Nestle v. Cascade Locks, Part lll

In 2008, Nestle began a campaign to gain essential control over the water at Oxbow Springs near the town of Cascade Locks, a small village in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  It continues in its dogged pursuit in spite of public protests and lawsuits brought against it by, among others, Food & Water Watch, which has been fighting Nestle throughout the country over the issue of their water grabs in various small communities.  The fight has survived through two governorships, those of Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhauber, both of whom supported Nestle, and the current governor, Kate Brown, who has tacitly supported the company by remaining silent on the issue.  Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) had decided that Nestle could trade for its legal right to Oxbow Springs, which was upheld by a judge.  The trade was that Nestle would make tons of money selling bottled water from the Springs and in return provide 50 $10 an hour jobs to the struggling community whose current rate of unemployment is at 19%.  Under the terms of this “trade” Nestle would get a discount on the water they buy, paying less for it than local residents.  I’ve written about this issue twice before, once in 2013 and then earlier this year, but now two new developments have taken place that may help tip the scales against Nestle.  Four Indian tribes, the Warm Springs, the Klickitats, Yakama and Umatilla, have added their voice to keeping Nestle out of the Gorge, and local residents involved in the Local Water Alliance organization have successfully filed a citizen ballot measure that would ban commercial water operations in the county.

On September 17, tribal members protested the deal in Oregon’s capital, Salem, which followed a letter from the Warm Springs Tribal Council that had been sent to Governor Brown.  The letter contested the notion of Nestle bottling Columbia Gorge water as well as the process the ODFW had undertaken.  The Tribe stated that they had not been adequately involved.  And in August, a 57 year old woman, Anna Mae Leonard, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, held a five day hunger strike in the town of Cascade Locks to draw attention to the issue at it relates specifically to Native Americans.  Leonard has stated that the deal between the state and the town would violate the Treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and the Four Columbia River Tribes.  “The tribes are supposed to have Senior Water Rights,” says Skeweacuks, a Warm Springs Tribal member.  Wilber Slockish, a Klickitat Chief, added, “The People, the salmon and our natural food supply – we are trying to survive your economic policies.  We are tired of being invisible people.”  The tribes of the Gorge depend on salmon for their incomes, and sell the salmon they catch in the town of Cascade Locks.  All members of a family will work seven days a week from March until October to make enough to live on for the rest of the year.  They are dependent on the increasingly precarious salmon runs and are adding their voice to the protest against a multinational company’s grab for an essential part of their means of survival.

And the residents of Cascade Locks, in a classic move representative of David and Goliath, have successfully filed the Hood River Water Protection Measure to ban “the export of water for water bottling purposes,” the first such measure of its kind.  “When your county is facing record drought conditions, the idea of sending millions of gallons of water a year out of the county in mountains of plastic on the backs of trucks seems particularly irresponsible,” says Ed del Val, one of the measure’s chief petitioners and president of the newly formed Local Water Alliance.  Pamela Larsen, another petitioner, says that “the recent drought has really highlighted that communities that don’t have control of their water supply won’t have control of their future.  We’re sure that Nestle will fight our measure tooth and nail, but we think Hood River County voters are going to agree that our water is our future and we need to protect it.”  They are being supported by Food & Water Watch, which is partnering with the Local Water Alliance.  Food & Water Watch is in the process of hiring a community organizer who will work with the community on education and outreach efforts and will help create campaign materials.

It would save a lot of money and effort if Kate Brown simply instructed the ODFW to stop negotiations with Nestle.  Since this fight against Nestle started, the tribes, local residents and representatives of statewide environmental groups have sent close to 300,000 petitions to Governor Brown’s office; SumOfUs, a local organization, has itself delivered, so far, 252,357 petitions.  It’s time for this fight to end and keep Nestle out of our vulnerable communities.

Recipe of the Week

This is a pretty easy meal to make and will provide leftovers.

Ground Lamb and Rice

1.25 lbs. of ground lamb, locally sourced

1 cup basmati rice

1 large onion, chopped

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbls. ground coriander

1 tbls. ground cumin

1 cup organic whole tomatoes, pureed

sea salt and black pepper to taste

3 cups homemade chicken stock

3 tbls. olive oil

Heat oil in a large, cast iron frying pan.  Add onions and saute briefly.  Add garlic and lamb and cook until lamb is no longer pink.  At this point, you should remove some of the fat from the pan.  Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add the spices and stock and bring to a boil.  After rinsing the rice, add it to the pot, bring back to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to its lowest setting.  Cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for 30 minutes before removing the lid.  Add salt and pepper at this point.  Serve with hot sauce, dollops of yogurt and pita.

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Food Waste in America

Our city government provides a service which allows food waste to be deposited in yard debris containers which are subsequently picked up once a week.  A consequence of this is that our garbage has been reduced to one grocery bag every two weeks (the regular paper bags you pick up at stores.)  We compost leftover vegetable materials so our garbage consists only of packaging that can’t be recycled, of which we have very little.  In the last year or so, after learning of the incredible amount of food waste in this country, my weekly goal is to consume all leftovers and have only inedible food waste to toss out (egg shells, chicken skins, etc.)  I’m conscious of this effort as I prepare food, considering how much to cook and whether or not unplanned leftovers can be frozen.  The statistics are alarming and reveal that the average  American family wastes 25% of food each year, which amounts to roughly $2,000.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a paper in 2012 which outlined how much food is wasted overall in the U.S.  The figure is 40%, which is “more than 20 lbs of food per person every month.”  The paper also discusses food waste from farming and retail operations, etc., but I believe that individuals can have the most impact in reducing food waste.  The Obama administration has recently announced that it would initiate a program with the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030, which presumably involves public education.

