Archive for the ‘Food & Nutrition’ Category

July 6, 2009

Double Dose: Fat is Not a Death Sentence; Google AdWords Prohibits Abortion Ads; Survey: Sex After Kids; What Would Buffy Do?

Excess Pounds, Longer Life?: It wasn’t so long ago that we heard calorie restriction was linked to longevity. Now it seems the scales have shifted: A new report, published online in the journal Obesity, found that people who are moderately overweight live longer.

“[W]hy is it so hard to believe, even in the face of such evidence, that being fat’s not exactly a death sentence?” asks Washington Post columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget.

On another note, looking at the journal’s website, I wish access wasn’t restricted to an article touted on the homepage as an “important review” of weight discrimination and the stigma of obesity.  The “comprehensive update” features “sections on stigma-reduction research and legal initiatives to combat weight discrimination”; alas, only the citation is available without charge.

Plus: Also see Huget’s column on locally grown food. Miriam at Feministing has more on food politics.

Google AdWords Won’t Advertise Abortion: Lori Adelman of the International Women’s Health Coalition writes that as a result of policy changes, Google AdWords, the search engines’s advertising network, now prohibits ads for abortion services in more than a dozen countries, including Brazil, France, Mexico, Poland, and Taiwan.

“Google’s rationale behind disallowing ads in these particular countries, whose abortion laws range from conservative (Argentina, Brazil ) to more liberal by comparison (France, Italy), is shrouded in mystery: the spokeswoman deftly avoided answering my question about how the countries were chosen,” writes Adelman at Feministing. She includes an email exchange she had with a Google representative.

IWHC has an action alert over at its blog that encourages emailing Google.

Plus: Frances Kissling, a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, wrote a provocative piece at Salon last month that asks whether it’s ever appropriate to say “no” to a woman seeking an abortion.

Nurse Stereotypes Are Bad for Health: Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse, writes about how popular culture misrepresents nurses and the work that they do. She recommends a new book — “Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk,” by Sandy Summers and Harry Jacobs Summers.

“Saving Lives” is an important book because it so clearly delineates how ubiquitous negative portrayals of nursing are in today’s media, particularly three common stereotypes of nurses — the “Naughty Nurse,” the “Angel” and the “Battle Axe.” They argue that these images of nursing degrade the profession by portraying nurses as either vixens, saints or harridans, not college-educated health care workers with life and death responsibilities.

There’s a media advocacy website connected with the book:

Sex, Kids & Reality: Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner’s new book-in-progress — “The Family Bed: Is There Sex After Kids?” — focuses on the sex lives of parents after having children. As research for the book, they’re looking for folks to complete this survey on sex and parenthood.

When Wives Don’t Know: The New York Times Room for Debate Club brought together an all-female panel to discuss modern marriage. The central issue? Political wives who said they didn’t know about their spouses’ infidelities and Ruth Madoff, who said she didn’t know her husband of 50 years was practicing massive fraud.

Sales Outpace Data in Rush for Natural Remedies: “In 2002, when the initial findings of a National Institutes of Health study — known as the Women’s Health Initiative project — suggested that women on conventional hormone therapy were at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and blood clotting, the market for alternative treatments soared,” writes Camille Sweeney at The New York Times.

“There are now more than 500 products that purport to relieve symptoms associated with menopause, including capsules, tablets, teas, gels and creams. In the United States, the dietary supplement market associated with menopause has grown to $337 million in 2007 (the last year tabulated) from $211 million in 1999, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.”

“Beauty” Aces Talent at Wimbledon: Anyone else watch women’s tennis at Wimbledon last week? Read how looks came under consideration in determining which matches were played in the premiere Centre Court. Slender white women with long hair clearly had the advantage.

What Would Buffy Do?: See what happens when our favorite heroine takes on Edward from “Twilight” in a mash-up not to be missed.

“My re-imagined story was specifically constructed as a response to Edward, and what his behavior represents in our larger social context for both men and women,” creator Jonathan McIntosh explains in a blog post at Women in Media & News. He continues:

More than just a showdown between The Slayer and the Sparkly Vampire, it’s also a humorous visualization of the metaphorical battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21ist century. [...]

In the end the only reasonable response was to have Buffy stake Edward — not because she didn’t find him sexy, not because he was too sensitive or too eager to share his feelings — but simply because he was possessive, manipulative, and stalkery.

March 28, 2009

Double Dose: New Books on Reproduction, Christian Patriarchy; Michelle Obama’s Garden; The Economy’s Impact on Women; “Friday Night Lights” Scores With Sex Talk …

means_of_reproductionReading List: Anna Clark interviews Michelle Goldberg, author of “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World,” at Bitch magazine (and happy birthday to Anna’s blog, Isak!).

Kathryn Joyce, author of “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,”  talks with Religion Dispatches. An excerpt of her book can be read here.

Planting a Future: Melissa Harris Lacewell digs through the meaning of Michelle Obama planting the new White House vegetable garden. More historians, authors and gardeners weigh in at the Washington Post.

Plus: Sharkfu on nutrition, cost and Alice Waters; Mark Bittman on eating healthy, organic or not.

Dealing with the Recession: Over at Writes Like She Talks, Jill Miller Zimon put together a list of articles that provide perspective on the recession, job loss and the economic impact on women. At Women’s eNews, Mimi Abramovitz explains three new rules about jobless benefits in the stimulus package that will help women and correct a major gender bias.

Pregnant? Here’s a Pink Slip: “Last year the number of pregnancy-based discrimination charges filed with the E.E.O.C. was up nearly 50 percent from a decade earlier, to a total of 6,285. That number seems likely to rise even higher this year,” writes Lesley Alerman in The New York Times.

“Some employers are using the economy as a pretense for laying off just one person,” said Elizabeth Grossman, a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “And very often that person is pregnant or the oldest employee on staff. The economy may be the legitimate cause — or there may be discrimination.”

Tenn. Senate Passes Abortion Amendment: The Tennessee Senate passed a constitutional amendment that states in part, “nothing in Constitution of Tennessee secures or protects right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

Rachel writes: “Supporters keep insisting that the bill does not make abortion illegal, while not addressing the fact that if this ultimately succeeds (there are several more steps for this Constitutional amendment), it makes room for the numerous restrictions often supported by anti-choice folks — such as waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, required ‘informed consent’ scripts that are not medically accurate, and so on. It also makes room for an abortion ban in the event that national protections vanish.”

