Monday, January 31, 2011

More on the Dangers of Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide

Shortly after I posted my blog on Friday about the USDA’s approval of genetically engineered alfalfa, I received Rodale News’ daily e-newsletter.

Coincidentally, one of the stories was “7 More Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home.” Number two on the list was Monsanto’s Roundup, the dangerous and popular pesticide that will also soon be used to kill everything in a genetically engineered alfalfa field, except Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa, which is genetically engineered to withstand Monsanto's Roundup.

I’ll let Rodale explain why we should try not to eat genetically engineered crops and not use Roundup on our lawns:

#2: Roundup

You probably know that using Roundup (glyphosate) and other pesticides in your lawn and garden adds chemicals to your soil and water. But did you know that Roundup used on and around food crops also ends up inside the food you eat, according to plant pathologist Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. That's problematic because scientists are learning that Roundup affects defensive enzymes our bodies use to keep us healthy. Roundup also reduces a plant's ability to take up vital micronutrients that humans require for survival.

Better alternative: Corn, soy, and canola are common crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand heavy dousings of Roundup, and foods containing these ingredients tend to contain higher levels of Roundup than other crops do. To avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods and Roundup in your food, buy organic. If your find yourself reaching for chemical products like Roundup to zap weeds on your property, check out Organic Gardening's organic weed-control tips for safer alternatives.

Friday, January 28, 2011

USDA Approves Altered Alfalfa; Thanks for Nothing!

The USDA approved the use of genetically engineered alfalfa yesterday, a poor decision on so many levels.

In addition to the contamination threat to organic pastures—which alfalfa is an essential part—we will all be subject to more of Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide.

According to a New York Times article today:

“The genetically modified crop — developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics, an alfalfa seed company that is owned by the Land O’Lakes farming and dairy cooperative — contains a gene that makes the plant resistant to the herbicide Roundup. That allows farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without hurting the crop.”
So we don’t hurt the crop (which was doing fine beforehand), but we poison our water supply and soil's health instead. Each time we take a drink of water or have a shower, we should realize there is an overwhelming possibility that it contains traces of pesticides.

And to think, this ruling may unnecessarily increase pesticide use, all to Monsanto’s delight.

From the Center for Food Safety:
"USDA’s assessment misrepresented conventional alfalfa as utilizing more herbicides than it does, which in turn provided a false rationale for introducing herbicide-promoting Roundup Ready alfalfa. In fact, USDA’s own data shows that just 7% of alfalfa hay acres are treated with herbicides. USDA’s projections in the FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement] show that substantial adoption of Roundup Ready alfalfa would trigger large increases in herbicide use of up to 23 million lbs. per year."
Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Make Mashed Potatoes (With Additions)

Homemade mashed potatoes can be an amazing dish, especially with a little tweaking, including the addition of other vegetables.

An easy way to cook the potatoes is by cutting them into smaller pieces, placing them into a pot, covering them with cold water and cooking them until they are soft and easily pierced with a knife. A great tweak is to use other root vegetables—i.e. carrots, turnips, parsnips—in addition to, or in lieu of, the potatoes.

Drain the vegetables, making sure to save some of the cooking water. Break apart the vegetables w
ith a fork or potato masher, using a little of the water to help the process. Do not over mash; the potatoes will turn thick and uncompromising.

The last time I made the dish, I cooked carrots and garlic along with the potatoes. After mashing, I mixed in Dijon mustard, yogurt, raw scallions, lemon juice, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper for added flavor and nutrition.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fore! More "Nutrition Keys" Coming for Packaged Foods

Watch out!

The packaged foodstuffs companies are at it again, creating another nutritional labeling system for their packaged foodstuffs in the hopes of making these products sound healthier than they are.

In lieu of actually reformulating their creations to make them only slightly toxic, the foodstuffs companies will instead offer us front-of-package statistics regarding calorie, saturated fat, sodium and sugar content.

However, many believe this is just the industry's attempt to control the conversation before the Food and Drug Administration figures out what its policy will be.

Remember, the really important information will still be in small print on the side or back of the packaging. The true evils that all of us should know about and avoid like the plague—refined carbohydrates (i.e. bleached white flours, processed sugars in many forms), artificial colors and other synthetic ingredients—will not receive red carpet treatment.

The new system, announced yesterday, is called Nutrition Keys and smacks of the industry’s Smart Choices Program, which met with great opposition in 2009. (Under Smart Choices, Froot Loops received a green check of approval. The program was eventually abandoned, thanks in part to public pressure.)

