An Interview with the Humanitarian Organization for Education and Development (OHED)

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The Humanitarian Organization for Education and Development (OHED) works to ameliorate the living conditions of communities displaced by poverty and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo Credit: iStock

The Humanitarian Organization for Education and Development (OHED) works to ameliorate the living conditions of communities displaced by poverty and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo Credit: iStock

The Humanitarian Organization for Education and Development (OHED) is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and works to ameliorate the living conditions of communities displaced by poverty and violence. The organization’s objective is to ultimately reduce famine, malnutrition, and poverty, which are prevalent and widespread throughout the DRC. Through the implementation of various agricultural and livestock projects and initiatives aimed at educating refugees, community members, and vulnerable people, OHED is working to make a difference in the quality of life of Congolese and refugees. Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with OHED’s founder and executive director, Joseph Mubake, about the organization’s creation and work.

Food Tank (FT): What is OHED’s motto?

Joseph Mubake (JM): Our motto is charity, effort, and respect. Charity refers to our altruistic mindset and our sincere love for helping people. Effort points to the drive with which OHED members act to achieve their goals and overcome all obstacles. Respect (of diversity) represents the admiration, deference, and esteem our members have towards everyone, regardless of origin, nationality, skin color, language, or social status.

FT: What are the organization’s objectives?

JM: Our general objectives are to end famine, malnutrition, and poverty, and to improve the living conditions of poor communities through implementing agricultural and livestock projects, producing sufficient food supplies, raising funds, and growing household incomes.

Specific objectives include a wide range of more focused goals. We aim to bring together indigenous and poor communities and educate them on various subjects ranging from infectious diseases and malnutrition to environmental conservation. We conduct sensitization activities and public campaigns, as well as engage with like-minded organizations to support agriculture and livestock programs among poor local communities. This goes hand-in-hand with efforts to increase revenue. Next, we strive to empower women through conducting training sessions and seminars related to food security, poverty alleviation, and ways to raise income. OHED also provides credits and loans to women and vulnerable people in order to ameliorate their financial situation at home and to fulfill their social needs in the communities. Our final aim is to enable the refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to improve their living conditions and help them to develop a sense of hope.

FT: What inspired you to start OHED?

JM: For many years, the eastern part of the DRC has experienced atrocious human rights violations committed either by armed groups or by bandits in localities, towns, and villages. The number of violations increased, especially in the rural areas where the government army and UN forces were not visible. Instances of extortions, killings, and sexual violence were repeatedly reported in various zones of the province, including Shabunda, Mwenga, Fizi, Uvira, and Kabambare. Inhabitants have been resultantly fleeing their villages and localities in search of humanitarian assistance, either in a different village or abroad. Locals did not have the means to deal with hunger and its related consequences in the rural areas of the South Kivu Province. Governmental institutions and humanitarian agencies could not reach the localities and villages due to insecurity created by armed groups. However, the food received from international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) did not fulfill all of the needs of people in the refugee and IDP camps. Prostitution increased due to acute poverty, famine, and financial depreciation in the villages. The agricultural activities require much effort, experience, and support from institutions and organizations across the world.

In 2014, I initiated a meeting with a few Congolese people at Kagembe-Malingumu Relief Center to find possible solutions to these problems. Many key questions arose during that meeting: What can we do while human beings like us continue to die of hunger? Who can assist us? Where can our voice be heard? How can we organize ourselves to sort out the problems of hunger and malnutrition? The participants agreed and instantly supported the idea of creating OHED. The only potential force to fight against famine and poverty, and to improve the living conditions of the victims, was the implementation of agriculture and livestock projects in rural areas where the families of the returnees and other inhabitants were living. All of those efforts required charity, determination, and willingness from both OHED volunteers and the target communities.

FT: Can you describe the drive and motivation of your volunteers? What do they have in common?

JM: OHED volunteers are very driven and motivated, encouraged by the experience of seeing implemented agricultural projects on the ground. We are fueled by the results of our work. In many areas of the South Kivu Province, hunger and malnutrition now decrease at an acceptable rate. The rate of students attending primary and secondary schools is increasing thanks to income gains from the parents’ farming activities. There are now fewer beggars and street children throughout the localities and villages. Women are slowly becoming empowered, especially when conducting training sessions and assisting in project management within the communities.

In most villages, every indigenous parent is becoming involved in land cultivation, producing whatever he or she wants. This is in large part thanks to the experience and knowledge acquired from OHED education, training sessions, seminars, and sensitization campaigns. Similarly, food is regularly retailed to business people from towns and suburbs. In that way, we can say that the motivations behind OHED initiatives result in an improved financial situation and a reduction in malnutrition and poverty in many households throughout the operational areas.

FT: Who does OHED work with to gain perspective and acquire support for its programs?

JM: OHED staff members are united and work together to implement farming projects. They apply a participatory approach to completing their objectives and fulfilling their vision among the affected communities. From that perspective, the contribution of every member is highly required, especially when conducting self-reliance farming projects.

In addition to the efforts of our members, the association is receiving moral support from a few particular nationals and community members while receiving invitations from other NGOs operating in the province. Currently, OHED is collaborating with other small associations, churches, and schools. It is acquiring low-cost land areas from local authorities and giving them to people willing to implement the agricultural projects. Financial support still remains a serious challenge to OHED’s growth, however.

Collaborating with national and international organizations may also help OHED staff members to become more knowledgeable, and to forge ahead and finally defeat food scarcity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

FT: How does the Democratic Republic of the Congo government interact with organizations such as OHED? What are the biggest obstacles to getting solutions into the field, and what needs to be done to overcome them?

JM: To be honest, OHED is well-known by the local government in various sectors and zones. However, the process of becoming known at the provincial and national levels is being carried out by our members. By the end of August 2016, the OHED association hopes to be officially registered at the provincial level. Local government authorities regularly interact with OHED staff members during administrative hearings, training sessions, and campaigns.

The biggest obstacles to OHED implementing solutions into the field include finding equipment for offices and agricultural facilities, acquiring support from national and international agencies, transportation and distance between operations, and a lack of office space, communication tools, and motivation. Expanding our network and raising funds help to reduce these hurdles.

