Sound Savorings, Part 2: Food Value

Although I’ve been eating meat for almost two years, many friends and family continue to call me a vegetarian.

The label has stuck because I still eat a lot of plants; meat and dairy don’t make up a large part of my diet because I eat these foods in their whole and natural forms.

By “whole” and “natural,” I mean I eat fat—full fat. I keep the skin on my chicken, turkey and fish, and I make gravy with poultry fat drippings. I avoid fat-free cheese and yogurt—and whole-y moly, does it make a difference. I don’t use butter too often, but when I do, it’s rich and creamy, and definitely not margarine.

Eating meat and dairy in its whole forms keeps me satiated. I’m not sure how rich food got such a bad rep when being rich is typically considered a good thing. (Oprah, that offer still stands on swapping lives.) Whole foods do a better job at satisfying both my taste buds and stomach—meaning I need less of it to be full and happy for a long time. More bang for my buck and bite.

Health advocates proclaim the virtues of whole grains and fruits, so why don’t they feel the same way about whole meat or milk?

On the website for Whole Foods, the George Mateljan Foundation, a non-profit health and wellness organization, explains why it generally favors low-fat dairy over whole: “At a simple glance, all whole-milk dairy products might seem more natural and less processed than any low-fat alternatives and better choices for that reason. Yet, we do not believe they make better choices for most individuals, given the current nature of the U.S. diet and commercial milk preparation.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  The foundation cannot advise Americans to eat whole dairy because of the current nature of the U.S. diet.

The website goes on to say that Americans already consume too much “unhealthy” fat, typically in the form of processed foods, to allow whole dairy, which is 25% saturated fat, to be a regular part of their diets.

But what if eating whole dairy actually stopped you from eating processed foods in the first place?

Healthy living publications and organizations like George Mateljan create a loophole by recommending low-fat dairy and skin-free meat. They provide room in a consumer’s diet for processed foods by endorsing only low-fat yogurt.

By eating whole dairy and meat, however, I’m able to fill the rest of my plate with fruits, vegetables and grains, which means I generally stick to the group guidelines of the food pyramid. (I use the Harvard School of Nutrition’s pyramid.)

Wholesomeness doesn’t apply to some foods and not others. I wouldn’t eat as many whole fruits and vegetables if I consumed fat-free dairy. I would be too hungry and too eager for something more delicious—something, well, fatty.

Food is like anything else I purchase: It delivers more value when I use the whole thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sound Savorings, Part 1: Humane Food

I follow a lot of vegetarian and vegan blogs even though I discovered healthier living by giving up vegetarianism almost two years ago.

So I was excited to read Une Vie Saine’s recent post about whole foods and her follow-up post, Beans and Fats, both of which touched on the healthfulness of a vegetarian or vegan diet. Until the end of 2009, I had been a “pescatarian”—someone who only eats fish—for seven years.

I realized that a lot of my vegetarian food was processed and contained ingredients I couldn’t exactly identify. Reading the back of a Morningstar box, I often could recognize only one or two ingredients—typically corn or soy. This troubled me because I had given up meat to maintain a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Corn and soy are the biggest monoculture crops in the country, which destroy natural ecosystems and soil fertility. Since the two crops are so heavily subsidized by the government, farmers are disinclined to grow anything else (i.e. fruits and vegetables). That’s why processed food is so cheap in this country. It’s also the reason meat is so cheap, since corn is usually force-fed to cattle, pigs and poultry. Buying faux meat products supports the same crop industry that allows the meat industry—and all the horrors of factory farming—to be so successful.

I gave up fake meat to find more sustainable forms of protein. Many of these foods are vegan—beans, lentils, nuts and unprocessed tofu, but I also eat poultry and fish, not to mention dairy and eggs. I added chicken and turkey back into my diet after realizing I needed to cut back on my fish intake. The Cove and Darwin’s Nightmare, two excellent documentaries, showed me how many forms of fishing can be devastating to marine and human life. I now eat fish a couple times a week, taking a cue from the sustainable seafood guide put out by The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Poultry, though, is a whole different game. I only eat birds that I believe are ethically raised and thus more environmentally sustainable and safer to consume. Finding them has been no easy task, however, especially since labels like “organic,” “antibiotic free,” and “free range” often don’t mean much.

