One Almond equals 1.1 Gallons of Water

Almonds, almonds, the non-musical fruit.

Almonds, almonds, the non-musical fruit.

Almonds are yummy. Almonds have vitamins and stuff. Almonds are (horribly abused to be) made into almond milk.

But.

Almonds are actually kind of shitty for anything resembling sustainable agriculture. Not just kind of shitty. I mean really totally crappy shitty disgusting ick how-did-that-happen.

San Joaquin - soon to be NOT known for agriculture

San Joaquin – soon to be NOT known for agriculture

A recent batch of blog posts by Tom Philpott, Alex Jones and Julia Lurie in Mother Jones highlights this issue as well as other water-sucking crops like grapes, pistachios, and more.

Tom’s almond article delves into some disturbing statistics:

Why? Why the f why??? Because we (the US and Asia) love almonds. And when we love almonds, it keeps their prices high. It’s a 4.8 BILLION dollar crop. Almond milk consumption is going freaking insane.

California is potentially in a drought bigger than any in 500 years, and any rains that fall are too little, too late.

I like this Tom Philpott guy. Basically, he read about this stuff, he wrote about this stuff, and then he got pissed off enough that he started really DOING things with his knowledge, like start Maverick Farms and become a living advocate for sustainability.

Yeah, this is a little bit of a chicken little kind of post. BUT. There are things we can do. There are things we SHOULD do. Treat almonds like a treat. Stop fucking drinking almond milk. Drink pasteured kefir – it’s (so far) more sustainable and has no lactose.

And tell people. Passion is what reaches those that are interested.

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Cage Fight: KFC’s Double Down vs. Sanity

Knock, knock! Who’s there? Nutritionists and foodies having apoplectic meltdowns!

Oh, yes, it happened. The “limited run” legendary whipping-boy sandwich from KFC called the Double Down is back after a multi-year hiatus, to the chagrin and delight of the Internets.

When first unleashed in 2010 the Double Down was the scorn of nutritionists and the bane of foodies alike – a strange alliance given that the two camps are often at odds over concepts they believe cannot exist together like “health” and “deliciousness”. The vitriol from both was rather frothy.

But perhaps in the context of our “eat less evil foods” culture, popularized by sites like Eat This, Not That and YumSugar, I can look at the Double Down within my own paradigm – that of valuing foods that are less processed as the better choice. (Note, my book proposal – no joke – to Rodale for “Eat This, Not That: Paleo” is yet unanswered….)

What does the Double Down have going for it? Let’s take a look:

  1. Low-carb option for those on the Atkins or other ketogenic diet (though not rock-bottom due to likely seasonings in the meat, for a grand total of 11 carbs vs. 35 carbs in a regular KFC fried chicken sandwich)
  2. Made from three sort-of straightfoward ingredients (if you get the grilled chicken option instead of fried and skip the sauce): chicken, cheese, bacon. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you what kinds of awful go into making sandwich buns at fast food joints (like dough conditioners also used in yoga mats).
  3. It’s a chicken cordon bleu for $5.49. Yay.

Um, that’s about it.

How about the Double Down-sides? I can come up with a few:

  1. The cheese. Likely a frankenish creation that has mere molecules of dairy as an ingredient in order for it to use the word “cheese” in its description. Also source of part of the low-carber’s unwanted carbohydrate grams.
  2. The chicken. I won’t even go into the horrors of life as a battery chicken; here I will only talk about nutrition. There ain’t much that resembles what a real chicken should taste like after you’ve raised the birds on soy and antibiotics, injected the meat with saline, and then slathered it in a crusty spice layer (which includes wheat, according to KFC’s website). I’ll stop there.
  3. It’s a chicken cordon bleu for $5.49. Ick.

Interestingly, even with a bit of nutrition education, I (just like the rare blogger back in 2010 who said Double Downs were not the most evil thing they could imagine) would put the Double Down far ahead of many, many things recommended by the likes of Eat This, Not That and their ilk. I do give some kudos to that series’ desire to allow folks to make incremental changes from where they are now in their habit. However, I think their “evil” list is misguided, namely in their rote avoidance of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.

