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Want to Eat Eco-Friendly? Some Tips to Get Started

July 26, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Jane Bills of Let There Be Bite

Okay, the purple butterfly might be a little much, but I like the message, don’t you? As I continue to watch floods, tornadoes, and fires stampede across the country (sorry, but no one can convince me it’s not because of climate change and greenhouse gases), I know we can do better. We can conserve more, recycle more, live greener and with better intentions for the future of this ailing planet—at least I know I can. Want to join me?

DRINK TAP WATER Bottled water is no safer than tap water, and, in some cases, is more contaminated. If you need any convincing of this, see the movie “Tapped.” Here, some of the film’s major takeaways:

  • Big corporations (Coca-Cola: Dasani, Vitaminwater; PepsiCo: Aquafina; Nestlé: Arrowhead, Poland Spring) brazenly appropriate community groundwater, “purify” and bottle it, and sell it back to consumers at 1,900 times the cost of tap water.
  • “Purified” bottled water is often more contaminated than tap water. Tap water is regulated and tested 300-400 times per month; bottled water is not tested at all. Independent researchers testing bottled water have found petrochemicals [benzene (petrochemical known to cause cancer), styrene (hazardous chemical that can cause gastrointestinal, kidney, and reproductive problems), and toluene (benzene derivative found in gasoline and paint thinners)].
  • The plastic bottle itself is made with petroleum and can contain Bisphenol-A,
    or BPA (known to cause cancer, diabetes, liver disease, low sperm count, and brain disorders like hyperactivity). Related tips: Look for “BPA-free” on baby bottles, food sold in cans (or buy fresh more often), and plastic storage containers. I use a stainless steel water bottle for running around town and these BPA-free containers for food storage.
  • Only 50 percent of plastic is recycled worldwide. This has created swarms of discarded plastic material in the oceans, which is now being found in the fish we are consuming. If you use plastic, please recycle.

Filter your tap water Tap water may be the greener alternative, but groundwater still carries too many contaminants. It usually suffices to use a simple water filter, but since San Diego tap water is notorious for tasting like sea water, and a recent analysis of our water did not leave me feeling confident, I invested $250 in a reverse osmosis unit, which purifies water to a much greater extent. And yes, you can call me Heidi because I live in the Alps now!

EAT ORGANIC If you do nothing else, do this.

Organic food is what we are meant to be eating. It contains no preservatives, fertilizers, or pesticides. It is not genetically modified.* It has not been sterilized with radiation or ammonia. Organic food is highly regulated: organic farms are required to constantly test both their products for nutrients as well as their irrigation water (non-organic farms use “sewer water” that can contain biosolids like heavy metals, lawn pesticides, gas, detergents).

One criticism is that organic food can be more expensive than conventional food, but not always if you know how to shop:

  • Buy from farmer’s markets (a recent study found them to be up to 40 percent cheaper than in stores).
  • It is not necessary to buy organic fruit and vegetables whose peel is later discarded, such as pineapple or squash. At the very least, buy organic when it comes to the “dirty dozen”: peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples, spinach, celery, pears, sweet bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, lettuce, and imported grapes. These items often require more pesticides to fight off bugs compared to hardier produce, such as asparagus and eggplant.
  • Buy in bulk when possible for items like organic sugar and cereals. I buy organic chicken broth in bulk at Costco, for example.
  • Prepare vegetarian meals more frequently. Organic lentils will be more affordable than organic grass-fed beef. Plus, just about everyone can stand to eat a little less meat.
  • It’s not ideal, but look for organic food that is close to expiration and has been marked down in price. Some of the big-box stores that expanded to sell organic food in the last few years, like Walmart and Target, may have good deals.

* Look for this label in the grocery store. However, no food can be guaranteed 100% non-GMO. Our food system is far too infiltrated with genetically modified origins to completely eradicate it. Additionally, pesticide spraying in one field can carry in the wind and contaminate organic fields. However, organic food is a far better alternative and gives you a much greater chance of avoiding these DNA-altered ingredients that are pervasive in mainstream food.

EAT LOCAL Your food will be fresher, tastier, and full of more nutrients. You’ll drastically minimize your carbon footprint and you’ll be supporting local farmers. A friend who works on an organic farm refers to the “frozen Han Solo” effect of mass-produced tomatoes. They are picked unripe and green, essentially frozen in time, transported far far away, and then gassed with ethylene to turn them red and ripe-looking. Any surprise they have no taste? As Barry Estabrook, the author of the agricultural exposé Tomatoland, puts it, “Tomatoes are being bred for shipping, not taste.”

