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.
Counting calories. Restaurant menus just got data-driven. On Monday, new rules kicked in that require any chain with more than 20 locations to label the number of calories for each item on the menu. As NPR points out, people tend to eat less lunch when they can see what’s really in it. Are we all about to get a little more svelte? Not exactly—in this 2013 video from the New York Times, filmmaker Casey Neistat tested published calorie counts against food scientists’ independent verification. Restaurants including Starbucks and Chipotle underreported their calories in five tests out of six. All told, a five-item spread contained 549 calories more than its labels disclosed—a hidden Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
Meat money. 2017’s Republican tax bill, which cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, is adding up to big savings for big meat processors. According to an analysis by Meatingplace, the industry stands to receive a windfall of $500 million. Will the extra cash improve pay for workers? Nope—companies are more likely to reinvest those funds into marketing and acquisitions, the trade magazine predicts, fueling consolidation in an already heavily concentrated space.
Farmers only. The House version of the farm bill includes language that could roll back part of the Affordable Care Act, NPR reports. A current provision calls for $65 million in loans and grants that help establish “association health plans”—policies that would essentially allow farmers to enroll with farming-specific insurance companies. (Think Farm Bureau insurance.) NPR suggests plans would likely be cheaper, but also less comprehensive, than what’s currently offered by ACA. No word yet on what’s in the Senate companion.
We need to see some ID. Meanwhile, an obscure new rule in the House farm bill compromises SNAP users’ data privacy, Slate argues. The law would establish a national database of people who use food stamps—a “de facto National Data Center for the Poor,” say writers Danielle Citron and David A. Super. The proposed database is supposed to ensure that people don’t sign up for food stamps in more than one state. In reality, they argue, it would expose critical information about SNAP users to tens of thousands of federal, state, and local employees in a database vulnerable to hackers.
Hiring squeeze. In New York City, Pete Wells bemoans that tight budgets are forcing restaurants to cut back on pastry chefs and, thus, their dessert menus. The result is that, sometimes, as little as one dessert remains: the ice cream sundae. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, restaurateurs are shaving their menus due to a shortage of line cooks. As a result, the most consuming and complex items get chopped off the menu, the Los Angeles Times reports. Obstacle or opportunity to get creative? Or both?
Corny. President Trump has declined to cap renewable fuel credits, and agreed to find a way for states to sell ethanol-blend gas year-round, Reuters reports. This follows months of negotiations between corn-state Senators Charles Grassley and Jodi Ernst of Iowa, and oil-state Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Is this the first nice thing Trump’s done for farmers all year?
Pig pens, pinned. Back in January, Smithfield Foods triumphantly announced it had ended the practice of using gestation crates in its barns. The change in policy, first announced as a long-term goal in 2007, was universally applauded by animal rights advocates. But a new undercover investigation shows the company might not be telling the truth, Vox reports. Activist group Direct Action Everywhere photographed crated animals at Smithfield facilities and claims the company has broken its promise. Smithfield has contested the findings and launched a third-party investigation.
What the FIKA? In an unprovoked but controversial confession, the Swedish government acknowledges that what has become widely known as the Swedish meatball is actually a Turkish dish, The Guardian reports. Now, Turkey wants credit where credit is due—especially at IKEA locations. Considering that 2 million meatballs get sold in IKEA’s in-store restaurants daily, one could say the Swedes are a bit existentially rattled.