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October 16 is World Food Day, a day dedicated to education about world hunger and possible solutions. For the past two decades small producers, and family farmers have been developing the concept of food sovereignty, based in the belief that all people deserve a say in how their food is produced, as well as the right to grow and produce it themselves through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. This notion, developed by the international peasant group, Via Campesina, is getting some traction this month as October 15 is the date chosen for the awarding of the Food Sovereignty Prize in New York City.

Photo by Krista Zimmerman, LWR

Photo by Krista Zimmerman, LWR

This year’s food sovereignty prize will go to the Haitian Group of 4, Dessalines Brigade/Via Campesina. In 2007, Haiti’s largest peasant organizations—Heads Together Small Farmers of Haiti (Tet Kole), the Peasant Movement of Papaye, the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movements, and the Regional Coordination of Organizations of the South East Region—joined forces as the Group of 4 (G4), a national alliance to promote good farming practices and advocate for peasant farmers.

The G4, representing over a quarter of a million Haitians, invited South American peasant leaders and agroecology experts to Haiti to work cooperatively to save Creole seeds and support peasant agriculture. Together, the G4 and the Dessalines Brigade, as it became known—named for 19th-century Haitian independence leader Jean Jacques Dessalines and supported by La Via Campesina—have collaborated to rebuild Haiti’s environment, promote wealth and end poverty. The partnership also provided immediate and ongoing support to the victims of the 2010 earthquake, and the Group of 4 made global headlines when they rejected a donation of hybrid seeds from Monsanto.

The Food Sovereignty Prize is a project of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is made up of member organizations, including Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Food First, Grassroots International, Why Hunger, and many more groups. Now in its fifth year, the prize was created as a way to provide a counter-balance to the fact that in the past several years the well-publicized World Food Prize has gone to large industrial agricultural projects which exclude peasant farmers both in their engineering and their implementation. The Food Sovereignty Prize is meant to draw attention to the kind of alternatives that people in peasant communities around the world are creating to address the very specific challenges they face.

Recognizing that nearing a billion people around the world are struggling with chronic hunger, and that a hungry world can never be a secure and just world, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Global Food Security act of 2013 (H.R.2822)  in early August. The bill is basically a roadmap on global food security directing the president to develop a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy focused on improving nutrition, strengthening agricultural development and ensuring smallholder farmers access to inputs and training, as well as updating the Foreign Assistance act of 1961 to include a renewed focus on women, nutrition and smallholder farmers. This is a valiant effort to get Congress more intimately involved on how the United States acts to promote food security through its feed the future programs.

While the bill’s focus on women farmers and small holder farmers is indeed welcome, just days before its introduction language around promoting agro-ecological methods was dropped out of the bill. These methods are preferred by smallholder farmers in less industrialized countries because they recognize that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not possible. Even though program descriptions seem to broadly recognize smallholder methods, current Feed the Future policies and programs favor more industrialized and less labor intensive methods that are dependent on new inputs from non-local sources.

Local farmers far prefer agro-ecological and biologically diverse systems to address problems related to climate change, resource scarcity and to avoid fossil fuel dependency. Although their work is seen as labor intensive, smallholder farmers around the less industrialized world see themselves as champions of their own food sovereignty; their work offers them a vehicle for escaping hunger and poverty and a deep sense of dignity that they are providing solutions to their own problems. 

Read about the Food sovereignty prize at:; Learn more about the Global Food Security Act at:  

So, while the labels placed on foods should be helping us to make better choices, sometimes they offer contradictory statements that are open to interpretation.

I live in the Washington DC area where we have a number of grocery stores that feature health foods. Yes Organic Market, My Organic Market, the Tacoma Park-Silver Spring Coop, and of course Whole Foods all carry a number of whole foods and supplements to support health – which is not to say that every single thing that is sold in these stores is healthy. And it’s often in these stores where label reading is somewhat more complicated.



As consumers we sometimes are fooled into thinking that foods that sport labels saying they are “natural,” and “organic” are automatically healthy.  But actually, under Food and Drug Association (FDA) policy, food manufacturers can use the label “natural” when the product has no synthetic and artificial ingredients. The organic label requires that the product meet the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program. Nothing in the FDA guidelines or the USDA’s standards test for the health supporting qualities of the product in question.



