​​Programming notes: Look for our annual wrap-up next week, perhaps even a day early. That’s a trend we will carry into 2024; we’re changing our publishing day for this weekly newsletter, moving from Fridays by Noon to Thursdays. Expect a new name and a revamped look by mid-January. And remember, if you want to review any back issues of Friday by Noon or any other Intel Distillery materials, everything is available at www.inteldistillery.com/archives.

As the most influential voices in food production close out the year, environmental stewardship, food safety and holiday traditions proved to be strong themes.

  • COP28 wrapped up in Dubai, leaving food production out of the final resolution.
  • Lead in cinnamon applesauce pouches sickened kids, giving the FDA another black eye.
  • Some holiday food traditions are in flux, and the season remains stressful.

Food Day in Dubai

The latest and largest climate conference, COP28, held Food, Agriculture and Water Day on December 10 and wrapped up on December 12. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) laid out a roadmap for reducing emission from food production, but some groups worried that food was not mentioned in the conference’s final resolution.

  • The Associated Press tabulated “at least $2.1 billion in new funds” for climate goals, much of it related to health and agriculture efforts.
  • Food Tank highlighted collaborative solutions including the agriculture, food and climate action toolkit and Transforming Urban Rural Food Systems (TURFS) Consortium’s strategy for food systems transformation.
  • Politico parsed statements from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the role of U.S. food producers in meeting the FAO’s roadmap for reducing emissions.
  • ESG-focused investor group FAIRR criticized the FAO roadmap for taking it easy on livestock production, but welcomed the document as a “first step towards an effective roadmap.”
  • Surprising many U.S.-based groups, the final resolution of the conference did not specifically mention food or agriculture production. The Scoop noted that this came at the request of developing nations that wanted more time to negotiate.
  • Environmentalist group Food & Water Watch lamented that COP28 “[amounted] to very, very little” as a result.
  • In a New York Times article, Ed Davey of World Resources Institute painted a more optimistic picture: “For the first time there is a broad acknowledgment that the food agenda is aligned with the climate fight.”

“Omitting food system action in the final COP28 text is a stark betrayal of urgency. Ignoring the one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from food systems is a dangerous oversight. We cannot afford another lost year for food and climate action.”

Emile Frison, Senior Advisor, IPES Food (X, formerly Twitter)

Applesauce Lead Astray

The FDA is investigating elevated lead levels in cinnamon applesauce pouches made in Ecuador. The FDA was first made aware of this on October 28 and has received 65 reports related to the recalled product, primarily affecting individuals under 6 years old. 

  • The investigation involves nearly 3 million pouches of WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis branded cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches. FDA experts raised an alarm at the potential level of lead in the pouches, as some tested at more than 500 times the acceptable threshold
  • The Washington Post’s entire food team dug into the story, detailing how the investigation got started, how it has progressed and how the incident “renewed questions about whether the FDA is doing enough to regulate toxic metals in baby and toddler foods.”
  • While FDA has yet to reach any conclusions about the suppliers involved, Helena Bottemiller Evich at Food Fix noted: “A lot of folks I talked to this week are openly wondering if this was intentionally or economically adulterated.”
  • Felicia Wu of Michigan State University conducted two related studies on dietary exposure to heavy metals that shed light on the correlation between metal exposure in food and the risk of serious health issues, including cancer.
  • Knowing this, what can we do? Marion Nestle, NYU nutrition professor emeritus urged consumers to avoid the product and understand that while “commercial infant and baby foods are convenient, they are enormously profitable to manufacturers.”

Seasonal Swings

The holiday season tends to shake up consumer routines. We compiled a snapshot of what the industry expects that change will look like this year, along with a few resources to navigate seasonal stressors:

  • New FMI holiday season trends survey: grocery shoppers exhibit cautious optimism ahead of busy holiday meals season | FMI – The Food Industry Association
  • Restaurants ready for the holiday rush with more consumers planning to dine out | National Restaurant Association
  • Top Women in Grocery Podcast: A fireside chat on holiday trends | Progressive Grocer
  • Holiday office party champagne replaced by guacamole and pickleball | Bloomberg
  • Enjoy stress-free holidays with nutrition.gov’s new healthy resources | USDA
  • The perfect gift is a cookbook — plus a few key extras | Eater

Worth Reading

Got Whole Milk?

The U.S. House of Representatives on December 13 passed the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which allows whole and 2% milk to again be served in school lunches. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) advocated for a quick passage of the bill, citing full-fat dairy’s nutritional benefits. The next day, Senate ag committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Calif.) blocked the bill’s passage. Agri-Pulse summarized Stabenow’s perspective: “Stabenow warned if Congress intervenes in USDA’s process, it could create an ‘unfortunate precedent’ for departing from nutritional science [and the current USDA dietary guidelines] when it comes to school food standards.

Sippin’ Chips

As younger consumers continue to search for foods and beverages packed with unique flavors, Fast Company explored the launch of a new hooch targeted at Gen Z: Doritos-flavored liquor. From nacho cheese and corn tostada to umami and a touch of acidity, the new spirit packs all the flavor of a snackable fan favorite into every pour. This collaboration between Pepsico and Copenhagen’s Empirical Spirits might not be for everyone, but for $65 a bottle, you can taste and see for yourself.

AI’s Drive-thru Dilemma

Many fast-food chains are attempting to make the drive-thru experience more efficient with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). However, Men’s Journal detailed how the integration of AI technology is currently far from seamless. With some chatbots requiring human intervention to ensure the accuracy of more than 70% of orders taken at the drive-thru, the road to automated proficiency may be long and winding. We’re not sure why Men’s Journal stepped up for this hard-hitting journalism, but we’re here for it.

Red Food, Blue Food

Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle shared a report posted by consumer research firm Propellerfish that explored political partisanship on U.S. plates. The quantitative study focused on understanding the sometimes extreme opinions of conservative Americans. One small-town conservative explained: “Liberal types seem willing to waste money for these labels put on food.”

Hot and Stinky

Two recent food introductions — Pepper X and a cheese dubbed “the Minger” — are raising eyebrows, burning tongues and offending noses. Scientific American described the development of Pepper X, a chili at least 100 times hotter than a jalapeno, and how its creator spent six hours recovering from eating it. Meanwhile, The New York Times discussed what many consider the stinkiest cheese in the world. Dr. Mark Johnson, a scientist at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin, nailed it: “It’s almost like an ‘I dare you to eat it’ kind of thing, like hot peppers.” Our suggestion: combine these and take pimento cheese to eleven.