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Back to School Tips for Snack and Lunch

Posted by Leah Bergman Thursday, August 30, 2012 0 comments

Back to school is just around the corner, so it is time to start thinking about buying notebooks, pencils, clothes, backpacks, etc.  Something that might get overlooked in the preparation is how to pack nutritious lunches that will not only save money, but also feed the body giving your children more ability to pay attention to their studies.  This might seem like a huge task, but Valerie DeLahaye has created a website, www.snacksandlunch.com, to help parents make this as easy as 1,2,3.

The only thing you need to do is sign up at this free website, answer a few questions (including dietary restrictions), and the rest of the work is done for you.  A daily menu is automatically made with items from every food group, and from all the colors of the rainbow.  One of DeLahaye’s mottos on the site is “Eat the Rainbow”, a healthy reminder that good health comes from a variety of food and not just sticking to food that is grey in color such as: potatoes, bread, etc.  After your menu is complete, you just click a button and your grocery list, divided into food groups for easy shopping, is complete.


DeLahaye started this program when her children started preschool and she realized they were not providing them with snacks and lunches. She said, “It was a shock for me because in France you get a four -course meal provided by the State.”

This meant she was going to have to prepare daily meals for her kids.  She decided to see what other parents were putting in their kids’ lunch boxes. “Parents would put a hamburger from McDonald in their kid’s lunch that they would purchase before they got to school in the morning that was completely cold. Some would put peanut butter and jelly or pizza.”  Her reaction was, “I thought, ’This is what these kids are eating from morning to night? That is what they are going to live on?’  I knew that I had to figure out what my family was going to eat.”


She ended up purchasing the Tiffin lunch boxes, which are metallic, stackable, portable containers used in India (go to http://www.lunchboxes.com/tiffin-box.html to see an example or purchase) to avoid having the plastic leech into the food.  She then needed to figure out what to put into the containers. “I started thinking about the food groups and how I wanted them to eat from each group,” she said.  She started by putting in a little bit of nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, sea vegetables, protein, grain, and legumes.

Soon other parents were looking into her children’s lunch boxes, but what is even more amazing is that their classmates started asking their parents for the same lunch boxes and lunches. “The other children would say, ’Why didn’t you give me a carrot,’ or they would say ‘I like tomatoes,’” said DeLaHaye.  She continues with, “I realized that peer pressure works both ways.  If you have a cool kid with a cool lunch, the other kids are going to want the same thing.”

Parents started calling DeLaHaye asking her questions and asking her to print out lists for them.  She decided she would start a website to “help parents who may not have the time to devote to the huge task and the research.”

When asked why she feels so compelled to be involved in this project, she said, “I couldn’t not do it because so many children are sick and shouldn’t be.  We can’t rely on the food that is being given at school because the vendors that are providing the food do not have the best interest of the children at heart. They have the best interest of their bottom line– to get rid of food that nobody wants to buy.”
She also spoke about how the lunches are prepared in schools. She said, “When you go to our school there is not even a kitchen. The food comes in frozen and they throw it in a microwave.  The cook has a pair of scissors. And that’s at the end of it!”

DeLahaye has many future plans to expand her website making it more interactive and with more information to help parents.  “Your food only tastes good if you know everyone is eating well around you,” she said.   Her desire to feed her family nutritious, tasty food has led to a wonderful website where everyone benefits.

To see her website, go to:  www.snacksandlunch.com.

©2012 Leah Bergman

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Fish Farming: The Debate Swells as Consumer Demand Rages

Posted by Leah Bergman Thursday, February 18, 2010 0 comments

Whenever you mention the word “fish farming”, people tend to raise a skeptical eyebrow, and usually respond with how they prefer “wild caught”. Even though this is true, there is still a huge movement towards fish farming. Why would this be? Society is trying to bridge the gap between overfishing, fishing until a fish population is depleted, and the ever increasing demand for fish. With this in mind, is fish farming a viable solution?

