Learning to Love Microbes

Fermentation. The ideas that this word brings to mind aren’t necessarily the most pleasant: rot, mysteriously bubbling liquids, putrid stench, sourness. When my professor told us that we would be fermenting our own vegetables and eating them, one of my classmates was absolutely horrified by the thought. To ferment is to decay, to decompose, to die – surely we shouldn’t eat spoiled food!

But fermented food isn’t spoiled: it’s pre-digested. Specifically, as Michael Pollan describes it in his book Cooked (now a four-part Netflix series), “To ferment food is to predigest it, in effect, breaking long chains of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates our bodies might not be able to make good use of into simpler, safer compounds that they can.” In the simplest terms, fermenting is cooking without heat.

Beer, wine, cheese, yogurt, sourdough bread, miso paste, fish sauce, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, and even chocolate are all common examples of fermented foods. Nonetheless, describing them as what they are, fermented, still makes some people’s skin crawl. In the hyper-sterilized culture of westernized society, the process of encouraging bacterial growth sounds unsafe if not flat-out disgusting. We trust the manufactured versions of these products to be sanitized by industrial food producers to meet government standards to keep us safe. On the flipside, we no longer trust the process of fermentation itself, which has nothing to do with the most notorious foodborne threats of salmonella, listeria, and E coli. “Bacteria” have just been given a connotation of disease and death, such that we perceive them as menaces to be eradicated rather than recognizing their beneficial, natural role in our bodies.

Pollan writes beautifully and thoroughly about how detrimental processing and pasteurization have been to our microbiome, the communities of bacteria thriving in our bodies. Basically, we have deprived our bodily systems of a lot of beneficial microorganisms that humans have historically received from fermented and other foods. The combination of a) a lack of gut bacteria and b) the nutritional imbalance of our diets, heavy in fats and carbohydrates and low in fiber, has been linked to the rising prevalence of gastrointestinal disorders and possibly other autoimmune diseases.

Hold on – didn’t I write a post about the dangers of raw milk just two years ago? “Others still believe [raw milk] to be a good source of healthy bacteria – but, really, it is safer to look for probiotic dairy products, which have been pasteurized and then had beneficial bacteria added to them.” I look back on that post now and laugh at myself for having such blind faith in industrialization. The fact that manufacturers deliberately kill the naturally-occurring bacteria in our foods only to reinject some of them with live cultures for the sake of boasting a “probiotic” label is ridiculous. Thousands of microorganisms are lost in the process, so the effect on our bodies is markedly different. For instance, many sources will tell you that kefir made from live grains contains at least 35 strains of beneficial bacteria, yet store-bought versions boast a measly 12 active cultures.

Don’t get me wrong: pasteurization is extremely important to ensure the safety of mass-produced milk products. However, I highly recommend trying to incorporate unprocessed fermented foods to your diet, if you can find them. If you have access to organic produce, you can even try your hand at fermenting with recipes like this – it’s shockingly easy!

As Hokuma said in a recent post, let’s see food as a living and breathing ‘thing’ that interacts with our body.” I’d like to build on that: let’s see our insides as living things that interact with our food. It doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s the truth that gives us life.


Food as health or death


Dear Readers,

Today, I’d like to share with you my personal thoughts on two new studies. Both are about the effects of food consumption on the body, yet they focus on very different aspects. While one study highlights the benefits of consuming diverse foods, the other instills a sense of fear, which may damage the food waste movement (but only if we let it).

The reason this is important is because the studies highlight once again that we are what we eat. And being very intellectual creatures, who don’t just rely on word of mouth to make decisions, these findings can present some important facts on which to build sound and logical conclusions.

Ok, enough with the introduction, let’s leap into the research.

The Good News

Those of you who already love vegetables and fruits, you are well positioned for a long and healthy life. A new study shows that we need to uptake our fresh produce intake from five (as originally thought) to 10 fruits and veggies a day.

The study completed by Imperial College London demonstrates that such a diet can lead to “24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.” Wow…that’s a handful!

So what does 10 portions, or 800 g, of fruit and veggie intake look like? Here’s a nice visual for you by The Guardian. This article also mentions that some fruits and veggies are better at increasing certain health factors than others.

Specifically: “Apples and pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower were found to be best at preventing heart disease and stroke”.

Those who worry about cancer risks (which is very understandable, as any symptom search on Google will likely suggest possibilities of cancer), you can focus on “green vegetables (beans), yellow and orange vegetables (peppers and carrots), and cruciferous vegetables”.

