A Simple Reform

In accordance with the definition of capitalism, we will constantly be doing battle with private industry, bent only the accumulation of profit, in order to protect our health and the health of the environment.  The state must be forced to be ever vigilant in the establishment of laws and regulations that would safeguard our overall well-being.  And often, regulatory strictures focus around minutiae in creating solutions.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is proposing legislation that would allow the USDA the authority to issue mandatory recalls of tainted beef, poultry and pork.  Astonishingly, the USDA currently can only politely recommend that a manufacturer, retailer, distributor or importer recall a product, and that request can be refused.  If, however, the product contains an adulterant such as E.coli, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can then mandate a recall.  Gillibrand’s bill, the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, is designed to overcome the fact that Salmonella is not considered to be an adulterant.  The law, in effect, would simply allow the FSIS to label Salmonella an adulterant.  The law would clean up the mess that stands, where the FDA, the agency that regulates manufactured food products, can and does ban Salmonella from food, but the FSIS, that oversees beef, chicken and pork, cannot.  The roadblock lies in the simple labeling of Salmonella as an adulterant.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella, a fecal bacteria, sickens 1.4 million people a year in the U.S., hospitalizing  1,500 and killing 400.  It is also estimated that these particular illnesses and deaths cost $3.6 billion a year in medical costs, wage losses and premature death.

There is precedent that would support the merits of Gillibrand’s bill.  You may remember the E.coli outbreak in 1993 which was linked to 73 Jack in the Box restaurants.  Seven hundred and thirty people were sickened, four children died, and many were left with kidney and brain damage.  That most of the victims were children under the age of 10 galvanized the public to demand that something to done.  Under Bill Clinton, the then FSIS Administrator Michael Taylor proposed a “Zero Tolerance Rule,” and the E.coli bacteria was labeled an adulterant.  Even though the beef industry sued against the rule, over time it was found that, according to Bill Marler, whose law firm handles food safety issues, “industry and government found that with E.coli banned, the numbers of outbreaks and recalls linked to hamburgers fell from commonplace to infrequent.”

Despite the success of the “Zero Tolerance Rule,” Congress, controlled by industry, continued to resist further legislation that would ensure greater food safety.  In 2014, a group of legislators introduced a bill, the Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act, which would have amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act to include language that would add any “microbial pathogen that is associated with serious illness or death” to the list of food products that could be recalled.  Two sponsors of the bill, Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Louise Slaughter of New York, stated at the time that the “USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with anti-biotic resistant  pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so.  This bill will ensure there is no confusion…We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation.”  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) backed the bill, saying “CSPI believes USDA can act now to declare dangerous strains of anti-biotic resistant Salmonella to be adulterants.”  That bill died in Congress.

And this is really a simple matter of language.  The Federal Meat Inspection Act describes adulterated meat as “containing poisons, toxic pesticides, unsafe food additives or contains any deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an adulterant under this clause the quantity of such substance in or on such article does not ordinarily render it it injurious to health.”  That typically most people do not develop symptoms when infected with Salmonella, and others who do get sick recover within a few days without treatment, apparently has led the USDA to believe that it is not “injurious to health.”  The 400 people who die from it every year would beg to differ.

As Bill Marler says, “safer food should be non-partisan.  Republicans and Democrats eat and drink, and they have parents, kids, grandkids, and constituents who are some of the most vulnerable to foodborne illness.”  Senator Gillibrand’s bill is simple, reasonable and is certainly a small step Congress can take to make the food we all eat safer.

Recipe of the Week

I’m always advocating homemade chicken stock to boost the flavor of various stews and soups, especially since the stock one can buy is chock full of sodium.  There’s no reason, however, one can’t use vegetable stock instead, and it takes far less time than chicken or beef stock to make.

Vegetable Stock

Get the biggest pot you have and add:

1 cup of onion skins

4 cups of celery, including the leaves

1/2 cup of chopped carrots

1 cup of leeks, chopped (optional)

mushroom stems (about 1 cup)

asparagus trimmings (about 1 cup)

one or two chopped tomatoes, with their skins

Cover the vegetables with cold water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for two hours.  Drain.  This should make about 8 cups of stock, but you can add more vegetables and make as much as you like since it freezes well.

 

 

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Tom Udall Gets It Wrong

There are currently more than 80,000 chemicals available for purchase and use in the U.S. today that have never been tested for potential toxic effects on human health and the environment.  The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was enacted to ensure the safety of each chemical released into our economy, but was so full of loopholes that it prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from acting even on known health dangers.  For instance, it was entirely possible for the EPA to ban asbestos altogether, but a clause in the TSCA, that the EPA use “the least burdensome” means to achieve its goal, meant, over time, that regulating asbestos rather than banning it was a less burdensome option.  And so it goes.  Recently, Senators Tom Udall of New Mexico and David Vitter of Louisiana have proposed the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), which is being lauded mostly because it’s a rare example these days of bipartisan collaboration.  But there are problems with this legislation as well, largely because it appears to have been written by the chemical industry.

The core problem with the CSIA is that it places the burden of proof on the EPA.  In other words, the EPA must prove a chemical is toxic rather than the industry proving a chemical is safe.  The status quo remains in place, therefore, allowing almost any chemical to be put on the market.  Various chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, such as BPA and fire retardants, will then simply continue to be put into products that are used everyday.  Although the “least burdensome” requirement has been expunged, the CSIA would only require that 10 chemicals be designated high priority for testing in the first year.  How many years would it take to assess the health risks of 80,000 chemicals at this rate?  You do the math.

