comis proposes a conceptual shift to “pound-gallons,” a clunky-sounding idea that might just have some staying power. If we’re serious about reducing our foodprint, says Comis, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions – and start thinking innovatively. (Stony Brook Farm blog; thanks, Bob!)

Pick your poison: The NYC Health Department is targeting sodium, a culprit in strokes and heart attacks, by pressuring processed food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in foods by 40% over ten years. Genius, or a case study in nutritionism, with potentially damaging effects? (Michael Alderman in the NYT)

FDA goes social: The peanut-salmonella thing won’t end, but it isn’t because the FDA isn’t willing to try new technology, at least in the communication department. Got your no-peanuts Facebook badge? (Fat City)

A tax cut we can dig: Ed at The Slow Cook proposes tax breaks for kitchen gardeners as a way to sow the seeds of civic participation and to regrow the economy.  After all, when’s the last time Congress faced down a lobbying group armed with shovels and spading forks? (The Slow Cook)

Blowin’ in the wind: We’ve got enough volatility in the financial system to keep us busy for quite some time – we could do without major volatility in the food system on top of it. IATP president Jim Harkness tells Secretary Vilsack that to get us back on an even keel, he’s going to have to rebuild the whole freaking boat. (Des Moines Register)

11 Responsesto “Digest – Blogs and opinion: Food pound-gallons (?), friending the FDA, another list for Vilsack”

  1. Hmm… I’m not sure I like the idea of the government telling me what to eat. No, let me rephrase that. I do not want the government in my kitchen. If I want to eat salt that’s my business. Yes, some people have a problem with salt. Some people also have a problem with cholesterol. Some with sugar. That doesn’t mean the government should be sticking its nose in everyone’s pie, sampling the soup and telling us what we can eat. Too many cooks spoil the broth. The government is one too many for sure.

  2. leslie says:

    I think that the link on the FDA/Facebook story is broken — could you repost?  I’m dying to read it.
    And @ Walter, my understanding of the sodium thing is that NYC is targeting the processors, not home cooks.  What you put in your food at home is rarely the problem, sodium levels in packaged foods are incredibly high.  So it sounds like a good idea to me.

  3. Leslie, they start with the processors but then what’s next for Big Brother? Home invasion isn’t that far down the road. Read about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). At some points they said it was just for commerce, at other point they literally said,
    “Dr. John Weimers told me personally that he would drive every back road to find every backyard flock and tag each chicken. It was also there that Indiana’s State Vet Dr. Jennifer Greiner said to me she couldn’t sleep at night thinking I would be eating diseased meat, that being my own sheep.”

    Yes, that’s a real, on the record quote from a USDA head. 

    It isn’t the government’s business if I want to buy a salty salami, make myself for my consumption or make it to sell. A little bit of government goes all too far.

  4. I’m not sure that the salt issue is going to result in the opposite trend. The aim of the plan is to reduce salt in processed foods – and you can always add salt. Do you think that the other option – voluntary reduction due to consumer demand is going to work? Then you have the issue of taste intersecting it and it gets much more complicated. (Which chef do you trust more, the processor or the government?)
    Government initiatives such as folate fortification, and USDA breeding programs in carrot and potato, for example, have been a nutritional boon. I think people take the “nutritionism” religion-ish label too far when characterizing nutrition efforts in what is as complicated a field as any other. (Makes you wonder if you think if government nutrition experts can’t do it right, how can the average person do it?)
    You could also see this as giving the consumer more choice in how much salt they choose to eat.

  5. “Makes you wonder if you think if government nutrition experts can’t do it right, how can the average person do it?”

    The difference is that the government goes for the lowest common denominator. They aim for a product that protects everyone. People’s needs differ greatly. Salt tolerance varies. Same for cholesterol. I can eat fatty and salty foods and have no problem. I get a lot of exercise, live in a cold environment and am genetically prepared to deal with those things. For other people those things are an issue.

    Peanuts is another fine example. There is a hysteria in this country about peanuts, even tiny trace amounts, even manufacturing in the same plant as peanuts. Reality check: only a small percentage of people have a problem with peanuts. For the rest of us the peanuts are a great food, very nutritious. (No, I’m not talking about the tainted peanuts, I’m talking about allergies.) Labeling that things have peanuts is fine but peanuts should not be eliminated nor treated as a hazardous even on the school bus like has happened in some cases. That’s over reaction.

    So I don’t want the government “Experts” making the decisions for the simple reason that they make bad decisions based on the requirements of a few people and forcing that on everyone.

