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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trans Fat Ban

Yes! At last! California has passed a ban of trans fats in restaraunts. Following the lead of the city of Tiburon, California will help take a tremendously dangerous food out of the food supply. Trans fats, which are liquid vegetable fats chemically processed to render them solid at room temperature, are implicated in the develpment of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, premature aging and a host of imflammatory conditions. I advise my clients to avoid them altogether, but that is quite difficult to do when eating out.

Trans fats became widespread ostensibly as a replacement for "artery clogging" saturated fats (animal fats and tropical oils such as coconut and palm). The scientific evidence for the supposed harms done by natural saturated fats has always been weak. For an exhaustive survey of all the scientific evidence, read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. If that book is a little too daunting, his article "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?" from the NY Times provides a lucid summary. My take on it is that the food industry reallized how much profit could be made from getting households to switch from using fats they produced at home: lard, bacon grease, schmaltz (chicken fat) to buying cans of Crisco. And trans fats were a great boon to the processed and packaged food industry. Natural fats go rancid at various rates. Rancid fats spoil the taste of packaged food. Trans fats are basically rendered rancid in processing but the rancidity is masked by chemicals. Foods made with them (and a host of other preservatives) can essentially stay the same forever. Try this experiment: put a stick of butter and a stick of margarine in an out of the way place for a while. See what happens. While the butter will get eaten by neighborhood animals right away, the margarine will sit there forever, unchanging and gathering dust. It's essentially plastic. That is why foods like Twinkies have basically an indefinite shelf life.

So throw away the Crisco, "vegetable oil," margarine (yes, even trans-fat free margarine) and any foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in your pantry. The safest and most nutritious oils to use are those humans have used for centuries: animal fats like butter, ghee, lard, tallow, bacon grease, and a select group of vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are tricky. Because they are predominantly unsaturated, they go rancid more easily than animal fats which are predominantly saturated. I use olive oil and sesame oil for most all my cooking, using cold-pressed walnut oil in salads and coconut and palm oil when I want those specific tastes. I rendered my own lard this summer, which was very empowering!

Derrick Schneider has a wonderful step by step description of rendering lard at home on his blog at:

Mary's Oil Blend

(Adapted from Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig)

If cooking with lard is going too far for you, try this wonderful oil blend--it is good for most cooking jobs and has a great blend of healthy fats.

1 cup organic coconut oil

1 cup cold pressed sesame oil

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Gently melt the coconut oil over low heat. Stir in the other oils and keep at room temperature in a tightly sealed glass jar.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Big Fat Lies

Traditional nutrition vindicated! The AP press just reported on a well-designed recent study that showed: fat is not bad for you! One more blow to the false dichotomy between healthy food and tasty food. If you want to lose weight, this study shows you the best way: restrict carbohydrates, not fat. The group who followed a high fat Aktins type diet lost the most weight, stuck to the diet and kept the weight off over a two year period.

The clincher of this one was that the high-fat diet group actually showed improvements in cholesterol. Read the whole article at : This comes as no surprise to those of us who have noticed that the Emperor is naked and that the mainstream dietary advice to eat a low fat diet is just plain wrong. Fat is necessary to human health. Fat carries the flavor in food, it triggers satiety, it is an essential part of every cell membrane, it sheaths the nerves, it lubricates skin and hair. Your brain is 40% fat, and much of that is saturated fat.

Wait a minute! Saturated fat, isn't that the big demon that raises cholesterol and causes heart attacks? Well, the emperor had no clothes all along. Even mainstream nutritionists are beginning to admit that they have been completely wrong about the lipid hypothesis all these years. But you don't have to take my word for it. A great starting point is "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?" by Gary Taubes If you get excited, the following books will tell you much more.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice

Sunday, July 20, 2008

La Gleaneuse

I just saw "The Gleaners and I" and it was the best film I've seen in 2008. Well, I have seen very few this year, as I am the mother of a preschooler. But it stands out as the best film in recent memory. The filmmaker, the 72 year old Agnes Varda, the only female member of the French New Wave, road trips around France in search of gleaners--people who scour harvested fields and collect the food that is left behind. She also finds urban gleaners who dumpster dive for food and art.

