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Vol. 3: No. 199 – November 23, 2015

Cancer scares-stop eating?

We came upon a blog referred to in the Guardian which listed 11 common foods with ingredients alleged to cause cancer—see here.

Here are the foods cited with the offending ingredients:

  • Microwave popcorn from the material lining in the bag.
  • Soda which produces inflammation, insulin resistance and gastroesophageal reflux disease and includes harmful chemical additives.
  • Processed meats—we know the problems here from the recent study published with much fanfare.
  • Farmed salmon from antibiotics, pesticides and other chemical additives.
  • Potato chips because they are cooked at such a high temperature the process produces a substance called acrylamide, “a known carcinogen found in cigarettes.”
  • Non-organic fruits containing pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Processed white flours which have a high glycemic index promoting growth in cancer cells through sugar generated in the blood stream.
  • Smoked foods which contain nitrates which turn into N-nitroso and tar, a known carcinogen.
  • Refined sugars—see processed flours above.
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil which contains excess Omega-6 fatty acids and preservatives.
  • Artificial sweeteners, notably Aspartame which “can break down into a deadly toxin DKP.”

One has to ask, why are we not all dead since these are common foods? More specifically, do the above chemicals cause cancer or are they simply associated with it in some way? How much of these foods can you eat before you fall ill? Some people may have greater or lesser built-in defences against these chemicals and it is difficult to know where you stand.

But wait, there is good news. Actuaries are not worried and as a result are not increasing the cost of life insurance policies on the basis we are dying earlier. These offending foods and others are probably not killing us; they are likely just making us fat and unhealthy. See next post, Fatties rejoice – your cohort is increasing.

Fatties rejoice – your cohort is increasing

The U.S.’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has just released its findings revealing that in 2014, 38% of Americans were obese. This is up from 32% ten years ago. Additional findings include: women were more obese than men, lower income and less educated people were more obese than higher income and more educated people and finally, middle aged people (40-59) had the highest rate of obesity. The one encouraging fact is that the incidence of obesity for youth (19-32) has levelled off over the past 10 years. See here for further results.

Does the problem lie with the effectiveness of the giant processed food industry in pursuing its strategy of selling overwhelming amounts of empty calories spiked with addictive sugar and fat?

You might wish to read a recent New York Times comment: Real Food Challenges the Food Industry.

The writers maintain that eating habits are changing in the U.S. and large food companies are struggling to keep up. While they have made some changes to make food healthier, according to the New York Times, “food companies are moving in the right direction, but it won’t be enough to save them.” The authors admit that changes for the better “would require a complete overhaul of supply chains, major organizational restructuring and billions of dollars of investment. But these corporations have the resources. It may be their last chance.”

Our response: don’t bet on it in the short or medium term. First, the ongoing worsening trend to obesity suggests no one at any reasonable speed is going in the “right direction”. Secondly, the food companies are kicking back at attempts to regulate them. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently wrote:

“The politicians and industry lobbyists are trying to use upcoming appropriations legislation for funding government programs to gut the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They want to deny the science that shows how healthy diets – like eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat – can prevent illnesses such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. They will do it by sticking amendments – so-called “riders” – into the appropriations legislation that will restrict what is included in the Dietary Guidelines.”

We have heard this all before. We see the food companies employing the same tactics as the tobacco companies did; that is to deny the science. And like the tobacco companies, they will have huge budgets to throw at their problem. Using the experience of the tobacco industry as a guideline—until lawsuits begin and start to succeed to drive some of the large companies into bankruptcy— the industry is likely to remain unchanged. This will take many years if the tobacco precedent governs.

But we are starting to see comments like the one below from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:


“Investigators here at the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently discovered that Cheerios Protein has only a smidgen more protein than original Cheerios. Besides having only a bit more protein than regular Cheerios, Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar as the regular version. In fact, Cheerios Protein has more sugar than many obviously sweet varieties of Cheerios, such as Chocolate Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, and Frosted Cheerios. It has even more sugar than Frosted Flakes. And it gets worse! General Mills actually has the chutzpah to charge almost twice as much per serving for sugary Cheerios Protein than original Cheerios. This week we filed a lawsuit in federal court to bar General Mills from making false and misleading claims on labels and in its advertising. It’s just the latest effort in CSPI’s long campaign to improve food labeling and marketing.”

In the meantime, when you are food shopping, stay out of the centre of grocery stores where the processed food is sold. The New York Times article states, “industry insiders have begun to refer to that space as the morgue.”

Wild Mushrooms and Flour

Two noteworthy articles appeared recently in the New York Times Magazine section. The first titled Sex, Death and Mushrooms, describes a walk through Suffolk by two Cambridge academics who muse on the hidden and mysterious fungal world which produce its bounty, “flowers”, also known as, wild mushrooms.

For those of you who like wild mushrooms, the article is highly engaging. It contains a strong warning not to pick and eat them yourself, even with a guidebook. The writer thinks it is too easy to make a mistake and eat a toxic one. There is not a lot about sex in the article as the headline promises.

The second article, Bread is Broken is about flour and bread. It appeared in the New York Times Magazine’s annual food issue on October 29. Readers of Ecclesiastes 3 are aware that just prior to each summer, we publish a bread recipe for cottagers in remote locations in Canada enabling them to make their own bread easily at the cottage. Our baker, Shawn Gabrysch, uses variations of this recipe throughout the year to make bread for GEORGE but throughout the year he is always working to improve it. Each year just before summer, he suggests modifications which we publish.

