A great video of Beth Terry, founder of Fake Plastic Fish, speaking about why individuals’ actions matter.
The recent soy scare clearly had more to do with cultural masculinity issues than sound science. But a less publicized, and much more valid concern with the health food industry’s reliance on soy protein is the use of hexane in obtaining it. As this video explains, hexane is a neurotoxic solvent that is widely used in processing soybeans, and can be present in trace amounts in finished products made with soy protein. Since the word “natural” has little-to-no legal meaning in this country, companies can claim that products made with hexane-separated soy protein are “all-natural” on the label. Since the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based sustainable agriculture public interest group, published a report on hexane use in soy processing, some natural foods companies like Amy’s and Nature’s Path have switched to hexane-free sources of soy protein or to tofu. Others such as Tofurky and Wildwood have been committed to sourcing hexane-free soy derivatives since they were established. The best way to avoid the environmental and health dangers of hexane food processing is to choose organic foods, which are certified hexane-free.
 The myth that eating soy products (often in the form of meat substitutes) makes males grow breasts reads like just another (albeit extreme) variation of “real men eat big steaks and shun vegetables.”
 The unfortunately named phytoestrogens that are present in soy are what ignited all the panic. Despite what they’re called, a meta-analysis in Fertility and Sterility showed recently that there is no evidence to suggest that these compounds behave like the human hormone estrogen, and that in fact they may act against it, which may explain some of soy’s well-documented anti-carcinogenic properties.
 See the book Fast Food Nation for a primer on “natural” versus “artificial” flavorings. There is only a very slight technical difference between them, and many “natural” flavorings are not something any normal person would consider natural.
The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines are out, and they are already raising the ire of food industry interest groups. Predictably, the Salt Institute complained about the recommendation to reduce salt intake by more than half. However, it claims it isn’t worried that consumers will actually follow the guidelines, even if they intend to. As one spokewoman stated confidently,
“If they [consumers] don’t get it [salt] on one food they’re going to get it in another food, or they will seek out the saltshaker.”
If the food industry can no longer depend on the government to protect every last one of its interests over those of the populace, at least it can always depend on the American public’s utter lack of self-restraint.
This new focus on “reduction” is one the Guidelines have been tiptoeing around since the infamous 1977 Dietary Goals press release, as Marion Nestle details in her book, Food Politics. That year, industry pressure forced the Dietary Guidelines committee to replace the incendiary phrase “reduce consumption of meat” with “choose meats, poultry and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.” Since then, the Guidelines have used the lenient verb “choose” in place of the authoritative, potentially profit-damaging verb “reduce,” and have used specific nutrients, such as saturated fat and cholesterol, as euphemisms for the foods that contain them, such as meat and dairy.
The new Dietary Guidelines executive summary still heavily promotes dairy consumption and continues to rely on nutrient euphemisms that are difficult for consumers to put into practice. It does, however, contain an entire section boldly entitled “Foods and Food Components to Reduce,” which was unheard of in older editions, whose sections were more likely to be neutrally named “Fats” or “Sodium and Potassium.” All of the guidelines in the new “To Reduce” section still name nutrients instead of particular foods except for the last two. One concerns alcoholic beverages, and the wording remains similar to previous editions. The other, though, states, “Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined-grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.”
Although they didn’t just go ahead and call a twinkie a twinkie, it’s a step in the right direction.
Best of all, the wimpy 2005 recommendation, “Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often,” has been replaced with the positive, no-exceptions-allowed, “Increase vegetable and fruit intake.” Because no one in America eats enough produce.
Despite these small sucesses, the USDA Dietary Guidelines are still fundamentally shaped by the food industry’s own interests, and will remain hamstringed until public health takes priority over industry profit. As Elizabeth Hitchcock of US PIRG (Public Interest Reseach Groups) says in a statement issued today,
“American consumers could better put these recommendations into practice if the federal government would stop subsidizing the cheap production of high fat, high calorie foods.
“Billions of taxpayer dollars have been directed toward agribusiness artificially driving down the cost of fats and sugars by subsidizing commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Meanwhile, the prices for fruits and vegetables, grown with relatively little government support, have steadily increased by nearly 40% in the past 20 years.”
 Not an unbiased research organization as its name might imply, but a lobbying group that represents salt producers such as Cargill and Morton.
