Thursday, 20 April 2017 00:00

For decades, scientists and environmentalists have warned us about the dangers of the increase of plastic packages on Earth’s soil and water. Skipping Rocks Lab, a scientific organization that promotes innovation, has made an amazing and interesting invention. The Ooho! is an absolutely biodegradable package that can be eaten without consequences for humans or the environment.

This sphere is made from algae, and inside, it can store an amount of water, makeup, or any other liquid. Thus, this sphere could replace all plastic bottles, glasses, cups, etc.

The scientists of Skipping Rocks Lab experimented with many materials until they got the right mixture and proportions. The final recipe is made with alginate sodium and chloride calcium. The process of creating gelatin leads to the final outcome. The material of this edible sphere is like gel.

This great idea reaches many sponsors who want to be a member of this next-day step. Apart from the eco-friendly material of this sphere, it keeps the content fresher, and it is cheaper. The carbon dioxide from the production of the plastic decreases. It also saves the world a lot of extra energy. Ideas like this help people to decrease their trash and think more about the environment. Tons of plastic bottles and other packages will be eliminated when this invention becomes more popular.

Check it out for yourselves with the Skipping Rocks Lab's demonstration.

Monday, 18 April 2016 00:00

As a parent of a child with allergies, a trip to the grocery store can be a stressful experience. Gone are the days when I could go to the all-in-one-box store and grab whatever I felt like.  Since my youngest daughter is allergic to peanuts and soy, my weekly shopping trips often involve three to four different stores, looking for versions of food that are made in peanut-free facilities and do not contain soy (or soybean oil & soy lecithin ingredients that my child reacts negatively to, but are not considered allergens by the FDA).  With the extra time spent researching brands and perusing food labels, we have become increasingly conscious of the food that we eat, and how that food is produced or made.  We try to buy local when possible. However, with the hectic schedule of taking care of three kids, we do give in to convenience foods sometimes.

We are particularly impressed with the products from Mom's Best Cereals. The Mom’s Best Cereals product line is found at one of our favorite produce markets in the Chicagoland area, Fresh Thyme Stores.  These cereals are very affordable (around $3.99 for a 16-oz box), and come in varieties that mimic some of the more popular brands. Our kids' favorite is the Safari Cocoa Crunch, which is similar to Cocoa Puffs.  In addition to price and variety, Mom's Best Cereals has excellent customer service, and they are environmentally responsible.  When inquiring about allergens in the facilities, I was able to call their customer service line and get in touch with a knowledgeable representative who described how the specific facility where our Safari Cocoa Crunch was made did not have any peanuts in it.  I was also informed that a different section of the facility did have tree nuts, but those items were produced on different equipment.  Given that the FDA rules are a little loose when it comes to describing facilities on food labels, this openness was very welcoming, as it provides an opportunity to learn about the risk of exposure to soy and other allergens. Another impressive feature about Mom’s Best Cereals is their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. As detailed on their website, they calculate the monthly electricity use and production pounds, and purchase wind energy credits to offset the electricity consumed.  In addition, all of their boxes are made with recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.

The second convenience food item that has become a family favorite is Amy’s Kitchen Burritos.  Now, if you were to tell me a year ago that I would regularly select a microwave burrito as a meal, I might have laughed at you, pointing out the unappealing 3-lb., king-sized bean burritos that you find next to the fountain drinks at a gas station.  However, Amy’s Kitchen, which makes a variety of organic foods, has done the impossible by making a tasty and healthy quick meal that is satisfying. The burritos are truly tasty, and they are filled with certified organic ingredients that have no GMOs. We are also impressed by the labeling on the products from Amy’s Kitchen.  Take, for example, the Gluten-Free Cheddar Cheese Burrito—my favorite of the bunch.  Apart from the nutrition facts, the label specifically has a message to those with food allergies, stating that the company does not use any peanuts, fish, shellfish, or eggs in any product, so we do not have to worry about cross-contamination.  Information is available on allergens at the facilities, and since soy is one of them, I can call the company to get more specific information.  As with Mom's Best Cereals, I can find the majority of the Amy’s Kitchen products at our Fresh Thyme market, but I have seen them at Walmart as well.

In sum, if you have a busy lifestyle with jobs and kids, and if you have to be cognizant of food allergies, buying food and planning meals can be exhausting.  While cooking at home with locally grown products is ideal, sometimes we need a few convenience food options.  In such cases, Mom’s Best Cereals and Amy’s Kitchen Burritos are two products I’d recommend without reservation.

