Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Interview on the Produce Industry

A friend from high school works in the produce industry and I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about the industry.

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You mentioned going to a large produce industry conference. Where was it? Who organized it?

There are several national associations that work with and advocate for the floral and produce industry. One of them is the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). They are a great organization that provides resources for the produce industry, helps to foster young talent in the industry and acts as a voice for the industry with government agencies. There are several other organizations that also provide support for the industry. One of the largest is United Fresh Produce. They function just like PMA. Often they will also work together to address significant needs in the community.

The last convention I attended was PMA’s Fresh Summit. It is the largest convention of its kind offered in the states. It draws more than 15,000 attendees from 70 countries. This year it was in Orlando but it moves from year to year. The focus of Fresh Summit is on fresh fruits and vegetables. It is an opportunity for all of us to get together, display our products/services and talk about key industry trends. Recent trends that received a lot of focus at this Fresh Summit were food safety, traceability and working with/managing Generation Y.

Has working in the produce industry changed how you think about food. Has it changed how you eat?

Produce is a new industry for me and it has definitely changed the way I think about food. First of all, I have a greater understanding for all the hard work and effort that goes into producing our food and bringing it to market. It makes me appreciate how lucky we are to have such a wide variety of quality produce available to us.

I also have become very brand conscious. When I used to go shopping I would buy whatever produce I wanted without paying attention to who was growing it. Now, I will seek out and purchase specific brands of apples or tomatoes, etc. I look for brands that I know focus on quality or that have a specific varietal that I particularly like.

What do you think the most interesting aspects of the produce industry are?

I really love everything about the industry. It is hard to narrow it down to a few most interesting aspects. I think the thing that is most interesting about produce to me is the community. Despite the industry being large and spread nationwide, the community has maintained a small, tight-knit feeling. As a newcomer to the industry, I can meet presidents of some of the larger organizations in the industry (think household names like Dole or DelMonte) and have them remember my name the next time I see them at a trade show. People are also very nice and anxious to be helpful or to welcome people into the community. I think it is rare for a large industry to have so much cohesion.

The science of produce is also really interesting to me. I have learned a lot about the natural process that occurs when produce ripens, what it takes to grow certain types of produce, how much the weather and climate changes can impact crops or how important crop rotation can be to improve quality. The technical details are really interesting. Knowing that bananas, as they ripen, actually produce enough heat for you to feel it if you put them in a box for just a few hours or that kiwi has more citrus than an orange and more potassium than a banana fascinates me!

Lastly, I am enthralled by all the different specialty items that are popular elsewhere in the world but are not widely available in the states. I really like to try a lot of the unique fruits such as mangosteen, rambutan or dragon fruit (pitaya). All of them are very high in nutrients and have unique flavors and textures.

Would you say that people in the produce industry are health conscious in general?

People in the produce industry are just like every other segment in America. Some of them are very health conscious and others aren’t. I guess if there is a difference, it would have to be that people in the produce industry focus more on eating fresh produce daily than others in the nation. There is also a greater push within the industry to really eat FRESH produce versus canned or processed.

Where do you get your produce?

I buy my produce at my local chain grocery store. Quality has become a lot more important to me so sometimes I will shop around if one store doesn’t have what I am looking for. I find that I am almost always able to find high-quality, safe produce at a chain in my area. Also, chains are carrying more options for locally grown and organic produce so you can get all of your shopping done in one place.

What do you think everyone should know about the produce industry?

I hate to sound Pollyanna-ish but I think that people should know that the produce industry is filled with good people. People who are concerned about adapting to changing customer demands for faster, easier, healthier eating options. People who want to continue to increase food safety and quality and guarantee that customers can feel confident when purchasing fresh produce. People who are passionate about what they do and work hard to do it well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Retuning through a fast

NPR's got a story up of how fasting can get things back in order:

Neufeld says most adults need about 2,000 calories a day. Those calories make energy, or glycogen. Neufeld says it doesn't hurt — it might even help the body — to fast or stop eating for short periods of time, say 24 hours once a week, as long as you drink water.

