May 6, 2008

Student educates himself, loses 180 pounds


CNN's FIT nation, reports that Brandon Hollas, who grew up drinking lots of soda, eating sweets and nachos recently lost 180 pounds. He knew little about nutrition or portion control until his weight hit 380 lbs. He lost 180 lbs in four years after teaching himself about diet and fitness. Reporter Jackie Adams, quotes Hollas when speaking of his old eating habits, "Along with great home cooking...I could drink a six-pack of Dr. Pepper. I would eat snack cakes and for lunch at school, we were allowed to make lunches of Doritos Chili Cheese nachos from the snack bar accompanied with some awesome Grandma Cookies."

Hollas got a wake-up call when he went to college. One night he was sleeping, and his stomach was weighing him down, making him very uncomfortable. He knew he couldn't continue on with his lifestyle. After that he started to eat healthier by including lean meats, vegetables, whole grains, fiber and carbohydrates into his diet.


I love to hear stories like Hollas'; it's so sad these days how so many young people are obese. People know what foods are unhealthy in large amounts, but they don't know what foods are healthier in moderate amounts. If an obese person had been eating junk food their whole life, and then decides to loose weight that person will have to teach themselves how to eat again.

However, I'm a strong believer that eating healthy all starts as a child. Someone I know lets his kids eat whatever he desires, including chicken nuggets, chips, chocolate cake or pretty much anything that has lots of fat and starch. There is no reinforcement by him or his wife for their kids to eat fruits, vegetables or anything with substance. By no surprise, all three of his sons are overweight, it's truly sad and disturbing. I just want to say, "WAKE UP PEOPLE" nutrition is everything for a well balanced life, and especially vital for a child's development.

May 2, 2008

New way to save endangered species- eat them


A recent New York times article covers a book that was recently written about endangered (or forgotten about) foods in our country, and how we can save them by creating a consumer demand. They call this 'eater-based conservation.' The book includes cultural history and folk traditions to explain certain food traditions that have been lost in America. His research wasn't done at the University, rather - at the farm. He travelled nation-wide asking farmers about foods that had a strong cultural heritage in their region, but aren't around anymore. The author mentioned that researching for this book difficult because the accounts of these foods weren't in any books, only the farmers' heads.

The author lists 1,080 species of edible, endangered plants and animals that used to be found on American tables. These edibles include anything from dates, to salt grass. But edibility and near extinction aren't the only criteria to be met in order to make 'the list' ; it's cultural heritage in America also carries much weight. The author only includes foods that he knows farmers would benefit from growing because there are a stockpile of recipes because of the strong history of its use.

Slow Food U.S.A. helped by assessing if each food on the list was culturally significant enough to the community from which it originated to be worth promoting.

He breaks the U.S. into 13 different culinary regions, with Minnesota being split between the Bison Nation and Wild Rice Nation. The disappearing foods in the Wild Rice Nation include: American eels, hand-harvested wild rice, and chantecler chicken. The Bison Nation is missing it's silver fox rabbit, hidatsta sunflower, hutterite soup bean, arikara yellow bean, free-range American bison, osage red flint corn, and sibley squash.

The article mentioned that sometimes it is the farmer, not the consumer, that causes the traditional food to be left out of the patch. As farmers are concerned with crossbreeding, innovation, and biological diversity, the traditional foods get squeezed out because they don't think them worthy for the marketplace. This creates a road block in the efforts to revive traditional foods, which is why organizations are giving away seeds of these endangered plants to farmers and gardeners.

Eating something in order to save it may sound like a paradox, but as this revival of traditional food may not be making the harvest more bountiful, it is an attempt to regain a sense of cultural heritage - a very noble cause, nonetheless.

The book is titled, "Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods? and written by Gary Paul Nabhan.

April 28, 2008

Food Blog Roll


Here's an update as to what's going on in the foodie blogosphere:

Orangette: Every Monday I eagerly hop online to read about Molly's muses and adventures in the kitchen. This week she writes about a buttermilk cookie recipe she found in Gourmet magazine, and last week she blogged about a particular green soup she made. The pictures alone merit a visit.

Whipped: Here you'll find an amazing banana cake recipe - with cream cheese frosting !

