Meatless Monday Launches at Johns Hopkins University

Today marked the launch of Meatless Monday on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.  Elaborate banners of cartoon cows, chickens and pigs that read, “Monday is my day off!” greeted students as they entered JHU Dining Service’s three

Banners welcome students

Banners welcome students

main dining areas: Levering Food Court, Fresh Food Court and Nolan’s. The Center for a Livable Future, the Office of Sustainability at Hopkins and several student groups including: Students for Environmental Action (SEA), Eco-Reps, and Real Food Hopkins lent JHU Dining a hand in launching the campaign. Meatless Monday asks students to reduce their meat consumption by 15%, by giving up meat once a week, in an attempt to improve health for not only the students themselves, but the environment as well.

Volunteers handed out stickers and pamphlets, while informational posters peppered throughout the cafeterias explained the benefits of going “meatless” once a week.  Meatless Monday is a perfect compliment to the Hopkins Sustainability Office’s “Know your Food Print” campaign, whose goal is to educate Hopkins students about how their food choices affect the environment.

JHU Dining’s Executive Chef Michael Gueiss, said he was excited to bring Meatless Monday on campus. While all the meat options remained on the menu, Chef Gueiss made sure that there were plenty of new and some familiar vegetarian meal options available for customers. The meals ranged from new vegetarian pizza options and special lentil soup to a portabella mushroom cheese -melt with sautéed onions. Read More >

Hoop dreams: A Baltimore community farm gets winterized

as seen from Whitelock St.

as seen from Whitelock St.

On a recent crisp October weekend, Reservoir Hill community members, friends, farmers, and two bus loads of Johns Hopkins undergraduate students gathered at the Whitelock Community Farm for a modern barn raising. The various volunteer groups, totaling close to 50 people, built an inexpensive but practical hoop house using a clear plastic roof and a PVC-pipe spine to extend the newly established farm’s growing season. Construction of the 20 foot by 30 foot hoop house was managed by Thor Nelson, an architect/planner who lives a block from the farm site, and paid for by a grant from Parks and People. The Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) chipped in Federal Stimulus money to fund materials for a shed and farm stand on the property, and coordinated the volunteer support from Johns Hopkins. Read More >

Reading between the lines: FDA indicates consumer preference not a reason for salmon labeling

FDA hosted a hearing on Tuesday, September 21 to discuss the hypothetical labeling of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. Just fifteen hours earlier the FDA finished hearing the debate on GE salmon approval, which gave the impression that FDA was moving faster on the issue than it actually is.  This compressed schedule caused frustration among experts, leading George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety to say “it is inappropriate to hold hearings on labeling before [GE salmon] are approved.”

In oral statements made before the FDA panel, Food and Water Watch (FWW) speaker Patty Lovera and the Alexis Baden-Mayer of Organic Consumers Association were not in favor of GE salmon, although if approved, Lovera recommended mandatory labeling of GE salmon. When pushed by the FDA panel on the material reasons for labeling, pro-labeling advocates often cited a lack of data on allergenicity of GE salmon or consumer preference. In a major break with other consumer advocacy groups, Gregory Jaffe from the Center for Science in the Public Interest indicated a preference for no GE labeling.

Salmon fillets in the grocery store (source: http://www.ctbites.com/home/2009/10/14/the-fresh-market-opens-in-westport.html)

Salmon fillets in the grocery store (source: http://www.ctbites.com/home/2009/10/14/the-fresh-market-opens-in-westport.html)

If GE salmon is approved, the FDA has indicated that labeling will be based only on material differences in GE salmon compared to non-GE salmon, and not based on consumer preferences for GE labeling. These views may not be consistent with surveys that show 70% of American consumers want GE food to be labeled, from data reported by Jaffe.

Industry groups, including Richard Carnevale of Animal Health Institute, stood in line to argue that there were no material reasons why GE salmon should be labeled. The CEO of AquaBounty, Richard Clothier gave a series of other arguments against mandatory labeling, including the “slippery slope” that may lead to labeling of all GE foods and if labeling “complicated the process it would be a pity.” It appears that all stakeholders, including the FDA, realize this is a complicated process, and are willing to work through the difficult decisions.

