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       cross-posted at

It’s not completely on my radar that the federal government issues dietary guidelines every five years.  I know the food pyramid gave way to My Plate, but that’s about it, and I’m sure the majority of Americans are as vague about it as I am.  Big Ag, however, pays close attention to any and all minutiae potentially relating to their bottom line.  It has been suggested that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015 will center on overall sustainability as a direct result of environmental degradation caused by industrial meat production.  This is all speculation, however; the meat industry is tying its knickers in knots because of the person appointed to lead the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Dr. Angela Tagtow.

Dr. Tagtow is a longtime sustainable food advocate who believes, as she stated in a 2011 lecture, that “a sustainable and resilient food system conserves and renews natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters now and in the future.”  Her appointment sends a signal that the USDA, currently almost entirely in the pocket of Big Ag, may be responding to issues relating to climate change.

Introducing climate change into nutrition policy, however timely and responsible, has predictably raised red flags for Big Ag.  If, as Tagtow has written, “dietetic education and practice must encompass the ecological, political, social and economical implications of a healthy diet,” industrial meat production must be heavily regulated and downsized.  Tagtow’s Good Food Checklist for Eaters is especially troubling for the food industry as it espouses, among many other things, a reduction in the amount of meat people should consume.  Tagtow also wrote a paper in 2009 that called for a sustainable food system less dependent on oil and gas.

Dr. Tagtow’s detractors take issue with her logical advocacy of a sustainable food system.  She has directly called for governmental reforms to be implemented and ensconced in other areas, such as the Affordable Care Act.  “When we make decisions about how food is grown and what food is grown, the quality and quantity and biodiversity of food that’s grown here in this country, it directly affects the status of our food system, and the status of our food system directly affects our healthcare system.”  She goes on to ask, “Do you think healthcare reform is really going to be as effective as it could be if we  had food system reform as well?”

Jeff Stier, of the National Center for Public Policy Research, has openly decried the appointment of Dr. Tagtow.  He calls her mission statement (“Establish healthier food systems that are resilient, sustainable, ecologically sound, socially acceptable and economically viable”) a “sin.”  Given the National Center for Public Policy Research’s own mission statement, which in part states “a firm belief that private owners are the best stewards of the environment,” this comes as no surprise.  Some of his statements concerning Tagtow’s appointment immediately reminded me of the line, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  “Here you’ve got the USDA’s top person on nutrition education who has made a career out of making sustainability central to how we eat, rather than healthy diets, ” he says.  Or, “Tagtow comes from an ideologically divisive perspective.  She’s not someone who’s views are mainstream in the nutritional community.”  Stier believes, basically, that Dr. Tagtow is a left wing “strident activist.”  Attacking the messenger seems to be his number one argument.  Jeff Stier has himself politicized any discussion on food related issues, such as labeling Michelle Obama’s attempt to reconfigure the school lunch program to be more healthy as “left-wing.”

At any rate, this very small but incremental sea change in the advice given to Americans by the federal government is to be celebrated.  Starting in 2015, school children will be taught about sustainability.  At least a seed will be planted.

Recipe of the Week

Pasta again, but so easy, meat-free and delicious.

Pasta with Olives and Tomatoes

3/4 pound pasta, any type you wish

1 28 ounce can of organic whole tomatoes

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

1 cup good quality olives, preferably Greek

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mince garlic and allow to sit for ten minutes.

Chop onions

Puree tomatoes

Heat olive oil in an appropriate pan.  Add onions and saute until soft and turning brown, about 20 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for less than a minute.  Add tomatoes and chopped olives.  Cook for about 20 minutes on low heat.  If the olives are of good quality  you shouldn’t have to add salt.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add pasta, cook until al dente, about 8 or 9 minutes.  Drain but don’t rinse.  When the sauce is ready, add the pasta, stir and serve.  If you wish, you can provide a quantity of fresh parmesan.

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