A study recently reported in The New York Times showed that Americans waste about 27% of all the food that is available for consumption in this country. What a sick side effect of the broken food system which subsidizes the production of ever more calories of processed, nutrient-void food (made mostly of factory farmed wheat, corn, rice and soy) to the profit of the food giants and to the detriment of public health. Most of that which is wasted goes to the landfill and releases methane as it breaks down.

I was excited to learn about the work of some local urban gleaners. In Oakland, PUEBLO is sponsoring a project called Urban Youth Harvest which has youth harvesting unwanted backyard fruit and distributing it (by bike!) to needy folks. Check them out at

Thanks to municipal composting and our own compost pile, we throw very little food away around here. But right now my neighbor's plum tree is raining plums on us every day, and in fact plum trees all over the Bay area are pouring out their bounty onto the sidewalks. It's time to make plum jam! Growing up, my grandmother and I honored a yearly ritual of Santa Rosa plum jam making. She is a practical sort and couldn't be bothered to actually can. We made freezer jam. It is jelled with pectin and just used fresh or kept in the freezer. The jam is a fantastic fuschia color and the taste is miles better than any canned preserve. Grandma used to use both white sugar and corn syrup (gasp!) in her jam, but I have developed a recipe that is sweetened with agave nectar and tastes just as good, but doesn't make your teeth sing from sugar.

Windfall Plum Jam

4 cups ripe plums, pitted and pureed

1-1/2 cups raw agave nectar

1 box Pomona's universal pectin (try your local health food store for this)

Wash, pit, don't skin, and puree enough plums to make 4 cups. Prepare calcium water according to pectin package directions. Add 2t calcium water to fruit and bring to a simmer on stovetop. Mix 2t Pectin powder into agave nectar and stir into fruit. Simmer 1-2 minutes until pectin is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Eat within a few weeks, or freeze and use within 6 months. Try mixing in foraged blackberries or any other fruit. The pectin box has tons of recipes.

The great part about jamming with this type of pectin is that you don't have to use lots of sugar or worry about sugar/acid balance to get your gel.

Gastronicitious moment: stirring plum jam into the roasting juices of a leg of lamb (instead of the red current jelly suggested in the fabulous The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) to create a pan gravy. Superb!

Agave nectar note: Well, it is a more local sweetener than most as it is made in the Southwest and Mexico, and it has a low glyceimic index. But that is because it is made almost entirely of fructose which goes straight to the liver instead of raising blood sugar. If your body can't use the fuel immediately it gets turned into triglycerides by the liver. If you have high triglycerides it is probably from eating too much sugar and/ or other simple carbohydrates. I would call it a less refined sweetener but like all sweeteners, it has its negative metabolic effects. I tried making the jam last year without any sweetener, but it was basically inedible. Maybe next year we'll get some bees going and try honey.


Gastronomy: the art or science of good eating+ synchronicity: the quality of happening, existing, or arising at precisely the same time =gastronicity: the art or science of eating the right thing at the right time.

It was coined to describe the curious coincidences of a foodie friend and I, who would frequently bring exactly the same dish to a potluck. It has grown to mean so much more to me. Eating the right food at the right time encompasses the challenge of the locavore: eating what is local, seasonal, and sustainable. Invariably, this food that suits the moment of now is the most delicious and nutritious food you could be eating. It incorporates the teachings of macrobiotics and Traditional Chinese Medicine, wherein a healthy diet is one of foods appropriate to both the season and your individual condition.

Gastronicity is eating sun-warmed blackberries fresh off the vine in July. It’s not eating apples at all during the "apple gap," when the local storage apples are long gone and the Gravensteins haven't come in yet. (News from July 20th Farmer's market: they are picking the first Gravensteins this week!). Gastronicity is taking the salad ingredients you brought to a friend's house in the fog zone and turning them into a soup instead because the Bay Area summer turned to winter on your way there. For me, gastronicity has replaced vegetarianism, macrobiotics, and even eating locally as my overarching philosophy of food.

Gastronicity is at an all-time low in modern America. It is never the right time to eat food while driving, yet a 1999 study showed that Americans eat 20% of our meals in cars. It is never the right time to eat meat from animals raised in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feedlot Operations), the source of most meat in modern America. The possible exception when such food is made and presented to you with love and you eat it in graciousness to your host. And if you shop at the supermarket, you don't know what the right food to eat right now is, because the supermarket knows no seasons. Gastronicity has been the norm thoughout most of human history--and still is in most places with intact food cultures.