Farm Production Increases, Nutrient Levels Decrease

Excerpts from an Organic Center report:

High yields and jumbo produce deliver more water, starch, and sugar per serving, but less vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Farmers have doubled or tripled the yield of most major grains, fruits and vegetables over the last 50 years. But American agriculture’s single-minded focus on increasing yields over the last half-century created a blind spot where incremental erosion in the nutritional quality of our food has occurred. This erosion, modest in some crops but significant in others for some nutrients, has gone largely unnoticed by scientists, farmers, government and consumers.

Government data from both America and the United Kingdom have shown that the concentration of a range of essential nutrients in the food supply has declined in the last few decades, with double digit percentage declines of iron, zinc, calcium, selenium and other essential nutrients across a wide range of common foods. As a consequence, the same-size serving of sweet corn or potatoes, or a slice of whole wheat bread, delivers less iron, zinc and calcium.

Fewer nutrients per serving translate into less nutrition per calorie consumed…that is, we have more food, but it’s worth less in terms of nutritional value.

Substantial data show that in corn, wheat and soybeans, the higher the yield, the lower the protein and oil content. The higher tomato yields (in terms of harvest weight), the lower the concentration of vitamin C, levels of lycopene (the key antioxidant that makes tomatoes red), and beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor). High-production dairy cows produce milk that is less concentrated with fat, protein and other nutrition-enhancing components, and are also more vulnerable to a range of metabolic diseases, infections and reproductive problems.

“To get our recommended daily allowance of nutrients, we have to eat many more slices of bread today than people had to eat in the past,” says Brian Halweil, a senior researcher at the WorldWatch Institute and the “Still No Free Lunch” author.

Full Report (48 pages, 5 mb, PDF)

Executive Summary (8 pages, 2 mb, PDF)

2 Page Summary (PDF)

The team found declines in median concentrations of six nutrients from the 1950s to 1999, including a 6 percent decline for protein, a 16 percent decline for calcium, a 9 percent decline for phosphorus, a 15 percent decline for iron, a 38 percent decline for riboflavin, and a 20 percent decline for vitamin C
The team found declines in median concentrations of six nutrients from the 1950s to 1999, including a 6 percent decline for protein, a 16 percent decline for calcium, a 9 percent decline for phosphorus, a 15 percent decline for iron, a 38 percent decline for riboflavin, and a 20 percent decline for vitamin C.

 

What’s Worse Our Normal Water Pollution or the Gulf Oil Spill?

A lot of us can’t ignore the devastation in the Gulf and want to do something to help out. Maybe fly out and volunteer or donate money. Here is another alternative.

After browsing the news articles I came upon the following photo created by a scientist already in the Gulf studying Dead Zones:

So, what’s worse the Dead Zone or the Oil Spill?

At first, it may be hard to tell. The Oil Spill is continuing to grow and may not be stopped for a few months. The oil will be washing ashore or getting out into the Atlantic.

On the other hand the Dead Zone occurs every year and not just in the Gulf. They occur in every river, bay, lake, and in both our oceans. The cumulative size of all the Dead Zones in our waterways makes the Oil Spill seem paltry.

With this in mind you can do something right now to help out. You can help prevent the dead zones from occurring in your local water spots. Here are two ways that can create a permanent long lasting change that will not only help your own community but your health and pocketbook.

The first thing you can do is reduce your water needs. Pull less out of the faucet and send less down the drain. Doing so will lower your water/sewage bill and their are so many easy ways to save water at home.

The other way to buy local or organic food. That’s right agricultural waste accounts for just as much pollution as humans do. It is part of the irony of the food movement and especially the organic movement. Organic was originally started for just this reason, to save the environment. Yet most of us eat the food because it taste better, is healthier, and cheaper (by quality).

Here is an opportunity for all of us to help the environment in a way that provides multiple benefits. Cleaner water, healthier bodies, and lives in balance.

Plus, maybe just maybe an opportunity to swim and play in our favorite waterways.

This has been a dream of mine for longtime.

Tips for the Farmers Market Diet

It’s farmers market season and everyone is feeling the pull toward the street markets. Shopping at them can be confusing and overwhelming. To help you get through the season happier, healthier, and with more money in your pocket, here are some tips.

Cost

Every newbie to the markets talks about cost. I call it the supermarket hangover. They have trouble understanding why they should pay more. Isn’t food at the supermarket and the farmers market the same?

Definitely not. The supermarket food is priced correctly, cheap because it is cheap food. It has low levels of nutrients, vitamins, and other essential health elements. Which results in shoppers buying 2-3 times more than they need to and all of the weight problems associated with it.

