11th Annual Future of Food and Nutrition Research Conference

by Nako Kobayashi

Last month, the Friedman School hosted the 11th annual Future of Food and Nutrition Conference. Graduate students from across the country and around the world gathered to discuss their innovative research related to food and nutrition. Nako Kobayashi summarizes and offers some of her thoughts on the topics covered during the conference.

“The future of food and nutrition is now, and you are the future of food and nutrition,” said Dr. Ed Saltzman, the academic dean of the Friedman School, as he kicked off the 11th Annual Future of Food and Nutrition Conference on April 7th. Attendees from Friedman and beyond, including prospective Friedman students, gathered to learn about the innovative graduate student research from around the country and abroad. The future, Dr. Saltzman noted, is “not just based on disciplinary excellence, but [excellence] across disciplines and in teams of disciplines” that work toward “creating new paradigms.”

True to Dr. Saltzman’s insights, the conference was a great representation of the increasingly interdisciplinary and systemic nature of food and nutrition research and innovations. Seventeen student presentations were divided into six sessions: food insecurity, child health and nutrition outcomes, sustainable agriculture and dietary patterns, nutrition and health, agricultural productivity, and consumer food access and choice.

Britt Lundgren, the Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm and Friedman alum, kicked off the conference with her keynote address that emphasized the importance of food and nutrition research. “I think this represents one of the toughest sustainably issues we face,” she explained when talking about the environmental impact of food production, “because the stakes are so high. We’re talking about how we feed ourselves sustainably, how we feed future generations sustainably … which ultimately impacts quality of life.”

Climate change is not only an environmental problem, Lundgren explained, but “a public health problem first and foremost.” Changes in temperature are limiting our ability to produce crops in certain locations, and these limitations will only increase if we do not act quickly to slow the change. In addition, extreme weather events that result from the changing climate further threaten our ability to produce food. Instead of viewing agriculture as a contributor to climate change and other environmental problems, “Not only can agriculture be a part of the solution to climate change,” Lundgren explained, “but agriculture must be a part of the solution to climate change … it is possible to turn agriculture into a net sink of carbon instead of a net source.”

Norbert Wilson Friedman School Student Research Conference

Dr. Norbert Wilson from the Friedman School moderating a Q&A session with Doug Rauch from Daily Table (Source: Laura Gallagher)

A Q&A session with Doug Rauch, the Founder and President of Daily Table and former president of Trader’s Joes, continued the narrative of finding solutions in unlikely places. Rauch explained how Daily Table makes food shopping an empowering instead of demeaning experience. Daily Table is a non-profit community grocery store with two locations in Massachusetts: one in Dorchester and another in Roxbury. Wanting to help reduce the astonishing amount of food waste in our supply chains, Rauch initially sought to establish a food bank. However, he realized that a large portion of the people who could benefit from such a service may not utilize it because the food bank environment is one that perpetuates a sense of shame instead of agency and pride. “We all should feel entitled to lead healthy, happy lives,” Rauch commented.

Rauch found a solution in the retail space. Instead of handing out free food, he decided to offer food at reduced prices, so people would feel like they are getting a bargain instead of qualifying for a free handout. By avoiding the so-called “philanthropic black hole,” where people must continuously rely on outside help without being empowered to utilize their own agency, Rauch explains that Daily Table offers a “dignified shopping experience to a community that is nutritionally suffering.” In addition, Daily Table also helps support the local economy. As opposed to a farmer’s market, where a farmer comes from outside of the community, Daily Table creates jobs for local residents by hiring from within the community.

The research presented by graduate students spanned a wide range of disciplines and topics, from the relationship of mitochondrial function and intestinal barrier integrity to women’s role in the cacao value chain in Indonesia. The conference reinforced the pragmatic and innovative aims that often characterize food and nutrition research.

Student Research Conference

A graduate student explaining her research (Source: Laura Gallagher)

The presentations related research to real-world problems and solutions. Instead of investigating theories within an academic vacuum, the graduate student researchers took a wide and interdisciplinary stance. For example, one student investigated the relationship between campus food pantry use, GPA, and diet quality of University of Florida students to inform campus food policy (Jamie Paola, University of Florida), while another created a travel cost model to understand the factors that influence food pantry use (Anne Byrne, Cornell University). Theresa Lieb from the University of Oxford stepped back to look at food systems as a whole, and identified possible policy routes moving forward while arguing for a more sustainable global diet that moves away from meat and dairy consumption.

