Food Resolutions for Thought

How’s that New Year’s Resolution going? Perhaps you vowed to drink less or hit the gym more? Maybe you promised to eat healthier food.

f3b8The Washington Post must have resolved to knock it out of the park with food-related columns and articles this year. For instance, food isn’t healthy, NOT EVEN KALE. Before you toss the device you’re reading this on away from you in disgust, check out the article. Or read my summary: foods hold different nutrients. It’s how we nourish ourselves with them makes us healthy. The whole of our diet matters more than kale or bacon alone.

Moving on, this WaPo column, The surprising truth about the food movement, details the chronic over-hyping of the Food Movement, the fruit of self-sufficient ideas planted by Back-to-the-Land hippies in the 1960s. Their ethos grew into the ideologies behind bestsellers, such as anything by Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and the evolution of New York Times columnist Mark Bittman from a foodie to the founder of vegan-ish-ism.

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The Food Movement’s message is loud clear: people want real food. Real food is nutritious, lacks pesticides, local and doesn’t hurt anyone in its production. It’s also nice to the animals you’re eating. Wild is better than farmed. Foraged is best. (Note: This last point may be a sentiment confined to Wisconsin thing.)

But, in general, Americans aren’t so clear about whether they want a food movement. The amount of processed foods purchases barely budged from 2002-2012.

What’s more: it’s a bit of nostalgic fantasy that Americans in general have the time and money to buy, prepare and eat all whole, local, sustainable foods while living modern lifestyles. Who has time to prepare 21 fresh meals each week? Who’s going to give up their guilty-pleasure Girl Scout cookies and Bagel Bites? Luckily for today’s Americans, it’s that whole-shebang diet, not just an heirloom tomato or a Twinkie, that makes up our diet.

So, the column continues, food manufacturers are producing the next best thing to Food Movement-friendly, whole foods: processed perishables produced with more natural ingredients that are closer to foods than, as Polan would say, food-like substances.

Nonetheless, people are thinking more about food, and it’s grown into a conversation that’s taking root in public policy. SNAP money is redeemable at farmers markets. More insurance companies (at least in the Madison, Wisconsin, area) are offering to pony up for part of your CSA (community-share agriculture, which is kind of like a ritzy subscription to a farm). As increasing numbers of consumers seek sustainability and food transparency, the big players in an industry starved for profits are listening more closely.

Campbell’s Soup Co. announced it’s in favor of GMO labeling on products, a food fight that’s been raging nationally for more than a decade. Kellogg’s has resolved to remove all artificial ingredients in its cereals by 2018. Food industry consultancy and thought leader Euromonitor named sustainability one of the top trends of 2016.

The WaPo column says these food formulation changes are a pittance in regards to the big picture. But I disagree.

Food tells a story about how we once lived. The United States was, at one time, a patchwork of farming communities. But we’ve been uprooted. The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census showed that those who count farming as their livelihoods is decreasing rapidly as farmers age.

Humans, being the hunters and eaters that we are, have been disconnected from our natural habitat. Our bodies weren’t designed for a leisure-rich technological age. But reconnecting to our food, even if it’s just through naturally colored Annie’s Homegrown White Cheddar Bunnies crackers, is important. It reminds us of where we came from. Because that means we’re thinking about it. We want to be healthier, like nearly every New Year’s resolutioner.

Change to a more nutritious food system won’t happen overnight. But moves toward more natural products, ingredients and production methods help us feel more connected to the land that sustains us, the land we’re all joint stewards of. And that keeps us thinking.

So maybe you haven’t completely followed through on your New Year’s Resolution. But you’re thinking about it, right? An extra trip to the gym and a few fewer drinks or donuts each week make a significant cumulative difference. Small changes incrementally result in a new norm, leading to large and long-lasting results.

Fat-Free to Fat Bomb: Amber waves of grain meet everything coconut

 

stop-the-insanityAmericans and food: we’re a fun pairing. Take a hodge-podge of cultures, unleash them on a virgin landmass, throw in a few major wars victories and you’re in for an interesting culinary ride.

