Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Washington Post: "Food Fraud" a Growing Problem

As if we don’t have enough to worry about when it comes to food shopping and as if the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have its hands full when it comes to food safety and labeling, The Washington Post provides us with this nugget today:
"The expensive 'sheep's milk' cheese in a Manhattan market was really made from cow's milk. And a jar of 'Sturgeon caviar' was, in fact, Mississippi paddlefish.
Some honey makers dilute their honey with sugar beets or corn syrup, their competitors say, but still market it as 100 percent pure at a premium price."
Click here to read the entire story.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nevia No Returns to New York City's Farmers' Markets

Last May I wrote about Nevia No, the face and spirit behind Yuno’s Farm and the producer of some of the most flavorful vegetables at New York City farmers’ markets.

Several weeks later, No vanished, Yuno’s Farm became Lani’s Farm and hundreds of faithful customers were left wondering as to No’s whereabouts.

Call off the search. After months of hard work, No is back. She is renting 70 acres in southern New Jersey and has named her farm Bodhitree Farm.

(According to No, Bodhi means “enlightenment” in Sanskrit.)

“It’s hard work,” No said, “but I am truly loving it. Everything in life has meaning, even the labor.”

For now, No is selling greens (baby lettuces, pea shoots, mustard greens, etc.) grown in her seven greenhouses, plus eggs with flavor and a deep orange color. As the weather warms, the vegetables (including many Asian varietals difficult to find) No is famous for will be available.

“Plus more,” she said.


“Shouldn’t that be a surprise?” No said, in her typical coy manner.

Find No and Bodhitree Farm at Union Square on Fridays and Abingdon Square (West Village) on Saturdays. She is hoping to land more slots on additional days at other markets.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Response to the Child Nutrition Act

Here is the response I received from one of my senators after I sent her an e-mail about the Child Nutrition Act, which I discussed yesterday:
March 23, 2010

Dear Mr. Endelman,

Thank you for contacting me about the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and WIC Act of 2004. This fall, Congress will debate the future of school meal programs across the country by reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act. My main goal will be to increase the current federal reimbursement rate to schools by 70 cents per meal in order to ensure that our children are provided quality meals.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in re-writing the child nutrition bill this year, offering the opportunity to provide our schools with the funding they need to keep our kids healthy and strong. Specifically, I would like to give our schools options for making food purchases that maximize nutrition and minimize cost, trusting our school officials with the ability to negotiate with local farmers or local companies for the freshest ingredients available at low transportation costs.

I would also like to see an increase in the funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program. In New York, this would not only bring more nutritious options into our schools, save taxpayers money, but it will have the added benefit of helping our Upstate apple and grape farmers find local buyers for their products. I have long been an advocate to allowing our schools to "buy local" and I hope that the bill that we write will provide the flexibility for schools to do that. In addition, we cannot forget about the importance of milk to every child's diet. As the mother of a 5-year-old and a toddler, I am very aware of the importance of drinking milk every day. Many families that are struggling are not able to afford milk to provide for their children. The Special Milk Program, authorized in the child nutrition bill can fill this gap. I will work very hard to ensure that this program is fully funded for the good of our kids and the good of our dairy farmers.

We also must not forget that kids need nutritious foods even when they are out of school. Therefore, one of my goals for this bill will be to provide kids with healthy options during the summer and after school. By providing at-risk students with after-school snacks, we will accomplish the dual purpose of giving them healthy alternatives to what they often find at home, as well as programming at the end of the school day that will keep them off the streets and out of trouble.

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 http://gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter.

Sincerely yours,

Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Slow Food's Time for Lunch Campaign

Slow Food USA, another organization (there are hundreds!) involved in the real food movement, is leading a campaign, Time for Lunch, dedicated to having citizens contact their senators and representatives about the Child Nutrition Act, which will be reauthorized by Congress this year.

According to Slow Food:
The Child Nutrition Act is a federal law that comes up for reauthorization in Congress every five years. It governs the school meal programs, which feed more than 31 million children every school day.

Right now, Congress leaves school lunch programs with only $1 per meal to pay for food. Schools do their best to stretch that dollar, but it's simply not enough to provide kids with the food they need to stay healthy and to perform well in the classroom.

The original deadline for reauthorizing child nutrition programs was September 2009, but it was temporarily extended. Congress is now expected to address school lunch in early 2010. We have until then to show Congress that kids and parents are hungry for change.
What are your kids eating at school? I’ve heard some horror stories from my clients of all socioeconomic demographics. The school lunch program is handcuffed by insufficient funding, arcane rules and government subsidies for certain crops. Our children and our society suffer because of it.

