Sunday, February 14, 2010
From my perspective as a whole foods and local foods advocate, there was much to cheer about what Secretary Vilsack had to say about changes in the school lunch program. As an advocate of traditional foods, however, there are still a lot of concerns to address. If this is a different USDA, I'd still like to wait for the next version.
The four main pillars of the Let’s Move Initiative are to 1) give parents the support they need to make healthy choices (including support for breastfeeding as a healthy start), 2) provide healthier food in schools , 3) promote physical activity, and 4) increase the availability of affordable healthy food.
The Child Nutrition Act was up for reauthorization by Congress in 2009, as it is every five years, but it has been extended through the Agriculture Appropriations Bill and is now up for reauthorization in 2010. The USDA puts out a plan and a budget, and it is up to Congress to decide where the funding will come from and to make adjustments and changes. The purpose for the conference call was to get folks aware of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization and to describe the efforts of the USDA in light of the Let’s Move initiative.
I'm all for education, and some of these efforts sound great, but I still found myself shaking my head during parts of this call.
First, the heartening news
The USDA is paying attention to the fact that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has produced a report that is highly critical of the quality of school lunches. Secretary Vilsack explained that 31 million children participate in the school lunch program and 11 million in the breakfast program, both of which he said offer foods that have too much sugar and sodium, and not enough dark green and orange vegetables.
Secretary Vilsack said that the USDA wants to give schools incentives make healthy options more appealing to kids. “We are looking for a way in which we can significantly improve foods in school outside of lunch,” Secretary Vilsack said, including a la carte offerings and vending machines. “We want a consistent message” in schools, which would include getting sugary drinks and snacks out of vending machines.
The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program is one effort to get schools connected with local sources of food and to help students see a connection to food. Secretary Vilsack said the USDA is expanding research into organic farming and is trying to increase the number of small businesses in agriculture. “We are looking for creative ways for these guys to make ends meet,” he said, noting that the USDA does not want to arrive at a day and age with just a handful of really large producers and, on the other hand, very small producers.
One of the current areas of research, Secretary Vilsack explained, is how to make nutritious food compelling for children and how to encourage them to make healthy choices. “This requires us to focus on early childhood, to encourage kids at a young age to put a rainbow on their plate,” Secretary Vilsack said. Parents and educators alike need to explain the difference between everyday foods and sometimes foods. There has been work on a textbook and toolkit for parents participating in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to “get them started in the right direction.”
If parents are more engaged in these kinds of conversations, Vilsack said, perhaps they will be more involved in school board decisions. Sometimes school boards see extra money in their food budget and direct it to another area that needs funding. “Part of our challenge,” Secretary Vilsack said, “is to make sure people understand that this is as important as any other thing that goes on in school.”
In the Q&A portion of the call, Nutritionist and Silicon Valley Moms blogger Alix, the moderator for this call, shared her concern about “nutritional illiteracy” of parents who, for example, don’t realize that Goldfish crackers have a glycemic index as high as a lollipop. Secretary Vilsack responded that we need better labeling so that people know what the better choices are. He spoke highly of a NuVal, a numerical system currently in place in stores in his home state of Iowa that rates items on a scale of 1-100, with 100 being the most nutritious. Having this information helps consumers, he said, which will then lead to better options. “As we make those more nutritious choices,” he said, “the market will be compelled to do better.”
A quick look at the NuVal website shows that 2% Horizon Organic milk gets a rating of 55, while 1% Organic Valley milk gets a much better rating of 81, and Garelick Farms Over the Moon Fat Free Milk gets a super-high rating of 91. Nevermind that the less of the naturally-occurring milkfat you take out of the milk, the harder it is to digest (and that pasteurization kills milk’s enzymes!)
Since NuVal gives Silk Soymilk Light Chocolate a decent rating of 56, I am guessing that this “patent-pending algorithm” does not take hormone and endocrine disruption into consideration. Probably not the difference in products made from grassfed vs. industrial feedlot cows, either. I am just learning about this system and look forward to investigating it further.
