Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mostly plants

The second part of Michael Pollan's eating policy is 'mostly plants'. As with 'eat food', he breaks it down with a few guidelines: mostly plants, especially leaves, you are what what you eat eats too, if you have the space, buy a freezer, eat like an omnivore, eat well-grown food from healthy soils, eat wild foods when you can, be the kind of person who takes supplements, eat more like the French, tor the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks, regard nontraditional foods with skepticism, don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet, and have a glass of wine with dinner. Eating leaves is basically a point that Mr. Pollan makes throughout the book that we have basically become a seed-obsessed culture of food, but so many nutrients and valuable anti-oxidants are found in other parts of the plant that we aren't consuming. Seeds like corn, wheat, and soy dominate our diets, but greens, roots, and stems are sort of rare, mostly because they spoil quicker. Don't miss out; pick up some lettuce and kale at the market! If you are not a vegan, this includes what the animals that you consume (including their milk and eggs). Cows should be eating a varied diet, mostly of greens; but industrial farms feed them mostly corn...that limits the amount of phytochemicals that transfer to you, like omega-3 fatty acids. Did you ever notice that the eggs at the farmers' market have brighter, almost orange yolks? That's because the local farmers let the chickens eat a more natural and varied diet instead of stuffing them with grain. The orange color comes from beta-carotene that the chickens are consuming. Freezers are amazing. They allow you to eat locally, even in the off season...and get a steal on local meats. Get a bunch of corn from the farmer now, cut it off the cob and freeze it. Come January when you want some corn on your dinner plate you won't be buying corn from some industrial farm far away. Eat like an omnivore is not anti-veg. This simply means to diversify your diet and consume as many species as possible...and vegans/vegetarians can do that too. This covers all your nutritional bases. Don't limit your options. Eating well-grown food from healthy soils is basically common-sense. If the soil is nutritious for the plant, the plant will be better for the eater, regardless of whether you eat the plant or the eater, you benefit. This is more important than 'organic' because that label can be slapped on a lollipop, and that's certainly not good for you anyway. Granted, it might help if you can ask the farmer who grew it how is soil is and what he's doing to his plants. Wild food is better because the evolutionary process has forced those plants to retain all of the antioxidants and phytochemicals they need to survive; any agriculture means that people have made at least some of those nutrients unnecessary for the plant to produce. Remember that not only does wild meat get more exercise, but it eats wild plants. The supplement guideline doesn't mean that you necessarily pop vitamins, but rather that you care about your health to the degree that you consider these types of things. Traditional diets, of any culture, are good guidelines for preventing disease. None of them include highly-processed food like fruit roll-ups, boxed mac 'n' cheese, frozen pizzas, and TV dinners. The reason you should be skeptical about these non-traditional foods is that they are really quite new to our systems. Along these lines lie soy products. Tofu has been around for a long time with no major diseases resulting, but soy additives to our food products are a new thing, and their entry into our diet (the typical western diet actually contains more soy than those of Japan and China) came right along with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Further along the lines of traditional diets, is the warning to not look for the magic ingredient like olive oil, garlic, or ginger, but rather just look at the foods they are eating and how, it could be the food combinations, prep methods, or eating habits of these cultures that lead to good health. Having a glass of wine with dinner is by far my favorite part of eating plants! Mr. Pollan pretty much is making the point that having alcohol in moderation and with food has been shown to work pretty well, but he warns against abstaining and then going on the typical American weekend drinking binge. All in all, I think you can satisfy this mostly plants rule by stopping by your local farmer's market where you can get a wide array of plants. Better yet, join a CSA this year and you'll be forced to experiment with some new species!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eat Food

