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How America’s Food System Could Change Under Biden

The transition notes from the left flank of American agriculture began to pile up almost as soon as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential victory was clear.

There were big and small pleas. Set the rules for organic livestock keeping and reverse the department’s toll on black farmers. Restore school food standards and strengthen GMO labels. Prioritize the climate crisis. It has even been suggested to change the name of the United States Department of Agriculture to Department of Food and Welfare.

Chef Michel Nischan is among those who spoke to Biden’s transition team on nutrition and agricultural policy. His pro-food resume dates back to the first Bush administration. It was his idea to double the value of food stamps for fruits and vegetables, a notion that became a national program.

He has a message for his fellow food warriors, many of whom say their problems were pushed several boxes on the game board under former President Donald J. Trump: The Department of Agriculture is a sub agency – workforce facing staggering hunger and security issues caused by the pandemic. The repair must take place before the reform.

“It’s like, we know you want us to go from meat to going vegan,” Mr. Nischan said. “But man, we need to fix the stove first.”

Tom Vilsack, who was Agriculture Secretary in the Obama administration and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate for another round, said in an interview Friday that he had already outlined his agenda.

“There are probably five very, very big challenges that need to be addressed very quickly,” he said. Topping the list is to protect Agriculture Ministry employees and people who process the country’s food from the virus, and determine what universities, government laboratories and other land granting department offices might be able to store. and administering vaccines.

The fight against hunger is an urgent issue, as are two of his boss’s other priorities: promoting social justice and fighting climate change.

Then comes the strengthening of regional food systems and assistance to farmers. “Once we are a bit on the other side of the virus itself, then we have the important task of revitalizing the rural economy that has been affected by this,” Mr Vilsack said.

Mr. Vilsack is returning to a very different department from the one he ran during Obama’s time, when he landed on Forbes’ list of America’s top employers. Morale is low and many positions are vacant, especially in agencies that provide the data and scientific research on which policy decisions are made.

“Mentally and emotionally, the career staff are just devastated,” said Sam Kass, the White House chief who became President Barack Obama’s senior nutrition adviser and spoke to Mr. Vilsack about his agenda. . “They have to start stabilizing the ship.”

Followers of the good food movement, which promotes healthy local foods grown in an environmentally friendly way by people who receive a fair wage, say that out of necessity, many organizations have grown stronger during an administration. Trump dedicated to agro-industry and factory farming. They had to find ways to be innovative without the support of the huge federal food agency.

The Department of Agriculture, with a budget of $ 153 billion and nearly 100,000 employees, manages 29 agencies and offices whose tasks range from feeding the poorest Americans and regulating food from public schoolchildren to forest management and helping farmers sell products like soybeans abroad.

Progressive food policy at the federal level had grown slowly but steadily since the Clinton administration, when California chef Alice Waters began urging the White House to improve school food and set up a vegetable garden at the White House; when the first national organic standards were introduced; and when the ministry’s attention to civil rights issues increased.

Under Mr. Obama, infant nutrition and the quality of school meals have become a priority. Michelle Obama created a permanent garden for the White House. Thousands of microcredits have been granted to smallholder start-up farmers, and climate-friendly policies have gained ground.

When Mr. Trump arrived at the White House, his supporters joked about turning the garden into a putting green. Its agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, transferred the department’s largest scientific research agencies, the Economic Research Service and the National Food and Agriculture Institute, from Washington to Kansas City, in the Missouri. Whether by design or by default – many employees resigned rather than relocated – staff were emptied, limiting agency efficiency.

Mr Trump has become a champion in many rural communities, easing regulations and paying farmers when his tough trade policies and the pandemic hurt sales.

“In my more than 40 years covering agricultural affairs in Washington, I have seen a president talk about agriculture and trade policy as much as our president,” said Jim Wiesemeyer, Farm Journal Washington correspondent, in an interview with the magazine.

