Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: Revisiting "The Burger That Shattered Her Life"

The second half of the blog I started to repost yesterday:

More on "The Burger That Shattered Her Life"
(October 6, 2009)

Judging from The New York Times article about Stephanie Smith I discussed yesterday, it’s pretty obvious that Cargill could care less about our health.

If Cargill won’t answer questions from The New York Times, do you think the company will be responsive to questions from regular people like us? Shouldn’t we be protecting ourselves and demanding something better?

Let’s think about it another way: We know the name of our doctor, yoga instructor, kids’ teachers and plumber. Why don't we know the name of the people who grow our food?

One solution is to buy food from small-scale producers. I buy a lot of my food from farmers’ markets, where I’ve had the opportunity to develop relationships with the people making and growing what I am eating. They are responsible citizens who I can address fact-to-face, not a multinational which, even after I listen carefully because the menu options have changed, still won’t answer my basic questions about their products.

I understand that everyone doesn’t have access to farmers’ markets and the grass-fed ground beef pictured above. (The farmer who sold it to me knew the name of the steer it came from.) But better quality products are becoming more available in neighborhood supermarkets.

And if your store doesn’t carry meat and dairy products devoid of hormones and antibiotics? Start demanding it does, and get your friends to do likewise. If only one person a week asks, the store owner will turn a deaf ear. If 20 people a day ask (and leave the store without spending any money), the store owner will be purchasing better-quality products very, very quickly.

Too time-consuming? Think about Stephanie Smith’s fate and how ten minutes of work and an extra dollar or two may prevent the same nightmare from repeating itself.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: Revisiting "The Burger That Shattered Her Life"

In case you missed it, here is an October blog post about a story that should concern us all:

"The Burger That Shattered Her Life":
The Tragedy of Our Modern Food Supply

(October 5, 2009)

For those of us who think we don’t have time to worry about the safet
y of our food, there was a shocking exposé in yesterday's New York Times that illuminated the minefields that exist within our modern system of commercial food production.

“The Burger That Shattered Her Life” tells the story of Stephanie Smith, a then-healthy young adult who became paralyzed in 2007 after eating a hamburger—made by the American food giant Cargill—that was tainted with E. coli.

The article makes clear that while Smith’s “reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme,” the process of making seemingly harmless hamburgers is a crapshoot. “Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.”

There is insufficient government oversight of the suppliers, slaughterhouses and producers, many of which are self-policed. This leads to many situations that can have toxic consequences.

It is wishful thinking to believe that the hamburger Smith ate was just ground meat from a cow from a local ranch. Unfortunately, our industrial food system is much more complicated and unsafe than that.

According to the article:

"The hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria."
Even more disturbing is one of the reasons why:
"In all, the ingredients for Ms. Smith’s burger cost Cargill about $1 a pound, company records show, or about 30 cents less than industry experts say it would cost for ground beef made from whole cuts of meat."
What a shame.

(Part 2 will be reposted tomorrow.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009: Revisiting Helpful Shopping Strategies

Another blog post from 2009 that readers thought to be informative and helpful:

Helpful Shopping Strategies
(July 20, 2009)

An essential part of eating well is knowing how to shop, especially if you are try
ing to avoid the hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other synthetic additives that are so rampant in our food supply. But even if you know what you are looking for, the issue of cost can factor into your decisions.

Personally, I try to eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season. For exampl
e, I am now in the six-week span when I eat cherries. Literally, in about two weeks, I’ll stop buying cherries and won’t eat them again for 46 weeks.

Cherries, though, are seventh on the Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits and vegetables of which we should be eating organic versions. Luckily, organic cherries aren’t that much more expensive than conventional ones grown with the use of pesticides. In the two markets (Fairway and Whole Foods) where I regularly shop, organic cherries are $3.99 per pound, versus $2.99 per pound for conventional. In this case, choosing organic is a no-brainer for me. However, I won’t be buying organic red, yellow or orange peppers anytime soon, even though they are third on the list.

Why? They cost $7 per pound. Since one average-size organic pepper costs more than $3, I pass.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t purchase peppers. Instead, I buy peppers grown hydroponically in a greenhouse in Canada. Equally enticing are the facts that no dangerous sprays are used in the growing process and that a package of four peppers (weighing more than a pound) costs $2.99, in-line with the price of the conventional peppers we should be avoiding.

Remember, food does not have to be organic to be healthy and safe. And if you buy seasonally, chances are even organic produce won't be cost prohibitive.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: Revisiting Peanut Butter

This week I’ll be reposting blogs from 2009 that my clients felt were informative and helpful in their quest to shop and eat better.

What's In Peanut Butter? Skippy vs. Smucker's
(May 6, 2009)

Peanut butter is a great snack for adults, plus a go-to food for parents feedin
g their kids. Unfortunately, many of the commercial peanut butters sold in stores contain—unnecessarily—more than just peanuts.

The ingredients in Skippy creamy peanut butter are roasted peanuts, sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed) and salt. The added sugar and salt are not good for our health and, just as important, work to corrupt our taste buds.

However, the far greater danger lies in the hydrogenated oils, which are chemically altered oils. These oils contain unsaturated fats that have had hydrogen atoms added to their structure, making them more solid and turning them into trans fats.

