Eating Food Made Close to Home

Posted on December 19, 2007. Filed under: Food, Stop the Drama |


Photo by Kanko

Thanks to the influence of my granola-eating grandmother, I have always been conscious of the need to promote health and wellness for myself and my kids. I try to buy organic foods, when possible (and not too expensive), but try to do things within reason.

One of my friends used to insist that every beauty product she used be “natural”. To be honest, it isn’t clear to me exactly what that means. For example, dog poop is certainly “natural” but that doesn’t mean you want to wash your hair in it, does it? Since I know that there are specific criteria for being certified as “organic” that is pretty much the only label that gets my attention.

In addition to organic, I’ve seen farmers markets and people advocate for the need to buy things that are locally grown. I always thought that was a statement about the importance of supporting the locally economy. However, some recent events made me realize that buying locally produced food has health, as well as economic benefits.

Last year there was an E. Coli outbreak in the northeastern US that was ultimately traced to scallions from a California farm. Growing food and using manure–even natural fertilizers used in organic farming–can lead to exposure to E. coli. For me, the big concern raised by this incident was not just the presence of E. coli in food, but it was the impact of one farm and how it was able to affect so many people so far away. Given the mass production of food, and its far reaching distribution, a single outbreak from a single source can quickly spread across the country. While buying locally produced food may not give you better individual protection from E. Coli exposure, it does mean that when E. Coli does get into food, many fewer people will get sick. It also means that finding the source of the contamination will be a lot easier.

The other incident was the recent outbreak of Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus, or MRSA, in several schools around the country and the report that MRSA kills more people in the US than AIDS. Staph (short for staphylococcus) is a germ that is found on everyone’s skin, and usually causes no problems. However, when you get exposed to antibiotics most of the staph germs are destroyed, but the ones that survive have slight mutations that make them immune to antibiotics–this is what has given rise to MRSA, a germ that is resistant to most antibiotics. As a result, MRSA has been a problem in several hospitals, where antibiotics are always used. When the MRSA outbreaks occurred in the schools last year, I realized that it was unusual for infections to happen with people who had not been in hospitals or exposed to lots of antibiotics, and wondered why this was happening. Then I read an excellent article in the NY Times by Michael Pollan about the use of antibiotics in the mass production of food.

I always knew that antibiotics are widely used in the production of animals used for our food (ie, chickens, beef and pigs). What I didn’t know was that 70% of all antibiotics used in this country are used in food production and consumed by these animals–70 PERCENT! He also went on to report that “a European study found that 60 percent of pig farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA-positive pigs (compared with 5 percent of farms that did not feed pigs antibiotics)”. Studies in Cananda also found high rates of MRSA among farm animals and 20% of pig farmers in Cananda tested positive for MRSA. There have not been any studies on the presence of MRSA among farm animals in the US, so we don’t know whether it is common. What I do know is that the conditions for emergence of MRSA–specifically, widespread use of antibiotics–exist in animal farm production, so it is likely that many US farm animals, and the workers who care for them, would test positive for MRSA.

Reading this article was a huge “lightbulb moment” for me because it provided and plausible explanation for what caused the recent increases in the number of non-hospital MRSA infections. While there is no way to protect my family from MRSA (other than to encourage lots of handwashing), I can limit our exposure by avoiding mass produced foods that use antibiotics.

All of this is to say that eating food made close to home–especially if they are made without antibiotics or pesticides– has lots of benefits:

  • I know where my food is coming from and who is making it;
  • It provides economic support to local businesses;
  • My family has less exposure to foods that can be contaminated with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics;
  • The food we eat will be in sync with the local seasons.

The big disadvantage is this food is probably going to cost me more. One of my favorite places to get produce is Viva Ranch in downtown New Rochelle. It offers lots of variety and the prices are amazing. Next time I go, I will ask exactly where their food comes from. Hopefully, it is locally grown (not to mention organic) AND is affordable. I’d like to be able to do the right thing for my family.