My most recent food musing is how the pendulum has swung toward eating fat. For background, I recommend In Defense of Food by Michael Polan. Polan explains how American dietary habits were politicized through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Association. Essentially, what we consider rule-of-thumb healthy eating habits resulted from elites bargaining for daily food recommendations that benefited their states’ agricultural producers. National health and food trade associations also lobbied to represent their interests. Polan’s take-away is that the fat-phobia that manifested in the last quarter of the 20th century led to high levels of heart disease. This is because fat is actually healthy for your body, moreso than cheap grains, which have been sustaining societies since agrarianism became the norm, ca. 8,000-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Fast forward to 2015 and spin 180 degrees toward the Atkins Diet, which (still) hasn’t died out, and prevailing Paleo, Ketogenic and Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diets. American culture has a habit of moving from one end of a spectrum to the other every 20-25 years or so.

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Historically, dietary trends have shifted with populations and the available resources. In the past, when nutrient-deficient sugar was scarce and costly, Americans walked, biked and performed manual labor on a daily basis. At that point, people ate whatever they could get, which was undoubtedly in season. But these days, sugar is abundant, the food on store shelves has enviable travel experience no matter the time of the year, and we’re generally parked in front of screens during the bulk of our waking hours. Cue the low-energy diets, please!

No matter which lineage of LCHF diet one follows, fat, rather than carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and sucrose), is the your primary source of energy And not just animal fat, mind you. A major market has developed around the new superfood, coconut. Truly, calling coco a superfood in today’s environment is an understatement. The wondrous coconut, which, like quinoa, is technically a seed, is a source of products including: coconut water, oil, sugar, flour, butter, milk, “milk” and shredded coconut. Once a niche product found in the international food aisle, coconut product are now a money maker throught the perishable goods market, which has thin margins and requires constant innovation to increase sales and show profits.

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The world coconut market reached $71 million in 2014, showing a compound annual growth rate of 103% from just two years earlier, according to a recent report from IndexBox Marketing. Top coconut exporters are Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico, with the latter two countries boosting their market share in recent years. (Note: I did not create that image. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic.)

China is the leading importer of coconuts, accounting for 87% of the global market. Take note of your lables: many coconut products are produced in China, as well as their countries of origin, for example, the Philipinnes. The United States, along with Australia and Italy, each accounted for 2% of global coconut imports. The combined imports of these countries totaled 93% of the world market in 2014. The United States’ coconut imports rose 2 percentage points from the the previous year in the same timeframe.

If you’re a coconut oil user, I urge you to purchase the Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade variety. It’s a bit pricier, but the Fair Trade certification guarantees that the people producing the product are being paid a living wage and the company is investing in their community. You can pick it up at your local food co-op or Whole Foods.

You can also use it to make fat bombs, which are actually much more delicious than they sound. Eat your fat bombs with a side of social responsibility, I say! (Note: I was introduced to coconuts by my holistic chiropractor. She suggested them, so I consume them under doctor’s orders!) I’m experimenting with some fat bomb recipes I’ll share just in time for holiday merrymaking.

I can’t help but wonder where our culture will be dietarily in another 20 years and what the hot superfoods will be. Dare to venture a guess? Leave your ideas in the comment section below!

Here’s another use for coconuts and a few thoughts about their export…

Yum! Invasive Fish Species!

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

I want to eat all the invasive fish species. Not right now, of course. But over time.

Did you know many common fish like tilapia and smallmouth bass are actually invasive species? Probably not. Over time and generations, it’s been forgotten that these fish are not native. That takes the stigma out of eating them. After all, who wants to eat something considered “invasive”?

I do. Because invasive fish are wild caught, rather than farmed. Eating them is helping the environment along with providing nutrients. I want to try all of these fish fried, in ceviche, grilled, smoked, maybe some fusion methods of cooking I’m not yet privy to.

