Category Archives: food news

Different Ideas about “Quality of Life”

Some of you may know that the Department of Justice has been holding agriculture antitrust workshops over the past year, culminating with the final workshop this past week in Washington, DC. You can catch some of it on C-Span, including what I am writing about here.  I am going to leave aside things from this panel like what farmers make in relation to prices charged for food, and focus on one of the panelists, because listening to his patter you’d think we were living in a Golden Age here in the US.

Erik Leiberman, the panelist representing the Food Marketing Institute for the “Food Chain Supply Competition” portion of the workshops, rattled off some impressive-sounding statistics about how much Americans spend–or rather, don’t spend–on food. Statistics that I decided to check out. Since the FMI is an Corporate Ag entity, I was surprised at how uninformed and unprepared Mr. Lieberman seemed, and I was also surprised at the lack of research that went into his spiel.  Sadly, it seemed like another example of agribusiness not taking concerns seriously. Apparently, a Department of Justice panel wasn’t important enough for them to take time to at least prep their representative on rhetoric and sincerity.  Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, was at the panels:  “I expected to hear an industry shill parrot the corporate line, but this guy couldn’t even be bothered to sound convincing. He kept looking down at his notes to read from his talking points, which didn’t exactly endear him to the already skeptical audience. This was in contrast to others who came better prepared and in the case of actual farmers, spoke from the heart.”

I get that corporation have to make money. We all have to make a living.  Really, though, there should be some expectation of doing it in an ethical, informed, and responsible manner. This would entail knowing what you’re talking about when you speak about your business, especially when you speak in hard numbers. Mr. Lieberman not only lacked empathy or apparently emotional connection to a subject so many at the panels (and around the US) were passionate about, he also either lacked the staff to collect appropriate date or the data itself is intentionally misrepresented. I don’t expect everyone to know every detail about every facet of the business they’re in, especially if it’s a large business and they’re not the CEO; but, I do expect that if they give numbers and make correlations using those numbers that they at least 1) have the right numbers and 2) have some idea what those numbers actually mean.

During the hour-and-a-half panel discussion, Lieberman kept coming back to his assertion that the “True cost of food declined consistently over…many decades. This is despite the USDA’s price index showing steady increases of 2-6% or more a year.  Some items increased even more dramatically: ” In 2007, retail milk prices rose 11.6 percent, and egg prices were up 29.2 percent, while vegetable oil and bread prices are expected to increase 9 percent or more in 2008.” Yet, upon questioning by other members of the panel, Mr. Lieberman continued to insist prices were falling steadily. If I can find these statistics online with a quick google search on the USDA website, I’m not quite sure why Mr. Lieberman couldn’t, too.

He also asserted that US consumers spend only 9% of their disposable (after-tax) family income on food: 5.5% at home, he other 4% eating out (yes, I realize that doesn’t equal 9%).  His statistics directly conflict with government agency statistics regarding how people spend money.  According to the US Department of labor, in 2009, Americans spent 12.99% of their family income on food (7.56% at home, the rest eating out), up from 12% in 2008. According to the USDA, Americans spent 9.9% of their disposable income on food way back in 2005.  Percentage of household income spent on food has actually risen in recent years, not decreased, as have prices.

Another bit of information not mentioned is that “average” isn’t really indicative of much. The poor and lower-class spend a far larger amount of their income, about 25%, on food. The upper-middle class and wealthy significantly less. As Forbes says: “The more Americans make, the less they spend on food.”

And, many people spent essentially nothing at all, because they are on government nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC, and that doesn’t count in these statistics as a percentage of disposable income spent. Since many people using SNAP do have an income, their income is counted into the numbers used to get these statistics, but the amount spent on food using food stamps is not. Since 2008, the number of people on these assistance programs has increased dramatically. According to new USDA statistics just out (thank you Marion Nestle for pointing me to these), the number of people receiving SNAP benefits rose from 28.2M in 2008 to 40.3M in2010. That’s an increase of 12M people, and approximately 31 BILLION dollars, that is being spent on food but not tallied into Mr. Lieberman’s impressive-sounding statistics.

All this leads back to Mr. Lieberman’s continued and repeated assertion was that food prices have dropped, and that spending less of our national household income on food ” has “raised quality of life in our country.” He compares what we spend to France and Spain, who he says spend about 15% of family income on food.  “You can see how that raises quality of life in our nation,” says Mr. Lieberman. (I haven’t found the French and Spain stats for myself yet, largely because I don’t speak French or Spanish–please let me know if anyone out there has these stats.)

Let’s do some basic comparison, shall we? I’ll use Mr. Lieberman’s spending statistics,  just for fun.