So I was thrilled when I came across the Certified Humane label.

According to their website, the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program “is a certification and labeling program that is the only animal welfare label requiring the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter.”

I trust this program not just because it is endorsed by the ASPCA and the Center for Food Safety, but because its certification process is so transparent. The website provides detailed descriptions of the organization’s inspection procedures and lists the professional backgrounds of its board and staff members.

Currently, I buy chicken from Murray’s Farms and eggs from either Giving Nature or Pete & Gerry’s. (These products also happen to be local.) I used to buy Applegate Farms turkey, but gave it up when I saw its certification was not renewed.

I’ve had no qualms about eating poultry raised under these standards. I believe that I am helping animals by eating humanely raised meat from local farmers instead of vegetarian products from huge industrial farms.

Posted in Health, Sustainability | 3 Comments

Homemade Aid

A couple days ago, two special people in my life shared a birthday. This year I attempted to make their birthday presents. Admittedly, part of the desire to go Martha Stewart stemmed from the belief that it might be a tad less expensive. But my greater reason for wanting to craft these gifts was that I simply wanted to make something.

Source: Pop on the Pop

As a Generation Y American, I’ve only known a technology-based world. The era emerged when I was in middle school, but microwaves and televisions were household staples long before Mom and Dad brought me home from the hospital. There was no need to cook meals or sew clothes or build furniture—unless it was from Ikea and came with Swedish drawings for instructions.

My all-girls college-preparatory school had 14 AP courses and a lab full of ibooks, but no classes on home-ec or metal shop. At the time, I thought such a curriculum was remarkable. Thanks to the women’s liberation movement thirty years prior, I was a career-driven adolescent and never dreamed of becoming a homemaker—a role I saw as  outdated, sexist, and downright boring.

However, now that my life revolves around books and a computer screen, I sometimes yearn to work with my hands, perhaps even my whole body—some activity that involves more than fingers on a keyboard. Even more, I wish that my hours of toil would result in something tangible.

And although I’ve never taken a cooking or craft class, my mother is an artist and so I always had homemade Halloween costumes and my sister and I often constructed holiday decorations. Thus, I thought that making a birthday gift or two wouldn’t be too difficult.

But I discovered that I was woefully unprepared to take on such a task without my mother’s supervision or instruments. After Googling homemade birthday gifts, I realized that I would need a sewing machine (I don’t even own an iron) or a laminator (don’t own a printer), not to mention paint, beads, ribbons, frames, jars, a muffin tin pan or a popsicle mold. I knew homemade presents would require purchasing some materials, but I didn’t expect I would need to shell out for so many tools as well.

I scrapped the homemade gift idea and decided to make just cards. But even that was a failure. Without a printer, I relied on drug-store photo centers to produce personalized cards. I was pretty proud of the ones I fashioned—even if on a computer—but when it came time to place the order, I was charged over twenty dollars for shipping the cards. That’s a bit too much money for this aspiring elf.

Source: National Enquirer

In the end, I caved to the New York—nay, the American—way of life. I bought stuff and bought it quickly. While scrambling through a retail store, I realized that my quest to make something wasn’t just a desire to produce something tangible, but also a longing for a product that took time and patience. Something that was slowly crafted, rather than spewed out.

The age of information and technology has expanded the world in many ways, but it’s also contracted it by filling its spaces with cheap goods. The Internet has done for information what corporate manufacturing did for materials—prioritized quantity over quality. Thanks to email and instant messaging, I can stay in touch with friends and family across the globe. But an email always feels cheaper than a letter.

In a recession, it’s nice that I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for clothing, household products or even furniture. But those cheap goods come at a cost. When sweeping my room, I often find screws and bolts that have fallen out of my Ikea furniture. Clothes from Forever 21 and H&M quickly lose their shape. And if I shell out for pricier name brands, most of the time I’m not paying for better quality, just better advertising. Even my music is cheaper than it once was. MP3s sold on iTunes have poor sound quality compared to CDs and vinyl.

