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Freshly harvested…

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Produce from the garden. Nothing tastes better than food you grew yourself, picked yourself and ate all to yourself!garden_produce

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Reduce and Recover: Save Food for People

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The Harvard Food Law and Policy ClinicU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and RecyclingWorks Massachusetts hosted an informative and inspiring conference, Reduce and Recover: Save Food for People, that brought together entrepreneurs, policy makers, practitioners and enthusiasts. The goal of the two-day event was to expand upon the public dialogue on the EPA and the USDA’s national food waste reduction goal of 50% by 2030. Speakers from various backgrounds underlined innovative means of reducing food wastage, with a focus on the top two tiers of the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. Specifically, these levels deal with “source reduction” and “feeding hungry people.” It is, honestly, quite pathetic and horrendous that 40% of food in the US never ends up being eaten, and goes to waste. This is a severe environmental problem that more people need to be aware of. Awareness of the issue is growing on all fronts and action is being made, though, more needs to be done.

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Plenary Panel, Unlikely Alliances: Working in Collaboration to Rescue Food with Jesse Fink (Fink Family Foundation), Dana Gunders (NRDC), Tristram Stuart (Feedback), Danielle Nierenberg (Food Tank).

Plenary Panel, Unlikely Alliances: Working in Collaboration to Rescue Food with Jesse Fink (Fink Family Foundation), Dana Gunders (NRDC), Tristram Stuart (Feedback), Danielle Nierenberg (Food Tank).

The conference really made me think about the opportunities opened up as a result of such a widespread issue and the room that is made for innovative solutions. After only having gotten a taste of the whirlpool of effects caused by food wastage in a research piece I wrote for an environmental studies class, I am now motivated to use the inspiration and implement the information from the conference at my college and begin a food waste campaign. In food recovery, as Tristram Stuart mentioned in a panel, “the solutions are delicious.”

As I sit on the train home, I reflect that the last two days have been eye-opening for me, and I foresee myself involved more and more in combatting food waste through creative and novel means, and sharing my ideas here. I began work this summer with Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, and will be writing articles there as well! Keep an eye open for initiatives in local areas, and work to reduce your own food wastage. Many attendees and speakers in the conference recycled this quote in an act of inspiration and support for one another: “If you’re a hammer, the world’s a nail.”

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Food Tank Webinar: The Past, Present, & Future of Grass-Fed and Organic Beef

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Food Tank: The Food Think Tank recently held a webinar titled “The Past, Present, & Future of Grass-Fed and Organic Beef,” featuring Chris Ely (Co-Founder of Applegate) and Michael Berger (Founding Partner & VP Supply Chain of Elevation Burger).

 

An Exploration of the World’s ‘Blue Zones’

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The Effect of Diet and Lifestyle on Longevity

Introduction

The benefits of diet and exercise to health and longevity are well understood in modern Western culture. In studying various clusters of populations around the world, it has been found that certain demographic and geographical regions around the globe seem to provide a setting for healthy living and producing relatively high rates of centenarians. These geographical clusters have been defined as ‘Blue Zones’. National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner identifies five ‘Blue Zones’ in Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and Loma Linda (California). It is evident that these populations live robust and healthy lives. In contrast, modern society is used to seeing diet fads in the media, being told what is healthy and what is not. In reality, there is no one diet that all should follow. One’s dietary palate should be shaped by what is made available by the natural landscape. In this paper, I will examine these five geographical regions, describe the characteristics of the foods eaten by each population and explain how lifestyle and diet affect longevity. Identifying lifestyle patterns and commonalities amongst these communities may help us to understand how changes in lifestyle can impact our health profiles and longevity.

