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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

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You are what you eat: are the bacteria in your gut influencing what you eat this holiday season?


man food shopping

Many of us looked forward to that Thanksgiving meal and those December holiday cravings are starting to kick in. I, for one, found myself wondering why we have cravings for certain comfort foods. So I took a peek into the possible reasons for our cravings and the leading one may surprise you.

Firstly, we need to understand how our gut works. After the mechanical manipulation of chewing, food lands in the gut for a nice acid bath and digestion. Monitoring the whole thing is the ENS, enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons regulating: fluid exchange, blood flow, gut movement , physical condition and information about the gastrointestinal tract. The ENS in turn communicates to our brain via the vagus nerve through the secretion of hormones like peptide YY and cholecystokinin to tell us when we are full.

Now it’s time to get to the issue of cravings. For a long time people believed that our bodies would get cravings for foods that we needed. But new research is finding that the microbial life forms that live in our gut might be influencing our eating habits to best suit them. This sounds iffy at best but when you consider that in our bodies bacteria cells outnumber our own 10 to 1 it seems reasonable to say they are having an effect on us.

So when I dig into my Thanksgiving Day baked yams I’m not only feeding me, but also all the bacteria inside me. Keeping the bacteria happy and healthy is just as important to good bodily function as keeping me healthy and happy. But, can my bacteria be influencing my habits? (more…)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Options for a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving Meal


What is the history of Thanksgiving and when did we all start celebrating? A short version of the story is as follows, in 1621 the pilgrims and Indians came together to share in the bounty of the earth. Following this the first recorded Thanksgiving observance wasn’t until 1671 and happened in Charlestown on June 29th.  Then in 1789 president George Washington declared the first Thanksgiving observance under the new national government. But it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln announced the official fixed date to be the last Thursday of November. Just like that, the turkey holiday was born.

From the start, Thanksgiving has been a holiday surrounding the sharing of food and the giving of thanks. The iconic Thanksgiving food in today’s pop culture is perhaps the turkey.  Trying to keep environmental impact low however means excluding the holidays mascot from the table. Turkeys use up a lot of resources to raise, receive large amounts of antibiotics and have toxins in them. We all know that to lower our carbon foot print we want to consume foods that are at the base of the food chain, namely plant products. But unless you are already a committed vegetarian resisting that sumptuous bird in the middle of the table or envisioning Thanksgiving without it might be tricky. However, now-a-days there are many alternative turkey options to help you make that jump.

tofurky

The poster child of these options is Tofurky. Tofurky has been providing a turkey like alternative for non-meat eaters since 1995. But there are many other options on the market as well if Tofurky doesn’t do it for you. Some other brands Include Field Roast Grain Meat Company, Quorn’s and Gardein.

gardein roast

Many options can be found online or in stores like Whole Foods Market which sells the Gardein holiday roast 3.99 for a 6 oz serving (above).

veggie whole turkey

If a log shaped turkey substitute is not for you and you want to try something more closely resembling a turkey they’ve got that too. Vegetarian Plus makes a turkey shaped turkey substitute that you can even stuff with your own stuffing (above). It’s a bit pricey, Vegetarian Essentials is selling it at 69.99, but despite this they are sold out for the season.

apple turkey

But who says that you have to have a meat like turkey substitute for your table? You can have the iconic turkey on your table alongside your farmers market vegetables as a fun creative platter. This example above uses fresh farmers’ market organic apples sliced and fanned out in alternating colors to create (more…)

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Monday, November 24, 2014

a tasty new gluten-free snack


quinoa cluster Sometimes I just crave crunchiness. My mouth needs to chomp on something tasty but my mind won’t accept something as bad for you as say, Cheetohs. As I made my way around Fresh Market the other day, this item said buy me. I’m so glad I did.

These little squares are totally yummy … a little salty and nutty with a swirl of chocolate. Here’s what’s in ‘em: organic quinoa, almonds, organic tapioca syrup, organic brown rice syrup, organic cane sugar, organic dark chocolate, organic brown rice crisps, baking soda, salt, almond oil.

nutritional labelThey’re vegan and non-GMO. Quinoa never tasted so good! If you use a little self control and get 4 portions from the package, that’s 130 calories with 3 grams of protein of snackiness. very satisfying. crunch on.

There are 4 other varieties ($4.99/each) – you can check it all out @ iheartkeenwah.com

related: more healthy food related on alternativeconsumer.com

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanksgiving : let’s talk turkey


 veggie turkey.jpg

How to pick a Better Bird: Being in the know on picking a turkey this season.

Every family has a preference on whether or not there will be a turkey on the Thanksgiving table. Even though the most sustainable option is to go vegan and axe the turkey all together; if you are going to have a bird you should be in the know.

The typical market turkey breed is the Broad Breasted White, due to many generations of artificial selection and physical problems these birds no longer reproduce naturally. A turkey typically goes to market in 14-18 weeks. Because the breast is the most desired part, these birds are selected and induced to grow larger breasts. Because the birds grow too fast and their breasts are too large, their legs develop problems. Apart from this, the birds live in such close contact that they are plagued by campylobacter, which looks at unappetizing as it sounds. Campylobacter is responsible for foodborne illness and some 90 percent of turkeys grown in America have it. The concern of illness is also why the birds are treated heavily with antibiotics which can then transfer to us.

