Tag Archives: natural

Friday Linkage 4/19/2019

Easter is such a strange holiday in the United States.  It is, ostensibly, a religious holiday for Christians but it is also a non-denominational consumption opportunity.  There is nothing Christian about dying eggs, eating candy, and buying pastel colored crap.

And what is up with having a family dinner centered on ham for Easter?

On to the links…

A Shocking Discovery Shows Just How Far Wind Can Carry Microplastics—The planet is our wastebasket for plastic.  It is everywhere.

This Scientist Thinks She has the Key to Curb Climate Change: Super Plants—This may be our only hope and at the same time it may be our undoing.

Lack of Demand Hasn’t Stopped Trump from Opening Tons of Land to Oil and Gas Drilling—Fossil fuel interests are treating the Trump administration like the last orgy before everyone finds religion.  It does not matter what the oil and gas interests want, Trump will give it to them.

How a Single Sentence in a Colorado Bill Could Pump the Brakes on the Fracking Boom—Imagine governments being told to regulate rather than foster oil and gas development.  As if there was any other purpose to government besides making money for fossil fuel companies.

Global Economy Would Save up to $160 trillion by Shifting to Renewables, Electric Cars—Here is a punch line for everyone to remember: Invest a dollar in renewables, get seven in return.

California’s Solar Power Record Setting Season is Here—This chart is amazing:


That is a whole lot of solar.  What surprises me is solar’s “shoulders” in terms of its ability to generate a lot of power.  It does not peak and decline.  It peaks and stays.  This is the future.

How Coal-Killing Solar Panels Can Help US Farmers—Let’s have a real discussion here.  Besides coal, who does not benefit from more deployment of solar?  This is why, even with the most rabid anti-renewable energy administration in the White House, people are still installing solar.  It just makes sense.

Republicans Push Anti-Wind Bills in Several States as Renewables Grow Increasingly Popular—This is your modern day Republican party fighting against stuff that a majority of people like because a small coterie of wealthy donors and a reactionary base are what fuels its policy decisions.

Plummeting Battery Prices to Make Electric Cars Cheaper than Gas Cars in 3 Years—Like solar before it, the cost of electrical vehicles is dropping by a lot.  Now parity with gas cars is three years away.

US Electric Car Registrations Doubled Between 2017 and 2018—Most of the increase was in California, but a doubling is still a big deal.  I think the bigger problem for states not named California is that dealers are reluctant to embrace electric vehicles.  Trust me, when I bought a used Nissan Leaf it was like pulling teeth at the dealership.

Amazon says it’s a Leader on Fighting Climate Change. 5,000 Employees Disagree.—No business that sends a single order of five things to your house in five boxes can be a leader on climate change.  Amazon is part of the problem, not the solution.

The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed—Hudson Yards is an architectural monstrosity that was constructed for the lowest price per square foot.  Even worse is that it was financed by the lies of the EB5 visa program.

Hormel Admits Natural Choice Meats Aren’t Very Natural—The term “natural” means jack shit nothing when it comes to food labeling.

A 30-year Harvard Study Reveals the 5 Simple Habits that May Prolong Your Life by 10 Years or More—Are we really shocked to learn that these habits will help us live longer?

Breckenridge Tourist Walking Dog Injured After 10 Minute Standoff With A Moose—I may get a chuckle out of the signs warning skiers about moose on the trails, but these giants are no laughing matter.

You Must Read—Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

Product profitability is as much a necessary consideration for food companies as how their products taste. [Page 195]

We all pretty much acknowledge that the majority of food in the modern American supermarket is crap. For every little display of broccoli or kale there are twenty linear feet of Hamburger Helper and its generic equivalents. If you ever want to be depressed about what people eat spend five minutes watching frozen pizzas fly out of the coolers on a given day. It’s amazing.

9781451666731But why does American food seem to suck so much? It’s something that Melanie Warner, a freelance writer based in Colorado, tries to answer in Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.

Ironically, our journey into the processed food wasteland began about the same time that people were beginning to fear what was in their food. Who can forget the image in The Jungle where a worker falls into a rendering vat and the processing continues. I bet that was on tasty canned hammed.

Science and industrialization came to the rescue. Basic ingredients like oat and wheat were steamed, rolled, flaked, puffed, baked, and generally abused until these processed foodstuffs were packaged and shipped off to America’s growing supermarkets. In an era when mass culture was taking off it was even better that such products could be advertised nationally on television sets.

