Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's In What You Eat?

Mom attended a sustainable foods presentation last night given by these two women. If you can't read the fine print on the picture they are Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter Anna Lappe. The theme of the presentation was 'Hope's Edge: Rethinking Old Myths, Building Sustainable Communities'. I could not attend the presentation because they don't allow dogs in the college unless they are service dogs. I tried to tell Mom that I am a service dog but she just shook her head no, gave me a pet on the head, and ran out the door. Sheesh!
Frances Moore Lappe wrote this groundbreaking book almost 40 years ago and it really changed the way people thought about food and eating. I wouldn't go so far as to say it did for the food movement what "Silent Spring" did for the environmental movement, but it's impact was felt and is still being felt today. The premise behind the book is that there is a global food shortage. This was true in 1971 when the book was published and is still true today. Millions of people die from hunger each year despite the abundance of food that is grown around the world. This disturbed Lappe and she made it her life's work to educate people about this issue, traveling around the world informing people on the changes they can make in their diets so that there is no more food crisis.

Flash forward to the 21st century. Lappe's daughter Anna gets involved in the food movement but instead of focusing on food policy she focuses on how what we eat contributes to global climate change. This is such a hot topic (no pun intended) because so many people don't even believe we are experiencing global climate change. At least not to the extent that it is a human caused problem and that it will lead to more destruction with each passing year until we do something about it.

The presentation was really good and Mom said the passion in the presenters' voices could be heard as well as felt. These issues are so serious that Mom feels it is this generation's responsibility to address them and quick. These times they are a changing and it ain't looking good. But, with every problem there is always at least one solution. It's not all doom and gloom because there are so many opportunities to make changes daily and locally that Mom just believes it's a matter of educating people. I don't know why she feels it's her job to do this but since she's in charge of me (I report to her) who am I to argue?

So what does all of this have to do with anything? Everything! Mom was reading me a blog post on the other day called The Conscious Kitchen challenge. The challenge was to take a really good look around your kitchen to determine if you know where your food comes from (and I'm not talking the store), what it is, and how good it is for you and the environment. This is stuff that Mom thinks about a lot because she is obsessed with it. Some people smoke, drink coffee, drink alcohol, do drugs, gamble, etc., but not my mom. Nope. She obsesses and stresses about the environment. I guess someone has to do it.

So the first step in creating a more Conscious Kitchen is to perform a self-exam of sorts. You are to walk into your kitchen and see what's in there. I mean dig deep to see what you're eating and what's in what you eat. There are many parts to the challenge but Mom decided to focus on the food portion, specifically the fridge. The other food parts - cabinets and freezer will come at a later date. The other kitchen parts involve looking at your oven and stove to assess how much you cook/eat at home, and also looking at your garbage to see how much and what you are throwing away.
Okay, so we are going to do a mini fridge challenge to get things started. This will be just a little sampling of what we need to do and we encourage all of you to conduct a similar challenge.

Look at that refrigerator. There's not a thing to eat in it! Where's the leftover Popeyes? Where's all my cheese? Hello lunchmeat, I'm looking for you. This is why I'm starving. Uh, sorry for freaking out. It's just that I feet that some of my food should be included in the challenge but Mom said we were focusing on human food.

Okay, so Mom looked in the fridge, but what was she suppose to be looking for? The first thing was to notice the ratio of fresh whole foods to packaged items. Are your veggies wilting or are they something you shop for often? Mom would like to add "are they in plastic, reusable cloth bags, or loose?" Now take a look at how many ingredients are listed on the packaged food. Ask yourself what's in there that you think is Conscious, and what would you like to see go?

Now for the challenge. Try to visualize how each ingredient was produced. Do you picture a farm? All food comes from a farm, it's just a matter of which type of farm. Do you know where that farm is located and how it produced that ingredient? Or is it an ingredient that you might expect to find in a household cleaner as opposed to your fridge? This is going to be much harder than I thought. There is a scoring system for the challenge but since we are doing a little sample challenge, our scoring system will be paws up or down.
Mom decided to grab a few items out of the fridge to start with. Our challenge focused on packaged food since those items are usually the least conscious, thus there is greater room to make changes.
This sampling of food items can be found in our fridge on any given day. Two of these items are Mom's, three are Dad's, and one they share. Just for the record, I would include two of them if I were doing a Stubby challenge, which I'm not, but I'm just saying. I'm sure you guys know which two are mine because all us doggies seem to eat them.

This is Dad's pomegranate juice. He drinks a shot of it every day. I'm not sure why Mom doesn't drink a shot too but she doesn't. I've never tasted it so I can't vouch for it's drinkability. Reading the ingredients it looks to be pretty conscious. 100% pomegranate juice is the only ingredient listed. That means there's nothing else in the bottle except what's suppose to be there. I can definitely picture a pomegranate orchard, most likely in California. Bees buzz, birds sing, and butterfiles dance around the pomegranate trees. Besides the plastic bottle the juice comes in, I give this 2 paws up. Glass is easier to recycle than plastic plus with glass there are no leaching issues. This plastic bottle will go in our recycling container and the cap will go to Aveda.

Mmmmm. Peanut butter. I love this stuff! I could eat it every day but I don't. Mom eats it on bread and on bananas. But is it conscious? It is organic peanut butter but that doesn't mean it's conscious. Let's take a deeper look. All the ingredients came from a farm and don't look like ingredients that you would find in household cleaners. Organic dry roasted peanuts imply that there were no pesticides and herbicides used to grow them. That's good but what about the organic palm oil? Palm oil is one of the worst things for the environment but unfortunately it's made it's way into so many foods we eat every day. Just because the palm oil is organic doesn't make it conscious, right? Great question. I'm going to have to look into that because I just don't know. I hope it's okay because I would hate to give up eating peanut butter. Organic refined cane sugar and sea salt seem okay to me so overall I think I give this peanut butter 1 1/2 paws up. The jar is glass so it will be recycled along with the metal lid. Mom could very easily make her own peanut butter and maybe this challenge will push her to try.

Who doesn't love cottage cheese? Mom! That's fine with me because that means there's more for Dad and I to eat. Yummy. But look at the list of ingredients. Hmmm. There are some very suspicious looking ingredients in there. Some of them look familiar but others do not. What really jumps out at me is potassium sorbate (a mold inhibitor). Apparently there's not enough of that stuff in there because our cottage cheese always gets moldy when Dad is out of town. I'm betting potassium sorbate isn't even good for you. It's just in there to preserve the real ingredients like milk and cream. The rule usually goes that if you can't pronouce an ingredient in a food stuff, then you shouldn't eat it. Easy to say but hard to do. So many foods today contain preservatives to increase shelf life. But what effect do these preservatives have on you? How does your body handle them? More great questions, but no answers. Unfortunately, I would have to give this cottage cheese 2 paws down because I don't think it's very conscious. I'm sure there are healthier cottage cheeses on the market that Dad and I can eat, maybe even some that aren't packaged in plastic. The good thing is that this type of plastic is extremely recyclable, so in the recycle bin it goes.

This is the worst picture ever. I bet you can't even tell this is the list of ingredients on a jar of salsa, can you? Please don't blame the blogger - blame the photographer. The one with the very unsteady hands. If you could read the ingredients you would see that for the most part they are all recognizable. I can definitely picture farms where these ingredients are grown. Of course they aren't all grown on the same farm given the mono agriculture most farms practice. But they are farms none the less. None of the ingredients are organic but like we all know, some produce is cultivated using less chemicals than others. There are peppers, tomatoes, black beans, garlic, and spices listed in the ingredients. The only suspicious ingredient would be the last one: natural flavor. What is it and how is it natural? Natural what? This natural flavor could be anything and of course food companies don't have to tell you what it is. Some companies hide behind this labeling for fear that if consumers knew exactly what went into a product, they could simply duplicate it at home. But again, it could be anything, so I have to give this salsa 1 1/2 paws up because it is semi-conscious. I like that it comes in a recyclable glass jar with a metal lid, but Mom could easily make her own salsa.

