Growing Pains

by | Mar 29, 2009

Happy Monday everyone!

Before we get to the fun stuff, there are a few technical things we need to discuss:

1. Older feed subscriptions using Google Reader and iGoogle appear to be broken. Even though my first post from Summer Tomato went out to all subscribers without a problem, all Google feed readers (about 40% of you use these, by my calculations) seem to have reverted back to my old (broken) blog feed address. Thus new posts are not going out to you.

Google FAIL.

I am doing my best to resolve this, but in the meantime the easiest solution is to re-subscribe to the working Summer Tomato RSS feed. You can do that by clicking here. If you do not know what I’m talking about and your subscription is working without a problem, don’t worry about it.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

2. Tell me which advertisements you hate. In case you haven’t noticed, I care a lot about your health. But I also want this blog to be successful so that I can continue spending as much time on it as I do. One of the things that keeps this blog up and running are the Google advertisements you find throughout the site (also donations and purchases from my Amazon shop).

I do my best to keep ads that conflict with my message (e.g. diet pills, weight loss cures scams, etc.) off this blog, but it requires constant filtering on my part. I am not notified before an ad appears, but if I see one on my blog that I do not like I ask Google to remove it and it usually goes away in an hour or two.

Since I am not browsing my website 24 hrs a day, my vigilance will occasionally be insufficient and bothersome ads may appear. If you encounter ads that are particularly annoying to you, please let me know which ones and I will take care of them as quickly as I can. I am also interested in hearing your opinions on ads in general. E.g. Do you prefer the picture/flash ads or standard text link ads?

The advertisements should be a benefit to you, offering products you might actually be interested in. Please consider supporting our honest sponsors by visiting their websites.

I will be exploring new advertising options in the future when things are more settled here. Thanks for your patience.

Extra thanks to those of you who have provided feedback so far :)

xoxox

Darya

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Farmers Market Update: You Are SO Jealous

by | Mar 28, 2009
Chioggia Radicchio

Chioggia Radicchio

I know, this is kind of mean. Many of you have expressed your frustrations about the shabbiness or nonexistentness of your own local farmers markets. But I can’t help but brag about all the great spring veggie action we have going on here in San Francisco. Try to think of it as inspiration for what you have to look forward to….

Sorrel

Sorrel

What I am most excited about today is that my bounty is markedly different from what I have been buying all winter. And it is all the more wonderful because it is easily 75 degrees and gorgeous today. (Don’t be too jealous of this, because one of the worst things about living in San Francisco is summertime fog–truly sunny days are rare).

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market a few different vendors were selling sorrel today, so I bought some from Capay organics. Sorrel is interesting because its flavor puts it somewhere between a vegetable and an herb. When it is older it becomes more acidic and has an almost lemon-like flavor. Younger it is more mild and tastes closer to spinach. I am thinking about tossing mine up with some grilled fennel and lemon scented oil. I had a similar dish (minus the sorrel) recently at Pizzeria Delfina, and it was incredible.

Flowering Arugula

Flowering Arugula

Last weekend on the KCRW podcast, Good Food, there was a wonderful segment about arugula flowers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, so I had to buy those this week too.

Other 2009 first purchases today were the small Mediterranean style cucumbers and Belgian endive from Madison Growers. (Maybe I will may actually make a salad this weekend?) The kumquats were also finally sweet enough to buy.

Mediterranean Cucumbers

Mediterranean Cucumbers

Last but not least, Zuckerman’s is again offering their famous asparagus ravioli and I bought some. They recommended I prepare it with just olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese, but I think I have had enough of taking serving suggestions from farmers for a couple weeks. I have a few of my own tricks I am excited to try on this springtime treat (hint: another excuse to use the lemon oil I bought today). I will certainly keep you posted.

Today’s Purchases:

Belgian Endives

Belgian Endives

What are you most jealous of?

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Welcome To Summer Tomato!

by | Mar 25, 2009

Summer Tomatoes

This is the official launch of Summer Tomato! Welcome!

Summer Tomato is an upgrade of the blog Thought for Food I have been running on Google’s Blogger for the past 9 months. While Blogger was a fantastic place for me to get started, its limitations could sometimes detract from the readers’ experience. And because my readers deserve the best, I have created Summer Tomato!