Why are these hydrogenated oils added to many packaged and processed snack foods, including cookies, cakes and crackers? The change in chemical composition allows the oils to be better used in baking and also helps prevent spoilage, thereby prolonging food items’ shelf life.

But trans
fats pose severe health risks, with the most serious being a link to heart disease, stemming from trans fats’ negative effects on the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol in the body. Connections to obesity and diabetes also exist.

So, what t
o look for when buying peanut butter? Peanuts. Nothing more, nothing less. Many supermarkets and progressive food stores grind their own peanut butter. Failing that, Smucker’s makes a creamy peanut butter that “contains 100% peanuts,” with “no added salt, sugar, stabilizers or preservatives.”

The cost? At my local supermarket, a 12-ounce jar of the
Smucker’s is $2.49, compared to $2.79 for a 12-ounce jar of Skippy. Go figure.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

The Delicious Truth will return on Monday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are We Really in Control of What We Order?

How much are our food-ordering decisions at restaurants influenced by how the menu is constructed?

Read more in an interesting article from yesterday’s New York Times food section.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Grow Parsley Indoors in the Winter

I’ve grown herbs in pots during the warmer months, but I’ve never tried growing anything during the winter until my recent parsley experiment.

About a month ago, before the first frost, I dug out a part of the parsley plant that was growing in my garden patch. Making sure to keep some of the root system intact, I transplanted it to a small pot with soil from the patch.

After an initial transplant shock, the parsley is flourishing (photo, above). I didn’t think it would be so healthy so quickly.

Parsley is a hearty grower, which helps when I occasionally put the plant outside for a couple minutes to get some (true) direct sunlight, even when the temperature is in the 30’s and 40’s. At other times, indirect sunlight seems to be doing the trick. I also make sure to water at least every other day.

Unfortunately I can’t cut too much at once, but a little parsley—especially at the end of December—goes a long way.

And, yes, that’s snow from the recent storm on the ledge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Cooking Demo at the Farmers' Market

I recently gave a two-hour cooking demonstration at a farmers’ market in Manhattan. Here is a quick video recap of the day:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Atul Gawande - "Testing, Testing"

Regardless of which side of the health care debate you are on, surgeon and The New Yorker staff writer Atul Gawande thinks we may all have it wrong by picking a definitive position.

Instead, Gawande believes we should take a lesson from the dynamic changes that were introduced into farming one hundred years ago. At the time, agriculture—like the health care industry today—was an “indispensable but unmanageably costly sector [that] was strangling the country.”

Gawande argues that America only became great when it learned how to farm more efficiently, which decreased the cost of food and the amount of labor that went into its production. In turn, this freed up money and manpower to “support economic growth and development” in other economic sectors.

“We were . . . still a poor nation,” Gawande writes. “Only by improving the productivity of farming could we raise our standard of living and emerge as an industrial power.”

But the road to better food production was not a choice between left and right. Instead, experimenting and learning on the go—plus the dissemination of this information—led to a transformation that would not have been possible had partisan politics been at play.

Click here to read Gawande’s fascinating account of our agricultural revolution (with a side of health care talk thrown in).

Friday, December 18, 2009

More About the Pesticide Action Network's Fight

As I discussed yesterday, individuals can make a difference in shaping public policy. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), an organization dedicated to eliminating the use of hazardous pesticides, relies on us to help get its message heard.

If you believe that e-mails and phone calls to government officials don’t add up and don’t make a difference, witness how the groundswell of almost 100,000 e-mails has held up the appointment of Islam Siddiqui as our Chief Agricultural Negotiator. (Siddiqui is currently a vice president at CropLife America, the pesticide industry’s lobbying arm.)

Another current action supported by PAN is a campaign encouraging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to not approve the use of methyl iodide on California farms. (I phoned the other day; unfortunately my request to speak directly with the Governor was rebuffed.)

According to PAN, methyl iodide has been “linked to severe health concerns, including miscarriages and cancer.” A California rejection of methyl iodide would give the Environmental Protection Agency reason to reassess the chemical’s widespread usage.

Isn’t our collective health (and our children’s and grandchildren’s) enough to warrant an e-mail or phone call?

As I wrote yesterday, to show my commitment to the cause, I will personally match the $35 membership fee of the first 15 people who join PAN. Click here to join.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Join the Pesticide Action Network and Make a Difference

Regular readers of The Delicious Truth know how seriously I take the issue of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial colors and other synthetic additives and their link to the explosion of chronic diseases, especially in children.

To show my commitment to the cause, I will personally match the $35 membership fee of the first 15 people who join the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), an organization that is doing important policy work on our behalf. Simply click here to become a member and help limit the harmful farming practices that affect us all.

Last week I met with Kathryn Gilje, PAN’s Executive Director, and Bev Becker, Director of Donor Relations, who articulated PAN’s goals, which center on protecting our health from pesticide exposure.

A major PAN focus is on “winnable” battles against persistent pesticides, chemicals that remain in the environment for generations, according to Gilje.

“There are very few persistent pesticides left in the United States,” Gilje said. “One is endosulfan, which we hope will be banned in the next three months.”

(Click here to read more about endosulfan.)

