It didn’t take long for the year’s first controversial health study to go viral. A new systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that carrying extra weight decreases the risk of death (those in the “overweight” category were six percent less likely to die than individuals at a “normal weight”). This is a stark contrast to the usual weight-related headlines, which identify excess weight as the root cause of various chronic diseases. Cue confusion and heated debates.

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While sleepily shaking your cereal flakes into a bowl, and absently pouring the milk over them, have you ever stopped to think, just before taking a big, slurpy bite, “How is this stuff made?”

If you went ahead and took the time to find out, you’d be surprised to learn that no matter how healthy and natural the advertising on the packages makes those crunchy bits of wheat, oats, and corn seem, they are actually a highly processed food whose nutrient value is questionable.

But that wasn’t how it was supposed to be at all. Read more

As a member of the armed services, my boyfriend is entitled to shop for food at the commissary on our local military base in New York. Right next to the commissary is the PX, or “Post Exchange,” where we can buy every day necessities, books, and military supplies at a discounted price. Between the two services, military personnel can buy all that they need without leaving the base. The PX also houses a few private eateries and business, such as Burger King and GNC, where the store’s slogan, “Live well,” frames displays of nutritional supplements. The open, tiled space of the PX looks more than a little like a food court, an effect that will only be enhanced by the installation of another fast food franchise in the next year. Burger King’s tables spill out into the lobby, and the glowing menu sign above the counter warmly invites its customers to partake in a Whopper or a Dutch apple pie.

Are patrons supposed to enjoy their Whopper value meal and then attempt to undo the damage with some vitamins and powders from the King’s neighbor? This Burger King and that GNC represent two aspects of military food culture constantly at odds with each other: The need for culinary comfort in a stressful job environment and the attitude that treats the soldier’s body as a high-performance machine that requires precisely the right fuel. It’s hard to find a middle ground, at least here in the PX. But what about elsewhere on post? The commissary should offer the healthy-eating options lacking at a Burger King or a Taco Bell. Read more

The surprise darling of the Community Food Security Coalition conference last May was a little-known city councilman from Cleveland. He spoke fervently about his city, a city of flourishing community gardens, backyard bee hives, and chicken coops, a city where all farmers’ markets accept food stamps, where schools get discounts for sourcing local food, and where both trans-fats and smoking on playgrounds are banned. His name? Joe Cimperman.

A 4th term Democratic city councilman whose parents hail from Slovenia, Cimperman is a vocal advocate of community gardens, which create community and self-sufficiency. He told of coming together with community leaders, public health officials, doctors, and foundations to pass the Healthy Cleveland Initiative — a series of audacious policy goals that will improve the health of Clevelanders for years to come. (That is, if Ohio’s Republican-majority legislature doesn’t pre-emptively squash them.) He ended with this rallying cry: “Why are we in food policy? Because we want our friends to live longer!”

What are Cleveland’s secrets for becoming a food justice utopia? I recently interviewed Cimperman to find out. Read more

It’s a big day for the farm to school movement. At the 2011 School Nutrition Association national convention in Nashville today, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a comprehensive, groundbreaking report on the current state of farm to school efforts around the country. Download the full report here.

The data in the report was complied by the USDA Farm to School Team (comprised of both Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) staff), which made visits to 15 school districts (over what time frame) in a wide range of states. Merrigan spoke with Civil Eats earlier today about the findings and how it might shape the farm to school landscape of the future. Read more

If you can’t beat ’em…confuse them. That seems to be the new motto of our good friends at the Corn Refiners Association, the lobbying group and manufacturing association that represents makers of high-fructose corn syrup. The AP is reporting that the group has petitioned the FDA for permission to identify high-fructose corn syrup on food packaging as–wait for it–“corn sugar.”

After all, HFCS sales are at a 20-year low. More and more, science is indicating that the body metabolizes HFCS differently from table sugar in a way that increases the risk of diabetes, liver disease, and obesity. (Yes, we consume too many sweeteners of all kinds, but as I wrote in this recent post, there is evidence that this industrially extracted combination of fructose and glucose has more health consequences than the ones that humans have been consuming for far longer.) Read more

Yesterday at Columbia University, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer hosted a conference entitled “The Politics of Food,” which he called New York’s next policy challenge.   Stringer is known for his work paving the way for better health in East Harlem, and for the Go Green East Harlem Cookbook, a bilingual guide that is available free of cost to East Harlem residents.  Sounding like Michael Pollan, he recognized that so many issues, from health, to energy, to environment all dealt with food in some way.  So it was his goal, he said, to create a Food Charter for New York, based on community-oriented plans brought to scale. Read more

Our industrial food system has lost all sense of place. In our ever-industrialized farm system, food crops are shipped across state and country lines, and packed and repacked with different labels and brands. When a health problem occurs in such a system, there is virtually no way to trace the problem back to the source. Read more