Technology is helping me, and all of the invasive fish lovers out there, get one step closer to that delicious, nutritious dream.

The New Yorker describes the case of the lionfish, an invasive species plaguing parts of the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States. USGS created an app that helps researchers and fisherman track lionfish. The app lets users document how fish many are in a given area and what methods are used to catch them.

For many fishermen, either professional or hobby, this app could turn fishing for invasive species into a high-precision endeavor. But first, in the name of sustainability, the market for invasive fish species must be established close to home.

Chicago’s WGN TV reported 15 million pounds of Asian Carp are caught annually by one seafood processor. But the market for Asian Carp, a name that refers to four types of fish invading U.S. waterways via the Mississippi River, is in China. It’s fantastic that there’s a market for these fish. But it seems excessive that they’re shipped halfway across the globe when the healthy appetites of Midwestern fish fries could polish off tons of them.

If companies like Sea to Table can partner with local sustainable fisherman to overnight their catch to restaurants around the U.S., certainly a Midwestern seafood processor can flash freeze Asian Carp and sell it throughout the region.

It may take a media campaign from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and it will definitely take the opening of many minds, but we owe it to our waterways and overall ecosystems to eat invasive species near the regions they’re invading. Not only does it save fossil fuels, but it raises awareness.

Current cultural food trends, like local food and foraging, as well as developing cheap food sources, feed right into eating invasive species locally. C’mon foodies and food advocates: give an invasive fish species a taste.

For more information on eating invasive species, check out conservation biologist Joe Roman’s website and call to action, eattheinvaders.org.

From Sea and Fishery to My Belly

LogoI choose my food very carefully. I’m not a foodie; I’m a food advocate. I advocate for food to be transparently produced with the highest ecological and animal welfare standards. I want to make the best choices for the planet and the animals on it. I’ve had the opportunity to research, write or live every aspect of the food production, manufacturing and distribution chain. An attitude of stewarship, from my experience, is best when paired with consideration to human physiology and cultural practices.

For years, I ate a vegan and vegetarian diet. After growing up on a cattle farm and eating an abundance of steaks, roasts and ground beef for the first 17 years of my life, I gradually exited the meat game when I moved away to college. I still remember finishing off that last packet of chicken-flavored ramen. PETA’s seminal shock-umentary “Meet Your Meat” and a growing knowledge of industrial CAFOs were enough to put me off of carnivorousness.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to kick my food-based activism up a notch in grad school. I went full vegan. Pollution from dairy farms and the oddity that humans are the only animal that drink milk beyond infancy, let alone the milk of another species, seemed counterintuitive. But my body reacted instantly. Since all of the information I’d seen on veganism indicated that it was the healthiest thing a human could do for their body, I attributed the onset of acne (which I’d never experienced at the age of 22) to stress from my first desk job, an internship. However, it was likely due to stress on my body from cutting out a source of nutrients that my ancestors had evolved to utilize.

About eight years later, I found myself constantly famished. In the meantime, I had relapsed into carnivorous territory for a few years in New York (after successfully maintaining a vegan diet for months in Costa Rica, which was no picnic). A move to Madison, Wis., later and this glutton for punishment went vegetarian and then vegan again. But when an herbalist suggested I cut soy out of my diet, I realized I had to start eating eggs or spend most of my time hungry and hunting for food. A month later, I stood bewildered in the dairy aisle, confounded by choices of eight different concentrations of milk. After the dairy experiment, I was still not in the best health and remained quite hungry, so I got on the pescatarian bandwagon. (Most restaurants in Madison have amazing fish frys on Friday evenings. That and the cheese curds encouraged some dietary shifts.)

As I integrated more healthful sources of animal protein into my diet, I felt it my responsibility to stick with the most local and organic options. I buy organic whole milk from Sassy Cow Creamery and organic, soy-free eggs from M&M Farms. (I recently made huevos ranchers with two types of eggs: M&M’s and a leading national organic brand. M&M’s yolks were much oranger and the shells were stronger too.) I willingly pay more for these products because, in a capitalist economy, every dollar is a vote. I vote for sustainability.

