Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

Dec10

5 Strategies the United Nations Special Rapporteur Suggests for Public Health

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By Alison Blackmore

With 1.3 billion people now overweight or obese, nearly 1 billion undernourished, and even more suffering from critical micronutrient deficiencies, it is no secret that our food system is broken. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food released a report in 2011 urging governments to move away from the practice of merely prescribing health warnings and applying band-aids to public health challenges. Instead, he urged governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food urges governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

Today, Nourishing the Planet looks at the five actions that Mr. De Schutter suggests that governments take to protect the human right to adequate food around the world.

Taxing unhealthy products. De Schutter reported that taxing unhealthy products can be an effective strategy to encourage healthy diets, since price is an important determinant in consumption levels. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2007 showed that a 10 percent tax on soft drinks could lead to an 8–10 percent reduction in purchases. Because foods high in fat, salt, and sugar are cheap while nutritious diets can be expensive, many consumers gravitate toward unhealthy food choices out of financial necessity. To ensure a more equal food system, the report advises governments to direct the tax revenues raised from foods high in fat, salt, and sugar toward making healthy food more affordable and accessible to poor communities.

Example: Despite strong opposition from retailers city-wide, in May 2010 the Washington, D.C. Council added sweetened soda to those items subject to the 6 percent sales tax. The city intended to use the tax revenue to support D.C.’s Healthy Schools Act, a landmark measure seeking to improve school nutrition and increase Physical Education programs.

Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar. Taxing foods high in fats, sugar, and salt is just one way of suppressing a sugar-high food system before it crashes. De Schutter also suggests that governments regulate junk food and fast food advertisements, especially those catered to children; provide accurate and balanced nutritional information to consumers; and adopt a plan to replace trans-fats with polyunsaturated fats in nearly all food products.

Example: In October of 2011, Denmark imposed a so-called “fat tax” on products high in saturated fats in order to repress rising obesity rates, which have led to increasing medical and social problems. Denmark has a long history of taxing unhealthy products to promote healthy diets, such as a tax on candy and a ban on trans-fats—perhaps a reason the country’s obesity rate in 2011 was 1.6 percent lower than the European average of 15 percent.

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Nov14

“Botany on Your Plate” and “Nourishing Choices”: Resources for a Healthier Classroom

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By Alyssa Casey

In the United States, the National Gardening Association educates students about the health benefits of eating plant-based food through a variety of publications written specifically for school communities. Resources such as Botany on Your Plate: Investigating the Plants We Eat and Nourishing Choices: Implementing Food Education in Classrooms, Cafeterias, and Schoolyards provide innovative plans and tools for bringing plant and nutrition education into the classroom, as well as connecting children to their local food economy.

Botany on Your Plate offers a series of life science classroom lessons targeted specifically at grades K-4. (Photo Credit: Amazon.com)

Botany on Your Plate offers a series of life science classroom lessons targeted specifically at grades K-4. Each lesson studies a different category of plant, such as fruits or flowers, or a different plant part, such as roots or leaves, with the aim of helping children develop a well-rounded knowledge of many edible plants. Students work in pairs or groups studying, dissecting, and recording observations about the plants, while teachers explain the functions of each plant part as well as the nutritional benefits that the plants can offer. The lessons also suggest plant-based snack items to feed students, exposing them to foods they may never have tried.

Botany on Your Plate incorporates diverse educational subjects into its lessons. Students enhance language and writing skills by learning plant vocabulary and journaling about observations and tastings. They gain scientific understanding when learning plant parts or thinking about a plant’s role in the ecosystem, and explore artistic skills when drawing and labeling plant diagrams. Each lesson offers step-by-step instructions and suggestions for tailoring activities to different skill levels. The book also contains a master list of supplies and produce for each lesson, a collection of plant diagrams and nutrition labels, and a glossary of terms that students can learn.

The second publication, Nourishing Choices, takes a broader approach, highlighting projects and procedures for bringing food, nutrition, and plant education into schools on a larger scale. From initial assessments, to the integration of food education into curricula, to the addition of healthier options in the lunchroom, the publication serves as a roadmap for schools and school districts. The abundance of ideas allows school communities to select programs that fit their size, scope, and needs. Profiles of successful projects around the country—including school garden programs, field trips to local farms, and even school food labs where students actually prepare lunch—offer ideas and advice to communities that are just beginning to implement food education programs.

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Sep12

Making Waves About Sushi: An Interview with Mark Hall

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Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo recently spoke with Mark Hall, an independent filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, who produced the 2012 documentary, Sushi: The Global Catch. Inspired by the prevalence of sushi in seemingly unlikely places, from Warsaw, Poland to football games in Texas, Hall created the film to track the global implications of the international raw fish industry and to better understand the consequences of sushi as a global phenomenon. 

