8 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR FOOD WASTE FOOD PRINT TODAY

Weighing in on Wasted Food

Americans live in an era of a reasonably affordable, abundant, and safe food supply.  However because of this, nearly 40% of all food we produce in the United States never makes it into our stomachs. [i],[ii] Growing this much food that has the ultimate fate of the landfill is a significant source of economic and environmental issues.  

Fast Facts

  1. The value of this wasted food in America alone is estimated to be $161 billion annually.[iii]
  2. Wasted food accounts for 6–10% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. [iv]
  3. Rotting food in landfills creates Methane gas – 25x more potent than CO2. [v]
  4. 1 in 7 Americans are struggling to put food on the table. [vi]

How do we make a difference?

The good news is that we can make small changes in our lives that dramatically decrease the amount of food wasted, and lessen our carbon footprint. The EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy (below) summarized the most beneficial solutions to least beneficial from top to bottom.

8 ways to reduce your food waste food print today!

 

  1. Shop the fridge, and make a list.  This simple step can prevent us from buying too much of a food item that we may already have enough of.
  2. Eat leftovers – this one is important.  It’s easy to turn leftovers into a brand-new dish with a few spices and additional ingredients.  Leftovers do not have to be boring.
  3. Study your trash – Notice what you’re throwing out most often, and buy less of it in the first place. 
  4. Shop for frozen fruits or veggies – these options last longer and ultimately help reduce food waste
  5. Enjoy food from smaller plates. This will help with portion control and ultimately help us consume the correct amount of food.
  6. Ask the waiter to ‘hold the bread or chips’ once you’ve had enough.  This will help you avoid mindlessly eating what is in front of you.
  7. Understand what date labels actually mean. Over 90% of consumers throw out food too early, leading to massive food waste.  Best buy, use by, sell by dates are all quality dates ,not safety dates.   If stored properly, most foods can be safety consumed beyond these dates.  Check out the website http://www.stilltasty.com/
  8. Properly store your food. Some veggies belong in the fridge, while others do not.  Check out the Produce for Better Health Fruit and Veggie Storing Guide for more information.

Resources:

References

[i] Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U., Van Otterdijk, R., & Meybeck, A. (2011). Global food losses and food waste. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

[ii] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

[iii] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

[iv] http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

[v] https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics#what

[vi] http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html

Food Across Thailand + Vietnam

Hey fellow food warriors - as some of you may know, I was able to embark on an adventure of a lifetime across Thailand and Vietnam a few weeks ago.  It was by far one of the best vacation's I've ever had, and the abundant amount of high-quality, authentic food had a lot to do with it.  Check out some photos below for a quick peek into the various types of cuisine enjoyed by SE Asia.  

 

 

*note most photos are mine, a few are my friends* 

Tossed Treasures - A Food Waste Infographic

Food waste sucks, and we all do it. 

You know reducing food waste is a major passion of mine.  To me, it's one of the most sustainable changes we can make in our lives to reduce our environmental footprint.  It also saves us money.  Win win? I think so! 

Check out this infographic that my colleague Alice Henneman and I created with financial support from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.  To find out more about food waste, check out my page here

Why I eat blueberries everyday & my top 5 favorite recipes

So I'm kind of obsessed with blueberries. I grew up with six blueberry bushes in my backyard, and I could never get enough.  We had three varieties of blueberries trees.  Each variety fruited around 2-3 weeks apart, giving my family and I unlimited snacking options throughout the summer.  Even my dog enjoyed jumping up and snacking on them!

Nutrient Bombs
Blueberries are packed with the beneficial phytonutrient 'anthocyanin', which gives them their beautiful royal blue color.  They are also brimming with powerful nutrients such as vitamin K, manganese and fiber.  These tiny fruits are cardio-protective (1), help fight cancer (2), and are even shown to help improve memory (3) in older adults.  Who wouldn't want to eat something that helped protect them from the leading causes of death in the developed world?

Blueberries are versatile and pair quite well with many other foods.  During the summer I love dining on fresh blueberries.  However, the winter does not stop my (healthy) addiction.  When they are out of season, I opt for frozen organic blueberries - usually from Trader Joe's.  They are affordable and last for months in the freezer.  Frozen blueberries, and fruit in general, keep their nutrient quality very well when frozen! More info on that here. 

Here are my top 5 ways to incorporate fresh or frozen blueberries into my weekly routine.

  1. Blueberry overnight oats - Quick, nutritious, and delicious.  Can't beat the simplicity of overnight oats - especially if you're like me and hit the snooze button until the very last possible moment.  

