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Nina Planck

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  1. What a wonderful set of responses from eGullet readers every time. Many thanks to the editors and publishers for your interest in real food, not to mention Real Food. Today I was on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC and the callers were similarly informed and thoughtful. There are several questions I'm asked a lot, such as Can Poor People Afford Real Food? What do you think of Whole Foods? ...and other topics of interest to me, such as what's wrong with baby formula and what a lot of nonsense there is out there on asparagus (the too-brief season having just passed). You can find these under ARTICLES or JUST A PINCH at NinaPlanck.com. HEAR NINA SPEAK is also there, in case you're in NYC, Nola, Seattle, DC, Hamilton, NY, or any of the dozen or so cities where this little book is taking me. Events in Tampa, Austin, and San Francisco are in the works. Keep up the good conversation. Best wishes Nina
  2. Hello Eaters, I couldn't agree more with the comment to this effect: to hell with ideology, does it taste good? My pet peeves include insipid baby vegetables and overpriced heirlooms. I think every fruit or vegetable should taste good (and ahem, it should also produce well, for farmers) and it doesn't matter whether it's a hybrid or heirloom. We grow both in Virginia. May I suggest avoiding Great White, a truly useless tomato? Lady Luck, by contrast, is an excellent hybrid. As are Pink Girl and Lemon Boy. A big impetus for starting the farmers' markets in London was the wilted, tasteless, imported, but organic (!) produce I bought from what were called 'box schemes.' I also went to health food shops where they looked down their noses at me over their wilted, tasteless, imported, but organic (!) produce. I used to day dream of bringing my parents' two-pickup, 8-layer load of vegetables packed for one of the larger weekend farmers' markets to England on Concorde and putting it on the street in front of these health food stores to show people how good food looks and tastes. I wanted fresh food, organic or not, and I thought the fastest way to get it was to have farmers sell it directly. In 1999, the London Local & Organic Food Police told me two things: 1) 'You've got to be really local - 25 miles, not 100, from London' and 2) 'You've got to be 100% organic.' In order to do what? To pass their litmus tests. We did neither. We were steadfastly for regional food for Londoners and for producers - ecological or otherwise. I do prefer ecological methods when I can get them and I don't buy poultry that never goes outside. I've been in those chicken houses. As for produce, the most important things for flavor are soil fertility, good varieties, and picking at peak maturity. Some farmers understand and bother with these things; some don't. Just for fun, here are the folks we're expecting at the Real Food Markets on Sat 17 June. Real Food Markets www.RealFood.info We'll be keen to hear all your comments and wish lists. Best wishes, Nina Angie’s Exotic Bakery, homemade pies, cakes, rolls, BAKER Balthazar, traditional bread & pastries, BAKER Cayuga Fields, pastured pork, FARMER Murray’s Gone Local, regional milk, cream, butter, eggs & cheese, PURVEYOR Eden Brook Fish Company, trout, cress, regional wild fish, FARMER/PURVEYOR New York Beef Company, grass-fed beef, FARMER Norwich Meadows Farms, organic vegetables, FARMER/PURVEYOR Picklelicious, traditional pickles from local produce, ARTISAN The Seafood Shop, regional wild fish & shellfish, PURVEYOR Stone Ridge Orchards, tree fruit, berries & juice, FARMER/PURVEYOR Valley Farmers, beef, pork, poultry, FARMER CO-OP Wheelhouse Pickles, traditional pickles from local produce, ARTISAN Wine Cellar Sorbets, wine sorbet from New York wines, ARTISAN
  3. Frankly, I am getting a bit tired of all this "philosophical food stuff. (curmudgeon that I am). Family farms, regional produce, in season, outta season, organic, natural, gluten free, macrobiotic, micro biotic, symbiotic (neurotic!), free range, farmer's markets, save the tuna, save the whales, save...--blah blah blah! (we didn't start the fire) Just shut up and sell good quality stuff. I am beginning to long for the days when passionate people with their own high standards just provided products and services for fair prices ---without all the mission statements and altruism. I don't care where my tasty tomato comes from (in today's world of rapid transport/shipping) who grows it or how they grew it--as long as it tastes good and doesn't cost $29.95 a pound! Numerous threads here have attested to the utter confusion over what exactly is "organic" or even what a family farm is and how one defines "local." If farmers--with or with out families located wherever in the world produce good things then great. I-- for one have bought (and passed by) plenty of crap from highly touted green markets and purveyors of "ethically" produced food items (I have also bought lots of really wonderful things too). If Ms Planck's "Real Food." is tasty and high quality and fairly priced--she should do well and would be a welcome addition to the market place. ←
