From Whole (junk) Foods to Julia/Julie hype, tasty morsels from around the Web
When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the Web.
• “Everything I’ve written is straw,” Thomas Aquinas is supposed to have lamented from his deathbed. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey seems to have come to a similar conclusion about the supermarket chain he founded decades ago. “Basically, we used to think it was enough just to sell healthy food, but we know it is not enough,” he recently told The Wall Street Journal in a blunt interview. “We sell all kinds of candy. We sell a bunch of junk.” He said that in the beginning, bulk items like oatmeal made up 15 to 20 percent of sales. “Now,” he adds, “our bulk foods are down to about 1 percent because people don’t cook anymore.” Interesting stuff–not even Whole Foods shoppers cook anymore? It’s true that like all supermarket chains, Whole Foods seems to be devoting more and more floor space to takeout fare–and most of it, from what I’ve tried, mediocre and short on information about ingredients. (Local? Organic? Who knows?)
In the interview, Mackey reveals plans to reposition the company as more of a health-food store–fewer cheesecakes and chips, and more carrots and quinoa, presumably. The move may be an effort to distinguish itself from rivals–based on the interview, Whole Foods is locked in brutal competition with Trader Joe’s and Costco on price for packaged items. Be it remembered: When a few giants compete furiously over a market like, say, organic potato chips, consumers get a great price but suppliers–including potato farmers–get squeezed. For another take, big Organic expert Sam Fromarts weighs in on his blog Chews Wise.
• Will the Obama administration use U.S. aid money to promote pricey GMO seeds for African farmers? Paula Crossfield at CivilEats wants to know–and the early evidence isn’t encouraging. Paula reports that Secretary of State Clinton and USDA chief Tom Vilsack recently visited the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), whose main claim to fame was its much-hyped, ultimately failed joint project (partners: Monsanto and USAID) to create a GMO sweet potato for African farmers. While Clinton and Vilsack toured, somewhere, Nina Fedoroff, Clinton’s zealously pro-GMO chief science adviser, was smiling.
• Wow–commodity traders are worried about our old friend swine flu coming back with a vengeance this fall. Reuters: “U.S. hog prices fell on Wednesday to their lowest levels in nearly two years as investors worried [about] a resurgence of H1N1 flu, commonly called swine flu.” Meanwhile, up in Canada, there has been a swine flu outbreak at a factory pig farm–and sick pigs have infected workers.
• Remember the story of how an FDA researcher found that the corn industry was leaving traces of mercury in high-fructose corn syrup–and the agency proceeded to ignore the researcher? I wrote about it a lot when the news broke. The story quickly faded away–not much interest in the fact that the most popular U.S. sweetener, often and prodigiously fed to kids, might be commonly tainted with mercury. Good for Mother Jones for bringing it back. One of the subtleties in the tale was the chemical state of the mercury–the industry and FDA insisted it was elemental mercury, which poses an unknown risk, and not methylmercury, the definitively brain-wrecking stuff found in some fish. According to MoJo, maybe not. Writes reporter Melinda Wenner:
Though it provides no scientific evidence to back up this assertion, the FDA says that the mercury in [former FDA researcher] Dufault’s HFCS samples is elemental. But the lab that analyzed the samples believes there’s a good chance the mercury is organic [methylmercury]. The analysts “said in so many words, ‘It doesn’t look like inorganic,'” says Peter Green, Dufault’s UC-Davis colleague who coordinated with the lab. “They would even say it’s more likely not the regular elemental mercury.”
• From Environmental News Service, a fascinating article on bee collapse. Washington State University researchers are hanging colony collapse disorder on two culprits: rampant use of pesticides, and a uni-cellular, hard-to-fight parasite called Nosema ceranae.
• I’ll give Julia and Julie a chance out of respect for Julia Child and Meryl Streep. But has Nora Ephron ever really made a good movie? I find those Meg Ryan romances pretty awful. And I hate stuff like this: Maureen Dowd and Nora Ephron waxing vapid (sample factoid: Ephron’s favorite cooking tool is the microwave. Don’t tell Michael Pollan!) Meanwhile, Ephron’s being treated like an auter—huge, fawning New Yorker profile, Corby Kummer declaring her “brilliant”; etc. Maybe I’m just bitter because no one’s offered to turn Meat Wagon into a romantic comedy. Come on, Hollywood!
• Speaking of Pollan, I got the rumor on a listserv today that Pollan’s mother–whom we get a glimpse of cooking boeuf bourguignon in the ’60s in Pollan’s big cooking essay–is the style editor at Gourmet Magazine. Then I confirmed it. Can there be a more fabulous job in food than style editor at Gourmet? And speaking of Hollywood, is his brother-in-law really Michael J. Fox? [Update: Just heard Pollan’s brother-in-law is Micheal J. Fox; and his sister is the actress Tracy Pollan. That means Pollan’s got Hollywood connections. Hey, Mike–have I told you about my movie idea? It’s about a blog I do called Meat Wagon….]