Friday, January 30, 2009

HFCS Often Contaminated with Mercury: FDA has known for four years.

Three days ago, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy published their findings in association with the Environmental Health Journal study:

Mercury was found in over a third of processed food products tested, the source of the mercury is contaminated high fructose corn syrup.

One of the researchers, Renee Dufalt, led inquiry into the possibility that HFCS contained mercury while working with the FDA in 2005.

The FDA did nothing to inform consumers about the mercury in the last four years.

Two other very common food additives are also manufactured with mercury cell technology; citric acid and sodium benzoate. These additives have not yet been tested.

Learn why this is a HUGE health issue here.

Interestingly, President Obama introduced legislation in 2007 to end the use of mercury cell technology while still a senator. It’s time to ask him to reintroduce this bill. The technology is outdated and is completely unnecessary to use in manufacturing. This issue was avoidable. Write your representatives and President Obama and ask that this legislation be reintroduced and passed. The name of the bill is S. 1818 Missing Mercury in Manufacturing Monitoring and Mitigation Act.

It is also time to ask the new FDA administrators to be accountable. In China, perpetrators in the recent tainted milk issue were sentenced to death in two cases and life imprisonment for others. The least we could expect in our country should be legal action that holds the manufacturers and FDA administration accountable. Imagine what would happen if we imposed a death sentence here, or at least a civil suit.

If you would like names of who was running the EPA in 2005 when the agency knew about the mercury issue anddid nothing, here they are: Stephen Johnson and Micheal Leavitt.

There are four high fructose corn syrup plants in the U.S. that still use mercury cell technology. Here are their names and contact information. Go ahead, give them a call, email or letter and tell them what you think.

As consumers, we can also quit buying products containing HFCS.

We can also call or write the manufacturers of these products and let them know we quit buying their product until we know it is safe. If we all emailed just one manufacturer a day, I bet it would get some response. Go ahead, write them, blog about it. Use names.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Knife Skills: Chiffonade

Chiffonade is a useful cut, makes great garnishes and is a good way to chop greens like chard and collards quickly.

Large Dice

Knife skills, not flawless, but demonstrated by a home cook (me), for home cooks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bagging on the Nutrition of Packed Lunches

There's a whole lot of talk about getting soda and fast food out of schools. And about improving school lunches, even as most schools are needing to cut funds or cut the lunch program altogether, which is what happened to 46 schools in two counties of central Texas. When this happens, parents have no choice but to pack their children's lunch.

Are parents doing any better for getting out the junk and providing a nutritious meal?

No, according to the recent study "Do Sack Lunches Provided by Parents Meet the Nutritional Needs of Young Children Who Attend Child Care?," by Sara J. Sweitzer, MEd, RD; Margaret E. Briley, PhD, RD; and Cindy Robert-Gray, PhD.

Findings from the study for the closed schools found that the parent-packed lunches failed to provide adequate nutrition to meet recommended daily intake for several nutriets.
  • 96 percent of lunches failed to provide even a third of the needed fiber
  • 71 percent did not meet requirements for fruit and vegetables
  • 80 percent did not meet requirements for calcium and dairy, fruit juices were packed instead.
Staff at the child care centers reported many of the lunches offered chips, fruit juice, sugary snacks and pre-packaged lunch meals. Fruits and vegetables were rarely noted.

Interestingly, the parents were surveyed about nutrition and all of the parents stated that they felt it was important for their child to get a nutritious meal at lunchtime. Other criteria for the parents' food choices:
  • 69 percent chose foods based on family preferences
  • 47 percent based on convenience of stores
  • 22 percent chose items for best quality produce
  • 11 percent said that seasonl produce was important
  • 55 percent admitted they knowingly packed lunches that were not healthy choices
Other reasons including only wanting to pack items the parents knew their children would eat, and the tendency for their kids to not want to try new things. Both of these issues are challenging, but can be overcome (Why Kids Eat What They Do — And Don't). In fact, the sooner these tendencies are overcome, the better outlook for your child's nutritional future. Food habits and preferences learned as a young child remain into early adulthood.

Pack wisely.