    Our public schools with the “No Child Left Behind Act” is another prime example of this sort of nonsense. Instead of teaching our brightest and best to the highest level possible our government is forcing local schools and tax payers to waste 5x to 10x more spending on the needs of a few. It’s nonsense and bad policy.

    As my wife says, the problem with experts is they generally aren’t.

  6. Walter, so what do you think about the efforts to increase the beta-carotene content of carrots, or the calcium content of potatoes. Isn’t that “forcing” some ‘experts’ opinion on the rest of us… and wouldn’t the response be that the USDA should mind its own business and do nothing if people aren’t getting enough of those nutrients? Perhaps we should also rescind seat-belt laws, because that is every bit as paternalistic. But we can clearly see the public benefit of seat-belts, even if it only helps a few (that crash).
    I wouldn’t characterize it as extreme as helping only a few to the detriment of many – we are talking about salt, which many people eat a lot of from many sources. Many nutritionists including Marion Nestle point out that most of your recommended daily salt intake is already taken up by the foods in the supermarket, leaving you little option to reduce your salt intake while eating those foods. As I mentioned before, you can always add salt to taste. Unlike beta-carotene or calcium, our taste buds tell us when we really need salt – when you have the urge to munch on a chicken bouillon cube, you need salt.
    Yeah the labels for peanuts might go a little far – if peanut dust so much as floats around a mile away they slap a label on it. It is treated like a lethal contaminant for all, as implied by the ubiquitous-ness of those labels. I also notice the same thing when it comes to other food components that only harm a few people.
    I’ve heard commercials for gluten-free products, with a mother exclaiming to her child “Oh, I could DO WITHOUT the GLUTEN!” as if she, as a normal person, shouldn’t consume gluten. My dad is gluten-intolerant, and he thinks the marketing of gluten-free products to people who don’t have that problem is crazy.
    Walter, I seem to recall we discussed GE crops a while back on another post. Your opinion of labeling only to benefit a few leads me to wonder, does that extend to foods derived from GE crops, which don’t harm anybody?

  7. Is it forced? Is the government forcing us to eat those carrots and potatoes? No. Someone is working to develop what they see as better carrots and potatoes. You and I can continue eating the old varieties or switch to the new varieties. The problem is when the government mandates things.
    I agree with you about the benefits of seat-belts, and I use them, but I also firmly believe you should have the right not to wear a seat-belt in a car or helmet on a motor cycle and kill yourself that way. Of course, you should not have the right to sue. Take a little responsibility for yourself. The way the government is going there won’t be any left so get it while you can.

  8. Walter, but in the case of the carrots and potatoes, there is no mechanism in place for people to know the difference between the new and old carrots at the grocery store. In addition, farmers have been growing them without the involvement of the public either – add those two together and the USDA and the farmers never gave people the ‘choice’ to eat the healthier carrots and potatoes. (I’m not saying that the government should force people to eat anything, I’m merely suggesting that government efforts to help a wide number of people’s nutrition are not immoral as you are suggesting.)
    I’d also like to add in the salt case that many people perceive the food processors as stuffing salt, sugar, and fat down everyone’s throats. You could easily see the government as preventing the processors from doing that anymore, and giving people the choice to add salt if they please. I don’t think you can twist this to say that the government is forcing you to eat less salt, because you have the choice of adding more whenever you want.
    Just curious what you thought about the GE crop question. If you don’t want to answer that’s fine.

  9. IM, there’s a world of difference between the government forcing it on us and us being able to grow this or that, use this or that amount of salt, chose to to use saturated or unsaturated fats, etc. I realize you enjoy arguing and aren’t going to see the point so let’s just drop it.

  10. You really like defaulting!

  11. Molly says:

    I think that we need to lead the way in the world in establishing global food security and food sovereignty – the right of countries to determine and implement their own food security policies; and the responsibility of all countries to protect every person’s human right to food. Mostly my ideas come from the book Thinking Big: Support for a Global Food Convention – governing standards for all nations about food b. US should advocate for the right of all countries to safeguard their food sovereignty through support for farmers and agriculture, border measures, and food reserves. c. a grain reserve. d. regulation of the commodity markets and e. reformed (i.e. get rid of stupid rules and corruption) and increased foreign food aid. I also think that curbing obesity here at home is vital, as the WHO reports that there are 900,000 obese people, and 700,000 starving. Since both are a form of malnutrition – both need to be treated as dire issues.