Chocolate & Zucchini: This week she writes about hotel breakfasts, something that is on her mind as she embarks on a book tour. Her conclusion? She brings her own. How she copes while traveling is an interesting read.

Michael Rhulman: Here he blogs about his favorite kitchen gadgets.

David Lebovitz: Interesting notes on food photography.

Pinch My Salt: I cannot say enough about the photographs.

The Amateur Gourmet

Cook & Eat
The Perfect Pantry
I Heart Farms

April 23, 2008

The Waste Surrounding Your Food


We live in a disposable world. We live for convenience, and the products we buy reflect that value. We are truly a fast food nation, with 22 percent of our restaurant meals being bought from a car. But it’s not always the food that’s the problem—sometimes, in fact, it’s what our food and drink comes in.

Americans have a packaging problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2003, over 236 million tons of solid waste was produced in the United States: paper materials comprised 35.2 percent, plastic was 11.3 percent, 8 percent was metal, and glass comprised the final 5.3 percent. Only a little less than 30 percent of this waste was recycled, leaving 70 percent sent to the landfills. Just think of how often you eat out and see the recycling arrows on a cup, but no recycling bin in the vicinity.
The average American throws away about 100 polystyrene cups every single year, and these cups have a lifespan of over 500 years. The impact that eating out can have adds up very quickly.

Luckily, some companies are stepping up with new containers that are made from renewable resources or are biodegradable after their use. The bottled water company, BIOTA has taken advantage of NatureWorks’ PLA—a plastic substance created from corn—using this biodegradable material to contain their spring water. In the right composing conditions, the bottle can break down within about 12 weeks.

BIOTA is the only company using this bottle for its water—most use the typical plastic bottle to showcase their beverages, but though these are recyclable, most end up in landfills: 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in the United States. According to SmartCycle:

"More than 25 million tons of plastic packaging are sold in the U.S. every year. That's enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the top over 500 times. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of that gets recycled."

Luckily, SmartCycle has reprocessed these bottles so they can be made into new packages for your food. (And the benefits are greater than just the obvious recycling action. Check more out here.)

Other companies, like EarthShell, have found ways to combine renewable resources to create a completely biodegradable packaging product, but these still are things you have to search out to use. It will take, in part, the actions of consumers to make sure we produce less waste with our food packaging, so keep this in mind the next time you eat out.

April 18, 2008

New Food Labeling Laws Proposed


All produce bought and sold in the U.S. could soon carry an extra label detailing its country of origin, if Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have their way.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., proposed draft legislation Thursday that would mandate country of origin labels and would also require all food producers serving U.S. markets to list on their company Web site the origins of every ingredient in the food they produce.

"How are you going to know what is in [your food] or whether it's safe if you don't know where it comes from? If it comes from Canada, it's probably pretty safe. If it comes from China, you're going to say, 'Holy cats, we better watch out,'" Dingell is quoted as saying in an AP story.

The proposed legislation would also give more money and power to the FDA. It would allow the FDA to mandate food recalls- right now it can only recommend them, though most companies comply. It would also require all food producers serving U.S. markets to pay new fees that would generate an estimated $600 million annually. The FDA would use the extra money to beef up inspections of foreign and domestic food facilities.

The extra cost of the fees could be passed on to consumers in a time when food prices are already on the rise--whether consumers think the extra cost is worth knowing more about food origins remains to be seen.

For more details, read the draft legislation memo from Rep. Dingell's office.

-Post by Marni Ginther

April 16, 2008

Dining High


Fancy feasting is reaching new heights-literally. Several national and international news organizations have recently given coverage to “Dinner In The Sky?- a company that offers six courses served by a chef and three waiters to corporate clients. The kick is that the dining experience is on a platform suspended up to 180 feet above ground by a crane. You can dine and hover almost anywhere the crane can operate.

This novelty dining experience was introduced in Europe last year. “It was like eating with the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ," said David Ghysels, co-founder of the Belgium based company in a USA Today article.

This is no cheap date. Dinner In The Sky charges its clients about $38,000 for seating for 22. Guests are harnessed securely in their seats before the crane lifts the platform in the air.