If you are a Thought for Food loyalist, never fear. All the old posts and comments from summertomato.blogspot.com have been moved here safe and sound. My main goal for this site was not to start from scratch but to make it easier to navigate and find what you’re looking for.

Here are some new features at Summer Tomato:

  • Categories One of the biggest factors in my decision to migrate to the WordPress platform was the ability to sort posts into categories. Because of how I approach food and health, my articles can range from science to recipes to politics. You can now navigate all Summer Tomato categories using the colorful menu at the top of the page.
  • About I finally have an About page! Everything you’ve always wanted to know about me or this blog can be found there. Navigation options can be found on the About page sidebar.
  • Healthstyle I am sick and tired of the word diet and am now using the word Healthstyle to describe healthy eating. You can read all about it here.
  • Ask Me People have lots of questions about health and nutrition and I love to answer them! There is now a section of this blog where you can post questions about health and nutrition, and I will do my best to address them in a future article. I think this could be really fun, and I hope you participate. For now it is just an experiment, so we will see how it works out.
  • Contact Form Summer Tomato has an official form if you would like to contact me personally. This is a perfect place to address private inquiries and suggestions.
  • Shop Summer Tomato has a new store powered by Amazon! I am really excited about this feature because Amazon usually has the best prices on the internet and now I can easily point you to my favorite books, kitchen gadgets and other fun foodie things and you can make purchases directly from within this site. At the Summer Tomato store you can find everything you need for learning about food, health and cooking. You can stock a new kitchen, take your Healthstyle on the road or upgrade to the coolest toys. Many of the products also feature my personal reviews and I will continue to update these whenever possible. Any purchases you make through the 

I encourage you to explore the new Summer Tomato site and let me know what you think. All suggestions are welcome and I will do my best to reply to any comments or questions you may have.

If you currently subscribe to the Thought for Food email or RSS feeds, your subscription should continue to work with Summer Tomato. If it does not, please contact me as soon as possible so I can fix it. Also, if you are currently linking this blog from another website, it would be great if you could update your link to SummerTomato.com.

This site will continue to evolve over time and I hope that the changes reflect the needs of the readers. If you like this blog, please share it with your friends and family. Summer Tomato can only be as strong as the community we build together.

Thanks to everyone who has already helped make Summer Tomato possible, I couldn’t have done it without you.

xoxoxo

Darya

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Is Organic Food Really Better?

by | Mar 23, 2009

organic artichokesIt seems all the nation is abuzz with organic fever. The number of farmers markets has increased dramatically in the past several years, sales of organic products have more than doubled and even the new First Family has jumped on the organic bandwagon.

But in uncertain economic times, some people are asking if the higher cost of organic foods is worth the benefit. And when it comes down to it, what benefit are we really talking about anyway?

When discussing organic food, most people are referring to food that complies with and has been accepted as “Certified Organic” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA’s Organic Standards were set in 2002, twelve years after the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

In order for a food to become Certified Organic, the grower of the food must be inspected for compliance with the USDA’s “Organic Standards” by an accredited state or private agency. Generally this means the foods are free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and have not been irradiated or genetically modified in any way.

There is extensive evidence that adults and children who eat exclusively organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies. How these pesticides can affect your long-term health is not clear, but they are unlikely to make you healthier and may in fact have lasting, negative consequences. If pesticides are a concern to you, organic is certainly a better option.

Beyond pesticides, the benefit of organic foods becomes a little murky. As recently pointed out by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, organic certification offers no guarantee that foods are either better for you or for the planet.

But that is not to say that how food is grown is not important. Soil quality is in fact one of the most significant determinants of the nutrient value of foods. Another important factor is the genetic make up (the strain and variety) of plants being grown. That is, ice burg lettuce will add little value to your diet whether it is organic or not.

But as Bittman points out, the reason Certified Organics “fall short of the lofty dreams of early organic farmers and consumers” is because Organic Standards make no mention of how far food may travel from soil to sale, nor do they promise anything about a food’s safety or nutrition. In other words, organic food is not local food.

It is generally accepted that the farther food travels to reach your plate, the less nutrients it has and the bigger its carbon footprint. Slapping a Certified Organic sticker on it does not change this fact. Better than buying Certified Organic is shopping at smaller, local farms that may or may not have the resources to comply with costly organic regulations.

