Friday, April 30, 2010

Modern Hunter-Gatherer, Part 1

It is clear to me due to my food changes, I am becoming a "Modern" Hunter-Gatherer. It is no longer possible for me to go to the grocery store to purchase much healthy food. Instead I must continually "hunt" in an increasingly-wider area for sources of reliable and sustainable healthy foods, and I must "gather" them whenever and wherever opportunity permits.

For a long time, I have been struggling to understand what all the many food additives really are, and how harmful each is to the human body. It has been a real epiphany for me to finally realize I don’t have any reason to know and understand them!

If a food is not a single-food item (such as carrots, onions, or chicken) but comes in a box with other stuff added to it, I simply do not buy it. Do you see any labels on celery, apples, or pork chops listing all the ingredients? No, because they are Real Food and do not need additives to improve the bottom line for some manufacturer. If something is called a food, but requires a label to tell me what all has been added, it isn’t real food. So, if it has a label, I just don’t buy it.

That’s the simple part, but it sure makes finding something healthy to eat a big problem.

Eating health-providing foods from plants and animals means I first need to check out the current terms to understand what they really mean. This post will cover livestock animals... meats like beef, lamb, and pork. I’ll cover chickens, turkeys and eggs in a few days in another post, and fruits and vegetables in a third post soon.


Some terms I hear are ‘grass-fed’, ‘grain-finished’, ‘grass-finished’, ‘pastured’, ‘no antibiotics’, ‘no growth hormones’, ‘no synthetic hormones’, ‘free range’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’… and who knows how many others. Some terms are required by the USDA, while others are mere marketing terms/strategies.

Free Range
USDA Standards for
“Free Range, Free Roaming and Pasture Raised simply means that the cattle, sheep and swine shall have had continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their life cycle, and shall never have been confined to a feedlot.”

Do you notice it doesn’t say what they have been fed, such as allowed to be in a mal-nourished pasture but fed grains and gummy bears? Or in a huge shed containing 100,000 chickens and just one small hatchway door always open to the outside? (The guidelines do not describe ‘pasture’ nor do they describe ‘feedlot’.)

USDA Standard for Grass-Fed defines livestock feeding regimen as raised on grass, green or range pasture, or forage throughout their life cycle with only limited supplemental grain feeding allowed. Grass fed is further defined as being 80% or more of the primary energy source throughout the animal’s life cycle.

USDA Hormone Claims Standards
The terms ‘hormone’, ‘growth stimulant’, ‘implant’, and ‘growth promotant’ are used interchangeably. No supplemental hormones means the livestock have never received supplemental hormones from birth. No hormones administered during finishing only means the livestock received no supplemental hormones during the finishing period but may have received them earlier.

My Personal Choice
Since finally there is so much scientific evidence that grass-fed beef is nutritiously better than grain-fed, I will stick to grass-fed. Grass-fed meat gives you from two to six times more of a type of "good" fat called "omega-3 fatty acids."

The big reason why grass-fed animals have more omega-3’s than grain-fed animals is that omega-3’s are formed in the green leaves of plants. 60% of the fat in grass is a type of omega-3 fatty acid called
alpha-linolenic acid or LNA.

The meat and milk from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called "
conjugated linoleic acid" or CLA. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their milk and meat contain as much as five times more CLA than the same products from animals fed conventional diets.

CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. Meat from grass-fed animals is also higher in vitamin E, which is needed in conjunction with natural Vitamin A in order for us to absorb and utilize Vitamin D3.

The prevalent practice in factory farming is to feed previously pastured cattle with corn, soy, and/or gummy bears* six weeks or more before slaughter. Because cattle are sold per pound weight, the animal then yields a better price. However, they cannot be called grass fed if this is the practice. Bovine growth hormone (BGH) is sometimes also injected to make the cattle bigger, and when we eat the BGH injected cattle, we, in fact, are eating BGH.

Let me put it another way: they feed grains and other junk foods to cattle to make them fat, and then highly tout “grain-finished” beef as healthier for us. I read that just 2 weeks of being fed grain totally destroys the good fatty acids in cattle. Cattle were not designed by Nature to eat grains, and I’ll post more about that another time.

