Why We Need a Compost Collection Service

Food waste is quite the anomaly; our world is pressed for resources, yet 40 percent of the food we produce is not consumed. Such extreme food waste appears even more criminal when it is acknowledged that 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure, and that redistributing just 15 percent of this waste would secure food for 25 million citizens annually.

Clearly, food waste is a huge problem, and while some of it is lost through the supply chain or through grocery stores’ strict produce appearence rules, the greatest amount of food waste crime is almost always committed in the kitchen. Regardless of whether we were pressured into overpurchasing by an enticing sale, forgot what was in the back of our fridge, or simply didn’t enjoy what we bought, the result is the same: our food makes its way to the landfill, where it is the single largest component of U.S. solid waste and takes up 6.3 million cubic yards of space. Without proper microorganisms to help it break down, our food rots, and emits enormous amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide). If food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

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Many people look for solutions to this anomaly through waste mitigation and food redistribution, but there is another area that needs to be further explored to supplement these solutions: waste management.

Food waste will always exist on the consumer end, and by managing our waste through a large-scale compost collection service, we can repurpose our waste into a useable product. Large-scale systems will make composting easy and accessible for residents, institutions, and food operations, particularly in locations like crowded cities where a simple backyard bin isn’t a feasible option. What is more, sorting food into its own canister will cause consumers to recognize just how much food they are pitching.

Organics Disposal Ban - Egg Roll and Egg

Building infrastructure to support these collections is the most efficient way to attain a quality compost product that can be reutilized. Backyard composting systems may be practical for some, but residents may lack the knowledge or diligence to properly care for their bin, creating a host of problems if the piles become too dry, wet, cold, small, smelly, or have other issues that cause a drawn-out or incomplete breakdown of organics. In sum, homegrown products are more likely to be of lower quality than their commercially produced counterparts, which can be easily generated and sold with a consistent product standard.

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Popular GORE commercial composting technology is flexible; it can process inputs as little as 2,000 tons or as large as 200,000 tons a year.

Currently, commercial composting of any kind is not very prominent in the U.S., and of the 4,914 operations identified, over 70 percent were exlusively for yard trimmings. To combat this, some composting centers are experimenting with combining food and yard waste, scoring positive responses from their communities. For example, a pilot program in Howard County, Maryland has received and processed over 2,000 tons of waste since 2013, and has a wait-list of over 30 communities and even an airport that want to recycle their nutrient waste.

Fortunately, infrastructure for food composting may be on the rise, as food waste bans that bar or limit commercial institutions from sending scraps to the landfill are becomming increasingly common in the U.S., as they can stimulate the economy and aid in anti-hunger efforts. An example of this is the state of Vermont, where a ban caused a 40 percent increase in healthy food donations in 2016, or Massachusetts, where a ban generated $175 million in economic activity with $50.5 million in capital investments planned for 2017.

As one can see, implimenting a wide-scale compost collection service would have endless benefits, ranging from consumer education to increasing food donations to reducing environmental impacts. Hopefully, a greater awareness of food waste and the need for a compost collection service will increase future investment into implementing this solution.

 

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Essential Yet Overlooked

Farm workers, especially those who are undocumented, are an often overlooked yet incredibly important part of our agriculture system. For obvious reasons, it’s difficult to get an exact number of undocumented farmworkers, but most estimates range from 46-70%. According to the USDA, the percentage of farmworkers who were not legally authorized to work in the U.S has increased by about 35% in the last 30 years and now hovers right around 50%.

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A majority of farmworkers (both documented and undocumented) are from Mexico. As of 2009, Mexicans made up about 68% of the total share of hired crop farmworkers.

In 2015, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report which showed that more Mexicans are now leaving than coming to the U.S.  While it’s true that President Trump is extremely anti-immigrant, it’s interesting to note that this trend actually began under the Obama administration. The report points to several reasons for the reduction of Mexican immigrants entering the U.S in recent years, including the slow recovery of the U.S. economy following the 2008 recession, as well as stricter enforcement of U.S immigration laws, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Bruce Goldstein, the president of Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit that aims to improve farmers’ living and working conditions explained that “If we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse.”

