Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We Used To Have 307 Kinds Of Corn. Guess How Many Are Left?

Just a brief look at the biodiversity loss in our modern food system. Biodiversity is like a bank for nature, the more you have in it the more you make, the more you take out the closer you are to going ecologically bankrupt.

Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Parsnips

If you cooked and ate solely based on the first impressions of others, you might never let a parsnip pass your lips. An online search yields the kind of reviews guaranteed to make aspiring parsnip eaters run in the opposite direction. Here’s a just a small sample of the bad press:

“About as exciting as it is colorful.”

“Looks like an anemic carrot.”

“Evoke[s] memories of school cafeterias and Dickensian images of orphanages.”

Even among the cheerleading minority, the parsnip tends to be praised conditionally and with restraint.

Says Brit food writer Nigel Slater in his book Tender: “I haven’t always loved the parsnip,” further explaining it took until later in life for him to warm up to the homely root vegetable.

The late great food doyenne Jane Grigson, an unapologetic parsnip fan, writes in her Vegetables book: “Never serve them straight from the water, any more than you would appear at the dinner table dripping from the bath. Only asparagus and Aphrodite can get away with it.”

Despite her disappointment that the parsnip is a “valuable vegetable that is perennially ignored,” produce scholar Elizabeth Schneider acknowledges its “fairly frumpy and pallid” appearance in her tome, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.

And yet, in these final weeks leading up to the vernal equinox, seasonal produce pickings   are, frankly, slim, which means the parsnip (and its underground brethren) are what’s on the menu. Best we stop listening to the parsnip punditry, live in the produce moment and find out what the ‘snip is all about. 

A Brief History

The story is that the wild parsnip probably hails from the southern part of Europe, around the Mediterranean, and most likely cultivated since Roman times.

Roman scholar Pliny the Elder refers to pastinaca in his Naturalis Historia in first century AD, but many historians claim that he was referring to both the parsnip and its more pigmented cousin, the carrot. Around the same time, Roman gastronome Apicius included recipes for parsnips in his cookbook De Re Coquinaria.

From there the root migrated north and found its way into the medieval gardens of France, Britain and Germany. In his book Cabbages and Kings, culinary scholar Jonathan Roberts notes that Charlemagne insisted that parsnips be grown on his 9th century estate. U  ntil the potato arrived from the New World, the parsnip was the apparent root of choice in medieval Europe, providing both humans and their livestock starchy sustenance (parsnips still have a reputation as animal feed) and it was a sweet alternative to honey, which was scarce. Easily fermented, the parsnip was made into both beer and wine, a practice that continued on the other side of the Atlantic well into the 19th century.

Factual Nibbles

Before the parsnip made its way to colonial America, it stopped off in the West Indies, which was too hot for the cold-loving root. First colonial stop was Virginia, then it migrated further north to Massachusetts and was revered by native American tribes.

In his cookbook 50 Chowders, Boston-area chef Jasper White writes that “Westfield, Massachusetts is to parsnips what Castroville California is to artichokes (i.e. America’s capital).” Unfortunately, we can’t find any supporting evidence to this claim, but western Massachusetts is potato country, so we’ll take the chef’s word for it.


Botanically known as Pastinaca sativa, the parsnip is part of the larger Umbelliferae family, which includes carrots, chervil, parsley, fennel, celeriac and celery. If you think about it, all of these plants have a similar, herbaceous yet slightly sweet aroma. 

Etymologically, the word pastinaca comes from the Latin word pastinare, which means ‘that which is dug up’ (the French word is pasnaie; in Russian, it’s pasternak) and the “nip” suffix is derived from naep, an Old English word for turnip which comes from the Latin napus.

Environmental Impact/Seasonality

Because it’s not grown on a massive scale, the parsnip is excluded from the Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  Depending on where you live, you may find it in your supermarket produce aisle, but more likely at the farmers’ market. The parsnip is a great example of seasonal, local produce that is truly at its peak during the coldest months of the year. Buying parsnips (or anything else) from local farmers presents a great opportunity to ask growers about production methods as well as recipes and favorite ways to prepare. For two-thirds of the country, you’ll see parsnips until the early weeks of spring. (See our veggie rule of thumb*.)


The stories are true – the parsnip does look an albino carrot, usually a shade of pale yellow, ivory or off-white. Contrary to popular belief, the parsnip is not a genetic mutation of the carrot, but the two are botanically related. The parsnip tends to have a thinner tip and typically is sold without its green tops, which can irritate the skin. In the course of my research, both the words “spindle” and “dibble” made frequent appearances to describe its physical characteristics.

