New Year, new start!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a fun holiday season and a glorious start to 2018.

I personally don’t “start” the New Year until January SECOND. I’ve finally learned not  to begin my new resolutions the day after I’ve stayed up past midnight the night before AND plan to indulge in a few first-day festivities. That’s a sure recipe for disappointment.

I love the chance to begin again, though, don’t you? When I was a teacher, I loved those first days of class. A fresh start! Anything and everything was possible. I feel that way every year as we approach January: a chance to start over, try new things, and change my paradigm.

That’s the big word I bring to you today: PARADIGM. A paradigm is the way we “see” the world, how we understand and interpret it. It’s as simple as how we think each day will turn out, how the world will treat us. Our paradigms are the source of our attitudes AND behaviors. By year end, I was so emboldened by the actions taken by all the women coming forth to accuse their sexual harassers, the Alabama democratic win, the fact that 96% of voters in Lake Hendricks, SD, opposed the building of a 4,000 cow “mega-dairy,” that even Gucci (starting with its Spring/Summer line) will be banning all fur, that I said to myself, we are OK, the world is good and still changing for the better. I vowed to keep doing my part.

In this new world of mine, Im going to cook a little more and hope you will, too.

It’s so easy to go to the store and pick up … (name what you eat all the time). For me, it’s often hummus and “eggless tofu” (it looks and tastes like egg salad). Then I can come home and lather it on a slice of whole wheat bread, adding maybe a “smear” of avocado and a slice of tomato. But if I made it myself, I would know exactly what was in it, appreciate it more and hopefully slow down eating it.

For me, it comes down to choices. I call this my:

GOOD CHOICE, BETTER CHOICE guide.

For example, peanut butter is a good source of protein and natural fat but eating peanuts is better. If you’re feeling crazed, a shot of bourbon might be what you want but it’s not a GOOD choice. A soothing cup of tea would be better. Making your lunch before you head off to work and get all stressed is a good choice. Feel like a burger? Obviously a veggie burger is a better choice. You get the picture. Go for making “good” choices. Strive for “better” when you can.

Here’s my tip tip for the New Year: accept where you are. That could mean stuck in traffic, weighing in over 200 pounds, not yet ready to make a job change, whatever. ACCEPT where you are and when ready, do something about it. Making yourself crazy is what produces the stress. Really. It’s so simple but I just learned it! That’s part of my new paradigm shift.

OK, back to food, my favorite subject. One of the things I learned in 2017 was to pay attention to what I put into my body, not what I was missing. I tried to make each meal as healthful as possible. I was inspired by Dr. Greger’s (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist/) Daily Dozen. He has a calendar (doesn’t everyone?) inspired by his book HOW NOT TO DIE and each month features a dish that is scrumptious looking and packed with all the essential foods that will keep our bodies healthy. I tried January’s Morning Grain Bowl and it was fabulous. Check it out. Better, try it! It is packed with six out of the twelve things we should be eating every day. I’ll talk about those  in later blogs. But for now, just know it was easy to make (if you have left-over grain and the other ingredients on hand) and I was actually giggling while eating it. It was that good! I wouldn’t give it to you if it weren’t. The combination is amazing. This recipe is for FOUR (4). I cut it down, of course, to make it for myself.

MORNING GRAIN BOWLS

3 cups cooked whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats)
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans, mashed (I only had pinto beans and they worded fine – plus I didn’t mash them)
2 cups Almond Milk
3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 1-inch piece fresh turmeric, grated (or 1 teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional, but it was a good addition)
1 cup fresh or thawed mixed berries (I only had blueberries and didn’t thaw them)
1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced (I only had frozen bananas and it worked great)
4 tablespoons Date Syrup (optional) (I added some date “crystals” I had in a can)

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the cooked grains, beans, Almond Milk, flaxseeds, turmeric, and ginger (if using). Mix well. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until warm but not too hot. Divide the grain mixture (it will look creamy) among four bowls. Top each serving with 1/4 of the berries and one-quarter of the slice banana. Drizzle each serving with one tablespoon of Date Syrup (or cut up dates?), if desired.

Turmeric to the Rescue!

True story: three days ago when I woke up, the forefingers on both my hands were stiff. Oh, no, I thought, my arthritis is back! My mother and aunt suffered terribly from arthritis in their joints. Was I genetically doomed?

I had my first battle with arthritis about twenty years ago. I got rid of it by taking daily doses of B-complex vitamins and those squishy, fish oil capsules. Or was it the tons of soy I was eating at that time adhering to the mega-strict ZONE diet? But neither vitamins nor fish nor such strict, unsustainable eating are palatable to me anymore.

Then I remembered turmeric.

For a couple years now, I have been using turmeric – for its beautiful orange-yellow color – to make my tofu scramble look like eggs. The pigment curcumin in turmeric is what does the trick. Adding turmeric to curry gives it the beautiful yellow color.

