Mr. Okra – A New Orleans Icon


I met Mr. Okra by chance on my way to the Jazz Fest this past May. He is a large man with an ear-to-ear smile and a voice that must be heard to be appreciated.

Mr. Okra truck

“I have eating pears and bananas,” he cried out from a colorful truck, full of fresh produce.

Arthur J. Robinson, nicknamed, “Mr. Okra” had just sold some produce to a woman unable to leave her home. His paid helper, a much younger and spry man jumped out of the Mr. Okra truck and delivered food to the woman with a smile.

This is how Mr. Okra has been selling his produce, including okra, from his colorful truck for decades, There’s even a short film by The Nom de Guerre filmmakers called, “Mr. Okra” (watch here) that tells his colorful story.

As he rides slowly down the streets of New Orleans, he announces by almost singing in a cadence all his own, the produce he has to sell; “I have oranges and bananas, I have eatin’ apples, I have cantaloupe, I have the mango, I have tangerine, I have garlic green, I have pinapple, I have merliton….”

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton)

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton) is a unique vegetable grown mostly in the deep south and was a backyard staple in South Louisiana. Virtually unknown anywhere else, this vegetable originally comes from South America and is now grown in many warm weather climates. Unfortunately, heirloom mirlitons were nearly wiped out by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.

Each morning begins with loading up his hand-painted pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and slowly driving through the neighborhoods of Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward. His Cajun cadence is melodic, bellowing from the speakers mounted atop his truck and drawing people from out of their homes to buy what items he has available that day.

The Peoples Grocery in Oakland, California started out by doing much the same thing, by bringing the food to people living in poor neighborhoods. Most of them can not afford to get to a supermarket where a variety of fruits and vegetables is available.

Instead, these neighborhoods are caught in a cycle of purchasing low nutrient foods, high in sodium, fats and sugars (See: ANDI – Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) . All of these communities in West Oakland, Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward have one thing in common; they live in, what is now referred to as, “food deserts“.

Dr. Bob and Mr. Okra in new 2006 Ford f150.

Mr. Okra serves these communities by giving them access to nutrient rich foods. He does this with a style and flair uniquely his own. By delivering his goods fresh to the people most in need, he has become a highly visible icon and local hero.

In late 2009 the Mr. Okra truck, painted by Dr. Bob, started having engine problems. When this news got out, a group consisting of Tom Thayer of DBA, Nom De Guerre filmmakers, Ronnie Lamarque and his crew at Lamarque Ford, the Mayor’s office, River Parish Disposal, and hundreds of concerned customers, friends, and proponents of Nola culture came together to help.

On May 20, 2010 a benefit concert to buy him a new truck was held at dba on Frenchman Street. Bands including Morning 40 Federation and the Happy Talk Band played in support of the new truck, and Morning 40 had the distinction of being painted on the truck by beloved New Orleans artist Dr. Bob.

Short film, "Mr. Okra" by Nom De Guerre Films.

In true sustainable fashion, some local museums are interested in buying the old truck and extending its usefulness for years to come.

Mr. Okra is a living reminder of a bygone era in the early 1800s, where people would sing, dance, and play drums in accordance with their African traditions in Congo Square, in what is known today as the French Quarter.  Vendors filled the streets of New Orleans and Congo Square, chanting their offerings such as coffee and calas.

Today, if you’re in New Orleans and hear the sing song voice call out, “I have eatin’ apples, I have merliton…”, run and get your fresh fruits and vegetables from a living legend who continues to build community and improve the health and wellness of people in New Orleans.

To support the maintenance and upkeep on Mr. Okra’s truck, please go to: http://nomdeguerre.tv/foundation.html.

Resources:

Video of Mr. Okra
Merliton History
The Peoples Grocery
Supporting Local Food Culture

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Education You Can Eat


The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...

Leader of the Slow Food Movement, Alice Waters.

Forty years ago in Berkeley, Alice Waters started her restaurant Chez Panisse and brought rise to what is now the Slow Food Movement.

