Canadian? Watch your BPA Intake

August 30, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Green, Guest Posts, Health, News, Nutrition

In a recent study by Statistics Canada, 91% of all Canadians had BPA in their bodies. Now this is not a growing issue specific to Canada though, so consider your own Country’s products and your personal rate of BPA exposure and intake.

So just how bad is this and what can we do about it in our own locations across the globe? First, the study provides an important baseline for understanding BPA exposure. But is BPA really bad for you? And since it is so prevalent in consumer products, is this number of concern? Let’s take a quick look.

What and Where is BPA?
BPA, or Bisphenol A, is most commonly used in plastics and to coat things like shopping receipts and food cans. For the scientifically minded out there, it is most commonly used in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. It is a synthetically-made chemical that does not naturally occur in nature, but due to its persistent use in consumer products, can be found in water, aquatic animals, and humans mainly. The 2002 BPA market saw 2.8 million tons produced globally, and the numbers have only increased until recently. Some of the most common products can be found in our food plastics including baby bottles.

Should I Be Concerned?
According to the American Chemistry Council and industry trade groups, No.

According to health officials worldwide including the FDA and health scientists, Yes.

Take a minute to reflect on the different sources of information.

So, Why the Controversy?
Mainly, different mindsets. The chemical industry and chemical trade groups are taking the approach that until it has not been proven to cause immediate harm to human health. Resulting with the approach that there is little need to address the situation, so business continues as usual. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally deemed low rates of BPA exposure as safe. The chemical industry is first to tell you that BPA is highly regulated and tested and has been studied for over 40 years.

Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that is proving that BPA exposure is not safe. Its effects on the brain, diabetes, prostate gland, and in particular the reproductive system and children is of great concern. In February of this year, the FDA made a public announcement encouraging households to limit their exposure to BPA. Now the FDA has not made a formal announcement that BPA should be publicly banned, but countries like Canada have decided to review whether this should be done until we learn can be certain there is absolutely no health risk.

The real health concerns arise when BPA levels increase, and since manufacturers have no control over what their consumers eat and are exposed to in conjunction with their product, the responsibility lays with each of us to decide which approach we will take.

CBS News Video on the 2010 FDA Announcement to Limit BPA Exposure

CBS News Reviews FDA Warning on BPA

Tips for BPA-Free Living
The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for reducing your potential exposure to BPA:

  • Choose glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles.
  • Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids.
  • Avoid plastic containers with the No. 7  and No. 3 recycling label — they’re made with BPA.
  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Instead, use glass containers designed for microwaving.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods — many cans are lined with a BPA-containing resins

Please note that BPA is not required to be listed on food products or consumer goods, so it may be hard to find and eliminate all together. BPA can be flushed out of the body within 6 hours according to current research, so cleansing your body of BPA quickly is an option.

So it is up to you to decide which approach is best for your lifestyle. Either the wait and see method or the precautionary principle. Best of luck with your decision.

Sources include: Reuters, Chemical Market Associates, Inc (CMAI), Mayo Clinic, American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division Business Group

Dispelling the Myths About Organic Food

August 27, 2010 · Filed Under Food, Nutrition
Organic Food Myths

As we all hustle and bustle through life, we watch as the world around us slowly deteriorates. Glaciers are melting, species are struggling to survive, and people around the world cannot even afford to feed themselves or their families. Consequently, helplessly witnessing this global devastation has prompted people worldwide to join in the fight to go green. Not only can this movement save our planet, it will inevitably save ourselves. The coupled concerns for the well being of the world and the well being of our health have sparked the demand for and scrutiny over the true effectiveness of organic food. Two of the most common myths swirling around this growing food source are typically whether or not its better or more nutritional than non-organic food, and whether or not switching to wholly organic means of food production can really have an influence on the global environment.

To begin dispelling these myths, we must first delve into the most common knowledge about what organic food actually is. This type of food source is defined by its production process, in that when produced, less synthetic materials (i.e., additives or processed chemical preservatives) are used. Most know that in the growing and harvesting processes of organic produce, chemicals or pesticides are also not used.

A lot of the myths surrounding the pros and cons of organic food revolve around its actual health benefits. Initially, skeptics charged that there was little to no difference in the nutritional value between consumption of organic food and the usual, conventionally processed foods. But with the collection of additional information over the years, reports released currently indicate quite the opposite; in fact, because organic foods are produced using processes that entail the limited use of artificial and chemical components, the amount of nutrients found in organic food is proportionally higher than what is found in the nutritious components of non-organic foods.

The fertilizers used in the conventional production of non-organic produce swell the fruits and veggies with water, diluting the concentration of nutrients found in the produce. Because organic produce is not fertilized with the artificial fertilizers used in the production of non-organic foods, they are filled with a much higher proportion of nutrient value, containing higher levels of trace minerals, Vitamin C, and antioxidants.

