Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a public policy research center in Washington, D.C., has stated succinctly that “some companies are making huge profits off obesity.”  There are people who wish to fight obesity by incorporating tactics used against the tobacco industry.  What ultimately proved to be effective in reducing tobacco use was to hold cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products.

Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, a book published in 2004 which criticizes a “toxic food environment” in American culture, has also this year co-authored a paper titled “The Perils of Ignoring History:  Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died.  How similar is Big Food?”  The comparison he makes between the tobacco industry and Big Food shows the same tactics being used to fight off criticism.   According to Brownell, “the common strategies include dismissing as ‘junk science’ peer-reviewed studies showing a link between their products and disease; paying scientists to produce pro-industry studies; sowing doubt in the public’s mind about the harm caused by their products; intensive marketing to children and adolescents; frequently trotting out  supposedly ‘safer’ products; denying the addictive nature of their products; and lobbying with massive resources to thwart regulatory action.”

One side will argue that consuming unhealthy food is a choice, and that most people are fully aware that eating food loaded with fat, sugar and salt is unhealthy.  That position was also used by the tobacco industry, which denied the addictive nature of tobacco.  A Scipps Research Study done in 2010 showed that “the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overheat, pushing people into obesity.”  This study and others have had little effect on Big Food.  The annual revenues of the fast food industry have continued to rise, while the number of ads aimed at children have also increased.  The result, as we all know, is that the obesity rate among children and adults continues to rise.  A full 35% of American adults are obese, while obesity rates for children have doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled in adolescents.

The costs of obesity to our society are great.  Kaiser Health News estimates that obesity accounts for $147 billion to $190 billion  in yearly expenditures, while the health costs of tobacco continue to drop and are now estimated at $96 billion annually.  The report states that “after decades of lawsuits, damning reports about industry practices, and stop-smoking campaigns, smoking rates have plummeted, from a high of 42% of adults in 1965…to just over 19% today.  Meanwhile, obesity has been soaring since the 1980’s…Currently, 45 million American adults are smokers, while 78 million adults and almost 13 million youngsters are counted as obese.”

The first fight against tobacco involved emphasis on personal responsibility and voluntary self-regulation.  It didn’t work.  Only when anti-tobacco advocates switched their emphasis from changing individual behavior to holding cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products, did Americans heed the message that their health was being compromised for profit.

Interestingly, while most of the lawsuits aimed at Big Food have failed in America, a Russian consumer protection agency has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, as was reported by the New York Times on July 26.  The suit calls for a ban on certain products.  The claim accuses “the restaurant chain of violating government nutritional and safety codes in a number of its burger and ice cream products.”  The case will be heard on August 13.  While a lawsuit in Russian against an American company is probably a political game, at least it focuses on the detrimental affects of eating Big Food.

The fight against tobacco took decades, and despite the fact that it isn’t eliminated, it was largely an effective battle.  As more studies will emerge concerning the dangers of Big Food to our health, and as the public becomes more aware of just how much fat, salt and sugar there is in these “foods”, I believe we can reduce our dependence on unhealthy food.

Recipe of the Week

Many people will  continue to justify eating fast food because they don’t have time to cook.  Unfortunately, this is true for most families, but the way to provide home-cooked food is to plan menus and create them on the weekend.  The following is not so much a recipe as a demonstration of a “kit” that is partly purchased and partly cooked, and one that will provide a couple of different meal options throughout the week.

Lamb Kabobs

2 pounds of lamb leg steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ pieces

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

10 grindings of fresh pepper

Place the lamb pieces in a large container, coat with oil and salt and pepper

Marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.

Prepare a grill, put the lamb on spits and grill for three minutes per side.

Yogurt Sauce with Garlic, Cucumber and Mint

5 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped

2 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped (optional)

1 1/2 cups non-fat plain yogurt

Mix all of the above.

I then purchased mixed greens, Greek olives, goat cheese, hummus and pita.  I now have ingredients for pita sandwiches with lamb, yogurt sauce, hummus and lettuce.  I also have ingredients for a Greek salad for another meal.  You can substitute feta for the goat cheese in the salad, and add any other vegetables you wish.


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One Small Step

It’s not completely on my radar that the federal government issues dietary guidelines every five years.  I know the food pyramid gave way to My Plate, but that’s about it, and I’m sure the majority of Americans are as vague about it as I am.  Big Ag, however, pays close attention to any and all minutiae potentially relating to their bottom line.  It has been suggested that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015 will center on overall sustainability as a direct result of environmental degradation caused by industrial meat production.  This is all speculation, however; the meat industry is tying its knickers in knots because of the person appointed to lead the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Dr. Angela Tagtow.

Dr. Tagtow is a longtime sustainable food advocate who believes, as she stated in a 2011 lecture, that “a sustainable and resilient food system conserves and renews natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters now and in the future.”  Her appointment sends a signal that the USDA, currently almost entirely in the pocket of Big Ag, may be responding to issues relating to climate change.

