Tom Laskawy

A 17-year veteran of both traditional and online media, Tom Laskawy is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a contributing writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy. Tom's long and winding road to food politics writing passed through New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Florence, Italy, and Philadelphia (which has a vibrant progressive food politics and sustainable agriculture scene, thank you very much). In addition to Grist, his writing has appeared online in The American Prospect, Slate, The New York Times, and The New Republic. He is on record as believing that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. Follow him on Twitter.

OMG OMB

Battle for the soul of organic dairy farmers goes on behind the scenes

There is a battle going on in the White House for the very soul of the organic dairy movement — and possibly over the future of small family-operated dairy farms — and you don’t even know it. I’d like to think that I’m overstating things but no. At issue is an obscure rule in the USDA Organic label that requires “access to pasture” for organic dairy cows. Barry Estabrook, ex of Gourmet, lays it out for us: In the early 2000s, virtually all of the nation’s organic dairy farmers — not to mention the millions of consumers willing to pay …

meat the new boss

And the winner of the USDA food safety sweepstakes is …

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen! No, you’re not expected to know who she is. Suffice it to say that, as anticipated, USDA Chief Tom Vilsack turned to an under-the-radar choice for Under Secretary of Food Safety. Hagen, currently the USDA’s Chief Medical Officer, will, if confirmed, take charge of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry products. The interesting aspect of this pick is that she is an infectious disease doc and public health specialist who has been working at USDA for several years — and thus should have a good grounding …

Amuse bouche

Did Jamie Oliver meet his match in ‘America’s Fattest City’?

When last we saw British superstar chef-turned-food-system-reformer Jamie Oliver, he was in the midst of teaching “the fattest city in America” how to cook. How did it go? Well, thanks to the miracle that is reality television, we’ll find out one episode at a time. The series — Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — doesn’t premiere until the end of March. But ABC has provided us a sneak peak. Key takeaway? The recalcitrant residents of Huntington, West Virginia have driven poor Jamie to tears. Tom says check it out: Other than making for compelling television, will Jamie’s efforts to teach America …

sugar, sugar, everywhere

Lesson for schools: sweetened junk shouldn’t count as food

Sugar in school: give the people what they want? Reporter Ed Bruske spent a week working in a Washington, D.C. public school lunchroom. His series of articles (1, 2, 3) that resulted are fantastic reading for anyone following the ongoing debate regarding school lunches and the challenges for enacting real reform. Today’s entry looked at how sugar is used in school food. Bruske lists the multiple ways schools find to sugar up our kids — Pop-Tarts, sugar cereal, canned fruit in syrup, flavored milk, cookies and other desserts and even juice. Yes, juice is part of the problem, too. By …

fat cats FTW!

Supreme Court ruling on elections puts concept of any kind of reform into doubt

In a ruling today, the Supreme Court rolled back campaign finance laws to the pre-Watergate era: Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. The ruling was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace will corrupt democracy. The 5-to-4 decision was a doctrinal earthquake but also a political and …

notable quotable

NYT’s Kim Severson on the value of school gardens

Anyone who has come home from school carrying a sprouting bean in a foam cup can attest that growing plants has long been used as a teaching tool. – Kim Severson of the NYT slips a full-throated defense of school gardens into a profile of a new Brooklyn Edible Schoolyard Project

not just the calories

To address obesity, the First Lady will need to cast a wide net

Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity agenda would have kids a little less round ’round the middle.White House Flickr streamWhile we await Michelle Obama’s speech this Wednesday to the United States Conference of Mayors that will likely launch her new campaign against childhood obesity, I thought I’d offer a little perspective as well as a few bits of research that shed light on the enormity and complexity of the obesity epidemic. First off, let’s be clear: The First Lady will, of course, do everything she can to avoid picking a fight with Big Food — I wouldn’t be surprised to see corporate …

putting the lab in labyrinthine

FDA on BPA: Our hands are tied

The FDA finally released its report on Bisphenol A. The good news is that the FDA now admits that BPA — the endocrine-disrupting, heart disease–causing ingredient in plastic food packaging and can linings — isn’t entirely safe (contradicting the agency’s statement from 2008 that it was), particularly for infants and children. The bad news? There’s not much the agency can do about it. Here are the immediate, limited steps the FDA feels it can take “to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply”: support the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for …

smoking gun: found

Scientists confirm link between BPA and heart disease in humans

The FDA’s new report on the safety of endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A is months overdue and there is still no sign of when or if the agency will release the report. Perhaps they are waiting for that piece of “smoking gun” evidence that BPA represents a clear and present danger to human health? Well, thanks to researchers from Peninsula College of Medicine in Britain, we just may have it. In 2008, the group looked at data from the 2003-2004 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which included urinary BPA levels for the first time. The results: [A] quarter …