New England Dairy Examined in Friedman School Screening of “Forgotten Farms”

by Laura Barley

To examine the contemporary trends affecting the dairy industry, on March 27th, the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy hosted a screening of the film “Forgotten Farms”, a documentary featuring some of the longest-standing dairy farmers in New England.

Photo: Sam Whittier, Whittier Farms

Misconceptions exist to be clarified. Complexities exist to be reduced. Myths exist to be busted.

In a world that produces new food media and science every day, thousands of different opinions exist for any given food product. As far as most dairy farmers are concerned, their products are certainly not immune to the cultural and scientific dissection of what is considered “healthy”. In New England dairy farms have persisted for decades, and in some cases centuries, without gaining much cultural or ecological recognition in today’s food economy.

The film, directed by Dave Simonds and produced by Sarah Gardner, was an apt fit for the Friedman school, whose students regularly deconstruct the complexities of food systems. For many, dairy has become a symbol of the most controversial aspects of American food production – animal rights, environmental health, and adequate nutrition. These controversies haven’t left the industry unscathed, and declining demand has precipitated the departure of thousands of dairy farmers across the country. With “Forgotten Farms”, Simonds and Gardner wanted to spotlight the humanity of farmers who continue to brave the economic contraction, doing all that they can to keep the farm on the land.

A multitude of factors share responsibility for declining milk sales in the U.S, including dietary shifts towards veganism and a growing awareness of lactose-intolerance. However, there is a whole host of other factors unique to New England agriculture that makes it especially difficult to operate a dairy farm. The film’s producer, Sarah Gardner, acknowledges that “New England has really high land values, high property taxes, and high development pressures on the land. There aren’t many thriving rural economies in New England.” Consequently, the number of dairy farms in New England has dropped from roughly 40,000 in 1930 to less than 2,000 in 2012. In Massachusetts, only 117 dairy operations remain in operation today.

The film intends to shed light upon those remaining farmers – to include their voices in the broader narrative of food justice and sovereignty. Farmers like Louis Escobar, Win Chenail, Darryl Williams explain how they have endured the struggle to remain competitive in a rapidly shifting food economy. Many rely on the second jobs of spouses to supplement their incomes, and all continue to watch their milk checks shrink as they dread the day they might have to shut their doors. Unfortunately, selling the farm no longer constitutes rock bottom. NPR has recently reported on a string of dairy farmer suicides that have occurred throughout the Northeast, reflecting the demoralizing and tragic consequences of the loss of dairy livelihoods.

Samantha Whittier, a fifth-generation Massachusetts dairy farmer and co-host of Tuesday’s film screening, has worked alongside her family to weather the volatility of the dairy industry. “For my family, dairying is about constantly diversifying to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for the highs and lows of the changing markets.” As a response, Whittier Farms added a storefront retail operation to supplement their milk sales with Cabot Creamery, a cooperative that collectively supports over a thousand dairy farms across New England and upstate New York. These farmers have proven agile and resourceful in protecting their livelihoods, and are willing to adapt to keep their land in the business for as long as possible.

“What really stood out to me was the pride that dairy farmers have in their farms and their love for their jobs,” notes Friedman Ph.D student Ilana Cliffer. “The view they gave of dairy farmers in the Northeast ran contrary to what you often hear in the media about big bad industrial farms, and I think it was a very important perspective to hear.”

Gardner is quick to acknowledge the often negative perceptions of commercial dairy farming, citing this cultural wariness associated with large-scale industrial operations. “Once they scale up, they get slammed for being commercial. They’re not going to stay in business unless they scale up,” she notes. “We need to expand our definition of local agriculture to commercial agriculture.”

While the profiles of earnest dairy farmers serve as the soul of the film, Forgotten Farms also addresses important questions about what constitutes a local food system and who has a stake in deciding what that system looks like. The term ‘local’ can connote a range of ideas of a food system – food miles, quaint family farms, everything made by hand – but for most dairy farmers, this scale simply isn’t efficient to run an profitable enterprise. In recent years academic and collaborative networks have popped up across the country to examine what efficient regional food systems could look like. According to Christian Peters, a professor in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program at the Friedman school, incorporating commercial agriculture makes particular sense when considering dairy as part of an efficient regional food system. “Fluid milk is a relatively regional food product already. Localizing it actually makes it less environmentally efficient.”

For their part, dairy farmers have served as economic lynchpins in New England. A typical dairy cow contributes roughly $14,000 to the economy each year, and the New England dairy industry as a whole generates over $1 billion annually. While absolute revenue is important, dairy farms also exhibit a multiplier effect, where their products generate revenue for the local community beyond their own operations. Their feed and equipment purchases, veterinarian needs, and labor demand all prop up a local economy that could easily disappear without them.

Dairy farmers manage nearly one million acres of cropland, pasture, and woodland for their operations. This accounts for roughly half of all farmland in New England. Given a report like the New England Food Vision, which sets a goal for the region to produce 50% of the food it consumes by 2050, local demand must align with foods especially suited for local production. In so many words, for regional self-reliance to strengthen, New England consumers would need to shift their diets to foods already produced here, like dairy, seafood, and certain fruits and vegetables like blueberries or cabbage. Purchasing these products becomes what it means to support a regional food system, which in essence will save as much agricultural land from development as possible.

In this context, Gardner maintains, Without dairy, we lose our food security and our farmland.”

