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

Have you tasted an avocado lately?

Eric Focht
The lab of Mary Lu Arpaia, a Cooperative Extension subtropical horticulturalist with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside, hosts an avocado tasting each month on the UCR campus. Attended typically by about 60 people, the tastings have grown in popularity over the years. 

Eric Focht, a staff research associate in the Arpaia lab, helps organize the tastings; the guacamole he prepares specially for the occasion serving as an additional attraction. Focht has been working on avocados since 1999, the year he joined UCR as a staff member. His relationship with the campus, however, began before then; his father, now retired, was a professor on campus.

Typically, participants of the avocado tastings sample six avocados which come from UC ANR's South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. “Hass control fruit are purchased from or donated by a packing house,” Focht says.

First, participants do a visual assessment of the fruit, evaluating texture, size and color. Next they step into a room where they do the blind tastings.

“The data is compiled and used to assess, among other things, which of our new breeding selections shows promise and should be pushed for eventual release,” says Focht, whose duties include coordinating field activities, designing field layouts, generating maps and databases, selecting avocado varieties of interest, interacting with growers and the public, troubleshooting, and directing the day-to-day operations of the lab when Arpaia is away. 

Visual inspection of avocados
Focht's favorite avocado variety varies by year and season.

“Right now our 465518-99 has been performing very well,” he says, “but in former years, its peak season is February through April. In the fall, Reed is always a good fruit with good flavor and texture. I prefer a fruit that peels easily and has good flavor. If it doesn't peel clean from the skin, I tend to overlook it for something else with good flavor and convenient packaging.”

The avocado growing season varies from variety to variety. By planting out several varieties, it is possible to have avocados year round in one's garden. Focht explains that the growing season varies regionally as well.

“The season in San Luis Obispo is months later than it is in San Diego,” he says.

Most avocado acreage in California is currently in Northern San Diego County. Most avocado acreage in the U.S. is in California. Other states with avocado industries include Florida and Texas. Worldwide, avocados are grown in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Israel, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Tasting avocados.
The California drought, now in its fourth year, is a concern for avocado lovers and scholars like Focht.

“An acre of avocado trees typically requires 2.5-4 acre-feet of water per year depending on weather and other factors,” he says. “The drought is resulting in lost acreage as farmers can either not afford or not find enough water for their trees. Successful farmers are having to modify their cultural practices to stay competitive.”

The next avocado tasting at UCR will be Aug. 12, 2015. For more information about the tastings, contact Focht.

Author: Iqbal Pittalwala

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 6:12 AM
Tags: Avocados (4), Eric Focht (1), Mary Lu Arpaia (4), tastings (1)

The health impacts of sugary drinks

Refined sugar (Photo: Ann Filmer)
Americans consume nearly three times the recommended amount of sugar every day, and about half the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day.

Excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity, tooth decay, early menses in girls, and chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. To add to the damage, doctors are now attributing too much dietary sugar to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

It's enough to make you sit up and listen to the warnings about too much soda, sugary drinks, and sugar-laden processed foods.

What is a sugary drink? It's any beverage, more or less, with added sugar or other sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup. The long list of beverages includes soda, lemonade, fruit punch, powdered fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and many flavored milk products.

People are becoming aware of the concerns of too many sugary drinks, and steps are being taken to reduce their consumption. Some K-12 school districts across the nation are limiting sales of soda, and the City of Davis will soon require that restaurants offer milk or water as a first beverage choice with kids' meals.

UC Cooperative Extension, the county-based outreach arm of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, is partnering with health agencies and conducting public service programs for youth and families about sugary drinks. UC ANR Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County recently presented a "Rethink Your Drink" parent workshop in conjunction with the county's Office of Education, and Solano County Cooperative Extension is working with the California Department of public health to engage youth in "Rethink Your Drink" programs.

Sarah Risorto, UC IPM Program, refills her water bottle at a UC Davis water station. (Photo: Ann Filmer)

Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, co-authored a policy brief about California's rural immigrants who have poor-quality tap water, or perceive tap water to be bad. Kaiser, who is also a nutrition faculty member at UC Davis, noted that studies have found a link between water quality and consumption of sugary drinks, which is a concern in low-income communities that don't have resources for clean water.