As sweet as the carrot is, the parsnip is even sweeter. In fact, a frost will intensify its sugar content and residual sweetness. Vegetable gardeners claim that the parsnip is one of the few root vegetables that happily stays underground to “winter over,” a nifty tip for those gardeners with limited indoor storage space.


The parsnip can do your body good. One cup of raw parsnips contains six grams of fiber, at 100 calories. It’s rich in potassium and a respectable source of calcium, iron, Vitamin C and folate. It is being studied for its cancer-fighting properties, which come from a phytochemical called falcarinol.

What to Look for

The perfect ‘snip sounds like a bit like something out of Goldlilocks: Firm but not woody, and definitely not too soft. One should not be able to bend a ‘snip.

What to Do with It

Nigel Slater insists that “to get the best out of this vegetable, you need to caramelize the sugars present in the flesh and introduce an element of richness with butter, cream or spices. There is little excitement in a plainly boiled root.”


Remember, this is a hardy vegetable suitable for storage, so long as you keep it dry. Wrap in a towel or perforated bag, and your ‘snips should keep for a few weeks. Wash and peel just before cooking.

Cooking Tips

Roasting coaxes the nuttiness out of parsnips, but I agree with other cooks that a quick parboil is a good idea, to help soften the starch. Before coating in fat for roasting (or sautéing), be sure to towel dry the parboiled parsnips or you’ll end up with steamed parsnips instead.

The next time you’re making mashed potatoes, add one or two quartered parsnips to the mix, along with a whole clove of garlic. You’ll end up with a mash that’s a little bit earthier, with a hint of sweetness and a whole bunch more nutrients.

The ‘snip likes warm spices – ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, curry, cardamom (as you’ll see in the recipe below), and likes sugar in all forms, from maple syrup to the granulated stuff.

I love the idea of poaching parsnips in coconut milk from The Organic Cook’s Bible by Jeff Cox: “Poach quartered roots in barely simmering coconut milk until almost tender, then finish by sautéing them in a little butter with a pinch of salt, and at the end add a splash of coconut milk from the poaching liquid and reduce it until it glazes the roots.”

On my to-do list is a recipe from Diane Morgan’s new cookbook, Roots, in which she suggests adding sautéed diced parsnips to spaghetti carbonara for a twist on an old classic. Instead of peas, I might add a bunch of chopped fresh parsley to the mix.

Morgan also has a recipe for a triple layer parsnip cake, an idea that might seem peculiar on first blush. But as mentioned earlier, parsnips are even sweeter than carrots, which make it into baked goods all the time. Why not parsnips in the bakery case?

Inspired by this notion, I came up with my own version, a single-layer coffee cake made in a Bundt-style pan. Spiced up with cardamom, cinnamon and candied ginger, and further sweetened with apples, this homey cake is a revelation that just might change your tune about ‘snips, vegetables in dessert and who knows what else.   


Parsnip-Apple-Cardamom Coffee Cake


2 to 3 medium-size parsnips, cleaned, peeled and root removed
2 medium-size crisp apples of choice, peeled, cored and quartered
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ ; teaspoon salt
¼ ; cup candied ginger, chopped finely
¾ ; cup neutral oil (grapeseed, safflower, rice bran)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
½ ; cup milk (or unsweetened non-dairy alternative; I used fortified coconut milk with success)

Thoroughly grease a 9 or 10-inch Bundt-style cake pan. (This is also known as a tube pan.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a box grater or a food processor with a shredding blade, shred or finely grate the parsnips and apples. You’re looking for 2 cups of grated parsnips and 1 cup of grated apples. Combine and set aside.

In a medium-size bowl, place the flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and candied ginger.

In a large bowl, place the oil and the sugar and “cream” with a handheld electric beater until well integrated and somewhat creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until mixture is light yellow and color and somewhat fluffy, about 2 minutes. 

Fold one-third of dry ingredients into the egg-sugar-oil mixture, alternating with half of the milk, beating with each addition. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in the parsnips and apples, until well integrated.

Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan, and place the pan on a baking tray. Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a baking rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes before inverting onto a plate. Allow to completely cool before serving.

Makes 12-14 servings.

(*Fruit and vegetable rule of thumb: We think that first and foremost, in terms of nutrition, people should eat lots of fruits and vegetables whether they are organic or not. The EWG’s guide is a handy list, but we will point out here that the impacts of pesticides are not limited to your ingestion of them – agricultural chemicals also affect farmworkers and local waterways, both good reasons to buy organic, even those vegetables that carry a light pesticide load. Also, it has been demonstrated that produce grown by small-scale farmers, even those who are not certified organic, tends to have a lighter pesticide load than its industrially-produced counterpart, owing to industry’s tendency toward large monocrops.)

