Thursday, September 30, 2010

"All Natural" vs. "Organic"

Earlier this week, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s (owned by Unilever) agreed to stop using the term “all natural” on its products containing ingredients that, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, aren’t natural.

You can read the CSPI press release or any number of news stories to get the details, but it’s important to know that for most of our food supply the phrase “all natural” has no structure behind it. Thus, food companies are left to their own devices and market items (usually packaged) that are not as healthy as overwhelmed consumers believe them to be.

(When was the last time you saw an "all natural" sticker affixed to a tomato or grapefruit?)

Part of the problem lies in the split oversight of our food supply, with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sharing responsibility. The USDA sets guidelines for “natural,” while the FDA does not.

However, as
I’ve mentioned before, the term “organic” has definitive meaning.

According to the USDA:
Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

The (National Organic Program) regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling.
In addition, converting farmland from conventional to organic is a three-year process.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Maniacal" Kids and Their Concerned Parents

A reader recently left a comment to a series of posts I wrote in January 2009 about the dangers of Yoplait Trix Yogurt. The reader’s experience can serve as a cautionary tale for those still wondering if there is a link between what we eat and our health/behavior:
"Gas zooks! [sic] My boy went into a maniacal frenzy after eating this stuff. He is an active 2 year old, but I have never seen him nearly this wired. He literally ran around the house in circles screaming. It was so nuts that I had to do some Googling. Lo and behold....I happened upon this site. I will promptly dispose of the remaining chemical concoction."
This isn’t the first time a parent went Googling for answers in response to a child’s strange behavior. This comment dates from January 2010:
"I found this site when I Googled 'Trix yogurt & hyperactivity,' because my son ate one yesterday (his first and LAST!), and went into a mad tailspin. When we checked the ingredients all we saw was sugar & chemicals. My husband felt terrible because he bought it thinking it would be a healthy snack - what could be wrong with yogurt? How are they allowed to even call this yogurt?"
Remember, these are one-off feedings. Should we dare to think about the innocent kids who are eating various “chemical concoctions” filled with artificial colorants (linked to ADHD), processed sugars and preservatives several times per day?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Quick and Easy Squid & Vegetable Dinner

Last night’s dinner, squid with scallions, garlic, string beans and dinosaur kale, was a variation of the sautéing technique I use constantly, both at home and in cooking lessons.

Understanding the order in which to add ingredients to the pan is probably the most difficult aspect of this, but you’ll be able to make an infinite number of dishes once you figure out the proper sequencing.

For my squid dish, I started by heating olive oil (a fat) in a sauté pan, the standard opening.

When the fat was hot, I added the scallions and string beans, the food items that needed the most cooking time. After those started to soften (about five minutes, with occasional stirring), I add the sliced garlic. Garlic can burn easily, so I made sure it only browned (about two minutes, with occasional stirring).

Despite having more cooking to do, I knew the garlic wouldn’t burn becau
se my next two items, the sliced squid and chopped dinosaur kale (photo, below), would both be adding liquid (the squid’s natural juices and the water left over from my rinsing of the kale) to the pan, preventing the garlic from burning and creating a little sauce at the same time.

After two minutes or s
o, when the delicate squid and kale were 70 percent done (remember about carryover cooking!), I turned off the heat and added fresh lemon juice, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I mixed and plated; it was delicious.

Granted, the squid
was fresh from the farmers’ market and the vegetables were from my garden, but there’s no reason this dish can’t be replicated with whichever vegetables and proteins are on hand. Just think about how much cooking time each ingredient needs and stagger the addition of the ingredients accordingly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kids in the Garden

Studies show that when kids are involved in the growing and/or cooking process, they will be more likely to eat the food that results from their efforts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Are We Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

Sorry for the cynicism, but I was debating whether to title today’s post “Should we really be surprised by anything these days?” or “Why the recall of a half billion eggs isn’t just a random occurrence.”

Actually, I think both work well, especially considering:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

House Hearing on Salmonella Outbreak in Eggs

It’s difficult to believe that Jack DeCoster, one of the country’s largest egg producers, gives a crap about how toxic his eggs are.

The 500 million eggs recalled last month because of a salmonella outbreak were from DeCoster’s farms. But this isn’t a new problem for him; DeCoster, eggs and salmonella have had a decades-long relationship.

DeCoster appeared yesterday at the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations' hearing on "The Outbreak of Salmonella in Eggs and offered his testimony, including:
"We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick. We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs. I pray several times each day for all of them and for their improved health."
Instead of praying now, DeCoster may have been better served by addressing the following conditions found in his facilities, as described by Representative Bart Stupak, the subcommittee’s chairman, in his opening statement:
• Employees working within the hen laying houses did not wear or change protective clothing when moving from house to house.
• Live rodents were located in the laying houses.
• Liquid manure oozing out of buildings.
• Dead and decaying chickens.
• Live and dead flies too numerous to count.

