Your Sustainable Kitchen Makeover

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Have you ever watched a food show where they go into someone’s kitchen and open up the refrigerator and cupboards for everyone to see? They always look so neat and tidy – there is no way that was a surprise visit! These shows make me think about my own refrigerator… what is in it right now? Leftovers? Vegetables that I need to eat? And working at Sustainable Table, of course I also wonder – how sustainable is my food? Where did it come from? What if someone wants to look inside, am I ready for my TV debut?!

Even if you shop at the farmers’ market or the healthiest grocery store in town, how sustainable do you think your kitchen is? There is a chance that chemicals, additives, pesticides, GMOs and many other unsavory toxins are lurking in your refrigerator, cupboards and under your sink.

Let’s take a look and see how to make some sustainable improvements. If you know what to look out for, you can start creating a healthier and more sustainable kitchen with each shopping trip.

Get started!

#1. Peek inside the fridge and cupboards… take a quick inventory. Get a sense of what you usually have on hand – veggies, dairy, meat, condiments, breads/grains, processed foods, etc.

#2. Tackle this makeover slowly… one item at a time. Don’t start throwing things out (see all about food waste in the new GRACE food waste section!) but as you run low on an item that you want to upgrade, start to think about alternatives.

#3. Pick which item you want to makeover (Carrots? Milk? Crackers?). On your next trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market, come armed with questions and be ready to read labels to make the best new sustainable choice.

#4. Enjoy the newest sustainable addition to your kitchen! Notice the flavor difference and think about the health implications for you, your family and the producers – relish in the fact that you are contributing to a sustainable world.

#5. Pick the next item. Repeat #3 – #4.

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12 Reasons to Avoid Conventional Flowers This Mother’s Day and 5 Alternative Gift Options

In a little-known Hallmark holiday back-story, the disturbing nature of which rivals even Valentine’s Day, the woman who founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, actually spent the last years of her life fighting against its commercialization. In the short nine years that it had existed, for Anna, the day lost its meaning. Obviously, she lost her fight against the day’s commercialization; today Mother’s Day has become one of the most financially successful U.S. holidays. The 500 carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) that Anna delivered to that original service started a tradition that saw Americans spend close to 2 billion dollars on flowers for Mother’s Day last year alone. Two billion dollars on flowers! In an extremely ironic end to her life, it is said that Anna died penniless in a nursing home, her final bills paid for by the Florist’s Exchange.

Adding insult to injury, that two billion dollars on flowers is not only an ostentatious show of commercialism, but the cut flower industry, with approximately 80 percent of cut flowers being imported into the US, contributes to a serious overuse of pesticides. Because flowers are considered a “non-edible,” the restrictions for pesticide use are not as stringent as they are for food items. This amounts to significant problems for human and animal health and as well as water, soil and air. They are especially harmful to the workers who have to apply them; there are even signs of secondary pesticide exposure for the family members who live with these farm workers (think second hand smoke).

The same interest in transitioning industrial acreage to sustainable food farming, we should also think about transitioning the floriculture industries in the U.S. and abroad. Many companies and third party certifiers are working to improve worker protection and reduce dependence on pesticides. There are other things you could buy to celebrate your mom, but if you’re buying her flowers this weekend (yes, Johnny-come-latelies, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!) it is important to seek out these more sustainable options. The major labels to look for are – USDA Organic, Veriflora, TransFair USA and Sierra Eco.

Local, sustainable and/or organic flowers are possible to find, so start looking! And remember the more locally you can purchase them, the better.

Where to get local, sustainable and/or organic flowers?

  • Farmers’ Markets (Find one near you at EatWellGuide.org)
  • Farms/Farm Stands
  • Your yard, a neighborhood lot, a friend’s or family member’s garden

Online options for flower delivery?

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Toxic Strawberry Pesticide Pulled From Sale The US

In a proactive business move, Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the manufacturer of methyl iodide also known as Midas, pulled the controversial pesticide from the shelves on March 20, 2012 due to “economic viability in the U.S. marketplace.” With the majority of the Midas market being in California (88 percent of the domestic strawberry market), the continued attack on the toxic product, and limited use due to strict regulations against application near homes, businesses and schools, the market for Midas was not looking good. The discontinuation of the product went into immediate effect and they were asking farmers to return unused portions.

