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Month: March 2010

Food, glorious food! UW exhibit shows obsession with eating is nothing new

Wisconsin-Madison’s Ebling Library, in the Health Science Learning Center has a fascinating new exhibit, It’s Good for You, which clearly shows that our country’s obsession with food is nothing new.

The exhibit traces the history of our food and diet fads especially for the past century, through a thoughtful compilation of books, magazine articles and photos from university libraries and archives that both amuses and surprises.

In addition to our obsession with health and food, the exhibit also showcases our preoccupation with health and beauty as well, and it often relates back to food and diet fads.

To read the original Capital Times Article reporting on this exhibit and learn more about the materials in the collection, follow this link.

Better yet, visit the exhibit today as it closes soon on April 6th!

Checking out sustainable food: Sustainable Table

Sustainable Table is a helpful website for those curious about the sustainable food movement. Sustainable Table promotes healthy eating by offering up information on everything from finding the closest farmers’ market to revamping school lunches. The website has many news articles on sustainable food along with an introduction page that explains what sustainable food is and why the organization feels it is important shift. The introduction page is comprehensive but if you want to know more, check out “the issues” tab or any of the subcategories in the introduction. If you decide you want give sustainable food a try, Sustainable Table provides an Eat Well Guide search engine on the front page.
The Eat Well Guide search allows you to find for organic, local and sustainable food in your city. It is a fun application, particularly if you are visiting or new in town. Eat Well Guide shows farmers’ markets, restaurants, cafes, co-ops, chefs, catering companies, bakers, organizations, farmers, etc that are involved with sustainable food in any city. A great example is their SXSW Sustainable Food Guide of Austin, TX for attendees to the city’s film and music festival. The free PDF map provides a list of restaurants and cafés near the action.

After you have your food, what do you do with it? Sometimes new foods call for new recipes and Sustainable Table has those too. The recipes and tips page is particularly helpful if you have decided to try and eat sustainable and/or local where the available food changes with the seasons. The introduction page for the recipes section has lots of information: recipes, cookbook reviews, video podcasts, and even sustainable food culinary school listings. The recipes are divided by both meal type and specialty to help you make meals for the right season. Summer is on its way, are you ready to grill? Try the Grilled Pizza recipe which can be found in “main dishes” and “summer.” Want something sweet for those chilly nights in October? Well, the recipe for Baked Maple Popcorn would fit the bill and can be found under both “fall” and “deserts.”

Sustainable Table is not a website that is going to aggressively push its ideals in your face. It does advocate for sustainable food changes in farming and schools, but this website is more about information than it is persuasion. There are some poignant sections, but for the most part, Sustainable Table’s goal is to provide resources and explanations. So if you are just curious about the movement and what it means, Sustainable Table is an interesting and relaxed place to start.

Michael Pollan Interview in Ode Magazine

The magazine Ode: for intelligent optimists asked 25 people-Hollywood actors, prominent politicians, scientists, authors-to nominate their favorite Intelligent Optimist, a person who isn’t famous but should be for his or her work to create a better world.

Michael Pollan interviewed obesity expert David Ludwig, who Pollan describes as a pioneering researcher, clinician and writer. Pollan chose Ludwig because he believes that Ludwig is making a difference in the fight against childhood obesity. His work on the role of soda has shifted the debate and made the once-outrageous notion of a soda tax an idea being considered by Obama and other policy makers.

To view the entire article about the interview, click here.

Organic Coffee Farms Disappear

Organic coffee is a product seen in grocery stores and coffee shops all over the country, widely available and not too expensive. Companies like WalMart and McDonald’s helped to bring organic coffee into the mainstream market, but an article The Seattle Times explains that may not be the case for much longer. Organic coffee farmers are switching back to commercial farming due to buyers’ unwillingness to purchase the organic coffee beans at a higher price, even though the demand for organic coffee beans has been growing. Retailers want organic coffee for commercial coffee prices.

This industry got its boom about a decade ago when organic coffee farming was proposed as a way to make a profit in a dwindling market and help the environment. Thousands of Latin American growers jumped on the band wagon and started the long process to become an certified organic coffee farm. Organic farms are only certified if neither chemicals nor pesticides are found in the soil for three years. Many of the transitioning coffee farmers went into debt trying to survive those unprofitable years. Now, after all that work, they are switching back because they could not survive on the demanded lower prices. As a result, organic coffee farms are quickly disappearing from the landscape and their beans from our grocery stores.

First Lady Michelle Obama Lauds Work of School Nutritionists

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, has been a champion for healthy, sustainable food since the creation of her historic garden nearly a year ago at the White House. Last month, she launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight obesity with a flood of media attention and a Presidential Memorandum, signed by her husband, establishing a new Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

Recently, the first lady spoke to members of the School Nutrition Association and remarked that the responsibility of feeding 31 million children through school food programs at the nation’s public schools means that food workers are shaping the future of this country. They are teaching the nation’s children critical lessons about nutrition and healthy eating, and can have as much influence on the lives of children as their parents because many children eat 50% of their daily meals at school.

Michelle Obama acknowledged that the school lunch programs face budgetary restraints, but credited the Obama administration for making a “historic new investment” toward updating the Childhood Nutrition Act. She noted that the National School Lunch Program was started under President Harry S. Truman “after World War II, back when one of the most common disqualifiers for military service was malnourishment.” The most common disqualifier now is obesity.

Obama believes that small changes in the school cafeteria can make a big difference in the number of calories that children consume at school. Examples of small steps that could be taken include switching from 2% to 1% milk, switching away fruits served in heavy syrup, and substituting low fat salad dressing. She said that over the course of a year those changes can mean the difference in a child being at a healthy weight or obese.

To read the original article covering this event, click here.

Sustainable Farming: Optimism Mixed with Hard-Bitten Realism

On March 9th, 2010, ACES (for more information about this organization, see below) posted an article to its communications blog, Sustainability Plus/Greener & Healthier Living, about Dr. Charles Mitchell, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and a professor in Auburn University’s Department of Agronomy and Soils. Mitchell considers himself an optimist when it comes to sustainable agriculture and is encouraged by the great strides made by aspiring organic farmers who have been developing specialized markets for their products in recent years.

However, even though Mitchell agrees that sustainability practices will continue to grow, he remains entirely unconvinced that large-scale farming practices will ever be 100% environmentally sustainable because as the world population approaches 9 billion people, there are “simply too many mouths to feed.” He does point out that sustainable practices have made up a significant portion of large-scale farming in the 21st Century, he just does not believe that is realistic for a global economy and population. He sees the future of organic farming as being very successful on a small local scale.

For examples of sustainable farming practices cited by Mitchell or to read the full article, visit: Sustainability Plus Posts.
ACES, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is the primary outreach organization for the land-grant mission of Alabama A&M University and Auburn University. ACES has chosen to highlight a movement called, “sustainability plus,” because they believe that their audience, “Alabamians,” need to be equipped with a broader view of sustainability. ACES recognizes that many people associate sustainability solely with the environment and the term “sustainability plus” was developed to underscore the fact that sustainability extends well beyond the environment. ACES claims that we live in an era when many vital resources, not just natural resources, are being strained to their limit. However, research-based science conducted within a variety of disciplines has shown us how to act individually and collectively to preserve these social, economic and cultural resources and to secure a safer, more livable community.
For examples of “sustainability plus” and for information why the Alabama Extension Office is equipped to educate about this need, visit the following website: Sustainbability Plus Overview.

NOW on PBS: Food, Inc. Behind the food we love—Secrets that giant food companies don’t want you to know.

During the week of 3.5.10, PBS’s television program, NOW, recently aired an episode focusing on the new documentary film, FOOD INC (which features Michael Pollan, author of this year’s Go Big Read book selection).

In this episode, David Brancaccio talks with Robert Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, FOOD INC, which takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are actually empowered to make a difference.

During the interview, the documentary was compared to a horror film. Kenner voiced his opinion that foods look the same as they always have, and people think they have always been produced on small picturesque family farms they way they used to be, but food production has changed. For example, chickens are being bred to produce large breasts for commercial foods like Chicken McNuggets. Tomatoes and potatoes look the same but are nutritionally different than their counterparts in the past.
Kenner goes on to relate the nation’s healthcare problems to the nutritional imbalances in our food. He points out that the government-subsidized corn products have become an invisible ingredient in many of our foods without most of us even realizing it.

Brancaccio questioned Kenner about the cost of fresh produce and other healthy foods in the midst of such a widespread recession. Kenner acknowledged that fast food is quick, readily available, and many people are unaware of the damage those foods do to our bodies. However, what they don’t realize is that the cheapness of these foods is costing them much more in medical bills because of the affects these processed foods can have on the human body. Kenner argues that the major food corporations are creating food that makes lower income people sick because the government is subsidizing unhealthy foods to make them cheaper and therefore more appealing to the nation’s poor.

Kenner also argues that choosing between healthy vs. industrially produced foods is not merely an issue of personal responsibility. He says that the personal responsibility argument is an insidious argument because these corporations are designing food to make it attractive and hiding what it really is. Many people are not even aware of what it actually does to their bodies.

