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Archive for April, 2011

Slaughterhouses have been declining in the Bay Area and around the country, according to the recent New York Times article  Slaughterhouse Shortage Stunting Area’s Eat-Local Movement. This is, the article explains, both an effect and a cause of the national transition from small, sustainable producers of meat to large ones.

Here in Washington State, with the recent closure of Thundering Hooves (whose owners are restarting and restructuring their business, now called Blue Valley Meats), and with the growing interest in grass-fed meat, it seems we need to think about what it takes to help small- and mid-sized producers succeed. Apparently, one of the barriers is access to a nearby slaughterhouse/processing facility.

One local producer of sustainable meat and dairy is working on an answer. Sea Breeze Farm is looking to buy Thundering Hooves’s old processing equipment and open a processing facility on Vashon Island, available for use by other local meat producers. It’s an expensive undertaking, in the tens of thousands of dollars, but not so expensive as it would be without the opportunity from Thundering Hooves. Sea Breeze is raising funds from supporters to accomplish this goal.

If you’d like to invest in our region’s food sovereignty and ability to support local producers of sustainable, nutritious meat, consider donating to this project. Contact information is at the Sea Breeze Farm website. You can also talk to them at the U-District or Ballard farmers markets this weekend.

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You may have recently seen this graphic depicting general changes in American caloric intake from 1970 to 2005. Take a look if you haven’t. The graphic is very nice visually, but while it accurately portrays USDA data, it’s also inadvertently misleading. USDA’s own categories (shown in the graphic) are very broad and general, but the USDA dataset also includes a more detailed page for each of the categories. And it’s in those details that the trends and changes in the American diet really start to become apparent.

The infographic suggests that fats, with some contributions from grains, sugars, and meats, have accounted for the largest share of extra calories in our diet. But in the details, a few things stand out: First, the fat increase (no surprise here) does not reflect any increase in traditionally-demonized saturated/animal fats, but in vegetable oils and shortening. While the infographic shows a modest increase in sugars (50ish calories), the detailed data reveal a sizable rise in corn-based sweeteners. As for meats, the increase is largely attributable to a rise in poultry consumption, not in often-demonized red meat. These details matter, because the years 1970-present (especially starting in the mid-80s) are also the years obesity in this country has increased dramatically, and too many people still blame the wrong parts of our diet.

I’ve created a slightly-more-rudimentary set of graphics depicting the data from 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005 with key details. They’re busier than I’d like, and bar graphs, which I’ve used in the past, show these data better, but I wanted the shapes to correspond to the original graphic, with more detail added. Keep an eye on which sweeteners and fats increase during this period, and which do not. Also, note that much of the dietary increase can be traced back to grains: grains themselves, grain/seed oils, corn sugars and even (although not depicted here) grain-fed meat. Mmm, corn.

(Caveats: the USDA data are not perfect. Some of the fluctuations year-to-year may reflect changes in data collection methods, and the data are themselves somewhat estimated. Also, these are population-level data, which limits the conclusions we can draw about individual health. However, the increase in certain ingredients is of such a scale that it is absolutely worthy of our attention.)

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Average daily per capita calories from the U.S. food availability, adjusted for spoilage and other waste

Images are original and may be shared freely with attribution. Data source: USDA/Economic Research Service. Data last updated March 15, 2008. Image inspiration from the infographic cited above; please cite that too if sharing.


If you want the original jpegs of these images, send me an email. WordPress resizes these for the post, but the originals make it a bit clearer that the whole-diet circle is also growing. Although, to be fair, I don’t think the general increase in calories in our diet is what matters. Eating more can actually be an effect, and not just a cause, of obesity, as hormones like leptin, which should normally help the body regulate weight and appetite, cease to function properly. Plenty of cultures have thrived on high-calorie, high-fat diets. I’m more interested in what calories we’re eating than how many.


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It’s barely April, but I’m getting excited about October. The reason? An event called Food Day, scheduled for October 24th.

It’s being billed as an Earth Day for food, an opportunity to galvanize people from all parts of the food movement and engage new people. The event will include simultaneous activities in cities across the U.S. Organized by local communities, the events will highlight sustainable agriculture, nutrition, access to healthy and delicious food, and strategies to counter the marketing of detrimental junk foods. The focus is broad, ranging from recipe to policy.

That broad focus is part of why I’m excited. Most people working in the food and nutrition movement focus on one––or maybe two––of the core areas: nutrition (healthful or detrimental foods, sustainability, taste/recipes, or access. But, as I’ve often said, these should not be separate categories. Nutritious food is sustainable food, the biggest example of this being that the animals raised on pasture (sustainability) produce not just delicious foods, but fats and vitamins essential to human health. Access to these foods should be a right, not a privilege. When affordable food access is limited, junk food fills a gap.

This event is designed to emphasize that overlap and, ideally, to promote information-sharing between people who specialize in one or two of the aforementioned areas, but not all. It’s also a chance to ask our policymakers for specific changes, to educate and learn from our community, and to share some seriously tasty, local, sustainable eats.

To that end, Seattle: Start thinking about what kinds of events we can do here. The campaign is literally just being launched today, so there is a lot of time to plan. Considering that our mayor is on the event’s advisory council (the only mayor so far, I believe), considering all the people active in various parts of the food movement here, and considering all the delicious, fresh food that’s going to be available in October, I’m pretty sure Seattle can come up with something good.

