The Year of Couves?

Here’s a headline that grabbed my attention: Health Nuts Declare 2012: The Year of Kale. “People are weird about Brussels sprouts and cabbage, but are willing to give kale a try,” a chef says. At  Social Media Week 2012 in New York City, experts begged the question, “Who is kale’s PR agent?”  And how did Anne Hathaway fit into her snug Catwoman suit? She told MTV, “I lived on dust and kale.” Food bloggers, restaurateurs and kale chip makers alike are all crazy for the lowly kale. But, as for me, I was eating kale in the highchair. We called it “couves”.

Portuguese Kale Soup

People of Portuguese decent living along the Southeastern Massachusetts coast eat a lot of kale in the form of soup. They call it Calde Couves or Sopas Calde. (At least that’s what I think they are saying.) My father was a first generation Portuguese American, and so kale soup was a staple in the homes of our extended family.  Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef from the area, makes kale soup too.

Everybody’s soup recipe is a little different – it might contain cabbage, kidney beans, tomatoes, carrots, and even pig’s feet – but the common ingredient in Portuguese Soup is always couves. My kale soup is a victory over animal fat. I simmer beef shank and chouriço (Portuguese sausage) in water with a handful of split peas for hours, and then I remove the cooked meat, pick off every strand, and toss the fat, bone and sausage skin. And then it’s into the fridge where the broth sits until the hard fat rises to the top for easy removal. Next, I add kale, cabbage, potatoes, and the fat free meat back to the broth and simmer until tender. Tasty, low calorie, wildly nutritious (see the label), and ultra-trendy. That’s our couves!

Kale Soup Recipes

Your thoughts: Have you added kale to your diet? Have you tried kale soup?

Three Degrees of Separation from “Snackman”

Can I assume, by now, everybody has heard about “Snackman,” the Brooklyn architect who broke up a fight on the NYC subway by inserting his 200-pound frame between the fighters as he munched on chips? Using a smart phone, someone made a video that went viral and Charles Sonder, “Snackman,” became the darling of every media outlet in NYC. Tweeters wrote, “Chips Not Clips!” And there’s this: Snackman: The Hero Gotham Needs Is Getting All The Marriage Proposals He Deserves. (Watch the Snackman video and read about Snackman in The New York Times.)

Snackman and I

It turns out that Snackman is from Rhode Island, along with me, where everyone is related by a degree of separation, Kevin Bacon-style. For instance, if two random people who grew up in Rhode Island met at a party in some faraway place, they would probably find someone they both knew within a short amount of time. This is how I am separated from Snackman: Snackman is my best friend’s sister’s son’s best friend from North Kingston.  But wait, there’s more! My daughter’s downstairs neighbor’s old girlfriend, Phoebe, is Snackman’s sister. The neighbor has no connection to Rhode Island. Crazy, right?

And so, Snackman, amigo, we are so proud of you! And forgive me for saying this, but it’s my job: Be careful about eating junk food, especially late at night. I am just looking out for your health and good looks, especially now that you are famous. And, listen, if you need a nutritionist in Brooklyn, I’m at your service anytime. I hope you don’t mind me riding your coattails, but I’m sure you understand because I too, am saving the world, one chip at a time.

You thoughts: If you agree that “Snackman” rocks, then leave a note for him here.

Do I Write Like H. P. Lovecraft?

Today, I’m taking a nutrition holiday because I want you to check out this simple program, I Write Like. Feed it a writing sample, it analyzes your style, and then compares you to a famous writer.

I write like H.P. Lovecraft. That was the result each time with three different samples. Is it the Providence connection? The first-person narratives? Or is it that I’m a little more than weird, what with writing about placentas, run-down Victorian houses, and rolls of flab oozing out of Spanx. Or could it be the narrow choice of topics? Or that we are antiquated and not very good? Or maybe the program thinks that everybody writes like H.P. Lovecraft. Try it for yourself.

Your thoughts: Which famous author do you write like? Do you agree?

What the Hippies Knew

Everyday Is Earth Day at my house. It’s been that way since before the first Earth Day, 38 years ago. That’s because I was a hippie in my formative years. And I am still. Hippies made natural food and the environment popular.

This is what I learned – and lived –  as a hippie and I still do (mostly) these things today.  I learned:

How Not to Buy Processed Food
There was simply no attraction to plastic or processed. We were not fooled by corporate America and the chemicals they used. “Question Authority!” was a good hippie slogan.

How to Be a Vegetarian
Cooking with beans, grains, nuts, and seeds? Not a problem. We learned about complimentary proteins from Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet.  Our cookbooks were the brown-paper covered vegetarian classics: Tassajara Cooking, The Vegetarian Epicure, The Moosewood Cookbook, Recipes for a Small Planet. “The way to be a cook is to cook,” said the Buddhist monks of Tassajara. And we did.

