Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts in Take Action

bee opencage 800 4591Time magazine recently ran a cover story on “A World without Bees,” and Scientific American, in its current issue devoted to food, includes an article on the dangers we face because bees, on which our food supply depends, are dying out in unprecedented numbers.

This is not a new issue – we’ve been warned about it for years, and the New York Times reported six months ago that the collapse of bee colonies has accelerated. Reporter Michael Wines spoke to a Montana beekeeper, who said this of his bees: “They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”

A class of pesticides called neonicotinoids may be to blame. They persist for weeks or months after being applied to crops to keep unwanted insects away, and bees can apparently overdose on them. The European Union recently banned neonics (starting in December, for 2 years during study). And then there are all the other chemicals we pour into our environment (to the profit of the chemical industry).

Like it or not, we’re in danger, too. As I’ve explained before, bees are now being packed into trucks and driven hundreds of miles from one farm or orchard to another to do their crucial pollinating. These are desperate measures. What you can do: Don’t use chemicals on your lawn or garden!

Related links:
Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing | Video on
Colony collapse disorder – Wikipedia

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Did you know there are over 8,000 farmers’ markets in the U.S.? That’s according to the USDA  and that number represents over 3,000 new ones since 2008, when there were about 5,000. There are over 750 just in California – no surprise, really, since we have such great weather for growing — but New York is not far behind. You can search the directory here  and search by location, what they sell, and what kinds of payment are accepted.

That’s 8,000 reasons to have a week dedicated to the farmers who feed us.

In the East Bay, you can find farmers’ markets in Walnut Creek, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Rossmoor, Pleasant Hill, Concord, and two Kaiser locations – and that’s just within a ten-mile radius.

So grab your cloth bags, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and head out to the nearest market to get ready for the coming week.

To learn more about what groups are working to heal our food system, check out the following groups at their websites:

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition,

Environmental Working Group,

National Farm-to-School Network,

National Young Farmers Coalition,

Sustainable Table,

and the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program.

Here’s a wonderfully succinct and proactive slogan: AMERICA NEEDS A MILLION NEW FARMERS. VETERANS WANT THE JOB.

This is the appeal of a website that supports a new documentary called Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields.

As you know, the average age of farmers in America is 57 – and we’re going to need more of them in future years as the current generation retires. And who better to fill their shoes than the returning veterans who are looking for work?

As the website says, “The mission of Ground Operations is to strengthen the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into new careers in sustainable farming and ranching. Let’s help them get started and build their resources, so that they can create healthy new lives for themselves and food security for communities across America.”

I’m old enough to remember the Viet Nam war, the protests, the loss of lives, and the strains endured by returning veterans of my generation. Thankfully, we’ve learned our lesson and offer ceremonies of welcome and other support for this generation of young people who were sent overseas to fight in our name. BUT our economy leaves them in the lurch.

Farming – the perfect solution. Swords into plowshares!

Currently scheduled screenings of Ground Operations can be found here. Trailers are available on the website. You can also make a donation via the crowdsourcing site IndieGoGo.

This is the first financial appeal I’ve made from The Green Foodprint in the years I’ve been blogging. I’ve donated. Please consider adding your dollars to this cause.

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You may recall that some years ago trans fatty acids (TFAs) were declared a health danger. TFAs are produced by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils until they are in a semi-solid state (like lard or butter). This makes them convenient from a manufacturing standpoint, but dangerous from a human one. They were so clearly linked to heart and metabolic risks that a major study of them was halted before completion so the researchers could warn the public. Labels began to require notification of TFA percentages in 2006.

Well, what’s happened in recent years? Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, working with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), have examined commonly available manufactured foods, comparing 270 products in 2007 and again in 2011. They found mixed results. Good news: some manufacturers have reformulated two thirds of their products to reduce (or even eliminate) TFAs. Hmm, seems to me that this is another example of “the sky did not fall” when regulations based on good science are enforced. Bad news: some manufacturers have not, and even those who began going the right direction have slowed their efforts. Result: TFAs can still be found in hundreds of products.

“Artificial trans fat wreaks havoc on Americans’ metabolism and blood chemistry, something the FDA has known for 15 years,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “This study clearly indicates that some food companies simply can’t be relied upon to get rid of trans fat on their own. The FDA could solve this problem once and for all, and save thousands of lives, with the stroke of a pen.”

How to protect yourself? You can’t be expected to read this whole study, even though it lists all 270 products the authors studied. The table of results is pretty complicated. What you can do: Read labels! Anything with trans fat should be avoided completely. Unfortunately, “Products that contain less than half a gram of trans fat per serving may list zero grams on Nutrition Facts labels,” said one of the study’s co-authors Dr. Fadar Otite. Let me add that the phrase “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” is a euphemism for TFAs and any product containing it should be avoided as well. Here’s one more reason to choose organic whenever possible.

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The Great Tomato Plant Sale. That’s the name given by master gardeners in Contra Costa to the plant sale they held yesterday in Walnut Creek. And it was great! I had no idea so many hundreds of people devotedly grew their own tomatoes. One of the many volunteers hosting the event said to me, “Last year, we planted 4,000 tomato starter plants, and sold out in three hours. So this year, we planted 14,000.”

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It’s a good thing they did. When I arrived a few minutes before the official start time, there was a line three deep winding down the block and around the corner. People had come carrying boxes, flats, and other containers because boy, they were ready to start buying! The mood in the line was friendly but slightly competitive, as we all lusted after the rare heirloom varieties that had been advertised.

Tomatoes come in all colors and have snazzy names. Black tomatoes can be had in varieties called Black Cherry, Black Ethiopian, Black Prince, Chocolate Stripe, and more. Yellow tomatoes rejoice in the names of Yellow Brandywine, Wapsipinicon Peach, and Isis Candy. Classic reds are Box Car Willie, Principe Borghese, Red Zebra, and Cuore de Toro. Then there are Sugar Sweetie, Cherokee Purple, Chianti Rose – oh, you get the idea.

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Master gardeners are people who have taken specified classes through university extensions and passed a rigorous exam. If you want to contact Contra Costa Master Gardeners, they are at

CCMG also collaborated with the Contra Costa Times to create a project called Our Garden, where volunteers and master gardeners offer demonstrations and classes every Wednesday from April through October.

Check it out! These people know how to grow and how to teach. Very inspiring. Stay in touch with Contra Costa Master Gardeners so you can plan to attend next year!

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Overfishing means taking more individuals of a species than is sustainable – there aren’t enough left to produce future generations. Bycatch means catching sea creatures you don’t even want, but they die anyway, choked in nets, dead or dying on trawler decks, or dumped back into the ocean.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” is a famous essay from 1968, in which Garrett Hardin pointed out that if each person acts only in his or her own self-interest with common goods such as public land, eventually the common good is used up. Destroyed. This is what has happened with fishing. Each fisher, or more likely trawling corporation, grabs as much as possible, heedless that they are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

BUT far-sighted scientists, agencies, non-profits (especially Environmental Defense Fund) and some fishers themselves have been working for years to balance present needs with future ones. I’ve written about this before. More good news came out last month, when the European Union’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to restore fish stocks in the next 7 years. That’s restore, not merely slow down the overfishing. Restore, with a date to end overfishing and rewards for fishers who work more sustainably.

“An overwhelming number of members of the European Parliament from all political groups made history today, by voting to reverse decades of overfishing by the EU and by setting ambitious targets for the restoration of fish stocks,” said Uta Bellion of The Pew Charitable Trusts in a press release.

What you can do: Eat less seafood, or if you do, make sure it’s sustainably procured.  Support your elected and appointed representatives who stand behind environmental regulations.  And remember to heave a sigh of relief and gratitude when steps in the right direction are made.