  2. Blueberry Lime Salsa - This one is a bit unique, but definitely a crowd pleaser. It tops well on light, flakey fish, or simply paired with a spicy tortilla chip.

  3. Blueberry Basil Vodka Tonic - Obviously my list wouldn't be complete without a cocktail recipe, and this one is a hit.  Reminds me of summer, even in the winter. 

  4. Blueberry + Peanut Butter Smoothie - Okay so this one tastes like a PB&J in a good way.  It's like a liquid version of our favorite childhood classic sandwich.  I add protein powder to mine for a meal replacement. 

  5. Blueberry Oat Muffins (GF) - These are delicious and actually pretty unhealthy for muffins - check em' out! 

 
Blueberry Peanut Butter Smoothie (yum!)

Blueberry Peanut Butter Smoothie (yum!)

 

Comment below and share your favorite ways to add more blueberries to your diet!

With love,
Chris

 

*Note all photos on page are taken and owned by me. Please ask if you'd like to use them! 

 

References

  1. Kalt, W., Joseph, J. A., & Shukitt-Hale, B. (2007). Blueberries And Human Health: A Review Of Current Research. Journal-American Pomological Society61(3), 151.

  2. A Johnson, S., & H Arjmandi, B. (2013). Evidence for anti-cancer properties of blueberries: a mini-review. Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Anti-Cancer Agents)13(8), 1142-1148.

  3. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory In Older Adults. Journal Of Agricultural And Food Chemistry58(7), 3996-4000.

From the Kitchen to the Clinic - this spice has Promising Health Benefits

Turmeric is a common kitchen spice that contains compounds with clinically-proven health benefits.  

Turmeric is an Ayurvedic spice that has its roots traced back to India.  For the past 5000 years, it has been revered as a healing spice - and for good reason.  This ancient Indian spice is packed with a compound known as curcumin - which is what gives it its ridiculously bright golden color. 

Research trials have discovered that curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. (1)  In today's world, it's not a bad idea to protect ourselves.  We are pretty much surrounded by toxins that promote disease and/or cancer.  They can range from chemicals in our beauty products, to plastics, or even our food.  Thankfully, our bodies have a wonderful way of protecting themselves (thank you liver), but giving them a nutrient boost is never a bad idea. 

Turmeric is also a powerhouse of antioxidants.  Cooking with it not only adds a savory flavor, but the curcumin protects our bodies against inflammation.  Inflammation plays a role in many chronic diseases, including those that are age-related. (2)   Turmeric has building evidence indicating it can even help lower LDL cholesterol levels. (3)  

Homemade Turmeric Tonic

Homemade Turmeric Tonic

Adding turmeric to your diet is easy!

Try making my homemade turmeric tonic (click for link to my blog).  

I'm not going to lie, is insanely good.  It's a combination of fresh and dried spices that create a powerhouse paste that's packed with antioxidants.  Definitely worth a try!

Other easy ways to use turmeric is to add it to stir fries or smoothies.  Curry powder typically has a base of turmeric, which is why it's yellow.

Here are 19 amazing turmeric recipes from The Kitchn.

 

 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27072233 
  2. http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/69/Suppl_1/S4.full
  3. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-662-turmeric.aspx?activeingredientid=662

3 tips for consuming coffee MORE mindfully - how you can make a difference

Let's be honest - coffee is absolutely delicious.  I love coffee in almost fashion - from soy lattes, to ultra-hipster cold brew, or even just a plain and simple drip.  Coffee and I's relationship ebbs and flows (mostly flows) depending on my work load and/or the number of consecutive grey, rainy days here in Seattle.  We are known for our coffee for a reason, after all - and it's damn good I might add! 

As someone who loves learning about sustainable food systems,  I couldn't help to wonder - where does our $3.50 go each time we purchase a craft beverage from our local barista? What is the environmental impact? 

3 simple ways you can be more mindful when consuming your beloved cup of coffee:

  1. CONSIDER THE WATER:
    It takes ~50 gallons of water to make a latte (including the cup, sleeve, lid and milk).  That's actually quite a bit considering that America is the largest consumer of coffee. To put this in perspective - a standard bathtub filled to the brim is only 24 gallons. More on that here.  I know I personally can consumer 2-4 cups a day without batting an eye. This is where the mindful consumption piece comes in. 

