Agribusiness

Big Food, Deep Pockets, and Healthcare

Fast Talk About Fast Food

I was reading an interesting article recently, written by practicing physician Dr. Adams in Baltimore, that discussed many of the main themes of the public health crisis and the role that food marketing and lobbying plays in our national health crisis.  Nothing I haven't heard, read, or discussed before, but I enjoyed this particular article because he was genuinely pissed off.  

And I really don't blame him.  As health care professionals why aren't more of us this upset over the suppressive role that big food plays in government policy and agricultural subsidies, or the convenient role that fast food companies play in sponsoring health oranizations.  To steal a word from him, this "diabesity" crisis only continues to grow, which in turn burdens our health care system and government further.

RD Critique

He is critical of dietitians in this article for touting portion control as a critical means to weight control.  I can respect his frustrations with this but have to say, that is a very broad stroke analysis of what a Registered Dietitian does.  

Media outlets have RDs on television/radio/print media to help get across a wide array of nutrition messages (a common one being portion control - because it works), so yes often times it all seems simpler than it should be.  Where the rubber hits the road is when an RD can develop an ongoing therapeutic relationship with a client/patient and be part of the support system that helps them develop healthy eating patterns.

Nobody develops obesity overnight, so that is where continuity of care and insurance reimbursement are important.  The role of the RD is that of health expert that can help explain physiological concepts and answeres questions on food and digestion, physical activity, exercise, and chronic disease management.  As a dietitian I also see it as my role to be the obejctive eye for the client and help them see their own patterns of food intake.  

So Dr. Adams, fight alongside me to stop the subsidies of big agriculture, and improve CMS and private insurance reimbursement for RD services.

The Joy of Soy

Protein Alternative

Soy is a high quality protein source that is low in saturated fat.  These plants naturally contain phytoestrogens and have been shown to help reduce heart disease risk when consumed in conjunction with a heart healthy diet.  Soy has been working its way into the Western diet more and more, with a market increase from $300 million in 1992 to $4 billion in 2008.  

Soy products are a great way to work a meat-free protein source into the diet.  I am a meat-lover myself, but the RD in me feels it is important to be mindful of the frequency and portion sizes of animal meats that I include.  Incorporating soy products gives more variety to my diet while staying heart healthy - always a good thing!

Food for Thought

Historically, meat was always very expensive so families would only be able to afford it once or twice a week.  A vast difference from our current environment in which people may consume a meat product twice a day.  The modernization of agriculture and role of antibiotics and hormones in current animal farming practices have changed the cost of meats to us all.  Always an interesting trend to think about...

Soy Product Options

Tofu - a processed form that comes in multiple textures and with a neutral flavor, use silken in dips and soups, use firm in stir fries, salads, and seasoned grilled kabobs

Edamame - young soybeans that can be directly consumed

Tempeh - a block of cooked whole soybeans condensed together, season and use as a meat substitute

Textured Soy Protein - defatted soy flour that has been compressed and dehydrated, consider making meatballs, chili, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce with this

Miso - a flavorful paste of fermented soybeans, often used as a seasoning base in stews/soups/sauces

Soy Meat Analogs - specific products suchs as hot dogs, cold cuts, and burgers that are made out of soy

Soy Flour and Soy Milk - exactly what you think they are, made from soy plants

Happy soy-ing!  Share any good recipes you come across!!

Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"

"Food Rules" by Michael Pollan - RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

Michael Pollan is one of the best-researched writers I know of in the Food/Agriculture/Nutrition arena.  I always find him to be thought-provoking and I like that he challenges people to look deeper at the world we live in and question the status quo.  Here is a quick and adorable animated video of him describing the use of our food supply.

I originally found this video from The Atlantic.

Tastes Like Chicken?

