Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on Kaniwa: How to Cook & Flavor

Over the weekend, I cooked the kaniwa (pronounced kan-yi-wa) that I wrote about last week. I found kaniwa in the bulk section at Whole Foods, but it can also be ordered online from a handful of specialty food companies.

The easiest way to describe kaniwa is by calling it a mini-quinoa. (The two are from the same genus.) But it's really mini, so measuring it can get a little messy. However, unlike quinoa, kaniwa contains little or no saponins (waxy coatings), so it doesn't have to be rinsed.

I used the same water to grain ratio (2:1) for kaniwa that I do for quinoa. Stirring occasionally, I
brought it to a boil, lowered it to a simmer and let it cook (uncovered) for about 15 minutes until 95 percent of the water was absorbed. I let it sit for another five minutes to finish cooking.

The texture of the kaniwa was a little crunchier than quinoa. It had quinoa's nutty aroma and taste, but not as strong. Being so small, the kaniwa can get stuck in your teeth (think poppy seeds

The kaniwa is a little lacking when eaten plain, so I added some chickpeas, sautéed red pepper, chives, olive oil, lemon juice, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper. It made for a great side dish, but kaniwa's huge protein content (16 percent) can allow it to be part of a well-rounded vegetarian meal.

While I'll work kaniwa into my cooking rotation, I'll probably continue to favor quinoa.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Holiday

The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Uphill with Jack LaLanne!

This holiday weekend, may we all follow Jack LaLanne's advice and go uphill!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Welcome, Kaniwa, Courtesy of Whole Foods

I have to give Whole Foods credit. Sure, some products are ridiculously priced and the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been kept in the closet, but the company is on the cutting edge when it comes to carrying hard-to-find foods.

I was blown away the other day when, at my local Whole Foods in Manhattan, I saw a huge new contraption containing about two dozen grains and beans in bulk. These were not your usual bulk items of walnuts, dried apricots and split peas, but specialty items like kaniwa, black barley, freekeh and several varieties of heirloom beans.

I bought some freekeh (roasted green spelt berries), which I've purchased before in Middle Eastern specialty shops, but the true novelty was kaniwa (pronounced kan-yi-wa), which I had never seen or heard of before.

This from "Lost Crops of the Incas," a book by the National Research Council:
"Kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) is a remarkably nutritious grain [huge protein content] of the high Andes that . . . reigns in the extreme highland environment where wheat, rye, and corn grow unreliably or not at all because of the often intense cold. Even barley and quinoa cannot yield dependably at the altitudes where kaniwa grows.

"Although kaniwa produces a cereal-like seed, it is not a true cereal but a broad-leaved plant in the same botanical genus as quinoa. At the time of the [Spanish] Conquest, kaniwa grain was an important food in the high Andes. It is still widely grown, but only in the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano—a lofty, semiarid plateau hemmed in by high ranges of the central Andes. Most kaniwa is consumed by the family that grows it, but some can be bought in Andean markets, especially near Puno."
And at a Whole Foods in Manhattan!

(More about kaniwa next week.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Organic Food Sales Strong, Despite Economic Situation

On the heels of yesterday’s post about the fight between agribusiness and anti-pesticide activists over how pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables are relayed to the public comes the welcome news that the market for organic food is still growing. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times:
“Sales of organic foods appear robust across Europe and the United States despite weak economic conditions and rising inflation. The strong sales are attracting more interest and activity from investors, who see potential in mergers through economies of scale, especially in Europe’s more fragmented market.”
While sales of organic foods in supermarkets can be quantified, anyone who regularly attends farmers’ markets can vouch for the proliferation of vendors selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, breads and meats grown without the use of chemicals.

As word spreads about the dangers of our modern food supply, people are demanding better options. And with increased demand comes a need for increased supply, giving younger people and career-changers the confidence to follow the path of clean, toxin-free food production.

Click here to read “Strong Sales of Organic Foods Attract Investors,” which focuses more on the business and economics of organic foods.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

USDA's Pesticide Data Program Report Five Months Late

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases an annual report detailing pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables. Consumer advocacy groups, such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), use the study to help the public make educated food-purchasing decisions.

This year, though, the report is five months late, since, according to a Washington Post article, “the 200-page annual report has become a target of an unusual lobbying campaign by the produce industry, which worries that the data are being misinterpreted by the public.”

This may come as a huge shock, but money is at play. As more people realize the dangers of pesticides, market share of organic fruits and vegetables has increased to almost 12 percent.

Agribusiness based on chemicals suffers accordingly, which helps explain the letter 18 produce trade associations sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlining their concern with the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program report and how it “has often been subject to misinterpretation by activists, which publicize their distorted findings through national media outlets in a way that is misleading for consumers and can be highly detrimental to the growers of these commodities.”

But those crazy activists have pounced, countering with a petition (signed by almost 55,000 people!) questioning the USDA’s participation in a $180,000 grant to the Alliance for Food and Farming, a nostalgic-sounding organization that, according to EWG, is “a pro-agricultural chemicals lobby dedicated to combating pesticide critics like EWG.”

The USDA says it will release this year’s pesticide report sometime this week; we’ll see then who has won a public relations battle over chemicals that have been linked to a myriad of health problems, behavioral issues and compromised cognitive abilities.

Click here to read more about the squabble in Rodale News.

Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Make Asparagus Soup

I am a firm believer in learning how to cook by understanding technique rather than by reading a recipe. Eyes glued to instructions for carrot soup will result in carrot soup, but energy devoted to understanding the principles of puréed vegetable soups will be rewarded with dozens of outcomes.

For example, until three weeks ago, I had never made asparagus soup. But while buying asparagus at the farmers’ market recently, I thought, “Why not?”

The basic process held: cooking aromatics (i.e. onion, scallion, garlic, ginger), adding the vegetable, adding liquid (water), cooking the vegetable until soft, puréeing with an immersion or stand-alone blender, seasoning to improve flavor and texture (with salt, pepper, lemon juice, butter and/or cream).

Employing the above as my guide, I made my asparagus soup using just two ingredients (asparagus and scallions) bought from Nevia No at the farmers’ market and five ingredients (water, butter, unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and fresh lemon juice) that I always have in the kitchen.

I started by sautéing some chopped scallions (whites and greens) in butter in a soup pot (uncovered), stirring often to prevent the scallions from browning. While that mixture cooked, I washed the asparagus (about 1½ pounds) and chopped into smaller pieces (about 1½ inches). Instead of throwing away the rough stems, though, I put them in a second pot with the five cups of water I was going to use as my liquid, brought it to a boil and made a quick asparagus stock.

(I believe most store-bought stocks are mediocre and a waste of money; use water and spend your dollars on better vegetables!)

When the scallions were soft (10 minutes), I added the edible asparagus pieces and cooked for five minutes over medium heat. I then added my asparagus stock and brought the mixture to a boil. I lowered the heat and let it simmer (partly covered) for about 30 minutes, until the asparagus were very soft.

After letting the mixture cool, I used a hand-held immersion blender to purée everything until smooth. No asparagus pieces remained. I tasted and added salt (keep going), pepper and a little lemon juice for flavor, plus butter for texture and flavor.

Am I allowed to say it was delicious?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Seventh Generation Tests New Packaging for Laundry Bottles

Talk about a cutting-edge product!

Earlier this month I noticed a funny-looking bottle amidst the usual plastic jugs of laundry detergent. No way . . . a fiber bottle?

Since Earth Day, Seventh Generation has been selling bottles that use 66 percent less plastic than typical bottles that wash the same number of loads. The outer shell is recyclable or compostable, while the inner pouch (which holds the liquid detergent) is recyclable.

In addition to the new packaging, the formula (4X concentrated) is new, improving on the current 2X concentrated that Seventh Generation sells. While production is limited and the bottles are only available in select stores (I saw it in Fairway; Whole Foods is not carrying it), Seventh Generation’s goal is for the packaging and formula to become standard for all the company’s laundry products.

