Q&A: How to have a sustainable Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2012 9:31 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

How do you make your Thanksgiving as sustainable as possible? Are there certain ways that you make your holiday eco-friendly?

Thanks,

Mike

Answer:

Mike,

Thanks for your question. There are ways to make any celebration or holiday, including Thanksgiving, eco-friendlier. Here is a post I wrote last year on the Top 10 Ways to Have a Conscious Thanksgiving. That should give you some good ideas. Hint: it’s not only about the food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: GMO’s?

  • October 31, 2012 9:01 am

Question:

Hello Alexandra,

I’ve been reading a lot on genetically modified food lately, and I was wondering if you could break it down for me? Like what exactly it means, why it is bad for me, and what should I choose?

Thanks.

Heidi

Answer:

Hi Heidi,

Yes, GMO’s have been getting a lot of attention lately, which is a good thing, and especially in California (more on this in just a bit). In order to understand GMOs, it’s helpful to know what they are. Here is how I defined them in The Conscious Kitchen:

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Genetically Modified (GM) Food

These terms refer to plants and their resulting crops that contain artificially altered genes as well as conventional insecticides actually incorporated into the organisms.  These biotech modifications make the plants disease-, insect-, and/or virus-resistant in an effort to increase crop yield.  Though safety research has been conducted, there’s still significant concern about the health and environmental effects of GM food, which is not permitted under USDA organic standards.  These foods are also referred to as GE (genetically engineered).

The concern with GM foods is the unknown. No one truly knows what the long term chronic health affects are. And here’s the rub: I can’t tell you what to choose. Because we don’t currently know if and when we’re eating genetically modified food. GM foods aren’t required to be labeled in the United States. This is not true for all countries. In Europe, Japan, India, and  China, labeling is required. Stateside, the only way to know if you’re not eating GM food is if you choose organic. And even organic crops are now being cross-contaminated with GM seeds.

That said, if you’re eating anything containing corn or corn derivatives (corn syrup, corn oil) or soy or soy deriviatives or even beet sugar–which is about 100 percent of all processed or packaged foods–you are absolutely eating genetically modified food.

The reason why you have been hearing so much about GMOs leading up to the election is that for the first time, the public is going to vote on labeling. On election day Californian voters will have a chance to say yes or no to Prop 37, which would require GMO labeling. This isn’t to say GM foods are safe or unsafe, this is just giving consumers the right to know if their food contains GM ingredients or has been genetically modified. Studies have shown that 90 percent of the public is in favor of GMO labeling. There has been ample money spent by huge businesses in an effort to defeat the labels, so we’ll see what happens on election day. What gets passed in California often spreads to the rest of the country.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

Moms Clean Air Force: Seafood and pregnancy

  • October 23, 2012 8:41 am

My latest post for Moms Clean Air Force is about the dangers of seafood for people–pregnant or not. Has your OB or doctor ever warned you to be careful about which fish you eat?

Q&A: “Green” Kitchenware?

  • October 10, 2012 8:55 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

Looking to buy some new pans for my kitchen, and was wondering if you had any green recommendations for me?

Best,

Deb

Answer:

Hi Deb,

You’re not alone. This is a question I get often! Yes, there are ways to make sure that your new cookware is safe. As I explain in The Conscious Kitchen, you should opt for cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel-coated cast iron.

Cast Iron is great because it’s safe, cheap, endlessly durable, and retains heat very well. If you are looking to add more iron to your diet, you’re in luck; small amounts of the iron will leach out of the pan and into your food. Cast iron does require oil or butter so your food won’t stick to it, but it does become more non-stick over time, especially if you care for the pans well.

Enamel-coated cast iron is a bit pricier than the other two, but well worth the splurge. It’s cast iron with an enamel coating is composed of fine glass particles. Glass is nonreactive and very safe. It also retains the heat well and is extremely durable. I use my enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven so often it just lives on the top of my stove. There is no point in putting it away.

Stainless steel is another solid safe material for pots and pans. It’s lightweight and sturdy. Just don’t store acidic foods in it (tomato sauce, rhubarb) as this can start to break it down.

I prefer these three materials to any of the new “green” pans on the market. Many of these contain proprietary materials and “green” chemicals that make them similar to the non-stick pans I hope you’re replacing. I don’t want to cook in anything proprietary! And these just aren’t as durable as the tried and true materials mentioned above. I have heard from a lot of readers that they’ve bought various new “green” pans and they wound up falling apart quickly. Cast iron won’t fall apart!

