Monday, December 31, 2007

499,191,000,000 ---> 500,???,???,???

Here's the (now) annual report of plastic bag usage for the year, courtesy of The numbers change too fast for the eye to take in, and there are 14 hours left of 2007. Over 1 million plastic bags are being used per minute! Is there good news? As we see more petroleum go into landfills, via the plastic bag waste (those that aren't flying through the air or forming huge masses in the Pacific Ocean) there any good news? As usual, there's goodnews/badnews. The progressive growth of packaging and overpackaging seems to rise inexorably. China (and all manufacturers): and WalMart (and all sources of retail goods that put cheap above sustainable quality): change! We are ready to take more responsibility for the Earth, but we need your help.

Where's the good news? More ways to recycle (and freecycle); more stores offering reusable bags at next to no cost (Shaws sells cloth bags at $1.00 each!); a new understanding of the plastic bottle problem, leading to a major campaign in New York City, for instance, to put tap water in reusable bottles.

At VitaSource, we have been very successful at selling water bottles -- stainless steel and polycarbonate (yes, each of those has many questions too, but it's an important step). At the store, customer donated bags, both plastic and paper, have replaced all new bag purchases, giving them a few more times around for reuse before they end up in (thank you) supermarket recycling bins. Still, I hope to see many more cloth bags in hand in 2008.

Doesn't it all tie together? All the little homely things we can do at the bottom of the pyramid creating the energy for municipalities and nations, giant retailers and manufacturers to make the changes for less burden on this energy-exhausted world? 2008: lots of work to do on alternative energy sources, saving soil and water to build health all over the world...the least we can do as individuals is reduce use of plastic, especially bags and bottles, choose organics to support the growth of a healthier use of resources, and more honesty -- personally, interpersonally, nationally, globally.

PS Just one more plug -- a simple way you can support recycling, literacy and libraries: buy used books from BetterWorld (with free shipping in the US). Good folks!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Empire of Tea

I've been reading this book, "the remarkable history of the plant that took over the world," by Alan and Iris Macfarlane. It's a wealth of history, economics, sociology, and much more. Read the book for all of those. I want to call attention to their reference to a comment written in 1879:

the style of the conversation depends very much on the kind of tea that the housewife pours for the guests. If it be genuine Young Hyson...the talk will be fresh and spirited and sunshiny. If it be...Gunpowder, the conversation will be explosive and somebody's reputation will be killed before you get through. If it be green may expect there will be a poisonous effect in the conversation and the moral health damaged.

Wow! What assumptions! Now, I do notice a bit of typing in the people who buy bulk teas from me, particularly those who choose Lapsang Souchong, the very aromatic smoked tea. They're a strong, individualistic crew (if I had to make that determination). Otherwise, I could say that people who go to the trouble of brewing tea from leaf are morally superior...but how difficult can making a good pot of tea be, really?

What does fascinate me here is how scathing is the judgement of green tea. Now that we know so much about the antioxidant, anticancer, etc. properties of green tea, we choose to drink it (or take it in supplement form) for its benefits. Now that we know about the amino acid theanine, which elevates mood and focuses the mind, we have greater appreciation for this delicate cup of tea -- and the lower caffeine levels we get.

So what's the basis of his judgment? He is speaking from Victorian England, "things Japanese" are in vogue, and tea has changed English life. Still I wonder if this may be a racist judgement: the English, after all, are drinking black tea!

As a footnote: A woman in her 90's used to buy green tea from me by the pound. She told me that when she grew up here in Keene NH, green tea was what was widely used, and black tea took over later, maybe after World War II. Was it the "secret" of her long life?

Choosing to fail?

This week's New York Times Science section is full of fascinating and provocative articles. From their blog: "The less effective a beauty product or treatment, the more likely women are to keep using it," referring to a study of 300 women. My train of thought leads to my observation of people like a woman I spoke to today: She wants grape seed extract for her daughter, who has asthma; also probiotics. Why? She has heard/read that it will help her get more oxygen, maybe get off her inhaler. Hmmm....both of these will help just about anyone improve overall health, but asthma? I showed her a few things I thought might be more directly beneficial, gave her information and a web site so she can look at well founded explanations of how these may work. Why does she pursue the original goal? I didn't ask for the source of this suggestion. Was it TV, a piece of junk mail, something she just heard? Has she tried to confirm what it is used for, whether it is safe with her daughter's medication...Have they questioned diet, allergies, environmental factors? Did I help her or enable her ignorance? Is she like the women in the study who choose to pursue a dead end rather than find the way to a better outcome?

WANT TO GOODSEARCH? Yahoo's search engine lets you donate to a non-profit whenever you search. Just enter Animaterra as the chosen charity when you use Goodsearch, and the women's chorus in Keene which I sing with will benefit -- and you'll have the same reliable search you would be using anyway...and 50 wonderful women will thank you! How easy does it get?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Looking for a laxative?

