The Year in Food 2008

The Year in Food 2008

Signs of Armageddon

Seafood Swims in Troubled Waters

As mankind’s energetic overfishing of pretty much everything continues, a number of particularly disturbing stories roiled seafood-lovers in 2008. On the East Coast, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab season melted down. On the West Coast, the California salmon season was canceled after fish numbers hit record lows. And sushi? Oy, what a debacle. Between the nonsustainable fishing and the mercury, it’s been a horror show. Is there good news? There sure is, if you love eating jellyfish.
—James Norton

We Have No Bananas Tomorrow

Whither the Cavendish? The ubiquitous plain old yellow banana has a far graver predator than Curious George. A few years ago, scientists discovered that the monocultural fruit is just one disease away from extinction. This year, Australian scientists successfully modified a banana plant to make it resistant to deadly Panama disease, a step that may bode well for the vulnerable species. That’s good news for more than the banana, because a Cavendish extinction would jeopardize the health of subsistence farmers in tropical regions as well as leave supermarket and farmers’ market shelves empty for years as substitute varieties were slowly brought up to mass production. “Strawberry-yuca smoothie” just doesn’t have the same ring. —James Norton

High-Fructose Corn Syrup Shatters Friendships, Destroys Marriages

High-fructose corn syrup, the demon that chases Michael Pollan in his sleep, isn't really all that bad, according to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA). Er, wait a second. The lobbying group ran a widely publicized pro-HFCS propaganda campaign in the late summer and fall of 2008, and millions of prediabetic obese children happily unwrapped another piece of the devil's candy. There was plenty of outrage—HFCS is higher in fructose than less processed sugars, and it slows down the body's natural tendency to burn fat. But is HFCS the Antichrist? That's difficult to say: Its impact isn't perfectly understood, and how much is too much isn't clear. The CRA says HFCS is just fine to eat "in moderation," but because subsidies encourage farmers to grow corn, HFCS is in most processed foods. And since when do we do anything in moderation? But the ads did get people talking—and shouting—at one another like few other topics. —James Norton

No Truffling Matter

No, seriously, this is bad news. Reuters reported this year that changing climate conditions are moving the best growing turf for truffles ever northward, echoing the effect that climate change is having on the growing regions for fine wine. As the range moves north, it’s expected that the harvest will decline, due to the truffle’s vulnerability to frost. The increased rarity of one of the world’s most fetishized and expensive foods came perfectly timed with a worldwide financial crisis, leaving Thomas Keller with nothing to cook, and no one to cook for. But in the meantime, our grandchildren can look forward to enjoying fine Yukon wine.
—James Norton

When Meat Goes (Really) Bad

When 143 million pounds of beef was recalled in February (an alarming undercover Humane Society video showed sick “downer” cows trudging and falling at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company), Congress sped into action, concerned that the meat had been distributed to school cafeterias. The USDA agreed to tell the public, in the future, which retailers are carrying recalled meat. But the law only applies to meat that’s very, very bad—what’s known as a Class I recall, as opposed to meat that is just questionable. Guess what the meat was in the Westland/Hallmark recall? Questionable. Nothing gained, nothing accomplished.
—Nicholas Day