Category Archives: food politics

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the obfuscation of measurement

Andrea Wiley
Indiana University

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) were finally released on January 7 2016 to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA).  The long delay between the DGA Advisory Committee Scientific Report completion (February 2015), the end of the public comment period (May 2015), and the announcement of the 2015 DGAs in January 2016 suggests a protracted period of lobbying by various food industries that ultimately produced particularly vague and timid DGAs that state that American diets need only be “nudged” by small “shifts.”  Most of the press has been appropriately cynical about these, and there is no need to belabor the role of food industry lobbyists and their insidious negative impact on the process of developing useful guidance and related policies that could actually enhance the health of Americans.  Most notably, the Scientific Report had highlighted sustainability as an important consideration for dietary guidance for the first time, and it specifically recommended that Americans reduce their consumption of red and processed meats.  Neither made it into the DGAs.

Instead, the 5 key messages of the 2015 DGAs are:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the life span.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

What is one to make of such a set of bullet points?  The only one that seems even remotely more than sloganeering is the third, and there is a curiously large gap between limits on nutrients and the overall DGA emphasis on whole eating patterns.   The third bullet point requires some knowledge of where items might be found, since nutrients, rather than foods, are its focus.  What are the main sources of added sugars?  Sodas!  Saturated fats? Red meat and cheese! Sodium?  Virtually all processed foods!

Marion Nestle has already pointed out that “eat less” messages in the DGAs are couched in terms of nutrients, while “eat more” messages encourage foods (e.g. lean meats).  The cmp_slideshow_plateMyPlate translation of this guideline is: “Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars”.  These are not obvious items to avoid on grocery store shelves, nor do their food sources come with bold messages: High in Added Sugar! High in Sodium!

But an additional area of obfuscation in the DGAs specifically and nutrition labeling more generally, is quantification. The first two should make up<10% of total calories (a unit most of us struggle to comprehend), and sodium should be <2300 mg. Given American’s longstanding rejection of the metric system, it’s curious that nutrients are listed on food labels or referenced in the DGAs in metric units.  In science, these are standards, but from the perspective of metric-illiterate American consumers, they are utterly useless.  For example, a 12 ounce can of soda (note use of the U.S. customary weight measure for food) has 33 grams of sugar.  How much is 33 grams? A gram seems like such a tiny unit, so this must be a minuscule amount.  Measured in more familiar units, 33 grams of sugar is over 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons or 1/8th of a cup).  In contrast, 2300 mg of salt seems like a lot, but it is in fact only 1 teaspoon (or 2.3 grams, which makes it seem like very little!).  The teaspoon unit appears only once in the DGAs, in the recommendation for oils (to replace solid fats).

There is much more to say about the 2015 DGAs as a lost opportunity to take a strong stance on diet in relation to Americans’ high risk of diet-related chronic diseases and the long term viability of our food supply.  As it stands, it continues a long history of vague dietary guidance that will have little impact on American dietary patterns.

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Farm To Table, New Orleans, August 8-10 2015

Symposium-Logo-Website-Header1

The 3rd Annual Farm to Table International Conference is scheduled for August 8-10, 2015, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. F2Ti features the brightest thought leaders and leading practitioners in the burgeoning farm-to-table movement. F2Ti explores the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of food and drink sourced locally to globally. It takes place in tandem with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Annual Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, an event attracting food and beverage professionals from across the country.

This year’s theme, “A Feast for the Senses,” spotlights the sensual aspects of food and drink at every stage of the agricultural-culinary cycle. Topics will include, but are not limited to, best practices in urban farming, bringing products to market, sourcing locally, enhancing sustainability, and the latest trends and developments in the industry, including food science, security, and safety.

Program Features:

  • Panels on best practices in the following educational tracks:

•    Crop to Cup (Brewing, Distilling, Vinting, plus non-alcoholic beverages)
•    Farming and Production
•    Food and Beverage Journalism and Media
•    Farm to School
•    Food Innovation (Science, Technology, Trends, etc.)

  • Keynote speakers of national and international standing
  • Numerous opportunities for networking during the three-day conference program
  • Chef Demos and “Knowledge Center” presentations

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:

  • Chefs, mixologists, and restaurateurs
  • Researchers, academics, and policymakers
  • Farmers and agricultural professionals
  • Writers, publishers, and media
  • Slow food advocates
  • Brewers, distillers, vintners, and distributors
  • Farmers markets and urban farmers
  • Nutritionists and health professionals
  • Grocers and retailers
  • CSA/RSA
  • Foragers
  • Food incubators
  • Food hubs

Additional information can be found here. Registration is here.

F2T is produced by the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in partnership with the SoFAB Institute and the LSU AgCenter.

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CFP: Dystopian Underbellies of Food Utopias

With visions of Soylent (or the original, here) in the news these days, who can resist the following call for papers for a panel at the upcoming International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) conference in Zagreb, June 21-25, 2015.

