Thursday, April 30, 2009

Goodbye, Cafeteria Tray?

When I was in college, I remember squeezing too much food—some of it less dangerous than the rest—onto a standard cafeteria tray.

Wedged among my chicken tetrazzini, makeshift salads and beef stew were Dixie cups of Cap’n Crunch, soda and ice cream sundaes.

However, the days of stuffing oneself in the dining hall may be coming to an end. Or, at the very least, college kids will have to make several trips to the food lines to match their predecessors’ caloric intake.

Click here to read an article in yesterday’s New York Times about the growing trend toward eliminating trays in college dining halls. (Along with food consumption, water usage and food waste also decrease.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Better Way to Lose Weight and Feel Better

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and he mentioned how slightly changing his eating habits resulted in noticeable changes in his weight and how he felt.

In a world of diet fads and quick fixes, A. didn’t do that much. He cut out Coca-Cola and Snapple (two or three of each per week), replacing these sugar-laden drinks with water. In addition, he stopped his daily ritual of eating two Chips Ahoy! cookies after lunch. Instead, he now eats fruit (blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe) and granola.

The result? A. lost seven pounds (5% of his body weight) over the course of two months and feels much better.

“My focus wasn’t on losing weight,” he said. “I just wanted to feel healthier, which I undoubtedly do.”

In addition, A.’s palate changed, distancing itself from the sweet and salty flavors with which it had become familiar. Understanding this will happen is a key aspect in altering one’s diet (or toothpaste).

“I had a Coke last week for the first time in a very long time,” A. said. “It was so sweet; it was awful. It made me feel like crap the rest of the day. And I didn't even finish it, whereas I used to drink them pretty quickly.”

A. and his wife are also instituting incremental changes for their family. One decision was to replace conventional milk with organic, grass-fed milk. They are much healthier for it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rice Krispies Treats & Dutch Masters Cigars

I recently had two run-ins with the next generation that officially prove I am old and no longer cool, and that fruits and vegetables are not at the top of our teenagers’ wish lists.

About three weeks ago, at a suburban Long Island train station, a teenager approached me and asked if I wanted to support his basketball team.

KID: “Excuse me, sir; I’m trying to raise money for my basketball team. Do you want to buy a Rice Krispies Treat?”

ME: “No, but I’d buy carrots if you were selling those.”

KID: “What?”

ME: “If you were selling carrots instead of Rice Krispies Treats, I’d buy those from you.”

KID: “Damn.”

Then, last week in Manhattan, another teenager standing outside a del
i beckoned me while waving folded dollar bills.

KID: “Excuse me, s
ir; would you buy me a Dutch?”

ME (not knowing what a Dutch was): “How about an orange or an apple?”

KID: “What?”

ME: “I’ll buy you an orange or an apple.”

KID: “Nah, I’d rather have a Dutch.”

I did a little research and discovered that a “Dutch” is slang for a Dutch Masters cigar. A Dutch is often used by those who like to roll their ow
n marijuana cigarettes, more commonly known as "blunts," "bleezies," "fattys," or "Dutchies." The tobacco is removed from the cigar, and the cigar wrapper—bigger than rolling paper—is then rolled with marijuana.

I also found out
that Dutch Masters are available in different flavors (i.e. strawberry, grape, honey, cognac). I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had bought the kid a fruit-flavored variety.

Next time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Late April Garden Update

This is the sixth year I am growing vegetables, yet I am still awed by the growing process.

The peas I planted three weeks ago just germinated (photo, right). The seedlings are no taller than an inch
or two, but there is enough green to provide a stunning contrast with the dark brown soil. And to think they turn into huge pea plants is pretty cool.

The bok choy and mesclun greens I seeded the same day as the peas also took, which was a little surprising considering the heavy rains that immediately followed that planting.

In addition, most of the seeds I planted two weeks ago have appeared. The recent sun definitely helped the seedlings of radishes, arugula, purple kale, spinach, broccoli rabe and more mesclun poke above ground.

