8 Tricks For a Healthy Halloween

by | Oct 30, 2008

With extra candy, alcohol and fun all over the place (not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime election around the corner), there is no point in denying that this Halloween weekend will involve some splurging. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw your health out the window.

Remember these 8 tricks and your Halloween can still be a treat!

  1. Leave your guilt at the door. Today will probably not be ideal for your health, but if you are going to splurge you may as well enjoy it.
  2. Do not skip meals. Halloween usually involves late night parties and candy, things that should not interfere too much with your regularly scheduled food program. Trying to eat light during the day to compensate for your junk food later will actually just cause you to eat more junk food–not a wise strategy.
  3. Have a healthy, satisfying dinner. You would be surprised how easy it is to skip the third mini-Snickers if you are not hungry or are even feeling a little full. Better to be full of stir fry than trans fat, right?
  4. Eat lean protein, vegetables and healthy fats before you go out. The main danger on Halloween is sugar. Too much sugar causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to skyrocket. Ultimately this leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and more hunger! To avoid this, slow down the digestion process with these healthy foods.
  5. Easy on the carbs. You will probably be getting more than your fair share of sugars and starches this weekend. Minimize extraneous carbohydrates in your meals by cutting out bread and rice. Eat whole grains instead.
  6. Keep moving. One easy way to make up ground if you are eating extra calories is to burn them off as you go! If you are out at a party, be sure to keep moving. Walk to your destination, play active games and dance all night!
  7. Be safe. No matter what you do or do not eat, it is always important to make good decisions when you go out on the town. Be smart and make it home in one piece or none of this advice will do you any good.
  8. Brush up. All that extra sugar is really bad for your chompers. Remember to brush your teeth and rinse with fluoride as soon as you can after all that candy.Please leave comments below and have a happy Halloween!
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Considering Prop 2

by | Oct 29, 2008

Ask people what they think about Proposition 2, the California ballot initiative specifying “Standards for Confining Farm Animals,” and you will quickly find that few people know the details of the measure or what it might mean for Californians if it passes. As someone who cares deeply about what we eat and how it affects our health, I decided to investigate Prop 2 myself.

The initiative is only about 750 words. I encourage you to read the measure on your own, but I will summarize it here:

  • It applies only to egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs and veal calves in a farm setting.
  • It prohibits confinement of these animals in a way that prevents them from “lying down,” “standing up,” “fully extending” limbs and “turning around freely.”
  • Exceptions are made for research, veterinary care, transportation, rodeo, state fairs or 4-H programs, lawful slaughter and the seven days before a pig is expected to birth.
  • Compliance will be enforced beginning January 1, 2015.
  • Enforcement involves either a fine of less than $1000 or less than 180 days jail time.

There is no fine print or other dubious language in Prop 2. Nowhere does it demand a “cage-free” environment. Specific numbers on space requirements are not given. However, the vague language of the measure may be what is worrying some opponents.

In essence, this measure is about egg hens. Other states (Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon) have already passed measures to regulate the pig and veal industries, and there is little opposition to these elements of the California initiative. It is the $337 million egg industry that is at the center of this issue.

Supporters of Prop 2 offer several convincing arguments. As would be expected, cruelty to animals housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions is high on their list. They point to the industry’s practice of painfully removing the beaks of chickens to keep them from injuring each other, as well as the inability of hens to perform “natural” movements such as perching and dust bathing.

Supporters also point to the recent scandal at a Southern California egg ranch as evidence that the egg industry is not doing a good job of self-policing its practices.

Opponents argue that it is actually healthier for animals to remain in cages, because chickens sometimes choose to jump on top of each other when allowed to roam free (a phenomenon called “hysteria”). This, they say, makes the hens more likely to be smothered, injured and killed in cage-free settings compared to conventional cages. It is not obvious how much (if at all) this behavior may decrease the animals’ quality of life compared to existence in more confined quarters, though it may lower egg production to some extent.