Click here to read more about the Nutrition Keys program in today’s New York Times.

Also, click here for coverage in the Food Safety News.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Efficient Cooking 101: Cheap, Easy, Delicious Coleslaw

A client who I just began working with voiced her frustrations about cooking. She had recently spent “more than two hours” making a dinner that her family thought was “awful.” Both the two hours and terrible taste were unnecessary.

An example of efficient cooking is coleslaw (from scratch!), a side dish that requires no heat, but just a few minutes of preparation. It’s great with hamburgers, chicken or ribs, or as part of a roast beef or turkey sandwich.

When I make coleslaw, I use the fewest ingredients possible: red cabbage for the salad, plus yogurt, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice), unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper for the dressing.

A whole red cabbage turns into a ton of chopped cabbage, so I buy the smallest cabbage available or I ask the store to cut it in half for me. (Don't be afraid to ask!) If possible, buy an organic cabbage, which shouldn’t cost that much more than one with pesticides.

If you’ve bought a whole cabbage, cut it in half from top to bottom and cut out the core. Chop the cabbage into smaller pieces that will be easy to eat with a fork.

For the dressing, I mix together equal parts plain yogurt and Dijon mustard, plus a little apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice), salt and pepper to taste. (Remember to taste and reseason!) Pour the dressing over the chopped cabbage and mix. Taste and reseason.

There is no need to follow a coleslaw recipe that requires three different kinds of cabbages, two vinegars, six spices and who knows what other expensive, out-of-season vegetable a cookbook writer needed to distinguish his coleslaw recipe from the 71,863 others.

It may have gotten someone a book deal, but it’s a waste of your time (shopping and chopping) and money. Use some of your saved money to buy an organic red cabbage or a great yogurt!

Friday, January 21, 2011

USDA to Approve Altered Alfalfa; Voice Your Concern

The USDA is on the verge of allowing the planting of genetically engineered (aka genetically modified) alfalfa this spring. According to an alert I received yesterday from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), this is a big deal that should worry us all:
Organic standards do not allow the use of GE crops, including for animal feed. Alfalfa is a major feed crop for dairy and beef cattle and a key component of many pastures where livestock are raised.

If USDA decides to allow GE alfalfa to be planted, it puts organic farmers at risk of widespread GE contamination.

Alfalfa is one of the most commonly planted crops in the U.S. and represents a substantial new market for Monsanto’s genetically engineered, Roundup Ready seeds. USDA acknowledges the threat of GE contamination, and yet they are poised to allow the planting of alfalfa using an unrealistic scheme for containing GE alfalfa’s contamination threat.
Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds, as I’ve mentioned before, are used in tandem with Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide, which pretty much kills everything in the soil . . . except Roundup Ready seeds.

(Roundup is especially dangerous, as it is a systemic pesticide, meaning that it is absorbed by plants. The majority of non-organic corn and soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered and is found in almost all packaged and processed foodstuffs. Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company. )

Contamination of organic dairy and beef can easily happen, as it is not uncommon for GE seed to find its way from conventional to organic farms (via wind, bees, etc.). The GE alfalfa will then grow in organic pastures, to be eaten by cows producing organic meat and milk.

Click here to send an email (first paragraph below) to the USDA.

I urge you to reject the approval of Monsanto's Roundup Ready genetically engineered alfalfa. I care about the integrity of the food I eat, and don't want organic and other non-genetically engineered crops to be contaminated by genetically engineered alfalfa.
Also, click here to read a blog post by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a senior scientist at PAN who discusses the issue in more detail.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Frozen Vegetables: A Great Option During Winter

During the middle of winter (now!), high-quality fresh vegetables aren’t exactly easy to find. Most of the limited selection in the market looks tired, since it’s traveled from Florida, California or Latin America. Prices aren’t user-friendly either.

Frozen vegetables are a great option this time of year. They were picked, packaged and frozen during the height of the growing season and are usually cheaper than their “fresh” counterparts.

When possible, buy organic frozen vegetables, which are free of dangerous pesticides and, in theory, are grown in healthier soil that will provide us more nutrients. (We are only as healthy as the soil that our food grows in.)

Many markets have their own store labels, which are cheaper than the national organic brands.

Preparing the frozen vegetables is simple. Throw some peas, carrots, broccoli florets, string beans, etc. in a pan and warm over low heat. There’s no reason to defrost the vegetables; the water in them will melt and help them cook. Don’t forget to season with unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and some fresh lemon juice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Use a Water-Vinegar Mixture to Clean Fruits & Vegetables

A great way to clean smooth-skinned fruits and vegetables is by using an inexpensive, homemade mixture of water and white vinegar, not a costly, store-bought vegetable wash.

