Monday, April 27, 2015

The Graham Cracker--Relic of the First Food Revolution

If you're like me, you thought vegetarianism in the U.S. started with the 1960's counterculture, or, at least, in the health food movement of the '70's. It actually began with a nineteenth century Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham. He hailed from Connecticut, and he had some mighty powerful convictions about food that seem nothing less than prescient today. 

Rev. Graham,  July 5, 1794 – September 11, 1851

During the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, an important problem was the preservation of flour. It becomes rancid in a matter of months, and when it had to travel sometimes hundreds of miles on muddy, sheep-clogged roads to get to stores and bakeries, it most likely had gone bad by the time it got there. Removing the germ (where the soon-to-be-rancid fatty acids were stored) was a brilliant solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard. Problem solved!

The degermed flour that was produced was far lighter in weight, and smoother in texture, than whole wheat flour, and was preferred by bakers as less labor-intesive in the making of bread and pastries. The new flour was also far lighter in color as well, producing a slight yellowish shade of white to the dough and resulting products. To improve upon this, bakers typically used additives to achieve the alabaster brightness we still know and love in our grocery aisles today.

This stuff. At our house, we were never allowed to eat this stuff.

What they didn't know then was anything they couldn't see with the naked eye. For instance, removing the natural oils from the whole grain also removes many of the vitamins and nutrients. You know, the "food" part of food. And what do you think the bakers were using to make the bread so white? Typically, alum and chlorine--yum. Today, potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide, or chlorine dioxide gas does the job, so relax! It's fine!

Back in the early nineteenth century, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, anything made by a machine, or in factories, or in large quantities, was the rage. The American romance with consumerism had begun. The growing middle class demanded ready-made, store-bought goods--why not food, too? White bread became a status symbol of the middle class, and was valued for the "purity and refinement" of its color. Darker wheat bread came to be considered the fare of country rubes, and the less well-to-do.

Enter Rev. Graham. Even though he knew no more about nutrition than anyone else of his time, to him, white bread was the opposite of "pure." He and his followers strongly condemned it as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by nutritionists ever since. Graham believed that a firm bread made of coarsely ground whole wheat flour was more nutritious and healthy, and in 1829, he invented “Graham Bread,” and the recipe first appeared in The New Hydropathic Cookbook (New York, 1855). 

About this time, Graham also invented the "Graham Diet," which consisted mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat and high fiber foods, and excluded meat altogether -- basically modern vegetarianism. Very fresh milk, cheese, and eggs were permitted in moderation, and butter was to be used “very sparingly”. Tea and coffee were verboten; ditto, alcohol.

Graham believed that the way most people were eating was intrinsically unhealthy. That meat products, sugar, honey, and spices, over-stimulated people, and that this excitability lead to alcoholism and excessive sexual desire. He was particularly disturbed by masturbation, which he believed was an evil that lead inevitably to insanity, and, of course, blindness.

He preached that a vegetarian diet was the cure, and spread that gospel every chance he got. In 1837, he had difficulty finding a place to speak in Boston because of threatened riots by butchers and commercial bakers, perhaps proving his point that eating their products made a person excitable, and mentally unstable.

Sure, he looks harmless, but ... !

"Grahamites," as Graham’s followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle. They practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, daily brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle, and, of course, ate a LOT of his graham bread.

Besides vegetarianism, one of the Grahamites’ major contributions to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing, and teeth brushing.

Graham’s doctrines also found later followers in two brothers named Kellogg. Their invention of corn flakes was a logical extension of the Grahamite approach to nutrition.

Oh, and there is one more notable item: the graham cracker, as his graham bread came to be called.

One can only hope that in the great Hereafter, the Rev. Mr. Graham has no idea the abomination we have made of his dietary touchstone.

Really, people?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just Say No

Previously on this blog, we talked about the so-called DARK Act, a bill before Congress that would make it illegal to label products that contain GMOs. Just in case it fails, there's another plan in place, one even weirder than DARK.

