I’m a “Top Chef” junkie, and one of my all-time favorite contestants is Washington, DC-based Chef Carla Hall. Where other contestants brought ego and attitude to the table, Hall always served up her own flavor of generous, spirited optimism. She consistently dazzled judges with her creative spin on nourishing fare, like a stellar vegan African Ground Nut Soup. The show’s viewers shared my affection for Hall and voted her the fan favorite in the recent “Top Chef: All-Stars.” And now she’s one of the favorite co-hosts on the popular ABC daytime series, “The Chew.”
Hall originally wrote this blog post for her site and is letting us share it with you here. We think you’ll love her philosophy on healthy eating and why good nutrition, moderation and occasional indulgences all belong on the same plate.
By Carla Hall
The key to smart food choices starts with a healthy balance of nutritional foods that allow for some less nutritional foods in moderation. I personally have temptations and unhealthy foods that call my name from time to time. But in order to avoid the feelings of deprivation that can lead to weight gain, you must indulge.
Yes, indulge! Everyone needs to treat themselves from time to time for following a healthy and balanced lifestyle. But be sure to treat yourself in moderation. Know when enough is enough.
Here are some quick tips to help you eat the things you love without overindulging.
Pay attention to your body, and stop when you’ve had enough.
I love food, and I love to eat, and being a chef, I’m constantly around food. If I don’t pay attention to portion sizes and my body’s cues, I’ll keep eating and eating until the food is gone. Eating slowly helps me pace myself and allows my brain to catch up. Matthew [Hall’s husband] is constantly alerting me when I eat too fast.
Eat only when you’re hungry.
This can be difficult for most people. One great way to tell if you are really hungry or just being impulsive is to ask yourself: If the plate was full of broccoli would you still eat it? If you wouldn’t, then don’t reach for the treats that are tempting you.
Give in to your cravings from time to time.
If you have a sweet tooth, go ahead and eat a cookie. But only have one instead of two or three . . . or the whole plate. Easier said than done, I know. Eating in moderation requires training on your part. If you’re able to train yourself to give into cravings without binging, you’ll be able to enjoy the not-so-good foods from time to time.
Everything in moderation leads to a happier, healthier life, as demonstrated in my approach to cooking natural and organic meals with Southern and French-inspired flair.
Beyond what you put in your mouth, regular exercise every day will help you add balance to your life. It’s a natural progression to watch what you eat if you have a consistent exercise regime. Those who have a balance of diet and exercise will ultimately reach total health and wellness faster than those who don’t.
If you explored the 3,500 exhibitors lining the crowded aisles at the recent Natural Products Expo West, you might have been impressed by the incredible diversity in the organic and natural foods market. Indeed, there were many independent companies and new players looking for retailers to pick up their products. The country’s biggest industrial food processors were well represented, too, even if it wasn’t always obvious. General Mills was there (Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen). So were Kellogg (Kashi and Morningstar Farms), Kraft (Boca Foods), Coca-Cola (Honest Tea), Pepsi (Naked Juice) and M&M/Mars (Seeds of Change), to name a few others.
Of course, it’s no surprise that big food processors have gotten into the organic food business. It’s a fast-growing market. According to the latest figures from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales of organic food and beverages reached $24.8 billion in 2009. The heyday for big corporate acquisition of small organic producers was 1997-2007. At the same time, many processors rolled out organic versions of popular brands, while many of the country’s top food retailers commissioned the same manufacturers to produce private-label organic lines.
Does big corporate interest help or hinder organics?
“It depends on your values,” says Philip H. Howard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, whose articles in academic journals have examined the consequences of consolidation in the organic food industry. “That’s the debate in the organic movement. Some people say that it’s so important to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides that we shouldn’t worry about who owns what. Others say it’s not just about pesticides, but our overall food system.”
Large players have made organic food more available and affordable. “It’s easier to find organic foods these days,” says Howard. “It’s literally everywhere now. And part of this is because big business has gotten involved.”
Mass market retailers (including supermarket chains, warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Target) now account for more than half of organic food sales. Natural retailers–a segment dominated by Whole Foods–make up another 38%.
“There are purists who believe organic is just for small entities,” says Christine Bushway, executive director of the OTA, which represents organic companies ranging from smaller independents like Alvarado St. Bakery to Kraft. “But the fact of the matter is that it’s a very, very fast-growing area because of consumer demand, and it takes some of the bigger players to meet that demand.”
