Archive for January, 2009

Mercury, Salmonella and Nitrates, Oh My

Friday, January 30th, 2009

It’s been quite a week for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I had planned to write about organic farming as the next installment of our Sustainable Family Supper Project, but got waylaid reading everything I could get my hands (or mouse) on about the latest high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) shocker. (Check back Monday for the kick-off of Save Our Farms week.) I wanted to find something constructive to write about that would not encourage you all to just throw up your hands and give up, which frankly I have been tempted to do myself.

Just to review, the nation’s largest recall, of peanut products from a plant who knowingly shipped contaminated products, has evoked this encouraging response from the FDA: “‘I don’t think we can determine how many more’ products will be recalled, [said] Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety.” Even worse, Sandlof doesn’t see the flaw in a system that puts responsibility on producers to essentially police themselves, asserting,

“[I]t is the responsibility of the industry to produce safe product. The FDA is not in plants on a continuous basis. We do rely on inspections to find problems when they exist. … We expect individual citizens to obey the law. And occasionally people don’t obey the law. And when they don’t obey the law then the responsibility of the regulatory authorities to take the appropriate enforcement action.”

In outside studies – goodness knows the FDA doesn’t have the resources or inclination to proactively study the toxicity of our food supply – measurable levels of mercury were found in name-brand, HFCS-containing products ranging from ketchup to chocolate syrup and yogurt, and a Taiwanese study showed a significant increase in the risk of childhood leukemia in children who consumed more than one nitrate-preserved meat product per week (e.g., bacon, hot dogs, deli meat).

The thing about the HFCS-mercury link, which the corn industry was predictably quick to claim was insignificant, is that it is entirely avoidable and unnecessary. Manufacturing technology exists, and is already widely used in Europe and the US, that does not impart a touch of mercury into our food products. Mercury gets into our bodies and environment from many sources, and it is the cumulative effect of the toxin over our lifetime that is of concern. There is no point quibbling over whether the amounts in HFCS are themselves significant, when it is a preventable increase in our lifetime of exposure. (You will, no doubt, be relieved to know that mercury is naturally-occurring, so the fact that it is introduced to those natural genetically-modified corn kernels as they are processed by genetically-engineered enzymes to produce all-natural high fructose corn syrup shouldn’t jeopardize the corn refiners’ FDA approval to market HFCS as “natural.”) As other concerned parents have noted, it’s virtually impossible to avoid HFCS if you don’t have the time or resources to buy only organic products and cook every meal from scratch. Shouldn’t the FDA at the very least require that manufacturers notify consumers what they may be consuming?

What can concerned parents and foodies do in the face of constant alarming news reports?

A. Eat less processed foods. Yogurt, fruit juice, bread – none of these need HFCS. Consumer demand switching to organics/natural sweeteners has the corn industry panicked; let’s keep it that way.

B. Ask your legislators to join Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in calling for a new Food Safety Administration. Food & Water Watch has a webform set up to email your representatives to ask them to cosponsor DeLauro’s “Food Safety Modernization Act,” which would streamline food safety oversight and increase inspections. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a significant step in the right direction — a safer food supply for all.

Alright, enough doom and gloom for one day. Check out The Green Parent’s “Green and Healthy Super Bowl Snacks,” and enjoy the weekend!

[Update: I noticed in reading the blogs that pro-HFCS Google ads were popping up, and sure enough there's one on my post. I'm torn between blocking it and letting them waste more of their marketing money, so for now it's up.]

Recipe Swap Sunday

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I find a lot of great new recipe ideas from the foodbloggers I follow on Twitter, and in my daily blog skimming, and instead of just saving them to my own favorites I’ve started a “recipe retweet of the day” to share what I find. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter, here’s what I’ve added to my collection recently:

  • Recipe RT @sugarlaws Salmon with Fennel, Olives and Dill, link {looks amazing!}
  • RecipeRT @Lelonopo “green alien” smoothies, link. {another way to eat your daily greens!}
  • Today’s RecipeRT @RuthDaniels Seared Scallops with Peruvian Parsley Salsa, link {have seafood on the mind!}
  • RecipeRT – A variation on the usual curried butternut soup, link.
  • RecipeRT @jerseybites whole wheat pasta with salmon in pumpkin sauce, delicious and healthy!!, link.
  • RecipeRT @sophiemostly New blog post: Breakfast quinoa with clementines, sour cherries and pecans – Mostly Eating, link.
  • And on the cheeseboard this week, Beecher’s Flagship Reserve & Isle of Mull cheddars.

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Sustainable Seafood 101

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

If your new year’s resolutions included healthier eating, you’re probably looking to include more fish in your diet. It’s one of my goals, anyway, but a trip to the fish counter is often headache inducing as I try to remember which fish is “safe.” Sustainable seafood guides look at several factors, and unfortunately it’s not as simple as “farmed fish = bad, wild-caught = good.” Wild-caught salmon is good, yes, but some farmed fish also get the green light from the Blue Ocean Institute and other guides. We often hear about the health benefits of fish, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids that are important for brain development and heart health, so it’s important to make smart choices to make sure the health benefits are not out-weighed by the risks.