While there are certainly many problems that need addressing within our food system, the Future of Food Nutrition Conference showed that hope remains for a more sustainable and just food future. As Dr. Saltzman noted in his opening remarks, “I think that as we move forward, the future is indeed in good hands.” I am hopeful, after attending the conference, that Dr. Saltzman is right.

Nako Kobayashi is a first-year AFE student interested in food and agriculture issues. The Friedman School appealed to her as an option for pursuing graduate studies because of the programs’ emphasis on holistic, pragmatic, and viable solutions to food and nutrition issues.

 

 

Gluten-Free or Not, You’ll Want To Try Sarah Lynn’s Desserts

by Nako Kobayashi

Gone are the days that having food restrictions means you have to resort to eating lesser versions of your favorite treats. Gluten-free dessert cookbook author Sarah Lynn develops dessert recipes that are both food restriction- friendly and delicious. The Sprout sat down with this Boston-based Instagram influencer to learn how she developed her successful food business.

Sarah Lynn Baketobefit donuts healthy dessert cookbook

Sarah Lynn, owner of BakeToBeFit, with her donuts from one of her healthy dessert eCookbooks (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

When someone asks what she does for a living, Sarah Lynn, a Boston-based food entrepreneur, never really knows what to say. “For most people, it’s a really short answer, but I don’t really know what I am.” That’s because Sarah singlehandedly develops and photographs recipes, writes cookbooks, maintains the blog, and runs the social media accounts for her healthy dessert cookbook company, BakeToBeFit. “I’m kind of an author, kind of an Instagram influencer, kind of a blogger, kind of a photographer,” she explains.

Sarah graduated from the University of Richmond in 2015 with a degree in Studio Art and a minor in Business. She never imagined that she would own her own gluten-free cookbook company. Having always loved cooking and baking, Sarah always dreamed about managing a food blog, but she had no idea where to start. After learning that many bloggers use Instagram to develop a following and gain exposure, she decided to start her own Instagram account during her senior year of college, with the handle @sarahlynnfitness. She began by posting daily meals, workouts, and the occasional recipe.

healthy gluten-free funfetti cake baketobefit

You don’t have to be gluten-free to want to eat this cake! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

The summer after graduating from college, Sarah was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Although she was relieved to find out why she had been feeling ill, she was also devastated that she would no longer be able to consume gluten – a key component of many of the things she loved to cook. Not wanting her diagnosis to keep her from pursuing her food dreams, Sarah started experimenting with gluten-free recipes. She found that the gluten-free versions of some of her favorite baked goods were also lower in calories and more nutritious than the traditional versions. This is due to the use of some ingredients such as oatmeal and coconut flour in the place of traditional white flour.

Baketobefit recipe healthy dessert

A re-post of a photo taken by someone who tried out a #baketobefit recipe
(Photo: Instagram @baketobefit)

Sarah’s Instagram followers loved the photos of her new gluten-free recipes. The most popular were the photos of gluten-free desserts. This led her to write the first of her four eCookbooks, available for purchase online, the Healthy Cake Cookbook. Initially, Sarah didn’t intend on making her cookbook a business. It was simply a way to put all the recipes in one place for her followers. The book quickly gained popularity, however, and she soon wrote her next book, the Healthy Cookie Cookbook. @baketobefit was born when Sarah decided she wanted a second Instagram account to share photos taken by people who had tried her recipes. Around this time, a reporter from Business Insider requested to make a video about her. The exposure she gained from this video allowed Sarah to start focusing on her food business as a full-time job.

healthy chocolate dessert baketobefit

Sarah’s Instagram account will leave you drooling (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Currently, @sarahlynnfitness has 148 thousand followers. Scrolling through the endless feed of desserts, it’s easy to see why. I personally can’t help but drool every time I visit Sarah’s Instagram page, and that is exactly what she says she wants. “I try to make [the desserts] look like the most indulgent things ever, but they are actually made with healthy ingredients [compared to the traditional versions].” Sarah boosts the nutrition profile of tasty desserts while also making them consumable for people with food restrictions. For Sarah, this kind of creative challenge is more fun than developing recipes for food that already looks nutritious.

Sarah is often inspired by photos of really decadent desserts. Other times, she tries to recreate “copycat” versions of her favorite childhood treats. A lot of experimentation is involved in getting the right taste and texture. “I do it by feeling, and what the dough looks like,” Sarah says. Keeping a notebook next to her while she experiments, she writes down what she added or tweaked to a recipe at each step. This way, when the dessert turns out the way she wants, she knows exactly how to recreate it.

healthy high-protein gluten-free donut

This fun donut has 8 grams of protein in it! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Not only are all of the recipes in Sarah’s BakeToBeFit eCookbooks gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and vegan-friendly, they are also packed with protein so they will keep you full for longer and can also be used as a post-workout snack. She accomplishes this by using ingredients like unsweetened apple sauce, gluten-free flour substitutes like oat and coconut flours, and her go-to protein powders (details in her FAQ page) which use minimal ingredients and are free of artificial sweeteners and flavors.