Gilje sees openings for PAN’s agenda, especially since Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been a receptive listener to PAN and other like-minded groups.

But public action—by regular people like you and me—is essential. PAN regularly creates simple on-line petitions that are electronically forwarded to the appropriate elected officials.

“Each e-mail is important,” Gilje said. “The EPA needs to see the public willingness and the political support for these changes.”

(Tomorrow: More on PAN's work.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to Make Hot Chocolate

Making your own hot chocolate with quality cocoa powder (I use Green & Black’s) takes about the same amount of time and isn’t that much more expensive than using packaged hot chocolate mixes that contain refined sugars and synthetic ingredients. Plus, the difference in flavor is startling.

Watch how:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Environmental Working Group Asks, "What's In Your Water?"

The New York Times has been running a series of articles over the past several months titled “Toxic Waters,” which paints a frightening picture of “worsening pollution in American waters and regulators’ responses.”

Articles have focused on how sewage, power plants, agricultural runoff, industrial waste and herbicides affect our water supply.

A great resource to help us learn more about what is in our water is the Environmental Working Group’s National Drinking Water Database.
Test results from water utilities throughout the country (47,667 to be exact) are available; simply enter your zip code, identify your water company and see what’s in your water.

According to the EWG, “testing by water utilities has found 316 pollutants in the tap water Americans drink . . . More than half of the chemicals detected are not subject to health or safety regulations and can legally be present in any amount.”

After you’ve had the bejesus scared out of you, visit the site’s water filter buying guide, which will help you “pick a filter that will reduce your exposure to those chemicals.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

The (Late) End of the Growing Season

It took a while, but the really cold weather finally came to the neighborhood:

And the greens that were doing so well until just recently finally met their maker:

Friday, December 11, 2009

More About Smjör Butter and Icelandic Farming Policy

As promised Wednesday, I did a little research and found out more about Icelandic husbandry policy, which affects the nutritional properties of Smjör butter.

The Icelandic Consulate in New York City confirmed that the use of hormones and antibiotics is banned in Iceland, which makes Smjör safer to eat than most American butters, which use milk from cows administered hormones and antibiotics.

In addition, Iceland’s climate and relative lack of pollution lead to healthier grass, on which the cows graze in the summer. During the harsher winter months, the cows are kept indoors and are fed a diet of hay (dried grass), silage (fermented grass and other field crops) and protein supplements. As I have written previously, grass-fed food products are much healthier for us than products from corn-fed animals.

Some information I found online stated that the combination of Iceland’s climate and pristine environment obviated the need for the use of pesticides and other chemical sprays. While this makes sense, I could not verify this with a government source. (An e-mail I sent to Iceland’s Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has yet to be answered.)

Finally, the Icelandic Consulate sent me a link to a Web page—in English!—describing MS Iceland Dairies, the producer of Smjör products:

“MS Iceland Dairies (Mjólkursamsalan) is a cooperative organisation that includes over 700 of Iceland’s family-run dairy farms and other milk producers across the country.”
And for those worried about the environmental impact of eating butter shipped from Iceland:
“All our products are made using only 100% carbon-free electricity. This advantage exceeds the environmental counterbalance for the methane output inherent in local ruminant agriculture.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to Clean Out a Mackerel's Insides

I bought three whole mackerel at the farmers’ market yesterday. The mackerel, a great source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, needed to be cleaned, though. It’s actually easier than you think:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Smjör Butter from Iceland - A Great Find

I have a new favorite butter that I am incorporating into my butter-buying rotation: Smjör, from Iceland.

I saw it for the first time the other day (in a Whole Foods) and was immediately captured by its kelly green wrapper and the fact that it is from Iceland.

As regular Delicious Truth readers are aware, I am a vociferous advocate of reading labels to find out exactly what is in the food we are eating. The wrapper said “no additives,” but that’s not really what got me.

Truth be told, I fell for one of the great marketing lines of all time: “Sustainable Iceland Since 874 AD.” It’s absolutely brilliant and it won my $2.99.

That being said, I’m still not 100 percent sure what is or isn’t (i.e. hormones, antibiotics, type of feed) in the butter, since the package didn't say and the website offered on the wrapper is in Icelandic.

(This would probably be an opportune time to see if Siggy Valtysson—the only person I know from Iceland, but who I haven’t spoken to in almost 20 years—is on Facebook.)

However, the deep yellow color and grassy flavor of the butter, plus Iceland’s rich pastoral tradition, lead me to believe that the Smjör cows eat grass and aren’t administered hormones and antibiotics. One of my other favorites, Anchor Butter from New Zealand, has a similar pedigree.

So we’ll all be able to sleep better, I’ll call Whole Foods and find out the Smjör story for sure.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll friend Siggy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Suburban Seagull and the Inuit Hunters of Greenland

Last week I saw a seagull eating a banana peel and wondered how I could work that sighting into a blog post.

But writing that humans aren’t the only animals eating things they shouldn’t be eating wouldn’t have been that revelatory.

Then I viewed a slide show on The New York Times website about Inuit hunters in Greenland and re
alized I had come across the polar opposite of the seagull that had completely adapted to its surroundings.

