Some Shocking Information

The media misrepresents nutritional information. Yes, stop it, it’s true, shocking as that may be. People who receive most of their nutritional information from the media are misinformed. I’m surprised.

Yes, that’s sarcasm, hopefully well placed.

The truth is that food is one of the most volatile subjects we discuss. It ranks up there with politics and religion because, unlike these icons of conversation, we all actually must eat. Therefore, we all have a vested interest in what goes into our mouths. Yet, much of the information we follow is produced by soundbites and pod casts of various people with little or no knowledge of the entire scientific basis. We hear parts and pieces of stories, or information and data taken out of context and believe it to be the truth. Even our notions of “balanced diets” and “all four food groups” are made up from specious claims of lobbyists and media-doctors who hype their own brand of “truth.”

Why? I don’t know. I suspect that it’s all about furthering agendas and making the next big “fad” or “breakthrough.” When it comes down to it, I just want to put into my mouth those things that are necessary for me to live and live well. What my body needs is probably different from what your body needs and hence, I am eating differently. Arguing about it is fruitless and listening to the media is pointless.

Let’s take, for example, this group: Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. Sounds good, doesn’t? Sounds like a bunch of doctors sitting around and pronouncing judgment on food and medicine specifically aimed at our (the common public) well-being. Hmm. Not many people dig deeper. Their website looks good as does their ABOUT section. Then, I read what the AMA has to say about them: “Our AMA registers strong objections to the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine for …misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research and teaching…”

Okay, so more to think about. Then there is the Center for Consumer Freedom. This site is dedicated to consumer knowledge and letting the consumer make the choice. They don’t like PCRM either. Do I believe them, because they are a non-profit without an obvious agenda? Heck, I don’t know. There’s another group to get information from, the American Council on Science and Health. Yet another non-profit group. I am sure they have their own agenda, too. Who to believe? No wonder it’s so easy to just believe whatever newspapers and TVs tell us – the truth is rarely easy to uncover.

It’s easy to get into discussions and arguments with friends and family alike about food. I’ve been slammed by many people for my “odd” ways of eating and thinking about food. And since I’m obviously not the picture of the perfect human body, I haven’t gotten it right. It seems we use people’s external appearance as the measuring stick of how much they know about food and eat properly. I’m sure that’s a whole other blog post. For now, let’s just leave it at the fact that none of us knows and that sometimes, it’s not even worth discussing amongst ourselves.

So, what is a 21st Century eater to do? Do I go to governmental agencies who provide me the synopsis of food research papers which are funded by special interest groups and lobbyists, food companies and big agra? Do I go straight to the reports themselves which may in and of themselves be tainted by unclear or specious assumptions about food? Do I read historical evidence about food, empirical studies, or Wikipedia?  Can we ever break out of the idea that our ideas about food may be set in stone, without real foundation, and that we need to rethink the paradigm? Maybe we can take Omnivore’s Dilemma (and its huge sales) as hope that questioning should be our first priority.

I think the bottom line is that we should question. We should look at the data and ask what is behind it? What was the foundation for the assumptions? Then, we should take that data and apply it to ourselves. we should keep reading, and read with an open mind. What we might have assumed to be true really isn’t. For example, read this book (Good Calories, Bad Calories) and see if you find something that makes sense… to you. Because…

We are, in the end, what matters. How does that food make our body feel? How does it help our body perform, or not perform? Does it keep me healthy and strong? Does it promote the health of those around me and the health of the planet? It’s probably pretty good, then. Chomp down and chomp away. Live to your best, eat well, and enjoy.


Twinkie, Deconstructed

Twinkie Deconstructed CoverNot that I have thought much about it, but have you ever wondered what actually went into a Twinkie? Steve Ettinger did. Or rather, his kids did. When Steve began reading the label of ingredients, he was astonished to find that he could not answer any of his children’s questions about where the pieces and parts of a Twinkie came from. What was polysorbate-60 and how did it get into what someone might call “food.”

Steve went on a journey and at the end, he created “Twinkie, Deconstructed.” This frightening little book will tell you not only what is in the ubiquitous Twinkie but also its point of origin and processing journey to your mouth.

Frightening. Really.