Today, Executive Director Nikki Henderson and author Michael Pollan are collaborating with The Chez Panisse Foundation to offer the first Edible Education course and lecture series at UC Berkeley Extension in the Fall of 2011.

She was inspired by her experience in France at age 18, “where food was woven into everyday life”, she explains. They ate what was in season and everything was fresh. If tomatoes weren’t available, they used what was.

This coursework will build on her Edible Schoolyard Program that’s been teaching children about growing and eating food for the past 16 years. “If they are involved with growing the food, then they will eat it – all of it.”

The Edible Education series examines multiple aspects of the food movement from the perspectives of experts in the field, including Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser.

Enrollment in the course is closed but, keep tuned to the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s website for upcoming classes.

Resources:

Video of Alice Waters speaking about her inspirational experiences in France.

Caramelized Onion and Gouda Bread


Two of my favorite flavors combine to make this bread so delicious, it’s dangerous. Warning: Do not bake this bread around gluten-free friends!

The savory aroma of onions and cheese will waft from your kitchen with this delicious recipe. Don’t count on having leftovers. You’ll see why when it hits the table and disappears in front of your eyes!

INGREDIENTS:

Caramelized onion and gouda cheese bread.

3/4 Cup Milk or Substitute Almond or Rice
1/2 Cup Filtered Water
1 Egg
4 TBS Softened Butter or Olive Oil
1-1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose White Flour
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 TBS Raw Cane Sugar
1 Large Onion
2 Cups Grated Gouda Cheese
3 tsp Quick-Rise Yeast

Prepare by chopping the onion and sauteing with 2 tbs olive oil over medium high heat for one minute or until translucent. Then reduce heat to low and caramelize. This will take 15 – 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, sugar and yeast. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water and cubed butter to 120-130 degrees. Add to dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Add egg; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until a uniform ball of dough is formed. Then add 1/3 of caramelized onions to dough and knead to incorporate (about 1 minute). Repeat until all of the onion is kneaded into dough and add one cup of grated cheese – about 5-6 minutes total.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

If making loaves, divide dough in half. Shape each into a long rope. Place ropes on baking sheet (I like to spread sesame seeds between the sheet and the bread to keep it from sticking). Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 25 minutes.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. Immediately sprinkle remaining cheese on loaves and watch it melt.

A Call To Farms – Why America Needs A New Victory Garden Movement


WWII-era U.S. War Garden poster

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, accounted for the production of nearly 40 percent of the nation’s produce at its peak in 1943.  Vegetable, fruit and herb gardens were planted at private residences and public parks in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply and build morale. The U.S. government considered this effort a matter of national security. So, what has changed in the past 50 plus years?

Today, home and community gardeners grow only a fraction of what our parents and grandparents grew during the War. Meanwhile, agribusiness has grown out of control. Monsanto, who holds patents on about 80% of all genetically modified seeds, sues small farmers when their fields are contaminated with the patented seed. (see Rodney Nelson’s family farm) Monsanto spent almost $9 million lobbying Washington lawmakers during 2009, an off-election year for national politics.

The U.S. government gives millions of dollars every year, in the form of farm subsidies, to multinational conglomerates who grow monoculture crops like corn. Most of this corn is not even edible and is used solely to make high fructose corn syrup and fillers for highly processed, low ANDI scoring foods. These government subsidies make foods with high sugar content very cheap, according Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, referring to the most prevalent sweetener: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

The politics of food has become a global phenomenon, with nations like China purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of Brazilian farmland to feed its growing population. Food prices have soared around the world in recent years pushing many impoverished peoples to the brink of starvation. While most of us in the U.S. have been spared this type of shock, nearly all of us have felt the squeeze on our food budgets. If this trend is to be reversed, a different system of food production is needed.

What we need is a brand new Victory Garden Movement.

