Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not shunning fat and still keeping good health-Another obesity control theory

Food and nutrition sciences seem to be turning upside down if a latest report by a charitable trust in the UK is to be believed! In essence the "scientists" in the trust are saying the eating more fat is the solution to overcome obesity epidemic that is ravaging wealthy nations in the world! It is not that the main stream health experts are sitting quite without challenging this new theory which does not appear to be based on any great scientific study and they have cautioned consumers not to "trust" this Trust for changing their food habits. Here is a take on this report and readers can come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the claims made. 

Thirty years of official health advice urging people to adopt low-fat diets and to lower their cholesterol is having "disastrous health consequences," a leading obesity charity warned yesterday. "Eating fat does not make you fat," argues a new report by the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and the Public Health Collaboration, as they demanded a major overhaul of official dietary guidelines. Promoting low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history according to Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist. The report says the low-fat and low-cholesterol message, which has been official policy in the UK since 1983, was based on "flawed science" and had resulted in an increased consumption of junk food and carbohydrates. The document also accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, said the misplaced focus meant Britain was failing to address an obesity crisis which is costing the NHS £6 billion a year. The authors call for a return to "whole foods" such as meat, fish and dairy, as well as high-fat healthy foods like avocados. The report, which has provoked a broad backlash among the scientific community, also argues that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while full fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, can actually protect the heart. Professor David Haslam, NOF chairman, said: "As a clinician treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high suggesting high carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, where deeply flawed."Current efforts have failed, the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists." Processed foods labelled "low-fat", "lite", "low cholesterol" should be avoided at all costs and people with Type 2 diabetes should eat a fat-rich diet rather than one based on carbohydrates, the report urges. Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and member of the Public Health Collaboration, a group of medics, said dietary guidelines promoting low-fat foods "is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health". "Sadly this unhelpful advice continues to be perpetuated," he said. Eat fat to get slim. Don't fear fat; fat is your friend says Dr Aseem Malhotra. The current Eatwell guide from Public Health England is in my view more like a metabolic timebomb than a dietary pattern conducive for good health." Dr Malhotra also suggested the scientific integrity of the PHE advice had been compromised by commercial interests. "We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and Type 2 diabetes," he added. "Eat fat to get slim," he concludes. "Don't fear fat; fat is your friend." Snacking between meals is one of the main causes of the current obesity crisis, the report argues, while added sugar should be avoided because it has "no nutritional value whatsoever".Snacking will make you fat, the report warns. Calorie counting is also a damaging red herring when it comes to controlling obesity, said the NOF report, as calories from different foods have "entirely different metabolic effects on the human body, rendering that definition useless". Similarly, "you cannot outrun a bad diet" the authors state, citing the "incorrect" assumption among the public that the solution to obesity is to burn more calories than are consumed. Our populations for almost 40 years have been subjected to an uncontrolled global experiment that has gone drastically wrong Prof Iain Broom. "Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise," the report says. Responding to the NOF document, Professor Iain Broom, from Robert Gordon University, said: "The continuation of a food policy recommending high carbohydrate, low fat, low calorie intakes as healthy eating is fatally flawed. "Our populations for almost 40 years have been subjected to an uncontrolled global experiment that has gone drastically wrong."
However, scientists from a range of fields have criticised the report and questioned its evidential basis. Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the NOF findings were "full of ideas and opinion" but could not be counted as a comprehensive review of the evidence. The report's main headline – simply to eat more fat – is highly contentious and could have adverse public health consequences says Dr Mike Knapton. "This country's obesity epidemic is not caused by poor dietary guidelines; it is that we are not meeting them," he said. Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Glasgow University, said: "The report's main headline – simply to eat more fat – is highly contentious and could have adverse public health consequences."

