Do You Eat Just Food?


By Leanna M Sweha

This is the first in a series of regular articles on “food justice.” Food justice has deep roots in the sustainable/organic agriculture and farm labor movements that date back to the 1970s, with many pioneers living and working right here in our region.

Over the last two decades, food justice has emerged as a movement and an ethic that unites concerns about environmental/animal welfare impacts of agriculture with public health concerns about rising rates of food insecurity, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Holistic in view, it covers the whole range of issues in the modern food system.

Agriculture is Yolo County’s largest industry, and the Sacramento region aspires to be the “Silicon Valley” of agricultural innovation. It’s imperative, therefore, to examine food justice issues in our region.

Here in Davis, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program  (SAREP), part of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI), has been addressing food systems issues for almost thirty years. Gail Feenstra, Food Systems Analyst at SAREP and Deputy Director at ASI, explained that food justice is an essential part of sustainability.

“Since our founding in 1986, SAREP’s mission has been to promote agriculture that is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially just. The social justice part has always been the weak leg of the three-legged stool. This is improving over time, but we still have a long way to go.”  According to Feenstra, the concept of food justice resonates with everyone, whether involved in food production or not, because everyone has a relationship with food.

Food justice is a focus of the UC Global Food Initiative. Launched by President Napolitano last summer, the initiative addresses “how to sustainably, equitably, and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.”

Just last week, UC Santa Barbara hosted a California Higher Education Food Summit to address environmental, social and economic issues in the food system. Nikki Silvestri, former executive director of the People’s Grocery, founded in 2003 to improve food access in the “food desert” of West Oakland, gave the keynote. Silvestri noted, “When we talk about justice, we are actually talking about everyone, from beginning to end.”

A 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press publication entitled Food Justice: Food, Health and the Environment, offers an equally broad definition of food justice:

“…justice for all in the food system, whether producers, farm workers, processors, workers, eaters, or communities. Integral to food justice is also a respect for the systems that support how and where the food is grown – an ethic of place regarding the land, the air, the water, the plants, the animals, and the environment.”

Taking the broad view of food justice, here are some potential topics on the table for future articles, in no particular order:

  • 2014 Water Bond, groundwater law. Irrigation management, dry-farming.
  • Yolo County Food Bank/partner agencies. Food Bank Farmers, FARM Davis
  • SNAP/CalFresh
  • Food waste reduction innovators
  • Davis City Council proposal to require restaurants to offer healthy drink choices on their children’s menu
  • Harvest Hub Yolo/Community-Supported Agriculture
  • Farmworker health, housing and labor issues
  • Yolo Farm to Fork/Farm to School
  • Cannery Community farm, City of Davis community farm concept at Mace 391
  • Climate change and adaptation, CalCAN Summit
  • Cap and Trade (AB 32), carbon offset programs for agriculture
  • Honey bee and other pollinator decline
  • Nutrient management, nitrate and heavy metal water pollution
  • Conservation tillage, cover-cropping, hedgerows
  • UC Global Food Initiative campus food service programs, student fellows
  • UCD Agricultural Sustainability Institute, UCD World Food Center Innovation Institute for Food and Health
  • Impacts of Prop 2 (Standards for Confining Farm Animals, 2008)
  • UCD Graduate School of Management’s Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center
  • 2014 Farm Bill
  • Food and beverage brands as change agents in the food system
  • Information technology and agriculture
  • Reconciliation ecology/wildlife-friendly farming
  • Paying farmers for ecosystem services
  • Yolo Ag and Food Alliance/California Food Policy Council
  • Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) Rural-Urban Connection Strategy (RUCS)
  • Advances in breeding, genomics, GMOs
  • Dietary choices and diet movements, food justice labeling
  • New farmers – federal, state and local assistance programs
  • Integrated pest management

As you can see, the list could go on and on. If you have a food justice/sustainability topic that you think should be profiled at Davis Vanguard, please send a message to

Leanna M Sweha, JD, has been a resident of Davis for 20 years.  As a young molecular biologist in a USDA lab working to engineer Roundup-resistant corn, she grew interested in sustainable agriculture.  Fascinated with the legal and policy issues of agricultural genetics, she became an attorney specializing in agricultural and natural resources law.  She has worked for the California Resources Agency and the UC Davis Office of Research.

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  1. Barack Palin

    Do I eat just food?

    Do I drive a just car?

    Do I make a just wage?

    Do I live in a just house?

    Am I just to the environment?

    Is my community just to minorities?

    Are our streets just to pedestrians and bicyclists?


    Sheeeesh, my head is exploding.  It’s Hell going through life thinking about all the unjust things in one’s life.

    1. Anon

      That was pretty much my thinking.  To throw out a laundry list of “justice” issues surrounding food doesn’t seem very helpful, even if it “sounds good”.

      1. Barack Palin

        Anon, what should I do?  I want to drive to my local donut store this morning but I’ll have to drive my unjust gas guzzling truck through my unjust bike unfriendly neighborhood where our unjust social practices in the price of our housing possibly has unjustly kept out some minorities and unjustly park for free and ask an unjustly paid counter person for a unjust plastic bag in order to take home my unjust donut.