Hope this helps you with your decision. If you’re looking for other kitchenware, check out The Conscious Kitchen for additional tips.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Non-toxic ways to deal with grain beetles?

  • August 22, 2012 7:49 pm

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

This weekend when I went to my pantry I found grain beetles in there. I’ve been suspecting them for a while, but now it’s undeniable. I prefer not to use the conventional toxic products people use. Are there any non-toxic ways to get rid of them?

Thanks.

-Henry

Answer:

Henry,

I feel your pain and am glad you don’t want to use bleach or a conventional pesticide to get rid of grain beetles. I did a little research for you, including posting on my Facebook author page for suggestions. Here’s what my FB fans had to say:

  • “I just washed everything down with safe dish detergent and kept everything in glass jars or tight fitting lidded enameled cans after.”
  • “Just composted ALL the boxed crackers/pasta/etc. that were open/infested, plus the bulk items…if sealed in glass they are easy to contain. It was mostly crackers that got nasty. And old stuff. Even paprika!”
  • “Skim beetles off the top of the rice when you cook it. Whatever. No big deal, really. They ARE in there, no matter what.”

All in all some good advice here. The key is to methodically go through what’s in your pantry–spices and all–and compost (or, sadly, throw out) what appears to be infested. Peer into open boxes of pasta, crackers, nuts, rice, corn kernels, flour, dried fruit–everything. Once you’re sure you’ve looked at everything, wipe the cabinets down with plant-based dish detergent. If you have honey, vinegar, or oils in your cabinet that have dribbled, wash these bottles off, too. You can then keep sealed containers of food in your pantry. If you don’t want to bother with sealing everything off, you can always keep rice and other grains–once opened–in the fridge.

I hope this does the trick. Let me know how it goes.

Best,

Alexandra


Care.com

  • July 29, 2012 12:56 pm

Thanks Care.com for including me in this article: 7 Ideas for Easy – and Healthy – School Lunches. Such a crucial topic and yet…it can get boring. Much needed inspiration!

Emeril’s Table

  • November 6, 2011 8:22 am

Tune in 11/7 at 11 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel for pyrotechnics, local food, and more. Had a great time on the show. Trying to figure out how how to record it (I’m not the most tech-savvy person, nor am I particularly gifted at cropping photos. Oh well, don’t tell anyone).

Q&A: Juice Bars And Pregnancy

  • September 16, 2011 12:30 pm
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Just recently finished [The Complete Organic Pregnancy]. My husband and I have been recently trying for a baby and prior to that I probably devoured a dozen books on pre-pregnancy and I have to say your book is the most substantial and downright fantastic out of all of them! What I appreciated most from your book was how easily your research and tips could translate into everyday life and also how to truly make both your body and the environment both inside and outside the most optimal possible.

In saying that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Juices: I now know to avoid them, but what about smoothies, ingredients consist of whole fresh organic fruits, organic milk and ice??

That’s it, thank you so very much! Your book is the best gift I could have asked for and consult it regularly!!

With gratitude,

Meika

THE ANSWER:
Meika actually sent a few questions, so I’m answering them in separate posts.

You’re so welcome! Thanks for writing in.

The juices you’re referring to are the ones found at juice bars and smoothie shops.  Often these juices are from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and the juicing machines are breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria like E. coli. You cannot guarantee that the juicers have been cleaned regularly (or with what–i.e. chlorine bleach or other chemicals that leave residues that get into your drinks).  Because juice bar juices are unpasteurized, they’re a major concern if you’re pregnant.  Even organic juice products are suspect. Odwalla faced a total recall of their products in the 1990s due to E. coli.  It’s just not worth the risk when you’re expecting. Far better to get your fruit and veggie fix from the actual thing. Or, as I mention in The Conscious Kitchen (excerpted below), you can make your own at home. That way you know what the ingredients are, where they came from, and that your juicer is clean.
Fresh squeezed, 100 percent juice is fabulous in moderation.  Thankfully, it’s so expensive at my local organic organic juice bar that moderation isn’t a problem.  If you’re someone who really likes juice, look into buying an energy-efficient juicer.  Having your own means  you can control what kind of fruit is used (local or organic or sustainable), how much and what kind of sugar is added, and how the machine is cleaned.