Unfortunately, these benefits are mainly found when biting into real food, and less so through supplements and other pills. So those who are short on time, consider replacing your breakfast with a green smoothie (or if that’s not filling enough), at least try to make that your first drink of the day, before switching to coffee (or anything else that strikes your fancy).
The Bad News

Now, onto the bad news. Another study, completed by a researcher from Harvard University, demonstrated that because food makes up the building blocks of our cells, “eating older organisms (or food) – which have more molecular damage themselves- might cause an animal to age faster than one that eats younger organisms with less molecular damage”.
Specifically, “the old diet shortened lifespan by 18% in yeast and 13% in flies. In the mice, the old diet shortened lifespan by 13% in female mice, but there was no significant effect among males”, (lucky males!).

But as these experiments were done on animals, (not humans), we do not know exactly what effect this would have on humans, so let’s not jump the gun, but, let’s think a bit more about what we put into our mouths (and subsequently our bodies). And if you are unsure whether the food is safe to eat, please use your smell and visual senses before tossing aging produce into the bin.

My Conclusion 

It’s time we see food as more than something we consume to quiet our hunger (the sounds and feelings of an empty stomach are real). And let’s not just see it as a source of energy and fuel. Instead, let’s see food as a living and breathing ‘thing’ that interacts with our body, provides materials for our building blocks, and sends instructions to our brain.

“Food contains methyl groups (a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms (CH3)) capable of methylating (silencing) genes, [which] brought into focus the capability of food to profoundly affect disease risk as well phennotypal expression. If folate, B12, or Betaine– 3common food components — can literally ‘shut off’ gene expression with high specificity, food becomes a powerful information vector. One which may actually supervene over the DNA within our body by determining which sequences find expression”.

Phew, that’s a lot of scientific terms and chemistry in one paragraph, but the bottom line is this: food not only gives you fuel, or activates your taste buds (which in itself is lovely), but it is a very powerful tool, one that can determine your health and longevity.

This means that when you are hungry and looking for something to eat, what you reach for will not just satisfy your hunger, it will also determine your near future. Therefore, we should consider the idea of ‘real food’ vs. ‘food like’ items. Things that have been processed, filled with chemicals and created in a lab (mainly junk food). These foods not only lead to obesity, but they also wreak havoc on your health and beauty.

The best example of this are the Nenets and Khanty tribes in northern Siberia who now have cases of obesity thanks to the introduction of instant noodles, pasta, bread and sugar.

And since not many of us live on a farm (or even close to one), and definitely don’t have time or money to go shopping at farmers markets (and those who do sometimes lack the time to cook what they haul until it’s on the verge of decomposing in the fridge or shelf),  I would like to urge all of us to think more about frozen food!

Frozen foods can have as much nutritional value (if not more) as their fresh counterparts. How? Well, they are packaged at the peak of their ripeness (so all the good vitamins stay where they are). Also, as they are frozen, they can be the quick and easy go to option for those short on time and money (admit it, our lives are stressful and hectic). On top of all that, as our years continually get warmer, keeping your food in the freezer can ensure that it stays crisp and delicious, without going to waste.

Here’s a nice video to summarize the above paragraph:


Final Words

I hope this post widens your understanding of food, and peaks your interest in seeing fruits and veggies as more than a ‘side dish’ around the protein on your plate. Hopefully, they can slowly become the staple of your diet, the one that helps you live a healthy life.

If you have any thoughts or comments, please share them below.

Happy eating friends!

This is their story

mealflour.saynotofoodwaste.thisistheirstory.1.png1. Summarize your project/business in one sentence.

MealFlour is an environmentally sustainable social enterprise that provides training to build mealworm farms, raise mealworms, and turn them into protein-rich flour that can be incorporated in local staple foods or sold to bakeries and markets.

2. How long have you been in business/running your project?

We (Elizabeth Frank, Gabrielle Wimer, and Joyce Lu) have been working on the idea of MealFlour since December of 2015. In the summer of 2016, we began our pilot in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (also known as Xela). We are based in Xela, but we work with the communities on the outskirts of the city; our first community is Candelaria.