  4. If you set the rules high and recruit farmers with energy and commitment, you find the farmers. In Britain everyone told me you couldn't require the dairy farmer to make the cheese as well, and in a couple of years we had every kind of dairy product imaginable. They said the same about grow the apples, press the juice. Suddenly the orchards were all buying presses. The general rule is how well does the rule serve these values: shorten the food chain, meet the producer, traceability, information about methods of production (eg what the animals ate) BALANCED by intelligent consideration of supply, demand, and particular conditions of production of that product. (A good example is on-farm, own-apple cider pressing in the US - the FDA made it harder (more expensive) to do: but Greenmarket's unwise answer, I believe, was to grandfather all existing off-farm cider pressers and force new cider pressers to press on farm. Meanwhile the customer is not told what the rule is. I think you either have a single standard (and allow time to comply) or you don't. (This is one are where Local Foods has compromised, btw - it's hard to find cider pressed on-farm in the DC area at all - but we will notify customers so there is transparency.) I think Florida could have great authentic producer-only farmers markets if there were dedicated management. You are right about the FARMER SHORTAGE myth (in general) - at every well-managed FM I know, there is a waiting list of farmers. Where there is ahealthy network of FM, new farmers appear to meet the demand. We need to work to develop meat, dairy, poultry, and egg producers all over the US. Active recruitment and services (like electricity and publicity) is key to making animal foods welcome and encouraging small farmers to sell local foods. In London, see www.lfm.org.uk for markets. The best are Islington and Marylebone (both on Sundays), Notting Hill and Pimlico Road/Belgravia (both Sat). All easy by bus and tube. An outstanding food market I can claim no credit for is Borough Market south of the Thames, a hybrid market with farmers, wholesale, retail, imported stuff - the works. Enjoy. Nina
  5. Here is one example of a fairly strict producer-only rule, at London Farmers Markets. The rules at Local Foods in DC are similar. Our only STANDARDS OF PRODUCTION, as you will see, are access to pasture for grazing animals (including poultry), and no hormones or routine antibiotics. LONDON FARMERS’ MARKETS Producer-Only Rules 1. PRODUCER-ONLY You, the Producer named in the application, must raise, grow, produce, catch, gather, or bake everything you sell. You must attend the Market. You may not sell items on behalf of, or bought from, anyone else. The term Producer includes you, your family, and employees who are directly involved in production. 2. REGIONAL and LOCAL FOODS The goods you sell must be raised, grown, produced, gathered, caught, or baked within 100 miles of the M25 (‘the Region’). When possible, we invite Producers who are within 50 miles or less of the M25. 3. DEFINITION of PRODUCER We allow three kinds of Producer. Different rules apply. You may be in more than one category. For example, a beef farmer (Primary Producer) may make jam from raspberries grown in the Region (Secondary Producer). PRIMARY Producer—Raises raw ingredients such as apples or beef in the Region SECONDARY Producer—Makes products with major ingredients from the Region (soup, jam) BAKER—Makes baked goods. Produce and major ingredients such as meat must be regional 4. PERMITTED PRODUCTS You may sell fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, game, dairy products, honey and bee products, wine, spirits, cider, beer, juice, preserves, baked goods, flowers, and plants. You must ask our permission to sell any items not listed here and not listed on your application. 5. DAIRY Milk and cream must come from your own herd. You must make cheese, yoghurt, and other processed dairy products yourself from milk from your own herd. Grazing animals must have regular access to pasture. All animals must be free to move around. You may not feed hormones. 