There are some political maneuvers that could help dairy maintain its foothold in New England agriculture. In its 2019 budget, the Massachusetts state legislature has the option to renew the Dairy Tax Credit, which Gardner notes that virtually every dairy farmer uses as insurance in times of low milk prices. But in most cases, the biggest difference between breaking even and breaking down will be determined by the choices made by consumers at the grocery store.

“Understanding the companies that process and sell the local milk is essential to making sure your consumer dollars are returned to the farmers; support farmer-owned brands whenever possible,” says Sam Whittier. And though they may not connote the same appeal as a glass bottle of artisan milk, labels like Hood, Garelick, and Cabot all reflect the efforts of local New England dairy farmers.

“Because of the complexity, you have to be willing to sit in this uncomfortable place where you’re listening and learning before you make any decisions,” advises Peters. Embracing the complexity has become a de facto mantra of the Friedman school, and the nexus of food, environment, and culture will certainly bring plenty more to . “Forgotten Farms” has revealed what’s at stake in New England’s shifting agricultural economy, and has ultimately brought meaning and human connection to the abstract concepts of our curriculum.

Laura Barley is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment student about to graduate to greener pastures. She’s developed a love for dairy farming throughout her tenure at Tufts, and hopes to support the industry any way she can throughout her career.

Reflections on Equity: FJL Takes on the Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

by Friedman Justice League

Making time for reflection in our busy lives can be difficult. In April 2018, Friedman’s Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the school to do just that by participating in a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. Students from the Friedman Justice League (FJL) reflect on what they felt and learned during the challenge, and on the implications of these learnings for the school’s community.

In an effort to foster a stronger culture of inclusion, the Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the entire Friedman community to participate in Food Solutions New England’s (FSNE) 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. The CSJID is a multidisciplinary committee of faculty, students, and staff of Friedman committed to finding ways to promote social justice, inclusion and diversity in its teaching, research, and programs. The three-week challenge took place from April 2 to April 23 and creates time and space for a community to come together to build better social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. These habits range from the personal, such as identifying and deconstructing our own biases, to the institutional, where we think through ways to advance racial justice in our schools and organizations.

To complement the challenge, the CSJID also hosted three informal lunchtime chats every Tuesday to encourage us to find community and connect with each other as we attempt to identify ways we can personally work to dismantle racism and become leaders for a more just, equitable food system.

During the lunchtime meetings, faculty, students and staff of Friedman gathered to share their personal responses to the 21-day challenge, and mull on some of the awkwardness of living out one’s conviction here at the Friedman School, and beyond. Thinking critically about our own biases and race is difficult, but necessary, and having a community of support helps.

Below are the reflections of several members of the Friedman Justice League (FJL) who participated in the challenge. Each one serves as a peek into the diversity of reactions the challenge inspired in the Friedman community. We hope these reflections help others find solidarity through their own process of discovery.

——-

Conversations on race and racism with people of backgrounds different than my own often leave me with a pit in my stomach. I think and rethink about what I said, how I said it, what I should have said, whether I unintentionally offended someone… I tend to get worked up during these conversations, and approaching them with grace is an artform that has thus far eluded me.

As a Latina female that grew up in a low-income neighborhood, I feel a unique responsibility to ‘shake things up’ and ask the hard questions. I struggle with striking the delicate balance between getting my genuine thoughts across and being considerate of people’s different experiences.

The most enriching part of the challenge for me were the lunchtime conversations. Each conversation created a platform for us to ask hard questions in a welcoming environment. We talked about the “micro” and the “macro,” our personal experiences with race and racism and how they impact the entire food supply chain. I tried (not always successfully) to listen, to be thoughtful, and to approach these conversations with empathy and an open mind. Reflecting on these difficult conversations was uncomfortable and hard, which requires immense vulnerability. I deeply believe that venturing out of our comfort zone to talk about these things is the first step to building bridges and creating an equitable food system. I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

– Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC ‘18

 

Growing up in a Latinx household, we often had discussions about culture, race, and social justice. Throughout my educational career I have sought out spaces to continue to have these important conversations. Being involved in FJL and the CSJID has allowed me to take an active role in promoting equity at Friedman and our food system. Participating in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge was a great way to reflect each day about how I can be more intentional about addressing these issues both personally and professionally.

One important topic that came up during the challenge was how to build our own capacity for discomfort. We have to become comfortable with discomfort in order to push our growing-edge and transform as human beings. These conversations about race are not easy, but if we approach them with humanity and understanding they can be extremely powerful. I was able to attend the last lunchtime chat. It was wonderful to speak with people of the Friedman community, including professors, staff and fellow students, and share our experiences with race, power and privilege. We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives, but we all had a common desire to connect and shed light on the injustices that exist in our world.

– Alyssa Melendez, AFE ‘19

 

Two of the anecdotes from the 21-Day Challenge ended up being the most impactful for me.

  1. A woman’s young, black niece who straightens her dark curly hair and then runs to her aunt delighted because now she finally looks like a princess. The aunt’s narrative and reflections on this story helped me come up with a couple questions: Who created a given standard, system or object? What demographic do they represent? Were the implications for equity and racial justice considered? Why do I think certain things are beautiful or good? What and who does that beauty represent? Who does this beauty value and who does it erase? I think these questions can be used as a frame of analysis to help identify some of the ways in which everyday assumptions uphold white privilege and to uncover personal, implicit biases.
  2. In her soil-health analogy, Camara Jones’ compared the nutrients in the soil to the “nutrients”, or access goods, services, and opportunities, in a society. Communities and institutions that both historically had and currently still have fewer “nutrients” continue to produce and reproduce disproportionate outcomes for people of color, along the lines of education, health, home ownership and employment. The analogy was clear, relevant to Friedman, and worth a watch!

