Leland the Podcast dude here -
A few weeks ago, I interviewed an endlessly cool lady - Dr. Daphne Miller, who’s spent her career schooling people on how to think outside of the the pill bottle when it comes to medicine. Listen to our interview here:
Then read this article about curing allergies with manure (sort of):
Then go for a frickin’ walk!
Yale Food Systems Symposium – Forecasting and the Food System
This recent article in the New York Times describes the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) most recent scientific understanding of the risk climate change will pose to our global food supply As a Geology & Geophysics major focusing on climate, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the reciprocal relationship between our systems of food production and changing climate, and how we can modify our agriculture system to mitigate rather than contribute to climate change. Last week at the first Yale Food Systems Symposium, I witnessed a discussion that looked at the relationship between climate and agriculture from a different angle—how can we adapt our systems of food production to the inevitable warming we will continue to face for hundreds of years into the future? The panel, called “Forecasting and the Food System,” included four speakers that discussed the ways that communities, farmers, and scientists in different parts of the world—from India to Vermont—are thinking about and adapting to changes in weather and climate.
Of the four speakers, Ethan Butler’s talk was the most compelling. Ethan is a 6th year graduate student at Harvard University in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department. He presented the warming projections from the last IPCC report and explained the phenomenon of committed warming. What this means is that even if we stop emissions of greenhouse gases today, the time lag between increased concentrations of these gases and rising temperatures means that we will continue to have temperatures far above those today for hundreds of years into the future. While this certainly will have far-reaching impacts beyond those we can comprehend today, Ethan’s talk confronted the facts with ways we can adapt our food system to these inevitable changes.
Ethan’s work focuses on historical evolutionary adaptations to changing climate that have occurred in crops and how these adaptations can help us understand agricultural responses to future climate changes. His talk at the Food Systems Symposium focused on US maize, looking at the different strains of corn in the various climate zones of the US. Corn varieties have naturally adapted to local conditions of water shortage or high winds, for example, and we can take advantage of these adaptations by adjusting the food crops grown in different zones to better fit the changing observed and projected temperatures.
Instead of the fear and bleak outlook that can easily pervade discussions of climatic effects on agriculture, Ethan’s focus on adaptation gives us some agency over our future and provides a meaningful strategy to confront the inevitable problem. Although it is only a part of the solution, this kind of adaptation will be necessary to provide enough food for rising populations. Many countries are beginning to confront this issue, as described in the New York Times article:
The [IPCC] report finds that efforts to adapt to climate change have already begun in many countries. President Obama signed an executive order on Friday to step up such efforts in the United States. But these efforts remain inadequate compared with the risks, the report says, and far more intensive — and expensive — adaptation plans are likely to be required in the future.
While my focus will continue to be on agricultural strategies to mitigate climate change, Ethan’s presentation increased my awareness of the ways we can adapt our food system to the inevitable changes we are beginning to experience. Both of these approaches will be important in producing food in our warming world.
Emily Farr ‘14 is a Senior Adviser with the YSFP. She is majoring in Geology and Geophysics and was a Summer 2012 Lazarus Intern.
Big Ag, Big Trouble
Hey Folks -
Leland the Podcaster here. There’s a great article in Harper’s this month about the demise of agriculture in the Great Plains. Turns out (surprise!) big ag companies are wreaking some serious havoc. Check out the article here:
and listen to Eric Holt-Gimenez, from the food think-and-do tank FoodFirst, talk about how and why this sort of thing is happening on a global scale
School Food in New Haven
We took an inventory of each school’s kitchen and found that a couple schools did in fact have cooking utensils suitable for raw farm foods, tucked away in back rooms from before the Central Kitchen system was implemented. So these schools could be good places to start introducing local farm foods. Another idea would be to bring the ingredients to Central Kitchen itself. This would allow the farm ingredients to reach schools that did not have leftover cooking equipment—a welcomed goal as these equipment-barren schools are often located in the poorest communities of New Haven where students are likely not getting fresh veggies at home.
To that point, should we even be spending this much effort to improve the quality of food in schools when many of our citizens do not have enough money for food itself? In the six poorest communities in New Haven, four out of every ten people have experienced food insecurity in the past month. That is, they have not had always had enough money to buy the food they need. So is our farm food goal missing the point?
This is a question I often return to, but I do think in this case the focus of the project is well-chosen and poised to have long-lasting consequences: feeding our children farm food in schools does not only nourish them better at present, it also sets them on life-long patterns of eating nutritious food. Part of the challenge tied up in food insecurity is getting individuals nutrient-rich foods. But providing these foods will only be beneficial if people choose to eat them. I hope that feeding children nutrient-rich food while they are in school will set them up well to choose nutrient-rich foods once they are on their own.
New Entry and Food Access in Boston
Events Intern Jake Wolf-Sorokin ‘16 discusses his work with New Entry, a nonprofit serving the Greater Boston Area and questions his own food choices.
Up until leaving for college, I had spent my entire life living in the greater Boston area. For the first 18 years of my life, I knew one farmer by name: my uncle who raised lamb in rural Minnesota. Once I began thinking about the sources of food, it became hard to escape. Where had that tomato I’d eaten on my sandwich at lunch every day—even during New England’s winter—actually come from? Who picked it? Were they treated fairly? Was it organic? If not, what kinds of chemicals was it grown with? How was it shipped to Boston? Would the label tell me anything? Why couldn’t I find out all this information? What structural systems was I supporting by taking a bite out of that tomato? And couldn’t I be asking these questions about everything I eat?
The lack of connection to my food—one of life’s vital ingredients—began to really unsettle me. It seemed every question, generated three more until I’d cast aside the tomato, the lettuce, the turkey and the sprouts. All that was left of my lunch were two pieces of sourdough bread. I’d decided they were ok since they came from a bakery near my home that got its flour from an organic grower in New York. That’s when I began to see food consumption as a political act. In the short term, as someone living in an urban area, I lacked a means of escaping this food system. Without eating sandwiches like the one I described, I’d have trouble living. But by seeking answers to my questions and making efforts to change my habits, I’d be able to make some progress on a longer timescale. And that’s why I decided to intern at the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, an organization dedicated to helping aspiring organic farmers open viable farms near urban areas in Eastern Massachusetts.
Through my work, I had the chance to meet scores of small farmers aiming to make local farming the norm—or at least more common—again in America. “My goal for the future is to continue farming and to continue to supply people in the community,” Bessie Tsimba—one of these farmers—told me. She moved to the United States from Zimbabwe in 1988. Like most immigrants, Bessie arrived without much land—let alone enough to begin a garden or farm. So for 20 years, Bessie—like most Americans—cooked with grains and vegetables bought at the grocery store. Over time she began to see farming as a reminder of home and a way to promote healthy eating.
In 2009, Bessie seized upon her renewed interest in farming and began a small-scale organic farm. “It’s something we grew up doing back home and I benefit from eating organic,” she said. Five years into her endeavor, Bessie sells her produce to a cooperative CSA and to many of her friends who also came to America from Zimbabwe. “I know the things they miss [from] back home,” Bessie told me. By growing maize and other crops common in Africa, but harder to find in the United States, Bessie has created a community around her farm.
Her optimism inspired me. Like many of the farmers trained by New Entry, Bessie didn’t have the means to give up her other job to farm full time. And despite five years of effort, she does not ever expect her farm to become her principal income. Bessie’s belief in the importance of food as a means of enriching culture and community motivates her.
As an organization, New Entry aims to ensure its farmers have a guaranteed source of income by operating a cooperative CSA. Although this CSA does not provide enough income to support a full time farmer, the World PEAS CSA represents a good first opportunity for many new farmers. Over the last 15 years, New Entry has helped to dramatically increase the ranks of urban, organic farmers in Eastern Massachusetts through its farmer training programs. Yet challenges remain: given the dense population of the region, the sum total of food produced by all these farmers represents a small fraction of the food needed to sustain all of the areas residents.
After spending a summer conducting farmer interviews for an analysis of New Entry’s success and working to promote the cooperative CSA, I left feeling both inspired and realistic. Centering our food system on sustainability and community health will require a dramatic change in our society’s understanding of what it means to consume food. Yet through the dedicated, passionate work of individuals like Bessie Tsimba and organizations like New Entry, these seeds of change in the food system are beginning to grow. Realigning our food system around sustainability and community health will require the collective effort of many individuals, beginning with a desire to understand the nuances of the connection between the food we consume and its source.
A Video from Eamon Heberlein ‘16
Chasing cows—and sustainability
Eating Ethically on the Trail
Sadie Weinberger ‘14 spent a summer hiking—she contemplated all sorts of things while on foot, she says, but particularly wrestled with making ethical food choices while also having to depend on the staple foods of any hiker—oftentimes highly processed. Not to mention, she stuck to her vegan diet the entire journey.
I never want to look at another Clif bar again. Nor am I particularly interested in viewing, smelling, or ingesting in any form or fashion any food whose package advertises how quickly it cooks. And please, for the love of god, do not come within fifty feet of me with a package of Pop Tarts, Corn Nuts, or Nutter Butters.
Over the summer, I backpacked about 750 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. It was indescribably amazing, and it was also, by far, the most physically difficult thing I have ever done (and ranks pretty high on the emotional and mental difficulty scales as well). In order to complete this most difficult of feats, I needed to put calories in my body. And sometimes, those calories came from sources of which I wasn’t too fond.
I know it seems like an obvious statement, but I’ll say it anyway: food is fuel. And I don’t often think of it that way because I’m not often hiking twenty miles a day with a thirty-pound pack on my back. I think that probably, people who are not food-insecure don’t usually think of food that way either. I wasn’t just eating because it tasted good or because it was time for dinner, I was eating because if I didn’t, I physically would not be able to do the things I wanted to do. I was choosing food for the most number of calories per the least amount of weight. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except that in our modern food system, those foods tend to be the most processed, the worst for your body, and the worst for the environment. On top of that, I was already struggling to get enough calories without consuming animal products.
I decided it would be my goal to find a way to eat ethically on the trail by the end of the summer. And by the time I was off the trail for good, I felt like I’d come pretty darn close.
Fresh food in your pack will go bad or get squished very quickly, and the most calorie-dense and lightest foods aren’t the ones I wanted to be eating—eating ethically posed quite the challenge. After consulting hiker guides and online forums, I came to a list of foods: Pop Tarts, Clif bars, Corn Nuts, trail mix, granola, Gatorade powder*, Oreos, dehydrated soup, quinoa, vegan cheese, hot sauce, Knorr’s Cajun Rice and Beans, curried cashews, Mission tortillas, and peanut butter. There’s some stuff in there that isn’t too bad, but I was generally pretty uncomfortable with the amount of processed, industrially produced food.
Before my second leg, I went to the People’s Co-op in San Diego to ease my discomfort. I kept the Pop Tarts and the Clif bars (I never got rid of these—they’re a pretty perfect vegan trail food), but I bought all my dinners from the co-op: things like dehydrated soup in bulk, quinoa and brown rice, instant risotto, instant mashed potatoes, and high(ish) quality ramen. Snacks were banana chips, dried fruit, goji berry “energy chunks,” and Annie’s saltines.
I got my diet down to a science. By the time I’d hiked in the California desert, the Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, I felt pretty okay about the things I was putting into my body. I started eating a lot of textured vegetable protein (TVP), a perfect trail food in that it is light, cheap, nutritious, and about doubles the size of my dinner. I also started taking dehydrated vegetables, garlic, olive oil, and spices. I kept eating dehydrated soup mix and dehydrated potatoes from various co-ops, and I also started taking Larabars, which are fantastic—small, a few ingredients, and calorie-dense. They were a perfect way for me to get some fruit in my diet. I stopped eating trail mix, rice, and lentils, since they’re all pretty heavy and the latter two are too time- and fuel-intensive to cook. This meant I was eating a lot of ramen for dinner, something I wasn’t too happy about (even though, mixed with miso powder, veggies, and TVP, it was pretty delicious). But, considering how far I’d come, I was willing to make that sacrifice.
I thought a lot this summer about the nature of backpacking and how strange it is. Most of the people I met on the trail were on a diet closer to what I started with, and many of them were out there for five to six months. Most people hike the trails to get closer to nature in some way, but how can you commune with your surroundings when the things you put in your body are so far from anything resembling a product of nature? I hope to continue backpacking in the future, and I intend to continue exploring what it means to be an ethical eater on the trail.
For now, I’m eating as many fresh veggies as I can get my hands on.
*The Gatorade powder is something I never got rid of, since it’s less a “food” than a way to make sure I stayed hydrated. I didn’t feel good about it, but I also wasn’t willing to take the risk of dehydration.