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Food Deserts

Over the past two decades, there has been a considerable amount of attention drawn to the health of the average american. Obesity has become one of the largest threats to public health and one of the leading causes of death. Our country ranks as one of the fattest in the world at 38.2% of adults being classified as obese. Although these problems were acknowledged by most, media brought these concerns to the masses through horrifying documentaries such as “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock and “Food inc”. These documentaries highlighted the eating habits of Americans, specifically looking at the amount of fast food we consume. The media repeatedly critiqued Americans for their laziness and poor food choices. They failed to regard however, the lack of adequate food sources in areas of economic poverty.

USDA defines a food desert by “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”


About 2.3 million people live more than a mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car. Urban food deserts are not only a health problem but a socio-economic issue as well. Studies have found that white neighborhoods have nearly four times as many supermarkets and grocery stores as black neighborhoods.

Solutions to Urban Food Deserts

1. Mobile Food Market

a food market that travels behind a car providing fresh food and vegetables to areas of poverty. Another example of this is the bus stop farmers markets where buses take food to the people instead of the other way around

2. Food Co-ops

Although these are difficult to start up. The idea is to have a supermarket that is completely owned by its workers. These types of stores can grow the local economy, provide nutrituous food and empower people.

3. Non Profit grocery stores

These grocery stores are funded by grants, donors and government organizations. The purpose of these stores is to provide discounts to people that live below the poverty line.

The Future

“We have food deserts in our cities. We know that the distance you live from a supplier of fresh produce is one of the best predictors of your health. And in the inner city, people don’t have grocery stores. So we have to figure out a way of getting supermarkets and farmers markets into the inner cities.” – Michael Pollan




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Vegan Food Pyramid

By Jayde Mitzman


Reducing ones animal byproduct intake will result in various health benefits and environmental benefits. With the mass demand for animal products the methods in which animal products reach a persons kitchen often leaves the Earth with more carbon emissions in the air amongst other environmental consequences. One trend encouraging people to cut back on their contributions to the meat industry is ‘Meatless Mondays.’
Going Meatless once a week can decrease ones risk of preventable diseases caused by eating a diet heavy in meat such as high food pressure and cancer. Vegetables and fruits have been proven to counteract cardiovascular diseases from a study that found that a daily fruit or vegetable serving led to a 5% coronary here disease decline. There are also many studies proving that the industrialized red meat that is processed and consumed at a mass level increases ones risk of colorectal cancer. As well as benefiting ones health one would be decreasing their carbon footprint by not using up as much resources that require the use of fossil fuels and large amounts of fresh water and crops to produce. The water needed to farm livestock is often four times greater than crop farming. 1,850 gallons of water are used for one pound of livestock while 39 pounds of water are needed for one pound of vegetables. By going meatless for at least one day a week one will be reducing the greenhouse gases and dependence on unsustainable resources such as fuel.
The vegan pyramid above represents a version of the conventional food pyramid. By using this guid one can create a healthy and well balanced diet as a vegan. Utilizing this pyramid will help beginners make sure they get the recommended servings of protein, vegetables, fruits, and carbs that one will need. The vegan food pyramid is organized in a way that the sections in which the vegan substitutes are replacing contain similar nutrients to the animal products in the conventional food pyramid.vegan-food-pyramid-3


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Factory Farming: A lot of Waste Comes with our Beef


Eating industrially produced meat can have many adverse effects on the environment around us. The main source of food production in the United States is Industrial Agriculture. This is a highly industrialized farming method that relies on mono cropping, pesticides, and factory farming in order to produce a tremendous amount of food. While highly profitable and efficient as far as cost per pound farmed, this food system can have many diverse impacts on our environment. The primary driver for these impacts in the factory farming of animals.

Factory farmed animals consume far more than they produce. It is estimated that the water usage just for the crops required to feed our livestock is just upwards of 34 trillion gallons. To give this a little more perspective 56% of total water usage in the U.S goes to the crops to feed our livestock. In other words if we halved the amount of meat we ate we would also slash our total water consumption by 25%. That’s a huge environmental difference for a small sacrifice.

Other than water consumption land usage is also a major environmental detriment. Over ⅓ of the land in the U.S. is used for livestock feed. It is important to note that that is only food being grown for livestock not people. Globally the number is even higher at 45% of earth’s land being dedicated to livestock or livestock feed. If we look at just cows in the United States it requires 2-5 acres of land to feed, house then slaughter the cow. Some estimates think that 1.354 billion acres of the lower forty eights land is dedicated to agriculture. This would mean that a whopping 71% of land is used for agriculture in the continental United States. This land usage strains the amount of space the  U.S forests have to grow. If agricultural practice continue as they do today over 10million hectares of forest will need to be cleared in order to meet the new demand.  This amounts to about 24,710,538.15 acres or 38,610 square miles.