Sardinia, Italy

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Here, men pass a mural depicting a village procession. By keeping active, many men stay healthy longer. The unique geographic properties of central Sardinia—rocky, sun-beaten terrain not suited for large-scale farming—meant that over the centuries, shepherding offered the best profession. Walking five miles or more a day as Sardinian shepherds do provides cardiovascular benefits and has a positive effect on muscle and bone metabolism without the joint-pounding of running marathons or triathlons. —Text adapted from the National Geographic book Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest PHOTOGRAPH BY SIME

The Nuoro province, a central-eastern mountain region of Sardinia, is home to one of the largest concentrations of centenarians in the world. A combination of modifiable — lifestyle and nutritional — factors influences especially male age rates. However, the exact secret behind this phenomenon has not been fully established. Many believe that there is something in the air that puts the men and women in such a jovial state. The Sardinians of Nuoro live in very close proximity to the land, an intimate relationship that has been fostered for several centuries. The land’s character is rugged, protected throughout history from invaders and with little immigration of outsiders. Thus, many of the admired genetic traits are preserved. In particular, there is a gene in the Y chromosome that greatly reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke in men. Alfonso Melis, a sibling in a family recognized by the Guinness World Records commented on the secret to longevity: “We eat genuine food, meaning lots of minestrone and little red meat and we are always working.” Breakfast for the typical family consists of a fried egg, sourdough bread, goat’s milk and coffee. Lunch is oriented around a bowl of a heartfelt minestrone with lard and a piece of bread, accompanied by a glass of red wine. Dinner reintroduces some soup, moving into vegetables, bread, pecorino cheese, and wine.

The majority of the diet comes from locally grown vegetables, olive oil, lemon, garlic and spices. Dairy reflects the topography of the land and its animals, comprising a rich part of the Sardinian diet. The abundance of sheep and goats in the region shaped the palate, making milks and cheeses widely consumed. Both are nutritionally higher than cow’s milk, and are digested easier. Both sheep’s and goat’s milk reduce bad cholesterol, have anti-inflammatory properties, and fight against cardiovascular disease. Bone density in Sardinia is strong due to the high level of calcium and phosphorus in the goat’s milk. Pecorino is eaten frequently, and contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.  The widely consumed carta di musica and carasù flatbreads are made from high-protein, low-gluten durum wheat, designed to be portable and easily accessible with high nutritional content for shepherds who pasture their sheep for long durations of time, away from home (Buettner, 59). The bread’s glycemic score is very low, thus it does not induce a spike in blood sugar. Furthermore, barley is considered a large contributor to the Sardinian (and centenarian) diet. Barley is ground into flour and made into bread, or added to soups. With a low glycemic index, barley is high in protein, magnesium, and fiber.  Similarly, sourdough bread is made from whole wheat flour and instead of using yeast, it adopts live bacteria that help to raise the dough (Buettner, 60). Flatbreads and sourdoughs are accompaniments to every meal.

Fennel is used widely and is high in fiber as well as vitamins A, B and C. The chickpeas and fava beans of Sardinia are added to stews and provide fiber and protein. Tomatoes are also widely grown and deliver vitamin C and potassium. The cooking of tomatoes into sauce unlocks many antioxidants, and combined with olive oil, assists the body in nutrient absorption (Buettner, 60). Almonds provide a high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, meanwhile reducing blood pressure. Milk thistle is also popularly consumed on the island, and is made into a tea that contains silymarin, an antioxidant with many anti-inflammatory benefits that also cleanses the liver. Lastly, red wine (Cannonau wine) is produced from the Grenache grape, and is consumed with each meal of the day. The drink is very high in antioxidants, and helps to reduce heart attacks. (Buettner, 61). Wine is an ordinary component of Sardinian culture (Tsai, 2012). Sugar is naturally avoided and meat (eaten only one to two times per week) consumption is minimal, usually served as a condiment with vegetables being the primary dish. The Sardinian diet is high in antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and protein, providing inhabitants of the Nuoro province with a wholesome diet complemented by an active and low-stress lifestyle.

