Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Power of Labeling: Preserving & Building a Non-GMO Food Supply

When California Proposition 37 failed to pass at the polls last November, all of us who advocate for the right to know were profoundly disappointed. However, the measure, which would have mandated labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, garnered more than 6 million votes, and was actually a great case of "losing forward." Despite outspending of nearly 5 to 1, the initiative lost by just 2 percentage points and attracted a significant amount of national media attention.

Inspired by California's effort, nearly 40 states are now working on mandatory labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In June, Connecticut and Maine became the first states to pass mandatory GMO labeling -- though in both cases additional states need to pass similar measures in order for the laws to take effect.

This November, voters in Washington State will have a chance to pass I-522, a similar but improved version of the Prop 37 legislation. Since January, organizers in California have been sharing lessons learned with their peers in Washington, giving I-522 a solid foundation for success. As a state with an economy focused on exports--a lot of which go to countries with GMO bans--Washington is uniquely concerned about GMO contamination. With the looming threat of genetically engineered apples, salmon, and wheat--all quintessential Washington crops--even conventional farmers in the state are becoming concerned about the economic impact of GMOs.

The non-GMO movement is, at its core, about the right to know. Because GMOs are unstable and experimental, they are subject to mandatory labeling in more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, Russia, China, and all of the European Union. More research is needed to understand the long-term health and environmental implications of genetic engineering, but in the United States that research is essentially being conducted on the public, without consent.

Despite biotechnology industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offers increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any consumer benefit. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connecting GMOs to health problems and environmental damage has triggered a massive public backlash.

At the federal level, the Just Label It campaign has collected more than 1.3 million signatures on a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) petition demanding mandatory GMO labeling. Although the FDA has yet to respond, this is more than twice as many signatures as have ever been received on any food petition in the agency's history.

Americans are also voting in record numbers with their wallets. The Non-GMO Project--a nonprofit organization that oversees North America's only third-party non-GMO verification, including ongoing ingredient testing--has quickly seen its label become the fastest growing in the natural products industry. With annual sales of well over $3.5 billion, Non-GMO Project Verified products are now found everywhere from independent food co-ops to big-box retailers.

When the Non-GMO Project was founded in 2007, mandatory labeling efforts had almost completely stalled. In that void, the project's strategy was to leverage the power of the marketplace, using supply and demand principles to preserve and build a non-GMO food supply. When it began, skeptics far outweighed supporters; many said it would be impossible to get a critical mass of food companies to voluntarily adopt such rigorous standards. Six years later, the progress is astonishing. More than 1,000 brands are now enrolled in the Non-GMO Project's Product Verification Program, and more than 14,000 products have successfully earned the verification.

This market demand and the corresponding rekindling of mandatory labeling efforts clearly show Americans are not willing to remain in the dark when it comes to the food we're eating and feeding to our loved ones. The momentum will continue until we have the same right to know about GMOs in our food as our peers around the world.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Enjoy Halloween without Frightful GMOs

GMOs are the scariest elements of Halloween, so here are some tips from The Non-GMO Project on how to ward off frightful GMOs this year!

Choose Non-GMO Project Verified Treats for the Trick-or-Treat Basket

  • Nature’s Path Crispy Treats
  • Endangered Species chocolates
  • Bakery on Main granola bars
  • Funky Monkey snacks
  • Simply Fruit
  • HomeFree cookies
  • Yogavive snacks
  • Licious Organics snacks
  • EnviroKids
  • Pro Bar snack bars
  • Pure Organics snacks
  • Righteously Raw bars
  • Tasty Brand snacks
  • Theo Chocolates
  • Bites of Bliss

Non-GMO Treats & Treasures

Halloween is meant to be fun—so get creative as you look for new ways to celebrate with the kids in your life.
  • Stickers
  • Beeswax crayons
  • Non-GMO Project Verified treats
  • Polished rocks
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Coupons
  • Seed packets
  • Homemade playdough

GMOs and Children—What You Need to Know

What are GMOs?

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

What foods are GMO?

According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.

Are my children eating GMOs?

The sad truth is many of the foods that are most popular with children contain GMOs. Cereals, snack
bars, snack boxes, cookies, processed lunchmeats, and crackers all contain large amounts of high risk food ingredients. In North America, over 80% of our food contains GMOs. If you are not buying foods that are Non-GMO Project Verified, most likely GMOs are present at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Are GMOs safe for my family to eat?

Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In nearly 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.

Beyond Non-GMO: More Tricks for Healthy, Green Treats

Giving away Non-GMO goodies to trick-or-treaters is a great start, but there are other people and planet-friendly choices to consider. When buying Halloween treats and party fare, look for
  • Organic
  • Locally grown/produced
  • No high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Palm-oil free
  • No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
In addition, you may wan to consider giving away goodies or serving foods that are peanut-free, gluten-free, dairy free and/or egg fress. These are some of the the most common food allergens and with 1 in 13 kids suffering from food allergies, limiting highly allergic foods is one way to ensure that Haolloween is safe and fun for everyone.

Does your child want to go door-to-door, but you don't want him/her to consume it all? Consider trading candy fro "pumpkin points" good towards a special gift or activity or invite the Sugar Sprite to come. The Sugar Sprite (or Switch Witch) exchanges candy for a special gift! Dentists across the country also take part in Halloween Candy Buy Back Program in which uneaten candy is collected (usually at $1 a pound) and sent overseas to American Troops. Uneaten candy can also be composted (remove wrapper first).

Would GMO Labeling Jack Up Food Prices?

The push to require labels for genetically modified food, which flared up in California before drowning under a flood of industry cash last year, is now underway in Washington state. Predictably, agrichemical and organic interests are pouring money into, respectively, defeating and supporting a ballot initiative called I-522, which would require foods containing GMO ingredients to bear labels. Just as predictably, the agribusiness interests are garnering much more money to kill the effort than their organic peers are in supporting it—outspending them $17.1 million to $4.6 million, the Spokane-Review reported.

Meanwhile, in a development that broke late Wednesday, the Washington state attorney general has filed a complaint alleging that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that donated $2 million to the effort to defeat California's labeling initiative, violated state campaign laws and "spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors," according to its press release.

As in California, the effect on food prices is emerging as a point of contention. Opponents of labeling, pointing to a 2012 study prepared during the California fight by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, say that the new rules would cost consumers $350 to $400 annually per household. The Northbridge paper, though, was funded by the industry-dominated campaign to stop Prop 37, as the California initiative was known. Campaign records show that Northridge received a total of $97,371 in five payments during 2012.

Supporters of the Washington initiative, in turn, point to a rival 2012 study, this one prepared by Joanna M. Shepherd of Emory University School of Law, which found that "food prices [are] likely to remain unchanged for consumers." That study was commissioned by the Alliance for Natural Health, a group that advocates for "the right of natural-health practitioners to practice and the right of consumers to choose the healthcare options they prefer."

