food policy

How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

image via Mannequin Madness


Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so. […]

Posted in food policy, health + diet | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Egg Safety: How to Boil an Egg

image courtesy of Bella Irae


Soft-boiled, sunny-side up, over-easy, gently poached.
Uh uh. Not these days. Runny yolks are out. Hard-boiled is the safest way to go.
And you think you know how to boil an egg, but I’m here to tell you that you can do better. […]
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The Egg Recall: Rethinking the 5-Second Rule


The freshly buttered piece of toast slips off your plate and falls to the floor.

The floor looks clean.
It landed buttered-side up.
The dog didn’t lick it.
Looks fine to me!

It seems like a perfect time to invoke the 5-second rule. […]

Posted in food safety, health + diet | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Chew the Right Thing

image via Kosher Ham

Funny, you don’t look Jewish…

There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in the U.S., just about 2% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. Maybe a million of them keep kosher. So why is it that nearly half of all the food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified?

Pivotal kosher moments in US history:

  • Coca Cola (certified kosher, 1935)
  • Tropicana orange juice (1990)
  • Oreos (1997)
  • Kosher Pork (2011)
    It’s like the Jewish version of the Holy Grail. It’s actually a Spanish variety of goose with a decided porkiness to its flesh.

Every one of them was a watershed. But nothing changed the way Americans look at kosher food like the 1972 Hebrew National hot dog commercial. As Uncle Sam munches on a hot dog, a disembodied, heavenly voice assures him that as a Hebrew National beef hot dog, it is free of the additives and by-products typically found in lesser processed meats.  As the camera pans heavenward, the voice proclaims, “We answer to a higher authority.”


Kosher has become synonymous with purity and quality. It requires scrutiny and monitoring that exceed national standards, playing nicely in the current environment of heightened concerns about food safety. Labeling of kosher food is considered to be more trustworthy than mainstream labeling. Strict product labeling tells vegans and vegetarians when meat or dairy is present;  Muslims can trust that kosher meat products contain no pork; and consumers with food allergies can safely monitor their diets.

The kosher label is so desirable that it now dominates new product launches. It is the number one label claim for new food and beverages, topping even organic, natural, and low fat. Mainstream retailers like WalMart and Whole Foods are hustling for certification to sell kosher chickens.

A higher authority than the USDA.

Of course the ancient, Jewish dietary laws stand for more than just food safety. Adherence is intended to connect daily living to a higher spiritual plane. For the typical kosher consumer, 85% of whom are not Jewish, faith is not a factor— just a lack of faith in the agencies that monitor our food system.

Kosher Quest has a guide to kosher package symbols and their certifying agencies.

Buck the trend and dine at Traif. Named for the Hebrew word for non-kosher, the Brooklyn restaurant is a celebration of pork and shellfish.

If you missed it the first time around, now’s your chance to view the seminal 1975 Hebrew National hot dog commercial.


Posted in food safety, vegetarian/vegan | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Underground Food Markets: The New Speakeasies

Pssst… wanna buy some contraband pickles?

First came the informal but still legitimate businesses like food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and CSAs. Now we have the appearance of their unlicensed brethren: the home bakers, canners, pasta makers, meat curers, and foragers that make up an underground food scene that’s gaining steam in cities around the world.

Mmm… that’s so good, I bet you could sell it.

It used to be a compliment. Now it’s a business plan.

Take the growing DIY movement. Throw in a high unemployment rate, some entrepreneurial spirit, the promotional capabilities of social media, and a dash of hipster hype. You end up with something like Anarchy in a Jar (jam maker), Brazelton Price (demi-glace), Bundt (cake baker), and Charcuterie Underground (bacon and sausage). […]

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Food or Candy: are you smarter than a legislator?


If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…

We manage to breeze through Halloween. Any 5-year old can set you straight. So why are state legislatures struggling with the definition of candy?

Retail food sales have traditionally been exempt from sales tax, which were deemed cruel and regressive. In recent years, as cash-strapped states look to plug up budget deficits, candy taxes have become the go-to revenue source. Already this year candy or soda taxes have been proposed or passed in more than a dozen states.

