Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts tagged Healthy Habits

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In today’s New England Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers reports that people who consume nuts more often are less likely to die of certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and Type II diabetes.

Lest you think that this is another one of those small studies that has been over-interpreted, realize that the researchers studied over 118,000 people. They enrolled them in the study, followed their self-report food intake for years, and searched huge databases to track deaths of study participants.

The authors were careful to say that their study was observational and that they therefore can’t claim they’ve proved that nut consumption caused the reduced risk of death. But their conclusion was stated simply and clearly: “As compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate.”

They point out that some actual clinical trials conducted by other researchers show nut consumption does have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance, among other factors.

There’s a neat little three-minute animated explanation from the Massachusetts Medical Society that goes along with the study. You can see it by going here and clicking the Video icon named Nuts and Death.

Nuts are awesome! Pine nuts are slightly sweet and add a hint of flavor to rice or quinoa dishes. Walnuts can be ground up and mixed with eggs or tofu, along with spinach and onions, to make a delicious pate that makes a satisfying sandwich. Pecans are perfect for waldorf salad.  And that’s just the beginning! So treat yourself to some health and go for nuts.

Related links:
Best and Worst Nuts for Your Health
Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health – Mayo Clinic

slow money logo

Wouldn’t you love to be able to change our food system? We hear so much about how billion-dollar agribusiness corporations defeat legislation and citizen initiatives, and then strangle the regulations that do pass. But a hopeful movement arose a few years ago that allows people with a lot or a little money to invest in sustainable food.

It’s called Slow Money (obviously emulating the Slow Food movement that began in purposeful opposition to fast food). Its goal is to support entrepreneurs who are building the new food economy.   From its website: Through Slow Money national gatherings, regional events and local activities, more than $30 million has been invested in 221 small food enterprises around the United States since mid-2010.

I attended a Slow Money conference a few years ago and it was fascinating! The range of ideas people presented was impressive, and the business plans looked feasible. Tonight in San Francisco you can go find out what it’s all about. Here’s the agenda:

Agenda overview

6:00 Slow Start – Greetings
6:15 What is Slow Money?
Community introductions
6:40 Entrepreneur Spotlight:
Bittersweet Cafe (community cafes and chocolate makers), Penny Finnie
6:50 Focus topic
Taking control of investment tools Direct Public Offering – a tool for businesses Self-Directed IRA – a tool for investors Overview by Zac Swartout, Cutting Edge Capital
Discussion in breakouts
7:30 SOIL Investor Network – update about current opportunities
7:40 Announcements and upcoming events
7:45 Networking










Go here for information on time and place of tonight’s meeting.

If you can’t make it tonight (I know, I was SLOW about telling you about this) and are in the Santa Rosa area, you might try the meeting of the Slow Money North Bay Group, which meets tomorrow at 6 pm at the Coddingtown Whole Foods Market.

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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.

Ah, back to nature. Cooking and eating outdoors like our ancestors…. But this rustic scene is not so innocuous. Each July 4, millions of people light their barbecue grills, burning the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, emitting nearly 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Particulates fill the air. Grease burns onto the grills and harsh cleansers are used to clean them. Plastic, paper, and glass trash litter our picnic areas. We throw food away rather than carry it home, accustoming wild animals to finding food in waste bins or thrown on the ground. This is not safe for them or for us.

We can do better than this – and here’s how:






The barbecue: Lighting up the fire doesn’t have to be a soot- and gasoline-smell-producing act. Don’t use lighter fluid to start the barbecue–it contributes to smog. Use a chimney starter instead, a metal cylinder with a handle into which you put your charcoal briquettes. They heat up much faster and require no lighter fluid. Douse them with water after you’re done cooking. This helps prevent fires, and saved briquette pieces make good fixings to start the next barbecue.

The fixins’: Instead of meat, grill tasty vegetable skewers. Healthier for you and the planet! Corn on the cob can be grilled in its husk if you first soak it in water. This eliminates the need for aluminum foil.

The cleanup: Bring reusable utensils and then take them away with you. If you do use disposable plates, utensils, and cups, use ones made from cornstarch or other biodegradable materials. Then take them home and compost them.  Put leftovers in reusable containers and take them home to eat later.  Recycle everything recyclable. Properly dispose of all litter. Clean your grill promptly, using warm water and baking soda, before the burned food hardens and you are tempted to use harsh chemical cleaners.

Afterwards, relax and enjoy food and energy independence!

A few months ago I wrote about edible food packaging, which, if it becomes feasible, would be one interesting way to tackle the astounding waste of natural resources (trees, petroleum, aluminum, energy) caused by food packaging. According to  As You Sow, an organization devoted to leading corporations toward sustainability, “At least 43 million tons of plastic, glass, metal, and paper packaging—much of it with market value—is landfilled or burned in the U.S. each year. Packaging waste is also the biggest component of ocean litter that harms marine life and pollutes our oceans.”





Before I get to today’s news, here are some things you can do right now about packaging waste, that I wrote about here:

✓ Buy products with the least packaging: Fresh, local, in season. Be willing to buy produce that is perfectly good, though it might not look perfect.

✓ Buy products in bulk or large containers, not tiny serving sizes.

✓ Use concentrates (juices, cleansers), which require less packaging.

✓ When buying a few small items, ask the clerk not to put them in a bag.

✓ Reuse and recycle the packaging you can’t avoid.

✓ Bring your own cloth bags. Many grocery and drug chains sell them, as do online retailers. Some stores give you a small rebate for bringing your own bags.

✓ Eat your package. Buy ice cream in cones, not plastic cups.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a new movement, complete with its own acronym, challenging manufacturers to create more earth-friendly products and to take responsibility for their remains after consumers (that’s you and me!) have used them. So far this mostly pertains to large appliances. In the food world, of course, recycling is the currently most usable technique.

And, of course, if you go for apples and bananas, you can always eat your packaging!

Farmers’ markets have grown explosively in the last decade, now amounting to 7,125 nationwide – and that’s just the ones that the USDA is tracking!

What makes them so valuable?  First, you’re buying (usually) directly from small growers themselves, supporting enterprises separate from the gigantic agribusiness industry. This helps us maintain a sliver of independence from the corporations that are responsible for cheap food that harms the planet with monoculture, pesticides, antibiotics – you know the drill.  Second, you can find certified organic produce – and we know how important that is for health of person and planet!  Third, less packaging and less fuel to transport the goods from farm to your kitchen.


The social benefits are extra. You can meet the people who grow your food, run into your neighbors and make new friends, hear live music (in some locations), purchase prepared meals, and give kids a chance to learn about fresh, healthy food.

The newest one opens this Sunday morning (9 am – 1 pm) in Lafayette (Contra Costa County) in the BART parking lot. Sustainable Lafayette tells us, “The new “year-round” market will feature roughly 60 vendors, and will offer fresh produce, lots of organic items, specialty foods, baked goods, Blue Bottle Coffee, fresh-cut flowers, a pizza oven, freshly prepared crepes and much more. Live music and hand-crafted art will round out the shopping experience.”