So which is right? Over at Grist, Michael Lipsky, a distinguished senior fellow at the progressive think tank Demos, argues that labeling wouldn't likely cost consumers much at all. The cost of changing labels would be trivial, he writes—food manufacturers "do it all the time." Ever seen the words "new and improved" on some boxed delicacy?

The Northbridge study, he shows, is based on the assumption that, in order to avoid having to declare that their products contain GMOs, food manufactures will rapidly switch over to non-GMO ingredients, which would cost more to procure. That's because upwards of 80 percent of US corn, soybeans, and sugar beets are genetically modified—and iterations of these three crops suffuse US processed foods, providing sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup and beet sugar), fats (corn and soy oil), and a litany of ingredients like various thickeners. For food manufacturers to get non-GMO versions of these substances, they'd have to pay a premium in the marketplace—hence higher ingredient costs that they'd want to pass on to consumers.

But that effect wouldn't last long, Lipsky argues. "If labeling were required, particularly if (and when) the labeling requirement is adopted by other states, demand for non-GMO versions of corn, soybeans, and sugar beets—the basic GMO crops—would increase, production would expand, and prices for non-GMO ingredients would decline," he writes. That makes good sense: basic supply and demand.

And here's something Lipsky didn't get to: Even in the short term, the effect on retail prices would likely be small. That's because ingredients make up a tiny portion of the expenses incurred by manufactures to process food and move it to grocery store shelves. Transportation, marketing, processing—all of these things cost more than the actual food in the box of cereal or frozen dinner at Walmart.

How tiny are the costs of ingredients? Consider a box of corn flakes—which are presumably made largely of GMO corn (it's impossible to know for sure, because no US state requires labeling). In this 2008 report (currently available online because it has been republished on a non-government server) on the effect of ethanol on food prices, a US Department of Agriculture researcher crunched the numbers (pun fully intended) on the how much money companies spend on corn to make your cereal:
[A]n 18-ounce box of corn flakes contains about 12.9 ounces of milled field corn. When field corn is priced at $2.28 per bushel (the 20-year average), the actual value of corn represented in the box of corn flakes is about 3.3 cents.
And what happened after the corn ethanol program pushed corn prices up to $3.49 per bushel—a 49 percent jump? The total cost of corn in the cereal box rose to 4.9 cents. In other words, paying a 49 percent premium pushed up the corn cost in a box of corn flakes a grand total of 1.6 cents. An 18-ounce box of corn flakes contains 18 servings—meaning that much-pricier corn translated to an increase of less than 0.1 cents per bowl. For a family of four that consumes four bowls of flakes every day, that's about $1.46 extra for the year.

So even if manufacturers had to pay a hefty premium for non-GMO corn, the retail price of food would barely budge. Whatever you think about GMO labeling, the concern that it would significantly jack up food prices is probably specious.

Monday, October 28, 2013

8 Foods Even The Experts Won’t Eat

Food scientists are shedding light on items loaded with toxins and chemicals–and simple swaps for a cleaner diet and supersized health. Experts from different areas of specialty explain why they won’t eat these eight foods.

Clean eating means choosing fruits, vegetables, and meats that are raised, grown, and sold with minimal processing. Often they’re organic, and rarely (if ever) should they contain additives. But in some cases, the methods of today’s food producers are neither clean nor sustainable. The result is damage to our health, the environment, or both. So we decided to take a fresh look at food through the eyes of the people who spend their lives uncovering what’s safe–or not–to eat. ” Their answers don’t necessarily make up a “banned foods” list. But reaching for the suggested alternatives might bring you better health–and peace of mind.

1. The Endocrinologist Won’t Eat: Canned Tomatoes

Fredrick Vom Saal, is an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A.

The problem
: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people’s body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. “You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young,” says vom Saal. “I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”

The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe’s and Pomi. Exposure to BPA Causes Permanent Damage In OffSpring

2. The Farmer Won’t Eat: Corn-Fed Beef

Joel Salatin is co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming.

The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. But more money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. “We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure,” says Salatin.

The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It’s usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don’t see it, ask your butcher.

3. The Toxicologist Won’t Eat: Microwave Popcorn

Olga Naidenko, is a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group.

The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize–and migrate into your popcorn. “They stay in your body for years and accumulate there,” says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.

The solution: Pop organic kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix. Make it organic and use coconut oil. If You’re Still Eating Microwave Popcorn, You’re Not Fully Grasping The Health Consequences

4. The Farm Director Won’t Eat: Non-Organic Potatoes

Jeffrey Moyer is the chair of the National Organic Standards Board.

The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes–the nation’s most popular vegetable–they’re treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they’re dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. “Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won’t,” says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). “I’ve talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”

The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn’t good enough if you’re trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.  Budget tip: Organic potatoes are only $1 to $2 a pound, slightly more expensive than conventional spuds.

5. The Fisheries Expert Won’t Eat: Farmed Salmon

Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, published a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.

The problem: Nature didn’t intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. “You could eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer,” says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. “It’s that bad.” Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.

The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it’s farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.

6. The Cancer Researcher Won’t Drink: Milk Produced With Artificial Hormones

Rick North is project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society.

The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. “When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract,” says North. “There’s not 100 percent proof that this is increasing cancer in humans,” admits North. “However, it’s banned in most industrialized countries.”

The solution: Buy raw milk or check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products. The Sour Facts About Milk.

7. The Biotech Specialist Who Won’t Eat Conventional Soy: GMO Unfermented Soy

Michael Harris is biotech specialist who has directed several projects within the biotech sector including those for genetically engineered food. He has been a consultant, manager and director for companies such as Xenon Pharmaceuticals and Genon Corporation.

The problem: Genetically engineered food is a cause of great concern due to the manipulation of DNA and genetic code including transfers from one species to another. Fermented soy is the only soy food fit for human consumption and since almost 90% of soy in the world is genetically modified, if you are not ensuring sources are organic, long-term health problems are inevitable, especially since soy has been found to affect hormonal balance and even cause cancer.

The solution: Check labels to ensure soy is Non-GMO or organic and never consume unfermented sources. If possible contact the company to find out exactly where the Non-GMO soy was obtained.

8. The Organic-Foods Expert Won’t Eat: Conventional Apples

Mark Kastel, a former executive for agribusiness, is co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods.

The problem: If fall fruits held a “most doused in pesticides contest,” apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don’t develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it’s just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. “Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers,” he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson’s disease.

