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Another Assault on the SOLE Food Movement

Causing no end of difficulties in our national discourse is the steadfast belief held by both the right and the left that everything is either right or left: bad or good, strong or weak, despotic or patriotic.  You’re either with us or you’re against us.  President Obama addressed this very effectively before both House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent days.  It is media driven to a large extent because the media need controversy to sell papers, or bytes or views or whatever it is they’re selling these days.

The most common form this takes is the old build’em-up-then-tear’em-down routine.  Perhaps the only thing many Americans enjoy more than the uplifting emotion of a success story is the schadenfreude of watching that success come tumbling down.  So when an idea comes to the fore, the critics ooze from the woodwork and their primary tactic is divide and conquer.  Label it, frame the debate, and the fight is won or lost before the story is even told.

For a long time in the circles I travel in this was not a problem because the ideas embodied in what some have come to call SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local, & Ethical) were not perceived as a threat to the established paradigm.  Recent successes such as Michael Pollan’s work have, however, shined a very bright spotlight on advocates of real food.  As a result, people who have been toiling at these ideas for decades are becoming targets of powerful interests in the Big Food lobby.  Such is the case this week at WeeklyStandard.com, where Missouri Farm Bureau vice president Blake Hurst has found his most recent audience. Read more

The Year in Meat: 2009

I can’t believe I missed it: the Meat Industry Hall of Fame’s first-ever induction ceremony occurred in Chicago on October 27. And what a night it was: headlined by the illustrious Bill Kurtis—the former CBS anchor who currently narrates criminal justice shows for the A&E Television Network.

Meat industry luminaries including Don Tyson, Jimmy Dean, and the late Frank Perdue were inducted that evening, along with litigious feedlot owner Paul Engler, who you might remember for suing Oprah Winfrey over mad cow disease and getting spanked in court. By all accounts, it was a truly magical evening, what with Kurtis’ gripping keynote address offering up a 30 minute history of the American meat industry.

Despite the glitz, an undercurrent of worry pervaded the event. See, the meat industry was in the midst of its most horrific year on record, being seemingly besieged by all sides. Robert “Bo” Manly, CFO of pork titan Smithfield Foods put it best: “Anything that breathed lost money.” Read more

Food Safety in 2009: Obama, Vilsack, FDA, Senate on Naughty X-Mas List

The food safety landscape after the first year of the Obama administration remains very similar to the last year of the Bush administration….

During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, President Obama gave himself a letter grade of B+ for his first year in office. But all the same, an ad hoc consortium of food safety professionals, food safety advocates, and food safety writers say he deserves some coal in his Christmas stocking. Food Safety News, the best online publication for all aspects of the safety of the global food supply, is running a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice this year in food safety. The list was created after polling those mentioned above, including your intrepid blogger. There was an overwhelming consensus that large chunks of coal should be deposited in the Christmas stockings of both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the failure to name someone to lead USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs. Read more

Are We Really What We Eat, or How We Act?

It is often said: You are what you eat, and increasingly in this day and age we come to define ourselves by our food habits.  Are you a vegetarian or a vegan?  Are you a compassionate carnivore or a junk-food junkie?  Are you a locavore?  A raw foodist?  An omnivore?

We choose these labels for ourselves because they in many ways reflect our core values. Read more

Pro Food Is…

What if I told you that America’s food system is broken? What would you say?

Would you defend it by pointing out the abundance of choices offered in today’s average supermarket, estimated to be over 45,000 items? Would you cite that per capita spending on food has dropped significantly over the last 50 years, freeing up incomes to improve quality of life? Would you talk about how American innovation is not only feeding our citizens, but is also feeding the world? Or would you quietly ask what a food system is? Read more

Interview with Robyn O’Brien: The Unhealthy Truth

Robyn O’Brien is the best-selling author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It and a “reluctant crusader” for cleaning up our food system. A Houston native from a conservative family—not the most likely candidate to be found on the frontline of the battleground for the American food supply—Robyn’s advocacy began when the youngest of her four children had a violent reaction to eggs. In a quest to find answers and solutions to what seemed to be a personal problem, she used her MBA and background in finance to uncover and report on the relationship between Big Food and Big Money and unearth how a flawed federal policy has allowed hidden toxins in our food that she argues could be contributing to the alarming recent increase in allergies, ADHD, cancer, and asthma in our children. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Robyn about her book and her work, specifically focusing on the recent engineering of patented chemical and proteins in our food. Read more

Time to Get Tray Serious: Get Involved with a Child Nutrition Act Campaign Now

School’s out for the summer, but there’s a food fight going on in the cafeteria. In Washington, Congress is turning up the heat on the policies that determine what 30 million children will eat once the lunch bell rings.

Want hormones out of kid’s milk? Pesticides off the tomatoes? Local lettuce in the salad bar? Candy bars and snack cakes to be considered junk food? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then I urge you to step into the lunch room and learn what this food fight is all about. Read more

Calling for Real Food Safety Reform: Bill Marler for FSIS

Just when America thought it was safe to go back into the grocery store, another food outbreak wakes us up to the fact that there is something seriously wrong with our food safety system. This time it’s Nestle Toll House cookie dough with E.coli, a treat that nearly every kid in America reaches for a few times a month during the summer. This is yet another reminder why it’s important to get the new food safety legislation, currently winding its way through Congress, right. Read more

Dear Mr. President and Secretary Vilsack

Author’s note: Lately a number of people have asked me what I think of how the Obama administration is approaching agriculture. Do all the gardens and talk of healthy food represent significant change, or are they a leafy green veneer on what amounts to nothing more than business as usual? Here’s my response, which was mailed by post today. Read more

When It Comes to Kids, Change Can’t Wait

"Harvest Time in Harlem," an education program run by Slow Food USA.

Last week, Michelle Obama made these remarks (VIDEO) to a group of fifth-graders who had just harvested 73 pounds of lettuce and 12 pounds of snap peas from the First Lady’s Garden on the White House Lawn:

“To make sure that we give all our kids a good start to their day and to their future, we need to improve the quality and nutrition of the food served in schools. We’re approaching the first big opportunity to move this to the top of the agenda with the upcoming reauthorization of the child nutrition programs. In doing so, we can go a long way towards creating a healthier generation for our kids.”

It wasn’t Michael Pollan who said those words. It was the First Lady. Coming from her, the phrase “big opportunity to move this to the top of the agenda” is a call to action we cannot ignore. Read more