How to Eat Ethnic Food
Brown rice, miso, tofu, tabbouleh, falafel, curries, raitas, dhal, HEALTHY enchiladas?  Bring ‘em on. Not only did we eat vegetarian ethnic foods, but we wore the native costumes to match!

How to Bake Bread, Grow Sprouts and Make Yogurt
Believe it or not, markets didn’t sell foods we take for granted today. Yogurt was something Europeans ate. Bread was white. Hummus was unheard of, chickpeas too. And so, we baked whole grain bread, first for its health and soon for its taste and we learned that kneading is Zen; we kept fresh sprouts growing in the winter kitchen; and we delighted in our yogurt makers, as we saved money.  Poor consumers were we.

How to Tend a Vegetable Garden
“The way to be a gardener is to garden.” If we lived in the country or even the city, we kept a garden and, in doing so, we learned about soil, sun, water and critters, beneficial insects, companion crops and manure. It was about as local and fresh as it gets.

How to Compost and Put up Food
It goes with gardening: You grow the vegetables, you eat and preserve the vegetables, you return the vegetable scraps to the earth, and the compost becomes next year’s vegetables. We love earth worms. Recycling brings us joy.

Listen, I could go on-and-on, but I have to make a lentil soup. Happy Earth Day-Week everyone!

Your thoughts: How do you practice sustainability? Where did you learn it?

Readers React to Antioxidant Article

Warning: This information cannot be generalized….

Silly me! Why was I afraid of being misquoted by the health media last week? The article of concern, The Truth About Antioxidants in Men’s Health, did justice to the Cochrane Review and to me. The writer clearly made the point that individual antioxidants supplements (beta-carotene and vitamins A, E and C) were not found to work in a major scientific review, and might actually be harmful.

It must be difficult for health writers to communicate complex scientific information, but writers are only as good as their sources, and so I feel responsible to provide accurate quotes. But, in this case, I should have been concerned about the audience who, as it turns out, didn’t want to hear it. Imagine my surprise when I read the comments:

“No, you’re wrong. There have been studies done that show no toxic effects of Vitamin A at doses greater than 100,000 IU.  Vitamin E is safe and non-toxic….”

“Really Men’s HEALTH!! Shame on you and get the facts straight please. If you are not an idiot, one knows it is not only the quality of the supplement but the insight to supplement where it is needed on an individual basis.”

“This article is ridiculous. It makes me wonder how many other articles are CRAP on this website as well as the periodical? TO ANYONE READING THIS…Visit the Linus Pauling Institute online. Also, look up the Gerson Therapy.”

“To discredit vitamin supplements like in this article is a joke.  Deficiency is the problem in this country – vitamins aren’t (even supplements). Beta-Carotene doesn’t show any side effects in high doses. Vitamin E is safe and non-toxic.”

Alrighty then! Let’s hope those readers (and there were more) are the vocal minority. Skepticism is healthy, but there is a difference between opinion and fact. And while we’re at it, public health recommendations are not based on personal experience. And, finally, don’t shoot the messenger, especially when the messenger is me!

Your thoughts:  Is health information in the popular press worth reading? What’s a ‘nutrition expert’ to do?

A Food Truck Rally in Brooklyn

Many major cites have a Food Truck Rally, where a pack of ethnic kitchens on wheels circle, wagon train-style, in a public place at a designated day and time. There is no entry fee, the food is delicious and the price is beyond reasonable.

This was today’s Food Truck Rally in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza at Prospect Park, not half a mile from my apartment. It was the first rally of the season and seventeen food trucks participated: CoolHaus, Eddie’s Pizza Truck, Kelvin Natural Slush Co., Kimchi Taco, Milk Truck, Red Hook Lobster Truck, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, Vanleeuwen Ice Cream, Big D’s Grub, Cupcake Crew, Frites n Meats, Gorilla Cheese, Mexicue, Pera Turkish Tacos, Valducci’s Original Pizza, and Wafels & Dinges.

From what I could see, the lines were longest at Kelvin Natural Slush Co., VanLeeuwen Ice Cream and  CoolHaus (ice cream.) The air temperature was hot.  But for food, Kimchi Taco had the longest line by far, although every truck had great food. I wish I could have tried it all. The Prospect Park Food Truck Rally will take place on the third Sunday of every month through October. Today was special because the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Here are my photos. Enjoy!

Your thoughts: What do you think of the Food Truck Rally?

Click on the Cleavage

My readers know that I care about women’s issues: body image, fat bashing, and the growth of Internet porn. That’s why the segment on New York Public Radio’s ON [THE MEDIA] got my attention, Attack of the Reply Girls!

