Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts tagged News


Suppose we could get all the protein and leather-like fabric to satisfy the world’s population – without ranches and slaughterhouses? Sounds like a dream to anyone who is concerned about animals and the environment.

Tofu and TVP satisfies a lot of us BUT you can’t wear them. Enter, stage right, a man named Andras Forgacs, an entrepreneur whose experience in tissue engineering includes making materials for pharmaceutical research and replacing damaged human tissues. (You’re probably seen pictures of the human ears that can be grown in a lab).

In his TED talk, Forgacs outlines the virtues of what he calls a “Humane, sustainable new industry.” A biopsy is used to acquire the initial cells, which are then grown in some sort of medium. (We’d need to know what that medium is made of). Then the “biofabrication” factory would work it into collagen, form sheets, make layers, design it for various qualities, and use less chemicals than in the traditional tanning process. End result? “Cultured leather” made with no waste and, best of all (I hope) no tormented animals.

Forgacs acknowledges that it would be wise to start with leather, as people would be more willing to try it. We could have our experiment without eating it. As an opponent of GMO, I would need some convincing. Forgacs’s description of biofabrication sounds different from GMO – the product is grown in a cell medium, not engineered at the DNA level. At any rate, I share Forgacs’s vision of a world, unlike today, when we do NOT keep and kill 60 billion land animals for meat, dairy, eggs, and leather, as we do now. Given the immense environmental destruction caused by livestock worldwide, he adds, “What’s crazy is what we do today.”

Related links:
Biofabrication: a 21st century manufacturing paradigm
Biofabrication – IOPscience

This month’s E Magazine has an encouraging story by Melinda Tuhus about a positive development in the West Bank. The Palestine Fair Trade Association has organized olive growers into cooperatives, so they receive a fair wage for their work and have their own brand, Canaan Fair Trade, which is sold in stores like Whole Foods. Said one member, “The people here [in the association] are very nice and they treat the farmers very well,” he says. “And they give scholarships to the children of the farmers.”  Canaan Fair Trade also produces other Middle Eastern delicacies like tahini, couscous, fig spread, and more. Check out the website to see all they do in their community!





Here are some places in the Bay Area where you can buy Canaan products:

2840 College Avenue,  Berkeley, CA 94705

1745 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

440 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

Just as heartwarming to those of us who care about good, sustainable, fair trade food, I’ve written elsewhere about several collaborations among Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians:

Friends of the Earth/Middle East is an organization of Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian environmentalists who work together to clean up the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. This organization also promotes healthy food, solar energy, and eco-tourism.”






“Yossi Leshem, an Israeli bird expert and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration, was troubled by the deaths of hundreds of birds in northern Israel. The birds were being killed by the chemicals used to eradicate the rats that were eating the farmers’ crops. Leshem persuaded a kibbutz to try a different solution. Barn owl boxes were installed to lure owls to make their homes at the kibbutz, and within a few years the rat problem was solved. An Ohio Jewish community group gave funds so the kibbutz members could donate building materials for owl nesting boxes to their Jordanian neighbors. Little by little, overcoming obstacles, the project is helping former enemies reach out to one another.”

May food be a bridge to peace.






A few weeks ago, Audubon California conservation biologist Monica Iglecia got her 15 minutes of fame – she was written up in two news stories that were highlighted in the week’s Bureau of Land Management newsletter. The first appeared in the AppealDemocrat, the local newspaper of Sutter and Yuba counties, and described her visit to a California rice farm. If you have images of rice paddies covered by inches of water, you’re on the right track. Rice does require a lot of water to grow, and California has half a million acres devoted to growing rice.

Where do birds come in to this picture?  So many acres of wetlands have been filled in and converted to human use that migratory birds can have a tough time finding places to stay over during their migrations. Solution: get rice farmers to make their fields more hospitable to our flying friends. Turns out this is eminently doable, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership is making it happen. Said Ms. Iglecia, “That’s exciting when you see chicks because you know the nesting efforts are working.”





One thing rice farmers can do is flatten the tops of their water-retaining levees, so birds can find a place to build nests. Another is to leave grass and weeds at the fields’ borders, instead of pulling them out, thus providing bird habitat. For a great photo, go here.

Ms. Iglecia was also interviewed by an AP reporter and the two saw an avocet nest on top of such a levee. “It’s a full clutch of four eggs,” said Monica Iglecia, a shorebird biologist with Audubon California, looking through binoculars. “This is why we do this work. It’s exciting to see.”