6. MEAT You must raise the animals for pork, beef, lamb, buffalo, venison, and any other farmed meat. Half of each of your animal species must be born on your farm, except beef. Beef young stock may be bought as stores. Animals not born on your farm must spend half their lives on your farm. Grazing animals must have regular access to pasture. All animals must be free to move around. You may not feed hormones or routine antibiotics. 7. POULTRY and EGGS You must raise table poultry on your farm from day-olds. You may buy laying hens as pullets. Birds must have regular access to pasture and must be free to move around indoors. You may not feed hormones or routine antibiotics. 8. FISH You must raise or catch the fish and shellfish you sell. You must hold current permits and licenses. 9. GAME You must hold a current licence to deal in game, raise at least 25% of all game sold at the Market on your own or rented land, and have full knowledge of the production system of other game you sell. 10. PROCESSED MEAT, FISH, and GAME Primary Producers must raise or catch meat, game, or fish in processed foods such as sausages or smoked fish. You may purchase minor ingredients such as spices. We prefer that you make your own processed meats. However, in some cases another party may make these foods from your ingredients. If so, you must: a) ask our permission; b) supervise recipes; c) show that the raw ingredients are yours; and d) sell mostly unprocessed meat or fish. 11. BOTTLED DRINKS You must press, mix, bottle, and mature wine, beer, spirits, juice, and cider exclusively from ingredients you grow. You may buy minor ingredients such as spices and ginger. 12. FRESH JUICE You may make fresh juice on the market using at least one ingredient you grow. Other produce you juice must be bought on the market. You must name the source of regional ingredients. You may buy minor ingredients such as spices and ginger. 13. PLANTS and FLOWERS You must grow the flowers and plants you sell including Christmas trees. You must make arrangements yourself from your own plants. Where it is legal, you may gather plants, flowers, and herbs from the wild. 14. HONEY and BEE PRODUCTS You may sell honey collected from your own hives kept within the Region. Honey must be your main product, but you may also sell candles, soap, or other products you make from your honey and wax. 15. PRESERVES Secondary Producers must mix, cook, and bottle preserves, including jam, pickles, salsa, sauce, and chutney, from scratch. Major ingredients, such as berries in jam, must be from the Region. You may make marmalade with local honey if honey is more than 50% of the ingredients. You must name the source of regional ingredients. 16. BAKED GOODS—BREAD, CAKES and DESSERTS Bakers must make baked goods from scratch. You may buy flour, spices, and other minor ingredients such as lemons not grown in the Region. If produce is a major ingredient (as in apple pie), produce must be regional. You must name the source of regional ingredients. 17. BAKED GOODS—SAVOURIES and PIES Secondary Producers must make soups, meat pies, quiches, and other foods from scratch. Major ingredients such as produce in soup, eggs in quiche, or meat in pies must be from the Region. You must name the source of regional ingredients. (Note: These rules are not complete. Other rules for participation in London Farmers Markets, not concerning the ‘producer-only’ criteria above, apply. The rules are subject to change; before quoting them please request a current copy from info@lfm.org.uk or 011 44 20 7704 9659.)
  6. MARGARINE and PATRICK MARTIN'S PIECE Robyn - I couldn't agree more that you want different fats for different purposes and I wouldn't dream of telling you what fats to use - just my reasons for doing what I do. I don't fancy olive oil crusts myself but many vegetarians don't care for Crisco. As for ingredients at the farmers markets I run, we do not write rules about ingredients, but we do choose producers based on our idea of what good foods are. That might include asking about butter v margarine but wouldn't be a single litmus test for participation at a market. For any market manager, a range of foods (including ones one doesn't eat or care for) at a range of prices is usually the best goal. If the PRODUCER-ONLY rule for London Farmers Markets is of interest, I will post it. PATRICK ON THE REGIONAL MARKET FOR SLOW FOODS. I should clarify my position. I strongly believe we need to develop the market for slocal foods and that means many new businesses, distributors, and sales outlets, including hybrid food markets such as Borough Market in London. But I do not believe FARMERS MARKETS should change their local foods policies.