In reflecting on Friedman Justice League’s Lunch n Learns and the work we’ve done this year, I realize that conversations with professors and faculty have been quite fruitful and enjoyable. However, we might not even be at that stage yet. Perhaps more structural work needs to be done to establish a more supportive foundation for individual actors to make an impact – for individual professors to adjust their curriculum, for example.

I think a very productive collaboration between the CSJID and FJL next year could be to use the “Assessing our organization” assessment tool from Day 10 to “check our readiness to move a racial justice agenda forward”.

– Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP ‘18

 

Especially at this hectic time in the semester, I was grateful just to enjoy conversation and hear from more personal reflections from the Friedman community . The common ground between faculty, staff and students felt like a safe, exploratory to celebrate, lament, even confess. Even when we’re trying to do our best — we’re all human — it’s a process.

– Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH ‘18

 

An unspoken justification for not working to improve equity at a given organization is that the people don’t have the time, resources or knowledge to lead this effort. The Friedman Justice League has asked ourselves this question: How do we start without a clear path forward? The resources from Day 10 provided a practical, approachable first step: an assessment of where we currently stand as a collective way to acknowledge our existing progress and our future potential.

The Friedman Justice League seeks to make our community more diverse and find ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs.

Cricket Pancakes (CrickCakes): A New Way to Eat Your Greens

by Jessica R. Manly

A growing movement of nutritionists, sustainability researchers, activists, and alternative foodies are calling edible insects the food group of the future. In America, one of the biggest hurdles remains how to get people to take a bite. These simple blender pancakes are an easy, delicious way to dip your toe into the radical world of entomophagy.

Before coming to the Friedman School, I taught nutrition, cooking, and gardening in several public elementary schools in northwest Montana. Many of the children I worked with were absolutely thrilled to try the kale, spinach, and carrots we grew together outside their classrooms. Others, no matter how many songs we sang, or smoothies we made, or stories we read about friendly vegetables, simply would not take a single bite.

What people choose to eat (and not to eat) is deeply personal, cultural, familial, and emotional. These daily choices are sometimes governed by necessity, ease, and are often immutable. When you really pause to try, it can be difficult to unravel the complicated web of nutritional knowledge, inherited tastes, cultural reinforcement, economic constraints, and effects of globalization that compose our plates. Why do you eat cows but not whales? Why kale now, but not ten years ago? Why lobsters, but not crickets? And what would it take for you to want to chew on an entirely new class of the animal kingdom?

Eating insects, or entomophagy, has many potential nutritional and sustainability benefits when compared to meat consumption. A two-tablespoon serving of ground cricket powder provides 55 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, less than one gram of carbohydrate, and a hefty dose of B vitamins (23% of the Daily Value B-2 and 17% of the Daily Value B-12). Reported sustainability benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions when compared to ruminants, pork, and poultry, low land and water requirements, high feed conversion efficiencies, organic by-product waste reduction, and potential utility as feed for livestock and in aquaculture. A 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessment of insect consumption and global food and feed security reports that nearly two billion people consume over 1,900 species of insects as part of traditional diets.

So why are crickets and mealworms still such a fringy snack choice in America? As a friend said recently: “eating bugs is just gross.” In fact, many of us (the author included) were reprimanded against doing so as children. Cultural barriers remain the largest hurdle for expanding insect consumption in America, in addition to lingering questions about scaling production, the environmental impacts of cricket feed, and concerns about access and affordability.

I buy my cricket protein online because it is still relatively hard to find on shelves in Boston. A friend of mine who works for a ubiquitous natural foods grocery store says they don’t stock insect protein because they don’t yet know how to apply their animal welfare ranking system—apparently they “don’t mess around with cricket welfare.”

Another common objection is to the pungent, nutty flavor pure cricket protein powder can have. As a result, most products sold in the West attempt to mask the taste, and any evidence of actual insects, in high-flavor, processed snack foods with questionable nutritional profiles and plenty of added fats and sugars. Though I don’t personally find the taste or smell of cricket powder offensive, I understand the reluctance to consume it straight-up, especially as a novice. As we work towards culturally normalizing insect consumption in the U.S., experimenting with variations on delicious, familiar, and nutrient-dense recipes will be key. I think these easy blender pancakes are a great place to start.

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes

Serves 1

Ingredients:

1 banana

1/4 cup raw rolled oats

2 eggs

2 tablespoons cricket protein powder

1/4 cup blueberries (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients except blueberries on high in blender until smooth (approximately 15 seconds).
  2. Heat a lightly oiled (butter, coconut oil, or vegetable oil of choice) griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  3. Add blueberries if using. Flip, brown on both sides, and serve hot as is, or with maple syrup or plain yogurt and additional cinnamon.

1/2 cup cooked sweet potato or winter squash can be substituted for the banana. If you want to get really fancy, add in a few pumpkin or chia seeds with the blueberries for extra protein.

Jessica Manly is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment MSc student at the Friedman School. When she is not researching food and agriculture systems with the potential to mitigate climate change, she is most likely running in the woods with her imaginary dog, or trying to get people to eat her unusual vegetable (or insect)-based recipes.