Most people naively assume that the chemicals and pesticides used to keep non-organic foods clear of insects are harmless. However, those chemicals build up in our body eventually prove more harmless than harmful. And the chemicals take their toll on the produce as well. Because organic plants depend upon their own immune systems to protect themselves from diseases from insects, they have built up and higher levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants. Nonetheless, since non-organic produce doesn’t have that opportunity because of the heavy handed use of pesticides, their immune systems are weakened and can’t produce as much phytonutrients to protect themselves. Upon consumption, organic produce provides our bodies with more antioxidants than the non-organic produce, which then helps builds up the level of antioxidants in our bodies and helps us ward off free radicals.

Dana Livingston is a writer for a culinary school website where you can browse schools and the latest trends in the culinary arena.

The Value-Added Graduate School: Proceed with Caution

July 28, 2010 · Filed Under Guest Posts, Nutrition, Pop Culture

MBAs are starting to become a dime a dozen in the United States. And with the job market’s continual downfall, how can you be sure that investing in graduate education will provide you with an stepping stone into outstanding workplaces? Let’s take a look at what is happening, rankings that can help you find the right match, and why ‘the creatives’ are the rise.

Graduate School Isn’t For Everyone

Now this first question is critical before considering going back to school. Do you really want to go? First, do you have the drive and determination to do homework again (if you take your work home with you…this may not be so different). Second, do you have adequate experience in the field to bring a working perspective to the classroom and your learning? Now this is something that is underrated in many graduate programs, but knowing your field, the players, and how it presently works can help you get a lot more out of school than if you are fresh out of…well, school. Lastly, will having your graduate degree position you to get jobs that you really want? Masters are typically for people who still want to work with other people, but require a specialized knowledge in a particular field. PhDs will typically place you in more Siloed environments that depend largely on knowledge  and academics (not in all cases of course). Now some graduate degrees will overqualify you for positions, others will prepare you for them, so knowing the level, not necessarily the position, that you want to work at and grow from can help you decide.

Now those words of caution out of the way, graduate school can be a phenomenal learning adventure for people of all ages, and help propel you into your career and life goals.

Graduate School Rankings for MBAs, The Social Way

So who is really doing what? How do I pick a good school? What if I want the University’s values system to match my own? Well, if you are looking into MBAs then check out the Aspen Institutes Rankings titled “Beyond Grey Pinstripes“. They rank schools by relevant courses, student exposure, for-profit impact, and faculty research. So you can get a glimpse into the more “social responsibility” aspects of the schools and know what they are noted for with a few clicks of a button (and lots of search features). This is one of the few social rankings developed for graduate schools, so MBA perspectives should definitely give this the once over. There are other rankings available for other disciplines through various bodies, but this was the only site that focused on lifelong learning to prepare students for their whole career.

MBAs are Good, MFAs are Good, and M.#$@s are Good Too

In Daniel Pink’s Book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he stated that MBAs were a thing of the past and MFAs and other Masters Degrees are just as valuable at today’s top organizations. So don’t feel like an MBA is your only option if you are more creatively inclined. This book speaks about the transitions that our society has undergone over the course of civilization. Our latest phase ruled by the Knowledge Worker (think IT development and the like) is now being shipped overseas and can be replicated by computers and the life, so it is pushing us into a new phase ruled by the Conceptual Worker. These workers are more artistic, intuitive, and creative with skills that cannot be exported or replicated. So follow your instincts, not the market if you are considering going back to school.

There are also a great deal of certificate programs, executive education programs, and other untraditional graduate-level learning courses available that are worth looking into if the ‘piece of paper’ isn’t the main thing you are after.

Why all this talk about school?

Because today’s economic climate has resulted in a huge spike in returning students with no where else to turn. With such high rates of unemployment, many people are seeking the X Factor skills, the skills that will make them invaluable and in-disposable within an organization. Yet being sure that your skills, your passion, and your gut instinct are all aligned for this major decision is important, otherwise you could become just another MBA graduate who is overqualified for entry-level work, underqualified as a mid-career professional, and perfectly qualified for Knowledge Worker ‘work’ that has already been shipped overseas.

So proceed with caution, passion, and a whole lot of instinct. Best of luck to all currently in graduate school, those considering going, and those who have made it through! And remember that social values, environmental justice, and economic equity are not so far off for some ‘business’ schools out there, so take time to find just the right match to lead you toward your goals.

Organic Does Not Necessarily Mean Low-Calorie

July 19, 2010 · Filed Under News, Nutrition

A new study was done that concluded consumers may think organic products have lower calories because of claims made on the packaging. The word organic does tend to get grouped in with being healthy, but that may not always be the case.

