Friday, September 30, 2011

Scarborough, Maine Bans Pesticides on Town Property

Earlier this year, on several occasions, I discussed the widespread use of chemical pesticides as "beautifying agents for private and public lawns."

Some states—including New York—have taken steps to limit our vulnerable children's exposure to these dangerous and superfluous chemicals, but, for the most part, the created ideal of lush, unblemished green spaces holds sway. I'll ask the question again: "What price are we willing to pay to eradicate every dandelion?"

As we become more knowledgeable about the subject in the United States, slow change is following, albeit on a very, very local level. (That being said, Canada now has provincial laws governing pesticide use, 20 years after its first municipal ban.)

The latest town to act is Scarborough, ME, which last week banned the use of synthetic chemical pesticides on town property. This was small-town politics at its best, with the group Citizens for a Green Scarborough instrumental in the decision. Support came from Marsha Smith and Citizens for a Green Camden; they won a similar battle in Camden three years ago.

To paraphrase Tip O'Neill, "All pesticide politics is local, especially because the big chemical and lawn care companies want to preserve the status quo."

Need further proof that a handful of strong voices can make a difference? Click here to read what happened in Highland Park, IL when the local government tried to use pesticides at three parks. Pay attention to the number of emails and signatures it took to cause change. Don't think your voice is mute!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Three Easy Steps for Cleaning Up Your Garden

The rising cost of food and the questionable safety of our food supply have helped spur a boom in home gardening.

For those just finishing their first summer of growing vegetables, though, it's important to know that care for your garden doesn't end with the cooling temperatures.

First, cool-weather vegetables—especially dark leafy greens and lettuces—can keep growing well into late fall or early winter, depending on where you live and recent weather patterns. Several years ago I was cutting greens until the first week of December.

Second, proper cleanup is essential for soil health and insuring that next year's crop will be a success. Rodale News just published an informative article offering three easy steps—planting a cover crop, composting and letting certain plants linger—that those of us with gardens should be doing in the next several weeks.

Click here to learn more about proper garden cleanup.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Nontraditional Sloppy Joe, Using Lamb

I've been threatening to make sloppy joes for dinner for over a year but haven't managed to get around to it. Last night, though, without even thinking, I made a variation.

I was sautéing some ground lamb in a pan with eggplant, leeks, sweet potato leaves, broccoli and kale. I looked in my refrigerator for anything else I could add and saw a half-used jar of tomato paste.

I added the paste, plus a little water to thin it out; the concentrated tomatoes added great color, flavor and texture to the mixture. The fat in the lamb also helped everything come together, plus I added some ground cumin, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper for additional flavor.

A traditional sloppy joe is comprised of ground beef, onions, tomato paste (or some variation) and seasonings, so I'll consider my lamb-veggie-tomato paste concoction a worthy cousin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Using Your Fridge & Freezer for More than Just Milk

Don't be afraid of keeping a wide variety of foods and ingredients in your refrigerator and freezer. This will help prolong shelf lives and decrease the chance of pests in your kitchen.

I'm not just talking about the usual milk, eggs, meat and vegetables. In my refrigerator I store flours, certain oils, opened bags of pasta and dried chilies.

In my freezer I have nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, grains (including quinoa, rice and oats) and baking powder. There's no need to defrost any of these before using.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mark Bittman: "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?"

In yesterday's New York Times, columnist Mark Bittman did his best to redirect the conversation about junk food and if it's really cheaper than real food.
"The 'fact' that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, 'when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli ...' or 'it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.'

"This is just plain wrong."
Bittman also touches upon the demonization of smoking and how a similar treatment of junk food could help change how society views food.
"Obviously, in an atmosphere where any regulation is immediately labeled 'nanny statism,' changing 'the environment' is difficult. But we’ve done this before, with tobacco. The 1998 tobacco settlement limited cigarette marketing and forced manufacturers to finance anti-smoking campaigns — a negotiated change that led to an environmental one that in turn led to a cultural one, after which kids said to their parents, 'I wish you didn’t smoke.' Smoking had to be converted from a cool habit into one practiced by pariahs."
Click here to read the entire piece. If you have time, try to read some of the highlighted comments; there are some interesting and thought-provoking ideas that help expand the discussion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jack LaLanne: Exercise & Eat Well, Despite Your Problems!

Our monthly dose of Jack LaLanne has Jack instructing us to not quit exercising and eating well, despite whatever problems we may have.

