Programming note: Friday by Noon will be back March 17.

This week in food production conversations:

  • Nutrition assistance budgets keeps taking a beating.
  • Leaders negotiated adjustments to the global flow of food trade.
  • Brands, restaurants and grocers keep trying interesting ways to build business.

Bellies vs. Budgets

A pandemic-era expansion of funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) expired at midnight on February 28. At the same time, politicians began debating budgets for the program over the next five years. Discussions juxtaposed phrases such as “hunger cliff” and “surprise $250 billion in spending.”

  • Food Research and Action Center SNAP Director Ellen Vollinger told Food Tank that older adults are likely to be hit hardest, with allotments falling from $281 per month to the minimum $23 per month.
  • PBS NewsHour covered how food banks are preparing for an increase in demand as a result of the benefit drop-off. A Virginia food bank director explained: “You see somebody come to you, and you give them a can of tuna, and they hold it to them and say: ‘Oh, my God, Sharon, this is four meals.’ No, it’s not. It’s one. That will make you stop and think. And, at our level, we see that, we hear that. Congress don’t.”
  • Keith Good of the University of Illinois condensed a hearing on nutrition program budgets as part of the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) worried, “The cost of the largest of these programs, [SNAP], has grown by more than 94%” due to inflation and higher participation rates.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation pointed out that current estimates put nutrition programs at 82% of an expected $1.5 trillion of farm bill spending. It’s worth noting that the Farm Bureau lobbies for the other 18%.
  • Other avenues of hunger relief are getting easier, at least. Food Safety News reported that — for the first time — the FDA outlined food safety provisions for retailers that wish to donate food that would otherwise go to waste.
  • In the past week, several corporations have ramped up donation campaigns. Publix hosted a hunger summit and launched its Feeding More Together campaign. Kellogg Company joined Albertsons in donating to the Nourishing Neighbors Initiative. Tyson Foods and Smithfield donated to local food banks (Meatingplace).

Trade Ins & Outs

With roughly 20% of all U.S. farm products being exported around the world, international trade keeps the U.S. ag engine running. Weather, animal disease, tariffs and conflicts all factor into this complex global puzzle.

  • The Politico Weekly Ag newsletter detailed how, despite increased tensions, China remains the #1 U.S. market for exported farm goods. Nevertheless, imports of Chinese agricultural goods exceeded that value by $14.5 billion.
  • Reuters described how an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease) is affecting beef trade between Brazil and China. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called on USDA secretary Tom Vilsack to halt imports of Brazilian beef to the U.S.
  • Meatingplace summarized fiscal 2023’s overall meat export outlook, predicting a slight decrease from 2022. Beef and chicken numbers are down, while pork is up based on strengthening shipments to East Asia and Mexico.
  • Speaking of Mexico, Civil Eats writer Lisa Held defended Mexico’s upcoming ban on importing genetically modified U.S. corn, which is set to take effect in 2024. The U.S. says the ban violates trade agreements while Mexican policymakers say the ban’s purpose is to preserve genetic diversity, as well as cultural and ecological heritage.
  • The Scoop outlined many obstacles Ukrainian farmers are facing — like getting called into battle and clearing mines from their fields — which are adding up to lower exports for Europe’s breadbasket.

Givin’ the Business

Krispy Kreme at McDonald’s, Starbucks coffee with olive oil, DoorDashing Aldi; it’s cats and dogs living together everywhere you turn. Oh, and KFC’s Double Down is back, if you’re into replacing bread with fried chicken. Quite a few business and marketing moves caught our attention this week:

Worth Reading

Mistakes on a Plane

Lately it seems that the lack of legroom has competition for the most uncomfortable parts of air travel. After a Twitter user shared a photo of a passenger with a full rack of ribs in the middle seat, The Washington Post writer Natalie Compton opined, “There are unspoken rules to eating on a plane, and this traveler broke half of them.” On a more serious note, a Northwestern University professor found that 98% of travelers with food allergies “experienced added anxiety” around airline food. To our knowledge, ribs only cause allergic reactions to bad manners.

Self-checkout Under Fire

Progressive Grocer captured the friction in the Ocean State between retailers and a proposed law that would limit the number of self-checkout lanes in grocery stores. The article referenced Rhode Island state representative Megan Cotter’s bill: “Self-checkout is a way grocery stores are avoiding paying employees by getting customers to do cashiers’ jobs for free. It seems only fair that if they are going to take on cashiers’ work, the customer should get something in return.” In the article, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Food Dealers Association countered, “It is becoming increasingly difficult for grocers to staff their stores, and a result, a lot of these businesses are opting to find alternative solutions.”

Cocaine and a Smile

Eater detailed the tale of how the kola nut — and cocaine — worked their ways into Coca Cola’s original secret recipe. The article suggests the recipe is loosely based on Vin Mariani, a 19th century medicine made from red wine and cocaine consumed by Pope Leo XIII and President Ulysses S. Grant. “It was this beverage that the Coca-Cola’s founder — a morphine-addicted, down-on-his-luck Civil War veteran named John Pemberton — decided to copy, creating Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.”

Among Us

On March 1, The New York Times broke news of a lawsuit that alleges Jack Daniel’s barrel-aging process is responsible for a black mold found across Lincoln County, Tennessee. While an expert on the “whiskey fungus” explained that “the only way to stop it is to turn off its alcohol supply,” a Jack Daniel’s representative countered: “Could it be a nuisance? Yeah, sure. And it can easily be remedied by having it washed off.”