Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Do We Need Tighter Rules (and Belts) for Fat Cops?

We’ve discussed the idea of the government playing an increased role in regulating what we eat, whether it be through tighter reins on school lunches or a tax on soda and junk food.

Some believe that personal responsibility should be relied on to make better eating decisions. But if our default choices (have you been in a supermarket or school lunchroom lately?) are so terrible and the food companies can’t be trusted, shouldn’t the government step in? Both sides of the argument have merit.

But what happens when bad eating habits and the poor health that inevitably follows affect society in a more on-the-street-for-everyone-to-see manner? Not that diet-related illnesses (and the billions of dollars we spend on them) aren’t visible, but what happens when government employees who are charged with ensuring public safety can’t effectively do their jobs because they are, well, really fat?

I don’t shoplift, but if I did, I’m pretty confident that I could outrun some New York City police officers, even with a 42-inch flat screen television on my back.

Seriously, while the outright public banning of soda will never happen, shouldn’t there be some structure behind cops’ stature?

For more on the weight issue of New York City cops, click here for a story that appeared earlier this week in amNewYork.

For an article about the situation in Mexico City, click here for a story from today’s New York Times.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cheese from Francisca's Cow in Betanzos, Spain

I am a big fan of farmers’ markets here in New York City and on my recent trip to Spain I tried to visit as many markets as possible.

One I caught was the market in Betanzos. Many of the vendors weren’t farmers in a large-scale sense, but more just regular people selling their goods (lettuces, dark leafy greens, potatoes, beans, eggs, cheese, chorizo, etc.) that they grew or made themselves in order to make some money.

For three Euros, I bought a round of cheese from Francisca, who must have taken some on-line marketing courses. “Todo es natural,” she repeated several times. More importantly, I found out the name of her one cow that produced the milk that went into the cheese.

Francisca, by the way, has a cousin who lives in Queens.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CitySquash and Its Sugared Drinks Policy

I gave a nutritional talk yesterday to a group of fourth graders and their parents. The kids are members of CitySquash, an enrichment program focusing on squash (the sport), academics and community service.

About five years ago, I suggested to Tim Wyant, the program’s executive director, that the kids not be allowed to drink soda, Snapple, Gatorade and fruit juice when they are under CitySquash’s eye. Water is THE drink, period.

Early on the kids bristled, but now the policy is firmly entrenched. It may not be fully understood, but it is serving its purpose. A handful of the kids have stopped drinking the sugared drinks altogether, while parents appreciate the organizational support.

One mom, who understands the dangers of Gatorade (sugar, artificial colorants, misleading advertising), was so happy when her daughter came home and explained the beverage policy.

The kids were a little startled yesterday when one of them read the ingredients of peach Snapple but couldn’t find “peach” anywhere. The 10 teaspoons of sugar I measured out (roughly the amount in a 16-fluid ounce bottle) also got their attention.

I also had one of the kids do the math on his Snapple habit. Figuring one Snapple per day at $1.50, he is costing his parents over $500 per year. This is a conservative number, since some of the kids drink more than one per day and most have siblings. This caused some parents to gasp, especially when I reminded the group that the much better option—water—is free.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jerome Groopman in The New Yorker: "The Plastic Panic"

Am I crazy or does it seem like news websites, magazines and newspapers are constantly running stories about toxins and our health? As I’ve said before, I believe raised awareness can only be a good thing.

Click here to read “The Plastic Panic” by Jerome Groopman from this week’s New Yorker. (The sub-headline is “How worried should we be about everyday chemicals?”)

An excerpt:

[The] finding that chemicals like PAH [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], which can also be a component of air pollution, are passed from mother to child during pregnancy has now been replicated for more than two hundred compounds. These include PCBs, chemical coolants that were banned in the United States in 1979 but have persisted in the food chain; BPA and phthalates, used to make plastics more pliable, which leach out of containers and mix with their contents; pesticides used on crops and on insects in the home; and some flame retardants, which are often applied to upholstery, curtains, and other household items.

Fetuses and newborns lack functional enzymes in the liver and other organs that break down such chemicals, and animal studies in the past several decades have shown that these chemicals can disrupt hormones and brain development. Some scientists believe that they may promote chronic diseases seen in adulthood such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More on the Harvard Study Linking Pesticides to ADHD

In Friday’s post, I mentioned a recent Harvard study that linked low-level dietary exposure to organophosphate pesticides with increased prevalence of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.