Despite regulation mandating that birds be taken off antibiotics before slaughter antibiotics are still present but in much smaller amounts. There are also hormones and a chemical toxin called dioxin, a known cancer causer, introduced into the bird. All this doom and gloom is making an ecofriendly vegan thanksgiving look more and more appealing. But if you’re still thinking turkey most birds can be free range, organic, neither or both; here is the gist.

  • Free range: as the name implies means that the birds have a space outside of the main confinement area where they are free to move about. But there is no set guidelines on the size of the space so its many times too small and overcrowded. And the crippling leg problems means they are still not very mobile and often trampled to death.
  • Organic turkey is a better option than just “free range” because it is free of hormones, chemicals and antibiotics. Often organic turkeys are grain-fed and can also be free range. But it isn’t a paradise.

BN ranch heritage turkey

Perhaps the best market option is a free range, organic, heritage turkey. Heritage turkey breeds still breed naturally, and are allowed to grow over a longer period of time so they can complete their natural life cycle. Because their slower growth rate made them not ideal for market, their numbers dwindled over the years. Acknowledged heritage breeds include: the Standard Bronze, Bourdon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White. Three known producers and sellers of heritage turkeys are

Heritage birds are better for the environment, too. They (more…)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Please Pass the Gravy: an Easy Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy for Dressing Your Holiday Meal


veggie mushroom gravy

Our family holiday table isn’t about the green beans, the bread rolls, the baked yams or even the turkey that gets passed around the most; it’s the gravy. In fact, we pretty much pour that rich sauce on everything. But – is gravy an environmental friend or foe?

Typically, if you’re going to cook a turkey you can just save the drippings, thicken them with a bit of flour, add some stock and call it done. There are also many instant options on the market. If you are already consuming the meat it is good to not waste the dippings. Stock is usually made with water, vegetables and meat scraps like the bones which are also good to not waste.

So, if you have already bought the meat products it isn’t any worse and is in fact better that you put all of it to use. Simple processing means that manufacturing costs are low and because stock doesn’t need to be refrigerated during transport this cuts down on emissions. The instant stuff is more processed but not excessively so, it too, has low transportation costs. It’s looking good for gravy, as a product made from sources that are not mono-purpose enjoying some gravy on your vegetables at the Thanksgiving table is not a horrible from the ecological perspective. But as always you can make gravy more environmentally friendly by making it yourself. But meats do have a heavy impact on our carbon footprint and water waste. Remember that more than 50 percent of our water footprint goes into the food we eat. So if you’re taking turkey off the menu this holiday season and opting for all veggies why not switch up your gravy choice too.

gravy ingredients

Mushroom gravy is a tasty option to its meat-based counterpart, as long as you like mushrooms that is. If you don’t, you can always switch them out for your own favorite vegetable or don’t include any veggie at all. (more…)

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Monday, November 10, 2014

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Green Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving leftovers

So you’re planning your Thanksgiving holiday – deciding what you’re doing, where you will be going and what you will eat. But here’s something else we should also be thinking about – how we can reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact this Thanksgiving season. It’s hard to see how we can make a holiday sometimes identified with glutton and excess less wasteful, but we can. We just have to think a little outside of the box and see where we can make some changes or cut back; here are some simple do’s and don’ts.

  • How to travel: If you have to travel this thanksgiving, you can reduce your carbon emissions by changing how you travel. Do carpool together with other family members when you’re all going to the same place. Eco-friendly carAnd if you have to travel do travel by train when possible. Don’t have everyone drive separately unless unavoidable and try to avoid flying or commuting long distances in multiple vehicles.
  • How to decorate: Thanksgiving is autumn themed so when decorating you can simply bring some autumn into your home. Do use natural products like pumpkins, gourds, wheat, leaves, corn and mums. Decorating your table with produce you can cook and enjoy later is both functional as well as tasty. Fall leaves gathered from the yard or sidewalk can be arranged on the table and under plates to make a colorful statement. Best part is these items are all plant-based so they are compostable at the end or, in the case of the produce, can be consumed. Don’t spend money on mass produced decorations that you toss out each year.

veggie t-day

  • What to do about food: What you decided to enjoy for your Thanksgiving meal will have the most environmental impact. Do opt for a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving, removing the turkey all together. As we know, produce has far less environmental impact then meat. When buying your produce do buy locally grown or from farmers’ markets so your food isn’t being transported vast distances. And when you do go shopping do take your reusable bags with you.  If you have to have a turkey do get a heritage bird or an organic one. But be careful of imposters and remember that “free range” does not mean animals happily roaming throughout vast hills. Another do is to use all those leftovers in things like Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches; never toss good food out. Don’t over buy when at the grocery store and don’t cook too much. If you do end up with more leftovers then you can handle give it to a family member, coworker, friend or neighbor who you know will appreciate it.
  • How to set your table: This is where making a greener effort is less obvious. Do use what you already have. Don’t buy disposable plates and utensils; these use once and discard often plastic products are not good for the environment. There is no reason to go out and buy disposable plates with fall leaves on them when you have dishware at home. If you’re worried that you won’t have enough plates for everyone let your visiting family know to bring some and you’ll be covered. If you have to buy disposable do not buy plastic or Styrofoam products as these are the worst. Stick with paper (Marcal Small Steps) or look for compostable dinnerware and those made from recycled materials. Tip: for more upscale designer-like dinnerware options, we like Bambu, Birchware and VerTerra as earth-conscious choices. You can find them on Amazon.