Another problem, which provides a huge loophole, is that the CSIA would require a cost-benefit analysis before the EPA would be allowed to either phase out or ban a chemical.  The bill states that “no unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment will result from exposure to a chemical.”  But in order for the EPA to define “unreasonable,” they must also, according to the precepts of the CSIA, weigh the dollar value of the chemical against the dollar value of cancers, birth defects, attention deficit disorder, etc., that it may cause over the years.  And if the EPA rules that the chemical presents no unreasonable risk of harm, the bill states that any new scientific studies in regards to the health or environmental dangers of any particular chemical would be excluded from courtrooms challenging the EPA’s decision.  It would also allow the EPA a seven year time frame to investigate a single chemical.  And most egregiously, the CSIA would block states from taking any action to keep their residents safe from toxic chemicals.  Had California passed prop 65, which would have required the labeling of GMOs, the CSIA would have made it illegal.  Washington State currently has a law on the books to restrict fire retardants; that would also be nullified.  And Maine’s attempts to eliminate toxic mercury from products would be erased from the books permanently.  That eight Republican and eight Democrats co-sponsored this bill shows only that our legislators are interested in proving that something can get done at all, even if nothing at all really gets done, except what is wanted by the industry.

And the chemical industry certainly was involved in shaping the CSIA, as they have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Udall’s campaigns and even sponsored a television ad praising his leadership.  Barbara Boxer, a critic of the bill, says that “I’ve been around the Senate for a long time, but I have never before seen so much heavy-handed, big-spending lobbying on any issue.  It looks to me like the chemical industry itself is writing this bill.”  Indeed, testifying to the toothlessness of the bill is clear as it was endorsed by the American Chemical Council, which has reportedly spent $375 million lobbying Congress between 2005 and 2012 to prevent any meaningful reform of the TSCA.

For his part, Tom Udall falls back on expediency, saying, “we can’t do something that is pie in the sky; we have to deal with reality.”  But rather than offer up any real reform, Mr. Udall is contributing heavily to the notion, not new, that democracy is dead.  Long live oligarchy.

Recipe of the Week

To make this simple soup deeply satisfying, organic veggies should be used, as well as home-made chicken stock.

Potato Broccoli Soup with Cheddar

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 lb. broccoli, chopped

3 russet potatoes, unpeeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients, except the cheese, salt and pepper, in a large soup pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes.  Puree, then add the cheddar and taste for salt and pepper.  If you want to add more cheese, go ahead.

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Spawn of Monsanto

Loblolly sounds as though it’s a name of a quaint little village in Ireland, but it’s actually an important tree species in the U.S., and is being considered as a major player in the biofuel industry.  Currently, 80% of pine plantations in the country are devoted to the loblolly pine.  The USDA and the Obama administration definitely support the production of the tree as a biofuel source and have given the green light to the biotech firm, ArborGen, to genetically modify the tree to increase its usefulness.  This particular decision by the U.S. government has created an international uproar, and it would seem that there’s good reason for these protests, the major ones being that no government or public oversight was allowed, nor was any assessment of environmental risk conducted.  Risks do abound however; some known and others potential.

The Global Justice Ecology Project points out that the loblolly pine naturally produces terpene, which is already being used to produce biofuels.  ArborGen is working on genetically altering the pine to produce up to 20% more terpene.  One of the known risks of allowing this genetic alteration is that terpene is highly flammable, and with global warming and droughts on the rise, along with a probable increase in the number of loblolly plantations, conditions could be set for major firestorms.  I would consider that possibility to be enough to derail the project.  Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch adds that “if these GE loblolly pines are released on a large scale in the U.S., there will be no way to stop them from cross-contaminating native loblolly pines.  This is deliberate, irreversible and completely irresponsible contamination of the environment with unknown and possibly devastating consequences.  Forest ecosystems are barely understood,  and the introduction of trees with genes for modified wood characteristics could have all manner of negative impacts on soils, fungi, wildlife, songbirds, and public health.”

Groups from around the world (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, EcoNexus, Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Ecology Project, and the Dogwood Alliance) join Biofuelwatch in their condemnation of this unprecedented  and unregulated decision by the USDA.  Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of the Uruguay based World Rainforest Movement has stated that “we are greatly concerned that these unregulated GE pines could be shipped to Brazil or other countries without public, or maybe even government knowledge, further promoting the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the Global South.  This contributes to deforestation and affects indigenous and peasant communities worldwide who depend on forests for survival.”  As with GMO crops, the altered loblolly pine tree will be developed to withstand pests, which would of course involved the use of pesticides, already a known and dangerous problem.  Introducing pesticides into a poorly understood ecosystem would enhance the destructive capabilities of these toxins, leading to more harm.  Bees and Monarch butterflies are already acknowledged victims of Monsanto’s glysophate, so it stands to reason that more extinctions would occur with unknown repercussions.  As with GMO  crops, where cross contamination with non-GMO crops and native varieties is common there is no reason to believe that the opposite will occur, especially as the loblolly pine is capable of projecting its seeds and pollen over a distance of many miles.

The decision made by the USDA to allow ArborGen to genetically modify the loblolly pine might have gone unnoticed as the information was never intended to reach the public.  A scientist from the Center for Food Safety, Doug Gurian-Sherman, however, recently exposed the previously unpublished letter from the USDA to ArborGen last August.  Gurian-Sherman says the USDA “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public,” and points out that “this is probably the biggest environmental regulatory change in the US since the 1990s,” when GMO crops were first approved.  Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that when ArborGen requested permission from the USDA in 2013 to commercialize a GE eucalyptus tree, they received comments of 10,000 to one opposing the request.  Perhaps another reason to keep the proposal to genetically alter the loblolly pine secret comes from the fact that the USDA, as is well known, has become infiltrated with former Monsanto executives under Obama’s watch.  Most of ArborGen’s executives come from Monsanto, including Andrew Baum, ArborGen’s President and CEO.  Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary, has long been an advocate for Monsanto and is a cheer leader for the biotech industry.

