Day 321–Talking Turkey

Turkey

Turkey (Photo credit: wattpublishing)

I love turkey. I have been known (several times) to head to the store the day AFTER Thanksgiving to purchase another turkey (on sale) because I didn’t get enough of the first one. It’s not only the turkey itself, but all the yummy, comfort food leftovers that come from extra turkey–turkey pot pie, turkey hash, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup…

We recently had a conversation at work about turkey preparation and the subject of washing the turkey came up. Personally, I hate that part. There are few things more irritating than trying to rinse out an 18 pound turkey in a regular sized sink.  What a mess. I have a friend (not naming names, but you know who you are) who actually rinses her turkey in a bleach and water mixture. I’m all for avoiding bad bacteria, but not enough to ingest toxins in place of them.

So, I was delighted to find information from the US Department of Agriculture that directs consumers NOT to wash poultry. Why not? Apparently a study in the UK found that washing your chicken or turkey can spray salmonella bacteria up to 3 feet away from your sink, accidentally contaminating food prep surfaces (and other foods). Washing doesn’t remove the bacteria, it just spreads it around. In addition, if you are cooking your birds to the prescribed 165 degrees, all bacteria will be killed by heat anyway.

So here are some tips for enjoying your turkey and making sure you don’t get some horrible family reputation for making everyone ill:

  • If you buy a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, not on the counter and NOT in a sink of warm water.
  • Wash your hands, utensils and all food prep services that come into contact with raw poultry with soap and warm/hot water.
  • Cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165.
  • Do not leave leftovers out for more than 30 minutes.

Food habits are hard to break, but I feel better about being a little lazy and not “cleaning” my turkey this year.

Tomorrow I will post our planned turkey cooking strategy!

Day 307–Six Questions to Ask About Sustainable Meat

If you’ve been following the blog, you know how I feel about factory farmed meat. Not everyone has access to fresh, sustainable meat, but if you do, give it a try. Here is a nice article by the Sierra Club about questions to ask your local farmer about their meat products. Since we’re heading into turkey season, this seemed like a timely piece!

Sustainable Meat: 6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

6 Questions to Ask a FarmerLet’s face it, there’s nothing eco-friendly about factory farms. When servings of eggs, dairy, and meat come packaged with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, groundwater contamination, animal cruelty, and hormones, we wouldn’t blame you for losing your appetite. But there are still ways to eat meat without unduly burdening the earth. This week, we’ll offer hints for finding a “greener” pork roast or Thanksgiving turkey.

6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

One big advantage of getting your meat, eggs, and dairy from a local farm as opposed to a giant, faceless corporation, is that you can actually talk to the farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market or check out Eat Wild’s farm directory to find free-range livestock farmers in your state, many of whom sell shares in meat CSAs. You can ask them questions to find a farm that matches your own standards for land and livestock stewardship.

Here are six good questions to get the conversation started:

     1.) Are your animals fed with organic feed?

     2.) Are your animals raised on pasture?

All livestock will eat grass, and not only are they healthier for it, but their meat, milk, and eggs have been found to contain more omega-3s than animals that eat no grass. Pastured animals will also spread their manure out on fields, where it can decompose naturally.

     3.)  Are your cows and lambs “grass finished”?

“Finishing” is also known as “fattening up,” and grain is a healthy part of the diet of poultry and pigs, but wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows and sheep. “Corn-finished” or “grain-finished” meat comes from livestock that ate little but grain and other processed supplements for the last six months of their lives, while “grass-finished” animals were fattened up on the pasture. Even pastured dairy cows usually eat some grain for extra nutrients, but should still eat mostly grass.

     4.) How do you handle your animals’ manure?

Manure is a huge pollutant in feedlots, where it seeps into groundwater and rivers. If your farmer tells you that the manure is left in “lagoons,” then it means they’re leaving it untreated, where it can pollute local water systems.

     5.) Do you give antibiotics to healthy animals?

Often, antibiotics are used to keep farm animals healthy when they’re too overcrowded and stressed to fight off disease. This has caused a widespread rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If farmers only use antibiotics on animals that are actually sick, you know that they’ll have been raised in a healthier environment.

     6.) Do you use heritage breeds?

Many “modern” livestock breeds can’t even survive outside of climate-controlled cages, but ‘heritage” livestock are bred to live outside, and are healthier, heartier animals overall.

Feel free to ask about whatever other concerns you might have. The more we demand answers from our food providers, the better choices we’ll be able to make.

–Image credit iStockphoto/jabiru.

Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.

Day 268–Best Practices for Garden Food Safety!

Many of us know how to put a plant in the ground and give it some basic TLC to get it growing. But how do we make sure that the gardens we plant yield safe food that will not unintentionally make us sick? And what can we do to make sure children working with us are safe? The North Carolina organization, Advocates for Health in Action have a new web-based resource to address those issues. While it is primarily designed for people starting community gardens, I found plenty of tips for my own home garden!

Here is the link to the booklet. Happy (and safe) fall gardening!

Day 247–Why Eat Organic?

National Public Radio featured a story this week about a study done on research regarding organic foods and nutrition that left me a little irritated. The story missed some large points and implied that buying organic was more feel-good than health-based. The survey in question looked at pre-existing articles published in academic journals. It found that studies of organic produce do not show that organic fruits and vegetables have more vitamins and minerals than chemically treated produce. Well, duh. The use of chemicals on crops does not add or diminish nutrients in food and organic produce does not inherently have more vitamins just because it is organic. And, to be judgemental for a moment, a “survey of articles” sounds like an intern sitting in the library all summer. I kind of expect better of NPR.

What does diminish the nutrients in food? That would be picking it before it is ripe and trucking it across the country (or two), storing it in a warehouse and then shipping it to a grocery store where it sits for several days before being purchased, after which it sits in someone’s refrigerator for another several days. From the moment produce is picked, it begins to decompose, albeit slowly at first. That’s what nature does. That’s how those seeds inside are supposed to become a plant. Or compost. Eating local produce, whether it is organic or not, is still the best way to boost the nutritional value of your produce. If you can find local, organic produce, then win-win for you, but the organic part of that equation isn’t what makes your apple more nutritious–it’s the quick trip from the farmer directly to you.

If more vitamins in your produce isn’t the point (and it isn’t), what IS the point of paying $4.00 for a head of organic cauliflower?

1.  Organic Produce Reduces Your Exposure to Pesticides and Other Environmental Toxins

Chemically treated produce and meat from animals who receive antibiotics and growth hormones exposes you to synthetic hormones and toxic chemicals. Period. The FDA will make the claim that these levels are acceptable and do not pose harm. These are the same people who brought us finely textured beef (pink slime) and a slaughterhouse process so devoid of oversight that ground beef contaminated with fecal matter literally kills people. And there has still been no conclusive study about the effects of even small amounts of residual pesticides on small children or pregnant women and their babies. Nor has there been conclusive, long-term studies on the effects of growth hormones in meat on growing teens, whose own hormones cause enough trouble 🙂 So the easiest way to reduce your exposure to chemicals and toxins is still to eliminate them as much as possible from your diet, especially if you are pregnant or a growing young person.

How can you reduce your pesticide and toxin exposure without breaking the bank? The Environmental Working Group makes this easy with their Dirty Dozen + list of the produce with highest and lowest residual pesticide levels, giving you a great way to prioritize your organic shopping.

2.  Organic Farming Reduces Our Overall Environmental Toxin Levels

The act of organic farming itself is a process of detoxing the land and adding natural nutrients back to the soil for crop growing. There are many methods for doing this and I’m not a farmer so I can’t detail them all here, but organic farming includes integrated pest management, the use of beneficial organisms and insects to control pests, the use of natural fertilizers including cover crops and compost, a reduction in animal waste levels through small-scale farming and a significant reduction in antibiotics/growth hormones in our soil and drinking water. Organic farming benefits the complete environment–soil, water and air. And, if you needed an additional benefit, organic farming is better for the health of those who live on farms and who pick the produce.

3.  Pasture Raised, “Organic” Farm Animals Have More Nutritious Meat

While the NPR piece focused more on produce, one aspect of organic farming that was not fully addressed is the issue of pasture-raised, antibiotic free meat and eggs. Granted, not everyone eats meat, but for those of us who do, locally produced, organic meat does have health benefits. You will not find anyone in our house who believes that factory raised, grain fed beef, chicken or pork is anywhere near the equivalent of the locally produced, organic meat we purchase from our local farmers (that is purely anecdotal and not scientific). Beef, especially, seems to benefit. Grass-fed beef is lower in calories, lower in cholesterol and the digestive systems of pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle have 80% less ecoli than their grain-fed, factory-raised cousins. The flavor is better, the texture is better and it is far healthier.