Introducing climate change into nutrition policy, however timely and responsible, has predictably raised red flags for Big Ag.  If, as Tagtow has written, “dietetic education and practice must encompass the ecological, political, social and economical implications of a healthy diet,” industrial meat production must be heavily regulated and downsized.  Tagtow’s Good Food Checklist for Eaters is especially troubling for the food industry as it espouses, among many other things, a reduction in the amount of meat people should consume.  Tagtow also wrote a paper in 2009 that called for a sustainable food system less dependent on oil and gas.

Dr. Tagtow’s detractors take issue with her logical advocacy of a sustainable food system.  She has directly called for governmental reforms to be implemented and ensconced in other areas, such as the Affordable Care Act.  “When we make decisions about how food is grown and what food is grown, the quality and quantity and biodiversity of food that’s grown here in this country, it directly affects the status of our food system, and the status of our food system directly affects our healthcare system.”  She goes on to ask, “Do you think healthcare reform is really going to be as effective as it could be if we  had food system reform as well?”

Jeff Stier, of the National Center for Public Policy Research, has openly decried the appointment of Dr. Tagtow.  He calls her mission statement (“Establish healthier food systems that are resilient, sustainable, ecologically sound, socially acceptable and economically viable”) a “sin.”  Given the National Center for Public Policy Research’s own mission statement, which in part states “a firm belief that private owners are the best stewards of the environment,” this comes as no surprise.  Some of his statements concerning Tagtow’s appointment immediately reminded me of the line, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  “Here you’ve got the USDA’s top person on nutrition education who has made a career out of making sustainability central to how we eat, rather than healthy diets, ” he says.  Or, “Tagtow comes from an ideologically divisive perspective.  She’s not someone who’s views are mainstream in the nutritional community.”  Stier believes, basically, that Dr. Tagtow is a left wing “strident activist.”  Attacking the messenger seems to be his number one argument.  Jeff Stier has himself politicized any discussion on food related issues, such as labeling Michelle Obama’s attempt to reconfigure the school lunch program to be more healthy as “left-wing.”

At any rate, this very small but incremental sea change in the advice given to Americans by the federal government is to be celebrated.  Starting in 2015, school children will be taught about sustainability.  At least a seed will be planted.

Recipe of the Week

Pasta again, but so easy, meat-free and delicious.

Pasta with Olives and Tomatoes

3/4 pound pasta, any type you wish

1 28 ounce can of organic whole tomatoes

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

1 cup good quality olives, preferably Greek

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mince garlic and allow to sit for ten minutes.

Chop onions

Puree tomatoes

Heat olive oil in an appropriate pan.  Add onions and saute until soft and turning brown, about 20 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for less than a minute.  Add tomatoes and chopped olives.  Cook for about 20 minutes on low heat.  If the olives are of good quality  you shouldn’t have to add salt.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add pasta, cook until al dente, about 8 or 9 minutes.  Drain but don’t rinse.  When the sauce is ready, add the pasta, stir and serve.  If you wish, you can provide a quantity of fresh parmesan.

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Right-to-Farm laws have apparently been in effect in every state since the 1980’s.  Originally they were designed to protect established farming operations from nuisance lawsuits, such as when a farm finds itself newly surrounded by a housing development whose residents may object to odors, etc.  Legally, there are three kinds of nuisance.  One forbids individuals from using their property in a way that causes harm to others.  A private nuisance refers to an activity that interferes with an individual’s reasonable use or enjoyment of his or her property.  And a public nuisance is an activity that threatens the public health, safety or welfare, or damages community resources, such as public roads, parks and water supplies.

Goaded by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which works to persuade legislative bodies to enact laws that benefit their corporate members, states are attempting to enshrine a right to farm in their various constitutions.  If they succeed, any future legislation or ballot initiative seeking to regulate agriculture would be quashed.  The ballot language usually reads “Shall the state constitution be amended to ensure that the right of citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed.”  These amendments, however, seek to go beyond Ag-gag laws and provide corporations protection against outside interest groups who wish to protect either the animals or the environment from their practices.  Right to farm language, encoded into state constitutions, would simply act as a barrier against any restrictions on Big-Ag.

Specifically, these right to farm amendments to constitutions, which are far more difficult to change than state laws, would essentially shield large industrial farms from any environmental and food safety regulations.  They would also stifle lawsuits arising from individuals who become sick from the vast amounts of pollution these industrial operations produce.  All the state right to farm laws were created before the advent of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and genetically modified organisms.  And pesticide use has increased greatly overall, a direct result of GMOs.

Hawaii’s legislative body recently sought to amend their state’s right to farm law by preventing local governments from enacting laws restricting “the right of farmers and ranchers to use agricultural technology and other practices not prohibited by federal or state law.”  Hawaii and Kauai have passed laws restricting genetically modified crops, which would then put them in conflict with their constitution.  At least for now, the effort to change Hawaii’s constitution has failed.  And in Oregon, voters in both Jackson and Josephine counties have banned the planting of GMOs, which would then be overridden by a constitutional amendment.  Similarly, California passed a law in 2008 which required that pregnant pigs, laying hens and calves raised for veal would be kept in enclosures large enough for them to turn around and fully extend their limbs.  This law, too, could be overturned if ALEC gets its way.