Turmeric is native to southern Asia and was first used thousands of years ago as a dye. For centuries it has been used in both Ayurvedic (Hindu) and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases and wounds. And curcumin, that wonderful compound in turmeric, is a powerful anti-oxidant. Today the research continues into the roles curcumin can play in lung and brain disease, to speed recovery after surgery and in a variety of cancers! That’s powerful stuff!

No wonder it cleared up my burgeoning arthritis in three days!

I have to give credit to my wife for reminding me about it. She was on Jury Duty and wandered into Cocobeet, the Boston juice bar near City Hall. There she noticed they had shots of orange juice, turmeric and cayenne pepper. When she told me about it, I remembered drinking such a shot at my own gym juice bar but all I remembered was the potent cayenne! I decided to try my own home remedy so off I drove to my local grocery story (I’m now on the Cape so off I went to Salty’s Market in Truro) and bought some oranges. Back at home I squeezed one into a glass (I like the pulp) and then consulted my favorite research doctor (Michael Greger) to see how much turmeric to add. He said only a 1/4 teaspoon. (Hooray, my one tiny bottle will last a year). I added a dash of cayenne to cover the astringent taste of the turmeric. Et voilà.

If you’re using it at home, do know that turmeric does stain. And you will need something (cayenne, ginger, or just mix it into a savory dish) to cover the strong taste. You can buy fresh turmeric in powdered form or you can buy the dried form (think of fresh ginger) and grind it yourself. Any way you do it is fine. That one tiny bit makes such a difference.

Most of you already know turmeric from its many culinary uses, specifically in many savory Asian dishes and, of course, as a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. It is commonly used nowadays, as long ago, in the cuisines of India, Nepal, South Africa, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran and Pakistan.

Beautiful color and good for you … humm, I pause as I write these words, thinking of all these wonderful ancient cuisines that have kept people happily nourished and healthy for thousands of years … and how we, in the US, are now exporting our famous burgers, outsourcing our many fast food restaurants, and selling packaged goods of foods unimaginable years ago. Lots of folks are making money, but people around the world are also getting fat and sick like never before. Thank you, Corporate America.

I say treat yourself to a juice bar if there’s one near you. Eat fruit and veggies as often as you can. Anytime you can alternate, exchange, a healthy food for an unhealthy one is a good thing.

And take turmeric, however and whenever you can. Throw it in your OJ, toss it into a savory dish. It’ll make things pretty. And you’ll reap its healthful benefits.

As always, I welcome your comments and any suggestions or recipes you use

Slowly, with gusto!

We all say we love food and that’s why we eat so much, right? I’d even go so far as to call myself a “foodie,” though I’m not sure what the word really means. I think about food a lot. I’d even call eating one of my obsessions – or a passion, when I’m being kind.

But recently I was reminded that it’s not all about the food.

I just came back from spending four days in NYC. Los Angeles and New York vie for the number, variety and excellence of their vegan restaurants. My wife and I ate at two of the top gourmet restaurants in the country, not just the city. From our mid-town location, we had restaurants (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) literally blocks away. I don’t know how I fit it in, but I remember adding cookies and scones that I don’t usually have room for. It was a four day eating extravaganza (frenzy?). Monday morning I weighed myself and was not surprised (ok, a little, I did think we might have walked off a few calories) to see I’d gained three and a half pounds (which I suppose I’m happy about since a few years ago it would have been four to seven).

And then I panicked. Which I shouldn’t have since this happens every vacation. But then I went back to my tried-and-true method of taking off what I gained.

All that frantic and delightful eating was, for me, mostly because IT WAS THERE. At the tip of my fork… and really delicious. And I love food, right? The first night we ate a four-course dinner but didn’t feel so great the next day, so after that we skipped a course and began sharing the appetizers and dessert. And ordered a salad for lunch. But, speaking for myself, all those extra desserts, the huge portions … I was eating as if I would never see good food again.

Like so many people, I have been on dozens of diets. Not the crazy ones but the big-name ones: Weight Watchers, South Beach, the Zone, all of Oprah’s diets. I’ve counted calories, grams, fat, carbs. But dieting is not only unsustainable, it keeps us from eating what we want. I wanted my cake and eat it, too.

Then a few years ago, my friend, Julie, Zumba instructor extraordinaire, suggested a book called Eating Awareness Training by Mollie Groger. Molly’s thesis is that as much as we say we love food, we’re eating for all kinds of other reasons than the food itself. But (hooray) she said we didn’t have to do all the psycho analysis to figure out the reasons why … just stop eating so much. And gave the reader four rules or ways to do that:

1. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. Not when you are frustrated or angry or need something to do, or when it’s your usual time to eat. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY. You’ll soon know when that is and it won’t matter what time of day or night it is.

2. TAKE YOUR FOOD TO THE TABLE AND EAT IT WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTIONS. This is the hardest one, the hardest pattern to break. No TV, no reading (not even the back of the cereal box, not your mail, and definitely not your email. This way you solely pay attention to what you are eating. No snacking standing up, either. Go to the table.