The solution: Buy organic apples or apples from a farmer that you trust!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar For Healthier Skin and Hair

The skin and hair care industries are behemoths, making stacks upon stacks of money by promising healthier hair and brighter skin. They often use clever marketing to play off our insecurities, telling us if we were just less freckly, more even-toned, tanner, lighter, or brighter, we would be beautiful. They follow that up with offering a solution in the form of a cream, serum, oil, or face wash. But, you don’t need these products. You can save your money and get healthy, happy skin with products found in any grocery store. Today’s grocery store beauty solution: apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can be used on everything from warts to dandruff, but it also has a place on the vanity of someone with the occasional blemish or dry hair. (And beyond skin and hair health, apple cider vinegar uses are nearly endless.) ACV is an all natural product made from apples; unpasteurized or organic apple cider vinegar contains the mother, making it look slightly foggy or sedimentary – this is the type of ACV you want to use on your skin and hair.

For Your Skin

There are two ways to reap the benefits of ACV for your skin: by taking it internally or applying it topically. Internally, you can heal your skin from the inside-out by taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar each day. Be warned, you may not enjoy the taste so much. But whether or not you do enjoy it, ACV should be diluted in some water. Add some optional honey if you need it to be more palatable.

Topically, you can apply ACV diluted with water to tone your skin, reduce blemishes and promote a more balanced complexion. Because it can be harsh for sensitive skin, start by diluting ACV with water at a 1:4 ratio. You can increase the water by a quarter every week as your skin adjusts.

For a lone pimple, apply the ACV directly (without diluting) with a cotton swab.

For Your Hair

Used on the hair, apple cider vinegar can smooth the cuticle, making your hair appear smoother and shinier. It does this by balancing pH levels unlike commercial shampoos that strip the hair and leave it looking rough, dry or dull. It also removes buildup and can help with dandruff and an itchy scalp.

Simply use ACV as a rinse. Dilute it with equal parts water and dump over your head while in the shower. Give it a moment to sink in before rinsing.

For other hair tips, check out this diet for healthy hair.

A Note on the Smell

One of the biggest hang-ups people have about using ACV is the smell. Yes, this is a vinegar so it does smell a little like a salad or pickles. But that smell quickly dissipates. If you use it on your face, for instance, the smell is gone as soon as the ACV dries. You won’t smell like a salad bar all day and your skin and hair will thank you for the gentle and natural treatment.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Freeze Peppers

If you like frozen peppers in the winter, just imagine how good it would taste if you had picked a bag yourself and then quickly froze it at home!  It is also one of the simplest ways to put up a vegetable for the winter. Here's how to do it, complete instructions in easy steps and completely illustrated. The peppers will taste MUCH better than any canned or frozen you've ever had from a store. And if you'd rather can your peppers, see this page.

Directions for Freezing Peppers


  • fresh peppers - any quantity (about one handful per serving)


  • 1 Large pot of boiling water
  • 2 large bowls, one filled with cold water and ice.
  • 1 sharp knife
  • Vacuum food sealer or "ziploc" type freezer bags (the freezer bag version is heavier and protects better against freezer burn.


Step 1 - Get your peppers!

Start with fresh peppers - as fresh as you can get.  Select crisp, tender, green or bright peppers. If there is a delay between harvesting and freezing, put it in the refrigerator or put ice on it. And don't use peppers that are old, limp, overripe or dried out (see below):

Step 2 - Wash the peppers!

I'm sure you can figure out how to rinse the peppers in plain cold or lukewarm water.

Step 3 - Slice the peppers in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into smaller pieces

Cut out stems, cut in half and remove seeds. If desired, cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings.
Of course, if your prefer Julianne cut peppers, you can cut the peppers lengthwise in thin strips instead or chop into smaller pieces.

Step 4 - Decide how you will be using them later

This determines how you will prepare them
  • If you will be using them heated (in cooking):
    • Then you will need to water blanch them - go on to Step 5
  • If you will be using them in uncooked foods where you need a crisper texture, or possibly still use them in cooked foods:  
    • Skip to Step 7

Step 5 - Blanch the peppers

  • Get the pots ready. Get the pot of boiling water ready (about 2/3 filled) and a LARGE bowl with ice and cold water.
All fruits and vegetables contain enzymes and bacteria that, over time, break down the destroy nutrients and change the color, flavor, and texture of food during frozen storage. peppers requires a brief heat treatment, called blanching, in boiling water or steam, to destroy the enzymes before freezing. Blanch the pepper halves for 3 minutes; and strips or rings for 2 minutes.
  • Then cool them promptly in a large bowl of ice water for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and package, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Seal and freeze.
The duration is intended to be just long enough to stop the action of the enzymes and kill the bacteria.
Begin counting the blanching time as soon as you place the peppers in the boiling water. Cover the kettle and boil at a high temperature for the required length of time. You may use the same blanching water several times (up to 5). Be sure to add more hot water from the tap from time to time to keep the water level at the required height.

Step 6 - Cool the peppers

Cool peppers immediately in ice water. Drain the peppers thoroughly. After vegetables are blanched, cool them quickly to prevent overcooking. Plunge the peppers into a large quantity of ice-cold water (I keep adding more ice to it). A good rule of thumb: Cool for the same amount of time as the blanch step. For instance, if you blanch sweet peppers for 7 minutes, then cool in ice water for 7 minutes.
Drain thoroughly.

Step 7 - Bag the peppers

I love the FoodSavers vacuum sealing - these things really work.  If you don't have one, ziploc bags work, too, but it is hard to get as much air out of the bags.  Remove the air to prevent drying and freezer burn. TIP:  If you don't own a vacuum food sealer to freeze foods, place food in a Ziploc bags, zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When straw is in place, remove air by sucking the air out.  To remove straw, press straw closed  where inserted and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove straw.

Step 8 - Done!

Pop them into the freezer, on the "quick freeze" shelf, if you have one!


  • Harvest the peppers at its peak maturity but not old - mushy! Younger is better than older
  • Process promptly after harvesting, or keep cooled in the fridge or with ice until then.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can they be frozen?

It depends upon how cold is your freezer and how you packed them.  Colder (deep freezes) are better than frost free compartments, which actually cycle above freezing (that's how they melt the ice).  Vacuum packing results in longer storage capability, too.  Thicker bags also help prevent freezer burn.

In general, up to 9 months in a ziploc bag in an ordinary freezer, and 14 months in a deep freeze in a vacuum packed bag.  After that, they peppers won't make you sick; they just won't taste a s good.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nut Butter Battle: Almond vs. Peanut

In recent years, almond butter was somehow anointed the chosen nut butter among health-conscious eaters, who smear it on their sprouted breads and gaze upon peanut butter as its low-brow relative.

But the creamy almond treat is not cheap (it's often about double the price of peanut), and when pressed, most people really can't tell you why they're willing to splurge.

So, we asked top nutritionists and health coaches to really break down the health differences between the two nut butters we're obsessed with most. (That is, unless you've already moved on to the new superfood-infused nut butters).

Which is better for you—almond or peanut? Welcome to the nut butter battle...