  2. UNDERSTAND THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
    Growing coffee requires A LOT of land, and not all coffee is grown equally.  Many farms buzz down the natural landscape to create room for these caffeine-packed bushes, destroying the natural ecosystem of the land. This is not so great if we are looking to sustain our environment for the future. Luckily there's a simple solution to help with this. Look for coffee that is Shade Grown or bears the Rainforest Alliance Certified symbol (see below).  This means the coffee is grown in matrimony with the natural environment, which helps maintain the land's biodiversity.  Albeit not 100% perfect, it's a great  start - and it's easy.

    More on why coffee growers choose shade grown here, and more on what Rainforest Alliance Certification means here

  3. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR FOR FAIR LABOR PRACTICES:
    Coffee is typically grown in very poor parts of the world.  Many coffee farmers earn less than $2.00 a day.  The contrast between their salaries and our hefty prices can make you start to question why we are paying $3.50 per cup.  The good news is that there's a third party organization that helps to ensure fair business practices for farmers.  Look for the Fair Trade symbol (see below).  This verification ensures the farmers are treated fairly and paid a living wage, which can often translate to providing food for low-income famers, or even sending their kids to school.  This is also a very good thing. More on the importance of fair trade coffee here.

SUMMARY

So we can continue to love coffee (trust me, I do), but we should also be consiencious about how much we consume (water), how it's grown (environment), and who grew it (fair labor practices).  Since we can't go to our local farmers market and meet the coffee grower first hand (unless you live in Central America, perhaps), we can check for the two verification symbols -  rainforest alliance certified and fair trade.  If you purchase coffee at your local shop, ask your barista (preferably the one with the mustache) about where they source their beans.  If they aren't sure, have them find out.  Start the conversation - this is how change is made. These small details may seem insignificant, but they can make a world of a difference for both farmers and our the health of our lovely planet.

How Dietitians helped save 15,000 pounds of food at America's biggest nutrition conference.

FNCE & Wasted Food: A Love Story

             Golden Fall Glow

America’s largest food and nutrition conference (FNCE) was held in Boston this October.  It’s a beautiful time to be in the Northeast, as the temperature starts to cool down, and the leaves transition from their summer green to an array of warm hues.

                           FNCE 2016

                           FNCE 2016

With nearly 12,000 attendees, FNCE (like any conference) has an incredible of food served over the course of the event.  With this amount of food, it is inevitable that there will be leftovers. Unfortunately, most of this food will have the imminent fate of the landfill. While not malicious in nature, its impacts can be.  As someone who has devoted their life to creating a more sustainable and waste-free food supply, this process of discarding perfectly good food has always troubled me.  So, how much food is truly being lost in the retail food sector?


Food Waste in Retail Outlets
Over one-third of all food in America ends up in the landfill, and 40% of that food comes from the retail sector, totaling the unfortunate amount of 39 million pounds each year.[i],[ii]  Between the retail and consumer food waste habits, we account for the overwhelming majority of lost food (83%). For more information check out www.refed.com

Cue the Love Story.
The brilliant organizers of FNCE this year were both thoughtful and proactive.  They reached out to The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to create a partnership to rescue the conference’s excess food.   When I first caught wind of this partnership, I was absolutely delighted.  After I heard how much food they recovered, I could not help but write an article to share.  

greater boston foodbank photo.jpg
Cases of donated Sunbutter (sunflower butter)

Cases of donated Sunbutter (sunflower butter)

Adriene Worthington, RD, LDN, a fabulous dietitian at the GBFB, supplied me with the total amount of food they saved from entering the landfill from FNCE alone.  Check out the stats below:

Dry Foods: 7,074 lbs
Dairy Products: 4,648 lbs
Produce: 2,059 lbs
Frozen Foods: 1,150 lbs
Total: 14,933 lbs

The icing on the cake (or ice cream in this case), was when Halo Top Ice Cream company donated their extra freezer used at the FNCE Expo to a local food pantry.  Storing frozen and cooled food is one of the biggest barriers that most pantry’s face when trying to offer healthier options.  This freezer will make a huge difference in the lives of many Bostonians.  A huge thank you to FNCE and the GBFB for making this happen, and helping us lead by example. 

 

Planning a conference?  
Follow these 3 tips to minimize wasted food.

1)      Order less food.  I have never been to a conference where they have run out of food, and I guarantee it rarely happens.  While it’s always hard to estimate attendance and/or appetite of attendees, it may help both your bottom line and the environment to experiment with ordering less food. 

2)      Be Proactive: Understand that wasted food will inevitably happen, and reach out to your local food bank or food pantry ahead of time.  Being proactive will help the food bank prepare for the upcoming donation.  Go to www.feedingamerica.org to find out which agency is closest to your event.