Fish farming for Salmon begin in Norway in the late 1960’s, and has now becoming a booming industry throughout the world from Norway, Scotland, Chili and British Columbia. Pens are positioned off of the coast and the salmon are placed inside. The benefit of the pens is that the fish are kept in their natural environment. Odd Grydeland, former president of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association and an executive at Heritage Salmon made a strong case for farming , “A fillet of farmed salmon in your supermarket is fresher than a wild fish netted at sea that can take five to six days to get to harbor." 1

With this being said, the disadvantages of this system have come under sever scrutiny in the last few years. One problem attributed to the industry is environmental. The fish waste smothers the seabed below the farm growing bacteria that deprives shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures of oxygen. “They're like floating pig farms," said Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "They consume a tremendous amount of highly concentrated protein pellets and they make a terrific mess." 3 In the wild, the incidents of lice and other disease is relatively small. This is in direct contrast to the pens which suffer terrible plagues of disease outbreaks due to overcrowding. One outbreak in Maine caused the slaughter of 2.5 million fish. It has been reported that the diseases of the fish farms have been affecting local wild salmon which are infected by the endless number of farm fish that escape their pens and by swimming too close to the toxic environment. In order to combat the disease, farmers administer antibiotics to the fish causing even more pollution to the surrounding area. "The more aquaculture there is," warns Callum Roberts, senior lecturer in marine conservation at the University of York in England, "the more disease there will be."1

"The more aquaculture there is the more disease there will be."
With the demand of the fish farms, environmental groups have been concerned that the feeder fish such as: anchovies, sardines, menhaden and other oily fish will themselves become over fished. According to Daniel Pauly, Carnivorous fish such as salmon need 2-5 lbs of feeder fish to produce 1 lb of farmed fish. In contract, James Tidwell, the former president of the World Aquaculture society states that 10lbs of feeder fish are needed for 1lb. "Fish-meal fish are nature's forage," he says. "Cropping them merely increases their productivity. “1 Nevertheless, fisheries have been pressured to move towards a vegetarian solution that decreases the amount of feeder fish given to farmed fish. "It takes a lot of protein to produce protein," explains Mooney, the Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Sciences. "We're calling upon the aquaculture industry to create a better feed, one that uses fewer fish."2 A table from the National Academies Press: Nutritional Requirements of Fish shows that in addition to fish meal the current pellets given to farmed fish contains wheat, corn, soy, and cotton. The pellets have become the solution for overfishing feeder fish, but have created their own controversy. If farmed fish are eating food that is not natural for them, will they really be the best quality fish?


The shrimp industry is plagued with its own history of problems. Waste waters running off from local fish farms combined with the salinity of the water poison land for agriculture, the wastes flush into the sea destroying coast lines and killing wild life, and diseased ridden farms are abandoned and new ones started marring the coast line in its wake. The majority of the industry is in Asia, but there is a new player to the scene who is taking a different approach. U.S. based Marvesta has a new revolutionary facility located in Maryland that is changing the face of the shrimp industry. Their facility is the only 100% indoor, recirculating facility in the world. They claim that their system creates no waste, and their bio-security measures lead to no disease. “We saw an opportunity to approach it (shrimp farming) with a modern, responsible, reputable system,” says Co-Owner Scott Fritz, “We are not trying to compete with foreign companies that are selling frozen. We are trying to differentiate ourselves with fresh, quality shrimp.” Marvesta’s innovation is changing the negative history of shrimp farming and diminishing the negative impact on the environment, apart from its usage of electricity. Scott enthusiastically exclaims, “It’s not every day you get an opportunity to pioneer an industry.”

If farmed fish are eating food that is not natural for them, will they really be the best quality fish?
It appears that they have conquered the waste and disease problems that plague the shrimp industry, but what about the food debate? Because of their bio-security and recirculating system, they do not use chemicals, hormones, or vaccinations which are so common in other fish farming scenarios. Their juvenile shrimp are fed zoo plankton which is naturally acquired in the environment that they have painstakingly created to mirror sea life. This means that the shrimp are eating their native foods and there is no negative impact on the environment. The more mature shrimp are given a soy based protein pellet which satisfies environmentalist, but does not echo nature.

Instead of trying to farm carnivorous fish creating a multiplicity of environmental problems, perhaps lessons should be learned from the ancients who used herbivorous varieties. The Chinese have been farming carp, also known as koi, for 2,000 years using an ecological approach where nothing is wasted. Basically, the farmer digs a pond around rice paddies and feeds the fish with weeds from the rice fields. In turn, the waste from the pond is used as fertilizer for the rice fields, and crabs are used to eat pests, a farming system that creates a perfect harmonious balance. There is evidence that ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome cultures have used tilapia, another herbivorous species, in fish farming.

Dan Butterfield has adapted some of these ancient techniques on his organic fish farm in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he raises bass, carp, and catfish in the same pond. He states that the sun and the catfish feces stimulate the growth of the phytoplankton which feed the other species. The natural balance of nature which he employs also keeps his water clean and leads to no waste issues.