But the mood was dark on the other side. “Looking back, it was pretty brutal,” said Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, which represents a $ 50 billion segment of the food industry. “The root of it was a hyper-anti-regulatory agenda with no respect for organic produce or other forms of sustainable agriculture.”

Some, like Ms Batcha, trust Mr Vilsack, who was most recently the top executive of a global dairy trade group.

Others see it as a retread, without a fresh, step-by-step view of how to improve the food system. Not all agro-industry and commodity farmers are satisfied either. Many hoped the job would go to Heidi Heitkamp, ​​a former senator from North Dakota with close ties to rural issues. Fighters for social justice and environmental issues campaigned for Marcia L. Fudge, a congresswoman from Cleveland whom President Biden ultimately appointed secretary of housing and urban development.

In Mr Vilsack, the new president went with the experience, looking for someone who could immediately get down to work on the safety and nutrition issues related to the pandemic. The number of Americans facing hunger has risen, by some estimates, to over 50 million in 2020, from about 34 million in 2019.

President Biden signed an executive order on Friday that would increase both the amount of federal food aid for an estimated 12 million people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as Food Stamps) and the grocery money donated to school-aged families. children. He also included more money for food stamps and other federal food programs in his proposed $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package.

“Of all the problems we face in this country, for me hunger is the most soluble,” said Billy Shore, founder and executive chairman of Share Our Strength, which works to end child hunger in the United States. United States. “We are so focused on vaccine or testing shortages. There is no shortage of food in the country or food programs. I think this is a moment of enormous opportunity.

Public schools scramble to feed students even when the pandemic has kept them at home, which has renewed a call for universal school meals. The idea is to remove the administrative complexities of the $ 18 billion program and make healthy foods available to all students, regardless of their family’s income, such as bus rides or textbooks. . (Under a Trump administration order relating to Covid, all children have temporary access to free school meals until the end of the school year.)

The department could help heal political divisions by making it easier to use locally grown foods and making meals healthier for schools, said Curt Ellis, chief executive of FoodCorps and a group pushing for a summit of the White House on child nutrition during Biden’s First 100. days.

“This type of local economic development is very popular in rural communities in the Red State, as well as in urban communities in the Blue State,” Mr. Ellis said, adding that the school nutrition professionals with whom he works had made progress despite the Trump administration. Strategies.

“The question now is what can we accomplish with the wind at our back,” he said.

The pandemic has shown how fragile the food supply chain is, Vilsack said, and highlighted the need to open more regional and local markets and increase the number of meat processors so that the country not be so dependent on a handful of factories. .

Changes that many people thought were decades away, like universal school meals, stronger urban and rural supply chains, and e-commerce for agriculture, accelerated during the pandemic and the Trump administration, has said Krystal Oriadha, senior director of policy and programs at the National Farm to School Network.

Farmers, cooks, environmentalists and anti-hunger advocates – groups that often pull in different directions – have been forced to strengthen relationships based on intersectionality and a new understanding of interconnectedness and connection. the vulnerability of the food system.

“It’s a new time, with a new generation of voters pushing for ideas regarding environmental and racial justice issues like we’ve never had before,” she said. “For the first time, we can all see each other there.”

Even Ms Waters, the leader who has long relied on connections with high-profile politicians to further her quest to improve children’s education through gardening, works closer to home now. She is lobbying the University of California to replace its food supply system with a system based on a network of local farms as part of its global food initiative and to include food in the aggressive carbon neutral plan of the university.

In a recent interview, Ms Waters said that despite the change in administrations, she has given up on looking to Washington for solutions to what she sees as a broken food system.

“If we have one idea for all at the national level, it is just watered down,” she said. “I can no longer think nationally. I need to act locally. I need to go where the doors are open.

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Pet food recall extended after 70 dogs died

A pet food company has expanded its voluntary recall of several dry food products after more than 70 dogs died and 80 more became ill, likely from ingesting deadly levels of a mold toxin, a said the Food and Drug Administration.

Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. of Evansville, Indiana, first issued a voluntary recall in late December after tests on certain products showed aflatoxin, produced by the mold, to exceed acceptable levels, the company said. FDA.

