Lasallian Mission extends to food & nutrition

On a clear day, you can stand at the corner of Broad and Olney and see Center City Philadelphia very well down the major artery of town. If you turn to your right and stare down Olney Ave., you’ll see in the distance a towering clock tower-like structure. That’s La Salle — a school simultaneously separate yet immersed in the local North Philadelphia neighborhood.

If you’ve been reading this blog at all over the past four months, then you’ll be fully aware of La Salle University’s devotion to providing help for those who live in the surrounding area in any form the school can muster.

One of these outreach programs — which, again, if you’ve been reading, you’re aware of — is the Exploring Nutrition program.

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The Red (Meat) Scare

Health is important, says everyone. That’s why every 30 seconds, a new diet is whipped up by the National Juicer Society (citation needed).

Jokes aside, the way in which we consume our foods is under constant scrutiny, and for good reason — last week I highlighted how the U.S. has weight issues, so it is reasonable that nutritionists want to work to combat this. Often, this means giving up a beloved food group for the greater good.

Julie Anne Hestenburg, Director of Nutrition at La Salle University, explains that the dietary guidelines put out by health.gov each year are often met with suspicion. Many believe the food industry itself pushes for certain foods to be claimed “healthy.”

“Eat more fruits and vegetables,” said Hestenburg in a class lecture. “We’ve been saying that forever.”

The year of 2015, however, will live in infamy for many proprietors of one food type — red meat lovers.

“It’s this line [in the dietary guidelines’ executive summary] that’s causing come controversy: ‘Health is low in red and processed meat,'” Hestenburg repeats.

Naturally, this is receiving some criticism on the guidelines’ comment section, with cattle owners saying their beef is “leaner than ever before” and “[t]he cattle industry has made tremendous improvements in how we raise healthy cattle to provide a safe, nutritious, affordable and abundant beef supply to the world.”

Both of those are in the same post that has been repeatedly posted on this section, nearly monopolizing the 600 comments dating back to April 10 (this writer was too scared to go back further, for fear of eventual empathy).

But there is actually another reason to cut out the tasty red: impact on the environment.

“This committee chose to also look at environmental issues,” continues Hestenburg.

The one time "greener" doesn't mean "better." Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group.

The one time “greener” doesn’t mean “better.”
Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group.

In order to better sustain the current state of our global environments, we need to cut back on the production of red meat. It takes “28 times more land” to produce red meat than it does pork or chicken. Actually, 40% of all land is used to produce food, and the red meat industry shares a very large portion.

After years and years of relentless research and reports to the public, the world generally knows that greenhouse gases are harmful to the ozone layer. Meat production produces a lot of this, with red meat making more than 5 times emissions than chicken and pork farms.

‘Tis a sad day for red meat lovers everywhere.

Weighing in on obesity

Courtesy of NY Post

Go to Google or any search engine, and type “Obesity in America” or something like that. You will find millions of results, like this one from the Food Research Action Center that breaks down obesity by gender, race and age.

“Obesity rates have more than doubled in adults and children since the 1970s,” it opens. “More than two-thirds of U.S.adults are overweight or obese.”

There’s also this stat sheet from the site State of Obesity that shares similar results. While the overall increase in number of those who are overweight or obese has “plateaued,” that number remains high and shows no sign on decreasing any time soon.

The intra-country numbers are high, and scary, but how do they look when compared to the rest of the world? Feast your eyes on this cute yet upsetting graphic from June 2014.

“Today, nearly one third of all living people — a whopping 2.1 billion — are either overweight or obese,” writes Susan E. Matthews, who penned this article. We certainly take more than our fair share of the pie in this stat, too — whereas 37 percent of adults in the world are experiencing these weight problems, the U.S. has nearly twice the proportion in its population.

However, this is not simply something we Americans raise our eyebrows at and shrug — obesity has serious repercussions on a country’s healthcare financial systems.

PBS breaks it down, but here are the highlights: Sweden’s obese population earns 18 percent less than their fit co-workers. An obese person costs the healthcare system 25 percent more than someone with normal weight. Severely obese people have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years shorter than those of normal weight.

Suffice it to say, this is all very serious stuff, and there is no straightforward answer as to why we eat so much.

Enter Dr. Edie Goldbacher, an assistant professor at La Salle University in North Philadelphia. Specializing in clinical and health psychologies, Goldbacher looks to raise public awareness of the myriad ways in which obesity begins and continues.

“Absolutely, education is important,” she said in a discussion with La Salle students. She also delved into the economic impact on food availability — healthier foods are more expensive, correlating with the spike in overweight and obese among those with lower incomes.

“People [within ‘food deserts’] have much less access to those healthy foods, and maybe they don’t have transportation so it makes it incredibly difficult to purchase healthy foods.”

However, an interesting concept she points out goes beyond finances and into the field of genetics.

“For obesity, genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,” Goldbacher quotes from the Rudd Center at the University of Connecticut. This relationship between nature and nurture causes more of the problem than people believe, she expounded.

The trend of overweight and obese Americans has slowed down, but what will it take to begin trekking in the opposite direction?

No, Blogs Are Not Dead

TIME

I started my first blog 15 years ago, about the same time Andrew Sullivan embraced the form. Sullivan’s highly publicized decision to end his blog doesn’t surprise me, but it is not the “end of blogging,” despite some premature obits to that effect. I can testify to that firsthand. I still run two blogs: FutureofCapitalism.com (which is about exactly what its name says) and Smartertimes.com, the latter the very same blog (examining the sins of The New York Times) that launched me on this path.

But Sullivan’s departure from the blog world is a good moment to reconsider a revolutionary form that has matured–and to think about what is essential about blogs and makes them likely to endure. (Credit, or hat-tip, as bloggers might put it, to this question of essential nature, is due to the Greek philosopher Plato, and a reminder that even when writing about new technology…

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Lasallians Explore Nutrition

True to Lasallian values, La Salle University in North Philadelphia has continued its longstanding tradition in neighborhood outreach with its organization Exploring Nutrition. The group was founded four years ago, and has been fighting hunger in Olney ever since.

“How can we make life better for the people in our neighborhood?” asks Dr. Marjorie Allen. She heads the Exploring Nutrition Project (ENP), and argues that the problem with groups such as Pheed Philadelphia concerns where they direct their outreach. Her own team looks to better the area immediately surrounding the university.

A lofty set of goals sit before Allen and the ENP — educating the local neighborhood on healthy eating and nutrition, understanding the relationship between health and socioeconomic problems, and producing outreach through methods such as video and social media, to name a few. These seem vague and unspecific, but the ENP has had some success and continues to champion health and nutrition in Olney since its conception.

The group is in the process of creating a “food access map” that would allow local residents to see where they can purchase healthy foods at reasonable prices. It also works regularly with the Benilde kitchen in providing education on nutrition week in and week out.

The ENP understands that the struggle for health and nutrition is very real and widespread across those of all backgrounds, such as this homeless student who has turned to the Homeless Students Support Program after moving to the area from Houston. What’s more, the group is aware that the government may not always be around to help in its fight against hunger. With the ever-present threat of losing a very powerful ally, the ENP must look elsewhere for other sources of inspiration, such as this Detroit-based group that mixes the Christian faith with nutrition education for local neighborhoods.

With ideas such as “produce dollars” — vouchers to be used at local grocers by the less fortunate — and food mapping, Dr. Allen and her Exploring Nutrition Project have plenty of optimism despite their work being cut out for them.