Albert Garnica, vice president of operations at Taylor Farms in Salinas, CA further explains that point. He says, “Right now, with the new administration, people are afraid to come out to work, and then you have the older generations of workers retiring, so you’ve got both hitting at the same time.”

Despite the agricultural industry’s need for new workers, Americans are reluctant to take the jobs, particularly those harvesting crops. The work is difficult, the hours are long, and it’s hard to make a living. According to the National Farm Worker Ministry, the average annual income hovers just around the poverty line.

Picture1.pngSource: NPR, Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Health is another major concern for farmworkers. They are more likely to contract certain diseases or have health issues than other populations due to the type of work and working conditions they are exposed too. They suffer from higher rates of infectious disease and have higher instances of respiratory issues, due to exposure to fungi, dust, and pesticides.

This is an incredibly complex issue and there is no easy solution. As a starting point though, organizations like Farmworker Justice are advocating for immigration reform that includes economic justice and labor protection. Undocumented or not, no workers should have to endure the working conditions that our current agricultural system both creates and depends on.

As consumers we have the ability to make choices about where the food we buy comes from. We need to make sure we pay attention to buying food that was grown in both environmentally and socially responsible ways.

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Urban Agriculture

Food is vital for our survival. In order to sustain enough food, there needs to be an emphasis on how we are going to grow enough in a way that doesn’t have harmful effects to our environment. Scientific researcher’s discus the implications of urban agriculture and how it could be the idea that saves a lot of these concerns. It preserves “biodiversity, tackling waste and reducing transport” (Howe). In rural areas that are currently growing crops for most of the food that we eat, there are many harmful effects from fertilizers and pesticides. There are definitely monopolies when it comes to the large food industries around the world and they control a lot of the mass production of inorganic food. Urban agriculture focuses on the goal to bring community gardens to cities.

Reducing our Carbon Footprint:

In order to provide a sustainable amount of food for future generations, we might as well start thinking about how we are going to achieve this goal. At the University of Manchester, Joe Howe and Paul Wheeler focused on food security and researched the benefits of urban agriculture in two cities in the United Kingdom. The initial intent of this research was to be able to create an environment that is compatible for producing food in a sustainable manner with the ability to limit traveling time. This would therefore reduce a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Focusing on our carbon footprint will help us provide future stability. In cities that are especially densely packed, many people do not see the steps in the actual food production.

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Importance in Developing Countries:

Urban Agriculture is starting to spread to many of the developing nations. With a growing population, urban migration is increasing. According to research from Francesco Orsini, urban agriculture favors social inclusion and reduction of gender inequalities. In many cities, fruit and vegetable crops produce higher yields providing more availability to locals. In developing countries, a huge concern focuses on malnourishment. Many people do not have enough money to afford produce that supplies enough essential vitamins. The increase in community gardens will allow more economic benefits including employment in the larger cities.

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How it will Effect the Ecosystem:

An interesting study focuses on how urban agriculture can help colonize pollinators into the area. Bees have a critical role in the environment and with growing concerns of endangerment, having these pollinators increase with urban agriculture will be extremely beneficial. Increasing urban gardens will help sustain pollinator populations and will help maintain a stable ecosystem. It helps promote biodiversity in urban cities that did not initially have produce growing with pollinators.

Urban agriculture is still developing throughout many cities in the world. The amount of environmental benefits from urban agriculture is what is most attractive to future innovation and development.

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Lauren Zappaterrini

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Lactose Intolerance May Be Helping You

From the day we are all born milk is a large part of our diets. Dairy is even a category on the food pyramid. It helps us develop strong bones and serves as a source of energy. But how much milk is actually good for us? And in reality is it doing more harm then good to our bodies?

When we are first born, milk is pretty much all that we can have for the first few months. It helps us grow big and strong… so we are told. But in reality, there is no significant evidence that supports that dairy is beneficial to bone growth later on in life. Lets take a closer look into the main carbohydrate in dairy and how it affects our bodies.

Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk. It is the ” milk sugar” and it is unique to dairy products. As humans we consume all kinds of milk. Whole, 2%, skim. We even get it from different types of animals such as cows and goats. But according to “Health line” humans are the only living species that consume milk from another animal. All other species consume milk form their mother while nursing. Humans consume milk way past the infant stage of development. Dairy did not start becoming a main part of the human diet until after the agricultural revolution and humans have had to adapt over time to be able to process the milk from another species. One of the main concerns in milk is the lactose that is contains. Lactose is a carbohydrate that infants and children have the ability to break down. But as we grow up we loose that ability. Not having the ability to break down the lactose results in what is known as lactose intole

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rance. A large portion of the worlds population suffers with being lactose intolerant. Genetics Home Reference states that about 65 percent of the world cant digest the enzyme. As you can see in this map lactose intolerance is not just a problem that affects the united states. It is an issues that is very wide spread. Humans throughout the world do not have the ability to digest lactose.

Other then not having the ability to digest dairy intake of dairy does not prevent you from broken bones.In a recent  Bustle article there was a study done that increased intake of cow’s milk is associated with increases risk of bone fractures. Personally this contradicts all that I was every taught about milk growing up.

With all this new studying coming out about lactose, cutting it out of your diet may improve it in many ways. With the technology we have there are new alternatives to milk coming out that make a great replacement such as almond milk, cashew milk, and even pea milk. These milk alternatives will provide you with the great taste of milk without the lactose intake.

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Educating Our Way to More Responsible Eating

Today we live in a world where the decisions over which food we purchase is typically made only considering price, convenience, and taste preference. Seldom are any other variables considered and so seldom are the most responsible products purchased. Over the course of our primary education, the importance of eating fruits and vegetables has been stressed to us as being necessary for a balanced diet. As a result, most people are conscious about eating meals balanced with greens. That is as far as most education pertaining to our foods will go in the U.S., despite the fact that there is far more to learn with regards to our foods’ production, impacts, and nutritional value.

Over the last few decades, people have become more aware of the environmental and health impacts that industrial agriculture methods can have, and as such the consumption of organic foods has significantly increased. While this does appear to demonstrate an improvement in consumer responsibility and awareness, organic foods are not necessarily the best option that may be presented to us at a grocery store. Today, almost every grocery store carries produce with the organic label. While this is a positive step toward ensuring that we are purchasing the healthiest foods for our bodies and our environment, it does not give us a full description about the food we are consuming.

With global populations expected to increase to over 9 billion people by 2050 and poverty increasing at a disturbingly similar rate, citizens of developed countries will be forced to make ever more responsible decisions on a daily basis to ensure food security and wellbeing for all people.

An organic label does not inform you entirely about the production of your food. What are we telling consumers when we label products as ‘organic’ or ‘all-natural?’ Development of a more informative standards system needs to occur so that consumers have more knowledge about each aspect of the products they would like to purchase. This would give consumers more information and education regarding the goods they purchase which would help guide them to make the most responsible purchases possible, thereby lessening their individual environmental impact.

How We Can Improve

The greatest way to ensure that future populations will make responsible decisions over the foods they consume is to educate them from an early age about the importance of eating responsibly. By employing the educational system to instill these values into the hearts and minds of children, we can ensure that these future consumers will consistently make more responsible decisions when purchasing their foods.

Furthermore, we can make steps to inform our current consumers toward buying responsibly by establishing a standardized rating system for individual food items, which will be a function of various factors including production impacts and nutritional value (an idea proposed during class discussion). One such organization called HowGood has begun to do exactly this, and their standards system is spreading to grocery stores nationally. HowGood is an organization that has recognized the necessity for improvement in food labeling. It has developed its own rating system that ranks products from fair to best in environmental friendliness in their production and distribution. Their rating system is highly comprehensive—taking into consideration such things as whether or not the product is fairly traded, local, produced responsibly, and more. With widespread implementation of a standards system such as the one they have developed, consumers can be guided to buy the best available products at their grocery store.

