Friday, December 18, 2009

Decoding the Food Industry: Breakfast

This entry is a continuation of the grocery guide set up in last week’s blog entry, “Hello!”  I’m going to try to visit as many grocery stores (and farmer’s markets, when possible), in order for you to be able to make the most educated choices possible on your shopping trips.  However, in the interest of practicality, for the next few entries on this topic I’m will to focus on comparing foods often found on sale at large-scale grocery stores with healthier—and often simpler and cheaper—alternatives.

Breakfast is ironic.  We’re always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s the one that most of us skip.  Breakfast is probably the easiest and simplest meal to make with just a few ingredients and relatively little time.  And while there seem to be a plethora of breakfast options in the grocery stores that claim to be nutritious, very few of these choices are actually good for us.  As Western eaters, we may have actually bastardized breakfast foods.  First, let’s examine the benefits of eating a good breakfast.  The following is summarized from the Mayo Clinic website.  Eating breakfast:
•    Regulates your hunger so you are less likely to overeat during the rest of the day.  Skipping breakfast—i.e. not eating early in the day—increases your body’s insulin response, leading to increased fat storage and weight gain.  In effect, skipping breakfast makes you more likely to gain weight.
•    Keeps you on track to make healthy choices.  Studies have found that people who eat breakfast tend to have a healthier diet and healthier body weights than breakfast skippers.
•    Gives you the energy you need and increases your physical activity level during the day.  After sleeping, your body needs to replenish its energy, so eating a good breakfast helps your body energize so you don’t feel lethargic.

Breakfast is my favorite meal.  In short, I’m a cereal fanatic.  Not only did I grow up with the understanding that eating a non-sugary cereal for breakfast in the morning was a healthy choice, cereal has continued to be a staple in my diet.  That is, until recently.

I hate to break it those readers who aren’t aware of this, but we’ve largely been misinformed that cereal is good for us.  Even sugary cereals and breakfast pastries such as Pop Tarts now claim to have whole grains, increased fiber content, and boost immunity.  Cereal is also cheap, there’s always a brand on sale at the major grocery stores, sometimes for as less than $2/box.  At the suggested eight servings per box, that’s a pretty cheap meal.  Some grocery stores even offer free gallons of milk when you buy a certain number of cereal boxes.

According to Frances Moore LappĂ© in her revolutionary book, Diet For A Small Planet, the primary motive of men who started two of the biggest cereal companies, General Foods and Kellogg’s was to make people healthier. Dr. Kellogg, who lived in the late 19th century, was even a vegetarian.

So what happened to cereal? Taking knowledge from LappĂ©’s book and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the big-business corn industry probably had a lot to do with it.  The rise—and government support—of big farms, or agribusiness, has led to cheap prices for corn derivatives, enriched grains, and soybean products, has led food companies to use these ingredients to produce food more cheaply and make them last longer on the shelf.  Cereal, and many other foods, has become more a matter of economics than a reflection of Dr. Kellogg’s original intent.

I decided to examine the ingredients list in several Kellogg’s cereals that seemed like they would be healthy breakfasts.  Here are a few ingredients to watch out for when looking at cereals:

High fructose corn syrup: According to Pollan, Japanese chemists “broke the sweetness barrier” when they invented this additive.  It’s sweeter than sugar and the most widely produced derivative of corn.

Sugar: Still a common additive to cereals.  The higher sugar and high fructose corn syrup are on the list of ingredients, the more is in your cereal.  This creates a quick peak and low trough in your morning—and daily—energy and hunger cycles.

Soybean, canola, and palm oils, particularly partially hydrogenated types: These oils are not that good for us, especially after they have been processed.  They contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, contributing to an unhealthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.  When these oils are processed, particularly hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, they increase our bad cholesterol and decrease our good cholesterol, contributing to heart problems.

Lots of additives or ingredients you can’t pronounce or understand: Any additives are less than ideal. When we enrich grains such as wheat, we remove valuable nutrients from them.  Food companies often add these—and other vitamins—back into the product, but we can’t reap as many benefits from these foods as we can from eating whole foods containing naturally occurring nutrients.  Other additives include preservatives, flavorings, and chemicals that aren’t healthy for us.

Let’s look at a few examples of Kellogg’s cereals:

Raisin Bran:
Whole wheat, raisins, wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, malt flavoring, niacinamide, reduced iron, zinc oxide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D.

Low Fat Granola:
Whole oats, whole grain wheat, sugar, corn syrup, raisins, rice, glycerin, palm oil, molasses, modified corn starch, almonds, salt, cinnamon, nonfat dry milk, high fructose corn syrup, polyglycerol esters of mono- and diglycerides, malt flavoring, niacinamide, zinc oxide, alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), reduced iron, guar gum, BHT (preservative), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Whole barley, whole oats, raisins, whole wheat, dates, milled corn, almonds, rice, brown sugar, sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, malt flavoring, salt, high fructose corn syrup, distilled monoglyceride, alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), niacinamide, reduced iron, calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, BHT (preservative, vitamin B12, vitamin D

Whole Grain Pop Tarts:
Whole wheat flour, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), sugar, soybean and palm oil (with TBHQ for freshness), polydextrose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, whole grain barley flour, contains two percent or less of glycerin, molasses, inulin from chicory root, salt, corn starch, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), wheat starch, cinnamon, gelatin, caramel color, soy lecithin, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, reduced iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), folic acid

Smart Start:
Rice, whole grain wheat, sugar, oat clusters (sugar, toasted oats [rolled oats, sugar, canola oil with TBHQ and citric acid to preserve freshness, molasses, honey, BHT for freshness, soy lecithin], wheat flakes, crisp rice [rice, sugar, malt, salt], corn syrup, polydextrose, honey, cinnamon, BHT [preservative], artificial vanilla flavor), high fructose corn syrup, salt, honey, malt flavoring, alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), niacinamide, zinc oxide, reduced iron, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), calcium pantothenate, yellow #5, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), BHT (preservative), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, beta carotene (a source of vitamin A), vitamin B12, vitamin D

A few ingredients highlighted that deserve more explanation:

Dextrose: A corn derivative and sugar substitute.
Glycerin: A colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting liquid used in soaps and pharmaceutical products.
BHT: a fat-soluble organic compound used as a food additive, as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum, electrical transformer oil, and embalming fluid.
TBHQ: A petroleum product that comes from butane (most commonly used for lighter fluid).  According to Pollan, it can be used in our food in very small amounts, as ingesting even one gram of it can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Five grams will kill a human.

So what do we eat for breakfast?  Needless to say, I don’t eat cereal much anymore. Here are a few recommendations.  As a general rule, try to eat a combination of a complex carbohydrate and protein for the most sustained energy and healthiest effects on your metabolism.

