Friday, March 30, 2012

bugs in your frappucino?

cochineal bugs | photo: Zyance
Starbucks has recently come under fire by vegetarians.  It turns out their strawberry flavored drinks have been changed.  They're using a new ingredient...cochineal extract.  That picture on the left is cochineal bugs.  They're used to make food coloring. Only pregnant females are used; their outer casings are crushed and  processed into food dye, producing a deep red color.

Also referred to as carmine, this  coloring agent has been known to cause severe allergies including urticaria and asthma.  There have also been reported cases of anaphylaxis.

Because it is made from bugs, it is considered a natural food substance and some companies use it in place of petro-chemically derived artificial colors.  Also because it is made from bugs, vegetarians do not eat cochineal.  And I believe this ingredient is considered non-kosher.   However it is appearing in a wider and wider range of foods including yogurts, ice cream, candies, and some beverages.  Cochineal is also finding it's way into cosmetics as a coloring agent.

While I know there are many cultures that eat bugs as part of their diet, they are high in protein, research has not shown that these other edible bugs carry the same allergic potential as the cochineal bug.  I also find it very irresponsible for Starbucks, which advertises that it can made vegetarian friendly drinks, would change it's ingredients without notifying it's consumers.  Even those who are not vegetarian may prefer not to ingest this substance.  And why cochineal in the first place?  There are fruit and vegetable based sources for red coloring such as beets or raspberries which could have been used instead.

Don't want to eat bugs?  Another good reason to read the label.

Monday, March 26, 2012

on my mind monday 3.26.12

newspaper | photo:  mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  This is my snapshot of what I find interesting.  Information about health, nutrition, and/or holistic living.  Here's what's on my mind.

Methyl iodide off the market (for now) - I've been following this topic since I first found out about it at the end of 2010.  I was highly dismayed when California approved it for use in agriculture and began phasing it in.  Upset enough that our family has not eaten any strawberries coming out of California (even organic) since it was approved.  I'm happy to say that the decision to use it has been reversed.  Apparently the company made a decision to stop using it "based on it's viability in the  U.S. marketplace."  That means people made enough noise that BigAg listened.  However I still have some concerns.  the words 'U.S. marketplace' worry me because now I wonder where else they plan to peddle their poison.  I also intend to keep an eye on this to see if the company plans to try to reintroduce methyl iodide down the road after they figure the noise has died down.  Unfortunately we consumers sometimes tend to have a very short memory span.  We need to make sure that we remember this chemical and always demand that it not be used on our food.

GMO Labeling Law Wins Backing In Connecticut - Another positive moment in the press.  Some legislators in Connecticut agree that consumers have the right to know what's in their food.  Nay sayers claim that it will be more expensive for manufacturers to create two sets of packaging, one for Connecticut and one for everyone else.  My response?  Just label the stuff.  With almost half the states in the nation considering similar legislation it is not going to be long before other states follow suit.  At which point everything might as well be labeled.   Given the recent press about GMO crops being responsible for the decline in Monarch butterfly populations I believe more people are going to join the anti-GMO cause.  The eventual aim, as far as I am concerned, is not just to label (although I believe that is very important) but to stop using this technology.  In some cases considerable damage has already been done but it is never to late to stop.

This Land Is Your Land - This Time Magazine article about Joel Salatin is a great read.  He has a point of view that challenges the system but, I feel, in a good way.  He wants people to take responsibility for their food.  To stop seeing conveniently shrink wrapped packages at the food store without thinking about how they got there.  To understand the cycle of agriculture; to think about the food chain and how we consume.  We need to care, really care, about our food, where it comes from, how it gets to us, and how it's treated along the way.

