September 2010 Archives

The '"New" Super-vegetable


Everyone knows about broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, but many people are unfamiliar with these vegetables' close relative---kale. Introduced to the U.S. by English settlers during the 17th century, kale is making a comeback. This leafy green has been deemed a "super-vegetable" (much like the pomegranate as a "super-fruit) due to the many health benefits it provides.
Linda from The Gardens of Eagan mentioned that kale provided a source of many vitamins and minerals. In fact, kale is naturally rich in calcium, lutein, iron, and vitamins C, K, and A. It is also a great source of fiber, vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) and beta-carotene, as well as the naturally occurring phytochemical, sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is reportedly helpful in protecting against cancer by triggering the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals.
Kale is sold in grocery stores year-round, so it is very easy to find. Now that I know of its many health benefits and ways to prepare it (soups, stir fry, or oven-baked "chips"), I may give it a try.

Digital Trainers

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The new fad for this year is digital trainers. These trainers measure your weight and even give encouragement while exercising. Some of the more fancy ones measure heart rate and make a customized workout program. If that is not enough they have the technology to send your weight to twitter and even facebook if you want that. Withings and Suunto are the front runners in the digital trainer craze. Robots that give diet advice are on the way and new technologies are coming out everyday. If you want to read more here is the site http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/business/26novel.html?src=busln

Minnesota Organic Farming

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http://www.dl-online.com/event/article/id/55799/group/Countryside/
"Organic Farming Going Strong"
9.24.2010

This article comes from an online newspaper source published in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

It is interesting and encouraging to read that Minnesota organic production has been increasing throughout the past years. It is also intriguing to note that the demand for organic products continues to grow, despite the current economic downturn. What is it that is making the people in Minnesota choose organic over conventional?

I was really surprised to read that according to the research, 78% of these organic farmers started out as conventional farmers. 78% is a large number; it would be interesting to hear the accounts of these farmers and their reasoning for switching from conventional farming to organic farming. Additionally, it would be interesting to see what struggles they have faced as a result from making that change.

Finally, I found the last point of the article a little disheartening. The article makes the phrase "certified organic" to appear to have a broad definition. A once a year check-up by an independent organization seems like it could give a decent amount of wiggle room for an organic farm to run within. It would be interesting to ask the organic farm we are visiting on Wednesday their opinion about organic farms in Minnesota being considered "certified organic" and what that really means, as their logo (as seen below) states that they are "certified organic".
GOElogo.jpg

Sara Gapp

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. "Corn Sugar"

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEbRxTOyGf0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVsgXPt564Q&NR=1

While I was at home on Sunday, a commercial came on TV from the Corn Growers Association. I couldn't find the exact one online, but these links above give you their main point. In the commercial I saw, they called HFCS "Corn Sugar," claiming consumption is harmless in moderation and isn't any more harmful than cane sugar. This was pretty shocking to me, since in my house, we avoid HFCS as much as possible. My mom thought the commercial was slanted and lacking scientific evidence, and I agree. These commercials didn't make me think, "Oh, Ok, bring on the HFCS!" but they are a really interesting opposition to the media's big anti-HFCS movement.

The Corn Growers Association commercials also have a website, sweetsurprise.com, which is full of a different side of the debate from what we normally see. Check out their "Myths vs. Facts" section if you have a chance. I am not at all convinced of their argument; I would rather be cautious and keep their "in moderation" suggestion for HCFS consumption as low as possible.

As smit6120 mentioned, sugar consumption in general has a huge impact on health, including diabetes and obesity. HCFS consumption has also been linked to diabetes and obesity, as well as higher "bad cholesterol" rates, metabolic syndromes, etc. The chemical make-up of HFCS differs from that of glucose in that fructose isn't broken down before it arrives in the liver, and is instead converted to fat. Research has also shown fructose to have a negative impact on insulin and leptin - the result being greater hunger, so you end up eating more later.

To HFCS's credit, it is incredibly cheap to produce, which makes HFCS foods cheaper and more accessible. Maybe HFCS isn't as harmful as it is made out to be, but i'll continue avoiding it (and a lot of foods high in other sugars) to be on the safe side.

Veggie Tales

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Americans aren't eating enough vegetables despite the explosion of farmers' markets and extensive public education campaigns by governments and other organizations. A new report by the CDC details how little progress has been made on the vegetable front and you can read a story about the report in today's Star Tribune.

There are many barriers to getting people to eat vegetables including cost, inconvenience, and taste. Do you have any creative ideas to boost vegetable consumption?


map_fruit_veg_adult.jpg


Farmers Markets Feign Produce

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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39319593?ocid=twitter

Just today, this story came out about farmers markets in California. When NBC did investigative reporting, they bought produce from a number of farmers markets then tested it for pesticides. When many of the items tested positive, they made trips with a member of the Dept. of Agriculture, only to find that farmers sold commercially grown produce they bought from wholesalers and marketed as their own and "pesticide-free" at nearly 24 farmers markets.

