Concerned about Pesticides?

This week I was at City Market thoroughly enjoying a delicious deli sandwich that I had saved $1 on (thanks to Campus Special coupon book) when I saw a mother ...

Food Without Thought

The other day I was in produce section of the co-op and noticed a beautiful blood orange that had recently been cut in half. “Let me know if you’d like ...

Partnerships between Food Industry and Health Groups

The other day I learned that in 1984, Kellogg arranged with the National Cancer Institute to endorse a health claim for All-Bran cereal. Within 6 months, All-Bran’s market share increased ...

Concerned about Pesticides?

This week I was at City Market thoroughly enjoying a delicious deli sandwich that I had saved $1 on (thanks to Campus Special coupon book) when I saw a mother and her baby enter the cafe. Before they sat down at the table across from me, the mother turned to the wall behind her where framed pictures of different farms, workers, volunteers, fruits and vegetables hung nicely in black frames. I quickly noticed that the mom was in one of the photos, and she wanted to show her baby!

20120318-223132.jpgAfter pointing herself out to the baby, she sat down and started to breast feed. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was a pretty cool chain of events: the mom worked on a farm, helped produce food that she likely consumed, and now here’s this baby being nourished by the same body that consumed the food in the picture. This got me thinking about just how sensitive the bodies of these tiny creatures must be to different foods and substances on their food.

Earlier in the week, I read an article for class on pesticide toxicity. The article mentioned Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 documenting that  “infants and children differ both qualitatively and quantitatively from adults in their exposure to pesticide residues in foods” and that some children exceeded safe levels of pesticides in their diets.

The NAS report led rise to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 which requires the EPA to set health-based standards for pesticides in foods, while requiring additional protection for children, infants and other vulnerable people.  In spite of this legislation however, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta reported that young children continue to be exposed to pesticides primarily through their diets. Furthermore, the Environmental Working Group (EWG)  points out three epidemiological studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2011 that show a clear link between a mother’s exposure to pesticides (specifically, organophosphates) during pregnancy and deficits to children’s learning and memory that persist through the ages of 6 to 9.

Meanwhile, agribusiness and pesticide companies are working to weaken protections in the Food Quality Protection Act, and in some cases have already succeeded. Furthermore, industry refuses to conduct developmental neurotoxicity studies, claiming it’s too expensive and difficult, yet they deny any study linking pesticide residue from diet and to human health risks. Really?

So, why should you be concerned about pesticides? For starters, U.S. and international governmental agencies, in addition to a host of researchers and doctors worldwide, acknowledge that pesticides are linked to several health problems including:

  • brain and nervous system toxicity
  • cancer
  • hormone disruption
  • skin, eye and lung irritation

Therefore, why take the risk if you don’t have to? Take steps to protect yourself and loved ones by using tools such as EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to determine which produce is most important to  buy organic.

FN 2/13

Food Without Thought

The other day I was in produce section of the co-op and noticed a beautiful blood orange that had recently been cut in half. “Let me know if you’d like to try some. Just had one and it was delicious.” I turned around to find a friendly employee smiling while unpacking bananas. Without thinking, I responded, “Sure, i’d love to!” The slice of orange was delicious, and I ended up buying some. As I proceeded to the bulk section, I found myself ruminating over my instantaneous response to the employee’s offer. I glanced down at the oranges in my basket and realized I had just fallen for a subtle marketing gimmick. By offering samples, City Market can get customers to eat more of what they sell. Similar marketing methods are employed everywhere; it seems anything food related is set up to encourage us to eat more, not less. Why? Turns out that there’s too much available food in the U.S. today. In Why Calories Count, Marion Nestle explains that rates of obesity sharply increased in the 1980’s as the result of changes in agricultural and economic polities that promoted greater food production. The result? The number of calories available in the U.S. food supply rose from 3,200 per capita per day in 1980 to 3,900 in 1990. The average adult needs only needs half of that amount, and kids much less (Nestle, 2012). With the proliferation of cheap, convenient foods in our society there’s no denying that the norms surrounding eating have shifted. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, today half the typical family’s food budget is for foods prepared and eaten outside of the home. I suddenly recalled all the times I’d mindlessly sampled food at the grocery store, eaten because food was in front of me, grabbed food on the go for convenience sake, or conversely, grabbed more food than I need just because it was available. The fact is, companies make money when we eat more, not less. It’s vital that we not let increasingly subtle marketing methods employed by food companies slip past our consciousness and into our bellies. We live in a society where 60% of adults are considered overweight and 1/3 obese. More than ever, we must critically think about our food choices and recognize that companies benefit from us getting larger. Ultimately, it is our choice whether or not we want to bear the brunt of overabundance within the food system.