The Inuit hunters are continuing a tradition that spans thousands of years, while it's a pretty safe bet that our seagull's great grandparents weren't eating Dole or Chiquita products.

In addition, the presentation's first photo (left) is miraculous and offers such a contrast to the suburban concrete parking lot where our banana peel-eating seagull was enjoying his lunch.

Click here to view the entire “The Hunters of Greenland” slide show.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nicholas Kristof: "Cancer From the Kitchen?"

I’m glad to see that the subject matter—the link between synthetic chemicals and chronic diseases—I discussed in my posts last Tuesday and Wednesday was an important enough topic for New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to cover in his Sunday column.

Kristof’s piece—“Cancer From the Kitchen?”—was the Times' website’s most e-mailed article yesterday, which will undoubtedly raise awareness of the subject.

One topic Kristof mentioned that I was going to address this week was the past success of public policy in almost eliminating a dangerous toxin from our lives:
“[T]here’s a remarkable precedent for a public health effort against a toxic substance. The removal of lead from gasoline resulted in an 80 percent decline in lead levels in our blood since 1976—along with a six-point gain in children’s I.Q.’s.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Opening a Scallop = Manual Labor

Much effort is needed for every scallop consumed:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Scallop In Its Shell - It's Alive!

I was lucky enough to buy live scallops—still in their shells!—yesterday at the farmers’ market.

A photo of one is on the right; make sure to click to enlarge.

The middle white part is the muscle we are accustomed to buying in stores and eating in restaurants. The orange substance on the right is the roe. And, yes, that is a small fish on the left.

Even a scallop needs to eat!

Watch the video below for proof that the scallop is alive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Endocrine Disruptors and Childhood Diseases

More from the lecture I attended on Monday, which focused on the tandem increase of synthetic chemicals and childhood diseases:

Over the last decade, endocrine disruptors and their effect on our health have become better understood.

“Ten years ago, endocrine disruptors were a fringe concept,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC). “Now, their importance is accepted.”

Landrigan went on to give a quasi-official definition of endocrine disruptors that even he admitted was incomprehensible. Instead, he offered this simplified description:
“Endocrine disruptors are synthetic chemicals in the environment that get into the human body and disrupt the signaling of one cell to another. If this endocrine signaling is disrupted, disease can result.”
Landrigan and his team are studying the effects of Bisphenol-A (BPA) (found in aluminum cans and plastics), phthalates (plastics), pesticides (food) and perchlorate (many industrial uses, found in drinking and ground water).

The use of these synthetic chemicals has mushroomed since World War II and our kids have become sicker and sicker over that time period. Some facts from the CEHC web site:

  • Asthma rates have nearly tripled in the past three decades.
  • One of every six American children has a development disorder (ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation).
  • One in every 150 American children is now diagnosed with autism.
  • Cancer, after accidents, is the leading cause of death among children in the United States.
  • Primary brain cancer increased by nearly 40% and leukemia increased by over 60% among children 14 years and younger from 1975 to 2004.
  • Childhood obesity has quadrupled in the past 10 years.
According to Landrigan, there is some good news, though.

"Unlike genetic diseases," he said, "environmental disease can be prevented.”

Don’t we owe it to our kids to become more familiar with these issues? Click here to visit the Children’s Environmental Health Center’s web site.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Link Between Environmental Exposures and Disease

I attended a lecture yesterday sponsored by the Children’s Environmental Health Center, a part of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan.

Specifically, the talk dealt with breast cancer, endocrine disruptors and early puberty, and how environmental influences are making all three increasingly widespread.

Generally—through both research and anecdotal evidence—doctors are becoming convinced that the effects of pesticides, plastics and other environmental exposures are an increasingly important factor in the rising rates of chronic disease among adults and children.

Children are highly susceptible to these toxins, and, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, the Chairman of Mount Sinai’s Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, there is a “relationship between pediatric exposures and disease in adult life.”

The dots are there, and the medical community is beginning to connect them. Increased toxins in our food, water, air and everyday products have been linked to the skyrocketing increases in birth defects, leukemia, cancers, and developmental disabilities (autism, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, mental retardation, etc.).

The talk was sobering (to say the least) but there are simple ways to decrease our families' toxin intake.

Eating only organic food isn’t financially feasible for most of us, but everyone should be able to buy fragrance-free products (soap bars, dishwasher and laundry detergent, etc.) at no extra cost. In addition, replacing plastic food containers with glass and stainless steel is an easy way to eliminate Bisphenol-A and phthalates, two major endocrine-disrupting toxins.

I’ll discuss endocrine disruptors and other aspects of the lecture tomorrow.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Great Fall Weather = Longer Growing Season

It's almost December in the northeast, but the mild weather has been a boon to cool-weather vegetables:

Friday, November 27, 2009

For Thanksgiving: Ginger-Apricot Chutney

One of the items I made for Thanksgiving was a ginger-apricot chutney. The idea came from New York Times food writer Mark Bittman's great article offering 101 recipes for the day, all of which can be made in advance. (I know this does nothing for you today.)

This recipe (and most on the list) are fine examples of how easy it can be to cook. Also, when looking for inspiration, make what you like. The chutney's ingredients caught my attention, and, in true Delicious Truth fashion, Bittman's ideas were in sentences, not traditional recipe form:

"Put dried apricots in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice, minced fresh chili, grated ginger, a couple of cloves and a pinch of cayenne. Cook until thick."