Too bad all of that abuse rendered the foundation ingredients essentially nutrition free. So much so that nutrition had to be added back into products like bread. Make bread from whole grains and it is full of vitamins. Make it into Wonder Bread and you need to fortify the hell out of it.

The most telling fact about the reason why so much of our food is processed comes late in the book. In the same section where the quote at the top of this post is located, Warner writes:

Simple items like cheese, frozen vegetables, and chicken breasts have gross margins ranging from 15 percent to 30 percent. Breakfast cereal and snack chips, on the other hand, command margins up to 70 percent; soda and sports drinks offer a ridiculous 90 percent.   That is why you see a constant barrage of ads for Gatorade and nothing for frozen blueberries. [Page 195]

The margins commanded by processed food are important because it not only drives the profitability of the manufacturers, but it dictates where investment dollars will flow. An investor, faced with an opportunity of similar potential success, will choose the project with a higher gross margin unless compelled by some other motivation outside of profit. By and large, our investment community is driven by the profit motive.

The post-World War II fascination with science and “progress” led us, as a collective whole, to believe that we could be separated from nature in so many ways. Our food could be made better by the intervention of man, but in the process something vital was lost and our food became little more than empty calories that expanded our mid-sections.

This fascination also led us, again as a collective whole, away from the kitchen for a variety of reasons. Some of the statistics Warner cites about the amount of time spent preparing meals prior to the processed food revolution are staggering:

Over the last seven decades, home cooking in America has plummeted. In 1927—the pre-TV dinner era—the average woman spent an unimaginable five to six hours a day preparing meals for her family. By the fifties, the food industry claimed that a housewife relying on convenience foods could fix her family’s meals in an hour and a half less, which is still an eternity by today’s standards. [Page 206-6]

There are a lot of reasons for our decreasing cooking time, primary among them is the migration of women into the workforce, but it is an even more insidious death spiral. As subsequent generations come of age, they will not have the institutional knowledge of how to cook and, therefore, cannot pass those skills down to further generations. Even if a person wants to cook there is a learning curve that must be mastered. At some point will we lose the common knowledge of how to operate in a kitchen? God, I hope not but I am not going to place a bet on the positive side of that ledger.

Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. Is a short read—thankfully not over pedantic at just over 200 pages of text—that illuminates some of the drivers behind the development of our modern processed food complex.

Homemade Citrus Cleaner

If there is one place in my life where I have strived to get rid of the chemicals, toxic or otherwise, it’s in the household cleaner category.  Just take a moment to look underneath the cabinet in your kitchen or bathroom.  How many cleaners do you have lurking in the darkest corners behind snaking p-traps?  Do you even know what those cleaners are, let alone what ingredients are used?

For the past couple of years, I have increasingly used a mixture of vinegar and water for general cleaning purposes in my home.  It resides in a repurposed spray bottle for use cleaning counters and wiping down whatever gets dirty when a two-year-old boy gets down to eating dinner.  Which is to say, a lot.  Another bottle gets used with a microfiber mop to clean the hardwood.  This is really where a lot of my concern about the toxicity of cleaners came about.  When I thought about my son crawling across the hardwood I wondered about what kind of residues were left behind by the cleaners and, thus, on his hands when the little mitts inevitably found his way into his mouth.  Yuck.

One problem with the straight vinegar and water mix is that it fails to break down some of the oils that end up on kitchen counters, tables, or floors.  It requires a little more elbow grease or an application of something with a natural degreaser.  Why not make my own?

Making the rounds on the internet are several variations of a homemade citrus cleaner using orange oil infused white vinegar.  My father, he of the turning vegan at age sixty-four persuasion, sent me the link because it is all he is using in his house as well now.

It’s not hard to get children to eat oranges, so I was quickly given a jar full of peels:


My two children consumed a bowl of clementines in the amount of time it took to peel each fruit.  It was like an assembly line of citrus consumption.  Two weeks later and a quick trip through a mesh strainer gave me a pale liquid:

Peel Extraction

The liquid was surprisingly thick, but a quick dilution with water gave me a spray bottle full of all-natural citrus tinged cleaner.  The spray contains d-limonene, which is the chemical that gives oranges their strong orange smell.  D-limonene is also a strong, renewable solvent.  This should work well to clean the stubborn spots on the countertops and stovetop that a vinegar-water solution is not capable of breaking down.  Spray on!

Sign This Petition

Like “pink slime” and brominated vegetable oil, the food world has been taken hold by another round of “what the f#ck is in my food” craziness.

Now the issue is with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, that staple of so many children’s dinner requests and the late night kitchen escapades of drunkards, and the dyes contained within its unnaturally yellow “cheese” sauce.  In the U.S. that bright canary hue is the result of yellow dye #5 and #6.