3)      Encourage attendees to take home food: We have all been there.  Stuffed for lunch, but know dinner is just around the corner.  Encourage attendees and staff to take food home or back to their hotel rooms.  This only works for shelf stable food, or hotels that have mini-fridges installed - (food) safety first!  

 

For more information on food waste, visit the resources below

  1. Donation Guidelines – http://www.feedingamerica.org
  2. Resource List – www.chrisvogliano.com
  3. FNCE Session 226 - Link here
  4. Facts and Solutions to Food Waste - www.refed.com
  5. Check out my food waste white paper (PDF)

[i] Gunders D. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council website. http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf. Published August 2012. Accessed August 12 2015.

[ii] http://refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton

 

 

FOOD WASTE 101

5 REASONS TO CARE ABOUT FOOD WASTE

  1. America wastes nearly 40% of all food produced
  2. The U.S. wastes the equivalent of 320,000 jumbo jets worth of food directly into the landfill each year (1)
  3. The average American tosses 300 pounds of food each year (2)
  4. Wasted Food has doubled since the 1970’s (3)
  5. If land used to grow food that isn’t eaten were a country, it would be the second largest country in the world behind Russia (4)

WHY IS WASTING FOOD AN ISSUE?

  • It costs us all money.
    • It's estimated that the average American throws out 23 lbs. of food each month = $190 for a family of four
  • It's bad for the planet. 
    • Rotting food in landfills creates Methane gas – 28x more potent than CO2
  • It's a missed opportunity to feed hungry neighbors.
    • 1 in 7 Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

WHAT DO FOOD DATES REALLY MEAN?

  • There's currently no mandated labeling language on food - and it's confusing.
  • Over 90% of consumers throw out food too early, leading to massive food waste
  • Check out the THE ULTIMATE SHELF LIFE GUIDE (click here) to find out what dates actually mean.

a video thats Worth 2 minutes of your time

 

RESOURCES

REFERENCES

  1. Kearney AT. Save the planet, feed the planet. https://www.atkearney.com/documents/10192/471472/EAXII_2_Save_the_Planet_Feed_the_Planet.pdf/3537625f-024b-4197-b54f-0a85aef53019. Accessed August 21, 2015.
  2. Gunders D. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council website. http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf. Published August 2012. Accessed August 12 2015.
  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Global food losses and food waste-Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. 2011.
  4. Gunders D. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council website. http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf. Published August 2012. Accessed August 12 2015.
 
 

Dear Pomegranate Lovers: here's how to de-seed them

Love pomegranates?
Me too. And it's time to rejoice, because it's pomegranate season.  

September- December is prime time for Pomegranates in the Northern Hemisphere, which means they are abundant, cheap, and (most importantly) at their peak ripeness. If their delicious taste wasn't enough, they are also packed full of fiber, vitamins A & C, and loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients to help build immunity.  

At first glance they look mild and meek, but once you crack one open, they can be awfully intimidating.  Follow the guide below to enjoy the fruit of your labor with minimal time and mess involved.

 
 

HOW TO DE-SEED A POMEGRANATE 

Step 1) Cut the Pom into quarters.
Step 2) Fill a large bowl with cold water, and begin to "break" apart the Pom while submerged.
Step 3) Separate the skin and rind from the seeds (the seeds  sink and the rest will float).
Step 4) Drain water and ENJOY.   
Step 5) Make a delicious pomegranate cocktail, salad, or smoothie. (OPTIONAL)

 

As always, thanks for reading! 

Sustainable sourcing with one of the world’s largest food companies - Unilever

I’m proud to announce that I was chosen to be one of Unilever’s “Agents of Change”, which is a partnership that celebrates dietitians who, like Unilever, are making strides to create a healthier and more sustainable food supply.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join several fellow Registered Dietitians in a rich immersion trip at The Culinary Institutes of America in Hyde Park, New York.  During this immersion, I was able to meet with the Senior Nutrition Manager of North America and the Sustainability Brand Manager to discuss the current initiatives that Unilever is working towards.  I was delighted to learn that all of the tea in its Lipton products and the Madagascar vanilla in Breyers ice cream are Rainforest Alliance Certified™.   In fact, Unilever has helped the Rainforest Alliance certify over 500,000 smallholder farmers, set up 1685 Farmer Field Schools and trained over 450,000 farmers in better growing practices.  This means that the farms used to produce these products are held to vigorous environmental, social and economic standards. More on that here.  In fact, the international non-profit OXFAM has rated Unilever #1 out of the top 10 global brands in their ‘Behind the Brands Scorecard’.