So what is a shopper to do? Everyone has the right to buy what makes them comfortable, but having accurate information is a good start. If you’re looking for taste and high nutrition, buy local. If you want to improve the overall environment and reduce your toxin exposure, buy organic. If you want the best of all worlds, buy local organic!

The issues surrounding food are numerous and there is a lot of room for scientific study about the local and global impacts of organic and sustainable farming. So all you budding food scientists and environmentalists, get working! Imagine how much media time you could have if you actually proved something conclusive!

Day 180–A Mosquito Challenge

Ochlerotatus notoscriptus, Tasmania, Australia

Watering the garden last night, I was besieged by mosquitoes. Those tiny little devils love me (or at least, they love my blood). I’m not very good about putting bug spray on unless I’m camping and I never did get around to ordering that mesh beekeeping suit. The only products that work on me involve DEET. But who wants a known carcinogen on their body? And would I really wear the beekeeping suit when it’s 106 outside? And while we’re at it, why me??? What makes me such a popular mosquito destination while others get left alone? I’ve heard many theories about this including my estrogen level, how close my blood vessels are to the surface of my skin and–most recently–that I was born in The North.

I recently read about a homeopathic remedy that supposedly works from the inside out (regardless of where you’re from). It involves natures miracle–that’s right–vinegar. The goal of this treatment is to change your skin’s chemical composition to make it more acidic. I’m going to start this tonight and see if in a week I have any difference in my mosquito appeal. And if it doesn’t, well, it certainly can’t hurt. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 c. warm water
  • 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar

Add the cider vinegar to the cup of warm water and drink. Consume one cup per day. Here’s to research!

Day 174–GMO Grass and Cyanide

Hereford Steer

Many years ago, before I was a mom, I decided one summer that I would read all the classic nineteenth century gothic horror novels. Some were good, some were terrible, but the one that stuck with me was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The novel (unlike the movies) was not focused on violence and gore, but on the implications of man playing God with science and the awful responsibility we take on when we create things that perhaps should not have been created. Yes, Monsanto, I’m talking to you.

There are some days when I think I just really don’t want to know anymore information about food. The whole subject can be so daunting and often very, very frustrating. I thought I had the beef thing figured out–reduce beef consumption and rely on only grass-fed, pasture raised beef. Enter, the Modern Prometheus.

Yesterday I read an article and watched a news report about cattle in Texas dying from eating Tifton 85 Bermuda grass. Tifton 85 has been described as both a GMO and a hybrid of Tifton 65 and an African Bermuda grass that is known to produce cyanide under certain situations. Apparently the grass has started producing cyanide and the cows eating the grass died fairly quickly. Here is the link to the article. While only cows from one farm have died, grass on other nearby Texas farms has also tested positive for cyanide gas. Now, there is some debate about how and why this happened, whether drought in the area affected the grass and/or fertilizer, and whether Tifton 85 is a standard hybrid or GMO. Regardless, it is a powerful lesson in how modifying our food structure, even with the best intentions, can have lasting effects. And sometimes we don’t know what those effects are until years later.

I have to say, at first I thought this was an urban myth because how weird is it that grass would produce a neurotoxin. So now I guess I should be asking our local farmers what kind of grass their cows eat? Could cows eating the grass have meat contaminated with cyanide? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is a bit worrisome.

And, more importantly, what if this grass is in my neighborhood or school? Could mowing the grass kill you or make you sick? Blech. The whole genetic modification of crops and domestic plants is so insidious and pervasive in American farming that I have to say, I am a bit alarmed. Will keep watching for more information and share it as I find it. In this day of self promotion by big agriculture companies, though, it is hard to know what the truth actually is!

