Tag Archives: farmers markets

Research: nutrient levels in U.S. food supply are dropping

I’ve written a lot about the benefits of shopping entirely at farmers markets, the difference between organic/GMO/seasonal, and how food is more important than working out. These topics have interested many people with many asking for more data.

Here is one piece, possibly the most important in explaining our obesity epidemic. The findings reveal farming practices and seed choice that have led to lower quality food. Compared on a nutrient-nutrient basis it can be a 1/3 drop in nutrient level for some foods.

This means that the typical person will need to eat 3x as much to obtain the proper nutrients. If true, that would provide the ideal explanation for our overweight problems. It’s not so much our sedentary lifestyle or even our poor choices in food, but our simple desire to get the nutrients our bodies need.

The report is worth a read and I will be sharing several more like it over the coming days.

 

 “Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields” 

Full Report (pdf)

2-page Newsletter Summary (pdf)

“High yields and jumbo produce deliver more water, starch, and sugar per serving, but less vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”

4-page Research Summary (pdf)

“Farmers have doubled or tripled the yield of most major grains, fruits and vegetables over the last half-century. They have done so by capitalizing on the work of plant scientists, crop breeders and companies manufacturing a wide range of inputs—from fertilizer to water, pesticides, sophisticated machinery and diesel fuel.

But American agriculture’s single-minded focus on increasing yields over the last half-century created a blind spot where incremental erosion in the nutritional quality of our food has occurred.  This erosion, modest in some crops but significant in others for some nutrients, has gone largely unnoticed by scientists, farmers, government and consumers.”

 

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Growing coffee trees in California

In this day of the $6 cup of coffee, when bragging rights mean knowing not only the varietal but the beans’ latitude, anything exotic gets the antennae waving. Which may explain why Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics is inundated with requests to visit his north Santa Barbara County farm, where he is the only person cultivating coffee in California. He’s been turning down the requests—until now. This month the curious can sign up online for an agritour and the chance to see how Ruskey coaxes a plant inextricably tied to Latin America and Africa to flourish on U.S. soil.

The coffee-growing experiment is part of the UC small farms initiative, which supplied Ruskey with bushes and an expert, Mark Gaskell, who has worked in Central America. While coffee is normally grown at altitudes approaching thousands of feet, Ruskey’s farm sits at 650. The beans thrive in his coastal canyon largely because of the lack of extreme cold or heat and the low winds.

via Los Angeles Magazine

 

Ruskey's Coffee Trees

 

He now has 470 trees in the ground, which would fill half an acre if they had been planted in a continuous block. By chance, he planted the young trees among mature avocado trees and found that the two were good companions, as the coffee benefited from the rich soil generated by the avocado trees’ mulch.

…his mature trees are mostly Typica, the Arabica type from which most others developed, and Caturra, a mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil. He also has 100 young trees of Geisha, a rare Panamanian strain of Ethiopian origin, legendary for its superb quality.

He is sufficiently convinced of the feasibility of his project that he and Gaskell are working to organize a Santa Barbara coffee growers association with several other farmers who have planted or committed to planting coffee trees.

via Los Angeles Times

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Go local: an explanation of foodsheds

With all this talk about eating local and counting miles I thought it would be good to explain what it really means. The foundation for local eating starts with a foodshed.

Foodshed: a region or area from which a population draws its food.

The typical limit on these regions is 100 miles. Draw a 100-mile circle around where you live and that is your foodshed.

In economic terms this is ideal distance a farmer, or her goods, can travel to reach a market. That way it arrives on your plate as fresh, ripe, and nutritious as it can be.

Go outside of this limit and there is an increasing reliance on fossil fuels and a decreasing quality of the food.

For those concerned about pollution, global warming, or oil-addiction these “food miles” are a cause for concern. Farmers face similar concerns, albeit from the other side, with a rising cost of gas and oil-based fertilizers that narrow their profits.

