We’re at the end of another food year, filled with openings, closings, recalls, rising prices and most of all, weather.
In fact, the weather and its harsh effects on our food supply has to be the top food story of 2012.
The drought that stretched through the Midwest and South resulted in major losses of corn and soybean crops, chief sources of animal feed, which will translate to higher meat prices for the foreseeable future.
The weather also stressed fruit and vegetable crops both locally and nationally. Trouble for apples began with the unseasonably warm winter, which caused trees to blossom early. The frost that followed destroyed many blossoms, which meant no apples for many growers across the state. The summer’s drought, extreme heat, and storms contributed to the problems.
Ohio’s apple production was down more than 40 percent over last year, which was still better than New York, which was estimated at 50 percent, and Michigan, where the crop was a 90 percent loss.
Locally, the warm winter meant that everything was earlier than usual. We were eating Akron-grown sweet corn in June, and the berry crop, normally burgeoning in July, was over by the Fourth of July.
Among the national food stories that came home to Akron was the outrage over a chemically treated beef product that came to be known as “pink slime.” After a social media protest that shut down the main national manufacturer of the beef product, local grocery stores, including Giant Eagle and Acme Fresh Market vowed not to sell it. Other stores, including Buehler’s, spoke out to inform customers that they never had sold it.
There was another national recall of salmonella-tainted peanut butter that had local Heinen’s stores, as well as national chains Target and Trader Joe’s, pulling products from their shelves. The outbreak sickened at least 41 people in 20 states, although no cases were reported locally.
Most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used its new expanded authority to suspend the registration of the supplier, Sunland Inc. of Portales, N.M., meaning it can no longer sell its products in the U.S.
In November, many were shocked when the bankrupt Hostess Brands Inc., maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, was granted permission by a judge to close its plants and liquidate after a labor dispute and strike by some 18,000 workers. Look for the iconic brands to be picked up by another company in the new year.
On the good news side, public schools began following stricter national guidelines for serving healthy meals to students, and Akron Public Schools received recognition for not only meeting the new federal standards, but also the stricter standards set by the Cleveland Clinic’s Eat Right at School program, which calls for less salt and more fiber than the federal guidelines.
In August, local residents joined in the national celebration of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, cooking her recipes and eating at restaurants where menus were created in her honor.
Lawson’s came back to U.S. soil. OK, it’s in Hawaii, and they aren’t selling the chip dip and chipped chopped ham, but it’s a start.
The number of local farmers markets continued to grow, and Kent’s Haymakers Market celebrated its 20th anniversary and its role as an early leader in the eat-locally movement.
In the Akron area, there was the usual mix of restaurants opening and closing and some significant anniversaries.
Cleveland chef Dante Boccuzzi opened dba (Dante Boccuzzi Akron) on Furnace Street in Akron, where Chrissie Hynde’s VegiTerranean used to be; Wally Waffle found a new home on West Market Street in Highland Square; and the Diamond Deli opened a second location in Cuyahoga Falls.
Chef Shawn Monday opened 3 Palms Pizzeria in Hudson, and El Rancho Mexican restaurant set up shop where Yocono’s used to be in Wallhaven.
Putting out the closed signs were Sugo Modern Italian Bistro in Cuyahoga Falls, the Firehouse Grill & Pub on Manchester Road, the Creperie in downtown Akron and Metro Burger in Highland Square. The Sandwich Board in Wallhaven closed and reopened within a few months.
Finally, some local icons found big reasons to celebrate.
Ray’s Place in Kent celebrated 75 years, Rocco’s Pizza in Cuyahoga Falls marked its 50th anniversary, and the Iacomini family, which operates Papa Joe’s in the Merriman Valley, marked 80 years running local restaurants and serving up Italian food.
Here’s hoping there’s a lot more food news to celebrate in 2013, and happy new year.