Written for my Earth Systems class…
An article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle today entitled, “Obama Says Alt-Energy Key in Wake of Oil Spill,” conveys the popular hope that, politically speaking, the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill might ultimately have a net positive effect on the Earth’s systems. In President Obama’s words, “The spill in the Gulf, which is heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources.” Obama’s spin on this ecological catastrophe was perhaps necessitated by the occasion (a visit to a solar panel manufacturer in Fremont, CA,) but it is a view of the situation that I think anyone with the slightest degree of concern for the environment would like to believe. The oil spill’s concretely tragic effects (which will show up so much better in photos than a couple degrees’ rise in global temperature ever could) will serve as a wake-up call to finally get the public behind alternative energy initiatives, thus averting the even larger catastrophe of unchecked global warming.
I, myself, would really love to believe this, especially when we seem to be powerless to stop the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that continue to spew into the Gulf every day. (The fixes BP has come up with so far have seemed laughably crude: first a large box, then a smaller box, and now…mud?) But even if the oil spill does usher in a new era of cleaner fuel, I’m afraid that will prove to be a simplistic and overly optimistic view of a very complex situation.
No one really knows how wide-ranging the effects of the oil spill will ultimately be (let alone the effects of the toxic dispersants which BP is using in massive quantities in an attempt to “clean up” the oil) but the impact on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems and on the Earth as a whole (there are fears that the loop current could carry the oil to Florida and beyond, into the Atlantic ocean) will undoubtedly be with us for decades at the very least. We have a general sense of what will happen if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, but what happens when 40-72 million gallons of oil (and counting) end up in the ocean? Obviously, many of the plants and animals in the region will be killed. Destroyed coastal marshes will no longer provide protection from storms to the mainland. Loss of plant life may cause coastal erosion. Gluttonous oil-eating microbes could deoxygenate deep sea water. There is even the possibility that, years after surface oil has degraded or evaporated, storms could stir up lingering oil from the deep and deposit it on shore. The cumulative effect that all these factors and other, unforeseen ones, could have on the Earth’s systems is nearly impossible to predict.
As a tradeoff, then, swapping a massive oil spill with unprecedented consequences for an accelerated switch to alternative energy sounds like a pretty risky deal, but it’s too late to stop the oil spill. So let’s hope Obama is right when he says, “The promise of clean energy isn’t an article of faith, not any more. The future is here.”
In fewer than 20 days, these will be french breakfast radishes (or so says the packet they came from.)
Already, I think they’re even cuter than their name.
It’s generally a bit embarrassing to admit that I try not to buy food in plastic packaging. It’s as if being vegan wasn’t restrictive enough, as if cutting out all animal products didn’t have enough potential to make other people think I feel superior. Well I don’t. I don’t know why I’m compelled to do these things. “My actions are abstract and absurd, and they are neither saving the rain forests nor feeding the world’s hungry,” writes J.B. MacKinnon in Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet. I’m not naïve enough to think that refusing to eat meat exonerates me from the horrors committed daily on factory farms, or that I’m doing my part to stop global warming by biking to work. I’m all too aware that no matter how conspicuously I wield my glass jars in the bulk section at the Berkeley Bowl, that huge roll of plastic bags will be used up by other shoppers in a matter of hours. The guilt of not doing enough weighs heavily on me no matter how much I give up.
[T]he essential pointlessness of such a gesture [as eating only local foods for a year] is not lost on me[.] I am acutely aware that efforts like the 100-mile diet are readily dismissed as “the new earnestness,” which is currently enjoying a very temporary cool, and I am not deluded enough to feel that I’m making a difference or being the change I want to see in the world. Both of these contemporary platitudes contain kernels of truth, but both are also overwhelmed by stark realities. I have traveled these ethical pathways in one way or another for twenty years now, choosing to ride a bicycle in homicidal traffic, to reuse my tinfoil and plastic bags as though I lived in the Depression, to shop little and buy less. It doesn’t make me feel “good.” It makes me feel like an alien. As I pedal through another midwinter rainfall, virtually every indicator of global ecological health continues to worsen, from biodiversity to energy consumption, and my being has done little to change the world (p. 17).
And yet. The Plastic Trash Challenge long over, coming up on a year of strict veganism, I’m not slowing down. I can’t seem to bring myself to go back to buying tofu in a tub, or yogurt in a carton. After reading Plenty, I’ve even started thinking harder about where my produce comes from. It used to be, if it said ‘California’ (or even ‘Oregon’) and ‘organic’ on it, I was good to go. But California is a big state, and I have no idea where Watsonville is. It sounds nice and local, but it could be 400 miles to the south for all I know. And after reading about Earthbound Farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’m wary of even organic produce that seems too corporate.