“It’s clear from researching ArborGen’s public relations messaging that they see themselves as the new Monsanto,” says Will Benningham of Global Justice Ecology Project.  Benningham goes on to say “that ArborGen plans to follow the ruthless Monsanto model and doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process.”  If Monsanto can, and does, sue any hapless farmer who “possesses” their seeds after those seeds contaminate a farmers’ land, it’s not a long stretch to see ArborGen using the same tactic.  This time, however, it would be our National Forests and Parks under attack from a private company.  This is incredibly dangerous territory that our government is leading us into, and I don’t know what can stop it other than the work of such organizations mentioned in this paper.

Recipe of the Week

Recipes for steamed clams are everywhere, but most of them involve so many ingredients that the fresh taste of the clams themselves is lost.  This recipe is the most simple and, with good French bread, delicious.

1 or more pounds of Manila clams.  Inspect each one for cracks in the shell, place them in a bowl, and run a slow and steady stream of cold water over them for about 15 minutes

4 or more garlic cloves, minced

2 TBLS extra virgin olive oil.

Pour the oil into a sturdy pot.  Add the garlic, and when it starts to sizzle, add the clams, turn down the heat and cover with a tight lid.  You may stir them once or twice to help the shells to open.  When all the shells are open (discard the ones that are not), you’re ready to eat.  This takes mere minutes, so get the bread and lovely green salad ready.

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The Big Four vs. The Rest of Us

There’s still about a month left for the public and industry to weigh in, but the 8th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will most likely be published intact after April 8th.  It has received more significant attention than previous guidelines as it veers closely to the notion that there’s a connection between the food we consume and subsequent environmental degradation.  The guidelines are a bit under the radar for most of us, but they are still employed in the development of federal nutrition policy, as well as in the schools, food assistance programs and the food stamp program.  The 2015 guidelines state the usual, that a diet concentrating on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low dairy and low sugar is the most healthy.  Where the report varies from previous guidelines is in its suggestion that the consumption of red and processed meat is inherently unhealthy.  And it calls for health professionals to provide preventive nutrition services which the report sees as “largely unavailable in the U.S. health system.”  Simply put, the report recommends doctors actively discuss the types of foods their patients are eating.

I find the report to be benign and rational.  The meat industry, however, and as is to be expected, is loudly protesting the conclusions of the report, and are mainly in opposition to a section on “Food Sustainability and Safety.”  This section ties the American diet and environmental impact, the first such time the federal government has ever made this connection public.  In particular, the guidelines state that “sustainable diets were…higher in plant-based foods, [which] is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”  The guidelines promote plant-based diets because, as they state, “current evidence shows that the average American diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use.”  However, the authors also emphasize that “no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.”  And so off we go.

The meat industry has tied its knickers into knots over these guidelines, and is loudly protesting what the North American Institute calls a “flawed” and “nonsensical” report.  Simply put, they believe Obama is trying to kill an entire industry.  The North American Meat Institute  and other powerful corporate lobbies plan an all out assault against the report and hope to prevent the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services from adopting the recommendations as national guidelines.  These groups intend to extend the comment period to 120 days in order to quash the implementation of the guidelines.  According to an article in the Washington Post, the meat industry attacks “the notion that meat production is environmentally unfriendly and discredit the idea that environmental concerns should influence the dietary guidelines.”  The meat industry also stands by a statement made by Mary Soukup, the editor of Drovers/Cattle Network, that “in the past 30 years, thanks to advancements in production, genetics and processing, beef has 34 percent less total fat and 17 percent less saturated fat [and] is recognized as an excellent source of…nutrients.”

While it may be true that beef provides essential nutrients (although vegetarians would argue, and correctly, that all necessary nutrients can be obtained from a plant based diet), there is an elephant in the industry’s lobby.  Nowhere do the industrial meat producers allow that environmental degradation is part and parcel of their operations.  And they continue to assert, as do industrial soy and corn farmers, that in order to feed the world, large scale production is essential.  In fact, as EcoWatch points out, “feeding huge numbers of confined animals actually uses more food in the form of grains that could feed humans, than it produces.  For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and dairy.  That’s a 70 percent loss.”  Moreover, much research has been done in the last decade proving that a meat based diet is, in fact, radically unhealthy.

The bottom line, so to speak, is that what Americans eat (and how much) needs to be addressed if we are to successfully battle the obesity/diabetes epidemic.  If a small dose of education eventually leads people to understand the connections between a healthy diet, better health and a cleaner environment, then more power to reports like the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Given the power of agribusiness lobbyists over the federal government, that this relatively small voice of reason and science should appear is an excellent sign that we are awakening to the dangers, not only to ourselves but to the planet as well, of industrial ranching and farming.

The Big Four, Cargill, Tyson, JBS USA and the National Beef Packing Co., together slaughter 86,300 cows a day.  Perhaps we can put a small dent in that figure.

Recipe of the Week

I tend to use only small amounts of meat to season a dish, or eat vegetarian meals.  However, I do like to boost the flavors of some soups, such as black bean, with homemade chicken stock.  It’s easy, basically free, and only requires a couple of days to make.  This recipe differs from most in the cooking time, which I’ve found increases the richness of the broth.  When I cook chicken, I freeze the raw backs, wings and gizzards for use in the stock, and usually make a full batch of stock from the remains of three chickens (or four).  I also freeze the skins of any onions I use, as well as cuttings from celery and carrots, or leeks, which is rare.  Don’t use too many onion skins, though, as their flavor can override all others.

