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California food choices won’t save much drought water, researchers find

Can you help fight the California drought by consuming only foods and beverages that require minimal water to produce?

One cup of lettuce uses only one gallon of drought water. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Well, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. In a recently published paper, Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis, and research assistant Nina M. Anderson mine the details of this issue to help us all better understand just what impact our food choices can have on conserving California's precious water.

To begin with, not all water drops are equal because not all water uses impact California's drought, the researchers explain.

Drought-relevant water

So just what water does qualify as California drought-relevant water? You can definitely count surface water and groundwater used for agricultural irrigation as well as water used for urban purposes, including industrial, commercial and household uses.

And here are a few examples of what water is not relevant to California's drought:

Rain that falls on un-irrigated California pastureland is not relevant to California's drought.
-- Water used in another state to grow animal feed that is consumed by California livestock;

-- Water used in another state to produce young livestock that are later shipped to California for food production; and

-- Rain that falls on un-irrigated California pastureland. (Studies show that non-irrigated, grazed pastures actually release more water into streams and rivers than do un-grazed pastures, the researchers say.)

In short, California's drought-relevant water includes all irrigation water, but excludes rainfall on non-irrigated California pastures as well as any water that actually came from out-of-state sources and wound up in livestock feeds or young livestock eventually imported by California farmers and ranchers.

Also, the amount of water that soaks back into the ground following crop irrigation doesn't count – and that amount can be quantified for each crop.

Comparing water use for various foods

I think you're getting the picture; this water-for-food analysis is complicated. For this paper, the researchers examined five plant-based and two animal-based food products: almonds, wine, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, milk and beef steak.

In teasing out the accurate amount of water that can be attributed to each food, the researchers first calculated how much water must be applied to grow a serving of each crop or animal product. Then they backed off the amount of water that is not California drought-relevant water, arriving at a second figure for the amount of drought-relevant water used for each food.

They provide a terrific graph (Fig. 3) that makes this all quite clear, comparing total applied water with California drought-relevant water used for the seven food products.

Milk and steak top the chart in total water use, with 1 cup of milk requiring 68 total gallons of water and a 3-ounce steak requiring 883.5 total gallons of water.

But when only California drought-relevant water is considered, one cup of milk is shown to be using 22 gallons of water and that 3-oz steak is using just 10.5 gallons of water. (Remember, to accurately assess California drought-water usage, we had to back off rainwater on non-irrigated pastures and water applied out of state to raise young livestock or feed that eventually would be imported by California producers.)

“Remarkably, a serving of steak uses much less water than a serving of almonds, or a glass of milk or wine, and about the same as a serving of broccoli or stewed tomatoes,” write Sumner and Anderson.

Still skeptical? Check out their paper in the January-February issue of the “Update” newsletter of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at http://bit.ly/1XKZxxC.

Bon appetit!

Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 4:45 PM
Tags: Consumers (5), Crops (4), Daniel Sumner (3), Drought (5), Food (36), Livestock (1), Water (7)

Will edible native plants be a new food trend?

Antonio Sanchez makes his Cleveland Sage Pesto. (Photo: UC Master Gardener Tim Easton)
Will edible natives plants be a new food trend, the ultimate in eating locally? Antonio Sanchez at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont hopes so. Among California native plants are many overlooked food sources, some with gourmet potential, according to Sanchez, production manager at the garden. As an added bonus, edible natives are often low-water users that look great in landscapes. He recently gave UC Master Gardeners in Los Angeles County an overview of edible natives, and had them taste some of his favorites, including his recipe for Cleveland Sage Pesto.

There are six native plants that Sanchez thinks are especially worth checking out.

  1. Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). It's easy to grow and found throughout much of California. Its leaves can be used in salad, soup, or pesto. (It can also be a weed in certain situations, according to UC IPM).
  2. Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). A beautiful, drought tolerant ornamental, it can also be used in pesto, beer, ice cream and baked goods.
  3. One-leaf onion (Allium unifolium). All parts of this native onion are edible.
  4. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana). Dried pods can be ground to make a gluten-free flour.
  5. Roger's California grape (Vitis ‘Roger's Red'). This plant, which was recently determined to be a hybrid between a native California grape and a cultivated grape, produces small, sweet fruit with seeds that can be eaten fresh, or used for juice or jelly.
  6. Golden currant (Ribes aureum). Fruit can be eaten fresh or made into jelly.