The “sell” to voters and legislative bodies is that these amendments are all about the small family farmer trying to protect his or her way of life.  Considering that the vast majority of farming operations in this country are controlled by industrial producers, it’s obvious where the motive and money are coming from.  Many states have already enacted Ag-gag  laws that criminalize activities by  private individuals to expose the harmful practices of the industry (pollution and mistreatment of animals.)  To further “protect” the right of industrial agriculture to use whatever technologies they wish comes at the expense of communities and consumers.  We can’t allow Big Ag to tighten their grip on our food supply.

Recipe of the Week

On hot summer days, I occasionally will make a Nicoise Salad.  It’s got a good enough amount of protein to satisfy the appetite and is overall a very refreshing meal.

To serve two.

1 large tomato, cut into eighths

a handful of fresh green beans, washed and trimmed

1 green bell pepper, sliced thinly

6 anchovy fillets

a handful of whatever olives you prefer

2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and sliced

a few slices of sweet onion

half a head of red-leaf lettuce for the base

1 can tuna

Combine all ingredients, toss with a sprinkle of salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Sue Vermont

The Grocers’ Manufacturers’ Association (GMA), a trade group representing, among others, Monsanto, General Mills and Cargill, is planning to sue Vermont because they passed a law that would require these companies to label products that are genetically modified.  The base of their lawsuit is that states shouldn’t be allowed to make such laws, that any mandate must come from the federal government, an entity Big Ag has in its pocket.

Big Ag continues their constant rant that GMO foods are perfectly safe, rolling out the patently false arguments that GMO crops consume less water and pesticides than conventional crops.  Big Ag, however, concerned exclusively with profit, is now, in order to protect their bottom line, slowly introducing  GMO-free products.  Cargill recently announced that they will offer a non-GMO soybean oil, which will then join corn and beans as two other non-GMO products.  Ethan Theis, food ingredients commercial manager for Cargill, released a statement explaining this seemingly contradictory behavior.  “Despite the many merits of biotechnology, consumer interest in food and beverage products made from non-GMO ingredients is growing, creating opportunities and challenges for food manufacturers and food service operators.”  Consumer demand, in other words, is driving Cargill’s decision.

General Mills recently reconfigured Cheerios to make it non-GMO, and Post Foods is investigating how to alter Grape-Nuts cereal to become non-GMO.  “A lot of food manufacturers are looking at switching over to non-GMO.  The demand is there,” says Aaron Skyberg, director of SK Food International, a North Dakota-based bulk ingredients supplier to U.S. and foreign food companies.  Many of these companies are even seeking to enroll in a third-party verification program, the Non-GMO Project.  And business is booming.  According to the Non-GMO Project Executive Director, Megan Westgate, “the number of non-GMO ‘verified’ products surged to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline.  We get about 80 new companies enrollment inquiries every week.  People want non-GMO.”  The push to create non-GMO products at this point is a difficult endeavor, but public demand is such that investors are beginning to pay attention.  The San Francisco company Equilibrium Capital Group is interested in developing infrastructure in grain storage, transportation and converting farmland to non-GMO crop production.

Other participants in the supply chain, such as the Illinois company, Clarkson Grain, believe that the trend back to growing conventional crops is soaring.  Lynn Clarkson, the company president, says, “we are able to find farmers to grow non-GMO, and we’ve been able to do that consistently.”  She adds, too, that “we are seeing a significant increase in demand for non-GMO this year.”

All of this is driven by consumer demand.  Debbra DeMarco, vice president of Top Health Ingredients, says that any decision by Big Ag to offer up more non-GMO products is the result of their occupation with the bottom line and not by opposition to GMOs.  She states simply that “the only thing that will drive change to non-GMO is profit and public pressure.”  A New York Times poll taken in 2013 found that 93% of Americans favor labeling genetically altered foods.  An MSNBC poll, the results of which were published in 2011, found that 96% of Americans desire labeling.  Reuters/NPR, 95%.  Washington Post 2010, 95%.  It’s clear by their new attention to the development of non-GMO products that Big Ag is indeed paying attention to its customers.

Incremental change can be frustratingly slow, but can also in this case lead to societal benefits.  The “invisible hand of the market,” a phrase coined by Adam Smith, applies directly to Big Ag adopting decisions that it’s loath to concede.  That public demand can cause these companies to self-regulate in order to make a profit may work to benefit us all.

Recipe of the Week

I make one pie a year, and it’s my favorite.  Pie recipes are easy to come by, but the crust, although simple enough, is the key to making a really good pie.  My mother taught me the basics, and they work every time.

Blackberry Pie

5 cups blackberries.  They’re everywhere.  Pick them yourself or at least buy them at a Farmer’s Market.

1.5 tbls. fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic white flour

Combine above ingredients and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups of organic white flour

2/3 cup chilled butter plus 3 tbls.