  7. ON MARGARINE Hydrogenated vegetable oils give you heart disease and even the FDA, usually behind on everything, now recommends ZERO consumption. Butter on the other hand is rich in Vitamins A and D and short-chain fatty acids which are good for you. There is a reason they dye margarine - it's naturally gray, and they'd rather it looked like real food, ie butter. If you want a flaky crust, use natural lard, which is predominantlly monounsaturated (yes, like Olive Oil, the Queen of Healthy Fats). Flying Pig Farm and Ted Blew at Greenmarket both sell pastured leaf lard. Vegetarian friends make excellent crusts from olive oil - different texture, but very nice. ON DELIVERIES I've often thought, in London, DC and NYC, that there is room for a slocal foods deliver-to-chefs service: a business which takes advantage of the fact that farmers markets (FM) already form a series of city depots where farmers bring slocal foods; this busines would draw up a price list, order from farmers, pick it up at the FM, and deliver to chefs. Thus making life easier for those chefs who are not as dedicated as Savoy's Peter Hoffman, on his bike, and others who use the taxi method. WANTED: slocal foods entrepreneur. I am on the advisory board of a new farm-to-chef delivery service serving three upstate counties. We'll be glad to hear from chefs about what you need. ON SEASONALITY and MARKET DATES If we add all-season foods (namely, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and high-quality processed foods (tomato sauce in jars, chutneys), and juice, wine, beer, and spirits (the cider apple brandy at the London markets is superb) most markets in the US can and should be open all year. However, where the weather is rotten it sometimes makes sense to take a break from Jan to Mar. Covered markets are a wonderful thing but far too expensive for any true producer-only FM. A nice compromise, if the space has other uses and someone can be found to invest in it, is an open-air shed, a simple structure. That solves the main problem, ie rain and sun, which are hard on customers, farmers, and food. (If you are a farmer, btw, tarps and covers is a constant exercise in problem-solving - very time-consuming.)
  8. ON CLAIMS Just briefly, it's simply not sensible (or affordable) for market managers (of any stripe) to verify claims about methods of production. No farmers market does. What every farmers market should do, however, is make a good effort to verify the PRODUCER-ONLY claim, by various means, including farm visits. That is quite enough for any FM manager of integrity. It's also expensive, time-consuming, and imperfect. But all good FM do it. So on 'our cows eat grass' or, in the case of my parents, 'our chickens run free on grass' - the customer needs to draw conclusions about which farmers he trusts.
  9. Thanks for the good points. What can I add? You all know more about NYC food than I do.; The most important point is that Greenmarket is not ONLY Union Square. There are 29 other sites, and the whole system needs reform; adding new foods to smaller markets was one of my chief goals. And many neighborhoods clamour for farmers markets. On competition, other non-profits like Value Added in Red Hook and a market organizer called Community Markets run farmers markets (and hybrid markets selling some but not all local foods) in NYC. FM management is a service like any other, and while it is specialized (ie it is not street fair or antique market mgt) it is not unique or rare. If the city were to ask other FM organizers, it would simply write its own requirements, as with any bid, about local ingredients, and so on. Certainly using local foods in baked goods and preserves would be a minimum in my book. I don't think a 'big city' has anything to do with corruption. There was particular management failure, if I may put it politely, at Greenmarket before I arrived, and as we've seen some things linger. And while it was depressing to be told 'we thought Greenmarket was all sewn up,' many FM in the US have trouble with simple things like farmers wanting monopolies. I have heard sad tales about upstate farmers markets controlled by farmers who don't allow new farmers in. 