Sugar feeds cancer and addiction

Sugar feeds cancer cells. This is the key finding of a nine year research project published in Nature Communications. This article summarises the findings.

And today on Radio NZ Jesse Mulligan interviewed Robert Lustig about the various ways that we are addicted, and sugar is possibly the most ubiquitous addiction. Here is the interview. Robert Lustig’s new book, The Hacking of the American Mind discusses the influence of the food industry in promoting addiction.

He is down on dopamine. We seek a dopamine by feeding our addictions. He suggests we need more serotonin instead.

Robert Lustig promotes his four Cs to resist addictions and support our happiness.

CONNECT – face to face connections fuel our empathy and build community.

CONTRIBUTE – to friends, families, others and your communities.

COPE – exercise, practice mindfulness and get plenty of sleep.

COOK – real food and avoid processed food.

We feed sugar to our children. We continue to allow it to be promoted widely. This has to change!

 

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Let me count the ways… food makes us sick

A new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) outlines how industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways. An Overwhelming Case for Action lead author Cecelia Rocha says “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

This infographic from the report summarises the carnage and the resulting economic impact.

IPES Food costs of health impacts

In addition to highlighting the perils of the industrial food system, the document identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems. Among these are lines of action we can all champion.

  1. Promoting food systems thinking.
  2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.
  3. Bringing the alternatives to light.
  4. Adopting the precautionary principle.
  5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

This report follows on from their ground-breaking first report From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. 

 

Miraka milk showing the way

New Zealand has just been through a parliamentary election and elections breed dichotomies like still water breeds mosquitos. We saw the town/country, farmer/environmentalist, economic growth/environment dichotomies in play. If you are the champion of one side, dichotomous thinking encourages you to be the enemy of the other side.

One of the biggest issues was around water quality with the focus on dairy farming. Its clear that we have too many cows in many catchments. The negative impacts are outlined in this Greenpeace report. But does this mean we will see the slaughter of dairy cows as one politician wanting to fuel fear declared? (There is some irony in this, because all cows get slaughtered eventually – so the more you have, the more slaughter you get).

So can we break the dichotomy? Can we have fewer cows and still have profitable farms and a better environment? Part of the answer must lie in diversification.

Miraka Milk

Miraka is a Māori owned dairy processing business in the Mokai Valley in the central North Island. As a Māori business, principles of kaitiakitanga (guardians of the land) and tikanga guide the business. The factory is run on geothermal power and milk waste is processed through a giant worm farm. Miraka is one enterprise of the Tuaropaki Trust. In addition to dairying, the geothermal power is used to heat greenhouses and the trust has several other enterprises.

This September 2017 audio from Radio NZ features Kim Hill interviewing CEO Richard Wyeth.

Miraka has maintained good payouts to farmers and is driving up the value chain reducing the need for intensification. There is diversification in the parent trust, but individual dairy, horticulture and pastoral farming units appear to “stick to their knitting”, essentially monocultural.

Diversification

Simply reducing stocking rates may not be the answer. The Lincoln University demonstration farm has managed to reduce nitrate leaching by 30% by reducing stocking numbers, but extracting more production from the remaining cows.

We are in the early days of exploring diversifying income streams from the land. Where are those farmers that work the land to optimise returns by nurturing the diverse niches that the land inevitably provides – the lean steeper country, the riparian margins, the manuka groves and the totara remnants? Farm foresters utilise steeper country for tree planting. Riparian plantings that protect waterways from sediment runoff and capture some nutrients also offer the opportunity for crop diversification – notably, bananas in some Northland sites. Manuka groves supply income from honey and support bee populations for important pollination work. The Northland Totara Working Group is promoting the sustainable management of the totara groves that pepper Northland farms. One benefit is timber production. Examples abound – but where are those that integrate options in a way that optimises the health of the land and its ability to produce sustainably?

Posts that follow this one will hopefully surface examples of farms exemplifying income diversification and kaitiakitanga. Congratulations to Miraka for pointing the way.

 

 

 

Reclaiming our waterways

Only San Francisco harbour is bigger than the Kaipara Harbour. And the Kaipara has the longest shoreline of any harbour in the world. I grew up near the Northern Wairoa river that flows into the north end of the Kaipara. The water is brown, drenched in colloidal sediment that doesn’t settle. I was told the sailing ships used to access fresh water from the mouth of the Kaihu stream at Dargaville, but those days are long gone.