6 to 8 tbls. ice chilled water.

Cut the butter into the flour and mix with your fingers until a cornmeal consistency emerges.  Using a fork to stir, one by one add the tablespoons of iced water, stirring briefly.  If, when you are done, the flour mixture doesn’t quite hold together, add a little more iced water.  The key to a good crust lies in this next phase.  Gather the dough into a ball, without handling it too much.  Cut the dough ball in half.  Sprinkle flour onto a cutting board and gently roll out to fit the size of your pie pan.  Fold the dough gently in half and place it in the pie pan.  Cut any excess dough off around the edges.  Repeat with the second ball of dough.  When it’s rolled, place the berry mixture in the pie pan and top with one or two tablespoons of butter, then top with the second ball of dough, crimping the edges again.  Prick the pie crust all over with a fork.  You can, at this point, sprinkle the top with sugar and/or coat with an egg white wash.  The oven should be heated to 450 degrees.  A safe thing to do is to place a baking pan under the pie as it cooks to collect any drippings.  After 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and cook until bubbly and golden brown, about 35 to 40 more minutes.

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Bully Politics

Prince Charles, of all people, and I applaud him for it, was one of the first to proclaim against Monsanto’s practice of forcing farmers in India to purchase genetically modified seeds.  A result of this was that small farmers were unable to pay the company when their crops failed and committed suicide.  The number of suicides are estimated at 270,000 since 1995.  As our government and others increase their ties to agribusiness, GM seeds are often the only purchasing option since non-GM varieties are then banned at seed banks.  It happened in India, and it happened in Iraq, where the U.S. essentially wiped out local, native agricultural practices, which were primarily sustainable, and replaced them with a Monsanto business plan.

And now the U.S. government is threatening to withhold $277 million in aid to El Salvador unless “specific” economic and environmental policy reforms are enacted.  A U.S. government agency, the Millenium Challenge Corporation, has put forth a compact for aid, and this compact contains a condition for purchasing GM seeds from Monsanto.  The Millenium Challenge Corporation’s intent is to provide economic assistance to “developing nations that demonstrate positive performance in three areas:  ruling justly, investing in people, and fostering economic freedom.”  With Michael Taylor in charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a former V.P. of Public Policy at Monsanto and appointed by Obama, the compact with El Salvador became one in which Monsanto’s business goals trump any concerns about “investing in people.”

Taylor has been instrumental in establishing governmental policies that benefit agribusiness and Monsanto in particular.  He colluded with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open up African markets for GM seeds and chemicals, even though it had already been shown that this misguided policy had been a failure in India.  Obama has expressed frustration that the fundamentals of the Green Revolution had not been introduced in Africa, but clearly he has not paid attention to what this revolution has wrought in India, where the farmers are in dept, are forced to pay high costs for seeds and pesticides, are committing suicide, (and often by drinking the same pesticides they were forced to buy) and resulting in a depleted water table and a poisoned environment.  Human health concerns include rising rates of cancer and autism as well.

Latin America, however, like much of the world, is slowly realizing that markets for GM food are shrinking.  Mexican judges recently banned GM corn and China has rejected the import of U.S. GM corn.  The President of the El Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technologies (CESTA), Richard Navarro, has demanded that the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, stop pressuring the government to buy Monsanto’s seeds rather than non-GM seeds from local suppliers.  “I would like to tell the U.S. Ambassador to stop pressuring the government…to buy ‘improved GM seeds,’…which only benefit U.S. multinationals and is to the detriment of local seed production.”  El Salvador also announced last year that they planned to ban the use of glyphosate (Roundup) and 52 other toxic chemicals, a result of an increase in occurrence of a rare type of chronic kidney disease that’s killing agricultural workers.  The Pan American Health Organization evidently decided that the health risks to workers were important enough to ban certain pesticides until evidence could be amassed as to the link between the high levels of cadmium and arsenic, heavy metals that are toxic to the kidneys, and the pesticides associated with GM crops.  Glyphosate sales are the main money maker for Big Ag, and this chemical provides the base of the entire system that allows GM crops to be grown.
“There is a harmful corporation on the planet called Monsanto…It is truly disturbing that the U.S. is trying to promote them,” says Navarro.  Monsanto, in its oblivious concern for human suffering and environmental destruction, continues, with the help of our government, on its singular path for more profit.

Recipe of the Week

I’ve mentioned Panzanella before, but it’s worth repeating, especially as a base for a summer meal, or as a pleasing contribution to a pot luck.


1 French baguette, cut into 1″ pieces

3 medium tomatoes

1/2 lb of provolone

1 cup olives, chopped

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped

extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste

Mix all ingredients.  This salad will last for at least a couple of days in the refrigerator. For a main meal, mix the panzanella with lightly dressed greens and top with grilled chicken.