•    If you can’t give up cereal, try natural cereals brand such as Kashi, Nature’s Path, Barbara’s, and Bear Naked. You’ll notice that these cereals have far fewer ingredients, in general lower sugar content (most of them are sweetened with barley malt or brown rice syrup instead of cane sugar and corn derivatives), and fewer if not no additives. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods also make their own brands of cereals like these that may be more affordable, as the above brands are often pricey if they’re not on sale.  I like to view cereal now as more of a treat, so when I eat cereal, I eat these types.  Adding low-fat milk, soymilk, or almond milk will give you your morning protein.
•    Oatmeal, grits, or polenta.  Just make sure you get the most natural types you can find, as they contain the most nutrients and fiber.  These grains take some time to cook, but if you soak them overnight, they will only take a few minutes in the morning when you’re likely to be rushing.  Adding a little natural sweetener is OK, but you can keep that amount in check and still have a great tasting breakfast by adding cinnamon and fresh or dried fruit.  I also add flaxseed to my oatmeal for omega-3 acids and sesame seeds for protein.
•    Whole grain toast with peanut butter or other nut butters.  Just make sure that the bread you’re buying doesn’t have any of the additives we discussed above.
•    Whole grain pancakes or whole wheat French toast, for a special breakfast.  Yes, you can still indulge a little.
•    Add a fruit, and skip the juice.  Just look at whole fruits as a much more efficient—and lower sugar—way to get your vitamins and minerals than juice.  Follow the organic recommendations from last week’s blog entry.
•    Herbal teas provide many health benefits, however, I can’t start my morning without coffee.  Caffeinated beverages are not that healthy for you, but it’s far better than drinking soda or any other sugary drink.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and concerns on this complex issue.  Happy breakfasting!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Vegan recipes of the week

Thank you, everyone, for your helpful and supportive comments on my last blog post!  I’ll have more tips coming soon on tips for eating healthfully and organically on a budget.  Today I’d like to share with you a couple of new vegan recipes I made in the last week. 

Vegan French Toast
French toast is one of my favorite breakfasts, especially on cold weekend mornings.  I used two types of bread I from Zingerman’s, whole-wheat farm bread and cinnamon raisin.  What I like about Zingerman’s bread is that they are made with whole-wheat flour and contain no additive.  The cinnamon raisin bread contains honey, but hard-core vegans could make cinnamon raisin bread with another natural sweetener such as agave nectar, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup.

I’ve replaced eggs in this recipe with ripe bananas, which naturally sweeten the French toast and lessen the need to add sugar to the batter or a ton of syrup on top.

•    12 thick slices day old bread
•    3 super ripe bananas, mashed
•    1 cup soymilk
•    2 tsp. cinnamon
•    Fruit sauce, maple syrup, or fruit butter to top (optional)

1.    Spray a large skillet with cooking spray or lightly oil.
2.    In a large bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, soymilk, and cinnamon. 
3.    Dip slices of bread into banana-milk mixture for a minute or two, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid.  Remove bread from mixture and use a fork to scrape off any excess banana mixture stuck to the bread (this will allow the French toast to cook more efficiently).
4.    Cook bread slices over medium-high heat for approximately 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown.
5.    Serve immediately with topping, if desired.

My boyfriend makes a delicious fruit sauce that is a perfect topping for French toast or pancakes that I’ll include here:

•    1 package frozen berries
•    Sweetener, optional and to taste

1.    Place frozen berries into a medium saucepan.  Add water to cover. 
2.    Boil fruit at medium-high heat.
3.    Add sweetener, if desired, and continue stirring until most of the liquid evaporates and a sauce forms.
4.    Serve at any temperature!

Vegan Spinach Pie
This is a lighter version of traditional spinach pie, or spanakopita, which is usually laden with butter and cheese.  I used firm tofu here as a substitute for the cheese, and used only a little bit of olive oil brushed between the sheets of phyllo dough.

•    ½ of a 16-oz. package puff pastry dough, thawed overnight
•    1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
•    3 cloves garlic, minced
•    Salt and pepper, to taste
•    1 16-oz. package organic frozen spinach, thawed and drained
•    ½ brick firm tofu, mashed
•    8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
•    1 tsp. lemon juice
•    Olive oil

1.    Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly oil a 9-inch pie tin or spray with olive oil cooking spray.
2.    Cook garlic and onions in a large frying pan with a little olive oil over medium-high heat until the onions turn transparent.
3.    Add mushrooms, spinach, tofu, and lemon juice and cook until any excess liquid evaporates.  Set aside
4.    Line the pie plate with half of the puff pastry sheets.  Place the spinach mixture on top of the puff pastry.  Cover the spinach mixture with the remaining puff pastry sheets, brushing a small amount of olive oil in between some of the pastry sheets. Tuck the excess pastry into the pie plate.
5.    Bake for 45 minutes or until done.  Serves 4 as a main course.

Friday, December 11, 2009


This entry will be the first entry posted on my personal blog, creATE as well as in the Food and Drink section of!  Not only will creATE be reaching a much larger audience from this point forward, but we will hopefully broaden our online community of readers, followers, and creATE subscribers interested in healthy and sustainable living.

A developing theme of creATE has been the costs and practicalities of eating healthfully and sustainably in our economically struggling but simultaneously fast-paced American society.  Some of my readers have asked me to revisit my entry from October on the typically high cost of eating healthy food, requesting more specific recommendations as to what to buy from big supermarkets and what to spend the extra money on to buy organic. Although not an expert by any means, I will attempt to share with you my personal shopping habits as well as some recommendations for healthy shopping.

In this article, I will analyze foods promoted in this week's Kroger, Meijer, and Hiller's Market circulars as well as do a price and quality comparison or processed foods to unprocessed and organic to conventional.  My recommendations for this blog and any future blogs on this topic will be based on three criteria:
  1. The last section of Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food, outlined in an October blog entry, my October 19 blog entry, "Thanks and thoughts on Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food." 
  2. The basis that some organic foods are, in fact, healthier for us (explained below).
  3. The sensory appeal of the food being analyzed (how it looks, smells, and tastes).
An added bonus will be if a food or a store has a socially conscious component to it, such as having a Fair Trade label, or that proceeds from the store or product help make the world a better place.  Hiller's Market's, for example, tirelessly supports Michigan farms and food companies, and regularly donates proceeds to Michigan charities.  Whole Foods has a program where bag refunds are donated to local nonprofits, and many local grocery stores support local food banks and food rescue programs.

Determining whether organic foods are in fact healthier for us is a controversial matter.  I'd like to keep things simple so I've found a list a set of recommendations from The Daily Green outlining the "Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic" and "10 Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic."  My recommendations are as follows, with short explanations.