Farmers markets food is high quality, or it can be. The point of these markets is to get you food when it is of the highest quality (fresh, in season, ripe). If done right you will find yourself eating much less food and the smaller amounts should help your budget and your waistline!

Fake Farmers Markets

I always try to warn folks about the fake farmers markets. You can easily spot a fake market by looking for the fruit and vegetable stands. The best markets have a good assortment of fruit/vegetables compared to everything else (bakers, cheese, meat). The worst markets have a surplus of dessert vendors and folks selling meat, bread, and cheese.

Now I have nothing against meat, bread, and cheese. I buy my fair share at the market. The problem is with markets who make no effort to balance their offerings. Folks need to be able to find healthy delicious fruits and vegetables, beyond the loaves of bread and steaks.

Foggy-Bottom-Farmers-Market-brocolli-radish-DCAnother type of fake farmers markets are those with no standards. Places that allow folks to buy from supermarkets or wholesalers and offer them at the market for a mark-up. Places like this really make me angry since they are using the market prestige to swindle customers.

Typical markets are “producer only” which means that farmers can only sell what they grow. To figure out if your market is producer only you can look it up on their website, ask the market manager or the vendors, look for/read their signs. In fact, you want to shop at the places with more signs and more transparency. A good rule is that if they aren’t telling you then don’t trust them.

The Back-up Store

You love farmers markets but it’s monday and no markets are open on monday. Stayed late at work or slept in. It happens to the best of us. Here are a few options for supplementing your farmers market diet.

Get to know the bulk foods in the bins at your local health food stores. They are often the freshest, cheapest, and healthiest items in the whole store. I regularly buy rice, beans, and nuts at my local store.

Another, but more limited option, is the local food at supermarkets. Stores like Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Market tend to carry a few local items. Usually greens and mushrooms. Which can make for a great salad especially after a slight saute and some balsamic vinegar. They also offer local eggs and milk.

Finally, look around for your local food coop. These are community formed grocery stores that allow you to choose what they stock. Many of them are locavore havens but not all. If you happen to have one close, join-up, get the member discount, and make sure they know how much you love local foods!

PS – my local coop is the TPSS coop :)

photo by mastermaq

How To Choose a Good Nutritionist?

Choosing a nutritionist can be a tough decision to make. With all of the diet advice and vitamin choices it gets confusing real fast. To help you decide here are two simple things to remember when choosing your diet yogi.

Bumpy Ride

Any good nutritionist will tell you right away that food science is shaky at best. We are in a period of unprecedented period diet related diseases including the leading killers in America. The obesity and diabetes epidemics are raging across the country. There is definitely something wrong and it may just be “the latest study shows” lifestyle we have become accustomed to.

For example, take a look at these two images from David McCandless who took the time to research and compare a large portion of the studies on nutrition.

The first image shows vitamins, minerals, nutrients of no proven value.

Every single item in this picture has no evidence proving its value for health. Now, I’m not saying this is definitive or I am an expert, I’m just saying food science is shaky. Take a look at the next picture to see the ones with conflicting evidence:

There are so many on this list that many would consider absolutely essential to health and yet the studies have not shown that yet. The question is then, where we getting this proof from, is it social proof, marketing proof?

One better make sure to ask any nutritionist about this before making major changes.

It’s the Food, Stupid!

Like the Bill Clinton’s ringing catchphrase, it’s about the economy, stupid! In the world of nutrition its all about the food and no amount of pills, supplements, or working out can replace it. The right nutritionist will make sure to talk with you about this and ask you to focus on the quality of the food you are eating.

Quality is an essential element to food, but many would have you believe that selection is more important. All to often the advice will be to eat less meat and more vegetables. Or, you have a deficiency of XX so you should eat more of YY. This can be extremely problematic especially if one is always selecting low quality food.

A good nutritionist will provide expert advice on how to find quality food. They will tell you about the difference between supermarket vegetables and farmers market vegetables (I have yet to find one doing this). With the difference being extreme, sometimes as much as three times worse for you. Supermarket vegetables are grown for hardiness and long lasting at the expense of nutrition. Whereas farmers market vegetables are grown from high quality seeds (called heritage seeds), grown in specific seasons to maximize nutritional value and sold as fresh as possible to capitalize on the vitamins/minerals before they degrade.

The same type of story can be told for fruits, nuts, meats, cheese; for everything you eat. Eating quality food can often make or break a health routine. After all quality food not only tastes better but provides more nutrition per ounce. This means that you will need to eat less to feel full and meet your nutritional needs (i.e. lose weight).

Further, studies are showing that seasonal, fresh, and high quality food contains not only more nutrients but extra ones too. It might be possible that one can get all the calcium they need from fresh, seasonal broccoli and avoid the need for all those calcium pills, soy cartons, and expensive seafood.

