Category: food for thought
Wednesday, July 10
One of my favorite places on earth is the coast between Big Sur and Monterey. When we lived in the Bay Area, the Monterey/Carmel area was our go-to weekend getaway spot and we have many fond family memories from those trips. Both towns are quaint and fun, but the coastline is what we really love. It is, quite simply, breathtaking. About a month or so ago I was invited by the team at Dole Salads to visit beautiful Carmel and attend the Taste of Spain Salad Summit with a great group of bloggers. Of course I had to go!
The trip was really wonderful. I had the chance to connect and re-connect with some really lovely bloggers (see list here!), the Dole Salads team was wonderful to work with, and it was very interesting getting a peak into how Dole produces their food (more on that in a moment). Dole put us up at the Carmel Valley Ranch hotel (which was AMAZING) and fed us an abundance of Spanish-inspired food. It was heavenly!
As I often mention, I am constantly thinking about how food production and food consumption impact Mother Earth. My new year’s resolution each year is always focused on that theme. When I say I’m constantly thinking about environmental issues, I’m not exaggerating. It’s maybe kind of an obsession.
Over the years we’ve modified and cut back on our meat consumption in order to make a positive environmental impact. As a result, I’m always on board with getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables, no matter where the produce comes from. Produce always requires less water and energy for production than meat does, so by eating more of those foods we are automatically using less valuable resources.
But I am still also concerned about industrialized farming and the increased use of monoculture over the past few decades. The concern with monoculture is that by growing one particular crop over a large area, the plants are more susceptible to disease, which in turns necessitates the use of pesticides (bad for our bodies and the environment) or GMO plants (which are engineered to be resistent to bugs – the jury is still out on the impact of GMOs on our health and the environment).
Needless to say, I was very happy that Dole invited me on the trip and I couldn’t wait to see their farms and talk with them about how Dole produces food.
We started our day driving to the beautiful Salinas Valley, where more than 80% of our country’s salad greens are grown. First we met one of the Dole growers (a.k.a. farmers). He was kind, humble and obviously loved his job. This particular farmer was growing iceberg lettuce. We learned that the crops are constantly rotated and that any food left behind during harvest is tilled back into the soil. We also learned the Dole does not use GMO plants but that they do use some pesticides. When we talked with the farmer about this, he mentioned how he lives on the farm and is raising his children there, so obviously he uses as little as he possibly can. He also said that if there was more business/demand for organic, he would gladly switch to that type of farming. It was really great meeting and talking with him and seeing the passion he has for his job.
Once the lettuce is grown, Dole hires harvesters to pick the produce. The farmer actually has no part in the harvest of the food. His job is to grow the food and keep the soil healthy. We watched a crew of harvesters picking lettuce and sending it up the conveyer belt, to be delivered to the packaging plant nearby. There were tanks of chlorinated water nearby, which is sprayed on the lettuce was soon as it is harvested. (More on the chlorinated water in a moment!)
Once the lettuce reaches the packaging plant, it is washed several times (in chlorinated and non-chlorinated water), cut, and packaged in super duper high-tech packaging that is designed to keep the lettuce fresh.
My big takeaways were as follows:
- Safety is of the utmost importance to Dole. All along the process the food is kept safe with different rules and procedures, including hairnets for everyone at the farm!
- Freshness is right up there with safety. From the way the food is handled to the packaging, every effort is made to deliver tasty, good-looking food to the consumer.
- We asked specifically about the use of chlorinated water and were told that it is food-grade and used to keep the food safe. As a person who tries to eat produce as locally as possible and mostly organic, I must admit that the use of chlorinated water gave me pause. The thing is, there are a LOT of people to feed and we are demanding large amounts of the same types of foods, which necessitates these safety measures. I don’t think the chlorinated water used on this particular iceberg lettuce is necessarily hurting any of us on its own (and testing shows that it is safe), but I can’t help but wonder what the cumulative effect of all of the food we eat that is produced in this way has on our bodies and health, not to mention the environment. And I don’t know what the solution is. GMOs have not yet been proven to be harmful, but there are still big questions about their true impact. We know pesticides are no good, but if we aren’t using GMOs, we need the pesticides to produce large quantities of food. It really is a catch 22 and we just keep circling around and around. We need to feed people, that’s the bottom line. Right now, this is how it is done for the most part.
