In a stroke of coincidence, labor concerns led conversations heading into the Labor Day weekend:

  • Diverse voices opined on how to fight hunger and diet-related disease.
  • A California bill may regulate fast-food working conditions.
  • Alternative proteins continue to “surprise.”

“I don’t run into too many people here in Congress who say they’re pro-hunger. We may have some differences of opinion on how to get to the goal. But I would like to think that this is one of those issues that can bring us together.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. (NPR)

Talking Nutrition Security

After months of vague language, the White House scheduled its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health for Sept. 28. The last such conference, held in 1969, saw the establishment of the school lunch program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

  • The White House outlined the conference’s goal: “End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”
  • NPR’s Ximena Bustillo noted that the pandemic added urgency to the topic, as “those with diet-related diseases were among the first to feel some of the worst symptoms and results of the virus.”
  • A joint task force — convened by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Food Systems for the Future, Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and World Central Kitchen — developed a set of 30 recommendations for the conference.
  • FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin cheered the food industry’s involvement in the task force, emphasizing support for “recommendations to develop ‘Food as Medicine’ programs in a robust, transparent and scalable way as well as enhancing food recovery and donation efforts.”
  • Meanwhile, former NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle argued that the group went overboard: “Really, only 2 recommendations are needed. … (1) Adequate, affordable food and nutrition for everyone. (2) Healthy diets for everyone, meaning those that follow Dietary Guidelines…” Funny to hear that from someone who wrote seven books about how complicated food policy is.

California Workin’

On Aug. 29, the California Senate and state Assembly passed the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Act (aka the FAST Act). If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the bill would establish a panel with the authority to increase the minimum wage (to a maximum of $22 per hour) and set working conditions for fast food establishments. In a state where the minimum wage is already $15 per hour, the move gave business groups sticker shock.

  • As the bill advanced through California’s legislature, worker advocacy group Fight for $15 organized a “sleepover” at the state capitol.
  • Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry welcomed the opportunity for “550,000 fast-food workers a chance to sit down with government and their employers to decide wages and working conditions.”
  • The Los Angeles Times editorial board supported workers having “some say on the job” and concluded: “Full-time workers should earn enough to get by.”
  • Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, objected that the bill unfairly targets only fast food: “If it’s essential to increase restaurant workers’ wages and protect their welfare — and it is — shouldn’t all restaurant workers benefit?”
  • Michelle Korsmo, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association warned: “For restaurant operators, the FAST Act threatens businesses already contending with a 16% increase in wholesale food prices and ongoing supply chain challenges. … The FAST Act isn’t going to achieve its objective of providing a better environment for the workforce, it’s going to force the outcomes our communities don’t want to see.”

‘The Business of Feeling Good’

Alternative proteins continue to fascinate, confuse and stir debate throughout the supply chain and across all segments.

  • Comedian/actor Kevin Hart opened Hart House, a plant-based restaurant in Los Angeles. “Our business is in the business of feeling good. That’s what Kevin Hart is about,” he told Food Manufacturing.
  • Staten Island Live reported that New York City schools will go meatless on Mondays and Fridays, with Mondays being vegetarian and Fridays being vegan.
  • Clay Detlefsen from the National Milk Producers Federation defended traditional dairy products in an interview with National Association of Farm Broadcasters: “You cannot make a real dairy product with fermentation technology.”
  • Triple Pundit’s Leon Kaye outlined the bumpy road alternative proteins faced in the recent past and looked at the race to build a “fake steak.”
  • Food Dive covered Thai Union (Chicken of the Sea) and the Ish Food Company’s efforts to explore new horizons in alternative seafood production.
  • Meatingplace’s Lisa Keefe explored the big-company ownership of many alternative proteins: “I couldn’t resist pointing out that the mysterious ‘Brazilian company’ is, in fact, JBS S.A. Surprise!”

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

A report from consulting firm PwC, commissioned by Consumer Brands Association, revealed that CPG companies make nearly $2 billion in annual charitable donations of funds and products. That puts them in second place among major industries, behind only “Management of Companies” contributing an average 0.17% of revenue (compared to an overall average of 0.02%). The report cites nearly 30 well-known brand names that give back at national and local levels and notes that across all industries. Nicely done.

Worth Reading.

Getting Creative

New York Times Reporter Julie Creswell explored how ingredient shortages have forced scientists and R&D teams to improvise new ways to create familiar products. For example, teams at General Mills developed 25 ways to make Totino’s pizza rolls. “For many food executives, the bigger headache now is wondering each week which ingredients will — or won’t — show up at their factories.”

Modern Heat

Calling the Scoville scale “archaic,” Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel called for a modernized way to measure chili pepper heat. What’s most fascinating is how pharmacist Wilbur Scoville developed the scale back in 1912: “Take a pepper, dry it, and dissolve it in alcohol. Then, start diluting it with sugar water. Keep diluting it until three of a panel of five humans — yes, humans — can no longer taste the heat.” We have the technology!


Earlier this year, Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk co-authored a paper that examined consumer sentiment around environmental and animal care claims on meat packages — claims that are at odds with one another. The study found: “Across all presentation designs and information treatments, participants are far more willing to pay for animal welfare attributes than for environmental efficiencies.”