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Cooking as the Cornerstone of a Sustainable Food System

“How cool is this!” Susan, a 68-year-old retiree from Philadelphia, was on her maiden voyage with her new toy, a salad spinner.

As she pulled the spinner’s retractable cord, the room filled with a rattling hum, similar to a washing machine at the end of its cycle. She was visibly pleased that after just a few pulls, the lettuce leaves tucked inside the colander-like basket were nice and dry. She marveled at how she could both wash–“Wow, there’s a lot of dirt in these leaves”–and dry salad greens with just one tool.

This was just one of the many ah-ha moments for Susan, who signed on to take an immersion cooking course with me earlier this summer. Over the course of a week, we met in her kitchen each day with one primary objective: Getting a handle on the bare essentials of cooking. Read more

Marion Nestle Speaks Out on the Big Business of School Food

A year ago, when I was working as an editor at the magazine Whole Living, I oversaw a special issue on food featuring “Visionaries”—people making a real difference in the way this country thinks about eating. There was “The Motivated Mayor” (Michael Bloomberg); “The Integrator” (Harlem chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson); and, among several others, there was “The Badass.”

That would be Marion Nestle. Read more

The Big Oversight In Our Obesity Conversation

It didn’t take long for the year’s first controversial health study to go viral. A new systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that carrying extra weight decreases the risk of death (those in the “overweight” category were six percent less likely to die than individuals at a “normal weight”). This is a stark contrast to the usual weight-related headlines, which identify excess weight as the root cause of various chronic diseases. Cue confusion and heated debates.

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A Calorie, is a Calorie, is a Calorie. Or is it?

Two days ago I wrote here on Civil Eats that it may not be long before the food industry will be proven wrong about their two favorite messages: All calories are created equal, and it’s all about personal responsibility. Well, it appears that science may be one step closer to proving at least half of that equation wrong and that in fact; all calories are not created equal. The latest study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week, found that when it came to weight loss and maintaining weight loss, those who ate a low carbohydrate, high fat diet kept more weight off than those who were on either a low glycemic diet or a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

While all participants in the study ate the same number of calories, the types consumed varied. The low fat diet contained 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. The low glycemic diet contained 40 percent carbs, 40 percent fat, and 20 percent protein (with a focus on minimally processed foods). The low carb diet had 10 percent of calories from carbs, 60 percent from fat, and 30 percent from protein.

Compared to those on the low fat diet, those following the low carb diet burned 350 calories more per day and those on the low glycemic diet burned 150 calories more per day.

The most compelling part of this study is that it calls into question the long-held belief in the scientific and medical communities that all calories are created equal. Read more

The Obesity Paradox: Overfed But Undernourished

There was a time when corpulence was a sign of wealth and luxury. But in modern day Western countries, quite the opposite is true. In fact, a recent study found that fully one third of homeless people living in Boston are obese. “This study suggests that obesity may be the new malnutrition of the homeless in the United States,” wrote the researchers, led by Harvard Medical School student Katherine Koh, whose study is forthcoming in the  Journal of Urban Health.

And it’s not just the U.S. that is reporting these kinds of findings, a New Zealand study of preschoolers found that 82 percent did not get enough dietary fiber and 68 percent did not have enough long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in fish and nuts. Despite these nutritional deficiencies, the researchers also found that fully one-third of preschoolers are overweight or obese.

These findings highlight an interesting contradiction—obesity correlates with malnourishment. Read more

Shareholders, Top Doctors Demand McDonald’s Assess its Health Impacts

Today in Oak Brook, Illinois the world’s most well-recognized purveyor of unhealthy food will hold its annual shareholders’ meeting. Usually a forum to showcase profits made at the expense of the public’s health, food advocates and health professionals will be giving the burger giant’s dog and pony show pause.

For a second straight year, shareholders will vote on a resolution requiring McDonald’s to publicly assess its impacts on the nation’s health. The resulting report would, no doubt, be damning. After all, no fast food corporation sells more high-fat, -salt, -sugar, and -calorie junk food worldwide. No fast food corporation spends more marketing its unhealthy offerings. And perhaps no food corporation has had a greater impact on how we eat or how food is grown. Read more

McDonald’s Now Using Goats to Exploit Children

To call McDonald’s latest advertising campaign aimed at children cynical doesn’t give enough credit to the fast food giant and its ad agency, Leo Burnett. The company says the new series of ads starting this month is part of McDonald’s “nutrition commitment to promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national communications to kids.”

How will the purveyor of Big Macs, fries and Coke accomplish this lofty goal? Perhaps by explaining that McDonald’s is an occasional treat? Or that sharing home-cooked meals is one of the best ways for families to ensure good eating habits? Perhaps McDonald’s could educate kids about the federal MyPlate recommendations to make half your meal fruits and vegetables?

Not even close. McDonald’s idea of nutrition education is simple: just eat at McDonald’s. Read more

Counting Calories? Marion Nestle Says Forget It

Dr. Marion Nestle and Dr. Malden Nesheim’s Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, is not a diet book selling you on the newest trend nor does it encourage you to count calories. Instead it does the seemingly impossible: It takes calories from the abstract to the concrete. Nestle and Nesheim explain the significance of the calorie not only in understandable scientific terms, but also in social terms with the explicit aim of helping their reader navigate the convoluted world of food labels and diet fads.

Nestle and Nesheim address frequently asked calorie-related questions like: Is there such a thing as negative calories and are some calories good and others bad? Chapters titles like “What is a Calorie?” belie the complex nature of the subject, but despite their respective PhD’s in molecular biology (Nestle) and nutrition (Nesheim) they manage to make the science of the calorie a personal and ultimately relatable subject.

And, not unlike Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” mantra, Nestle and Nesheim leave us with four simple charges when it comes to calories: “Get organized. Eat less. Move more. Get political.”

I spoke with Nestle about her motives behind writing the book, the impossibility of estimating calories by sight, and the reason she got into this field in the first place. Read more

How to Stay a Foodie Family on Food Stamps

When I first lost my job, we applied for emergency food assistance. Then, when I saw how little was provided for our family of five, I went into panic mode and bought the cheapest stuff I could find: a coffin-sized crate of ramen noodle packages, a box of Cheerios as big as an ottoman. No longer did I shop for the “best”—organic, free range, all natural—I was now shopping for the cheapest.

And I was not alone in trying to negotiate this shift from affluent foodie to poverty-level mom just trying to feed her family on next to nothing. Take a look at the numbers and be startled along with me. As you can see, there was an unprecedented jump in participants in the program after the Great Recession in 2008 began. Suddenly, families who were unaccustomed to financial struggle joined the ranks of the truly needy, and we didn’t know how to shop for it! And still, after a few years of this “New Poor” culture, we are looked at with derision when we try to maintain our values as careful consumers and healthy eaters.

Thankfully, however, there are ways to make a mountain (of produce) out of a molehill (of money.) Read more