Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beef it up!

  Decide for yourself...
A.Bananas imported green from who-knows-where-international or B.hand picked veggies, green and garden fresh from my backyard?

Quick, easy, cheap. Mark down B for me.
Many thanks to global foods and their suppliers, much of what we purchase and consume uproots from China, Brazil, you name it. Exotic isn't it? Thousands of "food-miles" lengthen the link between your fork and your food source. 
Longer distances mean many a dirty working hands (like mine pictured above), rusty-machine-processors, chemical additives, and pathogenic bugs-munchers groping your food. This all done before the applied plastic wrap protection. 
For comparison, I ask all of you, avid cell phone users or Skypers: time and again, distance plays us for a sucker, no? Cross-country or international convos bring delayed responses, echos, maybe a pixilated picture. So, similar to that broken call, remoteness blurs our view of staple pantry items and their kindred sources, in-ground patchwork, the farms, the shepherds, the flock, or the agribusiness.
A backyard garden makes the identification of the source of our produce easy. Nevertheless, Americans disregard their food source. Instead, they hold the convenience of FAST FOOD as priority.
We could chalk up our fast food obsession to an urge for a mouth-watering, ambrosial bite of heaven.  I argue it as an activity that embraces reclusion--a hermetic avoidance of the fresh air that exists between you and your grocery store. In this state of mind, it would count as sin not to drive-thru the closest McDonald's (usually a 3 minute drive), where the grin of the omnipresent golden arches smiles down on us.
Let's switch from the McD's venue to Mexican; take Taco Bell for a try. Olay!
But wait!  They're taco meat contains a-whatttt?? Up to 65% fillers: water, wheat (an allergen to the gluten intolerant in beef??), oats, soy lecithin (an emulsifier or thickener that's cheap and available), maltodextrin (Sugar!), anti-dusting agents (soy bean oil to prevent spice powders from separating from their ingredients) and modified corn starch (thickener); find a full ingredient list here. Legally, it doesn't meet the FDA definition of "taco meat." The FDA says that , "[the] Product must contain at least 40% fresh meat to obtain the label: 'Taco Filling with Meat,' 'Beef Taco Filling,' or 'Taco Meat Filling.' " Here's the news and supporting material on this topic. Ohhh the politics of beef...
No vegetarians, this meat mimic is not for you!!  But it's so close you could almost taste it!
If traced to their origin, a single lot of meat in a processing plant is butchered from 443 cows. These animals face the peril of death at six different cross-country slaughterhouses! With this mix-match sourcing, no wonder Taco Bell "meat"  is dubbed a "taco meat filling". We lost track of our meat's identity in transport, processing, manufacturing, and translation (Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, Author: Marion Nestle). 
It's idealistic, friends and colleagues, to think that we might know the route of food. The more with our ravenous appetite demands processed and fast foods, the more governmental monitoring (run by the Federal Drug Administration or the FDA) has trouble keeping pace.  This means more meat goes un-inspected.  
It's a tough life and tight budget for the FDA. To obtain a safer sustainable food supply this system must change. Mark Bittman of the New York Times puts this into tangible terms: "....the FDA must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply. (Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the FDA’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.)"
Without efficient regulation, consumers and industry ask: Do we really know what Taco Bell's unpronounceable ingredient list (term defined here) do to us? 
My Answer: and no.
In the next couple years, researchers will take the direct route to answer our pleas and inquiries!  The FDA, Pew Charitable Trust, food scientists, food industry, and public health advocates will take turns on the wheel--driven to modernize the approval process of food additives. 
Some of these substances were approved for use over 50 years ago???!! Others weren't tested at all!? Take Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) food additives, for instance.  In 1958, the FDA established the Food Additives Amendment.  With it, came a list of 700 GRAS additives in our food supply before 1958. GRAS status exempted manufacturers from testing these food additives before putting them on the market.  Nothing big, just 700 free-bees for the food industry run with, one of these being arsenic. "Safe" amounts of heavy metal in my food? FDA, what dated studies and lab techniques support the allowance of this additive? When did you approve this one (if at all)?
Lucky for us, scientists now judge the safety of every food additive. But age old policy and research methods slow this process. Food industry takes advantage, and the FDA is left playing catch-up!   
Times like these make me feel like the crash-dummy taking a food additive vehicle for a spin. 
There's no emergency-break-answer to stop us. A convenience food nation as desperate as ours is a danger to itself. But tell that to a starved child and his grumbling belly. To him a super-sized dollar menu with all its additives isn't death; it's dinner.