Most importantly, Sarah’s desserts taste amazing. “I feel like there are a lot of diets that are really strict, and they make you feel miserable. I don’t think that’s actually healthy. I think it’s great when you can incorporate food that is still pretty healthy but tastes really good and uses good ingredients.” More than the calorie or nutrient content of her recipes, Sarah is concerned with how her desserts make you feel. Sarah’s dessert recipes use healthier ingredients than their traditional counterparts and are relatively low in sugar so you can indulge in these desserts knowing that they will also help fuel your body.

healthy dessert chocolate instagram food porn

Sarah’s recipes always come with many substitution recommendations so anyone can try them!
(Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Because Sarah has Celiac Disease, she is very considerate of the various food restrictions and preferences her audience might have. The FAQ page on her website thoroughly discusses the content of her recipes and her suggestions for substitutions so that anyone can feel comfortable purchasing her books. In addition, each of her eCookbooks has an “Ingredients and Substitutions” page where she details how the recipes can be adapted to meet individual needs.

While all of Sarah’s recipes are gluten-free, she emphasizes that she wants her recipes to be for everyone. She feels that a lot of people who are not gluten-free tend to avoid gluten-free products and recipes. “I used to be like that,” she explains, “if I saw gluten-free bread at the supermarket, I wouldn’t buy that. I would feel like I didn’t need to.” As someone who has no food restrictions, I can personally attest to the fact that you do not have to be gluten-free to want to devour one of Sarah’s desserts. One of the best brownies I have ever had, gluten-free or not, was one of Sarah’s.

healthy chocolate chip cookie dessert food porn

“These cookies are completely oil/butter-free, gluten-free, grain-free, vegan friendly, no sugar added, and super easy to make” (Photo and caption: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Be sure to check out Sarah’s amazing desserts on her Instagram @sarahlynnfitness and the @baketobefit account. Be warned: soon you won’t be able to think about anything but her brownies, donuts, cookies, and cakes. If you find yourself drooling uncontrollably, visit her website baketobefit.com or youtube channel for access to her four eCookbooks as well as some free recipes!

Nako Kobayashi is a first-year AFE student who is always insatiably hungry. She would like to say that her favorite pastime is cooking but in reality, she spends much more time endlessly scrolling through photos of food on Instagram.

Farmer Profile: Visions for a New Sustainable Vegetable Farm in Putnam, CT

by Nako Kobayashi

Farmer Yoko Takemura hopes to incorporate aspects of her Japanese heritage as well as her academic background in environmental sustainability into her new farm business.

Yoko on a large bag of potting soil. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko on a large bag of potting soil. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

While farmers represent an increasingly aging demographic group, a growing number of young farmers in New England and across the country are working to change the food system. Many of these new farmers, like Yoko Takemura of Assawaga Farm in Putnam, Connecticut, do not have farming backgrounds but instead have experiences that bring different perspectives and ideas into their farming practices. Yoko, who I was introduced to through my former boss at Cloverleigh Farm, is drawing inspiration from traditional Japanese agricultural practices in her effort to make her new farm a truly sustainable operation.

Growing up around the world due to her father’s occupation, Yoko always had a passion for the environment. She never thought, however, that she would end up becoming a farmer. After graduating from a university in Tokyo, she briefly worked in investment banking so that she could save money for graduate school. She eventually quit her job and moved to New York City to study environmental sustainability in graduate school. Living in Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, she became a member of a community garden and started developing a passion for growing vegetables and the way growing food can bring people together. It wasn’t until she joined her first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group while working for a consulting firm in NYC, however, that she really started to think about starting her own farm. Yoko’s “a-ha!” moment came to her when she visited Windflower Farm in upstate New York for the annual CSA member’s potluck. “On the ride back to NYC,” she reminisces, “I couldn’t stop visualizing myself as a farmer!” She then applied for apprenticeships on vegetable farms outside of NYC and eventually found Riverbank Farm in Western Connecticut, where she worked for 3 years.

Yoko and her husband, Alex, in front of a farm building they constructed. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and her husband, Alex, in front of a farm building they constructed. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

To start their own farm business, Yoko and her husband Alex bought 22 acres of land in Putnam, Connecticut in 2016. Because the land had been previously used to farm hay for decades, Yoko and Alex had to build all of their own farm infrastructure from scratch. However, this actually works to their advantage as they now have the freedom to design their infrastructure with their specific sustainability goals in mind. For example, they were able to build their greenhouse in a way that accommodates SolaWrap, a durable greenhouse cover that lasts much longer than many other plastic films used in greenhouses.

