Over the River and Through the Woods: 7 Sustainable Holiday Travel Tips

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We put together 7 tips for holiday travel from our food, water and energy teams… here are our food tips (by me!). Read the full post on our blog for #1, #2, #4, #5 and#6 – they are good ones. Happy Thanksgivukkah!

3. Stock Up On Snacks Before You Go – Dawn Brighid

Having fun snacks in the car is part of the complete road trip experience. If you are driving or flying to visit family and friends for the holidays, it’s best not to rely on the gas station or the airport for healthy and sustainable options. Plan to stop by a co-op, health food store or your favorite grocery store before you head out. You can always check Eat Well Guide to find a store near you! Fruit, hummus, popcorn, or fair trade chocolate are all much healthier, sustainable choices than that.50¢ hot dog that’s been sitting for days (weeks?) at the rest stop gas station.

7. Shop Sustainably On the Road and When You Get to Your Home-Away-From-Home – Dawn Brighid

If you are spontaneous and up for an adventure, or didn’t plan your road trip snacks in advance, find some along the way! Type in your starting and ending zip codes to find sustainable options along your route with our Eat Well Everywhere travel tool! Time your pit stop to hit a delicious sustainable restaurant half way to Grandma’s or find a store to pick up some organic milk (or a hostess gift) once you get to town.

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12 Reasons to Avoid Conventional Flowers This Mother’s Day and 5 Alternative Gift Options

In a little-known Hallmark holiday back-story, the disturbing nature of which rivals even Valentine’s Day, the woman who founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, actually spent the last years of her life fighting against its commercialization. In the short nine years that it had existed, for Anna, the day lost its meaning. Obviously, she lost her fight against the day’s commercialization; today Mother’s Day has become one of the most financially successful U.S. holidays. The 500 carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) that Anna delivered to that original service started a tradition that saw Americans spend close to 2 billion dollars on flowers for Mother’s Day last year alone. Two billion dollars on flowers! In an extremely ironic end to her life, it is said that Anna died penniless in a nursing home, her final bills paid for by the Florist’s Exchange.

Adding insult to injury, that two billion dollars on flowers is not only an ostentatious show of commercialism, but the cut flower industry, with approximately 80 percent of cut flowers being imported into the US, contributes to a serious overuse of pesticides. Because flowers are considered a “non-edible,” the restrictions for pesticide use are not as stringent as they are for food items. This amounts to significant problems for human and animal health and as well as water, soil and air. They are especially harmful to the workers who have to apply them; there are even signs of secondary pesticide exposure for the family members who live with these farm workers (think second hand smoke).

The same interest in transitioning industrial acreage to sustainable food farming, we should also think about transitioning the floriculture industries in the U.S. and abroad. Many companies and third party certifiers are working to improve worker protection and reduce dependence on pesticides. There are other things you could buy to celebrate your mom, but if you’re buying her flowers this weekend (yes, Johnny-come-latelies, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!) it is important to seek out these more sustainable options. The major labels to look for are – USDA Organic, Veriflora, TransFair USA and Sierra Eco.

Local, sustainable and/or organic flowers are possible to find, so start looking! And remember the more locally you can purchase them, the better.

Where to get local, sustainable and/or organic flowers?

  • Farmers’ Markets (Find one near you at EatWellGuide.org)
  • Farms/Farm Stands
  • Your yard, a neighborhood lot, a friend’s or family member’s garden

Online options for flower delivery?

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TEDxManhattan: Changing the Way We Eat

I’ll be volunteering next weekend at TEDxManhattan: Changing the Way We Eat – doing photography! I’m very excited, last year’s conference was amazing. Great speakers, good conversations, and delicious food too. If you don’t know about TEDxManhattan:

TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat” will take place January 21st, 2012, in New York City.  The one-day event will highlight several aspects of the sustainable food movement and the work being done to shift our food system from industrially-based agriculture to one in which healthy, nutritious food is accessible to all.

The event is sold out, but there will be viewing parties around the country and TED talk videos will be posted after the event on the website. Check out the 2012 speakers and tune in for an inspiring conversation about our food system.

Thrive Foods – For the Planet and Your Health

While we have had our bad eating habits explained to us before, vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier brings a new perspective to the topic and breaks the elements down into measurable chunks in his new book, Thrive Foods, which lends real weight to his theory that a plant-based diet is better for the planet and our personal health. Thrive Foods starts off on a depressing note with a detailed description of the toll industrial food production takes on our planet and the toll our current eating habits are taking on our health, but finishes off with a delicious plant-based cookbook to help us counteract the first three chapters.