It is true that all the actions and programs taken by the countries suffering from obesity have not brought any positive results so far and on the contrary the obesity population is surging at an unprecedented rate. Whether it is low carbohydrate diet or massive promotion of low fat food products, there is no dent in the galloping growth of overweight people. Naturally this has given opportunity to some "queer" people to try to swim against the tide and gain some popularity and attention. But the damage such unproven claims on the health of the people is forgotten by them while propagating such outlandish claims. It is understandable that those practicing low fat diets have to depend on carbohydrates for bulk of their energy needs and white sugar and HFCS provide the same. There are scientific evidence to show that too much carbohydrates in the diet can be a worrisome factor that can precipitate metabolic syndrome disease and other disorders. The lesson that is to be learned is that there is no sure recipe or quick fix for maintaining healthy weight and following a balanced diet giving importance to fat, proteins and carbohydrates derived through natural diet ingredients combined with regular physical activity is the best approach for good health


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Aeroponics technology-An alternative to hydroponic production system

Man's constant endeavor to ensure adequate food to every denizen in this planet jas seen tremendous progress over the last few decades and agricultural and biotechnologists have revolutionized the food production landscape beyond recognition. Their innovative spirit and efforts have provided a variety of growing technologies for all edible crops consumed by human beings. Probably constraints on availability of land to expand cultivation through conventional or traditional methods have resulted in evolution of technologies like hydroponics, aquaculture, tissue culture, genetic engineering, etc which are becoming main stream practices in some countries. One of most amazing technologies that is going to revolutionize agriculture is aeroponics which does not need neither land nor large quantities of water. Though it is at an early stage of commercialization, aeroponics may be the most attractive option available for food producers around the world. Recent reports that world's largest commercial aeroponics production facility is about to be commissioned in the US are indeed exciting. Read further details below.  

"An upcoming indoor vertical farm is not only claimed to be the world's largest, but to use cutting edge growing technology. AeroFarms' new 69,000 sq ft (6,410 sq m) facility in Newark, New Jersey, will be based in a converted steel factory and will incorporate a new corporate HQ for the firm. It's expected to grow high-quality and healthy produce all year round. As with the soon-to-start-trading Growing Underground, which is based in formerly disused tunnels beneath London, AeroFarms' new indoor farm will look to serve local markets. This will minimize the farm-to-fork journey and benefit both the environment and the produce itself in the process. Where Growing Underground uses hydroponic technology for crop rearing, AeroFarms uses an "aeroponics" approach. Similar to hydroponics, aeroponics employs a cloth medium for seeding, germinating and growing crops and LED lighting for photosynthesis. Specific wavelengths of light are targeted to help to maximize photosynthesis efficiency and to minimize energy consumption. The major difference between the two growing systems is that hydroponics uses a liquid solution to deliver hydration and nutrients to crop roots and aeroponics uses mist. AeroFarms says this produces faster growing cycles and more biomass than other approaches. The new facility is a public-private partnership and has been variously funded by the City of Newark, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), Goldman Sachs, United Fund Advisors, Dudley Ventures and Prudential Financial. Designed by KSS Architects, it offers a controlled, safe and sanitary environment in which to grow crops without the need for sun or soil. In addition to faster crop cycles and the ability to grow crops all year round, the benefits of this sort of farming are said to include the elimination of pesticides, increased produce shelf-life, a reduced contamination risk through the lack soil used, the production of clean and dry produce at the point of harvest and minimized wastage through the use of a closed-loop irrigation system (one that repeatedly recycles any run-off water). In addition, the modular vertical stacks used for growing the crops make the operation highly scalable. AeroFarms says its approach to farming is 75 times more productive per square foot annually than a traditional field farm and uses over 95 percent less water. Once up-and-running, it estimates that the new facility will have the capacity to grow up to 2 million pounds (910,000 kg) of baby leafy greens and herbs every year."

It is not that aeroponics is a brand new technique invented recently but its technologization took several years with its viability not established beyond doubt. Now that commercial facilities are being set up based on aeroponics, the economic viability may not be a hindrance for its fast spread in the coming years. Though it is limited at present to production of greens and high value herbs, time is not far away when aeroponics become a major contributor to many of the food crops we consume to day. High efficiency of aeroponics compared to the conventional cultivation and hydroponics is going to be the driving force for its manifold expansion. With high pressure on land from the non-agricultural sector, aeroponics presents itself as a panacea in future as far as food production is concerned. There must be global cooperation in making this technology affordable to growers in developing countries with limited capital availability..