Waste also has adverse environmental impacts. The United States produces 5 billion pounds of chicken feather waste. 5 billion pounds of waste from just chicken feathers. According to a 1992 USDA study where there were far less animals in agriculture it was estimated that 7 million pounds of excrement was produced every minute by livestock in the United States. To drive this point home further an EPA study on the risk factors of concentrated animal feeding calculated that a farm of 2,500 dairy cows produces as much waste as a city of 411,000 people. That is roughly equivalent to the annual waste of the city of Boulder. This is because the waste that comes from animals is astounding. In fact livestock in the U.S. produces 130 times more waste than people. 1.4 billion tons of animal waste is produced annually. This measures out to be 5 tons of animal waste per person in the U.S. That is a lot of waste. If it is broken down to per second production it equals 116,000 pounds of waste produced per second. This was discovered by the USDA using simple math. Breaking down the USDA study by animal group it is possible to see the total waste production. Dairy cows produce 120 pounds of waste per day. There were 9.32 million dairy cows at the time of this study that’s a total of  1.1184 billion pounds of waste per day. Using this format the other sectors of agricultural waste can be calculated. Cows (for slaughter not dairy) produce 5.27184 billion pounds per day (63 lbs. Per day x 83.68 m. total population), Calves produce 1.029 billion pounds per day(30 lbs. per day x 34.3 m. total population), Pigs produce 1.036 billion pounds per day (14 lbs. per day x 74.0 m. total population), Sheep and Goats produce 39.2 million pounds per day (5 lbs. per day x 7.84 m. total population), Turkeys produce 66.99 million pounds per day  (.87 lbs. per day x 77.0 m. total population), Broiler Chickens produce 870 million pounds per day (.5 lbs. per day x 1.74 b. Total population), and finally  Laying Hens produce 87.675 million pounds of waste per day (.25 lbs. per day x 350.7 m. total population).  Thus the total amount of manure produced is 9.519 billion pounds a day and three trillion four hundred seventy-four billion four hundred thirty-five million pounds of manure annually. This is equivalent to 6.661 million pounds of manure produced every minute.This amount is supported by a more recent study that claims that 335 million tons of waste is produced annually. Though this only adds to roughly a third of the above estimate. This is over 40 times what leaves waste treatment plants is the U.S. annually.While some of this animal waste is used for manure much of it pollutes U.S. surface and groundwater sources. This can lead to water that contains hormones, viruses, bacteria, parasites, extra nutrients, and other harmful pathogens many of which come from the antibiotics the U.S. gives to its livestock. Roughly 80%  of antibiotics are taken by livestock in the U.S. These are excreted in waste and when drank by people can greatly affect their stomach bacteria count.

The combination of these factors show there must be a more constructive way to handle waste from Industrial Agriculture in the U.S. perhaps a change in social values can lead to a long term solution. Either way no one is going to stop eating meat, at least on a societal whole. What can be done is educate people about the impacts of their food choices and ask them to eat less meat. By just reducing the amount of meat we eat by half we can begin to see an immediate, large, and positive impact on our environment. After all a daily choice changed on a large scale can equate to a huge difference in the battle to save our planet.




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The Permaculture Perspective

In order to preserve 80% of the remaining species of this planet, including our own, half of the Earth’s oceans and land surface — at minimum — must be left to the devices of nonhuman life without invasion, intrusion, or interference from the human animal. That’s what E.O. Wilson, the worlds leading authority on biodiversity, argues in his book Half Earth. While I agree with Wilson, and often defer to his judgement in areas of biodiversity, ecosystem health and function, and human and nonhuman social behavior, I question his plan for implementation in the face of land degradation, our expanding human population beyond Earth’s carrying capacity, and the uncertainty in food production brought by climate change.

In considering my cognitive dilemma, I realized Wilson — an evolutionary biologist — still subscribes, like much of our modern society, not to the Darwinian worldview, but the Cartesian duality of [human] and nature; Gilgamesh and Enkidu; the false dichotomy of culture v. ecology. Maybe you find this differentiation meaningless and boring, however I caution you, pay attention to the consequences of the deep and not so subtle dangers of ignoring unhealthy personal, social, and cultural beliefs; maybe, like me, you find it profound and difficult to accept that an authority on modern ecology still subscribes to an inherently anti-Darwinian cultural meme. At this point maybe you’re also thinking, “what does this have to do with food systems.” In this post, I argue for a change in cultural perspective, in guiding principles as we interact with our environments, in ethical consideration for the consequences of our actions; I argue for the Permaculture perspective.

Not necessarily a food production system, Permaculture is an ethics based, principles governed, and scientifically informed design system for permanent human culture. When applied to food systems, Permaculture as its founder Bill Mollison states in Permaculture: A Designers Manual is a “permanent agriculture [based on] conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” In this light Permaculture does not favor one system over another or place a generalized one size fits all blanket over every farm or food system, rather it demands protracted and thoughtful observation, system interaction, and context specific solutions.

I’m an Environmental Anthropologist, and I focus on Human Ecology. I see our species in evolutionary terms; as primates that have a unique and curious evolutionary niche, culture, that and we’re bald — very weird in evolutionary terms. I see nature and culture not as mutually exclusive, or in competition for dominion, but as intermeshed and inseparable components of the same whole. Through this lens, our food systems are just one of many areas where culture and ecology commingle. That is, human food culture cannot exist in any sustainable fashion without a comprehensive framework for understanding sustainable human feeding ecology.

