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food, nutrition, and health news



Food Policy News: Week of February 28th, 2014

Source: Food and Drug Administration
  • New research from the Berkeley Media Studies Group implicates in Big Soda in coloring media coverage of recent (failed) soda tax proposals in Richmond and El Monte, California. Their research found that the soda industry actively recruited community members – including pastors, business owners, and local politicians – to speak out against the taxes, making it appear as if opposition came from the community. Their ties to the soda industry (in some cases, these people were paid) were not disclosed. [Berkeley Media Studies Group]
  • The latest obesity rates were just released in a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) report and show that obesity is decreasing in the youngest age group, children aged 2-5, according to 2011-2012 NHANES data. Although the NYT emphasizes the 43% reduction in obesity among this small age group, the more important takeaway is that obesity rates appear to be leveling off (although increases were shown in some groups) and are still alarmingly high. [New York Times]
  • The FDA revealed the first image of redesigned food labels, the first major redesign since they were implemented nearly 25 years ago. The redesign is long overdue and there have been several other efforts to promote a more informative label, including front-of-pack labels (e.g. herehere, and here). In response to growing portion sizes, misinformation, and consumer concern about certain nutritional content (e.g. added sugar), the new labels will make a few small tweaks that will hopefully provide consumers will easy-to-interpret nutrition information. Importantly, serving sizes will not be the suggested size, but will represent the amount that consumers typically eat – e.g. 1 cup of ice cream, rather than 1/2 cup. Nutrition expert Marion Nestle supports the new design. However, some are skeptical that the changes will improve consumers’ ability to choose healthier foods, given that only a small fraction actually use the labels. [New York Times]

Michelle Obama celebrates 4th Anniversary of Let’s Move! with Jimmy Fallon

I love it anytime Jimmy Fallon and Michelle Obama team up, and Ew! is one of my favorite recurring Jimmy Fallon sketches. Michelle promotes Let’s Move! by telling Sara and Stacy to exercise by dancing and getting them to try kale chips. You can see a list of Let’s Move!’s accomplishments on their website.

Food Policy News: Week of February 21, 2014 (Mostly Soda News)


  • Last week, Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) introduced legislation SB1000 that would place a warning label on sugary drinks in California in an effort to reduce consumption and inform consumers about the health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages. The suggested label would read, “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.” A recent poll indicated that 3/4 of Californians would support a warning label. Grist thought the labels weren’t clear enough and suggested a number of other options, including, “Literally just sugar water and chemicals, what are you THINKING.” [Los Angeles Times]
  • The Healthy Child Initiative brought the issue of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to the Berkeley City Council last week. A question about the tax will be included in the community poll conducted in March, and Council will later decide whether or not it will be put on the November ballot. It’s unclear if the tax will be a special tax (requiring 2/3 voter approval), with funds earmarked for child nutrition and education programs, or a general tax (requiring 50% voter approval) with revenue going into the city’s general funds. More information about the HCI can be found at their Berkeley vs. Big Soda website. [Berkeleyside]
  • The next president of the Institute of Medicine is on the PepsiCo Board of Directors and has previously received substantial compensation from the company in the forms of money and shares. The IOM announcement makes no mention of his PepsiCo position. [Forbes]
  • Speaking of PepsiCo, we know that beverage companies have gotten more and more creative with their marketing to kids, specifically minorities – but a new game promoting Gatorade (owned by PepsiCo) has gone too far. The video game, called Bolt, actively promotes the idea that Gatorade is better than water – as the BeyondChron article states, “To undermine the benefits of water is irresponsible. It goes over the line.” Agreed! [BeyondChron]

Video Highlights Misleading Food Marketing Tactics: “The Natural Effect”

A clever little video from the folks at Only Organic, an association of organic food and retail companies, about the use of the word “natural” in food marketing. The term ‘natural’ is not officially defined by the FDA and therefore barely regulated, leading companies to plaster the label all over their processed junk foods in an effort to boost sales (similar to the idea of greenwashing to signal eco-friendly products). This video is part of Only Organic’s campaign to educate consumers about misleading food labels and promote organic foods. Be on the lookout next time you’re at the grocery store, and always read the nutrition label closely!

Food Policy in the new year – 2014!


  • After two years of struggle, a compromise Farm Bill passed in the House last week. Some of the major changes include $8 billion in cuts to SNAP Benefits, elimination of direct payments to farmers, and a bump in crop insurance payments, among other things. The bill also includes incentives for nutrition incentive programs and farmers’ market programs. [NY Times, NPR]

Update as of Tuesday 2/4/14 at 12:04pm PT – The Farm Bill just passed 68-32 in the Senate. 