We have recently been studying the organic movement, and how in modern times it fails to resemble the idyllic family farm we picture it to be. The surge in popularity of organic products has caused the advent of 'industrial organic' farms that rarely hold or maintain contracts with small, local family farms. To be a small-scale farmer in the 21st century seems impossible, especially when you only sell at farmers markets and may not make enough to sustain your farm, a possible reason for the recent influx of buying inorganic produce from wholesalers and peddling it as your own.

Is it possible to be an organic farmer in the idealistic sense of the word, in the way that we picture it to be? How can we expect farmers to be able to maintain their farms when the organic food we see at grocery stores never comes from these small farms?

Or, as organic consumers, do we need to learn to be more wary? Organic food is more expensive than food commercially grown, but we typically feel that added cost is worth our benefit to the environment. Are we being taken advantage of at the farmers market, one of the few places local organic was thought to still exist?

Fat Planet

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) has released a new report on the worldwide problem of obesity that is data-rich and fascinating. Here (OECD obesity ex summary 2010.pdf) is the executive summary and if you would like to download the entire report, go here.


The report is getting lots and lots of attention in the news media. Try to read the executive summary (it is just a few pages) and a couple of news articles that report on it (simply google "OECD obesity report"). A good exercise that will test your understanding of the ideas in the Saguy and Almeling article and help you prepare for the midterm is to compare the OECD report itself (again, the executive summary will suffice. Don't feel like you have to read all 270 pages of the report! Even I'm not going to do that) to news coverage of it.

Reversal of "Troubled Waters" Decision

Read about it in the Daily.  I'm very keen to discuss this with you all.

Troubled Waters

As some of you may be aware, a controversy has erupted over a decision to cancel the airing of the documentary, "Troubled Waters," on PBS in early October. The documentary was produced with University of Minnesota assistance, and the decision to cancel it has set off a firestorm. The decision has received extensive coverage in the Star Tribune and in The Minnesota Daily.

From what I have read in the newspaper, the content of the documentary is related to some of the things we are, and will be, discussing in The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I would be quite interested in learning your views and having some class discussion about this controversy.  It brings together in one ongoing story political and economic interests, food policy, arguments about freedom of expression, and current newsworthiness. 

"In Worries About Sweeteners, Think of All Sugars"

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The fact that people should avoid "high fructose corn syrup" in their everyday appetite is something I was persuaded as well, but after reading, "In Worries About Sweeteners, Think of All Sugars" found in The New York Times, I rethought the concept. I feel like trends of "bad things in food" arise throughout the health world, and the public clings to these ideas to "stay thin." The lack of education about what exactly makes a person gain weight is more of a problem than the things we are told not to eat. I feel as if the idea that over consumption of anything, from high fructose corn syrup to even pure cane sugar, has the possibility to make you overweight. Almost everything consumed, even things such that seem very healthy, such as milk, contain a varied amount of sugar. People need to realize that everything they consume, seemingly healthy or not, contributes to their weight in some way. Sugar, in my opinion, is something we definitely need to reevaluate, due to it's huge impact on medical conditions such as diabetes and a persons overall health.

Preview: American Obesity

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3HG0G5TXLs&feature=fvst

I watched a YouTube video on a CBS special preview called American Obesity. The segment starts out to say that we are fighting an obesity "battle." This edition focuses in Houston, Texas. It says there are "immense amounts" of temptations for people to eat poorly, and as a nation 2/3 of us are overweight are obese. The segment blames American irresponsibility on our fatness.

Soon, as a nation we will become "cardiac cripples." This is a definite example of framing. It calls this weight a drain on our wallets and our self esteem. Repeatedly it says "we" as a nation need to do something about this battle. The industry must make it easier for Americans to make smarter decisions. The video still only shows overweight people as dramatic examples, but at least it gives hope to turning our "obesity epidemic" around, and it says there are other factors besides McDonald's that are causing us to gain some extra weight.

Biggest Loser

I watched ........

Food Safety Politics

In today's paper, there is an article about the Food Safety Bill's progress in the U.S. Senate. Despite having widespread support from both producers and consumer groups, the public, and the President, the bill is stalled.

The wheels of American government are designed to turn slowly. In comparison to many other democracies around the world, the U.S. political system has a lot of "access points" that allow determined forces to throw up roadblocks to new initiatives. As a consequence, policy outcomes of necessity have to involve numerous compromises and coalition building across diverse interests. Sometimes this can make for strange political bedfellows. In the case of American agriculture, this has resulted in a "weird" match between liberal, Democratic Members of Congress, representing urban interests, and more conservative members (Democrats and Republicans) representing more rural districts and states. The marriage of convenience allows agricultural subsidies to exist side-by-side with many public nutrition programs such as free or reduced-priced lunch and WIC, all within the same piece of legislation. Note that the article mentions that one of the casualties of the current compromise supporting the Food Safety bill is that a proposed ban on BPA was removed from the bill's language, and that the coalition opposing the bill is a rather strange mix of liberal and conservative forces.

Got Milk?

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Should public schools replace flavored milk with plain milk in order to combat childhood obesity? Here are two points of view.


milk.jpg

Welcome to the University

Really enjoyed meeting you all this morning. Hope to see some of you at the farmer's market today.

Professor Rahn

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