The beets and Swiss chard from that day didn’t take, though, so I just seeded more of those two, along with scallions, carrots, turnips, mustard greens, various flowers, zucchini, yellow squash and more carrots, lettuces and radishes.

I’ll keep seeding through
out the spring, summer and fall, providing a constant supply of food. I still have to plant cucumbers and string beans, but I’ll wait for the soil temperature to warm several degrees. Tomato plants will follow after that.

As I’ve mentioned, I think it’s great to get children involved in a garden so they can learn how food grows and tastes. Friends recently brought their four-year-old son, who had a busy day lifting sod, getting his face planted in the soil by his father and seeing what happens when a worm is cut in half.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bobolink Dairy: A Conversation with Nina White

Nina White, who along with her husband, Jonathan, founded Bobolink Dairy earlier this decade, makes cheeses that are bold and powerful. Derived from raw milk from grass-fed cows and devoid of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, Bobolink cheese is also one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

At first, most of White’s customers didn’t know the significance of the terms “raw milk” and “grass-fed.” As the good food movement has gained momentum, though, there has been a discernible increase in the public’s awareness of the issues associated with a healthier food supply.

“I now spend half the time I used to explaining the product,” White said. “Thank you, Michael Pollan; thank you, Marion Nestle; thank you, Barbara Kingsolver,” White said, naming three stalwarts of the quality food crusade.

“It’s pleasing because we are fortunate enough to be producing a product that journalists and writers have been educating the public about,” White said.

Business remains brisk, despite prices ($20 to $24 per pound) that some think high. (I am in the group that believes Bobolink cheese to be one of the best bargains in New York.)

“We are selling everything we make,” White said. “[Our customers] absolutely see the value of the product.”

The Whites currently rent 200 acres in Vernon, NJ (about 55 miles from midtown Manhattan), but are hoping to buy 160 acres. They are in the cheese business for the long haul and hope others join them and their three dozen cows.

“[The goal is] to continue to prove the model so it will be appealing for others to replicate,” White said.

The more great cheese, the better.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bobolink Dairy Cheese: A Truly Great Product

(First of two parts)

Not only do I believe that the cheese from Bobolink Dairy is the best cheese available in New York City’s farmers markets, I think it is one of the markets’ truly great products. I eat Bobolink cheese almost every day.

Founded in 2003 by the husband and wife team of Jonathan and Nina White, Bobolink produces about a half dozen superb cheeses, all made from cultured raw milk from grass-fed cows. (To read more about the health benefits of grass-fed products, click here.)

Bobolink’s cheeses are full of flavor, with some stinkier than others. Variations in flavor and texture are a product of subtle differences in how the milk and curd are handled (i.e. temperature, stirring length) during the cheese making process.

Also, as the cheeses age, they lose moisture, allowing flavors to become more concentrated. Bobolink’s cheddar, for example, is aged from one to three years, allowing for a wide spectrum of tastes. (Even the flavor of one chunk of cheese will change dramatically over the course of a week as it sits at room temperature on my kitchen counter.)

Another factor contributing to flavor is the time of year a cheese is made. Jean-Louis is a fall cheese, and the fall milk used to make it is much different from the winter milk used to produce Winter Drumm. Why? The grasses that Bobolink’s cows (about three dozen) eat vary greatly in flavor and constitution from season to season.

Bobolink Dairy is at the farmers market at Broadway & 66th Street on Thursdays and Saturdays, and at Union Square on Fridays. Free samples will help you decide which cheese to buy.

Do yourself a favor—eat this cheese!

(Tomorrow: A conversation with Nina White)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

IHOP and Real Maple Syrup

I’m not a fan of packaged and processed foods, but sometimes packaged is the only way to go, since making homemade pasta, peanut butter or maple syrup isn’t feasible for 99% of the population.

That being said, there are better options within the realm of packaged foods. Whole wheat pastas are quite good (and no longer that expensive), while there are plenty of peanut butters available without added sugar, salt and hydrogenated oil.

As for maple syrup, there was a lighthearted article in The New York Times yesterday about an IHOP in Vermont that offers real maple syrup (the only IHOP in North America to do so), supplementing IHOP’s usual synthetic rainbow of flavors.

