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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.

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The most colorful apples are the ones that have been exposed to the greatest amount of sunlight and therefore contain more phytochemicals that benefit your health (Robinson, 2013). In her recent book Eating on the Wild Side Jo Robbins talks about how apple trees are trimmed so that more of the fruit is exposed to sunlight making the apples rich in color. The more color they have, the more phytonutrient value (see http://heartynutrition.net/2013/10/07/apples-a-rich-source-of-antioxidants/).

Photo by Rick Ruggles

Photo by Rick Ruggles
http://www.foundhearts.com

Choose organic or locally grown apples. The Environmental Working Group lists apples as having some of the highest levels of pesticides on them when compared to other fruits and vegetables. Organic apples are pesticide free. Many times locally grown apples are also organic, but farmers in smaller orchards and farms often cannot afford to go through the organic certification process, so they don’t have the organic label. The best thing to do is to ask the farmer how he or she harvests the apples when you see them at the farmers’ market. Also, locally grown apples are fresher and are grown in smaller orchards that use smaller amounts of harmful pesticides.

Choosing organic also helps to protect the natural habitat in which apples grow. Apples need bees and other insects for pollination – excess pesticide use can negatively effect crops, habitat and bee populations.

See the following sources for more information:

The Environmental Working Group 

The Organic Center 

Robinson, Jo (2013-06-04). Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health (p. 229). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Wood, R. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia. Penguin Group: 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:  

Last Sunday, my classmate Josh Smith and I gave a presentation at a parish in downtown F&F-KM-Teach-DSC_4757Baltimore organized by the Baltimore Food and Faith Project, supported by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. While I did mention this in my previous blog, I did want to give a shout out to the good work of the Baltimore Food and Faith project — working with faith communities, religious schools, and faith-based organizations to address social and economic justice in the food system as well as ecological care.

Josh and I were welcomed by a fantastic group of people eager to learn more about how to combine making healthy food choices with more sustainable living.

F&F_apple-chop_4734On the menu were 50 lbs of apples donated by the Baltimore Orchard Project, an organization dedicated to bringing productive fruit trees and fresh fruit to neighborhoods throughout Baltimore;  by doing so, they are working with local neighborhoods and faith communities to create a greener and healthier city, and more resilient neighborhood communities.

 

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!

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.

I’ve been asked what led me into health coaching because it seems so different from other work I have done. For me it is all a matter of following my heart.  In the mid 80’s and early 90’s my heart inspired me to accompany suffering people in war-torn countries; now that same heart has called me to respond to the unnecessary suffering caused by confusing health and nutrition information in a land of plenty.

Kathy in Chichicastenango, Guatemala 1993

In Guatemala from 91-96 I lived in a rural area among people who had little material wealth and little access to western medicines. What they did have was a deep understanding of the natural world. The elders of the communities I visited could brew a tea from the bark of a specific tree and help a diabetic regulate his blood sugar. Others ground flowers from another bush to treat skin rashes and lesions.

In 1995, my last year of working in Guatemala, I became involved in a medicinal plant project which began by gathering the elders from various communities to share their knowledge with one another and with community health promoters. Knowledge is power – affordable traditional remedies combined with education about simple, everyday things that people could do to prevent disease went a long way to serve people who no doctor, hospital or regimen of western medicine would ever reach.

I found myself fascinated by all I was learning; I often went to bed at night reading my copy of Where There is No Doctor. I was witnessing a very powerful transformation – I watched people take charge of their own health by incorporating new habits and practices into their lives. Nutrition played a vital role, but what seemed even more potent was people recognizing that they themselves had the power to change a lot of variables that could create a positive outcome for themselves and their family members’ health and well-being.

When I returned to the U.S. I found that people often feel very disconnected from knowledge of the natural world and that same kind of control over their health. While fantastic health care is available to those who can afford it, the health care system offers precious little education on disease prevention and easy, affordable actions to support one’s own healing. In Guatemala, while helping resource-poor communities with little access to western health care to expand their tools to stay healthy, I had no idea I was on the cutting edge of health care. Imagine what a different state the health of U.S. citizens would be in if people and communities had the simple knowledge on how to prevent disease. People might not miss as much work; they might avoid expensive hospital stays and young people wouldn’t be sentenced to formerly “adult diseases” like type II diabetes, gout and heart disease.

Nutrition is one of the easiest things to modify to bring about remarkable health benefits. I began noticing in my own diet how certain foods made me feel better than others. When I sought to deepen my knowledge in this area, I learned that most academic dietitian programs are closely tied to the USDA’s (U.S. Department of Agriculture) nutrition standards. When these standards were updated in December 2010 – they told us to “eat less,” without giving a clear picture of what to eat and what to avoid. The USDA has a dual role – it is responsible for promoting U.S. agriculture and setting U.S. nutrition guidelines. Unfortunately for us consumers, the USDA does a much better job of the former, leaving the public with lots of nutritional questions and contradictions.