Fishing has become big business with shrimp being the 2nd import only to petroleum. As demand for seafood increases, companies are trying new innovations to meet that demand. As consumer awareness and “food education” increases, companies are also changing their practices to be more environmentally conscious. Some of the modern practices include utilizing technological advances. Others include going back to traditional ways that have worked for thousands of years. In the end, farm fishing is here to stay. It will be up to the consumer to educated themselves and vote with their dollars on how they wish it to affect the environment, their palette, and their health.





Footnotes:

1 McCarthy, Terry and Campell River, “Is Fish Farming Safe?” Time Magazine 17 November 2002: n. pag. Web. 30 November 2009

2 Shwartz, Mark, “Do Fish Farms Really Add to the World’s Supply of Fish?” Standford News 26 June 2000 n. pag. Web 30 November 2009

3 Weiss, Kenneth R., “Fish Farms Become Feedlots of the Sea” Los Angeles Times: 9 December 2002: n. pag Web 30 November 2009

Fresh and Tasty - Make Your Own Tofu in Less Than 25 Minutes.

Posted by Leah Bergman Friday, February 5, 2010 0 comments

Tofu is an Asian delight that has recently gained popularity in the West. This protein-packed super food has surprisingly almost as much calcium as a glass of milk, and it is low in calories, sodium, and cholesterol. Not only is it low in cholesterol, it is said to actually help reduce it. Tofu is often consumed by menopausal woman as the isoflavones increase the lowered estrogen levels and help regulate hormone fluctuations; however, it is not just for women, the isoflavones are also beneficial for prostate health.

With all of its health benefits, why not experience the freshness of homemade tofu? It is surprisingly easy to make in just a few steps, and you will be surprised how much better it tastes than its store bought counterpart. Tofu is made out of curdled soy milk so the majority of the work in making tofu is actually finished once the soymilk is made. (You can find the directions for making soy milk in my previous post).




Materials needed: (An inexpensive kit can be purchased)
Tofu Box
Cheese cloth
1 tsp Coagulant – Nigari (natural magnesium chloride) is used in Japan and Gypsum (natural calcium sulfate) is used in China
12-16 cups of freshly made, unsweetened soymilk


1. Prepare coagulant by dissolving 1 tsp in a cup of hot water. (The more coagulant used, the firmer the tofu becomes.)

2. While stirring, slowly pour ¾ of the dissolved coagulant in soymilk that has just been boiled and is still hot, but the burner is now turned off. (Please note that the soymilk needs to be near boiling point for the coagulant to curdle properly, but the burner should now be turned off.)

3. Stop stirring and wait 2-3 minutes. It should immediately start curdling.

4. Check to see if there are more white milky parts left.

5. If so, add the remaining ¼ tsp. Otherwise it is not necessary depending on how firm you wish your tofu to turn out.

6. The tofu should now be separated between the small white curds and the whey (amber liquid).

7. Put cheese cloth into a strainer and pour the whey and curds into it.

8. Place the cheese cloth with the strained curds into the mold.

9. Place a cup on top of the mold and let stand for 20 minutes.

So basically, you are just putting some coagulant in the prepared soymilk and then placing it into a mold. How easy is that? Now it is time for you to enjoy your fresh, nutritious creation!

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Posted by Leah Bergman Tuesday, January 26, 2010 0 comments


Winter brings cozy fireplaces, warm blankets, and plenty of baked goods. For some people, it is the time of year that they wish to hibernate. They feel fatigued, tired, and depressed. This “seasonal depression” could actually be a lack of vitamin D.


The body needs about 5-30 minutes worth of exposure to Ultra Violet B rays ( UVB rays) from the sun at least twice a week in order to produce enough vitamin D. The body then uses it to promote healthy bones and teeth, regulate cell growth, hormonal balance, and a healthy immune system. The UVB rays are weaker in the winter and in the northern part of the country are not sufficient to produce enough Vitamin D.

If you cannot receive adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sun, nature has provided an answer with vitamin D naturally occurring in certain foods. The top three are cod liver oil, raw herring, and dried shiitake mushrooms. Other great sources are button mushrooms, salmon, and other fatty fish. The Scandinavian culture eats an abundance of fatty fish and is able to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

To avoid the winter blues, remember to get plenty of vitamin D by either getting a few hours of sun exposure a week or by eating food rich in the vitamin.



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

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: http://www.crudethemovie.com/ The website offers opportunities to participate in helping the plight of the Ecuadorian people. One way is to purchase a t-shirt by contacting CRUDEChariTees@gmail.com. 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 http://www.crudethemovie.com/get-involved/ . 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!