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Quite the Catch

8 Sep

I used to love cereal and milk.

Photo: Christian Cable via Flickr

When we were little we called it cold cereal before we moved to the South and realized people just called it “cereal” as if there were no other kinds. I used to ask my mom if I could have it for dinner (she almost never said yes). I even love bran cereal.

Unfortunately, boxed cereal is really the epitome of processed food. It’s also usually full of sugar (likely listed under several different names). Those Cheerios are meant to sit on the shelf for a looooong time if need be. So, while I used to park myself at the counter and keep adding cereal to my bowl of milk until I’d solved every maze on the back of the box, I tend to avoid it now unless I feel like indulging. (Yes! I do realize how lame that sounds!)

The first thing I do when I try to give up a processed food is consider whether or not it’s worth making it myself. In the case of cereal, the ingredients for granola are pricey and I can’t figure out how to make a Wheatie.

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Don’t Get Fresh(er) With Me

25 Feb

There’s nothing quite like being reminded of why you should take your own advice more often. The advice in question (today anyway) is always read the ingredient label-even if it seems like a food that should need no additives. It’s embarrassing the amount of times I’ve grabbed something at the grocery store that looked healthy (or even the farmers’ market once) only to turn it around at home and find it containing all kinds of things that I can’t pronounce. It doesn’t take someone nearly as well versed in food politics as I’ve become to realize that crap you can’t pronounce shouldn’t be in your food.

However, I’ve noticed lately the attempts of processed food producers to make their food seem healthier have reached a newly humorous level. Case in point, I was running through Trader Joe’s the other day. We all know a quick trip to Trader Joe’s is impossible, right? Between the tiny aisles and the requisite useless parking lot… I can easily spend an eternity in Trader Joe’s just searching for produce or meat from this country (no easy task, if you’ve never looked). The employees must get sick of asking me if they can help me find something (yes, your purchasing manager, please). I grabbed some odds and ends and chips and hummus and was finally on my way.  But when I dug into the hummus at home, I truly had to laugh. You may be used to seeing random additives in your food, but are you used to now seeing them justified on the packaging? Behold:

“Cultured dextrose (for added freshness).” I’m sorry, what? I need something to “add freshness” to my hummus? As far as I know, you can’t add freshness. And check out what’s right above it: “No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.” OK, so what is cultured dextrose if not one of the above, a natural preservative perhaps?  Looks like I’ll be making my own hummus from here on out (Do you think it will work in a blender? Chunky-style? No?).

whitneyinchicago via Flickr

Just this weekend I was walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store and literally walked by a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch proclaiming in huge letters that General Mills cereals (like said cinnamon one) are America’s greatest source of whole grain. (Got another doozy for me? Please share in the comments and I’ll post on Twitter.) I had to scoff, um, could this be why we have such an issue with childhood obesity? What’s not funny is that most American’s don’t see the irony in that box advertisement. What they see is a trusted company (General Mills) telling them that this stuff isn’t bad for their kids. If this isn’t a call for the FDA to regulate and standardize front of box advertising then I don’t know what is. Now, I’m not saying that Cinnamon Toast Crunch should be banned (in fact, I’m not even saying that it isn’t tasty) but there’s no way it should be misleadingly marketed as health food. But it’s great PR for General Mills.

Which brings me to Walmart, and their famous negotiations with the First Lady, that led the giant to make its processed foods more healthful. Again, great PR for Walmart, but no real change for our food system.

Come on Obamas, what we need is actual food system and safety reform, not more people buying minorly less bad-for-you junk food from the biggest of big box stores. While I absolutely applaud the First Lady for taking on the issue of childhood obesity, this is no way to solve it. While planting an organic White House garden sent a very admirable message, it was certainly undermined by the fact that the President seems to be completely pushing forward a genetically modified agenda, organic be damned.

How about some fresh ideas, Washington? Or is cultured dextrose your answer?

New Resolve

13 Jan

I'm doing butt crunches in here, I promise. Photo: virtualern via Flickr

Ah yes, we all have our vices, and we all know mine involve cake. But judging by the fact that the gym now looks like a stampede is hitting it nightly, I’m guessing some people, you know, actually act on their New Year’s resolutions. I’m not saying that I don’t, I’m flat out saying that I don’t bother to make any. (Cake was pretty good last year, I bet it will be this year too!) But this season, while masses of people are forgoing meals for diet bars and sneaking out of the office early to give Zumba a try, I mapped out some actual healthy eating changes grounded in reality that I would like to continue to work on this year, or to be more diligent about. If you’re like me, and the most attention you usually pay to the new year is struggling to get the new digit of the year correct on office paperwork, I’ve got some easy ideas that you might like too. Because, frankly, if I see another commercial for the Shake Weight on Food Network I might scream.

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It’s Protein!

5 Jan

We’ve all had that moment as a kid: the accidental bug ingestion. The ant in a peanut butter sandwich left momentarily unattended at recess, a fruit fly drowned in a soda or some questionable dirt colored smush on a rescued Popsicle. (Five second rule is really not always a good metric to go by…)

Then there’s another moment we all had as kids: the moment we had to tell Mom something bad–while she was at work. You know…you forgot the project she reminded you not to forget, you missed the bus after she woke you up early, you got sent to the office…and even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you swear, the phone-call-to-mom-at-work was scarier than death.

 Photo: Rein Rache via Flickr

And it still is as an adult.

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What David Letterman Should Have Learned From Rachel Ray

19 Oct

Self-restraint isn’t usually the first word I would use to describe the venerable Rachel Ray. While I don’t watch Rachel, I like what she stands for and I appreciate her honesty about not being a professionally-trained, fine chef. As she puts it, she delivers “a square meal on a round plate.” A visit to Rachel’s site or a snippet of her show might give you tips for hiding veggies in your kids’ food, a recipe for an easy dinner using what’s in season or a bit about her own non-profit work, fighting to end childhood hunger and teaching kids how to cook and have healthy relationships with food. But I just can’t get past the fact that she doesn’t bake.

Public Enemy Number One? Photo: clevercupcakes via flickr

Although, this fact surely played in her favor when she made a recent visit to the David Letterman show about a week ago.

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Lunch Lady

24 Sep

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat about the environmental health of the Santa Monica Bay with some true VIPs. Kids. We talked about dolphins, we talked about sand crabs, we talked about sharks, we talked about the importance cleaning up after ourselves. And then we ate lunch.

Would YOU eat it? Oh good, let's feed it to the school megansquire via Flickr

As we sat in the sand, I was impressed with how well-behaved and quiet most of the students were (later on, each and every child threw out their trash). And then I looked at the lunches. While some students brought a lunch, many were given lunches from the schools they traveled from. The main course of which were plastic packaged Smuckers “Uncrustables” (ingredients include high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils). I just have to ask how difficult it is to just put peanut butter and jelly on some wholesome bread rather than using something pre-packed in plastic with undoubtedly more preservatives. But, time may be a big constraint when it comes to field trips and I guess I can understand that; get the kids on the bus as easily as possible. What I can’t understand is why the school packed way too many lunches that ultimately got completely thrown away. What a waste. Most of the other childrens’ lunches consisted of things like Kraft Lunchables and flavored drinks in neon colors that stained faces for the rest of the day. Wanna know what’s IN a Lunchable (advertised as “wholesome and nutritious lunches for kids”)? Check out the ingredient list on one of the new, more “healthful” ones. I didn’t see a whole lot of fruit and basically didn’t see much of anything not in plastic. If I had eaten these lunches, I would’ve gotten sick on the bus ride back to school.

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