A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
To begin, Raj Patel writes of the devastation of industrial agriculture. Local is one important avenue in the face of industrial ag, and Strongtowns is an interesting place to go to find stories of strong local food systems: Firstly, this article describes some of the challenges of building local food systems to the point where they actually provide significant calories (and the long years of hard work and no income that often precede this point). Also on Strongtowns was this piece about nuns running a farm in western New York, which offers a glimpse at the many ways that small farms can be transformational. Brian Williams also offered some very helpful ways of thinking about local food in the context of food systems. Citiscopes also had this article on building resilience into local food systems in Baltimore and Washington D.C.. Across the world in Australia, Karenni refugees are showing what is possible by cultivating food in suburban spaces. Perhaps a little tangentially linked, insects continue to be a very hot area of (local) food systems change, as described in this NPR article about teaching kids about entomophagy.
I’m always struck by the various food “worlds” we’re trying to make sense of, and our role as food researchers showing how these worlds are connected and influence one another. For example, check out this video on surviving on R1000 ($74)/month in South Africa. This is juxtaposed with the power of South African breweries (SAB) and the recent StatsSA article in honour of our national beer day, which tracked spending and told us that we’re spending more on beer than on vegetables. In Venezuela, chronic hunger is currently affecting large portions of the population, and this in-depth article frames hunger politically. Which is not to sidestep the persistent issue of hunger in wealthy countries, as described in the U.S. context here.
There are so many people working on food and nutrition, and here are just a couple of stories about food educators: Forbes interviewed Tambra Raye Stevenson about her work bringing together different threads of food activism. There was also this NYTimes article about nutrition education as a medical intervention.
As always, the medicalization of food and the quest for the perfect diet can lead us astray. This article in The Atlantic examines misinterpretation of nutritional studies:
When measuring diet, for example, lifelong randomized, controlled trials are impossible. Even if people would volunteer to change their diets for a decade or so—a period long enough that rates of death and cancer and heart attacks could be meaningful—it would be impossible to keep the research subjects blinded. Our perceptions of how well we’re eating change how we behave in a lot of other ways.
Relatedly, Bee Wilson had this excellent article about the [debunked but cultlike] phenomenon of Clean Eating :
But it quickly became clear that “clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole universe of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged.
It’s in this world that dieting remains a big business, and now Oprah’s has some big stakes in the business.
I’ve been reading my way through the long list of food histories recently, and this article about strawberries caught my eye. It’s always a bit startling to see how much science is involved in growing and transporting just the right fruit.
Lastly, this article was a beautiful view of how daily acts of love are enacted in food:
There are so many different ways to show love through food — you can cook for someone, you can feed them.
Or you can just make a little room at the table for what they love to eat.