Summertime! For those of us who don’t get to spend the whole summer on a beach being lazy, especially those who have kiddos who are bored even though they don’t want to be in school, I’d thought I’d write about cool things to make for lunches. It’s too hot to eat heavy and who wants to heat up the kitchen with a lot of stove use? But, we also don’t want to eat out all the time – at least, I hope you don’t! And, getting the kids involved is a good way to teach them about where food comes from and how it gets from farms to your table, not to mention instilling a practical skill they will have for life.

Moving past PB&J or cheese sandwiches or hotdogs, what are some interesting and fun lunch ideas that don’t need a lot of heat? Wraps. Rollups. Pasta salads. Sloppy Joes. Kabobs. Tostadas. Salad-in-a-jar. Tacos. Zucchini pizzas. Panini. Keeping in mind what foods your kids like and what you think they might try if presented with a fun chance, all of these ideas could work well. You’ll want to keep these ideas in mind as you prepare for other meals and shop for ingredients. I also will make lunch out of unexpected leftover bits and bites, and many of these ideas lend themselves well to that. Will some of the lunches for the week need beans? Cook extra or make sure to have canned ones on hand. Making mini-pizzas? Be sure you have extra of your favorite marinara – homemade or bought – and cheese. Tortillas? Check. Fresh carrots and cucumbers and lettuce and other veggies? Check. Cooked chicken, either leftover from a dinner or rotisserie chicken from the store makes it easy? Check. As with planning dinner menus, it helps to have all the ingredients available. Then all ya gotta do is prep and eat!

Depending on the ages of the children, if you have any around, they can be assigned various tasks to help. Older kids may want to help plan or even dream up their own ideas, and certainly help with prep and any cooking. Younger kids can help assemble and even chop and slice – good way to teach safe knife handling. Little ones can help add ingredients you have prepped and measured, stir, and help assemble. The results may not be as pretty as the pictures but will taste just as good!

Most kids like pasta, and a cold pasta salad can be a fun dish to prepare, and a good way to get some veggies in their mouth they may think they don’t like. It seems raw veggies, especially cut into fun shapes, are more tolerable to reluctant tasters. Italian-style dressing is common but may not be to kids’ tastes – maybe a creamy, ranch type dressing would be better liked. Sure, pasta has to be cooked but it’s minimal and if you plan extra when making another meal, you’ll have it ready to mix.

Skewers (cold kabobs) of favorite and not so familiar items are fun. Roll up sliced turkey or ham and cut into 1” pieces, do the same with soft cheese slices like provolone or cut small cubes of some cheddar or Monterey jack. Prep items the eaters will like or you think they might like, such as cucumber or zucchini slices, grape tomatoes, folded up lettuce leaves, pitted olives, and even grapes or strawberries. Choose foods that will slide onto a wooden skewer easily. Put these in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-kabob, no cooking needed! You can turn wraps into rollups if you layer the contents well, using hummus or similar consistency spread as first layer. Once you’ve layered the wrap, roll it tightly, and then cut into 1” wide slices. So maybe hummus, slice of turkey or ham, slice of cheese or shredded cheese, maybe young spinach leaves or some shredded lettuce, a bit of shredded carrot or other veg. Just don’t use large chunks – they don’t roll well or stay rolled up well.

Tacos and pizzas don’t have to be hot, or have meat that requires cooking. These pizzas will be a little messy to eat but fun. Slice a day-old, whole-grain baguette or a medium zucchini into 1/4-3/8” slices. Top each slice with a bit of marinara, a bit of shredded cheese, and maybe an olive or halved cherry tomato. You could add some finely chopped herbs, like basil or oregano too. Pizza! Tacos could be fresh (less crumbly) or dried small tortillas, with maybe some cold leftover chicken or leftover beans and rice, some salsa, and other taco toppings of diner’s choice. Again, put the toppings in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-taco, no cooking needed!

If the children are salad eaters it can be fun to make a salad in a jar (or one pint translucent plastic tub for picnics). Put the dressing in first, then layer the preferred fixin’s in, with the first one being something that can touch the dressing without damage. (So I wouldn’t start with lettuce.) Use lots of colorful veggies is various shapes  – orange carrots cut in tiny cubes, purple cabbage thinly sliced to show off its curls, dark green spinach to contrast with lighter green lettuce, red bells in skinny strips, etc. Put the lid on, store in fridge until lunchtime. Shake the jar to mix the dressing around, and now all that’s needed is a fork.