You need to know that You Tube places ads on their well-performing videos and shares the ad profits with the video producers. The Reply Girls have cracked Google’s algorithm as a legitimate way to make money. They identify videos as they go viral and then make a ‘response video’ that shows up on the right-hand side of the screen as ‘related’. Related videos make a chunk of change, usually for the producer of the original video who showcases his other (related) videos. But now, the Reply Girls are squeezing out the profits because they are so click-able.

Reply Girls create their response videos while wearing low-cut tops and push-up bras. Their heads may be partially cut-off, but their boobs are front and center. The Reply Girls copy all the tags from the viral video to make sure they always show up on top. Each Reply Girl makes 5 to 15 response videos a day. The UK Daily Mail online reports that a response video can earn $100 and up to $1,000 for those that draw 500,000 hits. The lead Reply Girl, Alejandra Gaitan from Canada, has been viewed 12 million times. Alejandra turned to You Tube because she was living below the poverty line.

Reply Girl videos don’t add meaning to the conversation, and the You Tube community, largely a boy’s club, is up in arms. One member, Skweezy, complains that “Titties are like Venus fly traps…We men can’t help it.” (Dude, take a cold shower.) Besides grabbing the money, critics say Reply Girls enforce negative stereotypes about women. But if American Apparel, Calvin Klein, Pepsi, and every Joe Schmo can make money on boob candy, then why can’t the owners of the boobs? The Reply Girls are simply working the capitalistic misogynistic system, and that’s how the slippery slope slides. All bets are off. But they better work fast because Google is rewriting their algorithm to treat the Reply Girls as Spam. Watch this Fox News report, Reply Girls are PARASITES.

Your thoughts: What do you think of Reply Girls?

Colbert Reports on ‘Pink Slime’

Truly, let this be the last word on ‘pink slime’ the other name for ‘lean finely textured beef,’ LFTB, or as Colbert says, “Because our beef has so many hormones, it’s a member of the transgender community!” ‘Pink slime’ is simply beef offal and trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to control pathogens. Like it or not, ammonium hydroxide is added to lots of food: cheese, chocolate, confections, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, sports drinks, beer, pudding – and meat. (Read more about it from The International Food Information Council Foundation.) All I can say is, America, you have no idea. Watch Stephen slime pink slime.

Individual Antioxidants Aren’t Worth Taking

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
Where does your information go?

I am frequently interviewed by health writers. I entered their circles at my last job. Getting my name out is good for driving traffic to my website. I like to read about topics in nutrition and answer questions, but the content of the final article can be a surprise. Let’s see what happens to yesterday’s interview. Check back here for the final version in a few days.

And so, yesterday, I commented on the Cochrane Review of Antioxidant Supplements for Prevention of Mortality in Healthy Participants and Patients with Various Diseases – all 258 pages. The review is of all primary and secondary prevention randomized clinical trials to assess the beneficial and harmful effects the popular anti-oxidant supplements, beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, verses placebo and no intervention. Antioxidants are compounds in plant foods that neutralize the byproducts of normal biochemical reactions. Those processes create unstable molecules (‘free radicals’) that, if left unchecked, can damage cells and, presumably, create disease.

Cut to the Chase

The review concluded that none of the supplements helped, and beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin A are potentially harmful. That didn’t surprise me because antioxidant research is in its infancy, and those popular supplements are only five of literally thousands and thousands of nutrients and phytochemicals (nutrients that are neither vitamins nor minerals) with antioxidant action. For instance, beta-carotene is one of more than 600 known carotenoids. Furthermore, some compounds have anti-oxidant activity in the lab but not in the body.

But the writer wanted to know if there is ever a particular situation in which an individual should consider taking one of the supplements in the review paper.  Err, no, the review said that taking individual antioxidants doesn’t work and is sometimes harmful. I recommend those antioxidants only as part of a multi-vitamin-mineral supplement with a full compliment of nutrients. I take such a supplement that does not exceed 100% of the DRI and goes nowhere near the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for any nutrient. And, yes, individuals should take a supplement at times when ‘oxidative stress’ is high. I’m thinking about extreme physical stress (e.g. training for an endurance event, working long hours in manual labor, inability to escape insufferable weather), or extreme emotional stress (e.g. painful divorce, incarceration, being fired), or during convalescence from an illness, accident or surgery, or when their usual diet is just plain crap. Those folks need a complete supplement, not a module, because nutrients work in synergy.

And so, my final answer is to eat a wholesome diet and skip the individual antioxidant supplements. Now, I’m waiting to see what actually shakes down.

Your thoughts, do you that nutritional supplements?