Kaipara harbourForests have been stripped off the lands in the Kaipara’s massive catchment leading to erosion that continues today. Thankfully we have moved beyond the days when farmers could get subsidies for breaking in marginal land. But the sediment loads in the Kaipara continue to increase by 10mm a year according to this excellent article by Lois Williams.

As a consequence, snapper in the harbour are mutating as their gills adapt to handle the heavy loads of sediments. And the Kaipara harbour is a snapper nursery for the whole of the west coast.

The Kaipara catchment, stretching from the Waitakeres in the south to Waipoua in the North and the eastern hills to the north of Whangarei. (image from the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group website).

The sediment problem was reversed in the Whāingaroa (Raglan) harbour. When streams were fenced off and planted, sediment flows slowed down. The invertebrates at the base of the food chain returned enabling the repopulation of kaimoana.

Revegetating the huge Kaipara catchment is a much more daunting task, but progress is being made. The Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group has overseen the planting of 2 million trees over the last decade. This is a impressive partnership of local government, Iwi and hapu (Ngati Whatua and Te Uri o Hau), Fonterra, Government Agencies and NGOs. There efforts will also be sequestering a significant amount of carbon. Their guiding principles are:

  • Kaitiakitanga
  • Integrated Ecosystem-Based Management
  • Manaakitanga respect
  • Co-management.

Kia ora and thank you to them!

lighthouse 2012 Joanne Watkinson.jpeg

The Pouto lighthouse at the mouth of the Kaipara harbour (photo by Joanne Watkinson)

 

Bananas and climate change

Northland bananasThe question is not “is climate change happening?” The question is, “what are we going to do about it?” Some people continue to deny it, others choose to look the other way and hope it will go away, and another group only want to take action if it doesn’t interfere with economic growth.

In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell described a similar scenario. It was the early 1400s and the world was getting colder, not warmer. In Greenland there were two populations – the Vikings and the Inuit. As temperatures dropped, the Inuit were OK, because their staple was fish. The Vikings liked their meat, so when grass growth slowed down, they first ate their mature animals, then the young, and then their dogs. Archeological evidence reveals that the population crashed – and it happened rapidly. The lesson for us is our adaptive capacity.

Bananas as one of many climate change solutions for Northland

The Drawdown project as described in this post, identifies reductions of 1,051 gigaton of CO2 that can be achieved by its top 80 solutions. Food solutions account for 31% of these reductions – 325 gigatons.

Number 14 on the list are tropical fruit crops (including bananas), accounting for a reduction of 20.19 gigatons of CO2 globally, over 30 years.

Tropical staple crops currently grow on 116 million acres, mostly in the tropics. Their rate of sequestration is high at 1.9 tons per acre per year. Expand this area by another 153 million acres by 2050 and they can sequester 20.2 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide. Our analysis assumes that expansion only occurs on existing cropland, with no forest clearing. Because their yield is 2.4 times higher than annual staples—at 60 percent of the cost—savings are signicant, while cost to implement is low. (Drawdown)

New Zealander’s consume about $18 kgs of bananas a year, mostly all imported. If we can grow our own bananas, we would need about 7,700 hectares of bananas to meet our own needs. Northland is great place to grow bananas. We are at the warm end of the temperate zone, but as we are a long skinny peninsula surrounded but the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, our climate is benign enough for some tropical crops, especially those from higher tropical altitudes.

Bananas vs. white bread

So can we adapt or are we the 21st Century Vikings? One thing we could do, is to plant and eat more bananas (grown as a perennial crop), and eat less white bread (using wheat derived from an annual crop). Here are some comparisons.

Growing and eating bananas

Buying and eating white bread

Carbon consequences
  • perennial crop with a longer-term presence, building soil carbon
  • large biomass per hectare
  • suits mixed plantings and permaculture approaches
  • grown in Northland, and consumed in Northland
  • minimal to no processing
  • made from wheat, an annual crop with disruptive impacts on soil carbon
  • less biomass per hectare
  • grown as a monoculture sourced from the South Island or imported
  • significant processing
Nutrition consequences
  • Nutrient density rating: 30[1]
  • Glycemic index: 52 for 136 grams[2]
  • Glycemic load: 14 (medium)
  • Higher levels of vitamins and minerals[3]
  • no dodgy additives
  • nutrient density rating: 9
  • glycemic index: 70 for a 30 gm slice
  • glycemic load: 10 (low)
  • generally lower levels of vitamins and minerals[4]
  • additives including possibly canola oil, sugar, acidity regulator and emulsifiers
Economic and social consequences
  • locally grown
  • can be grown in home gardens and by small holders
  • imported from out of region
  • production dominated by large companies

Go bananas!

