“The Art of Russian Cuisine” by Anne Volokh is one of five things I’d grab if my house was burning. It’s a rare book, but it covers every aspect of Russian cuisine, and my family would starve without it.
Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category
A state court judge has voided New York City’s much discussed (and much derided) ban on the sale of large sugary drinks, the New York Post reports. The ban was slated to take effect tomorrow. Due to the judge’s ruling, however, NY health inspectors won’t have to run around testing drink sizes and coffee sellers will still be able to add sugar to large drinks. (Lattes and the like were exempted, however, due to their milk content — further evidence of the law’s udder irrationality.) Here is the opinion, and more coverage from the WSJ, Reason, and Reuters.
UPDATE: NYU’s Rick Hills comments:
Justice Milton Tingling of the New York supreme court (that’s a trial judge for you non-New Yorkers) struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s soda portion cap this afternoon, citing the state non-delegation doctrine and the state’s administrative law constraint on arbitrary and capricious rule-making. The essence of the opinion is that defining soda portion size is above the Department’s pay grade, because it is “legislative” in character, a major policy requiring the imprimatur of City Council. . . .
In favor of Justice Tingling’s anti-paternalism canon is that the doctrine simply forces Mayor Bloomberg to apply to the City Council to make controversial policy decisions. As I have elsewhere noted with respect to taxis, the Mayor has been excessively prone to bypass Council, either applying to Albany for direct state legislative authority or simply ruling by executive decree (or by the decree of mayoral sock puppets like the Department of Health).
But one might complain that judicial glosses on statutes, derived from nothing more than the judge’s libertarian suspicion that an agency’s intervention into the market is too novel or meddling, over-extend judicial power even as they constrain agencies’ power. The Department of Health is, after all, an executive agency that is supposed to pursue policy goals. The supreme court is, by contrast, supposed to construe law. It is hard for me to see, as a matter of law, why City Charter section 556′s capacious grant of power to the Department of Health, as a matter of law, does not include a mandate to limit portion size as an imperfect means for reducing obesity. There can be no serious doubt that Bloomberg’s cup size rule is a good-faith effort to address obesity. Yes, lots of stores were exempted — but can anyone reasonably expect City health inspectors to start visiting every retail outfit with a soda fountain? Yes, the measure is probably too timid to do much good (as its critics who favor more regulation complain) — but are agencies really bound to do everything about a problem or nothing at all? No, the rule does not cover milk-based drinks — but, undoubtedly if it had done so, then you can bet that the National Dairy Council would be suing on the ground that milk-based drinks are too nutritious to be lumped with soft drinks made essentially of sugar and water. . . .
Justice Tingling’s opinion looks like a libertarian canon masquerading in non-delegation trappings. Maybe that sort of canon is good judicial policy. But I’d rather take my policy from Bloomberg, as meddlesome as he can be, than a judge.
San Francisco banned disposable plastic grocery bags in 2007. It’s not alone. Several dozen communities around the country have adopted similar policies, all in the name of environmental protection. Those thin plastic bags may require far less material than in years past, but some still see them as wasteful. New research, however, shows that banning those plastic grocery bags may be bad for your health.
In a paper up on SSRN, the University of Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Klick and George Mason’s Joshua Wright (recently confirmed as a Commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission) present evidence that bans on disposable plastic grocery bags lead to an increase in food-borne illness. Here’s the abstract:
Recently, many jurisdictions have implemented bans or imposed taxes upon plastic grocery bags on environmental grounds. San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria. We examine emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that ER visits spiked when the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, ER admissions increase by at least one fourth, and deaths exhibit a similar increase.
The results really should not be all that surprising. As Businessweek reports, prior research found that few people regularly wash reusable grocery bags or take other precautionary steps (such as using separate bags for meat and produce). So, not surprisingly, tests find coliform and even e.coli bacteria in a significant percentage of bags.
Of course one solution is to encourage shoppers to take better care by regularly washing their grocery bags and storing them in places where bacteria is less likely to form. But would such educational efforts have much effect? Perhaps, though I’m skeptical. In the meantime, bans on disposable plastic grocery bags may make people feel good, but they also have substantial unintended consequences.
Jon Entine details the evidence that the White House forced the Food & Drug Administration to sit on a scientific assessment concluding that approval of a genetically modified salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies would have “no significant impact” on the environment. After Slate published an investigative report, the FDA quietly released assessment last Friday, over six months after it had been completed.
