Good Clean Food Shopping Smart to Avoid GMOs, rBGH and Products that may cause Cancer and other Diseases

By Samuel Epstein, MD and Beth Leibson – Skyhorse Publishing 2013. $24.95/ Amazon $16.99, $6.50 used

Good Clean Food
Dr. Epstein is a voice we should hear. His long and deep expertise on the avoidable causes of cancer has been shared in twenty books and 270 peer-reviewed articles. He is professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He has also served as president of the Rachel Carson Council and other industry organizations. Co-author Beth Leibson knowledgeably unpacks this far-ranging erudition to make it accessible and understandable to the layperson.

This is a short read outlining important concepts that are clearly described – the main foci are:

Milk – the US permits the injection of the genetically-engineered growth hormone (rBGH – named by Monsanto Posilac) into dairy cows which causes elevated concentrations of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor). The upside is that it increases milk production by 11-15%, the downside for the cow is that they get sick, for instance 25% get mastitis which adds more pus to the milk and which also requires antibiotics. About 20% of dairy farms in the US inject their herds with rBGH which creates IGF-1 but, since labeling is not required, consumers have no idea. The downside for the consumer, in addition to the antibiotic load, is that IGF-1, which is not destroyed by pasteurization, encourages cells to grow – in children it’s usually bones and organs, in adults it can be cancer cells. So, if you choose to continue to use dairy products, buy only organic from grass-fed herds. BTW: The EU and Canada outlawed rBCH and IGF-1 in the 90s. Better yet – plant milk.

Beef – Starting in the ‘50s, US cattle have been injected and/or fed a wide variety of sex hormones and other growth drugs. Today that cocktail, injected into 90% of all US cattle, contains natural estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone plus synthetic hormones zeranol, trenbolone, and melengesterol – all designed to add quick weight and roughly $80 additional profit per animal. The EU outlawed this practice in 1989. Industrial farmed meat cows are also fed prophylactic antibiotics which has contributed to the creation of superbugs that jump to humans and are resistant to most if not all antibiotics. Other beef topics include nitrates (and the link between hot dogs and pediatric brain cancer), radiation, the significant advantages of grass-fed beef and, again, the need for labeling.

Produce – The Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen – The Environmental Working Groups master list of the dozen most likely fruits and vegetables, when conventionally grown, to be drenched with pesticide – add kale and collards to the EWG list. The Clean Fifteen lists those least likely to be tainted. The authors also suggest buying “American” since imported produce usually contains higher percentages of pesticides. This chapter then details the negative effects of these insecticides and herbicides, many of which contain Organophosphates, which has been shown to block acetylcholinesterase that stops nerve cells from firing. The demonstrated effects include increased incidences of ADHD, autism, reduced memory and lowered IQ. The answer is organically grown produce.

Corn and Soybeans & GMOs – These are the two most prolific foods on the planet; corn, for instance, provides over 20% of all human nutrition – but both are largely used for animal feed. Both can be cultivated as vegetables or as oil or as…. The broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, a ramped up version of Glyphosate (which is a type of organophosphate), was developed by Monsanto to increase field yields. Monsanto also developed many Roundup-ready, patented crop seeds that can tolerate the pesticide. Initially Roundup works, but then, over time, the weeds become resistance and the farmers find it necessary to increase the quantity of Roundup creating more dangerous conditions for farmers and consumers. Glyphosate-resistant alternatives exist but share the same problems – they kill off amphibians as well as pests and weeds and they contain an inert ingredient (a surfactant) to help the chemicals penetrate the plants which has shown to be harmful to humans. A newcomer is Bt corn (Bacillus thuringiensis), a plant that exudes its own pesticide which is also dangerous to other living things, like butterflies and humans. The chapter concludes with a review of the politics as well as alternatives – especially non-GMO organic.

Chicken & Eggs – Conventionally raised chickens (and eggs) are fed a wide range of ingredients to encourage speedy growth including prophylactic antibiotics – which pass to humans creating similar problems to those of beef. At first brush, the answer seems to be organic. In order to be labeled organic, broilers and egg-laying hens alike, must be fed organic feed without antibiotics (except for illness), hormones or pesticides and they must have access to the outdoors. An organic egg comes from an organic laying hen. But beware the various levels of “organic” – large-scale industrial and some family-size organic egg farms may offer an open door with an impenetrable maze to access it so there is no “scratching in the dirt.” The key descriptor seems to be “pasture-based” or “free-range” organic where mobile housing moves frequently to fresh fields and the birds are outdoors as often as inside. All of this applies to “broilers” as well.

