Friday, February 8, 2013

Why non-GMO foods matter

In May of 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) asked doctors to advise their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid genetically-modified (GM) foods whenever possible, and to provide educational materials regarding GM foods and their associated health risks.  The AAEM also called for a moratorium on GM foods, as well as long-term independent studies and clear, concise and consistent labeling on all foods (AAEM. "Genetically modifed foods").

The AAEM position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.  They concluded “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” as defined by recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies (AAEM  "Genetically modified foods").”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) are "organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally" (for more information, see WHO's publication "20 questions on genetically modified foods").  This technology is also referred to as "genetic engineering", "biotechnology" or "recombinant DNA technology" and consists of randomly inserting genetic fragments of DNA from one organism to another, usually from a different species (AAEM).

The first GM food (a delayed-ripening tomato) was introduced on the US market in the mid-1990s (GMO Compass).  Although these tomatoes are no longer available and were pulled from supermarkets after increasing consumer concerns, GM strains of maize, soybean, rape and cotton have been adopted by a number of countries and marketed internationally (WHO, "Modern food biotechnology"). The cultivation of genetically modified plants worldwide also increased in 2009. In comparison to 2008, field area increased by seven per cent to 134 million hectares.  For comparison, the total acreage of Germany is 35 million hectares. In the case of soybeans, 77 per cent of world production is achieved with GM soy (GMO Compass).

GMO crops continue to be promoted as beneficial because of their hardiness and increased yield, not to mention maximized nutritional value (SUNY, The Levin Institute).  The original vision of GMOs was to feed the world and to reduce the need for synthetic pesticides (MIT, "Mission 2014").  More crops, more nutritious food to underdeveloped countries.  More better, more happy.  More money for Monsanto (canola, cotton, sorghum, sugarbeets, wheat), AquaBounty Technologies (salmon), Okanagan Specialty Fruits (non-browning apples) and Syngenta (a variety of vegetables).

Why I am so worked up about this?  I think the research is more than compelling regarding the adverse effects to human life.  When we consider the currently available genetically modified strains of things such as wheat, corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, rice, potatoes, papaya, squash, sugar cane, beets and several other commonly ingested foods, including honey derived from these plant sources, the impact is massive.  Add to that the fact that American consumers have not demanded GMO labeling, and the complacency among us is appalling.

Can you consider for a moment that perhaps allergies, attention-deficit disorder, thyroid issues, gluten-sensitivity, autism spectrum disorder and many other neurological disorders such as Alzheimers may be linked to what we casually toss into our baskets at the supermarket?  Inflammation and heart disease?  Diabetes and  auto-immune disorders?  And what about cancers?  Cancer is big business in the U.S.


Call me paranoid, but does anyone else see the link among illness, Big Pharm, the food industry and the push for GMO production?

My arm-chair/amateur social-psychologist opinion is that people won't do anything about GMOs until: 1.) they themselves or their loved ones experience adverse effects from environmental illnesses or illnesses that can't be addressed by traditional medicine; and 2.) they're tired enough of being sick to do something about it, which means modifying what they eat.  Admittedly, it is impossible to purge one's daily diet completely of GMOs, and I am a chronic offender.  But there are still many things you can do:

Look for GMO products on supermarket shelves.  READ YOUR LABELS!

Request that your supermarket carry more non-GMO products.  Find out what those products are and give your supermarket a list.

Make a commitment to make one small change at a time in your food purchases--like buying soy milk that is labeled "non-GMO" and "organic."

Buy your whole foods from people you know and trust.  Responsible and safe food production is happening all around you.  Ask.

Talk to your kids and extended family about your concerns. 

Talk to the people you know about your concerns about GMOs.  If you are brave, talk to the people in line at the supermarket about concerns they may have.

Get the Non-GMO Shopper's Guide app for your mobile phone, or download a printable version here.

Boycott and refuse to buy products from companies that produce GM foods and crops, such as Monsanto, et al., and companies that process them, such as Kraft and Kelloggs, et al.

Demand that GMOs be labeled as such.  Here is just one organization of many who are spearheading this movement.

Revive efforts such as Proposition 37, which unfortunately failed for a variety of reasons.

Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hellaciously good holupki

I was weaned on holupki.  Honest to God.

Coming from a large extended Polish family has its privileges.  You get to eat the best kielbasa, hand made by your great-aunts, which pretty much makes store-bought keilbasa the equivalent of Cool Whip (not the real thing and not even close).  Just a whiff of those garlic-laden links at family reunions made grown men weak in the knees.  I remember hearing the women who made those sausages gossip later in irritated voices about how the menfolk piled their plates high with keilbasa, leaving little for the people in line behind them.