I think that short of a systems approach; that thinking in all or nothing dichotomous terms, we risk the embodiment of Marx’s concept of alienation. Dichotomous terms such as: Homo americanus modernis can’t help but prefer drive through cheeseburgers and French fries at the neglect of low impact fresh fruits and veggies because her local geography and cultural memes predetermine a worldview of calloused indifference to ecocide and inhumane treatment of human and nonhuman animals alike; Homo veganicus piousis refuses to acknowledge the slow burn of ethnocide and cultural homogenization embodied in his denying the biological and cultural heritage of our species; Homo economicus technofixis places blind religious faith in market solutions and the hubris derived belief that technology alone will absolve us from accepting responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

These examples are the half-truths of a literary conceit that I use to express how Permaculture, as a holistic systems approach is the most complete and comprehensive framework available to meet our desired outcomes. Of course the conceit is provocative and potentially offensive, my goal is to get you to question your own assumptions.


Courtesy of Eat Real America. The image is for dramatic effect, however note the data and scientific evidence shows a vegan diet can be healthy and safe while the paleo diet has little supporting evidence. My guess is because our species evolved as frugivorous omnivores, and while we lack the capacity to fully digest many low quality nutrient sources, such as leaves and vegetables, without processing of sorts, our gut morphology is too complex and the capacity of our liver to filter nitrates and nitrates is too low to suggest an evolutionary imperative for large quantities of high quality nutrients such as animal meats. We’re most likely to have a similar dietary requirement to our Chimpanzee cousins (who do actively hunt and eat other animals) with maybe a slightly higher need for high quality nutrition because of our calorically expensive brains.

The Ethics:

  • Prime directive – Take responsibility for your own existence and that of your children.
  1. Care For Earth;
    1. this ethic recognizes our complete dependence on healthy global ecosystem functions.
  2. Care For People;
    1. This ethic recognizes the potential for ecofascist and potentially genocidal beliefs and habits that can arise from a protracted and thoughtless focus on Earth Care alone.
  3. Care For future;
    1. This ethic recognizes the need to ensure a future Earth and human culture through setting realistic limits on population and consumption; returning excess or surplus to the first two systems.

The Principles:


Adapted courtesy of the School Sucks Project from Holmgren’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways 

Imagine a Permaculture perspective where we change our cultural memes to celebrate those who produce our food, and look to our local environment and our neighbors before looking to far-flung energetically and ecologically expensive options; where we blur the lines between natural systems and human systems; where we think ecologically and in Darwinian evolutionary terms. I imagine my local ecosystem as something akin to Russell Smith’s Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, where mostly native with some nonnative perennial woody vegetation provides for many human food, fuel, and fiber needs while simultaneously providing habitat for nonhuman species and regenerating degraded and eroded soils and ecosystems. Like John D Liu, I think ecosystem restoration and human food production are mutually synergistic, not exclusive. I imagine a cultural transition much like Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren’s Retrosuburbia concept.

My specific model won’t work everywhere, and that’s OK. Some environments would lend themselves more to woodland than forest, or savanna than woodland, or grassland, or prairie, or sage and scrub. Models for grassland and ruminant grazing like that of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm provide example for a different way to interact with a different environment, while the ethics and principles remain the same. Examples of mimicking aquatic ecosystems to produce both fish and vegetables (Aquaponics), like Robs Backyard Farm and Aquaponics, differ in design and technology while the ethics and principles remain the same. Ron Finley, a kindred spirit of mine, promotes an urban guerilla gardening model that applies the Permaculture perspective to social organization and community development based on the same unchanging ethics and principles.

Ron Finley Infographic

Courtesy of Big Think. Ron Finley and I are kindred spirits.

The point is protracted and thoughtful observation and system interaction, not protracted and thoughtless action and attempted dominion; The point is, if we are to avoid global ecosystem collapse — ecosystems which our species relies on the services of for our past, present, and continued existence — while feeding a population clearly in global overshoot as Randers and Meadows argue in the Limits To Growth and its update 2052, then we have to reevaluate and redesign the thought processes, ethics, and principles that govern our societies. Can we leave half the Earth to non-human ecosystems while providing for our own human needs and maintaining a good standard of living for all humans? I believe that in ecologically governed non-Cartesian terms, we can, with a cultural shift to the Permaculture perspective.


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The Sugar Tax, is it Effective? Ask Boulder

No surprise that Boulder got even more expensive. Since July 1st of this year sodas, teas, energy drink, even kombucha have been taxed thanks to J Dominique Olvera, campaign manager for Healthy Boulder Kids, along with 9,417 other people signing the campaign. The Sugar Sweetened Beverage Product Distribution Tax focuses on beverages with 5 grams or more of added sugar per 12 fluid ounces. There are some exemptions, however, which include 100% fruit juices, any beverage in which milk is the primary ingredient, alcoholic beverages, and any beverage for medical use. Lucky for all you diet drinkers the tax does not apply to beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners. For the rest of us this increased tax might mean cutting back on drinking sodas, which can lead to a healthier lifestyle.