Must Have Gadgets For The Kitchen - this article made me laugh because I often find myself drooling over gadgets that are one-purpose only or next to unusable for my actual kitchen needs.  Over the years I have gotten better and pared down quite a bit.  Just recently I went from three spring form pans to one (seriously, I'm not sure why I had three, I have never in my life made three cheesecakes [or anything else that required a springform pan] at the same time).  I've decided this is the foodie version of people who drool when they walk into a well-stocked hardware store.  You just envision all sorts of possibilities when confronted with all those shiny new gadgets.  I do have some kitchen tools that I will never part with but they tend to be the mainstays rather than the oddities.  My favorites?  My top electric appliances include:  KitchenAid Mixer, Cuisinart Food Processor, Immersion Blender,  and my Crockpot.  My less-than-stellar purchases?  Sadly I've made a few of those in my life because I got excited about the possibility of something and then never kept up with it.  There was the krumkake maker which is fun but I just don't use it enough, the yogurt maker which went by the wayside when I discovered that I didn't really need it, and the seed sprouter -- same deal -- I didn't really need it.  What are some of your kitchen must can/can't live withouts?

How to Save Seeds - this is something that helps plant diversity and supports backyard agriculture.   I confess to not being consistent with this, I need to work at it a bit more.

Hungry For Change - this is the new movie made by the same folks that brought you Food Matters.  For a limited time only (until March 31, 2012) you can watch a free online preview.  Definitely worth watching.  This movie talks about why so many foods are so addictive and how this is causing us to be overfed and undernourished.


Friday, March 23, 2012

making maple syrup

liquid gold | photo:  Becky S.
This is a guest post from my friend Becky S. who lives in the northeast.  One day she happened to mention making maple syrup with the kids.  Definitely a cool learning experience for anyone but especially exciting when it comes from your very own trees.  She and her kids had a great time and she agreed to share the story of her first-time maple syruping.

Although maple syrup is a form of sugar, if it's the real stuff, it has some modest added mineral benefits as well.  One tablespoon provides some zinc and a whopping 33% of your daily requirement for manganese (important for bone health, nerve health, blood sugar stability, and thyroid function).  Definitely a better choice than the fake, flavored syrup so many people tend to substitute for the real thing.

Here's Becky's story:

Liquid Gold

Five or six years ago, we took our children to a local Maple Sugaring Fest. We were told the charming story of how the Native Americans discovered syrup, boiling it in hollowed logs by dropping hot stones into the sap. When we stepped inside the sugar shack, we were engulfed by steam. We got to see the sap being boiled down in large vats. It was at that point, while receiving my first maple-scented facial, that I became determined to someday make my own syrup from the trees in our backyard. There really is something quite amazing about boiling the bejeebies out of “water” from a tree to create sweet, amber goodness that my children delight in pouring over hot pancakes.

Two weeks ago, perhaps in an attempt to avoid spring cleaning the house, I found myself googling  “How to Tap Maple Trees” and discovered which told me everything I needed to get started. Apparently there was no time to spare. In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a tad warm lately; not exactly the right conditions for tapping trees. In our case, a little ignorance was pure bliss...or should I say “pure syrup.” Here's what we learned from the experience and what we will do differently next year...because there WILL be a next year!

Helpful things to know:

placing the spile | photo: Becky S.
1.  Are you actually tapping a maple tree? Thank goodness for my “Local Flora” class in college. We tapped Norway Maples. Mark your trees during the summer when their leaves are easier to identify.

2.  A Spile is the metal tap that goes into the tree from which the sap drips. I found a kit with spiles and hooks at our local Agway.

3.  Drill the tap holes underneath large limbs. The sap will run much better in that location.

filtering the sap | photo: Becky S.
4.  Sap is sweet. Bugs and little fuzzy critters really like the way it tastes. Be prepared to greet guests in your buckets if you are not using lids. (Ewwwwww)

5.  Keep a cheese cloth handy when collecting the sap so you can filter out unwanted guests. (Ewwwww again)

6.  Have a cold place to keep the sap until you are ready to boil. It must stay cold or it will get rancid. We stored ours in 1-gal covered containers, surrounded by ice in keg buckets.

