Eating a healthy, balanced diet can prevent obesity and malnutrition (Photo Credit: Carol Lee)
In order to tackle this issue, food pyramids and other guides have been used by organizations and governments to suggest better nutrition for the needs of their populations for many years. Today, Nourishing the Planet shares visual food guides from five countries (and one organization) being used across the world.
An article recently published in The Atlanticsuggests that U.S. food aid money is not always being spent in the most efficient way possible. U.S. food aid programs can be extremely beneficial to struggling families in Africa, but aid dollars could go even further if they were better dedicated to supporting local supply chains in the regions they serve.
U.S. food aid programs help small farmers in times of drought. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
The article tells the story of 60-year-old Abdoulai Mohamed, a small businessman in Turkana, Kenya who, instead of working on a farm, chose to take out a loan and opened a store selling food staples such as corn and flour. When drought struck the region in 2011, Mohamed allowed customers to purchase food on credit so they would have enough to eat. But Mohamed’s business suffered when the drought worsened and many customers were unable to repay their debts, forcing Abdoulai to find a way to keep his shop running without bringing in revenue from customers.
But a program funded, in part, by USAID helped save Mohamed’s business. The program, which focuses on assisting local businesses and keeping food supply chains intact, helped repay many of the customers’ outstanding balances, allowing families to buy the food they needed. So far, this program has helped 5,500 drought-stricken families and has helped the local economy by preserving supply chains that source food from local farmers, through local businesses, and into needy households.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports that an estimated one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted annually. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of edible food is thrown away by retailers and households. In the United Kingdom, 8.3 million tons of food is wasted by households each year. To make the world more food secure consumers need to make better use of the food that is produced by wasting less.
Food waste remains a large factor contributing to food insecurity around the world, but consumers can help reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year. (Photo credit: Back to the Garden Inc)
Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways that consumers can help prevent food waste.
1. Compost: In addition to contributing to food insecurity, food waste is harmful to the environment. Rotting food that ends up in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that is a major contributor to global climate change and can negatively affect crop yields. Composting is a process that allows food waste to be converted into nutrient rich organic fertilizer for gardening.
Compost in Action: In Denver, the city contracts with A1 Organics, a local organic recycling business, to take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers. Similarly, a new pilot program in New York City allows patrons to donate food scraps to a composting company that gives the compost to local farmers.
2. Donate to food banks: Donating food that you don’t plan to use is a great way to save food while helping to feed the needy in your community.
According to the anti-poverty group The ONE Campaign, the Group of Eight (G8) and other rich nations have donated only a fifth of the US$22 billion promised to impoverished countries in July 2009. This reflects a larger trend of the decrease of foreign aid for agricultural development. Aid was at a high point in the mid-1980s, reaching US$20 billion, but has since declined. In the early 2000s, the number was around only US$3 billion. By 2009, it had crawled back up to around US$9 billion.
Investment in agriculture has significantly declined over the past decade. (Image credit: OECD DAC)
Two years ago, the world’s wealthiest nations gathered at the G8 plus meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, where they committed to “take decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty through improving food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture”. It was an important move in support of smallholder agriculture, with money going to categories like transportation and storage, food security assistance, and rural development. The L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, as it was named, was backed by 27 countries and 14 international agencies.
In May, ONE specifically targeted Germany, France, and Italy for blame in the US$7 billion shortfall. In July, the organization pointed out the deficits in donations from the United States, United Kingdom, and, once again, France. The US has donated only $73 million of a promised $3.5 billion. The UK government, which has contributed around 30 percent of its pledge, was recently criticized for what some believed was a prioritization of security concerns over aid.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their findings on the climate impacts of eating twenty different proteins, ranging from lentils to lambs. The data took into account all of the resources put into producing these common foods, a method known as life cycle assessment. One resource that sometimes goes without notice is the production of animal feed, which uses vast amounts of land, water, pesticides, and chemical fertilizer, each of which have their own environmental impact. The study even takes into account the disposal of unused foods post-production.
