On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had asked the US Department of Agriculture to allow the city to exempt soda from the permitted list of items its 1.7 million food stamp recipients can purchase with their benefits. This ban would last for two years, enough time to assess its effects and determine whether the ban should be continued on a permanent basis. New York City food stamp recipients spend an estimated $75 million to $135 million of their $2.7 billion in food stamps annually on soda, according to AP.   Read more

Through a very sophisticated mathematical calculation, I have figured out that I have baked 1,532 cupcakes, cookies and little gooey pecan thingies for school bake sales. I hated every minute, but I did my tour of duty. And yes, I cheered when the last of my kids hit middle school and it became uncool for his mom to show up with cupcakes for any reason. But even I am horrified that bake sales are on the chopping block in the fight against childhood obesity. Bake sales? Really?

In New York, school officials are working to create a policy that would limit bake sales. In an effort to reduce childhood obesity, they are looking to ban baked good sales from schools, with the exception of one day per month or after 6 p.m. when very few people are around to buy or sell their wares. Instead, PTAs and other groups will be allowed to sell fresh fruits and vegetables along with some packaged items that are on the district’s list of healthy snacks.  Doritos are on the list. A chocolate chip cookie baked by Grandma, not so much. Read more

My family operates a grass-fed beef and lamb farm in Meredith, NY. I am on a New York state beef producers email list that shares information on beef news in New York, and when I received an email about a proposed CAFO that would house 72,000 cows, I was alarmed. Not only is the scale extremely big (it would be the largest CAFO east of the Mississippi) but it was being advertised as sustainable. I began to reach out to my personal network of academics and beef farmers and was surprised by the differing reactions. The resulting conversations and viewpoints brought to light the complexity of our current agricultural debate and the dire situation most rural economies find themselves in, especially in upstate New York. Read more

Last year, Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 2, which banned the harsh confinement of laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves. A national Zogby poll from October 2003 entitled Nationwide Views on the Treatment of Farm Animals [pdf], found that 82% of respondents agreed that such laws protecting farm animals should be in effect nationwide. Now, as the interest in where our food comes from grows, it seems that the country at large is ready to extend animal welfare laws to farm animals.

In fact, the tide has been turning on farm animal treatment for years now. Before California’s well-publicized vote for the improved treatment of farm animals last November (which will take effect in 2015), Florida voters chose to amend their constitution in 2002 to ban gestation crates, and Arizona banned them in 2006, as did Oregon in 2007 and Colorado in 2008. But very few people know that a similar bill has been proposed in New York State’s Assembly, where it is currently stuck in the Agriculture Committee. But will the Chair of the committee, William Magee (D-Nelson), allow the issue to go to a vote? Read more