Yes, it was that easy.

Measurements? Completely by feel, but don't be intimidated; a little too much lemon juice or ginger won't be the end of the world. Substituting comparable ingredients is fine as well. I didn't have fresh chili, so I used some dried pepper flakes.

The chutney was delicious, and it went especially well with Bobolink Dairy's cheddar cheese.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Don't eat too much. The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Are Our Children Being Fed?

Back in January, I wrote a three-part blog on the dangers of General Mills Yoplait Trix “yogurt.”

Just yesterday, a reader commented on the first of the posts, which described the overwhelmingly
synthetic contents of the product.

Elaine's comment:

“I just wanted to add that my son is in a program for children with behavioral issues. I found out that for "breakfast" there yesterday he ate cocoa puffs with chocolate milk and a side of trix yogurt. For some reason I am expected to think this is Okay, that they are even doing me a favor by feeding him 'breakfast' at school but I am furious and I'm sure I will find my complaints fall on deaf ears.”
Wow. Elaine, I feel for you.

My first word of advice is to complain and complain some more. Make yourself heard and try to get other parents involved; I doubt you are the only mother or father with these concerns. If you don’t speak up, the program will not think anything is wrong with what it is feeding the children.

Second, point the program’s leaders to the Feingold Association, a non-profit organization which raises awareness of the potential role of foods and synthetic additives in behavioral, learning and health problems.

Third, have them read The McCann Study (2007), which linked synthetic additives in food to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Feeding behaviorally-challenged kids foodstuffs that trigger some of the very behavioral issues they suffer from seems highly counterintuitive.

Elaine, be strong and make your voice heard! (Let me know if you need contact information for people who can help you in your fight.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Caution: Variables Influence Cooking Times

When I am giving cooking lessons, people often ask me, "How long do I have to cook [pick a food] for?"

The answer isn't set in stone and depends on several variables, including size of the food item and strength of the heat being used. Also, believe it or not, ovens and stoves are not perfectly calibrated to the desired temperature. Your 350 degree oven could achieve a temperature of 360 degrees, while your neighbor's 350 degree oven may only reach 340 degrees.

Witness what happened to me when I cooked quinoa on a stove I wasn't accustomed to:

Monday, November 23, 2009

The End of Green & Black's Dark Chocolate?

We’ve all had it happen: a favorite product stops being made, whether it be a tennis racket, TV show or pantyhose (not mine).

Hopefully, the same fate won’t happen to my favorite chocolate, Green & Black’s Organic 85% dark chocolate. Cadbury—the owner of Green & Black’s—is unfortunately the subject of hostile takeover attempts by Kraft.

It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only person who is scared for his chocolate future. Click here to read an amusing (but potentially disheartening) account of what may lie ahead for Green & Black’s lovers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Do "FD&C" and "D&C" Mean on Food and Drug Labels?

In my post on Tuesday about artificial colorings in drugs (over-the-counter and prescription) I forgot to mention an important fact about these synthetic, petroleum-derived(!) dyes.

If you read drug labels closely, you’ll see that the artificial colors are often preceded with “FD&C” or “D&C.” On food labels, the dyes are sometimes preceded by “FD&C.” I would guess most of us don’t know what these two codes mean.

“FD&C” means that the colorants have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food, drugs and cosmetics. “D&C” signifies the colors can be used in drugs and cosmetics, but not food.

Am I the only one who thinks this defies logic?

Jane Hersey, the director of the Feingold Association (which works to alert people of the dangers of artificial colors and other synthetic additives) summed up the irony in an e-mail she wrote to me on Wednesday:

“Disturbing is the fact that medicines are permitted to use dyes that have been banned from use in foods. If they're too harmful to eat, how can they be safe to give to a sick child?”

Well said, Jane.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Quick and Easy Recipe and Meal Using Turnips

You can pretty much throw anything into a hot pan that’s coated with a little olive oil and end up with a delicious meal. And that’s exactly what I did—off the cuff and in about 15 minutes total—to make lunch yesterday.

I had some turnips (with their completely edible greens) from the farmers’ market in my refrigerator, so I decided to sauté those and put them over whole wheat pasta.

As the water for the pasta was boiling, I washed and cut the turnips into bite-size pieces. In a cast iron pan coated with some olive oil, I let the turnips brown. After adding some sli
ces of garlic to the turnips, I put the pasta into the boiling water.

When the garlic started to turn brown, I turned off the heat and added the turnip greens, which I had
chopped into smaller pieces. There was enough residual heat in the pan to cook the delicate greens. I added some unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper for additional flavor and nutrition.

When the pasta w
as done, I put it in a bowl and topped it with the turnip and greens mixture. I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top, mixed everything together and thoroughly enjoyed my lunch, which took all of 15 minutes to make.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Help Wanted: Coconut Pluckers

Regular readers of this blog know that there is a story behind every food item.

Whether it is beef, chocolate, yogurt or avocado, some sort of growing, nutritional, political or marketing tale can be told.