Yes the retail price is high ($16.99), but that’s to be expected for any innovative product in its infancy. (Think flat-screen televisions.) However, for those lucky enough to live near a Fairway, the detergent is on sale through the end of May for $11.99, which works out to less than 20 cents per load.

Granted, this product will most likely appeal to Seventh Generation’s existing customer base, but we should all realize that the majority of commercial laundry detergents are petroleum-based and contain harmful chlorine, bleaches, dyes and fragrances. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pesticides at School: Maine Earns an "F"

Pesticides sprayed on our food are bad enough, but someone needs to explain to me the rationale behind applying poisonous chemicals to our lawns and green spaces for purely cosmetic purposes. Absolutely incomprehensible is the fact that this spraying also takes place on school grounds.

Sure, school sporting events and recess became a little safer for kids in New York State yesterday, thanks to the implementation of the Child Safe Playing Fields Act. But New York’s statewide law is the exception rather than the norm.

Witness what just happened in Maine. A bill (LD 837) brought before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Joint Standing Committee of the Legislature by Representative Mary P. Nelson (D-Falmouth) would have severely limited the use of pesticides on school grounds:

"This bill requires that the use of pesticides on school grounds is restricted to situations that pose a health threat to a student or staff member and when the presence of animals or insects have been identified as a public health nuisance. It requires the Commissioner of Health and Human Services to adopt rules to provide similar restrictions on the use of pesticides on the grounds of child care facilities and nursery schools."
What would seem a veritable no-brainer was instead amended by a majority of the committee, which offered this summary instead:
"This amendment is the majority report of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. It replaces the bill with a resolve directing the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, Board of Pesticides Control to develop and disseminate best management practices for the establishment and maintenance of school lawns, playgrounds and athletic fields."
So, in lieu of employing a common-sense ban on pesticide use, Maine’s schools will continue to use "best management practices," which pretty much means toxic business as usual for the lawn care companies.

Here's hoping that as word spreads about the needless use of dangerous chemicals on school grounds, the health of our children will cease being a politicized issue.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Positive Change: "Imagining Detroit"

Instead of focusing on the negative in today’s paper (“Chemical Suspected in Cancer Is in Baby Products”), let’s be inspired by how people in Detroit are taking matters into their own hands and transforming acres of urban blight into acres of green and food (“Imagining Detroit”).

Mark Bittman, who recently visited the city, writes:
Imagine blocks that once boasted 30 houses, now with three; imagine hundreds of such blocks. Imagine the green space created by the city’s heartbreaking but intelligent policy of removing burnt-out or fallen-down houses. Now look at the corner of one such street, where a young man who has used the city’s “adopt-a-lot” program (it costs nothing) to establish an orchard, a garden and a would-be community center on three lots, one with a standing house. (The land, like many of the gardens, belongs to the city and is “leased” for a year at a time. But no one seems especially concerned about the city repossessing.) A young man who adopts eight lots and has bought another three has an operation that grows every year and trains eager young people. A Capuchin monastery operates gardens spanning 24 lots, five of which they own; at one of them, I meet Patrick Crouch, who’s supervising 10 gardeners-in-training and reminds me that “community gardens are not just about ‘gardens’ but ‘community.’”
Positive change is happening in so many places, and regular (but extraordinary) people are at the heart of these changes. Putting clean food on one’s table and not wanting one’s child to be poisoned by toxic flame retardant chemicals are strong impulses, ones that, hopefully, will eventually outweigh the institutionalized corporate desire to increase stock price.

Click here to read Bittman's column about Detroit.

Click here to read a post I wrote two years ago about community gardens in New York City.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to Make Kale Chips

Kale chips are a recent entry into the healthier snack food arena. But the packages sold in stores are very expensive (for not a lot of product). Instead, try making your own, which is straightforward.

