Friday, February 26, 2010

Removing Toxins From Your Kitchen: Use Glass Containers

Click here to read Nicholas Kristof's column "Do Toxins Cause Autism?" from yesterday's
New York Times.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Corby Kummer: Walmart vs. Whole Foods

Earlier this year I was in a SuperTarget, which sells fresh fruits, vegetables and meat, some of it organic. While I didn’t buy anything, I was surprised at the variety of attractively displayed offerings.

I am lucky enough to live in a major urban center with an extensive network of farmers’ markets and other high-quality food stores. But would I think of shopping for groceries at a mass retailer better known for its deals on, well, everything else?

In the March issue of The Atlantic, Corby Kummer, who has been writing about food forever, conducted a taste test pitting identical meals made from foods bought at Whole Foods and Walmart.

Walmart held its own, which was a little surprising to Kummer. But considering Walmart’s new interest in supporting local farmers through its Heritage Agriculture program, this could be a boon for improving how America eats.

Kummer neatly sums up Walmart’s influence:
"In an ideal world, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people can’t do that. If there were a Walmart closer to where I live, I would probably shop there.

"Most important, the vast majority of Walmarts carry a large range of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. And Walmarts serve many 'food deserts,' in large cities and rural areas—ironically including farm areas."

Read Kummer's article.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toxic Fumes in the Locker Room

No matter how hard we try to avoid toxins in our food, water, personal health care products and household cleaners, sometimes we find ourselves in (literally and figuratively) a stinky situation.

The gym where I exercise is the perfect example. The completion of my morning workout coincides perfectly with the daily cleaning of the men’s locker room. When I go to shower I am invariably met with the toxic fumes of harsh cleaning supplies.

At home, I switched to Seventh Generation products years ago to avoid the chlorines, bleaches, perfumes and other chemicals found in popular, national-brand cleaners. But at the gym, I am at the mercy of management’s purchasing decisions; thus, my breakfast of toxic fumes. (Just because a fragrance has a sweet smell or name doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.)

Luckily, exercise is a great way (via sweating) of cleansing our systems of toxins. Maybe I should shower before I work out?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Response to Islam Siddiqui

In October, I wrote about President Obama’s nomination of Islam Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for the pesticide industry, to an important government post. An outpouring of grassroots protest has helped delay (and hopefully derail) his Senate confirmation.

Here is the response I just received from one of my senators after I sent her a simple form email available online from the Pesticide Action Network.

Dear Mr. Endelman,

Thank you for writing to me with regard to the nomination of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of U.S. Trade Representative. I share some of the concerns raised about Mr. Siddiqui's record as a lobbyist for the pesticide industry, along with some of his comments. If confirmed, Mr. Siddiqui would be responsible for negotiating agreements related to a range of international agricultural topics, including regulatory issues.

I am working in the United States Senate to promote local, sustainable agricultural development in New York and internationally, and I have been troubled by some of the past comments that Mr. Siddiqui has made on these issues. I look forward to the opportunity for the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a thorough confirmation hearing on this nomination, and I will continue to study Mr. Siddiqui's record before I cast my vote on the Senate floor.

Thank you again for writing to express your concerns, and I hope that you keep in touch with my office regarding future legislation and concerns you may have. For more information on this and other important issues, please visit my website at and sign up for my e-newsletter.

Sincerely yours,

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jamie Oliver's TED Speech About Our Food Catastrophe

Last week I wrote about Jamie Oliver, the English chef who won the 2010 TED Prize, and his goal of wanting to change the way America eats.

Slowly but surely, inspired and passionate people are making a difference; there are many who are working tirelessly to make Oliver’s dream a reality.

Watch Oliver powerfully present his case:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Should the Government Ban Junk Food in Schools?

To continue our discussion of governmental control vs. personal responsibility in regard to what we eat:

An article in The New York Times earlier this month discussed the government’s desire “to expel Pepsi, French fries and Snickers bars from the nation’s schools in hopes of reducing the number of children who get fat during their school years.”

Considering the obesity and diabetes rates among our children (and adults), this seems like a no-brainer.

