Ellison confirms guilt lanes back on the Responsibility Deal agenda

The Grocer – Wednesday 30th October

The supermarket check-out is the ultimate pestering place for children and the site of many a temper tantrum. All those sweets lined up and ready for purchase. It’s easy to cave when all you want to do is get out the door and be finished with shopping. The supermarkets know this and positioning the sweets just before you leave the store makes good financial sense, even if it is a regular nightmare for parents.

The increasing awareness of the dangers of sugar, alongside of the growing obesity epidemic in children – 30% of children in England are overweight or obese – has finally brought the ready availability of sweets at the check-out to the attention of the new public health minister, Jane Ellison. While there won’t be any legislation on it, it will become an ‘area of action’ under the Responsibility Deal, an agreement between government and the food industry on voluntary actions to be taken in relation to the marketing of food, especially unhealthy food.

Whether the food industry will agree to relocate sweets from the check-out area seems a very big ‘if’, given what’s at stake – the add-on value of the ‘impulse’ purchase. Tesco’s position might be indicative of the wider attitude of retailers – they’re going to increase the amount of healthy food at the check-out rather than remove the sweets.

Hmmm… we’re definitely not impulse buying the apple. Are you?

Cut in food stamps to hit low-income Americans this week

Reuters – Wednesday 30th October

Reuters reports on the recent cuts to SNAP (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Programme), the US food stamps programme, which helps feed 1 in every 7 Americans – nearly 48 million people in all. It largely helps people on mean incomes of $8,800 (£5,490). The $5 billion reduction is the first comprehensive cut to the programme in its history, driven by the Republican right who feel deficit reduction is the only thing that matters. Its impact will be in actual monetary value to recipients, who will lose approximately $10 per person a month towards the purchase of food. This may not sound much, but put in the context of how little recipients live on, it’s significant.

So as the US economy continues to struggle with sluggish employment figures even as it recovers, enrolment in the programme has reached a record high and refuses to come down. There’s something fundamentally not right with taking money for food away from people who have little enough to live on. All the Republican rhetoric like, ‘By reforming food stamps, we will save the programme for the truly needy,’ begs the question of how much more ‘truly’ needy do you need to be while making $8,800 a year? These are people who don’t have any kind of disposable income. That the programme recipients are largely comprised of children and the elderly and disabled makes this even more deplorable.

Unregulated bumblebee trade threatens bumblebees

Grist – Wednesday 30th October

More depressing news on bees. While much attention has been given to the decline of the European honey bee, the American bumblebee is also in serious decline. The bumblebee in the United States is both a wild and commercially reared bee, used to pollinate greenhouse crops such as tomatoes. The parasites and diseases that plague the commercial bees, because of their intensive use in industrial farming, are migrating to wild bumblebee colonies and killing them. Across the last two decades, there has been significant decline in numbers and the possible extinction of one species, Franklin’s bumblebee, which has not been seen since 2006.

Though environmentalists have been lobbying the US government to do more to protect bumblebees, their cries have fallen on deaf ears. No surprise really, with a legislature that passed the Monsanto Protection Act. It’s pretty clear where their allegiances lie and it’s definitely not to the humble bumblebee, who allows us so much of our bounty. It’s shockingly short-sighted, however, because the collapse of bee colonies is already threatening valuable US crops like almonds and oranges.

Managing and protecting our natural resources and ‘ecosystem services’ (pollination is a key one) is both sensible and ensures the long term sustainability of our food supply. Why wouldn’t you want to act on that? Surely the economic value of losing almonds or oranges is worth a bit of preservation and careful management?

Cooking as the Cornerstone of a Sustainable Food System

Civil Eats – Monday 14th October

Starting out with a gentle story of teaching her mom to cook at 68, chef and blogger Kim O’Donnel makes an important point about why we all need to learn to cook – it’s an essential basic skill that allows us to nourish and feed ourselves and our families; it creates well-being and longevity ‘in our communities, culture and society’ and there’s nothing more critical than that. O’Donnel likens cooking to literacy, implying that we are fundamentally hampered without it. She calls for a cooking initiative like that of Margaret McNamara’s Reading is Fundamental campaign in the 1960s, which sought to eliminate illiteracy.

Knowing how to cook has been identified as a key factor, which crosses gender, race and class, in the likelihood of people to be obese. The more you cook, the less likely you are to be obese. Why, is pretty obvious – there are endlessly more calories, sugar and fat in processed food, take-aways and even restaurant fare, than what you are likely to cook up in your own pantry.

Cooking also connects you to your food. As O’Donnel says, ‘The food system is more than crops and livestock; it’s what we humans do with them.’ The raw ingredients aren’t a meal until you cook them, so the step between field and fork that is cooking, is an important one and indeed a ‘cornerstone of a sustainable food system.’

Photograph by Tim Caynes

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