Defined by regulation, the Label “healthy” means that the product must meet certain criteria, which limits amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium that the product can contain. Additionally, the food must contain minimum amounts of vitamins, minerals or other beneficial nutrients.

So the next time your mouth starts watering when you see some kind of frozen confection that is “organic” and “all natural,” don’t assume you’re making a healthy choice. Remember to read past those claims that suck you in! Read the label and especially take note of the sugars and fats you might be taking in (in the name of virtuous eating)!

Read more at: 

Related posts:

The organic label may help you to choose one product over another – but there are at least 4 tiers involved in organic labeling.



Food manufacturers can use 100% Organic label if: the product contains 100% organically produced ingredients; any added water and salt are ingredients that cannot be identified as organic. If 100% organic, the label may include the USDA organic label, or an organic label from another certifying agent.

A food label may simply say “Organic.” To use this label, the product must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding added water and salt). Additionally, the product cannot contain sulfites; and may contain a maximum of 5% non-organically produced agricultural products. These products have to include an ingredient statement listing ingredients as organic and include the certifying agent, and can include the USDA organic seal, or a seal from the certifying agent.

Food manufacturers can claim that their products are “made with organic ingredients” if the product contains at least 70% organic ingredients. It cannot contain sulfites (except wine), and may contain up to 30% of nonorganic ingredients. These products cannot carry the USDA organic seal.

And finally, products can be labeled as containing “some organic ingredients” and identify the organic ingredients are “organic” in the ingredients statement. Again, water and salt cannot be included in organic materials and a producer may opt to label the percentage of organic ingredients which can be less than 70%. This product may also contain over 30% nonorganically produced agricultural ingredients.    

Information about Organic Standards is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at:

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photo credit: Bigstock

photo credit: Bigstock
Some sugary contain as much as 16 teaspoons of sugar

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg may have lost the first round in attempting to limit the amount of sugary beverages people mindlessly drink, but the battle is certainly not over!

Like Bloomberg, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an independent nonprofit consumer health group based in Washington, DC believes that you can have too much of a sweet thing, and launched a petition to the FDA asking that sugar be regulated.

In his letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), CSPI Executive Director, Michael Jacobson states that recent studies are beginning to demonstrate that the refined sugars (cane and beet sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, plain corn syrup and dextrose) are harming more than dental health. He also states that food and beverage manufacturers who aggressively market

high-sugar foods and beverages have made little effort to reduce the sales and/or the sugar content of their products.

Because the same lack of commitment has been demonstrated related to sodium intake – even though the

Institute of Medicine and state and local health officials are urging regulatory action to lower sodium consumption, CSPI recommends that the FDA to “fulfill its responsibility for protecting the public’s health.”  CSPI urges the FDA to

  1. adopt regulatory and voluntary measures to reduce the amounts of added sugars in beverages to safe levels;
  2. encourage industry to voluntarily reduce sugar levels in and the marketing of other high-sugar foods; and
  3. mount, perhaps together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture, a high-profile education campaign to encourage consumers to choose lower-sugar or unsweetened foods and beverages.

Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, agrees with the CSPI action because he believes that it’s much easier to overconsume sugar in liquids than solids. Of the 16 teaspoons of added sugar in a 20-ounce soda, he said, “You can gulp it down in a minute or two.”

Whether or not you agree with Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit the size of the sodas sold in New York restaurants, his action points to a public health issue as explosive as opening a can of Coke after it’s been shaken. It would be great if food manufacturers themselves could take this on through voluntary guidelines, but while that’s not happening – simply saying it’s a matter of lifestyle choices does not work when sugary drink intake has risen from 1970s levels – about 4% of US daily calorie intake, to 9% of the US daily calorie intake by 2001.

We all have a right to food, and to know exactly what’s in our food, but sometimes polices, practices and perceptions get in our way of actually being able to put safe, nutritious and enough of it on our tables. LaDonna Redmond, long-time community activist and senior program associate at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Justice program lays out what these issues are in this TEDx talk….