However, Gene Kotulka, the principal of a high school featured in the article, believes it is “parents’ responsibility to forbid children at risk of obesity to buy candy.”

Sorry, sir, but this has no chance of succeeding; most parents themselves have little idea as to what constitutes healthy food. I see the proof daily in kitchen pantries and shopping carts. Our societal food knowledge has been tamped down by the big food companies’ incessant marketing campaigns.

I understand that schools selling junk food make money to use for noble causes. But wouldn’t we have mounds of money to spend on books and sports uniforms if we didn’t waste it on treating our unnecessarily sick kids?

And from the article, further evidence that home is far from the bastion of quinoa and grass-fed butter that Mr. Kotulka thinks it is: “Edgar Coker, an 18-year-old senior, buys Pop-Tarts . . . every afternoon for 50 cents. ‘If I couldn’t buy it here, I’d bring it from home,’ he said.”

Big Government, please help save us from ourselves, Big Food and Big Mr. Kotulka.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mark Bittman: "Is Soda the New Tobacco?"

Mark Bittman wrote an article in Sunday’s New York Times asking if “soda is the new tobacco.” Should there be a special tax on soda, like there is on tobacco?

This question circles back to our discussion last week regarding personal responsibility. Do we need the government to help us make eating and food purchasing decisions?

Judging from the percentage of Americans who are overweight (about two-thirds of adults and one-third of children), the terrible food choices available to many of us and the amount of money spent on marketing by Big Food, I am a strong supporter of government intervention.

As we have become the prey of the multinationals, the costs to our physical and financial health have skyrocketed. It would be outlandish to think there isn’t a link between our exorbitant health care costs and the edible foodlike substances we are being fed.

Left to their own devices, the soda makers will continue their nefarious marketing, similar to tobacco’s incendiary schemes.

In Bittman's article, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said:
“There are aspects of the food industry that are reminiscent of tobacco—the sowing of doubt where there’s no reasonable doubt, funding of front groups, use of so-called experts, claims that new products which are safer for consumers are available, and the claim that they are not marketing to children.”
I’ll further discuss governmental control tomorrow. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Helpful Gardening and Do-It-Yourself Books

Spring is just around the corner and I recently ordered seeds for this year’s garden. When I started growing vegetables in 2004, I had never planted a seed before. I learned through trial and error, plus I received a lot of advice (some useful, some not) from fellow gardeners.

Now, as more people discover the merits of backyard gardens, more books are appearing to help us successfully grow our tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and string beans. Eliminating the guesswork can prevent a lot of frustration and help produce an abundance of food.

A publishing company that specializes in all things do-it-yourself, including gardening, is Storey Publishing. Storey has been in business since 1983 and titles range from “The Dog Behavior Answer Book” to “The Organic Lawn Care Manual.”

Since I have neither a dog nor a lawn, I stick to “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” and “The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food,” both of which provide essential information for home gardeners. If you are planting a garden for the first time this year (start small!), either book will serve you well.

I just encountered another Storey title—“The Backyard Homestead”—and I was completely mesmerized by what one can produce on a quarter of an acre. Granted, I may not keep honey bees or grow nuts anytime soon, but it’s a pretty cool read if you are interested in limited self-sufficiency or thinking of completely going off the grid.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Our Health Failings - Who Should We Blame?

I wanted to follow up on Tuesday’s post about emergency medical teams’ need for extra large equipment to better handle the increasing number of obese people. I failed to make some important points regarding known health risks and consumer responsibility.

Two readers suggested that I wasn’t hard enough on those who need the super-sized equipment. There has to be some personal accountability for poor lifestyle decisions, they argued, and ill health shouldn’t be solely pinned on the big food companies.

My thought process is a little different.

I would suggest that 98 percent of the people who smoke and 90 percent who ride motorcycles know the risks they are taking. On the contrary, how many people truly understand the deeper dangers of Trix yogurt, Nature Valley granola bars and Gatorade? Where are the government warnings—as we have for tobacco products—for artificial colors, excessive sugars and genetically modified corn and soybeans?

While I wholeheartedly agree that consumers have to do better, in many cases there are no options, whether it be an availability or financial issue. (See Brian M.’s comment.)