I feel priveleged because I realize the opportunity to vote with your food dollar is a luxury for many. I have access to these products and the money to spend on them. I make it a priority. College loans can wait: I need fresh food!

I’ve extended that effort to the seafood that I eat. I take the same attitude with fish as I did with meat. I eat it at restaurants, which makes it a bit trickier to get information on where the fish was sourced from. Some of the best fish frys are at local mom-and-pop joints with other priorities than sustainability. But there are plenty of local-food restaurants in town whose fish frys I’m destined to try. Seafood is new to me and it’s a learning process I enjoy.

As part of the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association, I’m committed to sharing the same information I look for when making choices about what I eat. I hope to enlighten and am always interested in questions and feedback. Thanks for joining us on this sustainable seafood journey! I’m sure it will encourage us to be more mindful of not just the food we eat, but the world in general.

Check out the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch App to help you make the most sustainable seafood purchasing decisions.

From Farm to Fromage: Cypress Grove Chevre

TurningoutTruffleTremorBy Holly Henschen, Editor

This story originally appeared in the July/August print edition of Food Manufacturing. 

Growth can be stressful for food manufacturers. Particularly for artisan producers with traditional processes that can be hundreds of years old. But Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, Calif., anxiously awaits its upcoming expansion. The footprint of the specialty goat cheesemaker’s facility will nearly double, thanks to an investment from its new owner. And the new space? It’s connected to their current building. It’s anomaly in the stressful acquisition trend, but Cypress Grove Chevre has absolutely nothing but praises for its parent company.

In the 1970s, Mary Keehn built the foundation of Cypress Grove Chevre with her own two hands. First, they were offering food to a semi-feral goat on her neighbor’s land in Humboldt County. The single mother simply wanted fresh milk for her four daughters. But she ended up a goat breeder with an oversupply of milk. A stint in regional cheese sales and a trip to Europe later, and Cypress Grove Chevre was born in 1983. The company’s signature cheese, Humboldt Fog, consists of two layers of chevre, each coated in vegetable ash per French custom. Named after a local daily weather occurrence, Humboldt Fog is one of 13 Cypress Grove Chevre cheeses and 13 SKUs distributed in 50 states and Southern Canada. Two aged cheeses, Goudas to be exact, are produced by the new parent company. One is made from goat’s milk and the other from sheep’s.

In 2010, after 27 years in the business, Keehn sold to Swiss cheesemaker Emmi. Now, Cypress Grove Chevre’s new creamery nears completion. The company also boasts a 32-acre, 550-goat dairy which supplies a portion of Cypress Grove Chevre’s primary ingredient.

The market for specialty cheeses like goat cheese has grown noticeably in the last decade. Total U.S. retail sales of natural and specialty cheeses were $15.7 billion in 2013, according to Packaged Facts. The new facility will help Cypress Grove up their supply in response.

“We have a plant that is currently operating over capacity and have an opportunity to meet market demand,” said David Estes, operations director at Cypress Grove Chevre. “Emmi has provided us with the capital and expertise to meet this demand and at the same time up our game in terms of food quality and safety with improved infrastructure and manufacturing systems.”

“[Emmi] very much treat[s] us as an autonomous brand and take[s] a hands-off approach to managing the business,” said Janne Rasmussen, marketing manager at Cypress Grove Chevre. No staff changes were made among the company’s 50 employees when it was bought.

The new addition will bump the facility’s footprint from 14,000 feet to 27,000. The Cypress Grove Chevre creamery, nestled in a residential area of the bohemian town Arcata, was built in 2004.

The property contains two barns that were once part of a cow dairy, the only source of milk in the area in the early 1900s. Cypress Grove Chevre restored the surrounding land and got permission from the city to build on the condition that the architecture stayed true to the agricultural setting of the parcel. Before 2004, Cypress Grove Chevre operated in nearby McKinleyville, where the dairy is now located.

