Food as health or death

Dear Readers,

Today, I’d like to share with you my personal thoughts on two new studies. Both are about the effects of food consumption on the body, yet they focus on very different aspects. While one study highlights the benefits of consuming diverse foods, the other instills a sense of fear, which may damage the food waste movement (but only if we let it).

The reason this is important is because the studies highlight once again that we are what we eat. And being very intellectual creatures, who don’t just rely on word of mouth to make decisions, these findings can present some important facts on which to build sound and logical conclusions.

Ok, enough with the introduction, let’s leap into the research.

The Good News

Those of you who already love vegetables and fruits, you are well positioned for a long and healthy life. A new study shows that we need to uptake our fresh produce intake from five (as originally thought) to 10 fruits and veggies a day.

The study completed by Imperial College London demonstrates that such a diet can lead to “24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.” Wow…that’s a handful!

So what does 10 portions, or 800 g, of fruit and veggie intake look like? Here’s a nice visual for you by The Guardian. This article also mentions that some fruits and veggies are better at increasing certain health factors than others.

saynotofoodwaste-graphics-fruits-health-diet-sustainable-1

Specifically: “Apples and pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower were found to be best at preventing heart disease and stroke”.

Those who worry about cancer risks (which is very understandable, as any symptom search on Google will likely suggest possibilities of cancer), you can focus on “green vegetables (beans), yellow and orange vegetables (peppers and carrots), and cruciferous vegetables”.

Unfortunately, these benefits are mainly found when biting into real food, and less so through supplements and other pills. So those who are short on time, consider replacing your breakfast with a green smoothie (or if that’s not filling enough), at least try to make that your first drink of the day, before switching to coffee (or anything else that strikes your fancy).

 
The Bad News

Now, onto the bad news. Another study, completed by a researcher from Harvard University, demonstrated that because food makes up the building blocks of our cells, “eating older organisms (or food) – which have more molecular damage themselves- might cause an animal to age faster than one that eats younger organisms with less molecular damage”.

saynotofoodwaste-graphics-fruits-health-diet-sustainable-2
Specifically, “the old diet shortened lifespan by 18% in yeast and 13% in flies. In the mice, the old diet shortened lifespan by 13% in female mice, but there was no significant effect among males”, (lucky males!).

saynotofoodwaste-graphics-fruits-health-diet-sustainable-3

But as these experiments were done on animals, (not humans), we do not know exactly what effect this would have on humans, so let’s not jump the gun, but, let’s think a bit more about what we put into our mouths (and subsequently our bodies). And if you are unsure whether the food is safe to eat, please use your smell and visual senses before tossing aging produce into the bin.

My Conclusion 

It’s time we see food as more than something we consume to quiet our hunger (the sounds and feelings of an empty stomach are real). And let’s not just see it as a source of energy and fuel. Instead, let’s see food as a living and breathing ‘thing’ that interacts with our body, provides materials for our building blocks, and sends instructions to our brain.

“Food contains methyl groups (a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms (CH3)) capable of methylating (silencing) genes, [which] brought into focus the capability of food to profoundly affect disease risk as well phennotypal expression. If folate, B12, or Betaine– 3common food components — can literally ‘shut off’ gene expression with high specificity, food becomes a powerful information vector. One which may actually supervene over the DNA within our body by determining which sequences find expression”.

Phew, that’s a lot of scientific terms and chemistry in one paragraph, but the bottom line is this: food not only gives you fuel, or activates your taste buds (which in itself is lovely), but it is a very powerful tool, one that can determine your health and longevity.

This means that when you are hungry and looking for something to eat, what you reach for will not just satisfy your hunger, it will also determine your near future. Therefore, we should consider the idea of ‘real food’ vs. ‘food like’ items. Things that have been processed, filled with chemicals and created in a lab (mainly junk food). These foods not only lead to obesity, but they also wreak havoc on your health and beauty.