Put the chicken pieces and vegetable leftovers in a large pot.  I use a 16 quart pot, but you could also use two 8 quart pots.  Add about 1 Tbls. whole black peppercorns.  Cover with cold water and turn on the heat.  Just when the water begins to bubble, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting and leave overnight, or about 12 hours.  The idea is that you should only see a bubble every ninety seconds.  In the morning, turn off the heat, let cool some and then drain.  Put the broth in containers in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to cohere on the top.  Skim off the fat and pour stock into containers and freeze.  I usually get about 8 quarts of stock.

 

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Smoke and Mirrors – Sustainable Palm Oil

On the heels of writing about how the food industry is suddenly responding to consumer demand that our food supply be sustainable, I stumbled upon an article about how Unilever and Cargill, the two leading exporters of palm oil, were in the process of sourcing only sustainable oil.  I wrote a small piece nearly two years ago examining the destructive properties of large-scale palm oil production in Indonesia, and was encouraged to believe that something had changed.  Indeed, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a “Palm Oil Scoreboard,” which evaluated the efforts of several large companies, declaring that most of them were making a concerted effort to source palm oil that “protects both High Conservation Value and High Carbon stock forests.”  But in a concentrated effort to locate these sustainable palm oil plantations in Indonesia I was stymied; the reason being that little has changed except the spin.  The exact same “safeguards” are in place just as they have been since 2004, and they are inadequate at best.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded in 2004 and created a certification process known as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, or CSPO.  This process allows manufacturers to purchase certificates that can be redeemed for palm oil which they then can claim is from segregated, fully traceable supply chains.  Companies can legally claim that their products are not produced on plantations responsible for deforestation, loss of animal habitat and destruction of local economies.  If you spy the stamp “GreenPalm” on your candy bar, you are supposed to be assured no orangutan had died to satisfy your sweet tooth.

RSPO and CSPO were created with admirable intentions.  The problem lies in the fact that the issued certificates could be essentially meaningless as the little palm oil that is actually CSPO is much more expensive to purchase.  The big companies aren’t willing to pay more, thus forcing producers to cheapen the load by adding more unsustainably produced oil into the mix.  The producers sell the GreenPalm certificates which the end user redeems and is then able to make a sustainable claim.  In this system, GreenPalm certificates tend to mask traceable and sustainable supply chains.  Nick Thompson, CEO of New Britain Palm Oil, listed as an authentically sustainable producer of palm oil, says that “although we understand the theory behind GreenPalm certificate trading we have always thought that because the associated claim is so weak, the value to any buyer would be correspondingly low and therefore represent too little incentive to the growers…The value of certificates is pathetically low and the fact that such a massive percentage of GreenPalm certificates are being redeemed by a very small number of companies illustrates their lack of franchise in the market.”  Another producer of palm oil, Agropalma of Brazil, rated by Greenpeace as the top maker of sustainable oil, issued a statement saying that “we are also against GreenPalm certificates and believe there is no sustainability where there is no traceability.”

The fact remains that Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil.  Agropalma operates in Brazil and New Britain Palm Oil in Papua New Guinea.  Companies such as Unilever and Cargill, among others, source their palm oil from Indonesia.  That these companies claim to be working towards the purchase of sustainable oil may be true, but they are also being forced to do so by 2020, and that may certainly be too late.  In the interim, vast tracks of land continue to be deforested.  Given that the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (ISPO) dissociated itself from the RSPO and pledges to make its stringent standards mandatory for all producers of palm oil in the country by 2020, business interests in the area are conducting huge land grabs in anticipation.  So not only are current programs ineffectual in stopping deforestation, the threat of stronger mandates appears to be ramping up production of palm oil and the subsequent razing of rain forests.

The sad irony lies in the fact that palm oil replaced the much maligned ingredient necessary for the production of processed food, trans-fat.  Palm oil may not be as injurious to human health, but the consequences of its massive production are dire for the planet.  It is estimated that Indonesia’s peatlands hold approximately 57 billion gigatons of carbon which is steadily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions as the forests are being destroyed.  Work is being done to replace palm oil with a substance that “matches palm oil’s key properties almost identically,” but it’s still in the early stages of development and its cost is as yet too high.

Greed, politics and corruption are, of course, at the root of our blind willingness to destroy the planet.  Good intentions by U.S. companies or the standards set by the ISPO may prove to be too little too late, particularly as China and India are the world’s biggest buyers of palm oil.  All of the countries in the world must act now if we wish to preserve the rain forests of Indonesia.

Recipe of the Week

This is an incredibly simple recipe, exceptionally delicious, but it takes about three hours to make.  Once you get it on the stove, however, it needs little attendance.

Pappardelle with Wild Boar

1 lb. ground wild boar

3 small stalks of celery, minced

4 Tbls. onion, minced

1 tiny carrot, minced

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 small can of organic tomato paste

2 Tbls. flour

2 tbls. olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

8.8 ounce package of dried pappardelle

1 bottle of Italian red wine

In a large soup pot, preferably cast iron, heat the oil.  Add the meat and brown.  Add the carrot, onion and celery, stirring and cooking for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, rosemary, tomato paste and flour, stirring it all together.  Add the wine, bring to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer on the lowest heat for at least 2 hours.  I checked the pot and stirred in every half hour, and it was fine, needing no more liquid.  Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain but don’t rinse and stir into the sauce.  This dish requires no sprinkles of cheese.  It feeds at least four people.