We also learned what not to do:

1.  Do not use a concrete drill bit on maple trees...or any tree, for that matter. It takes FOREVER to drill the 2.5” hole for the spile, using up the battery on your cordless drill and turning the wood into putty. Invest in a regular 7/16” drill bit. They’re about $8 at Home Depot. Better yet, call your neighbor to borrow his.

2.  Do not think tin foil will be an adequate cover for the sap buckets. Trust me, it’s not. (Read #4 above). Clean, sterilized gallon milk jugs are a great alternative to buckets.

3.  Do not wait too long to try tapping. Keep an eye on the weather and the maple syrup blogs. Ideally, the temps should go below freezing at night and above during the day.

boiling sap | photo: Becky S.
So, you’re wondering how it all turned out?

We managed to collect 10 gallons of sap in a day and a half from 7 taps. We boiled it outside (a must!) on a propane turkey burner for approximately 8-9 hours (divided over 2 days). Our final product: one quart of syrup that we affectionately refer to as “Liquid Gold.”

It is delicious!

Next year we are going for a full gallon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

pink slime clarified

ground beef | photo: Rainer Zenz
One reader contacted me asking, "What cafeteria food is made with this pink slime stuff?  I've never heard about this and [my son] is now eating in the cafeteria at public school.  He took his lunch every day for four years but not this year.  I was just worried about the nutritional value of what he was eating but now, this is creepy."

The quick answer to your question is any hamburger product is potentially made with pink slime.  The industry term is actually "lean finely textured beef."  It is a meat-product made from scraps and trimmings, heated, de-fatted, and treated with ammonium hydroxide.

Current federal regulations say it does not need to be listed as an ingredient and reports suggest that it can be the basis for as much as 50-70 percent of "hamburger" meat.  Although many fast food restaurants are backing away from it in response to consumer disgust, the industry still wants to sell it because it is cheap and profitable.  The USDA has just approved it for school lunches.

News reports indicate that in response to growing outrage by consumers, schools will be allowed to opt out of receiving this product.  Not, however, until next Fall and not until after currently signed contracts have been fulfilled.  I assume there will be schools which will claim they didn't hear from enough families so they signed contracts and it will continue to be available in the school food for some time to come.

There is a petition being sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (started by Houston resident Bettina Elias Siegel who runs the blog The Lunch Tray) urging a ban of pink slime in schools.  Although I no longer have children in the public school system I am furious that my tax dollars are being spent to feed garbage to children and I have signed.

Current research shows that this product is also in grocery stores.  However, once again, because it is not required to be labeled you may not know.  As of today, March 20, 2012, the most recent list I have been able to find indicates the following:

Pink Slime NOT In Grocery Store:

Costco, Whole Foods, HEB, Ingles, and Publix

Pink Slime ALLOWED In Grocery Store:

Safeway, Stop&Shop, Kroger, Giant, Frys (I'm going to assume this includes Randalls since they are owned by Safeway)

Stores Not Responding About Pink Slime:

Walmart, Food Mart, Fred Meyer  (I'm going to assume this includes Sam's Club since they are owned by Walmart)

If your store is on the list for allowing or not responding the ONLY way to avoid purchasing this product is to purchase organic ground beef as it is, to the best of my knowledge, fillers are not allowed under the rules of organic production.

eating more

I recently got asked the question, "How do I eat more fruit and veggies, I don't think I'm eating enough?"  That's a good question.  And one that's faced by a lot of people.  Especially parents who are trying to encourage their children to eat a healthier diet.

One of the best ways I have found to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables is to have them on hand and convenient.  This means they are not in your fridge just rotting in the bottom of your crisper drawer.  I frequently encourage people to cut them up, prepare and make containers.  Set them out on the shelf in your fridge and it's a grab-and-go snack.  They can either be sorted by type of food or you can make "snack packs" with an assortment.  Either way if you're in the mood to munch and you open the fridge door to see a convient snack right there you may find yourself eating more healthy choices.