The New Digs

From the beginning of the cheese-making process to the final steps, Cypress Grove Chevre’s new facility will allow for more precision in production and consistency.

“We did want to ease into the future. It’s a 10-year plant,” Estes said. “Moving in is going to be half of the challenge.”

The new plant has three main sections: a raw milk plant, fresh cheese production and aged cheese production. Multiple hygiene rooms separate areas that hold different types of cheeses to avoid cross-contamination from different cheese making spores associated with each type of cheese. The raw zone is completely separated from the rest of the plant and even has a separate entrance.

Humboldt Fog Growing MoldExpanded Capacity

The new facility will accept milk deliveries from conventional 6,000-gallon trucks, an upgrade from the current 3,000-gallon capacity. From the truck, milk will be pumped into the milk silo before pasteurization.  The HTST pasteurizer uses less water and energy and offers much more control than the currently used pasteurization method. Preparing goat milk for cheese production is a slow process compared to typical large-scale cheese manufacturing.  It takes more than 36 hours to go from pasteurized milk to fresh cheese that is ready to be packaged.  For soft ripened cheeses, the process takes an additional 17 days before packaging.  The new method and capacity will allow for a 250 percent output increase for both types of cheeses.

Cypress Grove Chevre’s dairy is experimenting with out-of-season breeding as goat milk is in limited supply. Goat cheese is a highly seasonal product. Though June is the peak of milk production,the cheese is most heavily consumed from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Food Safety

Food safety measures are embedded in the infrastructure of Cypress Grove Chevre. The process rooms in the new facility are essentially their own buildings within the exterior building and allow for stringent environmental controls. Utilities are housed in the attic space and routed directly down to the point of use so utilities materials within the production areas are minimized. Corner mount lighting fixtures minimize the potential for cross-contamination from ceiling condensation. A building management system carefully balances the pressure differentials rooms to minimize the potential of airborne contaminants to infiltrate the most sensitive process rooms. The entire plant is built for regular wash down, but will be operated as a “dry” plant during operation.

Quality Control

More precise temperature and humidity controls in production areas will avoid product loss, improve product consistency and extend cheese shelf life. The European-style curd press, which separates the whey from the curd, will allow for much more exact moisture levels in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. For the soft-ripened cheeses, a new drying room and ripening caves will allow for more controlled ripening environments and will translate into a more consistent finished product.

“We will be able to more precisely dial in every step of our cheesemaking process and will ultimately result in a better product to the final consumer,” Estes said. “With a little packaging innovation here and there, we may be able to extend shelf life.”

The fresh cheese has a shelf life of at least 12 weeks, while aged cheese has a shelf life of 6-8 weeks uncut.

Digital-Edition-250x311The Mission Remains the Same

Cypress Grove Chevre’s artisan practices will remain unchanged in its new facility. Soft, aged cheeses like Humboldt Fog, are turned, packaged and wrapped by hand. Some varieties are even hand-labeled. In fresh cheese production, herbs, like lavender, dill and chili threads, are hand-sprinkled for flavor, aesthetics and taste.

Estes is allotting a realistic amount of time for production trials before processing is fully converted to the new facility. After all, it takes time to get things just right in a new home. Mid-August is realistic for starting the transition, he said.

“It could be months before we’re fully dialed in and satisfied with our trials,” he said. “Quality is everything.”

With a new owner, Cypress Grove Chevre is getting ready for the future by investing in a new facility. As part of a new family in a stable specialty market, the cheesemaker is upping its game for the longer term with innovative technology in the food-safety savvy facility, securing even more longevity in the specialty cheese market.

Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association: Under the Sea and Onto Your Plate — Responsibly

Logo(July 14, 2014) Something’s fishy.

