Food for Thought

A Thought about Healthy Eating

I’ve noticed something lately. It seems, to me, that many people are stuck in a never-ending cycle. They complain about being tired, about being depressed, about feeling sick, about not having any energy. All the while, they eat something sugary for breakfast (if they eat breakfast at all), followed by a sugary latte or energy drink or pop. They talk about dieting, about giving up carbs, about eating healthy. By lunch they’ve crashed from all of the sugar, yet still reach for another energy drink, sometimes forgo lunch.

I can’t help but wonder at which point in life does this cycle change? If it doesn’t happen in your twenties, surely it will be harder to change once you hit your thirties. And then parenthood comes (if it hasn’t already) and suddenly you have children to nourish. But how can you nourish a child if you can’t properly nourish yourself? How can you feed a child “kid food” and expect them to pick up healthier habits when they get older, the very healthy habits you struggle with yourself?

And why is it such a norm for Americans to reach a certain age and suddenly have to start relying on an entire range of pills to survive?

What if people just started to eat food. Real food. Throw away the pop, the energy drinks, the sugary snacks, the processed meals. Say no to fast food and save the lattes for special treats, not daily drinks.

What if people woke up every day, ate a healthy breakfast and had enough energy to run several miles. What would we accomplish, as a civilization, if people woke up more energetic and happier every day?

What if we throw away the concept of “kid food.” Instead of feeding kids chips, pop, hotdogs, french fries, sugary cereals and juices, we instead teach them, from birth, to love fruits and vegetables and the real food that will actually nourish their body, not hinder it?

What if people went into parenthood and old age with the healthiest body possible?

It’s just a thought.

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To Soy or Not to Soy

Most food is straightforward. It’s either good for you or not. But when it comes to soy, everything I read seems to say something different. Some people praise soy. They say it’s a wonderful vegetable protein that has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease, cholesterol, and cancer. Japanese women eat a lot of soy, after all, and they have much lower rates of breast cancer than westerners. Yet other sources say that soy actually increases your risk of cancer, can cause infertility, and developmental problems in children. Is anyone else really confused?

After reading a lot of various articles over the past year, I’ve figured a few things out:

First of all, there are two different kinds of soy.

Unfermented Soy

This includes tofu, soymilk, soybeans and the various forms of soy powder found in a lot of processed foods. Unfermented soy contains phytochemicals, which are used to protect the plant from predators. During the fermentation process, these phytochemicals are removed. The phytochemicals in unfermented soy, however, can cause a breakdown of your immune system. Unfermented soy also contains isoflavones, a.ka. plant estrogens. The bottom line is that scientists don’t know yet what these estrogens do to our bodies. And as for the fact that Japanese women have lower risks of cancer, well, there are so many other parts of their daily lifestyles that are vastly different than the typical American’s that it’s hard to say that soy, and only soy, is the reason.

Fermented Soy

This includes soy sauce, miso, tempeh and natto. This soy is actually good for you, and that’s something all scientists and nutritionists can agree on. Why? The fermentation process lowers the levels of isoflavones and phytochemicals.

So should you avoid unfermented soy? From what I’ve read (and I’m certainly not an expert), women with a family history of breast cancer should avoid it, men hoping to father children should limit it, and parents should be very cautious feeding it to children. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of tofu, so avoiding that is easy for me. Same with soymilk. And I try not to buy anything that has soybeans or soy powder in it. As for the fermented soys, thank goodness soy sauce is on that list, for I really can’t imagine life without it. And I have yet to cook with miso or tempeh, but plan on incorporating that into recipes soon.

Here’s some further reading, for anyone who’s interested:

http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/2009/08/is_soy_healthy

http://www.livestrong.com/article/470624-what-is-unfermented-soy/

 

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The Seafood Lover’s Dilemma

I love seafood, and, if I lived closer to the coast, I could easily give up all meat and just live off of seafood. I’m a great-great granddaughter of a halibut sea captain, after all. It’s in my blood.

Eating seafood is a constant dilemma for me, though, as I’m sure it is for many other ocean lovers out there. On the one hand, I’m constantly hearing about how good fish is for you. The Omega-3s found in seafood are very important, especially for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers, and it can’t be found anywhere else. Yet I’m also constantly hearing about how much the oceans are overfished. Though the news so often focuses on oil spills and floating plastic in the ocean, the biggest threat to marine life is industrial fishing. I love seafood, but I also love the oceans. So what do I do?

Luckily there are many organizations out there that are trying to make it easier for consumers to buy sustainably-caught seafood. I personally love Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide. They even have an app, so when I’m standing at the fish counter or looking at a menu, I can check the app and try to figure out what to buy. Here’s the one problem, though. With so many different fishing methods out there, and so many different names for fish, it can be confusing. For example, Atlantic cod is a good choice if it’s from Iceland and caught using a hook-and-line. Atlantic Cod from the Gulf of Maine, caught with the same method, is not as good of a choice, and Atlantic cod caught by trawl is an altogether bad choice. Plus there’s the issue of mercury in seafood, which is yet another thing I have to think about. More often than not, by the time I make a choice, I’m not confident I chose the right thing.

