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What To Eat

There's a Word for Coca Cola's Donations to the Grand Canyon

I’m always saying that food company donations and partnerships to health and environmental Good Causes end up doing more for the companies than the recipients.  Money always talks.  Accepting corporate donations comes with strings that create conflicts of interest.

grand canyon

The latest evidence for these assertions comes from the Grand Canyon’s efforts to get plastic water and soda bottles out of the park.  These account for a whopping 30% of its waste.

According to the account in today’s New York Times, Coca-Cola, one of the park’s big donors, convinced the National Park Service to block the bottle ban.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled.


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Industry Could Undermine New Food Marketing Rules for Children

sugary kids cereal

I've just gotten an urgent plea from Margo Wootan at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Please encourage everyone to write to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and federal agencies to support the nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids.

As I've discussed previously, these were created jointly by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) of four federal agencies—CDC, FDA, FTC, and USDA.

Under intense pressure from the food and entertainment industries and their friends in Congress, the IWG's proposed guidelines—voluntary, no less—are in danger of being withdrawn.

Doing that might help corporate health but would do nothing for public health.

CSPI organized 75 researchers (including me) to send a letter to the President urging support of the voluntary guidelines and expressing dismay at the campaign of disinformation aimed at getting them withdrawn.


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Tiny Reviews of 10 Notable New Food Books

I haven't been reviewing books on my blog, mainly because so many of them flood into my office that I cannot keep up with them. But the public relations reps for a couple of recent books have been pushing hard for mentions. The books are good, important contributors to the food movement, and deserve readers.

I'm listing them in alphabetical order by title. Some of them I've blurbed, some not, but all have plenty of useful and interesting to say. Enjoy!

the butchers guide to well raised meat

Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu, Clarkson Potter, 2011 ($18.15 at amazon.com)
The owners of Fleisher's butcher shop in Kingston, N.Y., tell the story of how a couple of vegetarians came to open butcher shops that specialize in grass-fed and organic meats, done right. I know lots of vegetarians who would eat meat from animals raised sustainably and humanely, and this book is a how-to guide to finding the right butcher or doing it yourself. (See TheDailyGreen's review of Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat.)

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience by Fred Kirschenmann, Kentucky, 2010 ($33 at amazon.com)
Kirschenmann describes himself as a farmer-philosopher and so he is as he ruminates on his vision for sustainable agriculture as practiced on his own farm. My blurb points out that he's "right up there with the other agronomic philosophers–Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson…It should inspire everyone to start planting and to think deeply about the food we eat."

Fair Food by Oran Hesterman, Public Affairs, 2011 ($16.50 at amazon.com)
Hesterman is an agronomist who used to work with the Kellogg Foundation and now heads the Fair Food Network to work for sustainable food systems in Michigan. The book advocates for public policies that promote sustainability and food justice and explains how to work toward that goal. You want to change the system but don't know how? Start here.


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Is It the Carbs or the Calories? New Study Pins Weight Gain on Potatoes

A reader, Thibault H writes:

So Harvard University came out with a study that news reporters are saying tells us that those who tend to eat more potatoes gain x amount of weight over 10 years…What do you make of this?…could it be possible that potatoes themselves are not the culprit and rather those who tend to eat more potatoes have a fattier diet or perhaps more sedentary lifestyle.

It could indeed.  The study, which came out in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, looked at the weight gained by more than 100,000 people who had filled out diet questionnaires in 1986 or later.  It correlates what people said they ate with weight gained over periods of 4 years.


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6 Keys to Fighting Early Childhood Obesity

woman breastfeeding a baby

The Institute of Medicine released a report Thursday on how to prevent obesity in children from birth to age 5: Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies.

The report is remarkable for its focus on policies for parents and child care providers, and its almost complete lack of attention to policies for improving the food environment in which parents and caregivers operate.

The report's key recommendations for children from birth to age 5:

  • Promote breastfeeding
  • Monitor growth
  • Increase physical activity
  • Provide healthy foods in age-appropriate portions
  • Ensure access to affordable healthy foods; educate caregivers and parents
  • Limit screen time (all media) to less than 2 hours a day

That's all? Nothing about keeping sodas and junk foods out of the house? Only this about food marketing to kids?


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Wait, There's Arsenic in Chicken?!

For years, as Tom Philpott recounts on his new food and agriculture blog for Mother Jones, public health advocates have fretted about the use of arsenic-containing drugs to kill intestinal parasites and promote growth in chickens.

One such drug is roxarsone, made by Pfizer. Its arsenic is in the organic (carbon-containing) form, which is less toxic than the inorganic form.

But, as the New York Times explained, evidence has been accumulating that the organic form can change into the more toxic, inorganic form, a known carcinogen.

As reported in Food Safety News,  the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and several other consumer and agriculture groups petitioned FDA to ban the drug three years ago.


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Are U.S. Sprouts Safe?

German authorities now say that sprouts grown on an organic farm in Lower Saxony are the source of their E. coli O104:H4 outbreak, now responsible for more than 30 deaths and 3,000 illnesses, 750 of them severe kidney disease.

The epidemiological studies point to sprouts after all.

Sprouts, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are a prime suspect in microbial outbreaks. They have been implicated in many outbreaks in the United States. This is because sprouts are sprouted from minute seeds that are hard to clean.


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5 Useful Graphics that Define a Healthy Plate

According to William Neuman's report in the New York Times, a USDA official, Robert C. Post, said the new food guide (that is replacing the food pyramid) would be a plate and that it would serve educational purposes:

The agency would use the plate to get across several basic nutritional messages, including urging consumers to eat smaller portions, switch to low-fat or fat-free milk and drink water instead of sugary drinks.

