Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's On Your Plate?

I just had the chance to watch What's On Your Plate? ("the documentary film about kids and food politics..."), a film narrated by 2 middle schoolers in NYC that puts the issue of our un-sustainable food system into simple language.

This movie takes you through the thought process of the two girls in their investigation of where their food comes from. They are befuddled by the fact that New York grows many, many varieties of food - yet much of the food that we eat is shipped here from the ends of the earth. Some of us call this our "foodprint" - the carbon footprint resulting from the process of getting food from where it grows, to the plates we eat it on. In a sustainable food system, this foodprint could be quite small - such as when you buy your produce from local farmers markets and the only energy that's used is the truck that brought it on a 2-hour drive. But much of the food that people eat comes by way of a long process of food manufacturing. The food gets shipped from far-away lands and goes to a processing facility, where it is sliced and diced (if grains, they oftentimes get refined, whereby all the good nutrients are taken out), and added into a complex of other food extracts. This new concoction has preservatives added to it, stored in individually wrapped disposable containers, and shipped yet again to warehouses and grocery stores. Think you're doing better by buying that apple from the neighborhood grocery store? But wait, my gut feeling is that it is either an organic apple shipped from the other side of the country, or it's one of those genetically modified versions and has also been doused in chemicals (in which case you should wash it with Veggie Wash).

Fortunately, the NYC Foodprint Alliance (spearheaded by a friend of mine at Just Food) is working hard to get the City Council to adopt a resolution for FoodprintNYC, which would incorporate the issue of sustainable food into the City's PlaNYC (which aims to reduce the City's greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030). (The original PlaNYC left out the topic of food! Even though livestock operations emit 18% of total greenhouse gases, but plant-based foods contribute significantly less to global warming.) Councilmember DeBlasio introduced the Resolution at a press conference outside City Hall, supported by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

And of course, the issue of place mattering - the existence of food deserts and redlining of neighborhoods so that fast food chains are incentivized to open up in low income neighborhoods - is addressed. Why is unhealthy food so much more accessible and so cheap? And why are people bombarded with advertisements for these unhealthy foods - sometimes even trying to market them as actually being healthy?? For the food industry to make money, of course. They don't care about your health. If they did, they would tell you to buy local, whole foods from your neighborhood farmers markets. That's the farthest thing from their agenda. And the public health community gets a measley 5% of all healthcare dollars to spend on advertising vegetables and fruits - a fraction of a fraction of what one food industry player spends on marketing its chips.

Going back to the social determinants of health - bodegas are a primary source of food for many people in low-income neighborhoods. But bodegas don't have the capacity to sell many vegetables and fruits. They don't have the right refrigeration - nor enough money to get it - and far too often are drawn by the monetary incentives offered by the junk food and cigarette industries to put unhealthy ads in the windows.

Fortunately, NYC is beginning to provide loans to people to open up supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods.
The girls in the film learned about it all, though. They even took a trip to go visit Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a champion of healthy food in NYC (I've reposted some of the things he's done under the "Documents" section of the Bronx Health REACH blog). They also mapped out and visited farmers markets (such as Greenmarkets sponsored by the Council on the Environment of New York City, and Harvest Home Farmers Markets) and learned about CSA's or Community Supported Agriculture (such as one through East New York Farms).

In the process of learning about and trying all these healthy foods - derived straight from the ground - the girls' health improved! Something we can all learn a little more about...

What a wonderful story, you say, great. But no, this isn't enough. We need to get every child in the NYC school system to see this movie and start to think about where their food comes from. We need to get parents to see it, so they can support their children's desires for healthy eating habits. But most importantly, we need to get legislators to see it, if it means the possibility of allotting more money to school food so better school food can be served. Because right now, many kids aren't eating the hot lunch that's served at school. It's not as good as it can be, and as a result, kids wind up throwing it out, or buying junk from vending machines that shouldn't even be allowed on during the school day, or bringing junk in from their corner bodegas.