That’s why, when I saw the new book The Perfect Protein The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the WorldI was intrigued. It was written by Andy Sharpless, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the ocean conservation group Oceana. Surely, if anyone could help me figure out what to eat and what not to, he could.

Now that I’ve read it, I can highly recommend it to any seafood lovers out there. He certainly doesn’t say to stop eating seafood. As the title of his book states, he’s the first to acknowledge that fish are the perfect protein and how many people depend on it to live. Though I encourage anyone who eats seafood to read his book, I’m going to share many of his tips here, because it’s crucial knowledge if you want to help save the oceans, and I know perfectly well not everyone will actually read the book.

So here we go. Some tips on how to make better seafood choices:

Fish to avoid, or eat less of:

  1. Don’t eat fish from fast food places like McDonald’s or those frozen fish sticks found in a box. I know. You’re shocked that I’m saying this, right? Really, it’s not just because I hate McDonalds and fast food in general. There’s another reason. The fish caught for these items is called pollock, and the pollack fishing industry is a billion dollar business. Cheap fish for the masses may seem like a good idea, but it comes, like so many other cheap things, with a heavy price. It is caught off of Alaska, where the chinook salmon are found. These fish could easily sell for at least $17 a pound, yet when they’re caught as bycatch, they’re thrown back into the ocean. During the best year so far, due to strict regulations, only 8,000 chinook were caught as bycatch. During the worst year, 130,000 were caught. Why is this a problem? The native people of Alaska depend on that fish to live. One family needs about 120 to make it through the winter. Their main food source is thrown back in the ocean and wasted, just so that the world can get cheap fish through a drive through window. Think about it. 
  2. Avoid fish that are caught with trawls, driftnets, gill-nets, and longlines. These are the methods that catch a lot of bycatch, including sharks, turtles, and dolphins.
  3. Avoid farmed carnivorous fish, such as salmon. At first, farmed fish sounds like a good idea. You’re raising fish instead of taking them out of the ocean, right?  Yet it can take at least 5 lbs of wild fish to feed a farm raised salmon. So in order to raise a fish, you need to kill wild fish and a lot of them. These wild fish could be feeding people in developing countries, not fattening up a salmon. Plus farmed fish often carry diseases that can pass to their wild counterparts and raising fish can damage the environment. And FYI: There’s no such thing as wild Atlantic salmon anymore. If it’s from the Atlantic, it’s farmed. (I did not know this until reading this book.)
  4. Avoid, or eat very little of, the large predator, top of the food chain fish. Avoid sharks and swordfish. They reproduce slowly, which makes it difficult for them to rebound when overfished. And when the top of the food chain is in trouble, the entire ocean suffers. Women of child-bearing age and children should especially avoid shark and swordfish. Since they are top of the food chain, they are high in mercury.
  5. Be cautious of fish caught around other countries, especially Asia. According to the book, “the FDA is supposed to inspect foreign seafood, but it actually looks at only about 2 percent of the millions of metric tons of seafood that arrive in the United States every year.” Seafood fraud is a big issue, so buy from sources and fishmongers who fillet the fish themselves.
  6. Eat less shrimp. Until reading this book, I had no idea how much damage shrimp causes. Gulf of Mexico shrimp are found in the same areas as endangered sea turtles. Shrimp trawlers kill hundreds of endangered sea turtles every year. In fact, according to The Perfect Protein, “76 percent of the marine life that shrimp trawlers haul up isn’t shrimp at all.” Instead it’s shark, red snapper (which is very endangered), and sometimes up to 9,000 sea turtles a year. Is farmed shrimp better? Unfortunately the industrial farms spread pollution and disease. In the end, eating less shrimp is the only answer.

Fish to Eat:

  1. Shellfish (except for shrimp). Farmed clams and oysters actually improve the quality of the ocean because they are filter feeders. 
  2. Wild Fish, especially the big fish, such as salmon.
  3. If you eat farmed fish, choose types of fish that eat vegetarian diets, such as catfish and tilapia. US catfish is actually a very sustainable choice.
  4. Small, oily fish. I confess the thought of eating sardines and anchovies isn’t exactly appetizing to me. Like most Americans, I only know anchovies as the things that are on Caesar salads and sardines as those gross things in a can. Many other countries, such as Spain and Italy, eat sardines and anchovies daily. Numerous chefs in the US are trying to change our attitude towards these little fish. Chefs such as Alton Brown and health advocates such as Andrew Weil eat sardines for lunch on a regular basis and for good reason. These fish have even more Omega-3s than salmon and, because they are small and towards the bottom of the food chain, they are low in toxins and reproduce quickly, which makes them a very sustainable choice. Plus they are in abundance, though most of the ones caught these days are used to feed livestock and farmed salmon. I, for one, am determined to get over the ick-factor and give them a try.
  5. Eat fish that are caught with pole, troll, hook-and-line or harpoon. Say goodbye to bycatch.
  6. If you don’t live on the coast where you can rely on an expert fishmonger, shop at Whole Foods. Unlike Kroger and other chain stores, Whole Foods refuses to sell red-listed seafood. It also displays where the seafood comes from and gives the Monterey Bay rating. Plus they fillet the fish themselves, which greatly reduces the chance of seafood fraud.
  7. Eat as local as possible. Obviously hard for me to do, living in Ohio, but eating a fish from US waters is almost always better than eating one caught on the other side of the globe.