National Security Is Food Security

Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on apartment-building rooftops, all in support of the war effort to protect our national security. Vacant lots were actually “commandeered for the war effort” and were utilized to grow whatever was needed. During World War II, sections of lawn were publicly plowed for plots in Hyde Park, London to publicize the movement. In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Today however, we are facing a new threat – not only to our national security, but to our food security. In 1870, 70-80 percent of the US population was employed in agriculture. As of 2008, that number has dwindled to approximately 2-3 percent of the population.

The cultural heritage of growing of food has been systematically hijacked from the American people over the past 60 years. In response to this shift, the urban farming movement in the U.S. and around the world has taken off. This movement is the result of many factors, food security being only one of them.

A distributed system is a resilient system. DARPA (the project that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Internet) was originally created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik during 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology ahead of the Soviets. The World Wide Web therefore was designed not from a small number of large supercomputers, which would be vulnerable to attack, but a distributed model with thousands of servers located all over the United States.

Urban farms, community and backyard vegetable gardens, represent this same systems model. By having tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of small urban farms located in communities all over the U.S., we can be resilient and practice sustainable agriculture on a small scale. Price spikes will be cushioned by those who, not only grow their own food, but share, barter, trade and sell to one another.

Corrine Asturias' front yard vegetable garden produces an overabundance and shares the surplus with her neighbors.

Community

The intrinsic nature of farming in an urban or suburban setting creates opportunities for community interaction. When one family replaces their front lawn with a series of raised beds, it has a ripple effect. People peer over their neighbors’ fences and are intrigued. Some even get inspired and start their own vegetable gardens or mini urban farms.

These interactions are only the beginning of the benefits to the community. For example, the Marin Open Garden Project encourages backyard gardeners to bring the excess from your garden to exchange with other gardeners every Saturday in San Anselmo.

Jobs

Urban farming offers the promise of safe jobs that are local and sustainable to the millions of unemployed. Many of them are struggling to pay their mortgages and feel trapped to look for work within commute distance. Putting people back to work in urban farming jobs could be a boon to our economy and put millions of Americans back to work – work that is necessary, healthy and safe.

Unlike conventional large-scale farming, organic urban farming is small scale (even micro-scale), uses no heavy equipment, toxic pesticides or herbicides. Conventional agriculture is among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.

Sustainability

Growing food close to where it will be prepared and consumed exemplifies the path to sustainability. The savings in fuel from not having to transport food from long distances is a compelling reason alone. Add to that, the energy needed to refrigerate and store perishables, and we’re talking significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Nutrition

Produce begins to loose nutritional value immediately after harvest. When food is grown close to home, the time between harvest and consumption is often reduced to mere hours rather than days or weeks. This maximizes the nutritional benefit.

There is also an unquantifiable value to growing your own vegetables or knowing the people who do. You feel connected to your community in a real way and often wind up eating a more healthy diet, while wasting less of this precious resource.

“I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Physical Activity

The modern lifestyle is one of convenience and reduced physical effort.

Our forefathers were far more physical than the average American is today. Thomas Jefferson, for one, worked long hours on his own personal farm at Monticello and considered himself to be “a man of the land”. He was an avid farmer and is considered to be one of America’s early agronomists.

Vegetable gardening and urban farming is a wonderful way for people of all ages and abilities to get daily exercise, sunshine and fresh air. Modern growing techniques allow us to grow far more produce in a smaller space and with much less effort than before.

People of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from just a short time spent in the garden. “I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Flint River Farm in Flint, Michigan, the city’s largest urban farm.

Conclusion

The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the last vestige of the original Victory Gardens from World War II.

Fortunately, there is a sea change on the horizon. Places like Flint, Michigan and Detroit are experiencing a Renaissance in the urban farming movement.  Michelle Obama’s digging up the front lawn of the White House to plant a Victory Garden of her own is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt’s own Victory Garden as first lady.

Our nation is ready for a new approach to growing our own food. History is again our great teacher, as we rediscover the ways our ancestors worked the land, sustainably and for the betterment of society.

Superfoods At A Glance


Here is a brief list of the most talked about superfoods available today.

