2012: A year of food in review By M.E. Malone

Every year is an exciting year for people who are into food and nutrition, right? Well, 2012 was no exception.

We saw the rise of “upscale” Ramen (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and the gentrification of humble little fishes like sardines, anchovies and smelts. Omega-3 supplements took a hit, as did energy drinks and a grass roots effort to require labels on genetically modified foods. More than 1.1 million of us watched a video, “We Are Hungry,” depicting school kids who want more cafeteria food on their plates at lunchtime.

Source: Wal-Mart

Source: Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart, the nation’s biggest food retailer, unveiled its own front-of-package labeling system ahead of a uniform labeling protocol under consideration by the federal government. America’s love of high-priced caffeination went international at a faster pace than ever: Starbucks, now with more stores in the U.S. than any other fast food chain except McDonald’s, opened its 100th store in Beijing in 2012.

“Celebrity nutritionist” J.J. Virgin’s newest book, “The Virgin Diet,” singled out seven foods that sabotage weight loss efforts because they cause bloating, inflammation, and headaches: gluten, soy, sweeteners (including sugar and artificial substitutes), dairy, eggs, peanuts, and corn. Eliminate them and you can, she says, lose seven pounds in seven days.

Source: ABC News

Source: ABC News

Michelle Obama published a book of her own, “American Grown:The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” which is ranked #39 on Amazon.com for books on “nutrition.” America’s obesity epidemic probably won’t be solved between the rows of peas and tomatoes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but many hope the commander-in-chief who resides there may create more opportunities in the next four years to attack obesity than he has in the last four.

Speaking of obesity, the Robert Woods Johnson foundation reported what may be the first signs of a decline in childhood obesity with improvement in rates in Philadelphia, New York City, Mississippi, and California. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, unless we make some big changes fast, half of all Americans will be obese by 2030. Using state-by-state data from the Centers for Disease Control, the foundation and the Trust for America’s Health predicted in a September report that every state will have an obesity rate of 44 percent and 13 states will have rates of 60 percent or more by 2030. “This is a tale of two futures,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “We’re at a turning point where if we don’t do something now to mitigate these trends, the cost in human health and healthcare spending will be enormous.”

One of the worst droughts in 50 years affected agriculture and food prices in the U.S. The Farm Bill spent much of the year languishing in a joint House-Senate committee. It seems when President Lyndon Johnson tried to build support for both farming interests in the heartland and food benefits for the poorest Americans, he didn’t quite count on the current level of discord and gridlock in the nation’s capital.

Eggplant tiramisu from Dirt Candy restaurantSource: New York Times

Eggplant tiramisu from Dirt Candy restaurant
Source: New York Times

It’s not yet clear if calling vegetables “dirt candy” will elevate their status in America’s meals. Amanda Cohen, who owns the East Village (NYC) restaurant, Dirt Candy, published a comic-book cookbook by the same name this year. Her definition of pickling: “It’s not magic. It’s rupturing the cell walls of vegetables by drawing out their water, then preserving them in acid, vinegar, dry salt or brine.” Haven’t tried the broccoli ice cream yet, but that’s what winter break is for.

So what’s ahead for 2013? A survey of 200 registered dieticians predict that consumers will demand more natural foods with few ingredients, rather than focus on low-fat or low-carb foods. Collectively, the RDs also think that smart phone apps and social media are the go-to sources for nutrition advice (along with dieticians, of course) and that MyPlate, which debuted a year ago, will become the teaching tool of choice for those in the field.

Source: KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn

Source: KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn

The specialty popcorn market – both sweet and savory – has been gathering momentum and shows no sign of slowing. Ginger sesame caramel, watermelon, Oreo, dill pickle, white cheddar pretzel, truffle fromage porcini and eggnog brandy popcorn are just a handful of the popcorn offerings. (No, I didn’t make any of those up.) Consider these a light, late-night snack at your own peril.

A 15-month experiment to create incentives for  recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as foods stamps) to purchase more fruits and vegetables – including a test site in Massachusetts – comes to a close in 2013. Research into the role that gut microbes play in obesity and health, continues to be a hot research topic. The 2008 Lancet series on undernutrition will be updated in 2013, with four new papers that focus on creating sustainable practices for improved nutrition worldwide, while acknowledging the role of obesity in developing nations.

Expect more focus on food waste, as well as foods associated with stress reduction. There will be more food trucks, locally sourced produce on restaurant menus, continued debate on school lunch food, assaults on sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages, high-tech water filling stations, wines from the Netherlands, recipe demonstrations on YouTube and an even wider variety of ethnic entrees in the frozen food aisle.

Trends for 2013 we might like to skip? According to Phil Lempert, self-appointed supermarket guru, morning snacks are a growth area for the supermarket industry. Don’t we eat enough already?

M.E. Malone is a first year FPAN/MPH student. She doesn’t plan to eat dill pickle popcorn in 2013.

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