Weekly Roundup 9/26/2011

Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?
Mark Bittman, The New York Times, Sept. 25, 2011

Synopsis: People eat junk food from fast-food restaurants because it’s cheap, right? Wrong, says Bittman, the New York Times’ food and nutrition op-ed columnist. “In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home,” he writes. Example: $28 for happy meals for four at McDonalds; $14 for roast chicken and veggies for four at home (or $9 for rice and beans). And, with more calories, junk food is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Takeaway: Bittman advocates cultural and political changes: celebrate “real food” in family settings and agitate to limit the marketing of junk food.

For background on food and nutrition issues, see these CQ Researcher reports: Peter Katel, “Food Safety,” Dec. 17, 2010, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010121700; Marcia Clemmitt, “Global Food Crisis,” June 27, 2008, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2008062700; and Sarah Glazer, “Slow Food Movement,” Jan. 26, 2007, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2007012600.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


The Shame of College Sports
Taylor Branch, The Atlantic, Oct. 2011

Synopsis: Civil-rights historian Taylor Branch lays out a compelling, detailed history of the NCAA. The system that dubs college players “amateurs” and “student-athletes” – and reaps billions for colleges, TV networks and professional sports franchises while many players get, at most, watered-down degrees for their pains -- was corrupt and unjust from the start and should be dismantled, Branch argues.

Takeaway: The term “student-athlete” came into play “in the 1950s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. Did his football scholarship make the fatal collision a ‘work-related’ accident? Was he a school employee, like his peers who worked part-time as teaching assistants and bookstore cashiers? Or was he a fluke victim of extracurricular pursuits? Given the hundreds of incapacitating injuries to college athletes each year, the answers to these questions had enormous consequences. “The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the school’s contention that he was not eligible for benefits, since the college was ‘not in the football business.’ The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies.”

For more, see Tom Price, “Reforming Big-Time College Sports,” CQ Researcher, March 19, 2004, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2004031900; and Kenneth Jost, “Professional Football,” Jan. 29, 2010, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010012900.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


A Brutal Afghan Clan Bedevils the U.S.
Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, Sept. 25, 2011

Synopsis: Just when you probably thought things couldn’t get much worse in Afghanistan, the Times, in a front-page, above-the-fold story on Sunday draws the curtain on “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking.”

Takeaway: The Haqqani crime empire is an Islamist force that acts as Pakistan’s proxy and will remain influential and destabilizing after American forces depart.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor