Category Archives: food-health connection

Some progress on shrinking Chicago’s food desert

food desert pic

where's the food?

Here’s a recent article on some surprising developments in Chicago inter-urban areas that have gone decades without ready access to fresh, healthy food. These are referred to as “food deserts,” and most large cities contain such areas. The report on Chicago is encouraging, and there seems to be a lot of activity going on in this area. I have recently become involved in helping start an urban farm for a newly emerging Montessori school in a South Chicago suburb . This self-sustaining farm will feed the kids high-quality, fresh food, but also be used as an outside classroom and laboratory.

Ideas such as this can help break the generations-long cycle of lousy eating habits and food ignorance prevalent in the inner city.


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New info on polyphenols

stress inducer

Polyphenols are a group of secondary metabolites produced by plants. Many also have health benefits for humans. In short, they are commonly considered antioxidants, but new research is revealing more detail on how these compounds work. This blog — Whole Health Source — by Stephan Guyenet is really interesting. The latest enty [HERE] is a well documented explanation of how some polyphenols don’t necessarily prevent oxidation in cells, but promote it at low levels, such that it stimulates the cells own antioxident response. His explanation is much better than mine.

The interesting thing is that some organically grown crops have been shown to contain higher levels of some polyphenols. Plants produce these compounds as a self defense mechanism against stresses caused by insects or other damage. Because organically grown crops are subject to higher levels of stress, they produce higher levels of polyphenols, and can therefor be healthier for humans.

For more info, go HERE. Dr. Alyson Mitchel (UC Davis) has done some fantastic research in this area.

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Filed under food-health connection, natural, organic, organic research

Raising questions about raising beef

happy cows in a happy field

Ever since Frances Moore Lappe authored Diet for a Small Planet back in 1971, some folks have been down on beef. The premise of that early work was that the solution to feeding everyone was to eliminate one of the foods that people love most — beef. It’s a compelling argument for vegetarians. The amount of land it takes to produce a steak is orders of magnitude larger than what it takes to produce the equivalent number of calories of edible vegetables. In addition to the efficiency argument, there was the health issue. In 1971 it was clear — fat is evil, especially animal fat, therefor, beef is the devil’s food. It’s killing us and taking up too much space.

Raising cows in CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations — provided beef production with the illusion of increased efficiency; more cows crammed into much smaller area. Problem solved until you look at how much space it takes to grow the corn to feed wall-to-wall cattle. Not to mention the other side effects of grain-fed beef — health and environmental. Forty years down the path we also now know that not all fat is bad. The fat from grass-fed animals might actually be good for us. So now the swing is back to raising animals on pasture. For this I am glad because I like meat. I’m not ready to be a vegetarian yet, and grass-fed makes me feel a lot better about it.

The result is that we’ve circled  back on a version of the original question — is animal production bad for the planet? If so, which is worse, grass-fed or grain-fed animal protein? According to Brian Palmer in the Washington Post this week, we really don’t know. He peruses some of the recent research on both sides and concludes there’s no clear answer.

From a strictly environmental perspective the answer is obvious — grass-fed wins! On a properly managed grass-based system, the land improves (soil quality, soil conservation, species diversity, water quality, etc.). The animals are healthier, and the system is easily sustained, because it takes a lot fewer external inputs to maintain. And animals such as cows can be raised on land that is of marginal quality, leaving the better land for growing higher yields of crops, including vegetables.

The trade-offs are that it takes longer to raise beef on a pure grass system. Ultimately, that results in a higher price for consumers. But within that higher costs, consumers are paying for environmental protection they are not getting from CAFO-raised beef.

Bottom line: eat grass-fed beef (and hogs and chickens and dairy). Go one better and buy these products directly from a local farmer. Doing so will help keep him/her in business and support the protection of the local environment.

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Filed under animal ag, environment, food, food-health connection, local food, natural

A kid with message

Eleven year old, Birke Baehr, does a great job outlining the problems of our food system…

If you watch it at the TED site, read the comments. Very interesting. It’s a great microcosm of the big debate going on over food right now. On one side — “We need all these chemicals to feed the world!” On the other side — “We are killing the Earth and the people with our food!”

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Filed under ag education, food, food-health connection, gmos, local food, organic, small farms

AMA starting to figure out food matters

"let your food be your medicine."

The quote above is typically ascribed to Hippocrates, circa 400 B.C.

Change is slow, but a recently released Report 8 of the Council on Science and Public Health, by the American Medical Association comes to some obvious and potentially helpful conclusions…

Healthy diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugars, but they also support environmental sustainability, economic viability, and human dignity and justice. Unhealthy food systems are not sustainable, and contribute to the very health problems the health care system is trying to solve – at extraordinary costs both economically and in terms of quality of life.

[from the Executive Summary, emphasis mine.] And this…

It is essential that health care organizations become both models and advocates of healthy, sustainable food systems that promote wellness and that “first do no harm.

That Hippocrates. He was a smart fella.

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A little piece of organic history: the strange death of J. I. Rodale

"I've decided to live to be 100."

I was reading through the object of my previous post — Historical Development of Organic Agriculture — when I stumbled across an incredible fact I had never heard before.

Anyone with a modicum of interest in organic farming will recognize the name Rodale. There are two Rodales, Jerome and his son Robert. Jerome was a successful businessman who became fascinated with natural farming methods, bought a farm and founded a publishing empire, writing and selling books on the natural life-style and organic farming. So controversial were his books that the Federal Trade Commission ordered him to stop selling them, claiming the advice therein was not consistent with modern medical science. The resulting legal fight went on for 20 years, and put at risk Jerome’s entire estate. By the end of it, doctors who had testified against Rodale at the beginning of the case were denouncing their earlier testimony, because subsequent medical research had proven Rodale’s ideas to be valid.

In 1971, Jerome’s picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Dick Cavett needed another guest for his show that night. They invited Jerome to appear. He did, and during the taping of that show, before a live audience, Jerome I. Rodale had a heart attack, and died.

There’s a wonderful account (if I can use that word) of the event HERE. It’s very interesting…

When I’m doing an appearance somewhere and taking questions from the audience, I can always count on: “Tell about the guy who died on your show!” I generally say, “I will, and I promise you that in a few moments you will be laughing.” (That gets a laugh.) I go on: “First, who would be the logical person to drop dead on a television show? A health expert.” (Laugh.) I go on to explain that he was Jerome I. Rodale, the publisher of (among other things) Today’s Health Magazine. (Laugh.) The irony gets thicker.

Robert Rodale, Jerome’s son took up the work. The Rodale Institute is still thriving and publishing cutting edge research and information on living healthfully and growing things without chemicals. Robert died in 1990 in an automobile accident in Moscow. He was in the Soviet Union to establish a Russian-language edition of The New Farmer.



Filed under ag education, agriculture, food-health connection, natural, organic

Now it’s patriotic to eat organic

Opened a tub of organic yogurt last night and saw this…

It's the american thing to do.

The fine print says the following…

The President’s Cancer Panel recommends reducing cancer risk by choosing foods grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and synthetic growth hormones.

So I went to and read more. A link was provided to the recently (April 2010) released government report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks, What We Can Do Now. It’s 240 pages long, but I did grab this bit from the Executive Summary…

Exposure to Contaminants from Agricultural Sources
The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply. Farmers and their families, including migrant workers, are at highest risk from agricultural exposures. Because agricultural chemicals often are applied as mixtures, it has been difficult to clearly distinguish cancer risks associated with individual agents.

Read the whole report HERE. And eat organic!

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