Bites of 2006

Controversy. That's what we've been chewing on in the food world in 2006. This year's nuggets of culinary discourse have been as plentiful and juicy as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Below, a year-end smorgasbord in review, with some lingering crumbs for the whetting of next year's appetites.

Fueling the "trans-fat fire"

In June, the notion of trans fat as outlaw made headlines, when a Chicago city council member introduced legislation to
ban the use of trans fat in restaurants there.

(As a reminder, trans fat is a man-made phenomenon, the marriage of liquid vegetable oil with hydrogen, resulting in a solid, shelf-stable fat. It's found in shortening, hard margarine, snack foods and all those goodies from your favorite drive-thru window.)

Although the original bill was watered down and remains in that city's legislative pipeline, the debate over trans fat has spread like a grease fire in other cities and states around the country. While Chicago continues to debate the issue, New York City's Board of Health got fired up earlier this month and became the first city in the country to ban trans fat, beginning next July.

(Read how New York eateries are gearing up and adjusting to the news.)

In the few weeks since, bills of similar anti-fatty ilk have been introduced, including the states of California, Massachusetts, and in the cities of Philadelphia, Cleveland and Louisville, Ky.

Public health agencies in Washington state and Los Angeles county are likely to discuss trans fat next year, and I'm betting the list of interested municipalities will only get longer.

The Case of the Leafy Greens

September was a tricky month for supermarket spinach, which was recalled around the country due to widespread E. coli contamination that killed three people and infected at least 200 people in more than 20 states. The manhunt-style investigation continued for weeks, as spinach farmers waited for the green light to sell again. Meanwhile, locally grown spinach sold at farmers' markets was as safe as ever.

In the few months since, the scrutiny has extended to scallions at Taco Bell restaurants, as well as -- although to a lesser extent -- carrot juice, tomatoes and lettuce, prompting serious discussion over food safety and handling on an industrial scale.

Fishing for Answers

Seafood was the main event in October, when two reports were simultaneously published on the health risks and benefits of eating seafood. Just a month later, in November, the environmentalists joined the conversation, claiming that at our current rate of consumption and pollution, there would be no more seafood to eat by 2048.

Mercury was on the menu too, and groups such as Oceana made great strides enlisting supermarket chains around the country to post signage that includes FDA/EPA advice on mercury and seafood consumption.

Where and How Your Food Is Raised and Grown

A very hot topic this year, particularly with the publication of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan (which may likely have hit a collective nerve more than any book on our food system in my lifetime) pushed other conscience-raising cookery titles into the forefront of our collective culinary consciousness. Also, news was made when Wal-Mart would go organic and carry Marine Stewardship Council-certified seafood.

Passages
...New York Times veteran war correspondent and food and travel writer R.W. "Johnny" Apple died in October...learn about the chef who orchestrated the menu at his own memorial service held earlier this month at the Kennedy Center....Southern cooking great Edna Lewis leaves a great legacy... Mario Batali gets yanked from FTV.

Introducing... Gourmet TV, the explosion of the Rachael Ray empire, influence (and anti-fan base).. The (re)launch of Chow magazine and chowhound.com, the comeback of Martha Stewart, the launch of Yahoo! Food.


Personal milestones
... Firsts -- a real wok, jelly doughnuts, ice cream maker, planked salmon, cooking with lard.

Did I miss something? Please share your culinary news nibbles, personal highs and lows or a bite that is worth mentioning, in the comments area below...and last but not least, Happy New Year!

By Kim ODonnel |  December 27, 2006; 12:45 PM ET Food in the News , Kitchen Musings
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Comments

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First off, love this post - it's a nice roundup!

Now that everyone has realized how evil Trans-fat is, when do you think they will start realizing the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup? That really frightens me way more than the trans fats, because you can find the transfats but HFCS is in everything, even things it really has no place in! That's my goal for 2007 - make the world realize the evils of HFCS (especially HFCS made from genetically modified corn)!!! Kim, you on board?

Posted by: Cooker | December 27, 2006 5:14 PM

Thanks Kim, for another wonderful year together with your virtual fan club!

I hope the New Year brings mindful eating, untainted vegetables, yummy, trans-fat-free treats, and good health to all.

Posted by: Bethesda Mom | December 27, 2006 6:03 PM

At least in my neck of the woods, it was the explosion of CSA programs, Community Supported Agriculture. I'll put that under Kim's "The Case of the Leafy Greens" and "Where and How Your Food Is Raised and Grown."

Posted by: Stormy | December 28, 2006 11:05 AM

I hope, if anything, that this year makes people a little more aware of what they eat--from the actual ingredients to the source of those. Cooking and eating shouldn't be scary, it should be a mindful, joyous event shared with family and friends.

Happy wishes for the new year to all.

Posted by: julie | December 28, 2006 6:48 PM

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