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In the Autumn of 2014, two San Francisco therapists shared a vision: to help heal that which divides us through the fine art of skilled listening. They gathered 26 of their colleagues, practiced listening skills and came up with a curriculum and model for listening on the sidewalks together.
On May 7th 2015, for 2 hours in 12 locations throughout San Francisco, listeners set up chairs and signs, offering to listen to any passer-by who wanted to be seen and heard. The result was amazing. And soon after a group from Los Angeles asked if they could reproduce it. There was never an intention for this thing to grow. Every person met at Sidewalk Talk is just like you, someone who believes that human connection is the way to create healthy humans, healthy politics, and a healthy world.
Today Sidewalk Talk has 1700 volunteers world-wide. They have groups in 40 cities around the globe. They have grown but remain grassroots by design. The focus is creating an active, engaged community of volunteers who commit to a regular listening practice and who connect with each other, not just the people they listen to.
Is this a way to gather not only people’s thoughts and opinions, but also raise the important of what the man on the “sidewalk” has to say? Would this work in our communities? Worth a thought!
China was the Global Nutrition Report’s star performer. It was one of only two countries (the other being South Korea) that posted levels of stunting, women’s anaemia and overweight adults that were all below indications of a very serious public health risk.
China’s numbers are staggering. In the past 10 years GDP per capita has tripled, mortality rates for the under-fives have declined from 37 per 1,000 to 14, and the percentage of the under-fives who are short for their age has declined from 22% to 9%.
But how long will China remain the star performer?
Of great concern in the future are the rapid increases in overweight and obesity in China. While the rates of overweight adults in China are less than half the rates of the UK (and the rates of obesity are about a fifth of the UK’s), the rates for children less than 20 years of age are much closer.
It is this body-mass time bomb that is the most worrying aspect of China’s nutrition status. High body-mass is a risk factor for a range of diseases such as diabetes and some forms of heart disease.
Will we see UK–level rates of obesity in these adults in China in 15 years’ time?
But it is not too late. China has the opportunity and the means to show the rest of the world how to slow and reverse the apparent tsunami of obesity. It has the opportunity because the problem is not yet unmanageable and its economy is strong. This generates policy possibilities. It has the means, because of the strong ability of the state to shape the environment to make healthy choices easier and more likely.
And make no mistake about it – the world needs China to succeed. Obese people tend to consume more of the types of foods that have a higher carbon footprint such as meat, sugar and dairy. There are diets – vegetarian, Mediterranean and pescetarian for example – that are healthier for the planet and for humans. China needs to draw on traditional eating habits and move towards its own 21st century version of a healthier diet – we all have a stake in that.
Following our look at whether local food is “better,” read about a Canadian couple who experimented with this approach….
When Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon learned that the average ingredient in a North American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate, they decided to launch a simple experiment to reconnect with the people and places that produced what they ate. For one year, they would only consume food that came from within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver apartment. The 100-Mile Diet was born.
The concept of the 100-mile diet forces a mental shift from eating globally to think more locally to ensure everything you eat is within a 100 mile radius of your table. Though going cold turkey into eating within such a restricted geographical region may not be for everyone you can start with a single family meal. This forces you to research and explore what’s actually grown close to your home and you’ll begin to appreciate not only the bounty of your local region, but the major implications of eating foods from around the world.
Choosing to consume food that is produced within 100 miles of your home comes with all of the benefits of local, seasonal eating: more flavourful foods, smaller environmental footprint, better health, and support for local farmers.
Alisa and James admit that finding local food sources took a lot of time. Very little in a supermarket can be traced to where all the ingredients come from and many of the products contain oils, sugar or seasonings that have travelled vast distances. So they set about finding just who did produce food in the Vancouver area. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest challenges was finding carbohydrates during the ‘hungry gap’ before the new season’s harvest began – rice, pasta and bread were all unavailable leaving only potatoes. Between them they lost 15 pounds in six weeks and were forced to loosen the rules slightly to include locally milled flour from grain that at least came from Canada. Summertime made life a little easier, with plentiful Farmer’s Markets a wealth of local foods. This did lead to its own problems though – many hours spent preserving foods for the long Canadian winter.