Sugary drinks are EVERYWHERE, which causes a huge problem for people who consume them a lot, especially kids. People who drink two or more cans of sugary drinks a day have a 26 percent increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who have one drink a day. This is a significant increase for such a small can! Children who consume these drinks have an even higher increase in risk. Healthy Boulder Kids focused on this scary statistic and decided to do something about it and form a campaign to fight childhood diabetes.



Along with fighting the battle against childhood diabetes the tax also gives back to the people living in Boulder. Money from the tax will be used for “health promotion, general wellness programs and chronic disease prevention in the City of Boulder that improve health equity, such as access to safe and clean drinking water, healthy foods, nutrition and food education, physical activity, and other health programs especially for residents with low income and those most affected by chronic disease linked to sugary drink consumption.”

Is it regressive?

Despite all the benefits there is opposition of people who aren’t as wealthy as it affects them more making the tax regressive. So why is it a regressive tax? A regressive tax targets low-income families, as they need to pay more of their income to the new increase in tax compared to higher income families. Because of this inequality, a regressive tax imposes a greater burden (relative to income) on the poor than the rich. However it isn’t just regressive but also progressive as it can help low income families who suffer from diabetes and obesity at a higher rate, with the money from the tax.

According to dietician Melinda Morris, “The purpose of the tax is to provide an incentive for lower-income households not to buy sugary drinks. The tax takes more money out of their pockets only if they continue to buy soda at the same rate as before, which the early studies in Mexico and Berkeley indicate they do not.”


But will this tax actually work and how do we know?

Besides seeing a decrease in diabetes and obesity the tax works only if people are willing to either abstain from drinking sugary drinks or pay for the tax anyways. The later will increase funding for health related programs that will hopefully make a difference in the health of people living in Boulder and other cities that implemented a sugar tax. The problem is will people change their behavior due to the tax or will they be willing to pay and allow the tax to not change their behavior.

Sara Cooper looks at how beverage distributors move the tax burden through the supply chain, and how people react to the higher prices are key in assessing whether the tax is achieving its goal. She wonders if “as a result of the tax do [consumers] switch to other unsweetened beverages? Do [consumers] reduce overall consumption?” and believes that “it’s critical to know whether the higher price forces a switch in behavior.”

So what can we do?

If you do consume sugary drinks and you just can’t give it up, there’s still hope! What you can do is exercise more and remember; everything should be taken in moderation, even drinking water and eating food!



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The Trouble With Tuna Fish Sandwiches: A Global Loss of Sustainable Fisheries

Covering over 70 percent of the earth’s surface, the ocean is incomprehensively massive. For thousands of years, it was thought to be endless, a void that could never feel the impacts of humans. According to the USGS, 321,003,271 cubic miles of saltwater cover the earth—352 quintillion gallons, for reference. Within the earth’s oceans live an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 million tons of fish (unsurprisingly, a tough figure to pinpoint), and the ocean’s aquatic ecosystems have supported humans for a minimum of 50,000 years (the age of the oldest open-ocean fish hook found by archaeologists). For most of human history, the overburdened adage “plenty of fish in the sea” was accurate, but does it still stand today?

Image result for most fish caught

Unreported catch from New Zealand,

According to National Geographic, the average human consumes about 34 calories of seafood per day, just over one percent of our caloric intake. While less than an ounce of tuna may sound like an insignificant quantity, the combined global effect of ocean fishing has caused a fish population decrease of approximately fifty percent (measured across 1,234 species) since 1970, clearly an unsustainable harvest. Among a family of fish including tuna and mackerel, populations have fallen by 74% during the same time period.

Back when fishermen and scientists alike saw many fish populations as inextinguishable, catch rates increased annually with improvements in technology and growing markets. The high-water mark came in 1989—ninety million tons of tuna, cod, salmon, pollock, mahi-mahi and other fish species were hauled from the sea and sold to billions of people. Since this golden-age, demand has overburdened supply, leading to stagnant or declining fish catches in spite of a growing world population.

Image result for old fish catch photos

1935 bluefin tuna catch,

With an anticipated increase of 2 billion fish-eaters by 2050 and the ever-mounting stress of climate change and habitat destruction, we have a major problem. In a poll by Truven Health Analytics and NPR, only 49% of respondents claimed that they would pay more for sustainably caught seafood, and nearly half of all respondents (47%) reported that it was not at all important that their seafood was sustainably caught.

While fisherman are driven to sustainably catch fish by more than just consumer preference, government-imposed catch limits have also failed fish populations and the people that depend on them. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, the magnitude of unreported catches over sixty years shows the impacts unregulated fishing can have of worldwide fisheries. While some of the unreported catch stems from subsistence and small-scale fishing in impoverished nations, much comes from illegal poaching and bycatch.

Image result for most fish caught

Estimates of unreported catch,

Overfishing is ultimately a global problem with global implications that extend beyond the wellbeing of bluefin tuna or Atlantic salmon. Declining fish populations hurt those who financially depend on the industry, an estimated 260 million people, and jeapordize the food security of many.