Raw milk consumption- Hazards and their control

Milk is a life sustaining food that can provide almost all the nutrients required by a human being. The dairy industry as we know to day is a high tech venture that involves high expenditure to ensure that the consumers get only safe milk after necessary tests are done. Consider the plight of vegetarians whose dietary habits do not permit consumption of high protein foods like egg, meat and fish and who depend on milk for deriving most of their protein requirements. For them milk is elixir of life though there are a few protein sources in the plant kingdom that can furnish proteins in the diet, albeit of a lower quality nutritionally. Since the world has moved away from small sized milk farms serving locally to huge mechanized and automated dairy conglomerates with adequate infrastructure to distribute their products over thousands of kilometers with absolute guaranteed safety, most consumers do not bother about safety relying heavily on the industry to ensure the same. It is only recently that a small movement started some years ago by some people to consume raw milk has grown into a phenomenon attracting all round attention. Though food scientists will never vouch safe for the safety of raw milk without pasteurization, those patronizing this product are least deterred and if latest reports are to be believed raw milk consumption is growing in a country like the US where there are sizeable patrons posing challenge to the organized dairy sector. Read further to understand and form your own opinion regarding this new phenomenon. 

"The numbers say it all. There were only six raw-milk dairies in the state in 2006. There are now 39 — more than double the number in 2013 when there were 18. All are Grade A licensed dairies, which means their milk must meet the same food-safety standards as milk from conventional dairies. State officials say the number of raw-milk dairies will likely continue to climb. Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a high enough temperature to kill disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli , Salmonella andlisteria. Health officials warn that children are especially vulnerable to pathogens in raw milk, primarily because their immune systems are still developing. State law in Washington requires that all retail raw milk products carry a warning label that states: "WARNING:  This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria.  Pregnant women, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease have the highest risk of harm from use of this product." Despite numerous outbreaks and recalls of raw milk across the country and warnings from federal and state agencies about the potential dangers associated with drinking raw milk, demand is strong. And continues to grow. A passionate lot, raw-milk advocates have a range of reasons for avoiding pasteurized milk. Many say they can drink raw milk without experiencing allergic reactions such as bloating and other digestive discomforts. Others like that it often comes from family farms, in contrast to what they refer to as "factory farms." Still others laud it for its power to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to cancer — claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are anecdotal and not based on science. And, most raw-milk consumers say that it just plain tastes better. "The real deal" is a popular rallying cry in raw-milk circles. "The cat's been let out of the bag, and no one's going to be able to put it back in," said Jim Sinnema, owner the Old Silvana Creamery north of Seattle, referring to the growing popularity of raw milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. In other words, raw milk produced in one state cannot be sold in another state. The U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requires that milk sold across state lines be pasteurized and meet the standards of the ordinance. A dozen states currently allow raw milk sales at retail outlets. Among them are California, Idaho and Pennsylvania. However, the milk has to meet certain  standards, usually Grade A standards. Sixteen states ban raw milk altogether. With Washington state's requirement that raw-milk dairies be licensed as Grade A, the operations must be inspected and have their milk tested on a regular basis. It's a practical way for dealing with reality. If raw-milk sales are illegal, say many public health officials, consumers will seek it out anyway, putting themselves and their families at risk. Here's the rub — raw milk requires more tests than conventional milk. Yong Liu, manager of  the microbiology lab at Washington state's Agriculture Department, said since raw milk is not pasteurized, it must also be tested for foodborne pathogens, in addition to the same quality-control tests performed on pasteurized milk. The five pathogen tests are for Salmonella, Listeria, campylobacter and two types of E. coli. Up to nine tests are often conducted on raw-milk samples. Washington officials say raw milk is one of the highest risk food products for sale in the state."

Milk is a rich food and naturally it is more vulnerable to spoilage by many bacteria within a matter of few hours causing irreparable damage to its flavor, taste and texture. In a country like India where milking is done manually without using vacuum machines, the shelf life can be expected to be extremely short. Fresh milk vending still exists in the country but care is taken to deliver the extracted milk within a couple of hours and the buyers do not lose any time to boil the milk to kill all microorganisms which may be present in the product. If the maintenance of cows are scientifically efficient, if the milking person is hygienically "clean", if the utensils are washed thoroughly and if the milk is immediately chilled there is no reason why it should not keep for a day or two without "splitting". But large scale distribution of raw milk may be inconceivable in India because of the sanitation limitations at all levels. As for the claims that raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk, the jury is still out and unless scientifically proven will not stand critical scrutiny. As long as the avowed devotees of raw milk are prepared to take "risks", no one can grudge their privileges, if one can all them so!