'Where am I supposed to sell my food?' the farmers asked me. The question of independent market management arises at all farmers markets. The key is management that serves farmers, customers, and the market organization itself, so that the three-legged stool of interests is in balance. Favor one too much, and the thing tips over. In London at at Local Foods in DC (and another excellently-managed market there, Dupont Circle) management is independent of farmers, but it serves them because the farmers can go elsewhere. At Greenmarket management is independent from farmers in name only. In practice, nothing gets done without farmer approval, and in practice that comes down to what is known at Greenmarket as a 'vocal minority' who do not always have the best interest of the market as a whole in mind. That is the main reason for stagnation. I know intimately farmers markets run wholly by farmers and they DO NOT thrive - not immediately, but eventually it shows. By the way, the corporate structure of the farmers market mgt does not matter so much as a) its independence (from farmers, customers, local business) and b) its dedication to local foods and raising farm income. It could be for-profit, or non-profit, a civic group, or a cooperative, or an individual or even a farmer. In my experience any form works so long as a) and b) above, apply. NO DESCRIPTIONS LIKE 'NO PESTICIDES' ON PRICE SIGNS The rule about 'no descriptions about methods of production' was in fact liberalized at my encouragement during my brief tenure. The history, if you are into farmers market minutiae, is briefly this. Greenmarket farmers who were NOT certified organic wanted to make claims such as 'no pesticides' - my own parents are good examples of uncertified organic growers and we have for a long time communicated directly withi customers about our methods of production. This is the chief virtue of a farmers market. Some Greenmarket farmers who WERE certified organic did not wish to see claims, unverified by a third party, such as 'no pesticides.' (Greenmarket does not verify any claims in any case.) Some Greenmarket farmers who DO USE chemicals did not want to be outdone by 'no pesticide signs'. As one person in favor of the ban told me, 'X is PROUD to use chemicals - he doesn't want other farmers putting up signs that say 'no chemicals'. Well, gee, if he's proud to use chemicals (and I buy a lot of veg from this farmer, as it happens) he shouldn't object to the signs of others. Or, to follow it to its logical conclusion, he should say he DOES use chemicals on his signs! One wonders why he doesn't. The illogical (and anti-speech) policy which resulted from this confusion of interests (with no leadership from management) was 'no descriptions about methods of production' AT ALL unless certified organic. Among other difficulties, it left out other certified claims such as biodynamic or certified humane. In theory you'd be fined for writing 'my cows eat grass.' The gag rule was the law when I arrived, and I argued strongly that all claims (which of course, under NYC law must be truthful) should be permissable and indeed encouraged. Typically of a rule that's poorly derived it was unfairly, ie selectively enforced. I made clear that enforcing it at all was against my principles as a farmer and consumer and in the rules reforms, I argued to change it. The compromise, logically senseless but a tiny step forward, which I helped to write and which passed after I was fired, was to OK VERBAL claims and claims on PAMPHLETS and BIG SIGNS, but not on price signs. One of the main reasons for forcing the change is that Greenmarket itself had printed signs for farmers describing methods of production. Yikes, they now had to be made legal. A sensible policy, of course, would be to encourage all communication about methods of production between teh farmer and the consumer. Any farmers market that doesn't simply doesn't respect the farmer or the eater. BAKERS Who are they? You've only to ask about the ingredients to learn who uses margarine and who uses real food. How did it come to be that commercial bakers dominate? An odd rule at Greenmarket does not allow bakers with retail outlets in NYC to sell. This was intended to prevent commercial bakers from coming to market. It's illogical as it does not prevent those with retail outlets, in, say, Hoboken, to sell, and indeed, large retail outfits do attend Greenmarket. The result is large