Buy Organic:
  1. Meat.  Although meat contains less pesticide residue than plant-based foods, conventional methods of raising animals involves widespread use of growth hormones and anitbiotics, crowded feed lots, and using pesticides and chemical fertilizers on the grain used to feed the animals.  Basically, we end up eating these things in our meat to some degree.
  2. Dairy.  For the same reasons as meat, animals that are fed growth hormones and antibiotics transfer this to their dairy outputs.
  3. Coffee.  The majority of our coffee in the U.S. comes from countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals and pesticides, so buying organic ensures your coffee beans are pesticide-free.  Buying Fair Trade Certified would be even better as purchases supports programs to pay coffee farmers fairly and support their communities.
  4. Any fruit or vegetable with thin or no skin or peel.  A thin skin or peel on produce, especially one that you eat, increases the chance that you are consuming pesticides with your food.  Not only does produce skin hold pesticides, but pesticides can penetrate the skin and invade the inside of the fruit, so even washing is ineffective at getting rid of pesticide residue.  In a studied conducted by the USDA in the early 2000s, 98% of peaches surveyed contained pesticide residue.  In addition, if you buy produce out of season--strawberries in the wintertime, for example--odds are that they're imported from a country that has less stringent regulations on pesticides.  Some examples of fruits and vegetables to always buy organic include:
    1. Peaches, nectarines, and plums
    2. Apples and pears
    3. Peppers
    4. Celery
    5. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries
    6. Cherries
    7. Leafy greens and kale
    8. Tomatoes
    9. Carrots and potatoes
    10. Grapes
Not worth the extra money:
Fruits and vegetables with thicker skin or peels.  Some examples include:
  1. Onion.  Onions are not subject to as many pest threats, so less pesticides are needed.  Plus, onions are peeled before consuming.
  2. Avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, and bananas.  Fruits like this have thicker peels that protect the edible fruit from pesticide build-up and residue.
  3. Asparagus.  Similar to onions, asparagus is less subject to pest threats.
  4. Cabbage and sweet peas.  These vegetables don't retain pesticide residue.
So how practical is it to buy organic?  I set out this week to do some market research.  Here's what I found at local Ann Arbor stores.

MEIJER. 10 lbs. for $10 this week ($1/pound)
Michigan apples:  Since they're not organic, I hesitate to recommend them, however, they are local, which means they are going to be fresh, and therefore, contain more nutrients than apples that have traveled across the country to arrive at the grocery store.
Iceberg lettuce: Not worth the money.  Since it's not organic, it contains pesticide residue.  Iceberg lettuce also contains few nutrients compared to its dark leafy counterparts.
Cucumbers: Don't buy them; they likely contain pesticide residue.
Mushrooms: Not recommended for the same reasons as above.
Aunt Mid's bagged spinach: Not recommended for the same reasons as above.
Avocados: Since avocados contain a thick peel that we don't eat, they will likely contain lower levels of pesticides.  So, if they look good, go ahead and buy them!
Navel oranges: 1.99/4-lb. bag.  Yes!  Same reasons as above.

KROGER. 10 lbs. for $10 this week ($1/pound)
Bartlett pears: No. Sincer they're not organic and have a thin, edible peel, both the skin and the fruit inside likely contain large amounts of pesticides.
Michigan apples:  See Meijer Michigan apples above.
Blackberries: Definitely no.  Blackberries in December have likely come from long distances, possibly regions outside of the United States where pesticide use is not regulated.  Also, since they have traveled a great distance, the blackberries are likely to not be as fresh or tasty as they would have been this summer.
Zucchini: Not recommended since they likely contain pesticide residue and build-up.
Avocados: Yes!
Mangoes: Yes (for the same reason as avocados)!
Yams: Probably not.  Although potatoes and root vegetables often don't have pesticide content as high as vegetables that don't grow in the ground, I'd hesitate to recommend them if they aren't organic.
Cucumbers: Not recommended.

From analyzing the sale offerings at Kroger and Meijer, if we follow my recommendations listed above, we're not likely to find enough "satisfactory" produce at these stores.  Although paying $1/pound for the above products is certainly better than not eating produce at all, I decided to visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to see if I could make organic produce work on a tight budget.  Here's what I found.

Organic Sweet Potatoes: $3.00/3-lb. bag.  Almost as cheap as Kroger conventional yams.
Tomatoes: $2.49/lb. Not a bad price, especially considering that TJ's conventional tomatoes are $2.99/lb.
Organic salad mixes: between $2 and $3 per 5-10 oz. bag.  Not fantastic, but worth the money considering that leafy greens are nearly impossible to rid of pesticides.  Conventional salad mixes at Trader Joe's and other supermarkets are only slightly--$0.50 on average--cheaper.
Organic avocados: $4/4-lb. bag ($1 each).  Same price as conventional avocados this week at Meijer or Kroger!
Organic russet potatoes: $3.99/5-lb. bag.  Less than $1/pound!
Organic golden potatoes: $2.99/4-lb. bag.  Less than $1/pound!
Organic apples: $2.49/2-lb. bag.  $1.25/pound and the same price as TJ's conventional apples.  I'd definitely recommend buying these over Meijer or Kroger apples.
Organic pears: $2.99/2-lb. bag.  Same recommendation as above.
Organic kiwi: $2/lb.  $0.30 cheaper than conventional kiwi.
Organic raspberries: $3.49/pint.  $0.50 cheaper than conventional raspberries.
Organic celery: $1.99/lb. $0.30 cheaper than conventional celery.
Organic zucchini and squash: $2.99/lb.  Not a fantastic price, but worth the money to prevent pesticide injection.  

Organic avocados: $3.99/4-lb. bag ($1 each).  Same price as conventional avocados this week at Meijer or Kroger!
Organic salad mixes: between $2 and $3 per 5-10 oz. bag.  Roughly the same price as Trader Joe's.  Conventional salad mixes at other supermarkets are only slightly--$0.50 on average--cheaper.
Organic zucchini and squash: $2.99/lb. same price as Trader Joe's.
Organic oranges: $.99/lb.  A great buy!
Organic apples: $2.49/lb.  Kind of pricey, but worth the extra bucks as apples are one of the top recommended foods to buy organic.

I was very excited to find out that buying organic produce on a budget was not only possible, but sometimes cheaper than the conventional prices at bigger supermarkets.  Trader Joe's certainly had the best deals on organic produce, however, it is possible to shop smart at Whole Foods, and the quality of their food looked better than that of Trader Joes.  Farmer's markets are not mentioned here, but are also fantastic ways of supporting and eating local and organic produce.  Whole Foods also promotes Michigan products, a key step towards sustainable living.  In buying organic--and local when possible--we are speaking with our actions and our money towards better health and sustainable agriculture and food production.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences with buying organic produce.  In the coming posts, I will be analyzing and making recommendations on a variety of other grocery store products, including breakfast foods, baked goods, snack foods, frozen foods, and nonperishible foods.  Please feel free to contact me with any recommendations you have for our readers, any questions, or any foods you'd like to consider.  Thanks for reading and for your support!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sugar update, entering week three

For those of you carefully reading my blog entries, it's been about two weeks since I resolved to not eat any foods with added sugar.  And while my blog entries lately have been on the serious, impersonal side, I'll change things up this week and tell you about my experiences eating as little refined sugar as possible the past two weeks.

To sum things up concisely: this has been extremely difficult.  More than I had imagined.  Sugar has proven to be very addictive.

The first couple days were the most frustrating.  I experienced withdrawal-like symptoms such as headaches, mild dizziness, irritability, lethargy, and sleepiness.  Working through my normal eight-hour shifts as a waitress seemed impossible, particularly on weekends when the restaurant was very busy.