The thing that bothers me the most about this study is that it really has nothing pertaining to organic products.  I think this study reflects more on the way we read labels.  All nutritional information is clearly labeled on the packaging of every products.  If a consumer incorrectly reads the label, then I think that is the fault of the consumer.  The product by no means changed the nutritional label to deceive consumers.

It’s a shame that organic products could be taking a hit because of this study.  The use of deceiving labels is used by all products and there is no reason that organic products should have been singled out.  I bet you if a product had said “All-Natural” or a similar claim, there would have been similar results.

What are you thoughts of this study?

Pick Your Own (food) Guide

July 17, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Guest Posts, Health, Local, Nutrition

With the sweet abundance of fruit and veggies this summer, who wouldn’t want to pick some fruit? Now here to assist you in your fruit-picking ventures is an online guide to help you find some fun places to pick and play. Now picking your own food isn’t just for farmers, it can also make for a fun family outing, a great date, and just some nice outdoors time. So get out there, enjoy the summer, and put a little muscle into getting your fresh produce for the week!

The listings are first by State and then by County, so you can plan for trips or find somewhere right in your own City. They provide a brief write-up, contact information, and hours if applicable to help you plan your “U-Pick” adventure. If you know of any great You Pick farms that aren’t listed, you can submit new listings right on their website. And make sure you check out those descriptions, you might find some added bonuses like hay rides, corn mazes, and other fun farm surprises.

Find a Pick Your Own farm near you!

(Photo Credit)

Eat, Work (out), Drink, and Be Merry!

May 25, 2010 · Filed Under Food, Health, Nutrition

Americans have some of the most unhealthy lifestyles in the World. From our sugar-laden foods to our car-centric transportation, we could use an upgrade, or shall we say a “life-grade” change. The best news is that we each have the power to change our daily habits to lead fulfilling and purposeful lives. Let’s check out some of the key areas to staying healthy, happy, and living a long life.

Eat Drink and Be Merry
Photo by lapomme.

Get your Groove on! There are forms of exercise that speak to each of us. Whether it is becoming a top triathlete or showing the World your crazy dance moves, we all have a work out groove. The good news comes a plenty when it comes to exercising. First, when we exert physical energy we get endorphins in return, which makes us happier people. Second, exercising can be a social event, meaning making more friends, meeting more people, and gaining a larger sense of community. And what better news is there than to know that some health care providers will reward you for your physical activity prowess? From discounted rates to free gym membership, health care providers are jumping on board with healthy and active lifestyles.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry. Our food choices dictate a great deal about how we feel, how we interact with others, and just how long and healthy our lives will truly be. Now you don’t have to become a local, seasonal, organic fanatic like myself to make a very positive change in your eating habits. First, stay away from processed food as much as possible. Why? Because the additives can be quite harmful. From carcinogens to things that are just plain hard to digest. Processed food comes from machines, not nature, meaning that our bodies may or may not be adapted to digest and utilize the food’s nutrients. Next, try to cut out as much Fast Food as possible. You can go so far as to join the Slow Food Movement or you can simply plan ahead and pack a lunch. This easy step will save you money first of all. It may not seem like it at first, but spending money on a meal versus money on versatile ingredients for several different meals can make a difference. It also spares you from the global supply chain of food. Food that is transported from long-distances or stored for long periods of time lose their nutrients quickly, so by the time they reach your plate you are getting half or less of the original plant nutrients. This partnered with a good glass of local or fair trade wine will make you quite merry and healthy indeed, just ask the French.

Live a Long and Happy Life. You may think that the span of your life is beyond your control. Which of course to an extent is true. Yet studies, like the one recently completed in Italy, found that the more strenuous exercise an individual participates in, the longer their body is able to survive. Essentially, cells in our body die at a very rapid and common rate. Getting a good work out that makes you sweat actually keeps some cells from dyeing, meaning that your body and its health are preserved longer. This partnered with good eating habits that make nutrients readily available for your system to take in and utilize will make you one healthy machine. And if that doesn’t make you happy, then consider this:

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
~Abraham Lincoln

So get your exercise groove on, especially with the advent of beautiful weather. Partner that with some delicious, healthy, and fresh food along with a glass of wine and enjoy life!

Eating Out, Farm to Table Style

May 17, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Events, Food, Nutrition

Dreaming of locally skewered lamb, hand-picked heirloom tomatoes, and all the local farm’s had to offer I slept well the night before my big Farm to Table dinner. With lovingly-harvested potatoes jumping in my head, I tried to contain my excitement for the big event. Meal time is one of the human beings oldest traditions. The French take hours to eat delectable meals, the Italians pour their souls into their pasta and sauces, and I planned on soaking in the glory of local, organic food at a hip restaurant. I chose this restaurant not for its exquisite menu, or known sustainable practices, but because it was trendy, usually well-populated, and attracted a crowd not necessarily aware of the impact of their food decisions. Strategic? Yes.