Prop 2 does not specifically require a cage-free environment, but neither is it clear that bigger cages would meet the requirements of limb extension. As written, the measure may require current “battery cages” be replaced by larger “furnished” or “enriched” cages, but it could also demand the elimination of cages altogether. This confusion is why some call the initiative modest and others call it extreme.

There are certainly some supporters who argue that the egg industry is not required to entirely convert to cage-free practices, while other supporters (including the Yes! on Prop 2 Web site) simply argue that switching to cage-free will not be as burdensome as industry suggests. That cage requirements are not directly specified in the measure is one of its key weaknesses.

Proponents of Prop 2 also make a strong case for food safety issues, arguing that crowding, unsanitary and stressful conditions make hens and their eggs more susceptible to infection. Their argument acknowledges the tremendous progress in egg safety that was enacted in the 1970s, but purports that current crowding conditions have created new threats that make the measures inadequate, especially in regard to Salmonella.

Those against Prop 2 argue that the industry is already held to the highest standards. They also claim that free-range systems result in eggs that are even more likely to be contaminated than conventional eggs due to their potential contact with wild animals. Again, because Prop 2 does not specify if specific kinds of cages are permitted it is difficult to assess the validity of these arguments.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of Prop 2 is that it will likely strengthen small, family farms that do employ humane, safe practices. Currently, many small farms easily comply with the stipulations required by Prop 2. It has been difficult for some of these farms to compete with large industrial agriculture, which keep prices low with high production efficiency—the driving force behind animal overcrowding. Indeed, most of my personal favorite small farmers support Prop 2 (Bill Niman, Prather Ranch, Eatwell Farms, etc.).

Despite this, some opponents to Prop 2 including the San Francisco Chronicle suggest that the measure is in fact harmful to small farms. Specifically the Chronicle points to their conversation with Steve Mahrt of Petaluma Farms who argued that the “rigid language” of Prop 2 would be detrimental to his business. It is important to note, however, that Petaluma Farms is one of the largest industrial organic farms in California and does have financial motivations to keep other large industrial farms from competing with it in the cage-free egg market. Smaller farms do not threaten Petaluma Farms financially.

In my opinion, the best argument I have read against Prop 2 was outlined in a report issued in July by the University of California Agriculture Issues Center at Davis. The goal of the report was to assess the economic impact of Prop 2. They cite no financial conflict of interest in their analysis.

The authors of the report make a compelling case that Prop 2 will do little to change the way animals are housed in California. Instead, they suggest that the increased production cost for California egg farmers would result in the industry being unable to compete with other states that have more lenient animal standards. The consequence would be that the California egg market would be flooded with cheaper out-of-state eggs and most of the California egg industry would be eliminated. Currently California imports about one third of its eggs, suggesting that this issue of out-of-state competition is indeed a real threat to our egg industry.

This argument is persuasive because if the egg industry moves out of California it is more likely to reduce animal standards than increase them, thereby nullifying the objectives of Prop 2. It could also hurt local economies and potentially eliminate jobs for approximately 3,000 California employees. These are very serious risks for our state.

However, I am skeptical of many elements of the report. For instance, an assumption is made early on that neither conventional nor European-style “furnished” cages would be permitted under Prop 2. If this is the case it would effectively mandate cage-free systems for California egg growers. It is not clear to me if supporters of Prop 2 agree with this interpretation. Presumably an extended cage system (as opposed to cage-free) would have a substantially smaller impact on the production costs for egg farmers and the California economy as a whole.

Supporters of Prop 2 argue that the egg industry is not likely to leave California. Instead they claim this report is a scare tactic used by Prop 2 opponents. In 2006, an animal welfare measure for pigs and veal was passed in Arizona with similar economic arguments against it. The Arizona initiative ultimately passed with overwhelming support and, according to supporters, turned out to be a “catalyst for national reform.” Major pig and veal producers remained in Arizona and other large producers in the United States and Canada began phasing out inhumane practices within three months of the measure’s passing.

