Tag Archives: NY Times

Brown Rice in my Begging Bowl Please

A 2010 article in the Archives of Internal Medicine sites research showing that consuming brown rice instead of white b6-brown-rice-lgrice can lower the risk of type II diabetes.  Just in time as the CDC announced last week that the number of Americans with diabetes will range from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 by 2050. Compare that to the current embarrassing average of 1 in 10 Americans with diabetes.  More alarm bells ring as we add that to the one out of three children born in 2000 who are destined for insulin shots.  That’s crazy.  Diabetes isn’t a virus.  The condition is preventable; some feel curable, with a better diet and exercise.

I was all smiley to see the NY Times post the link to the brown rice study.  News!  Eating brown rice makes more sense!   People sometimes make fun of me with my hippie dippy brown rice meals.  In the 1980’s as a newly converted healthy food person, I used to pack brown rice in my suitcase when I was going to visit my relatives in the Midwest.  Eyes rolled.  My Uncle Bill used to say – you eat bird seed!

I like brown rice.  I prefer brown rice.  It has texture and flavor even plain and naked.  And the naturally-occurring fiber takes care of portion control.  One can eat mounds of white rice and never feel full.  Not good.  And you can do so many fun things with it (see Golden Spice Rice, Mexican Brown Rice, Fried Rice with Peas and Currants).

Some folks complain that it is too sticky or too crunchy.  You do have to learn how to cook it carefully to produce the best outcome.  Bring it to a full boil.  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover and don’t disturb until all of the water has been absorbed.  Let the rice rest 10 minutes before digging in.  A well-made pot (this one is perfect) to cook whole grains in is also helpful.

Tell us your favorite way to enjoy this grain once considered hippie food and that is now preventative medicine.

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.

Tofu Footprint

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.   So about a year ago Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that we forgo meat one day a week to do our part.   There may be health benefits beyond the environment that would make this a smooth move.  A National Cancer Institute Study found that the more than half a million people  who ate 4 ounces of red meat a day — the size of a small hamburger — were more likely to die over the next 10 years, mostly from heart disease and cancer. But I am reminded again that we can’t just glom onto research and guidelines that fit nicely into our personal paradigm.  There’s always another side to the story.

An article in Slate’s online magazine entitled How Green is Tofu? caught me by surprise.  It turns out that while not as obviously detrimental to the eco-system as confined cow operations, benign, bland tofu can have a tofu_stage5negative environmental impact too.  Some tofu-makers import their beans. That costs energy.  Like any processed food, it requires work to make beans into tofu. According to the Slate article, “Soybeans are soaked in large tanks and ground into a slurry that then gets heated, filtered, and coagulated into slabs before being chopped up, packaged, and pasteurized.” All of these steps require energy that increase tofu’s carbon footprint.  Even more energy is expended if the product is a soy analog.  In a study done in the Netherlands, they compared the carbon dioxide output of producing various soy analogs and tofu to chicken and fish.  Turns out, tofu scored only a little less than chicken and higher than some seafood.  Wow.

In a recent NY Times Op-Ed column titled The Carnivore’s Dilemma writer Nicolette Hahn Niman spells out more facts.  Avoiding soy from deforested croplands may be more difficult: as the Organic Consumers Association notes, Brazilian soy is common (and unlabeled) in tofu and soymilk sold in American supermarkets.  While successfully making the case for animal protein from traditional farms, she points out that “None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming. Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods..”  She suggests that all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.

So where and how do we meet our protein needs in a responsible and healthful way?  I continue to believe that replacing some of the bulk of meat and grain  we eat with more fruits and vegetables is essential given our proclivity to sit more than we walk.  And it seems like doing our best to buy protein products from local ranchers or local tofu makers supports everyone’s checkbook and heartbeat.  What are your thoughts?

Uncomplicated Food Rules

Foodie guru Michael Pollan asserts that “nutritionism” has ruined America’s appetite.  His article Unhappy Meals (January 2007) spelled out his take on our lack of a stable food culture in the states and points fingers at kitchentablenutritionists, marketing and fad-chasing.  Fair enough.

Recently he posted a request for readers to offer their food rules on Tara Pope’s blog Well and received over 2,500 responses.  Pollan’s favorite 20 are posted and worth perusing.  One of my favorites is:

“Never eat anything that is pretending to be something else”  This is especially true of butter substitutes.  And from a whole foods perspective soy hot dogs don’t have much to brag about over the real deal.