 

– Tyler Schwartz

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“How can hemp save the world”

When researching for this assignment I thought of many different changes I have made in my diet including the addition of hemp seeds. When I googled “How can hemp…” the phrase “how can hemp save the world” came up. I laughed a little because that is very extreme. However, the hemp plant is actually very sustainable and is used in a plethora of products from protein powders to bed sheets.

Many people might only think of one product that comes from hemp, but there are so many more uses for the hemp plant. Hemp can be made into fiber for paper and clothing. It’s seeds are also very nutritious and can be ground up and used in smoothies for and extra boost of protein and amino acids. Hemp also has a relatively small environmental impact. It often does not require herbicides or pesticides and you can grow a significant amount in a small area.

How is hemp environmentally friendly?

Before I try to convince you to start buying all your paper and clothing needs from hemp derived sources, let’s talk about why hemp has such a reputation for being sustainable. Often times you will find hemp products with a fancy looking cardboard label with green font and advertising the great benefits of hemp products. You see this label and think “wow how environmental!” Hemp is very environmental for a few reasons.

First, hemp is considered a carbon negative crop. This means that hemp plants are a sink for carbon dioxide and can reduce crude oil consumption. In one study done in 2003, two scientists found that replacing 50% of fiber glass plastics with natural fibers (hemp) could save 4.3% of US industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and 1.19 million m of crude oil (Pervaiz and Sain).

Second, little to no use of pesticides and herbicides for hemp can reduce local pollution and make hemp a fairly low maintenance plant. It is also used as an herbicide because of it’s extremely dense character. The plant is tall and thick so weeds cannot grow or live near the plant so it can be used near other plants to prevent the growth of weeds. The density does not allot for weeds such as thistle to sustain life and spread to other crops.

Third, the whole plant has a purpose. You can grow hemp and use the fibers for paper, the seeds for food, and the stalk for biofuel after you’re done using it as an herbicide for your other plants. It grows quickly, tall, and in small spaces. It’s multiple uses make it a good candidate for being a very sustainable crop. I have only covered a few of its uses and there are plenty more…

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As mentioned above there are plenty of products that can be made with hemp. Here is a list of a few things that hemp can be used to make:

  • Paper prodcuts
  • Plastics
  • Building material
  • Biofuel
  • Jewelry/Rope
  • Nutrition

How does this relate to food and food systems?

Now that we know how beneficial and environmentally friendly hemp is we can look at more ways to use is, especially in our day to day lives. One main way hemp can be used in our food is through it’s seeds. Hemp seeds contain an abundance of vitamins and nutritious benefits. They are virtually tasteless and can be ground down into a powder and then can be dissolved in liquids such as milk or a smoothie.

Here is a snapshot of the nutrition facts from the hemp seeds I use:

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 3.55.00 PMAs you can see 1.5 tablespoons gives you 4 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber, 13mg of calcium, 2mg of iron, 167 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of magnesium. They also contain omega-3s, vitamin E, B, and zinc.

Overall, I think hemp might be able to save the world. Its small impact and nutritional value make for a sustainable, healthy addition to anyone’s diet. There are so many great benefits for hemp derived products besides the one main one that some people are against. Hemp is not just marijuana! It offers so many more benefits than just that one product.

Source:

Pervaiz, Muhammad, and Mohini M Sain. “Carbon Storage Potential in Natural Fiber Composites.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling, vol. 39, no. 4, 2003, pp. 325–340., doi:10.1016/s0921-3449(02)00173-8.

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How Millennials are Changing the Way We Farm

 

World population is expected to reach 9.1 billion people by 2050, requiring global food production to rise by 70%. This is no small problem. Here are the solutions we most commonly learn about: decreasing agriculture’s environmental footprint, be more efficient about what and where we grow, change our individual diets and reduce our food waste. What is rarely talked about is WHO will be growing our food in the next 30 years?

