The Latest: July 21, 2017

Mysteries Edition: "Wild" blueberries, a disappearing caterer, and Trump's illegal (?) USDA pick
Wild blueberries MaineWilly Blackmore

How can we have a surplus of “wild” blueberries?

Maine farmers have built a whole industry out of marketing “wild.” Now, they’re struggling to compete and the government is bailing them out to the tune of $10 million.

By Willy Blackmore | Read more

Trump’s “scientist” already stirring up controversy. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Wednesday night announced President Trump’s new nominee for a top post at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). And the choice is already stirring up controversy.

That’s because the man tapped to be the next undersecretary of USDA’s Research, Education and Economics (REE) division is Sam Clovis, a former conservative talk radio host with scant experience in both science and agriculture (other than being from Iowa). And it might be illegal. Read more.
—Joe Fassler

Maybe no horseburgers after all. Last week, I wrote that the House Appropriations Committee had decided—by just one vote—to end a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.

But on Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an amendment that preserves the ban against slaughtering horses on American soil. “The House and Senate will now have to work out the differences between their respective chambers, likely by going to conference on the appropriations package,” explained Marty Irby, senior advisor of equine protection & rural affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, in an email. The Humane Society has long advocated banning horse slaughter in the united sates, and has also supported legislation that would make it illegal to send horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

The ban on horse slaughter, which is actually a ban on USDA spending for inspections of horse slaughter facilities, was first enacted in 2007. It was briefly lifted via the 2011 appropriations bill, only to be reinstated in 2014 before any slaughterhouses actually opened. Ranchers, animal welfare groups, and lawmakers have long been divided on the issue. Read last week’s backgrounder here.
—Claire Brown

New York farmworkers fight for organizing rights in court. Last May, advocacy groups sued the state of New York on behalf of plaintiff and former dairy worker Crispin Hernandez for collective bargaining rights for farmworkers. Lawyers began arguing the case on Thursday, the New York Times reports.

People who work on farms (and people who work in domestic service) have been excluded from the right to form labor unions since the New Deal. We wrote a backgrounder on the political forces that led to the omission of these groups from collective bargaining and overtime pay laws, but here’s the ten-second version: Roosevelt needed the Dixiecrat vote, and the Dixiecrats didn’t want farmworkers and domestic servants to have the right to organize. A New York State law reinforced the exclusion when it was passed a few years later.

Though the original suit was filed against the state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to defend it, signaling that they agreed with the plaintiffs.

But the New York Farm Bureau stepped in as an intervenor and will defend the case instead.

Now, lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union are making their case against lawyers for the New York Farm Bureau in the State Supreme Court. Stay tuned for updates.
—Claire Brown

Three mysteries

Where’s the caterer? At least six stressed-out Brooklyn brides-to-be on Wednesday were greeted with a nightmarish email: Their caterer was nowhere to be found.

Both brides had planned events in Brooklyn’s beloved Prospect Park through the Prospect Park Alliance, a nonprofit that acts as a liaison between couples who rent the park’s boathouse and the caterer Movable Feast. According to Gothamist, the Alliance sent out an email to its rental clients saying it had been “unable to contact” Movable Feast.

The couples who spoke to Gothamist had both paid deposits well over $10,000. Multiple attempts to contact the owners, both by clients and by Gothamist, went unanswered—phone lines were disconnected, offices were shuttered, emails bounced. Google’s business listing for the company says it’s “permanently closed.”

One couple got a hold of owner Jackson Berson’s father-in-law, who said Berson was in the middle of a divorce and had left his wife and children “a couple of weeks ago,” Gothamist reports.

A spokesperson for the Prospect Park Alliance told Gothamist that Movable Feast has catered park events for more than twenty years. The whereabouts of the owner—and his clients’ money—remain unknown, though a missing persons report has not been filed. A Thursday afternoon update speculated he may be gambling in Atlantic City.