But in the meantime, parents can urge their school principals to partake in the in-class breakfast program, which is one way to ensure all children in a school get at least one healthy meal of the day. Eating breakfast has been shown to improve academic achievement and reduce nurse visits and absenteeism, too. Here is a note from the NYC Nutrition Education Network:

No one should start the day without a healthy breakfast. During these difficult economic times, it’s hard to serve your family 3 balanced meals a day. There is a NYC program to provide in NYC schools that can help. The school breakfast program is available to all students and a new component of the program even delivers meals to students right in their classrooms before they begin their day. It has been shown that children perform better academically and make fewer visits to the school nurse when they have breakfast. The NYC Department of Education and city officials, including City Council and borough presidents, fully support the “breakfast in the classroom” program and are urging more schools to participate in the program.. If you are a parent of a school-aged child, encourage the principal of your child’s school to start this program in September 2009. We are the New York City Nutrition Education Network, an organization of nutrition education professionals - Believe us; it will make a difference for your child!

Another thing you could do is support the NYC Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (HR 1324/S. 934). Congress will be voting on this legislation within the next few months, which is an opportunity that comes around once every five years. The last time this bill was voted on, money was allotted for the program, but it was never mandated and therefore never distributed. We ask now that you contact your legislators and let them know how important it is to make this a priority. Below are some facts compiled by the NYC Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization:

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is important to New York City

What is this Bill?
Later this year the federal government will reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act (CNA). This legislation sets rules and funding levels for the major school-based nutrition programs, including the School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Summer Food Service Program, and other important federal food programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants and children (WIC).

Why is this bill important?
This is a once in five year opportunity. The 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act can help us accomplish the following goals: achieve the Obama Administration’s goal of ending child hunger and food insecurity; ensure a generation of healthy, productive, nutritionally-aware children; reduce energy use and pollution; create jobs; and stimulate economic activity.

What are we doing to influence this bill?
Groups in New York City representing varying interests have formed an alliance to advocate for changes to the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We’ve established a consensus statement of priorities for NYC in CNR, and a cohesive strategy to deliver our shared message reflected in this statement to policy makers, the public, and other relevant parties identified. This alliance brings together various groups that haven’t historically come together to advocate for changes and improvements to CNR.

Nationwide, groups such as anti-hunger, nutrition and public health, food service and industry, community food security groups and others are advocating for specific priorities in the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. These groups have long recognized the importance of this legislation to their constituencies and have a history of advocacy in this arena. Today, as we recognize the systemic nature of our social problems and realize that they can better be addressed working together, groups are coalescing across boundaries of interest to shape how this legislation will affect us all. Diverse groups in other cities – including Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and LA – are organizing now to develop their collective priorities for CNR. With the largest school district in the nation and large number WIC and CACFP participants, NYC can be a very strong and influential voice for positive change within the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Especially in this time of fiscal crisis, increased hunger, and concern for children’s health, we must take this opportunity to ask for increased federal funding and improvements to programs that benefit New Yorkers.

NYC Alliance for CNR: Priorities for the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Specific goals
Overall, the Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act must:
1) Make significant progress towards the goal of ending child hunger and food insecurity in America by 2015;
2) Ensure that all children have access to high quality, nutritious foods, local whenever possible, in their schools and through other child nutrition programs;
3) Reduce obesity and diet-related diseases and ensure productive, healthy generations; and
4) Support and expand regional farm and food economies, increasing jobs, enhancing infrastructure, and reducing unsustainable environmental impact .

Summary of the Three Key Strategies to Achieve Those Goals
1. Make federal child nutrition programs universal and more nutritious while reducing their administrative paperwork and bureaucracy.
2. Give programs more resources and technical assistance to serve all children with nutritious food, local whenever possible, produced in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.
3. Make nutrition education available to all children and caregivers through child nutrition programs.

You can sign on to this bill as a supporter here. (Please only sign if you're a New York or NYC resident.)

I know that was a lot to swallow - I'll stop now. But please do what you can - tell your schools you want to see a healthy school environment, get involved in your school's Wellness Council (or start one if there isn't one!), make sure to give your kids healthy meals and teach them the importance of healthy foods. Talk to your principals and tell them to show "What's On Your Plate?" and implement the curriculum that's being put together in conjunction with the movie. Talk to your legislators to tell them how important it is to invest in school meals and vote for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Another thing you could do is host an Eat-In through Slow Food USA's Time for Lunch campaign, and invite your legislators. Oh, and read The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller, MD (here's a great article about it in Today's Dietitian).

This goes for everyone else that's not in NYC, too. Just adapt my suggestions to your own town or city. And visit FoodprintUSA to get your city involved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kelly Moltzen has invited you to join Kiva!


I just made a loan to someone in Nigeria using a revolutionary new website called Kiva (

You can go to Kiva's website and lend to someone across the globe who needs a loan for their business - like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent - and you get updates letting you know how the entrepreneur is going.

