Trump administration weakens Michelle Obama’s signature school lunch reforms on her birthday

On Friday, the Trump administration announced new school lunch rules that significantly weaken the nutritional reforms championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama. The changes were made public on her birthday, a scheduling decision Trump administration officials have insisted was purely coincidental. 

The new rules would reduce the amount of fruit schools are required to offer students for breakfast from one cup to a half cup. They would also allow schools more “flexibility” in the vegetables they choose to serve. Under the proposed rules, cafeterias would still be required to offer students five cups of vegetables per week, but that calculation could now include up to three and a half cups of white potatoes, whereas in the past that maxed out at two cups. The new rules would also allow schools to classify pastas made with vegetable flour as vegetables. 

The changes were met, predictably, with outrage from public health groups and Democrats. “The proposed rule shows an appalling disregard for families across the country who are counting on the government to act in the best interest of their children,” said Sarah Reinhardt of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a press release. “Add it to the list affirming that the cruelty is the point with this White House,” tweeted Democratic House Representative Ayanna Pressley. 

These rules were introduced as a response to complaints from school administrators that the stricter standards made lunches less delicious, more expensive, and contributed to food waste.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents school administrators and has supported similar changes in the past, did not respond to request for comment by press time. 

This is the second set of Trump administration rules that weaken the Obama administration’s nutritional standards for school lunches. The first set, which went into effect in February of 2019, relaxed sodium limits, allowed schools to serve more refined grains, and re-introduced flavored low-fat milk. When these rules were introduced, they were poised as a response to complaints from school administrators that the stricter standards made lunches less delicious, more expensive, and contributed to food waste. Perhaps not coincidentally, USDA was also facing pressure from food industry groups to loosen restrictions. Bloomberg published a fascinating account of the intertwined relationships between food manufacturers, the influential SNA, and USDA last year. 

Back in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which led to a set of nutritional standards that would apply to meals served in public schools. These standards encouraged schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk. They also made strides toward curbing sodium, saturated fat, and trans fats. To defray extra costs associated with these new standards, the government began reimbursing schools which met these standards at a rate of six cents per meal. 

Overall, according to the agency’s own data, these reforms have worked pretty well. As I reported back in May, the nutritional quality of school lunches increased by 41 percent between 2009 and 2015. Consumption of sodium, refined grains, and empty calories decreased. Kids started eating more greens and beans. The amount of food wasted in the cafeteria didn’t change much. The proposed rule is scheduled to be published on January 23 and will be open for public comment for 60 days.

More foreign ownership of U.S. beef processors raises food safety concerns

National Beef Packing Company, the fourth largest beef processor in the United States, is now approximately 80% owned by a company from another nation. That has some cattle ranchers worried.

In November, the Brazilian-owned meatpacker Marfrig Global Foods S.A. announced it would acquire 31% of National Beef from New York City-based investment bank Jefferies Financial Group for $970 million. This comes after an initial purchase of around half the Kansas City, Missouri-based company in June 2018.

This article is republished from The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Read the original article here.

In response to the announcement, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States on December 3, asking the Treasury Department to review the purchase.

The letter claims the acquisition threatens American food security by opening the door for inferior quality meat from Brazil to make it into U.S. hamburgers. It also alleges Marfrig used bribes to obtain loans from the Brazilian National Development Bank, which funded its purchase of National Beef.

“We’re pushing back against foreign ownership. We’re pushing back against consolidation,” said Lia Biondo, director of policy and outreach for U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “We view it as a national security concern and could impact the ability of our nation to feed itself or end up harming consumers.”

In June 2017, the USDA temporarily stopped imports of Brazilian processed beef after 11% of beef tested was rejected due to “public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues.” Typically, no more than 1% of beef is rejected at U.S. points of entry.

“As you make more global connectivity in our food industries, that we are maintaining our ability to carefully inspect and verify the product that comes into our country.”

“We have extraordinarily high food standards in this country,” said Biondo. “These meat processors can import meat into this country, have it undergo a ‘significant transformation,’ and then they’re able to claim it as a product of the United States.”

Following the U.S. ban on Brazilian beef, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture found Brazilian meat companies, including JBS, were bribing meat inspectors. Marfrig said in a statement that its facilities were not involved in any bribery schemes.

Ted Schroeder, director of the Center for Risk Management Education and Research at Kansas State University, said he doesn’t foresee Marfrig’s acquisition introducing more subpar meat.

“If anything, it might increase scrutiny at the borders,” he said. “As you make more global connectivity in our food industries, that we are maintaining our ability to carefully inspect and verify the product that comes into our country.”

“The growing trend of foreign investment in our food system demands increased attention and scrutiny in order to safeguard our nation’s food supply.”

Brazilian-owned companies now control two of the four meatpacking companies that process around 74% of all beef in the United States, according to the North American Meat Institute, a trade association representing meat processors.

While JBS S.A. is significantly larger than Marfrig’s National Beef, Schroeder said the trend makes some in the beef industry uneasy.

“There’s this feeling that they will not have the same distribution of that profit, that it’ll go overseas to the owners,” said Schroeder. “That they may not have the same obligation or commitment to the local community.”

On October 8, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also sent a letter to Sec. Mnuchin, urging the Treasury department to investigate JBS’ investment in U.S. beef.

“The growing trend of foreign investment in our food system demands increased attention and scrutiny in order to safeguard our nation’s food supply,” said the senators in the letter.

Both Marfrig and JBS are under investigation for allegedly paying bribes to Brazilian banks in exchange for loans used to purchase U.S. meatpacking companies like National Beef.

In addition to Brazil, Marfrig has operations in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Marfrig did not respond to requests for comment.

Consolidation worries

Many segments of the agriculture industry have experienced consolidation in the last 20 years, but there is some debate about how the cattle industry has been impacted.

Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill Beef and National Beef have made around eight acquisitions of U.S. beef and cattle companies since 2001.

In 2019, The top four beef packers will process around three quarters of the nation’s beef in 27 facilities across the nation. But that number has barely moved since 2013, according to data from the North American Meat Institute.

