The Year in Food 2008

The Year in Food 2008

Food and Politics

Big Brother Recommends
the Garden Salad

Poor neighborhoods typically have few grocery stores where residents can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and a disproportionate number of fast-food restaurants. Public health problems ensue. The LA City Council tried to legislate its way out of this mess in July, when it passed a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods. But that didn’t fix the problem of the lack of grocery stores, and even if the areas had been flooded with fresh produce, there’s no sign that people would be buying. “It’s our body, we choose what we put in it,” said one ruffled resident, as reported in a Reuters story on the ban. Largely unexamined: In a city where bacon-wrapped hot dogs are a beloved street food, slowing down the spread of Burger King may not be a comprehensive solution. —James Norton

In the Interests of Full Disclosure

In 2008, calorie declarations in chain restaurants, cloned food, and carbon footprints became need-to-know (or at least want-to-know) information for consumers. Truth in food labeling has been a point of American pride since the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. Whether some or all of these newfangled labels will become permanent fixtures is yet to be seen; there’s an ongoing wrestling match between consumer advocates and business interests. Knowing exactly how many calories your Big Mac has is just a big buzz kill—on that we can all agree. —James Norton

Campaign Gaffes:
The Liquid Edition

No matter what they chose, presidential candidates couldn’t get their drink orders right. Hillary Clinton’s whiskey- and beer-drinking stunt at Bronko’s Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana, was widely publicized and mocked by then-opponent Barack Obama: “Around election time, the candidates can’t do enough for you,” he said. “They’ll promise you anything … and even come around, with TV crews in tow, to throw back a shot and a beer.” The irony of trying to win over the American working class with a shot of Canadian whiskey (Crown Royal) was quickly pointed out across the Web. But Obama was also caught playing blue collar with his boozing in Pennsylvania when he tried the local brew Yuengling: “Trying a Pennsylvania beer, that’s what I’m talking about. Is it expensive though?” he was quoted as saying. “Wanna make sure it’s not some designer beer or something.” Oops, said the Union-Free Employer blog: “Yuengling has been the subject of a Teamsters boycott since the company went non-union last summer.” Bad handlers; no beers for you. —Roxanne Webber

Let Them Eat Moose

Alaskan populism goes hand-in–Polartec glove with killing your own moose and cookin’ it up, something Governor Sarah Palin apparently indulged in on numerous occasions, when she wasn’t pulling rank on her police chief, hiding her pregnancy, or shopping for designer clothes. Say what you will about her, one thing’s for sure: She single-handedly put the edible moose onto America’s radar screen, if not its menus, in 2008. —James Norton

“Passion Fruit Moussegate” Never Really Resonated

In light of what came later in the presidential campaign—Troopergate, Angry Preachergate, Neiman Marcusgate—the Cindy McCain recipe kerfluffle is a mere footnote. In early April, a John McCain website section called “Cindy’s Recipes” was revealed to be “Cindy’s Recipes Directly Appropriated from the Food Network with Minor Changes.” What does it say about a candidate that his wife’s home cooking is stolen wholesale from the Food Network? Not much, apparently; when people were polled about why they didn’t vote for McCain, passion fruit mousse didn’t come up a lot. —James Norton

Let My Peeps Go

Saving the chickens has never been so complicated. When Proposition 2 came on the ballot in California this year, it seemed like a no-brainer: It bans the state’s farmers from using “confining crates and cages for hens, pregnant pigs and veal calves that don’t allow the animals to turn around, lie down and extend their limbs,” according to the Los Angeles Times. And yet some small family farmers were against it, saying it would be bad for business and would result in nonlocal, inhumanely raised animals flooding the market. But when faced with the suffering of small farmers and the suffering of chickens, the people chose the chickens. Boosters pointed out that the law doesn’t take effect until 2015, offering plenty of time for farmers to adapt. Regardless, there’s one nonvoting constituency probably thrilled by the vote: animals currently packed into tiny crates. —James Norton