Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC Food Blog

Weekly food dispatch


Healthy fast food coming to California
A pair of celebrity chefs plan to open healthy fast food restaurants in L.A. and San Francisco communities where there is limited access to affordable, healthy food options. “Don't tell me we don't want great delicious cheap fast food,” said chef Roy Choi, who's opening the chain with partner Daniel Patterson. “We destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison.” Colorlines

Food banks cope with growing need
San Joaquin Valley farmworkers are flooding local food banks because of the drought, said the manager of Fresno's Catholic Charities. The organization has set up mobile sites to serve families who can't afford to buy gas to get to town. The Community Food Bank in Fresno said its organization added five distribution sites to serve those affected by the drought. “People start lining up at 5 a.m.,” the food bank director said. National Catholic Reporter

California farmers turn to social media to reduce food waste
A Northern California social media venture is trying to reduce food waste and keep small farms in business by forging connections on the Internet. CropMobster.com, currently active only in the Bay Area, sends instant alerts to spread the word about local food excess at any supplier in the food chain. The idea is to get the food to those in need and help local businesses recover costs. Free Speech Radio News

The nation

USDA challenges Americans to stop wasting food
Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000-seat football stadium, reported USDA. Much of this “waste” is actually safe, wholesome food that could feed millions of Americans. Excess food, leftovers and scraps that are not fit for consumption can be recycled into a nutrient-rich soil supplement. The USDA is joining with the EPA to launch a national Food Recovery Challenge. USDA

Nearly 50 million Americans are food insecure
One in 7 Americans have uncertain or inadequate access to food, according to 2014 Hunger in America, a study conducted by a network of food banks. Nearly 29 percent of those getting meals from food banks are children; 42 percent of recipients are unemployed and not looking for work because they are retired, disabled or in poor health. Christian Science Monitor

Food companies give the FDA keys to the vault
Grocery Manufacturers Association announced a major initiative that will give the FDA access to a large database of safety information about chemicals used in processed foods. The database will focus primarily on new ingredients or new ingredient uses, but will also include some that are currently used in the market. Parts of the database will be made public, but the bulk of the information will only be accessible to FDA officials and GMA members. Politico

Hawaii's GMO law ruled invalid
A U.S. magistrate in Hawaii ruled in favor of four seed companies who sued to stop a new disclosure law from going into effect in Kauai. The law would have required companies to disclose their use of pesticides and GMOs and provide buffer zones around sensitive areas like schools and hospitals. “If they were good neighbors, they would just comply,” said the ordinance's author. Fresno Bee

The world

Ebola crisis prompts food crisis
The UN World Food Program is scaling up operations in West Africa to provide food to Ebola patients, their relatives and others in quarantined areas. Farmers are abandoning crops, travel and trade are inhibited, and hunting for bush meat has been banned. Observers have seen dramatic food price increases in affected countries. USA Today

Too much junk food rewires the brain
Eating high-calorie, high-fat food with loads of sugar and salt rewires the brain's reward mechanism, reported researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia. The study, conducted with rats, found that junk food makes them fat and also reduced their desire for novel foods. The study helps researchers understand why people know about nutrition, but still eat indiscriminately. Newsweek

A compilation of news from the World Wide Web relevant to the UC Global Food Initiative, which aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.


Posted on Friday, August 29, 2014 at 8:52 AM

UC Davis tomatoes provide year-round healthful eating for college students

Chef Bob Walden, right, and Arnulfo Herrera, a cook, show off roasted tomatoes at UC Davis. (photo: Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)
Today's dorm food is far superior to the tasteless, over-processed foods of decades past. No more mystery meat or mushy vegetables. Campus dining services across the country are providing a diversity of fresher and healthier foods, much to the delight of food-savvy students who want variety, flavor, and nutritious choices. Well... being students, they don't always make the healthiest choices, but educational programs at campus dorms are turning the tide toward more-healthful eating.

At the same time, chefs and food buyers at universities, particularly the University of California, are selecting for high-quality fruits and vegetables, produced locally and sustainably. Universities with strong food sustainability programs are rightfully proud of what they're doing to educate students about food production, health, and nutrition. UC Davis Dining Services prioritizes the purchase of locally grown food (ideally within a 50-mile radius of campus). Most University of California campuses have similar programs.

At UC Davis, fresh roma tomatoes are picked each August from the 300-acre Russell Ranch, part of the campus's Agricultural Sustainability Institute, then processed within hours by campus Dining Services to provide year-round tomato sauce for pizza, pasta, and ratatouille. All told, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes are processed during a two-week period in August. About 29 percent of the total food served in the campus's residential dining halls is from local, organic or sustainable sources.