Whether or not a similar trend would begin in the egg industry is not clear. Something to consider is that major retailers such as Safeway and Burger King are already demanding higher animal standards because of consumer demand for improved safety, taste and nutritional value.

I also doubt the assertions in the report that health risks to animals and humans are increased under cage-free conditions. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and stress are almost always more likely to foster disease than more humane conditions, so I question the credibility of this research. Additionally, the costs cited in the report are disputed by Prop 2 supporters who argue prices would go up only one cent per egg.

Honestly I do not trust the opponents of Prop 2. Much of the funding against the measure comes from industry giants who have themselves been found guilty of malpractice, animal cruelty and threats to public safety.

On the other hand, it is questionable if a California ballot initiative is the best place to combat issues with industrialized agriculture.

Regardless of your personal, philosophical or political reasons to support or oppose Prop 2, I encourage you all to remember that every day you make decisions that impact the food industry when you decide what to eat. We all vote with our forks whether we think about it or not. Prop 2 reminds us how important it is for us to ask ourselves if our choices are helping or hindering the growth of the world we want to live in.

This article is also available at Synapse.

For the record, I will be voting yes on Prop 2. I do not find the arguments against it convincing enough to let this opportunity pass. Industrial agriculture practices threaten our health in many ways including risk of disease outbreak, environmental pollution and decreased nutritional value. Restricting these irresponsible practices will ultimately make all our lives better and is worth the investment.

What do you think about Prop 2?

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Cruciferous Vegetables: Did You Know?

by | Oct 28, 2008

Brussels sprouts are a member of the cruciferous or brassica vegetable family. The term cruciferous means “cross-bearing” since the four petals of their leaves resemble a cross. Popular cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage and kale, but also root vegetables such as turnips and rutabaga.

Cruciferous vegetables are usually what we are talking about when we say “green leafy vegetables,” and they are thought to have anti-cancer properties.

Some people consider cruciferous vegetables to be “functional foods” or “super foods,” because they have benefits beyond basic nutrition. For instance, these vegetables are rich in compounds that have been shown to fight cancer and other diseases.

It is in your best interest to learn to love cruciferous vegetables. I eat them several times a week (preferably daily).

Other members of this vegetable family include:

  • broccoli
  • kale
  • cabbage
  • collard greens
  • bok choy
  • cauliflower
  • turnip
  • mustard greens
  • radish
  • watercress
  • arugula
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Hate Brussels Sprouts? So Did I

by | Oct 27, 2008

Kids and adults alike are often united in their hatred of Brussels sprouts. When I was young, Brussels sprouts were at the very top of my gross foods list, just barely inching out slimy spinach and chalky lima beans. Yuck!

It was not until I got to college that I learned spinach is not really slimy. Turns out it is actually a leaf and surprisingly delicious! I didn’t realize I had been eating frozen spinach my entire life. What a relief!

Over time I learned that many foods I never liked were not as bad as I thought. I grew to appreciate fennel, avocado, cilantro and even beets, but I never could develop a taste for Brussels sprouts.

A few years ago when I started getting serious about vegetables and health, I made a decision to conquer my last few food aversions. Eggplant was something I always struggled with, but I learned that a few kitchen tricks could turn it into a delicious meal. This past summer I was finally able to embrace cucumbers.

After all this, overcoming my aversion to Brussels sprouts is my proudest accomplishment.

I have found that for most foods I do not enjoy, ordering them at an expensive San Francisco restaurant is a great place to start. These people can seriously cook. And if anyone can make something taste good, it is the brilliant chefs of San Francisco.

Absinthe Brasserie was where I first tried Brussels sprouts that I didn’t just like, I loved. So warm, savory and delicious, I finally knew what Brussels sprouts could be.

It was this experience that convinced me it was possible to find a way to cook Brussels sprouts so that I like them. I spent all last winter trying different cooking techniques until I finally got it right.

The secrets?