Adventurous cooks, gardeners, foragers, and anyone else who want to learn about edible native plants can attend the upcoming California Native Food Symposium, which will be held on November 14and 15 at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

Honey Mesquite


 

The author is Rachel Surls, sustainable food systems advisor for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 2:05 PM
Tags: Food (36), gardens (2), native plants (2)

Hackathon movement connects consumers to food

Undergrad Constantine Spyrou and nutritionist Sara Schaefer (both UC Davis) developed an app matching meds to foods. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

On a Friday evening in a San Francisco conference room, food and technology leaders – including nutrition expert Carl Keen, a UC Davis professor affiliated with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station – spoke to a mixed audience on the need for innovation in adapting populations across the world to changing food systems.

In the crowd, one inspired undergraduate student from UC Davis thumbed together some notes on his phone. The next day he stood in front of everyone at the event – more than 250 in all – and pitched his newly formed idea for a nutrition app.

It drew a small team: a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a UC Davis nutritionist and a UC Berkeley student. Over the next 40 hours they developed a software application that matches safe foods to patient medications. With the final presentations Sunday evening, the judges announced the winners.

Their project, called Took that? Eat this., won first place at the 2015 Food Hackathon. They now have sponsors and are developing their idea into a real consumer product. They are also flying out to the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in September – the first devoted to food and where an even larger food-themed hackathon will take place.  

(Food Hackathon from FounderLY on Vimeo

Breaking down the silos 

“It's powerful how much happens in such a short period of time,” says Bob Adams, innovation adviser for the UC Davis World Food Center and a mentor for the hackathon teams. “It was a great experience for all the UC Davis students who participated, because they don't normally interact in projects with students from other programs.”

With nearly 9,000 total hours spent in developing the 18 different projects, the hackathon was declared by the organizers a success and a testament to the power of crowd sourcing.

A group of passionate techies, foodies, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs shut in a room for two days pushed them like never before to apply their diverse expertise toward tackling some of the biggest problems facing food and ag. 

Winning team members celebrate with organizer Tim West. Left to right: Spyrou; Cindy Ma; Sonja Sulcer; West. (Clara Wetzel photo)

A university connecting ag and nutrition 

Research and industry leaders are looking to this model as one way to seed California's innovation ecosystem across the state's agricultural horizons. As another example, Mars, Inc., which co-sponsored the hackathon, is investing in a new type of university-industry partnership with UC Davis and the World Food Center by establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.

“All of us win from these new and needed collective investments in innovation in food, agriculture and health,” writes Mars chief scientist Harold Schmitz in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, also a Mars chief scientist and a UC Davis fellow, sees innovative food technology projects like those crafted at the hackathon as this decade's biggest investment arena.

“The next, larger human generation will face food challenges ranging from climate change and water stress to growing demands for upmarket foods,” he wrote in a LinkedIn article. “But from what I saw at the hackathon, the next generation is on it.” 


See the original story by the UC Davis World Food Center.

Posted on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 12:41 PM
  • Author: Brad Hooker
Tags: app (1), diet (1), food (36), hacker (1), medication (1), nutrition (123), Silicon Valley (2), student (1), UC Davis (35)

Sustainable food systems depend on healthy plants

Discolored leaves. Decaying roots. Dead wood. Mother Nature offers a fascinating and colorful backdrop of clues to track microscopic killers. Much like any medical mystery, experts are called in to diagnose or identify a disease from its symptoms and recommend management strategies to prevent further damage or loss of healthy plants.

In the world of crop science mysteries, plant pathology solves the crime. The usual suspects include bacteria, fungi and viruses.

An example of fire blight bacterium on an apple.

Humans and animals depend on plants for their food supply and ultimately for their survival. When diseases threaten crops, a high-quality, affordable food supply is placed at risk. For growers, plant diseases can reduce crop yields. For consumers, reduced crop yields can drive higher food prices. Plant pathology research holds enormous implications for a sustainable food supply.