Here’s a vegetarian ‘sloppy joe’ recipe. Requires little cooking, and does well in a crockpot. In addition to being different from what a sloppy joe usually consists of, serve this mix in a pita pocket to make it even more interesting. Also, it makes a lot as written, so maybe this helps out for a pool party.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, or 1 large, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 8-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari, or Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2-1 cup water
2-3 cups very thinly sliced green or purple cabbage
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (optional, I omit this)
3 tablespoons mustard of choice, or to taste
Salt, black pepper to taste

Preparation
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to
brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in carrots and garlic and chili powder; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar and scrape up any browned bits.
Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Mix the tomato paste with 1/2 cup water until smooth; add remaining water a bit at a time if mixture is too thick. Add this mixture and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on High for 1 hour or Low for 2-3 hours. The cabbage should be well cooked. When done to your liking turn the cooker off. Check the seasoning, adjust to taste.
Serve on buns or in pita pocket bread.

Note: If you sauté the onion/carrot/garlic in a large stove top pot, you could add the rest of the ingredients to it instead of a crockpot. Heat to low simmer for 30-40 minutes and check for consistency. This method may require a little additional water.

[Modified from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/vegetarian_pinto_bean_sloppy_joes.html]

 

Now I was saying how kids like pasta. Disclaimer here – I have not tried this! But it seems so easy I thought I’d add it.

5 Minute Homemade Mac and Cheese
1/2 pound cooked pasta of choice (we used small shells)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place pasta, cheese, milk, salt and pepper into a microwave safe bowl. Stir to mix. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Stir until creamy and smooth. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings

[http://picky-palate.com/2012/02/20/5-minute-homemade-mac-and-cheese/]

 

Anyway, I hope this gave you some creative ideas for cool, easy lunches, whether you are feeding kids this summer or not!

Most of us shy away from discussing bowel habits outside the doctor’s office; for some people even inside the doctor’s office is off limits for this topic. Yet, we all poop and most people suffer from constipation at some time or another, so why all the secrecy and reluctance to talk about it? Not good dinner table conversation perhaps, but there’s no reason not to talk about a common problem with a natural function. There’d be less suffering if people shared tips on how to get past constipation.

What is constipation? It is when the solid waste material doesn’t move through and out of the body in a timely manner, or is dry and hard to excrete. Other symptoms include gas, painful bloating, and straining to go or feeling that the bowel movement is not complete. Constipation that lasts for an extended period may lead to hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or impacted bowels among other risks. Obviously, sudden and severe onset of constipation, especially if blood is present in the stool, or constipation that is not relieved by the usual remedies should be discussed with your medical professional without delay.

I admit to suffering from occasional constipation throughout my life, sometimes worse than others. It can really make a person cranky, to just not feel tip-top because a function that should just happen isn’t working. Speaking of normal, we are unique individuals and our bodies work within the rhythm that is right for each. Other peoples’ natural schedule of bowel movements may not be your natural rhythm. There is no “right” timing or amount; you should respect the signals from your body. That said, not having a bowel movement for a week or even for 4-5 days is a concern and you should be looking into what is going on.

What are some of the causes of occasional episodes of constipation?

  • Overuse of antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities, like when on vacation or change in job
  • Consuming a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Overuse of laxatives (creates a dependency)
  • Pregnancy
  • Too often ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Excess stress

To avoid occasional bout of constipation, the general recommendations are simple lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise daily, for about 30 minutes. Exercise is essential to regular bowel movements. I find Hatha yoga especially helpful as it massages your internal organs, but a good walk helps too.
  • Drink plenty of water – 1 ½ – 2 quarts per day.
  • Eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal.
  • Cut back on milk and cheeses. Dairy products are constipating for some people, maybe for you.
  • If you take calcium supplements, be sure to get half as much magnesium to counter the sometimes constipating effects of calcium.
  • To relieve stress use a relaxation technique daily, especially meditation or breathing exercises. Stress interferes with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel is the movements that trigger a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, the opportunity may pass and lead to stool backing up
  • Do not use caffeine as a laxative. While coffee and other forms of caffeine may work as laxatives when used occasionally, when used regularly for this purpose caffeine, like the constant use of laxatives, prevents the bowels from following their own natural rhythm.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine affects the bowel in the same manner as caffeine.
  • Avoid constipating drugs if you can. The most common are opiates, diuretics, anti-depressants, and anti-histamines, among others.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple talk about what is often a simple problem with easy solutions. Hopefully you do not need this information often; if you do a health coach may be able to help reduce that need.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My last post was about embarking on a whole food, plant based way of eating. (Again, it’s basically a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state.) I wanted to see how well I would do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I did promise weekly updates but March has been a very busy month so I missed updating my progress last week.

