Posts Tagged ‘Health’

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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Oct24

GM Crops Causing a Stir in Washington State, Mexico, and Hawaii

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Courts, councils, and voters across North America are weighing in on genetically modified (GM) crops this month.

Research on the health effects of GM crops is woefully inadequate. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)

In Washington state, voters are beginning to cast ballots in favor of or opposing Initiative 522, which would mandate that all GM food products, seeds, and seed stocks carry labels in the state. According to the initiative, polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than 90 percent, would like to know whether or not the food they buy has been produced using genetic modification.

Initiative 522 is making big headlines. On October 16, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the initiative’s top opponent—the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—for allegedly violating campaign disclosure laws by concealing the identities of its donors. The lawsuit accuses the GMA, a D.C.-based food industry group, of infringing the law by soliciting and receiving contributions and making expenditures to oppose Initiative 522 without properly registering and reporting as a political committee, and of concealing the true source of the contributions received.

Days after Ferguson sued the group, the GMA agreed to name the companies that contributed to the $17.1 million campaign to defeat the initiative. High on the list are Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and NestleUSA, each having contributed more than $1 million. A more extensive list of donors, published by the Seattle Times, names General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup, The Hershey Co., and J.M. Smucker Co. as additional donors.

The fight to require labels on GM foods in Washington state is reminiscent of last year’s fight over Proposition 37—which also proposed mandatory GM labels—in California. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies, including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto, contributed $44 million in opposition of Prop 37, while those in favor contributed $7.3 million. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, it ultimately failed to pass.

Opponents of GM labeling have argued that the labels would imply a warning about the health effects of eating those foods, although no significant differences between GM and non-GM foods have been officially established. They also argue that consumers who do not want to buy GM foods already have the option of purchasing certified organic foods, which by definition cannot be produced using GM ingredients.

The initiative’s proponents, on the other hand, argue that GM labeling is about people’s right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families. These groups argue that U.S. companies, which are already required to label GM foods in 64 countries around the world, should be required to provide the same information to shoppers back home.

“As things stand, you can find out whether your salmon is wild or farm-raised, and where it’s from, but under existing legislation you won’t be able to find out whether it contains the gene of an eel. That has to change,” wrote Mark Bittman, a food columnist for the New York Times. “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced. This is true even if food containing or produced using GMOs were the greatest thing since crusty bread.”

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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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Jan30

Sea Buckthorn: A Shrub That’s Good for People and the Environment

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Sea buckthorn, also known as Siberian pineapple, sea berry, sandthorn, or swallowthorn, is a deciduous shrub that grows natively across northern Eurasia. As its name suggests, sea buckthorn’s branches are dense, stiff, and thorny, but its berries can provide nutrition for both people and wildlife.

Sea buckthorn berries offer benefits to both human and environmental health. (Photo credit: www.seabuckthornberries.info)

Sea buckthorn is valued in parts of Europe and Asia for its nutritional and medicinal properties. Its bright orange berries are high in carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamins A, C, E, and K; in fact, the concentration of vitamin C in sea buckthorn is higher than in strawberries, kiwis, oranges, tomatoes, and carrots. The berries have a fruity yet sour flavor and are often used in juices, jams, sauces, and liqueurs. The silver-gray leaves yield a tea rich in antioxidants, and the plants are even high in essential fatty acids.

While sea buckthorn is currently used medicinally in Russia and China, it has only recently attracted the attention of researchers across the world. Sea buckthorn oil, which can be extracted from seeds, is said to be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and adaptogenic (helping the body develop resistance to stressors). It is used as a treatment for mucositis, ulcers, radiation damage, burns, and scalds, as well as to relieve pain and promote tissue regeneration. While clinical studies are still needed to fully understand its medicinal benefits, a study by Hamdard University in India shows that sea buckthorn may help protect against diabetes.

Beyond its human health benefits, sea buckthorn also boosts the health of the environment in which it grows. Because its extensive root system can bind together even sandy soils, sea buckthorn prevents water and wind erosion on slopes and in open areas. It is fairly drought and frost resistant, tolerates soil salinity and low temperatures, and can withstand a range of soil pH levels. Sea buckthorn also adds nitrogen to the soil through nitrogen fixation, so it can grow in marginal soils and help restore them.

Sea buckthorn provides food and shelter for a variety of animals. In the Loess Plateau of northern China, 51 species of birds are entirely dependent on the shrub for food.

Despite the relative ease of cultivation, sea buckthorn is difficult to harvest, and machines to efficiently collect the fresh berries are still being developed. Harvesting berries by hand is time consuming (some estimate 600 person-hours per acre, compared to the 120 person-hours per acre required for tomatoes). Until harvesting machines become readily available, large-scale cultivation of sea buckthorn may not be viable.