Let’s hope that soon all these wonderful partners will create a “bird-friendly” label for rice packages, so we can seek out rice from growers that are hospitable to the birds that pass through our state.

You probably heard that on Wednesday, New York City announced that it would enact a ban on the sale of huge sodas (and some other sugar-heavy drinks) at some public places, namely movie theatres, restaurants, and street vending carts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest applauded the move.







The outcry has been deafening. You can read some of the “comments” appended to the New York Times story here. And as you can imagine, the sugary drinks industry is complaining.

Until recently, I personally have guzzled hundreds of gallons of caffeine-laden colas, some with sugar and some with equally perilous artificial sweeteners, so I think I can offer a somewhat balanced view. Let’s look at three facts:

  •  The obesity epidemic is dangerous to the health of individuals and to the future of our nation’s health care system. (we spend $14 billion a YEAR on obesity-related diseases such as diabetes).
  • Sugary drinks have empty calories.
  • People often don’t do what’s in their own best interest.

It’s the last one that starts the heated discussions. On a radio talk show Wednesday, I heard nutrition expert Liz Applegate criticize the move, saying that it’s a question of personal responsibility. Well, she has an impressive resume, but the “personal responsibility” line is exactly what all the makers of dangerous things (cigarettes, guns, pink slime burgers) say when threatened by attempts to curb their freedom to sell their products.

Two years ago, San Francisco banned the sale of sugary sodas in vending machines on city property. Somehow, the sky did not fall.

As a psychologist specializing in eating disorders for 25 years, I saw first-hand how people struggle to make good on their intentions to be healthy. And that doesn’t even count the people who aren’t even trying to eat healthily. As an academic who has published journal articles on obesity and read the research, I’m alarmed by the danger to our country.

What do you think? Obesity costs YOU in the form of your health insurance premiums, even if you aren’t overweight or obese. Should this ban proceed?

Not since kindergarten, when some of us ate the library paste, has a more yucky food ingredient been brought to our attention, with the obvious exception of pink slime. (You’ll recall that pink slime is made of the sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, washed in ammonia, and mixed with ground meat). This newly revealed substance is called “meat glue” and has been around for a while. A powder made of transglutaminase (an enzyme) and beef fibrin can be used to stick together odd bits of meat to form them into apparently whole prime cuts.

It may surprise you to learn that I don’t totally condemn this practice – in concept, anyway. Waste is a terrible thing to do to food, and anything that can reduce food waste is worth considering. On the other hand, meat itself is a huge waste (of grain, water, land, etc.), not to mention the cruelty involved, and if the concept of meat glue turns you off eating meat, that is a good thing!

Of course, when meat glue is used deceptively, to falsely upgrade less desirable parts of the carcass, that is dishonest and should be stopped. There’s another problem: bacteria from the surface of different pieces of animal flesh are now in the middle of the final product and less likely to be killed during cooking, possibly causing food poisoning.

What do you think?

You’ve heard that in nature, there’s no such thing as waste. Yet in America, the amount of food that we waste every year is staggering. A study found that we waste millions of tons of food a year — 29% of all we produce – at many points, from farm, to packer, to store, to table.

Given that there are so many hungry people in this country, that’s a tragic loss. But the study pointed out another consequence that I hadn’t thought of before: the entire life cycle of growing, packaging, transporting, and disposing of all this waste produces 2% of our greenhouse gas emissions, over a hundred million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Meanwhile, a staffer for the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the average American family of four loses up to $175 a month in wasted food, and included some interesting charts she gleaned from the report mentioned in the first paragraph.

We can stop this waste and eat healthily and creatively. An article with the provocative title “That’s Not Trash, That’s Dinner”  gave several ideas for using those thick broccoli stalks: peel and chop them to make soup, or shred them to put into broccoli slaw, or shave them and top with lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.

What you can do:

  • If you buy a new or special ingredient on impulse (and that’s not a bad thing, since diversity in diet is good for us and for the earth), be sure to use it right away.
  • Enjoy leftovers. This is your chance to learn new recipes, or put on your creative hat and invent something original. My own theory is that some of our favorite dishes evolved from the combination of leftovers and necessity.
  • Compost the scraps that aren’t salvageable (heavy cauliflower leaves and stalks, for instance, and the odd bits you scrape off your plate after dining). Once you see the beautiful black rich soil that food scraps turn into in the compost bin, you’ll be amazed you ever thought of food scraps as garbage.

Or you could check out The Green Foodprint, which I published last year (2011).