But these subtle distinctions are largely irrelevant to most American’s who consume little, if any, fresh vegetables and fruits. At a certain point, arguing about the costs and benefits of organic produce is of little value. For most Americans, the first step in eating healthier is to focus on freshness.

That being said, there are many good reasons to avoid big agriculture whenever possible, organic or not. Whole Foods organic peanuts were not immune from the recent Salmonella outbreak. Large processing plants come with their own unique set of risks in food production.

Local produce is also better if money is your biggest concern. The fuel cost of shipping organic asparagus from Chile to San Francisco is substantial, as is the price of becoming a Certified Organic grower. For these reasons, locally grown but non-organic foods are less likely to carry the hefty price tag that most of us associate with Certified Organic.

Do you buy organic produce?

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Farmers Market Update

by | Mar 21, 2009

Swedish Brown Beans
I love watching the seasons change at the farmers market. Although it was lightly sprinkling today at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, spring was definitely in thebroccoli and arugula flowers air.

After a long winter of thick kale and collards, it is easy to forget how delicate greens can be. Now you can get almost all your favorite greens with the flowers or sprouts still attached. Until today, I didn’t even know you could buy arugula flowers to eat. If that isn’t elitist, I don’t know what is.

Apparently I also found the “only heirloom navel” oranges at Bernard Ranches today. I didn’t buy any, but it sure sounded cool.

I’m also excited to finally try the Black Calypso beans from heirloom navel orangesRancho Gordo. But I also decided that next time I buy beans it is going to be from Tierra Vegetables. They have slightly different varieties and they look absolutely beautiful.

Today’s purchases:

  • Assorted wild kale (Marin Roots Farm)
  • Assorted wild broccoli (Marin Roots Farm)
  • Carrots (Star Route Farm)
  • Aspargus (Zuckerman’s Farm)wild broccoli
  • Fennel (Chue’s Farm)
  • Green garlic (Chue’s Farm)
  • Broccoli rabe (Chue’s Farm)
  • Black Calypso beans (Rancho Gordo)
  • Meyer lemons (Hamada Farms)
  • Clementines (Hamada Farms)
  • Kiwi (Four Sisters Farms)
  • Midnight Moon (Cowgirl Creamery)
  • Chevre (Cowgirl Creamery)
  • Lots of chocolate (Scharffen Berger)baby fennel
  • Sour baguette and pain epi (Acme Bread)

What are your favorite spring greens?

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‘Diet’ Is A Four Letter Word

by | Mar 20, 2009

fresh vegetablesHave you ever wondered why we use the same word for both normal and extreme eating behaviors?

Diet vs. Dieting

We all know what it means to “go on a diet.” When you are dieting (the verb) you temporarily change how you eat–sometimes in ways that are very extreme–for the purpose of losing weight or achieving another immediate goal, like “detox.”

But we also use the word diet to describe normal, everyday eating patterns such as a “healthy diet” or “vegetarian diet.”

Failing to distinguish short-term and long-term eating behaviors is a serious problem though, because in reality most of us confuse these methods and try using short-term strategies to achieve goals that can only be met with a long-term approach. And describing and correcting this fallacy is almost impossible when the terminology we use is the same for both.

Dieting Is Temporary

To be clear, there are a few cases where dieting (short-term) can be beneficial. Sometimes an athletic event or other performance requires temporary weight loss or a special training program. But if your goal is long-term health or permanent weight loss, you won’t find much success with this approach.

Sure you can lose weight if you go on a diet. In fact, you can lose weight on almost any diet (I’m still skeptical of the cookie diet, but I would not be surprised if someone has lost weight on it). What you must remember is if your changes are temporary, so will be your success.

Worse, most temporary weight loss plans encourage rapid weight loss that ultimately destroys muscle and lowers your metabolism. This makes future attempts at weight loss even more difficult and may result in a net weight gain, once you have fallen off the bandwagon. In other words, you achieve the opposite of your goal.

The Maintenance Illusion

Deep down you probably know all this. Yet still we love to rationalize this behavior by telling ourselves that once we lose the weight, then we will switch to a healthier diet. We tend to associate “healthy diets” with weight maintenance, and we keep this idea in the back of our brains for the mythical time when we finally achieve our perfect, ideal bodies.

But this strategy is backwards.