“There has been almost no consolidation since 1988.  Transactions and acquisitions yes, but not consolidation,” said Sarah Little, vice president of communications for the North American Meat Institute.

“We’ve got to strengthen U.S. cattle producers bottom line, and make sure their sustainable for the next generation.”

But Tyson, JBS and Cargill are top players in the pork and poultry markets as well, so while consolidation in the beef industry may not be as prevalent, the meat industry as a whole is dominated by fewer processors.

“It comes back to this idea of fighting back against consolidation and making sure that we’re enforcing the antitrust regulations and rules that are already on the books,” said Biondo. “We’ve got to strengthen U.S. cattle producers bottom line, and make sure their sustainable for the next generation.”

Schroeder said Marfrig’s purchase of National Beef is not as disruptive to the industry as if another domestic beef packer had bought the company, which could lead to plant closures in overlapping markets.

“You’ve got a company coming in here saying ‘We believe in this National Beef Company. We’re going to put a lot of money on the line with a vested interest to have this company prosper,’” said Schroeder. “They’re not going to invest and then start closing down facilities.”

Plant fire has silver lining for beef packers

Plant closures in two beef facilities this summer revealed how tenuous the beef supply chain has become.

On August 9, a fire shuttered a Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas, which processed 6,000 head of cattle per day. Tyson said the plant represented a fifth of its beef business and 5% of the cattle industry’s processing capacity.

Cattle bound for the Holcomb plant were detoured to facilities in Iowa, Nebraska and other packing plants across the Midwest, according to Schroeder. Tyson expects the plant to be back online by January 2020.

On October 17, an explosion in Cargill’s largest beef packing plant in Dodge City, Kansas temporarily shut down production. Cargill processes 5,800 head per day at that location, according to its website. That facility was back online by October 21.

Packer margins jumped from $191 to $358 per head the week after the Tyson plant fire.

The Tyson incident sent a ripple through the cattle markets, driving cattle futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange down on worries about whether demand for beef could be met. The CME’s December live cattle market took more than two months to recover. Schroeder said the industry is still feeling the impact.

“Cattle prices went down very quickly. There are some questioning ‘did they go down further than they should?’” said Schroeder.

Cattle ranchers and feedlot operators took the brunt of the cost after the fire, shouldering extra transportation costs and resigning themselves to accepting those deep discounts on the price of their cattle.

The fire also cost Tyson, which faced significant building repairs, and paid its entire staff while the facility was shuttered.

But packers including Tyson, Cargill, JBS and Marfrig’s National Beef saw a spike in margins following the fire as well. Packer margins jumped from $191 to $358 per head the week after the Tyson plant fire, according the the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker. By the week ending August 23, packer margins had reached a high of $490.88.

Schroeder said some of that increase was because of the added burden placed on packers to receive the cattle displaced by the shuttered plant.

“Kansas and Texas couldn’t absorb them – they didn’t have the capacity. So they were moving up north and things up north were shifting east, there was all kinds of shifting going on, and still is.”

Beef Packing companies have made an average $346.15 per head since the August fire, compared to feedlots, which lost an average of $20.50 per head. Packer margins averaged just $220 per head in 2018.

Antitrust lawsuits

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association isn’t the only organization eyeing Marfrig with skepticism.

National Beef and its Brazilian owners were named as defendants, alongside Tyson, JBS and Cargill, in a class action antitrust lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota on October 16.

The complaint, brought by Pacific Agri-Products, Inc., a California-based food distributor, alleges the top four companies conspired to hold back the number of cattle being slaughtered, creating an artificially low supply that unfairly raised prices for food distributors.

“As the ‘big four’ players in this highly concentrated industry, the defendants interact frequently at industry events and trade association meetings, and their respective executives are well-acquainted,” said Pacific Agri-Products in the complaint. “[The] defendants’ scheme succeeded, in part, due to the structure of the beef industry.”

It’s not just the food distributors that are raising the alarm about collusion among the biggest beef packers.

There is little evidence that has increased the supply of international beef moving through U.S. processing facilities.

In April, a group of cattle ranchers, led by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF), filed suit in U.S. Northern District Court of Illinois against Tyson, JBS, Cargill, National Beef and Marfrig.

The April suit makes similar complaints that the packers colluded to restrict the number of cattle slaughtered in order to artificially depress live cattle prices and force cattle producers into long-term contracts, similar to those more common in the more vertically integrated poultry and pork industries.

All four of the top beef packers have grown their international presence in recent years, but there is little evidence that has increased the supply of international beef moving through U.S. processing facilities.

The import of live cattle and processed beef from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico did increase from 2011 to 2015, but has dropped to the lowest levels since 1989, according to USDA data.

The U.S. Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment on the USCA letter.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Visit us online at www.investigatemidwest.org/ 

Naomi Earp, contentious head of civil rights at USDA, will step down after a year in office

On Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) top civil rights official Naomi Earp issued a letter to her staff announcing her resignation on January 31, 2020. The move marks the end of a brief and contentious tenure within the agency, during which Earp faced extensive criticism from Democratic lawmakers for her stances on discrimination and harassment.

The letter, first reported by Politico, is a strangely worded missive that begins with a rumination on the word “stretch.” Presented without comment: “As you know, 2019 was a year of stretching. Stretch is one of those words that can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it can be a reference to time … as in ‘I was here for a short stretch.’ I really like the word stretch as a verb. As in expand, lengthen, growth, develop, enlarge, broaden, or increase. Both as individuals and as a team, [the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights] stretched over the last year.”

President Donald Trump first tapped Earp to be the agency’s assistant secretary for civil rights in early 2018, but didn’t get the Senate’s approval before the end of the legislative calendar. Earp was re-nominated in 2019. In the meantime, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue appointed Earp to be deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, a maneuver that allowed her to work in the office without Senate confirmation.

“Whoever next fills this important role must understand the importance of strong civil rights enforcement to ensure everyone who looks to USDA to stand up for them can trust that will happen.”

