Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011: An Easy Recipe for Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

I've been making this banana bread with chocolate chips for years; it never fails!

AN EASY RECIPE FOR
BANANA BREAD WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS
(OCTOBER 17, 2011)

Here's a very easy recipe for a delicious banana bread with chocolate chips. It's a basic recipe—nothing fancy at all—that I've been making for years, but over time I've become more cognizant of the ingredients I use.

For example, I use only really ripe organic bananas.

I use olive oil instead of the more common canola oil; I can't tell a difference in flavor and I avoid the process used to make commercial vegetable oils.

The sugar is organic pure cane sugar and the flour is organic whole wheat. The vanilla extract and chocolate chips are organic as well. Whether you use all, some or no organic ingredients, this cake will get eaten quickly.

Just remember that the cake will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. There will be a lot of heat trapped inside, so a dried-out cake is a possibility and disappointment. (Hi, mom!).

BANANA BREAD WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS

3 bananas, ripe, mashed
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (I use olive)
¾ cup sugar
1 teasp. vanilla extract
1¼ cup flour
1 teasp. baking soda
½ cup chocolate chips
1 Tablesp. butter or oil (to coat loaf pan)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat with a large spoon until creamy. Add the bananas and blend well.

2. Add flour, baking soda and chocolate chips and mix.

3. Pour mixture into the buttered or oiled loaf pan and put on middle rack in oven. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes (time will vary depending on your oven). Loaf is done when a toothpick is inserted into the middle and comes out slightly moist. (If you like your cake a little gooey, remove from oven when a little batter still clings to the toothpick.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best of 2011: Switching to Organic Bananas

Here's a simple change for the better that all of us should be able to make easily:

SWITCHING TO
ORGANIC BANANAS

(THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2011)

At the two supermarkets (Fairway and Whole Foods) where I do most of my food shopping, conventional bananas are $0.79 per pound. Organic bananas—healthier for us, the workers on banana plantations and the environment—are $0.99 per pound.


Considering the average banana weighs about one-third of a pound, an organic banana costs seven cents more than a conventional one ($0.33 versus $0.26).


Assuming a banana-a-day-habit, switching from conventional to organic bananas translates into about $25 per year.


Need more convincing? From BananaLink, an English non-profit that "campaigns for a fair and sustainable banana trade":
"Intensive methods of production are used to maximise productivity creating high quantities of waste and pollution, soil erosion, deforestation and a steady increase in pests and diseases that can only be fought with more harmful pesticides.

"Bananas produced for export consume the largest volume of chemicals of any crop except cotton and the use of over 400 agrochemicals in the banana industry is—literally—fatal for both workers and their environment."
If your budget is tight, considering shrinking portion sizes of other foods to free up the $25. For example, most brand name cereals—many nutritionally deficient—cost about $5 per box. Finding a way to make a box last longer can help facilitate the switch to organic bananas.

Replacing boxed cereals with homemade oatmeal will get you a Mercedes, but that's another story for another day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011: DO NOT Use Antibacterial Soap, Rinse, Repeat

How a seemingly helpful product is nothing but a marketing scam:

DO NOT USE ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP,
RINSE, REPEAT
(THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2011)


Do not use antibacterial soap.
Do not use antibacterial soap.

Do not use antibacterial soap.


Sure, writing it once would have sufficed, but there are three major reasons to not use antibacterial soap. Any of the three alone would be enough to stop using it, but the triptych should make us run for the hills.

Reason #1: Antibacterial soap, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is “no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands.”

Reason #2: Triclosan, the main chemical in the majority of antibacterial soaps, may actually be weakening our defenses by helping to create even stronger bacteria. (This is similar to how small doses of antibiotics administered to our livestock are linked to the development of bacteria resistant to our current roster of antibiotics.)