  1. Bacon – Is there anything bacon doesn’t make better?
  2. Nuts – Walnuts or hazelnuts add a crunchy texture and earthy flavor.
  3. Butter – I don’t cook with butter often, but sometimes it is just worth it.
  4. Blanching – Cutting the sprouts in half and boiling them for 5 minutes removes their bitter flavor.
  5. Fresh herbs – I prefer oregano or marjoram on this dish.
  6. Red wine vinegar – Acid is a great counter to bitterness; it serves Brussels sprouts well.

These tricks and variations of them have convinced me and nearly all of my friends that Brussels sprouts are truly an autumn delicacy.

For those of you questioning the health value of bacon and butter, my answer is this: get over it.

Small amounts of saturated fat will not kill you or even make you fat. Besides, if it gets you to eat your Brussels sprouts it is worth it. I feel confident in saying this dish is infinitely more healthy than anything you can get at Subway.

Don’t be scared, give it a try!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Do you hate Brussels sprouts? Why?

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Farmers Market Update

by | Oct 25, 2008

Today is the annual Harvest Festival at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Apple pressing, butter churning and all sorts of seasonal fun is being had down at our beloved Ferry Building.
To beat the crowds I went early, about 8:30 a.m., shortly after the market opened. And it was well worth it. Arriving early means the best selection of all the produce. Also, with fewer people around the early morning is a great time to get to know the vendors and find out what is good that day or how long your favorite goodies will be available.
Fall fruits and vegetables are now in full swing and I was delighted to see some new items this week. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are a species of sunflower cultivated for its tuber. At first glance these root vegetables are easily mistaken for ginger or galanga (Thai ginger), however the flavor is very different. Their taste falls somewhere between an artichoke and a potato. Different, but delicious. Sunchokes are very creamy and are excellent mashed or made into soup. Since the skin is thin and soft, peeling is not necessary.
Just like last week, the market was booming with apples, pears and pomegranates. However, today was also the first time I saw Meyer lemons, which means citrus season is near.
I finally found that pile of sweet corn I have been missing too.

Another first for me this week was the Soul Food eggs I picked up at Prather Ranch Meat Co. I came right home and had them for breakfast, and I can assure you they were worth every penny of the $4.00 I paid (for six of them).
I have heard amazing stories about these eggs and did not want to try anything too complicated on my first attempt. Keeping it simple, I just scrambled them with baby leeks from Dirty Girl Produce and served them up with some wedges of Early Girl tomatoes, a hand-picked avocado from Berkeley (thanks Mo!), and a side of padrone peppers. A couple leaves from my Acme pain epi loaf was the perfect accompaniment to the perfect breakfast. Yum!

Today’s purchases:

  • Meyer lemon
  • Fuji apples
  • Pomegranates
  • Fuyu persimmons
  • Sunchokes
  • Shinko asian pears
  • Yellow chard
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Padrones
  • Sugar pumpkin
  • Early girl tomatoes
  • Midnight Moon cheese
  • Pain epi loaf

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    Farmers Market Update: Autumn

    by | Oct 22, 2008

    Summer is over, my friends. (You don’t mind if I call you friends?) Autumn is now in full swing, and in the distance winter is peaking over the horizon. The days are getting shorter and the shadows getting longer.

    The Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market that was once dazzling with the bright reds, yellows and pinks of summer is now dominated by the warm, earthy tones of autumn. Pumpkins and persimmons speckle the market with orange. Pears, grapes and apples cast a golden light. Thick winter squash and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and Brussels sprouts dominate the vegetable stands. Course greens like kale, chard and collards have replaced the springy bright lettuces of summer. Sturdy root vegetables and tubers are also starting to appear.

    To me, all these changes are welcome. It is getting much cooler in the evenings and salads are now less appealing than a hot, home-cooked meal. It is also around this time of year when I start emerging from my stone fruit-induced daze and realize how much I missed fingerling potatoes and sweet, nutty artichokes.

