Our Modern Food System Is Not Set up for Good Health

Author: Paul Ebeling | Published on: Nov

Cheap food is really more of a curse than a blessing.

Agriculture has undergone huge changes over the past 70+ years. Many of them were heralded as progress that would save people from hunger and despair.

But, today, we are faced with a new set of problems driven by the innovations and interventions that were meant to provide people with safety and prosperity.

Since WWII food production has been all about efficiency and lowering cost. Today, we see what this approach has brought on heightened disease statistics and a faltering ecosystem.

The success of the processed food industry has come at a tremendous price to the people who eat it. As their lives are now at stake due to diet-related diseases. Many people have also become incorrectly convinced that eating healthy is a complicated equation requiring lots of nutritional data.

They are wrong.

It is very much simpler than one might think. Eating healthy is really about eating REAL food, meaning food as close to its natural state as possible. Avoiding agricultural toxins like pesticides is also part of the answer. But sadly this is not the kind of food American farmers are currently focused on producing.


Feeding the World

Authors: Anne Weir Schechinger & Craig Cox | Published on: October 5, 2016

The United Nations has forecast that world food production must double to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That assertion has become a relentless talking point in the growing debate over the environmental, health and social consequences of American agriculture.

America’s farmers, we are told, must double their production of meat products and grains to “feed the world.” Otherwise, people will go hungry.

Agribusinesses such as Monsanto sometimes cite the so-called “moral imperative” to feed a hungry world in order to defend the status-quo farm policy and deflect attention from the destruction that “modern” agriculture is inflicting on the environment and human health.

The real experts know better. Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization argues instead that the current conditions of “modern” agriculture are “no longer acceptable.”

The key to ending world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S.


Meat Is Magnificent: Water, Carbon, Methane & Nutrition

Author: Diana Rodgers, RD

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

There was a recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Meat is Horrible”, once again vilifying meat, that was full of inaccurate statements about the harm cattle impose on the land, how bad it is for our health, and how it should be taxed. Stories like this are all too common and we’ve absolutely got to change our thinking on what’s causing greenhouse gas emissions and our global health crisis.

Hint: it’s not grass-fed steak

In the few days since the story originally came out, I’ve been brewing up some different angle to write. I’ve written here, and here about the benefits of red meat, and how Tofurky isn’t the answer to healing the environment or our health. I keep saying the same thing over and over. Recently, I posted this as a response to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new claims that a plant-based diet is optimal. I also wrote about Philadelphia’s sugar tax here, and I don’t think a meat tax is any better of an idea, especially when the government is subsidizing the feed. I’m feeling quite frustrated.

This morning, I went back to see the post and noticed that the story has been “significantly revised to address several inaccurate and incomplete statements about meat production’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.” Most of the original points, references and charts are missing. However there are still some important pieces of information that I feel the author missed. The main one being that meat itself isn’t evil, it’s the method by which we farm it (feed lots and CAFOs-Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and how we prepare it (breaded and deep fried), and what we eat alongside it (fries, and a large soda).


5 Reasons Why Biodiversity is a Big Deal

Author: Russell McLendon

“Biodiversity as a whole forms a shield protecting each of the species that together compose it, ourselves included.” — E.O. Wilson, “Half-Earth”

Earth is teeming with life, from huge blue whales and redwoods to tiny bacteria, archaea and fungi. It’s not just the only planet known to host any life at all; it has so many species in so many places we still aren’t even sure how many there are.

We do know, however, that Earth is losing species unusually quickly at the moment. We’re seeing a mass extinction event, something that’s happened at least five times before on Earth, albeit never in human history — and never with human help.

Extinction is part of evolution, but not like this. Species are vanishing more quickly than any human has ever seen; the extinction rate for vertebrate animals is now 114 times higher than the historical background rate. Humans are driving this in several ways, from poaching to pollution, but the No. 1 factor is habitat loss.

This is raising deep concerns about our planet’s biodiversity, which, as biologist E.O. Wilson has pointed out, is like an ecological shield for us and other species. In fact, according to a new study, biodiversity loss has crossed the “safe” threshold in most of the world, leaving many ecosystems in danger of collapse.


A Farmer’s Thoughts on 100% Grass Fed Dairying

Author: Jack Lazor

One hundred per cent grass fed dairy products (aka “grass milk”) has been a relatively recent arrival to the dairy section of most natural foods outlets. The health benefits of 100% grass fed dairy have long been espoused by The Weston A. Price Foundation and others. When cows live on a diet from which grain has been eliminated, the omega 3 fatty acid profile increases in their milk. Grass fed beef has become quite popular because of the presence of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) in the meat. Higher CLAs reduce one’s risk of cancer and other diseases. These same nutritional advantages hold true for 100% grass fed milk products.