- Dole tries to grow food as locally as possible. Obviously pineapples can’t be grown everywhere, but when they can, Dole does grow food as close to the place where it will be bought as possible. Yes, it’s not true local farming, but it is a start and I appreciate a large corporation making that effort.
- Dole also produces organic products. Let’s demand more of it so we can start to shift how our food is produced! We hold the keys to change!
The trip provided a great deal of food for thought (pun intended!) for me. I’m really glad I had the chance to talk with Dole and see first-hand what they are all about. The company has a really positive vibe and I walked away from the weekend feeling good, even with the bigger questions about our food system bumping about my brain.
Thank you to Dole for inviting me to attend the Taste of Spain Salad Summit. I am so happy they included me on the trip! Now, everyone go eat some salad!
For Dole recipes and to enter the Taste of Spain giveaway (you could win a $40,000 trip to Spain!), please visit www.dolesalads.com.
Friday, November 9
Photo courtesy of the inspiring Tracey Clark from Shutter Sisters
Today I feel sad. But with that sadness I also feel hopeful.
I feel sad for those who, still reeling from Sandy, were hit once again this week with more destructive weather. Weather that makes it hard to clean up the mess that is already there. Cold weather that is impossible to fend off without heat and electricity.
But I feel hopeful for these same people. Hopeful when I hear story after story of those sacrificing to help others, stepping up to comfort, feed and house those who can’t do so for themselves. Like Tad Long, a Dallas food truck owner I heard about through one of my high school friends in New Jersey. He’s heading to the Jersey shore this week. His food truck can serve 200 meals, so he’s serving those meals to people in need, even if it means driving 1,500 miles.
Despite the destruction, I have hope. People are resilient, especially when they lift one another up, love one another, serve one another.
In addition to the storms, the election has made me sad. Well, the election itself hasn’t made me sad. In fact, I’m grateful for the election, for the process, for what it represents. Taking my kids with me to vote was incredibly positive and uplifting. What makes me sad is watching the reactions of some people to the election results. I have been stunned at comments by friends and family, both online and in person. Hurtful comments that have brought people I love dearly to tears (I may have shed a tear or two myself, hurting for those hurt by the comments).
I know this is nothing new. It happens every four years. The losing side gets frustrated, sad, often angry. According to a Montreal-based immigration lawyer, every four years Americans start calling in September, convinced they will be moving to Canada in a month’s time. (In case you’re wondering, only 3 or 4 people in 30 years have made good on that promise.)
In spite of my sadness, though, I feel hopeful.
Hopeful…because of people like my amazing friend Amy, a committed Republican who posted on her Facebook wall the night of the election, “Congratulations to President Obama. He fought a hard race and, while I hoped it would go the other way, I salute him as my Commander in Chief and pray he is successful in his hopes for a better America.”
Hopeful…because of people like my thoughtful and passionate friend Carina. I don’t react very emotionally to the results of elections (even though I react emotionally to people’s reactions), so I have a hard time understanding where many of the negative commenters are coming from. But Carina does, and she has great empathy for those who are feeling sad/frustrated/angry this week, even if she disagrees with them politically. She wrote a letter to her conservative friends and it’s wonderful.
Hopeful…because of people like Emily Ley, a Romney supporter who wrote a touching letter to her son, teaching him about respect and love, in spite of differences.
