…and it’s back

corn_and_green_chili_salad2I was recently contemplating when my corn strike should end. I couldn’t remember if I had set a date and didn’t really want to look back to check because I wanted to set a new date: Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure what the holiday would bring (we don’t usually have a corn dish at our annual feast), but I knew that I wanted this incredibly expensive and much-needed trip home to be a real vacation, at least as much as possible. And so I decided that the corn strike ended when my feet hit midwestern soil. I rationalized this decision by telling myself that I would need to blog about the experience of reintroducing corn into my diet during the last two weeks of the semester, as well as outline how this project will continue for me beyond the semester’s end.

No matter how I rationalized it, nothing mattered once we got to one of our St. Louis mainstays: Bottleworks. A local brewery where my favorite order is a piece of salmon, which comes with a side of maple mashed sweet potatoes and pan fried corn. I was ready to return to corn.

Lucky for me that I did because my Aunt Sue made an amazing new addition to our Thanksgiving feast, a cold vegetable salad filled with corn. Since I don’t eat turkey, I would have been incredibly sad to pass up a side dish like this. (Note: I was too excited by eating corn all weekend and neglected to take any pictures of my corn dishes, so the picture above is simply representative of what was eaten.)

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Alternative Food Fair

img_1761Last Monday (November 24th), five of us held an Alternative Food Fair in front of the school for approximately an hour. It was Ann (of the sea vegetables), Emily (of the local foods), Matt (of the vegan food), Rosanna (of the insects), and I at a table set up in front of the main building at school. Matt made us a wonderful poster, but since we were short on time, not many got put up, so I think most of those who visited our table just happened to be going by. In fact, we definitely benefitted from the departure and arrival of several Oakland shuttles. We advertised that we would have free samples relating to each of our projects from 3 to 4 pm, but ended up setting up a bit early. When I looked at my watch at 3:05, I was amazed at how early it was since so much of my food was gone. What was my free sample, you ask? Well, since many foods are naturally corn free but wouldn’t necessarily make a statement, I really had to dig deep to come up with what I wanted to hand out. I wanted something that would really get people’s attention. I realized that I really want people to focus not on eliminating all corn from their lives, but to gain an overall awareness of how much we accidentally consume and knowledge that there is food beyond corn. So my decision was to make corn-free corn bread. Sounds pretty crazy, right? Well, people certainly did a couple double takes when I said, “no, that’s not corn bread. it’s corn-free corn bread.” Everyone asked me how that was possible, but no one seemed to question it once they tried a bite. With a mouth full of delicious bread, no one was missing the corn, much to my delight.

Along with the corn bread, I gave out cards with my blog address and facts about corn. I also made a little table tent (which I don’t think anyone took the time to read. it was all eat and run) and a couple of anti-corn buttons which were snatched right up. Overall, I think the fair was a success. We closed up shop early since several of us were out of food. Emily had delicious local tomato-basil-cheese kabobs as well as local clementines and apple cider. Ann handed out spicy toasted nori, which I had never had before and thought was excellent. Matt’s vegan spicy tempeh sushi flew off his plates. Rosanna’s chocolate covered crickets and mealworm chex mix were surprisingly really popular. Some people came over to our table just because they heard there were bug samples, while others were disgusted and walked right by her end of the table. Still others ate some of her samples, perhaps without fully realizing that bugs were inside…

I promised tasters that I would include a copy of the corn-free corn bread here, so voila:

1 cup white rice flour
2 tablespoons Ancient Harvest quinoa flakes*
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons corn-free baking powder (1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda)
3/4 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/2 teaspoon Mexican granulated garlic
sprinkle of caraway seeds
2 tablespoons expeller-pressed oil
1 organic, free-range egg
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 425, and grease an 8’’ glass pie plate.
Whisk together dry ingredients in large bowl.
In smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients with fork or whisk. Pour over dry ingredients, combining gently with a rubber spatula just until moist. Do not overmix!
Pout into greased glass pie plate.** Top with 1 tablespoon minced onion and a sprinkling of dried parsley or oregano.
Bake for about 17-20 minutes until lightly browned.
Cool, still in pie plate, on wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve with hearty bowlfuls of winter vegetable soup!

*After frantically running around Rainbow for a good 30 minutes, I finally found these quinoa flakes in the cereal aisle!

**I don’t have a pie plate, much less a glass one, so I filled each of my loaf pans with a double recipe and it worked out just fine. Note that I had to bake them for approximately double the length of time.

Happy Meal?

cornburgerThe bf (or does a ring make him just an F?) found me this great little blog post from Wired magazine called Fast Food: Just Another Name for Corn. The post reiterates and strengthens much of what I’ve discussed on my own blog. Most importantly, the post ties obesity to fast food and fast food to corn, boosting the theory that corn is what is making us fat.

