Some acts are small, powerful moments that ultimately ripple around the world, such as Malala Yousafzai. Some women are prominently forging new paths from the corner office, such as Sheryl Sandberg or Janet Yellen. And some women lead at the grocery cart.
Yes, that’s right-the grocery cart. The more I think about it, the more I see that Beyonce is right: Women, who rule the world? We do.
And it’s called Womenomics.
This Saturday is International Women’s Day. Which has me thinking about all of the inspiring national and global figures who remind me that there’s immense power to finding your voice, and to wielding your power “from whatever size stage God has given you” - as Oprah said to me once. And rather than a feel-good sounding moniker that’s soft on substance, womenomics is about power, and about making good business decisions that can change the marketplace.
Which means that our best resource to change the food system doesn't lie with Washington - or even with companies - it lies with us. We are our own most underutilized resource.
This is a profound revelation, and frankly, it’s one that many companies are hoping we don’t figure out.
But we have. Or at least, we are starting to. So how can we wield our considerable collective influence to press the levers that matter most for fixing our food system and keeping our children healthy? (if you doubt companies’ ability to change quickly in response to consumer demand, consider the current surge of gluten-free products at the grocery store).
Getting Antibiotics Out of our Meat and Dairy
To me, this is one of the most pressing crisis looming for our food system. In fact, at the risk of sounding dramatic, it threatens to unravel modern medicine as we know it. And it is something that isn't even required to be listed on a food label.
Over 70% of all antibiotics are being used on industrial farms :subtherapeutic, low dose antibiotics produce meat faster and more cheaply, and help compensate for crowded, unhygienic conditions. Yet the science has become clear - we are accelerating an antibiotics crisis. Here is an excellent evidence-based summary of the issue. In fact, the Pew Charitable Trusts have compiled such compelling science on the impact of the misuse and overuse of drugs in factory farming, they've launched the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for all of us. A recent report from the NRDC even found previously undisclosed FDA documents showing that feed additives don't even meet the agency's own safety standards.
And you don’t have to be a meat eater to be concerned about drug resistant bacteria: research is finding people who live nearby these large farming operations are also at higher risk of MRSA.
As a parent, the notion that we are dangerously close to returning to a time when we lack the drugs to fight common childhood mishaps such as strep throat or a skinned knee terrifies me. As a nutritionist, I see that it falls squarely on my plate - because antibiotics are used to produce much of the conventional milk, meat and poultry products we put in our grocery carts, and order from restaurants and foodservice operations.
Using Womenomics to Change the Way We Eat
As women, science has zeroed in on some key differences in the ways our brains work: we are hard wired for collaboration. For finding common ground. For building consensus. For compassion. And for considering risk. (In fact, one famous comment made during the last Economic Forum in Davos noted that “Lehman Brothers may not have fallen so far so fast had there been a few sisters around”). Far from being soft skills, they are some of what enables to find our voice-and the conviction to forge powerful new paths forward.
While Washington drags its feet on meaningful fixes, womenomics is hard power- a roadmap to tell companies clearly and consistently a simple message: We want better from the food system. From the companies we trust to feed our children. And we are prepared to spend our dollars somewhere else (namely, on brands that choose to go antibiotic-free, or a restaurant serving animal products produced without low doses of antibiotics). It can be done. Read this piece to see how the Netherlands - a country with a similar dependence on antibiotics for industrial farming - is reaping real benefits from making the switch. Here are 4 simple steps to get you started.
Will you join me? I hope so.
4 Steps to Take Now
- Invest in the Best: Buy only meat, poultry and pork that is certified Organic, Certified Humane, or has a USDA “Process Verified’ antibiotic claim (explained in the EWG’s Meat Eater’s guide here). To afford the higher price tag, choose smaller portions and serve with robust servings of vegetables and legumes, and enjoy plant based meals (no meat or a little meat) a couple of nights a week.
- Spend Strategically: Spend food dollars on foods-and at restaurants-that serve antibiotic free meat and poultry. Many chains that are trying to source such products, such as Chipotle, will display this on their menu or website).
- Make Your Voice Heard: Speak up on social media! Or sign this petition asking the FDA to insist on responsible antibiotic use in agriculture. Think it’s not possible to drive change from the ground up? Check out how this food blogger convinced Chick-fil-A to go antibiotic free.
- Empower Women Globally: Look for the Fair Trade Certified seal on coffee, chocolate, tea and other products to help women around the world tap into their power.
