In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.

Goodbye Hostess; Oprah's New Organic Line; Wendell Berry

  • One of the biggest stories in food business news last week was the announced closing of Hostess brands, owner of Twinkies, Devil Dogs, and Wonder Bread among other products. The company's closing will result in the loss of 18,500 jobs from bakeries and distribution centers across the country. A central tension in this case was between the Teamsters and Bakers Unions, who disagreed on the terms of a new contract being negotiated soon before Hostess' announced bankruptcy. The company had about $2.5 billion in annual sales and produced 500 million Twinkies annually. Industry experts are certain that the brands owned by Hostess will be bought by other companies. So don't fret - Twinkies will be around for a while yet.
  • Iconic writer and activist Wendell Berry wrote a piece for the Atlantic exploring the idea of returning four-fifths of our agricultural land to pasture. Letting the land rest and planting cover crops is a means of restoring nutrients to the soil and improving productivity during the months that the land is being cultivated. Additionally, more pasture land would greatly increase the resources available to pasture-raised animals, reducing the need for raising animals in cruel and unsanitary conditions. This idealistic vision is one part of Berry's appeal for a 50-year, rather than a 5-year farm bill.
  • A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists makes a case for why the USDA should encourage the development of organic dairy farms. Organic dairies are better for the environment and for animals, and also generate income for their local food economies. UCS recommends that the USDA change its requirements that farmers pool dairy prices to ensure a fair income for all dairy farmers - this system, while ideally equitable, doesn't take into account the price and labor differences between conventional and organic dairies.
  • A series of papers in Choices, a food and agriculture magazine, explores possible policy solutions to address food deserts. Authors examined what socioeconomic factors are predictors of food deserts, as well as the impact of changing the nutritional requirements the Women, Infants, and Children program. A third paper looked at the results of adding a mobile fruit and vegetable stand to a neighborhood in Detroit. That study found that residents responded to the same "economic stimuli" as those in a control (non-food desert) neighborhood, and that income was the largest determinant of fruit and vegetable purchase. Not ground-breaking data, but it implies that fixing food deserts will take more than just adding a fruit and vegetable retailer.
  • The New York Post reported that Oprah is headed into the organic food industry. The newspaper found a handful of patent applications including the brand names "Oprah's Organics," "Oprah's Harvest," and "Oprah's Farm." Oprah's representation has not confirmed that the billionaire talk-show host is headed into the food arena. But if she did decide to channel some of her significant fortune into organic producers, it could mean big growth for sustainable farmers.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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