Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Healthful Is Our Diet?

It used to be that cooking from scratch alone was enough to be absolutely confident that your family's diet is well balanced in nutrients and will keep your loved ones healthy and content. But home-made food is only as good as the ingredients used to prepare it.

Having done enough research on the agri-giants like Monsanto to spoil my mood for the rest of the week, I suddenly had a realization that my family might have fallen victim of grave indecency in today's food production system. Just yesterday, I bought Liberte Greek yogurt, having read the ingredients list to make sure it contained the minimal amount of fillers and absolutely no modified milk ingredients. I was happy to see that neither were present on the list and bought an expensive four-dollar five-hundred-gram tub. 

My confidence in the nutrition my family receives remained unshaken until my husband discovered a new smart phone application called Buycott that allows to scan bar codes, found on everyday products like a box of cereal, a carton of milk and a bottle of your favourite salad dressing. It then links individual bar codes to manufacturers and causes they support or oppose. We quickly found out that the yogurt I just purchased is produced by Les Produit De Marque Liberte Inc., which donated $1,135,300 to opposition to Proposition 37 (now officially defeated, partially due to heavy financing of the opposition, $45M in total*) that calls for mandatory GMO labeling. 

This goes to say that paying attention to the list of ingredients alone is no longer sufficient. And this saddens me, because the very government that is charged with protecting our well-being chooses to give in to the emotionally handicapped, power-hungry corporate behemoths. Perhaps, it does not have a choice and the politicians responsible for overseeing our food production have been placed there by the same corporations they are supposed to superintend. A bright example- one of many- is the overlap between of the members of the Federal Government and Monsanto stakeholders**.

In the light of what appears like- and is- a conspiracy to make us unhealthy, there are a few rules of thumb I follow when it comes to feeding my family. To the maximum of my ability, I buy organic, I buy local, and I buy from small companies. And with those ingredients, I cook from scratch, making sure we consume a healthy balance of raw fruit and vegetables and lean meats and fish. Over time, I learned to bake my own bread, churn my own ice-cream, and now make my own preserves, sauces and dressing. What seemed time-consuming and complex turned out to be very manageable and oh so enjoyable, when I realized how big of an impact I had on my family's well-being by making a maximum effort to fuel us with quality food.

Cited Sources:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Food We Eat

It all started with two documentaries, Food Inc and Farmageddon,  that placed the name Monsanto on the map for me. Prior, I never knew of the agri-giant that now controls about 23 per cent of the global seed market. Then, the term GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) caught my attention. It turned out that approximately 90 per cent of soy, corn, sugar beets, cotton and canola crops, grown in the US, are likely to be genetically engineered. 

Corn alone has so many applications in the food industry that I begin to wonder, how we still haven't turned into that cylindrical yellow corn cob. Consider that out of some 37 ingredients in a chicken McNugget, around 30 are made from corn. Fillers and artificial sweeteners are one example of products, engineered from the basic molecules that compose corn starch. 

Soybeans, of course, are often rotated with corn and are also plentiful in the US farm fields. Like corn, protein-rich soy meal is used as an animal feed and the rest is used to make cooking oil and numerous food additives. Canned soups, baked goods, chocolate, meat and milk substitute products- all contain soy protein additives and isolates.

Basically, corn and soy comprise most of what North America eats these days, and if we now take into consideration the fact that around 90 per cent of it is genetically modified, I start to understand what all the popular ailments like diabetes, cancer and numerous allergies and food intolerances are likely to be caused by. Surely, there are other factors influencing our state of health these days, like the lack of exercise and an increased level of stress- in turn, caused by a multitude of social and financial pressures- but given that our mental and physical functioning is dependent on quality energy that comes from food, what we eat has got to be a major contributor.

But wait... Genetically engineered food is only one piece of the puzzle! The bigger problem is the reason for tampering with food genes in the first place- and that is the pests' and weeds' growing tolerance of pesticides and herbicides and the apparent need to use yet harsher chemicals to keep them under control. The crops, in turn, needed to be genetically altered to withstand being sprayed, over and over, by agents like 2,4-D- a component of Agent Orange that was once spread over the fields of Vietnam in the 1970s. Agent Orange produced by... the infamous Monsanto. 

So let me get this straight... We are being fed genetically engineered, fertilizer soaked food, and are not even allowed to know about it?! Precisely. The so-called Big 6- the six largest players in the global seed and pesticide market- have so far donated $20M to oppose Proposition 37, which essentially calls for mandatory labeling of GMO products. Monsanto was the largest contributor at $7,100,500, followed by DuPont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. 

PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca-Cola and ConAgra are on the same list of opponents. In fact, having done some research on PepsiCo's food and beverage production practices, I found out that it entered into a partnership with Bayer- the largest stakeholder in the pesticide market- to provide seeds and chemicals to grow and treat potato fields in India. So all of you, lovers of Lay's, Ruffles, Fritos and Sunchips, might want reconsider your snack of choice. For crying out loud, I found out this morning that the brand of our protein drink, Ensure, contributed over $200,000 to the opposition! [In the garbage bin it went that same minute]

Nestle admittedly adds GE organisms to their baby formula and likely, the rest of their food and beverage lines, which often aim at children as the target market and main consumer. The last time I checked, Nestle's tin of baby formula cost $24 or so- one of the most expensive on the market, not counting organic alternatives. So essentially, we are paying for the brand that stands against our best judgement as parents. Once uncovered, this truth becomes one of the most disturbing and disgusting. If a tiny defenseless baby is disregarded in such a dramatic, neglectful way, what kind of leniency can we expect as adults?!

