A Q&A with Michael Jacobson

The food-reform gadfly speaks out

June 30, 2011

For decades, Michael Jacobson has been the gadfly behind the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming America’s food production, policies, and habits. He’s focused his PR efforts on food safety and junk food (including sugar). Last month the Atlantic ran a Q&A with Jacobson, giving him a chance to sum up his career and be witty to boot:

Because the Center for Science in the Public Interest and I are frequently in the news with comments about how healthy or junky certain foods are, I suspect that many people think we’re superhuman raw-food athletes who never eat cookies and spend our days preparing clever press releases. In fact, we’re normal, real people who believe in moderation and transparency (disclosure: yes, I sometimes eat white bread!).

His hopeful prediction? That as American youth become more aware of what they eat and change their diets accordingly, the entire food system will follow suit.

Global food justice

A new campaign from Oxfam

June 29, 2011

Oxfam, the well-known international organization dedicated to fighting global poverty and injustice, recently announced a food-justice campaign called GROW. Oxfam also released a report, "Growing a Better Future," outlining the campaign’s rationale and goals.

The report summary paints a grim picture: “This report describes a new age of growing crisis: food price spikes and oil price hikes, devastating weather events, financial meltdowns, and global contagion. Behind each of these, slow-burn crises smoulder: creeping and insidious climate change, growing inequality, chronic hunger and vulnerability, the erosion of our natural resources.”

But, as Agweek noted, Oxfam’s campaign includes multiple prongs, including focusing on providing aid to small producers, ending speculation in agricultural commodities, stopping government support for corn-based ethanol, reforming the U.S. food-aid system, and regulating foreign land and water grabs.

Agritourism goes American

From Italy to here

June 28, 2011

Vacationing on the farm. »

The glamorous life

Urban homesteading with style

June 27, 2011

DIY by design. »

Your favorite cookbooks

Culling the shelves

June 24, 2011

If you could keep only 10, which would you choose? »

Crashing the tomato party

Barry Estabrook’s new book about our tomato woes

June 23, 2011

Things are improving — slightly. »

Choosing home cooking over restaurants

A restaurateur makes her case

June 22, 2011

Over on the Atlantic’s food channel, New York restaurateur Sara Jenkins recently argued in favor of “simplicity, good ingredients, and not overwhelming eaters with fat and salt.” In other words, stay away from restaurants and cook at home, folks:

Even in the finest restaurants, restaurant food, while delicious and deserving of its place as entertainment and theater, is really not the best food at all. It’s over-sauced and over-salted and over-rich, because the only thing restaurant chefs have to worry about is that the food tastes exquisite on the table. They don’t have to worry about whether you should eat less salt and fat or eat more vegetables or if you are consuming trans fats or saturated fat or petroleum.

Her tips for home cooks? Keep it simple: buy quality ingredients, don’t fuss too much over the cooking, and pay attention to the amount of salt and fat you’re using. It’ll be good, and good for you, too.

The fast-food battles

Going healthy — and not

June 21, 2011

In the Great Obesity Crisis, it can be hard to tell where the fast-food industry really stands. On the one hand, chains such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken are promoting their efforts, respectively, to use only sustainable fish (well, so far only in Europe) and offer non-fried meals. On the other hand, these same businesses are expanding mightily and pushing to have food stamps accepted in their restaurants, meaning fast-food consumption will likely increase. But, as Tom Philpott recently noted on his Mother Jones blog, the ongoing global food crisis may spell the end of the era of cheap fast food. And that, in turn, will create a new crisis for the kings of junk. Which may, in part, be why upscale restaurants are starting to offer Meatless Mondays.

Food funding gets axed

The feds say nay to food safety and food security

June 20, 2011

But ethanol subsidies get the chop, too — which may mean more subsidies vanish in the next Farm Bill. »

Baked treats, not bombs

Operation Cupcake stumps Al-Qaeda

June 17, 2011

According to the Telegraph, Britain’s MI6 (the secret intelligence service best known for employing fictional spy James Bond) has been busy fighting terrorism with baked goods. How so? By hacking into a downloadable magazine produced by Al-Qaeda and replacing bomb-making instructions with cupcake recipes. Titled (of course) “Operation Cupcake,” the stuntmakers pulled recipes from an Ellen DeGeneres website, of all places. Party on.

