Tag Archives: food

You Could Be Drinking Beaver Anus

The alternate title for this post, given to me by my brother-in-law Lee, was “Food Marketing is Just That”, but I thought the beaver anus would get more attention.

I started thinking about this issue after my Dad bought ‘all natural’ Hillshire Farms pork and we got into a fight when I wouldn’t eat it. I tried to explain to him that ‘all natural’ isn’t a regulated term and doesn’t mean anything, but he had a hard time believing or understanding me. Dad, this post is for you (and everyone that drinks flavored water).
I’m sure you see Natural everywhere – cereal boxes, pork chops, granola bars – but in short, the label does not mean anything and can mean you are eating/drinking some pretty strange things (both petroleum and beaver anal glands are technically from the earth).
Problem 1: Unlike ‘USDA Organic’ and ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’, ‘All Natural’ is not a regulated term and has no agreed-upon definition. From the FDA website:
“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.”
Problem 2: Due to not having a strict definition, companies often mislead or lie to consumers about products being ‘all natural’. Kashi, Barbara’s, Cargill, and more have settled class action lawsuits when their products were independently tested and GMO and artificial ingredients were found.
Problem 3: Even if an ingredient is ‘natural’, i.e. it does come from the earth in some way, you still might not want to consume it. Flavored soda water is huge right now. Do me a favor and look on the back of your Hansen’s or La Croix – you’ll see ‘natural flavoring’ listed. It’s hard to tell exactly what that is, but one possibility is that Castoreum is used as the natural additive, which comes from a gland in a beaver butt. AHH! This National Geographic article, Beaver Butts Emit Goo Used for Vanilla Flavoring” sums up my thoughts nicely and one of my favorite lines is, “Because of its close proximity to the anal glands, castoreum is often a combination of castor gland secretions, anal gland secretions, and urine.” Delicious!
In summary, don’t buy products marked ‘all natural’ and expect them to be healthy, minimally-processed, GMO- or beaver anus -free. Look for the USDA Organic logo and push back on your grocers and favorite brands to tell you what is in the food and beverages you are putting into your body.
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Even My Dad Goes to the Farmer’s Market

Dad and I drive the vintage convertible to our farmer's market (and yes he's looking at the camera - he's a terrifying driver!).

Dad and I drive the vintage convertible to our farmer’s market (and yes he’s looking at the camera – he’s a terrifying driver!).

This summer, I spent two weeks on the East Coast in late August/early September – I know, slow blog summer – I was too busy enjoying people! Heading back east is one of my favorite activities, as I get to see friends and family and look at that big Connecticut Sky, but it also comes with some panic around what I will eat. My Dad’s favorite meals to serve me (and don’t get me wrong, these things are always delicious!) are processed turkey kielbasa, pierogis and iceberg lettuce out of a bag. Ok the bagged lettuce is never delicious. Dad has really come a long way in the food department, now buying hamburgers from our local butcher and almond milk, but the Tolland county area lacks my beloved San Francisco eating options. Or so I thought.

Kale chips and food trucks. In Coventry, CT. I’m serious. My Dad has been raving about the Coventry Farmer’s Market for over a year and frankly I didn’t believe that it would be that good. My weekly shopping trips include the Ferry Building farmer’s market and Mission Community Farmer’s market and I thought: Connecticut, please. The big guy convinced me to hop in our convertible (1990 Mustang ragtop- not very sustainable but almost a classic and so very fun to drive!), and we headed over to check this thing out. Well, the Coventry Farmer’s Market is incredible. It’s huge – more town fair than market. It has real Mexican food – the closest thing CT had to Mexican food previously was Qdoba and we all know how authentic that is. It also has a cannoli food truck, gluten-free bakery stands, local artisans selling soap and woven placemats, and sweet summer corn for $0.25. This was my heaven. Eastern Connecticut has an entire local, anti-GMO, farm-to-table, food movement that I knew nothing about. If you live in or near CT, this site will help you find all things local food.

If my Dad is shopping at the farmer’s market, you can too. One reason he shops there is because it often isn’t more expensive – my Dad hates expensive – and everything tastes better. Vendors let you try things (husk tomatoes/ground cherries were a new one for us!), tell you how to prepare the produce if you’re unsure, and you’re doing a world of good for your body and your local economy. If you need more convincing, read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle, watch one of my favorite documentaries, Food Fight, and think about the impact YOU can make on the planet and your community.

Below: My favorite food truck (cannolis!) and juicy summer watermelons

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Eating Mushrooms In Prospect Park – Meet Forager Ava Chin

I recently joined 18 Reason’s FoodLit Book club (I know, how very San Francisco), and the first book I read was Ava Chin’s Eating Wilding. We were lucky enough to have Ava join us and in addition to discussing foraging, love and the process of getting a book published, I got to try my first foraged greens pie. Holy yum.

Ava and the FootLit Book Club moderator Heather photo credit @SusannaKChau

Ava and the FootLit Book Club moderator Heather photo credit @SusannaKChau

Ava’s book is a quick, honest and endearing read weaving together stories on childhood, love, family, nature, and food – so many wonderful things to relate to! I’m going to focus on the food part, as I was blown away that you can find safe and edible things to eat, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or in a neighbor’s backyard in the middle of winter. Ava describers herself as a sort of life forager (searching for love, her father, and morel mushrooms), and started by using Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus as a field guide while roaming the streets of NYC. She finds and eats all sorts of things: oyster and morel mushrooms, field garlic, garlic mustard, mulberries, lambsquarters and wood sorrel (I called these sour clovers growing up) in neighborhoods where I used to live! Her book includes helpful recipes (what the heck do you do with wood sorrel after all), and our discussion helped inspire me to notice the food growing all around me (turns out wild fennel is everywhere in SF!).

As I continue my journey into sustainable eating, my latest quest has been eating seasonally. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a forager myself (though next time I’m in Brooklyn I will be on the hunt for field garlic!), but I know that delicious things grow in my Bay Area community year round, and that I want to eat them. Since June, I’ve limited my fruit and veggie purchases to farmer’s markets, because the food tastes better. I will admit, I cheated a few weeks ago, missing the blueberries of June, and bought organic Oregon blueberries at Whole Foods. They were disgusting. Missing was the juicy sweet and tart flavors of my summer blueberries, and all that remained were these mealy eyeballs that I couldn’t even feed to the dog. Goodbye store-bought fruit, I now know what fruit is supposed to taste like.

If you’re interesting in foraging: read Eating Wilding, and see if your city or town offers foraging classes or food walks, like this one at Forage SF. Even if foraging isn’t for you, try eating more fruit and vegetables from your local farmer’s market – I promise you will not be disappointed. Yes, you may be stuck with squash all winter, but raspberries in December don’t taste good, so why eat them?  Here’s to happy and sustainable eating!

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