        1. Barack Palin

          I bought three donuts, have a glazed raised leftover.  Can I get the address of that refrigerator on the guy’s front lawn?  I’d hate to unjustly throw away good food.

        2. Barack Palin

          And note too, that while you do all these things you are also unjustly racist even though you don’t consciously believe it.

          Oh, that’s a given, thanks for reminding me.  I guess I didn’t list it because I’m unconscious of it.  I’ll have to work on my self loathing a little harder.  I hate that I was unjustly born white.

  2. Davis Progressive

    thanks for doing this piece.


    i’d like to here about: snap and calfresh, healthy drinks, farmworker health, farm to fork, cap and trade, honey bees, global food initiative, among other topics.

  3. Michelle Millet

    Thanks for writing this piece.  I look forward to reading your future columns. All the topics you mentioned seem interesting. I would like to see one that focuses on the poor quality “free breakfasts” beings served to our low income kids at schools.

  4. South of Davis

    Leanna wrote:

    > concerns about rising rates of food insecurity, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 

    I’ve tutored poor High School kids and shopped at Wal Mart for decades and the average person (Men, Woman and Children) just keep getting fatter and fatter (more than than 90% of the people at the Woodland Wal Mart (Men, Woman and Children) weigh more than I do and I’m an adult male over 6′ tall.  I think that we need to re-define “food insecurity” so it does not mean “a kid is not secure that he will get to eat 10 FREE Pop Tarts with chocolate milk before school some day in the next year”…

    1. Davis Progressive

      as was discussed a few weeks ago – poverty is linked to obesity because unhealthy food and habits are cheaper and easier than healthy food.  poor are fat because sugar filled food is cheap and plentiful and easy to make and quick to eat.

      1. Anon

        I absolutely cannot agree with this.  I suspect (cannot necessarily prove statistically) that too many people in poverty eat the wrong things, not because it is cheaper but because it is more convenient and attractively packaged.  Fruit loops ($3.44 for 21.7 oz = approx 16 cents per oz) can be more expensive than yogurt ($4.88 for 32 oz = approx 15 cents per oz).  And I would argue that yogurt is considerably more filling than Fruit Loops!  Too many in poverty eat processed food, which is often far more expensive dollar-wise than healthy food.  And when you take into account the health costs of eating processed food, it is even more expensive than eating healthy food!

        1. Frankly

          I agree with Anon.  See below from Nancy Price.  Here prescription to move away from the mega-producers to local producers will jack up the price of food.  Free trade agreements have resulted in lower prices on agriculture products which helps the poor afford it.   However, they don’t buy it because of the reasons that Anon mentions.

          Most people are poor because they are prone to making bad life choices.  So then why do we not understand when they make bad food choices?

          Maybe if we took away more of their SNAP benefits and instead opened up more urban community gardens and required them to plant and grow some of their food they would eat healthier.

        2. Frankly

          Demand for community garden space always exceeds supply. The problem is finding the land.

          In most urban areas with concentrations of poor, there is plenty of land.

          For example, in LA County there are so many properties repossessed due to failure to pay property taxes, each block could have one or more lots turned into community gardens without much trouble (assuming the neighbors worked together to get it done after the city completes the demolition and removal of the structures.)

        3. Topcat

          I suspect (cannot necessarily prove statistically) that too many people in poverty eat the wrong things, not because it is cheaper but because it is more convenient and attractively packaged.

          I have a close relative who gets SNAP benefits.  She uses her benefits to buy high priced processed food including many items high in fat, salt and sugar. She also gets soft drinks that are high in sugar and calories. She avoids vegetables and fruits and healthy grains.   As you might expect, she is obese.

          I think that the SNAP program needs a drastic overhaul to eliminate benefits for “junk food” and soft drinks. Unfortunately I don’t see any political will to do this.

      2. South of Davis

        DP wrote:

        > poor are fat because sugar filled food is cheap and

        > plentiful and easy to make and quick to eat.

        Sugar filled food is not “cheap” and the poor are fat since most (but not all) are not smart and don’t eat good food and most (but not all) are lazy and don’t exercise.

        > you can get like a five pound bag of generic froot loops for $1.99.

        Wal has “Froot” Loops (it took me a while to find them searching for “Fruit” Loops) for $2.40 to $3.04 a pound and I’m pretty sure that you can’t buy any (even “generic”) processed cereal for less than $0.40 a pound as DP says.

        Then Don wrote:

        > Demand for community garden space always exceeds supply.

        > The problem is finding the land.

        You don’t need a “community garden” to grow food just a little plot of land or space for a bed or even a pot (I grew my own basil and cilantro in pots on a fire escape when I lived in SF).  The problem is that 99.99% of the people (pretty close to all) that feel their kids junk food like “Froot” Loops (I’m pretty sure there is no “Fruit” in the Loops) are not the kind of people that will take the time to grow fresh vegatables.

