Archive for the ‘Food Politics’ Category

Imagine the following label and ask yourself who should be accountable for verifying the information and holding the company who wrote it accountable to their claims:

The claim seems hard to believe (and it should be).  Which Canadian authority should investigate?  The Ministry of Agriculture?  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)?  The Interplanetary committee of common sense for food (ok, I made that one up)?

Up until our recent budget, it was the CFIA.

The 2012 budget now claims it is you.  Yep, you.

You are accountable for verifying the health claims of products.  Of course you probably have no way of measuring the amount of sugar or sodium within an actual product (which ranges from a minor inconvenience to a major health problem for diabetics and others).  The new process will remove Government oversight of health and nutrition claims and replace that with a website that consumers can contact manufacturers directly to complain about labelling violations.

Marketplace featured a segment in February about the existing problems with food labels in Canada – even with monitoring.  The loosening of enforcement is likely (my personal opinion) to only enhance the liberties taken on labels.

There’s a much more comprehensive article at the Huffington Post from yesterday.

Of course, there are alternatives, but they are few.  It’s more important now, than ever, to be educated on food policy, to share dialogue and support small markets and farmers.  It’s critical we learn to cook and share meals and traditions with our family.  After all, it is quickly becoming the only way to know what’s actually on your plate – and in your body.


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The Daily Meal announced it’s 2012 list of America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2012 today.  They admit such lists are highly subjective but appears to have been carefully thought and measured.  They describe their ultimate criteria as follows:

Our ultimate criterion was simply this: Is each person on our list capable, whether by dint of corporate station, media access, moral authority, or sheer personality, of substantially changing, improving, and/or degrading the quality and variety of the American diet or the way we think about it? If so, how absolute is the power he or she can bring to bear?

If you want to see the complete list, click the link above; it’s thought-provoking.  Here’s a few highlights that really hit home:

  • 3 of the Top 6 work for major fast food or retail.
  • Positions 9-12 are all mass agriculture companies.  While “Monsanto” is a name many will recognize I suspect the name “Archer Daniels Midland” may be less known – yet their CEO is named as Top 10 most powerful in food in America.
  • The Government is represented twice (three times if you count the First Lady).  Compare that to 5 Television hosts and 7 Chefs.
  • 5 are fast-food businesses.  6 are grocery store chains.
  • 3 are authors
  •  Despite the explosion of social media and technology start-ups, none appear to be under 30 – very few, if any under 40.
  • Of 49 identified people (one of the Top 50 is the NY Times Food Critic as a job, not a person) – 34 of the 49 are male.
  • Of 49 identified people (one of the Top 50 is the NY Times Food Critic as a job, not a person) – 45 of the 49 appear to be caucasian.
  • The Food Network (represented by their CEO and multiple TV personalities) is in a position to change the whole dynamic of food… if they’re willing.  They would also alienate many of the people on the list.
  • If you waved a magic wand overnight and outlawed junk food (I’m not calling for that), I subjectively propose that 11 of the Top 15 would be in significant peril or out of business.  If you believe that Government has significant funding from those industries, 14 would be in trouble.  The unnamed Critic from the New York Times would be the sole survivor.

The 2011 list featured “You” as the most powerful.  The fact that you’re missing this year wasn’t an accidental omission.  Ultimately it is up to “Us” if we want to change this list…

What do you make of the list?

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The email came in over the holidays:

Dear Email Owner,

…Your email ID was randomly selected amongst the lucky winners during balloting system.  You have therefore been approved to receive the sum of E500.000.00 EUROS…

I, like many of you, receive a few of these a day.  They come in many varieties and we have learned how to contain our excitement and file them in the trash.  I am routinely offered money from mysterious bank accounts of mysterious Leaders in Exile, Lawyers of families lost in tragedy and more International windfalls than can be imagined.  I generally ignore them; though when I really think of who’s behind these things, what they are trying to do and that there’s someone who may be being exploited by them, it turns my stomach.

To most of us, these messages are fairly benign.  But to those who believe – and those who know and love them – this type of misinformation can be disastrous.  At it’s best, it’s noise in the system – at it’s worse it creates real damage, pain and suffering.  I know this firsthand – a friends family lost more than $20,000 in the early 1990s to such a scam (karma looked after them years later and they won a legitimate prize valued at over $70,000 in a fundraiser).

The Internet lit up with news that “Harvard Declared Dairy is NOT part of a Healthy Diet” over the last few days.  There’s a link to an article of the same title on a site that, amongst efforts to increase the ways animals are treated and used also makes money off of traffic to their website.  The brief article was released on December 31 of 2011 (4 days ago at time of writing this).

Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate was a challenge to the USDA’s “My Plate” (link to a comparison below) which was the reimagined food-pyramid released in June. 

Before I continue, this is not an article intended to start a war.  It’s quite the opposite.  It’s a plea for all of us to check facts, be curious, invite conversation and avoid the polarizing arguments of “us vs. them” that can hold us all from changing our relationship with food as well as the broken systems within it.  It’s about conversation, not about winning. 

I am not vegan – I was mostly vegetarian for almost 5 years before returning to family traditions of hunting (and eating every piece of the animal that we can).  I have a great deal of respect for the choices others make and find myself particularly supportive of the Vegetarian, Vegan and Raw communities.  But those are just my personal opinions – I’m no more right with mine than you are with yours. 

My agenda is about creating and fostering open conversation, learning from each other and trying to remain open to the lessons of others and taking what I can from them into my own life.

The article correctly quotes Harvard as saying, “…high intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.”  It does not link to the article (though it mentions its name – “The Healthy Eating Plate”).  Harvard doesn’t sing the praises of dairy and certainly makes a point of limiting dairy.  But this is far from the title of the article that’s launched hundreds of conversations that “Harvard Declares Dairy NOT Part of Healthy Diet.”

Here’s the graphic from Harvard that is their ”

However the article omits many other passages from the same report:

  • “Limit milk/dairy to 1-2 servings per day and juice 1 small glass per day” (Source: The graphic here).
  • Linked below the graphic is an article comparing the Harvard to USDA which states:
    • “Drink water, tea, or coffee. Milk and dairy are not must-have foods—limit them to 1-2 servings/day. Go easy on juice. Avoid sugary drinks.”
    • “In addition, MyPlate recommends milk or dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis and substantial evidence that consuming a lot of milk and dairy foods can be harmful”
  • In addition, there is a link to Questions and Answers About the Healthy Eating Plate
    • MyPlate encourages consumers to make dairy products a regular part of their meals. Yet research has shown little benefit, and considerable potential for harm, of such high dairy intakes. Moderate consumption of milk or other dairy products—one to two servings a day—is fine, and likely has some benefits for children. But it’s not essential for adults, for a host of reasons. That’s why the Healthy Eating Plate recommends limiting milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day, and drinking water with meals instead. (Read more details about the research on calcium, milk, and health on The Nutrition Source.
  • Harvard’s full view on Dairy and Calcium can be seen here.  It includes:
    • “Milk and dairy products are a convenient source of calcium for many people. They are also a good source of protein and are fortified with vitamins D and A. At this time, however, the optimal intake of calcium is not clear, nor is the optimal source or sources of calcium. As noted earlier, the National Academy of Sciences currently recommends that people ages 19 to 50 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and that those age 50 or over get 1,200 milligrams per day. Reaching 1,200 milligrams per day would usually require drinking two to three glasses of milk per day—or taking calcium supplements—over and above an overall healthy diet.”
    • “Currently, there’s no good evidence that consuming more than one serving of milk per day in addition to a reasonable diet (which typically provides about 300 milligrams of calcium per day from nondairy sources) will reduce fracture risk. Because of unresolved concerns about the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer, it may be prudent to avoid higher intakes of dairy products.”
    • Check out the entire “BOTTOM LINE” section at the bottom of the link less I quote the entire thing.
    • It’s interesting to note the fruit juice is under stricter control (4-8 ounces per day) than the 1-2 portions of dairy that are optional.

The final conclusion?  In their words:

  • “Choose more vegetables and fruits.  Go for color and variety – dark green, yellow, orange and red.”

Sounds not far off Michael Pollan’s Three Simple Rules for Eating (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants).

The article making the mass declarations also omitted that Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate was released in September.

It’s my personal opinion that the title appears to misrepresent the content of the actual report which has a harsher view of dairy than traditionally accepted but does not appear (to me) to “Declare Dairy is NOT part of a Healthy Diet.”  And from the messages being shared people on both sides of the debate have been chiming in with polarizing opinions based on the title of an article that has them drawing conclusions separate from that of the actual report.  A search of “Dairy Harvard” on Twitter reveals pages of tweets on the topic – 26 of the 40 include the title of the article (with and without links to the article) further spreading the message.

The noise is interfering with the facts and preventing real discussion. 