When it comes to the big guys—carbs, protein, and fat—almond and peanut butter are like fraternal twins. "You can see a gram difference here or there, but it doesn't really make a difference," says Pure Nutrition founder Christian Henderson, MS, RD. A single two-tablespoon serving of either is high in calories (200) but comes with lots of protein (about 7g) and healthy fats.

Some nutritionists and health coaches point to almond's slightly higher concentration of good fats, but the difference is nominal. "Almonds have a little bit less saturated fat, but I feel a little bit silly saying that, since they're so close," says SPE Certified's senior culinary nutritionist Natalia Hancock, RD.


Within the nitty gritty nutrients is where a difference starts to emerge between the butters.

"Almond is better for vitamin E and magnesium, which are two very important micronutrients," Henderson explains. "Vitamin E is an antioxidant and magnesium is important for bone health and your central nervous system." This is especially powerful since vitamin E is not found in a wide variety of foods.

Almond butter also has more calcium and iron than peanut.

Natural and Organic

No matter which nut butter you're choosing, looking out for added sugar and preservatives is a must; ingredient lists should include little more than plain old nuts. You can satisfy this requirement with either butter, but "when you go shopping for almond butter, it's almost all natural brands, you don’t see the Jiffy," says health coach and Sakara Life founder Danielle DuBoise. "It's just easier to choose a natural, no-added-sugar, no-preservatives almond butter."

And when it comes to organic, you have to be more careful with peanuts, says Henderson. "Peanuts are just one of those crops like soybeans and corn that are so overgrown and overprocessed in America. They're hard to grow, so many pesticides are often used on peanuts," she says. "If the peanut butter is not organic, you don’t want to be anywhere near it."

Other Factors

Aside for nutrition facts, there are a few other factors experts consider. Peanuts crops are susceptible to fungi called aflatoxins, which are associated with an array of diseases. The FDA does regulate the presence of aflatoxins, but some say you can't be too careful. "I worry about that, so I just err on the side of caution," DuBoise reasons.

Henderson also says that she's noticed from observations in her practice that almond butter has worked better for her clients struggling with weight loss. "Peanuts just tend to be more addictive for people; almonds tend to be more filling." Peanuts also may cause more bloating, since they're technically legumes, not nuts.

Taste and Uses

Of course, since both butters can be part of a healthy diet, a lot of decisions come down to which just works better, for your taste buds or whatever you're whipping up in the kitchen. "They each have their own place," says Hancock, who works with top chefs to create flavorful, healthy meals around the country. "I think peanut butter tastes better with bananas and almond tastes better with apples."

And while almond butter works really well in smoothies, peanut butter does tend to have more culinary uses, she says. "I'll use peanut butter in a stir fry, Thai style, and I do a really great African spicy sweet potato soup with peanut butter in it that’s really delicious."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Organic vs. Local Produce: How To Choose, When You Have To

It’s a bourgeois dilemma, to be sure, but it’s one many produce-loving healthy eaters face: If your neighborhood farmer’s market only sells local blueberries grown with pesticides and the organic ones at your grocer have been flown in from Chile, which do you buy? In an ideal world you’d always have access to berries that fulfill both criteria, but that’s not generally the case.

“I dealt with this yesterday with a client,” culinary nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN, told me as soon as I presented her with the question. “It’s all about learning how to negotiate.”

We spoke with Sacks, along with local-leaning Juice Generation founder Eric Helms, and the health coach Urban Detox Club co-founder Jen Morris for a well-rounded perspective on the many factors to consider, plus easy tips to help you pick:


1. Pesticides and nutrients. 

To avoid gross chemicals altogether, organic is definitely the way to go. But small farmers selling roadside cucumbers may also be using less pesticides than a giant industrial operation; they may even be partially organic, but not up to USDA-certification standards. And if you’re buying the veggies through a third party, they may be checking for you. “We take great pains to meet our farmers and ensure that, certified or not, they’re using sustainable methods and following organic best-practices,” says Juice Generation founder Eric Helms, a huge proponent of local sourcing. It’s just hard to know. Local produce is also going to be richer in nutrients, since it’s been picked more recently.

2. Environment and community.

“If you’re trying to be a conscious consumer, local is usually better,” Urban Detox Club’s Jen Morris says. Not only is it way better for the planet, it also means your dollars are going directly to the person growing your food and supporting the local economy.

3. Taste and appearance. 

As anyone who’s ever opened a plastic box to find already limp, wet arugula knows, when it comes to flavor and prettiness on a plate, local wins. “It goes without saying that local produce—produce harvested just the day before it’s delivered to our USDA Certified Organic production facility—retains a vibrancy with which imported products could never compete,” says Helms.


1. Talk to the farmers. 

“The people at the market are often the ones growing the food,” says Morris. “Ask them what their practices are like.” If they’re using GMO seeds and spraying pesticides like it’s going out of style, you can always politely move on.

2. Use the Dirty Dozen

Both Sacks and Morris suggest using EWG’s list of the top 10 most pesticide-laden foods as a guide. For the foods that top the list, make sure you go organic, even if it means you can’t do local. For those that tend to hold on to less residue, like those on the Clean 15 list, stick to local, even if it’s not organic. This is the kind of grocery shopping negotiation that Sacks recommends.

3. Consider the volume. 

“The amount you’re eating matters,” Sacks says. So if you’re eating an apple every day, for example, you’d better buy the organic bag. If you’re just eating a few slices with almond butter once a week, buy the New York State ones that have been sprayed. “If it’s not something you’re eating a lot of, I wouldn’t get yourself too crazy about it.”—Lisa Elaine Held
[via Well + Good]

Stinging Nettle: How To Identify, Harvest, and Eat

It’s unbelievable how much food you can collect from the wild! Our society is so accustomed to running to the grocery store for food that foraging for wild edibles has become a novelty instead of a necessity. Our ancestors not only knew how to identify wild plants that were edible, but they also wisely used this free bounty of nature.

Now that we’re learning more about edible wild plants, we have had several meals and snacks made up of weeds, plants, berries, and vegetables we harvested while out walking. (And no, we didn’t have to steal them from anyone’s yard!) Recently we had a beautiful salad with chickweed and dock, embellished with some of our favorite salad toppings. But one of our new spring favorites is sautéed stinging nettles with pasta or veggies.

Why stinging nettles?

Stinging nettle definitely lives up to its name – it will sting like crazy if you brush up against it or handle the plants without wearing gloves. But this nuisance of a plant is highly nutritious and readily available in most areas, making it one of the perfect wild plants to consume.

When cooked or dried, nettles completely lose their stinging properties, making them perfectly safe for consumption. You can steam, sauté, or boil them and enjoy with a meal or in soups. You can also make a wonderful tea with the leaves, sweetening with honey and lemon. Use them in any dish you would normally use spinach. They have an earthy, wholesome flavor that you’re sure to enjoy if you enjoy other greens.