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Corporate Food

I call it corporate food, but it is more accurately U.S. government/corporate food, as the two entities work hand in hand to inflate the price of nutritious, whole foods.  Government subsidies, established in the 20’s and 30’s, when 25% of the population lived on family farms, have shifted to industrial farms.  The bulk of current subsidies goes to the production of corn, much of which is devoted to ethanol.  A great deal of the corn, however, is used towards the production of processed foods, thereby deflating their cost.  A result of this practice in the last three decades is that farmers have lost the incentive to grow fruits and vegetables, which then drives prices even higher.  Inflated prices of whole foods is the main culprit, worldwide, of food insecurity and obesity.

Big Ag focuses exclusively on the production of food, which overlooks the main cause of food insecurity, which is the over-commodization of our food supply.  By treating food as a commodity that can be speculated on for pure profit, the U.S. has effectively put an adequate diet out of the reach of one in six people.  An extension of this focus is that, as Charles Z. Levkoe, Administrator at Canadian Association for Food Studies, says, our food system now is “increasing focus on people, not as citizens, but as consumers.”

Previous to the 1980’s, a futures market for agricultural commodities was tightly regulated and served as a stabilizing tool.  Farmers and wholesalers were allowed to sell their future output at a locked-in price which protected agriculture from pricing shifts caused by extreme weather or the cost of fuel.  Starting in the 80’s, however, government and industry colluded to de-regulate the food market.  This policy shift allowed for increased speculation on agricultural futures by such entities as banks, hedge funds, pension managers and university endowments.  And then, famously, in 2007, when the housing bubble burst, Wall Street began to focus almost exclusively on food futures, which caused prices to triple from those in 2005.

As food prices increase and wages stagnate, the obvious result is that people must decide whether to pay an exorbitant amount of their monthly income on food or eat fewer nutritionally balanced items.  If money is scare, it’s sometimes ones only option to try to fill our needs with cheap processed foods.  High calorie, low nutrition foods are the only options for many people, hence the relationship between hunger and obesity.

While obesity rates span all populations, Blacks and Hispanics suffer more from this condition than do Whites.  Not only is there a large disparity in income between races, the relocation of supermarkets from the inner city to suburban areas limits, too, the availability of healthier food choices.  Food Deserts have become a growing part of our national conversation, but very little is being done to address the problem.

I’m increasingly concerned about the availability of nutritious, affordable food.  Food banks, while serving populations that should instead be served by their governments, only contribute to the problem of obesity as they must distribute what they are given and the majority of this is in the form of processed food.  The U.S. government, too, needs to muster enough political will to heavily regulate Wall Street’s involvement in our supply.  Rather than promote fast food, our government should take an active role in reducing food as a commodity.  Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager who gave testimony on speculation and food prices in 2008, said “Financial speculation now accounts for more than two-thirds of the market…When billions of dollars of capital is being put to work in small markets like this, it amplifies price rises and if financial flows amplify prices of food stuffs and energy, it’s not like real estate and stocks – when food prices double, people starve.”

Recipe of the Week

I like to purchase fresh salmon from the Indians, especially as it is at least half the cost of what I can get in the stores.  Having  a good, cheap source of protein is a good thing, but it’s hard to vary how it’s served and cooked.  This last time I decided to simply coat it in barbecue sauce and grill, and the outcome was just fine.  Served over lightly dressed greens and with corn on the cob, it’s a perfect summer meal.

I am a scattered person, and completely forgot to pick up the items I wanted from the store to make the sauce.  I then experimented with what I had on hand, and came up with a perfectly good barbecue sauce.  I tried to make just enough to cover the roughly 1.5 lb piece of salmon, but made enough for double that.

1/2 cup organic ketchup

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 tbls. dijon mustard

a few grindings of black pepper

2 tbls butter

1/2 cup water

2 tbls. brown sugar

Combine all ingredients but the butter in a small pot.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring now and again.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.  Cool.  Just before grilling, coat the salmon heavily with the sauce and grill, skin side down until the meat is opaque.

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A Recipe for Disaster

I used to teach cooking classes at the highly successful Oregon Food Bank.  I signed on with good intentions, and did passably well at conveying cooking basics to a variety of people who had little or no training in how to prepare healthy, affordable meals.  I was initially put off by the fact that these classes were dictated by a program (Cooking Matters) developed by two of the evil giants, Walmart and ConAgra; the food bank also had a deal with a large, local food purveyor that mostly sold factory food.  I was therefore condoning the consumption of food I knew was inherently unhealthy. There’s no competing, however, with the cheap food Big Ag promotes, and although I lived on a food stamp diet for one week and managed to consume all organic food, most people don’t have the knowledge or time.