“Sushi: The Global Catch” tracks the global implications of the international raw fish market. (Photo Credit: Francesca Forrestal)

How did your interest in the sushi industry begin? What inspired you?

I have always enjoyed eating sushi, and actually got my inspiration for the documentary while doing some non-film related work in Poland a few years ago. I was working with a group from the Ministry of Agriculture in Warsaw to assist a private organic cooperative with small farmers. When we broke for lunch, I was shocked by the fact that they proposed going for sushi. I later discovered that there were about 30 to 40 sushi restaurants in Warsaw at the time, and I was struck by how much of a global presence sushi had become in such a short amount of time. The original idea for the documentary focused largely on the lengthy global supply chains that support our growing desire for sushi, but as we delved deeper into the filming, we realized that there were significant economic, social, and environmental consequences of the growth of the sushi industry that needed to be addressed.

How did sushi grow from being a traditionally Japanese dish to a global favorite?

The Japanese pride themselves in inventing and maintaining a strong cultural tradition of making sushi. In fact, while I was in graduate school in Japan some of my Japanese friends would tease foreigners by daring them into eating sushi, because Americans at the time were not used to eating raw fish. By introducing sushi to the world, the Japanese opened something of a Pandora’s box. Now the rest of the world loves it, and it is making it more difficult for the Japanese to access the dish that they created and love. While filming “Sushi: The Global Catch,” I received a letter telling me that the first sushi restaurant in Rwanda had just opened, and I was amazed by how globalized eating sushi has become.

How has sushi changed since it has been exposed to the global market?

As sushi has grown in popularity, we have lost a sense of the cultural origins of the cuisine. In Japan, sushi started out as a meal intended for special occasions. Now, it is accessible in most parts of the world—even in gas stations. There has been cultural dilution, and non-Japanese chefs have created variations on the dish that the Japanese themselves would not even consider sushi. There are California rolls, Philadelphia rolls, and in my hometown of Austin, Texas, they even serve a Longhorn roll that has ribeye steak and candied jalapenos in it.

The film includes a segment about a school district in Texas that serves sushi at football games and various events. When you can get a good-sized sushi meal for around $10, sushi becomes more available to those working with a lower budget. The Sushi Popper, a portable package of sushi on a push-up stick, recently entered the global market and is redefining how sushi is understood. It makes it easier to buy, ship, and serve sushi in vending machines, airplanes, and schools. We need to consider the implications of sushi’s global supply chain.

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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.

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May13

Camu Camu: A Little Fruit that Packs a Big Punch

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By Eleanor Fausold

Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) is a tiny fruit native to the Amazon region of South America that is rising in popularity, as both an element in local treats and a main component in dietary supplements. Although its high level of acidity once made it unpopular for consumption, the fruit is now valued for its exceptionally high vitamin C content and is, consequently, growing in demand in health-food stores around the world.

Camu-camu, a tiny, vitamin C-rich fruit native to the Amazon region of South America, is rising in popularity (Photo Credit: Youshi Guo)

Also known as camocamo in Peru and cacari in Brazil, among other names, the camu camu tree can grow up to 40 feet high. The species thrives in swamps along rivers and lakes such as the Rio Mazán near Iquitos, Peru, and in Amazonian Brazil and Venezuela. The base of the camu camu’s trunk is frequently underwater, and the tree’s lower branches are often submerged for long periods during the rainy season.

Despite its frequent submersion, the camu camu tree produces fragrant flowers with tiny white petals and tiny fruits that turn from yellow to a maroon or purple-black color as they ripen. In the right growing conditions, a single tree can produce as many as 1,000 fruits per year, which are harvested by boat.

Known for its extremely high vitamin C content (half-ripe fruits have been found to contain 1,950 to 2,700 milligrams per 100 grams of edible fruit, an amount greater than that found in 50 oranges), the camu camu fruit has a very acidic taste. In fact, until fairly recently, the fruit was used almost exclusively as fish bait and the tree, when dead, was used as a source of firewood.

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Apr11

Global Food Prices Continue to Rise

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Continuing a decade-long increase, global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s but still well below the price spike of 1974. Between 2000 and 2012, the World Bank global food price index increased 104.5 percent, at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent.