3. Why did you decide to start the company/project?

MealFlour started out as a thought experiment. We had all worked in community and global health and wished that more programs and social enterprises would take a holistic approach to improving health. We hoped MealFlour, with its emphasis on not only improving nutrition, but also on raising income and reducing waste, would be a more well-rounded approach to improving well-being. After we entered a few social enterprise competitions, earned enough seed funding, and confirmed local interest at our pilot site community, we realized that this thought experiment could actually become a reality, so we went for it.

4. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

One of our biggest concerns was finding out where to start.  Insects are eaten in 80% of countries around the world, including parts of Guatemala, but raising mealworms in this way is something new. When we pitched the concept to the group of women from a community in Candelaria and gave them samples of the mealworm products, they were excited to learn more and wanted to try out farming themselves.

5. How do you measure success?

Each week we discuss MealFlour’s progress with the farmers to receive their continuous feedback. In order to improve the program as it evolves, we track how many families are farming mealworms, how often they are eating mealworm flour, who in the family eats mealworm flour, open ended questions about attitudes towards mealworm farming and mealworm flour, and ease of uptake of the program. Success means that the women are still farming mealworms long after we have left, so it is important that we are constantly collaborating with farmers to build a business model that works for them.

It is also important to us that the flour they are producing is both improving nutrition in communities and creating new sources of income for the farmers (mostly women with young children). To measure this, we will be analyzing anthropometric data, conducting regular focus groups and surveys, and monitoring flour production and income.

6. What have you learned in the process?

Don’t be afraid to ‘make the ask’. This is advice we have gotten from a few different people along the way and (most of the time) it has really paid off – you’d be surprised how many people agree and want to help you.

7. What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the (nutrition) industry/get involved in (global public health) work/start a (social enterprise)?

Global health is about getting an intimate understanding of the local context, integrating insights and developments from around the world, and continuing to learn from communities. We chose Guatemala because Joyce worked there for three months in 2015 and got to know the community well. It was important to us that we didn’t integrate into the community without having a close relationship with them first. We also think carefully about each step moving forward with MealFlour. We have a plan and timeline for what we hope to achieve each month, but we are also really flexible to the changes that inevitably come with listening to what the community wants and determining what actually works in practice.

8. What’s next?

Next is where the real work begins! We spent almost a year laying groundwork, doing research, optimizing the farming technology, raising money, and developing partnerships. Now, starting October 2016, we will begin our first official classes on farming and begin to put everything we’ve been planning into practice.

9. Anything else you want to add?

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and check out our website and sign up for newsletter for more information!

Also, while MealFlour is working in the western highlands of Guatemala, we are really part of a larger, global movement towards sustainable agriculture  and edible insects. If you want to build your own farm at home and make delicious protein packed treats, find out how on our ‘DIY‘ page.

10. Fun question: what was the best meal you ate this week?

Homemade chapati bread and macaroons, both made with mealworm flour from mealworms taken straight from our farm and grown by co-founder Gabrielle Wimer!


Preventing Waste vs. Eating Healthily: Is There a Conflict?

People need to learn how to eat better. Poor diet contributes to the two leading causes of death worldwide – heart disease and stroke – as well as a slew of other medical problems including obesity, diabetes, and even certain cancers. Without a doubt, promoting proper nutrition is one of the most important food policy focuses of our time. However, it is by no means the only issue.

I recently spoke with someone who is not entirely convinced of the importance of saving food. She understands the principle of preventing waste but cares far more about getting people to eat healthily. Her example: if a person were deciding between throwing away a half-eaten bag of potato chips or saving them, she’d say to throw them away. It’s not worth salvaging junk food that can wreak so much damage on our bodies, her logic goes. chips

As someone whose life’s mission is to fight food waste but also cares deeply about nutrition, I needed a moment to wrestle with this argument. Since I used to overeat in the name of preventing waste (here’s my reflection post about it), I know how the pretense of saving food can clash with healthy eating intentions. Many weight loss diets even explicitly say that people shouldn’t eat everything on their plates, since portion sizes tend to be excessively large. So, does trying to avoid waste mean making poor dietary choices? In a word, no. The keys are storage and smart decisions.

Back to the potato chip example: I say the eater should save the chips as leftovers. That way, the next time the person has a craving for salty, fatty food, he/she can have more chips from the bag, rather than buying a new bag (i.e. giving more money to junk food companies). Plus, with half the chips already eaten, the portion size is limited, whereas a brand new bag would present the temptation to devour all the chips at once. Alternatively, the remaining chips could be shared with friends or served at a party.

nutsBringing leftover junk food home seems like it just invites bad choices; but that’s where my “smart decisions” point comes in. Once food is in the home, it can lose some of its novelty, making it easier to moderate intake. Since the food will still be there tomorrow, there’s less temptation to overindulge now. Unhealthy cravings can be sated in moderation. Moreover, the root of the problem is buying potato chips in the first place. If you don’t want to consume so much sodium and fat, buy a healthier snack!

