Thursday, February 22, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip #8

Cooking oil

Oil and water don’t mix. That includes waste cooking oil and sink wastewater. Even mixing oil with soap or detergent before sending it down the drain is a bad practice. Fats, oils, and greases (collectively coined FOGs) cause pipe clogs and increase wastewater management expenses.

Try not to absent-mindedly toss your FOGs in the trash either. Animal fats, when cooled in a jar, can be thrown out, but vegetable oil is a different beast. If you must discard of vegetable oil, collect it in a container and then mix it with cat litter, dirt or something similar, in order to incorporate it into a solid substance before tossing it in the trash. But even then, landfills frown upon disposing of large quantities of FOGs. If you have a large quantity of FOGs to dispose of, try to break up the disposal over the course of several weeks.

But why throw it out if you can reuse it? Considering that “conventional methods for extracting oil from plant materials require enormous amounts of energy, which in turn produce significant greenhouse gas emissions,” we should be looking to make the most of this energy-intensive product. Here are some ideas for re-use:
  • Depending on where you live, you may be able to recycle your oil at a recycling facility
  • Some people make their own biodiesel with used cooking oil, try to find someone in your area who makes his or her own biodiesel
  • Contact a local restaurant that you have a good relationship with, if they recycle their oil they may be willing to add yours to the pot
  • If you heat your home with a woodstove or fireplace, you could mix used oil with sawdust and use it to light your fire. Use this sparingly, as oil has a tendency to produce black smoke and probably leaves a residue in the stack.
  • In small amounts, you can add vegetable oil to your compost, however mix it well with leaves, grass clippings and wood chips. In urban areas, it is best to avoid composting animal fats.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Critical Analysis of Food Irradiation

In addition to potential cancer promotion due to products formed by irradiation of fat in foods (see my ongoing rant in the previous post), there are further concerns linking food irradiation to cancer risk.

Amazingly, it seems most vitamins remain intact after irradiation, with the distinct exception of Vitamin D and folate, both of which are diminished by irradiation. Interestingly enough, a lack of both sufficient vitamin D and folate are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

This association [of high vitamin D and calcium levels with low cancer rates] remained significant after adjustment for age, daily cigarette consumption, body mass index, ethanol consumption, and percentage of calories obtained from fat (source).

There is overwhelming evidence that folate is protective against cancer.

Collectively, the evidence from epidemiologic, animal and human studies strongly suggests that folate status modulates the risk of developing cancers in selected tissues, the most notable of which is the colorectum. Folate depletion appears to enhance carcinogenesis whereas folate supplementation above what is presently considered to be the basal requirement appears to convey a protective effect (source).

There appear to be several mechanisms whereby irradiated foods could increase a consumer’s risk of cancer. If irradiated produce starts hitting the market, in a big way, I recommend vitamin D and folate supplementation, at the very least.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fear & Genotoxins

There has been a lot of positive press lately about the purported food safety benefits of irradiated foods. Very little attention has been given to skeptics, at least few have been allowed to flesh out their arguments with cold, hard facts. As a result, I feel I need to share with you the work of a prominent toxicologist from the Univeristy of Texas, William Au, who present a well-informed voice of dissent.

Forgive me for lengthily quoting from a court document, wherein he presents expert testimony against the construction of a fruit irradiation facility in Hawaii, but I felt this was highly relevant to the recent interest in irradiating produce. I have attempted to bold-face information I find particularly informative, for those of you who would prefer to skim through it.

