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Cambodian Green Giant Eggplant

This heirloom variety that we grew organically really lived up to it’s name. The beautiful green crown fades into a spotted white base- really stunning.
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The flavor of this eggplant was delicious and mild with a soft supple texture. I first saw this eggplant at the National Heirloom Expo and I purchased the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. We will grow this eggplant again next year; its that good.

Back away from that chicken and nobody gets hurt!

Raw Chicken

I have to confess that as a vegan, I do not think about meat very often, but food safety is one of my passions. With the latest salmonella outbreak occurring in the U.S. apparently from a Foster Farms chicken processing plant, I thought to myself I hope nobody dies. Speaking as a former salmonella victim, I can tell you first hand that I would not wish salmonella on my enemies because the pain and suffering is really cruel and debilitating.

Here are the latest statistics of the Multistate Outbreak of Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Foster Farms Brand Chicken as of October 11th, according to the CDC:

  • Illness has been reported in 20 states and Puerto Rico
  • 42% of the 317 cases reported required hospitalization
  • 73% of the cases have been reported in California
  • No deaths have been reported…yet
  • Salmonella Heidelberg is multi-drug resistant meaning there are several commonly prescribed antibiotics that will not combat this illness; for example, ampicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline will not work.
  • Typically, 5% of people that contract Salmonella develop a blood borne disease; moreover, so far 13% of people that have contracted Salmonella Heidelberg have developed a blood infection- that more than double what is normal!

What can you do to protect yourself or minimally reduce your risk to exposure?

  • If you must eat chicken, stop eating chicken produced by large agro businesses, like Foster Farms, Tyson, Sanderson Farms, and Pilgrim’s Corp. Buy your heritage poultry from small local artisanal suppliers, it will cost more, but the flavor will be better and the bird was well cared for before it arrived on your plate
  • Avoid restaurants where they serve chicken, at least in the short term, unless you feel lucky and want to play the odds, do you feel lucky?
  • Never ever wash your poultry prior to cooking it; moreover, if you wash your poultry, you are taking unnecessary risk that is easily avoidable, according to NBC News: “People, stop washing your chicken!” The videos are pretty disgusting, so I hope you have a strong stomach.

There are so many observations about this life threatening foodborne illness outbreak that I want to talk about, but here are three questions that I hope you will consider and write a response below:

  1. Foodborne illness is a fairly common occurrence, has the latest outbreak caused you to change your eating habits in any way?
  2. If so, what changes are you adopting?
  3. If this outbreak has not caused you to change your eating habits in any way, what do you think it will take?

Heart Disease is Preventable

Health is Good

Health is Good

As a farmer in his forties, I often wonder what compels me to continue pushing the idea that a farm in the suburbs can be viable. In deep thought, I ask myself why not simply grow a garden, eat well, and live my life quietly? I do not fully understand the totality of why I cannot be content to stay quiet. I know there are topics and subjects that drive me towards a desire to engage my neighbors, my friends, and the larger web-based community. Health is one such subject.

#Health is something that many people take for granted and fail to appreciate until their health is compromised. Once your health is compromised, depending on the severity, you may never get your formerly robust health back again. Most people in the twenties and thirties should feel invincible in terms of health meaning these age ranges should only experience the (bi-) annual cold and some various seasonal allergies; moreover, no chronic health problems. However, you may find yourself in your forties experiencing more challenges to your health and wishing that you had listened to your doctors when you were in your twenties and thirties. Aging into your forties and having to pay the price for the arrogance of youth and wild dietary debauchery can bring your awareness of mortality crashing into your reality. While I understand that some people inherited genetics that makes them prone to developing disease, most middle aged people should not be suffering from heart attacks, stokes, diabetes, and cancer; moreover, 25% of all deaths from heart disease is preventable.

I claim to be a vegan; however, I’m a flawed vegan because when it comes to dessert, I downgrade in culinary discipline to lacto-ova vegetarian. This is my compromise to myself for maintaining a vegan diet in all other aspects of my life. Recently, on September 3, 2013 in the Wall Street Journal I happened upon an article written by Betsy McKay and Ronald Winslow entitled, “Heart-Disease Gains Partly Elude Younger Adults.”  From the referenced article, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said, “As a doctor, I find it really heartbreaking to know that the vast majority of people who are having a heart attack or stroke under the age of 65 in particular and dying from it didn’t have to have that happen.” Further the article stated, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., linked to about 800,000 deaths a year. In 2010, the CDC analysis found, 200,070 of those deaths could have been avoided, including 112,329 deaths among people under 65. The article concludes that many of the heart attacks could be prevented by improved health care and early detection, but this where I wanted more from Dr. Frieden because you could say that about any health related malady. I wanted some practical and applicable steps that I could follow, but I found none in that article; moreover, Dr. Frieden and the authors Mckay and Winslow really missed a golden opportunity. I understand from personal experience that changing one’s diet, especially for adults, is exceedingly difficult; therefore, while I’m a farmer and not a doctor, I’d like to recommend a moderate path.