Açai bowl with granola and bananas

Açai (ah-sah-ee)
Açai is known as the “King of Superfoods” because it is low in calories, but high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Açai contains substantial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

You can enjoy açai like they do in Rio de Janeiro by having the frozen pulp of the fruit served with sliced bananas and granola, as it is shown here. This makes  a wonderful desert, quite like like a sorbet. You can also find this superfruit in powder or pill form.

Camu Camu Berry

Camu Camu is best known for its Vitamin C content (30 to 60 times more naturally occurring Vitamin C than oranges) plus many of the minerals needed to aid in vitamin C absorption.

The camu camu berry is also an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, the amino acids serine, valine and leucine, as well as small amounts of the vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). Camu camu also contains high levels of anthocyanins (a powerful antioxidant).

Camu Camu berries

Camu Camu has a long history as a key folk medicine by people living in the Amazon. Recently,  Camu Camu has been marketed as a nutritional supplement claiming to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support for infertility, herpes, gum disease, infections, connective tissue and even depression. However, there is very little science supporting the nutritional claims. The berry is exported around the world with Japan being a major consumer.

Despite Camu Camu’s impressive vitamin C content, the fruit is extremely acidic, and the flavor can be masked by adding small amounts to smoothies diluting with milk, water and adding a sugar substitute like honey or agave nectar.

Camu Camu is 4-5 times more expensive as compared to other sources of comparable fruit pulps and even concentrates containing high levels of vitamin C.

The camu camu tree can live several decades and be cultivated to produce as much as a ton of fruit per acre. However, the over-harvesting of wild Camu Camu threatens to make it an endangered species. Efforts are underway to encourage the commercially sustainable growing of Camu Camu in the Amazon River Basin.

Dulse (Ocean Vegetable)

Dulse, edible algae

Dried Dulse - an edible ocean vegetable

Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a red algae seaweed or sea vegetable with fan-shaped fronds that grows from the moderate to frigid zones of the North Atlantic and Pacific. It has been harvested as a source of food for thousands of years, and continues to be popular in Northern Ireland, Iceland, and parts of Canada.

Dulse is a good source of iron, manganese and iodine. It also contains all trace minerals (or micronutrients) needed by humans, and a comparatively large amount of protein. It also has a high fiber content.

Dulse makes a great addition to salads, soups,tomato and fruit juices, and as a nutritious salt substitute.

Hemp Seed

Organic Hemp Seeds

Hulled Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters.

About 30-35% of the weight of hempseed is hemp oil, an edible oil that contains about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs). Hempseed also contains about 20% of a highly-digestible protein. Its amino acid profile is close to “complete” when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy.

Hempseed is an adequate source of calcium and iron. Whole, toasted hempseeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese.

I like to use hempseed in my bread recipes to add protein and a rich nutty taste. Best of all, hempseed contains no gluten, so it’s great for those who are gluten intolerant.

Chia Seeds

Organic Chia Seeds

The mighty chia seed is a powerhouse food, high in protein, fiber and the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc.

Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. It has a long history, cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans in pre-Columbian times. It was a staple to their diets, and the diets of their warriors.

Enjoy chia seeds sprinkled over your favorite muesli, in smoothies, on yogurt, in energy bars, or healthy salad. If you soak the chia in water for 30 minutes, they absorb 10-12 times their weight, and turn to a gel because of their high level of soluble fiber. Unlike flax seeds, they can be enjoyed as is, since they don’t need to be finely ground to be utilized by the body.

Chia is 16% protein, 31 % fat, and 44% carbohydrate of which 38% is fiber. Most of its fat is the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007).

Maca
Maca is the powdered root of the Lepidium Meyenii plant. Known for its ability to support healthy energy levels, maca has been used by the Incas as a kind of “Incan superfood” for thousands of years and was a central part of the Incan diet when they built Macchu Picchu.

