Salmon is safe…for now.

Salmon leaping

Earlier this week I came across an article that is an update on where we left off on this Blog. When we last met, the FDA was going to review whether or not Aquabounty could begin to market genetically modified fish to U.S. Consumers. In 2010, the FDA said in a public hearing that Aquabounty’s salmon is “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon.” The FDA also said the fish “are not expected to have a significant impact” on the environment. Lucky for us, there has been push back on the FDA from many groups who are concerned about our food supply and the environment. FDA approval has been slowed to a crawl and it looks as though Aquabounty could be bankrupt by next month.

In the recent California election, Proposition 37 which would have required labeling of GMOs failed. We in California will continue to be ignorant of what we put into our bodies. We will continue to be human guinea pigs in an experiment we never asked to participate in. This week, we can at least be sure that the salmon on our plates is really the salmon on our plates.

The FDA weighs in on labeling!

The FDA is weighing in on whether they will require labeling of genetically modified salmon.

What do you think?

Feel free to discuss this issue further in the comments….

Abominable giant salmon coming soon to a fast food restaurant near you!


Did you hear the news this week? The FDA is close to approving genetically modified salmon. When I read about this for the first time earlier this week, I got a little knot in my stomach. I’ve always been opposed to GM foods but somehow, it felt a little easier to me to accept that man is messing with nature on a plant level. Once we begin to play god with higher order creatures…who knows what mayhem will ensue?

You see nature has a way of doing it’s own thing. Did you see Jurassic Park? The park owner hired geneticists who assured him that the cloned dinosaurs could not breed since they were sterile females. They ended up breeding anyway. I know what you are thinking: that was a fictional story. According to the article on GM salmon, the GM fish will be sterile females. The geneticists are doing this on purpose so that the salmon won’t be able to breed. If they get out, wild salmon stocks will be safe from contamination from these GM abominations. But, fish are strange creatures. They can change their sex from female to male if there are not enough males for breeding in a given population. It has also been documented that a shark held in captivity had a virgin birth. Hopefully fish cannot reverse sterilization.

As I was doing research for this post, I came across another scary article. According to this article, Russian scientists carried out an experiment where they fed GM foods to hamsters. The GM food was fed to each succeeding generation of hamster. Eventually, the fourth generation fed exclusively on a GM diet became sterile. Genetically modified foods are included in something like 75% of our processed foods now. This has been happening since the 1990’s. We should be on our second generation and going on our third generation of people who have been eating GM foods. This could get interesting pretty fast.

Now, I understand the urgency to get a salmon to market that will beef up to marketable size in fewer weeks than a conventional salmon would. Could you imagine how much money a McSalmon sandwich would make for McDonald’s? It would be huge for them! When beef cows and chickens were hybridized to grow to market size quickly, it revolutionized fast food. It made it possible to provide those billions of Big Macs and chicken McNuggets that are served every day. I just wish that corporate profits weren’t tied into the possibility that our health could be compromised in ways we never knew existed.

I am one angry little consumer and I am doing what I can. I try to vote with my dollars and I go to the FDA site to voice my disgust when they open things up to discussion. If I have no real say on the outcome of the decisions that the FDA makes on our behalf, then all I can wish for or hope for is that the FDA will finally help protect our interests just a bit and call for labeling of GM products. I just want to continue to at least think that I have a choice in regards to what I eat. Unless I am given the luxury of knowing what is in my food, I guess I will just remain afraid. Very afraid.

I just want my frozen yogurt treat. Grrr.

Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.

I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.

                                            

I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.

I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.

So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.

Blueberry frozen yogurt bars

1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt

1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*

2 2/3 tbsp honey

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.

I hate Frankenfoods. They get stuck in my teeth.

India rejected the nation’s first genetically modified food after their farmers protested. Good for them! Genetically modified food has not been tested on humans. Well…unless… you count the fact that in the U.S., we’ve been tested on for years without our knowledge. “Huh?” you say? According to this Wikipedia article, GM foods have been available to the processed food industry since the 1990s and 75% of all processed food contains at least one GM ingredient. Yep. I never signed on to be a lab rat and neither did you, but sometimes our rights as citizens are benignly neglected for a few dollars in the right pockets.

Now, let’s ignore the fact that we are lab rats for a minute and think about the other implications of genetic engineering. Companies are allowed to patent their GM seeds. Already, there are legal battles going on between corporations and farmers over the simple act of saving seeds for the next years crops. Farmers don’t own the patented seeds, Corporations do. Farmers are required to buy the seeds each time they want to grow a crop, they cannot save seed for this purpose as Farmers have for millennia. If Farmer’s can’t save patented seed, neither can we. Our basic right as humans to feed ourselves in a self-sufficient manner is being removed.