Over 100,000 people have asked their elected officials to increase funding and strengthen nutrition standards for school food. Click here to make your voice heard.

I’ll post my senator’s reply to my e-mail tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DANGER! Aunt Jemima Confetti Pancakes

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration made public 17 warning letters it sent to various food manufacturers in February, admonishing them for misleading nutritional claims.

Unfortunately, Pinnacle Foods Group, the maker of Aunt Jemima products, didn’t receive a warning letter for its Aunt Jemima frozen confetti pancakes, introduced just this year. According to the box, the pancakes are a “good source of 6 vitamins and minerals” and have “no preservatives.”

But a quick investigation helps us learn that five of those six vitamins and minerals must be added to enriched flour, the pancakes’ essential ingredient. (Enriched flour is flour that has been stripped of its color, nutrition and flavor and has had the stripped nutrients put back in. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just leave the flour as it was in the first place?)

In addition, the phrase “good source” is troublesome because of its subjectivity. Following the F.D.A.’s recommended daily intake levels, eating three pancakes gets you 15 percent of the needed phosphorous and thiamin; 10 percent of riboflavin, niacin and iron; and 4 percent of calcium. (A cup of whole milk has 30 percent of recommended calcium.)

Finally, I’m not sure what “no preservatives” means, but I do know that the confetti (read: sprinkles) is loaded with artificial colorants, which have been proven to be a cause of hyperactivity. The confetti’s ingredients:
Sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn Cereal, Modified Food Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed and/or Soybean), Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 1
Please do not purchase this product. If you are going to buy frozen pancakes or waffles, try to opt for brands and flavors without artificial colorants, refined sugars and other synthetic additives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dried Fruit: If Possible, Avoid Sulfur Dioxide

Dried fruits make for a great snack, but as is the case with almost all foods, there are good and bad options.

On the left in the photo are dried apricots treated with sulfur dioxide to increase shelf life and promote the bright orange color. On the right are organic dried apricots showing their true darker hue.

Even if you don’t believe that sulfur dioxide in our dried fruit presents a health issue, doesn’t common sense dictate eating food as close to its natural state as possible? Given a choice, purchasing the organic apricots should be our decision.

Some helpful information:
  • To counter the shelf life issue, store unsulfured dried fruit in the freezer.
  • Unsulfured dried fruit is available in most health food stores and many progressive supermarkets.
  • At Fairway, where I buy my dried fruit, the pictured apricots are exactly the same price ($4.99 per pound).
  • Add chopped dried fruit to oatmeal or plain yogurt for sweetness.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Let Us Eat Cake! (Instead of Chicken With Antibiotics)

Quick, which is a “healthier” choice: a piece of homemade chocolate cake or a chicken breast sandwich?

The answer depends on the origins of each item’s ingredients.

My barometer of whether food is good for you is if it doesn’t contain hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial colorants and other synthetic additives. Unless otherwise labeled, chicken bought from a supermarket or sandwich shop comes from an animal administered antibiotics and fed a diet laced with genetically modified and pesticide-laden grains.

On the other hand, the chocolate cake my wife recently baked from scratch didn’t contain anything from the above list. (It also was absolutely delicious.) As I’ve mentioned before, foods such as butter and eggs—if using the proper kind—are great sources for a wide array of nutrients.

The cake’s ingredients:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to Construct Simple Healthy Meals

Because I am extremely strict about knowing the origins of the food I eat, 95 percent of my meals are homemade. Hardly anything comes wrapped or in a package.

But relatively few of my lunches and dinners are grand
productions. In truth, I eat rather simply, with most cooked efforts taking about 20 minutes. Last night’s dinner—whole wheat pasta with an off-the-cuff sauce of onion, garlic, olives, anchovies, roasted pepper, parsley and tomato paste—fit that description.

At least half of my meals are random constructions of different food items. With a little planning, anyone can replicate my lunch yesterday (photo, above right). It would be difficult to argue with its flavor and nutrition. Plus, to use the words of clients who have recently changed their cooking and eating habits, I felt clean after eating, not like crap.


Hard-boiled eggs
– 12 minutes of cooking time, during which I prepared the below:
Bunch of carrots – 20 seconds to clean one carrot.

Avocado – 15 sec
onds to cut in half.
Chunk of cheese – 10 seconds to cut.
Baked sweet pot
atoes – 45 minutes, baked while eating dinner the night before.
Red quinoa sala
d – 20 minutes, huge amount made the day before during lunch.