Dinner In The Sky could soon be an American attraction. According to Design News, the company is in the process of designing a permanent Dinner In The Sky restaurant tower. It would hold four tables and seat 88 diners. An unnamed Orlando, FL theme park is said to be in the midst of negotiations to build the tower there.

The experience is also safe. “Normally in construction, you would use four cables between the table and the spreader,? inventor, Stefan Kerkhofs says. “But we doubled everything for safety. So from the table to the spreader, we have eight cables, and from the spreader to the hook of the crane, we have eight cables.?

Just don’t drop your fork, right?

(An audio interview with one of Dinner in the Sky's owners, David Ghysels, can be found here. )

April 14, 2008

Minnesotan to compete on Food Network

The Next Food Network Star, starting on June 1 at 9pm, will include one of Minnesota's own- Nipa Bhatt, a 35-year-old from Victoria, MN. I couldn't find any information about her besides that she is a marketing manager and has also done cooking demonstrations at Let's Cook and Kitchen Window, both Minneapolis cooking schools. The winning contestant gets six episodes of their own show in the Food Network. Last season's 'Next Food Network Star' was the Food Network's highest-rated show.

The 10 finalists include:

Nipa Bhatt, 35 (Victoria, MN) Marketing manager

Jennifer Cochrane, 32 (Woonsocket, RI) Executive Chef, Geppetto’s and Briggs Corner restaurants

Lisa Garza, 32 (Dallas, TX) Owner, Suze Restaurant and kitchenwear fashion designer

Adam Gertler, 30 (Philadelphia, PA) Former restaurateur, server and actor

Cory Kahaney, 45 (New York, NY) Stand-up comic and playwright

Shane Lyons, 20 (Colorado Springs, CO) Private chef

Aaron McCargo Jr., 36 (Camden, NJ) Executive Catering Chef, Jefferson University Hospital

Kelsey Nixon, 23 (North Ogden, UT) Freelance food writer, culinary class instructor

Kevin Roberts, 39 (San Diego, CA) Radio contributor, restaurant owner & cookbook author

Jeffrey Vaden, 43 (White Plains, NY) Caterer and former restaurateur

April 13, 2008

The Food-Fuel Debate

It seems for every voice that extols the benefits of biofuels, there's another that says they're not feasible, not earth-friendly, not the silver bullet many would like to think they are. Just a few weeks ago, TIME magazine's cover story "The Clean Energy Myth" assessed this debate and came to some less-than-encouraging conclusions. Writer Michael Grunwald asserts "diverting grain and oilseed crops from dinner plates to fuel tanks, biofuels are jacking up world food prices and endangering the hungry. The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year."

But the April 11 broadcast of National Public Radio's Science Friday with Ira Flatow profiled a few scientists whose projects could improve biofuels' viability. Among them was Mariam Sticklen, a professor at Michigan State University's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. She's developing a way to genetically engineer corn so that its stalks and leaves contain an enzyme normally found in cows' stomachs. Researchers believe this enzyme would allow corn stalks and leaves to be converted into ethanol the way corn has been, therefore allowing the same field of corn to be used for food and fuel.

April 12, 2008

Amber Waves of Grain or a Thick Flock of Game?

As you've probably heard, farmers that grow commodity crops are doing financially well with the recent boom of corn and soybean prices. They've recently discovered a new way to expand their crop - taking back the land the government (in conservation efforts) is paying them not to cultivate. This is risky business as they are giving up the guaranteed sum of money the government would give them not to farm the land, in order to try their luck at growing a (hopefully) bountiful crop. A New York Times report said that the amount of land that was taken back by the farmers last year totaled the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. In the New York Times report, a rancher in North Dakota said that the government can no longer match the price that farmers would get if they worked the land.

This has become a problem for many, especially in our region of the U.S., as environmental and hunting groups, such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, are concerned about their game. It's has forced farmers with, once again, another difficult question: Is the purpose of land be to sustain life or sustain wealth? But some argue that attaining the land isn't as much about wealth as it is bare necessity. In the article, a baker asks, "Do we want to eat or worry about the birds?"

