What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, July 19, 2010 by Intern
Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has been defending both Big Ag and small farms in recent Senate hearings, leaving both sides scratching their heads. “I have two sons,” he says, “and I love them both.”
by intern Shauna Nep
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been criticized by some in Big Ag for his promotion of small-scale farmers and local food systems. And yet—he has been passionately defending conventional producers conventional producers recent Senate hearings. As well as small-scale farmers. Some are upset with Vilsack’s centrist attitude, but Vilsack says that his approach embraces all agriculture and is not about choosing sides, “I have two sons,” he says, “and I love them both.”
In his defense of conventional agriculture, Vilsack emphasized the “exciting potential” of using agricultural waste for biofuels, which he has described as the “key to revitalizing the economy.” Vilsack has also asserted that we owe farmers thanks for how little Americans pay for food, saying that while the average American spends about 10% of their income on food, other developed countries pay closer to 25% or 30%. [To listen, click here.]
At the same time, Vilsack continues to strongly defend small and mid-scale farms and local food systems. In an exchange with Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, Vilsack was asked where production agriculture and commodity crops fit into USDA’s focus on the five pillars for the next farm bill (regional food systems, rural broadband, renewable energy, conservation and ecosystem market incentives). Vilsack responded by acknowledging the importance of global trade markets, but also by defending local food systems:
“It’s also about expanding domestic markets, and creating opportunities. That’s one of the reasons why we are focused on trying to better link local production with local consumption; this is not just about very very small operations. This is about production agriculture. The ability of schools, institutional purchasers of food, to be able access things locally. Sometimes you’d be surprised that there are folks in small communities who are purchasing food from far far away that don’t realize or appreciate what’s being grown and raised in their area. That’s why we’re focusing on trying to rebuild the supply chain with local slaughter facilities and mobile slaughter facilities with storage facilities, also creating job opportunities.” [To listen to Vilsack’s response, click here].
Can Vilsack promote the local food system while still supporting Big Ag? Post your comments below.
Posted on Fri, July 16, 2010 by Slow Food USA
An update on the school lunch bill in the House of Representatives.
Yesterday, the House Committee on Education and Labor, which is tasked with updating the National School Lunch Program, finally passed its Child Nutrition bill (H.R. 5504) by a bipartisan vote of 32 to 13. The bill proposes to establish healthier nutrition standards for school meals, to kick junk food out of school vending machines, and to help schools connect with local farms and plant school gardens. It would also provide a very modest increase (six cents) to the funding schools receive to serve each lunch ($2.68, about a dollar of which goes to ingredients).
While we’re glad to see progress being made, six cents isn’t going to transform a program that’s failing to serve healthy food in the midst of a child obesity crisis.
The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a similar Child Nutrition bill in March. Now that both bills are out of committee, we’re waiting on Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule both the bills for floor debate and pass them as quickly as possible. Child Nutrition programs were supposed to be updated last year, and are currently on a one-year temporary extension. The current legislation expires on September 30, so if House and Senate leaders don’t move quickly, we may see another one-year delay – which means another year of neglecting the health of America’s children.
Posted on Mon, July 12, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Shauna Nep
What does it take to bring real change to the food system? Does change start with the American public and the grassroots? Does change rest with the farmers who grow our food? To get where we want to be we need the support of both, and so it is important to understand the concerns of both. What are Americans most concerned about? What are farmers looking for in farm policy reform? Are there areas of common ground between Big Ag and the American people?
A national opinion survey [registration required to access] found that Americans are most concerned with how agriculture and food relates to health, rating issues of obesity, antibiotic resistance, and diet-related diabetes to be the most serious. Americans were less concerned with food being imported from abroad, most food being produced by big corporations, and feeding cows corn instead of grass.
When asked about approaches to reforming farm policy, Americans strongly supported expanding incentives to farmers who reduce pollution, and providing incentives to farmers who grow fruits and vegetables. Reducing subsidies to Big Ag got the least support.
And the farmers?
Posted on Sun, July 04, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Last Thursday, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) convened the House Education and Labor Committee for a hearing on the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 (H.R. 5504), the House’s version of the Child Nutrition Act.