Which is why I found myself biking the 3.3 miles to the Berkeley Farmers’ market yesterday. It was a beautiful day, the second spring-like day we’ve had in the past week. I hadn’t been to a farmers’ market all winter. I had wiped all the winter grime off my bike, wired my saddlebags to the rack, and set off in sunglasses and a sweatshirt. Plenty had inspired me to shop without a list, to buy whatever the farmers were offering that day, whatever was in season that moment. I tend to think that cooking needs to be complicated and meticulously planned to be good, often forgetting that some of the best meals I’ve made have been thrown together with whatever was on hand. And so I got a bunch of dandelion greens, two chanterelles, two baby butternut squashes, some beets, purple carrots, and rapini. Today for lunch, on my day off when I’m usually loathe to cook, I thought I’d sauté my precious chanterelles with the dandelion greens. But the vegetables demanded more of me. ‘Crêpes,’ they seemed to be saying, ‘we need crêpes to nestle in.’
 Or irritating for people trying to include me in their dinner plans, either.
 In the six months that I’ve been lugging my own jars back and forth to the grocery store, a couple people have remarked at what a good idea it was. But not once have I seen someone else with their own jars.
 Though last week, out of desperation on lunch at work one day I did buy a plastic tub of hummus and a loaf of bread in a plastic bag. I was very hungry, Smart Alec’s was closed for repairs, my 30 minutes was running short and I had no cash for a sandwich at (what used to be called ) Intermezzo…
 Lots of produce at the Bowl seems to come from Watsonville. Naturally, I Googled it just now, and Watsonville seems to be anywhere from 88 to 104 miles away by car from where I live.
30,000 acres of certified organic industrial farming.
 To deter thieves (or the ones without wire cutters or the patience to unwrap a bit of wire, anyway) from taking them while I shopped. My saddlebags are cute and very functional when hooked to a rack, but too unwieldy and awkward to carry around a farmers’ market.
 Of course, so have some of the least edible…But even using a recipe isn’t disaster-proof.
 All I could afford. But Michael Pollan’s prose on the subject of chanterelles convinced me that $5 per quarter pound is a steal for these amazing fungi.
 I love cooking for other people, but when I’m alone and hungry, it usually seems like too much trouble to spread some peanut butter on a slice of bread.
 Vegan crêpes are not only possible, by the way, thanks to the miracle of chickpea flour (which has a protein similar to that of eggs,) but they are also just as delicious as the more traditional dairy-laden kind. See Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Brunch or Veganomicon for a recipe.
Michael Pollan on the disconnect between food, health and the environment.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
When my mother informed me on the phone that she had stopped using her dryer, I pictured my parents’ tiny first floor laundry room that doubles as a guest bath thick with clotheslines and garments in varying states of dampness. In the dead of a Midwest winter, they couldn’t have installed a clothesline outside, right?
It seems I underestimated my parents. When I arrived in Madison a couple days ago, I discovered that they had indeed put a clothesline on their screen porch. What’s more, the towels and clothes they had hung on it in frigid temperatures miraculously hadn’t frozen. ‘They feel a little clammy, but they’re dry’ my mom said as she pulled some jeans off the line. ‘It just takes a little longer in the winter.’ 
Having thus defied the laws of physics, my parents moved on to a few other improvements. Food scraps, which for years went down the disposal or in the trash, are separated into soup stock makings and compost, and are collected in a couple coffee cans in the freezer. The compost gets brought outside to the compost bin periodically. My dad has had more luck than me making soup stock that doesn’t taste funny, even though he flouts all the rules about what should and should not go in it.
They also got the back stairs refinished by Mr. Sandless,TM a company that uses certified low VOC finishes. ‘It smelled like orange juice instead of polyurethane,’ my dad says.
 When asked why, she said the thing about EnergyStar not even certifying clothes dryers bothered her, especially in light of the fact that dryers are unnecessary. ‘When you really think about it,’ she commented, ‘it’s like using a hair dryer to make your clothes dry a little faster.’
 My mom says that when dryers first started appearing in houses in the fifties, women of her mother’s generation used them as a last resort, preferring the fresh scent and crisp texture of clothes dried en plein air. She remembers my grandma’s sheets freezing in the winter occasionally when she took a chance and put them out to dry in spite of the weather. It’s funny how we still think of the aesthetics of ‘real’ living as ideal in our chemical age- even dryer sheets, which couldn’t be more fake, sell themselves with allusions to fresh breezes and cool mountain air, and more often than not portray clothes on a line on their packages.
 We had a compost bin when I was growing up, but over the years my parents lost interest in keeping it up. What it was about decaying vegetables that couldn’t hold their interest for longer I’m not entirely sure…
 When I told him that the cauliflower I was chopping up had to go in the compost, not the soup stock bin, because cauliflower is cruciferous, he looked at me like I was nuts. ‘It’ll get bitter!’ I insisted. I think he threw it in the compost just to humor me. This is the man who taught my mom how to cook, but who can count on one hand the number of times he’s followed a recipe in his life.