Is the 100 mile diet one that is realistic for your average person leading a busy life? No, but it was never intended to be. Alisa and James set themselves a high challenge to discover what the real issues with local food sourcing were. In the process they did much more, attracting a world-wide audience and making a bold political statement. This has led some people to label local food as the ‘new organic’ – something that seems to be at odds with the founder’s values which were very much attuned to sustainable organic food production. However, local food sourcing is deservedly gaining attention and the 100 mile diet certainly struck a chord with many who believe in sustainable production.
In 1993, a Swedish researcher calculated that the ingredients of a typical Swedish breakfast-apple, bread, butter, cheese, coffee, cream, orange juice, sugar-travelled a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth before reaching the Scandinavian table. In 2005, a researcher in Iowa found that the milk, sugar, and strawberries that go into a carton of strawberry yogurt collectively journeyed 2,211 miles just to get to the processing plant. As the local-food movement has come of age, this concept of “food miles” has come to dominate the discussion.
The concept offers a kind of convenient shorthand for describing a food system that’s centralized, industrialized, and complex almost to the point of absurdity. And, since our food is transported all those miles in ships, trains, trucks, and planes, attention to food miles also links up with broader concerns about the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from fossil fuel-based transport.
So is eating local food better? And what exactly is “local food” in the first place? How local is local?
One problem with trying to determine whether local food is greener is that there’s no universally accepted definition of local food.
There’s some evidence that a popular understanding of local food is, at least in some places, coalescing around a 100-mile limit. A 2008 Leopold Institute survey of consumers throughout the United States found that two-thirds considered local food to mean food grown within 100 miles. Still, a variety of other definitions also persist. Sometimes local means food grown within a county, within a state or province, or even, in the case of some small European nations, within the country. All of those are perfectly valid ways of thinking about local. But they don’t have all that much to do with environmental costs and benefits.
In any case food miles don’t tell the whole story. “Food miles are a good measure of how far food has travelled. But they’re not a very good measure of the food’s environmental impact.”
That impact depends on how the food was transported, not just how far. For example, trains are 10 times more efficient at moving freight, ton for ton, than trucks are. So you could eat potatoes trucked in from 100 miles away, or potatoes shipped by rail from 1,000 miles away, and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their transport from farm to table would be roughly the same.
The environmental impact of food also depends on how it is grown. Swedish researcher Annika Carlsson-Kanyama led a study that found it was better, from a greenhouse-gas perspective, for Swedes to buy Spanish tomatoes than Swedish tomatoes, because the Spanish tomatoes were grown in open fields while the local ones were grown in fossil-fuel-heated greenhouses.
However, what if water shortages require Spanish growers to install energy-intensive irrigation systems? And what if greenhouses in northern Europe were heated with renewable energy?
Perhaps it’s inevitable that consumers gravitate to a focus on food miles-the concept represents the last step before food arrives on our tables, the part of the agricultural supply chain that’s most visible to us. And indeed, all other things being equal, it’s better to purchase something grown locally than the same thing grown far away.
But a broader, more comprehensive picture of all the trade-offs in the food system requires tracking greenhouse gas emissions through all phases of a food’s production, transport, and consumption. And life-cycle analysis (LCA), a research method that provides precisely this “cradle-to-grave” perspective, reveals that food miles represent a relatively small slice of the greenhouse-gas pie.
The other clear result that emerges from these analyses is that what you eat matters at least as much as how far it travels, and agriculture’s overwhelming “hotspots” are red meat and dairy production. In part that’s due to the inefficiency of eating higher up on the food chain-it takes more energy, and generates more emissions, to grow grain, feed it to cows, and produce meat or dairy products for human consumption, than to feed grain to humans directly.
“Broadly speaking, eating fewer meat and dairy products and consuming more plant foods in their place is probably the single most helpful behavioural shift one can make” to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, farmers who market locally are often relatively small in scale, and can more feasibly adopt environmentally beneficial practices such as growing a diversity of crops, planting cover crops, leaving weedy field borders or planting hedgerows that provide a refuge for native biodiversity, and integrating crop and livestock production. In short, the production practices matter a lot more than where the food was actually grown. If buying local also means buying with better production practices then that’s great, that’s going to make a huge difference.
