Archive for the ‘environment’ Category
As a graduate student of Public Health concentrating in Environmental Health, I find it extremely important to be aware of things in our environment that can potentially cause bodily harm and disease, in addition to finding ways to protect human health.
I am also on the path to obtaining my Registered Dietitian credential, and have consequently discovered that our bodies can receive an arsenal of health promoting weaponry from the food we eat and the compounds found within them. The combination of these two highly related disciplines has yielded two important conclusions:
- The health of our food supply is highly related to the health of our environment
- The food supply has become one of the biggest areas of concern regarding exposure to environmental pollutants.
This has added many layers to a question I frequently ask myself: “what can I do to protect my health?”
Thanks for all the information about farmed salmon. I had no idea Atlantic salmon was grown in such nasty conditions.
The other day at a restaurant, I had the following grilled seafood choices to add to a salad: squid, shrimp, tuna, and lobsters.
Are any of these farmed, or can I order them knowing they are all wild? I already know about mercury in tuna; in this instance I am only interested in the farming vs. wild issue.
– Steve Wilmott
Seafood opens up Pandora’s box. Frankly, the more I read about the fishing and farming of many marine animals, the more turned off I am.
There’s the mercury issue with tuna, the salmon farming hot topic, concerns regarding overfishing and completely unsustainable catching methods that threaten to render certain species extinct and practically destroy ecosystems, and then… there’s the issue of Country of Origin Labeling.
Let’s start at the beginning.
In regards to your question: tuna and squid are not farmed. Roughly half of all shrimp in the world are farmed. The vast majority of lobsters, meanwhile, are wild-caught.
The shrimp issue is interesting. Whereas shrimp farms in the United States are subject to certain regulations (mainly relating to waste treatment and antibiotic use), the overwhelming majority of the world’s farmed shrimp — mainly housed in China, India, and Thailand — are harvested in awful conditions. Their water is laden with copious amounts of chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides that are strictly illegal in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Since more than three quarters of the shrimp sold in the United States is imported from those countries (and is very rarely inspected for those substances upon arriving to these shores), chances are the shrimp you eat has not been raised in the most pristine conditions.
Making matters more complicated? Depending on the species, farmed shrimp (the US kind) is a more environmentally-friendly choice than some wild-caught species that are obtained through methods that pose very negative consequences on ecosystems. This is where personal choice and priorities come into play. Do you value health over environment? Environment over health? Both equally?
Of course, this would all be much easier to navigate if Country of Origin Labeling were implemented more effectively.
Currently, United States law mandates that unprocessed seafood served at supermarkets be labeled with the country of origin as well as a “farmed” or “wild-caught” status. For whatever reason, restaurants and specialty stores are exempt from this requirement.
One of my absolute favorite resources is the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, tailored to various different regions.
I am a vegetarian and eat tofu, but I am hearing two things about tofu that are bothering me.
1) Tofu has large amounts of antibiotics or other additives dangerous to the human body.
2) In order to make tofu and fulfill the global need for tofu, the Brazilians have undertaken an incredible rate of slash and burn to clear fields to make way for planting of soybeans.
What are your thoughts?
– Barlow Humphreys
1) Tofu does not contain antibiotics.
The use of antibiotics only comes into play with animals that have them mixed into their feed.
Non-organic tofu contains pesticides, but there are no “dangerous additives” in soy products.
2) Brazil is one of the world’s top producers of soy.
It is certainly true that the increased demand for soy (along with corporate-owned genetically modified soy crops that can practically grow anywhere) have led to a staggering amount of deforestation there.
That said (and please do not take this to mean I am dismissing that as unimportant) — meat production takes an even larger toll on the environment, as it requires the use of more land, significantly more water usage, and creates a larger amount of waste.
One way to “pitch in”, from an environmental standpoint, is to purchase soy products made exclusively from soybeans that are not genetically modified, since non-GMO soybeans are usually grown more responsibly.
Although over 90 percent of the world’s soybeans are genetically modified, most of those are used to make soy by-products (ie: soybean oil, soy protein isolate) used in processed food.
When it comes to soy products, I recommend prioritizing tempeh (fermented soy) and edamame (picture alongside this post), as these are the most nutritious and less processed varieties.
Next on the list are tofu and soy-based dairy products.
Processed foods made largely with soy protein isolates (ie: soy chips, soy bars, soy burgers, soy protein powders) should be considered “occasional treats”.
Soy can only be considered a health food when it is consumed in a minimally processed form. A sprinkle of soy dust on a corn chip is hype, not health.
A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine gives both factors the attention they equally deserve.
The end result?