Reason #3: Triclosan, according to Karl Tupper, Staff Scientist at the Pesticide Action Network, gets “washed down the drain [and] ultimately ends up in sewage sludge, which is then spread on farm fields as fertilizer.” This wouldn’t be so bad for our food and for us, Tupper says, if triclosan wasn’t “an endocrine disruptor that affects thyroid function, sperm production and the immune system.” Oh, and it also affects fetal development.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best of 2011: "Back to the Start" - Chipotle's Must-See Video

This may be my favorite post of the year, not because of what I wrote, but because of the brilliant animated short I included (which now has been watched almost four million times).

"BACK TO THE START": CHIPOTLE'S MUST SEE VIDEO
(SEPTEMBER 2, 2011)

On the basis of one two-minute video, add Chipotle to the (short) list of companies I like. Before seeing the video yesterday, I had known the basics of the company's ethos. After watching, I did a little reading and am impressed with what Chipotle, a public company, is doing on a national, mass-market scale.


It seems as if the company actually cares about the greater good, something in short supply these days. For example, a lot of the meat (beef, chicken, pork) used is from animals raised without antibiotics or hormones, almost half the beans are organic and the cilantro is organic.

The animated video, "Back to the Start," just went national. According to the company,
"Chipotle plans to show the two-minute film nationally beginning in September. It will appear on nearly 5,700 movie theater screens in advance of feature films and will educate consumers about Chipotle's favored farming methods, and demonstrate the differences between industrial farming and more sustainable methods."
Again, I am amazed this is from a publicly-traded company. There is hope! What do you think?

(For those who receive The Delicious Truth via email or can't see the video below, click here to watch it on YouTube.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011: Mrs. Farmer, Why Does the Arugula Have Holes?

Hopefully this post from the spring helps us realize that our supermarket displays of uniform, unblemished fruits and vegetables may not be a good thing.

CUSTOMER TO FARMER:
"WHY DOES THE ARUGULA
HAVE HOLES?"
(MAY 12, 2011)


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.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Best of 2011: Pepperidge Farm Rids Colored Goldfish of Artificial Colors

Today and all of next week I’ll be reposting blogs from 2011 that my clients thought informative and helpful in their quest to shop and eat better. Today's recounts Pepperidge Farm's welcome decision to stop using artificial colors in its colored goldfish.

PEPPERIDGE FARM OUSTS
ARTIFICIAL COLORS
FROM COLORED GOLDFISH

(MARCH 31, 2011)

While the F.D.A’s two-day hearing on petroleum-based artificial colors continues today, know that American companies offer different products to American and European consumers.


In the United States, for example, M&M’s and Skittles (Mars, Inc.), Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars (Kellogg’s) and strawberry sundaes at McDonald’s contain artificial dyes, while the same products in Europe are colored with plant-based extracts.

In the European Union, warning labels are required for foods containing any of six artificial colors. Because of Europe’s heightened awareness of synthetic dyes, a warning label is tantamount to limited sales. Thus, extracts from real foods such as beets, paprika and turmeric are used to color.

But not all American companies are so stuck in their hometown mud. Pepperidge Farm, which, for seven years, had used artificial colorants in its colored goldfish, switched to natural dyes in July 2010.


The colored goldfish are now brightened with annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika extract, paprika, turmeric extract, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate, instead of blue 2, red 40, red 3 and blue 1. (There is a banner on the new bags with "Colors From Natural Ingredients" written.)


Interestingly, Pepperidge Farm cited customer preference for its recent switch, the same reason it gave me in September 2008 for employing artificial colors in 2003.

Pepperidge Farm, March 2011: “There were so many consumers who had children that had problems with artificial colorings that we decided to change to the natural colorants.”

Pepperidge Farm, September 2008: “We used to use natural colorings, but we couldn’t achieve the vibrant colors that consumers wanted, so we had to go the other way. Consumer preference was for a brighter, broader range of colors.”