How are you using Womenomics to change the way you eat? I'd love to hear from you!
But modern dietary pressures extend well beyond that. I am just back from the Healthy Agriculture, Healthy Nutrition, Healthy People conference (sponsored by Stonyfield), held in Olympia, Greece. While we wait for the official concluding statements from the conference organizers, having finally shaken off the jet lag (and the slight depression from leaving behind all that delicious Greek food), here are some of the topics covered on the last day that, in my mind, powerfully frame the question of what can we do about modern dietary pressures?
Key Idea: Radically rethink our food and water use in cities
Example: Urban Gardens
By 2015, the majority of the world will live in cities. The growing middle class of developing countries currently model development on Americas post WWII suburbs. City growth, too, is based on ideas from city planners of the 1800s. This means we do it by an enormous carbon footprint, says Dr. Vikram Bhatt of Montreal's McGill University, who presented results from his Urban Greening Project.
Dr. Bhatt discussed (and showed beautiful slides illustrating) the ripple effect of health that happens with urban gardens: parents gardening with their children, organic food production, elimination of food deserts, reduced food miles, recycled water and plastic containers, transforming a neighborhood from abandoned lots into edible landscapes, improving spatial quality by exploiting underutilized urban areas, and more.
"The physical, social, and economic change is remarkable when you come into these communities," he said, "and it's a critical shift in thinking that must happen if we are to counter some of the modern dietary pressures from urban growth."
Urban gardens also help cool hot urban surfaces, and would provide more vital carbon sinks. Similar results have been reported by Taja Sevelle and her amazing work as founder of Urban Farming.
Key Idea: Countries need a health oriented agriculture
Example: Greener Cow Project
"We've changed the way we eat, but we've also radically changed the way our animals feed,"said French agronomist Pierre Weill. "We need agricultural practices that are healthy from the ground (or the animal) up."
As director of Stonyfield's Greener Cow Project, Weill presented results from a pilot program with organic dairy farmers that reduced methane from cows (a leading source of this potent GHG) by a whopping 11-15%. How did they do this? By changing what the cows eat. In fact, moving cows to a diet rich in flax not only cut warming gasses, but it doubled the omega-3 fatty acid content and significantly improved the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid dietary ratio. An added bonus? The cows were exceedingly healthier, living longer, and looking better.
Indeed, it is these types of changes in agriculture, if practiced on a larger scale that can have a powerful ripple effect across many of our modern dietary pressures. As dairy fats represent about 1/3 of total ingested fats in most western diets, it is possible through changes in diet, to improve milk's environmental and nutritional quality on a large scale, Weill noted.
A health-oriented agriculture also means that National Dietary Guidelines of governments must be based on ecological as well as nutritional considerations. (Sweden's National Food Administration was the first, issuing dietary guidelines last summer that consider both nutritional benefit and environmental impact of food choices).
Key Idea: Embrace the low tech, low cost solutions too
Example: Vitamins for prisoners
"Our criminal justice system assumes behavior is entirely a matter of free will, but how can we exercise free will without using our brains? And how is the brain able to function properly without adequate nutrient supply?"
These were some of the provocative questions posed by Dr. Bernard Gesch from the University of Oxford, one of the world's leading researchers on nutritional status and antisocial behaviors.
In his research, Gesch has found that changing nutritional status through diet and snacks produces significant changes in violent and criminal behavior. Many prisoners, if you look at the science, have shockingly low levels of zinc, for instance, he said. In one study he conducted, the total difference in rates of offenses (and discipline action) of prison subjects getting a multivitamin compared to controls was a startling 69%.
"With adequate nutrition, every single study done so far shows that the rates of prison offenders drop by 1/3, regardless of what's going on with placebo," Gesch said.
And what's the cost? Its 0.2% of the cost of sending someone to prison. In light of the global financial crisis squeezing many government budgets, this alone seems a tremendous upside. And nutrients don't discriminate. The mind and body are not separate.
"Potentially we have simple, humane, highly effected method to reduce rates of violence and antisocial behavior," he said.
I couldn't help but think: What's the larger implication for an adequately nourished world?
Perhaps the most eloquent key idea of all was also delivered by Dr. Bernard Gesch:
"If we are what we eat, then changing our diet will change us."
There was universal nodding. And in those words he seemed to sum up perfectly both the intent and the findings of this conference. Though he's a Brit, I think the ancient Greeks would have been proud of him.
