Thursday, June 28, 2012

7 Awesome Foods That Are Easy to Find

Who has the time or the willingness to stop and read every single label in every single food item they buy?

Well, maybe a personal shopper, but sadly I don't have one, and I'm willing to bet you don't either.

In the last few days before we get rid of corn for however long you're choosing to participate, it's important to get familiar with a handful of products that are easily accessible, non-perishable, and won't completely break the bank. After all, we can't buy everything at the farmers' market.

The photo below is of some handy items that I found at Star Market.  (Most of them were hidden away in the health food corner, but still.)

Costing, on average, about a dollar more than their less healthy counterparts, they certainly do add up on your final bill, but with the money you're saving on soda, it might just work out.  In no particular order, they are:

7) Enjoy Life Double Chocolate Crunch Granola  to snack on at work while everyone else has doughnuts. (It's nut, gluten, soy, and dairy free to boot!)

6)Erewhon Rice Twice Cereal from Attune Foods.  If you're out of grass-fed milk, mix some of this up in a bowl with raspberries, diced walnuts, and maple syrup.

5)Cape Cod Potato Chips are not cooked in corn oil. Hooray!

4)Annie's Naturals Organic Ketchup. Yes, this is the same Annie who taught us that macaroni and cheese tastes better if it's shaped like a bunny. Her ketchup is an easy way to sneak some corn-free goodness into that 4th of July cookout.

3)Amy's Premium Organic Pasta Sauce.  This was one of the pricier items on the list, at least compared to the store-brand stuff, but for those of us whose default meal when we're not feeling creative is pasta, it's an important one.  Most tomato sauce brands have naughty sweeteners and preservatives and such in them.  This one seems to be in the clear. 

2)Earthly Choice Quinoa is corn-free, as is most pasta and rice, but quinoa has the advantage of also being a complete protein, which is very useful for people trying to avoid conventional protein sources.  You can do pretty much anything with quinoa that you can do with rice.  My favorite way to serve it is in a salad with some diced fruits and vegetables and... 

1)Wild Harvest Organic Black Beans.  You might think that a can of beans would only have one ingredient, but unfortunately most brands have about six.  Wild Harvest has three: water, organic black beans, and sea salt.  Sold.

Hope this helped.  Let me know your favorite corn-free convenience food!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stocking Up

Five more days 'til Corn-Free July and it's time to take a serious look at what's in the pantry.

And more specifically, what's in what's in the pantry.

The hardest part of avoiding a specific ingredient in your diet can sometimes be just figuring out what to avoid in the first place.  I spent a lot of time last summer on wild goose chases leading me deeper and deeper into Wikipedia pages that told me a lot about certain food additives' molecular structure, but nothing definitive about where they actually come from.

Luckily, just today I found this extensive list of corn-derived additives from Jenny Connor's website "Corn Allergens."  You'll find on it many (dare I say most?) of those "bottom of the list" ingredients like citric acid, maltodextrin, and sorbitol.

In addition to these, pretty much any meat or other animal product that isn't from a local source or specifically marked as "grass-fed" or "pasture-raised" (and even these can be misleading, as I found out last year), has been corn-fed, in a concentrated animal feeding operation.  That's just the way it is.  But if you're unsure, ask.  Most butchers and restaurant owners are happy to answer questions about their products.  

Just don't take it to this level.

The good news is that once you find your local farmers' market or health food store that carries unprocessed or grass-fed items, (and you've blocked off the extra time involved in both shopping and cooking) there's virtually no end to the meals you can make. 

Some of my favorites can be found in the Corn-Free Cookbook, but let me know in the comments section here or on the wall for the Facebook event if you have one you'd like to share, or if there's a dish you'd like to see added.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Do We Do This, Anyway?

As July approaches and I start to think harder about food choices, I'm reminded how confusing those choices can be.

Sure, white meat is healthier than red, but is Tyson's chicken really better for you than local, grass-fed beef?

Which would you rather buy: a pesticide-sprayed squash from your local farmers' market, or one from the organic section of Stop & Shop?

They're tough decisions, and the answers often depend on finding information that the corporations that produce our food would rather keep hidden.

One thing we can do to make things easier on ourselves, though, is to really figure out what our priorities are and look for foods that fill those criteria.  I find that avoiding corn can be a great rule of thumb to weed out many of the foods that present some of the biggest ethical and moral offences, but I want to hear what you think about most when trying to resolves your omnivore's dilemma.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Union Square Farmers Market

One of the best things about living in the city is that everything is in walking distance.  Union Square in Somerville boasts an excellent farmers market on Saturdays from 9-1.  This past weekend I went with my neighbors to get supplies for a dinner party.  It's still a little bit early in the season around here for a lot of the vegetables, but we were able to get some excellent mozzarella cheese from Fiore Di Nonno, and eggs from Stillman's at the Turkey Farm.

Lots of greens like this swiss chard are in season right now.