Caterers disappear sometimes. It happened last year on Long Island when wedding and bar mitzvah caterer Dynamic Events abruptly cut off client contact. At the time, clients alleged owner Bobby Kanowitz took thousands of deposit dollars with him. And just yesterday in Anaheim, California, police arrested a man who allegedly ran an “event planning scam,” charging families thousands of dollars in fees for wedding catering and quinceañera parties without ever delivering. Police say the man went by at least four different names as he perpetrated the scam.

For now, other caterers have started to reach out to help the distressed spouses-to-be. Some of them are offering discounts to help defray the costs of potentially lost deposits.

Hopefully, Movable Feast is just having an Adrian-Grenier-on-the-beach kind of moment, and the caterers will be back, finger foods intact, with a sheepish “sorry but thank you.” For now, Berson’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

It’s a bird, it’s a plague. In southern Idaho and northern Nevada, drivers who see pavement that looks like it’s moving have been warned to “drive as if they are on icy roads,” according to local law enforcement speaking to the Associated Press. That’s because what looks like an undulating stretch of highway might actually be a blanket of Mormon crickets.

Dan Nosowitz for Modern Farmer on Thursday penned a pretty tingly tale about the generally-unintrusive-until-suddenly-they-aren’t flightless crickets that are flooding our western rangelands by the dozens per square meter.

And these bugs are hungry. So named by Mormon settlers on first encountering the crickets in Utah, they’re really katydids with shields on their backs. Good thing they’ve got gear, too, because during their swarming phase, they go to to battle with plants, insects, even each other. And they’ve been known to wipe out entire crops.

Why? Scientists don’t know. And how often do the bugs get their swarm on? No idea. It’s a mystery, you see.

Playing flavorites. PepsiCo-owned Lay’s Potato Chips announced in a press release this week the three finalists in its “Do Us a Flavor” contest. The flavors: Lay’s Crispy Taco, Lay’s Kettle Cooked Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, and Lay’s Wavy Fried Green Tomato will be available in stores on July 30. The winning flavor, based on votes from American eaters, will score its creator a $1 million grand prize.

Evidently Food & Wine, Refinery29 and CBS Chicago got the same press release—headlined “Crispy Taco, Everything Bagel With Cream Cheese And Fried Green Tomato Chips Will Have You Saying: ‘It Tastes Just Like The Real Thing!’”—because all three covered this breaking news of national security import.

And just as flavors and media entities that covered this come in threes, so too do the mysteries: First, it’s a mystery why, in covering who covered this, I inadvertently covered it; second, it’s a mystery whether or not the inventor of the bagel flavor, Lindsay Hoffman, has a favorite leisure activity other than snacking (“With this chip idea, she could finally combine her morning ritual, favorite breakfast meal and her favorite leisure activity of eating Lay’s potato chips into a single bite…”); and third, Why, instead of popping a chip flavored to taste “just like the real thing,” wouldn’t you just go ahead and … eat the real thing?

Just the one-liners

Wheeew, what a week for Chipotle: A Virginia chain location closed when more than 130 people claimed to be sickened there (looks like norovirus), but it’s open again. And in Texas, a customer captured a video of rodents they said dropped from the ceiling. Stocks have fallen for five days in a row, CNBC reports.

Activist investor group Jana Partners has cashed out its nearly nine percent share of Whole Foods.

Law firm Harwood Feffer LLP is investigating Blue Apron after its recent IPO, Food Dive reports. The claims center around whether or not the company “breached its fiduciary duty to investors.”

Bloomberg published a deep dive into the dairy checkoff and its relationship with Taco Bell. Well worth a read.

Save the Children

Malnourished twins, Borno, Nigeria, November 2016

20 million people are starving. Why is it so hard to pay attention?

The Global Emergency Response Coalition is trying to draw the American public’s attention to an “unprecedented” hunger crisis. It’s an uphill battle.

By Kate Cox | Read more

The Counter Stories by our editors.