While it may seem that the large corporations exert iron-fisted control, know that public sentiment and purchasing power—and their role in the bottom line—shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Don’t like a product? Make a phone call (or six).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Take Action Against Methyl Iodide, Used on Strawberries

The latest action alert from Pesticide Action Network focuses on methyl iodide, a known carcinogen essential to California's conventional strawberry crop:
We’ve pitched a long battle here in California to keep the cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide out of strawberry fields. Getting it banned here will make a national ban all the more likely. Some 90% of the nation’s strawberries are grown here. So without a CA market, methyl iodide just isn’t viable. That’s the strategy.

We need national public will to make this work, and we need another push today.

TAKE ACTION. With your help, we’ve held the line by “doing democracy” daily. We’ve written letters, called decision makers, passed local resolutions, held hearings, hosted farm tours and press conferences and more. None of this work is glamorous, and it is all incremental: every little bit builds on the many little bits before. And it works!

We’re told that the new head of the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) will be appointed around the new year and that this person will either formalize the de facto ban on methyl iodide that we’ve seen this last year, or not. Let’s make sure the agency knows we’re still watching — and that keeping this carcinogenic chemical out of California must be a priority for the new year.


TAKE ACTION. Last March, Brown said he’d “take a fresh look” at the methyl iodide decision. Since then, memos have gone public showing that the decision was based on political calculations with no defensible basis in science. Whomever Brown appoints to head DPR must take swift action to reverse this bad decision.


Meanwhile, we thank you for a year of devoted, democratic action. Together we’ve held a very real line here in California.


• Arysta’s PR people have told reporters that they “don’t call it ‘methyl iodide’ anymore because the public thinks ‘methyl iodide’ means poison.”

• When asked why they don’t to use a fumigant that we are told is absolutely essential to California’s agricultural industry, farmers say, in effect, “because it’s expensive, we can make do without it, and ‘those activists have been very effective.’”

“Those activists” are us! Let’s stay effective and keep the pressure on.


TAKE ACTION

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pearled Barley vs. Hulled Barley and a Whole Grain Primer

Yesterday I wrote about a beef, barley and mushroom soup I made using hulled barley and a reader asked the difference between "hulled" barley and "pearled" barley.

Simply put, hulled barley (right in photo) is a whole grain, meaning the three parts of the seed—bran, germ and endosperm—are intact, providing optimum nutrition. Hulled barley, as its name suggests, has had its inedible, outermost layer—the hull—removed. (All grains grown for human consumption must have their hull removed, if they have one.)


Pearled barley (left in photo) is not a whole grain, since it has been polished (aka "pearled"), processing that removes the nutritious bran layer, making it an incomplete food.


This concept of whole vs. incomplete holds for other grains and grain products. White rice, for example, is rice that has had its bran and germ—and with them essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fats, proteins and fiber—removed.


White wheat flour, the main ingredient in so much of our bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, pizza dough, etc., comes from wheat that has been stripped of its bran, germ and, by association, most of its nutrients.


Many believe that these processed grains play an outsized role in our modern diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.), since the endosperm's starches throw the body's insulin regulation mechanism completely out of whack.


The bran and germ are removed for several reasons, including shelf life, cooking time and appearance. (The germ contains some oil, which can go rancid; whole grains take longer to cook; and white is bright.)

The bottom line? Choose hulled barley over pearled, brown rice over white and whole wheat bread over white. They taste better, are rich in nutrients and may help you lose a couple pounds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How to Make Beef and Barley and Mushroom Soup

I cooked a delicious beef, barley and mushroom soup the other day; it's perfect winter food. In the holiday spirit, I'll include sort-of, kind-of exact measurements. But don't get used to it, bahumbug!

To start, I browned both sides of a beef shin bone (from a grass-fed cow, bought at Whole Foods) in olive oil and butter in a large soup pot. (Remember to season the shin bone with unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper before browning it. Other cuts of meat you can use are beef short rib or lamb shank; meat close to the bone is supremely flavorful.)


