Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences
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Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences

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Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

No joke: The reality of the starving student and what UC is doing to help

As we celebrate the winter holiday season with its many joyful occasions, it's sobering to think how many people are in need of nutritious food. Millions of people are at risk of going hungry, says Feeding America. And according to groundbreaking studies by the University of California, we now know that a large number of college students are among the hungry.

A significant problem, “starving students” are not a lighthearted joke: students are going hungry and sometimes homeless, too. Food and housing insecurity among college students threatens their health, as well as their academic achievements.

Gauging college student food insecurity

The University of California began examining the issue of student food insecurity in 2015 with the Student Food Access and Security Surveys funded by President Napolitano as part of the UC Global Food Initiative. The resulting Student Food Access and Security Study was authored by the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute's Lorrene Ritchie and Suzanna Martinez and UC Santa Barbara's Katie Maynard.

The Student Food Access and Security Study examined the results of two surveys administered online in spring 2015 to a random sample of more than 66,000 students across all 10 UC campuses. Fourteen percent of the students -- 8,932 undergraduate and graduate students in all -- responded.

Nineteen percent of the students responding to the survey had “very low” food security, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent of survey respondents had “low” food security, which the USDA defines as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Added together, an alarming 42 percent of the students surveyed were food insecure.

Communicating best practices and lessons learned

Soon after the Student Food Access and Security Survey results were published, partners of the UC Global Food Initiative throughout the UC system began developing the Student Food Access and Security toolkit.

The toolkit compiles best practices that have evolved at UC campuses as the university advanced efforts to nourish and support students.

Each section of the toolkit provides examples across multiple campuses to highlight the range of activities underway, as well as lessons learned.

Meeting basic needs: Food security and housing security

Expenses other than tuition can make up more than 60 percent of the cost of attending college today. The cost of living for college students has risen by more than 80 percent over the past four decades.

To better understand the prevalence of food insecurity among University of California students, the university has continued to examine the issue of student food insecurity and is beginning to assess students' housing insecurity. Food security and housing security are basic needs that students must meet to maintain their health and well-being so that they can focus on achieving academically.

Moving forward: implementing a basic needs master plan

A new report, “Global Food Initiative: Food and Housing Security at the University of California” was released December 20, 2017, and an executive summary is also available. This new report recognizes student basic needs as a statewide and national issue.

UC has done much over the past three years to help students meet basic needs. The findings from the new report will help UC go even further. The new findings will inform strategies for addressing basic needs security, including the creation of a UC basic needs master plan.

Perhaps we can retire the “joke” of the starving student after all.

Additional resources:

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 12:56 PM
Focus Area Tags: Health

Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices

At the end of a long year, sometimes it helps to reconnect with what motivates your work.

For Karin Albornoz — a Ph.D. student who works in the Diane Beckles Lab at UC Davis on molecular biology related to tomato postharvest chilling injury — that means getting out into the world to work directly with small-scale farmers.

"I spend so much time in the lab," she said. "Sometimes I spend a whole day in the lab extracting RNA or writing a paper. This reminds me why I am doing this work: to make a real-world impact."

Just over a week ago, she returned from a trip to Uganda where she did exactly that. In partnership with a local organization called Ndibwami Integrated Rescue Project (NIRP), Albornoz shared her expertise with farmers through several hands-on workshops about improving harvest practices and postharvest handling of pineapple, passion fruit and tomatoes. Her work was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, an international agricultural research program led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Though Albornoz has worked with rural farmers before, this was her first time working in Africa. 

"Everywhere I looked, things were growing. There were people working in the field, women cooking, and everyone was working with food," she said. "I know there's a lot of stigma – when you talk about Africa, you see people's faces change and they're thinking about things like drought and famine and starving children. But what I saw doesn't fit that stereotype. The challenges they are facing seem to be about not having access to opportunities."

The workshops she led are part of the NIRP organization's efforts to connect farmers with more lucrative markets that pay higher prices for quality produce.


In this 2-minute video, Karin Albornoz visits a pineapple farm, leads a pineapple training and discusses next steps for this project led by NIRP in Uganda. The video clips and photos were taken by Karin while she was working and edited by Hallie Casey for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.


For months, Albornoz has been in contact with NIRP and making plans for the farmer workshops. She prepared postharvest handling manuals for each crop — pineapple, passion fruit and tomato — and asked questions to better understand local resources and the farmers' existing knowledge.

During her 2 weeks in Uganda, she visited farmers' fields and led three full-day workshops. The first workshop for about 50 farmers focused on pineapple — starting with understanding local quality parameters for this fruit, then best practices for harvesting, sanitation, storage and transportation. The second workshop was focused on tomato, with a similar structure, and the third workshop on passion fruit.

