Public Health? Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

ABA Close UpDe do do do, de da da da. Entering the Brooklyn subway on a sunny day. But what’s this? A public health message? Move in closer….img_1921

Okay, I see. Big Soda is paying the MTA to endear us to their products, disguised of healthful advice. This ad is sponsored by the group that represents Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (I miss Mayor Bloomberg.)
Public Health Indeed!

That was fours days ago. Then. today I woke up to this article in the New York Times: Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against it. Ah, the public health part.

But these articles, also ripped from today’s headlines, put another spin on “public health”:

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (“The Academy”), the professional organization of registered dietitians in which I once held leadership positions, accepts (a lot of) sponsorship from Big Food. That’s why I am no longer a member. They have sullied my name and so they must be renounced. My dietitian friends will tell you, the phrase “The Academy” always evokes the response, “I hate them.”

Personally, I favor a soda tax (and everything else that can be done to reform our sick brand Capitalism.) I neither drink soda nor eat processed food. (Bread is about as processed as it gets.) I’ve written about why I favor a soda tax in the blog posts listed below.

Your thoughts: How can we stop this?

Providence to Newport by Water (with my brother on a very hot day)

Mary:  “How old is this boat?”
Peter:  “35 years”
Mary:  “It’s nice in here. Why don’t you re-do the linoleum in the Captain’s quarters? You know, keep up the boat.”
Peter:  “Arrrgggh! This is a working boat! It stays in the water. Gotta make money!”
Mary:  “Okay. Got it.”

You might remember my brother, Peter and his boat, the Endeavour, from a past blog,
I Wanna Be a Lobsterman. Actually, that blog led to a unique experience when a guy named Steve Trewhella found a lobster trap tag from the Endeavour at Chesil BeEndeavor Tagach, UK on the South coast of England. Steve took a photo and posted it on Facebook, and then a second guy, Tom Pitchford of Florida, US, saw the  photo, googled the Endeavour, found my blog, and sent me Steve’s photo on Facebook at Mary Hartley RD. Crazy!

BTW: Our Endeavor is not to be confused with the HMS Endeavour recently found at the bottom of Newport Harbor. That Endeavour is the boat Captain James Cook sailed around the world when he made first contact with Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

Anyway, last Friday, an unbearably hot and humid July day, my brother had to move his boat from the Port of Providence where it went for its biennial exterior paint job (sorry, Pete) back to Newport, Rhode Island where it is docked. I went along for the ride. Mmmmm. So breezy steaming down Narragansett Bay.

Check out the photos of the day. Note the huge mobile harbor crane loading the boat into the water at Port of Providence, and at Slide 9, notice the pop-up storm brewing 20 miles to the west in Wickford, RI. We could see the thunder and lightening, but Wickford got all that plus heavy rain and very gusty winds. It blew through suddenly and tipped over stuff!

Comments:  Have you taken this trip?

How Cheese is Good for You

cheeseIf you are a turophile (cheese lover), good news! If you have turophobia (fear of cheese), get over it! It turns out that cheese is actually good for you. We were steered wrong. Sacré bleu!

I have written about why we need to eat more fermented foods and natural cheese is a perfect example. Natural cheese, especially the part right under the rind, is full of probiotic bacteria essential to good health.

So far, we know that research subjects who ate natural cheese produced more butyrates, short-chain fatty acids that literally feed the cells lining the colon. Butyrates create an environment that suppress inflammation in the colon and that may help conditions like ulcerative colitis and colon cancer. In addition, 70% of our immunoglobin cells are made in the colon and they act all throughout the body. Studies show that butyrates created by eating cheese enhanced natural and acquired immunity. (Acquired immunity is when antibodies develop in response to exposure to an infectious disease or through vaccination.) More butyrate was also associated with a reduction of “bad” serum cholesterol. It seems like good gut bacteria was more important than saturated fat.

Read about the healthy bacteria in cheese in Science Daily:

Your thoughts: Does your life include enough cheese?

