Fat? Not our fault

With obesity now a national epidemic, many trial lawyers have had their sights set on fast-food companies, à la big Tobacco. But not so fast, says restaurant associations and other food lobby groups. This New York Times article points out that since 2002, when two teenagers filed suit against McDonald's for allegedly making them obese, these hungry lobbyists have been working overtime.

Now, 20 states have passed legislation aimed to protect restaurants from such suits, which most in the industry consider frivolous. Such "common sense consumption" laws, as they've been coined, prevent any obese citizen (or otherwise) from seeking personal injury damages against a restaurant or other food provider through a lawsuit.

Such "common sense" isn't the only thing that apparently has convinced lawmakers, however; the food industry has given more than $5.5 million to lawmakers in states that have passed legislation protecting the food lobby's interests.

(More: Congress has looked into similar "common sense" legislation but has not to date come up with a draft on which members can agree. Here's some oral arguments from 2003 on the "Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption" act.)


Rice pirates

A boat carrying more than 1.87 million pounds of rice for still-starved fishermen off the coast of Somalia was hijacked by "pirates," according to the United Nations World Food Program. The boat with its 10 crew members was intercepted while sailing north of Mogadishu, the country's capital. Thousands of people are dependent on U.N. food donations in the wake of the December tsunami, which devastated not only Indonesia and Sri Lanka, but also parts of Somalia. According to this Bloomberg report, it is believed that the crew and its cargo are still safe.


Tut's truffles

Good marketing, it seems, can resurrect the dead. In conjunction with the blockbuster King Tutankhamen exhibit which opened in Los Angeles County Museum of Art last week, See's Candies has released a box of truffles, complete with the boy king's image, to commemorate the event. The California-based chocolate institution claims (or has been proclaimed?) that it is "The Official Chocolate of King Tut." I would have preferred Mummy Gummies.


We'd rather starve

A number of refugees from Zimbabwe are starving amid a hunger strike following the rejection of their asylum application in Britain. A BBC report says that while the official government line is that the refugees aren't in any immediate danger if returned home, refugee organizations maintain that if the men are returned, they face "very grave danger."

Zimbabwe is anything but stable, as army bands backed by president Robert Mugabe have destroyed large settlements in the cities, pushing citizens into the even more impoverished countryside. Political suppression is rampant, as is food shortages and malnutrition. A current government-sponsored campaign to root people out of cities is called Operation Murambatsvina, or "Drive Out Trash."


More nods for GMO maize

The European Food Safety Authority is the latest in a string of EU commissions that has approved the use of genetically modified corn as food for humans or animals. The corn strain, Bt11, is created and marketed by Syngenta.

European consumers have fought hard against the introduction of GMO foods in the market, yet corporations such as Syngenta and Monsanto have fought back--with millions, if not billions of dollars--to get their products in the fields. While the EFSA maintains that "Bt11 maize will not have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment in the context of its proposed use," it is still unclear what the effects of GMO crops will have on the environment, or on humans, in the long run. To read the complete decision, go to the EFSA Web site.


Star Wars: Revenge of the Cuke

Will Cuke Skywalker use the power of the true Farm to save Princess Lettuce? Only if this organic vegetable listens to Obi-Wan Cannoli and his newfound friend, Chewbroccoli, and is resolute against the Dark Side and its evil leader, Darth Tader.

This may be my favorite Star Wars spoof ever, next to the hax0r Sith movie trailer and Star Wars ASCII. But I digress. This video, released by the Organic Trade Association and created by Free Range Studios, highlights the intergalactic struggle between the Dark Side of the Farm and the Organic Rebellion--which is strong with the power of the true Farm. OTA hopes that amid the Sith-like frenzy that is Star Wars this week, some of this passion will draw young viewers to the spoof to learn about organic produce and farming.

Watch "Grocery Store Wars" here. Best moment: the Death Melon. "That giant fruit threatens us all."


We eat what we are

The link between health and diet is an obvious one, but finding a balance between them is the challenge. Take, for example, the native Americans of the O'odham nation who live on a sweeping reservation in southern Arizona. Diabetes is rampant; according to this article, more than half the population on the reservation suffer from the disease. Their diet in general is very high in fats and oils (like most Americans), yet the instance of diabetes is much higher than with the population at large. While scientists are looking into whether there is a genetic predisposition to diabetes in native Americans, tribal leaders and nutritionists are looking at other ways to help bring health back to the tribe.

Ancient tribal foods, such as tepary beans, buffalo meat, cholla buds and wild rice, are gradually being reintroduced to the community as low-sugar, low-fat alternatives to the convenient, fast foods or sugary sodas often found on reservations. The thinking is that traditional foods may be better suited for a native American body than are non-traditional foods, such as refined flour, cooking fats and preserved meats. A return to native foods is also a return to a way of life that has gradually been forgotten by the hardships of life on the reservation. From the ColorLines article:

Young Indians, as well as older ones, have been alienated from their own culture, [Terrol Dew] Johnson says, and he thinks these foods can reintroduce them to the traditions. After all, these foods are used in ceremonies and carry the stories of the Desert People. For example, it is said that when Coyote was running with a bag of tepary beans, he tripped and the white beans flew into the sky, creating the Milky Way.

Johnson runs a grassroots organization on the reservation to bring back native foods to the community. Johnson used to drink a six-pack of Pepsi a day, and was diabetic before he was 30. Now he grows tepary beans and harvests other native foods to distribute to his community. (For more on the O'odham and native American foods, read Gary Paul Nabhan's wonderful book, Coming Home To Eat.)

It stands to reason that as mammals, we would be predisposed to certain foods, or that our bodies could manage and process some foods more easily than others. In the fight against obesity or any other dietary disease, it makes good sense (and perhaps soon, good science) to see what foods fit best with who we are.