Health and sustainability issues surrounding seafood tend to fall into two general areas:

  1. over-fishing, ocean health and species survival
  2. health risks from mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

1. Ocean Health: Our oceans are over-fished and too many countries do not adequately regulate fishing practices. Fishing techniques for certain species also endanger other species. We all remember the dolphin-safe tuna campaign of the 80s, and while “dolphin-safe” labels now appear on tuna cans, other dangerous fishing practices are still in use. Blue fin tuna and Chilean sea bass top the list of endangered species to avoid. For more on the problems of over-fishing, see the Environmental Defense Fund on “Fishing Responsibly.”

2. Human Heath Risks: Pollutants in water are ingested and stored in fish. Certain fish retain a higher concentration of mercury and PCBs, chemicals from fertilizers and industrial waste which pose brain development risks, particularly to developing babies and young children, and are linked to cancer. These toxins build up and are stored in fat cells, so choosing less fatty fish and using cooking techniques that reduce the fat (avoid frying, drain fat during cooking) will help reduce your exposure. For more on issues surrounding farmed food, particularly the fish meal feeding that concentrates toxins in certain species, read this informative post on the Green Fork Guide.

Sustainable Fish Resources: The guides produced by the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafod Watch rate fish by their sustainability index, and they offer on-the-go tools that are a lifesaver when your mind goes blank in front of the seafood display at the store. You can download an iPhone application from Seafood Watch or simply text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question for an instant response from the Institute’s “Fish Phone.” “Organic” seafood is going through its own challenges, but you can look for fish with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Using the Environmental Defense Fund‘s lists of most and least-contaminated fish, narrowed to highlight the more commonly found, here are the “top 5″ best and worst to remember:

Top 5 Fish To Look For: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Yellow-Tail Snapper, Tuna – Albacore or canned light, Black Sea Bass, Tilapia – US farmed.

Top 5 Fish To Avoid: Blue fin Tuna, Striped Bass – wild, Salmon – farmed/Atlantic, MackerelSwordfish

We tend to eat a lot of Alaskan salmon, as it happens to be my favorite as well as one of the safest. My husband is a reluctant seafood eater, so finding types he will willingly eat is another challenge. Tilapia was a recent success, though, and this week’s Sustainable Family Supper (below) features this nutrient-rich, easy-to-find and affordable fish.

Sustainable Family Supper, Fish Night

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

In addition to the general guides mentioned above, regional Seafood Watch guides are also available. I know I usually advocate for eating locally and then admit that we often eat wild Alaskan salmon. Unfortunately, our local waterways are so polluted and endangered that local seafood is minimally available. I do buy local Blue crabs, oysters and clams from the Virginia fisherman, Buster’s, who sells at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, but otherwise I tend to pay more attention to overall sustainability of our seafood than miles traveled. (Of course, when I’m back home in the Northwest I buy all the local salmon I can – though sadly it’s tragically endangered there as well.) Up and down the Eastern seaboard, oyster farming programs are being implemented as a tool for recovering our local aquacultures, as shellfish naturally filter the excessive nutrients out of the water. (And, our support for local, organic produce is another step towards improving the health of our Chesapeake Bay.)

Farmed fish such as tilapia are generally rated safest for those of us on the East Coast, where most wild caught fish have high levels of mercury and PCBs. This week’s dinner featured baked tilapia in a balsamic-butter sauce that complemented the mild fish well. I served it with Mediterranean cous cous that includes garbanzo beans for added protein.

Sustainable Family Supper, Fish Night Menu

  • Tilapia in Balsamic-Butter Sauce
  • Mediterranean Cous Cous
  • Sugar Snap Peas

The fast and easy tilapia recipe came from Epicurious, though I used 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and only 1/4 cup of butter, which was plenty for four fish fillets.

Recipe: Mediterranean Cous Cous

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cous cous
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup diced prunes
  • 1 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed

Instructions: Bring water and orange juice to a boil. Add prunes and garbanzo beans and simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in cous cous, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 15 minutes, until liquid is fully absorbed. Fluff and serve. Makes four servings. Enjoy!

Have a favorite fish recipe? Please share!

Vote for FoodieTots in Food Blog Awards

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

As mentioned yesterday, I was honored to be nominated for the Well Fed Network‘s Food Blog Awards in the Best Family/Kids Food Blog category. I want to thank my loyal readers who nominated me, the esteemed judges who selected me as a finalist, and my fellow nominees who are also devoted to raising kids on good, nutritious foods.

If you haven’t already met the other nominees, please take a minute to visit Andrea’s Recipes (a local blogger), Picky Palate, The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, and Under the High Chair.

And check out the other categories to discover more great food blogs. A third DC-based blog, The Bitten Word, garnered a nomination in the Best New Blog category.  Congratulations to all the nominees! (And please vote!)