The fact that land is in high demand is a factor that is raising food prices. (Along with the hypothesis that China's population is eating more meat, requiring more grain to feed the animals, resulting in a higher demand for it... but that is for another post.) The size of land protected by the Conservation Reserve Program, created as part of 1985's Farm Bill, is no small matter, either. It protects 35 million acres, meaning farmers can't work 8 percent of the country's farmland - a little over the size of New York state.

The report included an interview with a farmer from Roseau, Minnesota. He said the money he got from the government's conservation program was a godsend because his farm was on the verge of closing. He put 300 of his 2,300 acres of land up and got $12,000 a year. He said with wheat prices being where they're at, he's going to take back half of the land he gave up.

It doesn't sound like there is any simple solution here. If the government keeps the land on reserve, consumers will pay the price because there will be a low supply of crops that cannot meet the demand. If the government gives up the land to the farmers, crop prices will fall because there is a larger supply, and will reduce the farmer's profit.

April 10, 2008

Green Cafeterias are the Highlight of Admissions


A recent New York Times article talks about how colleges in the United States are using food as the new promotional vehicle for admissions. As young adults are becoming more conscious about the health implications and ethics behind their food decisions, college cafeterias have responded in many, creative ways. To many students, what they're going to be eating for the next for years of their life holds serious weight.

-Bowdoin College receives their vegetables from the student-run organic vegetable garden. They also support local farmers and include their food items in the cafeteria, as well.

-Wesleyan University is also a part of the trend. Their dining halls are run completely by a dining service, Bon Appetit, which is a food service that focuses on sustainable eating. Not only are Wesleyan's dining halls 'green' , so are their coffee shops, and mini-grocery stores.

-The article says that Stanford University even has cucumber, mint, and watermelon flavored 'spa waters.'

-Brown University has its own farmers market.

Showcasing the cafeterias has obviously become an increasingly important persuasion tool. The director of admissions at Colby College in Maine says that they budget $15,000 a year to provide cafeteria meals for students and parents visiting campus. He also commented about how conscious students are about The Princeton Review's "The Best 366 Colleges" guide. In it, there is a "Best Campus Food" list, in which Virginia Tech and Bowdoin have been trading top spots. The director of dining at Bowdoin says in the article that all the soups are made from scratch, and they have their own butcher that grinds the meat for their hamburgers. A student at Bowdoin lists his favorite dishes as: white spinach lasagna, eggplant parmesean, ratatouille, Honolulu tofu with rice and peppers, sweet potato fries, and rum cake. (Sure beats sloppy joes and soggy fries. ) But, all this 'greenery' comes at a price. A meal plan for one semester at Bowdoin college costs $2,600 per semester; at the University of Minnesota, it's $1,635 per semester, nearly one thousand dollars less than Bowdoin.

So this leaves colleges (and students) with an important decision to make: how much do we value good food?

I thought they'd never ask.

April 7, 2008

Backyard Coop


There is a new residential community in the Twin Cities: chickens. Until recently, the closest thing to farmland in Twin Cities was the University's St. Paul campus' barns and fields. But urban agriculture has turned many backyards into chicken coops. One such urban farmer is Peter Willcutt. The Star Tribune reported that the number of small-animal permits nearly doubled from 2006 to 2007. More than three-fourths of the permits were for poultry. Many attribute the local food trend and an increasing skepticism towards industrial agriculture for the spike in numbers. People are raising their own chickens mainly for reasons of ethics, health, and taste. But, many people aren't just using chickens for the food. One source says that chickens make great pets and provide quality manure for gardens.

Although this trend is making many happy, there are many people on the other side of the fence. The smell and noise associated with raising chickens is making many Twin Cities residents wishing their neighbors would change their minds. But there are many hurdles fowl-owners must jump in the Twin Cities. In order to raise chickens, one has to collect signatures affirming the approval of most of their neighbors, except Minnetonka, which doesn't require a permit at all. One Twin Cities resident found a way to keep the neighbors quiet was to give them eggs.