Another way is to add veggies to other foods.  You would not believe what gets added to my homemade spaghetti sauce.  Add shredded veggies to a lasagna.  Double the veggies in your omelette or frittata.  What about soups?  Loaded with pureed veggies, especially if it's a creamy style soup base is an easy way to boost your veggie intake without trying very hard.  The trick is to make sure that you put in things that will not overwhelm your soup.  Sharper tasting foods such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc) or onions may not appeal to some.  Mucilaginous textured foods such as okra may not appeal to others.  Experiment and be mindful of what you are adding in.

Choose seasonal fruits and vegetables.  I can't stress this enough.  A tomato in season and from a farmer's market (if possible) tastes like the most delicious, amazing thing.  A tomato in the middle of winter with a waxy coating tastes like cardboard.  When foods are in season, and hopefully local, they are picked close to ripeness.  Otherwise they may be picked early, stored, and then force ripened with ethylene gas.  This forced ripening does not allow the flavor to come through, it just makes it look ripe.  If you're eating unappealing, non-tasty fruits and vegetables it does not encourage you to want to eat more.  As a side benefit, you really appreciate things when you can only have them in season.

Make different choices when you eat out.  There are tasty ways to add more veggies to your diet when you are eating out which allow you to still enjoy your dining experience but avoid getting bogged down by the simple carbs and other unhealthy choices.

Skip the juice and eat the fruit.  Did you know that it takes an average of 4 oranges to make 8 ounces of orange juice?  That's a lot of sugar and those extra calories add up pretty quickly.  It would be pretty difficult to eat four oranges in one sitting.  However each orange you eat comes with a significant amount of fiber which helps to slow down the glycemic effect.  The same is true for other juices.  Switch your juice to water (add a few slices of fruit for flavor if you like) and eat the fruit instead.

Keep a food journal.  An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper folded into quarters gives you 8 spots to write down what you eat each day.  If you're looking to increase things like water consumption (always a good idea) and fruits and veggies set a goal for yourself and then keep track of it.  By looking back over the week you'll be able to see if you're meeting your goal and where you can make changes to increase your consumption a little at a time.

Small changes add up over time.  By making one or two adjustments you may soon find yourself eating more healthy fruits and veggies.

Monday, March 19, 2012

on my mind monday 3.19.12

newspaper | photo:  mconnor
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  This is my snapshot of what I find interesting.  Information about health, nutrition, and/or holistic living.  Here's what's on my mind.

A soda a day may increase heart attack risk - in men.  Of course we all know that soda is bad for us.  Those empty calories and negative ingredients are not good for anyone. Now there's another reason (as if you needed one) to give it up.

UN supports taxes on junk food - as a way to control how much junk food people eat, I think taxes fall far short of the bar.  Unfortunately this is also a disproportionate tax as the population most likely to eat junk food are usually shown to be those of lower income and lower food availability.  They aren't going to stop this habit just because there are taxes.  What I believe is really needed is a education about whole food nutrition and about how to eat well for health.  Many people do not understand that junk food doesn't nourish your body and how much damage it actually can do.  Until that fact is fully understood junk food consumption will continue to be a problem.

Pink Slime - This stuff has been in the news for quite some time but now, for some reason, it has taken off with the general public and there is a huge outcry.  What is it?  It's the waste trimmings and leftover bits all mulched together, treated with ammonia hydroxide and sold as meat.  Banned for human consumption in other places (where it is used in pet food) it is legal for human consumption here in the US.  A short time ago McDonald's announced that it would stop using pink slime in it's restaurants.   Other big chains followed suit.  What to do with all that pink slime?  Why sell it to school cafeterias instead.  People this stuff is GARBAGE.  It is not food.  Ammonia hydroxide is a poison and it is used to mask potential pathogens in the garbage that is masquerading as meat.  I find it astounding that some food safety experts are claiming that it is okay to eat this.  Everyone that I spoke to, once they knew what it was, said that they would not knowingly choose to eat this product.  Some said that they were highly upset at the thought that they had been eating it unknowingly.  If the thought of this product upsets you consider signing the petition against it.

DIY Yogurt - yogurt is becoming popular again.  And more people are finding out just how easy it is to make your own at home.  You can use some yogurt that has already been cultured or purchase a culture of your own from Cultures For Health.