During the pineapple workshop, farmers had a chance to measure the fruit's total soluble solids through a refractometer.

Her favorite moment? The farmers' first chance to use a refractometer, to measure soluble solids and learn about sugar levels in the fruit. The refractometers were part of a small toolkit the organization will continue to use.

"They were excited to handle this device and see, in numbers, how the sugar levels of the fruit changed depending on the stage of maturity," she said. "Everyone in the room had a chance to try it."

Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.

The experience reinforced her commitment to working with farmers and solving agricultural problems.

"A major mistake is to think that you are going just to train or teach other people because those people are always going to end up teaching you too," Albornoz said. "I made a promise to myself years ago, a personal commitment to working with people in vulnerable situations. I have to do this. Working in agriculture can be a very powerful tool to have an impact in the world."

As Karin's mentor and an Associate Professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, Diane Beckles supported Karin's work outside of the lab and views such an experience as important to scholarly development.

"Something magical happens when we teach and engage in outreach," Beckles said. "We often deepen our understanding of what we are teaching, and interacting and engaging with others changes us in that process. It alters how we view and think about science in a way that is positive and rewarding, even though it is not easily quantified."

 More information:

Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at 8:47 AM

California’s nascent coffee industry to hold summit Jan. 18

Jay Ruskey, left, and Mark Gaskell, shown at a coffee tasting in 2015. They planted their first California coffee field trial in 2002.
Coffee is being commercially grown in California and coffee drinkers can't get enough of the locally produced beverage, which currently retails for about $18 per cup. Anyone who is interested in growing, processing or marketing specialty coffee in California is invited to a Coffee Summit on Jan. 18 at Cal Poly Pomona.

Until recently, American coffee was grown commercially only in Hawaii. To make the most of their precious water, California farmers have begun experimenting with coffee plantings and producing beans that fetch a premium.

“There are about 30,000 coffee trees now planted on about 30 farms and that acreage will continue to grow during 2018 with programmed new plantings,” said Mark Gaskell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with coffee growers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “Only a relatively small amount of the planted acreage is now producing, but the market interest and demand continue to outpace anticipated new production for the foreseeable future.” 

At the Coffee Summit, participants will learn about new opportunities for this high-value crop from industry professionals. Summit topics will include development of estate coffee, coffee production, pests and diseases, processing methods and marketing.

Coffee is planted from Morro Bay to San Diego, with production concentrated in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego counties, according to Gaskell.

Coffee interplanted with established avocado orchards requires no additional land, water or fertilizer.

California coffee industry leaders from Santa Barbara and San Diego counties and agriculture professionals with University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Hawaii and U.S. Department of Agriculture will give presentations and answer questions.

Good Land Organics grower Jay Ruskey, who has been growing coffee in Santa Barbara County since 2002, and Gaskell will discuss growing coffee in California.

Based on their coffee variety research trials, UC Cooperative Extension advisors Ramiro Lobo and Gary Bender, both based in San Diego County, and Duncan McKee of Cal Poly Pomona will discuss which varieties are suitable for production in California.

“We are working collaboratively with UC Cooperative Extension to determine the best coffee varieties for our area,” said Valerie J. Mellano, Cal Poly Pomona professor and chair of the Plant Science Department. “Much of the California coffee is grown along the more coastal areas, but we are really interested in determining what will do well in the more inland areas, where it is a little hotter in the summer and a little colder in the winter.

“We are starting the second year of our trial and will be able to see how certain varieties hold up in the colder weather this winter, but we will not have any coffee yield data for a couple more years.”

Andy Mullins of Frinj Coffee, a cooperative of 24 farms including Good Land Organics, will discuss business and marketing opportunities for new California coffee growers.

The Inaugural Coffee Summit will be hosted by the Huntley College of Agriculture on Jan. 18, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the AgriScapes Conference Center at Cal Poly Pomona. Registration is $75 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch and coffee tasting. For more information and registration, visit http://bit.ly/2jtXyFP.

 

Related reading:

California Coffee http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/uc2/2015/03/california_coffee.html

Your coffee is from where? California https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/business/your-coffee-is-from-where-california.html?_r=0

Farmer breaks ground with California-grown coffee success https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/18-cup-of-california-grown-coffee-sparks-industry-interest/

Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 3:28 PM
Tags: Coffee (3), Mark Gaskell (2)

Visit mountain mandarin orchards for tasty treats

Nestled in the rolling foothills of Placer County, just northeast of Sacramento, are more than 35 beautiful small family farms growing mandarin oranges. The warm days and cool nights in Penryn, Newcastle, Loomis, Lincoln and Auburn make this area a perfect place to grow sweet, juicy, seedless mandarins. Welsh settlers in the town of Penryn first planted Satusuma mandarin orchards in the 1880s; some of their descendants are still tending Satsuma groves today. These original growers have been joined by other families in providing tree- ripened, hand-picked fruit to Placer County and beyond.