Here is the panel description:

THE DYSTOPIAN UNDERBELLY OF FOOD UTOPIAS
Meltem Türköz (Işık University), António Medeiros (ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon)

This panel aims to bring together papers that explore the moral, aesthetic and philosophical axises around which food utopias are invoked, practiced and performed. Alan Warde’s insight that “the structural anxieties about our age are made manifest in discourses about food” invites us to explore the dystopian underbellies of food utopias. Whether they appeal to authenticity, peace, safety, equality, or plenty, food utopias inherently imply their physical, moral or aesthetic dystopian inverse: of industrial process, adulteration or contamination, distasteful palates, and of unshared bounty. In a cross-cultural parable about the difference between paradise and hell, people sit around a great pot of delicious food, holding spoons too long and large to feed themselves, only to be able to eat when they feed each other. Food-related responses to the industrial food complex, neoliberal globalization and militarization invoke the reciprocity and interconnectedness implied in this parable. The imaginary of un-alienated labor informs the marketing of otherwise industrially prepared foods. In the discourse of purity in extra virgin olive, of authenticity in heirloom fruits and vegetables, food imaginaries in film or literature, the spectacle of hospitality in tourism, or the practice of gift economies in social movements, actors highlight various stages of production, consumption and preparation. We hope to explore the following questions, among others: How are food utopias acquired or cultivated and manifested in daily life? What aspects of food production, exchange, or consumption do these practices and performances reify and make visible—and across which temporal, geographic and spatial boundaries?

The deadline for submissions on the conference web site is January 14th, 2015.

Send inquiries about the panel to Meltem Türköz (fmturkoz@gmail.com) or António Medeiros (antonio.medeiros@iscte.pt).

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CFP: Trusting the hand that feeds you

Conference of possible interest to readers of this blog:

The interdisciplinary research group Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel invites papers and panel proposals for its 2015 conference, Trusting the hand that feeds you. Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food, which will held in Brussels from 7 to 9 September 2015.

The conference will bring an historical perspective to the study of consumer anxieties about food. Paper proposals are due on December 15, 2014.  For more details, visit the conference web site.

 

 

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Food not Mines? Questions Regarding Sweden’s National Mining and Food Policies and Sami Rights

Amanda S. Green
Oregon State University

On September 14 Sweden will hold its national and municipal elections. What is most remarkable about these elections – from my perspective – is the increasing popularity of Sweden’s right-wing, nationalist party (the Swedish Democrats) that only gained parliamentary standing in the 2010 elections (with 5.7% of the vote) and the unprecedented attention paid to questions of Sami and reindeer herding rights.

In a recent interview on national radio with the Swedish Democrat’s leader, Jimmie Åkesson, the reporter asked for the party’s position on Sami land use rights and Sweden’s intention to continue mining in the north (the historic lands of the Sami people). Åkesson’s response was typical for his party: “by Sami I suppose you mean reindeer herders, the 10% of Sami who engage in herding on nearly one third of the country’s land. Mining is important to Sweden, and if it has to take account of reindeer herding it will be hindered. A balance has to be found, and the national interest must take priority.” Åkesson then dismissed the reporter’s question regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At this moment, most of Sweden’s leading political parties (including right-wing, center/moderate, and socialist) are strongly promoting the mining of iron in the north to largely foreign companies, but not without debate. Much of this discussion has been occurring in Jokkmokk, the rural town where I have been conducting ethnographic research for the past year. Jokkmokk is unique in northern Sweden. It is in one of the few regions that has no mining industry, has a strong reindeer herding industry, and has a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Laponia, within its borders.

Where does food come in to a discussion of mining? Sweden’s leading political parties have simultaneously been building the national Matlandet program (the Culinary Nation) that is intended to revitalize Sweden’s rural regions by building artisanal and local food production. In 2014 Jokkmokk was selected as Sweden’s Matlandethuvudstad, or Culinary Capital, partly in recognition of the Sami culinary and reindeer heritage that is so strong in the region as well as the wild products that come from its mountains and forests.

Jokkmokk’s inhabitants live between the tensions of these two national programs: mining town or food town. Government representatives from both the food and mining sectors have visited the town during the past year, each there to promote or explain their programs. In interviews, food producers expressed positive and negative views to mining, acknowledging that more customers and more money help any business at the same time that Jokkmokk’s nature-based image and the land base for wild food production are destroyed. They are also unsure that food production or mining alone are the solution to revitalizing rural areas.

Sami Slow Food

 

Interesting forms of protest occur within this tension. For example, Slow Food Sapmi released a beautiful and informative cookbook this spring Smak på Sapmi (Taste of Sapmi) involving many individuals from the Jokkmokk area. On the same day of the cookbook release, the below image of a Swedish open pit mine began to circulate via Facebook. Overlaid on the image is the text: Taste of Sapmi: The Colonizer’s Best Recipes, New Chapter, Mining Boom 2.0.