        As you all know I’m not a bible thumper, but I think we can take the “teach a man to fish” story from the bible and change it to “teach a person to grow” and we would have a better and healthier world of the poor were given seeds to plant vs. given EBT cards to buy Froot Loops…

        P.S. Other than the people that make junk food and MDs that make money serving the poor does anyone know a single person that is happy that the poor use their EBT cards (and the school lunch program uses tax dollars) to buy Pop tarts, cholate milk and Froot Loops to give kids for breakfast?

        1. Davis Progressive

          “Sugar filled food is not “cheap” and the poor are fat since most (but not all) are not smart and don’t eat good food and most (but not all) are lazy and don’t exercise.”

          don, doesn’t this violate the commenting policy?  i agree nancy.

          1. Don Shor

            [moderator] It was so spectacular, I felt the rest of you could deal with it. Perhaps now South of Davis would like to either provide evidence for the comments, or request that they be deleted. Happy to oblige in the case of the latter.

        2. South of Davis

          Nancy wrote:

          > I am truly shocked at the racist


          Why are you calling a comment that has NOTHING to do about race “racist” and “discriminatory”?

          Unless you think that it is “smart” to feed kids “Froot Loops” and that sitting around all day is not “lazy” we probably agree with each other.

          I have friends that feed their kids Froot Loops and let them play video games all day because they want to be “nice” to them, but what they are doing is “bad” for the kids.

          You may not want to “say” that it is “bad” to eat junk food and not exercise, but don’t call someone who does a “racist”…

        3. South of Davis

          We are doomed when a comment calling someone a “racist” for no reason is OK but a comment saying that eating junk food is not “smart” is banned…

        4. Frankly

          I am truly shocked at the racist and discriminatory comments about who eats what and why and who gardens or not posted.

          Nancy Price – Please point out where you came away with this conclusion that anyone made any racist statement?  I have read and re-read everything and the first/only time I ready any statement that would indicated a mindset of racisms is yours.

          no you didn’t say that eating junk food is not smart…  you said that the poor are not smart and lazy

          Certainly some poor are uneducated, ignorant or lazy.  I would not make that generalization because I know many well-educated, well-off people that are ignorant and lazy.

          But I would absolutely generalize that poor people are more prone to making poor decisions that negatively impact their well-being… including their poor decision to have unprotected sex with a loser male and have children out of wedlock.   And including a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol.

          I think the recoil from some over the generalization of poor being stupid and lazy is all of our 1st and 2nd generation immigrants… many that are anything but lazy… and are not “stupid” but uneducated.   However; I look at this as really being an imported poverty problem.   We might as well include the poverty in Mexico and other places if we are going to wring our hands over similar problems with this imported demographic in the US.

        5. Michelle Millet

          But I would absolutely generalize that poor people are more prone to making poor decisions that negatively impact their well-being… including their poor decision to have unprotected sex with a loser male and have children out of wedlock.   And including a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol.


          My guess is that “rich” people are just as prone to making poor decisions that negatively impact their well-being, the difference is they have the resources to better handle the negative consequences (access to lawyers, drug rehab centers, birth control, etc). that come with their negative actions, thus they are not as visible, and they do not have as many long term negative consequences.

  5. Nancy Price

    I would  like to see these topics discussed:

    the Human Right to Health and Safe Food and the

    Agro-ecology model of food production vs. the corporate industrial agriculture/chemical/gmo model

    also how the free trade agreements impact agriculture and food policy and allow  agricultural corporations/chemical  to sue countries against democratically-enacted laws that protect public health.

  6. Elizabeth Bowler

    So is it one of the goals of the Global Food Initiative to promote GMO’s?   I see that the writer has been involved in the development of GMO crops.   Also, the following article about the GFI talks about education about GMO’s.   I would be interested in seeing the sources of funding for the GFI and SAREP.


    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      GM foods are good for everyone, including the poor:

      No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

      A new scientific review from the University of California, Davis, reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed.

      The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.

      The review, led by UC Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.

        1. Don Shor

          If that is true, then why have the biotech companies lobbied so hard to defeat the labeling of GMO foods?

          Whether they are safe, and whether they should be labeled, are two different questions.

          1. Don Shor

            Based on comments I’ve seen on forums by biotech folks, farmers, and ag scientists, their opposition to GMO labeling is because:
            They feel that it will give an inappropriate impression that GE crops are unsafe.
            It would be mandating labeling food for a process, not an ingredient. It would be akin to requiring that food be labeled non-kosher, or hybrid.
            Genetic engineering covers quite a range of products, from herbicide resistant corn and soy, to crops that resist caterpillar damage due to Bt insertion, to changing an apple’s genes so that the fruit doesn’t turn brown when it’s cut. There are few similarities between these crops. The only thing they have in common is horizontal gene transfer.
            Farmers have a real fear that the storage and distribution of food staples could be very expensive, because it would (or might) create a need for completely parallel silos and rail cars, etc. That presumes that the major food companies would wish to maintain separate product lines.
            They emphasize that if you wish to buy GMO-free food, you can already buy food that is certified GMO Free (by a private organization), or you can buy anything that is certified organic, and that both of those are growing niche markets and readily available.
            Finally, there is a real us-vs-them mentality developing on this issue. So they question the ‘real’ motives of those who promote GMO labeling.
            Personally, I just wish that one state somewhere would mandate labeling so we could see if their alarmist concerns actually materialize. I doubt that the costs would be significant, and I seriously doubt that people would change their eating habits. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t understand or care about genetic engineering. But I probably wouldn’t be so blasé about it if I was a farmer and my livelihood depended on it. Some have seen what can happen when new food fads come along and rock the markets.