3. TAKE A BITE, CHEW IT THOROUGHLY (I’d even go so far as to say, savor it), DON’T TAKE ANOTHER BITE OR EVEN QUEUE IT UP, UNTIL YOU’VE SWALLOWED THIS ONE. Put your hands on the table or on your lap. This will drive you crazy at first but it purposefully slows you down. Enjoy your food and talking to any eating companion(s).

4. STOP WHEN THAT HUNGER YOU EXPERIENCED IS SATIATED. Not when you’ve finished every morsel on your plate. You can finish what you left another time. You’ll have lots of left-overs and save a lot of money on food.
Even though you can eat whatever you want and whenever you are hungry, this is, admittedly, very hard to do! We’re so used to eating mindlessly and in huge quantities. But you do get used to it and oh, how you feel good after each meal. I’ve now lost the weight I put on.

Yes, of course, certain foods are better for you than others, but as far as gaining or losing weight, It’s all about volume and paying attention. Try to eat without your phone or the TV. I guarantee you’ll finish eating quickly because … what you really want to do is read your mail, or talk to your friends or watch that show. It takes us only minutes to fill our stomachs (which, in reality, are only about a fist in size but able to stretch 10 fold!). The rest is … we’re bored, or angry or hurt or watching the game or eating something a loved one made for us … or it’s just there!

You can’t have your cake (and watch TV) and not gain weight. What? It’s gone? I want another piece. I’m still hungry.

The truth is I’ve read this book three times. Groger insists you practice all the “rules” one week at a time so you can get used to sitting down to eat, thinking about your food, figuring out when you’re hungry. These are habits that have to be developed.

Once again I am learning to appreciate the food I am eating. Even to savor it.

My body is worth it. And so is yours. We only have one. And only one chance to learn how to treat it right.

We can have our cake and eat it, too. Just slowly, with gusto. And take home the left-overs.

Antioxidants, baby

Our bodies are amazing. When I think how our hearts beat non-stop, how all our muscles keep us moving. It’s the least we can do to nourish it properly (and keep our abuse to a minimum). One of the simplest and most powerful ways to do that is to eat more fruit – those wonders of nature we often forget about.

What’s the berry we all think about this time of year? The gorgeous, crimson cranberry! Those who know me will attest to how I love food but that I personally … well, I am not a natural cook. But oh, how I can follow a recipe or in this case, make up my own! Just the other day I saw a barrel of fresh cranberries and couldn’t resist burying a couple bagfuls of our (MA) famous berry. I quickly looked online for the basic idea to make sauce and within minutes I had my own version. Like the apple, the key antioxidant is in the skin so I decided not to try to grind it off in a sieve of any type, which made it so much faster to make. I simply added a small amount of water, some turbinado sugar and waited for the berries to pop and the sauce to thicken. It was fun and when it cooled, I added agave and walnuts. If you have a good “real” recipe, please share it here.

This morning I made a smoothie of cranberries (I threw in a handful of whole berries, frozen blueberries and bananas and added some milk). Yum. As I type here I am drinking a little “Pink Juice” I learned about from Dr. Greger’s easy to read, incredibly informative book, How Not to Die. If you go to his website right now (nutritionfacts.org), there is a new animated introduction. Meanwhile the juice couldn’t be easier to make. Throw in a handful of whole berries into a blender with 2 cups of water and blend away. I sweetened it with agave. Yes, it was delicious and I felt extra noble having a “cranberry” cocktail (without the vodka). But why all this fruit fuss?

ANTIOXIDANTS, BABY.

Remember the old adage: an apple a day, keeps the doctor away? Turns out this is more true than I ever thought. Science now backs that up (that same Lancet study I mentioned in my last blog). Nearly 5 million lives could be saved just by eating fruit daily! We’ve all done much harder things. Keep reading for a few suggestions on how to add more fruit into your busy life.

But first a little science. Our body is composed of many types of cells and the cells are composed of molecules and the molecules consist of one or more atoms. You remember the atom with its center nucleus and floating electrons, right? When the atoms all play well together and form bonds with each other, all is well. Just like us, those bonds want stability (requiring them to match up with a free electron). But as in life, some electrons go off on their own, splitting from weaker bonds, to hook up with somebody they really shouldn’t. That’s when the trouble happens. In science they are called FREE RADICALS and they will hook onto anything to capture that needed electron.

Our bodies are attacked every day by environmental pollutants (that cause free radical damage) not to mention that free radicals are formed as part of daily metabolism. That’s not a problem when we consume a healthy diet to combat them. Our immune system even creates them on occasion to combat viruses and bacteria. But when these free radicals are out of wack, they are totally destructive, cause tissue damage, contribute to aging and at worse, attack our DNA, causing cancer.

Think of an apple that you’ve sliced open. It turns brown, right? If you put lemon juice on it, it stops changing color (stops oxidizing). That’s what ANTIOXIDANTS do: they provide those bad free radicals with an electron that neutralizes their destructive power.