Global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012 (Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

The price increases reverse a previous trend when real prices of food commodities declined at an average annual rate of 0.6 percent from 1960 to 1999, approaching historic lows. The sustained price decline can be attributed to farmers’ success in keeping crop yields ahead of rising worldwide food demand. Although the global population grew by 3.8 billion or 122.9 percent between 1961 and 2010, net per capita food production increased by 49 percent over this period. Advances in crop breeding and an expansion of agricultural land drove this rise in production, as farmers cultivated an additional 434 million hectares between 1961 and 2010.

Food price volatility has increased dramatically since 2006. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the standard deviation—or measurement of variation from the average—for food prices between 1990 and 1999 was 7.7 index points, but it increased to 22.4 index points in the 2000–12 period.

Although food price volatility has increased in the last decade, it is not a new phenomenon. According to World Bank data, the standard deviation for food prices in 1960–99 was 11.9 index points higher than in 2000–12. Some price volatility is inherent in agricultural commodities markets, as they are strongly influenced by weather shocks. But the recent upward trend in food prices and volatility can be traced to additional factors including climate change, policies promoting the use of biofuels, rising energy and fertilizer prices, poor harvests, national export restrictions, rising global food demand, and low food stocks.

Perhaps most significant has been an increase in biofuels production in the last decade. Between 2000 and 2011, global biofuels production increased more than 500 percent, due in part to higher oil prices and the adoption of biofuel mandates in the United States and European Union (EU). According to a 2012 study by the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research, if biofuel production continues to expand according to current plans, the price of feedstock crops (particularly maize, oilseed crops, and sugar cane) will increase more than 11 percent by 2020.

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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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Feb08

Food Waste and Recycling in China: A Growing Trend?

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 By Wanqing Zhou

Note: an earlier version of this article was previously published, in two installments, by Brighter Green.

Waitresses clear tables in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. (Photo credit: China.org.cn)

As household incomes, urban populations, and overall food consumption in China continue to rise, the country faces serious problems of food waste, natural resource scarcity, and overflowing landfills. Currently, over 200 billion Yuan’s (US$32 billion) worth of food is thrown away annually nationwide, even as 128 million Chinese live below the poverty line and often lack sufficient food.

In November 2012, the Rome Film Festival premiered “Back to 1942,” which tells the story of a famine in the central Henan Province during World War II.  The film spurred discussion about the Great Famine, in which 45 million people starved as a consequence of the Great Leap Forward, the country’s modernizing effort back in the late 1950s. Today, the Great Famine still affects the psyche of the average Chinese citizen—higher average incomes have led, in many cases, to overconsumption and waste of food.

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Jan24

Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

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

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

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

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Jan10

Iguana Meat Is on the Table

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By Victoria Russo

Green and scaly, with a mouth full of sharp teeth, the iguana might not look like a nutritious meal. But as the iguana population surpasses the human population in Puerto Rico—destroying gardens, digging holes under houses, and blocking roads and runways—residents are beginning to use the animal for meat. Although there is, as of yet, little global demand for this untraditional dish, Puerto Ricans are looking to international meat markets to support local pest control.

Iguana meat is said to taste like chicken. (Photo Credit: National Geographic)

Iguanas originated in Central and South America and were first brought to Puerto Rico in the 1970s to be sold as pets. The reptiles reproduce quickly, with mature females laying up to 70 eggs annually. Once iguanas entered the wild in Puerto Rico, the population quickly spiraled out of control. The animals are well camouflaged and very fast, which makes them difficult to catch.

By using iguanas for food, Puerto Ricans have found an effective way to control the reptile’s exploding population. Iguana meat has been compared to a slightly sweeter version of chicken, and common recipes include stews, tacos, and roasts. Iguana eggs are edible as well, and are said to have a rich, cheesy flavor. Puerto Rico is not the only place using iguanas for food: in Central and South America, the meat is seen as a delicacy. Nutritionally, it is rich in minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, and has more protein than chicken. If Puerto Ricans develop a taste for the meat, iguana could become a staple food source for the island.

Some other countries, including El Salvador and Mexico, already have export industries for iguana meat. Between 2001 and 2008, the United States imported more than 9,071.85 kilograms of the meat to meet the low but rising demand for consumption by humans. According to the Dallas Observer, iguana meat can go for up to $50 per pound in some U.S. markets. The business can be so lucrative that people in some countries have established iguana farms to ensure consistent supply. The production of iguana has resulted in markets for other products as well: iguana skin is used to make leather, while iguana oil is used for medicinal purposes (for example, for rheumatism, to clear up bruises, and as an aphrodisiac).

The production of iguana meat and other products could benefit Puerto Rico in multiple ways: it could protect other Puerto Rican fauna, offer new employment opportunities, and boost domestic food security.

Have you (or would you) try iguana meat? Let us know in the comments below.

Victoria Russo is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.