What about the food pyramid?
Alix pointed out that the IOM is basing its conclusions on the food pyramid, a construct that many health-minded writers and practitioners find problematic, preferring to look at the way author Michael Pollan talks about what should be in our diets, including the ida that “real food” usually does not contain more than five ingredients.
Secretary Vilsack said that the food pyramid guidelines are going to be revised. With some 20-30 people working on this “extensive effort based on what we didn’t know five, ten years ago,” the pyramid will be adjusted. He explained that what the USDA is going to want to see are “steps being taken by local school districts to better align with the IOM study” and with the new food pyramid guidelines.
There are many areas of concern about the current food pyramid, and it will be interesting to see what the revisions include. For one, traditional foods enthusiasts might want to see the “oils” page differentiate between chemically-produced unhealthy oils like canola oil and margarine compared to naturally-occurring fats that are necessary for optimum absorption of nutrients. Healthy fats include butter and coconut oil, which is not even on the list of oils at http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/oils.html
If the researchers working on the food pyramid are familiar with this research on traditional diets and fats, then perhaps they will veer away from the low-fat craze. But based on Secretary Vilsack’s insistence that we do not have enough of a focus on “low-fat dairy products,” I’m concerned. It’s unfortunate that people think that incomplete foods are somehow better recognized and utilized by our bodies than foods in their natural states (i.e. full fat). The real fats to avoid are manufactured fats like canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil that were never intended to be removed from the rest of the food and that hold no nutritional value or provide assistance with the absorption of nutrients.
That pesky corn issue
Alix asked Secretary Vilsack if we could get a commitment that school lunches would not have foods with more than five ingredients and if the school lunch program will respond to parent desire to get high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) out of all foods that cross the school threshold. The answer, in short, was no. “I’m not sure we’d be a prescriptive as that,” Secretary Vilsack began. This might get pushback from members of Congress, so the better way to go, he said, is for the USDA to push for incentives for schools to make better options available. “What we can say is that food has to be consistent with dietary guidelines.” And then, he said, we have to trust people.
The next concern came from Sophia, a mother whose children’s school lunches are run by a private company that has told her it has gotten questionable food off of its menu except for “what the government sends us,” which includes HFCS and meat raised with hormones and antibiotics. She questioned the subsidy system that makes it profitable for farmers to grow genetically-modified corn. Secretary Vilsack initially respondd that organic farmers can qualify for a number of USDA regular programs in which they can receive direct payments if they raise “certain crops.” And he added that the USDA under the Obama administration has increased its participation in conservation programs that the Bush administration tried to get rid of.
Secretary Vilsack thought that roughly one-quarter of what is provided to schools is in the form of commodities, adding “If a district is insistent on what they want for their kids, we need to figure out how to be more responsive to their needs.” But he went on to explain that in the U.S., “we’re going to continue to grow corn for a lot of reasons.” This includes corn as a source of power, and Secretary Vilsack went on to reference other alternative power sources being developed. The USDA is not, he said, going to stop providing resources to those who grow corn but will try to support more mid-size farms.
Where to go now?
The call inspired me not so much to sing the praises of the Child Nutrition Act but simply to continue to share my concerns about mainstream ideas about food, problematic ideas that include promoting whole grains (despite a lot of research that says many people have gluten sensitivities) as a health food and low-fat dairy as a necessary ingredient in the fight against childhood obesity. We were healthier when we ate real food with full fat and not so darn much bread!
Although my son is not yet in public school, I look forward to learning more about the efforts Secretary Vilsack referenced and how they are being implemented in my local area. As a chapter leader with Holistic Moms Network, I will continue to try to educate my community about healthy eating. I hope to find ways to make healthy food more widely available and to share information about how to access affordable healthy food.