Witnesses at the hearing included USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack; Chef Tom Colicchio of Top Chef; James D. Weill of the anti-hunger organization FRAC; Dr. Eduardo J. Sanchez, a family practice physician and health insurance executive; U.S. Army Major General Paul D. Monroe from the organization Mission Readiness; and Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation (who was the only witness to speak against Child Nutrition legislation).
Most of the legislators present seemed in favor of implementing Farm to School programs and removing junk food from schools. Those are great steps forward, but they’re only partial victories if the Child Nutrition Bill doesn’t receive full funding. Right now, the National School Lunch Program leaves schools with about $1.00 for each meal’s ingredients. This bill would add six cents – not enough to give every child access to a healthy meal.
Posted on Fri, July 02, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by guest blogger Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray
When I was asked to write about why I recently started my blog, The Lunch Tray, I came to see that it really all started with a simple packet of animal crackers.
By way of background, I’m a former lawyer and current freelance writer living in Houston. I’m also the stay-at-home parent of two children at an HISD public elementary school. I’ve had a longstanding concern about public school food and last spring was appointed to a new Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) formed by HISD and Aramark (the company to which our food services operations are outsourced).
Right around this time, HISD was expanding its initial roll-out of a universal, in-classroom breakfast program, so at the first PAC meeting, HISD showed the parents the food it was serving for breakfast—Trix yogurt, high sodium biscuit and sausage sandwiches, Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the like. Horrible stuff, but what really baffled me was that at every meal, kids were also required to take a packet of animal crackers.
When I asked about the animal crackers, the HISD/Aramark dietician explained that they were needed for the meal to meet USDA nutritional guidelines and thereby qualify for government reimbursement. That really stumped me. I started to realize I’d stumbled into an area totally outside my prior experience, which led me to Janet Poppendieck’s fantastic new book, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, an invaluable School Lunch 101 for anyone trying to wrap their head around our present system. [Editor’s note: we reviewed the book here.]
Meanwhile, when parents started finding out that I was on the PAC, it seemed like everyone had something to say to me. I was stopped in hallways to discuss everything from school food to Oreos at the 10 am soccer game—people clearly wanted to have this conversation. And, armed with the new knowledge I’d gained through the PAC and my own research, I realized I had a lot to say, too. Hence, The Lunch Tray.
Posted on Tue, June 29, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
This Thursday morning, Representative George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, will be holding a full committee hearing on the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 (H.R. 5504). This is the House version of the Child Nutrition Bill that’s waiting to be scheduled for floor debate in the Senate.
It’s important for Congress to pass the bill by the end of the summer so President Obama can sign it into law before current school lunch legislation expires at the end of September. The bill is a step forward for school meal programs, particularly because it creates a grant program for local food and finally kicks junk food out of school vending machines, but it only raises the school lunch by six cents, which isn’t enough to ensure every student has access to a healthy meal. Right now, schools get by with about $1.00 for each meal’s ingredients.
If your House Representative is on the Education and Labor Committee, you can help out right now: please call them before Thursday and ask them to bring the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act up for committee vote quickly and to fully fund the bill with at least an additional $1 billion per year. Even if your Representative is not on the Education and Labor Committee, you can still call them and urge them to ask their colleagues on the committee to quickly pass a fully funded bill.
Click here for a list of members of the House Education and Labor Committee. You can find your Representative’s name and contact information here.
Posted on Mon, June 28, 2010 by Intern
by intern Khalilah Ramdene
A recent study by the Rudd Center at Yale University found that children prefer foods branded with cartoon characters, often citing those foods as better tasting then their unbranded counterparts. Licensed cartoon characters are often used to advertise unhealthy foods to children, suggesting that this direct marketing may be a primary contributor to the child obesity epidemic.
The study sampled 40 children in New Haven, Connecticut between ages four and six. The children were provided with three pairs of identical food, some packaged with a cartoon character (Scooby Doo, Dora, and Shrek) and some without. The study found that children were more likely to choose a food with a familiar branded image, which suggests that advertising and marketing has a strong influence over the food choices children make. Aside from choosing foods branded with recognizable cartoon characters the participants claimed the food tasted better. Cartoon characters are more often used to sell the unhealthy foods (foods high in fat, sugar and/or sodium) that are linked to the child obesity epidemic.
