1/20/11 Nourishing News Roundup

Wal-Mart’s Healthy Food Pledge

This week, the retail giant unveiled a five-year healthy food initiative. Programs include eliminating trans-fats from all packaged foods sold in its stores; reducing added sugars by 10% and sodium by 25%; making healthy foods more affordable and easier to identify; and building new stores in food deserts. That’s big news–so big that first lady Michelle Obama was on hand at the press conference. Groceries now account for more than half of Wal-Mart’s annual sales, or a whopping $258.2 billion, so whether you love Wal-Mart or hate it, wherever it goes, others are sure to follow. If Wal-Mart demands that a manufacturer reformulate a product in order to keep it on the store’s shelves, believe me, it’ll happen.

Lia’s Nourishing Story

Lia is one of the most energetic people I know, so you can bet I was shocked to learn she has fibromyalgia, a condition marked by fatigue and chronic pain. Learn how a nourishing diet transformed her life and helped her thrive. Lifescript.com

Fish Tales

The Marine Stewardship Council may be based in London, but it’s the best-known and largest certifier of sustainable seafood in the world, and chances are you see its familiar blue logo on seafood sold at Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and other retailers. The UK’s Guardian newspaper details concerns by Greenpeace and other organizations that the MSC’s certification program is more about brand-building than saving the fish. And Greenpeace isn’t alone its concerns. Here in the States, the Pew Charitable Trusts also questions the MSC’s standards.

In other seafood sustainability news, Scientific American reports on a new aquaculture operation that farms salmon on enclosed freshwater tanks. The Monterey Bay Aquarium approves, giving the fish a place on its new SeafoodWatch Super Green List.

Eat Fish, Stay Smart

Researchers find a fish- and vegetable-rich traditional Mediterranean diet may help keep your mind sharp in your golden years. That’s great news, but will it put more pressure on the world’s stressed fish stocks? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Whole Grain Confusion

A new survey by General Mills finds most Americans think they’re eating enough whole grains, yet only 5% of us actually consume the recommended three servings a day. Why? Most people are still confused about what constitutes a whole grain. For a refresher, check out Lia’s primer, “Know Your White From Your Wheat.”

1/13/11 Nourishing News Roundup

Proposed New School Lunch Standards

Today, the USDA unveiled new school lunch nutrition standards (the first upgrade in 15 years). Among the proposed changes: more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and skim dairy products.

Jamie’s Cold Reception

We’re enjoying a balmy, sunny week here in Los Angeles, but we’ll bet British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is finding it chilly. He recently arrived in town to film season 2 of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” for ABC. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Times reports, he was shut out by the Los Angeles Unified School District (they didn’t want to participate in a reality TV circus), so Oliver has opened a branch of Jamie’s Kitchen in Westwood to offer free cooking classes to the public. Ouch! But upscale Westwood seems an odd choice of location, since Los Angeles has its fair share of food deserts that could really use Oliver’s help, but, heck, maybe students from UCLA will drop by for a meal and a cooking lesson. Still, we think Oliver’s boyish charm–the man is willing to run around in a giant pea pod costume, for crissakes!–will melt the hearts of L.A.’s blase, celebrity-chef-fatigued residents.

Research We Love

We’re big fans of the culinary insights by the market research firm The Hartman Group. Among their fave trends for 2011: Spanish smoked paprika (which they liken to vegetarian bacon in flavor and predict will dethrone chipotle chile), 00 flour (how did they know I wanted to experiment with this superfine flour for pizza crust?), hyper-local foraged fare, and avid interest in vegetable cookery.

Time to Clean Your Dishwasher?

Gee, I always figured the dishwasher itself was getting a decent scrub along with the dishes. Not so, according to Apartment Therapy. A regular cleaning helps it run more efficiently.

The True Costs of Farming

Nicolette Hahn Niman (of Niman Ranch) weighs in on the true cost of large-scale agri-business vs. sustainable farming. Los Angeles Times

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

We’ve noted that the USDA has made impressive strides supporting the growth of organics. But don’t expect the agency to turn its back on conventional and GMO agriculture anytime soon. In a statement regarding the environmental impact of genetically engineered alfalfa, agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made it clear the USDA believes there’s room in the field for all kinds of cultivation.