Until recently, I always used just water. But I've started mixing three parts of cold water with one part of white vinegar, keeping it in a spray bottle. I spray any smooth fruit or vegetable with enough mixture to cover its surface and then rinse it off with cold water. According to studies, this process removes almost all of the surface bacteria.

And even if the bottled washes work as well as the water-vinegar combo, they are an unnecessary purchase, especially at about $5 for a 16-ounce bottle.

Make sure to also clean fruits and vegetables that have an inedible outer skin (oranges, avocados, etc.), since fingers or a knife can transport bacteria from the exterior to the flesh.

Organic produce should be washed as well; many hands touch both conventional and organic apples before they get to your kitchen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deal (Make That Steal) of the Week at Whole Foods

As I’ve previously mentioned, Whole Foods’ house label—365 Everyday Value—offers high-quality products at very fair prices. Both organic and conventional items are available, and many organic 365 goods are cheaper than their conventional, brand-name counterparts.

One example is 365 organic whole wheat pasta, priced from $1.29 to $1.79 (depending on the shape) at my local Whole Foods. Consider that Barilla and Ronzoni—conventional pastas from white flour—are priced similarly at other supermarkets, while De Cecco pasta can cost a dollar more.

In addition, the majority of organic whole wheat pastas cost at least $3.

The 365 organic whole wheat pastas are even a better deal if one uses the 50-cent coupon available in the January/February issue of The Whole Deal, the in-house circular available at all Whole Foods stores. (Coupons are valid until the end of March, so stock up.)

Organic whole wheat penne and spaghetti for just 79 cents!

Monday, January 17, 2011

New York Times: Drug Stores Move Into Food Selling

I’ve always been amazed at the range of packaged foodstuffs offered by drug stores like CVS, Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Now, according to an article in today’s New York Times, these stores (plus more diverse retailers like Target) are diving deeper into the food game by offering fresh(?) produce and specialty items.

"Walgreens is devoting up to 40 percent of the space in its redesigned stores to fresh and frozen groceries as a test to see how well food sells. It offers items like cut fruit or sushi in office locations, and staples like lettuce, bananas and meat elsewhere."
It’s an obvious money play, with the goal of getting more people into more stores more often. In addition to the quality issue (how good can lettuce at a Walgreens be?), I believe this move further downgrades food to just another disposable, no different than a razor or bar of soap.

And this comes at a time when the connection between what we eat and our health is making so much news. Drug store food shopping runs counter to the exploding number of farmers’ markets and the improving nature of school food being offered to our kids.

Sure, it may be convenient, but at what price to our physical and psychological well-being?

Click here to read the entire New York Times article.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Better Option: Freezing Instead of Throwing Out

Ever find yourself with food in the refrigerator that, for whatever reason, you aren’t going to eat while it is still good? Instead of throwing something out, throw it in the freezer, which will preserve it for months, if not longer.

I freeze leftovers (i.e. chili, skirt steak, pea soup) all the time. Also, on occasion, I’ll make extra of a dish specifically to freeze it for future eating.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. The other day I had seven or eight lemons that were on their last legs. I wasn’t going to use them before they went bad and wasn’t about to throw them away.

Instead, I squeezed them for their juice, freezing the juice in the smallest glass jars I had. As needed, I’ll move individual jars from the freezer to the refrigerator.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is Quinoa the Next Oil?

A country trying to getting rich from oil is commonplace. But quinoa?

I’ve been teaching people how to cook quinoa (a seed that’s usually identified as a grain) for several years and have seen its popularity explode over the past decade. And why not? Quinoa is delicious, extremely nutritious and easy to make.

A recent Associated Press article detailed how Bolivia’s government is trying to turn quinoa into a cash crop:

Quinoa's rising popularity among First World foodies — the wholesale price has jumped sevenfold since 2000 as global demand climbed — has been a boon to the poor farmers here in the semiarid highlands where most of it grows.

And that boom has transformed the lives of the largely subsistence farmers who grow it, though it remains unclear whether the large-scale commercial cultivation sought by Bolivia's government is environmentally sustainable in the altiplain— or even welcome by growers.
Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Experimenting with Raw Turmeric

I just came across raw turmeric (photo, right), which I had never seen before. Sure, I have dried ground turmeric (photo, below left) that I use for Indian dishes, but I was unfamiliar with the raw version.

