Chocolate in Crisis?

In mid-November, Barry Callebaut (world’s leading chocolate manufacturer) and Mars, Inc. (a massive American chocolate producer) issued an ominous warning: by 2020, the world could see a 1 million ton chocolate deficit. This means that people will be consuming 1 million more tons of cocoa than farmers produce in a year. The trend of demand outpacing supply would have significant effects on the chocolate market, both in terms of prices and product quality.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 10.00.49 AMIn a nutshell, we eat more chocolate than is grown. “In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced,” the Atlantic reports. Part of the explanation for this is the recent, rapid rise of chocolate demand in Pacific Asia, especially China. Another factor contributing to the intensified consumption of cocoa is the increasing popularity of dark chocolate, which requires far more cocoa per unit volume than milk chocolate. Meanwhile, cocoa supplies have been suffering from diseases such as witch’s broom and frosty pod (which has sabotaged an estimated 30-40% of global cocoa production) and, more significantly, climate effects. Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia are the world’s top three cocoa producers hit by a drought that could persist through the coming months.

What is to be done about this increasingly-imbalanced demand-supply relationship? The obvious solutions would be to raise the prices of and/or shrink the sizes of chocolate products. Chocolate manufacturers have already raised their prices in response to cocoa’s 60% price jump since 2012. An alternative strategy for confectioners is to fill chocolate bars with more nuts, creams, etc. or combine cocoa with vegetable fat and flavor chemicals to stretch supplies.

Another option currently being explored involves growers, rather than manufacturers – genetic engineering. Farmers are experimenting with new strains of cacao, such as CCN51, which produces up to seven times as much cocoa as traditional plants and is resistant to some common diseases. The main flaw of CCN51, however, is its bitter flavor. Testers have likened its taste to “lead and wood shavings” and “astringent and acidic pulp,” which don’t sound like very appetizing candy bar varieties. In discussing these findings, Bloomberg writer Mark Schatzker says chocolate could suffer the same fate as store-bought tomatoes and strawberries: going “from flavorful to forgettable on the road to plenitude.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 10.01.02 AMIt might seem that our intense love of chocolate will lead us to ruin it, but there is still hope! The Central American agricultural research organization Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE) has developed three strains R-1, R-4, and R-6 with very similar traits to CCN51 as well as delicious flavors. R-4 and R-6 even won prizes in the International Cocoa Awards for having, respectively, “sweet, floral, and fruity notes” and “nutty and woody notes.” Although newly-planted cacao seedlings take at least two years to bear fruit. It will also take a decade of observation to determine whether their traits deserve to be preserved. These strains are quite promising and could save the world from a cocoa shortage without depriving us of the chocolate flavors we adore.

The world isn’t in a cocoa crisis, and researchers are working hard to make sure one never develops. Yet, if you feel moved to do something after reading this, consider buying fewer hot chocolates or gifting tins of gingerbread cookies rather than boxes of truffles this winter. And, of course, don’t dare throw any chocolate out!

Ever the chocoholic,
Eva

Sources:

Ferdman, Roberto A. (The Washington Post) – The World’s Biggest Chocolate-Maker Says We’re Running Out of Chocolate

Garber, Megan (The Atlantic) – The Race to Save the World’s Chocolate

Javier, Luzi Ann et al. (Bloomberg) – Chocolate Eaters Drive Record Cocoa-Output Deficit: Commodities

Leberfinger, Mark – Worldwide Chocolate Shortage Linked to Drought in West Africa, Indonesia

Fighting the Flu

Flu season is rearing its ugly head, surrounding us with a cacophony of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. It’s a good opportunity to build on last week’s post with a more generalized theme: the common cold and flu. It is important to know how to keep your immune system strong to fight off sickness. So, whether you’re sick or trying to stay healthy, here is what you need to know about warding off diseases.

Prevention

chicken brothAs simple as it sounds, a well-balanced diet is vital to keeping your body healthy. Your immune system relies on a wide variety of minerals and vitamins to function efficiently. Research has not identified any vitamin or nutrient that can single-handedly boost your immune system, so it’s important to consume a recommended balance of micronutrients. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and low in added sugars and saturated or trans fats, should keep your body well-supplied. Multivitamins are beneficial to this end but should not be relied on or used to excuse a poor diet. Probiotics, found in active-culture yogurts and miso, also contribute to immune and digestive function. Of course, other healthy habits – sleeping well, exercising regularly, reducing stress, etc. – and proper sanitation – washing your hands, covering your cough, disinfecting surfaces, etc. – are also crucial.