This is where fruit (and vegetables) come in. They are antioxidant powerhouses! If you want to “love your numbers,” here are some for you. Outside of exotic berries found in the Arctic tundra, the berry with the most antioxidant power (650 units) is the blackberry. Blueberries are next with 380 units (and wild ones even twice that), raspberries at 350, cranberries at 330 and strawberries at 310 units per cup. Mangos weigh in at 110 units (think of that color inside. No oxidizing going on there). America’s favorite fruits, apples and bananas, come in at about 60 and 40 units, respectively. The healthiest fruit is, of course, the one you eat the most of.

Those smart French. That’s another thing they do right (besides drink red wine): they eat a piece of fruit at the end of a meal. I’m not talking about special occasions, just every day. How can you add fruit to your diet? Cut it up! Make it interesting. One of our favorite breakfasts this past summer was putting a half cup of fresh blueberries (frozen works, too) into a cup, adding a little whole grain cereal, a teaspoon of flaxseed on top (and maybe a few nuts)  and then pouring in some almond milk. It’s crunchy and delicious. If you have a ‘fridge at work and can keep milk there, you can easily put this together the night before and add the milk when you are ready to eat. But now that it’s turning cooler, I’m starting to think about hot cereal.

My recipe for you today actually comes straight off the Quaker Oats box (the old-fashioned, hearty healthy variety): Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats and even better, the Peanut Butter Overnight Oats! It couldn’t be simpler. I told you I like recipes – all kinds!

Blueberry Banana                          Add the oats to a container and pour in
1/2 cup oats                                    milk and vanilla. Add a layer of blue-
1/2 cup almond milk                       berries and a layer of bananas. Top with
1/2 cup blueberries                         chia seeds, cover, place in fridge over-
1/2 cup bananas, sliced                  night and enjoy in the morning. Serves
1 tsp vanilla extract                         one (unless you really want to share).

1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats      Same as above: add the oats and pour
1/2 cups oats                                   in milk and vanilla. Add a layer of peanut
1/2 cup sliced bananas                    butter and banana slices. Top with agave
1/4 cup peanut butter                       and chia seeds. Cover and place in the
1 cup almond milk                            fridge and enjoy in the morning … or a
1/2 tsp vanilla extract                       few hours later, if you can’t wait!
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp agave
1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

I’d also suggest adding apples, raisins or other fruit to your salads. It adds a nice flavor twist and a gift of antioxidant power. There are still lots of apples around. I highly recommend home-made apple sauce. I have a great recipe for that, if you’re interested. And finally there’s ice cream. Yes, fruit-based, easy to make, versatile ice cream.

I first heard of blending frozen bananas in a food processor from Gena Hamshaw in her wonderful blog, Choosing Raw. She said it couldn’t be easier to whip up a delicious and healthy dessert in minutes and she was right. We now keep sliced bananas in our freezer. Take out a couple bananas and blend away. They come out exactly like soft serve within minutes. I add coconut, raisins, blueberries, whatever I have on hand.

For you chocolate lovers out there, here’s a recipe from my new pal, Dr. Greger, using dark, sweet frozen cherries. Just throw into a blender or food processor a handful of frozen dark cherries and blend with a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a splash of milk, a capful of vanilla extract and some pitted dates. Spoon into a small container and enjoy. Fruit, antioxidants. And the taste? YUM!!

Big Pharma, Big Risk

I often watch TV when I am doing the dishes. Lately the ads for the new pharmaceutical drugs have been driving me crazy. There seems to be a new one almost every day. I know why the drug companies create them: they make money. But can you afford (and I don’t mean literally) to take them?

Believe me I know the good stuff about modern medicine and the life-saving devices, drugs and techniques that are now available. But wouldn’t it be better if we could stay OUT of the hospital, get off our drugs?

These TV advertisements offer quick fixes for everything from heartburn to memory loss, menopause, stomach – and dare I say – bowel issues; ways to raise your insulin levels, lower your blood sugar. You probably have heard them yourself. Maybe you can even hum the tunes that go along with the ads:

Tresiba

Invocana

Humera

Xarelto

Lyrica

But have you also heard the SIDE EFFECTS? They are frightening!

Invocana warned about dehydration, yeast infections, ketoacidosis, fainting. Humera warned of deadly infections. Really, listen for the side effects. They’re really scary.

I recently read the back page of a magazine ad for Lyrica. It said that it “may cause serious, even life-threatening allergic reactions.” It said that “Lyrica is not for everyone …” It went on to say that “the most common side effects of LYRICA are: dizziness, blurry vision, weight gain, sleepiness, swelling of hands and feet, dry mouth” and “you may have a higher chance of swelling, hives or gaining weight if you are also taking certain diabetes or high blood pressure medicines.” Good heavens!

I don’t want you fooled or even tempted by these easy fixes. According to the Sept 9th “Why You Should Care About Nutrition” NutritionFacts.Org video, Dr. Gregor talked about the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation study that said that dietary risks are the number one cause of death, disability and shortened lifespans. Not smoking, not high blood pressure, body mass index or even exercise. The food we eat. We all know how difficult it is to change our diets and how tempting those steak fries and brownies are … but try. Make a commitment to stay home and make a delicious, healthy home-cooked meal tonight. Try a new recipe. Make extra for lunch tomorrow.

