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Thoughts on food and resolutions…

30 Dec

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Well, first off I apologize for not having fancy professional-looking photos like other vegan bloggers. Maybe someday when I post more frequently than once a month. Anyway, this is a vegan omelette. Looks yummy, eh? I made it from this recipe, except that instead of sautéing the vegetables I folded in 2 heaping tablespoons of the kale slaw I made yesterday based on this Kris Carr recipe, which is also totally delicious on its own — I ate it (the non-pancaked kale slaw, that is) with leftover roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted broccoli I made the night before. The point of all this being that I sometimes use winter as an excuse to eat heavier foods and to overeat them, and also to make lots of vegan desserts (allegedly to disperse among friends though somehow most of them end up in my tummy!), but I made a point of replenishing my food supply with fresh veggies and all is back to normal. I forget how easy and fun it is to experiment with new recipes, and how imperative it becomes when you just stocked your fridge with perishables. Which brings me to my next point: the importance of having a well-stocked kitchen. Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ book Veganomicon is an excellent reference for information on what to stock in terms of both food and tools, though it goes above and beyond what most people need to get started. But the simplest rules are the easiest to follow, and I like this one: if you want good health eat healthy food, and if you want to healthy food keep it in your house. There, that was easy.

My New Years resolutions are do more yoga, make fewer desserts and eliminate animal products from my wardrobe. Happy New Year. Stay safe.

Why I don’t drink milk anymore….

14 Aug
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The author in Lowell, Vermont

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my 2nd oldest sister (I had 4) hitchhiked up to Vermont one year and without really trying (things just worked out that way for her), got a job working and living on a dairy farm, tending a herd of cows.  I would visit her there from time to time, and our family remained friendly with the farmers — the Hodgemans — until they died.  That’s me in the photo hugging a newborn calf in the barn — I swear its body is there somewhere!   The Hodgeman’s ran what would be considered by today’s standards a very small farm.  Their one barn had something like 20 or 30 cows max, and Thurston had a pasteurizer right there in the front of the barn that he used to process the milk before he sold it.  Of course, Joyce always kept a pitcher of ice cold, freshly milked milk in the fridge.  Everything seemed wonderful on the farm — the air smelled crisp and clean, the green hills stretched endlessly in all directions, and the cows, which were milked by hand, seemed like an extension of the family.

According to the USDA, there are 25% fewer dairy farms in the United States today than there were in the 1970s.  Midsized family farms are disappearing, increasingly being replaced by fewer but larger industrialized, or “factory” farms where livestock is concentrated and confined to small areas.  These animals do not graze for food, food is brought to them.  Most will never feel the warmth of the sun or breathe clean air.  They are deprived of exercise, fed drugs to make them fatter and are genetically altered to make them produce more. Calves (like the one I’m hugging above) are separated from their mothers at birth — males, which are of no use to dairy farmers, are sent to slaughterhouses to become veal, while females are raised to replace older dairy cows, which are then sent to slaughter. The abuses rendered on these animals is well-documented.  Far from the convenient marketing descriptions of “happy” and “laughing” cows, these animals are doomed to short, miserable lives of immeasurable suffering.  All while the small, family dairy farms struggle to keep up.

Then there is the question of whether we even need milk at all.  Research shows that a large number of adult humans are lactose intolerant.  Many children suffer from milk allergies.  Lots of people, including me, have reported that giving up dairy has reduced or even cured life-long gastrointestinal issues.  Long touted as an important source of calcium, milk is nevertheless not the only one — there are many plant-based sources too.  Green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, greens and parsley are excellent.  A single navel orange contains 60 mgs.  One ounce of sesame seeds has almost the same amount (280mgs) of calcium as a cup of milk!   Soybeans? 260 mgs per cup. Almonds, white beans, figs, tofu, sunflower seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa and amaranth, too, contain calcium.

Add to this the fact that there are so many substitutes for milk in your supermarket today, and it sure does seem possible that milk could be headed for obscurity.  Almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk are the most common and all can substitute for milk in baking. I personally am partial to hemp and coconut milk, myself, and use them both as a base for smoothies and on cereal.

If you are primarily plant-dominant, or moving in that direction, it’s important to realize that milk can “hide” in all sorts of products under different names, like lactose, casein and whey, so be vigilant and read labels.

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” ― Franz Kafka

Aside 22 Jul

I really enjoyed reading this intereview with Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side about phytonutrients — or polyphenols.  It contains some fascinating facts and myth-busters.

