Tag Archives: health

America throws away 40% of its food – under the supermarket model

One of my big ideas is to get away from the supermarket model in America. Not only has it made two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, but it also wastes an incredible amount of…well, everything.

From an NRDC report (pdf):

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten….That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.

 

I’m convinced the supermarket model isn’t working and suggest we replace it with a more sustainable model. I’m writing a book to explain my solution, but here it is in three parts. A food system made up of farmers markets, non-profit food cooperatives, and for-profit markets.

I’ve traveled across the country and seen this model in effect and successful in large and small communities. It favors both the rich and poor, is sustainable and, best of all, creates quality jobs.

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What kind of peanuts are these?

I finally went for it – I bought raw peanuts at the farmers market. For a few weeks I have been passing them by, watching the folks pick at them, selecting each nut one-by-one. Unsure of how they cooked them and a little afraid the rawness would get me sick. Then I bought some and they are amazing – like no other peanut I’ve ever tried before.

This happens a lot at the farmers market and is part of the joy of shopping there. Buying something new and learning how to prepare it. Learning that it tastes nothing like the stuff in supermarkets, and having your entire concept of something shattered. Which always leaves me asking – just what are they selling in supermarkets?

These peanuts are big and soft, white and oily. The taste is much the same as a store-bought peanut, only a little sweeter. The difference comes in the potency of each nut – so packed with nutrients that I can only eat a few. Have a handful and it’s like a full meal. My stomach gets an instant burst of energy.

I’m still in shock over this – I love peanut butter and have been eating it for decades. And now I learn, that like everything in life, there is a quality difference. According to one website, The World’s Healthiest Foods, “peanuts can be difficult to find in high-quality form.”

And what a difference quality makes. I’ve heard for years that peanuts are an excellent source of many nutrients, including protein. But not until I tasted fresh, local ones did I fully understand their strength. Wikipedia says they contain over 30 nutrients and WHFoods says they can help fight everything from heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, that all depends on the quality of the peanut. And now that I’ve tasted these I will never look at ballpark peanuts the same way again. Not to mention supermarket peanut butter.

More on Peanuts

To prepare them, I spread them on a pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees – shuffling them around at the halfway point.

Do you have a better recipe for preparing peanuts? – Please share in the comments.

It turns out that a peanut is a bean – a member of the legume family – and not a nut. It has many names across the world, including “goober” and “monkey nut”. It’s a small plant that grows 1-2 feet tall and produces flowers which grows just long enough to fall to the ground. It then buries itself underground and turns into a peanut.

The peanut is new to the world having been discovered in the New World and quickly spread across the globe – notably to Africa, China and India. The last two growing 60% of world peanuts which they don’t export, nearly all are consumed at home. The United States is the world leader in peanut exports.

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Tortilla chips and cheap food

You could like chips and dip more than me, but it’s not likely. I can eat them everyday for months with an endless variety of dips. I love them…but I have a problem. All chips are made from cheap food – I can eat an entire bag, have an exploding stomach, and still be hungry.

It’s the sign of cheap food – eating and still being hungry. The equivalent of the worst blind date. You give up a whole evening, pay for dinner, and head home completely unfulfilled. Most people don’t think about bad dates when buying food, they only see price tags. The cheaper the item the better it is. But cheap food usually means low quality food. Something so empty of nutrients and vitamins, that we can eat – and eat – and still be hungry.

Unfortunately, the same is true for the expensive chips. I’ve tried them all, from natural food stores to Whole Foods, and even the farmers market – with the same result, overeating and still hungry. I was so upset and about to give up on chips and dip, when it occurred to me I could make my own.

Now, this is a serious commitment. Spending an hour of my time, sweating with a roller, to make something I can buy at the store for two dollars. But, being Sustainable Steve I had to try it, and so I bought a bag of whole wheat, and went through the process – kneading, rolling, and baking. My first taste was…amazing.

These are real tortilla chips with taste and flavor. No salt or chemical flavoring added. And I can only eat a few – no more than seven or eight at a time. Which completely changes my chip and dip routine – I’m eating less chips and therefore less dip. Feeling full and losing weight.

A great example of how cheap food has penetrated every corner of our lives. It seems like a simple thought – homemade tortilla chips – but I was so conditioned to think that’s impossible. With thousands of commercials ringing in my head – like Lays potato chips, “you can’t eat just one.”