At that time, the FDA was alerted to reports that at least 28 dogs had died and eight more had become ill after consuming the recalled pet food.

The expanded recall, which the company announced on Monday, includes additional corn-based dry and cat food products that expire on or before July 9, 2022.

The FDA said in a statement that it is “issuing this advisory to educate the public about the potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins in Midwest Pet Food products that may still be on store shelves, online, or in homeowners’ homes. ‘animals”.

The products include Sportmix, Pro Pac Originals, Splash, Sportstrail and Nunn Better dry dog ​​and cat food, which Midwestern Pet Foods produces in Oklahoma and distributes nationally to retail stores and online.

Retailers were instructed not to sell or give away the recalled products and to contact customers who had purchased the products, if possible.

“As a fourth generation family business, Midwestern Pet Foods has been committed to ensuring that our products are safe and nutritious for almost 100 years,” the company said in a statement. “Until recently, throughout our long history, we have never had a product recall.”

The company said it was extending the recall “out of caution.” The FDA said its investigation is ongoing and not all suspected cases of aflatoxin poisoning have been confirmed by lab tests.

Aflatoxin is produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn and grains used as ingredients in pet foods, the FDA said. At high levels, the toxin can cause illness or death in pets, or cause liver damage without symptoms, the department said. The toxin, he says, can still be present even if there is no visible mold.

Signs of aflatoxin poisoning in a pet can include laziness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, or diarrhea, the FDA said.

Although no illness has been reported in humans or cats, and there is no evidence that pet owners who handle foods containing aflatoxin are at risk of poisoning, FDA has suggested that they wash their hands after handling their pet’s food.

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Sportmix pet food recall issued after 28 dogs died

Pet food company recalls several types of Sportmix brand dry dog ​​and cat food after 28 dogs died and eight others fell ill, likely due to ingestion of lethal levels of a toxin produced by mold.

Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. of Evansville, Indiana, on Wednesday announced a voluntary recall of some of its Sportmix products distributed nationally online and in retail stores after tests showed the toxin levels , aflatoxin, exceeded acceptable limits.

Aflatoxin is produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn and grains used as ingredients in pet foods, the FDA said. At high levels, the toxin can cause disease or death in pets, or cause liver damage without symptoms, the department said. The toxin, he says, can still be present even if there is no visible mold.

“Pets are very susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because, unlike people who eat a varied diet, animals generally eat the same food continuously over long periods of time,” the FDA said. “If an animal’s food contains aflatoxin, the toxin could build up in the animal’s system as it continues to eat the same food.

Midwestern Pet Foods responded to a request for comment Thursday with reference to the company’s recall announcement, which had been shared by the FDA.

No illnesses were reported in cats or people on Wednesday. The FDA said it was “carrying out follow-up activities in the manufacturing plant” where the food is produced, and warned that the number of cases and the scope of the recall could increase. Vets have been encouraged to report any new cases, especially those that have been confirmed by diagnostic testing.

The recall includes Sportmix Energy Plus in 50 and 44 pound bags; Sportmix Premium High Energy in 50 and 44 lb bags; and Sportmix Original Cat in 31 and 15 lb bags. Retailers have been instructed not to sell or give away the affected pet food, which has an expiration date of March 2-3, 2022.

Pets poisoned with aflatoxin may show symptoms such as laziness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice – a yellow tint in the eyes, gums, or skin due to liver damage . People whose pets have eaten the recalled foods should stop feeding them and contact a veterinarian, especially if their pets are showing symptoms of the disease, the FDA said.

The FDA also suggested using bleach to disinfect pet food storage bowls, spoons, and containers if the recalled food is consumed.

There is no evidence that pet owners who handle food containing aflatoxin are at risk of poisoning, but the FDA has suggested that they wash their hands after handling their pet’s food.

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Sportmix pet food recall issued after 28 dogs died

Pet food company recalls several types of Sportmix brand dry dog ​​and cat food after 28 dogs died and eight others fell ill, likely due to ingestion of lethal levels of a toxin produced by mold.

Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. of Evansville, Indiana, on Wednesday announced a voluntary recall of some of its Sportmix products distributed nationally online and in retail stores after tests showed the toxin levels , aflatoxin, exceeded acceptable limits.

Aflatoxin is produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn and grains used as ingredients in pet foods, the FDA said. At high levels, the toxin can cause disease or death in pets, or cause liver damage without symptoms, the department said. The toxin, he says, can still be present even if there is no visible mold.

“Pets are very susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because, unlike people who eat a varied diet, animals generally eat the same food continuously over long periods of time,” the FDA said. “If an animal’s food contains aflatoxin, the toxin could build up in the animal’s system as it continues to eat the same food.

Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. responded to a request for comment on Thursday with reference to the company’s recall announcement, which had been shared by the FDA.

No illnesses were reported in cats or people on Wednesday. The FDA said it was “carrying out follow-up activities in the manufacturing plant” where the food is produced, and warned that the number of cases and the scope of the recall could increase. Vets have been encouraged to report any new cases, especially those that have been confirmed by diagnostic testing.

The recall includes Sportmix Energy Plus in 50 and 44 pound bags; Sportmix Premium High Energy in 50 and 44 lb bags; and Sportmix Original Cat in 31 and 15 lb bags. Retailers have been instructed not to sell or give away the affected feed.

Pets poisoned with aflatoxin may show symptoms such as laziness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice – a yellow tint in the eyes, gums, or skin due to liver damage . People whose pets have eaten the recalled foods should stop feeding them and contact a veterinarian, especially if their pets are showing symptoms of the disease, the FDA said.

The FDA also suggested using bleach to disinfect pet food storage bowls, spoons, and containers if the recalled food is consumed.

There is no evidence that pet owners who handle food containing aflatoxin are at risk of poisoning, but the FDA has suggested that they wash their hands after handling their pet’s food.

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Rental protections, funding for nursing homes, food stamps: this is what is included in the stimulus bill.

The $ 900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress this week is supposed to meet the needs of millions of Americans who have resisted the effects of the coronavirus pandemic for months, even as numerous federal programs have help have been reduced or expired.

The full text of the bill was almost 5,600 pages long. Here’s a look at what’s included.

Direct payment is one of the most anticipated elements of the law, with $ 600 earmarked for adults whose adjusted gross income can reach $ 75,000 per year based on earnings in 2019. Household heads earning up to $ 112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $ 150,000 per year would receive double that amount.

Eligible families with dependent children would receive an additional $ 600 per child.

In a change from the last round, payments will not be denied to citizens married to someone without a social security number, allowing some spouses of undocumented immigrants to claim the benefit this time around.

On Tuesday evening, President Trump threatened to veto the bill because he said the payments were too low. He advocates payments of $ 2,000. House Democrats are scheduled to introduce an amendment to the bill on Thursday, an aide familiar with the proposal said. We do not know how the House and the Senate will act.

With up to 12 million Americans facing the prospect of losing federal unemployment assistance on Dec. 26, Congress has acted to expand several programs, albeit at less generous levels than in the spring.

The deal would relaunch enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks, providing a lifeline for hard-hit workers until March 14. The new benefit, up to $ 300 per week, is half of the amount provided by the CARES Act in the spring.

The legislation also extends pandemic unemployment assistance – a program aimed at a wide range of freelancers and independent contractors – for the same period, providing an additional $ 100 per week.

The deal sets aside $ 285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, renewing the program created under the CARES Act.

The latest version includes stricter terms that seem intended to correct some of the unpopular elements of the original program. It caps loans at $ 2 million and makes them available only to borrowers with fewer than 300 employees who have seen at least 25% decline in sales from a year earlier for at least one quarter. The deal also sets aside $ 12 billion specifically for minority-owned businesses. And publicly traded companies won’t be able to apply this time around.