After a few days avoiding sugar became much easier.  I no longer felt the withdrawal symptoms I experienced initially and I actually began feeling much more content. I didn't feel overly energetic, dramatically healthier or happier, just at ease with my new diet.  Slowly, however, I began to feel increasingly energetic, less bloated, in a happier mood more consistently, and actually lost a couple pounds.  These feelings--which I have begun to associate with my current diet and lifestyle--have caused me to crave healthier foods, want to exercise more frequently, and feel happier overall. 

I have had a few pitfalls in the past two weeks, which have caused me to allow myself to eat very small quantities (bite-size) of sweets on occasion.  With the Thanksgiving holiday and the promotion of new holiday desserts at my job, I have occasionally eaten sweets, not to excess, but in reasonable serving sizes.  Shortly after consuming, I consistently noticed feeling light-headed, sluggish, sleepy, bloated, lethargic, extremely thirsty, and even mild nausea. 

Beginning week three, I am recognizing that I have certainly had setbacks with the no-added-sugar diet; however, at this point, I have learned from my experiences eating healthfully and un-healthfully and am able to associate a low-sugar diet with feeling good and a high-sugar diet with feeling bad.  These feelings are powerful enough for me to want to eat healthier foods.  As I go into week three of my diet, my goal is to acknowledge and respect these feelings and try to exercise more self control when it comes to turning down offers or urges for a sweet snack or sample.

For any readers who might be interested in testing the waters of the low-sugar lifestyle, here are a few foods that I have found to have the most remarkable "feel-good" effects:
  • Water.  Probably the most important one.  Staying well hydrated has been key to success, as dehydration can be caused by consuming too much sugar and can also lead to dizziness, lethargy, and other symptoms of eating too much sugar or salt.
  • Complex carbohydrates combined with a plant-based protein.  Oatmeal with sesame seeds and whole wheat bread with peanut butter have become my two all-time favorite breakfasts.  Both options keep me feeling full for hours and keep feelings of extreme hunger at bay.
  • Fruits and veggies.  Obviously, they provide a good source of fiber and are also hydrating because they contain water.  Apples have proven to be a great snack as they are satisfyingly crunch and juicy.
  • Naturally sweet fruits to satisfy a sweet tooth.  I just made a big batch of unsweetened apple sauce that I have been enjoying when I need to eat something sweet.  I have also found that bananas or a handful of raisins are particularly comforting when I need a boost.
I'd love to hear your comments on this issue.  More updates to come soon!

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    A Compassionate Thanksgiving

    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I look forward to it every year.  In the vegan community, however, there is some sense of discomfort on Thanksgiving.  The thought of so many turkeys being slaughtered for one day of holiday festivity is indeed alarming for whatever reasons vegans and vegetarians don't eat meat.  To add to that, trying to figure out which Thanksgiving side dishes aren't made with chicken or beef broths, dairy products, or eggs is a battle in itself.  Trying to have a peaceful--and non-confrontational--Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends after that might seem impossible.

    I live a vegan lifestyle for several reasons, among them ethical, environmental, and the fact that being vegan feels good and healthy to me.  Being vegan helps me feel more compassionate, not just towards animals, but in all my interactions, and brings a mindfulness to eating that transcends to other facets of my life.  I sometimes call myself a "flexible vegan" or a "social vegan," meaning that I prefer to be completely vegan, but will sacrifice some of those values for the sake of building and maintaining relationships.  For me, Thanksgiving is a great time to think about how to better balance those values in thought and in practice.

    Below, I'll offer some tips for a "compassionate" Thanksgiving:
    1.  Draw some lines.  For example, I will not eat food made with chicken or beef broth, and I might ask my Thanksgiving host if I suspect something (such as stuffing) has broth in it.  I'll definitely be avoiding anything "au gratin" or with noticeable dairy products.  But if the mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie have a little milk or egg in them, I'm not going to go so far as to reject everything.

    2.  Offer to bring some vegan dishes to dinner.  There are so many delicious vegan Thanksgiving recipes out there, especially considering that root vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins are abundant and can be used for so many versatile main dishes and side dishes.

    3.  Be thankful.  It may seem obvious, but with holidays can come a lot of stress.  I like to use Thanksgiving as a time to be thankful for my community both large (I usually run a Turkey Trot) and small (my family, friends, and Thanksgiving dinner table).  Thanksgiving is a great time to savor a delicious dinner, but more importantly, it's a time to savor relationships.

    4.  Give back.  Donate food to a shelter, volunteer, or just help a friend.  It makes No. 3 (above) easier.  Compassion, gratitude, and generosity towards everyone is an important value for a vegan (and non-vegan) lifestyle.

    Wishing everyone a very happy--and compassionate--Thanksgiving!

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Band Aids vs. Change (Health Care Reform, Part 2)

    Now that creATE has been public for over a month, I've had the opportunity to receive a plethora of helpful feedback from friends, family, and members of the online community about the content conveyed and ideas expressed in this blog.  I'd first like to thank everyone who provides feedback and comments, because your thoughts are most helpful in creating new blog topics, further developing my ideas, and creating the community forum that is the goal of creATE.

    Most of your comments encouraging and enthusiastic (which makes sense as we like to read what we enjoy), but in this blog entry I'd like to address some of the more critical feedback I've received in conversations over the past few weeks.  Fortunately for our discussion, health care is a huge tie-in to this issue.

    The biggest critical response: "People aren't going to change."

    And to this, my response is: "Some people aren't."

    Some people will.  When we discuss health care reform from a preventative and public health perspective, we need to remember that proposed changes are going to transpire differently than the way conventional change occurs.  Here I'm going to agree with my critics and say that, in general, Americans--and probably most people around the world--don't like change.  Change is difficult.  Change requires effort.  The need for change can be painful to acknowledge, accept, and realize.  But where I depart from the above critical response is that real change--that is, addressing the problem from the root of its cause--is the only way societies progress.

    A big message in the Obama campaign was change: a change in the way our government was run for the previous eight years.  These changes have certainly not been easy and President Obama will be the first to admit.  But it those who support the President's agendas have both the confidence that change is necessary and good and that the views of the people must be voiced and considered.  I could go through history and cite many other examples during which difficult change was necessary to right a wrong--the civil rights movement, establishment of important health and safety regulations throughout history, the gay rights movement, and so forth--but the important point to note is that change was needed and people created it.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to health and lifestyle issues, Americans really don't like change, in fact, we ignore that real change is needed.  Instead we put band-aids on issues that are really important.  Our administration denied the existence of global warming for some time, and when the government finally acknowledged the fact the earth is indeed getting warmer, we proceeded to make fun of it, and then propose how we could create the easiest--but not sustainable--fix.  Some band-aid artists, including Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner who recently published SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, propose spewing sulfur dioxide through giant hoses into the atmosphere, creating carbon-eating trees, and using fiberglass boats to chemically produce clouds that would cool the earth.  While these type of solutions are interesting, they simply mask the issue and negate the original problem: that destructive human activity is harming our Earth and ourselves.

