Chocolate reduces stress. Fish stimulates the brain. Is there any truth to such popular beliefs? The findings of researchers around the world say yes: It appears we really are what we eat.
A study in a British prison found that inmates who took vitamin supplements were less prone to violent behavior. And in Germany, a psychologist at the University of Lübeck has shown that social behavior is influenced by the ingredients consumed at breakfast. But what really happens in the brain when we opt for honey instead of jam, and fish rather than sausage? Scientists around the world are trying to find out. Neuro-nutrition is the name of an interdisciplinary research field that investigates the impact of nutrition on brain health. Experiments on rats and flies offer new insight into the effects of our eating habits. When laboratory rats are fed a diet of junk food, the result is not just obesity. The menu also has a direct influence on their memory performance. The role of the intestinal flora has been known for some time, but scientists are currently discovering other relationships. So-called “brain food” for example: The Mediterranean diet that’s based on vegetables and fish is said to provide the best nutrition for small grey cells. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, for example, protect the nerve cells and are indispensable for the development of the brain – because the brain is also what it eats!
A Boston hospital is
growing 7,000 pounds of organic vegetables on its rooftop farm as part
of its mission to show that food really is medicine, writes Michael
David Maffeo, senior director of support services was one of the people behind the rooftop farm idea at Boston’s Medical Centre (BMC) in Massachusetts; It is known as a ‘safety-net’ hospital because it mainly serves lower income and elderly patients.
He says: “ I was sitting with my boss and we were talking about the Preventative Food Pantry, a scheme where we introduce poorer people to good food for free for a certain time. I said wouldn’t it be great to grow organic food for our own patients, as well as supplying The Pantry. All organic. No pesticides.”
“I said wouldn’t it be great to grow organic food for our own patients, as well as supplying The Pantry. All organic. No pesticides”
The plan was agreed by the hospital’s Office of Development, and
within just a year and a half the first crops were being sown – and soon
afterwards harvested. That was 2017. That first year they produced
5,000 pounds (2,600 kilos) of produce. It has since increased to nearly
The farm was designed and installed by roof top growing specialists in Boston-based green roof design specialist Recover.
Milk crate growing containers The first challenge was the insufficient strength of the hospital’s
existing roof to hold the amount of soil needed for a successful growing
The cost to the rebuild the roof was put at $200,000. To fund this
crucial part of the project, the hospital made successful approaches to a
local philanthropist, so circumventing normal budgetary constraints.
Once finished it provided 7,000 square feet of growing space. The next
thing needed were containers in which to grow the food. It was decided
that milk crates were the best – and most available for the job. Evens
so, 2,400 of them were needed. Maffeo admits: “We lent on one of our
partners to provide them!”
The hospital has done extensive work around sustainability. Research has shown that the life expectancy of the roof farm can be up to 40 years. Particular attention is given to reducing greenhouse gases. On the roof farm, each milk crate is watered through a hosepipe system that runs separately through a device into each crate. It is a strictly metered system that is designed stop functioning when it detects local rainfall.
The hospital is ambitious about expanding the farm, which as well as
producing healthy food crops, also places an important role in teaching
media staff about food’s role as a medicine. It’s one of the first
things students learn about on arrival.
Changing attitudes to food Maffeo explains the changing attitudes in America towards food and health: “Food has come a long way in the United States. I’ve worked in a hospital kitchen. Now I only buy fresh fish, locally caught. And I’ll only buy grain-free beef. These are all big changes in our attitude to food, and how it is grown. At the farm here, we grow 25 different types of vegetables and salad produce. Everything from tomatoes to carrots and peppers. There farm also makes honey from beehives, which yield around 150lbs of honey a year.
Lindsey Allan (pictured) is the farm manager, with the job of
planting and organising the whole growing process. She went straight to
work on a farm when she left High School, and found that she enjoyed it.
She says that she has never had any interest in chemicals-based farming, and had a background as a keen organic gardener.
Every farm she was involved in over the years was organic, and she is always acutely aware of climate change. She admits to some initial scepticism about the concept of BMC’s too farm, particularly the because the milk crate containers would not allow development of a normal root system.
But she settled on compost based soil, as composting companies found
that living soil was important. It was provided by Vermont Compost,
which is organic approved. She explains: “We got all the soil up there,
already in the milk crates. It took six hours, and we took it to the
second floor in the freight lift, and then volunteers took it to the roof site”.
Demonstrating how tech is is helping to make farming more sustainable, she points out that she controls the watering system from her phone or computer, allowing her switch irrigation on or off remotely.
As for the actual growing of the food, she says: “Most things grow
well. You want a continual harvest, things that are in the ground for as
little time as possible – pak-choi would be a good example. I don’t do
one time harvest crops, like broccoli, cabbage or potatoes. I have to
think what I can get out of every square inch. Some crops work better
than others. For example, we found that green beans were labour
intensive for us and the kitchen. We grow what the chefs want and they
are pretty flexible. We can only provide a small amount of the food they
are serving. Salad stuff is the most popular, cherry tomatoes, radishes
and so on”.
World’s healthiest population ambition She discusses crop choice and planning with the hospital dieticians, who have encouraged her to grow spinach and kale. She says that now that the farm is up and running, she would love another roof, and suggests this could happen in the coming years as everyone is so happy with the results so far.
Because the growing is confined to milk crates it is not surprising
to hear that she uses the no till method adding: “You hands are your
power tools. No till means using your hands more. Although she says that
gardeners are useful to work with, it really does need a farmer to be
in control, because you need a volume of production of food, and you
have to set targets for this.
For David David Maffeo, BMC’s organic roof farm forms part of wider, bigger ambitions. These, he says, are nothing short of “making Boston the healthiest population in the world”.
It is hardly surprising that the first thing Bayer did after completing their takeover of Monsanto earlier this month was to announce that they were dropping the Monsanto name, merging the two companies’ agrichemical divisions under the Bayer Crop Science name. After all, as everyone knows, Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the world. But Bayer itself has an equally atrocious history of death and destruction. Together they are a match made in hell.
Climate and Capitalism, June 17, 2018 by Colin Todhunter
Agroecology can free farmers from dependency, manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and food insecurity. It is resisted by giant corporations that profit from the status quo.
Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India. This article was originally published as “Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset,” on his blog,East by Northwest. Colin invites readers to follow him on Twitter.
Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.
A minority of the global population has access to so much food than it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.
Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).
This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North, based on a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy.
Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment as occurred in Africa (as a continent Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food), bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.
As reported by Politico and mentioned at the outset of this article, emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act exposed an unidentified White House source revealing a still-pending federal study on chemicals as “a public relations nightmare.” Imagine that!
But, the news gets even worse. All of Capitol Hill is aware that the EPA helped to bury the federal study that should have prompted warnings about toxic chemicals in hundreds of water supplies. Allegedly, Pruitt intervened to stop the release after the WH warned of “a public relations nightmare.” The report was supposed to be released in January, until EPA intervened. Hmm.
Because of that disquieting statement, alarm bells should be going off in public squares all the way from Seattle to Boston. In fact, further to the point, the Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 1,500 American water systems serving up to 110,000,000 people may be contaminated with chemical toxins. Egad! Chemical toxins are the bad stuff people don’t want inside their bodies. And, that’s a lot of people exposed to chemical toxins.
As recently as February 2018, local officials at Blade, Delaware ordered residents to stop drinking tap water, which is the liquid that comes straight out of the faucet. Why? According to the Associated Press story of May 22, 2018: “Soaring numbers of water systems around the country are testing positive for a dangerous class of chemicals widely used in items that include non-stick pans and firefighting foam.”