There are many varieties of kale and you can make kale chips using any of them. The photo is of purple (or Russian) kale, but lacinato (aka dinosaur) and curly kale, two popular varieties, will become a little crunchier.

Here’s how to make your own kale chips:

Preheat oven to 325. Strip the leaves off the stems, and then wash and dry the leaves. Put the leaves in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, mix the leaves so the oil is evenly dispersed, spread the leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with some unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper, put the kale in the heated oven, bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the kale starts to crisp. Remember, the chips, like all food, will continue to cook when you take them out of the oven. Eat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Louise Slaughter's Continued Fight Against Antibiotics In Food

Two months ago I wrote about Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) fight against the needless administering of antibiotics to our farm animals. Slaughter, who has degrees in both microbiology and public health, is the force behind the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would restrict such use.

Last week Slaughter divulged a letter she received from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which contained specific statistics about how these antibiotics are given to our animals: 74 percent of antibiotics are sold for use via feed, 16 percent for use via water and 3 percent for use via injection.

According to Slaughter’s website, the process of medicating feed “results in inconsistent drug dosing, and can lead to antibiotic resistance among bacteria not eliminated by low doses of drugs.”

Said Slaughter:

“These statistics tell the tale of an industry that is rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals. As they feed antibiotics to animals to keep them healthy, they are making our families sicker by spreading these deadly strains of bacteria. When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without worrying that eating it will expose our family to potentially deadly bacteria no longer responsive to medical treatments.”
Furthermore, according to Slaughter’s website:
“Studies have shown inconsistent dosing to have wide ranging consequences. A recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives concluded that dispensing medication via feed 'makes delivering a predictable, accurate, and intended dose difficult. Overdosing can lead to animal toxicity; underdosing or inconsistent dosing can result in a failure to resolve animal diseases and in the development of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms.'"
To protect yourself and your family, look for chicken, beef, pork, eggs and dairy that are free of antibiotics. Organic food cannot contain antibiotics.

Also, remember that antibiotics and hormones are different, but some companies—especially chicken producers—will do their best to confuse us. Click here for a past post I wrote that will help clarify the issue and simplify your shopping.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jack LaLanne on the Benefits of Small Changes

Changing the way we eat and think about food doesn't have to be an all-or-none proposition. Making just one change per week can help bring about meaningful results in a short time, something preached by Jack LaLanne in this video:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Customer to Farmer: "Why Does the Arugula Have Holes?"

I find it a little disconcerting when every peach in a supermarket display looks exactly alike. Sure, our store-bought fruits and vegetables may appear perfect, but what measures have been taken to create such uniformity?

With that in mind, I wasn’t too surprised when, while at the farmers’ market the other day, I heard a shopper ask a farmer, “Why does the arugula have holes?”

The farmer happened to be my friend Nevia No, one of the best farmers in the New York City farmers’ market system and the energy behind Bodhitree Farm. No, instead of relying on pesticides, works to improve her soil’s health through non-chemical means, which gives her food the utmost in flavor and nutrition.

Sometimes, though, nature—in this case, dressed as flea beetles—wins the battle, leading to holes in arugula and other greens. Yet, No’s holey arugula is spicy and sweet, flavors usually lacking in soulless (and holeless) supermarket arugula.

“I can spray pesticides to make them look more presentable without holes, but I choose not to,” says No. “Unless entire leaves are gone, I believe it’s minor damage without any change of flavor.”

While No may hear the “Why does the arugula have holes?” question several times an hour, she stays true to her mission, which is to grow food with spirit. Bodhitree Farm is the antithesis of our omnipresent factory farms.

“If it's a choice between chemicals and holes, I will choose the latter,” says No. “I just hope that people understand why and don't put too much importance on appearance.”

