Transcript: Digging into RMPs

Transcript from November 29, 2023 podcast

Hello, everybody. Garland West here with another Digging In episode, where we try to take a little bit deeper dive into subjects involving our food and the incredible system that produces it.

Today we have a really fun topic for you and one that I bet tells you some things you didn’t know before. We all know how important research is to our food system. We use sound science to open all sorts of doors, better plants and better animals through improved nutrition, better genetics, better production techniques. The list goes on and on and on. Scientists work every day to unlock more value in the commodities and the staples we’ve relied upon for literally hundreds of years. We get better, more nutritious food and innovative new uses that meet real market needs, and we get smarter consumers to boot. Our food system does more than ever before to provide a steady stream of the data and the information that comes from data so we can all make better, smarter food decisions.

None of that happens by chance. It doesn’t fall out of the blue like manna from heaven. It takes money and lots of it. It takes work by thousands of researchers all pointed toward finding answers to some of the toughest issues we still wrestle with in our food system. It takes a concerted effort to get the word out to people. Today we want to tell you a little about the role played by producers in making all that happen. Not the government, not fancy think tanks, not big business or big universities. All those folks play an important role, but we often overlook what hardworking, financially challenged farmers do to drive research and better consumer understanding of our food.

Today we’re going to talk to two people at the front lines of that effort. Bob Parker and Ryan Lepicier have spent years guiding what’s called a research marketing and promotion organization, or RMP, which are producer funded organizations that take farmer dollars and channel them into highly valuable research and public education. Bob and Ryan head the National Peanut Board based in Atlanta, and for more than a dozen years, have work to turn the commitment of peanut producers across the United States into something really, really important Today, we’ll ask them to tell us a bit about RMPs and especially what the peanut Board has been doing to help in peanut research and promotion.

Bob & Ryan, thank you for joining us at Dirt to Dinner. Digging in, you have a friendly audience here. Peanuts are one of my favorite stacks, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may be my ultimate comfort food, but in a world hungry for protein and with farmers needing every market opportunity they can find, there’s more at stake here than snacks. Let’s start with the basics. Tell us what an RMP is and why the work groups like yours is so important to the interests of consumers everywhere.

Bob Parker:

An RMP is a research marketing and promotion board. It’s an organization created by the producers of a commodity where they come together and they vote whether to establish an official research marketing and promotion organization with their producer dollars. And the goal is to increase demand through promotion and marketing. And the other goal is to improve efficiency and production through production research.

Garland West:

Well, how many of these organizations are there? I know I’m familiar with the National Peanut Board, but how many of these organizations exist across US? Agriculture?

Bob Parker:

How many stars are in the sky?

Garland West:

Good answer.

Bob Parker:

I counted up at least 25, and it ranges all over the board from beef, pork and egg fluid milk. There’s even a paper and packaging board that was created by the paper industry to generically promote the use of paper. And they do an exceptional job with saying, send a personal note, someone that’s very effective. There’s the mushroom board, there’s cotton, there’s even a honey board, there’s multiple avocado boards. Oh my goodness. Three or four avocado boards, Mexican avocados and avocados and mango board, which is mostly imported. So importers help pay an assessment. They help pay for the funding of these boards.

Garland West:

Is there some Christmas organization? How do you coordinate all of these activities? Or are they totally independent of each other?

Bob Parker:

Well, we’re all under oversight from the agricultural marketing Service of USDA. We’re all, we’re an instrument of the United States Department of Agriculture, if that makes any sense. So we were authorized by 1996 Act of Congress that allowed producers to come together and vote whether to assess themselves a certain amount per unit of sale. In our case, $3 and 55 cents a ton to fund our program. And that’s how most of these boards were created, but some were created through their own act.

Garland West:

Sorry to interrupt, but you said something that really got my attention as a taxpayer. It sounds to me like these organizations are self-funded. This is not taxpayer money.

Bob Parker:

There’s not a penny that goes to fund our operations from taxpayers. In fact, I would argue that we benefit taxpayers by our production research and increasing awareness of the benefits of consuming peanuts, for example. And because of our support for production research, we’ve lowered the cost of production to the point that the price of a serving a peanut butter or snack peanuts today is only 19 cents per serving. So the consumer I think, benefits from our work through lower cost to buy our products.

Garland West:

Is there any kind of measure, how do you go about assessing the effectiveness of the money you spend? Is there any kind of economic projection about every dollar you spend generating X number of something?

Bob Parker:

USDA requires that we do a return on investment analysis every five years. And with that analysis as an econometric analysis, the economist looks at where we focus our efforts and spending and then looks at the impact that our efforts had on those specific areas and calculates a return. And our last return on investment analysis was performed in 2019 and showed over a $9 return to the farmer for every dollar invested by Farmers

Garland West:

Nine to one.

Bob Parker:

Yeah. Did

Garland West:

I hear you correctly on that? Yes. So if I test a buck, I get $9 in return.

Bob Parker:

That’s right.

Garland West:

That’s pretty good return. That’s better than what I get at my local bank by a long shot. Well, you talk about research and you talk about marketing and promotion. Can you give me an example or a couple of examples in each of those areas? What kind of research do you support?

Bob Parker:

We support research in several areas. So we do production research and we also support food allergy research in the production research arena. It’s bottom driven, I would say. What we do is we have so many dollars that we’re required by our charter to spend on production research, and we will allocate this money to each state based on its percentage of the production of US peanuts. We’ll ask the states to seek proposals from their research community and bring those proposals to our board for approval. So the farmers on the ground, the state organizations who know better than anyone what they need and what their issues and problems are actually submit to us how to spend their allocation of the research dollars. On top of that, we also spend money, additional research funds on areas such as genomic research. So how can we improve the genetics of conventionally farmed peanuts without having to resort to transgenic peanuts? Because right now there’s consumer resistance, manufacturer resistance, and so we’ve funded substantial amounts of research along with other industry organizations in mapping the genome of the peanut and then putting that knowledge to use through genetic markers. So breeders now, instead of making a cross by trial and error and hoping it took and actually do a DNA test and see if the trait that they were seeking to introduce into another plant actually took. And then I’ll let Ryan talk about some of our food allergy research because I’ve been doing all the talking so far.