Ikaria, Greece

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A woman pauses by potted herbs on Ikaría. Researchers have found that herbal teas and more than a hundred varieties of antioxidant-rich wild greens play a large role in the Ikarían diet. Some of the herbal teas commonly consumed by Ikaríans act as mild diuretics that could lower blood pressure. PHOTOGRAPH BY GIANLUCA COLLA

Ikaria, an island located about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey, like Sardinia, is jagged and mountainous. The 99 square mile island has a rich history in providing healthy air and water to many centenarians. Because of the lack of natural harbors on the island, Ikaria has developed to become self-sufficient. This has allowed the island to hone and evolve its gastronomic culture and lifestyle without the dominating influence of modernization. All of the vegetables are homegrown or locally produced. This diet is paired with a lifestyle similar to that observed in the Nuoro province of Sardinia. The clock loses its significance, naps are frequent, and life is about enjoyment of the natural beauty in the company of old friends and close family.

The food and drink of Ikaria act doubly as nourishment and medicine. Breakfast consists of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea, coffee, honey and bread. Lunch typically consists of lentils, garbanzo beans, potatoes, fennel, dandelion and horta (green vegetables). Every meal is determined by what the earth provides and what is available in each family’s garden. Dinner consists of simple bread and goat’s milk. During special occasions, a family may slaughter a pig and distribute and savor portions of pork for months to come (Buettner, 2005). A “mountain tea” — composed of marjoram, sage, mint, rosemary, dandelion, lemon — steeped with ingredients native to the island, is served at the end of each day and provides nourishment to the people. The tea serves as an “island ritual” (Buettner, 42).

Dr. Ioanna Chinou comments on the bioactive properties of herbs and other natural products found on the island. The teas consumed date back to traditional remedies used for centuries. The inhabitants of Ikaria have passed down from generation to generation crucial information to stimulate and promote health. They understand that the diet they follow, rich in polyphenols and antioxidant properties, works for them and is tailored to their environment. Wild mint helps combat against gingivitis as well as gastrointestinal disease. Rosemary remedies gout and artemisia promotes blood circulation. It is likely that the tea, which contains mild diuretics, has slowly been reducing blood pressure. The famous Ikaria Study surveyed 1,420 Ikarians and tested 673 individuals over the age of 65. The study highlights the magnified version of the Mediterranean diet by which the Ikarians live, favoring vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, olive oil, goat’s cheese and milk, and red wine (Buettner, 38). The low consumption of saturated fats (found in meat) — limited to once or twice a week — is correlated with lower risk of heart disease. Olive oil, extracted cleanly and without any intervening treatment, promotes good cholesterol and reduces bad cholesterol, protecting consumers from heart disease. Daily consumption of olive oil is about four tablespoons. The goat’s milk, made into feta cheese through the process of fermentation of the milk with rennin (found in goats’ stomachs), produces a high-protein probiotic food that has anti-inflammatory properties. The vegetables produced on the island contain a tremendous amount of minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium) and antioxidants, also associated with red wine, containing flavonoids (Buettner, 40-42). Ikarian diet consists of the land’s offerings, and unlocks the power that nature provides to stimulate good health.

Okinawa, Japan

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Kame Ogido, 89, a resident of Okinawa, holds a handful of edible seaweed. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MCLAIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The women of Okinawa are recorded to live very long, with healthy, local food and a purposeful lifestyle. They live surrounded during their lifetimes by a social ring of several friends, their moai. The average life expectancy for men is 80, while for women this number jumps to 88. With some of the highest centenarian ratios, roughly 6.5 in 10,000 people in Okinawa live to age 100. Disease rates are a fraction of those recorded to cause death in Americans. They show a fifth the rate of breast and prostate cancers, a fifth the rate of cardiovascular disease and less than half the rate of dementia. All of this neatly boils down to lifestyle and diet. However, during World War Two the United States established a military base in the heart of Okinawa. As a result, Western culture and an economic drive seeped into Okinawan tradition. Disease rates nearly doubled, dairy consumption rose, and eggs, meats and poultry became a regular part of the diet. Daily caloric intake from 1949 to 1972 increased by 400 calories (Buettner, 49-50).