The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows annual world fishery production of 158 million tons, up an astonishing345% from fifty years earlier. Global per capita consumption of seafood has nearly doubled to 19 kilograms annually in the last 50 years, and by 2050, the population is expected to balloon to 9 billion. Despite the vital importance of seafood as a world food supply, there is relatively little conversationoutside the scientific, activist and conservation communities about how to replenish and maintain it. Everyone plays a role in the health of the oceans, and with more information, can contribute in ways that accumulate to make a sizeable difference.

Enter the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association (SSBA). Five independent bloggers from the worlds of food, science, culture and regulation have banded together, each creating weekly blog posts to bring seafood sustainability into ongoing conversations about food, corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Together, their social media channels reach roughly 50,000 subscribers, a substantial audience and robust network for the SSBA to begin its campaign.

  • Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts, an award-winning food and drink writer and a sake educator.
  • Holly Henschen of The Futurist Farmgirl is a long-time food journalist, nature-lover and former Midwestern farm dweller who’s written for publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Food Manufacturing.
  • Tom Siebertz of Chews-Worthy, formerly of the NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service, is a regulatory & food labeling specialist, as well as a student of food science, business and regulatory affairs.
  • Jason Simas of The Food Safety Blog is founder of Grant, Hamilton & Beck communications consultancy and directs social media communications for the food safety and sustainability life science company iPura Foods.
  • Kerrie Urban of Urban Foodie Finds co-founded Blog and Tweet Boston and writes on topics such as organic vs. natural foods and sustainability, as well as local farmers and small businesses.

The growing world population taxes water supplies, as well as the wildlife and food sources that inhabit them. Sustainable practices are vital to cultivating the seafood that remains and ensuring these creatures continue viable food sources for years to come. Look forward to cogent conversations from the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association that aim to integrate this imperative topic of choice into the growing movement toward responsible food.

Visit the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association members on their respective blogs and on Twitter at #SSBAFish.

Contact: Jason Simas

granthamiltonbeck@gmail.com

(805) 438-4268

Food is Going to Pot

Edibles, special brownies or adult cookies. Call the THC-infused foods now legally on the market in Colorado and Washington what you will. The regional legalization of recreational marijuana opens a door for niche food manufacturers, though some consumers are finding it hard to swallow.

ABC News said the products are flying off of the shelves to the point that retailers are imposing purchase limits. In fact, one edibles company is investing in a new 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and warehouse to meet demand. Like wine tours and cheese tastings, THC-infused edibles offer an intriguing new educational experience for foodies in locales where it’s legal. Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow medical cannabis use. Given the current tide of decriminalization and palliative legalization, the edibles market is buzzworthy indeed.

The Washington Post reports the push toward legalized and taxed marijuana has roots in states’ financial desperation. The paper publication also posits that forays into natural health cures and citizen skepticism about government regulation (and perhaps hilariously kitschy propaganda) are cultivating consumer interest in cannabis. Edibles offer an alternative for those who’d rather not smoke. Hemp, the male cannabis plant, is also gaining more acceptance as an extremely renewable source of fiber for cloth and paper.

But this is America, so naysayers killing the vibe are definitely in supply.

Recently, The New York Times ran a column penned by a mother whose 21-year-old son unknowingly ate a roommate’s THC-infused chocolate bar. The man ended up in the hospital, yet sustained no lasting injuries. But don’t blame the manufacturer. He ate a “4:20 Bar” wrapped in a very explicit label detailing its THC content and the recommended serving size. It’s unfortunate that he had a bad experience, but he’s an adult. And an allergic reaction to peanuts would cause more lasting harm.

Won’t someone think of the children?

Another New York Times article stated that “. . .  like flavored cigarettes or wine coolers, critics say, edible marijuana offers a dangerously easy on-ramp for younger users.” Yet Boone’s Farm and Mike’s Hard Lemonade are perfectly legal. That’s where adult supervision comes in. The article follows that, “Marijuana, even if consumed by children in high doses, poses few of the grave dangers of overdosing on alcohol or drinking household chemicals.” In environments with young children, it’s common sense to hide the edibles, just like responsibly stashing liquor and Draino out of their reach. Accordingly, manufacturers have a responsibility to label their products accordingly and to refrain from advertising that would attract children.