In the past year, Earp made a number of questionable comments as deputy assistant. When addressing the issue of mistreatment against women in USDA’s Forest Service at her Senate Ag Committee confirmation hearing, Earp said she would attempt to “separate sexual assault from the silliness that goes on as a part of harassment,” Politico reported. During a House Ag Committee meeting, Earp suggested that some federal employees file discrimination complaints as a way to “punish managers and supervisors,” FERN reported. During her confirmation hearing in 2018, New Food Economy contributor Nate Rosenberg outlined a litany of discrimination concerns Earp raised over her career from a number of employees that she oversaw. In 2002, an NAACP task force found that Earp cost the government more than $390,000 in payouts as a result of discrimination complaints.

At the time, this assertion drew the ire of Democratic congresswoman Marcia Fudge, chair of a House agriculture subcommittee. Last night, Fudge issued a comment following Earp’s resignation announcement: “Whoever next fills this important role must understand the importance of strong civil rights enforcement to ensure everyone who looks to USDA to stand up for them can trust that will happen.”

A retired USDA employee said the departments approach to civil rights is a deeply entrenched issue that extends beyond Earp.

Over the past decades, black farmers have detailed numerous allegations of mistreatment, from withheld loans to ignored discrimination complaints. In recent years, a disturbing snapshot of systemic racism within the department has emerged. Ron Cotton, president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, a retired USDA employee who knows Earp professionally, said that while Earp has failed to make notable progress in her role, the USDA approach to civil rights is a deeply entrenched issue that extends beyond her.

In her resignation letter, Earp vaguely alludes to “challenges” during her time at USDA and lacking “all the tools and cooperation needed to be successful.” (She did not respond to a request for comment.)

In an emailed statement, a USDA spokesperson thanked Earp for her work and said that the department “will undertake a careful and thorough search for new leadership for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.”

A hundred years ago, doctors loved to prescribe alcohol as medicine

A hundred years ago this week, Prohibition went into effect across the United States. As the clock struck midnight on January 17, 1920, a newly-minted law enforcement agency called the Bureau of Prohibition was poised to begin raiding speakeasies and smashing beer barrels. At the same time, breweries were bracing for the blow: Budweiser had rolled out a “de-alcoholized” beer that was also, it claimed, healthful, nutritious, and “bacteria free.” It was the beginning of an era that lasted nearly 14 years until the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

The Volstead Act—that’s the law that spelled out the enforcement of the eighteenth amendment—prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. But it included two key exceptions: Religious leaders could store alcohol for use in worship, and doctors were allowed to prescribe booze as medicine. (Both carve-outs, predictably, saw their share of grift. As The New York Times noted in 2010, “sacramental wine was permitted, allowing fake clergy­men to lead bogus congregants in non­religious romps.”)

alcohol prescriptionMelnick Medical Museum, Youngstown State University

Official prescription pad for medicinal alcohol issued to Dr. W.W.F. Dykes, 1933

To be clear, by the time Prohibition was passed, alcohol was not regarded by the medical establishment as a cure-all. In 1916, the American Medical Association had declared that alcohol’s use as a medicine had “no scientific basis.” In reality, though, it was still being used for just about everything. “Keep in mind that during this time period, there were very few effective medications for anything,” says Jacob Appel, a psychiatrist and historian based in New York City. In some cases, Appel adds, alcohol actually was the best available treatment. For example, he says, a cardiologist named John Davin in New York City “successfully” treated heart attack patients with beer. There’s no way that actually worked, of course, but at the time the standard treatment was long-term bed rest, which could lead to clotting and strokes. “The standard made them substantially worse and probably killed tens of thousands of people,” Appel says. “The people who got beer actually did much, much better.”

Once the Volstead Act went into effect, doctors’ prescriptions of alcohol varied widely. Winston Churchill, an enthusiastic tippler, was hit by a car when he was visiting New York City to give a lecture at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1931. He suffered minor injuries and was reportedly depressed for months. A doctor subsequently wrote him a prescription for a “naturally indefinite” quantity of alcoholic spirits to be consumed during mealtimes, specifying that Churchill should receive, at minimum, 250 cubic centimeters daily, roughly equivalent to 8.4 fluid ounces of hard liquor.

“The reality is that doctors walked around hospitals with shot glasses and flasks in the nineteen-teens.”

Medicinal alcohol was often written off as an easy source of profit for doctors and pharmacists during the Prohibition era. As Atlas Obscura reports, pharmacies in Brooklyn were charging up to $150 in today’s dollars for a pint of whiskey just weeks after the law went into effect. Physicians wrote an estimated 11 million prescriptions per year through the 1920s—a significant number, considering the country’s population at the dawn of the decade was just over 100 million. 

But Appel argues generous prescriptions weren’t all about the money. Some doctors, particularly those in urban areas, took issue with Prohibition on moral grounds. They saw it as a discriminatory policy driven by Protestants in the heartland who were advocating to curb all kinds of “sinful” behaviors like drinking and gambling. Catholic immigrants in urban areas, by contrast, drank socially. “I think, for the most part, as far as we know, physicians were not … engaged in smuggling, in trading alcohol to profit themselves,” he says. “There were countless physicians who believed that Prohibition was basically designed to target ethnic Catholics in the United States. So they subverted Prohibition to … help their patients in what they thought was a benevolent and altruistic way.” 

Other doctors—even those who supported Prohibition—saw efforts to limit alcohol prescriptions as an encroachment on the profession. If the government could tell them how to prescribe medicinal alcohol, the logic went, what would stop regulators from expanding their oversight even further? “This is one of the first efforts to restrict the rights of doctors to prescribe what they wanted to prescribe,” Appel says. 

Budweiser had rolled out a “de-alcoholized” beer that it claimed to be, healthful, nutritious, and “bacteria free”

A hundred years later, medicinal alcohol is a thing of the past. But some of the central tensions from the medicinal alcohol movement have echoes in the current political wrangling over the legalization of marijuana. Like the 1920s, doctors are split on the clinical effectiveness of medical marijuana. Like the 1920s, some see medical marijuana prescriptions as a smoke screen for recreational use. And, like the 1920s, critics see the continued criminalization of marijuana use as a deeply discriminatory policy. 

