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Food storage

Don’t Be (Food) Wasteful!

Guest post by Marlina Phan, Intern  

George Bernard Shaw is famous for saying, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” Most people love food. Do you? I know I do (if I had the option to marry it, I would). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations claims that one-third of food produced worldwide is wasted. So if we love food so much, how come we waste so much of it?

Reducing our food waste provides benefits (here are a few):

How should I start reducing my food waste?

There are lots of things we can do – and lots of places to go for ideas (including the USDA, EPA, and state Extension offices for starters). One thing we all could do first is to use the food we already have at home before going grocery shopping again. Check the pantry, the fridge, the back corners of your cabinets—anywhere you store food! See what you have on hand, and then use it! It’s as simple as that. Here are some ideas about what else you can do:

  • Check items in your fridge for freshness. See if that meatloaf from last week is good or screams food poisoning by using the FoodKeeper Application by the USDA. Still good? Use it up!
  • If you end up with leftovers, freeze them immediately or give them a second life by repurposing them in a new recipe within the next couple of days.photo 5 copy
  • Realize that you don’t have to buy food in bulk just because it could be cheaper. Even if you intended to save money, it’s not being saved if you don’t use all of it.
  • Compost appropriate food waste. You can use it for your own garden or share it with a neighbor for their garden!
  • Don’t automatically toss your food scraps (stems, stalks, peels, etc.); some of them can be used creatively! Stale bread can become garlic toast, croutons, and bread pudding. Beet tops can be sautéed or used in soup, carrot peels can enhance a stock, and broccoli stalks can be chopped into a stir fry or salad. You get the idea.

Once you start reducing food waste, you’ll be surprised at how easy it will be to think of additional ways to do so. Everyone can have a role in reducing food waste and every effort can make a difference. What interesting way do you cut down food waste? We’d love to hear about it!

 

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How Unprocessed Do We Need to Be?

First things first: I’m not one of those dietitians who hates all processed foods—you won’t find me proclaiming the evils of food processing from the aisles of the local Whole Foods or farmer’s market. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough by the concept to purchase and read Megan Kimble’s Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food...

And it confirmed what I thought already: striving to eat a completely unprocessed diet is ridiculous. At least for me it is. Reading Megan’s account of her attempts in this regard, however, were interesting, informative and entertaining. But, it left me shaking my head and wondering what the point really was, in the long run—especially because not all types of processing render the food overly-handled, devoid of nutrients or laden with added substances that might be better avoided.

Unprocessed book

While this is not a book review exactly, the reading of this book is what prompted me to think more about choosing processed foods. Her goal it seems, was to see if she could figure out where to draw the health line in the food processing continuum. Which processed foods are so minimally processed that they are fine for the body and the planet, and which could she firmly stamp as unacceptable—and for those she was going to avoid, how would she make do without them and what would she swap into their places?

There’s processing and then there’s processing

Not all processed food is bad for your health, and the author of Unprocessed acknowledges that. Obviously, there are levels of food processing, and I’m a big fan of some of it. Food processing started out mainly as a safety measure—one that would keep food fresher longer and prevent food-borne illness. Who can argue with freezing as a processing step that preserves food safely?

Let’s face it, pretty much all food purchased at supermarkets these days is processed in some way. According to a recent study from the University of North Carolina, 61% of the food we eat is “highly processed.” Even fresh fruits and veggies are processed—which many people consider to be unprocessed, but aren’t: they’re washed, sometimes treated to prevent spoilage, trimmed, cut up into different shapes, and often packaged either at a manufacturing facility or in-store. Obviously, fresh produce is minimally processed. Lots of foods are more obviously processed, such as cereals, crackers, breads, candies, pastries and snack foods, canned foods of all kinds, and of course, frozen convenience foods—even the ones from the more health-conscious or organic brands. So when we talk about “processed food” we need to realize that it’s a very inclusive term; one that includes plenty of really healthful foods that we should be eating more of, not trying to remove from our plates.

Processed food can help me eat better

Yep. You heard me. Without some help in getting food to my table, I’d be less likely to eat some of it (and I don’t think I’m alone in this view). It would take too long to shell all the beans and peas I want to consume, there’s no way I will crack nuts and seeds by hand the rest of my days, and you couldn’t pay me to take meat and poultry from live animal status to plucked, skinned, trimmed and ready-for-the-grill status.

Waiting for salt to appear from seawater she collects in a pail and grinding her own wheat by hand—these are not activities I see myself doing (though I did enjoy reading about her trials and tribulations in do so). I don’t have a book project prompting me to do these things, after all! In many cases, Kimble chooses the path of complete processed food avoidance, finding it easier to abstain completely than make some small allowances while not letting her efforts slip away. Not eating something at all when one cannot figure out about absolutely every ingredient in it sounds easy, but in real life, it isn’t, she finds. How does one eat out at all? How does one not spend all day sourcing and preparing food and ingredients? It all sounds like a decent into drudgery to me. I prefer to eat well and healthfully, and enjoy myself too.

