Crude: The Human Price of Profit

Posted by Leah Bergman Friday, December 11, 2009 0 comments

In the 80’s, there was a popular song by Loverboy who’s chorus began with, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” That particular line stands out because it has a ring of truth to it. The majority of Americans are working hard during the week so they can have some free time to pursue an activity or hobby, relax, and enjoy time with friends and family. What if the lyrics were changed, and they now just said, “Everybody’s working just plain working.” What if someone came into our culture and took away our free time, and our cultural norms. Would we be angry? What if employees were met at the water cooler not by fresh, clean water, but by a putrid smell emanating from the now cloudy water? Does this seem ridiculous? Maybe, but this is the plight Ecuadorian families face daily. A plight brilliantly documented in the new award winning film “Crude” directed by Joe Berlinger.

Joe was first introduced to this story by a Harvard lawyer named, Steve Donziger. Steve’s account was compelling from a human interest side as a news story, but Joe did not initially see how it could be translated into a film. It wasn’t until he agreed to travel to Ecuador to see the devastation for himself that the possibility started to ignite. Of his first encounter, Joe said, “This image of indigenous people being forced to eat canned tuna deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest spoke deeply to me.” He saw first-hand how the rivers have been poisoned, and the smell of noxious fumes filled the lush green jungle. He spoke to many families who have no clean water to bath in or even drink. He heard how they mourn for the time when they were free of disease, and lived a beautiful life in a paradise. He witnessed first-hand how the Amazon, which has been untouched for millenniums, is now full of toxic goo. The devastation is so massive that it expands over an area about the size of Rhode Island, and affects over 30,000 indigenous and colonial Ecuadorians. He describes that when he returned home, the images and the magnitude of suffering and disease haunted him. “How could I go home and return to my pleasant life of directing television programs and commercials,” states Joe, “ without trying to help these people get some fresh water through wider exposure of their story, regardless of who won the lawsuit?”

In lieu of all the mass suffering, it would have been easy to create a one-sided film that only focused on the evils of big business, namely Texaco which is now owned by Chevron, and corrupt government; however, Joe decided to let the story speak for itself. He leads the viewer on a journey through the biggest lawsuit of the century by presenting both sides of the issue without ever forgetting the people who it is affecting. “I believe the best way to serve the truth is to explore a situation from all sides without overtly revealing the filmmaker’s viewpoint, allowing each audience member to come up with his or her own conclusion about the events they are witnessing onscreen,” declared Joe. The viewer is introduced to courageous, inspiring people, and is also confronted with poignant questions. Questions of who is at fault, and how can reparations be made? How can an indigenous people retain their traditions when their environment has been irrevocably damaged? How do you put a cost on human lives? This is a riveting film that fully explores a court case that could change how international business is conducted in the future; a film that should be supported because what is happening to one part of the human family affects us all.

Check out their website to see where it is playing near you: The website offers opportunities to participate in helping the plight of the Ecuadorian people. One way is to purchase a t-shirt by contacting All of the proceeds go to The Water Project. You can find out more information about The Water Project, which is headed by Trudie Styler (Sting’s wife), by following this link . The link also lists a variety of different organizations that are helping with this cause. See the movie, and get involved.

Nature’s Nectar- How to Easily Make Your Own Fresh Soy Milk

Posted by Leah Bergman Monday, December 7, 2009 0 comments

Soymilk has been enjoyed in the east for thousands of years. The fist document of its usage is a mural engraved in stone depicting its production in a culinary scene. There have been references made in a diary by the Shinto priest Nakaomi, and in cooking books dating back to 1782. This exotic nectar has now captured the west and graces restaurants, stores, and kitchens throughout America. I was surprised to see how easy it is to make it yourself, and gladly took on the challenge. This way I could cut out all the sugar, oils, and emulsifiers, and just enjoy it in its purist form. Here is the recipe:

1 lb of organic soy beans
1 gallon (16 cups) of filtered water.

1. Soak the soybeans for 10-16 hours

2. Knead the beans and flush with water to remove the hulls. This will make the extraction process more efficient and removes some of the phytic acid.

3. Heat the soybeans in a pan to remove the “beanie flavor” (Optional)

4. Put the beans and water in batches into the blender. Filter out the bean puree from the liquid with a sieve or cheese cloth. (The left over bean puree is called okra. The okra can be used in recipes to make bread, croquettes, etc)

5. Bring the liquid to a boil, and boil for 5-10 minutes. When it has cooled, it is ready and can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days. (I like to put in a pinch of salt and 2 tbs. of agave nectar to flavor.)