The legislation provides nearly $ 70 billion for a range of public health measures, including $ 20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, $ 8 billion for vaccine distribution and an additional $ 20 billion to help states continue their testing and traceability programs.

The bill also allows a federal program that insures mortgages for nursing homes to provide emergency loans to help hard-hit senior care centers.

In an unusual rebuke of the Trump administration’s climate policy, the deal includes new legislation to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, the potent greenhouse gases common in air conditioners and refrigerators.

It also allocates $ 35 billion to finance wind, solar and other clean energy projects.

The bill will ban hospitals from charging patients for services such as emergency treatment by off-grid doctors or air ambulance transport, over which patients often have no say.

The compromise would protect tenants struggling with rent by extending a moratorium on evictions by one month, until January 31. . It runs until February 28.

The bill also provides for housing assistance of $ 25 billion.

Expanding one of the most trusted aid channels, the deal increases monthly food stamp benefits – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – by 15% for six months, to as of January 1.

The legislation provides $ 7 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet connections, nearly half of which will be used to cover the cost of monthly Internet bills by providing up to $ 50 per month to low-income families.

The deal also provides $ 300 million for infrastructure construction in underserved rural areas and $ 1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.

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Pandemic leaves more military families seeking food assistance

WASHINGTON – Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the United States, has all the attributes of a small American town: shopping malls, a barber shop, and social clubs. A sign of the times, it also has a food bank.

This spring, the YMCA on base – which opened a pantry last year to address the growing food insecurity of military families – saw a 40 percent increase in grocery requests. During the same time period, grocery requests to AmericaServes, a network that helps military families, reached the largest service request in the organization’s history.

The story is roughly the same across the country, say the Hunger Groups, for the lowest-income families in the military, who have a specific set of challenges, and different from civilians whose economic fortunes was also damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spouses of active-duty troops have lost their jobs, like thousands of other Americans, but are often the least likely to find new ones. Children who rely on free or discounted school meals no longer receive them, and military families often have more children than the national average.

“A lot of the kids who used to have breakfast and lunch at school aren’t anymore,” said Michelle Baumgarten, associate executive director of the YMCA Armed Services in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who said the demands for peanut butter, jelly and oats had exploded. . “Families have gone from two incomes to one income is the common thread.”

While many poor civilian families have turned to federal food programs for help, military families often receive a housing allowance that makes them ineligible for food aid, a legal quirk that Congress says. failed to resolve several times.

The most junior enlisted staff earn $ 1,733 to $ 2,746 per month; According to a report by the family advocacy group Blue Star Families, 7-18% of military and veteran families have asked someone in their home for emergency food assistance.

While military families make up only a small portion of the 37 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, hunger experts say most Americans have no idea that the people who serve in the army often needs help with food.

“There is something so unfair about this that families who make significant sacrifices for our country and are unable to fully meet their basic needs,” said Josh Protas, vice president of public policy at Mazon, a specialized Jewish group. on hunger. “The charitable sector does not have the capacity to fully tackle this problem – and neither should it. I really think the Pentagon really tried to sweep this under the rug.

The Defense Department is working on a report to Congress on the matter, said Major César Santiago, a Pentagon spokesman.

Veterans are in a similar situation, hunger advocates and service organizations have noted. The food aid has become the first request for Serving Together, an organization that helps veterans and military families in Maryland and Washington, for the first time in at least five years, said Jennifer Watson, program manager there. -low. The group has a partnership with two other organizations, and teenagers have helped distribute boxes of food to hungry veterans.

Military families had distinct economic problems long before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Spouses of members of the military have a high unemployment rate – around 25% – due to constant relocations and inability to transfer professional licenses from state to state.

Because they are so mobile, military spouses tend not to accumulate seniority in the workplace and are often the first to be made redundant and last rehired in a weak economy. Many families find it difficult to manage their money.

“Military families, especially young enlisted people, struggle with financial literacy,” said Daniel Gade, a retired military lieutenant colonel who now teaches public policy at the American University in Washington. “Military families are often quite isolated, which means they have a thinner social network.”