It’s the vicious government-funded cycle that I have been getting at here lately: The government subsidizes corn, making it a ridiculously cheap and convenient feed choice for livestock, who become high-calorie, high-fat fast food, which is eaten for its ridiculous cheapness and convenience and becomes padding on the American body until diabetes sets in and the real money comes in to pay for healthcare. We think it’s cheap and convenient because we don’t think past today’s lunch. Meredith Niles from the Center for Food Safety says, “We’re seeing that corn is the number-one reason that fast food is so cheap and available. U.S. programs are subsidizing obesity in this country.”

Science is beginning to back up those claims and see the part corn plays in this game. A. Hope Jahren, co-author of the fast food study, and her team “analyzed hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and french fries from multiple McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s restaurants in six U.S. cities.” Chemical analysis of both types of meat revealed corn-heavy diets. In fact, 150 of the 162 beef samples “came from animals that ate nothing but corn.” The french fries were also literally dripping with corn, as they were all fried in corn-based oil.

NYU food studies expert Marion Nestle wasn’t surprised by the findings, but conceded that “most people aren’t aware of the extent to which corn ingredients permeate the food supply.”

Jahren considers it a political issue. She says, “When you give a nickel to fast food, invariably it goes right back to the corn industry.” Grabbing a McDonald’s burger might seem convenient, but it’s not doing farmers or your own body any favors. If anything, you’re supporting the government’s continued push for cheap crappy food for all.

Then Came Diabetes

Following along the same idea of the previous post (corn derivatives in large supply=obesity), I thought I’d share some slides on diabetes that my dad handily shared with me a couple weeks ago. A known risk factor for Type II diabetes is obesity. As the corn in our diets has increased, the rate of obesity has risen, and the percentage of the population with diabetes has grown. I’m not saying there is a one-to-one relationship between these three phenomena, but I do think there is a relationship. The following graph represents the total occurrance of diabetes in Americans by age in 2005:

diabetes-slide1

According to this data, one-fifth of the population of Americans over 60 has diabetes. I find that number to be incredible. According to another slide from the same presentation, the total direct medical expenditures on diabetes in America is $92 billion. So all of that money we’re all saving on the convenience of fast food and packaged foods is costing us down the road in medical bills, taxes, and our own health. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather cook.

Corn and Obesity

As I start figuring out what sort of action I want to take to steer people away from corn, I began looking into the health issues related to our corn saturated diets. Apparently, some members of the scientific and medical communities think that the key to our nation’s obesity epidemic lies with fructose. They concede that over eating and lack of exercise are huge components in the steep incline in obesity rates, but even when those two factors are under control, fructose remains as a powerful culprit. According to one source,

“We think fructose makes you obese not simply by the calories it provides but because it also tricks hormonal systems that control appetite…You don’t get a sense of being full so you keep eating. It (fructose) may also be important in the development of diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.

Fructose naturally occurs in fruits, but is found in cereals, pastries, and of course sodas. So we are not strangers to fructose, though we are now consuming fructose in alarmingly high doses as it replaces sugar in just about every packaged food. A recent study at the University of Florida studied the effects of fructose on rats. In the course of this study, the scientists made some incredible discoveries about leptin.

Leptin is a hormone that plays a role in helping the body to balance food intake with energy expenditure. When leptin isn’t working–that is, when the body no longer responds to the leptin it produces–it’s called leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is associated with weight gain and obesity in the face of a high-fat, high-calorie diet…Although previous studies have shown that being leptin resistant can lead to rapidweight gain on a high-fat, high-caloric diet, this is the first study to show that leptin resistance can develop as a result of high fructose consumption.

So all of this means, if these scientists are correct, that consuming large amounts of fructose, as one invariably does when eating commercially prepared food, causes the brain to fail to send out signals telling you when to stop eating. Not to sound all conspiracy theorist or anything, but how odd is it that we have this giant surplus of corn, which the food industry decided to turn into sugar and add to everything, and that conveniently makes us want to eat even more? I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit duped.

Rethink and Revise

foods-from-cornI’m starting to wonder if my original corn elimination plan was the right route to take. Tomorrow I am supposed to present to my class how I am going to get others on the “let’s eat less corn” bandwagon, but I haven’t even completely figured out how to eliminate corn from my life! Not to sound fatalistic, but the more research I do, the more certain I become that it is impossible to completely rid your life of corn. Take for example the article I was reading this morning. It’s list of corn’s presence in our lives made my jaw drop to the floor. A sampling of the big surprises:

  • the adhesive on envelopes, stamps, stickers, and tape
  • hair spray, breath spray, toothpaste
  • aspirin, cough syrup, vitamins
  • the lining of cardboard milk and juice containers
  • the wax coating given to fresh produce