Partnerships between Food Industry and Health Groups

The other day I learned that in 1984, Kellogg arranged with the National Cancer Institute to endorse a health claim for All-Bran cereal. Within 6 months, All-Bran’s market share increased by 47% (Nestle & Ludwig, 2010). Prior to 1984, there had been no endorsement of health claims on behalf of health groups. Ever since, the use of health claims on products has proliferated (in part) because it sells.  Today, partnerships between food industry and health groups have grown in number and scale. Not only do we see the visible affects (health claims on food labels, sponsorships at sporting events, etc.) but we also see the food industry’s impact on the conduct of research and thus, public health policy.

This got me thinking: given today’s obesity epidemic, how responsible are partnerships between food industry groups and health groups? Through reading and conducting online research I found these partnerships to be irresponsible. Specifically, I found these financial ties compromise the public credibility of health organizations and groups (Nestle, Ludwig, 2008).

The first partnership I examined was between PepsiCo and the YMCA. In the article Can the Food Industry Play a constructive Role in the Obesity Epidemic? Nestle and Ludwig describe how PepsiCo donated $11.6 million over 5 years to the YMCA to support an annual community day “to celebrate healthy living, encourage kids and families to get excited about physical fun and activity and .. engage kids in play to be healthy.” Nestle and Ludwig (2010) point out that focus on physical activity, characteristically without consummate attention to diet quality, appears disingenuous. In an article titled YMCA received PepsiCo Grant Mica Wilson from Healthier Lifestyles Marketing, PepsiCo was quoted saying “PepsiCo and the YMCA have a shared commitment to find better ways to help Americans lead healthier lifestyles.” If PepsiCo were truly committed to “helping Americans lead healthier lifestyles”, don’t you think they would consider making their actual product healthier?

An even more alarming situation is revealed when we consider the influence the food industry has on the conduct of research and the development of public health policy. In a study titled Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles, researchers reviewed 206 scientific articles published over a 5-year period, all of which addressed the health effects of milk, fruit juices, and soft drinks. They found that the likelihood of a conclusion favorable to the industry was 4-fold to 8-fold higher if the study received full rather than no industry funding, raising the possibility of systematic bias (Nestle and Ludwig, 2008).

Both of the above partnerships have serious implications for public health. They are irresponsible when considering addressing the obesity epedemic for they undermine the credibility of health groups and organizations and their ability to seriously address public health concerns. It is vital that we not leave it up to the food industry, whose main purpose is to create a profit, to address public health issues. As Nestle and Ludwig point out, “appropriate checks and balances are needed to align the financial interests of the food industry with the goals of the public health”. As consumers, we must vote with our fork and think critically as to whether or not we want to support or buy into the health claims on labels and other types of partnerships between industry and health groups. If we sense something isn’t right, it’s important to raise attention to the issue, talk about it with friends and family and demand strong public health policies from our elected officials.

WP 4/27

Meat consumption and successful masculine performance

The other day I saw a young couple in their mid-20’s sit down at a table in the cafe of the co-op. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, “You need to eat more!” a guy proclaimed in a demanding, half-joking way. He glanced down at the girls plate and smiled.  She smiled back and while I couldn’t hear her response her tone sounded sarcastic. I leaned to my left to glance over at her plate; she had a salad stacked high with a variety of veggies, and a serving of vegetarian chili on the side. The guy didn’t have that much more food on his plate, however the food he did have was heavier and richer, and he was eating meat.

This was interesting to me because I had read an article titled ‘Metrosexuality Can Stuff It: Beef Consumption as (Heteromasculine) Fortification’ literally the day prior. In the article, the author points to social scientific research on food consumption that reveals that meat consumption plays a significant role in successful masculine performance.