So, is local food greener? Not necessarily. But look at the question from the opposite direction: if you’re a consumer interested in greener food, the local food economy is currently a good place to find it. By the same token, a farmer who sells in the local food economy might be more likely to adopt or continue sustainable practices in order to meet this customer demand.
Yet there are limits to this common-sense approach. In many areas, the climate is such that eating local, seasonal, field-grown produce would be a pretty bleak proposition for much of the year. Large concentrations of people live in areas not suited to growing certain staple crops; it’s one thing to forego bananas, but quite another to give up wheat. And population density itself works against relocalization of the food system. Most of the land within 100 miles of large cities such as New York is itself very built up; where will the farmland to feed us all locally come from?
Local food is delicious, but the problem-and perhaps the solution-is global.
Join us next week to read about an initiative started in Canada to address food miles and associated issues.
Parks, gardens, greenspaces, woodlands and local paths are ideal settings for a spot of green exercise. Perhaps you like to relax by taking a gentle stroll or by tidying up the garden. Maybe cycling to work starts the day on a high note or you look forward to evenings playing sport in the park.
Whatever pace you set yourself, being in the outdoors and getting active is great for your physical and mental health and well-being.
It’s recommended that adults do at least five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise per week. For children, it’s at least 1 hour every day. Getting active outdoors could be an easy way for you to meet your target.
Learn about green exercise and its benefits.
Step to it
Parks and woods are a brilliant backdrop for your walk, cycle or jog. Soak up the surroundings and say hello to your neighbours as you get your daily dose of green exercise. You can probably reach your favourite local greenspace via a traffic-free route – so you can leave the car at home.
Active travel is another option if you struggle to set aside a specific time for outdoor exercise. Just choose to walk or cycle whenever you have to go somewhere and you’ll soon start to clock up the miles.
Discover your local path network today.
Stuck for what to do in the holidays? Check out Scottish Natural Heritage explore for a day for some great ideas.
Renowned for its rich cultural heritage and abundant wildlife, Aberdeenshire has something for everyone. This leaflet includes four possible itineraries for a day out in this breathtaking north-eastern region of Scotland.
Stroll along stunning stretches of sandy beaches, hike through wild landscapes or ramble atop dramatic cliffs. Aberdeenshire’s various nature reserves also offer unrivalled opportunities to spot a wealth of wildlife. Head to the region’s coastline to spot waders, seals and falcons, and glimpse red squirrels and the Scottish crossbill above your head in majestic ancient woodlands.
Or how about a spot of time travel? Dating back thousands of years, the region boasts an impressive 99 standing stone sites. Or take a tour through Scottish history via Aberdeenshire’s many castles and strongholds perched atop rugged cliffs, set in wide expanses of moorland and nestling within beautiful landscaped gardens.
All this and more awaits you here in Aberdeenshire. What are you waiting for?
Researchers have found that the closer people live to the sea, the healthier they tend to be.
However, it is not just those who live in rural seaside areas that benefit.
The biggest effect is actually felt by people living in coastal cities like Newcastle and Southampton, compared to inland ones like Birmingham and Leeds.
It was not sure how much of the benefit had to do with salty air.
It’s thought that it could be that the sea had a calming influence on people, or that those who lived near it had an added incentive to get out and about.
Information from the 2001 census compared the health of people in England living near the sea and far away, both in rural and urban areas.
In the census respondents were required to rate their health as ‘good’, ‘fairly good’, or ‘not good’. Nationwide, just over two-thirds (69 per cent) rated it as ‘good’.
However, those living within three miles (5km) of the coast were slightly more likely to rate their health highly, compared to those living more than 30 miles (50km) inland.
The effect extended to those living in the band 12 to 30 miles (20-50km) from the sea, although less strongly.
Researchers concluded “You don’t have to have a sea view to benefit.”
The results suggested what was important was how often people got to the coast, and how woven it was into their lives.
The study, published in the journal Health and Place, took account of variations in age and wealth between different areas’ populations.
It showed living by the sea most benefits poorer, city-dwelling people – those who, nationally, suffer the worst health and do the least exercise.
Good news for those of us lucky enough to live by the beautiful Aberdeenshire coastline. But even if you don’t, added incentive to go out and make the most of it!