The real stuff isn’t listed on the menu yet, though, causing several diners post-pancake angst.

“I’m disappointed,” the article quoted one person as saying. “I ruined my pancakes.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nesquik Chocolate Syrup Ingredients

After seeing the poster montage for Nesquik chocolate syrup on the street (yesterday’s video post), I was curious about the product’s ingredients. I went to a local supermarket and found a bottle.

I was not surprised by the sugar and cocoa, and a couple chemistry lab remnants (tricalcium phosphate and potassium sorbate) caused me no shock. However, I was a little intrigued by the presence of the petroleum-based artificial colorants red 40, blue 1 and yellow 6.

Still standing in Aisle 3, I called Nesquik’s toll-free number, which was printed on the bottle.
Alicia was the lucky winner of my call. As is usually the case with my calls to the big food companies, it seemed like the customer service representative and I were speaking different languages.

ME: Why is there red 40, blue 1 and yellow 6 in your chocolate syrup?

ALICIA: I don’t know the science behind it.

ME: Forget the science; isn’t chocolate syrup supposed to be the color of chocolate? Why the other colors?

ALICIA: The other colors help make it darker.

ME: I don’t understand. What’s wrong with just the color of chocolate? It is chocolate syrup, isn’t it?

ALICIA: Honestly, it’s a marketing decision. Consumers like the darker color better and the colors help make it darker.

ME: Huh? Again, what’s wrong with just the color of chocolate?

ALICIA: I’ve melted chocolate before, and it just doesn’t get that darker color.

I was about to mention something about dark chocolate, but I cut myself short, realizing that would have made the conversation even more Sisyphean than it already was.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nesquik Advertisement, New York City

Seen on the streets of big, bad New York City:

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Food Safety News

Following my post yesterday (with links to two articles concerning food safety), today's New York Times coincidentally has another story (front page) on the subject.

The article discusses a new effort by some food producers to better police themselves:

"With huge losses from food-poisoning recalls and little oversight from the federal Food and Drug Administration, some sectors of the food industry are cobbling together their own form of regulation in an attempt to reassure consumers. They are paying other government agencies to do what the F.D.A. rarely does: muck through fields and pore over records to make sure food is handled properly."
Click here to read the article.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Food Safety - Will the Government Protect Us?

With food scares (real and unreal) seemingly occurring every week, food safety has become a huge issue in this country and in the world.

Read more in a recent article from The Washington Post and in an editorial from The New York Times.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Organic Garden Update

Monday was a true anti-MACA day (see yesterday’s post) for me: I sowed organic vegetable seeds into the organic soil of my organic garden.

I planted another row of peas, plus I put seeds of beets (photo), carrots, radishes, mesclun, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, purple kale and broccoli rabe into the ground. All grow well in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, and the sun forecast for later this week should help the germination process.

Beet seeds look a little like Grape Nuts cereal, while seeds of arugula, chard, kale and broccoli rabe are small rounds, slightly larger than this period. Carrot and mesclun seeds resemble carraway seeds, and radish and spinach seeds are about the size of this o.

Unfortunately there is nothing to report on the peas, mesclun and bok choy I planted last week. This was expected, though, considering the cold, wet weather we just experienced. There’s a good chance these seeds never take.

I know this may sound sacrilegious to our friends at MACA, but the only “crop protection technologies” I employ are the pulling of weeds by hand and the adding of compost in the spring and fall. The weeds (some edible) will grow in earnest once it turns warmer and will compete with the vegetables for water and nutrients in the soil.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Michelle Obama's Organic Garden & MACA

Michelle Obama starts an organic garden on the White House grounds.

The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) follows with a negative public relations ploy.

It’s not that absurd when you learn that MACA’s mission is “To identify business issues relating to food production and to take action to address those issues identified as important to our membership.”

Translation? MACA represents chemical companies that produce pesticides. Obviously, the membership isn’t keen on the first lady not spraying chemicals all over the place.

MACA sent out an e-mail stating its case. Would you believe that the phrase “crop protection technologies” was used as a euphemism for pesticides?