But this transcends socioeconomic levels and I no longer believe all people are knowingly eating poorly. Again, while the majority of smokers know what they are doing to their bodies, most of us eating supposedly healthy chicken breasts are not aware of the animals’ antibiotic and pesticide content.

After giving countless cooking lessons in the homes of well-educated people who have access to and can afford any food they want, I’ve come to believe that it is more about the dominant supply (what’s available in conventional supermarkets) and the ideal of convenience, a term perpetuated by the multinationals.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jamie Oliver Announces His TED Wish; Mine? Ketchup

Occasionally I get extremely frustrated and upset with the hijacking of our modern food supply; other times I feel so invigorated by the snowballing movement to reclaim what we eat.

Today is a good day.

Jamie Oliver, the English chef and winner of the 2010 TED Prize, just announced his TED Wish:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

(According to the TED Prize website, “The TED Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, "One Wish to Change the World." Designed to leverage the TED community's exceptional array of talent and resources, the Prize leads to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.”)

But even those of us not within the TED community can help make a difference. If we all become a little more aware of the basic issues of our food system (simple premise: synthetic additives are everywhere), we’ll make better decisions for ourselves and our families.

One or two changes every several weeks can make a difference.

This week’s change? How about we replace our conventional ketchup with organic ketchup? The difference in cost is negligible, the lycopene (an antioxidant found in tomatoes) content is much greater and the tomatoes used are not sprayed with harsh pesticides.

Aren’t our children and grandchildren worth it?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Super Bowl Commercial You Didn't See

Unfortunately, this 30-second spot didn't air, as the product’s marketing budget was several hundred thousand dollars short of what was needed to buy time during Sunday’s big game.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The $uper $izing of First Aid; Who Pays?

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post got me thinking.

“Super-size Equipment Helps D.C. Area EMTs Move the Obese” discussed the latest in technology—extra large stretchers, specialized lift systems and ambulances specifically built to handle people who weigh 700 pounds—that is used with greater frequency by paramedics and firefighters.

As I was reading the story, I asked myself, “Who is paying for all this stuff?”

My next thought was, “We the taxpayers are.”

And then I wondered, “Why aren’t the big food companies funding these gizmos? After all, they are the ones that make all the crap which helps people get really fat.”

I know, fat chance.

But this stuff isn’t cheap and I can’t imagine we aren’t paying for the new equipment in either higher taxes or increased health insurance rates:
“Sales of stretchers designed specifically for very large patients were expected to reach $50 million in 2012, up from $29.6 million in 2004, while sales of specialized lift systems were projected to rise from $75 million to $193 million.”
Shouldn’t the multinationals that create, market and sell the foodstuffs that make them rich and us fat help reap what they sow?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weekend Articles Worth Reading

There were two good food-related articles in The New York Times this weekend.

Click here to read a story about how serving sizes printed on packaged foodstuffs are out of whack with what people really eat. Do you know how many potato chips are in one serving? How much cereal? How many cookies?

Click here for an article about high school students in Brooklyn who are learning first-hand about many aspects of our modern food supply through a class called “Food, Land, and You.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Type of "Cheese" NOT to Buy

Just another reminder to read the ingredient lists before you buy:

By the way, the ingredients of the orange stuff stuck on the wall?

Water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, food starch, whey, casein and/or caseinate, salt, modified food starch, sodium citrate, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, sorbic acid (as a preservative), stabilizers (xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum), lactic acid, artificial color.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our Food: The Spectrum of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

During a cooking lesson last week, questions from my students—Is chocolate good for you? What kind of bread should we eat? Is butter bad for you?—got me thinking about a way to answer these questions, especially considering the minefield of choices we face every time we shop.

I like to think of every food item as a part of a spectrum for that food. Versions free of synthetic additives occupy the good end of the continuum, while highly processed foodstuffs reside on the dark side. In addition, many options lie within the two extremes.

Virtually every food in the supermarket can be viewed in this manner. Take butter, for example. Many popular commercial brands come from milk from cows that eat genetically modified and chemically-sprayed corn and have been injected with hormones and antibiotics. A little better are butters from hormone-free cows (but still corn-fed), while the optimal is a butter like Anchor, which uses milk from grass-fed cows not administered hormones and antibiotics

(Read the packages carefully; foods free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and genetically modified crops are almost always identified as such.)

