Food Aid Reform

Its really funny that every week when I go to write my blog post, the topic Marion Nestle has covered  has something to do with our current topic. Did she steal your syllabus? This time the topic is food aid ( specifically reform of it. She describes the way food aid works like this:

“Since 1954, our system for donating food for emergencies and aid has worked like this:

The government buys U.S. farm commodities.
It requires at least 75% of these commodities to be transported on U.S. ships.
The commodities are given to governments for emergency relief, or
They are given to American charitable organizations to sell so the groups can use the money to finance development projects (this is called “monetization”).”

Doesn’t that sound kind of messed up? I mean, we are supposed to be helping other people here, not just ourselves. But instead this system guarantees that when other nations need our help, our farmers, shippers, government and charities are all benefited as well, perhaps even more than the people meant to be receiving the aid in the first place. This is not only self-serving, but also damages local agricultural and food systems. Nestle mentions that other countries buy food internationally (aka not from their own farmers) so it doesn’t have to be shipped long distances. That makes sense, given that food shipped halfway around the world is not only going to be a lot less fresh, but also it will take a lot more time to get where its going. She describes this method of providing aid as “inefficient and unnecessarily expensive”, and I totally agree. Other people have seen this too, including the Obama administration which plans some reforms:

“The Agency for International Development (USAID) wants the U.S. to:

  • Buy food in local countries (although 55% would still go to U.S. farmers)
  • End “monetization” to U.S. charitable organizations.”\

And of course, this perfectly sensible plan is already being met with lobbying from all of the aforementioned groups that benefit from our current system of aid. Suprise.



I eat a LOT of salad. I was talking about this with my friends at dinner last night, because hey had a fancy chef thing that they’ve been doing each month (which normally features meat), but this time it was a salad. And I was really excited about it. A lot of people find salad really boring (like my friends who like to make fun of me for eating it all the time), but I think there are just about infinite possibilities with salad. Sure, it can be kind of limiting  to eat here at school, but they still offer quite a bit of variety. There can be different bases, such as lettuce, spinach, mixed greens or kale (which sadly they don’t have at school… I’m not a big fan of eating it alone when its raw, but I wouldn’t mind mixing it in with some spinach or lettuce for additional nutrients! And I like to mix on top the veggies of the day, the vegetarian dish (almost always pasta… there could be a little more variety there…) and whatever else they have like perogies or maybe some chicken if I’m feeling it (yep, still not full blown vegetarian). Then theres the hummus and fresh baked bread and sunflower seeds and nuts and quinoa and all of the other things to eat on top or on the side! So many options. And lots of vegetables!Probably the weirdest thing about me eating salad is the fact that I very rarely use dressing. It just feels like empty calories and I don’t really like the messiness or taste of many dressings. Conclusion: I love salad and could definitely write an ode to it.  Instead I wrote a haiku (probably incorrectly).

Salad, I love you

Green and full of nutrition

You’ve been good to me


The next big thing in getting your food product sold to more customers? Claim (in extra big special shiny letters) that it has protein. Ooohh the magic. I hate to sound like a jerk here, but people are kind of stupid if they buy something just because it has protein in it. I mean, practically everything has some form of protein (not just meats and fortified foods). I guess its just something that clicks in people’s minds as being more “healthy” than regular non-protein fortified food. I think labeling has a big impact too; another post on her blog mentioned a study that found people thought food that had green labeling (especially around the calories), were perceived as more healthy simply because of the coloring.


Accepted Student’s Day

Today is accepted students day, so obviously the food in the cafeteria is much better. It got me thinking about how important food is when making your choice of where to go to college. When I was looking at schools, how good their food was ranked highly on my list of determining factors of whether I would go there. So taste really mattered, but I never really factored in the healthiness of their foods. I guess I was more concerned about whether I would be able to eat there for almost 4 years, and not how eating that food would affect my health.  Personally, I got a more realistic view of what the food was like at the schools I visited because I just came randomly during the year, not on special days such as Accepted Students Day. I’m curious about how the healthiness of the food affects people’s choice of what school they go to. I know I was subconsciously inclined to like cafeterias better at schools that had salad bars, but I was also more inclined to like them if they had a soft serve ice cream machine (like we do, yummm!). I also found it interesting, however, that today they had a wide variety of fresh baked breads (which they don’t normally, sometimes just a loaf or two), and they actually *gasp* labeled the vegan and vegetarian foods. If they made these small changes every day, and not just on days when prospective students will be here, maybe some more SU students would realize that there are healthy options available.