Read MACA's e-mail.

Sign a petition (joining 106,000 others) telling MACA how ridiculous its e-mail is.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Magic of Al Gore's Internet

Sure, The Delicious Truth has regular readers, but you’d be surprised at how other people arrive at the blog.

I use a web tracking service that allows me to see the phrases people are entering into search engines that lead them here. (Hits only register if someone clicks on a link to The Delicious Truth within the search results.)

Some searches are normal enough, like “how to roast beets” and “truth about artificial colors.”

I have to wonder, though, what possesses someone to Google “Hannah Montana Milk Flavoring Straws ingredients.” I guess I shouldn’t complain, since one of my posts about Froot Loops shows up third on the first page of search results. And the person clicked on it!

I’m especially proud of the fact that I hold the top two places (out of 4,120,000) if you Yahoo “what’s in a pop tart.” (I have always been a simple man with simple pleasures.)

Other recent winning searches include “wife role according to chose a fast food outlet,” “dinosaur eating ice cream,” “meat in bacos?” and “grow a berry game ‘Crunch Berries’.”

Someone (me?) obviously has way too much time on his hands.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Best of New York City's Farmers Markets

As the weather turns warmer, farmers markets will start to fill with fruit and vegetable farmers selling their products.

The markets, though, don’t just specialize in seasonal produce. Here in New York City, many of the 46 different markets (click here for locations and days) are open year-round, offering a constant supply of foods like bread, milk, cheese, eggs and honey.

The market system here in New York is truly special, considering that some states have trouble finding enough farmers to adequately meet the public’s demand for quality food.

Starting next week I will occasionally profile my favorite farmers and foods. The first post will be about the cheese from Bobolink Dairy, which I think is one of the best products available in New York City farmers markets.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fast Food Restaurants and Schools

In addition to test scores, college acceptance rates and money-laundering superintendents, it looks like we’ll have to add proximity to fast food restaurants as another factor in how we judge our high schools.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University culled almost a decade’s worth of body-fat data from ninth-graders in California’s public school system.

The findings?

According to the Los Angeles Times article where I first read about the study, “The presence of [a fast food] outlet within easy walking distance of a high school -- about 530 feet or less -- resulted in a 5.2% increase in the incidence of student obesity compared with the average for California youths.”

To think I walked to the nearby 7-Eleven and microwaved burritos or that we drove to McDonald’s (5.32 miles away) for Big Macs makes me wonder how I ever passed gym with Mr. Fried.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Food For Thought Film Festival

A quick community service announcement:

The third annual Food For Thought Film Festival will take place in Manhattan the next two Saturdays (April 11 and 18) from 1:00-8:30 p.m. All events are free; come and go as you please.

Four feature-length and three short films will be shown. In addition, there will be featured speakers and post-film discussions.

The goal of the Food For Thought Film Festival is to create public awareness of current food issues in order to promote action within communities for the protection and sustainability of basic human rights, the overall health of communities and the health of the environment.

This year's festival focuses on several crucial issues: access to clean food and water; local and sustainable agriculture; and the effects of policy on small American farmers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Grow Garlic

The only visible signs of life in my garden (aside from the dozens of worms in the soil) are the leaves (photo, right) of the 52 heads of garlic that I planted last October.

Back in the fall, I put 52 single cloves of garlic into the ground. As th
e garlic matures, leaves grow and appear above ground. In addition, the single cloves develop into full, six-cloved heads of garlic.

I am growing hardneck garlic, which is slightly different from the softneck variety that is found in supermarkets. Softneck garlic has multiple layers of cloves, while hardneck ha
s fewer, larger cloves that form in one circle around the central stem.

The garlic will be ready to pull from the ground in the middle of July, when the tips of the leaves (2-3 feet) start to brown. Several weeks before that, though, I’ll cut off the scapes (central stems) and use them to make a pesto.

For those who have never witnessed garlic straight from the
ground, click on the photo above to see last summer's garlic.

Monday, April 6, 2009

First Day in the Garden - 2009

For me, spring unofficially began yesterday.

