For the Love of Food

by | Oct 31, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Happy Halloween!

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week wheat genetics are exonerated, Omnivore’s Dilemma the movie!, and green coffee beans are actually, literally a scam.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (Yes, I took that picture of the pepper heart myself.)

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For the Love of Food

by | Jun 7, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week a crash course in deceptive meat labels, fish eaters outlive vegetarians, and Splenda impacts insulin responses.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 5, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

And we’re back! Sorry for the hiatus, I had to spend a few weeks finishing up a big project I’m working on. Keep calm and carry on.

This week lard is making a comeback, salt may improve your coffee, and why we aren’t eating more GMO animals.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Is Organic Food Really The Same As Conventional?

by | Sep 5, 2012

Organic Golden Beets

On Monday a study from scientists at Stanford made headlines by concluding that there isn’t much health value in choosing organic food over conventional food. The headline didn’t surprise me in the least, I’ve seen similar ones at least a dozen times before, but there is still so much confusion among the general public around this topic that it’s worth revisiting in the wake of this new data.

Despite what organic zealots are telling you, this wasn’t a bad study. It was a meta-analysis that examined a number of relevant health measures comparing organic versus conventionally grown foods over the last several decades. They excluded processed foods from their analysis (this is a good thing), and looked at nutrient levels as well as pesticide contamination and antibiotic resistance in both produce and animal products. They were also careful about which organic standards were included in the study. Though the analysis has plenty of limitations (all meta-analyses do), their statistics were sound and the researchers were honest about their findings. What’s really annoying is how their results were interpreted by the media.

One problem is that the word “organic” is a huge umbrella that includes sustainable, biodynamic farming practices as well as huge-scale industrial operations that barely squeeze under the “certified organic” labeling standards. As a result there is a tremendous amount of heterogeneity (a scientific word for a wide range of differences) between the organic foods being tested, as well as the types of studies that are performed. As a result, it is difficult to measure consistent differences (aka statistical significance) between organic and conventional foods in this kind of study. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to further our understanding of how growing practices affect health.

The huge variance among farming practices that fit under the organic umbrella is not trivial. By far the largest segment of organic products on the market could be considered industrial organic, and the farms are closer to traditional industrial farms than most of us realize. Large organic farms are typically monoculture fields just like large conventional farms, though more crop rotation is required. Industrial organic poultry and beef farms also look oddly similar to conventional industrial feedlots, even if the animals are eating organic feed. In fact, both organic and conventional industrial farms are often owned by the same mega-corporations, and share the same bottom line of profit. There’s no reason to suspect that these industrial organic foods would be markedly more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.

In contrast, smaller biodynamic farms have extensive practices designed to build soil, improve robustness of crops and ensure bio and nutrient diversity. Instead of monocultures, these farms grow huge arrays of different vegetables and fruits. If a biodynamic farm raises animals they are given their natural, preferred diet of grass (for cows) or bugs and seeds (for birds). The animals are treated well and fed well, and are healthier as a result. If you want to learn more about the differences between conventional agriculture, big organic agriculture and biodynamic farming I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Joel Salatin’s latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Interestingly, despite the wide range in the quality of foods that qualify as organic, the Stanford study did find some significant differences. Organic produce contained significantly more phenols, the cancer fighting chemicals found in red wine, green tea, chocolate and many fruits and vegetables. However, this finding was glossed over in favor of the non-significant differences found between vitamin C, betacarotene and vitamin E levels in organic versus conventional foods.

It is reasonable to hypothesize that organic agriculture (at least in some cases) would be more nutritious because the soil standards for organics are much higher than for the depleted, synthetically fertilized conventional fields. Soil quality and weather (the raw ingredients) are by far the biggest factors in the nutrient levels of produce, with freshness and storage methods being next in line. Indeed, organic agriculture typically has more minerals and the Stanford team confirmed they contain significantly more phosphorus. But there is so much variety among plants, and from season to season, that you shouldn’t necessarily expect large, consistent differences in the levels of common vitamins like C and E from genetically identical plants.

That the Stanford team found measurable differences in total phenol content is pretty impressive. There are dozens of phenolic compounds that could benefit health in different and subtle ways. Nutrition science still can’t explain the benefits of all these nutrients, but having more of them certainly seems like a good thing.

Still lack of pesticides, not better nutrition, is the most commonly cited reason for buying organic over conventional foods. Pesticides are designed to kill things, and have been shown repeatedly to be dangerous for farm workers and other wildlife. They also accumulate more in the bodies of people who eat conventional produce compared to those who eat organic, and susceptible populations such as children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly are at particular risk. The Stanford study confirms organic agriculture has substantially fewer pesticide contaminations, but for some reason this finding was also glossed over since the conventional produce levels “didn’t exceed maximum allowed limits.” Logically, however, if limiting pesticide exposure is important to you (as it should be) organic produce is the better option.