One of the most exciting parts of the trip was when we were challenged to a cooking contest (top chef style) with our peers.  We had the guidance of some of the Culinary Institute of America’s finest chefs to help us create delicious and nutritious meals, utilizing sustainably sourced ingredients.  It surprised me to learn that Unilever has especially strong business ethics, and I'm thrilled to be working with one of the largest food companies in the world to help promote these strong values!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored in part by Unilever.

 

The Perfect Heirloom Tomato Salad


It's tomato season, and with that come the vast variety of juicy and flavor rich tomatoes - ranging in color, size, and shape (some admittedly much prettier than others).  This recipe has been my personal favorite tomato salad, and heirloom tomatoes just make the recipe that much more beautiful. Enjoy!!


Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar (balsalmic works best!)
  • 1 tsp mustard 
  • 1 tsp honey or cane sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried herbs (oregano, basil, or rosemary)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes (mixture of colors and varieties)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • blue cheese crumbles (optional for vegan)
  • fresh basil 
  • Serve with warm, grilled crusty bread 

Directions:

Whisk or blend in a blender olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey/sugar, herbs, and garlic. 

Core the tomatoes and cut out any blemishes, then slice the tomatoes in 1/2-inch thick to 1-inch thick slices.

Arrange different colors and varieties of tomato slices on two plates, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and top with blue cheese crumbles.  Drizzle with dressing, garnish with fresh basil.  

Serve immediately with warm, crusty bread.

 

This recipe is from Northstar Cafe in Columbus, Ohio, and can be found here

 

 

Look at these gorgeous tomatoes!

Look at these gorgeous tomatoes!

The Benefits of Eating A Vegetarian Diet

I am excited and honored to be featuring a post by a good friend of mine, Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, as she speaks on the vast variety of benefits that come from eating a vegetarian diet.  Check out her website and bio at the bottom of the page! Thanks Ginger!

 

 

Vegetarianism continues to gain popularity; from Meatless Monday to consumer questions about vegetarianism for pregnancy, children and adolescents, to improve health or the environment, and an ever-increasing rate of veggie-based foods on menus at restaurants, hospitals and facilities, this type of cuisine seems to be on everybody’s radar. Whether already committed or veggie-curious, there are a lot of reasons to increase your veggie intake and reduce the meat you eat. Even if you are not able to commit to full vegetarianism or veganism (a vegetarian who eats no animal products at all including dairy and honey), you can positively affect your own health, the condition of our environment, and save animal’s lives or unnecessary suffering while inspiring others as you experiment with new ways to prepare delicious meals by eating less meat.

Read on to learn some of the benefits to going veg:

Taste! Vegetarian meals are delicious, fast and easy. Meatless food is far from boring; experimenting with flavorful herbs, spices and sauces can be fun for chefs and families alike.  

Save money. Meat accounts for an estimated 10 percent of American food-spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruit in place of the roughly 250 pounds of beef, chicken and fish each non-vegetarian eats annually could cut individual food bills by an average $4,000 per year. 

Vegetarian diets are statistically higher in fiber. Though 25-38 grams of fiber per day is recommended, the typical American consumes only 12-15 grams. Increasing whole grains, legumes and fresh produce can easily help achieve the goal. For example, a pound of beef contains zero grams of fiber, but just one cup of lentils has 16 grams. 

A love of animals — in the U.S., ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. Many of these are factory-farmed and fed a diet tainted with pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Help protect animals by reducing or eliminating your consumption today! 

Respect for the environment and sustainability. From water protection to soil and air quality, raising animals strains our natural world much more than growing plants. Beef in particular is known for being environmentally taxing due to the quantity and types of feed consumed, as well as their methane production. 

Health! Studies show that vegetarian diets are statistically higher in vitamins A, B2, C and E, beta carotene, calcium and folate than non-vegetarian diets. There is also recent research that indicates vegetarians experience a significantly lower overall incidence of cancer and a lower BMI than non-vegetarians.  

