Congratulations!

My apologies to our readers. The last week has been a bit hectic….. travels to celebrate Easter Sunday with my family in the D.C. area, then back home to New York to celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter with dear friends. Oh, and my other half of Two Dancing Buckeyes gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. Congratulations, Gretchen!!!! I wish I could be there, but I’ll try to “hold down the fort,” -er, blog, so to speak, while you’re recovering and enjoying your new bundle of joy.

While traveling to Connecticut to celebrate Greek Easter earlier today, we stopped at a service station along route 95 to get a cup of coffee and allow the kiddos to use the toilets. The facilities appeared to be somewhat new, with the typical food service offerings one could expect to find along a highway: McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and Sabbaro to name a few. While my son was begging for a donut on the way to the bathroom, a sign on the other end of the service station caught my attention: Good-to-Go Organics. Organic food?!?! At a service station? Could this be some sort of mirage? Clearly my brain must be playing tricks on me. But no, there really exists, at least in Milford, CT, an organic food station, serving organic snacks, beverages, and sandwiches to those of us weary travelers tired of having zero healthy options while stuck on the highway.

**For those of you living in and around New York City, you may recognize the name, Good to Go Organics, which has outposts in Central Park and Chelsea Piers.

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A Non-GMO New Year

We all set New Year’s resolutions every year. With some of them we are successful, and with others, well, not so much. While it’s most likely unrealistic to change your entire lifestyle, it is possible to make a few minor adjustments, such as deciding to try not to purchase foods that are genetically modified. Previously we posted on GMO’s, giving our readers a brief overview of this subject. This coming week, January 3, 2012, NPR radio’s, Diane Rehm, will be speaking about labeling for Genetically Modified Foods. We urge you to listen in if at all possible, and perhaps you may just adopt a non-GMO New Year, too! Have a happy, healthy New Year!

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-01-03/environmental-outlook-labels-genetically-modified-foods

The Florida Tomato Industry and The Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Immokalee tomato pickers -- Thanks to Scott Robertson for the use of this photo.

***The following piece was written for Two Dancing Buckeyes by a guest blogger named Margaret Gleeson who worked with Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, a partner organization to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, from 2008 to 2011. She’s also related to one of the dancing buckeyes.  An important part of reclaiming our food is understanding where our food is from and how it’s produced.  We appreciate the work that Margaret has done to impact the tomato industry and her willingness to share what she has learned.***

It’s November, which means tomato season is just starting up— in Florida that is. Thousands of farmworkers who have spent the summer months harvesting produce in northern states are now making their way back to Immokalee, Florida, the country’s tomato production hub from November to May.

While many of us have had the pleasant experience of picking fresh tomatoes in our backyards, Florida farmworkers find a very different atmosphere in the fields. Immokalee tomato pickers are paid piece-rate wages—they receive an average of 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, meaning they have to pick approximately 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to make minimum wage in a 10-hour work day. Lacking traditional work-place protections, they are denied shade and water, endure dangerous pesticide exposure, suffer from sexual harassment, and have no right to report abuses for fear of being fired. In the worst cases, farmworkers are forced into modern-day slavery— Florida’s fields have seen nine federally prosecuted slavery cases in the past thirteen years involving over 1,200 workers.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots farmworker organization is working to change this situation—and they’re succeeding!

In 2001 the CIW launched the Campaign for Fair Food—a farmworker led effort to improve wages and working conditions in the fields. Focusing on Yum! Brands (parent company of Taco Bell and a major buyer of Florida tomatoes), the farmworkers called on the fast-food giant to pay one penny more per pound for their tomatoes to directly increase farmworker wages, and to support a stringent code-of-conduct in the fields. People of faith and students across the country joined with the farmworkers in this campaign, and four years later Taco Bell signed the first Fair Food Accord.

Now nine major corporations, including the leaders of the fast-food and food-service industries (and a single supermarket – Whole Foods), have signed agreements with the CIW. As a result, almost exactly one year ago, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE – representing 90% of the tomato growers in Florida) signed a groundbreaking agreement with the CIW! This season farmworkers throughout Florida will begin to receive the penny-per-pound wage increase from participating buyers as a bonus in their pay checks. Even more importantly, 90% of the Florida tomato industry is committed to implementing the worker-designed code-of-conduct which guarantees workplace rights for those who pick our produce. Workers now have access to shade and clean drinking water in the hot Florida sun, the right to form health and safety committees, a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and forced labor, and a reliable complaint-resolution system to report workplace abuses.