Unprocessing your diet

Many people could improve their diets substantially by making just a few smart choices in the quality of food they purchase—and none of these choices require all-day (or multi-day) effort. Megan Kimble gives some good examples of how to do this right up front in her book, including:

  • Buying food that doesn’t need a label at all—fresh produce.
  • Next, choose single-ingredient foods (those for which the ingredient list is just one word long—or maybe two): rolled oats, cream, navy beans, wild rice.
  • Choose which ingredients you want to avoid before you start shopping. You’ll save yourself some agonizing decisions while standing in Aisle 9.

Other ideas that might help you unprocess:

  • Opt for locally-produced foods when you can (many are made the “old-fashioned way” using whole food ingredients and therefore have fewer additives, etc)
  • Frequent farmer’s markets and look for signs at the supermarket for “home grown” or “local farmer” items
  • Check out smaller local shops (they will frequently have more small-batch products that may be less processed than supermarket versions)
  • Grow your own produce, if practical
  • Learn to can/preserve foods if you have that interest (or barter something with a friend who does like to do those things)

Chewing the Fat

Guest post by Nicole Nadeau

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As we head into the depths of winter here in Maine, we find ourselves craving rich hearty dishes in hopes of adding insulation to our bones. It’s only natural that as this season  approaches we crave an extra layer — whether that comes from a warm cozy sweater or a stick-to-the-ribs meal.535723_639239856187_1153228340_n

I think back to a professor I once had who did research with Inuit cultures. After a month of living in the extreme cold temperatures of the northern most region of Quebec, he found himself craving straight lard, a staple of the Inuit diet. He consumed lard by the spoonful. Many of us would shudder at the idea of essentially snacking on sticks of butter, or eating mother’s residual bacon grease with a spoon, but in such a harsh climate, with temperatures so unbearable, he not only desired it but went mad without it.

Recent research has shown that these diets high in fat and protein were less damaging than the recent influx of processed foods.  Only in recent years have they seen type 2 diabetes, and obesity become a true concern of the inhabitants.  There is a direct correlation between the admittance of Taco Bell, McDonalds and Stouffer’s frozen dinners and these recent public health outbreaks.  It’s amazing that these foods were found to be more damaging to the system than hundreds of years dogsledof a high fat, high meat diet with little to no vegetation available.

Food of the traditional Inuit culture certainly did not follow along with “MyPlate” lacking complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Though the sources of the vitamins that we would assume one would lack living in an extreme climate may be unfamiliar to us, they are in fact omnipresent.  Vitamin A for example, being fat soluble, is as plentiful in fish oils as it is in carrots. Vitamin C can be found in the undercooked livers and other organ meats of the local animals; no citrus required.  An overall lack of fruits and vegetation is a given, but the Inuits make up for this by eating more fish  (high in omega-3’s and the good fats).inuit

For fiber, the hunted wild game’s diet is rich in moss, and lichens.  Though this fauna is difficult for humans to digest in it’s present state, the predigested vegetation found within the hunted game became this needed source of fiber.  I can only assume these are an acquired taste, having never sampled them myself, or perhaps, it would be considered a rare delicacy.  Not only would these greens be an excellent source of fiber, they would also be a great source of natural probiotics.

imagesAs much as we may demonize fats in the American diets, we are in the process of learning that there is a wide differential of quality in fats. Inuits in Northern Quebec are getting 50% of their diet’s calories from fat. Perhaps surprisingly, we don’t see an increased risk of heart disease in that population the way we do in more Westernized cultures. Looking at  the source of their fats, we see that whale blubber (a dietary staple) is incredibly high in omega 3s. The wild animals they hunt feast on the vegetation that they scavenge for, making game organ meats essentially the Inuit “multi-vitamin.”

Of course, gorging on fats and organ meats isn’t really a concern, since foods that need to be hunted and gathered are by nature less abundant in supply. There is little danger of over-consumption of these foods. And in the extreme climate, a few extra pounds that may accumulate from such a caloric intake are likely a blessing. By contrast, the American diet has an overabundance of supply, and it is up to us to self-limit and to make the choices that best suit our needs and diet.

Though winters in Maine are perceived as harsh and unbearable, relative to Nunavut, we’re quite temperate.  Though we may crave heavier dishes, we’re far from spoonfuls of lard. Food is ingrained in our culture, and what we eat (literally and figuratively) becomes a part of us.  We eat for survival, and for pleasure.  The foods we love, and crave are as much by choice as they are by necessity.  The changing diets and culture of fast and processed foods in the northernmost regions are putting us at risk for losing a time honored culture, based not only on survival but of a digestive system finely tuned to adapt to the harsh climate.

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It’s part, too, of your development as a person. You share food with your community. You show respect to your elders by offering them the first catch. You give thanks to the animal that gave up its life for your sustenance. So you get all the physical activity of harvesting your own food, all the social activity of sharing and preparing it, and all the spiritual aspects as well. You certainly don’t get all that, do you, when you buy prepackaged food from a store”

Patricia Cochran – Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

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