In the past few months, products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, whose branding is based on racial stereotypes, have pledged to change their imagery and logos. Mars, the parent company to Uncle Ben’s, is now giving us a preview of what that will look like for the rice brand.
The products will now go under the name “Ben’s Original,” and will be used to attempt to “create a more inclusive future,” according to a press release. While the orange and blue colors will stay the same, the imagery on the packages, as well as the name, are officially retired.
“We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand, and as we announced in June, we have committed to change,” said Fiona Dawson, Global President of Mars Food, Multisales and Global Customers, said in the press release.
Mars isn’t just changing its packaging in response to the current global Black Lives Matter protests. The company has also partnered its new brand with the National Urban League to create a scholarship fund for aspiring black chefs. They will also work together to support other underserved communities globally.
One of those communities is in the hometown of Ben’s Original, Greenville, Mississippi. Mars is pledging to invest in the local community by increasing food accessibility and security while enhancing educational opportunities for students in the area.
As for the rice products themselves, they will have the new packaging and brand name starting in 2021 as Uncle Ben’s branding is phased off of shelves.
The checkout aisle of grocery stores isn’t home to just a cash register; there’s also a variety of candies, chips, and sweets you can pick up. This front of store promotion is often where kids of all ages can get their sugar cravings satisfied, but also helps push and market junk food products.
If you could change the products available in the checkout aisle to be less caloric and sugar-laden, it might have an effect in helping combat obesity. The city of Berkeley is willing to give that a shot, as they became the first city to pass a “healthy checkout” bill.
“The city of Berkeley may be the first in the nation, if not the world, to pass a policy that will eliminate junk food and unhealthy items at grocery store check-out lines.”https://t.co/SIsl2MLbej
The new law, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News, applies to grocery stores larger than 2,500 square feet. It restricts products available at the checkout stands to those with no more than 5 grams of added sugar or less than 250 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Junk food itself isn’t banned in these stores, and could be found in the regular candy, chips, or snacks sections. This law just takes that prime product placement section and has stores give better-for-you options a shot in that area.
Policymakers hope that the new ordinance helps redefine what “treating yourself” means when picking up convenient snacks on the way out of the store. Replacing candy bars and the like with better-for-you snack bars, fruits, nuts, and more could help encourage healthier snacking habits.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, whole grains, chewing gum & mints w/no added sugars. Food items will be restricted to up to 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium. Drinks must have no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. https://t.co/4XaueOdpag
Berkeley is known for establishing precedent for laws involving nutrition and sustainability that get passed elsewhere. Their 2014 soda tax, for example, has led to similar actions in other parts of the United States.
How this law will change snacking habits, and whether it catches on nationwide, will be seen when it goes into effect in March 2021. Enforcement via health inspections will begin in 2022.
As students have been returning to college to start the new school year, some have had to quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At New York University, students that quarantined in the dorms got meals, but their quality was so poor that videos of them went viral all over TikTok.
For the first few days, the NYU quarantine meals program was a mess. Vegans and vegetarians received animal and dairy products, some students had missing meals, others didn’t get them delivered until late in the day… it was chaotic, to say the least.
After making it onto the news for their low-quality meals, NYU apologized, and pledged to do better. For the most part, they’ve lived up to that, as they’ve added more employees to help prepare and send out meals, and even sent out cases of water and snack boxes to help students get adequate nutrition.
It didn’t resolve all of the issues, however, so NYU eventually gave students $30 of delivery credit per day as a way to get dinner for the remainder of the quarantine period. They continued to serve breakfast and lunch throughout that time frame.
Considering that NYU students pay over $38,000 per semester for tuition, housing, and other expenses, the quality of the meals they were getting is shocking. It’s also bringing the value of expensive college fees into question, especially during a pandemic.
If expensive schools are serving low-quality meals, limited access to amenities paid for through tuition costs, and transitioning to online learning, then what are students really paying for? A place to stay to take online classes?
The cost of an online course is about $1,200-$1,300, and monthly, one would spent about $350 in food and $1,000 in rent per person in a 2-bedroom apartment. This means that one could go take 4 online classes at home, in a semester-long timeline, and pay under $10,000 to do so.
It’s understandable that the pandemic has changed how everything operates, including college. Given how much money students are paying schools, however, NYU should serve as a case study of what not to do to ensure student nutrition during a pandemic.