Stinging nettles are also packed with nutrients. They are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and full of calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Nettles are also a wonderful source of protein. Seriously!

Finding and harvesting stinging nettles

Nettles will begin popping up in early spring, and can be found all across North America. Its proper habitat is in sunny places where there is rich, moist soil. You’ll find them growing along rivers, streams, lakes, ditches, fencerows, and on the edges of cultivated farm fields. When Matt and I walk along one of the nearby rivers, we always notice it growing abundantly as a “weed.”

Stinging nettle will grow in dense clusters, and stalks can reach 5-8 feet at maturity. Leaves are about 2-5 inches long with jagged edges, found in opposing pairs along the upper half of the stalk.  Leaves are pointed at the tips, with a heart-shaped base and indented veins. The plant will have small “hairs” up the stalk and stems. (This is where the sting comes from!) Young plants will have smaller, heart-shaped leaves with a purple-ish hue, while the mature plants have longer, pointed leaves that appear very green. (For more pictures, click here.)

The best time to harvest nettles is the first few weeks after they come up in the spring, before they grow to be a foot tall. Wearing gloves, pick the first two or three pairs of leaves from the tops of plants. Carefully place nettles into a paper or plastic bag for transport. Nettles can still be harvested into summer, but keep in mind the top few pairs of leaves will be most tender, and stalks and stems will be very fibrous.

Once you are ready to use your nettles, use kitchen tongs to remove from the bag and place in a colander to rinse well. To avoid stinging, continue using tongs as you transfer your nettles from the sink to the stove.

Sautéed Nettles With Onions and Pasta

(Makes 2-3 servings)

You will need:
  • 8 cups stinging nettles, rinsed well and chopped into smaller pieces if desired (use tongs while rinsing and dealing with nettles)
  • ½ cup spring onions or ramps, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp butter, preferably pastured
  • 2 Tbsp other fat, like bacon grease, coconut oil, lard, etc. (we like bacon grease)
  • ½ cup cooked ham, cubed (optional)
  • 1 cup noodles, uncooked
  • sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • freshly grated parmesan

Boil water and cook noodles. Strain noodles, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside. Melt fats in a large skillet on medium heat. Add spring onions and sauté for a few minutes. Using tongs, carefully add nettles to skillet and toss in fat and garlic until cooked down. Add optional cubed ham and toss until warm. Add noodles and gently toss all ingredients together to combine. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan and enjoy!

We eat this as a complete meal, but it can also be served as a side dish.

Spring is the perfect time to find tender stinging nettles, so start foraging and take advantage of this natural free food source!

We highly recommend these books if you’re interested in learning more about edible wild plants:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eco-Friendly Ways to Decorate Your House for Halloween

Hosting a hoard of ghost and goblins for Halloween? No party is complete without spooky decorations, but most of the stuff now crowding the store aisles is made from plastic, toxic paints and synthetic fabrics.

Setting the stage for a scary Halloween party doesn’t require all of this spending and waste. In fact, you can create some truly festive Halloween decorations with stuff you already have lying around the house and have lots of fun doing it!

Invite some friends over for a pre-party craft-making night and bask in the knowledge that most of these 9 eco-friendly Halloween decorations can be recycled or simply dismantled when the holiday is over:

1. Upcycled Egg Carton Bats

If you’re an egg eating family, you probably send an egg carton into the recycling bin every week. Save a few, add some non-toxic paint and ribbon, and you’ll have these adorable upcycled bats from Happy Clippings.

2. Thrift-Store Scarecrow

Scarecrows are the perfect way to dress up your porch or yard, but why spend the money to buy one pre-made? Dig out some unused clothes from your basement (flannel shirts, funny dresses and work jumpers work best) or find some appropriate garments at the local thrift store. Stuff with leaves and other yard waste from your own lawn. Tie off arm and leg openings with string before stuffing into boots and gloves. Once your scarecrow body is properly positioned, top off with a pumpkin head and hat.

3. Upcycled Milk Jug Skeleton

Gather up seven empty plastic milk jugs and you’ll have the perfect materials for this jolly hanging skeleton from Make Zine.

4. Mini Cheesecloth Ghosts

Leave it to Martha Stewart to turn every day waste into adorable table decorations. Layers of starched cheesecloth, some used paper towel rolls and a little wire give these little specters their haunting postures. Tutorial here.
5. DIY Halloween Garland
If you have some cardboard or office paper sitting in the recycling bin, this simple Halloween garland from 6ftMama is the perfect way to give it a second life.

6. Mad Scientist Lab

Use Mason jars or upcycled pickle, olive and baby food jars to create a mad scientist tablescape. Toss food, animals toys or other strange objects into the jars, fill with water and non-toxic food coloring, and you’ll have a shelf full of freakish Halloween experiments. Check out the tutorial at MoneyCrashers for step-by-step instructions.

7. Mini-Pumpkin Wreath

For those who prefer a more classic seasonal look, this mini pumpkin wreath from Armelle Blog is the perfect DIY project. Best of all, it’s easy to disassemble and compost when Halloween’s over.

8. DIY Reusable Halloween Window Decals

All you need is a roll of recycled paper and some eco-friendly paint to make these super-spooky homemade window silhouettes from Inhabitat. Once the holiday’s over, just roll them up and save for next year.

9. Trash Bag Tarantula

With just a few materials you probably have lying around the house, you can create this creepy crawler from Spoonful for a lawn decoration. Use biodegradable garbage bags, or be very careful not to poke holes, and you can reuse them when Halloween is over.

[via care2]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bananas just as good as Gatorade for sports performance

As the battle between naturally functional and functionally fortified rages on, a recent study scores a hit for bananas. 

A recent study recruited 14 trained cyclists to ingest either bananas or Gatorade during 75km of high-exertion time trialing to see how each carbohydrate and nutrient source affected performance and recovery. They found no difference in performance measures between the two energy sources.

Great. But do we need scientists to conduct a study to tell us this? How about we simply look at the nutrient profiles of each and use a little common sense.

According to Gatorade, an 8 oz serving of the Original G contains 50 calories, 110 mg of sodium, 30 mg of potassium, and 14 g of carbohydrates. But who drinks 8 oz of Gatorade in a sitting? The average Gatorade RTD bottle you’d pick up at the store is 32oz. So that’s really 200 calories, 440 mg of sodium, 120 mg potassium, and 56 g of carbs.

According to Nutrition Data, one cup of mashed raw banana (this sounds like about 1 large banana to me) offers 200 calories, 51 g of carbs, 806 mg potassium (23% DV), only 2.3 mg of sodium, plus 60.8 mg of magnesium, 60.8 mg omega-3 fatty acids, nearly 41% of the DV of B6, and 33% DV of vitamin C.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that Gatorade has long been my go-to for that extra boost on long hikes, runs, and (full disclosure) hangover recovery—it’s magic I tell you!