Habit

To lose weight and keep it off, to prevent chronic diseases and stay fit and active into old age, we need to permanently change our daily eating habits. We must learn to make healthier choices and gradually shift our behaviors to those of a healthy, thin person.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

-Aristotle

Aristotle’s wisdom holds true for weight loss as well. To change our bodies we must change our habits. And habits are created in our minds. We need to stop thinking of dieting as a way to achieve permanent weight loss. Instead we need a term that emphasizes our set of personal habits we adopt for long-term good health.

Healthstyle

Healthstyle is the word I am choosing to describe the healthy habits that fit our own individual styles.

One of the wonderful things about health and weight loss is that there are countless ways to get there. And what works for someone may not work for you. Healthstyle is your customized path to health that suits your personal tastes and lifestyle.

Most importantly, Healthstyle emphasizes habits and long-term health, not painful diets and temporary weight loss.

Please join me in removing the word diet from the discussion of healthy eating. If you use Twitter, share your healthy habits with the tag #healthstyle.

What is your Healthstyle?

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The Bitter Truth About Olive Oil

by | Mar 18, 2009
Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Have you ever had homemade hummus turn out bitter? Have you whipped up your own batch of mayonnaise and found an unpleasant aftertaste? Or are you just confused about why I warned against putting olive oil in a blender for my harissa recipe?

The culprit behind these bizarre phenomena is extra-virgin olive oil, which is very sensitive to mechanical agitation. Upon one reader’s request, I set out to explain the unusual behavior of this common ingredient.

But getting to the bottom of this problem was not easy. The internet is teeming with false assumptions and unfounded hypotheses about why olive oil can become bitter when blended. Most people point their finger at the quality of the oil itself, accusing the chef of using a cheap brand that was bitter before they included it in their recipe. I knew this wasn’t true because it has happened to me several times, and I always use excellent olive oil.

Another common hypothesis is that “heat” caused by the friction of high-speed spinning blades makes the “delicate oils” in the olive oil turn bitter. This explanation makes even less sense, because as most of you know olive oil can be heated in a pan to several hundred degrees and does not burn or turn bitter. There is no way the oil gets hot enough to go rancid after a few seconds in a blender.

The only logical and (mostly) scientific explanation I found for the bitter olive oil phenomenon was from Cook’s Illustrated. I am inclined to trust this source because they essentially run their kitchen like a laboratory, which gives them major credibility points in my book. Also, their reason offers a plausible, mechanical explanation that does not depend upon the quality of the oil itself. I have not seen the data with my own eyes, however, and they do not cite their sources.

According to Cook’s Illustrated, extra-virgin olive oil is the only kind of oil susceptible to becoming bitter. Even pure olive oil can handle blending better than the extra-virgin kind. The reason is because extra-virgin olive oil contains a high percentage of molecular compounds called polyphenols (thought to be cancer-fighters), which are normally coated in fatty acids. Under standard conditions, the fatty acids in the oil prevent polyphenols from dispersing in an aqueous environment. This is because oil and water do not mix.

When these fat molecules are broken into droplets in an emulsion, however, the polyphenols are distributed into the solution and their bitter taste can become apparent. When the emulsion is only lightly blended, the bitterness is not perceptible. But a blender or food processor breaks the droplets down into smaller sizes, increasing polyphenol dispersal. These suspended polyphenols can ruin an otherwise delicious recipe.

The easiest way to avoid this problem is to use either pure olive oil or a different kind of oil altogether, such as canola or safflower oil. Alternatively, if you would like to keep the rich taste of extra-virgin olive oil you can hand whisk your emulsion rather than using a blender. Just be careful not to over work the mixture. You can also start your recipe by blending a small amount of stable oil (e.g. canola), then hand whisking your extra-virgin olive oil in at the end.

Have you ever had problems blending extra-virgin olive oil?

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North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

by | Mar 16, 2009

Moroccan cauliflower stewA little over a month ago I published a recipe for a warming Moroccan vegetable tagine. As would be expected from a tagine, the recipe (modified from Mark Bittman’s blog Bitten) contained dried fruit and was spiced almost like a dessert (with cloves and cinnamon) but with a rich, savory undertone.

Last week I tried a thinner, spicier variety of North African soup. Again from the New York Times, this stew was loaded with beans and vegetables and is served on a bed of spiced couscous. More brothy than the tagine, this recipe packs a unique heat that gives it a completely different feel from its richer, sweeter counterpart.