I don’t want Big Pharma to win. Believe me, occasional indulgences are fantastic, but aim for the long run. Your long life may depend on it.

Cheese, glorious cheese!

If I close my eyes and think of cheese, I picture the old days of sitting down with my friends in front of a wonderful selection of cheese. There’d be crackers, olives and often fresh fruit. We’d be drinking wine, of course, and talking about things both silly and serious. Or even better, I remember touring France, sampling the local Camembert, Emmental or Reblochon. Before I stopped eating animal-based cheeses, I remember loving that Spanish cheese, Manchego. Ah, cheese, glorious cheese.

When I tell people I am now vegan, they inevitably ask me what I eat for protein and then when I tell them I don’t eat dairy, immediately say, “Oh, I could never give up cheese.” Their look of horror at the idea of giving up cheese makes me smile. Admittedly, it wasn’t easy.

I had a compelling reason to try veganism: my cholesterol was becoming dangerously high. For a couple years, I tried to restrict my diet and do more exercise but it didn’t work. The only answer was going to be a pill. For the rest  of my life. So two weeks before my annual checkup, I stopped all meat, dairy, anything that didn’t come from a plant. My cholesterol dropped so much in that short period, that both my doctor and I were shocked. If I kept it up, she said, food would be my medicine. She didn’t say it quite that poetically but I’ve not taken a pill of any type since. Not even vitamins.

But what about cheese?? Until recently there was no real replacement, none that I’d serve my friends, that is. But, I have to admit, if it weren’t for that animal cruelty issue, I would have given in.

For the first couple years, I didn’t think about cheese. I was so busy, yes, dealing with that protein question, coming up with new meal choices every day, learning about quinoa and the world of whole grains, trying new spices, discovering wondrous ways to eat fruit and veggies (juices and smoothies) that I forgot all about cheese. My vegan cookbook and recipe collection tripled, if not quadrupled.

Then came the day we were going to make our own pizza. How could one have pizza without cheese? So I bought some of that stringy Daiya cheese. The cheese melted which is really all I can say about it other than it looked like cheese. Was that the best vegan cheese out there? I started looking. At Whole Foods I found the brands, Follow Your Heart and Go, Veggie! I give these companies credit for coming up with something cheesesque … but I wouldn’t buy them again.

vegan cheese cookbookFinally on our way to San Francisco (and up north to wine country), we took a side trip to Berkeley to see the university (alma mater of my fictitious character, Sydney) and to stop at a local vegan grocery store. I read they sold some good cheese. Yeh, right. But as it turned out, they did! The scrumptious cheeses from Miyoko’s Kitchen were rich, creamy, handcrafted, aged vegan cheese. I was in heaven. Check out their website or look them up on Facebook. Miyoko Schinner already has a book out, too: Artisan Vegan Cheese: From Everyday to Gourmet.

Next I tried my favorite P-town market, the 141 Bradford Natural Market. Did they have anything good? Their first attempt at “good” was a spectacular vegan cheese so expensive, they didn’t reorder it. In general, vegan cheese seems more expensive but only because the U.S. dairy industry benefits from millions of dollars in government subsidies – from land to corn and soy for animal feed. Then they brought in the brand Fauxmaggio, made right here in Massachusetts. So far I have tried three of their spreadable cheeses: smoked paprika, green onion and chives and the garlic herb. I loved each one.

vegan cheese

The new wave of companies so far seem to be focusing on soft cheese, using traditional techniques such as cultures, fermentation and aging. Most are created with organic nuts and plant-based enzymes, spices and herbs. These cheeses are even good for us! The cashew-based cheeses, for instance, are high in their mineral content (copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus), contain vitamin K and – ta da – help LOWER cholesterol. But best of all, they are delicious. Spread them on anything.

I recently found an incredible sliced-cheese variety made by the award-winning company, FIELD ROAST. They’re called VEGAN CHAO SLICES. I love the “Creamy Original.” They’re made with coconut oil and fermented chau tofu (from Greece). Sometimes I just take a slice (or two) from the fridge and nibble on it. It’s that good.

But Miyoko Schinner gives me the best hope. Below is a photo from her website, which she gave me permission to print. This is the new table of my dreams.

MiyokosKitchen_Header_Slider01

I am so excited to once again be able to sit down and indulge. I know as time goes on, there will be even more and more good choices. Pull up a chair. Join me.

The Tide is Turning

The tide is turning. There must be more demand these days for healthy, nutritious foods because companies are responding. I see signs of it everywhere.

Right before Christmas, I walked over to the Prudential Mall here in Boston to check out the new SWEETGREEN location (www.sweetgreen.com, the most fabulous salad place ever) and found a new juice bar, FRUITATA ORGANIC JUICE AND SMOOTHIES, just feet away. Speaking of juices, I highly recommend the fabulous REVOLUTION JUICE on Huntington Ave (www.revolutionjuice.com). I started walking over there after I found out JUGOS on Dartmouth (closer to my gym) was not organic. Yikes, it’s great to have a fresh juice in the morning but not if it’s pesticide-laden. I also saw a sign for yet another juice bar and café to open across from the John Hancock. The juicing trend is exploding around here.

