Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Real dogs eat meat, even if their owners are vegan

It's the Surgeon General clandestinely discovered smoking a cigarette.

Or the Dalai Lama having a temper tantrum.

That's how I feel when I make my beleaguered biweekly trip to North Berkeley's Andronico's meat counter to satisfy my 100- pound Alaskan Malamute's desire to taste real meat.

I approach these trips with much trepidation. Even though I love my dog Bella immensely, my ambivalence over what I'm doing causes me great anguish.

My wife and I are vegans and eschew all animal products.
Card-carrying PETA members, we have even discontinued wearing leather shoes and jackets. As a vegan chef for many years I have been educating and encouraging others to understand that adopting a vegan diet not only means good health, but it also means discovering new foods and exploring new tastes.

So now you can see why I would rather not have this issue thrust in my face every two weeks.

When I do summon the courage to purchase Bella's pound of ground turkey breast, I scan the meat counter to see if I recognize anyone.
It's equally important to see if anyone will recognize me. When I determine that the coast is clear, I meekly ask for my turkey breast. As a testament to my insecurity and anxiety, I always make it quite loud and clear that my purchase is for "my dog."

While impatiently waiting as the butcher weighs and packages it, I continuously make pronouncements that the turkey is for "my dog" just in case someone I might know should unexpectedly appear at the counter.
Fortunately I am prepared for just such an event, having at my ready several plausible explanations for my whereabouts.

Finally, package in hand, I make my way to the checkout counter, already considering which aisle appears to be the safest and most secure.

You are probably wondering why I choose to put myself though this stress on such a regular basis, and why I don't just feed Bella a vegan diet. My response is: dogs are omnivores, and though some breeds and individual dogs do quite well on a balanced vegan diet, Malamutes like my Bella are not one of those breeds. They have existed on the frozen tundra for centuries eating walrus and sundry entrails with great glee.
I suspect it's in Bella's DNA. Even though she is completely domesticated, Bella has a strong sense of prey and will patiently hunt every vermin, real or imaginary, during our daily walks at Tilden Park.

Which leaves me with my ongoing dilemma. It's gotten hard enough I just might adopt a technique reportedly used by Ruth Reichel. When she was the restaurant critic for the NY Times she was so well known to the restaurant establishment, she was forced to wear a disguise while visiting various eateries. She did this to obtain an authentic experience, rather than being treated as a VIP.

So if you ever see a guy in Andronico's who appears to be wearing a wig, well, you night want to ask him what his dog's name is.
Contra Costa Times July 11, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Legume Phobia

I’ve been wondering why legumes don’t get very much respect these days. Most people know that this group, which includes beans, peas and lentils are probably very good for us. They are great sources of protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, calcium, folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.

That said, there appears to be a disconnect between our intellectual knowledge and our ability to incorporate this nutritional powerhouse into our daily diets.

I believe I know what the problem is. It’s the name – Legume. It’s not manly enough. No self respecting Mid-Westerner or Alaskan would ever utter its name. Many of us are not even sure how to pronounce it, which makes us very uncomfortable. It’s vaguely foreign and effeminate and neither Sarah nor Arnold would ever be seen in the presence of it.

The other significant problem we need to address is the flatulence issue. Even with all the talk in Copenhagen about methane gas emissions, we in this country are still quite reluctant to have a discussion about many bodily functions. Regarding this issue, it is my opinion, that because of cultural reasons, men are more open to farting, while women are generally more circumspect, unless they are adoring fans of Dr. Oz.

As seen in many other areas, men tend to have a double standard when it comes to farting. For many men, public farting is often a rite of passage, but they are usually not too crazy about their women having the same privilege. What else is new….

How To: Edamame Spread/ Pate

Shelled Edamame, or green soy beans, are available frozen from China. I recommend that you purchase USDA certified organic since I don’t have much confidence in food products from China. They are available fresh at most farmers markets during the summer.

Since they are already cooked, just bring them to a boil, and then lower the heat for about five minutes until beans are soft. When cooled, add to food processor. You will need to add some water to get things going. Do this slowly and keep pushing beans down from the sides as you are working.