As of this month (July 2015), UC San Francisco is no longer selling sugary beverages on its campus, and UCSF has launched a Healthy Beverage Initiative. UC Berkeley held a Sugar Challenge this year, and UC Davis is conducting a Sugar Beverage Study on women.

Scientists at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, and other universities are studying the health effects of sugar and implementing health outreach programs. And UC's Global Food Initiative is building on the momentum of excessive sugary-drink consumption.

A healthy alternative to sugary drinks? Water, of course. Many universities and public places are replacing traditional drinking fountains with water stations so that students and others can fill their own bottles and have water “on the go.” And UC President Janet Napolitano is working with the Nutrition Policy Institute on a bold and sensible request to place water on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guidelines.

The next time you're thirsty, drink wisely to your good health.

Additional information:

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 8:23 AM
Tags: drinks (2), Lucia Kaiser (3), sugar (4), water (4)

UC Global Food Initiative has fast start in first year

The UC Global Food Initiative has been a galvanizing force for bringing people together in new collaborative efforts. Credit: Elena Zhukova
In its first year, the University of California's Global Food Initiative launched food security efforts on every campus, held statewide conferences on sustainable fisheries and food justice, and appointed more than 50 student fellows to pursue projects.

That is just a taste of the work underway as faculty, students and staff from across the 10-campus UC system focus their collective power on food issues.

The Global Food Initiative has been a galvanizing force for bringing people together in new collaborative efforts, said UCLA's Wendy Slusser, who serves on one of the initiative's two dozen systemwide subcommittees.

“It's been a lightning bolt of energy that helps pull people together,” she said.

UC President Janet Napolitano first launched the Global Food Initiative on July 1, 2014. She spanned the state that day, meeting with Alice Waters at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and UCLA students and campus leaders at their community garden in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

The announcement was met with enthusiasm – and a bit of wonder at the audacity of the undertaking – as Napolitano and UC's 10 chancellors declared that UC would harness its people and power to put the university, state and world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves.

A year later, the initiative is off to a fast start. All 10 UC campuses, UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have pitched in, building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations to develop, demonstrate and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability.

Strength in numbers

“The strength of the Global Food Initiative is its capacity to harness the resources and talents and energy around each of the UC campuses related to food in its broadest sense,” said Slusser, associate vice provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative. “The structure has allowed each campus to identify what it wanted to do, build on its strengths and learn from what the other campuses are doing.”

Napolitano has welcomed campus ideas, Slusser said. GFI is helping sponsor a UCLA food studies and food justice course/internship this summer for 20 undergraduate students. The course, which had a waiting list, will be offered again in the fall and next summer and could become a pilot for other UC campuses.

Slusser also praised the UC President's Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program. She will attend a July 20 symposium for GFI and Carbon Neutrality Initiative student fellows, noting that two UCLA fellows told her they now want careers in food. “They had never even considered it before,” Slusser said.

Sharing knowledge

Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor of health policy and lead investigator on the UCSF-led SugarScience initiative, serves on a GFI subcommittee that is organizing a workshop July 20 on leveraging research for food and agriculture policy change. The workshop will provide training on tools and ways that faculty members can interact with policy issues and policymakers.

“We have so much knowledge about health locked up in the ivory tower,” Schmidt said. “My role is to get information from scientific researchers into the hands of decision-makers and people who can move the dial on health. When the Global Food Initiative came along, it was, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of this.' The president is trying to get science out into the real world so it can have a positive impact on health.”

By providing policymakers with evidence-based information, UC researchers can help them address such problems as obesity and other chronic diseases, said Schmidt, who worked with supervisors on San Francisco's first-in-nation warning labels on sugary beverages. UC also can lead by example, she said, citing UCSF's new Healthy Beverage Initiative that phases out the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages at UCSF.

The Global Food Initiative's challenge is how to build on its momentum and create the infrastructure so that it sticks, she said.

“The food initiative spans agriculture, the environment and human health. That is really important. These issues intersect and overlap in powerful ways,” Schmidt said. “I think it was brilliant to bring this together.”

Here are some highlights of the Global Food Initiative's top accomplishments in its first year:

For more campus information, visit these sites: UC ANR, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UCSF/SugarScience, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley Lab.