Two food bloggers, Van Hari of Food Babe and Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food, started a petition on Change.org to have Kraft remove these dyes because of potential harmful effects and match the formulation of non-North American macaroni & cheese.  Picture pretty much sums it up:


On March 6th, representatives from Kraft sent a letter to Hari and Leake with typical corporate speak that missed the core of the issue.  There is no reason for these dyes to be in a product that is marketed at children—the whole marketing to children is another issue for another time—and so widely available.

Hari and Leake nail it in their response:

If Kraft’s “safety and quality” of their products is their “highest priority” and they “take consumer concerns very seriously,” then why have they continued to use a questionable ingredient that requires a warning label in Europe? Don’t they have a responsibility to be proactive and do the right thing for their own country’s citizens?

So far the petition has garnered over 200,000 signatures but more cannot hurt.  Please take a moment and sign it here.

But remember, the U.K. does not have it so easy.  Apparently it’s easy to confuse a horse for a cow when loading the slaughterhouse.

Annie’s vs. Kraft Smackdown

My four year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese.  It can be homemade from four kinds of cheese with a béchamel sauce or straight out of the box.  The combination of dairy products and starch just strikes her fancy.

On those nights when we let her pick dinner the answer is inevitably, “Mac and cheese with peas!”  Since the ratio is about one to one peas to pasta I have no problem with this being her favorite dinner.  The quandary comes when trying to pick what kind of box dinner to make:

Why?  Take a look at the two labels below:

On the right is the nutritional information and ingredients for a box of Annie’s Natural White Cheddar and Shells.  On the right is the same information for a box of traditional Kraft Mac n’ Cheese.  It is interesting to note that the two products are quite similar from a nutrition perspective as boxed, but differ quite a bit when prepared.  I am guessing that this is because the Kraft version calls out half a stick of butter and 2% milk.  Just guessing.  But it is oh so creamy.

What gets me are the ingredients.  First on both lists is the pasta.  For Annie’s it is organic pasta from durum wheat.  I am assuming that the recipe is unleavened dough of durum wheat and water.  Pretty simple.  Kraft goes with an enriched product.  Why do we feel the need to enrich everything with industrially sourced nutrients?  When will we get away from the fact that nutrition is about eating whole foods and not just the right molecules?

It’s like Wonder Bread.  Take all of the nutrition out of the ingredients by refining the flour into a tasteless white mash and then add vitamins back in to make health claims.  Why not just leave things alone in the first place.

Next on the list for both is the cheese.  For Annie’s again it is simple—cheddar cheese with the ingredients in the cheese listed.  Kraft makes it hard…again.  It’s not cheese, it’s cheese sauce mix.  Sort of like Taco Bell does not really sell you ground beef.  It’s taco filling.  What is milk protein concentrate?  What is sodium tripolyphosphate?  Yellow dye number 5 and 6?  Isn’t cheddar cheese naturally colored?  Oh wait, this is cheese sauce mix.  My bad.

If a person does not recognize the ingredient should the person eat the food?  Or is it food like product?

For the most part, my daughter has no issue with the Annie’s macaroni and cheese taking the place of the venerable blue box.  Much like my epic saga of toilet paper substitution, my wife was the harder sell but she has come to see the light.  As long as we get the white cheddar or aged cheddar varieties everything is kosher.  Both my daughter and wife about gagged on the original variety from Annie’s.  My daughter’s comment summed it up best, “Daddy, the bunny doesn’t taste like anything.”  Touché, little one.

Buying Local versus Fair Trade

Organic, fair trade, shade grown, local, sustainable, natural, GMO free…argh!  It is getting so hard to shop because a package of coffee or other foodstuff is starting to look like the side of a car at a NASCAR race.  What is a person to do in sorting out these dilemmas?

Naturally, an infographic can save the day!  Okay, maybe not save the day but at least provide some guidance on some of the buying choices.  Ethical Ocean produced a sweet infographic breaking down local versus fair trade:

I do not necessarily think these two concepts are opposed.  Where I live—Iowa—it is not possible to buy locally sourced coffee as only one U.S. state—Hawaii—produces coffee.  Therefore, fair trade coffee from Latin America is the default choice.  Granted, it usually comes with a host of other labels.  On the other hand, I can buy locally grown vegetables from the farmers’ market in the summer by the wagon load.

These are the dilemmas that people on the greener life path are faced with on a daily basis.  If only it were truly as simple as paper versus plastic.