Florent Trouillas, who was named UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis and the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center last year, explains the bottom line of most concern to growers.

"Once we identify a disease causal agent, a main question remains from growers. What growers really want to know is how to control the disease and prevent its spread to new healthy plants; they look to the University of California for solutions," Trouillas said.

A crisis in the food production system can impact other areas of society as well. In fact, history is filled with examples of how plant diseases influenced economies, environments and human societies.

Irish potato farmers faced starvation after a fungus attacked their crops.
Trouillas cites one of the most well-known examples in plant pathology: the Great Famine. Millions of Irish immigrants relocated to the United States in the mid-1800s after a terrible potato blight led to widespread starvation in Ireland. Experiments conducted in 1861 by Anton deBary, considered to be one of the founding fathers of plant pathology, proved the blight was caused by a fungus, which we now know is an oomycete. This plant disease had a direct impact on the Irish society with a subsequent Irish immigration wave into America.

Another historical illustration of plant pathology research occurred in the 1920s. The most common trees in the forests of the United States at the turn of the century were the majestic American chestnuts. The trees generated income for humans and the timber industry, served as a food source for people and animals, and provided habitat for wildlife. Then the trees started dying, until by the late 1920s, they had become the first tree in modern times on the brink of extinction. Plant pathologists were particularly adept at identifying plant diseases by this time and diagnosed the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus as the cause of the chestnut blight. By preventing the extinction of the pivotal species, plant pathology had a direct impact on the economy and the environment.

More recent major plant disease outbreaks in the United States involving plant pathology research have included Sudden Oak Death with devastating effects in California and Oregon forests, pitch canker killing California native pine species, and citrus canker in Florida, which has had a huge economic impact on the industry.

Veterinarians treat diseases in animals, physicians in humans. Trouillas describes the role of plant pathologists in similar terms. “We study the pathology of plant systems. Plant pathologists treat plants," he said.

Healthy plants ensure a sustainable food source and habitat for so many other organisms, including the human species.

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM
  • Author: Roberta Barton
Tags: bacteria (5), disease (2), food (36), fungi (1), pathology (1), plant (1), potato (1), viruses (1)

Students' olive-oil fraud buster wins international prize

The iGEM olive-oil biosensor inventors are, from left, James Lucas, Sarah Ritz, Simon Staley, Yeonju Song, Brian Tamsut and Lucas Murray. Not pictured here was team member Aaron Cohen. (Karen Higgins/UC Davis)
A student team composed of some of the best and brightest young minds at UC Davis took the grand prize last week in an international competition for the high-tech biosensor they created to detect low-grade or adulterated olive oil.

The award was presented to the Aggie inventors during the finals of the three-day global iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition in Boston. The competition, this year featuring 245 teams from Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, challenges student teams to design and build biological systems or machines and present their inventions in the international competition.

The students had spent several months designing and building the palm-sized biosensor, which they dubbed OliView. The biosensor is equipped to quickly and easily evaluate the chemical profile of oil, providing producers, distributors, retailers and ultimately consumers with an effective, inexpensive way to ensure olive oil quality.

Verifying olive oil quality is a concern for consumers – many of whom are willing to pay higher prices for the health benefits and flavor of true, extra-virgin olive oil. And honest olive oil producers want to prevent other producers from passing off sub-par olive oil as the real deal, while retailers, distributors and producers want a quick, easy way to ensure olive oil quality.

In addition helping detect fraudulent olive oil, the students' new biosensor will also monitor for good oil that may have gone rancid with age. 

The team of undergraduate students included Lucas Murray, Brian Tamsut, James Lucas, Sarah Ritz, Aaron Cohen and Simon Staley, with Yeonju Song serving as the “shadow” or alternate team member. You can tune into Aaron Cohen's recent Nov. 6 Science Friday interview during a discussion of synthetic biology.

The full story and a brief video about the new olive-oil biosensor and this stellar team of young inventors are available at: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=11076.

Reports on olive-oil quality are available at the web site of the UC Davis Olive Center at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/reports.

Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 1:17 PM
  • Author: Pat Bailey
Tags: food (36), olive oil (10), students (8)

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