While adopting a diet that excludes fish is the most sure way to reduce the overburden on unsustainable fisheries, some organizations, including the Marine Stewardship Council, which provides widely-used sustainable catch labels, and Seafood Watch, a sustainable recommendation source, have made an impact promoting sustainable seafood. By harvesting fish at a slower, more sustainable rate, we can provide for future populations and allow for threatened fish to recover; only then will there be “plenty of fish in the sea.”Image result for msc label


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What Came First? The Kernel or The Corn

corn growth

While the infamous debate over the chicken and the egg continues, a similar question has arisen. Where do all of our seeds come from? They must certainly come from a parent plant, right? It turns out that to grow the corn that we eat, we must first grow some corn to create the seeds, using these seeds to then grow a corn meant for market. This two step process exponentially increases food production by allowing certain crops to grow the seeds to be planted by some farms, which are then distributed to other farmers to grow for food, feed, and other needs.


corn kernal

Corn is a staple of the American summer; from BBQed corn on the cob, to popcorn, to having bits of corn hull stuck between my teeth, corn always makes me think of warm starlit nights in the country. It does not, however, make me think of a fruit-which is exactly what corn is. Not the sweet taste of strawberries and apples kind of fruit that we normally think of, but the anatomy of the plant is what makes it a fruit. The kernels that we dig our teeth into, are each little individual fruits that contain their own seed. This seed or “germ” is protected by the recognizable yellow hull made up of bran and fed by the endosperm containing the starch what we digest and turn into energy.


Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 6.58.37 PM

Monsanto “Where Seeds Come From”

Monsanto identifies 9 steps in their processing facilities-

  1. Reception-
    • Local farms first grow and harvest crops of corn that will specifically be used for seeds. This allows companies like Monsanto to specialize in seed production while farmers specialize only in growing the market corn. If farmers had to go through this whole processing system it would greatly eat into their time and expenses.
  2. Husking and Selection-
    • Once at the facility, the ears of corn must first be husked-going through special machines to remove the husk from the cob of seeds.
  3. Drying
    • The cobs are then dried out in high powered ovens to a humidity level of 12%. Monsanto uses discarded corn cobs to help power many of the energy intensive ovens.
  4. Shelling, 5. Storage, & 6. Sorting
    • One ear of corn contains around 600 kernels, while an average acre produces around 250 bushels (48 ears)  Corn/Field
    • Mechanical shellers separate the seeds from the cob
    • The seeds are then placed in giant silos containing up to 140 metric tons of seeds.
    • Seeds are sorted by shape, size, color, and density.
  5. Treatment
    • This is where the seeds are coated with certain products that protects them from insects or other threats. Many of these processes and products are patented and can only be obtained through the company.
  6. Bagging & 9. Shipping
    • The seeds are then bagged and shipped out to farmers.



We may never know the answer of what came first, but we at least know that the processes to create each are similar, but the end result for the kernel is different. Some crops of corn are produced simply to harvest the seeds, which can then be used to grow crops for consumption. This two stage process benefits the farmers by allowing specialization in growing market corn or seed corn.


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Food and Immigration



The weekend, for many families like mine, is when people get groceries and run errands that we normally would not have time for in our busy work weeks. specifically for my family the weekend meant everyone did their weekly chores, our own fun plans, and of course no weekend would be complete without a trip to Walmart, Sam’s, Target, Homeland, Sprouts, Whole Foods, etc. While in the food warehouse of choice one will notice store patrons examining the quality of the produce, checking for bruises and blemishes, while simultaneously comparing the price and evaluating how many they should get, or if the price matches the product. However, it is rare that an consumer will take into consideration who picked the food that they are so carefully selecting. I wondered if people knew or even cared about who picks their food and where it’s coming from. This thought it was intrigued me to write about the topic of immigration and the role it plays in America, specifically how it affects our battle to create and adopt sustainable food systems.

The battle to create sustainable food systems and intact more environmentally friendly food production policies is an issue that has gained more momentum and spotlight in the public eye as of late. Along the course of my studies I have been introduced to numerous ideas and suggestions as to when, where, and how to fix our food problem. However, I have heard the least about the who in this equation; a crucial variable to the success of the of the sustainability equation. Who is harvesting our food? How does it affect consumers? And how does it contribute to the bigger sustainability picture?

Immigration has been a relevant and important topic to me my whole life, not because I myself am an immigrant but due to my uncle being an immigration lawyer and owning his own firm. I’ve grown up in his office and have witnessed and interacted with countless families and individuals alike, who timidly poke their heads in the doors hoping that somewhere within the firm walls would lay the answers to their prayers. Conversely many immigrants do not always have the opportunity to enter the United States in this fashion and resort to entering the country illegally. Unlike some negative stereotypes suggest, illegal immigrants aren’t murderous, rapacious, cartel members here to sneak into your house at night and kill your family, steal your job, and leave the gate open for your dog to escape. Once an individual can look past irrational fears such as these, it is clear that a vast majority of illegal immigrants are individuals seeking a better life in a different place that offers more opportunity to earn an honest living for their families that may not have been afforded to them in their country of origin.