I realize my counterargument isn’t perfect, but neither is our food environment. Ideally, junk food wouldn’t be so prevalent, nor portion sizes so large, that we have to debate saving unhealthy food for later. Teaching people how to eat well can only go so far as long as we’re surrounded by unhealthy options.  Nevertheless, the pursuit of good nutrition does not have to undercut food waste reduction.

Eating Healthy – What Does the World Say?

I read an article last week about how the nonprofit Nutrition Australia has redesigned the food pyramid according to Australia’s dietary guidelines, and it got me thinking about country-specific nutrition standards. Since we’re all humans, shouldn’t our dietary guidelines be universal? Do recommendations really vary from country to country? With these questions buzzing around my head, I wanted to do some research and compare the nutrition models of different nations.

After starting this blog post by writing a pretty detailed summary of the Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013: Eat for Health, I found that the FAO already has an extensive guide to food-based dietary guidelines from around the world. So, realizing that re-summarizing them here would be waste of time, I decided to just look through a few and share my observations:

  • Of the more than one dozen countries I looked at, the US was the only one whose guidelines mentioned calories. If nothing else, that’s indicative of the emphasis American culture puts on calories, which I believe is due to the obesity problem in this country.
Courtesy of National Health and Medical Research Council
Courtesy of National Health and Medical Research Council
  • Many countries, including the US and Australia, list five food groups as vital: fruit, vegetables, proteins (meats, nuts, legumes, beans, eggs), dairy, and grains. South Africa, however, has seven categories: starches; vegetables and fruits; nuts and legumes; meat, poultry, fish, and eggs; milk, maas (fermented milk), and yogurt; fat and oil; and water. Others structure their guides by frequency rather than food group, such as the Spanish pyramid that categorizes foods by whether they should be eaten daily, weekly, or occasionally.
  • Instead of a food guide, Brazil offers 10 Steps to Healthy Diets, which incorporate lifestyle choices like having regularly-timed meals, avoiding snacking, and eating slowly in comfortable, social environments. Sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet.
  • Some countries emphasize the idea of having a colorful diet, such as Canada’s recommendation to have at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day.
  • While most have stuck with the traditional food pyramid, where the bottom of the pyramid shows foods that should be eaten most and the apex contains those which should be eaten sparingly, some countries have more creative graphic representations, such as China’s food pagoda, Canada’s food rainbow, and Germany’s food circle.
  • Several countries, including the Philippines, Georgia, and India, highlight breastfeeding for at least 6 months as being extremely important to raising healthy babies. As an American, it first struck me as strange to see breastfeeding even mentioned among health guidelines. Upon further thought, though, I realized that, in countries with high poverty rates and/or water sanitation issues, it isn’t surprising that the government would encourage people to take advantage of a free, safe way to nourish their children.

There were, of course, some overarching themes: Limit consumption of added salt and sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, and processed or fried foods. Eat whole, rather than refined, grains; reduced-fat milk products; and lean meats, with fat and skin removed. Drink lots of water and exercise regularly. These are paramount to living a healthy life, but all of the recommendations of the various nations are worth keeping in mind, too. Instead of trying to find the ultimate food guide to live by, I’d say just learn as much as you can about health and nutrition and then make your own choices. For reference, the full FAO guide can be found here.

Oh, one more overarching theme: enjoy a diverse diet. With emphasis on enjoy. Eating healthily doesn’t mean forsaking taste or quality – just look at our scrumptious Midweek Delicacies!