The NRDC paper highlights why food waste has such a major impact on our economy and even climate change.  “Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States.  Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten.  This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions.”  And according to the EPA, the amount of food being tossed by Americans has been increasing rapidly every year.  The agency estimates that as of 2012, we threw away 35 million tons of food, which is 20% more than in 2000 and 50% more than in 1990.  It is also three times what Americans wasted in 1960.  We waste more food than all other forms of garbage combined.

One of the questions, then, is why we waste more food now than in the past.  The prevailing argument is that food is getting cheaper relative to rising incomes.  Where the average household spent 17% of its income on food thirty years ago, we are spending 11% today.  I believe, however, that because of the mechanization of food production that occurred after World War II, we developed a dependence on cheap food regardless of its quality.  Home cooking gave way to fast food and cheap, industrial meat.  In my father’s day, chicken was by far the most expensive meat you could buy, and so it was valued much higher than the dollar a pound sickly chicken people buy today.  Since chicken was so expensive, people used every bit of it and would never allow any to go to waste.  We value food less as it means less to us, largely because we have lost the art of cooking from scratch.  Favorite family recipes have been replaced by processed foods, which are cheap but don’t provide any sense of tradition or value.  Attitudes have been slowly changing, however, in some quarters, as people become more aware that industrialized food negatively affects our health and the environment.  Organic food sales are growing.  The Organic Trade Association says that “demand for organic products is increasing, and about 81% of American families reported to be purchasing organic food at least some times.”

But food waste is not just about the quality of food; it is also about economics.  With wages flat, it really should matter to families that they’re throwing away about $400 per family member every year.  The damage to our own economy and the environment, albeit more vague concepts for most people, still should be worth considering, as well as the fact that even though we have enough food to feed everyone, many people go hungry, in part because so much food is wasted.  As the NRDC report revealed, “cheap, available food has created behaviors that do not place high value on utilizing what is purchased.  As a result, the issue of wasted food is simply not on the radar of many Americans, even those that consider themselves environment or cost conscious.”

I would challenge everyone to be conscious every day about how to avoid food waste.  Meal planning is key.  Understanding that “sell by” and “use by” dates rarely have much to do with food going “bad” as they do with “manufacturer suggestions for peak quality.”  Keeping an eye on how much food is prepared so as to avoid uneaten leftovers is also important.  And using as much of any given food as possible is not only economical but reduces waste, such as making stock from meat bones or vegetable bits for non-meat stock.  All of this requires thought and planning, but in the end saves money, food and the environment.

Recipe of the Week

It’s often difficult to predict how much rice will be consumed, particularly if it serves as a side dish.  This recipe will not only use up uneaten rice, but can also use any little bits and pieces of meat and/or vegetables that didn’t get eaten.

Leftover Rice Cakes

For every cup of rice, add one beaten egg.  That’s the basis.  You can add chopped meat, chopped cooked vegetables and 1/2 cup cheese of your choice.  Add any herbs and spices you want.  Form the cakes into balls, lightly flatten and chill for about one half hour.  If you want, you can coat the cakes with breadcrumbs before frying in three or four tablespoons of oil.

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An Emergent Resistance Against the Proliferation of GMOs

There have been an unusual number of decisions and statements made over the last few weeks that frame genetically modified crops in a negative light.  The State of California recently announced plans to list glyphosate, the major ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, as carcinogenic which would require businesses to post specific warnings about glyphosate’s dangers.  Scotland, under the relatively new EU rule that allows its members to opt out of growing GMOs, has decided to do just that, followed by Germany, Latvia and Greece.  France is also considering a ban.  The New York Times published an article on Sept. 5 suggesting that Monsanto and other Big Ag companies have been deliberately buying scientific approval in order to sway public opinion, which some are comparing to the tobacco industry’s campaign of using medical doctors to promote smoking.  And finally, The New England Journal of Medicine published an op ed calling for the FDA to label GMOs as well as for that agency to demand more thorough research.  These decisions and statements are the most public attempts to slow down and/or stop the global encroachment of GMOs and the pesticides they depend upon.

California, as the top agricultural producing state, surely will be able to influence public opinion by its recent decision to list glyphosate as dangerous.  The Cal/EPA’s California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has determined that under California’s Proposition 65, glyphosate must be listed with other chemicals “known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  California came to this conclusion after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, declared glyphosate to be ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’  According to Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Arizona,  “this is the first regulatory agency in the country to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen.  So this is a very big deal.”

A less flashy stance has been taken by Germany, Scotland, Latvia and Greece to ban GMOs.  As previously stated, a new EU law approved in March, which among other things allows individual countries the right to opt out of producing genetically modified crops , even if those crops have been approved by the EU.  That so many are moving to do so now is directly related to the new law’s condition that any countries wishing to eschew GMOs must inform the European Commission by October 3, 2015.  Up until this new law was passed, individual states within a country’s border could decide to ban GMOs or not.  At least in the case of Germany, five state governments pressured the national government to ban GMOs altogether across the country so as not to divide public opinion.  Most of the European countries operate in this fashion.  Italy, for example, contains four regions that have banned GMOs, as well as a variety of provinces, cities and communes.  Three provinces in Spain outlaw GMOs.  And in Britain, which approves the production of GMOs, the Church of England has refused to allow genetically engineered crop trials on its 60,000 hectares of land.  It’s obvious that the EU has been under pressure to create a uniformity of policy, and it would appear that many EU countries will decide to ban GMOs across the board.