Safely navigating your way through these choices can be daunting, but don’t expect to overhaul your entire refrigerator in one day. The process takes time, but one change every week or two can lead to a marked improvement in how you and your family eat and feel.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Live Frogs in Chinatown

A highlight of my visit yesterday to Manhattan’s Chinatown:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Principle of Carryover Cooking

Chances are you are overcooking your food.

In most cooking lessons I give, my students get a little nervous when I take half-cooked shrimp off the stove or chicken that is still a little pink out of the oven. Invariably, though, the food turns out just right.

Why? After food is removed from heat, it continues to cook an additional five to fifteen degrees. This is the principle of carryover cooking. There is enough residual heat within the food item (and in the pan if you leave the food in it) to finish the cooking process.

Overcooking leads to dry foods that are both less flavorful and nutritious than their moist counterparts.

So the next time you cook, try taking your food off the stove or out of the oven several minutes before you would normally. Let it rest for a few minutes and you’ll be rewarded with juicier chicken and crisper vegetables. (You can always cook food a little more, but there’s no saving a hamburger that’s a stunt double for a hockey puck.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Michael Pollan & Weston Price: Benefits of Traditional Diets

During his appearance on “The Oprah Show” last week, food writer Michael Pollan talked about the merits of traditional diets, no matter the foods that comprise them.

For example, the Inuit in Greenland subsist mostly on seal blubber (fat is 75 percent of their diet), yet they have no type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

“People eating a great variety of traditional diets do not suffer high rates of chroni
c disease,” Pollan said. “These come from the Western diet.”

This discussion reminded me of Weston Price, a dentist who studied this topic 75 years ago. I wrote about Price in July 2008; here's that post:

Weston Price: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration"
July 15, 2008
I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” by Weston Price. The book details the ravages of the modern diet on “primitive” and “native” peoples throughout the world.

Price, a dentist from Cleveland, studied over a dozen distinct populations and described how “white flour, sugar and canned goods” affected the general overall health and the specific dental well-being of peoples ranging from mountain-dwelling Swiss to ocean centric Melanesians to land-locked African tribes.

In his chapter on the Canadian Eskimos, Price writes, “Like the Indian, the Eskimo thrived as long as he was not blighted by the touch of modern civilization, but with it, like all primitives, he withers and dies.”

One of the most shocking aspects of the book is that it was written in 1939, based on Price’s travels and research of the previous decade. Price was far ahead of his time in realizing the deleterious results of eating modern processed foods.

To think that his studies predated the introduction of more advanced(!) junk food—Gatorade, Doritos, Big Macs, etc.—by several decades is amazing. And to realize that the “natives” hadn’t yet encountered the real poisons of modern civilization—hormones, antibiotics and pesticides—is truly mind-blowing.

Price’s premise is simple: when relying on traditional foods, the indigenous peoples’ health remained consistently excellent. However, when modern foods began to be consumed, all hell broke loose. Price took extensive before and after photographs (which are in the book) that show marked changes in the dental and facial structures within the same groups.

Having conducted his research all over the globe in varying climes and environments, Price encountered traditional diets that varied tremendously, but were akin in their 100% local, seasonal and organic nature. (The natives probably had no idea how hip and cool they were.) However, once railroads, shipping ports and trading posts were established, the incidence of tooth decay skyrocketed in those natives that had started eating modern foodstuffs.

Discussing the inhabitants of the Cook Islands (within the South Sea Islands in the Pacific Ocean), Price writes:
"A large number were found in Rarotonga living almost entirely on native foods, and only 0.3 per cent of the teeth of these individuals have been attacked by dental caries. In the vicinity of Avarua, the principal port, however, the natives were largely living on trade foods, and among these 29.5 per cent of the teeth were found to have been attacked by dental caries."
Thankfully, there are still no McDonald’s and Taco Bells on Rarotonga, but I’m sure the numbers have gotten worse.

Click here for the Weston A. Price Foundation.