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As some of my close friends could attest, up to a year after my return from living in rural Nicaragua, a trip to a supermarket was traumatic for me; I would become catatonic after a simple trip down the breakfast aisle at the local grocery store. There were just so many boxes, so much stuff to read and way too many choices. It took me several years and a lot of research to realize that in spite of all those apparent choices, with most any purchase of cereal, I was handing money over to one of four global food corporations.

According to Food and Water Watch, Kellogg Co., General Mills, PepsiCo and Post Foods control 79.9 percent of cereal sales, making shoppers hard pressed to find a box of cereal that is not owned by one of these big manufacturers. So, guess what? As long as our hard-earned dollars are primarily going to huge food companies, the real “choices” we are left with in the cereal aisle are more about how much sugar, artificial flavorings and pesticides we want to ingest first thing in the morning.

Nutritionally, most of the cereals that populate the breakfast aisles of grocery stores are loaded with highly refined carbohydrates that may satisfy you for a couple of hours, but lack enough grams of protein to get you past 11am. I am a big advocate for a good, high protein breakfasts. Moreover, most cereals are made with corn or wheat, two grains that dominate a nutritionist’s list of common allergens, and the farmers’ lists of crops needing the highest quantities of pesticides. To learn more about the cereals’ typical ingredients, see: Do I know what I’m eating?

I don’t watch a lot of broadcast television – so I have been isolated from most of the marketing that TV-watching-consumers see daily… but I have been taken in by more than one supermarket display…. The displays at the ends of the aisles (I call them end-caps) in supermarkets are highly valued supermarket real estate; these end-cap displays encourage impulse purchases.

Think about it – items offered on end-caps are not lined up with other options – so you as a consumer no longer have the handy capacity to compare prices with similar products. More than once my assumption has been that items displayed on end-caps are sale items and the best deal. According to Food and Water Watch, more than one-sixth of grocery purchases are tied to brand display advertisements, which are typically some of the most expensive items.

When it comes to breakfast don’t be taken in by marketing campaigns sponsored by one of 4 major food industries. Here are some basic rules:

  1. Eat breakfast.
  2. Make sure that protein is featured in your breakfast.
  3. Limit added sugars in your breakfast choices.
  4. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking.
  5. Drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages only after you have “broken your fast” (I always advice to ensure that there is at least some kind of food in your stomach before taking in caffeine).

To find out more about why I give this advice, subscribe to my blog.

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In July, farmers’ markets in mid-Atlantic states are overloaded with fresh ripe tomatoes. Ask anyone who’s eaten a store-bought tomato – they just aren’t what they used to be… It’s true, tomatoes have come a long way through selection and breeding practices — but not all their flavor has been lost – and there are efforts afoot to rescue their long lost flavor and healing capabilities!  

Through centuries of plant breeding tomatoes were transformed from a bitter, berry-sized fruit that grew on bushes in the deserts of western South America, to a popular sweet-tart fruit, that most people consider a vegetable (McGee, 2004, p. 329). Over the past 30 years, however, careful selection of specific traits sacrificed its unique flavor to transform the tomato into a more hardy plant, that grows uniformly round, resistant to disease and able to grow on vines that do not sprawl (Beckles, 2012; Robinson, 2013).

Tomatoes found in supermarkets today are not allowed to ripen on the vine. If they were sold that way, by the time they were shipped to the supermarket they would be overripe, or on the verge of rotting. The tomato industry will pick tomatoes before they are ripe, usually when they show the first hint of color (at the breaker stage). This gives the industry up to 2 weeks to get the tomatoes to wherever they will be sold before they turn red. Ripening can also be speeded up through spraying them with ethylene gas at regional warehouses. This way consumers see red tomatoes in the market, that are not fully ripe. This is why people complain that tomatoes lack flavor these days.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Because the tomato varieties most available today have less taste and nutrient content than their predecessors, agronomists are now experimenting with heirloom varieties and with breeding back in some of the chemical components of the original fruit to improve their flavor (Allen, 2008). In spite of the losses, today’s tomato still delivers a number of specific phytonutrients optimized through growing processes, selection, storage and preparation.

One interesting study compared conventional and organic production of tomatoes over ten years and demonstrated statistically higher levels of the plant nutrients quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in organically grown tomatoes. Researchers saw increased levels of these nutrients in plants grown using organic methods (Mitchell, et al., 2007).

Try heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers’ market. They will have much more flavor than store bought tomatoes, because they will have been allowed to ripen on the vine.

 

References:

Allen, A. (2008). A passion for tomatoes. Smithsonian magazine, August, 2008 Retrieved December 14, 2013 from http:// http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/passion-for-tomatoes.html
Beckles, D. M. (2012). Factors affecting the postharvest soluble solids and sugar content of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruit. Postharvest Biology and Technology 63(1), 129–140.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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: http://foodsovereigntyprize.org/; Learn more about the Global Food Security Act at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c113:H.R.2822:  

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….

Enjoy!

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’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!

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.

This is a re-post from August ’10. I wanted to post this edited version since February is here. Please consider taking the action I include below.

Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing this month? No? Well, there are some brilliant minds out there who say you should be SNACKING! Since 1989 February has been named by those at the Snack Food Association and the National Potato Promotion Board as National Snack Food Month.

In 1989 the Snack Food Association noted that as a nation our snack food consumption slumps in February. So it designed a month to get all of us back on the wagon. Why not February when Halloween candy has long ago gone stale and the winter holiday temptations have been gobbled to the last crumb? The month is literally “kicked off” with the Super Bowl. Where would we be without bowls of munchies in front of a TV set radiating as many ads as it does plays in the game?

If we took a snapshot of the snack food section of the grocery store in 1989 and compared it to now, we’d be floored by the hundreds of new products available to us. Collectively, as a nation we have become quite efficient at snacking. In many homes there are few meals eaten at a table where people take time to prepare food and share it together. Many people snack right on through the day. Our growing rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases are testimony to this.

As a health coach I work with a lot of elementary and secondary school teachers who plan their February entire curriculum around Black History Month. They often complain to me about the negative impact that snack stuff that is ever-present in children’s lunches. Cheese doodles, potato chips, ring dings and other sugary, salty snack stuff have kids literally bouncing off the walls. Hello Snack Food Association and National Potato Promotion Board people – you’ve done your job! We know how to snack – can we please go back to reserving February to honor the history of African-Americans in our country?

Take action!

Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI) and others have launched a mini counter-campaign of their own here http://20ate.org/. They are reclaiming February for the good food cause — making it into a 28 or “20-ate” day celebration of real foods.  One way you can support them is to “outlike” the cheese puff fanpage on facebook by the end of the month. Here’s the score as of earlier this week: KGI: 4058 fans Cheese Puffs: 5469 fans.  Please add your support by going to http://20ate.org/ and click on “like” at the bottom of the page!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

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

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