Since North African cuisine is unfamiliar to most Americans, it is my pleasure to showcase its delicious versatility.

I changed the recipe slightly from the original version, mainly in the interest of time. Personally I have no patience for beans to cook, so I used a pressure cooker then added the beans to the soup later rather than cooking them in the broth itself (which takes hours). To replace the bean soaking water that the recipe calls for, I substitute 1 qt chicken (or vegetable or beef) stock and some of the bean cooking liquid. In my opinion, this change does not have a big impact on the flavor. It may even improve it.

Also, after following the original recipe I thought the soup tasted a little dull. I rescued it with the juice of a Meyer lemon, which really highlighted the depth of spice and flavor in the dish.

I made my harissa from a powdered mix I bought a few weeks ago from Tierra Vegetables at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. They told me it is the one used at Chez Panisse (when on the menu). I know, I’m spoiled rotten.

I will provide a recipe here for making your own. If you have a blender or food processor, the recipe is not terribly difficult to follow. You will make more than you need for one soup, but you can freeze the rest indefinitely. It is a wonderful spicy sauce that is great on meats or in stews. I realize that making harissa is a little intimidating, but it is amazingly delicious and is definitely worth the extra work. It really isn’t that hard either.

Alternatively, Whole Foods and other specialty stores often carry pre-made harissa.

North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

Harissa:

  • 6 dried ancho chilies
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 0.25 – 0.5 cup olive oil

Gently rinse chilies or wipe off dust with a damp cloth. Remove and discard the seeds and tops of the chilies and soak them in hot water for half an hour. Discard the soaking water, cut up the chilies and place them in a blender with all other ingredients except the olive oil. Blend into a smooth paste. Remove the paste from the blender and slowly mix olive oil into the mixture. DO NOT overwork the olive oil, it can become very bitter if you are not careful with it.

Stew Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 2 cups dried white beans, soaked in 2 qts water overnight
  • 1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 tsp ground)
  • 2 tbsp harissa (recipe above)
  • Meyer lemon juice to taste (half lemon)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 cups couscous (whole grain is slightly better)
  • 0.5 cube chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste

Put beans in a pressure cooker and follow the instructions for cooking the kind of beans you are using. In the meantime if you are grinding your own spices, toast them lightly for a few minutes on a skillet then grind them into a fine powder in a spice grinder. Set aside. (You can use these same spices to add to the harissa, just double the amount then split it in half.)


In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and add onion. Cook, stirring regularly until the onions are tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ground spices and 0.5 tsp salt. Cook and stir spices until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the stock, 1 extra qt of water, the harissa and tomato paste (I recommend the kind in a tube, which keeps indefinitely once you open it). Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Remove 0.5 cup of broth and set aside.

Add cauliflower florets to the simmering broth and cook, partially covered for 20 minutes. Your beans should be done by the time the cauliflower is tender. While the stew is simmering, follow the instructions on your box of couscous and substitute the broth you reserved for 0.5 cup of water, also adding the half bouillon cube.

There is something of an art to getting couscous to cook right. I usually end up adding slightly more dry couscous than the box calls for using the given amount of water. After boiling the liquid and removing it from heat, if when you add the dry couscous to the pot you cannot see individual grains under the liquid surface, then I would add slightly more couscous until you can just see it, like pebbles in shallow water. I know this is vague, but I always have to eyeball it to get it right. It’s not the end of the world if you’re off a little, since this is going into a soup anyway.

Also be careful while your couscous is steaming. Steam it (covered) exactly 5 minutes then fluff it immediately with a fork (be gentle with the grains). Over-cooking or over-watering your couscous will make it clumpy and gummy–not ideal.

When your simmering cauliflower is tender, add all the beans and 1 qt of their cooking liquid. Return the pot to a simmer and add lemon juice, salt and adjust harissa as desired. You may need to add the juice of the entire lemon. It should be bright and spicy. Stir in peas, parsley and simmer 5 more minutes.

To serve, scoop a large spoonful of couscous into the bottom of a bowl and a generous portion of the stew on top. Garnish with additional parsley and harissa.

I am very interested in your experiences with making or buying harissa. Any suggestions or recommendations are appreciated.