The best example of this are the Nenets and Khanty tribes in northern Siberia who now have cases of obesity thanks to the introduction of instant noodles, pasta, bread and sugar.

saynotofoodwaste-graphics-fruits-health-diet-sustainable-5
And since not many of us live on a farm (or even close to one), and definitely don’t have time or money to go shopping at farmers markets (and those who do sometimes lack the time to cook what they haul until it’s on the verge of decomposing in the fridge or shelf),  I would like to urge all of us to think more about frozen food!

Frozen foods can have as much nutritional value (if not more) as their fresh counterparts. How? Well, they are packaged at the peak of their ripeness (so all the good vitamins stay where they are). Also, as they are frozen, they can be the quick and easy go to option for those short on time and money (admit it, our lives are stressful and hectic). On top of all that, as our years continually get warmer, keeping your food in the freezer can ensure that it stays crisp and delicious, without going to waste.

Here’s a nice video to summarize the above paragraph:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=99&v=zjsOOT347cA


Final Words

I hope this post widens your understanding of food, and peaks your interest in seeing fruits and veggies as more than a ‘side dish’ around the protein on your plate. Hopefully, they can slowly become the staple of your diet, the one that helps you live a healthy life.

If you have any thoughts or comments, please share them below.

Happy eating friends!
Hokuma 

Eating Healthy – What Does the World Say?

I read an article last week about how the nonprofit Nutrition Australia has redesigned the food pyramid according to Australia’s dietary guidelines, and it got me thinking about country-specific nutrition standards. Since we’re all humans, shouldn’t our dietary guidelines be universal? Do recommendations really vary from country to country? With these questions buzzing around my head, I wanted to do some research and compare the nutrition models of different nations.

After starting this blog post by writing a pretty detailed summary of the Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013: Eat for Health, I found that the FAO already has an extensive guide to food-based dietary guidelines from around the world. So, realizing that re-summarizing them here would be waste of time, I decided to just look through a few and share my observations:

  • Of the more than one dozen countries I looked at, the US was the only one whose guidelines mentioned calories. If nothing else, that’s indicative of the emphasis American culture puts on calories, which I believe is due to the obesity problem in this country.
Courtesy of National Health and Medical Research Council
Courtesy of National Health and Medical Research Council
  • Many countries, including the US and Australia, list five food groups as vital: fruit, vegetables, proteins (meats, nuts, legumes, beans, eggs), dairy, and grains. South Africa, however, has seven categories: starches; vegetables and fruits; nuts and legumes; meat, poultry, fish, and eggs; milk, maas (fermented milk), and yogurt; fat and oil; and water. Others structure their guides by frequency rather than food group, such as the Spanish pyramid that categorizes foods by whether they should be eaten daily, weekly, or occasionally.
  • Instead of a food guide, Brazil offers 10 Steps to Healthy Diets, which incorporate lifestyle choices like having regularly-timed meals, avoiding snacking, and eating slowly in comfortable, social environments. Sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet.
  • Some countries emphasize the idea of having a colorful diet, such as Canada’s recommendation to have at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day.
  • While most have stuck with the traditional food pyramid, where the bottom of the pyramid shows foods that should be eaten most and the apex contains those which should be eaten sparingly, some countries have more creative graphic representations, such as China’s food pagoda, Canada’s food rainbow, and Germany’s food circle.
  • Several countries, including the Philippines, Georgia, and India, highlight breastfeeding for at least 6 months as being extremely important to raising healthy babies. As an American, it first struck me as strange to see breastfeeding even mentioned among health guidelines. Upon further thought, though, I realized that, in countries with high poverty rates and/or water sanitation issues, it isn’t surprising that the government would encourage people to take advantage of a free, safe way to nourish their children.

There were, of course, some overarching themes: Limit consumption of added salt and sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, and processed or fried foods. Eat whole, rather than refined, grains; reduced-fat milk products; and lean meats, with fat and skin removed. Drink lots of water and exercise regularly. These are paramount to living a healthy life, but all of the recommendations of the various nations are worth keeping in mind, too. Instead of trying to find the ultimate food guide to live by, I’d say just learn as much as you can about health and nutrition and then make your own choices. For reference, the full FAO guide can be found here.