[source: ecoCentric]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

3 Vital Foods for Vibrant, Youthful Skin

If you’re on the search for the Fountain of Youth like millions of other people, redirect your attention to these amazing functional superfoods that have been proven to slow the anti-aging process through their nutrient dense,
antioxidant-rich, and wrinkle-fighting compounds!

Raspberries may be small, but don’t be fooled by their size; this tiny berry can do more for your skin than you think! Raspberries are a rich source of vitamin C, ellagic acid, and anthocyanin. Raspberries provide a stronger base for forming collagen with an extra 50% of the vitamin C content of strawberries. Ellagic acid inhibits the formation of cancer-causing cells reducing your risk of infection, and anthocyanins are a natural inflammation suppressant and collagen stabilizer—yes, all of these benefits are bursting out of this little berry!

Pumpkin Seeds:
Pumpkin Seeds are one of the many wrinkle-fighting seeds out there. Packed with essential amino acids, zinc, vitamin E, copper, and much more nutrients, pumpkin seeds are vital for vibrant skin. However, one of the greatest reasons to snack on pumpkin seeds is their high content of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids reduce inflammation, redness, and leave your skin good as new!

Rhubarb is a great (and underestimated) source of elasticity building nutrients to prevent fine lines and promote the growth of hair and fingernails. This vegetable is rich in silica, which is known as the source of youth for healthy bones, nails, hair, and skin. Silica works as an anti-aging mechanism by allowing the body to better absorb nutrients, restoring collagen and elasticity, while fortifying blood vessels too.

[source: YogAnonymous]

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Another Reason to Eat Organic

Just when you thought science was saying organic food has no nutritional value, another study from the University of Granada has found a direct correlation between exposure to pesticides and the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults.

Published in the Journal of Environmental Research, researchers found that people who had higher concentrations of DDE (which is the main metabolite in pesticide DDT) also were more likely to develop diabetes - four times as likely, in fact.

Furthermore, higher exposure to a compound in the pesticide Lindano (beta-Hexachlorocyclohexane) was also linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Results took into consideration the age, gender, and body mass index of 386 adults surveyed. The findings, however, could help explain body fat's link with type 2 diabetes. Researcher Juan Pedro Arrebola notes that "human adipose tissue (commonly known as 'fat')... can store potentially harmful substances, such as persistent organic pollutants (COPs)."

The direct effect of pesticides on type 2 diabetes is still unknown, although researchers suggest that these compounds can affect the metabolism of sugars. Still, it might be another reason to splurge on organic food. A study from Stanford University found that 38 percent of non-organic food had pesticide residue, compared to 7 percent of organic produce.

[source: The Daily Meal]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Statewide GMO Labeling Initiatives Still Going Strong

