Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Make Pumpkin Muffins or Pumpkin Bread

I made pumpkin mini muffins for Thanksgiving; they were a huge hit, if I may say so myself. I used boxed (no BPA!) organic pumpkin from Fig Food, a relatively new company. Fig Food's beans and soups can be found at Whole Foods nationally.


Yield: 1 loaf, 12-16 muffins, 48 mini muffins

1½ cups flour (preferably organic; whole wheat works)
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup pumpkin, from a box or can

1/3 cup canola or other neutral oil, non-GMO, if possible. Olive oil is fine as well.
2 eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1¼ cups sugar (organic cane sugar, if possible)

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt (unrefined sea salt, if possible)

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, beaten eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, baking soda and salt until smooth. Mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Using a paper towel, oil all sides (especially bottom) of a loaf pan (or muffin tin). Pour batter into pan. Bake until puffed and golden brown and an inserted toothpick or knife comes out a little gooey, about 30 minutes. Muffins, because they are smaller, will cook much quicker (12 to 15 minutes). Mini muffins will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove loaf (or muffins) from pan and let cool on cooling rack.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

USDA, Monsanto and Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

An email action alert I received yesterday from the Center for Food Safety deals with the USDA's continued attempts at foisting genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets on the population. There's a pretty good chance that if you are eating food containing "sugar," the sweetener is from GE sugar beets. And, if the USDA and Monsanto have their way, those chances will skyrocket.

According to Tom Philpott, who writes about food-related issues in Mother Jones:
"Sugar beets provide about half of the sugar consumed in the United States -- and Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet seed market with its Roundup Ready genes. The company's stranglehold over the beet market demonstrates its insidious market power. When a federal judge demanded in August 2010 that farmers stop planting Monsanto's GM beet seeds pending an impact study, farmers quickly found out that virtually no non-GM seed was available. Between 2005, when the USDA first greenlighted GM beets, and 2010, Monsanto had essentially driven all competition out of the market."
The action alert I received:
"USDA Once Again Pushes for GE Sugar Beet Commercialization—Send Your Comment Today!

"USDA recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) proposing a full-scale deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready sugar beets and is accepting public comments until 11:59pm EST on December 13, 2011. Unfortunately, it is clear that the USDA continues to dismiss the serious concerns of non-GE farmers and consumers regarding the environmental and socioeconomic effects of such an action. Genetically engineered sugar beets threaten the environment through transgenic contamination and weed resistance; threaten consumers by inhibiting the fundamental right to choose, and; threaten organic and non-GE farmers by placing the burden for contamination prevention on them instead of on the producers of the GE crop.

"As you may remember, in 2008, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Seeds, and the Sierra Club successfully sued the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its illegal approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready sugar beets. In 2010, the court banned GE sugar beets until USDA prepares a valid environmental impact statement. Since then, CFS has twice gone back to court, because USDA insists on allowing continued commercialization without proper environmental review. The third case is currently pending in federal district court.

"Despite the legal victory by CFS and our allies, USDA has once again failed to adequately analyze the threat that transgenic contamination, glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased herbicide use poses to farmers, consumers, and the environment. "
Click here to send your comment to the USDA today, urging it not to approve the deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, “Roundup Ready” sugar beets.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Limit Unwanted Catalogs and Junk Mail

Are you swimming in a sea of unwanted and unrequested catalogs and junk mail, especially now, during the holidays? With just a bit of effort you can curb the flow of mail to a trickle and possibly save a tree and some petroleum in the process.

It takes a little time, but whenever I receive a catalog or solicitation I have my name removed from the mailing list by either calling the toll-free phone number (all catalogs have them) or sending an email (for charities, non-profits, etc.). For mail from banks and credit card companies, I mail them a note (using their provided postage-paid envelope) kindly requesting name and address removal.

I've been doing this for about four years and I now rarely receive unwanted mail.

Another way to limit junk mail is to ask any magazines you subscribe to or any organizations you are a member of to not share, sell or rent your name and address to other companies, a practice that is commonplace.

I can't imagine the resources wasted on these unneeded mailings; thinking about it is mind-boggling.