There is still a population, however, of those over a certain age who retain all aspects of tradition and are oblivious to the looming fast food culture outside their villages. It is interesting to note that carbohydrates make up about 80 percent of the traditional Okinawan diet. The sweet potato — an Okinawan staple — is considerably high in flavonoids, fiber, carotenoids, vitamin C and antioxidants (sporamin). This irony alone is significant because the diet culture in America aims to reduce carbohydrate intake. In addition, fish is eaten several times per week, served with vegetables and grains. Tofu (soy) is widely consumed, and is high in flavonoids. Dairy and meat constitutes a meager 3 percent of the daily caloric intake. Similar to the older generations on Sardinia, the Okinawans butcher the family pig and feast on special occasions. It is widely believed that pork contrasts with the vegan diet associated with robust health and high life expectancy. Yet, the Okinawans prepare the pork such that it endures a stewing process that lasts days, resultantly skimming out the fat. Dietician Kazuhilo Taira commented that human blood vessels often develop small tears, and this pork protein serves as a coating sealant that reduces consequential rates of stroke.

At the start of each meal, members of the table say in unison, “Hara hachi bu,” which is a Confucian adage that reminds everyone to stop eating when they feel 80 percent full (Buettner, 45). Dominated by vegetable and traditional dishes, a typical meal begins with miso soup (with seaweed, tofu, sweet potato and leafy greens). The main dish is a stir-fry of vegetables with the bounty of the nearby garden. Commonly-consumed vegetables include goya (bitter melon), okra, pumpkin, burdock root, green papaya, as well as small portions of meat or fish, and noodles cooked with herbs and spices. Like the Ikarian “mountain tea,” the Okinawans enjoy jasmine tea, as well as millet brandy. Green tea is widely consumed, with added jasmine flowers and turmeric, and may contribute to the low rates of heart disease and cancers, as well as the absence of diabetes and mental deterioration. Goya has proved to be anti-diabetic, reducing blood sugar levels, as well as high in antioxidants that fight the production of free radicals. Tofu is made from curdled soy milk and pressed into a block, with tremendous support of heart health by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Seaweeds are consumed widely and provide carotenoids, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium and iodine, as well as antioxidants. Lastly, brown rice is eaten every day in Okinawa and before cooking, the seeds having nearly having germinated, are soaked in water, releasing many enzymes that break down sugar and protein (Buettner, 41-52).

Okinawans have an intimate relation with and knowledge of the food they eat and are aware of their uses and effects on the body. The belief that food is medicine is embedded in Okinawan philosophy (Sho, 2001). With this, traditional Okinawan lifestyle includes regular physical activity, constant and reinforced social support, as well as a rich diet that has evolved with the land and its people.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

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A Costa Rican senior works the land on the Nicola Peninsula. Centenarians here seem to have enjoyed physical work all their lives. PHOTOGRAPH BY GIANLUCA COLLA

The Nicoyan region of Costa Rica, located in the northeast of the Republic and bordering the Pacific Ocean, is considered another zone of longevity. Considering the high life expectancy of elder Costa Ricans in a general sense, inhabitants (particularly men) of the Nicoya Peninsula particularly stand out, with a death rate of 0.71 compared to the rest of the country (Rosero-Bixby et al., 2013). The probability for a 60 year old Nicoyan male to become a centenarian is seven times that of a Japanese male, with a life expectancy 2.2 years greater. Studies show that telomere lengths are a significant marker for the longevity of the Nicoyans (Rosero-Bixby et al., 2013). Additionally, Nicoyan diet is rich in traditional foods with historical roots such as beans, rice and animal proteins, all of which have a relatively low glycemic index and high fiber content.