If GE salmon is approved, consumers will have the ultimate say in its success. Salmon is the 3rd most consumed seafood product in the US and its popularity and high market price will likely continue,whether or not consumers know what kind of salmon they are eating.  It remains to be seen if the aquaculture industry realizes that the rising interest in communicating where and how our food is raised may be a benefit as opposed to a liability.    Elliot Entis, the founder of AquaBounty, indicated he would be in favor of voluntary labeling as a type of product branding. Entis was in favor of calling their salmon “Panama Reds,” although one can only wonder if this is just a red herring.

– Dave Love

Maryland public hearing on proposed oyster policy draws a crowd

Citizens descended on the small town of Wye Mill, Maryland at Chesapeake College Thursday, August 5th to attend the final public comment period for Maryland’s sweeping new oyster policies. The overcast and muggy weather provided a sober backdrop for intense discussions on how Maryland will manage the future of the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica)— a bivalve mollusk central to the culture and livelihood of generations of watermen.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff reviewed a package of eight regulations, ranging from expanded oyster sanctuaries, changes to public shellfish fishery areas, leasing for shellfish aquaculture, to a study of power dredging. According to the Southern Maryland Online, more than a thousand people have already commented on these proposed oyster policies, which were posted on February 2010.

Tom O’Connell, Director of DNR Fisheries Service defended the plan saying “there is broad stakeholder agreement that the status quo is not acceptable” and that the policies as presented will “make it better for the oyster, the oystermen, and aquaculture.”

Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica)

Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Image by Tony Weeg/Creative Commons

One of the main points of contention was over expanded oyster sanctuaries. Conservation groups see these sanctuaries, instead of lost resources, as preserves where oyster populations can grown and evolve natural resistance to menacing oyster diseases. An appropriate analogy is the creation of “national parks” or sanctuaries for oysters where they can flourish, in addition to “national forests” or public waters where oysters can be selectively, commercially harvested. Signs of natural disease resistance have been reported in Chesapeake Bay oysters, which highlights need for increasing oyster sanctuaries.

There is a growing sense of urgency to approve the state’s plan. Stephanie Westby, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called for “ new management strategies while we still have something to protect.” A member of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association echoed support for the new DNR plan and pointed out that rockfish and blue crabs have both rebounded from overharvesting following management the state, and oysters are next on the list of species that need saving.

Questions about the plan to increase oyster sanctuaries from 9% to 25% of remaining oyster beds and carve out private lease areas drew sharp criticism from one oystermen who asked, “why take my bottom from me?”

Marylanders have historically regarded oyster bottom— sea floor capable for growing oysters— as public property, while most other states on the East Coast, including Virginia, consider oyster bottom as privatized, leasable land. Transitioning from public oyster grounds to leasable plots in selected areas is a first step in developing oyster aquaculture in Maryland.

More than 90% of oysters consumed in the US are raised by aquaculture, so Maryland’s latest decision to promote aquaculture along with wild harvesting is consistent with, if not somewhat lagging national trends. Read More >

NPR’s Morning Edition Focuses on Meatless Monday

nprlogo_138x46Some 14 million listeners tuned in this morning to hear National Public Radio’s most popular program, Morning Edition, give extensive coverage to the Meatless Monday campaign. The 8-1/2 minute segment, “Campaign Aims To Make Meatless Mondays Hip,” included an interview with Meatless Monday Founder, Sid Lerner. Reporter Allison Aubrey accompanied Lerner as he visited Dovetail, a popular New York City restaurant that has adopted Meatless Monday, and interviewed patrons sampling the offerings on the meatless menu.

The Meatless Monday Campaign was developed in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future. The goal of the campaign is to reduce saturated fat consumption by 15 percent by forgoing meat one day a week.

