Midsummer conversations around food, beverage and agriculture this week covered:

  • Labeling debates heating up over real meat, fake meat and “best by” dates.
  • The seas offering abundant controversy, rules and, yes, even seafood.
  • Cafeterias across America continuing to get a break on school lunch costs.

They Said, They Said

In food and beverage, product labels are the definitive means of delivering brand messages to consumers. Because of this, manufacturers, industry groups, activists and public health groups constantly battle one another — and the government — over what belongs on labels.

  • The National Chicken Council petitioned the FDA for clearer labeling of plant-based protein alternatives after a survey found that 21% of respondents had “accidentally purchased the plant-based product, believing it to be real chicken.”
  • On the other hand, vegan group PETA petitioned the USDA to end the use of “humane” on meat labels.
  • Activist organization Center for Science in the Public Interest worked with Mondelēz to clarify whole grain claims on packages for Ritz and saltine crackers.
  • Environmentalist publication FoodPrint covered the outlook for simplifying “best by” dates in the upcoming Farm Bill.
  • Forbes writer Errol Schweizer observed that sometimes the price tag matters more than anything on the label. FMI — the Food Industry Association found that 40% of consumers have purchased more private label products since the pandemic began, with the majority citing cost.

See Food Swim

Considering that much of the protein conversation focuses on land-based food production, it’s healthy to check in on the fishes every now and then. A broad range of seafood topics surfaced, ranging from an international conference on ocean stewardship to funding faux fish to marketing an invasive species.

  • At the U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, nations sought to “propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.”
  • At the conference, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “some countries [have] been holding up a global agreement on protecting the world’s oceans because of their ‘egoism.'” (Food Manufacturing)
  • Food Business News described how Current Foods, dubbed the “Beyond Meat of seafood,” uses algae, radish, potato and bamboo to mimic real fish. The company recently received $18 million in seed funding. Bamboo?
  • “Biting into a fresh, raw oyster is like kissing the sea.” That colorful descriptor started Bridget Shirvell’s piece in Modern Farmer, describing the efforts New England oyster farmers are taking to reduce plastics in their operations.
  • The Washington Post’s Peter Kendall reported on the renaming and rebranding of the invasive Asian carp, which threaten to disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem. “The name [carp] strikes many as both racially insensitive and decidedly unpalatable — a trash fish.” Now it’s called “copi” with the hopes of cleaning up its image while touting its delicate flavor and abundance of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • If you’re looking for the latest in toxicity levels from imported tinned fish, check out FDA’s July 6 report on test results on retail seafood products in the U.S. TLDR: stay away from Chinese canned clams.

A Free Lunch (Continued)

On June 25, President Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act, which extends school meal flexibilities that were implemented during the pandemic. Biden’s signature came just in time, as existing waivers were set to expire at the end of the month.

  • School Nutrition Association President Beth Wallace welcomed the deal, but expressed disappointment that “Senate leaders were forced to strike a key provision to eliminate the reduced-price meal co-pay for eligible families.”
  • Lisa Davis of No Kid Hungry stated, “It won’t help families whose incomes are too high to qualify for free meals but too low to cover basic necessities. But it is a huge step forward.”
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told NPR that the compromise was necessary: “Up to one-third of the schools may not have been able to provide school meals at all without [any waivers].”
  • However, Abby Vesoulis of Mother Jones wrote that the down-to-the-wire timing had dissuaded some schools from offering summer meals for fear of running out of funds.
  • On June 29, California passed its own school meal updates in a budget deal. Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth cheered a $100 million budget for increasing local and plant-based options on menus.

Worth Reading

July Fools

The Fourth of July brought a fair share of unusual stories this year. Food prices led most headlines, with the American Farm Bureau Federation calculating a 17% price hike from 2021. USDA recommended “fireworks, not foodborne illness.” Hot dog eating contest winner Joey Chestnut put a protester in a chokehold mid-contest. And Nathan’s Famous unveiled a hot dog ice cream. Umm, no.

Stone, Unturned

Eater posted a detailed exposé about chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a long-running leading voice in the “sustainable food movement.” Through a series of interviews, writer Meghan McCarron described a scene full of poor working conditions and sexual abuse. “As Barber found fame by advocating for a culinary revolution, former cooks, servers, and managers say that conditions at his own restaurant could be brutal, rife with grinding pressure and explosions of anger.”

Depending on Ag

The Daily Scoop promoted the Emmy-winning PBS mini-series “American Grown,” which was inspired by the Facebook group My Job Depends on Ag. The couple behind the series, Jeff and Jill Aiello, described their inspiration: “I’ve always understood the basic idea that farmers are our heroes, and my time in various parts of California made me realize a lot of people in our urban settings seem to have forgotten that.”

Bone-in Nuggets

Food companies are always looking for efficiencies to survive in a low-margin business, frequently to the tune of funny headlines. Modern Farmer showcased how one company is producing a bone-in chicken nugget: “SuperGround’s process takes the heated and pressurized bones, then pulverizes the mash into a breadcrumb-like consistency and includes it as an ingredient in foods common to the western palate.”

‘The United States of Fried Chicken’

Eater published a series of more conventional takes on fried chicken products, including no fewer than 42 articles that rank fast food offerings, explain historical beginnings and break down city-by-city trends. The editorial team described fried chicken as a “singular food that connects all of our vast and varied cultures, across state lines and borders.”