Some stories are more tangential than others. Witness the article in today’s New York Times about the dwindling number of coconut pluckers in Kerala, a southern state in India.

India’s huge coconut industry depends on the pluckers to climb trees and harvest coconuts by hand. It is a dangerous—but well-paying—job that traditionally was reserved for members of the untouchable caste.

However, times are changing in India:

"The scarcity of coconut pluckers in Kerala illustrates the loosening of the once rigid caste bonds in many parts of India, freeing young people from hereditary jobs.

Unlike northern states, where caste remains a force and education remains out of reach for many, Kerala has a 100 percent literacy rate, and the shackles of caste are looser than ever."
From now on, whenever I teach people how to make a Thai green curry using coconut milk, I’ll think of a coconut plucker scampering up a tree and “slicing the nuts from their stems with a heavy blade he carries tucked into his loincloth.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Artificial Colors in Medicine

As many of you know, I am not a fan of artificial colorings in our food. Earlier this year I wrote a four-part series on these petroleum-based dyes and their effects on our health.

But these colorants are not just in processed food. The next time you are in a drug store or the drug aisle of a supermarket, notice the rainbow of colored over-the-counter pills, tablets and liquids. And I’ll bet that the next prescription the pharmacist fills for you is blue, yellow or green.

These dyes have been linked to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Are we being visually tricked into ingesting harmful toxins? What’s wrong with white?

Thankfully, in some instances, better options exist.

Let’s discuss ibuprofen, a staple of all medicine cabinets. Leading national brands include Motrin and Advil. Basic Motrin is orange, thanks in part to its yellow #6. Flavored versions aimed at children are colored with red, blue and yellow dyes.

A slightly better option is Advil’s basic tablets or caplets. Their color is rust, achieved from synthetic iron oxide (not a dye). However, be aware that the myriad of other Advil products (i.e. Advil PM, Advil PM for Saturdays, Advil PM for Tuesdays in November, Advil Migraine if Your Last Name Starts With “E”) contain artificial colorants.

By far the best option I found was a store brand. The drug store chain CVS sells ibuprofen that is white and clearly labeled “dye-free.” I am not aware of a national brand that offers white ibuprofen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Local Take on Supply and Demand

The demand for grass-fed meat, poultry and dairy products is growing daily; unfortunately, supply sometimes cannot keep up.

It’s not that there aren’t enough small farmers raising quality cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys. Instead, the number (or lack thereof) of slaughterhouses is to blame.

United States Department of Agriculture certification is necessary for slaughterhouses, so operating one isn’t as simple as writing a blog. The red tape involved invariably prevents new, smaller slaughterhouses from opening, which in turn forces the small farmers to spend more time and money travelling to have their products processed into retail-friendly cuts.

Farmers at greenmarkets in New York City tell me about the challenges they face in this realm. For local flavor about the issue, click here to read an article published this summer in The Register-Star, a newspaper in Columbia County, NY.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Fry Fish Filets

A quick, easy and delicious way to fry thin fish filets:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another Argument In Favor of Grass-Fed Foods

Add greenhouse gas issues to the list of reasons (flavor, nutrition, safety, etc.) why we should be eating grass-fed meats and dairy products.

From a New York Times opinion piece two weeks ago:
"To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat — that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them — cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian."
Are you a conscientious meat eater?

Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cutting & Cooking Celeriac

On the heels of yesterday's post showing how celeriac grows, here is a video demonstrating how to cut it and one example of how to cook it:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Fall Vegetable - Celeriac (or Celery Root)

I wrote a post last week about the fall vegetables that are still available at farmers’ markets here in the Northeast United States.

A reader correctly commented that I had forgotten to mention celeriac (a k a celery root), which is slightly baffling considering it is growing in my garden!

Watch the video below to learn more about celeriac.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Verlyn Klinkenborg: "Apples, Apples, Apples"

Timing is everything.

On Friday morning, I had two apples for breakfast that I had just bought from Jim Kent. One was a Winter Banana, which I had tasted before, and the other was a Blushing Golden, a new variety for me. Both were mostly yellow and delicious, but their exact colors and flavors were slightly different.

According to, the Winter Banana is “[g]reen ripening to yellow, cheek overlaid with pinkish-brown. Firm, crisp, juicy flesh with the distinctive aromatic flavor for which it is named,” while the Blushing Golden is “yellow with up to 50% of the fruit surface covered with a dirty orange-pink blush,” and has “yellowish white [flesh] with a subacid flavor and a fermented aftertaste.”

Coincidentally, about an hour later, I opened The New York Times and read a short essay by Verlyn Klinkenborg, one of my favorite writers. Klinkenborg, who focuses on nature and rural topics, discussed apple varieties, using the fruit as a metaphor for our modern food supply:

“For part of our history, culminating around the end of the 19th century, there was something about us — about our appetite, our farms, our economy — that loved diversity in apples. One standard reference, from 1905, lists more than 6,500 distinct varieties.”
Unfortunately, according to Klinkenborg, times have changed:
“Modern agriculture, as well as our carefully created preference for processed over fresh food, has pushed us in the opposite direction, toward uniformity . . . According to one estimate, only 11 varieties make up 90 percent of all the apples sold in this country, and Red Delicious alone counts for nearly half of that.”
Click here to read Klinkenborg’s brief essay.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Last Night's Party - A Benefit for Turn the Corner

I occasionally man a tasting table at charity events. Last night I was at a benefit hosted by the Turn the Corner Foundation, which raises awareness and money for Lyme disease.