Individuals that have no experience with immigrants or the immigration process may rely on non-primary sources for information, such as news reports, conversations with friends, parental opinion and so forth. The issue with not forming your own primary opinion is that you are at the mercy of of the biases of your sources. If you watch nothing but conservative news coverage of immigration issues, and your parents are anti-immigration, the likelihood of developing the negative stereotype of  the “job stealing illegal immigrant,” is greater. By now many of you may be wondering what an illegal immigrant has to do with a food system’s level of sustainability. In addition to asking how the person growing and picking the food has anything to do with how energy intensive a crop is, how high the yield to inputs ratio is, or if the fertilizers are safe; these factors along with water usage and co2 emissions are typical questions being asked when evaluating a food systems level of sustainability. However it is important to remember when discussing sustainable food systems, the who is the how. Thus, a sustainable food system can only be sustained by whomever is behind the scenes of operation performing the day to day tasks. In the case of the conventional food systems of the United States, this is commonly sustained by the work of illegal immigrants.

Lisa Meierotto’s article on immigration and food security, Boise State professor illustrates that over half of the work force in the agriculture industry are foreign born workers. Throughout the rest of her article Meierotto goes on to make an argument for keeping our immigrant based workforce the way it is. One way to look at it is similar to the expression you don’t put the cart before the horse. This old idiom simply suggests for us not to do things in the wrong order. The following is a section from Meierottos article, which can be interpreted as an explanation to this ‘horse and cart’ dilemma of deporting our agricultural work force, “The authors argue that because labor costs account for nearly 40 percent of production costs for fruits and vegetables, substantial change to immigration policy would have significant effects on the agricultural industry. They then conducted a computer simulation study with two different scenarios: 1) increasing the number of temporary farm workers and 2) decreasing the number of unauthorized workers in all economic sectors. Their research suggests that increasing the number of farm employees working under legal, temporary guest-worker programs would lead to an overall increase in agricultural outputs. On other hand, tighter immigration policy would result in an overall decrease in agricultural output and overall economic decline as exports and outputs decline.” This only proving that immigrants play a vital role in this hierarchy of agriculture and farming. Attempting to ‘punish’ them would be counterproductive and serve to ‘punish’ the United States as a whole; we would all feel the effects.

In short, I would like to say that in order for the United States to meet our food system sustainability goals, regardless of which side of the immigration vs non-immigration fence you stand on, elimination of such a large (and crucial) portion of the workforce, especially as abruptly as it would be, would be unwise and counterproductive. Between now and 2050, population is excepted to significantly increase and subsequently, food demands. From both a sustainable food and a human rights standpoint, I would argue it would be destructive to our society and unethical, to mass deport illegal immigrants, as they make up such an important part of our daily food system. Every day we come closer and closer to finding the solution to our sustainable food problem, and in order to put in place the systems of the future, we will need an equally capable and sustainable work force.





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Deserted Diets: Why Food Insecurity Needs a Community Solution

Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the leaders in obesity which has been attributed to lack of healthy food choice accessibility in multiple counties, I have acquired an interest in this somewhat newly discussed issue—urban food deserts. The USDA defines a food desert as parts of the country lacking quality whole foods such as vegetable and fruit choices due to limited access to grocery stores as well as the absence of viable food options by the grocers within the area. USDA researchers also conducted research that found 23.5 million people live in low-income areas situated >1 mile from a supermarket. Food deserts usually occur in low income areas and has merged into social, environmental, and economic issues within recent years. Since moving to Boulder, I have found myself becoming somewhat indifferent towards other’s lack of food options since it is a haven for health nuts alike.

food deserts


But it has been a source of internal frustration because across the board many individuals agree that this is a pertinent issue regarding essentially the general well being of humans, and the rights we have to access viable food options. Diseases associated with malnutrition and obesity (e.g., diabetes) are now on track to transcend under-nutrition as the central cause of death in low-income, vulnerable communities by 2015 according to Tanumihardjo et al. in a study conducted in 2007. This means that not only do sustainable food options have the ability to drastically improve the health of the community as a whole, but they could also be necessary to saving lives.

So how do we allow at risk communities to have the same food choices as we do?

 In a PBS interview with Steven Cummins, a professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he discusses his research pertaining to the implementation of healthy food options in grocery stores within these low-income areas and how that has not had a large impact on the food choices made by the surrounding community.  He stresses the importance of the culture that is encapsulated within the food choices that we make, and that supermarket intervention is not the only solution to this food insecurity issue. In one study conducted by Michael J. Widener et. al analyzing the accessibility of healthy foods, where they observe the convenience of farmers markets seasonally to better draw conclusions towards the location of food deserts. It showed an increased availability to farmer’s markets when it was in season, and then lack of availability to these healthy food options during the winter season. I point out these studies because combatting food deserts will need more than just implementation of local farmer’s markets or grocery store interference, but rather a more dynamic and sustainable approach. Although there is no one stop shop solution to this problem, many environmental, political, and social justice groups have pumped out urban farming programs and policy proposals to take a stab at patching this food inequality issue.