Hunting for Meat

Hunting for grass-fed meat is a problem where I live. There is not a single grocery store or health foods store within 75 miles in any direction who carries any. I know the local farmer’s markets have a couple of vendors who have grass-fed beef, chickens and lamb, but the markets aren’t open yet (at the time I am composing this). One vendor sells and highly praises "
grain-finished”, saying it gives better marbling to steaks. So what he’s really saying is the grain-finishing makes the cattle fat. Guess what grains (even whole grains) do to us?

One health food store 65 miles away carries Coleman Natural and Coleman Organic chickens. Their labels say “NO Antibiotics, NO Added Hormones, NO Preservatives…EVER. Always Vegetarian Fed.” Frankly, that doesn’t tell me much. Besides, they had a major recall not long ago. How will I know if the chicken is high in Omega-3 from grass, or if it is high in Omega-6 because it was fed vegetarian grain and soy products instead of vegetarian grass and forage?

I did find some USDA certified grass-fed beef and lamb in Roanoke on my way home last week. One package was ground beef, and I did a test...

I know cats and dogs fare much better on raw meats rather than the cereal grains in bagged chow, but it’s not possible on my income. Nonetheless, I did a test with my 2 cats (cats are obligate carnivores). I gave each of them a tablespoon of raw grass-fed ground beef and a tablespoon of raw conventional ground beef my sister had just purchased. Neither one would eat the conventional beef! I didn’t like my bite of my sister’s cooked hamburger patty from it either. But the grass-fed patty I ate… Oh, MY!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do you have a garden?

This is a quick, unplanned post... I read just this morning some statistics about the increasing prices of food in the last year. The data is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Producer Price List for March 2010, and the data (by month) spans a whole year. Here's a break-down:

Fresh and dry vegetables, up 56.1%
Fresh Fruits and melons, up 28.8%
Eggs for fresh use, up 33.6%

Pork, up 19.1%

Beef and veal, up 10.7%

Dairy products, up 9.7%

There are now 39.4 million Americans on Food Stamps, up 22.4% from one year ago. The US Government is now paying out more to Americans in benefits that it collects in taxes.

(Rising food and gasoline prices accounted to 58% of February's year-over-year increase in retail sales. Maybe the economy is recovering less than posted due to just price increases??

I am glad I have a garden started, and plenty of seeds. Sure wish I already had the chickens I plan, and a milking goat or two.

BTW, The UAE (United Arab Emirates) cabinet on Sunday approved a plan to build up three-month stocks of rice, flour and other staples to boost food security following the European travel chaos that disrupted supplies.
It is always good to be prepared because you never know when something unforeseen will strike.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kicking and Screaming…

I am slowly, albeit it kicking and screaming, coming to some real truths about my nutrition. I thought I had it all figured out a few weeks ago when I wrote about my thyroid and soy/food additives, and then again on the concept of soaking grains and beans overnight to destroy the phytates (which keep us from absorbing vital minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, etc.).

I was wrong! That was just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Nutrition is sufficiently complex all by itself, but when you add in all the ‘research’ touted over the years to ‘educate’ us on the ‘proper diet’, it is no wonder we have increasing confusion about what's good for us, plus health problems, and increasing obesity (even in our children) in the United States, and spreading elsewhere.

Little by little, I have been able to locate research that is not skewed/paid for by big financial interests (can you say ‘Big Pharma’ and ‘Big Ag’?), but even when I found non-biased data, it often is not published, and usually ridiculed because it flies in the eyes of ‘conventionally accepted dietary guidelines’ aka 'conventional wisdom'.

Why am I willing to adopt research that is contrary to what we have been told for years? Is somewhat hard to articulate the 'how and why' it makes sense to me. First, what I am reading is based on unbiased, proven science about how the human body works. And it’s logical. Second, once I allowed myself to look at different viewpoints, and put aside my preconceived notions, it started becoming easier to accept radical changes to what I eat.
Third, and most important is how much better I feel already!

Most of what I have been reading has resonated deeply, making it really hard to deny. (Usually we know when someone is lying to us face-to-face, but when something is ‘approved’ and published by supposed authorities, we tend to blindly accept it.

Let me be clear: I am NOT saying all medical research is false, nor that all doctors deliberately lie to us. Au Contraire, I think most doctors believe what they tell us. I think most doctors who see patients believe what they are told by other medical doctors/authorities engaged in research.