Reaction

Unlike gastrointestinal illnesses, colds and flu do not impact your digestive system enough to call for a severe change in diet. Nonetheless, there are a number of foods that will assist in symptom relief as well as combat your virus at a cellular level.

  • Gargling warm water with salt for one minute helps relieve sore throats. Salt reduces inflammation by extracting moisture from tissues and membranes and prevents bacteria from growing after flushing them out.
  • Spicy food helps thin mucus and is a natural decongestant. Garlic, cayenne, and paprika are common spices that can easily be added to any dish for this purpose.
  • Honey – in warm water or by the spoonful – soothes sore throats due to its consistency and antibacterial properties.
  • Lemon, typically used in combination with honey, has antibacterial properties, fights mucus, and can relieve pain in sore areas of the throat.
  • Warm, clear liquids soothe sore throats, thin mucus, and keep your body hydrated. Teas and broth-based soups are the best examples of this. Soup can also be a great source of nutrients because vegetables become easier to digest once they have been cooked down in broth.
  • Milk has been found to thicken phlegm, although whether or not it generates more phlegm or mucus has been debated. Avoidance is a personal decision, and consumption won’t seriously impede recovery.

Given the sensitive condition of your body, you should pay attention not only to what but to how you eat. Eat frequently to sustain your energy but in smaller portions, so as not to overwhelm your body by forcing it to break down a large meal while it’s trying to fight an infection.

Eat up and get well soon.

Eva

Lost in Translation: How New Food Communicates With Body

Dear Friends,

Today we will focus on our food through a more technical and biological lens. Let’s put on our thinking caps and embark on this journey.

salad.fruits.veggies.healthy.health.food.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.nature.fresh.organicAs you know, our body functions through the billions of cells that communicate between each other.  And our organs are made of cells that relay this exchange of information. The language of our cells is made of stimuli such as energy and other chemicals. But, in addition to our body’s ability to communicate between its own cells, new research shows that it can also communicate with plant cells! (Here I’m referring to fruits, vegetables and other foods derived from plants. But, this can also include meat, as many of today’s cows consume GMO corn.)

new study found that there is an inter-species communication between plants and mice cells. They found that exosomes, small vesicles that take part in the cell communication were able to send orders to mammal cells and impact their gene expression. These tiny particles known as the exosome-like nanoparticles (EPDENs) of edible plant cells helped decrease inflammation in the animal cells. 

turmeric.saynotofoodwaste.healthy.health.sustainable.planet.nature.organic.freshSo how does this new study affect us humans? Well, now that we know that plant cells communicate with our body cells we see that their interaction is beyond just feeding and nourishing our system with vitamins to help develop our growth. We find that consuming certain plants changes the way our body cells behave. So, a patient who is suffering from internal inflammation can consume certain doses of turmeric to help reduce inflammation.  Which is more natural and healthy than drinking various pills or consuming certain medication.

This also implies that after thousands of years of communication, our cells might find it hard to communicate with new food products that are more synthetic and have an altered DNA due to the GMO practices. This means that as our bodies consume new plants not naturally found on our planet, this information can negatively affect how our cells behave and how their genes are expressed.

So not only are we what we eat, but we also become what we eat. Thus, it’s  worth paying attention to the types of food we consume and putting organic produce on our plates, as our bodies evolved to love them. Pretty shocking findings! Right?

Veggies prolong life

saynotofoodwaste.diet.healthy.sustainable.vegetables.fruits.life.love.nohunger.saynotofoodwaste.A new study in the BMJ journal demonstrated a strong correlation between consumption of fruits and vegetables and a reduced risk of mortality. The researchers followed the lives of 65,000 Brits in the span of 7.5 years. They noticed that increased consumption of these colorful and vitamin packed foods greatly reduced the risk of death.

Those who consumed seven servings of fruits and veggies saw their risk of death from any cause decrease by 42%. The cause of dying from cancer was reduced by 25% and heart disease by 31%. Those who consumed less than seven servings were still experiencing better results than those consuming no vegetables or fruits.