            As to the global food initiative: I think it’s a given that any large-scale food or ag-related program will accept GE crops, since they are a significant part of agriculture. Whether they will promote them, I have no idea. But the only organizations that would fail to accept them would be those focused exclusively on organic or sustainable production models.

        2. Frankly

          Because there are reactionary extremists that have succeeded in the negative branding of “GMO”… just like other reactionary extremists have succeeded in the positive branding of “organic”.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        I recently read that 80% of Americans are in favor of putting a warning label on food which contains DNA. Given that all food, all plants and meats, has DNA, I am very dubious of the intelligence and scientific reasoning of most Americans. (Even today, about half of all Americans don’t believe in evolution, which is the basis of all the biological sciences.) I think that ignorance is why food companies are reticent to have GM foods labeled as such. They fear such labels will scare away consumers, because many consumers are idiots who don’t know that GM food is as healthy to eat as any non-GM food.

        Personally, I would like to see more information provided to me as a consumer, including whether the product was genetically modified. If a tomato, for example, was genetically modified by breeders over decades or hundreds of years, then it too should be labeled genetically modified. There is a new category of genetically modified apples–honeycrisp is perhaps the best known variety–and these, too, should have a GM label, noting that breeders spliced their genes to produce them. If someone is selling orange carrots, then those need a GM label, too, because carrots were never orange until their genes were modified by breeding them that way. In fact, I doubt there is a food product sold in Safeway–save water–which does not have some genetic modification in it. So sure, label them all.

        1. Don Shor

          Quick correction! Honeycrisp is not a genetically engineered apple. It is just a hybrid, like nearly every other apple you buy. You are conflating hybridization with horizontal gene transfer. Not the same.
          The only genetically engineered apple is Arctic (the non-browning one) which I don’t think is on the market yet. The only genetically engineered fruit that I’m aware of in the trade is the papaya that rescued Hawai’i’s papaya industry from ringspot virus. I know work was being done on plums for resistance to a virus, but none has become a commercial crop.

        2. Elizabeth Bowler

          Genetic modification of foods only began in 1994.  You are confusing it with hybridization as Don correctly pointed out.  Geneticist Dr. David Suzuki gives a good explanation of the difference between horizontal (GMO) and vertical (hybridization) inheritance in an informative video entitled “What are Roundup Ready & BT Pesticide GMO crops?”

          1. Don Shor

            When I was a student, genetic modification was used to refer to all genetic changes, including hybridization, mutagenesis (things like the Tango mandarin), and horizontal gene transfer. The last one was more narrowly called genetic engineering. Common usage now is “GMO” for just genetic engineering.
            But there’s always debate about this. Baker Creek, one of the great seed companies that is focused on heirloom and open-pollinated crops, refers to hybrids as GMO’s, because they’ve found that’s good marketing.
            So I sometimes hear old-timers grumbling that GMO includes hybrids, but that simply isn’t how the terms are used now.

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          It may not be how the terms are used by the anti-GM crowd, but the truth is that hybridized plants are different from their predecessors because they have different genes. That is, the breeders selected for genetic characteristics that they liked. And in some cases, as with orange carrots, nature provided a rare mutation, and they only bred the mutants. Either way, the genes in the plants and (some of) the animals we eat did not arrive randomly, they arrived by human intervention and human selection for genetic characteristics. They are all good foods to eat. Every serious study has shown that. But people are stupid. And so if you put a label on some foods which have been genetically modified, but not on others, people will be scared of those you label. So again I say, label all of them.

          One of the odd things about the anti-GM craze is that it is led by left-wingers in very rich countries who claim to be “environmentalists.” GM offers the hope of using far less herbicides and pesticides. And unlike low-yield “organic” farming, high-yield GM offers the hope of preserving marginal lands in poor countries, so things like rain forests can remain rain forests.

        4. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          This blurb from a biotech company explains how hybrids are genetically modified:

          Marker-assisted (or molecular-assisted) breeding is the use molecular markers to track the genetic makeup of plants during the variety development process. It provides a dramatic improvement in the efficiency with which breeders can select plants with desirable combination of genes.

          A molecular marker is a genetic tag that identifies a particular location within a plant’s DNA sequences.

          Markers can be used in transferring a single gene into a new cultivar or in testing plants for the inheritance for many genes at once. Markers can be based on either DNA or proteins.
          Both DNA- and protein-based markers have been widely used in plant breeding, but DNA-based markers by far predominate.