From this point there are many directions to go. Asian – Chili, garlic, Japanese toasted sesame oil, fermented black beans. Mediterranean – capers, olives, garlic, roasted peppers and olive oil.
Be experimental with your flavors. It should be fun…

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pastrami on Fry with a Side of Lipitor

For those of you from the Mid West who think the Bay area’s food scene is comprised of Chez Panisse and micro greens, Check this review out….

The Deep-Fried Twinkie and Pastrami Shop.

Having garnered a local cult following, this guilty pleasure occupies two corners of the convenience store at a Valero station that sells Fremont’s lowest cost gas. Its menu includes deep-fried hot dogs and sandwiches, deep-fried Hostess treats, and deep-fried cookies. Some customers bring over their convenience- store purchases for a quick fat- bath.

From Whole Foods,say,or even Trader Joe’s this is another universe, where Hostess cupcakes are dipped not entirely into batter, then fried such that their distinctive chocolate-with-white- squiggle frosting stays untouched. Deep-fried, a Twinkie loses the angle-cake lightness that was once its signal quality and becomes something darker, something loaded.

Owner Steve Yankos and his family make their batter, chili, gravy, and more, and give deep-fried cuisine a certain dignity.

Not everything here is deep-fried(although the bacon wrapped hot dog is): Hot and cold sandwiches abound, but vegetarians are out of luck.

As the contemporary philosopher, Joey Soprano has stated, You can’t make up this kinda shit ...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Veggie Workout

Just when you thought you knew all the important benefits of including more fruits and vegetables in your life, here’s another one to ponder .

In the last five years, there has been a gradual change in the world of fitness training. These days, pushing dead weight around, has become so unconstructive and old fashioned. Resistance training [Weight Training] has shifted from a stagnant push or pull approach to one that includes more real life movements.

Borrowing from the world of physical and occupational therapies, the new inclusive term for this approach is Functional Stability Training, or FST. The object of this technique is to help us as we age with activities of daily living, or ADL.

All this became relevant about six months ago when we got Buster, our new yellow lab puppy. Labs have a tendency to put on weight very easily, so we began to weigh him weekly to monitor his weight. He was sixteen pounds when we got him and at that point not much of a challenge for me to lift him while stepping on to the scales and then doing some quick math.

I’ve been working out in gyms all my life, and at under 160lbs, nobody would mistake me for Arnold, still I can comfortably handle 50 -60lbs dumbbells.

As anticipated, Buster began to put on some weight; on average about two pounds a week. After the first month, things started to become a bit more problematic, in that he would wiggle and squirm a lot which made it difficult for me to clearly read the scale.

After two month, he was 39 lbs of wiggling Jello, and when I tried to weigh him, he got great pleasure in licking my entire face while trying to impersonate a slinky.

In addition to weighing him we were also measuring the amount food we were feeding him. Our efforts appeared to be working since he was quite lean and muscular, unlike so many other labs we have seen who were quite obese.

After an exceedingly hectic few months, my wife and I decided to take a break toward the end of summer, so we boarded the dogs and went up north to Portland for a few weeks.

Last summer was a great fruit season in the Bay area with a bountiful harvest of all my favorite fruits with the exception of watermelons. I tried all the usual techniques of thumping, percussing and smelling without much success. My percentages were pretty low, maybe at best, one out of five. Most of my melons were mealy and under or over ripe.

When we got to Portland, we tried some baby watermelons from Whole Foods as well as some baby yellows from the Sat farmers market. They were ok, but not really outstanding. I was becoming resigned to the fact that it probably wasn’t meant to be and I begrudgingly moved on to the wonderful Oregon cherries and raspberries that were at their peak of flavor.

One day when I was out and about, I stopped at a local market to pick up a few things and while browsing , I got into a conversation with the produce mgr about my watermelon drama. He said that he had just gotten a shipment of a local watermelon that was outstanding, and then proceeded to pull out a knife and offered me a private tasting of his prized melon. It was amazing, everything that I was looking for all summer was encapsulated in that slice. I felt vindicated, happy and almost giddy. Still not feeling totally confident, I asked the kind man to pick out a melon for me, for which I was exceedingly grateful.

His selection was medium size, and not until I got to the checkout counter, did I realize that it weighed 30lbs. "I’m in shape", I said to myself, as I euphorically walked out of the store. I only had about ten blocks to walk to get to where we were staying and thought, hey no problem….