And I believe that is the key: LOVE. I know it might sound cheesy or cliche, but love is transformative. It just is. If you stop and put your love glasses on, you see people differently. And, as a result, you treat them differently. And while love may not make things perfect, it does make things better. I believe John Lennon was right: all you need is love.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, we all have the same goal, to make our world a better place. We may have different means to reach that end, and that’s okay. That’s the beauty of our country. We all have the liberty to believe what we want to believe. For example, I am not libertarian and my friend Dennis is. We don’t agree, but I seriously love it when he comments on my Facebook posts. He’s thoughtful about his beliefs and I completely respect him, even if I interpret things differently.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
I’m going to stick to love, too. Let’s love each other, in spite of our differences. In fact, let’s love each other because of our differences. It’s hard sometimes, but I have great hope that we can do it. And, when we do, we’ll be that much closer making our world the better place we are all striving for.
Friday, November 2
I think we are all stunned at the damage that Sandy has caused to the East coast. Thankfully, all of my family was safe throughout the storm, for which I am very grateful. I’m from New Jersey, having grown up just 45 miles west of New York City. It is strange to turn on the news and hear the names of familiar places being spoken of in connection with such great destruction. Stranger still, I’m sure, for those on the ground. Mostly, though, I can’t stop thinking about all the people who have lost so much. My heart goes out to each and every one, wishing them strength in what is sure to be a long and difficult recovery.
This week I heard two great stories about people feeding people during Sandy, which seemed appropriate for this week’s Food for Thought.
First, a quick story about Uncle Paul’s Pizza, a four-month old restaurant that stayed open through the hurricane. Five of the workers were stranded there anyway, so they just kept cooking!
Second, Citymeals-on-Wheels. I heard a story about this organization on NPR yesterday afternoon that was awesome (unfortunately I can’t find the story on the NPR website). Citymeals has responded to Sandy by continuing to deliver meals to elderly people who are stranded in buildings without power. The NPR reporter joined the volunteers for a few deliveries, including one that involved a climb of 25 stories. Click here to read more about the organization and how you can get involved.
And, finally, a link to The Red Cross.
Prayers and love to all affected by Sandy!
Friday, October 26
One of my most favorite people I’ve met through blogging is Kristen Howerton from Rage Against the Minivan. Her blog is great, she’s a fantastic writer, and she’s even better in person, if you can believe it. The first time we hung out, we spent several hours just talking, you know, about those light topics new friends talk about…politics, religion, the purpose of life. She truly is a kindred spirit and I admire her very much. So, when Kristen posted about fair trade chocolate, well, it really got me thinking.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about fair trade cocoa. I mean, I sort of have. But, as Kristen points out, when something doesn’t affect us or our family directly, we as humans tend to not take much notice. I’m definitely guilty of that in this case. Her post is very thought-provoking and I recommend you go read it. She includes video in the post of a BBC documentary that is even more thought-provoking and, at times, gut wrenching. I’m not going to go into details here because I’m still learning, but please go use Kristen’s post as a springboard to start informing yourself about the issue. That’s what I’m doing. And, after reading and watching what I can, I’m going to think long and hard about how what I’ve learned is going to change my behavior.
My mom works for Mars and I grew up in a town next to the M&M factory. We could smell the M&Ms in the air in the mornings, which is a fond memory for me. I certainly have a soft spot for them. I did a little research to see what Mars has to say on the topic. Over 2009-2011 they invested $70 million in sustainability efforts and say they expect to (let’s hope they really do) spend $30 million annually going forward. As of 2012, 20% of their cocoa is certified sustainable. It’s a step. Which is good. But there is still a long way to go, and the press release, while encouraging, doesn’t explicitly mention child labor. I have a feeling, as with most of the big food issues, change will take time but what we choose to buy and eat will be powerful for effecting that change going forward.
Last week at the DailyBuzz Food festival I was introduced to the company Madécasse. Madécasse was founded by peace corps volunteers who lived in and fell in love with Madagascar. They decided they really wanted to make a positive impact on the country, so they started a chocolate company, one that doesn’t just source fair trade cocoa from Madagascar but also actually produces the chocolate in the country. This has 4 times the impact of straight up fair trade cocoa and is also good for the planet. The chocolate was delicious and it was really neat chatting with them and learning their story. Madécasse isn’t the only company out there trying to do right by cocoa, and it’s exciting to see thoughtfully-built companies like this doing such great things to make a difference.