Monday, May 9, 2016

Cooking foods with chlorinated water and iodized salt-potential generation of toxic artifacts

Scientific research some times brings out unexpected observations which can scare ordinary people besides causing anxiety regarding the safety of foods we eat to day. It is difficult to imagine that the world has travelled during the last hundred years with the boundaries of science stretched every day bringing in new knowledge, good as well as bad. The problem with the layman is to discern what is truth and what is biased or motivated research. Recent revelation by the famous food guru Prof Marion Nestle that food research is losing its credibility because of prolific funding of many studies by the industry which wants results suiting its corporate goals rather that getting true facts is really startling. The reported findings by a group of scientists that cooking the food with commonly available salt and water tapped from the public supply in most towns and cities can pose danger to the health of the consumer is both alarming and scary. What is the science behind this latest bombshell?

"May be these scientists from Hongkong and Beijing Universities have a point in publishing these results based on their simulated studies but how it is going to relate to the day to day lives of people is a million dollar question, Some of the basic surmises used in these studies are that use of chlorinated water in cooking is a universal practice, use of salt during cooking is common and iodized salt contains potassium iodide. Of course in many cases these assumptions may be true and therefore dissemination of the results could be for common good. It is true that chlorine is to day widely used for water disinfection in many countries though many others have discontinued this practice some years ago. Our tap water is disinfected before we drink it or use it in cooking. This is done in several ways, including by adding chlorine or molecules called chloramines that are made using ammonia. These two processes - chlorination and chloramination - have an effect on the chemical make-up of the water. Chlorine or chloramines in your tap water can react with the iodized table salt you add to your food, creating a kind of acid called hypoiodous acid. This in itself isn't cause for concern, but the acid can then react with the food and other organic matter in the tap water to create cooking iodinated disinfection byproducts (I-DBPs) - molecules that are almost completely new to researchers. For the new study, the team identified some molecules and tested their toxicity. "I-DBPs formed during cooking with chlorinated or chlorinated tap water are something new to environmental chemists, toxicologists and engineers," said Dr. Xiangru Zhang, corresponding author of the paper and Associate Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "They are relevant not only to drinking water researchers and practitioners but also to the public." The researchers analysed the I-DBPs formed during cooking with chlorinated and chloraminated tap water. They simulated cooking with different types of tap water at varying temperatures and time, and added wheat flour and iodized salt to see what I-DBPs would be formed. Using cutting-edge chemistry techniques, they identified 14 completely new molecules and determined the structure of nine molecules. They then carried out tests to see how toxic nine of the molecules are and found that some of the molecules are 50-200 times more toxic than others. "Considering that these molecules could have an adverse effect on our health, we need to study them more to determine exactly what effects they might have," said Dr. Yang Pan, one of the study's authors and Assistant Professor at Nanjing University. "We have therefore proposed some practical suggestions to limit their formation during cooking." The cooking conditions, such as the type of water and salt used, the cooking temperature and time, had an effect on the formation of I-DBPs. In the study, molecules were present in the simulated cooking water at varying concentrations, from 0.72 to 7.63 micrograms per liter. Adjusting the cooking conditions can minimize the concentrations of I-DBPs in the water.Dr. Zhang and the team suggest that people use chlorinated rather than chloraminated tap water, and use table salt fortified with potassium iodate instead of potassium iodide. Cooking at lower temperatures, for less time, also limits the formation of I-DBPs. "

The above findings do raise some concerns though optimists may always take them easy as nothing untowards have happened so far to the humanity though chlorination was a globally accepted practice for more than a century. But this may be too simplistic because millions of people who die every year meet their end due to hundreds of reasons, some well identified while others due to unknown reasons. The artifacts created by chlorination might not be dangerous alone but in combination with other factors can turn out to be unsafe in the long term. After all iodization of salt is a relatively new development and manifestation of its ill effects may surface after a few years. The suggestion that salt should be iodized with iodate in stead of elemental iodine seems to an eminent one so that till firm conclusions are drawn about I-DBPs iodine is not used for iodization of salt. With vast knowledge emerging about nano particles and their impact on human body, even traces of injurious chemicals can create havoc with human body. It is better to be cautious avoiding even a remote chance of risks with such compounds in our foods. 