Mandarins ripen from late November through January, just in time to find a favored spot in millions of Christmas stockings and Chinese New Year celebrations. The Mountain Mandarin Growers Association members welcome the public to visit the mandarin groves throughout the winter months when the fruit is at its peak, but during the first and third weekends in December visitors enjoy extra family-friendly activities as part of Mountain Mandarin Orchard Days.

Enjoy Mountain Mandarin Orchard Days

Orchard Days started eight or nine years ago, according to Mountain Mandarin Growers Association President Rich Colwell, owner of the Colwell Thundering Herd Mandarin Ranch in Penryn. Although growers' association members sell to stores and distributors and at farmers' markets, they decided to try to celebrate the harvest at the ranches, taking advantage of the example of the Apple Hill Growers Association in nearby El Dorado County. Colwell says, "If they like Apple Hill, we think they'll love coming up here to see what we have to offer." 

To plan visits on Orchard Days, Dec. 2, 3, 16 and 17, visitors can visit the Mandarin Growers map page to find the groves and a list of activities at each ranch. First, enjoy the beautiful small family farms by taking a walk through the groves. Savor the fresh fruit itself, either by picking your own straight from the trees or by purchasing a bag of just-picked mandarins to take home or give to friends and family. Then sample some of the delightful products made from or infused with mandarins. Products created by the small-scale farmers include oils, sauces, honey, juice, cookies, cakes, fudge and spreads. Orchard Days activities include local wine and ale tasting, artists and crafters, visit with Santa, petting of goats and other farm animals and other winter fruits and vegetables. Visitors can see painted quilt squares on local barns as well as fabric quilts on display.

On Sunday Dec. 3, visitors may join the "Orange is the new Pink" 5K Walk for Breast Cancer, an un-timed walk along part of Penryn's Mandarin Trail, starting and ending at Mandarin Hill Orchards, 2334 Mandarin Hill Lane. To learn more and register, visit MandarinWalk.org.

Nutrition and recipes

As well as being tasty, mandarins are nutritious. According to the California Department of Public Health's Network for a Healthy California, one average size Satsuma mandarin contains only 47 calories and 39 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Also, in a 2008 USDA study, Placer County Owari Satusuma mandarins showed concentrations of the phytochemical synephrine that were up to six times higher than values previously determined for orange juice. The study concluded that 10 ounces of mandarin juice contains as much synephrine as one over-the-counter decongestant pill.


Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges

SALAD:
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 cup chopped center leaves of Romaine lettuce
1/4 cup sliced red onions
24 sections fresh mandarin segments

TOPPINGS:
Toasted pecans or candied walnuts
Several thin slices of Mandarin orange
1 tblsp. feta or blue cheese
Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Chill. Plate and top each serving with your choice of toppings (see suggestions).

Mandarin Orange Scones

www.aaa-recipes.com

SCONES:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 orange
11 ounces fresh mandarins, chopped

GLAZE:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 drops orange flavoring
Fresh orange juice

INSTRUCTIONS:

SCONES: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. By hand, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter. Add buttermilk, orange zest and Mandarin oranges. Turn dough onto well-floured board. Add flour as needed. Knead dough; make eight 1-inch round wedges. Score the eight wedges. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes.

GLAZE:Combine confectioners' sugar, orange zest, orange flavoring and enough fresh orange juice to make a runny glaze. Pour glaze over warm scones.

more recipes: (Mountain Mandarin Growers Association website)

Protect the Orchards!

Cindy Fake, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Placer and Nevada counties, is working with the Mountain Mandarin Growers Association to keep the groves healthy as they face a serious threat.

Citrus from outside Placer County may carry the Asian citrus psyllid. This tiny insect carries the deadly bacterial disease called Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening. HLB kills citrus trees and could destroy California citrus production and Mountain Mandarins. The insect is already in Southern California and efforts are being made to keep it out of Placer County.

Help protect the Mountain Mandarin industry by following these guidelines:

  1. Do not bring any citrus fruit, trees, or leaves into Placer County from other California counties, other states, or countries.
  2. Buy your mandarins from local Placer County growers.
  3. Buy only certified disease-free citrus trees from a reputable nursery. Do not share any uncertified citrus rootstock or budwood, as it could carry the disease.

Learn more about this threat to California citrus.

Learn more about visiting California farms and ranches at www.calagtour.org, the University of California Agritourism Directory and Calendar of events.

Posted on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 9:34 AM

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