Personally, I suspect some basic beliefs started near the beginning of modern medicine where some tenets were accepted even if largely unproven by research of the time. Thus laying an accepted cornerstone that now looks to be built on sand.

No physician I know with a busy family practice or a specialized practice, has the time to see and treat patients AND do research on the scale that research grants permit. Those physicians must rely on others in the field. That gives me just one option: blindly accept the ‘prevailing conventional wisdom’ even if it is killing me, or do my own research into the research work of others.

I’ll be posting more of what I am learning and changing as time goes on. Meanwhile to illustrate my point above about 'conventional wisdom', I am posting this commentary from the Spring 2010 Weston A. Price Foundation Journal below.


A recently published meta-analysis looked at almost three hundred fifty thousand subjects in twenty-one studies to assess the correlation between saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease.

The conclusion: intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 13, 2010). The authors noted that studies showing a significant association of saturated fat with heart disease “tended to be received more favorably for publication” than those studies showing a negative correlation or no correlation.

Did you read about this study in a newspaper; was it featured in the health section; was it reported on TV? Not at all; mainstream media response has been one of complete silence.

Meanwhile, the voices demonizing saturated fat have become ever more shrill. A study published in the September 2009 Journal of Clinical Investigation accuses saturated fat of interfering with brain chemistry and making people eat more. The title of the accompanying press release: “Ice Cream May Target the Brain Before Your Hips” (Science Daily, September 19, 2009). Dr. Gabe Mirkin claims that a study on mice shows that a high saturated fat diet prevents the building of muscle mass. Among many details about this study Mirkin neglects to mention, is the fact that the “high-fat” diet was only about 25 percent saturated fat, with almost half the fat as omega-6 fatty acids.

For a blatantly industry-oriented anti-saturated fat website—sponsored by Unilever—visit . Unilever’s public relations company helped UK physician Shyam Kolvekar declare that butter should be banned, with headlines in the Daily Mail ( thousands-lives-says-heart-surgeon.html).

Fortunately, public cynicism about the anti-butter forces surfaced with a vengeance, with hundreds of sarcastic comments posted after the article. Journalist Clarissa Dickson Wright countered with an article in the same publication, noting that she enjoys toasted crumpets “absolutely dripping with unsalted butter. . .”

Monday, April 26, 2010


For a long time now, I have been struggling to understand what all the many food additives really are, and how harmful each is to the human body. It has been a real epiphany for me to finally realize I don’t have any reason whatsoever to know and understand them!

If a food is not a single-food item (such as carrots, onions, or chicken) but comes in a box with other stuff added to it, I simply do not buy it.

Do you see any labels on celery, apples, or pork chops listing all the ingredients? No, because they are Real Food and do not need additives to improve the bottom line for some manufacturer. If something is called a food, but requires a label to tell me what all has been added, it isn’t real food.

So now, if it has a label, I just don’t buy it. Simple, eh?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cooking Tip: Keeping Vegetables Green

Disgusted with those visually unappealing, less-than-bright-green cooked vegetables?

Here's an easy tip to keep those veggies bright green when you cook them. Put a pinch of baking soda in the water. That makes the water slightly alkaline, which keeps the magnesium ion from leaching out of the chlorophyll in the veggies. Voila! Bright Green Vegetables!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Tidbits...

Photo courtesy of admiller's photostream

Muir Glen to Pull BPA from Organic Tomato Cans. (Click on Muir Glen to read the story.)

Health Insurers Hedge Bets With Fast Food Stock

Companies providing life and health insurance owned $1.9 billion worth of stock in the fast-food industry as of June 11, 2009, researchers reported online in the American Journal of Public Health. Full story here.

Plowing the Pampas

When you think Argentina, you think beef. The Pampas, gauchos and endless herds of cattle. For years Argentina has been one of the great beef reservoirs of the world. But unless things change, that all may be coming to an end because the cattle are being displaced by a more profitable commodity: soy.

“Plowing the Pampas,”
an article written by Nicholas Kusnetz, describes how many Argentinian ranchers are hanging up their bolas and picking up a plow. Why? Because soybeans are a vastly more profitable use for the land than raising cattle.

