Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Five Second... Park Wilde

Good news! Parke Wilde's outstanding blog on US Food Policy is back in circulation. Here are short synopses of the last week's heavy activity:

1 - Marion Nestle came to Cornell last week and responded to a student that she held that high-fructose corn syrup was metabolically equivalent to sucrose. There is now a little more evidence that that may not be the case: rats consuming the human-equivalent of 3000 calories/day in HFCS gained more weight than those consuming 3000 calories in sucrose. Most of the authors' discussion is about how fructose is different.

2 - Obama is proposing an increase in school lunch spending of about $0.20 per child. Not enough for an apple. The Senate's Agricultural committee chair wants a smaller increase: less than a dime. The Senate version's extra money has to come from cuts to other programs. "Naturally, she has chosen to target conservation, hunger, and even other school-lunch programs -- leaving commodity payments, beloved of her state's large-scale cotton farmers, intact."

3 - A few words on small-scale meatpacking. (Cue Dumbledore) More consumers and farmers are going through small-scale packers for a variety of reasons, mostly to support local food and a belief that the food is safer for consumers and resulting higher price premiums for farmers. The comments point out the observational fallacy on food safety:
Given a low attack rate and all other things being equal, a problem is more likely to be detected from a large batch than a small batch. Over the long run, that would leads to the collective public consciousness that smaller producers are safer than the big ones. We see this already in the public perception that food prepared and eaten in the household is safer than food prepared and eaten in commercial establishments. My recollection (haven't looked at these papers for awhile) is that the reverse is true.
4 - Wilde's comments on the local, organic, etc. food movements are provoking. He finds that he often disagrees or is unconvinced by the specific argument they make about why the promoted eating pattern is good, but his nutritive Spidey-sense (read: lifetime of research experience) shows that the advice may be good for other reasons.

5 - Lastly (or firstly depending on how you count), he links to an article that quotes him extensively on tweaks to "SNAP," formerly the Food Stamp Program, to reduce obesity.
People never receiving food stamps had lower rates of obesity than those who had been on them at some point in their lives, even after accounting for differences in socioeconomic status.

The full monthly SNAP allocation, now averaging $124 per person nationwide, is provided at the beginning of each month. [T]he bulk of participants also do their grocery shopping once monthly, shortly after the benefit is credited. (Wal-Mart reports a spike in sales at 12:01 A.M., as soon as federal assistance funds hit SNAP accounts.)

Another study from 2004 found a corresponding decrease of 10 to 15 percent in food consumption over the course of the month, suggesting some recipients may eat well for the first couple weeks after they've shopped and then run low on food near month's end. This kind of "binge–starvation" cycle has been linked to changes in metabolism, insulin resistance and, ultimately, increases in BMI.
Without the obesity part, this corresponds strikingly to what The Lovely and Gracious experienced during her childhood and is always the first subject we talk about when I attend a seminar on the food stamp program.

"Now that funds are delivered electronically rather than as paper "food stamps," however, the additional cost to distribute SNAP money every other week would be minimal." So let's start the trial programs and find out how much of a difference it can make! Please!

The article is also bullish about the prospective benefits of subsidizing healthy foods. As I mentioned earlier, I have some concerns. A change that would have a similar effect to subsidizing fruits and vegetables without the income-substitution problems would be to expand WIC to allow fruit and vegetable purchases as well as the milk and dairy it now exclusively targets. The political economy arguments for why the dairy industry and their representatives in Congress would oppose that are obvious, and I'm not certain that the 'fruit and vegetable lobby,' which for some reason sounds a lot less sinister than Big Moo, is as well organized. But I think we could get enough locavores, organovores, nutritionists, and others to support their efforts to make such a change feasible. Any takers?

No comments:

Post a Comment