This is not a product I directly eat, but Dad uses it to make my eggs. Mom uses it in stir frys and on bread, so we go through a lot of it. It was not too long ago that Dad used regular old margarine for cooking but then Mom found this stuff and Dad liked it. In case you couldn't see it in the group picture, it's called Earth Balance and it's a butter substitute. Now that doesn't mean it's conscious, but before we decide if it is or not, let's take a look at the ingredients. The natural oil blend contains palm fruit, aka palm oil. Remember what I said about it? I told you it was found everywhere. Ugh. Mom is wringing her hands and pulling her hair out. The rest of the ingredients were grown on farms, but where? The label tells us this product is non-GMO. Yeah! There's so much controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms that we could do a month of posts on them. For our purpose let's just say the jury is out, but that we should try to eat as few as possible. So is this product conscious? I give it 1 1/2 paws up because of the palm oil. The plastic packaging is not great but this plastic, like the cottage cheese container, is highly recyclable.

Do you guys remember when Dad was sick last year? After he got out of the hospital, the doctor told him to give up caffeine and artifical sweeteners. So just like that, Dad gave them up. Cold turkey. Dad was a big soda drinker (so was Mom), so the doctor suggested La Croix carbonated water. Even though this picture is bad you can see that there are only two ingredients on the label: carbonated water and natural flavor. What's with all this natural flavoring? What do the La Croix people think? That Dad is going to go out and buy a Soda Stream machine and make his own faux La Croix? Good luck with that! Mom suggested this machine before but they just never bought one. I mean how hard could it be to make lemon flavored La Croix? Put water in machine, press button, add lemon juice and drink. I could probably even do it! But the real question is, is this conscious? That's a tough one. Is this any better then bottled water? Why can't Dad just pour himself some good old tap water and squeeze some lemon juice in it? It's all about the carbonation people! Which leads me back to the question at hand. I have to give this product 2 paws down. This product is not conscious, even though the cans are highly recyclable, as is the cardboard box they come in. Water is water, plain and simple. Why pay $4.00 for 12 cans when you can drink water out of the tap for months for less?

I learned a lot from this sample challenge. Besides not having any food in the fridge, I learned that Mom and I have a lot to learn about food. We don't know where our food comes from. We have no connection to the farmers that grew it, the people that picked it, or the company that manufactured it. Some companies are more conscious than others, so that is definitely a factor when shopping.

I'm hoping we can do a full on challenge soon because we do have real food in our fridge. There are lots of glass jars full of soup Mom makes, so it is going to take quite some time to break down all the ingredients in each one. It's important to know what's in what you eat because there's only one you. Only you can decide what you eat. Know what you're eating for your own good and for the planet. Take the challenge and let me know what you learn. The keys are to learn and make changes where necessary. Remember, the times they are a changing.


THE PUGLET said...

This was really interesting. Even to me who only cares about one thing when it comes to food: will I get to eat some or not?

My human says our fridge is 'schizophrenic'. It's like 75% plants and 25% unconscious stuff. Y'know, scary crap with ingredients you can't pronounce. Oh, and cottage cheese.

My human says our "food situation" is better than it was a few years ago. Before she got obsessed with some dude name Michael Pollan (he writes books too - your mom probably likes him too).

You'll have to pry a diet coke from my human's cold dead hand, but at least she'll probably be holding something organic and yummy in the other hand.

PS: is Popeyes organic?

Those Elgin Pugs said...

Stubby -

You are sooooo smart!!!! This is why you are my boyfriend. Not only do I like you because of your devilish good looks, but because of what's in that little pug head of yours!!!!
After Mommy and I read your bloggy, we went to the kitchen right away. As you know, Mommy has food allergies and is always looking for improved ways to eat. Besides that, Mommy and I can appreciate and respect all the concern you and your Mommy have for our environment!
Bye Bye for now my Stubby.
Your Josie Girl

Hank said...

