Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Farm Bill info

A little web trawling revealed these sites as good sources of Farm Bill information.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The US Senate Ag Committee

A Farm Bill primer for communities - from a health perspective

While hopping from site to site, I also learned that Oxfam America is launching a video on hunger related policies tomorrow, April 12.

Oops. I forgot to post April's FOTM

The food of the month for April at Trinity Church is LOW SUGAR CANNED FRUIT.
If you follow such things, and I tend to, you know that children, teens and adults don’t get enough fruits and vegetables.   One study reports that 88% of teens don’t get the recommended amounts of fruit, another that 25% of teens don’t eat fruit daily - meaning there are days when they don’t eat any.   Adults, I’ve learned, over estimate the number of servings of fruit and vegetables they consume.
Educators work to change these habits, but there are many reasons why we don’t eat enough fruit.
One is accessibility.   Fortunately our local schools are working hard to offer healthful food to their students.   But for many families struggling to make ends meet, fruit is an “optional” on the grocery list.   Food dollars go first to things that fill the hole, stick to your ribs - and do it cheaply.
There’s some fruit in season most every month of the year in California, but if, in the interests of health and a healthy environment, you favor local and seasonal produce, this is a challenging time of year. Citrus is on the wane and local strawberries haven’t come in yet.   Stone fruit is months away, apples and pears even longer.
It’s a time of year when I am happy for the applesauce and apricots I put up last summer, and for the abundance of California dried fruit.  For our neighbors whose cupboards are bare, it’s a good time for us to donate some canned fruit.
Not all canned fruit is created equal.   Do look for no added sugar (in applesauce, for example) or canned in juice.    
Wouldn’t it be great if we all had access to - and ate - our 2-3 servings of seasonal, local, healthful fruit every day?

Junk for junk?

I really do think the BBC Food Programme is about the best of the food podcasts.  I particularly enjoyed a recent episode on "free from" foods which presented what I found to be a balanced approach to food allergies and intolerances and the food industry's response.

Some of the things I noted:
There is a difference between allergy and intolerance.  I recall trying to explain to someone years back the difference between a dairy allergy and lactose intolerance, but the distinction applies to many more foods - not just milk and wheat.

There's a lot of self-diagnosis, often because GPs are ignorant of dietary issues - but that doesn't mean that self-diagnosis is always correct or helpful.

There are many reasons for increases in food allergies and intolerances.   With globalization of the food supply and the migration and mobility of people, most of us eat a much greater variety of foods that our parents and grandparents did, and source our diets from greater distances.  Our environments are too clean, and at the same time filled with 10s of thousands of human made chemicals.   Some food additives have introduced populations to ingredients from foods with high incidences of sensitivity - like protein from lupines.

And what about the anti-gluten mania?   The percentage of folks with celiac disease remains constant, but gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be increasing simply because there is more of it our diets.   When I was a child, for example, spaghetti or macaroni and cheese was an occasional food.   Now many people eat pasta several times a week or more.   The wheats used to make industrial bread are higher in gluten.   And wheat is just more common in our diets.   We know that with global urbanization portable foods where bread is central - the sandwich and its variants - are ubiquitous.

The "free from" foods in our markets are, for the most part, highly processed foods.   I'm not talking about the silliness of labeling foods like olive oil "gluten free".   I'm talking about the gluten free cookies, "breaded" frozen foods, alternative milks with a long string of ingredients, etc.  So a question that remains is are we substituting one highly processed food for another, rather than getting back to simpler, whole foods, or home prepared alternatives?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The animal that cooks its food, continued

Two and a half years ago I posted an item about Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire,  which I had read in summary in my alumni/ae magazine.   Since then I read the book, and then asked some anthropologist friends what they thought of it.  Not accepted science, were the responses.  Hypothesis, not theory.   The early use of fire and the selection pressure on human evolution exerted by cooking our food and related behaviors - over the last 100,000 years or more - is questioned by most.

But within the last week both PRI's The World
and the BBC website
have carried stories on an article just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   Evidence indicates the human (Genus Homo) use of fire, deep in cave (so not an accidental blow in of embers), including charred animal bones among the ashes, a million years ago. The cave is in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, and an international group of archaeologists did the work.  

While these findings push the use of fire back about 300,000 years, and make Wrangham's hypothesis a bit more likely to be verified, they really don't prove it.   Too bad -  I really do want to think that cooking our food has been a major influence on who we are as a species, biologically and not just culturally.  

Well - they thought the continental drifters were crack pots at first, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How it all began

Well, maybe not the beginning, but early evidence of the corruption of indigenous peoples' diets.  Sarah Vowell notes in The Wordy Shipmates that back in the 1637, when the Massachusetts Bay folks were aligning with the Narragansett against the Pequot, Roger Williams (banished to Providence and acting as go between) writes to Boston that Canonicus, Narragansett sachem, would "gladly accept a box of eight or ten pounds of sugar" to seal the alliance.

A tale of the human sweet tooth, and the trail that leads to today's high rates of diet related disease among America's first peoples.