When you look at food ingredient labels, you’re probably checking to make sure there are no trans fats or latent sugars, but what about all those other chemicals that are impossible to pronounce? And is that really the only thing you should be concerned about when you are buying food for you and your family, what about how it was processed or how nutritious it is?
From the amount of sugar to whether bisphenol-A or BPA is present in the packaging of your food, these factors can have a profound effect on the overall well-being of you and your family. Up until recently, understanding the full impact of your family’s favorite foods could be an overwhelming task, but thanks to the Environmental Working Group’s new food database Food Scores: Rate Your Plate, you don’t have to guess anymore.
Their website rates more than 80,000 packaged foods from 1,500 brands with more being added every month. Each food item is rated along three criteria—nutrition, ingredient concerns and processing—from one to 10, with one being the best. This in-depth view offers a more complete profile of what is in processed foods so you can make the best decisions. You can look up foods on their database, or you can download their free app on your smartphone, scan the item’s barcode and instantly get the food score!
So what are Americans eating from the supermarket? Only one out of six foods earns Food Scores top rating. A meager 18 percent of foods score in the ideal green zone, 57 percent in the moderate yellow to orange and 25 percent score the worst in red. Across all products scored, 58 percent of them contain added sugar!
This is a serious problem in the American diet. Here in Georgia, we have the third highest rate of child obesity in the nation, as well as a growing number diagnosed with Type II diabetes, an adult disease previously unheard of ten years ago among kids. But fighting back against the growing youth obesity crisis is a national imperative.
In addition to sugar being heavily present in kids’ diets, there is also a dramatic dietary absence of vegetables. I was invited recently to speak at the School Nutrition Industry Conference where it was evident that the school nutrition professionals are working hard to figure out how to get kids to make healthier choices at school. Research was shared showing kids don't often choose the vegetable, and when they do there’s a high chance it will end up in the garbage untouched.
In Atlanta, there is groundbreaking work underway to educate and provide better food options for the city’s residents including children and youth. I have experienced first hand how kids love to plant in a garden and how much they enjoy preparing and eating the fruits and veggies they grow. Any type of garden will do the trick.
For many inner city children this is the first exposure they have to learning vegetables are not born in plastic bags. Whether a farm-to-school program, where kids visit production farms, or gardens in the classroom programs like Captain Planet Foundation’s Project Learning Garden, kids learn lifelong skills and habits that transform into dramatically improved lifestyle choices well into adulthood. This education is critical because often times, even if the school offers balanced choices for lunch, these children often return home to unhealthy and processed foods, or sadly, no food at all. By educating them on nutritious food and preparation, kids are given a leg up with knowledge, understanding and some necessary tools to make better choices at home. This includes sharing their new found passion and skill sets with their parents and grandparents.
This is especially true for children living in communities, called food deserts, where children and families do not have access to fresh foods. The Georgia Food Oasis is an incredible collaboration among more than 100 organizations working together to figure out how best to address the health and nutrition problems in Atlanta’s most economically depressed areas. This innovative program, headed by Atlanta Food Bank and Georgia Organics, has been so effective it will soon be implemented statewide, and will hopefully serve as a model for other states.
By collaborating, nonprofits apply their individual expertise in a combined holistic approach to satisfy each problem touchpoint. Residents can receive shopping lessons and cooking demos, prescriptions for nutritious foods from participating doctors, education and resources to implement community gardens, summer feeding programs for youth, microloans for food entrepreneurs and SNAP coupons are honored two for one when choices are made that prioritize fresh produce over processed foods at farmer’s markets or participating grocery stores. With access to all these resources and education, residents are thriving by learning to eat, cook and grow more nourishing foods.
When we provide a good foundation for our children to make better and more wholesome lifestyle choices, we empower them for life, and in turn they will pass these same lessons down to their children. Laying the groundwork for living well starts at home. Use Environmental Working Groups’s Food Scores and vote with your dollars for nutritious food. In addition to food scores, you can find many other important and useful resources to help you make the best choices. Shop smart, your family’s health will thank you.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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