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Farmers Market Update

by | Mar 14, 2009
spring vegetables

spring vegetables

Spring is continuing to sprout up all around us here in San Francisco. Today at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market fluffy spring greens mingle with waning citrus crops, in breathless anticipation of the coming stone fruits and berries.
assorted kale
Chard and kale are particularly beautiful these days. Kale comes in so many colorful varieties, just look at this assorted kale braising mix I got at Marin Roots today.

Green garlic is another unique spring time treat, as green onions are to regular onions, green garlic is more mild than your typical bulb and is perfect for spreads and dips. It is also wonderful in eggs or on salad.

I highly recommend the artichokes from Iacopi Farms, green garlicparticularly the baby ones that can be marinated and sauteed. Fennel is another great vegetable to try this time of year.

I haven’t been overly impressed with the fruit lately, though. I am getting tired of citrus, and the apples I tried today were far too sweet for me. Kiwi are fantastic, but I can only eat so many kiwi in a week.

One day soon though, the market will transform into a cherry explosion. I can’t wait!

Today’s Purchases:dried lavender

  • Assorted kale (Marin Roots Farms)
  • Free range eggs (Marin Roots Farms)
  • Baby artichokes (Iacopi Farms)
  • Baby leeks (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Treviso (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Broccoli shoots (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Red Russian kale (Eatwell Farms)
  • Rosemary (Eatwell Farms)
  • Russian fingerling potatoes (Capay Organics)
  • Carrots (Capay Organics)
  • Asparagus (Capay Organics)orange blossoms
  • Gold chard (Capay Organics)
  • Tangelo (Hamada Farms)
  • Clementines (Hamada Farms)
  • Meyer lemons (Hamada Farms)
  • Kiwi (Four Sisters Farm)

Is it spring time in your town yet?

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Michelle Obama Brings Healthy Eating to the White House

by | Mar 13, 2009

Michelle ObamaYou can agree or disagree with Barack Obama’s stimulus package, but despite our nation’s economic troubles Michelle Obama is doing everything right.

Quick question: When you voters stepped into the booth on November 4, 2008, how many of you considered the impact of the White House kitchen on American eating values? (Please vote in our sidebar)

* chirp * chirp *

That is what I figured.

I know it was a concern to me, but I am painfully aware of the status food gets on the American political scene and did not expect much to come of it. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind I maintained a hope that Michael Pollan’s landmark letter to the future president elect, Farmer In Chief, would become a campaign trail talking point. I was not surprised that it didn’t, however.

Unimaginably strong powers are involved in supporting the American “standard of living” that for some reason involves consuming twice as many calories as we should (that’s a conservative estimate of how much we are overeating). If you are curious, ask yourself why dairy (light blue) gets nearly 25% of the USDA pyramid calorie allowance when most of the data suggests we should be largely avoiding milk in our diets.

Wishful thinking aside, there was not much talk of food during the campaign. Maybe one or two articles I came across mentioned something about Michelle Obama being interested in organic food (or that folks from Iowa have a distaste for arugula), but nothing ever led me to believe there was any commitment by the Obamas to change the eating habits of Americans.

I could never have imagined that within weeks of being in the White House, the First Lady would openly assert herself as an advocate of healthy, fresh and local foods. According to this inspiring article published recently in the New York Times,

“[Mrs. Obama] has praised community vegetable gardens, opened up her own kitchen to show off the White House chefs’ prowess with vegetables and told stories about feeding less fattening foods to her daughters.”

What better way to encourage Americans to adopt healthy eating patterns than holding the First Family up as a shining example?

Even more amazing is that she directly addresses the common misconception that fresh, healthy foods are a privilege only available to the wealthy. She has praised community vegetable gardens and helped organize efforts to get fresh food donations into homeless shelters.

She has also taken this opportunity to show parents it is critical for children to get proper nutrition through healthy foods. She explains how important it is to make vegetables appealing to kids, so that they are more likely to eat them.

“And when you’re dealing with kids, for example, you want to get them to try that carrot. Well, if it tastes like a real carrot and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy. So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they’re fresh and local and delicious.”

The wonderful thing is, there is no question that the Obama’s eating habits are attainable by all families. They are not making sacrifices when it comes to foods they enjoy. Though she spends a good amount of time praising the talents of the White House chefs to make healthy meals she proudly says,

“They can also make a mean batch of French fries when you want it done.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Michelle. If you need any more evidence that she is on to something, just take a look at her!

What do you think of the First Lady’s approach to food and health?

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