November 6, 2015

CLF Week in Links: Honeybees, Foraging, Wasted Food and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future


Are corner stores carrying healthier food?

Calorie counts on menus. This week I’m pleased to report that our CLF-Lerner Fellows are making us look good. Julia Wolfson is one of the authors on a study that appeared this week in Health Affairs and was cited in a CNN report about the law going into effect in December 2016, requiring national chain restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus. There are a few studies examining whether calorie counts on menus inspire customers to eat less or more healthily, but this is still an open question. It will be interesting to see what we learn once the law goes into effect.

Corner stores and healthy food. Another CLF-Lerner Fellow, Laura Cobb, co-authored a paper in this week’s Health Affairs about the healthy food options available at corner stores. The authors looked at urban corner stores and tallied the number of healthy foods available for purchase. According to the study, the healthy food options have increased, likely as a result of a policy change to the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, requiring participating stores to carry more options such as fruits and vegetables or whole wheat bread.

More research on food waste. Our own Roni Neff published two papers this week about food waste and how we can take advantage of existing synergies to reduce it. The topic of wasted food has become an issue that seems to interest everyone, on both sides of the aisle. I hope we can continue to see momentum for it. Tackling the issue will require confronting some of the issues with the food system as a whole, and I look forward to watching that unfold.

Biology versus chemistry for feeding the world. If you’re in Baltimore next Monday, November 9, you might want to stop in at the Bloomberg School for what I’m expecting to be a fantastic talk by Patrick Holden, who’s visiting us from the Sustainable Food Trust in the UK. Patrick will be talking about how we need to turn to biology, particularly the biology of soil and plants, in order to heal our broken food system. The last 50 years have been a time when nations look to chemistry—in the form of petrochemical fertilizer and genetically modified crops, for example—to boost food production, and Patrick has some better ideas.

How Big Pharma does it. Last week The Atlantic held its 2015 Food Summit, which was primarily underwritten by Elanco, the animal-health division of Eli Lilly. At the forum, an Elanco rep referred to the “fringe 1 percent” of consumers who want to buy meat raised without unnecessary drugs. This is one example of how desperate Big Meat and Big Pharma are to control the conversation consumers are having about food systems. Another tactic used by similar groups is to distract from the issues at hand by talking about feeding the world in the future—essentially they use scare tactics suggesting that without drugs our future selves will go hungry. This Mother Jones article explains in more depth.

Bacon and cigarettes. The big news in the last two weeks has been a report released by the International Agency of Research into Cancer (IARC), an arm of the WHO, warning about the carcinogenicity of processed meats. The media took hold of this report, and lots of hands flew into the air. The bottom line is this: meat is not great for you and bad for the planet; if you can reduce your intake, that’s great; the IARC needs to do a better job distinguishing between hazard identification and risk assessment. Here’s more on this topic.

Honeybees and probiotics. Honeybee populations are still in decline, with no end in sight and no consensus yet on what’s causing the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. This LivableFuture blogpost about an avenue of research into how to help honeybees cope with the multitude of stressors resulting from climate change contains some fascinating information.

Foraging study. This Friday is the last day of our Bountiful Baltimore study, and we’re excited to be moving into the analysis and writing stage of the project. Here’s some background information about the project in the Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine, and here’s a link to the study’s Facebook page where you can keep up to date on what’s happening.

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