Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Greening - Advertising's Illusion of Information

Dear Folks,

Did you happen to see any of the Chevy Christmas commercials featuring "Nick"?  I can't get the jingle music out of my head.  This very well done, attractive and inviting commercial is the kind that sticks with you.  And it got me to really thinking about all the messages we are bombarded with daily, even hourly about what to buy, why to buy it and how it will change our lives.

I participate in surveys from time to time involving existing or possible products and it really infuriates me when they ask questions like "how does xxxx make you feel" but they are talking about something like a purse or iPhone or a sports drink.  They are looking for answers like "important", "winner", "successful."

Dorothy L. Sayers was a writer in several gendres, most notably to the general public her Lord Peter Wimsey, mystery series.  Sayers was known by her audience for her research into the settings for her books.  In "Murder Must Advertise," the "immorality" of advertising was described in an excellent passage:

Emphasis added by me:

Bredon shuddered.

“I think this is an awfully immoral job of ours. I do, really. Think how we spoil the digestions of the public.”

“Ah, yes-but think how earnestly we strive to put them right again. We undermine ’em with one hand and build ’em with the other. The vitamins we destroy in the canning, we restore in Revito, the roughage we remove from Peabody ’s Piper Parritch we make up into a package and market as Bunbury’s Breakfast Bran; the stomachs we ruin with Pompayne, we re-line with Peplets to aid digestion. And by forcing the damn-fool public to pay twice over-once to have its food emasculated and once to have the vitality put back again, we keep the wheels of commerce turning and give employment to thousands-including you and me.”

I was thinking about the whole paradox of our reliance on advertising to help us make decisions on purchases, and all the information LEFT OUT, while focusing on only the points the advertiser wants to make to sell the product.  Much (but not all) advertising is an illusion using "slight of word" to direct the audience from information they might otherwise want to know.

I was curious about what big companies may be selling with the right hand, and also with the left hand.  I decided to go to the site of Cargill one of the biggest world-wide companies with ownership of dozens of companies.  They most recently teamed up with Coke Cola to produce "tru-via" a supposedly natural sweetener made from Stevia, but the won't tell you what the other 'natural' ingredient is, while touting that it is natural

Cargill not only sells high fructose corn syrup components they also sell BarlĂ­v™ barley betafiber safe for diabetics and to lower cholesterol.   I find that some how a too-apt example of Machiavelli's deception and manipulation.    I would feel the same way if I found out one of my favorite organic seed suppliers owned stock in Monsanto {shudder}.

How about that "natural flavoring"?

From a Huffington Post article:  Natural flavors come from nature, but that doesn't mean they come from what the label says. In other words, a strawberry flavor doesn't have to come from a strawberry.

The "art and science" of advertising is to have you think something very specific when it does not want you to think generally, and to give you the definition of what a word or phrase means rather than whatever it meant before.

The producers of high fructose corn syrup a product that is as processed as refined oil in my opinion, want the public to understand that they are "just like xxxx" - only different.

From "sweet surprise" There FAQ on their version of a myth and reality

Myth: sugar is healthier than high fructose corn syrup
Reality: high fructose corn syrup is nearly identical in composition to table sugar

Did you note the qualifier "nearly"?

Myth: High fructose corn syrup is not natural
Reality: High fructose corn syrup is made from corn -- a natural grain produce. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration's requirements for use of the term "natural."

The term "natural" has been almost completely re-made according to corporate and FDA/USDA guidelines so that the consumer really has no idea what "the company" means when it uses the word "natural" on its labels or in advertising -- except that they can't play around (too much - there is always a way around things) with the word Organic.

The FDA which says it has no real guideline on the use of the word natural, has said this:

However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.  --

Now did you notice that it exempted 'processed' from the sentence and they did this because -- From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. Ibid.

Nice out.  That basically means companies can call something natural as long as it complies with the proscriptions sited in the first quote.   So flour that has been hulled, de-germed and bleached can be called natural.  Or corn that has been reduced to corn syrup - at this point it is simply a juice reduction and then "undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired sweetness." -- from wikipedia.

If you want to consider the health affects of HFCS, consider this -- when beekeepers decided to use HFCS as a winter supplement for their bees replacing sugar syrup, the bees died because of a buildup of HMF, a compound produced in high heat conditions of sugar containing foods.  HMF is present in many foods - in small quantities, insufficient to cause problems.  But when too much is consumed?  Well, what the scientists are saying right now is "no correlation of intakes of HMF and disease could be demonstrated yet." ibid

The interesting note I find in the sited research supporting HFCS as 'okay' is "Although pure fructose can cause metabolic upsets at high concentrations and in the absence of glucose, such experiments are irrelevant for HFCS, which is not consumed at extreme high levels and contains both fructose and glucose. " emphasis added --

While White's research states there is no significant increase of HFCS over sucrose (sugar) I have difficulty accepting where his information came from - as a shopper you need only look at the labels on every or every other processed product from bread to cereal to find HFCS, sometimes with other 'sugars and sweeteners' but many times the first in the list of sweeteners.