  1. The use of radiation to treat produce destined for human consumption for fruit flies and other agricultural pests should be evaluated for health concerns very carefully. Radiolytic products are formed during the irradiation of food (Schubert, 1969). Some radiolytic products are unique to the food irradiation process, and there are scientific data indicating their potential health hazards. More research is needed on the products that are unique to the irradiation process.
  2. A recently-discovered unique class of radiolytic products that are generated from the irradiation of fat-containing food is 2-alkylcyclobutanone (2-ACB) with saturated and monounsaturated alkyl side chain: 2-decyl-, 2-dodecyl-, 2-dodecenyl-, 2-tetradecyl- and 2-tetradecenyl-cyclobutanone (Miesch et al., 2002). Studies have confirmed the presence of 2-ACBs in irradiated mango and papaya, two types of fruit proposed for processing at the Pa’ina Hawaii facility, should it be approved (Ndiaye et al. 1999; Stewart et al., 200).
  3. Since 1998, concern regarding health hazards from the consumption of irradiated food has been focused on the toxicity of 2-ACB. Using in vitro assays, 2-ACB has been shown to be genotoxic and mutagenic (Delincee and Pool-Zobel, 1998; Delincee et al., 1998; Delincee et al., 2002; Burnouf et al., 2002). 2-ACB has also been tested in experimental animals. In one report (Horvatovich et al., 2002), laboratory rats were fed a very low concentration of 2-ACB in drinking water, and the absorption and excretion of the chemical were monitored. The study showed that less than 1% of the administered chemical was excreted in feces. A portion of the chemical crossed the intestinal barrier, entered the blood stream and accumulated in the adipose tissues of the animal. It follows that consumption of irradiated food for a long time can cause accumulation of toxic 2-ACB in the adipose tissues of human consumers.
  4. The recent findings by Raul et al. (2002) raises a high level of concern. In the study, Wistar rats received a daily solution of 2-tetradecylcyclobutanone or 2-(tetradec-5’-enyl)-cyclobutanone and a known colon carcinogen (azoxymethane [AOM]). Observations were made at two distinct intervals. At three months after initiation of the exposure, no significant changes in the number of pre-neoplastic colonic lesions were observed among the rats (all were exposed to AOM). At six months, however, the total number and the overall size of tumors were markedly increased in the 2-ACB-AOM treated rats as compared to the ethanol-AOM control rats. This demonstrates that compounds found exclusively in irradiated dietary fats may promote colon carcinogenesis in animals treated with a known carcinogen and identifies a new area of toxicity that neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor the World Health Organization has yet examined.
  5. A promoting agent does not usually cause cancer by itself but alters cellular functions (Zheng et al., 2002; Yamagata et al., 2002). The unique concern with promoters is that they can significantly enhance the carcinogenic effects of known carcinogens (Hecker et al., 1980; Slaga, 1983; Langenbach et al., 1986). Experimental animals that are treated with both promoters and carcinogens develop tumors much earlier and have more tumor nodules than animals treated with the carcinogens alone. Animals treated with the promoters alone would not develop tumors more often than the untreated animals.
  6. Colon cancer (as was discovered in the rat study on 2-ACBs) is a serious health problem in humans, causing approximately 60,000 deaths per year in the United States. Consumption of improper diet is a major cause for colon cancer: foods that are high in fat especially from animal sources, meat cooked with high heat, charred meat, and food with high content of aromatic/heterocyclic amines (Colon cancer folder in the American Cancer Society website –; Lang et al., 1986; Vineis and McMichael, 1996). Consumption of the improper diet together with food that contains 2-ACB, which acts as a tumor promoter, can increase the risk for the development of colon cancer. Under this scenario, individuals who would normally outlive the risk for colon cancer might develop the cancer.
  7. Numerous other peer-reviewed published reports have long indicated the mutagenic activities of irradiated foods fed to mammals (Anderson et al., 1980; Bhaskaram and Sadasivan, 1975; Bugyaki et al., 1968; Maier et al., 1993; Moutschen-Dahmen, et al., 1970; Vijayalaxmi, 1975, 1976, 1978; Vijayalaxmi and Rao, 1976; Vijayalaxmi and Sadasivan, 1975). While the health concerns for consumption of irradiated food simply cannot be considered to have been resolved conclusively (Louria, 2001), the data indicate that consumption of irradiated food can cause genotoxic effects and therefore health hazards in the population. Moreover, there may be subpopulations, such as children, who are most susceptible to toxic effects of irradiated food. Strong reasons exist for considering children generally to be especially susceptible to toxic materials (Au 2002).
  8. In the final analysis, the only thing certain about the impacts on human health associated with the consumption of irradiated food, including the papayas, mangos, and other produce proposed to be processed at the Pa’ina Hawaii facility, is that it is the subject of considerable scientific debate. A recent article I co-authored summarizing the controversy over this issue (Ashley et al., 2004) is attached hereto as Exhibit “C” and incorporated herein by reference.

