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


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

Weekly food dispatch


California leads the food revolution
Trendy food concepts like fusion cooking, farm-to-table, foraged menus, open kitchens and female chefs in leadership all began in California, says the KCET Food Rant. To find out why the Golden State is setting food trends, the reporter turned to Joyce Goldstein, author of "Inside the California Food Revolution." She attributes it to adventurous chefs, farmers and ranchers; open-minded diners; a long growing season; and available restaurant financing. KCET.org

Food prices defy computer models
A UC Davis study predicted small drought-related food price increases, but one newspaper food editor asks her readers whether they believe the report or their own grocery bills. Elaine Corn's research and sources revealed a 10 percent increase in the cost of food eaten at home over the past four years. "Even Hershey's is raising the price of all its chocolate bars." Sacramento Bee


The nation

Fast food giants take a cue from healthy chains
Well-off moms and Millennials are demanding healthy and sustainable food that's convenient, prompting entrepreneurs to launch trendy chains that offer grass-fed beef, salads with local vegetables, kale-banana smoothies and the like, reported the New York Times. Ever keen to stay competitive, mainstream chains are beginning to change their practices. ChikFil-A is phasing out meat raised with antibiotics and McDonald's is revisiting its beef procurement practices. The New York Times

FDA considering more detailed sugar labeling on food products
The FDA is reviewing public comments on a proposed new law that would require food manufacturers to list separately on labels "added sugar" and sugar that occurs naturally in ingredients like fruit. Campbell Soup Co. is indignant. "Sugar is sugar, regardless of the source," the company wrote in a letter to FDA. Health advocates say added sugar is different. Reuters

Ben & Jerry's supports GMO labeling
Ben & Jerry's support for GMO labeling is contrary to most major food companies, including its own corporate parent Unilever, reported Bloomberg Businessweek. Unilever's stance makes it “look stupid,” the magazine quoted Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics. Bloomberg Businessweek

Brown-bag lunches are nutrient deficient
A Tufts University study found that lunches brought from home by school children rarely meet standards set by the government for school lunch nutrition. "Most of the foods we saw were pre-packaged salty snack foods and sugary desserts - we saw much less fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy," an author told Reuters Health. Reuters

The face of hunger in America
Sunken eyes and hollow cheeks may have indicated food insecurity in the past, but in America today, the hungry are more likely to be overweight, reported National Geographic. "Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin," said an executive at the Center for American Progress. For the nation's poor, macaroni-and-cheese mixes and other processed food bank giveaways are regular fare; fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten only in the first days after the SNAP payment arrives. National Geographic


The world

California won't suffer from Russia's food import ban
UC's Dan Sumner said the No. 1 California export to Russia is almonds, and only 3 percent of the crop goes to that nation, reported KPCC's The Breakdown. "It's important to some exporters, but it's not a big deal," he said. Russia banned imports of all beef, pork, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from the E.U., the U.S., Canada, Australia and Norway in reprisal for trade sanctions imposed on Russia due to its involvement in Ukraine. "Russia misunderstands trade," wrote Forbes columnist Tim Worstall. "It's actually Russia that benefits from such imports." The Breakdown | New York Times | Forbes

Future food could be "printed" in a warzone
The Army is developing 3D printing technology that will allow soldiers to print food on demand and tailor it to their individual tastes and nutrition needs, reported Motherboard.com. "You would like a sandwich, where I would like ravioli. You would print what you want and eliminate wasted food," said an Army food technologist. 3D-printed food would be produced using ultrasonic agglomeration, which binds particles together by shooting ultrasonic waves at them. Motherboard

Inglorious fruits and vegetables
A French supermarket is reducing food waste by purchasing cosmetic culls, declaring them "inglorious fruits and vegetables" and selling them to customers at a 30 percent discount. The program was an immediate success and stirred a national conversation about food waste. ABC Australia


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 8, 2014 at 8:33 AM

Walking the talk

San Joaquin County nutrition educators exercise together after work.
San Joaquin County nutrition educators are not only promoting physical activity to the families they teach, but walking the talk together every day.

Family nutrition educators from University of California CalFresh [UC CalFresh] and Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program [EFNEP], two federally funded nutrition education programs that provide free nutrition workshops to low-income families, have joined together to practice the lessons they teach to their participants in San Joaquin County, including exercising for at least 30 minutes a day. 

“I wanted to exercise more regularly,” UC CalFresh nutrition educator Lorena Hoyos said. “But doing it alone wasn't working, so when the idea of working out as a group came about at training, it was the perfect opportunity. Exercising with others is a great motivator, they keep you active.”

Using home-brought exercise videos like T-25, The Firm, Hip Hop Abs and others, the nutrition staff have been sweating to the beat.

“I noticed that my endurance has gone up,” EFNEP nutrition educator Houa Lee said. “I have more confidence at work and in conducting the physical activity breaks at my classes.”

Prior to the videos, the nutrition staff, along with other San Joaquin County UC Cooperative Extension employees, were doing activities like walking around the block or going to the gym together after work. Some educators even participated in weekend races or rides, such as the Color Run, Hit the Street for Hunger Run, The Electric Run, Cinderella Bike Ride and others. 

“I think it's important to show participants that we are not just preaching the goals, but living them,” said Raquel Fernandez, a program representative for the UC CalFresh and EFNEP programs. “This makes them seem a lot more attainable and helps us relate better to our participants. It also helps establish trust and credibility to our lessons.”

Participants have been asking for more physical activity,” EFNEP nutrition educator Monica Radrigan said. “It's the main reason they come and they love it! And as a result, we've noticed retention has been increasing too.”

The exercise sessions have also improved team-building efforts.

“I like to be able to come into workplace where we can support each other,” Community Nutrition Action Plan facilitator Tina Her said. “Not only in a work setting, but on a personal basis as well. This helps me connect with my coworkers better.”

UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Anna Martin said after-work exercise program is a win-win situation.

“I am proud that our staff has initiated activities that not only promote their own physical health, but improves their relationship as a team," Martin said.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 9:43 AM
Tags: CalFresh (4), EFNEP (3), group exercise (1), motivation (1), physical activity (1), work (1)

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