Below are benefits one can expect:
1-3 servings per day: 14% reduced mortality risk
3-5 servings per day: 29% reduced mortality risk
5-7 servings per day: 35% reduced mortality risk

The most incredible part is that these findings held strong even when data was adjusted to reflect factors such as age, smoking, alcohol intake, socioeconomic status, Body Mass Index, education, and physical activity. With further analysis, researchers found that for every additional serving of vegetable we consume, our mortality risk is reduced by 16%, as opposed to 10% with fruit.

The take home message is: eat more vegetables and fruits everyday and you will surely live a long and a happy life! Even if you have some vices. =)

Wishing you all lots of colorful eating!
Hokuma

What is Food?

         Indian_hybrid_OrangeToday I would like to highlight some basic facts about food that on the one hand can be obvious, but on the other hand are not very well known. So the question we start with is: What is food? Of course food is anything that gives us energy and it exists in many forms. But what is it really, from a scientific point of view?

        Any kind of food is a composition of 4 main components: fat, carbohydrates, protein and water.  Sometimes produce don’t have all of these molecules, for instance butter doesn’t have any proteins. Below is an excerpt from ‘On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen’ by H. McGee that defines these 4 food components. 

Water is the major component of nearly all foods and of ourselves! It’s also a medium in which we heat foods in order to change their flavor, texture, and stability. One particular property of water solutions, their acidity or alkalinity, is a source of flavor, and has an important influence on the behavior of the other food molecules.

Fats, oils, and their chemical relatives are water’s antagonists. Like water, they’re a component of living things and of foods, and they’re also a cooking medium. But their chemical nature is very different, so different that they can’t mix with water. Living things put this incompatibility to work by using fatty materials to contain the watery contents of cells. Cooks put this quality to work when they fry foods to crisp and brown them, and when they thicken sauces with microscopic but intact fat droplets. Fats also carry aromas, and produce them.

Carbohydrates, the specialty of plants, include sugars, starch, cellulose, and pectic substances. They generally mix freely with water. Sugars give many of our foods flavors, while starch and the cell-wall carbohydrates provide bulk and texture.

Proteins are the sensitive food molecules, and are especially characteristic of foods from animals: milk and eggs, meat and fish. Their shapes and behavior are drastically changed by heat, acid, salt, and even air. Cheeses, custards, cured and cooked meats, and raised breads all owe their textures to altered proteins.orange

I would like you to acquire a tool. After this reading you will be able to tell how much water there is in any kind of produce. I want you to grab any kind of product you have close to you and look at its Nutrition Facts. You will find information about the products serving size and the quantity of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In order to count water quantity you need to sum up the three components and subtract it from the serving size. This way you get the quantity of water and from this you can easily get the percentage of water. To show you how it works, I am going to give an example with an orange.

As a sample we take 100 g of an orange. Adding up fat – 0 g, carbohydrates – 12 g and proteins – 1 g we get 13 g. The water quantity in an orange equals 87 g, which stands for 87 % of the whole fruit. You can do it with any kind of food. You just need to type in Google the type of food and nutrition facts. Go and explore this world and see how much water you consume!

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Food Deserts

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.53.23 PMHave you ever heard of such a term? I haven´t and it exists in every country. A Food Desert is defined as urban neighborhoods or rural municipalities with little or no access to groceries stores that sell affordable fresh food needed for a healthy died. Very often such areas have an offer of various fast food restaurants, convenience stores or gas station not offering vital fresh produce. It is a phenomenon that is one of the most important causes of the bad functioning food system.

According to the USDA´s Economic Research Service ¨23.5 million people live in food deserts and more than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income. A one-mile marker may not be appropriate to use in rural areas where the population is more sparsely distributed and where vehicle ownership is high. To further refine the number of people who may be affected by food deserts, a 10-mile marker is used to consider food access in rural areas. 2.3 million people live in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.¨ In order for an area to be qualified as a Food Desert the community has to have at least a 20% rate of poverty.

As I mentioned it in one of my previous posts, it is all related to the US Government’s agriculture and food policies. In the 50´ there were still many small local farmers that would not only be subsidized by the government to produce food on a national level, but farmers that would also provide fresh food to their local community. Unfortunately with time and the sky-rocketing market these small farmers have disappeared. Instead we have now huge corporation running enormous farms, for which sometimes one needs a plane to ´walk´ around. These businesses provide supply to big supermarket chains, which of course are too big to bother with some little towns in the middle of nowhere. You can take a look at such map of food deserts.