The point here isn’t necessarily that one is better than another. They’re fairly similar in terms of effective nutrition. So it’s all about what you as the consumer prefer.

This is the present and future of nutrition: Do you prefer technology or a back-to-nature approach? A little of both?
[via NewHope360]

Friday, October 11, 2013

5 Fantastic Health Benefits of Peppermint Tea: Are You Drinking Enough?

Peppermint tea is more than just plain delicious. It has been proven to have some fairly amazing health and beauty benefits. From the tips of your hair to the tips of your toes and everything in between, let peppermint tea bestow its healing powers on you!

1. Stress Relief

When it comes to stress and anxiety, peppermint tea is one of your best allies. The menthol that is naturally present in the tea is a muscle relaxant; the relaxation of the muscles can be an enormous component of natural stress and anxiety relief... not to mention falling asleep!

Drinking peppermint tea before bed has been proven to give you a more restful sleep. Not only does the relaxation of the muscles lead to more restful sleep, the tea has properties that can even help you dream more vividly.

2. Sinus Relief

The season of constant colds and flus has begun, so let peppermint tea become part of your evening routine. Not only does the consumption of any warm liquid, such as tea, help you clear your sinuses and soothe sore throats, peppermint tea in particular is a known natural decongestant.

3. Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, there's no all-natural miracle. But you can get some help from peppermint tea! Peppermint tea can act as an appetite suppressant, making it easier to stick to your healthy eating goals. Drinking a blend of peppermint tea and green tea can help increase your metabolism as well, making it easier to shed extra pounds.

4. Skin-Clearing

If you suffer from hormonal skin problems such as acne, peppermint tea could be a natural solution. Peppermint tea offers a slight boost in estrogen levels to some drinkers, which can help curb these hormonal problems and aid in clearing up acne. If you really want to make sure that you’re reaping all the benefits, try adding peppermint tea to your bath water. It can help soothe burns and rashes as well as other skin inflammations.

5. Stomach Problems

If that wasn’t enough, peppermint tea is also a great natural remedy for certain stomach ailments, including bloating and gas. Having a cup of tea in the evening before bed can help soothe these problems, making it easier to digest and fall asleep.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Safe Natural Alternatives to the Flu Shot

Pharmacies have already begun promoting walk-in flu shots for the "flu season". The late and early months of each year seem to be when more of us catch colds and come down with the flu. So what measures can you take to ensure you are not sidelined with nagging colds or a debilitating flu episode?

This article will give you nine easy tips, with probably the most important last. There you'll also be able to access a Health Ranger video with Mike Adams, which convincingly debunks the concept of "flu season".

Your Immune System

Boosting your immunity is important for coping with the cold and flu season. Of course, getting a flu shot with dubious efficacy is not one of them. All vaccines depress the immune system and can cause lifelong neurological damage and autoimmune diseases.
  • Elderberry for Cures: Elderberry (pictured) extracts or syrups have been clinically proven to
    help get over colds and flu. It's not a drug. So it's cheaper and without the side effects that have been reported for Tamiflu. If you hurry, you can make your own tincture and save money. (source)
  • Protective Supplements: Elderberry is curative. Echinacea herbs are protective. They're usually sold in tinctures or extracts. Vitamin C is protective and, in large quantities, curative. Zinc is a helpful mineral for protecting against colds. Increase them with the right foods or supplements.
  • Minimize Sugar: Ease up on sodas, pastries and such. You've probably had enough ice cream during the summer. A few grams of sugar can destroy your white blood cells' ability to resist infections for several hours.
  • Eat for the season: Root vegetables, soups and slow-cooked stews and casseroles are all favorites for the winter, as are beans and lentils. Don’t worry about calories (although avoid using too much fat and sugar in your cooking). Focus instead on the nutritional content. It’s normal to gain up to 4kg in the winter. This makes up part of your yin for the yang months.
  • Eat more Garlic and Onion: Besides being rich in antioxidants and selenium, garlic is antibacterial and antiviral. Both garlic and onions are part of the Allium family, which is rich in sulfur-containing compounds responsible for many of their health-promoting effects.
  • Exercise: Moderate exercise, even walking a mile or two at least three times a week, helps your lymph system cleanse impurities to boost your immune system. Avoid long grueling workouts. A brisk walk every day is all you need in the winter. Mindful practices such as winter chi ball, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, Pilates and Feldenkrais are also excellent for building and balancing yin and yang.
  • Stress Less: This should be an all year practice. Many consider stress or anxiety as the leading cause for decreased immunity. Lighten up. Try meditation or yoga. Laugh more. Be less critical. Worry less.
  • Sleep: Not necessarily more, but better. Make sure where you sleep is totally dark so your melatonin production will be sufficient. There are melatonin supplements if you feel the need. The different phases of sleep contain two cycles that are deep enough to refurbish your immune system. You need to sleep through them. (source)
  • Probiotics: Your body contains ten times more bacteria than cells. Most of them have to be friendly. Friendly bacteria not only attack pathogenic bacteria and fungi, but also they trigger appropriate white cell reactions to invaders and they influence your mental/emotional state. It's estimated that eighty percent of your 100 trillion bacteria are located in the gut (source). Friendly bacteria are usually depleted, especially by GMOs. We all need probiotic foods and supplements. Commercial yogurt is insufficient. Raw milk and raw cheese, fermented foods, and water kefir or milk kefir should be staples (source). There are probiotic supplements as well. If you're forced into taking antibiotics, double up with probiotic supplements.
  • Vitamin D3: If you live in a year round warm sunny area, you'll need to make sure you get plenty of sun to skin exposure. If your regional climate restricts sun exposure, take your Vitamin D3 supplements. You can check your Vitamin D3 blood levels, but many experts recommend five to ten thousand units daily.
Mike Adams debunks the mainstream flu "season" concept in this video.

Top Five Reasons to Label GMO Food

October has been designated Non-GMO Month, the month to focus on why we need to regulate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) closely. To further understand what GMOs are, go to  Here are my five top reasons for why we must label GMO food!

1) The research proving the safety of GMOs is flawed. First, the only research being considered is done by the companies that created the products and profit by them and the pesticides that are necessary to grow them. Take the famous golden rice. As Rachel Parent pointed out, a person needs to eat 23 cups of rice a day to get the Vitamin A recommended dietary allowance. There are so many conflicting facts about GMOs and GMO research that 64 countries in the world refuse to allow GMO agriculture. Another way to look at it is these countries are refusing to be lab rats for flawed GMO research.