While some of this research and proposed solutions around urban food deserts spans into direct and indirect causations ranging from our diet choices throughout our country as well as the systemic socio-economic inequality problem within these high risk areas, the questions I wanted to address were: As a community, are there sustainable solutions to urban deserts that can be implemented? While a plethora of formulated ideas address the idea of acquiring fresh food diversity through local urban farms, what areas can we tap into to build these accessible food markets that maintain affordable prices while being environmentally sustainable?


How can we influence and evolve healthy food options as well as behaviors in these areas?

“This will require incorporating elements of sustainability science, including focusing on place-based, solution-driven research; making use of adaptive management and social learning; and using interdisciplinary research approaches, and trans-disciplinary coordination to both understand and implement such strategies (Kates et al. 2001; Wu 2008).”

This quote comes from a study regarding the benefits of a multifunctional approach to urban food forestry, wherein it discusses the path of implementing more harvesting and planting initiatives in order to provide locally sourced and nutrient dense produce. They provide several calculations as to how increasing the urban sustainability can be bettered through implementing urban agriculture, urban forestry, and agroforestry. Now, this stems from the traditional farm, but it has the potential to combat food insecurity in our increasing urban landscape. They research the best ecosystem needed as well as the plants that will produce the most nutrient available harvests. From the harvesting of the plants to the waste it produces—and everything in between. All of this is important when formulating an environmentally sustainable solution.


DESIGN and SUSTAIN long term agricultural solutions in high-risk areas


food desert 2

According to the graphic above, this multi-dimensional approach is in a sense introducing a new farming practice to communities that can enhance community across the board. Now although with this methodology we will have to be observant of the climate and potential of the area in implementing urban food forestry’s, it can be a viable option to allowing healthy, sustainable food access with environmental implications being accounted for.  When researching this topic, this study stood out in particular because it recognizes every detail that goes into enhancing our urban landscape and de-centralizing our main sources of fruits and vegetables to a localized level, so that not only grocery stores play a role in providing healthy produce. They bring up the importance of ecological design such as utilizing techniques like vertical farming and planting species that will further improve soil fertility for the next seasons. By increasing the accessibility as well as affordability by providing a market that is within neighborhood walking distance as well as increasing the overall supply of food through careful consideration across private and public sectors from landscape ecologists to policy makers. When the community comes in as a whole, education of healthy food options correlating with better health shines through, and we create a conversation about our food.


Urban food deserts in high-risk areas are gradually becoming an increasing issue as the population rises, and arable agricultural land decreases. Although many people can disagree on the way to combat food insecurity, there is no doubt that everyone has a right to access viable, healthy food options. This will require input from everyone to research, resolve, and sustain food access across the board. Ideas like agro-forestry have the ability to bring together communities in creating an ecosystem that will benefit not just the people but the environment as well. By implementing localized farmer’s markets to provide a surplus of food as well as acknowledgement by grocery stores, we begin to build the economy that notices the need for healthy food options in these areas.


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Aesthetics of Food: Does how it looks matter?

One of the major influences on what we decide to eat is our initial perception of how it looks. Whether its out to dinner, at the university dining hall, or making food at home, we often choose the food that looks the best. According to an article by Science of People  , a very substantial influence on initial food choices we make are due to visual interpretation. This is to say that we often eat with our eyes, rather than our stomachs. The old saying “Big eyes, small stomach” attests to the idea that our initial visual perception of food has substantial influence on how we gauge its conclusive pleasure, even though it may not properly reflect the actual result.

Discover good nutrition is a nutritional information website that discusses a variety of  aspects in relation to food choice. The site is not strictly scientific, but rather is geared in discussing the multiple facets of food choice in a way that is understandable to the general public. According to their section on food choices, there are a lot of aspects that go into how we decide what to eat. One of the most likely reasons that you chose something based on aesthetics is because you thought it would taste good. As such, there seems to be clear connection between aesthetic pleasure and expectations of taste, so what happens when food does not look good? Does it change the way we think it tastes, or effect our decision to eat it in the first place?

Well, we can look at a few factors that are involved with aesthetic qualities of food to get a better idea of the scope of its consequences. Here, we will look at the aesthetic notions of food choice in relation to packaging, presentation, advertising, and environmental hot-words such as GMO and organic.



In Food Quality and Preference volume 62, Gregory Simmonds and Charles Spence discuss the nature of packaging style and its influence on consumer choice. An excerpt from their article reads,  “Packaging is far more than merely a convenient means of getting a product to the store/consumer without damage . Over the past couple of decades, it has increasingly been realized that product packaging constitutes a powerful marketing tool in its own right and as such requires the same and techniques used in other areas of marketing to maximize commercial success”, (Simmonds, Spence)

So packaging has evolved to serve as an attraction for the consumer. Supposedly, the packaging may even influence your perception on how the food taste just because it is aesthetically pleasing. Well packaged and well branded items often are considered higher quality, even if the product inside is not so good.



