Day 296–A Healthy App–Farmanac!

Produce

The Farmanac app gives you resources at the farmer’s market and at the grocery store!

I’ve posted before about how technology can help us navigate the world of healthy food and help us make good choices. Sometimes these apps work well and sometimes they don’t. Here is another new app that I think is pretty good!

Farmanac is a new iTunes store app that lists produce by name and by PLU code (the code that grocers use) to provide photos of the produce, information on the residual pesticide level (ties into the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen test scores), information about the produce, how to select it, how to store it, and when it is locally in season in your area (see below).

The app is very easy to use and includes some interesting historical and agricultural information! I like the photos, too. In my experience, grocery stores don’t always label their produce correctly, so it’s nice to be able to check what you are buying! Also great to see where the produce falls on the pesticide scale so you can find out quickly if it is preferable to buy organic.

The screen visuals are nice and easy to see. Here is a screen shot about cabbage from my iPhone. Pretty sure it would look fab on my iPad as well, but I don’t take that shopping, so I only used my phone to test.

Where this app falls short is its listing what is “in season” for various regions of the US and Canada. News to app makers: yes, Kentucky and Texas were both Confederate states, but their growing seasons are very different. Please don’t lump them together as “The South.” I’m sure folks in say, western Canada feel the same way. If the app makers can refine that portion of the app (maybe by growing season instead of by state) and include links to recipes, this would be golden.

For now, though, it’s still very good and at $1.99, a good resource to have while shopping or meal planning.

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Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!

Day 19–The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

English: A sign warning about pesticide exposure.

“Action expresses priorities.”–Mohandas Gandhi

Our intent with our family journey toward a more sustainable, less toxic life, was to put our priorities (healthier lifestyle, support of local farmers, reducing environmental toxins, eating cleaner) into action and document the results. But sometimes there is a tension between intent and reality. Namely, that we can’t go broke buying groceries and we can’t always find what we want from an organic or locally produced source. And sometimes there are unintended consequences (see below) So, what’s a girl to do? Seek information and pick her battles, that’s what.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested the most common produce sold in the U.S. and developed a list of the produce with the highest pesticide levels (The Dirty Dozen) and those with the lowest pesticide levels (The Clean 15). Pesticide levels were measured after washing the produce to simulate a typical home environment. They turned this information into a handy list anyone can use while shopping.

So, what about the unintended consequences?

The EWG developed this list after finding that residual pesticide levels in children have been increasing over time. Interestingly, this increase is seen at higher levels in middle class families with college educated parents. Why? Because those parents, who are responding to the obesity crisis in children and who have more discretionary income to spend on food, are more likely to forego chips and processed snacks for fresh fruit and vegetables. So an unintended consequence of well-meaning parents (like me) getting our children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables is that their children are showing higher levels of the pesticides used on those crops in their bodies. YIKES!

Realizing that many families don’t have the financial ability to purchase all of their produce organic, the EWG produced a list of the worst and the best, giving parents and other consumers a tool to use when making food choices.  I put this app on my phone so I can refer to it at the farmer’s market when I’m shopping (I know I won’t remember the piece of paper). While the EWG list is not comprehensive, it’s one more tool I can use to express my priorities through actions in a financially efficient way.

So, what’s on the list? You can download the list at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/ but here it is in summary:

Dirty Dozen

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines (Imported)
  • Grapes
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale

The Clean 15

  • Onions
  • Sweet corn**
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe (Domestic)
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

**Because sweet corn is often genetically modified and the FDA does not require that GMO corn be labelled as such, the EWG recommends that anyone concerned about GMO products buy organic sweet corn.

What do you think about the list? Is this something you would use? How do you budget for greater health?

Next post: What’s in your makeup bag?

Day 18–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Remedy Diner

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I try to be a good friend, but most of the time I feel like I fall short of the kind of friend I would like to be. You know, the one who always has a warm bundt cake or soothing casserole ready for a friend in need, or a fresh pot of chicken soup for someone who is sick. Or someone who just remembers to call.  I fall pretty short of all of those bars. So, on those occasions when I can reconnect with a friend over lunch, I savor every moment of time spent talking about children, relationships and kindhearted gossip. And I should savor every moment, because friends are good for us. Friends boost our immune systems, they increase our endorphin levels and relieve stress. They are the remedy for many of life’s ills.

So it was fitting that lunch with a friend was at the locavore-friendly Remedy Diner in downtown Raleigh. The Remedy has a good selection of vegetarian and vegan entrees as well as traditional sandwiches and salads that feature dairy and/or meat. They strive to use local foods “whenever possible” and make all foods from scratch. I had the turkey reuben, which was actually not a heavy sandwich  and featured plenty of good-for-you sauerkraut. I had a side of red cabbage slaw, which was also very light and healthy.

Food as Remedy?

During our lunch, we talked about how the folks we know having severe health problems are no longer parents of our friends, but they are now our own friends. How we reached this age, I have no idea. Weren’t we 20 just yesterday?

We shared stories of two very wonderful people in our lives who have struggled mightily with cancer. We were also astonished that both of these women, after completely changing their diets to organic whole foods, no GMOs, no processed foods, little meat or gluten, have been able to dramatically alter the progression of their diseases without palliative chemotherapy. Now, I am not a doctor and am not advocating that cancer patients disregard their oncologist’s advice. Both of these women were terminally ill (and still are, for that matter) and given very little time to live. But still, the impact that dietary change has had on their overall health and their bodies’ ability to deal with the disease is truly amazing. I wish I could say that their cancers disappeared completely, but that isn’t true. They have gained stamina, energy, and boosted immune systems, making the time they have left more enjoyable and, hopefully, longer. I can’t help but think–if this way of eating can improve the lives of people who are so ill, what can it do for the rest of us who are not ill? And good lord, what does it say about what processed foods are doing to our bodies???

Food as remedy. The stories of these two wonderful women are sustaining me through this journey. And I hope they will sustain you as well.