This isn’t Brazier’s first book about foods that help us to thrive. His interest in food to fuel his body for its maximum output started early on when he was training for his passion – running, swimming and biking in the form of triathlons. As he experimented with foods to help him recoup after workouts, he discovered that the more nutrient dense foods he ate, the better his body performed, advice  he shared in his first two books – Thrive Fitness and Thrive. But what came out of that research (and into this book) was more than a diet, but an appreciation and deep understanding of how much our food choices as individuals impact the world around us, mostly in a very negative way.

Since nutrition has been Brazier’s main topic for many years, it makes sense that he begins his new book, Thrive Foods, by explaining where our nutritional deficits are coming from: stress, lack of sleep and nutritionally deficient food. He takes an extra step in this book by incorporating nutritional information with environmental issues in what he calls the “nutrient-to-resource ratio.” A simple way to see where you can get the healthiest foods while taking into consideration the drain their production has on arable land, fresh water, fossil fuels and air quality.

While part of the book reads like those old train math questions – for any science or math geek or for anyone who wants serious proof that changing your diet can help to improve climate change, it does the job.

A Brazier math problem:

By weight, 232 times more kale than cattle can be produced on the same amount of land (38,400 pounds of kale per acre compared with 165 pounds of beef). And since beef has a nutrient density of 20 and kale registers at 1000, which is 50 times greater, for every calorie you get from kale, you’d have to eat 50 from beef to match the micronutrient level. Since beef has about four times the amount of calories per pound as kale, to gain the equivalent in micronutrients from beef as from kale would require 2900 times more arable land.

To help drive it all home, the last two chapters before the recipe section explain the key components of good nutrition and which foods are the most nutrient dense and why. Then the last ⅔ of the book is made up of 200 plant-based recipes for peak health. Brazier has tapped into North America’s best vegan/vegetarian chefs and restaurants to gather the tastiest recipes – from a very simple Mexican Salad Bowl to a more involved Raw Zucchini and Carrot Lasagna with Almond “Ricotta.” The recipes are simple enough that anyone could follow along, and interesting and tasty enough that they could also entertain the most seasoned cook.

Brendan has cast a wide net of appeal with this book. Interested in nutrition? He’s got it covered. Sustainable agriculture your thing? Check. Love to cook? Recipes galore. Want to geek out on facts? Done. Want to be inspired to make changes to your diet? Keep reading. Are you a meat eater and don’t think the book is for you? Try again; these principals can even be applied one meal a week. If you are undecided, I say pick it up and give it a try, you will learn something and maybe even change your eating habits (and help the planet!) in the process.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, Know Your Food Hub

Secretary Vilsack has been known to speak metaphorically about two forms of agriculture – small scale and industrial – as “two sons,” both of whom he loves equally, often to the outrage of proponents of both models. And if the USDA’s recent history seems evidence that he loves his industrial son more, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program introduced in 2009 speaks to what the Secretary rarely admits in person: that his small-scale son needs his love, too.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) program’s mission is to better connect consumers with local producers and to help consumers develop a better understanding of how food gets to their plates. And they’ve been doing a great job.

In a recent presentation, “Regional Food Hubs: Linking Consumers to New Markets,” KYF2 describes the concept of the regional food hub (“a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products”), explains how these hubs help promote the program’s mission, and highlights two thriving food hubs: La Montanita Food Hub and Appalachian Sustainable Development Rural Food Hub. The presentation also describes different types of hubs – hybrid markets, shipping point markets, wholesale/terminal produce markets and super-hubs called “healthy food hubs,” which “create locations where urban agriculture, farmers markets, health screening, and nutritional education collide in one essential location.”

Connecting consumers and small producers has been an ongoing struggle.  Although the need is now being addressed by farmers’ markets, CSAs and other programs around the country, moving away from our current industrial food system will take an even bigger collaborative effort. KYF2’s thorough analysis of regional food hubs shows that they are a great alternative for smaller producers to gather together and make more of an impact. Not only that, but the hubs can provide other benefits for farmers (business support, pre-season planning), consumers (access to healthy food) and the surrounding communities (new jobs).