Talking About the Bug Banquet

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara:  “Yuck, I don’t think I feel well.”
Mary:  “What, like you want to throw-up?”
Barbara:  “Maybe. I feel like I just ate bugs.”
Mary:  “No kidding. That’s why I didn’t eat any.”

Here, I am talking with my dear friend, Barbara, also a dietitian, in the car on the way home from The Bug Banquet. My long-term readers might Barbara from past blogs, Talking About “What Not to Do” on the BQE and Talking About Oxtails in Brooklyn. Lucy and Ethel-style, Barbara hauled me to an event where insects were on the menu.

As a Johnson & Wales University Professor, Barbara got a special invitation and I was her guest. She was kind of obligated to eat bugs with her colleagues and students there. No one noticed me flitting around, chatting it up, and passing on the bugs. As a product of the western world, I offer no apologies. As a near vegetarian, I am doing the sustainability thing.

Read about the banquet and “cricket flour” in my article for DietsInReview,
The Bug Banquet: Serving Sustainability in a Cricket Pesto Flatbread

Your thoughts: Would you eat insects? Have you? How were they?

Nutrients from the Sky. The Upside of Snow.

       "Winter I"  by Bob Zuck

“Winter I” by Bob Zuck

Juno, Linus, Marcus, Neptune, Pandora…. What now? We’re running out of names for snowstorms in New England. 

Can you believe our good fortune? 

I feel so much better now that my buddy, artist farmer Bob Zuck, introduced me to the nutritional benefits of snow. As it turns out, we are flush in nutrients falling from the sky.

Snow is more than moisture. It is also rich in nitrogen, a nutrient that makes up every living cell in plants and animals. Nitrogen is what makes protein unique. Nitrogen comprises 80% of the atmosphere, but it’s in a form that can’t be used. Snow grabs that nitrogen and deposits it into the soil where bacteria “fix” it for absorption into plants. We then eat the plants directly or we eat herbivorous animals. Nitrogen fixing plants include legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts) and cover crops from the Fabaceae family (alfalfa, clover, and vetch).

Atmospheric nitrogen is exceptionally abundant a result of burning fossil fuels and manufacturing. To an industrial farmer, the nitrogen in snow can’t hold a candle to commercial fertilizer, but harsh chemical fertilizers damage the soil’s microbes and so they would need more.

New England, look on the bright side. Prepare to feast on sustainable local food this summer. California, eat my dust. Wait. Eat your own dust.

Your thoughts: Do you feel better about the snow?

Tafathalo! Welcome to My Arabic Dinner

This year the Arab American Institute conducted their biyearly poll of American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims. Favorable attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims are lacking to say the least: 68% of Americans are critical of Arabs and 73% dislike Muslims. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans admit they don’t know enough about Islam, Muslims, and Arab history and people. A narrow-minded bunch are we, which brings me around to my Christmas theme for 2014:

Jesus was an Arab.

He was born in the Middle East, he spoke Aramaic and he probably had dark skin. Look at the desert in the nativity scene. Arabic people can be Jewish because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnicity. Furthermore, every Arab is not Muslim. 

To honor my theme, I hosted a pre-Christmas-eve Arabian dinner. My menu came from the Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Gulf States section, mostly.) I got the cloth-bound hard-covered edition from my local library. (Frugality is another one of my themes.)

The Arabic cuisine is mainly a combination of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian food. It has been affected by the mingling of Arab and non-Arabs over the centuries. European cultures such as the Spanish, Italian, French and Greek had impact on Arab cooking. Turkish cuisine impacts the entire Arab world, while Persian and Indian cuisine influences eastern Arabic countries.

Sharing a meal with others is an old honored tradition in the Arabic World and an expression of hospitality. “Tafathalo” means “Do me the honor”. It is an invitation to come to the table. This is what I served:

Starters
Hummus and Khoubiz (Flat Bread) from Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Massachusetts
Endives with Oranges and Almonds (Spanish/Arabian influence, generously provided by a guest)

Soup
Shaurabat Adas (Red Lentil Soup)

Salad
Fattoush Salad

Entrees
Samak Quwarmah (Fish Curry)
Mushkoul (Rice with Onion)
Kebat Al Batatis Wal Burkul (Bulghul and Potato Cakes with Lamb and Apricot Filling) – (We thought this needed a yogurt sauce.)

