It would be impossible to ignore troubling events which took place in Washington, D.C., on January 6. In the wake of what happened, several industry groups, notably the National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and National Farmers Union condemned the rioting. A Reuters article captured the sentiment from other corporate groups and CEOs, including the Business Roundtable which urged Trump to “put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.”

In what was an already momentous opening to 2021 from a food policy perspective, the storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters captured not only our full attention, but the attention of the influential figures in food production whom we follow closely. In our monitoring prior to Wednesday, three distinct themes involving pandemic relief, dietary guidelines and looking ahead to a better 2021 helped to set the tone of what’s happening in food:

  • ’21 kicked off with new diets and old dietary guidelines.
  • A last-minute relief bill passed in the closing days of 2020.
  • Different voices offered interesting takes on what to expect in the coming year.

“I guess this isn’t the year to stop expecting worst case scenarios.”

Lisa Baertlein, Reuters food reporter (Twitter)

… to a Healthy 2021

As with any new year, health and nutrition rose to the forefront of conversations as people commit to compensate for holiday season indulgences. The transition to 2021 had special emphasis not only because of extra pounds, but also because the federal government issued its final dietary guidelines for 2020-2025. The new guidelines remain largely unchanged from the previous set, in spite of recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee about sugar, alcohol and infant nutrition.

  • The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services issued the Dietary Guidelines for Americans late in December.
  • On December 29, The Wall Street Journal reported on the final guidelines, and what groups praised and/or criticized them.
  • To spread the word, USDA and HHS launched a new campaign, “Make every bite count,” as well as a refreshed website.
  • Blogger Marion Nestle offered some criticism, noting the length of the guidelines had increased dramatically since 1980: “If we can’t do better than this 164 pages of obfuscation, isn’t it about time to stop requiring these things every five years?”
  • And, right on cue, U.S. News ranked the best 39 diets on the first Monday in January. You’ll have to click to see the #1 spot — which is completely predictable — but coming in last is the Dukan Diet, which charges $30 for advice such as taking a 20-minute daily walk. We do endorse the walking part though. Solvitur ambulando.

New Year, Old Pandemic

After months of negotiations, Congress reached a deal on December 21 for a second pandemic relief bill, which President Trump signed on December 27. In addition to expanding unemployment benefits, the $900 billion deal includes $284 billion for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), $13 billion for food stamps and $13 billion for farm relief programs. Notably missing from the deal were two much-sought provisions: relief funds for restaurants and liability protection for employers.

  • The Counter broke down how the relief funds are intended to be distributed.
  • Lisa Davis of No Kid Hungry commented: “Alone, it’s obviously not enough. But working together with other programs like school meals, Pandemic-EBT and WIC, and charitable food assistance, it will help to close the gap between kids who have enough to eat each day and those who do not.”
  • National Restaurant Association EVP Sean Kennedy welcomed expanded PPP benefits as a ‘down payment’ and resolved to find more aid in 2021.
  • Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry called the relief “barely a down payment … We can’t continue to call these workers essential but treat them like they’re expendable.”
  • The National Grocers Association warned that lack of liability protection “[leaves] open the floodgates for frivolous litigation to be levied against independent community businesses simply for staying open during the crisis.”
  • The National Chicken Council praised the bill for providing funds to a previously overlooked group: contract farmers.
  • Even without the latest relief payments hitting bank accounts until 2021, government payments accounted for 40% of farm income for 2020. An Iowa farmer told the Associated Press, “At first it did help, but then we kept getting payments and I don’t know that those were warranted.”

I See Trends in Your Future

Following a year filled with unpredictability, 2021 is shaping up to have a character all its own. And there’s no shortage of predictions for the food industry. From the new foods we will eat and grocery shopping habits that will sustain us to food policy priorities and the future of foodservice. Here are our hand-selected lists from the influential voices we track:

  • New York Times reporter Kim Severson highlighted 11 developments set to “catch fire in 2021,” as determined by market researchers, academics and trend forecasters.
  • GreenBiz analyst Jim Giles uncovered “3 under-the-radar forces in food” to watch this year.
  • Food Ingredients First shared trends from EU-based EHL Ingredients showing that chickpeas, region-specific flavors, organic and allergen-free foods are poised for growth in 2021.
  • With momentum delayed due to the pandemic, Triple Pundit suggested regenerative agriculture will shape global food and agriculture in 2021.
  • Supermarket News predicted trips to traditional grocery stores will continue and consumers will continue eating at home, due in large part to sustained unemployment.
  • Food & Wine polled chefs on restaurant trends in a post-pandemic world, finding Black foodways and heritage cooking among key themes.
  • New Hope Media shared a five-year outlook on the future of food from its coverage of a CEO panel discussion at the BMO 2020 Growth & ESG Investor Conference.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Some Things Don’t Need a Comeback

“Famines are now back. It will be a horrible stain on humanity for decades to come if we become the generation to oversee the return of such a terrible scourge. This is still avoidable,” admonished United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. Nicholas Kristof quoted Lowcock in a widely circulated opinion piece in the January 2 New York Times, arguing that the pandemic has indirectly brought about new levels of hunger worldwide.

Hole Lot of Questions

Rachel Handler from Grub Street shared a deep dive into her personal investigation of the bucatini pasta shortage of 2020. From contacting big pasta brands to the FDA, her efforts ultimately uncovered a lot of holes in the pasta industry. She suggested a combination of factors, including pasta demand amid the pandemic and the difficulty of creating the bucatini shape.

Healthy Ramen Bros

High in protein and fiber, low in sodium — could this possibly be ramen? According to Kevin Chanthasiriphan and Kevin Lee, the founders of immi ramen, it’s possible and delicious. The Hustle’s Trung T. Phan interviewed the Kevins about their approach to challenging the $42 billion category. “We’re paying homage to the old packaged instant noodles but with a significantly enriched nutritional profile,” the founders summarized. No doubt the price point is far above five-for-a-dollar.

Pining for Festive Desserts

Christmas tree pickles or ice cream are just a couple recipes you could be making with that leftover tree. In an interview with Modern Farmer, Julia Georgallis explains how her cookbook, How To Eat Your Christmas Tree, came to be. “Eating Christmas trees isn’t going to save the planet, but this book draws on the idea that you just need to start thinking about how you might want to reuse, recycle and re-appropriate everything and that includes your Christmas tree,” Georgallis says. Sure, we’ll get right on that Julia.