Meanwhile, “Illinois could be on the verge of passing one of the most progressive reproductive health bills, the Reproductive Health and Access Act, any state has seen in a long time,” writes Veronica Arreoloa. Here are the groups supporting  the bill. If you’re a resident of Illinois, contact your legislator and voice your support.

Cost of Domestic Abuse: Women who are abused by their partners spent 42 percent more on healthcare per year than non-abused women, according to a long-term study of more than 3,000 women published online in the journal Health Services Research.  The study, summarized in this press release, also found that the increased costs don’t end when the abuse does. Women who suffered physical abuse five or more years earlier still spent 19 percent more per year on health care than women who were never abused.

Recognition for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: “We are living in a new era for persons with disabilities,’ writes Myra Kovary at On the Issues Magazine. The story details the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations and has been signed by 50 nations so far.  The U.S. has yet to sign it, but President Barack Obama has said he will do so.

Facts of Life: Sarah Seltzer praises “the sex talk” on one of my favorite television shows, “Friday Night Lights,” and compares it to a conversation from over a decade ago on “My So-Called Life.”

March 1, 2009

Double Dose: Report on Public Funding and Family Planning; Women in Iran; Teen Girls on Chris Brown & Rihanna; Doctor Wins Sex-Discrimination Suit; Where You Live Determines Dietary Health …

Publicly Funded Family Planning Programs Make Sense: This new report (pdf) from the Guttmacher Institute on the essential role of family planning shows the pay-off: prevention of nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies and more than 800,000 abortions each year, saving billions of dollars.

“Report co-author Rachel Benson Gold called the family planning program ‘smart government at its best,’ asserting that every dollar spent on it saves taxpayers $4 in costs associated with unintended births to mothers eligible for Medicaid-funded natal care,” reports the AP.

Iran’s Women Are Taking On The Mullahs: “Iranian women, and not just the sporting queens or Nobel prize winners, are standing up to the mullahs. And some of them are experiencing a frightening political backlash,” writes Katherine Butler at The Independent. A strikingly good story, it provides an in-depth look at life in Iran. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this one.

Sex-Discrimination Suit at Boston Hospital: Dr. Sagun Tuli, a 39-year-old neurosurgeon, filed a lawsuit against her employer, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and her boss, Dr. Arthur Day, the chairman of the neurosurgery, alleging a hostile work environment and retaliation against her when she complained.
After a seven-week trial, a jury agreed and awarded Tuli $1.6 million, reports the Boston Globe.

Read more analysis from Vanessa Merton at Feminist Law Professors.

Facts Matter Most: When you need to be reminded that kids today are (generally) all right, check in with Mike Males, a senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco who also heads up, which aims to debunk media myths, such as all girls are “girls gone wild.”

Star Tribune columnist Gail Rosenblum recently wrote about a lecture Males gave, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Konopka Institute for Best Practices in Adolescent Health, that separated fact from fiction.

Plus: Here’s a great response to the media coverage of Chris Brown & Rihanna, penned by Alex Pates, 15, and Ansheera Ace Hilliard, 17, members of the Chicago-based Females United for Action. FUFA is a youth group that works on issues of violence against women and media justice.

Beautiful Cervix Project: It took a headlamp and a lot of mojo, but photos of a cycling cervix are now available. From the author’s introduction: “I am a 25 year old woman who has never given birth.  My intention with this project was to better understand my cycle and the changes in my cervix throughout the month. As a doula and student midwife, I used this project to help me see how a cervix might look different throughout the cycle in the absence of vaginal infections and to understand speculum exams.”

Another Sign of the Financial Crisis: We know advertising standards have loosened over the years, but it took an economic downturn for some media outlets to let alcohol and sex ads go prime time, reports the L.A. Times.

Food/Access Studies: There’s new research out linking the availability of healthy food and the quality of one’s diet with place of residence. The studies, by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, appear in the March 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the December 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Place of residence plays a larger role in dietary health than previously estimated,” said Manuel Franco, MD, PhD, and lead author of the studies, in this release. “Our findings show that participants who live in neighborhoods with low healthy food availability are at an increased risk of consuming a lower quality diet. We also found that 24 percent of the black participants lived in neighborhoods with a low availability of healthy food compared with 5 percent of white participants.”

Paging Mr. Whipple: A Toilet Paper Crisis: “The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra — which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm,” writes Leslie Kaufman at The New York Times.

“But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.”

February 28, 2009

Political Diagnosis, Part I: Budget Blueprint for Health Care; Reform Without a Czar; Foodies Rejoice! …

A weekly look at what’s happening in Washington and in the new Obama administration related to women’s health and well-being …

A New Budget, New Priorities: On Thursday, President Obama sent Congress a $3.6 trillion spending plan that includes funding for “vast new investments in health care, energy independence and education by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge fund managers, multinational corporations and nearly 3 million of the nation’s top earners,” as summarized by the Washington Post.

Read the section (pdf) specific to health initiatives under HHS. Got more time? Flip through the entire document.

A senior administration official told NPR Obama’s budget blueprint “is meant to start a dialogue with Congress over how to provide coverage for an estimated 48 million uninsured while also slowing health care costs, which amount to $2.4 trillion a year and keep rising even as the economy is shrinking.”

The New York Times has more on what the proposal includes:

Mr. Obama requested more than $6 billion for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health, up from $5.6 billion last year, and he announced a “multiyear plan to double cancer research.”

In addition, Mr. Obama said he would speed the approval of low-cost generic versions of expensive biotechnology drugs by establishing “a new regulatory pathway” at the Food and Drug Administration.

And he said he would increase access to family planning services for low-income women by expanding eligibility under Medicaid. A similar proposal was dropped from the recent economic stimulus bill after it provoked an outcry from Republicans.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to set aside $634 billion in a “reserve fund for health care reform.”

He provided no new information about how to cover the uninsured, saying he would work out the details with Congress later this year. But he did propose specific changes to save money, and many of his ideas face opposition from Washington lobbyists and the interests they represent.