I had stated I would try this for the month of March but actually started February 26. So it’s been three full weeks as I write this. How do I feel? Physically I feel great; lighter, not so dense. I notice I have longer periods of satiety and don’t feel the need to snack between meals. The occasional intestinal issues have improved. I may have lost a bit of weight, although that was not my aim. I believe I was not eating enough in week two since I found myself feeling lethargic, so I made sure to eat more food to get the calories I need for my activity level. Eating WFPB doesn’t mean restricted intake, I was just finding my way around a different way of thinking about meals and what to prepare, and not eating enough.

Mentally I’m a bit frustrated. The mental frustration comes from two areas. One is not having a partner in the experiment, someone to support the transition and share ideas with. Like a health coach, you ask? Well, yes, that would be a help, lol! Or someone to travel the path with me since it’s harder when those close to you aren’t willing to give it a try and don’t really understand why you want to do this.

The other area of frustration is eating out. Restauranteurs for the most part cater to omnivores, and understandably so since they are the majority. But could restaurants please, please have an entrée other than salad that is fully plant-based? One that I do not have to ask – “Is there milk in that?” or “Please omit the cheese.” One where there is flavor without resorting to ‘fake’ meats, cheese, or eggs. Certainly there are some restaurants that are all plant-based or have many options for vegans, but not often the kinds of places my dining partners want to go to. And some of those places do rely too heavily on highly processed ‘meat’ replacements – not something I want. Trust me, I understand the whys of this and trying to please a variety of palates and encouraging reluctant omnivores to try meatless eating. But I would also like to be able to go to the places we like to go and know there is something to order without a fuss. Maybe like-minded people will keep asking for better options as interest in WFPB eating increases and that will encourage chefs to add an item or two.

Have I been successful? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I am trying new recipes and some new foods, I feel great, and I know I am balancing my nutrition needs. I had one oooops! And one deliberate choice due to the frustration I mention above. The oooops was in the lovely spring lasagna I made early on – it used pesto rather than marinara sauce and I used a store-bought pesto (Kirkland’s from Costco – best stuff ever!) quite forgetting it has cheese. Oh, well. Then this past weekend we wanted to watch some of the March Madness at a local pizza place. NOTHING on the menu was cheese-free, and leaving the cheese out of any sounded tasteless and troublesome so I ordered pizza. A Margherita so there was no meat but there’s the cheese. I was quite ready to quit the whole experiment but a clearer head the next day told me to keep on it!

Has it been difficult? Well, no and yes is the answer here too. I am not a big meat eater anyway so that has not been burdensome for me. Maybe a little tiresome for my husband, as he misses some of his favorites that have chicken or fish. And I stopped using most dairy products long ago, although cheese had crept back in to our meals a little. I miss eggs more than meat or cheese. And of course avoiding cheese in restaurant meals has been a little tough. I think it does take more planning and effort to cook meals that satisfy hunger to the same extent a hunk of animal protein does. Much more prep work than popping a chicken breast in the broiler and tossing a quick salad! Here are some of the dinners I’ve eaten since the last post:

  • ‘Mexican’ salad cups – quinoa, beans, raw zucchini, tomatoes, salsa dressing in lettuce cups
  • Lasagna with beet greens filling, marinara, tofu, and vegan mozzarella-style cheese; simple side salad
  • One Pan Farro with Tomatoes; sautéed cauliflower
  • My ‘Everything’ salad – bits of all the vegetables I have on hand that work in a salad
  • Italian restaurant (veggie panini, hold the cheese)
  • Thai Noodle salad – lettuce, carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, red bell, rice noodles in spicy peanut-ty dressing
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes on whole grain buns; cabbage slaw
  • Broccoli with udon noodles in spicy peanut sauce; Roasted Brussel sprouts in Momofuku sauce
  • Crunchy Salad – lots of crunchy vegs like raw carrot, celery, daikon radish, toasted seeds
  • Creamy carrot and sweet potato soup; spicy garbanzo fritters
  • Mexican restaurant (veggie taco, arroz side)
  • Pizza restaurant

I try to alternate hot meals vs. chilled salads, all veggies vs. veggies with beans or grains, eating in with eating out, and of course, what works with other plans on a given day. As well, the weather turned hot this past week so appetites go down. More salads will appear on the menu.

I would say a word about the meat replacement products. They can be a bridge to switching to a plant-based way of eating, especially for someone concerned about missing out on certain favorites or about not feeling full after a meal. But there are so many plant foods and so many ways to prepare them, that looking for ways to replace meat with a meat replacement may keep you from fully exploring all those plant foods and methods. Also, be careful of the replacement products – some are full of ingredients you really don’t want to eat and are highly processed. Read labels and know what you are buying.

