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)

 

The food solutions to climate change

drawdownWow. Who would have thought that there are so many ways that we can reverse climate change. The Drawdown project, led by Paul Hawken is a game changer.  His project team details 80 ways we can take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. Drawdown is the point where globally we start to reduce atmospheric CO2.

The project groups the 80 interventions into 7 clusters, and the cluster that can generate the highest reduction – 31%, is FOOD! Between 2020 and 2050, food initiatives that are already underway can reduce CO2 by 321.9 gigatonnes.

Drawdown sectors

The graph indicates where the reductions can come. Food leads at 31%, followed by energy at 23%.

Surprisingly, efficiencies in refrigeration management is the single biggest item in the top ten CO2 reducers. Reduced food waste comes in at number three, contributing a 70.5 gig tonne reduction, with a plant-rich diet coming in fourth with a 66.1 gigatonne reduction. And I thought effective action was all about renewable energy and electric cars! But as Paul Hawken states, we all of these actions will make the difference.

Here is the full list of food interventions.

Food interventions 2

You can find more detail of there at the Drawdown website under the solutions menu and buy the book.

Science and advocacy with heart

For those that feel like climate change is too big for them to have impact, this food list and the other interventions provides lots of options for action. That is encouraging! What is also encouraging is the optimistic tone of the book. Paul Hawken writes:

If we change the preposition, and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world. We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is a human agenda.

At number six and seven on the list is “educating girls” and “family planning”. At number 62 is women smallholders. These are emancipating aspirations. According to Drawdown women feed many more people than the industrial food system:

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land. more>>

Here’s Paul Hawken. Its a long video, but well worth the watch!

 

 

Building momentum towards a sustainable food system

Every project I’m involved with aspiring to move from an industrial food system to a sustainable food system reinforces the critical importance of connecting people. In Northland we have a lot of organisations aspiring to improve our food system. They range from environmental groups and landowners working to improve waterways, health workers, farmers and growers, marae-based groups, co-operatives, educationalists and researchers to name a few. The problem is, we are barely aware of what each other are doing.

Collectively, I am sure that there are a lot of us. But we fail to leverage our collective voice.

The development this year of the Northland Food Policy Network encourages me. Its a group of volunteers of similar diversity expressed above advocating to influence policy. Our success will be proportional to our ability to connect with others of like mind to generate momentum for change.

The industrial food system has super-tanker momentum! It has slick and seductive marketing, economies of scale, sophisticated supply chains and political influence. And perhaps most insidiously, it is the normal – the orthodox, with mostly unquestioned legitimacy.

This Guardian article identifies a similar dynamics for those advocating for climate change. Advocates for change are often left to work on individual efforts while the neo-liberal agenda actively seeks to shore up the status quo and feed our oil addiction.

Duncan Green, author of How Change Happens (get if free here) outlines the power gradient that is fundamental to change in this video:

  • power within (when the individual finds ways to change)
  • power with (when connections are made with likeminded others)
  • power to (the capability to decide actions and carry them out)
  • power over ( the power to effect and embed change).

Those of us focussed on food system change have taken steps to make connections and are developing the capability for collective action. Our ability to influence will be determined by our ability to make ongoing connections.

Another useful idea from this video is Duncan Green’s power analysis adapted below. Those with high concern about issues, but low influence have to find their collective voice, translate it into action and engage and influence those who have influence but are not engaged to change. We need to reach out to landowners and supermarkets for example.

influence and concern

Follow this link for more on change, based on Duncan Green’s thinking.

A way forward

Two projects that Local Food Northland are working on are supporting the change dynamics. We are supporting the Northland Food Policy Network and Clive McKegg is leading a project to develop a database of individuals and organisations with common aspirations. We are fully aware that a data base is only part of the engagement equation. We need to engage kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).

What can you do?

If you want to see a food system that serves people by supporting our health, building our economy and sustaining our environment, one practical step is to help us connect with organisations that you are aware of that want these outcomes too. Please contact us or leave a comment below.

The industrial agriculture “feed the world” myth

A video from Friends of the Earth International has some startling claims about how the need for industrial agriculture is overstated. This sounds plausible, but the problem is, I can’t find this video anywhere other than Facebook – so it is difficult to find data that supports the numbers. And my attempts to link to the video – apart from a Facebook link have failed.

The Friends of the Earth video claims that industrial farming feeds only 20% of the world’s population and the other 80% is produced on family farms. This video from Anna Lappé  and Food Myth Busters claims 70% – and provides compelling narrative to support the movement to sustainable food systems.

The landmark 2016 report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food) provides more detailed analysis that asserts the efficiency of agroecological farming. The report identifies “feed the world” narratives, parodied at the beginning of the Anna Lappé video as one of the “lock-ins” that help to prop up a failed system (see page 56 of the report).

My city, Whangarei has plenty of green space and most houses are on sections that would provide adequate space for food production that integrates into the landscape. In an ideal world, we would have very little need for industrial farming. Exporters need not fear, as the world will continue to have a large appetite for what we can grow here in the  short and medium term. The challenge for our commercial growers and exporters is how to farm sustainably.

Writing this post has reinforced for me the need for sustainable food system advocates to    back up claims made in video with hard data somehow. The material is great, but gets picked up and shared on places like Facebook with no way of fact-checking in this era of fake news.