With such pressure growing world wide to ban GMOs, it’s not surprising that Monsanto,, would use every weapon in their arsenal to maintain their profit levels.  The September 5 article published in The New York Times released information of how the biotech industry is pushing a PR campaign to promote their products by enlisting allegedly independent public university scientists to lobby state legislators to interfere with whatever initiatives various states are proposing to combat GMOs.  According to the article’s investigative reporter, Eric Lipton, Monsanto and their “industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates:  academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.”  Many of the professors cited in the article protested that they believe in the promotion of GMOs, but it’s difficult to imagine that when you work in cash strapped public universities and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for research in other areas that you could remain “independent.”

Most surprisingly, however, was the article published on August 26 in the conservative New England Journal of Medicine.  While certainly not calling for a ban on GMOs, the Journal most decidedly called for a more stringent examination of the continuing expansion of GMOs.  The article notes that “the application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive.”  And the article shows concern about “two recent developments [that] are dramatically changing the GMO landscape.  First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts of numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases – the largest in a generation – are scheduled to occur in the next few years.  Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a ‘probable human carcinogen and classified a second herbicide,…2,4-D, as a ‘possible human carcinogen.”  The article also calls for labeling.  Their most potent argument, however, was when they said, “and the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agriculture products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer.”

There has been growing global protest concerning the effects of GMOs, and particularly the effects of ever increasing amounts of toxic chemicals on human health.  With the more overt and public declarations from countries, states, regions and respected journals, perhaps the movement will gain momentum and continue apace until we come to our senses and invest our agricultural lands with sustainable means of food production.

Recipe of the Week

Years ago, when I owned a Spanish tapas bar, I made paella regularly, in the restaurant and at home.  I stopped for a while as it was time consuming and expensive.  I recently, however, made a very simple version of the dish and remembered why it’s so good.  You do need three things, at least, to make this rice dish authentically – a paella pan, short-grain rice and homemade chicken stock.

Chicken and Sausage Paella

1 organic or free range chicken, any size.  Remove the skin.  Cut the breast into four pieces,  and the thighs into two pieces.

3.5 cups chicken stock

1 small jar pimientos

1 cup tomatoes (organic canned or fresh – if fresh then peel them)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1/4 tsp. saffron (the real thing, not powder)

2 cups short grain rice

1/2 cup white wine

salt and pepper

6 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb of your favorite sausage, cut up

Heat the oil in the paella pan, and briefly brown the chicken pieces, adding a little salt.  Remove the chicken and add the green pepper, sausage and onion, sauteing until the green pepper is soft.  Add the garlic.  Add the tomatoes and pimientos and cook, uncovered, a few more minutes. Add the saffron and rice and stir to coat with oil.   Add the broth, which has been heated, the wine, salt and pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, for up to ten minutes, or until the rice is no longer soupy but not yet dry.  Arrange the chicken pieces over the top and place in a 325 degree oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let sit, lightly covered with foil, for at least ten more minutes.  The rice should be done at this point.

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You Are What Your Grandmother Ate

A 2006 study conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute provided fascinating evidence that the diet of one’s grandmother decidedly affects the health of her grandchildren.  The researchers studied the epigenetics (inherited changes in gene expression that can be influenced by several natural factors) of mice.  The study is almost unreadable, but basically demonstrated that the “memory of nutrition during pregnancy can be passed through the sperm of the male offspring to the next generation.”  The researchers found that if a woman was undernourished when pregnant, her “male offspring…[would be] smaller than average and, if fed a normal diet, went on to develop diabetes.  Strikingly, the offspring of these were also born small and developed diabetes as adults, despite their own mothers never being undernourished.”  Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith of the University of Cambridge offers further explanation:  “When food is scarce, children may be pre-programmed to cope with undernourishment.  In the event of a sudden abundance of food, their bodies cannot cope and they can develop metabolic diseases such as diabetes.”  Interesting that this study very possibly explains, at least in part, the large percentage of adults worldwide who are obese and/or who have diabetes – grandchildren of the Great Depression.  A subsequent study by Green C. Chung and Christopher Kuzawa expounded on past evidence by studying the diets of 3,000 Filipino women and their children from 1983 to 2011.  Their findings echoed the earlier study by demonstrating that grandmothers who had full access to nutritious food while pregnant, and who provided ample nourishment to their children, had heavier and healthier grandchildren.

Last week I wrote a post (No More Whole Wheat Wiener Wraps!) about school lunches and how many people are now realizing the overall value of providing nutritious food to children.  I was pleased to learn of a government program (Farm to School Program) that is in wide use as well as efforts by non-profit organizations (Conscious Kitchen) to alter the foods we feed our kids.  The piece elicited a few responses, and one that struck me later was that “it’s up to the schools” to ensure that nutritious food is served.  While the work the USDA and Conscious Kitchen does is indeed worthwhile, I take issue with the notion that “it’s up to the schools.”  I think, instead, that it should be up to all of us.

