Friday, April 29, 2011

What the World Eats

During the process of researching something else entirely, I ran across this fascinating slideshow.

The photos, by Peter Menzel, are from the 2007 book "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats," which documents what families around the world eat in one week. Faith D'Alusio is the writer.

The week's worth of food is arranged, often in the family's kitchen, with the family standing or sitting around it, so you can see how many individuals are in the family, and their relative ages. It's eye-popping to see a family of six in a refuge camp, sitting with its meager portions of grains, nuts, fruits, and water (for $1.23 per week) neatly displayed in front of them, and then flash to a family of four from North Carolina surrounded by piles of sodas, chips, and holding pizzas in a box for a $341.98 weekly expenditure.

Because the reporter includes the price per week each family spends on food, it's not difficult to make the connection between packaged food and higher food costs. Those eating closest to real foods - fruits, vegetables, grains, fish - have much lower food costs. But other details in the photos make clear that packaged foods are associated with a higher standard of living, as judged by the families' kitchens, their clothes, and the televisions.

Like I said, fascinating.

What would your photo look like? Just imagining what my family's weekly food allotment would look like all lined up on the counter makes me want to practice better nutrition.

And there's more: here's a second slideshow from the book.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's Eating Your Child?

Calling all parents!

Renowned nutritionist Kelly Dorfman (aka The Nutrition Detective) has finally written a book. Called What's Eating Your Child?, the book highlights the connection between food and childhood ailments and provides advice on what to do about it.

Dorfman specializes in uncovering the link between nutrition and childhood issues, often enabling the family to "treat" the problem with diet, supplements, and probiotics, which may result in eliminating medicines for allergies, asthma, ADHD, and anxiety among other things. Super sleuth Dorfman is in high demand: the word is out across the country that she gets results, often when doctors don't (as an aside, many of Dorfman's patients are referred to her by doctors when the docs are not having success with standard treatments).  Some of Dorfman's clients have seen three or more doctors before finding their way to her for help in figuring out perplexing symptoms.*

Want to learn more about Dorfman before committing to her book? Check out her Nutrition Detective blog. It's full of small stories that will clue you in on Dorfman's grounding in nutritional science, her amazing deductive reasoning skills, and her philosophy on what wellness really is.

You can pre-order the book from Amazon now. It wasn't supposed to be released until June, but What's Eating Your Child has been spotted in Washington DC-area Barnes and Noble stores. So act now to get your copy!

Update 4/28/2011: I have learned that Dorfman's book was released early and is now available. Here's the website for the book. Read it in good health!

* disclosure: Years ago, my family consulted with Dorfman. Her advice changed our lives.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter, y'all!

Chocolate Easter bunnies with no ears
For Christians, Easter is the most important religious event of the year.

For candy manufacturers, Easter is well, pretty darn important, too.

Let's face it, candy does make holidays more celebratory. And Easter, being a spring holiday celebrating renewal and rebirth, has its own line-up of candies. Chewy ducks, chocolate rabbits, and jelly-bean eggs are just a few confections that come to mind when I think of Easter.

Now, I'm not going to get all food police-y on you. I'll just remind you that there are more alternatives than ever before to the candies that deliver payloads of artificial colors and flavorings directly to your innocent cells (OK, maybe I'm getting a little food police-y).  Sure, those natural or boutique candies are probably more expensive than the mass-produced ones, but maybe the higher price will bring the consumption down to where it should be - moderate.

And don't forget - real chocolate is free of artificial anything!

In honor of Easter, and your health, I'm linking to HealthTwisty's most popular post "Don't Eat the Oil."Even though that post was written for another candy-laden holiday (Halloween), it is a good primer on the politics that keep the much of the food quality in the United States at a very low level.

At any rate, if you celebrate Easter - have a wonderful, joyful day! If you like candy - read your labels and shop around.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish...

The AquAdvantage Salmon with a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon
The AquAdvantage Salmon in the background with regular Atlantic salmon of the same age.
Image: AquaBounty Technologies
Many of us probably can continue that children's story in our heads...Black fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish.

Until recently, new fish occurred only in such children's ditties, as imagined by the wonderful Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). But now, thanks to a private company and genetic engineering, there may soon be a new fish - a new species of fish, to be exact - on the block, one that will be swimming straight for your dinner plate.

The  AquAdvantage salmon, the first genetically modified (GM) animal to be considered for human consumption, is an Atlantic salmon enhanced with genes from other related fish. A gene from a Chinook salmon allows for rapid growth, and genes from an ocean pout (which, according to Timothy Egan, writing for the New York Times, in a lovely turn of phrase, "looks like an eel on a bad fin day.") provide growth hormones. This GM salmon grows quickly, reaching market size in half the time of conventional salmon. Fully intended as a commodity, the AquAdvantage salmon provides a "compelling" economic benefit to fish farmers by way of a reduced growing cycle.

