Hot Off the Skillet Food Links


Whoa. I meant to do a post on interesting food links monthly, but a quick scroll reveals I haven't done a Hot Off the Skillet since early January. There's always exciting news in the food and nutrition world, beginning with this link I saw today! Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a daily cup of tea may reduce heart attack and cardiovascular risk? Beginning in 2000, they followed 6000 study participants, who were free of heart disease at that time. Eleven years later, it was the tea drinkers who showed 1/3 fewer incidences of "heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or...other types of heart disease." Yay, Earl Grey!

photo (1)

In other happy news, you'll remember I wrote about my favorite food/nutrition book of 2015, Mark Shatzker's The Dorito Effect. Because I also follow him on Twitter, I heard about his recent Epicurious article, holding out the promise of better-tasting real food in the future. As he discussed in the book, for years folks bred supermarket food for looks and speed and durability, letting actual flavor go by the wayside. Hence the baseball-hard tomatoes that taste like drywall and grocery-store chicken with all the flavor of tofu, only with a texture even more revolting. But, joy of joys, flavor is making a comeback, and not just the flavors found in a chemistry lab. Agricultural think tanks are working on breeding flavor back in--the old-fashioned way, by crossing plant varieties and hoping for good results.

Like heirloom tomatoes, but wish they were sturdier? Now's your chance to get tomato seeds for Garden Gem and Garden Treasure, two new varieties which are already winning taste contests! For a small donation to the University of Florida's Klee Laboratories you'll receive 15 seeds of each kind, just in time to get them started indoors.

And lastly, as we find ourselves in a strident political season, I always like to show bipartisanship. Having referenced the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists in the past, I now present the other side, in which our supermarket produce is found to be very, very clean, according to USDA pesticide sampling, as reported in Forbes. The author makes a couple good points, including the fact that pesticide residue can be found in both conventional and organic produce (some organic countermeasures are allowed but act similarly to regular pesticides). I would love to believe our fruits and vegetables more than meet the EPA's tolerances. What is a tolerance? "The tolerance is generally 100 times less than a dose that could cause any ill effect. The allowed residues are also lower than the levels of natural pesticidal compounds that many crops make to defend themselves." (As Mark Schatzker also discussed in his awesome book, plants do produce natural toxins so they don't get eaten or eaten at the wrong time by every Bird, Cow, or Billy Goat Gruff.)

Tolerable produce still doesn't address the issue of agricultural workers who are exposed to higher levels of pesticides, however, in producing the crop. Nor does it dispel that niggling memory I have of the potato farmer in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, who farmed conventional potatoes for all of us, but only fed his family from the small organic plot behind the house... But, hey, it's still good news for when we can't resist that out-of-season basket of berries. Berries below tolerance!

May it hold us until Opening Market Day.



Picking Our Poison

Much has been made of the recent poll where claiming that Americans think sugar a more harmful substance than marijuana:

They left off Americans' other paralyzing fear: gluten

In Washington State, where all four polled substances are perfectly legal, it's a matter of picking our poison, I suppose. Looking at the actual question posed by the pollsters, "Which of the following substances would you say is the MOST harmful to a person’s overall health?" I wouldn't say these figures reveal much at all. After all, the respondents had to pick ONE substance, not rank them. Which makes me wonder who on earth actually believes sugar is more deadly than tobacco? I'm no sugar proponent (besides loving the stuff, as just about everyone does), but even I think tobacco will kill you faster than sugar. Especially since tobacco can kill you second- and thirdhand, but, as far as I'm aware, no one has died from watching other people pack away the Blizzards and deep-fried Twinkies (secondhand sugar), or from being in a place where such things were consumed and left residue (thirdhand sugar).

The 15% who chose sugar might have been reacting to sugar's ubiquitousness. According to the CDC, American smoking rates stand at "18.1% of all adults (42.1 million people): 20.1% of males, 14.5% of females." Still a high rate to be sure, but nowhere near the 71.4% of Americans who consume more than the "recommended" 10% of their daily calories from sugar. Sugar responders may also have been acknowledging that tobacco doesn't need anyone's help to be villainized nowadays--no one is going to argue that it's harmless in moderation, as the food industry insists with sugar.

And, of course, American acknowledgement of a substance's dangers are not necessarily correlated to our consumption levels, especially where addiction is concerned. Is sugar addictive? Some would argue so. From my own Sugar-Free January experiments I would agree that it's best to go cold turkey and wait for the cravings to go away. Moderation doesn't always pay off--rather it can draw out the process. But, other than thinking about sugary foods and lusting over them, there aren't any side effects to quitting, as there are with addictive drugs like tobacco and caffeine.

The lack of people choosing marijuana as the Most Harmful tells me more about the per capita usage than about its real or perceived dangers. According to a recent Gallup poll, although 38% of Americans have admitted to trying it, only 7% actually use it regularly. Much lower than tobacco, alcohol, or sugar.

What can we say? Living is hazardous to your health. Ask those in Beijing, who regularly deal with smog levels equivalent to smoking 21 cigarettes a day. If those folks throw back a couple beers and a slice of birthday cake, they're toast. They may need the fourth horseman, marijuana, just to relax from all that environmental degradation.

One rule of thumb we might consider is to avoid anything that even gets added to national polls as a potential harmful substance. You'll never find broccoli on that list. Or sweet potatoes. Or garlic.

Is it Market season yet?