Posts Tagged ‘Nutrition’

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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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.

 

Dec06

“We Plant a Seed, We Grow Our Future:” Larry Laverentz on Refugee Farmers in the United States

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In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States.

Larry has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from growing up on a cattle farm to working as an agriculture volunteer in Vietnam for International Voluntary Services. His experiences, including earning a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, have enabled him to run programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and prepared him for his current position at RAPP.

RAPP helps refugee farmers bring familiar and nutritious foods home to their families. (Photo credit: RAPP)

How was the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program created?

In 2003, the director of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement began to track the trend of agrarian backgrounds of refugees, and decided to create a project that would enable refugees to get in touch with their agrarian roots. The project officially started in San Diego and Phoenix, and soon spread into a national program through support from the Institute for Social and Economic Development. The program is currently in its third round of three-year grants, totaling 24 projects nationwide.

What sorts of challenges do refugees face when they come to the United States and try to make a living through agriculture?

Many refugees come to this country wanting to get involved with agriculture. While they may be well-versed in farming practices, marketing their products and making a livelihood from farming in this country are complicated processes. Those who have lived in refugee camps for many years typically have limited education and few English and literacy skills, making it difficult to communicate. This creates barriers, for example, in finding land to rent or getting loans for farm equipment. If refugees have no credit history or practice balancing a budget or repaying loans, they are susceptible to falling into debt. Most refugee farmers must also find an off-farm income to supplement what they make through agriculture.

What strategies does RAPP use to break down these barriers and help refugees?

RAPP aims to educate and assist refugees in areas where they did not have previous experience. Each project uses grant funding to hire a garden coordinator, recruit volunteers, access land and supplies, and assess projects. In the first year, the team will typically build an incubator training farm, focused on intensive production tied to marketing. Perhaps after the first year the project will grow, and refugees will be able to expand or even start their own small farms. In conjunction with the farms, we teach classes on record-keeping and financial literacy, invite guests such as master gardeners to come speak, or coordinate ESL courses structured toward agricultural vocabulary. We try to give them the tools they need to grow their businesses.

Are most of the program participants experienced farmers, or are they new to agriculture?

Most of them are experienced in agriculture but were subsistence farmers in their countries of origin. This means that if they farmed, they were not typically involved in marketing, and they are not used to selling excess crops. Refugee camps do not usually allow farming due to limited space, and technology has advanced from what they knew before—so even if they are experienced farmers, there is still a learning curve. The question that we are trying to answer is “How do you create independence for refugees?” Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts University created the nation’s first refugee farming project in 1998, which focused on teaching them how to transition from being gardeners, to market gardeners, to independent farmers. We hope that our program allows them to eventually take their own produce to market, operate their own stand, and know what to plant each season.

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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.

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.

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!

 

Sep26

Support Food Workers by Signing the Real Food Real Jobs Pledge!

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Do you support the critical role that food workers play in the global movement for a truly sustainable food system? Nearly 100 food movement leaders have already shown they do by signing on to the Real Foods Real Jobs Pledge with UNITE HERE!

Support food workers by signing the Real Food Real Jobs pledge (Photo Credit: UNITE HERE!)

All across the country, people from all parts of the food chain are uniting in their support of food workers and the importance they hold in the success of the food movement. Whether you’re an activist, advocate, farmer, or foodie, signing the Real Foods Real Jobs Pledge can help show your support and commitment to working together for real food, real jobs, and real transparency throughout our food chain.

You can sign the Real Food Real Jobs here.

Take action now by signing it today!

 

Sep26

Citywatch: Getting to the Right Question on the Nutrient Benefits of Organic Food

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Stanford recently released a controversial study comparing organic and conventionally produced foods (Photo Credit: Susan Troccolo)

The international media had a field day headlining a Stanford university study dissing the nutritional benefits of organic food. I hope it’s not too late for me to ask a few questions that might steer the debate in a more useful direction.

I would like the media to explain why a study that was not based on either original research or professional expertise was considered so significant.

The paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is strictly a “meta-analysis,” combining some of the findings of some 200 other scientists’ publications over the years. It is the ninth such paper to come out in a decade, and the fourth to turn thumbs down on organic claims to significant superiority in the nutritional realm – not exactly trail-blazing stuff. Nor, considering the ability of writers to cherry pick various findings from different individual studies, does a meta-analysis inherently prove much more than ability to cherry pick. That’s why new hard research, rather than summaries of old research, is usually the stuff of news stories.

I would also like to ask why no-one checked the qualifications of this 12-person team, which was granted immediate credibility, despite the absence of a professional nutritionist, agrologist or bio-medical specialist. One is a librarian, a few are graduate students,  several are medical doctors who specialize in such fields as infectious disease, bio-terrorism, diagnosis or HIV, one is a mathematician, one an administrator, one a research assistant.

The heavy-hitter on the team is Igram Olkin, an 88 year-old retired professor of statistics. Stanford University media releases cite his renown as a specialist in meta-analysis, without mentioning that his name is batted around as a paid witness on statistics for the tobacco industry. Given that the Stanford team’s use of statistics is subjected to withering criticism by organic advocate and academic Charles Benbrook, it’s odd no mainstream reporter checked to see if where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It’s also a bit odd that no-one asked what an article on nutritional merits of organic foods was doing in a medical journal, given that doctors have minimal training, credentials or interest in this field – although maybe I’ve just answered my own question.