After the pledge to avoid products containing GMOs was denied when California’s Proposition 37 failed to pass during the election last November, it has had little affect on the anti-GMO movement. And with talks of the FDA approving genetically engineered salmon on its way, Americans are increasingly in favor of more food labeling with an overwhelming percent of Democrats, Independants and Republicans in favor, according to the National Survey of Healthcare Consumers: Genetically Engineered Food published on Just Label It!.
For more than 10 years, processed foods in the U.S. are made from genetically modified crops manipulated in laboratories. A movement to eliminate such ingredients in food has brought about awareness and posed questions regarding the negative effects of biotechnology on human health and the environment. While some scientists say GMO doesn’t pose a threat to either, many state-initiatives bills and campaigns continue to try and reach legislation in an effort to mandate labeling at the federal level.
Washington and New Mexico are just two of the 30 states that are gaining ground on their current initiative to mandate labeling. But, with most of the remaining states also behind the movement through proposed bills and campaigns, the anti-GMO movement is far from over.
ArizonaGMO-Free Phoenix is a food activist group working to educate consumers on safe ingredients and increase the Non-GMO Tipping Point Network to see that the genetically modified foods and brands are put out of business.
California— While the majority voted against Prop. 37 in recent elections, the Right to Know campaign continues to support Prop 37 through events and the education of people on their right to know what’s in their food.
ColoradoGMO Free Colorado is a grassroots effort to protect residents and pass a statewide ballot requiring GMO labeling of foods.
ConnecticutThe Northeast Organic Farming Association, Conn. Chapter is a non-profit organization working toward strengthening sustainable farming and providing consumers with healthy food. While the bill, HB 5117 was recently removed from legislation before Prop. 37 went on the ballot, the organization is commitment to pass legislation in favor of GMO labeling through events and word of mouth.
FloridaLabel GMO Florida is a grassroots initiative to bring to ballot the requirement of GMO labeled food. By 2014 the organization is determined to vote on the initiative.
HawaiiLabel It Hawaii is working to promote and pass the proposed bill HB2034/SB2443 in order to give residents the right to know what’s in its food. A series of proposed bills have made it to the Senate thanks to a group of supportive anti-GMO senators.
Idaho—Part of the GMO Free campaign, Idaho is working as a state to raising awareness and promoting local, organic and GMO-free foods.
Massachusetts—Also part of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Mass. Chapter, the non-profit organization supports organic farming and brings awareness to what's in food and where it is coming from. The state has proposed a bill, H3276, to label food, but has yet to gain legislation
MichiganNo GMO for Michigan is a grassroots attempt to educate residents about the food they eat and the direct effect it has on their overall health. Through planned events and protests in an attempt to urge Congress to take action, the organization strives to provide residents the option to eat healthy.
MinnesotaRight to Know Minnesota is working to gather supports of GMO labeling to pass through legislation through their proposed bill,  S.F. 2563. The coalition is speaking out in favor for people's right to know what is in their food.
New Jersey—A proposed bill, HB 1367, through the efforts ofLabel GMOs in New Jersey was made possible through Girl Scout Troop 86 and introduced to the Senate where it will be heard by several committees. Their efforts are being used to gain a choice in what people eat.
New York—Part of the GMO Free campaign, New York is working to bring awareness about the affects of GMO and educate residents on the right to choose.
North Carolina—The state-proposed bill, HB 446, is part of the overall GMO movement to pass the labeling into law.
Ohio—Also part of the GMO Free campaign, the state is working to bring awareness to residents about what they are eating and where it is coming from.
Oregon—A statewide effort to pass legislation through proposed bills, SB 517 & HB 3346, GMO Free Oregon and Right to Know campaigns are initiatives to bring awareness to the people.
Rhode Island—Proposed bill HB 7494 was introduced in the Senate and was referred to the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee. The committee asked the bill be reviewed further, which Rhode Island is asking residents to make their voices heard by raising awareness and continuing to support the initiative until it is passed into law.
UtahMillions Against Monsanto under the Utah Chapter is a non-profit organization that is challenging Monsanto for the harm caused by GMO and trying to stop the use of GMOs.
Vermont—A proposed bill, HB 722, was introduced to the Senate in 2012 and referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, which held a hearing on the bill. This legislative session was a big gain in the GMO labeling initiative and will continue to be part of political conversation in upcoming elections.
Virginia—Also proposed a bill, HB 606, in the Senate to pass GMO labeling was initiated by Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel, but has yet to be heard by a committee.
WashingtonLabel it Washington is working to pass the People's Right to know Genetically Engineered Food Act, I-522, to the Title 70 RCW. The campaign received over 350,000 signatures and the initiative was submitted to the Secetary of State in January.
Besides the grassroots campaigns throughout the states, more than 600 companies have formed a partnership with the Just Label It! Campaign to protect consumers’ right to know what’s in their food and petition against the FDA. These brands support the movement and believe the practice is their responsibility, political or not.
Residents are also urged to call their state representative and make their voices heard by bringing to their attention the hazards of GMOs and the people's right to know.
While more than a million signatures have been collected over the past months and proposed bills at the state legislature level continue to move forward, many said the denial of Prop 37 actually increased the movement with national efforts at an all-time high.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

'In Organic We Trust' focuses on food industry's foibles

A new documentary from director Kip Pastor examines how food production affects our social, economic and physical health. 

Filmmaker Kip Pastor (left) in a scene from his new movie, 'In Organic We Trust.' (Photo: Emma Fletcher)
Is organic food really better for people — and the planet? Filmmaker Kip Pastor endeavors to answer that question in his documentary "In Organic We Trust" (available On Demand and on iTunes starting Jan. 22) as he explores social and economic aspects of our food system and its impact on our health. Pastor, who has produced and directed short films documentaries and music video and is also a journalist, gave MNN his insights into the topics he chronicles on screen.
MNN: Where did you get the idea for the film?
Kip Pastor: I became a filmmaker because I believe that film is the most effective medium for disseminating big ideas and effecting change. The story for "In Organic We Trust" weaves together environmental, social and economic issues with something that we all do everyday — eat. Food provides a complete path for us to better understand our world, what we’re doing wrong, and how to create a more sustainable society. "In Organic We Trust" explores how these issues relate and impact our world and what people are doing to make a difference.
Why was it important to you to tell this story?
Before I began making "In Organic We Trust," I thought that I was a healthy, conscientious eater. I looked at labels, ate fruits and veggies, and avoided fast food as much as I could. But the more and more that I learned about our agriculture system and the consequences that our systems have on public health and the environment, the more I realized how much everything is connected. Our personal choices make a difference not just for us but also for everyone else. I was compelled to show people how we can positively impact our own lives and those of our communities. I learned a tremendous amount, and it has profoundly changed my life.
What are some examples?
One scary thing is that while we ban some of the most harmful chemical pesticides in this country, they are still used in other countries where they can hurt farmers, their workers, their families and the environment. Sometimes, they can even come back to us in contaminated imported foods. Although certified organic is a $30 billion enterprise, it represents only roughly 1 percent of farmland. It is not the only way to reshape agriculture and improve public health. We have to think bigger. Along those lines, I was blown away by the ingenious and powerful solutions that individuals and communities are doing to combat our agricultural and public health problems. "In Organic We Trust" explores many of these new models at the Watkins School in Washington, D.C., and the Calhoun School in New York City. (Check out a trailer for the movie below.)