Sophia's blog post about the call and Secretary Vilsack's response to her question
A post at the Slow Food USA blog about what sounds like a similar call with a larger audience
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The result is a protein-rich and mineral-rich healing liquid that can be drunk on its own as a tonic for upset tummies, as a base for soups, or as an addition to a stir-fry or any kind of cooking of veggies. If you make your own baby food, use stock instead of water to add fat, which will help your child absorb any vitamins & minerals in the veggies (and the stock adds nutrients and protein of its own).
Our house is gluten-free by necessity, but I also avoid processed rice pasta most of the time preferring to cook whole grains like brown rice and millet in broth. It’s so much tastier and healthful. And, often, cheaper!
I recently attended another great cooking class with whole food chef and holistic health educator Monica Corrado of Simply Being Well. If you’ve never made stock before, watching it done in person might be a good motivator to get on the homemade bandwagon. It’s instructive to see the process done in person, and learning in a community is fun and rewarding.
But if you’ve got a carcass just about picked clean and you’re ready to go, here is the simple recipe to get you started.
It’s best to have two chicken carcasses or one carcass and a bunch of wing bones (or other bones if you can get them from your farmer or butcher). If you have only one carcass, you might cut the recipe in half to avoid a weak broth. It’s fine to store one carcass in the freezer until you have a second ready.
- 4 quarts (filtered) water
- 2 Tablespoons raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (or another kind of vinegar if necessary, the milder the better. Try rice vinegar before grain vinegar. I don’t think balsamic works for this purpose).
- Chicken* bones (two carcasses if available)
* Use good quality chickens that have been bred on pasture. Organic or “pastured” from a farmer you trust is best. Be sure at a minimum that they are hormone & antibiotic-free. Organic chickens at the store might be pricey, but you can get them directly from farmers at markets or through co-ops for $3.00/lb.
Mix the above in a stock pot.
Let sit for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
During this time, the vinegar is pulling out the calcium and other minerals from the bones. It might help if you’ve cut up or snapped some of the bones.
While the water/vinegar/bones sit, cut up one onion, three celery stalks and two carrots. Big pieces are fine.
Note: celery and carrots are both on the “dirty dozen” list, meaning they are among one of the foods it’s most important to eat organic.
Add the veggies to the pot and put on heat to a boil.
When the pot starts to boil, try to skim off anything that looks like scum – tiny particles and bubbles that are impurities. If you don’t do this, life will go on, but you’ll notice that your final product will look not so pure.
After skimming, lower the temp of the pot to a low simmer. The top of the stock-in-progress should be relatively still while there is rolling going on under the surface. Cover for the remainder of the cooking.
Step 7 (aka “Wait”)
Let this roll (covered) as long as possible - no fewer than 6 hours. The closer you can get to 24 hours, the better. The flavor will be rich, and it will be a wonderful healing food full of gelatin. You can turn it off if you go to work or to bed and leave it on the stove to bring back to a boil hours later. Skim the scum each time you bring it back up to a boil, and then turn the heat back down each time.
When you’re ready to call it quits, put a bunch of parsley in for last 10 minutes for an extra wallop of minerals (and flavor).
Now you’re ready to strain the stock into a big bowl (using a mesh strainer and going slowly so your bones and veggies don’t fall in).
Any remaining meat and the veggies have all been stripped of their nutritional value by now. Toss them out or feed the meat to the cat.
If you did a short run of this stock, you might save the bones for a second use.
Let the stock cool some before you ladle it into jars for storage. Whether you cool it in a bowl or in smaller containers, it’s nice to let the stock completely cool in the fridge before you use it so you can take off the top layer of fat if you wish and so that you can see how solidly the stock “set up” – how gelled it got.
Don’t put warm stock in the fridge; it will just warm up your fridge! Let it sit out and get to room temperature first.
If you don’t plan to use the stock right away, you can store in Mason jars (be sure to leave at least an inch at the top so they don’t burst in the freezer) or freeze in cube trays for small uses here and there. Stock keeps in the fridge for a few days; use your nose, but I’d feel very comfortable with 3-4 days, and some folks would go up to a week. Bringing to a boil again is a good idea.
