Archive for the ‘Disease Prevention’ Category

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

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By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

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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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Oct21

Students Protest New, Healthier School Lunches

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools across the United States are serving healthier school lunches this academic year. School lunches must meet new nutritional guidelines—such as including fruits and vegetables and limiting fats and sodium—for schools to receive extra federal lunch aid. Calories counts are also restricted: high school, middle school, and elementary school lunches must now be no more than 850, 700, and 650 calories, respectively. Although nutrition and health advocates celebrate this change, a recent article in The New York Times indicates that many students feel differently.

Food waste has increased due to healthier school lunches this year (Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

Students in districts around the country have responded to the healthier lunches with boycotts and strikes. According to Shawn McNulty, principal at Mukwonago High School in Wisconsin, participation in the school lunch program had fallen 70 percent as a result of student action. “There is a reduction in nacho chips, there is a reduction in garlic bread, but there’s actually an increase in fruits and vegetables,” Mr. McNulty said. “That’s a tough sell for kids, and I would be grumbling, too, if I was 17 years old.” Students are also throwing away more food in New York City and elsewhere.

Food service directors are using a variety of strategies to encourage students to eat fruits and vegetables, including asking teachers to discuss healthy food in class, giving out free samples, and educating students about where their food comes from and how it is produced. But, schools may simply need to wait for students to grow accustomed to new menu options: according to William J. McCarthy, professor of public health and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, children must be exposed to vegetables 10 to 12 times before they eat them on their own. “If our task is to get young kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, we have to be willing to put up with the waste,” he said.

How would you suggest that we teach kids to eat and value healthy foods? Tell us in the comments below!  

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep17

Papalo: Smells like a skunk, but adds unique flavor

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By Catherine Ward

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale subsp. Macrocephalum) is still a relatively obscure plant to many Americans; however it is slowly gaining popularity in New York kitchens as immigrant farmers increasingly grow the herb and sell it in markets. Papalo is an ancient plant that is found throughout Mexico, the American Southwest and other South American countries. The stems and leaves of papalo were used as a condiment in Mexico before the colonization of the Spanish in the 16th century. Today, papalo is so popular in the state of Puebla, Mexico that people keep a bouquet of the herb on tables so it can be added fresh to dishes as desired. The name papalo is derived from the Nahuatl language and means butterfly, which could be attributed to the butterfly-shaped leaves of the herb.

People living in Mexico, Central, and South America commonly use papalo as medicine for high blood pressure and stomach disorders (Photo credit: Chef Jacques Gautier)

Papalo has a very unique flavor that has been described as tasting like a mixture of cilantro, argula and mint. And some people claim that the herb smells like laundry detergent or soap. The leaves of the plant have oil glands that produce chemicals used to deter insects, which is the reason behind the very distinct smell and flavor of papalo. The plant is often referred to as mampuitu in Spanish, which translates to skunk in honor of its pungent aroma.

The herb is usually eaten raw as a garnish in many central Mexican dishes and is particularly favored on cemitas (a type of Mexican sandwich). Papalo is also believed to have medicinal benefits according to some cultures. People living in Mexico, Central and South America commonly use papalo as medicine for high blood pressure and stomach disorders. In Bolivia, the Chacobo Indians utilized the herb on infected injuries to reduce swelling. The Quechua people consume papalo daily as they believe it reduces high blood pressure and treats liver problems. While Papalo is an interesting herb that is steadily gaining popularity in American cuisine due to its unusual flavor, it remains an important part of people’s daily diets in countries such as Mexico and Bolivia because of its medicinal properties.

Catherine Ward is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

   

Sep08

Saturday Series: An Interview with Howard Hinterthuer

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Howard works as a Peer-to-Peer Mentor for the Organic Therapy Program (OTP), a veterans’ recovery project that promotes healing through organic gardening (Photo credit: Don Gilmore)

Name: Howard Hinterthuer

Affiliation: Organic Therapy Program

Bio: Howard Hinterthuer served as a medic in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. Returning from the war, he found solace by establishing various gardens in Virginia. Today, Howard works as a Peer-to-Peer Mentor for the Organic Therapy Program (OTP), a veterans’ recovery project that promotes healing through organic gardening.

You recently gave a Ted Talk on the Organic Therapy Program (OTP). Can you tell us how the OTP started and how you, as one of its Peer-to-Peer Mentors, personally became involved with helping veterans recover from the war by gardening?

William Sims, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who served from 1966 to 1967, started the Organic Therapy Program. Mr. Sims was wounded after being in Vietnam for about 9 months, and returned home to Milwaukie. He was able to deal with the stress of coming home and experiencing combat by puttering around in his mom’s garden. He remembered that.

