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Want to learn about what’s wrong with the current Farm Bill in under 4 minutes? It’s a three-day weekend so sit back, relax and check out this creative cartoon from Food and Water Watch:

Learn more about the 2012 Farm Bill and how to get involved, visit Food and Water Watch

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a new infographic, Plant the Plate, this month. Their goal was to create a visual tool to help us understand what Americans are eating today and what we should be eating according to the USDA’s My Plate recommendations. Did you notice the very large section labeled, “Refined Grains?”

This is an interesting look at how much cropland is dedicated to fruits and veggies (which signify half of “My Plate”) and in contrast, how much money is spent on other crop subsidies. It’s a simple graphic that is easy to understand, yet begins to show the disparities of what is happening now and what needs to be done. Will anything change with the new 2012 Farm Bill? That is the question that we should all be pondering right now. Learn more about Farm Bill Basics in this paper by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

We should eat more fruits and vegetables. Yet billions of taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize unhealthy, processed foods while fruit and vegetable farmers get little to no support. American farmers could grow the fruits and vegetables we need for a healthy diet but local food systems need increased public support to help make it happen. Our infographic, Plant the Plate, breaks it down.

Click on the image to see the full Infographic

On my last trip to Indonesia, I ate papaya every day for two weeks straight. This tropical fruit is typically served after dinner as it is not only sweet but also aids in digestion. The papaya is peeled and de-seeded, chopped into bite-sized chunks, and displayed with lime wedges and dainty forks. I can tell you that not once did I tire of this luscious and delectable treat.

Today, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sent out a press release announcing that the Government of Japan will now allow commercial import of genetically modified papaya to Japan. The approved variety is called Rainbow papaya and it is grown in the state of Hawaii. Below, the USDA explains how and why Rainbow papaya was created:
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Is your breakfast cereal “natural” or “organic?” Think there is not much difference between the two? You’re not alone. Fancy marketing campaigns specifically designed to trick consumers into believing that these two terms essentially mean the same thing are in play every time you see a cereal box. But the true difference between “natural” and “organic” is huge and one organization took up the challenge of exposing this practice.

A just-released report from The Cornucopia Institute found many breakfast cereals bearing the label “natural” to be loaded with pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and ingredients processed with unnatural chemicals.  To be clear, the report was not looking at cereals such as Lucky Charms or Pops, but rather brands like Kashi, Barbara’s and Annie’s Homegrown; cereals and granola which are specifically marketed as health-conscious and “natural.” In Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label—A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle, the analysis looked at over 45 “natural” cereal brands to determine how natural they really were. They also tested the products for the presence of GMOs. The results of the GMO tests were especially surprising. Even several brands enrolled in the Non-GMO Project contained genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
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Dairy, dairy quite contrary

How does your bacteria grow?

With metal grates and heated plates,

And filthy cows all in a row.

 

Ever wonder how your milk gets from the cow to your bowl of cereal? Grist.org just did a great story on dairy. Essentially, milk goes through a 3-step process of pasteurization, homogenization and fortification. Here is a list of must-know terms from today’s milk production.

Pasteurization

Pasteurization is the process of using heat to destroy microorganisms in foods. Do you know the difference between pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, and raw?  Here are the 4 main ways dairy is pasteurized:

High Temperature Short Time (HTST)
This is the most common method of pasteurization in the U.S. HTST uses metal plates and hot water to raise milk temperatures to at least 161F/72C degrees for a minimum of 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling.

Ultra Pasteurized (UP)
Milk or milk product is heated to 280F/138 C degrees for two seconds. UP results in a product with longer shelf life, but still requires refrigeration. Most organic milk is ultra pasteurized to extend the shelf life.
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I keep seeing articles claiming that many organics are a waste of money. Even health guru Dr. Mercola (whom I tend to agree with on most issues) wrote an article on it. The advice is to buy conventional (non-organic) for the EWG’s Clean 15 list or for fruits & veggies with thick skins/those you peel to save money. What this advice says is that the rate of pesticides found on produce should be the ONLY determining factor when deciding between organic and non-organic. While pesticide levels are extremely important, it is concerning that people may automatically choose conventional for the “cleaner” foods. The writers, many of whom are nutritionists, are failing to point out the OTHER reasons why organic makes sense.

Contemplating between organic and conventional?  Here are 6 OTHER reasons why organics make sense:

ONE:  More Vitamins & Minerals – There is evidence suggesting that conventionally grown produce may be less healthy than it once was due to the “dilution effect.” Why? Produce is grown with fertilizer for desirable traits (firmness, color, increased size, etc.) instead of optimal vitamin & mineral content. Essentially, produce is larger with more “dry matter,” but doesn’t proportionately contain as many nutrients. You have to eat more to get the same amount of nutrients.
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Remember the new “My Plate” icon that the USDA put out a few months ago? Part of the new campaign is releasing specific marketing messages to the public. This is their first message:

Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables

This is borderline revolutionary. Can you imagine if every American filled HALF their plate with fresh fruits and veggies? And what if they did that at EVERY meal? I don’t care what’s on the other half of the plate – there is no doubt in my mind that we’d all be healthier (and likely less overweight). I applaud the government for such a straightforward and simple message. In my perfect world, the message would add the words “fresh” and “organic,” but hey, we have to start somewhere. Plus, if this motivates people to eat more produce, maybe they’ll start to experiment with new veggies and possibly even visit their local farmers market. Maybe they’ll start to understand how much better a tomato tastes in season. Maybe they’ll buy local and…I’m getting carried away. As you can see, I’m an optimist.

More of these USDA messages are coming soon. Here are a few you can look forward to:
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