When the shin bone was browned, I removed it to a cooling rack. In the pot (and in the shin bone's fat), I sautéed chopped onion (from one medium-large yellow onion), chopped carrot (from one medium-large carrot) and sliced mushrooms (from eight crimini mushrooms). (If you only have one medium onion, one large carrot and six white button mushrooms, it's OK!)

I stirred occasionally and when the onions, carrots and mushrooms started to soften, I added minced garlic (from two garlic cloves) and about 1½ tablespoons of fresh thyme. I cooked this mixture for another two minutes or so, taking care to not burn the garlic.

I then added about a tablespoon of whole wheat flour (which helps thicken the soup) and stirred for about 30 seconds. (If you want a thin, liquid soup, do not add the flour.) I added some salt and pepper, plus about a cup of hulled barley and stirred. The mixture was on the thick side (exactly what I wanted) and I added about six or seven cups of cold water and one bay leaf. I also put in the shin bone and any of its juices that had accumulated.

I brought the mixture to a boil and then returned it to a simmer. I covered the pot, but left a little open space. I let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes; the barley was cooked but the shin bone meat was still a little tough. I removed the shin bone, cut off bite-size pieces of meat and put them and the baldish bone back in the pot. I let the soup cook for another 30 minutes or so, until the meat was tender.

I tasted; the soup needed quite a bit of salt and pepper, but I knew that would be the case. Its thickness was perfect for my liking but add more water or cook longer (without a lid) if necessary. Store in the refrigerator, but be aware that the barley will absorb quite a bit of liquid, so add a little water when reheating.

Any questions, leave a comment and I'll respond.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Misinformation about Nutrition, Food Supply & Health Rampant

Unfortunately, there's a lot of wrong information and bad advice about nutrition, health and food safety relayed by people of authority. Culprits include doctors dispensing Lipitor as a remedy for high cholesterol (the issue of cholesterol is a million times more complex than a meaningless, solitary number) and dietitians recommending low-fat anything to help clients lose weight.

I received a large serving of misinformation the other day from the manager of the butcher department at one of the food markets where I shop. I was asking about the availability of turkeys for Christmas and the manager wasn't sure if he would be carrying organic turkeys. There definitely would be "regular" turkeys (read: raised on Big Food's factory farms) and also ones from Murray's, a company known for its chickens raised without the use of antibiotics.

"If we don't have the organic," he said, "your best bet is the Murray's."

"Yup," I said, "no antibiotics, but I was hoping for something better."


He shot me a quizzical look.


"Murray's have no antibiotics and no hormones," he said. "They are pretty much raised organically; they get 100 percent vegetarian feed."

Holy dissemination of misguided information, Batman!

Hopefully the butcher will remember my ensuing explanation about hormones, organic standards and 100 percent vegetarian feed and won't offer the same spiel again.


I told him that federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry (and pork), so the "free of hormones" labeling on chicken, turkey and pork is a marketing ploy. (Click here to read a post I wrote about this last year.)


I further explained that the "100 percent vegetarian feed" isn't necessarily a good thing, since we want our turkeys and chickens also to be eating protein (worms, insects, grubs, etc.). Furthermore, there's a 99.9 percent chance that this vegetarian feed violates several tenets of the USDA's organic regulations.

I'd bet the factory farm that the feed contains genetically engineered corn and soy (over 90 percent of the corn and soy grown in the United States is from genetically engineered seed) sprayed with dangerous chemical pesticides. Any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and unapproved non-organic pesticides are strictly forbidden in any organic food, whether it be meat, fruits, vegetables, bread or packaged food.

My holiday wish? May our children and grandchildren live in a world where a Christmas turkey (or a random Wednesday chicken thigh) doesn't require 400 words to explain what's gone into it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jack LaLanne Talks the Body, "One of the Greatest Machines"

Here's our monthly dose of Jack LaLanne, who helps us realize in this installment that we may not be paying enough attention to our bodies, "one of the greatest machines the world has ever known."

If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch the video.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Roast Beets, a Staple of Dead-of-Winter Cooking

Now that the gift of an extended growing season is over, it's time to start employing root vegetables—staples of dead-of-winter cooking—in earnest.