Ryan Lepicier:

I think it’s interesting in the simplest terms, I think of research marketing and promotion programs as a self-help tax that producers impose upon themselves to help solve problems. Like in our case with peanuts in the late 1990s, we saw consumption way down. And remember the nineties were a time of low fat everything, and of course peanuts have healthy fats. So the industry got together around this idea of let’s create one of these research marketing and promotion programs so that we can help to solve some problems that the industry is facing. And one of those was the need to communicate about nutrition to the consumer, about the fact that peanuts are healthy, about the fact that peanuts contain heart healthy fats and protein and things that we need to have healthy lives. On the allergy front, I think this is one of the most interesting stories about the peanut board.

Ryan Lepicier:

How did a bunch of peanut farmers get onto this issue of peanut allergy? When the board first formed in the early two thousands, they got this giant truck that went around the country to state fairs and festivals, and it had a stage that was on the back of the truck and this giant peanut popped up and there were chef demos and performers. And as they took this truck around the country from time to time, someone would come up to them and say something like, how does it feel to grow something that kills people? And they kind of scratch their heads and they’re like, Hmm, this is happening more than once. We’re getting negative comments here and there. What’s going on with peanut allergy? We better learn about this. We better get smart about this. And so they formed a scientific advisory counsel of some of the world’s top experts to advise them, and they ended up getting connected with this guy, Dr.

Ryan Lepicier:

Gideon lack, a researcher in London who had spoken about his theory that children in western societies like uk, the United States, Australia, we’re not getting peanut in the diet early yet. He knew from his work that kids in Israel got a peanut snack called Bumba when they were teething age. And so he was looking for funding to do a study about that very issue, and the board gave him some money. And that study was published and it showed indeed that kids in Israel were fed this peanut containing food early, and the prevalence of peanut allergy was much, much lower in Israel. So fast forward, he puts together this larger study, it’s called the LEAP study. And the LEAP study took over 500 kids and put them into two different groups. One group of kids, all the kids were at high risk of peanut allergy, meaning they had eczema or egg allergy already.

Ryan Lepicier:

And half the kids got peanut between four and six months and half the kids did not get peanut. And when the study was completed after many, many years, it turned out that you could reduce the prevalence of peanut allergy in the peanut eating group by 86%. So those kids by age five. So those kids that got peanut early in the LEAP study, say that again, I want to make sure That’s really impressive set of numbers there up to the Yeah, so the LEAP study took hundreds of kids and put them into two different groups. All these kids had egg allergy or eczema. That’s a risk factor for developing peanut allergy. Half the kids got peanuts between four and six months of age. The other half the kids got no peanut food. Fast forward, the kids are five years old, the study ends and the kids that got peanut early, they had a reduction peanut allergy by 86%.

Garland West:

Wow, that’s really impressive.

Ryan Lepicier:

So when you talk about research and promotion programs and how farmers are making a difference, they’re not only helping themselves, right? They’re helping society at large by funding nutrition research by funding allergy research. In this case a landmark study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that has changed the way that we feed our children. The dietary guidelines for Americans now say that kids should get all foods in the first year of life including allergenic foods like peanuts.

Garland West:

You’re telling me that the peanut industry, the peanut producer in particular, has funded this kind of important research work. Are we talking about tens of thousands of dollars of research, hundreds of thousands of dollars of research or million dollars of research,

Ryan Lepicier:

Try nearly $40 million in research education funding on the food allergy front,

Garland West:

Paid by peanut producers in America,

Ryan Lepicier:

Paid by peanut farmers in America.

Bob Parker:

Absolutely.

Garland West:

That’s

Bob Parker:

Very, that many could have gone for other things, but we felt like it was important to address that issue.

Garland West:

Absolutely, absolutely. I’ve also heard rumors that you get involved in some very interesting kind of marketing promotion activities, trying to organize this little podcast. For example, the travel schedule you guys have, the people of the peanut board are on the road nonstop telling the peanut story. How much time do you spend on the road trying to tell that story?

Ryan Lepicier:

Well, we have a great team here at the National Peanut Board of both staff members and partners like from our marketing agency or consultants that we bring in to help us with the work. And we keep everyone really busy. But the good news is that we are able to cover a lot of ground with a pretty modest budget. So we’re looking at consumer marketing really in two or three big buckets. So the first bucket would be consumer marketing, talking to consumers directly about the benefits of peanuts. And then we have a whole segment of our marketing work that’s focused on business development. How do we encourage new uses for peanuts, innovative new uses for peanuts? How do we encourage food service operators to use peanuts in their operation? And then a third thrust of our consumer work is really about reputation management. How do we defend the reputation of the peanut?

Ryan Lepicier:

So the allergy work would sort of fall under that bucket. How do we work to make a difference to improve the lives of people who suffer from peanut allergy? Of course, we’re working to eradicate peanut allergy, right? That’s the holy grail for us as we want to see peanut butter, I’m sorry. We want to see peanut allergy gone, right? We want it out of the picture, but there’s a lot that we can do in the interim to improve the lives of people who have peanut allergy. So for instance, we’ve funded research on oral immunotherapy that’s using the peanut or peanut protein to desensitize an individual with peanut allergies so that they have what’s called bite protection. The accidentally consume peanut. They’re not going to have a severe reaction. They’re not going to be peanut eaters eating PB and J every day, but they can consume peanut and live their lives without that nagging constant fear in the back of their heads that if I accidentally eat something with peanut, I could die.

Ryan Lepicier:

So those are really three areas of work. Of course, to me, and I’m a marketer at heart, is the consumer work is just so much fun. And that’s really because consumer marketing has changed at the speed of light and it continues to change at the speed of light. For many, many, many, many, many years, it was print, tv, radio out of home, and those marketing tools are still in the marketer toolbox, but we have so many amazing tools we can use now that provide us with data to help us improve what we’re doing on the next round. So I think our key platform now is TikTok and the National Peanut Board doesn’t even have a TikTok account. That’s not how you market on TikTok. So the fun thing about TikTok is being able to work with influencers or content creators have a following to help leverage their voices to tell the peanut story, right? We’re not telling it directly from the peanut board. We’re partnering with people who have followers who care about what they say and then using them to tell the peanut story.

Garland West:

Well, you’re dealing with somebody who has a very strong bias. I’m an old geezer who grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One of my favorite snack foods is peanuts. We’ve got jars of peanuts all around our house, half consumed from where I leave them, wherever I wander around the house. And then as I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized that in a world that needs more and more protein, especially plant proteins, this is a wonder crop. I mean, this is an incredible product that could help the world meet its growing need for more protein, better our consumers generally understanding that. Is the awareness of this as a, I won’t call it a miracle food, but it is a super food. Is the consumer aware of that? Is there growing evidence that consumers recognize what peanuts can offer?