We have noted that the bread we make does improve each year through practice as well as changing techniques and ingredients. But the Robin Hood All Purpose Flour is suspiciously constant. The article explains, how industrial flours like Robin Hood are produced:

“A grain of wheat has three main components: a fibrous and nutrient-rich outer coating called the bran; the flavorful and aromatic germ – a living embryo that eventually develops into the adult plant; and a pouch of starch known as the endosperm – which makes up the bulk of the grain. Before roller mills, all three parts were mashed together when processed. As a result, flour was not the inert white powder most of us are familiar with today; it was pungent, golden and speckled, because of fragrant oils released from the living germ and bits of hardy bran…if freshly ground flour was not used within a few weeks, however, the oils turned it rancid. Roller mills solved this problem. Their immense spinning cylinders denuded the endosperm and discarded the germ and bran, producing virtually unspoilable alabaster flour composed entirely of endosperm. It was a boon for the growing flour industry.”

But the flour produced from the modern method consisted of inert starch without any of the traditional nutrients and flavours of previous flours. Thus, the title of this article, Bread is Broken signifies that the entire system of making bread was broken when roller mills went into use.

Modern whole wheat flour is made by re-introducing the germ and bran into the starchy white flour. But the article states that it is unclear how the oily germ is re-introduced without significantly shortening shelf life and worse that, no one verifies the amount or composition of materials re-introduced into whole wheat flour.

The article goes on to tell the story of one man’s pilgrimage in Washington State to grow and market a variety of different wheat grains which when produced without a steel rolling mill produces flour in the old way with very different flavours and even colours. Shawn was excited when he learned that new flours would give his bread very different characteristics.

The article concludes:

“Before the advent of industrial agriculture, Americans enjoyed a wide range of regional flours milled from equally diverse wheats, which in turn could be used to make breads that were astonish­ingly flavorful and nutritious. For nearly a century, however, America has grown wheat tailored to an industrial system designed to produce nutrient-poor flour and insipid, spongy breads soaked in preservatives. For the sake of profit and expediency, we forfeited pleasure and health.”

Last year we bought a grain hand mill but did not get too far producing our own flour. We used Red Fife which the article refers to as a genuine early 19C wheat. Let’s hope someone in Canada will begin to produce new varieties of wheat to test.

Ontario 2015 produce is tailing off

The Chef reports that there is still a lot of Ontario produce for sale. It either is coming out of cold storage or in some cases it was left in the ground and picked after its growth. He advises that you should eat it very soon after you buy it because it will deteriorate quickly when you get it home. Of everything being offered, he favours the Ontario broccoli which he says is superb this year. He also bought cauliflower, artichokes, rapini, swiss chard, pumpkins and squash. In addition, there are leeks, beets, parsnips and celery root. There are lots of pears and apples as well as red shepherd peppers (the long conical variety). There are also fresh Ontario field herbs on sale. The Chef bought cilantro, mint and parsley which he thought looked good.

He suggested you seek out field kale heart sometimes called kale sprouts which is really baby kale. Also, he suggests you try Ontario field sorrel which is delightfully lemony. We liked the current wonderful offering of romanesco.

The star in the Ontario side of the Terminal was heirloom onions which were not fully grown. They looked like green onions but had red stripes. They are a special original Italian based variety. Pick them up if you see them.

In the U.S. and foreign parts of the Ontario Food Terminal, the Chef bought fennel, pomegranates and persimmons. He hears that you can grow persimmons in Ontario but he has never spotted any. He also said that U.S. table grapes have arrived which are really nice.

From Italy, he bought chestnuts, kiwis and purple plums which are white on the inside and delicious.

BC wild chanterelles and pine mushrooms are nearly done for the year and will be replaced soon by BC and Oregon porcinis. They will be followed by BC black trumpets which are in the market now, except they come from Bulgaria. The Chef will wait for the BC ones.

Bison cheeks have arrived from Quebec but the supplier keeps shorting the Chef’s orders. Guess they are in demand in Toronto.

The Chef is using short ribs and venison from Ontario as well as Muscovy duck which he likes.

The Chef has been buying glacier bass farmed in Chile. The wild glacier bass is on Ocean Wise’s endangered list. He also is buying BC cod and arctic char as well as tuna from the Philippines.

The Chef is still using Nova Scotia swordfish but the season is ending.

Pastry wise, the Chef is using the Italian chestnuts in a chocolate cheesecake and the persimmons in a lemon tart.

Finally, a Burgundy you can afford

Recently, in an article on wine collecting in the Financial Times, we learned that the top 40 of the 50 most expensive brands in the wine world are Burgundy. It comments that “no one knows how to read the labels” and they only refer to the potential of the lands and not the wine. The challenge then is that Burgundy is very expensive and hard to select unless you know a lot. The resulting conundrum – how do you learn?

We had lunch some time ago with the remarkable Moray Tawse, owner of Tawse Winery who has holdings in Burgundy and Argentina. He works with his skillful partner, Pascal Marchand, a Montrealer, who led the biodynamic movement which has transformed the wine making process in Burgundy. At lunch, we asked him to supply us with Burgundy wine in magnums or jerobaums which we would pour by the glass so that our customers could taste Burgundy. He was kind enough not to tell us what in retrospect was obviously passing through his mind—you guys cannot possibly afford to do this.

But we are pleased to report he has come through and we received 24 half bottles of Gevrey Chambertin signed by Pascal Marchand.

If you are like most Canadians and do not drink Burgundy because the price frightens you, try a half bottle at GEORGE. Price is specially reduced to $60. You will learn the great pleasure you are missing. This is a substantial wine packed with energy from one of the top Burgundy villages. We believe it represents an excellent introduction to this high quality region, Gevrey Chambertin.

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.