All in all, I’m feeling good about this process and what we’ve been eating. By the end of the month I believe I’ll have the hang of menu-planning, which will simplify my food shopping. Right now I have an overabundance of vegetables in the fridge! Will I stick to it for life? I can’t say for sure, maybe I’ll know by April 1. Stay tuned for more!

What is it? Whole food, plant based eating. Basically it’s a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state. Less processed, not stripped of goodness and nutrition. Why am I writing about it? Because I decided to embark on this eating plan for the month of March! I want to see how well I do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I think you will be reading a lot more about this way of eating if you haven’t already.

There are many reasons people decide to forgo eating the produce of animals: Animal rights and protection from cruel mismanagement; a person’s own health; not liking the taste or texture of flesh; religious restrictions; and some more, I am sure. I have been reading many articles on why a plant based diet is better for human health, and I want to see for myself how it affects me, if at all. I am in good shape, with a good weight, ‘good’ blood levels, and overall good health. So I don’t look for a major shift in any of that. Yet, will I lose weight, which I do not want to do? Maybe I’ll gain weight, which would be ok (as long as not too much!). Will I feel less energetic, more tired? Will my occasional intestinal distress clear up? Will I feel hungry all the time or more satiated than on my present way of eating? Will it be a lot more work cooking and planning meals? I’ll post updates each week so you can see how it goes for me. A well-rounded plant based diet does require some planning to make sure one is getting a full complement of nutrients and sufficient calories – potato chips and soda make a ‘vegan’ diet but not a healthy one!

My eating plan this month will consist of many vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, seeds, nuts, and fruits. My last post was about raw food diets not being for me, so will have a mix of raw (salads) and cooked vegetables. I have a wide repertoire of recipes and there are thousands more available on the web. Most can be adapted to solely plant based. We eat a lot of meatless meals already, so my husband is accustomed to it. He is not fully on this ride with me, but agrees if he feels the need for meat, he can get it when we go out for dinner, about once a week. Probably the hardest thing for me to skip will be eggs – I don’t eat a lot of eggs but they can be a quick and satisfying meal or snack, so I will miss them. We are about 98% dairy free, with just the occasional buttermilk for a dressing or biscuits or maybe a little cheese now and then. So going 100% dairy free will not be tough for us. I do have some processed foods in my kitchen but not a lot and even those are minimally processed. Got to have a little convenience! Breakfast and lunch have not really changed for me. I usually have oatmeal and toast or a breakfast ‘cookie’ and fruit in the morning – I just switched to coconut oil or peanut butter in place of butter on my toast, for instance. Lunch is mostly meat-free anyway for me, consisting of leftovers or maybe a veggie patty from the freezer. I actually began the WFPB on 2/26 since Sunday starts my week of menu plans. So far our dinners have been:

  • A salad of spinach and lettuce topped with red rice, sliced celery, shredded carrot, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and vegan mayo mixed with curry powder and mango chutney
  • A variation of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Tex-Mex salad of lettuce and cabbage, black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion with an avocado based dressing
  • A veg-full soup with lentils and lots of spices
  • A veggie stack plate from a local restaurant (pita stacked with hummus, beets, garbanzos, quinoa, more)
  • Pasta with a fresh tomato sauce; sautéed broccoli leaves; sautéed asparagus
  • Red rice and black bean filled corn tortillas, enchilada style, with homemade enchilada sauce; a broccoli salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and spring onion in a light lime dressing; and a roasted kale, fennel , and delicata squash dish
  • Thai food from a local restaurant (Asian restaurants make eating veg easy!)
  • Spring Lasagna from Mollie Katzen’s Heart of the Plate cookbook; side salad
  • Roasted Beet and Spinach salad with walnuts

 

I am not stating everyone should give up all animal produce for all time. Humans are omnivores, meaning we can digest and assimilate food from animals and plants. Each person must decide for themselves. However, the way too much of our animal or fish protein is produced today makes the quality far inferior to the meat our grandparents ate. Factory farms where cattle, pigs, or chickens live in filthy, overcrowded conditions, are fed with feed not suitable for anyone’s consumption, and dosed with hormones and antibiotics whether needed or not and fish farms where the water is extremely contaminated, the fish are overcrowded, and again the feed is not suitable – these conditions are not how animals should live. The animals are stressed and therefore their flesh is of poor quality and reduced amounts of vitamin E, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Plenty of studies point to improved health and lower risk of modern lifestyle diseases in people who eat plant based diets. Reductions in diabetes, obesity, and some heart disease are most often cited. Some people simply don’t like the look, smell, mouth-feel, and taste of meat. And some religions prohibit eating the produce of animals. Whatever your reasons, if you have thought about ‘going veg’ give it a try, it could be interesting. Commit to a reasonable length of time – no less than two weeks – and see how you feel. I’ll post updates on my progress as the month proceeds!