Bob Parker:

If you went by consumption numbers per capita? I would answer yes. They’re aware that peanuts and peanut butter are a healthy choice for plant-based protein. As we’ve seen per capita consumption rates hit all time records during the pandemic at 7.8 pounds per capita in 2021. It fell back slightly to 7.7 and 22 and held at 7.7 in 23. We do, those numbers are updated at the end of July each year. So we’re holding our,

Garland West:

But still respect,

Bob Parker:

We’re holding our ground. We would love to see an 8.08 pounds per capita consumption number one day. And that’s a difficult thing to attain because peanuts are a very, very mature market in the United States. Ryan mentioned over 90% of pantries already have at least one jar of peanut butter in them. So how do we get people to consume more peanuts?

Garland West:

How do you get food manufacturers to make more products in which peanuts are a component? I mean, how much of your time do you spend dealing with food manufacturers to try to sell the wonders of peanuts?

Bob Parker:

Well, we’re doing the best thing we can do, I think on that end is keep the cost of peanuts affordable to the manufacturer so that it is a really high powered but low cost ingredient. And when you look at the cost wholesale cost of peanuts today, even though it’s up a little bit recently, it’s still half of what it was 30 years ago when adjusted for inflation half.

Garland West:

Wow.

Ryan Lepicier:

One thing that’s encouraging to me is that in 2023, peanut butter reached a record high all time record high consumption of 4.4 pounds per capita. So here’s this staple food that’s been around forever that people still love and are continuing to buy. And the opportunity there for manufacturers is to leverage the popularity of peanut butter, of the flavor, the nostalgia into new products. And we see that all the time. Peanut butter and jelly flavored coffee creamer, for instance, was one that I saw recently. So manufacturers know that there’s something special about peanut butter. They know that there is something special to the consumer in terms of nostalgia. But I do think, to answer your earlier question, that consumers do recognize the wholesomeness and goodness of peanuts as both a food and as an agricultural crop. But at the end of the day, it’s all about they love the way the peanut butter tastes. They like the way that they feel when they eat it. They love the nostalgia of eating in shell peanuts like you get at a baseball game. These are emotional ties that people have to the food that our farmers grow.

Garland West:

Very, the very definition of comfort food,

Ryan Lepicier:

Yes, peanuts and peanut butter are the very definition of comfort food, and it’s pretty amazing to work promoting a product that so many people have an emotional connection to. It makes marketing so much easier.

Garland West:

Let me serve up a softball question to you. What could our government do to help spread the word about peanuts above and beyond what you’re doing? What could they do to help people understand the important benefits of peanuts as a source? Not just of tasty, pleasant comfort food, but something that’s really good for them? Is there something the government can do that they’re not doing? Now?

Ryan Lepicier:

I don’t know that we want to talk about what the government can do since we’re a quasi-governmental agency.

Garland West:

I wanted to give you the chance, so now I’ve done it. We can edit that out, don’t worry. One thing that I wanted to circle back on, I keep coming back to this nine to one ratio, which just boggles my mind. You say you have to have periodic assessments by your producers to sort evaluate the work that you’re doing and judge it. What’s your track record and support among peanut producers? Do they like what you’re doing? Are they supportive of it? Are there pockets of support that are stronger than others, or is it kind of a universal support across all the growing areas?

Bob Parker:

We have a referendum every five years, and since I’ve been here, we’ve had referendums in 2014 and 2019, we will have another referendum in 2024, and our support from producers has increased in each of the last two referendums to well over 90% affirmative for continuation.

Garland West:

Over 90% more than nine out of 10?

Bob Parker:

Yes.

Garland West:

Okay. How does that compare with some of these other RMP organizations now? Do you seem to have stronger grower support than some of the others, or is that pretty much a typical rating?

Bob Parker:

I think our support is stronger, frankly. One board recently got voted down by its producers and failed to get a majority vote.
So some industries have opposition from within and from external groups. Some of the animal boards have opposition from animal rights groups that have spent a lot of money targeting these boards, which is to me a vote of confidence because that means obviously that animal rights groups think that RMPs are effective in marketing and increasing demand and consumption for meat, so they wouldn’t bother to attack them.

Ryan Lepicier:

I think what we have Garland, I think what we have going for us as a peanut industry is that we’re a pretty tight-knit industry. We’re a much smaller crop than say corn or soybeans, but we’re delivering results where it matters to the producer, right? We are funding research that’s helping solve problems on the farm. We were part of the funding for the genomics initiative, which unlocked the genome of the peanut, which our scientists are now using to create varieties that help solve problems that producers face on the farm. And then we’ve already talked about food allergy, but we’re made great, great progress on peanut allergy and people can see what we’re doing and they can say the peanut board is doing some really unique work that’s really helping to solve some problems that we have, but let’s keep it going.

Garland West:

Well, between the two of you, you’ve got decades of practical frontline experience in this. So I’m going to put you on the spot here and say, I want you to apply those decades of experience, put on your Johnny Carson Carac, the magnificent hat, and tell me what’s going to happen to you, your organization and organizations like yours in the years ahead. How are you going to be called upon to do something more and different than you’re currently being asked to do? Do you have any projections in that

Bob Parker:

Area? I’m sure that, and I’m going to tee this up for Ryan, 10 years ago, the way we marketed to consumers was totally different than the way we market to consumers today. We were doing print advertisements, was our main method of promoting to consumers, and we shifted totally to online and digital. And the risk with that is that our producers may not see our ads in a magazine because we’re not advertising or we’re not promoting where maybe our producers are. But what lies ahead, I think in five years, 10 years will be totally different from the way we’re marketing and promoting today. And now I’ll hand it off to Ryan to talk

Garland West:

About, Hey Ryan, you’re on the spot there. Tell everybody about your new job.

Ryan Lepicier:

Well, I agree with Bob that, and I mentioned this earlier, that marketing changes at the speed of light As a marketer in 2024, you can’t employ the same tactics that you did every year for the last five years. You’ve got to be abreast of what’s coming down the pipeline. Where are the consumers you’re trying to reach? And you’ve got to be on those platforms. I think the exciting thing for marketers though is that we are going to see a revolution in the way that data is used to reach our audiences. And we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with generative artificial intelligence. But I’m super excited to see where that goes. But I also think, not just in marketing, but one of our challenges is that as our yields increase because of the productivity on the farm increasing, we’re growing a million more tons of peanuts today than we were 10 years ago.