But Appel sees one key difference between then and now. In the 1920s, doctors went to bat for their right to prescribe alcohol. They formed alliances, lobbied Congress, and even took one case all the way to the Supreme Court. “I expected, in the nation’s nascent medicinal marijuana movement, for physicians who work in fields where medicinal marijuana can be helpful to take the same position. To really sort of get their dander up and say, ‘this is an important fight,’” he says. “On the whole, that has not occurred.” 

Appel says that on the whole, doctors’ passion for marijuana just isn’t as strong as it was for alcohol. “The reality is that doctors walked around hospitals with shot glasses and flasks in the nineteen-teens,” he says. “No one is walking around my hospital today with a joint in his pocket.” 

California, 13 other states sue to stop Trump’s food stamp cuts

Fourteen states, including California, filed suit Thursday against the Trump administration to block a rule that would eliminate food stamps for an estimated 688,000 Americans.

“No one should have to choose between a hot meal and paying their rent,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Yet again, the Trump Administration has failed to offer any legitimate evidence to justify decisions that have real consequences for the health and well-being of our residents.”

This story originally appeared in CalMatters, an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government. Read the original article here.

The states plus Washington, D.C., and New York City are claiming that the Trump administration failed to follow the steps required to enact such a far-sweeping rule. It’s the latest in a record 65 lawsuits that Becerra has brought against the Trump administration.

The new rule, scheduled to go into effect on April 1, requires that adults without children must work at least 20 hours per week to consistently receive food stamps. In California, that will initially affect about 400,000 Californians, or 11% of people currently getting food stamps, according to the state Department of Social Services.

The social services agency and county welfare departments are scrambling to prepare people who might lose their monthly grocery money from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as CalFresh here. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are floating possible work-arounds that could blunt the edge of the federal cuts.

Here’s what you need to know about the federal food stamp cuts, the lawsuit and how California is preparing.

What exactly does the rule do?

Under current federal law, able-bodied adults under the age of 50 with no dependent children must either be working at least 20 hours a week or in vocational training to get food stamps consistently. Otherwise, they can only receive three months of the benefit every three years.

For a decade, states and counties have gotten that limit waived by demonstrating that the local labor market made it hard for people to find jobs. All but six California counties—Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo—have waivers.

The new federal rule makes that waiver much more elusive in most of the state. A city or county must have an unemployment rate of at least 6% to qualify. California closed 2019 with a statewide unemployment rate of just under 4%.

An estimated 40 California counties would be subject to the 20-hour work requirement starting April 1, while 18 central and northern counties would be spared initially due to their higher unemployment rates.

Why did the Trump administration do it?

When he announced the rule in December, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said it will restore the original intent of food stamps: “self-sufficiency.”

“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Perdue said in a statement.

But anti-poverty advocates reject the claim that limiting food stamps will encourage people to work more, citing evidence that food stamp work requirements have failed in other places. The initial proposal spurred more than 140,000 public comments, with many calling the policy outdated and cruel.

The Trump administration says the rule would shave $5.5 billion off the federal budget over 5 years. Critics counter that each food stamp dollar translates to $1.54 in economic activity, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture calculations.

Why do the states say it’s illegal?

The attorneys general say the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law that lays out steps, including notification of the public and comment periods, required to make new rules. The Trump administration did not adequately assess the impact of the rule, or how to mitigate its effects, the suit claims.

Plus, the states argue that the rule defies long-standing policy and the original intent of the work requirement law by eliminating the states’ ability to decide whether childless adults must work given local labor markets conditions.

“The Rule unequivocally runs afoul of Congress’s intent to ensure food security for low-income individuals and to permit States, who have a better understanding of their labor markets and economic conditions, to apply for waivers and use exemptions where local or individual circumstances warrant relief,” the lawsuit states.

Who would be most affected?

In the first year, more than 55,000 Californians are expected to lose the benefit, according to Becerra’s office, which amounts to more than $100 million in lost benefits. The lawsuit claims that women and people of color would be most affected because they face higher barriers to employment.

National underemployment data reveals who might be at risk. Black adults are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to be out of a job or working part-time even though they’d prefer a full-time schedule. Hispanics, people without a high school degree and adults under 24 also face high rates of underemployment.

Other groups at risk of losing their food stamps include people experiencing homelessness, veterans, people recently out of jail or prison and former foster youth, according to Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

For some, having to provide proof of working 20 hours per week may become a roadblock.

“They will have to go through a lot of hurdles to verify eligibility,” Bartholow said. “A lot of people don’t work in places that regularly provide a printed time-sheet.”

What about other food stamp cuts?

This is the first of three Trump proposals to cut food stamps. All are part of a broader set of policies aimed at reducing the country’s social safety net.

Another food stamp proposal would restrict the ability of states to raise the eligibility limit on income and assets, as California has done. The other would set a national standard for deducting utility costs from a household budget to determine food stamp eligibility.

If all three rules go into effect, an estimated 3.7 million Americans, including about 625,700 Californians, would lose food stamps, according to an Urban Institute study.

How is the state getting ready for the rule?

State and county officials are reaching out to all recipients subject to the new requirements, alerting them of the change and getting as many as possible into local employment and training programs. Through those programs, affected adults can keep their CalFresh benefits.

Santa Clara County got a head start. Though it lost its waiver in late 2018, the Social Services Agency used banked exemptions to avoid having to cut anyone off food stamps. In the meantime, the agency has enrolled hundreds in employment programs. But the work ahead is still daunting: More than 600 residents could lose CalFresh this year if they don’t start working.

Deputy Director Angela Shing says she worries that the various federal proposals to cut food stamps are causing people to lose faith in her agency.

“I want people to make sure that if they’re in need that they’re coming to the agency and that we are here to serve,” said Shing. “And I fear that many of these new rules and changes that are coming out are negatively impacting our ability to do that.”

What else could the state do?

State lawmakers and advisors to the governor are exploring ways that the state could provide a bandaid if the rule survives the courtroom.

