Food Facts for Food Day

With National Food Day coming up on Monday October 24th and World Food Day having just occurred, this seems like the right time to take a good hard look at the global food crisis and figure out what steps we can take towards a sustainable food system both individually and collectively. The misalignment of dates on the United States Food Day and the United Nations Food Day is a painful reminder of the disconnect that too many Americans still have regarding the impact of our everyday dining choices.

My suggestion: Spend some time with this educational infographic. Pat yourself on the back for the steps you have taken already. Consider stepping it up a notch where you can. Small-scale farms are popping up on rooftops and old parking lots near you – support them, learn from them, purchase produce from them and perhaps THAT model can be the one the rest of the world follows rather than those spread by corporate giants. Think globally, act locally.

The Food Crisis
Created by: Public Health Degree

University of Maryland, College Park

The community gardens on the University of Maryland, College Park campus are hosting an event on Food Day, Monday October 24th, that includes tours of the edible gardens popping up on rooftops and hillsides throughout the campus and great discussions about future initiatives for sustainable agricultural systems in our region. Stay tuned to the Public Health Garden Blog for more details. Hope you can make it!

‘The Lexicon of Sustainability’

The Lexicon of Sustainability is the most beautiful website I have ever viewed and no words of mine will do it justice. Just go there. Explore it. Learn. Breathe easy knowing that when a movement has a language so evolved, inspired and rich with research and purpose, the momentum of our conversations will carry us forwards and backwards towards a sustainable food system just fine.

2,700 calories/day : 1,996 lbs/year

According to an infographic posted on The Atlantic and compiled by Sarah Kliff (with data from the FDA, USDA, CDC, etc), the average American consumes 1,996.3 lbs of food (and food-like substances) a year. A small note on the graphic (full size here) points out that the numbers crunched include “food bought/served but not eaten (leftovers),” which briefly alleviates the shame felt learning that the average American consumes 29 lbs of french fries and 23 lbs of pizza per year… until you remember that you’ve never let those last few fries go to waste. Ugh. 

Eating Invasives

??????????Earlier this year, I was invited to dine on a Canada goose and Maryland deer (pictured right) hunted, prepared and cooked by my hosts and long-time friends: Heather and Michael Havlik. Although the menu wasn’t suited for a traditional vegetarian (which I am often mistaken for), it was ideal for an exercise in local, sustainable eating. Not to mention, the meat was so tender and full of flavor I nearly forgot I was eating animals.

??Throughout our often holiday-therefore-dinner-party-centered relationship, the subject of what we eat, don’t eat and why has often been debated. Michael Havlik, like most hunters, fishermen and outdoors men, is a conservationist at heart. His wife Heather will stalk over-populated deer and shuck local oysters with the best of ’em. Years ago, they opened my eyes to the dangers of non-native birds and helped shape my current respect and admiration for hunters – particularly those who set their sites on species that threaten the local eco-system. This year, they ignited my curiosity and taste for another level of eco-eating: dining on invasive species.

While the adorable waddle of Canada geese and smile-inducing relationships between mother and fawn prevent me from going forest-to-table alongside the Havliks, the newest “invasivore” movement in town, aimed at eradicating the snakehead fish, is one almost all of us can endorse without remorse.
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Alewife Executive Chef and sustainable seafood steward, Chad Wells (pictured), has made it his mission to get these creatures out of the waterways and into the kitchens of environmentally conscious restaurants locally and nationwide. He recently told The Baltimore Sun, “We’ve proved time and again, the best way to destroy something is get humans involved.”
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The aggressive and predatory snakehead fish, well-known for their canine-like teeth, are thought to have entered U.S. waterways via aquarium owners and the live fish food market. The fish reproduce rapidly and, during all of their life stages, compete with native species for food. If left to their own devices, the snakeheads could drastically effect biodiversity and forever disrupt the ecological balance of native aquatic systems.

This Tuesday, August 23, 2011, Chef Chad Wells is teaming up with fellow chefs and conservationists Dave Newman of Brewer’s Art, Joe Edwardsen of Joe Squared, and Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisinal Ales for an official snakehead dinner kicked off by a talk from Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries service.

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I have the honor of an invitation to the dinner and am as excited about Steve Vilnit’s talk as I am about being a part of  snakehead eradication. There has been some debate in the scientific community as to how and why we, as human beings, get to designate plant and animal species as invasive. In an article published in the Boston Globe in July, The Invasive Species War, Leon Neyfakh highlighted various movements and opinions both popular and scientific. After reading the article, Brian Knox, President of Sustainable Resource Management, Inc and co-snakehead-diner this coming Tuesday, pointed out the importance of distinguishing between non-native species and invasives.

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“We have loads of non-native plants everywhere,” Knox explained. “Any plant can become a problem if it spreads aggressively and pushes out diverse native vegetation replacing it with a monoculture desert. It is important to remember that ecosystems are dynamic and will change naturally over time (succession) but many invasives (mile-a-minute, kudzu, autumn olive, bittersweet, etc) spread at a speed only matched by developers on bulldozers.”

Luckily, there isn’t much debate about the environmental dangers of snakeheads however Chef Chad Wells doesn’t intend to stop his crusade at the river bank. He is currently experimenting with invasive plants like Kudzu for an upcoming event with Baltimore’s Food = Art.
Proof of a growing interest in invasive eating graces the pages of the September-October issue of Mental Floss magazine in The Joy of Cooking Invasive Speicies: Recipes for American Cannonball Jellyfish, Nutria, Kudzu, Lionfish and Canada Geese. Snakehead fish, and an accompanying recipe for it, is noticeably absent from the Mental Floss feature but Wells’ new recipe is due to publish in an upcoming issue of Maryland Natural Resource Magazine and will most certainly be raved about on this blog after Tuesday’s tasting.

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For more information about invasive species in Maryland, check out the DNR’s Invasive Speices Resource Center. For further reading on our relationships with and interest (or lack-thereof) in eating animals, I recommend Hal Herzog’s Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

Best and Worst Protein Sources

Last month, the USDA debuted their revised food pyramid in a new form: a food plate. Aside from the shape, one of the most notable differences was that a portion called “protein” replaced the meat portion.

Anyone who avoids (factory farmed) meat has likely spent a fair amount of time researching alternative protein sources and their environmental impact respectively. Lucky for us, the Environmental Working Group has put together a list (and handy pocket guide) of the best and worst protein sources. Here they are:

Five Worst Protein Choices for the Environment:
1.) Lamb
2.) Beef
3.) Cheese

4.) Pork
5.) Farmed Salmon

The carbon footprint from lamb and beef cattle comes mostly from the methane produced through digestion, manure, the crops grown to feed them and the shipping during different stages of production. With pigs, the biggest environmental impact is in their poop and processing. The electricity, feed supplement and air shipping for farmed salmon landed it on the list. Cheese landed on the list due to ‘bang for your buck.’ Too much environmental impact for too little of a serving for the protein benefit.

Five Best  Protein Sources for the Environment:
1.) Milk
2.) Beans
3.) Tofu
4.) Eggs
5.) Chicken

The good protein choices are a bit more complicated. Tofu still has a big footprint because of the carbon footprint from growing soy beans and processing it into tofu, but it is one-third that of beef. Eggs are still carrying the environmental impact of poultry farms but they offer a lot of protein per serving. Milk, if it is local, is great and beans (and lentils too) are a pretty guilt-free protein source. As far as chicken is concerned, let’s just say it is better than beef.  

Find more detailed lists and explanations here and here. And as always, the Environmental Working Group website is an incredible resource for this kind of stuff.

Lecture Series: The Benefits of Eating Green

I will speaking at this lecture series on behalf of Allison Lilly and The University of Maryland Public Health Garden. Representatives from Grow Annapolis, Local Food Beat and attendees will discuss how the local food and sustainable agriculture movement is impacting out health, community, economy and ecosystems. My lecture will highlight the University of Maryland’s participation in the movement.

The Benefits of Eating Green
The 7th Installment of Quiet Waters Park Environmental Lecture Series
Thursday, June 16th, 2011 @6:30pm
Blue Heron Center, Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis, MD

Speakers include: Joel Bunker of Grow Annapolis, Sharon New of Local Food Beat and Allison Lilly/Deborah Dramby from the University of Maryland Public Health Garden. Admission is free thanks to event sponsors: Friends of Quiet Waters Park. For more information, visit the event website or contact Natalie Nucifora at rpnuci22@aacounty.org

“Plenty More Fish in the Sea?”

Just came across this disturbing infographic (on grist.org but from Information is Beautiful) revealing the declining biomass of popularly eaten fish. Popularly eaten fish measured include: bluefin tuna, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, mackerel, pollock, salmon, sea trout, striped bass, sturgeon, turbot. Many of which are now vulnerable or endangered. Note that the graphic only measures to the year 2000 so… yikes.

Click on the image to enlarge and here to learn more about the data collection and study.

The New Food Plate

The USDA’s answer to the “complicated” Food Pyramid: a simple plate, place mat, drink and fork. Here’s what people are saying:

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating. We’re all bombarded with so many dietary messages that it’s hard to find time to sort through all this information, but we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. If the filled plate looks like the symbol, with lots of fruits and vegetables, it’s as simple as that.” – Michelle Obama

“It’s better than the pyramid, but that’s not saying a lot.” – Marion Nestle

“It’s such a recognizable image. Everybody has seen a plate, used a plate. It’s much easier to visualize when it’s something we use on a daily basis. It’s about choosing the right things, not so much about avoiding.” – Toby Smithson, R.D., a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association

“The new ‘food icon’ was designed to help slim Americans’ expanding girths: Two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. The costs associated with obesity are enormous.” – Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

“It’s brilliant in its simplicity. It’s something the average American can look at and get a visual feel for how they can fill up a plate at a meal.” – Robb MacKie, Head of the American Bakers Association

“The plate image does not suggest portion sizes, only the ratios in which foods should be eaten.” – Various Nutritionists

We here at Just Saying are curious to see how the meat industry will react to being relegated to the purple protein portion of the plate – that does not appear to require a knife or spoon. As always, reader thoughts and comments are welcome.

***UPDATE***

Stephen Colbert weighs in: “A plate? For Food? What’s the connection? Americans don’t use plates anymore. Our food comes from cases, bags, cans, tubes, and envelopes made of themselves.” Watch the entire Colbert clip here.

Pyramid to Plate

For decades, U.S. school teachers have explained proper nutrition by way of the handy dandy food pyramid we all know and most of us have come to ignore. A diet built on grains is fit for a farmer, but for an unfortunate majority of Americans the definition of grains has been obfuscated by french fries and pizza and adding cheese to anything suffices as a dairy serving. Many popular diet programs seemed to be turning the pyramid upside-down and sideways and altering the agreed-upon definition of a healthy diet to suit their marketing so in 2005, the U.S.D.A released a new and improved pyramid emphasizing exercise as an important component – but it was widely regarded as confusing.

Last summer, the brainstorm for a new logo began. In January the government released new dietary guidelines and now, about $2 million bucks later, they are gearing up to release the new and improved pyramid, now in circular form and branded as the Food Plate.

From what I understand, the pie chart plate image will be released sometime next week. My guess is that it will be nothing short of obvious but perhaps the redesign will stick in our minds when we look down at our dinner plates.