“Vigorous physical activity can help even people genetically prone to obesity keep the weight off.”
A team of researchers led by Dr. Soren Snitker of the University of Maryland and Dr. Evadnie Rampersaud of the University of Miami “focused their study on a group of 704 Old Order Amish men and women in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.”
Okay, not the largest sample size, but that doesn’t mean we can’t extract some juice — and talking points.
As it turns out, participants who had the obesity (FTO) gene and engaged in the least amount of physical activity were, not surprisingly, “significantly more likely” to be overweight or obese.
However, those participants genetically predisposed to obesity but physically active were not heavier than participants without said predisposition partaking in similar amounts of physical activity.
It’s worth pointing out that the most physically active genetically predisposed group was burning an additional 900 calories than their satient counterparts.
That’s another point for the “calories count” camp!
By the way, the physical activity did not involve treadmills, Stairmasters, Swiss medicine balls, or pullup bars — just old-fashioned chores (i.e.: gardening, farming, and even working the land with horses and plough!).
Do you think this study can be considered relevant for us non-Amish folks?
I have also heard that farmed salmon isn’t good for you because of PCBs. What is that all about?
– (Name withheld)
San Francisco, CA
Although salmon is universally touted as a healthy food, its environmentally — and nutritionally — toxic profile differs depending on whether that fillet you are eating comes from a wild–caught or farmed specimen.
Whereas wild salmon freely roam ocean waters, farmed salmon share open-water netted pens (pictured at left) with thousands of other cohorts.
I suppose you could call them the “Manhattan”-ites of marine animals — happily (or seemingly so) living in a shoebox.
Salmon farms are the equivalent of cattle feedlots — they produce enormous volumes of waste (think nitrogen and fecal matter) that usually end up contaminating surrounding waters.
Where do polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) come in?
Well, you can thank the human species for that. PCBs were mainly used as lubricants, adhesives, and coverings for electrical wirings several decades ago.
They were banned in 1976 due to health and environmental concerns.
What concerns, you ask?
From a health standpoint, PCBs have specifically been linked to a variety of cancers, nervous system damage, and fetal abnormalities.
Mother Earth doesn’t fare much better. Turns out PCBs accumulate in the environment very quickly, since they disintegrate at a snail’s pace.
No, make that a snail moving through cement’s pace.
Since, literally, hundreds of tons of PCBs were dumped into various waterways by companies and treatment plants in the 50s and 60s, the damage has certainly been done.
But if this affects many waterways, how come farmed salmon have higher PCB levels than their wild counterparts?
First, their diet is different.
As you said, farmed salmon are fed large quantities of grains. Ah, but that’s not all — they are also provided hydrolyzed chicken feathers (yes, REALLY!) and plenty of fish oil to snack on.
See, PCB’s accumulate in the fatty deposits and oils of fish. Farmed salmon have that freely available to them; wild salmon don’t.
Since farmed salmon are overfed, they weigh more (have more fat) than their wild counterparts. In other words, more deposits for PCBs.
We’re not just talking twice as many PCBs, either. Studies by a variety of environmental groups have concluded that the levels of PCBs in farmed salmon are anywhere from 12 to 18 times higher than wild salmon!
It is for this reason that farmed salmon intake is recommended to not surpass one meal a month.
It doesn’t help that wild salmon is more expensive and, as Marian Burros of the New York Times discovered a few years ago, a lot of “wild salmon” is actually farmed.
What is a health conscious shopper to do? Besides realize that humans have been treating the planet like absolute crap for the past few decades?
Well, I suggest buying canned sockeye salmon or, if your budget permits, frozen Alaskan salmon, both of which are always wild.
That’s right — canned salmon labeled “Atlantic salmon” is often farmed.
In any case, salmon is not the only fish in the sea.
Many other delicious species offer plentiful Omega-3 fatty acids, including black cod, halibut, catfish, pollock, and mackerel.
Last week’s report on the alarmingly high mercury content of tuna sushi served in various New York City restaurants made consumer and industry ears perk up.
Remember, “a chain of five stores in New York, Gourmet Garage, sold tuna that in the New York Times test had mercury concentrations above one part per million, the Food and Drug Administration’s “action level,” at which the fish can be taken off the market.”
Consumers are undoubtedly taking the issue seriously.
“At Eli’s Manhattan, on New York’s Upper East Side, sales of tuna sushi were down 30 percent in the past week,” the New York Times reports in this follow-up article.
Now the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in and beginning to test the mercury levels of the 20 most consumed fish in the New York City area.
I’m looking forward to reading the results.
In the meantime, please do not view discard something as wonderful healthy as seafood as high-mercury poison.