I have been reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan. This is a fantastic book and I would certainly recommend it to any of you who want to explore the issues of eating more. For those of you who prefer to direct your prana elsewhere, I plan to sum up the 'manifesto' for you in three installments. He sums up how to craft your diet with this statement: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." At the end of the book each statement gets its own chapter. Eating food seems simple, but really isn't when you are faced with the wide array of edible options available to us today. Mr. Pollan gives us a few guidelines to stay on track: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup, avoid food products that make health claims, shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle, and get out of the supermarket whenever possible. Eating locally should help you identify food very clearly. I'm pretty sure my great-grandmothers would agree that everything I buy at the farmers' market or at Reading Terminal Market is food, and pretty good food at that. I think back to my great grandmothers and food, three of them were still alive when I was young. At my dad's grandmother's house my sister and I were fed peanuts, they had a garden and a huge blueberry bush in the yard. My mom's grandmother was in town once and she made some applesauce from fresh apples. Strange and numerous ingredients absolutely sound processed, and infiltrated by chemicals. The most 'processed' thing I typically get from the local sources is vanilla yogurt. It surpasses the 5 ingredient rule by two or three, but I know exactly what everything in it is without relying on my chemistry background, so I think that's pretty good! But beware of crazy ingredients that have you relying on your chemistry education to pronounce correctly for sure...and long lists of ingredients. That vanilla yogurt is a far cry from the ingredient label on the plain: cultured whole milk from grass-fed Jersey cows; it's likely not as healthy for me either. Avoiding health claims means basically those things that come in boxes and bags screaming things like low fat, low cholesterol, rich in omega-3, and full of anti-oxidants. Mr. Pollan claims that these companies have paid big bucks to find a way to cover up that a bag of chips will never actually be good for you and these things are highly processed so that they can come in a bag or box and not rot for a few years. I can't remember when that tomato from the farmer came in a package screaming I have antioxidants out the whazoo! The farmer a) doesn't have that kind of money, b) doesn't create waste by using packaging, and c) doesn't need to because we know tomatoes are good for us. I can't vouch a whole lot for the peripheries of the supermarket claim. When I go to the store it is typically for staples like flour, pasta, and rice that I can't get elsewhere, where my fresh food comes from. These staples actually are in the middle of the store. Getting out of the supermarket is exactly what I am all about! I find it so valuable not only for your health, but also for the economy and the environment. Reference: Pollan, M. 2008. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Penguin Books, New York, New York.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reflections on Greatness

The Bhagavad Gita says, "Whatever a great man does, ordinary people will imitate; they follow his example." If the prerequisite of a role model is first to be great, how do you do that? Manorma says that "We must make a connection with ourselves and others through reverence." So perhaps you become great, and therefore a leader by example if you approach life with reverence. I see yoga as primarily a personal quest that then can radiate outward to the world. One person who I believe to be great is Jill Manning. This past Saturday was her last class at Wake-Up Yoga before she departs this city. This loss will undoubtedly be felt throughout the Philly yoga community. Jill is certainly a role model full of reverence. She approaches her practice and study of yoga with much devotion and this radiates from her as she teaches. She is often saying, "Simple is great, and great is simple." Today pick a simple thing, treat it with reverence, and perhaps you too can grow to greatness and see the effects radiate outward from yourself. In my attempt to radiate some simplicity outward I present this vegan recipe, that can be made from practically all local ingredients (as I did last night). Black Bean Casserole 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (reserving the cooking water) 1 onion, diced 1 carrot, diced 1 cup corn cut off of the cob 4 garlic scapes, diced (or cloves of garlic in their absence) 1 T oregano (dried) 2 t. cumin dash cayenne pepper salt 1 can of stewed tomatoes 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I save ends of bread in the freezer, when they accumulate, I toast them and grind them up into crumbs) Olive Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cook the onion and carrot for 5 minutes in some olive oil. Add the corn and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, pepper, and salt to taste, cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the can of tomatoes (unfortunately mine did come from San Francisco, not local this time), cook for 5 minutes and taste for salt. Add the beans, correct seasoning if necessary, pour into a casserole dish. Slowly pour in some bean water until the mixture is almost covered. Top the dish with the bread crumbs, drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. I hope that you too will find this recipe great if you try it. Then contribute your own efforts toward greatness to the world!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Food Shopping, July 23-24, 2009

Yesterday I went to the Farmers' Market. From Sam I bought a big head of chemical-free lettuce, six ears of corn and three squash, one yellow and two zucchini. From Wild Flour Bakery, I bought another sundried tomato and parmesan flatbread and a rosemary-garlic one too. They are so good! From my biggest temptation, the Bloomsburg fruit farmer, I picked up 2 peppers, a quart of nectarines, a quart of peaches, and a pint of blueberries. I certainly have a fruit problem. I think that was showing restraint on the fruit for some reason. Mostly because I didn't hand over the other $5 in my wallet to the man! For all of this, I spent $19.75. Last night's dinner was lots of blueberries, a nectarine, some chunks of each of the flatbreads, and a roasted veggie mix: yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant leftover from last week, green beans left over from my last visit to Reading Terminal. GREAT!!! As always, thank you so much Food Trust for bringing local food to my neighborhood. Unfortunately, there are no dairy products at my farmers' market. So this morning I treked down to Reading Terminal to pick some up. I bought 2 quarts of Pequea Valley yogurt , one vanilla and one plain, and a quart of skim milk, all local, from the Amish dairy stand near Arch Street, it was $11. Total food bill for the week, $20.75.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