I have been a health and wellness coach part-time since 2009. I was originally drawn to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in 2008 because I noticed trends of how food choices contributed to the state of a person’s health. Working in international policy – I became concerned that some of our worst eating habits in the U.S. were quickly being exported to other countries. From 1999-2005 I traveled quite a bit and I still remember the shock I felt when a Kenyan doctor in Nairobi told me that Kenyans really had no history of heart disease until the appearance of fast food restaurants in the capital. I knew that my advocacy work had to center around education so that people can make good food choices – both for themselves and for the people in their lives. I also believe that the more people know – the more public policy on the national and international levels can be impacted to reflect best practices.

In 2009 I graduated from IIN and began Hearty Nutrition, a part time practice – coaching people on changing their eating habits. I loved seeing people implement small changes that made a big difference in their lives. IIN really gave me a good survey of a lot of dietary theory out there – and gave me a bit of business training to get up and going. As time went on, I read more and found that there are a lot of confusing messages out there that people are trying to decipher. More and more, my clients were asking for detailed information about the chemical impact of food as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I knew that I wanted to understand all these systems and that I simply had to learn more of the science of nutrition.

Most nutrition degrees follow the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) guidelines. I learned quite quickly through my international advocacy work that the USDA has a duel role – to educate on good nutrition and to promote U.S. agriculture (agribusiness) at home and abroad. The truth is that most of the time the USDA tends to do a much better job of promoting agribusiness than it does in educating the public on good nutrition. So – when I began looking for a way to learn the evidence base of my nutritional practice, I wanted to find a place that would give me a more integrated education that includes the USDA basics while exposing me to other ways of thinking. Tai Sophia Institute fit the bill, but at that time Tai only offered herbal medicine and acupuncture classes.

In 2010 I learned that the Tai Sophia Institute was about the launch a MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health program. Tai Sophia’s approach is anchored in a wellness-based philosophy, and at the same time it emphasizes the interrelated physiological, medicinal, psychosocial, cultural, and spiritual roles of food in our lives. I enrolled in the inaugural class in 2011 and once I graduate in August, 2013, I will pursue becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialists through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CNBS) and will be licensed to practice nutrition in Maryland.

My course work has been around the biochemical, and physiological processes in the body involved in food digestion and absorption. I have also studied nutritional therapies to address disease states and nutritional needs of each stage of the life cycle. At the same time I have had the opportunity to strengthen my counseling skills through peer practice and a supervised student clinic that began February 3, 2013.

If you’ve ever been worried about eating genetically modified foods unaware,  you might be “eating in the dark” as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests with their new video. Join me in signing the EWG’s petition to tell the FDA to label genetically modified foods. That way market demand for GM products can be determined by consumers making informed decisions about what they buy!

If you believe that industrial agriculture is great because it ensures that we have plenty of cheap food to choose from in the marketplace, think again about its environmental cost. The The Losing Ground Website set up by the Environmental Working Group tells the story of soil erosion which leads to dangerous pesticides and herbicides making their way into streams, ground water, and eventually our drinking water. Go to the website and watch the video! Then consider whether or not the 2012 Farm Bill has any impact on your life! 

March 8 is International Women’s Day. Women around the world struggle for having power over simple decisions that heavily affect their lives and the lives of the their families and children. Below I am sharing a video clip of Raj Patel, a writer whom I like, as he explains the concept of “food sovereignty” and how it differs from “food security. He also explains why it is so important for women in particular to maintain power over choosing the food they and their families eat.

Today also happens to be Mardi Gras, so while you are living it up – remember the many women around the world and celebrate reclaiming power with them.

One of the connections that many people miss is that plastic shopping bags are made of non-renewable fossil fuel, that’s right – in every plastic bag has its origins deep inside the Earth where dinosaurs once walked the planet. If we all do our part in decreasing the demand for these ubiquitous bags, while pressuring our policy makers to invest in renewable energies, we may just have a shot at saving our environment  by leaving this fossil fuel chapter of our collective human history behind. But it will take a mass movement of people to do this!

Ashel Seasunz’ and Alli Chagi-Starr’s inspiring Earth Amplified music/video campaign, featuring the video below on plastic bags, is one tool that is absolutely needed to help masses of people understand what’s at stake. This project is expected to go viral on YouTube – something that will take the artists’ work and message to a new level. You can click here to download the album:, and you can go to to contribute seed money toward the project.

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.


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