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UC Food Blog

Food: friend or foe?

Healthy eating has gotten complicated. Fresh fruits and vegetables pack the produce aisle as never before. And new food products with added health benefits are being introduced all the time. Yet the food supply, and the agricultural system that supports it, has become increasingly criticized for its impact on the waistlines of millions of people in the United States.

“Agriculture and conventional food systems have provided the basis for long and healthy lives, and much of that improvement can be traced to healthier diets,” says UC Davis plant sciences professor Alan Bennett. “At the same time, we are faced with a growing critique that conventional food systems are a significant contributor to the health crisis that developed countries are facing, particularly related to obesity and diabetes.”

This dichotomy — that agriculture is both the problem and the solution to an increasing health crisis — is the backdrop for the 22nd annual conference of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC) at UC Davis June 16-18. The conference, “Promoting Health by Linking Agriculture, Food and Nutrition,” will examine ongoing research strategies to promote health through food and diet, as well as how governmental regulatory systems provide oversight of the relationship between food and health.

Leading food, nutrition and agricultural scientists from around the country will be participating in sessions with topics such as designing and producing healthy food, social and cultural dimensions of eating habits, bringing nutrition science to regulations, and how business can find food and nutrition innovations.

NABC has been hosting annual public meetings about the safe, ethical and efficacious development of agricultural biotechnology products since its formation in 1988 by the Boyce Thompson Institute in collaboration with UC Davis, Cornell University and Iowa State University. Today the organization consists of 36 leading agricultural research and teaching universities, governmental agencies and institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

“With health care consuming so much of the developed world’s resources, there is a critical need to understand how diet, nutrition and the underlying agricultural production systems impact human health,” Bennett said.

More detail about the conference agenda, program speakers and online registration is at

Posted on Friday, June 4, 2010 at 6:27 AM

Move over, Mrs. Fields

Move over, Mrs. Fields. Make way for Mrs. Miller. “Mrs. Miller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies,” that is.

“Mrs. Miller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” scored a big hit at the annual Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held in Fairfield.

Caitlin Miller, 10, of Vacaville, a member of the Elmira 4-H Club, chose to give a presentation on a cookie she loves the most:  her grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies.

Her grandmother, Alice Miller, of Washington state, formerly of Benicia, “makes them all the time,” Caitlin said.  “She showed me how to make them and they’re really good.”

The secret ingredient, cream cheese, keeps them soft.

The two judges, Sally Moore of the Roving Clovers 4-H Club, Dixon and Sarah San Nicolas of the Golden Hills 4-H Club, Vacaville, proclaimed the cookies “delicious.” They gave a blue (very good) award for her presentation.

Caitlin, a fourth grader at Cooper School in Vacaville, posted the recipe on her display board, complete with photos of the entire process.

She said she enjoyed making them.

Probably not as much as the crowd at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day enjoyed eating them. Within a matter of minutes, not a crumb remained on the platter.

Here’s the recipe:

Mrs. Miller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
12 ounces chocolate chips, semi-sweet
1 cup of nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Soften cream cheese and butter. Blend with brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and blend. Add flour, salt,  baking soda, baking powder and mix. Then add chocolate chips, and if desired, nuts.

Using an ice cream scoop, place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten dough slightly. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes (until lightly golden).

Caitlin Miller
Caitlin Miller

ELMIRA 4-H CLUB member Caitlin Miller offers a plate of chocolate chip cookies at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. The secret ingredient that keeps the cookies soft: cream cheese. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 7:13 AM

May showers

A wise man once said that God made weather so farmers would have something to complain about. Or maybe he was just a wise-acre.

One very wet spring a few years ago I was talking with another wise man, the late UC plant pathologist Joe Ogawa. I told him that the fruit trees must be enjoying the rainy weather. Joe's response: "Oh, the trees are probably enjoying it—but the fungi are so excited they're jumping up and down!"

I was working that spring with Joe and his colleague Harley English on their book, Diseases of Temperate Zone Tree Fruit and Nut Crops. Sure enough, our meetings were often interrupted by phone calls from farm advisors, port inspectors, or scientists from USDA or the California Department of Food and Agriculture wanting advice about some piece of fruit they'd found covered with soggy bruises or a fuzz that was not its own. Joe knew his stuff and was eager to help. His idea of a really interesting pear or plum was the sort of thing that would send most of us out of the produce section and over to the canned or frozen fruit aisle in a hurry.

But his point about the rain that day was that it does a lot more than fill our reservoirs and nourish our plants. A late rain can also split cherries on the tree, spoil other fruit unless it gets immediate cultural or chemical treatment, and keep fields muddy enough to keep tractors out and delay planting for tomatoes and other crops. Growers rely on UC people like Joe Ogawa to help them find ways to address those problems without driving their costs (and yours) through the roof.