As Ettinger points out, most of a Twinkie comes from corn. Really? Yes, Michael Pollan was right – corn IS our first food group. If you eat any processed food, you know it’s true. Ettinger takes on his trip of investigation of every ingredient in a Twinkie, including the “enrichments” given to flour to
make it “better,” and gives us a truer picture of where this “food” comes from.

This astonishing “did you knows” from this book are…

…Did you know that Twinkies have different ingredients depending on where you are in the country, based on the price of the specific ingredients?

…Did you know that your Twinkie could contain beet sugar if you’re in the North and cane sugar if you’re in the South? The West and East seem a toss up depending on food prices.

…Did you know the difference between “enrichment” and “fortification?” I didn’t. Enrichment is when a company puts back into a food stuff something that was taken out – like bran to processed flour. Fortification is when things are put into a food stuff that weren’t normally there – like Vitamin C into corn flakes.

…Did you know that most vitamins in enriched flour come from either petroleum, coal-tar, or corn and are manufactured in China?

This isn’t about Twinkies – it’s about processed food as a whole. If you shop in a supermarket, and buy anything even remotely processed, I would recommend you read this book. It’s not to put you off eating. But we should all be aware of where our food comes from, and what it means to us to eat something “fortified” or “enriched.”

And yes, Ho-Ho’s are included in the lineup.


The Strength of Yum

It’s that time again and our CSA, Eating with the Seasons, has opened its doors. On the menu are a lot of veggies and fruits as well as packaged items made locally. It always excites me when the season begins. And then it also gets a little terrifying.

Like most people in the Bay Area, I’ve spent a great deal of time eating out. Or eating out while eating in (aka take out). I get home and I’m tired or mentally drained. The last thing (and I do mean, the last thing…) I really want to do is hang over a stove, cooking. Someone asked me once why I like soups and stews so much? Well, there’s reason number one. Yet, I love to cook so I have a quandary.

This time around, I’ve tried something different. Sunday or Monday night, depending on how busy the week begins, I’ve started “cooking” for the week. Since the CSA forces me to plan meals to use all those wonderful fruits and veggies, it makes it easy to have to pick out of the freezer what will go with them. Thus, I’ve begun a whole ‘nother way of thinking (and fodder for another blog entry), which is answering the question: What goes with the veggie? – as opposed to what goes with the protein. On Sunday, I look at what I’ve got, I look at what’s coming from the CSA, and see what I can do or am interested in doing. The CSA makes it easy; they tell me what is in season and being shipped on Mondays and I can go from there. This week: ham hocks and beans as well as lamb curry. I still get my stews and my soups but with a lot less daily grind.

I don’t really need the CSA to do this but it sure pushes me in the right direction. The nice thing is that they offer eggs, meat and “accessories” like jams and pickles, all of which offer a spin on the way I order my veggies. Many other CSAs are adopting this same approach: anything that gets you away from the big supermarkets and into local, direct-from-the-farm eating is far better for us all. I rarely go to the big supermarket these days. It means perhaps paying a slight bit more but we also eat less. And we certainly eat out a lot less. How can that not save us money, and health, in the long run?

Using a CSA has been a very rewarding experience and I intend to use one no matter where I live. It takes planning and a willingness to cook. I think, though, it also takes flexibility and the willingness to learn your own modus operandi for providing food for your family. Trying different things and be willing to fail. For me, doing the mass cooking once a week has been a pleasure. I can eat a nice meal with my husband, knowing it comes from a great source, and I don’t have to do it when I’m not up to it.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Yum.


Eat Where You Live

There’s a great little book that I want to share called “Eat Where You Live” by Lou Bendrick.  I found it, of all places, in the Kings Canyon National Park this past autumn and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s a small book, funny, and full of great tips for eating locally – how to do it without going nuts. It is fully of information as to why it’s a good idea to go local and sensible ideas for making it work – for everyone.Eat Where You Live Book

The tag line of the book is “How to find and enjoy local and sustainable food no matter where you live.” No matter what your social and economic status, too. You see, one of the biggest complaints about local and sustainable food is that it’s too expensive. In a recent conversation, one friend said “I can only support my family by shopping at Wal-Mart.” I poo-pooed him, and this book goes about explaining why.