To learn more about the full debacle, check out the entire Foodbeast video on the NYU quarantine meals at the top of this story.
One of the major concerns of the coronavirus pandemic is how to get kids the meals they would normally have at school. Some of this was accounted for through districts that have been giving free meals to all children under the age of 18, regardless of eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program.
This was achieved thanks to waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allowed all schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to children. Those waivers end on August 31st, at which point schools would have to start charging for meals and tracking meal debt for those unable to pay again.
However, as the pandemic rages on and the deadlines on those waivers fast approaching, there’s no sign that the government is going to renew or extend those waivers.
According to The Counter, lawmakers asked the USDA on August 14th to extend those regulatory waivers, which would allow schools to continue providing free breakfasts and lunches for students. In a letter dated August 20th, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue stated that he could not honor the request, saying that “the scope of this request is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement and would be closer to a universal school meals program which Congress has not authorized or funded.”
The initial waivers were funded by the Families First Coronavirus Act, one of the early rounds of funding passed by Congress. However, with current negotiations on any new stimulus packages at an impasse, it’s unclear whether any money will be made available to continue to allow kids to get those meals.
Perdue claims that there are “already opportunities… for children in need,” seemingly suggesting that charities and nonprofits could pick up for where schools had been providing before.
A perspective review paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, published in April 2020, suggests that interruptions of these programs to families in need could hamper households in both the short and long term, decreasing immunity (and increasing the risk to contract diseases) as well as decreasing health and academic performance of children in those households.
Unless the USDA reverses its decision by August 31st and decides to extend those waivers, meals will be distributed under the old free and reduced lunch standards once again. For those who have already been struggling during coronavirus, this could present an even bigger challenge.
If waivers are not extended, families would need to wait until Congress returns from recess and agrees on a coronavirus stimulus package to see if funding could be extended to allow those waivers, and free meals from schools, to continue.
UPDATE: On August 31st, the USDA moved to allow free meals from schools to continue through the end of 2020, as long as funding allows it.
In October 2020, Mexico is poised to take a monumental step forward to combat junk food and obesity issues the country faces. Already, black octagon labels are showing up on the front packaging of food products that warn of foods with excessive calories, sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fat.
These labels are designed to meet requirements the Mexican government will enforce starting in October: requirements that, apparently, the US and other world powers oppose.
According to Reuters, a meeting minutes document from the World Trade Organization shows the US, Canada, the European Union, and Switzerland trying to persuade Mexico to delay their labeling enforcement for anywhere from 1-2 years.
The United States, for example, expressed support to combat obesity, but thinks the regulations are “more trade restrictive than necessary to meet Mexico’s legitimate health objectives,” arguing that “Mexico has chosen more stringent nutrient thresholds than the thresholds set by other countries.”
All of the countries supported a delay, with reasoning behind it being the impact of COVID-19 on the food and beverage industry. A Mexican government official told Reuters that they objected to delaying the rules.
Laws that combat obesity and reveal high-calorie and junk foods are gaining more traction globally. Chile was one of the first to introduce such laws in 2016, and saw a reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks by 23%. Some American cities, including Berkeley, have also implemented sugar taxes in recent years that showed similar results. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also found that regulations such as these are instrumental in reducing obesity globally.
The United States itself has food labeling regulations that require added sugars to be marked in the Nutrition Facts, but the Trump Administration’s FDA has indefinitely delayed enforcement of the labels.
Lobbyist groups from both the United States and Canada have also put pressure on Mexico for these laws in the past. Mexico first passed the legislation in October of 2019, giving the industry a year to make the labeling changes.
Initial rules in the now-ratified US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) would have prevented any front-of-packaging labeling of the sort to be issued. While this did not make it into the final agreement following media attention to the rules, the finalized version still has a clause that “technical regulations concerning labels… do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade.”
The United States is a known bully when it comes to food packaging labeling, having challenged multiple countries over their laws in the past, claiming them to be a threat to US trade and business interests. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA officials criticized multiple countries for such regulations in their most recent National Trade Estimate report.
Canada, who has its own front-of-packaging law, is already facing such challenges from US and Canadian lobbyist groups over its rules.
