Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend Update

While mankind continues to ravage the world's oceans for its fish, evidence mounts that raising livestock for food isn't particularly sustainable either.


Researchers at Cornell University released findings that if the people of the State of New York adopted a vegetarian diet, the state would be able to directly provide 50 percent of its own food. As things stand now, with people eating a mix of meat, dairy and vegetable foods, New York only grows 22 percent of its food.


In the first study of its kind to examine the land use requirements of complete diets, researchers compared 42 diets with the same number of calories and a core of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products (using only foods that can be produced in New York state), but with varying amounts of meat (from none to 13.4 ounces daily) and fat (from 20 to 45 percent of calories) to determine each diet's "agricultural land footprint."


The result: a fivefold difference in land requirements between a completely vegetarian diet and a diet heavy in meats.


"A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet, for example, will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food," said Christian Peters, a Cornell postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the research. "A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres."

One surprise in the study, however, is that totally vegetarian diets may not be the most efficient in terms of land use. That's because fruit and vegetable farming requires high quality land, whereas growing fodder for livestock can be done on less desirable acreage, of which New York has plenty.


"It appears that while meat increases land-use requirements, diets including modest amounts of meat can feed more people than some higher fat vegetarian diets," researchers conclude.


******


Cubans may be less able to afford their traditional pork sandwich since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they are living longer as a result.


A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds that life expectancy in Cuba has risen and now surpasses that of the U.S. largely because of the poverty and radical dietary changes that occurred there after the island nation stopped receiving its subsidies from the former Soviet Union.


The Cuban economy had become highly dependent on the financial support as well as fuel, fertilizers and pesticides provided by the Soviet regime. When that ended in 1989, Cubans had to reinvent the way they feed themselves. Nationwide, Cubans consumed one-third fewer calories and most were forced to walk or bike to work. The average Cuban lost 20 pounds, and over a period of years the country reverted to an organic system of agriculture and planted every available green space for food crops.


During the decade-long period of adjustment, the prevalence of obesity in Cuban declined from 14 percent to 7 percent. Deaths from diabetes dropped 51 percent. Deaths from heart disease declined 35 percent. Overall, Cuba's death rate was reduced by 18 percent.


Of course, now that Cuba's economy is back on track, doctors are beginning to see their patients pack on the pounds again, and death rates are climbing.


*****


For all of you who were beginning to believe that Rachel Carson really was full of hot air, a new study finds that women who were exposed to the pesticide DDT as young girls are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.


The new research is a bit of a surprise, since no particular link between DDT and cancer had been discerned. Now scientists believe the crucial factor is the age at which exposure occurred. DDT was banned in this country in 1972, but is used elsewhere in the world to combat malaria.


The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that young girls who experienced exposure to DDT before their breasts had formed were five times more likely to develop breast cancer as women than those who were not exposed.


The findings support a growing recognition that "what happens in early life is really important for what happens decades later," especially for breast and other tissues that undergo developmental changes in childhood, said Ezra Susser, chairman of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

*****


We like to bash ethanol for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that it's just a stupid idea, but also because using corn to drive automobiles is making everyone's food more expensive. But experts now are saying that a number of other global factors are driving the price of what we eat and that the worst is yet to come.


One of the biggest consumers of corn and other grains is livestock, and as populations in other areas of the world become more prosperous, particularly in Asia, their taste for meat and dairy products grows. Consequently, corn-fed meat exports from the U.S. are on the rise.


''We have a huge expansion under way,'' Iowa State agricultural economist Robert Wisner to the New York Times. ''That will almost certainly tighten grain supplies.''


Here in the U.S., the squeeze on corn has already boosted food prices for consumers. Ground beef is up 6.7 percent in the last year, chicken breasts 6.9 percent and milk a whopping 26 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department.



******

Not that we want our kids glued to the TV screen, but here's news of a video that may actually be good for your kid's diet. Kaiser Permanente has distributed copies of "The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective," along with pamphlets and supporting materials, to thousands of the nation's school.

Players get to pick one of eight characters who open a "case file" describing a food problem. The food detective then steps in to unravel the case and devise a solution. For example, you might move protein foods out of the refrigerator and off the stove onto the young person's plate, or you might zap the food to reduce the portion size. Once you solve the problem that way, you then go to a series of mini-games, and the mini-games relate to the problem. There are also printed activities such as recipes for healthy foods.

And what if kids get to liking the video too much? Well, developers thought of that, too. After about 20 minutes, it shuts off automatically and kids are told to go outside and do some pushups.

There's also an online version.

Meanwhile....some members of Congress continue to agitate for more restraint on the part of food corporations in their marketing to children, but with mixed results.

In July, 11 major food, beverage and restaurant companies pledged to the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) that they would eliminate the use of licensed characters to market unhealthy food and beverage products and limit marketing to children 12 and younger to foods that meet specific nutritional guidelines, or eliminate marketing to children altogether. While Chuck E. Cheese agreed to join the CBBB Initiative in part, Dannon, Nestlé, and Yum! Brands declined.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, now says the reluctance of some companies to cooperate may require a response from lawmakers.

"At a time when our country is facing a serious childhood obesity crisis, the responses from these companies raises the question of whether voluntary industry action will be sufficient to combat this important public health issue,” Markey said in a statement. He added, "The fact that Dannon, NestlĂ©, and Yum! Brands are unwilling to restrict marketing to kids is disappointing, given that 13 of their competitors have found that it is possible to act in a socially responsible manner without harming their bottom line.”

****

Finally, we are looking forward this week to the debut of the documentary King Corn here in the District of Columbia. As we've mentioned before, this film is a bit of a romp, wherein two guys move to Iowa to plant an acre of corn and see where the heck all that corn goes, anyway.

In anticipation of the film's opening, one of the writers and lead characters, Curt Ellis, blogs about it. And there is this review at the Ethicurian blog, and another at the New York Times.

Since corn is in just about everything we eat, and soon to be in most of our gas tanks, we urge everyone to get out and see this flic. The film has a website where you can check the playdates.

4 comments:

Iron-Man said...

Lots of news, too much in fact. You really cannot have any discussion when you post twenty stories at a time.

Ed Bruske said...

Actually, Iron Man, it's just seven items, and you are welcome to focus on any one of them if you'd like to start a discussion.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Excellent stuff!
I'm an organic farmer in WV. I too have some giant turkeys that were bought too early. Don't know how big they're going to be a month from now when everyone will want one. Same thing happened with my pumpkins.
I just did a post on food over at my blog. Stop by.

Ed Bruske said...

sagacious, you've got a nice blog. We have a moritorium around here on turkeys over 40 pounds. Our rule now is, they have to fit in the oven. Thanks for the invite, and don't be a strager.