Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe: A Fall Favorite

Has everyone gotten their fill of pumpkin and apple picking this season? If not, there is still time to go and get some good organic vegetables and fruit to make one of my personal favorite soups. Butternut Squash! I make this soup every year for Thanksgiving as a starter and its always a hit. Its also very easy to make and healthy as well. So if you haven't yet, get to your local pumpkin farm and ask for some butternut squash. Its usually planted with the pumpkins and gourds so I'm sure they'll have it. Getting it fresh from the farm or your garden will ensure that the least amount of pesticides have been used. Pick up a Granny Smith apple while your at it!

Health BenefitsLow in fat, butternut squash delivers an ample dose of dietary fiber, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly choice. It provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health, and vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. The folate content adds yet another boost to its heart-healthy reputation and helps guard against brain and spinal-cord-related birth defects such as spina bifida.
Squash's tangerine hue, however, indicates butternut's most noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. In particular, the gourd boasts very high levels of beta-carotene (which your body automatically converts to vitamin A), identified as a deterrent against breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration, as well as a supporter of healthy lung development in fetuses and newborns. What's more, with only a 1-cup serving, you get nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C. 

As if this weren't enough, butternut squash may have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
Read more at Wholeliving.com: Power Foods: Butternut Squash

What better way to warm your body and eat something absolutely delicious then to make this great fall soup. Here is my personal recipe, passed down from a dear friend, with all organic ingredients wherever possible.

3tbls of unsalted, organic raw butter (use pasteurized if you prefer)
1/2 C finely diced and peeled granny smith apple
1/3 C minced shallot
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
3 tsp. white cooking wine
32 oz of butternut squash puree (from your organic butternut squash - about 2 med squashes)
2-2 1/2 C warmed organic chicken stock (homemade is best but who's checking?)
1/3 tsp finely chopped sage

To cook the squash:
Pre heat oven to 350. Slice squash in half the long way and scoop out the seeds and fibrous tissue. Place on baking sheet skin down. Bake for 45 minutes or until soft on the inside. It could take longer depending on your oven. Let cool. Scoop out insides of squash and puree sections at a time in your food processor until you have 32 oz of puree.

To make the soup:
In a large saucepan - med heat - melt butter. Add apple and shallot - saute until softened (5-7 minutes). Add ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper and saute until fragrant (1 more minute). Add squash and 2 cups of stock, wine and sage. Simmer and reduce heat to medium low. Cook 20 minutes. Take soup in batches and puree in your food processor once again, then strain the puree through a mesh sieve over a clean sauce pan to get a nice a smooth texture. Like silk. Add more warm chicken stock if soup is still too thick. Serve immediately with a dollop of sour cream. Soup stores well for 3 days.

Good luck with this and feel free to let me know how it came out!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Government's At It Again

I mentioned in a prior post last year about the dangers of the Food Safety Bill that was pushed through the House. Well, the bill is still in circulation (under a different name now) and is scheduled to be voted on this year in the Senate. The bill is S510 and everyone should get familiar with it.  The initial premise behind the bill was to protect Americans from food borne illnesses and contamination of our food supply. This seems rational to me since we have been dealing with A LOT of salmonella, E.coli and listeria outbreaks lately. However, all these outbreaks have taken place on large scale industrial farms or food processing plants. The problem with the bill is that the regulations to enforce food safety protocols are not directed specifically at the culprits (Big Agra). The bill will allow the FDA to enforce it's rules and regulations to all farms even small, diversified, organic ones that have stellar food safety practices and records. This can cause major changes in the way we obtain fresh food because adherence to these rules can and WILL put the smaller farms out of business.

Right now we have the liberty as Americans to go to our local farmers market and pick up fresh produce grown locally, free range eggs and raw dairy if we so please. We can even purchase livestock and grass fed meat from trusted farms that feed and treat their animals humanely and the way nature intended. The new bill plans to make it very difficult for these farms to obtain licenses to sell any of their food commercially and will also require them to put into place the same exact safety provisions that will be required on the big industrial monoculture farms. The difference is that the big monoculture farms can afford to do it, the small farmer can't.

Overtime, demand for organic and sustainable food will grow while supply will diminish, thus pushing the price of organic food sky high. It will be cheaper to buy imported organic food than domestic. Does this even make sense? Well the bill does not require international farms to adhere to the same regulations and therefore, the imported food will be cheaper. Big major changes in the way we get our organic food are coming if this bill is passed the way it is.

Its not to say that the small farmer should have no safety protocols, but the issue isn't with the small farmer. I could understand if we were seeing outbreaks of disease on the local organic farms but we AREN'T. Then why are we punishing people who are not at fault? It will only be a huge disservice to Americans who care about their diets and look to healthy sustainable sources to get their food.

The bill is 250 pages with many many provisions. One of them gives complete control over seeds to companies like Monsanto. As you all should know, Monsanto creates GMO's.  These are genetically modified seeds that produce larger yields and bigger crops. the effects on human health have not been determined yet but we do know that GMO's are not a part of nature and therefore should probably  not be consumed. What would our country be like if all our crops were planted with GMO seeds? We would have no choice. We would have to succumb to this outlandish and unconstitutional law that prohibits us from obtaining food that is locally and sustainably grown with natural seeds borne from the earth.

Do I believe that Big Agra is behind this bill? Well, maybe partially. I think (as I mentioned before) that the initial intention of the bill was for food safety. But it has changed so much since then and has gotten more complex and more prohibitive and less flexible thus becoming very dangerous to Americans. Its bad enough that the Food Industry lobby has so much power in Washington. This bill would  be the last nail in the coffin for the small farmer.