A friend of mine let me know about this documentary on Hulu.com (Thanks R.!). It is called The Future of Food and it runs about an hour and a half with short commercial breaks. If you have time, I encourage you to watch it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Hulu – The Future Of Food – Watch the…“, posted with vodpod

 

I have been following this issue for years. For me, I try to avoid most processed foods unless they are made of mostly organic ingredients. I eat organics as much as I can and buy locally from farmers who use organic or sustainable practices and grow heirloom varieties of food. I have even gone so far as to seek out organic canola oil that has been tested for GMOs since canola has had problems with contamination in the past. It’s difficult and I don’t do a great job (I have a bit of a restaurant addiction) but I think it’s important to limit my exposure to GMOs as much as I can.

I have seen a glimpse of the future and it is not pretty

So much for the wonders of stem cell research. On the fringes of a science that promises us the cure for disease comes the secondary promise of true mystery meat. Yes, it’s true, we can look no further than the lab for the next pull on our wallets. Researchers see a world in which Soylent green is not people, it is pork with the texture of scallops grown in petri dishes and sold for pennies on the dollar.

We live in an interesting time. At the same instant that some people are yearning for real meat grown the old fashioned way on grass, seafood that is harvested from the wild and vegetables that are grown on small farms with no chemicals, we have cowboys running around leading the charge towards a world of purely processed manmade food. It seems to me that once you can grow meat from cells, there is no end to how it can be manipulated for taste, texture and scent.

This quote amazed me: “Fish stem cells could be used to produce healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which could be mixed with the lab-produced pork instead of the usual artery-clogging fats found in livestock meat.” Fish get their omega 3 fatty acids not from being fish, but from eating a diet based on plant matter (or in the case of carnivorous fish, eating other fish that dine on plant matter). Pasture raised terrestrial animals contain omega 3 fatty acids from eating grasses and plants. The whole reason that people eating a western diet are deficient in essential fatty acids such as omega 3s is because we don’t eat a diet based on leaves. We eat too many processed foods based on seeds and too much protein fatted up on seeds.

When lab produced meat becomes available, my only hope is that labeling laws become much better. At this point consumers are left on their own to figure out what is in their food, from genetically modified organisms to trans fatty acids. Hopefully, we will get the chance to choose between natural and unnatural “meat”.

Health alert: the dangers of excess sugar

Brown sugar

I’ve wanted to talk about this for some time. Please bear with me as I may seem a little hypocritical when you consider the percentage of recipes on this blog that are sweet. What I want to make you aware of is the fact that excessive amounts of sugar are bad for you. You may already know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t really care. Maybe you should care. It is really important for your well being.

Tonight, the American Heart Association came out with a warning that we need to cut the amount of sugar in our diets. They say the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The average American teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of added sugar a day. When they say “added” they mean on top of the natural sugar we are eating from fruits and other carbohydrates. What does 22 teaspoons of sugar look like? I couldn’t resist finding out. See the picture above. That is an eight inch diameter plate. The pile was about 2 inches high! To put things in perspective, the AHA recommendation is that women should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons per day.

Where is all of this sugar coming from? It could be coming from soft drinks and sweets but it is likely coming from processed foods. In my opinion, I eat a healthy diet, but there are a few processed foods in my home for convenience. I get these products from health food stores and stores like Trader Joes that don’t use a lot of processed ingredients. Here is what a quick perusal of my pantry turned up:

Trader Joes brand spaghetti sauce: evaporated cane juice.

Pitted kalamata olives packed in extra virgin olive oil imported from Greece: glucose.

S & W organic tomato sauce: organic sugar.

Hain all natural Canola mayonnaise: dehydrated cane juice and honey.

Milton’s multi grain baked snack crackers: sugar and invert cane juice.

Doctor Kracker organic artisan baked spelt crackers: agave syrup, molasses, and barley malt syrup.

Kashi go lean hot cereal: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey.

The AHA is concerned for us because the extra sugar likely means we are unconsciously consuming extra calories. A lot of us have inactive lifestyles and if we do not get extra exercise to burn off the extra calories, we gain weight and risk heart disease and diabetes. These concerns while valid don’t tell the entire story. Sugar also prematurely ages us. An article in Prevention magazine talks about the damage sugar does to the proteins in our skin. If this is happening to our skin, the biggest organ in our bodies, I wonder what it may be doing to our other organs!