I find it interesting that Exhibit “C” was not, in fact, to be found attached, even while Exhibit “B” was clearly included, but after a little sleuthing, I found the abstract for the document, titled “Health concerns regarding consumption of irradiated food.”

Food irradiation is being promoted as a simple process that can be used to effectively and significantly reduce food-borne illnesses around the world. However, a thorough review of the literature reveals a paucity of adequate research conducted to specifically address health concerns that may directly result from the consumption of irradiated food. . . . As a result of this review, the authors conclude that current evidence does not exist to substantiate the support or unconditional endorsement of irradiation of food for consumption. In addition, consumers are entitled to their right of choice in the consumption of irradiated versus un-irradiated food.

This man is truly worth his weight in gold (Au). ;)


Green Kitchen Tip #7

Refrigerator Space

Keeping an orderly refrigerator is especially important if you are trying to minimize your ecological footprint by purchasing the smallest refrigerator feasible for your needs. Downsizing your cooling space can have a positive impact on your life, as long as you invest a little time and thought into how you organize and maintain your refrigerator.

A cluttered refrigerator has the following negative attributes:

  • You spend more time with the door open (energy wasting behavior) looking for ingredients
  • Clutter, if stacked thoughtlessly, can interfere with the air flow in the refrigerator making the appliance work harder and potentially not keep the interior optimally cool
  • Clutter is mentally disturbing, even if only subconsciously
  • In a cluttered refrigerator, frequently used items tend to migrate to the front of the refrigerator, while things like leftovers and rarely used items can lurk in the background and foul in obscurity.

Furthermore, food that cannot be eaten, and is possibly too revolting to introduce to your compost bin, most likely will end up in a landfill, where it produces methane as it decays and contributes disproportionately to global warming.

Not only that, but an unnamed food blogger once publicly admitted that she prefers to throw away Tupperware that harbors vigorous cultures of unmentionables. While this actually makes sense, because plastic containers are relatively porous and therefore cannot be disinfected as thoroughly as glass containers, the thought of failing to recycle plastic containers was nevertheless upsetting to me.

I have compiled a few tips to help us all (yes, I still need a reminder every once in a while, as well) be better stewards to the earth through our food storage habits --

  • Have a system of organization – this helps because if all your cheeses and all your condiments are together in one area of your refrigerator -- items with relatively long shelf-lives – you won’t need to shuffle through them to check for spoilage as often. Make sure everyone in the household agrees to and abides by the system. If one member of the family disregards the system, it will mean extra work for the person who regularly cleans out the refrigerator, as well as time and energy wasted searching for errant items.
  • Choose a day of the week to perform a regular refrigerator check-up. Keep in mind that if done weekly, it will only take a fraction of the time that it takes to clean a neglected refrigerator.
  • I hesitate to recommend labeling dates on your containers of leftovers, because I know for myself this would encourage me to procrastinate until the final hour of utility, but such a system may work for some.
  • Eat leftovers within the week, or be firm about tossing or composting them. Leftovers are rarely as appealing as their freshly made counterparts, and they rarely age well. Rather than planning lunches on weekend days, I have started foraging on leftovers, since I often eat these meals alone and typically don’t have time to do anything extravagant anyway. Occasionally I’m amazed by available leftovers, which I would have forgotten were there.
  • If your typical day-to-day schedule has been disturbed (due to illness, vacation, power outages, or what have you) make it a priority to sift through your fridge, as soon as you get a spare moment.
  • If you are an adventurous home cook, occasionally you will find yourself with a large quantity of an ingredient you don’t typically cook with. Such ingredients are especially easy to overlook and find spoiled some time later. Use these instances as opportunities to expand your horizons. These atypical ingredients can challenge you to create or search for further recipes featuring the ingredient in question.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thanksgiving in Storage

Some years the seasons don't unfold exactly as expected. You'll get a cold snap when you should be planting seeds or perhaps you may enjoy warm evenings well into fall that will continue to ripen your straggler tomatoes. Every year is different, and some years crops don't yield as well, as a result.