Issue                                             US                           France                   Spain

Food spending                           9%                           15%                          15%

Overweight adults                    60%                            9%                         13.4%

Overweight Children                 33%                       13-15%                   25%

Type 2 Diabetes, Adult           25.9%                       3.5%                     10%

Heart disease Death*                106.5                         39.8                      53.8

*per 100,000 people

I think you get the idea here. I have no idea why Mr. Lieberman thinks that paying less for food has anything at all to do with quality of life. Diabetes, obesity, coronary disease…these have all increased dramatically as we decrease what we spend in food. I can’t speak for all Americans, of course, but I suspect that the majority would agree with me that “increased quality of life” is measured by health and well-being as well as dollars and cents. Looking at the statistics above, even if Mr. Lieberman’s 9% was accurate, it wouldn’t follow that the reduction in spending on food equals a better life.

For me, at least, increased quality of life doesn’t mean being sick and fat, even if it means I only have to spend 9% of my disposable income to get that way.

Resources:

Despite Higher Food Prices, Percent of U.S. Income Spent on Food Remains Constant., Annette Clauson.  http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/September08/Findings/PercentofIncome.htm

How The Average US Consumer Spends Their Paycheck, VisualEconomics.com. http://www.visualeconomics.com/how-the-average-us-consumer-spends-their-paycheck/

Americans Spend Less Than 10 Percent of Disposable Income on Food, Winston-Salem Newshttp://www.salem-news.com/articles/july192006/food_prices_71906.php

OECD Health Data, 2010. http://www.oecd.org/document/16/0,2340,en_2649_34631_2085200_1_1_1_1,00.html

American Diabetes Association

World Health Organization

Food stamp use and cost up sharply since 2008, by Marion Nestle. Foodpolitics.com.


The Kids Are Home, Hide the Veggies!

Schoolchildren eating hot school lunches made ...

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Time for a mid-week rant.

NPR did a story about what a great idea it is to get kids to eat vegetables at school by adding vegetable puree to the school lunch cheese sauce at lunch time.  There’s a whole movement, including cookbooks, on how to get your child to eat vegetables by hiding them in brownies, cakes, cheese sauces, etc.  I can’t even begin to express how much I loathe this entire idea. It’s faulty from it’s toes to it’s nose, it’s destructive, and it’s just stupid.

What, exactly, does this teach children about healthy eating? Nothing. They don’t learn to make appropriate food choices, they don’t learn to like healthy food. In fact, they don’t even learn what “healthy food” actually is, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re not eating it. It does teach them, however, that they don’t have to ever eat anything green. It teaches them that yes, “healthy” foods must taste crappy or why would we have to hide them? It also teaches them that they are correct when they assume they should get everything they want, that they should be catered to.

Here’s a radical thought: don’t hide children’s vegetables. Instead, let’s serve them well-cooked, healthy vegetables and then, like adults, make sure they eat them.

This is going to get really controversial, and it’s not going to be sugar coated. I am tired of all the namby-pamby advice about how to get kids to eat well. It’s not that complicated.

-Be a parent. We need to stop pandering to children. Parents get to control your child’s diet, the child does not.  Do parents let kids control the finances simply because they want to? Do parents let kids skip school because “they don’t like it?” So why in the world do they let their children control their food. Look, kids are NOT going to starve themselves to death because they’re not fed their three favorite foods every night. They CAN go to bed without dinner and not wake up emaciated and ready to die, no matter how big a fit they throw to the contrary. No one should starve their child, obviously, but unless a child has an emotional or intellectual disability, they aren’t going to starve to death because they are only presented with healthy options for dinner every night.

-Children are smart, and will manipulate you if you let them. Most of the kids who are “picky eaters” have learned that if they say “I don’t like this food,” someone will get up and make them a favorite food instead.  They have adults trained. This is a great racket, right?  This has got to stop. It’s not appropriate parenting, and it’s not doing the child any favors in the long run.

-There is a difference in “don’t like” and “not favorite.” Everyone has things they don’t like. Most people have 3-5 general things they don’t like. A child who *only* likes 3-5 thing and “doesn’t like” everything else knows how to get what they want.  Most of the time, when a child says they don’t like something, what they actually mean is they prefer something else. Time for a valuable life lesson: Too Darn Bad. We Don’t Always Get What We Want In Life.

-Kids learn to like what they’re fed. As I’ve said a thousand times, children in India are not born liking curry, children in Japan do not come from the womb craving udon,  and kids from Louisiana aren’t genetically predisposed to loving jambalaya. Children like their ethnic/cultural cuisine because it’s what they’re fed when young (and, if a child of one ethnicity/culture is adopted as a baby someone from another culture, that child does not grow up craving it’s birth-parents home cooking). A child isn’t going to learn to like legumes if they never eat them.

-Kids eat what their parents eat. Simple as that.  Just like smoking or drinking, parents need to look at what they’re eating in front of their children.