Sami Open Pit2

 

The context raises questions about national policies, the role of food in rural development and imagination, not to mention questions of indigenous rights and recognition. For anyone headed to Slow Food’s biannual Terra Madre this year, check out the Slow Food Sápmi booth and cookbook (send me your impressions!). Until then, I will be writing and awaiting the results of this election. Thus far, polls indicate increasing support (10%) for the Swedish Democrats, and yet quite interestingly, support for Sami cuisines also continues to grow.

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Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students

SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market

Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food activism, food politics, students

Book Review: Food Policy in the United States

food policy cover photo

Wilde, Parke. 2013. Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Routledge, Earthscan Food & Agriculture series, New York and London.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Parke Wilde has produced a concise, encyclopedic text on Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Organized into twelves chapters, the volume could serve as a basic narrative text in agricultural economics for undergraduates, or for anthropologists teaching US food policy courses from multiple cultural perspectives. Chapter 1, “Making food policy in the US” presents the author’s interdisciplinary approach. By “interdisciplinary” he means economics and politics that enter into the evidence base for food policy making, in relation to what he depicts as “a social ecological framework for nutrition and physical activity decisions”, a figure incorporating environmental, social, cultural, and psychological components, drawn from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) formulations. This initial chapter carefully defines terms of analysis: food marketing chains, markets and government agencies; public goods, externalities, and calculations of inequalities and pareto optimal conditions; interest groups and advocacy coalitions and what they do; the various government legislative branches and committees and executive agencies, and how they function with respect to policy planning, implementation, and evaluation; Farm Bill and “captured agency” (one overwhelmingly subject to one group’s influence). In total, Wilde defines in bolded type 31 separate terms in this introduction, which asserts the volume’s theme, that “all of US food policy-making takes place … subject to the push and pull of competing private interests and public objectives”.

The next three chapters describe cases of “Agriculture,” “Food production and environment,” and “Food production and agricultural trade”. Chapters 5 and 6, co-authored with Daniel Hatfield, expand into “Food manufacturing” and “Food retailing and restaurants”. Chapters 7 through 11 consider food quality and nutrition issues: “Food safety,” “Dietary guidance and health,” “Food labeling and advertising,” “Hunger and food insecurity,” and “Nutrition assistance programs for children”. There is a short “Postcript–looking forward”, followed by twelve pages of references and an index.

Each chapter, with clearly articulated learning objectives, is organized with numerical headings and subheadings, so readers stay on track. Plentiful illustrative graphics visually elaborate quantitative and occasionally narrative concepts, and numerous tables describe the different activities of the various food-policy agencies responsible for particular points of policy, and what kinds of actions they take to advance (whose) priority political agendas with respect to the chapter’s issues. Many key policy controversies are presented in “Box” form, including hot-button issues, such as the safety or advisability of GMOs or the costs of biofuels, both summarized in Chapter 3. Non-economists will appreciate that mathematical tools to calculate policy costs, impacts, and tradeoffs are summarized in box form, and do not distract from the comprehensive and comprehensible narrative.

The book offers anthropologists teaching agriculture, food, and nutrition courses a useful handbook, written from the perspective of a policy maker operating inside and outside of USDA. Individual chapters, boxes, and figures provide provocative materials for class discussions; for example, how useful is the “social ecological framework” (Figure 1.1) for describing or evaluating sustainable food systems, and how does it compare and contrast with anthropologists’ models of food systems, and agricultural or dietary change? It might be pedagogically effective, in addition, to pair certain of the chapters with other contrasting policy materials: for example, this book’s chapter on production and environment issues (which defines the terms “local” and “organic” and boxes policy issues related to “GMOs” and “biofuels”), with readings from Food First-Institute for Food and Development Policy, or articles published in Culture & Agriculture‘s journal, CAFE; or Wilde’s chapters on “Dietary guidance and health” or “Food labeling and advertising” with Margaret Mead’s 1940s summary of “Food Habits” research and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics critique of the same topics. Discussions of effective consumer demand and its influence on market supply in chapter 6, and of food safety issues summarized in chapter 7, might make good basic reading and discussion materials, whereas “policy options” discussions related to dietary guidelines, food labels, food-security calculations, and child nutritional regulations could form the basis for policy exercises the instructor might want to tailor to particular class interests and skills levels. The conclusions to chapter 4 (p.76), on “food and agricultural trade,” quite effectively illuminate the commonalities and differences between the concerns of food economics and the anthropology of food and nutrition. How convincing are the ‘real-world data” that allow economists to dispassionately assess potential benefits of exchange across borders, but lose individual or community perspectives on winners and losers?

In sum, whether or not you personally purchase the book, it would be useful to have an electronic copy on hand at your library, where professionals and students can consult its definitions and statistics on demand, and so inform their participation in evidence-based and highly emotional food-policy debates.

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