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Over a thirty year span, farmers average age has continued to increase

 

For every 6 farmers over the age of 65, there is only one under 35. In the United States, the average farmer is 58 years old, as recorded by the most recent census by the USDA. The average US farmer is getting older and there are few farmers to replace them. If Millennials don’t become farmers, we will have no one that has the knowledge to grow our food through sustainable methods and all other efforts to feed the world will become obsolete.

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PHOTO: Tom Zuccareno

 

So why aren’t there many young folk in the agricultural industry? To start off, farming is expensive, hard work, unforgiving and not profitable. Land prices have skyrocketed and necessary equipment is hard to find cheap. Most Millenials are buried by student debt and cannot afford to invest in a career that will only dig that hole deeper. 78 percent of farmers said that “lack of capital” and 40 percent reported that “access to credit” are among the major inhibitors to entering into the farming industry.

Being a part of this generation myself, I know that this is not enough to explain this phenomenon. More than any other generation, Millennials are asking more of the food industry. We are learning about the Good Food movement from social media and in our classrooms, we want so badly to have a connection with the food we are putting into our bodies and be mindful of the impact food production has on the environment.

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MOLLY M. PETERSON/HERITAGE HOLLOW FARMS
“Molly Peterson of Heritage Hollow Farms in Sperryville, Virginia, is part of the next generation of American farmers. It’s a generation that appears to be growing — slowly.” – The Huffington Post 

Even with these roadblocks, Millennials are finding a way into the farming industry. According to the Agriculture Census in 2014, the number of young farmers has increased by 1.5% in the U.S. In Maine, this increase has reached almost 40%. This doesn’t come close to reducing the age gap of American farmers, but it’s a start.

The short film, “How We Grow,” tells the story of young farmers that are changing the way we farm. Young farmers are hurtling monetary barriers by creating small-scale, environmentally conscious farming techniques that require less space and equipment making farming more realistic for the passionate young farmer. Farmers are being creative with the way they start their operations, they are forming partnerships with landowners and others that have capital. Other strategies are being seen popping up all over the country such as micro-farms, indoor hydraulic farms, vertical gardens and even entire operations on roofs in urban cities. Organizations such as the USDA, the Slow Money Institute, and the National Young Farmers Coalition are making strides to support new farmers in breaking down the barriers of entry into the agriculture sector. 

“I’m passionate about farming because it is the most essential of all work, we need food to live and the best way to get food is to grow it and harvest it.”  

-Harper Kaufman, Two Roots Farm 

“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer but was never encouraged to pursue that as a  career.”   

– Casey Piscura, Wild Mountain Seeds

In thinking about this greater problem, I believe we as a society need to encourage everyone to connect with farming in some way and encourage farming as a viable career path. We need to change the way we see the standard American farmer and the standard American farm to begin the process of combating the problem of producing enough nutritional food for our rising population. Let’s widen our horizon; start a fire in your belly to grow food for our future generations.

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Why a Vegan, Sustainably Sourced Diet Can’t Save The World

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Moving to Boulder, Colorado was a bit of a shock to the system for me. There is a robust culture of environmentalist lifestyles that exist here, that I had never encountered in all my time growing up in Chicago, Illinois. When I lived in Illinois, people didn’t understand why I would wake up early to run, or avoid fast food, or be emotionally distressed about the overuse of styrofoam in packaging. I considered myself rather environmentally minded. The first time I woke up early to run in Boulder, I was blown away by the sheer number of other runners on the trails with me. Not only is it normal to pursue a healthy sustainable life here, but there is actually a sort of peer pressure that exists in Boulder, pushing people to live healthy, sustainable lives.

One of the pressures I find to be most prominent in Boulder, is the pressure to have a sustainable diet. Specifically, veganism, is put on a pedestal. There has been considerable research done in an effort to indicate the different levels of environmental impact each type of diet can have. The World Resources Institute ranked categories of protein foods in levels of environmental impact, and the only type of diet that could exist using only the lowest ranked categories of food would be a vegan diet. Obviously, there are arguments that would counter the claim that veganism is the best diet for environmental sustainability, but let’s just pretend for a moment that the evidence made it abundantly clear that these claims were true.WRI_Protein_Scorecard_final2_0

The difficulty in seeing these approaches as viable solutions to the growing environmental issues inour world is that it is very difficult to scale. There are many factors driving this reality, but none as significant as the difficulty of changing human behavior.