We here at Butterworks Farm have long been interested in no grain dairy farming. For the past forty years we have been grain growers as well as hay producers. Cereals (oats, wheat and barley) and row crops like corn and soy have fit neatly into our crop rotation with grasses and legumes. The straw byproduct of the grain is just as important to us for bedding our animals as the grain is for feeding them. We grind the grain into a dairy ration and feed our cows grains from our own farm as opposed to buying it from the “mill.”

Over the years, as our soil health and fertility have increased, we have improved the quality of our forages (grass and legumes) to the point where we have been able to reduce the amount of grain fed to our cows to 4 ½ pounds at each milking. Standard fare on most high production dairy farms is one pound of grain for every three pounds of milk produced. Our ratio is closer to 1:5.

Early in 2016, we began to conclude that if the quality of our forages was so superior, we could stop feeding grain to our cows without suffering adverse consequences. In early April we began reducing the amount of grain we fed at each milking. By the end of the month, we were down to less than three pounds per day per cow.


While BBQ Season Sizzles, a Case for Healthy Farms and Better Beef

Author: Marcia DeLonge

Friends and acquaintances often ask me about what to eat (or not eat) if they are concerned about the impacts of their food choices on the world around them. One of the foods that comes up most frequently in this regard is beef, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

It is appropriate for thoughtful people to ask questions about beef production, because it is implicated in climate change, pollution, and deforestation. But it’s also true that well-managed grazing lands offer a lot of benefits for the environment and biodiversity. These include the opportunity for farmers to grow cattle feed as a part of healthy soil-building crop rotations, as well as the possibility that manure—rather than becoming a waste product to be managed—can be productively used on farms to recycle nutrients and reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers. With these factors in mind, if you choose to eat beef, it’s important to look at how and where it’s produced.

Better beef requires better farming systems, from the ground up

Let’s start by looking at some of the land management practices that are responsible for unsustainable beef production.

  • Deforested areas. Millions of beef cattle are produced in the deforested tropics, and my colleagues have identified this as a key driver of deforestation, with devastating implications for climate change, biodiversity, and more. However, it’s also important to note that the factors causing deforestation are complex, and that most beef is consumed in the country where it is produced. This means that reducing beef consumption in the US may help alleviate deforestation by making a small dent in global demand, but directly confronting responsible companies is likely to be more effective.
  • Degraded grasslands. It’s common to hear about grasslands destroyed by overgrazing. The exact meaning and utility of this term is often debated (read this interesting blog for one perspective, or this paper for an academic review), and there’s still uncertainty about what level of stocking rate is too high in any given ecosystem and management system. However, there is agreement that grazing mismanagement can be very destructive to ecosystems, leading to degraded landscapes. At the same time, good land management (including grazing management) has been shown to improve degraded areas, and there are many degraded lands with significant potential for improvement.

Climate Change’s Costs are Still Escalating

Author: Paul Brown

LONDON, 19 July, 2015 − The massive economic and health losses that climate change is already causing across the world are detailed in six scientific papers published today.

Perhaps most striking is the warning about large productivity losses already being experienced due to heat stress, which can already be calculated for 43 countries. The paper estimates that in South-East Asia alone “as much as 15% to 20% of annual work hours may already be lost in heat-exposed jobs”.

And that figure may double by 2030 as the planet continues warming − with poor manual labourers who work outdoors being the worst affected.

The release of the papers coincides with the start of a conference on disaster risk reduction, held in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and jointly sponsored by the International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH) and the UN Development Programme.

The aim is to alert delegates to the already pressing scale of the problem and the need to take measures to protect the health of people, and to outline the economic costs of not taking action.

Substantial health risks

In an introduction to the six-paper collection, UNU-IIGH research fellows Jamal Hisham Hashim and José Siri write that humanity faces “substantial health risks from the degradation of the natural life support systems which are critical for human survival. It has become increasingly apparent that actions to mitigate environmental change have powerful co-benefits for health.”


Organic food is well worth paying for – for your health as well as nature

Author: Peter Melchett

The most often repeated criticism of organic food is that it costs more than non-organic food.

It’s often accompanied by the strong implication that it’s not worth paying any more for organic because it delivers no additional value to consumers.