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A Quiet Revolution

I’m still chuckling over the Carl’s Jr. television ads featuring gorgeous women devouring monstrous hamburgers while the words “hormone-free,” “grass-fed,” and “free-range” are prominently displayed.  Their latest ad, apparently shown on Super Bowl Sunday, has a well-endowed female beauty parading down the street in a bikini while chewing on one of those burgers.  “This ad tells you that Carl’s Jr. sees this as enough of a mainstream issue.  They’re realizing that this is something people want and not just something that a bunch of activist, doomsday folks are trying to push,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumer’s Union.  Indeed, Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for CKE Restaurants, Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, says that “sales of the burgers have exceeded projections.”  And now, as many of us predicted, the trend is expanding into other food industries.  The ice cream behemoth, Breyers, announced last week it will stop using milk from cows treated with rBST.  Unilever, Breyers’ parent company, also owns Ben & Jerry’s, Fruttare, Good Humor, Klondike, Magnum and Popsicle, all of which they plan to include in the rBST ban in the next few years.  Alessandra Bellini, vice president of brand development at Unilever North America, says that “these industry-leading changes are the latest in our commitment to do right by parents and the environment.”

Once again, Monsanto is involved.  They developed this genetically engineered hormone in 1993 in order to artificially increase milk production in cows by 10 to 15 percent.  The FDA, as is its wont, rapidly approved the artificial hormone, despite the fact that no study had occurred examining possible side effects in either the cows that were injected or the humans consuming the milk.  The FDA accepted Monsanto’s “study,” which tested the hormone on 30 rats for 90 days, a study that was never published.  In 1998, Health Canada decided this study was reason enough for a review preceding approval of the drug and banned its use.  The European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand quickly followed suit.  All of this followed a 1991 report by Rural Vermont that showed that rBST injected cows suffered serious health problems.

Monsanto is, of course, fighting against this trend in the industry to source milk from rBST-free cattle.  Calling on the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to do their bidding, Monsanto has asked that they stop “deceptive milk labeling practices [which] have misled consumers about the quality, safety, or value of milk and milk products from cows supplemented with recombinant bovine somatotropin.”  In the two letters written by Monsanto and sent to the government agencies, they specifically cited twelve companies who Monsanto says are using “false or misleading advertising” when promoting rBST-free dairy products.  John Thomas, present of Thomas Dairy, one of the companies named in the letters, acknowledges the power of Monsanto.  “They’re a huge company, and they can put pressure on small companies like us to get in line with what they want.”

Rick North, project director for the Program for Safe Food at Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, believes Monsanto is fighting back because of lost profits.  He says that “Monsanto is getting clobbered in the marketplace” because dairies nationwide are going rBST-free.  In 2005, our very own Tillamook Creamery Association made the decision to ban rBST even in the face of pressure from Monsanto.  Since then, the trend eventually enveloped all of Oregon’s dairy producers, as well as Safeway in Oregon and Washington.  There are too many dairy producers in the country to list who have abjured the use of rBST, however Dean Foods, the nation’s largest dairy processor, is on the list, as well as a growing roster of restaurants and coffee shops.  Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill among them.  Rick North simply said that “a hellava lot of dairies have gone organic or [rBST-free] since 2002.”

Consumer demand is obviously increasing production of organic foods and people are seemingly willing to pay more for milk.  A study done by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics Association outlines why sales of organic milk are increasing across the nation.  Sales of all organic food was estimated to be $35 billion in 2014.  That Breyers has joined the ever-increasing list of companies promoting “clean” food is heartening.  Unilever even has a “Sustainable Living” website, which also promotes the reduction of salt, fat and sugar in their products.  Americans are waking up to what corporations have been doing to their food and industry is paying attention.

Recipe of the Week

There are few salads better than a Caesar Salad, and if you make your own dressing it will be extra special.  Not hard to do if you own a food processor, although it can be done manually as well.

Caesar Salad

For the dressing:

2 eggs

2 TBLS lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 anchovies

1 cup olive oil

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor except the oil.  Using a drip attachment, if you have one, turn on the processor and pour the oil into the attachment until it’s gone.  Taste for salt, although I don’t think it’s necessary.

For the croutons:

You’ll want some good French bread, preferably a bit stale, but fresh will work, too.  Cut the bread into cubes, any size you like, and drizzle with a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread out on a sheet pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until crisp.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before storing.

Caesar Salad

Pull off the tops of a bunch of Romaine lettuce.  Wash well and remove the leaves.  You should leave them whole for a better presentation.  Coat the lettuce with dressing, add the croutons, and shave some good parmesan over the top.

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Good Food, Good Life, Part II

Nestle is still at it.  The Swiss Multinational corporation has been trying to gain essential control over the water from Oxbow Springs, near the town of Cascade Locks, a small village in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  Nestle began their pursuit of the Oxbow Springs water in 2008, but had been thwarted by public protests and lawsuits brought against it by Food & Water Watch, which has battled with Nestle over this issue throughout the U.S.  Food & Water Watch also sued Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), which had been encouraged to pursue the deal by former Governor Ted Kulongoski.  Current Governor John Kitzhaber also sides with ODFW.  The fight is back on, however, as a judge sided with ODFW last fall, potentially allowing for a “transfer of its water right” to support Nestle’s bid.  In effect, the state of Oregon would “trade” its legal right to the Oxbow Springs water to Nestle.  Previously, Nestle worked on a deal that would have allowed them to purchase water from the Cascade Locks city government.

This so-called trade is so completely one-sided as to raise suspicions of political meddling.  The state would hand over the ownership and control of the water to Nestle and the city of Cascade Locks would get about fifty $10 an hour jobs that would, from examining past history of the company, disappear after a short time.  This trade would also require no public interest review.  As it has done all over the country, Nestle would be able to purchase water for a song and then sell its bottled water for thousands of times more to consumers.  “They will pick a place with spring water resources that needs jobs, then they’ll overpromise on jobs, overestimate their economic impact and underestimate their environmental impact,” said Julia DeGraw, an organizer with Food & Water Watch.  When Cascade Locks Mayor Tom Cramblett says “it’s a win for everybody,” one suspects he has over indulged in those free hot dog parties Nestle has been sponsoring in his town for years (nitrite poisoning?).