For the first few months, the state plans to shield people from the new requirements using a backlog of month-long exemptions to the work requirement that the state has been banking. Under the new rule, those exemptions will disappear in the fall.

One solution is to use state funds to provide food stamps. That’s the idea behind a bill introduced last year by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland.

That could be pricey. The state estimates it could lose as much as $400 million in federal funding for CalFresh if all three of the proposed food stamp rules go into effect.

“The state is not in a position to backfill directly the federal contributions by writing a $400 million check,” Governor Gavin Newsom said last week. But, he added, his administration is looking at ways “to significantly minimize” that cost. He said he had put $20 million for food banks in his proposed budget as a “placeholder.”

What’s next?

All eyes will be on the courts. What are the odds that the states’ lawsuit pauses the food stamp cuts? Hard to say, but it’s been done before.

In October, the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule was halted just days before it would have gone into effect, after California and other states sued on similar grounds. That rule, which is still winding its way through the courts, would make it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards if they use, or are deemed likely to use, public assistance.

 Jackie Botts is a reporter at CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Thinly sliced: Federal judge rules California foie gras ban will stand

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

Hot water. Imagine you’re a prehistoric human trying to meal prep some mammoth bone broth—how would you boil water, sans pottery? It’s a riddle that scientists are trying to solve, and one that points to a stubborn gap (one of many) in our understanding of human evolution. One anthropology class in Britain ventured out into the field in search of possible answers. Some students tried to heat water in deer hides, others used hot rocks to get it piping, The Atlantic reports. That’s 🔥.

Why stop now? For 17 years, farmers, chefs, and fancy food distributors have been trying to overturn California’s ban on foie gras. And how’s that been going? Yesterday, a federal judge shut down the latest challenge, saying that the state’s prohibition, which went back into effect last year after a legally-induced hiatus, is totally constitutional. The plaintiffs—a motley crew that includes one of America’s last foie gras farms, a Quebecoise association of duck and goose breeders, and Californian purveyors of foie gras burgers and goose down jackets—are likely to ask the judge to make exceptions for foie sales made out of state. (They have three weeks to make their case.) The bottom line here is that, between bans in the Golden State and New York City, a way of life is on the line, and the businesses in the crosshairs are deep-pocketed enough to fight for it.

Smells moldy. Farmers in Florida have enlisted new helpers in the fight against the citrus greening disease that has shuttered nearly 5,000 groves: Dogs. USDA researchers have found that dogs are 99 percent accurate in sniffing out the bacterium that causes the disease, The Washington Post reports. Growers are hiring canine teams to identify infected trees so that they can remove the sick ones and prevent the disease from spreading further.

Mixed msgs. Merriam-Webster is reconsidering its entry for “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” after a social media campaign funded by Japanese flavor giant Ajinomoto and featuring celebrity chef Eddie Huang took off this week. For decades, some eaters have blamed Chinese restaurants’ liberal use of MSG—a naturally occurring amino acid—for a host of physical and mental agonies. Since the 1990s, however, emerging research on the ingredient’s harmlessness has pushed back on the unfounded stigma. Apparently, dictionaries take longer to update than the culture. The Associated Press has the details in this clumsily titled story.

Booze-free and bougie. For the month of Dry January, bartenders are having a mocktail moment. The push for alcohol-free drinks, which is generally in vogue right now, also aims to keep bar seats filled during the slowest drinking month of the year. Please allow us to present, without comment, this excerpt from Bloomberg’s article on the matter: “They use such ingredients as leatherwood honey, Mt. Olympus tea, Champagne acid, and comice pear. For a drink described as a ‘bougie Snapple,’ they mix clarified peaches, clarified lime, barley syrup, and umeboshi, or salted Japanese plums.”  

U.S. agriculture employs nearly 3 million honeybee colonies every year. What do those pollinators cost our ecosystems?

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Native Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, occupies a metal garage surrounded, on a recent “Queen Quest” afternoon, by November-brown fields. Inside, old wildlife books, antique taxidermy, and stereo microscopes are framed by a ribcage of stacked pizza boxes holding tens of thousands of pinned Hymenoptera specimens. They represent 20 years’ worth of work by wildlife biologist Sam Droege.

Droege runs both the Quest and the lab, the founding mission of which is at once specific and amorphous: “To develop survey programs for native bees”—like the Bombus, or bumblebee, queens he’ll be seeking this day—“so we could talk about whether they’re declining or not,” Droege said. Basically, we know bees are out there, some 4,000 species native to the U.S. alone. But we understand so very little about them and the ways they work within the ecosystems they inhabit. Droege’s lab exists to try to correct that.

Droege delivered scant instructions to a group of Questers armed with spades. These were best guesses about where in the ground to look for holes that Bombus queens dig to overwinter in: “Where the dirt’s loose, and there’s evidence they like to be in the shade,” maybe facing north, Droege said. He led the hunters out to a windbreak of hemlocks. Everyone dug fruitlessly between tree roots for a while. Then they moved over to some abandoned sheds that once housed a government breeding program for endangered whooping cranes. Dilapidated and overgrown with pokeweed, the sheds contained—no real surprise—no bumblebee queens. No Bombus fervidus looking like a lemony pompom. No Bombus impatiens with her velvet-black abdomen. An hour’s worth of toil ended where it began: with a persistence of not-knowing.

Droege digging for QueensLela Nargi

The plight of honeybees succumbing en masse to disease, mites, and the case-of-the-missing-pollinators known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has received heavy media coverage since 2006. And much has been made of the critical necessity of honeybees to our global food supply. But if you eat fruits and vegetables that you didn’t raise in your own little garden, chances are high that you’ve eaten something—greenhouse tomatoes or strawberries, orchard-grown apples or cherries, blueberries from Florida fields—that was pollinated by other kinds of commercially managed bees. These bees are raised in labs or collected from fields by “bee ranchers.” They report for farm duty in cardboard “hives” or in some cases still snoozing in their own cocoons, ready—or almost ready—to buzz off to work.