As a food critique for the day, I wanted to uncover how a hippster restaurant presented their week of Farm to Table meal offerings. Could they jumpstart people into thinking more about where their food comes from outside of the grocery store? Would it encourage a localized change in the hip crowd’s diet? Would organic food grow in demand so much that the local farms wouldn’t be able to keep up? I had to know.

So I dressed in my hippiest of clothes, wrangled in a few friends who enjoy a good meal, and sat down to see what incredible things would unfold before my eyes…

First, they handed us menus, regular menus. Then upon looking at the reservation the hostess casually asked “you’re here for the farm thingy, arent’ you?” Hmm, not the inspired tone I was hoping for, but I smiled and said yes. She dug out some “special menus” just for us.

Food Plate

First Internal Question: Why were we the only ones graced with the Farm to Table menu? Why weren’t there big letters on their artsy chalkboards proclaiming that this week was Farm to Table week, and by goodness Earth Day too? Why wasn’t everyone given this oh-so-special menu when they sat down?

Hold it in. I’m sure she’s new! That’s why, she just didn’t know, and even though Earth Day is, well tomorrow, I am sure they meant to write something special on the chalkboards in celebration of this monumental event of our Earth. But you know how life gets away from us sometimes.

I perused the delicious menu for Farm to Table items, vegetables and pork and even a little chocolate bread pudding at the end. What to choose? The waitress informed me that I wouldn’t have to choose, you either get the whole Farm to Table meal or you don’t. Well, that was easy, I guess. So began our three course meal! Of course, I wanted to know where a few things were from, and if they were organic or just local. So I asked the waitress a question or two. She suddenly became a deer in headlights, not quite sure why I would ever want to know the answer to these questions. Apologetically, she said she could ask. They didn’t have much of an answer. So much for knowing your farmer.

Second Question: If you were hosting a Farm to Table meal, and someone called ahead to tell you that they had been asked to write about it, would you prepare your staff? Would you prepare your staff even if someone didn’t tell you they were going to write about it?

So my hopes of learning about the journey of our food was slightly deflated, but I would not be let down. I came here to eat deliciously local fresh food, and I plan on doing just that. And it is a good thing too, because it was “delectable” as food critique, Nick, would say. We kicked things off with a micro-salad of greens we couldn’t identify, and let’s be honest the waitress had had about enough of my “outlandish” questions regarding food sources, so we let it remain a surprise. Round two came in with a hot plate of potatoes, pork, and some garnish. It disappeared instantly. Then the final round rang in as my personal favorite, a chocolate bread pudding. How was it local and/or sustainable? Not a clue, and they didn’t seem to know either.

Third Question: Would you use beauty, in any form, to disguise a lack of knowledge?

No, I am not addressing Hollywood. Honestly, I was disappointed that the restaurant was able to garner free press for something they had not taken time to promote internally. The food was in fact delicious. Where it came from, it’s story, or why the restaurant wanted to participate in the Farm to Table week across the City, an absolute mystery.

Mystery Diner #1 (aka Nick) Rating: 3.5 Stars
Mystery Diner #2 (aka Irish) Rating: 4 Stars
Mystery Diner #3 (aka Yours Truly) Rating: 3 Stars

Knowing how to cook food is one thing, and an admirable thing. Knowing where your food comes from, now that really is something. Something so special that I don’t take it for granted, and am disappointed when others do.

So instead of ending on a sad note, let’s move forward with how we can help champion the local food movement:

1) Ask your favorite restaurants if they do, and if they are willing to source some food locally. Connecting them to resources like Local Harvest and the Eat Well Guide along with showing them that there is demand for local food can help make eating out more sustainable.

2) Shop locally! Supporting your local farmer’s really is important, and during tough economic times, keeping money circulating in your local economy becomes increasingly important. For every $1 spent at a local business, 68 cents or more stays in that local economy.

3) Do not be fooled by “fancy talk”. I went in hoping for the best, and left feeling like I had a lot of work to do if I truly do want to be the change I hope to see in this World. Holding these companies accountable is important though. I later contacted the manager to review the experience with her in place of causing a scene at the restaurant. My hope is that dialogue, in place of dissapointment, will help them move forward.

Now I spoke with other Farm to Table restaurant goers who attended known eco-friendly restaurants, and their reviews were off the charts. It looks like mainstream restaurants have a lot to learn from their sustainable neighbors. Onwards with our own efforts to make dining, and food, a cultural experience once again.

A big and special thanks to Nicole, the Community Food Security Coalition, and the movie FRESH for all of their efforts to create communities of action nationwide.

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