EAT IN SEASON This goes hand-in-hand with eating locally. Eating grapes in winter? They’re being flown in unripe from Chile. Pay attention to each season’s bounty and try to consume accordingly. Farmer’s markets are great signalers for this. They won’t be selling grapes in January!

EAT LESS RED MEAT Two words: climate change. Producing the annual beef consumption of the average American emits as much greenhouse gas as a car driven more than 1,800 miles. One study goes so far as to say 50% of global greenhouse gases is due to beef production. Another says it takes 12,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Plus, it’s not just red meat: lamb, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon also generate damaging amounts of greenhouse gases.

In terms of personal health, a 2009 National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 Americans found that the people who ate the most red meat were 20 percent more likely to die of cancer and at least 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least.

If you must buy red meat, buy it grass-fed or pasture-raised as these methods create less environmental harm. And get on board with Meatless Mondays! Your body will reward you for it. As they say, “Pay the farmer now or pay the hospital later.” Vegetables, legumes, organic poultry, sustainable seafood, pasta, fruit—there are endless alternatives to eating meat as often as we do.

BUY MILK rBGH- (or rBST-) FREE When buying cow’s milk, look for “organic” or “rBGH-free” on the label. Recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, is injected into conventional dairy cows in the United States yet banned by most first-world countries. Injections of antibiotics often follow since the rBGH, which boosts a cow’s milk production by just one extra gallon per day, also makes the animals sick. Consequently, girls are now getting their periods as early as 7 years of age and there is evidence the hormone contributes to the development of cancer.

BE SELECTIVE ABOUT SEAFOOD Fish is a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, but dumping pollutants into our waters for decades has finally caught up with us. Large fish like tuna and swordfish carry high mercury levels, depleted populations and high global demand have spawned farmed fish systems that create bacteria and disease, GMO proponents are trying to push “Frankenfish” unlabeled into our grocery stores. There is a lot of very bad seafood out there, and you simply must buy from a trusted fishmonger, not the teenager at your big-box store who could just as easily be working at Radio Shack.

It’s not just the ingredients themselves, it’s also the means by which your ingredients were acquired. When you purchase from a fair-trade organization, you’re participating in a business model that promises a fair price to the farmer, promotes sustainable farming practices, and contributes to positive change in small, often rural, and underprivileged communities.

DON’T OVER-BUY Americans throw away almost half of their food every year. We’re busy: we shop sporadically and buy in large quantities. But then we forget about it, we can’t eat it all, or we get spooked by the expiration date and throw it out. It’s fine to buy some products in bulk that can sit on the shelf for a while, like pasta or olive oil, but try to buy fresh ingredients that you plan to use in the next day or two, and in appropriate quantities. Related tip: To save time in the kitchen and avoid wasting the large quantities you may end up buying sometimes, make a big batch of food and eat leftovers throughout the week. Share with co-workers or friends if you can’t finish it—people love free home-cooked food!

RECYCLE; BUY FOOD WITH LESS PACKAGING Buying food in its natural state (read: not processed) eliminates a good deal of packaging, which makes up 40% of the 1.4 billion pounds of waste we put in landfills every day. Bring your own containers or look for food in environmentally sensitive containers like recycled paper or bio-based plastic. No petroleum-based plastic and no Styrofoam. Progress on the horizon: the first zero-waste, package-free grocery store in the U.S. is about to open in Austin, Texas.

GROW YOUR OWN FOOD AND COMPOST The carbon footprint of your own fruit and vegetables couldn’t be smaller than from your backyard to your kitchen table, and composting turns your discarded organic matter into valuable fertilizer and keeps it out of waste processing plants. Live in an apartment with little or no outside space? Consult my friend Amy Pennington, creator of Go Go Green Garden and author of “Apartment Gardening.” Related tip: Don’t dispose of excessive cooking oil or bacon fat in the sink. If you can’t compost it, put it in a sealed container, like an empty milk carton (preferably not plastic), and throw it in the garbage.

