Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Nov01

Documentary Sheds Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In A Community of Gardeners (2011), filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The National Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

Nature’s Retreat at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School serves as an outdoor classroom. This handicap-accessible school garden enables physically and cognitively disabled students to undertake a more sensory approach to learning. One student remarks in the film, “I plant marigolds and I water the flower bed. I just like the fresh air.”

The Pomegranate Alley Community Garden fills an alleyway once known for little more than drug dealing. Neighborhood residents transformed the space into a garden that currently holds 13 plots. Similarly, at the Marion Street Garden, neighbors and volunteers cultivate once-abandoned land. This intergenerational garden offers educational opportunities for people of all ages. (more…)

Oct16

This October, Celebrate Food!

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By Sophie Wenzlau

When you think of October, what comes to mind? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you may think of drooping apple trees, painted faces, and changing leaves. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you may conjure thoughts of budding plants, bright green leaves, and slightly longer days. Here at Worldwatch, October makes us think of food celebrations. Over the course of this month, two big food events will raise awareness about hunger and what it means to have good, sustainable food.

Photo Credit: FAO

Today, October 16, is World Food Day. It marks the 68th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has led international efforts to address hunger and malnutrition for nearly seven decades. Every year on this day people worldwide celebrate food and seek to raise awareness of issues surrounding poverty and malnutrition. The World Food Day theme for 2013 is Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition.

In the United States, October 24 is Food Day. Food Day is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and an opportunity to come together in dialogue about food policy.

In honor of both food days, we suggest cutting back on packaged foods and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein.

There are countless additional ways to celebrate Food Day: attend an event in your community, organize a hunger run in your country, read what the FAO has to say about healthy food systems, join a Community Supported Agriculture network, write a letter to your local paper about the importance of good food, or sign up to host an Oxfam World Food Day dinner to foster conversation about where food comes from, who cultivates it, and how personal actions can make the food system more just and sustainable.

Of course, here at Worldwatch we like to think of every day as food day. Eating conscientiously – by choosing to purchase local, sustainably produced food; familiarizing oneself with national and international food policy issues; supporting small-scale family farmers; and minimizing (or eliminating) meat consumption – can have broad benefits for the global environment, farmworkers, and human health.

How will you celebrate food this month? Send your comments to foodandag@worldwatch.org, and we’ll profile your ideas on a Nourishing the Planet blog!

Sophie Wenzlau is a Senior Fellow with the Worldwatch Institute.  

Sep29

Sowing the Seeds of a Food-Secure Future

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By Dana Drugmand

Worldwide, 195 million children suffer from malnutrition, which adversely affects their development and overall well-being. Approximately 26 percent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. And according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the number of malnourished children in the region will rise 18 percent between 2001 and 2020. Fortunately, innovations such as school feeding programs and kitchen vegetable gardens are working to combat malnutrition and hunger in African children.

Schoolchildren in Uganda are learning how to grow fruits and vegetables in kitchen gardens funded by Seeds for Africa. (Photo Credit: Kellogg)

One organization, Seeds for Africa, has been instrumental in helping children gain access to local, nutritious fruits and vegetables. A central part of this organization’s work is teaching children the value of growing their own food by helping them to establish kitchen gardens and fruit tree orchards. Seeds for Africa funds kitchen vegetable garden development at primary schools in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

In Kenya, Seeds for Africa coordinator Thomas Ndivo Muema has helped primary schools in the Nairobi region establish vegetable gardens and orchards of 200 fruit trees and has also supplied water tanks. In Uganda, fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been established at 77 schools around Kampala, the capital city. And in Sierra Leone, Seeds for Africa coordinator Abdul Hassan King has helped oversee tree planting projects in 50 primary schools and advised kitchen vegetable gardens operating at 15 other schools.

In 2011, Kellogg UK donated £6434 (US$9,946) to Seeds for Africa to fund “breakfast clubs” in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia—clubs in which schoolchildren are fed breakfast if they attend class. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, some 60 percent of children come to school without having eaten breakfast, if they attend school at all. By providing a nutritious breakfast, the initiative helps to improve attendance as well as academic performance and student well-being. Results from breakfast club trials indicate that students who participated scored better on school tests and were happier overall than students who did not participate. School attendance also increased to 95 percent.

(more…)

Sep15

Winona LaDuke: Protecting Wild Harvests Through the White Earth Land Recovery Project

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By Devon Ericksen

“The recovery of the people is tied to the recovery of food, since food itself is medicine; not only for the body, but for the soul, is the spiritual connection to history, ancestors and the land.”

