From national nutrition month to super Sunday, there’s a lot happening in the world of food and beverage production.

  • The feds are investing $1 billion in climate-friendly agriculture.
  • School lunches are getting less salty (and meaty).
  • Food prices are continuing to creep up.
  • That “big game” is a microcosm of the American diet.

“We applaud USDA for recognizing that any changes toward healthier meal standards must include recognition of the significant supply chain shortages and increased costs challenging school meal programs.”

Lisa Davis, Share Our Strength (No Kid Hungry)

Thanks a Billion

Closely following the USDA is core to understanding food production and policy. With almost 100,000 employees and a budget just over $150 billion, the agency has the wide charge of developing and regulating federal laws related to food, farming, forestry and rural economic development. The USDA is within our top tier of influential voices and this week, climate-friendly agriculture and school lunch were on the agenda.

  • On February 7, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a $1 billion investment in climate-friendly agriculture.
  • Reuters reporter Karl Plume explained how the funding would support farm-based carbon and methane capture programs.
  • Environmental Working Group praised the investment and used the opportunity to advocate its position on the Build Back Better Act, which includes more incentives for farmers to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Ag subcommittee member, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.), expressed “frustration with the department working as a lone wolf.” (Agri-Pulse)

There’s No Regulation-free Lunch

On February 4, the USDA announced updates to the school meals program. The rule, which was officially published on February 7, will tighten standards for whole grains and sodium over the next two school years.

  • School Nutrition Association President Beth Wallace welcomed the gradual rollout of changes: “School nutrition professionals are frantic just trying to get enough food on the tray for our students amid relentless supply chain disruptions and labor shortages.”
  • The International Dairy Foods Association thanked the administration for allowing schools to serve low-fat milk. We don’t understand why full-fat doesn’t count as a flavor.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center suggested further improvements to nutrition programs, with statements from chef/philanthropist José Andrés and former Agriculture Secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman.
  • February 4 also marked the first “Vegan Friday” for New York City schools. Vegan activist groups, like The Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine, cheered the measure. Meanwhile, Eater showcased how the event under-delivered at many schools.

Still Climbing

Capturing myriad headlines, rising food prices are a concern at national and global levels. Brought on by supply chain disruptions, increased energy costs, worker shortages and difficult weather, it’s an issue not likely to fade away soon.

  • From a global perspective, the cost of farm staples like cereals, grains and oils continued to rise, as the UN FAO reported another 1.1% increase over December 2021.
  • The Counter suggested that soaring prices could cause social unrest.
  • Citing a difficult sourcing landscape ahead of St. Valentine’s Day, Hershey’s said higher prices are hard to avoid. (Food Processing)
  • Bloomberg summarized Tyson’s earnings, the highest in two years, as “improving sales and margins on the back of rising meat prices.”
  • On February 4, The New York Times put together a pictorial feature on sandwich pricing. Verti Marte in New Orleans had to raise its muffuletta price from $9 to $13 because “every single thing you use has gone up in price.”

Winging It on Game Day

For many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday is as much a food event as it is a sporting one. But even the big game can’t escape supply chain issues and rising food prices.

  • The National Chicken Council’s 2022 Wing Report projected that 1.42 billion wings would be consumed by Americans this weekend while watching Super Bowl LVI. The council’s spokesperson Tom Super assured: “There will be no wing shortage.” But ordering them may spark a cash shortage …
  • Super Bowl parties will cost 8% to 14% more than last year. Food Dive noted frozen chicken wing prices were up 5% while avocado prices were up 100% from last year.
  • Bloomberg reporter Leslie Patton reported that restaurants are scrambling to source fresh chicken wings ahead of Super Bowl weekend. To adapt, some restaurants are switching to frozen wings, while others will reduce the number of wings per order.
  • If beer isn’t your choice of beverage during the game, Cincinnati Fans are shotgunning Skyline Chili straight from the can in celebration of the Bengals’ first Super Bowl trip since 1988. We’ll admit it, this concerns us.
  • If shotgunning chili from a can isn’t your thing, The Washington Post asked former NFL stars to share their tips for pairing wine with your Super Bowl menu.
  • The USDA reminded Americans of the importance of food safety in the kitchen ahead of the big game, from providing tips for proper meat handling to safe internal temperatures.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

In Support of Agriculture

On February 1, The New York Times published a video calling farmers “the people getting paid to kill the planet.” Agriculturalists didn’t take too kindly to that. USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie defended modern ag practices: “I think [farmers] all depend on the productivity of the land, which comes from stewardship” (Agri-Pulse). On his Zipline blog, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall lamented, “It’s just disappointing that the New York Times would provide such an incomplete and misleading portrayal of agriculture in order to win the day.” Finally, after poking several holes in NYT’s criticism on Twitter, UC Davis economist Aaron Smith suggested, “Ignore the smug tone and listen to the message. Don’t take it as a personal attack, but as a chance to ask whether there is a better way.”

Privacy, Please

CNN explored the “shockingly successful” private label brand at Costco: Kirkland Signature. Christopher Durham, president of the Retail Brands Institute, explained: “Kirkland is designed to appeal across demographic groups, unlike many other retailers’ array of private labels that are each targeted at a specific segment of shoppers.”

The Last Farmtier

In The Conversation, University of Alaska researcher Nancy Fresco wrote about a positive outcome from climate change: Alaska may be able to grow more of its own food in the future. The research team developed a tool that shows what can grow in Alaska’s frigid climate and explains concepts like “growing degree days.”

‘Cool and Quirky’ CPO

Food & Wine reporter Mike Pomranz described Yelp’s newly minted chief pizza officer position. “Participants will be judged based on their love for local businesses, pizza pride, geography, and social media presence.”