Ever Wonder How Rainfall Affects Your Peanut Butter Sandwich Habit?
By Angela Fichter
Almost 800 million people are currently facing chronic hunger, and we waste one-third of all the food we produce. Americans are eating nearly a quarter more than they did in 1970, but we're not just eating more than we used to—we're eating way more than we need to. While our consumption is up, we're misinformed and less connected to what we're putting in our mouths.
Many people don't know where their food comes from—where their vegetables or the grains in their bread are grown, or the farming methods used to harvest them, or how they arrive in the store from which they were purchased. According to a 2017 survey by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. This reflects a broad social trend—we generally don't learn about farm-to-fork food systems in school. But the Center for Ecoliteracy is trying to change that.
CEL recently released a free digital suite containing an interactive guide on the connection between food and climate. Understanding Food and Climate Change: An Interactive Guide, which debuted on International Mother Earth Day at the United Nations, promotes thinking about food systems and their connection to climate.
Written at a six-grade level, the suite is for science curricula for secondary schools, though universities and organizations that serve adults are interested in using the suite. CEL hopes the guide will help personalize food systems for readers in a fun and accessible way, according to suite co-author and CEL creative director Karen Brown. "One of the best ways you can have people learn something new is to start with the concrete and move to the abstract … which is what makes food such an excellent starting point because everybody eats," she said.
An unexpected number of Americans are agriculturally illiterate. This matters because climate change will impact agriculture and food supplies through extreme weather patterns like more frequent droughts, crop failures and increased flooding. And addressing coming challenges will require new policies—and an informed public.
When we understand "our relationship with food as a dynamic system of interacting elements of seeds, soil, water, people, livelihoods, and financial transactions, we are less likely to think of food as the end product of linear agricultural food production. ... Understanding [this] helps us grasp the key elements of climate-resilient food systems," said CEL co-founder Zenobia Barlow. "Then we will be better able to encourage healthier personal, community, and production practices. We will discover improvements in human health and the health of soil and the environment."
The guide makes surprising ecological connections between seemingly unrelated and otherwise mundane things, like "What do changes in rainfall patterns to southern states in the U.S. have to do with a peanut butter sandwich?" or "How are farmers in the Philippines using drones to identify climate risks, like drought and flooding?"
The authors behind the new suite, Brown and science educator Margo Crabtree, are eager to see young people make climate change a part of their everyday conversations. Crabtree, who has worked for decades promoting science literacy in education, believes teaching climate change is critical. "Climate change is not getting a lot of play in classrooms, in part due to politics, and the amount of time available in science classrooms, and the fact that it's restricted to science, that's it not in social studies."
Various states are trying to undermine climate science standards in public education, thwarting efforts to establish a cohesive curriculum that can be taught nationwide. A 2017 survey by The National Center for Science Education shows that few teachers have taken a college course on climate change, possibly because climate change is a fairly new topic to most teachers; it isn't an established academic mainstay like other sciences or mathematics.
As people across the globe suffer the far-reaching consequences of climate change, our food systems aren't left untouched; they will need to adapt as ecosystems rapidly change. By 2030, The World Food Program estimates, a 35 percent increase in food supply demand will require stronger food systems that effectively address the excesses of waste, consumption, and pollution related to the production of our food.
Food waste—a byproduct of inefficient food systems—is considered one of the greatest threats to the climate. But it's not all doom and gloom. Global efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of a changing environment are growing. Brown is especially excited by smaller shifts with large impacts, for example, universities that are abandoning cafeteria trays to reduce food waste, farmers in Africa using termite tunnels for water infiltration or California farmers planting hedgerows to support biodiversity. "When people start to see modifications like that, they get inspired," Brown said.
For her, food systems work starts with the individual. "Understanding what it takes to get food to you is probably the best way to modify a food system that serves you. Some of the best answers may be local—certainly more local than a global industrial food system."
It's certainly a start.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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