Book Review: The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One

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By my estimation, seventy-five-year-old author Dr. Sylvia Earle has spent more than 1% of her life underwater. If her dives were connected in time, it would be as if she slipped into the ocean on New Year’s Day and did not re-emerge until some time after Labor Day.

Her book chronicles her experiences as a 1960s pioneer in underwater exploration, with stirring accounts of the inquisitive fish and mammals she met in the deep blue. Anthropomorphizing these animals would be an insult, given all the trouble humans have caused by overfishing, pollution, and acidification of the oceans. With these issues, she deftly takes an animal’s perspective in deconstructing our troubled oceans.

I once found an enterprising hermit crab with its vulnerable posterior neatly tucked into a discarded Bayer aspirin bottle, a modern, lightweight, durable substitute for a traditional snail shell. A decorator crab on a nearby reef had artfully placed a disposable fast-food ketchup envelope on its back along with bits of algae, hydroids and normal camouflaging elements. The ketchup container actually helped the crab blend in with other trash.

Over half of all humans live near the coast where impacts are felt from habitat destruction to overfishing. One report in the journal Nature found industrial fishing has removed 90% of all large fish from the ocean. As oceanic currents sweep away human litter, a convergence of garbage is amassing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To make a small dent in the trash issue, Earle tells of the Ocean Conservancy’s yearly coastal clean-up that in 2008 drew participants from 100 countries, collecting 6.8 million tons of trash with the top 10 offenders being: 1) cigarette butts; 2) plastic bags; 3) food containers; 4) caps and lids; 5) plastic bottles; 6) paper bags; 7) straws and stirrers;  8) cups, plates, eating utensils; 9) glass bottles; and 10) beverage cans. So many of these items are food related, which is a sign to me that our food system is in disrepair. Read More >

International aquaculture course stresses natural systems thinking for fish farming

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 12th annual International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course in St. Croix at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). I was able to meet and learn from many wonderful people who traveled from about 21 U.S. states and 18 countries including Canada, Mexico, six Caribbean islands, Peru, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Singapore, and Saipan, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Course participants ranged from commercial and aspiring farmers to backyard hobbyists, non-profit and international development workers, aquaculture extension specialists, academics, entrepreneurs, and investors.

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Charlie Schultz, course instructor, harvesting basil

Throughout the week, the course instructors emphasized that integratedfarming systems, such as aquaponics, can be more environmentally sustainable, resilient and potentially more profitable than monoculture of either fish or plant species. Course lectures included tilapia biology, broodstock spawning, fry cultivation and growout, plant propagation and hydroponics, integrated pest management, system design, and commercial considerations. Field work followed in-class lectures for hands-on learning activities.

Aquaponics is essentially a method for boosting profits from aquaculture (i.e., fish farming) by capturing excess nutrients inherent in fish waste to raise plants as a secondary revenue crop. In this regard aquaponics borrows heavily from hydroponics — a method for raising plants in a soil-less, nutrient-rich water, but it differs in one key respect. Hydroponics is performed with microbiologically clean water where all inputs come from fertilizers, while in aquaponics “we keep our system dirty” says the course’s lead instructor and UVI professor, Dr. Jim Rakocy, repeating the mantra this leader in the aquaponics movement has developed during his 30 years of research. Read More >

Oil disaster may not affect seafood prices drastically, but Gulf remains in peril

The Deepwater Horizon/ BP oil rig has been leaking for seven weeks and counting, and is already responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history. The spill, among other things, highlights our intimate connection to aquatic ecosystems.

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NOAA fishing area closure map

Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expanded the Gulf of Mexico fishery closure area to nearly 76,000 square miles, (which is a surface area more than 1.5 times larger than the state of Mississippi) and which enshrouds much of the coastline (see below). High-number animal fatalities, such as dolphins (29 dead) and sea turtles (228 dead) are indicators of the impacts the spill has had and will have on marine life. Food system effects are already rippling through both coastal and inland seafood markets as some brace for potential increases in seafood prices.