    Even the fruits of fall have their own brand of magic. The diversity of pear varietals now available rivals even the height of summer’s pluot season. Grapes are as sweet as any natural food can be. The wily and mysterious pomegranates are an adventure all their own.

    Today I embraced autumn, though I do admit to indulging myself with a few of the final remnants of summer. Ella Bella Farms was gone, along with their magnificent display of summer tomatoes. Dirty Girl Produce was the last place I could find dry-farmed early girls which, they informed me, would be around “until it rains.” I was also disappointed to learn that white pomegranate season has expired, so I will have to make do with the red ones from here on out. Last week pomegranate seeds replaced berries on my morning cereal.

    Purchases:

    • Kale
      • Brussels sprouts
      • Baby artichokes
      • Pomegranates
      • Fuyu persimmons
      • Charentais melon
      • Mediterranean cucumbers
      • Sweet red peppers
      • Early girl tomatoes

      This article can also be found at Synapse.

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      Baby Artichokes with Leeks

      by | Oct 22, 2008

      Baby artichokes are one of my favorite treats this time of year, but many people do not know how to prepare them. They can be used as a side dish to a more substantial meal, or be tossed with salad or pasta.

      Whenever you buy baby artichokes, be sure to pick up a lemon as well (preferably a Meyer lemon). Artichokes quickly oxidize and turn black when exposed to air, so they need to be immediately immersed in acid to prevent discoloration.

      Ingredients: baby artichokes (about 8 to 10 per serving), lemon, garlic, leek, Italian parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper.

      In a large bowl, combine one quarter to one third cup olive oil, the juice of one lemon, salt, pepper and minced garlic. To clean, rinse artichokes with cool water then cut off the stem and the top one quarter of the leaves with a sharp knife. Remove the dark outer leaves by hand until the thin, pale inner leaves are all that remain. Do not be timid with your pruning, tough artichokes are not fun to eat.

      Next cut the artichoke in half through the center and immediately add it to the bowl with lemon juice. Be sure that the cut center part of the artichoke contacts the liquid. Do this for all the artichokes, stirring frequently. When finished, cover the artichokes with plastic and allow them to marinate at room temperature while you prepare the rest of your meal. Continue to stir them occasionally.

      Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse your leek. To make sure all the dirt gets out from inside it, chop off the hairy end and slicing the white part vertically in half and (if it is really big) then quarters, leaving the green leaves intact. Hold it under the faucet green side down and allow water to run through it while fanning out the layers. Beware of any dirt remaining on your cutting board.

      Slice the leek into half inch thick segments, stopping before the white part transitions completely to dark green. Some light green leek is okay. Toward the top be wary of remaining dirt trapped in the outer layers.

      Finely chop your parsley, about 2 tbsp worth. When you are ready to cook your artichokes (they take about ten minutes), heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat and add the leeks. Stir and cook until leeks start to soften, about one minute. Add the artichokes and marinade to the leeks and stir. Sprinkle on parsley. Turn artichoke halves so that most of their faces touch the surface of the pan. Cover. Stir every two minutes or so until the artichokes become tender and slightly browned, but keep them covered most of the time. The final verdict on when they are done is always a taste test. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

      In the picture my baby artichokes are served with Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley and French green lentils. I admit this meal didn’t really do the artichokes justice. I prefer them with a more upscale Italian or Greek dish.

      How ’bout you?

      This recipe can also be found at Synapse.

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      Gone Bananas? Japanese Banana Diet Mania

      by | Oct 21, 2008

      This week Time magazine reports that the latest Japanese diet trend, the “Morning Banana Diet,” is causing extreme banana shortages throughout Japan. Banana shortages? Seriously, this is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

      Why all the rage? Apparently some famous Japanese actress lost 26 pounds trying this diet, and diet trends are incredibly popular in Japanese culture.

      My favorite part though is how this diet supposedly works. Aptly named, the Morning Banana Diet requires eating a banana for breakfast, along with some room temperature water. If you are still hungry you are allowed to eat more than one banana.

      That’s the whole diet.