When my son was in school, we provided him with nutritious food at home and at school, rarely taking advantage of the school lunch program because of its poor quality.  I don’t remember what we put in his lunch bag, but I do remember him getting teased by other children for his “weird” food.  He begged me once to let him have a “normal” lunch, so I asked him what he wanted, which was a baloney sandwich.  I bought the stuff and made him a sandwich, which he said later was “awful.”  In fact, other children, presumably not the ones teasing him, routinely wanted to trade away some processed food item their parents had given them for his fruit.  On the same note, I had a friend who complained that she couldn’t get her very young daughter to eat anything but Spaghetti O’s.  My question to her was how would her daughter have developed a taste for something if she hadn’t introduced it to her in the first place.  And yes, there are outside influences.  My son would sneak soda pop when out with his friends, but to this day he eschews sugary drinks and declines fast food.  And as he grew up with a mother who cooked everything from scratch and who taught him how to cook, he has become an excellent home cook himself, providing a variety of nutritious foods for his daughter.

We learn much, one way or the other, from our parents and continue with those practices throughout our lives.  If all we present to our children at breakfast, lunch and dinner is processed food, fast food and soda pop, their palates and bodies will develop a hankering for the stuff and they won’t be able to fully appreciate the subtler flavors of home cooked food.  What they’ll want is fat, sugar and salt.  I offered up a recipe last week that I thought would be good for a school lunch, a savory bread salad.  One response suggested that my offering would most likely end up in the garbage can as no child would want to eat it.  Again, if a child is never exposed to the flavors of ripe, organic tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, they’ll be more likely to prefer something they are used to, like pizza or a hamburger, or something else they saw advertised on television.

I know people work long and hard, which makes it more difficult to cook, but it can be done, even if one has to do a week’s worth of meals during the weekend.  But barring a refrigerator full of home cooked meals, one can easily prepare an omelet and salad in under 15 minutes.  I think that if parents are unsure of their cooking abilities or lack nutritional knowledge they should take the time to teach themselves.  Clearly, aside from the advantages to our own health and the health of our children by providing nutritious food we’re also ensuring nicely plump and disease free grandchildren.

Recipe of the Week

Here’s another suggestion for school lunches which is easy to prepare and nutritious.


1 can organic garbanzo beans, well rinsed (if you want to make this more difficult and time consuming, remove the skins from each bean as it results in hummus that is much creamier)

3/4 cup of tahini

juice from two to three lemons (taste the mix after you add juice from two lemons – it may be enough)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree for about three minutes.  Taste for salt.

You can send the hummus in a container as a dip to serve with vegetables, or make a sandwich with pita, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.


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No More Whole Wheat Wiener Wraps!

Harry Truman was responsible for the introduction of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 1946.  The goal was two-fold; to manage farm surpluses and feed school children.  As he signed the legislation, President Truman stated “that no nation is any healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers.”  It was economically viable and provided food to children in need.  Privatization certainly has negative connotations, as it is a means for increasing the profits of a particular corporation to the detriment of the public service it was meant to perform.  It is generally touted as a way to increase efficiency and greater accountability, although these virtues are often not in evidence.  The USDA still administers the NSLP, but in its present form it has morphed into a private system that most benefits multi-national food processing corporations and most decidedly threatens the health of the thirty million children who eat school lunches every day.  And, as you may have suspected, it’s all about the money.

“In European countries and Japan, national governments provide most of the money for schools…But in the United States the federal government provides less than 7% to elementary and secondary school districts, [ leaving] each state to figure out how to fund the rest,” according to a report by Noreen Connell.  Since European governments provide the funds for school lunches, they control what goes on each plate, restricting foods high in salt, fat and sugar, and promoting fresh fruits and vegetables.  Deep fried food is also limited.  In the U.S., the NSLP simply provides commodity foods at a discount, leaving individual states and districts with the task of what to do with the food and how to pay for it.  In steps Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group, the three major food industry contractors, who promise the schools under financial pressure that they can turn the lunchroom into a profitable enterprise.  The way to do that,  of course, is to serve the cheapest food, which invariably is akin to fast food.

Given the federal government’s reluctance to properly fund school lunches, and particularly because of the free lunch mandate established by the 1966 Child Nutrition Act, Lyndon Johnson recommended easing the tacit ban by food service professionals allowing commercial operators in school kitchens.  Over time, on site school kitchens that prepared nutritious meals were unable to meet the financial requirements of the unfunded Child Nutrition Act mandate and were forced to turn to pre-packaged, off-site prepared meals.  More arcane government regulations ensued over the years allowed for more choice of offerings, which led to meals consisting of hamburgers, fried chicken, French fries and pizza.  Only in the 2000s did people start to realize the consequences of the food we fed our children in schools.  Roland Zullo, currently a privatization expert at the University of Michigan, wrote a report in 2008 on the consequences of serving essentially fast food to kids in schools.  His study revealed that not only did the use of private companies to prepare lunch not result in reduced costs but also reduced test scores.  Further research has demonstrated the necessity of wholesome foods on brain development, as diets of processed foods can lower IQ.