(Find Nevia, Debbie and Bodhitree Farm's arugula in Union Square on Wednesdays and Fridays, plus in Abingdon Square and in Greenpoint-McCarren Park on Saturdays.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dominique Browning: "Hitting the Bottle"

At this point, many of us are familiar with Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine-disrupting chemical used in many plastics and aluminum cans. However, until I read “Hitting the Bottle,” an opinion piece in The New York Times earlier this week, I had no idea there were other classes of Bisphenol chemicals. According to the article:
”Bisphenols are shaping up to be a dysfunctional family of chemicals. BPAF is BPA’s fluorinated twin. It is used in electronic devices, optical fibers and more. New studies have found BPAF to be an even more potent endocrine disrupter than BPA. Bisphenol B and Bisphenol F are other variants used instead of BPA in various products. In the limited testing done on those chemicals in other countries, scientists found Bisphenol B to be more potent than BPA in stimulating breast cancer cells.”
Since BPA's bad reputation has spread, companies are moving away from its use, only to substitute other chemicals that haven’t been sufficiently tested either.

It’s a money game, one that the food and packaging companies will win, thanks to our lax regulatory system. While Europe employs the precautionary principle, the United States is home to the “introduce a product now, find out the dangers later” theory of consumer protection. (This is especially prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry, where the drug companies—NOT THE FDA!—are responsible for the safety testing of possible drugs.)

Of course, the public pays. Dominique Browning, the article’s author, sums up what so many of us feel:

"By the time we know what those new chemicals do to us, entire generations are affected. We are the guinea pigs.

"The system is broken. We must reverse the process: test first. And we should allow only chemicals proven to be safe into the marketplace."
Click here to read Browning’s piece, which also briefly discusses the Toxic Substances Control Act, which, in theory, should be controlling toxic substances a hell of a lot better than it is now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New York State's Child Safe Playing Fields Act

So we’re clear about the dangers of the pesticides used to beautify our public and private green spaces, this from Beyond Pesticides:
"Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogencity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds."
Yet, egged on by the chemical companies, we continue to needlessly spray our lawns, playing fields and schoolyards. What will it take for us to realize this insanity, especially in regard to our children, whose developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins?

Not all is bleak, though. A year ago, New York State, led by former Governor David Patterson, passed the Child Safe Playing Fields Act, which bans the use of synthetic pesticides on the playgrounds and playing fields of all of the state’s public and private schools and day care centers.

While the act went into effect last November for day care centers, the ban at schools starts next Wednesday (May 18). Similar bills, all vehemently opposed by the chemical interests, had been defeated on nine previous occasions. The passed bill, though, in a concession to guarantee its passage, allows for green areas not used as playgrounds or fields to be sprayed.

For an overview of the states’ policies in regard to pesticide use at schools, click here to read a 2010 report from Beyond Pesticides. No state has a law that completely protects our children, yet several states—New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts—have decent policies.

But shouldn’t banning all pesticide use in and around schools be the default national policy?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Widespread Use of Toxic Lawn Chemicals in the U.S.

Last Thursday I discussed the diminishing use of pesticides in Canada as beautifying agents for private and public lawns. One small town, Hudson, Quebec, started the movement 20 years ago; laws banning this needless cosmetic use of dangerous chemicals have now reached the provincial level.

In the United States, unfortunately, the fight hasn’t been as successful. For the most part, public and private lawns continue to be sprayed with chemicals that contribute to the sickening of children, adults, pets, animals and our water supply.

What price are we willing to pay to eradicate every dandelion? (By the way, I saw dandelion greens for sale at the farmers’ market this weekend for $2.50 a bunch.)