So where does this leave us? My dude and I (mostly him, OK) tested out a real Double Down, for science. It was breaded and weird. It was not at all like the “extra tasty crispy” stuff you expect from KFC. The cheese didn’t have time to melt, the sauce was unnecessary if they’d only use bacon with flavor…. but…. it didn’t make us throw up in our mouths. So, good job, KFC?

Three Reasons to Ditch the “Five Ingredients or Less” Rule

fast food milkshake

A Fast Food Shake, with far more than 4 ingredients. Photo Credit: yosoynuts

There are a lot of recommendations out there for what kinds of foods are good to purchase, or at least which kinds of foods are those that should be avoided, based on the ingredients list. **see NOTE at bottom before hand-wringing.

You’ll find admonishments to avoid:

Unfortunately, these rules run into some problems. Here are 3 reasons the “five ingredient” rule can be sending you down the wrong path to health.

1) Natural Flavor

You could eat a lot of questionable additives if following the “x” number of ingredients rule, even if it’s only five. One of the biggest culprits in this realm is “natural flavor” as an actual ingredient listed. Really? What, legally, can be in something called “natural flavor”? This is from the FDA’s website and is current as of 2013:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

So that means if you start with a “constituent” of a plant and then use enzymes OR heat OR roasting OR distillation OR extraction OR fermentation on it to produce something that will flavor a food, it’s “natural”. Yep. This is a massive industry, featured once in a while on investigative/hyped TV programs.

2) Food now ≠ food 50 years ago

If you follow the grandmother rule, you might eat food that LOOKS like real food but isn’t anything like it was 50 or 80 years ago. Wheat’s protein structure has changed quite a bit over the last 40 years (and that’s one of the theories about why wheat sensitivity is much higher now than ever before). Many factory farmed crops are genetically modified to grow in concert with amazingly complex biological killers (a.k.a. pesticides). And even simple ingredients, like “salt”, have been refined, processed, remolded, and stripped of their original minerals and physical form.

3) Ingredients with ingredients

In other words, five ingredients might not be five ingredients. There was a (rather reactionary oh-my-gawd-the-sky-is-falling) article several years back about the 59 ingredients in a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake that went moderately viral. The article delved into the 59 chemicals used to comprise the “strawberry flavor” part of the strawberry syrup. Each ‘ingredient’ was listed as the specific chemical compound name which, to many folks, sounds SCARY. Chemicals are not inherently scary. Everything is chemicals. If you listed all of the molecules in a banana by their chemical name you’d be freaked out. One of the chemicals that gives a banana its aroma is Amyl Acetate. If you take that chemical all by itself, it is a fruity-smelling solvent akin to nail polish remover. Eeeek! But it is in a banana, naturally. That’s why over-hyped articles like the “59 ingredients” one can be unhelpful. (**again, see NOTE at the bottom)

However, the non-molecular chemical ingredients are just as dubious. Note that when you initially see the list of ingredients for that milkshake, it is FOUR. That would be allowed under the “5 or less” rule, so what went wrong??? Here are the ingredients:

VANILLA REDUCED FAT ICE CREAM, STRAWBERRY SHAKE SYRUP, WHIPPED CREAM, MARASCHINO CHERRY

Hey, that’s not so bad . . . right? However, when you take each of those four ingredients and expand it – from the very same McDonald’s official pdf file – you end up with this:

VANILLA REDUCED FAT ICE CREAM (Milk, Sugar, Cream, Nonfat Milk Solids, Corn Syrup Solids, Mono- and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Dextrose, Sodium Citrate, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Sodium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Disodium Phosphate, Cellulose Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate.), STRAWBERRY SHAKE SYRUP (Sugar, Water, Corn Syrup, Strawberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Natural (Botanical Source) and Artificial Flavor, Pectin, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Caramel Color, Calcium Chloride, Red 40), WHIPPED CREAM (Cream, Nonfat Milk, Corn Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Contains Less Than 1%: Mono-And Diglycerides, Carrageenan, Polysorbate 80, Beta Carotene (Color), Natural (Dairy and Plant Sources) and Artificial Flavor, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E) to Protect Flavor, and Whipping Propellant (Nitrous Oxide)), MARASCHINO CHERRY (Cherries, Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Natural (Plant Source) and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Red 40, Sulfur Dioxide as Preservative (Contains Sulfites))

**POSTSCRIPT/NOTE

Homemade strawberry milkshake

Now that’s a strawberry MILK shake! Photo Credit: A30_Tsitika

Here’s the flip side of this. Many of the “scary” sounding ingredients are simply the chemical names for compounds that could be individually present in real foods. In this case, they are also used in the artificial flavoring. Each of those chemicals is, by itself, neither good nor evil, and many of them are present in REAL fruit. HOWEVER. It does not change the fact that those ingredients were deliberately combined to make artificial flavor, as opposed to a strawberry growing on a plant and then being blended into the shake.