The real “red flag” is raised with large fish (that accumulate mercury in their system through consuming smaller fish).
Smaller species such as salmon, tilapia, flounder, sardines, and sole are among the lowest in mercury.
Remember, too, that mollusks and crustaceans such as shrimp, scallops, prawns, and crab are healthy low-mercury options.
I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of plastic storage I use, but since I like to make my own stocks and soups and stews from scratch, I do a lot of freezing.
Is storing frozen food in plastic as bad as storing refrigerated or room temperature food in plastic?
I also freeze vegetables when they are fresh and plentiful, and I don’t know any other way to save corn on the cob except in plastic bags. I’d have to take out a second mortgage to buy enough Pyrex storage containers…
– Jennifer Armstrong
Saratoga Springs, NY
The often-mentioned problem with storing food in plastic containers comes up when microwaving, not freezing.
Microwaving food in a plastic container leads to some potentially toxic substances leaking into your meal, particularly if it is liquidy and/or high in fat.
I am sure you have seen “microwave safe” plastic containers in stores.
These have been tested by the Food & Drug Administration and have met certain chemical requirements rendering them non-toxic.
Many people, though, are still wary of using them.
While microwaving leftovers in a non microwave-safe container is absolutely not recommended, doing so in “authorized” containers is up to you and your comfort level.
Number three plastics (vinyl/PVC) are definitely ones to avoid when it comes to any type of food storage.
They are also environmental disasters, as they can not be recycled and end up taking space in landfills.
If you’re looking for a safer plastic option, I suggest Ziploc Freezer Guard bags. They are made of number four plastic, which, from a health standpoint, does not appear to be problematic.
If you are looking for plastic alternatives, though, try non-porous materials like glass or stainless steel. For freezing purposes, be sure to get glass containers that are freezer-safe to prevent cracking or shattering.
At the recent screening of King Corn I attended, three of the people involved with the documentary (the editor, director, and one of the two creators) held a question and answer session with the audience.
Armed with my trusty notebook, I raised my hand. My question — and their answer — follows.
ME: “[In the film, we don't see any organic farming.] Did you come across any farmers [in Iowa] who grew organic crops? How do some of the farmers you spoke to feel about using pesticides on their crops? Do you know of any physical side effects from using these chemicals?
KING CORN “CAST”: We absolutely saw a lot of people doing organic farming. We shot 500 hours of film and had to condense it to 82 minutes, so you can imagine all that was left out.
Actually, what we call “organic” here in a place like New York City isn’t a novel concept to a lot of farmers. To them, that’s just normal “farming.”
The issue of pesticides and chemicals used in farming is of huge concern to us. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there is a 60 mile “dead” zone in the Gulf of Mexico where the water is completely deprived of oxygen.
No life can grow or live there, and it’s because of runoff — waste water and fertilizer runoff — that travels down from farms in the Midwest. It’s terrible what these agricultural chemicals do.
The impact goes beyond the immediate area around the farm, or even whoever ends up eating whatever is grown on that farm.
From our research, it seemed that many of the women who farmed and were exposed to some pesticides and chemicals developed Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This stuff can’t be good for you if you are literally surrounded by it every day.
By the way, there’ s a great organization called the Practical Farmers of Iowa. They’re doing some really great stuff. They want to help farmers transition towards diversifying their crops and make them more profitable, and they are also interested in ecological preservation and keeping farming as an earth-friendly practice.
One way to get optimal nutrition while helping our planet is by purchasing produce from a local farmer’s market.
Not only will you be getting food grown within a proximal geographic location (meaning it has not been sitting in a truck for days, slowly losing more and more vitamins and minerals), you will also be reducing the amount of fuel needed to get your produce.
For instance, if you are living in New York City, you could very well go to a supermarket and get commercial strawberries (shipped in from Mexico) or you could head to your local farmer’s market for some delicious ones grown in your same state.
If you live in Seattle, you could buy commercial apples flown in from Argentina — 10,000 miles away — or ones brought in from just a few miles away.
After eating local produce, you might find it hard to buy that same item from a standard supermarket again. Flavors are more intense, and things spoil a lot slower (remember, when you buy most produce from a grocery store, you’re getting it as much as two weeks after it was picked at a farm).
I find that eating locally 100% of the time becomes very limiting. For instance, avocados do not grow on the East coast of the United States, but that does not mean I will never eat them. Similarly, oranges in the United States come from two places: California and Florida.
The key is to buy locally when the option is presented to you. Feel free to enjoy a Florida orange in Iowa, but try to get your own state’s crops from a local farmer. Your body — and the environment — will be grateful for the help.