As part of last night's dinner, I roasted some really small golden and purple beets I bought at Whole Foods. Often beets are sold with their greens, but many markets will also have a bin for loose beets, which is where I found mine. Depending on the store, the price for organic loose beets can range from $1.50 to $2 per pound.


To roast beets, simply wrap them in aluminum foil. Wrapping together is fine, there's no reason to wash and the skins will easily slip off after cooking. Place the beets in a 350 degree oven (I use my toaster oven) and, depending on the size, the beets should be done in 30 to 60 minutes. The beets are done when the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the meat of the beet.


The beets can leak their juices during cooking, so use a baking sheet or piece of foil to prevent a mess in your oven. After the beets have cooled, use a towel to remove their skins; if the beets are cooked, the skins will slide right off.


If you not going to eat the beets immediately, store in the refrigerator with their skins still on. Peel before eating.

By the way, the above photo is by D.A. Wagner, a friend and very talented photographer who took the photos on the homepage of the Cook with Class website.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Russ Kremer Tells Antibiotic-Resistant Infection Story Again

I first heard of pig farmer Russ Kremer in October 2008. I read a story about him in Gourmet and wrote a post about his gore by a boar and his resulting infection that was resistant to antibiotics.

Seventy percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are administered to healthy livestock—most of it through feed—to help our factory-farmed cattle, chickens and pigs grow faster and stay "healthy." The price? Super bacteria immune to the range of antibiotics that have served us so well for decades.


Kremer's name surfaced again this week when I read about yesterday's Congressional briefing that focused on the successes and importance of antibiotic-free meat. The session was hosted by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), legislation to ensure we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human disease.

Panelists included Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle; Stephen McDonnell, CEO of Applegate Farms; and Paul Willis, President of Niman Ranch, all champions of antibiotic-free meats.


Kremer was also there and told his story for the umpteenth time. It warrants repeating. From a press release put out by Slaughter's office:
"Russ Kremer, Co-founder and President of Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative, told his story about being gored by a boar and getting an antibiotic-resistant infection while operating his family farm, which had been convinced by industry to begin using antibiotics as growth promoters in their animal feed. As his health deteriorated and none of the antibiotics doctors were using were working, Kremer realized he had contracted the same infection as the pigs he was raising, which had been shown to be resistant to seven out of eight antibiotics commonly used to treat infections in humans. The incident shed light on the dangers associated with the regular dosing of antibiotics to healthy animals.

“'Since 1989, after all those years, my hogs have been drug free,' said Kremer. 'I did it, not because I knew about Whole Foods or Chipotle or Niman Ranch – I didn't even know what natural organic meant. I did it because I was so remorseful that I had been doing something wrong to society, that I quit. It was the right thing to do. It was extremely sustainable for me, I didn't have to pay those $16,000 a year drug bills. And it’s become one of the most satisfying lifestyles you can imagine, now dealing with healthy happy pigs.'”
Do you know what you are eating?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Cookbook and Gift Idea: "Martha Stewart's Cookies"

A great holiday gift (not as good as a gift certificate for a Cook with Class cooking lesson, though) is "Martha Stewart's Cookies," an excellent book with recipes for 175 different cookies.

I've made a handful—oatmeal raisin cookies, whole-wheat date bars, peanut butter and jelly bars, carrot cake cookies and cakey chocolate chip cookies—and they all have been delicious. Just as important, most of the book's recipes are straightforward and easy enough to make even if you hardly bake or are in prison. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Last night I made choco
late crackles (photo, below); they were really !$#@% good. The more nuanced Marthaspeak description: "A variegated pattern of deep dark chocolate and pure white powdered sugar makes these crinkly cookies a striking study in contrast. Roll balls of the rich dough first in granulated sugar, then in confectioners' sugar. The first layer ensures that the second one retains its snowy white appearance." Whatever.