Avoiding GMOs – This gets harder every day; again look for the word “organic” otherwise almost any, for instance, soybean or soybean derivative will likely be from GMO plants– but at least know the legal definitions: “100% organic” means just that. “Organic” means 95% of ingredients are. “Made form Organic Ingredients” 70-94% is organic. The word “organic” on the ingredient panel only means that less than 70% is organic. An on fruits and vegetables – look for a label with a 5-digit number beginning with 9 – that’s organic. Beginning with an 8 means GMO (but that’s rarely labeled). Four digits beginning with 3 or 4 means conventional.

The remainder of the book discusses detoxification and future trends like Budget organics – private labels, Farmers’ markets, CSAs Buying clubs, Food Co-ops. And trends among various ethnic groups and around the world – all of which are well worth reading. Finally check out the organic industry watch dog: Cornucopia Institute www.cornucopia.org.

Asian Tofu

by Andre Nguyen. Ten Speed Press 2012, Large format, hard cover $30 ($23.56 or $12.99 Kindle)

Asian Tofu

The only book that I owned on making tofu was the “Book of Tofu” by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi circa 1979. It’s a very yellowed, dense paperback ($2.95 then*) filled with tons of information. But somehow it always intimidated so when I picked up Nguyen’s “Asian Tofu” with lots of big, beautiful photos, graphics and white space (albeit at ten times the price ), I was encouraged to try this again.

Not surprisingly the basic recipe that Nguyen uses is almost the same as Shurtleff’s – she just makes it sound easier.  It’s soybeans, water and coagulant with a proper mold and accoutrements – that’s pretty much it. Nguyen begins with a highly detailed Homemade Tofu Tutorial: an immersion in the various types starting with soy milk, then on to silken tofu, tofu pudding, block tofu, seasoned pressed tofu, tea-smoked pressed tofu, white fermented tofu, fresh tofu skin and soy-simmered fried tofu.  The rest of the book is devoted to how to use each kind of tofu once you successfully mastered it. Again, the photos are the name of the game here.  Seeing the process and knowing what you’re going for makes all the difference. She has encouraged me to try this to see if the result is as good as or even better than the lovely artisanal product produced by The Bridge Company in Middletown, CT. (I was privileged to spend several hours there watching the process – seeing how very minimally processed this product can be.)

Nguyen continues to teach the reader/cook through chapters on Snacks and starters, Main Dishes, Salads, Mock Meats, Buns, Dumplings, Crepes, and Sweets. . She ends with a chapter on Basics that covers stocks, and sauces. Be aware this is not a totally plant-based book. There are many recipes using seafood and meat. But, as in her earlier book, plant-based substitutions are relatively easy and it is a host of basic concepts that she is teaching.

*BTW: The original “Book of Tofu” is still available for $7.23 on Amazon (used $0.1 and up) and a new edition, “Book of Tofu – Protein Source of the Future… Now!,”  a larger paperback with photos, updated information and newly designed covers, was published in 2012 ($17.95, available from $8 up). That might be well worth purchasing.  Together these two books will tell you all you want, need or wish to know about tofu.

The Banh Mi Handbook – Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches

by Andrea Nguyen. Ten Speed Press 2014. $16.99 (Amazon $11.43, or $4.99 Kindle)

BAnh Mi Handook

Banh Mi sandwiches have been the subject of so many articles and restaurant reviews that they have certainly captured my imagination and my salivary glands. But they are so meat-centric that I just couldn’t figure out how to replicate this described deliciousness within the confines of even a flexible plant-based diet. Nguyen’s small, hard-cover book helped me figure that out. This is by no means a vegetable-forward book; the bulk of the recipe chapters cover all of the main meat, poultry and seafood categories. But, there is a chapter on vegetarian fillings, two on breads and other “holders,” and, probably most important, one on mayonnaise, sauces and pickles which form the flavor profile that makes Banh Mi sandwiches so addictive. So you might find it worth the investment in a Kindle version for the Baked Maggi Tofu, Edamame Pate or the four other vegan fillings or for the flavorings of her meat pates that could be reinterpreted in a mushroom or bean pate.