Watch below to see what I made.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

White House Honey

In addition to planting an organic garden on the White House grounds, Michelle Obama has spearheaded a new food-related effort: the production of honey.

Click here to watch a three-minute audio slide show (from The New York Times website) of White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts in action.

Click here to read the accompanying blog post from the Times political blog.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to Make Potato-Leek Soup

I gave a cooking lesson last night and one of the dishes we made was a potato-leek soup. Both potatoes and leeks are in season here in the Northeast United States.

To make the potato-leek soup, we employed the basic technique used for making other soups (carrot-ginger and split pea) that I’ve previously written about.

We started by sautéing some chopped bacon in a soup pot, stirring often to prevent the bacon from burning. We didn’t need to use any oil, since the bacon gave off plenty of fat. While the bacon cooked, we chopped and washed about two pounds of Yukon gold potatoes and three leeks.

Note: I really dislike writing exact amounts, since I don’t want people to think they can’t make this soup if they have only one pound of potatoes and two leeks. Use whatever you have; the result will be better than anything from a can!

When the bacon started to crisp, we removed it to a bowl. We drained most of the fat and cooked the chopped leeks in the remainder, stirring constantly. When the leeks were soft (10 minutes), we added the potatoes and enough cold water to cover the vegetables by about an inch. We let the vegetables simmer for about 40 minutes, until the potatoes were easily pierced with a sharp knife.

After letting the mixture cool slightly (translation: we were busy making an apple crisp and sautéing a piece of fish), we used a hand-held immersion blender to purée the potatoes and leeks until they were smooth. We seasoned with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and lemon juice, plus used the bacon pieces as garnish.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fall Vegetables and Some Cooking Ideas

Here in the Northeast United States, the growing season for vegetables and fruits is coming to an end.

Some vegetables, though, continue to be harvested. Still available at local farmers’ markets are cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, parsnips, collard greens and some salad greens.

Several ideas for using the above:

• Cauliflower gratin

• Roasted broccoli

• Sautéed Brussels sprouts

Potato-leek soup

• Mashed parsnips

Click here to see what can be found at farmers' markets.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where Do Baby Carrots Come From?

The ground! Baby carrots are simply carrots that haven’t fully matured. Watch below for more information:

Friday, October 30, 2009

McDonald's Fleeing Iceland

• Iceland is a great country again.

• The global economic crisis isn’t all bad.

• It’s safe to bring the kids to Iceland.

If you didn’t hear, Iceland’s three McDonald’s will close this weekend. Click here to read more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Islam Siddiqui and Roger Beachy - Suitable Public Servants?

I received a disturbing e-mail yesterday from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

Unfortunately, according to PAN, “Despite President Obama's early promises that 'lobbyists won't find a job in my White House,' he just nominated two "Big Ag" industry insiders who come straight from the pesticide and biotech sectors to vital posts.”

Instead of letting this happen unchallenged, PAN—working in concert with other like-minded groups—is attempting to gather 50,000 online signatures to help protest these two nominations.

If you think our voices don't matter, remember that the deplorable Smart Choices Program has come to a crashing halt because of public pressure.

Click here to take (literally) the 20 seconds needed to fill out the petition to help challenge Obama’s appointments of Islam Siddiqui and Roger Beachy.

Siddiqui, according to PAN, is the current Vice President of Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (and a former lobbyist) and has been nominated to the post of Chief Agricultural Negotiator. If his appointment is confirmed by the Senate, Siddiqui will be charged with promoting our crops and agricultural products to foreign countries.

Before you leave me, know that CropLife is a powerful lobbying group that represents chemical companies that produce pesticides. And the Mid America CropLife Association, a CropLife regional partner, publicly protested Michelle Obama’s White House organic garden.

Beachy, the long-time president of Monsanto’s de facto nonprofit research center, has been installed as director of the USDA’s new National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Beachy, in charge of a $500 million budget and the country’s agricultural research policy, unfortunately won’t be subject to a public confirmation process.

Siddiqui’s and Beachy’s backgrounds should be enough to get us all to sign the petition and help spread the word about it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Broccoli Grows

Broccoli can grow in cooler temperatures and is still available at farmers markets (depending where you live).

It is rich in vitamins C, K and A, plus it contains sulforaphane and indoles, phytonutrients that can help fight cancer.

The entire plant—including florets, stalks and leafy greens—is edible. Click on the video below to see how broccoli grows.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The End of the Smart Choices Program


For those who believe that public pressure (i.e. newspaper articles, consumer demand, expert backlash) can have an influence on policy, take pride in knowing that our voices have been heard.

It appears that the disingenuous Smart Choices Program, the brainchild of the big (packaged an
d processed) food companies, is thankfully coming to an end.

According to an article in Saturday’s New York Times, “Under pressure from state and federal authorities who feared consumers would be misled, the food industry on Friday started backing away from a major labeling campaign meant to highlight the nutritional benefits of hundreds of products.”