Winona LaDuke in Recovering the Sacred

Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project are working to protect wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture (Photo Credit: Star Tribune)

A graduate of both Harvard and Antioch universities, Winona LaDuke is the author of six books, winner of numerous prestigious awards, and two-time Green Party candidate for U.S. vice-president. But what she is most proud of is her Native American heritage.

LaDuke is a member of the Anishinaabeg tribe and Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), which works to recover the land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota and to restore land stewardship practices, such as the protection of traditional crops and sacred seeds, within the community. This return to healthy, indigenous foods is sorely needed in the U.S. Native American community: 39.6 percent of Native adults are obese, compared to 27 percent of whites, and 25 percent of Native adults in Minnesota have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to about 7 percent of white adults.

One of the indigenous foods that LaDuke and the WELRP are working to protect is wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture. Wild rice is the only grain native to North America, found mainly in the Great Lakes region. It is higher in protein than other grains and contains numerous vitamins. The Anishinaabeg people have used sustainable harvesting methods for generations, relying on canoes and beater sticks to collect the ripe seeds.

(more…)

Sep07

Taking a Look “Behind the Kitchen Door”

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In her new book, Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us, Saru Jayaraman explores the political, economic, and ethical implications of eating out. Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and professor of public law at Brooklyn College, looks beyond the food production system to examine how food is prepared and served at restaurants across the United States.

In her new book, Saru Jayaraman explores the political, economic, and ethical implications of eating out. (Photo Credit: kqed.org)

Today, the U.S. restaurant industry employs 12.9 million workers—nearly one in 10 Americans—and produces more than $1.7 trillion in revenue each year. But, according to the labor organization the AFL-CIO, seven of the 10 lowest-paying jobs are in the restaurant industry, and 90 percent of restaurant workers lack paid sick days. Meanwhile, only 0.01 percent of restaurant workers are represented by a union, even though workers represented by unions are paid an average of 20 percent more than non-union workers and are more likely to have benefits.

Jayaraman uses the in-depth stories of 10 restaurant workers in cities across the country to paint a picture of the conditions that many food service employees face. In these cities—including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans—the author follows employees who are paid less than minimum wage, sexually harassed, stolen from, unable to take sick days, and unable to feed their families.

As one Washington, D.C. restaurant worker says in the book, “Customers always ask us if this dish is organic or local, thinking that is what will ensure that they are having a healthy meal, a meal they can feel good about, but if they knew about what workers were dealing with…working with the flu, tips and wages being stolen by the owner, getting screamed at and abused by managers, being called racial slurs, getting groped by male workers—they would think twice about the quality of their food.”

Through stories like this, Jayaraman asks her readers to consider a broader definition of a sustainable food system—one that includes fair and supportive conditions for restaurant workers. For more information, visit the book’s website or view the book trailer.

How do you think fair and supportive working conditions fit into a sustainable food system? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture program. 

Aug19

Reducing Food Waste While Feeding the Hungry

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By Carol Dreibelbis

According to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) last year, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. Americans throw away about US$165 billion worth of food each year—or about 9 kilograms of food per person each month—which then ends up in landfills, where it accounts for about a quarter of U.S. methane emissions.

Americans throw away about 9 kilograms of food per person per month, which ends up in landfills, where it accounts for roughly a quarter of U.S. methane emissions. (Photo Credit: Frank Pascual)

The NRDC’s farm-to-fork-to-landfill report makes clear that Americans not only eat more than other nations, but they also waste more. In fact, the average American wastes 10 times as much food as the average Southeast Asian. While one in six Americans is food insecure, only 60 percent of the nation’s food is consumed. The report also points out that reducing food waste by just 15 percent would save enough food to feed more than 25 million people annually.

As of November 2011, American schools are fully equipped to do their part in both cutting food waste and feeding hungry people. While food donors who give to food pantries and food banks are protected from all liability under the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, recent legislation went a step further by explicitly protecting public schools that donate unused food. Now that schools can donate food without risk, they are free to put their unused food to good use.

Schools of all kinds are answering the call for food donations. Dranesville Elementary School in Herndon, VA implemented a new donation program in March of 2012 to donate unopened cafeteria food to local shelters and food banks. Previously, the school cafeteria threw away about 12.25 kilograms of food each day. Many colleges and universities also have food donation programs through their volunteering or civic engagement programs. Student volunteers at Princeton University pick up unused food from campus dining halls several times each week and deliver it to a local soup kitchen. (more…)

Jul17

Every Last Morsel: An Interview with Todd Jones

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Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke recently with Todd Jones, founder of Every Last Morsel, an online platform that connects gardeners and urban farmers with their communities. Gardeners, once they’ve plotted their garden’s location on a map, can track the garden’s progress, sell or exchange produce with their neighbors, and share gardening tips with people throughout the community.