Ryan Lepicier:

And the trajectory is that in 10 more years, we’ll be growing in other million tons taking us to approximately 4 million tons. So what are we going to do with all of those peanuts? We can use them in the domestic market as edible food. We can crush them for oil, we can export them. But I think we’ve got to think seriously in our industry about what are some new uses for peanuts, non-edible uses? And Bob has laid the groundwork for exploring can we produce a peanut that has a higher oil content than the peanuts that we eat that could be used to be crushed as oil. So they would basically, the path would be from the farm to the oil refinery. We’re importing peanut oil that we eat, yet we are growing more peanuts. So it seems like there’s an opportunity there to unlock a potential new use. I think it’s been well publicized that a major oil company is exploring peanuts for biofuels. So what opportunities are there for biofuels? As you mentioned earlier, that peanuts are a crop that’s sustainable to grow. It’s affordable and as a food, it’s delicious. But there are other properties of the peanut, like the oil that make them valuable to market segments that we’re just now starting to explore and tap into.

Garland West:

Wow.

Bob Parker:

There’s also been some research on using certain types of peanuts in a chicken ration for layers and for meat chickens that’s showing some real promise enhanced nutritional profiles of eggs and possibly meat, which could increase demand for peanuts if that takes hold.

Garland West:

So peanuts playing a role beyond their own, beyond them being a source of protein. They’re also potentially something that could improve the production of other forms of protein that the world needs. Really interesting stuff. How in the world do you maintain connections with the producers? I mean, peanut peanuts are produced across the entire southern tier of the United States. How do you go about making sure that you stay in touch with the producers that support you? Especially when you talk about the distance between the traditional marketing tools and the experience of producers increasingly in a modern age. How do you maintain contact with your producers?

Bob Parker:

One thing is a biweekly newsletter that goes out to the industry as a whole and then a quarterly print magazine that goes out to the industry as a whole that talks about really interesting issues around peanuts and highlight some of our work that we’re doing. We certainly have an obligation to make producers aware of our work so that they want, we have an obligation to make producers aware of the work we’re doing, so they’ll feel like they’re getting a benefit from the assessment that they’re paying in to fund our programs.

Garland West:

How much time do you spend actually walking peanut fields? How much do you go out there and get dirt between your toes?

Bob Parker:

Living in Atlanta, it’s not easy to get out into peanut fields. I try to get out as much as I can, but it’s difficult to be everywhere else. We have to be and do that. But we do try to go to every state meeting. We have 12 board members. We have 11 primary producing states that have a board seat and we have a large seat. We’ll have someone at every one of their meetings. And Ryan or I try to go to as many as we can, but if we can’t make it, one of our staff members will be there and we’ll talk about our work.

Garland West:

Well, if you’ve got over a 90% approval rating, it sounds like you’re doing something right?

Bob Parker:

Yeah, I think so. But we can’t take that for granted either.

Garland West:

Alright. Well, this is another

Ryan Lepicier:

Powerful way that we’re able to keep in touch with producers Garland, is through the relationships we have with grower leaders in the industry. So for instance, we’re members of the American Peanut Council, our trade association for the US peanut industry. And many of the states will send a delegation of peanut producers who are leaders in their state. And when those leaders know what you’re doing and they value the work that you’re doing, they’re talking about it to growers in their area. So it kind of helps us to maintain those relationships that we have.

Bob Parker:

We have 24, 25 peanut industry organizations, and I’m probably leaving some out when I try to count them up. And so trying to get alignment is extremely important. And once a year we have a marketing summit where we bring in, we cover the cost of travel for the state executives from each major peanut producing state, and their board chairs and other industry organizations are invited as well. This week we head to Chicago for that meeting and we unveil our marketing plan for the upcoming year at that meeting. And we try to get alignment. We say, here’s what we’re doing. Our resources are there for you. All you have to do is ask and we’ll share our resources so that we, hopefully we’ll get them to also focus in the same direction that we are. And that’s something that Ryan has led and hatched some years ago, and I think it’s been very effective in creating industry alignment and coercion or cohesiveness. It’s been very important in developing industry alignment and cohesion.

Garland West:

Excellent. Ryan, you want to add anything to that? Don’t have to.

Ryan Lepicier:

I don’t think so. Bob said it. Well,

Garland West:

You have been very, very generous with your time. This has been very educational. I think that the listeners to digging in will find it of interest. I’d like to thank you for your time and give you one last chance to deliver the magic message at the end of the podcast. If you want consumers to know one thing about peanuts and the National Peanut Board, what would you like them to know?

Bob Parker:

Peanuts are healthy. They’re incredibly, peanuts are healthy. They taste amazingly, start over. Peanuts are healthy. They’re good for you with any and nutrients and healthy fats. They taste great and they’re sustainable like no other nut.

Garland West:

Very

Ryan Lepicier:

Nice. Since Bob covered the functional benefits of peanuts, I’ll talk a little bit about the other thing that I love about peanuts, and that’s our peanut farmers. Our peanut farmers are amazing in many cases. In most cases, running multi-generational family businesses. And if anybody thinks being a farmer is easy, they’ve got another thing coming. Our farmers put a lot at risk every year when they grow the crops that they bring to market for the consumer. And fortunately, I think many of them take great pride in doing that work and are willing to take the risks that come their way.

And it’s very exciting to see some of the things that young farmers are bringing to the table. Their dad, their grandparents, their moms may have been farmers, but these young farmers are a new generation and they’re bringing the same but a little bit different level of excitement and approach to making sure that their business is sustainable for their children.

Garland West:

Wow, that’s very, very good. You’re telling me that they’re tasty, they’re nutritious, they’re sustainable environmentally, and they’re sustainable in terms of perpetuating the family farm that’s made our American Ag system what it’s today. That’s a pretty good summary of an industry. Bob & Ryan, that’s a great note to end on.

Thank you again for being with us on Dirt to Dinner’s, Digging In podcast. I might add a personal note of congratulations to both men, Bob, for a remarkable career in service to peanut farmers in the entire peanut industry and agriculture in general for that matter. And Ryan for his recent selection to follow Bob as the peanut board’s next president and CEO. Guys, thanks for a job very, very well done.