Grapefruit is in season here in my area of the country.  I have friends who have grapefruit trees who generously share with me and I have to say there is nothing better than a tree-ripened grapefruit.  Juicy, flavorful, and just amazingly delicious.  In addition to a whopping dose of vitamin C, grapefruit can also deliver a lot of vitamin A and fiber.  It also helps to alkalize the body, believed to help reduce calcium oxalate type kidney stones.  Now I've learned that grapefruit also has narinigenin.  This flavonoid appears to support liver health, reduce triglycerides and cholesterol, and inhibits Hep C viral activity.  Rather interesting when you consider that if you are told not to consume grapefruit if taking statin drugs.

Are You A Nutrition Rockstar?

What Am I Reading? The Whole-Food Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Nutritional Approach to Preventing Recurrence.  This is an amazingly informative book by Dr. Helayne Waldman and Dr. Ed Bauman.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

travel food

Just back from a trip to Washington DC I enjoyed great weather and beautiful scenery and exhibits.  I really had a great time there and part of the fun was exploring the food in a different location.  As you all know I love food and I love to eat.

I find it incomprehensible that some people like to travel to other places and then eat at the same chain restaurants.  I have a friend from England who likes to vacation in Spain.  She sometimes tells me about her countrymen who travel to Spain but want their usual English breakfast, mushy peas, and biscuits when traveling.  I think part of the excitement of traveling is experiencing new things and that does include restaurants and foodie places.

In order of appearance these are the foodie things that I saw and/or ate:

Georgetown Cupcake - wandering over to Georgetown the first night there my husband and I saw the bakery featured on the TLC program DC Cupcakes.  The store was going full steam and people were lined up on both sides of the street.  I was stunned to see so many people patiently waiting for their little pink boxes full of cupcakes.  And the people behind the counter were certainly hustling and bustling along.

I have to say the cupcakes certainly looked delicious and people seemed to enjoy them.  It made me wonder if a gluten free cupcakery would do as well.

Right across the street was Dean&Deluca.  I am a sucker for high end grocery stores.  I love to wander the aisles enjoying the variety and selection even if what is available is sometimes beyond my normal grocery budget.

Even though I wasn't hungry I was certainly inspired by some of the arrangements and ingredients they had on hand and made notes to myself of experiments to try in the kitchen when I returned.

I was surprised to see that they have a number of locations as I typically think of them as a New York City store.

We decided to stop for a nightcap before we headed back to the hotel for the evening.  Wandering around the Dupont Circle area we happened upon a charming little place called Bistrot du Coin.

He got a Belgian beer on tap and I had a sweet little drink called a Bisou de Paris.  A combination of champagne, Cointreau, and a little raspberry syrup.  Sweet, bubbly, tangy, and flavorful it was a nice way to end the evening.  Sitting in the Bistrot, at the bar, we enjoyed chatting with the bartender.

The next day we headed over toward the Mall area of DC.  When it was lunchtime we decided to try out one of the many food trucks in the area.  The hardest part was trying to figure out which one.  It was lunchtime in a busy metropolitan city in a business district.  There were a LOT of food trucks.  We ultimately decided to go for Tasty Kabob.  They must be pretty popular because the line was fairly long.  I got the lamb which was delicious.  The yogurt sauce on the lamb which was also used as a salad dressing was delicious.  My only issue was the rice-a-roni used instead of regular rice.  I still find myself a little bemused at the shift that food trucks have gone through.  Remembering when I was a child how we called them "roach coaches" and NO ONE I knew would ever eat at one.  Now they're just as, if not more, popular than regular restaurants and have huge online followings.  More, I suspect, than restaurants do.

For dinner we met up with friends and went to Busboys and Poets a very fun restaurant with a lot of atmosphere and an amazing bookstore.  I was so busy enjoying the company of my husband and our friends that I forgot to take pictures of the food but I assure you it was all delicious!