      You can eat whatever you want for lunch and dinner, and you are allowed to have a snack in the afternoon.

      You should also go to bed before midnight.

      One more caveat: no dessert and no sugary drinks.

      Ahhh, now we are getting somewhere.

      From what I have read, no one even pretends to offer a mechanism about how bananas are supposed to help you lose weight. But people are almost certainly experiencing weight loss on this plan or it wouldn’t be so popular. Let’s pause for a minute and think about why that might be.

      First, I can say pretty confidently that this has nothing to do with bananas. In fact, bananas are one of the higher glycemic index fruits available, meaning they are more likely to actually increase insulin resistance and cause weight gain than other fruits. (Please do not assume I am against bananas, they can be a perfectly healthy part of a balanced diet). Moreover, bananas do not have some magic property that induces fat melting. Nothing does.

      But if it is not the bananas, what is promoting weight loss?

      Cutting out dessert is certainly a likely culprit. For most people, skipping dessert will eliminate a tremendous amount of calories from your diet each day and is a very effective way to drop pounds.

      Another reason this diet may “work” in the short term, is because it encourages people to eat regularly. Keeping steady blood sugar and eating at regular intervals can curb hunger and help reduce your chances of overeating.

      This diet also suggests maintaining a food journal. Food journals force people to pay attention to what and when they are eating, which almost always results in weight loss. When people ask me for help losing weight, the first thing I have them do is write down everything they eat for two weeks. Almost everyone loses weight during this period, even more quickly than when they start adjusting their eating habits!

      Look at almost any diet study and you will see that both the control group (no diet) and the intervention group (test diet) lose weight over the course of the experiment. This is because people tend to avoid excessive eating when they feel they are being watched. I like to call this the quantum theory of dieting, because it reminds me of the wave-particle duality in quantum physics where the act of observing something changes its behavior. If you have to tell people (or even yourself) what you are eating, you are not going to eat as much.

      Does that mean this diet is worth trying so you can lose a few pounds? Absolutely not. Diets are dangerous, especially when it reinforces the myth that temporary weight loss is beneficial. Worse, dieting is one of the best predictors of weight gain over a two year period. That’s right, there is absolutely no point in going on a strict weight loss regimen unless your goal is truly temporary. If you want to lose weight and keep it off you need to change your eating habits permanently to a more healthy dietary pattern. That is exactly what this blog is trying to help you accomplish.

      What do you think about fad diets and dieting in general?

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      Oops, I Forgot Corn Season!

      by | Oct 19, 2008

      Everyone knows that we here in San Francisco often get branded as elitist.

      My first thought when I heard this was, “Great!” Who doesn’t want to be considered the best of the best? I personally love arugula (the latest symbol of elitism) and happily enjoyed it all summer as it was tossed around with contempt on the presidential campaign trail (I hope they added olive oil and vinegar too!).

      But there actually is a problem with elitism. Sometimes we get so caught up in what is excellent that we forget about some simple pleasures in life that are branded less favorably. I sadly and apologetically admit that I have succumbed to this weakness. I am embarrassed to say it, but this summer I forgot about corn.

      The problem is that corn is usually a four letter word synonymous with unhealthy foods.
      As you are probably aware, government subsidies have resulted in massive corn over-production. Consequently, virtually all of the processed (i.e., really really bad for you) food in America is made from corn.
      Corn is an especially bad word to local organic farmers, desperate to grow something different in America. What all of this boils down to is that there is very little corn available at San Francisco’s proudly elitist Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, even during corn season.
      I realized the omission only last week when I found a beautiful pile of corn at my neighborhood corner store (Valencia Farmers Market). I bought a few ears, but according to my calendar October is almost over. At best, corn will only have a couple more weeks before it disappears.
      To help make amends, I present this simple corn succotash recipe:
      Ingredients:
      • 1 cipollini onion
      • 1/2 red bell pepper
      • 1 ear of sweet corn
      • 1/2 cup frozen edamame (soy beans) or lima beans
      • 1/2 cup frozen petite peas
      • 1 clove garlic, minced
      • 2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
      • 1 handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

      The corn I bought was so sweet that it was delicious even raw. My recipe highlights its natural sweetness by making corn the centerpiece of the dish and keeping the cooking time short.

