Posts Tagged With: nutrition

Food deserts: Lost in a mirage of abundance

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Food insecurity is popularly known as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.  Even in a country of abundance like the United States, in 2011, 14.9% of household members weren’t sure they would eat regularly.  Providing assistance in the form of soup kitchens, food pantries, and vouchers or debit cards for the purchase of food isn’t sufficient.  As described and explained by Mari Gallagher, numbers of American communities offer little or no access to healthy foods.  Gallagher developed the term “food deserts” to define these circumstances and geographical areas.  While a great variety of fast and snack foods may be available locally, fresh vegetables and meats are not within ready commuting distance.

For children living in a food desert, chips, candy bars, ice cream, and soda pop constitute their choices for an after school snack.  Their shopping is limited to a corner store or gas station.  The absence of full-service restaurants or diners prevents teens from enjoying omelets, salads, or glasses of milk with their friends.  Busy parents can’t traverse the self-service check-out lane or visit the 15 items or less cashier with salad ingredients and a package of chicken legs after work.    Their choices for a quick dinner are confined to the drive through lane at a community fast food restaurant.  Yes, they may be able to choose among fried fish, hamburgers and fries, and fried chicken.  Still, all of these meals are fried and reconstituted from frozen, not fresh foods.

The travel necessary to shop at a grocery store may prevent food desert residents without cars from shopping at one.  Residents with cars may have to shop less frequently than they need because of the time required to drive to a grocery store.  Their usual diet, then, may lack healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and yogurt, whole grains, and cuts of fresh meat that can be stewed and roasted.  This grocery store deficiency can cause lifelong health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  An abundance of fried, salty, and sweet foods can be as detrimental to quality of life and longevity as food insecurity.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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What’s for lunch in 2020?

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Mass transportation and mass production dramatically changed American diets during the Industrial Age.  We are accustomed to canned tuna and ham, frozen turkey, packaged crackers, and year round fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mass immigration brought us a rainbow of ethnic foods.  Tacos, pizza, pierogi, chop suey, and bratwurst and sauerkraut compete with meat and potatoes for a place on American dinner tables.  Dining on vending machine foods by the glow of a computer screen has become an Information Age habit.  Who could have imagined 24-hour self-service of shortbread cookies, bars of chocolate and nuts, and bags of crispy sliced potatoes?

What will Americans be eating as the 21st century progresses?  Important influences are likely to be global warming, the obesity epidemic, and increasing numbers of single person households.  Burgers and fries, cold cereal, and even eggs are already being replaced by soup and salad, oatmeal, and yogurt cups.  Flavorful chili and artisan greens overwhelm yesterday’s chicken noodle soup and iceberg lettuce.  Oatmeal sweetened with dried fruits is available at fast food restaurants.  Single servings of creamy yogurt have an abundance of delicious additions.

Dessert will likely disappear.  Witness the shrinkage of the cake slice into cupcakes, the bankruptcy of Hostess, and the introduction of 100-calorie packages of cookies.  Public schools are considering bans of party snacks.  Employers are restocking vending machines with nuts, crackers, and bottled water.  Grocers offer more fruit sorbets than brands of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  Singles have little or no time for baking homemade cookies, pies, and cakes.  Even devoted homemakers are challenged by the rising prices of chocolate and sugar.

Solo and insular living will continue the trend away from meals.  Snacking will become a healthier means to daytime rejuvenation than energy drinks.  Smaller portions will prompt more consumption of easily prepared and single serving foods.  Soup, salad, and sandwiches are already typical American meals. Warmer weather will end the seasonality and the expense of fresh fruit and vegetables.  The current obsession with types of coffee beans has already extended to varieties of apples and greens.  It will expand to other varieties of produce including herbs and spices.  Boutique produce departments that are now the province of major grocers will become independent brick and mortar stores.  Instead of online shopping for home delivery, they will establish regular truck routes.  Consumers will be able to purchase fresh produce on their doorsteps a couple of times per week.  Unlike the predictions of science fiction, future foods will be neither processed nor synthetic.  American ingenuity is again on the verge of meeting the challenges of its changing fortunes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Harvesting vitamins: Your cake on steroids

Rexipe. Flickr. July 16, 2007.

Eating healthily requires more than an ample grocery budget and access to a grocery store.  Healthy foods must be stocked there.  Customers’ demand for particular foods and brands largely determine the contents of the shelves.  Still, customers must be knowledgeable about healthy foods.  Even more, farmers must grow them and food distributors must process them.  Fresh fruits and vegetables speak for themselves.  Grains like wheat are more difficult to characterize.  Few people purchase or eat wheat kernels.  Shoppers may purchase flour, but have ample supplies and varieties of baked goods.  Packaged breads, cakes, pies, cookies, and crackers decorate shelf after shelf in even the smallest grocery stores.  Usually, they are less expensive than the ingredients needed to bake a homemade pie or cookies.