NO MORE PLASTIC BAGS Keep multiple reusable
bags in the car. Seek out and reward stores with your patronage that give incentives: My local natural foods store gives me 5 cents off for every bag I bring, or I can donate it to one of four charities they work with. I even take a reusable bag with me when I go shopping at the mall. (Who needs another paper Nordstrom bag?) I also love these reusable produce bags.

ASK QUESTIONS Know your farmer, know your butcher, know your fishmonger. Ask them where their products come from and how they’re treated. If they stutter, time
to find a new purveyor. I had one butcher tell me “natural” beef is the same as “organic.” Buh-bye. Let them know you’re paying attention to what they’re selling.

Consumers have the power.
Demand the product you want.
Change the world one meal at a time.

About the Author, Jane Bills, of Let There Be Bite

Jane Bills runs Let There Be Bite, a comprehensive food website dedicated to the home cook who won’t settle for what the mainstream food industry is trying to sell us: no preservatives, no pesticides, no food dyes, no GMO. LTBB brings its readers the best ingredients in stores and online, as well as recipe basics and a blog that doesn’t shy away from controversy (read her exchange with the Corn Refiners Association over high fructose corn syrup). Because life is too short for bad food.

Bachelor Pads, AllergyKids & a Recipe for the Grill

July 20, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, Getting Started, News, Recipes

Written by Robyn O’Brien and Adam Acheson

When I learned about the efforts of a guy who was tweeting out “Bachelor Pad Info” where he was giving advice for guys who have champagne taste but live on a beer budget, I had to laugh, as he sounded just like my husband did when we first met. So when I reached out to see if he might be interested in sharing his thoughts with our readers on AllergyKids, I think I might have caught him by surprise.

But when I shared how many dads are on the frontlines when it comes to protecting the health of kids and how important it is to share the perspective from a guy’s point of view, he was game.

So with that, meet my friend, Adam, who tweets under @BachelorPadInfo. He has some great thoughts and an awesome recipe, and it is an honor to share them here.

Summer time, the days are longer, school is out, and the smell of charcoal wafts through the air. It’s a special time, because in every young child’s life and in every father’s life there comes a point where cooking secrets and grilling knowledge is passed onto the younger generation.

Spending time preparing food and teaching how to tend to the grill is one of the best ways fathers can bond with their kids. We all know its important to teach healthy eating habits at a young age, this a great way for children to learn. Kids learn about the importance of seasoning food, and how to successful to mange heat control of the grill so food isn’t undercooked or burnt.

So here is a healthy and fun to grill recipe below.

Salmon steaks: Easy to grill and prepare with kids. Also very healthy and in easy way introduce children to eating fish.

  • Salmon Steak (Only wild caught, never farm raised)
  • Tin foil
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Take piece of tin foil and drip a small amount of olive oil onto it. Then place your salmon steak scales down onto the tin foil and season lightly with pepper a pinch of salt and garlic powder. Place a tsp. of butter on top (if dairy allergies aren’t a concern) and wrap the salmon steak tightly in the tin foil.

Place on the gill for 10-12 minutes on medium heat.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

If you want more ideas from Adam, please visit his site at http://bachelorpadinfo.com where he gives “advice for guys who have champagne taste but live on a beer budget and can make your bachelor pad look high style without the high price tag”.

Cancer, Kids and Diet

July 18, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

This morning started with an email from a mother whose daughter is battling cancer.

I’d had the honor of meeting this mom last month in California. When she shared her journey about her daughter’s cancer and how everything that she had recently learned had challenged not only her belief that “those packaged foods with pictures of babies and farms were possibly not safe” but also had challenged her belief system, I’d thought, “She is just like me.”

So when she emailed this morning to share that “a tumor was located in our warrior princess’ little body and the roller coaster has once again began,” my heart ached for her, for every parent battling pediatric cancer and for those praying that their children will never get it.

Today, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in the United States for children under the age of fifteen, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Every minute, at least one American dies from cancer, and according to the American Cancer Society, one out of every two men and one out of every three women are expected to get cancer in their lifetime.

In 2009, cancer cost the nation as much as $243.4 billion. That’s close to $700 dollars per person. And over half of that, $124.8 billion, is the cost of lost productivity due to premature death. Sadly, those premature deaths are increasingly being seen in children.

When President Nixon declared a war on cancer over thirty years ago, did he expect it to look like this?