UPDATE (1:10 p.m.): A reader just let me know about Catalog Choice, a service that helps with the process of opting out of unwanted mail. "I've found it reliable," she wrote.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jack LaLanne: Worry and Avoiding It

Our monthly dose of Jack LaLanne focuses on worry. I'm pretty sure Jack would be worrying more about exercise than shopping today. (If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch the video.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving + Quick & Easy Cranberry Sauce Recipe

The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow (if I don't fall into the cranberry sauce I just made). It's tart—cranberries' natural flavor—so add a little more sugar if necessary.

1 12-ounce (or similar size) package cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 orange, juice and zest

1/3 cup white sugar (organic cane sugar, if possible)

1/4 cup cold water

Pinch salt (unrefined sea salt, if possible)
2 or 3 shakes ground cinnamon (optional)

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer until cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, stirring and breaking cranberries occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey's Dark Meat: More Nutrients than White Meat

My annual "Dark meat is so much better than white meat for several reasons" post:

Happy Thanksgiving!

As usual, there will be a scrum at our buffet table.

I eat the dark meat of turkey (and chicken) almost exclusively, since I find it more flavorful and tender than white meat. Unfortunately, many at my Thanksgiving meal feel the same way.

But why is some meat dark and some white? Here’s the scoop, courtesy of the Really? column in The New York Times:

"In general, what makes one cut of turkey — or any other type of poultry — darker than another is the type of muscle it contains. Meat is darker if it contains higher levels of myoglobin, a compound that enables muscles to transport oxygen, which is needed to fuel activity. Since turkeys and chickens are flightless and walk a lot, their leg meat is dark while their wing and breast meat are white."
Contrary to popular belief, the article adds, dark meat has only marginal more fat and calories than white meat:
"[A]ccording to the Department of Agriculture, an ounce of boneless, skinless turkey breast contains about 46 calories and 1 gram of fat, compared with roughly 50 calories and 2 grams of fat for an ounce of boneless, skinless thigh."
And, as usually is the case (magnified for foods from quality sources), the fattier version is much more nutrient-dense:
"Compared with white meat, [dark meat] contains more iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12."
Click here to read the entire article.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mark Bittman Thanks Many Who Are Helping Society

With Thanksgiving approaching, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman wrote a great piece yesterday listing 25 "signs of hope" in the movement of "prodding American food back on a natural, sustainable, beautiful track."

The list touches on many components of the movement and acts as a great primer for those wanting to learn more. There were a handful of people and organizations I hadn't heard of but am now a big fan of.

Click here to read Bittman's article; more of us knowing the great work that
Tom Philpott, Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, Michael Pollan, etc. are doing makes society a better place.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Old News: Moneyed Interests Talk, Politicians Balk

Margo Wootan is the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). On Tuesday, she released this statement:
"It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children's health.

"At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting USDA and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together, the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill would protect industry's ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays every day of the week to the detriment of children's health."
Why? Because on Monday, according to an article in The New York Times:
"In a victory for the makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries, Congress on Monday blocked rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation’s school lunch program.

"The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program — were meant to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus, Agriculture Department officials said.

"The rules, proposed last January, would have cut the amount of potatoes served and would have changed the way schools received credit for serving vegetables by continuing to count tomato paste on a slice of pizza only if more than a quarter-cup of it was used. The rules would have also halved the amount of sodium in school meals over the next 10 years.

"But late Monday, lawmakers drafting a House and Senate compromise for the agriculture spending bill blocked the department from using money to carry out any of the proposed rules."
Even if you think Wootan and The Times are crazed, left-wing, occupying fanatics, let's say they are five percent correct in their above statements. Isn't that enough to warrant protest from us all, no matter our political leanings? Shouldn't our children's health trump adults' quest for ego, power and wealth?

With every kowtowing to the corporate gods by our elected politicians, my desire to run for Congress grows.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Making Hamburgers? Try Ground Lamb

I cook hamburgers using grass-fed beef two or three times each month. As an alternative, many people make turkey burgers, but when I am in the mood for something different, I use ground lamb. I love lamb's earthy (or slightly gamey, depending on your palate) taste.

To complement the lamb's flavor, I incorporated sautéed onions, chopped parsley and ground cumin into the patties. Another possibility is feta cheese, but I didn't have any.

