Picture
Candy Belsse's 5th Grade Class - Truckee Elementary
It might be a little corny, but Whitney Houston pretty much hit it spot on, "Children are our future!" And in keeping with the kids theme of the past few weeks, I wanted to share some pictures from two, recent, kid-driven harvests at the Truckee Community Farm.

Last Friday, twenty-five 5th graders from Truckee Elementary came out to the Growing Dome and in the matter of one hour harvested, weighed, washed and packed 16lbs of greens and rooted vegetables. About 8lbs will be used to make a soup for a cafeteria meal. But the kids got a special surprise for the weekend when they learned they would each be taking home a bag of lettuce greens to share with their families.

Three weeks before that, students from Tahoe Expeditionary Academy in Kings Beach came to do a harvest helping us prepare a food donation for Project Mana, our local hunger relief agency. Not only did the kids harvest 8lbs of veggies but they got to deliver the food to Project Mana taking their field trip to a whole other dimension and demonstrating the connection we all share with food. Check out the video and photo gallery below.

 
Picture
I just received my California Voter Information Guide. It is a tremendous resource outlining candidate platforms and arguments for and against different ballot propositions. I lean on it heavily when wanting to make an informed decision at the polls. But should I? I've been following Proposition 37 for months. It advocates to have genetically modified foods labeled. I know what's at stake with a yes/no vote. In reading the voter guide, however, a less informed voter could easily be swayed or confused. It makes me wonder..."Which way does my vote swing on issues for which I'm less educated and rely on this document. Hhm?

With National Food Day On Wednesday, October 24th...it seemed like a good time to step on the soapbox and clarify what I see as the shades of gray in the voter's guide and its review of Proposition 37.

YES on Proposition 37 gives consumers the "Right To Know" what's in their food. It's not a fluffy statute. It's been proposed for a reason...because BIG Ag doesn't want us to know what is in our food. 90% of all corn & soybeans are genetically engineered crops (GE) and close to 70% of all foods in the grocery store contain GE ingredients. By keeping consumers in the dark, it promotes a climate of "don't ask don't tell." If we don't know, or the facts are withheld, its like its not true and we can continue to live in our disconnected food bubble and consume what we want thinking it is fine. It's not enough to tell people that GMO's  (genetically modified organisms) basically dominate the grocery stores shelves thinking that they will avoid these foods if they know how ubiquitous they are. A label gives the consumer knowledge, As we know, "knowledge is power." Consumers who starting asking questions pose a threat to our food industrial complex which will prompt real change to our broken food system and how food is produced and distributed.

Labeling GMO's takes the nutrition label one step further. It informs the eater in this bio-technical age which foods have been genetically engineered to withstand ginormous loads of synthetic pesticides. When food is scientifically modified in a petri dish, it changes its chemical make-up which is foreign to our gastrointestinal system and the way our body knows to digest food.

Opponents of Prop 37 claim that more than 400 scientific studies have shown that GE ingredients are safe for consumption. What they don't tell you is...those studies were performed by the manufacturers themselves, i.e. Monsanto, Cargill, etc. Federal law does not require the regulation of GE Foods and 3rd party research. As a result, 3rd party researchers are not given access to the GE Foods because the manufacturers are not obligated to by the USDA. Despite these barriers, organizations like American Academy of Environmental Medicine have been able to perform some tests on GMO's which demonstrate reproductive problems, intestinal issues, links to autism, as well as disruption in our immune system.

Opponents of Proposition 37 take issue with...

1. Dairy, meat, alcohol and foreign foods being exempt.





2. The cost associated with a GMO label, i.e. higher food prices from new labels and more expensive ingredients as well as fining those producers who fail to comply.







3. The economic impact on family farmers and food companies. 




4. The deception that a GMO label represents.
My response in favor of Proposition 37...

1. It seems they would be okay with this but if not, I say...we have to start somewhere. Better we use a phased implementation plan than try and take on the whole system all at once. Livestock may eat GMO corn and soybut they themselves are not genetically engineered. thank goodness.

2. Food companies regularly reprint labels so the price hike won't come there. And companies will have a reasonable grace period to find substitute ingredients before being fined. But yes, food prices may increase as Big Ag moves towards more sustainable farming methods to avoid the GMO label. It is a reminder that food is not cheap and to treat the earth, our bodies and the farmer fairly, we need to pay a little more for our food and less for our cars, clothes and electronics. We need re-prioritize!

3. It's not small farms that will be affected. It will be mega farms under the grip of Monsanto who will be affected. And hopefully, the label will pressure Monsanto to adjust their business model and help their farmers transition to more ecological growing practices.