A few links to help:

  1. Children’s Nutrition Series (Intro)

  2. The State of Our Union’s Children
    A detailed overview of what trends are occurring in our children's diets, and the factors that contribute to the issues

  3. Our Children Are What They Eat
    A look at what our children are eating and the nutritional issues parents face.

  4. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part I: Parents' Role
    A look at all the sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. Part I includes the parents' role in influencing our children's diets.

  5. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part II: Outside Influences
    A look at all the other sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. This includes schools, social activity, marketing, food supply, culture. The post will examine each of the outside influences and how it affects our kids.

  6. Food Marketing and Your Child Part I: The Small Screen with Big Impact
    This topic belongs under the sources post, but it has become such a huge issue that it needs to be reviewed in depth. An estimated $12 billion is spent anually to market foods to children and youth. Often these marketing messages are targeted to pre-schoolers who are too young to be able to differentiate commercial messages from educational messages. Part I covers television advertising.

  7. Food Marketing and Your Child Part II: When the TV is Off, the Marketing is Still On
    Part II covers all the other forms of advertising, including marketing in our schools.

  8. We Shall Overcome: Recommendations for Parents
    A set of ten actionable steps we can take as parents to encourage a better diet and lifestyle for our children and minimize the impact of food marketing to our kids.

  9. Links and Resources
    Want to learn more on this topic? These links and resources are a great place to start.
Above is a typical lunch I packed for a two-year-old. The portions are bigger these days, but I try for 1-2 fruit, 1-2 vegetable, protein, wholegrain and milk daily. The reusable bento box in an insulated case helps me size portions and make sure I have a space for each food type.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Where Food Network Falls Down

There are still some good things about Food Network, like Alton Brown. I will be the first to admit that I watched a lot more of it back in the days when it had shows like Molto Mario, and more Jamie Oliver. Less reality TV-esque crap.

But then there was the unfortunate Smithfield Farms sponsorship. And suddenly, I had political and ethical barriers to tuning in. And then, there are the just stupid moments like this:

In case you have the over-40 eyes like me, the recipe calls for Parmesan and is a Mario Batali recipe. The double-line rollover ad is for VELVEETA.

They should really limit the Velveeta ads to Paula Deen's recipes.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Not Too Nutty of a Solution

Oh, PETA may roast me for this post.

Apparently Britain is enjoying a new delicacy available everywhere from farmers markets to butcher shops and even restaurant — squirrel. Or, more specifically, North American grey squirrel. Since arriving across the pond, the little rodents have taken over the turf of the native red squirrel population. British marketing campaigns have launched since to popularize squirrel as the hip entree in order to save the local species.

It's a commendable approach, really, rather than wasting the animals when they cull the population. Not a whole lot different than the extra deer tags passed out in this neck of the deer-packed woods.

Squirrel is available in Britain in such creative executions as "squirrel and hazelnut pâté." You can also dine on squirrel braised with bacon, porcini and shallot, or baked in pastry or even Peking-duck-style squirrel, and Spicy Squirrel Popcorn. Even Heston Blumenthal, with his three Michelin stars is preparing the rodent du jour.

I've confessed my rural roots and borderline road kill consumption. I would expect it could be passable with bacon — lots and lots of bacon. And it is certainly better than possum. But, who knows, maybe I should try it again, this time fixed by a three-star chef.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Stew

Even though Battle Orange is pretty much over except for an occasional skirmish, I still stockpile the ammunition. The last weekend in October, I brought home a 40 lb. box of sweet potatoes. They do keep quite well in the basement where it is cool and dark. And, hey, this whole "root cellar" thing is in now, right?

Be sure the farmer leaves the dirt on them as well. This keeps them from sprouting.

As I mentioned in my Predictions and Resolutions, (and Cheryl asked about) I plan on making more vegetarian meals this year. This dish definitely fits the description. It could even be vegan if you leave off the Cotija cheese. Either way, it has a lot of flavor, very little fat and a lot of nutrition.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Stew
1 tbs. canola oil
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Ancho chile powder
2 cups vegetable stock
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and small dice (1/2 inch cubes)
1/4 cup diced tomatoes, canned is fine, preferable this time of year in fact
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup quinoa grain
1/4 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled (can also use Queso Blanco)

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper. Saute for about five minutes. Add the Ancho powder and cumin. Add the tomatoes and any juice from them. Add just one cup of the vegetable stock. Heat to a boil.

