4 Columns by Jill Richardson

August 9, 2017

Soda Doesn’t ‘Feed the World’

A new Coke ad traffics in some questionable warm and fuzzy feelings.

Coca-Cola has a new ad in which a young girl wishes to grow a garden for the whole world. Then, as a grown woman who works for Coca-Cola, she says that she’s fulfilling that dream.

The phrase “feed the world” is one that should always be questioned, because it’s often used to promote the selfish aims of corporations that want to produce and sell as much food as possible — without regard to whether that food actually reaches the hungriest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

But, putting that aside, the sentiment is even more laughable when it’s touted by a beverage company.

Coca-Cola has a long history of selling its flagship product by playing on people’s emotions. Coke drinkers associate the product with America, fun, family, and sports.

In perhaps its most brilliant move, the company found a way to get Coca-Cola to the U.S. military while they fought in World War II in Europe.

American servicemen and women got a precious taste of home while fighting a grueling foreign war, and Coca-Cola got their lifetime brand loyalty — and the opportunity to build up a bottling infrastructure across Europe so they could expand internationally after the war.

The new ad provides Coke drinkers with the warm and fuzzy feeling that their beverage of choice is helping the poor. There are two problems with this idea.

First, soda in particular is bad for you. Especially when one has limited or no access to medical care — the plight of many poor people here and abroad — maladies like diabetes and tooth decay can be catastrophic.

In Appalachia, dentists refer to something they (unfortunately) call “Mountain Dew mouth.” In that region, a quarter of preschoolers already have tooth decay. By age 18, more than one in seven have already had a tooth extracted because of the problem.

Second, the idea of “feeding the world” is usually based on the idea that the world doesn’t produce enough food to feed everyone. But that’s not true. We do produce enough food — more than enough — to feed the planet’s entire population. We just don’t distribute it equitably.

About 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is wasted, even while people in our country go hungry.

But even if production were the problem, if we were to get serious about using our agricultural resources to produce as much food as possible, then one way to do so is to stop wasting agricultural resources to produce things we don’t actually need: sodas, wine, beer, coffee, tea, cut flowers, and so on.

I’m not suggesting we do this. Far from it. I need my coffee and I appreciate a good beer. There are reasons to produce items that people enjoy even if they don’t technically need them. But, if that’s the business you’re in, don’t lie and claim you’re “feeding the world.”

I am not saying that nobody should drink soda, or that Coca-Cola should stop producing it. Let’s just be honest about what it is. It’s a sugary drink that provides no nutrition, and you may drink it because you enjoy it.

Plant a fruit tree for your Diet

One of the simplest ways to improve your family’s diet? Plant a fruit tree. Or plant several.

The last time I was fortunate enough to have a yard, I planted four of them. Unfortunately, I broke up with my then-boyfriend and moved out right about the time all four began producing fruit.

Fortunately, however, I landed just a few blocks away, in a small apartment complex with nine fruit trees planted on the property: pomegranate, grapes, figs, and several varieties of citrus. My first goal was to find out who was eating the fruit… and how much of it they’d share with me.

The answer was all good news. The neighbors only really ate the oranges and a few of the lemons and figs. The rest was mine.

Mature fig trees can produce an incredible number of figs. After the effort you expend to plant the tree, almost no work is required apart from picking and eating figs once a year.

I’ve since moved to a different part of that town, but I still show up to pick figs every summer. This summer, I’ve already picked over 25 pounds, made two batches of jam, eaten countless figs myself, and shared plenty more with friends.

Meanwhile, another friend with blackberry brambles has more blackberries than she knows what to do with. We’ve arranged to trade berries for figs.

In the cases of both figs and berries, there’s nothing like eating fruit ripe from the vine. You can allow the fruit to fully ripen before picking it, because — unlike the supermarket — you don’t need to worry about it keeping for days while it’s shipped across the country.

While homegrown lemons and limes are no more ripe than the ones from the store, I love the convenience of picking a lemon when I need it for a recipe instead of having to remember to get it from the store ahead of time.

Of course, most of the country can’t grow the citrus and tropical fruits we’re blessed with here in San Diego. But wherever you live, you can grow something, and local nurseries will have appropriate trees for your area. Colder climates are often known for their berries and apples.

Other perennials like rhubarb and asparagus can feed you year after year as well, with little work after they’re planted.

Gardening can be time consuming, and it can require expertise. It certainly requires enough planning and forethought to get the right seeds in the ground at the right time each year. Then there’s weeding and watering on top of that.

Fruit trees, on the other hand, are an easy source of free, fast food after you do the initial legwork to pick a variety that thrives in your area and plant it in a location that suits it.

They are a gift that keeps on giving. If you move out of your house, they continue giving to whoever moves in next. My ex was the beneficiary of the four trees I planted. He recently moved out, and the new tenant is getting all the goodies. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Hooked on Apples

Turning the tide on diabetes will require the next generation to establish healthy habits early on.

By Jill Richardson

When it comes to solving big problems, I believe in reaching for the low-hanging fruit first. What’s the easy stuff we can get out of the way before working on harder challenges?

Right now, many of us can go for the low hanging-fruit in a very literal way: by visiting an apple orchard.

In the 1980s, Americans faced a 20 percent lifetime risk of getting diabetes. Today we’ve got a 40 percent chance of coming down with that disease.