Big corporations open up mainstream distribution channels for the smaller organic brands they own. Earlier this month, Coca-Cola completed its acquisition of Honest Tea, which produces a line of USDA-certified organic beverages. As Honest Tea’s “TeaEO” Seth Goldman explains in a video on the company’s website, Coke’s resources enable Honest Tea to reach a far bigger market and fulfill its mission to “democratize” organics.
But corporate consolidation of organics has some disadvantages, too.
Honest Tea’s honesty about its affiliation with Coca-Cola is unique among organic companies with multinational corporate parents. Most opt for what Howard calls “stealth” ownership that makes it difficult for consumers to know if an organic brand is owned by a bigger corporation. For example, Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm are owned by Small Planet Foods, which in turn is owned by General Mills. But, you wouldn’t learn that from the products’ packaging or websites (though Small Planet does list the same P.O. box mailing address as General Mills, which you’d discover when you went to General Mills’ site).
Many organic companies hide their big corporate ties because they know their customers don’t trust the integrity of Big Food. Howard notes that Whole Foods refused to carry Tyson’s organic chicken line because the retailer thought customers wouldn’t buy a product made by a conventional meat processing giant. When I posted Goldman’s video on our Facebook page, commenters were skeptical about Coke’s ownership of Honest Tea. Other shoppers, especially those committed to the social responsibility roots of the organics movement, may be reluctant to buy organic products that support multinational food giants that have no qualms about pursuing less planet-friendly practices (like using GMOs) in other brands.
“Stealth” ownership also creates what Howard calls “pseudo-diversity” in organics. That means consumers to think there are more alternatives to Big Food than really exist.
Corporate consolidation also makes it more challenging for independent organic companies to reach customers. “Distribution has become so consolidated. If you’re a new, smaller independent company, it’s much harder to get national distribution,” says Howard. Aligning with a major corporation can make a huge difference. When Honest Tea partnered with Coke, they quadrupled their distribution outlets.
“Whether it’s Coca-Cola or a little farmer with seven cows, they have to follow the [USDA] National Organic Program,” says Bushway. “[Size] doesn’t really matter.”
Or does it? Howard’s research indicates that as large food processors have entered organics, they’ve also successfully lobbied to lower those standards. Some examples he cites are increasing numbers of feedlot-scale organic dairies operated by Horizon (owned by Dean Foods); in 2007, the USDA began allowing nonorganic “minor” ingredients (up to 5%) in organic processed foods.
Under corporate ownership, some subsidiaries maintain their commitment to organics (such as Cascadian Farm or Muir Glen), others quietly abandon organics in favor of the virtually meaningless “natural” claim. Howard points to another Coca-Cola brand, Odwalla, as one example. Another is Silk, which under WhiteWave (Dean Foods), now offers just four organic products in its extensive line.
What You Can Do
“Those cases show you have to be pretty vigilant,” says Howard. Even if ownership isn’t an issue for you, it still pays to double-check the labels of your favorite products when you grab them off the grocery shelf to be sure that organic seal is still there.
If you prefer to support independent companies, there are still some large independent organic brands, including Eden Foods, Bob’s Red Mill, Lundberg Family Farms, Organic Valley and others.
If you want to keep an eye on the ownership of your favorite brands, bookmark GoodGuide, a site that rates companies and products based on health, the environment and social responsibility. They also include corporate ownership information, and have a free iPhone app so you can check products when you’re shopping.
With our daughter now an active participant at the supermarket, I’ve become more attuned to how companies entice kids to pick up their products (“look, Mommy . . . it’s ELMO!”). But it’s not just kids who are taken in by food labels. I walked up and down the supermarket aisles last week with a keen eye towards the promises beckoning me and I found that, for the most part, the bolder the proclaimed virtues, the less likely the product was to be good for me.
Take Reduced Fat Ritz Crackers, for instance. The green stripe at the bottom of the box draws my eye toward a sunny icon proclaiming these Reduced Fat Ritz to be a “sensible solution.” They have half the fat of original Ritz, no cholesterol and little saturated fat–more than enough to convince a busy shopper to lob that box into their cart and feel good about it. But let’s take a closer look at those claims—and the ingredients and Nutrition Facts—shall we?