    We're in a similar band-aid situation with health care.  Habits and lifestyles that are convenient are not necessarily sustainable.  In the short run, eating processed foods allows us to lead busy lives: to not cook so we have time to work hard, the convenience of saving money at the grocery store, and can eat food that tastes good to us without having the burden of thinking about its origin.  In the long run, we deal with health-related problems that come about as a result of these habits: high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes type II, heart disease, obesity, etc.

    But never fear, our health-care system has developed ways to combat these diseases with medical procedures that open up arteries and drugs that lower cholesterol.  We can't deny that these medical advancements are important and save lives.  However, what we don't hear enough is that these afflictions are entirely preventable--and reversible.  The remedies are more difficult and require more commitment than taking a pill, but the rewards are much greater in the long term because we have addressed the root of the problem by replacing poor lifestyle choices with better ones.

    My charge to those readers who want this type of change is to empower yourself with the ability to change the direction our country's health care system, food industry, and overall lifestyles have taken.  Think about how much money you want to spend in the future on your health care costs.  Then make a change in your lifestyle or be an advocate for health care reform.  Stop supporting the big food industries that dominate our ad and grocery shelf space buy buying more produce or shopping at farmers' markets or healthier, smaller grocery stores.  Plan to make meals from scratch.  Try to weed out processed foods from your diet.  Exercise more.  Talk to others.  Get yourself informed and then get others informed.

    My purpose here is not to oppose the current health care reforms that have recently moved through Congress and are moving on to the Senate.  The disparities in our current health care systems are certainly embarrassing and need to be fixed.  The rise of health care reform, however, is the perfect time to reflect--and advocate for changes--on the current and potential educational and preventative aspects of health care.

    Taken from a preventative approach, health care and lifestyle reform can happen in a sustainable and effective way.  What side of the change do you want to be on?

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Supersized addictions?

    I recently watched Supersize Me (2004), a documentary starring Morgan Spurlock, filmmaker, producer, and screenwriter.  For readers who haven't seen the movie, Spurlock, in response to a lawsuit against McDonald's involving two teenage women who blamed McDonald's for their obesity, decides to eat solely on McDonald's--for three meals each day--for thirty days.  Prior to the experiment, Spurlock is in above average health, but by the end of only thirty days, the doctors who examined him all said they would diagnose him as sick, due to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and other outrageously off-the mark blood test results.  Spurlock gained some twenty pounds in one month and also reported feeling tired, irritable, depressed, and sick much of the time.  Click below to watch a short clip from the movie:

    Besides the obvious decline in Spurlock's health over an extremely short period of time and the research Spurlock conducted about the overwhelming influence the food industry on our choices, what struck me most about Supersize Me was the addictiveness of McDonalds's products, and more generally, processed, sugary, and salty foods.  By the end of the 30-day period, Spurlock reported feeling tired, irritable, and sick most of the time.  Strangely, when Spurlock ate a McDonald's meal, he would feel fantastic while eating and for a short time afterward, only later to be confronted with the negative physical symptoms listed above.  It was like Spurlock's body and mind were in withdrawal from McDonald's foods, namely the salt, sugar, and other refined or processed ingredients.

    I got curious and decided to investigate the effects sugar and salt have on our bodies.

    1.  Salt is an essential nutrient and is important for acid-base balance in the body, potassium absorption, and aids in digestion.  However, humans only need one level teaspoon of salt per day.  That's 2000 milligrams, and you don't have to look at too many canned food labels to realize that that's not a lot.  Basically, unless a person have some sort of salt-deficiency, salt occurs naturally in so many foods that humans don't really need to worry about not getting enough salt.

    Too much salt can be detrimental to overall health.  Negative effects of salt include hypertension, high blood pressure, and water retention.  Therefore, eating too much salt can be bad for your heart and can make it difficult to loose weight.  Finally, from a strictly taste-based perspective, salt makes you crave sweets (consider the case of McDonald's fries going so well with an ice-cold Coke).

    2.  Sugar is among the most basic nutrients we require.  Sugars fall into the carbohydrate family.  We can divide this category into two types: complex and simple.  Complex carbohydrates are naturally-occurring and include brown rice, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates include table sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, alcohol, and any other refined complex carbohydrate, such as enriched wheat flour, white rice, white bread, and high fructose corn syrup.  The problem with simple carbohydrates is that the fiber and other nutrients in complex carbohydrates that tell your body when you've had enough to eat are either absent or removed.  Consequently, you can eat a large quantity of simple carbohydrates without feeling full.

    When you eat a simple carbohydrate, your body absorbs the sugar very easily and your blood sugar rises very quickly.  This causes your body to release a hormone called insulin to lower the blood sugar.  Next, your blood sugar becomes extremely low and you feel tired and hungry again.  In contrast, carbohydrates are absorbed slowly and your energy level remains more constant for longer periods of time.

    The health detriments of simple sugar are not as consistent among sources.  Among the broadest effects of sugar I found include:
    • Suppression of the immune system
    • Hyperactivity, anxiety, and depression
    • Rise in triblycerides
    • Drowsiness and apathy
    • Reduction of high density cholesterol (good cholesterol) and elevation of low density cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
    • Hypoglycemia
    • Kidney damage
    • Increased risk of coronary heart disease
    • Mineral deficiencies, including calcium
    • Increased fasting glucose levels
    • Tooth decay
    • Acidic stomach
    • Weight gain (particularly around the middle)
    • Increased risk of osteoperosis
    • Insulin sensitivity
    • Increased fluid retention
    • Hypertension
    • Inability to concentrate
    So is it possible to be addicted to sugar, salt, and other food additives? I'm proposing the answer is yes. If the feelings of intense satisfaction--and even euphoria--Spurlock describes and exhibits in Supersize Me happen to most of us in some way when we eat sugar and salt, I think it is possible to feel emotional withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, apathy, and even depression when we don't have our daily fix.  It's very clear from Spurlock's experiment that sugar and salt contribute to more measurable effects on our health such as increased cholesterol, triglyerides, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and weight gain.

    After watching Supersize Me and thinking through Spurlock's experiment, I've decided to try and experiment of my own.  I'll be the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth, and sometimes get very strong cravings for sweets.  I've noticed that when I eat sweets, I feel great, but feel a letdown in physical, mental, and emotional energy very soon after consuming sweets.  So for the next month, I am going to try my best to eliminate simple carbohydrates from my diet.  This means:
    • as little as possible: refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, alcohol, and desserts
    • and replacing the above with: complex carbohydrates including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
    I know this is going to be a challenge for me, and I'll be checking in with all of you as to my progress over the next month.

    Thank you, as always, for reading, and please feel free to post any comments!

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Prevention and Health Care Reform, Part 1

    As the debate about health care reform continues, I'd like to post some thoughts about healthy living and its possible role in health care reform, not just from a policy perspective, but a personal reform as well.