The Mediterranean Diet: What You Need to Know

When people hear the word ‘diet,’ they tend to think of temporary food restrictions and exercise regimens geared towards weight loss. However, the alternate, original definition of diet just refers to a person’s or group’s eating pattern. The duality of the word can generate a bit of confusion, especially when talking about the Mediterranean diet, whose emphasis on healthy fats might confuse those trying to slim down. The diet is not a plan for rapid weight loss but rather a lifestyle, modeled after that of Italians and Greeks, designed to improve general health – which could include shedding some extra pounds.

medit salmonMediterranean cuisine emphasizes fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats including olive oil, nuts, and fish. As the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines explain, “the focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on limiting total fat consumption, but rather on choosing healthier types of fat.” This fat substitution means swapping butter for olive oil and red meats for seafood as well as seeking out low-fat dairy products. Olive oil and fish are the two features most commonly associated with the diet not only because they’re so prominent in it but because they respectively contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease blood clotting and regulate blood pressure. To further promote heart health, the diet discourages eating processed foods (especially meat), added sugars, refined grains and oils, and trans fats while encouraging the use of spices rather than salt to flavor meals. It even allows for moderate red wine consumption to lower risk of heart disease.

In addition to lessening the risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet has been recently linked to improved brain function thanks to a study published earlier this week that compared participants’ performance on a variety of cognitive tests before and after following specific diets over a few years. Participants on a low-fat diet suffered a decline in many aspects of cognitive performance, whereas those on the Mediterranean diet supplemented by healthy fats from nuts and oils improved their performances on various cognitive function and memory tests. More investigation is needed into how exactly the diet affects the brain, but the scientists have some preliminary hypotheses, such as that antioxidants might counteract stress. This study has made the rounds on several news outlets because it serves as a breakthrough in connecting heart disease prevention to brain health and suggests that diet can be used to preemptively prevent cognitive deterioration.

Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013
Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013

Of course, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy body. For one thing, eating any foods in excess or consuming an imbalance of nutrients can be harmful, which is why the Mediterranean diet encourages eating in a social setting. While some people argue that being surrounded by fellow eaters stimulates them to consume more, the logic used by proponents of the diet is that of the slow meal: conversation distracts you from your food, allowing you to eat more slowly and your body to register its fullness. The diet also includes regular, at least moderate exercise as the vital counterpart to mindful eating in maintaining a healthy body.

Interested in trying this magical diet? Here’s a helpful guide to get you started.


What You Need to Know about Raw Milk

While there are plenty of reasons to support the local and raw food movements, which are founded on the idea of turning away from heavily-processed foods and large-scale industrialized food systems for nutritional and ecological reasons, strict adherence to them isn’t as wholesome or safe as it may seem. Case in point: raw milk. The idea of drinking milk straight from the cow sounds delightfully quaint, but this all-natural approach is actually incredibly risky.

rawcowUnlike much industrial processing that can be considered superfluous, pasteurization was developed because it was necessary to keep people safe from foodborne pathogens. It was developed by Louis Pasteur in the mid-1800s and embraced in commercial dairy production around the turn of the century to combat prevalent milk-borne illnesses like scarlet and typhoid fevers. Much like cooking meat, the process entails sufficiently heating milk (or wine) to kill harmful microorganisms and prolong the product’s shelf life. The enzymes destroyed in pasteurization are considered negligible in terms of overall nutritional value, and the process has never been connected to adverse health effects. If anything, previous disease outbreaks associated with processed milk have mostly been due to post-pasteurization contamination via mishandling or improper storage.

By contrast, consuming raw milk products typically causes ‘standard’ foodborne illness – vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain – but can also have more severe consequences, including kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, and death. The Center for Disease Control greatly discourages raw dairy consumption, emphasizing that “healthy people of any age can get very sick or even die if they drink raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.” Milk can become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses (such as E Coli, Giardia, and norovirus) through contact with manure or other unclean environment or sickness of the milk-producing animal. The severity of a person’s reaction can depend on his/her immune system and the germ type and level of contamination in the milk. For this reason, one person may drink raw milk for years without getting sick, while another may become seriously ill from their first time trying it. Raw milk was identified as the source of 81 disease outbreaks 2007-2012, averaging 13 outbreaks per year as compared to the 3 per year of 1993-2006.


So, given that raw milk has never been found to yield health benefits and has undeniable adverse effects, why do 3% of Americans drink at least one glass a week? For some, the reason is as simple as taste; but others prefer raw milk for its purity, meaning the absence of growth hormones. Others still believe it to be a good source of healthy bacteria – but, really, it is safer to look for probiotic dairy products, which have been pasteurized and then had beneficial bacteria added to them.