This powerful superfood is packed with 18 amino acids, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium and minute amounts of trace minerals essential for healthy cell functioning (copper, zinc, manganese, iron, selenium, boron). Maca also contains vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, D3 and P.

You can spoon the powder into smoothies or over cereal. A little goes a long way. 1/4 to 1 teaspoon per day is an average daily amount.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate
Pomegranates are a source of polyphenols, which help the body rid itself of cancer-causing agents; tannins, which lower blood pressure and stimulate the immune system; and anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and protect blood vessels.

The fruit is rich in vitamins A, C and E, and in iron, which helps the blood maintain an effective supply of oxygen to the body. It is a good source of iron for pregnant women.

Goji Berries

The berries actually have a unique component called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. This substance actually has a similar structure  to substances found in Echinacea and maitake mushroom, both are known herbs for their immune system  boosting ability. According to research, the compounds found in Goji berries enhance our body’s ability to resist a disease.

Goji Berry Plant

Moreover, each berry is a rich source of vitamin C and zinc, both are powerful protection from diseases and assist our body for recovery. A previous study from Case Western Reserve University has results that show the ability of zinc to shorten the length and severity of cold.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a single-celled, spiral-shaped blue green microalgae grown in tropical salt lakes. Being one of the oldest organisms on the planet, spirulina is anywhere from 62-71% essential amino acids. It also contains beta carotene (ten times more concentrated than that of carrots), along with other carotenoids.

It also contains chlorophyll, GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid), and vitamin B12.  B12 is important for healthy tissues, energy, and nerves, especially for strict vegetarians.

As a super concentrated source of chlorophyll, spirulina also cleans the blood while alkalizing the body. Containing a full spectrum of bio available minerals, spirulina is rich in Magnesium and Iron, two minerals lacking in the average diet and responsible for many imbalances. Spirulina ranks second to mother’s milk in concentration of natural gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

The phytonutrient in spirulina that gives it the striking blue green color is phycocyanin. In animal studies, it is showing great promise in the stimulation of the production of stem cells in bone marrow. These stem cells will mature into red blood cells and white blood cells.

Largest spirulina farm in the world.

Spirulina has promise at being a high protein food source that can be grown sustainably to provide valuable nutrient rich food to the under-served populations of the world.

Oils are not typically thought of as a superfood but, because our brains are nearly two thirds fat. We need fat for healthy functioning brains as well as cells, connective tissues and a whole host of bio-chemical processes. Here’s a quick rundown on the good and not so good sources of oils.

Olive Oil
Organic olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, and is considered a good fatty acid (high density lipoproteins, HDLs) protect against bad cholesterol, or low density lipoproteins (LDLs).

Delicious organic olive oil contains all the vitamins and nutrients of the olive fruit, and if you get a premium organic olive oil, it will taste better and have a full aroma.

Organic olive oil is also filled with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that may protect you against illnesses. Studies have shown that organic olive oil can help:
  • Protect You from Heart Disease [1]
  • Promote Healthy Digestion [2]
  • Ease the Symptoms of Ulcers & Gastritis [3] [4]
  • Lower Gallstone Formation [5]
  • Balance the Fatty Acids in Your Body

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap when decades old health studies characterized the oil as hydrogenated. Some foods did contain the hydrogenated form of the oil and the media proclaimed coconut an “unhealthy fat”. Actually, it contains absolutely no trans fats in its pure form, but contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). The food industry instead promoted polyunsaturated fats (such as canola, soybean, safflower and corn), which easily go rancid when exposed to oxygen and produce harmful free radicals in our bodies.

In Polynesian culture, coconut oil has been used as a traditional food since ancient times, and they have among the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

Coconut Oil Benefits:

  • Promotes weight loss and helps maintain healthy body weight
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Supports thyroid function
  • Increases metabolism and energy
  • Prevents bacterial, viral, and fungal infections
  • Helps control diabetes and chronic fatigue
  • Improves digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease and IBS
  • Protects against alcohol damage to the liver
  • Rejuvenates skin and prevents wrinkles

Make sure to buy organic, unrefined, unbleached  and undeodorized coconut oil. Even if the label reads “cold-pressed”, it has still  been fermented or heated to remove water, and in the process will lose the natural vitamin E and tocopherols needed for stability and protection against rancidity.