Around my ‘hood alone, there’s PRESSED (www.pressedboston.com) on Charles Street, the great COCOBEET (www.cocobeet.com) just steps from City Hall, and inside my gym, a new place, NOURISH YOUR SOUL, recently opened up. They make great smoothies but they bottle their cold-pressed organic juice off-site. It is best to have your juices made in front of you. Organic and local does make a difference but if bottled is your only option, go for it. I’ve made juices at home but cannot begin to match the fun combinations that juice bars can do. The rush of anti-oxidants and vitamins are real.

Advertising “real food,” B. GOOD (www.bgood.com), with four locations in the Boston area, has been selling bottled juices for a while, but just lately they started marketing kale and grain bowls. Yes, “bowls” are the hot-new trend. A total meal in one delicious bowl.

Is there a PINKBERRY near you? They have 260 stores in 20 countries. They have one location on Newbury Street and opened a second one in the Copley Mall. Famous for their frozen yogurt, they now advertise “the beginning of a new love.” Among their four new “loves” are açai bowls (with the newly popular açai frozen berry), quinoa bowls and steel-cut oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal at Pinkberry! Didn’t I tell you healthy food is trending?!

I must add one exciting scientific note. My wife received an announcement at work that the topic of the 20th International Conference of the Functional Food Center at Harvard Medical School this coming November will be “Functional and Medical Foods for Chronic Diseases: Bioactive Compounds and Biomarkers.” This is important (really). I strongly believe that a plant-based diet can prevent (and in some cases reverse) heart disease, cancers, diabetes, stroke and hypertension, arthritis, cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease, just to mention the most known of the chronic diseases. Yes, just by food alone! I know a lot of people do not want to or cannot believe this. But it is true. And now Harvard is putting it out there and calling for scientists to submit papers to prove and discuss what is in food that can keep us healthy and prevent disease. Who would oppose this information? All the zillions of people who make tons of money by selling, for example, cheese burritos, all kinds of fast food, diet books, not to mention the beef industry, the dairy industry and pharmaceutical companies. But lets’ get back to the happy news.

Look around your neighborhoods. I bet you have more healthy food choices as well. My grocery store just added a fresh juice bar. The bagel place near me sells whole wheat bagels, a coffee shop added hummus to their menu, my favorite cupcake place (Georgetown cupcake, www.Georgetowncupcake.com) sells a variety of vegan cupcakes. And, oh yes, the word vegan, is no longer taboo. If I didn’t have dozens of cookbooks from which to choose recipes, I could google vegan … well you name it … and find choices from dozens of chefs. Try it, you’ll see. If I lived in LA or NY, I could eat out in vegan restaurants three times a day. I read that vegan restaurants are spreading to cities all over the US and abroad. What’s in your  town?

The tide is turning. You can be part of this trend by frequenting these new establishments and continually asking for healthier choices wherever you shop or eat. You will feel the difference after one juice, meal or even bagel. If it makes money, it will be made or sold or produced. Demand matters. Healthy is in. The buzz is out there. What changes are in your ‘hood?

GMO’s: Our Right to Know

I’ll tell you right now that I loathe Monsanto. Just hearing the name of the company makes me cringe. But don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against corporations – or Big Government, for that matter – in general, EXCEPT when they do more harm than good. Then my stomach rolls.

If you don’t know Monsanto’s involvement in GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), you probably know one of their most successful products, Roundup, which uses the herbicide glyphosate to kill those pesky weeds. It’s easy to use and it works. But I’ll repeat, it does more harm than good. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate, as a “probable human carcinogen.”

Agent Orange also once seemed like a good idea. So did DDT, PCB’s and saccharin. All Monsanto creations.

But mostly I just don’t like bullies … and people who say they are doing something “for my own good.” I know of too many cases where self-proclaimed tough guys torment, just for laughs, vulnerable gays and lesbians. Fortunately there are now laws against this behavior. A few republicans come to mind next. But my biggest bully? Monsanto. Since the 80’s, they have taken advantage of their enormous resources, and specifically their legal team, to bully farmers into giving up their own seeds and becoming part of the Roundup Ready worldwide network of farmers. Today Roundup Ready crops are more than 90% of the soybeans planted (used mainly as a food crop for animals) and 70% of the corn. My problem with that, beside a loss of a variety of crops and the loss of generations of small farmers, is how these same pesticide-laden, subsidized crops end up on our tables. I am sure you already know there are hundreds of products developed from corn alone (sweeteners, cornstarch, yogurt, crayons, medications, ethanol, batteries, etc).