The next day, our last one in town, we had a quick lunch at Zorba's Cafe.  Lots of garlic in the food which was delicious but probably not too great for the person sitting next to me on the metro and then the airplane ride home.

It was a fast casual restaurant, one of the ones where you pay up front and then call your number so you can bring your food to your table.  I've noticed a growing number of these restaurants, I guess it saves on waitstaff.  Doesn't change the quality of the food, which was delicious, or the decor, which was cute, and the prices were certainly reasonable.

It was a good trip.  We walked for miles all over town seeing cherry blossoms, monuments, historic sights, museums, and enjoying the glorious weather.

 It goes without saying that these are my experiences, I am not shilling for any of these foodie places, I did not receive any commission or free food.  I make no guarantees that you will like it as much as we did.  I just wanted to share what and where I ate. I encourage you, when you are traveling, to seek out new experiences and new adventures in food.  Think outside the box of chain restaurants and eat somewhere you may never eat again.

Friday, March 16, 2012

are you gonna light that potato chip?

potato chips | photo: Evan Amos
It's time for a new word of the day; except it really isn't a word.  It's a conglomeration of letters that frequently appears in the ingredients section of a food label.  Most consumers skip right over it because they don't understand it.  So let me be the first person to assure you that nature does not produce food by alphabet soup.  It should be clearly understandable in words like kale, apple, celery, and eggs.

This word isn't really a word, it's a non-word, and a non-food at that.  What is it?


Does it look familiar?  If it doesn't that's okay, but now that I've brought it to your attention I hope that when you read the label (and you are reading labels aren't you?) it will stand out.  And not in a good way.

TBHQ is the abbreviation for tertiary butylhydroquinone.  That's not exactly any clearer than the abbreviation.  What, exactly is TBHQ and why is it in the food?  It's a preservative; a fake anti-oxidant if you will.  It's found in a wide array of foods and is there to help delay rancidity and extend the shelf life.

As mentioned in The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan:
    But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to "help preserve freshness." According to A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause "nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse." Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.
There are also claims that TBHQ can cause anxiety and restlessness in children.  Animal studies appear to indicate the possibility of large amounts causing stomach problems and oxidative DNA damage.  

My suggestion, as always, remains the same.  Eat whole food, understand what you are eating, and read the label.  By the way, TBHQ can also appear in pet food.  You may want to consider reading those labels as well.  After all, if you're not going to eat it why should they?


Monday, March 12, 2012

on my mind monday 3.12.12

newspaper | photo: mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  This is my snapshot of what I find interesting.  Information about health, nutrition, and/or holistic living.  Here's what's on my mind.

Well, it's Monday.  For growing numbers of people that means it's Meatless Monday.  Choosing to eat a meatless meal one day a week can have a positive environmental impact.  The Environmental Working Group has produced a brochure called Meat Eaters Guide To Climate Change and Health. It raises some interesting points including the fact that uneaten meat is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gases.  That ties in pretty heavily to Jonathan Bloom's latest column about not wasting meat.  Definitely something to think about when you're planning dinner.

Pi Day is coming.  For the geeks among us it's a fun celebration.  3.14159 is as far as I remember the value of Pi.  So this Wednesday, celebrate and have some pie.  I'm not sure what kind I'm going to make yet but I do know I'm going to be using my newfound perfect piecrust recipe.  Remember, it doesn't have to be sweet to be a pie, savory pies count too.

Ag Gag Rules - Apparently Iowa would rather consumers not know what really goes on in commercial agricultural operations.  They've just passed a bill, about to be signed into law by the Governor, that will allow for stiff punishment for anyone attempting to film operations without the owners permission.  Given the many videos that have come out of such efforts which show inhumane and in some cases barbaric treatment of these animals I can understand why the industry doesn't want them filmed.  It makes them look bad.  What I don't understand is why there is no big push to stop this behavior.  Instead of hiding it in the dark so consumers can see it, I believe our food system should be openly viewed by all so that consumers can understand where their food comes from and how it is produced.