And be sure to stay away from Canola oil – this is toxic!

The New Era of Food Politics


Food for Life distributes food on an internati...

Food for Life distributes food on an international level.

Most of us have heard a great deal about food lately.

Michael Pollan‘s book Omnivore’s Dilemma caused the agribusiness conglomerates to refer to the millions of his fans as having been, “Pollan-ated”. Food Inc. grossed over $4 million worldwide and was nominated for an Oscar, making it one of the highest viewed documentaries of all time. And recently Michelle Obama just announced the USDA’s program to educate us about proper nutrition by replacing the decades old Food Pyramid.

Multiple factors are fueling this focus on food and nutrition;

  1. Health Care today is eroding American‘s ability to pay for their own health insurance
  2. Food security is breaking down with numerous outbreaks of federal recalls of meat and produce
  3. Increased information about antioxidants and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables
  4. Food prices have soared worldwide, powering a surge in urban farming
  5. The aging Babby-Boomers are demanding better nutrition through food and food supplements

Millions of Americans are now more concerned than ever about what goes in their bodies. Many different definitions have been used to describe people’s choices of what they eat. Vegetarian refers to those who do not eat meat or anything with eyes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians add milk products and eggs to their diets.

Mycena Interrupta is one of many organisms that belong to detritivores.

Unfamiliar to most are the lesser known terms such as “vegcurious”, referring to those that do not identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian but are curious about reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diet. “Flexitarians”are people who occasionally eat meat, fish and dairy, but stick to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle.

There are also “pescetarians”, who eat fish and seafood to supplement their vegetarian diet. Then there are the “freegans,” who eat only free food, particularly food about to be tossed in the dumpster. This group is out to make a political statement while acting as the human equivalent of the detritivore.

Whatever group you fall into, there is one overwhelming conclusion – we are becoming aware not only of the personal benefits to a more healthy diet, but of the impact our decisions about food have on our planet. We are approaching a time of awakening for human kind (akin to the Age of Enlightenment) where we take a fresh look at the effects of all food related systems that affect our health and our environment.

World Population Chart

This new perspective will be a critical element to our ability to create sustainable agricultural systems that build economic stability, improve quality of agricultural lands and insure the viability of a world population that is on track to reach 10 billion by the year 2040.

Indigenous Cultures Rediscover Sustainable Farming Practices


In writing “Hope’s Edge“, Frances Moore Lappé and Anne Lappé traveled to India, Bangladesh, Brasil, Poland, England, France, and the California Bay Area to look at the different ways food is grown and distributed. What they discovered about the systems of food production in places like Belo Horizonte, Brasil and Andhra Pradesh, India are inspiring and surprising.

“Hunger is caused by a scarcity of democracy, not a scarcity of food.”

– Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé

What is Belo Horizonte doing that every city in the world should do? They took the challenge of poverty and hunger that was afflicting their city head on.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil - Population 5.4 million

In so doing, they realized that access to nutritious, healthy food was a basic right and, as a group of elected officials, they had a responsibility to the people of Belo Horizonte to make sure the market worked for them, in providing access to healthy, local and organic food. Out of this realization, a strong social movement to transform their food system took hold.

Seven years after this shift in consciousness, dozens of innovative projects emerged.  They looked at where government money was being spent and where new initiatives could better serve the people.

One of the projects that came out of this initiative was a fresh look at how the school food program was being run.

Belo Horizonte’s School Lunch Program Goes Sustainable

The City realized that they were spending significant amounts of money to purchase government processed food that was not very nutritious and needed to be trucked in from long distances. They said why don’t we support our local farms and in doing so, provide local, organic produce that is nutritious and supports local, organic farmers. The goals were to;

  • Supply healthier food to children
  • Support local organic farmers
  • Support regional economy
  • Become more self-reliant

Fast food companies were advertising in schools in an effort to influence the buying habits of young children. So, they launched a public education program to inform and educate children on what foods are healthy and nutritious.