Oh, one more overarching theme: enjoy a diverse diet. With emphasis on enjoy. Eating healthily doesn’t mean forsaking taste or quality – just look at our scrumptious Midweek Delicacies!

Eva

The Mediterranean Diet: What You Need to Know

When people hear the word ‘diet,’ they tend to think of temporary food restrictions and exercise regimens geared towards weight loss. However, the alternate, original definition of diet just refers to a person’s or group’s eating pattern. The duality of the word can generate a bit of confusion, especially when talking about the Mediterranean diet, whose emphasis on healthy fats might confuse those trying to slim down. The diet is not a plan for rapid weight loss but rather a lifestyle, modeled after that of Italians and Greeks, designed to improve general health – which could include shedding some extra pounds.

medit salmonMediterranean cuisine emphasizes fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats including olive oil, nuts, and fish. As the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines explain, “the focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on limiting total fat consumption, but rather on choosing healthier types of fat.” This fat substitution means swapping butter for olive oil and red meats for seafood as well as seeking out low-fat dairy products. Olive oil and fish are the two features most commonly associated with the diet not only because they’re so prominent in it but because they respectively contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease blood clotting and regulate blood pressure. To further promote heart health, the diet discourages eating processed foods (especially meat), added sugars, refined grains and oils, and trans fats while encouraging the use of spices rather than salt to flavor meals. It even allows for moderate red wine consumption to lower risk of heart disease.

In addition to lessening the risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet has been recently linked to improved brain function thanks to a study published earlier this week that compared participants’ performance on a variety of cognitive tests before and after following specific diets over a few years. Participants on a low-fat diet suffered a decline in many aspects of cognitive performance, whereas those on the Mediterranean diet supplemented by healthy fats from nuts and oils improved their performances on various cognitive function and memory tests. More investigation is needed into how exactly the diet affects the brain, but the scientists have some preliminary hypotheses, such as that antioxidants might counteract stress. This study has made the rounds on several news outlets because it serves as a breakthrough in connecting heart disease prevention to brain health and suggests that diet can be used to preemptively prevent cognitive deterioration.

Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013
Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013

Of course, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy body. For one thing, eating any foods in excess or consuming an imbalance of nutrients can be harmful, which is why the Mediterranean diet encourages eating in a social setting. While some people argue that being surrounded by fellow eaters stimulates them to consume more, the logic used by proponents of the diet is that of the slow meal: conversation distracts you from your food, allowing you to eat more slowly and your body to register its fullness. The diet also includes regular, at least moderate exercise as the vital counterpart to mindful eating in maintaining a healthy body.

Interested in trying this magical diet? Here’s a helpful guide to get you started.

Eva

Midweek Delicacy: Roasted Chicken & Kimchi Smashed Potatoes

Roasted Chicken & Kimchi Smashed PotatoesI made this dish once for a client who wanted a twist on everyday roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. I’ve added a salad and rice to complete the meal. You will find all but the rice in the instructions. To not waste any part of the Kimchi I used the liquid as part of the dressing. It gives a delightful taste to both the salad and the chicken with the potatoes making a wonderful naturally low-fat meal.

Many of you know Kimchi as something sold at asian markets and health-food stores all over. I have even found it at my local grocery store. It is a low-fat and high fiber red, fermented cabbage dish (occasionally, with radish) made with a mix of salt, vinegar, garlic, chile peppers and other spices. What people do not realize are its many benefits. Because it is fermented, like yogurt, it contains “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli that aids in digestion. Another by-product of the fermentation process are the probiotics which fight off various infections in your body.

Here are some other benefits you can gain from eating Kimchi. It lowers cholesterol levels, facilitates healthy body development and clear vision. Kimchi makes your outer appearance shine by producing radiant skin and shiny hair. A study done at the Chungnam National University discovered Chinese cabbage and radish are able to prevent stomach cancer as well. It slows down the aging process.  There are more benefits but such boosting your immunity and loosing weight. If none of these reasons entice you know when mixed with other things it can make for a delicious meal.