Edited by Lisa Charles, MPH

Monday, 05 October 2015 00:00

Do you grow all your own food? Only eat organically-grown food from people you know? Always breathe the freshest, cleanest air? Live in an area where there have never been pesticides, herbicides or genetically-altered crops? Do you have your own filtration system for the purest oxygen possible? Do you live in a bubble of utopia and health? If so, can I join you?

Unless you literally live in a bubble, it’s impossible to get away from toxicity in your food and environment. Instead of going crazy, let’s untangle labeling information and get informed about non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and organic labeling.

The media, industry and government: picking your battles for you
Face it, you’re only given labeling information the media, industry or government wants you to know. Look on any box of food or read the signs around your favorite farmers market. There are words such as "organic," "certified organic," "natural," "non-GMO" and more. It’s very confusing.

If you’re reading or watching information online or in print, you’re getting information regarding labels, terminology and the food industry. However, you’re only gaining the information the media feeds you.

At any point, the media, government and industry will focus on one issue when, in reality, there is a whole slew of issues that are intertwined. People react to information in the media, which snowballs into the hot topic of the day.

As I write this article, the hot topic has been labeling and genetically modified (GM) crops. The right-to-know people are yelling, “Label it, label it!” They want labels for products containing GM ingredients. The non-GMO advocates are labeling their products as non-GMO. They push information on how everyone needs to eat only non-GMO foods.

The genetically modified industry is yelling that it costs too much to label products as GM. Do the GM advocates actually say that GM products are safe? Or are they saying there’s no proof that GM products are harmful? Something to think about ...

Labeling is great, it’s important to know where our food comes from. Eating non-GMO products is awesome! You eat food that hasn’t been genetically altered in a lab. You’re still missing some key issues for your health. Don’t feel bad, it’s by design to confuse those of us who want to know the truth and be healthy.

GMO versus organic
GMO or non-GMO is how the plant begins. Did nature create the beginnings or did man alter the beginnings of your food? This doesn’t mean your food is or isn’t raised in an environmentally safe manner. Nor does it mean your food isn’t sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. GMO and non-GMO only define the start of the product, not the producing or finishing of the product you are about to eat.

There are only a handful of GMO products approved for use in the United States. However, these handful of products include soy and corn, which are in almost all packaged food. You’ll find these crops in your ingredient list as cornstarch, corn meal, corn syrup and soy lecithin. With up to 90% of these two staples starting as a GMO product, that’s a lot of genetically altered ingredients going into your body.

"Organic" refers to the how your food is raised, processed and packaged. Food that is raised organically must start with non-GMO seeds and plants. Organic food cannot have been sprayed or been in contact with herbicides or pesticides during any part of the processing from growing to your table. This includes equipment used in harvesting and packaging.

"Certified Organic" means the product was raised, processed and packaged according to the certified-organic rules set up by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Certified Organic producers must keep records, pay for inspections, and abide by all rules and regulations set up by the USDA for Certified Organic. There are two different labels available for Certified Organic: 100% and 95%. There are some ingredients that cannot be deemed organic - such as honey.

Products that are called organic but don’t carry the Certified Organic seal have been raised in an organic manner. However, the producer hasn’t gone through the process of being certified organic. It doesn’t mean the producer doesn’t abide by all organic standards. In fact, many non-certified producers are just as stringent, if not more so, than the Certified Organic producers. Some processed food may include organic ingredients. However, if it's not at least 95% organic they cannot deem the product as “organic.”

Something to think about... Producers who use GMO seeds and pesticides aren’t required by the USDA to have stringent inspections, keep records or pay money to be a producer.

Safest for you?
It’s best to eat foods that are grown in an organic manner. You don’t have to worry if the machinery that was used to pick your food had leftover pesticides from a different field. You don’t have to worry if the plant was genetically altered. And you won’t need to be worried if the packaging was completed by someone who was just handling non-organic food.

You’re able to bite in, enjoy, and have one less thing to worry about!

Saturday, 07 February 2015 00:00

Buying in bulk can be a great cost saver, only if you’re purchasing what you will use. The worst thing you’d want to see happen is food to go waste. If it’s non-perishable, that item may become an eyesore in your pantry.

When storing bulk foods, we should also be mindful of waste. Poor storage can lead to easy spoilage and lost money.

