Unlike last week, when influential voices responded to specific happenings, this edition of Friday by Noon highlights three issues gaining momentum:

  • Unsettled foodservice: restaurants are still clamoring for stability.
  • Investing in sustainability: it’s trending in both food and agriculture.
  • Lingering food and nutrition insecurity: what’s being done to address it.

“To move the needle, we need omnivores to eat less meat, and while one way to do that would be to insist they adopt an expansive radical politics, the more efficient option is to reframe not eating meat as not radical.”

Rachel Sugar (Grub Street)

Something’s Missing in Foodservice

The restaurant industry generated a lot of buzz this week regarding elements that aren’t where they’re expected to be. Between meatless menus, tight chicken supplies and server shortages, foodservice clearly isn’t quite the same.

  • On May 3, culinary giant Daniel Humm announced that his Eleven Madison Park restaurant will no longer serve meat or other animal-derived products (The New York Times).
  • Eater noted that this is unusual in the fine-dining world: “Of the 132 restaurants worldwide with three Michelin stars, none are vegan.”
  • In response to pushback from diversity-minded voices on Twitter, Grub Street writer Rachel Sugar wrote, “Whether it is right or not, in the world that exists, what Daniel Humm does matters. And what Daniel Humm is doing, very publicly, is eliminating meat.”
  • For restaurants that do serve meat, Bloomberg reported that chicken has been harder to come by these days. CBS quoted National Chicken Council’s Tom Super: “Chicken producers are doing everything they can to overcome the devastating impact of Mother Nature … It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks.”
  • While higher demand for chicken is partly to blame, worker shortages have also contributed. As a Massachusetts restaurant owner told NPR: “When a national corporation sends you an email and says we’re having to cut our routes because we don’t have drivers, so we can only deliver to you [two days a week instead of] five, there’s a problem.”
  • In a Nation’s Restaurant News opinion piece, consultant Jim Sullivan worried, “Our industry was still 15%, or about 1.8 million jobs, below the pre-pandemic employment level in March 2021 … That’s a serious talent gap.”
  • Addressing the incongruity of high unemployment and a worker shortage, The Wall Street Journal sussed out several reasons workers are staying home: concerns about COVID-19, low wages and lack of childcare options.

Investing in Sustainability

The latest theme in discussions about sustainability in food production includes a strong undertone of financial incentives to make change attractive to business as well as the environment.

  • In Triple Pundit, sustainability writer Amy Brown argued that agriculture is a ripe market for ESG investment. The piece references a February 2021 U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Action report that examines long-term action steps that enable agriculture to connect with the investment community around climate issues.
  • The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA), a diverse group of agriculturalists and conservation groups, shared recommendations for a USDA-led carbon bank. The proposed mechanism would better enable — and incentivize — producers and landowners to adopt climate-smart practices.
  • Feedstuffs reported that the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef released its 2020 annual report. The report outlines continuous improvement in animal care, employee safety, land management, air quality and other industry challenges throughout a difficult year.
  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle outlined her support for B Corporations in food production, highlighting the fact that they “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.”

Sobering Hunger Statistics

The pandemic’s impact on food security is both immediate and long-lasting. On the heels of the USDA Economic Research Service reporting record spending of $122.1 billion on government food assistance in 2020, the agency also forecast that food prices are expected to rise in 2021, further straining Americans.

  • On April 23, the USDA expanded food assistance to seniors as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, earmarking $37 million through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program as part of pandemic relief.
  • USDA Economic Research Service forecast that “in 2021, food-at-home prices are expected to increase between 1.0 and 2.0 percent, and food-away-from-home prices are now expected to increase between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.”
  • The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization found that “Some 155 million people across 55 countries — more than the population of Russia — suffered from issues ranging from a food crisis to famine” as a result of the pandemic; the outlook is grim.
  • Agri-Pulse reported on a bipartisan food and nutrition insecurity task force that will be led by celebrity chef José Andrés and former Agriculture Secretaries Ann Veneman and Dan Glickman.
  • The Counter shared results of a food bank-led grant effort in Maine to “reduce inequity and provide ‘culturally relevant’ food.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Impossible Green Lights

On May 4, Impossible Foods celebrated the dismissal of an FDA lawsuit alleging that its coloring agent, “heme,” had been inappropriately approved. Environmentalist Mark Lynas tweeted attention to a Food Dive article summarizing the dismissal: “Good news for meat substitutes — and therefore for the broader agenda of land-sparing and rewilding.” The company announced two days later that it had secured Child Nutrition Labels for its plant-based burger, clearing the way for entry into the school lunch market. CEO Pat Brown cheered the “lower barriers to access our plant-based meat for this change-making generation.”

Red Alert for Red Beans

Food Safety News urged home cooks to step away from the slow cooker when it comes to kidney beans. According to the article, slow cookers DON’T get hot enough to destroy lectin, a natural protein found in red kidney beans. Lectin can become toxic when consumed while the beans are still raw or uncooked, so boiling is the suggested cooking method. Not a set it and forget kind of thing in this case.

Gambling on Berries

The Wall Street Journal summarized a chaotic year for berry growers in California. The unpredictable cycle began at the start of the pandemic as demand fluctuated dramatically and supplies perished, leading producers to make tough calls on farms. Jesse Newman wrote, “Colossal challenges for food suppliers arrived with the pandemic last year, affecting every stop along food’s course from farm to table. … Now, as the pandemic moves into its latest phase — under attack by vaccination, yet still unpredictable — it is proving even trickier for food businesses to navigate consumers’ ever-evolving appetites and a balky supply chain.”

‘Sober Curious’

Food Ingredients First followed up on its 2020 exploration of the “sober curious” trend involving alcohol-free adult beverages. Julie Baxter, a flavorist from European firm IFF, said, “The primary consumers are the new generation of young adults with a strong health and wellness attitude, who think more about what they drink and enjoy less alcohol.” It takes all kinds.