Category Archives: Food labeling and politics

Grow Cook Eat Winner

Yee haw for Becky from Winston Salem, North Carolina! spun out #56.

She wrote, “My favorite thing about my garden is the fact that it’s right outside my back door. It’s easy to sneak in a few minutes of gardening since it’s so close to the house and I like being able to see it easily from my back door.”


Loved loved loved hearing about everybody’s garden!  Willi did too.  And some folks posted pictures – extra credit!  The most touching thing was that so many posts began with the words “I love…”.  Anybody else notice that?

Potatoes Saved My Life


My name is Cynthia and I eat  potatoes.  In fact, I might not be thriving today were it not for this humble inexpensive food.  I was very likely one of the top 100 pickiest eaters as a child.  True.  Let’s swap stories and see.   Continue reading

Let Go of Your Eggo

Ever have a day when you think  – oh organic schmorganic?  Costs too much.  If it’s in the grocery store it’s safe, right?

TED talks are noted for bringing forth passionate people with a story.  This one from Robyn O’Brien revolves around food allergies, subsidized crops and the number of unnatural food proteins that have been introduced into our food system in the last 20 years.  Why were these franken-proteins allowed in our food system and rejected by most other countries? Do they have anything to do with the soaring cancer rates in our country?

Robyn’s on the hunt.  She does not come from the crunchy granola tribe who swoon over farmer’s market produce.  Robyn was trained as an analyst.  She went to business school.   If there are any logical thinkers among your family or friends who poo poo correlations between food and health, sic Robyn on ’em. All I can say is I’m real glad to have her on the team.

Please don't condition my dough

(Enriched wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, ribflavin, folic acid), water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, citric acid, baking powder [sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate], salt, dextrose, dough conditioners [wheat flour, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed and/or canola oil), L-cysteine, ascorbic acid, fungal enzyme], wheat gluten, xanthan gum, calcium proprionate, potassium sorbate), Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized part skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, cellulose gum [anticaking]), Cheddar Flavored Mozarella Cheese Substitute (water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid, milk protein concentrate, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% or less of the following: sodium aluminum phosphate, salt, cheese blend [cheddar, blue, and semisoft cheese {Pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes}, water, whey, salt, citric acid}, lactic acid, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, nutrient blend {magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin and vitamin B12}, paprika annatto blend, [natural extractives of annatto seeds and paprika with soybean oil, mono-, di-, and triglycerides, other flavors, tocopherol, and potassium hydroxide], romano cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], mozzarella cheese type flavor {cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate}, provolone cheese flavor {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate, sodium glutaminate, salt, cheese flavor {maltodestrin, acacia gum, 1,2-propolyene glycol, trisodium diphosphate, sodium polyphosphate], beta carotene [partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, corn oil, beta carotene, tocopherol], vitamin A palmitate), water, tomato paste (31% NTSS), Shredded Mozarella Cheese Substitute: (Water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid, milk protein concentrate, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% or less of the following: sodium aluminum phosphate, salt, lactic acid, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, romano cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], mozarella cheese type flavor [cheese {milk culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], provolone cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt], milk solids, disodium phosphate, sodium glutaminate, salt, cheese flavor {maltodextrin, acacia gum, 1,2-propylene glycol, trisodium diphosphate, sodium polyphosphate}], nutrient blend [magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin and Vitamin B12], beta carotene [partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, corn oil, beta carotene, tocopherol], Vitamin A palmitate), salsa seasoning (salt, sugar, dehydrated onion and garlic, dehydrated jalapeno pepper, citric acid, xanthan gum, spice, dehydrated cilantro, potassium, sorbate), vinegar, releasing agent (water, mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 60 and lecithin, acetic acid, citric acid, potassium sorbate, propyl gailate, sodium benzoate and polydimethylsiloxane), cellulose gum.   CONTAINS MILK, WHEAT, SOY.

Think about all the labor that goes into making  the ingredients that food manufacturers use.  You can’t make Cheddar Flavored Mozarella Cheese Substitute in your kitchen.  Even the many ingredients that make up the highly processed “dough conditioner” are highly processed.

What is this?  Anyone want to take a guess? (Hint: it’s something that is regularly served in the school lunch program.  No I’m not kidding)

Cookus Interruptus Welcomes All Nations

What if all the nutri-brains were right about what YOU SHOULD BE EATING (and not eating)?  What would end up in your pantry?

In the past year we have had several distinguished food and nutrition experts come to Bastyr and speak.  One was T. Colin Campbell who wrote The China Study.  The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.  Advocates of a vegan or vegetarian diet such as the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine or Skinny Bitches gained more back-up for their already strong arguments.

Others preach lowering animal food consumption but are concerned from an agricultural, political or ecological point of view.  Mark Bittman is one and spelled out why in his Ted TalkMichael Pollan (who also made an appearance at Bastyr)  succinctly speaks of eating real food, not too much, mostly plants.  Softer and gentler than Mr. Campbell but the leaning is clear.

