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7 Things I Learned About Food in 2010

1. The intersection of food, culture and class is a conversation we might finally be ready to have...
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  1. The intersection of food, culture and class is a conversation we might finally be ready to have. In the course of 2 short weeks The Washington Post, Newsweek and The New York Times all ran articles about how class and food divide us, or don't. At the same time, Sarah Palin fused food and politics, pitting herself against Michelle Obama and her anti-obesity initiative. Now maybe you didn't think trying to reverse diet-related disease was political, but I assure you, now it is.
  2. I can grow herbs on my windowsill: When I need a break from the din of politics, I can water my plants. I have thought of myself as a city girl with a black thumb but it turns out that with a few false starts (tomatoes from seed were too difficult for my first experiment) and a little bit of focus, I can grow mint and basil. If I can do it, anyone can. Next year, peppers.
  3. People feel passionately about food safety legislation. How safe is my windowsill food? And will the government soon make it illegal to grow it? After two years snaking through Congress, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (S 510) preoccupied the minds of food activists/farmers/freaks/frenzied backyard gardeners for the past three months. Each time I blogged or tweeted or posted on Facebook about it, the debate raged. Opinions ranged from the truly lunatic and paranoid to the curious and concerned. Actually I was cheered by all this--is the age of apathy over?
  4. Politics is slow, frustrating and important work. The Food Safety Bill passed! And then didn't. And then passed again. The Child Nutrition Bill passed! With funding coming from food stamps. Wha? All these ups and downs could be enough to make a food fighter lose steam and lose faith. But we are just at the beginning; the Food and Farm Bill is around the corner. We must keep spirits high and keep focused as we head into the New Year.
  5. Food has become a political player in NYC. Speaking of the new year, mayoral campaigning will begin in earnest in 2011. In the past year Manhattan Borough President Stringer and City Council Speaker Quinn have both produced reports on how to address food systems issues in NYC. Meanwhile Mayor Bloomberg is revising PlaNYC (his plan for a "greener, greater New York") and it sounds like food will finally be incorporated this time around. Will the next mayoral election in this town be all about food?
  6. Cookbooks live on: Despite the arrival of apps like Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," and despite the proliferation of terrific food blogs that could keep us steeped in free recipes until the dawn of time, people are still buying cookbooks. Me included! Did you know that food books are one of the only book sectors on the rise? I learned that in 2010 at a panel about the future of food writing; apparently the future of food writing still lies in books.
  7. Consolidation is at the root of a lot of our problems. Also on the rise are Tyson's profits. And Smithfield's, and Purdue's, and a few others. But not many more than that. This past year the Department of Justice and The USDA held a series of workshops on antitrust in the food system. They examined how the consolidation of production, processing and distribution into the hands of just a few big companies has affected farmers and consumers alike. The short version is that prices are rising at the supermarket but farmers are earning less and less; local food is hard to find and there are fewer and fewer small-mid scale farmers. Now we all sit back and cross our fingers, wondering: will anything come of these workshops? Will 2011 be the year that someone finally thinks antitrust issues in food & agriculture are as important as antitrust issues in computers & technology?

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