Posts Tagged: food
At 925 million, the number of hungry people in the world is unacceptably high.
To combat world hunger, many scientists are working on developing crops that can resist disease and withstand the elements, from drought to floods. One such scientist is Sean Cutler at UC Riverside, whose breakthrough discovery last year of pyrabactin has brought drought-tolerant crops closer to becoming reality and spawned new research in several labs around the world.
Pyrabactin is a synthetic chemical that mimics abscisic acid (ABA), a naturally produced stress hormone in plants that helps them cope with drought conditions by inhibiting growth. ABA has already been commercialized for agricultural use. But it has at least two disadvantages: it is light-sensitive and it is costly to make.
Enter pyrabactin. This chemical is relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and not sensitive to light. But is it free from drawbacks? Unfortunately, no. Unlike ABA, pyrabactin does not turn on all the “receptors” in the plant that need to be activated for drought-tolerance to fully take hold.
What does that mean? A brief lesson on receptors may be in order.
A receptor is a protein molecule in a cell to which mobile signaling molecules – such as ABA or pyrabactin, each of which turns on stress-signaling pathways in plants – may attach. Usually at the top of a signaling pathway, the receptor functions like a boss relaying orders to the team below that then proceeds to execute particular decisions in the cell.
It turns out that each receptor is equipped with a pocket, akin to a padlock, in which a chemical, like pyrabactin, can dock into, operating like a key. Even though the receptor pockets appear to be fairly similar in structure, subtle differences distinguish a pocket from its peers. The result is that while ABA, a product of evolution, can fit neatly in any of these pockets, pyrabactin is less successful. Still, pyrabactin, by being partially effective (it works better on seeds than on plant parts), serves as a leading molecule for devising new chemicals for controlling stress tolerance in plants.
Each receptor is equipped also with a lid that operates like a gate. For the receptor to be activated, the lid must remain closed. Pyrabactin is effective at closing the gate on some receptors, turning them on, but cannot close the gate on others.
Cutler and colleagues have now cracked the molecular basis of this behavior. In a receptor where the gate closes, they have found that pyrabactin fits in snugly to allow the gate to close. In a receptor not activated by pyrabactin, however, the chemical binds in a way that prevents the gate from closing and activating the receptor.
“These insights suggest new strategies for modifying pyrabactin and related compounds so that they fit properly into the pockets of other receptors,” Cutler says. “If a derivative of pyrabactin could be found that is capable of turning on all the receptors for drought tolerance, the implications for agriculture are enormous.”
So he and his colleagues continue their research on pyrabactin derivatives, having set their eyes on the prize: An ABA-mimicking, inexpensive and light-insensitive chemical that can be sprayed easily on corn, soy bean and other crops to help them survive drought – one effective approach to combating and preventing hunger worldwide. Imagine that!
With a population of more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County faces enormous challenges related to poverty and hunger. Over a million L.A. County residents face hunger or food insecurity every day, according to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. A Sept. 6 Los Angeles Times article detailed the problems faced by local food pantries, as they struggle to cope with a demand for food that’s risen by 48 percent in just two years. At the same time, with cheap fast food, and limited access to affordable healthy food, childhood obesity is an increasingly critical problem. Forty percent of middle-school age children in Los Angeles County are now classified as overweight or obese.
Local elected officials are embarking on an effort to more systematically address these issues. Last fall, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa convened a group of experts, bringing together community organizers, restauranteurs, public health experts, employers, farmers, urban gardeners and others to form the Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force. This was a short-term effort to gather information and make recommendations to the mayor and decision makers. The task force recently released a report, “The Good Food for All Agenda: Creating a New Regional Food System for Los Angeles,” outlining an ambitious plan for improving access to healthy food in Los Angeles.
The task force defined “good food” as food that is healthy, affordable, fair (meaning that all participants in the food supply chain receive fair compensation) and produced sustainably, using principles of environmental stewardship.
Some of the task force's recommendations were:
- Develop a regional food hub, which can coordinate supply and demand for local, sustainable food. (Farms in several counties were included in the definition of “local” for the Los Angeles area).
- Encourage school districts to procure sustainable, local food and provide children with higher quality lunches.
- Promote and improve participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
- Facilitate neighborhood food production by streamlining permits for community gardens, and expanding joint use agreements where schools offer their land for community gardens.
- Start an ongoing regional food policy council, which will include both city and county decision makers and community leaders.
While Los Angeles is just one of a number of major metropolitan areas to form a task force of this nature, it’s exciting to see the state (and nation’s) most populous county addressing food policy issues. Although Los Angeles County has a relatively small number of farms, neighboring counties, including Ventura, still have significant commercial agriculture. Policies like those recommended by the L.A. Task Force not only improve choices and healthy options for consumers, they can also lead to new markets for local farmers.
UC ANR programs, such as UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County, offer research-based expertise in urban gardening, nutrition education, sustainable food production and more, and serve as a resource for local policymakers and residents working to improve food access. To learn more about the L.A. Food Policy Task Force and read the Good Food for All Agenda, see http://goodfoodla.org/.