 

The End of Heart Disease

by Joel Fuhrman, MD,  Harper One, 2016

End of Heart Disease

According to Dr. Furhman, his Nutritarian Diet will make it impossible to have a heart attack, while it reverses obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD) and radically lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure, reduces your weight, restores normal bowel function, improves your immune function and maintains youthful vigor in the face of aging. Fuhrman’s Nutritarian diet can be totally plant-based or it can be flexitarian which includes some animal products albeit in very small quantities (three small servings a week). But in either case, it is predominantly vegetables, beans seeds and nuts. The goal is a diet that is nutrient dense, hormonally favorable (avoiding, especially, excess insulin and insulin growth factor [IGF-1]), nutritionally adequate (including all essential nutrients), and avoids toxins. The basis for the diet’s choices are ANDI scores (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) that ranks foods based on the nutrients delivered for each calorie consumed.

FOOD CHAINS – The Revolution in America’s Fields

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Director: Sanjay Rawal
Executive Producers: Eric Schlosser and Eva Longoria
Featuring: Eric Schlosser, Eve EnslerBarry Estabrook, Dolores HuertaRobert Kennedy Jr.Kerry KennedyEva LongoriaAlma Martinez. Narrated by Forrest Whittaker.
Studio: Illumine Opportunity Group and Two Moons
Running Time: 1 hr. 22 min.
Released: 2014

Developed by Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser (producer of Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation), this fair, accurate and exceedingly well-done documentary follows a group of migrant farmworkers who pick tomatoes (for Publix and Walmart) in the fields around Immokalee, Florida.

A small group of tomato workers have formed the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) to try to improve the deplorable conditions under which farmworkers live and work – and their target is Publix, the largest purchaser of tomatoes in Florida – a super chain worth $30 billion. If they just add a single cent to the wholesale cost of a pound of tomatoes it could double the workers’ pay. But Publix refuses to meet. There is a hunger strike – workers wielding signs line the roadways – but after six days that hasn’t gotten them any closer to a meeting.

The small farmer is caught in the middle; it’s a high stakes game every year. The answer seems to lie with the people at the top – the enormous buying power of the supermarkets. Similar problems exist in Florida’s pepper and cucumber industries. And in California as well. Which produces more fresh food than any other state and so has more migrant workers.

The problems started when Walmart got into the grocery business in the 1970s and everything changed. In order to compete the smaller chains had to consolidate into behemoth supermarket chains creating a Monopsony (a market situation in which there is only one buyer). Price reductions trickled down. The average daily pay for tomato pickers is $42 from 5am-8pm (about a penny per pound – paying another penny would double farmworkers wages). Some weeks, it’s $300-400 other weeks $100.  The’r wages total about $10 -13,000 a year.

Sexual harassment of women farmworkers by their field managers is at 80%. The women are afraid to report the incidences for fear of losing their jobs. These are sweatshops in the fields. Actual, literal slave rings were also uncovered. After many protests, the CIW finally got Taco Bell to come aboard what became known as the Fair Food Program, and then Burger King, McDonalds, Chipotle, Trader Joes all eventually agreed to the Fair Food Tomato. Sexual harassment declined, wages increased (by one cent a pound). But the real top of the food chain remains the supermarket conglomerates – and they just won’t come to the table – as of 2014 the ICW had been asking Publix since 2010 to just talk to them. Continuing to embrace the process of creative non-violence – the sixth day of the hunger strike ended in a six mile walk. The ask: end harassment, slavery and pay just a penny more a pound – and talk to us.

In January 2014 Walmart agreed to join the Fair Food Program and expanded its reach to all farmworkers who pick produce here and elsewhere. Publix continued to refuse to even meet asserting that this is a farmer-worker dispute – not theirs.