Consumer is the king-Here is an example

With the opening of the retail sector in India for foreign investment, there is a upswing in the number of super markets establishing their operations in India. Unfortunately none of them has been able to establish their credibility as consumer friendly and most of them are not much different in their attitude to the customer than the unorganized sector retailers, millions of them working across the country. Most importantly their working lacks transparency and therefore fail to create any trust with the consumers. After all trustworthiness is the most important trait of any busimess and organized retailers both Indian as well as foreign based have failed miserably here. Here is an example of a popular US retail chain which became a darling of the consumers there through there enlightened policies and sustained actions over the last several decades.

I spoke to Whole Foods food editor Molly Siegler, who's based at the company's headquarters in Austin, TX, and learned a variety of interesting facts that made me an even bigger fan of the store.  What's the return policy? Who makes all the food in the hot bar? Can you really try something before you buy it? If you've always wanted to know this — plus more — about one of the highest-quality grocery stores, read on for all the insider secrets.

1. You can taste anything before you buy it.
Seriously — anything! "The company has a Try Before You Buy policy," Molly said, and you can use it for packaged foods (like snacks), fresh produce, and even cheese. "If there's a new apple that comes out, you can ask someone in the produce section to cut you a slice."
2. You can return anything.
The return policy "is very Nordstrom-like — bring it back; we want you to be happy." Depending on your location's policy, you'll either get your money back or get store credit — you don't even need your receipt. "It's nice if you have it, but not really [necessary]." You can even return Whole Foods beauty and body-care products, but make sure you have the receipt for those.
3. The best day to shop for sales is Wednesday.
"Wednesday is the day that our sale cycle turns over, so it actually ends up being a day where there are twice as many sales, so that's sort of a fun, magic day to come in. In addition to those in-store sales, we have mobile coupons that are part of our app. These coupons are updated regularly, and you just have the cashier scan the barcode that's exclusive to you."
4. Everything in the hot bar, salad bar, and bakery area is homemade.
"There's a new team that's been formed around culinary and hospitality: the company brought in a top chef, Tien Ho, who's been working in the restaurant world for years. He is leading the charge for elevating our prepared foods — he's going to focus a lot more on that hot bar experience and salad bar experience. To say it's made fresh and by trained chefs is definitely accurate."
5. The butchers can debone, season, and/or steam any cut of fish for you.
At no extra charge. "A lot of people do that in our offices for lunch, or it's a really easy thing to do right before you head home for dinner. And it's not just salt and pepper — there's interesting rubs and spice mixes."
6. Employees get a really good discount.
Is your local Whole Foods hiring? Every employee gets a 20 percent discount to start out with, and there's a health-focused incentive that leads to a higher discount. The company does an optional annual screening that records factors like BMI and blood pressure that employees can use as a regular health check-in, in addition to getting an increased discount.
7. The best-selling seafood item is the responsibly farmed salmon.
Look for this in the seafood section — it's the number-one selling seafood item companywide. The salmon is free of antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, and GMOs.
8. Each Whole Foods location donates leftover food to local organizations.
Ever wonder what happens to all that leftover hot food at the end of the night? The exact policy varies by location, but all food is donated. "All of our stores have partnerships with local food banks and other local organizations that they can help donate the food to at the end of the day."
9. The company really does take ingredients seriously.

"Whole Foods Market has really high quality standards, but it's not an arbitrary thing. We have a whole team that's dedicated to using science and really heavy research to figure out what can and can't be in our stores. At a minimum, we have no artificial colors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, and no hydrogenated fats. Every single thing in our stores meets those standards and often people don't realize that."