          Greater numbers of DNA-markers can be identified to cover all regions of an organism’s DNA, and they are not based on the developmental stage of the plant as many protein-based markers are.

          DNA-based markers can be derived from seeds or seedlings in rapid screening tests performed by automated robotic systems.

          Plants lacking the desired traits can be eliminated before moving on to more expensive or lengthy greenhouse or field trials.

          That is the same process which was used to create honeycrisp and many other new varieties of apples.

          1. Don Shor

            Ok. The only apple that was created by the insertion of a gene that was not of the same species and which directly affected the phenotype is the Arctic apple. DNA-based markers are used to make conventional breeding more efficient.
            Nearly universal usage of the term GMO now is as we have described: genetic engineering.
            My usage is as follows: I sell Honeycrisp apple trees. They are not GMO’s. They are hybrids. That is how nursery professionals and nearly all plant professionals use the terms now.

          2. Don Shor

            This does raise the issue I alluded to earlier. Genetic modification, including engineering, is not a single process. I have not heard objections to induced mutations via irradiation, but that is certainly a form of genetic modification. It isn’t “gene-splicing” and it isn’t hybridizing. When you treat citrus budwood via irradiation, you can induce seedlessness. The Tango mandarin, which is one of the varieties used in the Cuties mandarin program, was created by irradiation. Acreage in Tango has expanded dramatically because they don’t need to exclude honeybees to achieve seedless fruit (which is crucial to the marketing of Cuties). Organic farmers can grow Tango, but they can’t grow GMO’s.

        5. Elizabeth Bowler

          Don, I also remember when genetic modification was a more inclusive term although these days it is used interchangeably with genetic engineering.  Maine and Connecticut both enacted GMO labeling legislation in 2013 and thus far I have not heard of the sky falling or prices rising in either state.

          Rich, you should look up the video and listen to the genetics professor  explain the difference between horizontal and vertical inheritance.  They are two entirely different processes.


          1. Don Shor

            Neither the Maine or Connecticut legislation has taken effect yet (I think) because they were both contingent on other adjoining states also enacting labeling laws.

        6. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Elizabeth, I understand that they are different processes. I also know they both modify a plant’s genes; and I know that neither is bad to eat as a consequence of its genetic modifications. So if one needs a label, then the other one needs a label, too. The latter can denote hybridized GM and the former can denote spliced GM. The more information the merrier. The only problem is when one group of activists eschews the science to scare the bejesus out of scientifically illiterate consumers by just labeling one of those types of GM foods.

        7. Elizabeth Bowler

          I know of no one (except you apparently) who is worried about hybridization and other vertical inheritance processes.  It is the horizontal inheritance that people are worried about and for which consumers are slowly yet surely demanding labeling.  In many parts of the world, this horizontal inheritance technology is banned yet  I know of no country that bans imports of hybrids.

    2. Mark West

      EB:  “I know of no one (except you apparently) who is worried about hybridization and other vertical inheritance processes.  It is the horizontal inheritance that people are worried about and for which consumers are slowly yet surely demanding labeling.”

      As Rich correctly pointed out, which you chose to ignore, is that there is no evidence that any form of genetically modified food, is unhealthy.  That is true whether we are talking about breeding, hybridization, or horizontal gene transfer. From a health or nutrition perspective, there is no valid reason for labeling one form and not another.

      There is plenty of scientific evidence however that processed food is unhealthy.  An apple or carrot are much more nutritious than the juice made from them, and all are more ‘healthy’ than a Pop Tart or diet soda.  If we were really interested in improving health outcomes, we would emphasize eating whole foods (which is not the same as shopping at ‘whole paycheck’) instead of processed foods.  If we removed the subsidies, price supports on sugar and corn production (High Fructose Corn Syrup) the marketplace would take care of much of the problem by increasing the cost of many of the most unhealthy forms of these processed ‘food like substances.’

      Instead of worrying about the imaginary dangers of genetic modification of food, we should focus on the very real dangers of processed foods. Of course, if the majority of the population really doesn’t believe in evolution, then how will they ever understand that the healthiest choice is to eat the type of foods that we ‘evolved’ to eat.

      By the way, without a ready market for corn based ethanol and high fructose corn syrup, there would be no demand (or market) for Round-Up ready corn.

      1. Elizabeth Bowler

        It is incorrect to claim that GMO’s are completely safe and pose no health risks as no long-term safety studies have been done.  I have many patients who have experienced considerable health benefits when they removed GMO’s from their diet.

        1. Tia Will


          While I would agree with you that studies would be needed to prove whether or not GMO’s are completely safe and pose no health risks, I think it is just as important to note the limitations of anecdotal information. I believe it would be more accurate to make the observation that “many of my patients” attribute considerable health benefits to having removed GMOs from their diet. With out prospective, double blinded long term comparison studies, it is not possible to say whether or not these patients are making accurate attribution of their health improvements to the absence of GMOs.



