Office Cake Culture Lives On in Britain Despite Health Warning

Vin Shahrestani wrote . . . . . . . . .

When Katie Mulligan baked a beetroot cake for her colleagues at a London advertising agency, she was focused on getting the recipe right rather than whether it was acceptable to bring treats into the office.

But office cake culture has recently been challenged by the head of Britain’s food regulator, Susan Jebb, who grabbed headlines last month by comparing it to passive smoking.

“I just don’t think there’s a real equivalence there,” Mulligan, 30, said at her north London home. “With cakes, it’s up to you whether you eat it.”

With a passion to bake and cook, Mulligan says her cakes help colleagues beat the afternoon slump – and beetroot is a relatively healthy option.

Jebb, however, believes cakes in the office are an example of a society that is promoting unhealthy food choices.

“If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day,” Jebb told The Times newspaper.

“But because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.”

Jebb, who was not speaking on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, made the comment days after parliament published a report that said 25.9% of adults in England were obese and a further 37.9% were overweight, citing a 2021 survey.

The United States ranked highest in the world for obesity levels with 43%, the report added citing OECD Health Statistics, while Britain as a whole, not just England, was at 28%.

The trend in the UK is “only going to get worse,” said Katharine Jenner, director of Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of over 40 organisations that tackle obesity by influencing government policy.

Obesity is costing Britain’s National Health Service and the wider society something like 60 billion pounds ($72.63 billion) a year, she said.

The country needs to change its broader food culture and soon.

“I reckon we’re about in the (19)60s’ equivalent of sugar and diet-related ill health compared to smoking. So we’ve got a long way to go,” she said.

At Mulligan’s office, enjoying the beetroot cake and its edible flower garnishes, while striking up conversations, provides a welcome break for her colleagues and lightens up office life.

“It helps build friendships. It creates a really lovely atmosphere,” said advertising strategist Bish Morgan, 26.

“As long as people are sensible and strike the right balance then yeah, I still think it’s a lovely thing to do in the office.”

Source: Reuters


Thousands of Nurses in the U.S. Obtained Fake Diplomas and Provided Care Without Proper Training

Jayla Whitfield-Anderson wrote . . . . . . . . .

More than 7,600 aspiring nurses cheated the health care system and obtained fraudulent nursing degrees from three South Florida nursing schools, according to federal authorities, in a scheme health care professionals say could undermine trust in the profession.

Some 2,600 of those individuals used fake diplomas to take the nursing board exam (NCLEX) and passed, giving them access to work in health care facilities across the country. The diplomas were issued by Siena College in Broward County, the Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County — all of which are now closed. Though the scheme involved Florida schools, it affected multiple states.

“I’m in South Florida. It’s a hotbed of fraud, whether it’s identity fraud, or PPP fraud, and health care fraud, but this is something that we have not seen before,” Fernando Porras, assistant special agent in charge, told Yahoo News. Porras is leading the oversight investigation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The investigation, known as Operation Nightingale, found that the national scheme began in 2016 and ended in 2021, accumulating more than $100 million.

“We sent in — on several occasions — undercover agents to purchase these degrees as they were explained to us and they were able to purchase the degrees having no medical background or having taken any course —they just paid the amount [$17,000],” Porras explained.

On Jan. 25, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida indicted 25 individuals in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Florida who were allegedly working as recruiters for the illegal licensing scheme.

“You don’t just wake up one morning and find out that the Palm Beach School of Nursing [or Siena College and Sacred Heart International Institute] is issuing fake degrees. You don’t see that publicized in an infomercial. You find out about it because you are told by a recruiter,” Porras said.

The 25 defendants are each facing up to 20 years in prison for allegedly participating in a wire fraud scene that created the shortcuts for thousands to receive bogus nursing diplomas.

According to Porras, the Florida schools that were issuing the fake diplomas were once “legitimate schools.”

