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.
Teamwork makes the dream work. A bill in Washington state to address mental health issues in farming communities passed in committee yesterday. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-WA), had unanimous support from committee members, an aide confirmed to NFE over the phone. As we previously reported, the bill would convene a task force to study behavioral health issues among agricultural workers and then establish a pilot program to provide free resources to address them.
Publix enemy. Brenda Reid, spokeswoman for the Florida-based supermarket chain, Publix, calls the company’s insurance policy “generous.” But when one Publix employee became the first out of 400 at a clinic in Atlanta to be refused PrEP (a preventative HIV treatment), activists had reason to be concerned. The Body, a site devoted to news on HIV/AIDS issues, relayed that the exclusion is probably not “legally actionable,” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand better from the supermarket chain. Publix holds a zero rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index and strayed from the tradition of most large companies when it did not answer HRC’s survey on policies that affect LGBT workers.
Unagi don’t overhunt the eels. The enigmatic eel illuminates a power struggle between indigenous populations—who have used eel for an array of purposes including medicine and spiritual offerings for centuries—and commercial demand, which fuels a $20 million Canadian fishery, according to a report from Hakai Magazine. Canada’s federal government has delayed addressing the difference between global demand and the future of eel populations, which the region’s native population argues should be listed as “at risk.” Fishermen from the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation argue that the government’s decision should be focused on indigenous rights established in treaties. Adding to the controversy: the eel. Its under-researched development makes the path to preservation a cumbersome journey for all parties.
Also scarce. California Sunday published a deep dive into a Southern California farm’s ability to produce nuts and fruit despite fickle water sources. Acres of pistachios, almonds, seedless mandarins, and other extra thirsty crops are permanently located in a region that hasn’t seen rain in five years. So how exactly do these hundreds of thousands of crops survive on the government reservoirs alone?
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Special edition Super Bowl one-liners
They didn’t call him “The Refrigerator” for nothing. Ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, the team’s head chef broke down the team’s official diet in Food Management. Surprise: It’s not cheesesteaks. Bigger surprise: It’s barbecue, Tex-Mex, “Cajun pasta,” and bacon fat-fried rice. Such a fatty diet wouldn’t fly in the NBA—a league where stars go vegan, and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches are a favorite indulgence—but then the NFL isn’t known for investing in the health (or professional longevity) of its players. Indeed, the head chef says his goal is to cook for these grown men “what mom used to make.” Can you imagine the Sixers boasting about owning a custom-made double-barrel smoker?
Line speed, intercepted. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rejected the National Chicken Council’s petition to lift maximum speeds from a select number of chicken processing plants. As we reported, the association had been hoping to push the limits of visual chicken inspection to Aphex Twin-like speeds of 175 birds per minute, but apparently their request went too far. Ultimately, it seems the processors will get their way: a select handful of plants already inspect at higher speeds, and USDA is expected grant individual waivers to others. Lest you think plant-based protein is on the rise, this means we’ll see even more cheap chicken as lines accelerate across the United States.
Understaffed party in the U.S.A. Finally, as the Super Bowl descends on wintry Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports the region’s low unemployment rate is making things hard for the legion of planners and celebrity chefs coming to town for the weekend-only party. Wouldn’t you know it: too many people have regular work and don’t need to take a gig, especially as the city has joined others in the $15 minimum wage. God forbid DirecTV or other corporate sponsors of the myriad Super Bowl-adjacent parties have to rent a bar downtown and throw their logo above the door.