We can all argue the science.  If our mission is simply to beat the other side, we can all find information and partial information to support our cause – and all sides of every debate on food has done so.  Lobbyists, big ads, and anyone with a vested interest.  As much as we try not to, I’m sure we’re guilty of the same at some point (and with 3 years+ of writing I’m certain there’s something to my hunch).  Certainly the pro-dairy side has lobbied with similar methods as well so this is not isolated to those who choose to avoid it.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the title of the article.  But I’m not the only one  based on the reaction I’m seeing online.  My focus is trying to encourage truth and accuracy – not only for writers and bloggers but for those sharing the messages outwards. 

Further, I’m asking you to consider removing the polarizing arguments of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to food and personal beliefs and let’s invite each other to open conversation and see what we can learn from each other.  Let’s watch out for those messages which appeal to our personal views and engage us in spreading misinformation when possible – just like how we filter the emails of mass fortunes from mysterious sources are intended to mislead us.

Almost every side of the infinite food debates are arguing for change and improvement.  Perhaps it’s time for all of us to take a page from Steven Covey and “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

What do you think?

1.  Please consider sharing this message and commenting with consideration here or on Facebook.  We can all learn from each other and we need to share the facts to further dialogue and learning.
2. The original article can be found easily with google by searching “Harvard Declares Dairy NOT a part of a Healthy Diet.”  My personal advice: avoid the comments, they’re just a battle of he-said she-said that add more noise to the debate; we’re not about that here.

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There is considerable impact to food in the post below.  If you’re hesitant to read the numbers, I encourage you to struggle through it and share it – it portrays a challenge that local and slow food sometimes avoid – and without dialogue on the numbers, how will we make the greater change that many of us are trying to persuade?  I am not an economist nor an expert – this is merely my reflections on listening to some of the World’s experts discuss the topic last evening).  The Occupy movement was discussed in the debate – though that isn’t the function of this post nor is it assessing the validity of big corporations.  This is simply an effort to look at raw numbers and forecast the implications to local food…

I had the absolute privilege of attending the Munk Debates in Toronto last night.  The debates happen about twice a year and are typically sold out within 72 hours.  There were 2,700 live attendees last evening and an on-line audience of almost 4,000 to watch resolution at-hand:

  • Be it resolved North America faces a Japan-style era of high unemployment and slow growth.

The panel was highly qualified.  On the pro side were:

  • Paul Krugman (columnist for the New York Times, 2008 winner of the Nobel prize for Economics)
  • David Rosenberg (Globe and Mail, Wall Street Journal and more)

On the Con side were:

  • Lawrence Summers (former Cheif Economist of the World Bank, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and President of Harvard)
  • Ian Bremner (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and more).

The debate was fascinating and informative.  Both sides were passionate and able to communicate their complex knowledge in a way that was easy to comprehend.  Both sides agreed that the economic problems had real short-term solutions that could change current economic trends but disagreed over the likelihood of the ability to move nations to do so.  There was also agreement that the risk of falling is very real but argued about where our fate would lie.

The arguments for optimism included North American resiliency, argued that Japan didn’t have the political experience we do (after 20 years of a single-party system), that North America isn’t struggling with the same magnitude of problem that Japan did and that there were few options Globally for people to invest their money – which all favoured the US.  On the flip side, the cautious view listed the few options as a sign of risk (that no other nation would buy exports to help North America up), that the problem is already very deep and that there was little political goodwill to actually solve the problem due to the state of divided partisan lines.

The optimists swayed a lot of votes.  We cast a vote before the debate and 56% thought the economy would continue at a snail’s pace, 26% were optimistic there would be change and 18% were undecided.  At the end of the vote, the Pessimists were at 55% while almost the entire undecided vote flopped to 45% (there was no option to be undecided at the end).  So, perhaps, this is good news.

I found Paul Krugman to be the most compelling.  He used a lot of statistics and numbers to back up his arguments and while I know numbers can be interpreted in infinite ways, I found them to be more persuasive than anecdotal evidence.  Here are some of his facts (to the best of my recollection):

  • The US, when prosperous, held the budget deficit at 800 billion dollars.
  • It raised to 3.5 trillion.
  • Interest rates are at an all-time low, close to 0%.  Based on an index I was unfamiliar with, he reports that “true” interest rates are running around -1% right now.  The ability for the Government to raise money without taxes is limited.
  • More than 70% of the US total debt is housing.  People over-leveraged themselves and are over-mortgaged (the 70%+ number was the surprising number to me).
  • People are in a period of un-leveraging themselves – meaning they need to shed their mortgages.  There are two primary ways to do so; pay down your mortgage aggressively (with less money for other things in life, such as food) or default on your loan (walk away; and I don’t mean that casually as I know people who have lost their home and more in this economy).  Walking away creates many personal problems as well as other economic problems – the inability to pay affects the organization that loaned the money and ultimately the economy at large.  This again becomes a lack of money into the economy which slows it down further.
  • By his estimation, 1 trillion US dollars of mortgages have been de-leveraged with another 2.5 trillion remaining.  His best estimate was that we were 2-3 years into the cycle with an additional 5 years remaining.  5 years where people who have mortgages focus on those which takes money from other ‘expenses’ they would typically incur.