I also had a wedge of whole wheat bread with Smjör butter, which took about 15 seconds. Additional flavor (not much was needed) and nutrition came from unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper, extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The South Bronx's "Obesity-Hunger Paradox"

An article in The New York Times this past weekend, “The Obesity-Hunger Paradox,” discussed the health situation and food options of residents of the South Bronx, a low-income area in New York City.

The article states that, paradoxically, “the hungriest people in America today, statistically speaking, may well be not sickly skinny, but excessively fat.”

I am familiar with one of the area’s neighborhoods and some of its residents, as I occasionally discuss nutrition with members of CitySquash, a not-for-profit after school enrichment program based on the sport of squash in the Fordham section of the Bronx.

While some decent food options exist, the prevailing choices most often fall between terrible and awful.

I sent the article to my friend Brian Mathias, who was CitySquash’s Director of Squash and Community Service from 2002 to 2005. Brian’s take on the bigger picture warrants repeating, as he succinctly identifies the food cycle we have created:
“Federal government subsidizes industrial agriculture, making fast and processed food artificially cheap, making it the only affordable option for millions of poor people, making disease widespread among them, making local government subsidize fresh, local foods.

"All the while the obvious solution, the stress at the beginning of the chain that has so many other destructive effects we would be better off without, is untouchable because it is protected by giant corporations who control the politics of it all.”
Anyone else want to share their thoughts?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Video Recipe: Sautéed Chicken with Curried Vegetables

A quick, easy and seemingly exotic dish. Video was filmed for Behind the Burner, a website dedicated to “the best tips, tricks and techniques from master chefs, mixologists, restauranteurs and other culinary visionaries.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Yale School of Medicine & Pepsi: A Questionable Relationship?

As any parent knows, the multinationals’ marketing influence is omnipresent in kids' lives. Licensing tie-ins between movies and fast food restaurants abound, while cartoon characters are festooned on the boxes of all types of junk food.

But, shockingly, these tricks are no longer just for kids. In what direction are we headed as a society when one of our great universities allows a food conglomerate entry not just inside its dining halls and sports arenas but into the actual rarefied halls of academia?

According to a Yale University Office of Public Affairs press release from December 2009:
“PepsiCo, one of the world's largest food and beverage companies, will fund a graduate fellowship in the M.D.-Ph.D. Program at Yale School of Medicine to support research related to nutritional science.”
Excuse me? The Yale School of Medicine is including itself, Pepsi and nutritional science in the same sentence? What happened to the Hippocratic Oath? Did someone at Yale Med do a Google and type “Hypocritic Oath” by mistake?

And the “I’ve Lost My Marbles” quotation of the year goes to Dr. Robert Alpern, dean and the Ensign Professor at Yale School of Medicine:
"PepsiCo's commitment to improving health through proper nutrition is of great importance to the well-being of people in this country and throughout the world.”
I may sound passionate about the Yale-Pepsi connection, but for Big Gulp-sized fervor read Michele Simon’s take on the subject. Simon, a public health lawyer who graduated from the Yale School of Public Health, offers a more personal and detailed account of the deal. Click here for Simon’s blog and make sure to scroll down to her March 7 post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Choose Grass-Fed?

U.S. Wellness Meats is a Missouri company that grows, sells and ships 100 percent grass-fed and finished beef. I’ll talk more about the company and its mission (“Do what's good for our animals, good for our planet and good for you”) in future posts, but in the meantime, here’s a guest post I recently wrote for the U.S. Wellness blog:

Why Choose Grass-Fed?

The reasons for eating grass-fed meat and dairy products are many. Personally, I base my decision on superior taste, health and food safety.

The last factor should be important to us all as the blatant disregard for accountability within our modern food supply becomes increasingly evident.

While our world becomes more connected and America continues to be a great melting pot, I don’t think our hamburger patties should be subject to a similar open-door policy.

An article in The New York Times last October exposed what, unfortunately, seems to be the norm: the compromising of our health for corporate profit. How else to explain Cargill’s hamburgers made from various grades of beef, fat and trimmings from slaughterhouses and sources in Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota and Uruguay? We are the victims, as thousands of us are sickened annually by E. coli in beef.

In addition, Cargill declined requests from The Times “to interview company officials or visit its facilities.” What do you think the response would be to a normal consumer without the political and legal clout of The New York Times?

Small-scale producers take a slightly different approach. There’s a good chance they will know the names and personalities of their animals. The buyer-seller relationship is based on transparency and harks back to a simpler time when quality and service were essential components to a transaction.