Arsenic in chicken

Buy organic, already

June 16, 2011

Pfizer suspends drug sales, but the threat ain’t over yet. »

A new dirty dozen

Apples take the top spot

June 15, 2011

The Environmental Working Group has released its 2011 Shopper's Guide, with a rejiggered lineup of the produce Dirty Dozen. Apples rolled to the top of the dirty list this year, with 98 percent sporting pesticide residues. New on the no-go list this year was cilantro, with some 44 percent of tested samples turning up unapproved pesticides. So go organic, at least for the grungiest produce. Want a copy of the latest list? Download it now.

Diet for a hot planet

How climate change is affecting global crops

June 14, 2011

Will be there another Green Revolution? »

The local bandwagon

Signs of the mainstream times

June 13, 2011

The debut of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Going Local.” »

Garden goofiness

Produce you can’t eat and pretend garden maps

June 10, 2011

A recent BlogHer gardening post noted a paradox with those highly touted school gardens: The kids often aren't allowed to eat the food they grow. How’s that, you ask? Well, it depends on the school district; in Chicago, for example, “the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.” Sure, many schools try to incorporate their gardens’ bounty into their lunchrooms. But bureaucracy and the federal lunch program sometimes get in the way.

For another wacky federal take on gardens, check out the recent gardening graphic comparing the layout of the White House vegetable garden with the same garden if the crops were grown based on federal agricultural subsidies. As Mark Bittman noted, “The change is pretty stark.” Goodbye, kohlrabi and rhubarb; hello, wheat, corn, soy, and cotton.

Strawberry activists

The kids are all right

June 9, 2011

A recent Sierra magazine article profiled both the ongoing strawberry wars in California and the teens who are fighting back. The latest in the wars? The possible replacement of the fumigant methyl bromide with the potentially even more dangerous methyl iodide. And the kids? They’re the children of immigrant farmworkers, who learned about the chemicals in school and are trying to prevent California’s farms from using the newly approved methyl iodide. So far, their efforts seem to be working.

E. coli in Europe

The deadliest outbreak yet

June 8, 2011

In case you hadn’t heard, the latest E. coli outbreak is sickening hundreds of people across Europe. With 19 dead, it’s the deadliest E. coli outbreak ever, and European farmers are taking a beating even as authorities try to track down the outbreak's source. Scariest of all is the fact that this strain of E. coli is more toxic than older strains and more resistant to antibiotics, making it tougher to treat. Yikes. The upside? The U.S. might finally be motivated to get serious about food safety.

Moving on

Tom Philpott leaves Grist

June 7, 2011

But not without a last round-up of food politics and history. »

The new food plate

So long, food pyramid

June 6, 2011

At the start of June, the USDA ditched its long-running and much-maligned food pyramid in favor of an easier-to-understand plate design. Titled Choose My Plate, the setup is basically a pie chart, with bigger slices allotted to vegetables and grains than to fruit and protein. There’s also a circle to indicate a glass of dairy.

Consumer response so far has been largely positive: yes, the plate design is obvious, but good sense is a virtue. Half of the plate, after all, is fruit and veg, and the USDA frequently reminds site visitors to “enjoy your food, but eat less.”

The USDA also has a number of helpful extra links, including a collection of tips and a daily food plan. Not all of the links work, but hey, it’s early days yet.

A brief history of açaí

How did this supposed superfood become so popular so quickly?

June 3, 2011

Everything you ever wanted to know about this Brazilian export. »

A man and a strawberry plan

How one farmer is changing the way we grow strawberries

June 2, 2011

To judge by its cover, Saveur magazine’s June/July 2011 issue (Issue #139, if you’re keeping track — and you might have to, since very little of the issue is available online) is all about barbecue.

But buried inside is a profile of California farmer Jim Cochran, whose Swanton Berry Farm has, in the words of author Tracie McMillan, “unlocked the secrets of growing strawberries without pesticides and paying workers a fair wage to do it.”

Sure, Cochran’s is only one farm. But as McMillan notes, Cochran’s methods — which include asking customers to pay a premium for a berry that, in addition to being clean and fair, also tastes fabulous — are being imitated across the country by major berry producers, including behemoth Driscoll's.

Go green carts

Promoting food justice with carts, a cookbook, and art

June 1, 2011

Two years ago, the city of New York approved a program called Green Carts, which put mobile produce carts on the streets of the city in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh whole foods.

Two years later, some 400 carts rove around town, mostly in the food deserts of the Bronx. There’s even a newly released Green Carts cookbook, featuring recipes from such celebrity chefs as Tom Colicchio.

And the Museum of the City of New York has gotten in on the food-justice action, with a photography exhibit (on display through early July) documenting the carts. Titled "Moveable Feast," the exhibit features the work of five photographers and includes a public discussion on the politics of nutrition on June 22.

Sift archive — June 2011

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