Humans tend to act selfishly. Not in a superficial way, but in a sense that they must prioritize their needs in order to survive. Most of the population of the earth has very little choice in what they can eat or not eat. Access to environmentally sustainable foods is very limited in poorer regions of the world, and even in places where there is access, it may not be financially reasonable for many families to eat them. Many food experts have concluded that the inequalities of the food systems in the world prevent people from choosing food that is healthy or sustainable for themselves, let alone the world.

Not only is it not economically viable for a large percentage of the earths population to keep their diet vegan and sustainably sourced, but it is also not desirable. For a population that has eaten such a high volume of meat and dairy in its diet for so long, it is very difficult to make choices that sacrifice those foods. It is completely reasonable that some people will have no problem with letting these foods go, but convincing enough people to be able to make a difference is incredibly challenging.

The bottom up approaches to environmental issues are important, in that they help us think about how small behaviors affect large systems. By no means is it worthless to have an environmentally sustainable diet. However, in order to change enough peoples behavior to make a difference, two things must be in order. First, it must be economically viable to the people who’s behavior must change. A person simply cannot make environmentally conscious decisions if they cannot afford them. And secondly, desirable alternatives must exist that are able to draw people into more sustainable lives. Behavior, on a large scale, must be desirable to the majority of people if it to be widely adopted. The only other option for mass behavioral change if that cannot happen is a spiritual revolution in which a large majority of people suddenly become willing to make great sacrifices on their own part for the greater good.

It seems that systems must exist that allow for the sustainable choice to also be the easy choice for people. Because of this, I am a huge advocate for technological, and economical development relating to environmental sustainability. There is nothing wrong about eating a sustainable diet, but changing the behavior of the few who can afford, and are willing to change, will not be enough to bring the change that the world needs over the coming years. Yet, there is hope in great leaders and brilliant thinkers, who can cause exponential change in these systems with new technologies, economic theory, and governing philosophy.

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Curing cancer with seaweed and brown rice

In the last week, I’ve heard of two people (family members of friends) say they have cured their cancer through the macrobiotic diet. While I understand the power food can have (we are, as they say, what we eat), this seemed far-fetched. I do not want to undermine the individuals who this cancer-curing diet works for, I would simply like to explore the evidence, for and against, this type of treatment. In terms of food sustainability, this post looks to link how our food choices may affect not only our health and the environment, but the greater question of our health in the lens of terminal illness.

First, I will outline what the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle entail. Then I will look at quantitative evidence, and finally at qualitative evidence. I’ll end by trying to tie the two together and make sense of the two views.


Macrobiotic Diet:

According to an initial Google search, the Kushi Institute (a .org institute) is one of the top resources for macrobiotic diets. According to Kushi, macrobiotics is a combination of traditional wisdom and modern knowledge. The recommendations for those living in temperate climates are to eat the following:

 40-60% by weight whole cereal grains (organically grown)

–brown rice, barley, millet, oats, corn, rye, wheat, buckwheat (small proportion can be noodles or pasta, un-yeasted whole grain bread and other partially processed whole cereal grains)

20-30% by weight Vegetables (local and organic)

-cooked (lightly steamed or boiled, sautéed with some unrefined, cold pressed oil, small portion as salad and very small volume as pickles)

-green cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, pumpkin, watercress, parsley, bok choy, dandelion, mustard greens, daikon greens, scallions, onions, radish, turnips, burdock, carrots, winter squash (occasional use 2-3 times a week à cucumber, celery, lettuce, herbs such as dill and chives) (not recommended à potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, spinach, beets, zucchini)

5-10% by weight Sea Vegetables and Legume

-azuki beans, chickpeas, lentils (occasionally tofu, tempeh, natto)