The seven month delay, sources within the government say, came after discussions late last spring between Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius’ office and officials linked to Valerie Jarrett at the Executive Office, who were debating the political implications of approving the GM salmon. Genetically modified plants and animals are controversial among the president’s political base, which was thought critical to his reelection efforts during a low point in the president’s popularity. . . .
The hurried release of the Environmental Assessment last Friday capped a frenzied two days behind the scenes at the White House and FDA. Within hours after the Slate article and leaked document were posted, an administration official notified the FDA that the administration was dropping its indefinite hold. “The White House had no place to hide,” said a government source. The “final” draft environmental assessment is identical to the document leaked to the GLP, but is dated May 4—two weeks later. . . .
According to sources, the White House political block—a direct violation of numerous ethics regulations and possibly of federal laws—was instituted over the objections of scientists at the FDA, but with the awareness of HHS Secretary Sibelius, her senior adviser Andrea Palm and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and its director John Holdren, who is responsible for enforcing “science integrity” across government agencies. . . .
FDA scientists and staffers say they were instructed not to discuss the decision to approve the salmon—a violation of the agency’s scientific integrity guidelines adopted last February that require the FDA to shield its staff from “political influence” and to allow officials and scientists to “communicate their personal scientific or policy views to the public, even when those views differ from official Agency opinions.
The LA Times has more here.
A new study fails to find scientific support for claims organic food is healthier or safer than conventional alternatives and everyone acts as if this is a surprise. It shouldn’t be. Scientific research has fairly consistently failed to validate the claimed superiority of organic food, as I’ve noted in prior posts over the past ten years (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Organic foods do not consistently show higher nutrient levels than conventional foods, nor are there even clear environmental advantages. Organic farming uses less energy and fewer chemicals, but it also tends to be more expensive and requires more land — meaning that a widescale shift to organic production would increase food costs and require putting more acres under plow, with consequent negative effects on species habitat.
For this latest study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Stanford researchers conducted a meta-analysis of over 200 studies looking at the differences between organic and conventional foods, and concluded “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” Organic foods tended to have lower pesticide residues and were less likely to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the researchers concluded the differences were not significant enough to have any meaningful health impact. If organic food truly is healthier — and it may be — the existing scientific literature cannot (yet?) support such claims, particularly as applied to organic foods across the board. There may be specific foods, however, for which organic production may make a difference (or for which organic production methods tend to correlate with other practices that produce positive results).
The bottom line is eat organic foods if you like. Just don’t believe there’s any scientific basis for claiming you will be healthier as a result. As the paper’s senior author, Dena Bravata, explains: ““There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.”
In November, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to impose a mandatory labeling requirement on all foods produced with or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For reasons I discuss in this New Atlantis article, this requirement is unnecessary, unwise and potentially unconstitutional.
The effort has been endorsed by numerous progressive organizations and the California Democratic Party. Of note, those who usually police the misuse or politicization of science have been strangely quiet about the misleading and inaccurate scientific claims made by Prop. 37 proponents. Although the proposition warns of “adverse health consequences” from genetic engineering of foods, there is not a single documented case of adverse health consequences due to the use of GMOs. Yet about traditional crop-breeding techniques, we can say no such thing. It’s no wonder that the National Academy of Sciences has issued numerous reports concluding that the use of modern genetic modification techniques, in themselves, have no bearing on the relative safety of a food product. What was done to a specific GMO matters more than whether specific modification techniques were used.
It is even misleading to single out crops and other organisms modified by modern genetic modification techniques as “genetically engineered. Many common crops are “genetically engineered” in that they are the result of direct human modification. Corn, for example, does not exist naturally. It was “engineered” by humans, albeit using less precise breeding methods centuries ago.
The organizers of the effort claim consumers have a “right to know” whether their foods contain GMOs. But nothing stops consumers from obtaining such information. Organic producers and others who wish to cater to those who dislike GMOs are free to label their products accordingly (and, in my view, should be able to do so without some of the excessive disclaimers urged by the FDA). Absent evidence of a potential health risk, there is no reason for the government to mandate GMO labels. Such labels are not necessary to protect consumers against misleading claims, and a proclaimed “right to know” does not constitute a substantial governmental interest.