White House Weakened Food Safety Rules

So I really found this week’s Nestle article interesting. She discussed how it had been revealed that the White House had made some important cuts on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Apparently, they discarded numerous standards related to food safety and processor accountability in the manufacturing of food safely. As I can’t really say it any more succinctly than Nestle herself, these are the cuts they made:

“The documents say that the White House deleted:
  • Requirements for environmental monitoring for pathogens.
  • Requirements for finished product testing for pathogens.
  • An assumption that if environmental monitoring finds pathogens on food-contact, the pathogens are also in the food.
  • Requirements for a supplier approval and verification program.
  • A requirement that companies review consumer complaints about safety.
  • FDA authority to copy company records.
The White House also:
  • Added a year to the length of time companies and farms of all sizes have to comply with the law. “

I find that to be utterly ridiculous. Nestle attributes these cuts to things that would obviously be a benefit to food safety, and therefore consumer safety, to election-year politics. However, this happens time and time again even when its not an election year. If big corporations have politicians in their pockets, especially the president or cabinet members (cough, Bush, cough), the government will always make amendments and new acts more favorable to their “buddies”. Its very frustrating, and sickening,  to see that politicians are willing to put the health and safety of Americans at risk simply to benefit themselves and their friends/political interests.

Stress Eating

Yay, it’s almost the end of the semester. Unfortunately, that means that a major slam of homework, projects and papers is approaching quickly. Therefore, stress eating is making a comeback. Need to write a 7 page paper (yep, the one for this class)? Have some mozzarella sticks. 3 lab reports due in one week? Why not take a break and go to Charlie’s for some free Cold Stone ice cream (best treat all week). Not to mention that stress eating is also increased by the fact that I have less time for other meals which would have been potentially healthy, so now the unhealthy option makes much more sense for a small time frame. And it tastes so good, and makes your brain feel better because you’re just happy to do something you enjoy (like eat yummy food) instead of being crushed by all the work that has accumulated.

This happens about 3 times a semester, usually around midterms week, then in the really hard period right before finals, which sometimes feels worse than the finals themselves. I mean at least we don’t have to take classes during finals week. However, I can’t wait to go home for Easter break, because apparently my mom is on a major health kick and is “making” my dad buy all sorts of wonderful healthy things, mostly vegetables. Yay for healthy, free food! Plus, the extra sleep I can get over break will help too. And the free time to relax, and make good eating decisions. It is interesting how the amount of free time I have can really impact the way I eat. I wish my eating habits weren’t so closely tied to my stress levels, but I guess that’s just something to work on. After all, the first step is realizing that there is a problem.

Nestle Op-Ed

“If we want Americans to be healthy, we are going to have to take actions like this – and many more – and do so soon. It’s long past time to tax sugar soda, crack down further on what gets sold in our schools, tackle abusive marketing practices, demand a redesign of labels – and extend the soda cap, no matter how controversial it may seem. This must be the beginning, not the end, of efforts toward a healthier America. In short, we need a series of serious changes to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Agreed. 100%. There are so many things that are wrong with the way we view food, and the public policy regarding it, in America these days. Marketing to children (ahem… McDonalds) , gigantic portion sizes, misleading labels, and the crap we put in public schools these days for lunch. That last issue, and the first one, of jeopardizing the health of the nation’s children to make money, really gets me. We talked about exactly this issue in the healthy places meeting we had with students, faculty and community members last week. It is ridiculous what kinds of food is being sold to children in schools for breakfast and lunch, or brought in by other parents, or used for activities in the classroom. One parent was talking about how other parents bring in rice crispies for their 10am snack in 1st grade. Rice crispies at 10am? I feel like most kids don’t even need the morning snack as it is, especially if they’ve eaten a healthy breakfast, much less one as nutritionally lacking and full of sugar as rice crispies. Another parent mentioned that her child had an activity day called a “soda slurp”, where they mixed a bunch of different types of soda together and then drank it. Needless to say, she kept her kid home from school that day. What does it say about our country and our habits that they are basically teaching kids in school that unhealthy, sugar-filled foods are what they are supposed to eat?

