A fast-food refresher

Last night, I went to hear Eric Schlosser speak at UT, regarding the effects of industrial agriculture and the fast food industry. In case you aren’t familiar with Schlosser, he is the author of Fast Food Nation. Hard to believe that book came out a decade ago! His investigative journalism really went behind the scenes, and explored a side of the industry that was (purposefully) kept hidden from the public.

Of course, the effects of the fast food nation are widespread. Their food hasn’t just affected our health and nutrition, but also the living conditions of their workers  the agricultural methods used in this country.

Although most of the facts were not new to me, it was a good “refresher course” to get me re-energized and remembering why we need to care about our food systems.

Some of Schlosser’s points that stood out to me:

  • Fast Food’s success is largely dependant on our ignorance of how they operate. The more we know about what goes on, the more we can do to choose something different. Knowledge is power.
  • Although Ray Kroc never had children, he mastered marketing to children
  • The goal of the fast food mentality and philosophy is for everything to be uniform and controlled. The slogan “one taste worldwide” sums it up. They have gone so far as to dominate and control nature – breeding plants that produce plants/animals that grow at the same rate, look the same, taste the same, etc.
  • In the days when there wasn’t a fast-food restaurant on every corner, working in a meatpacking plant used to be a well-respected and well-paid job, with waiting lists for future employees. Today, it is one of the lowest paid jobs with an incredibly high rate of injury and turnover.
  • As the largest employers of minimum wage workers, the fast food industry fought hard to keep the minimum wage from rising. During the 1970s-1990s (the period of fastest growth for McD), minimum wage actually decreased (adjusted for inflation). Works out pretty well for the fast food industry; you can pay your workers less, and keep them eating your food because they can’t afford anything better!

As a writer, Schlosser says that the aim of his work is to make you think about what you’re doing. He doesn’t travel and speak with the intent to convert everyone’s diet to organic, vegetarian cuisine, but rather to educate on our current food system. It was exciting for me to see a packed auditorium, and I wondered about the reaction of those who had never heard this story before. 

He also reminded us that nothing is inevitable, and that change is possible. The movements of local, organic and sustainable foods are growing at an encouragingly fast pace, especially on college campuses. Schlosser did point out that the sustainability movement will need to be based on social justice for it to succeed, that we need to be mindful of the farmers, workers, and the “human” aspect of our food. (He also wishes that PETA would be more concerned about the welfare of 2-legged animals, instead of our 4-legged friends only).

To end the night, Schlosser left us with a Buddhist quote “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the point of seeing?”

Choco-freak

This morning I declared a week of no chocolate. Although I heavily believe “everything in moderation”, this past week has been anything BUT moderate when it comes to chocolate. Let’s see…

Tuesday night, instead of going to the gym after work, I came home and ate half a chocolate cake.

Yesterday, I slowly munched my way through a bag of chocolate chips stored in the freezer. It seems every 30 minutes I was reaching in for a tablespoon or two. Small portions, yes, but that makes it even harder to realize how much you’ve eaten!

Not to mention the chocolate chip coffee I drink in the morning, the Valentine’s Hershey Kisses that my mom has scattered around the house in decorative trays, and the Trader Joes hot cocoa mix that I love.

So….

For the next 7 days, I will not consume any chocolate.

Today = Day 1

To keep my mind of cocoa, I turned to bread.

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Here is a yummy, but slightly underdone, loaf of no-knead bread. I used Steamy Kitchen’s tutorial, which can be found here. The crust is chewy and delicious, and a slice of this bread with local honey, peanut butter and banana slices made the perfect lunch.

And, yes, I do realize that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, which is almost a national day of chocolate. However, I already planned ahead, and bought strawberries with whipped cream, for a lovely, sweet chocolate-free dessert.

After I make it through these 7 days, what will be my reward??