• Positive test results for salmonella were found in both farms, including in the feed mill and in the water used to wash the eggs.
Representative Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, detailed DeCoster’s failings over the past three decades in his statement:
"The DeCoster family, which owns Wright County Egg and raised eggs for Hillandale Farms in Iowa, has known about safety problems at its facilities for decades, yet they continue to persist . . . DeCoster farms have had warning after warning. Yet they continue to raise chickens in slovenly conditions – and to make millions by selling contaminated eggs."
Also, click here to read yesterday’s New York Times article further detailing DeCoster’s record.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Organic Pure Cane Sugar Replaces Refined White Sugar

About two years ago I started buying organic pure cane sugar, replacing the refined and pesticide-aided white sugar I had always used.

A lengthy refining process turns the extracted juice of sugarcane into white sugar. Impurities and nutrients are removed, and sulfur dioxide is commonly used to wash off molasses, which gives less-refined pure cane sugar its brownish color.

Understand that commercial brown sugar is refined white sugar that has had molasses added back to it. Dark brown sugar has more molasses added back than light brown sugar. This (unnecessary?) deconstruction/reconstruction is similar to what is done to enriched bleached white flour. Wouldn’t it be better just to leave the original product in its natural, healthier form?

The brand I buy is Florida Crystals, which, according to the company, is “the only organic sugar grown and harvested in the U.S.A.” Whole Foods also sells organic cane sugar through its 365 private label, but the sugarcane is from Paraguay.

Interestingly, two packages of Florida Crystals organic sugar I recently bought from the same store (within a week) contained sugar of completely different shades of brown (photo, above right).

I called the company and was reassured that the varying colors are normal and natural, and that flavor should be consistent.

This reminded me of the difference between the eggs I buy at farmers’ markets and the whitewashed commercial eggs that were just recalled by the . . . hundreds of millions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Help Our Kids Eat Better

There's so much good being done to improve our food supply and how we eat. Unfortunately, politics and money occasionally get in the way.

I received the following email from Slow Food USA yesterday. It deals with the funding for school lunches and food stamps, major battlegrounds in how we feed our children and, ultimately, how we shape society. (Healthier food for kids = better concentration = more learning opportunities = smarter kids = smarter teenagers = smarter adults = more productive society.)

Right now, we have a unique opportunity to make sure America's school children get the food they deserve. The House is poised to pass the Child Nutrition Act, which would improve the quality of school lunches.

But there's a real risk they'll pass an underfunded version that takes money from food stamps. Can you send a quick message to your House Rep pushing them to fund and pass the better version of the Act?.

Now, with only days before the Act is due to expire, we need one last push to get this over the line.

House Reps have two versions of this Bill sitting on their desks - one of which (the version passed by the Senate) which takes money out of the food stamps program, and one which does not. Right now, each Rep is deciding which version to vote for.

This campaign has shown us the power of our grassroots movement - everyday Americans from coast to coast, united by their concern for the health of our kids, and willing to take action on it. Let's make sure we don't falter at this last hurdle, and tell Congress: It's Time for Lunch.
Click here to email your representative today. (It's a pre-written form letter that takes about 10 seconds to fill out.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

How to Store Scallions

If we’re not careful, we can end up throwing away a lot of the food we buy. Knowing proper storage tricks can help prolong foods’ shelf life and keep our shopping bills manageable.

A recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated offered a technique to store scallions. I tried it and it works great. Instead of drying out or getting slimy after two or three days, my scallions now keep fresh for over a week.

Put about an inch of cold water into a glass or jar. Put the scallions (roots intact) into the jar, cover the tops of the scallions with a plastic bag and put the contraption into the refrigerator. I try to change the water daily.

Older posts on storing food that you may have missed:

Friday, September 17, 2010

What Do Doctors Know About Nutrition?

Can you blame me for thinking that many doctors know little about nutrition, our tainted food supply and the correlation between the two and our health when I’ve had doctors in my cooking lessons clueless about bleached white flours, grass-fed vs. corn-fed meats and the dangers of artificial colorants?

Is this lack of knowledge one reason why doctors prescribe pill after pill after pill without dispensing advice about diet?

I’m sorry, but “eat less fat” does not count as proper nutritional counsel, especially when the health benefits of avocados, wild salmon, nuts and grass-fed meats are never discussed.

A recent article in The New York Times, written by a doctor, addresses the issue and discusses what’s being done to remedy the situation.

Now only if we could get dentists to stop giving away samples of Crest and Colgate toothpaste.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Latest News Concerning Antibiotics in Our Livestock

Could it be? Is Big Agriculture about to lose the battle over antibiotics in animals? Someone must have left off a zero on the check to the lobbyists.

From an article in yesterday's New York Times:

"[A]fter decades of debate, the Food and Drug Administration appears poised to issue its strongest guidelines on animal antibiotics yet, intended to reduce what it calls a clear risk to human health. They would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians."
Click here to read more about what will hopefully be a major step in the right direction for our food supply and our health.