    I recently read an interview conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, Founder and President of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research institute, and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa about Senator Harkin's views on health care reform.  As an aside, Dr. Ornish has done fantastic research about the role of healthy living in overall physical and mental health and has proved it possible to actually reverse heart disease through healthy diet and exercise.

    A quote from Senator Harkin in the interview: "To date, prevention and public health have been the missing pieces in the national conversation about health care reform. It's time to make them the centerpiece of that conversation. Not an asterisk. Not a footnote. But the centerpiece of health care reform."  This interview was published December 28, 2008, nearly one year ago.  Hopefully I'm keeping up to date accurately on the health care reform debates, but I haven't seen prevention and public health take the stage in enough limelight yet.

    This morning I was watching CNN's "American Morning" while peddling on the elliptical machine at the county rec center and saw an interview with Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) regarding the "House Calls" she has been ordering to protest health care reform.   In a recent appearance on the Glenn Beck show, Bachmann called health care reform "the crown jewel of socialism," and told Beck: "the only thing I know what to do at this point to kill this bill is to ask and plead for real freedom-loving Americans to come to the steps of the U.S. Capitol tomorrow....[Health care reform] will be a disaster. It is unconstitutional. But we need the help of the American people."

    When I heard Bachmann talk about "freedom-loving Americans" this morning on CNN, my blood pressure rose.  My first source of angst was that Bachmann's interview sounded disturbingly like some of Sarah Palin's interviews and news show appearances during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, which I deemed anti-feminist, anti-intellectual, and anti-community.  Upon deeper consideration, I came to think that "freedom-loving Americans" need to use their valued freedom to get a little more education on the health care issue and what we can do to help ourselves keep our own costs--and our country's costs--low.

    We can't deny that our health care system is broken and corrupt.  As Dr. Ornish said in his most recent Huffinton Post op-ed, "Of course, we need to provide coverage for the 48 million Americans who do not have health insurance. It is morally indefensible that we have not already done so.  Obviously, the Americans without health care need a reasonable, affordable, and effective solution so that when they do need help, they can get it without sacrificing their budget.

    But much of our current health care system is one of band-aids.  We treat heart disease, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and other lifestyle-related illnesses with drugs and surgeries that treat the symptoms but do not address the causes.  While there are people who need--and should not be denied--proper treatment for any number of conditions, I can't help but imagine a world in which we did far fewer reactive surgeries or prescribed fewer drugs to mask symptoms of poor lifestyle choice.

    If we could reduce the number of people afflicted with lifestyle-related conditions, we would reduce the percentage of our personal funds and tax dollars spent on health care.  We'd live longer, feel healthier, and be happier overall.  And, it's way cheaper to get educated about lifestyle reform, eat healthier, and join a local recreation center than it is to pay for prescription drugs and surgical procedures.  It's cheaper for us individually, and it's cheaper for us as a nation.

    But these changes cannot occur without a great deal of education and advocacy on how we can change our lives for the better.  It's difficult to change, even when we know we are engaging in unhealthy behaviors.  It's difficult to think about the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle because symptoms may not occur until much later in life.  Not to mention that eating healthy and exercising regularly requires a commitment of time, energy, money, and planning.  For the next few blog entries, I would like to make it my goal to provide vegan perspectives on health care reform and some easy ways to incorporate healthy changes into our daily lives.

    Health care reform is certainly long overdue.  But I urge us to think about how we can prevent--and in the spirit of Dr. Ornish, reverse--some common medical troubles we may run into as a result of a poor diet and lifestyle.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Another recipe for your vegan sweet tooth.  This cookie recipes is similar to the Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies but are chewier and richer due to the chocolate chips and lack of oats.

    1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
    1/2 cup oat flour
    1/4 tsp. baking soda
    1/4 cup agave nectar (or other natural sweetener, such as pure maple syrup or unrefined sugar)
    2 T non-hydrogenated vegetable spread (such as Earth Balance)
    2 T oilve oil
    2 T peanut butter
    1 banana, mashed and blended with 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1 cup vegan chocolate chips
    • Preheat oven to 350. 
    • Combine flours and baking soda in a medium bowl.  
    • In a large bowl, beat agave nectar, vegetable spread, olive oil, peanut butter, and banana mixture until smooth and fluffy. 
    • Beat flour mixture into the wet mixture until well blended.  Add chocolate chips.
    • Scoop dollops of cookie mixture on to a greased cookie sheet.  If you prefer thinner cookies, flatten the cookie dough scoops with a fork or your fingers.
    • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookie dough just begins to brown on the bottom.
    • Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack.
    • Enjoy!
    I'd love to hear about any recipes, comments, or questions you have about vegan baked goods.  Here are a few tips from my experiences:
    • Combining a solid vegetable oil or fat (such as Earth Balance or peanut butter) combined with a liquid vegetable oil (such as olive oil) works better than just using one or the other.  
    • Natural sweeteners are usually liquid, which usually means adding more flour.
    • Using fruit as an egg substitute is great, but don't forget to add 1/2 tsp. baking powder for every egg you are replacing.
    • Oat flour seems to produce better baked goods than whole wheat flour.  Combining a whole grain flour with an unbleached white flour is a good way to transition to whole grain baked goods.
    Thanks again for reading!

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    The costs (more ways than money) of food

    One of my Facebook friends just posted this graph on his wall and I couldn't help but write a blog entry about it: 

    I think in our most common experiences and from the media's perspective, this is basically true.  
    Consider a few examples.

    The following is on the Dollar Menu at the McDonald's closest to my apartment:
    Small Fries: 230 calories, 11 g fat, 160 mg sodium
    McDouble: 390 calories, 19 g fat, 920 mg sodium
    McChicken: 360 calories, 16 g fat, 830 mg sodium
    Hot Fudge Sundae: 330 calories, 10 g fat, 180 mg sodium

    Some special deals at my nearest Kroger supermarket this week:
    White Bread: $1/20 oz. loaf
    Cream Cheese: $1/8 oz.
    Coke products: 79 cents/2-liter bottle
    Fruit Snacks: $1.49/box
    Frozen Hash Browns: $1.67/30 oz. bag
    Keebler Fudge Shoppe Cookies: $1/12 oz. package
    Cheez-It Crackers: $1/10 oz. box
    Frozen Pizza: $1.99/30 oz. pie
    ***If shoppers buy 10 of the above--or other not listed--featured items, they will save an additional $5!***

    By comparison, at a recent trip to Whole Foods, I spent the following:
    Organic Blue Corn Chips: $2.50/10 oz. bag
    Pure Organic Maple Syrup: $9/12 oz. jar
    Organic Cinnamon: $3.39/2 oz. jar
    Butternut Squash: $4/4-lb. squash
    Organic Spring Mix Lettuce: $4/5 oz. package 
    Unsulphured Blackstrap Molasses (I use it for baking; it's an excellent source of calcium and iron): $4.39/15 oz. jar 

    By eating off the dollar menu at McDonalds or shopping the discounts at Kroger, we save some cash.  Choosing healthier options at fast food establishments is more expensive.  Eating at Ann Arbor's vegetarian restaurant Seva can earily cost $30 for a dinner for two; eating at Ann Arbor's Eve, a slow food restaurant that uses only local organic meats and produce can easily cost $40 per person.