The diet of a typical country day in the life of an average mid-aged Nicoyan includes waking up early (before sunrise), joining family for some black coffee and a tortilla. After chores, a complete, hearty breakfast is served and consists of fried eggs, rice and beans. After work, in the early afternoon, the workers return to their homes to a midday meal of soup (containing meat, plantains, taro, yuca, greens) along with beans, rice, eggs, and vegetables (squash, cabbage or wild products available to them). Meat appears often, interestingly in contrast with the other ‘Blue Zone’ diets. The typical tortillas accompany every meal. The meal concludes with coffee and fruit. Finally, dinner is a much simpler and less hearty meal of beans, rice and eggs. One interesting characteristic of the Nicoyan diet is the minimized consumption of cow’s milk, considered by many scientists a method to avoid autoimmute-response diseases such as diabetes. Most Nicoyans tend to their family gardens that contain a great diversity of edible plant species. They also forage forest fruits that are high in antioxidants. It is evident that the Nicoyan diet is high in carbohydrates, similar to the Okinawan diet, being roughly 68 percent. Fat composes about 20 percent of the diet, and protein is approximated at 10 percent. The Nicoyans are well aware of the Mesoamerican agricultural rite of the “three sisters” that includes beans, corn and squash. The combination of the three in a meal provides complex carbohydrates, calcium, niacin and protein.

Many staples of Nicoya are considered longevity-promoting foods. Maize, in the form of tortillas, is consumed daily. Nicoyans prepare the tortillas in such a way that increases the body’s absorption of essential minerals, calcium and iron. They first soak the corn in lime and water then grind it into flour, meanwhile unlocking the corn’s niacin. Squash delivers high levels of carotenoids. Likewise, papayas are considerably high in vitamins A, C and E, as well as papain (an enzyme known to reduce inflammation). Black beans, widely consumed and considered a staple in the Nicoya Peninsula, are packed with longevity promoting components and contain more antioxidants than any other bean. Bananas and plantains are high in carbohydrates, fiber and potassium. This rich menu of healthy foods, combined with the emphasis on local production, family contact and an active lifestyle puts the inhabitants of the Nicoya Peninsula at a particular advantage.

Loma Linda, California

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Here, 94-year-old Marion Westermeyer emerges from his daily swim in Loma Linda. “I’ve always needed exercise,” says the Seventh-day Adventist. Regular, low-intensity exercise like daily walks appears to reduce the chances of having heart disease and certain cancers. —Text adapted from the National Geographic book Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID MCLAIN, AURORA

The case of Loma Linda, California is an interesting one because it combines elements of the other ‘Blue Zones’ — all of which have retained traditional and decades-old practices and values — with contemporary American culture, food routes and lifestyle. Fueled by strong religious virtues, the Seventh-day Adventists (a group of conservative Protestants who prioritize good health and celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday) avoid technology and modern distractions. They frequently socialize with one another, spend extensive amounts of time outdoors and shun alcohol, smoking and dancing.

Regarding diet, the Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda pursue a primarily “biblical” (Barclay, 2015), well-balanced diet of fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables, low in salt, sugar and refined foods. Moreover, adhering to other religious dietary restrictions (Kosher and Halal), the Adventists shun the consumption of pork and shellfish. The promoted beverage for everyone is water. The Adventists consume many foods that are available to any American who can afford them. First, nuts are preventative of high cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes and cardiovascular-related disease. A fair portion of nuts is consumed at least five times per week. Beans and other legumes compose a large percentage of the daily protein intake. Salmon promotes heart health, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, thus minimizing risk of heart attack. Oatmeal, another staple, offers a well-proportioned mixture of carbohydrates, fats and protein, as well as vitamin B and iron. It is high in fiber, and makes the consumer feel full after a small portion, reducing total intake. Whole wheat bread, rather than processed white bread, is popularly consumed. Adventists also drink soy milk, low in fat and high in protein, and are protective against some cancers. Water is heavily endorsed, with the notion that it flushes out toxins and ameliorates blood flow (Buettner, 65-70).

This plant-based diet is one of the healthiest recorded in America, promoting whole grains, nuts, beans, soy, and is low in salt, sugar and refined grains. Animal products are consumed at a minimal amount. They do not smoke and they make it a priority to engage in regular physical activity. As a result, rates of heart disease and diabetes are considered the nation’s lowest. Considering that the Adventists are essentially everyday Americans — living amidst people who consume regular amounts of fast-food and engage in activities that those of Loma Linda would shun — it is possible for the rest of the American population to modify their lifestyles and diets for the better.