(~from the blog of Michael R. Eades, MD)

A Million Green Cards
The Department of Homeland Security has reported that during 2009, they issued 1,130,818 to foreign nationals, allowing them to work legally in this country. That's with nearly 1 in 5 American out of work!
(Click here for the full story.)

Risks for Youths Who Eat What They Watch...
Good story from the New York Times here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce with Italian Sausage

I love spaghetti! Years ago I settled on a bastardized sauce recipe combining canned spaghetti sauce with homemade additions. It's always a little different each time I make it, yet it is always just as good.

The meat in my sauce is
Sweet Italian Sausage. I cut the links into pieces about 3" long, and pierce them a few times with the tip of a knife. Then they go into a skillet over high heat with about 1/4" of water, and are turned frequently as they cook out some of the fat. (Don't get too much water or you will cook out enough fat to make the sausages dry inside.) When they are lightly browned, I take them out and drain the fat but don't scrape the pan. Add a little olive oil and 2-3 diced large onions and some garlic to taste, and sweat on low until transparent. Sometimes I sweat mushrooms too if they look good in the store.

Here's the
secret my uncle learned years ago in Italy. Take a small skillet (mine is a tiny cast iron skillet that might fry one egg) and heat about a tablespoon or so of olive oil to just below the smoke point. Drop in maybe 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and fry the hell out of it, stirring constantly, until it changes to a rich dark color but be careful not to scorch it.

I mix the fried tomato paste with my onions, add a jar or two of prepared spaghetti sauce, and some chunked canned peeled plum tomatoes. (I buy peeled, whole Italian plum tomatoes and drain so I don't have all that juice. I hate a thin sauce.) Add the sausages, and cook on low all afternoon. Actually, I cook mine from this point in a crock pot so I don't worry about scorching the bottom. I try to make enough to freeze half, and it's always better the next day anyway.

Salt and pepper, and herbs are added near the end even though the sauce I buy usually has herb flavorings in it. (I usually use at least 2 different flavors/kinds of sauce, too.)

When you are ready to serve it over al dente pasta, have a chunk of Parmesan and your microplane ready. Whatever you do, please don't use that yucky grated Parmesan in a shaker container. It's just not healthy.

Serve with hot garlic bread and a hearty green salad. YUM!

ps... I
do make a lot of home canned tomato products from my garden. I've just never made a spaghetti sauce I really liked. Maybe if the blight skips us this year I shall try again!
When I do purchase store canned sauces I opt for organic, but they get right expensive.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food, Inc. Premiers Tonight!

Tonight is the Premier of Food, Inc. on PBS. If you eat, it is a must watch! If you happen to miss it, you can watch it online.


Photo from Dan4th's photostream

There's grits, and then there's great grits, a Southern Food specialty. Sadly, even many Southerners have never had great grits, or at least not in years. Partly that's due to a fast-food lifestyle, and partly the disappearance of honest, good raw materials and proper preparation techniques.

I grew up eating grits, and over the years what I have been served in restaurants has slowly changed. Cooking grits at home didn't produce a much better dish, and I began to mostly avoid grits even though I loved them. Strangely enough, polenta has become very popular, and it is the same thing...

Polenta is simply boiled cornmeal. Grits are simply boiled cornmeal.

So, why are grits considered so yucky? Actually, if you just boil cornmeal from the grocery store, it IS yucky, whether it's called polenta or grits.

Grits is a food that is Native American in origin, and historically is a long-cooked dish of old-fashioned coarsely ground corn. As monocropping and hybrids took over, grits began to lose the taste and quality of the old varieties of corn. It's further complicated by the terms 'grits' and 'hominy grits' which I always thought were the same thing, although I knew hominy itself was different.

Hominy (also called nixtamel) is made by soaking dried maize (corn) kernels in an alkali to remove the clear coating on the kernel. In traditional Mexican recipes the process (nixtamalization) involves cooking the kernels in lime water (calcium chloride), which removes the hard outer shell along with the germ. In the US, a similar process involved soaking in lye-water made from wood-ash until the hulls are released.

Hominy Grits (sometimes called sofkee) is
coarsely ground hominy, and masa (the dough used to make tortillas) is finely ground hominy.