FT: Where do you hope to see OHED in the next ten years?

JM: In the next ten years, we hope to see OHED in other provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo such as in North Kivu, Katanga, and Maniema, as well as in the nearest neighboring countries (including Burundi, depending upon financial constraints).

There is an assumption among the members of OHED that no one can develop himself or herself without advice from or collaboration with other people. From that perspective, OHED requests suggestions, partnerships, and support of any kind from Food Tank and other like-minded organizations and agencies dealing with agriculture, livestock, food security, and environmental conservation programs across the world. We are all commonly called upon to participate in efforts with the goal of helping and rescuing humankind from hunger and malnutrition. We need to help one another move forward in all endeavors. OHED staff members believe that joint effort, sincerity, and willingness are, among others, the most significant pillars when saving the lives of human beings from famine and poverty. Charity and respect of diversity will also help us to reach the millennium goals as expected.

[via Food Tank]

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Food Recovery in Marin County, California

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ExtraFood works to end hunger and minimize food waste in Marin County, where approximately 50,000 people are unsure of where their next meal will come from. Photo Credit: ExtraFood

ExtraFood works to end hunger and minimize food waste in Marin County, where approximately 50,000 people are unsure of where their next meal will come from. Photo Credit: ExtraFood

Marv Zauderer is the Founder and Chairman of ExtraFood, a food recovery program whose mission is to help end hunger and eliminate food waste in Marin County, California. ExtraFood collects excess food from businesses and organizations and donates that food to nonprofits across the county. ExtraFood has delivered more than 317,514 kilograms (700,000 pounds) of food sourced from more than 150 donors to 78 nonprofit sites in Marin County. Aside from alleviating the widespread hunger that affects children, adults, and families, ExtraFood works to alleviate the environmental crisis by preventing methane from entering the atmosphere. Food Tank had the privilege to speak with Marv Zauderer about the genesis of ExtraFood and his work with the organization, as well as its impact on Marin County and its residents.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to found ExtraFood?

Marv Zauderer (MZ): It started with this: hunger breaks my heart. Then I learned about the extent of the problem in my own community of Marin County, California—one of the wealthiest counties in the country—where nearly 50,000 people worry about where their next meal is coming from. It was shocking. And it was even more shocking that 40 percent of all edible food in this country is wasted. When the Executive Director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank encouraged me to start a food recovery program in Marin, that assured me that the program would be complementary to the food bank and meet an unmet need. And then ExtraFood’s godmother, Mary Risley—Founder of Food Runners in San Francisco, one of the first food recovery programs in the U.S.—told me they would share everything they learned. After that, I thought, now we have to do this.

FT: What are the mission and goals of ExtraFood?

MV: ExtraFood’s mission is to help end hunger and food waste in Marin. The word “help” in our mission statement is intentional: it emphasizes that solving these systemic problems will take an enormous, collaborative effort among many people and organizations across our county. The first step we’ve taken is our county-wide food recovery program. We pick up excess food from any business or organization, such as caterers, grocery stores, restaurants, and schools. We then immediately deliver the food to nonprofit partners—such as senior living facilities, shelters, home-delivered meal programs, and after-school programs—serving Marin’s most vulnerable children, adults, and families. We focus our work in the areas of greatest need, such as the food deserts in our county. We focus on serving vulnerable people, such as children and seniors, whose hunger is so often hidden. Our immediate goal is to enroll every available food donor in our program and get every available pound of fresh, healthy food to those in need.

FT: What types of food do you take in for donation? 

MZ: Working closely with our recipient partners, we locate, recover, and deliver food donations that match each partner’s needs, including fresh produce, prepared food, dairy, eggs, meat, packaged goods, and baked goods. We only accept food that meets ExtraFood’s and our donors’ strict standards for food safety and usability. Nearly all of the food we pick up is excess food, but some comes through our Planned Givingprogram: a growing number of restaurants regularly make fresh food specially for us to pick up and deliver to those in need.

FT: How many volunteers does ExtraFood have, and how large is the recipient base? 

MZ: In the two plus years of our program, we’ve delivered donations to 78 recipient sites throughout our county. We’re reaching more than 5,000 people each month with our free service. Making such a significant difference does indeed take a village: our small staff is joined by an amazing team of 160 volunteers, dispatched online and by text message, who work 365 days a year to serve our food donors and those who are struggling with hunger.

FT: How much food has ExtraFood recovered since its founding in December 2013?

MZ: Since December 2013, ExtraFood has delivered more than 317,514 kilograms (700,000 pounds) of food—540,000 meals—to those 78 sites across our county. We’ve delivered more than 9,500 donations. We help our recipient partners serve more people, provide more complete and healthy meals, and shift their food program funds to other critically needed services. And we help our food donors reduce waste and make another difference in our community.

FT: What positive impact does your work have on the environment? 

MZ: Food waste is an enormous environmental problem, chiefly because food waste in our landfills creates methane—a gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would rank third in greenhouse gas production after the United States and China. We’re deeply concerned about the health of the planet that we’re leaving for our children; food recovery is a powerful way to reduce climate change.

FT: What are your future plans with ExtraFood?  

MZ: Since the requests we receive for food far exceed our supply, our immediate plan is to build capacity to meet the growing need. First, we’re ramping up our marketing program and food donor recruitment to drive growth in food donations. It’s so easy for businesses to donate food, and they can receive many benefits from donating—for example, saving money on disposal/recycling fees, receiving new tax deductions, and gaining publicity. To give an example of our awareness-building work, on October 30 the Sausalito Film Series is hosting a benefit for ExtraFood, with the award-winning food waste film, “Just Eat It,” and a panel discussion featuring Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council. We’re also adding to our infrastructure so we can organize, pick up, and deliver all of this additional food to more people in need. We’re constantly expanding a collaborative ecosystem of food donors, volunteers, recipients, supporting partners, and funders—a renewable resource for our community that will outlive all of us. We envision a day when food recovery is a way of life and all in our community have the food they need.

Click here for more information about ExtraFood.

