Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Recommendation: See Forks Over Knives

I heard about Forks Over Knives when it came out. I wanted to see it, but it just never happened. So with our streaming Netflix account now set up, I finally sat down and watched it. It’s in a similar vein as Food, Inc., but is focused on the health ramifications of different diets. Specifically, it points out mountains of evidence, much of it compiled by doctors who both grew up on dairy farms, that a diet heavy with animal products generally leads to diminished health, whereas a diet rich in plant foods improves health. Some of the case studies and anecdotes provided in the movie are striking. People change their diets and improve their health enough to quit taking prescription drugs, lose weight, and feel better than they ever have.

I read and hear a lot about the many virtues of a vegan-or close to vegan-diet and the damage caused by meat and dairy. I’ve been on board with cutting down on meat for a while, but no one had ever convinced me that dairy isn’t a good idea. Forks Over Knives made me think again about my milk, yogurt and cheese intake. The movie points out that milk, long called “nature’s perfect food” is the perfect food if you’re a rapidly growing calf. They point to multiple studies that found a diet of 5% animal protein led to vastly decreased incidence of cancer growth in both rats and humans. By my own unscientific calculation, that’s approximately one serving of milk, butter, yogurt or cheese a day. A diet of 20% animal protein, on the other hand, corresponded with much more cancer growth. Calculating based on this amazing infographic, that’s totally within the American diet (the meat, eggs, nuts & dairy categories account for 27% of the calories on the most recent information).

Obviously, the counter to this is that dairy gives us protein and calcium. I mentioned protein last week, so I’ll refer to Grist’s series on the subject. The calcium piece is counterintuitive. Dairy, it seems, causes a kind of acidosis in the body, which the body fights by neutralizing the acid. To do this, it draws on its most readily available source of calcium—you guessed it, bones. Making matters worse, milk fat blunts the acid in the body, so when you remove the fat, the acid is that much more potent. Crazy, right? Oh, and you can get calcium from leafy greens. Bring on the kale!

Needless to say, I really, really recommend seeing this movie. The explanations are clear and accessible, and more scientific than mine. There are a lot of numbers and statistics, but they’re presented with compelling stories so the movie is entertaining and informative. I’d say what Food, Inc. did to shed light on industrial food production, Forks Over Knives does to show the effects of an industrialized diet and the relative simplicity of the solution. After all, “eat fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes” is so simple it seems too good to be true.

February 22, 2012

Food in the News

It seems to me lately that the food industry is getting a lot of media attention—much of it unwanted. Part of that is probably because I follow news outlets that report on these things, but in general the companies who feed us appear to be coming under new scrutiny from the public and the media alike. Here are some of the stories that have caught my attention lately:

Protein Propaganda: I cannot express how thrilled I was when Grist started its series on protein a few weeks ago. This piece of the series focuses on the equivocation between animal products and protein. If you think of meat when you think of protein, thank the meat and dairy industries and their respective lobbying and marketing efforts. Never mind the evidence that plant based protein is plentiful and better for your health than animal based. If you’ve ever hesitated at the idea of foregoing meat at a meal, please, PLEASE read this. And if you’ve ever wondered how much protein we actually need, or what its environmental impacts are, or anything else about protein, really, this series is for you. Grist has done a fantastic job of outlining the status and importance of protein in the US.

Tomato Politics: If at some time, when you’ve come into a grocery store, you’ve gazed in curiosity at mounds of fresh tomatoes, glistening at you as you take off your scarf and gloves as you come in from the cold, and wondered where these mystical orbs could be from, check out this Mother Jones article. At the very least, these (likely) crunchy- and pink-inside spheres of summer are global travellers, and odds are, they caused some kind of strife wherever they came from. This article examines just one sliver of the organic winter tomato industry and it’s not a pretty picture. The solution presented is pretty simple: if you want tomatoes in winter, buy them canned. I’d recommend looking for BPA-free cans, but those can be hard to find. Better yet, buy local tomatoes by the crate during the high season (when farmers or friends with gardens will practically pay YOU to take them away) and take up canning.

And then there’s Dairy: Sometime in the last decade or two, soy milk stopped being something you could only find at a co-op if you wore vegan sandals and hemp clothes. It’s pretty mainstream now and has a lot of closely related cousins. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of milk substitutes, unless you count coconut milk out of a can (not the drink and not the light kind). My love of coconut milk is as a cooking ingredient—seriously, put it in your soup. Apparently the dairy industry doesn’t like having competition and has mounted a campaign to diss and discredit its imitators. We’ve arrived at Small Bites, with a quick overview of the industry’s new “Real milk comes from cows” campaign. I hadn’t heard of the campaign, but it’s an interesting industry reaction to changing public sentiment. I like the point in the article that “real milk” could just be considered milk in the form it leaves the cow, rather than the pasteurized, skimmed, homogenized kind you get at the supermarket—if you want to know too much about that, check out this Food Renegade bit on “real” milk. Yuck!

One of the really big stories lately has been McDonald’s telling its pork suppliers to stop using gestation crates for their sows. It’s been covered in a number of outlets, including by Mark Bittman for the New York Times. Good for them, and it is a positive step. But, I can’t help wondering—maybe this is just my ignorance because I don’t go to McDonald’s—what’s on their menu that includes pork?

