by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fruits-and-vegetables

Nov 25 2016

Weekend reading: Fig Trees!

Mike Shanahan. Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees.  Chelsea Green, 2016.


I have a particular interest in this book.  The summer before last, I bought a small fig tree at New York City’s Union Square Farmers’ Market and stuck it in a pot on the terrace outside my apartment.   Pleasant surprise: it survived last winter and produced a modest crop of small, brown, sweet figs.

This puzzled me because as far as I could tell, the tree had never flowered.

Mystery solved, thanks to this book.

Shanahan, a rainforest ecologist, explains that figs do flower but the flowers are inside the “fruit.”

Even weirder, the flowers are pollinated by specific species of fig wasps, which works through whatever the “fruit” is and do their work.

The book does not explain what fig wasps are doing in Manhattan or how they found their way to my 12th floor terrace, but the figs were great and I thank them.

I also thank Shanahan for writing a truly informative book about why Ficus species are so important to forest ecology and to reforestation programs, and what figs have to do with Gods (figs in mythology) and Stranglers (a kind of fig tree).

I raise as post-Thanksgiving fig in his honor.

Jul 12 2016

The latest in food-industry sponsored research: Pears!

I completely understand that the food business is fiercely competitive, not least because the U.S. food supply provides about twice the calories needed by the population on a daily basis—4000 calories each in 2010—and companies have to sell all that.

The makers of processed foods and drinks spend fortunes marketing their foods in this environment.  Now producers of fruits and vegetables feel that they too need to compete.  They form trade associations to do this for them and to pay for research they can use to market their products as “superfoods.”

Meet, for example, the Pear Bureau Northwest, which pays for research and sends press releases about its only-to-be-expected positive results, in this case “New Research Indicates Regular Fresh Pear Consumption May Improve Blood Pressure in Middle-Aged Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome” (my emphasis).

I like pears.  They are delicious when ripe.  But superfoods?  Really?

As always, the operative word is “may.”

This study compared the effects of eating 2 medium-sized fresh pears or or 50 g of a pear-flavored drink per day for 12 weeks.  Well, duh.

In my collection of industry-funded studies last year were two sponsored by the busy Pears Bureau Northwest.

Systematic Review of Pears and Health. Holly Reiland, BS Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD.  Nutrition Today November/December 2015 – Volume 50 – Issue 6 – p 301–305.  

  • Conclusions: Animal studies with pears suggest that pears may regulate alcohol metabolism, protect against ulcers, and lower plasma lipids. Human feeding studies with pears have not been conducted. In epidemiological studies, pears are combined with all fresh fruits or with apples, because they are most similar in composition. The high content of dietary fiber in pears and their effects on gut health set pears apart from other fruit and deserves study.
  • Funding: The authors received a grant from USA Pears in the past. The authors provided their own funding to allow this article to publish as Open Access.
  • Comment: Pears are a great fruit but the marketing purpose of this study is evident from this press release from the Pear Bureau Northwest: “While the body of evidence connecting pear intake and health outcomes is still limited, USA Pears has been contributing to research efforts by commissioning independent studies to learn and affirm the heath attributes of pears. Visit www.usapears.org for additional pear research, nutrition resources and recipes.”

Fresh Pear Consumption is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Diet Quality, and Weight Parameters in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010.  O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL (2015) J Nutr Food Sci 5: 377.

  • Conclusion:  Compared to non-consumers [of pears], consumers were 35% less likely to be obese (p<0.05). Fresh pears should be encouraged as a component of an overall healthy diet.
  • Funding: Partial support was received from the United States Department of Agriculture/ Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS)…Partial support was also received from Pears Bureau Northwest.
  • Comment: I’m guessing the same result could be obtained by looking at consumption of any other fruit.  And to prove my point that this is about marketing, here’s the press release.

Will this research help sell more pears?  We will see.

Is it wrong to want to have more pears sold?  Not at all, but why do this at the expense of any other fruit, all of which contain valuable nutrients.

If pears are superfoods, all fruits are superfoods.

Eat the ones you like.

 

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Apr 7 2016

Sponsored research: raspberries this time

This morning, I received a query from a scientist:

I have been following your documentation of industry-funded research on health benefits. I’ve been thinking about this issue from the perspective of fruits and vegetables. We know that they are good in general, but how does one fund research to demonstrate that clinically? In particular, how does one get specific about the form and amount that his helpful for specific health benefits?  You may be interested in this press release from the raspberry industry telling about the papers at the Society for Experimental Biology meetings that are relevant to the health benefits of eating raspberries. This seems to be approaching what a good model might look like. I’m interested in your perspective. Furthermore, are the results relevant to nutritionists?

Here’s how I answered it:

Thanks for sending.  I guess my question would be something along the lines of why getting specific about form and amount of specific fruits and vegetables is important for public health.  People don’t eat just raspberries.  They put them in cereal or on desserts.  Raspberries are expensive.  Wealthy, educated and, therefore, healthy people are likely to consume them.  So this looks like marketing research to me—selling raspberries as a superfood.  If you think there is a special benefit to raspberries and that it would be good to quantify it, the best strategy would be to get the research funded by an independent agency.  Otherwise, it’s clearly marketing research (hence the press release).   At least that’s how I see it.

This, of course, gets us back to the question of sponsored research which, as my collection of sponsored studies has shown, almost inevitably produce results favorable to the sponsor.  I love raspberries and don’t doubt for a minute that they are healthy, but a superfood?  I don’t think so.

I’m still working on the descriptive analysis of the year’s collection of sponsored studies.  I will also be giving more thought to such questions, so send them along.

Feb 16 2016

Encouraging healthy kids’ eating, Woolworths Australia

Thanks to Sinead Boylan for sending me this photo about Woolworths’ attempt to encourage kids to eat fruit.

IMG_1419

 

Wouldn’t you think everyone would be thrilled at the idea of giving free fruit to kids?  No such luck.

Sinaed asks: Is W00lies (which is what they call it) trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

The Australian press worries about foodborne illness.

I think it’s a great idea.  I hope it works.

Jan 30 2016

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

Jul 13 2015

Nuclear negotiations with Iran: the food politics

My dear friend, the food writer, cookbook author, and restaurant consultant Joyce Goldstein, is also a careful analyst of today’s global political scene.

She points out that the New York Times account (exceptionally clear, by the way) of the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran suggests one reason why they are going on endlessly:

To sustain itself during its marathon meetings, the United States negotiating team has since the beginning of June consumed at least 10 pounds of Twizzlers, 30 pounds of mixed nuts and dried fruit, 20 pounds of string cheese and more than 200 Rice Krispie Treats, according to its informal count.

Fruits and vegetables anyone?

Let’s join in a chorus of “Give Peas a Chance.”

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

Mar 27 2015

Weekend reading: Fruits of Eden

Amanda Harris.  Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters.  University Press of Florida, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

If you have ever wondered how navel oranges, figs, avocados, dates, and other such foods came to be grown in America, here’s the answer: plant explorers.  Amanda Harris tells the stories of adventurers sent out to search the world for delicious foods.  Fruits of Eden is a welcome history of these little-known plant experts who succeeded in improving the diversity and deliciousness of our daily fare.

 

 

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