I’ll begin with a confession – adopting a raw food diet is not for me! So why write about it? Well, I know there are many high-profile proponents of this style of eating so I wanted to understand it better in case clients ask about it. And since I learned some things, I thought you might like to also!

The raw food diet basically means eating foods that have not been cooked or at least not heated over ~115°F. There is no *one* raw food “diet” – the ways of following vary among adherents. Even the maximum temperature that foods can be warmed to without being considered ‘cooked’ varies. There are those who eat 100% raw food and those who eat 60-85% raw, with the remainder of their diet cooked foods. Raw meat (think sushi, sashimi, steak tartare, and some cured meats), raw (unpasteurized) dairy, and raw eggs are included by some raw foodists; many avoid these foods altogether. Some eat soaked or sprouted grains and others stick to only vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds. All of the plans I read about exclude processed foods, refined flours and sugars, all or most vegetable oils, and coffee. Most stress using organic produce as much as possible. One person writing on being ‘fully raw’ stated one should not eat vinegars, salt, oils, or spices, and should limit good fats like avocados and nuts, and frozen or dehydrated fruits and veggies.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this eating style? Proponents believe that cooking destroys vital nutrients and enzymes in food, and even causes toxicity in the food, so they believe raw food has more nutrients. They believe a raw food diet helps with weight control, and that it will help new followers lose weight. It’s thought eating raw fruits and veggies can reduce acidity in the body and help alkalize it. And there are claims that raw food is easier to digest and moves through the digestive system more quickly than cooked food. Some writers made other claims about protection from other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It is said people eating raw have more energy, better skin, and lower blood pressure. Disadvantages include the difficulty of eating out, whether at a friend’s house or at a restaurant; the additional prep time needed to make a meal – more chopping, blending, sprouting, dehydrating, etc.; limitations on what can be eaten; it is more difficult to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in the right proportions; increased risk of food borne illness and pathogens from commercially sold produce; and a follower must understand how raw differs from cooked in foods like broccoli and cauliflower, which contain compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens may block thyroid function but are deactivated by heat, so eating lots of raw cruciferous veggies could lead to thyroid problems.

As with most health topics on the web, this one has believers and deniers, wild claims for and arguments against. I saw a whole lot of claims with no explanation of their basis in fact. I read an article of how eating this way nearly killed someone. Well-known doctors speak up for it and others speak against it. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda both promote cooked rather than raw foods. My take? I think the general guidelines for a raw diet are good, in that they include a lot of vegetables and fruits, little or no animal protein, no processed ‘junk’ food, and no refined sugars or flours. They promote organic, whole foods. Raw or cooked, eating this way is way better than the typical western diet. The plans seem flexible so they allow people who want to call themselves “raw foodies” can eat mostly raw but maybe include some lightly cooked food. And for those who do want some cooked foods, the recommendations are for light, gentle cooking – not fried or grilled to a blackened state. I question the claims of easier digestion, and this is one claim that was made without any citations of studies to back it up; in fact, articles weighing pros and cons were more likely to offer explanations of how this is not true. Claims of enzyme and vitamin loss from cooking were perhaps over-stated. Produce loses much of its nutrition the longer it waits past harvest and certainly cooking can add to that loss. Many cooking methods do not appreciably destroy nutrients, and even enhance some nutrients. A few articles stated that cooking makes food acidic, but this is not always true; also, our body determines our blood PH from many factors and constantly regulates it, and food does not change that. However, reducing some naturally acidic foods like meat, cheese and some grains is good for you, just not for your PH balance.

This way of eating is not for me because while I eat a fair amount of raw vegetables and fruits, I also like steamed veggies, hot soups, casseroles. And bread and pasta. I think the human race made giant strides in evolution because we learned to cook food, and those strides wouldn’t have happened if cooking destroyed nutrition. Many diseases that have become common in western, developed nations are due to poor eating habits, over-processed foods stripped of nutrition, and over- or under-consumption of foods due to ever changing food guidelines.

What do you think? Would you want to eat this way, or do you already?

Today I want to dive into Michael Pollan’s famous quote of “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” On the surface it is pretty simple, and I do like simple! But as I listened to some videos of Michael discussing food topics I realized I may not fully understand the depth of its wisdom.