Enjoy this wonderful, delicious healing food that is far superior to anything you could get in a box or can!
Monday, January 25, 2010
Here is my tale of a recent illness and how I fought it off the pharma grid.
We've got 60 degrees here in Metro DC and I think I'm finally getting over a cold that started two weeks ago. I never get sick and stay sick. This was annoying. Not so bad that I had to make the husband stay home or back out on a major event I was planning, but bad enough that I sounded like the woman from "The Nanny" if she had a sinus infection. Not pretty!
We don't do drugs in our house, so I did my best to self-medicate. This starts with food -- lots of nutrient-dense homemade (from pastured chickens) bone broth and a limit on refined carbs. When I look back, the weekend before I got sick I had hot rice cereal for breakfast one day and French toast another day (GF millet bread, but still) and a bunch of rice crackers. That's way more packaged food than usual. So I cut out what I could but still allowed myself some antioxidant-rich raw cacao.
When I started to feel an illness on I restarted the flower essences I maybe should have been taking all season long from Perelandra. On Tuesday the 12th, I tried the homeopathic remedy Hepar. Sulph. Calc. and promptly got worse with a sore throat and swollen glands. I think I honestly fell asleep on the floor of my bathroom while my son played with toys in an empty bathtub. A homeopath said it was most likely that this reaction was just pushing the natural course of events forward and that now I just had a cold I might as well let run its course. So I gave up on the homeopathy - none of the indications seemed 100% right on anymore,anyway - and just tried garlic & ginger in hot lemon water in the morning, eating well, getting sleep, staying in bed even if I couldn't sleep well (instead of getting up to work), and putting some eucalyptus in my shower. I kept meaning to get even just a basic saline nasal spray but didn't, and we found our humidifier but never got it working.
Well, all that, and a lot of water and a lot of bodywork. My head was killing me with major sinus pressure, so I looked for whatever healing hands had openings. On Wednesday, the day after I felt terrible, I had a chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture. On Saturday morning I had a massage, primarily of craniosacral therapy. On Monday afternoon I had another bodywork session, a combo of craniosacral therapy and lymphatic drainage massage. Each time I handed over my credit card after a session, I did feel better. But it didn't last to the next day, not as much as I wanted. I still had a lot of nose-blowing and some coughing.
Then, on Wednesday when I'd been sick for a week, my eye looked red in one corner, which I thought was from not sleeping well until the next morning when it was sticky and red all over. This was the day of my event. None of the many homeopathic remedies for conjunctivitis sounded spot-on for my symptoms, but I got so weepy when my friend rang the doorbell while I was trying to have my son nap, that I decided to take pulsatilla. And I found some homeopathic eye drops at CVS, which I think helped, for sure with the redness. The eye was cleared up a day later. (The second eye got it too and also cleared up after a day).
Friday I saw an osteopath who worked a lot on my head in general, my sinuses and even in my mouth and upper palette. I sounded like a different person after that appointment -- much less nasal. But the next morning I slept in and still felt like I'd regressed. Maybe shopping for a sofa, meeting friends for coffee and walking a mile in mild winter day were too much. But we did get a new rebounder, which I used twice, hoping that it would help my lymphatic system clear out. And I did fit in a little yoga.
Sunday I had to drag myself out of bed but felt a lot better after starting the morning off with Vitamin C before my lemon/ginger/garlic drink, to which I added turmeric and elderberry. And then I had a full breakfast and set to work on some reorganization of the house, which felt great. I even had a little decaf coffee and some GFCF sugar-free (maple syrup only) chocolate cake my son and I had made as a celebration of my successful event Thursday night (adaptation of this cake recipe but using mashed cherries instead of applesauce and adding cacao and coconut flakes).
Despite this indulgence, I could tell I'd turned the corner Sunday afternoon. It's now Monday afternoon, and though I still am not ready to go out and do a full run in this gorgeously warm day (or to be too far away from a tissue), I am glad I was able to ride this out and that so far, no one else in the house seems to have any symptoms.