Mr. Obama would, for example, require drug companies to give bigger discounts, or rebates, to Medicaid, the health program for low-income people.

Reaction from women’s health advocates was positive.

“We are thrilled that the President articulated a commitment to fix our broken health care system while ensuring access to family planning services in his budget outline,” Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement. “The inclusion of a provision to expand eligibility for Medicaid funded family planning services is a tremendous step forward in meeting the need for access to family planning services.”

The New York Times also reports today that liberal organizations have been empowered to re-join the lobbying fray, especially around making health care more accessible and affordable.

Czar 44, Where Are You?: Lindsay Beyerstein reports that Obama administration “may be about to pull the plug on the health czar.” That was the title former Sen. Tom Daschle was expected to assume in addition to secretary of Health & Human Services before he withdrew his name from consideration for that post.

While there are serious contenders for the HHS post, it appears the the czar position won’t be reassigned — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Beyerstein includes a good summary of other writers on this topic.

Health Care Payouts: The $787 billion economic stimulus package included subsidies for people who have recently been laid off that would enable them to keep their health care coverage through COBRA. That funding kicked in this week, reports the Boston Gobe.

Government Health Care Spending: “In 2018, healthcare spending will make up more than one-fifth of the American economy and the government will pay more than 50 percent of those costs, according to projections issued at midnight Tuesday by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS),” reports The Hill.

Foodies Rejoice!: Andrew Leonard at Salon describes reaction among healthy food activists to the decision to appoint Tufts professor Kathleen Merrigan to the No. 2 post at USDA as “tasty-good as a freshly picked organic peach or heirloom tomato. Containing absolutely no high fructose corn syrup and fully compostable!”

There’s good reason to celebrate:

Merrigan wrote the Organic Food Production Act — the law of the land for the organic sector — as a staffer for Vermont Sen. Leahy all the way back in the 1980s, served as head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service — which oversees federal organic policy — under Clinton, and, writes [Samuel] Fromartz, “even before then, she was involved in sustainable agriculture policy and has been ever since — in organics, conservation, food access, and small farm issues. While [Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work.

Plus: Healthy Schools Campaign points to an interview with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who discusses his future plans for USDA and criticisms that he is too closely tied to ethanol and agribusiness.

Action Items
Restore and Expand the FMLA
On Jan. 16, a Bush administration rule took effect making it more difficult for workers to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Urge President Obama and newly confirmed Secretary Solis to undo the damage done by the Bush Administration by restoring and expanding the FMLA. (National Partnership for Women & Families)

February 10, 2009

Yoplait Yogurt Goes rBGH-Free

Yoplait yogurt will soon be free of artificial bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a synthetic hormone that has been linked to a number of health concerns, including breast cancer.

General Mills announced Monday that it will stop using milk produced from cows injected with rBGH (also known as rBST) in all Yoplait yogurts by August 2009.

“While the safety of milk from cows treated with rBST is not at issue, our consumers were expressing a preference for milk from cows not treated with rBST, and we responded,” Becky O’Grady, General Mills’ vice president of marketing for the Yoplait brand, said in a statement.

The hormone is already banned in Canada, Australia, Japan and the European Union. In the United States, corporations like Wal-Mart and Starbucks do not use milk from rBGH-treated cows in their products.

Breast Cancer Action launched a consumer campaign last year to encourage General Mills to follow Wal-Mart and Starbuck’s lead.

In a guest blog post at OBOB, Pauli Ojea, a community organizer at BCA, explained the connection between rBGH and breast cancer and criticized Yoplait for “pinkwashing” — a term used to describe companies that participate in breast cancer fundraising or awareness campaigns but manufacture products that may be linked to the disease.

BCA’s “Think Before You Pink” campaign warned that Yoplait’s donations to breast cancer (10 cents for every lid consumers mailed in) came from sales of yogurt made with milk from cows treated with rBGH.

“We’re delighted that General Mills has decided to do the right thing in response to consumer demand,” said Barbara Brenner, BCA executive director of Breast Cancer Action, said in a statement released today. “When a company uses the pink ribbon to sell their products, they are making a promise to support women’s health. We want them to keep that promise — and we’ll monitor the company to make sure they do.”

December 6, 2008

Double Dose: Lesbians in the Funny Pages; Future of Reproductive Health and Rights; Certified Organic Male?; You Know the Healthcare System is Broken When …

Lesbians Star in the Funny Pages: In case you missed it, Alison Bechdel’s “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For” got a fab review in The New York Times. Dwight Garner not only heaps tons of praise, but he writes like a genuine fan, and the review is very enjoyable to read.

Even Bechdel is impressed. She wrote on her blog: ”Lemme tell you whippersnappers. I can remember when the Times wouldn’t even print the word ‘dyke.’ In fact, somewhere in my vast archives I have a tiny clipping from 1983 or so … maybe even later … containing the first instance of the Times using the word ‘gay,’ as opposed to ‘homosexual.’ I’m just saying.”

Here’s a sampler from the book.

What Will the Future (of Reproductive Health and Rights) Look Like?: RH Reality Check is sponsoring a live chat Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. on reproductive health issues in the Obama administration. Join experts Marilyn Keefe, National Partnership for Women & Families; William Smith, SIECUS; Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute; Cristina Page,; and Kay Steiger, RH Reality Check. Learn more or submit questions in advance here.

Healthcare Overhaul Remains a Priority: “Former Sen. Tom Daschle, who is slated to oversee health-care policy in the Obama administration, is kicking off the effort to pass a comprehensive health-care plan,” reports the Wall Street Journal. And that effort includes you:

Mr. Daschle, who Obama transition officials say will be nominated secretary of Health and Human Services, will suggest that Americans hold holiday-season house parties to brainstorm over how best to overhaul the U.S. health-care system. He will promise to drop by one such party himself, and to take the ideas generated to President-elect Barack Obama.

The parties are part of an effort by the new administration to apply organizing tools from the presidential campaign to the more-complex task of governing. “What’s next for our Health Care Team? You are,” Mr. Daschle will say at the 2008 Colorado Health Care Summit, an event organized by Sen. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.).

Plus: Sign the petition to make breastfeeding a priority for the new administration. Via the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.

