The Green Plate: Food Is Big in 2011

ColumnIt’s only April, but 2011 promises to be a big year for food issues in the news.

We’re not talking about big food (so long, Supersize). But food is big this year. From longtime recipe columnist Mark Bittman of the New York Times switching to a food issues beat, to the USDA’s approval of genetically modified alfalfa, to the possibility that foodies might save the green movement, edible stories early this year indicate big changes on the horizon in the world of food.

Foodies Might Save the Green Movement

As movements go, the food movement has relatively quickly become a mighty force that is both decentralized and diverse. According to Bryan Walsh, in a much discussed article in Time, this force might just save the environmental movement because the good food movement, which is about both pleasure and health, speaks to a broad swatch of Americans. How does activism around better, healthier food have anything to do with the environmental movement? Because the way we grow food is environmentally disastrous and resource intensive. Reforming and revolutionizing our agricultural practice in the service of better food can go a long way toward breathing new life into the environmental movement.

Mark Bittman Ends Minimalist column and Takes up Food Issues

After 13 years of writing a column aimed at making cooking more accessible to more people, New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman throws in the ladle and starts a new column that focuses on food policy, environmentally sustainable eating, and diet and health issues.

This shift did not come as a surprise to those of us who have followed his personal journey from a rather standard meat-heavy diet to a way of eating that considers both the environmental and health costs of a meat-centric diet. But it’s huge news signaling that The Times is taking food issues very seriously. And that means readers are, too.

USDA Approves Unregulated GM Alfalfa

Earlier this year, the USDA approved the unregulated planting of GM alfalfa. Since alfalfa is an important feed source in the organic dairy industry and there is a high likelihood of contamination of non-GM crops,  this move could kill the organic label, putting many organic farmers out of business. Expect to see more action in the courts around this issue and increased calls for testing and verification of non-GMO foods.

Tomato Pickers in the Spotlight

Early this year, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), finally won an extra penny per pound for tomato pickers in Florida, a fight that has gone on between the CIW and growers and retailers for years. Journalist Barry Estabrook was nominated for a James Beard award for his work highlighting the plight of these tomato pickers in a famous story in Gourmet Magazine, and now he is about to release a book on the subject called Tomatoland. The plight of farm workers in America could be the next issue for ethical consumers and forward-thinking businesses. On Cesar Chavez Day, food service provider, Bon Appétit Management Company and the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), released an inventory documenting the laws and protections relating to farm work in America.

FDA to Reconsider Warnings on Artificial Food Dyes

Following years of studies indicating food dyes might cause or exacerbate behavior problems in children, the FDA is finally considering warning labels, something the food industry does not want to see. But many consumers and consumer groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest do want to see. Will the FDA follow the European Union’s lead and place warning labels on foods containing artificial colors? We will wait and see.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: Skånska Matupplevelser





Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.