In the same article by Simmonds and Spence, there is a section on the effects of seeing food. As it turns out, seeing images of food activates several stimuli in the brain that are triggered based on what you want to satiate you. You may want something salty, or you may want something sweet because you have already been satiated by salt. The sight of food and how its presented leads the brain to make assessments of whether they want it based on levels of current satiation and satiation desire (Simonds, Spence)

Essentially, we use aesthetic characteristics of food to make assessments on how it will effect us. So because something looks sweet or salty, we will either choose to eat or not. But, do we actually know if it is salty or sweet? Not necessarily, its just an aesthetic assumption.



Very often, the way a food is advertised or illustrated effects the way we think it will taste, according to the 2013 Journal of Obesity. In the 2013 Journal of Obesity, there is an article that analyzes the connection between childhood obesity and commercial food targeted toward children. Examples of this include meals like KidsCuisine and Mcdonalds, where children are encouraged to eat these products through targeted advertising.

These are adds that involve children, deal with child-like elements, and have an initial appeal toward younger viewers.  Interesting enough, the results of the study lead the writers of this article to a fairly strong hypothesis; “The results indicate that advertising has divergent effects on children’s food knowledge and preferences and that food knowledge is unrelated to food preferences.” (Lucia. A Reisch et al.)

In this case, aesthetic presentation was more influential in food choice than actual knowledge about food!

Aesthetics of GMO and Organic

As we have been discussing in class, there are a variety of reasons that people choose to purchase organic and non-GMO food. One of these reasons is due to the perception that non-GMO and organic food are inherently better than their counterparts. Why might we be lead to believe this? An entry in the 30th volume of Strategic Direction notes that the participants of their first research group (in a study about why people choose to eat organic) claimed that they ate organic because of health, quality of life, wellness, lifestyle, and respect to the environment and environmental harm. All of these notions can indeed be attributed to the aesthetic experience and aesthetic perception.

Aesthetic experiences occur throughout every moment of our daily life. Although we are not actively thinking about artistic beauty at all times, we are constantly surrounded by its elements and forced to consider its quality in regard to our environment. Simply, this is to say that we are constantly judging the aesthetic qualities of everything around us even if we are not thinking about it. Take for example the idea of that one classroom you hate to be in, or that one path to class you like to walk because its more scenic. Think about how you may choose to sit under a tree to study, or perhaps you need to be in the library so you can focus. All of these decisions, although encompassed by other factors, have a degree of influence from aesthetic perception.

One good example of how this applies to aesthetic perceptions of GMO and Organic is to compare the aesthetic experience of King Soopers with a Whole Foods. When you walk into King Soopers, everything is designed towards convenience and cheap prices, and you dont really get the feel that what you are buying is exceptionally healthy. The Whole Foods however, immediately embraces an atmosphere of eco-friendly vibes, environmentally friendly products, and an overall sense of “What I am buying is healthy and sustainable”. However, most of these perceptions are not due to the extensive amount of research you have done on King Soopers and Whole foods, but just because of how they look and are presented. You associate the overall aesthetic perception with the actual quality of the grocery store!

Aesthetic perceptions of GMO and Organic are analogous to this phenomenon. One might choose to eat organic purely because of the aesthetic perceptions and notions tied to the idea of being someone who eats organically. Why? Because the notion of organic is tied to positive life qualities. The same applies to GMO’s. Aesthetic perceptions of GMO’s are negative to say the least, as we often attribute them to large companies and harmful chemicals. However, this image rarely fits in with the actual process and consequences of implementing and consuming GMO’s.

What does this mean?

The aesthetic decisions that you make regarding food have a variety of factors that influence your purchasing decisions, so being aware of all of these factors and understanding how they play into food choice can be greatly beneficial in determining why you have certain food preferences. We often only focus on scientific and social aspects regarding food choice, but only focusing on these aspects leaves us victim to omitting other reasons we decide to purchase food.

As discussed in this blog-post, aesthetic qualities of food and aesthetic perceptions surrounding the choices of what we eat have substantial influence on our purchasing decisions. I believe that this is a quality that often goes unnoticed, as many individuals take for granted the aesthetic appeal of their food. Indeed, one could even say that we wrongly assume a symbiotic definition between aesthetically appealing products and their environmental effects. More specifically, we confuse aesthetic appeals that imply environmental friendliness with actual environmental qualities of food.

As such, I believe the most important aspect of these findings is that people should separate aesthetic perceptions and scientific perceptions about food. As mentioned in the example about Whole Foods, applying our overall aesthetic perception to actual food qualities is detrimental in making well-informed choices.  The packaging and advertising does not reflect the quality of the food, just as the ideal perception of eating organic or being anti-GMO does not reflect the actual consequences of these concepts.

Ultimately, we should probably put a little more thought into how aesthetics influence our food choices both on an individual and societal scale. Not only how it is presented to us, but indeed, how we present it to others. Perhaps even, one of the unspoken claims to solving food sustainability is approaching the way we aesthetically shape and judge our food.





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