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May 27, 2009 Action

I was able to catch an early, pre-release showing of the new documentary, Food Inc., last night in the nearby town of Ojai, California. The film actually hits theaters in June, but the early showing was hosted as part of a mini festival put together by an Ojai organization called Food for Thought, which is dedicated to teaching local children about food and helping schools serve healthy lunches. The film's producer and director, Robert Kenner, was on hand to answer questions and to sign books (Food, Inc., the book, is a companion to the film.)

I'm certain you will hear this opinion more as reviewers see this documentary, so let me be the first to express it. This is a great documentary. Seriously great. Like Oscar nomination great. The cinematography is stunning. The investigative journalism impeccable. Eight years in the making, this incredibly important film grabs you in the opening frames and doesn't let go until the end.

One might expect PETA-style shock-and-awe to pound you over the head with shrill and strident anti-establishment dogma. But Food, Inc., delivers quite the opposite. Every point is presented fairly and responsibly -- understated, if anything, and never overstated.

There are heroes and villains in this film, but only because there are heroes and villains in real life. The villains (Monsanto, et al) are treated gently and fairly and given every possible consideration. This is not "gotcha" journalism. Both sides are given the opportunity to have their say, and the viewer -- no matter how skeptical or invested in the status quo -- will be convinced. The dots are connected in this film, and the inescapable truth is laid bare.

One of the reasons people don't understand what's so bad about industrial food is that the story is so complex. Food, Inc., presents that story in a way that only film can, enabling viewers to easily grasp complex realities such as how E. coli-infected spinach is caused by the feeding of corn to cows, how government food subsidies increase illegal immigration and why nearly all the soy grown in the US is the intellectual property of Monsanto.

If you're familiar with the work of Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma"), then you will be familiar also with the themes of this film. Schlosser and Pollan make their respective cases at various points in the film, which serve as the structure and foundation.

The documentary is about our broken food system, yes. But it also exposes the outrageous power of a tiny handful of food companies, power they wield to silence critics, intimidate farmers into submission and dictate public policy. This power remains unchecked by the FDA, by lawsuits, by state and federal governments.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie, however, is its happy ending. The most important fact in the entire movie is how much power consumers have to effect change. And it's true: We can change the entire system, right all the wrongs, save the environment, reverse the health epidemic and end demonic animal treatment by simply making informed and self-interested food choices.

By the closing credits, you'll want to jump up and go do something. The film ends with a list of exactly what you can do.

Go see this film. Tell your friends to see it. Tell your Congress person to see it. The food system must be fixed. Go here to see where it's playing, and when.

April 11, 2009 Action

Nasturtiums not only are beautiful to look at with vibrant colors, smell like a beautiful Spril morning but they also taste surprisingly good. Ask for them at your local Farmer's Market. My favorite farmer, BD, tells me that they're really easy to grow. I purchased a bunch for $2.00. I'll be using them to make my Easter brunch salad -- a feast for the eyes and the palate.
September 22, 2008 Action

It's amazing how many people suffer from cardiovascular problems these days. I know of people in their 20's and 30's who are already experiencing high blood pressure or hypertension as the direct result of bad food and poor lifestyle choices. Recently, a dear friend of mine who suffers from hypertension asked me about what to do to improve her condition without relying on the prescription hypertension drugs she has been relying on, and suffering the side effects of.

What's interesting is that she happens to be an amazing cook and very knowledgeable about healthy food. She prepares all her own healthy organic meals and exercises regularly.

I asked her to tell me what she eats. She said salads, vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, lean meats, chicken and eggs. I made some simple recommendations (she's not a client, just a friend), such as to stop eating eggs or eat egg whites only, eat more dark leafy greens, only eat wild fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, eat three tablespoons of ground flax seeds mixed with meals or beverages daily and replace most animal protien with plant protein, including beans and grains such as quinoa, wild rice or millet.

After about a month after making these small adjustments to her diet, and increasing her cardiovascular exercise, my friend's blood pressure is already much lower.