This would be huge!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Planet's Wild Sardines (and Frank Answers)

Reading the labels of packaged food products is always educational. Even minimally processed foods (i.e. canned tomatoes, sardines, roasted peppers) can have additives or storylines that should be noted.

I love sardines and recently discovered the Wild Planet brand, which uses wild sardines “sustainably caught along the California coast” packed in tins that are “certified BPA free,” two important details for me. Even more important, Wild Planet’s sardines are delicious and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.

One small detail, though, caught my eye. Wild Planet sardines are “processed in Vietnam.” I thought this strange and made me question the “caught along the California coast” claim.

I went to the Wild Planet website and the issue was addressed on the “Facts and Questions” page:
Why are Wild Planet tuna and sardines caught in the US but packed in Vietnam?

Unfortunately, there is no US sardine or tuna cannery capable of processing our volume requirements and the last sardine factory in the United States closed in 2010. In addition, the US cost of production would greatly increase the retail price beyond the reach of most families. Our goal is to make US-sourced sustainable seafood choices mainstream and thus have a greater impact on fishery harvest practices for the long-term good of ocean conservation.

We have elected to process our 5oz cans of albacore and skipjack tuna as well as our sardines in a highly respected partner facility in Vietnam. This facility offers state-of-the-art canning expertise in an immaculately clean, accredited environment that produces higher quality finished products than any cannery we have seen in the US.
Wild Planet’s frank disclosure is a refreshing change; I rarely see such openness from a food company.
Some of the major internationals don’t list basic information, including the ingredients of their heavily-processed foodstuffs, on their websites. My follow-up phone calls are sometimes met with attitude, incompetence or a mix of both.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two Recent Articles on Obesity

Are extra heavy pregnant women contributing to the obesity of their children? Click here to read more.

Also, click here to read the latest on Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign, which is battling childhood obesity.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are Hydroponic Veggies As Nutritious as Soil-Grown?

Here’s an interesting question posed by a friend, after I mentioned the merits of vegetables grown hydroponically, eliminating the need for pesticides:

“Avoiding chemicals is great, but can these vegetables be as nutritious as vegetables grown in soil, which provides so many of the minerals and nutrients in food?”

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Benefits of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Many people who don’t have time to shop at farmers’ markets take part in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which farmers provide members with weekly bundles of seasonal produce.

Farmers love the prepaid subscriptions, while consumers enjoy the convenience and accessibility to fresh fruits and vegetables. At the farmers’ market in St. Andrews, New Brunswick two weeks ago, I met a farmer whose livelihood depends on his CSA.

Mike has only two acres and a greenhouse at Bantry Bay Farm, but that’s enough to supply 75 CSA members, a marked increase from 15 members when he and his partners started farming four years ago. (There are also 30 people on a waiting list.)

In addition to the CSA, Bantry Bay supplies a top-notch local restaurant. Surplus produce is sold at the weekly market in St. Andrews.

I’m glad I found Mike because his carrots were some of the sweetest I’ve eaten recently. Better yet, Mike doesn’t use any sprays, even organic ones.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Make Salsa Verde

My friend Peter is growing tomatillos and has more than he’ll ever need. He let me pick some, and I used them to make a salsa verde, which became part of last night’s chicken enchilada dinner.

In the spirit of sharing, here’s how I (very easily) made the salsa verde:

I chopped 10 small tomatillos (3/4 lb.), two scallions, one clove of garlic, one small jalapeño pepper and some parsley and put everything into a food processor with some lime juice and salt. I processed, but the mixture was still a little coarse, so I added just enough water to achieve a thinner consistency. I tasted, added some more salt and lime juice, and mixed again.

The process took about five minutes and follows the same technique I’ve used in the past two weeks to make hummus, a roasted red pepper and feta dip and a white bean and rosemary spread.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Holiday

The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Farmed Fish: An Even Scarier Future?

As I mentioned yesterday, there are numerous salmon farms in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, two of Canada’s Maritime Provinces where I recently spent some time.

The Center for Food Safety has two disturbing articles about where Canada and the United States may be headed in regard to farmed fish.

I already avoid eating farmed fish, but genetic engineering and nefarious “organic” standards may be enough to scare many others away as well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paralytic Toxins in Passamaquoddy Bay

To the right is a danger sign I saw last week in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, a small village on the scenic Passamaquoddy Bay, just across from the northeastern part of Maine.

It reads:
Area Closed

Shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels and other bivalve mollusks) in the area described below contain paralytic toxins and are not safe for use as food.
Paralytic toxins are produced by algae; algae blooms are both naturally occurring and the by-product of industrial toxins.

The prevalence of salmon farms in the area, though, makes me think this is man-made. If my hunch is correct, it should make us sadly realize that no place, no matter how far removed from major urban centers, is truly pristine.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Info on Eggs and Salmonella from Rodale News

Click here for more information about the egg recall and salmonella. The episode is just another strike against our modern food supply.