If you're from a Polish family, you get to eat the best sauerkraut--and never you mind that the house STINKS for days during the fermentation process because your grandmother got a wild hair during her annual summer visit and made a crock full.  You get to eat the best dill pickles, which are made with garlic and dill and salt and good old lacto-fermentation.  We were spoiled with real Polish pierogi, which are without peer--the dough thin and delicate, the fillings perfectly seasoned.  Offer a Pole a Mrs. T's pierogi and you'll have insulted him.  At Christmastime, you can get the best Polish nut bread and a vast variety of kolachki pastries, none of them too sweet to stop you from eating far too many.

And you get to eat the best holupki.

Holupki (you might know them as golabki or another alternate spelling that translates as "cabbage rolls") are a warming and satisfying comfort food that I remember my mother serving on chilly winter nights in upstate New York.  I loved my mother's holupki, which were pretty much identical to my grandmother's holupki.  I made holupki this way after I left home for years because they were homey and satisfying.  And then I found a recipe called "Cabbage Bundles in Paprika Cream Sauce" in the Family Circle ABZ's of Cooking, a 12-volume set of paperback cookbooks that I had purchased week by week in a local grocery store during my first marriage.

Once I started making these and then later, adapted the recipe to my own tastes, I wanted no other holupki.  Tender and flavorful with a tangy, creamy and gently-spiced gravy, they are a magnificent and elegant version of my childhood favorite.  I made them recently for a large dinner party and they vanished.  Several guests (who claimed they were of Eastern European descent) became misty-eyed when they tasted their first mouthful.

Yep, they're that good.

Now, I don't claim that these are authentically Polish.  In fact, since I use white wine and chicken broth to simmer them in instead of the traditional beef broth or tomato juice, add a good dose of both sweet and half-sharp Hungarian paprika (where my grandmother would have used none) and then use both light cream and sour cream when finishing the sauce (which was never done in our house although Polish cooking does sometimes rely on cream), I would say that they're the best of all worlds.  They're definitely the best of Vindaloo's world.

Photo credit:  Family Circle ABZ's of Cooking (1982)

Cabbage Rolls for Company   
                  ( adapted from Family Circle ABZ 's of Cooking)

     These are time-consuming to prepare, but worth every minute.  I use a #40 scoop (about 1 5/8" in diameter) to fill the cabbage leaves quickly and less messily.  Omit the light cream and sour cream if you want a less rich dish.  Serve these with a carrot and apple salad (substituting honey for the sugar in the recipe), sourdough rye bread and a side of Polish dills.  A fruity, dry Merlot like Bonterra 2010 (Mendocino County, CA) is a great accompaniment.  Or you can go with a hearty, heavier beer.

1 large head green cabbage (approx. 3 to 3 1/2 lbs.)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup cold water (or substitute dry white wine)
1 lb. ground chuck
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooked rice
1 large clove finely minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
2 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
2 tsp. Hungarian half-sharp paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. dry white wine
4 oz. chicken or beef broth
8 oz. canned tomato sauce
4 oz. canned diced fire-roasted tomatoes and their juice
4 oz. sour cream
4 oz. light cream or half-and-half
chopped fresh dill or parsley, for garnish

1.)  In a large kettle, bring enough water to boil to submerge the cabbage whole.
2.)  Trim any damaged outer leaves from cabbage.
3.)  Stick a large fork deep into the core and lower the cabbage into the boiling water, holding on to fork securely.
4.)  With a small, sharp knife, cut loose and remove 12 to 16 leaves to a colander or plate; cabbage leaves should be slightly softened and the rib slightly pliable.
5.)  Drain cabbage leaves and chop remaining cabbage coarsely to make about 6 cups.
6.)  Combine bread crumbs, salt, pepper and water in a large bowl.
7.)  Add ground chuck, eggs, rice, garlic and onion.
8.)  Mix beef mixture well, tossing lightly.
9.)  Using a small scoop or a couple of teaspoons, put about 1/4 cup meat mixture on each cabbage leaf near the thickest part of the leaf, folding in sides and rolling up leaf over stuffing.
10.)  Repeat until all leaves are used.
11.)  Heat butter in a large oven-proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
12.)  Add onion and let it soften for a few minutes, then stir in carrots and chopped cabbage.
13.)  Saute vegetables, stirring often, until soft, about 10 minutes.
14.)  Stir in both paprikas, salt, white wine, broth, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.
15.)  Bring mixture to a simmer, then arrange cabbage rolls, seam-side down, close together, over cabbage mixture.
16.)  Cover and simmer on the stove-top over low heat for about an hour (or you can bake these in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes then at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes).
17.)  To serve, remove cabbage rolls to a warm platter or serving dish, cover and keep warm.  Stir together sour cream and light cream; add to pan and stir gently to incorporate.  Spoon sauce over cabbage rolls, shower with chopped dill or parsley.  Serves 6 to 8 people.