FERN’s Friday Feed: Pruitt’s cozy relationship with Big Chicken

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Scott Pruitt has Big Chicken’s back

The Intercept

Phosphorous from poultry operations in Arkansas has fouled the Illinois River, which runs through the state as well as Oklahoma, for decades. When he was attorney general of Oklahoma, EPA chief Scott Pruitt derailed a decade-long effort to clean it up. Now, his agency has removed parts of the river’s watershed “from a list of pollution-impaired waterways in Arkansas,” writes Sharon Lerner, even though the waters remain polluted. “The list, which is required under the Clean Water Act, creates a legal obligation to address the pollution.”

Calorie counts are in effect, but will they do any good?

NPR’s The Salt

Eight years after it was mandated in the Affordable Care Act that all restaurant chains in the U.S. with 20 or more locations post calories counts, the regulation took effect this week. While there is limited evidence of impact on consumer behavior either way, “[a] review by the Cochrane Collaborative, which analyzed several studies, found that calorie labels seem to reduce the number of calories people purchase by an estimated 50 calories per meal,” writes Allison Aubrey. FDA administrator Scott Gottlieb says, “That may sound like a small amount … [b]ut over a year … you could end up consuming 10,000 to 20,000 fewer calories, making you three to five pounds slimmer.”

A hopeful outlook for diversity at the Beard Awards


At this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, black chefs took home more top prizes than in years past, possibly signaling a sea change for future awards. “The Beards’ tendency to highlight the European-influenced world of dining is a narrow way to view all of the cuisines that create America’s unique dining culture; it doesn’t truly reflect how great it is to eat in America,” writes Korsha Wilson. “So what makes these wins particularly poignant is that chefs Rodney Scott, Nina Compton, Edouardo Jordan, and Dolester Miles are cooking interpretations of their unique history, from the present moment in the part of America where they live. Their complicated and beautiful act of reclaiming Black foodways and serving it to the public is too powerful to understate.”

Can a fish be killed humanely?


The humane treatment of livestock has long been the focus of the animal rights movement, but what about fish and the way they are killed? Writer Cat Ferguson gives a close-up look at the process, which usually involves death by suffocation (at a slower rate than humans drown) or a crushing demise in an ice bath. Scientists debate whether fish feel pain but “violent escape attempts and biological markers like cortisol and lactic acid leave no doubt that these are terrible ways to die,” Ferguson writes. There is an alternative, however, a Japanese technique known as ike jime. Fish are killed instantaneously by a spike to the head, then bled out, avoiding asphyxiation, and insuring better-tasting and longer-lasting flesh. If preserving the economic value of the catch is the best path to humane slaughter, it might just have a chance of adoption in the United States.

Why local bread goes against the grain

The New Food Economy

Thomas Moss, the founder of The People’s Grocery, and two of his employees, were lynched outside Memphis on March 9, 1892, by a mob that feared and resented the grocery’s success in a mixed-race neighborhood. “The grocery not only brought capital to the black Memphians in the community, but also a sense of pride,” writes Damon Mitchell. Even nearly 30 years after the Civil War, “racial tensions in the South remained high. As blacks began to rid themselves of debt, white Southerners turned to racial violence, targeting blacks who they perceived as having too much ambition, property, talent, or wealth.”