Highly processed wheat flour offers the light texture prized in crisp cookies, flaky pie crust, and sliced sandwich bread.  Its longevity enables both its economy and its convenience.  Grocers can purchase larger quantities with confidence that their inventory will remain edible for months.  Customers can feel secure in stocking their pantries.  They can save time by shopping less frequently.  These efficiencies require the milling away of the most nutritious parts of the wheat kernel.  They are the most vulnerable to spoilage.  The American cultural reverence for efficiency and economy, then, has sacrificed nutrition in their service.

Our respect for technology and the mass media offers us hope, but probably, not the sort common sense might suppose.  Even more efficient food distribution systems such as online shopping and delivery for groceries and meals don’t foster the frequent shopping necessary for freshly-baked breads.  The education of American taste buds through the proliferation of bakeries offering artisan breads and gourmet cupcakes hasn’t developed tastes for healthier pastries.  Indeed, maple-bacon doughnuts are only one of the latest refinements offering an abundance not only of sugar, but also of fat.  No, government scientists are developing a new strain of more nutritious wheat kernels through genetic modification.  More protein, iron, and zinc will be available without more time in kitchen.  Mom will be able to send Dad to purchase that all-American apple pie with renewed confidence.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Movie popcorn: Cinema savior

Vegan Feast Catering. Flickr. October 29, 2009.

Despite DVDs, movies can still be enjoyed in the company of strangers at the local multiplex.  There, of course, the temptations of industrial-size buckets of popcorn are within a one-minute walk.  The aroma of the hot, salty, buttery, crunchy popcorn permeates the lobby, too.  Kitchen microwave ovens and air poppers can’t offer the same salty, greasy munch.  In this era of free online films and home theaters, its lusciousness may persuade many viewers to roust themselves from the comfort of their couches.  There’s also the required endurance of noisy companions and sticky floors at the cinema.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, movie popcorn is notorious for its calories and saturated fat.  Despite its image as a low-calorie snack, popcorn popped in oil is already high in calories before the melted butter or buttery topping is added.  Absent necessary protein, vitamins, and minerals, just a small container constitutes enough calories for an entire meal.  Enjoyed even after a low-calorie dinner at home, eating popcorn while watching a film for two hours gives new meaning to “sedentary lifestyle”.

Due to fond memories of matinees with grade school friends and concern for our local economy, many of us may want to support our local theater or multiplex.  For these reasons, we may willingly pay higher ticket prices and tolerate the latest popular movies.  Consider that cinema owners might return such loyalty with healthier snacks.  At the least, they might offer air-popped popcorn with options for limited or no salt and alternates to buttery toppings.  Parmesan cheese makes for a low calorie, savory, and satisfying popcorn topping.  Speak up; supporting your local cinema should offer more than an expanding waistline from numerous empty calories.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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School cafeteria food: The practice of health

Design Tram. Flickr. July 26, 2005.

The pizza slices, frozen peas, fish sticks, Jell-O, and canned peaches of cafeteria lunches probably don’t engender fond memories in elementary school alumni.  Even a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich presented in a comic book character lunch box was more appealing.  An apple, homemade cookies, and a thermos full of hot soup easily made the taste and nutrition of a homemade lunch superior to that of a school cafeteria lunch.  Children of single parents and two-income families, though, usually had to be satisfied with cafeteria chicken nuggets and carrot sticks.  Vending machines supplied parental contraband such as soda pop, chips, and candy bars.  After school refreshment required trips to the corner store for ice cream bars and snack cakes.

Today’s students are often eating breakfast as well as lunch at school.  Sufficient nutrition in cafeteria meals is much more important for them than it was for their parents.  Salad bars and whole grain breads are replacing doughnuts, cold cereal, hot dogs, and French fries.  Cafeteria kitchens are replacing fryers with steamers.  They are staffed by people who actually know how to cook.  Recipes, not defrosting are required.  It is fresh fruits and vegetables that are the subject of student buzz rather than unidentifiable meats.  Low calorie, vitamin and fiber rich meals are routinely available.  It isn’t necessary to bring a brown bag lunch to enjoy lunch, either.