Turmeric is a rhizome (main underground stem of a plant) and is related to ginger, which it loo
ks like. However, under its skin, raw turmeric is bright orange, different from ginger’s pale yellow.

I took an educated guess and figured I could sauté minced turmeric in the same fashion that I sauté ginger or garlic (as a flavorful aromatic). The raw turmeric smelled and tasted stronger than ground t
urmeric powder (think of the difference between chopped fresh garlic and garlic powder). Exposing the turmeric to heat slightly enhanced its flavor.

I then add
ed sliced zucchini to the pan and cooked them until they started to become soft. Unfortunately, the flavor of the zucchini overwhelmed the flavor of the turmeric, which dulled slightly with additional cooking.

In retrospect, I think I should I have grated the raw turmeric and added that to the zucchini towards the end of the cooking process. More of the turmeric’s oils would have been released by grating (rather than mincing), which possibly would have lent more flavor and color to the final dish.

When I get more of the raw turmeric I’ll make the dish again and let you know the results.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mark Bittman: "Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion"

Mark Bittman, who writes a weekly recipe for The New York Times food section, also occasionally writes opinion pieces about the way we eat.

Two weekends ago he wrote a great article, "Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion," that I agree with wholeheartedly. Here are the first two paragraphs:
“Revolutionary” diet books flood the market this time of year, promising a life changed permanently and for the better — yes, in just 10 to 30 days! — but, as everyone knows, the key to eating better begins with a diet of real food.

The problem is, real food is cooked by real people — you! — and real people are cooking less than ever before. We know why people don’t cook, or at least we think we do: they’re busy; they find “convenience” and restaurant foods more accessible than foods they cook themselves; they (incorrectly) believe that ready-to-eat foods are less expensive than those they cook themselves; they live in so-called food deserts and lack access to real food; and they were never taught to cook by their parents, making the trend self-perpetuating.
Click here to read the entire article and Bittman's thoughts on the above.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Olive Tree Doesn't Mean Olive Oil

I’ve come to accept the hoodwinking so prevalent on food packages, but I encountered an example of deception this weekend that really ticked me off.

I was cooking with people and we started using their jug of Sevilla Mia olive oil. At first glance, the oil seemed legitimate, thanks to the huge image of an olive tree and the words “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” in large, bright green type on the tin.

But when I poured the oil, I knew something was amiss, as its color was the pale yellow common to cheaper vegetable oils.

A closer look at the tin revealed the trickery employed by the makers of the oil.

Underneath “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” was the phrase “Enriched with Vegetable Oil.” Uh oh. I checked the ingredients, and, sure enough, the product was 80 percent vegetable oil and 20 percent Spanish olive oil.

I’ll never be happy with Doritos and Froot Loops, but most people understand that those products are junk food. But this really made me upset because many, many people are buying this oil thinking they are getting olive oil.

Instead, they are getting a cheaper, unhealthier and less flavorful product. It’s difficult to fathom that this packaging was anything but a shameful, planned deception by its producers.

Don’t let this happen to you; read your labels carefully!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Clothianidin Causing Colony Collapse Disorder?

Bees have been dying en masse for the past several years. While no definitive reasons for Colony Collapse Disorder have been proven, certain pesticides have long been thought to play a major role in the killings.

Obviously, beekeepers aren’t happy. But much of their recent anger has been targeted at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which may have placed more value in its relationship with the chemical giant Bayer than in society’s need for honeybees’ life-giving pollinating duties.

It seems as if the EPA wasn’t exactly forthcoming about a study involving the insecticide clothianidin. Here’s the first paragraph from a press release issued last month by the Pesticide Action Network and Beyond Pesticides:
"Beekeepers and environmentalists today called on EPA to remove a pesticide linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), citing a leaked EPA memo that discloses a critically flawed scientific support study. The November 2nd memo identifies a core study underpinning the registration of the insecticide clothianidin as unsound after EPA quietly re-evaluated the pesticide just as it was getting ready to allow a further expansion of its use. Clothianidin (product name 'Poncho') has been widely used as a seed treatment on many of the country’s major crops for eight growing seasons under a 'conditional registration' granted while EPA waited for Bayer Crop Science, the pesticide’s maker, to conduct a field study assessing the insecticide’s threat to bee colony health."
Click here to read the entire press release.