Consumers, too, lack information about what is in the food they eat.  Schools offer no guidelines other than touting the “My Plate” recommendations  to consume greater quantities of fruits and vegetables, but never discuss the dangers of eating factory food or the health benefits of organic food.  One of the classes I taught was at a grade school where the after school snack for economically disadvantaged children was a large piece of deep-fried factory chicken. The reasons for this masking of dangers of mass-produced food are obvious in that every stage of industrialized food production is controlled by corporate conglomerates whose annual profits run to the billions of dollars.  In order to maintain this level of profit, Big Ag lobbies continually to purchase favorable legislation – in 2012, Big Ag spent $137 million on lobbying efforts.  This structure of food production, as has been elaborated on by many writers such as Michael Pollan, threatens our health and destroys the environment.  An almost complete lack of consumer education, coupled with a lack of federal regulation is indeed a recipe for disaster. The only way individuals can protect themselves against the onslaught of unhealthy food is to become educated and consume accordingly.  Below is a very short list of conventionally grown food that is touted as being healthful but is quite the opposite. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) recently updated its database that tracks the pesticide residues found on the foods we eat and results were disturbing.  They found, for instance, that non-organic blueberries contain the pesticide residue of 52 pesticides.  Eight of these are known or probable carcinogens, 14 are neurotoxins, and 22 are suspected hormone disruptors.  In kale, the green everyone is eating, the PAN found cyanide-like chemicals and lectins linked with autoimmune diseases.  Cherry tomatoes were found to contain 20 types of suspected hormone disruptors and 22 pesticides that are harmful to bees.  Snap peas contain 78 types of pesticides, of which 13 are neurotoxins and 12 have been associated with developmental or reproductive problems.  Cucumbers were found to contain 86 types of pesticides, including 10 known or probable carcinogens.  PAN also researched the pesticide contents in packaged baby food and found that pureed pears had the highest amount of pesticides, trailed slightly by pureed peaches and applesauce.  Big Ag says you can wash these residues away, but PAN, in its research, peeled and washed vegetables and fruits and arrived at the above conclusions.

The Toxins Action Center reports that “even if we know that a pesticide causes severe health and environmental impacts, including cancer and genetic damage, it may still be allowed for use.  The EPA may determine that a cancer-causing chemical may be used despite its public health hazard if its ‘economic, social or environmental’ benefits are deemed greater than its risk.  According to the US EPA, more than 70 active ingredients known to cause cancer in animal tests are allowed for use…[And] the vast majority of pesticides currently on the market have not been fully tested.”  The Toxins Action Center’s solution to pesticide overuse is better testing, federal support of non-toxic and cultural methods of agriculture as well as greater information being distributed to consumers.  I concur.  Eat organic.

Recipe of the Week

Organic kale is a powerful food.  It’s high in iron and Vitamin K.  It’s also a great anti-inflamatory food and is loaded with antioxidants.  The following salad would make a great main dish meal.

Kale Caesar Salad

For the salad: 1 bunch organic kale, washed, trimmed and chopped

1/2 cup parmesan

1 cup croutons:  tear three slices of good French bread into small pieces.  Mix a little garlic powder, salt and pepper into about 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil and then lightly coat the bread pieces.  Heat oven to 350 degrees, place bread on cookie sheet and bake until toasted, turning once or twice.  Cool the croutons completely.

Dressing: 3 anchovies 2 tbls. lemon juice 3 cloves garlic 3/4 tsp. dijon 2 egg yolks 1/2 cup olive oil

Put anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and egg yolks into a food processor bowl.  Pulse briefly to mix.  Then, with the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil at almost a drip rate.  Taste for salt. Dress the kale with the dressing, add croutons and shaved parmesan over the top.

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Order 81

According to Global Research, an independent, non-profit organization based in Montreal, Monsanto and Syngenta are successfully embedded in Iraq and have been so since 2004.  In their report on John Bremer’s 100 orders, Global Research takes issue, in particular, with Order 81, officially titled Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.

Global Research pointed out, in research conducted in 2008, that “Iraq is home to the oldest agricultural traditions in the world.  Historical, genetic and archaeological evidence…show that the Fertile Crescent, including modern Iraq, was the center of domestication for a remarkable array of today’s primary agricultural crops and livestock animals.  Wheat, barley, rye, lentils, sheep, goats and pigs were all originally brought under human control around 8000 BCE.  Iraq is where wild wheat was once originated…Since then, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia have used informal seed supply systems to plant crops, suited to their particular environment.  The saving and sharing of seeds in Iraq has always been a largely informal matter.  Local varieties of grain and legumes have been adapted to local conditions over the millennia…Despite extreme aridity, characterized by low rainfalls and soil salinity, Iraq had a world standard agricultural sector producing good quality food for generations.”

Order 81 effectively criminalized the practice of re-using seeds.  The previous Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, while the new, U.S. imposed law requires all seeds to be “new, distinct, uniform and stable,” a whitewashed definition of genetically modified, corporate controlled seeds.  Just as in India and elsewhere in the world, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical have successfully infiltrated  the oldest agricultural system on earth.  Order 81 contains explicit language that promotes the commercialization of GM seeds in Iraq, a meandering document that reads as though it were written exclusively by Big Ag.

According to Jeffry Smith, author of “Order 81: Re-Engineering Iraqi Agriculture,” “to qualify for PVP [Plant Variety Protection], seeds have to meet the following criteria:  they must be ‘new, distinct, uniform and stable,’…[and] it is impossible for the seeds developed by the people of Iraq to meet these criteria.  Their seeds are not new as they are the product of millennia of development.  Nor are they distinct.  The free exchange of seeds practiced for centuries ensures that characteristics are spread and shared across local varieties.  And they are the opposite of uniform and stable by the very nature of their biodiversity.”  Order 81 is nothing more than colonial legislation concerned only with power and profit.