No Cholesterol and Low in Saturated Fat– These claims typically appeal to those looking out for their cardiovascular health (and bravo to you for doing so!). Where it gets misleading is that dietary cholesterol has turned out to have much less effect on our bodies than previously thought; it’s the types of fat we consume, and their respective impact on LDL and HDL cholesterol, that matter. Saturated fat raises harmful LDL cholesterol, but it also raises helpful HDL, so the net effect isn’t too terribly awful. Trans-fats—identified either by grams in the Nutrition Facts panel or by the term “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list—are by far the worst type of fat because they raise LDL and lower HDL. So let’s flip the box over and see what’s there. The nutritional panel lists trans-fats at 0 grams, but a product can contain up to .5 grams of trans fats and still list the amount at 0, so I like to double-check the ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated oils. And there, right in the middle of the list, is partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Uh oh. So much for heart-healthy.
Half the Fat – True, at 2 grams per serving these Ritzes are half the fat of normal Ritzes, which weigh in at 4 grams. But what does that really tell us? If we’re concerned about the fat itself, we already know that these are made with a less-than-ideal type. And if we’re equating fat grams with whether or not they’ll make us fat, we’re looking in the wrong place. Calories (or more specifically, an excess of calories) cause weight gain, not total fat grams, and these Reduced Fat Ritz have 70 calories per serving—not bad, until you consider that a serving is only 5 crackers. Up that to a more realistic 10 and you’re looking at 140 calories, roughly 7% of an average “calorie budget” of 2,000 a day.
So here you have a snack with virtually no value for your body that gobbles up close to a tenth of your calorie budget for the day and includes a downright dangerous type of fat.
This is a sensible solution? For whom . . . us or Nabisco?
So what to do? First off, stop and ask yourself what you want to achieve. Are you trying to manage your weight? Are you trying to protect your heart? Are you trying to find healthy foods to feed your kids? Whatever it is you want to accomplish, take a moment to learn which factors really make an impact. Once you’re in the supermarket perusing the aisles, ask yourself why you’re drawn to a box. If you already know what you want from a food, you can evaluate how well a package’s claims stack up to your needs by examining the ingredients, Nutrition Facts panel and serving size. Best yet, if there’s an option to go whole—like this Make-at-Home Socca—choose that over any package.
In any case, when you’re cruising the aisles, it’s best not to judge a box by its cover.
McDonald’s and KFC and the like do a great job making their food enticing to kids. Bright wrappers, big logos, snappy slogans, take home “rewards” for eating their stuff. Honestly, what’s not for a kid to like? But we can take a page from these Goliaths on how todo a better job “marketing” the healthy meals we make at home as happy meals for the whole family.
Make food appeal to kids’ senses. Instead of serving boiled potatoes, roast some Garlic Parsnip Fries so the house smells delish. Instead of spaghetti with butter on a white plate, throw in some (green) spinach and serve it in a red bowl.
Get them involved. McDonald’s has an entire Happy Meal website devoted to entertaining kids. We, too, can entertain kids with our Super Antics in the kitchen. Put them to work pinching herbs, or pounding garlic in a mortar and pestle, or even stirring water in a bowl with a wooden spoon. The point is, make them feel like they’re in on the action.
Generate a sense of anticipation. Get a great kids’ cookbook and let the kiddos choose what they want to make once or twice a week, then generate a sense of anticipation for the meal as you make a shopping list, gather the ingredients, etc. If you have a garden or a farmers’ market, ramble around with the kids and make up names of dishes you could make with each food. The whole experience can engage their imagination . . . maybe even as much as a Happy Meal Superhero!
Create a special occasion. There’s a sense with kids that having McDonald’s is a “special occasion.” We can do that too. Have the kiddos help set the table with nice napkins, dim the lights and light candles, present the plate as a waiter would, introducing each food with a description. Then sit down with them and your own dinner and share in the enjoyment.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has produced a package of beige bread from their fridge for me while proudly announcing, “See, I switched to wheat . . . I’m really trying to eat healthier,” only to have me scan the ingredients and see that, nutrient-wise, the loaf ain’t much better than Wonder. Which is just a bummer for everyone. Here’s how to understand the labels on the loaves so that, when you want a whole grain wheat bread, you really get one.
At its most basic, bread is really no more than three or four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt (if you’re in my kitchen). Along with the alchemy of time, artisanal bread makers transform those ingredients into a food that is one of the timeless staples of life. Sliced bread, although “great” on the convenience front, made things a bit more complicated. Nowadays, ingredient lists on a loaf of bread can be up to 40 items long, many of them with unpronounceable names.
