Food as the New and Improved Pharma

The old saying “you are what you eat,” seems to have more often gone in one ear and out the other for most Americans. In modern society, there has been a serious disconnect between the quality and nutritional value of the food we eat and our health. That may finally be changing. A new branch of medicine known simply as “culinary medicine” seeks to put diet right at the heart of standard medical care. Tulane University even has a Center for Culinary Medicine. While it focuses on the traditional nexus of food and medicine (diabetes, obesity, heart disease), I’m hopeful that this is the start of a much broader look at this issue. That seems to be the approach of a new web site called “Dining with a Doc” that “celebrates food as medicine.”

Beyond connecting our diet to our health, we need to connect our diet to our planet. The impact of our meat-centric American diet on the environment is astounding. Studies show that more greenhouse gas emissions are produced from our industrial food chain than from the entire transportation sector combined. The optimal food choice for the planet is a plant-based choice. However, we don’t all have to become vegans overnight to make a difference. Just as switching to 25% wind power is better than nothing, reducing your consumption of meat and animal products by 25% is a great start.  Instead of a vegan diet, we can call this an “Eco Diet.”

Once you get it, you’ll get it. Making smart food choices is good for you and the planet you live on.  An Eco Diet cleans up your body and cleans the environment.  Need help? Just find a good nutritionist or a culinary doctor and you’ll be on the right path.

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Cleaning Our Air and Supporting Our Economy

ALA PA LogoChoose PA Wind Logo

Pennsylvanians hear a lot about energy choices, especially when it comes to offers to save money. But perhaps a more important message is getting lost in the marketing noise of the energy world. Pennsylvanians have the option of choosing energy that cleans our air and brings economic development right here in the commonwealth. Through a new campaign called ChoosePAWind, consumers in the PECO territory can sign up for Pennsylvania wind power at affordable rates.

The program is not only promoting local clean, renewable wind power, it seeks to build community support for green initiatives. Participating organizations earn donations to their groups for every enrollment they get. The double benefit of this is the ability to directly support energy sources that clean our air and help the local economy while also galvanizing your own community into action.

At the American Lung Association, we know that there’s a direct link between the pollution coming out of fossil-fueled power plants and lung disease. Decreasing pollution from these power plants means lowering the amount of nitrogen-oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter that we all breathe. Doing this will lower incidents of pre-mature death, asthma, and other chronic conditions related to poor air quality. There are several ways to make this happen, from federal or state legislation, to simple voluntary actions such as switching to wind power. The more people that choose Pennsylvania wind, the better our air will be.

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Pennsylvania has 25 wind energy projects, totaling more than 1,300 megawatts of production, ranking us 15th in the nation.  They produce enough energy to power 330,000 Pennsylvania homes. The wind industry has put more than $2.7 billion in capital investment into our state and pays landowners $3.6 million annually in lease payments. The tax dollars from wind contributes to the public coffers, while attracting new manufacturing facilities as well.

Keeping your energy dollars local, cleaning up the air you and your family breathes, working with your community to promote sustainability – these are the key benefits of simply choosing Pennsylvania wind.

Deb Brown

President & CEO

American Lung Association Mid Atlantic

Jim Spencer

EverPower CEO and ChoosePAWind Founder

Why Chestnut Hill United Church is Supporting ChoosePAWind by Joy Bergey

Choose Pennsylvania wind to power your home. What a wonderful idea. It’s no-brainer to me to choose electricity whose generation doesn’t exacerbate climate change, pollute the air and water, or generate nuclear waste that will last for thousands of years and society hasn’t a clue how to store safely (PECO’s “regular” electricity comes largely from fossil fuels and nuclear plants, with these attendant woes).  Choosing wind power that’s “home grown” right here in state also means that you’re helping to create sustainable, well-paid jobs for our fellow Pennsylvanians.

It’s my contention that choosing to use clean electricity in our homes, workplaces, and schools is likely the biggest thing we can do to slow down global warming. Can most of us give up our cars? No. Or afford an electric car powered entirely by solar panels? No again.