I see these kinds of results with my health counseling clients all the time. But the reason I'm mentioning my friend's case is that so many people believe that they they're already doing all they can. Although my friend already ate a healthy diet, there was still room for improvement. There is always room for improvement.

The amazing part is that very minor diet modifications and a little more exercise did more to lower her blood pressure than all the medications she was taking.

If something is ailing you, there's a very good chance that food and lifestyle changes, rather than drugs that often come with unpleasant side effects, can either cure you, or improve your ailment naturally. Even if you know a lot about food and are already eating a healthy diet.

July 20, 2008 Action

Living in California, I'm blessed by the abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables, year round, grown organically and locally. Most of what I buy comes from the Farmer's Market and from the farmers I know and talk to all the time. There is something deeply satisfying about knowing where your food was grown, who grew it, how they grew it and when.

Not everything sold at Farmer's Markets is organic or pesticide free. But you can easily find out simply by asking the farmers. They're happy to tell you everything you might want to know about the fruits or vegetables you're about to buy.

Within the Farmer's Market, you'll find farmers that grow only a couple of things, and others that grow a huge variety of produce. Some have organically certified farms and others simply use organic methods, but are not certified. Others don't necessarily use organic methods but will tell you that they don't spray any pesticides on their products either. And yet some are certified organic but might still choose to apply some organic chemicals to combat pests while others go completely natural and let some pest chow down part of the crop. Don't just visit your nearest Farmer's Market, talk to the farmers and learn about your food. It's an incredibly rewarding experience to meet the person that grows your food. And be sure to write me when you do!

July 20, 2008 Action

I came back from Greece about a month ago and I'm still adjusting back to my new schedule and my healthy non-restaurant meals. Yesterday, for some reason, I was feeling really "off" -- mentally and physically. I felt neither motivated nor energetic. It was rough because I had some writing deadlines and also had to go speed walking for my semi-weekly half-marathon. I went to the local Farmer's Market -- always a good source of inspiration. Afterwards, I sat down at my computer and mustered the willpower to get my work done, which was satisfying.

As I was leaving to go on my walk, strangely, I was craving greasy Mexican food. Instead, I had some nuts and fruit and pressed on to go on my walk. I wasn't able to walk as fast as I usually do, and the walk felt a little arduous. But I did it, and felt great afterward. The best part is that halfway through the walk I began feeling hungry again. But my cravings for greasy restaurant food had been replaced by an extraordinary desire to have a giant raw vegetable salad with beans, sprouted seeds and avocado. Yum!

The moral of this long-winded story is that, no matter how "off" you might be feeling, exercise is the solution to get your body back on track, fine-tune your metabolism and generally optimize all your organs, systems and even uplift your spirit. So next time you don't feel up to doing something or are having horrible cravings, take a hike -- or a walk! It just might set everything right again.

March 5, 2008 Action

Sugar beet farmers in the U.S. will soon decide whether to plant genetically engineered sugar beets. A new genetically engineered strain of sugar beet created by Monsanto and designed to resist Roundup, an herbicide also created by Monsanto, is the latest available option approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005. The final decision will be largely determined the type of sugar food manufacturers such as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo and Hershey's commit to buying for use in their production of foods in 2009. Sugar is added to most processed foods, including candy, cereals, health bars, beverages, juices, bread, candy bars, frozen foods, dressings, fast foods, etc. It might be difficult to find items to which sugar isn't added. It's commonly known that high intake of sugar is unhealthy but unless we eat mostly homemade meals from scratch, we end up consuming large quantities of sugar whether we want to or not. Take a moment to keep GM sugar off our food.

October 4, 2007 Action

This week's recipe: Scrumptious Seitan with Peppers and Tomatoes Stew, a delicious, Latin-inspired and -- as always -- vegan dish. It's simple and quick to make, and high in protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, B complex vitamins, lycopene, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and iron. Plus, how to take your health to the next level, how to avoid food coloring made from beetles, and more!! Click here to read it online. Go here to subscribe FREE!