What Women Want: YWCA USA recently released a national survey (PDF) of American women and their priorities for the new administration, including opinions on the financial crisis, healthcare reform and racial justice. Here’s a summary of the key findings. The survey was released in conjunction with the YWCA’s 150th anniversary.

You Know the Health Care System is Broken When …: A company sells you insurance to protect your right to buy health insurance. Read more.

Dream Big in 2009: This 2009 Dreams for Women Calendar features 12 postcards designed by people around the world in response to the question: What is your dream for women?

Funds raised from the sale of the calendar go to the Antigone Foundation, which encourages political and civic engagement for young women. The calendars are also available to women’s organizations to use as part of their own fundraising efforts.

Recommended Reading: And a Doula, Too recommends a number of books and online resources about pregnancy and birth, including OBOS’ own new book on the subject. When it comes to baby books, she offers this sage advice:

Be warned that every baby book I’ve ever seen or heard about has an agenda about how you should raise your child, and friends (and indeed strangers) will probably go nuts telling you they “swear by” such-and-such a book or method that probably isn’t a perfect fit for your family (especially when it comes to the touchy and highly individual subject of “sleep solutions”). I worry that we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we do anything other than learn a lot, trust ourselves, and find a pediatrician who shares and understands our values and ideas about pediatric care.

This concern extends to apparently objective books like the big American Academy of Pediatrics one (Caring for Your Baby and Young Child); it’s not that it’s bad to have or anything, but I’m glad that my partner and I feel confident enough to do our own research and disregard any book’s advice when appropriate for our own situation.

Birthing Practices in Bolivia: From Women’s eNews: Jean Friedman-Rudovsky reports that Bolivia has stemmed maternal and infant death rates by providing free medical care during pregnancy and childbirth. But many women prefer to labor at home rather than take free care at hospitals that comes packaged with birthing horror stories.

Certified Organic Male?: Alan Greene, a pediatrician in California, has performed an experiment of sorts on himself — all the food he’s eaten for the past three years has been organic. I loved this part:

The biggest surprise of the whole experience, he says, was that many people still don’t know what “organic” means.

“It’s surprising to me how few people know that organic means without pesticides, antibiotics or hormones,” he said. “In stores or restaurants around the country, I would ask, ‘Do you have anything organic?’ Half the time they would say, ‘Do you mean vegetarian?’”

Skin Deep: Nanophobia: “It sounds like a plot straight out of a science-fiction novel by Michael Crichton. Toiletry companies formulate new cutting-edge creams and lotions that contain tiny components designed to work more effectively. But those minuscule building blocks have an unexpected drawback: the ability to penetrate the skin, swarm through the body and overwhelm organs like the liver,” reports The New York Times. Um, yeah.

Don’t Worry – It’s Contagious: A study published in the British journal BMJ found that happiness really can be passed on to others. Here’s a related commentary and editorial, plus more from the AP. Cheers to you this weekend!

November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Our Way: No Turkey, but Lots of Tasty Choices

My partner and I don’t eat meat, so Thanksgiving usually involves bringing our own Tupperware-packed entrees to large family gatherings. This is necessary, since well-meaning cooks are known to encourage us to have more green beans (cooked with bacon bits) or marshmallow-covered yams. 

This year we’re trying something different: cooking a mostly vegetarian meal for 12 (we’re breaking from all-vegetarian to serve fish). Most of the family members and friends due to arrive this afternoon are enthusiastic about the menu, but there are a few tough customers who will need more convincing (meet my niece, who keeps asking, “Seriously? No chicken?”).

Before I have to get back to chopping squash, I thought I’d mention a terrific recipe site that has provided us with numerous healthy dishes. We all have our go-to cookbooks or websites (mine incude The Amateur Gourmet, Deborah Madison and all of Mollie Katzen‘s books), but lately I keep returning to The New York Times to see what Martha Rose Shulman is making.

Shulman, a chef and cookbook writer who focuses on seasonal produce, writes the Recipes for Health series for the Times. The recipes revolve around a particular type of produce each week, and there’s an introduction that explains a bit about the food’s background and how to shop for it. 

I first thought the series would last only through the summer — this summer squash gratin, by the way, was a major hit; we modified it by using a rice and soy milk blend instead of low-fat milk – but Shulman is still at it; recent recipes have been built around sweet potatoes and celery.

Here’s one of the dishes going on the table today: wild rice salad with celery and walnuts. I confess I re-made the dressing once last night after the first batch came out too garlicky (my bad), but still the red wine vinegar has more bite than I expected. I didn’t use walnut oil, so perhaps there’s the mistake. We’ll see how it meshes with the rice and other ingredients later today.

I’m also making sweet potato puree with apples and, for an appetizer, soft black bean tacos.

Mark Bittman is another terrific cookbook author; he’s been writing a NYT food column, The Minimalist, for more than a decade and now also blogs at Bitten. Over the summer we made his recipe for fish steamed over vegetables and fresh herbs; we found some wonderful eggplant at the farmers market and used cod in place of snapper. The results were amazing.

I’m trying the same dish again today, along with Bittman’s recipe for kale braised in red wine. I’m starting to get nervous that with maple-syrup glazed carrots and pumpkin soup that needs re-heating, too many dishes will be vying for space on the stovetop at the same time. Hopefully a glass of wine will keep the stress in check.

I’d like to believe that the joy of cooking what you love and sharing it with others trumps whatever kitchen complications await, but maybe that’s the wishful thinking of someone still four hours away from pulling off her first Thanksgiving. Let’s see if I win over my niece.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to everyone, and thank you for being part of our community here at OBOS.

October 14, 2008

Our Food, Ourselves: Michael Pollan on the Next Farmer in Chief

Chicago Green City Market / photo by schopie1

It’s mid-October, but the warm weather here in Chicago has me thinking we’re approaching summer. My small garden thinks so, too. Lettuce, basil, kale, peppers and chives are coming up strong, undaunted by the brown, crinkly leaves falling from the trees above.

Living in the city, planting space is limited and the season is (eventually) finite; I can’t rely solely on what I grow. But along with trips to the Green City Market downtown, and smaller farmers’ markets nearby, we probably eat locally grown produce for over half the year.