I thought about the look on the guys face when he said “you need to eat more!” Did he really want her to eat more? According to Burke, where it may seem ‘‘un-ladylike’’ to eat much, consuming large quantities of food seems expected from men. In western culture, consuming animal flesh, especially beef, has a long association with traditional masculinity (Burke, 261). Furthermore, research indicates that men’s eating goes largely unnoticed, whereas women often feel the social norms for proper consumption weighing down upon them (Saukko; Scott;Spitzack). Thus, it’s easy for males to tell females to eat more for that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think. Perhaps the girls sarcastic response and the fact that she seemed to take the guys comment lightly, is an indication that she’s disregarding the guys comment for she recognizes that the social norms surrounding food are different for for women and men. I don’t mean to speculate, or overanalyze this small interaction, but there’s something to be said about the expected norms surrounding eating for women. It seems every magazine, TV show, and other media outlet is screaming ladies, eat less!

The problem I have with the social logic behind presenting meat as a masculine food of choice, is that it assumes that by consuming meat men gain strength, whereas vegetables and other non-meat products provide nothing to the body in the way of substance (Burke). This is deceiving and troublesome for several reasons. One reason being, women are healthier than men and thus outlive them. We’re a strong and resilient bunch, in part because of the food choices that we make.

Burke’s article continues to explain the history behind this social logic: the cultural tradition of saving meat for men grows from beliefs about meat’s effect on the body as emboldening and empowering. Associations between men and meat seen in social behavior research and cultural critiques solidify underlying notions that men naturally hold strength and power, while women merely stand by watching.

What do you think, is this perspective insightful? Does it offer you a more critical eye as to why you might make some of the food choices you do? At the end of the day, I find it fascinating to consider how all of this is a social construction, yet the extent to which it impacts our lives (and in many cases our health) is immense.

FN 3/5

Food, Community & Identity

I was sitting in the cafe of the co-op when I noticed that in every direction I looked I saw kids and families. I was getting excited to see my own family when suddenly, I felt a jolt of elation followed by an intense feeling of sorrow. I realized in less than a month I’d be back home in Chicago, shopping at the chain supermarket that my parents go to. My first thought: I’m going to miss the co-op immensely.

The space of the co-op is unique and unlike your typical grocery store. You don’t just shop at City Market; you’re part of a community here. The shoppers, employees and volunteers work together 24-7 to support and strengthen the local economy and contribute to a more just and sustainable food system for Vermont. I love seeing the faces of people that enter City Market for the first time. Watching their jaws drop as they stare in astoundment at the bulk department or at the labeling system in the produce department. There is a sense of collective consciousness that is evident and hard to miss and elicits a sense of community, solidarity, innovation and a feeling of being part of something larger. All of the employees that i’ve talked to are passionate about their job and as a result, bring an intensity and enthusiasm to their work that I haven’t seen elsewhere. According to Craig Wilkens,

the “where” of of our sensory experience in the world have a profound influence on our ability to create individual and collective identities- to become, know and name who we are– premaritally because “space comprises the social arena in which individuals reproduce or challenge their experiential boundaries of action and interaction”.

In other words, identity is produced in and through our relation to space. I began to wonder if in some small way, my experiences at City Market had influenced my identify. If so, how?

I realized the wide-selection of Vermont made products; abundance of fresh, organic options; friendly employees and volunteers; and intimate, communal vibe at City Market truly has helped shaped my individual and collective food identity (how I interact with others in a food related context, how I relate to food itself in a co-op situation) For example, prior to shopping at the co-op I never thought I’d know the farmers who make my cheese and bread. Now that I do, I realize how comforting and reassuring this is. Being a co-op member has also allowed me to contribute to a larger collective identity that supports a local, sustainable food system. Furthermore, being a Member Worker has brought an unanticipated source of pleasure to my life and added to my self-definition. It’s introduced me to new people with a similar interests and passions (mostly for food, cooking and health) 🙂

One thing’s for sure, I will definitely miss the co-op this summer. What about you guys, how does your local grocery store, farmers market or co-op create community? If it doesn’t, why do you think this is?

FN 4/16

GMO labeling bill and public representation

There’s been a lot of heat lately surrounding GMO labeling, both nationally and locally. The Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (H.722) was introduced to the Vermont House in February. If passed, it will require mandatory labeling on all genetically engineered food. Despite overwhelming public support, and a majority (6 to 5) of Agriculture Committee members supporting passage of the bill, legislators of Vermont have put the bill on hold.