I’m Garland West reminding you to visit us at www dirt-to-dinner.com. I’ll promise we’ll make it fun and informative.

Digging into RMPs: National Peanut Board

Because of our ever-evolving food system, we get better, more nutritious food and innovative new uses that meet real market needs, and we get smarter consumers to boot. It takes work by thousands of researchers all pointed toward finding answers to some of the toughest issues we continue to wrestle with every day. And it takes a concerted effort to get the word out to people.

But who’s in charge of this endeavor? Not the government, not fancy think tanks, not big business or big universities. All those folks play important roles, but we often overlook what hardworking, financially challenged farmers who drive the demand to improve consumer understanding of our food.

In this episode of Digging In, we’re turning to the peanut industry to provide a stellar example of organizations that work behind the scenes for its farmers. The National Peanut Board, a research, marketing and promotion organization (“RMP”) for U.S. peanut farmers, is headed up by Bob Parker, current CEO; and Ryan Lepicier, current Chief Marketing Officer and next CEO. RMPs like this organization help improve our food system to provide a steady stream of information so we can all make better, smarter food decisions.

Click here for a transcript of this podcast.

Here are our guests in this episode:

Bob Parker joined the National Peanut Board, a farmer-funded research, marketing and promotion organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, as its president and CEO in 2012. At the National Peanut Board, he has focused on the mission of improving the economic condition of America’s peanut farmers and their families. Those efforts have centered around promoting the increased consumption of U.S.-grown peanuts domestically and internationally, addressing barriers to consumption such as peanut allergy and supporting production research to make peanut farmers more productive, efficient and sustainable.

The 2023 peanut crop is the 47th of Parker’s professional career, although he has been around peanuts his entire life. He has a broad range of experience in peanuts and agriculture, both domestically and internationally, from growing, processing, public policy and marketing. Parker is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in agricultural economics.

Ryan Lepicier serves as senior vice president and chief marketing officer at the National Peanut Board with a passion for fueling peanut demand and consumption. He will begin his role as NPB president and CEO on January 1, 2024. He and his team are working to make peanuts the most relevant nut among millennial consumers by ensuring people are thinking about peanuts differently, talking about peanuts positively, engaging with peanuts more often, and buying more peanuts.

Lepicier has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication from the University of Oregon and an MBA from Auburn University. He likes his peanut butter straight from the jar on a spoon. Crunchy, please.

Haricots Verts with Ginger & Pecans

A Bright, New Twist on Green Beans

Lisa Fielding, D2D’s contributing chef, recommends Team D2D and all our readers to immediately exchange that tired green bean casserole for this bright, complex dish that triumphs over its soggy cousin. And we couldn’t agree more.

Consider this as a worthy accompaniment to your Thanksgiving turkey, or as a bed under a grilled salmon filet. No matter how you prepare it, you won’t be disappointed.

Want to dig deeper into this recipe to learn how foods like these are a part of our bigger food system? We’ve got something for everyone!

Haricots Verts in Browned Butter with Caramelized Ginger & Pecans

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. haricot verts, trimmed and washed
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1/3 cup pecan pieces toasted in a skillet for 2 minutes
  • 1 stick salted high quality butter

Instructions:

  • Prepare an ice bath. Either steam or blanch haricot verts until tender but still snap when broken in two. Steam will take around 3 minutes. Blanching in boiling water around 90 seconds. Place in ice bath to stop the cooking process.
  • Melt butter in a skillet over a low heat. You don’t want to the butter to brown quickly. Toss in ginger and cook over low heat until matchsticks turn golden and crispy. Butter will brown simultaneously.
  • Remove haricot verts from ice bath and toss in a kitchen towel until completely dry. Toss with ginger butter and pecans. Platter and serve.

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The Ultimate Cocktail Cookie

Calling All Mad Party Hosts!

Lisa Fielding, D2D’s contributing chef, has been making Dorie Greenspan’s famous savory cocktail cookies for years and have typically followed her recipes to the letter. And why not? She’s amazing.

As Lisa says, “The cookies are essentially a shortbread batter elevated with sweet and savory ingredients that produce the most tantalizing bouchée which, after just one bite will transport you to a state of food nirvana.”

But never satisfied to leave well enough alone, Lisa was curious what would happen if she adapted the recipe to include apricots to the savory recipe and add a whole egg instead of egg yolks to plump up the cookie and bind it better when baked through.

Turns out she was right on all counts. This sweet and savory version will add a patina of sophistication to your next cocktail party.

Want to dig deeper into this recipe to learn how foods like these are a part of our bigger food system? We’ve got something for everyone!

The Ultimate Cocktail Cookie

Yields 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup whole dried apricots, softened in boiling water for ten minutes and then chopped
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (additional flour for rolling and cutting)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1 ounce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Add the whole almonds to a food processor and pulse to the consistency of grainy flour. Add the rosemary and sugar and pulse until completely combined. Now add the chopped apricots and pulse until they are well integrated. Add the flour and pulse into a fine grainy mixture.
  • Now add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and pulse until large clumps of dough form.
  • Flour your work surface. Transfer the dough and press into a disc. Lightly flour the disc and with a rolling pin very gently roll into a larger circle until the dough is 1/2″ thick.
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out cookies as close together as possible. Arrange the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden; you may need to spin the sheet half way through if your oven cooks unevenly. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pro tip: Want to make this ahead?
The rolled-out cookie dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept frozen for 2 weeks. Then bake cookies as instructed above.

Hungry for more knowledge?

Click on the posts below to sate your curiosity about where our food comes from. And click here for more of our tried-and-true recipes. Bon appetit!

Classic Cheesecloth Turkey

A Traditional Turkey, but Elevated…

This roasted turkey is the go-to recipe for D2D’s contributing chef, Lisa Fielding…and for good reason. And she follows this beautiful bird up with her extraordinary pumpkin pie cheesecake.

Scroll down for instructions and enjoy 🙂

Want to dig deeper into this recipe to learn how foods like these are a part of our bigger food system? We’ve got something for everyone!