With this chart, EWG shows how different foods have a different impact on the environment. (Photo credit: EWG)
Lamb, beef, and pork were the three meats with the highest carbon footprint, but cheese ranked third worst overall. Two percent milk, by contrast, ranked third best. This discrepancy is caused by the intensive production of cheese. “It takes about ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese,” said Kari Hamerschlag, author of the report. To give the data more real-world impact, a colorful chart shows the footprint of each food in terms of car miles driven per four ounces consumed. Lamb, the highest, is more than seven miles for each portion eaten.
Lentils, tomatoes, milk, and beans were the four best proteins, each contributing a fraction of one mile per four ounce serving. Chicken, the most environmentally-friendly land animal on the list, comes in at about 1.75 miles. Tuna is much better than chicken, but salmon, especially farmed salmon, is slightly worse. Smaller, plant-eating fish like tilapia, not listed, have a smaller impact because they are lower on the food chain.
Rather than promoting strict vegetarianism or veganism, the EWG instead points out the American over-consumption of meat and suggests a reduction in portion sizes. In 2009, the United States produced 208 pounds of meat per person for domestic consumption alone, almost 60 percent more than Europe. Additionally, the study states that eliminating meat and cheese from one meal a week for a year would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
This September in Milwaukee, the Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) will hold its fourth annual conference, including a program entitled “Sacred Soil: Cultivating Seeds of Community Transformation”. GFJI is a new national network of about 500 people who believe that dismantling racism is a core principal that will bring together people from all sectors. The initiative hopes to see a range of healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color. It also encourages community ownership of these businesses, keeping the profits and bolstering the local economy.
Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power, shows off one of his Community Food Center’s 10,000 fish. (Photo credit: Growing Power)
GFJI’s conferences are hosted by Growing Power, Inc. Growing Power, started in 1993, is a Milwaukee-based national non-profit, land trust, and the driving force behind last year’s National-International Urban & Small Farm Conference. The organization works to achieve its goals by providing hands-on training, demonstrations, and other services. Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, operates with the belief that people should have access to fresh, safe, affordable, and nutritious food regardless of their socioeconomic standing. In 2010, Allen was named on Time’s 100 list of people who most affect the world.
Allen’s Community Food Center in Milwaukee makes up two acres and is home to 20,000 plants and thousands of animals and insects, including fish, chicken, goats, and bees. Located in the middle of a food desert, it is the only land within the city limits that is zoned as farmland. The USDA’s 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities”. The Community Food Center is located less than half a mile from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. Its 14 greenhouses use methods such as an inexpensive aquaponics structure for smaller fish. The center is also where over six million pounds of food waste are composted annually, partially thanks to the red wiggler worms that Allen sees as part of the farm’s livestock.
Oran Hesterman, author of the newly released book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, believes our food system is broken. Designed to bring us bountiful supplies at low-cost, it now feeds us at the expense of our environment, our health, and our future. The symptoms of this broken system include degraded waterways from chemical runoff, spiraling rates of obesity, and the number of food deserts where people cannot access healthy fresh food—where ketchup is available at corner stores, for example, but you can’t buy a fresh tomato. Eighty percent of all U.S. meat packing is concentrated into the hands of four companies, and more than 40 percent of food calories consumed worldwide come from just 3 crops: wheat, corn, and rice.
Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All is a guide to changing not only what we eat, but also how our food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed, and sold. (Photo Credit: Fair Food Network)
“But Fair Food… is not a book primarily about the problems of our broken food system,” says Hesterman. “It is a book primarily about the solutions.” It serves as a guide to changing not only what we eat, but also how our food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed, and sold. The book starts by outlining the nuances of our food system, how it evolved the way it did, and why it is failing us. It then describes four key principles a future food system should embody:
Fairness in the realm of farm jobs and access to land and water resources and equitable access to healthy food for all;
Resilience through diversity on farms and in the market;
Environmental sustainability of food production; and
Integration into a vibrant green economy.
Finally, the book offers practical recommendations on how average consumers can participate in collective action to facilitate the changes that are needed—including questions to ask at farmers’ markets, tools for starting advocacy campaigns, advice for clubs that purchase food directly from farmers and fishermen, and legislation to support at the local, state, and federal levels.
Throughout the book, Hesterman introduces readers to people and organizations across the U.S. that are actively engaged in bringing fresh food to inner cities, fighting for farmers’ rights, and getting more cows out of factory farms and back on pastures. Hesterman—president and CEO of Fair Food Network and longtime advocate of sustainable agriculture and food systems—hopes his new book will inspire others to share his vision for a redesigned food system and take part in a fair food revolution.
Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
Each year The Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an international design competition hosted by the Buckminster Fuller Institute, awards $100,000 to a project proposal that has the potential to address “the world’s most pressing problems.” The Challenge selects a jury of experts to review the competing proposals and help select a winner. This year, Worldwatch Senior Researcher and Nourishing the Planet co-Project Director, Danielle Nierenberg, has been invited to participate in the selection process.
The Challenge encourages entries to attempt to address complex problems, such as global hunger, with creative and streamlined solutions that can be easily integrated into existing social, economic, environmental, political, and cultural contexts. Last year there were 250 entries from 27 countries which were narrowed down to a top 24 before the winner was selected.
The 2010 prize went to Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist and farmer who specializes in livestock and rangeland management, and his proposal, Operation Hope: Permanent Water and Food Security for Africa’s Impoverished Millions. Operation Hope demonstrates how improved farming and livestock raising methods can help to halt and reverse desertification of the world’s grasslands and savannas in order to mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, and conserve water, as well as reduce poverty, population migration, and violence over land disputes. Through his work with the Africa Center for Holistic Management (ACHM), an organization he founded, Savory has demonstrated how integrating crops with livestock and local wildlife has helped to reverse desertification as well as improve farmers’ livelihoods on 6500 acres of grasslands in Zimbabwe. (more…)
These young leaders were selected based on their “strong leadership qualities” and “their track record of affecting positive change.” They represent the “young and growing economy” of Africa, where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25.
Yesterday’s highlight of this three-day event was a “town hall” style forum in the White House, hosted by President Obama. The discussion focused on the participants’ vision for transforming their societies in the next 50 years. The year 2010 marks the 50th year of independence for seventeen countries across sub-Saharan Africa, and this forum provides a timely opportunity for these young leaders to reflect on the past and plan for the future together.
“The world needs your talents and your creativity,” said President Obama as he addressed the group,” United States wants to listen to you and work with you.”
Through this forum, participants like Lesego Sekano from South Africa hopes to “meet young leaders who are … passionate about Africa…want to make a difference in building a better non-dependent Africa with an economically, independent Africa through initiatives like entrepreneurship and skills development.”
The participants will take part in plenary sessions, small group discussions and meet with members of Congress and leaders of American civil society during the rest of their time in Washington DC.
Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
Through Girl Up, girls in the United States can find information about, and provide monetary donations to, projects that help girls in developing countries gain access to education, healthcare, clean water, food, and more. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
In the Amhara area of northern Ethiopia half of adolescent girls are married by the age fifteen. Sesuagno Mola, for example, a young woman growing up in the region, was married at the age of five and was only fourteen when she had her first child.
In the United States most adolescent girls lead very different lives than girls in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the developing world. Most are not married and raising families. And most— unlike the 600 million girls growing up in developing countries all around the world— have access to education, basic health care, clean drinking water, and proper nutrition. In order to help connect these two very different groups of young girls, the United Nations Foundation (UNF) recently started the Girl Up campaign.
“One of the things I think is important for girls in the US to know is that not every girl living in every country has the same opportunities that [they] do,” says Girl Up Campaign Director Kim Perry in a promotional video on the organization’s website. Girl Up also provides tool kits that include photos and video so that girls can inform their family, friends, and peers about the importance of supporting international development programs that focus on empowering girls.
Thanks to funding from the Girl Up campaign—Sesuagno, along with other girls in the Amhara region, is receiving education and support from the Berhane Hewan project. Berhane Hewan is working to delay marriage and support adolescent girls in the area by promoting education. The project offers basic literacy classes, information about family planning, agricultural training, instructions on how to improve daily household chores, and money saving tips. Berhane Hewan also provides incentives to families—such as a sheep —to encourage them to send their daughters to school. In addition, the organization offers similar opportunities for girls who are already married.
Berhane Hewan training, for example, provided Sesuagno with the skills to build a more efficient cooking stove for her kitchen. The stove burns longer and with less fuel, and emits smoke out the back instead of the front— reducing the time Sesuagno spends collecting firewood and the risk of diseases caused by smoke inhalation. (See Building a Methane-Fueled Fire and Got Biogas? )