Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Turn it off and go out and garden.

During the Urban Sprouts summer program with Garden for the Environment we did a great taste test where youth rated various qualities of corn based foods. It was AMAZING to watch their assessment. The highest scoring item out of a selection of fresh steamed corn on the cob, canned corn, corn chips, corn tortillas and a Coca Cola brand soda was...are you ready for this?...fresh corn on the cob. However, one the most fascinating aspects of the rating was that a bottle of Coca Cola brand soda rated the highest of all five for how appealing it appeared. This raised big questions for me. Are kids and youth relating the quality of food to its corporate branding? Are their food preferences in part a fabrication of marketing culture?

Pediatricians at Standford University have asked this very question. Which leads me to the New York Times piece,
If It Says McDonald’s, Then It Must Be Good an article on the findings from this research. Stanford researchers held taste tests with 63 children ages 3-5, kids were served equally prepared food items, including baby carrots. A portion of each item was served in McDonald's branded packaging and in white nonbranded packaging. Results for the carrots showed 54 percent of the kids preferred carrots in branded packaging and 23 percent preferred the unbranded, the remaining 23 percent thought they tasted the same. Another remarkable find of the researchers was that, "the more television sets in the house, the more likely a child was to prefer McDonald’s branded food." The article ends with a great quote from one of the lead pediatricians of the study, Dr. Thomas N. Robinson, 'We often hear that parents are the ones responsible for their kids’ nutrition but in reality there are these other factors, created by a tremendous amount of advertising effort, that undermine parents’ ability to make healthy choices.'

Advertisers may work against parents at times, but then where are kids being exposed to the greatest number of advertisements? Parents and families can do as the champion mother is doing in the Champions for Change campaign and pick up the remote control, turn the television off and garden with their kids to create their own culture and respect for fresh healthy food.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Food Battle!

Our friends over at Free Range Studios just came out with a new movie about the Farm Bill in which an Apple battles a Snack Cake! Watch it here!

Read the "Farm Bill Quick Facts," to learn how the current Farm Bill negatively affects Nutrition, the Environment, Hunger, Justice, and our Tax Dollars!

Or click here to Take Action and tell Congress what you think of the Farm Bill.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Complete Meal Equation

Writer and longtime local food advocate, James E. McWilliams recently provided a counter point to the local food philosophy, in the New York Times op-ed "Food That Travels Well." Spurred by a New Zealand study, McWilliams calls into question whether reducing food miles is better for the environment. We are asked to consider the full equation of the food system, such as planting, fertilization, and harvesting techniques as well as storage, and packaging, when calculating the environmental cost of food production, not just the fossil fuel consumed and emissions from transport.

McWilliams’ demonstrates a grounding point. Holding an extreme position on eating locally can be counter productive to ensuring a sustainable and healthy food culture. McWilliams article promotes an ecological "harm reduction" model. But even with harm reduction, the overall goal to ultimately stop the destructive behavior by making the problem manageable. While it may not be possible to grow local produce for Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert, there are still ways to provide food to the city that can reduce ecological harm.

McWillams' illustrates this point by looking to the example of raising grass fed livestock versus livestock raised on feed, a more costly and damaging practice. It is a valuable point that McWilliams' makes. We need to know where our food is coming from and the practices of the farmers producing our food. We need to be familiar with our communities food system. This is the same message coming from authors such Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. As McWilliams wisely points out, wherever you are, you need to know your geographical advantages. In the San Francisco Bay Area the advantages are great. We have little excuse for not supporting our local farmers and ranchers.

I do believe however that McWilliams’ statement "...consumers living in developed nations will...always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer" is a bogus one. This is where perhaps my thinking is less flexible. I think that if consumers realize there is true harm inherent in their behavior they will no more demand out of season long traveled food than they would demand that we continue to spray DDT because it allows them certain fruit. The question for me is, how much harm has to occur before we are willing to make changes?

So I say please do continue to consider food miles but also consider the feasible changes that can be made in the food system of your own your own home.