After long and bitter disputes, the overwhelming evidence showing substantially more wildlife on organic farms, better animal welfare, almost no pesticides, less greenhouse gas emissions, more jobs and less pollution has eventually been accepted.

But all these public goods still did not justify more than a small handful of committed citizens wanting to eat organic food (so opponents of organic argued), because none of them benefit individual consumers.

This is the background to the protracted and high profile struggle over scientific studies into whether organic farming makes any difference to the quality of the food produced. The idea that consumers might be getting better quality, more nutritious food for the extra money they spend would be a serious blow to many in the non-organic farming and food industries.


8 Common Plants to Grow for Their Medicinal Benefits (All Great for Indoor Container Gardens)

Author: Jonathon Engels

Just about the same time I started getting into permaculture, I began developing an interest in the power of food as a preventative medicine. Permaculture appealed to me because it seemed obvious that the way we were cultivating our food with an overabundance of chemicals was destructive to the planet and to our own health. When it came to farming, doing what came naturally seemed, well, the natural solution. Letting food be my medicine paralleled this idea: We’ve become so accustomed to doping our bodies to ward off every cold or headache and boost our bodily systems that we’ve left ourselves in the same state as barren ground.

If the soil could be fixed by adding quality organic biomass, reinvigorating an entire ecosystem, then why couldn’t we do the same thing for our bodies, ecosystems in their own right? My wife Emma and I started watching documentaries like Food Matters and Simply Raw, reading books about herbal medicine and fermentation, and learning from people we were meeting through permaculture. We suddenly found ourselves thinking about enzymes, probiotics, gut flora, and antioxidants. We became fast fans of fresh herbs in every meal and including certain beneficial spices and veggies regularly. Undoubtedly, it felt right, and we felt better than ever.

What we found was that some of the most powerfully medicinal foods had been right at our fingertips all along. They were easy to grow, required little space (could work in pots, in fact), and naturally strengthened our immune systems, regulated blood sugar, steadied blood pressure, lubricated joints, prevented inflammation, helped our skin, and generally bettered our well-being. We adopted simple ways to include them in our meals throughout the day, and we started sharing our new dietary practice and home production methods. And, that felt right, too.

1. Garlic

Very common, very potent, and very medicinal—garlic is nothing new on the medicinal scene. It’s even available in pill form these days, but when it’s so easy to grow, that just seems silly. What’s more, raw garlic is where the magic really happens. We’ve always grown our garlic as an annual, often as much for the sprouts as the bulbs, but I’ve recently discovered new (to me) techniques for growing it as a perennial, i.e. the permaculture way. While it can be grown in a pot, it’s also a great companion plant

2. Ginger

Already something we used regularly to prevent motion sickness, ginger became a much larger feature in our everyday cooking. It pairs wonderfully with carrot anything, works well in oatmeal, and, with some citrus zests, adds a zip to rice. We also use it to make tea, again combined with a bit of orange or lime. But, by far, our favorite ginger practice has become fermenting ginger beer on a regular basis. It tastes great while providing both the medicinal benefits of ginger and probiotics. It’s a great shade-tolerant plant that works well in the tropics but can be grown indoors as a pot plant in more frigid locales.


Bacteria in branches naturally fertilize trees

The bacteria in and on our bodies have been shown to be vital for human health, influencing nutrition, obesity and protection from diseases.

But science has only recently delved into the importance of the microbiome of plants. Since plants can’t move, they are especially reliant on partnerships with microbes to help them get nutrients.

Now, University of Washington plant microbiologist Sharon Doty, along with her team of undergraduate and graduate students and staff, has demonstrated that poplar trees growing in rocky, inhospitable terrain harbor bacteria within them that could provide valuable nutrients to help the plant grow. Their findings, which could have implications for agriculture crop and bioenergy crop productivity, were published May 19 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers found that microbial communities are highly diverse, varying dramatically even in cuttings next to each other.

“This variability made it especially difficult to quantify the activity, but is the key to the biology since it is probably only specific groupings of microorganisms that are working together to provide this nutrient to the host,” said Doty, a professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Nitrogen fixation is a natural process that is essential to sustain all forms of life. In naturally occurring low-nutrient environments such as rocky, barren terrain, plants associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to acquire this essential nutrient.

It’s well documented that nitrogen fixation happens in bacteria-rich nodules on the roots of legumes such as soybeans, clovers, alfalfa and lupines. Bacteria help the roots fix atmospheric nitrogen gas into a form which can be used by the plant.