Additional resources to incorporate a vegetarian lifestyle:

Fruits and Veggies More Matters, Vegetarian Awareness Month (http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/)

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Vegetarian Starter Kit (http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk)

Meatless Monday Recipe Files (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/favorite-recipes/)

Mercy for Animals Vegetarian Kit (http://www.mercyforanimals.org/files/VSG.pdf)

Vegetarian Resource Group (http://www.vrg.org/)

Happy Cow and Veg Guide (http://www.happycow.net/)


Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a Chicago-based writer and dietitian at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Chair-Elect for the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and Immediate- Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

http://www.champagnenutrition.com/
https://www.facebook.com/champagnenutrition
https://twitter.com/GingerHultinRD             
https://instagram.com/champagnenutrition/
https://www.pinterest.com/champagneRDN/

Unearthing the Flavors of our Foods

Farm Fresh Spinach 

Farm Fresh Spinach 

While I could get into a whole post on natural and artificial flavors, I will leave that for another time.  Today I want to talk about actual natural flavors.  By that I mean what makes one granny smith, carrot, or tomato tastier than a similar counterpart grown on a different farm?  Yep, we are comparing oranges to oranges!

To answer this question, we must dig deeper.  We must look underneath the fruits and vegetables, and around their roots.  

You guessed it - dirt

Dirt gets a bad rap.  We hear the word dirty and our mind fills vulgar thoughts.  I want to introduce a new side of dirt to you, and will also be referring to it with a more positive name, soil.  Soil is surprisingly complex - in fact, we still don’t know that much about it.  It is made up of billions upon trillions of micro-organisms, similarly to ourselves, that create a biologically diverse ecosystem.  This ecosystem is made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses, bugs, worms, and slugs.  Soil is alive.  So alive that it breathes just like you or me.  I like to think of it as the Earth’s skin, as our skin is also a living organ of our body.  There are so many microbes in healthy soils, that one teaspoon can conservatively contain over a billion living organisms.  This might sound gross, but 1) without them we wouldn’t be alive and 2) our skin also has billions of microorganisms inside and out that help keep us healthy human beings. So think of them as protective warriors against disease.  

How does this affect the taste?

lettuce

Well, most of the food we eat today is grown on large, mono-cultured farms.  That means, acre upon acre of fields are growing the same crop year after year (with some potential variance depending on the farmer).  These types of industrial agriculture farming systems are able to feed many people, but also have significant drawbacks.  If we were to take a microscope and examine the soil of these mono-cultured crops, we would see that the soil is nearly dead.  The reason being, is that the soil is being supplemented with three basic macronutrients to help crops grow quickly -  Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K).  This overly-simplified approach to growing food ignores the rich bio-diversity and micronutients that live within healthy soils.   When the soil's ecosystem is out of balance, so is it’s health.  It can become sick and not perform well, just like us when our ecosystem is out of balance and we catch a cold. 

In order to achieve truly rich flavors, as critically acclaimed NYC Chef Dan Barber states in his book The Third Plate, “Vegetables raised on a diet of N-P-K are tough, leathery and fibrous, and they also lack taste”.  Farmers he interviewed stated “Artificial manures lead inevitability to artificial nutrition, artificial food, artificial animals, and finally to artificial men and women.  Healthy soils brings vigorous plants, stronger and smarter people, cultural empowerment, and the wealth of a nation.  We cannot have good food - healthy, sustainable, or delicious- without soil filled with life”.  

It’s easy to notice the vast flavor profile differences between a conventionally grown, over-fertilized tomato, and a tomato picked off of the vine in your backyard. 

Up for the Challenge?

I challenge you to buy a food that’s been shipped across the world and compare it with one grown locally and organically using sustainable farming practices - you will taste the difference!  Post in the comments to tell me your thoughts! 

My professional advice:

The way to the healthiest, most sustainable, and best tasting food is to connect with the growers first hand.  Visit your local farmer’s market.  They will tell you the story behind the food, and provide you with seasonal items specific to your region.  (To find your local farmer's market, go to this website).  I also recommend organic foods whenever possible.  If you’re on a budget check out the EWG dirty dozen foods to buy organic guide.  Lastly, don’t feel overwhelmed with making changes overnight.  As any dietitian will tell you, sustainable change happens gradually.  Try visiting the farmer’s market once a month, buy a few more organic vegetables at the grocery store each trip (especially foods not regionally available), and have fun!  Food is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated!

Good people doing great things

I have two good friends, Marilyn and Chris, that own and operate a wonderful non-profit known as The Hummingbird Project.  Their mission is to work with farmers in  developing countries to educate and help return life to their over fertilized, dead soils.  With backgrounds in microbiology and education, they have farmers bring soil samples from all over India to have it examined under a microscope.  Most of their farmers who are dependent on chemical fertilizers are in shock to see that their soil is dead.  Find out more on their website