What is the SirtFood Diet?

by Erin Child

The Sirtfood Diet is popular in the United Kingdom, but hasn’t caught on in the United States (yet). The diet claims to activate sirtuins, so called “skinny genes,” that work in the body to reverse the effects of aging and help the dieter lose weight. To activate sirtuins, the dieter builds their meals out of “sirtfoods,” including red wine and dark chocolate, hence the diet’s popularity. Although the diet isn’t popular on this side of the pond, NICBC student Erin Child has decided to learn more about the diet (and its founders and followers), just in case we, as nutrition professionals, start getting questions.   

The Sirtfood Diet first came to my attention at a Sprout pitch meeting last semester. “Has anyone heard of the Sirtfood Diet?” someone asked. The room answered with a resounding, “No.” The idea of exploring a new diet that none of us at Friedman had heard of piqued my interest, and finally, a semester later, I started googling. As I researched, the main questions that I wanted answered were: Who started the diet? Who follows it? What is a sirtfood? What is the guiding science behind the diet? What does the diet entail? Here’s what I found.

The People behind the Sirtfood Diet

A few years ago, The Sirtfood Diet was popularized in the United Kingdom by Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten. Both men have their MS in Nutrition Medicine, and both seem to be health influencers with some celebrity status. Per their Instagram, Goggins is an athletic trainer, and Matten works with celebrities and makes media appearances. (Not being familiar with how famous they might be, I will not draw any comparisons with any infamous health celebrities in the United States.) In early 2017, Goggins and Matten published The Sirtfood Diet, an international bestseller, and based on the book’s cover, following the diet allows you to “eat your way to rapid weight loss and a longer life by triggering the magical powers of the Sirtfood Diet.” Magic, really?

Who follows the Sirtfood Diet?

The Sirtfood Diet rose in popularity after both Adele and Pippa Middleton (sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) endorsed the diet for their own weight loss. In early 2017 alongside the publication of the book, the Sirtfood Diet saw a lot of publicity across magazines, TV shows, and social media. Despite the coverage, the diet hasn’t captured a large audience in the States. The official @thesirtfooddiet Instagram has almost 14,000 followers, but most posts get only a couple of hundred likes. (Nonetheless, the diet is apparently becoming very popular in Italy.) It’s unclear why the Sirtfood Diet is not that popular here, but perhaps we will see an uptick in the coming months or year(s).

How does this diet work, and what on earth is a Sirtfood?

Sirtfoods are foods that are high in resveratrol and polyphenols, plant-based chemicals that are supposed to “switch on” sirtuin proteins in the body. According to The Sirtfood Diet, eating a diet high in sirtfoods is supposed to create a physiological reaction similar to fasting, in which the body will start to breakdown fat stores for fuel. The book states that sirtuins “are master metabolic regulators that control our ability to burn fat and stay healthy.” If the dieter follows a diet high in sirtfoods, they will activate the sirtuins and lose weight, and possibly live longer. Based on statements from the BBC and Good Housekeeping, the most common sirtfoods in the diet are red wine, dark chocolate (85% or more), kale, arugula, parsley, blueberries, citrus, apples, buckwheat, capers, olive oil, turmeric, and green tea.

It’s unclear from my research if the dieter can only eat sirtfoods or just eat a diet high in sirtfoods. The difference between these options would be a very restrictive diet versus a diet high in plant-based foods, which could be a positive thing. However, and this is a big however, the diet begins with caloric restriction: In the first three days the dieter consumes only 1000 calories per day, largely consisting of the sirtfood “green juice,” made up of apples, celery, kale, arugula, ginger, parsley, lemon, and matcha (green tea powder). Then the dieter can eat up to 1500 calories per day for the next four days. The extra 500 calories may seem better, but a 1500 calorie diet is still insufficient for most active adults. The diet plan claims that users can lose up to seven pounds in seven days. After that, the dieter follows a “maintenance phase” for two weeks, but it’s unclear what caloric parameters are required. Looking at the meals suggested for the diet, some sound quite delicious: “Asian shrimp stir-fry with buckwheat noodles” and “Miso-marinated baked cod with stir-fry greens and sesame.” Ideally, after this introductory period, the dieter will continue to follow a diet rich in sirtfoods to continue weight loss and live a long and healthy life. Because that’s how all diets work, right?

The Science behind Sirtuins

After reading about the supposed way that the diet works, I wanted to learn more about the actual science behind sirtuins. Sirtuins (SIR1-SIR7) are a class of enzymatic proteins that are thought to be involved in immunity, metabolism and longevity. To call them “skinny-genes” is misleading and fails to capture our evolving understanding of their role in the body. From animal studies, a 2010 paper found that SIRT1 is involved with the physiologic response to diet restriction. A more recent 2017 research paper, published in Biogerontology, indicated that there was some research supporting the connection between sirtuins and longevity, but the research was conducted in yeast and animal models. This paper specifically considered circumin, present in turmeric, as a possible activator of sirtuins, but the connection was still unclear. This same 2017 paper also stated that the “search for an activator of sirtuins is one of the most extensive and robust topic [sic] of research.” This statement clearly outlines what is most often the case in “science-backed” diets. There is research out there, but it is still on-going and not conclusive enough to point to one diet being the be-all/end-all solution for weight loss and longevity. In my research, I did not find any studies that clearly linked specific foods to upregulating sirtuins in the body.

The Takeaway

From the information available on the Sirtfood Diet, it comes across as the Mediterranean diet on steroids. In my book, any diet that focuses on restriction instead of moderation is cause for concern. If someone in your life expresses interest in the Sirtfood Diet, encourage their interest in a more plant-based diet by steering them towards the Mediterranean diet or the “everything in moderation” approach. As nutrition students, it’s important to be up on the current diet trends so we can pull what elements are positive from the diet (if any) and keep the conversation going. Knowing more about what diets are trending allows us to do more.  For now, I am still relieved that the Sirtfood Diet has not become popular in the United States, and hope it stays that way.

