As we write this, on the same day as President Obama will make his State of the Union address, we have the opportunity yet again (wasn’t New Year’s Day just yesterday?) to reflect on the past year and look towards new things to come. What’s the state of your personal health and wellness Union?
This week we’ve found some little celebrations for our fight against fast-food, as well as plenty of reasons to keep on fighting. We are excited and a little bit wary of some moves “big food” has made towards sustainability and workers' rights. We’ve got some concerning news about the FDA, as well as a new way to GET INVOLVED in preventing GMOs from going into school cafeterias and grocery stores. There are also some inspiring tips on how to keep your home toxin-free, and a particularly inspiring story of a college student who is fighting hunger. There’s plenty of other great news tidbits below, so please read on, Warriors.
Words to Live By
“We went out of our way to give everything to the earth, and the earth gives back to us.”
— Jack Lazor, who started his organic dairy farm in the 1970s, quoted in the NY Times story below
Slow it Down, FDA. Slow it down!
For those of us paying attention, “FDA Approved” does not necessarily mean that a product is 100% safe, and this week, we learned that a recent study out of Yale University discovered that about ⅓ of drugs that are approved by the FDA are done so based on one study. Although the FDA released a written statement defending and explaining its process, we still remain ever-inquisitive about the things that we put into our bodies regardless of who approves it.
More Organic Growth in Organic
The organic market just keeps growing as more and more people are becoming interested in eating food that is free of synthetic pesticides and GMOs. Businesses (and soup kitchens!
) are seizing the opportunity. This little article about an Australian organic food start-up’s
projected profits is just more proof that the organic movement is hot. The Motley Fool article below outlines three companies that may be worth watching. Also, read more about how some of the big players in the business world are working on making organics, and its market share,
bigger. Though the organic and sustainable philosophy may not completely jive with a corporate structure, it is clear that we’ll see plenty more marketing of organics soon.
And while you’re at it, check out this awesome NY Times article on a gathering of some of the earliest pioneers
in organic farming and the sustainable food movement. Eliot Coleman, Michael Ableman, and Deborah Garcia were just a few of the people at this week-long conference about how they could pass their knowledge on to the next generation. These are some of the folks who are the very reason that organic and sustainable farming is on our minds today.
Big Ag, Big Food: Beware
Last month, Monsanto allied with the microbial focused company Novozymes
to make bio-ag microbial products to help with “sustainable” agriculture. As we learn below, this week Monsanto is now breaking into the GMO-free space with cross-breeding techniques. It may make you equally nervous to know that PepsiCo and Unilever have just launched a sustainable agriculture tool.
If you’re like us, then you’re very wary of giant corporate actors taking over our food system, and it doesn’t sit well to have a juggernaut like Monsanto trying to break into the organic market. Yes, it’s nice to see that these companies are interested in sustainability, but it is hard to trust that they won’t co-opt the word “sustainable” to serve their best interests. We’re watching them!
Farm Bull: Two Sneaky Last Minute Farm Bill Proposals
As the Farm Bill comes closer to its long-overdue passage, it looks like a few groups of sly actors are trying to get in on the action. Iowa Representative Steve King’s Protect Interstate Commerce Act would severely minimize health and production standards set for agricultural commodities, despite its cleverly crafted name. There is also opposition to the proposed payment program limit reform, which would prevent tax dollars from going to large scale industrial agricultural producers. Though, it looks like each of these initiatives won’t go anywhere, it just goes to show the power that this Farm Bill will have. Keep paying attention; the Farm Bill is probably the single-most powerful influence on our food system and our health as it relates to food.
The Apple that Falls Far From the Tree
As the GMO labeling debate rages on, biotech companies are still hard at work. This time, with our fruit. The USDA has extended the comment period on a gene modification in apples that would prevent them from browning. As with all GMO’s, we know little about how these modifications will affect us. Check out the Food Democracy petition to USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak, asking him to deny the approval of the fruit, and make a public comment at regulations.gov
The Fast Food Frontline
McDonald’s on the Down
For the first time in a while, McDonald’s global earnings are on the decline. Speculations cite the flop of the "Mighty Wings"
and higher-priced sandwiches as some of the causes of the slowdown, but we’d like to think that it is because of people waking up to the blatant unhealthiness of the chain’s food (and fast-food in general). That being said, we are talking about a decline of about 2%— a percent drop in earnings, not a loss in profit. So, clearly, this fast-food giant is in no real danger of shrinking anytime soon.