The net result is that the focus will be on housing and paying debt.  People will have to find shortcuts to save in order to have such focus.  And, although mentioned briefly, cheap food is one of the main ways a family has to make such a cut.  While local, whole food doesn’t necessarily have to be cheap – it will continue to struggle when compared dollar-to-dollar with imports from afar, genetically modified ‘super crops’ and prepackaged food that’s aimed to either be or appear cheaper than the real food products that it can replace. 

If you believe my interpretation of Mr Krugman’s presentation and you value whole, slow or local food then it’s more important time to act than ever.  Inspire others through your actions, welcome people to the dialogue and make your own difference by growing, preserving, supporting local where possible and cheering on those who do.  We aren’t nearly 100% local but we hope to be the difference we hope to see in others…

I welcome comments, dialogue and sharing of this post – it’s easy to become complacent and think we’re nudging the food system and our future food safety in the right direction.  And, while that may be true, there’s a tough road ahead and lots of work left and recognizing the challenges ahead will best prepare us for them.  Then again, maybe the other side will have the last laugh – in which case we’ll have even more opportunity to share the message.

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I’m hoping that the following article might motivate people to share the story, add to the discussion and respectful debate.  I’m not asking you to agree with me – but am hoping that we can put all of the collective information on the table to share in an open dialogue to make sense of dairy in Canada, the US and many other places in the world.  The article is specifically about RAW Milk in Ontario but you’ll see that the issue (and confusion) is far broader.  The facts presented here are, to the best of my ability, factually correct and open to feedback.

I am not a scientist.  I do not regularly consume raw milk (although I do remember fresh cream on blueberries as a child) and I’m not sure I would if I could.  I don’t know the detailed risks and I’m not recommending that you should or shouldn’t consume it.

I am, however, very passionate that we should each have the opportunity to do our own research and make up our own minds and have the choice.

Before looking at the history, let us acknowledge that the reason raw milk is banned is because of the potential to make people sick with nasty things like Listeria.  Let us also consider:

  • 17 U.S. States allow the sale of raw milk
  • Provinces across this country allowed it until the early 1990s
  • Raw milk is considered the highest standard of milk in France
  • Raw milk is commonly sold in Germany
  • The regulations of the European Union declare milk safe for human consumption
  • Cigarettes, which surely cause significant health problems are legal in Ontario
  • It is legal, in Ontario, for a farmer to drink their own milk and feed it to their families (this point becomes important further in the article).
  • Multiple recalls of mass-produced meat, veggies and fruit are now commonly accepted (through the process of normalized crises) across the planet.  Common threats are lysteria and e. coli (the same threat that  keeps raw milk off the shelf here).
  • Pasteurization was invented in 1862 – certainly milk was drunk before that time.

A quick history of raw milk in Ontario:

  • The Dairy Farmers of Canada was founded in 1934 (as the Canadian Dairy Farmer’s Federation).  The mandate was to ‘pursue market stability policies and ensure fairer prices for producers.’
  • Raw milk was banned for sale in Ontario in 1938 – pasteurization became a requirement to ‘boost confidence’ in milk.
  • In the late 1950s and early 1960s, milk sales were made from individual farms to many different fractured milk producers.
  • The Milk Act was passed in 1965 which created the Ontario Milk Marketing  Board (OMMB).  The Milk act made requirements for farmers to sell their milk to the Marketing Board (passage 37; “requiring any person who produces a regulated product to offer to sell and to sell the regulated product to or through the marketing board constituted to administer the plan under which the regulated product is regulated”)
  • In 1987, Ontario (via Germany) farmer Michael Schmidt purchases 12 heritage cattle (Canadiennes) from a Québécois farmer.  He is frustrated with ‘modern’ methods and wishes to use biodynamic farming principles he learned and practiced in Germany since the 1970s (the entire article is here).  His beliefs include a high value for raw milk.  (The entire story of the Schmidt’s is ongoing but a comprehensive catch-up can be found here).
  • In 1991, RAW milk was officially banned for sale under Food and Drug Regulations.
  • 1992, Farmer Schmidt’s sales of raw milk have increased enough to create a small store on the property.
  • 1994 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation films a feature highlighting the farm and raw milk.  Police raids hit the farm 2 days before the piece hits television.  Various raids and legal proceedings continue from then through the present.
  • The OOMB changed it’s name and structure (absorbing the milk and cream bodies into one) called the Dairy Farmers of Ontario in 1995
  • In January of 2010, a stunning reversal of fortune occurs:  a Newmarket, Ontario court rules in Farmer Schmidt’s favour – he had been selling cow-shares where people could buy a significant percentage of the cow (therefore being able to consume milk from the cow they own).  I understand he sold 25% shares in each cow.  People could not resell the product and it was not available to the mass public.  He had 150 shareholders in total.
  • The Milk Act continues to be revised; the most recent version is from 2010 (here) – likely to accommodate though I am not certain.
  • September 28, 2011.  A higher level of court overturns the Newmarket finding – Raw Milk is once again outlawed and the only possible client to sell it to is the Dairy Board.