Unlike Hudson, most American municipalities are powerless to pass any meaningful law restricting pesticide use, since, as Paul Tukey wrote in his SafeLawns blog in January:

"[T]he chemical industry has been successful in lobbying for pesticide preemption laws in 41 states that made it illegal for cities and towns to pass laws more restrictive than the state law. Only Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming and the District of Columbia do not have a pesticide preemption law."
The lawn care companies have done a masterful job in leading us to believe that chemical intervention is necessary for a perfectly green space. Some municipalities, though, are fighting this marketing blitz through grassroots (pun very much intended) efforts. Camden, a coastal town in Maine, is the home of Citizens for a Green Camden. The story of the group’s founding would be as quaint and charming as Camden itself if it weren’t so serious:
"Green Camden was founded by a small group of concerned property owners who believe Camden should eliminate the use of harmful chemicals on the lawns in their town. A poison notification sign on the library grounds was the catalyst that prompted Marsha Smith to contact Beedy Parker, Patrisha McLean and Laurie Wolfrum about forming a group who shared the belief their children's health was more important than a weed free lawn. Soon Harry Smith, Molly Stone, Amy Dietrich and Louisa Enright had joined the group."
I’ll discuss New York State’s “Child Safe Playing Fields Act” tomorrow. Until then, join me in pondering the toxic ramifications of our public and private green spaces.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food 101: “Tater Tots? At Prep Schools, Try Rutabaga Fries”

My memory of public school food centers on one starch-laden, nutrition-lacking, cheap meal: spaghetti with meat sauce, corn, garlic bread and some iceberg lettuce.

The spaghetti was white, the beef in the meat sauce was from a factory farm, the corn was waterlogged and flavorless, the garlic bread was white and the iceberg lettuce was waterlogged and flavorless.

Thankfully, those meals are passing into history as we realize the importance of properly feeding our kids. Despite financial constraints that handcuff food purchasing and kitchen staff hiring, public school lunches are improving, albeit slowly.

In a different universe are the meals being offered at some private schools, which are the subject of an article in today’s New York Times. While the lunches can be first-rate, or at least sound like it, (“seared pork loin pizzaiola and turkey-and-ricotta piadina with arugula”) the more important detail, I believe, is that food is again becoming part of our education.

Roughly two generations missed out on learning how food grows, how to cook and how nutrition and health are intertwined. Knowledge is power and once we understand some basics, our choices will improve. As more people learn the truth about our food supply—the big food companies do everything in their power to prevent this from happening—our food supply will change for the better very, very quickly.

While the article focuses on private schools, I’ve seen great things happening at inner-city public schools as well, including gardens employing captured rainwater and in-depth conversations about food marketing.

However, if anything justifies the price of private school, it’s the following project:
“A pig, killed in Vermont and wrapped in plastic, arrived on Thursday at the school, where students will cut it up in biology class, make head cheese, prosciutto and bacon, among other delicacies, in cooking class, and then eat them.”
Click and salivate here to read “Tater Tots? At Prep Schools, Try the Rutabaga Fries” from today’s New York Times.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hudson, Canada's Historic Cosmetic Pesticide Ban

Tomorrow (May 6) marks the 20th anniversary of a watershed event that will probably get very little attention in the United States, especially if the lawn care industry has its way.

On May 6, 1991, Hudson, Quebec, a town just outside Montreal, became the first municipality in North America to pass a law banning the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private lawns and gardens (except for farms and golf courses).

The billion-dollar lawn care industry challenged the law, setting up a 10-year battle that ended in June 2001 with a unanimous (9-0) decision by the Canadian Supreme Court in favor of Hudson and its ban.

Emboldened, other Canadian municipalities enacted pesticide laws of varying degrees. The next big moment came when Quebec became the first province to restrict the sale and use of certain chemical pesticides in 2003. Ontario (Canada’s most populated province), followed suit on April 22, 2009 (Earth Day) and Nova Scotia just started phasing in restrictive laws.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have also recently passed laws, but, unfortunately, they contain loopholes that allow the lawn care companies to continue with business unfettered.

For a feel of the prevailing belief in Canada
the tide has turnedthis from the Ontario's Ministry of the Environment:
"[T]he use of pesticides to control weeds and insects for purely cosmetic reasons presents an unnecessary risk to our families and pets, especially when we can have healthier lawns and gardens without chemicals.