Grits, on the other hand, are ground corn kernels dried without the alkalizing process. Yellow corn grits are made from whole kernel corn, and white corn grits are usually made from hulled corn kernels.
(I'm not sure how they hull them.)

In earlier times in the US there were lots of local grist mills where people took their grains to be milled. Often they paid the miller with a portion of the grain as his fee. Even today in South Carolina, there is a law (South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 39 - Trade and Commerce, Chapter 29) on the books that corn meal and grits must be enriched (similar to flour) unless the grits is ground from corn where the miller keeps a portion as his fee.

So part of the secret to great grits is the type and quality of corn and how they are ground (stone-ground is best); the other part of the secret is cooking them. The best grits probably aren't in a box at your grocery store, and if you cannot find good grits locally, it is worth it to order them. Try
Anson Mills, Logan Turnpike Mills or Delta Grind.

Cooking requires a long (and I do mean long!) slow cook so the grits completely hydrate and become creamy, somewhat like a risotto. That might be overnight in a slow cooker, or in a low-temp oven, or carefully watched on the stovetop. Grits need a lot of salt and I find it better to add it later in the cooking. Grits also love butter!

Anson Mills has a good
recipe with excellent notes and instructions. They describe cooking to 'first starch' (a term unfamiliar to me) as "the early stage of grits and polenta cookery in which fine corn particles thicken the liquid enough to hold the larger particles in suspension" as part of the overall cooking process. You should read their recipe if you'd like to make great grits!

Grits are not just a breakfast side dish. They are used as a base for a plethora of dishes from breakfast to desserts, and can include many additives like cheese and shrimp. Shrimp and Grits is a popular and tasty dish on the Gulf Coast and coastal South Carolina. I'll try to make Shrimp and Grits soon, and post about it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Slow Food and Ark of Taste

I have been aware of
Slow Food and their Ark of Taste for a long time, but truthfully I haven't paid much attention for quite a while. Now, with my renewed interest in healthy nutrition, I have come back to paying more attention.


"Slow Foods aims to be everything fast food is not." ~USA Today

Changing my diet to eliminate all the unhealthy foods and food additives also means seeking out foods that taste better (or be very bored at mealtime). Inherent taste in foods varies with nutritional quality, of course. However, the move by BigAg to fewer and fewer varieties has narrowed our options considerably, thus we are in danger of losing many heirloom varieties that hold incredible range and nuances of taste.

It's kinda like starting with millions of colors on your monitor, then slowly but surely moving to only 256 colors. Soon we risk having only RGB!

One of the programs at Slow Foods is
RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions). RAFT is "an alliance of food, farming, environmental and culinary advocates who have joined together to identify, restore and celebrate America's biological and culturally diverse food traditions through conservation, education, promotion and regional networking."

Their aim is
"to develop and promote conservation strategies, sustainable food production, and awareness of our country's unique and "at risk" foods and food traditions." They are working with groups like Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seeds / SEARCH for Heirloom Vegetable Recovery. Other ongoing projects are Heirloom Breed Recovery with groups like American Livestock Breeds Conservancy , and Heirloom Fruit Tree Recovery with growers all over the country.

To see some of what I have been missing, I downloaded their PDF on apples
(Forgotten Fruits Manual & Manifesto - Apples). We once had between 15,000 and 16,000 named, grown and eaten varieties in North America, and now fewer than 20% remain. How many varieties do you see in the grocery stores? Not but a few of the nearly 20% remaining, I'd bet.

Slow Food's
Ark of Taste is a 'catalog' of foods that are threatened by industrial standardization, and only the best tasting foods make it into the Ark. The US Ark of Taste now contains over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction.

Last night I was surfing for tasty and more local rice grains, and I found
Carolina Gold Rice, an antebellum long grain that was once grown all over the coastal wetlands of Georgia and the Carolinas. I saw a package of it 2-3 years ago in a specialty foods store, but since I didn't know what it was, I didn't buy it.

Now I am anxious to try it since it is described as superior in flavor, aroma, texture and cooking qualities (and a beautiful golden hue in the fields). It has resurfaced thanks to heirloom seed collectors, and has been brought back to life. It is one of the 200 foods in the US Ark, and is grown sustainably (and organically) by
Anson Mills, who also mill it the old fashioned way.

