Programming note: After a restorative week off, Plated by Bader Rutter will return on May 30.

Both ends of the food supply chain came under additional scrutiny regarding concerns over keeping our food supply safe and nutritious. 

  • A study on processed food prompted research retrospection.
  • Concerns around H5N1’s spread drew fresh measures of protection.

Processed Elimination

A major study looked at the health effects of processed foods across subjects in the United States and United Kingdom, prompting reflection on how scientists categorize foods and the limits of nutrition research.

  • Washington Post health writer Anahad O’Connor covered a Harvard University study — published in The BMJ on May 8 — that linked ultraprocessed foods with early death. O’Connor wrote that the research “adds to a growing body of evidence” but also suggested that the “findings were not definitive … showing only associations not cause and effect.”
  • CNN noted that the study was unique for recognizing subgroups of processed foods. Study author Mingyang Song explained that not all processed foods are equal: “Cereals, whole grain breads … are also considered ultraprocessed food, but they contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.”
  • CNN expanded on the topic in a 33-minute podcast with NYU nutrition professor emerita Marion Nestle and National Institute of Health senior investigator Kevin Hall.
  • Nutrition Insight quoted Oxford Brookes University nutrition professor Aisling Daly: “Demonizing all UPFs [ultraprocessed foods] can potentially cause almost as much harm as the foods themselves if people fear them and cut them out but then can’t replace them with suitable foods. … overall diet quality is more important than UPFs’ consumption.”
  • The New York Times examined the state of research on the topic, overall. The Times paraphrased Kevin Hall’s opinion that observational nutrition studies fall short: “Ultraprocessed foods are unhealthy … ‘But there’s actually not a lot of rigorous science’ on what those mechanisms are.”
  • Food & Wine highlighted an American Heart Association study that found living near bars and fast-food restaurants increased the risk of heart failure. While the study did not directly mention “ultraprocessed foods,” the theme was heavily implied. But is it weird that the American Heart Association went to Britain to collect its data?

Our Takeaway: It’s getting harder for families to discern “good food,” as they are constantly bombarded with confusing messaging and a lack of regulation around the healthiness of available foods and beverages.

Bovine Flumaggedon

Since the late-March discovery of the H5N1 influenza A virus in dairy cattle, interest in all things flu has surged as government officials rush to calm fears of the next COVID-esque pandemic. However, the poultry industry — particularly turkey and egg-laying chicken producers — have been dealing with this strain of H5N1 since 2022 (and previously in 2014-15).

  • USDA announced significant funding to help dairy producers protect against the potential for viral spread between people and animals. This includes up to $2,000 per affected premises per month for personal protective equipment (PPE), assistance in developing and implementing biosecurity plans, and reimbursing affected producers for veterinarian costs and milk disposal.
  • Such actions are not enough for some lawmakers and public health experts, as Agriculture Dive noted some have called for “a more coordinated, whole-of-government response to the outbreak to ensure that the virus” doesn’t spread to humans. Where were these calls in 2022-23, when millions of turkeys and chickens were being depopulated?
  • Following the one confirmed case of a worker on an affected dairy farm exhibiting signs of H5N1, the CDC recommended state health officials distribute PPE to dairy farms, poultry farms and slaughterhouses. CDC recognized that cattle could be viral mixing vessels.
  • Farm Journal’s Pork reprinted a joint press release from the Swine Health Information Center and American Association of Swine Veterinarians that recommended the pork industry actively participate in influenza surveillance programs, noting that the H5N1 detection in cattle highlights the potential for influenza viruses to infect different species. To date, H5N1 has not been identified in swine.
  • PBS NewsHour noted that raw milk sales are up relative to one year ago since H5N1 was found in dairy cattle, counter to CDC and FDA warnings. The agencies called raw milk one of the riskiest foods people can consume. Pasteurization has been shown to destroy the H5N1 virus in milk.
  • Wild waterfowl — ducks, geese, swans, etc. — are the primary host of avian influenza viruses, including H5N1. Meatingplace recently pointed out that influenza was “erupting” in wild birds in Michigan and other states (… and have been ongoing since 2022). Similar data and conversations with wildlife scientists led Civil Eats to question placing animal agriculture operations near waterfowl habitats or bird migration routes (which would exclude essentially the entire U.S. from livestock and poultry production).

Our Takeaway: Despite significant differences between U.S. poultry and dairy cattle operations, the official response to H5N1 in dairy is outpacing ongoing H5N1 outbreak response in commercial poultry. We just hope the pig farming industry can sit this one out.

Worth Reading

The Chain Gang

Eater posted a very cool feature on the “Chainification of America.” Borrowing the graphics from a kids’ coloring menu, the piece features a timeline of classic foodservice innovations, up-and-coming concepts and even a buzzword-find puzzle. “Chains today aren’t what they used to be. For diners, they’re offering more culinary variety, not to mention quality, than ever before.”

Steaks is High for Sustainability

After Sweetgreen announced adding steak to its menu, Food Manufacturing explored how the salad chain detailed plans to use regenerative agriculture and carbon offsets to combat greenhouse gas emissions typically generated by beef production. These measures will help justify Sweetgreen’s decision, which was received with some controversy. Washington Post’s Emily Heil pointed out that Sweetgreen had been an “outlier” among competitors like Panera, Chipotle and Shake Shack and the company received a healthy helping of backlash on social media for putting beef on the menu. “For a company that touts sustainability, steak seems like a misstep,” said an Instagram follower.

Things are Looking Up(cycled)

Food Processing applauded multiple food brands for making use of ingredients that have historically contributed to substantial food waste. From crispy snacks made of chicken and fish skins to oat protein cereal and chips made from outcast potatoes, these products are poised to create new revenue streams and tackle global food supply concerns head-on. Innovative snacking solutions that feed the world and benefit the environment? We can get behind that, doubly so if it’s Cool Ranch flavored.

Fast Results That Never Arrive

The Atlantic’s Yasmin Tayag called intermittent fasting “the fad diet to end all fad diets.” Tayag explored how this diet has prevailed while many others, like Atkins, have come and gone. “What sets apart intermittent fasting from other diets is not the evidence, but its grueling nature — requiring people to forgo eating for many hours.” That’s a tall order around here, considering we read and think and write about food all day. 

One-star Tacos, Zero-star Website

Chicago Tribune profiled Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León, the first-ever taco stand to receive a Michelin Star: “The prices are quite high by Mexican standards. A single, generous but not huge taco costs nearly $5. But many customers are convinced it’s the best, if not the cheapest, in the city.” The article is great, but you have about 30 seconds to read it before The Trib’s alienating advertising measures kick in. Buena suerte!

Artificially Illustrated
A chaotic factory floor
We’re running three shifts a day on the food ultraprocessing line.

Midjourney illustration by Ryan Smith