A couple of asides were touched on but not developed: 1. we also see how these tomatoes are grown – massive amounts of pesticides are sprayed on the fields adjacent to the pickers – a deadly cooling breeze wafts across the field endangering the workers and the future consumers! 2. Floridian farmers are competing with Mexican tomatoes – and sometimes, it’s cheaper to dump the produce rather than pack and deliver.  On the other hand, when Clinton signed NAFTA he pretty much tanked the Mexican produce market and small farms went under. 3. In the 60s, Cesar Chavez created the United Farm Workers of California. It wasn’t pretty but ultimately they prevailed. And then in the ‘80s conditions began to deteriorate again. 4, Napa Valley has evolved into the premier wine growing region of the world. Population doubles during harvest season. But the critical farmworkers can’t afford to live there so they have to commute long distances or live in homeless tent communities.

I briefly researched what has happened since the film was released, and as far as I can tell, in May 2016, Publix’s top tomato supplier Red Diamond Farm was fined $1.4 million and ordered to pay $150,000 in back wages for exploiting low wage workers. It appears that Publix continues its stand that this is between the farmer and the worker and that maybe the Feds should get involved. Well they did! And nothing more has happened since then. This film is very effective: For those of us who spend time in Florida, seeing how badly Publix comes off will impact where we shop.

HOW TO SEE IT: Amazon Prime – watch free, or buy the DVD $4.94 or Blu-Ray $12.89

Farmacology – What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing

by Daphne Miller, MD. 2013 HarperCollins Publishers. List $23.95 HC $20.16, PB $14.22, Kin $10.99

farmacology

One of the more interesting overviews of the relationship between health and farming, Farmacology explores the revitalization of agriculture as a metaphor for integrative approaches to medicine as the author looks for solutions for her most difficult cases. At times, Dr. Miller (A San Franciscan integrative medicine physician) stretches the conceit but I didn’t mind because she took us on one of the best journeys through revisionist agriculture that I have read. Everything old is new again. Miller visited seven farms, beginning with author/farmer Wendell Berry’s fabled homestead – where Berry helped her to construct the parameters for her search.

With a humble beginners’ mind, Miller visited an Ozark ranch, a Washington state biodynamic farm, a pair of side-by-side organic chicken egg farms that used different approaches, a set of long-lived Bronx community gardens, a vineyard and an herb farm. Each eschewed, to some degree, the green revolution’s factory farming inputs in favor of returning to the more environmentally sensitive approaches that predated the arrival of post-war pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  With each investigation, Miller related the lessons learned on that farm with potential solutions for a particularly challenging patient Sometimes, the comparisons didn’t really work but other times they were viable and insightful. Two stand out:  a vineyard’s pest-management approach paralleled innovative thoughts on treating cancer and the process of rejuvenating the soil suggested useful tactics for reassessing and reclaiming our own bodies.

Probably the most endearing chapter was the one about the two egg farms – both owned by a father and son team.  This was a bit of an experiment for them. One farm met all the requirements for organic eggs and the other went considerably further and actually delivered organic, truly pastured eggs.  They discovered that the pastured eggs were of considerably higher quality but the output was, surprisingly, somewhat lower.  The pastured farm also demonstrated the community nature of hens – how much they love a good gossip and hanging out with special friends (this chapter was related to stress-management). The other interesting note – for those who eat eggs – is that organic doesn’t mean pastured – all you need is an open door someplace and a small cement pad for the thousands of chickens house in that multi-level, window-less barn. When you understand the flock nature of chickens, Tyson’s approach becomes even more deplorable.

Farmacology is an easy read that delivers a wealth of thought-provoking information.

Veg-Friendly Mezza in Mystic, CT

We visit Mystic fairly regularly since part of our family lives there. Our favorite restaurant is Mezza (formerly known as The Pita Spot). Not only is the food totally delicious, but it is healthy and much of it is vegan – because much of Middle-Eastern cuisine is plant-based. We have eaten in many, many mid-Eastern eateries around the world – including in Egypt and Israel. So we can safely say that Mezza produces some of the very best iterations of our go-to dishes – always with a little twist. The restaurant is  casual, family-owned and family-friendly with inside and outside (streetside) dining

We always have an assortment of Mezze for the table to start – Hummus, Baba Ghannouj, Tabouli, falafel and more – with lovely grilled pita, The menu is marked with symbols for vegetariand an gluten-free – and where there’s dairy, it’s very obvious. Their falafels in pita come in four interesting versions and there is an amazing sandwich – Malfoof – marinated cabbage and all sorts of goodies between two pita halves and grilled – that is simply totally delicious. Mezza offers plenty of meat-options, too, including a secret family recipe “Lala” chicken if you are not a totally veg group.  Their website is being shifted to their new name, but the menu (and management) is the same so try http://thepitaspot.com/uploads/Pita_Spot_menu_5-11.pdf.