“We have seen rapid adoption of biotechnology in agriculture, along with the rise of organic and non-genetically engineered sectors over the last several decades,” Vilsack said in December. “While the growth in all these areas is great for agriculture, it has also led, at times, to conflict or, at best, an uneasy coexistence between the different ways of growing crops. We need to address these challenges and develop a sensible path forward for strengthening coexistence of all segments of agriculture in our country. All are vital and a part of rural America’s success. All should be able to thrive together.”

Top Chefs in Crappy Little Kitchens

In New York, even top-name chefs often have to make do with cramped home kitchens (New York Times). Feel their pain? Check out our story about the practical space-saving tips in Jennifer Schaertl’s cheeky book Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens.

1/6/11 Nourishing News Roundup

As the first week of the new year draws to a close, food news has already made some headlines. Here are some of our faves:

Safe Food at Last?

The landmark Food Safety Modernization Act is signed into law. But will the new Congress cough up the cash needed to make it work? NOURISH Evolution

Vote for SuperFood Drive

We recently profiled Nourishing Hero and SuperFood Drive founder Ruthi Solari, who is dedicated to stocking America’s food banks with nourishing whole foods. Ruthi is one of five finalists in the Sambazon Acai Warriors of Change Contest, which will award a $10,000 grant to an individual who is making positive social, environmental and economic change. Cast your vote by Jan. 21 to help Ruthi win: Sambazon site

Something’s Fishy at Costco

Shop at Costco? You may have noticed the company’s recent efforts to “green” its image and banish red-list fish from its stores. As the Greenpeace Oh No Costco campaign reveals, these amount to greenwashing rather than genuine efforts (for example, many of the threatened fish Costco has turned away were never sold in its stores in the first place). Now you can let Costco CEO James Sinegal know you expect better: Oh No Costco

True Sustainable Living

Does living a truly sustainable life mean living like a peasant? Or is there a middle ground? San Diego-based journalist Jill Richardson explores those questions while spending time in Chiapas, Mexico. AlterNet

Ban the Bottle

If you haven’t broken the bottled water habit yet, the Environmental Working Group’s 2011 Bottled Water Report may provide the motivation. By and large, the industry gets low marks for transparency on the source of water, how it’s purified and testing for contaminants. Even when companies are required to share information they don’t. Less than one-quarter comply with a California law that requires bottled-water labels to list the source of water and two ways for consumers to reach the company to obtain a water quality report. Which water is best? Filtered tap water, says the EWG. Environmental Working Group

Focus on What You Eat

A pair of new studies provide more evidence for the benefits of mindful eating. Carnegie Mellon University research finds that if you vividly imagine eating a food you crave you’ll eat less of it in the long run. Another study, from the University of Bristol in England, reveals playing a computer game while eating lunch makes you more likely to snack later in the afternoon. Why? Distracted eaters were less likely to remember how much they’d eaten and felt less satisfied than study participants who paid attention to what they ate.

FoodBlogSouth Conference Coming in January!

We have lots of friends down in Birmingham, Alabama, so we’re excited to tell you about the FoodBlogSouth conference on Jan. 22, 2011. It’s a must-go event if you live in the South and love writing about food.

It’s being organized by Shaun Chavis, an editor at Time Inc. in Birmingham and co-founder of the Birmingham Foodie Book Club, to celebrate Southern food culture, which has always been all about honoring local traditions. “The South is hot in American culture,” Shaun says. “People want comfort food. They want classic American flavors with new twists.  Some want to garden and can and cook local food. They’re looking to the South for ideas, because those things have always been a part of Southern life.”

Chavis and her fellow organizers have put together an impressive lineup of speakers. Highlights include sessions with New York Times food writer and author of Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life Kim Severson; Southern culinary icon Virginia Willis; and culinary literary agent Lisa Ekus-Saffer of the Lisa Ekus Group, who will talk about how bloggers can become cookbook authors.