Erin Child is a second-semester NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program and the social media editor for The Sprout. Erin is fascinated by the science (or lack thereof) behind fad diets, so if there’s a new trendy diet you want to learn more about—let her know. In the meantime, she will be coordinating logistics for the Student Research Conference. She looks forward to seeing you there on April 7!

A Magical (Food) Journey

by Hannah Macfarlane

Some people visit theme parks to go on the rides, others go to investigate the food. For Hannah Macfarlane, her winter vacation presented an opportunity for both. Keep reading to explore Orlando’s famous parks as told through meals and learn some tips for eating your way to a great vacation .

Over winter break, my mom and I headed to Orlando for four days of theme park hopping: two days at Walt Disney World and two days at Universal Studios. We walked more than forty miles, rode nearly every roller coaster designed for people over the age of six, and took lots of awkward selfies so our family at home in the Northeast could envy the beautiful weather. And because I am a food-loving nutrition student, I made it my mission to find the healthiest, most satisfying theme park food I could.

Quick disclaimer: if you want to eat cheeseburgers, churros, and cotton candy while you’re on vacation (or not), go for it! No food is bad food, ESPECIALLY when you’re in the Happiest Place on Earth™. For me, eating balanced meals was important because I have a sensitive stomach and experience acid reflux, so my goal was to find foods that wouldn’t make me feel sick while riding roller coasters that made me feel sick. Isn’t that great logic?

Day 0:

We had originally planned to do one day at Disney and two at Universal, but thanks to some last minute inspiration and a free flight change from Delta, we ended up arriving in Orlando a day early. That meant more time for rides, and more food to eat! Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped by the supermarket (Publix, obviously) to pick up some food and local beer for our mini fridge. Breakfast ended up being the one meal that stayed consistent all week: fresh berries with plain Greek yogurt and chocolate granola, and whatever coffee we could find. I referred to my breakfast as “room service,” but really it was my wonderful mother waiting on me so I could sleep in. She’s a saint.

Day 1:

Not food, but I had to throw in a photo of Cinderella's castle at night! (Image source: Author)

Not food, but I had to throw in a photo of Cinderella’s castle at night! (Image source: Author)

We officially began our adventure in the utopia that is Magic Kingdom. I’d downloaded the Disney World app the previous week and looked at the menus about 17 times each, so I knew I wanted to drag my mom to Columbia Harbour House for lunch. I ordered the Grilled Salmon; she had the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad. The food was good, but the best part of the meal was making a new friend in the form of a flight attendant from Seattle who had run the “Dopey Challenge” the previous weekend—a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon in sequential days. I discovered that not only are there obsessed Disney World fans and obsessed runners, there are a ton of people out there who are both. Personally, I prefer to get my physical activity in by skipping from ride to ride, but to each their own.

For dinner, we swung by the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, located in the Frontier Land area. I went for the tacos, but quickly fell in love when I discovered the UNLIMITED GUACAMOLE. Yes, you read that right. After you order your food—I got a Taco Trio with Seasoned Ground Beef, Seasoned Chicken, and Spicy Breaded Cauliflower topped with 5-spice Yogurt and Pineapple Salsa – you head to the toppings bar for all the fixin’s. I am not kidding when I say I helped myself to a full cup of guacamole, or $10 worth if we’re talking in Chipotle terms.

Day 2:

This was our longest day; we were in the parks from 8 am (pre-rope drop for those in the know) to 11 pm. Lunch was this bowl from Satu’li Canteen in the new Pandora section of Animal Kingdom, and it was DELICIOUS. I hadn’t decided what to eat until I walked past the restaurant and scoped out the menu (I spent a lot of time looking at menus, clearly). As soon as I saw it was a build-your-own-bowl place, I knew I had to get that food in my belly. I would have gone back for dinner but we were in Epcot by that point. Go to Pandora for the food, stay to watch people suffer through the ridiculously long lines for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride.

(Image source: Author)

(Image source: Author)

Our second park dinner was our only real sit-down meal during the four days of park hopping. One of my mom’s best friends and her daughter had planned a trip to Disney at the same time, so we met up at Restaurant Marrakesh in the World Showcase. My mom and I ordered two dishes—Roast Lamb Meshoui and Shish Kebab—and swapped halfway through so we could try both. Honestly, the best part of the World Showcase is the food—you can try food from all around the world in one place!

A typical menu at Universal Studios. (Image source: Author)

A typical menu at Universal Studios. (Image source: Author)

Day 3:

As much as I love Disney (and I do LOVE Disney), I was most excited to visit Universal for one reason only: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t love being surrounded by hordes of people, but I’m happy to deal with crowds of Muggles trying to catch a photo of the Gringotts dragon mid-fire breath.

The food at Universal Studios is generally pretty limited, making me wish there were house elves on hand to cook up our favorite foods. When you search the park’s website for “healthy options” in the two main parks you get one result, and it costs $50 for an adult. That said, it’s the Marvel meet-and-greet restaurant, so you may get to hang out with Thor.

I made the rookie mistake of winging lunch that day, and I ended up struggling to find something that met my requirements (read: not a burger and fries) while fighting through my “hanger.” We finally ended up at Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck for—you guessed it—more tacos. Sadly, the guacamole there was NOT unlimited, but I did enjoy the Korean beef. Universal closed at the non-magical hour of 7 pm, so we didn’t waste time getting dinner at the park. Why eat when you can ride the Hulk again and again?