2) GMO agriculture increases the use of pesticides and water in farming. While we keep hearing that GMOs will reduce the use of water and pesticides, the opposite is the truth. A study by Washington State University concluded that the use of pesticides has increased by more than 7% because of GMO-intensive agriculture. Pesticides are water intensive. While conventional agriculture was using a billion pounds of pesticides a year, our GMO agriculture is responsible for increasing that
usage to 1.2 billion pounds annually without increasing the food supply. The patent for Roundup Ready® (RR) corn and soy beans has coincidentally expired as roundup has also lost its efficacy. RR leaves a legacy as it is responsible for increasing superweeds across the globe. The new replacement for RR will be a cocktail, much more potent and will include dicamba or 2,4- D, used as an ingredient in Agent Orange in the Vietnam war, well studied and identified with birth defects and cancer. Dicamba corn patent is currently going through USDA approval process.

3) GMO food has no benefits and will not feed the world. The most profitable corporations use World Hunger to maintain their domination in the market place. Currently, evidence is strong – we produce enough food in the world today for 10 billion people. Why are 2 billion people on our planet hungry and/or starving? It is not lack of food worldwide or even distribution, though better distribution can help. Social justice is the first place to find the real reason for hunger and starvation. Poor people cannot afford to buy food and their ability to feed themselves has been compromised. Global domination of our food by the very corporations that say they will feed the world is not the answer, it is the problem. Go to Google and search “suicides of cotton farmers in India” for a shocking peek into a tragic GMO failure. If we look at the big GMO foods in farm production today, it is mostly livestock feed – corn and soy beans – or inedible cotton. Livestock, by the way, are much happier and make higher omega milk on pasture and forage, not corn and soy. GMO ag does not lower the price of food nor produce more food. There is no known advantage to humans while there is evidence of emerging health issues and some devastating cultural issues.

4) The biotech industries – Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont – are examples of American corporations undermining democracy and abusing their power for short term domination and profits. William James, the father of American Psychology said in the late 1800s, “The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present.” Add “present profits” and we have the situation. Many citizens today wonder about the new face of democracy as we watch special interests put their agenda before what is good for all. Those following the issues sprung by a Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United, which gives corporations the status of personhood are asking “How do we get our government back?” Powerful corporations as cited above get special treatment in the government. The best way to say it is “corporate corruption.”

5) Seed ownership has consolidated and biotech owns almost all of our seed stock. Number 5 but perhaps the most important point – who owns our seeds? Weak anti-trust laws and blatant favoritism toward biotech on the Supreme Court level has allowed the consolidation of our seeds into the hands of bottom line corporations. Just two years ago, biotech owned over 65% of our seed stock2. I had the pleasure of connecting with a few Organic Seed Alliance staff members at a conference a few days ago and had to ask them how many of our seeds are controlled by biotech now and they answer was frightening:  90% of all commercial seeds are owned by 5 corporations. The questions of who should own our genetics is one that deserves a well vetted public debate. Does it bother anyone that biotech is using the human genome in its experiments? We should all be concerned about the ethics of genetic ownership and manipulation. Seed ownership needs to be in the public trust and not owned by profit-benefiting corporations.

We have to take action and advocate for our right to know. Now that I’ve given you my top five, here are five things YOU can do to help:
[via Root Stock]

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What to Eat When You're Broke

The lower your income is, the more difficult it is to be particular about what you feed your family. 

This probably isn't an earth-shattering revelation to anyone, but if you feel like experimenting, try to buy a week’s worth of healthy food for a family on a budget of, say, $50-75.  Food manufacturers that target lower income shoppers with more affordable products tend to include more GMOs and toxic ingredients in their offerings.

Generally speaking you'll want to avoid:
  • Non-organic dairy because of the hormones and antibiotics as well as the GMO feed given to the animals
  • Non-organic meat because of the hormones and antibiotics as well as the GMO feed given to the animals
  • Anything containing corn, soy, or canola in any form because it is almost certain to be GMO
  • Anything with chemical additives like artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
  • Anything that is likely to have been doused in pesticides
  • Anything containing neurotoxins like MSG, fluoride, or aspartame (along with other artificial sweeteners)
It is a matter, then, of weighing the pros and cons, and figuring out what things, for you, are the most important, while also deciding which standards can be sacrificed.  These decisions will be different for everyone, based on their personal health concerns, their genetic propensity for certain diseases, and the members of the family for whom they are buying the food.

Sometimes, when you’re looking at someone else’s situation while you are comfortably backed by a loaded pantry, it’s easy to be judgemental and tell them what they “should” do. The thing that we  must all remember is that when times are tough, a person may be down to these two options with a two week grocery budget:
  1. Buy strictly healthy organic foods and feed your family for perhaps 8 out of the 14 days.
  2. Carefully select which standards you will relax to keep the tummies of your family full throughout the wait for the next paycheck.
Very few people are going to choose option one.

Usually, I have an enormous stockpile of non-GMO dried foods and a flourishing garden to serve as a back-up for whatever non-toxic items are being offered at a reasonable price that week.  Because I’ve recently moved and am rebuilding my pantry from the ground up, I have no such stockpile right now. I am at the mercy of the food manufacturers.

When your budget is extremely limited, the normal healthy eating suggestions of shopping only the perimeter of the store or visiting the farmer’s market will not suffice to feed a family.  As much as you may want to dine only on locally grown, fresh organic produce, a $50 farmer’s market spree will only get you through a few days if you are totally reliant on only this food.

The Lesser of the Nutritional Evils

So what is a broke, but health-conscious, shopper to eat?

After strongly considering the list above, it's best not to cut corners on the organic dairy, neurotoxins, or the GMOs.  If you have a growing child, these things are at the top of the toxic pyramid for his/her development.  This isn’t to say that the pesticides aren’t harmful, or the preservatives are not a chemical minefield.  In a perfect world, I’d avoid all of it, and you should too.

If you are in a situation where you have to feed your family and don’t have a lot of money to do it, you need to do your research well before looking at those brightly colored packages with the false promises of nutrition within.  While this list isn’t comprehensive, here are some things to consider about conventional grocery store offerings.

GMOs: Genetically modified foods have not been tested for long-term effects on humans.  There is a great deal of evidence to indicate the GMOs can cause a host of illness.  Peer reviewed studies implicate GMOs in the development of grotesque tumors, premature death, organ failure, gastric lesions, liver damage, kidney damage, severe allergic reactions, a viral gene that disrupts human functions.

Hormones and antibiotics: Livestock animals that provide meat or dairy products are tainted with growth hormones, antibiotics, and GMO feed.  These items pass through the food chain to the consumer. Growth hormones can cause opposite sex characteristics in developing children, early puberty, the development of cancer, and infertility. Furthermore, the world is quickly becoming immune to the effects of antibiotics because of constant exposure through the food supply, which means that there is the potential for things that should be easily treated to become deadly due to antibiotic resistance.

Pesticides: The use of pesticides in conventional farming is rampant.  Even the hijacked the Environmental Protection Agency has to admit that the ingestion of pesticides can cause health problems.  They warn of the risk of “birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time.”  (Keep in mind, however, that despite this warning, the EPA just RAISED the acceptable limit of glyphosate at the behest of Monsanto.) Especially at risk of harm from pesticides are prepubescent children and fetuses.