In another lesson from history, The people of England were collectively traumatised by the First World War and didn’t want to be involved in another. They tried to ignore the threat that Adolf Hitler posed in a “fog of denial”. But Winston Churchill persisted in raising the alarm.

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Winston Smoking a bananaBananas are part of our Northland climate change solution, so to paraphrase Sir Winston, … we shall plant them near the beaches, we shall plant them in the school grounds, we shall plant them in the fields and in the streets, we shall plant them in the hills; we shall never surrender.

 

 

 

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

Food policy from our election candidates

The Northland Food Policy Council is asked political candidates from the Far North, Rodney, Te Tai Tokerau and Whangarei electorates five questions. Their responses are published here. Please pass this link on through your networks.

film-test-parliament-grounds-panorama-2006-murray-hedwig-photo

Here are links to the candidates’ responses. Each electorate has its own webpage.

The questions

1: What do you think your role as an MP or potential MP is in our region’s food system?

2: Should NZ be protecting prime agricultural/horticultural land from urban sprawl? What’s your position on how best to do this?

3: The World Health Organisation recommends implementing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as a measure of reducing childhood obesity. NZ has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD.  Are you in favour of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages?

4: Do you support Local Councils having the power through the Resource Management Act to declare Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)/Genetic Engineering (GE) free growing zones in their regions?

5: How will you ensure that food system policy, such as the Food Act is scale-appropriate for small and medium scale farmers, growers and producers (e.g. on farm meat processing).

 

Climate change hope

drawdownThe Drawdown project has raised my optimism about climate change. There are plenty of doomsayers who think that we are stuffed. For a whole lot of people, its a problem that is just too big to handle, so the strategy is to ignore it. In New Zealand our government tells us that we are too small to make much impact and they appear to believe, action on climate change and improving the economy are mutually exclusive.

There be dragons!

Centuries ago Europeans had some limiting perceptions that inhibited world travel. Some pre-Columbus maps marked the possible presence of dragons, and there was always the prospect of falling  of the edge of a flat earth. Now we have got better knowledge and GPS!

Our collective perception of climate change is like those centuries old perceptions of the world. Climate change is scarier than dragons, so for most people it seems it is better not to go there – and just hope its not true.

Drawdown has changed all that. As most of us accepted, climate change is the result of an increase in greenhouse gasses but the Drawdown team have quantified targeted reductions of CO2 that will get us to the point where we start to reduce atmospheric concentrations. They have also quantified the top 80 solutions and calculated the CO2 reductions in gigatons. We now have a map and GPS! They acknowledge that the         System is dynamic, so exact calculations are problematic. However most of the calculations are based on trends that are already happening.

So we can move beyond our collective paralysis and choose the solutions that work best in our lives? Here is a link to Drawdown’s Solutions webpage.

Mother Teresa told us “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. I love this planet and its more than gravity that makes me attached to it. When it comes to climate change, I can’t do great things, but I can do small things with great love. Not just for the planet, but for all of my descendants, and all those who will suffer as a consequence of climate change. And what encourages me more is the actions I can take to reduce CO2 in my world also have other positive benefits.

Here are some solutions I can work on.

No. 3: Reduce food waste

Drawdown calculates the a 70.5 reduction in gigatons of CO2 over 30 years if we collectively waste less food.

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. (Drawdown)

I can reduce waste by growing my own food – that cuts out the waste in the supply chain. I grow my own bananas, so I am not contributing to the waste produced when those bananas that are either too long or too short are discarded. I can also monitor what goes out into the compost. Working my own land and composting returns food waste to the land and increases the organic matter (carbon) in the soil. I only have a little bit of land, but it all helps.

No. 4: Plant-rich diet

I’m reducing my meat intake. Meat takes a whole lot more resources than fruit and vegetables. According to Drawdown this will reduce CO2 by 66 gigatons in 30 years. We can also expect a health dividend from reducing meat intake.

Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved. (Drawdown)

No. 69: Electric bikes

I want to by an electric vehicle (no. 26) but I have never spent more than $10,000 on a car. But I can get an electric bike. If I do, I will be contributing to the 0.96 of a gigaton in CO2 reductions over 30 years. Not a lot, but every bit helps. And if I keep riding my non-electric bike the result will be better still.

An e-bike’s battery gets its charge from the nearest outlet, tapping into whatever electricity is on hand—from coal-based to solar-powered. E-bikes have higher emissions than a regular bicycle or simply walking, but they still outperform cars, including electric ones. (Drawdown)

So there are just three of the 80 solutions that I can contribute to. How about you?