To ensure that the public will never know what's really in their food, there's the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. The TPP is a sweeping international trade deal, negotiated largely in secret, designed almost exclusively by the corporations it would most benefit. It would affect everything from banking to farming to intellectual property rights, so there's lots of reasons to be alarmed. 

... this system for setting global rules has some serious defects. We expect the laws that govern our economic lives will be made in a transparent, representative, and accountable fashion. The TPP negotiation process is none of these — it's secretive, it's dominated by powerful insiders, and it provides little opportunity for public input.
Supporters of the deal say it will make the US more competitive in the global marketplace. I'm not sure turning the world into a court room where corporations can use legal muscle to trump native laws is what I would call "competition." This article is a great summary of the feeling:
Private corporations should not have the option of suing a nation whenever they feel like a rule or law has effected their profit rate. This is simply a part of doing business; an inherent aspect of capitalism. Investing is never risk-free; there are natural, social, and political changes that could always hurt an investment. More importantly, when a company’s product is hurting people or the environment, government has the right and obligation to stop it.
So what can any of us do to keep such a thing from happening? Well, there actually is something. There's a bill in Washington at the moment called the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015). It is “fast track” legislation to push through the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. “Fast track” authority would eliminate Congress’s right to make any changes to the President’s trade deals before signing off. The administration needs Congress to pass TPA-2015 to bring the TPP negotiations to fruition.

That's where you come in.

Click here to let your Senators know you oppose the TPP, and urge them to vote "no" on TPA-2015. Corporations that profit from hiding GMOs shouldn’t be the ones writing the rules about GMO labeling – but that’s exactly what TPP and fast track would mean.

To learn more visit

Thanks to Big Sister Marsha, RN, MSN, for giving us the heads up on this important issue.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Has Your Meat Been Eating?

If you've been following this blog, you know that it's a problem when cattle eat corn. It turns out, dependence on a corn diet has even more drawbacks than we thought.

Back in 2012, the worst drought in half a century ravaged the U.S. corn crop, causing the price of cattle feed to sky rocket. Scrambling for affordable ways to keep their stock fed, dairy and beef producers gave them literally anything they could get their hands on.

As this Reuters article put it, "discarded food products" were being substituted for corn, such as candy. And if "discarded food products" weren't bad enough, how about "never was food" products? This article, from Mother Jones, adds that not only was Bessie fed the candy, but the wrapper, as well! 

The article goes on to list other, even less appetizing items that appeared on the cows' menu: sawdust, ground limestone, crab guts, and chicken feces. 

2015, only 4 months in as of this writing, is already the hottest year on record

Drought will be the inevitable result of such temperatures, leading again to less corn, higher prices, and beef and dairy cows being fed candy, rocks, and chicken poop.

So, when the urge to barbecue inevitably comes this summer, before those burgers hit the barbie, it may be a question worth asking: What has my meat been eating?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stop the Pop! Part lll

Full disclosure: I used to drink a lot of Coca-Cola. A LOT. I didn't grow up drinking it; soft drinks were strictly off limits on our house. Not only was our mom a health fanatic, she was a thrifty health fanatic. Whenever one of us might hint that perhaps having pop around would be kind of awesome, she'd say: "I'm not paying good money for sugar water!" So, naturally, the first thing I did when I moved away was to start drinking Coke, which had grabbed my customer loyalty in my formative years. If there ever was a kid who wanted to be a hippie on a hillside, it was me.

This ad captured not just my imagination, but was an advertising smash; what in today's marketing parlance would be referred to as "Lifestyle Branding." That is, the ad wasn't about the product--fizzy brown sugar water--as much as it was about the experience that the customer could associate with it; it provided consumers with an emotional attachment to a particular lifestyle.

And that was me. Every time I had a Coke, I felt I became all the things the commercial had imprinted on me at a very young age: beautiful, peaceful, independent. Laterally, it also tapped into my always-appealing rebellion against my mom and her rules, and her generation's (in my view) missteps and misdeeds. Pretty silly, isn't it? That all those things could be contained in a bottle of fizzy brown sugar water, straight out of Atlanta, Georgia.