Enjoy the soy milk by itself, in a smoothie, with cereal, or as traditional Chinese breakfast, Dou Jiang which can be either salty or sweet, and is served with bread

You can also purchase a soymilk machine to do the work for you.

Amaranth is a plant that dates back to the ancient Inca and Aztec cultures. It was considered sacred then,and is an unknown super plant now. The Aztecs believed it was magical and could give them amazing strength. Science is now uncovering that although it may not be “magical”, its nutritional value does surpasses the most common grains used today. It is high in protein, has more iron than a 6oz steak, and has as much calcium as milk. It is also high in magnesium which is needed for the body to absorb calcium, which milk is low in. Both the grain, which is gluten-free, and the leaves are used for its nutritional value and taste.

How can it be incorporated into the diet? The leaves can be used in stir fried vegetable dishes, salads, and really the same as other greens. The grain can be made as porridge, or popped in the same way as popping corn. Just place a little bit of oil in the bottom of the pan with a pinch of salt and let it pop. Great snack for kids and adults alike. To give a wonderful flavor and increase the nutritional value, add it to brown rice with a 25% to 75% ratio (amaranth to brown rice). Finally, Amaranth can be ground into flour and added with wheat to increase the nutritional value of bread. Amaranth is gluten free so it will not rise if used alone. The ratio of wheat to amaranth is 75% to 25%. You can also use amaranth 100% for muffins and other similar baked goods that do not need to rise.

The plant is excellent for the home gardener to grow as it is drought resistant and bug tolerant. The plant can grow from four to eight feet high with the most striking deep red flowers. The name amaranth comes from the Greek amarantos (Αμάρανθος or Αμάραντος) meaning the one that does not wither or the never-fading (flower) which these majestic flowers perfectly encapsulate.

How and when to plant it? It is best to plant it in well drained soil, but it will do well in all soils accept poorly aerated clay soils. Amaranth is a warm season crop that requires full sun. Best to sow the seeds when the temperature ranges from 65-75°F (18-24°C). Plant it ¼ inch deep and 1 ½ to 2 feet apart. Plants should be thinned to 6 to 18 inches (those plants not used can be put into salads). It should keep on flowering until the first hard frost.

When and how to harvest? The leaves can be harvested at any time, but the best leaves are the smaller ones. The seeds can be harvested when the flower is gently rubbed and it falls straight away to the ground. To harvest, gently rub the flowers in between your hands and let the seeds fall into a bucket. Afterwards, the chaff can be blown off with a low powered fan.

Enjoy nature’s bounty and experience a new and nutritious delight as well as adding a beautiful ornamental flower to your garden!

Nature’s Probiotic- Yogurt Making in Less Than 5 Minutes.

Posted by Leah Bergman Sunday, November 22, 2009 0 comments

One of the practices used in traditional cooking includes serving fermented foods, nature’s probiotics. This stretches the gamut from sauerkraut and dill pickles to miso and kim chi. One of the easiest “probiotics” to make is yogurt. It is so simple and takes such little time you will wonder why you haven’t tried it sooner. I found a culture which is self-renewing so after your initial investment of $12 plus shipping, your costs will only be for milk. Just remember to keep some of the latest batch of yogurt to use as a starter for the next batch. Here are the directions:

1. Put 4 teaspons of starter into a glass canning jar (1 pt), and mix around covering the bottom and sides of the jar.

2. Take milk out of the fridge.

3. Pour 2 cups of milk into the jar.

4. Cover with waxed paper, coffee filter, or sauce plate.

5. Leave on the counter top for 24-30 hours.

6. After it has fermented, place in the refrigerator.

I told you it was easy! I usually make a batch in the morning, and leave it on the counter-top until the following morning. No mess and no fuss. Now, you can add agave, honey, fruit, or just eat it plain. This will save you money, and you can avoid all the additives of the store-bought varieties. Just remember to renew the culture weekly to keep it viable.

You can get your Viili culture at Gem Cultures. It is a rich creamy culture that doesn’t turn out runny like some of the store bought cultures used in yogurt machines.