The following statement should be etched in stone; There’s no easy way to carry a watermelon. I initially tried carrying it by the handles of the double wrapped plastic bag. After walking about a block, I had to change hands to relieve the pressure from all the weight that was digging into my fingers. I used the alternate hand routine for a while, until both my hands went numb.

My next foray, was to embrace the melon, which at this time was beginning to feel like a bowling ball. I gave it the bear hug treatment for a few blocks, and then went back to a combination of carrying and hugging, until I finally made it to the apartment, exhausted but triumphant. When I finally cooled down, I realized that I had just had the best workout, in my life.

My epiphany, led me to several addition ‘’workouts’’ while in Portland. I was beginning to look at butternut squash and russet potatoes in an entirely new light.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Laser Man

Move over Joe the Plumber and Larry the Cable guy. There is a new hero in town. His name is John McIntyre, AKA John the Laser man.

John is one of the new breed of techno-medical entrepreneurs who supplies specialized medical equipment to hospitals. Many facilities find it advantageous to rent rather than own his extremely sophisticated lasers that are used to treat kidney stones.

Prior to April 2009, John, like many of his fellow brethren, would bring along his welcome wagon of "goodies" for the OR staff to munch on. He would set up his cornucopia of unhealthful delights in the staff lounge and would be amazed just how quickly his fat, sugar, and salt laden morsels were consumed by the personnel.

John covers a wide geographical area, from Santa Rosa in the north to Gilroy in the south, and as far east as Stockton. Prior to arriving at each individual hospital, he would stock up on sodas, cookies, chips and donuts. He would then set up his wares to the delight of all concerned.

At some point John became troubled over the feeding frenzy that ensued whenever he presented his goodies to the staff. His epiphany occurred when he became aware of Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, and former dean of UCSF and Yale Medical Schools, and his new book "The End of Overeating". Kessler's premise is that the processed food trio of high fat, sugar, and salt, hyperstimulates parts of the brain and creates an almost addictive state in individuals who consume these products. McIntyre was observing this phenomenon first hand and was coming to the realization that he had to change what he had been doing all these years.

The typical hospital staff has few options when it comes to consuming a more healthful diet. Unfortunately this is not just a Bay area problem. In a study conducted in 2005 by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the survey of 40 hospitals or hospital systems across the country determined that 62% of what the hospitals considered their "healthiest entree" derived more than 30% of the calories from fat, and a few derived more than 50% from fat. Fewer than one third of hospitals surveyed had a daily salad bar or offered a vegetarian entree. This does not bode well for a country in which two thirds of its inhabitants are overweight or obese.

As hospitals are getting out of the "food" business, the fast food outlets are moving in with abandon. Their Field of Dreams approach is, build it and they will come, and their strategy appears to be quite successful. In a survey taken of 234 hospitals, 42% had a fast food outlet on the premises. McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC and Dunkin Donuts are familiar sightings at the most prestigious hospitals in the country. Indeed, the Cleveland Clinic, lauded by the Obama administration as a model for the future of health care, has been fighting a battle with McDonalds and Pizza Hut over their facilities in the hospital cafeteria.

McDonalds USA, the leading food source provider in the USA with over 13,700 facilities, has supported National Nurse's Week with a special "new southern style chicken biscuit" breakfast. This is the type of diet that has been shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, reaching pandemic proportions in the US and other countries that follow a standard American diet. The incestuous relationship of a fast food outlet housed in the same facility as a Coronary Care Unit has prompted Dr Andrew Weil to describe these facilities as" surgery with a side of fries".

One positive exception to these developments is the Kaiser Hospital System which has established weekly farmers markets at 31 sites in Northern California. This gives the staff an opportunity, at least once a week, to partake in fresh fruits and vegetables. Conversely, as an illustration of the powerful influence that high fat foods have on us, one physician informed me that the longest line at the market was at the sausage vendor.

John's experience has caused him to radically alter his own diet. He went from a cholesterol laden, animal based diet to one that is largely based on whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. In addition to his personal metamorphosis, he began to change the type of treats he brought to the hospitals he visited. Gone were the donuts, pastries, and chips --which were replaced with fresh fruit and vegetable salads. On his way to each hospital he stops at the local green grocer and purchases a wide variety of produce. Upon arriving he sets up his own fruit and salad bar in the lounge. The response has been phenomenal. John reports that as soon as the staff sees him, they have an almost Pavlovian response and immediately run to where he has set up his wares.

