Wednesday, December 23, 2009

See You in 2010

Due to a little thing called 'Vaction in Europa!!!!', I will be off for a bit. I promise to think of you all here in blog-world often. Indeed, I'll keep my eyes peeled, my ears perked, and my taste buds at 'the ready' in an attempt to soak up all the experiences I can to bring back to you all here in 2010.

Merry Christmas!  See you all in 2010.

My present for you.  A virtual bison steak in all its glory.  I swear, I didn't realize "The Vegetarian Myth" copy was in the picture, but I must say that I like it there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rendering Pork Fat

Pasture raised, Berkshire pig fat from Green Being Farm.

As opposed to this, rendering animal fat is an incredibly easy process. All you need is a healthy, grass-fed source of animal fat and a big pot. Cut the fat into cubes, place them in the pot, and place over a low temperature. You can use the oven on a very low setting as well (for our oven, that's about 180). Stir it up every 30 minutes or so.  When the fat has sufficiently rendered, pour into glass jars.  Store in the fridge.

The rendering state of affairs after about an hour.

It can take upwards of five hours, depending on how much fat you're rendering at once. In the pictures, I was rendering a large amount and it ended up taking about six hours.

Allo lardo.  Voila, it's lard!  I got about 8 jars out of the deal

Why would you want to render animal fat? Well, for one, it's the only stable fat to cook with. Vegetable oils are very unstable and hence quickly oxidize making them a poor choice for cooking (some would say they're already oxidized by the time they're put on the grocery store shelves).  For a multitude of other reasons to include saturated fats in your diet, check out the links below.

Further reading:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Starving in the Supermarket

Photo: Lyzadanger
Every couple of weeks I head into our local, gargantuan grocery store. I'm sure the grocery stores all over the place look pretty similar to ours. Row upon row of food products, glistening their shiny plastic labels and pretty colours under the fluorescent lights. The bakery fans aimed at your face when you walk in so you can get a good waft of the sugars just waiting for you. Frozen food aisles (yes, they are aisles now) offer quick convenience and nutrition to boot. Sauces, dressings, dips, and condiments take up entire sections of the store. Processed cereals beckon your children with their bright, happy labels.  Nutritional claims abound!
This from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S.):
Over the last couple decades, grocery store supermarkets have been facing growing competition for the food dollar. More and more time-pressed people are eating out on a regular basis or buying takeout meals. Also, a greater variety of stores are selling groceries, with warehouse club stores and supercenters becoming some of the biggest food sellers. To compete with restaurants, fast food outlets, and club and supercenter stores, grocery stores have been selling more general merchandise items and providing a greater variety of services to cater to the one-stop shopper. They are also selling more prepared foods, deli items, and food to go. Some provide tables for eating in the store.

Nothing says love like a blob of goo fresh from the microwave.

Grocery stores are getting out of the food selling business and aiming their sites at where the real money is, getting consumers in there to pick up a quick, microwaveable meal or a bag of lettuce they can eat with their rotisserie chicken. We are losing our connection to food at an astronomical rate. We have been convinced that an industry can do it better, that we don't have time, that it's the same thing to buy that bottle of whatever as it is to make it with your own hands. Only, none of that is true.

I always do this mental deconstruction when I look at these packaged foods. For instance, when I look at salad dressing, I visually break it down to all of its raw ingredients and then review how many steps in manufacturing it took to bring that product to fruition. An orange juice company would like you to look at that tetra pack of orange juice and think about oranges and how nutritious they are. The manufacturer wants you to think that the juice in that foiled box is kissed by mother nature herself. If you ever make your own juice, you know that it doesn't last for more than a few hours. So, where's the magic here?

The magic is really just an illusion:
  • Picked oranges arrive at the manufacturing plant where they are sorted, washed with detergents, cut and squeezed by mechanical instruments.
  • Juice to be concentrated undergoes high-pressure steam to heat the juice which then evaporates the water.
  • The pulp is separated from the juice using ultra-filtration and extreme heat pasteurization.
  • The clarified juice is concentrated using heat and reverse osmosis.
  • The concentrate and pulp are recombined.
  • The juice is stored in large metal vats until it is ready for packaging or for use in other food materials.
  • Before using, "flavor packs" are added to the orange juice as much of its flavor and freshness has been lost in processing and storage.  And, no, these flavoring agents are not listed, and by law, do not have to be.
"Not from concentrate" juice is really no better, they have just skipped the step that concentrates the juice and wisely marketed the product to convey the idea that it's somehow premium because it is "fresh".   Unfortunately, that's not the case. Everything else still applies, especially the extra flavorings as "fresh" juice loses its flavor rapidly and the juice still sits for a long time before it ever sees a breakfast glass.  The result is a glass of nutritionally-void sugar with the life pasteurized out of it, and only a "flavor pack" to give you the illusion that what you are drinking is somehow related to that orange you see on the label.

What the consumer ends up with, whether it's orange juice, apple juice, mayonnaise, salad dressing, whatever it is, is the same thing:  a container filled with some denatured substance trying to convince your taste buds that all is well.