5. Opponents don't elaborate on what is exactly deceptive but what is deceptive is what Big Ag doesn't want their consumers to know.  A YES vote will require that GMO foods remove words like "natural" from their packaging. If those are the words they've chosen up till now, who's calling who deceptive?
In closing, something I found really interesting in reading the voter's guide is who are the contributors to the argument for and rebuttal against. Those "for" are focused on health, food safety and small farms. Those "against" are biotech, science and organizations well funded by Big Ag.
NO on Proposition 37:
1. Farm Bureau Federation
2. Biotech Office of Food & Drug Administration
3. California Taxpayer Protection Committee
4. National Academy of Sciences
5. California Small Business Association
6. California Family Farmer
YES on Proposition 37
1. Center for Food Safety
2. Pediatrician
3. Pesticide Action Network
4. Consumer Watchdog
5. Small berry farmer
Oh, one last fun fact...40 other nations around the world enforce a GMO label. Food for thought!
 
Picture
When I heard Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma) speak last October in Cleveland on National Food Day, he made an interesting statement...that a sea change in the agricultural system may be driven by an unlikely allie, the health care industry. What he was getting at was...medical insurance companies would eventually refuse to flip the bill for all the food related disease (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.) and force a change in how food is produced so it heals, not hurts.

That same month, The Nation had a feature article about our food economy. Michael was quoted as saying, "As soon as the health care industry begins to focus on the fact that the government is subsidizing precisely the sort of meal for which the industry (and the government) will have to pick up the long-term tab, eloquent advocates of food system reform will suddenly appear in the unlikeliest places—like the agriculture committees of Congress."

Now there is another way that the medical profession could shift our food system away from an emphasis on price and convenience to an emphasis on health and sustainability! Dr. Lenard Lesser of Palo Alto Medical Foundation and colleagues, Deborah Cohen, MD; and Robert Brook, MD,  just published an article in the Journal of American Medical Association entitled "Changing Eating Habits for the Medical Profession." The premise for the article was based on a recent recommendation by the Institute of Medicine which stated that health care professionals should act "as role models for their patients and provide leadership for obesity prevention efforts in their communities by advocating for institutional community, and state-level strategies that can improve physical activity and nutrition resources for their patients and their communities."

Dr. Lesser points out one small problem with this theory...physicians are often overweight themselves. He referenced a 2004 report by the Physicians Health Study that found 44% of physicians were overweight or obese. But if we get hospitals serving healthier foods, not only will it advocate for a more holistic approach to health care that is patient-centered vs.just treatment-centered, but physicians will find it easier to practice what they preach because the foods being served will focus on consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and away from processed foods high in bad fats in high-fructose corn syrup.

The article draws a parallel to the impact that the health care industry had in initiating the tobacco ban movement of the 1960's. It started with the surgeon generals report warning against the health dangers of smoking. That was the impetus for banning smoking in hospitals. Fast-forward to 2012 and smoking is banned in pretty much ever public place. Dr. Lesser suggests using a similar policy progression to "ignite a movement to improve the food environment."

This idea has merit and legs...Dr. Lesser and his colleagues suggest starting with meals at medical conferences which replace high caloric lunches with healthier options. From there, hospitals could require that food service only purchase foods which meet a certified healthy criteria. Hospitals represent a critical mass strong enough that vendors would need to respond to this high demand. That high demand by institutions would have a ripple effect and require Big Ag to respond as well.

Just as the tobacco movement gained traction by placing its roots in the health care industry, the food movement could do the same and before we know it, healthy food would be as ubiquitous as no-smoking signs!

One of my freelance contracts is managing the philanthropic program, Gardens to Hospitals. Dr. Lenard Lesser is largely responsible for its creation. In 2010, he published a report which found that only 7% of meals in California children hospitals were healthy. Gardens to Hospitals hopes to increase that percentage by helping hospitals install edible gardens. Not only will hospitals be leading by example but growing food which will help their patients lead healthier lives!

 
Picture
I love NPR! I work from home so all the reporters and anchors are like my co-workers...Renee Montagne, Neal Conan, Kai Ryssdal, Melissa Block, Chris Simmons, etc. But yesterday on Morning edition, hosts, David Green and Steve Inskeep, really disappointed me with their one-dimensional interview about organic food...

Equally respected NPR correspondents, Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles, were there to talk about the nutritional value of organic food, or the lack there of. Even if it is true, which I don't believe it is, why even fill the airwaves with fodder for the opposition to say, "See, we told you so." Especially, when there are studies that show organic food really does have a higher nutritional value than conventional like the one released by Organic Farming Research Foundation this past August entitled "Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity." And if these counterpoint studies do exist, proper editorial would compare both not just present one side of the story.

But that's not what irks me! It's the other half of the story, the most important part of the story, that they marginalize...eating sustainably grown food is really more about the ecological benefits than the nutritional benefits. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides kill the soil food web disabling its biological functions to provide food to plants, store carbon and retain water. 70% of the chemicals used on crops aren't even absorbed by the plant. They run-off contaminating ground water  and contributing to the oceans' dead zones which increases the effects of global warming. Bottom Line...choosing organics goes way deeper than nutrition. it is an ethical and lifestyle choice.

Picture
Even if you are not worried about pesticides on your family's health, there is no denying the detrimental effects these poisons have on the soil, air, water and farm workers! Yes, farm workers! If farm workers can get sick and even die from over exposure to these nasties, then it can't be that much better by the time it gets to my dinner plate.