Common Themes Between Blue Zones

The inhabitants of the explored ‘Blue Zones’ share certain characteristics related to lifestyle and diet that shed light on their remarkable longevity. First, each population puts great emphasis on family and social circles, using social interaction to complement and enhance the pleasures of life. Each individual is integrated well with his or her community. Similarly, many people are engaged in spiritual or religious groups, emphasizing the importance of social support to the well-being of an individual and the community. Second, all diets observed in these regions practice a form of semi-vegetarianism, with minimal meat consumed. The majority of the daily protein intake comes from plants and plant-based foods. Third, regular physical activity is built into the fabric of the daily routine, and is enjoyed thoroughly and spiritually. Stress is reduced to a minimum, with mechanisms to deal with when confronted. On a similar note, smoking is greatly avoided, if not entirely nonexistent. The road to improving individual longevity (regardless of the region) is to understand the agricultural topography of the area, adopt any number of these commonalities and implement them constantly such that they become a standard part of an individual’s routine.

Conclusion

Diet and lifestyle have direct impacts on longevity, as it is established that genetics contribute to 20 percent of one’s determined lifespan. For an extended period of time, scientists have examined the effects of individual foods on overall health, rather than general dietary patterns, customs and lifestyle (Appel, 2008). Studies and anthropological observations conclude that specific components of the lifestyle and diet present in these ‘Blue Zones’ reduce rates of disease and increase lifespan. The key to living healthier and more robust lives lies not in the constant search for the new fad diet, but rather adopting the culinary fabric of a region and living locally, understanding how environmental factors play such an pronounced role in longevity.

Literature Cited

Appel, L. 2008. Dietary patterns and longevity – Expanding the blue zones. Circulation 118:214-215.

Barclay, Eliza. 2015. ”Eating To Break 100: Longevity Diet Tips From The Blue Zones.” NPR. NPR.

Buettner, Dan. 2005. ”The Island Where People Forget to Die.” The New York Times. The New York Times.

Buettner, Dan. 2015. The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living like the World’s Healthiest People. Washington: National Geographic Society. Print.

Easterbrook, G. 2014. What Happens When We All Live to 100? (Cover story). Atlantic 314:60-72.

Gallagher, T. 2013. Ufe in the ‘blue zone’. National Catholic Reporter 49:1a-2a.

Gordinier, J. 2015. The Longevity Feast. New York Times 164:1-10.

Johnson, M., D. Flor, J. Fischer, L. Poon, and P. Martin. 1995. Food Patterns of Centenarians. FASEB Journal 9:A174-A174.

Pes, G. M., F. Tolu, M. P. Dore, G. P. Sechi, A. Errigo, A. Canelada, and M. Poulain. 2015. Male longevity in Sardinia, a review of historical sources supporting a causal link with dietary factors. European journal of clinical nutrition 69:411-418.

Rosero-Bixby, L., W. H. Dow, and D. H. Rehkopf. 2013. The Nicoya region of Costa Rica: a high longevity island for elderly males. Vienna yearbook of population research / Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences 11:109-136.

Shimizu, K., H. Noji, S. Takeda, N. Hirose, Y. Gondo, and K. Konishi. 2002. Dietary preferences in Japanese centenarians favoring dairy foods. Geriatrics & Gerontology International 2:187-192.

Sho, H. 2001. History and characteristics of Okinawan longevity food. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 10:159-164.

Tsai, Vivian. 2012. ”Sardinia’s Secret To Longevity: Genetics, Diet and Lifestyle.” International Business Times.