In a post titled ‘Vermont Could Be the First State in the Nation to Require GMO Labeling’, City Market shows unwavering support for H. 722 and consumers right-to-know. Though the post does not include direct quotes from members of the public, it does include them in the discussion. In the below excerpt, the general public and City Market are represented as important stakeholders in this discussion:

We all have the right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children. Yet, without information on the label, we can’t tell if our food contains GMOs unless we only buy Certified Organic products which are never allowed to contain GMO ingredients.

50 countries including the European Union, Japan and China already require labels on genetically engineered foods.

Interesting to note, is at another point in the post the public is portrayed as a separate stakeholder, specifically, separate from the experts. In a paragraph highlighting several alarming statistics about genetically engineered crops the author writes,“At the same time, scientific studies are increasingly questioning the safety of these products for our health and our environment.”

In the spirit of devil’s advocate, I’m going to argue that the above sentence privileges expert knowledge systems and as a result, undermines the knowledge of the general public. Gross (1994) argued that dominant understandings of the public’s relationship to science reflect a deficit model, where general public is considered ignorant and easily swayed by subjective biases. To make up for their deficits, the public is thought to rely on experts whose knowledge is believed to be objective and sufficient (Heiss, 2011).

While in a subtle way this sentence situates the conversation as an exchange between knowledgeable scientists and a ignorant public, I doubt it was intentional.

All in all, by emphasizing the Right to Know Campaign, the post gives authority to the public to talk about the health and environmental risks of GMO’s, thus giving the public agency in this highly important discussion.

WP 3/2

What’s being left out of the conversation on buying in bulk?

The bulk department of the co-op is a favorite for many customers, including myself. It’s a chance to save some money, save some packaging, and it’s one less trip you might potentially have to make to the store. Earlier this week I observed that there are several subtle marketing methods that affect consumption behavior. The discovery of the vested interests behind my food choices made me feel informed. When I went back to the bulk department yesterday, I was excited by my newfound knowledge. I felt in control and ready to dodge any food companies marketing attempt to get me to buy more.

Turns out,  it’s not that simple. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, would argue the opposite. His research shows that the biggest influence of food is not logic or reason, but things that we aren’t even aware of. “The size of a package, shape of a glass, the words on a menu or label, our proximity to food, and other invisible influences” are what have the greatest affect on consumption (Why we eat more than we think, Wansink).

In one study looking at how much people eat when food is stockpiled, Wansink found that for the first week people that bought in bulk ate twice as much food in comparison to those that bought in small quantities.

This suggests potentially negative consequences for buying in bulk. Wansink argues that relying on our mental resistance to control how much we eat is far less affective than changing our immediate environment. That said,  customers at the co-op that filled huge bags of granola, chocolate chips, etc. will eat more, regardless of whether or not they intended to and how much self-control they have, simply because the food is stockpiled and in their immediate environment, making us take more at any given time within the first week of purchase. On the flip side,  customers that buy in smaller quantities (i.e. boxed granola) are likely eat less than if they had bought double or triple the amount.

Here’s the trick: if you still want the perks of buying in bulk, but don’t want to eat more,  make sure to transfer food to smaller bags or storage containers once you get home from the grocery store. Then, store leftover  bulk items in the basement or hard to reach place.

Luckily, we can control certain aspects of our environment such as how and where we store our food. Given that buying in bulk is cost effective and reduces our environmental footprint, I highly reccommend it, just next time consider applying these tips!

WP 4/5

Meat n’ masculinity

I read a post by Mariane Nestle the other day titled the ethics of meat-eating: A feminist issue?.  In it, she describes the recent fuss over the all-male judging panel selected for the New York Times contest calling on “carnivores to tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat”. According to Nestle and others, the all-male panel reaffirms our cultures investment in the identification of meat eating with manliness.When Michele Simon, author of the blog Appetite for Profit, asked the paper’s Ethicist columnist Ariel Kaminer why the panel was all-male “Kaminer replied that she couldn’t find one female expert in food ethics with a fraction of the name recognition of the men. She argued that the famous male judges would bring far more attention to the contest, and in turn get more people to consider the ethics of meat eating.” Simon then goes on to suggest a list of 10 worthy women that should have been considered for the panel (Nestle being #1 on this list).

Personally, I think Nestle’s should have been considered for the panel given her background in food ethics, however, as a feminist and huge fan of her work, I acknowledge my bias. What do you think: should women be included in this panel, or is all the fuss over nothing?

