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It’s always surprising to see the places my foods have been! If only plants could write their history…earth-437670_1280


This winter, when I shopped for some of my kitchen staples, I paid attention to how far food travels to get to my kitchen. The lemons, garlic, mushrooms, avocado, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes, and assorted frozen berries now in my kitchen are renowned world travelers — visiting my home from Argentina, Chile, Italy, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, oh and yes, unknown states in the USA.

While I do like to have many of these particular foods on hand for nutritional and gustatory reasons, there are many downsides to this long-distance relationship with the foods I love.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

First, quality: To be packaged for shipping, many times these vegetables and fruits and picked before they are ripe. This is particularly true of tomatoes. At some point along the route to my table they might be sprayed with a little ethylene gas to make them appear riper. Truth is, in spite of shippers; best efforts, many fruits and vegetables do not continue to ripen once taken off the vine, out of the ground or once they stray too far away from the sun’s reach. So, when they get to my kitchen counter, they may look ripe, but they just don’t have the fresh taste of the ones I can get at the farmers’ market.

Second safety: The more food travels and the more hands it passes to get to my table – the more risk there is of food borne illness. Over the past 10 years the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has rejected numerous shipments of plant foods like green beans and mushrooms due to illegal pesticide violations, excessive filth and unsanitary conditions of the products. Luckily, the FDA is looking out for us.


Strawberry Harvest Pixaby photo – Public Domain

Third – labor standards: I am never sure what the working conditions might be in the country of origin. Where children skipping out on an education to work in the fields and harvest my berries? Did a woman give birth in that same field because she was not allowed to take a day off? Where workers exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilizers that we would not use in the USA?

While ultimately, I would love to be a locovore, eating only foods in my bioregion, I am happy these labels exist; they can be found at almost any grocery store. Consumers and non-profit groups like Food and Water Watch and National Family Farm Coalition fought hard to make the 2008 rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts. While the law is not perfect, at least I do know more, and have a choice when I reach for lemon and start my day. Learn more about the foods you eat using Food and Water Watch’s interactive shopping cart.


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:  


MaryJane, Kathy McNeely and Sharon Chan presenting the magic of minerals

On March 21, for one of my classes at Maryland University of Integrative Health, we were asked to design a booth for our nutrition expo. I joined classmates MaryJane Bembenek and Sharon Chan in preparing a booth on Minerals. We presented on why they are important and did some simple testing to help people determine if they were mineral deficient. Thank you to those who were able to make it. We had a great night speaking  with lots of people from the  MUIH community and others in the surrounding area.

In the coming weeks and months I hope to share with you some of the insights I gained while preparing our mineral booth. Minerals, like vitamins are needed for so many of the body’s functions. Depending on how balanced out diets are, most of the minerals we need are provided by the foods we eat.

Minerals come from the earth and from the sea. As one can imagine, there are plenty of reasons to question whether the foods we eat are providing the right amount and balance of minerals needed for our bodies to function. Modern agriculture’s focus on nitrogen fertilizers and mono-cropping can advance soil depletion which negatively affects the mineral content of the vegetables and fruits we eat. These methods can also have a negative impact on the quality of the grasses and feed that animals eat, so animal products, like meat, eggs and cheeses could have less mineral content than they once had. Sea foods – like seaweed and fish have also been negatively impacted by pollution.

In biology and history classes I am certain you’ve heard of some of the diseases that are caused by vitamin and mineral depletion – diseases like rickets, pellagra, Beriberi, scurvy and night blindness and conditions like goiter are more widely known in the less industrialized world than they would be here in the United States. But, given the diminishing quality of mineral content of our soil, and the fact that processed foods (which strip the original mineral content from foods – only to add synthetic vitamins back in), are more widely available than whole foods, we can only benefit from paying more close attention to whether we’re getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals from our foods.

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….


Cornucopia Institute’s New Report, Cereal Crimes has given me reason to continue to ask that question. As I kid I remember loving my bowl of cereal in the morning, and as I grew and went off to college, graduate school and professional life I know my tastes in cereal have changed, but cereal is often just what I want for breakfast. For years now I have taken issue with just how sweet most brands of granola have become so within the past year, I have started making my own homemade granola.

I am super grateful for my bowl of rolled oats as I read through Cereal Crimes and the scorecard that accompanies it. Sugar was just one of the ingredients that I had to worry about! It turns out that when a company lists “natural ingredients” it doesn’t have to list the amount of herbicide and pesticide are sprayed on those ingredients. In contrast, “Federal law requires that organic food products be produced in ways that promote ecological sustainability, without the toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients that are common in the conventional food system” (Cornucopia Institute 2011 p. 5).

I continue to explore this question because everywhere you look there are claims being made “eat this, it’s healthy,” “it’s good for you,” “it’s all natural…” Thanks to the Cornucopia Institute and a new report due out tomorrow – you might have available at the click of a mouse more information about the contents of some of the most popular breakfast cereals that we all believed were wholesome options. Turns out “all natural” is not equal to “organic…”  Enjoy this sneak preview of their new report and tune in tomorrow for more information!

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! 

As many of you know. I have spent the last twelve-and-a- half years educating and advocating decision makers in Washington DC and at the United Nations on issues of peace, social justice and ecology. Within the past year and a half I have also begun working with individuals as a health coach – helping them to feel better, to avoid preventable disease and to lose weight. I see these two apparently different kinds of work explicitly integrated. The real work that makes my heart sing is healing, whether I am trying to heal this broken world of ours or accompany individual persons struggling to more fully know and heal themselves.

For at least the last ten years I have spent a significant amount of my advocacy time working on the issue of food security – seeking to ensure that all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. When I attended the World Food Summit in 2002 many of the civil society participants pushed to adopt the concept of “food sovereignty,” which in addition to demanding food security, claims the “right” of Peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international corporate and market forces.

As I noted in my post about following my heart into health coaching, the real connection for me is helping people to regain a sense of control over their own health and well-being. After the food riots of 2007 and 2008, people around the world want to be assured that they not only have access to food, but that they get to determine how that food is grown, raised, or fished. They want to regain some control over the very sustenance that maintains life rather than just accepting that one U.S. corporation can be known as “the supermarket to the world.”

In the U.S. some would say that “beggars cannot be choosers.” But what this attitude fails to admit is that a number of changeable factors, including U.S. food, trade and economic policies, U.S. futures trading and U.S. corporate practices which led to the price hikes in food and fuel causing the crises. So my work in Washington is often focused on changing policies in whatever way I can – such that people have access to good nutritious food, as well as a choice about what kind of food they want to eat, grow, raise or fish.

Summer is coming to an end but the ability to buy fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables is far from ending. Many Farmers Markets throughout the country are still in full swing, and many CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) ventures offer fall contracts.  If you haven’t ventured out to a farmers’ market this year, find one at the Local Harvest website and explore!

Why local? You could say that most the food we eat in the U.S. is dripping in oil. Much of it is grown with the use of fossil fuel based fertilizers and chemicals to keep away bugs and weeds. When it is close to maturity it is shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to a shopping center to which we, more often than drive so that we can haul home a basket filled with food stuffs. Buying local allows you to buy fresh produce often from 15 miles away rather than 15 hundred miles away.

Buying local also supports farmers in your area whose operations are smaller and often family owned and operated. Getting to know the farmers who grow your food puts you more in touch with your community and the natural processes that support you. Find out more at Local Harvest today!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

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


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