Foods containing THC shouldn’t be any more maligned than alcoholic beverages.

Countless booze-soaked foods are on the market. My dad likes to hand out Grand Marnier chocolates at Christmas. A local bar dispenses amazing vodka-soaked gummy bears. A former coworker bestowed Old Kentucky Bourbon Chocolates upon the office folk around Derby time. I’m sure we’ve all had a few too many Jell-O shots once or twice.  It’s a personal and parental responsibility to police what’s being munched on.

On a recent trip to Peru, I drank copious cups of coca tea to calm altitude sickness. Without coca candy, I couldn’t have made it through the four-day Inca Trail hike, including a 13,775-foot peak. Coca, the plant whose leaves are used to create the addictive drug cocaine, has been used harmlessly for centuries in high-altitude parts of Peru. Shops in the country sell candy and cookies infused with the leaf’s active ingredient. Sure, if you consume too much, you’re bound to have an unfavorable reaction. But that’s a personal choice. If a consumer has nausea, a headache or would rather not drink but still itches for some stress relief, edibles are an accessible answer where legally allowed.

Some edibles producers load more than average food manufacturing technology into their production processes. These aren’t your garden-variety Phish concert brownies.

Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, the previously mentioned expanding edibles manufacturer, extracts cannabis oil with CO2 and concentrates it. The company conducts lab tests on the extracts and products at three stages in the manufacturing process to ensure proper dosage. Getting legitimate processors involved in manufacturing this kind of food is much safer for consumers than the randomly produced varieties available at festivals probably near you. Technology in edibles production also opens a door for food manufacturing equipment makers who are willing to cater to the budding market.

Adding to the viability of edibles manufacturing is the Obama administration’s recently issued guidelines for banks working with legitimate marijuana enterprises. Meant to instill confidence in doing this previously illicit business, banks say the guidelines aren’t sufficient and the government seems to be blowing smoke. However, several similar small edicts add up to eventual major policy shifts.

It’s not a business model for everyone, particularly those outside of states that currently allow cannabis sales, but THC-infused edibles is a niche market with high profit potential.

Food Additives Go Au Natural

A quick Google search of “food additives” yields first-page results including the terms “avoid,” “scariest,” “evil” and “sketchy.” The court of public opinion has handed down a verdict that food manufacturers would be wise to heed. By popular demand, the natural additives are coming.

Shorter, simpler and therefore “cleaner” food labels are in high demand by health-conscious consumers. Manufacturers face a reformulation challenge: consistently adapt the product to the previous version’s flavor, color, mouthfeel and shelf stability. Some large food manufacturers are complying piecemeal with natural additive demand while attempting to maintain the quality of their products.

Kraft Foods is on a natural-additive tear. Last October, Kraft vowed to cut artificial dyes from three varieties of mac and cheese that come in kid-friendly pasta shapes. In February, the company pledged to remove artificial preservatives from its most popular varieties of Singles cheese slices by replacing sorbic acid with natamycin. This naturally occurring anti-fungal agent, produced by bacteria during fermentation, is commonly found in soil.  What’s so bad about sorbic acid? It’s just not “natural.”

“Natural” lacks legal definition, but has generally agreed-upon parameters. The FDA washes its hands of total authority, admitting that “[b]ecause of inherent limitations of science, FDA can never be absolutely [emphasis theirs] certain of the absence of any risk from the use of any substance.” Hence consumer demand for natural food additives.

What’s all of the food fuss about? I trace the current wave of the new American food consciousness to Michael Pollan. The author, in his 2008 New York Times Best Seller “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” postulated that it’s healthiest to abstain from eating foods and ingredients your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. Pollan refers to highly manufactured foods as “food-like substances.” Cue the rush to all things natural in order to promote health in an era riddled with obesity and chronic disease.