[via Food Tank]

Project Green Challenge 2016 Sparks Change

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Project Green Challenge consists of 30 days of environmentally-themed challenges to encourage environmental stewardship amongst students and future generations. Photo Credit: iStock

Project Green Challenge consists of 30 days of environmentally-themed challenges to encourage environmental stewardship amongst students and future generations. Photo Credit: iStock

Project Green Challenge (PGC) is calling on high school and college students, globally, to action. PGC consists of 30 days of environmentally themed challenges, enabling students to learn about environmental advocacy and to hone their mentorship and leadership skills.

The aim of the Challenge is to foster an individual and collective mindset geared toward initiating a series of actions that inspire change on both the campus and global levels. The initiative began in 2011 and has thus far engaged more than 25,000 students on over 1,000 campuses in all 50 states and in 45 countries.

Each day during the month of October, participants will receive an email at 6am Pacific Time with a themed challenge. Participants have 24 hours to complete the proposed tasks and upload their results in order to acquire points and win prizes. Twenty prizes are awarded daily, and participants are encouraged to share and update on social media and Turning Green platforms to reach a broader network.

The top prize package includes a US$5,000 award (donated by Acure Organics), a trip to Gaia Herbs Farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina (donated by Gaia Herbs), and a US$500 Green Grocer gift card for of a selection of organic, Fair Trade, non-GMO, and zero waste products.

Turning Green is a global movement run by students working to advocate environmental sustainability and social responsibility for individuals and campuses. The organization hopes to encourage environmental stewardship at a young age to promote a network of individuals who care for the planet.

Click here for more information about Project Green Challenge.

[via Food Tank]

Cockroach Milk May Be the Next Superfood

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The Pacific beetle cockroach produces a milk that is far more calorically dense and nutritious than mammalian milks. Photo credit: iStock

The Pacific beetle cockroach produces a milk that is far more calorically dense and nutritious than mammalian milks. Photo credit: iStock

An international team of scientists at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) have found that the milk produced by the Pacific beetle cockroach has the potential to be a future superfood. Recently published findings reveal that the protein-rich crystals found in the midgut of this particular lactating cockroach far outcompete mammalian milk from different species in terms of energy and nutrient content. Prior to this study, buffalo’s milk was considered the most energy-rich milk option. Scientists discovered that a single midgut crystal, however, contains three times the caloric energy content of buffalo’s milk and four times that of cow’s milk.

Diploptera punctata, native to Hawaii, is the only known viviparous cockroach, meaning it gives birth to live young. During gestation, the mother insect lactates the nutritious liquid to the young, providing them with a rich source of proteins, fats, and sugars. After the embryo ingests the liquid, crystal proteins develop within its midgut. The scientists wanted to know what the crystals were made of, and decided to extract and sequence one of them.

According to Sanchari Banerjee, a coauthor of the study, “The crystals are like a complete food—they have proteins, fats, and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

The scientists in the group claim that the crystal, when recreated in a lab under controlled settings, has the potential to be a valuable protein supplement. Subramanian Ramaswamy, a biochemist on the research team, commented on the safety of the crystals for human consumption: “In principle, it should be fine. But today we have no evidence that it is actually safe for human consumption.”

Scientists from inStem in Bangalore, India are searching for ways to recreate the crystals in large amounts using bioengineered yeast in the lab. “For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production,” says Leonard Chavas, one of the authors of the study.

In addition to being high in calories and nutritious, cockroach milk is also time-released. When the protein solution is being consumed and digested, the crystal continues to provide protein at a consistent rate through the body. The crystal’s unique scaffolding and release mechanism are valuable properties that may be useful in designing nanoparticles for drug delivery, according to the researchers.

This study was published in IUCrJ, a journal of the International Union of Crystallography.

[via FoodTank]

Leket Israel: A Role Model Food Bank

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Leket Israel covers all aspects of food recovery, gathering fresh and high-quality food items that would otherwise be destined for landfill and redistributing to those in need. Photo credit: Leket Israel Archives

Leket Israel is the largest food bank in Israel and has been working to rescue food nationwide since 2003. Founded by Joseph Gitler, Leket gathers and redistributes fresh, high-quality, and perishable food items that would otherwise be considered waste. The organization collects food from farms, hotels, military bases, restaurants, and catering halls. Leket partners with 195 nonprofit organizations throughout the country to provide nutritious food to more than 175,000 people on a weekly basis. In 2015 alone, Leket rescued and delivered more than 13.6 million kilograms (30 million pounds) of fresh, nutritious food to those in need.

Gitler comments on Leket’s work: “Leket provides fresh and cooked food, and we arrive at our nonprofits with a complete meal in hand. Oftentimes, food banks claim that they provide 40 million meals. However, what they consider a meal is not actually a complete meal. We aim to provide nutritious foods that compose a balanced diet. Since our focus is on healthy food, we move it very quickly. Our recipients are not individuals, but rather nonprofits, from small mom and pop organizations to large feeding charities, soup kitchens, and shelters.”

Approximately 35 percent of all the food produced in Israel goes to waste, creating an opportunity for organizations to step in and redirect the steady stream of nutrients into the hands of the hungry. Part of the motivation behind Gitler founding Leket Israel was the contradictory nature of large scale waste existing amidst a growing portion of the Israeli population that lives below the poverty line. “Leket responds to that. In the West, we do not respect food anymore. It is shocking, and it’s an unacceptable situation. The side effects are not just poverty. Other problems arise on so many levels,” Gitler explains.

Leket Israel is operationally structured such that it carries out a wide range of food rescue activities: gleaning produce from farmland, collecting surplus from packing houses, rescuing cooked food from various suppliers, saving food products from the manufacturing industry, and sorting and packing leftover food. All of the food that Leket acquires is put through an intricate logistical system. Leket’s refrigerated trucks transport the food items to two logistical centers located in Northern and Central Israel. Food that enters the facilities is stored in optimal conditions to preserve it before transferring to nonprofits across the country. Leket continues to play a large role in that cycle of food recovery, giving guidance to its partner nonprofits on subjects ranging from infrastructure to food safety and nutrition.

Large operations require many hands; a substantial portion of Leket’s food rescue activities is sustained by its tens of thousands of committed volunteers—in 2016, estimates are more than 52,000. According to Gitler, “the work we do with farmers, we think, is the largest agricultural recovery project in the world—with 60,000 volunteers, this year we are going to rescue over 18 million kilograms (20,000 tons) of food.”