Have you changed your diet as a result of making the film?
I’ve changed many things in my life already and continue to change. It has been less about the things that I don’t do anymore and more about the things that I do more often. I shop at farmers markets more, and I pay more attention to the restaurants that I frequent and where/how they source their food. I don’t exclusively eat organic, but I try very hard to only eat food that is chemical-free, in season, and grown by someone I know. It’s important for me because I know that pesticides are dangerous for people and the environment. By eating seasonally, I am reducing my carbon footprint, supporting local growers, and enjoying the diversity of every time of the year. What I eat affects how I feel daily, and it impacts our world in the long term. Although I was a practicing vegetarian for several years, I enjoy some meat and fish. I try to limit the amount of red meat that I eat. I religiously practice Meatless Mondays as a good way to start off the week. It’s a very intentional approach to avoid meat that usually carries over several days into each week. It’s been a great conversation starter as well.
What do you want viewers to take away from the documentary?
The most important parts of the film are the solutions. I wanted to make a film that examined problems and provided solutions for you and me and society at large. We can all make different choices in our own lives, but even more importantly, to really create change, we need to make different choices as a society. What we eat affects our own personal health as well as the health of the environment for generations to come. One of the most profound things that we can do is to have gardens in schools, teach children about nutrition by growing something, learning how to cook it, and serve it to them for lunch. I believe that we can fundamentally reverse many of our public health problems in one generation if we teach kids how to grow healthy food, what to eat, and how to prepare it. Can you imagine a world full of young farmers? That’s the future we need. We can grow something good for everyone, and change will happen from the soil up.
What was done during production to reduce the film's carbon footprint?
During pre-production, we made a very intentional plan to reduce our carbon footprint wherever we could. Having worked in production for years, I knew that filmmaking can be extremely wasteful and inefficient. I sought out leaders in the Green Production space to advise me on how to make a film with fewer environmental consequences. I took a class on “How to Green Your Production” offered by the Burbank Green Alliance and also received a Resource Management Certification from California Resource Recovery Association. In order to take that education one step further, I volunteered at events around Los Angeles to better understand people’s waste patterns. There are many categories where environmental waste and carbon usage can be reduced and made more efficient. We focused on five: travel, food, crew, paper and electricity. We succeeded in greatly reducing our carbon footprint by using energy-efficient vehicles, eating seasonally and locally, hiring regionally, and minimizing electricity usage. We tracked our carbon footprint throughout production by keeping count of the miles traveled, paper used, and the electricity used in production and post-production. We worked with SNP Patagonia Sur to calculate what those emissions would total, and we purchased carbon offsets from them. We were recently honored with a Special Mention for the Green Award given at the Planet in Focus Film Festival for our diligent work throughout production to reduce our carbon footprint.
What about your personal green practices?
I do as much as I can to reduce my carbon footprint on a daily basis. At all times, I carry a metal water bottle, cloth bags, and a bamboo set of utensils. There is never a good reason to purchase a plastic water bottle or use a plastic bag. Although I live in the very car-centric city of Los Angeles, I walk as much as possible. I think little actions can have a profound impact on the environment and other people’s behavior. Not only am I personally reducing my carbon footprint, but I also hope that my example helps to change the actions of others.
Do you have another film in the works?
We are currently in the research/fundraising stage of my next film that focuses on waste and toxicity in people and the environment. When we throw things away, they stay in our environment and impact us. Many of these chemicals are found in our daily lives and don’t break down in the environment or our bodies. Like "In Organic We Trust," it will be a solution-based film that will expose problems and offer tangible alternatives for people as individuals and society as a whole. 
DVDs of the film are also available at InOrganicWeTrust.org.