Checking out the endangered lists/resources on the Slow Foods site, I found that one of my favorite heirloom seed suppliers,
Victory Seeds, has several heirloom seeds from the list.

Getting my health back via better nutrition means helping to save some tasty endangered foods, or boredom with what few choices are generally still on the market.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Standard American Diet

Look Familiar? This latest evolution of Man looks like Homo Consumericus to me. Body-wise and Health-wise, it is what we are becoming on the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). Yes, it IS SAD, and I will be writing a number of posts starting in May addressing many of the the fault(s) and what we, as individuals and families, can do about it. Stay Tuned.

Business is Booming

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Banning Bottled Water?

This post below is copied in its entirety from another blog. I have mixed feelings about the matter. On one hand, I understand the enormous amount of recycling efforts needed, the expense of bottled water usually made from cheap tap water anyway, and the dangers of chemicals from the bottles leaching into the water. On the other hand, for years I traveled and often would make a pit stop and get something to drink. In those days, only soft drinks were available and usually made with HFCS. Blech. Note: This legislation was passed over a year ago and implementation is still in process.

"Banning Bottled Water?

They say the road to hell is paved by good intentions.

The Toronto Star recently noted the political battlelines drawn around the debate to ban bottled water in Toronto, “Environmentalists claim bottled water commercializes a public resource, undermines faith in Canadian water systems, and sends plastic bottles to the landfills. The bottled water industry counters that environmental groups rig recycling rate numbers and vilify a product that helps combat obesity.”

Last week the vote was cast and the Toronto city council voted to immediately ban the sale and/or distribution of bottled water in City Hall and the city’s civic centres where contracts permit, and ban the sale and/or distribution of bottled water in other city-owned facilities such as arenas and theatres by the end of 2011.

While it’s now illegal to not only sell bottled water, but also illegal to distribute bottled water in city-owned facilities in Toronto, it’s still perfectly legal and acceptable to sell and distribute sweetened waters (translation – soda and fruit drinks).

Afterall, isn’t that really what soda and fruit drinks are – simply sweetened water?

Let me see if I understand this.

Bottled water = bad-illegal

Bottled soda & fruit drinks = good-legal

This vote after Statistics Canada released data that found Canadians consumed more than 95 litres of soft drinks in 2007!

How much more soda and fruit drinks do you think folks will drink now that bottled water is banned?"


Friday, April 16, 2010

Fast Food Calorie Labeling

The Slow Food USA Blog

"Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed the health care bill into law. Tucked away inside the massive piece of legislation, there is provision requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets in the United States to list calorie counts on menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays. The law, which affects over 200,000 U.S. restaurants, also applies to vending machines.

The Food and Drug Administration will create standards for the labeling, which should come into full effect within the next few years."

(I looked it up, in the new law, find it under Division C, Title V, Subtitle C, Part 1, Section 2572)

Too little, too late, and in the wrong place?? (It doesn't address healthy calories, the implementation is years away, and the new law is being hotly contested.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Brix Peaches

Last year I came across a peach orchard on a trip home from Charlottesville. Their Loring peaches (Prunus persica 'Loring') I bought measured over 14º Bx, which is in the "good" column. (Poor is 6ºBx, Average is 9.3ºBx and excellent is over 17.3ºBx.) Before last summer, I had not had a decent peach since I moved farther north. Grocery store peaches rarely measure over 6º Bx. The 14º+ peaches were so tasty that I am sure if I find a peach in the excellent category, it will be sheer ecstasy.

Two weeks ago (April 4th) driving on the same route, I detoured to see how the peach blossoms were opening, since so much else was blooming along the way. As you can see, they were coming along nicely, and the fully-opened ones were luscious-looking and fragrant. We have had frost twice since then and peach blossoms are very susceptible to frost but hopefully they were not in the frost warning area.

I also didn't notice many bees. Maybe that was just timing, and not an indication of yet more damage to our bee population.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stone Soup

I'm sure this story is familiar to most people, but I'm posting it here as a reminder of what we can make starting with nothing but intention, and what we can accomplish when we all work together in a spirit of cooperation.