Eat food. Sounds easy.  But by this he means actual food, not food processed into something else that resembles food but is very far removed from its origin. Would someone from 100 years ago recognize the food? “Food” means it is not full of hydrolyzed protein, mono-glycerides, natural flavoring, saccharine, etc. We should seek food items grown the way nature meant, not by using industrial methods that strip the earth of nutrients, pollute the ground and water with pesticides, degrade the lives of animals in feedlots and factory farms, and give cause for deforestation. “Pasteurized processed cheese food” is not food in the context of this quote, for instance. We should eat corn – fresh off the cob or frozen, or as cornmeal, perhaps – grown by a real farmer, not by a corporate conglomerate, and not turned into one of the hundreds of ingredients you would not suspect are derived from corn. Choose meat as close to how it came from the animal, like a steak or chicken breast and not the ground up bits mixed with cellulose to produce ‘lunchmeat’ or ‘chicken’ nuggets. Yogurt is milk cultured with specific strains of bacteria, that’s all – not necessary to include added sugar, fruit, gelatin, probiotics, and more. Oats are easy to cook – there’s no need to process oats to death so they can come in a little envelope with “real and artificial flavorings” added.

Mostly plants. Meaning the edible parts of vegetables, fruits, grains, mushrooms, and even flowers. Simply prepared fresh vegetables are most delightful. Eat whole grains like brown rice, farro, and wheat berries rather than grains ground into flour; although whole grain flour is more nutritious than bleached white flour it still impacts blood sugar and insulin levels. Enjoy all of the apple or an orange and not just the juice that can be extracted. Edible flowers add color and flavor to a lovely fresh salad. These foods provide us with almost all the nutrients we need for health, and with the variety of colors and textures to be found they are satisfying for our aesthetic taste buds as well. There are so many different plant foods and so many ways to combine them into delightful dishes, I think it would take a lot of years of cooking meals to ever repeat the same dish if you didn’t want to! Pollan stresses that humans are omnivores and some of us will not find satisfaction with a strictly plant-based diet. Yet if western cultures ate more plant foods and less animal foods, we’d have better health, our land would have better health, and the world would see less environmental damage.

Not too much. Don’t eat until you are stuffed, stop before you feel full. Many cultures, where food scarcity is not a problem, teach their young to eat only until they are 2/3 full or 4/5 full or until they no longer have hunger. Be mindful of portion size; many of us were taught to clean our plates, so when we overload it to start with, we are set up to overeat. Don’t feed your boredom, anxiety, or depression by mindlessly snacking or eating when you aren’t even hungry. Sit at a table when you eat and pay attention to what you are eating – you will derive more satisfaction from the meal and become more aware of how much you eat. It will help you learn when to say when. Consider sharing an entrée with your companion at restaurants, especially those whose portion sizes are large. Eventually they may get the idea of reducing portions to normal size. By eating this way, you not only help your own health, you help reduce food waste.

So, sound and simple advice. Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Common sense, really. No need to count calories, fat grams, carbs. No need to worry about the next bad-for-you-food story, because you are eating a moderate amount of a variety of foods and skipping controversial additives. You are eating a balance of fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Add water and exercise and you’ll be in the pink!

Hydroponics, Aquaponics, Vertical farming. What are they? Can these methods of growing produce be deemed “organic”? The USDA’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) met recently and this was one question they considered but tabled for later review. I don’t know about you, but I have been confused by these terms and I’ve also read some claims about these methods and wondered what was true and what was marketing material. Are these methods of growing produce going to save the world from starvation? Is the produce really organic, as some producers claim? Are they really better for us and the earth than field farming? Is the vitamin and mineral content of plants grown without soil is as good as field grown crops? So I decided I needed to learn more about them. I’ll start with some definitions and then talk about pros and cons. Note that my research was focused on produce grown commercially, not home gardening.

  • Hydroponic growing is probably the best known to most of us. It’s been in commercial use for a long time, and you no doubt have eaten produce grown this way many times. (You know those tomatoes and strawberries you eat in January?) “Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Terrestrial plants may be grown with only their roots exposed to the mineral solution, or the roots may be supported by an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel.” [1]
  • Aquaponics is a newer method and from what I could find, not widely commercialized. It “is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.” [2]
  • Vertical farming is the newest method to get widespread attention although it has been around a while too. It “is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container. The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. These facilities utilize artificial control of light, environmental control (humidity, temperature, gases…) and fertigation.” [3] Vertical growing uses generally the same setup as hydroponics but in stacked trays.