Southern Living senior photographer Jennifer Davick and Southern Living food stylist and test kitchen professional Marian Cooper-Cairns will be on hand to teach the basics of food photography and styling. Christy Jordan, blogger at Southern Plate (averaging 13 million page views a month) and author of Southern Plate: Classic Comfort Food That Makes Everyone Feel Like Family, will cover tips to market your blog. Two-time Shorty Award winner John-Bryan Hopkins, “The Foodimentary Guy,” will reveal social media strategies,  while cookbook author/recipe developer Alison Lewis shares the finer points of recipe development.

We’re especially pleased about FoodBlogSouth’s emphasis on sustainability, particularly in light of the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “The South provides much of the seafood in the U.S., and it was drastically impacted by the Gulf oil spill tragedy,” Shaun notes. “I think bloggers can guide people on what to eat, and connect their audiences with the people in the seafood industry who are our neighbors.” To that end, the day will include a panel about Southern seafood in wake of the Gulf oil spill.

Proceeds from FoodBlogSouth will benefit the Alabama Gulf Coast Environmental Recovery Fund, which assists with recovery efforts from the Gulf oil spill, as well as the Desert Island Supply Company, a new nonprofit writing center for children.

It’s a packed day and an amazing value at $135 (that includes a pre-party on Friday evening, lunch on Saturday and a post-conference mixer). Even better, FoodBlogSouth is offering a $20 discount for NOURISH Evolution’s readers. To take advantage of the discount and register, visit http://foodblogsouth.eventbrite.com/ and enter code FBSnourish.

Enjoy, y’all!

Time to Test Your Baking Powder and Baking Soda!

File this one under: live and learn. It was Thanksgiving afternoon and time to bust out a batch of biscuits. All went well as I cut the fat into the flour and rolled out the dough (taking care to do the trifold that ensures high-rise biscuits).

But when I pulled them out of the oven, I couldn’t help noticing they hadn’t risen as high as they have in the past. The culprit, I suspected, was past-its-prime baking powder. So I did what I should have done before the holiday and tested its effectiveness. The verdict: dead leavener.

Baking powder and baking soda are leaveners that help give baked goods height. And they tend to hang out for a long time in your pantry, but they don’t last forever, even if you store them correctly–in a cool, dry place. According to the website Joy of Baking (a great reference to bookmark), baking powder only lasts 6-12 months. (Mine had been around, oh, going on two years and, when I checked, was two months past its “best by” date. Oops.) Baking soda lasts longer, but it, too, can lose its leavening power.

Here’s how to test ’em:

Baking powder: Combine 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/3 cup hot water. If it starts bubbling immediately, you’re good to go. If not, time to replace it. And be sure to double-check the “best by” date on the new can.

Baking soda: Mix 1/4 teaspoon soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar. It, too, should start foaming right away. Mine did.

Another Egg Recall

Another week, another egg recall. This time, Cal-Maine Foods is voluntarily recalling potentially salmonella-tainted eggs the company purchased last month from Ohio Fresh Eggs. For details on the brands being recalled, visit the Egg Safety Center. The eggs were sold in 8 states: Arkansas, California, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

And, it seems, all roads for tainted eggs lead to factory farmer Jack DeCoster these days. DeCoster was at the center of last summer’s huge egg recall and, it turns out, he’s also the largest investor in Ohio Fresh Eggs.

For more information about choosing and handling eggs, check out Kurt’s story, “Egg’s Got You Scared? Here’s the Scoop.”

The USDA’s Twisted Message

While researching an article about veganism for this month’s issue of Natural Health magazine, I interviewed Neal Barnard, M.D. When it comes to vegan matters, all roads eventually lead to Barnard, who’s the founder of the vegan advocacy group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

I confessed that, no, I’m not a vegan.

“What’s holding you back?” he asked.

My deep love of cheese. I couldn’t–still can’t–imagine a life without Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, goat, Manchego…

“You know, cheese really is addicting,” he countered. “At 70% fat, it’s the nutritional equivalent of Vaseline, and I really think it’s the reason for so many tubby kids these days.”