There is an amendment out there called the Tester-Hagan amendment (named for 2 senators in MT and NC). This amendment serves to protect the small farmer and preclude him from having to comply with these stringent federal regulations that will ultimately destroy him. Currently the amendment is not a part of the bill, but it still has a chance to get included.

Please read more about S510 and contact your local senator to find out if they are for or against the bill. Then tell them that they need to vote AGAINST it or support the Tester-Hagan Amendment at the very least. Its amazing the legislation that can get passed without us even being aware of it. If you just read this post, then consider yourself aware and now responsible for your future. Get the word out about this dangerous bill.

Read more here:
Previous Blog Post about Food Safety Bill

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Quieter Kind of Green

Frito Lay, the maker of Sun chips, those delicious salty yet sweet whole grain squares of goodness have taken a big step in terms of sustainability. They have created the first biodegradable package for "junk food". I commend them highly for doing so. First of all its marketing genius. Most people see Sun Chips as a healthy alternative to your regular greasy potato chip and their target market is most likely more environmentally conscious (if not for the planet, then at least for their diet). As far as how healthy Sun Chips are, I am not going to comment. I have not actually read their list of ingredients and I do not know much about their manufacturing processes either. All I can say is that they use whole grains even though they may be enriched. I guess its better than bleached. And I'll admit they are delicious and addicting. A guilty pleasure, yes but I digress.

About 18 months ago, some brilliant mind at Frito Lay decided that they will start using a biodegradable package. When I first saw the commercials for this new package, I was so excited. Finally! The giant manufacturers of the world are seeing the light! They realize that we can't go on adding more and more plastic to our landfills and garbage dumps. The process of breaking these plastics down  releases tons of toxins into our air and water supply and slowly contaminates our environment. Most frightening though is that one day we will run out of places to put the stuff. Period.

Then the new package was launched..........((crickets chirping)).............actually no! How about a subway or a motorcycle flying by!! Apparently, the bag is louder than these 2 aforementioned vehicles. Seriously, the bag is so loud people can't hear themselves talk or even crunch on their beloved chips. A Facebook campaign was started that obviously rubbed the marketing execs at Frito Lay the wrong way.  People were complaining about the noise volume of the bag and many others were joining the crusade. I'm not really sure if actual marketing research was being conducted to determine whether the noise level of the bag was a barrier to purchase the snack or whether it was a panic move by the company to save the brand's image and go back to the regular, here for eternity, bag. Either way, the decision has been  made. The shelves are being restocked and we can all go back to eating our sunny goodness in peace. Whew!

But what about our planet?  This was bigger than a bag, this was a movement. Frito Lay was a visionary, a role model for future manufacturers. They were supposed to lead the way into environmentally sustainable packaging. Where do we go now? I do believe that Frito Lay's intentions are pure. I do believe that they will go back to the drawing board and create a new and better, albeit more quiet, biodegradable bag in the future. How long that will take no one knows. But the real take away from this story is the power of the consumer. We take our power for granted. And now with the rise of social media we have a direct line to the manufacturer, a virtual speed dial. These big companies are listening to people and and if we build critical mass over some really important issues we CAN make positive changes.

If its that easy to make a company change its packaging, how easy will it be to make a company to remove a toxic ingredient or clean up its manufacturing and disposal operations or act more humanely to its workers and employees. We all need to wake up and start acting like responsible stewards of the planet. We were given this gift of planet earth and we must protect her. If we all just keep our mouths shut and go with the flow, companies will continue to cut corners and focus on nothing but profits. However, if we let them know what really matters to us, change can occur.

This to me is just a great example of the power of consumers. Unfortunately the power was not used for the greater good. Instead it was used to make things more convenient and less noisy for people. But maybe that will make the company try harder the next time. We must not give up hope.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Harsh words for processed meats

The world cancer research fund just completed a study that provides evidence that the consumption of processed meats can and will cause cancer. The usual culprits are foods such as bacon, hot dogs, beef jerky, sausage, meats in frozen prepared meals and in canned soups and ofcourse all deli meats. The issue is sodium nitrite. It's a coloring that gives the meats their reddish "fresh" color. Otherwise you'd be eating grey hot dogs and who wants to eat grey hot dogs?

The world cancer research fund has a scathing review for these foods saying they increase the risk of pancreatic and colorectal cancers. They go on to say that humans should stop eating these meats immediately and for the rest of our lives. We all know that processed meats weren't healthy but now they are considered not for human consumption.

This is scary to hear but may have some merit. Sodium nitrite is a carcinogen and like monosodium glutamate is still allowed by the USDA and FDA. Why is this happening? Well, we all know that the companies producing this garbage have deep pockets thanks to the Americans that are addicted to processed foods. Their lobby is strong in Washington and they can essentially control what they put in their products, even if it causes cancer.

This study is huge and it's message is bold. It's going to scare a lot of people and company executives alike. I am curious to see if sodium nitrite will go away or will there be a marketing campaign similar to the one from HFCS that tries to dupe the public with self funded research studies claiming the substance is safe.

We need to be our own health advocates. Buyer beware. Check your ingredients and put it back on the shelf if it contains sodium nitrite. My kids love hot dogs, so I buy Applegate Farms hotdogs with only organic ingredients. I feel better knowing that the only nitrates in these hotdogs are naturally occurring from sea salt.

My bacon comes from the farm but there are plenty of organic brands out there to choose from if you must eat bacon or sausage. I would stop consuming all deli meats and frozen meals with red meat in it until the sodium nitrite is removed from the ingredients.

Don't be scared, be informed and gain power over your diet and your life. Check out the article here. http://www.totalhealthbreakthroughs.com/2007/12/processed-meats-declared-too-dangerous-for-human-consumption/