Until yesterday, I used President's Choice brand of baby formula, but having learnt that Loblaws is also likely to add GE ingredients to their baby food products, I took it back to the store and instead purchased their Organics version, which contains organic milk and soy oil. Earth's Best would have been the next choice, but at $34.95 a tin (as compared to Organics' $19.95 a tin), it is prohibitively expensive. I also changed our brand of protein powder to Kaizen Naturals- New Zealand whey protein, which is free of GMOs, hormones and chemical contaminants. It contains 24g of protein per 29.4g of powder and cost me $64 for a 2.3kg container- cheaper in comparison with brands like IsoFlex and MuscleTech

In the last few days, the intensity of my desire to learn more 
about the food we are so blissfully in love with, yet are slowly being crippled by, has dramatically increased. As I learn about it, I want to spread awareness in my immediate circle of friends and family- and beyond, if time and resources permit. These might be big and powerful corporations we are facing, but they cannot, will not, be able to withstand the pressure from the highly aware and knowledgeable public.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Judgement

There has been a time- and it has been at least four years since- when I made a conscious effort to think positively and avoid quick judgement. And even though I felt empowered and more focused than ever, the latter proved harder to accomplish. Fast forward to today- and the ease with which I hand out judgement is almost embarrassing... 

Why do I judge? Do I draw some sort of ill enjoyment out of it? Quite the opposite: my conscience cringes every time I vocalize my disapproval of someone's behaviour or a circumstance. Is it somehow vital to a full, satisfying life? The lingering thought of being unchristian and unkind hardly defines fulfillment or satisfaction. The thesaurus offers such synonyms to judgement as awareness, comprehension, ingenuity, knowledge, etc. Do I believe I am infinitely aware, know and comprehend the truth?! Boy, if this is correct, I must be one in a million- a  boundlessly smart and gifted cookie! 

But I'm not... And at 27, my limited life experience is hardly adequate to understand the people and circumstances I so often cast judgement on. So why do I do it? Some say, bias is our way to make sense of the limited nature of information. That could be... or could be a convenient excuse for unacceptable behaviour.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: judge not, that you be not judged. A simple truth that cannot be disputed and that has to, will, remain on the forefront of my consciousness. What's more is that being non-judgmental goes hand in hand with being positive- and if nothing else, it will keep me sane on days of complete disarray and chaos.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Today is an unusual day! This is Marcus' third nap and my opportunity to do something useful with my time... So I started a new load of laundry, changed the bed sheets and went on a short walk around my neighbourhood to collect street garbage. I took Bob with me in the hopes that he will do his afternoon business, which would mean killing two birds with one stone. 

Musti-tasking is one thing I learned to do after having my first child... I guess, every first-time mom discovers a whole new meaning of this term. For example, I thought I was multi-tasking having my lunch while going through and responding to business emails. Now, it's more like feeding Marcus while doing laundry, cooking, addressing business emails, and attempting to get to my already cold lunch. Each day consists of similar strings of seemingly endless tasks.

Sometimes, the stress of it all gets to me. It makes me wonder: is this all there is to life? Waking, changing, feeding, cleaning, cooking, washing- the sequence repeating itself several times a day- and bed time... The good old be grateful for what you have enters my mind, but doesn't seem to do anything for my psyche. 

And then at times like today, when strings of tasks are shorter and there is more time to rest, I find joy in the routine activities like interacting with my son, walking my dog, and cooking for my husband. Even picking up neighbours' trash felt good!

So maybe, this is the answer. Maybe, if I focus on one thing at a time and allow myself to enjoy it, the life will appear more satisfying, fulfilled.

[It has now been about twenty minutes since Marcus awoke and it's time to start dinner, finish laundry, and pretty up in time for my husband's return. Ah, juggling I go again!] 

Getting Started

How naive of me to expect a day of calm to write my first post?! After all, I'm a mom with a 4-month-old and a pug with a larger-than-life attitude. And a husband, who relies on me to take care of our precious and the household, in general. [As I finish this sentence, Marcus turns in his baby swing, which is clearly too small for a boy in the 98.6 percentile for height, 78.8 percentile for weight, and 100 percentile for cranial perimeter. The swing squeaks.]

Actually, today is a relatively hustle-free day. I don't have any mortgage or insurance deals to work on (oh yes, I also work part-time as a mortgage and insurance agent) and both my boys are napping peacefully. Later on, I plan on hitting the gym and then taking Bob and Marcus on a stroll to a nearby park. Since agreeable weather is rather rare in Alberta, I like to take full advantage of warm sunny days. 

And later... Later, I will be concocting a celebratory dinner in my husband's name- today is his birthday and the last day of the work week, both of which are worth commemorating! A few weeks ago, he expressed a desire for a real Japanese katana, and any time now, a hand forged and clay tempered custom sword should be delivered directly from Japan.