How about a 25th birthday? Yup, I’ll be turning a quarter-century in just a week. Pretty exciting. And hopefully lots of chocolate :)

Food for thought

Did you watch Oprah’s “vegan challenge” episode that aired this week? What did you think?

Her guests included the wonderful Michael Pollan, the plant manager of a Colorado Cargill slaughterhouse, and the big blonde author of “The Veganist”.

Oprah certainly learned her lesson after the infamous lawsuit when she declared she wouldn’t eat beef anymore due to the risk of contracting mad cow disease. I felt the show was fairly balanced, and Michael Pollan injected a lot of reality and moderation into the anti-animal-protein vibe. A few of my comments:

  • I was impressed by Cargill’s slaughterhouse, especially to learn that they were using Temple Grandin’s designs. (HBO’s film about Temple is now in my Netflix queue, btw)
  • I was not impressed by The Veganist’s guide to shopping vegan in a grocery store. Instead of steering the family towards beans, nuts, seeds, etc (= natural plant proteins), she took all their classic meat-based meals and explained that you can just switch out meat-alternatives and keep your traditional meals. Personally, I don’t like this approach. If you’re willing to try a radically different way of eating, you should be willing to try new recipes, instead of expecting to still have pizza and spaghetti bolognese with fake meat/dairy products. They won’t taste the same and you won’t be satisfied. Some of you may remember my encounter with Gimme Lean “ground meat-like” product. It was not good. Why not teach people about making a dish with lots of beans and new whole grains, exposing them to something new? Just a thought. Also… a vegan diet full of processed foods can still be very high in all the crap that you’re trying (or should be) to avoid, so I can’t say you’re much healthier.
  • Also… there is no term “vegan-ish” Oprah. You’re either vegan or you’re not. If you eat some meals with animal products and some without, you’re still a regular old omnivore. Don’t try to be fancy and elitist. (This also applies to a certain staff member at my workplace who is “vegan” but can eat alfredo sauce. mm hmm.)

As a vegetarian, I’m not anti-meat, nor do I think meat is evil. I love Michael Pollan’s recommendation that we all should at least be conscious of what we’re eating and where it’s coming from. He admits to eating meat several times a week, and enjoys it, but does not eat “industrial” or “feedlot” meat. Instead, he chooses to support small, local farms who may or may not produce organic products (sometimes that certification is more than they can afford), but are humanely raising their animals, and feeding them a natural diet.

**A note here – cows should not be eating a corn-based diet. This is not natural. It is a cheap food source (thanks to government subsidies) and fattens them up quickly, which are really the only 2 things that the industrial agriculture system cares about. However, take a step into the cow’s gut (if you are brave) and you’ll see that their innards were not created to handle a grain-based diet. Instead, it causes all kinds of illness and infection (e. coli, anyone?) so it’s a good thing they’re not living very long. Grass-fed beef comes from healthier cows, and is healthier for you, too (there are omega-3 fatty acids that we all love in the grass, but not in corn).

So… if I were to eat meat again, and I’m not saying that I will or won’t anytime soon, I would follow the philosophy of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (read this!) and support local family farms that I could trust. And I might just turn into the Portlandia characters that go as far as to ask the waitress about the name of the chicken on the menu and his personality :)

And while I’m still on my sustainable food soapbox, I highly encourage you all to read Mark Bittman’s column in the NYTimes opinion blog on his recommendations to change the US Food System. I would love to see any (and all!) of them come to fruition.

There. That’s a lot of writing for today. And I didn’t even mention that I got a new piece of vintage pyrex today, did I? :)

 

 

Eating for the Earth

Today’s reading material at the gym was the current issue of Whole Living, a magazine that borders on too-hippie-dippie for me, but I appreciate their interest in all things environmental.