Add the sweet potatoes. Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot. Stir just once or twice, letting the sweet potatoes steam from the liquid simmering, until fork tender, about 20 minutes. In a small sauce pan, heat the other cup of vegetable stock and the 1/2 cup quinoa to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and the inner germ spirals out.

When the sweet potatoes are cooked, add the black beans and heat through, about five more minutes. Add the cilantro, reserving a tablespoon for garnish. Salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in the cooked quinoa. Serve, garnishing with the Cotija cheese and remaining cilantro.

You can also omit the quinoa, and serve with rice. I like to make Coconut Rice for variety. The grains complete the protein for a vegetarian meal and make it more satisfying.

Coconut Rice
1-1/2 cups white basmati rice
1 15 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 can of water
1 tsp. sugar

Bring rice, water and coconut milk to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook until rice is fluffy and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff the rice, stirring in the tsp. of sugar.

More Sweet Potato Recipes
Basil Orange Sweet Potatoes
Honey-Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (and some fritters)
Sweet Potato Parmesan Fries
Maple Orange Sweet Potato Souffle

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day One: Starting a Community Garden

I am not a gardener (this is not a photo of my garden). I skimmed Square Foot Gardener last year and had a few container gardens do okay. I made mistakes; not enough sun, broccoli eaten by cabbage worms, wrong things planted together, things planted too close together.

I kill EVERY houseplant I have. I try to compost, kind of. I have no idea what good drainage looks like.

So, why did I sign up to be on a planning committee for a community garden?!

I don't have much authority to be on a planning committee, other than just signing up. It will be a learning experience. In eleven short days from now, we will have our first meeting. I asked a friend who is an experienced urban farmer for advice and she directed me to this site. And this one, too.

Long before we worry about what to plant, or even when to plant it, we have to consider what the goal of the entire project is, who will be planting, why and what we hope to gain from it.

Step 1: Why Garden?
It's a good question. During the Great Depression and WWI and WWII, having a garden meant food security and survival in uncertain times. Victory Gardens were also known as "food gardens for defense." Growing your own food was a way to help reduce the strain of the war effort on the public food supply. Gardens meant food security and also doing your part in the war effort. In the early 1940s, over 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in America were grown in victory gardens.

We are in a war (still) and we just experienced the third worst year in history for the stock market (Depression-included). But thanks to industrial ag and processed food industry, we can still expect to find food on the shelves of the grocery store and all the most travel-friendly tasteless produce that the average person recognizes. Indeed, why garden?

  1. Food security is still a concern. Actually more so. If you read the news at all, you are certainly aware of the record number of food recalls in recent years. Food safety. Rising food costs. Global warming. Growing demand. All are compelling reasons.

  2. Diversity. I've tried more new produce in the last few years than I had my entire life. There are so many varieties that you will never find in a megamart. It's a precious resource, this diversity, and we have already lost 75 percent of the world's agricultural diversity. With home and community gardens, we can all choose to plant and save seeds for heirloom varieties to preserve what is left of this precious resource.

  3. Education. We've lost touch with our food and how it is grown. By participating in the process, we can begin to learn again about what real food is and how important it is to preserve farm lands and resources. We can teach our children about where food comes from (and it is NOT a drive thru) and reverse some of the damage our fast food culture has brought.

  4. Food Justice. A community garden can become a source of fresh, healthy foods in urban areas where there are few markets or sources. It can help make healthy foods affordable and accessible to those who can least afford them. Produce from a community garden can be used to donate or to support food banks, even if the surrounding community is food secure. Read more about Food Justice programs like People's Grocery.

  5. Environment. Preserving vacant land for food production instead of more strip malls. Green space. Reduction of global warming. Beautification. There's a whole lot that a community garden can offer the surrounding community.

  6. Community. Community gardens serve as a gathering place for the surrounding neighbors. Cultures mix, people meet, communities thrive.
There's a lot of reasons to build a community garden, school yard garden, or even backyard garden.

The next step is Setting Goals, or deciding which of these resaons are important to the surrounding community and building the plan for those goals.