Happy eating friends!

Ingrid

IngredientsIMG_0276

Serves:4


2 Tablespoons Vegetable oil, divided
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
4-5 Large skin-on, bone-in Chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 16oz jar Napa Cabbage Kimchi, drained- reserve liquid
1 Tablespoon Rice vinegar (you can use a mild white vinegar)
4 Cups trimmed bitter greens (such as mustard, mizuna, or arugula)
1 Small handful Parsley, leaves finally chopped
1 1/2 Pounds small Potatoes medley
Salt  & freshly ground Pepper to taste

Kimchi Dressing  Salad w Kimchi dressing

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Toss potatoes and 1 tablespoon oil on a large rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast turning once, until browned in spots, 10-15 minutes. (If you choose to add rice as well start it now)
  2. While the potatoes are roasting in a medium bowl rub chicken with garlic and season with paprika, salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken skin side down until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Arrange chicken skin side up on baking sheet among potatoes. Roast until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes longer.
  4. Using a large wooden spoon, lightly smash potatoes. Scatter kimchi over potatoes and chicken; roast until kimchi is warm, about 5 minutes.
  5. Whisk reserved kimchi liquid, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Toss greens with half of dressing in medium sized bowl.
  6. Serve salad divided among plates with roasted chicken, kimchi and smashed potatoes. Drizzle remaining dressing over plates.

Roast Chicken & Kimchi Smashed Potatoes

A Lifestyle, not a Diet

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” is the diet mantra from Michael Pollen’s famous book The Eater’s Manifesto. While I’m studying for my fitness certification, this advice seems to be the one of the simplest diets and could really improve your health.

So, if such great and effective advice exists, why are there hundreds of different diets, diet pills, food delivery services, and other paid ways to lose weight? Two simple reasons. First, the advice that Pollen gives is not a six-week plan to lose twenty pounds but rather flexible diet advice that often requires a lifestyle change and actual research by the eater on what “too much” means. In other words, it is difficult. The second reason is that a simple flexible diet would not sustain the 20 billion dollar industry that is the diet world.

Although it might be painful to admit, the health industry and the diet industry are still businesses that thrive on new consumers and continual consumption of their products. While a variety of lifestyles is helpful, it can be pushed for the wrong reasons. For example, my father feels his best on a LCHF diet, which started because he read Atkin’s book twelve years ago and never looked back. He’s lost weight, lowered his bad cholesterol, and feels healthier. But when I tried that diet the only thing I felt was bloated and tired. (Also consider the fact that it took twelve years, not twelve weeks, of changing his lifestyle gradually to achieve the results I am talking about.)

saynotofoodwaste.diet.healthy.lifestyle.greens.veggies.happy.2People who make money in the diet industry are looking for ways to get us to continually seek diet food, diet books, etc. The way this occurs is not by promoting a diet that lowered cholesterol or made a person more energetic – instead, the metric used is weight, often with unrealistic expectations or false claims.

To see why it might be best to look at some of the statistics associated with the diet industry. About 85% of self-identified dieters are women. Most dieters, even if they are successful in losing weight, gain all the weight back plus excess once they stop their diet. What it seems is that the diet industry is often focused on changing the appearance of the person rather than their health, and women are strongly socialised to make their make appearance be slim or small. The diets, if adhered to strictly, can garner results but because the weight loss is so quick (and unhealthy), once the person stops this diet they gain the weight back.

So what does this all suggest? Many many diets are focused on one thing: appearance. They thrive on getting us to try multiple diets that temporarily boost our confidence but re-enforce destructive eating habits and the cycle repeats itself. Diets which emphasize lifestyle changes and require patience don’t make as much money, but can help us be happier in the long run. To stop us from reinforcing Diet Culture and its unhealthy eating habits, education on food is extremely important.