And now the European Commission is planning to change the European Union’s plant legislation in much the same way as happened in Iraq and elsewhere around the planet.  The public message of the new legislation purports to enhance food safety, but in reality will threaten seed diversity and promote the interests of Big Ag.  The European Commission, composed of unelected  civil servants in Brussels, allowed multi-national businesses, such as Monsanto, et al., to craft the language of the bill, which ignored the needs of small farmers and home growers, while at the same time incorporating them into the strictures of the law.  It has not yet been passed, but the threat of global dominion over our food supply continues apace.

The “Plant Reproductive Material Law” would make it illegal to “grow, reproduce or trade” any vegetable seeds that have not “been tested, approved and accepted” by a new bureaucracy called the EU Plant Variety Agency.  The law would effectively put the government in charge of all plants and seeds.  Anyone growing food from non-regulated seeds would be in violation of the law and considered criminals.  Jose Bove, a Green member of the European Parliament, says that “the plans play directly into the hands of larger corporations that prioritize mass-production of monoculture seed varieties, at the expense of diversity.”

The commission expects the legislation will take effect in 2016.  We were unable to have a voice in Iraq’s law, but if you wish to protest this law, and by small measure make yourself heard, feel free to sign this petition.

Recipe of the Week

I made this salad as a side dish for grilled salmon, but it would serve well as a side to chicken, or even as an addition to a mixed salad.

1 pound orzo

1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped roughly

4 ounces soft goat cheese

a few grindings of black pepper

a few grindings of fresh parmesan

extra virgin olive oil, to taste

red wine vinegar, to taste

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped

salt to taste

Cook orzo in salted water until done.  Drain (but don’t rinse) and place in a large bowl.  Add all other ingredients.



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Sleeping with the Enemy

I was a little surprised when I came across an article by Kiera Butler, which exposed the dirty little secret about dietary organizations in this country.  She attended the annual conference of the California Dietetic Association (CDA).  The sponsors of their annual conference, held in April, were such companies as McDonald’s, Hershey’s, Sizzler and other large food chains.  A front group for many of these companies, the International Food Information Council (IFIC), also was a presence at this conference, even offering up discussions about the safety of genetically modified foods, etc.

As reported by Ms. Butler, “Andy Bellati, a dietitian and member of AND [Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics], recalls his shock the first time he attended the organization’s national conference in 2008.  ‘I could get continuing education credits for literally sitting in a room and listening to Frito-Lay tell me that Sun Chips are a good way to meet my fiber needs,’ he says.  ‘I thought, no wonder Americans are overweight and diabetic.  The gatekeepers for our information about food are getting their information from junk-food companies.”  Ms. Butler also points out in this article that corporate sponsorship of dietetic organizations has increased by almost four-fold in the last decade and now generates a good portion of their total revenue.

The insidious presence of companies peddling harmful substances such as high fructose corn syrup to professionals educating the public about food is chilling.  While I’m certain that the majority of dietitians have enough education and good sense to see through the machinations of the food industry, it is nonetheless disturbing that they are exposed to company propaganda.  Also, many of these dietitians are unaware of the extent of these “partnerships.”  The School Nutrition Association, very possibly influenced by the food industry’s sponsorship of their conferences, and following a national back lash concerning Michelle Obama’s attempt to redefine what foods should be served to our children in schools, recently asked Congress to lift two provisions of the new policy.  They asked that fruits and vegetables on the lunch line be removed as a rule, and that the constrictions placed on sodium and whole grains be eased.

By any standard, it’s clear that we are suffering from a host of diet-related health problems.  Diet certainly plays a significant role in chronic disease, and there is evidence all around us of the food industry’s extensive marketing of unhealthy foods.  The fact that such organizations as the ADA (American Dietetic Association) receives money from the food industry simply shows their willingness to be silenced.  On the other hand, rather than remaining silent about the overall dangers of processed foods, the ADA actually collaborated with McDonald’s in 1993 to help them develop “Food FUNdamentals” Happy Meal toys as part of a shared “commitment to nutrition education.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has sponsored AND for the last 14 years.  The NCBA is a powerful lobbying organization that has influenced federal nutrition guidelines to ensure that beef remains a dietary staple.  Other sponsors of AND include ConAgra, General Mills and Kellogg.  This corporate sponsorship allows access to the education of nutrition professionals on how their particular product contributes to healthy lifestyles.  Other groups, such as the National Dairy Council, purchased the right to add the AND logo to their “3-Every-Day of Dairy Campaign,” which was simply a marketing tool disguised as a nutrition program.  By putting their seal of approval on such marketing campaigns, ADA is sending a message, not just to professional dietitians but to the public at large, that these companies represent legitimate sources of health and nutrition information.  And by allowing food companies to provide “instructors” for the continuing education classes dietitians require, simply gives them another venue from which to sell more food.