Of course, we are fortunate to have easy access to an abundance of fresh food choices. Huge swaths of Chicago are considered “food deserts” — in these neighborhoods, corner convenience stores and fast food restaurants greatly outnumber supermarkets, and access to affordable, healthy produce is severely limited by distance and cost.

Not surprisingly, residents in Chicago’s food deserts, the majority of whom are African American, experience a higher rate of diet-related illnesses (as a recent report shows), including diabetes, certain kinds of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Support for urban agriculture is growing, along with a push to increase the number of farmers markets located throughout the city — a new market opened in Englewood, an impoverished South Side neighborhood, earlier this year. Yet affordability remains an issue. As this story points out, equipment is not available to process food stamp debit cards at all farmers markets, and even at markets with the equipment, not all vendors accept the cards.

Meanwhile, as Rachel has mentioned, the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) is adding a paltry $8 a month for use at farmers markets by mid-2009 (read the latest here).

Despite increased public interest in farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) that offer consumers a stake in a local farm, the relationship between food, health and the environment, as well as the importance of affordable and sustainable agriculture, doesn’t exactly make for a crowd-rousing stump-speech.

In fact, we’ve heard almost nothing from the presidential candidates about federal food policy, even as food prices keep rising. Perhaps that will change in the final weeks, but I wouldn’t bet my kale on it.

The political aspect hasn’t escaped Michael Pollan, however. The author of, most recently, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Pollan penned an open letter to the president-elect that was published in The New York Times Magazine. It is perhaps the smartest and most engaging piece you’ll read this year on what a McCain or Obama administration should do to overhaul the way we grow food and radically change our approach to healthy eating.

Pollan begins by explaining, in no uncertain terms, the urgency:

[W]ith a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign.

Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them.

Pollan takes readers on a detailed yet easy-to-follow journey of how the United States food system developed the way it did — and what it can count as its chief success: namely, we produce cheap calories in great abundance.

He then offers an agenda for a 21st-century food system with specific proposals under three main sections: resolarizing the American farm; reregionalizing the food system; and rebuilding America’s food culture. His plan plan for a decentralized food system includes such essentials as modifying the food stamp program and expanding WIC:

Food-stamp debit cards should double in value whenever swiped at a farmers’ markets — all of which, by the way, need to be equipped with the Electronic Benefit Transfer card readers that supermarkets already have. We should expand the WIC program that gives farmers’-market vouchers to low-income women with children; such programs help attract farmers’ markets to urban neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is often nonexistent. (We should also offer tax incentives to grocery chains willing to build supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods.)

Federal food assistance for the elderly should build on a successful program pioneered by the state of Maine that buys low-income seniors a membership in a community-supported farm. All these initiatives have the virtue of advancing two objectives at once: supporting the health of at-risk Americans and the revival of local food economies.

The adventurous agenda includes suggestions for changing our relationship with food. For children, that means starting early: Plant gardens at every primary school, overhaul school menus and increase “school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.”

We also need to cease negotiating health messages with the food industry. Pollan calls for the surgeon general to take over the job of communicating with Americans about their diet. Currently it falls to the Department of Agriculture, which you might say has a conflict of interest.

But why not start at the top? In addition to encouraging the White House to go meatless one day a week, Pollan calls for the ultimate suburban sacrifice: tear out a portion of the White House lawn and plant an organic fruit and vegetable garden.

OK, insert your favorite arugula-loving-liberal joke here. But at another crucial point in history, White House support was influential:

When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America. The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population.

Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.) Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently.

Read the whole piece (it’s well worth it!). Readers have posed interesting questions and suggestions in the comments, and the Times breaks out Pollan’s responses. Finally, here’s more good stuff from the “food issue.”

*Photo of scenes from Chicago Green City Market by schopie1, reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

October 13, 2008

Submit Your Comment By Wednesday on Child Nutrition Programs and WIC

The Food & Water Watch program of Democracy in Action alerted us to a public comment period that is closing on Wednesday, October 15 and is collecting comments on the USDA’s child nutrition and WIC programs for consideration prior to the 2009 reauthorization of the programs. Democracy in Action is asking individuals to submit comments requesting that hormone-free and organic milk be among the options in the federal school breakfast and lunch program, and has an action page set up for submitting comments on this topic.

OBOS has written about the topic of rBGH in milk previously – see our web content and this previous post for background information.

The reauthorization will also address WIC, a program intended to improve the nutrition of pregnant and lactating women and their young children – the agency has specifically requested comments regarding the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for provision of fresh fruits and vegetables.

We’ve written previously that, while increasing access to fresh produce is a good thing, the WIC provisions for this (expected to occur mid-2009) are likely inadequate to truly make a difference for women and their families – they’ll add a mere $8/month in vouchers for use at farmers markets. Your comments on the WIC provisions for fresh fruit and veggies can also be submitted prior to Wednesday.

To comment, view Docket FNS-2008-0011at – click on the HTML or PDF icon beside “Views” to read the request for comments, and click on the yellow icon beside “Add Comments” to submit your suggestions. Comments are due by Wednesday, October 15.

September 18, 2008

Healthy Information Takes a Holiday

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune reported on a religious fast by a 17-year-old:

For more than a month, the only thing Eva Mehta put in her body was water, and never after dark.

At times, the 17-year-old was so weak and nauseated that her parents had to use a wheelchair to bring her from their van to their Jain temple in Bartlett. When the hunger pangs hit hard, she would pinch her ears. But she kept up her fast, even when she went to bed hungry and dreamed of food.

“I would just say in my mind, ‘No, it’s not real. I just won’t eat it. I’m not going to eat this until I’m done fasting,’ ” she said.

Her fast ended Sept. 3 after 34 days. By then the 5-foot-4 Evanston teen had lost 33 pounds, her weight dropping to 119.

Jains are a small religious minority in India. The religion teaches a path to enlightenment through a life founded on nonviolence to all creatures.

The story notes that Mehta’s fast was a temple record, “a triumph of discipline and devotion, say Jain leaders, who plan to hold a celebration Saturday at the Bartlett temple for Mehta and others who fasted.”