Desserts / Beverages
“Sweet Sesame” (a Sam’s Bakery bread made with honey, sugar, cinnamon, and sesame seeds)
Dates
Candy (re-gifted by the teachers at the table)
Decaf coffee/Black tea
Wine
Arak (Now I know to water it down.)

Your thoughts: Do you eat Middle Eastern food? Do you know enough about Arabic culture?

Healthy Vending Machines Are Here to Stay

bettervendingmachinesAn important diet trend is unfolding. The food in vending machines is changing for the best.

You can’t believe how often people eat from vending machines. Teens get around one third of their calories from snack foods eaten away from home. At work, school and in public places, machines may be the only option. I ate from vending machines I worked in the cubes. 🙁 I used to buy two ounces of salted Planter’s Peanuts, full of calories but also nutrients, I was starving, and the other food was crap. I should have packed a snack.

Anyway, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, (Michelle Obama’s) federal law that affects public school food, mandated that food sold in schools, including vending machines, meet the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutrition standards. In turn, several major cities, and now the State of California, mandated that vending machines on government property be healthy. That drove the market for suppliers and (surprise!) people liked the healthy food better (well not all.) Still, it looks like a healthy vending machine franchise is good financial bet.

To learn more, read my article, Healthier Vending Machines are a Win-Win for All Hungry Consumers, at DietsInReview.com.

Your thoughts: What do you buy from the vending machine?

My Grandmother, the Chicken Killer

Ninja Chicken
“Eat only the animals you kill.”
Yesterday, while sitting in a restaurant with my 94-year old aunt, Jean, she told me that her mother, my grandmother, was an exceptionally skilled chicken killer.
(From living in Brooklyn, I know that backyard chickens are all the rage.)

Mary:  Really, did my grandmother raise chickens?
Jean:  No, she killed chickens as a favor to the neighbors.
Mary:  Where did she get the live chickens to kill?
Jean: The man sold live chickens off the truck. Chickens in cages were loaded onto a flatbed truck then driven into the neighborhoods.
Mary: Why didn’t my grandmother buy chicken at the store?
Jean: That was expensive, and she knew these chickens were fresh.
(Mary: FRESH? I guess. She had to kill the damn thing! Nowadays, people won’t even touch a raw chicken, let along MURDER it.)
Mary:  So, what was this skill? How did she actually kill a chicken?
Jean: She would feel around the neck and SNAP it in the right place. It was so fast. She pulled the head away from the body.

Backyard chicken lovers, let’s take this relationship to the next level!
How to kill a chicken*

“The recommended neck dislocation method is to grasp the bird’s legs in one hand (usually the left), holding the legs at about waist level, and the head in the other hand going diagonally across your body down to below your right hip. The beak should protrude between your first two fingers and, gripping tightly, you use the heel of your palm against its upper neck to provide the necessary pivot. In the one movement, you’re supposed to wrench downward (that is, up with the legs, down with the head) and twist the head sharply up and back. There should be an audible click of dislocation; however, a very strong may pull the head right off, which would be rather upsetting. If you practice beforehand (perhaps on an already deceased chicken), you will certainly know what force to use as well as if you possess  the strength to do it.”
*www.backyardpoultry.com

But wait (sorry) there’s more. The bird gets decapitated and eviscerated with the skill of a surgeon. Then the chicken gets dunked in scalding water followed by an ice bath to make feather plucking easier. Finally, the chicken is cooked very quickly before rigor mortis sets in.

Just think, that was only eighty years ago and, still, many, if not most, people around the world kill the meat they eat. At least they know it’s fresh.

Your thoughts? Would you eat meat if you had to kill it first?

My Favorite Christmas Gift (Orange You Glad?)

