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Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

Posted: March 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews, Misc | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

ABC has been airing a series of reports on so-called “Lean Finely Textured Beef” better known as pink slime. In their initial report, former USDA scientists outline how the agency, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency but is in fact essentially run by the industry they purport to regulate, over-ruled their recommendations against allowing BPI to label pink slime as beef. Take a moment to watch the report and discover what you’ve been eating.

In the follow-up segment below, ABC checked with top supermarkets and Whole Foods to see which ones included pink slime in their ground beef. (And in this case, a refusal to answer is as good as an admission that they do.) Although we try to buy organic beef, I was very happy to see that HEB, the supermarket at which we shop, does not add pink slime to their ground beef. I would have to be pretty desperate before I would do any grocery shopping at a place like Walmart. (Of course, that was true even before this report. It just confirms that as a wise choice.)

And it also appears the schools will at least have the choice whether they get beef with or without pink slime from the USDA starting next fall. I only have one child left in public school and she can’t eat the food provided at her high school even if she had any desire to do so. But all parents who have kids who eat school lunches should contact their school districts and make their wishes known.

Of course, pink slime is only one problem among many in our poorly regulated, highly industrialized, and fundamentally immoral food production industry. (It can hardly be honestly called farming or ranching anymore.) When I look at the sheer scope of the depths into which we have sunk over the past four decades, it can be overwhelming. But all we can do is tackle one problem at a time as we try to restore some minimum level of integrity to our regulatory agencies and overall industry.

Personally, I think a great place to start is full disclosure. It should be easy for us to determine what’s truly in the “food” we’re consuming and everything about the way it was produced. GMO? Label it. “Natural flavor”? Fully disclose everything included in the flavors, including any binding agents. Make the categories simpler and require that products be appropriately placed. We have organic, non-organic, processed, and imitation foods. We need to have mandatory, easily understood, and well-defined categories like those. (We used to require that imitation food include that on the packaging. Removing that requirement certainly hasn’t made things better.)


Posted: May 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Udi’s

My daughter has never cared much for bread, even when she was preschooler. She’s been eating the meat, cheese, and pickles out of her hamburgers, hot dogs sans buns, and sandwich meat a la carte for her whole life. But this past year or so, she’s been taking a peanut butter & nutella sandwich to school. I immediately got her a couple of types of the more palatable bread to try and one of them she thought was okay, but hardly great.

I’d heard that Whole Foods had started carrying a new brand that was supposed to be really good, but hadn’t yet made it down to one to check it out. Lo and behold, as I was looking through Sprouts gluten free jubilee offerings, I saw this in the freezer!

Udi's Gluten Free White Sandwich Bread

I snatched a loaf to try. It’s more flexible than other gluten free breads and it tastes good without reheating it. That’s all good, but the critical thumbs up was my daughter’s. And this bread got it. It’s now the official instrument of nutella and peanut butter conveyance in her school lunches.

While I was at Sprouts, I saw and snagged the following as well.

Udi's Gluten Free Pizza Crusts

Udi’s Gluten Free Pizza Crusts were also a hit. I made my daughter her favorite pineapple and canadian bacon pizza while I had a ground bison and black olive one. This was an important discovery because we can take some of these to her camp when she goes. They will keep them in the freezer and they will make her pizzas using them on nights when she would otherwise have few options.

If you haven’t yet tried any of Udi’s products, I highly recommend you give them a taste! Two thumbs up from both my daughter and me.

One Year Gluten Free

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on One Year Gluten Free

It’s been roughly a year now since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and began a gluten free diet. It was quite a shift at first, but it’s almost become second nature now. I read the ingredients on everything I pick up and am still sometimes surprised. Just the other day my wife was making a Thai sauce when she noticed that the container of peanuts said it could contain wheat. (She noticed before she added them.) Who expects to find wheat in peanuts? Such is life these days.

We don’t go out to eat that often anymore, and when friends or family want to meet at a restaurant, I tend to skip the food and stick to coffee if it’s not a place I already know. It’s surprising how often food is involved when people gather for any reason, business or social. Whole foods are the safest at such gatherings. I always look for the raw vegetables, though I skip the dipping sauces that typically come with them.

It’s not been as difficult for me in many ways because I’ve always liked vegetables of different sorts, even as a kid. And many of my favorite dishes were already rice, bean, or lentil based and required little, if any, adjustment. The transition has also been easier since both my wife and I can really cook. I’ve always been grateful to my Dad for teaching me how to cook, but never more so than this past year. And my wife has been amazing. She was a little overwhelmed at first, but adapted quickly and has since become quite an accomplished gluten free chef. I know that a lot of people in our modern world never truly learn how to cook for a wide variety of reasons. But if your lifestyle and eating habits revolve around dining out and eating packaged, processed food, I’m not sure how you could make this particular transition. At the very least, it would have to be a lot more challenging than it has been for us.

