Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

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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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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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.

 

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.

Oct16

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

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Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.

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Oct15

Pewa: Small Fruits that Pack a Huge Punch

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By Molly Redfield

The pewa (Bactris gasipaes or peach palm in English), while just about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, is a nutrient-dense fruit that provides more protein than an avocado, which contains approximately 3 grams of protein. Growing in South and Central America on palm trees that reach heights of over 20 meters, pewa is known as the “noble Panamanian fruit.” This nickname refers to the fact that 92 percent of its seeds, pulp, and skin are usable.

Pewa is an important staple food that grows across Central and South America.
(Photo credit: Washington & Jefferson College)

With a nutrient value similar to a hen’s egg, minus the cholesterol, pewa is an important food source for many birds, notably macaws, parrots, and parakeets. Its high fiber, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, ascorbic acid, and calcium content have also made it an important staple food for many Indigenous Peoples. For centuries, Indigenous groups have used pewa in jellies, compotes, flours and edible oils. Preparation of this fruit includes boiling, often in salted water, to remove the trypsin enzymes under its skin that would block protein digestion. After stewing, the pewa fruit is peeled and flavored with honey or salt, dried, smoked, or cooked into other foods.

Indigenous communities in Central and South America have also developed preservation methods for keeping this perishable fruit available during the offseason. After cooking the pulp, they would mash it and then store it underground in leaves. A month later, the pewa would be fit to consume and Indigenous communities could store them for roughly one year. Another way Indigenous groups have stored pewa is through creating a fermented alcoholic beverage with the fruit. Among various Indigenous Amazonian groups, this drink, called chica, is still used in various religious ceremonies and rituals.

In Costa Rica, stores sell whole pewa fruits, pewa flour, and pewa soups, and the fruit is also available in infant formula. Pewa’s popularity is currently increasing on global markets because it is a gluten free substitute for wheat flour. And according to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (APGRI), expansion of the fruit’s commercial success could lead to economic development for farming communities across South and Central America.

Without question, this small, inconspicuous fruit surely packs a huge punch.

For more information on pewa click here.

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.

Oct13

Saturday Series: An Interview with Gigi Pomerantz

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By Lee Davies

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!

Gigi Pomerantz (Photo Credit: Linda Sechrist)

Name: Gigi Pomerantz

Affiliation: Youthaiti

Bio: Gigi Pomerantz is the executive director of Youthaiti, a nonprofit promoting ecological sanitation in Haiti. Ms. Pomerantz founded the organization in 2008.

Why did you begin work in Haiti? And what led you to focus on sanitation?

My work in Haiti began in 2006 when I traveled on a medical mission to the rural village of Duchity in Grand’Anse. During our first day there we met with local teachers, health agents, and the one physician who lived in the village to do a ‘health needs assessment.’ They listed sanitation as one of their top five priorities for improving health.

For the next five days we saw 1,400 patients and treated every single one for intestinal worms and at least 50 percent for other gastrointestinal problems, including a lot of diarrhea. It became clear to me that this need was real. As a nurse practitioner, my focus has always been on prevention, and sanitation is prevention at its most basic level. Prevent the water that you drink from becoming contaminated, and you save the lives of millions of children who die from childhood diarrhea.

After the completion of Youthaiti’s projects, how will communities continue these sanitation programs?

We are introducing several methods of ecological sanitation that should be sustainable for even the poorest of the poor. Currently we encourage two methods of household sanitation: the Arborloo shallow pit composting latrine, and the Humanure bucket toilet. An Arborloo costs about $60 to construct with a concrete squat plate and a movable shelter. A Humanure bucket toilet could cost as little as $2.50 if they just squat over it, or $15 with a toilet seat. Both methods create compost. Arborloos compost directly in the ground, where a tree can be planted. Humanure toilets provide humanure, which can triple or quadruple garden yields and increase family income.

We also have built 17 community urine-diverting toilets to serve schools and other gather places, such as markets and bus stops.

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Oct10

Learn the Truth about Sugary Drinks and Soda from the Food Day Campaign

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(Photo credit: CBS News)

Soda is the largest source of calories in the American diet and also contributes to a variety of health problems including obesity and diabetes. Get the facts about soda, without the sugar coating, from the Food Day Campaign, some soda-loving polar bears, and Jason Mraz at http://www.therealbears.org.

Watch the full video here!

 

Sep27

Oxfam Action Corps: Growing a Better Food System through Action and Conversation

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By Alyssa Casey

Oxfam Action Corps is a growing group of concerned citizens using local conversation and action to help end global hunger. The Action Corps currently exists in 14 U.S. cities, spreading the mission of Oxfam International. Oxfam International is a confederation of 17 organizations located across North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. As an international relief organization, Oxfam aims to eliminate global injustice by providing immediate aid and improving long-term sustainability. They also distribute a variety of publications including annual reports, books, facts sheets, and the magazine OXFAMExchange.

Oxfam Action Corps volunteers in Indianapolis, IN work to spread the GROW campaign and recruit new Action Corps members. (Photo credit: Indianapolis Oxfam Action Corps)

Oxfam America’s Action Corps aims to enact change by educating people about better living habits, as well as lobbying government on issues such as water conservation, food security, aid reform, and workers’ rights. One of their newest and fastest-spreading campaigns is GROW, a food justice campaign. GROW aims to build a better food system that will adequately feed the world population by promoting a more equitable distribution of resources among the world’s farmers, holding governments and businesses accountable, and helping farmers prepare to cope with climate change and natural disasters.

GROW emphasizes that everyone has a role in the movement towards a healthier, more sustainable food system. With its slogan “feed your family and help 1 billion people feed themselves,” the GROW Method demonstrates that each person can impact the global food system by simply adopting sensible eating habits. The method contains five actions that help eliminate inefficiencies in food habits. Planning meals in advance and incorporating leftovers into recipes helps reduce food waste. Decreasing meat and dairy consumption, and using minimal water and energy while cooking can conserve natural resources. Buying from local farmers markets and eating seasonal foods reduces the amount of energy used in food transportation. On the GROW method’s interactive website, people can learn more about the initiative, browse recipes, and watch videos created by Oxfam to explain how current food systems operate.

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