There are other things, such as it’s been proven that children who help grow and cook vegetables are far more likely to choose to eat them. Or, that children who are taught to cook tend to eat a wider variety of healthy foods. But, the main point is this: Children are children. They do not get to make the decision on whether or not they eat their vegetables. That is what parents are for. Hiding healthy food in “unhealthy” food teaches children bad eating habits, poor decision making skills, and that they don’t have to do anything they’d rather not do.

2/3 of the children in the US are obese. Most of these children will grow up to be obese adults, with all the health issues and concerns that go along with that.  This problem will not be solved by hiding vegetables in cheese sauce.


Friday Fast Ones, Oct. 21, 2010

The company logo features an Ibex, chosen for ...

Image via Wikipedia

So, for those of you waiting for it: Yes, I am diligently working on a Part II to the whole “Feed the World” thing. It’s long, it’s complicated, and I’m writing it in between Life and Everything Else. So, keep checking, it’ll be here soon. Now, onto…

Friday Fast One: Hershey sources it’s chocolate from areas and suppliers known for child and forced labor. It’s a well-known problem, one that other chocolatiers have taken steps to help remedy. Except HersheyWhat This Means To You: Well, that depends on how much chocolate you eat. For me, it means taking a stand against Scharffen-Berger, a chocolate that was amazing and is unfortunately now owned by Hershey. It means buying chocolate from other candy companies, or forgoing it. If you purchase Hershey chocolates or candies, you’re supporting their practices. Chocolate shouldn’t be an indulgence built on the backs of children and slaves.

And…that’s it. I know, slow week, largely because the issues of the past few weeks (The Rawsome Food raid vs. the Egg Debacle) is still ongoing. And, enough bloggers have hopped on that issue and done it better than I could that I don’t feel compelled to do a Friday Fast One on it. Suffice it to say that you should eat local eggs and do all you can to support local dairy.

Have a great weekend, and swing by for Monday Healthy Eating on..well, Monday!


Friday Fast Ones

Fast One: Store-purchased organic eggs may not live up to all they’re cracked up to be. Those in the local food movement pretty much already know this, but it’s worth getting out there. Most organic eggs from supermarkets are produced in glorified (and often not so glorified) factory farms with very little difference from non-organic eggs, except for the price tag. Supermarket brands, including Whole Foods, rank lowest on the list of quality. What it  means to you: If you’re buying Certified Organic eggs at the supermarket, you’re probably being shafted. Find a local farmer, and get your money’s worth. And, honestly, it’ll probably be less money; though, it’s still a far better value even if it’s the same price or more expensive.  Ask around at your local farmer’s market, or go to localharvest.org to find real eggs.

Fast One: PA rejected regulation 2777, which would have effectively banned any an all ways of selling raw milk in PA! What it means to you: Well, if you’re in PA it means you can still get raw milk. If you’re anywhere else in the country, it means that some politicians are hearing those of us who are being active about wanting choices in our food. If you want the ability to decide if you should drink raw milk, eat pastured eggs and chickens from a small farm, or any other kind of food freedom, you need to get active.  Monsanto, the Corn Refiners Association, The Dairy Council…all of these companies spend millions of dollars a year lobbying to control your food.

Fast One: Speaking of the Corn Refiner’s Association, they’re now actively pushing their “educational” agenda about HFCS on blogs, and paying or otherwise compensating “mommy bloggers” to push their product as healthy. Essentially, they give money, gifts, or other compensation to people for listening to a presentation, and they blogging the positives. CRA reps are popping up on negative-HFCS blogs everywhere, and disappear when pushed about their agenda, whether or not the CRA is paying them to comment, etc. What this means to you: Buyer beware. Take a critical look at the blogs you read, and do some digging into their integrity. Taking money or other gifts to post positively about a product or service isn’t something I consider ethical, do you? There’s a large amount of money being spent here. People are becoming more aware of  HFCS and choosing to eschew it, which is starting to hurt the profits of Corporate Agriculture. They’re fighting back, and doing it in a fairly sneaky way, which writes a story all it’s own. There’s a whole post here in and of itself, one I’ve done before in some respects; but, really, just go read the link and the comments. It’s worth it.

And, last but not least:

Friday Fast One: It’s VA Wine month! There are 180 wineries in VA, many of them using grapes grown either on their estate or in close proximity.  What this means to you: Well, a very good weekend, if you plan it right! It also means, however, that all of those locavores (I hate that word, btw) out there need to hop on this bandwagon. Supporting local includes beverages, and there are some amazing wines coming out of VA. Several wineries are competing for international awards, and holding their own. For some insights, visit Swirl, Sip Snark, Dezel at MyVineSpot.Com, Drink What YOU Like, or  VA Wine Time to check out The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and plan a trip!

To Celebrate VA Wine Month, I’ll be splashing (which means pouring wine tastings) for Wintergreen Winery at Rebec’s Garlic Fest this Saturday. Swing through, say hello, see my New Hair, and try some great local wines! I’m the short blond with the short ‘do at the tasting station!


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