But whoosh there is a whole other wave of nutri-folks talking about our need for high-quality fat and protein.  Don’t shy away from a big steak and blue cheese, just make sure the steer is locally raised and grass-fed.  Both Nina 42-15622323Planck and Sally Fallon have enlightened readers of the misunderstanding around fat and cholesterol.  Sally spoke last weekend at Bastyr, Nina came in 2008.  I know many of our readers are devotees of Ms. Fallon and her traditional food philosophies which are derived from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price.  Organ meats, raw milk, fermented foods and plenty of coconut oil and butter are thumbs up in this world and they have the research to back up what they preach.  The newer (older?) Paleo Diet is somewhat related, warning against grain-eating and advocating consumption of ample animal food.  The Paleo experts boast oodles of research to support its recommendations.

Uh oh.  Now what?  What do we eat if both camps are right.  I mentioned this eaters dilemma to one of my students and said that I guessed that lettuce was the only safe choice.  She had attended Sally’s lecture and reported that Ms. Fallon’s closing comment was that salads would be the genocide of America because of all that awful salad dressing.  Touche.

What’s left? What can we conscientiously eat for dinner?  And that’s where Cookus Interruptus walks in with a smile.  We like everybody.  We’ve parked our ship in the “no preach” zone.  We’ve pulled the best threads of common sense from all of the philosophies and woven them into a loose pattern.  We welcome you if you are vegan – we offer plenty of vegan, even more vegetarian recipes.  Grains and beans rock.  Gluten-free? – come on in.  About 75% of our recipes are wheat-free.  Traditional-diet lovers – we love you too.  Though we tend to keep our animal protein in small portions (family budget you know),  we embrace grass-fed, pastured, humanely-raised and forgo participating in CAFO food.  Fermentation nation?  Bring it.  Sauerkraut and yogurt are awesome.  All tribes, all camps, all philosophies – we’ve got food for you.  Real food that tastes good.  We’re world cup.  The best of each nation ready for your knife, fork, spoon, chopstick or paw.

Organic Pacman


Did you know? This chart, showing which major companies own which organic food companies, is regularly updated by Philip H. Howard, assistant professor at Michigan State University.  (larger version here). When I show this chart in a lecture, people are often very surprised.  They were holding on to the notion that their favorite organic brand was just a mom and pop business located on a farm somewhere.  It is  surprising and yet logical that Cargill owns Lightlife tempeh.

There are pros and cons to the bigger guys eating up the smaller ones.  The up side is that these huge food manufacturers know how to move and place product.  More people have access to organic food as a result.  However, there is more than one uncomfortable aspect.pacman1 Worries about the integrity of the organic standards come to mind.  Also, a lot of the products (not all) represented on this chart are canned, bottled and boxed.  An organic oreo seems only a hair more healthful than a conventional one. Do you agree?

I’m starting to sound like Steve.  Like a “Just my opinion” piece.  But really what I want to know is your thoughts.  Do you see this as a half full pacman or half empty one?

Coke and Cigarettes

The current economic crunch has folks looking for $ in interesting places. Several recent reports indicate the lawmakers may be turning to soda pop to help cover escalating health care costs.   In Mark Bittman’s article Soda: A Sin We Sip Instead of Smoke? He carefully covers the current bids for legislation as well as the soda manufacturer’s response.

This generation of children will not have as long of a life expectancy due to being raised on poor quality, industrialized food according to a 2008 CDC report.  Not only is obesity on the rise but 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will become diabetic.

Part of the blame for these daunting figures rests in the cans of soda pop.  Americans drink 50 gallons per person each year.  Dr. Walter Willett, Dr. Robert Lustig and other health and nutrition experts teach us that liquid calories don’t turn on satiety signals.  Sugary liquid calories leave us wanting more and since the body has little metabolic use for sugary substances (particularly fructose) those 50 gallons rapidly turn into stored fat.
Michelle Obama responds by heading up a new campaign against obesity.   Last week, the Obama administration announced a plan to ban candy and sweetened beverages from schools.  Many are advocating for more strenuous action calling for a tax on soda.  The money collected from charging tax on every can of soda (Gov. Patterson of NY at one point was  recommending a penny per ounce) would raise enough money to put a dent in the cost of new health care overhaul.  Soda manufacturer lobbyists note that the tax would hit our poorest citizens hardest.  True enough.  Healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food.  How do we change this?

joe_camelThe same strategy was applied to the tobacco industry, another unhealthful product that was aggressively marketed to children and teenagers, Americans were shamed by the cigarette tax and segregation of smokers and now smoke at half the rate they once did.  The Mad Men era is definitely over.  Actors on the set smoke clove cigarettes.
Some states already have a small excise tax on soda.  I have always optimistically hoped that parent education would turn things around for our childrens health.  The pace of that learning curve may be too slow.  What are your thoughts?  Will taxing junk food help reverse the obesity trend?  Would making cheap food more expensive bring down the cost of healthful food?  Do we make drinking soda uncool the way we ripped off Joe Camel’s shades?

Jamie's Food Revolution

Anybody watch this last night at 10 pm on ABC?  What did you think?  Man, the lunch ladies hated him.   Loved their visors.