A plate with half devoted to fruits and vegetables is not exactly a new concept.

The American Diabetes Association has been using this plate as a food guide:

american diabetes association plate graphic
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Should Alcohol Come With Calorie Counts?

In April, the FDA released proposed rules for listing calories on menu labels (see previous post).  One surprising omission was an exemption for alcoholic beverages.  The surprise was that FDA had included alcoholic beverages in earlier versions.

The FDA’s reason for omitting alcohol is that these drinks are regulated by the Treasury Department, which proposed rules for calories on the labels of such drinks.  Yes it did, but that was at least four years ago and Treasury has done nothing since.  And Treasury has never said a word about menu boards.

Jurisdiction cannot be the real reason.  FDA does not regulate meat and poultry (USDA does) but its proposed regulations cover those foods.

If you think the FDA should require restaurants to display calories for alcoholic beverages, now is the time to say so.

I think consumers’ right to know is a sufficient reason for demanding calorie labeling on alcoholic beverages, but if you want more, the Marin Institute  lists useful talking points.


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How to Rid Meat of Staph Contamination

By this time, you must have heard about the study in Clinical Infectious Diseases sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The study found nearly half of supermarket meat and poultry samples to be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus. Half of the contaminated samples were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Staph causes awful infections. When I was a child, my mother had a Staph infection that kept her out of commission for what seemed like months in that pre-antibiotic era. Antibiotics can keep Staph under control, but not if the Staph are antibiotic-resistant. Staph resistant to multiple drugs are a clear-and-present danger. No wonder this study got so much attention.

The study provides strong support for the idea that we ought to be reducing use of antibiotics as growth promoters in farm animals, an idea strongly supported by the CDC.

Even though 80% of U.S. antibiotic use is for farm animals, the meat industry strong opposes any proposal to change its practices.


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Good Nutrition Advice ... from 150 Years Ago

I'm at a meeting in Washington DC of the American Society of Nutrition. At the exhibits, David Schnackenberg, who runs a website on the history of military nutrition, gave me these dietary guidelines from 1861. They are from a monograph by Dr. John Ordonaux, “Hints on the Preservation of Health in the Armies: for the Use of Volunteer Officers and Soldiers.”

  • Soldiers should be fed a mixed diet of animal and vegetable substances.
  • A variety of foods are needed to avoid monotony and increase assimilation.
  • A healthy diet must conform to the physiological requirements of the season with less animal fats in the summer dietary, and more starch, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Fresh fruits are always preferable to dry or preserved ones.
  • Farinaceous vegetables are more nourishing than roots or grasses...

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FDA Unveils New, Improved Recalls Site

The FDA has just revised its method for listing recalls online.  As explained by Food Production Daily, the FDA was required to do this by the food safety bill passed in January.

The new site is nifty.  It displays recalls in a neat, searchable, trackable table.

The most fun is in the details.  You can click on the links and see the original recall notice and photos of the product labels.

Here, for example, is the most recent entry to give you an idea of how this works.  Click on the Details.  Enjoy!

Date Brand Name Product Description Reason/ Problem Company Details/ Photo
04/01/2011 Cottage Grove Farmhouse Bakery Bread Undeclared egg Cottage Grove Farmhouse Bakery Select to View Firm Press Release Select to View Image of Product Label

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4 Ways New FDA Calorie-Labeling Rules Should Change

Federal agencies love releasing potentially controversial proposals on Friday afternoons when reporters and everyone else is heading for the weekend. So that's when the FDA released its week-late proposed rules for calorie labeling in restaurants. There are two sets of proposed rules, one for restaurants, and one for vending machines.

Most of the proposed rules are pretty much as expected. They will apply to restaurants and fast-food places, bakeries, groceries, convenience stores, and coffee shops that are part of chains with more than 20 locations nationwide. They also will apply to vending machines from companies with more than 20.

soda belly

But here's an eyebrow-raiser. The rules will not apply to movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys, and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food. Uh oh. Food is sold everywhere these days as anyone who has been to a drug store lately can attest.

An exemption for movie theaters seems like a bizarre oversight. If ever there was a place where calorie labeling might be useful, try movie theater supersized sodas, popcorn, and candy.

In FDA-speak, an outlet is defined as primarily in the food business if it says it is, or if more than half its floor space is used to sell food. I can't wait to see those drug stores getting out their tape measures.


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Are Processed Junk Foods Really Getting Healthier?

So many readers have sent me the link to the Chicago Tribune story about efforts of packaged food producers to make their products look healthy that I thought I had best say something about it.

The article lists the large number of companies that are "healthifying" their products:

  • PepsiCo: Combining Tropicana, Quaker Oats and dairy; low-sodium salt.
  • Walmart: Cutting trans fat and sodium in its Great Value products; encouraging major brands to make healthier products.
  • Kraft: Adding fruit to Lunchables and more whole grain to Wheat Thins.
  • Nestlé (no relation): Making small changes so consumers won't feel deprived.
  • Campbell's: Trying to reduce sodium in soup, promoting liquid vegetables through its V8 brand and whole grains with Pepperidge Farm.
  • Starbucks: Offering sweets with 200 or fewer calories.

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Breast Milk Vs. Formula: The FDA Weighs In

Though most baby formula is identical, food companies advertise its dubious health benefits (Omega-3 content) to women who would be better off breastfeeding.
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Marion Nestle writes about her strong arguments in favor of public awareness ... read more.
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Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle

Noted author Marion Nestle is a Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of What to Eat. read full bio.
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