Monday, January 4, 2010
At my son's Waldorf school, birthdays are celebrated with applesauce cake. We always pack my son a wheat-free, gluten-free alternative for the baked goods. I also make them dairy-free so that I can eat them and because we try to keep my son's dairy intake down.
I was very pleased with the cake we made yesterday after I'd cobbled together several different gluten-free recipes. I substituted almond flour for most of the flour and drastically reduced the sugar (though did not omit for fear of a too-soggy cake).
Next time I will make a double batch so that we can have plenty to munch on at home! This time we had to reserve three servings for two birthdays this week (and one we'll freeze for next week). I will also increase the spices from the numbers used here, but I'll leave them for those who prefer a milder taste.
GFCF Applesauce Cake Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups almond flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch flour
- 1/2 cup brown rice flour (Could use other GF flours per your preference, but the almond makes it moist and sweet and gives the cake more protein)
- 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp (real with minerals) sea salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- shake of ground ginger
Mix the above in one bowl and set aside.
Then mix the following in another bowl:
- 2 (pastured or at least organic!) eggs, beaten (and warmed so the coconut oil will not harden)
- 1/3 cup warmed (to liquid) coconut oil
- 1/4 cup Sucanat, Rapadura, date sugar, or maple sugar
- 1 cup applesauce (organic or local from an orchard you trust)
- 1/4 cup coconut milk mixed with water (so not too thick)
- 1/2 cup grade B maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp black strap molasses (could add more)
- 1 tsp vanilla (try for GF/alcohol-free. Could increase quantity if desired)
Optional to add in nuts or raisins. If adding raisins, cut down on the sugar and/or maple syrup.
Grease pan(s) with coconut oil prior to filling them or use parchment paper to line if you don't want your food touching non-stick/Teflon surfaces.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes. This should fill one 13x9" pan.
(I used a square pan and put the additional batter in a pumpkin-shaped pan, per my son's request. That one cooked in 25-30 minutes as it was not as thick.)
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I don't claim to understand exactly what craniosacral therapy (CST) does, but I believe in it. I've read some books by Dr. John Upledger, and I've talked a whole lot with my practitioners about my body and my son's body.
And I've seen its results firsthand.
I've been getting CST for six years, since I first started pursuing alternative therapies, which ended up including diagnoses of celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid disorder en route to dealing with infertility.
I learned about the therapy through my sister and her work with her son, who is on the autism spectrum. CST has been immensely powerful for me, helping me to let go of a whole lot of energy I'd been holding onto, which caused physical and emotional problems. (For more, see my article in the Winter 2008/2009 issue of the Journal of Attachment Parenting).
I had my craniosacral therapist there at my son's birth, which was supposed to be all-natural in a birth center but instead was a c-section due to my baby's breech position and extremely short umbilical cord (see my poem about that in Exhale magazine). So instead, the therapist videotaped the birth, which gave her great insight into how to treat my son hours later. "There's a lot of unwinding in his hips," she said; I later learned breech babies sometimes need to wear harnesses because of their in-utero position (hip dysplaysia).
My son is now 3.5 years old. I schedule CST for him every few months, when it seems like he's just kind of off or working on something I don't know how to address. I'm so grateful that she's been seeing him since he was an infant -- really since even before he was born.
A few months ago I asked the therapist what might have been different if he hadn't been seeing her. I trust her with my life. She does tell some people they don't need to come back. She's never said that to me. "It's hard to tell. Maybe speech or other development issues. Maybe ADD or sensory integration problems."
I've had several different practitioners work on him, and they all say the same things about tight parietal bones and jaw intensity. Lately, E has been chewing on his shirt in a way that disturbs me. A lot of kids have oral fixations, but this one is causing my son's skin to be chapped, and, well, it just looks like an anxious reaction. So I made an appointment.