Generally speaking, they are all based on the same principles. Provide a base for the seeds and seedlings, feed them nutrients, and provide light. They differ in the type of containers and different ways of providing nutrients and light, and even within the same category of method there may be differences in practice. These methods share some advantages over farming in dirt.

  • They use less water.
  • They are less likely to need pesticides.
  • It is possible to grow plants all year round, not just in warmer months.
  • Produce can be grown closer to the urban market, so less transportation costs, pollution, and time.
  • Plants grow faster and can be sold/delivered the same day as harvest.
  • Since all three methods can be operated indoors, production is less subject to weather events.
  • All these methods take less space than ground farming proportionate to yield.

But there are also negatives to these methods.

  • Primary is the high electrical usage to power grow lights, fans, pumps, and heating or cooling systems. To grow enough food using these methods to feed the populations adherents claim they can would take far more power than is generated today.
  • There’s a limit to what kinds of plants will grow in these setups; for instance root vegetables will not grow in these methods and producing large quantities of grain would require extremely large systems, so claims of being able to feed cities via these systems are overblown.
  • Hydroponics and vertical systems are not growing plants just in water; they need nutrient inputs which may not be organic and not better than synthetic fertilizers used on fields.
  • In aquaculture the fish waste provides nutrients for the plants but the fish still have to be fed, and most fish meal is made from ocean fish, which may have high levels of mercury or other contaminants.
  • The cost of produce grown this way puts it out of reach of many people it is intended to feed.
  • In hydroponic farming, periodic replacement of the solution results in large amounts of fertilizer-rich water to dispose of that can promote algal growth and be a threat to aquatic ecosystems.
  • Some people find that the flavor of crops raised without soil is watered down or less prominent than in soil grown crops.

Proponents of these methods claim their produce is organic because they don’t (usually) use pesticides. But that is not the only definition of “organic”. Cornucopia, staunch defenders of the organic label, state “Language in the Organic Foods Production Act and the current federal regulations clearly indicate that good soil stewardship is a prerequisite to qualify for organic certification. In 2010 the NOSB reinforced the soil prerequisite by passing recommendations that reiterated the prohibition of hydroponic certification. The National Organic Program never acted on these recommendations. Since then, an industry-friendly USDA has allowed some of the largest certifiers, including California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Quality Assurance International (QAI), to certify hydroponically produced tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and berries at an alarming rate.” [4] This is very controversial, when one certifier would allow the label and another would not.

Vertical farming, or gardening as some refer to it, also gets a knock from opponents for its even more vast need of power for lights than the other methods. Since the trays of plants are stacked atop each other there is no chance of all the plants getting natural light even if the roof is clear and there are large windows, so all the plants need plenty of artificial life to grow. Is creating the amount of additional power that would be needed for large-scale operations the best thing for the environment? Some people claim solar or wind power could help, but the plants grown in these methods need continuous light so in areas where the sun or wind is inconsistent this would not help.

One of the arguments for soilless growing is that the world is running out of arable land. This is not quite true. Worldwide there is more than enough arable land to grow the crops needed to feed the world. But too much land has been devastated by poor management – overgrazing, too many chemicals, poor irrigation management, and modern agricultural practices. “(B)ecause agricultural land is often degraded and almost useless, producers keep on moving to more productive land. Globally, the land used and abandoned in the last 50 years may be equal to the amount of land used today.” [5] Another issue is confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), with thousands or tens of thousands of cattle or hogs confined to lots. These animals are fed grains which require vast acreage, dedicated to feeding animals which we will eat. If humans were to reduce meat consumption and not expect the price of meat at the grocery to be less than the price of tomatoes, land managers could restore all the land needed for growing food crops. The question of nutritional comparison is inconclusive – some studies find more nutrition in soil crops and some studies report more from soilless crops – there have been few objective studies done.

In conclusion, I do not think huge soilless operations are the answer to world hunger. Better management of what we already have is a more viable option, with soilless-grown produce supplementing field output. These methods also need continuous improvement to reduce the need for electricity and get prices to a level that less affluent people can afford. Finally, I could not consider these methods organic. I feel there is a symbiotic relationship between soil and plants that provides an overall better environment, and that is a big part of what “organic” means for me. How do you feel about this?

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroponics

[2] https://www.theaquaponicsource.com/what-is-aquaponics/?v=70f73ee5133f

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertical_farming

[4] https://www.cornucopia.org/2016/11/corporate-interests-nosb-wash-hands-organic-soil/?utm_source=eNews&utm_medium=email&utm_content=11.26.16&utm_campaign=HydroMORE

[5] Carey C., Oettli D. (2006) Determining links between agricultural crop expansion and deforestation. A report prepared for the WWF Forest Conversion Initiative.