"We have listened to medical experts – like the Canadian Cancer Society – who have made a convincing case for reducing our exposure to pesticides, particularly children who are generally more susceptible to the potential toxic effects of pesticides."
About 80 percent of Canadians are now protected by some sort of pesticide-restriction law and—are you sitting?—Home Depot stopped selling home-use pesticides in its Canadian stores in 2008.

I’ll talk about the situation in the United States on Monday, but it’s very likely that most of our kids are playing on grass today that has been treated with pesticides for purely cosmetic purposes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Mystery of the Disappearing Unsulfured Dried Apricots

Funny anecdote from a cooking class yesterday:

I had turned a client on to real dried apricots (on the right in photo), which have much more flavor than the commonplace bright orange ones which are treated with sulfur dioxide to increase shelf life and to promote their neon color.

(The darker apricots, when fresh, are nature’s gummi bears; even kids agree with me on that.)

“Lisa” bought the darker apricots several times over a couple weeks, only to have the containers disappear rather quickly. She didn’t know if her husband or kids were eating them, but she was happy they were getting eaten.

Recently, a day or two after buying a new container, she went to grab some apricots, but, again, they were all gone.

“Where are the apricots?” she asked in frustration.

“You mean the rotten ones?” her husband, who happened to be in the kitchen, answered.

As it turns out, he had thrown out all the containers, thinking the apricots were spoiled. Mystery solved.

Here are some tips for buying, storing and using unsulfured dried fruit:
  • 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; it shouldn’t be that much more expensive than the doctored alternative.
  • Eat dried fruit plain for a quick pick-me-up, or add it chopped to oatmeal or plain yogurt for sweetness.
  • Tell everyone in your household about your purchase.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Other Part of the Tilapia Story, Starring Corn and Soy

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a surge in recipes for tilapia in magazines and newspapers and on television.

Yes, it’s cheap (for a reason) and it doesn’t taste like fish (for a related reason), but we most likely won’t get the other side of the tilapia story when experts such as Joy Bauer, the “resident nutrition expert” for NBC’s “Today” show, dispense cooking and health tips.

Since many of my clients ask me about tilapia, I was happy to see “Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish,” an article in yesterday’s New York Times, which summarizes the growing process.

According to the article, the “vast majority” of the tilapia eaten in the United States comes from Latin American or Asian fish farms. Yet, because tilapia is “fish,” it's automatically construed as “healthy.”

However, in reality, tilapia is really no different than commercial feedlot chicken, pork and beef, the factory foods that dominate our food supply:
"Known in the food business as 'aquatic chicken' because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood."
"Farmed tilapia is promoted as good for your health and for the environment at a time when many marine stocks have been seriously depleted. 'Did you know the American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week?' asks the industry Web site, abouttilapia.com. But tilapia has both nutritional and environmental drawbacks.

"Compared with other fish, farmed tilapia contains relatively small amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the fish oils that are the main reasons doctors recommend eating fish frequently; salmon has more than 10 times the amount of tilapia. Also, farmed tilapia contains a less healthful mix of fatty acids because the fish are fed corn and soy instead of lake plants and algae, the diet of wild tilapia."
Yes, eating tilapia is better than eating a Twinkie or a Big Mac, but we should at least know its whole story, one we usually won't hear from our designated “experts.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Better Shopping: Lose Aerosol Cans, Use Bottled Oils

Want to save some money on your food bill, either to combat rising prices or to free up dollars for higher-quality items?

One simple way is to stop buying overpriced cooking sprays in aerosol cans; their function can easily be replaced by pouring a touch of oil from a bottle into a pan and spreading it with your fingers or a paper towel.

These spray cans sell for $3 to $4 for six ounces of oil, not a bargain considering 32 ounces of good olive oil can be bought for under $10.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of these vegetable sprays (especially canola, soybean and corn) are made from genetically-modified, pesticide-laden crops. For more information on how these oils are made, click here.

Opt for high-quality olive oil, butter or coconut oil. If you want the neutral flavor of the vegetable oils, buy organic or non-GMO brands (i.e. Spectrum) in bottles. You'll still come out ahead financially.