Thursday, May 13, 2010

Obesity

190 Million Americans are Obese or Overweight. These are not the only staggering statistics. The number of obese children in the United States has tripled the past 30 years and currently three out of every four children are considered obese. However, obesity has not just affected humans in the United States, sadly 25% of dogs and cats are heavier than they should be.Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States. Obesity-related diseases are a $147 billion dollar medical burden every year. It is the cause of many deadly diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes heart disease and cancer. In fact, 75% of the diabetes cases in the United States are Type 2 Diabetes. Needless to say the obesity epidemic is to blame for a lot of these cases. According to the Surgeon General, and the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in March that poor diet and physical inactivity could soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
So what has led this country to become the heaviest in the world? The obvious answer is that we eat too much and do not exercise enough. It is not that Americans are not trying to lose the weight. Americans pour scores of billions of dollars every year into weight-loss products and gym memberships and liposuction and gastric bypass operation. Even with magic diet pills and some success stories on shows such as “The Biggest Loser” America just keeps getting fatter. Even though many blame the obscene number of fast food restaurants and bad habits, genetics and evolution may be a reason for obesity. Years ago food was for energy and survival, as the human race evolved and the environment changed food because more of a pleasure and available everywhere. Technology is also in the mix. With remote controls and video games movies on demand and commercials with unhealthy but enticing foods, technology has almost completely removed physical exercise from the day-to-day lives of most Americans.
I feel the only real way to prevent the number of obese individuals in the United States from rising is education. Teaching parents and young children about a healthy balanced diet where you do not have to refrain from eating sweets within limits is the key to healthy living. Government officials are taking some steps by ridding schools of vending machines and extending gym periods. However, in the short time it took for America to expand its weight, it will take much longer to make it healthier.

Where do we go from here?

Throughout this semester in Food Farms and famine we all have learned so much about food production,whether it be local or conventional, organic or non-organic or large scale to small. I would like to comment on the paradox of choice that we are all presented with, now that we know all of this information about food production. Although it may seem overwhelming, making good food choices doesn’t have to be difficult.

Were food choices easier when we did not know about the consequences of them? Speaking just for myself I believe they were. Schwartz says that “consumers tend to return to what they usually buy”. It would be easy to return to my way of shopping and living and try and forget everything that I learned about conventional food production, its effects on the poor, the environment and our bodies. But now that we have the information we should make the better choice. However, this can be difficult when you are a student with a limited budget, limited time and limited means of transportation. Fortunately there are many things we can do with this information that are easy and inexpensive that have been mentioned by Pollan, Kingslover and even Joe Salatan.

Here are some relatively easy solutions to the question of “where do we go from here?” Obviously the first and easiest choice that you can make is visiting your local farmers market to purchase your groceries. Since the semester is coming to a close, many of you may not know where your local farmers market is. You can use this website to find out where a farmers market is in your town. The farmers market is the best option, as most of the food sold there will be local, seasonal and possibly organic. Since I don’t have a car, I have learned the bus route to get down to the farmers market.
If there is no farmers market in your city or town, the next best option is to buy food that is in season from your grocery store. Buying Seasonal fruits and vegetables is an easy way to reduce the environmental damage of shipping food thousands of miles and it usually tastes better. This blog has a great listing of when food is in season. Barbara Kingsolver remarks that you can purchase food in season and freeze it for the winter.

The next easiest choice is to try and purchase organic –small scale- foods whenever possible. The problem for me in choosing organic is that it is more expensive and sometimes I cannot afford to buy all of my groceries. Here is a website I found top 12 fruits and vegetables you should purchase organically because there conventional methods of production almost always include a lot of pesticide use. The omnivores dilemma talks about the difference between small scale and large scale organic foods. Although large scale organic food is still technically organic-ingredients grown without pesticides- it also allows for some processed ingredients to be added. Although “organic” Twinkies may seem like the environmentally friendly choice, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthier for you.

Food Farms and Famine has provided us with a wealth of knowledge regarding food production and given us the tools to make the right decisions when making choices about what to eat. Now all we have to do is act on that knowledge.

LOCALISM

Food localism builds local production for local consumption in order to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, to support and diversify local agriculture, and to promote local food security and food sovereignty (fooddowntheroad.com)

Most of the foods we consume today travel hundreds of miles to our homes. We eat certain foods when they are in and out of season, and most of food product at home are from large cooperation’s such as general mills etc. But whatever happened to home grown gardens or local farms??? Farming in the past use to be a lot more popular than it is today. This was an enjoyable and relaxing part of life, and is slowly becoming extinct. Food from local farms are usually way tastier and are way higher in nutritional value. Local farmers breed for taste big companies breed their crops to last long transportation times
Localism help creates a healthy social connection with producer and consumer. The focus is the community and a certain trust bond is created. This is important because food safety has become an increasingly important subject amongst consumers. Local farms are usually very sustainable and are environmentally friendly. So why not more local farms??? Well the government does very little to help these farmers creating financial pressure on them, they are competing with companies that spend millions of dollars on advertisements catching most consumers eyes, local farmers produce cannot travel far, and foods produce are generally a bit more expensive then processed foods.
What can we do to promote localism?