Todd Jones, Founder of Every Last Morsel (Photo credit: Todd Jones)

Why did you start Every Last Morsel?

Every Last Morsel began as a landscaping service, oddly enough. I would personally design, build, and maintain edible landscapes for individuals. Last year while I was working on this, I had the idea to build a platform for myself to manage those gardens—including their location, contents, and production volume. I realized that if I put those tools on a network, empowering people to do the same thing in their communities rather than doing it all myself, I would have a much larger effect on local food production.  That’s how the idea all started.

Every Last Morsel has evolved considerably since then. I realized that creating a network and a micro-marketplace for homegrown food is not a sustainable business model: there needs to be a greater volume of produce available. So, now there is the added ability to buy food from farmers’ markets and small farms, which also gives these growers more exposure.

There’s a social element to the website.  Why is that an important part of the project?

My goal is to empower people to educate themselves and connect with experienced gardeners so they can learn how to grow food. I think that one of the most beautiful things about the local food movement is that it allows people to create direct relationships in their community. So, I was inspired to create a social network that brings people together online as a means to get them together in real life. A lot of people have their own network of friends, scattered throughout city, but this is a neat way to inspire people to get to know their neighbors.

What resources will the website provide to people thinking about starting a garden?

Every Last Morsel provides people with a network of hundreds of people that they can learn from, as well as great gardening models that are already in existence. I don’t want people to have to reinvent the wheel to start a garden. One of the things that struck me as I studied urban farming in Chicago is that there are many fantastic, forward-thinking farming organizations; but, they don’t collaborate in finding best practices to make urban farming efficient, profitable, and therefore a sustainable part of urban living. (more…)

May22

Innovation of the Month: Cereal Banks Protect Against Famine and Empower Women Across the Sahel

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By Caitlin Aylward

Drought and high food prices in 2012 threatened the food security of over 18 million people in the Sahel Region of Africa, which includes parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, and northern Nigeria. The Sahel is prone to drought, and is becoming increasingly so with climate change. Consequently the people in this region are experiencing more frequent bouts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Women-led cereal banks help reduce hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel. (Photo credit: World Food Programme)

Fortunately, organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Care are joining forces to create all-women-managed cereal banks in villages throughout the Sahel that not only help protect against seasonal famine, but also empower women as agents of food security in their communities.

Cereal banks are community-led grain distribution projects that store grain after harvests, and then loan grain when food is scarce during what is known as the ‘lean season.’

In 2009, WFP and Care established exclusively women-operated cereal banks to help ensure the availability of grain supplies year round. These community cereal banks loan grain below market price, helping protect against market speculation, and enabling even the poorest women to purchase food for their families during times of scarcity. The women are expected to repay the loans, but at very low interest rates and only after they have harvested their own crops.

(more…)

Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Mar04

Innovation of the Month: Food Fermentation for Biopreservation

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By Brandon Pierce

Although the word “bacteria” is usually associated with sickness and disease, it is the driving force behind fermentation, a food process on which humans have relied for millennia. Some of the earliest recorded instances of fermentation come from East Asia where, according to William Shurtleff, founder of the SoyInfo Center, the process was used as early as 300 BCE to ferment soybeans.

Fermentation has been used for millennia to preserve and improve the nutritional content of foods. (Photo credit: the DIY Gourmet)

Fermentation historically has had two purposes. Foods undergoing the fermentation process went through remarkable changes in taste, basically allowing for the creation of new foods. Fermentation also served as a way to prevent foods from spoiling. It is referred to as a biopreservation method, or a way to preserve foods using beneficial microorganisms.

In biopreservation, beneficial bacteria are used to prevent food spoilage and get rid of harmful pathogens. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are probably the most commonly used due to their unique properties and because they are harmless to humans. As LABs compete for nutrients with other bacteria, they release antimicrobials that stop spoilage and inhibit the growth of potentially harmful pathogens.

In functioning as an effective biopreservative, bacteria do not necessarily have to also start the process of fermentation. Generally, bacteria are selected either for their metabolic properties, which cause fermentation, or for their antimicrobial activity, which is important for food preservation. LAB can be used for both.

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