For a sauce, I felt like something other than ketchup, so I combined equal parts plain whole fat yogurt, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Sides were a salad of greens from my garden and pan-fried Japanese sweet potatoes bought at a farmers' market.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Farm Bill Explained: "The Biggest Farm Bill Loser"

The best food-related animation short of 2011 is Chipotle's "Back to the Start" (if you haven't seen it, two minutes of your time demands it), but another worth entry in the genre is Food & Water Watch's "The Biggest Farm Bill Loser," which encapsulates the under-the-radar, every-five-years Farm Bill that dictates this country's food policy.

Watch below to get a sense of how concentrated power (made possible by Big Food's cozy relationship with our elected politicians) has made us a sick—and getting sicker—nation. (If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch the video.)

For a more in-depth discussion of the Farm Bill and its consequences, click here to read Mark Bittman's column last week in The New York Times, which delves into the political dealings and policy minutiae of this enormously important—but virtually neglected—piece of legislation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The New Yorker's Annual Food Issue

This week's issue of The New Yorker is the magazine's annual food issue. Unfortunately, most articles are available online only to subscribers, but two pieces—Adam Gopnik's "The First Served," a short summary of turkeys and Thanksgiving in America and Jane Kramer's longer "The Food at Our Feet," about foraging in Europe—are available to everyone.

Click here to read Gopnik's "The First Served."

Click here to read Kramer's "The Food at Our Feet."

And click here to view the issue's table of contents to help determine if a trip to the library, bookstore or newsstand is warranted.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Quick and Easy Bean Dip or Bean Spread

Here are instructions for a quick and easy bean concoction, which can be used as a dip or as a spread on sandwiches:

Drain and rinse a can of beans (any variety is fine). Put beans into a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher until desired consistency is achieved. Add seasonings (your choice!)—salt, pepper, chopped parsley, dried rosemary, minced garlic, cumin powder, olive oil, hot sauce, tahini, lemon juice, etc.—and mix to combine. Taste and reseason accordingly.

As a dip, serve with chips and/or vegetables. For sandwiches, how about a vegetarian special of the bean spread, cheese, avocado, tomatoes and some greens?

Of the canned brands, Eden (organic) is my favorite (and free of BPA), but the most expensive. There are other organic brands that are about half the price and only a few cents more than conventional beans (containing pesticides).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Disposable Water Bottle Ban in Grand Canyon Scrapped

Did you hear the one about the top parks official at the Grand Canyon who tried to ban the sale of disposable plastic water bottles at the park, in an effort to decrease the waste (30 percent of the park's total garbage) caused by disposable plastic bottles?

Oops, it’s not a joke! Coca-Cola, which distributes Dasani water, got wind of the plan and it was scrapped only a couple weeks before its scheduled implementation. This may come as a shock, but money (Coca-Cola's, not mine) may have swayed the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, to kneecap the ban. The company has donated more than $13 million to the national parks.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson, according to an article in The New York Times, "characterized the bottle ban as limiting personal choice."

Sorry, but this limiting personal choice argument is getting ridiculous. If people can't clean up after themselves (in one of the world's great spectacles, nonetheless), then they don't deserve personal choice. And how about my personal choice to take a hike without encountering (totally unnecessary) petroleum-based plastic bottles strewn all over the place? Unfortunately my personal choice doesn't include the purchase of anything, so I've got no shot of being heard.

Limiting personal choice? My ass. The ban did not extend to juice or soda, and plenty of (free) water filling stations for reusable bottles had been installed.

Is there anyone remaining in power who has any decency?

Maybe I should run for Congress. Unfortunately I don't have millions of dollars for campaigning, but the health insurance plan that comes with the job looks inviting enough to go into debt. Don't even get me started on the pillaging done by the health insurance companies. How can blind 20 percent annual increases be legal?

Click here for The New York Times article about the blocking of the bottle ban plan and click here for the blog post that acts as a sidebar to the story. Leave a comment below if you want to donate to my Congressional campaign. Also, contributions to help pay for monthly highway robbery (read: my health insurance) would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Death from a Bun," Courtesy of "The Daily Show"

Here's more evidence that almost anyone—and the accompanying vested interests—can gain a platform in the conversation about food and nutrition, as seen in a report last week on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Unfortunately, there was no mention of grass-fed food products or factory farming.

