In the fortnight since our last weekly summary, much has been stirring. Influential farmers, producers, regulators, brands and thinkers convened at a pair of conferences to discuss the big picture of global food production and the immediate future of “better-for-you” products. Far From those lofty conferences, workers in the trenches of food production dealt with more immediate challenges.

  • The U.N. Food Systems Summit sparked controversy.
  • Natural Products Expo underscored the continued potential for the category.
  • Workers faced the wrath of irritable diners.

Food Systems Friction

The United Nations held the Food Systems Summit on September 23, for the first time bringing together nations and food makers to discuss the complex interactions of production, food security, nutrition and climate change. The event brought to light intense conflict between corporate and advocacy groups over balancing these concerns.

  • Organizations ranging from the USDA to the Organic Trade Association and WWF provided feedback on steps to build sustainable food systems.
  • Field to Market President Rod Snyder challenged participants: “Aspirations must be matched by meaningful action and shared responsibility across the value chain to meet the urgency of this moment.”
  • Likewise, National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern decried “uniform, misguided ideology” in favor of farm-by-farm solutions.
  • The most prominent criticism of the event came from an expert hired by the U.N. itself: special rapporteur Michael Fakhri wrote in a report that the summit completely neglected the effects of COVID-19. He argued that the pandemic demonstrated part of “how and why the world’s food systems undermine human rights, exacerbate inequalities, threaten biodiversity and contribute to climate change.”
  • The Associated Press summarized criticism from academics and advocacy groups that “disavowed” the summit.
  • A coalition of more than 300 groups, led by Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM), boycotted the event because “the Summit distracts from the real problems” tied to the pandemic.

Customers: The New Foodservice Hazard

Long hours and low wages were the norm for foodservice workers long before the pandemic. Reports of customer tantrums and retaliation over COVID-19 restrictions add new levels of frustration and danger for these already exhausted, but essential, workers.

  • NPR reported a restaurant host was assaulted in Manhattan after asking a group of Texas residents for proof of vaccination status.
  • Mother Jones noted that “80 percent of restaurant workers report a drop in tips when they attempt to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.”
  • The customer is no longer “always right” as restaurants push back against bad behavior, as covered by The Wall Street Journal.
  • The worker shortage is forcing restaurants to raise pay after “hiring in the hospitality industry stagnated in August,” according to The New York Times. The Washington Post pointed to one alternative worker destination: the cannabis industry.
  • One silver lining for these workers: Eater detailed how restaurant wages have started to trend upward based on a new study from One Fair Wage.

So Many Chickpeas

Simultaneous with the U.N. Food Systems Summit, Natural Products Expo East 2021 kicked off as a live event after being twice postponed due to the pandemic. The Intel Distillery had a troop on the ground in Philadelphia to check it out.

  • Two things in particular featured prominently: CBD supplements and chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). CBD popped up for both human and pet applications while chickpeas seemed to underlie the deluge of plant-based options.
  • Notable absentees included the “clean label” theme that graced nearly every exhibit a few years ago and sustainable sub-brands from major manufacturers (we assume many corporate travel bans dictated that). Despite brands touching on similar topics, there was no mention of the bigger-picture U.N. Food Systems Summit.
  • Food Business News summarized the keynote address by Carlotta Mast, senior vice president at New Hope Network, the organization that organized the event. Mast shared data from Nutrition Business Journal (a New Hope Publication) that indicated the natural/organic category is on track to hit $300 billion in sales by 2023. Garbanzo Journalism, anyone?
  • Food Dive summarized SPINS research that indicated organic labeling and animal care claims accelerate sales of certain products.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Naming Names …

Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel’s book on close-to-home food production is nearing publication (Twitter). Perhaps soon-to-be food industry influencers, skateboarder Tony Hawk and rapper Eminem, have opened restaurants. Hawk is riding the chicken sandwich wave by opening Chick N’ Hawk next year (People), while Eminem has opened Mom’s Spaghetti in his hometown of Detroit (Eater). Please wear a clean sweater if you go. Finally, YouTube blocked misleading anti-vaccination content, notably from alternative medicine proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola, whose controversial views on health and nutrition have stirred controversy for decades (Reuters).

Breakfast Budget Busted

Your morning jolt of caffeine may soon cost more at both your local grocery store and cafe. The Associated Press warned that “a confluence of factors is driving up farmers’ costs to grow the beans and it could begin filtering down to your local cafe before the end of the year.” It’s the same for bacon. Business Insider reported prices have risen 13% over the past year. Doesn’t matter; breakfast remains our favorite meal of the day.

Stay Hydrated

How much water should you actually drink? The New York Times interviewed Dr. Joel Topf, a nephrologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Oakland University in Michigan, who recommended listening to your body and simply drinking when you’re thirsty. The article also busted some common hydration myths, including judging hydration level by urine color …

Middle-aged McRib

The Takeout celebrated the return of the McRib at McDonald’s for the fake-boned sandwich’s 40th birthday: “Forget pumpkin spice lattes, everyone. The real spiritual transition into cool weather is the moment the return of the McDonald’s McRib is announced.”