Some consumers may want to know whether products contain GMOs, just as others may wish to know whether a product was made with union labor, a company’s executives donated to particular political candidates, or its products were blessed by shaman priestesses. Yet it must take more to justify compelling speech in the form of product labels. Were it otherwise, there is no end to what could be the subject of mandatory labeling requirements, and there would be no meaningful constitutional protection of compelled commercial speech.
Most existing labeling requirements can be justified on the grounds that they protect uninformed consumers from potential adverse impacts. Ingredient labels, for example, protect those with allergies or specific dietary needs. GMO labels, on the other hand, do no such thing. Rather they stigmatize products, suggesting there is something significant, or even potentially wrong, with a product that was produced in this way, even there is no scientific basis for making such a claim. Some consumers may have moral or other objections to GMO products, and that is their right. Such consumers are free to seek out producers who will make products in accord with their preferences. But GMO opponents should not have the right to force others to modify product labels, at their own expense, just to satisfy one group’s set of subjective value preferences.
Does this mean there will be no GMO labels? Not at all. There is no requirement that producers identify whether products are “organic” or “kosher,” and yet such labels proliferate. Where such information is likely to influence consumer behavior, producers have ample incentives to provide the information consumers want. That is, those producers whose products are GMO-free have every incentive to disclose, and perhaps even advertise, this fact. Such disclosure is sufficient to let those consumers who oppose GMOs shop accordingly without imposing the cost of such preferences on others.
Will Mayor Bloomberg and his New York Nannies be satisfied with the ban on large sodas? Don’t bet on it. The policy is unlikely to do much of anything to reduce obesity — certainly not quickly enough for Mayor Minding-Others’-Business. And besides, there are lots more high-calorie options out there, and the Nannies are taking notice. As MyFoxNY.com reports:
The board hand-picked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that must approve his ban of selling large sugar-filled drinks at restaurants might be looking at other targets. . . .
At [a recent] meeting, some of the members of board said they should be considering other limits on high-calorie foods.
One member, Bruce Vladeck, thinks limiting the sizes for movie theater popcorn should be considered.
“The popcorn isn’t a whole lot better than the soda,” Vladeck said.
Another board member thinks milk drinks should fall under the size limits.
“There are certainly milkshakes and milk-coffee beverages that have monstrous amounts of calories,” said board member Dr. Joel Forman.
First they came for the Big Gulps, and then they came for the Triple-Shot Caramel Macchiatos.
A new study suggests those who drink coffee live longer, even if they stick to decaf. Time for another cup.
The NYT reports:
t has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.
The two studies used relied on different methodologies but reached the same conclusion: The relative availability of different types of food in a neighborhood has little observable effect on the obesity rate.
Is too much salt bad for you? That used to be the conventional wisdom, but more recent scientific research has suggested the emphasis on salt is misplaced. No matter. As Walter Olson notes, the Food and Drug Administration appears to be moving ahead with plans to force gradual reductions in the salt content of processed foods. Among other things, the FDA is concerning the adoption of federal targets for gradual salt content reductions to wean consumers from their taste for salt. But reducing salt content will do more than alter food’s flavor. It can affect texture and perishability as well. Surely the FDA has better things to do than obsess over the salt content of processed foods. But if the FDA persists, I suppose it just means these (no relation) will get more use.
It is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in federal prison to falsely identify cane sugar or corn-based syrups as”maple syrup.” Apparently this is not enough for Vermont’s congressional delegation. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Vermont’s senators have proposed legislation to make it a felony to represent a product as “maple syrup” when it’s not.
[NOTE: Post edited because I omitted some words.]
The LA Times reports on new limitations on school lunches in France:
In an effort to promote healthful eating and, it has been suggested, to protect traditional Gallic cuisine, the French government has banned school and college cafeterias nationwide from offering the American tomato-based condiment with any food but — of all things — French fries. . . .
Moreover, French fries can be offered only once a week, usually with steak hache, or burger. Not clear is whether the food police will send students to detention if they dip their burgers into the ketchup that accompanies their fries.
Number of calories in an 8 oz serving of Diet Mountain Dew: 0
Number of calories in a 20 oz bottle of Diet Mountain Dew: 10
How can this be? A manufacturer may list something as zero calories so long as it has fewer than five calories per serving.