        2. Elizabeth Bowler

          I agree Tia, but my concerns are not based solely upon the anecdotal evidence from my own practice although for many of my patients that alone is sufficient and very convincing evidence.  As you know, numerous European and other countries have banned or restricted these foods from their food supply based upon completely legitimate safety concerns raised by prominent international scientists and organizations and a lack of scientific evidence of safety.   As always, first do no harm.

          1. Don Shor

            The EU uses a more stringent review process but they are gradually allowing more and more GM crops.

            The European Union (EU) may have the most stringent GMO regulations in the world. All GMOs, along with irradiated food, are considered “new food” and are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). …
            As of September 2014, 49 GMOs, consisting of eight GMO cottons, 28 GMO maizes, three GMO oilseed rapes, seven GMO soybeans, one GMO sugar beet, one GMO bacterial biomass, and one GMO yeast biomass have been authorised


        3. Mark West

          While there are so far no published studies that show that GMO foods are unhealthy (I didn’t claim that they were “completely safe and pose no health risks”), there is plenty of fear mongering based on anecdotal ‘evidence.’

          My main point remains the same however, processed food is unhealthy, and far more so than even the most extreme hypothetical dangers attributed to GMO foods by practitioners who appear to lack a basic understanding of science.


  7. Biddlin

    “Maybe if we took away more of their SNAP benefits and instead opened up more urban community gardens and required them to plant and grow some of their food they would eat healthier.”

    Didn’t Chairman Mao suggest that?


    1. Frankly

      No Chairman Mao suggested that everyone work in the land and then give all the produce to the government to redistribute fairly… basically the same direction that the American left has been steering us.

  8. Don Shor

    [moderator] I request that Vanguard participants make an effort to have your comments respond to the issues without sarcasm and mockery, particularly on the columns provided by guest authors.

  9. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    many people in poverty eat the wrong things, not because it is cheaper but because it is more convenient and attractively packaged. 

    I think this is a problem for people of all income brackets. I see overweight people in Davis who appear to have plenty of money buying garbage which fits your description.

    Having said that, I think the main reasons so many lower income people in the U.S. are fat is due to their passed-down food cultures and widespread ignorance about what is nutritional and what is insalubrious.

    At the same time, it’s absolutely true that for many poor people eating good, lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables is beyond their means. But, of course, part of the reason they cannot afford better food (in many cases) is because they don’t spend the money they have wisely. People in the lower-income brackets, for example, are far more likely to be smokers. Anyone who has $50 a month for cigarettes should stop smoking and buy better foods.

    I think it would be most helpful if doctors, nurses and teachers spread the word that consuming foods with added sugar is a big player in obesity, and for those who are fat, they need to cut back or eliminate added sugar from their diet. Additionally, this message should probably be a part of public service ads. Admittedly, I am not sure if public service ads do any good.

    1. South of Davis

      Rich wrote:

      > At the same time, it’s absolutely true that for many poor people eating

      > good, lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables is beyond their means. 

      Do you really think that there is even a single person who is buying what they eat with money or an EBT card today (let’s not talk about the homeless with mental and/or drug problems that eat out of dumpsters and trash cans) that can not “afford” decent lean proteins and fresh fruit and vegetables?

      > Anyone who has $50 a month for cigarettes should

      > stop smoking and buy better foods.

      They could also save a lot of money if they cut back on expensive tattoos (my parents always told me to “not judge a book by it’s cover”, but I’m pretty sure the people I see in Wal Mart with multiple face and neck tats are not making a lot of money)…

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        Do you really think that there is even a single person who is buying what they eat with money or an EBT card today that can not “afford” decent lean proteins and fresh fruit and vegetables?

        Yes. Most definitely. Not counting any money for cereals, flour, spices, salt, oils, milk, other drinks, etc., a good diet of lean proteins and fruits, vegetables and nuts will set a family of three back by about $4,300 per year.

        Consider say, a young mother who makes a meager income working full time and needs to feed herself and two kids (and her mate, of course, is in prison). Keep in mind she has a lot of other expenses, like rent and utilities and transportation and clothing and taxes and so on which eat away her income. She also likely lacks the time and organizational skills to get the best buys on her food.

        I figure it costs at least $180 per month (or $6 per day) for good proteins for one adult and two kids:

        If you only buy beef on sale, and you eschew the best cuts, you’re going to have to spend at least $4 per pound. If you only buy fish on sale, and you don’t go for the pricier species, you’ll have to spend at least $6 per pound for a fillet. If you get eggs on sale–now that Prop 2 has jacked up the price of eggs–your lucky to get a dozen for less than $3.

        How much it costs for fruits and vegetables depends a lot on where you live and what time of the year it is. I was shocked yesterday when I went shopping at a produce market for good lettuce to see how high the prices are right now. I bought a meager head of Romaine for $2.39. Other times of the year I can get the same thing for 50 cents. Broccoli and other greens are not cheap this year, too.

        On average, though, I think it probably costs at least $180 per month (or $6 per day) for good fruits, vegetables and nuts for one adult and two kids, if the adult is good at shopping for the best prices and knows what to substitute if the price of any given commodity has gone up substantially.