Aside from the obvious dangers to a community when they cede rights to their water (and they will pay more for their water than will Nestle under this deal), a much larger conversation should be taking place concerning the consumption of bottled water at all.  Americans drink 21 gallons (79 liters) of bottled water per capita per year.  The marketing ploy of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is to convince people that bottled water is healthier than tap water.  Joe Doss, president and CEO of IBWA, says that “many consumers are focusing on healthful choices for themselves and their families, and they know that safe, convenient, refreshing bottled water has zero calories and is the healthiest option on the shelf.  They also appreciate the reliable consistent quality of bottled water.”  The apparent success of the  IBWA marketing campaign is evident from the fact that bottled water sales are greater than those of milk, coffee and juice.  The public is left unaware that dangers lurk in bottled water not existent in tap water.  A 2008 Environmental Working Group investigation revealed not only that dangerous chemicals infested much bottled water, but also are present in the bottle itself.

Moreover, the used bottles extract an environmental cost.  According to the Water Project, “bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes.  It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles…simply become litter.”  It also “takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand of U.S. water bottle manufacturing.”  In addition, as pointed out by Dr. Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth’s senior waste campaigner, “it is  another product we don’t need.  Bottled water companies are wasting resources [it takes 3 liters of water to package 1 liter of bottled water] and exacerbating climate change.  Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and transporting water adds to that.  We could help reduce these damaging effects if we all simply drank water straight from the tap.”

Nestle has long maintained, and correctly, that when they lay claim to water sources all over the country they are simply responding to consumer demand.  Indeed, IBWA’s sales projections indicate increasing consumption of bottled water in the next few  years.  Nestle’s desire to gain control over the water from Oxbow Springs is merely an addition to their profit making objectives.  That they now have acquired the right to the water rather than having to trade the water simply speeds up the process.  “It’s a simpler more direct way to accomplish the same objective,” said Dave Palais, Nestle’s spokesman for the Cascade Locks Project.  And this is not a “win” for the small community at Cascade Locks.  Tiffany Pruit, a former Cascade Locks City Council member, is at least raising questions about environmental effects, even in the area, as she wonders where funds will emerge when the town’s one-lane main street is inundated by 200 trucks each day.  The fight isn’t over, but Nestle has been maneuvering to get at the water of Oxbow Springs since 2008, and they are prepared to wait longer.

Drink tap water.

Recipe of the Week

I don’t often prepare pasta, but I was given some fresh pasta sheets and decided to make lasgagne.  This is a vegetarian meal, with one simple trick that made it exceptional.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Lasagne

For the sauce:

1 28 oz. can of organic, fire-roasted whole tomatoes, pureed (I prefer Muir Glen)

6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced

3 stalks celery, diced

1 small carrot, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

3 ounces local goat cheese

Heat the oil in a large, cast iron pan.  Add the vegetables and saute until the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and tomatoes, reduce the heat and simmer for about 1/2 hour.  Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.  Stir in the goat cheese.

For the lasagne:

2 bunches spinach

1 pound fresh pasta sheets

2 cups grated parmesan

Remove the leaves from the spinach and wash well.  Put the leaves in a large pot, turn the heat to high and, while stirring, wilt the leaves.  Drain and squeeze dry and chop.  Grate the parmesan.

In a large casserole dish, coat the bottom with a little of the sauce.  Cut your pasta sheets to fit the pan.  Sprinkle half of the spinach, half of the parmesan and half the sauce.  Repeat.  Cover the lasagne with foil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  The goat cheese adds a lovely smoothness to the dish.

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Government Sponsored Poison

I’ve heard it takes forty years, on average, for people to accept new ideas or information.  For instance, many people still believe  you can contract trichinosis from eating under cooked pork.  What caused trichinosis in the past was the practice of feeding pigs meat scraps, which was abandoned in the 70s, and the very few people who get the disease now get it from eating wild game.  What inspired this immediate digression was the mild shock I experienced when reading that a new study has “found” that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is toxic.  While any reinforcement on the dangers of consuming this product is welcome, such information has been available for some time.  Two years ago I found plenty of evidence concerning the evils of HFCS, and wrote a post, Sugar Bowl, in January of 2013.  At the time, it was well established that consumption of HFCS, even in moderation, is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia and liver failure.  The Corn Refiners Association, however, has spent a good deal of money to convince Americans that HFCS is no different, and in fact equivalent, to cane sugar.

The new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, which will be published this March in the Journal of Nutrition, concentrated on mice.  Wayne Potts, Professor of Biology at the university, says “that mice instead of humans are good test subjects because 60 to 80 percent of what is toxic in humans is toxic in mice and vice-a-versa.”  Professor Potts also presented the study as “the most robust study showing there is a difference between high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar at human-relevant doses.”  And this difference is the idea people find so hard to accept, even as the information has been available for years.

Dr. Mark Hyman, who has been studying HFCS for more than a decade, acknowledges that sugar in any form causes obesity and disease.  Having said that, however, he, as well as many others, go on to point out the differences between sugar and HFCS.  “HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed in the same way by the body.  HFCS not only spikes insulin since it goes right into the bloodstream, it also goes right to the liver triggering the production of triglycerides and cholesterol.  High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your blood stream and trigger the inflammation that we know is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging.”  A 2012 UCLA study also demonstrated that “a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning.”