As a food shopper there's not a whole lot you can do about it—just enjoy the weather while you can, enjoy the food you do get, and hope for better growing conditions and prices next year. Sounds like farmers aren't the only ones complaining after all!

Follow these links to read more about Dr. Ogawa and the awards established in his honor by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the American Phytopathological Society.

Joseph M. Ogawa
Joseph M. Ogawa

Posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:35 AM

Changing East LA one corner store at a time

In October 2009, UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County was awarded a grant from the “UCLA REACH U.S. Legacy Project” to implement the “East Los Angeles Nutrition Project” - an exciting new initiative that aims to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables for residents of East LA through healthy corner store and restaurant “makeovers.”  East LA was chosen for this project not only because Cooperative Extension is located in this area and has strong ties to the community, but also because residents have poor access to healthy, affordable food. This predominantly low-income, Latino community has many fast food restaurants, few grocery stores with high quality fruits and vegetables, and one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the county.

Through the eyes of the community

A team of dedicated East LA residents have met monthly at the UCCE office to discuss what they would like to see in terms of healthy food offerings in their neighborhood. In order to make their voices heard, these residents were given cameras and asked to go out and document their food environment. The photographs and narrative descriptions were presented at a community event, which was hosted by Cooperative Extension. Local residents, business owners, community agencies, youth and representatives of elected officials attended the event. The photos were a depiction of the problems facing this community. Everyone agreed that something needs to be done to improve the availability of healthy, affordable food for local residents and to address nutrition-related health problems facing many families in East LA.

Putting it into action

On Saturday, May 8, Cooperative Extension staff and members of the “East Los Angeles Nutrition Project” met at Super Chavez, a locally owned corner store, to conduct recipe demonstrations and free food tastings for the public. The purpose was to draw attention to the high-quality, low-cost produce available in the store. The event was fun and well-received by the community. Cooperative Extension plans to hold similar events at food establishments throughout the East LA area. Staff members hope to provide technical assistance, nutrition expertise and free advertising opportunities to businesses who participate in this project – all in an attempt to bring lasting change to a community in need of a healthy makeover one corner store and restaurant at a time!

For more information about this project, please contact Los Angeles County Nutrition, Family & Consumer Sciences advisor Brenda Roche at, (323) 260-3299.

Super Chavez food demo
Super Chavez food demo

Local residents learn about the "East Los Angeles Nutrition Project" from project facilitator Aba Ramirez.

Posted on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM
  • Author: Brenda Roche

Developing new markets for farm-fresh food

Last Friday afternoon, the sales manager at Produce Express in Sacramento, Jim Mills, drove to Chiam Lee's small farm south of Galt to pick up six cases of the most delicious strawberries you've ever tasted. Mills delivered them to Karen's Bakery in Folsom, a company that needed superb fruit for a charity event.

It used to be, Lee only sold strawberries at his roadside stand, and rarely six cases at a time. But thanks to a connection facilitated by UC, he has a new and much larger market for his produce.

This transaction is just one example of the markets that have been opened in the Sacramento and Fresno areas for farmers of Southeast Asian descent. With funding from the USDA National Research Initiative, the University of California has established partnerships with five Sacramento-area school districts and three fruit distributors to bring local fruit into more local homes, school cafeterias and restaurants.

“One of the goals of the project is to expand local market opportunities for these growers,” said project coordinator Jennifer Sowerwine of UC Berkeley. “This project brings fresh, local, nutritious strawberries into our children's school lunches, restaurants and low income neighborhoods.”

Produce Express works primarily with restaurants and school districts. Two other fruit distributors working with UC, Alchemist Community Development Corporation and Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project, are offering the locally grown strawberries and other fruits and vegetables at neighborhood farm stands.

The Alchemist, for example, is buying produce from small-scale farms and selling it in a working-class west Sacramento neighborhood each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This urban farm stand concept offers a variety of benefits:

  • Fresh, local fruit and vegetables become available within walking or bike-riding distance in low-income neighborhoods.

  • A wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are available at one stop.

  • Small-scale farmers have a new outlet for their produce, but aren't required to staff their own stands, as they would at a traditional farmers market.

  • People can pay for the produce using electronic benefits cards.
Anywhere in Sacramento, consumers can play a part in supporting local, family farms by buying strawberries at the farm stands. To find a farm, see the Google map of the strawberry farms in Sacramento.

A map of strawberry stands in Sacramento.
A map of strawberry stands in Sacramento.

Posted on Monday, May 31, 2010 at 1:48 PM

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