        So without everything else, this mother needs $360 per month x 12 = $4,320 for proteins and produce. That is too much for many people in that situation. And it assumes she has been taught (by someone like me) what to buy, and when and where to buy it.

        1. South of Davis

          Rich wrote:

          > a good diet of lean proteins and fruits, vegetables and

          > nuts will set a family of three back by about $4,300 per year.

          A family of three can qualify for up to $6,312/per year ($2K+ more than Rich says you need) in the California CalFresh (aka “Food Stamp”) Program.

          If the family has young kids they can get more money for food (and other stuff) in the WIC program and if they are still having a hard time feeding their kids healthy food they can get more free food through the CA Emergency Food Assistance Program and food programs like the one on the UC Campus, the STEAC location in Davis or the Yolo Food Bank in Woodland (plus just about any church).

          My point is that ANYONE in America today can get healthy food to feed their kids and our problem is not that people “can’t” get the good food it is that they don’t “want” to make the effort to get the good food (and in most cases don’t exercise or make their kids exercise).

          I appreciate the author making an effort to spread the word about “food justice” since it is sad for me to watch so many parents (even high income well educated parents here in town) slowly killing their kids by making poor food choices for them.  I’m also sorry if I offended anyone by trying to point out the what I see (as a person who was actually poor for years and still know a lot of really poor people) as the problem.  I have many (well educated and rich) friends who really think that if we eliminate “food deserts” and put a Whole Foods in every ghetto that the people will start eating healthy and they will slim down when in reality the problem I see for most people (not painting with a broad brush just staring the fact that most as in over half) of the poor in America (and a huge number of the rich and middle class) are not eating as well as they could and are not getting enough exercise because they just don’t make the effort.

          P.S. If you know anyone that needs help buying healthy food send them the link below:

        2. South of Davis


          > Of course you can get a dozen or so packages of

          > Top Ramen (unhealthy as all get out) for about a buck…

          I am no expert on current  Top Ramen (or generic Froot Loop) prices, but if justme tells me that you can get a “dozen or so for about a buck” (or DP tells me where you can get like a five pound bag of generic froot loops for $1.99) I’ll make a $50 donation to the Vanguard.

          I’m not calling them liars (or exaggerators) but I find it hard to believe that Top Ramen (the expensive brand) costs LESS today than the cheaper Maruchan brand I bought in bulk as a poor undergrad 30+ years ago (and that generic cereal that my even less healthy roommates ate is even is LESS expensive than 30+ years ago)…

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          A family of three can qualify for up to $6,312/per year ($2K+ more than Rich says you need) in the California CalFresh (aka “Food Stamp”) Program.


          I just checked the “food stamp calculator” (see here) and plugged in some numbers for a family of three legal residents, with one working full time earning $10 per hour and paying just $600 per month in rent. That family qualifies for $3,264 in food stamps ($272 per month).

          But keep in mind that is insufficient to buy proteins and produce if you really know how to shop well and you have the time to do so, which is unlikely. It leaves nothing for all other sorts of food items, such as dairy products (which are good for growing kids) or ever going out to eat. And it is most important to keep in mind that someone with that little income is going to have nearly all of her money eaten up by rent, utilities, travel costs, clothing, medicines for her kids, etc.

          Ideally, she would not be in such a position. Ideally, she would have had a stable income and married a stable man before she had kids, and she could then provide for them. Unfortunately, a great share of children are born to dads who abandon their responsibilities and mothers who are unfit for motherhood.

          So the reality is we have a lot of families in tough positions, where they need food stamps and still struggle to afford good food.

        4. South of Davis

          Rich wrote:

          > But keep in mind that is insufficient to buy proteins

          > and produce if you really know how to shop well and

          > you have the time to do so, which is unlikely.

          I agree that most (but not all) poor people (and many, but not most middle class people) “Do not really know how to shop” (and select quality food), but very few really don’t “have the time to do so”.

          > So the reality is we have a lot of families in tough

          > positions, where they need food stamps and still

          > struggle to afford good food.

          You addressed the $274/month in food stamps/CalFresh benifits your hypothetical $10/hr Mom with two would get but you are forgetting that even if she can’t qualify for WIC, does not want to go to a food bank or does not want to make a little extra cash babysitting an extra kid while she is with her kids on the weekends she will have extra money left over for food if she gets reduced rent (that she qualifies for), gets reduced cost PG&E (that she qualifies for), has the schools feed her kids 5 days a week (that she qualifies for), gets a free cell phone (that she qualifies for), gets free internet (that she qualifies for) and/or looks in to the many many more programs out there that try and make it easier for a single working mom with kids.