Foraging, Natural Remedies and Fermentation

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Before the close of the spring semester, Slow Food Hamilton College hosted a workshop titled “Foraging, Natural Remedies and Fermentation” with expert Hillary Joy Pitoniak. The workshop complemented the foraging excursion with a crash course on the benefits of edible weeds, their healing properties, and the overall implications for crafting a better food system. Hillary also educated students in the wonders of fermentation, and brought in some homemade kimchi for tasting. I organized for Hillary to guide students through the treasure troves of edible weeds laced throughout campus and the surrounding woodland. This workshop opened my eyes to the incredible possibility that lies in foraging wild edibles to both promote creative sustainability and foster connection with our Earth. Institutions should take more initiative in hosting such educational workshops, especially with children and young adults present, to direct the future generations in a path toward ecological balance.

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Students sampling some homemade kimchi.

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Hillary examining and discussing the ingredients on this giant “plate” of edible weeds that our Earth provides.

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One of the wonder weeds, yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

 

 

Massimo Bottura and the Styling of Cuisine

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Massimo Bottura, whose name has been on a shelf high-up in my mental library for some time now, has resurfaced in my mind. The ladder that brought me to pull his creativity and philosophies from that top shelf and into my hands was outstretched before me by a relative’s mother in law. As we discussed our own, personal recipes, she mentioned Bottura when we reached the classic ragù alla bolognese discussion. “Do you use ground meat or chunks?” “Red or white wine?” or “Tomatoes, paste, or neither?” She told me about Bottura’s rendition of the classic ragù and recommended I try it. I looked it up and found this, and made it quite recently. The result was remarkably different than my usual ragù made with ground meat. The taste was stronger and richer, the sauce thicker and clinging to the pasta the way it is supposed to… A true marriage between sauce and pasta.

The notion of reforming traditional cuisine onto the modern plate brings up an interesting question: Is it wholly possible to retain traditional culinary value in a rendition of any dish originating several generations ago? Gastronomic tradition evolves with changes in ingredients, advancements in culture and in the flux of people in and out of a certain area. 

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Ragù before mincing the chunks of meat.


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The ragù after chopping up the chunks of meat and letting it cook for a few more hours.

Farm to Fork… and then to Landfill

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All of us – farmers and fishers, food processors and supermarkets, local and national governments, individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t, said FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.

 

I am currently doing research for a project on food waste, and here I am sharing a segment of my introduction.

Food waste is a severe and pressing issue in many parts of the globe. It is exhausting, both on my own eyes and on our environment, to see the amount of produce and prepared food that are lost or go to waste. Meanwhile a large percentage of human beings on our planet die of hunger. Unequal distribution of resources is one of the root causes of this issue, though there are many other contributors to the problem that are driven by factors ranging from poor handling of products to human psychology. I grew up being told to put everything around me to good use, and to minimize my waste. With this in mind, I witnessed, whether at school or at a friend’s home, large amounts of waste produced in the preparation and disposal of a meal. My personal experience has brought to my attention the importance of ensuring minimization of food waste.

It is ironic that one-in-seven people in the world are undernourished and roughly one-third of the food produced — 1.3 billion tons — goes to waste. Of all the issues facing the world, food shortage is among the most prevalent, affecting people in nearly every part of the globe (Munesue et. al, 2014). Simply put, it is disturbing to consider the amount of food that goes to waste on a daily basis, realizing that approximately 21,000 people concurrently die everyday from hunger or diseases incurred by hunger. The factor standing in the way of this discrepancy is the unequal distribution of food resources made available to human beings around the world. Food waste contributes to food shortages, ironically, and also takes a tremendous toll on natural resources and the environment, both directly and indirectly. In other words, one must consider the transportation and energy required to move food products from their place of origin to the consumer. Each individual foodstuff contributes its own carbon footprint. 34 percent of food wastage is derived from cereals, meat production factors in 21 percent, and likewise for vegetables. Every foodstuff is relatively carbon-intense, and wastage provokes unnecessary damage suffered by the environment. Food production and distribution account for 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget (Webber, 2012), use 50 percent of U.S. land, and totals 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the United States (Gunders, 2012).