The response to research showing the detrimental effects of feeding children processed food has been moderate, but momentum is growing.  While federal funding is still scant, the USDA does administer a Farm to School Program in which 43% of U.S. schools are involved.  The Farm to School Program, however, is grant based and on their website they admit that “the F2S grant program has already seen demand for funding far outweigh what is available.”  As of this year, only $5 million was allocated for the program.  The program is, however, a progressive attempt to “increase local food procurement for school meal programs and expand educational agriculture and gardening activities.”

But other non-profit organizations are stepping in across the country to change the food we serve our children.  The Conscious Kitchen is one such organization that dedicates itself “to a systemic transformation of school food programs” and has instigated a program in Marin City, California that services a small school where 95% of its students are eligible for free lunches.  As of this month, the Willow Creek Academy will be the first school in the country that will serve food based on the five foundational terms of the Conscious Kitchen, which are “Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Non-GMO (FLOSN).  It’s funded by local companies and sources 90% of all produce from local farmers.  The pilot program’s indicators (at Bayside MLK Academy in Marin City) were that aside from the obvious health benefits of such food, the Vice Principal reported “a 70% reduction in behavioral issues compared to the prior year, in addition to an uptick in attention span, on time arrival and attendance.”

It’s becoming more and more obvious that consumption of processed foods, which by definition are high in salt, fat and sugar, are poor substitutes for food prepared from scratch.  Progress is being made, however, and as people become more aware and educated about the positive power of sustainably grown food, we’ll all be better off.

Recipe of the Week

This salad provides a nice lunch and is quite tasty.


1 small loaf of any kind of French bread, cute into cubes

1 large tomato, diced

1/2 pound of provolone, diced

a handful of fresh basil, chopped

1 cup good quality pitted olives

extra virgin olive oil

red wine vinegar

Toss all ingredients and serve.  It’s best to make only an amount that will last two or three days.


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Don’t Worry. (about the DARK Act) Be Happy.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, or the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, has been milling about for some time now and recently passed through the House Agriculture Committee.  It was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and has been called “Monsanto’s dream bill” by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.  Specifically, this legislation, if enacted into law, would negate all existing GMO labeling laws and expand the definition of “natural” to include genetically modified ingredients.  It would also essentially prohibit the USDA from setting GMO labeling regulations.  The bill probably won’t pass, as there isn’t enough Democratic backing in the Senate, and it seems unlikely that President Obama would sign such a bill.  Nevertheless, the food industry has responded to the possibility of the bill passing by spending ever greater amounts of lobbying dollars to promote it.  In 2015, Coca-Cola spent $5,500,000, PepsiCo $3,230,000, Kellogg Co. $1,330,000 and General Mills $1,180,000.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a lobbying arm for industrial food companies, also spent $5,000,000.  Aside from the excellent possibility that the bill can’t pass a Senate vote, the fact that a majority of Americans want GMO labeling on the food they buy really makes the provisions in the bill a moot point.

Sales of organic and non-GMO foods are expanding.  According to the Nutrition Business Journal, “sales of non-GMO products that were either certified organic…or that carried the ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ seal increased by 80 percent [in 2013].”  Consumer Reports says that these numbers have “promoted a growing number of companies to avoid using GMOs in new products or to voluntarily reformulate existing ones so that they can sport reliable non-GMO labels.  PepsiCo, for example, sells Stacy’s Simply Naked bagel and pita chips with the Non-GMO Verified seal, [and] General Mills, which introduced a non-GMO original Cheerios cereal…also has the non-GMO product lines Cascadian Farm and Food Should Taste Good.”  Perhaps these companies are simply hedging their bets; if labeling does eventually become mandatory they’re ahead of the game, or by continuing to throw money and lobbyists at propositions to outlaw labeling they feel they can stop the movement altogether.  But the food industry, in order to make the profits they desire, must accommodate consumer demand.  According to a recent Gallup poll, 45% of Americans “actively try to include organic foods in their diets.”  And awareness is growing.  Steve Holt, a food writer, acknowledges the 45% figure and also states that of those 45% “20 percent said they are ‘very/extremely concerned’ about GMOs [which is] up from 15 percent in 2011.”  Ironically, the failed attempts to pass labeling laws in California, Oregon and Colorado, for example, which the media covered extensively, most likely led to increased consumer awareness.

In other words, the DARK Act doesn’t threaten as much as it did when first introduced in 2014, simply because it has no control over what people want.  This isn’t about whether or not GMOs are harmful, and it may not even be rational, but the fact remains that public awareness concerning the dangers of GMOs (again, real or imagined) and the pesticides they require is growing and will continue to grow.  Harry Balzer, author of Eating Patterns in America, says that “GMOs have been an issue for some time now.  We are once again seeing more American adults concerned than not.  I expect the market to follow those concerns.”

Recipe of the Week

Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce

I’ve been making this dish for years and have of late made it better.  It’s easy, but time consuming, and definitely depends on organic ingredients to make it superior.

1 organic chicken, cut up and skinned.  Toss the skin and freeze the back and wings for stock.

1.5 lbs. fresh tomatillos, husks removed

Put the chicken pieces in a soup pot and just cover with cold water.  Add about 2 tsps. salt.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pieces and let cool.  Put the whole, husked tomatillos in the soup pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until they’re soft and pale green.  Puree the lot.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, tear smallish pieces off the bone and add to the soup pot.  Simmer until you get the thickness  you want.  If you’re serving over rice, it can be less thick, but I usually serve it with corn tortillas and so wait until it’s thick enough not to be soupy.  Taste for salt.