John, the Laser Man, with his healthful goodies has become the new hero in town.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vitamin Junkies

Having just deposited 25 cents into the parking meter opposite Vitamin Express in Berkeley, I was hoping to quickly run in and buy some Vitamin B-12 tablets. As I entered the store, I soon realized that the ten minutes that I had allocated for my transaction was probably going to be inadequate. The store was filled with all sorts of strange looking people, many of whom appeared to be on a mission to find the magical potion or lotion.

I started frequenting vitamin stores with my mother many years ago. She was a devote of Prevention magazine and thus was the first of many vitamin junkies that I would be exposed to over the years.

As a general rule, these junkies are a rather sickly looking group of individuals, many of whom appear to be afflicted with some degree of hypochondriasis.

It’s the magical pill, that is the allure, whether it be an exotic berry from the virgin rain forest of Peru or a concoction formulated by some bearded biochemist from Chechnya.

The food supplement business is a 15.5 billion industry, that is largely unregulated by any government agency. Does this sound like the financial services industry?

In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education act was established. The bill, known as DSHEA, was largely supported by the "champion" of progressive causes, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and had the immediate effect of eviscerating any jurisdiction that the FDA would have over the food supplement industry.

The vitamin companies can essentially claim anything they want with total impunity. With so many of us addicted to the ‘’quick fix’’ of pill taking, the industry has hit upon a fail-safe business plan that has proven profitable in both up and down economies.

There are two issues that the consumer needs to be concerned with. Number one is, does the product contain what is stated on the label? Independent laboratory analysis of many products has indicated that too often, either the product did not contain the potency that was stated, or that the product was contaminated in some fashion. The second issue is even more important, in that it goes to the heart of the matter of whether we even need to consume food supplements at all.

Almost every long term peer reviewed study of isolated vitamins has indicated that they do not have any beneficial effect on our health. Beta carotene is a good example of a nutrient that was tested in isolation, where in nature (real food), it exists with hundreds of other carotenoids. Eating cruciferous vegetables is far superior to taking a pill. Unfortunately, no one is going to get rich selling broccoli.

Following a diet that revolves around whole grains, legumes and what we in Berkeley refer to as the Rainbow Coalition of fruits and vegetables, will provide all the known nutrients as well as the thousands of other important compounds that go into the make up of real food. Vitamin B-12 is the one exception to this rule. The bacteria that produce Vitamin B-12 can’t reliably be obtained through the soil these days so that vegans need to obtain it from an external source such as fortified food products or sublingual tablets, which is where my story began.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Overfed and Undernourished

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Geetha Raghuver, MD MPH. Dr Raghuver is a pediatric cardiologist and public health researcher at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Her research made headlines last year when she published her findings comparing carotid ultrasound testing of her patients 8-16 years old with a control group of 45 year olds. Much to her surprise, the degree of occlusion was similar in both groups. This finding was extremely important since the carotid arteries supply blood to the brain and their condition quite often correlates with the health of the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart. The inference drawn from this study is that these youngsters have the real cardiovascular age of a 45 year old.

Dr Raghuver sees many patients as young as 8 who are hypertensive, morbidly obese, and suffering from type 2 diabetes. In further correspondence, Raghuver stated that" universal health coverage and health care reform will get nowhere in containing costs if prevention efforts beginning in the first decade of life are not stepped up". She also stated that "this is the first generation of children whose life expectancy will be less than the previous generation".

The phenomenon of overfed and undernourished is not only relegated to the Midwest. We in the "enlightened" Bay Area are experiencing a similar pattern, particularly in our inner city schools. Many of these children come from dire circumstances, socioeconomically speaking, and often their only opportunity to obtain a healthful meal is at school. However,this meal can’t compete with nearby fast food chains, all of which are directly or indirectly subsidized by the Dept of Agriculture.

Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have both written extensively about the "real cost" of cheap food. We experienced first hand the influence of ”Big Agri-business” during last years farm bill maneuvering. In my view, it remains to be seen whether Alice Waters and Sam Cass’s Edible Garden will make a dent in this intractable problem.