And that's just orange juice.  100% industrialized juice.  Here's what Anders Olson, marketing director for Tetra Pak UK recently said when discussing a, then, newly launched  'smoothie' product aimed at children, called, "Happy Monkey":
“The kids market can be one of the toughest to crack, however the fully brandable surface of cartons makes them a good choice for brands wishing to target kids and parents alike. Happy Monkey does a good job of this, with its funky, ‘just for kids’ branding, and parent-pleasing nutritional values.”
"Pleasing nutritional values".  Right.

"Febo" in Amsterdam. Automated food at your fingertips. My sister tried one. I'll spare you the horror of what happened next.

Over the next while, I would like to look at some commonly purchased grocery store products and show you why it's just as easy, and far more nutritious to make it yourself. In the case of basic foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, and eggs, it's all about your local farmer (I know, I say that a lot). In other cases, it's just about remembering that we were here long before the Krafts of the world.  When we eat foods made with our own hands, foods that have been grown or raised with care by farmers that are stewards of the land, we nourish ourselves, we nourish our families, we support our local economies, and we are part of the solution to the growing food crisis.

O.k., enough heaviness.. yeesh!  Any ideas on what convenience food I should tackle first?  I'd love to hear it!

Further reading:

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Better Protein Shake

I happened upon a vending machine, the other day, with plastic bottles filled with flavoured milk.  Gross.  There were all sorts of crazy flavours, meant to make the milk look fun and exciting.  In an attempt to make their product more palatable to a generation used to highly sweetened and flavoured products, the manufacturer loaded up their ultra-pasteurized (read: ultra-dead) milk with sugars, preservatives, and chemical flavour enhancers.  What's left? Definitely nothing of nutritional value.

Years ago, in an attempt to get in some good quality protein (as the fitness industry reminds us we must do), I opted for shake after shake of whey protein.  To be sure, I bought the good stuff, high quality with no sweeteners or flavouring, but I still ended up developing intolerances to the stuff.  In retrospect, I see the folly of ingesting an extract of a whole food.  Today, we stick with whole sources of protein, complete with the entire nutritional profile inherent in that food.  I want all of it:  the vitamins, the minerals, the fat, and the high quality protein.  Everything serves a purpose.

Our oldest daughter, a competitive rower, makes herself a protein shake every morning, after her workouts.  Her immunity remains high, even when under stress from her demanding training schedule and her fitness level continues to improve at a phenomenal rate.  Most of all, she recovers very quickly from intense training.   She has been able to significantly increase her lean, muscle mass while remaining very lean.  I don't attribute all of this to her post-workout shake, what she does with her diet for the remainder of the day is just as important, but the shake is a significant boon to her recovery, giving her body just what it needs while in a depleted state.

Sunshine+grass+cow = foundation of our nutrition-dense shake.  Image: TreeHugger
I hesitate to write a recipe for the shake simply because it's not the measurements that matter most, but rather the quality of the ingredients. We blend about 1.5 cups of raw, pasture grazed milk with 4 raw eggs, a few drops of vanilla, and a teaspoon or so of maple syrup or raw honey.  That's it. We just blend it up like that. We may, sometimes, use organic cocoa in the shake to change up the flavour.  In the summer, we might use some fruit, but in the winter, we avoid it. We also, sometimes, throw in some kefir or homemade yoghurt.

It's so easy to make and far superior to any product touting some miracle result.  The key is to find local producers that are able to provide you with nutritionally dense products from healthy animals.  I would never consume raw eggs from a grocery store, nor do I think that all raw milk is safe.  Just another reason to get out there and meet your local farmers!

Your farmer is waiting:
  • Local Harvest
  • CSA Farms Canada
  • Eat Well Guide
  • Eat Wild
  • Simply 'Google' local farms/biodynamic/grass-fed/organic +farms +your local region.  Contact the farmers and ask if they would have you out to see what they're up to.  Most farmers are happy to show consumers what they are raising and producing on their land.  Some of my most cherished relationships are ones that started out with a simple farm visit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Watering Down 'Organic' Certification

Wild Salmon doing her thing.  Wild Grizzly doing his thing, too.
I was at the grocery store the other day when I happened upon a new display of frozen "Organic" packages of seafood. Our middle daughter was excited to see that there was now organic seafood.. phew! At last! We can all rest easy, organic fish is pristine and much healthier than the regular stuff. Well, not really.  So, I went into another of my mommy-educational-public-service-announcements. My kids love it when I do that. 

Seafood, certified as organic, is farmed seafood. Period. In order to gain organic certification, the seafood has to be farmed. How can you certify that something is organic when it's wild? And there in lies the weakness of certifying or labeling food. I would much rather have a wild salmon, caught in the cold ocean waters than eat a farmed salmon that has been fed antibiotics, has lived in a completely unnatural habitat, been given pellets that make its flesh 'appear' to be that beautiful salmony-colour, has less omega 3s than the wild variety, is loaded with PCBs, and contributes parasites, pollution,  and lice to the wild salmon stock. Oh, they also feed these penned-up fish a little something called 'fish meal'.  Wanna' guess what that's made up of?  Well, in part, it's the farmed salmon's wild brethren, wild salmon.  Nope, I will not support that practice.