“If we recover even just 25 percent of the food wasted, we will take care of feeding the poor. The only limiting factor is resources.” Gitler says. Leket Israel aids and provides service to all populations considered at-risk, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, or religion. Gitler clarifies, “Leket Israel serves all sectors of Israeli society, and all sectors have different requirements (kosher, halal, etc.). We are a secular organization, serving Israeli Jews, Arabs, and refugees, many from Eritrea and Darfur. Geographically, because Israel is such a small country, we fill the role between Feeding America and City Harvest.”

Click here to learn more about Leket Israel.

[via FoodTank]

Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein on Health and the Microbiome

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Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein discusses the importance of being in touch with nature in order to build a robust inner terrain that reflects a balanced outer terrain. Photo credit: Timothy Jane Graham Photography

Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein discusses the importance of being in touch with nature in order to build a robust inner terrain that reflects a balanced outer terrain. Photo credit: Timothy Jane Graham Photography

Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD, is an integrative pediatric neurologist and an herbalist, naturalist, urban farmer, and author of The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil. Dr. Shetreat-Klein encourages children and adults to spend time outdoors, eat healthy food, and embrace the elements of fresh air, soil, sunshine, and water. She founded the Terrain Institute in New York City, where she educates parents, teachers, healers, and health care providers about Terrain Medicine.

Food Tank (FT): How did you become interested in the interplay between the microbiome, the food we eat, and our health?

Maya Shetreat-Klein (MSK): It started with my own son’s health problems. He suddenly developed asthma symptoms on his first birthday, which persisted almost continuously for ten months. At that time, he also experienced a developmental plateau. He was given a continuous array of antibiotics, inhalers, and steroids, though no doctor seemed to find this sudden shift—from wellness to sickness—of any concern. Ultimately, he was found to be severely allergic to soy. When we removed soy from his diet, his asthma stopped within three days. But at that point, his gut microbiome had been decimated by the medications he had been taking almost continuously for the better part of a year. For that, I had to do my own research to determine how to help him to heal. In the process, I discovered that soy in the United States was not as healthy as I had thought and that most of it was genetically modified (GM), doused in Roundup, and processed. The journey of my son’s healing was the beginning of a whole new education about farm, food, soil, and seed, about pharmaceuticals and the medical system, and about how to reclaim our health. The silver lining was that I then applied all of this knowledge to the patients in my practice, with huge success.

FT: Can you expand upon the title of your book, The Dirt Cure

MSK: Dirt represents three things: being exposed to microbes, eating fresh, unprocessed food from healthy soil, and bonding with nature. Many children come to see me suffering from chronic illnesses, such as ear infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases, as well as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, seizures, and headaches. Rather than medicate them, I wanted to understand the root cause of these problems and figure out how to prevent or reverse them. These aspects of dirt are the foundations of robust, lifelong health and well-being.

FT: How does a robust microbial community in the soil translate into healthy food?

MSK: Soil impacts our health through the food we eat. Most of us know that the nutrients from rich soil become part of plants, and then become part of us when we eat either plants or the animals that consume those plants. Most people do not realize how microbes, and even pests, influence the health of our food. Plants have immune systems just as we do. When challenged by microbes and bugs, these immune systems double down on defense by producing innate phytonutrients—the stuff of superfoods—for protection. The greater the challenge, the more they produce. Conversely, plants that grow in depleted, sanitized soil are far more vulnerable to disease or failure, partly because they lack resources to respond effectively. In fact, several studies have shown that vegetables grown organically are higher in phytonutrients and more resistant to drought than those grown with pesticides. And wild plants, exposed to the elements with no help from humans, must become so resilient that they are virtually bursting with phytonutrients.

The phytonutrients—the compounds that make cranberries red, lemons fragrant, and coffee bitter—make our food both delicious and healthy for us. For instance, receptors that bind bitter compounds found in coffee or dark chocolate line not just our mouths but our entire digestive and respiratory tracts, including the nose, throat, and lungs. They then improve gut motility, regulate blood sugar levels, and help us to fight infections, staving off coughs, colds, strep throat, and flu. But these kinds of compounds don’t develop in isolation. Rather, they are the result of a conversation—indeed, a challenge—between plants and us, and between plants and their terrain.

FT: Why are food allergies and autoimmune diseases so prevalent today?

MSK: We’ve known for some time about the hygiene hypothesis, which states that children who grow up on farms develop fewer allergies and have less asthma because they are dirtier. When researchers investigated, however, they found that an urban apartment has roughly the same number of microbes as a farm. The difference was that the microbes on farms were far more diverse. Our immune systems like this because they are actually very social, and benefit from meeting and greeting all sorts of compounds every day. When their interactions are limited, they begin to attack things that they shouldn’t, like food, pollen, or even our own bodies. Although we think to avoid bacteria, viruses, and other organisms, data suggest that exposure may well be critical, not just to prevent allergies and autoimmune diseases but even conditions like cancer. Ultimately, nature provides us with the biodiversity we need to be healthy. Consider that in just one teaspoon of soil, there are as many organisms as there are people on the planet! This kind of exposure is what our bodies crave.

FT: What would you say is the best method of encouraging children to spend more time outdoors and exposed to dirt, and less time indoors?

MSK: Children are incredibly observant. They are far more likely to notice and imitate what you’re actually doing than to follow what you’re telling them to do. Spending time together in nature, as a family, creates a familiarity with being outdoors, which a surprising number of children these days finds intimidating. It also provides opportunities for lifelong family memories. Keep in mind that not all memories have to be perfect. While it’s lovely to have the picture-perfect moments, working through the challenges together can feel just as valuable.