Given the many potential benefits offered by sea buckthorn, groups such as the European Commission’s EAN-Seabuck network have prioritized the development of economical and sustainable production methods for this plant. In the meantime, sea buckthorn retains its ability to improve environmental and human health on a smaller scale.

Have you ever tried sea buckthorn berries or a product made with them? Let us know in the comments section below.

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

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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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!

 

Sep29

Saturday Series: An Interview with Dr. José Daboub

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By Devon Ericksen

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!

Dr. José Daboub of GAIN (Photo Credit: GAIN)

Name: Dr. Juan José Daboub

Affiliation: The Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN). GAIN  is a non-profit made up of global leaders and climate scientists focused on the urgent need for adaptation in a changing world. By measuring what is at risk and supporting projects that are working towards adaptation, GAIN hopes to save lives and livelihoods around the globe.

Bio: Dr. Juan José Daboub is the Founding CEO of GAIN, as well as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change. Dr. Daboub’s career began in El Salvador, where he became a respected business leader and from 1999 to 2004 he served as both the country’s Minister of Finance and the Chief of Staff to President Francisco Flores. In 2004 he joined Flores in starting the America Libre Institute, a non-profit that implemented projects in Latin America promoting liberty, stability, and growth. From 2006 until the creation of GAIN in 2010, Dr. Daboub was the Managing Director of the World Bank, where he oversaw operations in 110 countries around the world. Dr. Daboub brings his global experience to GAIN, and shares with us his thoughts on the Institute’s work.

How did the Global Adaptation Institute begin and what led to the creation of the GAIN Index?

The Global Adaptation Institute was created in 2010 in order to fill a gap in helping countries, especially those in the developing world, to be more resilient and have a better capacity to adapt to an ever-changing world. We brought together a group of world leaders in both the private and public sectors to encourage organizations, especially private ones, to be more conscious of the urgent need to adapt.

With that in mind, the Institute focuses on three areas that we believe are very effective at helping to save lives and livelihoods:

  1. We need to be able to measure what matters. We need a proper matrix to know whether policies and investments are helping to build resilience. Creating this matrix, called the GAIN Index, is a focus of the Institute. We believe the GAIN Index is the most modern and advanced tool out there for measuring a country’s readiness and vulnerabilities in order to improve their conditions.
  2. Identify what’s going on in the real world and highlight practical solutions that investors can focus on.
  3. Build strategic alliances with organizations such as universities and think tanks that are interested in the subject of adaptation.

What kind of response have you received to the GAIN Index? Have you had much success in convincing governments and private businesses to adopt climate adaptation measures?

Many companies, such as ABM, Caterpillar, Cargill, Pepsi-Cola, and Coca-Cola, are beginning to consider adaptation risks in certain countries and in certain parts of their production lines when making investments and building resilience in their supply chain. Any company that deals with food production, insurance, water, infrastructure, or energy in the international sphere must consider these factors, and many are beginning to do so.

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Sep21

New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods

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By Rachael Styer

A new study released by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France and the independent research organization CRIIGEN is the first peer-reviewed lifetime feeding trial of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) Maize NK603 and the widely used herbicide Roundup. Previous studies regarding the safety of GMO foods for human consumption observed the effects of low-level consumption of GM foods by rats for only 90 days, a period of time roughly equivalent to a rat’s adolescence.

Rats consuming low-levels of Monsanto’s maize NK603 suffered mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage (Photo Credit: Linda Eckhardt)

Seralini’s study examines the health effects of GM maize consumption on rats over a period of two years, a rat’s average lifespan, and the results of the study are startling. Rats consuming low-levels of maize NK603 and the popular herbicide Roundup (individually or combined) suffered from mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage, conditions that typically led to premature death. Fifty percent of male rats and 70 percent of female rats fed on the substances died prematurely, compared to 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively, for the control group. To hear the experts discuss the study’s results further, check out this video interview posted by the UK’s The Grocer.

While GM foods have been touted as an efficient and effective way to feed a growing global population, the results of Seralini’s study suggest that perhaps those seeking a solution to problems of global hunger should focus their efforts elsewhere. Patrick Holden, the Founder and Director for the Sustainable Food Trust, expressed this sentiment in a press release about the study: “GM crops hold out the promise of helping to meet the triple challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population increase, but if they have negative effects on health we need to recognize this as quickly as possible and apply our energies in other areas.”

Consumer concern over the safety of GM foods is nothing new. Since the early 2000s, retailers have responded to consumer demand by labeling non-GM products in their stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brands. And the controversy over whether GM food labeling should be mandatory is playing out in California as voters and lawmakers debate the merits of Prop 37, a ballot initiative which would require food sellers in California to label most products containing GM ingredients.

