Posts Tagged ‘education’

A review of the new “quick read” by Michael Pollan, “Food Rules”

By Rich Seifert,  Co-op Market Board Member

I read Michael Pollan’s first book, the Botany of Desire many years ago, and now his stature as America’s food folk hero is perhaps at its peak.  He has followed an interesting road, and one we should all travel along these days.

His latest, “Food Rules”, is a very quick but effective read written in the pattern of “Life’s Little Lesson Books”. This format makes the book, dense as it is with inspirations, a very quick read.  It is perfectly designed for any aspiring “food missionaries” out there who want to promote healthy eating and move to a healthier diet.

And for those of us who want to see Alaska, and for me, Fairbanks, become healthier through healthy eating, the virtues of this little tome are as timely as they are helpful.

The plan for the book was to ask people, through a New York Times blog called “Well” (as in wellness) for their best advice in an aphorism on eating well and healthy.  Spinning onward from his previous book, In Defense of Food, he condenses the entire message of the book into these seven words:  Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Pretty comprehensive actually.  But in this little book he refines the message further into paragraphs of food insight, which I can best relate by showing examples of my own “favorites’” list.  Take these examples as a few seductive tastes to incite you to read the book:

–       Avoid food products that contain ingredients no ordinary person would keep in their pantry. For instance ethoxylated diglycerides, cellulose, xanthan gum.  Doesn’t seem too hard, does it?

–       Avoid food products that make health claims (!) Well this seems counter-intuitive at first, but upon reflection, makes great sense.  If a product has to tell you how healthy it is, then it is making up for some deficiency it obviously has.  Carrots don’t have to convince you that they are good for you.

–       Avoid foods you see advertised on television. Whoa, this is a biggie!  I have heard a friend describe commercials for pizza or Red Lobster restaurant as “food pornography”.  A fairly apt description of the visual effect of the commercials. It shouldn’t be necessary to say that the vegetable lobby doesn’t need to do TV ads.

–       Eat only foods that will eventually rot. Again, anything that will last indefinitely has so many preservatives and probably toxic ingredients that keep it from “spoiling” that it cannot be very good for living creatures such as we humans.   An exception is honey, which has an indefinite shelf life, but it is unique in that respect.  All food needs to be digestible, and if it can’t be digestible outside your body by other creatures who need it just as much, it is unlikely to be healthfully digested inside your body.

Since I am writing this for both the general public and particularly for the future patrons of our Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market (Co-op Market), I want to encourage the best food products for a healthy life, and make them available in Alaska, and preferably grown here too.

Michael Pollan’s  “Food Facts” is motivated by much the same things. He started out with a keen interest in finding out how to eat well to maintain his family’s health. He discloses two major facts in the preface that he has gleaned from this search, and he concisely summarizes what he has learned and written about since.

First, populations that eat mostly the “ Western” diet, consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, added fats and sugars, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases:  obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  Virtually all of the obesity and the diabetes, 80% of the cardiovascular disease, and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet.

And second, in contrast, populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.  It appears that we human omnivores are well adapted to a broad range of mixed traditional diets, except for one: the WESTERN DIET, recently fallen upon us.

There is a third factor though which is good news, and which I hope that our new co-op will help to promote:  People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health.  Pollan cites research that suggests that the effects of the Western diet can be rolled back by getting off it, and relatively quickly.

It is our intent with the Co-op Market to help in every way to achieve this option and promote community health and wellness. We even have a committee devoted to those very subjects. (The next meeting of the Health and Wellness committee is Tuesday, June 1 at 5:30 pm at the Volunteer Center.)

Stay with us, be patient, and start developing these suggested eating habits now. As soon as we can, the Co-op Market will do all it can to keep you eating healthy and maintaining local food availability.  Join the Co-op Market, become a full voting member, and eat well.  Live long and prosper…  and come and visit us online at www.FairbanksCoop.org/


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The Health and Wellness Committee will be screening the movie, “Diet for a New America” and planning a healthy food related showing of this film as an event on Wednesday, April 28 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm at the Noel Wein Library.

Bring your ideas for other committee activities.

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Master gardener classes are being offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who aid University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service staff by helping people in the community better understand horticulture and their environment.

The class consists of 40 hours of instruction on different areas of horticulture and pest management. The payback of volunteer time is set at 40 hours, which equals the hours of training received.

Michele Hébert, Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent, will lead two sessions of classes at the University Park Building. The first session will meet Feb. 10-March 7, Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. and Saturdays from noon-3 p.m. The second session will meet April 27-May 8, weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Topics include basic horticulture, plant classification, soils, vegetables, fruit and berry crops, composting, lawn establishment and maintenance, plant diseases and pests, home landscaping, and more.

Classes are limited to twenty students. Registration is requested by Jan. 31. The class fee is $75 if participants agree to donate forty hours of gardening-related volunteer service in the community. The fee is $250 without the volunteer commitment. Volunteer hours must be completed within two years of completing the class.

For more information or to register, call the Tanana District Extension office at 907-474-1530 or stop by the Cooperative Extension office in the University Park Building at 1000 University Avenue.

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This event, part of the Anthropology Colloquium Series, may be of interest to FCCM members:

Anchorage? Uh, Washington? Anyone? We Have a Problem! Disaster Politics and Cumulative Effects in Alaskan Food Systems
David Fazzino and Phil Loring, Department of Anthropology, UAF
Friday, Dec. 11
3:30 p.m. – Schaible Auditorium, Bunnell Building, UAF
Information: pplattet@alaska.edu

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for SARE New Voices Contest
December, 2007

I didn’t grow up on a farm.  When I was young, I never learned how to fix a screen door let alone a tractor.   I didn’t know which end of a seed to plant in the ground.  If you had told me twenty years ago that I would own the farthest north certified organic farm in the country, I would have told you that you must be crazy.