I just got back from a visit “home” – to St. Louis where I had spent most of my life. It was mostly chilly, cloudy, and rainy. Brrrrr! But we had left cloudy days here in Arizona and returned to cloudy days, with cool temperatures. So I am feeling like I need soup and chili and other hot dishes. Not to mention my hostess and sister-in-law mentioned making some ham and bean soup… So here are a few recipes for soups we like in cool/cold weather.

Chili
I used to use ground beef in chili but mostly don’t anymore. You can certainly add some to your version of this, in addition to or in place of the grains. Also, I like a fair amount of spice but have been called wimpy, so adjust the spices according to your palate. Cornbread goes nicely with this!

About 2 cups cooked farro or barley or wheat berries
About 2 cups cooked beans (navy, black, pinto, cranberry, or combination)
1 15 oz. can fire roasted, diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 medium-large onion
1-2 T. chili powder
½ – 1 t. crushed dried red chilies
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the grains according to directions for the type you choose, but not quite as long – they should be par-cooked. Cook the beans the same way – according to type but remove from heat and drain when they are still quite firm. These will cook more in the chili mix.
Chop the onion and saute in water or bit of oil until softened. Stir in the spices and cook ~ one minute. Add the tomatoes with the juices. Add the grains and beans. Stir to combine, bring to a good simmer, then reduce the heat for a slow simmer. Cook about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir several times and check liquid level – if it’s getting too dry add a bit of water or if too wet for your taste turn the heat up a bit.

 

Juan’s Chicken Soup
I may have shared this one before. It’s a spicy soup, so if you are shy of heat you may want to skip it or tone it down with less Rotel style tomatoes. Quick to make, yummy to eat!

2 boneless chicken breasts without skin or 2-3 boneless chicken thighs without skin
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 10 oz. cans Rotel® tomatoes with green chilies
½ large onion, chopped
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
4-5 oz. frozen sliced okra
1 T. Worchestershire® sauce
½ c. brown rice
Put all ingredients into large pot. Bring to a boil, stir. Turn heat to low and simmer 45 minutes (to cook rice). Simmer at least 30 if not adding rice. Remove chicken and cut into chunks then stir back in to the soup.

 

Ham & Bean Soup
What better use for the ham bone left from a holiday dinner? Soup! This is a classic and there are probably hundreds of ways to make it. But here is mine. I use a crock pot, start this in the morning, and it’s ready by dinner time.

1 pound split peas or small white beans
Large onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
Hot water
Ham bone, we prefer it with some meat still on
Black pepper
Salt*

If you use split peas, no need to soak. If you are using small white beans, you may want to refer to this page on how to cook them. (I have always soaked dried beans so have not tried not soaking them for this recipe. So I would soak them overnight and probably use the soaking water in the next steps.)
Put the peas/beans in the crock pot and add hot water to cover them about 2 inches. Add the ham bone and onion, bay leaves, and pepper. Stir. *Salt – I do not add salt until the soup is nearly done. Ham can have quite a bit of salt in it, so I prefer to let it flavor the soup and add salt if needed at the end.
Turn the crock pot on high to get it heated, if you have time before dashing off to work; then turn to low. If not, just start it on low. Stir a few times during the day, if you can. Check the peas/beans for doneness after 8-9 hours, they should be ready. Remove the ham bone and cut off any meat that didn’t fall off and add it back to the soup. Taste for salt, stir well, enjoy!

 

Coconut Curry Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
My variation of one I found in Vegetarian Times magazine. This soup has a lot going on! Don’t worry that it is hard just because there are a lot of ingredients.

Large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium head bok choy, chopped, and leafy parts separated from white parts
1 t. chili powder
1 t. curry powder
~ 1 t. cinnamon
~ 1 t. cumin
< 1 t. cayenne pepper, to taste
4-6 cups vegetable broth
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils
1 large sweet potato, diced
~ ½ bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
Arrowroot powder or organic cornstarch, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste

Put ingredients onion through lentils into a large pot, using 4 cups broth and only the white parts of bok choy. Stir to blend. Bring to low boil then reduce heat to low simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to check liquid level; add more broth if the soup is too thick. The lentils should be tender by now.
Add the diced sweet potato and cook 15 minutes more or until potato is tender. Add the kale and the bok choy leaves and cook another 8-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If the soup is too brothy, you can mix about 2 T. cornstarch or arrowroot into a little water and add to the soup, bring the heat up and stir until broth thickens a bit.