While these exciting changes give us hope for a more humane, more sustainable agricultural industry, they are still new and therefore very fragile. With the commitment of fast-food and food-service leaders, the last remaining sector of the food industry to put its support (and purchasing power) behind the Campaign for Fair Food is the Supermarket Industry. At this critical point in Florida Agriculture, it is vitally important that the supermarket industry commit to fair wages and working conditions for those who work in their supply chains.

Therefore, this harvest season, the CIW will push forward with their Supermarket Campaign—in particular, calling on Trader Joe’s to be a leader in the industry, live up to its ethical reputation, and support Florida farmworkers. This Thanksgiving, if you’d like to honor those who work to bring produce to tables across America, consider delivering a manager letter to your local TJ’s calling on the grocery store to sign a Fair Food Accord. (You can find a letter here: http://www.ciw-online.org/Resources/tools/manager%20letters/TJLTR.pdf).

If you’d like to learn more about Florida tomatoes check out the fantastic book by Barry Estabrook, TomatoLand. To learn more about the CIW and get involved in the Supermarket Campaign visit http://www.ciw-online.org or feel free to e-mail me via Two Dancing Buckeyes at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.

Ostrich (WSJ)

A while back we posted a few recipes incorporating ostrich meat. Hopefully you were able to try this delicious, healthy alternative to red meat since then. If you have not had the opportunity, and ostrich is available in your region, go for it. In case you need some further persuasion, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on my local ostrich farmer, which I believe is of interest. Enjoy and Happy Eating!

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052702304450604576420161456629734-lMyQjAxMTAxMDAwNjEwNDYyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email

October is Non-GMO month

October, which I can honestly say is my favorite month of the year, has, throughout history, been the month of harvest. The days are shortening and the air is turning colder, but food is still plentiful, with pumpkins, gourds, and even the occasional late ear of corn showing up at farmer’s markets. 

In case you were unaware, October 16, 2011, is Whole Food Day USA, which is a day to focus on food and ending hunger. Perhaps more importantly, however, October is also Non-GMO month, with numerous organizations trying to gain political attention to this issue, and to finally pass a mandatory labeling of all GMO foods. Europe already has mandatory GMO labeling. So why doesn’t the United States? Don’t we deserve to know what’s going into our food, too? If you are in agreement that GMO food should be labeled, I urge you to sign the official petition.

So enjoy the beautiful month of October, with its brightly colored leaves and enjoyably chilly days. Cook a hearty fall dish to share with your family and friends. Most importantly, be grateful for the wonderful food we have to eat, and educate those around you of what good food really is.  Have a Happy Month of Food!

UN- NCD Summit (Non-Communicable Diseases)

This coming week, in New York City (September 19-20, 2011), the first ever UN summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) will take place. During this summit, leaders from around the globe will be discussing diseases related to alcohol, smoking, and diet, the last of which has statistically become the most fatal of the three on a global level. 35 million people die of NCDs every year, and 1.7 billion people across the globe are obese or overweight. A staggering 200 million of those obese or overweight people are children!

Something must be done to stop these totally preventable diseases. Legislation must be put in place. While it is our job on a local scale to educate those around us on the importance of a healthy diet, starting with our own families, it is the global community of legislators who are responsible to implement legislation regarding this terribly important issue. Fast food companies are not entirely to blame. The quality of food served to our children in public school is often just as bad, if not worse on many occasions, than the food served to customers at a fast food chain.

While just one of us calling or writing our UN official probably won’t do much good, voices are heard in numbers. I urge you to sign Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution petition, and to write your UN representative. You can find all the wonderful links to do just that, right here. Hey, in this day and age, you can even Tweet or FB your representative, so there’s not really a good excuse why you can’t spend the few seconds to do so.

It takes a village to raise a child… as the saying goes.  Thank you for listening and learning, and hopefully taking action!

GMO update: Are Your Kids Allergic To Food- Or What’s In It?

