Five Food Stories: Which One is an April Fool's Hoax?

About 40 years ago, on April Fool’s Day, I secretly dumped all the white sugar out of my mother’s sugar bowl and filled it with salt. When she poured her first cup of coffee that morning, and added her spoonful of “sugar,” she tasted, for the first time, her daughter’s love of practical jokes.

I wanted to play a joke on all of you today, too, to commemorate that one date every year when we are encouraged to lighten up and not take everything so seriously. But I don’t have legal access to your sugar bowls -- and even if I did, what are the chances that you, my fellow “eat-real-food” aficionados, would have them filled with white, processed sugar?

So my April Fool’s joke for you is a collection of five food-related stories that sound preposterous enough to be fake.

But only one is. The rest, believe it or not, are true -- to the best of my knowledge.

See if you can figure out which is which. And no cheating!

(The answers are at the bottom of this page.)

1. Mobile Slaughterhouse Making Housecalls

A dwindling supply of small, locally-owned, meat processing plants has given rise to a new way to turn Bessie into beef: mobile slaughterhouses.

The New York TImes reports that the dwindling number of slaughterhouses nationwide -- from 1,211 in 1992 to 809 in 2008 -- means there are not enough facilities to process all the local, grassfed meat that consumers are demanding in restaurants and grocery stores. This is compounded by a rise in the number of small farms -- 108,000 new ones in the past five years -- and the preponderance of “large corporations like Cargill,” which now control much of the U.S. meat supply.

Tom Vilsac, head of the USDA, says his agency recognizes that “the buy-local food movement is a significant economic driver in rural communities.” He acknowledges that if small farmers can’t process their meat, they’ll cut back on production. And consumers won’t be able to find the sustainably, humanely harvested steaks, chops and burgers they have come to expect. That’s why the USDA has begun to provide financing for butchermobiles, which cost around $250,000 each and can process 10 large animals -- “mostly cows, pigs and sheep” -- each day.

2. Whole Foods Opens Discount Outlets

Whole Foods attempts to appeal to lower-income shoppers -- and shed the spendy, elitist image suggested by its derisive nickname “Whole Paycheck”  -- by opening a discounted version of its upscale shopping experience. The smaller, simpler, more budget-conscious stores will be called Half Foods, and will launch next month in Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Duluth.

“Half Foods will provide the quality of our private-label brands at discounted prices,” explains Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in a Wall Street Journal article announcing the new stores. “We are taking an outlet-store approach to some of our most popular premium products.”

Mackey says they will there will be little overlap between Whole Foods and Half Foods. Whole Foods will still offer such culinary delicacies such as organic fois gras from France, free-range veal from Argentina, and wild, foraged ligonberries from Sweden, while Half Foods will source their foods with value in mind.

According to Mackey, Half Foods will offer more domestic food varieties. "Catfish and carp, for example, are two fishes that are plentiful in the Great Lakes region,” he says, “so we will sell them at our stores in that area, complete with cooking instructions and recipes."

Another discounting strategy will be to sell foods for one more day beyond their expiration date. Mackey claims that these dates are "overly conservative," and one extra day on the market won't hurt their quality or safety.

On the heels of the announcement, shares of Whole Foods Market Inc. dropped 95 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $34.23 in afternoon trading.

3. Next Big Cheese Tastes Like Bubblegum

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed new “Fun Flavors” of string cheese to appeal to youthful cheeseheads.

With flavors like bubble gum, sour apple and raspberry, the CDR is using the latest cheese-making technology to develop more kid-friendly cheese.

Roger Krohn of Trega Foods, an award-winning master cheesemaker himself, says that the “CDR is always willing to help with problem solving and will partner with companies to develop either unique flavors and/or characteristics of standardized cheeses, or help with the development of a new cheese variety.”

Krohn adds, “I have had the opportunity to sample this flavored string cheese, and it is quite good. It combines 'sweet and salty' which is a very popular combination in snack foods right now."

4. Obama Appoints Former Pesticide Lobbyist to Key Agricultural Trade Post

One of President Obama’s recent recess appointments was Islam Siddiqui, who will serve as the president’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Paula Crossfield of Civil Eats explains that the Chief Agricultural Negotiator "is essentially a ’spokesperson’ for American agriculture (perhaps the ‘bad cop’ to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s ‘good cop’) who is in charge of selling our agricultural products abroad — products of a synthetic agriculture that is dependent on too many oil inputs, too much water and a stable climate to persist as the norm into the future."

Siddiqui's previous job was VP of CropLife, the lobbying organization for the pesticide and biotech industries that sent a letter to Michelle Obama urging her to use pesticides on her organic White House garden.

The Pesticide Action Network North America was one of the groups opposing Siddiqui’s nomination, and its senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman wrote this about his posting:

“What President Obama seriously misjudged this weekend when he appointed Siddiqui without allowing a full Senate vote is that a huge swath of the American public is outraged at the idea of putting a former pesticide lobbyist in charge of US agricultural trade.”

5. Alice Waters Won't Say "NO" to Sewage Sludge as Organic Fertilizer

One of America’s pioneers of the simple, fresh, local food movement has stepped, ankle-deep, into a messy controversy.

Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore puts it this way: “Why on earth would Alice Waters refuse to denounce San Francisco's policy of giving away sewage sludge marked as "organic biosolids compost" to unsuspecting gardeners?”

According to Richardson, “Human waste alone can be composted and used, albeit cautiously. But once human waste reaches the wastewater treatment plant, it's mixed in with so many contaminants that it's no longer safe to apply it to land for use as fertilizer.”

She is referring to a San Francisco program that gives away sewage sludge to local gardeners and schools to use as “organic” fertilizer.

Two months ago, Organic Consumers Association (OCA) asked a number of San Francisco organizations to sign a letter against the city's sludge give-aways. Richardson writes that “most of the organizations they contacted eagerly signed on, but Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation declined.”

In a letter, Waters tried to explain why:

“I believe in the transparency of public institutions and count on the government to offer the highest standards outlined by the Organic Consumers Association and other reliable advocates. I look forward to reviewing the science and working with the SFPUC [San Francisco Public Utility Commission] to ensure the safety of composting methods... “

But Richardson points out that "Waters notes in her letter that she looks forward to learning more about the safety of sludge. She sits on the advisory board of the Center for Food Safety, an organization that petitioned San Francisco to stop its free sludge giveaways. Hopefully she'll consult them to learn more about it and then she'll come out against it.”

So, do you think you know which four are real news stories and which one is an April Fool's hoax?

Here are the answers: (1) real, (3) real, (4) real, and (5) real. With apologies to John Mackey from Whole Foods, whom I am counting on to be the good sport that I imagine him to be, (2) is today's salt in the sugarbowl. Happy April's Fools!

Shari Manolas Danielson is editorial director at Simple, Good and Tasty.
Her e-mail address is