commissary bakers with factories and truckes all over the region. A further odd rule, unwritten, is that no new bakers allowed. The idea here was that Greenmarket had TOO MANY baked goods. Well, yes, but the answer then, is to recruit more all-season local foods (such as milk and eggs) so that the market sdon't rely on sugar and white flour in the winter. And for a BAN on new bakers to work, you had to limit the amount of baked goods at each market. Sadly this wasn't the case. Every market got bakers; and the same bakers who have spaces now get ALL teh new spaces. Hence complacency. The SOLE goal of ANY FM mgt with bakers should be to recruit new, small, artisanal bakers who don't have alternatives (where possible- start-ups are great), whose bread is unusual, can't be got elsewhere, and who use slocal methods and ingredients. There are a tiny number of outstanding examples at Greenmarket. Fred Price is one of them. HOW TO CHANGE THINGS? Voting with your feet is crucial, of course. Buy from the slocal farms, like Flying Pig (with heritage and slow bacon and pastured eggs) and the innovative ones, like Nevia's vegetables or Ray Bradley or the young farmers like Dave and Kira of Evolutionary Organics (if you're at Thompkins Square or Grand Army). And make requests of the farmers adn the managers at the market itself. There is no point in grumbling in your coffee. And write the Council on the Environment (www.cenyc.org) saying you want a first-class farmers market. Be specific: do you want chilled foods chilled by electricitiy? (I do)? Local ingredientsin pies? Me too. But you surely have your wish list. ON PATRICK'S PIECE Bravo to Patrick Martins, outgoing director of Slow Food USA, who points out that we need to develop the market for slocal foods in ways beyond farmers markets. Rather than the details of ideal farmers market management, the talk I've mostly been giving in the last two years is called Beyond Farmers Markets: Developing the Market for Local Foods. It may seem odd when the direct marketing (ie no middle man) market is 30 years old and thriving that we should need middlemen, but we do. The farm share (I don't use the term CSA) and FM markets (I don't care for the term movement) are well developed and they can be bigger and better. The addition of animal foods, for example, is key to both. HOWEVER, we ALSO need to expand the markets for slocal foods where farmers are NOT meeting the customer directly. And that means middlemen. I strongly encourage and have high praise for the folks who have worked nationally, as it were, to develop the m arket for slocal foods. Slow Food is one; Bill Niman is another; the possible regional wholesale market (undergoing a feasibility study now, under the aegis of Ag and Markets) is another. In case no one has noticed, FM themselves are middlemen: in most cases, farmers don't organize these things. A specialized 'events organizer' creates the market for local foods; farmers and customers benefit from this middleman, who charges a fee. I call these folks (in packaging, production, distribution, marketing) slocal foods entrepreneurs or middlemen with slocal foods values. Bring them on! Meanwhile, I hope you are enjoying wild ramps with romesco or asparagus with rich yellow spring grass butter, or whatever is local where you are. I'm enjoying my rich, grass-fed raw milk cream - sadly, something I can't get at Greenmarket. But the laws against raw milk sales are another matter! Best wishes, Nina
  10. Nina Planck

    TDG: Bone Soup

    Almond Milk A nice way to make it: Soak almonds in juice overnight. Whizz in blender. A pinch of salt helps. I use ones with skins. Nina
  11. Rappahannock, VA is a great local foods county. Here are some contacts: Best wishes, Nina Planck Heidi Eastham Rucker Farm Tack House Creamery 13357 Crest Hill Road (Route 647) Flint Hill, VA 22627 Rappahannock County 540 675 3444 goat cheese Eric Plaksin Rachel Bynum Waterpenny Farm waterpenny@earthlink.net YOUNG FARMERS, TENANTS UNDER SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH LANDOWNER CLIFF MILLER, ABOVE. ORGANIC METHOD VEG. V SUCCESSFUL AT TAKOMA PARK FARMERS’ MARKET (old and established FM in region: opened in 1982. LEARNED TO FARM ON MY PARENTS’ FARM. ALSO SUCCESSFUL farm share IN RAPPA. FUTURE OF FARMING. MARRIED OR ABOUT TO BE.