Sometimes parents can find it hard to think of things to do. But often, you don’t have to plan structured activities because many kids will start to explore naturally and interact with nature if you give them the opportunity to do so. Sometimes they can lead the way for you! There are countless wonderful activities to choose, from hiking or biking to building forts, teepees, or bonfires. Kids love to plant seeds or pick out seedlings to plant, and they can be quite nurturing and proud of their plants! Another fun activity can be to use guidebooks, or even apps on smartphones, to identify birds, leaves, trees, or mushrooms. Finally, geocaching can be a great way to combine technology and nature to engage older kids and teens. It’s a huge, international digital scavenger hunt, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device, and other navigational techniques, to hide and seek containers outdoors, called geocaches, anywhere in the world.

FT: Most of us remember being told as children to stop playing in the mud and to clean up, but what positive impact can getting dirty have on children’s immune systems?

MSK: Believe it or not, soil is filled with health benefits. Diverse microbes that live in soil interact with our bodies and brains in surprising ways that keep our immune and nervous systems in balance. For example, Mycobacterium vaccae is one organism that boosts serotonin levels in the brain to levels similarly achieved by pharmaceutical antidepressants. In animal studies, mice exposed to M. vaccae could navigate difficult mazes twice as quickly, with half the anxiety as control mice. Regular forest bathing, or immersion in the beauty of a forest, has been shown to boost focus and mood, lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol, and increase anti-cancer proteins. Time in nature also makes us feel happier and smarter. There are many likely components that explain why nature makes us feel so good. From the microbes that boost our mood to the vitamin D we get from spending time in the sun, there are several physical components. But there are also spiritual components. Nature inspires feelings of awe, beauty, and wonder. Studies have shown a correlation between feelings of awe and lower levels of cytokines, inflammatory markers that result from the immune system being on high alert. While inflammation can be important for fighting infection when the body is presented with a specific threat, chronically high levels of cytokines have been linked to a number of health problems, including asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and even ADHD.

FT: What is your philosophy on food?

MSK: I believe that we must recognize the sacred nature of our relationship with the food we eat and the water we drink. Indeed, food—and the terrain where it is grown—is our most intimate interaction with nature because it literally becomes a part of us. We must remain grounded in this knowledge, and care for our food—and the people who grow it—and our terrain as we would ourselves or our families.

FT: What do you grow in your home garden? 

MSK:  Everything. I live in New York City, but I like to push the boundaries to prove what is possible. I keep hens. I grow food, from a cruciferous section of cabbage, collards, kale, and kohlrabi to a nightshades section of cucumbers, potatoes, and tomatoes. I have a raspberry patch, a strawberry patch, and elderberry bushes, as well as cold-hardy kiwis and concord grapes. This year, I have a vast amount of fennel and sunflowers that self-seeded all over from last year. I also grow medicinal herbs and make teas, tinctures, and oils from them. Finally, I try to take advantage of what grows wild, and some of that is just being aware of what’s growing in my yard that is edible or medicinal. We mow the lawn infrequently and make sure to forage red clover flowers, violets and their leaves, dandelion greens and their roots, wild strawberries, curly dock, wineberries, and others.

FT: How can Food Tank readers spread awareness about the importance of the dirt cure where they live?

MSK: I wrote The Dirt Cure so that people could have an easy-to-read, evidence-based reference with plenty of take-home points to share with family members, teachers, school administrators, health care providers, and officials. I included more than 700 references so that the science would be accessible. Beyond the book, many steps to the dirt cure are relatively simple. Learn where your food comes from. Support growers by getting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share or buying from farmer’s markets. If that’s not possible, I’m happy that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars make it more accessible to all. Aim to buy pastured animal products and lots of in-season, organic produce. Grow some of your food, whether in a windowsill container, a plot in a community garden, or a patch in your yard. Compost, so you feed your soil instead of landfills. Get outdoors every day, whether it’s to walk your dog, take a hike in the woods, play frisbee, or picnic in a local park. Encourage your child’s school to increase time outdoors through nature curricula, prolonged recess time, and picnic lunches. The dirt cure should be part of a joyful life that helps people to feel happy, healthy, and complete.

Click here for more information about Dr. Shetreat-Klein’s work.

[via FoodTank]

Interview with Thomas McQuillan of Baldor Specialty Foods

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Thomas McQuillan of Baldor Specialty Foods discusses the company’s sustainability efforts to make use of food that would otherwise be wasted. Photo credit: Sebastian Arguello

Thomas McQuillan is a business analyst for Baldor Specialty Foods, and he has led the company’s efforts to become more sustainable while also cutting costs. McQuillan has introduced several initiatives to utilize the 10,000 pounds of food scraps created by the company every day. Prior to McQuillan joining Baldor, food waste was picked up by its waste hauler, but today, they use these scraps to generate income, unlock valuable nutrients, compost, and feed the hungry. Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with McQuillan about the company’s efforts to divert food scraps from landfill and ensure that the hard work of farmers, producers, and processors does not go to waste.

Food Tank (FT): How did you get involved in managing Baldor’s sustainability initiatives?

Thomas McQuillan (TM): Baldor Specialty Foods’ core business is 80 percent produce distribution and 20 percent specialty food distribution. A specialty food is anything that is not a fruit or vegetable, including olive oils, frozen hors d’oeuvres, truffles, etc. Within our company, we have a subsidiary called Baldor Fresh Cuts. Baldor Fresh Cuts processes some 60 different fruits and vegetables into different shapes and sizes each day. There are more than 500 SKUs that are available to our customers on a daily basis, and about 1,400 SKUs in total, which include items that can be special-ordered. As a result of that food production, if, for example, we’re cutting a carrot up into carrot sticks, there are carrot tips and peel leftover. I was asked to look at all that excess food product we generate in Fresh Cuts and do something with it, other than send it to landfill. That’s how our sustainability work at Baldor started. I wasn’t brought into Baldor to look solely at sustainability. Specifically, I was brought in to assist the President with special projects, and this is just one of them that has taken on a life of its own.

FT: Can you describe Baldor’s Fresh Cuts program?

TM: Fresh Cuts sets us apart from other food distributors in a couple of ways. We don’t just deliver food. We source the highest quality produce and process this food into specific cuts depending on the needs of the chef. Utilizing Baldor’s Fresh Cuts service allows the restaurant owner, chef, kitchen manager, and staff more time to focus on other aspects of their business. Our full line of Fresh Cuts allows our customers to yield 100 percent usable products while reducing waste, eliminating prep time, and improving profitability. Baldor can supply customers with all their Fresh Cuts needs. We offer everyday kitchen staples such as carrot coins and zucchini matchsticks, as well as special cuts such as Chateau squash and Tourneau potatoes for more lavish presentations. Items arrive uniformly cut and crisp—fresh every morning—allowing chefs to do what they do best: cook.