One particular article/list that caught my eye: “50 Ways to Eat Sustainably”. Since this (the earth) is the reason for my meat-free diet, I wanted to see what else is on their list. I’m going to give you all fifty ways. So bear with me :)

  1. Use the whole vegetable
  2. Forgo bagged/boxed salad mixes to limit packaging
  3. Be a Farmer’s Market regular
  4. Buy heirlooms
  5. Buy in bulk when produce is on season
  6. Ask farmers (at the market) for recipe suggestions
  7. Try to use only what’s at the market for your meals that week
  8. If you can’t buy local, buy organic
  9. Buy local eggs (I try but can’t find them!!)
  10. Store root vegetables in your basement
  11. Join a CSA
  12. Be package conscious
  13. Check your milk brand at sustainabletable.org (not all brands are what they claim to be)
  14. Use unprocessed grains
  15. Soak beans and grains overnight – cuts the cooking time and energy usage to half
  16. Read labels!
  17. Freeze fresh berries on a cookie sheet to use year-round
  18. Mix seltzer with fresh fruit syrup to make your own soft drinks
  19. Buy local bread
  20. Make your own breadcrumbs
  21. Check your PLU codes on produce (organic items always start with 9)
  22. Become friends with your local growers/fisherman
  23. Cut out processed corn ingredients (corn oil, cornstarch, HFCS)…
  24. and eat more fresh corn!
  25. Wash produce with minimal water (soak and dry rather than running water continuously)
  26. Save cooking water and reuse (in your garden, for example)
  27. Eat safer seafood, which includes:
  28. Most any fish from Alaska
  29. Anything in a shell (think mussels, oysters, clams)
  30. Wild American Shrimp
  31. Local varieties of seafood
  32. Make your own stock
  33. Buy (and use!) whole chickens
  34. Fill up the oven (may as well cook more than one thing if you’re going to heat it up!)
  35. Pick healthier pots and pans – avoid carcinogenic chemicals in traditional non-stick coatings
  36. Have a green BBQ, using carbon-neutral briquettes made of wood
  37. Buy antibiotic- and hormone-free meat
  38. Choose domestic meat
  39. Eating seasonally isn’t just for produce… choose seasonal meat as well
  40. Choose honey instead of table sugar (a more renewable source)
  41. Plant more than flowers (be a gardener and farmer!)
  42. Compost your waste/scraps
  43. Limit yourself to two kitchen appliances and use them
  44. Drink better coffee – look for “fair-trade certified” and “sustainable”
  45. Switch to organic olive oil
  46. Make your own vinaigrette
  47. Use natural wax paper
  48. Use glass containers (go pyrex!!) instead of plastic for your leftovers
  49. Store items in glass bottles and jars
  50. Wrap baked goods with cloth instead of plastic wrap

So there you have it. I don’t necessarily agree with all 50 of them, due to practicality, cost, or plain ole’ logic, but this is from Martha Stewart and her team. I put the ones that I follow in bold, which actually isn’t that many… I should pick a couple to work on.

What’s in YOUR fridge?

I always find it interesting to see what people have in their refrigerator; I believe it says something about them. Right? You can tell a lot about a person by their groceries.

In fact there are websites like fridgewatcher.com where people send in photos of their fridge contents for review with the belief that “every fridge tells a story”.

Well, being a dietitian, you better believe there is interest in what food I eat/buy. Unless I’m with fellow dietitians or my family, I always feel like there are extra eyes on what I order at restaurants, buy at the store, or cook at home. But again, to reiterate my nutrition philosophy: I am not the food police. I don’t take away foods from people or force feed anyone. I make suggestions and give advice. I believe people should eat whatever food their body wants, but should make educated, moderate and balanced food choices.

With that being said, here’s a look at my refrigerator:

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Yes, it’s really full right now.