Last spring brought us cool temperatures well into the spring planting season. Fate had it that I forgot to plant my pumpkin seeds, and consequently they went into the ground a month or so late. Gardeners I spoke with on the subject, confirmed my suspicion that it probably didn't matter that I was late, since the weather hadn't been cooperating anyway. So I didn't fret. Even as I watched the flowers begin blooming late, the pumpkins growing at an aggravatingly slow pace, and eventually the vines fail around harvest time. As the threat of frost crept into the forecast, I rescued my pumpkins, even while they were naturally separating themselves from their earthly umbilical cords, and despite the fact that one of them had failed to ripen entirely.

As you see it pictured here, you see that it still retains a mark of late ripening. But from the field it was plucked nearly half green. I know that pumpkins and winter squashes will store through the better part of the winter, if cleaned well and given a cool, dark location. What I was unsure of was whether I could encourage further ripening.

After a thorough cleaning with vinegar, I set both pumpkins near a window receiving indirect light, in an unheated room. I checked occasionally to ensure they were resisting decay. By early February, I was satisfied at the state of ripeness and decided it was time to, at long last, prepare pumpkin pulp.

I grew up loathing pumpkin pie, until my mother started making pumpkin pies from the pumpkins she grew in her garden. Pumpkin pulp in a can is shameful. I'm sorry, but it just is. If there are no fresh pumpkins, I'll pass on pumpkin pie, thank you very much.

Here is the magical conversion from vine to pie pulp (and, yes, pumpkin pulp can be used to make many other wonderful recipes, as well):
  1. Split pumpkins in half -- Organic Sweet Pie Pumpkins are best
  2. Scoop out seeds and spongy flesh -- I find an ice cream scoop works really well
  3. Place each half of a pumpkin, cut-side down on a baking sheet
  4. Roast in a 375° F oven for about 45 minutes, or until tender -- use a fork to check for tenderness
  5. Let cool, cut-side up, until easily handled
  6. Scoop flesh from skin and process in a food mill, food processor, or blender.
  7. If not using right away, store in measured quantities in tightly sealed bags in the freezer. You want to make sure you remove as much air as possible from the bags for long term storage. It further helps to record the date, quantity, and type of pumpkin used on the freezer bag.

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Friday, February 09, 2007


Happy, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

I made these festive truffles for my friends & family. It’s a shame I can’t share them with you all as well.

I couldn’t help but make a list of the things I most hate about Valentine’s day:

  • People who send flowers to their significant others at work or school (no one needs to see that sh!+)
  • For that matter, PDAs (get a room)
  • Cut flowers -- instead buy your love a plant s/he can cherish for YEARS to come
  • Sappy “journey pendants” and miscellaneous other romantic themed jewelry
  • And last, but by no means least, Valentine’s Day menus at restaurants

Hey, they don’t call me jaded for nothing.

What I WILL endorse is a romantic dinner at home with candles, your mutually favorite CDs, perhaps a bottle of wine or champagne, etc. . . . oh and don’t forget the chocolates!

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Green Kitchen Tip #6

Dish Washing

Since beginning a re-model on our kitchen, I’ve had the opportunity to chose new, more energy efficient appliances. I actually got lucky on timing my purchases, because shortly after buying my new ones, the old ones began to fail. However, the one appliance I’ve held off on buying is a dishwasher.

Our kitchen came complete with ivory & black appliances from what I suspect was the 1980’s. Along with the giant side-by-side energy guzzling refrigerator, we inherited a standard electric range and a dishwasher that I refused to ever run. My rationale was that it consumed far more water and energy than I would ever use by handwashing two people’s dishes. Besides, I later justified, those detergents are more harmful than dish soap.

Times change, and now it actually costs more in energy and water, not to mention potentially productive hours, to get those dishes cleaned up by hand, than it does to use a modern dishwasher. Now I’m finding that the reasons to get a dishwasher are stacking up against me:

Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany who studied the issue found that the dishwasher uses only half the energy, one-sixth of the water, and less soap than hand-washing an identical set of dirty dishes. Even the most sparing and careful washers could not beat the modern dishwasher. The study also found that dishwashers excelled in cleanliness over hand washing. (source)

Modern dishwashers heat water inside the machine, so heat is not dissipated on its journey through the piping from the home water heater, as it is in older machines.