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The following is the press release for this event.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Many of the most prominent voices for change in the food movement and a growing number of health, hunger, and sustainable agriculture groups today announced plans for Food Day—nationwide campaign to change the way Americans eat and think about food. Organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day will bring people together from across the country to participate in activities and events that encourage Americans to “eat real” and support healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable, humane way.

Food Day will be observed on Monday, October 24, 2011 and will likely include a series of marquee events in Washington, New York City, San Francisco, and other major cities, and thousands of smaller events around the country.

“Food Day is designed to further knowledge, understanding and dialogue about critical topics in food, agriculture and nutrition—spanning the food chain from farm families to family tables,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and an honorary co-chair of Food Day.  “The many activities and events spurred by Food Day will help foster a robust dialogue on how to promote better nutrition and health, lessen hunger and increase access to food, enhance opportunities for farm families and rural communities and conserve natural resources.  There are differing ideas and perspectives on these issues and surely we all benefit from discussions about the connections among food, farms, and health.”

Modeled on Earth Day, organizers hope Food Day will inspire Americans to hold thousands of events in schools, college campuses, houses of worship, and even in private homes aimed at fixing America’s food system.  A Food Day event could be as small as a parent organizing a vegetable identification contest to a kindergarten class—or as massive as a rally in a city park, with entertainment and healthy food.  Health departments, city councils, and other policymakers could use Food Day to launch campaigns, hold hearings, or otherwise address communities’ food problems.

The campaign hopes to agitate for progress on five central goals:

  • Reducing diet-related disease by promoting healthy foods
  • Supporting sustainable farms & stopping subsidizing agribusiness
  • Expanding access to food and alleviating hunger
  • Reforming factory farms to protect animals and the environment, and
  • Curbing junk-food marketing to kids

“In planning for Food Day, we’ve begun to bring together a lot of people with common interests in food issues, but who otherwise haven’t worked all that closely together,” said Michael F. Jacobson, who founded CSPI 40 years ago. “So whether your primary concern is human health, farm policy, or the quality of life in rural America, Food Day can be an opportunity to organize people together to solve local and national problems.”

Besides Jacobson, Food Day is led by honorary co-chairs Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and an advisory board that includes author Michael Pollan; prominent physicians including Caldwell Esselstyn, Michael Roizen, and David Satcher; nutrition authorities Walter Willett, Kelly Brownell, and Marion Nestle; public health expert Georges Benjamin; and chefs Nora Pouillon, Dan Barber, and Alice Waters.

National organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Public Health Association, the Community Food Security Coalition, Earth Day Network, the Farmers Market Coalition, the Humane Society, the National Sustainable Agriculture Association, the Prevention Institute, Slow Food USA, and many city- and state-level organizations are planning on organizing or participating in Food Day events.

“Food Day is an opportunity to celebrate real food and the movement rising to reform the American food system,” Pollan said.

Eventually, FoodDay.org will let people type in their zip codes to find Food Day events near them—or to invite people to Food Day events of their own making.

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New hot-flash-pasteurization device allows infants to suckle without alleged risk

[Edited to add: Now that the date has passed, and most of you have figured it out anyway, I'll clarify that this was an April Fools' Day piece. Enjoy! -DG]

Readers –– I’m in Washington, DC this week, reporting the latest news from our nation’s capital.

WASHINGTON, 4.1.11. The Food and Drug Administration, long a critic of unpasteurized dairy, announced new restrictions today on a previously-unregulated form of sustenance: mother’s milk. The new rules, which require breast milk to be raised to a temperature of 161 °F (71.7 °C) and then cooled, will go into effect immediately. Women caught breastfeeding infants without first pasteurizing their milk will be subject to fines and, if found in continual violation, liquidation of their assets.

“It came to our attention that individuals were suckling directly from an unbleached nipple,” said FDA spokesman Arthur Steenow. “When we looked at data for the U.S. population as a whole, we realized there was a strong correlation between this intake of unpasteurized mother’s milk and other alarming symptoms, most notably emotional irritability, crying, incontinence, weak limbs, and even a lack of articulate, verbal communication. It became apparent that we needed to move forward with bold action steps immediately.”

While the battle over unpasteurized (also known as “raw”) milk has raged in bovine, caprine and even ovine territories, the inclusion of human milk in the conflict is new.

The exact origin of concerns over unpasteurized breast milk remains unclear. However, multiple sources cite a response to a common lament among breastfeeding women: sore, raw nipples. The FDA, these sources state, began investigating complaints about raw nipples in late 2008, when it stumbled upon the data mentioned by Steenow. After realizing hospitals had received multiple complaints about the raw nipples, the FDA decided to step in and nip the situation in the bud.

However, the agency isn’t planning to leave mothers and infants high and dry. In conjunction with Johnson & Johnson, the FDA is issuing a new product that will allow mothers to pasteurize the milk as it flows directly from the mother’s breast to the infant’s mouth. Known as Hot Mama, the device uses a technique called hot-flash-pasteurization to heat the milk quickly and cool it to a reasonable temperature. The plastic contraption will be available for $29.99 from local drugstores.

But some people aren’t exactly pumped about the news. Raw milk enthusiasts and breastfeeding advocates around the country delivered thousands of signatures to the FDA, objecting to the regulations, and accusing the agency of milking the situation to its own advantage. Many local-food advocates were simply confused.

The FDA is nonplussed. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, seemed less than empathetic to the public’s concerns. When asked what infants and mothers should do if they object to the new regulations, he shrugged. “It’s the law now,” he said. “Suck it up.”

For more information about the situation, please read the original press release.

Tomorrow: Used-car dealer on Aurora Ave North begins selling the Pacific Northwest’s first local lemons!

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