Stressing out about every thing you put in your mouth is also counterproductive to your health. What is important is having knowledge about real foods, and making choices in your life that are better than before, little by little. Moving from hot dogs to processed reformed deli meat to roasted sliced packaged meat to real/whole animals to organic animals to YOUR OWN animals is a process that has benefits at every step of the way, and you should feel good about each step, not just when you reach the end.

Armi Legge writes very well about this topic, especially his post called “The Myth of Clean Eating“. He straddles a nice divide between using real ingredients and not freaking out too much about straying off the path. Good job, dude!

Do This The Very Next Time You Eat Out: Start A Revolution

not-vegetarian-meat-dish

Make a promise, right, now, that the next time you eat at a restaurant, you’ll throw one more question into the pile of “what’s the special today?” and “can I get a side of fries?”. Ask where the restaurant gets their meat.

You can do it gently, a simple add-on, “Ooh, that burger sounds good – is the meat from New Mexico?”

You can do it more directly, “I’m learning more about restaurant ingredients – can you tell me where your meat comes from?”

It will be kind of awkward, and I bet that a lot won’t answer at all, or they’ll deflect. That’s OK. In the Mission District, a writer asked for two years, learning both much and little.

You see, even if they don’t answer, even if they mumble something noncomittally, even if they pretend you didn’t even ask, just hearing the question will make them think about it for one second. Hearing it from multiple diners will make them pay attention. It will trickle up to the managers of these restaurants that their customers want to know. That influences how they choose suppliers and what questions THEY ask when buying meat. Even if the question has to start with, “what country did this meat come from?

You will help start a revolution.

It is going to be a snowball effect, and I’m asking you to contribute your own snowflake.

I will. Promise you’ll do it, too.

Prison Food Ain’t What it Used To Be: Bechamel, Croquettes and Cupcakes at Alcatraz

Even in 1946, one of the most notorious prisons in the world was serving what would be considered real, homestyle, quality food. Check out this menu and see if you can tell just from the name what “Puree Mongole” is – I can’t. Sounds kind of . . . dubious. And if not dubious, then a little bit strange. (In reality, Puree Mongole is a soup made from split pea and tomato soups put together with more veggies.)

Despite being an obvious attempt to use up leftover soups and minimize waste, it was a favorite dish in high-falutin’ restaurants in New York in the 1920s. Apparently it trickled down to become prison fare.

Alcatraz menu, courtesy of sfgate.com

Alcatraz menu, courtesy of sfgate.com

Notice the variety of foods, however. Three squares a day, with coffee twice a day, desserts that actually sound good (spiced crab apples!), and “fresh milk”, which may very well be RAW milk.

Let’s compare that to this month’s menu at my local school district: Albuquerque, NM:

aps-school-lunch-2013

So we are looking at the Albuquerque Public School District’s high school lunch menu. High schoolers are as close as we get to prison age, hence the comparison. Where the Alcatraz inmates were getting homemade soup, breaded cod, broiled tomatoes and mashed potatoes for lunch (that’s ONE lunch), growing and thinking bodies are getting CHICKEN SMACKERS with potatoes, white bread, jello, gravy, coleslaw and fruit. Yipes. At least there’s fruit. I guess.

Now I am absolutely not forgetting that the quality of regular civilian food in 1946 compared to today has slid down the same mass-produced slope. Chicken Smackers are normal food that grown adults purchase and eat themselves at home all the time. That’s not the point of this rant. Grown adults, while battered from all sides with conflicting dietary advice to the point of weariness and ultimately rebellion, still pick and pay for their own food. Kids in school and prisoners do not.

And in school, it gets worse for the kids that need good food the most. The kids whose family situation makes it hard for them to get breakfast before going to school? They get extra-shafted, coming up in my next post . . .