Allison and Dan do mention the environmental upside to organics but by that point in the interview, all that people are thinking is..."Did I just spend too much at the grocery store today on organics?"

When the news dumbs-down the story and doesn't provide the full picture, we stop thinking critically. If the news doesn't present both sides equally then we only hear what they want us to hear..."organic food is not any more nutritious than conventional."

Alison and Dan did not linger on the environmental attributes which would have helped bring people around. And David and Steve did not bother to challenge them. The inclusion of organics' redeeming qualities was on the downside of the story and was mentioned as an after thought. Are they shortsighted, or just too busy reporting the facts than to really take beef with this bologna study?

Under-reporting is a problem in many parts of the news...people will talk about offshore oil reserves, the abundance of domestic coal and natural gas as a cleaner fuel. If the situation was that cut-and-dry then yes, let's get after that energy independence. But the ugly truth is in the extraction process of those fossil fuels and their degrading impacts on the land, the ocean wilderness and the neighboring communities. Like food, it is not just about the end product, it is about the means to get there and the toll it takes on the environment and people. We need to think holistically when considering these options. And the news needs to present it in such a way so people can make an educated opinion based on this holistic picture.

Farming ecologically is about taking care of the land so it can feed the next generation and the many generations after that. It is about treating livestock humanely and allowing them their innate right to interact with the land and work together to build a healthy agro-ecosystem. Sustainable farming practices are focused on the long-term whereas conventional is focused on the short-term. To feed the world, we need to start thinking long-term!

I started writing this post yesterday and already, the news wire is filled with angst against this study. I opened my home page just a little while ago and Grist.org had their review of the study front and center! Even if NPR, can't see past the end of their nose on this one, their media allies will get their back and help bring them along. Don't worry NPR, I still love you!

 
Picture
The Veg-heads Game: The blueberry, mushroom, cucumber, carrot and tomato
When talking to kids about fruits and veggies, you have to speak their language. Dressing up and  playing with silly props are always a good way to communicate a message but the activity is only as valuable as the impression it leaves on the child and the lessons they take home.

On Wednesday, July 11th...I traveled to Whole Foods Market in Folsom, CA to lead a kid's camp. The objective...teach kids about the nutritional value of their fruits and vegetables. If I went in spouting words like beta-carotene and antioxidants, I would have been met with blank stares. I needed something funny, hands-on, interactive and involved group participation.

The event was sponsored by Lisa's Organics and a promo event for their Gardens-to-Hospitals program. Lisa's Organics produces frozen, organic vegetables and their slogan is "Eat Your Veggies." Gardens-to-Hospitals' (G2H) parallel slogan is "Eat Your Colors!"

I start off asking the kids, "What are are your favorite colors to eat?" They quickly catch-on and start shouting out, "strawberries, snap peas, watermelon, pineapple, etc.." I explain that a colorful plate gives us a plateful of vitamins and minerals from different fruits and veggies.

Picture
I ask for five volunteers to represent the five color groups: red, yellow/orange, green, blue/purple and white/brown. Hands go up! I select the first five promising that everyone will get a turn to participate. I pull out some simple, homemade costumes...colored, felt tunics with matching trucker hats that have a corresponding vegetable for each color group. I slip the tunic over their head and place the hat on their head. Giggles break out! The kids look as silly as I hoped they would. The make-shift costumes get them using their imagination like they would when playing at home and absent a stylie blueberry, mushroom, cucumber, carrot or tomato costume.

The audience members (the other children) take turns pulling a FRESH fruit or vegetable from a basket. Holding the vegetable, they are asked to identify the color and place it in the basket in front of the appropriate child/vegetable. As the items get selected, I get ready with my props...

Beets get pulled from the basket and is determined to be purplish. I say, "beets have magnesium which is good for muscles." I give the blue/purple child, water wings to represent BIG muscles. Laughter erupts!

A carrot gets selected! I follow-up, "carrots have stuff to keep our eyes healthy," and I give the yellow/orange kiddo some over-sized glasses.

Next, snap peas :) I tell the children, "Green veggies have fiber. Fiber keeps things moving through our bodies so stuff doesn't get stuck," and I hand the child a plunger.

Mushrooms get chosen! "Mushrooms have things to help clean our system and flush out the bad toxins. It's like an internal toilet brush." The child smirks as handed a toilet brush to hold.

The tomato child gets a tomato placed in their basket. I explain, "tomatoes have stuff to fight cancer. It's like having boxing gloves to ward off disease." The children laugh as oven mitts get slipped on the tomato kid.

By the end, the human fruits & veggies are holding and wearing a variety of props sometimes struggling to keep it all in balance. I ask the audience, "As you can see, we need all these colors to gives us what we need to stay healthy. You just can't eat the same thing everyday and hope to get everything you need to grow big and strong."

I ask, "How can we eat more fruits and veggies?" We talk about making fruit smoothies and juices. We have fun brainstorming the different pizzas, soups, and sandwiches we could make to get as many colors as we need each day. I encourage the kids to get their parents to take them to a farmers' market, perhaps start a garden, find some recipes they can make and basically get more involved in the foods they are being fed so they can have more fun.