Complicating the matter further are the labels on the front of the package. I’ve seen many breads dusted with seeds and nuts touting “whole grains” and “naturally sweetened” that are primarily refined flour and high-fructose corn syrup. The reality is, the only real way to know what you’re getting is to look at the ingredients yourself. Here’s a guide.
What’s Actually in the Bread?
Western Hearth 7-Grain Bread
Pick up a loaf of bread like the one above and the ingredient list can be daunting. Here’s a breakdown of the four major categories.
Whole grains (listed in brown)
These are grains—either in whole form; cracked or crushed; or ground into a flour—that have all three parts of the kernel intact. (For more on what these parts do for us, read Gotta Get Your Grains).
Refined flours and enrichment additives (listed in red)
These are flours that have been stripped of all but the starchy endosperm. Refined flour has, by law, five vitamins and minerals—niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid and iron—added back to it. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s virtuous, however. There are still ample nutrients, healthy fats, fiber and other goodies that are gone for good in refined flours. Some breads say “wheat flour,” but unless it says “whole wheat flour” it is still a refined grain.
Sweeteners(listed in pink)
These are added to make the bread sweeter and mask the taste of chemical additives and preservatives.
Softeners and stabilizers (listed in purple)
These ingredients, mostly chemicals, give the bread a soft, spongy texture and help it last longer on the shelves.
What Should You Look For?
The truth is, you don’t need to memorize what each ingredient is. To know if you’re buying a real, whole grain bread—and to gauge how healthy it is—you just have to look for the answers to these questions:
How Whole? The first thing you want to do is look at the very first word, which, if you’re looking for a whole grain bread, should be “whole.” Because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, you’re not going to get much whole grain benefit from a loaf with enriched flour as its first ingredient (for more on why, read Gotta Get Your Grains) and a whole grain flour as its last. And don’t be fooled: breads labeled “7-grain” or “whole-grain” or “multigrain” often have enriched or wheat flour listed as a first ingredient with small amounts of other whole grains mixed in. Take a look at the bread above, for instance, and you’ll see that it’s mostly refined flour. Only after the high-fructose corn syrup do we find the whole grains it touts (the label, by the way, reads “7 Grain Bread, Naturally Sweetened”), meaning that there are less of each of the grains than there is high-fructose corn syrup (ingredients are listed in descending order by weight). For a bread to truly count as a whole grain, it must have “whole wheat flour” or some other type of whole grain flour (“whole” being the operative word) high up on the list.
How Long?The second thing you should look for is how long the list is. Keep in mind that all it takes to make bread is four ingredients. Anything else, unless they’re grains, seeds, nuts or other ingredients added for texture and flavor, is there to make it sweeter, softer or more shelf-stable.
How Real? Even the more natural bread below uses sweeteners, only they’re dates and raisins, with not a high-fructose corn syrup in sight. Ingredients that sound unnatural, for the most part, are.
By no means is this to say you should never indulge in a nice loaf of non-whole grain bread. But if you’re making the effort to buy a whole grain bread then, dang it, I believe you should get it. The next time you buy a loaf of whole grain bread, flip it over, look at the ingredients and make sure it’s the real deal.
The first two months of 2011 have been busy for the USDA when it comes to approving genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified organisms or GMO) crops. At the end of January, the agency deregulated GE Roundup Ready alfalfa, followed a week later by the partial deregulation of GE sugar beets and deregulation of GE ethanol corn a week after that. Approval of GE alfalfa, in particular, created a firestorm of controversy in the organic community.
In December, when the USDA was considering deregulating GE alfalfa, the agency organized a “coexistence forum” for the various stakeholders to discuss measures to safeguard organic and non-GE conventional alfalfa while at the same time allowing farmers to grow the GE stuff. Attendees included representatives from the USDA, members of NGOs (among them, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety and the Cornucopia Institute), industry groups (such as the Biotech Industry Organization and the Organic Trade Association) and industry members (Monsanto, alongside Stonyfield Farm, Whole Foods and others).
At the time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made it clear that biotech crops are here to stay. “We see biotechnology as a key component of U.S. ag production, and a powerful means to increase agricultural productivity, as well as sustainability and resilience to climate,” he told attendees. “At the same time, there must be a recognition that the organic sector is one of the fastest-growing segments of U.S. agriculture.”