Is it imaginable that retail chains like Reliance or Big Bazar or any established player emulating this food chain in the foreseeable future? Doubtful because consumers in India are more like orphans with practically no support from the government in terms of enforcing their fundamental rights regarding access to safe and quality food products and protection from unscrupulous and dishonest practices. The food safety and standards enforcement agency is a highly bureaucratized, toothless and "technically innocent" arm of the government which is more concerned about self promotion and publicity. Naturally this provides a free run for the retail business to do whatever they want to do! The consumer protection ministry has absolutely no clue regarding the helplessness of the citizens to buying good and safe foods and therefore is not much of a help. Judiciary is active occasionally but delays in punishing the guilty is a "millstone around its neck". Indians are used to looking up to the Sky for realizing many of their wishes to be fulfilled and probably here is another cause for them to towards sky for divine attention and intervention for getting justice from the food retailers in the country.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Beyond organic foods and GMO labeling-Why are consumers ignoring the miseries of food workers?

Recent agitations by workers in food service sector in the United States for improving their working conditions and increased wages did not receive as much attention as it deserved raising the valid question whether the conscience of the world can really ignore this important human issues. What role consumers can play in forcing the hands of the industry in granting to its workers what is reasonable, equitable and justifiable? During the last few years consumer campaigns are focusing on issues like GMO foods and their safety, carbon foot prints of processed and packed foods, child labor involved in crop production, organic foods for safety, use of pesticides, health aspects of foods, environmental damage caused by food sector etc and consumers want all these information to be revealed on the package of each and every food item churned out by the industry. Fair enough because consumer as a citizen has a right to know what type of product he is buying. But what is missing in these campaigns is the extent of miseries and depredation to which the workers, pivotal in the manufacturing logistics. Many critics feel that such a narrative is no more conscionable and this issue must be addressed and consumers must demand that the products they are buying should have a "fair practice" certification to prevent the food industry from worker exploitation. Read further below to understand this conundrum.  

"There's a consumer psychology angle, too. Perhaps consumers are just selfish: many food-movement certifications help address self-oriented concerns— like organic produce being healthier, environmentally sustainable products saving the earth you live in, and non-GMO certifications ensuring a diet that's free of genetically modified organisms. A labor-friendly certification doesn't necessarily benefit the consumer in the way these other certifications do. That's only a partially satisfying answer, though — one that doesn't account for the altruistic motive behind cage-free and certified humane purchases, or fair trade. "The fact that there's a label on eggs gives people the opportunity to make a choice"
Another psychological explanation is that negative imagery is the most powerful driver of consumption choices. The popularized images or awareness of slaughterhouses and unsanitary production lines will drive buying where vague concepts like "a living wage" won't. Under that theory, the image of a product has to be tainted in public consciousness before consumers will shift to alternatives. Finally, there is a commercial explanation: companies have not offered consumers a choice for fair labor foods, restaurants haven't distinguished themselves as fair employers, and fair labor certifiers haven't penetrated the market sufficiently. Under that explanation, labor in food isn't a relevant question because there hasn't been a choice at all. "The fact that there's a label on eggs gives people the opportunity to make a choice, and I think that's why labeling is important," Bittman said. Most people don't get "the option of saying would you rather buy chicken where the people [in the] slaughterhouse are getting paid $12 an hour than where the people in the slaughterhouse are getting paid $8 an hour." If consumers had a significant opportunity to support fair labor food and restaurants, it's possible they'd do so. Each of these phenomena presents unique challenges — or perceived ones — for getting labor into our daily dietary choices. Nonetheless, solutions are sprouting. A new certification that includes labor as one of three key pillars has started making its presence known in stores. A new app that highlights labor-friendly restaurants has started to gain traction. The work of organizing and protest has started to force labor into everyday eating decisions. That national reckoning? It might be on its way.