With another little “win” that we can celebrate this week, a county council in Ireland denied approval of plans for a McDonald’s to be built next to a school. It’s the sum total of little things like this that can snowball into real change for our health!
Food Workers Rights and Wendy’s: Not so Impressive
Here at WW we believe that good food is, whenever possible, organic, local, and the end result of a FAIR and dignified process, from soil to swallow. Hence, we occasional report on economic and labor-rights issues like this:
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CCW) Fair Food Program (FFP) got some big news this week when Wal-Mart agreed to work
with the group to promote its initiative of making sure that farm workers get fair wages. But as one corporate actor turns a good hand (or at least postures to do so) another lags way behind. The fast food chain Wendy’s has once again declined to join the FFP, a workers’ rights initiative primarily centered around tomato pickers in Florida, claiming that its suppliers already follow a code that ensures similar rights to its workers. In other workers-rights news related to this top five fast-food supplier, a Wendy’s is the focus of daily protests over the firing of an employee who ironed a shirt on company time. It’s no surprise that a fast-food company is being flagged for questionable worker’s rights practices, but we’ll make sure to keep Wendy’s on our watchlist.
And while we are on the subject, check out this great interview with Michael Pollan on paying food workers an honest wage and the lack of accounting for the externalities of our food system when setting prices for our food.
Greening and Cleaning Your Home and Community
We found two great lists this week that might give you some useful tips about keeping your home chemical free, eating healthy and saving money.
A Vision in Calories
Counting calories? It’s much easier to read the nutrition facts on the back of a package than it is to guess at the contents of a plate of food. This little photo essay gives an easy reference for a lot of our often consumed foods.
What We're Watching
Helping Colleges Help the Hungry
Hunger abounds in our country and ironically, so does food waste. Some of this phenomenon boils down to some pretty simple logistical problems. What if safe food that goes untouched could go to people who need it? It turns out that there are some great organizations who are tackling this problem with some impressive results. The Food Recovery Network, started by a college student, has donated over 190,000 meals to the hungry by simply moving unused college cafeteria food. Check out how a little innovation and motivation can make a huge difference!
Consternation over Certification
Food labels and certifications can be helpful when trying to choose a product that is inline with your values and dietary needs. It can also be overwhelming to gauge how much importance you should put on any one label. “Sustainable” is one word that is often conflated with some of these labels, and we do worry that it can be a buzzword without much substance. Some great labels out there that do have meaning. Confusing, right? This radio piece delves into the world of food labeling, some of the criteria that companies are using and ways in which consumers can navigate the food labeling space.
A Salad for the Season
We often associate salads with the warmer months, but months that end in “ry” can be the perfect time to enjoy a warm melange of our favorite produce. This “meaty” salad packs a significant protein punch. Serves well as a side dish, or as a meal in and of itself.
Warm Lentil and Potato Salad
Makes 4 lunch servings, 6 servings as a side dish
- 2 large shallots, 1 halved, 1 finely diced,
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 cup dry small green lentils
- 1 small bay leaf
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced or smashed to a paste (I use less)
- 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup of your favorite olive oil
- 2 teaspoons capers, rinsed if salted, drained if brined, and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons cornichons or other sour gherkins, roughly chopped
- 1 to 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Cook lentils: Pick over and rinse lentils. Place them in a small/medium saucepan with the halved shallot, thyme branches, bay leaf, some salt and 4 cups of water. Simmer the lentils over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm-tender. Drain (discarding shallot, thyme and bay leaf) and keep warm.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes: In a separate saucepan, cover potatoes with 1 to 2 inches cold water. Set timer for 15 minutes, then bring potatoes to a simmer. When the timer rings, they should be easily pierced with a toothpick or knife. Drain and keep warm.
Make the dressing: Place the chopped shallot and red wine vinegar in the bottom of a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in minced garlic, dijon, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and olive oil. Stir in chopped capers, cornichon and scallions.
Assemble salad: Slice potatoes into 1/2-inch segments and place in serving bowl. Add lentils, dressing and all but 1 tablespoon parsley and combine. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed. Scatter salad with remaining parsley.
Serve alone, with a soft-cooked egg on top, or as a side to a larger roast, chop or sausages. Reheat as needed. If you plan to make this at the outset of several meals and would like to eat it warm, I’d keep the dressing separate, warming only the lentils and potatoes and stirring in the cold dressing to taste.
Keeps in fridge for up to 5 days.