Sunset over Hogsmeade. (Image source: Author)

Sunset over Hogsmeade. (Image source: Author)

Day 4:

After my lunchtime annoyance of the previous day, I had already decided to visit Fire Eater’s Grill for our final lunch. The food wasn’t the best, but my gyro came with a side of veggies (carrots and celery sticks) and hummus. Not too shabby! Disappointingly, there were no fire eaters to be found. 

Ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour (*authentic British spelling!) (Image source: Author)

Ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour (*authentic British spelling!) (Image source: Author)

I only got ice cream once during our four days in the park, but this cup from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour* was totally worth the wait. As a huge Harry Potter fan, just having the experience of eating ice cream in Diagon Alley would have been enough for me; this ice cream also happened to be incredibly tasty. My mom and I ordered separately and somehow both ended up with salted caramel blondie and clotted cream. Accio deliciousness!

After picking up souvenirs at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, we headed back to Hogsmeade only to discover that the park closed at 6 pm. I didn’t get to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey again, but we did have extra time to get tasty Ethiopian food for dinner near our hotel.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the food I found at both parks, especially Disney World. It definitely takes some effort and planning, but there are vegetables to be found! Most importantly, I had a blast.

Tips:

  1. Do breakfast/coffee in the hotel so you’re in a good mood by the time you reach the park. Those crowds can be brutal and you don’t want to face them when you’re hangry (trust me on that one).
  2. Bring snacks. I had plenty of dried mango in my bag so that I could raise my blood sugar whenever I felt myself getting cranky (see above). We also had pretzels, cheese crackers, beef jerky, nuts, and granola bars—snacking is a serious business for us!
  3. Plan ahead. This is especially true if you have any kind of dietary restrictions. I’m just picky, but I still got a little hangry (again, see above) on the one day I didn’t pick a lunch spot ahead of time. (Sorry, Mom!)
  4. Look into the meal plans. We didn’t do this, but both Disney and Universal offer flat rate meal plans that are accepted at many on-site dining locations. As a bonus, you’ll feel like a freshman again!

Hannah Macfarlane is a second year student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change program. Her favorite activities include re-reading Harry Potter, snacking, and pretending to be a kid again.

To Meat, or Not to Meat? (Is That Really the Question?)

by Kathleen Nay

After eight years of keeping a vegetarian diet, I’m compelled to ask myself: why am I still a vegetarian? And more intriguingly, why are my former-vegan and -vegetarian friends not?

Photo: Pexels.com

Photo: Pexels.com

Eight years ago, transitioning to a vegetarian diet was my New Year’s resolution. I’d just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals about the dark side of animal agriculture, and I’d been with my partner—a lifelong vegetarian—for three years. At that point making the swap seemed inevitable, and I’ve pretty much been vegetarian ever since.

It wasn’t a difficult transition. My dad had become vegetarian when I was a pre-teen, and we never had much meat in the house to begin with. Meat was a “special occasion” food, or something I’d order at a restaurant, but rarely prepared at home. For me, the choice was convenient and socially acceptable. I felt convinced that a vegetarian diet was best for the planet, and it neatly sidestepped the complex feelings I had around causing harm to sentient animals and the workers who kill and process them.

But I’ve never lost that particular craving for meat that substitutes just don’t quite satisfy. Some people seem to get over this; my dad, for example, always said that he eventually stopped craving it, and no longer enjoys the taste or texture. Not so for me. If we’re operating on strict definitions of vegetarianism, then I’m technically not one—I sample a bit of turkey at the requisite holiday gatherings, and occasionally give in to a craving for a roast beef sandwich when I need a quick lunch away from home. I try not to hold myself to such high definitional standards, however, and usually identify as a plant-based eater. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve fleetingly thought about abandoning my vegetarianism, though I know that if I were to return to eating meat, I would struggle with the dissonance between my values—the social and environmental benefits of a low-impact diet—and my tastes.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first to experience such turmoil over my diet. I know several individuals who just couldn’t make a plant-based diet stick, and Internet listicles abound with people sharing how they lost their “veginity.” Reportedly, even celebrities once famed for being vegan—Bill Clinton, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, and others—have ended their exclusive plant-food affairs.

So I got curious. Why do so many people, once persuaded to give up meat, transition back to it? How do those reasons compare with their motivations for avoiding animal products in the first place? Do they experience guilt or social pressures around their dietary choices, and why?

Much research has been done on factors that predict the likelihood of someone converting to a vegan or vegetarian diet. For example, being female, having greater educational achievement, and higher IQ scores in childhood have each been linked with greater likelihood of becoming vegan or vegetarian as an adult. Some research has linked feminism with vegetarianism. Other work has demonstrated that people who are oriented toward social dominance—that is, those who believe that hierarchical systems should be maintained, a personality trait that predicts social and political attitudes—are actually less likely to become vegan or vegetarian, and are also likely to view vegetarianism as a social threat.

However, the research into factors predicting lapses from vegetarianism is scant, though there are some studies beginning to appear in the literature. One very recent study by Hodson and Earle (2017) looked at whether ideology plays a role in returning to meat consumption. They found that political conservatism tends to predict lapses from vegetarian/vegan diets, particularly among eaters for whom reasons of justice (animal welfare, environmental concerns) are weakest, and for those who do not have strong social support for their dietary choices.