Food Inc- The Big Business of Food

Posted by Leah Bergman Saturday, November 14, 2009 1 comments

You stand in the aisle trying to decide between peanut butter brands. Do you go for the cheaper price, or do you buy the peanut butter that the family thinks tastes better? Have you ever asked yourself a different question? Have you ever asked where that peanut butter grew, who grew it, how it was processed, and was the worker treated fairly that processed it? The film “Food Inc” by award winning film maker, Robert Kenner, explores these questions and more.

By delving into the source of food, this movie casts a new light onto the food industry and exposes how a few powerful companies have taken control of one of our basic needs, food. “You look at the labels and you see farmer this, farmer that. It’s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history.” Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation.” The director takes us on a riveting journey of big business and how the Norman Rockwell paintings we associate with a farm is not representative of modern food processing. The narrator states, “There is this deliberate veil, this curtain that’s drawn between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.”

One of the first segments depicts how the poultry and beef industries have become huge factories concerned with the bottom line. The film shows chickens, which usually mature in over 70 days, maturing in a little more than a month. These sickly creatures can barely walk because of the combination of the quicker maturation period and their reengineered, bigger breasts have made their bones and organs weak. They are overcrowded with feces everywhere and never see the light of day. To combat the sickness caused by poor living conditions, one of the farmers discusses the use of antibiotics. The conditions of the cows are similar. One scene shows how the cows stand knee high in feces all day, and they are slaughtered with filthy dung covering their coats. This along with how they are being fed was attributed to the large increase in e-coli outbreaks. “Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They’re designed by evolution to eat grass. And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly … The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency. But each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed eighty percent of the E. coli in their gut.” Said Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” Kenner said, “Most American consumers think that we are being protected. But that is not the case. Right now the USDA does not have the authority to shut down a plant that is producing contaminated meat. The FDA and the USDA have had their inspectors cut back. And it’s for these companies now to self-police, and what we’ve found is, when there’s a financial interest involved, these companies would rather make the money and be sued than correct it.”

The film also discusses how government subsidies of agriculture has caused unhealthy, processed foods to be cheaper then fresh fruits and vegetables affecting the poor segments of the population the hardest. One scene shows a family debating between buying chips, which were cheaper, or fruit. “All those snack food calories are the ones that come from the commodity crops, from the wheat, from the corn, and from the soybeans. By making those calories really cheap, it’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.”

Finally, it is shown how the subsidizing of corn has not only affected the American consumer, but also the foreign farmer. Because U.S. corn is sold cheaper than it can be made, foreign farmers cannot compete and have been put out of business. This is the case for many Mexican farmers. In response, they come illegally to the country. “But what’s happened is that we’ve decided that it’s no longer in the best interests of this country to have them here. But yet, these companies still need these people and they’re desperate, so they work out deals where they can have a few people arrested at a certain time so it doesn’t affect production,” said Kenner. He went on to say, “But it affects people’s lives. And these people are being deported, put in jail and sent away, but yet, the companies can go on and it really doesn’t affect their assembly line. And what happens is that they are replaced by other, desperate immigrant groups.”

Although the movie covers unsettling topics, it ends on a high note with scenarios on how consumers have made a difference. “Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting.”– Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm.

“Food Inc” uncovers the truth about the food industry. This is a “must see” film that sheds light on a country wide epidemic. After all, if what you eat isn’t healthy, how can you be? Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, said it best, “Imagine what it would be if, as a national policy, we said we would be only successful if we had fewer people going to the hospital next year than last year? The idea then would be to have such nutritionally dense, unadulterated food that people who ate it actually felt better, had more energy and weren’t sick as much … now, see, that’s a noble goal.”

(This film is now available on DVD)

As we move deeper into the autumn season, and approach winter, many people are being plagued with chest colds, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments. There are some simple, effective, natural treatments that can be used along with some nutrition do’s and don’ts.

First, avoid foods that create mucus, and will only make your symptoms worse. This includes: cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, milk products, and white flours in breads and pasta. Instead, eat green leafy vegetables such as: kale, cabbage, collards, or bok choy at least once a day. Make sure your plate is a plethora of color with a variety of veggies. Choose whole grains including: brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley etc. Finally, drink carrot juice because it is good for the lungs, and don't forget Mom's homemade chicken soup.

The following is a list of homeopathic remedies that are safe and effective:

1. Oregano Oil- This is used as a natural antibiotic and is excellent for bronchitis, whooping cough, tuberculosis, pneumonia, anthrax, and a variety of other ailments. (Research from Georgetown University has shown that it is more effective than antibiotics for some “staph” infections.) It can be taken internally, and you can also use it as a vapor mist. As a vapor mist, boil 2 quarts of water, and allow it to set for a minute. Put in 3-6 drops of pure organic oil, and breathe the vapors. Repeat twice or 3 times daily. As an option, enclose a towel over your head and the bowl so that the vapors are contained.