This all has me wondering about fish oils.  We supplement with fish oil around these here parts and I trust the source that we get our fish oil from (only wild fish are used).  But, it would be worth checking on sources from which any of you are getting your fish oils, especially if they're listed as 'organic'.

The part that's so bothersome about organic seafood is that people choose it because they really think they are doing something proactive. They believe that it's healthier for them and the environment. They pay more for something that delivers less. 

Don't be fooled by the fish farming industry's latest attempts at convincing consumers that their product is in someway better than wild salmon.  It's marketing, pure and simple.  Unfortunately, it's another step in the wrong direction resulting in the watering down of 'organic' certification.>

Further reading:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Water Buffalo for Christmas

Who needs more stuff?  Here's a couple ideas for gift giving that will truly make a difference in people's lives.  You will even get a snazzy card to send to your loved ones to let them know that you gave in their name.  Sweet.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Problem with Almonds

Soaked and dehydrated Spanish almonds.

Most of you know that all almonds produced in California must now be pasteurized.  That means that all of those delicate little enzymes are blasted to oblivion via high heat or with chemicals (yes, apparently chemical applications are now considered 'pasteurization'). And don't think you can spot these babies in the market! Nope, they are still legally labeled as "raw" even though they simply are not.

If you're looking for raw, enzymatically-alive nuts, I'd recommend looking for almonds grown in Spain.  Alternatively, you may be able to find a California almond producer that will sell almonds directly to you, unpasteurized.

Further reading:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Little Gary Taubes for Your Listening Pleasure

So, I was feeling in need of a little somethin' last night.  I had this craving, a real deep-seated need for... what?  I wandered around my house picking up books and putting them down.  I looked around the kitchen for some project to start.  I did some pushups on the living room floor.  But, still, nothing was hitting the spot.

Then, I caught a glimpse of my beloved on the book shelf - my worn out, dog-eared copy of "Good Calories, Bad Calories".  I realized how long it had been since I had me a good dose of the ingenius, Monsieur Gary Taubes.  It's been far too long.

So, with a cuppa' tea in hand, I sat down to listen to a debate between Gary (we're on a first name basis in my imagination) and Dr. Ronald Krauss.  This is an oldie, but a goodie.  If you haven't heard this little ditty before, I guarantee it's worth thirty minutes of your time.  It's a great introduction to the problems with carbohydrates and the erred demonization of fat.  Gary Taubes for President!

Bettah' with Buttah'

A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has shown a correlation between decreased levels of heart disease and consumption of vegetables only when the consumption of produce is accompanied by fat.

Don't eat your veggies with butter or your berries with cream?  Sorry, no happy heart for you.  Eating low fat?  Sorry, that doesn't work either.  Um, vegetable fat?  Nope, it has to be full-fat, creamy deliciousness, animal products.  Wow, how often do studies actually show that we shouldn't deprive ourselves?

Those fat soluble vitamins and nutrients need fat to be absorbed by the body.  So, there you have it.  Smother that broccoli in butter.  Drizzle ghee on your cauliflower.  Dollop some raw, creme fraiche on your berries.  Or, you could just take my youngest daughter's lead and use ghee as a dip for your cheese.  Yes, even I shudder at that one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Evidence of Widespread Vitamin A Insufficiency

Why, I do declare, that bison is sticking his tongue out at me! Bison roaming the range, as it should be.

More reasons to eat those grass fed organ meats, pastured eggs, and butter. Vitamin a does not come from a vegetable, beta carotene does. Your body actually has to convert the beta carotene to vitamin a, a process that wanes as we age and, apparently, is genetically absent in almost half of women (I would wager it the same in men and children).

NEWCASTLE, England, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Half of British women lack vitamin A due to a genetic variation, scientists found.

Researchers at Newcastle University in England, led by Dr. Georg Lietz, found 47 percent of volunteer group of 62 women carried a genetic variation that prevented their bodies from effectively converting beta-carotene into vitamin A.

The findings suggest beta carotene may not be an effective substitute for vitamin A for women whose bodies are not able to make the conversion, Lietz said. Beta carotene has been suggested for pregnant women since a 1987 study linked too much vitamin A with certain birth defects.

"Worryingly, younger women are at particular risk," Lietz said in a statement. "The older generations tend to eat more eggs, milk and liver which are naturally rich in vitamin A, whereas the health-conscious youngsters on low-fat diets are relying heavily on the beta-carotene form of the nutrient."

The study findings were published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal and were presented at the Hohenheim Nutrition Conference in Stuttgart, Germany.

Deep, yellow fat on pasture raised animals indicative of high vitamin a content and overall health resulting from the animal eating what it's supposed to eat: grass and living where it's supposed to live: outside in the sunshine.
Further reading on Vitamin A. Why you need it. Where to get it.