The study, unlike many scientific papers, is actually sort of readable. Click here to read it in full. Below are excerpts from the report which should get us all thinking about the dangers of our food supply.

And shouldn't it be logical to think that our daily pesticides are causing more harm than just ADHD?

The overview:

Approximately 40 organophosphate pesticides are registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency for use in the United States. In 2001, 73 million pounds of organophosphates were used in both agricultural and residential settings. The Environmental Protection Agency considers food, drinking water, and residential pesticide use important sources of exposure. Residential pesticide use is common, but the major source of exposure to pesticides for infants and children would be the diet, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The US Pesticide Residue Program Report 2008 indicates that detectable concentrations of the organophosphate malathion were found in 28% of frozen blueberry samples, 25% of strawberry samples, and 19% of celery samples. Children are generally considered to be at greatest risk from organophosphate toxicity, because the developing brain is more susceptible to neurotoxicants and the dose of pesticides per body weight is likely to be larger for children.
And a little science for you:
Several biological mechanisms might underlie an association between organophosphate pesticides and ADHD. A primary action of organophosphates, particularly with respect to acute poisoning, is inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, and disruptions in cholinergic signaling are thought to occur in ADHD. At doses lower than those needed to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, certain organophosphates affect different neurochemical targets, including growth factors, several neurotransmitter systems, and secondmessenger systems.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pesticide Action Network: "Kids & Pesticides Don't Mix"

I don’t like to use the word “organic” because I think it prevents us from understanding the bigger problems of our food supply.

Don’t get me wrong; a lot of the food I eat is organic, since I try to avoid pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified crops.

But since we’ve come to rely on “organic” as a catch-all, many dangers that should be common knowledge aren’t. Follows is a perfect example, relayed via the Pesticide Action Network’s latest e-mail update.

Kids & Pesticides Don’t Mix
This Monday, a study out of Harvard linked low-level, dietary exposure to organophosphate pesticides (OP's) with increased prevalence of ADHD in kids. It was all over the news -- as was the message, "therefore, buy organic."

Here's the angle that didn't get covered: most families cannot access organic food, and children in the families who grow our food face even more exposure to OP's because they live, learn and play near agricultural fields. That's why we are asking EPA to remove these pesticides from the U.S. food supply. Period.

Act Now! Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide. It's a neurotoxin that presents particular dangers to the developing brains and bodies of children -- as do all OP's. That's why chlorpyrifos was banned for non-agricultural uses in 2001. Tell EPA it's high time to finish that job -- ban chlorpyrifos, once and for all.

Although their use is gradually declining, OP pesticides remain the most widely used insecticides in the U.S. They are also among the most toxic, yet rural and farmworker kids in particular face regular exposure to chlorpyrifos because it is still used on many crops including cotton, oranges and almonds.

Safe food and a healthy childhood should be a right, not a privilege. We don't need chemicals like OPs to grow our food -- farmers are growing without them across the country. Tell EPA to take action today to protect rural children from chlorpyrifos by getting it out of our agricultural fields.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Latest Round in the Soda Tax War

In yesterday's New York Times, David Leonhardt discussed the debate over taxing soda. The current battleground is the District of Columbia and the soda companies are fighting with all their strength.

No matter how sensible a soda tax seems (to counter its costs to society), don’t discount Big Soda. According to Leondhardt, “the industry has succeeded recently in beating back similar taxes in New York and Philadelphia, and in keeping one out of the federal health overhaul bill.”

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo will spend millions to get their message across, Leonhardt wrote. “Ellen Valentino, an industry official, recently told The Washington Post that companies would spend ‘whatever it takes’ to make their case.”

Coincidentally, just after reading Leonhardt's article, I came across an ad for Coca-Cola on the Web. It was actually more like a public (self-)service announcement, espousing the great things Coca-Cola is doing for us.

After several clicks I found this video, which would be comical if it were a "Saturday Night Live" skit. But it’s not.

And I wonder what Rhona Applebaum, the video's talking head, is really thinking . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

O Flavor, Where Art Thou?