Lisa’s Classic Cheesecloth Turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey (14 to 16 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 celery ribs, quartered
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, quartered
  • 1 cup butter, cubed
  • 2 cups white wine

Gravy

  • 2 to 3 cups chicken broth
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325°. Remove giblets from turkey; cover and refrigerate for gravy. Pat turkey dry; place breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine softened butter, thyme and sage. With fingers, carefully loosen skin from turkey breast; rub butter mixture under skin. Sprinkle salt and pepper over turkey and inside cavity; fill cavity with celery, onion and carrot.
  • In a large saucepan, melt cubed butter; stir in wine. Saturate a four-layered 17-in. square of cheesecloth in butter mixture; drape over turkey. Bake turkey, uncovered, 3 hours; baste with wine mixture every 30 minutes, keeping cheesecloth moist at all times.
  • Remove and discard cheesecloth. Bake turkey until a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 170°-175°, basting occasionally with pan drippings, 45 minutes to 1-1/4 hours longer. (Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.)
  • Remove turkey to a serving platter; cover and let stand 20 minutes before carving. Discard vegetables from cavity. Pour drippings and loosened brown bits into a measuring cup. Skim fat, reserving 1/3 cup. Add enough broth to remaining drippings to measure 4 cups.
  • In a saucepan, melt a few tablespoons butter and add flour to make a roux. Cook for one minute and add broth all at once whisking until incorporated. Simmer for five minutes stirring constantly until thickened. Use this as your gravy.

Hungry for more knowledge? Click on the posts below to sate your curiosity about where our food comes from. And click here for more of our tried-and-true recipes. Bon appetit!

Lisa’s Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Pumpkin Pie + Cheesecake = Heaven

Dirt to Dinner’s contributing chef, Lisa Fielding, depends on this Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake to keep the Thanksgiving vibes going strong after her delicious cheesecloth turkey has been gobbled up.

Consider pairing this cheesecake with a fun and festive cocktail to make the day even more scrumptious.

Scroll down for instructions and enjoy 🙂

Want to dig deeper into this recipe to learn how foods like these are a part of our bigger food system? We’ve got something for everyone!

Lisa’s Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

Graham cracker crust:

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (12 full sheets of grahams processed in the food processor until very fine)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp salted butter melted

Pumpkin cheesecake filling:

  • 24 oz cream cheese room temperature (three, 8 oz packages)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ cup sour cream room temperature
  • 3 large eggs room temperature
  • 3 Tbps flour

Instructions

  • Butter and flour the sides of a 9” spring form pan. Line the outside, bottom of the pan completely with heavy-duty foil so no water can leak into the pan from the water bath. Set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the graham cracker crust:

  • In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter and stir until combined.
  • Pour the crust mixture into the prepared springform, pressing it down into the bottom of the dish and halfway up the sides.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes, then remove the crust from the oven and set aside to slightly cool.

Make the pumpkin cheesecake filling:

  • While the crust is baking make the filling.
  • In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat together the cream cheese and brown sugar until light and fluffy and there are no lumps.
  • Add pumpkin puree, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, sea salt and sour cream and beat until just combined.
  • Add eggs, one at a time and beat after each addition.
  • Gently stir in flour.

Prepare a water bath:

  • Find a large pan (baking pan, cast iron skillet, fry pan, etc) that will fit your springform pan and put it in the preheated oven. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.

Bake:

  • Pour the filling over the baked and slightly cooled crust.Place the springform pan in the large pan in the preheated oven. Slowly fill the large pan with boiling water until it is halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.
  • Bake in the water bath for 50-55 minutes or until the top and edges are set but not browned and the pumpkin cheesecake is only very slightly jiggly. You can test it by inserting a knife or cake tester in the center of the cake and if it comes out clean you know it is done. However, this can cause the pumpkin cheesecake to crack so I don’t really recommend it (but it’s better than a soupy cheesecake if you’re unsure).
  • Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and set on a wire cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Once at room temperature, transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Hungry for more knowledge? Click on the posts below to sate your curiosity about where our food comes from. And click here for more of our tried-and-true recipes. Bon appetit!

Can a diet mimic Ozempic’s results?

In the realm of health and wellness, a remarkable medication named Ozempic has dramatically transformed the lives of many individuals struggling with type 2 diabetes and obesity.

What is Ozempic, anyway?

Ozempic, containing the active ingredient semaglutide, made waves in the healthcare community initially in 2017 when the FDA approved it for managing blood sugar levels in conjunction with diet and exercise. But it has become a cultural tsunami this past year (especially on social media) as more non-diabetics have been seeking its myriad health-related benefits.

The benefits are now appreciated by both patients and healthcare professionals. This injectable medication works by mimicking the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone, which plays a pivotal role in regulating blood sugars, slowing stomach emptying, curbing appetite, and improving heart problems (possibly preventing heart attack and stroke).

However, while medications like this are sometimes necessary, many individuals could achieve similar health outcomes by focusing on a strategic diet, emphasizing foods that naturally regulate blood sugar levels, reduce hunger, and promote weight loss. By eating the right foods, you can still have the “I’m full” effect of Ozempic and the benefits of getting the proper nutrients for your lifestyle.

As the adage goes, “Let food be thy medicine.

Harnessing the Power of Low-Glycemic Foods

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of foods is paramount. Low-GI foods facilitate gradual blood sugar increases, mimicking Ozempic’s blood glucose-stabilizing effect. Integrating these foods into your diet means you’re investing in a spectrum of benefits that support your metabolic health.

Whole grains are a cornerstone here. Options like quinoa, barley, and steel-cut oats should be regulars on your grocery list. Consider servings of about a half-cup of cooked grains at mealtimes enough to reap the benefits without excessive calorie intake.

Incorporating legumes is also wise; foods like lentils, chickpeas, and various beans not only stabilize blood sugar but are also rich in proteins and micronutrients. A standard portion would be approximately a half-cup cooked, balancing blood sugar management and satiety.

Fruits, while often sweet, can also be low-GI superstars. Berries, cherries, and apples come with the added bonus of vital antioxidants and vitamins. A typical serving could be one small apple or a cup of berries, perfect for a snack or dessert without causing a sugar spike.

Integrating these foods into your daily meals, in addition to having a half-cup of cooked quinoa or incorporating legumes into your salads, can contribute to the slow and steady absorption of carbohydrates, akin to the metabolic balance that Ozempic promotes.

The Satiating Effect of Dietary Fiber

If you’re aiming to naturally replicate the appetite-reducing effect of Ozempic, dietary fiber is your ally. High-fiber foods add bulk to your diet and slow digestion, which can fend off hunger pangs.

Vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots — and fruits like pears and apples — are high in fiber.  Whole grains and legumes also join this list, offering twice the benefits with their low GI and high fiber content.

Consuming these not only helps with digestion but also keeps you full longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating. Adults should aim for at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, spread across all meals. In practical terms, this could be about two cups of mixed leafy vegetables, a medium-sized pear, or a half-cup of cooked, high-fiber grains like barley.

Don’t forget about seeds such as chia or flaxseeds, either. Just one tablespoon can provide about 5 to 6 grams of fiber. These are easy to sprinkle over salads and yogurts, or incorporated into baked goods, allowing for a fiber boost without a significant increase in food volume.

One of my favorite daily high-fiber meals is creating a colorful salad loaded with leafy greens, chopped carrots, and sprinkled with a handful of beans. Try this out and you’ll be introducing a meal into your routine that keeps you fuller for longer, potentially reducing overall calorie intake, much like the weight management benefit observed with Ozempic use.

Proteins & Fats: Allies in Weight Management

Proteins and healthy fats, while fundamental for various bodily functions, also play a direct role in weight management, metabolic regulation and satiety. Lean proteins like chicken breast, fish, and tofu should be staples in your diet. A 3- to 4-ounce serving of these proteins at meals — roughly the size of your palm — is generally adequate to support muscle maintenance, especially important as you lose weight. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and walnuts, improve insulin sensitivity, an effect beneficial for type 2 diabetes management.

Healthy fats, also found in foods like avocados, nuts, and olives, contribute to a meal’s overall GI, slowing digestion and helping to moderate blood sugar levels. A quarter of an avocado, a tablespoon of olive oil in cooking, or a small handful of nuts is sufficient. They not only enhance your meal’s nutritional profile but also add flavors that taste good.

Meanwhile, lean proteins like chicken breast, turkey, and tofu help preserve muscle mass, essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism. Balancing your meal with a good protein source and perhaps a dash of healthy fats, like cooking with olive oil or topping your salad with sliced almonds, can help you feel full and maintain consistent energy levels, two things associated with Ozempic.

The Power of Hydration

Proper hydration is an often overlooked aspect of metabolic health. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water a day, depending on your physical activity. Regular water intake is crucial for overall bodily functions, including maintaining optimal blood sugar levels.

Hydration’s role in health is so foundational that it complements any approach aiming to improve metabolic stability. Adding a slice of cucumber or lemon can make the same old water taste better, ensuring you meet your hydration goals.

Crafting a Balanced Diet: Practical Tips

Bringing all these elements together requires balance and moderation.

  • Start your day with a breakfast rich in proteins and low-GI foods; think a bowl of steel-cut oats topped with chia seeds and berries, or a spinach and mushroom omelet cooked with olive oil. These options set the tone for your metabolic responses throughout the day.
  • For lunch and dinner, half your plate should be vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter low-GI carbohydrates. This could be a mixed greens salad with grilled chicken and quinoa or a serving of chili using lean turkey and an array of beans.
  • Snacks should also be nutrient-dense. Yogurts, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are your go-to items. These ensure you’re not just filling up but nourishing your body, supporting the microbiome, and maintaining blood sugar levels.

Concluding Bite

While Ozempic represents a medical advancement, our daily food choices are just as impactful. Understanding and harnessing the power of nutrition can help sustain health and wellness, often achieving the benefits provided by such medications.

Of course, these dietary strategies don’t replace professional medical advice. Instead, they should encourage a conversation with your healthcare provider about integrating holistic approaches into your health regimen, tailoring them to your individual needs, and, perhaps, letting your meals function as medicine.

D2D in the Kitchen: Prepping a Clean Turkey

Whether you dry-brine, deep-fry or lather the bird in white wine and butter, the preliminary steps of turkey preparation are the same. One of the biggest issues facing poultry prep is the spread of pathogens like Campylobacter and Salmonella that can cause foodborne illnesses.

Here’s how you keep yourself and your fellow diners safe by dressing and cooking your turkey properly…

Thawing a Frozen Turkey

If you are buying a frozen turkey, the meat needs to be completely thawed before cooking it— otherwise, you might not cook it thoroughly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), when the turkey begins to defrost, any bacteria present before being frozen can continue to grow again.

Therefore, the defrosting process must be done correctly. It takes approximately 24 hours to thaw roughly 5 lbs of turkey meat. The average size turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 lbs, so allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator.

Once the turkey is thawed, cook it within two days. Failing to cook the meat within this timeframe may result in foodborne illness if harmful pathogens are present and the meat is not cooked thoroughly.

Prepping a Fresh Turkey

You have two days from the purchase of a fresh turkey to get that bird in the oven! You may feel inclined to wash the meat before you begin your seasoning preparations. Resist the urge!

Be sure to wash your hands and any utensils or plates that came into contact with the raw meat as these can serve as a source of cross-contamination.

Using platters interchangeably is never a good idea as this can allow for the transfer of pathogenic bacteria from the poultry to other dishes. So, after the turkey is in the oven, make sure to thoroughly clean your counters before moving on to the side dishes!

Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to splash and spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, frying, or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.”

–  United States Department of Agriculture

Cutting boards with nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, marble, glass, or ceramic, are easier than wood to clean. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends consumers use a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry.

Temperature = 165°F

It doesn’t matter if you started with a fresh or frozen turkey, and, even if the turkey looks perfectly cooked with a crisp brown exterior, the inside of the meat must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it is safe for consumption.

To properly check the temperature of the meat, you want to make sure to use a thermometer in three separate places. First, check the breast (the thickest part of the bird). If this has reached 165° you then want to check the thighs and the wings to make sure they are the same temperature.

The leftovers

Thanksgiving almost always means great leftovers through the weekend, right? Only if you store your meat properly! You want to have your leftovers refrigerated within two hours. If properly refrigerated, your leftover turkey meat will last for 3-4 days. That means four days of Thanksgiving sandwiches. Yum!

Tiny plastics pose huge problems

Small pieces of plastic, now termed microplastics have infiltrated all ecosystems, posing a severe threat to wildlife…and now us. New research has shown that microplastics — especially its microscopic offspring, nanoplastics — might accumulate within our bodies, too.

Microscopic Fibers with Massive Implications

Microplastic particles measure less than 5mm in size, or smaller than the width of a pencil eraser.

