Are You Ready to Give Up Processed Foods?

October-Unprocessed-logoI bet I can guess one of your top goals: To eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods. I know this because when we asked our NOURISH Evolution community to take our State of the Kitchen survey, 72% of you said that’s what being nourished means to you. (We’ll reveal all our findings in a future post!)

If you agree, join the October Unprocessed 2013 campaign going on now at Eating Rules. You can also check out my “secret” must-have ingredient for healthy whole-grain baking.

Now in its fourth year, October Unprocessed was created by blogger Andrew Wilder to help people make the transition from processed foods to real food. “This is an exercise in awareness,” Andrew says. In other words, just by taking the pledge you start paying more attention to the food you eat. You decide what “unprocessed” means to you — though Andrew has some really helpful guidelines — and you can try it for a day, a week, the rest of the month or the rest of your life. And when you sign the pledge you can score some great coupons from October Unprocessed’s sponsor, Bob’s Red Mill.

2/17/11 Nourishing News Roundup

Our weekly roundup of links to headlines we think you’ll want to read…

Sustainable Aquaculture Standards

As we noted in last week’s story about the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, those guidelines hint at the need for environmentally sustainable food without specifying what they mean by “sustainable.” That’s why I was happy to see that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has a draft for sustainable marine aquaculture policies, which is currently open for public comment. “If done wisely, aquaculture can complement wild fisheries while contributing to healthy oceans and coastal economies,” says Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “As we rebuild wild fish populations, we recognize the world’s demand for safe, healthy seafood will continue to grow. Sustainable aquaculture increases our country’s food security.”

Better Fast Food?

Can a pair of former McDonalds execs and one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite chefs build a healthier fast-food/casual-dining experience. The Los Angeles Times reports on Lyfe Kitchen (as in Love Your Food Everyday–ugh, hate the name…), which is slated to debut in Palo Alto, Calif., this summer. Fried food, butter, cream and high-fructose corn syrup are banned from the menu, which will feature specialties like Niman Ranch burgers and dairy-free desserts.

Lyfe’s team would do well to pay close attention to ingredient quality, especially in light of new NPD Group research into what consumers mean by “healthy” when they eat out.  NPD’s latest survey finds diners are less concerned about calorie counts and more interested in high-quality fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients.

New Rating System

Whole Foods has partnered with the Global Animal Partnership to implement a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system for its meat, pork and poultry. The scale ranges from Step 1 (no crates, cages or crowding) to Step 5+ (pasture-raised with no physical alterations and entire life spent on the same farm).

While Whole Foods is doing its bit to raise animal welfare standards at the grocery store meat counter, Lia notes in her post this week, more CSAs are adding pasture-raised meat, poultry and eggs to their offerings. Both approaches make it easier than ever to choose sustainable meat.

In Case You Missed It…

Last Saturday, TEDx Manhattan’s event “Changing the Way We Eat” streamed lived and inspired lots of real-time conversation. Missed it? No worries. You can watch (or rewatch) it at your leisure and see for yourself what speakers like filmmakers Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney (“Truck Farm” and “King Corn”), the Environmental Working Group’s Ken Cook, Laurie David, farmer-activist Karen Hudson, Chef Michel Nischan and others had to say.

What’s Food Safety Really About?

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.”

Fair Trade Supports the People Who Produce Our Food

I’ve been hearing the phrase, “You vote with your fork three times a day,” a lot lately. And it’s true. Whenever you choose organic fare, you’re casting a consumer vote for sustainable, organic agriculture over the petrochemical agroindustrial empire. When you buy grass-fed, certified-humane beef or pasture-raised local eggs, you’re supporting livestock that’s raised on a natural diet and under humane conditions.

That “vote” also applies to the people who produce our food, and that’s where the idea of fair trade comes in. Fair Trade USA has designated October Fair Trade Month. Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization and the U.S. member of Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which offers third-party fair-trade certification for goods produced in developing nations. The idea is to support people through trade, not aid.

Fair Trade USA licenses its Fair Trade Certified (FTC) logo for use by American companies on products that have FTC ingredients. One example is Ben & Jerry’s, which uses FTC ingredients (vanilla, cocoa, sugar and coffee) in some of its flavors; they’ve committed to becoming entirely FTC by 2013.

So what does that mean when I buy my canister of FTC, shade-grown, French roast coffee? I know:

  • The farmers have received a fair price for their goods.
  • They have safe working conditions.
  • They trade directly with importers to avoid paying extra fees to middlemen
  • Crops are cultivated sustainably. Although FLO doesn’t mandate organic practices, they encourage sustainable agriculture that’s chemical- and GMO-free. If farmers do go organic, they fetch premium prices for their certified-organic goods.
  • Farmers and workers decide democratically how to invest their profits, which typically go to community and business development.

Along with cocoa, sugar and bananas, coffee is the most common fair-trade certified product. That’s a good thing, since coffee is the No. 2 import into the U.S., behind petrol (sorry, there’s no fair-grade gas). But there are many other fair-trade items to look for: quinoa from Bolivia, olive oil from Palestine, wine from South America, plus spices, tea, whole fruits and vegetables, rice and nuts.

These items turn up in a number of familiar FTC products, including gourmet chocolate, of course. You can find FTC coffee at Starbucks and Wal-Mart, or buy fair-trade spirits made with  FTC quinoa, Goji berries and coffee.

You might pay a small premium for fair-trade food. For instance, a 12-ounce container of fair-trade coffee might cost 50 cents to $1 more than its conventional cousin. But I’ve also found gourmet fair-trade chocolate that costs less than its competitors.

While Fair Trade USA’s FTC logo is the most ubiquitous, there are other fair-trade labels out there. Whole Foods has its own Whole Trade program and label, for which they partner with Fair Trade USA, as well as the Swiss-based Fair for Life IMO Social Responsibility & Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance, which focuses on improving the lives of the world’s rain-forest residents through sustainable agriculture, tourism, forestry and other programs.

And other third-party-certified fair trade programs are being developed. One is the Certified Fair Labor Practices & Community Benefits program. It offers fee-based certification for small family farmers to large-scale producers and applies throughout the supply chain. Applicants will also have to be certified organic.

“It can be done anywhere in the world, including the U.S.,” says Neil Blomquist, of the consulting firm Sustainable Solutions. There certainly are North American agricultural workers who need fair-labor support as much as farm workers in developing nations.

Ultimately, Blomquist notes, all the organizations that support fair trade share the same goal: to make fair food widely available and affordable so it’s a smart everyday choice for all consumers.