Combatting junk food through labeling has already proven to have a significant effect in reducing obesity. Mexico is taking a stronger approach than most countries, including local trading partners like the US, with its new regulations, leading to such political pressure.
We’ll have to see if any more challenges come to Mexico’s legislation as the October enforcement of the labeling draws nearer.
Every night in the city of Los Angeles, there’s an estimated 53,000 homeless people that suffer from hunger. Some other disheartening facts about homelessness in LA are that 15% are family units often headed by a single mother and 25% suffer from mental illness.
Further research reveals it to be an epidemic plaguing the second most populous city in the United States. Faced with these staggering statistics, it’s easy to feel helpless. Rent is skyrocketing and neighborhoods are being gentrified as longtime residents are pushed out. With only 1,270 missions and 24 emergency sheltersin Los Angeles County, solutions to the homeless equation seem akin to trying to solve time travel.
Despite these facts, I’m of the belief that it’s better to try than to succumb to hopelessness. One brand that shares that sentiment is Postmates. In partnership with Working Not Working and Vice, FoodFight! was launched in February of 2018. FoodFight! is a new initiative started by Postmates to combat hunger amongst America’s homeless population and reduce food waste in the restaurant industry. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance conducted a study in 2014 that found 84.3% of unused food in American restaurants is disposed of, 14.3% is recycled, and only 1.4% is donated.
Los Angeles has fast become one of the most generous contributors to the initiative with 4 of the top 5 restaurants being based within the city. This year, Postmates introduced 41 new cities nationwide to deliver food from participating restaurants to those in need. Emily Slade, Working Not Working’s Head of Growth & FoodFight! Ambassador had this to say:
“If we can eliminate the friction in the donation process by making it as easy as calling Postmates to make the food donation delivery, then we can really make an impact.”
While still in it’s pilot phase, FoodFight! is rapidly expanding as more restaurants are participating nationwide. Although it may not be the end all be all in the fight against homelessness and hunger, FoodFight!’s focus on waste reduction within the restaurant industry is a great step towards improving how we manage our leftover food. As FoodFight! continues to grow, restaurants and non-profits are invited to join the initiative by emailing email@example.com.
The nonprofit Environmental Working Group specializes in agricultural research and advocacy, and it created the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which outlines what it calls the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. The Dirty Dozen are fruits and vegetables that the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds to have the highest levels of pesticide residues, and the Clean 15 are the ones that have little to no detected pesticide residues. ( The USDA produces the pesticide results that EWG provides to the public.)
But do we need to be concerned about pesticides? The levels found are almost always below the tolerances set by the Food and Drug Administration, so what’s the problem? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there have been studies that show a connection between pesticides and lower fertility rates in women, and children and infants are especially sensitive to pesticides. Exposure during pregnancy can have serious developmental effects on the baby, such as increased risk of congenital disabilities, low birth weight and even fetal death. Exposure in childhood has been linked to learning defciencies and, in some cases cancer.
Much of the produce in the Dirty Dozen are popular and widely used, which can make them difficult to get away from. Environmentally friendly produce washes can help reduce pesticide residues, and in a pinch, a simple baking soda and water mixture works well too. The Clean 15 includes fruits and veggies that, even if they weren’t grown organically, have little to no detected pesticide residue. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, setting up a garden is also a great way to personalize what goes into your body.
When kids across the United States walk into their school cafeterias to start the 2019-2020 school year, many may find plant-based chicken nuggets as a brand new meal option.
Photo courtesy of Don Lee Farms
Don Lee Farms, one of the top three suppliers of protein for school lunch programs, is adding the vegan chicken substitute to its offerings. They serve most major and many small school districts in the United States, with the total they supply numbering in the thousands. Their decision to start incorporating plant-based nuggets came as both an option for sustainability and cost. “In most cases, our price for these items are at or below what chicken nuggets cost schools today,” president Donald Goodman said in a statement.
These nuggets are apparently comparable in taste and texture to real chicken nuggets, and give schools a plant-based option kids already love that is more environmentally friendly and even cheaper than meat. Given how important it is for vegan replicas to become cheaper than the real thing, the fact that a processed meat like chicken nuggets has a cheaper plant-based substitute now is monumental.
Schools will be able to purchase the plant-based nuggets to add to their cafeteria menus starting this summer.