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Coca-Cola Wants You to Exercise. A Lot.

Since the late 1990s the amount of full calorie soda consumed by the average American has dropped 25%.  That’s a huge decline, most assuredly brought about by increased awareness that soda pop plays a major role in obesity. Coca-Cola, indisputably the top dog seller of sweetened drinks in the world, is fighting back, and its efforts are clearly spelled out in a recent New York Times article.  In 2008, Coca-Cola set up the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), whose chief message appears to be that exercise is the key element in fighting obesity, not calorie consumption.  Their web page utilizes the words, “science,” “scientists” and “scientific” repeatedly in a desperate attempt to disseminate their message.  “Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption, said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer.  This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing.  They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”  Dr. Freedhoff of the University of Ottawa, speaking on Coca-Cola’s campaign, says “the message is that obesity is not about the foods or beverages you’re consuming, it’s that you’re not balancing those foods with exercise.”  Putting aside the ramifications of this nefarious public relations scheme by Coca-Cola, their assertion that one can balance consumption of calories from soda and other popular items in a typical American diet with exercise is false and unrealistic.

Given “that processed foods account for more than 50% of the average daily caloric intake of American consumers,”  according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans position statement, they also account for “52% of saturated fat, 75% of added sugar, and 57% of added sodium,” here’s what it would take to exercise all of that away.  The phrase “calories in, calories out” is a simple way of understanding the principles of weight management.  In order to maintain your current weight you need to burn off the calories you’ve ingested that day.  Obviously weight factors in as to how many calories you burn off, as well as the type and duration of the exercise.  But if you weigh 150 lbs., for example, and ate a large doughnut after breakfast, or for breakfast, you would have to swim for 35 minutes, or walk for close to an hour, or go to a yoga class for an hour.  If you eat a couple of pieces of pizza after that doughnut,  you’ll have to add another hour of swimming to burn that off.  Or if you choose, like millions of Americans, to have a fast food lunch of a burger and fries, that would require a few more hours of exercise.  And that Coke, if it’s 20 ounces, would take a 55 minute walk to burn off the 240 calories it contains.

If exercise is your full time job, then go for it.  But The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did their annual report last year, polling 450,000 American adults ages 18 and older across all 50 states.  There were some geographic differences – fewer adults exercised in West Virginia and Tennessee, and more in Colorado – but overall the CDC estimated that “80% of adult Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise each week.”  The recommended amounts are 2.5 hours of moderate exercise (walking) each week and one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (swimming, chopping wood, push-ups).  For most people, it’s difficult to fit this amount of exercise into their daily schedules, particularly if they must work long hours to support a family.

Coca-Cola recently ran an on-line ad saying that a 140 lb. person would have to bike for 23 minutes to burn off a 140 calorie Coke.  This may be true, but a recent Gallup poll revealed that those who drink soda usually consume more than one glass a day, and 48% of Americans drink soda every day.  Again, not many of us can take the time to exercise the recommended amounts, let alone the hour it would take to burn off the calories from 20 ounces of soda.

The New York Times article exposed the funding by Coca-Cola of  the various institutions involved in their project, and spoke of the “$4 million in funding for various projects to two of the organization’s [GBEN] founding members.”  The article mentions Marion Nestle, author of “Soda Politics,” who said “the Global Energy Balance Network is nothing but a front group for Coca-Cola.  Coca-Cola’s agenda is very clear:  get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake.”  It takes just a bit to find it, but on the GEBN website they disclose “an unrestricted gift from the Coca-Cola Company.”  And this was not added until the previously mentioned Dr. Freedhoff “wrote to the organization about its funding.”

I think Coca-Cola is fighting a losing battle, but they have a lot to lose by investing almost entirely in sugary drinks.  They sell bottled water as well, but that business has its own set of problems.

Recipe of the Week

It’s been hot, so I’ve been doing a lot of grilling.  I wanted to grill some salmon, but realized I didn’t have the coals so had to come up with something quick.  The result was tasty and easy.

Baked Salmon with Garlic, Basil and Olive Oil

roughly 1 lb. of wild salmon filet, skin on

2 very large cloves of garlic minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients except the salmon in a baking pan.  Add the salmon, spread the mixture evenly over the fish and then situate the salmon skin side down.  Cover with foil, and bake in a 350 degree over for at least 30 minutes.  Check to see if it’s cooked, and add more time if you must.  It can also rest on the top of the stove after baking for a few minutes to cook more.  Serve over plain, white rice.

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A Hershey’s Kiss and the Power of the Marketplace

We as consumers, collectively, have a great deal of power to affect change in the marketplace, albeit with incremental steps.  A campaign to force General Mills to produce Cheerios cereal without the use of GMOs was successful, and we now have not one, but two burgers available at Carl’s Jr. that use sustainable beef, which was brought about by that company responding to consumer demand.  But we obviously have much more work to accomplish.  I recently came across information that pointed out a nearly 50% increase in the use of children as laborers/slaves in the cocoa industry worldwide.  Given that child labor abuses in this industry have long been acknowledged, and with the implementation of the Harken-Engel Protocol in 2001, this figure of a 50% increase is surprising.  The protocol, which was a collaboration between the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and political will, was intended to assure consumers that chocolate companies were acting ethically and actively ending forced and trafficked child labor in their cocoa supply lines.  It has apparently failed.