Sadly, this perfect body we've been given is sometimes, well, less than perfect. Happily, there may be simple solutions to problems which are significant but still within the realm of self-treatment.

Constipation would fit that description (most of the time). Take simple steps: drink enough, especially water; chew well at meals and keep quantities moderate; check for foods that irritate you; get enough of the good fats that promote proper intestinal function; coddle your good flora so the acidophilus and friends thrive; love your fibers and they will return the love. Sometimes: enzymes when digestion needs a boost; magnesium when all of the above need integration (and when your calcium supplement seems to be causing more problems than it solves). And always, leave the stress behind when you eat.

For years an older woman came to my store, looking for the ingredients to make a natural laxative. She had found the recipe in an old "doctor book" and passed it on to friends and family. That's how good it was...Ready to try it?

Mix together: 1 cup whey powder, 1 1/2 cups brewers (nutritional) yeast, 1 cup wheat germ, 1/2 cup psyllium seed, 1/2 cup flax seed, 1/2 cup mustard seed. Take 2 tablespoons in 8 oz. yogurt. Do not chew!

(My notes: best to refrigerate because of the wheat germ. Use yogurt with live cultures.)

Simple remedies? Simple solutions? Tell me more.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

From the food blog junkie

Yup, that's me -- start with a good food blog, recipes and photos and a provoking discussion, then read old posts, comments...then link to commenter's blogs and before you know it the night is gone, and there's no time to cook or read. Working at the store I peek at more blogs throughout the day when there's a quiet spell, or eat lunch standing in front of the computer. What's new in the Perfect Pantry? What's Steamy up to now? What's cooking in Brazil, London, Mauritius?

It was cooking and cookbooks that led me to health food and books, and the love has persisted. Reading and writing about food helps keep me sane! Now I have been honored as the "Bookworm" of the week at The Perfect Pantry -- go look! Lydia writes about ingredients (her pantry) with wit and intelligence, and a recipe that shows off each one. If you like to read about food, you'll love it!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reading "A Veggie Venture" today, I found a wonderful praise of the people who bring us our food in America, inspired by shelling black eyed peas (a 17 minute meditation).

How far we've come from the source of our food sustenance. Sure, I bought these from my local farmers market - I even 'walked' to the market. But what I didn't do was:

Follow the link to read the entire essay (and recipe)!

Was it the "Little House" books that started my awareness? Alanna, who writes the wonderful blog Veggie Venture, lives in St. Louis, where those settlers often passed through. Here in New England we are reminded by the stone walls and the rocks that are still in our soil how hard those early farmers had to work to grow food for their own subsistence, let alone to feed a village or have enough for the markets in town.

The need to return to the soil is strong. In recent times, people grew Victory Gardens during World War II. In the 60's, communes and "back to the land" inspired me to grow my own garden, as big as a neighbor and I could handle. (Where were the men?) Rodale's Organic Gardening magazine was an inspiration, along with Ruth Stout's book on gardening "without an aching back." Moving into the world of selling commercial produce made the garden redundant, but now that we're no longer suppliers we are again consumers. We are happy to support the CSA's and farmers markets that have sprouted and multiplied, putting us close to the soil again, one step removed. Support them -- we need them!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

My toothpaste and DNA

Jay has had DNA testing done as part of the Genographic Project
out of a desire to look into his family's past. It took them back to the Rift Valley 50,000 years ago, up to 20,000 years ago in Europe. Fascinating as this is, it leaves a lot of time blank. Ultimately we want our ancestors to tell us about ourselves. Now he's working back from the known present, learning a lot about people still in memory. Wonderful stories, interesting relationships -- there's a rich history in a relatively short time.

I am thinking about this now because I have found an amazing fact: 10% of all toothpaste goes unused (thank you, Ideal Bite)! I immediately followed their lead, cut open my apparently empty tube, and there it was -- all that potentially wasted toothpaste (and it was the good stuff, Neem TP from Organix South). Of course I rescued it...there's something in my DNA, no doubt, that won't let me waste: toothpaste, or water, or the blank sides of papers... At least it gives me an inborn urge to save the Earth!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Musing on my absence

Did I fall off the horse? Can I get back on? What's the natural cure for blogger's block? For the power of seeing my own words in print for all the world to see, I'll just swallow all the cliches I can think of: today I'll just jump in/on again!

So much strange news about nutrition and supplements lately, both positive and negative. Much of it reinforces the commitment to food -- whole and natural. Vitamin D: can we be more careful here, before falling for prescribed megadoses? Vitamin E: how can we compare wheat germ with synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol? Carotenes: what imbalances do we create with synthetic beta carotene when we replace a very complex vegetable or algae source?

Now that I'm selling eggs in the store again, from very local hens that eat organic grain when they're not out hunting and pecking, I wonder if the sunshine they get doesn't make a crucial difference in the Vitamin D content of the eggs. Even certified organic eggs may not be this good.