Food Consciousness

I haven’t really been thinking about my food this week, at all. I’m lucky when I get a chance to eat, so I’m honestly not too concerned what it is as long as its edible. Vegetarianism has gone out the window, as has eating breakfast every morning. I guess this could really connect to how a lot of people treat their food all of the time. When you’re really stressed and busy, it just seems like an inconvenience to have to eat. So you just do it as fast as possible, using as little mental power to make healthy decisions as possible, just to get it over with and head to the next meeting. Now that I think about the fact that I have been doing this, I feel kinda bad, but its just not something that had crossed my mind at all this week. Maybe this is why a lot of people are so unconscious about their eating habits, they just never stop to think about them? Now that I’m finally getting a break in my schedule, I hope I’ll be able to make the healthy decisions with my diet again.

So on an unhealthy note, I just saw a pizza in Benny’s with mozzarella sticks on it and I reeeeeeeally wanted a piece. For some reason, I have an unhealthy obsession with mozzarella sticks. They’re also technically vegetarian, so I can use that as an excuse to get them at Benny’s once a week or so (ahh that sounds horrible when I write it down). There is also this really disgustingly delicious creation at the restaurant Denny’s which is a grilled cheese with mozzarella sticks inside it. I know I’ll feel like crap after I eat mozzarella sticks, but they always seem like such a good idea…

White House Supporting Walmart in “Let’s Move” Campaign

Ah, Marion Nestle, how I love thee. Seriously, I hardly read an article she writes and disagree with her. I was especially happy to see her tackle the corporate giant Walmart and its so called “healthy eating options” and cheap prices. When I look at walmart, I see products that are under-priced, cheaply made (likely in sweat shops), shipped halfway across the world and bought by usually the poor (and sometimes really scary townies) people in an area. Also, those employees are clearly not thrilled to be welcoming you to Walmart, and even less thrilled to have to ring you out (because they’re underpaid and usually old ladies with plenty of “Walmart drama”. I’ve heard quite a few interesting conversations/complaints about this drama).

What Nestle tackles in this article is the “Let’s Move” campaign started by Mrs. Obama, and how it celebrates Walmart’s “support” of healthier lifestyle choices. Hmmm, one thing I can tell you is that I do not think of Walmart when I think of healthy life choices, or good quality vegetables, for that matter.  What Nestle did was go to her local Walmart and take a look at their “healthy choices” labeling. It was practically nonexistent (shocker), and they did far more to promote unhealthy foods like Oreos over vegetables. When compared to Wegmans, she discovered that the price differences would result in just a few cents per week, which is not as astronomical as Walmart tries really hard to make consumers think. In the end, Nestle concludes that Walmart is the place that poor people go to shop for lower quality food because they feel out of place in the healthier, more affluent Wegmans, or because Walmart is putting stores in areas that Wegmans won’t.


Ah, vegetarianism. I told you I never was the type of girl for commitment.  I flirt with you one week and then cheat on you with red meat the next. WOW. Being a vegetarian 5 days out of the week is hard. I don’t eat out very often, but when I do I find that it is really hard to get a good vegetarian meal at most restaurants. For example, I went to BJ’s bar and grill on Market Street on Tuesday, which specializes in steak, hamburgers, chicken wings and bongo bongo chicken sandwiches. So despite my general dislike of red meat, I got a hamburger (I really don’t know what I was thinking… I could have had something with chicken that would have been much better). The only other options would have been ginormous salads that cost 2 bucks more than the burgers/sandwiches, and let’s be real, I’m not trying to spend a lot of my own money on food right now.

Now, I’m home for spring break, which will also mess up my vegetarian plans. My dad, the cook in the family, doesn’t cook a single meal without meat. Not that many of them aren’t delicious, but he is certainly a larger fan of red meat than I am, and also has the “you’re in my house, you eat what I cook” mindset. Luckily, I have my mom, who is much more on board the healthy and partially vegetarian wagon I’m riding right now. She cooked a wonderful green soup with kale and spinach (can you believe this is the first time I’ve had kale? Its DELICIOUS) as a vegetarian option to steak and rice. Its nice to come home to good cooking, and even nicer when I have my mom on my side of healthy and responsible eating.