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Encouraging students to eat their vegetables

Which end of an asparagus do you eat?  I am not going to eat that, it's too spicy! Pink milk cartons (non-fat) are only for girls.

A student leader and student assistant help hand out the bell peppers.
These and many other questions and comments came from students and staff at schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) during recent efforts to expose students to a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. A collaboration between SMBSD staff and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources's UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties (UC CalFresh) was initiated in the 2014/2015 school year to work on increasing the likelihood that students will select and consume vegetables offered through the school meal program.

The collaboration included three components: monthly, school-wide seasonal produce tastings facilitated by UC CalFresh and supported by the school district; Smarter Lunchroom Movement strategies implemented by district food service staff with support from UC CalFresh; and classroom nutrition education with curricula provided by UC CalFresh and implemented by participating classroom teachers.

The monthly produce tastings were a coordinated effort between the UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators, student leaders from the Student Nutrition Advisory Council, and Cafeteria staff. The first goal was to familiarize the students in the five elementary schools with local, seasonal vegetables – and eventually get them on the school menu and on students' plates. During the months of March, April and May of 2015 more than 4,000 students at five participating schools

Example of how students voted.
got the opportunity to try new vegetables like Brussels sprouts, asparagus and sweet bell pepper. After tasting new vegetables, students then placed a ticket in either a “yes” or “no” box to indicate whether they would like to see those vegetables again on their school menu.

Student leaders participated in all aspects of the monthly tastings, from advising on what produce items to sample, to making signs advertising the featured produce, to handing out the samples to their peers. The voting results were overwhelmingly positive with a majority of students in favor of putting Brussels sprouts, asparagus and yellow bell peppers on the school menu. As a result of these findings, and the students' enthusiasm for trying new things, food service staff are working on incorporating a Brussels sprouts salad into their regular menu.

The second component included Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) strategies from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics. These strategies were introduced at a cafeteria manager training facilitated by UC CalFresh. At the training, district staff were introduced to SLM concepts and encouraged to identify two changes they wanted to implement in their

Smarter Lunchroom Movement sign advertising what's for lunch
school cafeterias before the end of the year. Changes identified included improving signage on the salad bar and in the entryway, creating a cafeteria brand (i.e. Bulldog Café) to encourage students to take pride in their lunchroom, and creating a more welcoming atmosphere so students could sit and enjoy their school meal. In addition, UC CalFresh staff made a regular habit of eating lunch in the school cafeteria with students when they were on campus for other nutrition education events.

Students, at first surprised seeing adults eating school meals, welcomed the nutrition educators to their tables. Staff took the opportunity to talk to the students about their food, model healthy food habits and dispel myths about their food. Myths included things like pink milk cartons (non-fat) were only for girls and school lunches are unhealthy. By the end of the school year, all participating schools had improved their scores on the Smarter Lunchroom Self-Assessment Scorecard and plans are currently being developed to provide districtwide cafeteria branding.

The third component was the in-class curricula. Classroom curricula has been the primary focus of the UC CalFresh program for many years. UC CalFresh provides “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits” and in class food demonstrations to enrolled teachers (Educator Extenders). These Educator Extenders teach evidence-based nutrition education lessons based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This year, as the collaboration with the school cafeteria developed, UC CalFresh staff rolled out the concept of Harvest of the Month mini kits and farm stands to coincide with the produce item being featured in the monthly cafeteria tastings. Educator Extenders had the

Asparagus Farm Stand showcasing student artwork
option of connecting classroom curricula with cafeteria efforts through the Harvest of the Month mini-lesson, then posting their students' work on the farm stand bulletin boards in their school cafeteria. The lessons and the student artwork helped to bring the three components together for students in all age groups.

This collaborative effort has brought about many opportunities to educate, expose and inform students and staff about local produce and how delicious it can be in their school lunches. Students who once thought that sweet yellow, green and red bell peppers were too spicy had the opportunity to sample them and see for themselves. Students who did not know which end to eat an asparagus from got to sample it and then vote on whether or not they wanted to try it again. Food service staff also got to see how excited their students were to sample new items, including Brussels sprouts, and have a voice in their school menu.