Meat Nutrition Labeling - turns out that last week the USDA's required meat nutrition labeling started.  I suppose it's not a bad thing to have labels on the meat letting folks know how much is a serving and what the nutrition breakdown is.  But this label isn't complete.  In my opinion it would be better if it also let you know how the animal was raised.  What it was fed.  How much antibiotics were given to the animal during it's lifetime.  How much hormone?  These are all important factors that affect the quality of the meat but, more importantly, the health of the animal; ultimately that translates to your health.

Edible Packaging - Being touted as a possible way to reduce or eliminate plastic waste I think this has the potential to be a good idea.  Some of the challenges as I see it:  (a) are you really going to want to eat off the shelf edible containers after they've sat in the dust and been handled by who knows how many people?  (b) what exactly is the edible substance made from?  I'm not convinced that it won't be another suspicious food waste product disguised as GRAS  (c) will people really eat it?  I suppose if they don't the hope is that it will be biodegradable and break down more fully.

Tony Geraci is on a mission to reform school food and create a model that school cafeteria's all across the country can follow. Can't wait to see this film.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

we have a winner

Using the Random Number Generator we have a winner for the Leap Day Giveaway.

I tried a totally new system this time and used a service where folks could earn points toward the giveaway.  Unfortunately it doesn't seem to give a link directly to the entrant.

So, drumroll, Donna, if you're reading this -- and I hope you are because you entered the giveaway, please contact me directly at in order to claim your prize.

To the rest of those who entered...did you like this way of entering?  Would you rather enter simply by leaving comments on the blog?  Do you have a solution for a different way to run giveaways (because I have more good stuff to send you)?  Let me know.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

healthy eating on a budget

piggy bank | photo: mconnors
Last night's #FoodRevParty on twitter was about eating healthy on a budget.  The wide variety and flood of responses showed that you don't have to break the bank in order to eat well without going broke.

The conversation started by talking about ways to avoid the high cost of fresh/local/organic produce.  Ideas included purchasing according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Shoppers Guide to Pesticides which lists the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for produce and exposure to pesticides.  Of course growing your own and freezing or otherwise preserving the harvest was mentioned.  This can be a great way to ensure that your family has a source of healthy food on a year-round basis.  Buying in season often means that you are not paying a premium to have healthy food.  After all, strawberries in May cost far less than strawberries in December.  As an added benefit they taste better too.  Another idea mentioned was to shop at the farmer's market near the end of the day when there might be some deals available.  Also discussed was the concept of purchasing cheaper cuts of meat and cooking them in a slow cooker.

All of this talk of purchasing locally or sustainably lead to talk about food waste.  It is a fact that if we waste less it costs less.  Unfortunately American's tend to spend a huge percentage of their grocery bill on food they don't actually eat; it winds up being thrown out.  The book American Wasteland: How American Throws Away Nearly Half It's Food (And What We Can Do About It) was mentioned by more than one person.  The general consensus was that it is a great book.  If this is a subject that interests you, you can also follow along on Jonathan Bloom's blog WastedFood.

The subject then turned to buying in bulk.  Quite a few people spoke about sharing with friends or neighbors as a way to purchase in bulk, thereby saving money, without being overwhelmed by, say, 25 pounds of grapefruit.  Some people spoke about not buying in bulk due to fears of wasting food.   Others spoke about buying in bulk in order to freeze the extra for a future time.  The most commonly mentioned bulk purchased items appeared to be coffee, oats, grains, spices, flour, and even honey and maple syrup.

Moving along we came to the question of entertaining while serving wholesome food on a budget.  Of course the idea of potluck came up which can certainly be an economical way to share a meal with friends.  Many people agreed that homecooking was more economical than ordering out and there was general agreement that simple ingredients well prepared were far better than gourmet items.  People appreciate good homemade food.  Especially given how many people do not cook. When they are served a tasty meal that is homemade it's a gift of time as well as of intention and everyone seemed to agree that was important and well received.  There were also some clever ideas for making tasty meals that were not overly expensive such as taco bar, potato bar, panini bar, and top-your-own pizza.  Another good solution was to use aromatics such as ginger, garlic, shallots, spices, and herbs as a way to jazz up the flavor of a dish.