The story has many versions and many names world-wide, and it has been set in many time frames, including the Civil War in America.

The Story of Stone Soup

Many years ago three soldiers, hungry and weary of battle, came upon a small village. The villagers, suffering a meager harvest and the many years of war, quickly hid what little they had to eat and met the three at the village square, wringing their hands and bemoaning the lack of anything to eat.

The soldiers spoke quietly among themselves and the first soldier then turned to the village elders. "Your tired fields have left you nothing to share, so we will share what little we have: the secret of how to make soup from stones."

Naturally the villagers were intrigued and soon a fire was put to the town's greatest kettle as the soldiers dropped in three smooth stones. "Now this will be a fine soup", said the second soldier; "but a pinch of salt and some parsley would make it wonderful!"

Up jumped a villager, crying "What luck! I've just remembered where some's been left!" And off she ran, returning with an apronful of parsley and a turnip. As the kettle boiled on, the memory of the village improved: soon barley, carrots, beef and cream had found their way into the great pot, and a cask of wine was rolled into the square as all sat down to feast.

They ate and danced and sang well into the night, refreshed by the feast and their new-found friends.

In the morning the three soldiers awoke to find the entire village standing before them. At their feet lay a satchel of the village's best breads and cheese. "You have given us the greatest of gifts: the secret of how to make soup from stones", said an elder, "and we shall never forget."

The third soldier turned to the crowd, and said: "There is no secret, but this is certain: it is only by sharing that we may make a feast".

And off the soldiers wandered, down the road...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bee Pollen

The photographer had this to say about the great photo above: "This bee was clinging to the sunflower with one leg and used the others to stuff pollen into the containers on the hind legs. Looking closely you can see grains of pollen falling off."

Bee pollen is one of the 'superfoods', according to an
article written by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD, for the Weston A Price Foundation. They describe say "Superfoods -- as opposed to vitamins or supplements -- are foods that naturally concentrate important nutrients. Unlike dietary supplements, or vitamins taken in isolation, superfoods provide many nutrients that support each other and prevent the kind of imbalances that often occur when vitamins are taken singly."

Following below is the text of the bee pollen portion of that longer article on superfoods linked above, only copied here to run in conjunction with my post on
Honey for Allergies, and my post about Honey Laundering.

Bee Pollen

"Bee pollen has been popularized by famous athletes who take it regularly for strength and endurance. It has been used successfully to treat a variety of ailments including allergies, asthma, menstrual irregularities, constipation, diarrhea, anemia, low energy, cancer, rheumatism, arthritis and toxic conditions.

A Russian study of the inhabitants of the province of Georgia, where many live to 100 years and a few to age 150, revealed that many of these centenarians were beekeepers who often ate raw, unprocessed honey with all its "impurities," that is, with the pollen.

Bee pollen contains 22 amino acids including the eight essential ones, 27 minerals and the full gamut of vitamins, hormones and fatty acids. Most importantly, bee pollen contains more than 5,000 enzymes and coenzymes.

It is the presence of enzymes, many of which have immediate detoxifying effects, that sometimes provokes allergic reactions in those taking bee pollen for the first time. If this happens, start with very small amounts and slowly build up to a tablespoon or so per day. Some brands are more easily tolerated than others.

Avoid pollen that has been dried at temperatures higher than 130 degrees. Bee pollen can be taken in powder, capsule or tablet form—or in raw unprocessed honey mixed with cereal or spread on toast."

I have known several folks who take bee pollen and swear to its effectiveness. I probably should buy some for myself!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Honey Laundering

According to a 5-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, more than 60% of honey consumed in the US is imported, and about half of that comes from China, but not always directly. Much of the honey from China is first shipped to other Asian and South Pacific countries where it is re-labeled and shipped to the US and other countries, hiding the real country of origin.

The practice is called
'honey laundering'... and it is not only deceptive, but it can be dangerous for the consumer. That's because Chinese honey sometimes contains chloramphenicol, an antibiotic with harsh side effects and illegal in many countries.

An executive for Sue Bee (one of the largest honey packers in the U.S.) told the Seattle P-I that chloramphenicol is detected in honey about once a month. When found, it's sent back to the importer. Bill Allibone, president of Sue Bee, explained that the FDA isn't informed because the company never actually takes ownership of the honey.