By Jordan

Sources:
1. ”10 Things the Weight-loss Industry Won’t Tell You” by Catey Hill (Link: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-the-weight-loss-industry-wont-tell-you-2014-01-10)
2. “100 million Dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight-loss Industry by the Numbers” by ABC News
(Link: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197)

The Meat of the Issue: Animal Abuse (It Hurts Us, Too)

saynotofoodwaste.sustainability.meat.diet.meatoftheissue.health.2Anyone following our ‘Meat of the Issue’ series has probably been waiting for this topic to pop up. Most people are at least mildly aware of animal cruelty in the meat industry, but that doesn’t make it any less worth discussing. After all, I seem to discover new forms of mistreatment every time I hear about this issue. For those unmoved by sympathy for animals, though, there exists an anthropocentric argument to be made over how improperly raising animals can yield tainted meat. However, I would hope that anyone who learns about these animals’ suffering wouldn’t need that second argument – the appalling abuse should speak for itself. Frankly, there is no way I could cover every single form of animal mistreatment in the meat industry, so I’ll just share some ‘highlights.’

The most obvious consequence of agricultural intensification is crowding, since fewer farms means more animals per farm. Even in 1997, 60% of America’s pork came from the country’s largest 3% of farms, while 2% of feedlots generated more than 40% of America’s beef. Hundreds if not thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. get packed into windowless enclosures that allow little to no mobility, which tends to generate aggression. For instance, a chicken with as little as 0.6 square feet of space might start pecking at or even eating other birds in its pen, which is why they are often preemptively debeaked by farmers. Close quarters also make a fertile breeding ground for disease pathogens, such as the notorious swine and avian flus, which spread through the clustered animals with astonishing speed due to the great amount of bodily contact. Many of the pathogens, including salmonella (which is harmful to humans but not animals), spread from waste, since the animals are often surrounded by their defecations. As mentioned in the previous post, animals kept in close proximity to their waste also develop other health issues like pneumonia or respiratory infections.

saynotofoodwaste.sustainability.meat.diet.meatoftheissue.health.4Another form of animal cruelty that many people are oblivious to is forced cannibalism. Over the century, farmers have increasingly integrated their cattle feed with offal: the organs and entrails of, usually, sheep or cows. The offal is meant to serve as a protein additive to increase the animals’ meaty muscle. As revolting as the practice is, there were no real ‘problems’ with it until the 1980s, when it was positively linked to the emergence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) aka Mad Cow Disease. Humans who consume meat of an animal infected with the neurodegenerative disease are liable to develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal disease that causes dementia, memory loss, personality changes, and hallucinations. According to CNN, 229 cases of vCJD were reported in a dozen countries 1996-2014, predominantly in the UK (177 cases), and ‘random’ reports of cows being identified with BSE continue to surface from various countries.

There’s been a lot of discussion of human disease in these meat posts, so, in parting, I’d like to refocus on the animals and the brutal manifestations of our society’s demand for meat (and dairy):

  • Calves are raised in chains to restrict their movement for the purpose of keeping their muscles underdeveloped and tender. They are also deliberately deprived of iron so that their flesh pales to the market-desired shade of pink
  • Male pigs and cows are castrated to alter their meat’s taste, smell, and fat ratio. Castration is typically performed without anesthesia and can involve chemical scrotal injections or cutting off circulation via metal clamps. According to the ASPCA, 100% of piglets and 88% of calves are castrated in the US
  • Pigs develop deformities in their legs and feet due to being forced to live on concrete or slatted floors
  • As mentioned in an earlier post, animals are fed antibiotics and growth hormones to rapidly gain weight. The combination of a fattening diet and virtually no exercise (due to lack of space) leads to obesity and associated diseases like fatty liver syndrome
  • Ducks and geese have pipes shoved down their esophagi as a means of force-feeding excessive quantities of corn mash, so as to swell their livers for foie gras
  • Chickens typically have their wings clipped to prevent flight

Some animals eat other animals – that’s the food chain, and humans are part of it. But why are we the only animal that ‘needs’ to chain up and mutilate its prey in order to eat it?