April 4, 2008

Food Companies Dish Out to Bloggers

An AP report tells the story about how Food Companies are sending their products to food bloggers and creators of food Web sites, for them to write about. They see this is a low-cost (price of shipping food) way to reach their audience. One source mentioned that food companies understand there are many small markets that need to be reached, but added up - they are significant. Another source said targeting blogs is a way to reach a really niche group of people. (For example, one blog was created to write about testing frozen food.) The article says that because blogs create a strong sense of community, readers trust information more from blogs, versus television. The span of a blog's reach isn't as wide as television ads, but the depth is stronger. Minnesota's own General Mills is a participant of this advertising trend, and many of its PR officers are in charge of monitoring blogs. Although bloggers are accepting the food, most of them are ethical enough to note that the food reviewed was given to them.

April 2, 2008

Food Blog Roll


Orangette: One of my favorite bloggers, Molly Wizenberg, recently returned from a trip to Europe. She tells the story about how her trip began with a bottle of prosecco, a friend, and talk of cheap tickets. The rest is history. Wizenberg, her husband, and her friend had all been in Europe before, but not Brussels, where the bulk of their time was spent. In an attempt to explain the city she said, “Brussels is to Paris, as Seattle is to San Fransisco.? Her explanation is quite amusing and her food musings will have you looking up plane tickets to Brussels.

Chocolate and Zucchini: I have been waiting for this kind of entry for months. As summer rolls around, and new colors enter our fridge, I try to be mindful about how long I can keep certain foods. Here she blogs about how to store greens in order to maximize their potential. She not only speaks of salad greens, but also herbs, and gives away the integral part of this process: paper towels.

Whipped: As this blogger is out on maternity leave, she left us with a quite-nice sour cream cookie recipe with almond frosting – how can you go wrong with that?

Yumbrosia: I don’t easily get wild about cake. But this recent entry has given me a hankering for a spoonful of this cake. Three words did me in: coffee, Nutella, and hazelnuts.

Michael Rhulman
: He provides a list of chef’s blogs and discusses the issues surrounding blogs created by chefs. With a little digging, you’ll find some very interesting pieces of information.

Tales from a Veggie Kitchen: This is a great blog for very-accessible vegetarian recipes like, ‘Under the Weather Chicken-less Chicken Soup.’ As a lot of food bloggers are mothers who are privelaged enough to stay at home and muse about food, this blogger includes a dash of reality to her entries as she shares frustrations that come from being human.

April 1, 2008

Inventor of Egg McMuffin dies at 89

Herb Petterson, in aspirations to recreate an eggs bennedict-like sandwhich into the McDonald's menu, created the Egg McMuffin in 1972. He died peacefully in his home last Tuesday in Santa Barbara. Petterson started working for McDonald's Corp. as the vice president to their marketing firm, D'Arcy Advertising and coined McDonald's first national advertising slogan: "Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day." He soon co-owned six McDonald's restauraunts in and near Santa Barbara, where the Egg McMuffin made its debut. An AP report said that despite his retirement, Petterson continually visited the stores in order to interact with the employees and customers, and he made a strong effort to invest in his community.

Minneapolis cleans up James Beard nominations

OK, so Digest was a little slow on the uptake here, but on March 24, the final nominees for the 2008 James Beard Awards were announced, and three of the five spots for Best Chef Midwest were filled by Minneapolis chefs. Alex Roberts from Restaurant Alma, Isaac Becker from 112 Eatery and Tim McKee from La Belle Vie were are all nominated. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Minnesota Monthly food writer and also a James Beard Award winner, wrote a pretty excited blog post when she heard the news. And rightly so. This is big news for the Twin Cities' culinary scene. (The 112 Eatery already has a little announcement on their Web site.) The final awards will be announced June 6-8 in New York.

As the somewhat cliched expression has gone, the Awards are like the Oscars of the food world. But it's a fair comparison considering the awards have been around since 1990, when they were created as a way to merge two other longstanding culinary awards--the R.T. French Tastemaker Cookbook Awards and Cook’s Magazine and Restaurant Business’s Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America.

James Beard was a prominent cook, food writer and culinary instructor in the later half of the 20th century. He is credited with helping shape American culinary heritage and has been called the "dean of American cookery." You can read more about his life here. The Foundation was created in the mid-80s to futher Beard's legacy of teaching and appreciating quality food.