Media reports understandably focus on the lives and futures of Gulf Coast fishermen, as well as the issue of tightening regulations on offshore drilling. But, aside from the disturbing images seen in the media, many are wondering how will those of us who do not live near the Gulf be affected? Read More >

Locally grown, Locally shared: A new model for giving in Baltimore, MD

Over a hundred Baltimore residents gathered on Saturday night for the 4th edition of an innovative fundraising event called STEW. STEW is a joint project of Baltimore Development Cooperative and Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, where attendees pay $10/person for the opportunity to share a multi-course locavore meal and listen to the financial needs of three amazing local non-profits. At the end of the meal, attendees vote on how to distribute their +$1,000 of pooled donations.

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The Velocipede Bicycle Project presenting at STEW IV

The eponymous 2640 (St Paul St) housed the event, which contained three communal tables—dressed in brown paper tablecloths, mismatched silverware, cups, and plates—spanning the length of a church hall. The meal left this blogger pleasantly surprised about the delicious variety available within a 40 mi radius of Baltimore, and in April no less! Food was donated by local farms: Calvert’s Gift Farm, Great Kids Farm, Participation Park, Real Food Farm, and Truck Patch Farms. Volunteers cooked and served the food, with a warm and professional feel.

The inspiration for STEW, as decribed on their website, was “the ’network dinners’ organized by the art-activist collective campbaltimore in 2006, Incubate Chicago’s Sunday Soup, Brooklyn’s FEAST, as well as the amazing dinner that took place at 2640 during the City From Below conference.”

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Rod and Amanda at STEW IV

The first course was a tangy and sweet salad of mustard greens, sorrel, and radish tops, which was followed by a presentation by the Velocipede Bike Project, a community bicycle cooperative in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore. The next course was piquant and crunchy sliced radishes in sorrel butter and roasted asparagus rubbed with salt and pepper. Following these veggies, another group presented on the International Drag King Community Extravaganza to drum up support for this rotating annual event to be held in Baltimore in November 2010.

To much excitement, the main dish and the namesake of the event was a delicious rabbit and dumpling stew (or) a strikingly green, vegan spring onion soup. After slurping up the last drops of soup from my bowl, Follow Your Dreams Inc. (FYD), a youth center and recording studio in the Harwood neighborhood of Baltimore, gave a stirring request for funding along with a deeply introspective, spoken-word poetry piece by a young FYD participant. Over desserts of vegan dark chocolate brownies, buttermilk panna cotta, or almond sponge cake, the attendees voted on how the three groups would receive their pooled money.

The funding breakdown by group was as follows:

· Follow Your Dreams, Inc. ($665)

· International Drag King Community Extravaganza ($170)

· Velocipede Bike Project ($170)

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future was well represented at STEW IV by Amanda, Angela, Becca, Brent, Jillian and myself (Dave). I’m looking forward to STEW V next month, to learn about, interact with, and support other deserving Baltimore non-profits.

– Dave Love

Meatless Monday Serves as Model for New Health Behavior Change Campaigns

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) recognizes that one important way to affect change in the food system is to find ways to improve consumer purchasing and eating behaviors. The Meatless Monday campaign, which CLF endorsed seven years ago, encourages Americans to take control of their health by refraining from eating meat products one day a week. Meats like beef are more likely to contain saturated fats than most non-meat food sources. By cutting out high sources of saturated fats one day a week, Americans can help meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 goal of reducing saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories consumed each day. Meatless Monday has the potential to not only improve the populations’ health, but could also reduce unsustainable levels of demand for meat products, particularly industrially-produced meat, which use huge amounts of valuable natural resources and pose significant public health and environmental risks.

On the health behavior change side, the “Monday” model has great potential to serve as an effective communications tool to bolster virtually any long-term campaign.  The model provides health promotion communicators 52 times a year to hammer home a message, convey reinforcements, reminders, and prompts. Likewise, it also gives a person trying to improve her/his own health behaviors 52 times a year to restart their commitment or behavior change if they fall off the wagon. Read More >