Food or Candy: how well do you know your sweet treats? (answers appear below)*

  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
  2. Twizzlers Red Licorice
  3. Gummi Bears
  4. Jordan Almonds
  5. Snicker’s Bar
  6. Kit Kat
  7. M&M’s Peanut
  8. Milky Way
  9. Three Musketeers
  10. Nestle’s Crunch

On June 1, when the candy tax goes into effect in Washington, state residents will be paying a little more for Good and Plenty and licorice whips, but not licorice buttons or drops. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar– taxable; Hershey’s Cookies ‘n Creme– tax exempt. Reese’s pieces and Butterfinger bars are taxed but the stick versions aren’t.

Food or Candy? Walking the thin, sweet line is an audit manager in the Washington State Department of Revenue who has been charged with the all-important determinations. Each flavor of jelly bean must be individually parsed. Decisions must be made about bulk buying and boxed assortments. This is one state auditor whose job is safe for a very long time.

Absurd, arcane, and just utter nonsense, hair-splitting categorizations have been assigned to 3,600 items, although word is that one candy distributor just dropped a list of 11,000 Japanese imports on his desk. Whether you’re  a fan of Mr. Goodbar or Sour Patch Kids, you can check the status of your favorite sweets with the Washington State Taxable Treats Database.

*answers: odd numbers are candy; even numbers are food, except for 4.Jordan Almonds and 8.Milky Way: Jordan Almonds are candy except for the white ones, which are food; Milky Way bars are food except for the dark chocolate version, which is candy.



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Time Magazine 100 includes 4 Foodies


Time Magazine’s annual roundup of the world’s most influential leaders, thinkers, heroes, and artists hits newsstands this week, and this year the list includes four individuals from the food sector whose ideas and talent transform the world we live in. […]

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C is for Cafeteria: A look at school lunches


Inside the school cafeteria

It’s just like you remember: loud and chaotic, lunch ladies in hairnets, pizza Fridays. The lines are long, the meat is still a mystery, and most of what’s brought from home gets tossed.

Less familiar are the trading bans and peanut-free zones to accommodate allergies, the absence of any actual cooking, and the runaway rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.

The National School Lunch Program provides commodities and subsidies to public and private schools that offer free or reduced-price meals. This year’s subsidy was $2.68 for each free lunch down to 25¢ for full-priced lunches. At that rate, most districts can afford food costs of about 90¢ for each lunch served. […]

Posted in food policy, food safety, kids | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Last Banana on Earth

       image courtesy of Geostationary Banana Over Texas
Bananas are on a crash course to extinction.
10 years, give or take. That’s how long scientists are giving the banana.
Then what will we slice on our morning cereal? […]
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Food Fraud: Is that olive oil really from Italy?

Walk down a midtown Manhattan street and you’ll see a folding table piled high with knockoff Prada handbags, Rolex watches, and Louis Vuitton wallets for a fraction of their retail prices.

Shoppers are well-acquainted with the fake designer goods racket. They know they are buying counterfeits, choosing to be complicit in a crime in pursuit of a bargain.

But what about the shadow economy for counterfeit food products? […]

Posted in food business, food policy, food safety | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Veal on the Menu: no lectures please!


Is your food politically correct?

Overfished species, inhumanely treated farm animals— menus are minefields of ethically suspect foods. In the past few weeks, a Hollywood hangout abruptly closed down after being exposed for serving whale sushi, and the U.N. voted to keep the near-extinct bluefin tuna on dinner plates.

Amoral bon vivant or epicurean standard-bearer?

For many of us, vegetarianism is not an option. What’s an omnivore to do? Here’s the story behind the controversies surrounding the meat we eat. […]

Posted in food policy, Health, vegetarian | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Something’s Fishy About that Low-Fat Ice Cream


Processed food

It has nowhere to hide. Food labeling lets it all hang out. We are educated consumers– sodium, trans fats, corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavorings and colorings– nothing escapes our purview.

Or so it seems.

Food Secrets: maybe we don’t want to know. […]

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McNuggets of Truth

                         image courtesy of Serious Eats

The nation’s strictest menu labeling laws went into effect today in my hometown of Philadelphia.