Agriculture in the U.S. employs almost 3 million honeybee colonies every year, largely for California’s $5.6-billion almond crop. But it’s begun relying ever more heavily on managed native bees—honeybees are transplants from Europe and elsewhere—as renting honeybee services becomes more expensive, as more crop production moves indoors, as we learn more about the ways pollination from multiple kinds of bees can lead to better yields. At issue, though, is the potential for these other species of managed bees to spread disease to wild bees, and the devastating impacts that might be having on our ecosystems.

hunters dig for Bombus queensLela Nargi

“Queen Quest” hunters dig for Bombus queens beneath hemlock trees

Eleven miles southwest of Droege’s Queen Quest, at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Honey Bee Lab, researchers reported that in 2018 and 2019, commercial honeybee colonies experienced their worst winter die-off, with a 38 percent loss. It’s just the sort of bad news that continues to fuel hopes for crop pollination salvation on managed non-honeybee species. But a not-knowing about where the balance lies between negative consequences for wild bees, and positive outcomes for farming, looms over the whole enterprise.

A brief history of managed bees

Using non-honeybee species in agriculture began after World War II, with (non-native) leafcutting bees. It was kind of an accident. Farmers raising alfalfa seed for livestock forage noticed that fields visited by these sleek, striped, solitary fliers had vastly higher yields than those pollinated by honeybees.

“The recognition that certain [bees] were better than others for certain crops led to the creation of the [USDA-ARS’s] Logan bee lab, where I used to work, bio-prospecting for pollinators,” says Jamie Strange, now chair of Ohio State University’s entomology department. The lab has raised Alfalfa leaf cutting bees. And also blue orchard bees—BOBs. These gentle insects, iridescent turquoise with blonde stubble, are useful in orchards because they fly in cold weather, when the trees flower. They also pollinate well in tandem with honeybees. “When you have a diversity of pollinators, you have better pollination,” says University of Florida entomologist Rachel Mallinger.

In 2007, Colony Collapse Disorder caused the price of honeybees for almond pollination to “shoot up,” says Steve Peterson. He raises BOBs at his Foothill Bee Ranch at the base of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. “That made it pretty clear that we needed to have alternatives.” Paige Embry, in her 2018 book Our Native Bees, highlights the fear that colony collapse stoked in the ag community, with one biologist asserting, “We are one poor weather event or… bee loss away from a pollinator disaster.”

“There was a big disease outbreak, then people started to notice certain species of wild bumblebee declining.”

Meanwhile, various researchers had succeeded in breeding some species of bumblebee. In the 1990s, Bombus occidentalis, the western bumblebee, made its way across the country to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes—a crop and growing situation honeybees deplore. But it didn’t remain tidily inside the greenhouses where it toiled. It meandered out to surrounding fields and forests and unwittingly wreaked havoc. On the West Coast, “There was a big disease outbreak, then people started to notice certain species of [wild] bumblebee declining,” says Strange. One was Franklin’s bumblebee. It hasn’t been seen since 2006 and is feared extinct. Despite only circumstantial evidence that Bombus occidentalis was culpable, Strange calls Franklin’s the number one casualty of commercial bumblebees and its disappearance, a “classic ecological catastrophe story.”

Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumblebee, was cleared for use next, and remains the primary greenhouse pollinator in North America.

BOBs & Bumbles

According to Droege, “We’ve done a crappy job” of learning much of anything about Franklin’s and the 4,000-plus bees that are native to the U.S. We do know that most are solitary, living out their one year on Earth (most of it in hibernation-like diapause) alone. A lot of them nest underground, taking over animal burrows or tunneling in dirt. They often forage in just one or a handful of plants. The few we’ve domesticated are either social—bumble queens raise colonies of up to a few hundred offspring that fly for a single season. Or they’re aboveground nesters. Bee wranglers exploit these traits for commercialization.

Peterson, for example, puts out wood laminate boards that contain holes for wild BOBs to lay eggs in. He collects their nests. In fall, after the now-larval-stage bees have spun cocoons, he transfers these to a cooler until just before peak flower time. Then he distributes them to growers, who incubate them at room temperature before placing them in their fields. Two companies—Biobest (which did not respond to interview requests) and Koppert—breed bumbles in North America by imitating the bees’ natural cycle in heavily controlled rearing facilities; boxes containing about 50 workers are then sent to growers.

Collecting nets and bee fridgeLela Nargi

Collecting nets and a fridge full of bees waiting for processing

Here’s the problem: Different as managed bees, including honeybees, are from each other, they’re alike in that they outcompete wild bees for pollen and nectar. Diseases are also an issue. BOB larvae are susceptible to things like chalkbrood fungus; lab bumbles fed on honeybee pollen can contract an intestinal parasite called Crithidia bombi; honeybees are plagued with multiple fungi and viruses. As the cautionary Franklin’s story foretold, these bees can go on to infect wild bees.

Have lessons been learned—and implemented—since the early, pathogen-laden days of Bombus rearing? Peterson subjects his BOB boards to rigorous cleaning to ward off disease and only sells bees locally, to keep from genetically mixing species, which can cause mismatches between bee hatching and flower blooming times. It’s impossible to know if other bee managers are equally conscientious.

Lab-reared bumbles can contract viruses from honeybee-collected pollen that’s brought in to feed them. Companies might gamma irradiate pollen to sterilize it. Belgium-based Koppert, which raises American-market bumbles in Michigan, asserts in a press release that it uses a “pure culture isolation” technique to eliminate pathogens, and undergoes disease audits from staff, government inspectors, and university-affiliated entomologists. But “the jury is out” as to whether U.S.-raised bumbles are disease-free, says Strange, while owning that companies have “incentives to raise healthy bees.”

honeybee samples in the labLela Nargi

Samples of honeybees awaiting processing and disease ID at the University of Maryland’s Honey Bee Lab

Researchers are currently trying to breed western bumble species to replace Bombus impatiens, which is used, widely, outside its range; only Oregon prohibits its importation. Some argue that regulations need to be more stringent: “Beyond Oregon, regulatory oversight is not really there and legislative action has never been taken to fix any of this,” Strange says. Meanwhile, in Chile, Argentina, Japan, New Zealand, which have followed U.S. Bombus mistakes, collapse of native species is underway.