Make sure to choose a nutritionist who understands food quality and makes it an important part of their advice.

Conclusion

I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist but I have spent the past year studying these issues for my own personal health and for this non-profit. I have talked to hundreds of people, including doctors and nutritionists. Only a handful of them even consider what I wrote about in this post, even though they seem like common sense.

These issues are common sense to me and I hope they help you to choose the right nutritionist.

Images pulled from Snake Oil? Scientific Evidence For Health Supplements

Podcast: NPR’s Intelligence Squared, Is Organic Hype?

“Six debaters, three against three, will be debating this motion: Organic Food is Marketing Hype”

“Now this is a debate, it is not panel discussion or seminar. It is a debate, someone will win and someone will lose.”

That is the intro to the latest debate from NPR’s Intelligence Squared.

I love these debates after picking one up on who is to blame for the Mexican Drug War. They are fun and fascinating, and also heavily liberal.

I do love how they present multiple points of view. They stick to the debate format which includes opening statements, closing ones, and an open question and argue period.

Check out the video and lower on the page are the briefs, audio versions, and an iTunes link.

More Info

photo by Melanie Defazio

School Lunches are Disgusting!

There is a secret undercover teacher eating school lunches. Mrs. Q has decided to slum it with our best and brightest for a whole year. I say slum it because the food she is eating looks absolutely horrid.

Or, it looks just like what every American eats on a daily basis: pizza, hot dogs, pasta, chicken nuggets.

Every day she takes a photo of the food and writes about it. It looks so nasty you just have to see it to believe it (are you eating this too?)…

Day 86 – Hot Dogs

fed_up_with_school_lunch_hot_dog

Day 87  – Pizza

fed_up_with_school_lunch_pizza

Day 88 – Chicken Nuggets

fed_up_with_school_lunch_chicken_nuggets

Day 89 – Pasta

fed_up_with_school_lunch_pasta

Michael Pollan on the Rising Food Movement in the NY Review of Books

“The First Lady has effectively shifted the conversation about diet from the industry’s preferred ground of “personal responsibility” and exercise to a frank discussion of the way food is produced and marketed. “We need you not just to tweak around the edges,” she told the assembled food makers, “but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.”

In his latest essay, The Food Movement, Rising, Michael Pollan chronicles the rise of the Food Movement. It’s a 5,400 word piece in the New York Review of Books that moves from the roots of the movements, to challenging today’s leaders, and, as always, encouraging us to join in.

A striking point comes when he calls out Al Gore for missing the critical role that agriculture plays in global warming. Citing his book/movie/presentation, An Inconvenient Truth,  for making “scant mention of food or agriculture”. Even though our food system makes up one-fifth of American fossil fuel use. Further, it emits an incredible amount of greenhouse gas even thought “(it) is the one human system that should be able to substantially rely on photosynthesis” (i.e. solar energy).

The health industry is also in the center of his piece, citing that 3/4 of all health care spending treats diet related diseases (heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and at least a third of all cancers).

“The health care crisis probably cannot be addressed without addressing the catastrophe of the American diet, and that diet is the direct (even if unintended) result of the way that our agriculture and food industries have been organized.”

Oddly, the good news portion of his essay comes from the government. The FDA is “cracking down on deceptive marketing”, the DOJ is “avowing” to “pursue antitrust” issues, and even the conservative USDA is getting involved. Most importantly, though, is Michelle Obama’s work. As the cited above her direct statements and in-the-field work seem to be having the greatest impact.

“Mrs. Obama explicitly rejected the conventional argument that the food industry is merely giving people the sugary, fatty, and salty foods they want, contending that the industry “doesn’t just respond to people’s natural inclinations—it also actually helps to shape them,” through the ways it creates products and markets them.”

My favorite part about Michael Pollan’s writing are always his euphoric references to our food future. Yes, there are problems and people are suffering, but the light at the end of the tunnel is awe inspiring.

“The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure…”

I love how he interweaves politics and beliefs into the piece (conservative libertarianism, comunitarian?). Then moves to explore the backlash against consumerism, “an attempt to redefine, or escape, the traditional role of consumer has become an important aspiration of the food movement”.

Finally, a solid reference to our beloved Farmers Markets:

…an activity that a great many people enjoy…(someone) is playing music. Children are everywhere, sampling fresh produce, talking to farmers. Friends and acquaintances stop to chat. One sociologist calculated that people have ten times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do in the supermarket.

The piece is well worth reading: The Food Movement, Rising by Michael Pollan

Events from DC’s Field to Fork

This month’s DC Field to Fork newsletter just came in and there are plenty of fun urban gardener events to attend.

