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.
Get them while they’re young. News from The Happiest Place on Earth: We have the Impossible Burger. Foodbeast reports that, as part of an annual food festival at Disney’s California Adventure theme park, the famous bleeding patty has been transformed into a “no meatball” sub. This one, however, is made with cheese and eggs, which means it’s not vegan, but is perhaps more palatable for a younger audience still developing their taste buds. It’s a strategy ripped from the McDonald’s playbook. Mom, can we have plant-based for dinner?
First aid. An Arizona jury, in a precedent-setting food safety case, returned a $6.5 million verdict in favor of a five-and-a-half-year-old child who suffered a brain injury in 2013 as a result of a Salmonella Heidelberg infection. As Meatingplace reported this week, the pathogen is believed to have originated in chicken produced by Foster Poultry Farms, a producer with headquarters in Washington and California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.2 million Americans are sickened by Salmonella every year, and as many as 450 people die. Food is responsible for 1 million of those illnesses. What makes this verdict a first is that it establishes that producers can be held responsible for Salmonella contamination in raw chicken, even though the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t consider the pathogen an adulterant and it can be killed by cooking the meat.
Growing pains. Wisconsin-based food education nonprofit Growing Power shuttered abruptly in November, shortly after it was revealed that the organization was in significant debt. Founded by MacArthur “genius” award recipient Will Allen, Growing Power was an early darling of the local food movement, bringing aquaculture techniques into schools and teaching Milwaukee students how to compost. Civil Eats on Tuesday delved into the rise and fall of the organization and looked at many of the factors that may have contributed to its downfall.
Whistling pig. We’ve already got non-browning mushrooms and DIY glowing homebrew thanks to gene editing technology. Why not cows without horns and pigs that never hit puberty? The MIT Technology Review reports biotech industry officials are lobbying the Trump administration to shift responsibility for regulating genetically modified animals from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The story is an excellent snapshot of the weird tangle of regulations that still haven’t been ironed out four decades into the biotech age.
Soda strife. The Bipartisan Policy Center this week unveiled a report that recommends banning soda from the SNAP (food stamps) program. Spoiler alert: Not likely to happen anytime soon. Even though nutrition advocates have been trying to ban junk food from the SNAP program since its inception in the 1930s, the politics behind making such a switch are just too fraught. (There’s a lot of money involved, too—sugary drink purchases account for nearly 10 percent of the $70 billion program.) Here’s our backgrounder from February 2017 on the strange alliances forged from the soda ban debate.
Cross the line. That’s not to say the SNAP program isn’t poised to undergo significant tweaks in the near future. Politico’s Morning Agriculture reports that a Republican-led proposal to raise work requirements for SNAP recipients up to age 65 won’t be supported by Democrats. Teaganne Finn of Bloomberg tweets that Republican Representative Mike Conaway, head of the agriculture committee, met with Democratic Representative Collin Peterson today to discuss.
The road to enlightenment. An Eater investigation released on Fridayalleges that New York City restaurant tsar Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group fumbled employee allegations of sexual misconduct and aggressive behavior on the part of at least seven male employees for years. Former and current staffers said their experiences working for Meyer’s restaurants undermined his “enlightened hospitality” and “employees first” taglines. According to their accounts, Meyer’s HR department wasn’t very enlightened at all in response to multiple complaints about the same people over the course of several years.
Gratuitous behavior. Meanwhile, The New York Times published a feature on the prevalence of sexual harassment from customers, too. The issue on the communal table? Front-of-house workers (mostly women) report endless instances of groping, stalking, and unwanted flirting by unscrupulous customers (mostly men), and describe the pressures to grin and bear those behaviors in order to earn the tips needed to survive. It’s a culture that can change only if the economics do, some argue. In all but seven states, restaurateurs have the choice to take a “tip credit,” which allows them to pay service workers a lower minimum wage so long as tips make up the difference. Now, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to make New York the tenth. A public comment period begins next month.
Tillerson, canned. By now, everyone’s seen that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired by tweet this morning (a historic first!). The day’s best headline was “EX-EXXON TEXAN EXEC REX NEXT EX-SEC.” (Okay, that wasn’t a real headline.) But the most evocative tribute we saw came from our friend Jesse Hirsch, who reposted a photo of Tillerson from a few months back, grocery shopping in a full suit. Appropriately, he’s in the canned goods aisle. RIP, Rex.