The animal studies were even more encouraging. Small but significant improvements in fatty acid profiles were found for organic milk and chickens, which contained more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. More importantly, antibiotic resistant bacteria, the kind that are becoming more common (and deadly) in our own hospitals, were 33% more likely to be found on conventional meat products than on organic meat. Antibiotic resistant bacteria being created on industrial farms is one of the scariest threats to human health in modern history, and any measures that limit their proliferation should be seriously considered.

From this study it seems reasonable to conclude that organics, even industrial organics, are superior to conventional foods in some ways. Organic farms cannot use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, sewage sludge (yes, human sewage is used on conventional food), irradiation or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and must help maintain or improve soil quality. These practices are much better for the environment, significantly limit the amount of pesticides you are exposed to, reduce the proliferation of dangerous pathogens and may be more nutritious.

Organic agriculture certainly sounds like it has some advantages over conventional ag to me.

Do you buy organic? Why?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 17, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week the new “Dirty Dozen” list of foods with the most pesticides was released, as did the new sunscreen guidelines (which may or may not be useful, depending on how you interpret the data). We also have a double dose of BS this week, one from KFC and one from Buenos Aires of all places.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links at Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Apr 22, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Disheartening news this week from the Nutrition Diva about the accuracy of nutrition labels; and from the meat industry regarding their nasty anti-biotic resistant bacteria problem. Also, The New York Times has a fantastic series on exercise that is the perfect inspiration for your spring fitness plan.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links at Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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What’s Worse: Pests or Pesticides? [Poll]

by | Dec 2, 2009
Photo by star5112

Photo by star5112

It’s never fun to find an unwelcome critter in your food, but if you spend much time shopping at farmers markets or buying organic produce it is something you need to get used to. Without pesticides, sometimes there are pests.

But… usually not.

Before you get too grossed out and dash to your kitchen to throw away your organic apples, I want to make it clear that the vast majority of the food I buy (~90% purchased direct from farms) is perfectly clean and insect free. But unlike sprayed and irradiated conventional produce, occasionally there will be a bug. And sometimes there will be many bugs.

But as scary as this can be the first time it happens, bugs really aren’t so bad. Most critters can be easily rinsed off under the sink. Some of the smaller, more persistent little buggers can be coaxed out with a short bath in water spiked with a splash of vinegar.

Herbivorous insects pose no real threat to humans beyond mild annoyance. Yes, they can add an unpleasant crunch to your food if you don’t find them in time, but generally they contribute no flavor and–as many of my Twitter followers pointed out–they may add a little protein to your diet.

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I somehow doubt that insects really provide a significant protein source, though I’ve heard they can contribute substantial vitamin B12 for vegetarians who ingest them accidentally in rural societies (couldn’t find a credible reference). But the point is that whatever insects do add to your diet probably doesn’t impact your health in a negative way.

That is, if you even notice them. Chances are you have never actually tasted an unwanted creature in your food (I know I haven’t), but they are probably there sometimes and you’ve probably eaten them.

Let’s be honest, the problem with finding bugs in your food isn’t how they taste. The real obstacle is our perception of bugs. In our society bugs are considered gross, so we don’t want to eat anything they have touched.

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But not all cultures consider bug eating repulsive (see photo). And after you’ve dealt with a few insects yourself, eaten your food anyway and come out unscathed, you realize there isn’t really anything to worry about.

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Only once have I encountered a situation where a vegetable was infested beyond salvation. These were some baby cabbage I had left for too long in the fridge. Over the course of a week the insects multiplied and completely took over. It wasn’t pretty.

But instances like these are rare and, in my case, it was self-inflicted.

True insectophobes, however, will not be comforted by this argument. I am entirely sympathetic to this viewpoint–at one time in my life I used to joke that I was afraid of butterflies (OK, live ones still creep me out when they get too close).

But what scares me even more than eating bugs is the alternative.

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We don’t yet know the extent of the damage done to our health by pesticides, but the history (dioxins, malathion, etc.) hasn’t been encouraging. The environment we live in is also significantly impacted by pesticide use.

Even if cancer and polluted lakes are a bit too abstract for you, there is still the bland, one-dimensional flavor of food produced on factory farms to consider. Taste is what really won me over when I first changed my eating habits.

I don’t mean to imply that it is never okay to eat conventional produce, just that there are serious issues to consider regarding where your food comes from.

Pests and pesticides can both be a little scary (I forgot to mention the live wasp that once crawled out of my spinach), but at this point it seems we do have to choose one or the other.

Which scares you the most? Vote now!

[poll id=”6″]

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