As international trade erases borders, consumers are increasingly turning to foods whose sources and ingredients are more transparent. People who spend their days inundated by technology are finding comfort in simple, classic foods and home cooking. But most food purists simply can’t spend all of their extra hours in a flour-dusted apron. The next-best alternative? Eat processed foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, preferably natural. That’s where manufacturers come in.

Consumers want transparency and choice. If they can afford it, they’ll avoid health risks. In the information age, consumer sentiment is forcing the government’s hand.

For instance, the FDA is currently investigating caramel coloring in soft drinks and other foods after Consumer Reports tested them for chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), an impurity formed at low levels in some caramel coloring during manufacturing. The FDA hasn’t established a maximum 4-Mel level, though Consumer Reports urged the agency to set one.

When it comes to additives, the FDA is charged with finding reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when used as suggested. Note that recently banned trans fats were considered innovative when Proctor & Gamble began selling “crystallized cottonseed oil,” branded as Crisco, in 1911. They were effectively banned mere months ago. Wary consumers might be ahead of their time.

Manufacturers’ investigations into more natural ingredients encourages a shift in the additive market. Packaged Facts has acknowledged slack and falling demand in several artificial food additive categories, and forecasts that R&D within the natural additives industry will lead to development of new natural additives and colorings. This transition to natural ingredients will be easier for large manufacturers whose economies of scale afford them more flexibility, but eventually small manufacturers are likely to go with the natural additive flow.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2014 print issue of Food Manufacturing.

Antibiotics and Pigs’ Blood: You Are What What You Eat Eats

Despite the title, I’m not blogging after too many drinks or while performing some satanic ritual. What I mean to say is: If you are what you eat, then you are also what your food gets its nourishment from. Two recent cases might quell your appetite.

Case One: Antibiotics in animal feed. The FDA announced last week that 25 pharmaceutical companies would voluntarily phase out antibiotics used in feed to promoting animal growth. The drugs were initially meant to eliminate illnesses in animals, as they are in humans. But in the in the 1970s, scientists noticed antibiotics made for bigger livestock. Heavier animals fetch higher prices at market, so antibiotics became a common animal-feed additive. Then, as exposure to those antibiotics worked through the food chain, humans started to show more tolerance to antibiotics used to treat illnesses. It seemed that pathogens in human bodies were reacting to the antibiotics introduced in animal bodies. The CDC called for a change in antibiotic practices last year, attributing 23,000 deaths annually toinfections resistant to antibiotics.

According to consumer group The Organic Center, “Statistics released by FDA show that animal production uses over 29 million pounds of antibiotics annually. If everyone chose just one organic product out of every 10 they purchased, we could eliminate over 2.5 million pounds of unnecessary antibiotic use each year. That could go a long way in reducing the development of antibiotic resistance.”

Yikes.

The FDA is taking heed and hopefully we’ll have those pathogens under control soon. In the meantime, some companies, like Chick-Fil-A, are switching to meat from antibiotic-free animals to appease the concerned public.

That’s a start on antibiotics, as The New York Times editorial board encourages, but jury is still out on this next issue.

Case Two: Porcine Blood.

The Wall Street Journal reports that porcine plasma, a powder made from pigs’ blood and mixed into animal feed, may be spreading the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus. It’s what’s for dinner! A reduced U.S. pork herd could lead to higher costs for manufacturers of pork foods like lunchmeat and, everyone’s favorite, bacon. Retailers and consumers are likely to feel a hog shortage in their wallet too. The spread of PED also makes U.S. pork exports less appealing to trading partners.

In the age of information, consumers can find out almost anything about their food. And they care about what what they eat eats. Consumers are also becoming more interested in how their food lived and even died. Animal rights groups are pushing for better treatment of hogs during gestation and chickens during slaughter.

Where do you stand on the use of antibiotics and animal rights in food production?

This blog was originally posted on FoodManufacturing.com on April 3, 2014.