"We're assuming that when we reject a load of honey, they'll return it to the people they purchased it from." When Seattle P-I asked Allibone if his company had an obligation to contact the FDA to help protect public health, he said, "It's just not our honey."

Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested several Chinese importers for smuggling millions of dollars worth of honey into the U.S.

My advice? Buy and eat local honey! It's better for you anyway because all the minerals, amino acids, enzymes, etc. have not been destroyed by processing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Allergies and Local Honey

To my knowledge, there is no
scientific evidence that local honey helps with allergies, although there is much anecdotal evidence. I happen believe it, due to my belief and understanding of homeopathy, if nothing else.

Honeybees visit flowers to sip the nectar, and they pick up pollen in the process. Back in the hive, they partially digest the pollen and nectar into honey, which they seal in the honeycomb. This honey later acts as food, both for new bees, and to sustain the bees in lean times.

Homeopathy says that a little bit of what ails you will cure you. It seems reasonable to me then, that ingesting the bits of pollen in local honey will help build up an immunity to the pollen local to my area. I think that's kinda like getting a flu vaccination but without the mercury. However, if you have allergies now, taking raw local honey won't help. It takes time for your system to build up resistance to pollens. Getting a flu shot when you have the flu doesn't prevent the flu, either.

Even if local honey doesn't provide allergy relief, there are some good reasons to use honey versus other sweeteners if you can't kick the sugar habit, and at least one
very specific reason for it to be local. Honey is a simple sugar composed of more-or-less equal amounts of fructose and sucrose, depending on the variety of honey. Honey can also contain some minerals, organic acids, amino acids, vitamins and antioxidents.

It is commonly believed that honey doesn't produce the blood sugar spikes like other forms of sugar like HFCS or even plain cane sugar. The literature is not consistent in supporting that idea, so I'm not addressing that bone! I will continue to occasionally use local honey, and I particularly like the taste in hot tea.

Cooking with honey, especially baking, can be problematic for recipe amounts. Generally, the amount of sugar can be reduced by half when using honey, but keep in mind honey is a liquid and you may need to also reduce the amount of liquid. I don't bake with honey, but it seems I read somewhere to reduce the liquid by 1/4 the amount of honey. (For example, reduce liquid by 1/4 cup if you are using 1 cup of honey.)

I have used honey in making jams and jellies and had no problems with them jelling, but that may also be due to the
Pomona's Universal Pectin I use, which I think would even jell water! When I add a touch of honey for taste to a dish I'm cooking, I have to be careful because it can burn easily.

One more thing about honey: it is antimicrobial. That means it is great to put on cuts and small burns. It keeps forever... the most it might do is get sugary-crystal-looking. In that case, heat it gently in a pan of water on low heat.

specific reason to use only local honey turns out to be lengthy in explanation, so I will do another post on Wednesday. It's important information, so please watch for it. Then on Friday, my post is a (mostly) re-print on Bee Pollen as a superfood

Friday, April 2, 2010

Changes in Posting Schedule

Out of necessity, I am making some changes to how often I post. Starting now, I plan to post only three times a week unless something urgent needs posting. Tentatively it looks best for me to post on M-W-F, leaving my weekends free for projects.

I have been working hard to post all the things I am learning, but it isn't as easy as just sitting down and writing a story. I try to thoroughly research what I post, if for no other reason than clarity and my own well-being. I know I have daily readers and I apologize, but I'd rather do fewer posts than a bunch of haphazard posts.

It is imperative that I also put these nutritional ideas into action in my own life, and some things are already falling through the cracks just because of Time. The natural sourdough starter I have been feeding twice a day since it's infancy last week was neglected last night and started fermenting alcohol, so I have to start all over (but not until I get back next week). The kefir I was making got overlooked and soured. I saved the grains and will start them again too.

It is also gardening time and I haven't even ordered seeds. The few cool weather seedlings I already put out won't feed me for long... and the grass already needs to be cut.

During April I have 3 trips to UVa Health System in Charlottesville; two of them are just a night or two away from home, and I will be house sitting for a week for the third trip. I'll take my computer along for that trip so I can still post.

My list of projects I want to do (and share) is long, so there will be lots to write about!