“They were certified by the state of Florida to provide nursing degrees,” he said. “They got to a point that their passing rate was dismal. And so they were put on probation. And then shortly after, their certification was revoked. So once they were revoked, and they could no longer issue any diplomas, “they would back-date the attendance of these students. So, let’s say they were revoked in 2019; then they would issue the certificate and the diploma as if the student had attended between 2016 and 2017.”

Now, state licensing boards nationwide have annulled the licenses of dozens of nurses who were practicing with fake degrees.

In November, Delaware revoked 26 licenses of nurses tied to the scheme, but officials say there could still be more nurses who need to be let go.

“We have heard accounts of additional individuals that have been sent to the Board of Nursing for investigation regarding concern with attendance at those [three South Florida] schools,” Christopher Otto, executive director of the Delaware Nursing Association, told Yahoo News.

And some of the individuals who obtained illegal registered nursing (RN) degrees were already licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

“For those individuals, their RN or registered nurse license is the one that is annulled. But if they have met the licensing requirements to practice as an LPN, that LPN license is still, in most cases, active,” Otto said.

In Georgia, 22 working nurses obtained fake licenses and diplomas. According to local Atlanta TV station WSB-TV, the Georgia Board of Nursing sent letters to the nurses asking them to surrender their fraudulent nursing licenses on Jan 17, but they haven’t yet. Yahoo News was not able to immediately reach the board for comment.

Brenda Hage, the director of nursing at Florida Gulf Coast University, which is about two hours away from the South Florida schools that were shut down, told Yahoo News that the scheme is offensive to real nurses.

“I think I feel more dismayed than surprised,” Hage said. “We work so hard as nurses to be credible and to be viewed as ethical by the patients that we care for, and then when somebody tries to game the system, or do something illegal like this, it really offends and concerns all nurses.”

But Hage said her biggest concern is the individuals who passed the national nursing board exam (NCLEX) without the proper education or training.

“This creates a false sense of information to the public, that somehow it’s really easy to sit for the NCLEX exam to become a licensed registered nurse, and nothing can be further from the truth,” Hage said.

According to Hage, the NCLEX exam is rigorous and usually takes up to five hours to complete.

“This is not something that you can bypass,” Jennifer Kennedy, the president of the American Nurses Association, told Yahoo News.

But Kennedy says she is not surprised that a scandal like this occurred in the health care industry because some states have cut their regulatory requirements.

“So we’re hoping through this scandal that we can leverage this and can restore some of the authority that legislatures have stripped from boards of nursing throughout this country,” Kennedy said.

A recent Gallup poll found that over 79% of U.S adults believe nurses have very high honesty and ethical standards compared with more than a dozen other professions. But now health care officials say the degree scandal will push them to win back Americans’ trust.

“We have to reassure the public that this has been dealt with. We’ll monitor for harm, and I can’t guarantee it, but we’ll do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,” Otto said.

So far there have been no reports of patient harm from the nurses with fake degrees, and none of the fake nurses have been charged.

“Just because an error or an adverse outcome wasn’t reported doesn’t mean that there weren’t any misses,” Hage said. “I think they should be charged. The fact that they knew that this was a fraudulent practice, and they engaged in fraud, makes them culpable.”

Health care officials say the years-long scheme is unprecedented and could have affected anyone who visits a health care facility.

“This case potentially could affect any one of us — we go to emergency rooms, we have loved ones in hospice, in skilled nursing facilities, that can potentially be receiving care from someone that is not properly trained,” Porras said.

Source : Yahoo!





Borsch Without a ‘t’: Kyiv Chef Uses Food to Reclaim Culture

J.M. Hirsch wrote . . . . . . . . .

Don’t tell Ievgen Klopotenko that borsch is just food. For him, that bowl of beet-and-meat soup is the embodiment of everything Ukraine is fighting for.

“Food is a powerful social instrument by which you can unite or divide a nation,” said Klopotenko, Ukraine’s most recognizable celebrity chef and the man who in the midst of a bloody war spearheaded what would become an unlikely cultural victory over Russia.

“It’s our symbol,” Klopotenko said. “Borsch is our leader.”

