Spring will be here tomorrow, just in time for some fresh news. Meanwhile, we’re still recovering from the switch to daylight saving time.

  • Fresh faces worth paying attention to
  • Fresh takes on health
  • Refreshing restaurant developments

Follow the Leaders

Maintaining our database of the 1,500 (or so) most influential people in food and agriculture is the cornerstone of Intel Distillery analysis since the industry follows the leaders. But that list changes constantly, particularly with new appointees in the Biden administration and a few recent changes in corporate personnel:

  • On March 11, Michael Regan was sworn in as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to broad approval. CropLife America CEO Chris Novak called the appointment “critical in developing solutions to address climate and to enhance the credibility and transparency of the EPA’s work.”
  • The Senate confirmed President Biden’s pick, Deb Haaland, for interior secretary on March 15 (The Week) with a vote split down party lines. Haaland is the first Native American to serve in a cabinet position. Environmental groups, such as Earth Justice and Sierra Club, celebrated the confirmation. An absence of ag group approvals signals future friction with Haaland’s views on stewardship policy.
  • In contrast, the Senate confirmed Katherine Tai by unanimous vote for US Trade Representative (The Hill).
  • Restaurant Business covered a QSR shuffle involving promoting Frank Garrido to executive vice president of U.S. operations and support at Domino’s. Garrido fills a position vacated by Tom Curtis, who Burger King Americas named COO last week.
  • After a “clash” with activist investors, Paris-based Danone made several headlines for ousting CEO Emmanuel Faber over poor performance compared with other major brands (Wall Street Journal).
  • Food Safety News reporter Dan Flynn described the staffing situation at USDA, which will welcome Sandra Eskin as deputy under secretary for Food Safety. Eskin, who previously led food safety initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts, will head up food safety efforts at USDA until a deputy is approved by the Senate.

“Remember, Twinkies are plant-based.”

Author Mark Hyman, MD (Katie Couric Blog)

Health Check

A range of health-related topics drew attention this week. From health benefits of plant-based protein to label claims on hard seltzers, influential voices shared interesting perspectives.

  • Katie Couric interviewed New York Times bestselling author and health expert Dr. Mark Hyman for his take on the healthfulness of the Impossible Burger.
  • The Washington Post highlighted results of a recent study on consumption of fruits and vegetables. Lead researcher Dong Wang said, “People who eat five servings of vegetables and fruit daily have 13% lower risk of all-cause death.”
  • As the popularity of hard seltzers grows, Center for Science in the Public Interest and Consumer Federation of America petitioned the FDA to take action against Molson Coors for promoting Vizzy as a “healthful source of nutrients.”
  • The Animal Health Institute credited One Health efforts led by the CDC to educate youth involved in 4-H and FFA on influenza and zoonoses (animal-to-human disease) prevention.
  • New York Times health columnist Jane Brody called the pandemic a “wake-up call for personal health,” sharing that obesity ranks second as a leading risk factor for COVID-related deaths.

Restaurant Recap

Influential figures paused this week to reflect on the state of the restaurant industry one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Between last week’s stimulus and major cities easing restrictions, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel for foodservice.

  • Beginning March 15, New York City allowed bars and restaurants to increase capacity to 50% while Los Angeles opted for 25% occupancy. Chicago condoned 50% capacity back on March 2.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News published a timeline of milestones from the past year.
  • James Beard Foundation and OpenTable partnered on a survey, finding that the majority of diners are eager to eat out at least once a week. And 82% of respondents would like to see more outdoor seating post-pandemic.
  • NPD Group attributed a 13% drop in February restaurant traffic to extreme weather across the Midwest.
  • NPR Planet Money noted that the tipped minimum wage has not increased in 30 years, remaining at $2.13.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.


In the wake of last week’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle offered a very brief summary of eight positives that will strengthen the food system and mitigate hunger, as well as three important missing pieces. “Advocate!” she exclaimed.

Luck o’ the Cabbage

Remember all that cabbage you ate this week (alongside the corned beef) to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Well, activist organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) says it’s OK. On March 17, EWG published its annual “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” lists as a way of recommending (or not recommending) foods based on pesticide residue. The Alliance for Food and Farming painted a rosier picture: “A child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings each day of the produce items included on EWG’s [Dirty Dozen] list and still not have any health effects from residues.”

Define ‘Cheap’

Food & Wine — which has been doing a great job of diving deeper into politics, policy and other interesting nooks of food production — actually wrote about wine on March 12. Reporter Mike Pomranz covered research from the University of Basel in Switzerland that concluded: “Price information didn’t do much to change people’s opinions outside of making cheap wine more pleasant.” Sorry IKEA, this effect doesn’t extend to self-assembled furniture.

Food Puppets, for Kids

Helen Rosner from The New Yorker attempted to explain Michelle Obama’s food show for kids, which is out now on Netflix. Each week, Rosner explained, the title character puppets Waffles and Mochi “take off in a magic flying shopping cart to explore a special ingredient.” The show follows the laws of other puppet-human shows like “The Muppets” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” according to Rosner.