Phone the U.S. Wellness Meats office during normal business hours and there’s a good chance John Wood will answer. Call on a weekend and you are sure to get him as he’s usually the only person in the office.

The foods I derive the most pleasure from—outside of the vegetables from my garden—are the cheese, eggs, fish, meats and maple syrup I buy from people who I know as people.

I try to share this logic with my students, many of whom are skeptical until they taste the difference. When they realize that certain types of food have superior flavor and health benefits—in addition to being safer—they are that much closer to joining those of us already eating products from grass-fed animals.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Behind the Burner Video: Healthy Kitchen Basics

This video was filmed for Behind the Burner, a website dedicated to “the best tips, tricks and techniques from master chefs, mixologists, restauranteurs and other culinary visionaries.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nicholas Kristof: "The Spread of Superbugs"

To find out why I avoid eating meat from animals raised with the help of antibiotics and counsel others to do the same, read Nicholas Kristof’s column, “The Spread of Superbugs,” from yesterday’s New York Times.

Because of the low doses of antibiotics given to farm animals to help them grow faster, superbugs have developed that are resistant to antibiotics when administered to sick humans. The micro doses of antibiotics don’t kill off the bugs but instead make them stronger.

According to Kristof, the “Infectious Diseases Society of America, an organization of doctors and scientists, has been bellowing alarms. It fears that we could slip back to a world in which we’re defenseless against bacterial diseases.”

Legislation exists in the House of Representatives to deal with this issue, but—shocker—“agribusiness interests have blocked it in committee—and the Obama administration and the Senate have dodged the issue.”

Again, the consumer gets the short end of the stick.

How to avoid antibiotics in your chicken, pork and beef? Look for products, such as chicken from Murray’s and Bell & Evans, that are labeled accordingly. Organic meats are free of antibiotics.

For more information about the extreme dangers of antibiotics in our food supply, click here to read an in-depth article that appeared in Johns Hopkins Magazine last year.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More on Bisphenol A (BPA) in Aluminum Cans

A reader commented on Wednesday’s post about Bisphenol A in aluminum cans, stating that Muir Glen’s 14.5 ounce containers of tomatoes do not have BPA in their linings.

Unfortunately this is not the case; there is BPA in the linings of all canned tomatoes.

Yesterday, I called Muir Glen (owned by General Mills) for verification. According to Harry, the customer service representative who helped me:
“All of our tomato products utilize BPA in the cans’ linings. We are looking at alternatives, but right now there is not a viable solution. Virtually all manufacturers use aluminum cans with BPA in the linings.”
The notable exception is Eden Foods, which uses non BPA-lined cans for its bean products. (Eden’s tomato products come in BPA-lined cans.) From the Eden website:
“All 33 Eden Organic Beans including Chili, Rice & Beans, Refried, and Flavored, are cooked in steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous c-enamel that does not contain the endocrine disrupter chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA). Oleoresin is a non-toxic mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir. These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans that do contain BPA. The Ball Corporation tells us that Eden is the only U.S. food maker to date to use these BPA free cans and we have been since April 1999.”
Interestingly, Eden is still independent, a rarity in the world of organic food. For the most part, all popular organic labels are owned by the multinationals.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bisphenol A (BPA) in Aluminum Cans

Bisphenol A (BPA), a possible endocrine disruptor that has been linked to a host of medical issues, first gained widespread attention when its inclusion in plastic baby bottles raised the ire of mothers, doctors and politicians.

pressure forced the bottle manufacturers to eliminate BPA.

However, unbeknownst to many consumers, the majority of aluminum cans also contain BPA in their linings. The word is spreading, though, and the big food companies are again looking for alternatives.

But, according to a recent Washington Post article, the solution isn’t that simple:
“Major food companies declined to talk publicly about their efforts to find a replacement for BPA linings. ‘We don't have a safe, effective alternative, and that's an unhappy place to be,’ [one source at a major U.S. food company] said.”
Even though the “[m]ajor U.S. foodmakers are quietly investigating how to rid their containers of Bisphenol A” and the “FDA announced last month that it had reversed its position and is concerned about the safety of BPA,” the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, the lobbying arm of the canned food and beverage industry, continues to sing the party line:
“John M. Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, which represents the canned food and beverage industry, said BPA has been ‘used safely in metal food packaging for decades. They have been deemed safe by regulatory agencies around the world.’”
Earth to Mr. Rost, earth to Mr. Rost.