Citrus Fruit Gift BoxMy favorite gift is one that disappears. Eat it, drink it, burn it, rub it on the skin, throw it away like a withered bouquet.  Just make it go.

Tops on my list is a box of seasonal fruit, straight from the farm. Aromatic and soooo delicious; it’s peak season for citrus fruits: red grapefruit, clementines, Cara Cara oranges, Meyer lemons. Super foods, as they say. I really mean it.

That’s what told Joan Wickham on a sweaty scorcher of a day last summer. Joan is the manager of advertising and public relations.for the Sunkist Growers. We met at The Capital Grille on E 42nd Street during her visit from Los Angeles. Sunkist a citrus growers’ cooperative of 6,000 members from California and Arizona. They are the largest fresh produce shipper in the United States.

Citrus Gifts

Joan presented me with a mesh bag of variegated pink Eureka lemons. (Sunkist calls their Pink Variegated Lemonsvariety “Zebra”.) It has green and off-white stripes on the outside and a pink flesh inside. Sporadically, pink lemons are available winter through mid-summer. They are a perfect garnish for cocktails. Look for them where Melissa’s Farm Fresh Produce is sold – and in fine bars. The variegated pink is a mutant variety first discovered on an ordinary Eureka lemon tree in a Burbank home garden around 1930.

As for my favorite Fresh Citrus Gift Box, California citrus can be ordered from farms such as Shields Date Garden and Pearson Ranch and, of course, on Amazon. To guide your choice, Sunkist makes a varietal chart of all the California citrus fruits available by month.

Lékué Citrus MisterAnd here is citrus gift, that doesn’t disappear, but gets a pass for being so darn practical and cute. It is the Lékué Citrus Mister I saw demonstrated at several cooking events this year. Just pop the mister right into the fruit to spritz salads, seafood, cocktails, your hair, the room, and more. The gadget is so much fun to pass around the table.

My citrus gift to you is this recipe for Grapefruit Avocado Salad, my favorite winter salad. It was first served to me at the Zuck’s dinner table and now, I make it all the time. Add pomegranate seeds to dress it up for Christmas and spritz the avocado to stay green.

Your thoughts: What’s your favorite holiday gift?

Confessions of a Wheat Germ Lover

Wheat GermA brief interaction on Twitter led Kretschmer Wheat Germ to me. They are considering me for a “Happy Wheat Germ User” feature, but needed to know more first.

Wheat Germ and Me

As a nutrition-loving baby boomer, it seems like I have always known about wheat germ. Along with soy protein and non-fat dried milk, it was part of Cornell Bread, a staple food developed for wartime rationing in the 1940s (well before my birth!) My first encounter with a regular wheat germ eater took the form of a woman from Switzerland I met in my late teens. She ate wheat germ for breakfast mixed with avocado and honey or as part of muesli along with yogurt. I like to add wheat germ to recipes for pancakes, muffins, veggie burgers, and meatballs. My favorite Wheat Germ Bread is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book via Kretschmer Wheat Germ a long time ago.

The Original Super-food

As a registered dietitian, people complain to me about feeling stiff-achy-and-punk. Their children are listless and their parents are falling apart with inflammatory diseases and cancers. To them I say, “You really ought to be eating wheat germ!” Wheat germ is LOADED with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid), vitamin E and essential fatty acids, the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and zinc, plus protein and phenolic compounds. Wheat germ is the nazz! In fact, the germ is the richest part of the wheat kernel, which is why white flour is a problem: the germ (and bran) is tossed during in processing. Such a sin.

An Image Problem

A “germ” is a seed, bud, spore, or embryo, the basis of all new life. A plant germ is highly nutritious because it has the nutrients to support future growth.  A “germ” is also a microorganism, especially one that produces disease. People today don’t seem to know that one germ has nothing to do with the other. Wheat germ needs a re-branding campaign. I can help with that.

Here are three good wheat germ recipes from my recipe files at Calorie Count:

Your thoughts: Do you eat (and enjoy) wheat germ?