He also observed that Americans eat an insane amount of cheese–about 30 pounds per per year, per person. “Americans eclipsed the French in cheese consumption some years ago,” Barnard added.

The USDA–the same government agency responsible (jointly with the Department of Health and Human Service) for developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans–is working with fast-food companies to develop new ways to encourage Americans to eat more cheese, which we all know is contributing to our collective obesity epidemic.

When Barnard says cheese is addictive, he’s not exaggerating. He devotes a chapter to cheese in his book, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings (St. Martins), explaining how cheese contains concentrated levels of morphine-like opiates that occur naturally in cow’s milk (similar opiates are found in human breast milk, too–they help calm an infant). He also discusses USDA-funded programs to boost cheese consumption, and an article in The New York Times this weekend–“While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales”–details how this government/industry relationship works.

That’s right, the same government agency responsible (jointly with the Department of Health and Human Service) for developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is working with fast-food companies to develop new ways to encourage Americans to eat more cheese, which we all know is contributing to our collective obesity epidemic. On the one hand the USDA shakes its finger at us for being too fat, while on the other it works with Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Subway and other fast-food chains to develop tempting new menu items featuring cheese.

Where’s the moderation in Pizza Hut’s Ultimate Cheese Pizza, which features a pound of cheese per pie and was promoted with funds from the USDA’s Dairy Management marketing entity?

The USDA wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, it maintains that, eaten in moderation, cheese has a place in a healthy diet. We agree with that. A sprinkling of feta on your salad is moderation. But where’s the moderation in, say, Pizza Hut’s Ultimate Cheese Pizza, which features a pound of cheese per pie and was promoted with funds from the USDA’s Dairy Management marketing entity?

We reported recently about the upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, which the USDA and HHS are finalizing now. Those guidelines are important, since they influence key programs like standards for school lunches. As the Advisory Committee’s report notes, the amount of saturated fat Americans eat is a key concern, and cheese is the top contributor of saturated fat in the American diet. We’ll be curious to see how prominently cheese is featured in the final version of the the guidelines.

How “Local” is Your Local Food?

UPDATE: We first shared this news in September. Now a new story by David Karp for the Los Angeles Times details how Southern California’s largest farmers’ market operator may have protected a vendor known to sell wholesale produce from Mexico as his own. As the whistle-blower in this case notes, farmers’ markets aren’t all “peace, love and hippies.”

I love visiting the local farmers’ market, shopping for peak-season, pesticide-free produce and supporting local growers. And, like many shoppers, I trust that the vendors are the real deal.

Not always. A new NBC-LA investigative report of Los Angeles-area farmers’ markets finds that not all vendors are legit. While most are selling genuine locally grown fare, more than a few are cutting corners. The report reveals “farmers” buying “local” produce from as far away as Mexico at the wholesale warehouse in downtown LA. Lab results also discovered that vendors touting pesticide-free fruits and veggies were, indeed, selling wares that had been sprayed. (Your best bet to ensure farmers’ market food is pesticide-free is to buy from certified-organic vendors.)

Lia has said it before, and we’ll say it again, you have to get to know your farmer. Even better, plan a little day trip to visit the farm. You might be reassured–or surprised–by what you find.

Check Us Out in Natural Health!

NOURISH Evolution makes a splash–and covers the gamut of dietary philosophies–in the November 2010 issue of Natural Health magazine. Pick up an issue to check out Lia’s recipes for Pancetta and Sage-Basted Heritage Turkey, Beef Tenderloin with Wild Mushroom Gravy and Shallot-Mustard Rubbed Crown Roast of Pork, which accompany “The Conscious Carnivore” story.

I weigh in on vegan diets in “Vegging Out,” and conclude that, yes, an animal-free diet can be a smart–and tasty–choice. And try out hearty, warming fare like Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Greens, Red Lentil Dal and Quinoa with Braised Collards, Mushrooms and “Sausage” to add to your Meatless Monday rotation.