While giving a Greek-themed cooking lesson last week, I was surprised by the reaction of the group to the feta cheese I brought.

We were making baked feta, but before tasting the cheese cooked, I wanted everyone to sample it plain.
When five of eight people vociferously proclaimed the feta to be the best they had ever tasted, I was a little taken aback.

Sure, the Greek feta I buy at Fairway is delicious, but I would never think to give it a “best ever” label. I soon learned, though, that the feta the group buys comes pre-packaged, a much different animal than Fairway’s feta (same price!) which is shipped and stored in bulk and in salty brine.

This episode got me thinking about our food supply and how we taste food:

Have our palates become so accustomed to foods lacking flavor that anything with a little oomph causes us amazement and joy?

Does this palate deadening begin when we are children, when we are exposed to synthetically salty and sweet processed and packaged foods?

Are the commercially packaged varieties of unprocessed foods like feta cheese so mediocre that good feta becomes great feta by default?

Does the same principle hold true for fruits and vegetables?
Because the options in our supermarkets are usually the tasteless, packaged versions of foods, we suffer. Search for—and demand—better choices. Your taste buds will thank you and eating will become that much more enjoyable.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eden Foods' New Labeling for BPA-Free Cans

Two months ago I wrote about Bisphenol A (BPA) in aluminum cans. BPA is a possible endocrine disruptor that has been linked to a host of medical issues and has recently received increased scrutiny.

While most food manufacturers are searching for ways to avoid using BPA, Eden Foods has been using BPA-free cans for its organic beans since 1999. But only in the past several weeks has Eden changed its labels (photo, above right) to make its position clear for all to see.

I am a big fan of the new labeling. Hopefully people unfamiliar with BPA will see Eden’s cans and wonder what BPA is and why they should be avoiding it. And as more of us become knowledgeable and demand BPA-free cans, it will be difficult for the food companies to ignore us.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Most Flabbergasting Fact I Learned This Weekend

For me, an important part of living a cleaner (aka “greener”) lifestyle is to understand the ramifications—both the before and after—that our actions have on society and the planet.

I consider myself pretty aware of the issues, but the below paragraph absolutely shocked me. It’s from “The Inventor’s Dilemma,” an article by David Owen in last week’s New Yorker that profiled Saul Griffith, an “eco-minded engineer.”
"Google is interested in energy mainly because the company’s server farms, along with the rest of the Internet, use a huge and rapidly growing amount of power. Searching, accessing, and storing an ever-increasing volume of Web pages, family snapshots, e-mails, old books, tweets, “cloud applications, humorous videos, television shows, feature films, pornography, and everything else that can be found online requires electricity, and most of that electricity is currently generated by burning coal. The Internet’s energy and carbon footprints now probably exceed those of air travel, Griffith told me, perhaps by as much as a fact of two, and they are growing faster than those of almost all other human activities."
Am I the only one blown away?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pulpo a la Feria (Octopus) in Betanzos, Spain

Pulpo a la feria is a traditional dish of Galicia, the region in the northwest corner of Spain known for its seafood that I recently visited.

The octopus is boiled, then cut into pieces with a scissor. Texture is key; mushy pulpo sucks. The only seasonings needed are a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and paprika.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Conquest of Galicia's Bounty of Seafood

During my five days travelling in Galicia, I made sure to taste as much of the region’s varied seafood as possible.

Everything was fresh and local, thanks to the abundance of fishermen, shellfish and fish along the region’s long Atlantic coastline. For the most part, pr
eparation (quick sauté or grilled) and seasonings (butter or olive oil, sea salt) were kept simple, allowing the flavors of the ocean to shine. Outside of one mushy plate of octopus, everything I ate was delicious.

The highlight was Tira do Cordel, a restaurant in Fisterra. We started with razor clams (navajas, photo above right), smaller scallops (zamburiñas, photo below left), larger scallops (vieiras) and barnacles (percebes). The scallops had different flavors, the barnacles were a treat, but the meaty razor clams were my favorite.

Following that we ordered sea bass (lubina), which was the second best piece of fish I’ve eaten in my life. It was c
ooked perfectly (delicate meat, crispy skin) and its flavor was superb.