    But there must be a way to eat in a way that is healthy and cost effective.  Below I will offer a few justifications to spending more money on food and buying organic, and a few tips to keep food costs down.

    Perhaps Americans need to get used to spending more money on food.  If it is true that "you are what you eat," wouldn't you want to invest in food, if it is ultimately an investment in yourself?  

    Our food choices contribute to our overall health and well being.  According to Michael Pollan, in 1960, Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% of the national income on health care.  The numbers have nearly reversed since then.  Now, we spend 9.9% of our income on food and 16% of our national income on health care.  Other healthier countries spend much more on food costs.  The Italians and the French spend 14.9% and the Spanish spend 17.1%.  

    It's not too far off to think that we spent more money on real healthy foods (not the foods labeled with fictitious miracle health claims), we might spend less money on examinations, procedures, and medications for health-related complications such as heart disease, diabetes type II, and obesity.

    Benefits of buying organic foods:
    • They contain more nutrients.  Grass-fed animals are better for us to eat than grain-fed animals.  Organic chickens and their eggs are healthier for us than cage-raised chickens.  Similarly, fruits and vegetables grown in organic soil contains many more nutrients--and many more times the amount of antioxidants--than produce grown on industrialized farms.
    • They don't contain pesticides.  Yes, we eat pesticides regardless of whether we wash our non-organic produce.
    • Don't support industrialized farmers' rapid destruction of our environment.  Large farms quickly and easily wear out the soil they inhabit by growing few different types of crops.  Runoff from fertilizer contributes to dead zones in the oceans, which suffocate wild fish and other sea creatures that are healthy parts of our ecosystem.
    • Organic food tastes better.  This is something you can't truly understand unless you try it.
    What about the higher costs of eating organic?  Here are some tips that have saved me money at the grocery store without compromising my quality of eating:
    • Look for deals in weekly ads at markets that sell a lot of organic products, such as Whole Foods or coops in your town.  In addition to running weekly sales on products, Whole Foods, for example, publishes a monthly newsletter called Whole Deal that includes valuable coupons, weekly meal plans for singles, couples, and families, and recipes for meals that only cost a few dollars per serving.
    • Buy produce that is local and in season.  It's cheaper and it tastes better.  It also didn't travel as far to get to the grocery store, so it's fresher.  You'll also help support local farms and a friendly environment this way.
    • Buy foods in bulk.  Organic markets and coops often sell flours, pastas, grains, cereals, seeds, spices, and even natural cleaning products by the pound.  Not paying for packaging will save you a more than you may think. 
    • Don't shop at the grocery store.  If you can grow some of your own plants--even spices in containers--you'll find that it's rewarding and tastier than food from your supermarket.  Check out your neighborhood's farmers' market or join a CSA.
    Thank you, as always, for reading.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.  Please comment!

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

    I've been continually searching for--and refining my own--recipes for vegan cookies.  Please see below for one I think is a success.  And who doesn't love peanut butter and jelly-themed desserts?

    Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

    1 cup unbleached flour
    1/2 cup oat flour
    1/2 cup oats
    1/4 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    2 T non-hydrogenated vegetable spread (such as Earth Balance)
    2 T oilve oil
    2 T peanut butter
    1 banana, mashed and mixed with 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 cup raisins
    preserves of your choice
    • Preheat oven to 350. 
    • Combine flours, oats, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  
    • In a large bowl, beat sugar, vegetable spread, olive oil, peanut butter, and banana mixture until smooth and fluffy. 
    • Beat flour mixture into the wet mixture until well blended.  Add raisins.
    • Scoop dollops of cookie mixture on to a greased cookie sheet.  Use your thumb to make an indentation into the cookie dough.  Scoop a small amount of preserves into the indentation. 
    • Bake for 10 minutes or until cookie dough just begins to brown.
    • Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack.
    • Enjoy!
    Have a recipe you'd like to share?  Please post or email me and I'll put it on creATE for others to enjoy!

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Thanks and thoughts on Pollan's "In Defense of Food"

    creATE officially went public last week and I would like to thank everyone for their kind, thoughtful, and enthusiastic responses!  Some of you commented via emails to me, and I'd like to start off this entry sharing your resources with the larger group:

    John: Yes! magazine  This is a magazine that supports people who build a just and sustainable world.  From their website:
    • We inspire people to say YES!
    • We support and connect individuals and communities working for a just and sustainable world.
    • We reframe issues, reflect diverse human-scale stories, and offer tools for people to use and to pass along.
    Nathan: Hazon (, an organization that "works to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community and a healthier and more sustainable world for all."

    Joel: VegMichigan (, an organization "promoting awareness of the health, environmental and ethical benefits of a plant-based diet."  This group hosts events from cooking classes to lectures to potlucks.  The website has a variety of online resources as well.

    Lisa: Orangette (blog)
    Breadtopia: an online resource for making bread complete with demo videos
    101 Cookbooks: 
    The Jew and The Carrot:
    Hope you all find these links insightful and useful, if you haven't seen them already.  I just joined VegMichigan and am hoping to bake a new bread this afternoon!

    In the remainder of this post, I'd like to open a discussion on Michael Pollan's 2008 New York Times Bestseller In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.  In this book, Pollan attributes Americans' poor health to a focus on a focus on nutritents instead of food, the industrialization of farming, and, of course, poor lifestyle habits.  

    In the first part of the book Pollan attributes the poor diets of Americans to a focus on nutrients rather than whole foods.  Walk into a typical American supermarket and its difficult not to be bombarded by food advertisements such as "whole grain," "low fat," "fat free," "low carb," and so many others, not to mention advertisements that eating particular foods can help you lose weight.  Where did this all come from?  According to Pollan, this bombardment came not from scientists and doctors, but lawyers, journalists, and food manufacturers.  And it turns out that guidelines for making a claim such as, "eating __ servings of __ promotes healthy body weight" or the like isn't too hard to do.

    This focus, says to Pollan, has contributed to the "overnutrition" of Americans.  In other words we are encouraged to "eat more low fat foods," and we do just that.  However, in eating more low fat foods, we are (1) eating too many calories, (2) eating too many processed foods containing unhealthy additives and preservatives such as high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils that contribute to insulin resistance and heart disease, and (3) not eating a balanced diet complete with an adequate servings of fruits, vegetables, and other naturally healthy foods.

    The second part of Pollan's book addresses the problems that have come with industrializing our agricultural industry.  Along with many issues, Pollan cites the moves from complex to refined grains, from complexity to simplicity of soil, from quality to quantity of food, from leaves to seeds, and from food culture to food science as contributors to the health problems associated with a Western diet.  Basically, refined grains--such as white flour and white rice--can be produced more cheaply and in far greater quantity than complex grains. The industrialization of farms (move from small family-owned and operated farms that produce a variety of foods to large, mass-producing farms that produce a high quantity of only a few types of foods) has caused our soil to lose micronutrients that make our fruits and vegetables--and consequently farm animals--more healthy and nutrient dense.