As Jack says, "Isn't it smarter to be happy with the problem than to be miserable with it?"

From six feet under, I think I can hear Jack ordering, "Give me 10 push-ups, now!"

(For those who can't see the video below, click here to watch.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Our Tax Dollars Hard at Work: Twinkies Instead of Apples

The conversation about creating a healthier food supply is a complex discussion that involves trillions of dollars and dozens of industries and special interest groups. Our current system is expensive and costs taxpayers bundles, whether it be to pay for the primary and secondary health consequences of awful foodstuffs or subsidize the ingredients that constitute these concoctions.

The latter was the subject of a report ("Apples to Twinkies") released yesterday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.

Here's the start of the group's press release announcing the study, which details the derailment of our federal agricultural policy:

"Federal subsidies for commodity crops are also subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 19 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to Apples to Twinkies, a new report by U.S. PIRG. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy less than a quarter of an apple per taxpayer.

"'At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,' said U.S. PIRG Policy Analyst Mike Russo. 'It’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.'

"Between 1995 and 2010, American taxpayers spent over $260 billion in agricultural subsidies. Most subsidies went to the country’s largest farming operations, mainly to grow just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. Among other uses, food manufacturers process these crops into additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products."
Click here to read a summary of the report.

Click here to read the entire study.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Quick and Easy Dinner Using Grass-Fed Beef and Veggies

The quickest of quick homemade and healthy dinners for those who find themselves with limited time to cook:

Cook some ground beef (grass-fed if at all possible) in a little olive oil in a sauté pan. When the beef is about 75 percent cooked, remove it to a bowl. Leave some of the oil and juices from the beef in the pan.

(Alternatively, instead of throwing out the excess oil and juices, sop them up with a piece of bread or drink them with a spoon. Don't listen to the prevailing debatable science—that's all it is!—that makes fat the worst villain since Dr. No.)

Anyway, while the beef is cooking, chop some veggies (whatever you have!). After removing the beef, add the veggies and cook until they become soft. Add slower-cooking veggies first. Put the ground beef back in pan, mix, season with unrefined salt, fresh ground pepper and any other spices you like.

With limited time on my hands, I made this last night in less than 10 minutes, using zucchini, garlic, scallions, yellow pepper, purple kale and parsley. I also added a little cumin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Healthier School Lunches to Cost More; Can We Lose the Low-Fat Milk?

Click here to read the latest on healthier—and more expensive—school lunches. Unfortunately, since the politics of our food supply are so wacky, we're left scrambling to pay for "special" food that should be the default.

Also, why are we not giving our kids (or everyone for that matter) whole fat milk? The low- and fat-free myth has snowballed from debatable science to accepted governmental and societal policy. How about the nutrients in the fat? How about the idea of the different components of foods (proteins, fats, carbs, nutrients, etc.) working in concert to make a complete food? If we were supposed to be eating egg white omelets (an incomplete food), don't you think the eggs would come without the yolks?!?!?!?

We are having the wrong conversation in this country! Instead of worry about fat and cholesterol, we should be talking about the hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial colors and denuded foods that are the real causes of our plummeting collective health.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fast Food Restaurant Playgrounds as Bad as the Food?

From The New York Times, talk about an esoteric subject that's pretty gross when you think about it: A Mother’s War on Germs at Fast-Food Playlands:
Dr. Carr-Jordan, a child development professor and a mother of four from Chandler, Ariz., has visited dozens of restaurant playgrounds in 11 states in recent months to test them for cleanliness. What the inspections and lab analyses have revealed is the widespread presence of an array of pathogens, from coliform bacteria to staphylococcus, at levels that experts said indicated that restaurants might not be disinfecting their playlands as diligently as they should.
Moral of the story? No fast food restaurant visits equals no fast restaurant playgrounds!

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food You Like on Sale? Buy in Bulk to Maximize Savings

I love the shopping maxim, "If you find a pair of shoes you like, buy two."

The same idea can be tailored to food, especially during these times of escalating costs when everyone is looking to shave expenses:

"If you see food you buy all the time on sale, buy 10."

Three times this month I've followed that advice, bought food that keeps frozen or at room temperature and saved some money in the process.

First, on September 2, Whole Foods had a one-day sale on grass-fed ground beef, offering it for $5 per pound. I usually pay about $8 per pound (at Whole Foods or farmers' markets), so the 10 pounds I bought (and froze) saved me $30.