Improving access to local produce is part of the "Good Food For All" Agenda.
“Fresh from the Garden” is a “vegetable education” program that was created several years ago by retired LA County Cooperative Extension employee and registered dietitian Susan Giordano. Giordano created lessons to reach home gardeners and their families living with limited resources. The lessons are designed to increase gardeners' knowledge of healthful eating habits, while emphasizing the health benefits associated with a vegetable-rich diet. The lessons also encourage gardeners to grow a greater variety of vegetables, more nutrient-dense vegetables, to cultivate vegetable crops throughout the year, and to prepare their harvest using delicious, nutritious recipes. In recent months, the lessons have been given a makeover and updated to reflect current dietary recommendations.
Bringing nutrition education into the garden
The LA County Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) is partnering with UC Master Gardener volunteers this summer to pilot the revamped lessons in the garden. A group of enthusiastic Master Gardeners with an interest in nutrition education attended a “Fresh from the Garden” training on July 10. They are now equipped to take what they learned and bring it into the low-income community and school gardens where they volunteer. Our FSNEP staff members, armed with supplemental nutrition information, plan to provide additional support and expertise along the way. This is a natural fit for UC Master Gardeners who are already teaching low-income communities how to grow their own food, and UC FSNEP staff, who are providing valuable nutrition education to food stamp-eligible families. The families who benefit from these lessons will gain the knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy delicious and nutritious vegetables fresh from the garden!
“Fresh from the Garden” tips for the gardener
This time of year, gardeners are benefiting from the fruits of their labor, however, some might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of vegetables being produced by their gardens. What to do with it all? Below is a “Fresh from the Garden” recipe for a simple summer veggie pasta sauce. Any vegetable can be substituted, and the pasta sauce can conveniently be frozen for later use.
Summer veggie pasta sauce
3 – 4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4—1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
1 small eggplant, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium green pepper, chopped
Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the zucchini and eggplant. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for about 20 minutes over low heat, uncovered, until slightly thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled and frozen in individual or family size servings. If it is not moist enough, just add water.
Interested in accessing “Fresh from the Garden” Resources? The lessons, handouts and recipes are now available on LA County's Cooperative Extension website.
For more information about “Fresh from the Garden,” please contact Los Angeles County nutrition, family & consumer sciences advisor Brenda Roche at email@example.com, (323) 260-3299.
Food blog here, food blog there, food blog everywhere — including this one! The popularity and variety of food blogs has exploded, and proves many of us are little foodies at heart. In doing research for this post, I have to admit, I couldn’t believe what’s out there, especially about cooking. From vegan to Indian to coffee to crock pots to cooking with kids to Asian grandmothers to organic, it’s all there waiting for you.
The popularity and importance of food content is well documented. Last summer, the Huffington Post reported on the results of the July cable news ratings. The Food Network beat out all of the cable news networks - FOX, MSNBC and CNN - in every demographic measurement. This in spite of the fact that July was a big news month because of the death of Michael Jackson.
In most cases, blogs are about much more than food. Sometimes you get to know the writer’s family or garden or politics. When you find a good one, the photos are stunning. Whether or not we make the food that’s being blogged about, we can still have a little “flog” experience right in our own kitchen.
Here’s a link to the best cooking food blogs according to delish.com — guilty, but calorie-free, pleasures!
Healthy eating has gotten complicated. Fresh fruits and vegetables pack the produce aisle as never before. And new food products with added health benefits are being introduced all the time. Yet the food supply, and the agricultural system that supports it, has become increasingly criticized for its impact on the waistlines of millions of people in the United States.
“Agriculture and conventional food systems have provided the basis for long and healthy lives, and much of that improvement can be traced to healthier diets,” says UC Davis plant sciences professor Alan Bennett. “At the same time, we are faced with a growing critique that conventional food systems are a significant contributor to the health crisis that developed countries are facing, particularly related to obesity and diabetes.”
This dichotomy — that agriculture is both the problem and the solution to an increasing health crisis — is the backdrop for the 22nd annual conference of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC) at UC Davis June 16-18. The conference, “Promoting Health by Linking Agriculture, Food and Nutrition,” will examine ongoing research strategies to promote health through food and diet, as well as how governmental regulatory systems provide oversight of the relationship between food and health.
Leading food, nutrition and agricultural scientists from around the country will be participating in sessions with topics such as designing and producing healthy food, social and cultural dimensions of eating habits, bringing nutrition science to regulations, and how business can find food and nutrition innovations.
NABC has been hosting annual public meetings about the safe, ethical and efficacious development of agricultural biotechnology products since its formation in 1988 by the Boyce Thompson Institute in collaboration with UC Davis, Cornell University and Iowa State University. Today the organization consists of 36 leading agricultural research and teaching universities, governmental agencies and institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
“With health care consuming so much of the developed world’s resources, there is a critical need to understand how diet, nutrition and the underlying agricultural production systems impact human health,” Bennett said.
More detail about the conference agenda, program speakers and online registration is at http://nabc.ucdavis.edu/.