Today it is reported that expensive new drugs that are used to treat the increasing numbers of patients could drive drug spending in the United States by to increase by 34-43% by 2013, according to Pharma Times. But because of the burden that this disease is placing on our health care system, as recently highlighted in an article by two oncologists titled, “Bending the Cost Curve of Cancer” and seen in the New England Journal of Medicine, shouldn’t we do a better job of exercising precaution as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Presidents Cancer Panel have recently suggested?

Recent estimates suggest that this accelerated rate of cancer diagnosis will make oncology treatments the second largest category for US drug spending by 2015, rivaled only by diabetes, according to the latest annual Drug Trend Report produced by leading pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Medco Health Solution.

And as the mother who emailed this morning – and countless others who have reached out – can attest, this diagnosis, these oncology treatments and this drug spending is increasingly happening to our children.

As mounting scientific evidence points to the important role that nutrition can play in preventing disease (as Dr. Andrew Weil highlights with these Eight Steps for Preventing Cancer Via Diet), perhaps its time that we enlist diet on the frontlines in our “war on cancer.”

In light of the comments made by oncologists in the New England Journal of Medicine and the increasing number of children with pediatric cancer, the health of our economy, our country and our children just might depend on it.

To learn more about ways to protect your family and the health of your children, please visit:

Prevent Cancer Via Diet from Dr. Weil
New York Times: New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer


Cancer Statistics 2010, which was published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians Cancer Among Infants http://seer.cancer.gov/publications/childhood/infant.pdf

Tips for Managing Food Allergies When Your Child Starts School

July 14, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Daniela Baker

Food allergies bring an entire set of challenges to children and parents. When grocery shopping and going to restaurants, you’re always examining labels and asking questions to ensure your child remains safe and avoids the unpleasant allergic reactions (including hives, upset stomach, or anaphylaxis).

The good news is that you aren’t alone in your worries. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) estimates there are approximately 2.2 million school-age children who suffer from food allergies. Unfortunately, even though millions of children are affected by food allergies, at this time there isn’t a consistent school policy regarding food allergy management. In fact, virtually every school district has its own individual program and policies regarding how to deal with food allergies in the classroom. This makes it important for you to become your child’s advocate when it becomes time to return to the classroom.

While policies are inconsistent, there are actions you can take to help keep your child safe and confident at school. Here are eight tips that parents can follow when it comes to helping their child manage their food allergies during the school year.

1. Educate your child. Talk to your child about their food allergies and educate them about what types of foods they should avoid. It can be confusing for them to know what types of meals typically contain the ingredients that they are allergic to. Let them know that if they are unsure about the ingredients, it’s probably best for them to skip that food.

2. Educate school staff. Prior to the beginning of the school year, arrange to meet with the school principal, teacher and nurse so they are all aware of your child’s allergies.

3. Educate childcare providers. If your child receives care from someone before or after school, don’t forget to talk to them about your child’s allergies as well. This detail can sometimes be overlooked and can lead to potentially harmful snacks.

4. Educate the cafeteria staff. If your child will be purchasing school lunches, the AAAAI recommends meeting with the cafeteria staff and providing them with a picture of your child. This will help them identify your child so they can steer them toward smart choices when buying their lunch. Ask them to create an allergy-free alternative on the days that they are creating a meal that your child will be unable to eat.

5. Pack your own lunch and snacks. The safest route is to make your child’s lunch and snacks at home. This will ensure there are no mix-ups in the lunch room. Get your child involved in the lunch and snack packing process so they are excited about the food they get to eat. This will decreases the likelihood that they try to trade food with a school friend.

6. Discuss snack policies with the teacher. Talk to your child’s teacher about their classroom snack schedule. Ask them to keep an eye out for your child to help discourage them from accepting food from other kids.

7. Get a doctor’s note. Many school districts restrict students from being able to carry medicine on them. Get a doctor’s note from your child’s pediatrician or allergist outlining the necessity for them to carry emergency medication on them at all times. This will help you get a waiver for any no-medicine policies so your child can stay safe without having to worry about getting into trouble.

8. Create a Food Allergy Action Plan. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has a helpful worksheet that parents can download and utilize. Your child’s doctor can help you complete the plan to ensure all of the information is correct. Once complete, provide a copy to your child’s teacher, the school office and the nurse. You may also want to keep a copy in your child’s backpack, so it is with them on the school bus or any field trips.

Daniela Baker is a social media advocate. She is also a mother of two and hopes this post will help parents of children with food allergies.