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Archive for the 'Politics of Food' Category

In Which Our Heroine Plunders Apples and Makes a Triumphant Return to Blogging

This is me. And this is one of the many, many pounds of apples currently heaped up in the pantry enjoying each others’ company. More on that in a moment. First, an apology.

I cringed when I saw that my last post was on Christmas goodies. Oh, fearless cooks and dedicated eaters, I am sorry I left you. As sometimes happens, Life got incredibly busy and blogging took a back seat. A really, really back seat. Like, back a few state lines. Maybe somewhere on the other side of the Continental Divide. The other side of the Prime Meridian?


With recent changes, I have more flexibility with and control of my time, and I am looking forward to getting back to talking about food. After all, I do so enjoy a delicious conversation about food and food issues. Simply put, the Simple Spoonful is back in business. So, without further ado…

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Greens for Everyone!

The White House garden is bearing fruit. And vegetables.

I heard about it on NPR on my drive this afternoon. Sam Kass, White House Associate Chef, was talking about all the things the students of Bancroft Elementary have learned while working with Michelle Obama. These are the students who dug the dirt back in early spring, the students who planted the seeds and helped tend the garden. Today, these students joined the First Lady and a whole mess of press for a harvest meal.

For today’s feast, lettuces, chard, peas, and kale were in abundance, the early tomatoes were just shy of ready, and Sam had the opportunity to show off the first eggplant snuggled in the greens. Kids were eating vegetables seconds after picking them today. The best part of all, however, was listening to Kass describe the effects the garden had on the students. He focused on one student in particular, who spoke of having learned the importance of gentleness—with the plants, with the earthworm he dug up—and what that meant for his relationships outside the garden.

Give it a listen. It will make you smile.


Michael Pollan: Food, Ads, and Revolution

Here’s an interesting video that covers quite a bit of ground: swine flu and industrial ag, GMOs and overpopulation, politics and sustainability, and consumer confusion campaigns (including Cheerios). Pollan also mentions Michella Obama’s White House garden, big ag subsidies, and the impact of the Standard American Diet on the health care crisis.

It’s about 20 minutes long, but there’s plenty of good stuff. Pollan is a man who keeps things simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


Why Communists Hate Cheerios (and Other Tales)

It turns out that communists and their grand poo-bah (read: Barack Obama) hate Cheerios.  So says Ed Anger of the Weekly World News.  Now, I’m not familiar with Anger, and I have no idea if he shoots from the hip as a columnist or if his schtick is parody.  The pseudonym and the whole Weekly Word News medium suggest parody, but the intertubes tell me he has a devout following that embrace his rants as gospel, so what do I know?  That said, you may have noticed that Cheerios cereal has been getting some press lately due to a warning letter the FDA issued to General Mills. Certainly, some people certainly are taking the defense of their breakfast very seriously.

Seeing as she’s a red-blooded, all-American, all-capitalist sort of columnist, the (fortunately) inimitable Michelle Malkin has stepped up to decry the attack on Cheerios.  In the sparse lines of a non-article, Malkin manages to equate the Cheerio dust-up with both Nazi fascism (see the title of her post, an echo of the first line of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem) and socialism (complaining of proposed public funding of health care), an interesting paradox that defies my best attempts at logic.  To wit: based on Niemoller’s poem and Malkin’s clumsy invocation of its first line, somehow the Cheerios actually became the communists in this scenario. I honestly didn’t see that one coming.  (I doubt Malkin did, either.)

So, what’s the problem here, anyway?

According to the FDA, the problem is the liberal sprinkling of overambitious qualified health claims stamped all over every box of Cheerios, particularly this one: “[It can] lower your cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks.”

The FDA, being the killjoy that it is, had the gall to point out that a few of these claims are not backed up by  actual science.  Simply, unless GM were to add in some info about fat levels, fruits and veggies, and some other odds and ends in making a truly heart-healthy diet, these claims are misleading.  Naturally, the FDA wants these claims taken off or General Mills to consider reclassifying Cheerios as a drug, seeing as how they are trying to use a claim that “according to federal law, should apply only to drugs designed to cure disease.”  Imagine.  Those little cardboard-flavored oaty-O’s that give thousands of American children weird-tasting burps each day…soon available by prescription only?

Because I like bottom lines, I’m going to give you one.

Ain’t nobody trying to take your Cheerios away.

All the FDA is asking is that companies try not to convince consumers that good health comes in the shape of highly-processed oaty-O’s, wrapped in plastic and sitting in a pretty box.  They don’t have to stop selling them.  They just have to stop bending the truth into funny shapes while trying to sell them.

What’s the problem again?


Michelle, Michelle, Quite Contrary…How Does Your Garden Grow?

I neglected to mention in my former post that CREDO Action is sending MACA a love letter to invite them to kindly lay off the Obama’s garden.  If you want to sign, just click through to the petition.