Click here to read the November 2nd EPA memo about clothianidin that concludes:

"This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of Clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggests the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive."
I would think it is safe to assume that the Bayer CEO’s bonus won’t be affected by this episode.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Delicious Brazilian Ants & the Pesticides Killing Them

There was an article in The New York Times yesterday that was the embodiment of seasonal and local eating. It described the residents of Silveiras, Brazil, who feast on içás, or queen ants (which taste like mint, according to one resident):
"The thunderous spring rains in October and November drive the ants out of the ground, and for a few short weeks Silveiras becomes a frenzy of ant hunting. Residents stock up, cleaning the içás and freezing them in one and two-liter bottles to get through until the next season."
According to the article, the generations-old tradition is threatened, though, as pesticides (shocker) are suspected of killing many of the giant ants:
"The principal culprits are pesticides used on eucalyptus trees that are planted to produce cellulose for paper and other products, residents and local officials said."
While the alleged killing of edible ants by pesticides in Brazil may seem a little exotic, the same needless destruction is happening to honey bees in the United States.

I’ll discuss the poisoning of our bees tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Thoughts on Fage Yogurt

A reader recently left a comment on my post about Maple Hill Creamery’s yogurt, which is made using organic milk from grass-fed cows:
Rob: I'm a yogurt lover and learned a long time ago to stay away from the average yogurt for exactly the reasons you mention - they are full of artificial stuff! Since a trip to Greece, I am hooked on Fage yogurt. It's thick and creamy unflavored yogurt. It's great for use in cooking too. The 0% ingredients are just "Grade A Pasteurized Skimmed Milk, Live Active Yogurt Cultures."

I would be interested to hear what you think about it.
My thoughts on Fage yogurt, starting with two positives:
  • Fage, a Greek company, makes a great-tasting, thick yogurt that does not contain the additives found in the majority of commercial yogurts available in the United States.
  • All Fage yogurt sold in the U.S. is made at the Fage plant in Johnstown, NY, using milk from dairy farms in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The milk comes from cows not administered added hormones.
And the two negatives (if you are looking for organic, grass-fed yogurt):
  • Since the milk is pooled from a cooperative of farmers, any organic milk (if there is any) gets mixed with conventional milk.
  • Similarly, there is no way of knowing if the yogurt comes from milk from grass-fed cows, which is nutritionally superior to milk from grain-fed cows. According to an e-mail response from Fage Consumer Relations, “Our farmers' cows are fed, among other vegetation, with [m]aize, soybean, cottonseed, [c]otton cake, barley, oat, wheat, sunflower, sorghum, rice, alfalfa, maize silage and/or alfalfa silage.”
We all must make our own decisions as to what we eat (in regard to hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, synthetic additives, etc.), but knowing our foods’ genesis is essential in making educated choices.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Added Hormones in Beef at Coles Supermarkets (Australia)

As I discussed yesterday, supermarket chains can have a positive impact on our health (even though a lot of what they sell is crap).

The latest example comes from Australia. As of January 1, Coles, the country’s largest supermarket chain, only sells beef grown without the use of artificial hormones. (The news is top billing on the Coles website.)

In addition, the company has said it will absorb the costs of implementing the changes, sparing consumers higher prices.

Will this move by Coles force other Australian supermarkets to follow suit? If that happens, the Australian beef industry would probably have to forsake the hormones it has been using for decades to help its cattle get twice as big in half the time.

One of the reasons Coles made the move was customer preference, based on a survey of 1,000 people. It’s amazing to think that only several hundred people may help foster such immense change in Australia’s food system.

The moral of the story? We must voice our opinions at food shops and restaurants; management will never know our concerns and desires if we are mute.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Retailers Help Improve Society's Health

Most consumers are not aware of what is in the food they are buying (i.e. pesticides, synthetic additives, hormones, antibiotics).

Many think milk is milk and chicken is chicken, so they’ll choose whatever is available and/or cheap. For this reason, I believe it is essential that our baseline, non-specialty food supply improves.

While governmental regulations are sometimes responsible for change, often it is retailers that lead the way, citing customer preference.

In the United States, Whole Foods only sells meats grown without the use of hormones and antibiotics. In England, several large supermarket chains began removing petroleum-based artificial colors from their house brands before the Food Standards Agency (the British equivalent of the FDA) mandated change.

In addition, Wal-Mart’s house brand of milk (Great Value) comes from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. The young girls drinking this milk probably don’t understand the hormone issue (and their parents may not either), but there’s a decent chance that the early-onset puberty so prevalent may arrive several months later than if milk with added hormones was being consumed.

Tomorrow I'll discuss an important change just implemented by an Australian retailer.