At the end of the CDA conference in April, Ms. Butler approached a 65 year old retired dietitian from Orange County.  The woman had been attending CDA’s annual conferences for 30 years.  “Shaking her head, she said she didn’t approve of the trend of junk-food sponsors.  ‘I guess they need the money, but this is pathetic.’  She found the McDonald’s lunch particularly deplorable.  ‘A dietitian you’d expect to be principled, but here I feel like we’re sleeping with the enemy.”

Recipe of the Week

Garbonzo Bean Soup with Spinach and Pasta

1 cup dried garbonzo beans, soaked overnight

1 bunch fresh spinach

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup red wine

6 cups homemade chicken stock

1 14oz can or organic tomatoes, pureed

20 grinds of fresh black pepper

1 cup small pasta

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Cook the beans in fresh, cold water until done, about 2 hours.

Heat oil in large soup pot.  Add the onions, and saute until translucent on medium high heat.  Add the garlic, stir for about 30 seconds, then add the wine and cook until it’s gone.  Add the garbonzo beans, spinach, pepper, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Cook at a slow simmer for about 1 hour.  Taste for salt, and add a little more because of the addition of the pasta.  Add the pasta and cook until just done.

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There are people who openly scoff at the notion that genetically altered foods are dangerous.  After all, the FDA and many other authorities, including scientists, have declared GMOs to be safe.  The U.S., however, unlike all other developed countries, doesn’t require safety testing for GE plants.  The FDA, more than 20 years ago, simply declared these plants to be safe and backed their claims on industry studies.  We have decided to allow foxes to guard the hen house, hence an official policy of “voluntary safety consultation.”

The FDA’s policy is inadequate at best.  They have not authorized any independent studies, relying exclusively on data supplied to them by Big Ag.  Here, in a letter sent to Monsanto in 1996, the FDA outlines their policy.  “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by the FDA.”  End of government involvement.

Other groups, however, such as the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) have been issuing warnings about the consumption of GE foods for years.  They have found that “the percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise.”  The American Public Health Association and American Nurses Association in particular condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to cancer.

After persistent investigation, it was also discovered that a genetically altered food supplement, L-trytophan, killed about 100 people and caused sickness and disability in another 5,000 to 10,000 people in the late 1980’s.  Another independent study, known as the French study, and also the longest running and most comprehensive study done to date on the effects of GMOs, concluded that there were serious concerns involving the consumption of genetically altered foods.

Jane Rissler, Ph.D. and a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out that “you’ve heard industry say, for example, that there is no evidence that these foods are harmful.  After all, people in the U.S. have been eating them for several years now.  Do you believe that statement?  Isn’t it a bit disingenuous?  How would we know if someone had gotten ill from genetically altered food if it’s not labeled?  How could there be evidence if they haven’t allowed the food to be labeled [or tested]?  They’re now saying, well, there’s no evidence of harm.  But that’s because they haven’t allowed any way to track them.”  Larry Bohlen, Director of the Community Health and Environment Program for Friends of the Earth, stated that “companies like Monsanto have been aggressively and recklessly marketing their products, climbing over each other to get to the patent office so they can maximize their profits.  This means they’ve ignored critical safety and environmental tests that should have been run.”

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine currently urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients.  They cite animal studies, such as the French study, showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.  Human studies also show how genetically modified foods can leave material behind inside of us, possibly causing long term problems.

There are sufficient red flags out there to warrant a cautious and wary approach when considering the safety of genetically altered foods.  That political concerns largely keep this information from the public is dangerous.  The FDA does not require safety studies, nor does it mandate labeling, and this despite the fact that secret agency memos made public by a lawsuit “show that the overwhelming consensus, even among FDA’s own scientists, was that GMO’s can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects.”  They urged long term studies, but were side-lined by the White House in an effort to promote biotechnology.

Monsanto has told us, over the years, that Agent Orange, PCBs and DDT were safe.  They now wish us to believe that genetically altered food poses no risk.  Scientists who have labored to produce evidence to the contrary have been gagged, fired, threatened and denied funding.  When charges of hysteria are attached to anyone who speaks out against the dangers, real and potential, of GMOs, it’s difficult, among mounting evidence, to take those charges seriously.  U.S. citizens have become guinea pigs in the capitalistic venture of Big Ag, and up to now have not forced our government to protect us.  More and more, big money is compromising our health and the health of our environment.

Recipe of the Week

I came across a recipe the other day, one called Texas Caviar.  Not being particularly fond of black-eyed peas, I altered the recipe to feature black beans.  You can use it as a salsa, as a topping over green salad, or as the finishing touch on a simple cheese enchilada.

2 can organic black beans, rinsed well

2 fresh jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and minced

1 small onion, minced

1 tbls. fresh oregano, minced

1 tbls. hot sauce

1 tbls. Worcestershire sauce

plenty of black pepper

1 medium tomato, diced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup vinaigrette (1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbls. dijon mustard)

Mix all ingredients.


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