The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays back their loan you get your money back - and Kiva's loans are managed by microfinance institutions on the ground who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

I just made a loan to an entrepreneur named Ogbonna Edith in Nigeria. They still need another $625.00 to complete their loan request of $975.00 (you can loan as little as $25.00!). Help me get this entrepreneur off the ground by clicking on the link below to make a loan to Ogbonna Edith too:

It's finally easy to actually do something about poverty - using Kiva I know exactly who my money is loaned to and what they're using it for. And most of all, I know that I'm helping them build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

Join me in changing the world - one loan at a time.



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Check it out!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The state of the US Healthcare system

Today I went to a town hall meeting at the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club with Northwest Bronx for Change, where there was a forum on health care reform. The key speaker was none other than Tim Foley, the healthcare blogger for His speech was practically clearer than my entire Health and Medical Care class last semester. Here's what he said:

There are two Senate committees that work on healthcare reform: the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP) (that Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd are on), and the Senate Finance Committee (chaired by Max Baucus, and Chuck Schumer is on this committee). In the House, there is the “tri” committee, which Rep. Rengel is on. The bills are making their way through Congress right now and they will be voting on healthcare reform in the next four weeks. Rep. Eliot Engel is on the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is also on the Energy & Commerce Committee, Healthcare Subcommittee. He is the senior one out of only two New Yorkers on the committee.

The US spends more than any other country in the world on healthcare – $2.4 trillion – which works out to $800,000/person. Yet our healthcare system is only ranked 37th in the world according to the World Health Organization (2002 report)! This is in comparison to the next highest spender on healthcare – Switzerland – which spends a mere $4500/person. Mind you, they cover all their citizens. People say the US shouldn’t ration its healthcare the way many more socially minded Europeans do, because they don’t want to wait on a line. But at least their citizens are on the line! In the US, healthcare is rationed too – people just don’t talk about it. There are people who unfairly aren’t even allowed onto the line, the way our system is now. The uninsured, the underinsured without jobs, the homeless. Those that have minimum wage jobs that cannot afford better healthcare, and the ones who get laid off from work and subsequently can't afford insurance anymore. They should at least be given the option to “get on the line,” right? If the ability to take care of your health is a universal right.

There are 50 million people without insurance in the US. This does not count the underinsured, which is another 25-30 million people. And 62% of personal bankruptcies involve personal debt. In many of these situations, the people had insurance at the time they spent the last of their life savings on medical costs.

Back in the fall, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton advocated for giving us a choice in healthcare insurance: if you like your current private insurance, you could keep it, but if you want to, you should be able to have an option for public insurance. The public plan would be better at controlling costs. Private insurance spends 20-30% of its money on administrative costs, while Medicare only spends 3%. This is because Medicare, being a public option, only wants to make people healthier and doesn’t get a profit. Medicare Advantage, on the other hand, uses 12-15% of its money on these costs, because it is privatized.

Private insurance is tied to your job. Therefore, private insurance companies don’t have a financial incentive to make sure you’re getting the care you need, because you could only be at that job for five years, and then the insurance company won’t care about you anymore. Meanwhile, the public plan presumes you’re a customer for life, so has more of a stake in making sure you stay healthy, because it knows it’ll have to pay for you later on down the road if you get sick. This new National Health Exchange would give a number of plans to choose from, all of which would have the same minimum standard of benefits. There would also be a subsidy based on income. Unfortunately, all of this is unlikely to be enough of an incentive for private insurance to change their business model, and they will still be competing with themselves. 94% of insurance companies in this country have been deemed noncompetitive.

The hope is that this whole plan will be able to compete with private insurance companies.

Hillary Clinton proposed a very good healthcare plan years ago, when she was the First Lady. However, this plan got shot down during the Clinton administration. Obama is still for giving us this option of keeping what we have or switching over to this National Health Exchange plan, but he is worried that there won’t be enough support for it when it gets voted on, and doesn’t want to turn healthcare over to the Republicans again. So, while we are asking for a single-payer system, public plan option, he may compromise on it, just to make sure we get some change and not be back to square one with no change.