FT: Can you give us a glimpse into the Baldor food cycle?

TM: As a distributor, we are very closely aligned with our growers and shippers. We work in conjunction with them to create an annual cycle of food production, collection, and transportation, and then we distribute this produce throughout our market. Our customers demand certain products year round, such as strawberries. We have to make sure we can source the strawberries from somewhere around the world, all year round. The food cycle looks something like this—food production moves from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and then back north again. As the year progresses, the food is extracted from farms and delivered to us based on what is available in those various regions. What keeps us relevant as a distributor is the complexity around growing and distributing food: temperature, storms, and logistical disturbances. This uncertainty is what creates the volatility in market pricing and product availability. For example, it may be that avocado trees from Mexico received too much rain, and so they have not been able to harvest. As a result, we have to find another source. We are constantly forced and challenged to remain nimble and resourceful. Additionally, we have to make sure that we always have access to produce to meet the needs of our customers. We no longer have very specific seasons for many fruits and vegetables due to the fact that we source both locally and globally. With that said, we are also very involved in supporting local agriculture with our Local Pledge initiative. By taking the pledge, customers authorize Baldor’s sales team to substitute commodity items with comparably priced local alternatives whenever they are available. Consumers can actually log onto our site and see which restaurants and chefs are ordering local food to help us build a stronger regional food system.

FT: What types of food scraps does Baldor generate and how does the SparCs program address unused food?

TM: When we think about all the produce we process into carrot sticks and diced onion, for example, we should think about a use for all of that product. The carrot peel and tip should have a purpose no differently than the carrot stick we are producing. It is important to think about a use for the whole vegetable or fruit. If we are going to be forced to peel a carrot and take the top and bottom off, what can we do with those parts of the carrot so that they are never considered garbage or waste? We need to identify opportunities for the whole product, not just parts of it. SparCs (scraps backward) is an answer to this challenge.

The SparCs program looks at all the produce we use in processing and aims to utilize 100 percent of that product. Specifically, we are talking about food trim resulting from food production. The second piece is product that either ripens in our facility or does not meet our criteria for sale for some reason. In the event that we cannot sell the product, we look for an end user for the product. We try to donate as much as possible as the need for fresh produce among the food insecure is as crucial as ever. We utilize waste to water systems and send the product to a composter. Our last resort is to treat the food as waste.

FT: Do quality standards and the expectations of consumers interfere with using all food scraps?

TM: We want to make sure that we are always providing the highest quality, safest food as possible. In our operation, there are critical control points along the production cycle to ensure safety. After we peel a carrot, for example, the peelings enter what we call the “de-box” room, and then the cleaned carrot goes into production. During that production process, it is run through one of our critical control points: a bath of water that has a portion of chlorine in it to kill any pathogen that might still remain on that vegetable. Another critical control point occurs at the end of the process. The product must go through an x-ray machine to make sure there are no physical contaminants. The SparCs that are collected within the “de-box” room would not have gone through these critical control points, so we are always concerned that those products are further processed before they are consumed by humans to ensure that any pathogens are destroyed. For example, we’ll work with a soup company as they further process that food by cooking it, but we wouldn’t be interested in somebody just taking the SparCs and making a salad.

FT: How does Baldor feel about composting food scraps?

TM: Composting is a great solution for a lot of food products, but I think it becomes the best solution for food products that are inedible. Think about the top of a bell pepper, for example. That little stem would be too fibrous to eat. Those kinds of products should always be composted and never sent to landfill.

Composting becomes challenging when the processing facility is in an urban area, and the composting farm is a considerable distance away. If we consider food products that have no value for human consumption and we plan to compost them, the life cycle of composting takes approximately nine months. During the first 90 days, the food is going to release a considerable amount of odor in the rotting process. There aren’t too many places in urban environments where the community will welcome that kind of odor on a regular basis, particularly in the summer months. Transportation also becomes an issue. Produce is 90 percent water. When you are hauling food waste, you are hauling water. If the composting facility is 60 miles away, there is a considerable carbon dioxide release in the process of driving the food to the composting facility. You must also consider wear and tear on the truck, fuel, and the cost of the driver. This is why composting becomes a challenge. However, it’s still a better solution than sending food to landfill.

Additionally, composting must be handled properly. Professional composters understand that the food needs to be treated in a particular way and that the material has access to oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, the product will anaerobically digest, releasing harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. The methane release that occurs naturally makes the argument to consider anaerobic digestion of the product to capture that gas and create useful energy while at the same time creating a valuable compost in the process.

FT: Do you think there is a business opportunity behind wasted food?

TM: We do! There is a need for a cultural shift in the U.S. We need to once again value the delicious and nutritional food that we currently let go to waste. If we are talking about raw vegetables and fruits, we are probably referring to skins or peels. Food scientists tell us that this is where many of the nutrients reside. A tree or plant, in order to propagate, produces a skin or a layer to ultimately protect the seeds and to give them the nutrients they will need. In that process, the plant drives its nutrients to the outer layer. When we throw away the apple peel, we are losing valuable nutrients. As we eat these SparCs, we are deriving nutrition, and of course, we produce less waste. Whenever I think about sustainability, I think about expense reduction and the value that being more sustainable offers to the bottom line. Regardless of personal or commercial use, there are very few examples of how making our life more sustainable doesn’t actually create economic value for us.

FT: Do you imagine food waste being a valuable commodity in the future?

TM: It will be, and I hope it’s not in years to come; I hope it’s now. There’s a lot of interest at the federal level as well as the state and local levels. For example, the Mayor’s zero waste challenge in New York City is a commitment to reduce waste and build awareness of the epidemic. I think the momentum is in our favor. For us to be successful and to reach the goal of reducing waste by 50 percent by 2030, there has to be a cultural shift and a change in attitude toward this food product, and I think that’s what you see happening. So, to answer your question, an emphatic “yes.”