          My main point is that while it is sad that many rich and poor kids don’t eat well the reason that almost all of them don’t get good food is because there caregiver does not want to make the effort (not that they don’t have enough money)…

  10. Eric Gelber

    Things I mislearned from the posted comments:

    The majority of poor people are stupid. The majority of poor people are lazy. Most poverty results from people making bad choices. Most poor people don’t exercise. Poor people eating Fruit Loops is unacceptable; middle class people eating donuts is fine. The saying “Give a man a fish …” originated in the Bible. Land is plentiful in most urban areas where poor people live but, in any event, you can feed a family by planting gardens on fire escapes. Only M.D.s and junk food manufacturers think poor people should be able to make their own food choices with EBT cards. Liberals believe all produced food should be given to the government for distribution. Poor families don’t have enough for food because they spend their food money on cigarettes and tattoos.

    And it’s not even noon yet.

  11. SODA

    Well it’s just after noon, and I will stop reading these posts and apologize to the guest author for my fellow Vanguarders.  I liked your article and look forward to more if you can what, stand us?

    1. Davis Progressive

      my thoughts as well.  why is someone going to spend their time to write an article only to read the kind of crap that south of davis has posted here.

      1. Michelle Millet

        I would like to add my apology to SODA’s to the guest author. As someone who has spent their time to write articles it is discouraging to have them met with, as Davis Progressive so aptly put it, “the kind of crap the South of Davis” has posted here.

        The article and the topic are interesting. I hope Leanna will continue to contribute her time and energy into writing for the Vanguard.

    2. KSmith

      I would like to add my apologies to this list, also. I was rather appalled that the first comments to a -brand new guest contributor- who hasn’t even had the opportunity to post a substantive article (this was mainly an overview of the types of things she might cover) were snarky, judgy, and uncalled-for.

      With this kind of response, it really is no wonder that people are hesitant to be guest contributors or to comment on articles. It seemed very discouraging.

      Leanna: Please continue to post, because there are a lot of people here who want to hear what you have to say. Even if some might disagree, there are plenty who will do so substantively and with reason. I hope you do not let that initial string of comments discourage you.

  12. Don Shor

    [moderator] I would like to thank the Vanguard participants who took the time to respond to the generalizations that they found offensive, and to speak directly to the author of this essay to encourage her to continue to participate.

    I urge all regular Vanguard participants to review the Vanguard Comment Policy from time to time. It is here:

    Please note that some types of comments are discouraged. It is helpful when other participants reply, civilly, about their concerns about generalizations and comments they find offensive. Self-regulation is always preferable to heavy-handed moderation.

    Thanks again.

  13. Tia Will

    I came very late to the Vanguard today and am appalled. Not quite speechless however.


    I truly hope that you will keep posting. I found your article and suggestions for future topics of a great deal of interest. As a doctor, I am frequently asked questions about nutrition and optimal food choices by my patients and find my knowledge woefully inadequate despite my efforts to continually learn more.

    Under you topic : dietary choices and food movements I am wondering if you would consider an article on plant based diets both in terms of health and the economic aspects of choosing a plant based diet ?


  14. Davis Progressive

    sod: instead of donating (easy for me to say) why not be more constructive and thoughtful in your comments as comments from david both in the article last week as well as in person lead me to be concerned that such comments are harming the site.

  15. Frankly

    Here is my general thinking on this new topic of posting appropriateness (which, BTW is breaking the VG rules for sticking with the topic at hand).

    There was a real, honest and visceral reaction to the ideas in this article. That is being discounted here over concerns about people getting feelings hurt.

    Frankly, (because I am), without a community blog we would more likely converse with people that have similar ideas and reactions, or we would steer clear of critical conversation to keep the peace and make sure nobody got their feelings hurt.

    And so we would remain divided in our own little worldview bubbles.

    I started blogging several years ago after coming to the conclusion that national and local media conversation was being sanitized and manipulated to reflect a certain worldview that was out of touch with what many people would talk about in their own homes and in their own circle of friends.  And as these same ideas and themes played out in the narrative, other people not prone to deep thinking, lacking any opposing information, would start to just absorb the messaging as the new normal and new “right”.  But since some of that narrative, was/is frankly wrong and destructive, IMO, it became clear that I needed to stop complaining about it and start posting opinions in opposition.

    So those are so quick to jump on someone posting in opposition of ideas posted are really just demanding censorship and protection of the narrative that they enjoy.   This is troubling to say the least.  We need to be more tolerant of different ideas and constructive criticism of our own ideas.   Otherwise we might as well go back to our bubble and only talk to people that agree with us.

    1. KSmith

      It wasn’t the fact that people disagreed with the author or her ideas. It was more the issue that the initial spate of negative comments were done in a particularly snarky way. There was no real attempt to engage with the ideas and present some any kind of substantive disagreement.

      I think it was in particularly poor taste given that it was directed at a brand-new contributor.


  16. Anon

    “Poor people eating Fruit Loops is unacceptable”

    Anyone eating Fruit Loops as a steady diet for breakfast is unacceptable!

    To Rich Rifkin: Lean meats and fresh produce can be extended through the use of casseroles containing brown rice, which is pretty cheap.  It is amazing how you can stretch a dollar and still eat a healthy meal – it just may not be as convenient.

    And based on the buzz all this generated, how to encourage people to eat a healthy diet to address food insecurity would be an excellent topic for discussion!

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