These healthy menus demonstrate to students that healthy eating isn’t just a topic for classroom discussion.  Salad bars and buffet lines teach them how to make healthy choices at restaurants and grocery stores.  These habits and skills will act as important preventatives to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  They may discourage food fights and encourage children to attend school, too.  Parents may be pleasantly surprised not only by the robust health, but also by the better manners of their children.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Vending machine snacks: Food or fun?

Paolo Ordovez. Flickr. July 9, 2009.

For parents, school districts, and local governments, vending machines are considered a tempting source of empty calories and future obesity.  Chocolate bars, cookies, chips, and soda pop hold a minimal amount of landscape on the USDA Food Plate.  For hungry overtime workers, relatives of hospital patients, and college students, vending machines offer a convenient source of warmth, comfort, and, even nourishment.  Hot coffee and soup, burritos, cold sandwiches, apples, and cartons of milk and juice are just steps from the pod farm, intensive care unit, and library study room.  How can an inanimate, automated vendor have such a varying reputation and inventory?  Are vending machines a conspiracy of major food corporations to spoil our dinner, diet, or waistline?

Likely, both economics and social norms contribute to their offerings and locations.  If the demand for apples and burritos is low, the spoilage of these perishable foods will diminish the profits of the vending machine company.  The longevity of salty and sweet snacks render them more profitable as long as a competing fast food restaurant isn’t nearby.  Of course, our self-respect, companions, or the culture of our location may influence our food choices, too.  If our boss is a gourmet, perhaps, we’d be too embarrassed to chow down on vended chili.  Instead, we’ll order wood-fired pizza for delivery or bring homemade spinach quiche for dinner.  If a college education is financed by a track scholarship, perhaps the athlete brought bottled water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a library repast.  Of course, hospital posters and white lab coats may remind visitors of their most recent glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.  These memories may prompt a trip to a nearby grocery store instead of a vending machine purchase.

Despite concerns about “the nanny state”, in our free market economy, marketers are intensely interested in our needs, wants, and preferences.  The dawn of the Space Age in the 1950s brought powdered orange juice and frozen dinners to American shoppers.  Thanks to the natural foods movement in the 1970s, whole grain rice and bread, yogurt, and organic produce are widely available.  Globalization beginning in the late twentieth century has expanded and increased the supply of our tropical produce choices.  Consumers who want more or different choices can vote at government elections, purchase their preferred foods, choose their preferred health care providers, and suggest preferred benefits to their employers.  Choice may be confusing, but it offers us both food and fun.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Artificial coloring: Cosmetics for food

Juushika Redgrave. Flickr. September 30, 2006.

Americans are all about visual appeal.  The risks of grooming vary from slight such as lipstick, eyebrow tweezing, and shaving through moderate such as hair coloring, hair plugs, and  dermabrasion to serious such as Botox, liposuction, and face lifts.  Is it any surprise that we like our food to be colorful?  Why else would neon green candies shaped like worms appeal to children?  If lime green fails to appeal, there are always electric blue frozen ice pops.  Teens may enjoy bright orange soda pop or vivid pink snack cakes.  For adults, sophistication requires pastels.  Strawberry ice cream must be pink.  Birthday and wedding cakes are decorated in pale hues of butter cream.  Think mauve roses, sky blue lettering, and lavender piping.  Salad dressings sport tints of orange or green unrelated to flavors of peach or mint.

If nature doesn’t provide our food with these cheery hues, food processors will add them.  Who wants to eat unadorned cold cereal, hot dogs, Jell-O, or crackers?  Would Lucky Charms taste as sweet without those marshmallows in delicate shades of pink, blue, green and yellow?  How would a transparent Jell-O do justice to a mold without its jewel tones of green, red, and orange?  Even milk becomes more appealing when rich brown chocolate syrup or powdered cocoa is added.

For the sake of safety, are we doomed to beige breakfasts of oatmeal or toast, cream-colored lunches of rice, tuna, or mashed potatoes, and drab dinners of tofu, pasta, or baked beans?  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food coloring is safe to eat, that is, as long as you have not joined a competitive cupcake eating team.  So, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys sprinkles on your doughnuts, you can feel confident no American food must leave the factory without food coloring.  What’s your favorite color?  Would you rather wear it or eat it?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Let them eat cake: The culture of Ding Dongs

Karen Neoh. Flickr. October 17, 2007.

American fast food may be defined as hamburgers and hotdogs, but we’re no shirkers when it comes to dessert, either.  Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and Oreos are all well-established American snacks.  Even more, “grab and go” has become the slogan of convenience stores and corner groceries as well as the motto of many Americans.  We still have our palates; those cakes must be sweet, moist, and colorful.  Who doesn’t have fond memories of biting into a golden-brown Twinkie to savor the sweet, creamy frosting within?