Increase the odds that you will live a long life full of robust health by following some of the suggestions of my dietary heroes like Dr. Joel Furman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Robert Lustig, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, such as:

  1. Eat a plant based #vegan diet. Commentary: Start slowly by eschewing red meat then move on to chicken, fish, and dairy.
  2. Emphasize vegetables. Commentary: Buy your produce from a small local #farm
  3. Avoid nutritional ignorance. Commentary: Read labels and ask questions
  4. Avoid genetically modified organisms (GMO) most often found in processed foods containing corn, soy, and canola.
  5. Remember, a calorie is NOT a calorie.

In conclusion, 25% of the deaths from heart disease are preventable. What choices are you going to make to avoid being the in the 75%? Please comment.

Sugar Sugar Everywhere

Sugar Sugar Everywhere

Sugar Sugar Everywhere

The plagues of modern health are many, but some of the most egregious are: obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The sources of many diseases can have a genetic component, but there are many diseases that are completely preventable or at a minimum can be managed. Diabetes is definitely a disease with a genetic component; however, diabetes can be managed.

I got inspired to write about sugar from a comment left on my blog, by James B, and a post on the U.S. Health and Human Services website about research done by Qi Sun, from the Harvard School of Public Health. Mr. Sun looked at data from 1984 to 2008 which encompassed a population pool of 187,000 people and found some signs in the data.  Mr. Sun compared people who ate at least two servings of whole fruit per week; particularly blueberries, apples, and grapes against people who ate less than one serving of whole fruit per month. The data suggests that people who regularly eat whole fruit “had a 23% lower risk of (developing) diabetes.”It concludes with Sun saying, “We recommend people to increase consumption of whole fruits intake to facilitate prevention of type 2 diabetes.” I also found a fantastic blog post titled “10 Reasons To Avoid Refined Sugar”here,  http://xeniagreekmuslimah.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/10-reasons-to-avoid-refined-sugar/  this post is very well written and I encourage you to check it out.

What are your favorite whole fruits to eat and how many servings of whole fruit do you eat in an average week?

Okra

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Red Okra Flower

Okra flowers are stunningly beautiful. Okra- generally, you either love it or hate it. Call me Switzerland because while I have not found very many recipes where okra is the star and not a supporting ingredient, I remain hopeful. I planted six red and six green okra plants with the intention of preparing pickled okra. I am planning to pressure can several jars with different brines and see how I liked it.

How do you feel about okra? Do you love it, hate it, or are you searching for okra greatness like me? When you comment, suggesting fried okra does not count because almost anything is delicious fried. What say you?

Do You Know the Definition for Natural?

Natural Food?

As a result of innate curiosity as a young child of four years old, I can remember watching Julia Child’s The French Chef and being absolutely fascinated. I am unclear why, like my childhood friends, I was not watching Saturday morning cartoons; moreover, there I was watching my family’s little black and white television, fidgeting and exclaiming, “Bon Appétit!” I trace my passion for food, food quality, food safety, culinary cleanliness, and an overall joy around food preparation back to Julia Child. The fact that both my Grandparents’ homes were always full of items cooked from scratch only fueled my innate instinct to gravitate towards the domestic arts. My Grandmother, Dorijean Graham, was a domestic goddess of the highest order and she deserves the majority of the credit for shaping me into the food-passionate adult that I have become today. My uncle exposed me to healthy eating, exercise, and fitness at a very young age which propelled me into eating nutritionally dense foods. From those foundational experiences, growing up, I avidly consumed classes in college focusing on nutritional science and put myself through an undergraduate culinary program. From there, I have been expanding my culinary knowledge that has propelled me to start the San Jose Urban Farming Meetup via meetup.com and become the founder Yummy Tummy Farms. I give you dear reader all of this background because sometimes, even with my education and experience, I feel embattled by words that have no official definition, such as natural. Do you know the definition of natural as it relates to food?

For me, natural is a word used to describe food that is produced without the use of synthetic chemicals, synthetic additives, synthetic hormones, and synthetic preservatives, right? I thought I knew the definition of natural until I went to the USDA website to get confirmation of my definition of natural. I entered, “definition of natural” into their site search tool, a couple of additional clicks, and was directed to a document from 2006. This document was a call for public comment on the definition of the word natural, ironically prompted by a petition the USDA received from Hormel Foods. What could possibly go wrong?