That may be the case in the eyes of worshippers, but to me the story was a little too congratulatory on the drastic weight loss, without offering any perspective on the health risks.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. One of the Trib’s health columnists wrote a blog post the same day the story ran that explains the effect a month-long fast can have on your body. Yet it basically adopts a don’t-try-this-at-home tone. More analysis about the media coverage is warrented.

September 13, 2008

Double Dose: Feminism Quotes of the Week; Dr. Phil & Home Birth; The Season for Viewing Fat People; Domestic Abuse and Deportation; Cheering for the Safety of Cheerleaders …

Quote of the Week: “The “new feminism” may include uncritical support for women who oppose teen pregnancy programs and for women who force rape victims to pay for their own rape kits. But I just don’t see where support for women who persist in fabricating their own records is a feminist principle.” — Dahlia Lithwick

Quote of the Week, Part 2: “In this strange new pro-woman tableau, feminism — a word that is being used all over the country with regard to Palin’s potential power — means voting for someone who would limit reproductive control, access to healthcare and funding for places like Covenant House Alaska, an organization that helps unwed teen mothers. It means cheering someone who allowed women to be charged for their rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, who supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, who has inquired locally about the possibility of using her position to ban children’s books from the public library, who does not support the teaching of sex education [...] Stop the election; I want to get off.” — Rebecca Traister

Plus: More on those rape kits

Website of the Week: Women Against Sarah Palin

Take On Dr. Phil’s Take on Home Births: We’ve heard from several readers that Dr. Phil is soliciting home-birth horror stories on his website for an upcoming show. Perhaps hearing from some satisfied home birthers will lead to a more balanced program. Also see this related call for pregnant women considering a home birth.

It’s Fall, So Viewers Must be Gawking at Fat People: The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley recently covered the growing number of weight-loss television programs — “binge viewing for a nation obsessed with weight” — and the cultural implications. A sampling: “Bulging Brides” on WE; “The Biggest Loser” on NBC; and “Honey We’re Killing the Kids,” among others …

Plus: Writing at, Reese DoWitt questions the saneness of MTV’s “Model Makers,” a proposed reality TV series in which 15 wannabe-models have to slim down to win the show’s $100,000 grand prize.

And Richard Perez-Pena, also of NYT, notes that “The Biggest Loser” is a big win for Rodale and its biggest magazine, Prevention, which have collaborated with the series for the past three years.

Taking Cheerleading Seriously: “A growing body of evidence indicates cheerleading has become one of the riskiest athletic activities for women, leaving a long trail of sprained wrists, twisted ankles, damaged knees, strained backs — and sometimes much worse,” writes Rob Stein in the Washington Post.

Despite a sharp increase in the number and types of cheerleading squads and the complexity of their routines, cheerleading is not officially considered a sport at most high schools and universities. As a result, it’s not subject to the safety regulations that apply to gymnastics, for example.

“When people think about cheerleading, they think about the girls with the pompoms jumping up and down,” said Frederick O. Mueller, a leading sports injury expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They don’t think about someone being thrown 25 feet in the air and performing flips with twists and other risky stunts we see today.”

Equally shocking are the cheerleading proponents quoted who seem in denial about the risks. It’s a sport, folks, not an after-school club, and should be regulated like any other official athletic activity.

Facing Deportation and Fleeing Domestic Abuse: Women’s eNews reports on the mass arrest this summer of undocumented workers in Rhode Island that left a number of abused women fearing their deportations will put them back within reach of abusers they fled. A longstanding case pending in San Francisco could set a new precedent, reports Amy Littlefield.

What About the Children?: Writing at Huffington Post, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, discusses the effect of immigration raids on children. A report by the National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute, “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children,” notes that there are about five million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent.

Ensuring the Human Right to Survive Pregnancy in Southeast Asia: A meeting of world leaders later this month to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals “presents a decisive opportunity to ensure that the limited progress on maternal mortality is at the center of the dialogue,” writes Ramona Vijeyarasa at RH Reality Check. “2005 maternal mortality ratio estimates released by WHO were as high as 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 lives births for Cambodia, 420 for Indonesia and 230 for the Philippines as compared to 14 for the Republic of Korea or 11 for the United States.”

Study: Delivery Method Affects Brain Response to Newborn’s Cries: “When my own daughter was born by Caesarean section delivery, I was surprised how uninvolved I was in the process. My body was numb, and my view of the surgery was blocked by a sheet. When I finally heard a baby cry, it took a minute for me to realize that the sound belonged to my own baby,” writes Tara Parker-Pope at Well.

“That’s why I was particularly interested to read of new research showing that the method of delivery seems to influence how a mother’s brain responds to the cries of her own baby. The brains of women who have natural childbirth appear to be more responsive to the cries of their own babies, compared to the brains of women who have C-section births.”

The very small study (12 women), which was published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, draws strong responses at the Well blog.

When an Apple is Harder to Find than French Fries: “You can’t choose healthy foods if you don’t have access to them. And that’s the dilemma faced by millions of residents in the ‘Food Deserts’ of America,” writes Mari Gallagher, a researcher and author of the 2006 study “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago,” as well as similar studies in Detroit, rural Michigan, Louisville, Harlem and Richmond.

Food deserts are geographic areas lacking in grocery stores and awash in fast-food restaurants. Read more here.

August 22, 2008

Double Dose: Concerns Over HPV Vaccines; HHS’ Latest Contraception/Conscience Proposal; The Future of Personalized Medicine; Spinach With a Side of Radiation; WALL*E, a Lesbian Love Story …

Flesh-Eating Fish Perform “Pedicures”: See what shows up in my in-box from NPR?

Drug Makers’ Push Leads to Cancer Vaccines’ Rise: “In two years, cervical cancer has gone from obscure killer confined mostly to poor nations to the West’s disease of the moment,” begins this lengthy New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal about concerns over the rapid rollout of vaccines against HPV, which have now been used by tens of millions of girls and young women in the United States and Europe.

Some of the issues raised:

Merck’s vaccine was studied in clinical trials for five years, and Glaxo’s for nearly six and a half, so it is not clear how long the protection will last. Some data from the clinical trials indicate immune molecules may wane after three to five years. If a 12-year-old is vaccinated, will she still be protected in college, when her risk of infection is higher? Or will a booster vaccine be necessary?