Overall, food hubs seem to be a viable option to connect consumers with producers – and with support from the USDA and its KYF2 program, the concept has the potential to spread around the country (more than it already has!). We’re excited that KYF2’s Food Hub Subcommittee work plan supports this expansion, calling for the creation of a regional food hub resource guide along with an assessment of existing USDA funding streams to find those that could be used to foster the development of regional food hubs.  With these two important deliverables, we can hope to see growth soon.

Check out the full presentation here.

Read about the local food hub in Charlottesville, VA, another prosperous food hub written about on Ecocentric.

Antibiotics: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

As a child I had strep throat on a regular basis. The doctor would diagnose me by putting a giant Q-tip into the back of my throat to check for bacteria. I was given penicillin, amoxicillin, and tetracycline – at least those are the names of the antibiotics that I remember. I have always had an aversion to taking pills. I hated taking vitamins and even refused pain killers after surgery on my knee when I was 10. I stopped taking antibiotics when I felt “adult” enough to question whether or not I really needed them. The last time I took antibiotics I had been sick for many weeks and the doctor looked at me like I was crazy when I asked what would happen if I didn’t take the dose she recommended, “You are healthy enough that you won’t die from this, but do you really want to stay sick for at least another month?” I didn’t want to be sick anymore, so I took them and I got better right away.

Those antibiotics worked quickly and I was happy to be healthy again, but imagine if you were given medicine, dr3specifically antibiotics, and they didn’t work. What if the doctor had to try multiple doses of different and increasingly potent drugs before they could get your infection under control? What if they couldn’t get it under control at all?  I swear my mother’s doctor will give her antibiotics “just in case” even if she only has a cold, or maybe she asks for them? Medical overuse is the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans, but the other major reason is agriculture.

Antibiotics and agriculture? A strange combination, right? The use of antibiotics to treat illness in humans seems totally unrelated to agriculture – until you realize that about 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States is routinely fed to farm animals – and not animals that are sick either.

What are antibiotics and antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics are natural, semi-synthetic or synthetic agents that are classified by whether they kill bacteria or inhibit its growth. One critical point is that antibiotics only attack bacteria, such as those that cause strep; they don’t work on viruses, such as those that cause a cold or flu.  While antibiotics are attacking bacteria that make you ill they also harm bacteria in your digestive tract that is necessary to keep you healthy, potentially causing other health problems. Penicillin was the first antibiotic to effectively treat previously deadly diseases such as syphilis, but many people are allergic to penicillin. There are now as many as 150 different types of antibiotics, which can attack bacteria that cause everything from earaches to life threatening cardiac infections.

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Pesticides: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

I recently read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and was shocked. Published in 1962, it attacked the use of pesticides and read like a story that might have been written today about the detrimental effects of ____ (fill in the blank), a product that hasn’t been properly tested, but is being sold anyway. At the time, pesticides were being used quite extensively dr1and people were starting to see the consequences – dead birds and other animals were obvious casualties of pesticide spraying. Rachel Carson’s book was met with fierce opposition; chemical companies (including Monsanto back in 1962!) were trying their best to silence her with lawsuits, personal attacks, and more.  In response to the uproar caused by Silent Spring, President Kennedy requested an investigation into Carson’s claims that led to increased regulation over chemical pesticides.

While the investigation did lead to increased regulation, we are still dealing with unnecessary pesticide use today. New stories pop up frequently about the possible connection between pesticides and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, poisonings, infertility and more. The problems seemed clear 40 years ago: why is it that we are just learning that new studies on atrazine, a commonly used weedkiller, may be more harmful to humans that previously thought, being “associated with birth defects, low birth weights and reproductive problems among humans, even at concentrations that meet current federal standards.” (Regulators Plan to Study Risks of Atrazine New York Times, Oct. 7, 2009)

What are pesticides?

Natural pesticides do exist, like planting garlic with tomatoes to keep red spider mites away.  But we are talking about chemical pesticides, which I will refer to as “pesticides” throughout this post. Pesticides are used to kill or discourage pests which can take the form of bugs, weeds, germs, animals like mice, birds, gophers, and more. Their use is nothing new; by the 15th century people were using toxic substances such as arsenic on crops to kill pests and arsenic-based pesticides were dominant up until the 1950s. But it was in the 1940s when synthetic pesticides began to be produced, and the 1960s when the associated problems were brought to the attention of the public. Pesticides can be used directly to poison whatever they are applied on, or in a systemic way, poisoning the pollen and nectar of a plant. This type of poisoning will kill insects, but can be problematic, also killing needed pollinators. Pesticides have many categories (such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and repellents), and various ways of working; you can find more detailed information here.

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