UC Food Blog
"Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it . . ."
The words are old and a little hard to understand, but they tell a story that's as true today as when the poet Robert Burns spoke them back in the 1790s. They were old words even then. Always, it seems, there are those of us who are fortunate enough to eat well and those of us who go hungry, even in a country as rich as ours.
One morning last May, I got to meet some folks who help ease that hunger in the community where I live. That morning I drove with my wife to an industrial area on the northeast side of Woodland, California, where the Food Bank of Yolo County does its business. Outside the warehouse door delivery trucks from local markets, chain stores, farms, and other food sources came and went, mingling with buyers' pickups and trailers from churches and other charitable groups.
The big trucks were there to deliver what many retailers would consider marginal goods: bread, dairy products, meats, and canned and dry goods that were moving too slowly off the shelves or getting too close to their sell-by dates; a cardboard harvest bin of loose carrots in the walk-in, donated by a grower who was getting ready to put in a new crop; 50-pound sacks of potatoes or onions that were either too much for the food service market or were set aside by generous handlers or a government agency for exactly the purpose they were about to serve: to feed the hungry.
These days about 35 percent of the stock you can see in this Food Bank warehouse has been donated outright. The rest comes from government agencies or direct purchases from the California Association of Food Banks. A few years ago the directors of the Food Bank of Yolo County shifted their focus toward providing clients with fresher, more nutritious food, and since then they have brought their fresh produce sales from about 50,000 pounds a year up to a high of 1 million pounds in 2010.
That morning in May my wife and I joined other groups of buyers inside the warehouse, each of us picking through the low-priced goods for just the right mix of products to refill the shelves of a soup kitchen or—as in our case—a local food closet. Loaves of bread, a case of canned tomatoes, a box of apples, macaroni and cheese mix, a shrink-wrapped bundle of bags of flour. We loaded our wheeled dolly three times: first came the bread, which a food bank volunteer weighed before we loaded it into the truck; then the produce, likewise weighed on the dolly and loaded; and finally the canned and dry goods, which are priced by the case. Five flats of eggs we put in the pickup's back seat for a smooth ride. For a little less than $100 we got enough food to fill the truck.
A short trip then took us back to the food closet at our church, where 8 or 10 women and men, most of them well into their retirement years, bustled around the edges of the sorting table that filled the middle of the small room, stacking cans on shelves, putting bread, tortillas, and eggs into the refrigerators, doling potatoes, onions, rice, and beans from 50-pound sacks into smaller, consumer-sized bags, and pointing out to me firmly and kindly each time I put a box or bag down in the wrong place. Which was pretty often. Before an hour was up, the closet was stocked and locked up and ready for food distribution the next day. Two distributions a week from our closet alone can serve up to 50 families in need.
There's plenty that you can do, too, to help relieve hunger in your own community. Find your nearest food bank on the California Association of Food Banks website, or ask around to find out about local food closets or soup kitchens.
Then all you need to do is pitch in. If you've got the time, they've got the need.
A few weeks ago, I attended the California Childhood Obesity Conference, where I heard Bryan Reese, Chief Marketing Officer, of Bolthouse Farms speak about the brilliant marketing campaign launched by "A bunch of carrot farmers."
Baby carrots were "invented" in the 1990s and became an instant hit. Not only did it transform the industry, but American consumers doubled their consumption of carrots in the ensuing decade. Then, a couple of years ago, after this remarkable growth, consumption began to fall.
Reese credits the decline to a number of factors, the economy being a primary one. Consumers were trying to save money, so they were buying regular carrots. Since those carrots need peeling, washing and cutting at home, a lot of those carrots were relegated to what the industry calls "the drawer of death" - your refrigerator's vegetable bin - where they remained uneaten.
To make a long story short, Bolthouse hired an edgy ad agency with a client list that includes Kraft Foods, Dominos Pizza and Coke Zero. The campaign aimed to turn the brand on its head: Stop marketing baby carrots as a vegetable and start marketing them as a snack.
"The snack food industry was already trying to make their products appear healthy. We're already healthy. Look! One ingredient!" quipped Reese in his presentation.
In two test markets, a $25 million campaign was launched, including media, a web site, vending machines in schools, repackaging of the product, and a marketing tie-in with the animated movie Hop. No longer sitting demurely in the produce aisle, baby carrots were transformed into an extreme snack whose packaging and marketing resemble chips.
The results: Baby carrot consumption in the test markets increased by 10 to 12 percent, vending machines were dispensing 80 to 90 individual packs per week, schools were inquiring about installing their own machines, and the campaign started generating enviable national PR buzz.
What's next? A national roll out of the campaign. So look for Extreme Baby Carrots in a refrigerated case near you.
I know, most of us treat tomatoes like a vegetable in the kitchen, slicing and dicing them into dishes that are savory rather than sweet. Botanically speaking, tomato is a fruit because it’s developed from the ovary in the base of the flowers and contains the seeds of the plant (though cultivated forms may be seedless.)
No matter, the tomato is a nutritional powerhouse any way you cut it, loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant credited with preventing both cancer and heart disease.
The UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences devotes many resources to tomato production, helping large- and small-scale growers, organic and otherwise, control weeds, manage pests, fight disease and tackle all the other adventures farming can bring. The department is also home to the C.M. Rick Tomato Genetic Resource Center, the largest known collection of tomato seeds in the world. You can’t breed a better tomato without diversity of genetic tissues, and the repository and its abundance of wild species are the sources of resistance to 44 major tomato diseases and at least 20 insect pets – not to mention improved fruit traits like tolerance to saline conditions and drought.
Of course, growing or buying a tomato is only part of the equation. How do you make sure the fruit of your labor is tasty and safe? Here are some helpful hints from the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, a handy resource for all your postharvest technology needs:
How to choose: A ripe tomato will be plump, vibrant in color and fairly firm to the touch. You want it to have a little give, but not much. Ageism aside, avoid a tomato with wrinkles.