October 4, 2007 Action
October 1, 2007 Action

Vote for your favorite green business from among the ten most popular by October 15, 2007. The winner of the 2007 Co-op America People's Choice Award will be announced at the Green Festival in San Francisco November 10.

September 27, 2007 Action

If you live in California and want to protect your right to know what's in the food you buy to eat, urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the SB 63 bill requiring clear labeling of meat and dairy products from cloned animals or their offspring. The bill is currently awaiting Governor's Schwarzenegger's signature "who has until October 15 to sign or veto the bill."

To submit comments, you must use the Governor's web form by following these steps provided by the Center for Food Safety:

Step 1: Copy any of the following sample text to paste into the comment box on the Governor's website, or be prepared to write your own:

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I am writing to urge you to sign S.B. 63 into law, a bill by Senator Migden to label any foods from animal clones or their offspring in the event FDA approves such products for sale.

Cloning carries unknown food safety risks, increases animal cruelty, and threatens the image of California dairy and meat products. Many Americans object to animal cloning on moral or ethical grounds, and there is no need for cloned foods.

Studies have shown the American public actively opposes cloning. Gallup Polls report more than 65 percent of Americans think it is immoral to clone animals and the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that a similar percentage say that, despite FDA approval, they would not buy cloned milk. In fact, FDA received over 150,000 comments opposing its proposal to introduce cloned animals unlabeled into the food supply. Californians deserve to decide for themselves whether or not to purchase such food, even if the FDA deems it "safe," yet FDA has failed to require labeling.

Given the many concerns and uncertainties around food from cloned animals and their offspring, it is essential that these foods be labeled as such so Californians have the right to choose what we feed ourselves and our families. California has always been a leader in consumer protection, and I hope we continue to lead on this issue. As a leading dairy state, California can not afford to ignore consumer demand. I urge you to sign Senate bill 63 into law and protect Californians’ right to know what it is our food.

Your Name
Your Address
City, State Zip

Step 2: Go to the Governor's website, make sure the "have a comment" radio button is selected, enter your information in the fields (First Name, Last Name, Email), then choose "Food and Agriculture" as the subject. Click "submit" to be taken to the page to leave your comment. Paste or type your comment urging the Governor to sign SB 63. I'm ready to go to the Governor's web site. Clicking on this link will open a new window, so you can keep this alert open in order to copy the text again if you need to.

You can also call the Governor at (916) 445-2841.

August 21, 2007 Action

The USDA has extended the deadline for public comment on whether or not to amend the National Organic Program to include another 38 Non-Organic (allowed and prohibited) ingredients in the production of organic food. All these ingredients, which include animal intestines for sausage casings, fish oil, gelatin and food colorants from fruits and vegetables, would be conventionally produced with pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified feed. If such ingredients can be used in the production of organic food then what's the point of organic food standards?

All comments must be received by August 27, 2007. Obviously, these changes would only reduce the quality of organic food production benefiting manufacturers at the expense of unsuspecting consumers.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America is heavily lobbying to allow those additional 38 substances in the production of organic food in the interest of manufacturers and with no regard for consumers.

I have been a member of the OTA for many years, but will not renew my membership. I refuse to provide support, financial or otherwise, to an organization that is betraying the principles it was founded upon (to be the leader in advocating and protecting organic standards so that consumers can have confidence in certified organic production) by trampoling on those same organic standards.

It's important that everyone who believes that current organic standards should not be amended to include 38 more non-organic additives takes action. Write to the USDA to let them know that you are AGAINST allowing additional substances in organic food production that do not meet current organic standards.

To submit comments via the Internet click here. Be sure to select Federal and Department of Agriculture for the last two fill-in boxes, respectively.

To write a letter and send it via snail mail, here is the contact information:

Comments may be submitted by mail to Robert Pooler, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, National Organic Program, USDA/AMS/ TMP/NOP, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Room 4008-So., Ag Stop 0268, Washington, DC 20250.

