In May this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labels that will have to be printed on most packaged food products by July 2018. In a presentation at the White House, Michelle Obama praised the label as making “a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.” Recent posts on this blog have discussed notions of transparency and choice. Today, I want to add some remarks on the history and politics of the gauge on which a lot of today’s food talk is based: on calories. The new food label includes a line on added sugars as well as changes in serving sizes. Its most visible change, however,…

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Charlotte Biltekoff in a recent blog entry notes, “The foodworld is abuzz with the promise of transparency.” The premise is that new trends in food marketing better inform consumers about where and how their food is produced. And as Biltekoff considers, transparency creates further complexity. Certainly, “eating local” similarly supports the notion of transparency in the food system. My objective here is to examine how urban branding around “eating local” shapes the urban landscape. I focus on the city of Sacramento, California to illustrate the ways in which the city council and restaurateurs tacitly employ the notion of food transparency to upgrade the urban landscape to accrue capital. In 2013, Mayor Kevin Johnson declared Sacramento “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” The marketing…

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The food world is abuzz with the promise of transparency. Radical transparency. Authentic transparency. Trust-building transparency. The promise comes in many forms – from clear packaging to ethical corporate engagement, “clean” ingredients panels, supply chain traceability, hand held scanning technologies that can tell you “what is really in your food,” video tours taking consumers inside production plants, and real life opportunities to “see for yourself” where your food comes from. What is the problem that transparency seeks to solve? What is transparency? And can it solve those problems? Transparency is the food industry’s answer to consumer concerns about processed food and the industrial food system that produces it. It’s a version of the same ethos that has animated much of…

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