On Risk

Last week after observing I helped myself to a plate of food from the hot bar of the co-op. At 4:36am the next morning I woke up with a terrible headache, intense abdominal cramps, nausea and the chills. I ran to the bathroom and proceeded to get sick for the next 5 hours.Later that night I did a little research to find that I was 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) who gets sick each year from foodborne illnesses. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year roughly 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die of foodborne diseases.

A couple days later at the co-op I found myself steer clear of the hot bar and the surrounding vicinity. When I thought of ‘hot bar’ and ‘co-op’ two things came to mind: yuck and stay away. I began to wonder why I had such a strong visceral reaction. How were issues of food safety being played out in a larger context?  How do corporations, the government and other consumers deal with issues of food safety? It seemed that everytime I was around or thought about food for the next week, risk was somehow involved.

In ‘Food, publics, science’ Gwendolyn Blue explains that the 1990s marked a turning point in the ways in which food is talked about. Where it used to be talked about in terms of nutrition and access, public attention now focuses increasingly on issues of risk, including infectious microbes, chemical toxins, new technologies, and emergent zoonotic diseases. In fact, Blue says

food as a site in which risk is negotiated

This accurately describes how I feel about the hot bar at the co-op. A site in which risk must be negotiated. In the days that followed being sick, the more I realized that it’s not just after getting food poisoning that I have to contend with risk; it’s all the time. It’s everywhere. It’s on the health labels we see in products, the advertising campaigns adopted by corporations to capitalize on our fears of food safety, literally anything relating to food and public safety likely has someone involved aiming to reduce the perception of risk.

This is fascinating. It means that whether or not I like it or even realize it, my actions as a food consumer  make me involved in forms of political engagement (Blue, 153). I am bound up in the larger context of consumer politics of food related issues just as we all are. All in all, after doing my own research on the topic of risk, I’ve realized that there’s no avoiding it, for it’s everywhere, but we can participate by voting on foods that we find safe with our dollar.

FN 3/12

Reflection

A wordcloud is an online tool that creates a virtual “cloud” of the most frequently used words from a piece of writing. You interpret it by looking at the patterns and representations of the words in the cloud to help one gauge an understanding of the prominent themes or topics discussed in the writing.

Some of the prominent themes in my wordcloud are “eat”, “food”, “health”, “community” and “people”. When you take a deeper look at how these words are illustrated in the cloud, one begins to see a complex web of connections. This represents my understanding of the relationship between food, health and media. Smaller words that are still dominant themes include “women”, “cooking”, “industry”, “products”, “organic”, “consumption”, “system” and “meat”. These represent noteworthy connections that I made to the overarching theme of food health and media. For example, “meat” is an appropriate size in my wordcloud as one of the topics I found myself revisiting on the blog is the relationship between meat consumption and gender performance and potential implications this has for food consumption and health practices. Check out this post to learn more.

My wordcloud also serves as an account as to how my understanding of the relationship between food, health and media has changed. I’ve learned to think more critically about food and health information, how it is communicated and the way this may impact behavior. I learned to utilize an interdisciplinary approach to enhance my understanding of the relationships between various fields of study. For example, the fact that “meat” and “women” are themes on my wordcloud reflects an ability to synthesize information on a variety of topics (primarily, women’s and gender studies, food, health and the environment) and apply it to my context. Through conducting participatory observations, engaging in readings, participating in discussions and conducting additional research on topics of interest, i’ve developed stronger media literacy skills which has allowed me to form my own opinions and thus, bring perspectives such as women’s and gender studies into the conversation of food, health and media.

Learning about strategic media planning played a significant role in the evolution of my blog as well. Reading about agenda setting and framing theories and how they affect the food and health coverage in the media shifted my expectations of media coverage on food and health issues. A solid grasp of these theories in relation to my context are evident in Partnerships between Food Industry and Health Groups. In this post, I highlight a study that reviewed 206 articles addressing the health effects of different beverages. Researchers found that the likelihood of a conclusion favorable to the industry was 4-fold to 8-fold higher if the study received full rather than no industry funding. Ultimately, this changed how I view partnerships between various stakeholders involved in food and public health issues such as obesity.

Food Without Thought also indicates a continually evolving understanding of these relationships for it demonstrates an ability to recognize my own assumptions and challenge them. This is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from my time spent observing, reading, and blogging. Challenging my own assumptions has allowed me to wrangle over my thoughts until I narrow them down and eventually figure out where my opinion lies on a certain issues.