Advertising unhealthy food directly to children has its precedent in the McDonald Happy Meal model. Along with a third of a day’s worth of calories, and two days worth of sugar, children receive a toy in their Happy Meal, usually a character associated with new movie releases or hit television shows. In 2003, the sale of Happy Meals reached $3.4 billion and made up 20 percent of McDonalds sale. Earlier this week, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a statement threatening to sue McDonalds for their “unfair and deceptive marketing” to children. CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner states, “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”
Posted on Fri, June 25, 2010 by Slow Food USA
The third of the Department of Justice/USDA Anti-trust workshops is underway in Madison, WI, as we write this. Last night, as in Ankenny Iowa a few months ago, there was a town hall held the night before the workshop. Here’s a report from the field…-ed.
by Siena Chrisman, WHY Hunger
Appropriately, the evening began with a picnic featuring local cheese and ended with an ice cream social under a yellow moon. In between, dairy farmers, consumer advocates, professors, labor union representatives, faith communities, antihunger advocates, an aspiring cheesemaker, and even a Certified Public Accountant spoke out forcefully about the widespread injustices in the dairy industry.
The main event was a Dairy Town Hall Forum in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farm Coalition, and Food and Water Watch, and timed to coincide with Friday’s Department of Justice and USDA workshop examining corporate concentration in the dairy industry. The workshop on Friday is part of the ongoing investigation (which I reported on here) by the two departments to determine whether food and agriculture companies have become too concentrated.
The dairy industry is one of the most concentrated in the country, with just one company controlling 40% of the US milk supply. Prices for farmers have fallen so low in the past three years that many dairy farmers were losing as much as $200 per cow every month in 2009. Meanwhile, even though the price farmers were paid for milk fell by almost 50% from 2007 to 2009, the retail price dropped by less than 25%. Someone’s profiting, but it’s not farmers or consumers.
Posted on Mon, June 14, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of talk about reducing the amount of salt in the U.S. food supply. Government officials, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg, and the First Lady have all been asking food companies to voluntarily cut back the amount of salt they use. Some companies have complied, but there’s also been a lot of industry pushback, especially because the Institute of Medicine is recommending that the government create regulations for the amount of salt allowed in products. The New York Times recently published an excellent exposé of the food industry’s reactions to these potential salt restrictions.
So why is salt such a big deal? It’s because the stakes are so high, both for the health of the American people and the sales of the food and restaurant industry. Excess sodium consumption is a risk factor for high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart failure, kidney disease, and stroke – some of the biggest killers in America. Even though rates of hypertension are higher in certain populations, it is still a really big problem for everyone across the board. One third of American adults have hypertension, and another third have pre-hypertension. Rates of high blood pressure have been increasing even in children and adolescents.
Back in April, the Institute of Medicine came out with a report on reducing sodium intake in the U.S. The report asserted that forty years of salt reduction initiatives – focused mostly on consumer education and voluntary salt reduction by the food industry – have failed. Americans still eat 50% more sodium than the 2,300 milligram maximum recommended daily intake for healthy adults. Health experts estimate that a significant decrease in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives annually.
Posted on Thu, June 10, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Outside the Capitol Building earlier today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010. Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA), joined by celebrity cook Rachael Ray and other child nutrition and anti-hunger advocates, unveiled the details of the new legislation.
At the news conference, Representative Miller stated that “First Lady Michelle Obama has lent her leadership and knowledge to help end childhood obesity with her Lets Move! initiative. This bill answers her call and moves us closer to meeting President Obama’s challenge to end childhood hunger in America.” Click here to watch videos of the conference.
The bill is a step forward for school meal programs. If passed, it will fund $50 million in new Farm to School grants, expand nutrition education, and increase access to meal programs. It will also strengthen nutrition standards for all food served in schools, including vending machines.
Unfortunately, it will only raise the school lunch rate by six cents. Right now, schools have roughly $1 to spend on ingredients. So six cents, while welcome, is not going to transform the quality of school meals.
The House version of the bill is largely similar to a Senate version introduced earlier this year (the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010). The Senate bill, which was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee and is now waiting to be scheduled for floor debate, adds only $450 million per year to child nutrition programs. The House bill ups it to about $800 million per year, but still falls short of the President’s proposal of $1 billion – and far short of what schools need to serve healthy food.
The big challenges now are time and money. Legislators need to find adequate funding for child nutrition programs, and both the House and the Senate need to pass the bill by the end of the summer so President Obama can sign it into law before current school lunch legislation expires at the end of September.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.