I come from a long line of Jewish tailors who never ventured too far from the city.  My connections with agriculture were like many kids growing up in suburban America – with the pictures of fields of grain on cereal boxes or occasional trips to the “country” to visit an apple orchard or to see goats and rabbits at a petting zoo.   But my parents always had a garden we always liked to eat and we liked to eat good fresh food.  This is how I came to agriculture – through gardening.  Through getting back to that connection with where your food comes from and acting on it.  I wanted that feeling of looking down a row of crops and feeling that connection with the plants and soil and the thousands of years of farmers and gardeners before me – food growers.

It took me a while to get into farming.  It didn’t come until my mid-thirties, when after many years of having a garden, I quit my day job and followed the dream of many back-to-the land folks before me. I had no idea of what I was doing, but I expanded the garden, bought a rototiller and Elliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower”, and started to make a go of it as a market farmer.  It certainly hasn’t been easy, especially since we live in interior Alaska square in the middle of agricultural zone 1.  There is very little historical farmland where we live.  Our farm was literally carved out of the Alaska wilderness with a chainsaw and bulldozer – hardly a soft footprint on the land.  But we justified the destruction of 10 acres of our forest with the belief that having a farm and feeding people was, in the end, a good thing for the community.  After all, wasn’t that what all farmers had originally done?  Also by farming organically, we hoped we were insuring a healthy environment for any wildlife that used the farm, for ourselves and our workers, and for those who ate our produce.  The demand for quality local produce is high, and despite our growing pains as a farm, we are still able to stay afloat with a lot of hard work, and all of our savings.  After 10 years, we have a healthy farm and an increasingly successful business.

Since I come from this new movement of market gardeners turned farmer, my models for success and role models to seek advice from have been organic farmers many with similar experience as I but with more years under their belt.  We have learned the appropriate models for ecologically sound agriculture and the goals for our farm are the same as the goals for many farms like ours across the country – to minimize off-farm inputs while maintaining high soil fertility, to produce high quality and healthy produce, and maintain a profitable business.

We think about sustainability a lot in Alaska, however most of the discussion focuses on natural fish and wildlife populations and their relation to subsistence versus commercial harvest.  There is little talk about sustainable agriculture, but there should be.  Although one’s vision of Alaska might be one of a hunter alone on the tundra, we get most of our food like the rest of America – from large supermarkets run by huge corporations.  If the average piece of food travels approximately 1500 miles from producer to consumer in the rest of the country, it travels much farther to us in Alaska.  For this reason, and many others, we should be concerned about sustainability on a local and community scale.

If our state seems extreme, it is but a microcosm of the country as a whole.  We need to look within our own communities for inputs to agriculture and other resources.  Our model for farming does follow a community approach.  Eating locally is not just a buzzword for marketing – although that is very effective – but it also should be the way we do business.  “Thinking globally and acting locally” is not only the right thing to do for the earth, it is the only economical thing to do.  With the cost of fuel rising ever higher coupled with high shipping costs, we have to think very carefully what it is we import.  Looking at ways to improve the soil, create energy, and market crops must be local in order for us to make a living and feel as though we’re living our lives for the betterment of our community.

Small-scale and locally marketed agriculture should not be just a fringe or niche economy. By showing that we can make a living while growing healthy crops by ecologically sound methods we will make ourselves assets in our local economies by encouraging both new farmers and intelligent agriculture.   It will continue to cost more for food, but we cannot keep going down the path of large scale commodity agriculture transported huge distances or we will be paying a higher and higher price for the wrong reasons.

I can now fix a screen door, sometimes fix my tractor and plant seeds right side up.  If the son of a long line of Jewish tailors can carve out a niche in small scale agriculture, then I’m optimistic that this growing movement of community-centered agriculture can keep gaining momentum.  We need to invest in community agriculture – it is at the core of sustainability.

Mike Emers
Rosie Creek Farm
Ester, Alaska

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First Health and Wellness Eduction Committee Meeting:

Thank you all who made it to this meeting in spite of the slippery roads!

Last Wednesday we held our first Health and Wellness Education Committee at our downtown volunteer center. We had a great turnout with 11 folks interested excited and enthusiastic about educating our community about getting and staying healthier.

We had a great group of folks with interests varying from natural child birth to cooking organic and vegan food to holistic health care and teas.

Many different ideas were shared including classes on healthy and economical cooking, a lecture series, finding good articles to share on our blog site, and starting a reference library for our co-op.

What we decided on as a start was to show a food and health related film. Several were suggested such as Food Inc. and Eating Alaska.

We will be meeting again next Wednesday at 6 pm (that’s Nov. 4) in our volunteer center with the goal of choosing a movie, a venue, and a date. In the meantime we will be checking out what films and venues are available and thinking about what we want to do next.

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Please come to the Health and Wellness Education Committee’s first meeting:

6 PM Wednesday October 28th

FCCM Volunteer Center
542-4th Suite 100B
(This is beneath the Veterans Affairs office. Go in the door to the right of the Vet office and down the stairs. The door will be unlocked until 6:45)

Join us for our first Health and Wellness Education Committee meeting. Even before our store is open we can begin to serve our members by providing health education and information to the community. We need your help in planning what sort of activities and things we can do to encourage and support a healthy and well Fairbanks.

For more information, please contact Sharon Alden.

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