Agriculture

Happy National Gardening Week

Gardening can be a fantastic outlet for those looking to play a part in sourcing their own food.  It can be a rewarding experience and although it takes time and attention, it is also a way to relieve stress and get your hands dirty.  I have to admit that I have no green thumb but I've always enjoyed growing a few small herbs for cooking.  

Here are some resources paying homage to the world of gardening.  Whether you're an avid gardener or considering just getting started, I encourage you to start small and see if it works for you!

National Gardening Association: http://www.garden.org/

Urban Gardens:  http://www.urbangardensweb.com/

And in case you're not interested in doing the gardening yourself, but want to participate in local agriculture: http://www.localharvest.org/

Any other resources you've found helpful?  What are you growing this spring/summer?

The Joy of Soy

Protein Alternative

Soy is a high quality protein source that is low in saturated fat.  These plants naturally contain phytoestrogens and have been shown to help reduce heart disease risk when consumed in conjunction with a heart healthy diet.  Soy has been working its way into the Western diet more and more, with a market increase from $300 million in 1992 to $4 billion in 2008.  

Soy products are a great way to work a meat-free protein source into the diet.  I am a meat-lover myself, but the RD in me feels it is important to be mindful of the frequency and portion sizes of animal meats that I include.  Incorporating soy products gives more variety to my diet while staying heart healthy - always a good thing!

Food for Thought

Historically, meat was always very expensive so families would only be able to afford it once or twice a week.  A vast difference from our current environment in which people may consume a meat product twice a day.  The modernization of agriculture and role of antibiotics and hormones in current animal farming practices have changed the cost of meats to us all.  Always an interesting trend to think about...

Soy Product Options

Tofu - a processed form that comes in multiple textures and with a neutral flavor, use silken in dips and soups, use firm in stir fries, salads, and seasoned grilled kabobs

Edamame - young soybeans that can be directly consumed

Tempeh - a block of cooked whole soybeans condensed together, season and use as a meat substitute

Textured Soy Protein - defatted soy flour that has been compressed and dehydrated, consider making meatballs, chili, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce with this

Miso - a flavorful paste of fermented soybeans, often used as a seasoning base in stews/soups/sauces

Soy Meat Analogs - specific products suchs as hot dogs, cold cuts, and burgers that are made out of soy

Soy Flour and Soy Milk - exactly what you think they are, made from soy plants

Happy soy-ing!  Share any good recipes you come across!!

Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"

"Food Rules" by Michael Pollan - RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

Michael Pollan is one of the best-researched writers I know of in the Food/Agriculture/Nutrition arena.  I always find him to be thought-provoking and I like that he challenges people to look deeper at the world we live in and question the status quo.  Here is a quick and adorable animated video of him describing the use of our food supply.

I originally found this video from The Atlantic.

Farm to Fork

Literature

So this past spring I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and have currently turned to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  While both of these books are thoroughly researched and definitely biased, I find it fascinating the extent to which the food industry is detached from our lives and impossibly opaque.  

What is Agriculture?  Photo courtesy of www.chefandchauffeur.com

I know we've all heard of the organic movement (buying organic produce/meats/coffee/tea) and the locavore movement (buying products made within x miles of where you live), both of which take on a keen awareness of food production, but I find that as educated as I am on nutrition, I barely know the first thing about farming and agriculture.  

Alright I could probably tell you that a potato grows in the ground and oranges on trees, but that's about the extent of it.  I don't know that understanding farming or agriculture could help to change our nation's food choices in the grocery store but both authors seem to push the idea that increasing the transparency of the process could lead to healthier choices.  

A Little Challenge

Can you name one food item that you've eaten today where you know it's true origin and entire journey to your plate?  Did you grow it in your backyard?  Do you know a local farmer and get it from their stand at a farmer's market?  Can you even name the country your salad vegetables were grown in?  An array of them I'm sure... 

Now I'm not suggesting you overhaul your eating and purchasing habits... just try to break through some of the opacity of our food supply chain.  Maybe, like me, you'll even get to learn a little about gardening and agriculture in the process.