In Europe there are still some little towns in the middle of nowhere, where local farmers provide local markets with fresh produce, but they are also in danger of extinction. The EU Parliament too often favors big corporations when changing some policies. A lot of people say that today we are living in a world of choice, where one can buy whatever he or she wants. Because of the Agriculture and Food policies soon people living in food deserts will have only a couple of food producers to choose from: Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft and Kellogg’s.

In that moment it will be already too late or it will be really, really hard to change something in the food system and to restore the ¨healthy¨ life people were living. There is more and more studies that state that today’s generations may live shorter than their parents. In fact, the forecast for diabetes cases are extremely shocking. And the most catastrophic results of the American food system are obesity, diabetes and malnutrition. In a country with so much richness I find this issue a priority to solve!

References:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert

2. http://www.altfutures.com/diabetes2025/

3. http://apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/foodDeserts.aspx

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Countries and their interesting food exports

kiwiItaly and pasta. Greece and feta. Australia and kangaroos. Those are the usual connections that jump on the mind when thinking of these three countries, but what is in the mind and what is in real life can be very different.

A 2011 article by Investopedia published some interesting findings about the exporting that happens on our global market. For instance, you would never guess that Italy surpasses New Zealand in exporting kiwis by 50 million tons!

And that salty cube of deliciousness sitting on top of your salad. It might have a Greek name, Feta, but it most likely came from Canada. The vast farmlands and a less expensive option has helped Canada surpass Greece as a global exporter of feta.

Or how about the camel meat that comes from Australia? Despite kangaroo being a big symbol for the country “down under“, sometimes even making it on a few plates in the form of a stake, it is the camel that gets the spotlight. Without any natural predators the camel population has been growing and growing and soon could reach the peak of the meat exportation chart.

But let’s take a look at America. Around the world it gets a bad name for its culture of fast food and soda. The famous staples like Coca Cola and McDonalds can be found in the hardest to reach places of the world. For example, a 3 liter Coca Cola bottles are already being flown into the Amazonian communities of Ecuador because the locals like to drink it. Yet, don’t be too quick to judge. Turns out America is also an exporter of something very healthy, ginseng. Yes, the widely used plant in Chinese culture is shipped from the USA anually by 60 tonnes. If you’re wondering why you haven’t noticed this it might be a problem of location. Most of it is grown in Wisconsin.

Another interesting mention is of whiskey from Japan, which has won numerous blind tastings and scored hire than Scottish whiskey. With so many shocking facts it might be time for us to stop assuming things about our food system and start taking a closer look at it. Who knows what else we might find?

City of Lodz starts “The First 1000 Days” program.

1000-pierwszych-dni-dla-zdrowia-logo-glIn Lodz, Poland a local Food Bank named after Marek Edelman has started to organize a series of educational workshops, talks and meetings to place more importance on the first 1000 days of our lives. It is part of a bigger campaign initiated by the foundation NUTRICIA called “1000 First Days for Health”.

“Together with our 200 partner NGOs we will be also distributing flyers and posters all over our city and region. We have also set up an information point in the local Food Bank, where you will be able to get advice on principles of the correct nutrition process of little children and pregnant women. A dietician will be available for private consultation and all interested will be able to use internet for more information” – said Pawel Drobnik, the project coordinator of the Lodz Food Bank.

A couple of months ago I shared a link to an article from the Huffington Post written by a 17-year old Brett Hahn. He started by asking a question what is the most important thing that your parents have done for you? The answer to this question lies within the first 1,000 days of our existence; from the time that each of us was just a fetus in the womb to the age of 2, our parents properly fed us.

Reading about the project that is now being launched in Lodz I started to search for other projects of its kind and a lot of NGO’s are focusing on the issue of the first 1000 days of life. The Save the Children organization has carried out a study on Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days. “Out of 73 developing countries – which together account for 95 percent of child deaths – only four score “very good” on measures of young child nutrition. Our Infant and Toddler Feeding Scorecard identifies Malawi, Madagascar, Peru and Solomon Islands as the top four countries where the majority of children under age of 2 are being fed according to recommended standards.”