Finally, Food as Medicine details my growth from learning about Grosses’ deficit model which explains how individuals are often portrayed as ignorant compared to expert systems of knowledge. According to the deficit model, the public is represented as needing someone to “help” them, hence experts with scientific degrees and a public that relies on experts to “save” them. This allowed me recognize my own bias toward expert systems of knowledge. I realized that as a result of this I often undervalued other forms of knowledge. In order to challenge my assumption/bias, I attempted to adopt an interactional framework in my participatory observations. I began talking to employees in various departments of the co-op and getting to know regular customers. While I still referred back to expert systems of knowledge in my posts, I also started including the everyday people that I talked to. Thus, I learned to value both expert and lay systems of knowledge. This is reflected in my wordcloud with words such as “knowledge” and “public”.

WP 5/8

Musings on Meat

This week at City Market I got to know the Meat & Seafood Department. When I first arrived I observed the physical attributes of the meat: bloody, raw, red, muscle and flesh. Beef, pork, chicken and lamb. Approximately five to six different cuts of pork, twenty of beef, seven of chicken and two to three of lamb. The meat was well-organized on black styrofoam plates wrapped in clear packaging with labeled stickers neatly placed on the wrapping. I thought about the lifespan of this meat: the animals were born and lived someplace,were eventually slaughtered, the meat was processed, packaged and then shelved at City Market. Undoubtably, this was an energy intensive process.

But what else did this process, and more generally meat, represent? I was curious about the cultural value that our society places on meat. What associations do we have with it?

According to Deborah Lupton in Food, the body and the self, “one powerful binary opposition which is invoked in popular and medical discourses relating to food is that between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods”. Influenced by cultural expectations and values, this notion is what allows us to assign moral meanings to food. For example, good food not only implies food that nourishes the body, but also a sense of self-control and concern for ones health; whereas bad food implies a sense of weakness or lack of control (Lupton, 28). I wondered where meat fell in the spectrum of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Turns out, meat has conflicting meanings of ‘good’ and ‘bad’  in western society. To better make sense of this binary opposition, I created a chart that outlines some of the various ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ aspects of meat.

I’ve always firmly believed that nothing is black or white; there’s always a grey area. I feel that meat is neither good or bad, but rather has aspects of both. One thing is for sure: my philosophical musings of meat have altered my experience in the space of the Meat & Seafood Department of the co-op.

FN 4/9

Fruit, Vegetables Not as Nutritious as 50 Years Ago

In today’s world, food and health related media is everywhere, but according to a commentary published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, this has not brought clarity to or improved understanding of a topic of such obvious impact. Therefore, as communicators of food-related science we must be diligent in our communication to ensure that it is effective in serving both public understanding and the objectives of the communicators.

Dr. Weil, a well-established practitioner in the field of integrative medicine, does a great job of this. In his post How Nutritious is Your Produce?, he discusses research indicating that the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and Great Britain has declined significantly over the last 50 years.

After reading Dr. Weil’s post, I decided to read the report myself. Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? highlights three types of evidence that point toward declines of nutrients in fruits and vegetables: (1) early studies of fertilization found inverse relationships between crop yield and mineral concentrations—the widely cited “dilution effect”; (2) three recent studies of historical food composition data found apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and perhaps fruits; one study also evaluated vitamins and protein with similar results; (3) recent side-by-side plantings of low-and high-yield cultivars of broccoli and grains found consistently negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein, a newly recognized genetic dilution effect.

Dr. Weil’s post appears to be credible for he represented the findings of the report accurately and in a way that is both informative and beneficial to the public and their understanding of food and health. Below I’ve highlighted why this post is an effective form of communication on food-science to the public:

  • Post includes the study’s limitations
  • Focuses on the most vital information (i.e. health implications), allowing the public to form the most useful net impression of the study’s findings
  • Includes hyperlink to the report published in the February, 2009 Journal of HortScience so that viewers can easily read the original research article.

Additional information from the report that I consider important to include are:

  • The fact that evidence for nutrient declines began to accumulate in the 1940s with observations of (environmental) dilution effects on minerals in many foods and diverse plants.
  • USDA’s data suggests that yields have increased more in vegetables than in fruits, which may help explain the findings of larger nutrient declines in vegetables.

WP 3/2