SolaWrap being installed on Assawaga Farm's new greenhouse. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

SolaWrap being installed on Assawaga Farm’s new greenhouse. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and Alex take a lot of inspiration from traditional Japanese agricultural methods in order to achieve their sustainability goals. The couple spent some time travelling around Japan and visiting many farms and learning about the various ways in which some Japanese farmers have cultivated a harmonious relationship with the natural environment. While organic agriculture can often be heavily dependent on inputs from fossil fuels, Yoko hopes to take her greenhouse off the grid by incorporating the Japanese practice of fumikomi-onsho, which involves mixing a large amount of leaves with some rice bran and chicken manure, applying water to it, and stomping on the mixture in order to generate heat. This variation of composting creates a fairly steady level of heat for weeks. This allows farmers to start their seedlings as well as have heat in the greenhouse without the use of electricity.

Building a relationship with the forest is another aspect of traditional Japanese agriculture that Yoko became enamored with when visiting farms in Japan. “The forest gave the farmers mulch, wood, bamboo, inoculant, etc. and the farmers gave back by maintaining and taking care of the forest through selective cutting, cleaning up, etc.” In comparison, Yoko explains that “the health of our forests around here” is “terrifyingly bad”. Yoko hopes to actively help better the condition of the forests that encompass her land in the coming years “because the forest is as much part of our farm as is our field.” One way Yoko and Alex want to give back to the forest is by applying “humanure” from composting toilets to the neighboring forests, after a two year composting period. For various health-related reasons, the “humanure” will not be used for their actual farming operation, but it is one way Yoko and Alex can create a more harmonious relationship with the forests that surround their land.

Yoko and Alex's DIY composting toilet. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and Alex’s DIY composting toilet that will help them give back to their forests. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

For Yoko, the terms organic and sustainable are not one and the same. While Assawaga Farm has applied for organic certification, there are some additional practices that Yoko and her husband want to incorporate in order to reduce as much waste associated with and inputs required for their farm as possible. In addition to some of the Japanese practices they want to try out on their farm, there are many other sustainable practices not included in the certification that Yoko and Alex hope to take on. For example, they hope to use minimal amounts of plastic by not using any one-time drip tapes or plastic mulch, often used by organic farmers to help suppress weeds. They also plan to eventually create all of their own fertilizer, compost, and potting mix using the Japanese bokashi method of inoculating fertilizer with local culture taken from the nearby forests.

Believing that “organic originates in soil”, Yoko wants to take special care of the soil on their farm by using minimal tilling and eventually transitioning into no-till agriculture. This will help them “keep the delicate web of microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi intact,” in addition to preserving the soil structure, maintaining carbon in the soil and keeping a steady release of nutrients in the soil “rather than short bursts of it.” They plan to have at least one field in their farm dedicated to cover crops year-round which will help prevent the depletion of nutrients and accumulate biomass. The couple also hope to save their own seeds and breed seeds that are adapted to their local environment.

In addition to using Japanese farming practices, Yoko also plans to grow many Japanese varieties of vegetables on her farm. When asked why she wanted to grow Japanese varieties, she responded simply that she just wanted to grow vegetables that she craved from home and that she wanted to eat herself! In addition, growing Japanese varieties helps Yoko target a niche market within the oversaturated market for organic produce in the Boston area. She is particularly excited about growing edamame, as “it’s just not summer without edamames!”

Alex seeing Assawaga Farm's first crop - garlic! (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Alex seeding Assawaga Farm’s first crop – garlic! (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

In the next few months, Yoko and Alex will be busy getting ready for their first growing season and transitioning into the full-time farming lifestyle. They start seeding in three weeks! Look for Yoko and Alex in farmers markets in the Boston area this coming season (locations yet to be decided). They also have some CSA shares available through their website.

Update, March 2, 2018: An earlier version of this article failed to clarify that the composted humanure would be used on Assawaga’s surrounding forest land only, and not on the farm itself. This has been updated for clarity, and we apologize if our omission was misleading to our readers.
-Editors

Nako Kobayashi is a first year AFE student from Japan who has experience working on a small organic farm, a biodynamic vineyard, for the agricultural sector of a Japanese municipal government, and on a food hub development project. Having a B.A. in anthropology, she loves talking directly with farmers from various backgrounds and hearing about their unique perspectives of the food system.