It’s a small but significant victory. In all other cities where we have seen labeling laws, the restaurants have been able to limit the mandates to calorie labeling. Philadelphia’s law includes carbohydrates, sodium, saturated and trans fats. […]

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Outlaw Dining: forbidden foods

[photo courtesy of Telegraph UK]

Sure, you can always bring a bottle of wine. Safe, solid, predictable.
Come on, people, this is a party! It’s time to bust out the contraband!

Between the Department of Agriculture, The Food and Drug Administration, and the  Customs and Treasury departments, there’s a slew of delicacies that have been banned in various locales. Even so, with a little sleuthing and a few shady contacts you should be able to score an impressive gift for your host.


Contrary to popular belief, absinthe is legal in the United States. The FDA strictly limits the level of thujone, a toxic substance found in wormwood, one of the spirit’s ingredients. Thujone has long been rumored to cause hallucinations in absinthe drinkers, although this has never been confirmed. The legal version is highly alcoholic (up to 74%) and is usually diluted before drinking.


Since 2005, caviar connoisseurs have been forced to make do without the eggs of the wild beluga sturgeon. Until the dwindling numbers of this species can be revived, caviar lovers have to satisfy themselves with the roe of salmon, trout, and other more plentiful fish. Strictly speaking, these substitutes are not true caviar.


The dried root bark of the sassafras tree has been used for tea, as a fragrance for soap, a painkiller, an insect repellent, and­ a seasoning and thickener for many Creole soups and stews. It’s best known for contributing the characteristic flavor to root beer, although few can remember the taste of true sassafras root beer. A potential carcinogen, its use has been banned for 50 years.

Foie Gras

Celebrated for its luxurious taste and texture; excoriated for the cruelty of force-feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers before slaughter. It’s hard to stay neutral on the subject of foie gras. Chicago banned the retail sale of this delicacy in 2006, imposing fines of up to $500 per violations. Since eating foie gras remained legal, restaurateurs skirted the ban by serving the dish under the guise of other menu items, claiming that they were giving away the livers with the purchase of the other dishes. The ineffectual ban was lifted in 2008. California is gearing up to implement its own foie gras ban in 2012.

Raw Milk/Raw Milk Cheeses

Raw milk proponents tout the superior flavor and nutrition of milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Government agencies worry that bacteria present in unpasteurized milk poses a health threat. Raw milk can not be legally sold in about two dozen states, and is limited to direct farm sales in a few others. A few enterprising farmers satisfy raw milk demand by selling ‘herd shares’– customers purchase a share in a cow that entitles them to a portion of its milk.

Throughout the US, unpasteurized cheeses can only be legally sold when they have been aged at least 60 days– the period deemed necessary to kill off potentially harmful bacteria in raw dairy products. True cheese connoisseurs feel that we are missing out on the distinct and extraordinary pleasures of young cheeses, such as those found in European countries where the requirement is a 30-day waiting period.

Here are some resources to help you locate and legally transport some of these forbidden foods:

A Campaign for Real Milk provides a state-by-state directory of raw milk producers on their website.

Keep up with the latest legislation with the Food Law Blog.

Think twice before packing that prosciutto– failure to declare food products at border crossings can result in fines as high as $10,000. Consult the US Customs website to learn what you can lawfully transport.

Read The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit (available through for a chef’s tour of prohibited pleasures.

Take a look at’s list of foods banned in Europe that are available in the US. It includes genetically modified foods, pesticides, hormones, and other additives that the EU considers a threat to public health. 
At least in American we are safe from month-old cheese.



Posted in food policy, food safety, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Trend Watching 2010

image via Free Republic

image via Free Republic

It’s that time of year.

We look back at this past year and ahead to the next.
The media are full of lists enumerating the best and worst of 2009 and prophesizng the trends for 2010.
A good best of/worst of list is one we agree with. A good trend report is tougher to spot. […]

Posted in food policy, food trends | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Agriculture’s crown jewels


700 miles from the North Pole, tucked away in a sandstone cavern in a frozen, Arctic mountain, is the making of future dinners.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in early 2008 as a sort of back-up hard drive for nature. It operates as safe storage to preserve collections of seeds duplicating what can be found in existing seed gene banks. The Svalbard seeds will only be accessed when the original seed collections have been lost for any reason.

