Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sad State of Food

I was grocery shopping on Friday (as I often am) at Winco. While I was there I decided I would pick up some cheap peanut butter because my mother has left a ten pound bag of birdseed at my house that has been here since Christmas and she refuses to remove it. So I figure, heck, I will save some toilet paper rolls, buy some cheap peanut butter, and Freya and I will make bird feeders. Okay, so I am in the peanut butter area. I glance around looking for whatever is the cheapest. $2.45. Perfect! I usually spend about twice that much for peanut butter and three times as much for almond butter, which is our preference at my house.

Out of curiosity I check the ingredients. Roasted peanuts, sugar, fully hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, soybean) salt, molasses. Okay, to recap those - sugar - okay, added sugar is bad and it is something I avoid, especially in foods I am going to be feeding my daughter, but it is just sugar. Of course, there is no indication whether it is real cane sugar or genetically modified beet sugar but that is the subject of another post. Salt, yeah, molasses, okay, more sugar but whatever...

It is the oil people! That is the scary ingredient here! If you are consuming hydrogenated oils then stop! If you want to know why click here or here or here. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats, except the nutritional label says zero trans fats. Again, that is the subject of another post, but for now know this: companies can say that a product contains zero trans fats as long as there is less than half a gram per serving, so please read your labels!

Anyway, I am not here to rag on hydrogenated oil. What I am about to rag on is how the least expensive peanut butter contains it. The day after all of this happened I ran across a blog post by liberal talk show host, Bill Maher. Now, love him or hate him he has been telling us that the food we eat is killing us since I was a freshman in high school, at least that is when I started to remember hearing it. The blog was called "Food Racism" and you can read it here. Basically, it talks about how, in response to a food supply that was decreasing in quality, specialty markets for rich people cropped up. Organics, grass-fed meats, etc - all available if you have the dough (organic, of course!) Meanwhile, food for the vast majority of Americans keeps getting worse.

When I saw this I knew I had to write about it! The least expensive peanut butter has an ingredient in that is literally like one molecule away from plastic! Not only is this the cheapest available peanut butter, it is WIC approved! WIC is supposed to provide lower income families, and their children, with quality nutritious foods. I don't remember seeing trans fat on the "my pyramid" chart! Now, to be fair, WIC also authorizes you to buy the "natural" peanut butter, which was also available at Winco that day. This natural peanut butter was the kind with the oil on top. Now, maybe you don't like that, maybe your kids don't (oh how long it took to get Kyle to be okay with it), so you pass it up and purchase the peanut butter with the hydrogenated oils because you are using WIC, don't have a lot to spend,  are unemployed, on a fixed income, or you simply are trying to save a buck! It doesn't matter, it shouldn't be there!

Now, I completely agree that people should educate themselves, they should take the time to read labels and be aware of what they are putting in their bodies. Maybe if you weren't buying Starbucks or Rockstars or cigarettes you could afford the better peanut butter for your kids and yourself. This is all true; however, why is it there in the first place? Upon comparing the ingredients of this peanut butter to the peanut butter I had at home I noticed two things. The first, the only ingredient in my peanut butter was dry roasted peanuts and the second, mine requires refrigeration. Ah ha! The hydrogenated fat makes the peanut butter shelf stable after it has been opened.

I know this blog post contains no recipes and no practical tips on saving money. I will say this though, the peanut butter at Trader Joe's is tasty and doesn't contain anything weird, it has no added sugar, and maybe it is a a dollar more than the stuff I got at Winco on Friday. That is not really the point, the point is food discrimination. I have to go to Trader Joe's, Winco, farmer's market, S&S, plan what I will buy and every dollar I spend, and know ahead of time which brands are okay and which product are okay in order to purchase food that doesn't have chemicals in it. Because I operate on a modest food budget this takes a lot of time and effort and planning (at least sometimes), where if I was rich and money wasn't an object I could do a lot less planning and my shopping would take a lot less time, because honestly, if money was no object, I would just go to Holiday Market and the farmer's market and be done with it.

Peanut butter should be a simple food, a food you can feel good about as you make your kid a sandwich (at this point I am starting to feel guilty about giving it to the birds). It shouldn't be a poison laced with chemically processed oils that line your arteries and force your heart to work harder within minutes of consuming it. Not only that, it should be affordable for everyone. Nutrition, not simply calories, should be affordable for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are rolling in benny's, purchasing food using foodstamps, or using WIC, you deserve access to clean, safe, nutritious food.

What can you do? Well, consider every dollar you spend to be a vote. Don't purchase foods laced with chemicals. Second, write your congressman. Tell them to introduce legislation which ends subsidies to companies who produce food with chemicals and additives (part of the reason it is so cheap is because it is subsidized by the government). Tell them to provide subsidies to producers who produce quality, nutrient rich foods and to local farmers who provide wonderful, fresh food at farmer's market - this would make these types of foods more affordable and available to everyone. Here, if you reside in California's First District you can click here to email your congressman! And, since I know some wonderful people in California's Twelfth, you can click here. I may be going out on a limb here, but if you are not in either of those districts then click here and find your representative! I may be over estimating my readership a little...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Whoa, where did the time go? And other stuff

Hey readers! You may have noticed that I have taken a brief break from writing.

It is a new year and I have got some new stuff for you! Including my granola bar recipe. People, my family has been raving about these things! They are so delicious and the best part about homemade granola bars (beside the fact that they are way cheap compared to what you get at the store) is there are no questionable ingredients. Plus they are good for you! Full of whole grains and nuts. Make a double batch and freeze some. Hand them to your kids after school or while at the farmer's market, I promise it will be just like that chewy granola bar commercial where the kids can't talk because they are chewing granola bars - except these granola bars are waaay tastier! Here it is (Please note, these bars do not contain preservatives, please keep them in the fridge for optimal freshness):

4 cups of rolled or quick oats
1/2 cup of nut butter (use your favorite kind, I use raw almond butter)
1 Tbsp of coconut oil (if you don't have coconut oil you should, JK, but you can use butter or olive oil)
1/2-1 cup of honey (Depends on how sweet you want them, and use raw honey with the pollen in it)
1 heaping cup of walnuts (to keep costs down I buy them in shells and crack them, plus I like them to be raw - Famer's Market!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (please use the real stuff, not the imitation!)
1 Tbsp ground flax (I buy whole in bulk and grind it myself with the bullet)
1/2 cup extra dark chocolate (optional) 

Okay, first take your oats and put them in a casserole disk and bake them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring once. Leave your oven at 350. Next, take you nut butter, honey, and coconut oil in a saucepan and heat slowly over medium heat. Once it is melted and liquified pour it into a large mixing bowl. Then add you cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and flax. Stir. Add the oats and walnuts (you can add anything else you may want in there now too - such as dried fruit, etc). Stir until all the oats are coated and a little bit sticky. Next, press the oat mixture into the casserole dish. Make sure it is even. Place in the 350 degree oven for about ten minutes.

This is where you would add the dark chocolate, if you choose. Just sprinkle on top and press gently into the granola. Allow it to cool for about two hours (if you can wait that long! Seriously, this stuff smells like childhood, mom's hair, and love all at once). You should refrigerate it over night for best results.

Once it is completely cooled and stiff remove it from the casserole dish by turning it upside down and hitting it. Once it is out cut it into bars. Store in a sealed container in the fridge.

This is my recipe. I got inspiration from a few sources but I basically made up the way it is here. So enjoy! Let me know how it turns out. Until next time!