Usually she just plays with him on the floor with toys while they work in a gentle way. The appointment lasts a full hour. Today, after a while, she invited him up to the table, where she tucked him in. It was the first time I'd ever seen him laid down like a patient. It was a little freaky, but he looked so nurtured and cared for in the soft glow of the massage center room.
She said her recent sensory disorder training recommends letting kids follow their interest/obsession while they are getting treatment. So she did. He chewed on a toy and then, when she felt a big release, he was done with the mouthing and just sort of flopped into relaxation.
After seeing him so manic and wound up recently, it was a real gift to see him so calm under her hands. She explained some other physical things and gave me more ideas for ways to work with his particular needs, including broad and heavy strokes on his body and heavy weight on his legs in front of him, and offering him straws and other mouthing options. Her questions about other behaviors -- "does he seem to need to run full boar into things?" -- seemed so spot on. He's never gotten any kind of diagnosis, and I don't understand all the ins and outs of sensory integration issues and proprioception. But I do feel very good that I have this therapist on my team.
She said that it felt like a phase but like there was also an emotional component that was not yet resolved. His neck and chest were pouring off heat, she said.
I left a little poorer but more resolved to model and live the grounding, solidifying presence he and I both shun but deeply crave.
For more information on CST and children, see "Craniosacral Therapy and Scientific Research, Part II" by John Upledger, DO, OMM. The website for the Upledger Institute is pan style="font-weight:bold;">http://upledger.com/. Find practitioners at http://www.iahp.com/
Friday, November 27, 2009
I finally took a photo of a gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie this year! Two different times!
The crust was largely hazelnut and rice flour with all the spices of pumpkin pie. I used coconut oil and put a little vanilla in with the cold water, using this crust recipe (with mostly nut flour/meal). I baked the shell for 15-20 minutes before filling it with the pumpkin mix.
I used essentially the spices in the proportions on the can of pumpkin (there were no pie pumpkins available this week) with just a little extra of each spice. For one pie, Libby's calls for
The liquid filling for my one pie omitted the "3/4 cup granulated sugar" and instead included:
- 2 pastured eggs from the farm
- about 1 1/2-2 cups of coconut milk (full fat, unsweetened, organic - see brand discussion below)
- a half cup of maple syrup
- a dollop of molasses
- less than a teaspoon of Sucanat (actually this was probably in with the dry spices)
- about a teaspoon of vanilla.
Another time I used pumpkin, which we roasted and then scooped out, but I added too much starch. That time, I included arrowroot and a few Tablespoons of rice flour in the mix, and the result was too solid, as you can see -- more like a quiche instead of velvety.
The rest of the mainstream directions I followed, after baking my mostly-nut meal crusts for 15 min first:
Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a larger bowl. Add in pumpkin and spices and mix well. Slowly mix in in coconut milk/maple syrup/vanilla mixture.
Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.
In all cases, the pies were delicious. People who need more sweet can add ice cream. We used So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream though I am not a fan of that brand's coconut milk in a carton and always use the canned organic coconut milk that has no weird additives besides a little guar gum and water. And it tastes a lot better than the So Delicious cartons. As for coconut milk brands, Thai Kitchen is a little more expensive where I live than Native Forest, so I usually go with NF. The Whole Foods Brand is cheapest but is often more watery and less flavorful. I found I couldn't really tolerate the Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate very well, and I didn't like having to warm up and add water.
I wanted to share a photo of the GFCF rolls I made for Thanksgiving this year and an update on the recipe. The bulk of the flour this time was Hazelnut flour from Bob's Red Mill with some sorghum, rice, and tapioca. Also, I got away with using hardly any sugar and a little more molasses (along with a little more flour) than in my original recipe, which, I believe should be in the new Holistic Moms Network cookbook (I haven't seen a copy yet).
Ideally I would soak and dry my own organic nuts (or use nuts from Wilderness Family Naturals) and then grind those for my flour since Bob's nut flour is not organic. But at least the rolls don't send anyone's blood sugar through the roof!