The way I read that - and I do look at other reports which most recently have given HFCS a pass on relation to obesity and diabetes as early reported - is that when you have a substance which is touted as okay in moderation, but is found in many if not most processed foods, how to you moderate your intake except to make everything fresh yourself?

Where I am going with all this is about how much of our lives become reliant on some entity telling us what we need or want or should have/do (I have to include me in my writing and thoughts in this too :-) and how 'important' or 'successful' it will make us feel.  From TV advertising to lobbyists giving legislators the 'facts' of an issue, most of us do not do our own research.

I have become obsessive about reading labels, particularly for food, but also to find out if there is a USA made option to the 'thing' I want.

My bottom line is, an ad may get my attention, but unless I know the product very well, I am going to do a little more checking before I 'buy into' or purchase something an ad is telling me I "really" need.

I hope you all will do the same for your and your families over-all health and well being.

Okay, climbing down off the soap box :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year Snack - Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves!

Dear Folks,

Happy New Year, Everyone!  I wish you all a wonderful, better, peaceful and productive year.

Along with my passion for growing edibles I am also always trying to figure out new ways to use some of the bounty.  Our gardening success can frequently be overwhelming with foods that are used only as condiments or simple additions/garnish -- like nasturtiums.  This beloved old fashioned garden favorite is truly a gem in our desert winter gardens, growing and blooming from late fall to early summer.

Because of their peppery bite (leaves, flowers and young seed pods) they have long been used to flavor foods with taste and color. (see note on restrictions near bottom of blog)

So two thoughts crossed in my mind recently:  1) I LOVE stuffed grape leaves (Dolma) and could (but don't) eat an entire container of them by myself, and 2) I was staring at ALL THOSE nasturtium leaves in our garden and wondering about stuffing them!

A little research online and I found several references to stuffing nasturtium leaves instead of grape.  Great!  Now, I thought, how can I make it a little more nutrient dense?  Traditional Dolma use rice.  I am always trying to find tasty ways to use quinoa because of its protein power pack (and fiber) content.  So that is what I did.

Two points about the recipe I need to point out:

1)  It is VERY important to fit the stuffed leaves tightly in the pot - you will see some space in my picture and that turned out to be a mistake as two of the nasturtium bundles separated.

2)  Use the largest leaves you can.  We are incredibly blessed in that our "nastys" freely re-seed each year and they grow huge.  The leaves I used were 7 inches across, about the size of a grape leaf.

Note for future blog post:  I had planned last year to use some of our fig leaves for this kind of recipe, after researching and finding many references to ancient stuff leaves using fig leaves.  I plan on really trying them this spring and if I do I will post my results.

These turned out so wonderful I can't wait to make them again and try some different ways.  My meat-and-potatoes guy really enjoyed them - that is a huge plus!

While it looks like a lot of work, it actually goes very fast in preparation.  Total cooking time for quinoa and finished stuffed leaves is about 40 minutes.  Putting the mixture together and stuffing takes about 5-10 minutes, so most of the work is actually cooking time.

Catherine's Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves

1 cup of cooked quinoa (cook in salted water), cooled (see note on cooking quinoa near bottom)
6-7 large nasturtium leaves or 12+ small ones, rinsed and patter dry (note: cut the leaf stem off as close to the leaf as possible.)
8 kalamata olives, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Taste quinoa for salt but keep in mind that the olives will impart salt and taste.  Mix quinoa, olives and parsley together.  Mix olive oil and lemon juice together.  Pour 1/3 of oil mixture over quinoa and fold to mix in (don't mash the grains).  Pour another third of the oil mixture in the pot you will use.

Assemble the rolls.  With the vein side up, place 2 tablespoons approximately near base on the leaf (if using small leaves about 1 tablespoon).  Roll over, then fold over left and right sides and continue folding to create the bundle, place seam side down in pot.  Make sure they are snugged tightly together.  If you can't fill the pot, put a potato, carrot or some other vegetable in with bundles to keep them close together (that is what I will do next time if I do not have enough bundles.  The veggie will get a nice flavor.

Pour the remaining oil mixture over the bundles and add enough water to come up about half way the height of the bundles.  Bring to a low simmer and cook covered for 20 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy!

I am going to grate a little carrot into the mixture next time and one future batch will have to include fresh spearmint too.

Nasturtium Health Note:  Nasturtiums contain oxalic acid, with the seeds having the highest concentrations.  Pregnant or lactating women and people with kidney issues should not consume nasturtiums.  For others, like spinach which also contains oxalic acid, eating too much will limit calcium absorption.  As with most foods eat in moderation.

How To Cook Quinoa:  Quinoa is a great grain to try, one of only two plant sources of complete protein, ttis ancient grain from the same family as spinach and epozote is tiny, and when cooked separates into two parts a curly 'c' and translucent pearl.  The little C is the fiber outer coating.  It is VERY important to rinse quinoa before cooking.  There is a powdery coating on all types which is 1) bitter, and 2) contains saponin (also found in spinach and oats) and should no be consumed in large quantities.  To cook quinoa use a 1:2 ratio of grain to water = 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of salted water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered for 20 minute until water is absorbed, if you are not using right away, add a touch of oil oil to keep from sticking together (although quinoa is not like rice in becoming really gluey)

Have a wonderful day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady