Posts Tagged ‘food’

Green Restaurants

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Here’s another one of my “Growing Greener” columns in Public Garden, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. This one appeared in Vol. 25 No. 2 (2010). In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: I’ve heard that it’s possible to have our restaurant certified “green.” Is this true, and if so, what does it entail?

A: Missouri Botanical Garden’s restaurant Sassafras and Phipps Conservatory’s Café Phipps have joined the ranks of top-rated American restaurants that have been certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), and for good reason. It’s a little known fact that restaurants consume vast amounts of water and energy and generate an astonishing amount of solid waste and pollution each year.

Some statistics to chew on: (more…)

Power Peas and Dinosaur Broccoli Trees

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Scientists have long appreciated the importance of consistent scientific names for plants. Now they’re beginning to appreciate the power of common names, too — at least over vegetable-averse preschoolers.

Anyone who’s tried to get a preschooler (or any kid, or adult for that matter) to down the recommended five fresh fruits and vegetables a day by resorting to playing airplane, reciting “this little piggy went to market,” bribery, and other choice tactics will certainly appreciate a new Cornell study that was presented on Monday at the annual meeting of the School Nutrition Association in Washington,  DC. The researchers found that veggies with snazzy names had the little ones begging for more. When 186 four-year-olds were given carrots called “X-ray Vision Carrots,” for example, they ate nearly twice as much as they did on the days when they were offered plain old “carrots.” And the magic spell persisted—the kids continued to eat about 50 percent more even on the days when the carrots were no longer labeled.

Memo to plant breeders and parents: Remember Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Name them so fresh vegetables will not seem so atrocious….

Michelle Obama, Locavore-in-Chief?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

On Friday, I bemoaned the fact that Michelle Obama missed an opportunity to promote healthy fresh foods when she appeared at the USDA, which had just announced a plan to create community gardens at its facilities worldwide, bearing a magnolia seedling instead of a tiny apple tree or other edible plant. But on Sunday, according to Marian Burros of the New York Times, the First Lady put in a plug for local and sustainable food and for healthy eating during a tour of the White House kitchen:

When food is grown locally, she said, “oftentimes it tastes really good, and when you’re dealing with kids, you want to get them to try that carrot.”

“If it tastes like a real carrot, and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy,” she continued. “So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they are fresh and local and delicious.”

Now she should get that organic garden growing on the White House grounds…

Alice Waters to the Rescue

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Recommended reading: the op-ed piece in today’s New York Times by Alice Waters and colleague Katrina Heron. They describe how the USDA’s $9 billion-a-year school lunch program has become a way to distribute unhealthy high-fat commodity food—some of the same ingredients found in fast food—to our schools, and how the resulting meals routinely fail to meet basic nutritional standards. They recommend scrapping the program and starting from scratch, pointing out that advocacy groups like Better School Food have managed to work with local farmers to provide kids with healthy, fresh food.

Last night on the news, I watched Michelle Obama, continuing to make the rounds to various federal agencies, arrive at the USDA bearing a gift—a magnolia seedling propagated from a tree planted on the White House grounds by Andrew Jackson. She said she wanted it to grow in one of the new community gardens that will be created at every USDA facility worldwide. It was a nice gesture, but a missed opportunity. Imagine if MIchelle had brought a tomato or apple seedling instead and used the occasion to promote healthy, organically grown fruits and vegetables for the nation’s children—she is, after all, a former hospital administrator. Another good thing she could do is create a model organic garden at the White House to advance the movement for healthy food and healthy kids. 

The Mediterranean Diet Does It Again

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

A new report in the February issue of Archives of Neurology provides more good reasons to follow a Mediterranean diet — one with lots of fish, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, and unsaturated fats and moderate alcohol consumption, and little meat, dairy, and saturated fats. Researchers found that eating Mediterranean-style put people at lower risk of mild cognitive impairment — a stage between normal aging and dementia — and of transitioning from mild cognitive impairment into Alzheimer’s disease. 

That Anemic-Looking Tomato is Less Tasty and Less Nutritious

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Opponents of industrial food production have long maintained, almost as an act of faith, that the vegetables, fruits, and grains grown by Big Agriculture have become not just blander but also less healthy. In a paper in the February 2009 issue of HortScience, University of Texas researcher Donald R. Davis provides ample evidence to support such claims. According to Davis:

[T]hree recent studies of historical food composition data found apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and perhaps fruits; one study also evaluated vitamins and protein with similar results.

He also cites a study in which researchers compared high- and low-yielding varieties of broccoli and grain grown side-by-side and concluded that the high-yielding varieties contained less protein and minerals.

Moral of the story: When it comes to food, less is more, and funders and policy wonks should stop fetishizing maximum yield through excessive use of fertilizers and the breeding of high-yielding crops and start promoting agricultural systems based on building the healthy soils that support nutritious foods.

Brain Food

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Just in time to assuage the guilt of holiday indulgers, a new study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that chocolate and wine enhance cognitive performance. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, study participants who consumed chocolate and wine as well as tea had significantly better test scores than those who did not. The brain benefits are attributed to polyphenols, micronutrients found in plant foods, especially flavonoids. Wine produced the biggest benefits.

First-Ever Vertical Farming Summit

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

This weekend in Berkeley, experts from a variety of disciplines including architecture, structural engineering, greenhouse growing, composting, alternative energy, aquaculture, hydroponics, integrated biological systems, sustainable farming, and urban agriculture are meeting for the first summit on vertical farming in urban areas, also rather inelegantly known as building-integrated sustainable agriculture.

The summit’s co-organizers are Keith Agoada and James Kalin, founder and technical director, respectively, of Sky Vegetables, launched by Agoada to build hydroponic greenhouses on the rooftops of grocery stores. A list of presenters and presentations will be posted on the Sky Vegetables website at the close of the conference. Their prototype system is featured on the site. 

Agricultural Skyscrapers

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Fritz Haeg has been deemed a horticultural revolutionary of late for daring to propose scrapping front lawns for “edible estates.” But his proposal pales compared to Columbia professor Dickson Despommier’s vision of entire skyscrapers devoted to growing crops. Such “vertical farms” could reduce the carbon footprint of city dwellers by conserving energy used for long-distance transport of food to urban markets. Even better, they could free up expanses of farmland to return to forest, radically reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Among the other benefits of skycropping: a year-round supply of organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish; no weather-related crop failures; no polluting agricultural runoff; lots of green collar jobs in inner cities; and an intensive form of food production capable of feeding the 3 billion additional people predicted by the year 2050, most of whom will live in urban areas.

Several sky farm designs are featured on Despommier’s website. He says roughly 150 30-story towers could feed the entire population of New York City for a year. This article, published in New York magazine last year, explains in detail how they would work.

Growing Greener: The Carbon Footprint of Food

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 23 No. 2 (2008). Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: How does the carbon footprint of homegrown fruits and vegetables compare with that of imported produce?

A: In the past few years the carbon footprint of food has become one of the hottest issues in the western world. A number of luminaries have weighed in on the subject in the U.S. alone, from best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver (in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) to ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan (in Coming Home to Eat). All this discussion has generated its own jargon, including such terms as “food miles” (the distance any item of produce travels from farm to table) and “locavore” (a person who makes a point of eating food grown within 100 miles, give or take).

At first glance comparing, say, a tomato grown 30 feet from your back door with one cultivated half a continent away would seem to be a no-brainer. (more…)