Wednesday, May 30, 2007


“Super Natural Cooking” by Heidi Swanson is an exciting and tasty introduction the world of whole foods. The book has an unusual arrangement. Rather than lumping appetizers, entrees, soups, salads, and desserts into sections – the book is rather arranged like a course on natural foods cooking. The book begins with instructions for building a natural foods pantry – what foods to include and what to avoid, including flours, oils, sweeteners, spices and seasonings.

Then she moves on to whole grains, beginning first with information about the different types of grains (helpful because many may be unfamiliar), she then moves on to recipes. There are baked goods like Seed-Crusted Amaranth Biscuits and Espresso Banana Muffins; soups like Toasted Wheat Germ Soup and Creamy Wild Rice Soup. The Spring Minestrone with Brown Rice made with fresh asparagus and snap peas has been a regular for us on Fridays when I get my box of produce from the local CSA. We also loved the Risotto-Style Barley made with crème fraiche and lemon zest.

Next, Swanson encourages us to “Cook by Color.” This section is all about fruits and vegetables – brimming with essential phytonutrients (don’t worry if you’re not sure what they are, it’s explained in the book.) Recipes include Baked Purple Hedgehog Potatoes (your kids will love these), Red Indian Carrot Soup, Curried Tofu Scramble, and Crema de Guacamole with Crunch Topopos.

If those foods weren’t healthy enough, the next section teaches you to “Know Your Superfoods:” alliums, cruciferous vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, sea vegetables, sprouts, tea, and yogurt. Dishes include Beluga Lentil Crostini, Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers, and Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts. My family absolutely loved the Creamy Cauliflower Soup.
Of course even natural foods eaters love their desserts and there a plenty of good ones here as Swanson presents a section on natural sweeteners. There are recipes for Thin Mint Cookies, Spiced Caramel Corn and Ginger-Amaranth Shortbread. The Dairyless Chocolate Mousse is so rich and decadent, no one will believe it was made with tofu. The biggest hit of the desserts for us – I’ve already made it several times – was the Raspberry Curd Swirl Cake. My gosh, it was good. I couldn’t find Raspberry Curd at Trader Joe’s so I used Lemon Curd and it was wonderful. Really, really great.

Whether you are already into natural foods like I am (but there were ingredients here I’ve never tried like wild rice flour, teff and farro) or completely lost in a natural foods store but want to know more, this book will work for you. The recipes are very “normal” and nonthreatening – like chocolate chip cookies with a bit of mesquite flour millet-fried “rice.” In other words, comfortable favorites with a little twist. Swanson does an excellent job of explaining the ingredients (and offering substitutions if you are unable to find some of the more uncommon ones). This books is vegetarian – many recipes use dairy products but there are some great vegan recipes as well.

If you’re into cookbooks, check out Swanson’s blog at .

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The high cost of cheap ingredients

I've already written about the contaminated gluten from China (which caused all the pet deaths) making it's way into food for humans - well some food suppliers are getting nervous about other food additives from China - and YOU SHOULD BE TOO.

According to an article in the May 18th LA Times, China has become the world's leading supplier of food flavorings, vitamins, and preservatives - in fact many food additivies are available in vast quantities only from China. China is now the most predominant maker of Vanillin (a vanilla flavoring), Citric Acid, Sorbic Acid, B vitamins (commonly added to processed flour goods), and Xylitol.

The problem is that China's overall food safety record is very poor. Use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticies is heavy; and fraud and corruption often thwart the lax controls that do exist. Also, many small companies don't register their products as nonfood items, thus avoiding supervision. Since many food additivies also have industrial applications (e.g. citric acid is also used as a cleaner), they can get away with this. In recent years, US officials have issued alerts about Chinese honey tainted with a harmful antibiotic, Chinese candy containing sulfites that can cause fatal allergic reactions, and infant forumula missing vital nutrients which left a dozen babies dead in 2004.

A further problem is that many US food manufacturers don't even know where all their ingredients originate. Most packaged foods contain dozens of items from around the word acquired though a complex network of traders and brokers. For example, a Hostess Twinkie contains 39 ingredients - including vitamin B compounds, sorbic acid, red and yellow colorings - most likely made in China according to Steve Ettlinger, author of the book "Twinkie, Deconstructed." He asserts that not only do food manufacturers not know the origin of all the ingredients in their products, they don't want to know. "The more you know, the pickier you get and the more it costs," he said.

So what can you do - stay away from processed foods would be the ideal. And (hope I'm not sounding like a broken record) - shop ORGANIC.