Alternatives to fresh squeezed are a mixed bag.  Most store-bought juice actually contains very little juice, so it’s up to an adept label reader to find the real deal.  Otherwise, you may suck down a lot of unnecessary and expensive sugar water (along with other unexpected additives, like synthetic fragrance).  Organic jarred or cartoned juices are sometimes guilty of containing as much sugar or sweeteners as their conventional counterparts, but at least it’s not derived from genetically modified corn.  When it comes to artificial sweeteners, all bets are off.  I don’t put those things in my body, and suggest you don’t either.  Real sugar is vastly preferable, unless, of course, you have a medical condition that means you can’t tolerate it.

Hope that helps!
Best,
Alexandra

Stockposting

  • July 31, 2011 8:30 pm

The New York Times Dining section printed a wonderfully conscious, fun, and eco article about using everything when you cook this past Wednesday, called That’s Not Trash, That’s Dinner. Cute. Read it here.

It reminded me of a section I wrote in The Conscious Kitchen about what I call stockposting–I use what most people put in the compost pile (or the trash) to make stock. Well it’s really more like scrap broth than stock but whatever you call it, it’s making use of every last bit of kitchen odds and ends to add flavor to your next dish. Basically it’s common sense. Back in the day it was frugal grandma territory. Now it’s hip. I love it!

Here’s the stockposting section from The Conscious Kitchen:

Restaurants never waste a scrap; they can’t afford to.  But at home, we all do.  It’s alarming how much useable food we toss.  Before composting, see what you can still use.  Things like celery fronds, spinach stems, and the outer layers of onions can be used to make vegetable stock, for example.  I call it stockposting.  Keep a bowl in the fridge or a jar in the freezer to collect these odds and ends in, too, and when you have a full container (and the time) toss them on the stove in a pot of water with some seasoning.  Strain it and store the resulting broth in the fridge or freezer.  What could be better than homemade veggie stock out of what you thought was nothing?  For similar chicken stock, boil stockposting ingredients with a bound-for-the-garbage roast chicken carcass.  It won’t be as hearty as a traditional stock, but it does the trick to add flavor and liquid to grains, sauces, and more.

What You Don’t Know: The Nitty Gritty On Sugar

  • July 19, 2011 8:41 am

Most of us use sugar every single day without hesitation.  Whether just for our breakfast coffee or our after dinner treat, it is a pantry staple.  It lines grocery aisles and is every baker’s friend.  Unfortunately, not all sugars are equal. This might make you think of high fructose corn syrup, but I’m not even touching that here. I’m talking about regular old sugar–choosing the most sustainable is an act of environmental and social justice.  Check out this excerpt from The Conscious Kitchen on the ins and outs of the sugar world:

Sugar should be natural.  Artificial sweeteners don’t belong in a conscious kitchen, which means we can happily avoid any discussions of safety and USDA approval here.  When it comes to sugar, fair-trade and organic is a must.  “Sugar has to be good, clean, and fair,” says Alice Waters.  She urges people to watch the documentary The Price of Sugar for an in-depth look at why (ThePriceOfSugar.com – the trailer is on YouTube).  “It just took my breath away,” Waters explains.  “I guess I imagined herbicides and pesticides and all of that and unfortunate farming conditions, but I never imagined slavery.” Adding a teaspoon to your morning coffee is a political act.

At home, I use a variety of organic brown-colored sugars from our health food market, knowing full well that brown sugar sold in the United States is refined to white and has molasses added back in to turn it varying shades of brown.  It’s a farce.  Truly raw or unrefined sugar is illegal here, just as raw milk is in some states, to protect citizens from impurities and bacteria.  The process of refining is done in various ways, and is mainly mechanical, not chemical, though some sugars are filtered through animal by-products (usually bones) and so aren’t vegetarian-friendly or friendly for people trying to avoid conventionally raised animals.  Refining strips sugar of any useful nutrients it originally had.  Brown carries a healthy halo on it, but let’s not delude ourselves: Any sugar sold in the United States, even if it is called, “raw,” has been heated and is at least somewhat refined. I don’t turn to sugar for nutrients in the first place, so I’m okay with that, but I don’t like the misleading labeling.

So, what should you buy?

Definitely seek out fair-trade, organic, and/or sustainably grown and as unprocessed as possible.  Sucanat and brown less-refined sugars (like demerara, turbinado, and muscavado) are more real (for lack of a better word) than the soft sugar called “brown.” To avoid sugar that was filtered through bones, look for labels stating the product is suitable for vegetarians.  Always avoid conventional table sugar–white or brown.

Of course, there are other natural options like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and molasses that are much more environmentally friendly.  Try to buy honey and maple syrup at your farmers’ market, where it will be local and unprocessed. I use a fair amount of both and I’d be lying if I said otherwise!