FT: How have your goals for Baldor changed over the last few years?

TM: When we originally started looking into food waste reduction strategies, we thought that the slam dunk was going to be composting for all of our SparCs products. As we became aware of the difficulties involved in composting in an urban environment, we began to think about anaerobic digestion as a possible solution. I am a supporter of using anaerobic technology as part of the waste reduction solution. After food is anaerobically digested, the end product can be used as compost, essentially creating energy along with a valuable compost.

A year ago, I visited an anaerobic digestion chamber in California, and it occurred to me, “Wait a minute, that looks like good food. Why aren’t we eating that food?” This forced us to prioritize, in every possible instance, the use of our SparCs for human consumption, animal consumption, anaerobic digestion, and then compost. I think the combination of these four respective components of our strategic plan will get Baldor to zero organic material sent to landfill very soon.

FT: How much food waste does Baldor sell per year?

TM: We refer to the product as SparCs, not scraps or waste! It’s increasing every day. We spoke about the animal feed solution. SparCs works really well as feedstock for animals. We collect a mix of a variety of vegetables and fruits in large, 1,000-pound recycled totes and ship those totes to local farms. The farmer can then utilize those totes and distribute them to their animals. This allows us to move a large amount of product in each delivery, and we can collect the product easily in our production facility. We are partnering with more and more farmers to create feedstock for their animals. When you think about the digestive system of pigs, they are not too different from our own. Specifically, pigs and humans have a difficult time digesting raw grains, but they do a good job at digesting raw vegetables. With SparCs, we have an opportunity to provide feedstock composed of delicious and nutritious foods for these animals, and give them the protein and vitamins they need. In the end, the food also avoids landfill! I should mention, this is not always an easy sell—you have to convince the farmer to change their processes—but every day, we’re making strides, and we are bringing on additional partners.

FT: Baldor partnered last year with Misfit Juicery. Do you see similar partnerships in the future?

TM: The juicing opportunity works well, because it is a great way to process a lot of SparCs. When we juice, we are creating a food product for human consumption. It is required that the juicer treats the juice with high-pressure processing (HPP), or pasteurizes it, to ensure that the juice is safe for consumption. We look to grow with Misfit, and there may be opportunities with other juicers as well.

One opportunity to consider is working more closely with a donation partner to create a consistent stream of SparCs that can be used in the creation of soups and broths to feed the food insecure. Instead of them sourcing whole carrots, onions, and celery to make a mirepoix, maybe we could provide the SparCs on a regular basis. In this instance, we would be taking steps to solve two issues: feed the hungry and answer the sustainability challenge at Baldor to reduce food otherwise destined to landfill.

FT: How do you deal with waste at home?

TM: I love this question! Food waste reduction starts at home. What happens in my house is that any product leftover from cutting a vegetable goes into a freezer bag and is put into the freezer. All vegetable SparCs are included without exception. It could be an onion top, or it could be the outer leaves of the romaine lettuce. On Fridays, my family and I take out the freezer bag and create a vegetable broth. The broth is then used to make a risotto or vegetable soup that Friday night. Everybody can do this at home. There are a couple of benefits. One, you are gleaning all that nutritional value out of these vegetables that you might have otherwise discarded. Two, you have accelerated the composting of that product. In the end, this product will compost and become dirt much faster than raw vegetables otherwise would.

To read a Food Tank interview with Baldor president Michael Muzyk about WastEd, click here.

[via FoodTank]

Chris Malloy on Our Relationship with Food

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Chris_Malloy

Director Chris Malloy discusses Patagonia Provision’s new film, “Unbroken Ground,” and our role in being stewards of the land. Photo credit: Patagonia Provisions

Chris Malloy is a professional surfer, filmmaker, writer, and rancher. The eldest of three brothers, Chris grew up in Ojai, California, and currently lives on a working ranch in Central California with his wife, Carla, and their three children. In addition, he is a designer, product tester, and ambassador for Patagonia, an American clothing company founded by Yvon Chouinard that is committed to the environmental movement. Malloy’s most recent production is the film “Unbroken Ground,” a 25-minute piece that explores the critical role that food plays in finding solutions to the environmental crisis, and it will be released online on August 1.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to direct “Unbroken Ground,” Patagonia’s first food-focused film?

Chris Malloy (CM): On a personal level, my wife and I produce a lot of the food that we eat. We raise animals and grow enough for our family and some friends, so I’m very passionate about agriculture. A lot of the characters in the film were folks that I was very aware of. When Yvon Chouinard was starting Patagonia Provisions, I was excited about all of the possibilities. Over the course of a few conversations, he asked, “Are you interested in helping to tell this story?” Of course, I jumped at the opportunity because I was already following many of the people in the film. I felt as though Patagonia needed—if they were going to get into food, that’s a big deal—to give the audience a good idea of what exactly they are doing.

FT: How did you choose the groups highlighted in the film? 

CM: Everyone in the film is personally involved with producing food for Provisions. They are all folks that Yvon Chouinard has met and come to an agreement with to try to do something better and different. There are more people and stories I wasn’t able to include in the film, and maybe I’ll be able to highlight others in the future.

FT: Could you talk about how food plays a role in alleviating the environmental crisis?

CM: I would say how it can. If you look at conventional, big agriculture, it really is focused on commodity, right? A lot of publicly traded companies are looking for commodities, and if you read the mission statement of any publicly traded company, there is not one line in there that considers the environment. So, the nature of all of these endeavors are just polar opposites of their intentions, of their methodology, of their execution, and of their final product. Steve Jones, who’s in the film, says it so well, “You fight the opposition until it’s no fun anymore,” and then you become proactive and have that responsibility to create options for people. It’s not so much about fighting the opposition as it is proactively going out and finding ways to bring to market, in a financially viable way, products that were made with the health of our environment in mind.

FT: In your opinion, what is the most appropriate way to direct our food system away from supporting large-scale monoculture corporations and instead toward fostering the growth of small-scale sustainable operations?