More importantly, what it does point out is priorities. If your priority is food (which, being the fuel that keeps us alive and healthy, it should be) then you will balance what time and money you have to be able to make it work. No money or maybe you’re out of work? What about working on a local farm to trade for food? How about starting a community garden or one in your backyard? No yard? Do you have a front yard? Why not? How about planter boxes or pots? No time? Can you have the local CSA deliver to you? Yes! Sometimes, it’s just about finding the method that fits best with you.

We need, as a culture, to learn to spend more time, money, and thought on our food. Culturally and physically, it can only become better for us. Sit down at the table and eat dinner with your loved ones. Garden together. Walk the farmer’s market together and plan dinner next week. And if you need some inspiration, get this book! Guaranteed you will find something that works!


Quality AND Quantity

My friend Tom, of the infamous Ho-Ho comment in a recent post, has always had the philosophy of living large – why not enjoy it? We are here and what, do we want to die at 108 but deprived of the good things in life? Of course not! So, drink, smoke, and eat to your heart’s content.

And while part of me agrees with that, part of me has also always had a problem with it. My association with food has never really been about it being a substance to keep me alive; neither has it been a real source of abandonment or enjoyment. What the heck is it?

I thought about Tom’s Ho-Ho comment for a while and finally have come to my own conclusions: it’s not about sacrificing quantity of life (years) for delicious food. It’s not about missing out so I can live a few more years. No, my search has been how to eat well, eat food I LOVE, eat nutritiously, AND live longer. What is the BEST possible food I can put into my body? And how can I get that where I live, with some effort but not over the top effort?

The thing I think to get over is what is “tasting good?” Why be a hedonist if that means eating disgusting food. I think it’s also not a question of whether or no something is good for you. The question really is, how refined is your palate to be able to discern what tastes good and what doesn’t. Does a Ho-Ho really taste that good?

We’ve been conditioned by a lot of things: supermarkets, our mother’s, advertising, food industries, even the government. All have an opinion about what is good for us and what tastes good. The different generations of the last 50 years have had their food fads and education. Remember being a child and learning about the new “food groups” system? What about the first food pyramid? Now the new one? It’s worth investigating how those things came about, by reading and learning about their origins. Why do we believe what we believe about food? Many of the books on the suggested reading list will help you figure out our recent “food history” and why we continue to perpetuate myths about food.

We have to first question our own taste buds. I recently went to a restaurant in San Francisco where I had the most amazing greens. It was made with duck fat and duck meat, a confit of duck, garlic, spices, and sauteed greens. I hate greens. Or, at least if you had told me a week ago that I would eat greens, I would have laughed. Ah, no. They are bitter and they stink. Yet, these were A-MA-ZING. The result: I’m more willing to try greens and maybe even make them if I can figure out how to incorporate yumminess.

The a-ha that everyone would like to shout is that Ho-Hos ARE yummy! Really? Think about that when you pop one into your mouth. Does it taste like anything? How does it make you feel physiologically? Is your blood racing? Headache? That’s the next step – getting in touch with your own body’s reaction to food. Does it really make you feel good or is that a psychological reaction? Can you live on psychological reactions alone? Hmmm. I think not.

In the end, it’s not about what you eat per se but about how you really feel eating it. How does processed, over-cooked, over salted, over sweet food make you feel? Have you tried to live with out it? The idea that a Ho-Ho is food decadence is, for me, a little weird. I think I’d rather have food that really made me feel good (and consequently helps me live longer) than made me THINK I felt good. Wouldn’t you? Ask your body what it wants. It’s okay if it’s a Brussels sprout. I won’t tell anyone. Promise.

Really, It’s Not So Hard

My husband has been looking at our kitchen in wonder. And with just a tiny bit of fear.

“I’m worried that this will be too much work,” he said to me as I stirred the bone broth and checked on the milk solids and whey. Honestly, I was a little worried, too. It’s not that I didn’t think it was important; it was simply, have I gone around the bend and taken this “eating healthy” too far?

It took me a day or two but I finally calmed down and realized it wasn’t that much work after all. It does take planning and I have to admit, I’m still struggling after six months to get the whole veggie order right with the CSA. Do I order more fruit this week and eat up what veggies we have or do I order more veggies because we’re home more?