Remember, cookies
and other desserts aren't necessarily bad for us. If we use organic chocolate, whole wheat flour, butter from pastured cows, eggs from pastured hens and organic pure cane sugar, our sweets will be healthier (and safer) than any "low-fat" packaged foodstuff championed by Big Food.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another Whole Grain Option: How to Make Bulgur

For those looking to add more or different whole grains to their diet, bulgur is a quick-cooking option. (Bulgur is not the name of a specific grain; it's actually wheat kernels that have been parboiled, dried and ground into smaller sizes.)

Use bulgur plain (in lieu of brown rice or quinoa) to soak up the flavors of a stew, braise or chili. Also use it as a component of a hodgepodge salad; bulgur would work great in the chickpea-feta cheese-cauliflower-kohlrabi-kale salad I described on Friday.


Bulgur, which is high in fiber, manganese and the vitamin Bs, is simple to cook. You can simmer it (2 p
arts water to 1 part bulgur) for about 15 minutes. Even simpler is pouring boiling water over bulgur, which will soften and cook it. (Make sure the bulgur is in a bowl before pouring the water!)

I made bulgur this morning by pouring 1½ cups of boiling water over 1 cup of bulgur. After about 15 minutes (and one or two stirs) the water had been absorbed; if water does remain, drain the mixture—make sure the bulgur is soft—through a fine-mesh strainer. My 1 cup of dried bulgur resulted in about 2 ½ cups of cooked.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Great Fall Weather Equals Great Fall Vegetable Bounty

The great fall weather in the Northeast (temperate, sunny days and cool nights) has been a boon to the vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures. Light nighttime frosts help sweeten hearty dark leafy greens such as kale and collards. Deeper frosts end the growing season, but, fortunately, that hasn't happened yet.

My garden is still producing kale (two kinds), mustard greens, arugula and a little parsley. In addition, I've been buying cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi and winter radishes at farmer's markets.

The meals I've been cooking recently reflect this bounty. Concoctions have included a pasta sauce with cauliflower, kale and anchovies; a salad of chickpeas, feta cheese, cauliflower, kohlrabi and kale; and scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, sautéed leeks and . . . wait for it . . . kale.


The chickpea salad couldn't be easier to make. In a bowl, combine chickpeas, crumbled feta cheese, chopped cauliflower, chopped kohlrabi (or other crunchy vegetable) and chopped kale (or other dark leafy green). Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Done.


Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Environmental Working Group's "Sugar in Children's Cereals"

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which does great work on our behalf protecting public health and the environment, just released a new report, "Sugar in Children's Cereals: Popular Brands Pack More Sugar Than Snack Cakes and Cookies."

Anyone who has ever read an ingredient list will not be surprised by EWG's findings. From the summary of the study, which analyzed 84 popular brands of cereal:
"Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, at nearly 56 percent sugar by weight, leads the list of high-sugar cereals, according to EWG’s analysis.

"A one-cup serving of Honey Smacks packs more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie, and one cup of any of 44 other children’s cereals has more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies.


"Most children’s cereals fail to meet the federal government’s proposed voluntary guidelines for foods nutritious enough to be marketed to children. Sugar is the top problem, but many also contain too much sodium or fat or not enough whole grain."
In addition to the study's sugar content findings, the report's section on the "politics of nutrition and children's food" encapsulates the difficulties inherent to a system that kowtows to corporate interests at the sake of public health.

For more on Big Food's marketing schemes and its attempts at self-regulation, click here to read a blog post by Michele Simon, a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics.

For a list of the best and worst cereals, click here.

To read the whole report, click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Radiation Found in Japanese Baby Formula

In March, immediately after Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged a nuclear plant, I bought three huge bottles of the Japanese soy sauce I use. I didn't want to take a chance with supply and radiation issues; who could guess what the fallout (literally) would be?

In the grand scheme of things, my soy sauce, while delicious and nutrient-dense, isn't really that important.

