Brisket Boom

The cut of meat’s newfound popularity is driving up prices, reports the Wall Street Journal:

“Smoked brisket, a spice-rubbed hunk of slowly cooked meat traditionally eaten without sauce or cutlery, has always been treated with near-religious zeal by devotees in the Lone Star State.

“But the infatuation with Texas-style brisket is spreading across the country. Foodies are stampeding to restaurants in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, waiting in long lines to secure a few slices from a true practitioner of the smoking arts. Connoisseurs are embarking on barbecue-joint pilgrimages, ingesting pounds of meat a day and waxing eloquent about its perfectly rendered fat and crusty exterior.”

Hamfisted Approach?

The USDA is piloting a new inspection program to help hasten pork production, reports Lindsay Abrams. Inspectors are balking:

“The Government Accountability Project released affidavits Friday from three USDA inspectors working in plants running the pilot program, known as HIMP, as well as from a fourth, Joe Ferguson, who retired last year after 23 years with the agency. All voice concerns about the public health implications of increasing line speeds, which adhere closely to the criticisms from outside parties. The gist, in the words of one anonymous inspector: ‘There aren’t enough eyes on the line to monitor carcasses coming by at such high speed.'”

Ring the Alarm

Beyoncé has launched a vegan meal delivery service:

“The meals will be 100% plant based, organic, non-GMO, and soy, dairy, and gluten free. Prices will range $9.76 per meal to $16.50 each.

“Bey herself did a vegan challenge with hubby Jay Z in the winter of 2013, and she’s since made a conscious effort to adopt more plant based foods into her diet.

“‘All you have to do is try. If I can do it, anyone can,’ she said in a press release.”

Hidden from View

Michael Moss examines the welfare of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center:

“Little known outside the world of big agriculture, the center has one overarching mission: helping producers of beef, pork and lamb turn a higher profit as diets shift toward poultry, fish and produce.

“Since Congress founded it 50 years ago to consolidate the United States Department of Agriculture’s research on farm animals, the center has worked to make lamb chops bigger, pork loins less fatty, steaks easier to chew. It has fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.

“But an investigation by The New York Times shows that these endeavors have come at a steep cost to the center’s animals, which have been subjected to illness, pain and premature death, over many years.”

Living the Dream

While some children of immigrants are becoming doctors and lawyers, others are opting to start food businesses, reports Rachel Wharton:

“The increased desire to swap a cubicle for a food cart is driven by several reasons, says Ann Daw, president of the national Specialty Food Association, which has seen membership applications roughly double in the past five years. Not only is there a ‘relatively low cost of entry’ to the industry, she says, ‘Part of it is being a little bit in control of your own life’ as an entrepreneur, which Daw says is extra-enticing to younger generations.

“‘The appeal of food — the awareness, the entertainment — has never been higher,’ Daw adds.”

Hatching a Law

California’s Proposition 2, an animal welfare law, went into effect on January 1. Mark Bittman says it could be a game-changer for factory farms:

“The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.”

“It’s the Speed of the Chain”

Ted Genoways–the author of The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food–describes the state of the meat processing industry:

“The produce industry has always relied on seasonal, low-paid workers, but the undercutting of union labour in meat packing is a relatively new development. Ironically, at the very moment that enlightened eaters were growing obsessed by the idea of ‘slow food,’ the meat industry was becoming overwhelmingly staffed by recent immigrants – many without legal employment status – as a way of pushing production lines to go faster and faster.

“Undocumented workers, many from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, formed a perfect corporate workforce: thankful for their pay cheques, willing to endure harsh working conditions, unlikely to unionise or even complain. ‘They don’t ask for breaks. They don’t ask for raises,’ one worker at the Hormel plant in Fremont told me. ‘They just work harder and harder, because they need to work.'”

Choices, Choices

Conscientious food shoppers who want to affect change in our food system should find a campaign to support, say Allison Aubrey and Eliza Barclay:

“The biggest food companies in the world — think Nestle, PepsiCo, Mars, Smithfield, Cargill, General Mills, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg — are the major players in the food system. They control the supply chain from the raw materials to the packaging, and set the labor and environmental precedents of much of what we consume.

“There are now a wide range of campaigns aimed at pushing these global companies to respond more directly to consumers’ concerns about everything from antibiotics to greenhouse gas emissions to labor abuses.

“We’d argue that these campaigns — which have a growing number of victories under their belts — may have a bigger impact than your individual choices at the supermarket.”

Causing Churn

Japan’s butter shortage—the result of “climate change and an aging farming industry”—is upsetting locals, reports NPR:

“Some cake shops in Japan have switched to margarine and other shortenings, but cake lovers are still left longing for the taste of butter, Kurtenbach says.

“‘Traditionally the Japanese aren’t big consumers of dairy products apart from say, the elite,’ she says. ‘But when it comes to modern Japanese, they certainly eat a lot of Western food, they eat a lot of pastries and chocolates and cakes, and especially at Christmas time, not having enough butter on the shelves is kind of galling to many people.'”

All Figured Out

Sarah Nassauer describes how food companies categorize their customers:

“The [Passionate Kitchen Master] kitchen has brushed stainless steel and is stocked with food-lover items like Le Creuset pots and the Quintessential Quinoa Cookbook. About 17% of the population, falls into this category of people who love to cook, usually have the time to do so, and know how to make many dishes without a recipe, Ms. Freiman says.

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, Campbell reasons about 10% of the population, are ‘Uninvolved Quick Fixers,’ people who don’t enjoy cooking and would be happy to snack their way through the week if it weren’t for family obligations. Half eaten bags of chips, pretzels and other snacks fill one large corner of this cook’s kitchen at Campbell headquarters. For them ‘holiday hosting might be heating a side dish that was frozen,’ Ms. Freiman says.”