The suspension of sale was applauded by environmental groups, farmers and individuals who have been actively working for years to ban the product. Originally approved by the EPA in 2007, and  believed to be a good replacement for methyl bromide which was banned in 2005, Midas had never been used heavily due to many concerns from the scientific community from the beginning. And due to California’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approval process, methyl iodide hadn’t been approved for use in that state until 2010. The pressure to find a replacement for methyl iodide grew as California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a former organic farmer and assistant director for the California Department of Conservation, Brian Leahy, as the new director of the California DPR. And a new research partnership between the DPR and the California Strawberry Commission was created to look for alternatives to using fumigants – even before methyl iodide was officially pulled from the market. The partnership will dedicate $500,000 over the next three years.

It is interesting that while so many people worked to ban the toxic fumigant – called one of the most toxic chemicals on earth, others worked hard to make it available for sale. From the Arysta’s press release, “Arysta LifeScience Suspends MIDAS in the United States” –

The company would like to express its gratitude to growers, researchers, business partners and supporters who helped MIDAS® achieve U.S. EPA registration and registration in 48 states. LifeScience will continue to support the use of iodomethane outside of the U.S. where it remains economically viable.

With no access to methyl iodide, and methyl bromide being phased out (but accessible under a critical use exemption (CUE) possibly through 2014), farmer’s are looking for a less toxic but effective alternative. From the VCReporter: “Existing alternatives, such as chloropicrin and metam-sodium, have not been as effective as methyl bromide, said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission. In Ventura County, she said, many growers transitioning away from methyl bromide have found plant diseases they haven’t seen before, which is an obvious threat to the county’s No. 1 agricultural export.”

Transitioning to organic crops are an option, but obviously not a quick fix or something that many farmers feel is viable. Addressed in this article in NewsObserver.com, Dwindling choice of fumigants imperils strawberry profits, “Conventional growers say organic farmers can’t match their volume. Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission, questioned whether there was enough farmland to make strawberry production viable using only organic methods. For one thing, she said, rotation requirements would put land off-limits in some years. Strawberries would no longer be the plentiful and affordable product consumers know now, AmRhein said.”

Thrive Foods – For the Planet and Your Health

While we have had our bad eating habits explained to us before, vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier brings a new perspective to the topic and breaks the elements down into measurable chunks in his new book, Thrive Foods, which lends real weight to his theory that a plant-based diet is better for the planet and our personal health. Thrive Foods starts off on a depressing note with a detailed description of the toll industrial food production takes on our planet and the toll our current eating habits are taking on our health, but finishes off with a delicious plant-based cookbook to help us counteract the first three chapters.

This isn’t Brazier’s first book about foods that help us to thrive. His interest in food to fuel his body for its maximum output started early on when he was training for his passion – running, swimming and biking in the form of triathlons. As he experimented with foods to help him recoup after workouts, he discovered that the more nutrient dense foods he ate, the better his body performed, advice  he shared in his first two books – Thrive Fitness and Thrive. But what came out of that research (and into this book) was more than a diet, but an appreciation and deep understanding of how much our food choices as individuals impact the world around us, mostly in a very negative way.

Since nutrition has been Brazier’s main topic for many years, it makes sense that he begins his new book, Thrive Foods, by explaining where our nutritional deficits are coming from: stress, lack of sleep and nutritionally deficient food. He takes an extra step in this book by incorporating nutritional information with environmental issues in what he calls the “nutrient-to-resource ratio.” A simple way to see where you can get the healthiest foods while taking into consideration the drain their production has on arable land, fresh water, fossil fuels and air quality.

While part of the book reads like those old train math questions – for any science or math geek or for anyone who wants serious proof that changing your diet can help to improve climate change, it does the job.

A Brazier math problem:

By weight, 232 times more kale than cattle can be produced on the same amount of land (38,400 pounds of kale per acre compared with 165 pounds of beef). And since beef has a nutrient density of 20 and kale registers at 1000, which is 50 times greater, for every calorie you get from kale, you’d have to eat 50 from beef to match the micronutrient level. Since beef has about four times the amount of calories per pound as kale, to gain the equivalent in micronutrients from beef as from kale would require 2900 times more arable land.

To help drive it all home, the last two chapters before the recipe section explain the key components of good nutrition and which foods are the most nutrient dense and why. Then the last ⅔ of the book is made up of 200 plant-based recipes for peak health. Brazier has tapped into North America’s best vegan/vegetarian chefs and restaurants to gather the tastiest recipes – from a very simple Mexican Salad Bowl to a more involved Raw Zucchini and Carrot Lasagna with Almond “Ricotta.” The recipes are simple enough that anyone could follow along, and interesting and tasty enough that they could also entertain the most seasoned cook.