• Try and visit your local food market, you would be amazed at the atmosphere freshness of foods displayed
• Eat healthy, and introduce your family to better eating habits
• Growing your own food is also a great idea

Ecological impact of Industrial Agriculture

Farming In good old days…
Good Agricultural Practices are a collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products, while taking into account economical, social and environmental sustainability.
Farms in the past were not as specialized in the past as they are today; crop rotation is a very important aspect of good agricultural practices. Crop rotation helps with nitrogen input into the soils, naturally protects plants from pest because it break their life cycles, and rotating crops helps protect the farm against changes in weather. Also farms were usually worked on by a family and were a very sociable lifestyle. All though these farms yielded stable production, they cannot compete with more modern farms yields
Modern Farm…
Modern farms today aren’t as specialized, using monoculture methods. These Farms today create higher yields of crops and better quality. This works better for our growing need for food and our dependence on convenience. However these farms create a magnitude of problems. These types of farms rely wholly on pesticides creating a number of environmental problems. This farming method also creates a very open eco system instead of a naturally closed ecosystem. Technological innovations have been working on increasing farming yields but most crops have been pushed to their maximum output and scientist are looking into methods such as cloning. Problems that may occur from such methods are unsure but if it brings about anything close to the problems monoculture farms cause food production may need to revise the direction it is headed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slaughter This!

Today’s readings bring to light two major issues occurring in the United States. One, being immigration and the regulations shrouding this issue; and two, highlights the increase greed and de-familiarization of humanity in large corporate owners, especially those companies who practice vertical integration. I would have to say immigration plays a heavy role in today’s meatpacking conditions, as once mentioned, the meatpacking industry used to be a “skill”. A “skill” comparable to other industry’s who rely heavily on “manual” labor, i.e. tomato pickers. In retrospect, although both forms of “manual” labor is one that this college student would care to not participate; I believe the tomato pickers are in a far better condition, in comparison to their meat brethren.
The second issue of the decrease in humanity with regards to these food conglomerates. In order for them to remain “competitive”, they essentially base their bottom line by exploiting the impoverished or near-by immigrant. An insinuation in Fast Food Nation was the fact that their were several meat packing processing plants throughout the US, but with expansion comes a inevitable monopoly and also the reduction of available meat packing processing plants. Now, the few processing plants are located in prime territories, areas in which there is a high influx of impoverished persons and also a possible intake of illegal immigrants. This source of ever growing manpower, leads to these vial conditions and disrupts the previously “skilled” employee from their once respected position.
Unfortunately, I do not believe the meat packing industry will reach its formative years; it will be a steady decrease, in which the consumer will inevitably bare the costs. There will never be mechanization in this field, because other than the fact that cattle’s range in sizes, I do not see conglomerates willing to pay the initial expense burdens, in sacrifice of their “cash cows”.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Effect of Global Climate Change on Food Security

Global climate change presents a serious threat to the food security of many developing countries. A recent United Nations report, presented at a conference in Angola, warned nations to take action to protect Africa from imminent food security threats. The 23-page report cited higher temperatures, draught and unpredictable weather as likely to cause up to a 7 percent decline in yields of staple crops, such as maize. This decline comes to populations already experiencing an insecure food source and, in many cases, already suffering malnutrition.

Threats to food production from climate change are especially pronounced in many African countries. Many populations in Africa have experienced a long history of food shortage. Non-sustainable agriculture contributed to prolonged shortages of food, which have led to famine, higher infant and maternal mortality, higher rates of disease as a population becomes less healthy, and, at the extreme, to increased wars. Recent research and development into more sustainable and higher producing crops have targeted different environments. Global climate change, which is creating higher temperatures and unpredictable weather, is contributing to the problem of food security in these nations. This makes the need for “sustainable agricultural and natural resource management methods” more pressing as developing nations, especially in Africa, face “looming food security issues.”

Many parts of Africa are prone to drought, including some of the coastal areas where about 60 percent of the population is located. Africans have a long history of planting and harvesting with the wetter cycles of an arid climate, but this new and bigger threat from global climate change overwhelms the ability to adapt. The United Nations, among other groups, have tried to promote sustainable agriculture. Peace Corp workers, religious missions, non-profits, and other groups have been deployed to many developing countries to aid in developing an agricultural program.