According to an FAO study, 54 percent of the world’s food wastage occurs ‘upstream’ during production, and in post-harvest handling and storage. 46 percent of waste occurs ‘downstream,’ at the processing, distribution and consumption stages. This indicates that food waste occurs at every link in the food supply chain. The bottom line of the matter is that 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten. Diners leave roughly 17 percent of meals untouched (Bloom, 125). This equates to $165 billion each year that could be allocated elsewhere (Buzby, 2012). The American (and global) food system is highly flawed with many inefficiencies.

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most wasted foods

The heart of this issue can be summarized succinctly in two points:

1. Food represents a minor portion of many people’s budget, thus rendering the financial cost of wasting food too low to justify a change in behavior.

2. The food industry benefits even when food is wasted, as long as the food is still purchased by the consumer. The final destination of the food, thereafter, is irrelevant.

Stacking upon food wastage, climate change is estimated to significantly raise food prices in the future. There are many other factors that contribute to food waste, and in order to improve our food system, participants must contribute at each level in a well-coordinated plan of action. Such action would require an increase in public awareness, a change in consumer behavior and a general redesigned market structure. Other emerging solutions include, for example, taking produce that is “unfortunately misshapen” — commercially unacceptable — to create a new market specifically aimed towards those perfectly edible outliers. The path we are currently on and pushing away from is not a sustainable one in terms of environmental and social efficiency. 


Works Cited

Bloom, J. 2011. American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What We Can Do About It). 1st Da Capo Press edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Buzby, J. C., and J. Hyman. 2012. Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States. Food Policy 37:561-570.

Gunders, D. 2012. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council.

Munesue, Y., T. Masui, and T. Fushima. 2015. The effects of reducing food losses and food waste on global food insecurity, natural resources, and greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Economics & Policy Studies 17:43-77.

Webber, M. 2012. How to make the Food System More Energy Efficient. Scientific American.

Back 40 Kitchen

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Hidden in an upstairs apartment on Greenwich Avenue is what I would consider a gem of a restaurant in a town of many. Back 40 Kitchen serves some of the highest quality ingredients, and makes a point to minimize their food miles (the distance a food item travels to reach its final destination). When I ate there and mentioned my food allergies in the order, the restaurant was very proactive and serious with this matter.

I started off the meal by sharing with the table some Swedish meatballs. The beef was soft and tender and the lingonberry preserves cut through the sauce beautifully.

swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs with lingonberry preserves

Next, I had their pasture-raised pulled pork sandwich with slaw and potato chips, which was fantastic. The pork was cooked nicely and the bread it was served on was delicious. The slaw and potato chips brought a variety of textures and were both great accompaniments.

pulled pork

Pasture-raised pulled pork sandwich with slaw and potato chips

If you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping by Back 40 Kitchen for lunch!

Xaviar’s at Piermont

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Xaviar’s, located in Rockland County’s riverfront town of Piermont and owned by Chef Peter Kelly, is an extraordinary restaurant that presents exquisite food, which is fresh and entertaining to the senses. The restaurant seats at most 40 people, and prides itself on its elegant, intimate and warm atmosphere. I visited on a Wednesday evening, and the dining room was full. The staff’s attention to detail did not go unnoticed, and the maître d’ overlooked everything to ensure the evening ran smoothly. Something I appreciated is the restaurant’s admirably efficient, simple and to-the-point execution of creating a fantastic dining experience. The food was outstanding, the textures and flavor combinations were most memorable, and the restaurant is one that I will return to and share with friends and family in a heartbeat.

amuse-bouche

Amuse-bouche of vichyssoise

scallops

Scallops with snow peas and mushrooms

salmon

Salmon over Moroccan cous cous salad with carrots

chicken

Hudson Valley chicken with spinach and cranberries over grits

beef

Painted Hills Ranch filet mignon with potato Mousseline, candied shallots and haricots verts

dessert

A trio of desserts featuring (from left to right) crème brulée, chocolate mousse with raspberry, and a goat cheese cheesecake with citrus