Archive for the month “December, 2011”

FDA gives up on antibiotic restrictions in livestock

As these excerpts from a Grist article make clear, it is maddeningly difficult to make changes in national food regulations, despite conclusive evidence that “business as usual” is injurious to the public health.

I admire and support  the organizations who keep up the fight, despite year after year of defeats.  In the meantime, I am grateful to have the option of buying local, antibiotics-free, grass-fed meat from farmers and ranchers I know and trust.   I can’t change national policy, but I can try to make the option to buy healthy, local meat  more readily available for more Portland-area residents in 2012.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled a Scrooge move just before Christmas. The agency published an entry in the Federal Register declaring that it will end its attempt at mandatory restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The agency isn’t advertising the shift, though: This news would have remained a secret if not for Maryn McKenna’s Superbug blog over at Wired. McKenna, who specializes in writing about antibiotics and their link to pathogens, caught the Federal Register notice.

This is a sorry end to a process that began in 1977 (!), but McKenna created an excellent timeline that traces the history of the issue back to the 1950s. In 2009, the Obama administration breathed new life into a moribund process because the top two Obama appointees at the FDA, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and her then-deputy Joshua Sharfstein, strongly supported restricting antibiotic use in agriculture.

But despite Hamburg and Sharfstein’s many supportive statements, the FDA has only produced a draft set of “voluntary” guidelines. And, with this latest announcement, it looks like that’s as far as they’re willing to go.

Inaction has consequences: According to the vast majority of microbiologists and public health experts, restrictions on agricultural uses are key to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics as well as to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and salmonella Heidelberg (cause of last summer’s record-breaking ground turkey recall). And it’s no small dosage: Every year 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to animals — often via their feed. That figure represents 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S.”

via Scrooged: FDA gives up on antibiotic restrictions in livestock | Grist.

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Oh, SNAP! Grow gardens with food stamps

As a gardener myself and a Friends of Portland Community Gardens Board member, I want to help spread the word about this use of little known use for food stamps:

An online resource called SNAP-Ed Connection offers training and education materials for SNAP providers who want to give would-be gardeners more guidance and support. But “not many states are doing much in the way of gardening education for SNAP recipients,” Simon said. He gets inquiries from master gardeners interested in working with food stamp recipients in their communities, and if the ground-up progression of the urban farming movement so far is any indication, that kind of grassroots, volunteer-powered education may be a better way to get EBT users started gardening than waiting on government offices to provide training.

With the help of a $1,000 microgrant from Awesome Food, SNAP Gardens will start working with The Dinner Garden — which sends out free starter packs of seeds by request — to set up a telephone hotline with gardening information. (Simon said that Dinner Garden founder Holly Hirshberg didn’t know about using SNAP benefits for seeds until he told her.) Part of the grant will also pay to include a flyer about using EBT for seeds with every packet The Dinner Garden sends out, with the assumption that many of those requesting free seeds might also be eligible for SNAP.

Hightower said her garden doesn’t offset her grocery budget dramatically — it produces maybe five dollars’ worth of salad greens a week. But using her SNAP benefits to garden is worth it for other reasons. “It makes me feel good, like I’m holding onto my values,” she said. “My kids know that going out and picking your greens is normal; it’s part of our family’s culture. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t have this for yourself.”

Read the entire article at Oh, SNAP! Grow gardens with food stamps | Grist.

FYI:  there are scholarships available in Portland for plots in some of the community gardens (if you lack the space to garden where you live). Contact FPCG or the City of Portland Community Gardens Program (info can be found on the FPCG website).  Growing Gardens is also an awesome resource for learning how to grow your own food in whatever size  piece of land you have available.

Girl Scouts Offer ‘Locavore’ Badges

Once upon a time long, long ago, I was a girl scout.  Truth be told,  I was a very enthusiastic girl scout–except for the selling cookie part which I never could stand–who had badges down and up both sides of my sash.  My mother would have said this was just me being an overachiever, but I like to think I was also interested in mastering some of the things you had to learn to earn each of the badges.

So I was excited to see that scouts can now earn “Locavore” badges, which I definitely would have been all over had they been offered in my day.

So, how does a scout earn a locavore badge? Here’s are the guidelines:

  • Explore the benefits and challenges of going local
  • Find your local food sources.
  • Cook a simple dish showcasing local ingredients.
  • Make a recipe with local ingredients.
  • Try a local cooking challenge
How awesome is that?  I don’t suppose that if I write the Scouts and ask them, they will send me a badge—even though I’ve done all those things and also write this blog.  I wonder if I know anyone with daughters who are scouts who’d like to earn a locavore badge.  I’m available to help!

School Lunch Programs: Turning Food into Junk

There has been a lot of outrage online about the fact that Congress allowed plain pizza to be classified as a vegetable because there is tomato paste on it.  But less discussion about some of the other things that are wrong with school lunches  detailed in this Grist article:

In a collaboration between The New York Times and the Investigative Fund, reporter Lucy Komisar delved into the billion-dollar business of the national school lunch program and found some unsettling news.

Komisar looked at two less-examined aspects of the school lunch program. The first is the practice of taking up to $1 billion of “surplus” fruits, vegetables, and meats that the USDA supplies to the program and, rather than cooking them into healthy meals, turning them into high-fat processed foods. The second is the surprisingly inefficient economics of outsourcing cafeteria services to private companies like Sodexo or Aramark.

As for the first practice, about $1 billion of surplus foods like apples, potatoes, and chicken are transferred from the USDA to schools for free every year. Only most schools don’t prepare the foods in their own kitchens — they pay processing companies, as Komisar says, “to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza, and the like.”

And, of course, french fries.

Schools across the country have shut down their own kitchens in favor of facilities that can reheat and serve these processed foods. The logic was supposed to be irresistible — it combined the efficiencies of centralized food production with the simplicity of easily trained workers.

However, as Komisar observes, turning chicken into chicken nuggets isn’t all that cheap:

The Michigan Department of Education, for example, gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.

… Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding “no substantive economic savings.”

Komisar also quotes another study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which determined that this practice transformed perfectly good ingredients into foods that “have about the same nutritional value as junk foods.”

For some reason, this reminds me of an old Bill Cosby routine about why he doesn’t play golf.  In it, he explains that golf doesn’t make sense to him because “You HAD the ball and then you hit it away.”   It’s the same with the USDA surplus food which schools get for free–You HAD real food and then, you turned it into junk.  And not just junk, but more expensive junk–which makes no sense at all.

The article goes on to talk about why it would be better job-wise, cost-wise, health-wise to go back to actually cooking school lunches onsite, rather than simply reheating prepared food.  But alas, there are big food lobbies for prepared food who don’t want to lose out on this captive market.   Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see that despite arguments to the contrary, it really doesn’t even make economic sense (for anyone except big business) to do it the way it is currently being done in many school districts.

via A dollar badly spent: New facts on processed food in school lunches | Grist.

West Coast & Northeast are Tops for Local Food

There’s a lot of interesting information in this Grist article,  but what really caught my eye is this information about which parts of the country have the highest “local food” concentrations:

“The USDA found that the local food economy is concentrated on the West Coast, as well as in the Northeast. Surely population density plays a role, but the study noted that local sales are higher in these two particular areas than in other equally dense regions of the country. The study’s authors speculate that there might be a “neighborhood effect” (though I might call it a “network effect”) of some kind where the presence of a certain critical mass of local farmers makes it more possible for new ones to get into the game.”

via A local food blueprint | Farm Bill 2012 | Grist.

Certainly, we are blessed here in Portland with lots of “local food options.” But it’s interesting to note where else that can be found.

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