If that seems hyperbolic, you underestimate how intrinsic borsch (the preferred Ukrainian spelling) is to this country’s soul. More than a meal, it represents history, family and centuries of tradition. It is eaten always and everywhere, and its preparation is described almost reverentially.

And now, at the one-year mark of the war with Russia, Klopotenko uses the dish as a rallying call for preserving Ukrainian identity. It’s an act of culinary defiance against one of Moscow’s widely discredited justifications of the war — that Ukraine is culturally indistinct from Russia.

Thanks to a lobbying effort that Klopotenko helped lead, UNESCO issued a fast-track decision last July declaring Ukrainian borsch an asset of “intangible cultural heritage” in need of preservation. Although the declaration noted borsch is consumed elsewhere in the region, and that no exclusivity was implied, the move infuriated Russia.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson accused Ukraine of appropriating the dish and called the move an act of xenophobia and Nazism.

But in Ukraine, where until a year ago Russian was as widely spoken as Ukrainian, the declaration legitimized a notion that many had struggled to express.

“People started to understand that they are Ukrainians,” Klopotenko said recently while preparing borsch at his Kyiv apartment. From his living room window, the husk of a high-rise gutted by Russian missiles dominated the view.

“A lot of people started to eat Ukrainian food. A lot of people began to discover Ukrainian traditions,” he said.

Klopotenko, 36, is an unlikely figure to grab headlines during a war that has left hundreds of thousands from all sides dead or wounded. But the television chef and restaurateur — recognizable by an unruly head of curls, rapid-fire dialogue and lively fashion sense — began his mission to elevate Ukrainian food years before Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Though born in Kyiv, Klopotenko had by age 5 spent months at a time living with his grandmother, who had moved just outside Manchester, England. He’d been raised on bland Soviet-era cuisine, and this was a culinary awakening. He encountered waves of new flavors and ingredients, experiences that set him on a path to restaurant work.

His break came in 2015 when he won the television competition “MasterChef Ukraine.” He parlayed that into study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and later a successful campaign to overhaul the Soviet-influenced cafeteria menus in Ukrainian schools.

Always in the background was his sense that Ukrainian food — ditto the country’s culture writ large — wasn’t being true to itself. Much of Ukraine’s identity, he felt, from language and food to fashion and architecture, had been subjugated to Russian influences. Before the start of Soviet rule in 1917, Ukrainian cuisine was more diverse and robustly seasoned. That was quashed in favor of a more uniform palate with socialist sensibilities.

Even after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine’s cuisine didn’t quite bounce back. But Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 was a trigger. Trying to identify and hold onto Ukrainian heritage, Klopotenko and others began researching pre-Soviet Ukrainian cooking, hoping to return it to the mainstream and give people another toehold for reclaiming their culture.

In 2019, he opened his Kyiv restaurant, 100 Rokiv Tomu Vpered (100 Years Ago Ahead), a reference to what Ukrainian cuisine was before Soviet rule, and what it could be again. The menu draws heavily on flavors and ingredients many have forgotten.

Roasted parsnips with smoked sour cream. Buckwheat bread flavored with chamomile. Banosh, a sort of corn porridge topped with cottage cheese, mushrooms and apples.

And, of course, borsch seasoned with the traditional smoked pears. Written records tie the recipe to Ukraine over many centuries. The effort to have it declared a cultural asset began in 2018, when Klopotenko enlisted the help of Maryna Sobotiuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy and co-founder of the Institute of Culture of Ukraine.

They assembled a dossier that would become the country’s application to UNESCO. Their work took on greater urgency after Russia’s invasion a year ago and received the blessing of Ukraine’s government.

Like Klopotenko, Sobotiuk said it’s a cause much deeper than dinner.

“Our neighbors want to not just take our territory, but also our culture and our history,” she said, calling culinary heritage a soft power with tremendous potential to motivate and inspire. “It is important to give people something they can align with Ukraine except war.”

Darra Goldstein, a food historian and expert in Eastern European cuisines, agreed, noting that the difficulty of delineating culinary boundaries doesn’t diminish the cultural import of the dishes.