The status of wild bees

A recent article in the International Journal for Parasitology calls for, among other improvements to the system, encouraging growers to plant wildflower strips and cut down on mowing. This would ostensibly attract more wild bees and help reduce agricultural reliance on managed bees.

“If we can provide more healthy, uncontaminated habitat to augment native bees, that would go a long way to help pollination services.”

New research supports this latter recommendation, which maintains that crop pollination has barely suffered with honeybee collapses. The reason? Wild bees have filled the gap. “Every time we look, native species pollination is higher than we think,” says Tara Cornelisse, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Program. “If we can provide more healthy, uncontaminated habitat to augment native bees, that would go a long way to help pollination services,” she says.

There’s a catch. Mallinger points out that the usefulness of native bees depends on what crop you’re growing and where. A small orchard or crop farm in New York “may support diverse pollinator communities. I could see the argument for reducing reliance on domesticated bees there,” she says. (The other catch: yield-reliant farmers are trepidatious about dropping managed bees altogether.) But Mallinger works with Florida blueberries—a monoculture like California’s almonds—which bloom before native bees are out, in landscapes that have been depauperated of diversity. Wild bees aren’t an option here, or in greenhouses.

“There are reasons to commercialize [native bees] in the intensive-agricultural world we’re moving toward, to have some alternatives” to honeybees, says Strange. But “Where do we draw line as to what’s the right amount? That’s a broad philosophical question. The evidence is that we won’t wipe everything out, but also that we will wipe some things out. It’s happened in past; not to expect it in the future would be foolish.”

As UMD’s Honey Bee Lab awaits data collection this coming April that will show how honeybees fared in 2019 and into 2020, widespread not-knowing about native bees continues. “On the positive side, probably everything is still out there somewhere,” Droege says. “On the negative side, we still know so little. If anyone tells you they know the status of native bees, they don’t.”

USDA scientists are rethinking calorie counts. Good news: They’re lower than we thought

Last Monday, a group of 18 volunteers on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., began the second phase of a multi-week feeding experiment that will govern every morsel of food going into their bodies and analyze almost everything that comes out. The study, led by Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists, is part of an ongoing effort to re-evaluate the number of calories eaters derive from popular foods. This particular experiment is focused on how the human body digests lentils and chickpeas, but it builds on prior ones conducted on almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews. Taken together, the various studies make up a growing area of research that’s making calorie estimates more accurate regarding how our bodies interact with food.

That’s right: The calorie count—a common measure used to estimate nutritional needs, as well as shame many of our dietary choices—might not be as accurate as we’ve been led to believe. The origin of the calorie as we know it dates back to the late 19th century, when a chemist named Wilbur Atwater popularized a method of energy calculation that assigned a fixed number of calories to every gram of protein, carbohydrate, and fat in a given food. These numbers—“Atwater factors,” as they’re known—were derived from a series of ethically questionable experiments that his team conducted. In them, Atwater and other scientists sequestered people in air-tight chambers for extended periods of time to calculate their metabolic rates based on diet and different physical activities. Today, Atwater factors are the basis of how most manufacturers calculate calories in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food labeling regulations.

A lot of energy from whole nuts ends up passing through our digestive systems unused.

However, it turns out that some foods are more difficult for our bodies to digest than Atwater predicted. In particular, researchers have found that nuts have lower “bioavailability”—a term that refers to the proportion of a food’s nutrients that our bodies can absorb and use—compared to other foods, because of their tough, crunchy structure. That hardness is due to their rigid cell walls, which contain a lot of fiber.

“The thing about fiber is: Mammals can’t digest it. But until we disrupt that plant cell wall, we can’t get what’s inside the plant cells. That’s where the protein, the fat, the carbohydrates are located,” says David Baer, a supervisory research physiologist at USDA involved with the ongoing research on calorie recalculations.

And because nuts contain so much fat—about 9 calories per gram per Atwater factors—a lot of energy from whole nuts ends up passing through our digestive systems unused, Baer explains. 

In 2012, a team of USDA scientists including Baer found that eaters absorb 5 percent fewer calories from eating pistachios than indicated by conventional estimates. These findings came from an experiment funded by USDA and Paramount Farms, a nut company owned by California’s notorious billionaire farmer, Stewart Resnick. In the study, scientists controlled every meal eaten by participants over 18 days, and collected and analyzed every ounce of their feces and urine for nine. The results were derived from measuring the caloric content of the feces.

Researchers at the California Walnut Commission found that eaters could access just 80 percent of the calories in walnuts.

The first-of-its-kind study sparked interest in the nut industry, which rushed to fund more research. Later that year, the same team published results from an experiment on almond consumption, finding that Atwater factors overestimated the caloric value that eaters could digest by 32 percent. That work was funded by USDA and the Almond Board of California. In a 2015 study funded by USDA and the California Walnut Commission, researchers found that eaters could access just 80 percent of the calories in walnuts. Last January, they determined that cashews fared only slightly better—eaters could digest 84 percent of their caloric worth. The study was funded by USDA and the Global Cashew Council arm of the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.

The methodology for all these experiments, including the ongoing research on lentils and chickpeas, is fairly similar: At first, participants are fed a strictly monitored diet without the ingredient under investigation. This is the control phase that gives their bodies a chance to acclimate to set menus, and they’re not supposed to eat outside the experiment. During the subsequent phase, participants eat the same meals slightly adjusted to accommodate for the introduction of nuts (or chickpeas or lentils) into their diets. On the first and last day of this stretch, scientists give participants a pill to dye their poop blue, marking the beginning and end of the corresponding feces collection period. But not just any old blue—Brilliant Blue. (“It’s actually more green in the feces than blue,” Baer notes.) Typically, about a week’s worth of feces is amassed, and then it gets analyzed for unused fat and energy content. Ta-da!