(Disclosure: Kate Geagan is a paid spokesperson for Stonyfield Yogurt.)
I just wrapped 2 full days talking about the state of our oceans, and its connection with the state of our plate, thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Institute. As a nutritionist, a journalist, and most of all a MOM, it continues to be some of the most powerful days of my entire year. Here were my top 4 key takeaways we can learn from:
1. There's a lot of lying in the seafood business. Uttered most often by Ingrid Bengis, the spunky Maine fishmonger who famously used to arrive in NYC toting crates of lobster by bus and taxi to some of NY's top chefs, there was universal agreement among participants on this one. With 80% of seafood in the US being imported, panel after panel stressed that traceability is linked to sustainability. Of any food on your plate, seafood is most in murky waters.
What to do: Ask Questions. A lot of questions-is their supply chain transparent? Seek 3rd party certification (like MSC Certified) as the gold standard. Use your Seafood Watch Guides. Get as close to the source of your food as possible -the beauty of Ingrid was that she was utterly committed to being the sole link between her fisherman, all of whom she knows by name and knows their families-and the chefs. If that means you eat seafood a bit less often, so be it.
2. As customers, we really do drive business. While it's easy to feel jaded by "the system" in light of all the turmoil in politics, Earthbound Farms founder Myra Goodman stressed that the consumer revolution in food choices has absolutely been the driving factor in their success (did you know organics now make up 10% of the produce market? A big gain). CE-YO of Stonyfield Yogurt, Gary Hirschberg, agreed, noting that their success is based on uber loyal customers, not because of a big marketing budget (Stonyfield spends about 0.5% compared to 9-12% for competitors).
What to do: Your dollars are about more than what's for dinner, it's about the kind of world you want to live in and the kind of world you want to leave to your kids. While it may not feel like it, you really really are making a difference by buying companies whose products support the kind of world you want to inhabit, and the level of health you want to achieve. Buy organic, buy local, support companies whose mission you believe in. It's an immediate, powerful tool to change the marketplace.
3. Organics really are superior. While there is still no organic fish certification, the science supporting health advantages of choosing an organic diet had two big wins this month. In early May, the President's Cancer Panel issued a report where the top tips to cut your risk of cancer included Eat Organic, Drink Filtered Water, and Avoid Plastic Food Contatiners that contain BPA (note that some of these guys were Bush appointees). Then, last week a reportcame out in which scientists found that exposure to pesticides on fruits and veggies may double the risk of a child's getting ADHD.
To wit, there was strong anecdotal evidence at the conference as well. Hirschberg, said that they have found organic cows live 2-3X as long as conventional cows on their farms (as a mom that's a strong case for animal welfare that's hard to ignore). And Goodman noted that they are actually witnessing a significant increase in productivity of their land each year, land that has now been farmed organically 20+ years, which means that every year the "cost savings" of conventional inputs become less and less relative to conventional.
What to do: Absolutely buy only organic dairy, meat, pork, poultry and produce. Be sure to get the Environmental Working Group'slist of the Dirty Dozen listing the most contaminated produce-and their Clean 15, showing you conventional produce with the lowest residues. Even a tight food budget can make room for these things if you reallocate dollars away from things like bottled beverages, junk food, and pricey meat cuts and eat lower on the food chain more often.
4. To have a chance of saving the oceans for our kids, Americans need to embrace the Supergreens. Do you have this list? It's the deepest shade of green you can go to eat for health- Sustainability begins with us, the choices we (and hence the restaurants and markets) make. If you go to any reef or fishery in the oceans anywhere across the globe, it's very easy to see the true impact of our lifestyle on the oceans. One place it's very difficult to see the current crisis, however, is your local lavishly appointed fish market.
What to do: Try serving Caesar salad crostini topped with marinated sardines, a mackerel melt (instead of tuna), or canned wild Alaskan salmon cakes-I'm off to try recipes and will be back shortly with my results! Chef up these tasty recipes showcasing sustainable eatsfrom award winning chefs.
Paul Hawken, eloquent visionary and author of Taste for the Future reminded all of us media that we need to reawaken to the sensuous pleasure that comes from eating delicious, whole foods. Let's embrace the natural variability in nature, and teach your kids to do the same-this will have a powerful ripple effect across the supply chain that brings that magnificent tuna halfway across the world to your dinner table. When food seduces you with taste and flavor, it awakens what it is to be human and alive.
Thank you to Earthbound Farms for the amazing organic lunch we enjoyed at their test farm!