All comments on this interim final rule must include the following:

1. Docket number: AMS-TM-07-0062

2. Topic: National Organic Program (NOP) - Proposed Amendments to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (Processing)

3. Section number referred to: AMS-TM-07-0062-1225

4. Clearly indicate if you are for or against the interim final rule or some portion of it and your reason for it.

November 22, 2006 Action

The holiday season is traditionally about thankfulness and the celebration of life, unity, love, peace and harmony in the company of family and friends.

Unfortunately, holiday celebrations and food -- usually too much food -- go hand-in-hand. Not just any food, but traditional holiday fare rich in butter, cream and sugar -- mostly unhealthy empty calories -- that rob you of nutrition and can make you gain more than ten pounds in just a few weeks. Between office parties, family gatherings and the fatty, sugary nature of holiday foods, you may find yourself challenged by constant temptation.

But you don't have to fall victim to this annual assault on your health. Nor do you have to deprive yourself of the enjoyment of your favorite holiday foods. The key is to have a plan and eat with strategy.

Here are seven tips to help you both enjoy holiday food -- and stay healthy all the while:

1. Never arrive at a holiday get-together hungry. Before a family visit or company office party, eat some fresh fruit, a few raw nuts, a light sandwich or a fruit smoothie -- and drink lots of water. That way, you can enjoy the food without wanting to gorge yourself.

2. Make exercise part of your annual holiday traditions. A recent study found that regular exercise is more effective for weight management than calorie restriction. When visiting others, think about whether the trip could be made on foot, rather than in the car. Take the whole family on walks through the town to see Christmas decorations, or holiday events. Instead of sitting there watching football, why not also play the game? Do your shopping on foot, and use stairs instead of escalators when possible. Start a tradition of outdoor winter activity, such as building snowmen, inner-tubing, cross country skiing -- whatever is possible in your area. No snow? Go on family bike rides, or hiking. Choose a healthy activity everyone enjoys, and do lots of it every year as part of your tradition.

3. When it comes to portions, think small and healthy! Studies show that people are satisfied with less if they start out with less on their plates to begin with. Use the smallest plate possible, then fill it with half of what you think you want.

4. Favor healthier options. Think about the relative healthiness of what's on the table, and serve yourself accordingly, and the healthiest options first. Always start with salads, fruits and vegetables, and then move on to other richer and heartier foods. By the time you get to the truly toxic fare, you won't want to overdo it.

5. Just say no to unhealthy gifts. Candy canes, conventional chocolates -- don't even get me started on fruitcake -- so many traditional holiday gifts are bad for you. What kind of gift is that? The holidays are an opportunity for you to share with loved ones just how delicious healthy foods can be. There are healthier, organic alternatives to just about every holiday gift, from food gift baskets to traditional cakes. The best food gift, however, is one you've made yourself. And if you receive an unhealthy gift, you don't have to eat it. Remember: It's the thought that counts.

6. Don't count on dieting later. Too many of us throw our knowledge about health -- and our resolve to stay healthy -- out the window just because it's the holidays. Part of that tradition is making a New Year's resolution to diet and lose the holiday pounds "next year." Unfortunately, both the gorging and the dieting are unhealthy. It's better not to go off the deep end in the first place. Don't use some future diet as a reason why you can stuff yourself during the holidays. If you know you're not going to diet later, you'll be less likely to lose control now.

7. Drink smart. Take it easy on the booze, the sugary drinks and fatty beverages like eggnog. Just because it's liquid doesn't mean it's not bad for you. Drink plenty of water before and during holiday meals, eat slowly and stop eating before you feel completely full. You’ll feel better, lighter and happier, rather than bloated, dull and sluggish.

Happy and healthy holidays to you all!

November 11, 2003 Action

Stress you didn't even know you had could kill you, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday. They found people whose blood pressure rose during "mental stress" were six times more likely to have a heart attack or other severe heart event within six years than people who handled the stress more calmly. And it was not stress that people knew they were feeling -- pulse was not affected and their volunteers usually had no idea their blood pressure was spiking, the researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando. Reuters