To that point of solar panels: The price of solar technology has come way down in recent years, and continues to fall. And yet, a homeowner in Pennsylvania would still have to lay out thousands of dollars up front to put PV panels on her or his roof. (In my case, I’d be willing to do that, but my property is “treed out,” meaning that I’d have to take down several large trees to expose the roof to adequate sun to make the PV panels work. And since I live quite close to the Wissahickon Creek, those large trees of mine are providing other valuable eco-services, like helping to sop up storm water and prevent flooding.)

So, if you don’t have the roof, spare capital, and/or time to investigate, purchase, and install solar panels, do something that’s actually much easier, and every bit as effective: Buy electricity generated by the wind. Buy Pennsylvania wind, specifically. (If you’re reading this, you probably know that “buying local” offers all kinds of benefits, both economically and environmentally. The “buy local” benefits extend to energy as well.)

I’m delighted that the congregation that I’ve belonged to for two decades, Chestnut  Hill United Church (in northwest Philadelphia) is participating in the ChoosePaWind campaign. We’ve already designated that the income from this campaign will be used to further our social justice work. It’s a win-win-wind situation.

On Brand, Climate, and Thoughts on Moving Forward

Extreme climate change is coming, perhaps already causing havoc in some areas of the world, yet we as society can’t seem to agree on whether to take any action to stop it. There are feel good personal and community actions that help, but won’t by themselves solve the problem. There are a few states and cities adopting laws and regulations to help fight the problem. But the kind of economy wide, national and international action we must adopt now to avert the worst outcomes is beyond our reach. It has been for decades. We need to try something new. Perhaps one approach would be to reconsider how we environmental advocates brand climate change and our call to action. In other words, if we were to be selling this product, as environmental advocates, what category does it even fall into and what are the primary drivers or assumptions of that category?  Who are our competitors in this category?

I don’t think there’s agreement about what category our product is in. There are some who put it in the political issue category, in which case it is competing with other political issues for priority and voter attention. Others put it in a consumer product kind of category, in which it’s competing with other products or services in the sustainability realm. Still others think of it as a part of the protest category, part of a suite of issues that generate non-violent direct actions, protests, and marches. I’m sure there are others, but these examples suffice to make the point that the actions we take, and the messages we create can vary greatly depending on the category we think extreme climate change belongs to.

The products or services that we sell as part of our campaign depends on the category as well. Our call to action could be an email to a legislator, a vote, or participation in a rally. Or our call of action could be the purchase of green electricity or certain kinds of climate friendly products. Frequently, our call to action is a donation to an environmental NGO.

The competitors in our category also depend on our definition of the category. Our competitors could be issues vying for political action or they could be other services or products aimed at the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market. Our macro competition is inertia, but that’s the case with almost every product out there.

So now that we have some ideas on category and competition, we may be able to better “market” our product and the consequent call to action. This means we’ll have to decide on just a few approaches rather than dilute our brand with too many competing messages.

What do you think our category is? Our brand position? Our competitors?

Time to Focus on Food

Turns out we should be focusing more on clean eating than clean energy. That’s the finding of a new documentary based on stats about greenhouse gas emissions. “Cowspiracy” shows convincingly that our industrial food system, especially the part that involves livestock, does more harm to the planet than possibly anything else. As far as greenhouse gases go, this sector produces more of them than the entire transportation sector. Maybe when we spent so much time lobbying for CAFÉ standards in DC, we should have focused on café food sourcing standards. Hopefully it’s not too late to turn our focus to food.

Despite inaction in Washington, we’ve made amazing strides in growing clean energy across the nation. The solar industry is growing by leaps and bounds while energy efficiency is becoming mainstream. In DC, we even got an increase in CAFÉ (fuel economy) standards under President Obama. Meanwhile, we appear to be floundering as a nation when it comes to deciding what we do about food. By food I mean the broad category that includes farming, livestock, delivery, sourcing, nutrition, advertising, and government subsidies. Because of this disarray, we have an increase in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, the fish are disappearing, the Amazon is being chopped down, our water and air are being polluted, and yes, the ice caps are melting.