Plants are also a big seller at early season farmers markets, and many of them are
small enough to keep in the pot on your porch or windowsill.
The recipe we made was for turkey lasagna, and turned out to be one of those unfortunate dishes that is absolutely delicious, but tragically just not photogenic, at least not for an amateur like myself.  So I'll send you on to Delishytown where I found the recipe, if you'd like to try and make it yourself.  Just remember to try and find grass-fed eggs and dairy where you can!

The Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets is a great way to find markets near you in the Bay State, as well as information on the participating vendors at each market and what they offer, but for those of you elsewhere, a quick Google search of farmers markets seems to yield similar results.

Farmers markets are great places to find not just the freshest local fruits and vegetables, but a fantastic array of grass-fed milks and cheeses, as well as tomato sauce, jelly, and other products that tend to have unnecessary ingredients when you buy them at the supermarket.  And of course, the best advantage is that if you're unsure where a certain ingredient comes from, you know where to find the person who can answer your questions!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Corn By Any Other Name

So what, exactly, does Corn-Free July entail?

It's not as black and white as it sounds.  What about free-range chickens or pigs that are fed some corn?  What about things like corn muffins made from local, organic ingredients?  This and more is entirely up for discussion.  

As I pointed out last year, there are really two kinds of corn.  
Sweet corn, the kind you eat on the cob, has nothing to do with what we're avoiding, unless you're allergic (although it's especially susceptible to pests and fungal diseases and so, even when farmed on a small, local scale, it has a tendency to be treated with more chemicals than some other crops.)  

Field corn, also know as commodity corn, or number two corn, is the stuff you see rows and rows and rows of in the midwest.  It would taste terrible if you tried to eat it right off the cob, and it's mostly used for feeding animals on factory farms, being broken down into high fructose corn syrup, and otherwise snuck into the Western diet for no good reason.

Even this can be a gray area though.  Maybe if the bill to make labeling genetically engineered foods mandatory ever goes through (click here to sign the petition) it'll be easier to figure out what really needs avoiding, but until then, it's a difficult process, and it also depends on our individual priorities in terms of why we eat what we eat.

More on that later, but here's a starter list of some of the most common ingredients derived from corn:

ascorbic acid
caramel color
vegetable oil
xanthan gum

Not all of these necessarily mean corn every time.  However, the rule of thumb that I think makes sense is, if the people labeling the ingredients think the chemical compound is more relevant information than the actual plant it came from, I don't want to eat it anyway.  You probably don't want to confuse your grocery list for the makings of a science project.

Feel free to add to this list.  I'm sure there are a bunch I'm forgetting, as well as a handful that I'm not sure about.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Corn-Free July 2012

It's that time of year again:  Farmers markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture programs, and backyard gardens are getting into full swing in the Northeastern United States.  We're nearing the time when tomatoes will taste like tomatoes instead of cardboard, when we can pick our own fruit.  With this abundance of local treats, who needs junk? It's almost as if we could go an entire month completely avoiding any derivatives of a certain industrially produced vegetable...

That's right, everyone!  Corn-Free July is coming again! For a refresher course on what it is and how it started, here's my inaugural blog post from last year.  The only difference is that this time I'm not doing it alone.

Calling all sustainable food junkies: Why not try this?  Not necessarily for the whole month, but for one week, one day a week, whatever works for you.  Let me know who and where you are, and why you're participating in the comments section here, on Twitter using the hashtag #cornfreejuly, or on the message board for the new Corn Free July Facebook event.

And since there's nothing internet readers (present company included) seem to love more than a good list, here are the top 5 reasons that signing up for Corn-Free July 2012 is a decision you won't regret:

5) Health.  You are what you eat, and what the average American eats often amounts to processed foods whose main ingredients are sweeteners and other empty calories derived from corn.  People who eat large amounts of these processed foods are, as we know, at higher risk for things like heart disease and diabetes.  There's even been a study linking high fructose corn syrup to autism.
4) Local economy.  Foods that are less processed often mean foods that are locally sourced, since they aren't able to be shipped as far.  Now more than ever, it's important to keep our dollars close to home.
3) Sustainable farming.  Corn-Free doesn't just mean no high fructose corn syrup: it also means no meat or other products from corn-fed animals.  Every time you buy a grass-fed steak, you not only make a good choice for your heart, but you vote with your wallet for more humane and environmentally safe animal husbandry practices.
2) The fun of a challenge.  Have you ever accidentally had a great time reading a book that you might not have gotten around to if the power hadn't gone out so you couldn't watch TV?  Healthy eating forces you not to do things like eat in your car or at fast food places that, let's face it, you weren't going to enjoy anyway.  It introduces you to new recipes, ingredients, shopping locations, and restaurants.
1) Hipster points! Five years from now, you'll be able to tell everybody that you knew about Corn-Free July before it was cool, and how the girl who started it is a total sell-out for making her book available on Amazon.

OK maybe that last one is a stretch, but still.  Whaddaya say?