The link between disease and obesity to HFCS began to become apparent in the mid-70s, when the diabetes-obesity epidemic began.  This was precisely the time that there was a switch from sucrose being the main added sugar in the American diet to HFCS.  HFCS became ubiquitous  and is currently present in most processed foods, including canned vegetables, as well as its obvious presence in soda pop.  But Americans apparently continue to either ignore the information available to them concerning HFCS or choose to believe the propaganda put forth by the corn industry.  The Corn Refiners Association’s continued assertion that there is no difference between sucrose and HFCS can certainly be a factor in our overall consumption.  The average American eats 35 pounds of HFCS a year, which is not hard to imagine when over 90% of processed food contains the substance.  In human history, we’ve gone from 20 teaspoons of sugar a year per person to about 150 lbs. of sugar per person per year.  Although that may seem like a lot, it’s easier to comprehend when you realize that one soda contains at least 15 teaspoons of sugar, all of it HFCS.

One may be excused for believing that if you don’t douse your coffee with sugar and stay away from desserts, that you’re managing your overall consumption.  But given that the Western diet has morphed from eating whole, non-processed foods to almost exclusively processed foods, that assumption is a false one, and dangerous to boot.  If you want to be stupid, as the UCLA study suggested, you can continue with a blithe disregard for hard science.  To keep you and your family healthy, however, you must cook from scratch, stop drinking soda and avoid as much processed food as possible.  You’ve known this since the mid-70s, and  your forty years are up.

Recipe of the Week

The one processed food I usually have in my house are canned tomatoes.  I prefer Muir Glen Fire Roasted Whole tomatoes, as they are organic and have few other ingredients.  Each 28 oz can, however, contains 3 grams of sugar.

Pasta with Proscuitto, Mushrooms and Tomatoes

1 lb pasta – any one you like is fine, but try for a more robust pasta such as penne, and the organic imported versions are the best

3/4 lb crimini mushrooms, stems removed and sliced

8 large cloves garlic, minced

1.5 cups of pureed whole tomatoes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 or 5 anchovies, chopped

1 tbls. fresh rosemary, minced

1/8th lb. proscuitto de Parma, cut up

fresh parmesan

Chop the garlic and rosemary first and set aside.  Prepare the mushrooms – if they are dirty, wipe them with a towel rather than washing them.  Puree the tomatoes and set aside.  Chop the anchovies.  Fill a large soup pot with cold water and about 2 tsps salt.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pot.  Add the mushrooms and anchovies and cook until the mushrooms have released their moisture.  Add the garlic, stir for about 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes, rosemary and proscuitto.  Turn the heat to a simmer, and cook the sauce for about 1/2 hour.  While the sauce is cooking, turn on the pasta water.  When it comes to a boil, put the pasta in and stir until the water returns to a boil.  Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, then drain but do not rinse.  When the sauce is done, add the pasta and stir.  Serve with fresh parmesan on the side.

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Chipotle’s Pig Problem

On the heels of Carl’s Jr.’s announcement in mid December that they would offer a clean, non-industrial burger to its menu, Chipotle Mexican Grill let it be known last week that they were dropping pork products from their menu.  The difference between the two decisions is that where Carl’s Jr. did market research in an attempt to bolster their bottom line, Chipotle Mexican Grill made a political decision, and dropped a product.  CEO Steve Ells has temporarily pulled carnitas from their menu, citing the failure of their supplier, as Miller Tabak analyst Stephen Anderson said, “to comply with the company’s pig housing standards.”  And where the Carl’s Jr. move appears to have made a huge impact on the way beef will soon be produced in this country and was largely applauded, Ells decision was perceived as a negative, with the value of its stock falling, albeit temporarily.  The reaction could also stem from the fact that CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., rakes in about $1.3 billion in profits, whereas Chipotle earns roughly $758 million.

Nevertheless, this move by a smaller fast food chain will contribute to the growing consumer demand for sustainable products.  And as people become more aware of not just how pigs are raised but what the health consequences are from eating industrial pork, they are more likely to demand changes in current farming practices.   Currently, as with beef, demand for humanely raised organic pork exceeds supply.  Chipotle Mexican Grill still has at least 1,800 restaurants nationwide and thus has the ability to encourage more humane treatment of pigs and cattle.  As I stated last week, Chipotle has also decided it must import grass-fed, humanely treated beef from Australia, as it is now sometimes forced to sell conventionally raised beef as humanely raised cattle are often difficult to source.  Chipotle’s decision has raised a few eyebrows, but Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said “we would rather not serve pork at all than serve pork from animals [conventionally raised].   Replacing the supply we have lost…will take some time, but it is important to us to maintain our high standards for pork, and we will continue to see some shortages while we work to increase the available supply.”

Niman Ranch, a consortium of U.S. family farmers committed to “humane animal raising standards,” already a supplier to Chipotle, recently announced they will increase their supply of fresh pork to the chain.  This is a temporary fix, however, as Niman will draw from an emergency reserve.  Chipotle has declined to publicly name the suspended supplier, but intends to resume a business relationship if that supplier improves living conditions for its pigs.  In the interim, Niman says it is “working with our family farmers on a long term basis to help encourage them to grow more animals, which will result in increased supply in the long run.”  Chipotle and Niman alone cannot alter the current overall condition of industrial pig farming.  But efforts to reverse the long term practice of confining pigs to crates where they are unable to move has gained popularity among consumers, causing Target, McDonald’s and Campbell Soup, among others, to refuse pork raised in this manner from their pork supply chains.  And despite the drop in stock price immediately after Chipotle’s “no more pork” announcement, switching from conventionally raised pork to those humanely raised in 1999 caused carnitas sales to double, even as the price increased by one dollar.  And while there are currently not enough organic pig farmers in the U.S., the Rodale Institute has initiated a 333 acre organic farm in Pennsylvania that raises, among other things, organic pigs.  The farm serves as a demonstration on how to convert from conventional practices to organic farming.  Chipotle’s is hopefully just on an increasingly longer list of businesses that push for organic farming practices.  That they have long been in the business of raising consumer awareness is laudable and will contribute to future change.

Recipe of the Week

I was awarded the giant ham bone from our Christmas gathering (a Niman Ranch product), and decided to make ham stock.  It takes far less time than chicken stock and enhances bean soup immensely.

Ham Stock

1 ham bone

1 whole onion, skin and all, quartered

4 or five celery stalks, untrimmed

2 carrots

Put all the ingredients in a large pot and just barely cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer for at least two hours.  Strain.  Take the meat off the bone and freeze for later use in soup.

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Capitalism Saves the World!

A whopping 72% of consumers apparently equate the advertising word “natural” with healthy, which is astonishing in and of itself.  What’s more surprising, however, is that a major national fast food chain paid attention to that figure and applied it to their business.  To see a Carl’s Jr. television ad, and I usually mute the sound and avert my eyes, that announced a new “all natural” burger last week shocked me completely.  The burger has no hormones, no antibiotics and is sourced from grass-fed, free-range cattle.  We don’t do that here, of course, at least not on that scale, so Carl’s Jr. has to import the beef from Australia.  The burger is still astonishingly unhealthy – it has 44 grams of fat, 1,220 mg. of sodium and 760 calories – but that fact is almost beside the point, even as most commentators focused on that particular issue.  What makes this move profound is how it will affect the U.S. beef and fast food industries.

McDonald’s has seen a drop in sales for many years, despite other efforts to lure in a more health conscious crowd with fruit smoothies and salads.  It’s entirely likely, then, that the corporation will soon be adding a “clean” burger to its menu in order to compete.  The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) “What’s Hot” survey for 2015 certainly demonstrates a growing appetite for “environmental sustainability,” “locally sourced meats and seafood,” and “grass-fed beef.”  A Carl’s Jr. representative, CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, explained that the move was not encouraged by animal rights advocates; that it was not a political move.  “Our objective has never been to tell people what to eat, but to serve them what they want to eat,” he stated.  Mr. Andy Puzder simply read the NRA survey and decided the move to sell grass-fed burgers would benefit the company’s bottom line.

Imported beef from Australia fits no one’s definition of locally sourced meat.  Although Cargill has been supplying markets for years with grass-fed Australian beef, which has proven to be a prescient business decision, the “Big Four” beef packers (Tyson, Cargill, Swift & Co. and National Beef Packing Co.), aside from Cargill, have been slow to recognize the trend toward more sustainable practices.  Only since Carl’s Jr.’s announcement have these companies initiated efforts to create a business model involving grass-fed beef.  A commentator on the Big Four recently posed the question being asked behind closed doors within the cattle industry.  The question is “Are we ready and can we supply domestic grass-fed beef at a price point that is attractive enough for the Big Four packers and their primary customer base.”

Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, CKE Restaurant Holdings, Inc., also owns Hardee’s, which is apparently concentrated in the South and Midwest.  This restaurant chain is currently market testing an all natural burger as well.  Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s,  has stated that “the new burger may represent the first step in a larger move toward natural products.  We are looking at other ingredients in the menu that we may be able to make cleaner.”  Haley also remarked that when the all natural burger was first offered in Southern California, “it was one of the best-scoring products we’ve ever tested.”

Other national chains, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, have been serving clean meat for years.  They, too, have found it difficult to find enough grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free U.S. beef, and recently announced they would be forced to import Australian beef.  This announcement caused the Texan Agriculture Commissioner, Todd Staples, to lash out at the restaurant chain.  Chipotle Mexican Grill also want their beef to be 100% GMO free, which automatically eliminates Big Ag cattle that are fed GMO corn.  But as co-CEO Steve Ells has stated, “the restaurant chain doesn’t want beef that’s been shot up full of hormones and antibiotics; instead it’s looking for true grass-fed beef that are free from those foreign substances, and Australia is a leader in that field.  The meat produced by these ranchers is ‘grass-fed’ in the truest sense of the term:  these cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pastures or range lands, eating only grass or forages.  [And] the cattle are raised without added hormones, antibiotics or growth promotants by ranchers committed to humane animal husbandry.”  From what I understand, the CAFOs in the U.S. can’t come anywhere near this standard.  Yum Brand Foods, which owns Taco Bell and KFC is also set to jump on this particular band wagon.  Greg Creed, CEO of Yum, stated recently that “restaurants need to be more transparent about the ingredients they use and to decrease the use of preservatives.”

Although I persist in denouncing industrial fast food, I realize that this initial move by Carl’s Jr. and its advertising campaign is a major game changer.  The beef industry will be forced to respond if they wish to compete, and more and more people will become aware of how the food they eat and feed their children is produced, and how that food affects their health and the environment.

Recipe of the Week

This soup is super simple, vegetarian and wonderful.  You can easily eliminate the blue cheese and the soup will still be great.

Potato Leek Soup

4 russet potatoes, poorly peeled (you know, just don’t take off all the peel) and chopped

3 leeks, washed – the white part coarsely chopped

8 cups water

1 Tbls. sea salt

1/2 cup cream

2 Tbls. butter

3/4 lb blue cheese

1 cup chopped parsley

Put the potatoes, leeks, water and salt in an appropriate sized pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 50 minutes.  Add the cream, butter and blue cheese and puree.  Add the parsley and serve.

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