We need to elevate the dialogue on food policy just as we did for clean energy. There are so many amazing non-profits and food businesses that are already creating a buzz, as well as effecting real change. But to me, it seems that there is no unifying frame to convey the various food related messages – organic, local, plant-based, grass-fed, non-GMO, fair trade, etc. As authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier Schutter point out in their article, “How a National Food Policy Could Save Millions of American Lives,” the Federal government has a role to play in shaping the agenda. The business community, local and state governments, farmers and other stakeholders all have a large role to play. The first step is to start the conversation – there’s no time to waste.

McDonalds and Chipotle – The Changing American Diet

You’re driving down the road at 6pm and your stomach starts gurgling out of hunger. You see a McDonalds on the left and a Chipotle’s on the right. Which way do you turn? Why? The answer to the first question seems to increasingly be to the right, as Chipotle’s just reported an astonishing 57% increase in net income for the last quarter while McDonalds saw a 30% drop in net income amidst declining sales in the U.S. The question of why is a bit more complicated, and it could determine the future of the American food industry.

The financial pundits are pointing to obvious differences. Chiptole is new, McDonalds is old. Chipotle lets consumers build their own meal, while McDonalds serves pre-made items.  Chipotle is known for high quality, McDonalds has a reputation for poor quality. But to find the answer, perhaps we need to look to a larger movement of Americans paying attention to what they put in their bodies as well as how their food impacts the planet.

Chipotle is certainly not perfect, but it’s better than most places when it comes to sourcing and serving healthier food.  The company claims to source sustainably raised, anti-biotic and hormone free meat as much as possible, and locally grown produce, as well as organic produce when practical. The company’s slogan is Food with Integrity. They have some improvements to make, surely, but they are at least heading down the right path for the right reasons. Their web site gives a good primer on the environmental and public health dangers of factory farmed food and other industrial food practices. As far as serving good food, Chipotle is doing better than many there. It has a vegan option at several of its restaurants. Let’s hope they make it universal at every place. For vegetarians, it’s very easy to find a tasty bean burrito to eat. And of course the food is fresh.  Finally, Chipotle is using its business to promote better environmental and health practices. Check out the funny series they did called “Farmed and Dangerous” to see a pretty direct hit on the industrial food barons.

Americans are warming up to the benefits of what I call a low-impact/high impact diet. This is a diet that’s low impact on the planet but high impact on your body’s good health. People increasingly recognize the connection between the industrial food sector and climate change, or environmental degradation.  They are looking for food that is tasty and filling, but that also makes them feel good or gives them balanced energy. This means less junk food, less sugary drinks, and more healthy options including vegetables and fruits. Keep watching the news about McDonalds and Chipotle. When McDonalds sales go down, that means Americans health and environmental consciousness is going up.

Pennsylvania’s Potential Wind Revival

Last decade, Pennsylvania was a leading player in developing a vibrant wind power industry, with new wind farms and new wind turbine manufacturing plants. Unfortunately, lack of Federal direction and a recent rush to fossil fuels has seemingly pushed wind to the background in the commonwealth. That could all be changing soon with new Carbon regulations from the Feds and a push by activists to re-start the Pennsylvania clean energy economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Carbon rules would make it more difficult to build new coal-fired power plants and could assign many existing plants to the scrapheap of history, where they belong. Wind and solar are in a perfect position to fill the vacuum left by this diminishing power resource. Pennsylvania has a lot to gain. Though it already has more than 700 wind turbines operating, mainly in the middle of the state, that’s just a small piece of what could be built. Indeed, the anti-wind forces see the potential here. They just passed a bill in the Pennsylvania State House to require a year long study on wind power’s impacts on the environment. This, despite the fact that the wind industry already agreed to studies conducted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and despite the fact that this same body does not seem interested in passing bills requiring studies of the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment and human health.

Meanwhile, activists in Pennsylvania are hoping for a brighter future. They’ve developed new ideas for policies that would get the clean energy industry back on track. Depending on what happens in the upcoming election, these ideas could be incorporated by new leadership in Harrisburg. To see what a clean energy revival looks like, Pennsylvanians just have to look south, towards their neighbor Maryland, where a strong solar requirement has led to thousands of homes going solar, new green jobs, and national companies moving into the state. Let’s hope there’s some change coming to Pennsylvania, for a cleaner, green future for everyone.