The documentary mentioned the work of one mother of a young boy who died from eating infected hamburger meat. She has been working for eight years to get Kevin’s Law passed, which says that federal government has the right to recall meat with levels of E. Coli and Salmonella that could make us sick. Currently, companies must conduct such recalls themselves. In FOOD INC, a connection is made between how the cows are raised and fed and how these bacteria are getting into our food.

Kenner discusses why Wal-Mart was included in FOOD INC as a symbol for major commercial institutions. He said it was chosen because it represented the truth that the consumer can make a difference. These places only want to supply what we are going to buy and if we choose not to buy a certain product or begin demanding a new one, they will want to cater to our purchasing tastes.

As they wound up the segment, the two men discussed the “Veggie-Libel laws,” which prohibits anyone from hurting the profits of food corporations by speaking out against them. Kenner revealed that he spent more on legal fees for FOOD INC than all of his other films combined!

Interestingly, the film set out attempting to start a dialogue with the food industries. However, Perdue, Tyson, and Monsanto among around nearly 40 other corporations would not cooperate because they did not want consumers thinking about where their food comes from or how it is made.

Kenner concluded by asserting that together, “we have to change this unsustainable system.”

For more ideas on how to eat well in your own kitchen, at restaurants, and in the community, visit:

Obamas planted an organic kitchen garden at the White House

First lady Michelle Obama has frequently been seen in the news advocating for her campaign against obesity.  Back in March 2009, released an article, Obamas plant organic kitchen garden at White House, that described one of many actions that the Obamas have taken to demonstrate some of the small things that everyone can do to gain access to local, organic, and healthy foods.

Michelle Obama’s main focus is childhood obesity and she explained in the article that when it comes to getting her children to eat healthy foods, she has found that by involving her daughters “in planting it and picking it, they were much more curious about giving it a try.”

The article goes on to provide a bit of background on the issue of a presidential kitchen garden at the White House and added that the idea of a garden like this, “used year-round with different seasonal crops, has been strongly promoted by advocates for organic and locally grown food. They argue that the White House garden may help set a positive example for families short on time and money, who are often tempted by cheaper, highly processed food.”

Whether or not the first family is promoting organic growing methods, they certainly are setting an example for American children to have access to locally grown, fresh, and healthy foods.  Among other things, the presidential garden will include butterhead and red leaf lettuce, spinach, broccoli, onions, carrots, peas, and a range of herbs, such as sage, oregano and rosemary.


For the last few years, Cheerios has been producing commercials like this one. These encouraging ads remind us that Cheerios are not only delicious but can make your next visit to the doctor go much smoother. But how true are these claims?
Michael Pollan explains in his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, most cereal box health claims are based on little evidence since because “these [products of food science] are often founded on incomplete and often erroneous science” (154). According to Pollan, big food companies like General Mills (makers of Cheerios) are able to get big, bright food claims on their boxes for two reasons. First “because all plants contain antioxidants, all these studies are guaranteed to find something on which to base a health oriented marketing campaign” (154) and that the FDA is too lenient with food companies.

But the FDA has struck back against the food products that have started to creep over the line between food and drug. Cheerios’s claim that it can “lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks!” cannot be made for a food product but instead a drug, according to the article, Cheerios’ Health Claims Breaks Rules, FDA says, in Wall Street Journal. The FDA notes, there is specific language that must be used when claiming that a food helps to reduce a certain disease, like heart-disease, and the Cheerios ad and website does not provide any of it. So maybe Michael Pollan is getting his wish for a stronger FDA, as the article predicts that the start of a new a trend of a more “aggressive stance towards companies it regulates” by the FDA.

Jewish delis tackle sustainable food

“Sustainable,” “organic,” and “local” are buzz words currently for eating better. Households are struggling to make healthier choices and restaurants have hopped on that band wagon. The Jewish deli is one of New York’s, and possibly America’s, most famous and authentic places to eat. They, too, are facing the problem that their traditional foods might not be as healthy for their customers as once thought.

The article, “Can the Jewish deli survive the sustainable food movement?,” outlines the problems that this restaurant niche is facing. One of the biggest and most unique challenges for delis is convincing their customers that sustainable food is still authentic. Jewish delis are concerned that their customers will refuse to buy local products because they are accustomed to the commercialized goods. Such were the complaints when a California deli, Saul’s Deli, replaced commercially made, but beloved, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda with their own homemade drink. The owners of Saul’s explain they feel their food is more authentic since the switch and their customers keep coming back, despite the prices and some grumbling.

This is an encouraging sign since Jewish delis all over the country are closing. The article claims that the number of delis in New York has gone from thousands to dozens in the last fifty years. It is not surprising that deli owners are concerned about their future which such statistics but many believe that sustainable food is a step in the right direction.