tropical carbon

Everyone has heard that local food reduces your carbon footprint. But how much are you saving? Recently I read an article on Planet Green that summarizes the impact of tropical foods. I sum it up below:
  • 4 oz. of banana..........8 lbs of CO2
  • 4 oz. of mango...........8 lbs of CO2
  • 1 lb. coffee..................1 lbs of CO2
  • 1 cup of tea................20 g of CO2
  • 4 oz. of mixed nuts...0.43 lbs. CO2
Since you can get about 32 cups of coffee out of a pound, it works out to about 14 grams of CO2 per cup of coffee. It feels good to get some numbers on this. To put it into perspective, the average American puts out 7.5 tons of CO2 a year, that's 16,800 pounds. For those of you having a banana and cup of coffee for your breakfast everyday, that's almost 3000 pounds already....17% of your carbon footprint. Maybe a small caffeine habit doesn't have an astronomical impact, but maybe we should lay off those tropical fruits and trade them in for what's in season around here. It's not so bad to enjoy some peaches or blueberries on your cereal instead of that banana tomorrow is it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A local food date

This Sunday morning my sweetie and I went to Northern Liberties for breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants, Honey's Sit 'n' Eat. Honey's is a great place, the food is incredible and they use a lot of local ingredients. I had the "special granola" and a latke. I can't resist getting their latkes! The granola was incredible with local berries and yogurt, some raspberry sauce and (clearly not local) grilled pineapple chunks. If you've never been to this restaurant, go soon, and see what you and your taste buds have been missing. After our meal, we wandered up a block to Almanac market. I needed some eggs. Almanac has everything you need to get by, and the bulk of their stock is local. I noticed some local hot sauce on the shelf during this trip, which was new to me. I also learned that Almanac will take back used egg cartons, and they will be getting mine from now on. I picked up a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and a cucumber for $7.50.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Farmers' Market Loot, July 16, 2009

From my favorite farmer Sam, I picked up ketchup, a bunch of carrots, a quart of onions, a pint of mushrooms, and a quart of mini chemical-free eggplants. That's right, you can get basics like ketchup at the farmers' market. There is a new bakery at our market, Wild Flour Bakery, and I love them. I was tempted by their sun-dried tomato and parmesan flatbread, which is basically a more delicious and better-for-you giant cheese-it. I also purchased a multi-grain baguette from them that will be going to Jill's party on Saturday. I have a fruit addiction. I can't get enough. The fruit farmer from Bloomsburg is a big, big, temptation. Just when I think I'll be getting a bouquet from the flower farmer, I walk by his stand and blow my budget. Today I got a pint of sweet cherries and a pint of blueberries. I also picked up 3 quarts of peaches; most of these will go into peach jam that I'm making this weekend, a jar that will also go to Jill's as an accompaniment to the bread. All of this cost me $33.50. I typically don't spend this much, but the jam pushed me over my typical limit of $25. The jam will be used throughout the year though, and thus the cost of the peaches stretches over the rest of the year. A big thank you to the Food Trust for bringing local food to my neighborhood every week.