Follow along for a little tour:

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The Door:

  • Eggland’s Best Eggs (although I can’t wait to try some local farmer’s market eggs!)
  • My Brita pitcher of water (which I swear I fill up multiple times daily… maybe it’s worth investing in the larger size??)
  • Organic Milk (because it’s ultra pasteurized to last longer, and I like to support organic farming practices when I can)
  • A multitude of condiments – salad dressings, coffee creamers, butter, and sauces of all types – soy and barbecue included

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The Main Section: (from top, down)

  • Top shelf: Gatorade, a bag of sliced squash/zucchini for tomorrow’s stir-fry, a container of leftover pasta, and a lazy-susan that contains all my almond/peanut butters and jams/jellies/preserves
  • Next Shelf: my iced coffee, strawberries, salsa, hot sauce (deer repellant!), and random condiments I don’t eat (left by family members)
  • Next: Tofu, leftover spaghetti sauce, tupperware containers of diced pineapple and leftover hummus. In the back I can see margarine, tubes of garlic paste and tomato paste, and some thawed pie crust (although.. should that still be there? hmm… better check)
  • Bottom Shelf: Spinach, leftover pasta salad

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Vegetable Drawer:

  • Honestly, right now it’s full of my squash and zucchini. I try to take a basket into work every couple weeks to get rid of the old and make room of the new
  • Underneath I think there is some vintage celery, bagged carrots, and apples

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Meat Drawer:

  • Remember, I am vegetarian, so this is my “cheese drawer”
  • String cheese, extra-sharp cheddar, cream cheese, parmesan
  • Random bag of homeless clementines

And that concludes our tour! Hope you enjoyed. I’m sure I shocked you with how much food I have in this fridge for one person. But I rarely eat out, unless I’m having guests, and I like to eat leftovers :)

No tour of the freezer at this time. It is so completely jam-packed that the photos wouldn’t even show anything worthwhile.

A Tale of Two Tarts

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Dinner last night: A tomato tart (on pie crust) and a mushroom tart (on puff pastry)

DSCN0369 Pie crust topped with provolone cheese, sliced tomato, a little olive oil, salt + pepper

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Puff pastry, brushed with egg washed, topped with seasoned ricotta cheese, sautéed mushrooms and green onions, salt + pepper + parmesan

Both were fabulous, vegetarian options. Always exciting when my dad eats a  meatless meal without grumbling! Oh and yes, we did have a side salad. You didn’t think we’d just eat pie crust and cheese for dinner!? haha…..

After dinner = DVR catch-up + embroidery.

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OK OK… it was intended to be an “I love coffee” kind of thing. But I think it’s now looking a lot more like “I love my green watering can”. The green color didn’t help, nor the wonky-shaped coffee mug. Better luck next time. I need to actually start on a real project, rather than sewing random designs on the same piece of cloth.

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Today’s been off to a good start – my parents got up early with me, and my dad cooked belgian waffles! It’s also Secretary/Admin Assistant day, which = boxes of Dunkin Donuts all over :)

Cupcakes all the way

The Food Channel recently published a list of the top food trends of the decade (2000-2009). Interested? Thought so, here you go:

1. Sushi
2. Bacon
3. Cupcakes
4. Sliders
5. Gourmet Burgers made with Kobe or Angus Beef
6. Superfruits such as Acai, Pomegranate and Blueberry
7. Oils, such as olive oils and truffle oils
8. Whole grains
9. Artisan foods, particularly in breads, cheeses and dark chocolates
10. Coffees, teas

Obviously, #3 is my favorite, although I will say the RD in me is happy to see things like # 7 and 8 on the list.

Everyone knows my true love for cupcakes. I make it a point to visit a cupcake bakery in most every city I travel to. I have come to prefer them over regular cake (and think that wedding cupcakes are perfect!). In fact, I baked a batch of red velvet this weekend, and have been enjoying several on a daily basis (they’re little guys). There’s just something that feels special about cupcakes. A treat. A cute little delicacy.

So why all the cupcake talk? Because apparently McDonald’s is unveiling a line of cupcakes (named after New York burroughs of course) in their Germany stores. What!? Thanks Micky Dees. Ruin yet another great culinary item. You can check it out here (but probably best if you can read german.. haha).