  12. Lots of interesting discussion on soy since I was last here - thanks. I hope to come back to some of these points later, but in the meantime, I would just note that my piece says that the modern industrial soy industry has invented foods only recently - or perfected their recent forms - and tried to tie them (and purported health benefits) to traditional foods which have been eaten for many thousands of years. These foods are not equivalents. That Asians might also: excercise more, practice holistic healing, eat lots of leafy greens, drink anti-oxidant tea - I'm just throwing other lifestyle factors out there, not making an epidemiological argument about morbidity rates in Asian v US populatios - has no relationship to whether the soy industry tries to convince you that the soy they sell is what ASians eat, and how they eat it. The point is that drinking daily 100 g of isolated soy protein mixed with vegetable oil and maple syrup is not, as the ads suggest, going to save you from hot flashes or produce other miracle cures. This doesn't mean that a slice of tofu will kill you. Far from it. I buy local tofu at the Union Square Greenmarket - the 'roasted' one is delicious sauteed in duck fat. There are also fermented tofus - sofu, I think, is the name, but I don't have it to hand - which deal with the natural presence of phytates in soy - a well-established scientific fact - by rendering the phytates less harmful. And just because I demonstrate a visible trail of financial self-interest, doesn't make the essay an anti-capitalist screed. I grew up in a for-profit food business and I founded another. NOthing wrong with capitalism that society (in its values, choices, free press, and other interventions) can't temper. NP
  13. Nina Planck

    TDG: Hot Lover

    Apart from missing the flavor, taking the cayenne capsules wouldn't give you that addictive rush and make you want to eat more. If cayenne is so good for you, isn't that the point?
  14. One more UK comment I first read skeptics of the soy argument several years ago in the UK, in an excellent compilation newsletter of environment and health-related stories. Then called Environmental and Health News, now, I think, www.greenhealthwatch.com. I then believed soy milk and other modern soy creations were health foods, and was startled to read otherwise. Well done UK journos.
  15. Thanks for the comments. Soya v soy beans I'm not familiar with the history of the name and I don't know whether it has anything to do with GM. Much of the soy bean crop in the US is now GM - I don't have the the numbers to hand - but my piece on soy processing is not about GM in any case. The same adverse effects on the delicate vegetable oils would occur if non-GM soy beans were processed under high heat and pressure in the way I describe. It's true that soy as a cure-all health food is less established in the UK and that the piece is about how the US soy bean industry gained respectibility as a health food. The soy bean industry is also much smaller in the UK. But watch out. As we've seen many times, good and bad trends (farmers' markets, factory farming) in food and agriculture often find their way to Blighty after starting in the US. There were several questions about MSG. I'm no expert, but on balance I believe those who doubt that it's safe. It is known to damage retinal and nerve cells in animals; known to cross the 'blood-brain barrier'; and the FDA saw fit to persuade manufactures to remove it from infant foods. Humans accumulate glutamate in the blood at a faster rate than mice and monkeys, animals which suffered from MSG toxicity in the studies. In experimental animal studies, 'MSG babies' were short and obese, suffered hormonal disorders and had difficulty reproducing. Not a fate I fancy. One book I find solid is Exicitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon and clinical assistant professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He quotes the research of John Olney, MD, a neuroscientist at the department of psychiatry at Washington University in St Louis. (He also makes a wider argument about other flavor enhancers (including aspartame) and their relationship to neurologocal disorders and diseaseas such as Alzheimers. I am no judge of those wider arguments.) Blaylock is particularly convincing on the well-publicized, apparently definitive, study conducted for the FDA on the safety of MSG and published in 1995. The report was widely considered a vindication of the Glutamate Association, a trade group of MSG producers, which has produced a steady stream of studies, many flawed, to demonstrate its safety. However, the FDA report, as Blaylock describes, was not an acquittal of MSG. The studies, say Blaylock and Olney, are carefully designed to show no neurotoxicity. The studies allow the FDA (and MSG apologists) to count up the studies and say 'most studies' show it's safe. This is quantity, not quality and hardlly valid scientifically. Processing: MSG is the salt form (sodium added) of the naturally occuring amino acid glutamate - found in various foods - for example, in mushrooms, which is why they are so great in sauces and soups. The brain uses glutamate as a neurotransmitter - it excites the cells and that includes taste buds. If I understand correctly, in high concentrations the natural form is toxic too. In soy bean processing, I understand why the modern industrial processing reduces the nutritional value of the food and the traditional processing (fermentation, thousands of years old) enhances its value to human health. I haven't read enough about MSG to know how the manufactured version differs from the natural amino acid and whether the latter is inherently more dangerous, and don't propose to become an expert. I'd love to hear from those who are better-read. Meanwhile I am happy to eat all the mushrooms I like and to avoid MSG. We all make our choices! Thanks for the good discussion. Best wishes, Nina
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