One of the main reasons for malnutrition among the developing countries is the lack of awareness on this important issue. Many women don’t even realize how fundamental breastfeeding is. Breastfeeding is the single most effective nutrition intervention for saving lives. If practiced optimally, it could prevent 1 million child deaths each year. In developing countries those children that are fed by their mothers are at least 6 times more likely to survive.

In addition to that, during the first 1000 days of our life we develop and build one of our most important muscles – the brain. Proper nutrition helps us build all of our vital organs in the right manner so as to be used for the rest of our lives. Apparently people that were properly fed during their first days are able to earn 20% higher wages. Unfortunately, the global cost of malnutrition related programs oscillates between $20 to $30 billion. Maybe spending more money on this kind of support will help us spend less money on other issues such as military services or curing diseases caused by malnutrition.

References:

  1. 1000 Pierwszych Dni (1000 Frist Days) http://www.1000dni.pl/
  2. Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days http://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/STATE-OF-THE-WORLDS-MOTHERS-REPORT-2012-FINAL.PDF

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Spending all the money on food

1In the world there are only 2 countries that spend more than 45% of their income on food: Cameroon (46.8%) and Azerbaijan (46.9%). The two are found in different places, one is in Africa and the other in the Caucasus region. The two also differ on their Hunger Index, while things are very serious for the 19.6 million Cameroonians, the 9 million Azerbaijanis face a low risk of hunger.

But, what these two seemingly different countries both worry about are rising food prices. As global prices on food rise due to lower yields as a result of inclement weather and political unrest, families in both countries find it hard to put food on the table. A great example is of Azerbaijan. In 2011, when global wheat prices dramatically rose, Azerbaijani´s watched the price of wheat produce rise by 24%. For families who already spend half of their income on food, it became challenging to continue buying same amounts of food, while managing their home, electricity, water and daily living expenses.

Governments of these countries need to pay more attention to their food security, ensuring that enough is being done to keep their populations with enough money to afford local staple foods despite growing prices. This task will become more difficult as global population and food price tags increase with every year.

You are HOW you eat

IMG_4930Continuing the idea of “you are what you eat” mentioned in the previous blog post, I wanted to give a thought to another idea – “you are how you eat”. People that want to be healthy (food wise) tend to focus on what they eat, but they often forget that the way you eat, when you eat and where you eat is also important.

The diet is not the only factor affecting the health of our body. So that you understand better what I have in mind I will make a comparison between French and American habits. This is a generalization so I ask you not to take it too personally. Americans have a habit of eating just to eat. A lot of them don’t really care where they will eat. Food is taken as a necessity for survival. They want it to be filling and fast, so that they can get back to work as quickly as possible. I once heard a story of an Italian friend. His American girlfriend visited him in Rome. As she was so amazed by the city’s architecture she wanted to dedicate as much time as possible to sightseeing. McDonald’s seemed like the right choice for her, despite having many little Tratoria’s (café’s) around.

On the other hand, the French (or the above mentioned Italians) really commemorate every meal they have. For them, the plate has to be a right balance of meat, vegetables, bread and wine (the wine is in a glass). Drinking something other than wine or water is taken as a really bad habit. In addition to that you need time for food. During working hours the French take one hour to have their lunch, while the Americans often take 20 minutes or less. In western European countries looking for the right place to eat becomes sometimes a true hunting game. One person prefers something else than others; some don’t like a given restaurant’s chef etc. It can get really tricky.

What is also very important is our habit to eat regularly. Many experts say that we should eat 5 small portions a day. Obviously, for many of us it isn’t possible, because we are short on time. But, I believe everybody should find time and especially pleasure to eat at least 3 times a day starting with a delicious breakfast, then breaking at 1 PM for some fresh lunch and at least, but not least, having a relaxing dinner with your family. I come from Poland where this is becoming a habit. Many families used to eat an enormous breakfast, snack during the day and when they came home after work or school, between 4 and 6 PM, they ate dinner. Often they would end the day having their midnight snack.

To conclude, I wanted to show you an example that to me shows you precisely where the root of cultural difference may be. In English, at the end of the meal you say: I’m full or I’m satisfied. However, in France you say: J’ai plus faim, which means I’m not hungry any more. Maybe this rule is key to staying healthy? We shouldn’t eat until we are full. Whenever the hunger goes away, let’s just put the plate away!

Posted by Piotr Wielezynski