The success of these programs is largely dependent on their ability to get the developing nation to commit to natural resource management and sustainable agriculture. Without complete support by the developing country, outside change will have little success in solving the growing food security issues faced by developing nations. The United Nations report predicted that serious challenges to Africa’s food security would occur within the next 50 years. "The presence of major non-climatic stressors that influence sensitivity to changes in climatic conditions, and the endemic poverty often associated with food production exacerbates the situation in Africa," the report adds. Without significant change towards sustainable agriculture and use of natural resources in developing nations, the current problems of food security and famine will worsen substantially in the near future as the effects of global climate change become more pronounced.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Food Labeling and Our Power as Consumers

This semester in "Food, Farms, and Famine" has opened our eyes to many dimensions of food that may have never crossed our minds before. We are no longer aware of just food itself and its nutritional value, but also of the social and environmental implications of its production, marketing, and consumption. Our discussions of the sobering (and sometimes downright grim) issues relating to our current food system have left many of us wondering, "What can be done? What can I do?" To start off, think about how many people are not taking this class, have not seen "Food, Inc.", and can perceive only a nominal difference between fair trade and free trade, organic and non-organic, grass-fed and corn-fed, etc. Information, its dissemination, and consumers' use of that information constitute a very important first step in rethinking and reshaping our food culture. Adi Narayan of Time Magazine recently wrote an article which discusses the politics, marketing strategy, merit (or lack thereof), and effectiveness of food labeling systems. Narayan also includes a list of some of the current labeling systems used to relay nutritional information to the consumer. Narayan sheds light on a very important issue but he deals mostly with labels that signify nutritional value and health benefits. If we want to "build a better label" as the title of the article claims, food labels should include [more] information not just about its relation to nutrition and health, but also about the origins of our food and how it was produced and/or processed.

"Shoppers who paused for an interview in the cereal isle that evening said their choices were guided either by past purchases or front-of-the-box labels," writes Narayan. Front-of-the-box labels. The front of the box is prime real estate for a company to put its best foot forward in terms of advertising its product. Nutritional value and health benefits are fair game as selling points for a product, so naturally, some scientific claims and their meaning get lost in a shroud of flashy graphics, vague wording, and convenient omissions all designed to "confuse and seduce consumers" and distract them from more important information found on the Nutrition Facts label. What makes this slope even more slippery is the fact that the manner in which these claims are presented are unique to the company selling the product; it is all part of a very competitive capitalist game to see which company can put out the most glowing, attractive, and convincing advertisements. Certain types of food labels such as "0 Grams of Trans-Fat!" or "Rich in Anti-Oxidants!" reach a point where they become superficial and trendy and this makes unbiased, objective, and consistent food labeling and its effectiveness as a tool for making better food choices even more difficult to achieve.

The FDA has recently become more stringent in its efforts to improve food labeling systems by putting out a survey asking consumers to comment on "ways to enhance the usefulness to consumers of...information on the principal display panel of food products." Claims about the nutritional value and health benefits of food should not be easily tossed around and manipulated as pawns in a capitalist game and one way in which this can be kept under control is through more rigorous implementation of government control (or some neutral authority) in the matter. Another way in which food labeling systems can be improved is by modifying the actual nature of the information presented to the consumer. The food labels that Narayan discusses deal mostly with nutritional information of the food itself. Nutrition facts are definitely important but in a time where 'healthy and nutritious' vitamin and mineral mixtures can be added to Twinkies, they are no longer sufficient in making smart and conscious food choices. As was proven time and time again over the course of the semester, the relation of food to our well-being is intrinsically tied to its origins, its production, and its social and environmental implications. It seems that foods labeled according to their origins and production process (i.e. grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, organic produce, free trade coffee) satisfy only a small niche market. But nowadays it is these labels [not the nutrition facts] that are marking the key difference between healthy and safe foods and unhealthy and potentially dangerous foods. Doesn't everybody deserve to know about this? Why not break this food 'scene' wide open so everyone can have access to this information?

The origins and production of food constitute a whole separate spectrum of information that would definitely overwhelm the consumer and probably even depress the consumer into complacency and learned helplessness. But this cannot be seen as a negative as is implied by Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School, "At-a-glance labels assume that the consumer is too ignorant to make an informed decision...the solution should be to offer more, not less information...food choices are too complicated to be reduced to simply green, amber, and red." This also implies that consumers also have a significant responsibility in "building a better label". Only so much information can be presented to consumers; but if they are too lazy to actually heed this information and take it into consideration in their purchases, it is useless. This is why consumers should definitely be more conscious, on all levels, about the foods they buy and eat. This would help them make more health-conscious, environmentally and socially responsible, and overall smarter food choices and ultimately help remedy the flaws in our current food system in the long run.