Which one do you like?  And why?  Or do you have one of your own.  Would love to hear.

Less Meat, More Miracles

The jury is in on this one.  If we all cut back on the amount of animal food we eat, and are more conscious of our meat’s origin, miracles will begin to happen.  Mark Bittman started it.  Or was it Michael Pollan in the Omnivore’s Dilemma?  Actually, it was Upton Sinclair, right?

Whoever it was, it’s time to shake off the sleepiness and come to terms with the pink slab in the plastic wrap, which was part of a living animal.  Tom Mylan, who carves up cows in front of customers at Marlow & Daughters, a butcher shop Williamsburg, Brooklyn, says “To eat meat, you have to kill — something that we got pulled out of during the last 50 years in America.  We’re used to going into the grocery store and there’s not even a butcher counter, just a bunch of foam trays with a lot of anonymous blobs of meat in them.”  Lets own up to the cost of eating meat: to the health of ourselves, the environment and
the animal.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of red meat, poultry and fish per person per year, an increase of 50 pounds from 50 years ago. We each consume around 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance.

Does the extra protein make us healthier?  Fat chance!  It’s in vogue now to blame carbs for our ill health, especially wheat.  But very recently protein was the culprit. Demonizing nutrient groups is a waste of time. It’s the quantity and quality of our food that dictates the health of our nation. Raising food cattle and poultry, tethered and gorging on grain, pumped full of antibiotics, makes the animals sick, and their fat composition more pro-inflammatory (less omega 3’s, more omega 6).  Many experts see our constant pro-inflammatory state paving the way to all sorts of health problems.

U.S. farm animals produce an average of 100,000 metric tons of manure every minute, much of which is held near feedlots in large lagoons of waste. Without proper treatment, these lagoons pollute watersheds, contribute to destructive algae blooms in neighboring waters and release ammonia that can lead to acid rain. Overburdened lagoons can leak millions of gallons of waste into streams and rivers. Such spills have already occurred in a dozen U.S. states.  If we all reduced our consumption of meat by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched cars, from a Camry to the ultra-efficient Prius.

Maybe you’re thinking right now that I am one of those skinny bitches; that I wear t-shirts that scold people who wear leather shoes.  I respect those t-shirts, but I don’t wear them and I do eat meat.  I try to do it conservatively and with some awareness as to what I’m doing.  I buy beef from a local ranch where I know the animals live a relatively normal life and eat their natural diet.  That kind of protein is expensive so I eat it in small amounts, like a side dish or topping (see Asian Noodle Salad).

What are your thoughts about eating meat?  How do you solve the Omnivore’s Dilemma in your home?


Vegetables on the Porch

We received some very thoughtful comments on our post about having to be well off in order to eat well.  Thank you to all who commented.

Diana mentioned Will Allen’s urban farming project “Growing Power” and so did the NY Times on July 1.  Allen’s urban farm has 14 greenhouses crammed onto 2 acres of land in a working class neighborhood in Milwaukee.  He’s producing a quarter of a million dollars worth of food.  Besides the 25,000 pots full of vegetables, the farm also produces tilapia, perch, chickens, ducks, heritage turkeys, honey and every four months turns out 100,000 pounds of compost (the farm utilizes 1/4 of it; they sell the rest).

Allen also teaches would-be urban farmers from all over the country highlighting the details of  aquaponics, worm castings and grub worms.  Will Allen is showing us that eating well does not need to be just for the elite.  He says we need 50 million more people growing food in their yards and on their porches.

I have a feeling that many of you already do.  I am fortunate to have a lot of yard attached to my house and work to keep a steady supply of greens and herbs.  In the summer the food mutiplies 10-fold and it is a pleasure to walk into my yard to get a breakfast of raspberries, some green beans for dinner, arugula salad for lunch.  August and September will bring apples, plums, tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers.  I wish I could get more blueberries and huckleberries to grow in the dry shade in the front of my house.  Working on that.  I dream of a chicken coop or a small greenhouse.

Are you one of Will Allen’s 50 million urban farmers?  What’s growing on your porch?  Or what do you hope to grow soon?

Politically Correct Beans

This morning on NPR Mark Bittman talks about doing our part to help the environment  by cutting down on meat consumption.  A year ago in a NY Times article called “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” he gave us this information: “To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan – a Camry, say – to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.”   Seems like a good time to bring it up again as we must all work together and make sacrifices to begin solving our energy problems.  Going vegetarian for a few meals each week would make a difference.  Are you up for it?