But my real, real problem is the genetic tampering with Nature “for our own good.” Genetically engineered plants are those that have been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into another, altering its DNA. This is beyond natural cross-breeding or anything nature has done since the beginning of time. The safety tests that are done for the new crops are done by the corporations that create the crops. Right now federal regulators, under the “generally recognized as safe” provision, approve anything that looks and acts like a non-GMO version of the original product.

nongmoproject image

The manufacturers and the folks who sell us these products do not want us to know that they contain GMO’s. Yet look in every aisle of the grocery store and at home, these products are part of our daily lives. The companies would have us believe these products are “good for us” and “healthy”: General Mills cereals (Chex, Lucky Charms, yikes, the Cheerios I just found in my own kitchen), Similac, Canola Oil (another yikes for me), Campbell soups, Nature Valley, Kashi, Gerber, Doritos, Tostitos, MorningStar Turk’y Burger (advertised as 100% vegetarian, cholesterol free, etc., i.e. “good for you”) and dozens more. Don’t we have a right to know what’s in all these foods? It is my strong belief that the increase chemical intake from pesticides as well as the increase in our diets of all these GMO’s is behind the majority of major health and behavioral problems.

I am compelled to write this post (instead of something fun!!!) because there is now a bill in Massachusetts to mandate the labeling of GMO’s. It is H.3242. Please take a look at MArighttoknow.com and talk to your representatives and senators about it. CT and ME are already onboard. But bigger and worse is a federal bill which its detractors are calling “Monsanto’s Dream Bill.” How this got so quickly filed on the federal level is another subject. This bill would PROHIBIT states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. This bill, pushed by Monsanto’s team of lobbyists, of course, and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association is all about making money for the companies and keeping us from knowing what’s in our food. It is being referred to as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (or DARK) Act. The House version has already passed and now it will go to the Senate. Fortunately for us, both Senators Warren and Markley have already spoken against it, but I am sure they would love your support. If you are talking to them, urge them also to support Senate Bill 511 witch would require mandatory labeling for GMO’s!!

That’s it for my preaching and politics. The good news is that the power for change truly rests in our pocketbooks (i.e., the food we buy). The fact that Walmart now sells more organic products than Whole Foods tells us the tide is changing. Just yesterday I saw in my local grocery store a brand new “natural and organic” aisle. (Beware of the “natural” label, however. That’s more often a sham because the FDA has not defined this word, allowing manufacturers to use it to deceive people into thinking this product is not only better but does not contain GMO’s. Not true). Consumers really do have the first and last word.

Knowledge is power. Watch the documentaries, “Food, Inc”  and “The Future of Food.” For more information and to easily contact your US senator, go to FoodandWaterWatch.org. It takes more time but I can’t help but plug eating as much whole and unprocessed food as possible. Those GMO’s in the long run are deadly. Monsanto’s headquarters, by the way, are in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The French verb “crever” means to work to death. In slang, it means to kick the bucket, die. Either way, it translates as lethal.

The Real Culprit

I used to think that sitting down to a meal was to satisfy my hunger or, as is often the case, to celebrate an occasion with friends. Now I know it to be a political act as well.

In the abstract entitled A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System discussed on PlantBasedResearch.org, it is noted: “How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on American’s well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy: food touches everything from our heath to the environment, climate change, economic inequality, and the federal budget.”

So much for just sitting down to lunch. Two things have happened since my last blog entry. One, my brother and sister-in-law from California came to visit and we had lots of conversations about the hot weather and water restrictions there. And two, I finally received a copy of my favorite magazine, VegNews. In an article entitled Truth or Drought, Mark Hawthorne asked why we aren’t talking more about the largest contributor to the water crisis in California: animal agriculture and specifically the meat, dairy and egg industries? There has been a lot of media attention in California about the amount of water used to produce almonds – almonds!? – and about reducing residential and commercial lawn water use. I think this is a smokescreen. Nobody wants to talk about the real culprit.

My money is on politics. And behind politics, of course, is money.

I have other family out in California: cousins, a nephew, a very dear aunt. They are all very socially conscious and, I am sure, watch their water consumption. Most of us now know it takes less water to shower than to take a bath (42 gallons of water for a ten minute shower vs 70 gallons for a bath) and most of us are careful about our water use while brushing our teeth and doing the dishes. It makes us feel like we are doing something, right? In an article entitled Drought by the Numbers: Where does California Water Go?, D.J. Waldie wrote that “about 14% [of water] is poured into bathtubs, toilets, and washing machines or sprayed over residential lawns.” But home water consumption is not the real problem.

I’ve spent days reading statistics. From #imagreenmonster, I learned that on average a family of four uses about 450 gallons of water doing such things as showering, dishes and laundry, watering their plants. But if they were to go out to eat and buy four cheeseburgers, they would up their water consumption to 7,000 gallons! Yes, that’s “virtual” water, meaning the amount of water scientists and statisticians have figured out it takes to grow the food to feed the animals, hydrate them and keep the factory farming facilities and slaughterhouses clean.

Ninety-nine (99) percent of all farmed animals are now raised in a factory farm situation. Very few picturesque, old-fashioned farms where animals roam outside, exist anymore.

In California, alone, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the total water use for all agriculture is 80%, of which animal agriculture is more than half at 47%. The beef, dairy and egg business is huge – HUGE- and very politically savvy. They want us to think that almonds are the culprit.