Day 173–The Dirty Dozen Plus

I’ve posted before about the wonderful list of high and low pesticide foods called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. GREAT shopping resource. Most of us can’t afford to buy everything organic, so it helps to know which foods are higher in residual pesticides (after washing and standard prep for eating) and which are the lowest. This list is compiled by the Environmental Working Group, an organization that doesn’t get nearly enough press.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen list is out and this year it is called the Dirty Dozen Plus. What is the “plus”? This year, the EWG added a new category to the Dirty Dozen list for crops that don’t meet the standard criteria used to identify a “dirty” crop, but contained enough neurotoxic chemicals to be of concern. Ok, all you kale lovers (I am definitely included in this category), take notice! Kale and green beans are on this new “plus” list!

My only complaint with the new list is that they have not yet updated the phone app, which is very helpful when I’m at the farmer’s market. I have enough to remember–the app is a great help! Maybe soon?

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/

Day 127–The Inside Scoop of Product Pricing at the Farmer’s Market

I came across this wonderful article on the Western Wake Farmer’s Market website. Thanks to Madison Whitley for giving me permission to reprint it here. I think it does an excellent job of describing why prices for fresh, locally grown food differs from what is charged at the grocery. For additional insight into why prices differ (and why they are worth it), watch Food, Inc. It’s available on Netflix and is really an amazing documentary.

The Inside Scoop of Product Pricing at the Farmer’s Market

by Madison Whitley and Juliann Zoetmulder

Ever wonder why farmers’ market eggs cost $4 a dozen? Are you curious about why meat and produce cost double what it costs in the grocery store? These are valid questions that are on many customers’ minds as they shop the farmers’ market. With a little explanation, you may come to find that what you get for your money is really worth it.

Comparing farm fresh eggs and industrial big-box eggs is not an apples-to-apples comparison. You have to lift the veil a bit to understand what you miss from industrial, “cheap” eggs. You may pay more for farm fresh eggs; however, you get more value for the price. In a 2007 testing project, Mother Earth News compared farm fresh eggs taken from hens raised on a pasture to the nutritional data designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for commercially produced eggs. In this test, it was found that the farm fresh eggs contain one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat and two times more omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, the farm fresh egg contains two-thirds more vitamin A and three times more vitamin E. Beta carotene, an immune booster, is found in seven times greater proportion than the egg off the big-box store shelf. In general, the eggs from hens that roam around a pasture are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.

Even if the science does not “wow” you, look at the deep orange color of the farm fresh egg and taste its creaminess compared to an industrial egg. It tastes better and is more nutrient dense. For $2 extra dollars per dozen, you get exponentially more health and taste benefits. That’s sixteen cents more per egg or thirty-three cents more for your 2 egg breakfast that will sustain your body much longer than an industrial egg.

Despite these known benefits, customers are still hesitant to purchase their weekly grocery list at the farmers’ market because prices cannot compete with the low prices found at the grocery store. So why is the food at the farmers’ market more expensive? In actuality, it is the cheapest and healthiest food available. Sustainable agriculture does not rely on government subsidies from the Farm Bill and it does not have the huge environmental costs (transportation, for example) that industrial agriculture incurs. Finally, sustainable agriculture is not laden with chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, and GMO’s. On the flip side, think about what we would be adding to our future health care bill by eating cheap meat, for instance.

Grass-fed beef has a number of compelling health benefits and since America is eating more meat than ever, we need to pay attention. According to a 2009 study by the USDA and Clemson University in South Carolina, grass-fed beef, often sold at farmers’ markets, is lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories compared to commercially produced beef. Grass-fed beef has higher amounts of total omega-3 fatty acids and a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef also has higher vitamin A and E (alpha-tocopherol), higher levels of antioxidants, 7 times more beta-carotene, higher amounts of B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and higher amounts of minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. The research also indicates higher levels of CLA (cis-9-trans-11), a potential cancer fighter, in grass-fed beef and higher amounts of vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA). Don’t forget that animals raised on small family farms are often treated more humanely than animals in commercial production facilities.

The nutrient density of products found at the farmers’ market is much higher, producing a much healthier product, which means that you don’t have to eat as much to get the same health benefits. So next time you are at the farmers’ market, don’t think about how expensive the products are and how much money you could save at the grocery store. Think about the quality of product you are getting, how many more nutrients are present in the food and what you are getting for you money.

As someone who has a monthly budget for food, I suggest purchasing the items that are at the front-and-center of your meal at the farmers’ market. You can always supplement your grocery list with items at the big-box grocery store. You will notice a difference in the taste and quality of your food, but not in your wallet. I promise.