Participation of some of the organic industry’s biggest players led Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, to label them “Monsanto’s Minions.” Stonyfield’s CEO Gary Hirshberg countered that since the USDA was going to deregulate GE alfalfa anyway, it was crucial for organic interests to be represented as the USDA considers coexistence. That didn’t stop Hirshberg and others who were at the USDA meeting from later signing the “We Stand United in Opposition of GE Alfalfa” petition, which calls the USDA “a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops.”
When the USDA approved GE alfalfa, it released its plans to foster “constructive coexistence.” Measures include steps to preserve the purity of non-GE alfalfa seed, developing stewardship practices to prevent contamination and “assisting cooperation” among GE and non-GE alfalfa producers. There’s no timeline attached to these measures, and it’s unclear what kind of role the USDA might play in monitoring and enforcing any policies beyond research, advice and voluntary audits–or how those policies might apply to other crops. In the meantime millions of acres are being planted with GE crops. For example, the USDA is allowing GE sugar beets to be planted even though the final Environmental Impact Statement isn’t due until next year.
One question that stands out is whether such coexistence is practical.
“That depends on what you mean by ‘coexistence,’” says Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and a member of the board of directors for the Organic Seed Alliance. He also participated in the USDA’s December meeting on GE alfalfa. “If one means that both varieties (GMO and organic) can exist on the same planet without any cross-contamination, then the answer is clearly is ‘no.’ One cannot isolate a living organism in nature.
“Proposing coexistence based on no contamination isn’t feasible, since that genie is already out of the bottle.”
Kirschenmann says that leaves “coexistence” based on planting crops far enough apart to minimize contamination, compensating organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by GMOs and, of course, the cooperation of all the concerned parties. But just the idea of planting GE crops far enough apart is daunting.
“There would need to be strict distance between crops,” says Kirschenmann. “Such distances would need to be established for each crop–insect- and wind-pollinated crops would need much greater distances.” (That would certainly be the case for alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees, as well as corn–another common GE crop–which is wind-pollinated.) Farm equipment, as well as processing, manufacturing and seed facilities, would also need to be strictly segregated, he adds.
The recent deregulation of GE ethanol corn raises additional concerns. That corn is approved for industrial use for biofuel, but it could easily contaminate food corn crops. “There is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn,” says Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. “Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards will slip. In this case, there are no required precautions.”
Albert Straus, president of Straus Family Creamery, knows firsthand how easily organic crops can be tainted. In a statement protesting the deregulation of GE alfalfa, he noted that “because bees routinely fly up to five miles from their hives to pollinate plants, it is impossible for farmers to prevent contamination of organic or conventional alfalfa crops from genetically modified pollen.” And because alfalfa is the key feed for organic dairy cows, that threatens the integrity of all organic dairy products.
Straus Family Creamery began voluntarily testing organic cattle feed for GMOs in 2006 after discovering it had purchased some organic feed that had been inadvertently contaminated.
GE crops come with serious environmental and potential health concerns. But ultimately, says Kirschenbaum, the issue boils down to property law. “Property rights work two ways: In this case, farmers have the right to use their property to grow GMO crops. On the other hand, organic and non-GMO farmers have the right to grow crops without being interfered with by GMO crops. Courts have waxed and waned on such issues, so it’s difficult to tell how the Supreme Court would rule.”
What You Can Do
Oppose GE crops? Here are some steps you can take:
Buy certified-organic food. According to the USDA’s standards, certified organic food cannot contain GMOs.
Look for products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. These have been tested and vetted by a third party to be GMO-free. (This is the verification program used by Straus Family Creamery.)
Support the Center for Food Safety’s legal fund to challenge GE crops in the courts.They’re suing the USDA for deregulating alfalfa.
Contact your representatives in the House and Senate to voice your opposition to GMOs. It’s working in the case of GE salmon–in recent weeks, bills to block the fish have been introduced in the House and Senate. [UPDATE: As of October 2013, it looks like the FDA is set to approve sale of the GE fish.]
It’s all fine and dandy to talk about seasonality in the peak of summer, when tomatoes and eggplant and such are bursting on the vine. It’s another thing entirely to talk about seasonality when your landscape has been white for over a month. What you do when foods you love are out of season?