It's that time of the year again: life has picked up the pace, and as our lives get more hectic, our New Year's resolutions begin to fall by the wayside. But don't let your crazy schedule stop you from achieving your goal of Going Green in 2010. Here are ten great mobile apps to keep busy people going green all year long.
Used for: Local and Green Food Shopping
Cost: $2.99 Touch
Mobile Platform: iPhone and iPod Touch
This app helps you to locate local, seasonal foods. It determines your location with GPS, and then gives you local food information, split into four categories:
- In Season
Bonus? When you click on a specific food item, it brings up the Wikipedia information and Epicurious recipes for that food, making it easy for locavores to experiment with new foods.
|2) Find Green|
Used for: Green Shopping
Mobile Platform: iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch
Find the best green businesses near you, based on service. This GPS-enabled service determines your exact location, and gives you turn by turn directions to everything from yoga studios to bicycle shops to organic restaurants near you. The database offers over 60,000 green listings, in hundreds of cities across North America. Bonus? It also provides sustainable living tips to show you how much you'll be saving – energy, emissions, water, waste, money – by going green.
Used for: Pesticide-Free Shopping
Mobile Platform: iPhone and iPod Touch
Dirty Produce gives you a guide to the fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residues. When your budget is tight or organic is not available, you can use the "Clean 15" and "Dirty Dozen" lists to determine which conventionally-grown produce items have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides.
Used for: Green makeup and household products, geared towards women
Mobile Platform: iPhone and iPod touch
A quick eco-guide for the woman on the go, the Gorgeously Green Survival Guide is for women who want to green up their beauty regimen, home, diet, fitness routine, shopping, and more. It provides convenient lists for on the go ec0-shoppers, and provides tips on everything from light bulbs to lipsticks. This app has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, and The View for its fabulously feminine approach to green shopping.
Used for: Finding Sustainable Seafood
Mobile Platform: iPhone and iPod Touch, or go to mobile.seafooodwatch.org
With the world's oceans so severely overfished, your seafood choices can make a big difference. Seafood Watch helps you make sustainable seafood choices quick and easily – whether it's at your local grocery store or out at your favorite restaurant. The app uses GPS and creates regional guides to highlight what seafood is best in your area of the country.
Used for: Finding Specific Green Products
Mobile Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, or via text messages through any carrier
The GoodGuide app helps you find sustainable products, while you shop. You just scan the barcode of the product, and immediately you will see a detailed rating for health, environment, and social responsibility of that product. This app can be used for more than 50,000 products and companies, and works with products ranging from household chemicals to various food products. With the text messaging version of GoodGuide, simply text "41411," begin your text with "gguide," and then add whatever the product is that you're searching for afterwards (e.g., "gguide fage greek yogurt"), or even enter in the barcode of the product if you have it (e.g., "gguide 28016167").
Used for: Locating Recycling Centers
Mobile Platform: iPhone and iPod Touch
iRecycle makes it easy to find recycling locations anywhere in the U.S. Their database includes over 110,000 recycling and disposable locations, for over 240 materials. You can a find place to drop off your old cell phone, water bottle, motor oil, etc., etc, and get directions how to get there from your current location. In addition, it lets you know if they accept any other recyclable items/materials.
Whether you're juggling toddlers, board room presentations, or both, take advantage of these apps to make Going Green just that must easier in 2010. Have any favorite Green apps that were left off the list?
Lose Weight and Shrink Your Carbon Footprint
Here's something that may surprise you: as you lose weight, you'll shrink your carbon footprint even MORE. How? Every 1 pound increase in per passenger weight in America translates into approximately 39 million gallons of extra gasoline that's required to transport all of that extra weight around. That's right...our collective extra tonnage is using up tons of extra fossil fuels to transport everywhere, seriously affecting your carbon footprint.
It makes sense, really. Remember back in high school science class: "an object at rest tends to stay at rest..."? Well, the bigger that object, the more energy it needs to get it moving. A 2004 CDC study found that thanks to the average 10 pound weight gain of Americans in the 1990s, airlines burned an additional 350 million gallons of gasoline to tote all that extra poundage-releasing an extra 3.8 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And a 2006 study found that nearly 1 billion additional gallons of fuel are burned by automobiles in the US each year to lug all our extra pounds gained since the 1960s.
So remember: thinner, leaner you, more energy efficient driving and flying. Might things like pumping up tires and promoting fuel efficient of cars have less of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions than stemming our obesity crisis?