Jamie’s pretty brave.  He left no strawberry milk or chicken nugget unturned.  The close up of the list  ingredients of some of the “food” the school (all schools!) serves everyday to children is just what you’d expect but choose to ignore.  I liked that the process didn’t  resolve  happy  in the first episode.  Changing what we feed our kids at school will take time, money and better politics.   A miracle that the ugly truth of school lunch is being addressed on national television – and not cable!

Misleading Nectar

Agave nectar!  A sweetener that’s good for you!  Let’s make cake!
The insatiable American sweet tooth may have celebrated too early.  As Seattle’s Nutrition Educator Goldie Caughlan, points out in her balanced article Bitter & Sweet: Agave Syrup, there is no perfect sweetener.  Close to 19% of the American diet comes from some form of sugar.  That’s too much of a sweet thing no matter what health expert you’re interrogating.  Does it matter whether it is agave, honey or plain old white sugar?  It does to me.  I choose my sweeteners based on ethical behavior and kitchen-ability.

Cactus Juice
True, a sweetener was once upon a time made from the juice of the agave cactus.  The traditional sweetener from the agave sap/juice (miel de agave) was made by simply boiling it for several hours. The new improved nectar marketed to us in the 90’s is mostly chemically refined fructose, anywhere from 70% and higher. For comparison, the high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55% refined fructose.  The sugars in the nectar are converted to fructose using an enzymatic process similar to how corn syrup is converted into HFCS.  Are we saps for believing it was somehow “natural”?

Low Glycemic Index
One of agave’s marketing points is its low glycemic index, meaning it won’t raise blood sugar levels as high or as fast as some other sugars.  Sounds good huh?  But as Joy Bauer points out in her article How Sweet it Is (msnbc news) “the reason agave has such a low glycemic index is that it is extremely high in fructose — a simple sugar that ranks low on the glycemic index, but can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Fructose has also been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by increasing triglycerides and — due to its negative effect on several appetite-regulating hormones — weight gain and obesity.”  Agave nectar is advertised as a “diabetic friendly,” raw, and “100% natural sweetener.”  Misleading?

Beyond Science
I have to go back to the whole foods concept and ask the whole foods questions – what has been done to the food since it was harvested?    The seed to table journey is long; making several stops in the laboratory for some enzymatic conversions.  Are all of the original edible ingredients present?  Truth is there are not many sweeteners where much of the food matter hasn’t been tossed.  Maple syrup and honey are possible exceptions; agave is not.  How long has this food been known to nourish humans?  Here the operative word is “nourish”.  Agave nectar may disqualify right there.  I tend to distrust new and approved foods that don’t have a several decade track record.  Bottom line (my flexible line in the sand) – I don’t know how I could make commercially-sold agave nectar in my kitchen.  Agave has no kitchen-ability.

Tell me what you think.


Shake the Salt Spin

Last week one of our viewers, Chris,  expressed concern about a NY Times article called “Big Benefits Are Seen from Eating Less Salt”   The article referred to a report from The New England Journal of Medicine concluding that lowering salt in the diet by even a small amount could reduce heart disease and strokes.

saltInstead of banging heads against walls trying to get consumers to eat less salt, efforts are being made to get food manufacturers and restaurants to lower the sodium content of their food.  I guess that’s a good idea. But wait.  The sodium and sugar in fast food and restaurant chain dishes is the only flavor present.  If you cut it, it’s going to taste bad.  We could create catastrophic repercussions like we did with the no-fat era.

In the late 70’s when the proclamation came that Americans needed to lower their fat intake from 40% of the diet to 30% what happened?  First, we did it.  How?  By switching former brand loyalty to new fat-free or lower fat brands.  We choked down the less satisfying cookies and yogurts and soups and did we get thinner?  Healthier?  Nope.  Because food manufacturers had to make the foods edible enough that we’d buy them, they added sugar (HFCS).  Snackwells proudly strutted 2 grams of fat while they upped the carbohydrate content to 13 grams by adding more sugar.

Then what happened? Well the prevalence of obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes soared during the fat-free campaign as we took aim and shot but at the wrong target. (the real culprit is the sugar, more on that in another post). If they take the salt out of food, I shake in my boots anticipating what cheap chemical might  be added to keep Americans buying food off of the grocer’s shelf. And what that chemical might do to our metabolism.

Salt is a magical ingredient.  It draws the liquid in food out, bringing flavors to the surface.  That’s why you salt vegetables while cooking if you want them to become limp and juicy and you don’t salt them until just before serving if you want them crisp and perky.  Bland complex carbohydrate foods like potatoes, whole grains and beans are almost tasteless without that little toss of salt.

It’s not that we need to quit salting our beans, it’s that we need to quit buying things that come in a can or a box or a drive-through.  Adding sodium and sugar are the trickster ways that food manufacturers have of not only keeping food palatable but creating cravings.  Foods that we don’t think of as salty ARE if they are purchased packaged.  Corn flakes (351 mg sodium), Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits (633 mg. sodium) Mc Donald’s Grilled Chicken club (1690 mg. – higher than a Big Mac).

But you guys know all this.  Just thought I’d remind you that you’re right.  Right on.  Movers and salt shakers.