Events

Thurs, Jun 3 & Sat, Jun 5
Invasive Plant Lecture and Field Workshop: Learn to identify and combat invasive plants, free.

Sat, Jun 5
22nd Annual Clean The Chesapeake Bay, for 3 hours join volunteers all over the Chesapeake, free.

Mon, Jun 7
DC Green Drinks at 1905 Restaurant featuring Clean Currents, 630pm, free.

Sat, Jun 12
Nerd Nite at DC9: presentations on mad science, wall street gremlins, and sexy apes. All proceeds benefit the Washington Youth Garden, $10.

Sat – Sun, Jun 12 – 13
Food and Wine Festival at National Harbor. $60-70.

Fri, Jun 18
The Chesapeake Urban Farming Summit: One day summit featuring keynotes and breakout sessions. $75.

Sat, Jun 19
DC Crop Mob: Volunteer on a Farm with Friends. Free and their are carpool rides to Middleburg, VA.

Sat, Jun 26
Common Good’s Growing Herbs in Your Garden. Donation or free, register early!

America’s Favorite Farmers Market

Vote for your favorite market!

photo from the DC Field to Work Network website

Workout Buffs Are Wasting Their Time

Every time I ride my bike along the Potomac River I get so upset. There are all these folks best described as “workout buffs”. You know the ones in full running/biking gear. They would look like a hardcore biker gang if it nearly all of them weren’t overweight.

That’s the part that bothers me. Here is a group of people so intensely focused on being healthy that they will wear colorful nylon and short shorts. I can’t help but devolve into the raison d’être for A Clean Life (to help people get healthy through eating). I imagine these folks devouring a power bar when they get home, or even during the bike ride. They are surely drinking some sort of sugary “electrolyte” or “vitamin water” drink too.

Best case scenario is a hearty meal, but even then it has to be low quality food since only 2% of America is eating high quality food. It’s as if all of their working out is for naught when they go home and chow down on garbage.

I remember one youtube video where the professor says that running for several miles only burns through the calories of one cookie. Which means that these folks need to run/cycle for hundreds of miles per day just to lose weight. When most likely they are only burning enough calories to slowly gain weight (rather than quickly gain weight).

Ah well, such is the contradictions in American life.

Of course, if these same folks were to understand the nature of food everything would change. They could enjoy high quality food that would cause them to lose weight just by breathing. Soon their workout routines would lessen until they are no longer needed. A switch would happen to being outdoors for the fun of it, maybe even enjoying a little community activity like sports clubs (a European thing).

Not only that but their mental and physical health would improve, the environment would gain a boon in decreased pollution, local economies would flourish…but I digress.

The point here is that I want to help these folks. I really want to find a way to talk to them since they are a “target market” for the Clean Lifestyle. Instead, I am too busy feeling sorry for them or just angry at them.

Maybe one day I will figure out how to get to the “workout buff” crowd.

Seasonal Eating Guide to DC, Baltimore, Arlington

A seasonal food guide for the Capitol Foodshed which includes DC, Baltimore, Arlington, and Northern Virginia. A full list (pdf) is available from FreshFarm Markets.

Vegetables

Spring

Asparagus, Beets, Greens (Collard, Spinach, Chard, Kale), Mushrooms, Onions, Radishes/Turnips, Squash

Summer

Artichokes, Green/Lima Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Greens (Collard, Chard, Kale, Spinach), Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic/Onions, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes/Turnips, Squash, Sweet Potatoes

Autumn

Artichokes, Green/Lima Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Greens (Collard, Chard, Kale, Spinach), Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic/Onions, Mushrooms, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes/Turnips, Squash, Sweet Potatoes

Winter

Greens (Kale, Spinach), Squash – Dec Only: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Greens (Collard), Garlic, Peppers, Radishes/Turnips

Fruits

Spring

Apples, Strawberries

Summer

Jun: Cherries, Berries (rasp, straw), Tomatoes
Jul: Cherries, Apricots, Berries (black, blue, rasp, straw), Figs, Melons, Nectarines, Peaches, Plums, Tomatoes
Aug: Apples, Berries (black, blue, rasp), Figs, Melons, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Tomatoes

Autumn

Apples, Melons, Pears, Tomatoes – Sep Only: Blueberries, Peaches

Winter

Apples, Tomatoes

Herbs

Spring

Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, Sage, Sorrel — **None in Mar

Summer

Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Mint, Parsley, Sage, Sorrel, Tarragon, Thyme

Autumn

Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Mint, Parsely, Sage, Sorrel, Tarragon, Thyme

WinterDec Only

Basil, Mint, Parsely, Sage, Sorrel, Thyme — **None in Jun/Feb