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Interview with Natural Foods Merchandiser

Below is an interview I gave to Natural Food Merchandiser:
Plant politics: Michele Simon sees a promising future for animal food alternatives

Michele Simon is a food lawyer and president of the consulting firm Eat Drink Politics. Recently, she organized a coalition of plant-based food companies in support of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to eat less red meat and more plant foods. As a keynote speaker at Natural Products Expo East, she’ll offer practical tips on how manufacturers and retailers can become more politically active.

NFM: What are the biggest issues facing the plant-based food industry today?

Michele Simon: Gaining more mainstream acceptance of plant-based versions of animal foods is top of mind. While we are seeing an increase in consumer interest, companies face ongoing regulatory barriers such as outdated labeling rules, as well as marketplace obstacles such as placement in stores. Also, political forces have historically created an uneven playing field. For example, most plant food companies don’t benefit from the economic subsidies the animal food industry currently enjoys. True competition requires breaking down those barriers.

NFM: How can retailers help on the front lines in their stores?

MS: First, retailers should sell plant-based versions of meat in the meat section, and plant-based versions of butter and cheese in the dairy section. It’s not fair for consumers to have to hunt down these foods in the niche sections of grocery stores. We’ve already seen an explosion of soy and almond milks because they are commonly sold in the dairy section. Retailers should also encourage tastings of these plant-based foods to increase familiarity.

NFM: How can companies have their voices heard on these issues?

MS: This spring, I organized 22 plant food companies to have their collective voice heard on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This campaign was the first step in getting plant food companies engaged in policymaking. Now we are talking about formalizing the coalition into a bona fide trade group. This sector can be a powerful voice, and taking collective action is key to the continued success of these mission-based companies.

If folks want to get involved, they can either sign up on the mailing list at LessMeatMorePlants.com or contact me.

5 ways to be a better advocate: what I learned from Susan Linn’s leadership

Last night I had the honor of celebrating Susan Linn, who is stepping down as executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, an amazing organization that she co-founded. I wanted to share a few of the ways that Susan has inspired me; maybe she will inspire you too.

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Meat Lobby Peddles Doubt to Undermine Dietary Guidelines

By Michele Simon and Andy Bellatti

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years, never fails to cause a stir. For the current revision, released in February, a federally appointed scientific committee — after a two-year review of the latest research and numerous public hearings — has recommended (PDF) lowering consumption of red meat and processed meat. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

 

Event – February 24 – Women in Leadership: Dynamic Career Paths in the Food Movement

nofruitJoin four women warriors who have fought Big Food with policy initiatives, defying gender and racial stereotypes in both the public and private sectors. Their work has strengthened the good food movement, and all have established successful careers despite the odds stacked against them. This interactive panel will share experiences and encourage food movement job seekers to tackle the challenges of pushing for a more progressive food systems agenda.

Panelists

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. A pioneer in food politics and the author of numerous books, she will discuss her experience and knowledge in the academic and government sectors, the vast changes she has witnessed over the years, and share advice for students about opportunities in the food movement.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer and president of Eat Drink Politics, a corporate watchdog consulting firm. She has been writing about the politics of food since 1996 and her book, Appetite for Profit, was published in 2006. She also offers legal guidance to small food companies with Foscolo and Handel, the Food Law Firm. She will discuss the role of lawyers and policy experts in the food movement and the need for advocates to get more political.

Nina F. Ichikawa is a writer, social justice advocate, and food policy expert who will discuss the “whitewashed history” of the food movement, her policy work with the USDA, and her vision for the Berkeley Food Institute where she has just been appointed policy director. Her writings on food policy and Asian American food, farmers, and retailers have been published in Amerasia Journal, Civil Eats, Al-Jazeera America and NBC News, as well as in “Eating Asian America”.

Moderator: Haven Bourque founded HavenBMedia to bring communications expertise to food system change. Her group develops communications strategies, trains spokespersons, and teaches social media skills for diverse organizations ranging from prestigious non-profits to small businesses, national corporations and community activists working to reform food systems around health and wellness, social justice and environmental conservation.

When: Tuesday February 24, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: Impact Hub Oakland (Omi Gallery) 2323 Broadway, Oakland (donations at door welcome)
RSVPs: 2/19 update: sorry but this event is over capacity!

Big Mayo Files Frivolous Lawsuit Against Eggless Competitor

Food Giant Unilever suing Hampton Creek for daring to offer a cruelty-free and sustainable alternative, whining that: “Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s”

Just Mayo

Business school pop quiz: What’s a $60 billion global behemoth to do when a San Francisco start-up cuts into their profits? If answers like “innovate your products” or “hire a better marketing team” come to mind, you must not work at Unilever. That company’s response to competition is to take them to court. Unilever owns many top food brands such as Best Foods (and is also the largest deodorant maker in the world). The company is suing Hampton Creek for unfair business practices and false advertising, claiming their plant-based product called Just Mayo is deceptive to consumers because it doesn’t contain eggs. Actually that’s the whole point: to not use eggs.

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Protein Politics: Vegetarian Meat Company Field Roast Gets Booted From Canada

As a lawyer who has called out plenty of transgressions by unethical food companies, it’s frustrating when the law gets it wrong. That’s exactly what happened to the alternative meat company Field Roast, based in Seattle, but also selling products to our neighbors to the north. That is, until the Canadian government informed Field Roast that the company’s products were mislabeled. Not only that, the products also had to be tested — wait for it — on live animals.

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The Dirty Secret Behind Dairy Junk Foods

Industry and government work together to promote everything from fast-food pizza to sugary milk in schools

People often ask me, “How does lobbying work?” Last week it was with fat and sugar, when the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) hosted its 32nd annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Some 6,000 bowls of ice cream were served up to Sen. Tom Harkin, Reps. Pete Sessions, Robert Aderholt, Jeff Denham, John Shimkus, Ron Kind and Lamar Smith, among others, according to Politico. Dairy lobbyists are ever present in Washington, and their efforts usually pay off. For example, last year when the IDFA implored the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give dairy foods a pass in the new snack food guidelines for schools, the agency capitulated, opening school doors to even more junk food, such as YoCrunch Lowfat Yogurt with M&Ms.

This is just one of many examples I uncovered in a report I published last month, “Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods” (PDF). The dairy industry, propped up by government, has convinced us of the health benefits of milk and other dairy products. The assumption that eating dairy is essential to the diet has obstructed our ability to criticize federal government support for unhealthy dairy products, of which there are many. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

How Food Marketers Spin Nutrition Information

I have a feature story in the current issue of Experience Life magazine. Here is how the editors introduce the article:

It’s no wonder that most of us are confused. Combine this with dubious ads from the food industry — and the fact that some media outlets may not want to alienate food companies that advertise with them — and we end up with even more muddled information. Overwhelmed, frustrated, and resigned, many of us throw up our hands and eat whatever we want. The good news, however, is that understanding where biased health information comes from can help us sift through the latest headlines and become more intelligent news consumers and smarter shoppers.

You can read the entire article here and listen to the podcast interview here.

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Contact Michele Simon: michele@eatdrinkpolitics.com

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