Neurotoxins: Our water supply is spiked with fluoride, a neurotoxin that lowers IQs, causes infertility, has been linked to cancer and causes hardening of the arteries. Nearly every packaged food on the shelf is seasoned with MSG in one of its many names, and many lower calorie foods and diet drinks are sweetened with aspartame.  Both of these are excitotoxins that cause brain cell death instantly, causing decreased IQs, headaches, depression, and seizures.

Assorted chemical cocktails
:  The length of the ingredients list in your food is often a direct indicator of the unhealthiness of the item. When an item contains a host of additives, colors, flavors, and preservatives, you can safely bet that most of the nutrients are gone.  These highly processed foodlike substances are very difficult for the body to break down so that the few remaining nutrients can be used. If you can’t picture what an ingredient looked like in it’s natural state, it probably isn’t something you really want to eat.  When is the last time you saw a tertiary butyl hydroquinone grazing in a field, or a calcium propionate growing in the garden?

What should you eat when you’re broke?

Grains: If you can’t swing organic grains, look for whole grains with few or no additives.
  • Wheat flour
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta (with recognizable ingredients)
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
Meats:  If you can’t afford grass-fed organic meat, at the very least look for options that are guaranteed to be hormone and antibiotic free.  The USDA does not allow the use of growth hormones in pork, which makes it a slightly better option.

Here’s a little primer on those confusing meat labels:
  • Hormone-free: This means something with beef, but is nothing but a marketing ploy when you see it on poultry or pork, as the USDA does not allow the use of hormones with those animals.  Hormone-free does not mean antibiotic-free
  • Antibiotic-free: Because of poor and stressful living conditions, factory-farmed animals are very susceptible to illness.  Antibiotic-free means they were not prophylactically treated with antibiotics. This does not, however, mean that the animal is hormone-free.
  • Grass-fed: Grass-fed cows are allowed some access to the outdoors and are not fed grains or corn.  This does NOT mean they are organic, because the grass they are grazing on may have been chemically fertilized and sprayed.  Unless you have actually seen them roaming around the farm, keep in mind their access to the outdoors may not be the lovely rolling pastures that you have in your mind, but a crowded corral with hundreds of other cows.
  • Free-range: This label doesn’t mean diddly squat.  It means that the animal is allowed a minimum of an hour a day outside.  This could mean that they are crammed into an open area with a billion other chickens, still, without room to move, or that their cage is put outside, leaving them still tightly confined. Like the grass-fed cows above, unless you actually see the farm with the gallivanting chickens or pigs, take the label “free-range” with a grain of salt.
Your best options, if you can’t afford organic meats, are to go for the hormone and antibiotic free options as a supplement to vegetarian protein sources like local eggs, beans, and organic dairy products.

Fruits and vegetables: If organic produce is not an option, look for the items with the lowest pesticide loads.  (This list by the Environmental Working Group is based ONLY on pesticide loads – some of the items they recommend could be GMOs).  Fruits and vegetables that can be peeled often subject you to less pesticides than thin-skinned items. If you must buy conventional, wash the produce carefully and peel it if possible.  Look to these stand-bys:
  • Apples (peeled)
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Pineapples
  • Rutabagas
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
Dairy products: Conventional dairy products are absolutely loaded with hormones.  Dairy cattle are given high levels of female hormones to make them produce a greater quantity of milk. This makes little boys develop female characteristics and makes little girls hit puberty at a far younger age than normal, which is the reason you see 4th graders with large breasts and hips.  These hormones can also trigger obesity in both genders.  Because of the public outcry, some dairies have pledged not to use rBST, the most commonly used of the growth hormones.  Do your research to discover if there are any such brands available to you.  The Lucerne brand from Safeway is guaranteed to be hormone free. (It’s interesting to note that Monsanto, the company that pushes rBST, wants the FDA to disallow dairies to put this on their labels, and that the FDA forces those who label their products rBST-free to also put the following disclaimer on the containers: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST treated cows.” (source))

Organic dairy is still better, because the cattle are fed a healthier diet and are free from antibiotics.  If you can’t swing it, at the very least, search for rBST-free dairy products. For products, you can save loads of money by making your own from untainted milk.  Learn how to make yogurt, how to make yogurt cheese, and how to make cottage cheese.  Plain yogurt can also be used as a healthy substitute for sour cream.

Water:  If you are on city water, chances are, your water is loaded with chemicals, from fluoride to ammonia to chlorine.  I won’t drink this water, and I won’t let my children drink it either.  The large 5 gallon jugs provide the least expensive way to buy water.  Also look for sources of spring water to fill your own containers. (This interactive map can help.)

Other Tight Budget Tips

Build your pantry. It’s hard to think about building a pantry when you have barely enough food in the cupboard to make it between paychecks.  But if you can purchase one bulk item per shopping trip, in a few months you will have a pantry that will allow you to make higher quality grocery purchases on your weekly trips. At that point, you can start going to the farmer’s market, which in many locations is very reasonably priced, buying in enough bulk to preserve your foods, and have the occasional splurge. 

Be scrupulous about food hygiene.  Wash your produce very thoroughly and soak it in a baking soda bath.  Also remember to carefully wash your beans and rice.

Get growing.  Even if it is the off season, you can sprout some seeds on your counter to add fresh nutrients. You can grow some salad greens and herbs in a sunny windowsill.  Invest a few dollars each week in some seeds and you will soon be able to supplement your diet with nutritious, organic, home-grown veggies.  For tips on re-growing from kitchen scraps, go here.

Visit outlet stores.  Sometimes places like Big Lots or grocery clearance centers have organic options at good prices. You might be able to pick up canned goods, cereals, and crackers at a fraction of the normal grocery store price.

Forage for freebies.  In many locations, even the city,  there are free delicious foods just waiting for you to pick them.  Dandelions, wild berries, nuts, and nutritious leaves abound. Just be very sure you know what you’re picking and then enjoy your wild foods.

Plan on at least one extra frugal meal per day.  Have peanut butter and crackers, a bowl of oatmeal, or soup for one meal per day – not every meal has to be made up of protein, veggies, and grains.

Don’t give up.  Do the very best you can with the resources you have available. Remember, if you can’t afford good food, you definitely can’t afford bad health – it’s even more expensive.

The Simple Truth

There are a lot of things that readers may find to pick apart in this article – and that’s good!  By thinking critically and discussing these things, sometimes we can come up with solutions that may not have occurred to us previous to the conversation. I’m not some expert that shouldn't be questioned – I am just a mom on a budget.  Some of the suggestions here were gleaned from the comments sections of previous articles.

Do your research and do the best that you can with what’s available given your resources.  Create a plan to provide better options in the future. Don’t go down that toxic trail laid out by Big Food without fighting, kicking, and screaming.