On the Healthy Child Healthy World website, there was a recent post regarding the rising amount of childhood food allergies and their possible link to Genetically Modified Organisms. The post discusses that perhaps more children are not developing allergies to various foods, but allergies to what is contained inside those foods: genetically engineered components. 1 in 13 children now has an allergy to a certain food(s), and 40% of children experience severe, sometimes fatal reactions. To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Previously we had posted a TEDx talk given by Robyn O’Brien, former Wall Street Executive turned “Real Food” evangelist, where she discusses her theories of how GMO foods are directly linked to the large increase of food related allergies in the world today. If you haven’t had the chance to watch it yet, you may do so below.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rixyrCNVVGA

Healthy Schools Campaign

For many of us whose children attend a public school, whether by choice or out of necessity, healthy food options may be extremely limited, with a typical day’s lunch fare including highly processed meat, frozen french fries, or pizza. Additionally, a majority of U.S. public schools are not equipped with kitchens capable of cooking food from scratch! Fortunately, there are many of us out there demanding change. Healthy Schools Campaign is an organization that works with students to attempt to bring about change in the way the National School Lunch Program is handled in this country.

Congress is considering action that would help bring proper kitchen equipment, plus professional development for food service staff, to more schools. Please urge your senators and representative to support healthy school meals! CLICK HERE to send a letter inviting them to attend the briefing on Capitol Hill on May 24th and May 25th, 2011, to try the student-designed meal in their own cafeteria, and to support action that would help bring proper kitchen equipment and training to more schools.

Thanks for taking the time! Happy, healthy eating!

Might Ronald and the Keebler Elves befall Joe Camel’s fate?

Last Friday, in the New York Times, there was an article entitled, U.S. Seeks New Limits on Food Ads for Children. The article discussed the proposed new guidelines by the federal government to regulate food advertising directed toward children. Toucan Sam, Ronald McDonald, and Cap’n Crunch are just a few of the slew of adorable characters food companies use to help market their products to children. The comparison has been made, and I whole-heartedly agree with this claim, that the cartoon characters associated with children’s food products act much like the extinct Joe Camel, of cigarette industry fame, to persuade our young into purchasing their products. We all know children enjoy cartoons and, thus, gravitate toward products which they associate with those characters. Don’t believe me? Just watch my 5-year-old morph into a helpless consumer anytime he sees Bumblebee (a Transformer character) slapped onto a product.

Federal regulators, in response to an epidemic of childhood obesity, are asking food makers to produce healthier versions of their current products, or stop advertising them to children. The new guidelines, released by the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission), would include television and print ads, as well as digital media. And while they’re strictly voluntary, companies who do choose to take part would have 10 years to align their product standards to fit the guidelines, (hey, 10 years seems like too long to me, but I’ll take what I can get!) which include that: the food products need to include “healthy” ingredients, such as whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, or skim milk; and can’t include unhealthy levels of sugar, salt, saturated fat, or trans fat. Here’s some food for thought. A can of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli contains 1500 milligrams of sodium. The new guidelines would force those levels down to 210 milligrams per serving, or 420 milligrams for the entire can of ravioli. Yikes, yikes, and more yikes! It’s sad to think that some parents may have no clue what they’re serving their children.

I honestly don’t have a problem with companies using these characters to their advantage. Hey, I probably would too if I was selling something, simply to ensure a greater profit. What I do highly object to is that the companies using these cartoon spokespeople are almost always selling terribly unhealthy products. And who’s consuming these products? Our kids. However, it’s we, as parents, who are ultimately responsible for promoting the sale of these products. If we don’t educate our children that some products are better than others, and that although there’s a cuddly character selling the product, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for our bodies, then who will? It’s the parents who are buying these products, not the children. My advice:

1. Don’t let your young children watch television channels with commercials. In this day and age, there are numerous commercial-free channels with children’s programming 24-hours a day.

2. Never buy a food product that’s advertised on television.  I’ve never seen a good commercial for roasted beets or celery sticks with peanut butter. Frozen pizza rolls and toaster strudel is usually the norm, is it not?

If you’d like to read the NYT article in its entirety, you may do so here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/29/business/29label.html?scp=1&sq=us%20seeks%20new%20limits%20on%20food%20ads&st=cse 

What happened to Right By Nature?

This past weekend brought an unexpected sadness to many Pittsburgh families, foodies, and natural living enthusiasts.  And before I go any further, I’m not referring to a loss of life or any of the true tragedy we learn about in the news each day.  Yet it is still a loss that is deeply felt — the loss of an independently-owned grocery store that many in Southwestern Pennsylvania have come to love, a place that employed a team of friendly, helpful, and intelligent employees, and one of the best vendors of fresh, natural, organic, and healthy food items in or around Pittsburgh — the loss of Right By Nature Hometown Market.