February 15, 2012

Welcome to my Garden, Three Floors Up

If you ever want to appreciate what the people who grow your food do, try growing some yourself. You’d likely be in for a wild ride, at least for a first few years.

Yes, years. Gardening, or micro-scale farming if that’s what you want to call it, requires knowledge, patience, trial and error, and time. To say nothing of the soil, seeds, fertilizer, water, and pest control to your liking. I’ve made some feeble attempts at growing edibles myself, with mixed results. Mostly I find myself in awe of the process. You try something one year; either it works or it doesn’t; you stash your findings away for the following year. For me, it goes something like this: trial; fail; forget; try to remember; trial again. This year is different. For starters, it’s February, as opposed to May or June, and I’m already thinking about what I want to grow.

I use the term “garden,” but loosely. I think of a garden as a small plot of land, with room for rows of tomatoes, squash, and on,

My little garden from last year

and on, and on. I live in a condo, so my reality is a little different. Currently, I have about five pots outside containing a total of maybe three bags of potting soil. But a lot of Google searches say it’s absolutely possible to have a productive little garden in containers. Last year’s wasn’t a total bust: we had lettuce, chives, basil and a few little strawberries (at least a couple of which the dog ate as she came back from her walks). The big flop was the Roma tomato that put out three batches of flowers and never produced even a green tomato. Not. One.

As it’s so early, I’m going to be really ambitious and try starting a few things indoors from seeds. Lettuce, rosemary, oregano, bell peppers, acorn squash, and an heirloom beefsteak tomato to name a few. I understand that seeds like to be kept warm. There’s a spot on top of our heater that I think they might like. And I’ll probably need to set them outside if we have any sunbreaks anytime soon. With some extensive reading and study, I might be able to convince these little plants to grow

To show how little I know, consider the following: I planted acorn squash seeds last October, excited for the prospect of harvesting my own winter squash. When the happy little seedlings croaked out in the cold, I mentioned it to my mom (who is a talented gardener). “Lindsay,” she said, “they call it winter squash because you store it and eat it in the winter. Not because it grows in the winter.” I am an amateur. But I am going to plant more winter squash this spring and see what I can make of it. With some sunshine (my “garden” faces west, which I understand to be crucial to its success), and remembering to water (you know, after the rainy season ends in August), maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to skip buying tomatoes at the market occasionally. Until then, I thank my lucky stars for the farmer’s market and the farmers who know what they’re doing.

February 4, 2012

Kitchen Advice Odds and Ends

Over the last few weeks, my brain has been filling up with little tips and tricks for my customers. Here are many of them, which inevitably will be followed by many more coming to mind right after I post this:

*Wash your vegetables and fruits. No exceptions, it doesn’t matter if you have bagged salad greens that have been rinsed in ammonia 18 times. Wash. Everything.

*Vegetables get droopy if you leave them in the fridge, sometimes after just a couple of days. If that’s the case, a bowl of ice water will almost always perk them back up. It’ll work even faster if you chop them up first. I’ve done this myself with kale, chard and carrots. It actually works.

*You can sub in pretty much any grain or bean for another. It maybe won’t turn out quite the same, but your kitchen will not have a nuclear meltdown if you’re out of quinoa and use rice instead. Promise.

*Improvising is encouraged and if you want to use chicken in place of a grain or tofu or whatever, go right ahead.

*Once more with feeling: same goes with spices. Don’t like thyme? Out of rosemary? Use something else. I usually season by smell: take a sniff of what you’re cooking, then get a whiff of the spice you’re thinking of adding. If it’s a bad idea, you’ll probably know. If it’s not, start with a teeny tiny bit and taste to add more as you go. Warning: you cannot salt by smell.

*Put mushrooms into a paper or mesh bag ASAP and keep in as cool and dark a place as you have (like a cupboard or pantry rather than the fridge). They tend to mold really fast when they’re in plastic.

*Dried beans are ridiculously cheap (and don’t come in BPA lined cans), but they do take a while to soak and cook (in the range of 2-3 hours). Plan ahead if you’re using them. Easiest solution: submerge dry beans under a couple inches of water in the morning, then boil them until tender when you’re ready to use them. Generally, the smaller the bean, the quicker they’ll cook.

*Pretty much any odds and ends you have in the fridge can be made into soup, or heated and thrown over risotto (easy, but time consuming) or polenta (quick and easy). Or into frittata or onto a pizza (super easy if you use a tortilla for the crust).

*Dressing salads sensibly is a no-brainer if you have olive oil and a yummy vinegar on hand. If you put them into pump-style oil misters, you don’t even need steady hands to get the perfect amount and distribution. I always salt and pepper salads too. It’s amazing: those four ingredients make a delicious salad on their own, then you can relax and add whatever else sounds good to you.

*Speaking of yummy vinegar, make your own herbed vinegar. Get a bottle of red wine, rice or white balsamic vinegar (doesn’t need to be fancy) and add a couple of herbs (I like rosemary and oregano). Leave the bottle with the herbs in a cupboard for about two weeks then remove the herbs. Ta da! Then fill up your mister with your homemade delicious herbed vinegar.


Happy improvising!


Tags: ,