If you are receiving The Delicious Truth by email, click here to watch Aasif Mandvi do his thing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Out of Dish Soap? Add Water, Save Money

A quick money-saving tip for the kitchen (it's only pennies, but everything counts!):

When you seemingly can't squeeze anymore hand dishwashing soap out of the bottle, add water to the container and shake. You'll have a full bottle of less-than-full-strength soap, but it'll still be effective enough to get your plates and glasses clean.

While on the subject of dish soap, it would be great if more of us used plant-based liquids rather than the harsh petroleum-based soaps that contain phosphates, dyes and fragrances, superfluous ingredients that do nothing to improve cleaning but are quite effective at harming our health and/or the environment.

Many brands (Seventh Generation, Method, Martha Stewart Clean, etc.) exist and are available at stores such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Target, where they are priced competitively with the better-known national brands.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recycling Plastic Bags and Flexible Plastics at Whole Foods

My local Whole Foods recently started offering medium-sized paper bags in its produce section, accompanied by a sign suggesting that shoppers place their fruits and vegetables in paper, not the plastic bags ubiquitous in supermarkets (and still present at Whole Foods).

This seems a logical step for the company; it curtailed the use of plastic bags at checkout several years ago and offers shoppers a $0.10 credit for using their own bag.

In addition, Whole Foods (and a handful of other stores) takes back used—but clean—flexible plastic (bags, wrap, bubble wrap, etc.) for recycling, a great service since the majority of municipal recycling programs do not.

When I learned of this two years ago, I began warehousing my plastics for eventual return to Whole Foods. It was eye opening to witness how quickly the plastic accumulated: bags or wrap for fruits, vegetables, pasta, bread, sugar, chocolate chips, toilet paper and sponges, to name just a few. The list, unfortunately, seems endless.

Does anyone else return these plastics to accepting stores?

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Latest in the Fight over Improving School Lunches

There's no denying that food is big business and that the ongoing attempts to improve our food system can lead to heated political brawls.

Proposed changes to the multi-billion dollar school-lunch program have led to a fight, for example, over the future of the potato in school cafeterias. Farm-state senators are battling to keep the potato's sacrosanct status, while others are hoping to reduce the intake of starchy foods.

Click here to read a story from last week's New York Times ("School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute") that summarizes where we stand. Here are three important paragraphs:
"The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school-lunch program — are meant to reduce rising childhood obesity, Agriculture Department officials say. Food companies including Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and the makers of frozen pizza and French fries have a huge stake in the new guidelines and many argue that it would raise the cost of meals and call for food that too many children just will not eat.

"With some nutrition experts rallying to the Obama administration’s side, the battle is shaping up as a contentious and complicated fight involving lawmakers from farm states and large low-income urban areas that rely on the program, which fed some 30 million children last year with free or subsidized meals. Food companies have spent more than $5.6 million so far lobbying against the proposed rules.

"A group of farm-state senators have already succeeded in blocking an Agriculture Department plan to limit the amount of starchy foods in school meals, and are now hoping to win a larger victory. The group includes Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who once worked picking potatoes and led the opposition to the new starch rules last month."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Atrazine in Our Drinking Water; Occupy EPA's Email Account!

Here's the latest action alert from Pesticide Action Network (PAN), dealing with the herbicide atrazine, which is rampant in our drinking water. Let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) know that you are not happy with how it is handling its review of atrazine; this can be our little (online) occupation!
"When 10 studies in 25 are protected from public scrutiny and the rigors of peer review, and those studies are industry-funded, we have reason for concern. Yet that is exactly the situation we had with the most recent round of EPA’s atrazine review: of the 25 studies addressing human health risks (cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption...) submitted for review, 10 were secret because corporate.

"Urge EPA to discount and disclose the corporate science backing atrazine» For over a year now we’ve been watching the Agency’s long-overdue review of atrazine. Now EPA is accepting comments on a new petition to pull the use of atrazine, pointing to misleading industry-funded science that has kept this common herbicide on the market.

"Here’s the deal. An independent scientist took a look at industry-funded reviews of the effects of atrazine on fish and frogs, and found this:

"'[The] industry-funded review misrepresented more than 50 studies and included 122 inaccurate and 22 misleading statements. Of these inaccurate and misleading statements, 96.5% seem to benefit the makers of atrazine in that they support the safety of the chemical.'