Cocoa is a huge industry, particularly in Western Africa, and the crop is grown primarily for export.  Sixty percent of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from cocoa, and as world demand for the crop increases, so has the demand for cheap cocoa.  On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 a day and so must rely almost exclusively on child/slave labor.  And it’s dangerous work.  Children are required to use chainsaws to clear forests, machetes to cut bean pods and then carry 100 lb. bags through the forest.  Many of these children are sold to cocoa farmers and end up working for years on the farms. The Harken-Engel Protocol was set up to address the problem of child slavery in the West African cocoa industry and was signed by the manufacturer’s association, the World Cocoa Foundation, Hershey’s, M&M Mars, Nestle and a host of cocoa processors.  It was apparently a publicity stunt as the response in Africa to it was simply to become more secretive.  Journalists are denied access to farms, and in 2010 Ivorian government officials detained three journalists after they published an article exposing corruption in the cocoa industry.  And in a particularly egregious incident, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage kidnapped and killed a journalist who was reporting on cocoa industry corruption.

Not all of the blame, however, can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the West African governments or large chocolate companies.  According to reporting done by The Nation in 2014, “the global agricultural trade is structured to ensure that the most savage forms of resource extraction are linked into the most sophisticated commodities markets.  Under this system, farmers are denied control over their production process and cannot negotiate fair prices or wages in the global market place.”  The article points in particular to “agribusiness behemoths like Barry Callebaut, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland,[which] dominate commodities markets, [and] is a result of the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act and the subsequent signing by President Bill Clinton of the  Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) into law.”  Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act has resulted in more U.S. taxpayer money going into speculation while the CFMA opened the door for risky business operations and the deregulation of derivatives.  As the cost of food rose over the globe due to increases in prices of food commodities as a result of the CFMA and partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the number of people in extreme poverty rose as well, including the cocoa farmers of West Africa.  That the Ivory Coast’s exportation of cocoa accounts for 60% of that market is due entirely to the increase in commodity price for that market, over which the cocoa farmer has no control.  Demand for cocoa exists and so it becomes a commodity to be traded and sold rather than as a means, as well, of providing individual farmers with a living wage.

We’ll leave the work of re-instating the Glass-Steagall Act to Elizabeth Warren, who has stated that “the new Glass-Steagall Act…would reduce ‘too big’ by dismantling the behemoths.”  What we as individuals can do is satisfy our chocolate cravings by purchasing only those bars labeled with a “direct trade” certification.  This mark ensures that middlemen and commodities traders are not involved, and although the price is higher, you’ll not be contributing to an increase in child labor.

Recipe of the Week

This is a most simple recipe only requiring time.  It’s a great thing to make for the week ahead as it can be used for tacos or sandwiches.

Roast Pork

2 to 3 lbs of pork shoulder

1 tbls dried oregano

1 tbls dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

Turn the oven on to 275.  Rub the roast on the non-fat sides with the spice mixture.  Place it in a roasting pan, uncovered,and cook for about 3 hours, turning every 45 minutes.  Remove most of the fat, slice up and serve.  Can easily be reheated.

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Two Reasons to Avoid Imported Seafood

It’s estimated that 86% of the seafood consumed by Americans is imported, and most of that comes from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, and is largely farmed.  It has long been established that seafood, particularly shrimp and salmon, originating out of these aquafarms is toxic.  Aquafarms in Asia are unregulated and have operation standards that fall below American standards.  According to Jessica Johnson of Louisiana State University, “shrimp farmed in Asia and sold in U.S. grocery stores contain significant residues of antibiotics that are administered as part of intensive aquaculture in the countries they originate from  – drugs that are banned for this use in the United States, but that may not be detected when the shrimp are imported.”  Johnson’s testing of foreign shrimp revealed the presence of four drugs:  choloramphenicol, an early antibiotic that’s been linked to the development of aplastic anemia, malachite green, a dye used as a fungicide and has been shown to cause liver tumors, nitrofurons, a known carcinogen and fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics which includes the commonly prescribed Cipro.  All of these drugs are banned for use in food-producing animals in the U.S.  The FDA’s ability to detect toxins in imported fish is limited by a lack of funds, and so only a small fraction of contaminated seafood is detected.  In fact, the FDA routinely tests fewer than 2% of imported seafood.  Aquafarms, however, present only one reason not to consume seafood from foreign sources.  The existence of slave labor, recently discussed in an article in The New York Times, is a major consideration and “nowhere is the problem more pronounced than…in the South China Sea, especially in the Thai fishing fleet.”

Countries that engage in trafficking and slave labor, such as North Korea, Syria, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are considered Tier 3 countries which the U.S. condemns and imposes economic sanctions to deter these practices.  Thailand, however, also a Tier 3 violator, enjoys good relations with the U.S.  In 2013, the U.S. imported $1.1 billion worth of tuna and shrimp from Thailand.  The New York Times article concentrated on open sea fishing operations, so the fish is wild and presumably safe to eat, but the conditions for thousands of young men, most from Burma and Cambodia, are appalling and even deadly.  The Thai fishing industry also provides much of the seafood used in American brand pet foods.

