The sunny first week of (non-meteorological) summer shone brightly on some perennial topics: 

  • Farm Bill: Heated discussions raging over climate and nutrition funding. 
  • Health and Nutrition: Dietary benefits emerging in unexpected places. 
  • Food Prices: Food inflation falling but not fast enough. 

Progress, Not Perfection

On May 24, the Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024 (aka the farm bill) advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives. This brings the bill one step closer to completion, even if it conflicts with a version that has advanced in the U.S. Senate.

  • House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) commented, “There is a whole lot of common ground, and a few sticking points that can be resolved through conversation and negotiation.”
  • Agricultural groups representing beef, pork, dairy, rice, wheat, corn and soy producers welcomed the House version of the bill, which supports or expands many existing farm policies: biosecurity, exports, crop insurance, biofuels and many others.
  • Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) warned, “Key parts of the House bill split the Farm Bill coalition in a way that makes it impossible to achieve the votes to become law.”
  • In The Hill, reporter Saul Elbein documented controversy around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) budget, with politicians debating the full impact of freezing the USDA’s ability to expand or update the hunger relief program.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council rebuked the House bill for cutting climate-smart agriculture funds, limiting states’ ability to regulate pesticides and hampering other environmental laws.
  • Activist group Food & Water Watch objected to a provision in the bill that would prevent states from passing laws like California Proposition 12, which governs livestock housing requirements outside of the state. The National Pork Producers Council cheered the move “to stop a potential 50-state patchwork of differing on-farm regulations.”

Our Takeaway: The embattled legislation has already been postponed for a year. Lawmakers seem keen on passing a bill before the presidential election this fall, but each political party will have to make concessions to reach that goal.

Processed Predicament

Nutrition can have a huge range of effects on our health and well-being. Some recent studies and developments have indicated the effects foods can have on our mind, body and spirit. From food processing to foodservice, it’s a good time to check in on the ever-changing landscape of health and nutrition. 

  • In addition to exploring how social engagement can influence our diet, Science Daily referenced new findings from academic research groups to unpack how food can impact everything from brain aging and stroke risks to the mental and metabolic health of breast cancer patients.
  • As detailed by The New York Times, scientists currently associate the consumption of ultra-processed foods with 32 different health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and mental disorders.
  • Wall Street Journal reporter Angela Peterson highlighted how the addictive properties of ultra-processed foods can fuel compulsive eating that directly affects how we feel, learn and think.
  • A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed how the density of fast-food restaurants, supermarkets and fitness centers in living areas can alter the odds of pregnant women developing gestational diabetes.
  • As consumers continue looking for resources that can inform dietary decisions, the Center for Science in the Public Interest explained how New York City Council is pushing for the FDA to mandate transparency for all restaurant menu items that exceed a day’s worth of added sugars.
  • Several influential voices have commented on Supersize Me creator Morgan Spurlock, who died May 23. Spurlock challenged his own nutrition by eating exclusively at McDonald’s for a month straight in 2002. Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle tweeted, “So sad. I loved being in his films.” 

Our Takeaway: The tug-o-war over “Defining Good” will continue — always — with more studies confirming and denying claims of health and wellness. Remember, ultra-processing was once considered a health benefit. 

Low and Behold

The data finally show that food prices dropped in the past month — as opposed to merely rising at a slower rate — and several grocers have announced plans to further reduce food prices throughout the summer. However, an Urban Institute study found that inflation has exerted substantial financial pressure on low-income households over the past four years.

  • How many families take on debt to pay for groceries? | The Urban Institute
  • Eggs and milk prices fall, as overall inflation eases | NPR
  • Aldi lowering prices on over 250 items this summer | USA Today
  • Amazon, Walmart, and Target finally realize their colossal pricing mistake — now they’re slashing costs to win back customers | Fortune
  • Trader Joe’s gets candid about its pricing model | Progressive Grocer
  • FMI finds consumer concerns about inflation have stabilized | Food Business News
  • Law pressures already high cocoa prices | Specialty Food Association
  • The McCheapest Map will help you locate the most inexpensive Big Mac in America | Food & Wine

Worth Reading

Flu Flown the Coop

U.S. health officials confirmed a second human case associated with the H5N1 influenza outbreak in dairy cattle last week. A Michigan dairy worker experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, reported NPR. The risk to public health remains low, but experts continue to emphasize food safety and warn consumers to stay away from raw milk as it contains a heightened bacteria load. This has caused raw milk advocates and critics to square off, with advocates saying the warnings against drinking raw milk are “exaggerated” and data to support claims is limited. NPR tracked recent incidents of farm cats and mice becoming sick after ingesting raw milk from infected cows.

Heads-up, Lunch Ladies!

Potato industry groups recently voiced concern over potential nutrition reclassification that would render spuds grains, rather than their current classification as vegetables. Agri-Pulse summarized the conversations between leaders at the USDA, Department of Health and Human Services, and lawmakers in anticipation of upcoming changes to U.S. dietary guidelines. Potato growers are especially uneasy because their products, as vegetables, slot nicely into federal food programs like school meals, SNAP and WIC. Agronomically, it’s just a potato. 

An Emerging Food Category?

Look for a new grocery section to join the “weight loss” and “diabetic” food sections: products designed for people using GLP-1 weight-loss drugs. Nestlé is the latest manufacturer to announce a brand specifically for Wegovy or Ozempic users. Nestlé’s Vital Pursuit offers fortified $5 frozen pizzas and protein-enhanced pastas aimed at balancing some of the nutritional deficits caused by these appetite-suppressing drugs. Despite initial concerns over potential lost sales, major food companies see this as an emerging opportunity. 

Restaurant Evolution

Amid legislation changes, social movements and inflation, Los Angeles Times detailed why restaurant chefs and owners may be rethinking their professions. From lack of financial security and work-life balance to dwindling time and energy, many have chosen to close shop or leave the industry completely. In a related article, the Times explored how difficult financial situations can persist beyond the life of a business. Restaurateur Lauren Lemos explained: “After closing Chinatown we realized we still have our lease … the bills are still coming in. … We can’t afford to be open, we can’t afford to be closed.”

Artificially Illustrated
Field of fries
Ahh, beautiful spacious skies and amber waves of … fries?

Midjourney illustration by Ryan Smith