A worker checks in on a beer in progress at the New Belgium Brewing Company (Hyoung Chang/the Denver Post via Getty Images)
If the profit motive is a main reason labor conditions are so poor, it might also be a reason they get better. Andrew Kassoy, Jay Coen Gilbert, and Bart Houlahan are three guys with an intimate understanding of the economic motivations. Kassoy spent 16 years in private equity, including his most recent stint as a partner in a $1 billion fund. Gilbert and Houlahan were cofounder and president, respectively, of the basketball apparel giant AND1. In 2006, they decided they'd had enough of the corporate life and united to launch the B Lab. One of the organization's projects is the certified B Corporation status, given to companies, rather than products, that pass muster on four impact areas: governance, workers, community, and environment. Kassoy came to the project after he became increasingly dissatisfied with the corporate world, where, he said, it often felt like "little else matters to anyone" besides size and money. The B Corp movement, on the other hand, seeks to use the "power of private enterprise to create public benefit." The status, unlike other certifications, is specifically intended to evaluate an entire business as ethically and environmentally sound. By brandishing the "B" logo, the theory goes, companies will differentiate themselves from the crowd as consumers, investors, and potential employees seek to support wholesome business. The number of companies buying into that theory is still relatively small — about 1,200 are B Corp certified — but many more want to know how they stack up. More than 20,000 companies worldwide now use the B Lab's impact evaluation metrics to monitor their business. The B Corp status isn't just for food companies, and it isn't just about labor — but it's currently the best resource for selecting labor-friendly food. Given the extant interest of the foodies in other concerns, a comprehensive standard might be the way to loop in labor. In fact, the commitment to an overarching certification is a response to the inadequacies of piecemeal movements. "Good businesses means a comprehensive, transparent view of a company's social and environmental impact," said Kassoy. That way you can avoid "unacceptable" situations where people are buying sustainable or organic lettuce but they "don't care who picked it." That multilayered approach, though, means B Corp certification can only be a proxy for a standalone labor certification for the food system. For example, companies can be better on environmental standards and worse on labor, and still become a certified B Corp. There is no minimum score on the "workers" component of certification, though Kassoy insists the B Lab "reserves the right to deny B Corp certification to any company that doesn't meet the values of the movement." Nonetheless, without a present alternative, the B Corp status is the best available avenue for incorporating labor consciousness into food purchases. It remains to be seen, however, whether producers and consumers are ready to embrace it: only about 100 food companies have attained B Corp status. The certification isn't attracting producers and driving behavior like organic and non-GMO movements have — and the companies that do are exhibiting some peculiar behavior. Take the two best-known food B Corps: Ben & Jerry's and New Belgium Brewery. Due to Ben & Jerry's sale to product giant Unilever in 2000, and New Belgium's rocketing popularity because of its Fat Tire brew, you can find both brands far beyond foodie hideouts. Neither have the certified B Corp logo on their packages, however. Instead, Ben & Jerry's flaunts its fair trade logo and boasts about happy cows and non-GMO ingredients. New Belgium notes its employee ownership in understated text on the front of the packaging, and its recyclability on the bottom. (The case of Ben & Jerry's omission is particularly confounding, since they go through an extra procedure to remain certified as a subsidiary of Unilever).

Even the best companies have been sheepish about boasting their labor record. King Arthur Flour is the highest-rated food B Corp on labor issues, and was named in the top five of any B Corp on worker impact in 2014. Katie Walker, a spokesperson for the company, described working at King Arthur as the "complete polar opposite" of the normal food industry standard — and given her description of work life, it's hard to contest. King Arthur, a company of 388 workers at the busiest times of the year, starts with a minimum hourly wage for full-time workers of $11.25 an hour (Vermont's minimum wage is $9.05 an hour; New Belgium's lowest wage for non-temporary workers is $12 an hour) in addition to stock ownership. King Arthur and New Belgium are 100 percent employee-owned companies, operating an employee stock ownership plan where employees are given ownership stocks of the company as part of their pay package — and can retain that influence over the company until they leave or retire and sell those shares back. In these types of companies, you aren't likely to find the type of pay disparity you see in fast food, nor the abysmal working conditions, because employees retain more power and are often more integrated in the decision-making. More worker-friendly conditions are a natural result. "

It is not that one has to brand the whole industry as inhuman because there are many players who are magnanimous in providing their workers with more than what law is required of them. Aggressive labor unionism has earned many workers in other industry sectors high wages and perquisites but should we be waiting for the food workers also to be aggressive to get a decent wage and a conducive working condition? There is the famous story of a diamond processing industry in Gujarat where each worker is treated like a family member and benefits are showered on them that can move the hearts of even a die hard capitalistic industrialist! Food industry workers are not asking for favors of such a magnitude but are craving for a decent wage that can give him and his family a decent living standard. While it may too much to expect that every label should carry the fare trade practice, what is practical is to certify companies based on their treatment  of the workers. Probably certifying agencies like ISO could incorporate provisions for auditing the worker treatment conditions so that consumers will have a means of satisfying himself that he is consuming a product made without exploitation of the labor. While arriving at what is equitable to the workers, caution needs to be exercised not to go overboard in showering them with unjustifiable compensation packages that may impinge on the price of the product to the consumer.  