Some experts are concerned about possible side effects that become apparent only after a vaccine has been more widely tested over longer periods.

And why the sudden alarm in developed countries about cervical cancer, some experts ask. A major killer in the developing world, particularly Africa, where the vaccines are too expensive for use, cervical cancer is classified as very rare in the West because it is almost always preventable through regular Pap smears, which detect precancerous cells early enough for effective treatment. Indeed, because the vaccines prevent only 70 percent of cervical cancers, Pap smear screening must continue anyway.

“Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politicians, and went directly to the people — it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now,” said Dr. Diane Harper, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School. Dr. Harper was a principal investigator on the clinical trials of both Gardasil and Cervarix, and she spent 2006-7 on sabbatical at the World Health Organization developing plans for cervical cancer vaccine programs around the world.

“Because Merck was so aggressive, it went too fast,” Dr. Harper said. “I would have liked to see it go much slower.”

Plus: In a separate story, Rosenthal refers to two articles published in New England Journal of Medicine that conclude the vaccines are being used without knowing for sure that they are worth the high cost or if they are effective in preventing cervical cancer. Read the articles here and here.

HHS Fails to Deliver on Contraception/Conscience Proposal: “The Department of Health and Human Services today formally released proposed regulations that Secretary Michael Leavitt claims are necessary to protect health care providers and institutions who decline to provide certain medical services because those services offend their ‘consciences,’” writes Emily Douglas at RH Reality Check.

“After intense criticism in the mainstream media and from millions of Americans, HHS has removed an explicit redefinition of contraception as abortion from the regulation. In so doing, the agency may have created a much larger problem.”

Plus: Here’s the official version of the regulation, and Rachel’s previous writings on this topic.

Birth of a Movement: “Last month, a seven-judge appellate panel in Pennsylvania ruled that delivering babies is not the practice of medicine. It’s always comforting when the law catches up to history; midwifery is, after all, the second-oldest profession,” writes Roberta Devers-Scott, a Vermont midwife and psychologist who has written an op-ed about the prosecution of midwives, including her own case.

Health Care is the Issue:  Judy Waxman, vice president and director of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, identifies seven questions to ask when looking at health reform proposals to determine whether the proposals help to ensure that all women have access to health care that meets their needs.

The Future of Personalized Medicine: View a webcast of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s series Today’s Topics In Health Disparities, which discusses the potential of race-based medical solutions for improving healthcare and reducing racial/ethnic health disparities. The webcast takes a closer look at efforts to study the interaction between race, genetics and health.

Spinach With a Side of Radiation: “Consumers worried about salad safety may soon be able to buy fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce zapped with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and a few other germs,” reports the AP. “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday will issue a regulation allowing spinach and lettuce sellers to take that extra step, a long-awaited move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.”

A leading food safety expert said irradiation indeed can kill certain bacteria safely — but it doesn’t kill viruses that also increasingly contaminate produce, and it isn’t as effective as tightening steps to prevent contamination starting at the farm.

“It won’t control all hazards on these products,” cautioned Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

She questioned why the FDA hasn’t addressed her agency’s 2006 call to require growers to document such things as how they use manure and ensure the safety of irrigation water. Irrigation is one suspect in this summer’s nationwide salmonella outbreak attributed first to tomatoes and then to Mexican hot peppers.

“We are not opposed to the use of irradiation,” DeWaal said. But, “it’s expensive and it doesn’t really address the problem at the source.”

The Claim: Morning Sickness Means a Girl Is More Likely: “The notion that morning sickness can sometimes indicate that a girl is on the way may be an exception,” to a number of old wives tales about pregnancy that are based more on fantasy than fact, reports The New York Times. “A number of large studies in various countries have examined the claim, and almost all have found it to be true, with caveats. Specifically, studies have found that it applies to women with morning sickness in the first trimester, and with symptoms so severe that it leads to hospitalization, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.”

A True Love Story: “I’m completely smitten with WALL•E, this summer’s Pixar/Disney offering. But the last thing I expected to see in my friendly, heterosexual upper east side Manhattan neighborhood movie theater was a feature length cartoon about a pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other,” writes Kate Bornstein. “WALL•E is nothing short of hot, dyke Sci Fi action romance, some seven hundred years in the future! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that what you saw? No? What movie were you watching?” Hee. via en|Gender.

July 11, 2008

Double Dose: Black Maternal Health in the United States; Google Fumbles on Childcare; AMA Apologizes for Past Racism; Doctors Discussing Weight; Open Letter to Obama on Late-Term Abortion; Postcards From Vermont …

U.S. Black Maternal Health Tied to Social Stress: Writing in Women’s eNews, June Ross looks at how advocates for black women are redefining maternal health — the period from pregnancy through the first six months after delivery — to include a woman’s overall well-being. It’s the first in a series on black maternal health.

“Regardless of their age, marital status, education or early prenatal care, African American women are more likely to bear premature and low-birth-weight infants, those under 6 pounds, whose survival odds are below the U.S. norm,” writes Ross. “Nationwide, black women are three to four times more likely to die giving birth than either white or Latina women. Their infants’ mortality risk is doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disparity has persisted even as infant mortality rates for the nation as a whole have fallen.”

“Prenatal care alone doesn’t solve the problem,” said Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. “It’s the life course of women in our communities that is making us give birth prematurely to sick babies. The gap (between black and white women) persists because we haven’t done enough. We need to reframe the policy issues. We need to address maternal health first, then talk about infant mortality.”

It’s a great piece that also looks at the work of Byllye Avery, who stresses the intergenerational aspects of black women’s health and who founded the first Black Women’s Health Imperative. She now runs the Avery Institute for Social Change, which brings together health activists, strategists, community advocates and scholars for constructive dialogue on health disparities and health care reform.

Plus: Also from Women’s eNews, a look at the call for billions to reduce maternal mortality at the G-8 economic summit — Pat Sheffield at RH Reality Check reports on how it went; and an article in a series on the status of U.S. women looks at the growing ranks of poor single mothers since the 1996 welfare overhaul.

And also at RH Reality Check, Miriam Perez looks at “The Myth of the Elective C-Section,” which references “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth.

A Giant Fumble: Moving on to child care, what’s up with Google?