Science fiction to the contrary, the future has not brought us breakfasts of dry biscuits, meals in a pill, or flavorless liquid lunches.  American fast food meals may lack nourishment, but they achieve superior marks for efficiency, taste, and presentation.  As a respite from labor, an energy boost, and a reward or treat, snack cakes exceed chips, coffee, and diet soda.  Even red ripe apples and warm yellow bananas have difficulty competing with their colorful packaging and intense sweetness.

The cherished economy of snack cakes is fostered by their mass production and that of their ingredients.  The expected, but worrisome shelf-life of those lushly soft and sweet snack cakes accrues from the economies of their production.  Who would want to give up the savings of a box of individual packages of mini-doughnuts or fudge brownies?  A better measure of income and quality of life, then, is immunity to the charms of low-priced snacks.  Choosing the juicy, organic grapes, adding creamy avocados to sandwiches, or packing fresh strawberries for lunch should constitute an investment in one’s health, not a budgetary deficit.

What’s your favorite snack?  Why do you recommend it?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Breakfast with the family: It’s toast

Dottie Mae. Flickr. November 18, 2010

Probably the next best thing to sliced bread is the shiny, chrome appliance used to brown it.  Warm, crunchy, and permeated with butter, jam, or peanut butter, the aromas of toast are a friendlier wake-up call than even Italian roast coffee from freshly-ground beans.  Whether you toast raisin bread, blueberry waffles, or pumpernickel bagels, family members will materialize at the breakfast table without setting any snooze alarms.

The toaster is a friend to the reluctant cook as well as the reluctant morning riser.  Sandwiches prepared from toasted bread boast of all the flavor and texture of a heartier, hot meal.  The speed of preparing a stack of toast rivals the production of pancakes.  Even better, toast can be prepared without incident even when the cook is not yet fully awake.  There’s no danger of mismeasurement, breakage, or burns.

Toast was likely the first portable or “carry-out” breakfast, too.  As an edible platform for peanut butter, cheese, bacon, or eggs, it’s the perfect convenience breakfast.  Families who formerly ignored or grumped at one another at the breakfast table can now enjoy an extra half hour of sleep.  Junior or juniorette can choose the PopTarts without preparing a parental rebuttal worthy of the debate team.  Eating is a productive use of time in a car pool or on public transportation, too.  It prevents unwanted conversations; there’s no talking around a mouthful of toast.  The judicious distribution of crumbs may ensure an absence of companions within the diner’s vicinity as well. For parental chauffeurs, it provides a respite from complaints about lunch, arguments about school dress requirements, or demands for weekend excursions.  Thanks to the toaster, families can now save their energies, appetites, manners, and repartee for the dinner table.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Dinner: A brief history

Like the Grand Canyon. Flickr. April 6, 2011.

Soy burgers and molecular gastronomy aside, the foods that Americans expect on their dinner menus and dinner tables fill only a short list.  Despite our claims to ethnic diversity, we cannot claim to be adventurous diners.  How did Americans develop their tastes for hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes?  Who put the comfort in large servings of ice cream, fried chicken, and nachos?

Before you stop for that next bucket of chicken, unwrap your next juicy hamburger, or buy another case of diet soda, consider their history.  Until Americans started assembling automobiles, sewing shirts, and manufacturing steel, they grew or hunted their own food.  If a family wanted bread, they grew and harvested wheat.  Someone had to mix and knead the dough for that bread, too.  A chicken dinner required killing and dressing a chicken as well as baking or frying it.  Americans ate substantial meals because they needed the calories for daylong physical labor in their fields, forests, barnyards, and kitchens.  Cooking meals was a fulltime job; it required chopping wood, picking vegetables and fruit, butchering animals, canning produce, and milking cows.

It wasn’t until the introduction of mass production at the dawn of the Industrial Age that Americans chose quantity over quality and efficiency over conviviality.  Clearly, freedom from kitchen duties, satiation, and convenience reward the fast food consumer.  Indeed, at the height of the Industrial Age, Americans were content to consume Velveeta cheese, green Jell-O, strawberry Kool-Aid, and Chef Boyardee canned pasta.  Not content with the ease of preparing dinner from packages of powders, canned carbohydrates, and frozen vegetables, Americans invented the microwave oven, Pop-Tarts, and the drive-through restaurant.  Now that Americans have achieved excellence in the speed of delivery and the size of portions of food, what’s next?  Is it possible to have convenience and good health, too?  What do you think?  Read more about this issue right here in the next few weeks.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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