You know that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” saying? Well, it turns out there’s some truth to it. Women who eat at least one apple a day are 28 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

In reality, apples have no magic power over other fruits and vegetables. A healthy diet of mostly plant-based whole foods provides many benefits. Whether you munch on apples, carrots, celery, or peaches, you’re doing your body a favor whenever you simply eat fruits and veggies.

What apples have over other foods this time of year is this: They’re delicious, in season, and fun to pick. Especially if you’ve got kids.

When it comes to getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, apple picking is the ultimate low-hanging fruit. Coaxing a child to eat broccoli and asparagus might be a challenge, but an apple she picked herself? That’s an easy sell.

My philosophy on kids and healthy food is that we grownups need to make the healthy stuff more fun than a Happy Meal. Sure, you can get a cheap plastic toy to play with for five minutes along with that fast food. But how about spending a day with your family in an apple orchard? It’s even better if they’ve got hayrides or a petting zoo.

An unplugged day outdoors with your family in the crisp, clean autumn air creates memories that last a lifetime. Apples fresh off the tree have a special taste, one I find hard to describe, but I know when I taste it. Some of my earliest memories are of apple picking with my parents when I was a young child. That taste of a just-picked apple takes me right back.

One day of apple eating is insignificant compared to the amount of food one eats throughout the rest of the year. But for kids it can also help shape their lifetime eating habits.

Get your kids excited about apples by trying different varieties to find their favorite one. Gorging on ripe fruit you picked together in an orchard will make a lasting impact.

After you haul your bounty home, you can try using your apples that you picked in different dishes (I like them in salads) and get your kids to help with the cooking.

When looking for a snack, a fruit might sometimes seem like a boring choice compared to all of the processed foods marketed to kids. But those apples they picked? Those are pretty exciting.

Spreading peanut butter on apple slices or pairing them with cheese and crackers can often suffice for a small meal.

Apple picking helps hook kids on snacking on fruit instead of processed foods. It can do that for grownups too.

This Low-Carb Diet Is Good for You and the Planet

Can you resolve to reduce your fossil-fuel consumption by eating fewer animal products?

Editor’s Note: This column ran in 2014.

A new year. The time to make resolutions. It’s when we all join gyms, sign up for dating sites, and start new diets — only to quit them a few weeks later.

If you’re into resolutions, I’ve got one for you to consider: In 2014, try a low-carb diet. Not a low–carb(ohydrate) diet, but a low-carbon one. As in carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing the climate crisis.

If you think it sounds a bit strange, hear me out.

Humans produce greenhouse gases several ways. The most obvious one is burning fossil fuels. Heat, air conditioning, transportation, and electricity all fall into this category.

And I’ll be honest. I’d love to reduce the amount of fossil fuels I use. But I have very little ability to make my city improve its public transportation, walkability, and bike paths. Some people can afford major investments like solar panels or even better insulation for their homes, but I can’t. And neither can many other Americans.

But an awful lot of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Including the impacts of deforestation due to agriculture, getting our food from farm to table accounts for more than 27 percent of global emissions.

The good news: Changing your diet is affordable — even delicious. We all eat three times a day, after all. And a low-carbon diet is actually healthier and often cheaper than what most Americans eat already.

How do you do it? The short answer is “eat less meat.” But please keep reading before you dismiss this as a vegetarian rant.

It takes 40 calories of energy to produce just one calorie of beef, with a similarly lousy ratio for eggs, and an even worse one for lamb. It takes 14 calories to produce one calorie of either milk or pork, and four calories to produce one calorie of chicken.

That’s because we grow enough grain to feed 800 million people, and we feed it all to livestock. Those animals do produce meat, milk and eggs, but they also burn a lot those calories off as they grow.

The amount of calories fed to livestock is far greater than the calories humans obtain from their meat, milk, and eggs. It’s far more efficient for humans to eat plant foods ourselves.

There are also other paths to a lower carbon diet. Choosing locally grown foods, buying organic, gardening, and avoiding processed foods all help. But the simplest, most reliable, and most impactful way to shrink your footprint is by eating lower on the food chain.

This isn’t news. Scientific American wrote about it in 2011, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture reported on it in 2006. Anna Lappe published a book on climate and diet called Diet for a Hot Planet in 2010.

If you aren’t ready to go veg, don’t worry. Baby steps are better than nothing. That’s the idea behind the Meatless Monday campaign. Just avoid meat one day a week. Eat some vegetarian chili or lasagna. Dip veggies in hummus for a snack. Have a bean burrito or munch on fresh fruit.

Personally, I think reducing your animal product intake is easiest if you crowd out meat, milk, and eggs with plant-based food that you enjoy. If you’re busy stuffing your face with crisp apples or roasted butternut squash, you’ll be too full to feel deprived.

Best of all, you’ll help your health as well as the planet. As it turns out, vegetarians and near-vegetarians are 24 percent less likely to die of heart disease than meat eaters. That means a resolution to reduce your meat consumption will help ensure that you’ll be around to enjoy many more New Years to come.

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Clip art illustration of an apple trees in an orchard.
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2017/08/web1_apple-trees.jpgClip art illustration of an apple trees in an orchard.

By Jill Richardson

Guest Columnist

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.