The Center for Veterans Issues has about 300 or more formerly homeless veterans in transition with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression. These veterans come to us and we provide a wrap around service to deal with their different problems. Mr. Sims figured that if gardening was good for him, then it would be good for other veterans as well. So he began creating raised bed gardens to help veterans cope with their problems.

I was also in the 101st Airborne Division a couple of years later. When I came home, I helped rehabilitate myself by planting a series of gardens in rural Virginia. This was very therapeutic. I was working at Sweet Water Organics as their Executive Director when the Center for Veterans Issues recruited me to become be a Peer-to-Peer Mentor. I took this opportunity because I wanted to help other veterans recover from the war.

Since its establishment four years ago, OTP has expanded into a program that now includes many innovative agricultural practices. What are some of the projects that OTP is currently working on?

The program has evolved over the years. When I first began working with the veterans, I started looking at our food expenditures. Our mess halls service our veterans three times a day and the numbers that we were getting from the mess halls from our surveys were disturbing. We had unusually high expenditures on meat. This was a problem because we serve a population of individuals who are particularly susceptible to diseases related to diet. So we thought of OTP as a way to introduce a better diet for our veterans. There was certainly some social engineering involved in this process. When our veterans say they don’t like something, such as fruits and vegetables, it probably means that they haven’t tried it. I do that sometimes with things, too. So the OTP program took 2 goals: reintegrating veterans into the world and improving their diets. The OTP program is especially important because we’re in a food desert area and it’s hard to get fruits and vegetables here. Now, in our fourth year, there’s enthusiasm and support for the program. Our veterans can’t get enough greens!

Why is it important for veterans in particular to engage in gardening as part of their recovery process?

Gardening is important because it allows our veterans to have an optimistic experience. It takes their mind off of the injustices and bad things that have happened to them in the past, the things that have gotten them to the place of homelessness. The issues veterans suffer from are often chronic; additionally, many veterans are smokers. They’ll smoke and talk about their difficult pasts. But their tone changes when they are in the garden. It’s like magic. Gardening makes sure that they have positive experiences. This is almost guaranteed by the act itself, as it creates such a peaceful place. Gardening is meditative and increases self-esteem. We are trying to assign raised beds to certain people so that there’s an increased sense of ownership. I think that there’s therapeutic value in establishing a pattern of responsible behavior.

How does the OTP introduce veterans to gardening and spark their interest in growing their own food?

OTP brings together people who have gardening in their background with people who don’t. Inevitably, someone who comes into the garden who was raised in Mississippi will talk about their grandmother and their grandfather’s garden. And for people who haven’t gardened, it’s delightful for them to see where an onion comes from and to pick a cherry tomato off of the vine and pop it in their mouths. When they taste the explosion of sweetness in their labor, it’s easy for them to eat healthier. Once our veterans have tried our produce in the garden, they realize that they like it.

What kind of changes have you seen in the veterans who have been working with OTP?

I’ve seen people evolve in a number of different ways. The most dramatic instance is when someone comes in and they’re extremely depressed. We had a key player last season who was like that. When I explained what we wanted him to do, he’d say, “I’m a good solider. I can do that.” Over the years, though, he worked closely with me on a couple of projects. One day, he was in the garden and told me, “You know, this program has just saved my life.” And now he’s in Nevada talking about his gardening experiences. To engage other veterans, we’re putting in a small aquaponics system that we worked on last year. We’ll redo it again this year. Additionally, we’re thinking of adding a green house. The veterans responsible for assembling these projects need to have some plumbing skills. Cutting barrels in half, working with PVC pipes, and other tasks all require certain skills. Our veterans have to apply carpentry skills, too. When they have the chance to use their skills again and to learn new ones, they feel useful. These projects bring our veterans out of themselves. They take pride in their involvement and love explaining their work to our visitors. They are able to think about what’s possible instead of what’s impossible.

How do you see the program itself changing in the future? Could the concepts behind OTP expand into other veteran recovery programs?