Sadly, "USDA Certified Organic" is fulfilling the fears of the paranoid, gradually being undermined by agribusiness who like charging more for organic and don't like paying more to grow it. Bit by bit "exceptions" are being allowed. We have to keep fighting to keep some measure of conscience here. Keep sending emails, snail mails, signing petitions to let USDA or Congress know what you think. Support local farmers, farmers markets and CSA's which have the commitment and honesty to still produce real food and healthy soil.

FROM IDEAL BITE: Patients in London are wearing pajamas made with silver linings (literally) to combat an aggressive form of staph infection.

What is it? "Mother of us all", a sculpture by Elinore Koenigsfeld.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The dawn of trans fat sanity

My mother was a good cook who favored the fresh, simple and natural. But she and most women of her generation kept up with what was "modern," so that blue can of Crisco was always in our cupboard. When I got married, I thought that the big white blob was the only way to make a flaky pie crust. Later, when my father had to limit his diet for the health of his heart, a "good" margerine replaced the butter in the refrigerator (even though Mom still used the whipped butter). In 1984, the Center for Science in the Public Interest pushed to have restaurants move from saturated fats to (ta da!) hydrogenated fats. Now the research is piling up: No Crisco! No Jif! No McDonalds fries until they change to a healthier fat. CSPI has a new campaign for TransFree America.

Why not? Evidence shows that heart disease, diabetes, liver disfunction are likely to worsen with the trans fats. Belly fat and ovulation related fertility have been studied for connections; trans fats can show up in breast milk of mothers who can't lay off the doughnuts, muffins and chips. The insidious saturation of our supermarket shelves and restaurant kitchens with trans fats isn't hopeless: we can find our way back to real food.

A few cities have already taken the step. In Tiburon CA all restaurants made the change to safer fats in 2005. In New York City and Philadelphia, menus will have to change soon. Legislation is coming up in other cities and states as well. Some processed foods (yes, even Crisco) have already reformulated. Full labeling for trans fats has been required for a year.

Since the first can of Crisco in 1911, we have had a choice of fats that have been mechanically modified. Now there are new alternative fats, made to have high heat tolerance, to be reused and slow to turn rancid. Are they safe or are we opening another can of worms?

We are trying to make a change without asking people to make a real improvement in the way they eat. How hard can it be to simplify the way we eat, to choose real foods over fake, good tasting nutrition over worse-than-empty calories that leave obesity and physical deterioration in their wake? I welcome the intention to make progress in healthier food sources, but unless we make our kitchens the destination for good health and good taste, it won't be enough.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

the fish bone's connected to the...

Concern about heavy metal toxicity is a very real thing as the world becomes more laden with chemical residue. Concern about mercury in fatty fish, sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, is seemingly good for the vitamin business (buy omega 3 capsules), but bad for people who believe that food should be our primary source of nutrition. Preganant women are warned to limit eating tuna, or just forget about it. Now Jean Carper, in USA Weekend Magazine, reports from Wm Lands, expert on fish oil benefits, that you can eat any and all fish IF the fish are "loaded" with selenium. "Mercury is toxic in the absence of selenium." "selenium ...neutralizes the danger."
Selenium, in food and in supplements, has been shown in studies to have strong cancer preventive activity, but I find this report confusing. Are the warnings just a mistaken case of taking the part (mercury toxicity) for the whole (balance of poison and protection found in the same food)? Can we take the chance that he's right and eat all the fish in sight? (And what about the issue of overfishing and the probability of no fish in the sea after 2048?) I don't know!

What about Vitamin D? It's the hottest "new" vitamin. In 1976 my trusted reference Laurel's Kitchen said, "Amounts (of Vitamin D) over 2000 IU per day can produce dangerously high levels of calcium in the body, leading to the deposit of calcium in unwanted places like the blood vessels and the kidneys...never exceed the recommended daily allowance of 400 IU." Now it's 2007 and almost everyday I hear "my doctor wants me to take 1000, 2000, even 4000 IU's of D" because tests show deficencies, specifying the D-3 (natural) form. There is a shift taking place which seems to be leading to less calcium, more D, a good change toward better absorption rather than sending the calcium down for cement. And where should we get it? Sunshine is the most natural source (safest in moderation); fish liver oils have it, but it's removed when the dread mercury is removed by molecular distillation (some add it back and it may not be the natural D-3/cholecalciferol but the less beneficial D-2/ergocalciferol; get Nordic Natural's D enhanced oil); and the latest, MegaFood's D-3 from lanolin, prepared with their special process (good for sun-sensitive vegetarians like me). Keep watching as we see more of the benefits of Vitamin D (cancer, MS, IBD) and promising food sources (mushrooms!).

Follow-up: Another complex: Thank you Michael Pollan, author of the eye-opening "The Omnivore's Dilemma" -- 10/15/06, New York Times Magazine -- "The Vegetable-Industrial Complex." More thought for food.