I wondered what I would find if I surveyed my networks. I created a survey of 25 questions for former vegetarians and vegans about why they went vegetarian in the first place; how long they adhered to a vegetarian diet; and what caused them to revert back to eating animal products. In comparison to Hodson and Earle’s work, my investigation is perhaps less academically rigorous and more qualitative in nature, but still valuable for understanding former vegetarians’ dietary motivations.

Through conversations around Friedman I’ve gathered that there are a fair number of us who once identified as vegetarian and no longer do. But I didn’t limit my query to Friedman students or alumni. A large number of people in my life are or once were vegetarian for religious purposes. Having been raised Seventh-Day Adventist, a Protestant Christian denomination whose adherents are well known for abstaining from meat, alcohol and cigarettes, it was once more common for me to meet lifelong vegetarians than to meet someone who regularly consumed meat. As I’m still well connected with this community, my survey skewed slightly toward former vegetarians who were raised with dietary restrictions and/or people who adhered to a vegetarian diet because of religious affiliation.

About 200 former vegetarians and vegans responded to my survey. Most respondents—around 77%—were female, while 18% and 4% identified as male and nonbinary, respectively (this is in keeping with considerable research finding that women are more likely to adhere to a vegetarian diet than men). Respondents’ ages ranged from 20 to 63 years, with the median age being 33. People reported having followed a vegetarian diet for an average of 9.2 years, though actual duration ranged widely, from 6 months to 39 years. Overwhelmingly (85%) respondents specified that they had followed a vegetarian diet, as opposed to being vegan, pescatarian, or fluctuating between the three. (For simplicity, I use the word vegetarian in the rest of this article to encompass all of these terms together.)

Age at conversion to vegetarian/vegan diet

Age at conversion to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Age at conversion back to meat-inclusive diet.

Age at conversion back to meat-inclusive diet.

The largest groups of respondents said they became vegetarian during their teens (45%) and twenties (25%). Respondents also reported transitioning back to eating meat during their twenties (56%) and thirties (22%), potentially suggesting that your parents were right—going vegan in your teens was just a phase. This tracks with ongoing research into the development of the adolescent brain. In a recent episode of the podcast The Gist, journalist Dina Temple-Raston explains that the insular cortex, the area of our brains responsible for causing us to feel empathy, is on hyper alert during adolescence. In her interview with host Mike Pesca, she surmises that “this may explain why you want to save the mountain gorillas when you’re 16, or why you become a vegan.” (Catch Temple-Raston’s Gist interview here.)

Indeed, the most salient reason people gave for rejecting meat in the first place was out of concern for “animal welfare” (20% of received responses). The other most common motivators cited were “health” (17%) and “environment” (16%). That last one especially resonates with me; the enormous environmental footprint of animal agriculture compared to crops is what finally convinced me to give up meat.

But then we get to the crux of my question: what was it that ultimately persuaded my respondents to resume eating animals? Here’s where the data started to get interesting.

The top three reasons respondents provided for why they returned to consuming animal products were “personal taste preferences” (21%), “health” (20%), and “convenience” (16%). Interestingly, health was a significant motivator for transition both toward and away from vegetarianism.

Motivations for converting to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Motivations for converting to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Motivations for converting back to meat-inclusive diet.

Motivations for converting back to meat-inclusive diet.

That health showed up as a primary motivator in both places was really curious to me. I wanted to dig in there, so I filtered out all the responses from individuals who said that health motivated them to both adopt a vegetarian diet and to abandon it. Samples of their comments are reproduced in the tables at right.

Pro-vegetarian/vegan health motivators.


*A common response I received was that a vegan/vegetarian diet was used to hide or aid an eating disorder. In the words of one respondent: “I said I loved animals too much to eat them but I was also really excited about the opportunity to be able to decline to eat in front of other people with a legit excuse.” Fortunately, this respondent later said that they got therapy and learned coping mechanisms as they gradually reintroduced meat to their diet. However, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the sudden elimination of entire food groups or adoption of dogmatic dietary practices can be red flags for disordered eating. For a brief exploration of this darker side of vegetarianism, read this Psychology Today article by Hal Herzog, Ph.D.

Pro-meat health motivators.

Above: pro-vegetarian/vegan health motivators vs. pro-meat health motivators.

Other questions that yielded interesting results were about convenience and perceived social/cultural pressures to eat meat. Aside from health concerns, frequently given reasons for reverting to omnivore diets included living or traveling abroad (also “living in the South” and living among First Nations peoples in northern British Columbia); not having the time or patience to prepare vegetarian meals; lack of available options on college campuses or at restaurants; causing conflict with loved ones (family members, partners); not wanting to inconvenience hosts or seem rude/ungrateful; unwillingness to “be constantly reading labels, turning down meal invites from friends”; the financial cost of keeping a vegetarian diet; employment (“I now work in a job where we encourage row crop producers to integrate livestock to regenerate soil health…” “I work in a restaurant”); and peer pressure (“Many of my friends ate meat,” “It was culturally weird among my friends… to not eat meat,” “social pressure around parenting”).

Finally, I asked respondents about whether they felt any guilt around eating animal products since resuming the inclusion of meat in their diets. Responses were about evenly split (48% Yes; 52% No). As expected, the majority of people mentioned feeling guilt over concerns about animal cruelty and environmental impact. Other common reasons included embarrassment for not sticking with what they felt was a positive lifestyle choice, unawareness of the meat’s origins, and contradicting their cultural upbringing or religious beliefs about the uncleanliness of certain meats. When asked how they alleviated their guilt or dealt with cognitive dissonance around choices to eat meat, most respondents said that they try to minimize or moderate their meat intake; attempt to source meat locally/ethically; look for alternate ways to reduce their carbon footprint; acknowledge the animal’s life; rationalize that meat is a necessary inclusion for their personal health; try not to think about it; or simply accept their guilt.