"You re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you're less fond of taking," Neufeld says.

Eventually the body burns up stored sugars, or glycogen, so less insulin is needed to help the body digest food. That gives the pancreas a rest. On juice diets recommended by some spas, you may lose weight, but your digestive system doesn't get that rest.

Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without, including free radicals.

"These free radicals will attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells," Mattson says. "They can damage all those different molecules in cells.
We're not built to have a lot of excess food all the time.

I think there are going to be shoes dropping in terms of our constant caloric intake and disease. We just aren't built for constant access to all the food we want...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Obama food policy opinion piece

This is a big question in my mind. How directly Obama is going to address food issues.

Check out this opinion piece:

The problem is that agribusiness is grossly unbalanced, flooding Capitol Hill with $1 billion of lobbying efforts the last 11 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, reaping $177 billion in subsidies the last 12, according to the Environmental Working Group. There is so little accountability in farm payment programs that the Government Accountability Office reported in October that the United States Department of Agriculture paid out a total of $49 million to 2,702 potentially ineligible people whose adjusted gross income was more than $2.5 million and derived less than 75 percent of their income from farming, ranching, or forestry.

The result is government waste and grossly unbalanced supermarket shelves, full of sugars, starches, and fats that are cheap to produce but costly to our bodies and our healthcare system. Can a community organizer from Chicago support community supported agriculture? First, he must display the courage to defend what the likes of Michael Pollan have to say, without apology.

If this is going to happen, Obama is going to have to bring some serious 'tough love' to Americans.

I don't think we realize how addicted to sugar we all are.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Supermarket as pscyhological experiment

The Economist has an article about all of the resources that go into constructing the supermarket experience.

I've touched on this in the past, but it continues to amaze me how much information is behind the presentation of products in a supermarket.

Now Big Brother might be watching what you do:
Technology is making the process of monitoring shopper behaviour easier—which is why the security cameras in a store may be doing a lot more than simply watching out for theft. Rajeev Sharma, of Pennsylvania State University, founded a company called VideoMining to automate the process. It uses image-recognition software to scan the pictures from security cameras of shoppers while they are making their selections. It is capable of looking at the actions of hundreds of thousands of people. It can measure how many went straight to one brand, the number that dithered and those that compared several, at the same time as sorting shoppers by age, gender and ethnicity.

VideoMining analysed people in convenience stores buying beer. Typically it would take them two minutes, with the majority going straight to one brand. “This shows their mind was already made up; they were on autopilot,” says Dr Sharma. So brewers should spend their marketing money outside, not inside, the store. The analysis can also help establish the return on investment to a new advertising campaign by showing what proportion of beer-buyers can be persuaded to consider rival brands. Another study in a supermarket some 12% of people spent 90 seconds looking at juices, studying the labels but not selecting any. In supermarket decision-making time, that is forever. This implies that shoppers are very interested in juices as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks, but are not sure which to buy. So there is a lot of scope for persuasion.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Michael Pollan on NPR Talk of the Nation

Michael Pollan was on Talk of the nation discussing his book, "In Defense of Food."

Here is the link.

He talks about cultural-based eating vs. science-based eating.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Extra drag on Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms are the backstops of health care.

They should be reserved for emergencies.

This isn't a good trend:
A growing number of Baltimore residents are being treated in hospitals for illnesses that could be prevented with routine medical care, a new study has found. The health commissioner says the data show "a fundamental failure" of the city's health system.

City residents are being hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms for such conditions as asthma and high blood pressure at rates that are roughly twice those in surrounding counties and statewide, according to the Rand Corp. study.
I could see how the psychology of an Emergency Room staff could shift when there is a high volume of bodies in the room that are not true emergencies.

This also puts extra honus on the staff to figure out which people are real emergencies, which was previously left to the discretion of the people seeking help.

On all kinds of levels, it seems like this would be problematic.