The FDA is nearing approval of the salmon after years of review. Are these fish the answer to feeding an ever-growing world? Or are they Frankenfood?

Regardless of the answer, these fish are here. And even though I personally have mixed feelings about GMOs overall, there is one thing I am clear about: I definitely want to know what I'm eating.

Unfortunately, under current labeling laws, once these transgenic fish are approved by the FDA, consumers may not know if the fillets they are grilling for dinner or ordering at a restaurant are GM salmon or merely farm-raised salmon. It seems as if the parent company fought hard not to have these fish labeled as genetically modified because it was concerned that people would confuse the information label with a warning label.

Isn't that sweet? That big ol' corporation is worried that I might be confused.


To back up a bit, the FDA concluded last fall that the GM salmon had similar vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and protein as conventional salmon. The FDA has also ruled that labels are only required if the GM salmon was significantly different than regular salmon. So as long as the two types of fish are considered similar, no special labeling is required.

Not surprisingly, some people think that the presence of foreign genes in a fish IS difference enough to require a label. The folks over at have started a petition to Congress to insist these fish are labeled as being genetically modified. Here's where you can participate in the petition.

It's fairly clear that the producers of the AquaAdvantage salmon know they are facing an uphill battle to sell this fish if it is labeled as genetically modified. The Washington Post conducted a poll on consumers' willingness to purchase the GM salmon; here are part of the results from September 2010. 

If genetically engineered salmon wins FDA approval, will you buy it?
Source: Washington Post

Only 37% of individuals answering the poll said they would buy genetically engineered salmon. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) conducted a similar reader response poll and found that only 33% of respondents would eat genetically altered fish. Want to boost that percentage? Don't let the consumer know what kind of fish he or she is purchasing.

Because this is such an important issue, I've compiled a short reading list below on this topic. Let's face it, the world's population is increasing in leaps and bounds. Salmon is a healthy source of protein. We've overfished and polluted the world's water supplies so that native salmon are declining. Tough decisions face us as we figure out how to feed everyone, keep the earth reasonably clean, and respect nature. But it seems to me that labeling GM products - this salmon included - is respectful of the consumers' abilities to make up their own minds rather than just caving into capitalism.

Here's the pro biotech story.

Wired brings up some good points. 

This page lists a lot of scientific articles that provide a historical perspective on GM fish. 

Here's the Duke press release on the Science article that is considered the seminal piece on GM salmon. Here is the Duke article, but you have to have a subscription to Science to view it.

Here's one of the stories on this topic from the CBC, which is of interest because one of the factories to create the GM salmon eggs will be located on Prince Edward Island.

We'd better get this issue straightened out because already, hybrid trout and tilapia are moving through the FDA's regulatory chutes. Stay tuned.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Like She Said

Source: Women's Media Center
The debate over the federal government's FY 2011 budget finally has drawn to a close, but not before the stark truth was revealed about the lengths some Republicans were willing to go to achieve their one-issue agenda of eliminating abortion. As in all wars, some heroes emerged. One who comes to mind is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

"The votes we’re going to have tomorrow — to defund Planned Parenthood, to repeal health care — American women, make no mistake about it, this is an attack on you... And you should just know that you have women of the Senate who will stand by you. We have drawn the line in the sand and we will not allow them to cross it. We are your voice in Washington, we are your voice in Congress and we will protect you and the basic safety net and equality that you should expect out of the US government."

Here's the video from which this statement was taken.

There will be more debates about the federal budget coming soon. The debt ceiling needs addressing, and the FY 2012 budget discussion is coming up. It is clear that everyone will have to (and should) make some sacrifices to restore a semblance of fiscal responsibility to this country.

The debate is not helped by those who aren't interested in the whole "we're all in this together" mindset.  For example, this classic clip of Senator Jon Kyle (R- AZ) captures him saying he doesn't think maternity care should be included in his insurance plan because he doesn't need it.

Oh dear.

Weighing the trade-offs of the cost to the country versus the cost to the individual is a difficult part of governing. That's why representation is so important. If you don't have anyone representing your interests, your interests may get lip service, but they won't get funded. And without representation such as Senator Gillibrand, women's health would be marginalized as less important than, say, a Viagra prescription. Up until a generation ago, there were few women, few individuals of minority races or ethnicities, and little economic diversity in our governing bodies. It's getting better, but we still have a long way to go before our representatives reflect the diversity of our country.

But in the meantime, thank you, Senator Gillibrand for holding the line.