It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that “seasonal” and “local” go hand in hand. Seasonal climates are dictated by local geography. If you’re striving to eat seasonally and are buying strawberries in January, for instance, then you’d better be living in Baja California. But there are more options to choose from than you might think, no matter where you live. Here’s how to stay seasonal even during the most challenging times of the year.
The first, most obvious step, of eating seasonally is knowing which fresh crops grow when where you live. Leeks, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, for instance, grow in cold weather around the country, along with root vegetables like parsnips, celery root and potatoes. In warmer climes, like California and Florida, citrus are in full force (our neighbor’s orange tree tempts me all day long!). And I just found out, surprise surprise, that kiwi grow abundantly well here where I live.
Long before there were refrigerators, there were root cellars; cool, dark subterranean rooms where families stored their late fall and early winter harvest to use throughout the winter. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, late-harvest apples, winter squash and onions store for months, as do root vegetables like carrots, rutabaga, beets and turnips.
Some crops, like tomatoes, need a lot of artificial heat and light to grow during the winter. Others, like lettuce, arugula, mustard and mushrooms, will thrive with a bit of protection and amplified sunlight (which the glass of a greenhouse provides). So a head of butter lettuce might well be locally grown in winter even in upstate New York.
You may not think of preserved crops as “seasonal,” but I would argue that they are. In the past, preserves played an important role of spreading the abundance of a bountiful season across a sparser one. Crops preserved in fall and summer are meant to be enjoyed during the cold winter months. Look for locally made sauerkraut, pickles and preserves, as well as dried peppers, beans and mushrooms.
The same principle that applies to preserved crops extends to your freezer, if you grow your own fruits and vegetables (or if you buy a boatload at the farmers market). We love using our No Work Slow Roasted Tomatoes (I just made a killer crostini topping with them the other night) clear up until there are fresh ones on the vine again. Corn, peas, cauliflower and berries (like blueberries, blackberries and cranberries) also freeze beautifully.
It’s worth noting that just because a fruit or vegetable is in season near you doesn’t mean that what’s on the grocery store shelves was actually grown nearby. Check labels or, better yet, join a winter CSA. Enterprising farms (yes, even in places like Vermont and Minnesota) combine a mix of all the above to offer an inspiring selection during even the coldest months.
Back in 2011, President Obama signed the long-awaited–and much-needed–Food Safety Modernization Act into law. The act updated America’s food safety system for the first time since the Great Depression and “represents a sea change for food safety in America, bringing a new focus on prevention,” noted Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of food and drugs at the Food and Drug Administration.
Now the FDA has the authority to enforce food safety measures domestically and internationally, including mandating food recalls (before, recalls were voluntary) and blocking food imported from countries or producers who refuse FDA inspections. As Hamburg notes, half of our fresh fruit, 20% of of our vegetables and 80% of our seafood is imported. However, lack of funding has made implementing measures in the act slow at best.
An avalanche of high-profile food recalls in 2010 may have encouraged lawmakers to pass the act. From the nationwide recall that reclaimed more than a half-billion eggs through a recall of potentially tainted baked goods sold at Whole Foods, 2010 may go down as the year of the food recall. As Kurt noted in his commentary about the egg recall, large-scale industrially cultivated food that’s distributed nationwide can create nationwide food-safety problems.
The real fight is just beginning, says Marion Nestle, author of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (University of California Press), because Republican lawmakers have repeatedly balked at appropriating the estimated $1.4 billion needed to implement the law’s measures. Without the money, the law won’t have teeth. That’s bad news for the 1 in 6 Americans who are sickened by food-borne illnesses every year (not to mention the 3,000 killed by tainted food), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the meantime, Bill Marler, an attorney who has devoted his career to litigating foodborne illness cases (starting with the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993), predicts that despite the new law “2011 may well look like many of the years before to me – more outbreaks, more suffering and more lawsuits.”
It used to be about the presents. Hanukkah, that is. When I was a kid, the promise of a really good Hanukkah present held a certain magic. Maybe it was a new game or a special book or a cuddly, plush Glow Worm, that long, squiggle of a thing whose head emitted a soft, comforting light when its body was gently squeezed. Yes, we lit the menorah, and said the traditional prayers, but back in my youth I honestly don’t recall raucous gatherings filled with crispy latkes, endless dreidel games or mesh bags pregnant with gold-foiled, chocolaty gelt.