Friday, February 26, 2016

Taking guess work out of nuking? A new approach!

Though microwave heating technology was patented in 1946, the popular counter top oven using this technology became a reality only in 1967. By 1976 this device became common and it became a necessity by 1980 for most American families. To day Microwave heating has become a standard practice in most kitchens in developed countries, becoming the twin partner of another equally convenient and useful food handling tool viz refrigerator for getting a food ready for eating in a jiffy. While refrigerator with freezer facilities can store prepared foods for long time, microwave oven can make it available for consumption in a matter few minutes. Microwave technology is no more confined to homes in Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and affluent East Asian countries as its versatility is spreading far and wide. Even in developing countries with sizeable middle class population, affordable microwave ovens are becoming a standard fixture in modern kitchens. Look at India where more than 8 lakh units of microwave ovens are marketed annually though the 4 major metros in the count for 70% of this market. Of course India market is relatively insignificant if global penetration is taken into consideration with the world market expected to grow to a staggering 80 million ovens by 2020! One of the major constraints in using microwave heating is the non-uniform heat generation within the mass of the food heated and the difficulty most consumers have in determining the correct end point of the heating process. Recent report indicating development of a device that can be included in the design of a microwave oven that can provide accurate picture about the completion of heating process will be a great boon to the consumer. Here is a take on this exciting new development. 

"For all the time they save us in food preparation, burnt tongues and frozen centers are an all too common occurrence when dealing with microwaves. But former NASA engineer-turned-inventor Mark Rober reckons nuking our food shouldn't involve so much guesswork. His take on the everyday kitchen appliance offers  a thermal vision display of your food as it cooks,so you know exactly when it's time to chow down. Though it is only a prototype, in using cheap, widely available technologies Rober says there's no reason the Heat Map Microwave can't start saving your bacon right away. An infrared lens is planted on the ceiling of the microwave, streaming a thermal, birds eye view of your dish to a display where you would normally find the window. As your food moves from cold to hot, it goes from blue, to red and to white hot when it's time to pull it out. Alternatively the microwave could be programmed to switch off automatically when it reaches this point. And the really neat thing here is that the display could quite easily be streamed to a mobile device over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, meaning you could monitor it remotely and wouldn't need to stand salivating around the microwave, peering through the window for any sign that your food is ready to go. Rober does plan on commercializing his modern take on the microwave. But rather than turning to crowdfunding sites to raise money, he's asking people to pledge support by signing a petition, which has gathered more than 20,000 signatures at the time of writing. Rober hopes to build enough momentum through the petition to show investors his product is worth mass-producing, while also enabling him to keep his supporters in the loop on his progress and its design."

Though convenient-wise microwave heating or more popularly referred to as "nuking" in the US, is the turning point in reducing kitchen drudgery, a country like India is not able to make it a common man's tool because of the power crisis in the country where quality and quantity of electricity available, especially in rural and many semi urban areas are highly uncertain and unpredictable because of "power of the power suppliers" to resort to unscheduled and unannounced cuts several times a day! Added to these woes most Indian traditional food preparations do not lend themselves to microwave heating due to lack of information about the optimal heating time and the power settings to be programmed. It is here that the new innovation will help the consumer in the country to be more confident about the usefulness of this gadget. Another handicap that is faced by the Indian consumer is the uncertainty regarding the wares regarding their suitability for microwave cooking. Unlike in the US or the UK, most inert wares like plastics, glass or china, do not display any signs on their wares whether they can be used for nuking. Still there is no stopping of these ovens gaining popularity in the coming years due to their versatility. The existing manufacturers in the country must try to absorb the new "visual" window technology and offer the new ovens sooner than later.