On Friday, April 29, Right By Nature (RBN) announced that they would be “suspending all services from their [current] location after business on Saturday, April 30th.”  And, although their intent is to reopen later in the year at a new location, this was abrupt and sobering news to many faithful shoppers, myself included, as evidenced by the outpouring of affection on the Right By Nature facebook page.  After opening in 2008, RBN quickly won the hearts of many customers by trying to offer the best of everything to its patrons.  It boasted value with high quality products at affordable prices.  It offered convenience with online ordering and home delivery.  And it demonstrated a commitment to social responsibility, particularly through the regular “Friday Fest” happy hours when open invitations were extended to the public for an evening of free hors d’oeuvres, wine, and music, meanwhile a large percentage of that day’s sales were donated to local nonprofits.

So what happened?  How could such a well-loved business fail?  Unfortunately, the devotion was not enough, and perhaps the timing was not the best.  RBN did offer incredible value — shoppers could snag local, organic produce at prices well below what can be found at Whole Foods.  But at a time of rising food prices and economic uncertainty, it seems that many people still find it hard to make the personal investment of shopping “organic”.  This is despite the mounting evidence that having a mostly organic diet may play a significant role in our overall health, most notably in the psychological, intellectual and physical development of our children.  I truly understand the pinch that is felt when the cash register prints the receipt, especially after having converted from a DINK (double-income, no kids) lifestyle to living on one income with a growing child.  So I understand why many families feel driven to the super low prices of cheap, mass-manufactured food offered by places like Wal-Mart and other big-box grocery stores.  And, yes-I know, many of those stores now offer “fresh” and natural products at very unnatural prices.  We must also consider the effect that is had on the growers and the communities that comes from the power of those stores to drive down prices in what many consider to be a heavy-handed way…..now I’m straying a bit from the point that I’m trying to make, which is that we all need to consider what goes into getting our food from farm to table, and we need to understand the benefits or dangers to our bodies, our lives, our communities, and our environment that are associated with the food choices we make.  RBN was a beacon of hope for the movement in our society to understand that our connection with food is more than just filling our bellies as quickly and cheaply as possible.  Rather, it is our life source.  It is what brings us together as families, friends, and communities.  It is integral to our individual and collective cultures.  And instead of just being a burden on our time and wallets, eating and cooking are most nourishing when they are central priorities in our lives.  Shopping at RBN made me feel as if all of this was coming together in beautiful harmony — I found the highest quality ingredients in a place that promoted that strong connection between oneself and food, nature, and community.

Right By Nature Hometown Market will be sorely missed during this time of year that is normally celebrated for crop growth, ground awakening, and early harvests.  I sincerely hope that it will quickly return as a thriving business in the Pittsburgh area to fill the void that is left from its rapid departure, and that it can regain the love and devotion that many customers have shown.  I have nothing but best wishes for the owner and employees during this time of uncertainty. I also hope that many more people, in the Pittsburgh community and elsewhere, will be inspired to reclaim the food that they eat by cooking as many things from scratch as possible, by seeking out the highest quality ingredients available, and by using the time spent in learning about food, cooking, and eating to grow closer to their friends, family, and nature.

To close this post, I would like to provide you with my Top 10 (er, Top 11…I mean, 12….ok, 13!) reasons why I fell in love with Right By Nature Hometown Market:

#13 — Fresh, organic, and local produce at great prices

#12 — A full selection of food items, from small local providers to mainstream national brands

#11 — Delivery / pick up service for those days when you don’t want to leave the house / car.

#10 — The deli, salad, and smoothie bars — check out this earlier post for a Forbidden Rice recipe inspired by something out of the RBN deli case

#9 — Unfailingly superb customer service

#8 — Friday Fest Happy Hours

#7 — Inspirational quotes and thoughts of the day painted on the walls, bagging materials, and posted on the store’s facebook page

#6 — The fact that it was an independently owned and operated store, which meant more money staying in the community instead of lining a corporate executive’s pocket

#5 — Great employees, such as superstar employee Mo, whose personality filled the store and who seemed to have developed a true rapport with everyone who came through his check-out line — in fact, my 2-year-old talks about his “friend Mo” every time we pass the building!

#4 — Free, indoor parking (no carting groceries out in the rain!)

#3 — $10 reward voucher issued for every $250 spent

#2 — A free piece of fruit for children to eat while shopping (so much better than the Cookie Card offered by the major grocery “giant” in the region)

#1 — Bulk Foods – the best selection of bulk foods that I had found in Pittsburgh — I believe I will miss this the most!