(courtesy photo: UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute)
The tomatoes grown at Russell Ranch are part of a long-term academic research project that examines factors such as farming methods, irrigation needs, crop rotations, yield, and nutritional content. At the end of the growing season, some of the many tons of tomatoes are purchased by Dining Services at market value.

Emma Torbert, an academic coordinator at the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, noted, “Connecting the food system to the research is really interesting. A lot of times there is confusion about where our food is coming from. The more people are educated, the more educated decisions they can make.”

Many UC Davis faculty and staff are so impressed with the food choices at the dorms that they purchase individual meal tickets and enjoy lunches made with the campus-grown tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables, all of which are part of the daily food array. Public dinners are also offered periodically at the dorms so that community members can sit amongst students to taste and learn about the sustainability programs in the dorms.

Additional Information:

  • Video: Farm to Table, UC Davis Tomatoes; 2010
  • Slide show of this year's UC Davis tomato harvesting and processing system; 2014
  • Sustainable Foodservice Progress Report 2014, UC Davis Dining Services
  • Two videos of UC Davis students who work at the Student Farm to produce food, including one on tomato sauce production
  • “Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve, and enjoy.” UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, free publication
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Weekly food dispatch


Lake County residents suffer poor ‘health outcomes'
California's Lake County was found to have the lowest “health outcomes” in the state, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin. The Lake County population has the shortest length of life and, in terms of physical health, the lowest quality of life compared to other counties in California. Lake County Tribal Health Consortium is trying to change the ranking. HealthyCal.org

Industry influence kills labeling bills
California lawmakers considered four bills this year that would give residents more information about their food and beverages. Two of them, one that would have required labeling of GMO foods and the other the addition of warning labels on non-diet sodas, died in the face of industry opposition. “There is definitely a dynamic at play where the lobbying resources make a difference,” said Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). Sacramento Bee

The nation

Food costs buoy inflation
The rising cost of food U.S. is behind a persistent 2 percent (annual) inflation rate in the last four months. Core inflation, which disregards food and energy, is at 1.9 percent per year. The Washington Examiner

Extra! Extra! Tofu scramble and Asian kale
The city of Chicago is converting four defunct newsstands into kiosks that sell fresh, healthy food. The new “e.a.t. spots” (which stands for education, agriculture, technology) features food items developed by local chef Shaw Lash to provide quick, easy access to healthful food. Chicago Tribune

Cupcakes, conversation hearts and chocolate banned
All school parties – including birthdays, Halloween and Valentine's Day – will be free of food, candy and beverages (except water) in a suburban Illinois school district, a committee of parents and staff decided. Furthermore, elementary school students' snacks will be limited to fruits and vegetables; middle school children's snacks may also include cheese and yogurt. The strict policy was instituted to reduce allergic reactions. Chicago Sun Times

The world

Ten companies control the world's food
A relatively small number of companies wield an enormous amount of influence on agriculture and world food production. All had revenues in the tens of billions of dollars in 2013. With such scale, many of the company policies have a significant impact on millions of lives. The largest of the 10 companies, Nestle, had sales exceeding $100 billion and employed 333,000 people in 2013. Huffington Post

Nestle pushes suppliers to improve animal welfare
One way Nestle is exerting its power is by adopting animal welfare standards that will affect its 7,300 suppliers around the globe. Under the new standards, Nestle will not buy products derived from pigs raised in gestation stalls, chickens in barren battery cages, cattle that have been dehorned or had their tails docked without anesthesia, and animals whose health has been damaged by drugs that promote growth. New York Times

They're great!
Another of the 10 largest food companies in the world, Kellogg's, has pledged to use responsible sourcing and new natural resource conservation efforts to address climate change. Examples of its sustainability achievements, shared in a news release, include “helping wheat farmers in the United Kingdom improve soil health, supporting a women's cooperative of more than 600 farm families in Bolivia, and promoting new rice growing methods in Thailand that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Kellogg's

A compilation of news from the World Wide Web relevant to the UC Global Food Initiative, which aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 9:20 AM

The devil -- er, bacteria -- made me do it

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want.
Many people worry about the outside of their gut – watching their weight and suffering through sit-ups in search of six-pack abs.

Research from UC San Francisco is showing that we also should pay attention to what's inside the gut.

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity, according to an article published this month in the journal BioEssays.

Researchers concluded from a review of recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said corresponding author on the paper Carlo Maley, director of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.”

We also can influence this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, by altering what we ingest, Maley said, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change.

“Our diets have a huge impact on microbial populations in the gut,” Maley said. “It's a whole ecosystem, and it's evolving on the time scale of minutes.”

The gut is a growing field for research.

Michael Fischbach, a UCSF assistant professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, studies gut bacteria and how they could help reveal the causes and new treatments for Crohn's disease and obesity.

“When I look at a person, I don't just see a warm, shiny human being,” Fischbach said. “I see bacteria crawling all over you and living on every surface that's exposed and not exposed in your entire body. And you're lucky that they're there because these bacteria do very important things for you. They make your immune system function properly. They help you digest foods. And they produce important chemicals that serve as vitamins for your body.”

With advancements in genetic sequencing technology, Fischbach and colleagues are mining gut bacteria for natural products – small molecules from microbes – that could hold the key for treating diseases.

“You used to have to travel to the coast of Palau to mine the ocean sediment for drugs,” Fischbach said. “Now we can just check our gut!”

Fischbach discussed his gut research with collaborator Justin Sonnenburg, a Stanford University microbiologist with degrees from UC Davis and UC San Diego, at the recent New York Times Health for Tomorrow conference at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center.

“The beauty of being in basic research is you don't know where you're going to end up,” Fischbach said after their panel presentation. “It's nice to be on a journey where you don't know where the ship lands. I hope it's going to improve human health.”

Read more:
-Do gut bacteria rule our minds?, UCSF
-Our microbiome may be looking out for itself, New York Times
-The next frontier of medicine, Slate
-Culturing for cures, UCSF

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM
Tags: gut (1), obesity (22)

Weekly food dispatch


Tulare top ag county in nation; former leader Fresno slips to third
Riding high milk prices in 2013, Tulare County took the crown as No. 1 ag county in the nation, and long-time leader Fresno was knocked to third place because of the drought. On Fresno County's west side, farmers depend on surface water from the San Joaquin Delta to grow their crops, but three years of drought have left some land idle. Second place went to Kern County. In 2013, ag value in Tulare County was $7.8 billion, Kern was $6.7 billion and Fresno was $6.4 billion. Visalia Times-Delta | Bakersfield Californian

Robots to flip burgers
A San Francisco manufacturer has invented a machine that can grind meat, slice tomatoes, grill patties and wrap fully prepared hamburgers. “Our device isn't meant to make employees more efficient,” said the company's co-founder. “It's meant to completely obviate them.” Huffington Post

Olive harvest drops by nearly half
California olive farmers expect to harvest 50,000 tons of olives in 2014, down from last year's crop of 91,000 tons. The industry blames the drop in production on the drought, a hard freeze in December and wind. Some farmers plan to abandon the crop in the field. "I have 30 acres and I am not going to put a crew in there," said Porterville farmer Rod Burkett. Fresno Bee

Taco Bell fuses new flavors with higher prices
Taco Bell is moving into the fast-casual restaurant market with the introduction of the U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach. The Mexican fusion menu targets customers of Chipotle or Panera Bread. Tacos with gourmet flavors like lobster and smoked brisket share the menu with “Friggen Fried Ice Cream,” vanilla ice cream and caramel topped with Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal. Washington Post

The nation

Healthy food will taste better
USA Weekend asked experts how Americans will be eating in five years. They predicted market forces will make healthy food taste better, the farm-to-table movement will trickle down to to lower-income consumers, produce will be the subject of marketing campaigns, and weight-loss diets will be abandoned in favor of eating healthier all the time. USA Weekend

Pizza's rise toward the forefront of Americans' diets
The New York Times uses a database of terms that appear in the newspaper to study trends. In the area of food, “pizza” only entered the race in the 1950s, where “hamburger” was dominant for some time. Pizza surpassed hamburger in 1976. The two were neck and neck until 1982, when pizza took the lead and never looked back. New York Times

Trial in Georgia reveals cracks in the U.S. food safety system
Three executives of the Peanut Corporation of America – a company that sold food in 2009 that caused 700 salmonella illnesses in 46 states – are on trial for their part in the outbreak. Experts say the FDA bears some of the blame because of outdated food standards and influence by corporate interests. Thinkprogress.org

The world

Indian trade decisions manipulate food prices
A sharp rise in the cost of basic foods in India prompted the government to double the minimum export price of onions, making it tougher for farmers to sell the staple ingredient of Indian cooking overseas. However, a week later the government made a move that boosted the price of locally produced sugar. It doubled tariffs on imported sugar, causing an immediate 1.5 percent increase in the cost. Indian Economy

U.S. global domination in food sector slipping to China
China produces half the world's pigs and has been purchasing a lot of feed from American farmers. But things are changing. China has invested in agri-food companies in Brazil and is sourcing grains from the South American nation. In addition, China has repeatedly rejected shipments from America over the past year claiming they contain an unapproved GM corn. “It's been a double-blow for America's agribusinesses.” Civil Eats


A compilation of news from the World Wide Web relevant to the UC Global Food Initiative, which aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.


Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 8:33 AM

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