Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Update on the Politics of Antibiotics in Food

Why do I avoid eating beef, chicken, pork and dairy containing antibiotics?

From an article in The New York Times earlier this week:
About 100,000 people die every year from hospital-acquired infections caused by bacteria that, because of overuse of antibiotics, have developed resistance to the usual remedies and cannot be killed with them. Many others die from superbugs contracted outside hospitals.

How many deaths can be attributed to agricultural uses of antibiotics?

“I don’t think anyone knows that number,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, “but I think it’s substantial.
Click here to read the entire article, which explains the issue further.

Click here to read today's editorial in the Times about the subject.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mr. Farmer, Aren't Fungicides Pesticides?

As I wrote yesterday, asking farmers and salespeople about the food we are buying is important in finding out what chemicals, if any, are used on our fruits and vegetables.

Straight answers are the norm, but occasionally you’ll receive a response that seems a little far-fetched.

For example, the other day at the farmers' market, I asked if any chemical sprays were used on blueberries I wanted to buy. The farmer responded that he used fungicides, but not pesticides.


Pesticides are an umbrella term for fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, etc. Needless to say, I bought my blueberries elsewhere.

Several days later I asked the same question of another farmer and received a response with which I was much more comfortable:

“They aren’t organic [within the USDA framework], but there are no pesticides. We just pick them wild.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fruits and Vegetables: Ask Before You Buy

Farmers’ markets and farm stands are in full swing now, but don’t assume the food is organic just because the setting is so charming. (The same holds true at Whole Foods, which has done a masterful job of leading people to believe that everything in the store is organic.)

If avoiding chemicals in your food is important to you—which it should be—make sure to ask the farmer or salesperson what sprays, if any, are being used. You have a right to know, and it’s rare you’ll find a farmer who won’t answer your question.

Remember, food doesn’t have to be labeled “organic” to be free of chemicals. There are many farmers without USDA organic certification (because of the red tape, bureaucracy and cost associated with the program) who grow vegetables and fruits without the use of pesticides.

For example, Nevia No, who I think sells the best vegetables in the New York City farmers’ market system, doesn’t have organic certification but grows most of her food without any pesticides. No will be the first to tell you that she uses fungicides on her tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Unfortunately, all farmers aren’t as forthcoming as No. More on this tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More on Sunscreens

To follow up on yesterday’s post about sunscreens, click here to read an article from The New York Times that discusses the latest politics surrounding sunscreens, marketing claims and the Food and Drug Administration.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

DANGER! Sunscreens

About 15 years ago I heard a dermatologist say that sunscreens were the primary cause of skin cancer, not the sun.

The more I’ve read since then, the more I believe him. Combine the harsh, toxic chemicals (many petroleum-based) in most sunscreens with the harsh, toxic chemicals in our moisturizers, perfumes and soaps, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, there are mineral-based sunscreens that provide both UVA and UVB protection.

Click here to read a great article from discussing the current issues associated with sunscreens—what SPF really means, what sunscreens to buy, what ingredients to avoid, etc.

Also, make sure to visit the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 Sunscreen Guide, a great resource.

Spend two minutes reading either and you’ll know why I cringe whenever I see kids being slathered with creams that wouldn’t be out of place in a BP oil spill.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Colors in the Garden

The colors of the food in my garden amaze me.

Foreground: mustard greens; background, left: Russian kale; background, right: various red lettuces. (Click on photo for detail.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Freshest Sautéed Peas in the World

How do we get from peas growing in the garden to quick-sautéed peas with mint?

Watch this video to find out how:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is Your Organic Spinach From China?

Many people are surprised to learn that some of our packaged organic food comes from foreign countries. Frozen vegetables and fruits are prime examples.

I wrote a post about this last year after I bought a bag of frozen organic spinach, not realizing it was a product of China. The spinach’s organic status was certified by the Organic Crop Improvement Association, an American firm that handles international organic certification. Actually, make that “handled.”

According to a recent article in The New York Times, OCIA has been banned by the USDA "from operating in China because of a conflict of interest that strikes at the heart of the organics’ guarantee . . .
Federal officials say [OCIA] used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities.”

Whole Foods has caught a bit of flak in the past for using organics from China. However, according to the article, the supermarket chain—because of customer concern—is moving away from the practice.

Click here to read the recent Times article on OCIA and Chinese organics.

And to keep things fair and balanced, click here to read the OCIA International Statement on China.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Help a Stronger Safe Chemicals Act Become Law

The latest alert from the Pesticide Action Network, dealing with the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010:
The stakes are high. Decisions made in Washington this week will determine the toxic chemical load carried by this generation's children and grandchildren.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 is moving through Congress right now, and it could turn our 30-year-old "innocent until proven guilty" approach to toxic chemicals on its head. The proposed bill is a huge step forward - but it's not yet strong enough.

Act Now! We need to help Congress get it right. Call your Representative today with this simple message: Persistent chemicals have got to go.

To protect future generations, the Safe Chemicals Act must direct EPA to take swift action on persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBTs). These chemicals can last for years in the environment and build up in our bodies over time.

PBTs have been linked to cancer, infertility, diabetes and many other chronic diseases. Most can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many of these chemicals - including many pesticides - have already been banned by other countries around the world.

Call today. Policymakers can no longer ignore the mounting evidence of the dangers of our daily exposure to toxic chemicals, and the importance of eliminating PBTs.