Eva

Sources:

1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) – Farm Animal Cruelty Glossary
2. Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; and Walker, Polly – How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
3. Nickelsburg, Monica (The Week) – 5 modern diseases grown by factory farming

The Meat of the Issue: Waste of another Kind

saynotofoodwaste.diet.meat.health.agriculture.climatechange.naturalresources.2Obviously, a big concern on this website is food waste: food that goes uneaten and gets unsustainably disposed of due to negligence. However, as part of the ongoing series on the consequences of the meat industry (here are posts one and two), this post is going to focus on livestock waste. This type of waste includes all discards and excrement generated by animal agriculture, including: manure, urine, carcasses, feed remnants, bedding, and feathers. In addition to being merely unpleasant, the mishandling and sheer quantity of these outputs causes a lot of dangerous contamination.

In 1999, the General Accounting Office reported that livestock generated 130 times as much waste as humans in the US. The amount of waste produced on farms greatly exceeds that which can be used to fertilize the fields, so much of the excess is transported – with great difficulty, risking spillage – to open, man-made pits known as lagoons.

saynotofoodwaste.diet.meat.health.agriculture.climatechange.naturalresources.1Settling in these lagoons, the liquid manure can leak into surface water and groundwater directly or via run-off. While the fecal matter itself can be hazardous, manure also carries many heavy metals, such as arsenic and antibiotics, and pesticides present in animal feed. These adversely impact soil and water quality with excess nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorous. Manure also emits the three primary greenhouse gases, CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as the hazardous gas ammonia. With over 70 billion farm animals being raised each year, the cumulative impact of their excrement is quite problematic. Steinfeld et al. calculated that livestock farming (including more than just waste, admittedly) accounted for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2006, surpassing those of the transportation sector.

saynotofoodwaste.diet.meat.health.agriculture.climatechange.naturalresources.4Of course, the effects of contamination don’t stop with the soil, water, and air themselves. High nitrate concentrations can turn drinking water toxic to infants, while high heavy metal content has been known to cause cancer, circulatory complications, and organ and nervous system damage. Meanwhile, compounds like ammonia in manure gases can hurt animals’ lungs and increase their risk of developing pneumonia when stored in improperly ventilated areas. Farm workers are at similar risks through prolonged exposure to the hazardous gases and odors of animal waste, and up to 30% develop asthma or bronchitis. Finally, the waste often carries pathogens that can cause diseases like salmonella – but I think I’ll save those for next week.

Lower demand for meat, fewer animals raised as livestock, less waste, healthier planet – is this enough to convince people to eat less meat? Or should we focus on dealing with our waste better, rather than just letting it sit around? Given the evidence, I think we need a dual strategy.

Eva

Additional Sources:
Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; and Walker, Polly – How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture

Walker, Polly et al.– Invited Paper: Public Health Implications of Meat Production and Consumption

Diet Culture 101

saynotofoodwaste.diet.health.dietculture
Diet Culture falsely equivalates weight loss with health, no matter how drastic or unrealistic. In reality such weight loss is impossible without losing a limb or major surgery.

On my personal Twitter account, I collect pictures, articles, and stories that demonstrate the Euro-American “Diet Culture.” My purpose in doing this is to call out our attitudes towards food – specifically towards indulgence and dieting. Before I go into this a little further, I would like to take a moment to explain.

“Diet Culture” is a series of attitudes, behaviors, and ideals that encourage an unhealthy relationship with food by means of unsafe dietary practices (like over-restriction, extreme exercise, and bingeing). Diet culture is particularly poignant in Euro-American contexts and dietary spheres. Diet Culture is changing our relationship with food.

Our relationship with food is fundamentally flawed.