These findings are specific to whole nuts. Processed products like cashew butter and almond milk will likely interact with our digestive system differently, Baer says. Still, experts argue that the discrepancy between caloric content in whole nuts and what people really absorb from them is worth noting and will likely have practical consequences for eaters.

“There’s a persistent promise of the calorie—this idea that we can take food, which is complicated, and reduce it to something.”

“That’s useful information to have and important to indicate on food labels,” says Bradley Bolling, an assistant professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn’t involved in USDA’s nut research. “Nuts kind of have a stigma of being too high in calories, that maybe they should be consumed in very limited quantities because of that reason. ….[But] when you account for when there’s a proper counting of calories, they’re not necessarily leading to increased weight gain.”

Now that sounds like music to the nut industry’s ears. The Almond Board of California has eagerly marketed the findings they funded, as has the Global Cashew Council. This week, popular nut bar company Kind announced it would be updating calorie counts in the upcoming months, a move that its in-house dietician Stephanie Csaszar estimates will affect 95 percent of their products. FDA allows manufacturers to calculate calorie counts based on research regarding particular foods.

Kind calorie campaignKind

The FDA allows manufacturers to calculate calorie counts based on research regarding particular foods

USDA researcher David Baer tells me the issue of caloric bioavailability is fairly unique to nuts, but could also apply to a number of other foods, particularly seeds. The ongoing lentil and chickpea study—partially funded by the American Pulse Association—is one instance where the team has begun experimenting on non-nut foods. Baer hypothesizes that the team will find a gap between the calories that pulses contain and what eaters can actually digest, though perhaps not to the extent of nuts. Those results will likely be published at the end of 2020.

This research push isn’t the first time the scientific community has tried to correct inaccurate calorie measurements. Numerous studies have found that energy and nutrient estimates on product labels have been, at instances, overstated. But maybe miscalculation isn’t the real issue; maybe our faith in the calorie is.

“[There’s a] persistent promise of the calorie—this idea that we can take food, which is complicated, and reduce it to something where we can just say, ‘This is how much you can eat and everyone should just act rationally,’” says Deborah Levine, an associate professor of health policy at Providence College, who has written extensively about the history of the calorie in American food policy.

Calories continue to play a central role in federal dietary guidelines and are often an important parameter in nutrition programs everywhere.

The idea that calorie counts can guide people towards “better” eating choices has long been tempting. It’s the thinking behind everything from our web of food and menu labeling laws to America’s pervasive, ever-mutating diet culture. Atwater, Levine tells me, even went so far as to argue that employers could be justified in lowering wages if workers maximized calorie intake per dollar.

Today, calories continue to play a central role in federal dietary guidelines, and are often an important parameter in nutrition programs everywhere, from schools to prisons to nursing homes. For individuals, it’s often a key measure we consider when grocery shopping, we monitor when dining out, and we track on our apps. Perhaps the takeaway from the emerging body of caloric research isn’t just that some foods are lower in energy than we think, but that these measures can guide our choices only so far.

“My hunch is that it’s not because we don’t have accurate enough measurements, and it’s not because we don’t have sufficient education,” Levine says. “It’s because food is more than simple fuel.”

Thinly sliced: Instacart workers call for a national boycott

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

You think it’s easy, but you’re wrong. Instacart, the grocery delivery service, makes home cooking simpler for stressed-out urbanites. It also seems to make life hell for couriers and shoppers. The company turns tips into wages. Its app beckons shoppers with loud, ceaseless pinging. All told, it exemplifies “algorithmic despotism.” And now, it seems, those workers have had enough: They’re asking customers to #DeleteInstacart and boycott the app, in order to restore a 10-percent default tip, Vice reports. January 20 is the big boycott day.

What happens in Vegas … stays in Vegas. Unless you’re convicted of selling $140 million worth of fake organic grains, in which case the $250,000 you spent on “Las Vegas-related expenses” may become part of the public record. Such was the case with Randy Constant, the perpetrator of the largest case of organic fraud in United States history. This week, the Kansas City Star has new details on Constant’s double life, which included international travel and a boob job for a mistress. Constant died by suicide at age 60, soon after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Chips ahoy. Crisps (or potato chips, as we Yanks call them) have been mass-produced for well over 100 years, but it was really only after World War II that added flavors—everything from salt & vinegar to katsu curry—began to overrun the market segment. Turns out the advent of a machine called the gas chromatograph allowed food scientists to isolate seasoning notes and reimagine complex combinations, changing snack flavors forever—and culminating in some truly gnarly permutations in the “experimental” ‘80s. But these days, there have been fewer far-out flavors (save for some limited-edition and seasonal delicacies), as well as a greater emphasis on chips as more than just a meal accompaniment. New Food Economy contributor (and James Beard award-winner!) Nadia Berenstein unfurls much of the sordid history therein: “It’s a new understanding of consumer desires and a new pace of production. It’s a bloodbath out there in the supermarkets.” The Guardian has more.

Skimming the research. You should know that the New Food Economy newsroom has strong feelings about the comparative quality of skim, low-fat, and whole dairy milks. Thus, when this Modern Farmer story came out, on whole milk correlating with lower obesity rates, it sparked some vigorous dialogue! It should be mentioned, however, that the study has limitations, and more research is warranted. The post rightly concludes with: “It may not be the case that whole milk is better for kids than skim—but we also can’t conclusively say that it’s worse.” (Ed. note: Two percent milk is excellent.)

A classy affair. When an in-unit washer-dryer isn’t enough: More and more luxury apartment buildings in New York City are using exclusive dining rooms helmed by esteemed chefs to lure in potential residents. Eater reports that these “rarefied” settings—along with other private dining clubs where access requires tens of thousands of dollars in fees—are far more than places to grab a bite, their members and founders say. They’re also where the wealthy and powerful can rub shoulders with others of the same ilk. (Or in the case of condominiums, an amenity that could also mitigate notoriously high vacancy rates.) One restaurateur believes the trend may also mark a revival of dining as a “community-centric” affair and an end to #FoodPorn culture. Maybe. For now, we’ll stick with our bodegas and delis, where the meat is sliced with guillotines.