Otherwise, call or write the food manufacturers and tell them not to get ingredients from China. Mission Food Corp. and Tyson Foods, Inc. are bowing to consumer fears and have put out a directive to get no more ingredients from China - whether they'll be able to accomplish this is questionable but it's a start.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another sneaky attempt to weaken organic standards

The USDA has announced a proposal to allow 38 new non-organic ingredients in products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal. Most of the ingredients are food colorings derived from plants that they say are not "commercially available" in organic form. But at least three of the proposed ingredients, backed by beer giant Anheuser-Busch, pork and food processors, represent a serious threat to organic standards, and have raised the concerns of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), as well as a number of smaller organic companies and organic certifiers. For example, they want to allow:
- Conventionally grown hops, produced with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, to be used in beers labeled as "USDA Organic"
- Conventionally raised factory-farmed animals' intestines (I'll spare you the gory details of what thes animals have been fed) as casing for sausages labeled as "organic."

Then the sneaky part - rather than the standard 30-60 days for public comment, the USDA has indicated they will only be accepting public comments for seven days.

If this concerns you, go to for more information or to write to the USDA.

Monday, May 07, 2007

VegFamily Magazine is back!

VegFamily Magazine is up and running again under new management. Cynthia Mosher, web master extraordinaire for, has now taken on VegFamily. Check out the cool new format and stay tuned for other exciting new changes she will make. Check out this month's issue at - and be sure to check out my column: The Whole Family, where I highlight a different whole food every month with lots of cooking tips and recipes.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Unlabeled irradiated foods

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new federal regulations that will allow manufacturers and retailers to sell controversial irradiated foods without labeling them, as previously required by law. Consumers are justifiably wary of foods bombarded with nuclear waste or powerful x-rays or gamma rays--since irradiation destroys essential vitamins and nutrients, creates unique radiolytic chemical compounds never before consumed by humans, and generates carcinogenic byproducts such as formaldehyde and benzene. Although irradiation, except for spices, is banned in much of the world, and prohibited globally in organic production, U.S. corporate agribusiness and the meat industry desperately want to be able to secretly "nuke" foods in order to reduce the deadly bacterial contamination that is now routine in industrial agriculture and meat production.

The Organic Consumers Association and other public interest groups have repeatedly pointed out that the best way to reduce or eliminate America's 78 million cases of food poisoning every year would be to clean up the nation's filthy slaughterhouses and feedlots, stop contaminated runoff from intensive confinement feedlots from polluting adjacent farms (as in the recent spinach e-coli outbreak), and to stop feeding animals slaughterhouse waste and manure. Instead, FDA and corporate agribusiness have apparently decided, with the backing of the nuclear power and weapons industry, to take away consumers' rights to know if their food has been irradiated or not.

Let the FDA that you want to know how your food is processed. For more information and a link to the FDA, go to:

No more raw almonds

Arg! This is so frustrating. Instead of demanding that big food processing facilities properly manage their operations so food is kept clean, the USDA wants to use pasterization and irradition to put a band-aid on the problem.

In response to 2 salmonella outbreaks within the last 10 years related to raw almonds, the USDA wants to now require all almonds to be pasturized using chemical and/or high temperature treatments. Not only will this expensive procedure force many small and family farms out of business, it is also upsetting to consumers (like me) who want raw, organic almonds free of chemicals and with all the nutrients and enzymes that would be killed by high heat intact. And even worse, these pastuerized nuts will still be labeled as "raw".

For more info and how to take action, go to:

Contaminated Pet Food moving into Human Food Supply

The FDA and USDA, the federal agencies responsible for protecting the nation's food supply, said on Monday that contaminated wheat gluten from China was used in chicken feed on about 30 Indiana poultry farms and that all the broilers fed contaminated pet food have since been processed.

Imported rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten have been found to contain melamine, the USDA and the FDA said the byproducts from pet food manufactured with contaminated wheat gluten imported from China were also used in chicken feed on eight breeder poultry farms in the state. Melamine is a cheap protein additive Chinese farmers use, and is blamed for a rash of deaths among pets in the United States. Just recently, several hundred of the 6,000 hogs that may have eaten contaminated pet food are believed to have entered the food supply for humans.

Investigators are tracking streams of the contaminated food through several states.
"Our sense is that the investigation will lead to additional farms where contaminated feed may have been fed to either animals or poultry," said Kenneth Petersen of the Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Officials said the FDA has received 17,000 reports of pets that owners believe were sickened or killed by contaminated food. About 8,000 reports, roughly half of them involving animals that died, have been formally entered into the FDA's tracking system for further analysis.

And what other action are our government agencies taking to protect consumers from the contaminated meat? None. They say the risk to humans is "minimal" even though all these pets have been dying. However, this should be reassuring to know: "The USDA and FDA continue to conduct a full, comprehensive examination to protect the nation's food supply and will provide updates as new information is confirmed," the agencies said in a joint statement. "If any evidence surfaces to indicate there is harm to humans, the appropriate action will be taken."