Rep. Engel is all for adding coverage for people with HIV before they develop full-blown AIDS. He’s also for providing treatment at home (as I wrote about in my paper from last semester), and providing coverage for pre-existing conditions. He personally knows the perils of insurance companies not covering pre-existing conditions, as his daughter was almost denied insurance based on her childhood diagnosis of pulmonary stenosis. Ted Kennedy is advocating for the inclusion of immigrants, children, and pregnant women. Senator Gillibrand has signed onto the 10 principles of Health Care for America Now!, which is the organization fighting tirelessly for the public option plan.

At this town hall meeting, there were postcards available for us to sign to send to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. This is what they said:

I want our country to be a place where everyone has access to quality health care, and I would prefer a single-payer approach to health care reform.
However, I also want President Obama to achieve his goal of healthcare reform this year, as a necessary step in his administration’s movement towards pro-people change.
Therefore, I strongly urge you to work for the inclusion of a public plan option at a minimum in the final health care legislation.

There were also postcards that on the front, read: “The citizens of NY demand comprehensive, affordable healthcare for all.” On the postcard, I wrote in some of the information I learned from Tim Foley, and some I already knew from my work on advocating for reform in coverage for nutrition services. It read:

The US has a “sick-care” system.
The US is ranked 37th in health, even though it spends $2.4 trillion on healthcare, more than any other country, by far. We need a choice, an option of a public plan. Private insurance companies have already proven they can’t solve the problem themselves. We need a single-payer approach, and significant dedication to prevention, including medical nutrition therapy and pre-diabetes coverage. Thank you. Kelly Moltzen,

They need to hear from you too, because you can bet on the insurance companies being on their backs as well - and don't forget those companies have a lot of bargaining money. The National Healthcare Act in the House is HR676, which you can read more about on THOMAS and MedPAC. The bill would:
  • Provide $56 billion in uncompensated care for the uninsured
  • Preserve patient choice in healthcare and doctors
  • Allot $19.22 billion for Health Information Technology
  • Emphasize prevention and wellness

Call or write to your Congressmen today.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Home Project

This is by far the most clear, comprehensive, and easily accessible video on the state of our world and the impact that human beings are having on it. It's an hour and a half long; please watch it, and share it with everyone you know - not for my sake, but for your sake, everyone else's that lives on Planet Earth, and future generations. Oh yeah, and the sake of our Planet.

The Home Project

P.S. It's on YouTube, so it's free!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Safe water bottles

Here are some non-BPA refillable water bottles - a good alternative to buying plastic water bottles. Positives: they are safe, you don't have to pay for each time, and you don't have to think about if your recyclables are actually being recycled or are going to fill up landfills...

Klean Kanteen
Sigg (though get the BPA-free kind)

As an alternative to the options listed above you can purchase a Thermos and help support charity:water build wells in Africa.

Wait, why shouldn't you use plastic water bottles again?? Here's why. And here's a short video on plastic in the Pacific (including inside the stomachs of birds and fish) by Captain Charles Moore who discovered it.

Thanks to the HEN list-serve for these (and for this article from Enviroblog).

Thoughts on "Eat This, Not That!"

A friend of mine recently mentioned the book “Eat This Not That!” that Ellen Degeneres talked about on her show, and that appeared in "Men's Health" magazine. I read a book review on the kid version, “Eat This Not That! For Kids” in my American Dietetic Association – ADA Times magazine. This is what it said:

"While most of the nutrition information in this book is solid and science-based, what's less clear is how some foods made it onto the ‘Eat This’ list, while others are on the ‘Not That’ list. For example, the authors recommend a package of vanilla crème sandwich cookies (170 calories, 7 grams fat), but not a package of mini chocolate chip cookies (170 calories, 8 g fat). Other ‘Eat This’ items include a kid's fried shrimp and fries meal or a candy bar, while some puzzling ‘Not This’ items include canned corn (no salt added) or white rice. While this fun, photo-filled book could be a great tool to pique a kid's interest in nutrition or start a dialogue about food, it does little to educate readers about maintaining an overall balanced diet and it is certainly not the "complete nutrition and fitness guide for kids it claims to be.”

After speaking with Marion Nestle at NYU today, I can’t agree more. Marion is very much anti- food industry marketing its products, and for good reason. I do believe that it’s important to educate people on what a healthy diet consists of and the nutritional benefits of eating healthy foods (and why I created the blog, but when the food industry does it solely to make their product look like a better choice than the next product, it’s gone too far. Better to stick with the whole foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables – than to figure out the minute differences between the multitudes of processed foods on the market.

Read "Food Politics" by Marion Nestle and "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan…then you’ll know what I’m talking about.