The Results Speak For Themselves

After 7 years and spending 1% of the city’s budget (equivalent to 1 penny per person per day), they have dramatically improved basic childhood health indicators. The result has been decreased hunger overall and has lowered child mortality rates by 60% in the span of only 10 years.

Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India

Even in New York, food deserts do exist. New York City has just launched ‘Green Carts‘ to mitigate this urban phenomena. Small carts are filled with fresh produce and delivered into areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is non-existent.

The Thinking Around ‘Food Scarcity’ Needs To Change

People often cite that those most in need cannot concern themselves with eating local organic foods when they are faced with just putting food on the table. The claim has been that the organic food movement has been elitist and ruled by the ‘global north’.

Ms. Lappé counters by saying that what is elitist, is the current food production model because it excludes the many to favor the few. The global north is not where the only shifts are taking place in the effort to regain our agricultural heritage. Some of the poorest regions in the world are showing that a return to indigenous farming practices are yielding impressive results.

Leaders in Global Sustainable Farming Movement

The women living in villages of the Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India are becoming leaders in the “global movement” toward sustainable agricultural practices. They have rejected the disaster resulting from local farmers growing GM (genetically modified) seeds supplied to them from Monsanto. GM seeds need to be purchased from Monsanto after each harvest often causing the farmers to go in debt. Using non-regenerative seeds them has only brought devastating crop failures, resulting in farmers that are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

The local farmers are now going back to the indigenous practices of their ancestors, by teaching each other the ritual of seed sharing, diverse cropping methods and creating their own safety nets for their village in times of drought. They are even filming this whole process and sharing it with the world.

Balwadi grain contribution

One village seed-keeper showed samples of the 25-30 varieties of seeds (no wheat or rice) that she cares for and grows on about one hectare of land. The basic staple crops are a diversity of millets and sorghums. Millet seeds are tiny, but they do well in the dry Deccan plateau.  All had their value for both food and cattle fodder and together provided a balanced diet. As a seed-keeper, she does not own the seeds, and others in the village ‘borrow’ seeds from her, returning 1.5 to 2 times the quantity of seeds borrowed after harvest. Thus, the village stock of seeds grows and diversifies.

People in this region are some of the poorest in the world and they are in leadership roles within the sustainable food movement. The key is rebuilding food production systems that are not reliant upon synthetic fertilizers, which use huge amounts of fossil fuels and natural gas to produce. Changing to a more sustainable system of growing crops will reduce the impact to the poorest regions of the world, that are most affected by climate change.

Farming in Ethiopia Undergoes Ground Breaking Shift

Women of the Deccan Plateau, India filming indigenous seed-saving practices

Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia are also turning back to the native crops that are indigenous to the region. Historically, these indigenous plants have survived countless droughts while providing subsistence farmers a reliable livelihood.

The sustainable practices in the most drought prone regions in Ethiopia are having dramatic increases on crop yields using techniques that are affordable and safe. These farmers can’t afford to buy seeds that will put them in debt. Organic and sustainable farming practices mean the farmers are not reliant on chemical fertilizers, which are costly and deplete the soil of their organic matter over time.

Plant Resilience Means Human Resilience

When people begin to have the capacity to feed themselves from the land, to not be in debt to the corporations and to do it in a sustainable way, they build confidence in themselves.  Then, with this new-found self-reliance, they begin to experiment with crops, well-suited to their particular soil and weather pattern. They begin to break away from the dogma of conventional agriculture sold to them by the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world.

To survive in the 21st century, these farming communities need to adapt to a constantly changing climate pattern due to global warming. They can do this without GMOs and interference from agribusiness. Farmers that grow drought resilient crops native to their land, are themselves, becoming more resilient to an ever changing and unpredictable climate future.

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