That's where they make it.
Mindfulness means thinking about why we do the things we do. What influences the decisions we make about what we eat and drink? Are they based on emotion? rebelliousness? conformity? economics? politics? Are our children learning to make their own choices, or are their choices being made for them by the bombardment of advertising they see every day?
Our house, where even the toys were vegetables.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Got Fairlife?

You've probably heard about Fairlife already--the new milk product out from Coke, lampooned on Stephen Colbert as an over-priced "Frankenstein Food."

Though ripe for comedy, it's worth mentioning that Fairlife is neither owned nor was created by Coca-Cola. Coke is in partnership with its creators to distribute, and, unfortunately, advertise Fairlife for them:

The idea of the beverage is that it's lower in fat and sugar than regular milk, and contains no lactose, but that it's just as safe and nutritious and tasty as real milk--indeed, moreso. But why monkey around with milk in the first place, you may well ask. Isn't altering milk in a lab akin to reinventing the wheel? After all, milk is often called nature's perfect food, isn't it? 

Apparently not perfect enough for today's world, where milk may be a perfect food … but is it a perfect product?

As a product, milk leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, anyone with a cow can make it; that's a  big downside for corporations, where proprietary ownership is key. Another problem is that, more and more, milk comes from a few, centralized mega-farms--not the small, family-owned local dairies of yore. That means logistical headaches. Unlike, say, tennis balls, time is a real factor in shipping and distributing milk--it has only a tiny window of time before it goes bad. 

That's why Fairlife is just what the P.hD in bioengineering ordered. According to Coca-Cola's North American chief Sandy Douglas, (as quoted in this article) when speaking at Morgan Stanley's Global Consumer Conference in November, 2014, Fairlife "has a proprietary milk filtering process" that removes much of the sugar. "It's basically the premiumization of milk," Douglas said.

Proprietary ownership? Check.

And, from near the end of the same article:
The product also has a shelf life of 90 days, compared to regular milk that typically expires within a couple weeks of purchase.
Don't be mislead by that sentence, Consumer. That "improved shelf life"? isn't for you. It's for them. Fairlife can sit in a truck, loiter on a train, linger on a dock, collect dust in a warehouse, for 3 months. Yum.

Ultimately, it seems, the goal of this product, and products like it, is to be something a lot more like tennis balls and a lot less like food.

So, no matter what it tastes like, no matter its price point, the fact is, a more accurate name for this product? 

For more on Fairlife, follow these links:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Are You Afraid of the DARK?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. The corporations that make them, such as Monsanto, constantly assure us that these scientifically altered foods and pesticides are perfectly safe. That must be why they are supporting a bill that would make it illegal to identify products that contain them.

The Statesman Journal (because CNN doesn't think you're interested) has reported that a bill was introduced in Congress last week that would overturn GMO labeling laws enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, prohibit other states from enacting food-labeling laws, and make it harder for the FDA to mandate labeling nationwide.

Among its supporters are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, PepsiCo, Monsanto and Koch Industries.

Opponents have dubbed it the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know, or DARK Act.
"The evidence is mounting that Monsanto's glyphosate and other chemicals used on genetically engineered crops may be harming our health," said Lisa Archer, a program director with Friends of the Earth. "Americans have more reason than ever to want to know whether they are eating GMOs."
Okay, Monsanto. If your Frankenfoods are safe, and you legitimately believe that the work you do is not just healthy, but a benefit to all mankind, why hide your light under a bushel? How can you not be excited to have your miraculous inventions labeled, helping the public to more easily find your products? Why not help a government mandate and design a label that shows how awesome you are? 

What are you afraid of?

Let's let Monsanto know that we trust them, and that we want to buy their products, in all their mysterious, probably cancer-causing glory, but that we can't do that unless they are CLEARLY LABELED.

Dial 1-877-796-1949. You’ll hear more information about the DARK Act, and then you’ll be automatically connected to your Representative’s office in Washington. Let him or her know that you OPPOSE the DARK Act (H.R. 1599) and SUPPORT the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 913).

To learn more, visit this link.

Too late, Monsanto! The Interwebs have it covered.

Thanks to Big Sister Marsha, RN, MSN, for getting us this info .