While just one percent of Americans abstain from eating animal products, veganism is gaining ground in the U.S. Jay-Z announced recently that he’ll go vegan for 22 days as “a spiritual and physical cleanse” and Al Gore recently decided to go vegan, which some speculate is a way to reduce his carbon footprint. These are just two examples of the personalities, products, and restaurants that are embracing plant-based diets, with health, animal welfare, and environmental concerns as common motivators.
It’s almost the end of December, which means it’s time to look back at the year’s highlights and lowlights. In 2011, I opted for a straightforward chronological review of that year’s major food and nutrition issues. Last year, I took a more didactic approach, pointing out the lessons imparted by the year’s biggest food stories. This time around, I pay homage to high school yearbooks and take a look back at the year in food and nutrition via superlatives. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… the class of 2013.
So now the Monsanto Company thinks its bad reputation with the public is primarily an air time problem. As the agribusiness giant’s Chief Technology Officer (and recent World Food Prize winner) Robert Fraley told Politico recently, Monsanto has been “absolutely riveted and focused on giving technology and tools to farmers to improve their productivity and yield and we haven’t spent nearly the time we have needed to on talking to consumers and talking to social media.”
This is a company that spends, on average, $100 million per year on advertising.
Food is so much a part of the fabric of our lives, reflecting our health, lifestyle, time, and values. Like so many of us, my childhood memories of specific events revolve around food and meals shared. Sunday dinners with my Polish grandmother preparing pierogis and czarnina. Luscious cream puffs eaten greedily at the Wisconsin State Fair. Ruby red tomatoes and thorny kohlrabi plucked from our backyard garden, fried fresh for that evening’s dinner. Food was a bond of love, care, and connection to our families and the wider community.
In 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) let everyone know that there was strong evidence that the use of penicillin and tetracycline for anything other than treating disease in livestock, could lead to the development of super bugs strong enough to render the powerful antibiotics useless in people. That warning sparked a ferocious backlash from the powerful animal agriculture industry, which to this day still depends on feeding animals low doses of antibiotics to help grow them faster and compensate for crowded unsanitary living conditions.
So, FDA has finally come out with its much talked-up voluntary guidance (read, recommendations) for the pharmaceutical and livestock industries on appropriate antibiotic use and avoiding antibiotic resistance. It has been pending in draft form for over a year and a half and has been long-criticized as a hollow gesture to tackle antibiotic resistance. Despite FDA’s assurances, the reality is that this final guidance: 1) doesn’t do much, 2) pretends to do more, and 3) kicks the can significantly down the road. Here’s why:
Nobody told Reina Lemus de Zelaya that her job as a farmworker was hazardous not only to her health, but to her unborn child. So when Lemus de Zelaya was pregnant with one of her daughters, she continued working in the agricultural fields in Florida. Not only was she continually exposed to pesticides while pregnant, when her daughter was born she even brought her baby to the fields in a stroller. No one warned her to do otherwise.
Remember that Stanford study last year that claimed organic foods were no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts? It made national headlines seeming to vindicate critics of organic farming practices and confirming to skeptics that organics are nothing more than a marketing scheme. I criticized that study when it appeared as did many others but it damaged the reputation of organic farming in the minds of many Americans.
At least two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is either overweight or obese and that number is expected to increase to 75 percent by 2015. Childhood obesity is also widespread, afflicting 17 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 (Wang and Beydoun, 2007).