 

Having grown up a mostly-vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventist, and having later developed a more personal, moralized dietary identity, has caused me to reflect on my own cognitive dissonance when I sneak a turkey sandwich. What does my dietary identity even mean? Upon reflection, it actually means quite little in my case; as I admitted earlier, my interpretation of a vegetarian diet is increasingly more relaxed than the term might imply to others. But the distinction between calling myself plant-based as opposed to strictly vegetarian is relatively small—a difference of one or two meals per month, at most. Somehow, to say my diet is “plant-based” makes me feel as though I can hold on to my social/environmental values while giving myself wiggle-room to accommodate the irresistible pull of sensory memory and cultural pressure—in case I get caught with said turkey sandwich.

We adhere to dietary labels and self-imposed restrictions in order to project something about our selves and our values to the world. And yet, some 84% of vegetarians and vegans eventually return to eating meat. If my survey shows me anything, it’s that people’s reasons are vast, varied… and not altogether unreasonable. Now that we’re already a month into our 2018 New Year’s resolutions, I say it’s time to adopt another goal: to start being a little more forgiving of other people’s dietary choices—and our own.

Kathleen Nay is a third-year AFE/UEP dual degree student and co-editor of The Friedman Sprout. For being a vegetarian, she spends an unreasonable amount of time thinking about meat.

Paradise Lost

by Laura Barley

Climate change is a globally felt human experience that recently hit home for California native Laura Barley. Here, she reflects on the wildfires in her home state and takes a look at some policy tools aimed at climate mitigation.

California is on fire. Needless to say, the past two months have been a terrifying series of events. The Thomas Fire has devoured almost 275,000 acres, granting it the all-too dynamic status of the largest wildfire in California’s recent history. It wraps up the most destructive wildfire season California has on record, capping off at over 500,000 acres burned—more than double the total acreage burned in 2016. To add insult to injury some of those acres, charred of all vegetation by the Thomas Fire, bore the burden of a flash flood that killed 21 people in Montecito.

Even though the Friedman School pulled me to Boston, California is and always will be my home. For the most part, I watched the coverage of the Thomas Fire from afar. Tucked away in the icy confines of my Somerville apartment and Jaharis 118, I checked my phone every few hours to see who of my friends had been evacuated, which of my sun-streaked memory lanes had been destroyed. I couldn’t believe what I saw—apocalyptic images of scrubby hillsides swallowed by flames, plumes of orange clouds encompassing the whole sky. Each picture I saw boomed the same message over and over: that nothing would ever be the same again.

Photo credit: CNN.com

Photo credit: CNN.com

The frequency of large-scale devastation speaks for itself: California’s climate is changing. It appears that the massive strain on the state’s agricultural and urban water resources, fueled by the longstanding lure of its eternal growing season and illustrious vision of paradise, have come to a reckoning. Years of prolonged drought followed by a sporadic year of intense rainfall have created ecosystems irresilient to the rapid shifts—groundwater and river basins have all but dried up, leaving forest and chaparral ecosystems as little more than tinderboxes. The euphoric agricultural and commercial boons of the twentieth century have lurched into a twenty-first century defined by scarcity, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

So, what’s really at stake here? Climates change, they have for eons. Species perish and adapt in the great equilibrium of life. And we—Californians, Americans, humans—will adapt too, hopefully in a timely manner. But much of the world finds itself in the middle of a cycle that feels beyond our control, where the climate interventions we make barely seem to break even. The tons of carbon dioxide emissions from a single large-scale wildfire, like the Thomas or Napa Fires, are estimated to equal the annual emissions of all motor vehicles in the state, and definitively offset much of the progress made by the state’s cap-and-trade program.

For the foreseeable future, California and much of the American West will continue to battle climate change on multiple fronts—greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, flash flood and wildfire mitigation, to name a few. Encouragingly, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration has made significant headway towards a baseline system of climate accountability across the state. In addition to the emissions cap-and-trade program, since 2009 the Safeguarding California plan has established a template for large-scale climate change adaptation strategies, and continues to convene action plans across multiple state and municipal departments. Additionally, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 has finally enacted groundwater monitoring protocol in a state that will continue to rely almost exclusively on subterranean water stores for agricultural production. These are positive signs of political responsiveness, and hopefully yield noticeable impacts in the years to come.

But at the heart of climate change, there exists a loss more worrisome than any policy analysis or statistics could project. For me, for now, the loss is purely psychological. The sense that all of us feel to some extent, which is felt especially strongly in California and the developed world at large, the sense that nothing bad can ever happen to us—that’s gone now.

Enduring the human experience of losing the places we’ve built from scratch, places with cultural and spiritual significance, places we call home—this is the global price many of us will have to pay in the coming decades. The stories of devastation and loss are the stories we should be paying attention to, the stories that make the numbers real. More importantly, they’re the stories that motivate us to action, out of fear and compassion that nothing so terrible should ever happen to us again. Because every time it happens, it shouldn’t.

Laura Barley is a second-year AFE Master’s student, who grew up in the Bay Area and lived in Southern California while attending UC Santa Barbara. She is a member of the Water Systems, Science, and Society research program aimed at mitigating water constraints to healthier diets. Most importantly, she strives to be a climate optimist.