In her book, Robinson argues that today’s produce contains far fewer nutrients than the foods of our ancestors — funny, because just yesterday my sister and I were pondering the question of whether a visitor from the ancient past would recognize the vegetables and fruits we eat today either by sight or by taste!

But I digress.  Robinson’s practical advice describes how to navigate today’s grocery stores and farmer’s markets to find the most densely nutritious food.  For example, she advocates choosing leafy lettuces over head lettuces:  “When a lettuce variety forms a head, the leaves inside don’t have to produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from UV light.”  Makes sense, and better still, “if you go to these leafy ones—especially ones that contain some red color—some of them are equivalent to what you’d find foraging.”

She busts the myth that organic automatically means more nutritious, citing studies that suggest that the fertilizers used in conventional farming actually increase the phytonutrient content of some foods; and describes how quickly some of our most nutrient-rich vegetables — kale, broccoli, leaf lettuce and spinach, for example — lose much of their value through respiration by the time they get to the supermarket shelf.  Guess I better start get going on those kale chips while there’s still time!

Speaking of thyme (ahem), Robinson says it, along with oregano are two of the most nutritious herbs — and that parsley pesto is apparently even better for you than basil pesto!  (Extra bonus: it’s cheaper too!)

Finally, waiting 10 minutes after you chop your garlic before adding it to a recipe activates the chemical compound allicin, which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer.  I’ve known this fact for years, yet conveniently “forget” when I’m actually in the kitchen.

Antidote for a hot day

19 Jul

photo(4)I made a refreshing (and freshly juiced!) apple and lemon smoothie the other day, and used what was left over to make ice pops.  Since then, whenever I make juice or a smoothie, I save a little and pour it into a mold or two.  Voila!  Instant childhood memory come to life.

Smoothies (and avocados)!

15 Jul

Chocolate banana smoothieOne of my favorite ways to get lots of nutrients in a small package (or glass!) is by making smoothies.  Smoothies can be made from just about any fruit or vegetable, and can include all sorts of healthy additions, like wheatgrass powder, spirulina, hemp seeds, cacao powder…the list goes on.   It’s easy to sneak nutrient-rich green vegetables in like spinach and kale — but my favorite smoothie addition, by far, is the avocado.  When added to smoothies it makes them creamy and luscious without altering the taste.  Not to mention, it’s really healthy!

The avocado contains 20 essential nutrients, and boosts the absorption of two key carotenoid antioxidants – lycopene and beta-carotene.  And don’t fear the fat!  The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which is good for you.  This amazing fruit is  cholesterol free, and cholesterol lowering, plus it regulates your metabolism which helps prevent weight gain. What more could you ask for?

Here’s a quick recipe for a chocolatey smoothie I just made myself today for lunch!

Chocolate Spinach and Avocado Smoothie:
1 frozen banana
1 cup hemp milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 cup coconut water
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1/4 cup cacao powder
1 tbsp mesquite powder
1 tbsp coconut sugar
3 tbsps ripe avocado
1 cup ice

Mix in a blender (I prefer Vitamix) and enjoy!

What’s an ORAC?

3 Jul
Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to eat “well” is sorting through the abundant and often competing information out there about what that means. The varied opinions and the speed at which these opinions change, is dizzying, and it seems like the loudest voice at any given time wins the public relations game.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about ORAC scores, and what they might mean for me. ORAC (which stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measurement of the antioxidants in the foods we eat. The narrative is this: we should eat foods that have a lot of antioxidants because antioxidants fight free radicals, which contribute to the effects of aging on living organisms.

However, both of those theories — that antioxidants in food fight free radicals in our bodies, and that free radicals contribute to aging — are controversial, and depending on which camp you fall into, that makes the ORAC score of your food either very important or entirely moot. The USDA, which once measured and published ORAC scores for a wide variety of foods, no longer considers ORAC scores, or the free-radical theory, as valid. Of course, the USDA is a government entity subjected to extensive lobbying by the food industry which would very much like us to keep buying their processed and modified foods, which unfortunately calls into the question the veracity of the USDA’s research. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a prominent health and wellness expert, says “cumulative [free radical damage] probably* accounts for many of the degenerative changes of aging and for a lot of age-related disease” but advises a tempered approach to using ORAC to determine what goes on your plate.

The bottom line, for me, is that ORAC scores in and of themselves do not provide particularly useful information about the plant-based foods we eat or why they are or aren’t good for us, and that there may be more practical methods–possibly the ANDI score–of comparing some foods over others, if you feel the need to do so.

*emphasis mine

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