Narayan, A. (2010, May 2). Building a Better Label. TIME Magazine

Issues brought up by Food, Inc

Cheap foods contain lots of calories:
  • 33% of kids born after 2000 will have diabetes
  • 50% of kids have some sort of obesity related issue
  • Cheaper to buy cheap foods, $1 burger, than it is to buy vegetables, broccoli, that cost $1.29 per pound.
Production of animals:
  • Chickens are grown in less than a month and a half, it would "naturally" take three months to fully grow a chicken. Chemicals help them grow faster. Antibiotics also given but it is not beneficial to the chicken but instead the antibiotics get transferred to the animals and humans and can harm them.
  • If the chickens are lucky enough, they will be able to walk a few feet, otherwise they wont be able to walk at all. This is caused by the fact that they now weigh twice as much as they would "naturally."
  • Solution: Corn is used to feed animals because its subsidized. As such, stop subsidizing corn and farms should have to eat animals the correct food.
Food feed to animals:
  • Animals feed foods that they would not "naturally" eat. Corn based foods are given to fish, i don't know what foods fish eat but i do know its not corn.
  • Corn is also feed to cows which "naturally" eat grasses instead. A new strain of e-coli known as E0157H7 has spread between cows as a result of forcing cows to eat corn instead of grasses.
  • Solution - By feeding cows grass for 5 weeks, it will remove any chance of e-coli outbreak from occurring.
Legal:
  • Less than 5 companies own betweem 65% to 85% in both the meat and pork industries.
  • These companies are not being charged with Monopoly status.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Genetically Modified Crops

There is a lot of discussion about the use of genetically modified crops in agriculture. Many arguments can be made for and against their use. Most of the articles I have read focus on the cons of the use of GMOs, so I was fairly suprised to read a recent article that not only condoned their use, but praised them.

The article "Supreme court hears arguments on genetically modified seeds, local farmers offer their opinions" by Aaron Krause claims to have testimonies not only from Monsanto, but also from local farmers about the benefits of using GMOs. Geertson Seed Farm posed some of the normal arguments against GMOs, including cross-contamination of their organic plants from nearby farms using a patented GMO. These fears were deemed "unwarranted" and "unlikely" by Monsanto and agriculture possible with GMOs was described as sustainable. Local farmers even chimed in remarking on the decreased need for pesticides due to biological resistance built in to the genetially modified crop.

Arguments have been made for the opposing side, of course. The movie Food, Inc. shows the exploitation of small, local farmers by large companies like Monsanto. Something not discussed in this article was the idea that GMOs can be patented. Big companies sell their patented GMO to various farmers and can enforce by law that these seeds are not saved and used again. This has caused controversy with farmers who administer seed cleaning equipment, because Monsanto has filed lawsuits against them because they make it easier to save and reuse seeds. With the possibility of patents for GMOs, it makes it easier for big companies to take over the agricultural business and turn it into an oligarchy.

Both sides can be argued and all points are valid. It is difficult to declare a real winner. Perhaps the problem isn't the introduction of GMOs, but rather the way in which we are using them. The idea of patenting has to be sorted out so that it doesn't allow the take over of Monsanto and similar companies. There is no question that these GMOs have benefits, so it is up to us to figure out how they can be used to the greatest advantage without being so controversial.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Barbara Kingslover Insight

This excerpt from Barbara Kingslover from her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , “Getting over the frozen-food snobbery”, is the quote I will center my discussion around. I think this excerpt is her attempt to highlight society’s ability to blindly and stringently abide by a certain formula for healthy living. I also believe her excerpt addresses the stigma which hovers over the idea of frozen products. A good example of this notion is pretty evident in my Commodity Chain Analysis with regards to the strawberry. There are two insinuations to draw, one, being the fact that international countries such as China are emerging leaders in the frozen strawberry export, but it’s common knowledge their agriculture is one that lacks the fiber to produce the strains of strawberries that we here are accustomed too. The second iteration would be that here in the United States, the fresh strawberry is the sought after commodity, in comparison to its counter-part the frozen strawberry. Does the fact that the strawberry is “frozen” imply it lacks the same nutritional make-up of a “fresh” strawberry, or are their more health benefits from a strawberry falling under this category entitled “fresh”? This same argument can also be adapted to Tuesday’s readings with regards to the myth or effectiveness of an organic label. The product may boast its “organic-ness”, but there is no finite legislation which defines this idea, ergo the word “organic” is subjective. Kinglsover, further contributes to that statement, by her analysis of her own childhood and the foods she was accustomed too, no matter if in/out of season. She acknowledges that buying in-harvest products in bulk and freezing is acceptable, because there is no question where the products originated, in comparison to some non-frozen products whose origins remain muddled in the packaging. This quote not only criticizes the misconceptions of the “frozen” world, but also highlights the ignorance of society today with regards to the true meaning of healthy and what constitutes a nutritional food product.