In trying to find an independent source on nutrition knowledge, I found the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I completed a year-long program in 2009 and became a certified health coach recognized by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

I now work with individuals investigating how they are nourished – not only by food but by the circumstances of their lives. As I watch people incorporate new practices and healthier choices, I am seeing some remarkable changes including, weight loss, more energy, better sleep and a surge of creativity around making life choices. Mostly I encourage people to follow their hearts in everything they do and to create a life full of the sustenance that truly makes their heart sing!

If you are looking for support in feeling better, truly following your bliss, or if you just want to cut down on medical expenses through making better everyday choices, you may want to talk with me about scheduling a health history consultation. And if you are thinking of a career change – talk to me to learn more about the Institute for Integrative Nutrition training program.

Given the financial challenges many people are still experiencing as well as the current stresses endured by Mother Earth, below you will find seven ideas for greening the earth while adding some greenbacks to your wallet Consider incorporating at least one of the following practices into your new year.

1-    Eat the foods that keep your body fit: Most health conscious and/or weight-loss diets advise you to eat your vegetables, to cut out fatty red meat and to avoid processed foods. Incorporating these three suggestions in your diet can help you to save money while easing some of Earth’s burden. Vegetables and grains are the least amount of energy for production, while meat production often involves a number of inputs and processes that a 2007 UN Food and Agriculture Organization study has linked to global warming. Processed and packaged snack food and packaged prepared  meals are popular for people with little time to cook, but they tend to cost more – for the planet, your body and your wallet. Packaging in all shapes and sizes (plastics, paper, aluminum, Styrofoam, foil etc.) is taking up a lot of real estate in landfills throughout the United States. Processed foods take their toll on your health as they can be much harder to digest, and processed foods are often more expensive when all the costs hidden by subsidies and health risks are added up. Consider reducing your intake of highly processed foods by replacing them with whole foods purchased in bulk – especially fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and dried fruit.

2-    Walk if you’re going less than one mile or bike for slightly longer trips: This simple action will reduce your spending on fuel and maintenance for your car and decrease your carbon foot print. An added benefit is that you will be building muscle and melting away unwanted pounds while doing your errands.

3-    Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals: If you make your own cleaning solutions you avoid the standard hazardous chemicals (ammonia, bleach, lye, formaldehyde and alcohol) that are included in most cleaning products. Look through your pantry and pull out some of these eco- friendly and less harmful cleaning products (baking soda, Borax, Castile soap, white vinegar, lemon juice). Learn more about using these here

4-    Use reusable bags when shopping: Over 50,000 bags are used every 5 seconds in the U.S. For a visual on this, click on this image put together by artist Chris Jordan in his exhibition “Running the Numbers.” Using your own bag lightens up the plastic load in city dumps. Reusable shopping bags are available at many grocery stores. In Washington, DC and in other cities around the country laws have been established to charge an extra fee (about 5 cents) for each plastic grocery bag you use. Every little bit adds up – so if you consider how many bags you bring home between shopping and picking up a sandwich here and a bottle of wine there, you could be saving about $40 – $50 a year by using your own. Try it – you will find that it does not take long to make it a habit that sticks.

5-    Cut back on paper towels: paper towels are a bottomless pit of expenses especially if you are reaching for one every time you clean your hands while cooking or eating, when you wipe up spills, clean your windows, counters and appliances, scrub the bathroom, etc. Why not make the switch this year to using a few old cloth rags for spills, cleaning and messes, and fabric napkins at the table. The advantage is that cloth versions can be washed and reused. You will save money and help to cut down on the 3,000 tons of paper towels that end up landfills every day.

6-    Eliminate Phantom power: You could cut your energy bill by as much as 10 percent over the course of the year simply by eliminating power leaks throughout your home. Unplug the charger for your cell phone, i-pad, mp3 player, etc. You can also invest in chargers that stop drawing current when the device’s battery is fully charged. Put those goods that are always on like your television, DVD player or stereo on a power strip to turn off all your appliances at once, or on a timer so that they automatically shut off overnight.

7-    Responsibly recycle e-waste: did you get a new electronic gadget for Christmas, or have you recently upgraded your cell phone? Do you have a stash of old gadgets, chargers, etc? Most people feel paralyzed because they don’t know what to do with all this electronic stuff so they stash it in a drawer. Especially after hearing that some enterprises that say they’ll recycle these gadgets for free end up shipping them to foreign countries where often women and children are not given protective gear while using dangerous chemicals and processes to extract microchips, gold and other recyclable materials from them. If what you want to recycle is relatively new, an option is to donate them to a reputable reuse organization, like the National Cristina Foundation or World Computer Exchange. They will match donated computers to charities and agencies, or send requested working items to educational institutions in developing countries.

I know that I could go on and on about healthy foods and the ways in which the industrial food system does not contribute to the health and economic welfare of people and communities. But today I want you all to hear it from someone else. Please listen to words of this 11 year old who wants to grow up to be an organic farmer rather than a professional football player.

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 http://www.localharvest.org/ 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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