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) summary, the Hormel Foods’ petition (the petition) goes on to question how many of the commonplace food processing techniques routinely used in 2006, as opposed to 1982 when the policy on labeling foods as natural was originally established, would be allowed on a food product and still be eligible to be labeled natural in 2006? This seems like a reasonable inquiry to me, but hang on, it’s about to get strange. The petition goes on to question if chlorine use in poultry chillers, high pressure meat processing, and modified atmosphere packaging could qualify as natural meat products? Hormel goes on to claim that other large food processors may be gaming the system to take undue advantage through labeling food as natural when in fact they fail the previously existing definition of natural. Hormel Foods goes on to question what is consumers understanding of words like, “minimally processed” and “artificial and synthetic” and “preservatives” especially with respect to meat production? I continued searching and found a USDA Material Working Group paper from 2009 that had a purpose of defining what a “synthetic substance” was and as part of that work had to define nonsynthetic wherein this USDA Material Working Group used natural as a synonym for nonsynthetic. After an hour of searching, I found no official definition for natural on the USDA website.

I ended my search at the FDA website where I found this, “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

I gave you my definition of what natural is, what is your definition of natural? Knowing that there is no official definition for natural, how is this new information going to affect how you shop and what you eat?

The USDA and Processed Chicken

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken Nuggets

I recently read the salt blog and discovered an article dated September 5, 2013 by Maria Godoy entitled, Was Your Chicken Nugget Made In China? It’ll Soon Be Hard To Know. I was amazed at what I was reading. Our very own USDA just lifted the prohibition on processed chicken made in China; furthermore, the USDA will permit processed meat products to be imported to the U.S. without the country of origin. Paraphrasing, the article goes on to say that chickens raised in the U.S. and Canada will be shipped to China, processed into pieces parts, probably battered and fried, and shipped back to the U.S. Does that chicken get frequent flier miles?

I’m sure China has promised the best food processing facilities it can provide; moreover, I’m also sure the presentation that the Chinese factory owners provided to the USDA was impressive.  China’s track record on food safety is, diplomatically speaking; challenged. Does anybody remember these scandals? Eleanor West of the Food Republic blog in an article entitled, 5 Food Safety Problems in China elucidates many of my concerns in a very articulate manner. In reviewing the Centers for Disease Control website, the United States track record on food safety is nothing to be proud of; moreover, like China, it is pretty shameful too. The objective of this particular post is not to spread fear and worry without a solution, but instead to increase awareness and to provide strategies for keeping you and your family as close to optimal health as possible.

Here are my observations, experiences, and suggestions:

  1. Most of the foodborne illnesses reported on the CDC website are from salmonella, which can be managed with fastidious attention to detail around hand washing, temperature control, and facility cleanliness. If you insist on eating chicken, you had better be a food warrior meaning, going on the offense when sourcing your chicken and on the defense when cleanliness, temperature, and food preparation are concerned. Eating in restaurants and/or eating factory farmed poultry are risky propositions at best.
  2. I have suffered through salmonella poisoning twice in my lifetime and I would not wish it upon anybody, it is absolutely awful. The diarrhea, headache, uncontrollable teeth chattering are some of the most hellish combination of symptoms that I have endured; moreover, suffering through salmonella is enough to compel anybody to make life changes.
  3. My suggestions are listed in order from least effective to most effective:
    1. Source your poultry from higher end grocery stores because they are less likely to buy from large factory farms.
    2. Buy your produce and as much of your weekly food at your local Farmers Market
    3. Buy heritage breed poultry from small family farms wherein you develop a relationship with that family farm and your knowledge and comfort level of how the birds are raised and cared for makes the prospect of eating them less risky.
    4. Adopt fastidious cleanliness and rigorous temperature standards for meat storage and preparation.
    5. Stop eating meat at home and when in restaurants.
    6. Stop eating meat and dairy at home and when in restaurants. A plant based vegan diet is easier to do than you think, healthier for you and your family, and quite delicious.
    7. Buy your produce from a local urban farm that grows fruits and vegetables in your neighborhood; for example, Yummy Tummy Farms.

The second core value of Yummy Tummy Farms is self sustainability and eating closer to where you live can address many food safety related concerns, not to mention environmental concerns. Foodborne illness and processed foods are linked in many ways; moreover, just by understanding that the more times food is handled the greater the risk for foodborne contamination means you understand more than the average consumer. I hope that I have achieved my goals of increasing your awareness and providing useful applicable tips to achieving optimal health. I will conclude with a question in an attempt to encourage some dialogue.

As you have become more aware of food, have you made any changes to your diet or the way you acquire your food? Please comment.

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