It was my first day out in the garden, which means I’ll be eating my own vegetables very soon.

Different vegetables do better in different soil and air temperatures, so putting seeds in the ground requires a little understanding of the harvest calendar.

Since peas can do well in cooler conditions, they are usually one of the first vegetables I plant. The seeds (photo, above) are just dried peas. Germination depends on soil and weather conditions, but we should see some above-ground growth in about 10 days. The snap peas will be ready to eat (hopefully) the first week of June.

The weather report called for heavy rains today, so I was a little hesitant to plant other cool weather vegetables (i.e. radishes, dark leafy greens, lettuces, carrots) for fear of having the seeds washed away or become susceptible to rot.

However, I did throw some of last year’s leftover mesclun and bok choy seeds into the ground. If some take, great; if not, no big deal, since I’ll be planting the new seed I just bought next week.

(Tomorrow: Garlic Update)

Friday, April 3, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar

Worried about your kids’ sugar intake? Confused by the debate between high fructose corn syrup and sugar? Don’t know that much about it?

From a recent informative article on the subject:
"Blamed for hyperactivity in children and studied as an addictive substance, sugar has had its share of image problems. But the widespread criticism of high-fructose corn syrup — the first lady, Michelle Obama, has said she will not give her children products made with it — has made sugar look good by comparison."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wild Harvest Organic Spinach: The Long Road Traveled

It's not just junk food packaging that needs deciphering.

I recently bought some frozen spinach to make a spinach pie. (It’s easier than you think.)
To avoid pesticides, I settled on Wild Harvest Organic cut leaf spinach, the cheapest of the available organic varieties. The bag stated that the spinach was not from “genetically engineered crops” and it was “grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

However, when I got home and started to open the bag, I realized I had missed other information:

  • The spinach was certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
  • Wild Harvest is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based food giant Supervalu.
  • The spinach was labeled “Product of China.”
Holy disconcerting geographical issues, Batman!

I called Supervalu to make sense of the Washington-Minnesota-China connection. Unfortunately, the woman I spoke with had no information, but she said she would have the spinach supplier contact me in the next two or three business days.

A month (and two more phone calls by me) later, John O’Grady of Twin City Foods of Stanwood, WA finally contacted me.

According to O’Grady, Twin City Foods—an independent frozen vegetable processor—supplies Wild Harvest with the organic spinach, all of it grown in China. However, Twin City is just a middle man, as it purchases the spinach from yet another supplier.

O’Grady said the spinach’s organic status is authenticated by OCIA International (Organic Crop Improvement Association), an organization that certifies foreign growers and processors. Twin City receives a validating certificate from OCIA.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s role is to certify the organic status of Twin City’s processing plants, three of which are in Washington.

Wouldn’t it be easier to buy organic spinach from California?

“There’s nobody in California growing enough,” O’Grady said. “We’re trying to find a domestic source.”

It’s amazing what you can learn from a little reading, a couple phone calls and some persistence.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hannah Montana Cereal - What Is It?

We have officially reached a new level of ridiculousness. Kellogg’s has blessed us with Hannah Montana cereal.

The fact that I don’t know who Hannah Montana is shouldn’t cloud the bigger issue. But I do have to report the conversation with my wife that occurred while I was writing this post:

ME: “By the way, who is Hannah Montana?”

WIFE: “She’s a huge star. She’s what’s his name’s daughter.”

ME: “She’s Joe Montana’s daughter?”

WIFE: “You are an idiot. It’s not her real name.”

Just as nefarious as her name is the description of what the cereal is. Hannah Montana cereal is described on the box as “multi-grain secret identity cereal.”


Seriously, think about that for a second. We have gotten to the point where it doesn’t even matter what our food-like substances contain. Although Count Chocula cereal won’t win any nutritional awards, at least General Mills tells us it is a “chocolatey cereal with spooky-fun marshmallows.”

Hannah’s only hint about what she is singing about are the red and purple football-shaped (I knew it!) pellets shown at the bottom of the box. No other information is given.

I'm debating whether to spend the $3.49 to find out.