What can we do to protect ourselves? First off, read labels and be aware of what you are buying. Second, cook as much of your own food as you can. It is the only way to really know what is on your plate. As the cook, you can reduce the amount of sugar in your food by adjusting it downward as low as you can tolerate it and as low as a recipe can stand without ruinous results. Know your sugars. While all sugar is bad in excess, some sugar such as honey or molasses have trace nutrients and while they are not exactly health food, you will get a little more added nutrition than if you used processed granulated sugar.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Have you been aware of this issue already? What do you do to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet? Do we as bloggers have a responsibility to show our readers a healthy diet or are we just a tourist stop on the internet foodie trail?

Juicy, delicious, mouth-watering steak

http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)
 
You are what you eat eats – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.
 
I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often luxuriate in a rare, juicy piece of beef. If I am going to eat something that was alive and kicking at one point, my preference usually leans toward something avian or piscine. Occasionally something porcine will grace my plate but that is the extent of the red meaty goodness I’ll usually eat. Why? I was ruined early on when I read Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe’. I was quite the little environmentalist and when I discovered the environmental destruction tied to cattle, I stopped centering my diet around beef. Back in those old days, beef was blamed for many health scares due to the saturated fat content it contains. Many people I know cut down on their consumption of beef and I did too.
 
If you do your homework, you find out that a lot of the bad rap that beef gets is due to how it is raised for market.  Cows evolved a double stomach in order to turn the luscious green grass that we can’t digest into wholesome available nutrients. Cows properly raised on pasture are usually not too destructive to the environment. Meat and dairy from those same cows is loaded with omega three fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (which are good for preventing cancer). You see, the problem is that conventionally raised cows, stuck in a feedlot, are fed corn and sometimes other things. Since their double stomach is made for processing grass, grains make them ill. We have to load them with medications to make them well. The feedlots also contribute to environmental and health issues as well. The rise in the number of toxic E-coli cases we are experiencing lately are a result of our animal husbandry practices.
 
From a health and an environmental standpoint the meat, eggs and dairy of pastured animals are far better than their conventionally grown counterparts. “But pasture raised animal products are so pricey!” you say. Well, we should all be eating lower on the food chain for our health and our planet, but… that’s another rant for another day.
Steak
 
So… if you are still with me on this, and after looking at my links you still wanna have some beef: you must be thinking, “but Mimi. Grass fed beef has so much less fat, it can’t be tasty at all”. As you have gathered, I am not a steak expert, but I know that I love the intense meaty flavor of grass fed beef. Slate magazine did a taste test and here is how grass fed beef fared. For me, I have always loved how any beef tastes with this wonderful chili rub I discovered over a decade ago in Gourmet magazine. The rub both tenderizes and flavors the meat. Bon Appetit!
 
 Rub1
 
 Garlic and chili rub for barbequed beef

Adapted from Gourmet, August 1995

2 – 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
 
1 tsp kosher salt
 
2 tbsp chili powder
 
1 tsp cumin
 
½ tsp evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
 
3 ½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
 
Rub2

Add chopped garlic and salt to a mortar and use a pestle to grind the garlic and salt into a paste. Don’t worry if there are still some garlic chunks but you want it ground enough to make a wet paste. If your mortar is large enough, add chili powder, cumin, sugar and Worcestershire sauce, if not transfer garlic to a bowl and mix in the preceding ingredients.

This recipe makes enough rub for two to three pounds of steak or a roast such as tri tip. Cover the meat in the rub and allow it to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to two days. Cook the meat on a barbeque to the desired doneness.

Rub3

You’ve seen one cow, you’ve seen ‘em all!

Clones 

Judging from some of the interesting comments I get on this blog, most people would be happy if I stuck to cooking and stopped talking about food issues, but I read the news way too much and then I just can’t help myself! 

 

Today it was announced that the FDA has approved cloned animals to enter our food supply.  Aside from the visceral reaction I get whenever I read about some new frankensteinian change to our food supply, I really do have valid concerns this time.  A healthy food chain is a diverse food chain.  A population of animals or plants can survive a catastrophic disease or a change in environment much easier if there is genetic diversity.  If we begin to clone the “best” animals to be the parents of our food animals, we may eventually have millions of cows who have a desirable trait such as highly marbled meat but who lack the genes to fend off certain diseases.  So really, my concern is food security.  We have already lost many heritage breeds of animals and heirloom plants, old varieties that we can breed back to if we need certain traits.  The animals and plants we raise for food are already very identical to each other.  Adding cloning into the mix will make them even more similar.

 

One extreme event in our history we can refer back to in order to understand my concern over cloning is the Irish potato famine.  One variety of potato out of the possible thousands of varieties found in Peru was brought back to and grown in Ireland.  This variety of potato was successful both as a crop and as a desirable new food.  The potato became a staple food that people depended on as a major source of their calories.   Potato blight wiped out the monoculture crop of potatoes that Ireland depended on.  Over a million people perished.