This week, I boldly ordered cabbage as I made some whey; the goal was and is sauerkraut.  Most people who know me know I can’t exactly eat regular kraut – it just doesn’t sit well. However, I tried some lacto-fermented sauerkraut and found it was crunchy, a little weird, but didn’t affect me. How do you make this wondrous thing? You need whey. Where do you get whey? You have to make it, either from raw milk, cultured milk, or yogurt.

Whey is full of the enzymes needed to do fermentation and to help your body digest foods better. It’s a very different kind of thing that we’re used to; yet, if you think about it, nearly every culture has some kind of fermented drink or food that is eaten at a meal – whether it be miso soup, wine, cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, or beer. Think back to your own racial food profile and I’m betting there is something there which was fermented. This was our ancestor’s way of making sure our bodies were able to to digest all that needed to be digested, to make our bodies healthy and strong.

My whey making was on its way. I boldly sat the bottle of milk out on the counter for four days, waiting for the fateful moment of milk solids and whey to separate. When it came, I found a bowl, some cheese cloth, and began straining. After a few more tries with it, I finally have the technique down and, happily, a whole quart of whey. The science experiment has moved to the refrigerator. My poor husband.

The bone broth cooked on the stove for three days, simmering, until it was a dark brown, lovely deep broth. Honestly, I didn’t even have to stir it. Once I found the right temp, I left it alone. It ran perfectly, despite a few fearful thoughts of leaving it alone while we slept (what if the flame blew out and we died from gas poisoning..?) A suggestion from a friend helped me figure out what to do with it. I used three freezer bags, filled them with equal parts of the broth and pushed as much air out as possible. I then laid them flat in the freezer and viola! I have three flat bags of broth ready for the next beef stew.

Why bone broth? Remember how your grandmother’s used to suck on marrow bones or eat organ meats once a week? Think of the chicken soup of old, used to cure the common colds. All that “good stuff” has been taken away from our diets. We eat mainly muscle meats and have very little nutrition from it. Bones and organ meats provide the nutrients our bodies need to both digest better and repair cells. I hate organ meats -I freely admit it. Yet, I love soups. So, I choose to make bone broths with the leg and marrow bones of lamb and beef.

The next food adventures will be to assemble the sauerkraut and put it away. I might try some lacto-fermentation on a few other things as well. It’s not your typical type of fermentation and it does take a little bit of getting used to. The aroma kinda smells like baby burps… but that might not be a bad thing, really. If it means I digest food better and stay healthy, I’m all for it.

I am doing this all in baby steps. My husband has been a trooper but there is more to come. In the end, though, it’s really not so hard. Just gotta open your mouth and swallow it down.


Awesomeness! This is what I mean!


One question that arose from my recent post was “how much space does a quarter (or half) cow take up in a freezer?” Good question! Another good question – “how do I go in on it with someone?” Excellent!

I’m going to address both questions quickly so we can all get on with the business of being healthier.


Rule of thumb…figure about 30 lbs of meat per cubic foot of space. A quarter cow is generally about 300 lbs so you’re talking a 10 cubic foot freezer. Generally, though, you can fit a little more. It depends on how the meat is packed and what packaging it is in. The meat I last got was packed fairly flat and I had 2olbs in a reasonably small (1cf) space. You can get a small freezer (like 8.3 cf) but really, what you want is something bigger. Craigslist is an excellent way to find a chest freezer for cheap. If you don’t have access to one, ask a friend to share in exchange for some of the meat.


Next question… if you don’t have local friends or family that are purchasing a pig or cow, check this out:  This is the Bay Area Meat CSA and yes, it is only setup for people the San Francisco Bay Area. However, I am positive, without any looking around and verification for sure, that there are these types of groups in many suburban and urban areas. This is a great idea for picking up smaller quantities of sustainably-raised, organic meats of a wide variety. I would even say that for the majority of households, this is a great way to get started. This site puts together a network of people who work directly with the ranchers and producers of meat – so you don’t have to struggle in a vacuum! They have many local subgroups and a lot of topics at any one time. I really encourage you to sign up if you are the least bit interested in finding quality meat!

If you don’t have one of these kinds of sites that address your locality, think about creating one. I’m betting there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other suburbanites and urbanites who want it, too!