-sea vegetables such as nori, wakame, kombu, hiziki, arama, dulse, and agar-agar (vitamins and minerals)

Seasonings

-miso, tamari, soy sauce, sea salt

Occasional Foods

-white meat fish, fruit 2-3 times a week à more temperate fruits, non-tropical

-lightly roasted seeds and nuts occasionally

-rice syrup, barley malt, amazake, mirin as sweeteners

-brown rice vinegar for sour taste

Condiments

-gomashio, seaweed powder, umeboshi plums, tekka, pickles and sauerkraut, miso, tamari or soy sauce

-naturally processed sea salt

Oil

-unrefined sesame or corn oil

Foods to Eliminate

-meat, animal fat, eggs, poultry, dairy, refined sugars, chocolate, vanilla, molasses, honey, tropical or semi-tropical fruit, fruit juice, soda, coffee, colored tea, mint tea, artificially colored preserved, sprayed, or chemically treated foods, refined polished grains, flours, and canned, frozen and irradiated foods, hot spices, alcohol

The macrobiotic diet also recommends certain lifestyle choices for positive health impacts:

-slow down when you eat

-eat when you’re hungry

-avoid long showers or baths

-use natural/non-toxic cosmetics and natural toothpaste

-wear cotton for all undergarments (avoid synthetic or wool on your skin)

-walk in the sunshine every day, exercise regularly

-cook food with a gas or wood stove

-use earthenware, cast iron, or stainless steel cookware rather than aluminum or Teflon coated

-minimize computers and TV

At first glance, this diet seems.. bland, but healthy. It is similar to a vegan diet, with drastically more limits in almost all food categories. There are also some interesting suggestions: yes to squash, no to its similar counterpart, zucchini. Further, the guidelines for local, organic, not artificially colored, preserved, sprayed or chemically treated are not specific enough, in my mind, to dictate a strict diet. While there are ambiguities, the diet and lifestyle changes also seem relatively reasonable, or at least doable if it can cure cancer. It does make sense to eat lots of vegetables and slow down when you eat. Additionally, this diet could also be costly, while there are limited animal products, seaweed and local vegetables are not inexpensive. Price could be a limiting factor of the macrobiotic diet for some individuals. It is also inconvenient, something that would steer many people away.

Where did the macrobiotic diet originate?  

According to Victoria Rezash from the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, the macrobiotic diet was first introduced in 18th century Germany. In the mid-1960’s, it was popularized as a cure for cancer by a Japanese prophet, philosopher, and lecturer, George Ohsawa. He believed the diet could rebalance yin and yang and prevent illness, give renewed energy, and improve memory. Ohsawa said, “No illness is more simple to cure than cancer through a return to the most elementary and natural eating and drinking diet”

Unfortunately, Ohsawa’s strict macrobiotic regime ended in a recommendation to only eat brown rice and water. This resulted in severe complications and even death from malnutrition for many who followed the diet. Following Ohsawa’s theories on macrobiotics, the Council on Foods and Nutrition denounced the diet.

In the 1980’s Kushi published a book outlining a less strict diet complemented with many first-hand accounts of how the diet cured their cancer. The diet above is Kushi’s recommended macrobiotic diet.

Source: The Macrobiotic Diet emphasizes a rebalancing of yin and yang to improve health and wellness. 


Quantitative Evidence:

It’s easy to write off food choices as negligible compared to the power of cancer. Interestingly though, in some surveys of practitioners who practice complementary and alternative medicine, 84% recommended some type of nutritional therapy to their patients. As we know, food can cause or solve many problems. Particularly, before modern medicine, conventional doctors often turned to food first instead of turning to surgery and pharmaceuticals to help treat patients as they do today. 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates, said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I believe there is truth to this, whether our food choices can cure cancer though, I’m not sure.

Unfortunately for the food cure argument, a study by Anticancer Research in the National Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment analyzed 13 different cancer diets and the clinical effects of their use. They found no clinical evidence supporting any of the diets. In some cases, they even found the diets to be harmful due to malnutrition. Many other studies mirror these results.