According to a recent study by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, nearly 40% of families on active duty had food and nutritional needs since the start of the pandemic.

As demands for rent relief and unemployment insurance covered other basic costs, food jumped to the forefront of needs. “In nearly six years of supporting coordinated care networks across the country, food aid has never managed to break through the top three services demanded,” said Nick Armstrong, senior director of research and data for the institute.

One recent Wednesday, the Fort Bragg pantry was buzzing with business. “It was eye-opening to see families struggling in the military,” said Rachel Szabo, who was recently fired from her job in industrial design.

Her husband, who is stationed at Fort Bragg and is at the bottom of the pay scale, and Ms. Szabo, who is pregnant, have received help from the YMCA at the base, which started their food program ago. one year and has seen explosive growth in needs. “I never needed to ask for help,” Szabo said. “When I lost my job, we still had bills. I still have a lot of student loans, so being able to contact the Y to make ends meet has really been a lifeline.

In San Diego, another YMCA program distributes meals to 1,000 children of military families every week, and its food distribution for this group has increased by more than 400% since the start of the pandemic. “The greatest need is that our military children are no longer in school,” said Tim Ney, who runs a program for military families there. “They no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals.”

The Pentagon says the issue of hunger on military bases – which have had pantries for years – is exaggerated.

“The military is paid very well,” said Major Santiago, citing a recent study conducted by the RAND National Defense Research Institute. “Junior enlisted members, on average, are better paid than 90 percent of the adult workforce with a high school diploma and similar years of experience in the workforce. The issue of food insecurity has been discussed and found to be minimal in the military. “

Several members of Congress disagree and have worked on legislation to change the housing allowance that prohibits some families from receiving food assistance.

“Our military is weakened when the military is unable to feed their families,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who has repeatedly tried to change the law to no avail.

Mr Gade, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Senator from Virginia this year, acknowledged that his party is often hostile to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are also notorious. But he said he believed the parties could find common ground on this particular issue.

“We know SNAP is not going anywhere,” he said, adding that correcting what he called the “blatant” rule “is something we can do together.”

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Fast food chain Del Taco to pay $ 1.25 million to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

Fast food restaurant chain Del Taco settled a complaint filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for its handling of sexual harassment complaints, agreeing to pay $ 1.25 million and accept a consent decree to provide training to company wide on anti-discrimination laws to guard against harassment. and retaliation.

The consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Monday, also said the company should retain an EEOC supervisor for workplace discrimination, review its policies on discrimination on workplace and create and maintain a harassment complaint tracking system. .

The agency sued Del Taco in 2018 on behalf of a group of employees, all young women, who said at least three men they had worked with in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., In communities across the region, some of whom were in supervisory positions, made sexual comments to them. almost every day and touched them inappropriately. Some women filed a formal complaint with the company, either with its human resources department or with its toll free number, but no action was taken.

According to the EEOC complaint, the company retaliated by reducing the number of hours scheduled for one of the women. She and others in costume quit their jobs due to the hostile work environment created by the comments and inappropriate behavior.

Del Taco Restaurants acknowledged the settlement in a statement, writing, “The safety and well-being of our employees is always a top priority, and we take any allegation of harassment very seriously. We have fully cooperated with the EEOC throughout their investigation and the issue has been resolved. Additionally, we conducted an internal investigation and took appropriate action. We remain committed to providing a safe environment for all employees and customers, free from harassment of any kind. “

The terms of the consent decree will remain in effect for three years, and Del Taco is due to publish a plastic notice of the terms of the decree in all of its approximately 600 locations in 16 states. The external monitor will also perform checks to determine whether supervisors and managers encourage employees to report harassment.

“Younger employees can be particularly vulnerable to workplace harassment,” Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles district office, said in a press release. “It is important that employers recognize this and create policies and practices that ensure a safe and harassment-free work environment.”