 

Now it would be silly to say we would all starve to death if all of the cows or sheep or pigs died, but we are a very meat centric society here in the U.S. and our economy would take quite a hit if our meat industry were somehow decimated.  McDonalds doesn’t claim to have served a hundred billion burgers for nothing!

 

Anyway…just a little food for thought.

Drop that bag of microwave popcorn now!!

popcorn.jpg

Did the title of my post get your attention?  I sure hope so.  I have never been fond of the smell of microwave popcorn, so I don’t eat it.  The smell of the butter flavor is kind of disgusting to me.  I hate it when someone at work pops popcorn for a snack because the smell travels through our entire air conditioning system and gets into every room in our building.  The smell does not seem wholesome to me.  

 

A few days ago, I started noticing news articles about four major popcorn makers dropping a toxic chemical from their brands of popcorn.  It turns out that the butter flavor used in microwave popcorn is made with compound called diaceytl.  Diacetyl is a natural chemical compound responsible for that yummy buttery finish in a nice Chardonnay wine.  When diaceytl is heated such as when we pop microwave popcorn, toxic fumes are formed.  If these fumes are inhaled in large quantities, a person could get a rare form of bronchitis.  This has been happening for some time to workers who make microwave popcorn.  The disease has thus been named “popcorn lung”.   Although popcorn factory workers have been adversely affected by popcorn lung for some time, it was generally thought that consumers would not be exposed to diacetyl fumes in high enough concentrations to harm us.   Well, like all good food scares; someone found a gentleman who got popcorn lung because he was an excessive lover of microwave popcorn.  Here is what caught my attention in the article about the man who got popcorn lung in his home:  “Doctors tested Watson’s home for levels of diaceytl fumes and found that while popcorn was microwaved in the kitchen, peak levels of the fumes were similar to those measured in factories.”  This statement is bad.  Pollution in homes has been shown to be elevated to the pollution outside of our homes.  This is probably because our homes are enclosed so there is not a lot of air flowing in and out to remove toxins.  If we microwave popcorn in the house, those fumes are going to stay right were we will breath them in.

 

So, now you are probably thinking “Thanks a lot Mimi, what the $^@# do you want me to do now that I’m scared to eat microwave popcorn?”  Well, I’ve got you covered.  At least for popcorn noshing at home.  When I was really little, we had the kind of popcorn maker that used oil to pop corn.  It made great popcorn.  You could also pop corn in a large pot, but that always yielded a mess of burnt corn for me.  When I was sort of little, air popcorn machines were invented.  Air popped corn was super healthy and low fat, but the corn always seemed stale.  A couple of years ago I got a microwave popper thinking I could emulate the crunchiness of the stuff in the bag, but the popcorn still came out stale and you had to use a paper disk with the popper, what a waste!  Awhile back, I bought “How to cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  It turns out, I always burned popcorn in a pan because I used too high of heat!  His method is fool proof.  I created a spicy-garlic butter to flavor the popcorn.  With a little improvisation, you could make other flavorings like Parmesan butter.  The point is, once again, homemade is superior, healthier, cheaper and tastier.

 

Spicy Garlic Popcorn

 

Popping method from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  The natural Popcorn flavor by me.

 

2 tbsp Safflower oil or other neutral oil

 

½ cup popping corn

 

3 tbsp unsalted butter

 

½ tsp salt

 

1 ½ tsp garlic powder

 

1 tsp *nanami togarishi (Japanese chili powder) or any chili powder blend that has heat

 

Place the oil in the bottom of a large, deep saucepan (6 quarts or so) that can be covered and turn heat to medium.  Add three kernels of corn and cover.  When the three kernels pop, remove the cover and add the remaining corn.  Cover and shake the pot, holding the lid as you do so.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until you hear the popping stop, about 5 minutes.  Be careful to listen to what is going on in your pot, even at this low heat, it will still burn if you don’t catch it soon enough. 

 

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove.  Mix in the salt, garlic powder and nanami togarishi.  Pour the butter mixture into the pan with the just popped popcorn and shake the pan, covered, to coat the popcorn with the butter mixture.  Pour popcorn into a large bowl to serve.

 

*Nanami togarishi can be found in the Asian food section of well-stocked supermarkets or specialty Asian markets.  This Japanese chili powder contains: chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed.  It is traditionally used as a condiment for Soba noodle soup but I use it on broiled fish, on baked potatoes and now on popcorn.