The above  just barely highlights the amount of information you will find in this little book, so once I again I strongly encourage any seafood lovers out there to read it. (It also has recipes and an excellent Suggested Reading list.) And help spread the word. The fishing industry will only start to change once consumers demand it.

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Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Cook.

When I decided to start this blog, I did so with one big thing in mind: I was determined not to be intimidating. I don’t want anyone to ever look at my blog and think, “I could never do that.” Sure, I do some crazy, time consuming recipes sometimes, such as the Asian dumplings. But most of the recipes on here, including those time-consuming ones, I strongly believe that anyone could do. I am, after all, just a twenty-something year old who loves to cook.

I do believe, though, that the “foodie” world can be very intimidating to those who aren’t used to being in a kitchen. Food magazines are filled with page after page of perfect looking food. The stars on Food Network always deliver flawless dishes.

Yet what people don’t see is the work that goes into creating those perfect images and shows. One photo in a food magazine, for example, can easily take half a day to shoot. Not only is there a photographer present, by also at least one food stylist. The final plate of food that is shot has been touched and fiddled with so much that most photographers say that they would never eat it.

And as for the cooking shows, unless it’s a show like Top Chef or Iron Chef, they can do as many retakes as necessary to make sure everything looks flawless.

As for me, though I certainly don’t have a food stylist, I can still turn a plate to only photograph the side that isn’t burnt, and I can take 50 or so shots of one plate of food and only post the one that makes it look good. I don’t post everything I cook. Most days, I cook three meals a day, and notice that you don’t see all of those meals. I just post the ones that turn out right. 

But trust me, I’m far from perfect in the kitchen. I make mistakes. A lot. So I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn’t only show the good things. I’ll let you see the bad things too.

And so, I’ll begin my making a list of the things that are bound to happen in a kitchen, and why you shouldn’t let these things stop you from cooking.

Not everything turns out that way it should.

  • Some recipes aren’t worth trying again and others take work. Pick the ones worth working on and keep trying until you get it right.
  • Take tonight, for example. I decided to try a new recipe. It was Alice Walter’s method of baking salmon. I followed exactly what she said, but when I pulled it out of the oven, it just didn’t seem like it was cooked enough, so I put it back in. I’m still not sure if I overcooked some of it or not, yet it tastes wonderful and I plane on trying it again until I can do it with confidence.

You will burn things.

  • Every time I make pancakes, I burn at least two of them.
  • I burn bread on a regular basis.
  • I’ve even managed to burn things that I didn’t know could burn.

You will burn yourself.

  • I burn my arms on a regular basis, but that other day I managed to burn my leg and foot as well. How? I was doing a chicken stir fry and, when I dropped the chicken in the wok, the oil splattered and hit my leg and foot. It’s been over a week and my leg still looks like this:

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You will make a mess.

  • Anyone who has ever lived with me will tell you that I’m a messy cook. This is what my kitchen looks like tonight:

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Yes that’s rice on the floor:

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You will do really silly things.

  • Just tonight, I put mushrooms in a pan and after five minutes couldn’t figure out why they weren’t sizzling. It took me several minutes of staring at the stove to realize that the burner wasn’t on.
  • A few weeks ago, I managed to dump half a bottle of paprika on a casserole.
  • I once caught a potholder on fire.
  • The first time my mom and I tried to brine a turkey, we chose a container far too small. Let’s just say that it ended with turkey-contaminated water all over the floor and my mother.
  • Nearly every time I make pizza or roast vegetables, I forget to turn a fan on and, therefore, set the smoke alarm off.
  • More than once, in the past couple months, I’ve grabbed a hot pan without potholders.

Why do I tell you all of this? To make you afraid? No, just the opposite. I want you to see that even someone who cooks as much as I do, still does all of the above on a regular basis,  yet I still plow on. If you let things like this stop you, you’ll never learn to cook.

After all, even Julia Child made mistakes.

And some more Julia Child quotes: 

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” 

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed — eh bien, tant pis! Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.”

And my favorite:

“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?”

So need I say more? Just start cooking. Make mistakes. Burn things. Drop things. Make a mess. And more importantly: Never apologize. Have fun!

 

 

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Food for Thought: Fast Food and Children

The type of food a child is introduced to in his early years determines the kind of food he will crave throughout life. That’s why children in France or Italy have very different food preferences than children in America.

The fast food industry knows this and spends a large amount of its time marketing to children. A child raised on a diet high in fat, salt, and sugar will crave those things throughout his or her years.

Plus there’s the smell factor. About 75% of taste comes from smell, and smell has a powerful ability to bring back memories. The smell of fast food can immediately take an adult back to the warm, happy memories of childhood. A meal at McDonald’s becomes a walk down memory lane and a source of comfort after a long day.

It’s rather simple for the fast food industry: Get a child hooked on fast food and that child will most likely be a customer for life.

So, what kind of flavors and traditions will you introduce to your toddler?

 

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