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Fast food chain Del Taco to pay $ 1.25 million to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

Fast food restaurant chain Del Taco settled a complaint filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for its handling of sexual harassment complaints, agreeing to pay $ 1.25 million and accept a consent decree to provide training to company wide on anti-discrimination laws to guard against harassment. and retaliation.

The consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Monday, also said the company should retain an EEOC supervisor for workplace discrimination, review its policies on discrimination on workplace and create and maintain a harassment complaint tracking system. .

The agency sued Del Taco in 2018 on behalf of a group of employees, all young women, who said at least three men they had worked with in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., In communities across the region, some of whom were in supervisory positions, made sexual comments to them. almost every day and touched them inappropriately. Some women filed a formal complaint with the company, either with its human resources department or with its toll free number, but no action was taken.

According to the EEOC complaint, the company retaliated by reducing the number of hours scheduled for one of the women. She and others in costume quit their jobs due to the hostile work environment created by the comments and inappropriate behavior.

Del Taco Restaurants acknowledged the settlement in a statement, writing, “The safety and well-being of our employees is always a top priority, and we take any allegation of harassment very seriously. We have fully cooperated with the EEOC throughout their investigation and the issue has been resolved. Additionally, we conducted an internal investigation and took appropriate action. We remain committed to providing a safe environment for all employees and customers, free from harassment of any kind. “

The terms of the consent decree will remain in effect for three years, and Del Taco is due to publish a plastic notice of the terms of the decree in all of its approximately 600 locations in 16 states. The external monitor will also perform checks to determine whether supervisors and managers encourage employees to report harassment.

“Younger employees can be particularly vulnerable to workplace harassment,” Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles district office, said in a press release. “It is important that employers recognize this and create policies and practices that ensure a safe and harassment-free work environment.”

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Cecilia Chiang, who brought authentic Chinese food to America, dies at 100

Cecilia Chiang, whose San Francisco restaurant, Mandarin, introduced American customers in the 1960s to the richness and variety of authentic Chinese cuisine, died Wednesday at her home in San Francisco. She was 100 years old.

His granddaughter Siena Chiang has confirmed the death.

Ms Chiang came to the United States from China as a wealthy girl who fled the Japanese during World War II, walking nearly 700 miles. Once in San Francisco, she proceeded, largely by accident and almost on her own, to take Chinese cuisine from the era of chop suey and chow mein to the more refined of today, appealing to diners with the dishes she ate growing up in her family’s converted home. Beijing Ming Era Palace.

The Mandarin, which opened in 1962 as a 65-seat restaurant on Polk Street in the Russian Hill section and then operated in Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf, offered its customers specialties unheard of at the time, such as potstickers, dry spices à la Chongqing. -Grated beef, Sichuan peppery eggplant, moo shu pork, sizzling rice soup and glazed bananas.

It was traditional mandarin cuisine, a catch-all term for the dining style of the well-to-do in Beijing, where heads of families prepared local dishes as well as regional specialties from Sichuan, Shanghai and Canton.

In a profile of Ms. Chiang in 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that her restaurant “defined high-end Chinese cuisine, introducing customers to Sichuan dishes like kung pao chicken and twice-cooked pork, and fine preparations. like chopped squab in lettuce cups; smoked duck with tea; and the beggar’s chicken, a whole bird stuffed with dried mushrooms, water chestnuts and ham and baked in clay.

The restaurant has become a sanctuary for culinary luminaries such as James Beard, Marion Cunningham and Alice Waters, who have said that Ms Chiang has done for Chinese cuisine what Julia Child has done for French cuisine.

This sentiment was echoed by gourmet magazine Saveur in 2000, when it wrote that Mandarin had “accomplished nothing less than bringing regional Chinese cuisine to America.”

Food specialist Paul Freedman included Mandarin in his landmark survey “Ten Restaurants That Changed America” (2016).