Nonetheless, the growing popularity of raw foodism has seen raw milk sales rise throughout the US. Less than 1% of milk sold in the US is unpasteurized, and there is a federal prohibition of sale across state lines, but the legality of raw milk sale is a state issue. The most recent survey, from 2011, concluded that the sale of unpasteurized milk was legal in 30 states with varying levels of restriction. Colorado, for instance, requires consumers to buy a share of a cow in exchange for its raw milk. In light of the surge in popularity, however, some states in the Midwest are seeking to legalize raw milk sale so that they can better regulate it. On a legal, rather than black, market, states propose to mandate warning labels, sales records, routine testing, and increased sanitary standards for farms selling unpasteurized products. Though some oppose them as attacks on small businesses and personal freedom, the proposed regulations could do great good by decelerating the annual milk-borne disease outbreak rate.

If you’re on the raw food bandwagon, I caution you to reconsider fully committing to the diet. Many small farms offer organic, pasteurized milk, which is a (presumably) more-sustainable yet still safe alternative to mass-produced dairy products. I’d always been jealous of my dad’s stories of working on a farm and drinking fresh milk, but, now that I’ve read up on the risks, I think I’ll stick with pasteurization.

Drink up and stay healthy,



Additional sources:

Heat Treatments and Pasteurization

Wendle, Abby (NPR) – Why Some States Want to Legalize Raw Milk Sales

Not so virgin: the fraud of the olive

saynotofoodwaste.oliveoil.health.fraud.consumer.power.knowledge.olives.1Drizzle it on top of a lush green salad, prepare a bowl to dip warm slices of bread into, or sip a teaspoon on an empty stomach- just some of the uses for olive oil. 

This century old ingredient promises beauty and overall health.

Recent scientific studies also confirm the health benefits of olive oil, a main staple of the Mediterranean diet. 

Lucky for us (who live in developed countries), we can find this golden liquid packaged inside glass bottles and aerosol cans (but please, whatever you do, don’t ever buy olive oil in a spray can, you will regret it!) on supermarket aisles.

With so many wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle, the demand for continued production of olive oil is high, especially for the oils exported from Italy. Being naive believers in packaging and marketing, consumers happily buy up olive oil that says ‘Natural’ and ‘Made in Italy’. If you fall prey to these deceitful schemes, then watch out!

Recent studies showed that “70% of cheaper extra virgin olive oil sold is a fraud.” And labels that say ‘Extra Virgin’ and ‘Made in Italy’ are legal even if the product wasn’t produced in Italy. This means that 69% of olive oil sold in the USA is doctored.

Big brands, such as Filippo Berio and Bertolli, make customers believe that their product is made in pristine olive fields of Italy. However, most of the time, their olives hail from diverse corners of the world like Tunisia, Turkey, Greece and Spain. 

So, how can this be possible? Unfortunately, the FDA in USA and the EU don’t test olive oil due to high costs. Big brands, hungry for profit, utilize these loopholes to make loads of money without ever getting caught. It’s like taking part in trafficking illegal drugs but never being held responsible for the crime.

Isaynotofoodwaste.oliveoil.health.fraud.consumer.power.knowledge.olives.3n 2010, UC Davis carried out a study of olive oil. Results showed that 69% of imported and 10% of California-based oils labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ failed International Olive Council (IOC) and USDA standards for extra virgin olive oil. Luckily a small percentage of products did pass the test and these brands should be applauded for selling quality goods. Corto Olive, California Olive Ranch, Kirkland Organic, Lucero and McEvoy Ranch Organic all sell real olive oil.

It’s unfortunate to see big companies finding loopholes to make money by advertising false products to their consumers. It’s also alarming to see government agencies failing to protect consumers from these frauds. This is why, more than ever, it’s important that we share our knowledge with each other. The power is in our hands. I hope this post has been helpful!

Happy eating!

Diet Culture 101

Diet Culture falsely equivalates weight loss with health, no matter how drastic or unrealistic. In reality such weight loss is impossible without losing a limb or major surgery.

On my personal Twitter account, I collect pictures, articles, and stories that demonstrate the Euro-American “Diet Culture.” My purpose in doing this is to call out our attitudes towards food – specifically towards indulgence and dieting. Before I go into this a little further, I would like to take a moment to explain.

“Diet Culture” is a series of attitudes, behaviors, and ideals that encourage an unhealthy relationship with food by means of unsafe dietary practices (like over-restriction, extreme exercise, and bingeing). Diet culture is particularly poignant in Euro-American contexts and dietary spheres. Diet Culture is changing our relationship with food.

Our relationship with food is fundamentally flawed.