I had hoped that my homemade gifts would be sturdy—my friends would find the presents’ value not just in their use, but in their craftsmanship. My longing to make something was born out of nostalgia for nostalgia.

Instant gratification can only be satisfied with cheap wares. Most things that I own will not last another five years. These products were made by machines—and too often sweatshop labor—to satisfy only the moment I needed them. They weren’t meant to be vestiges of memories.

I think that’s why I had qualms about purchasing a gift this time around. A present signifies the relationship between giver and receiver. I wanted to treat my friends to something that would not simply satisfy that birthday’s wish, but honor much of what all birthdays represent—a celebration of the life we have made and a hope for many productive years to come.

Posted in Sustainability | 2 Comments

Sticky Situation

“In New York summers get hot,

well into the hundreds.

You can’t walk around the block

without a change of clothing.”

-U2, “New York”

Summer Central Park

Bono was right. New York summers are hot, but what he was really singing about was the humidity.

Living in humidity feels like someone is giving you a never-ending hug that you don’t want. Step into a subway station, and the next minute you look like you just jumped out of a shower—or a swamp. And moving to an AC-filled room doesn’t offer immediate relief. As your drenched body begins to cool, it will start to feel like the back of a Post-it note.

If you’re so blessed to be from a dry environment and your body isn’t used to humidity, you may notice some changes that are similar to signs of pregnancy. My California-born appendages swelled up, particularly my hands and feet, and I was craving salty foods, including pickles. My feet got so bad that they sometimes tingled when I walked. Fat feet and hands are the result of blood rushing to the surface to cool down the body. And the attendant cankles are a good way to ward off possible suitors. As for the pickles craving, sweating depletes salt, which leads to yearnings for salty snacks. Gosh, I could go for a pretzel.

Good news? I’m not expecting an unexpected child. Bad news? I’m stuck in this weather for three months.

So, I decided to do some research to find out if there was anything good about humidity. If I have to suffer through something — like a grueling workout or a standardized test — I like to think my pain has a purpose. All the best holidays run from the end of November through mid-March to give the winter an upside. People need presents and feasts to get through snowstorms and little daylight. So, what’s humidity’s plus?

Turns out there’s little to get excited about. According to CNN, humidity puts you at a greater risk for heat exhaustion, which causes more deaths than floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning combined. And if that weren’t bad enough, you should know that humidity makes it easier for mold to grow and dust mites to reproduce. So, if I don’t croak from heat stroke, I might die from spores.

But after weeding through all of humidity’s negative reviews, I did find some positives. Humidity decreases your chance of catching the flu, including SARS, since germs can’t travel as freely in the thick air. A sweat-soaked sundress might be less fashionable than even a facemask, but I’ll take sticky limbs over SARS any day.

Humidity is a mixed bag when it comes to your face. It can increase acne, since extra sweat mixes with face oils, but it also can prevent wrinkles. Dry skin is more prone to cracking and wrinkling. No wonder everyone retires to Florida.

Nothing, though, gives humidity a better image than a long, dark winter. On my moist, slow jog through Central Park this morning, I looked up at the reservoir and was startled by how blue it was. Set against the buildings of striated silver and the blooming trees, the water dazzled in the sunlight. The heavy air seemed to hold all the hues together. I felt like Dorothy stepping from her gray world into Technicolor.

For that moment, I forgot that I was living in a sauna and soaked in the beautiful park.

Posted in New York | 3 Comments

The Irony of Carmaggedon

Angelenos recently survived an event that threatened to unleash unknown terrors. Yes, I’m referring to Carmaggedon–or the closure of a ten-mile stretch of the 405 freeway this past weekend.

I was in L.A., my hometown, for the first two weeks of June and spotted freeway signs advertising this event of doom. At the time, I thought the city was advertising the closure a bit early, but I never would have predicted the media maelstrom the planned closure would cause.