AMA Apologizes for Past Racism: The American Medical Association on Thursday “formally apologized for more than a century of policies that excluded blacks from a group long considered the voice of American doctors,” writes AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner. “The apology is among initiatives at the nation’s largest doctors’ group to reduce racial disparities in medicine and to recruit more blacks to become doctors and to join the AMA.”

Read the full statement.

When a Mammogram Isn’t Enough: The Wall Street Journal reports on the use of MRIs and ultrasounds to help detect breast cancer in women who have a higher risk of the disease. These methods are more sensitive, but the downside is that they also have a higher rate of false-positives, which can lead to unnecessary stress and biopsies.

Should Doctors Lecture Patients About Their Weight?: Well looks at a recent blog post by “Dr. Rob” (Dr. Robert Lambert of Georgia) at Musings of a Distractible Mind. A whopping 600-plus comments follow. Here’s one of the good ones, as is the one that follows it.

Father’s Age Also a Factor in Fertility: Also from Well. Ah, the cultural implications …

Open Letter to Obama: Lynda Waddington of Essential Estrogen and the Iowa Independent offers her personal story about late-term abortion.

Death of an Activist: Via Viva La Feminista, news of the death of Jana Mackey, a 25-year-old law student and feminist activist who wanted to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

Plus: New York’s domestic violence law is about to be expanded. According to The New York Times: “The new law would make it possible for people in dating relationships, heterosexual or gay, to seek protection from abusers in family court. As it stands, New York has one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child.”

pizza_on_earth.jpgEating at the Farm: I’m in Vermont this week — trying to eat locally as much as possible, same as we do in Chicago during the short-but-sweet growing season — and I have to give a shout-out to Pizza On Earth, where not only does the pizza come topped with farm-fresh ingredients, but you can pick up your share of fruit and vegetables from Stony Loam Farm when you pick up your pie. Or stay and eat outdoors overlooking the rows of vegetables, flowers and herbs.

We ordered the week’s pizza special, curry squash (sounds awful but it was good) and left with a bunch of (free!) garlic scapes.

The New York Times yesterday looked at the growth of community supported agriculture (or CSA) groups around the country and the benefits to members and farmers. One of the unexpected benefits is being introduced to seasonal food you might not otherwise try. If it’s in my bag, I’m going to try to use it, whereas at the farmers market or supermarket I’m more likely to skip over foods I don’t recognize.

You can find a local CSA and other farm subscriptions at Local Harvest. Here’s the view at Stony Loam:


July 3, 2008

Coming Clean About Our Own Fruit & Vegetable Intake

Following up on our recent discussion about whether it’s OK to hide veggies in food prepared for picky little eaters, there’s an interesting post at Well about the tendency of adults to, er, vastly overestimate their own intake of fruits and vegetables.

The post, which is based on a small, self-reporting study of 163 women, also includes a funny excerpt of “Unhappy Meals,” a 2007 NYT magazine article by one of my favorite food writers, Michael Pollan.

Plus: Beets …. mmmm ….

June 24, 2008

Healthy Food Advice Welcomed

alexandra_happy_meal.jpgThis is a little off the beaten path, but it is most definitely health-related.

My 5-year-old niece visited for a sleepover this weekend, and despite being told that getting her to eat vegetables was pretty much impossible, I decided we’d make a build-your-own veggie burger.

She selected a black bean patty for the head; I chose a portobella cap. We both added carrot sticks for the arms and the legs, kale for the skirt or shorts, chopped garlic scapes for the eyes and nose, and a yellow tomato slice for the mouth.

Alexandra replaced the tomato with a ketchup smile, but then offered that the tomato would make an excellent hula-hoop. I smiled smugly. This meal thing was easy; all it took was a little creativity.

We took pictures (proof!). Then we started to eat. Or, rather, I ate.

Many parents and caregivers are probably familiar with what came next. Alexandra broke up pieces of the bun and dunked it in ketchup (“But it’s a vegetable, tia Christine!”). The body parts swirled around on the plate until they resembled a cubist painting.

Clearly I had no idea what I was up against.

After Alexandra left the next morning (following whole grain pancakes with blueberries, bananas, carob chips and a real chocolate chip or two — I was a pushover by 8 a.m.), I came across this L.A. Times story on the various methods used to get kids to eat vegetables, including pureeing veggies and hiding them in sweetened foods. Melinda Fulmer writes:

Everyone hopes that their kids will eat their fruits and vegetables so they’ll grow into big, strong adults who will eat the nine daily servings recommended by the U.S. government. But everyone also knows kids rarely put “broccoli” at the top of a list of favorite foods.

So an increasing number of parents are loading the foods their kids will eat with produce they think they should be getting. And food makers are lending a hand, offering a growing array of processed foods that sneak vegetables and fruits into chips, juice and nuggets.

But some nutritionists and public health experts wonder if parents these days are relying too much on the sneak attack. They doubt if kids will ever develop a taste for vegetables in all their leafy glory if they are hidden in smoothies and macaroni and cheese. Some say this well-intentioned sneaking could produce kids less likely — not more — to eat greens.

“Children should learn to make healthy choices,” says Pat Crawford, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley. “It really comes down to whether we are feeding our children for nutrients, or for the potential development of healthy patterns that are lifelong.”

Many mothers say they were turned on to hiding vegetables in their kids’ foods by bestselling cookbooks such as Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” and Missy Chase Lapine’s “The Sneaky Chef.” Both offer kid-friendly recipes with hidden vegetable and fruit purées in such items as pizza and pasta.

Some of the big food companies that have entered the fray by including helpings of fruits and vegetables in everything from chips to pancake mix are also continuing to include sodium, fat and sugar in amounts that would seem to negate the health benefits. Consider, for instance, that “a 1-ounce, 130-calorie serving of Frito-Lay’s Tangy Tomato Ranch chips offers 210 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat along with its half-serving of vegetables.”

I also visited a cool blog mentioned in the Times — Fresh Mouth, where a family of five had one mission: to eat only fresh food or processed food with 5 ingredients or less for 30 days. It takes some serious commitment, but Fresh Mouth also makes it seem fun.

So, dear readers, are any of you hiding vegetables in your kids’ meals? What other methods have worked for you?