Frozen_vegetables-SPLSorry Dr. Oz, but I respectfully disagree. In a recent issue of TIME (Volume 180, No. 23, December 3, 2012), Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote an article stating that in most cases, there is little difference in the nutritional content between organic foods and pre-packaged frozen varieties. He also argues that there is little nutritional difference between factory farm raised livestock verses free-range chickens and grass-fed cows. His nutritional comparisons also included chocolate, suggesting that consuming organic, free-trade chocolate is nutritionally no different than other varieties but can “satisfy cravings and ease guilt.”
As an Environmental Science professor, I have to say that we need to look beyond the nutritional content label of our foods, and that buying organic, free trade items does a lot more than ease guilt. The choices should focus on sustainability.
Seven billion people (U.S. and World Population Clock, 2012) inhabit our planet and current estimates put the world population at nine billion by the year 2044 (International Programs – World Populations, 2012). Our ability to produce food is not something I’m worried about. Historically, food has been produced at a rate faster than the rate of the population growth (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). It’s how produce food that concerns me. We have devoted more fossil fuel use to agriculture; increased our use of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers; planted and harvested more frequently; cultivated more land; and developed more productive livestock and crop varieties. In order for our production of food to be a sustainable practice we must maintain healthy soil, water, and biodiversity. And as our population grows, almost 99% of the next billion people born will be born in the poorest and underdeveloped regions of our planet (U.N. Population Division, 2009). One billion people already struggle with finding food to eat, mostly due to political obstacles, war, and distribution problems. There are also millions of children that suffer from malnutrition, which suggests that the quality of food is just as important as the quantity.
Can we continue this pace? In order to feed the world’s growing population, we will need to increase our global food production by 70 percent (FAO, 2009). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are already being degraded or used unsustainably (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute, 2005). Ecosystem services arise from Earth’s normal functioning of natural systems. We could not survive without these processes which include: air and water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, receiving and recycling our waste, and plant pollination. We have degraded nature’s ability to provide these services by depleting resources, destroying habitats, and generating pollution. An increase in global food production will be the ultimate challenge.
Soil is the foundation for our agriculture and presently 38 percent of global land is devoted to agriculture (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Soil is not merely lifeless dirt, but a complex plant-supporting system, consisting of disintegrated rock, organic matter, water, gases, nutrients, and microorganisms. Most importantly, soil is a renewable resource, yet can be depleted. Each year our planet gains 80 million people yet loses 12–17 million acres of productive cropland (about the size of West Virginia) (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Human activities move over 10 times more soil than all other processes combined (Withgott & Brennan, 2011).
Soil is just one of the factors that we will need to address in feeding a global population. Fresh water and biodiversity will also need to be managed wisely. A dozen species of animals provide 90 percent of the animal protein consumed globally and just four crop species provide half of plant-based calories in the human diet (FAO, 2009).
There is hope. The world has the resources and technology to eradicate hunger. But, we can’t rely on technology alone. We have to make some serious choices. I applaud Dr. Oz for living in a vegetarian household (Oz, 2012). That choice has a large impact on the sustainability of our world. Our food consumption choices need to reflect a sustainable mindset. We can’t base all our purchases on our pocketbooks. Where and how our food was produced will be just as important. Spend a little more, and make a long term investment on the health of our planet. Your life and the lives of others depend on it.
International Programs – World Populations. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau:
U.S. and World Population Clock. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from United States Census Bureau:
FAO. (2009, October 12). How to Feed the World in 2050. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: General Synthesis.
Oz, D. M. (2012, December 3). Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance and Carrots Too. TIME, pp. 38-46.
U.N. Population Division. (2009). World Population Prospects: The 2008 revision. New York: UNPD.
Withgott, J. H., & Brennan, S. (2011). In J. H. Withgott, & S. Brennan, Environment: The Science Behind the Stories (p. 253). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cimmings.


According to The All New Joy of Cooking, Hoppin’ John (aka Carolina Rice and Bean Pilau) is a dish that was most likely brought to the Carolinas in the early 17th century by the Huguenots. The Huguenots were (and I suppose still are) French Protestants that came to the States to escape the persecution they were experiencing in France. Pilau is a Middle Eastern dish that was brought to Provence when Muslims settled throughout Mediterranean Europe during the Middle Ages. When the dish migrated to the United States it merged with the rice dishes that were being prepared by African-Americans. The result was various ‘American’ pilaus or pilafs. Hoppin’ John is probably the most well-known. Tradition says that Hoppin’ John is served on New Year’s Day.

For the last seven years my family has celebrated New Year’s Day with some of our neighbors. We always make the Hoppin’ John and they always make the corn bread. Our neighbors are both from Georgia, so they were used to the tradition of eating black-eyed-peas on New Year’s Day as a way of bringing good luck. My mother-in-law is from Oklahoma and also grew up with the same tradition. Our neighbor told us that he used to hear that you would earn one dollar for each black-eyed-pea you ate. In today’s world, that would have to be a pretty big bowl. As we sat around the table eating, we shared many wonderful memories and stories. We discussed our new year’s resolutions and what we hoped for the coming year. I made the same two resolutions I make every year. I resolved to stay alive, so that I would be able to celebrate New Year’s next year. And I resolved to not get arrested. So far, I have never broken either resolution. No bad huh?

The food was what brought us together, but it became secondary to the time we were spending together. We also asked the question of why we only ate Hoppin’ John once a year. It was so good (and easy to make) that it should make its way into the normal menu rotation. We’ll see. What traditions do you have for New Year’s? Do you make resolutions?

Hoppin' John and Corn Bread

Hoppin’ John and Corn Bread

When my daughter was in 2nd grade, each student in the class was given a week to be the “Top Dog”. The week before, the students were sent home with a sheet they were to fill out. It asked questions about some of the favorite things in life and what made them special. The kids got the opportunity to stand in front of the classroom and share all their favorites.

One week a girl in my daughter’s class shared that her favorite food was spaghetti tacos. When my daughter told me that her friend’s favorite food was spaghetti tacos, the first words out of my mouth were, “What are spaghetti tacos?” My daughter responded that she didn’t know. She had never heard of them before either.

One day after school, while I was waiting to pick up my little girl, I ran into the dad of the girl who had been Top Dog. I asked him what spaghetti tacos were. He informed me that they were an invention from his daughter’s favorite TV show, iCarly. In one episode the brother is given the task of making dinner. He is torn and can’t decide whether to make spaghetti or tacos. He is suddenly hit with a bolt of inspiration and decides to join the best of both worlds. And thus, the spaghetti taco was born.

Without a formal recipe we decided to give it a try and make out own version of the spaghetti taco. We had prepared in advance and made trip to the store for supplies. For spaghetti, my daughter opted for penne pasta. The only problem we encountered was that we have a tomato allergy in our house. We had learned that ranch dressing make a great substitute for tomato sauce in many situations. We bought the pre-made taco shells and were all ready to go. The cooking was easy; the assembly was a little more of a challenge. Trying to get the penne in the taco shell was a learning experience. In the future, I would recommend the use of regular spaghetti noodles.

Overall, the spaghetti tacos were a success in our house. I loved ‘em too. The crunch of the taco shell combined with the pasta and the ranch was yummy. They have made return trips to our house. It’s always great to learn of a new menu item that we can add to the dinner rotation.

What other menu items have you tried on the suggestion of your kids? Any unusual foods that have been inspired by TV shows or movies?







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James Kennedy

VCE Chemistry Teacher at Haileybury, Australia


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