Look at these comparisons, again from VegNews:
It takes about:
14 gallons of water to produce a pound of carrots
36 gallons of water to produce a pound of kale
But 47 gallons of water to produce just 2 large eggs
145 gallons of water to produce a pound of avocados
And, yes, 304 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds
But 660 gallons of water to produce a pound of pig flesh
And 1,062 gallons of water to produce one 10-ounce steak

California is experiencing a formidable drought but the drought is not just in California. It’s in Australia, China, India, Iran, Brazil, Thailand, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. We now live in a global world. We already learned that what we do in the US, affects others (the global financial crisis of 2007-08, for example). The same is true about what we eat. According to Mark Hawthorne, Californians use more water to grow alfalfa than any other crop (even my personal favorite, grapes!) and “alfalfa is grown to feed farmed animals worldwide.” That means Californians are using up a lot of its water to export grain worldwide.

California is not the only state using its precious water supplies to feed animals. John Robbins wrote in The Food Revolution that “half of the water used in all of the US goes to raising animals for food.”

It’s unsustainable. California is now resorting to using the water from their aquifers. It takes thousands of years to fill these aquifers. Without the snowmelt and rain, they cannot even be replenished. Todd C. Frankel wrote in The Washington Post that “twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced.”

We have to start talking about the real culprit. The use of land and water for animal agriculture is a worldwide problem. It makes a lot of money for a lot of people. We won’t change their minds but we can reduce or eliminate our consumption of meat and other animal products. I think that is the solution. And it may just save our planet.

When I see steaks wrapped neatly in plastic wrap in the grocery stores or look at all the ice cream for sale in the dairy aisles, I thank every vegan and vegetarian for their personal and political choice not to support these industries. Who knew a plant-based meal could be such a radical act?

Speaking of chickpeas …

OMG, I just created my first recipe! Vegan recipe, that is. In my old carnivore days, I would plop a chicken breast (sorry, dead chicken) on the grill, add a few spices, cook a vegetable and some sort of potato and call it dinner. I had many variations of that dinner, switching up the chicken for salmon, the potato for pasta, one vegetable for another. Looking back on it, it was pretty boring, but it did the trick every evening.

Now admittedly I have my new vegan go-to meals and snacks. But today I was looking for something different. It was lunchtime and I was hungry. I closed my laptop and walked into the kitchen. I knew I hadn’t gone shopping in a while so I had to rely on whatever was in the refrigerator or in my “pantry.” Hint, keep these well stocked with basics. In the vegetable bin I had a single red pepper, one cucumber and a red onion. Yikes. I checked my caned goods and found my favorite Eden organic garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). I love these little roundish balls of protein. I rinsed them in a colander and put them aside. Next I chopped off the top of the pepper, pulled out the ribs inside and cut the pepper left around the stem into slivers. I don’t usually eat onions raw but I was feeling daring. I gave the onion and cucumber a good chop. And that was it. I threw the chopped veggies into a bowl with the chick peas and added some vegenaise (my healthy substitute for mayonnaise). But then came the most important part: I had to make it tasty. Taste and crunch and color, I knew, would be the key. I gave my spice rack a spin and picked out fennel and dill. Don’t ask me why. I like those two and thought they’d made a good fit. I added a touch of salt and some fresh black pepper and voilà, I was done. But would it good? I’ve tried throwing things together in the past, and have a fifty-fifty record. I mixed it all together and spooned it into the red pepper. But before I tasted the pepper-bean combo, I had to try the new mixture by itself. Would it be any good or would it be just a stuffing for a pretty and crunchy outside? I scooped up a mouthful and excitedly put it into my mouth.

It was delicious!! Yahoo!!

So I brought my creation to the table and sat down, ever so proud of myself.

The fennel and the onion gave it a good kick. The crunch of the pepper was very satisfying. I think I remember learning to “stuff” a pepper back in my Weight Watcher days. So why is this so exciting? Because now I am over the 50% status and this was my best and most unique creation yet. I love food and eat at least three times a day and usually add on a late-afternoon snack. Since I eat what I want, I want what I eat to be good.

There are a few secrets to not having a weight or eating problem. One of them is to eat whatever one wants BUT stop as soon as that craving has been satisfied. Our body will tell us when that is. It does not mean when we are stuffed or even necessarily when we’ve finished everything on our plate. That way I eat a lot, whatever I want, a little at a time. Yes, I have my indulgences but that, for sure, is a blog for another time. Here’s the photo of my first creation:

IMG_4738

If you want to try it, you’ll need (but remember I’m not a chef, so please adjust at will):

  • A can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
  • A red pepper, cap off
  • Part of a small red onion, chopped
  • About a quarter of a cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • Vegenaise – a tablespoon or less
  • Slivers of the red pepper from the cap
  • A smidgen of salt and black pepper
  • About 1/4 teaspoon dill
  • A generous 1/2 teaspoon of fennel

Mix and toss into the red pepper (or eat on a bed of some nutritious “green”).