The cookie nabber is also a chocolate nabber…
Friday, October 19
It’s Friday. Time to party, right? Nope. Time to think and think hard, people! I feel like by the end of the week, I often have heard and read lots of “stuff” that really gets me thinking. So, I’m going to process my thoughts with you, share what I’ve learned, get your thoughts, see where it gets us. Thinking is good, even on Friday.
So, for our first Food for Thought Friday post, I’m dropping two big bombs. Get ready.
Alzheimer’s is probably the “new” diabetes
As if two kinds of diabetes weren’t enough, several studies are indicating that Alzheimer’s could be considered Type 3 diabetes. Mark Bittman wrote a great piece on this subject on the New York Times recently that is worth a read. No, really, go read it.
I love dessert. Nate often teases that I should rename my blog This Week for Dessert. In all seriousness, though, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how bad sugar is for our bodies. One study after another indicates the great amount of havoc that sugar wreaks on our systems. I still stand by the adage “everything in moderation.” But, I must also admit, my sugar intake is not always moderate (and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one). How many times have I looked at people with Alzheimer’s and thought, “Oh, I hope that never happens to me.” Genetic predisposition plays a role, but it’s looking like what we eat plays a much bigger role in whether or not our brains go to pot. Which stinks, because I really love dessert. And french fries, for that matter. But I also really want to be lucid until the day I die. If I can affect whether or not that happens, I should seriously consider what I’m putting in my mouth every day.
California’s Prop 37 and why it affects all of us
If you live in California, you most certainly have heard of Prop 37. If you don’t live in California, let me give you a quick rundown.
First off, as we all know, California is kind of a crazy place and here is just one more example. We have this initiative process where laws are proposed and get voted on by the people directly. The California constitution is probably 3,000,000 pages long because of all these propositions that get passed. I actually kind of hate the whole process because, well, I’m not an expert on any of this stuff and neither are most people. I think people in general tend to vote on many of these issues in an emotional way, which may not be the best way to, say, make budgetary decisions for a state in astronomical debt. But this is the system and it’s what we have to work with. You can read more about California’s ballot initiative process here if you like.
Proposition 37 is one of these such initiatives that will be on the ballot in California this November. In sum, Prop 37 mandates labeling of genetically-modified food. And, if it is passed in California, it will impact the rest of the country somehow, somewhere. You know, setting wheels in motion and all of that.
As with all propositions, I approach it skeptically. Especially after learning how poorly it is written, including so many exceptions to render the labeling almost meaningless. In addition, while I feel very strongly about the various impacts the industrialized food system has on our health and the health of the earth, I don’t think we can say that GM foods are all bad and evil, and mandating a label implies as much. (P.S. I reserve the right to change my mind as more information comes to light, of course!). I’m married to a scientist, a bioengineer at that. Nate and I believe in science and it’s ability to do a huge amount of good.
HOWEVER, genetically-modified crops are a mainstay of Big Food (i.e. the big, rich, powerful companies that drive the industrialized food system). They are fighting this proposition tooth and nail and they are the reason there hasn’t been labeling from the get-go. And, as flawed as the proposition may be, it just might be the first time we can take a real, meaningful stand against a broken food system.
I’m torn. This must be what a legislator in Washington feels like when a bill they believe in ends up with riders they don’t agree with but are necessary to get the bill passed. Politics are messy. I am sooooo glad I am not a politician. But, like it or not, voting on Prop 37 in a few short weeks gets me involved politically. And it puts the food system on the political map.
Michael Pollan wrote a piece about Prop 37 for (you guessed it) the New York Times last week. He puts it all down on paper far more eloquently than I have. Go read it. It is, at the very least, thought provoking.
I’m not telling you how I’m voting. Although, I have to say, I can’t imagine ever being on the same side as Monsanto. Much to ponder, here, my friends. Much to ponder.