A matter of life or death

Corina mentioned something in class last night. "People perform better if they believe that what they do matters." I know that at my job, I can get pretty down, usually because I get the feeling that it doesn't matter if the deadline is met, or even if I show up tomorrow. Do you know what the leading cause of death among US farmers is? It's suicide. (Gorelick, 2000) Put yourself in one of our local farmers' shoes. Sam takes his time to grow delicious, nutritious veggies. It takes him a whole year to produce that succulent offering at the farmer's market. He packs up his precious produce and drives into the city every Thursday and lays out his wares in an orderly fashion. Two scenarios could play out here:
  1. You, me, and the other guy all know that today is Sam's day. But we end up having a long day at work. It seems like a better idea to go out for happy hour, and then maybe end up staying until 9:00 because we're having in such a good time. The farmer's market closed at 7:00. Oh well, we can just pop by the grocery store on the way home and pick up some veggies from California, it's the same thing, right?
  2. You, me and the other guy have a long day at work. Instead of heading straight to the bar at 5:00, we go visit Sam instead. We chat with Sam and he puts a smile on our faces as we pick up the week's produce. we totally score because this week Sam has peaches that we've been waiting all year to bite into! Hey, while we're at it, he has some pie...sounds like dessert to me.
How does each of these options make Sam feel? How do they make us feel? Maybe one person or one day isn't a huge deal, but if week after week you pass him by, Sam will start to wonder if his farm is really worth it. If he decides it isn't, the best case is that another development pops up in Lancaster county, and I need another post to discuss those ramifications. I know what you're going to say, "A farmer grew the California produce too." This is true, but let's see some rough economic analysis. for argument's sake let's say that tomatoes, Sam's and the California farmer's, both cost us 50 cents. Sam's costs: growing the tomato, crates for transporting the tomatoes (which he will reuse), transport from Lancaster Count to Philadelphia County (~78 miles) in the farm truck, and dinner (a quiche from another stand at the market). California farmer's costs: growing the tomato, crates for transporting the tomatoes (that get recycled at the grocery store, not reused), transport from California to Philadelphia (~2875 miles) via tractor trailer, and the grocery store shelf space. My bet, although I'm no accountant, is that Sam keeps the bulk of those 50 cents, where the California farmer makes pennies. The California only gets that much profit if he's selling locally in San Francisco. Who is more likely to be able to support a family and a farm from those sales? Who feels like it's worth it to be a farmer? And to bring it all home...who needs farmers to stay in business? You, me, and that other guy...because we like to eat. Reference: Gorelick, S. 2000. Facing the Farm Crisis - poor economic health of farmers. The Ecologist, June 2000.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Introductions are in order

I can't tell you the moment my love-affair with local food began, because it was likely before I was forming memories. What I can tell you is that one of my favorite parts of summer as a kid was my mom picking up berries or corn-on-the cob from a farmer's truck, or better yet, picking my own wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, not to mention picking blueberries or apples at my family's homes. Back then it wasn't such a big deal though, it was just how things were.. Both my grandmas were canners. Our family spent a Saturday each fall making sauerkraut from the garden's cabbage. I knew the grocery store food wasn't as tasty. Life moved on and I kind of lost touch with that way of life. Out on my own I bought food in a grocery store. In college, as an ecology major no less, I rarely even went to the produce section, it was too expensive. I subsisted on Lipton noodles and instant oatmeal. maybe I would get some potatoes if they were on sale. My fruits and vegetables mostly consisted of bits of dehydrated carrots, peas, and apples. At 21 I found yoga as a new way of life. I credit my practice with making me more conscious to the state of the environment and my own health. I started eating more real food, fewer things from boxes and bags. I actually started to recycle for the first time in my life and think about conservation issues and how they applied to me. Yoga has taught me to start change with you and let it radiate outward. Once I entered what I consider 'adult life' I found the farmers market a block from my new apartment and loved the flavor...and the price. A woman at work pointed me to a local dairy selling yogurt and milk. At that time I couldn't stand yogurt, but when I sampled this, it was completely different. Instead of the putrid smell of Yoplait, there was a fresh, tart scent. They had fruit flavors that became my new dessert; the plain was a great mid-day snack! My fellow yoginis were involved with a CSA, this was a great concept, but I couldn't come up with the huge down payment at the beginning of the seasons to enroll myself. After two years of local bliss, I relocated to Philadelphia for a new job. One of the first things I did was scour the Internet for a CSA. Philadelphia Winter Harvest was a God-send. Fresh, local food all winter long delivered to a neighbor's house. There was no giant deposit, just an upfront charge each month that was really very manageable. No more winters stuck shopping at the grocery store for me! Don't let urban life fool you, this city is a local food mecca. Follow me as a I take my journey to obtain a near-complete local diet. I'm sure I'll fall prey to the convenience of later hours at Whole Foods along the way, and once in a while crave a mango, but my intention is tho live lightly on the earth. This is how I practice ahimsa; this blog will inspire me to play my edges. Eating locally became my way of life because of the flavor, but I also recognize the value of this lifestyle as good for my body and the planet. I invite you to join me and explore your town and seek our local sources of goodies for yourself.