 

Source: Doctors and scientists have not found conclusive evidence that the Macrobiotic diet can help cure cancer. 


Qualitative Evidence:

Here’s the tricky part. While there are many studies which do not find a statistically significant correlation between macrobiotics and recovery from cancer, there are many testimonials of people who believe the diet saved their lives. Many people say their cancer reemerges when they stray from the diet and shortly after they are back on the diet, the cancer subsides. I understand we cannot trust all internet testimonials, but I am also intrigued after hearing about from two people whom I know claim to be alive due to diet. This begs the question, what do we do when scientific studies cannot answer medical questions? How does food actually affect our lives, and even our ability to cure disease?

Source: Many people claim eating meals like this one, primarily grains and vegetable has cured them of their cancer. 

I am a big advocate of science, I look to well-done studies for answers– I don’t blatantly disagree with well-supported science. At the beginning of this research, I hoped to find some quantitative evidence that macrobiotic diets had at least some influence on cancer. After only finding a series of stories, I wonder if this is more than a few odd cases. Do we simply not know, or not have enough evidence to prove a diet based approach can help cure cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer can be caused by Smoking and Tobacco, Diet and Physical Activity, Sun and other Types of Radiation, or Viruses and Other Infections. This broad list shows us what things might affect our risk for cancer, not what directly causes cancer. There is no known single cause of cancer which makes it more challenging to treat than other diseases which may come from a pathogen (aside from HPV which can induce cancer). Personally, I think the mystery of what causes cancer is almost as interesting as the grossly intense methods of treatment for cancer. I have watched people shrink and be withered away by cancer treatments which seem to push them closer to dying, often from the intense treatment, not the cancer directly. This type of conventional treatment, while it does cure people’s cancer sometimes, is terrifyingly invasive, lengthy, and painful. While I love the science, I am intrigued by the effect something as simple yet critical as food has on treatment. Unfortunately, there is  lack of scientific evidence that the macrobiotic diet can cure cancer. My modern and western brain doesn’t think eating more seaweed and whole grains can cure cancer, but after hearing from previous doctors who suffered from cancer and now live happily on seaweed and whole grains, I wonder what we are missing in the hunt for the cure to cancer, and on a greater scale, how large the effects of diet are on our bodies.

 

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Are Organics Really Worth It?

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Throughout my life I have always heard people raving about the health benefits that come with eating organic food, especially my mom. I always believed her without ever thinking twice. I mean its organic, right? No chemicals or harmful pesticides, so it has to be the healthier option. This is what I thought until learning more and more about the subject throughout my college years. Today more and more people are questioning whether organic foods really provide the health benefits that we previously thought.

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In the past, images such as these have always convinced people that organic products are healthier. Today, the narrative is beginning to change. Crystal Smith-Spangler, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, and her coworkers gathered about 200 journals on the matter and found that, overall there was not a concrete difference. Of the 200 hundred studies some looked at health effects on humans while eating conventional and organic foods (Aubrey, 2016). Others examined the actual nutrients in various fruits and vegetables. These studies did find that certain vegetables are healthier than others, but there was no correlation between organic and conventional methods. The differences are rather attributed to the climate in which they were grown, the genetic makeup, or even the level of ripeness when picked (NPR).

Another major finding in this study was that conventional foods did have more pesticides on the surface. While this may be true, there is actually little evidence that pesticides at this level of consumption are even harmful. The study showed that almost all conventional fruits and vegetables had less pesticides than the federal limit (NPR). Additionally, we must not forget that organic farmers are still allowed to use twenty-five different types of pesticides on their crops.

Overall, we are not provided with enough information to find the healthiest crops out there. Many things come in to play other than just organic versus conventional farming. Numerous other factors are likely far more important in determining the nutritional value of a certain crop.

The one major concern that I still have with conventional growing is the long term health effects caused by pesticides and fertilizers. We have just begun analyzing the long term health effects and it will be years before we have a large enough sample size to truly determine any concrete evidence on the matter.

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