I’ll admit the list is a bit depressing. We’re not supposed to buy foods in cans because they’re lined with BPA, but cardboard is no better because it’s lined with corn (and so probably has traces of the pesticides used to grow the corn). Not that it’s any huge revelation, but I’m thinking that our reliance on modern conveniences—cardboard and canned foods instead of fresh or contained in glass—is doing us more harm than the convenience is worth. Now, I am definitely not one to preach that we should give up on all modern food conveniences. I may shop weekly at the farmer’s market for my produce and eggs, but I make regular trips to Safeway and Trader Joe’s for my cartons of soy milk and and cans of garbonzos. We are so busy these days that it seems outlandish to think that we could ever cook everything from scratch and “can’ our foods to last us through the winter. Regardless, the food industry is such that there are very few stores if any you can go to and avoid packaged foods altogether. I know Rainbow has an impressive selection of bulk foods you can pack into containers of your choice. But even Whole Foods, who rejected the PLA corn plastics (see previous post) for fears of genetically modified corn sells foods packaged in cardboard and cans.

So what’s a girl to do? I had already been thinking about designing a printable card listing the corn derivatives people might want to look out for while at the grocery store, but now I’m thinking I should take more action to tell people about the ways they can avoid corn (and why) in this confusing corn-filled world.

Back on Track—With Plastic

I’ve been a little lax lately with my blog, so my apologies. You know when the weather changes and you get distracted by all sorts of new things? Well, it happens to me and this time, I was distracted by an overwhelming sense of lazy. Luckily, lazy can get old and I am back to paying attention to what’s important—well, at least trying to. primo-plastic

So my friend Jessie sent me this really fascinating article from the Portland newspaper on plastics made from corn. I was overall really impressed with the article because it did a really nice job of rounding out the facts. Essentially, the article tries to point out that, while the idea of a biodegradable plastic is nice, without an effective structure with which to deal with said plastic is in place, it’s really no better than conventional plastics. Plastic made from corn is a great advancement, especially considering that it uses some of the surplus corn that we would otherwise ingest as calories and turns it into the plastic products we’ve all come to rely so heavily on. However, it is not the answer to all of our problems.

The article starts out with the good: “PLA, or corn plastic, is made with Midwestern corn, not Middle East oil. Its production releases fewer toxic substances than making petroleum plastic and uses less energy, spewing an estimated two-thirds less greenhouse gas.” A spokeswoman for NatureWorks, one of the primary corn plastic manufacturers, put it another way: “It’s made from plants that can be grown in 100 days, not oil that takes 100 million years.” So OK, the plastic is good since it lessens our dependency on oil and produces a smaller carbon footprint than traditional plastics manufacturing. This plastic also gets its great rep for being biodegradable, a fact which would let us all continue to rely on disposable plastics without adding to landfill waste.

biodegradable-cupThe bad part comes along when you consider that this biodegradable plastic “composts only in high-temperature commercial composting systems, not backyards. It’s difficult to distinguish from regular plastics in the recycling mix. And a small amount can foul recycling of conventional plastic…” So now that we are all conditioned to recycle our plastics, especially here in California where a high percentage of plastics are accepted, we’re told that this new magic type of plastic, which is virtually indistinguishable from other types, is a danger to our other recyclables. I have several problems with this. One is that there is very little information about what to actually do with your corn plastics when you’re ready to dispose of them. I have a corn plastic container from Rainbow Grocer in my fridge right now with some delicious cilantro pesto, but my building doesn’t collect compost. What do I do with it when I’m done?

Well, the manufacturers recommend recycling it, calling contamination worries “overblown.” However, they have “agreements with customers to slow distribution if ‘serious contamination’ shows up in a market.” That’s all well and good I suppose, but what good are these new plastics to us if we can’t actually compost them as they are meant to be composted? Granted, the production of these plastics creates less pollution, but they are ending up in landfills where they are as unlikely as traditional plastics to breakdown. Plus, when they do end up being recycled, these corn-based plastics have a good chance of contaminating the plastic that is meant to be recycled.

Whole Foods actually managed to make my final argument for me. Wild Oats was one of the early purchasers of corn-based plastics, but when the company was bought out by Whole Foods, the plastics were dropped because of concerns about genetically modified corn. “Whole Foods packages use plant fiber and compostable cardboard instead.” While I agree that relying on corn for plastics production is better than relying on oil, I think we would be better off growing less corn and returning to traditional farming methods rather than finding ways to turn it into a new product. Or, even better, reduce our dependency on plastics! I don’t always agree with Whole Foods and their relationship with food, but I think they did the right thing here. If there are plastics alternatives that don’t get involved in the messy genetically modified corn industry and don’t potentially taint plastics recycling, I think that is the better route to head down.