Posts Tagged ‘quinoa’

Food read roundup: Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman and more

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

As you’d expect at this time of year, most media coverage of food issues has centred on reviews of last year’s trends or forecasts for 2013. In that category, I’ve picked two opinion pieces that I think offer particular insight. The past few weeks have also seen the issue of food waste finally get attention, while an unexpected controversy has emerged about soaring consumer demand for quinoa, the Andean super-grain.

Marion Nestle on food policy in 2013. She’s talking about U.S. food policy here, but since what happens south of the border often affects Canadian industry, consumers and policymakers, it’s worth including. Besides, this is Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. A professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, she has become one of the most respected and independent commentators on food safety. Nestle calls it as she sees it, and in The Potentially Transformative Year Ahead in Food Policy, she predicts a more eventful 2013 now that the U.S. is out of election mode. Among other things, she predicts: FDA approval of genetically modified salmon (these salmon are raised in Canada and Panama); more pressure to label genetically modified foods; continued efforts to control childhood obesity through size caps and taxes on soda, and; a bigger push from grassroots groups to “create systems of food production and consumption that are healthier for people and the planet.”

Mark Bittman on priorities and patience. Among the opinions on how to fix the food system this year, Mark Bittman’s January 1 column in the New York Times stands out for me. In it, the well-known journalist, author, and sustainable food champion counsels anyone who wants to reinvent the way we produce and consume food to set clear goals, accept failures as part of progress, and above all, to recognize that meaningful change takes time. A long time. Civil rights, the vote for women and other major social advances have taken decades, even centuries, to fully accomplish. By the same token, it will take time to dismantle the current, complex industrial food system and replace it with one that’s better for our physical, social and environmental health. “Nothing affects public health…more than food,” says Bittman. (Let’s just hope that we have the time that’s required and don’t get pre-empted by climate change.)

Billions of tons of food waste. Thanks to an early January report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) in the U.K., the massive scale of the world’s food waste has become a hot topic. According to the report, anywhere from 30% to 50%, or about 2 billion tons, of food gets tossed out before it reaches our plates. The IME report attributes global food waste to factors such as Western consumers’ insistence that food look perfect, as well as BOGO promotions and overly strict best-before dates. These practices keep food from the hungry, use up significant natural resources, and jeopardize our ability to feed the world’s steadily growing population, the IME says. The waste theme was echoed in a Globe and Mail story on possible food price hikes in 2013, which concludes that readers need to become more aware of their food-waste habits and find more creative ways to use leftovers.

The quinoa controversy. There really is one. And it’s noteworthy because it underscores the potential for conflict between the demands of consumers in affluent countries and the needs of people in developing countries. In a nutshell, super-nutritious quinoa has become so popular in North America and the UK that its price has tripled, making the grain unaffordable for low-income people in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador — the countries that grow it and rely on it as a dietary staple. The issue has quickly become polarizing. For example, the past week saw the Guardian’s Joanna Blythman claim that quinoa has become a “troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange” while others, such as the Ottawa Citizen’s Elizabeth Payne, argued that all the angst is misplaced and that Andean farmers will benefit in the long run.

What have you been reading  about food lately?