It is not without irony that on the same day that raw milk is banned for safety reasons that we have also experienced a recall of mass-produced meat in 6 provinces.  The fear?  Listeria.

Isn’t it time to ask why?  Perhaps it’s time to examine the role of the gatekeepers who are there to remove ‘inequities’ in the system  yet we have a system with a single buyer that lacks the competitive checks and balances of an open market. 

Why doesn’t the system doesn’t allow for competitive advantage for individual producers to offer an alternative product direct to consumer?  Perhaps it shouldn’t be on the free market – but what is the cost to stop this from happening?   Who is benefitting? What is the real risk level of a product that was consumed in its raw form for thousands of years before 1862?

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Although this has been a heavily publicized story in Ontario this week I thought it relevant to share with our broader audience.  For those in Ontario familiar with the story there won’t be  a lot new to add as I have no first-hand experience with the program described within.

Canada had 6 prison farms across our Country.  The prison farms were just as they sounded – food farms which were staffed by incarcerated inmates as part of their time served.

There are so many possible benefits that I see to a program like this if it’s well done, such as:

  • Teaching of new skills
  • Learning team work
  • Self esteem
  • Physical work to keep the body healthy (compared to sitting in a cell all day)
  • Helping local community – or even feeding the system they are a part of
  • The rewards of pulling something from the ground that you planted

I’m not saying that all of these things were happening in our programs nor am I saying that this is nearly a complete list.  I just see huge potential in a program like this.

The last of the 6 farms were closed this week under much protest.  The current prison farmers will be reassigned and tasked with taking down the farm they once lived in.

Wether the farm was a good program or not would require a hands on look at how it was run and how it affected people.  You can find arguments on all sides of the debate.

What shocked me was how little reaction there has been to the reason it was cancelled.  It has been decided that people need to be trained in skills which are more relevant and they can use once released from prison.  Essentially we have an official statement that farming is no longer a relevant and employable skill.

More on the story here.

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New York City legalized urban bee keeping this Month (just over a week ago).

There had been strong bee keeping movements `underground` in Brooklyn and other areas of the city until this week.  `Underground` locations were frequently on the top of buildings where dedicated bee keepers have been creating honey for years.  Each hive can produce as much as $100 pounds of honey in a year.

A good friend keeps bees North of Toronto.  The amount of work he puts in is considerable.  I was surprised to find out that to purchase a queen bee is about $150 and can come from anywhere in the world.  Different regions produce different Queens and different Queens produce different styles of honey.  It`s a fascinating process.

I`m not sure that Toronto every realized that making this illegal was an option.  The Royal York Hotel announced it`s own apiary in 2008  and continues to produce honey for patrons and diners within the hotel.  They are home to approximately 40,000 bees in the middle of Toronto.

New York also allows for urban chicken cooping – unlimited hens but no roosters.  A lot of US cities are allowing urban chickens though we are following slower in the North.  A good friend, who is a rural chicken farmer, pointed out that if chickens are left to live to a natural death, they will live for years past their egg-laying state.  This could produce a heck of a dilemma for those who are not aware and raising them as pets.

The argument to legalize roof top (and backyard) coops stems from the hardiness of the chicken, the relative ease of care and the quality, health, ethics, freshness and feeling it comes from producing and consuming your own eggs.

There are many arguments on both sides of legalizing bees and chickens.  I know that, emotionally, I am 100% for it – I don`t know enough to completely understand the risks and benefits to truly weigh in as any expert.  I grew up in areas with bee hives, chickens and rabbits (in an urban setting) and found it exciting and fascinating.  There seems to be a lot of information and misinformation on the Internet.  I hope that we can continue logical conversations that, hopefully, bring more solutions like this to our cities.

What are your thoughts?

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