Food, (and eating it), is one of the few universal human constants. Every person needs food and experiences eating in his or her life. Because food is so ubiquitous to our survival, it has necessarily impacted all human cultures. Whether we like it or not, a large chunk of “culture” has to do with food and the practices surrounding eating, harvesting, or preparing food. This is why I say we have a relationship with food – human beings interact with each other over food and we spend a lot of time preoccupied with eating (and preparing) food. Think of the success of various cooking channels – we like food.

saynotofoodwaste.diet.health.dietculture.2Diet Culture makes a problem out of our need (and love) of food. On the one hand, during the latter half of the year, we are encouraged to indulge in delicious food. From Halloween to the holiday season, we are bombarded with adverts celebrating the consumption of too much candy, over-indulging at Thanksgiving, and eating copious amounts of cookies, tamales, and latkes in December. As soon as January 1 hits, however, advertisers give us a different picture. The same people who advertised gleeful amounts of cookies are now advertising diet pills or encouraging us to “get back on track” with our diet. It reinforces guilt around the foods we eat and encourages unhealthy practices like crash dieting and too much exercise. Promises like “lose 10 pounds in one week” give people with low self-esteem a false expectation of what happens to our bodies when we make healthy food choices.

While healthy food choices are always important to emphasize, the cultural approach to healthy lifestyles is one laden with misinformation. The biggest problem in this situation is that we begin to assume certain foods or habits are healthy when they are in fact detrimental. A healthy lifestyle is not necessarily one bound in extreme diets or health fads. In reality, when we look at healthy lifestyles, it should be understood as a variety of different attitudes and approaches to health that all have one thing in common: respect and care for the body. Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some specific examples of how our perception of health has been warped by “Diet Culture.” I hope you will join me in this discussion – and when you see an example of diet culture, tweet or instagram using the hashtag “#StopDietCulture.” Hopefully we can begin to bring awareness to our relationship with food.

By Jordan

The Meat of the Issue: Karma and Disease

While many of the health complications associated with eating red meat stem from naturally-occurring causes, there are many other risks that all industrially-produced meat pose to us because of how we treat animals. As a result of farmers’ efforts to maximize efficiency of meat production, animals get pumped full of chemicals that are passed into the humans that eat them. In other words, we developed animal agriculture in such a way that seems to actually be threatening us. Well done, society.

saynotofoodwaste.eat.happy.healthy.share.care.meat.diet.sustainable.green.2In addition to energy-depleting grains, animals are fed growth hormones and antibiotics to induce rapid weight gain. The reasoning is this: the larger the animal, the more meat there is that can be sold for profit. While there is no conclusive evidence that consuming hormones via meat (or dairy) is harmful to humans, it has been linked to premature puberty in girls as well as increased risks of breast and prostate cancer. More evidence exists, however, showing a direct relationship between ingestion of antibiotics via animal products and bacterial resistance in humans. Antibiotics are given to animals to prevent diseases such as E. Coli, of course, but they are also used for sub-therapeutic purposes: to make the animals gain weight. In any case, while the animal may be kept safe from a disease, the human that eats it could very well become more susceptible.

Pesticides are another synthetic material that ends up in our bodies via consumed food. Most attention is paid to their presence on produce, since chemicals are more or less directly applied to growing crops, but these crops are also fed to animals we eat. The consequences of indirectly consuming pesticides are still debated, but it is recommended that pregnant women and babies avoid pesticide-grown food due to concerns about its effects on a developing brain and links to cancer.

saynotofoodwaste.eat.happy.healthy.share.care.meat.diet.sustainable.green.3Pesticide production is an example of manufacture that generates dioxins, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are by-products of industrial processes such as bleaching as well as natural events like volcanic eruptions. These pollutants contaminate soils and grain feed and are then consumed by animals and stored in their fat. As roughly 11 billion pounds of animal fat are recycled into animal feed every year, dioxin bioaccumulates in more and more animals. When humans eat products containing animal fat, they are ingesting these compounds – which are carcinogenic and damaging to the immune, reproductive, and developing nervous systems.

Many of these potential problems require further research, but what does that mean for us? I don’t fear modernization per se, but seeing these connections between serious health concerns and the increasingly synthetic and industrial aspects of our meat supply worries me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I still eat meat, and I acknowledge my personal hypocrisy. I just wish there wasn’t such a high global demand for meat, so that people wouldn’t feel compelled to produce it en masse by potentially hazardous means.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and you can expect to see it next week.