Food, (and eating it), is one of the few universal human constants. Every person needs food and experiences eating in his or her life. Because food is so ubiquitous to our survival, it has necessarily impacted all human cultures. Whether we like it or not, a large chunk of “culture” has to do with food and the practices surrounding eating, harvesting, or preparing food. This is why I say we have a relationship with food – human beings interact with each other over food and we spend a lot of time preoccupied with eating (and preparing) food. Think of the success of various cooking channels – we like food.

saynotofoodwaste.diet.health.dietculture.2Diet Culture makes a problem out of our need (and love) of food. On the one hand, during the latter half of the year, we are encouraged to indulge in delicious food. From Halloween to the holiday season, we are bombarded with adverts celebrating the consumption of too much candy, over-indulging at Thanksgiving, and eating copious amounts of cookies, tamales, and latkes in December. As soon as January 1 hits, however, advertisers give us a different picture. The same people who advertised gleeful amounts of cookies are now advertising diet pills or encouraging us to “get back on track” with our diet. It reinforces guilt around the foods we eat and encourages unhealthy practices like crash dieting and too much exercise. Promises like “lose 10 pounds in one week” give people with low self-esteem a false expectation of what happens to our bodies when we make healthy food choices.

While healthy food choices are always important to emphasize, the cultural approach to healthy lifestyles is one laden with misinformation. The biggest problem in this situation is that we begin to assume certain foods or habits are healthy when they are in fact detrimental. A healthy lifestyle is not necessarily one bound in extreme diets or health fads. In reality, when we look at healthy lifestyles, it should be understood as a variety of different attitudes and approaches to health that all have one thing in common: respect and care for the body. Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some specific examples of how our perception of health has been warped by “Diet Culture.” I hope you will join me in this discussion – and when you see an example of diet culture, tweet or instagram using the hashtag “#StopDietCulture.” Hopefully we can begin to bring awareness to our relationship with food.

By Jordan

The changing agriculture

saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.energy.agriculture.sustainability.diet.health.planet.share.love.care.give.plate8“Unlocking the Climate Puzzle” is the title of National Geographic‘s May 1998 issue. More than a decade ago scientists, politicians and global citizens were disputing whether or not human behavior was negatively impacting our climate. Today, this issue is no longer a puzzle, but a well-documented fact. Humans are contributing to global climate change and environmental devastation on Earth.

Giving thought and arguing over whose to blame is the past. Today, scientists and concerned individuals are asking: “What can we do to stop this change?” Unfortunately, years of research proved that once change is in motion, it’s unstoppable. All we can do now is hope to minimize the negative ripple effects.

Scientists at University of College London (UCL) published their new research in the journal of Nature outlining what it would take to keep global temperature from exceeding a 2C limit. “[The] new research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands.” (The Guardian)

Changing human behavior is challenging, but it is essential for our survival. To motivate change we require monitoring and guidance. Today, we’ll examine global trends on food consumption, land and energy use. This will help map where we are and where we’re going.

1. Food Consumption
saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.energy.agriculture.sustainability.diet.health.planet.share.love.care.give.plate5Eating more and having more food available are two big trends in the USA. Comparing our diet from 1950’s to 2000’s, average meat consumption increased from 138.2 pounds annually to 195.2 pounds. There are also 19% more calories available for American consumption compared to 1983. Total fruit and vegetable consumption increased by one-fifth between 1970 and 2000. Interestingly, we’re eating more of everything, even the bad stuff. Our new love for high fat, low nutrient and fast food is wreaking havoc on our bodies; diabetes and obesity are on the rise.




2. Growing Food
saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.energy.agriculture.sustainability.diet.health.planet.share.love.care.give.plate4Few know that quality and nutritional value of consumed foods depends on the quality of soil. As we continue depleting nutrient rich soil with frequent high volume crop yields we run out of arable land. Figures from the World Bank demonstrate that percentage of land used for agriculture in USA declined from 2000 to 2014, dropping from 44.9 to 44.7. This figure is too broad to make any specific conclusion, but it looks like the average farm size in the USA is shrinking. Figures of agricultural imports and exports demonstrate some interesting findings. Exports in USA show that Feed grain export has declined the most, from 61,006 metric tons to 54,794 metric tons. Oilseeds more than doubled, going from 15,820 to 43,297 metric tons, experiencing the most growth of any sector.  Imports in the USA have increased in all areas but one, tobacco.