But, all things considered, in order to minimize your impact on the environment, please follow these tips:

  • Wait until you have a full load to wash in the dishwasher
  • Don’t pre-rinse
  • Air dry
  • Use an environmentally friendly detergent, such as Seventh Generation.

Now is a great time to shop for a new dishwasher, because the Energy Star requirements for energy efficiency just became stricter, as of January 1, 2007.

If you chose to upgrade your dishwasher or other appliances, find a recycling facility in your area for your old appliances. Large household appliances are known as “white goods” – a relic from the old days when they were finished with white enamel.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I thought I was referencing a light-hearted nursery rhyme, but I guess not.

However, I did spend my past weekend in a light-hearted manner. I picked up some “organic fertilizer” from a nearby horse-boarding facility. I had forgotten how much esteem I have for horses, so it was enchanting to find myself in their midst.

Now I have a mildly odiferous pile in my front garden. There it will sit for 2 months to age, before I apply it to my garden beds. And why would I introduce such an unrefined spectacle to my urbane neighborhood, you might ask? Such an inefficient method of applying N-P-K, others might say.

Well, here’s the scoop:
  • Organic matter encourages the proliferation of soil microorganisms. “The microbes slowly release not only nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium but also a host of other nutrients in ratios difficult to replicate with synthetic fertilizers.” Ratios that allow proper absorption of necessary nutrients, which might interact unfavorably if too much of one is added from a synthetic source.
  • Furthermore, “microorganisms that typically inhabit organically managed fields also produce substances that combine with minerals in the soil and make them more available to plants, a function that can be especially important for iron absorption. Iron is usually present in soil, but it is often in an unavailable form.”

The reality is that conventionally grown crops are becoming nutritionally bankrupt, in terms of offering trace minerals and certain vitamins. Trace minerals are important to optimum human health and can influence vitamin assimilation. Vegetarians, who rely on attaining these nutrients from produce sources, should be particularly concerned. The good news here is that organically grown produce offers higher levels of minerals, vitamins, and even antioxidants.

Note: The source of both quotations is the same source that I linked in the final paragraph.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip # 5

Kitchen Scraps

Have you ever considered what happens to America’s food wastes? Nearly a quarter of all trash we toss in our garbage cans are kitchen scraps and yard clippings, both of which could be recycled into compost. If you include paper wastes, that adds up to nearly half of all solid wastes. Instead of being composted, a lot of those wastes end up in landfills. As they rot in landfills, they emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas thought to contribute 20 times as much to global warming as carbon dioxide. I had no idea we each made that much of an impact, in such an off-handed manner.

If you have a garden, composting is intuitive. But not everyone has the space or even an outdoor location for a traditional compost pile or bin. No worries, a young inventor by the name of Russ Cohn, has created a composting machine that is small enough to fit under your sink, and more efficient than a neglected pile out in your backyard. In his own words:

It's great to buy a hybrid car, but without composting you might as well have an invisible SUV running around your kitchen. Most people don't yet realize the staggering imipact of kitchen waste on greenhouse emissions, or how simple it is to divert so much landfill fodder to healthy and sustainable use. My goal is to make it easy, fast and painless for people to do this.

I really like the idea of his small, efficient machine, but I don’t have one yet. I keep a container on my counter for kitchen wastes to be composted, and I’ll tell you it isn’t always a pretty sight, even though I carry it out to my compost pile several times a week.

Another option for getting rid of your kitchen scraps is vermiculture (worm bins). I include worms in my compost pile (I go with the laziest method of composting), because they add what some would call “black gold” – their castings improve soil structure and microbial activity. In order to grow worms in a compost pile, just ensure you add soil and keep things moist for them(or give them an escape route into the earth).

But if you really mustn’t be bothered with recycling, the most conscientious thing you can do is get yourself a sink garbage disposal, and divert those wastes to the wastewater treatment facility. Not only will you be diverting methane production to a facility that might have the capacity to burn it for energy, but macerated kitchen wastes can aid in phosphate and other nutrient removal from the wastewater stream, which is good news for all the little fishies downstream.