One of the first things I learned when researching for my first serious food book some 15 years ago was that the relation between organic and nutrition does not compute.

Nutritional levels vary according to a host of factors. One big one is the quality of soil long before anyone farmed it organically or conventionally (no history of volcanoes in New York means no rich volcanic ash in the soil, for example). Another factor that has little to do with organic or conventional is when the crop was picked (tomatoes get most of their vitamin C as they turn red, not when they’re hard and green, which is when they get picked by machines).

The list of crucial questions and variables keeps growing: how long was the produce in a truck or store, under what conditions was the food stored, how was the food prepared (some vitamins are destroyed by heat, some nutrients only become available when heated).

It’s quite likely that healthier and stronger plants grow on organically-managed soils, without any help from synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  But that’s no guarantee that the plants bulked up on more nutrients. Organic or not, plants work to meet their own survival needs, not ours, and the optimum level of vitamin B needed by a particular plant may or may not work best for humans. That’s why people choose particular plants if they’re looking for high doses of particular nutrients.

Put the whole mix together, and a study based on analysis of a conventional ruby red tomato, lightly cooked immediately after picking, will probably show more nutrients than an organic tomato picked green from an industrial organic farm a week ago, hauled across the continent on a truck, and left to sit at a salad bar, for example. These are the kinds of things that affect nutrient levels, and anyone who knows more about nutrition than editors of a conventional medical journal would hear alarms ringing in their ears if writers started making a big case about nutrient differences with or without organic.

This is why nutrition expert Marion Nestle started her blog item on the controversy by saying “sigh,” as in “have I not explained this a hundred times already?” Organic advocates rarely make a nutritional claim, she points out. So the Stanford article is knocking down a straw man.

With dairy and meat, new evidence suggests that a key issue is how animals are treated. Still- controversial studies suggest that grass-fed animals have more nutritious milk and meat than animals fed corn and soy – no matter whether organic or conventional. That’s only logical, given that most animals evolved to eat grass rather than corn or soy, which are good for bulking up fast, but not necessarily so good for complex nutrients.

Organic scores well, even in the Stanford study, in terms of pesticide residue, which is as important to personal health as nutrients. Almost no-one is suffering from scurvy, rickets or wasting in North America or Europe, where the Stanford study got a lot of media, but breast, prostate, colon and bladder cancers have affected almost every family. A strong case can be made that toxic residues from pesticides, brought into the body by food, are implicated in these cancers. So this isn’t exactly a minor selling point for organics.

On the question of toxins, however, I’m also intrigued that there are any—not 30 per cent less, but any—pesticide residues on organic. That can only mean that the toxins from conventional fields migrated by air, rain or water table to organic fields, and who knows where else.

Why didn’t that set off media alarm bells? It means that people who pay extra for organic are still getting toxic residues that rightfully belong to the people who produced and bought conventional food.

This is an issue worthy of a meta-analysis. Are organic consumers dupes, taking the toxic bullet for people who saved money thanks to pesticides. Is it fair that some farmers get to cut their production costs by spreading toxins throughout the environment?

Since the Stanford team is asking whether organic costs more when it doesn’t deliver more nutrients, why doesn’t the team also ask the flip side of the question—whether conventional gets to charge less because the toxic load is passed on to everyone?

That question gets to the penultimate tricky question of agricultural prices. Why do some get to offload costs to the environment for free, while those who contribute to a safer environment get no fee compensating them for their extra work on behalf of the public good? If an environmental fee was paid to the farmer producing the environmental service, then all farmers would compete on an even playing field, and no academics would ever have to ask whether organic delivers more value for the money.

Why doesn’t the Stanford team, or any of the media following their study, ask that?  There I go again, answering my own question.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

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

Sep21

Join a Global Discussion on Improving Nutrition Through Agriculture

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition, a United Nations project working to inform decision-making on food and nutrition issues, has launched an open discussion on the use of agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition. The discussion, which has already begun, will run through October 3, 2012. It will then be leveraged at global agenda-setting events, consistent with past Global Forum discussions.

The Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition has launched an open discussion on the use of agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition (Photo Credit: FAO)

The current discussion, “Making Agriculture Work for Nutrition: Prioritizing Country-level Action, Research and Support,” will center on the following questions:

  1. If you were designing an agricultural investment program, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?
  2. To support the design and implementation of this program, where would you like to see more research done, and why?
  3. What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

Through this online discussion, the Global Forum aims to assess the international dialogue on improving nutrition through food and agriculture in order to both identify and prioritize “actions needed at [the] country-level, research gaps, and support needed.”

This online discussion takes place before the meetings of several prominent food and agriculture organizations that will be held over the next few months, including SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition), CFS (Committee on World Food Security), GCARD (Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development), and CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme). The Global Forum will ensure that all online contributions to the discussion are incorporated into these meetings.

To participate in this discussion and become a part of the global dialogue on agriculture and nutrition, click here. The discussion closes on October 3, 2012.

What do you think needs to be done to improve nutrition through agriculture in your country? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below in addition to participating in the Global Forum discussion.

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

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