The best piece of
fish of my life came the next night when we returned to Tira do Cordel. As we were leaving after our first dinner there, I saw a fisherman walk in and show a bucket of lubina to the owner, who said “tan grande” (so big).

The next night th
e owner explained that bigger lubina taste better. I never doubted him and the slightly larger fish had a noticeably richer flavor.

Other seafood I ate (all of it first-rate) included cockles, squid, baby and adult octopus, sardines, shrimp, cod, hake and monkfish. And I guess I have to mention the handful of Galician empanadas—filled with tuna or sardines—that I devoured.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Shellfish and Fish of Galicia

I just returned from a week in Spain. Five days were dedicated to exploring the cragged Atlantic coast of Galicia, Spain’s northwestern region. Galicia has a great food tradition; its shellfish and fish are considered by many to be some of the world’s best. Fishing villages are numerous and restaurant menus (especially on the coast) tilt toward seafood. On several occasions I witnessed fisherman walking into restaurants with buckets of fish and selling directly to the owner.

A few bigger towns (bigger = population about 5,000) have afternoon fish markets where the fishermen sell their daily catch. There are no fish stores, as everyone either buys directly from fishermen or catches their own. Fresh and local are givens; no salmon is flown in from

The fishermen don’t have to travel far from shore to earn a living and tend to be small-time operators. One day in Camariñas I saw two fishermen sit down for lunch, setting the
fish they had just caught (carried in supermarket plastic bags) next to them while they ate.

More tomorrow on the fish and shellfish of Galicia.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two Recent Articles Worth Reading

I just returned home late last night (thank you, volcanic ash) from a trip to Galicia in the northwest corner Spain. I’ll write more about the food and culture of the area over the next week, but today I wanted to post links to two articles that appeared in The New York Times while I was away.

One is a column by Nicholas Kristof that discusses how mainstream the link between chemicals and cancer is becoming, a fact that can only help defeat their rampant use:

“The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream," Kristof writes, "so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.”

Click here to read Kristof’s full column.

The second article, “Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds” pissed me off and I hope it does the same to you. It tells how Monsanto’s master plan (aka genetically modified crops) has backfired, leading to the creation of superweeds that are resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s popular pesticide.

To learn why “farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides,” click here.

And we’d be naïve to think the two articles don’t go hand in hand.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mixed Feelings About Beautiful Spring Days

Spring is my favorite time of year, but there’s a downside.

On nice days, an “ice cream” truck parks in front of my apartment building, which means I have to see innocent kids eating all sorts of concoctions full of synthetic ingredients.

For every “Daddy, Daddy, I want ice cream,” I wish I could counter with “Daddy, Daddy, don’t do it, it’s full of chemicals. There’s a supermarket five blocks away that sells delicious, chemical-free ice cream.”

Alas, I silently continue on my way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Public Marketing Campaign Against Junk Food?

I’ve started to see this anti-smoking ad (click for more detail) recently in subway stations and bus shelters. I think it’s a great campaign, forcing us think about where tobacco addiction begins.

Should there be a similar public push to demonize junk food? Would the school kids waiting for the next train—many eating processed chips and cookies and drinking heavily-sugared sodas and juices—pay any heed?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt: Awash with Chemicals

While it’s easy to rail against obvious junk food, I have more of a problem with seemingly healthy foodstuffs that are really masqueraded synthetic concoctions.

A prime example is Dannon’s Light & Fit blueberry yogurt. “0% FAT, 80 CALORIES” the label screams at us, roping us into purchasing a product that is a far cry from just yogurt and blueberries.

How many of us have bought this without reading its ingredients? Here's our chance:
Nonfat yogurt (cultured grade A non fat milk, modified food starch, fructose, kosher gelatin, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3), water, blueberry puree, fructose, contains less than 1% of modified corn starch, natural flavor, blue 1, red 40, aspartame, potassium sorbate (to maintain freshness), acesfulfame potassium, sucralose, malic acid, sodium citrate.
FYI, aspartame and sucralose are artificial, non-caloric sweeteners that you couldn’t pay me to ingest. We’ve discussed the dangers of petroleum-based artificial colorants (i.e. blue 1, red 40) many times.

(Tomorrow: How to make your own blueberry yogurt without the synthetic ingredients.)