How do these plastics find their way inside us? I’ve never been caught in a hailstorm of plastic beads (and you probably haven’t either). Unfortunately, what we’re talking about here is something smaller…way smaller.

We’re talking about nanoplastics. Fibers that are smaller than 1 micrometer (1 μm), or the length of a tiny bacterium, or 1/50 the width of a strand of human hair. 

Despite its seemingly inconsequential size, nanoplastics pose significant risks.

These barely detectable yet ever-present fibers can pass through biological barriers, like blood and organ lining and, over time, accumulate within the body.

Where Do The Fibers Come From?

Microplastics, including nanoplastics, are ubiquitous because they’re durable and resist decomposition. They are primarily generated through the breakdown of oversized plastic items and fabrics, microbeads in personal care products, and a host of other industrial processes.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) held a seminar based on reporting from the government of Sweden that found synthetic textiles as the single greatest contributor to engineered microplastics in the ocean, accounting for 35% of total microplastic volume

Polyester, nylon, and acrylic – common fabrics used to make 60% of the world’s clothes — are all considered synthetic.

Unfortunately, our typical shopping habits are mostly to blame here, with synthetic fabrics and toiletries making up almost 40% of the total microplastic volume.

These plastic-based fibers shed microplastics every step along the way, from its production, to wearing and laundering, and even during its eventual disposal, mostly in landfills. In fact, a 2016 study found that each laundering of a fleece jacket releases an average of 1.7 grams of microfibers, which can end up in the ocean. Nylon, polyester and acrylic clothes all shed microfibers when washed.

Tires are next in line as significant sources of microplastics, followed by city dust. While you’ll find a greater concentration of microplastics around densely populated areas with heavy traffic, industrial activity, and busy commerce, these tiny particulates are adept at world travel.

In fact, scientists recorded 365 microplastic particles per square meter falling daily from the sky in the remote Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.

The Path from Environment to Food

One of the most alarming aspects of microplastic contamination is its presence in what we eat. Microplastics have been found in a wide range of whole foods, including seafood, fruits, vegetables, honey, and bottled drinking water.

Microplastic entry into our food system mostly happens through these channels:

  • Ingestion by animals and seafood that we eventually eat (“trophic transfer”)
  • Soil and plants absorbing degraded fibers from synthetic mulches and films (plastic bags, for example)
  • Airborne fibers that, once settled, are ingested or absorbed by trophic transfer
  • Food processing and packaging along all points, from the industrial food and drink facilities, to chopping on our polyethylene cutting boards at home

Health Risks from Ingesting Plastics

Several studies have pointed out the adverse effects in various parts of our bodies, including:

“Our research shows that we are ingesting microplastics at the levels consistent with harmful effects on cells, which are in many cases the initiating event for health effects.”

–        Evangelos Danopoulos, Hull York Medical School, U.K.

Microplastic Release using Microwaves

A recent and particularly frightening study from University of Nebraska demonstrates microwaving’s effect on plastics, compounding concerns found in previous studies.

The issue comes down to the structure of plastic during production. Simply put, particles look and behave like cooked spaghetti. You know how cooked spaghetti clumps together when cooling down, but then starts releasing strands when reheated? Those little spaghetti-like plastic structures are released into our foods when plastic gets hot in the same way.

But what about plastic containers that read “microwave-safe”? Perhaps they’re not so safe after all. This study found that heat from the microwave can cause plastic containers to break down, releasing small plastic particles into the food or beverage being heated. And not just a few particles: some containers could release as many as 4 million microplastic and 2 billion nanoplastic particles from only one square centimeter of plastic area within three minutes of microwave heating.

But it doesn’t stop at microwaves:

  • Cooking food in plastic containers or using plastic utensils in hot foods can also release microplastics and nanoplastics
  • Refrigeration and room-temperature storage for over six months can also release millions to billions of microplastics and nanoplastics
  • Polyethylene food pouches commonly used for kids’ applesauce, yogurts, and smoothies, released more particles than polypropylene plastics, often used for refrigerated storage containers and restaurant take-out orders

Separately, the researchers also found that microplastics released from plastic containers caused the death of 77% of human embryonic kidney cells. However, more research needs to be done on this to be conclusive, as this was a first-time in-vitro (i.e. test tube) study.

What Can We Do?

Yes, this information is scary, but don’t fear…we have an incredible food system providing us all with fresh and affordable food choices every day. And plastics do have their place in this system: they reduce food waste by keeping items fresher longer, avoiding cross contamination, and keeping food prices low.

The most important thing you can do to help offset plastics’ negative effects? Plain and simple: eat a balanced diet. Consuming a variety of fresh produce, lean proteins, and healthy fats is the most efficient way to promote healthy digestion, flush toxins from organs, boost cellular activity, and initiate an effective immune response. And, coincidentally, fresher food choices usually have less plastic packaging than their shelf-stable counterparts. 

And here are some other things to implement into your daily life.

  • Avoid microwaving plastic by using microwave-safe glass or ceramic containers instead
  • Consider a time-restricted eating schedule that provides your body with a daily rest from digestion so your organs can operate better and with less inflammation
  • Eat foods high in antioxidants, chlorella, and selenium. These nutrients bind to toxins for removal from your digestive system.
  • Limit premade meals packaged with plastic and that require heating in their container(microwave foods in glass containers instead of plastic ones)
  • Curb consumption of bivalves like oysters, clams, and mussels. When eating these shellfish, you also consume their digestive systems, which harbor more plastics than foods from anywhere else.
  • Reduce plastic use by selecting safer materials, like glass or stainless steel
  • Bring a reusable cup when going to the coffee shop, the gym, work, etc.
  • Filter your tap water to reduce your exposure to microplastics. And don’t drink water from plastic water bottles
  • Reduce canned food purchases since they have thin plastic linings and hold food for extended periods of time

Digging in: Mintel Food Trends Expert

Lynn Dornblaser is a seasoned expert with over 35 years of valuable product trend knowledge and experience at Mintel since 1998. She brings a unique perspective to her work, applying it to tailored client research and engaging in extensive public speaking engagements.

She has been recognized and quoted by esteemed U.S. news organizations, like The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, and CNN. Lynn has also had the honor of serving as a keynote lecturer and speaker for numerous industry groups and sales forums.

Prior to joining Mintel, Lynn’s expertise in new product trends was showcased as the editor and editorial director of New Product News at various trade magazine publishing companies.