I was convinced overeating chips was natural. But here I am, noshing on whole wheat delights, and wondering how I ever did it differently. Beware cheap food and commercials, they can trick you into believing anything.

 

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Fruit of the season

I’m an emotional person. The kind that says I love this when I find something good to eat. I have to tell everyone about it – saying I’ve found my fruit of the season. The one item I can eat every day, all day and feel perfectly content. Last month it was watermelon and this month it’s the pomegranate.

This can only happen at the farmers market where seasonal food comes and goes like travelers at an airport. At first there’s just a few of them, the farmers doing an early harvest to get a jump on their neighbors. Then the crowd rushes in and everyone is selling it. For a few weeks you’ll find it everywhere and then it’s gone.

There’s a science and a history to this. It goes back centuries and is in our genes. We are made to live off the land and follow the seasons – which until recently meant watermelons in summer and pomegranates in fall. For every month there was an ideal food, but then airplanes came along and brought us South American watermelons in February.

And here is where most would talk about food miles or unsustainable practices, but those are secondary to health. Eating out of order disrupts our natural pattern of eating with the seasons – one perfectly suited to our bodies. That allows the bacteria in our gut to squeeze every last bit of nutrients out of food. Like little factory employees working overtime. And when that food is done another shift of workers comes in for the next food item.

The biology behind this starts in our guts where the bacteria live. They break down our food into essential items, like proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. And the more you feed them the more they grow, getting more efficient each time. Which means you can eat less and get more out of it.

And when I eat those watermelons and pomegranates, I get even more. They are peak of the season, so filled with nutrients that I can eat one and feel full for hours. Which prompts, “that’s all your going to eat,” or “all you had for lunch was watermelon?”.

Yep, I’m following the seasons.

 

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Research: cheaper food means less nutrients

A few weeks ago, I shared a study that found nutrients in the U.S. food supply are declining. Which could explain why millions of Americans, who prefer to be thin, are overeating to get more nutrients.

Another study found that industrial farming techniques – including the use of petroleum-based fertilizer – reduces nutrient levels in food, while dramatically increasing yields. This means we have abundant cheap food with lowered nutrient levels:

This article summarizes three kinds of evidence pointing toward declines during the last 50 to 100 years in the concentration of some nutrients in vegetables and perhaps also in fruits. It has been noted since the 1940s that yield increases produced by fertilization, irrigation, and other environmental means tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in plants.

Jarrell and Beverly (1981) reviewed the evidence for this well-known “dilution effect.” Although their review has been cited over 180 times (60 times from 2000 on), few mentions of the dilution effect contain a reference, suggesting that the effect is widely regarded as common knowledge.

Common among scientists perhaps, but the public is unaware. When I share this among friends and readers there is a strong disbelief, with the most common response being - food is cheaper. Yes it is, because it has been hollowed out like a pumpkin and there’s nothing left on the inside.

And that makes it a struggle to get the message out. How do I explain the dilution effect to a public obsessed with everything but this – from diet programs to food labels to coupon cutting that encourages cheaper food?

 

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Don’t wash your hands with hot water – use cold water to save energy and water

More on saving water, from the N.Y. Times:

In its medical literature, the Food and Drug Administration states that hot water comfortable enough for washing hands is not hot enough to kill bacteria, but is more effective than cold water because it removes oils from the hand that can harbor bacteria.

But in a 2005 report in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine…(subjects) were instructed to wash and rinse with soap for 25 seconds using water with temperatures ranging from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees, the various temperatures had “no effect on transient or resident bacterial reduction.”

 

How does this save water? There is no need to run the faucet until the hot water comes, avoiding all that wasted water, and by using cold water you save the energy needed to heat the water.

I’ve long thought that washing my hands with soap and cold water does the job. The same for washing dishes. Strange that for most of my life I thought hot water was absolutely necessary. I looked on the CDC and Mayo Clinic websites and found nothing. One says use cold or warm water and the other says nothing at all.

This means that switching over to cold water with soap is a reasonable step if you’re looking to conserve water and energy. Of course, you can still use warm water, but I find I don’t really need it. In the end, my goal is to live a Zero Waste, low-carbon lifestyle and this is one small step in that direction.

 

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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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The key to losing weight – the mindless margin

In writing the last post on WordPress development, I came across an interesting lesson on food. Here is Matt Mullenweg on the book, Mindless Eating:

“It’s not actually a book about food, it’s a book about people. About the human condition and human behaviors. I love food because it’s intrinsic to the human experience, it brings us all together. What Brian talks about in the book is the mindless margin. Most people who overeat don’t overeat by a lot. They overeat by about a 100 calories/day.

We’re talking about a cookie here, 1/6th of a Snickers bar. 100 calories/day over a year adds up to 10 lbs.

On the other end, less 100 calories a day is below the threshold for what many people notice. Over the course of a year it can cause a 10 lb weight loss.

This is what I thought of when researching WordPress development.”

 

I have not read the book but the idea is something I practice. In my daily habits I try to extend the time between meals and eat a bit less. If I can say no to even the tiniest amount then I feel like a conqueror, knowing I am losing some weight. It also reminds me I will eat again so no need to overload on this meal.

I think it’s those tiny, daily victories that make a big difference in weight loss. Again, from Mindless Eating, this time from Wikipedia:

The encouraging premise behind Mindless Eating is that the obesigenic environment that people have set up for themselves in their homes and at work can be reversed. Just as this environment has led many people to slowly gain weight, it can be re-engineered to help them mindlessly lose weight. Consuming 200 fewer calories a day would lead a person to weigh approximately 9 kilograms (20 lbs) less in a year than they otherwise would. The first sentence and the last sentence of the book are, “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”

Instead of deprivation dieting, Mindless Eating recommends a person choose three small changes in their environment that would lead them to eat 200-300 fewer calories a day.

 

I’ve already mentioned two of my small changes, extending periods between meals and eating a small amount less, and the third would be learning to only eat when I’m hungry. This means skipping the urge to snack in between meals. I think of it like this, “if I’m craving chocolate am I also craving a vegetable? If no, then I should wait until I’m craving the vegetable.” Every time I do so it works. The craving goes away and I eat proper food later when I’m truly hungry.

What about you, do you have any tips for small changes?

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Finding the best food – what do they really mean, organic, GMO, and seasonal?

There is a lot of confusion about healthy, high-quality food. Does organic mean high-quality? What does genetically modified (GMO) mean? What about fruits and vegetables in supermarkets?

The explanation starts with organic food. This is a farming method that focuses on the land, not food. Organic farming started in opposition to the use of chemical sprays, petroleum-based fertilizers and other harmful substances. That opposition continues to this day and is having a great impact on our land, waterways, and the health of farmers.

When it comes to food the great value is not in nutrition but avoiding health problems. Those with allergies have a hard time with the pesticides, bleaches, and other toxics used. Parents love it because they are concerned for their children’s health. Janitors love it because they get to use non-toxic cleaning supplies. I could go on and on, and this is what makes organic healthy, but it doesn’t mean much for nutritional value.

What does is the seed used to grow the fruits and vegetables. GMO seeds are modified to be low in nutrition. A great benefit for supermarkets because it allows food to stay on the shelf longer, look ripe earlier, and grow quicker. Not such a great benefit for us.

The opposite type of seed is an heirloom, which is used for high nutritional content. Some offer better flavor, others juicy cores, but all focus on the same thing – high quality. The side effect is that supermarkets won’t carry them because they don’t last as long as GMO.

Farmers markets do carry them, and are one of the few places to find them. These markets offer exceptional fruits and vegetables and are the best places to shop, hands down. Not only do they sell heirloom foods, but also seasonal items. Seasonal means grown with the right weather and harvested at their peak. It makes them amazing, gushing with juices, incredible flavors, and the most nutrient-dense food possible.

Seasonal organic heirloom fruits and vegetables are the kings and queens of the food world. They avoid the toxics found in non-organic foods and are not genetically modified to be low in nutrition, like GMO’s. This may sound like a lot to learn, but you can skip all that by switching over to farmers markets. Once there it’s not hard to find seasonal organic heirloom foods, they will be everywhere!

Good luck with your eating adventures.

 

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Air pollution – do you live in one of the ‘Toxic Twenty’ states?

Here are the states with the dirtiest air in America, from a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

Residents of Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are exposed to more toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants than in any other state.

 

Here is a graphic from Good covering the “toxic twenty”. See if your state is on the list:

 

 

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