2. Lotus Root Tea- Grate the lotus root (which can be found at most Asian markets 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa) and squeeze the pulp with a cheese cloth until you have ½ cup of lotus root juice. Add 2-3 drops of fresh ginger and ½ cup of water. Boil for a few minutes than drink. This is excellent for breaking up the mucus.

3. Put a rub on the chest, such as menthol. Look in your local health food store (Whole Foods, Mother's Market)
Eating a well balanced diet, resting, and the above remedies, should help you have a quicker recovery, and allow you to enjoy, instead of dread, the season.

Please note that this information is not meant to substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your doctor.

Swine Flu got you down? Immunity Boosts and Natural Remedies

Posted by Leah Bergman Monday, September 28, 2009 1 comments

     This year’s flu season has an added twist with all the notoriety the swine flu is receiving. Some people wonder how to prepare, and what to do to avoid the media sensationalized pandemic. There are some simple steps you can take to increase your immune system, and natural remedies that will ward off even the nastiest bugs.

     One of the best ways to increase your immune system is to regularly exercise. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a body builder at the gym. It can be as simple as taking a walk with a loved one, or as gentle as yoga stretches. Inactivity, on the other hand, lowers the immune system.

     Diet is also key in maintaining a healthy immune system. Eating organic whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to stay healthy. You should look at your plate, and see the colors that adorn it. Your plate should be piled with a plethora of colors: green leafy vegetables, yellow succulent squashes, and bright orange carrots, just to name a few. If you see too many brown or beige colors, than you are missing some important vitamins, and need to start again. Also, choose whole grains instead of white flour products. Whole grains are rich in magnesium which is deficient in the “modern” diet. Stay away from processed, refined foods, especially cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup which lower your immune system. Part of maintaining a healthy diet is to drink fresh water, and get at least 20 minutes of fresh air and sunshine.

     Another important aspect is to maintain a peaceful environment. This would include surrounding yourself with supportive people. It would also mean having a daily routine of prayer and meditation.

     If you start to feel that you might be catching something, nature has provided us with a few remedies to fight the flu. The elderberry tree was referred to by the Indians as the musical tree. They used its branches to make their beautiful flutes. They also used the leaves as teas. It has been found that an extract, Elderberry Extract, is a safe and natural remedy for fighting the flu. Another remedy is oregano oil which was first used by the Greeks. The variety, Origanum Vulgare, should not to be confused with the oregano that is commonly used in cooking. Georgetown University has found in its studies that oregano oil is more effective in fighting some staph infections than pharmaceutical antibiotics. Its active ingredient, carvacol, is a natural compound that is said to fight viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus. Another remedy with similar results is grapefruit seed extract. It was first discovered in 1972 by a physicist named, Dr. Jacob Harich. The seed and pulp of the grapefruit is dried and crushed into a fine powder and then dissolved into filtered water. The end of the process creates a broad spectrum antibacterial solution.

     Remember to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a peaceful environment. These principles will not only help you avoid the flu this season, but also give you a better quality of life all year round.

Please note that this information is not meant to substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your doctor.

Mix It Up

Posted by Leah Bergman Saturday, September 12, 2009 2 comments

I was looking through the supermarket for a healthy granola.  There were dozens of varieties with many interesting combinations. The only problem was that they all had sugar and other unwanted additives. Also, there was no way of controlling the quality of the oil used.  My son has been enthralled with the fact that I have been trying to make things from scratch.  He asked me to make my own cereal. So, I thought I would take his advice, and give it a try.  Here is the recipe that I came up with:

    2 cups of  thick old fashioned oats (not the instant type)
    ½ cup of sunflower seeds
    1 tbsp of flax seed
    1tsp of vanilla extract
    ¼ cup of coconut oil
    1/3 cup of pure maple syrup (or agave)
Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
Preheat oven to 325 18-20 minutes.
When it cools down add 1/2 cup of fruit. (optional)

Now that you have the framework for a great granola, add anything you want, and mix it up.

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Gardening Calendar- What to Plant & When to Plant It

Posted by Leah Bergman Thursday, September 10, 2009 0 comments

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