  • San Francisco is preparing to put a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on the ballot in November. Supporters held a kickoff meeting in SF this past weekend as they prepare for what will likely be a tough battle against the beverage industry, aka Big Soda. The finalized language for the ballot measure is expected to be released on Tuesday and will impose the tax on distributors (as opposed to a sales tax). On the other side of the Bay, the city of Berkeley is also considering a similar tax that will be a penny-per-ounce on sugary drinks. [SF Examiner]
  • The Navajo Nation recently passed a 2% sales tax on junk food, including sugary drinks. Navajos, as well as other Native Americans, are at particularly high risk for diabetes and obesity. The tax affects sales of junk foods on their reservation, which spans a large area across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Importantly, the legislation also eliminates the sales tax for healthy foods as a way to incentivize purchases. [Food Safety News]
  • Drought conditions in California are hitting fruit & vegetable farmers hard. This marks the third dry year in a row, and the state has declared it will not be allocating water to farmers during the drought emergency. The drought conditions have been compounded by the lack of a Farm Bill, which would normally provide funds for disaster relief. [SFGate]

*image via Newseum

Nutrition & Health News: Week of November 5th

Today's NY Post Cover
Today’s NY Post Cover

This week in food policy news:

  • Cuts to SNAP (aka food stamps) took effect last week, on November 1st, after a 2009 temporary funding boost expired. While the amount of cuts per family varies depending on family size, SNAP beneficiaries will receive between $11-36 less per month to spend on food purchases. The most recent versions of the Farm Bill are expected to make further cuts to SNAP. [New York Times]
  • The FDA proposed a new rule that would no longer consider trans-fat (found in partially hydrogenated oils) to be “generally recognized as safe” due to the overwhelming amount of evidence that consuming trans fat is dangerous to one’s health. In effect, this would “all but eliminate” trans fat where it still exists – that is, mostly in processed and packaged foods. Although many food manufacturers have reduced their use of trans fat in recent years, it is a significant contributor to heart disease in the United States. [New York Times]
  • San Francisco is considering a tax of 2 cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages. Despite recent defeats of similar tax measures in two other California cities – including nearby Richmond – if anywhere can get a soda tax passed, it’s San Francisco. The funds raised from the tax would generate an estimated $31 million and would be earmarked for health and nutrition programs for kids. A recent poll of California residents indicated that support for a similar tax increased substantially when the revenues were specifically going towards school nutrition and physical activity programs. [SF Gate]
  • Massachusetts General Hospital and the Appalachian Mountain Club are teaming up to offer a program called Outdoors Rx, where overweight children receive a prescription for outdoors time and can sign up for classes through the Outdoors Rx website. The program sounds similar to Wholesome Wave’s Fruit & Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) Program, but with a focus on physical activity instead of healthy eating. I like the idea, although it’s hard to be active outdoors in Boston during all seasons. [CommonHealth]

It’s been awhile since I last posted!

Save SNAP from cuts in House Farm Bill


Have you been following the 2013 Farm Bill saga? In short, the Farm Bill (technically called the Food, Farms, and Jobs Bill) provides federal funding for a 5-year period that covers everything from crop subsidies, conservation, farmers’ market programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). The SNAP program, along with SNAP-Education, makes up approximately 80% of spending in the Farm Bill. The bill, originally slated for renewal in September 2012 (yes, this should have been the 2012 Farm Bill), has finally made it past its first hurdle in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate passed a version of the bill that cuts $4.1 billion to SNAP over a period of ten years. The House version, headed for a vote this week, packs an even larger blow to SNAP – to the tune of $20 billion in cuts. More people than ever receive SNAP benefits currently (an average of 46 million every month in 2012) and these cuts are a major threat to the millions of Americans that rely on food stamps in low-income families and communities.

As the bill nears a vote either Wednesday or Thursday this week, we must act together in order to prevent cuts to SNAP and support food access for millions who rely on this program. Reach out to your representatives in whatever way you can and let them know that protecting SNAP benefits is of the utmost importance.

How can you help? First, you should participate in National Call-in Day TODAY, June 18, 2013. Then, look at the options below.

Call the toll-free hotline at 866-527-1087

Listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.  Once you are connected to your Representative, state that you are a constituent and give your name and the town you are calling from.  If you are a food pantry or other food distribution program, be sure to give the name of the local agency you are affiliated with.