The Future of Fake Meat

While texturally appealing fake chicken alternatives haven't seemed to crop up just yet in the marketplace, researchers at the University of Mississippi believe they have discovered just the right mix of soy products and chemicals after many years of research.  The compounds are able to mimic both the mild flavor of chicken as well as the the way it texturally breaks apart in the mouth.  Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

Environmentalism...

While this development doesn't mean that products will be hitting the market anytime soon, this meat alternative has tremendous market potential.  Eating just one pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving an SUV 40 miles1.  Environmentalists and the conscientious consumer are already privy to the environmental benefits of eating less meat.  Some other interesting statistics:

  • The Live Earth Concerts Handbook says that "refusing meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint."
  • According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. roads.

But is a soy compound the environmentally friendly answer to global warming?

... Versus Market Monopolization?

Just a few companies control the soy and corn markets in the U.S., and considering the amount of products derived from these two foods (everything from toothpaste to salad dressing to soda to cereal) it means that they play a role at the very base of our food supply.  With one agricultural giant, Monsanto, genetically modifying 95% of soy grown (and 80% of corn!), would stepping in the direction of fake meats really be the best option for our food supply?  

The technology for fake meat may alter the landscape of agriculture, quite literally, toward greater soy products and less meat and dairy farms.  It seems there is no right answer in this debate, but it will be interesting to see what happens as food technology advances and what role, if any, nutrition plays into the equation.

Hope I at least got you thinking a little bit!

1. GoVeg.com 

What Does Organic Really Mean?

What is Organic?

There is a constant debate regarding the importance of organic products, what that label actually means, and what benefits are derived from changing our diets to include organic foods.  The organic industry is worth $23 billion and is growing at a rapid pace.  

Every major food company now has an organic division. There's more capital going into organic agriculture than ever before. - Michael Pollan

Organic is a term used for food and produce grown and produced without the use of pesticides, synthetic modifiers, genetic modifiers, or ionizing radiation, and for animals raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.  

USDA OrganicPhoto courtesy of organic.org.

The USDA Organic label (shown here)  is one way that you can look out for organic products.  For single ingredient products this will be a sticker or seal directly on the product.  For multiple ingredient products there are several tiers of organic.  

100% Organic - Foods made with all organic ingredients.

Organic - Foods contain 95-99% organic ingredients by weight.

Made with Organic Ingredients - Foods contain 70-94% organic ingredients.  These products do not bear the USDA Organic seal but may list up to three organic ingredients on the front of the package.  

Other - Foods contain <70% organic ingredients.  These products may only list organic ingredients on the nutrition information panel of the packaging.  

Things to Keep in Mind

Use of the USDA Organic seal is voluntary even if a producer is certified organic.  While this is not a common practice, reading the nutrition label is the only way to know the extent of organic ingredients in a product.  

On the other hand, becoming certified organic is a costly process and many small farms cannot afford to go through it.  This means that if you buy produce from a farmer's market or a store that supports local agriculture they may not be certified organic but may use organic practices.

Controversies

The USDA Organic label has come under fire recently.  Lobbyists have been getting their way with lawmakers to broaden the regulations regarding organic products, allowing more chemicals to fall under the "organic" umbrella, in turn allowing companies to use the organic seal on products that may not be truly organic.  In addition, components to the original organics law have been made optional for companies, such as annual pesticides testing.  Should we consider this a means to an end?  Soft regulations exist as organics become mainstream, [hopefully] only to be tightened up as people speak up for their rights?  Or is this the direction organics is going to take?  "Organic" may not really be organic, while consumers believe they are getting healthy and safely grown food.  

It's a very confusing world to navigate, and the face of organics is constantly being debated and manipulated by lawmakers, consumers, farmers, supermarkets, and food conglomerates.  Hopefully as the market continues to grow we'll slowly figure it out.  

The ultimate goal in this country surrounding food and nutrition isn't necessarily that all consumers make the same food decisions (organic vs. non-organic, fast food vs. slow food) or even that they always make healthy decisions, but rather that they make informed decisions.