“It’s not simply a matter of claiming ownership of a dish, since the precise origins of any given dish are often difficult to trace. Instead, food goes to the heart of national belonging, how people define who they are,” she said.

Borsch, of course, was just the start for Klopotenko. As more Ukrainians have rejected Russian culture since the war began, and consumption of traditional Ukrainian foods has spiked, he and others see an opening for codifying and celebrating more of their own.

Though UNESCO is unlikely to grant similar status to other Ukrainian dishes — chicken Kyiv, garlicky pampushky bread and latke-like deruny enjoy similar popularity — Klopotenko said the next step is to raise the profile of the country’s cuisine as a whole, at home and abroad.

To that end, his cookbook, “The Authentic Ukrainian Kitchen,” which offers modern takes on traditional Ukrainian cooking, will be released this fall in the U.S.

“The war accelerated the growth of Ukrainian culture,” he said. “Russia wanted to kill the culture with the huge invasion, but it’s worked the other way.”

It’s a sentiment shared widely on the streets of the nation’s capital, where restaurants have revamped menus to replace Russian dishes with Ukrainian ones. They’ve been rewarded with packed dining rooms despite rolling blackouts and frequent air-raid warnings.

At Kyiv’s bustling Volodymirsky market — a warren of stalls offering beets, smoked seafood, caviar and mounds of the local, crumbly cottage cheese — Tetyana Motorna has sold pickled fruit and vegetables for decades. She held back tears as she discussed the war and why Klopotenko’s work to secure borsch as a national treasure for her country matters.

“Borsch is everything for Ukrainians,” she said. “The war has made borsch even more important. … With borsch, we prove that we are a separate nation. It confirms us as a nation.”

Source: AP





Chart: U.S. Has the Most Expensive Healthcare in the World

Source: Statista





Meat Cultivated from Cow Cells Is Kosher, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Rules

Ari Rabinovitch wrote . . . . . . . . .

Israel’s chief rabbi has given a kosher stamp of approval this week to a company looking to sell steak grown from cow cells – while effectively taking the animal itself out of the equation.

Cultivated meat, grown from animal cells in a lab or manufacturing plant, has been getting a lot of attention as a way to sidestep the environmental toll of the meat industry and address concerns over animal welfare.

This method, however, has raised questions over religious restrictions, like kashrut in Judaism or Islam’s halal.

Jewish dietary law designates kosher meat as having come from a cow slaughtered in accordance with ritual – and requires that it be kept and consumed separately from dairy.

Chief Rabbi David Lau weighed in on the issue for the first time, telling the Israeli firm Aleph Farms, which last year closed a $105 million funding round co-led by Abu Dhabi’s ADQ, that the cultivated thin-cut steaks it hopes to start selling this year are indeed kosher.

Aleph Farms says it collects sample cells from a living animal and then grows more in a cultivator that mimics conditions in the animal’s body. This is different from popular plant-based alternatives that do not have animal origins.

In an 11-page letter dated Jan. 17 to the company outlining the production process and referencing Jewish legal precedent, Lau said the product falls into the category of “parve” – meaning neither meat nor dairy. But he required it be clearly marketed as a meat alternative to avoid confusion with conventional meats.

While the decision was specific for Aleph Farm’s process, it sets a foundation for others. A spokesperson for Lau said they have received similar requests from a number of companies.

Aleph Farm CEO Didier Toubia called Lau’s ruling a “benchmark, a reference-point for many other kosher organizations in Israel and abroad.”

And beyond that, Toubia said, it was a first step that will hopefully be followed by certification in the much bigger halal food market and even approval for Hindus, many of whom consider cows holy and do not eat beef.

Aleph Farms, which has actor Leonardo DiCaprio as an advisory board member, hopes to start selling its cultured thin-cut steaks to Israeli restaurants this year, pending approval by the Health Ministry, and in Singapore.

It is working on approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration ahead of an expected rollout there next year.

Source: Reuters