It has been a just a few days past a year since I first posted on this blog. A lot has changed since then, the most significant of which is that I now have a great job!
Since starting that job, this blog has been greatly neglected. So with that in mind, I will try to post much more often (which may mean shorter posts, but I will try!).
Last night I saw FRESH, the movie. It is a documentary about food, agriculture, and the stories behind the people growing food.
Watch this trailer:
I generally enjoyed the film and the story that unfolded. It is different from other documentaries in that it does not rely too heavily on the facts to tell the story. It is more about using the imagery and the narrative to reach out to the audience.
I liked seeing the sustainably managed farms, and especially Will Allen’s work in an urban setting. The stark comparison to the scenes from industrial farms are a harsh reality that I wish more people could witness.
I have yet to see Food, Inc., but I will be seeing it at the end of the month. Perhaps then I can make a fuller comparison.
I watched this TED talk by Jamie Oliver last week and it was quite interesting. I was shocked to see the segment on the children in the classroom he visited in West Virginia. They could not identify vegetables. One child mistook tomatoes for potatoes!
Jamie’s wish is to create a network of organizations and community initiatives to teach kids about food, parents how to cook, and generally get people to eat healthier in the fight against obesity.
For more posts about food, click here.
We may all be familiar with the face of hunger, but undernutrition may be more difficult to detect and treat. Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture by Dr. Jessica Fanzo of the Earth Institute’s Center for Global Health and Economic Development. She spoke about “Global Progress in Ending Hunger and Undernutrition.”
Some symptoms of undernutrition may include stunted growth for children, and overweightness for adults (due to a poor diet). Undernutrition is linked to lack of access to nutritious foods and poor economic opportunities.
Their Millenium Villages Project focuses on 4 main micronutrients: vitamin A, iron, folate, and iodine. These are essential micronutrients that when deficient are known to affect development, immune system function, and can increase disease risk, particularly of young children and pregnant women.
In general, micronutrients are compounds that are found in very small amounts. Plant health is pretty dependent on certain micronutrients in the soil, such as boron, calcium, zinc, iron, and chlorine.
But nutrition is complex and we do not have a full understanding of how it relates to human health, and that is why Dr. Fanzo promotes an overall approach that emphasizes a diverse diet that includes leafy greens and appropriate portions of carbohydrates and eggs or animal protein.
It is a complex problem overall because of a few major factors:
- Nutrition and health issues are “political, administrative, and institutional orphan” because it is “everybody’s business and nobody’s responsibility”
- As a result, there is a lack of political commitment
- Nutrition focused programs are difficult or less popular to fund
- Cultural factors make it tricky to gather support for initiatives
Global food issues are not just about availability of food, but of high quality food. We are still trying to figure out what that is, but we do know that a diverse diet of plants is essential to a healthy body. It saddens me to see that people consistently choose foods that are known to be bad for their health, when there are better alternatives. Especially in the United States, I’m ashamed of what our food culture has become. It happens here and it happens in poor countries as well, according to Dr. Fanzo. Women in the Millennium Villages Project’s villages eat large portions of refined maize meal daily, when native leafy greens are plentiful.
What is difficult now is, how do can people change their food choices and eating behavior? No one likes to be told what to do, especially with their bodies. If that were not true, smoking would not still be as popular today as it is.
Education and advocacy alone will not work. When given a choice between a food item that is tasty but unhealthy and a food item that is healthy but less tasty, the default is to go with the tastier item. The problem is that a lot of the “tastier” stuff is so far from natural that our bodies can’t process them as well as the plants and animals we have evolved to eat.
As a species, we need to return to the foods that have worked for us for hundreds and thousands of years, and wean ourselves off of the super processed foods that hardly resemble food anymore. For the U.S., maybe that will mean government regulations on the food industry, I’m not sure. But I think the only way that undernutrition and hunger will be alleviated in many places in the world will be through planning that involves capacity building for villagers to gather and grow nutritious food. It certainly will not solve any problems to send them corn meal grown in the U.S.
- Gates: More Money for Global Health Is Good for the Environment
- Dot-Mom:Point of View: Investing in Maternal Health
- My Thoughts on the Food Network’s image and role in food culture
Image credit: Flickr user publik16
Watch the Food Network for a few hours of programming and count up the number of times a healthy eating habit is promoted. You won’t count very high.
Even with over 50% of the U.S.’s adult population overweight or obese (Wikipedia citation), healthy food and eating is on the backburner for the Food Network. As the premiere food oriented channel on basic cable, the Food Network should be more concerned with being the leading resource for good eating and lifestyle habits that can shape the country’s dietary future.
Image credit: Flickr user wallyg
I have been watching the Food Network a lot these past few weeks, and one thing seems to bother me incessantly about their programming. It is greasy, sugary, fatty, and generally unhealthy! Now, I don’t think we should tend towards the fanatic side of “nutritionism,” but more like eating less processed foods and more whole foods cooked in less grease.
A quick rundown of the shows (This is by no means a comprehensive study or accurate list of statistics. It is just an estimate from data I have gathered from viewing experience and online perusing.):
# fatty, meaty shows = 8
# sugary = 6
# of hosts who are overweight = at least 6
NONE of the primary programs have health themes
Continue reading →
On October 10th, a beautiful morning even if the slightly overcast sky and the occasional drips of water threatened more rain, I set out for Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I took part in a group hike through the park with the goal of foraging and learning about foraging in this urban parkscape. The group was led by Leda Meredith, author of “Botany, Ballet, and Dinner from Scratch,” as part of Green Edge NYC’s urban foraging series.
Stepping into the park, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the next 2 and half hours. What I came to realize, though, was that this city is not devoid of edible plants even though it is not as “natural” as people may perceive it to be. My own family members were skeptical that we would find anything when I told them about it later.
The parks of New York turn out to have not only edible greens, but species that are good for medicinal and seasoning purposes too. Leda told us about dandelion leaves, epazote, gingko leaves and nuts, and many others.
For a better look at what we did, watch this video I made:
Also an article in the book The Best American Science Writing 2007 is a piece called “Cooking for Eggheads” by Patricia Gadsby on molecular gastronomy, which is the study of the physical and chemical processes that go into cooking food.
It is interesting to think about this field of science and compare it to what nutritionists do. Nutritionists try to break food down into their essential parts and attempt to inject things where they do not naturally belong. Molecular gastronomists, on the other hand, are scientists who want to know what is happening to the molecular structures in food when they are cooked or otherwise manipulated.
Gadsby talks about how one person she interviewed, Hervé This (pronounced Tiss), demonstrated that the texture of cooked eggs is completely determined by the temperature, not the time, at which they are cooked. A few degrees make a difference because different proteins in the yolk and white coagulate at different temperatures in the range of 142-184˚F.
Hervé This makes the point that what molecular gastronomists are interested in is figuring out the mechanisms, but people who throw around the term molecular gastronomy to describe fancy cooking techniques essentially should not be considered representative of this field of science. Molecular gastronomists are more like the physicists who are looking to find the laws of the universe, just instead of the universe they are interested in the laws of food and cooking. But like nutritionism giving the false perception of understanding the composition of food, showy restaurant chefs are giving the public a misconstrued image of molecular gastronomy.
But there is a good side to everything, and exposing people to new techniques draws attention and recognition to the field. The tricky part is then to convince those people that there is a greater purpose to experimenting with food than to just have a cool trick to show. Molecular gastronomy brings us closer to understanding the complex nature of different types of food applied to heat and other external forces. By understanding these processes, we may get closer to finding out what makes food nutritious and how to maximize that nutritional value.
Flickr user Marco Veringa