Business travel remains a challenge. Fortunately, I don’t have to travel very often and I typically have plenty of advance warning when I do, so I can do research and plan how I am going to eat. It’s almost like putting together a battle supply plan in unfriendly territory. I know the stores, restaurants, and other resources in the Austin area pretty well. It’s much more of a challenge in an unfamiliar place. Moreover, the worst time to make yourself sick would be when you are traveling, so I tend to be especially conservative about what I eat when I’m on the road.

My family has also pretty thoroughly adjusted. Even though I’m the only one who has to eat gluten free, we don’t make separate meals for me. So much of what we eat at meals does not contain gluten. On my last business trip, my wife asked the kids if there was anything they had missed and would like for meals while I was gone. They couldn’t think of anything.

I feel better than I’ve felt in years, even if I’m still a long way from healed and healthy at this point. I’m not thrilled at all the doctors I’ve acquired over the past few years. I was used to having only one whom I saw infrequently. That’s not only no longer the case, it’s unlikely to ever be the case again. I’ve landed in a new phase of life.

Now that I’ve made the transition to life as a celiac and am feeling better, it’s time to start trying to get back into some kind of shape. I’ll make that my goal for this next year.

In Defense Of Food 2 – The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization

Posted: March 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The second section of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto, shifts from nutritionism to the factors involved in the development of what we tend to call the “Western Diet” and the impact of that diet on our overall health. In the section, Pollan explores some of the well-documented studies both of the negative impact the Western diet has on aboriginals and others when they are first exposed to it and on the health improvements when people return to their traditional diet. Those of us who have lived with the Western diet now for multiple generations have adapted slightly — at least our tolerance for it seems to be greater. But we do develop many of the same health issues over the course of our lives. The “food” (using the term loosely) we eat is killing us, even if it’s not killing us a quickly as it does groups who are newly exposed to it.

The book explores a number of trends that led to the modern Western diet. The first of these trends was the shift from whole foods to refined. The roller-milling revolution around 1870 was the first huge leap forward in this trend and we have since forgotten the epidemics of pellagra and beriberi caused by vitamin deficiencies that resulted from it. In short, refined foods of all sorts deliver glucose to the system faster than whole foods. Our brains like that since glucose is what fuels them. But we are drowning ourselves now in a flood of glucose and in the marriage of glucose and fructose we call sucrose. Moreover, when you refine something, you are always taking something out of it.

The next trend has been the shift from complexity to simplicity in our food chain. Agricultural industrialization, for instance, has focused on the big three macronutrients — nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) — while largely ignoring the importance of biological activity in the soil. That has forced crops to live essentially on the three macronutrients alone in chemically enhanced and sometimes almost sterile soil. Chemically simplified soil produces chemically simplified plants. The process of refining also often involves simplification. In the case above of white flour, we removed the germ, simplifying the result, but at the cost of vitamins we needed. We can then try to add them back into the refined product, which is what we do with enriched flour, but we can only try to put back in what we realize we are now missing. Moreover, we often don’t know how. Destroying complexity is a lot easier than creating it.

We have also shifted from quality to quantity. As we have specifically bred for plant species that produce more, we have reduced the nutritional value of the whole food itself. One example Pollan gives is that you would have to eat three modern apples to get the same amount of iron you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple. Even when we do eat whole foods, we’re getting substantially less nutrition per calorie than we used to. It’s not just a result of selective breeding, but also of the way we produce the food. Food grown in the aforementioned chemically simplified soil grows larger faster, but also has less time to absorb nutrients from the soil (and the soil itself contains fewer that the crops can absorb.) We’ve done much the same thing to our meat and dairy animals. We have bred for quantity over quality and by feeding them nutritionally deficient diets combined with growth hormones and antibiotics we further reduce the nutritional content.

Next, we have shifted the core of our diet from leaves to seeds. The small handful of plants that now make up the bulk of our diet (wheat, corn, soy, and rice) are all seeds rather than leaves. In an industrialized, highly processed food world, there’s good reason for that. Seeds are much more durable and longer lasting than leaves. They can be stored for long periods of time, which means they can function as a commodities as well as food. Since we have shifted our diets and the diets of our food animals from leaves to seeds, one of the effects has been a dramatic shift in the balance of omegas-3s and omega-6s in our body. We don’t yet fully know why that is as bad for us as it has proven to be, but there’s not much doubt that it has been a pretty negative shift with some dramatic health consequences. And that is just one documented result.

Finally, we have shifted from food culture to food science. Throughout the history of mankind, we have typically relied on national, ethnic, or regional cultures for guidance on what and how to eat. Both of those appear to have been much more important than we credited. I like Pollan’s way of relating “food culture” as another word for “mom” — that is, the figure who normally has passed along the food knowledge of the group. We now rely on “food science” to guide us in our food choices (with 17,000 new products introduced each year), but that “science” has been remarkably flawed over the years for a variety of reasons. Instead of doing something to recover a healthy culture of food, we are developing new “health care” industries to deal with the fallout of our poor diets.

Most of the profit driving our food industries, though, lies in the heavily processed and industrially grown foods. You can quickly develop a new or reformulated processed food to follow every trend and fad. But you can’t change a carrot into something else overnight.