"Syngenta has shown time and again that they are serious and unscrupulous in their commitment to protect atrazine’s market share in the U.S. at all costs. Last time the Agency reviewed atrazine, they kept it on the market even as Europe banned it because it’s a water contaminant. Not incidentally, atrazine’s maker, Syngenta, lobbied EPA with over 50 closed door meetings in the run-up to that decision.

"Now, 94% our drinking water is contaminated with a chemical known to have endocrine disrupting effects at extraordinarily low exposure levels.

"We have until Nov 14th to tell EPA “not this time!”» Over the next two weeks we have an opportunity to send a clear message. We want any and all decisions on atrazine to be based on transparent, independent science, and we want decisions to be undertaken in the public interest."
Click here to let the EPA know what you think.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chicago Public Schools Serving Antibiotic-Free Chicken

Starting this week, kids in Chicago will be a little bit healthier a couple times each month.

In a move that flew under the media radar but could be the start of something very important, Chicago Public Schools began serving antibiotic-free chicken on Tuesday. The school system, the nation's third largest, will now be buying 1.2 million pounds of antibiotic-free bone-in drumsticks annually from Amish poultry farms, representing about one quarter of the chicken served in its cafeterias.

Antibiotics are administered to our livestock to promote growth and compensate for the decrepit conditions of industrial/factory feedlots. Seventy percent of all antibiotics used in this country are given to healthy livestock; this overuse has led to the proliferation of super bacteria immune to modern medicine's arsenal of antibiotics. Bottom line: our most powerful drugs sometimes don't work and people are dying because of it.

Public awareness about the issue is growing, though. The Pew Charitable Trusts, which had a hand in the Chicago deal, has a "Moms for Antibiotic Awareness" campaign, while Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has been the indefatigable voice on the subject in Congress. Unfortunately, her bill, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), is in its annual stalled mode.

But this move by the Chicago schools could be a game-changer. If costs are manageable—the drumsticks are only a few pennies more per serving than "chicken" nuggets—why wouldn't every school district be serving antibiotic-free chicken? OK, I'll take Tulsa and Tallahassee to start, but seeing Chicago take the initial leap can only make this easier for other institutions to discuss and tackle.

Going to a school parents' association meeting soon? How about discussing Chicago's move? Knowledge is power; spreading awareness can be the most powerful of tools.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Make Chinese Dumplings

Yield: About 48 dumplings

1 lb. Ground beef (grass-fed, if possible)

2 Tbs. Garlic, minced

1 Tbs. Ginger, minced

1 cup Scallions, minced (about 1 bunch)

3 Tbs. Soy sauce

2 Tbs. Rice vinegar

2 tsp. Toasted Asian sesame oil

To taste Hot sauce (i.e. Tabasco)

1 package Dumpling wrappers (about 40-48)

As needed Good-quality canola or other neutral oil

1. Combine all ingredients (except dumpling wrappers) in a bowl and mix well.

2. Drop a small amount (about 1 tsp.) of the mixture into the center of a wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper with a little water, fold into a triangle, press and pleat to encase.

3. Heat ½ inch of canola or other neutral oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, and without crowding the pan, arrange dumplings and cook until bottoms are nicely browned. Turn and brown second side.

4. Let dumplings drain and cool on paper towels.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Thoughts on Local vs Organic: Why Not Both?

A reader left a comment on yesterday's post that echoes the local vs. organic question I hear often:
"Is there a difference in health and taste between buying fruits and veggies from the local farmers at the [farmers'] market versus buying organic fruits and veggies from stores like Whole Foods?

"Personally, I often find that the fruits bought locally taste a bit better than the organic counterparts shipped from the west coast or sometimes other countries. Even those that are not freshly picked but stored (like pears and apples)."
We all make decisions when it comes to what we eat. For me, the goal is to avoid pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and synthetic ingredients in my food. Thus, for fruits and vegetables, organic is paramount. Sure, a little flavor and nutrition may sometimes be lost in shipping and storage (especially of delicate items), but sidestepping pesticides is of utmost personal importance.

That being said, since I eat with the seasons, most of what I purchase is organic and local. (I'll never buy berries in January from South America.) Whole Foods does a very good job of highlighting in-season local foods, but they do have to make a profit, so selling asparagus in the winter is not unheard of.

Personally, I find that the less-perishable organic items (i.e. apples, cherries, bananas) taste fine even when shipped long distances.

Again, how we decide to eat is a very, very personal decision.