      To remove the kernels from the cob, shuck the corn then hold it top-end down in a large bowl. Keep the corn upright by using the bottom end of the cob (pointing upward) as a handle. Use a sharp knife to cut down the sides of the corn, repeatedly turning the cob and cutting until all the kernels are off. The advantage of using a bowl over a plate or cutting board: I had only one rogue kernel escape onto the counter during this entire process. Preparing corn this way takes less than 2 minutes.

      Next dice the onion and bell pepper. Cipollini onions are small and flat, almost donut shaped. They are sweeter than normal yellow onions and are relatively easy to find. Heat olive oil on medium heat until it swirls easily in the pan. Add onions and peppers and cook until they just start to brown, about 5 minutes.

      Next add the edamame and stir. When no more ice is visible in the pan, add the peas and mix. (For the record, I don’t measure out any of these ingredient myself. My ingredients list gives ballpark numbers for those of you who prefer detailed instructions, but feel free to ad lib as you see fit.) Continue to cook until no more ice is visible again, then add the fresh corn. Stir and season liberally with sea salt and black pepper.

      Continue cooking, stirring occasionally. After about 2 minutes, clear a space in the bottom of the pan and add the garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds), mix it with the other ingredients. After another minute add the spinach and cilantro and stir again. When the spinach has wilted, your meal is ready.

      Two Meals

      This dish was so delicious I cooked it two nights in a row. The first night (pictured), I made it how I described above then served it on a bed of brown rice and topped it with half an avocado (salt and pepper).


      The second night I roasted the red pepper instead of cooking it with the onion, and added it with the corn. Lacking spinach this second time, I used extra peas and cilantro to put more green on my plate. I did not use rice, and instead of avocado I topped it with half a can of salmon.

      Canned salmon can be really gross (slimy and full of bones), so be careful if you plan to buy it. That being said, I really enjoy Henry and Lisa’s canned wild Alaskan pink salmon (thanks to Emily for the tip). It comes in a box (pictured) and is available at Whole Foods. Canned salmon is better for you (but more expensive) than canned tuna because of its lower mercury content. Smoked salmon would probably be good on this dish as well.

      If I had to pick I would say dinner #2 was better, but both were fantastic. It is hard to beat those roasted peppers though.

      Comments and admonishments for my corn neglect are welcomed.

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      On Food and Politics

      by | Oct 16, 2008

      This week the New York Times Magazine—centerfold of the New York Times Sunday edition—was dedicated to my favorite subject, food. As grain prices continue to rise and food safety comes under increasing scrutiny, food politics has emerged as a volatile, heated topic in the United States and around the globe.

      In this issue Michael Pollan, best-selling author and UC Berkeley professor of journalism, pens an open letter to the next president of the U.S., “Farmer In Chief,” addressing the issue of food policy and painting it as a critical component of national security.

      Pollan begins by pointing out the notable absence of food policy from the campaign trail and suggests that the time has come to give it due attention, because food will inevitably be central to the agenda of the next White House administration. The reason, he argues, is because our entire system of food production and distribution is critically dependent on inexpensive fuel, a luxury we “can no longer count on.” Furthermore, without crafting a new, sustainable agriculture and food policy the next administration will be unable to make meaningful progress on issues that have been central to the campaigns: energy independence, health care and climate change.

      Our food system is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases emitted by the U.S.—as high as 37 percent—thanks to agriculture practices, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, packaging, processing, distribution and those stinky cows. It is also the second largest consumer of fossil fuels—second only to automobiles—since chemical fertilizers are made from natural gas and pesticides from petroleum. As Pollan bluntly states, “when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.”