Brendan has cast a wide net of appeal with this book. Interested in nutrition? He’s got it covered. Sustainable agriculture your thing? Check. Love to cook? Recipes galore. Want to geek out on facts? Done. Want to be inspired to make changes to your diet? Keep reading. Are you a meat eater and don’t think the book is for you? Try again; these principals can even be applied one meal a week. If you are undecided, I say pick it up and give it a try, you will learn something and maybe even change your eating habits (and help the planet!) in the process.

GMO: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

I started this series, to help readers make the connection between personal health and sustainable food (read the first two posts here). Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have many perceived health issues and aren’t allowed in organic foods, so they must be problematic, right? Let’s dive in and see.

heatlhbloggmoTo start at the beginning – what are Genetically Modified Organisms? GMOs have had their DNA altered in a way that doesn’t happen naturally. Individual genes are transferred from one organism to another to obtain a desired trait or characteristic, including transfer between non-related species (such as placing jellyfish genes in pig embryos to create glowing pigs). The process is referred to as “modern biotechnology,” “gene technology,” “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering.”  For a more detailed and scientific description, read here. GM Food is usually created for a perceived benefit for the consumer or producer, such as a nutritional benefit, or a production benefit such as insect resistance or durability. The first commercial GM crops were released in the early 1990s.

Where do you find GMOs? Despite the very short amount of time that GMOs have been on the market, they have already infiltrated 60–75% of food products in the United States! As of 2003, most of the GM crops in the world were concentrated in the United States (63%) – and just a few other countries – Argentina (21%), Canada (6%), Brazil (4%), China (4%), and South Africa (1%). By 2006, staple crops that had become dominated by GMOs in the United States were soybeans (91% GM), cotton (88% GM), and corn (85% GM). In addition to GM crops, cattle operations often inject the genetically modified hormone rBGH, into their dairy cows and other hormones into beef cattle, and most cattle feed is also made from GM crops.

You can find GMOs in most processed food items that are non-organic and not labeled “non-GMO.” The most common GMO ingredients include:

From corn: corn oil, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn meal

From canola: canola oil

From cotton: cottonseed oil

From soy beans: soy protein, soy oil, soy sauce

In fact, while soy products are touted as health food, if you aren’t getting organic soy products (or products labeled non-GMO), there is a good chance that you are eating GM soy! Any of these soy products could easily be GM: soy flour, soy protein, soy isolates, soy isoflavones, soy lecithin, vegetable proteins, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu, tamari, tempeh, and soy supplements.

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HFCS: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

I started this series, “If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will,” to help you make the connection between personal health and sustainable food (read the introduction post below). I’m starting with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is widely known to have some obvious health issues and also some very obvious sustainability issues too.  Easy, right? But the more I dig, the more complicated it is – an even more compelling reason to take a look!

Let’s start at the beginning – what is HFCS? Sugar as we know it traditionally came from sugar cane and later from sugar beets. HFCS was developed from corn in the late 1950s, refined for industrial production in the 1970s, and introduced into many processed foods from 1975-1985 – a big dietary and nutritional change that went largely unnoticed over the past 35 years.

One clue into what HFCS is – it was developed in a lab, not grown and milled. There is a long process that corn goes through to become HFCS, you can read a good description here. A simple (ha, I just read it again, it’s not simple) explanation is that corn is milled into corn starch, then processed to yield corn syrup (which is almost entirely glucose), then enzymes are added to change the glucose into fructose. The fructose, which is very sweet, is mixed with the first round of corn syrup to make it the strength that is needed, most often 42 or 55 percent fructose. It is highly refined, extremely sweet and has preservative properties.

Why is HFCS bad for our health? There are many theories about HFCS and its connection to personal health. You dr2can find studies stating that it is no worse for a person than regular sugar, and studies saying that HFCS leads to obesity, diabetes, cancer – because of its synthetic makeup. HFCS is in thousands of processed foods including, but not limited to: bread, peanut butter, ketchup, tomato sauce, soda, fast food, cereal, salad dressing, yogurt, sauces, jam/jelly, ice cream… you get the idea.

If we compare HFCS to sugar with the theory that the two are no different, they are still both problematic for our health. Sugar, which for hundreds of years was eaten only in very small quantities, is today consumed in enormous amounts in the U.S. (some estimates range up to 150 pounds per person per year), contributing greatly to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other health problems – many of them preventable. Moderation is the key for the healthy inclusion of sweeteners in our diets, whether sugar or HFCS.

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