Stubman, now I kinda enjoyed readin' this. I mean, I don't really care whut's in my food but my mom has been takin' an interst in this stuff lately.

Matter o' fact, she's been givin' me a little less kibble an' a lot more carrots an' apples an' boiled egg!

Mmmmm.....gotta go. All this food talk is makin' me hungry!

dw said...

Wow, Stubby, your fridge looks a lot like my fridge -- not the food necessarily, but the fridge itself! I just love the french door fridge! I'm pulling a couple things out of my fridge to do your challenge. First thing is a jar of mangos. It's a glass jar with a metal lid, so that's good, right? Ingredients: mango, water, sugar, citric acid, ascorbic acid (to protect color), sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives). Not too bad, I guess, but it does come from rather far away (product of Mexico) so it's not exactly local and probably leaves quite a carbon footprint. But it makes a wonderful smoothie!! My Leinenkuel Creamy Dark doesn't really have ingredients listed, saying lager with a unique blend of four barley malts, clutser, cascade and Mt. Hood hops. It's in a glass bottle and is brewed in Chippewa Falls, WI, so that's not so bad. And finally my pesto sauce comes in a plastic container with a plastic lid. Ingredients are olive oil/canola oil blend, basil, romano cheese, parmesan cheese, pine nut kernals, crushed garlic with citric acid, parmesan cheese base, pasturized cultured skim milk, salt, spices. Hm, not great, but most of it sounds like food and not chemicals. It's from Salinas, CA so a bit far away. I've got a few other not so great things in my fridge that I didn't pull out, but I've been making an effort to eat more real food. I like the idea that you're not supposed to eat anything you can't pronounce!

Btw, tonight on ABC, Jamie Oliver is starting his food revolution show -- trying to change what we eat in this country to make us healthier. There was a preview of it on Sunday night that I missed because I was out climbing mountains, but I watched it online. Twas quite interesting and a real scary look at what a lot of people consider to be good "food" and good nutrition. Scary what they eat and feed their kids!

Stubby said...

Hi Puglet! I think our fridge is schizophrenic too. Mom always says it looks a lot different when Dad is out of town because then it's just filled with her junk - yuk!

The food situation is better because of Michael Pollan and others like him but we still have a long way to go. I told Mom that if she's so concerned about all this food stuff that she should just stop eating. That didn't go over too well.

Stubby xoxo

Pee-s: Mom said that Popeyes is one of the worst things for the planet but I disagree. How could something so delicious be bad?

Stubby said...

Hi Josie Girl! I'm smart? Really? Ah, that's so sweet of you to say.

That's so cool that you and your mom went to the fridge after reading this post. I remember your mom talking about her food allergies so maybe our moms need to get together to talk food.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Hank! I knew you'd like reading this post because you love food just as much as I do. I think it's great that you've been getting more carrots, apples, and eggs. I eat those foods every day and I love them despite them being good for me.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi dw! That's so funny that we have the same fridge. Mom wonders how she lived without a french door fridge for so many years.

Thanks for taking the challenge. It's always interesting to see what people have in their fridges because it says a lot about them.

The mangos are not very conscious but there might be a more conscious brand you could by.

Beer has to be good for you, right? Even though they don't list the ingredients on the label (because they don't want you to brew it at home) I'm pretty sure it's at least semi-conscious.

The pesto doesn't sound too bad but like you said, at least the ingredients are food and not chemicals. There are lots of pesto recipes out there that are fairly simple so that might be an option.

I'm going to tell Mom about the Jamie Oliver show. She doesn't watch a lot of tv but she would be interested in this show. Thanks for the heads up!

Stubby xoxo

Tweedles -- that's me said...

mommy said we would need to have a shirink come out to daignose what our fridge has in it.
not much for me- that's for sure

Stubby said...

Hi Tweedles! That's so funny! I doubt you need a shrink to do the diagnosis because I know your family eats healthy.

I'm like you - not much in the fridge for me. If I had my way there would be lots in there for me because that's where all the yummy stuff lives!

Stubby xoxo