      This same food system is also a significant contributor to our nation’s current health care crisis, as the largest increases in expenses are coming from diet-induced chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke (hypertension), type 2 diabetes and cancer.

      Pollan asserts that a new food agenda is necessary for global trade as well, since cheap industrial food has caused the collapse of agriculture economies in dozens of developing countries. International trade will be stymied because these nations will now be forced to close their doors to American goods in order to rebuild their own systems.

      In other words, food is a national security issue that is central to meeting the needs of the 21st century.

      But while Pollan describes the current state of the agriculture and food industries as a crisis, he also strikes an unambiguous note of optimism by emphasizing this as a time of tremendous opportunity that can be seized by the incoming administration. Pollan proposes several goals for the new food agenda, with the primary message being that “we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine.”

      Our current system, Pollan argues, is not a product of free market enterprise, but rather reflects government policies that have supported quantity over quality from farmers. Massive government subsidies reward high output from the corn, soy bean, wheat and rice industries, resulting in artificially low food prices. Subsidies also discourage farmers from growing more diverse crops, while petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers allowed for the creation of vast monocultures on U.S. farms. Combined, these forces have dramatically increased U.S. agriculture productivity with just a handful of different crops.

      This government-sponsored increase in production flooded our economy with artificially cheap processed grains and ultimately, cheap meat. The shift to monocultures on farms forced animals like cows to be moved off the land to feedlots. There cattle are bred to consume the inexpensive surplus grain (traditionally cows feed on grass), and undergo unnaturally quick weight gain.

      The removal of animals from the farm has had several unfortunate side effects, not the least of which is the transformation of animal waste from a valuable fertilizer to an environmental pollutant. It also meant animals needed to start being treated with antibiotics “in order to survive their crowded, filthy and miserable existence.” Note that it is precisely these unsanitary feedlot conditions that lead to food safety issues such as E. coli outbreaks in our meat supply, as well as outbreaks of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

      Thus Pollan recommends the new administration focus on 1) Providing a healthy diet for everyone by advancing quality and diversity (rather than simply quantity) in growing practices, 2) Aiming to improve safety, security and resilience in our food supply by promoting regional, de-centralized food economies, and 3) Supporting agriculture as a solution to environmental problems such as pollution and climate change.

      He goes on to outline an extensive agenda designed to answer these concerns. Key to Pollan’s proposal is shifting government subsidies away from monoculture crops to rewarding farmers for crop diversity and year-round farming practices (currently farms lay dormant from October to April). He also recommends the Food and Drug Administration ban the use of antibiotics in feedlots, thereby encouraging ranchers to use healthier and more environmentally friendly practices.

      Pollan directly addresses the question of whether these new policies will be able to meet global food demands and admits that the future is uncertain, since such sweeping changes have never been tried. However he makes a compelling case that his policies can work, and that failing to try is not a practical option.

      He argues that organic farmers today can produce nearly 80 to 100 percent yield compared to conventional farms on normal years and even exceed conventional farm production in drought years (since organic soil is more resilient). Moreover, worldwide production does not yet match that of organic farmers in the U.S., so there is much room for improvement globally.

      But yield does not need to be the primary concern, because currently many of the calories produced in the U.S. are devoid of nutrients, such as those from high fructose corn syrup (from corn) and trans fat (from soy oil). Additionally, 40 percent of U.S. grain output is fed to animals (cattle, not humans) and 11 percent of the corn and soy bean crop is “fed to cars and trucks, in the form of biofuels.” Reducing demand for these items increases the amount of food available for human consumption.

      Importantly, Pollan acknowledges that sweeping changes must be made in every step of the food chain, from farming to distribution to the American dinner plate. A new food culture must be developed in our nation and this effort ought to be headed by the new White House administration and the first family.

      Pollan invokes images of President Reagan’s T.V. trays and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden on the White House lawn, urging the next president to step up and present his own family as an example for 21st century habits that the United States and the rest of the world must learn to embrace.

      UPDATE: This article can also be found at Synapse.

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