From today's New York Times:

"Traces of radioactive cesium thought to be from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were detected in Japanese baby formula on Tuesday as concerns about food safety continue almost nine months after the accident."
Click here to read the entire article.

But the news isn't all bad. According to Food Safety News, Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety has been continuously testing radiation levels of Japanese foods since March and only a h
andful of food items have been found to have unacceptable radiation levels.

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid's Lunch"

Want to ruin your day? Click here to read an opinion piece from Sunday's New York Times describing how poorly we feed our kids at school.

Do you need a hint why? Probably not, but here's the answer in green:


MONEY

The first three paragraphs from the article:

"An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students — a captive market — fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.

"Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.


"Sadly, it is being mismanaged and exploited. About a quarter of the school nutrition program has been privatized, much of it outsourced to food service management giants like Aramark, based in Philadelphia; Sodexo, based in France; and the Chartwells division of the Compass Group, based in Britain. They work in tandem with food manufacturers like the chicken producers Tyson and Pilgrim’s, all of which profit when good food is turned to bad."
The author, Lucy Komisar, goes on to discuss the "rebates" (read: kickbacks) that are inherent to the current system. Komisar also reported on these kickbacks several years ago; click here to read that article from In These Times.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Replacing Plastic and Wood Cutting Boards with Bamboo

About two years ago I replaced my wooden and plastic cutting boards and cooking utensils (spoons, spatulas, etc.) with bamboo.

Bamboo is a renewable resource, as it can be re-harvested in about a tenth of the time as managed woods. With bamboo, the possibility of plastics' chemicals leaching into food (from nicks and scratches, plus cooking heat) is moot.

In addition, bamboo contains some inherent antimicrobial properties not found in wood or plastic. (That being said, hand-washing with warm, soapy water is still necessary.)

I've read good things about the Totally Bamboo brand, which is what I use. Cutting boards are fairly priced, and, if cared for properly, will last a long time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

McDonald's to Charge for Happy Meals, Avoiding New SF Law

San Francisco's law banning the giveaway of free toys in fast food meals started yesterday.

Leave it to our friends at McDonald's, though, to figure out a crafty end run to keep the practice going while (in theory) engendering positive PR in the process.


It will now cost 10 cents to turn a boring, slightly toxic fast food meal into a veritable carnival! But don't think McDonald's is making any money in the process; all proceeds will, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, "help build a new Ronald McDonald House to temporarily house families with sick children at the new UCSF Hospital under construction at the Mission Bay campus."

I have to admit, it's an absolutely brilliant play. I better eat my Wheaties this morning if I want to be able to compete with McDonald's marketing team!


Click here to read the full San Francisco Chronicle article.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Artificial Colors and Artificial Flavors at the Dentist's Office

I've been meaning to write this post for years; my visit to the dentist yesterday finally spurred me to action.

Among the top 10 things you probably never thought of is the fact that the pumice-based polish (prophylaxis paste) the dentist uses to clean and polish your teeth and those of your children contains artificial colors and flavors.

About three years ago, when I really got on my avoid-all-unnecessary-chemicals-at-all-costs kick, I was sitting in the dentist's chair waiting for the hygienist to finish the cleaning by using the prophy paste. As she started to dip the electric scrubber in the small packet it comes in, I noticed the "coarse cinnamon" paste's swirled, two-colored scheme.

Alarm bells went off.

I asked her the ingredients; despite 30 years in the business, she didn't know. I insisted, so she went to the storage closet and returned with the box. Sure enough, artificial colors and flavors! At the dentist's office!

The brand of prophy paste my dentist uses is Premier Enamel Pro; all six of their flavors (cinnamon, grape, strawberry, mint, bubblegum(!), vanilla mint) contain artificial flavors and colors. Nothing is different for the other makers.

The solution? The hygienist now uses plain pumice to clean and polish my teeth. I am her only patient who she has ever done this for and the only person who ever asked her the ingredients in the prophy paste.

Alas, I don't think I am crazy, but please don't even get me started on the ingredients in the toothpaste they give out!