The Tier 3 ranking and a federal law making it illegal to sell products in the U.S. that have ties to slavery have apparently not deterred Walmart, Sysco, Albertson’s, Safeway and Kroger from selling Thai seafood.  And at least three American pet food companies were named in The New York Times article – Meow Mix, Fancy Feast and Iams.  None of these companies responded to requests for comment, and it is apparent by increased media exposure that they must be aware that the Thai fishing industry is engaged in slave labor.  Indeed, after being rescued from a slave ship this year, a young man from Burma testified before a congressional hearing.  He said, “I want to say to the congressmen that if I were to mention all the human skulls and bones from fishermen who died, the sea would be full of Burmese bones.  On behalf of all the fishermen here, I request the congressmen that the U.S. stop buying all fish from Thailand.  If the label says Thailand, the U.S. should stop buying it.”

This is how it works.  Desperate young men and boys are lured away from home with promises of jobs.  Once in Thailand, they are sold to ship captains and can remain on the boats for years.  They are generally fed rice with a little fish once a day, often work 16-18 hours a day and are routinely beaten for minor infractions.  If sick, they are thrown overboard, and those rescued claim to have witnessed murders aboard the ships.  An AP report, issued in March of this year, described 20-22 hour shifts and unclean drinking water.  Rescued slaves told of being kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest.  Many of these captives are as young as 15 years old.

In addition to toxic farming methods and a slave trade that involves approximately 50,000 men and boys, the illegal fishing industry is also responsible for depleting the world’s fishing grounds.  Another New York Times article published on July 28 recorded the successful effort of Sea Shepherd, an environmental organization, in stopping the Thunder, apparently “the world’s most notorious fish poacher.”  Thunder was one of only five ships in the world to be considered responsible for the depletion of “over 90% of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish.”  The ship was a renegade, flying the flag of many countries over the years, including Britain.

It should be evident that we must pay close attention to where the seafood we consume originates in order to protect our health, the freedom of many thousands and the global seafood populations.

Recipe of the Week

This simple salad dressing proves to be quite refreshing and is easy to make.

juice from 1/2 of a large lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 grindings of fresh black pepper

1/2 tsp of good quality dijon mustard

1 large clove garlic, minced

Put all the ingredients, except the oil, in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse briefly, then very slowly pour in the olive oil.  Taste to see if more olive oil or lemon is needed.


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The Potential of Modernizing the Safety Assessment of GMOs

On July 2 of this year, President Obama issued a bulletin called “Improving Transparency and Ensuring Continued Safety in Biotechnology.”  It’s a seemingly benign document, but the bulletin calls for more coordination between the EPA, USDA and FDA when framing the regulatory process, but also calls for “an outside, independent analysis of the future landscape of the products of biotechnology.”  Currently, the various agencies have relied upon the principle of “substantial equivalence,” which considers basic nutritional characteristics that non-GMOs and GMOs share, as well as how they taste, look, smell and feel.  The principle of substantial equivalence was first employed in the 1970s to assess the safety of medical devices.  In the early 90s, Michael Taylor, currently the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and formerly a lobbyist for Monsanto, established the official U.S. stance on genetically modified foods.  He embedded the notion in policy that if genetically modified food is “substantially equivalent” to non-GM food in composition, then there is no need to test it for safety or to label it.  In concert with the federal government’s stance on GMOs, the biotech industry has set up user agreements that explicitly forbid the use of the seeds for any independent research.  This is why people who advocate for the spread of genetically modified organisms can justifiably claim that no research has ever been conducted that shows GMOs to be harmful.  The only research on GE seeds that has been published has been approved by the industry.

Obama’s bulletin, then, may signal an end to the business as usual approach to the rubber stamping of any and all genetically modified plants or animals.  Back in the 90s, when GMOs were being initially introduced, most people were ignorant about them, which allowed the biotech companies to set the rules and standards.  The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, first introduced in 1986 and last updated in 1992, will again be updated under the terms of Obama’s bulletin.  Specifically, a newly created group, the Biotechnology Working Group Under the Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee, which will include representatives from the Executive Office of the President, the EPA, the FDA and the USDA, will be assigned to take steps to increase the transparency of the regulatory systems for biotechnology products.  All of this could simply prove to be a red herring, but the more significant assignment given the group will be a provision that will require that the FDA, EPA and USDA commission external and independent analyses of new GE products.  These external studies are meant to identify risks to human health and the environment and will be re-examined every five years.  The Obama bulletin also encourages public discourse, the first such session occurring in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

That the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Council on Environmental Quality all weighed in on the bulletin released July 2 can perhaps suggest that the increasingly contentious conversation about the safety of GMOs will be given a closer look.  It also suggests that the concerns of the organic movement are being recognized and heeded.  Or it could all come to nothing, especially considering the wording of the bulletin which contains the phrase “Continued Safety in Biotechnology.”  It is, of course, far too soon to evaluate the outcome of this initiative.  That it calls for “high standards that are based on the best available science that deliver appropriate health and environmental protection” is encouraging, but its other goal, one of making the regulatory process more “efficient,” could simply be a way of giving biotech companies better and faster access to markets than they already have.  It’s all pretty tame stuff, but maybe, just maybe, it’s a start.  We’ll see.

Recipe of the Week

This is a very simple salad, one meant to accompany a more complicated entree.  I was sceptical because of the lack of fat in the dressing, but it was quite good.

Butter Lettuce with Red Onion and Black Pepper

One head of organic red butter lettuce

juice from two small limes

onion slices from 1/2 a small red onion

plenty of black pepper, freshly ground

Combine and toss.

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