Let them know you are calling about the Farm Bill and deliver this important message:

As your constituent, I am asking you to vote against the House Farm Bill due to the cuts to SNAP.  With so many families still struggling to put food on the table, it is important to protect and strengthen programs like SNAP and TEFAP.  I understand the need to reduce the deficit, but increasing hunger is not the way to do it.

Take it to Twitter:

Spread the word by sharing with your local networks and on social media to take action on preventing cuts to SNAP.

Sample tweets

  • Call Your Rep & Tell Them to Vote No on A Farm Bill That Cuts SNAP 866-527-1087. #SNAPworks
  • Fight Hunger. Tell Your Congressman to Vote No on A Farm Bill That Cuts SNAP. 866-527-1087. #SNAPworks

Send a Letter to your Newspaper’s Editor:

Draft, adapt, and send a letter to your editor using the framework below to illustrate how the SNAP cuts through the Farm Bill impact you and/or your community:

Dear Editor,

The US House of Representatives is currently debating the next Farm Bill. This five-year bill not only addresses agriculture policy, but also sets the policy and funding for the largest federal program the supports vulnerable families facing hunger – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.)  The current House version of the Farm Bill contains devastating cuts SNAP that would negatively impact over 2 million individuals that utilize the program to ensure their family has food on the table.

[Insert story of local impact here. Could be the story of an individual that relies on the program. Could be about how your food pantry has seen an increase in demand and cannot fill in the gap that the cuts would create.]
Our community and our country is only as strong as our programs that protect the most vulnerable.

I urge Congressman/woman [insert name] to vote no on a Farm Bill that cuts SNAP.


(Individual or Organizational Signee)

For more information, check out the Food Research and Action Center. You can also contact your representative and senators through Feeding America (which also provided the toll-free number for National Call-In Day).

*above image and scripts provided by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Upcoming Events: Boston University Gastronomy Lecture Series

The Boston University Gastronomy Program just announced their Fall lecture series. All lectures are free and open to the public!

Can Food Save Washington? Inventing Terroir for the Nation’s Capital
Warren Belasco, Visiting Professor of Gastronomy
Monday, September 17, 6 PM, SHA Auditorium

Neurogastronomy: What is it, and why does it matter?
Gordon Shepard, Professor of Neurobiology, Yale University and author of Neurogastronomy
Wednesday, October 24, 6 PM, SHA Auditorium

Writing Food History – A Conversation
Kyri Claflin, Lecturer in Gastronomy, and co-author of Writing Food History: A Global Perspective
Monday, November 5, 5 PM, Fuller Building room 109, 808 Commonwealth Avenue

Around the Italian Table – a roundtable discussion of Contemporary Food Ethnography in Italy
Carole Counihan, Visiting Professor of Gastronomy, Rachel Black, Assistant Professor of Gastronomy and Valeria Siniscalchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, EHESS
Monday, November 12, 6 PM, SHA Auditorium

For more information, contact I also encourage you to check out the BU Food & Wine Program, which offers cooking classes, demonstrations, and lectures on topics ranging from Julia Child to “Studies in Beer.”

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

“Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” – Julia Child

Julia Child, a culinary idol and herald of French cooking, would have turned 100 years old today.

Chefs and others in Cambridge, MA, where Julia lived late in her life and where she filmed her PBS show, are celebrating her life. Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute is hosting a symposium celebrating Julia Child’s life next month, on September 21, exploring three phases of her life: in Paris, Cambridge, and on national television as the exuberant cook we all know and love. If you are unable to attend the symposium, the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe is also home to an extensive collection of Julia’s papers (letters, notes, recipes), which can be visited any time.  Upstairs on the Square, one of my favorite restaurants, is dedicating their Restaurant Week menus to her and several other local restaurants are hosting special events.

Julia led a very interesting, and fulfilling life. Learn more in this lovely New York Times article, read friend Jacques Pépin’s tribute to her, read My Life in France (Julia’s autobiography), visit her original Cambridge kitchen at the Smithsonian, watch her memorable TV moments or this awesome remix, and be sure to check out today’s Google doodle. Cook a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, watch Julie & Julia (much better than the book), check your local PBS schedule for episodes of The French Chef, search for #CookForJulia on Twitter, or look for her in Washington, DC’s Spy Museum. Also read her forthcoming biography by Bob Spitz called, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child.”

Bon appétit!

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