Still for others the “go local” movement represents a desire to get the very best food they can find, and that is the fundamental reason for foodsheds.

I’ve tried to document what happens to our health with the advent of low quality foodour acceptance of it, and the difference in nutritional content.

These rings of farmland surrounding our communities represent the ideal of sustainable living. Where the countryside is not poverty-stricken, but instead a vibrant economic sector known as much for its wineries and ‘farm-days’ as it is for fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Even more these areas are often recession proof as evidenced by their continual rapid growth during the past half-decade.

It is for all these reasons that the locavore movement is popular and gaining momentum, there is something in it for everyone. Even the beefiest of meat eaters.

For further reference I’ve pulled together several maps of America’s foodsheds. Take a look.

san francisco california foodshed map 100 mile local locavore
Click for a larger image.

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A note on salads

I have been agitating for a while that supermarkets sell the worst kind of food. I even go so far as to say that everything they sell makes you fat.

Which consistently causes folks to disagree with me, after all 98% of Americans buy their food from them.

But, that means they have a complete monopoly on our food system, and with our health in their hands, the US obesity rate is skyrocketing to unheard-of levels.

In the fast food industry, a recent report states that Subway is now the worlds largest fast food chain, displacing McDonalds. There is also a booming salad industry with an explosion of salad fast food chains.

Perhaps the fast food industry will save us?

Well, remember the cliche: “I’m on a diet so please give me a Diet Coke instead of a Coke.”

I think that fits as an analogy here.

Just saying you’re eating a salad doesn’t mean you are eating well. One could skip the hamburger for the salad then load it up with dressing and fried chicken. A report from ABC’s Good Morning America, points out that in many cases the salad is equally fatty or worse.

They point out that iceberg lettuce, which accounts for much of the salad, has “zero nutrients and zero fiber.”

Which is where I draw the line.

The story is all wrong. Yes, iceberg lettuce can be at zero, but so can everything else we eat. Let’s not take an entire crop and label it as useless.

Instead we should understand the nature of food. First and foremost, quality is the most important aspect of food and not all are created equal. Or, put another way, vegetables that are grown from quality seeds and harvested when ripe are densely filled with nutrients.

But, if you buy vegetables from a supermarket or fast food chain, you are not getting this. Instead, you are purchasing the cheapest food money can buy. Which means they are harvested before they are ripe and grown from the cheapest seeds.

There’s more. A growing number of items, like tomatoes and strawberries, have been modified to produce extra sugars. Added together you have produce practically empty of nutrients but with extra sugar.

Fantastic.

Even if you choose the best supermarkets have to offer, you skip the dressing, choose a lean meat, and all that…then the best you can do is “the cheapest food money can buy.”

A lot like choosing the Diet Coke.

If you’re new to this, here a good way to think about it.

Take the typical supermarket salad and cut it in half. That should be your portion size when eating high quality food. It should make you feel full and it should be delicious.

The reason for this is the dense amount of nutrients in the food which also makes it taste much better. Decrease the amount of nutrients and you will increase the amount you eat. It’s as simple as that.

Now, how long do you think it will take for 2/3 of America to understand this?

Sometimes you can spot the tomatoes that are "densely packed with nutrients"

photos

salad by catsper

tomatoes by clayirving

Farmers markets grow 250% since 2000

I’m all about farmers markets. Every dollar I spend on food goes there and they provide me with everything I need to eat and more (dessert!).

The reason for all this is covered in several previous posts, including: Why nobody knows how to prevent obesity & How food coma overcomes exercising.

A quick recap is that by eating at farmers markets you gain superior health and weight loss, prevent global warming, and save money.

For the longest time, I wondered why nobody else understood this. It turns out that since 2000, many, many more people are starting to agree with me.

Check out the graph provided by the USDA in their annual farmers market audit:

Notice that since the recession, the so-called “expensive” markets are surging with 164% growth since 2006. If this trend continues we may finally be able to impact our food system.

I can already see it happening in the supermarkets where the words “farmer”, “market”, and “local” are everywhere. Too bad they are only marketing terms.

So next chance you have, stop by a farmers market for the real thing. Pick out some fruits and vegetables. Come back the same time next week and keep the farmers market revolution going!

I Too Was Raised On Processed Foods…

The following is a response to an email asking me about food, health, and nutrition.  The initial email is included at bottom and the person’s name has been excised.

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Hey #### – thanks for reaching out to me.

I too was raised on processed foods and so a lot of this was new to me as well. The best piece of advice I can give you is to give it some time. I have helped a lot of people make the change and they are always shocked and surprised by where this path takes them.

For instance, the food sold in supermarkets is the worst kind you can buy. The only thing worse than them is something like hot dogs from 7-Eleven, but in terms of nutritional value they’re not much worse. This includes the produce as well.

There are a whole lot of reasons why this is true like they have a monopoly on the food supply and a need to make profits, so quality is forgotten in favor of quantity. Thankfully the folks behind our food system are rallying together. There is a resurgence in quality seeds, quality farming, and improving distribution systems to get us this food.

The difference between a quality food product and a supermarket one is dramatic. This study which delves deeply into the details found a 1:3 difference. Meaning that a high-quality seed can be 3x more nutritional than a low-quality seed.

Personally, I find it greater than that. The food that I buy is so high quality that I eat very little and have so much more energy. I would say it’s more like a 1:6 or something. I often joke that I buy so little food nowadays that I often splurge on things just because.

This quality food has yet to break into the supermarkets, not even Whole Foods is carrying it yet. We are still stuck in the race to offer the cheapest food we can, though some stores are focusing on improving quality. Which means the only “safe” place to find quality is at farmers markets or food co-operatives.

I can say that I shop twice a week at a farmers market and never shop at supermarkets (tho I do occasionally buy beans/rice from the open bulk bins at Whole Foods). It does take some time to learn a whole new set of routines but that is the ideal if you want to really improve your health, here is why.

The food industry spends a lot of money trying to include nutritional information about food. The trouble is that no two apples are alike. One picked when ripe will be much different than one picked weeks after that. To account for this they just make it up (i.e. educated guesses). More and more studies are coming out showing just how wrong these nutrition labels are. Here is one that shows how vitamins are more marketing than science.

The truth about nutrition is different than what most people think. Every food item has a ton of vitamins/minerals/carbs/fat/etc. For example, Broccoli contains varying amounts of the following:

Protein, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

The question is how much of each does it have. Well, for plant based foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) that depends on the starting seed (high, low quality stock) how it is grown (to produce maximum nutrition or to be picked quickly) and when/how it is harvested (at peak times or a few days/weeks early).

With all this variability in farming a single item of broccoli could either contain all you need or nothing at all. This holds true for every single food item out there.

So back to the beginning. Supermarkets sell the lowest quality food they can find (to offer the lowest prices). Farmers markets offer the highest quality they can find (often at higher prices).

The question then for most people is what happens if they switch from low quality to high quality food? Will they spend more or eat less? Are supermarkets just too convenient or is my health worth the trip to a farmers markets?

Steve

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Hi Steve,
You commented on a post here back in April

The 10 Cheapest, Healthiest Foods Money Can Buy

I’m new to healthy eating and haven’t really got a clue what I’m doing, I’ve been pretty much raised on processed foods but have recently decided to learn to cook and educate myself about nutrition. Though I’m in the early stages of transforming my diet and way of life I’ve noticed that a lot of foods that are purportedly healthy, turn out to be not so great. I want to gather as much info on nutrition as possible in order to make the right dietary choices so any info you could send my way would be greatly, greatly appreciated. You also mentioned studies into supermarket food quality which I would be very interested in reading. Thanks for your time Steve, hope you can help.

Kindest regards,
#####

[photo: denn]