There were cries of massive traffic jams on surface streets and fears over doctors and ambulances not being able to get to hospitals. City officials and the LAPD even asked celebrities to tweet about the closure. Of course, a lot of the exaggerated coverage was humorous, such as the YouTube video about Hitler’s difficulties dealing with the 405 shut down. Still, there was genuine concern that vehicular traffic would snarl surrounding streets, as half a million cars pass over the ten-mile section on a typical July weekend. Businesses talked of losing customers and tourists fretted over rescheduling vacations. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa predicted that the weekend would be “an absolute nightmare.”

Now that Carmaggedon has ended, L.A. officials are praising locals (and patting themselves on the back) for heeding warnings and staying off the road. It turns out Carmaggedon wasn’t so disastrous after all.

But is that really true?

The stretch of the 405 freeway was shut down in order to bulldoze the south side of the Mulholland Bridge, allowing crews to conduct bridge reconstruction and add a northbound carpool lane. (The north side of the bridge will be demolished in 11 months, requiring another freeway closure.)

In other words, the weekend closure was the small price to pay for a better commute and safer bridge in the future. But is an extra carpool lane really the answer to L.A.’s traffic woes?

I don’t think so. Carmaggedon highlighted the city’s need for more extensive, efficient and publicized public transportation–particularly on the West side. More freeway lanes encourage, rather than hinder, more cars. The irony of Carmaggedon is the construction project will only allow residents to continue commuting long distances to work, eventually creating more traffic and further polluting L.A.’s skyline.

I haven’t lived in L.A. in seven years. Now that I’ve enjoyed time away from my hometown in the Bay Area and New York, I feel ready to head back the City of Angels. My past year living in Manhattan really made me appreciate the glorious weather of the Southland. Although I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in the Big Apple, I miss the beauty of the Big Orange–the palm trees, the beach, the mountains. I’ve learned that fall colors are beautiful, but in general, seasons are overrated. In fact, most of them just plain suck. I’ll take mild winters and dry heat any day.

But it’s the very beauty of L.A. that makes me abhor the car culture that characterizes this city. The greenhouse gases that car pollution creates threatens the very ideal landscape and weather of L.A. And I worry that one day, my hometown will be better known as the city of heathens.

I’m currently reading David Owen’s Green Metropolis, which makes the argument that Manhattan is much greener than suburbia and the countryside, as well as cities like L.A.

My dire-hard L.A. friends shudder at New York’s tight living quarters, trash and concrete landscape. But the truth is that Angelenos are really a lot dirtier than New Yorkers. Sure the streets of Berkeley Hills have nary a trash bag in sight, but people in L.A. drive everywhere. And the more they drive, the more dirty air they create.

Moreover, Angelenos don’t just drive because L.A. is spread out, they drive because they are conditioned to–meaning they drive when it’s unnecessary, when a block’s walk will suffice or when an outside jog would be better than commuting to the gym treadmill. Driving is a way of life.

Of course, I’m hugely stereotyping, but my observations are pretty much true. According to a report by the UC Davis Land Use and Transportation Center, nearly half of all L.A. carbon dioxide emissions are from car use. The Davis report notes that 90% of L.A. households own a car. According to Owen, 46% of New Yorkers own a car (only 33% of Manhattan residents own a vehicle). So, if New York City were its own state, it would be the twelfth most populous, but the lowest in greenhouse gas emissions.

New Yorkers avoid driving not because they are environmental stewards, but because they pretty much have to. When you stick more than 1.5 million people in a 23 square-mile space, traveling by foot, bike or public transit is the only way to make the city livable. Thus, I doubt Angelenos will ever jump on board the train unless they’re forced to as well. The new construction on the 405 freeway will hardly encourage residents to look into better alternatives for getting around. Easing traffic will only enable drivers to push down harder on that accelerator. And the more carbon LA sends into the air, the less likely the beaches, mountains and palm tree weather will stay so nice.

While European cities are clamping down on carbon emissions by making it harder for their residents to drive, Los Angeles is doing just the opposite. I’d rather L.A. take on New York’s method of transportation than its sleet and humidity. A freezing, muggy or palm tree-free L.A. sounds much more disastrous to me than the closure of a few stretches of highway.

Posted in Los Angeles, Sustainability | 2 Comments