Like Ms. Child, Ms. Chiang was not a chef, nor a likely candidate to run a restaurant. She was born Sun Yun near Shanghai in 1920 – the exact date is not clear – the seventh daughter in a family of nine girls and three boys. His father, Sun Long Guang, was a French-trained railway engineer who retired at age 50 to continue reading and gardening. His mother, Sun Shueh Yun Hui, came from a wealthy family who owned textile and flour mills. After her parents died, Sun Yun handled the finances of the company when she was still a teenager.

The Ming-era palace in which she grew up occupied an entire city block in Beijing, where the Chiangs moved in the mid-1920s. Children were not allowed into the kitchen, but she lent a careful attention to trips to food markets with her mother and listened intently to the detailed instructions given to the cooks.

After the Japanese occupied Beijing in 1939, the family’s fortunes became precarious. In early 1943, Cecilia, as her professors at Fu Jen Roman Catholic University called her, left to join relatives in Chongqing.

During her long journey, largely on foot, she survived with a few gold coins sewn into her clothes, her only assets after Japanese soldiers stole her suitcase.

In Chongqing, she found a part-time job as a Mandarin teacher in the American and Soviet embassies. She also met and married Chiang Liang, whom she had known as a professor of economics at Fu Jen University and who was then an executive of a tobacco company.

The couple moved to Shanghai after the war. In 1949, as Communist forces prepared to take control of China, Mr. Chiang was offered a diplomatic post in Tokyo at the Chinese Nationalist Mission.

Two years after arriving in Tokyo, Ms. Chiang opened a Chinese restaurant, the Forbidden City, with a group of friends. It was an instant success, also attracting Chinese expats and Japanese diners.

Ms. Chiang sailed to San Francisco in 1960 to help her sister Sun, whose husband had just died. There she met two Chinese acquaintances from Tokyo, women who had recently emigrated to the United States and who wanted to open a restaurant. Ms. Chiang agreed to put $ 10,000 on deposit at a store they found on Polk Street, far from the city’s Chinatown.

When the two women withdrew, Ms. Chiang was horrified that the deposit was not refundable. She took a deep breath and decided to open the restaurant on her own rather than telling her husband that she had lost the money.

“I started to think that if I could create a restaurant with Western-style service and ambiance and the dishes I knew the most – the delicious food from North China – maybe my little restaurant would be successful.” , she wrote in the second of her two cookbook memoirs, “The Seventh Girl: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco” (2007, written with Lisa Weiss). The first was “The Mandarin Way” (1974, with Allan Carr).

Through a newspaper ad, Ms. Chiang found two talented chefs, a married couple from Shandong, and in no time the restaurant was up and running. The beginnings were difficult. The local suppliers, who all spoke Cantonese, refused to deliver in Mandarin and did not give credit. The menu, with 200 dishes, was unmanageable. Mrs. Chiang, running out of help, cleaned the kitchen floor herself.

But little by little, Chinese diners, and a few Americans, came regularly for hot, sweet and sour soup and pan-fried potstickers. One evening, Herb Caen, the popular columnist for The Chronicle, had dinner at the restaurant. In a later column, he called it “a little hole in the wall” which served “some of the best Chinese food in the eastern Pacific.”

Overnight, the tables filled. Lines formed outside the door. The Mandarin was on his way. In 1968, Ms. Chiang moved the restaurant to larger neighborhoods on Ghirardelli Square, where it could seat 300 diners and offer cooking classes.

In 1975, she opened a second Mandarin, in Beverly Hills, California. She sold it to her son, Philip, in 1989. He went on to help start the PF Chang restaurant chain. He survives her, as does his daughter, May Ongbhaibulya; three granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren.

Ms. Chiang sold the original Mandarin in 1991. It closed in 2006.

Ms. Chiang continued to work as a catering consultant into her 90s. Director Wayne Wang made a documentary about her, “Soul of a Banquet,” which was released in 2014, and in 2016 San Diego PBS station KPBS aired a six-part series, “The Kitchen Wisdom of Cecilia Chiang” .

“I think I changed what ordinary people know about Chinese cuisine,” Ms. Chiang told The Chronicle in 2007. “They didn’t know China was such a big country.

Alex Traub contributed reporting.