CM: I would just say that it’s education. I think that there is a lot of catch-phrase kind of vernacular being thrown around, and there are a lot of key phrases that folks look out for. They will read a label and say “I’m good. This is a karma-free vegetable.” But educating yourself and then staying aware of what’s happening is important because organic today does not mean the same thing as what organic meant 20 years ago. That really baffles people. They exclaim, “What do you mean? What do you mean?” If there’s a huge demand for organic carrots and you monoculture 20,000 acres of those, yes, they’re organic, but regarding the biodynamic aspect of what could be and what should be, they have different meanings. People need to know that agriculture, in its nature, is always changing. Look at the farmers from the beginning of time to now. If you know agriculture, you know that it always changes—or even more succinctly, it should change. If you have a crop and know exactly what it’s going to do for the next hundred years, I guarantee you that it’s a GMO. That’s the only way you can be sure. So, it’s changing that mindset with the consumer worldwide to embrace the complexities of agriculture and celebrate the differences and the uniqueness of every harvest. In our culture, we see something that is not uniform as a flaw. If you re-trigger your mindset, you celebrate the difference of what the land affords you every season. It’s a beautiful thing if you see it that way.

FT: What do The Land InstituteCheyenne River RanchThe Bread Lab, and Lummi Island Wild have in common?

CM: I would say that the commonality between them is that, rather than trying to stop a specific activity and slow down—the salmon are a little bit different, but I can speak to that separately—they are all proactive in finding ways to sequester carbon in the ground. Yvan cleverly distinguished, “Let’s stop talking about our footprint, and start talking about our handprint.” We can actually stop doing what we know is wrong, but we also need to find ways to replenish the soils and to take care of what we have. Farming them the right way actually brings that carbon back down to where its supposed to be, and builds soils. That’s the commonality between The Land Institute, Cheyenne River Ranch, and The Bread Lab. And then there’s Lummi Island Wild. It’s such a selective fishery that those untargeted species are going up into their ancient creek systems, and, as a result, this way of harvesting actually replenishes those specific genetic families. Otherwise, those genetic families are essentially dying and being thrown back into the ocean as bycatch. This is a really interesting example because people ask, “How does harvesting and killing fish restore anything?” The fact of the matter is that it does. By allowing those other species to return to their ancient headwaters, they get a chance to replenish. And then when the pinks need a break, and we know through the science and careful monitoring that the other species are strong, then we can harvest some of the others. It all comes down to being closer to the ground, closer to really knowing what’s happening, and being aware.

FT: What advice do you have for the younger generations looking to get engaged in the food movement?

CM: That’s a great question! I would say that, no matter where you are, you can find some dirt to get into, and you can find a mentor. Go and get your hands dirty. You can read all the books, you can watch all the documentaries, and you can spend all your money at that place that gives you karma-free food. That’s all good. But, go get dirty. Go figure out what is exciting to you—that you’ve never seen a purple tomato or something—and fall in love with it. You can only fall in love with something that you know intimately. Go get sunburned, go get some cracked fingers, go get uncomfortable. Whether you stay with it or not, that doesn’t matter. You now have a completely new appreciation of how food is produced, and there is almost no excuse to not. You can, in your apartment in Manhattan, get a bucket of dirt and grow an amazing amount of food from that. Get to know the ground and get to know the life cycles. If you do that, it’s better than watching every documentary in the world. I have to be careful when I say this, but there are a lot of kids that are armed with the information they’ve seen on TV and read in books, and they’re the first ones to vilify certain ways of farming. I think that’s problematic in nature. It’s somewhat dangerous for the food movement. We don’t need more book-smart people vilifying farmers for not doing it the way they read it in a book. That’s dangerous. I think they need to go get their hands dirty. You know, that’s it. That’s my advice.

FT: What is one message you would like to share with Food Tank readers about making the food system more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable? 

CM: Honestly, I can only go off my own experience. A big influence for me was just finding my heroes. My heroes were people like Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, and Douglas Tompkins. One thing that most of these people shared in common is that they were rabble-rousers and hell-raisers. They were rough around the edges. Some of them were college-educated, and others barely got through high school. They wanted a different system, and they were willing to live the life and commit to living that life. All the things they believed in didn’t mean anything until they went out and lived that life. They felt the cold, hunger, and discomfort, but were committed. This doesn’t demonize anybody who doesn’t have the ability to do that, but for me, personally, it made those heroes—those characters—change the way I saw the world and changed what I chose to do with my life. All of the empirical data about the planet and the science, I think that stuff is very important, but it’s the characters who changed the way I saw the world. Find some heroes!

Click here to watch “Unbroken Ground.”

[via Food Tank]

Italian Study Comforts Pasta Lovers

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Pappardelle al Cinghiale

Pasta is not the unhealthy carbohydrate we once thought it to be. A recent Italian study states that the Mediterranean staple, under a wholesome diet, is contributive to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference, and better waist-hip ratio.

A recently published study from the Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed I.R.C.C.S. in Pozzilli, Italy, found that pasta is associated with a reduced probability of obesity, based on data from more than 23,000 Italians.

According to George Pounis, a co-author of the study, “the consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight, rather the opposite. Our data show that enjoying pasta according to individuals’ needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference, and better waist-hip ratio.”

Licia Lacoviello heads the molecular and nutritional epidemiology department at the Neuromed Institute, and clarifies that “the message emerging from this study is that a Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation and respecting the variety of all its elements, is good to your health.” One significant aspect to take into account when reading the study is that Italians eat smaller portions of pasta, as it is considered an appetizer rather than a main course.

Researchers analyzed the eating habits of 14,402 randomly selected participants aged 35+ years, as well as 8,964 participants aged 18+ years, from the Molise region and other parts of Italy, respectively. Weight, height, waist, and hip circumference were measured or self-reported by individuals.

Dr. Gunter Kuhnle, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading, says that the study appeared sound. Kulhne specifies, however, that those who participated in the study eat a traditional Mediterranean diet, which tends to be high in mono-unsaturated oils, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The study, partially funded by the family-owned pasta company Barilla, as well as the Italian government, does not give consumers carte blanche to eat excessive amounts of pasta. They recommend that consumers eat a serving of approximately two ounces in a well-balanced meal.

For more information about the study, please visit Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo I.R.C.C.S.

[via Food Tank]