Growing consumption and declining farm lands, topped with higher agricultural imports, implies that a lot of the food in the USA has been coming from the outside world. Globalization means that our diets are getting more interconnected. In Brazil, this problem is reflected by changes in land that was once used as pasture land for livestock, but is cleared down for soybean farming.

3. Energy for growth
saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.energy.agriculture.sustainability.diet.health.planet.share.love.care.give.plate3Innovation in technology has greatly helped with efficiency in agriculture. And although energy required for food production increased from 2001 to 2009, thanks to technology, efficiency has increased as well. Despite these improvements, this innovation has negative effects. All this good food doesn’t get evenly distributed to people who need it most. And since it can’t last forever, a lot of it goes to waste. Currently, 40-50% of all produced food is wasted, and in the USA that accounts for $165 billion in annual losses. Not something to be proud of when one in six people in America struggle with hunger, and 70 billion pounds of goods are sent to rot in landfills.

Next week, I’ll provide suggestions that you can implement in your daily life to address issues in the food industry which undermine our global sustainability.

Until next time!
Hokuma

The Red Scare: How Red Meat Hurts Humans

saynotofoodwaste.happy.healthy.love.give.care.share.sustainable.diet.rare.meat.green.vegetarian.2Doctors have long been warning against red meat because it contributes to heart disease, but a University of California study published in December also links it to cancer. The study identifies the culprit as the sugar Neu5Gc, which is found in most mammals, especially in sources of red meat (cows, lamb, deer, sheep, etc.), but not in humans. Humans, unlike most other carnivores, cannot process the sugar, meaning that their immune systems have to generate antibodies to try to break the molecule down after consumption. This constant antibody-production can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer. In short, the more animals containing Neu5Gc a person eats, the higher his/her chance of developing cancer.

While the study’s findings are tentative and require further research, there are many other health consequences to eating red meat. As is commonly known, red meat’s high saturated fat content raises blood cholesterol levels, which can prevent the heart from getting sufficient blood and oxygen. The compound carnitine, which is associated with meat’s red color, has been known to have a similar, artery-clogging, effect that often leads to heart attacks. Other, non-heart-related, conditions have also been connected to red meat consumption outlined by two studies from 2013. The first, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that eating red meat heightens the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, a chronic condition resulting from damage to the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. The second was published by the University of California Los Angeles and ties the development of Alzheimer’s disease to high levels of iron, which red meat is rich in. Of course, iron shouldn’t be cut out of diets entirely – just not consumed in excess.

saynotofoodwaste.happy.healthy.love.give.care.share.sustainable.diet.rare.meat.green.vegetarian.3So, from a health (as well as environmental – more on that next week) perspective, there is no reason to eat red meat; yet people, myself included, still do. Personally, I know that my body doesn’t need it, since there are plenty of healthier, more sustainable sources of protein and nutrients that could take meat’s place in my diet. I also have a very broad, vegetable-appreciating palate, so I know that I could be happy as a vegetarian or even just eating non-red meats and fish. I don’t even eat that much red meat anymore – so, why do I do it at all? The answer is simple and unjustifiable: I like it. All of the aforementioned considerations have made me very conscious of my beef consumption, which is why I limit it and make myself go vegetarian for a day for every time I have beef – but the fact is that I have never made an effort to eliminate it from my diet completely. I’m not trying to excuse myself but rather comfort my fellow red meat-eaters who feel guilty for their choice but not enough to do something about it. If you aren’t willing to give up brisket and venison, at least try to cut down on how much you eat. I would much rather live a longer, healthier life with the occasional steak than become diabetic and suffer a heart attack at age 40 due to too many burgers.

Let’s make red meat less of a staple in our diets and more of a rare (very deliberate pun) treat.

Eva