For more pictures, visit the UC CalFresh Facebook page.

 

 

 

Brussels sprouts tasting set-up
Asparagus poster made by the student leaders
 
 

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 10:09 AM
  • Author: Shannon Klisch
  • Contributor: Lisa Paniagua
  • Contributor: Melissa LaFreniere

Experts combine research with policy to reduce childhood obesity

UC President Janet Napolitano speaks at the Childhood Obesity Conference as Lorrene Ritchie (left) and Patricia Crawford look on.
At the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference last week, UC President Janet Napolitano spoke about UC's Global Food Initiative (GFI), which aims to “to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable.”

It was the first time a UC president has taken part in the long-running and nationally recognized gathering, noted the director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), Lorrene Ritchie.

“I think it demonstrates her commitment to the Global Food Initiative and the work we do at UC ANR,” Ritchie said.

During her remarks, Napolitano said it was fitting for her to speak at the conference as it coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Global Food Initiative, a sweeping effort involving all UC campuses and UC ANR that was inspired by many of the same concerns addressed by conference participants.

“As we meet here in San Diego today, a billion people — most but not all of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious micronutrient deficiencies,” Napolitano said. “Another half billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world, like the United States — suffer from obesity.”

Since the biennial conference's inception, Patricia Crawford, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, and other members of NPI have been involved in its planning. Crawford announced she is “passing the baton” to Ritchie to guide the conference moving forward.

More than 1,700 nutritionists and other experts on children's health attended the San Diego gathering June 29 – July 2. In addition to the NPI, the conference was hosted by the California Department of Public Health, California Department of Education, the California Endowment and Kaiser Permanente.

NPI hosted a preconference workshop on June 29 to bridge the gap between research and policy regarding the federal nutrition assistance programs and the Dietary Guidelines, which reach more Americans than any other nutrition policy.

“The preconference session provided a rare opportunity for policymakers and administrators, nutrition researchers, advocates, and funders to sit together to identify today's key policy issues and propose research to inform future policy debates and developments,” said Kenneth Hecht, NPI director of policy. “Participants also focused on another extremely important question: How to improve communications in both directions between researchers and policymakers.”

Chelsea Clinton at the obesity conference.
At the opening plenary session, Chelsea Clinton, vice-chair of The Clinton Foundation, talked about projects her family's foundation work to improve children's health and literacy.

“Childhood obesity is a national security challenge. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that very clearly in 2013,” Clinton said. “In New York City, where I live, the New York City Fire Department and Police Department have said they are worried they won't be able recruit enough people to fill their ranks if obesity rates continue.”

To help address the problem, the Clinton Foundation along with the American Heart Association established the Alliance for a Healthier Generation 10 years ago. Because of the program, nearly 300 California schools have made changes significantly reducing overweight among children.

“Grateful to all @ObesityConffor for a great morning talking about @HealthierGenand for everything you do to help children be healthy!#COC15,” Clinton tweeted after her presentation.

During a workshop session, NPI's Ritchie and other panelists discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare settings. Crawford and other panelists presented data on childhood obesity trends and racial/ethnic disparities in California and discussed the health and financial consequences. They also addressed the cost-effectiveness of national and state excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and labels to inform consumers of the health risks of consuming sugary drinks.

The panel discussion with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, left, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, and NPI director of policy Kenneth Hecht.
Hecht moderated a conversation on policy with former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. The two influential figures discussed the growth of the federal nutrition assistance programs over 40 years and reflected on obstacles overcome and successes achieved. Harkin was honored at the conference with a lifetime achievement award for public service.

Hecht also moderated a panel on local and national initiatives that are linking farm fresh produce to food bank recipients. NPI researcher Elizabeth Campbell, who participated in the discussion with a local farmer, a food bank employee and a public health anti-hunger advocate, said food banks should have policies to guide the nutritional quality of their inventory.

During the closing plenary, First Lady Michelle Obama sent video greetings to the Childhood Obesity Conference attendees to praise them for their work and encourage them to continue to fight to protect children's health.

PowerPoint presentations from the conference are available online. Photos and postconference information can be seen on Facebook and Twitter and with the hashtag #COC15.

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 5:12 PM

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