Whole Foods also always runs two-week sales of selected products, and there is a patterned rotation of organic and green items.
Included in the last fortnight of sales were Smjör butter ($2.50 vs. $3.39) and Green & Black's 85% dark chocolate ($2.50 vs. $3.19 at Fairway). Considering these are two staples of my diet, the 10 of each I bought were not frivolous purchases and the $16 I saved was not frowned upon.

Does anyone else have any money-saving food shopping strategies?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Danger! Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops & Their Pesticides

I gave a lecture/cooking demonstration last night and one of the many topics we discussed was genetically engineered (GE) crops. Over 90 percent of the corn and soy grown in the United States is GE, and when we consider how much corn and soy is used in the production of processed foods and in the feeding of cattle, chickens and pigs, we start to understand the importance of this issue.

The altered crops don’t live in a bubble. Instead, they live in a bubble sprayed with pesticides that the crops have been engineered to tolerate.
The giant chemical company Monsanto is the leader in the field and controls both the pesticide (Roundup) and the GE seeds (Roundup Ready). Glyphosate is the main active ingredient in Roundup and its dangers as an endocrine disruptor are becoming better understood.

Rodale News just published a great piece that serves as an important primer on GE crops and their associated pesticides. Follows is the first paragraph, but click here to read the entire (short) article. I highly recommend reading it and then forwarding the link to other moms, dads and concerned citizens. Knowledge is power!

"The scientific evidence piling up against Roundup, the best-selling weed killer for home and farm use, is starting to sound a bit sci-fi. The latest damaging evidence against this potent herbicide, once widely believed to be safe, comes from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which is now detecting glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, in streams, the air, and even rain."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

EPA Takes Another Look at Insecticide Chlorpyrifos

Here's the latest action alert from my friends at Pesticide Action Network (PAN); it deals with the insecticide chlorpyrifos, which is especially damaging to children (and widely used in conventional apple production). Chlorpyrifos was banned from home use in 2001 but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now reviewing the health effects of its agricultural uses.
As kids head back to school this fall, many will find learning an extra challenge. Scientists now estimate that as many as ¼ of all U.S. children may have lower IQs due to eating foods sprayed with pesticides like chlorpyrifos.

This is both frightening and fixable.

The science is in, and action to get chlorpyrifos out of our food supply is long overdue. Help us tell EPA it’s time to protect children’s developing minds and bodies from this dangerous chemical.

Scientists have known for more than a decade that chlorpyrifos can be especially harmful to children. That’s exactly why it was banned from home use back in 2001. Three new studies this spring provide yet more evidence that chlorpyrifos can harm a child’s developing nervous system, including lowering his or her IQ by several points. There is also evidence of links to ADHD.

Chlorpyrifos food residue is the leading driver of dietary risk both because of its neurotoxic effects, and because so much is used. Ten million pounds of chlorpyrifos are applied to apples, peaches, sweet peppers and many other crops in the U.S. every year. The vast majority of us — including children — carry breakdown products of the chemical in our bodies.

This month our public officials are finally reviewing the health risks of chlorpyrifos, in response to a lawsuit PAN and our partners filed in
2007. Add your name to our petition urging EPA to act now on this dangerous chemical that puts our children at risk.
Click here to add your name to PAN's petition, which urges the EPA to protect children from chlorpyrifos.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to Make Butternut Squash-Leek Soup

From the "It's All About Technique" School of Cooking:

Using the second butternut squash I just picked from my garden, I made butternut-leek soup. The process for making vegetable soups is ridiculously easy, as I've demonstrated before in my posts on how to make asparagus soup and carrot soup.

The only accommodation was the peeling of the butternut squash before cooking it. Other than that, nothing really changed. Don't believe me? Here's my post on asparagus soup from this spring, with necessary edits added to make a butternut squash soup. Anyone for turnip soup?

I made my asparagus butternut squash soup using just two ingredients (asparagus butternut squash and scallions leeks) bought from Nevia No at the farmers’ market grown in my garden 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
leeks (whites and greens) in butter in a soup pot (uncovered), stirring often to prevent the scallions leeks from browning. While that mixture cooked, I washed the asparagus butternut squash, peeled it and chopped it into smaller pieces (about 1½ inches cubes). 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
leeks were soft (10 minutes), I added the edible asparagus butternut squash pieces and cooked for five minutes over medium heat. I then added my asparagus stock water and brought the mixture to a boil. I lowered the heat and let it simmer (partly covered) for about 30 minutes, until the asparagus butternut squash cubes were very soft.

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