For better or worse, we’ve been inundated in policy developments the past week or two:

  • Congress averted a debt crisis at the cost of food aid for the needy.
  • Culinarians celebrated at the James Beard Awards.
  • The farm bill plodded along.

Trading One Limit for Another

After prolonged negotiations and political grandstanding in Congress, President Biden signed the Fiscal Responsibility Act on June 5. While the primary reason for the law was to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, several measures affected budgets for food programs.

  • Most notably, the law will restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) by expanding work requirements to those aged 50-54 without children. Associated Press reporter Mary Clare Jalonick delved into the details, including interactions with state food aid programs.
  • Unions and activist organizations broadly opposed the changes to SNAP, with the AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Center for Science in the Public Interest and Food Research & Action Center all issuing statements in opposition to adding barriers to aid for low-income Americans.
  • Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) followed up by urging the Biden administration to quickly enact provisions to ease the work requirements for youth exiting foster care, veterans and the homeless.
  • DTN political correspondent Jerry Hagstrom outlined the evolution of the law’s effect on agriculture policy.
  • The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition expounded on the actual language pertaining to food and farm policy. Read at your own risk; technical language abounds.

Changing Expectations Around Awards

On June 5, the James Beard Foundation recognized the American restaurant industry’s brightest stars and palate-pleasing cuisine at its annual awards show in Chicago. While food’s biggest night was a cause for celebration, it was tinged by ongoing controversy concerning the ethics and values of award nominees.

  • Ceremonies were canceled in 2020 and 2021 after the lack of diversity and the character of some award recipients were called into question. The awards took a two-year hiatus during which the foundation vowed to refine its focus on sustainability as well as racial and gender equity. If you missed the controversy, Eater provided a good timeline.
  • Prior to the show’s return in 2022, the foundation prioritized a refined set of core values. While these priorities were intended to make the awards more diverse and equitable, The Washington Post reports that a lack of transparency has raised red flags among some of the show’s judges.
  • A report from The New York Times noted that Timothy Hontzas, a nominee for Best Chef: South, was ruled ineligible after a committee’s investigation found that Hontzas had violated the foundation’s code of ethics.
  • Amid ongoing criticism of the foundation’s new approach to vetting nominees, food personality and award presenter Monti Carlo supported the recent changes in an interview with Axios: “How do you turn a ship 180 degrees without making a few missteps? It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s better than not doing anything at all.”
  • More than half of the 75 finalists vying for chef and baker awards were either immigrants or children of immigrants. According to NPR, the drastic change reflects not only changes made in the wake of controversy, but also a shift in chef and diner interests.
  • As reported by The Washington Post, the night’s top honor went to Rob Rubba, who praised the foundation’s commitment to diversity, equity and environmental sustainability. “It doesn’t have to be all luxury items on a plate to be recognized,” he said. “You can cook with plants and impress the world.”

Yes, the Farm Bill Is Still a Thing

Despite the distraction of the debt ceiling, the farm bill remains an important ongoing project in Congress. In fact, the debt ceiling’s effect on SNAP will affect negotiations for the sprawling food- and farm-related legislation. As promised, here is our monthly update as it makes slow, if inexorable, progress:

  • U.S. food aid eligibility battle could resurface in farm bill | Reuters
  • Tipping point: Agriculture on the brink | PBS NewsHour
  • 3 reasons the farm bill is behind schedule | The Scoop
  • White House farm bill meeting yields few specifics | Feedstuffs
  • Farm bill will not see an increase in funds | Farm Journal
  • Farm bill funding for indigenous food producers needs a boost | Civil Eats
  • Lawmakers seek to bring back cover crop payments in next farm bill | Agri-Pulse

Worth Reading

Sounds Like a Challenge

In a post on Medium, epidemiologist Gideon M-K debunked recent headlines that claim the sweetener sucralose (best known as Splenda) is genotoxic and can cause cancer. Gideon explained: “There is one huge reason why this research means almost nothing to your life — the dose. … you’d need to drink a staggering 5,000 cans of cola over the course of 120 minutes to see this high a concentration of sucralose in your blood.”

For the Love of To-Gos

After an upsurge in availability during the pandemic, alcoholic to-go options are here to stay, according to a June 7 report from the National Restaurant Association. The group found that more than half of millennials and Gen Z adults want to enjoy their takeout experience beyond the bar and are more likely to pick a restaurant for takeout if it includes alcoholic beverages.

Video Game Advertising Levels Up

The popularity of video games is on the rise, and big chain restaurants have taken note. Nation’s Restaurant News reported that Chipotle and KFC recently hitched their promotional wagons to the gaming channel by becoming official launch partners of Street Fighter 6 and Diablo IV, respectively. Each partnership is structured to deliver in-game rewards to customers who place digital orders, enticing younger generations to place orders. It appears the world of gaming has unearthed a new battleground in the fight for industry mindshare.

Circling Trader Joe’s

It’s long been the wild west when it comes to parking at Trader Joe’s. Food & Wine recapped the company’s podcast, which suggested that situation will not change anytime soon. They’re not doing it to torture us, it’s just because they prefer a smaller store. And when you have a smaller store, you have a smaller parking lot. Guess we’re stuck with endless circling to get our cauliflower gnocchi.

Toss the Burgers in the Wash

Yes, a washing machine can be adapted to make a charcoal grill. So can a number of other unlikely items, according to an article posted by Eater. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but scanning this list, the motivation seems more along the lines of mountaineer George Mallory’s famous quote: “Because it’s there.”