With recent conversations ranging from businesses to people to policy, the leading voices in food production covered lots of ground this week. 

  • Restaurants: good, bad and filthy 
  • Health: climate-friendly, imitation and processed
  • Food waste: reduced, reused, rethought

Top Chefs

What makes a great restaurant? This week it’s award-winning chefs, a clean space, and (potentially) only letting in people over the age of 30.

  • The 2024 James Beard Foundation announced winners across 22 categories at its prestigious annual culinary awards ceremony on June 10 in Chicago. Just a few days earlier, the Foundation awarded the top book, broadcast media and journalism accomplishments across 43 categories.
  • While judges deliberated, Bader Rutter created our own map of Chicago and Milwaukee restaurant semi-finalists. It’s worth a gander if you’re in the Midwest.
  • The World’s 50 Best Restaurants unveiled its 2024 rankings on June 5 in a glitzy and glamorous live awards ceremony held at Wynn Las Vegas. The 22nd edition of the annual ranking featured restaurants from 26 territories, five continents and eight exciting new and re-entries. 
  • However, not everyone is a fan. Writing for Grub Street, Alan Sytsma proclaimed that while “The list used to be an interesting counterpoint to Michelin’s long standing dominance within the staid world of high-expense fine dining …by inching the same handful of spots up the ranks every 12 months, the 50 Best list itself has become predictable to the point of irrelevance.”
  • None of the above winners were in the running for a less-prestigious recognition. Food Safety News shared a study conducted by Affordable Seating that revealed New Jersey holds the dubious distinction of having the dirtiest restaurants in the United States. The Garden State boasts an astounding 320,520 complaints about dirty restaurants on TripAdvisor — over 850% higher than the average across the Top 10 dirtiest states. 
  • Food Manufacturing reported that a federal judge in New York has given the go-ahead to a Long Island woman’s class action lawsuit that claims consumers are being duped by Cold Stone Creamery when they purchase certain flavors that “do not contain their represented ingredients.” Pistachi-oh no!
  • While you may not want to visit some restaurants, others may choose not to admit you. In a piece for The Washington Post, Emily Heil profiled a St. Louis restaurant that bans female diners under 30 and males under 35 in search of ‘grown and sexy’ vibe.

Our Takeaway: Opinions on what makes for a “best restaurant” are subjective … unless it’s dirty. Then it’s a consensus no-go.

Healthy Debate

Conversations persist over processed and plant-based foods. A few different studies found that foods imitating natural sweeteners and animal-based meats can cause health issues. Meanwhile, EAT-Lancet is back, still drawing a connection between human health and planetary stewardship with what might be a soft launch of an update to its influential 2019 report

  • Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found increased chances for heart attack and stroke associated with the zero-calorie sweetener Xylitol. The product is commonly used in “almost foods” like gum and toothpaste (CNN). 
  • Harvard University professor of epidemiology and nutrition Walter Willet published a study that supported the premise of the EAT-Lancet Commission diet: “Global planetary health diet that is healthy for both people and planet.”
  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle pointed out what she called “the interesting paper of the week” — “Obesity: A 100 Year Perspective.” 
  • Washington Post health columnist Anahad O’Connor summarized a Lancet Regional Health Europe paper on processed plant-based foods: “Eating plant-derived foods that are ultra-processed — such as meat substitutes, fruit juices and pastries — increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But when plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts are only minimally processed … they have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease.”

Shrinking Waste Lines

Food waste and loss is a rare issue — everyone agrees it’s bad. As humanitarian groups, businesses, industry organizations and the U.S. government all search for solutions, media outlets showcase their new developments:

  • On June 12, the Biden administration published a national strategy that includes a goal for cutting food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. The announcement included support from the USDA, FDA and EPA, with EPA Administrator Michael Regan commenting: “Waste hurts our economy, raises the cost of food, and contributes to climate pollution.”
  • Food & Environment Reporting Network ran a six-part series of articles on the topic, covering apples as a case study, school cafeterias, grocery stores, gadgets for home cooks and on-farm tech solutions.
  • Triple Pundit touted World Wildlife Fund’s Global Farm Loss Tool as a practical way for farmers to break down where they are missing out on marketability, edibility and spoilage.
  • Refrigerated Frozen Foods detailed how Tetra Pak’s aseptic packaging reduced food waste by extending the shelf life of Suntado dairy products to upward of 70 days.
  • Ingredient-maker Ingredion debuted a line of Upcycled Certified products under its Kerr brand (Food Ingredients First). Brian Nash, Ingredion’s VP of corporate sustainability, positioned the ingredients as a resource for brands to be “more proactive around sustainability.”

Our Takeaway: As the global population grows, reducing food waste and loss can play a substantial role in meeting food supply needs. Investing in waste reduction will pay dividends, both literally and figuratively.

Worth Reading

Chestnut’s in the Doghouse

The New York Post’s Page Six reported on Major League Eating’s statement announcing that eight-time defending champion Joey Chestnut would be barred from the 2024 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Anyone paying even the slightest attention to the contest’s name might see the issue with the champ’s decision to violate the “basic hot dog exclusivity provisions” by signing a deal with plant-based hot dog producer Impossible Foods. This will not improve the vegan reputation for joylessness.

Protecting Poultry … or Poultry Trade?

Researchers with Wageningen University in the Netherlands conducted a field study to assess the effectiveness of two vaccines in reducing avian flu transmission (Meatingplace). The study seems promising after officials in France launched a successful vaccination campaign last fall. On the other hand, vaccinating poultry against highly pathogenic avian influenza may not be “an easy solution,” Greg Tyler of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council told Des Moines Register. Aside from costs, vaccinated birds may be indistinguishable from naturally infected birds, leading to other countries banning U.S. poultry imports.

Consumption Chaos

Bloomberg’s Deena Shanker detailed how worsening climate change, geopolitical strife, a pandemic, wars, supply chain bottlenecks and widespread labor shortages are affecting today’s food supply chain. Staples like cocoa, wheat and palm oil are unstable, yet they’re on our shelves. How? Shanker suggests a “food volatility tax” is driving up grocery prices and inflation has made consumers nearly numb to the surge. She added that, until consumers can no longer find their favorite foods, it’s unlikely these threats will be taken seriously.

Entering the Digital Age

Following a successful pilot, Walmart is rolling out digital shelf labels at 2,300 of its stores over the next two years. Progressive Grocer highlighted how the transition to digital will be a “game-changer for Walmart” as new labels will allow the retail giant to update prices at the shelf using a mobile app. From simplified stock replenishment and faster order picking to increased productivity and reduced walking time, the digitalization will streamline operations.

Too Spicy for Denmark

The BBC covered a recall of Samyang spicy ramen products by Denmark’s food agency due to the capsaicin levels that the agency believes might poison consumers. The South Korean company was quick to point out there was no problem with the food’s quality, just concern over the spiciness of three varieties: 3x Spicy & Hot Chicken, 2x Spicy & Hot Chicken and Hot Chicken Stew. If Danes can’t take the heat … get ramen out of the kitchen?

Artificially Illustrated
Sandwich overlaid with the word "wasted" in a video game style
Given the growing number of mouths to feed, reducing food waste is becoming a high-stakes game.

Midjourney illustration by Ryan Smith