Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back....

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Lots of news in food, this week. First the good news!

As we know, Michelle Obama has taken on obesity as her priority issue. This week she announced that Walmart will begin offering healthier food options. Walmart will offer more affordable produce and will decrease sugar and sodium in their store brand foods. They also will work with other corporations whose products line their shelves to create healthier foods. In addition, Walmart will open stores in "food deserts," urban areas where fresh produce is difficult to find.

Ingenious! Millions of Americans shop at Walmart every day, so the corporation is in a unique position to have a positive influence on the way Amercans eat. Fresh produce is more expensive than pre-packaged meals, which typically are packed with so much sodium, sugar and chemicals there is little real food, or nutrition, in them. But because they are so cheap, many parents have to choose between buying something healthful, versus buying something that will fill their family's tummies. It is time Walmart stepped up and changed their role in this.

And now, it is time for the government to stand up. Imagine if carrots and broccoli were subsidized rather than corn.

By the way, here is an interesting article, released this week, about a study that says those who live near Walmarts are fatter. Let's hope that changes soon.

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And now, I'm sorry to report several pieces of bad news in the media this week. But, there are ways we can help.

First, Monsanto is at it again. Several years ago they petitioned the USDA to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa and allow it to be planted anywhere. This will cause great harm to organic farmers, as well as farmers with traditional seeds, because the GE alfalfa will cross pollinate. GE crops have been banned completely in other countries and there are many valid concerns, including evidence that GE seeds create a new class of herbicide-resistant "super weeds," and require more powerful herbicides. Organic alfalfa is used as feed by most organic dairies.

The USDA will announce a decision this Monday, January 24, as to whether to completely deregulate the GE alfalfa or conditionally regulate it, which would place restrictions on where it could be planted so that it would limit contamination of organic crops.

You can help by asking the USDA and your congress representatives to conditionally regulate GE alfalfa. Many believe that the decision on GE alfalfa will be used as an example for future decisions on GE crops.

For information, as well as how to make your opinion known, you can go to this posting on the Whole Story Blog, Whole Food's official blog.

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Finally, an article in today's paper says my own state of Colorado will end free school breakfasts in March (read the full article here).

Yes, Colorado, like many other states, is in big trouble, facing large deficits for the foreseeable future. Of course, any cuts will be painful. However, poor children going without breakfast? Seriously? Even if you set aside the moral argument (which is nearly impossible to do) we need to take a long-term look at how this will affect America's future: Hungry students do not perform well in school. Do we really want to go there?

Under this plan, breakfast will still be served but will no longer be free. Children would be charged 30 cents per breakfast on the reduced-fee program. For many of us, 30 cents seems like not a lot to ask. But for parents who are struggling in this difficult economy and are already "food insecure" (a full 11 percent of Coloradans did not have access to enough food during the years of 2005-2007, the most recent numbers available. We can only imagine how high the numbers have gone since the recession hit).

The lawmakers have not yet decided on the 2011-2012 budget and whether or not the free breakfasts will be available. Now is the time to let them know this is unacceptable.

For more information and ways to get involved, visit Hunger Free Colorado. For those of you who live in other states, check out Share Our Strength.

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