Thank you for taking action to build a healthier future.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to Make (Scape) Pesto

To learn how garlic and garlic scapes grow click here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not All Annie's Macaroni & Cheeses Are Created Equal

Even with products in the natural and organic sections of the supermarket, it’s essential to read the labels and ingredient lists carefully.

Annie’s Homegrown products—especially the macaroni and cheese—have become a go-to for those looking for better packaged food items.

However, not all Annie’s macaroni and cheeses are the same and the subtle differences in the products are easily overlooked. It took me several minutes to break the code.

Pictured above are two versions of Annie’s “Shells & White Cheddar.” While the word “organic” appears on both boxes (click on photo for more detail), only the product on the left can qualify as an organic product under USDA regulations.

The product on the right is made with organic pasta, but its cheese, buttermilk and butter are not organic, meaning there’s a decent chance the milk used to make those comes from cows administered hormones and antibiotics and given feed made from genetically modified and pesticide-laden crops.

The product on the left contains organic cheese and organic whey (no hormones, antibiotics, pesticides), and it is “certified organic.” The further claim of “no pesticides or hormones” has been added to the green box on the bottom left of the package.

Remember, the words “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. For a product to use the USDA Organic seal, at least 95% of its ingredients must be organic.

Here’s a helpful graphic courtesy of the USDA:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Less Chemical to Worry About: Goodbye, Endosulfan

I say it all the time: “Read ingredient lists.”

Unfortunately, this can only help so much when food shopping, since pesticides will never be named.

But there will be one less chemical to worry about in the United States, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ban of endosulfan earlier this week. (Endosulfan has already been banned in dozens of countries, including the entire European Union.)

According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which played a leading role in achieving the ban, endolsulfan’s demise will:
  • Protect farm workers and rural communities in Florida and California where the chemical is used to grow tomatoes and cotton.
  • Protect Indigenous communities in the Arctic, whose traditional foods are contaminated with endosulfan and its by-products.
  • Reduce risk for all Americans, since Center for Disease Control studies found endosulfan and its breakdown products in the blood of American men, women and children.
Click here to read the EPA’s endosulfan ban announcement.

Click here to read PAN’s endosulfan ban press release.

Click here to read the Natural Resources Defense Council’s endosulfan fact sheet.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to Make Chilled Cucumber Soup

Halfway done in blender and plated:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Television Food Commercials: A Recipe for Disaster

No, it’s not your imagination; most food advertised on television isn’t healthy for us. From the Science Times in today’s New York Times:
If Americans ate only foods advertised on TV, a new report says, they would consume 25 times the recommended amount of sugar and 20 times the amount of fat they need, but less than half the dairy, fiber and fruits and vegetables.

For the study, being published this month in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers taped 28 days of prime-time television as well as Saturday-morning programming on the four major broadcast networks. They identified 800 foods promoted in 3,000 ads and used a nutritional software program to analyze the content of the items, comparing the foods’ nutritional values with the government’s food guide pyramid and recommended daily intake values for various nutrients.
And there’s something about this commercial that I loathe:

Friday, June 4, 2010

New York Times on Trans Fats: "None Is Best"

Below is an editorial from yesterday’s New York Times. It highlights how the government can force big food companies to reformulate their products, making us healthier in the process. Should there be more of these interventions?
Many food manufacturers and restaurant chains have been reformulating products to significantly reduce or eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, which contain dangerous artery-clogging trans fat. Concerns that companies searching for alternatives would turn to unhealthy — but not quite as harmful — saturated fat, say from butter or palm oil, appear to be unfounded.

That encouraging dietary news is contained in a letter published in the May 27 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, reporting on the results of a survey conducted by Dariush Mozaffarian of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and Michael Jacobson and Julie Greenstein of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The survey looked at 83 packaged and restaurant foods reformulated to largely eliminate trans fat. Its key finding: after reformulation, the average content of saturated fat increased slightly in supermarket foods and decreased in restaurant foods, but any increases were more than outweighed by a big drop in the more dangerous trans fats. The content of both fats combined was reduced in 90 percent of the supermarket products and 96 percent of the restaurant products.

The Food and Drug Administration helped bring about this progress four years ago, when it began requiring food companies to disclose trans fat amounts on food labels. The agency can do more to protect the public.

Current federal dietary guidelines advise Americans to consume partially hydrogenated oils at a level “as low as possible.” While some companies have eschewed their use, others have not. The F.D.A. should declare that it no longer considers partially hydrogenated oil to be “generally recognized as safe” and give companies a limited time to substitute healthier oils.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beyond Petroleum? Not

I know there has been a ton written about the BP oil spill, but this New York Times opinion piece, which discusses the chemical dispersants being used, is especially gut-wrenching.

If only we really could move beyond petroleum. Here's hoping for $10 per gallon gasoline sometime real soon. Would that finally cure us of our addiction?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Early Season Garden Update: Lots of Green

The weather this spring has been almost perfect for gardening and the vegetables I am growing are doing super.

It’s still early in the season, but we’ve been eating radishes and a host of baby greens, including—from left to right in the photo—turnip greens, red mizuna, spinach, purple kale and arugula. I’ve also been cutting green mizuna, broccoli rabe greens, radish greens and mustard greens. Flavors vary from mild to very spicy.

If you have a farmers’ market or farm stand nearby, there should be plenty of lettuces and baby greens available. Also look for local asparagus and strawberries, both of which thrive this time of year.

Next up are sugar snap peas, which I should start picking in about three weeks.