Tony   Maloof

Mezza Exterior    Mezza Interior

 

Project Animal Farm: an accidental journey into the secret world of farming and the truth about our food

by Sonia Faruqi. 2016 Pegasus Books List $27.95, HD $19, PB $16.95, Kin $14

project animal farm

Ms. Faruqi, a former Wall Streeter, decided to volunteer at a Canadian organic dairy farm and that started an international journey to explore animal agriculture. Her up-close and personal experiences – from Canada to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Mexico, Belize, and finally the US – are interspersed with relevant facts and figures about animal farming.  A focused, topic-specific memoir (with extensive references) as opposed to a traditional investigative reporting piece, it is nevertheless a compelling read.  The distressing, horrendous descriptions of a world gone horribly awry are lightened by a very few rays of hope.  Ms. Faruqi concludes with the following solutions (which she has demonstrated throughout the book): 1. Large pastoral farms – reflecting crucial economies of scale – are the future ideal. 2. Genetic selection has created animals that are unable to function properly promulgating unnatural behaviors. 3. Gender diversity among famers needs to increase – more women!! 4. Agribusiness needs to police itself, recognize the obvious problems and create solutions. 5. Farm inspections need to be done by independent third parties. 6. Farm animals need regulations that recognize they are sentient beings and treat them as such (see #5). 7. Labels have to make sense and be enforced – for instance, the label “organic” (theoretically the most specific and meaningful term) is often achieved with lip service, blatant abuse and loopholes (see #5).

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

by Dan Barber (Executive Chef of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns  located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture). Penguin Press, May 2014

Third Plate Soft Cover    Third Plate Hard Cover

One of the first farm-to-table chefs, Dan Barber is interested in where our food comes from, how it is grown or raised and how or if those processes will be sustainable into the future.  He is not new to the conversation; he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. He also does not specifically promote a plant-based diet. But his “plate” is vegetable forward accompanied by humanely, sustainably raised fish and animals.

Dividing his exploration among the topics Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed, Chef Barber, who grew up summers on Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts, explores the current state of food through the lens of his  kitchen and the burgeoning gardens on the surrounding Stone Barns land. Each encounter with a resource raised his consciousness – from Klass Martens’ upstate New York farm to the savannah-like landscape of the Spanish dehesas to Veta la Palma’s unique approach to aquaculture to the history of dwarf wheat. Barber also highlights the educational role that chefs can play by making environmentally responsible choices. A good read that is not so much a polemic as it is­­ a tour of specific, lesser-known points of ecological lights that may positively impact the future of our food.

The Humane Economy: how innovators and enlightened consumers are transforming the lives of animals

by Wayne Pacelle, Presdient & CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.  William Morrow. April 2016. Hard Cover $18.38, Paperback $12.99 (March 2017), Kindle $12.99

Review of the Humane Economy

Mr. Pacelle covers the whole enchilada of animal abuse in the US – from puppy mills and dog fighting to battery cages and gestation crates to animals in film, wildlife management, animal testing to stepping outside the US to Africa’s wildlife. It’s an upbeat, well-done, informative overview that hails the HSUS’ successes but with only one chapter devoted to each issue, depth, naturally, suffers. That said, the case studies on PetCo and PetSmart that describe how lobbying moved them from selling puppies and kittens to partnering with local shelters to host pet adoptions were impressive. My interest in reading it was to hear his perspective on factory farming and if that is your sole interest, then the two chapters devoted to this topic might not justify the purchase, but if your library has it, then by all means borrow it. It’s a good read and will draw you into areas of animal abuse that may not have been on your radar screen. Note: I read this in hard cover; there’s also Kindle version and in 2017 a paperback – if  the Kindle version is anything like the posted sample (devoid of paragraph spacing) then reading in that format will be challenging.