Next on the agenda was how to encourage others to cook real food at home.  Hands down the answer seemed to be talking about it and demonstrating it.  Several people had great ideas for demonstrating whole food healthy cooking by inviting people over for a cooking party/demo, cooking for them in their own home, sharing information on a blog or website, and being willing to talk about the costs of whole food nutrition and health. There was also a discussion about food education with a consensus that in addition to participants teaching people about food there is a variety of resources available through the internet.  Also discussed was the idea of a return to the concept of home economics in school and offering healthy lunchtime choices in school.   Finding community gardens, organic farmers, and other resources was also mentioned.

Overall folks seemed to feel that the key was shopping locally, in season, not wasting food, and learning to build a connection with a farmer's market or other good resource.  Definitely a great twitter party and one that flew by.

Monday, March 5, 2012

on my mind monday 3.05.12

news | photo: mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  My snapshot of what I find interesting.  Information and news about health, nutrition and/or holistic living.  Here's what's on my mind.

Growing protein with fewer resources - There are lots of different ways to look at our protein needs and how we get them.  Algae is certainly one way which could be very sustainable; algae of all kinds can be used to provide protein for animals as well as for humans.  Many vegetarians and vegan's eat it now.  Potentially part of an aquaculture solution it would be a very efficient use of resources.  Truthfully whether you're using algae or insects (another source of efficient protein) as an alternative source of food the problem is not how much protein we produce but how we produce it.  Well that and the fact that when it comes to animal protein those of us in developed countries often consume more than we need.  Current commercial methods appear to be mostly inefficient with large scale use of fossil fuels, unhealthy (read unsanitary) conditions,  unhealthy methods (GMO feed, over use of antibiotics), and waste.   So while this is a good thing and an idea that I think is worth following, I also feel we need to look at current protein production methods and clean up after ourselves.

Monterey County Say No To Methyl Iodide - YES!  I'm so happy to see this and hope that other counties in California will follow suit.  Some of you may remember that this appeared in an OMMM post in January.  This is a horrible, known cancer-causing agent.  I'm so happy to hear that the folks in Monterrey County are standing up to BigAg and saying no.

Eating citrus fruit may lower women's stroke risk - many foods have flavonoids, antioxidants that help promote health.  Apparently the flavonoids in oranges and grapefruit, called flavanones, are especially beneficial for women in helping to prevent ischemic strokes.  It is important to note that if you are trying to increase your intake of oranges and grapefruit eating whole fruit is a better way to go.  There are approximately 5 oranges in a glass of orange juice, adding lots of sugar and not much fiber.  Eat the orange or the grapefruit and get the benefit of the vitamin C, the flavanones, and the fiber.

Seattle plants a public food forest - I'm happy to hear about more public food resources and stewardship of public lands that does not include turning it into a parking lot.  This could give a whole new meaning to the word locavore.  It will be interesting to see how this develops and how it is managed over time.  It is an added dimension to urban agriculture that I think brings a lot of benefits to the community.  Considering our shift to a more urbanized population these sorts of measures are to be welcomed and encouraged.

Push to label GMO's gains ground - I am firmly in the no-GMO camp.  I believe that they are harmful to our bodies, our planet and their use should be discontinued.  However that is a larger battle.  In the meantime I very strongly support labeling of GMOs because I believe that consumers have the right to make an informed choice when it comes to their food.  GMO producers disagree, of course, because this would, in all likelihood reduce their sales.  I hope the labeling of GMO moves forward and becomes mandatory.

Enjoy Nature

What I'm reading:

The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean.  It's been a busy week so I'm still reading this book.  Learning a lot about why magnesium is such an important mineral for our health.  For example, it turns out that magnesium is important in helping to support health when it comes to osteoporosis.  So it's not just calcium, we also need to be looking at our magnesium levels.