What Consumers Wanna Know:
When it comes to selecting your food, check the ingredients list (located under the nutrition label). Enliven your curiosity, investigate the unpronounceable ingredients, evaluate them, and decide for yourself. Which ones do you want for your diet? Take your food into your own hands, then eat it too! 
One final note, if you are still weighing out the benefits to analyzing your food, at least take a peek at this brief: the Top 5 Additives to Avoid the Most.
Hold these thoughts, Eaters. 
Don't stop eating your favorite fast/processed foods. Just be a conscious eater and ask, "How many times do I head to these joints without a second thought?" Then dig deep, "Where is this food coming from? What's the implications of chowing-down these well-traveled foods? On my health? On the environment? How might MY fast-food purchases play into this long-distance system? Can I make a difference with my food dollars by choosing a different restaurant?"
 As a registered dietitian, I note that some of my clients must eat fast-food! I say to them, "Go for it! To each his own!" But before indulging in this pleasure, take a peek at the resources: or restaurant website nutrition facts (Qdoba's nutrition calculator, for reference) Let them help you find the finger-lickin' dish that fits your diet best. 
To this end, some restaurant menus tagged their foods with their calorie count...but nationwide menu labeling is still under deliberation. Other fast food restaurants are suggesting healthier options: Subway & McDonald's (hopefully coming soon). Hungry Girl extraordinaire gives some healthy pointers for fast-food survival here 
Fast-foodies of the "Go-BIG-or-go-home" mentality might scoff at this nutrition stuff. But, I challenge you, Drive-Through Guru, to reduce your restaurant window time to once-a-day or once-a-week or once-a-month.  Start easy and embrace whatever fast food schedule seems most manageable for you. Build from there. Don't let those TV commercials tantalize you! 
Try me on this one...if you dare! 
More on the Fast Food Skinny:
The top 10 fast food restaurant 2008 and 2009
Tips for Healthy fast food lunch & dinners
 I'm a woman of discriminating taste. My blog usually denotes healthy, wholesome, and simple kitchen-play. Not this time, baby! Every foodista maintains the right. The right to bake 'em sweet, eat 'em, and blog 'em too!
Royally Iced Shortbread Cookies
"Cookie rampage" encapsulates the atmosphere at my farm house. For months, my family cherished the smell of fresh-baked cakes and shortbreads wafting into our nostrils, seeping from our pores.  Just call us, Bakers! 
Cookies inspire us to make them cakes!

Holidays inspire us to bake stockings and iced presents!
Farm animals inspire too! 
...cookies the color of Oakley's toy ball....

Baked answer to our horsey, Moon Beam's winter appetite!

Ooh! Looks like more animals joined the cookie-merrymaking!
O'Malley fainting goat
Mad-dawg, my bear!
Our chunky pony, Donnie Brasco! (He can stick to decorating the treats. For him, a small cookie for tasting.)
What else inspires cookie baking? Dreaming of the luxuries of spring! 

Hearts for February--my first batch ever!
Point blank, I don't take much heart in the Valentine's season. So, the second time around the hearts morphed to monsters. Predators spying on their prey, my wide-eyed owl.
Even after the Superbowl, these ones never went out of season. They inspire my family year-round. Many props to my step-sister for showing up all cookies in her first batch!
* ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** *
But we're not like these poor, crowded oinkers who pig-out on whatever they can get their snouts on!
(FYI: My family farm does not house these pictured piglets)

 Eat in moderation or else. . . . . . .