Whether you are of the opinion that chemicals should never be used in agriculture or just that we use far too many of them for the health of ag workers and consumers…or if you just want to preserve choices for all people, take a minute, click through, and add your own note to the letter at MACA.  CREDO Action currently has 97% of its goal in signatures.  Here’s an excerpt from my comment:

The Obamas have access to highly experienced gardeners that will no doubt make a smashing success of their naturally-grown garden.  To encourage them to adopt what will certainly be unnecessary chemical applications is wasteful and irresponsible in the extreme.  I had hoped that, in the current era, we as citizens would be moving away from excessive and thoughtless consumption…towards more thoughtful, longer-term, healthier solutions.

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MACA Takes on Michelle Obama

If the president sneezes, the country gets a cold…or so the saying goes.

I guess it follows that if the First Lady plants an organic garden, the country might just go all Joni Mitchell (“Big Yellow Taxi”) on us.

That’s apparently what the Mid America CropLife Association is afraid of. Jill from La Vida Locavore reports that MACA recently sent around an e-mail plea urging their supporters to flood the White House mailbox with missives encouraging the first family to grab a sprayer and hose down that dirt patch of theirs. (Just to give you a bit of context, their officers and board of directors include representatives of such familiar household names as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta.  Do click through those links, by the way.)

The bit that baffles me is this:

Did you hear the news?  The White House is planning to have an “organic” garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama’s and their guests.  While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder.

Such horror!  She shudders!  Because, lard knows, if an organic garden takes root, it could go horribly, catastrophically wrong.

As someone who knows a whole lot of diddly-squat about gardening, I’ve had an organic garden or two go wrong in the process.  You know what happens when you don’t do it right?

Your plants get holes in them.  Sometimes, the fruits are puny or funny-looking.  Sometimes, some plants shrivel up and die.

The end.

Shall we talk about what happens when chemical dousing goes wrong?  (Follow the chemical company links above if you don’t already know.)

Of course, I’m deliberately being ridiculous.  I know full well that with the easy access to resources and master gardeners that the Obamas have, the chances that the White House garden will crash and burn are awfully slim.  MACA’s fear is not that Michelle Obama’s organic garden will fail miserably, but rather that it will succeed.

Who are you rooting for?

(Thanks to Captain Mommypants for the tip.)

It Actually Happened: The White House Gets a Makeover

Whether or not he made the call for action first, Michael Pollan certainly made it the most publicly.  In his open letter to the incoming president, written a month before the elections, he proposed the seemingly radical idea that the First Family consider “tear[ing] out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant[ing] in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.”

Well, this week they done did it.

Not five acres worth, but the South Lawn has indeed become home to a garden.

Image from the White House blog at

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Peanut Butter Gets Uglier

Current stats:  501 reported illnesses and 8 deaths attributed to this outbreak

On Wednesday on up at the capital, senior state and congressional officials called foul on the Peanut Corporation of America, the manufacturer responsible for the recent salmonella debacle.  Specifically, they charge that the PCA knowingly shipped peanut butter contaminated with salmonella multiple times throughout 2007 and 2008.  You can read the FDA report on-line to get all the gritty details about the contaminations, as well as unacceptable plant conditions, but let me hit some highlights for you.

First up is the charge that PCA knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella.  Reading over the report, you’ll find one dozen instances from June 2007 through the end of September 2008 where one strain or another of salmonella was discovered.  Troublingly, the write-ups read almost identically: Peanut product manufactured on x date under batch z tested positive for salmonella by a private laboratory.  After the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.

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More on the Peanut Butter Recalls

The saga continues.

As of yesterday, the FDA was reporting just over 500 cases of salmonella, and its recall list has become epic.  Plenty of snack crackers, ice creams, and cookies are on the list, but so are a bunch of what most consumers imagine are “healthy” snacks, including Lära Bars, Clif Bars, Carob Energee nuggets at Whole Foods, Health Valley brand granola bars, and more.  Salmonella is an equal opportunity offender.  This lesson is an important one to learn.

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On the Peanut Butter Recalls

For anyone who hasn’t heard, peanut butter is the latest regrettable star in ongoing food safety issues.  The recall was issued January 13, but the initial statement claimed that, “None of the peanut butter being recalled is sold directly to consumers through retail stores.”  This was industrial peanut butter, sold in containers ranging from 5 pounds to 50 pounds to hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and the like.  Even so, 470 people have gotten sick and six have died in this debacle.

And now, there’s a new problem.

Apparently, some of this peanut butter was sold to other processed food manufacturers.  Unsurprisingly, some peanut butter snack crackers and packaged cookies testing positive for salmonella have been traced back to this same institutional peanut butter.  In addition to the concerns for humans, there is also cause for concern if you have four-legged family members.  PetSmart is pulling some peanut butter flavored dog biscuits from its stores.  Store managers are pulling a variety of peanut butter products off the shelves until more information emerges, and consumers are now being counseled to avoid peanut butter based products of all kinds…except the standard jars of peanut butter, which are believed to be safe.

To my chagrin, Clif Bar has also instituted a voluntary recall on a variety of its peanut butter flavors.  I checked my cupboards this morning.  I had a bar included in the recall.  Now I’m sitting here, typing this post, looking at this cheerfully-colored package of “Peanut Toffee Buzz,” and feeling frustrated, hoodwinked, and a wee little bit stupid.

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