News bites, January 2012

This article was originally published in January 2012

Gender eating patterns

The gender of our meal companions apparently makes a difference in what we eat. A researcher observing what college students purchased at a popular eatery found that women bought fewer calories when eating with men, while men purchased more calories when eating with women. Other studies have determined that understanding body image is imperative for understanding eating habits, including unhealthy habits. (Journal of Applied Social Psychology)

Peanut butter prices

Shoppers are paying more for peanut butter because of drought and scorching heat in peanut-producing states, such as Texas and Georgia, for the second year in a row. Farmers planted more profitable crops, such as cotton, instead of peanuts in 2011, shrinking the peanut supply by 13 percent compared to the 2010 harvest. Peanut butter companies have raised wholesale prices by 30 and even 40 percent. (Associated Press)

Grocery profits

More people are cooking at home these days so supermarket profit margins traditionally thin to start with have fallen in recent years. The Food Marketing Institute reports supermarket profits fell to 0.98 percent of sales in 2010, down from 1.2 percent a year earlier. (The Seattle Times)

Privatizing liquor sales

By June 1, all liquor business operations including purchasing, distribution and retail will transition to the private sector in Washington state, following passage of Initiative 1183. The initiative restricts sales, for the most part, to retail stores that are 10,000 square feet or larger. I-1183 also allows retailers to bypass wholesalers and purchase directly from distilleries, a first in the United States. (Stoel Rives Law Group)

Rainer Beach Urban Farm

Work is underway by the Seattle Parks Department and community partners to transform seven acres of a former nursery into a working organic urban farm and demonstration wetlands restoration site. Seattle Tilth and Friends of the Atlantic City Nursery will develop and operate the site, which is funded by a parks and green spaces levy and neighborhood matching funds. The Rainier Beach Urban Farm is part of a commitment by the Parks Department to the Local Food Action Initiative. (

Farmland value skyrockets

The average value of farmland in several Midwest and Western states grew 25 percent over the past year — the biggest one-year jump in at least three decades. Land values increased in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri despite widespread flooding or drought. The biggest factors driving up farmland values were low interest rates and strong cattle and crop prices. (NPR)

Public land grazing

Conservationists are asking a federal court to block cattle grazing on a half-million acres of public land in southeast Oregon. They say grazing compacts soils, diminishes native plants, introduces invasive weeds, and is particularly harmful to the sage grouse, a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. (Capital Press)

Menhaden catch limited

A fisheries commission has reduced the allowable catch of the Atlantic Ocean’s “most important fish” to allow stocks to recover. Menhaden are a critical food for birds and larger fish that people eat, such as tuna, swordfish and bluefish, and menhaden eat plankton that cause oxygen-depleted “dead zones.” Catches have exceeded sustainable levels since the 1960s to make fish oil and to feed farmed fish and livestock. (The Washington Post/

Laundry chemicals

University of Washington researcher Anne Steinemann has published a study showing air vented from drying machines using scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheets contains hazardous chemicals. The air samples she studied contained more than 25 volatile compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, two of which — acetaldehyde and benzene — are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens with no safe exposure level. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances or laundry products. (University of Washington) 

BPA in canned soup

A study at Harvard University found levels of the endocrine disruptor, bisphenol A (BPA), spiked by 1,200 percent among people who ate canned soup for five days straight, compared to those who ate fresh soup. Researchers say the study suggests canned foods may be an even greater concern than drinking beverages stored in hard plastics. Previous studies have linked BPA at levels lower than those in this Harvard study to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity in humans. (Journal of the American Medical Association)

Chemical company tribunal

The world’s six largest chemical companies have been indicted for human rights abuses by an international human rights tribunal, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT). World Health Organization statistics show 355,000 people die each year from “unintentional toxic chemical poisoning,” many of them from agrochemicals made by Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF. The PPT is not legally binding but will present testimony from doctors and scientists to the companies for a response. (Ecologist/

Also in this issue

GMO labeling initiatives

Important efforts are underway in Washington state to require labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods. Bills are being introduced in both the state House and Senate with broad support.

Justice for farmworkers

Last July, when 16-year-old Nicholas Chavez collapsed in 106º F heat while picking bell peppers, it was hardly national news. The story wasn't covered by CNN, the Associated Press or Fox News. Chavez was just one more pair of hands in the endless stream of bent-backed migrants.

Is food combining valid?

The new year always sparks renewed interest in eating plans that promise better health and weight loss. Food combining is one of the many popular eating plans I'm often asked about as a nutritionist.