Tips for Buying in Bulk

1.       Plan ahead

Meal planning helps to gauge how much food you will need to cover a certain period of time. Many plan for up to a week, while some do for the month. I can’t tell you which is best for you, but consider your kitchen space, household and special events (ex. dinner parties)

2.       Join a warehouse club, like Costco or BJ’s

Warehouse clubs can help you save, for sure. For an annual membership fee, you gain access to big box products at a fraction of standard retail costs. Many clubs include grocery items. While organic may be limited, some warehouse club chains are working to deliver more healthy and green alternatives. 

Personally, I’ve shop them for large-scale cooking and great deals on items like olive oil, protein bars, produce and some vegan-friendly snacks

Bonus Tip: Shop with friends. Pool your money and buy those items in bulk together. Each person takes what they need and want. Less waste and less costs!

3.       Shop bulk at your local neighborhood grocery or supermarket

Shopping local & small brings money back into your community. While they may not compete with massive supermarket or retail chains, the best ones have a loyal following. That loyalty is something the business wants to flourish and to turn into solid community relationships with you and your neighbors.

Some local stores are great at carrying staples in bulk, such as grains, legumes, nuts, dried fruit, etc. You can certainly stretch your dollar on those items if you use them frequently. Many know the joys of Whole Foods bulk bins, but many small health food stores and groceries offer the same. Take advantage of that.

If there’s a food item that you use a lot but don’t see in bulk, ask your local grocer if they can get it in bulk for you. This could be by the case or weight. They may be able to give you a volume discount. Plus, it creates a demand for an item you and the locals may not get anywhere else. 

Just ask!

4.       Ask for manufacturer coupons

Have a product that you cannot live without? Have a favorite brand? Let the manufacturer know! Some manufacturers will send you coupons, if you ask. They value loyal customers. By doing that, customers help spread the word about the product and brand. You can get a great deal on your favorite foods, direct from the source

5.       Shop around for specialty items

I buy my Jackfruit at a local Asian market. I buy most of my spices at a downtown NYC Indian specialty shop. I order some vegan groceries online. Yes, I shop around.

Whether it’s an ethnic spice or packs of soy curls, going to specialty stores or shopping online can help save money in some instances. I’ve found that when I buy garam masala, I save more at a specialty shop than I would at the supermarket. When I’m looking for protein powder or those soy curls, I’ve found better deals online at Amazon or online vegan merchants (ex. Vegan Cuts). Sometimes buying specialty in bulk can score you discounts too!

Now that you have emptied your shopping carts and bags, what are you going to do with all of that food? Of course, you’re going to eat it, but WHEN? We can plan ahead as much as possible. However, you need to store your food somewhere in the meantime.

Tips for Storing Bulk Foods

1.       Glass or ceramic containers

Try not to use plastic bags. Many of us know the impact to the environment,  but think about the impact to your food! Some freezer bags store air and will change the flavor and texture of your food. In addition, if storing baking items or spices, plastic is porous and can be an invitation to bugs, dust and other little things we probably don’t in our food. Using glass or ceramic containers with a seal can help maintain freshness, especially for dry ingredients

2.       Set the date

Look at those “Best If Used By” and expiration dates on the packaging. If you need to, write the date on the container to remind you of when to use it. Arrange your pantry to put the earliest to expire items to the front. That reinforces the reminder

3. Check the temperature

When storing food, temperature plays an important role. Some foods thrive in dry conditions; others in moist. Some require room temperature; others heat or cold. Proper storage in the right environment helps your food keep. This even applies to the types of containers you use. If a dry food item gets moist, it can attract mold. Item not properly stored in the freezer can get freezer burn. If you’re not sure how to store an item, ask someone at your local store, check with a manufacturer or research online

4.       Share!

Earlier I mentioned about pooling with friends and shopping together. That’s certainly one way to share. You can also gather some friends together for a potluck and share food made with your fave bulk ingredients. Food gifts are another great way to do this by creating a recipe, placing the items in a jar/container and presenting it with a bow, card, etc. Get creative with it. The bottom line is that make do, not waste and be kind to others

When shopping or storing in bulk, it’s about having what’s being most used and is readily available. The goal is not waste. If you feel you’re not using enough of those items, play around with fun recipe ideas. Your pantry can be your best friend. For example, I made some gluten-free cookies with ingredients that were just sitting in the cabinets. Not wanting to waste them, it was a great way to test my creativity in the kitchen.