And yet, that has all since changed. This weekend, my husband and I will host our havurah’s annual Hanukkah party, a rambunctious affair where latkes rule, dreidels twirl, menorahs twinkle and 22 kids from nine families run amok like crazed monkeys until they all peter out and return to their respective homes, ready to crash in a sweaty, potato-fueled coma.
The term havurah refers to a group of Jews affiliated with the same congregation who gather for religious or social purposes (or both) outside the formal confines of a synagogue. My havurah has been my Jewish holiday posse since my husband and I moved to California with our young sons in 2004. Together, we’ve rung in six Rosh Hashanahs, broken six Yom Kippur fasts, celebrated six Passover Seders and, yes, gorged on latkes at six Hanukkah parties with these friends and their gaggle of children.
Tonight, food will be served, dreidels will spin, candles will wink and my home will be filled with energy, with laughter and with an abundance of light.
We’ve also shared life’s ups and downs, and witnessed the circle of life in its most intimate forms. Two couples have given birth, two men have lost their fathers and one boy has led the pack in celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. (A queue of children is poised to follow, including my own sons in the next few years.) Members have weathered job loss and enjoyed new professional success, children have grown from infants to first graders, and friendships, once tender and nascent, have solidified into true, lifelong bonds, ready to withstand whatever curves life throws our way.
This Hanukkah, Julia and Alison will come to my house early, armed with potatoes and onions, skillets and spatulas, eager to help fry stacks of latkes for the hungry hordes, including their own spouses and children, who will soon arrive. The rest will then trickle in, bearing gifts, gelt and menorahs in all shapes and sizes. Food will be served, dreidels will spin, candles will wink and my home will be filled with energy, with laughter and with an abundance of light.
And when you get right down to it, the miracle of light–how a flame with only enough oil to burn for one night burned instead for eight–is the prevailing theme of this very holiday.
May your own home be filled with light this holiday season, and may you be surrounded by those who bring you nourishment, comfort and joy.
My Thanksgiving planning started a few weeks ago with an email from our friend, John, asking if we wanted to join him and his wife for dinner. We could eat out, he suggested, or stay in. “My preference is hosting here so we can drink a bunch of wine and enjoy some leftovers,” he noted.
Mine, too, but I knew I’d have to bring my A game to the kitchen. John makes every gathering special, and as a certified wine pro studying to become a master sommelier, he has a particular knack for matching wine and food. So we spent some time putting together a menu of a dozen dishes for which he’ll be opening seven bottles of wine. To add to the fun, he’s even printed a menu for our “event.” By design, ours will be a long, leisurely Thanksgiving feast.
And that’s just as it should be.
I recently wrote a freelance piece about making the Thanksgiving meal a healthy one. I interviewed dietitians and chefs who all had great ideas for how to trim calories and fat without sacrificing flavor. One of my favorite tips, though, doesn’t require changing a thing about how you cook: Slow down the pace of the meal.
One of my favorite tips for creating a nourishing Thanksgiving doesn’t require changing a thing about how you cook: Simply slow down the pace of the meal.
You know how it goes: You spend weeks planning, shopping and cooking, set everything out on the buffet, and everyone loads up their plates and gobbles it all down in 20 minutes. “People tend to shovel it in, and then they’re in that turkey coma,” NOURISH Evolution advisor Rebecca Katz, M.S., told me.
Slowing the pace is good for the cook and for the guests. People will take time to really savor the meal you’ve spent so much time preparing and cooking. And they’ll probably eat less, since it takes at least 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that you’re getting full. “The longer the meal lasts, the more time there is for digestion,” Katz reminded me. Everyone will leave the table satisfied but not stuffed.
Slowing down the meal is easy. Here are three strategies you can employ tomorrow.
Don’t serve everything at once. Offer appetizer items first and let people nibble, then move on to the turkey and trimmings, followed by dessert.
Use smaller plates. Oversize dinner plates just invite people to overload. Instead, use smaller plates; guests can take seconds of what they really want. There has been intriguing research finding that plate (or bowl or glass) size really does influence how much we eat.
Offer visual cues for smart portion sizes. You can prepare individual-size servings of items like desserts. For dishes like mashed potatoes or stuffing, put out an ice cream scooper instead of giant spoon so people can easily serve themselves moderate-sized portions.
Katz recommends starting the meal with little cups of soup. Her advice inspired this creamy mushroom soup, which is rich and luscious and gets Thanksgiving off to a relaxed start.
This Thanksgiving, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a leisurely feast. They’ll be thankful for it!