In terms of the future, we’re expanding our gardens and renting out two greenhouses that we’ve used in previous winters. We have received funding through the department of labor for it to heat these green houses with compost. This work will be a part of a jobs program to teach growing skills to our veterans. A big component of our expansion is sustainability. Using compost to heat our green houses is an example of the sustainable techniques we want to apply.  In terms of expanding into other veteran recovery programs, after the TED talk I gave, I was contacted by a woman in Scotland working with veterans of the British military. Her program used horticulture for veterans’ recovery, so I think gardening is an approach to dealing with difficult issues that can definitely be replicated in other places.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep01

Saturday Series: An Interview with Aturinde Emmanuel

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Aturinde Emmanuel

Affiliation: Hunger Fighters Uganda

Aturinde Emmanuel is the Executive Director of Hunger Fighters Uganda (Photo credit: Umuseke.com)

Bio: Aturinde Emmanuel is the Executive Director of Hunger Fighters Uganda (HF-UG). Before he worked at HF-UG, he worked as a Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant for the United Nations World Food Programme in Uganda. Emmanuel graduated from Duisburg-Essen University in Germany with a master’s degree in development and governance and from Makerere University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science. His research focuses on agriculture, development policy, and food and nutrition security with a special focus on development innovation.

In 2008, participants of a UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Continuing Agriculture Education Center (CAEC) course dubbed ‘Hunger in the 21st Century’ established Hunger Fighters Uganda.

What roles did the WFP and the CAEC play in the organization’s founding?

The most important thing about the WFP and CAEC course was that it focused on the causes, effects, and possible responses to hunger. By looking to address these issues, the course connected many of its participants. After the course training, myself and some of my classmates and instructors were able to initiate Hunger Fighters Uganda. We started out by monitoring the food that is given to refugees in Uganda. The WFP and CAEC course sparked the idea for HFU, but we’ve been able to do what we do because of our staff. This is especially true in regard to capacity building and having other resources to do our work. Our staff now includes people beyond the initial few who participated in the WFP and CAEC course.

What is the hunger situation in Uganda?

Hunger in Uganda affects over 8 million people. Many Ugandans face something referred to as hidden hunger, a deficiency in micronutrients. The lack of micronutrients, especially of vitamins, iron, and iodine, is referred to as ‘hidden’ because it does not show up immediately. It is only clear later when a person’s immune system is compromised and other opportunistic diseases manifest. So we focus on hidden hunger, most notably in the northern and northeastern parts of the country. These regions experience the highest level of malnutrition.

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Aug21

The Hunger Shames: Schools Can Set Children on Lifetime Path of Healthy Eating

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Check out our latest op-ed about school meals and student health, published in The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Indiana gets a bad grade for childhood obesity and malnutrition. In 2011, 15 percent of Indiana high school students were considered obese, meaning their body mass index was at or above the 95th percentile. Fortunately, schools can play a key role to reverse this trend and reinforce healthy eating behaviors. By emphasizing hands-on nutrition education, such as school garden projects and classroom cooking demonstrations, and by providing fresh, local fruits and vegetables in cafeterias, schools can encourage students to improve their diets.

Read the full article here.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug20

At Back-to-School Time, Let’s Press for Healthy Eating

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Check out our latest op-ed about improving school meals and students’ eating habits, published in The Montreal Gazette. The Gazette is the largest English language daily in the province of Quebec, and has a weekly print circulation of 1,094,653.

It’s almost time for kids to go back to school. But for many children in Montreal, this means a return to unhealthy school lunches that jeopardize their health and well-being. Schools can play a key role in reversing this trend and reinforcing healthy eating behaviors.

Read the full article here.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug18

Doctors and Chefs Join Forces for Health Through a Groundbreaking Culinary Medicine University Collaboration

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By Ioulia Fenton

It is not unusual to visit a general practitioner or even a medical specialist for nutrition and health advice. It is also not uncommon for celebrity chefs like England’s Jamie Oliver and United States’ Alice Waters to champion healthy eating in restaurants and on TV. Now, in an exciting new collaboration, Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and Johnson & Wales University (JWU) Providence have joined forces to produce a world’s first: a long-term medical culinary program that will bring together the two professions in the common cause for American health.

Chefs and doctors are working together to educate the public about the importance of a healthy diet (Photo Credit: Short Order Dad)

Doctors, medical students, chefs, and community members in the program will focus on the significant health role that food choices and nutrition play in preventing and managing obesity and associated diseases in America. The initial program will start at Tulane and will offer medical students practical community cooking classes, hands-on community outreach, and instruction in strategic relationship building with community organizations.

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Aug14

Helping Poor Children Avoid Poor Diets

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Check out our latest op-ed about improving school meals and students’ eating habits, published in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, one of the largest daily newspapers in the United States with a daily print circulation of over 220,000.

For many children in Austin and around the country, heading back to school means a return to terribly unhealthy school lunches fried chicken, pizza pockets, corn dogs, and desserts loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. But by emphasizing hands-on nutrition education, such as school garden projects and classroom cooking demonstrations, and by providing fresh, local fruits and vegetables in cafeterias, schools can encourage students to improve their diets.

Click here to read the full article.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.