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Weightwatchers Is My Salvation

Posted on November 27, 2007. Filed under: Food |

img_1749.jpgPhoto by Anne

Like many mothers…who work at a computer…and eat on the run….and love chocolate….and butter….and are getting on in years, I needed to lose a few pounds.OK, more than a few pounds.

Without giving my exact weight, I will say that my body mass index, or BMI was 29.6. If you want to calculate yours, the National Heart Lung a Blood Institute has an easy to use calculator on line. The BMI estimates your body fat using a formula based on your height and weight. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25-29.9, while obesity is defined as a BMI greater than 30. Knowing that I was overweight, I calculated my BMI and was horrified to find that I was knocking on the door of being officially obese-YIKES!

While I knew I did not look my best with the extra weight, what caused me to really get concerned was knowing that everyone in my family developed diabetes as they got older. Since extra weight increases your chances of developing diabetes, I knew losing weight was the best way to avoid our “family tradition”.

My weight was never an issue when I was younger, but after having children it slowly increased over the years. I have tried a number of interventions to lose weight.

  • The Atkins Diet—this works, but is hard to sustain over a long period of time, and I found that when I went off the diet, I gained back all of my weight, plus a little extra.
  • Walking three miles per day—I was able to keep this up, but it did not make a difference with my weight.
  • Running three miles every other day—I was able to keep this up too, but it still didn’t make a difference with my weight.
  • Food journals—closely counting calories and limiting my intake to create a 500 calorie per day deficit worked. Why 500 calories? Well, you need to have a 3500 calorie deficit to lose one pound, and a 500 calorie deficit each day would lead to a one pound per week weight loss. This works too, but I found calculating the calories in everything I ate was too time consuming and hard to do over time.

I started to run to help with my stress a couple of years ago. When I realized I had a BMI of nearly 30 last year, I was running three miles, 3-4 days per week. So while my stress was better, running did not seem to help with my weight loss.

Then two things happened that gave me some insight:

  • First, I was on a plane ride and happened to sit next to a personal trainer. As we talked about getting in shape and losing weight, he told me that it really was about diet AND exercise. I would not lose weight with diet alone or exercise alone, but needed to do both. I looked into it and found what he told me has been supported by research. The National Weight Control Registry is a project out of Brown University that is monitoring people who have successfully lost and maintained their weight. They report that 98% of these successful people changed what they ate, and 94% increased their physical activity. So nearly all of them used both diet and exercise to lose weight.
  • Second, I was out with a bunch of friends for dinner, and we were going around the table, sharing updates on our lives. One of my friends reported she was training for a half marathon, ran every other day and was up to 9 mile runs on the weekends. However, she also complained that she was not losing any weight despite all the vigorous exercise. Another friend reported she had committed to taking better care of herself in the previous six months, had taken a much needed vacation, and joined weightwatchers and lost 25 pounds. 25 POUNDS! So here were two women, one running several miles per week, and the other in a weight loss program. And it was the woman in the program who had been successful.

I signed up for weightwatchers the next day.

Six months later, I had lost my first 20 pounds. Weightwatchers makes use of meetings to provide support to its members, but I have too much going on to attend another meeting. So I participate through their on line program. They use a combination of food journaling, portion control, recipe recommendations, advice about low fat foods, cooking alternatives, support and an emphasis on healthy food choices to help with weight loss. Plus you can earn extra points for more food through exercise, which they also emphasize.

I am sharing all of this because I was really discouraged about my ability to lose weight. However, I thought I would give weightwatchers a try and committed my self to doing it for exactly 90 days. As the weight started coming off, and I could still eat what I liked (although in moderation) I felt like I finally found a system that worked with me, and would be easy to maintain over time.

I will talk more about this weight loss effort, but wanted to share how I got to this program, and found that it has worked for me. I know I m not the only one trying to lose some extra post-baby weight……

La Lucha Continua.


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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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