How to store: Keep tomatoes at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, with the stem scar (the belly button, if you will) facing up to reduce softening and darkening of the fruit. It’s best to eat them within two or three days, though some tomatoes are perfectly fine for about five days. Store tomatoes unwashed and then rinse them under running water before eating.
How to prepare: After rinsing your tomato well, wipe it dry and cut away the stem scar and surrounding area before slicing into it. Don’t wash tomatoes in a sink filled with water (nor use soap or detergent) because tomatoes can absorb contaminated water and soap residue through its stem scar. Cut or chopped tomatoes (and dishes like salsa) should always be covered and refrigerated if not consumed within two hours or preparation. Cut tomatoes will last one or two days in the refrigerator.
How to enjoy: Enjoy them every which way! It would be hard pick my favorite tomato recipe, but you can’t go wrong with this fast, fresh salad:
Tomato platter special
Four fresh tomatoes of any color or variety
Two red onions
Two orange, yellow or red bell peppers
A few sprigs of basil
Your favorite vinaigrette
Four ounces Feta cheese
Slice the produce into circles and fan them out on a platter in an attractive, alternating order. If you have fresh cucumbers, they fit nicely in this flower, as well. Drizzle with vinaigrette, crumble on some Feta cheese, give a few grinds of fresh pepper and few shakes of salt and place basil sprigs on top.
The UC Riverside avocado breeding program has identified a promising new avocado variety, which scientists believe will soon take off commercially.
The GEM avocado is the great-granddaughter of Hass avocado, which is currently the industry standard in California. GEM has all the excellent characteristics of Hass avocados - creamy, nutty flesh; dark, pebbly skin when ripe - and it has additional benefits for the grower, according to Mary Lu Arpaia, a UC Cooperative Extension subtropical horticulturist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif.
"Hass avocados are alternate bearing - they will produce a big crop one year, and a small crop the next. GEM is more consistent, so growers can make money every year," Arpaia said. "The trees are also more compact, which means growers have less costs for harvesting and tree maintenance."
GEM was part of an extensive avocado variety breeding program led since the 1950s by UC Riverside plant breeder Bob Bergh. Arpaia took over the program in 1996.
In the early 1980s, Bergh released a variety he called the Gwen. However, Gwen didn't turn black when it ripened, a disadvantage because consumers are accustomed to Hass. In the mid 80s, Bergh planted more than 60,000 avocado variety seedlings on farms across Southern California. GEM, a daughter of Gwen, was one.
There are GEM trees growing at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. Fruit samples are sent to the Kearney Sensory Laboratory, where volunteers judge the fruit's outward appearance and compare the flavor with Hass.
Recently, UC Riverside signed an exclusive license agreement with Westfalia Fruit Estates, a South African company, to market GEM around the world, the university announced. In the United States, the California–based Brokaw Nursery has non-exclusive rights to the GEM avocado.
For information on GEM avocado sensory testing, see the one-minute video below.
Since the onset of Title IX in 1972, opportunities have dramatically increased for female athletes, largely to their benefit. However, some negative health outcomes such as disordered eating, chronic menstrual disturbances and low bone mass have been associated with high-level competition among some female athletes, particularly in sports such as gymnastics and cross-country running, where a slender physique or lean body build is important.
“Adolescent female athletes, in a rapid growth and development phase, may be at greatest risk,” authors Michelle T. Barrack of UCLA and Marta D. Van Loan of the USDA Agriculture Research Service report in the July-September 2011 issue of California Agriculture journal. Their review article is published in a special issue of the journal, “Food as medicine: Can what we eat help cure what ails us?”
The article identifies athletes at risk in order to understand the origin of possible negative outcomes and recommend behavioral modifications that promote participation in competitive sports while supporting lifetime health.
The “Female Athlete Triad syndrome” is a trio of interlinked negative outcomes that can result from poor nutrition in a small percentage of high-level female athletes:
- Low bone mass in young women can lead to the early onset of osteoporosis and increased risked for bone fractures;
- Menstrual disturbances are caused by inadequate reproductive hormones, especially estrogen, which can in turn inhibit bone mineralization during adolescence and impede bone maintenance thereafter;
- Eating disorders can disrupt the menstrual cycle, resulting in low or no estrogen production; adequate levels of estrogen are needed to increase bone mineralization and, in turn, bone density.
An important question is whether these exercise-related health problems occur from an energy deficit, in which calories consumed do not meet calories needed for the increased level of physical activity, or from excess stress that alters the hormones regulating menstrual function and bone metabolism.
“Several well-controlled animal and human experimental studies have confirmed that as long as energy is available for physiological needs other than exercise, it promotes normal hormone function,” Barrack and Van Loan note. “This suggests that intense exercise does not in itself exert an additional stress that disrupts menstruation and bone metabolism.”
The article details the basic nutritional needs of female athletes.
“Just consuming enough energy (calories) is not enough,” Barrack and Van Loan wrote. “For optimal health and peak performance, it is critical to consume the three primary macronutrients for energy metabolism (carbohydrates, protein and fat) as well as a multitude of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).” Critical micronutrients include B vitamins, antioxidants, calcium and vitamin D, iron, zinc and magnesium.
“The optimal diet for a young, developing athlete should maximize sport performance, while reducing injury risk and facilitating overall health, growth and maturation,” the authors wrote. “Due to the metabolic and physiologic demands of their sports, the nutrient needs of young athletes can be much higher than their nonathlete peers and higher than the needs of young adult athletes who have reached maturity. It is important to make competitive adolescent athletes aware of their specific needs as well as to identify those athletes at risk of developing deficiencies.”