The seed vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million different seed samples with priority given to crops that are important for food production. More than 7,000 plant species have historically been used in human diets representing a fraction of the varieties and diversity that can be found— rice alone accounts for 100,000 seed varieties. Modern agriculture is based almost entirely on fewer than 150 species.

When in full use, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will represent the world’s largest collection of seeds.

A hodgepodge of seed banks has existed for decades, but nothing approaching the breadth and depth of the Svalbard collection or the security of its vault. The vulnerability of the other collections was made all-too apparent when looters recently raided seed banks in the midst of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. With significant seed banks operating in often politically or environmentally unstable regions of Peru, Colombia, Syria, Rwanda, India, and Ethiopia, the scientific community felt the need for a more secure safety net to ensure that the world’s food supply has the diversity needed to stand against the vagaries of climate, politics, and human error.

The mountain site in the remote Arctic Svalbard Archipelago was chosen for its permafrost and lack of tectonic activity. At 430 feet above sea level the vault will remain dry even if waters rise as the polar ice caps melt, and subzero temperatures should preserve the seeds— vacuum- and heat-sealed in four-ply plastic— for centuries, even millenia for certain seeds. The popular image is of a “doomsday vault;” the go-to place for humankind to rebuild after a global catastrophe like an asteroid hit or nuclear holocaust. The reality is more likely that the vault will be tapped by agricultural researchers who have lost their own seed samples due to mismanagement, equipment failures, funding cuts, and weather disasters: more safe deposit box than Noah’s Ark.

Three-quarters of the planet’s biodiversity in crops was lost in the last century. Of course it’s a quality of life issue as unknown choices and pleasures disappear. But there are also potentially dire consequences. Crop varieties have always been threatened by pests and weather. Add to that the modern dangers posed by climate change, economic pressures, and contamination by genetically modified organisms. The integrity of our food supply could hinge on the preservation of crop varieties that are tolerant of unknown future conditions.

For a closer look at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, visit Time Magazine’s photo essay.


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Cracking the Code: Egg Essentials


Are you uneasy in the egg aisle?
You’re not alone.
Egg cartons are plastered with stamps and seals and jargon-filled labeling: authority over egg-production standards is shared by a web of federal agencies; compliance is monitored by the states; and a slew of trade, health, and animal welfare associations chime in with their own certifications. Free range versus cage free, natural or organic: we find ourselves paying a premium—as much as 100% over the price of conventionally-produced eggs— for distinctions that can be opaque. […]

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The “healthy” new mini Coke


“The Coca-Cola mini can innovation reinforces the Company’s support for healthy, active lifestyles.”


Sandy Douglas, President,

Coca-Cola North America


Pardon my cynicism, but I’m finding Mr. Douglas’ statement a little hard to swallow.
He was talking about new packaging that the Coca-Cola Company will be introducing this winter. The mini can holds 7.5 ounces of soda, less than two-thirds of the standard 12-ounce can, with 90 calories to the standard 140 calories. […]

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A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a meat eater in a Prius

One Gorgeous Cow by Pikaluk.

That’s the assertion made by author and food activist Michael Pollan while speaking on a panel as part of last weekend’s PopTech 2009 conference.
What a notion!

The EPA estimates that a 2009 Toyota Prius generates about 0.56 lb. of CO2 emissions for each mile driven (taking into account all aspects of operating a vehicle but not its manufacture). Assuming 12,000 miles driven annually, a Prius generates approximately 3.5 tons of emissions each year. While the 2009 Hummer H2 eludes EPA testing through its truck classification, independent emissions testing reports estimate that the HUMMER H2 expels 1.46 lbs of emissions per mile. Multiply this by the 12,000 estimated annual miles and the H2 delivers nearly 9 tons of annual emissions. […]

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Making Sense of the Sugar Wars

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

The Corn Refiners Association is causing quite a stir with its print ads and television commercials pushing an image makeover for high fructose corn syrup. In one TV ad, a mother pours a glass of bright red punch; in another, a woman offers a cherry-colored Popsicle. In both commercials, the women are challenged to defend their choice of food containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Each has this ready response: high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, and has the same calories as sugar. Of course they know to exercise moderation, as with any other natural sweetener but otherwise, they wonder, why all the fuss?

Is it possible that high-fructose corn syrup has gotten a bum rap? […]

Posted in food policy, food safety, sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments
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