Although the study already underwent the peer review process, its methods have drawn criticism from other experts; Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, claims the authors went on a “statistical fishing trip.” But, Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist also from King’s College London and a collaborator on the paper, defended the study’s results while still acknowledging the need for more research. Antoniou commented to reporters, “I feel this data is strong enough to withdraw the marketing approval for this variety of GM maize temporarily, until this study is followed up and repeated with a larger number of animals to get the full statistical power that we want.”

What do you think? Do GMOs present a public health risk? Let us know in the comments!

Rachael Styer 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.

Sep20

Innovation of the Week: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.

Sanergy units can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials (Photo Credit: Sanergy)

But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.

The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.

The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process.

By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation. The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum based fertilizers.

Do you have any other examples of innovations that are addressing the problems of sanitation within urban slums? Share them with us in the comments below!

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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

Sep18

The Five Worst Drinks in America

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By Kimberlee Davies

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), between 1988 and 2008 the proportion of obese American adults increased from 23 percent to 35 percent. The CDC considers an adult with a “body mass index” (BMI) greater than 30 to be obese (for reference, a 5 foot 6 inch person would have to weigh at least 186 pounds to exceed a BMI of 30). Despite consuming all those calories, most Americans still do not eat enough fruits and veggies. In 2009, only 14 percent of American adults ate at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day. How can consumers fix this problem—and control their waistlines?

One simple step is to alter our liquid consumption. Many drinks are effectively liquid candy; the worst offender contains the caloric equivalent of three Big Macs. By reducing, replacing, or entirely cutting these beverages out of their diets, consumers can significantly decrease their sugar intake. Eat This, Not That! recently produced a list of the “20 Worst Drinks in America.” Here’s a list of the top five offenders and some suggestions for replacing them.

Photo credit: Men’s Health

1) The top culprit is Cold Stone’s 24 oz Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shake. That 24 oz cup packs in 1,750 calories, 140 grams (g) of sugar, and 64g of saturated fat. So what? That level of sugar is equivalent to 30 Chips Ahoy cookies, and the saturated fat rivals 68 strips of bacon. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic recommends a maximum of 16g to 22g of saturated fat per day (a third of that in this shake). They also recommended consuming only 30g to 45g of sugar daily for women and men respectively.

Try this instead: Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana Smoothie! Freezing the bananas and yogurt beforehand gives the drink the texture of a milkshake. The tasty treat only has 350 calories and 31g of sugar. Cut out the honey and the sugar goes down to 22g.

Photo credit: Starbucks

2) Starbuck’s venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream provides a whopping 13g of saturated fat and 94g of sugar.

Replacement: The ideal coffee substitution is black coffee. With 5 calories, no sugar, and no fats, pure coffee is the healthier way to get your caffeine fix. If you can’t stand the bitterness, you can always add sugar and milk yourself (so you know exactly how much goes in the mug).

 

Photo credit: Mountain Dew

3) Mountain Dew is the top soda to avoid. In addition to its 77g of sugar, the sweet treat includes brominated vegetable oil (BVO) among its ingredients. BVO is used as a flame retardant in plastics and can build up in body fat. With stats like that, maybe the 48 percent of Americans that drink soda daily will consider a diet change.

A delicious and healthy replacement is homemade soda. While this may sound unbearably complicated, the beverage just requires mixing seltzer water and your favorite 100 percent fruit juice. The CDC recommends 2oz of orange juice with seltzer water for a refreshing 30 calorie drink. If daily soda drinkers switched to this concoction, they would knock out nearly 95,000 calories annually from their diet.

Photo credit: Rockstar

4) Rockstar Energy Drink takes the medal for the least healthy energy drink. Who needs caffeine for an energy charge when consuming the 62g of sugar in this caffeinated beverage? No wonder this drink is “not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women,” as stated on the label.

Replacement: Why not just stick with coffee and tea?

 

 

 

Photo credit: Wegmans

5) Possibly the least expected offender is SoBe Energize Green Tea. This bottle of tea has been saturated with 51g of sugar. Sugar lists far above green tea on the ingredients list.

As usual, the best alternative is to make tea at home. When you make something, you know exactly what has gone into it.

Over the last 50 years, Americans stopped viewing these beverages as irregular treats and started considering them as a way to meet their weekly, and sometimes daily, hydration needs. The Mayo Clinic recommends that a healthy adult consume between 8 and 13 cups of fluid per day. To decrease sugar and fat intake, Americans could exchange these sugary drinks for water. Consuming more water would lead to better hydration, less fatigue, and improved overall health.

Kimberlee Davies is an intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

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