I wrote about the Smart Choices Program in September and questioned how a program designed to help consumers make better shopping decisions could be taken seriously when foodstuffs such as Froot Loops cereal, Skippy pe
anut butter and Fudgsicle bars earn a green checkmark, the Smart Choices sign of approval.

Mercifully, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s are ending their relationship, while the program itself said “it would stop recruiting companies to take part . . . and stop promoting the program to consumers.”

The Food and Drug Administration has indicated it will take a greater role in front-of-package nutrition labeling. Governmental oversight
—which I am sure will have many holes—can’t be as hypocritical as Kellogg’s telling us that Froot Loops and Corn Pops are good options.

Remember, our actions and shopping decisions directly affect what is made available to us.

Want antibiotic-free chickens in your supermarket? Take two minutes and tell the store manager. If nothing changes, shop at another store where the better options are available. Don’t want artificial colors in the food you buy for your kids? Take two minutes and call the manufacturer’s toll-free number. Then find alternatives; trust me, they exist.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Planting Garlic

Even though we are heading toward colder weather here in the Northeast United States, there’s still plenty of work to be done in backyard gardens. I just planted garlic; watch here:

Friday, October 23, 2009

More About Growing Apples

(Third of three parts)

For a third (and last) day this week, I want to again stress the importance of understanding that growing apples isn’t as sterile as supermarkets’ apple displays make it appear.

Visit Jim Kent’s fruit stand at various farmers’ market locations in Manhattan and you’ll see 70 apple varieties of all shapes, sizes and colors. Bite into them and you’ll experience a wide range of flavors, textures and smells.

And even more noticeable—especially compared to what our supermarkets offer—are the bumps, nicks, spots and still-connected twigs that characterize many of Locust Grove Fruit Farms’ apples. But this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the fruit. Instead, the imperfections (known here as “Mother Nature at work”) make you wonder in what hermetically sealed bubble the “perfect” (and usually tasteless) supermarket apples grow.

Understanding the factors Kent regularly encounters can help us better appreciate his final product.

“There are always problems we deal with,” Kent said.

For example, this year’s heavy rains caused trees to contain too much moisture, which led to mildew, imperfections and improper ripening of early season varieties such as Lodi and Tydeman.

In addition, trees sometimes grow a plethora of branches, which shade the apples and block the sun’s ability to properly color the fruit. To combat this, Kent will thin out branches, allowing the necessary photosynthesis to occur.

Deciding when to harvest late season Pink Lady apples presents its own challenges. Pink Ladies should be picked after the third or fourth frost (usually in early November), so timing is everything. If Kent harvests them even a day or two early, he’ll be left with inferior-colored apples; too late and he has frozen fruit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More on Jim Kent and Locust Grove Fruit Farm

(Second of three parts)

One fruit that couldn’t handle this year's rainfall was the cherry, and Jim Kent’s crop was almost completely wiped out because of heavy rains that occurred only three to four days before Locust Grove Fruit Farm was to start the cherry harvest.

“We had a beautiful crop of cherries, but we lost 90 to 95 percent of them,” Kent said. “They split open.”

So, in the cherries’ case, water was both a blessing (earlier rain = bountiful crop) and a curse (later rain = cracked cherries).

But Kent was thankful; the situation could have been worse.

“We were lucky,” he said. “We didn’t get hit by hail, like a lot of people around us.”

Hail causes dents in apples, a surface blemish that doesn’t affect flavor, but is a blemish nonetheless.

“People want perfect fruit,” Kent said.

(Is that a conditioned by-product of what we see in supermarkets?)

As for apples, how they fared depended on each variety’s characteristics. For example, the Winesap, a great apple for snacking, has a thick skin. However, the inelastic thick skin cracked when the Winesaps
got bigger than normal because of this year's extra water.

And then there’s another can of worms (literally) that Kent has to deal with.

“Rain means more than just rain,” Kent said, “since there are certain bugs that thrive in that environment.”

More on Kent's growing pains tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Farmers' Market Profile: Jim Kent of Locust Grove Fruit Farm

(First of three parts)

With all the perfect-looking fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that many variables exist in every step of the growing process.

Here in the Northeast United States, we had an extraordinarily wet spring, followed by less-than-ideal weather mid-summer.

This double whammy created trying growing conditions for some crops, but benefited others. Unfortunately, with our markets displaying only unblemished produce suitable for the Food Network, the many factors which farmers have to contend with get glossed over.

Jim Kent and his family have been operating Locust Grove Fruit Farm in Milton, N.Y. since 1820. Kent and his apples, pears, peaches, berries, cherries and grapes are regulars at New York City’s farmers’ markets.

But almost 200 years of fruit growing knowledge couldn’t help the Kents stop Mother Nature and this year’s heavy rains, which had varying effects on different fruits.

“The Mutsus are as big as your head,” Kent said, referring to one of 70 apple varieties he grows. “All the rain stopped just in time. The apples got big, but not watery like the summer fruits and vegetables. Apples can handle water better.”

Apples are considered a late summer/fall fruit. The first variety Kent picks are Lodi in late July, while the last are Pink Ladies—more than three months later—in early November.

(Tomorrow: More on this year's harvest)