Day 89–Industrial Products in Food–Ok or Troublesome?

Orthophosphoric acid H 3 PO 4

In an effort to be more efficient, I often look for “two fers”–that is, one solution that will address more than one issue. Sometimes this works wonderfully and other times, if I try to force a solution where it doesn’t quite fit, I have (as Ellie says) an “epic fail.” In the food industry, these “two fers” often use industrial products and ingredients to address issues with processed food stability or to lower the cost of food production. This isn’t illegal and in many cases may not be harmful, but maybe you want a higher standard than “not necessarily harmful” in your food supply. If you are trying to eat more whole foods and limit your intake of highly processed ingredients, it is interesting to see how these ingredients are used elsewhere. Thanks to Experience Life magazine for this information.

Olestra–This chemical is used to make fat-free potato chips and snack foods. It has no flavor or nutritive value. Olestra works by bonding to fat and preventing it from being absorbed in your body. But that method can have drawbacks, including diarrhea and abdominal cramping, especially for people with sensitive digestive systems, with irritable bowel syndrome or for small children. Interestingly, olestra is also used in paints and lubricants. 

Calcium Chloride–Calcium chloride is a chemical blend of salt and chlorine that has been deemed safe for food use by the FDA. It has no nutritive value and is not used for flavor. It is used as a stabilizer for some canned foods, an electrolyte in sports drinks and is an agent in some pickling. It can cause upset stomach, and irritation of the digestive tract, especially in people with digestive issues. Calcium chloride is also the key ingredient in road salt and ice melt.

Phosphoric Acid–This chemical is used to make foods–specifically sodas–more acidic. It has no nutritive value. Because it is so cheap, it has become the standard acid in sodas, replacing natural sources like lemon and lime. Phosphoric acid has been linked to decreased bone density and kidney stones, the former is especially a problem for women over 40 who have a history of osteoporosis in their family. Oh, yes, phosphoric acid’s industrial use is as a rust remover known for its ability to rapidly eat rust on metal. Your dentist may also use small amounts to etch/scar your teeth before putting in a filling.

Calcium sulfate–Calcium sulfate is a desiccant (drying agent) and a coagulant. It has no flavor or nutritive value. It is often used in foods, including tofu, to bond molecules together. It is also the key ingredient in plaster of paris. The use of calcium sulfate can cause abdominal swelling and abdominal pain in some people. Industrially, it is used to make plaster and drywall.

Cornstarch–Cornstarch is a thickener that, unlike the above ingredients, is typically found in most households. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn grain and is a cheaper industrial substitute for the more simply processed arrowroot. It is used in puddings, chewing gum, gravy, ice cream, sauces and some canned foods. Because cornstarch is used so heavily in processed foods, it may pose a hidden sugary carb risk for those trying to eliminate processed carbohydrates or sugars from their diets. Cornstarch is also used to make rubber tires, plywood and some insecticides.

Corn syrup–Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is probably the most insidious and highly contested ingredient on this list. It is made from processing corn starch to release all the glucose in the starch, then processing it some more to shift most of the glucose to fructose. Because it is very cheap to produce, it has replaced most beet and cane sugar as well as honey in sweetened, processed foods. It is present in many processed food products, including ketchup and other condiments, cheese spreads, marshmallows, dehydrated soups, cake mixes, snack foods and frozen foods. Both the chemical nature and high level of use of corn syrup have linked the chemical to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Corn syrup is also used to make shoe polish, metal plating and explosives. 

Maybe these all seem ok to you, maybe not. Regardless of what we choose to purchase at the grocery, it is important to make informed choices. In some cases, the “two fer” works in our favor and in others, it isn’t a win-win situation for our bodies.

Day 88–Worm Composting from The Soulsby Farm

At the Dig In! conference we attended, we learned a lot about vermiculture, or composing with earth worms. Apparently, these suckers can eat a great deal of vegetable scraps, paper and coffee grounds and turn it fairly quickly into rich compost. We’re interested in trying it, but I have to admit to being a bit squeemish about worms in my house. I was going to post instructions, but another blogger, The Soulsby Farm, did such a great job, you should just go to their site for more information. Check it out–it is pretty fascinating!

Let’s Build a Worm Farm!  http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/lets-build-a-worm-farm/