August 28, 2020
Friday by Noon:
Back to School, Kinda
Typically, food conversations change with the change in season. 2020 is no exception, with talks of school foodservice, hurricanes, crop harvest and the much-ballyhooed annual return of the pumpkin spice. But the pandemic has intensified many conversations, #PSL notwithstanding.
- California has proven to be a focal point for climate change and working condition conversations.
- A disrupted return to school increased concerns about food-insecure students.
Bracing for Climate Change
Climate change is an increasingly important topic in food production. Though the issue has taken a back seat during the coronavirus pandemic, a few interesting perspectives are worth noting.
- Issues in California, where a third of U.S. vegetables and two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts are grown, led recent attention on the topic. Science Daily reported on a Berkeley Lab study that found air temperatures will force farmers to reconsider regions where certain crops are planted. And both The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle described how heat and smoke from wildfires affect farmworker conditions in the Salinas Valley.
- New Hope Media covered the Organic Trade Association’s August 20 release of “Advancing Organic to Mitigate Climate Change,” the organization’s 10-tiered approach to addressing stewardship, climate and health issues.
- On August 25, Senate Democrats released a climate action plan that leans on the renewable fuel standard (RFS) to deliver cleaner liquid fuels. With corn ethanol as a major component of RFS, corn growers, and the Renewable Fuels Association that represents them, are happy.
- The World Resources Institute (WRI) published three climate-resilient food solutions aimed at small farmers in the global South, where hunger crises came long before COVID-19. WRI’s recommendations are drought-tolerant maize, fast-maturing lentils and sustained fish populations.
As students return to classes — in person or virtually or both — media outlets and NGOs raised concerns about the availability of meals for food-insecure children. On August 20, USDA declined to extend measures for free school meals set to expire on August 31. Additionally, CDC updated its guidelines for school foodservice, lowering the recommended number of students in cafeterias.
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stated that extending free meal measures is “beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement. … Americans are a generous people, and there are already opportunities for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and weekend meals for children in need.”
- In a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, Aramark’s Barbara Flanagan worried, “Schools are anticipating a significant increase in the number of children in need of this food assistance.”
- USA Today reported that as many as one-quarter of parents have taken on debt as part of at-home school expenses — including meal costs.
- A coalition of groups ranging from the Urban School Food Alliance to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics urged Congress to give USDA more tools to aid schools.
- The Counter chronicled difficulties that college dining services face from abrupt changes in campus policies.
- In its series on foodservice adaptability, Food Management highlighted Halal Shack’s “Smile Behind the Mask” campaign.
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Pumpkin Spice Early
Intel Distillery’s first official pumpkin spice reference occurred on July 27 when Wharton School marketing professor Peter Fader credited Starbucks for becoming more “customer-centric” to truly learn more about its patrons. As proof, Fader points to the inception of the Leaf Rakers Society: “The group is … a brilliantly disguised, ongoing, permanent advertisement for the ever-popular pumpkin spice latte, which reappears on the Starbucks menu each fall.” This year, Dunkin’ released the drink earliest, with an August 19 debut. Does that make Starbucks latte to the party?
Reuters summed up the agricultural impact of Hurricane Laura. The good news is that she missed grain export terminals and unharvested sugar and cotton fields. The bad news is that her much-needed rain will miss Midwestern cornfields. Yahoo reported that, because of pandemic preparedness, Houston’s food banks are well-stocked and ready to receive an influx of users in Laura’s aftermath.
Beard Awards Canceled
Eater suggested the August 20 cancellation of the prestigious James Beard Awards wasn’t really about COVID-19 and the ongoing restaurant industry upheaval. Instead, it asserted the organization “grappled with its own internal reckoning, as employees spoke out against practices that have long been brushed under the rug and dismissed as just a part of kitchen culture, from unequal treatment and bullying to allegations of sexual harassment.”
The Brewers Association recently sent members a can shortage advisory, according to Delish, warning that popular brews could soon be out of stock. The issue arose as the pandemic forced both more canned beer sales and growing sales of canned wines and cocktails. Paul Gatza, a senior vice president with the association, warned, “[The shortage] may threaten the ability to survive the pandemic for some craft brewers.”
CR vs. USDA
Food Safety News reporter Dan Flynn commented on an August 27 Consumer Reports (CR) evaluation of produce and pesticides. Flynn compared CR’s thoughts with
USDA’s standards for acceptable levels of pesticide residues: “It’s a study involving the same set of facts that are subject to differing interpretation and even presentation, so it can be confusing.”
Bumper Crop of Pizza
At farms near the Wisconsin-Iowa border, “pizza farming” is having a blockbuster summer amid the pandemic as more farmers join a decades-old tradition. Farmers who have honed their pizza-making skills open their farms to patrons each year. The New York Times’ Julia Moskin observed: “Pizza is usually the only item on the menu, but the homegrown toppings change with the season, from baby onions and roasted carrots in the spring to zucchini, fried eggplant and red peppers as the season closes out in September.” Hey, at least it’s not pineapple.
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