    This section for me was the most interesting because I realized just how hard it can be to eat as healthy as we ate before the industrialization of American agriculture.  Even if we switch to eating only complex and non-refined grains, eat only natural sugars, we still have to face the issue that a tomato we buy at a supermarket is probably not as healthy as a tomato we could grow in our own backyards due to the lack of micronutrients in the supermarket tomato. 

    Finally, in the last section of the book, Pollan outlines some practical advice for eating well, which I'm like to post below to hopefully inspire some discussion: 
    • "Avoid food products containing ingreadients that are (a) unfamiliar, (b) unpronounceable, (c) more than five in number, or that include (d) high-fructose corn syrup."
    • "Avoid foods that make health claims."
    • "Shop in the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle."  (In most supermarkets, processed foods comprise most of the center aisles, while dairy, produce, and meat line the outside walls)
    • "Get out of the supermarket whenever possible."  Go to the farmers' market or support a local farm through a CSA (community supported agriculture) group.
    • "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves."
    • "You are what what you eat eats too." Basically, if you eat a chicken breast/egg/milk/hamburger, you are also consuming whatever that chicken or cow ate.  If the animal isn't organic, you might be consuming antibiotics and seeds instead of the nutrients associated with grass-fed animals.
    • "If you have the space, buy a freezer." One thing I'm doing this year is bulk-buying in-season produce and making a variety of soups and sauces that I plan to use over the winter when I can't get as much local produce as I can get in the harvest season.  Freezing also preserves more nutrients than canning.
    • "Eat like an omnivore." Eat a wide variety of foods, even if you don't eat animal products.
    • "Eat well-grown food from healthy soils."  Even organic foods don't always guarantee this.
    • "Eat wild foods when you can."
    • "Be the kind of person who takes supplements." Studies have shown that people who take supplements "more health conscious, better educated, and more affluent."
    • "Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks." Traditional diets' stipulations on what and how to eat generally--in some way--bring consciousness to the act of eating.  Non-Western diets usually contain more whole foods, more plant foods, and less saturated fats than Western diets.
    • "Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism."
    • "Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet." One food won't make you healthy, but rather a variety of foods contribute to optimal health.
    • "Pay more. Eat less." In 1960 American spent over three times more on food than on health care.  Today we spend more on health care than on food.  Why not prevent the problems before the arise?
    • "Eat meals."
    • "Do all your eating at a table."
    • "Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does."
    • "Try not to eat alone."
    • "Eat slowly."
    • "Cook, and if you can, plant a garden."
    These last suggestions are the most powerful for me, because they really focus on bringing consciousness to eating, rather than eating on the run.  Perhaps what we need to do is bring the community back into our diets and focus on what makes a "meal" from beginning to end: where all the food came from, how we cook it, and who we eat with.

    I'd love to hear your comments on In Defense of Food, if you read it, or comments on the above issues in general.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you!

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Old Friends, New Food

    Last weekend, I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends at a housewarming potluck in Detroit. At the potluck, I reconnected with an old high school friend who is working for a nonprofit called The Greening of Detroit where she is working on urban gardening projects. Having just started this blog and doing a lot of reading on healthy, local eating, I was very excited to see her, and we got to talking about urban gardening and local eating. The entire potluck was vegetarian and mostly vegan, many dishes made from locally-grown produce. The hostesses did a fantastic job of bringing meaning to the food we were eating by having everyone introduce themselves, what they brought, and how their dish of choice reflected something about them. There was baba ganoush made from Detroit-grown eggplants, tabouleh made from Detroit-grown parsley, a wide variety of Michigan squash dishes, and delicious vegan cookies made with oat flour, banana, and natural sweeteners. I wish I had the recipes for everything that we ate because it was all so delicious, but I will share the recipe for the roasted pumpkins I brought: Roasted pumpkins 2 2-4 lb. pie pumpkins 1 bunch green onions 2 T. olive oil 1/4 cup brown sugar salt, pepper, and garlic to taste Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut tops off pumpkins, reserving the lids. Seed and string pumpkins, reserving the seeds. Rub insides of the pumpkin with olive oil, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic. Roast pumpkins with lids on for 50-60 minutes in the oven or until tender. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, roast the pumpkin seeds with green onions, garlic, salt, and pepper. When pumpkins are roasted, fluff insides with a fork and mix in roasted seed mixture. To serve, scoop pumpkin meat out of shell with seeds. I was amazed and inspired by how much meaning could be brought to food when everyone contributes. With everyone introducing their meal and eating together, I was able to be mindful of what I was eating, knowing where it came from and the love and care involved in its preparation.

    Friday, September 25, 2009


    Welcome to creATE, a blog about food, health, and nutrition topics by a vegan foodie. Thanks for reading! What inspired me to start this blog? I've always been interested in food and nutrition. With obesity and heart disease rates rising, health care reform, and the rising importance of "going green" by eating local, less-processed foods, a blog about food and health seems relevant. According to the Center for Disease Control, 2006 statistics indicate that 67% of U.S. adults age 20 and over are overweight or obese. Between 11 and 18% of children are overweight or obese. Being overweight heightens your risk for a plethora of diseases. Again, according to the CDC:
    • Coronary heart disease
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
    • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
    • Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
    • Stroke
    • Liver and Gallbladder disease
    • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
    • Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
    • Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
    From an economic standpoint, overwieght- and obesity-related expenses count for at least 9%, or $90 billion, of the U.S. medical expenditures each year. 300,000 people die each year from obesity-related causes. It seems that all too often we try to put bandages on our health-related problems, mostly because they are inconvenient--and possibly--disturbing to address from the roots. When we don't have time to eat dinner, we opt for fast food instead of a healthy option; when we have arteries clogged with plaque, we have surgery to open them up, only to clog them again. Let's look at what we eat. American diets are loaded with fat, salt, and unhealthy additives that our bodies were not made to intake. Examining a worst offender, a value meal at McDonalds: Quarter-pounder with cheese: 510 calories, 26 grams fat (12 saturated), 1190 milligrams sodium Medium french fries: 380 calories, 19 grams fat (2.5 saturated), 270 milligrams sodium Medium Coke: 210 calories, 15 milligrams sodium The entire meal contains 1120 calories (400 from fat), 45 grams fat (25 saturated), and 1580 milligrams sodium. On a 2000-calorie diet, this meal contains over half the calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium recommended. Not to mention that these meals have hidden additives we've learned are detrimental for our health such as high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and hidden additives you wouldn't recognize but wouldn't be so sure you should consume such as (from sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, and calcium peroxide, soy flour. Even Panera--recognized as one of the healthiest on-the-go options--has hidden traps in its sandwiches. The Mediterranean Veggie sandwich has 610 calories, 13 grams fat, and 1450 milligrams sodium. What can we do? Dare we address our weight and wellness problems with what we are putting in our mouths? How do we do it? What will be the benefits those who partake? More on these questions in the next post. Thank you for reading!