With these simple tips anyone can have themselves a green-Thanksgiving. After all, our personal health and the earth we live on are perhaps the biggest things to be thankful for this season.
photo credit: (vegetarian thanksgiving) ohmyveggies.com/

related: more healthy eating articles on AlternativeConsumer

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

DIY herbal teas for the season: from your garden to the Thanksgiving table


herbal tea ingredients on cutting board

Manufacturing eight ounces of coffee requires 29 gallons of water whereas tea requires only seven. So if you’re using virtual water standards, this makes tea a much more environmentally friendly option. Perhaps this lower environmental impact (in addition to great flavor and health benefits) is another reason why tea has been gaining popularity. (I know, I can dream.) Teas can be herbal and consist of roses, lavender, mint, chamomile, dandelion and other spices. Or they can be white, green and black tea-leaf-based.

This holiday season, why not opt for a greener beverage and while you’re at it make it even greener by making it yourself? Here are three fun DIY herbal teas you can prepare as you gather for Thanksgiving. (I found the inspiration for these recipes at instructables.com: Lavender mint, orange chamomile and orange ginger.) If you don’t want to make purely herbal teas you can always add in some green or black tea leaves to your mix. What you will need for each tea is as follows and most if not all of these ingredients can be grown in your own backyard.

  • Lavender mint: Food quality lavender and mint, both of these can come from your garden as long as you haven’t used any chemicals or pesticides not fit for human consumption.
  • Orange chamomile: fresh orange peels and chamomile from your local grocery store. And when you’re done peeling those oranges don’t toss the fruit; oranges are a great source of vitamin C and a tasty snack.
  • Orange ginger: fresh orange peels and fresh ginger root. Fresh ginger is great in cooking and may settle upset tummies.

homemade herbal ginger tea

To start: you need to wash, dry and roughly or finely chop your orange peel and ginger. The ginger and orange peel can safely be dehydrated in the oven. Note: before dicing, preheat your over to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (more…)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Root Cellars: An Ancient Way to Extend the Life of Fruits and Vegetables


root vegetable stew

Back in the day before refrigeration, people built root cellars under the home, in the cellar or basement, or in a separate structure on the property. In fact, the first recorded root cellar was built approximately 40,000 years ago in Australia. Root cellars are used to keep root vegetables and hard-fruits fresh throughout the winter. But you don’t need to have a cellar to make yourself a root cellar. There are many cheap and easy up-cycling options on the internet; of course, those of us living in apartments may not be able to build our own but for those with a green thumb and a bit of garden space root cellars are a viable possibility.

The key elements needed to make your own root cellar are: cool temperatures, moisture and air circulation. Here are the basic requirements for each element.

  • Temperature: if storing cool season crops like carrots, a root cellar needs to stay below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent spoilage. If you’re going to store warm season crops like tomatoes you need to keep it above 50 Fahrenheit. But the overall idea is to keep your cellar cool. Don’t forget that lower in the cellar will be cooler then the top half so keep warmer temperature produce at the top and cool season produce below.
  • Moisture: after temperature, humidity is the most important element of your root cellar. Your produce needs humidity to keep it from wilting. Having an open earthen floor will help with this but having a hygrometer is a must. To help with moisture you can store produce like potatoes in moist sawdust to help keep them hydrated.
  • Air circulation: is vital to help replenish oxygen, remove heat respiration and help with the buildup of ethylene gases. One inlet vent and one outlet vent is the minimum unless your storing in an open basement that already has good ventilation.

DIY root cellar old refrigerator

Apart from needing the place to set up your root cellar there are also the legalities to consider when building one. As you can imagine, building code officials may take issue with you burying a trash can or an old refrigerator in the backyard. But in some rural areas a root cellar is considered an agricultural shed and not subject to building permit requirements.

DIY root cellar pail buried

One popular DIY option is a sunken galvanized steel or plastic garbage pail. Holes are drilled into the pail and they are buried in the earth then covered with a bale of hay for insulation. For those who want to take a shot at building their own root cellar, Organic Gardening magazine has a how-to article on building a root cellar in your home.

root cellar

If your home already has a cellar or basement you can always set up a section for root storage. Potatoes stored at 38 degrees Celsius can keep for 8 months and onions at 32 will also last 8 months. Apples and carrots, which can also be kept for many months, are good starter crops as well. For those interested in the process of storing your own produce energy-free, check out Root Cellaring Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike Bubel and Nancy Bubel (available on amazon.com) for the dos and don’ts of ‘cellaring‘.

Even though the concept is very old, a root cellar is still (more…)

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