Tag Archives: healthy food

“Smart Choices” Reconsidered.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the food labeling program where certain food products were being marked as Smart Choices to encourage people to make better decisions about the foods they were purchasing. The problem I wrote about was that the labels were going on foods like Froot Loops and  Pops cereals. This week the program suspended its operations and many of the participants will be phasing out the labels on their products.  State and Federal authorities believed that the program would mislead consumers about the nutritional value of the foods that carried the label.

The FDA sent a letter to the program in August that expressed its concern that the program would encourage people to purchase the packaged foods over fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the FDA put out a letter to the food industry this week that called for the industry to move to a voluntary “common set of mandatory nutritional criteria that consumers can rely on when they view FOP [Front of Packaging] labels.” One of the concerns of the FDA is the way that consumers respond to front of package labeling which they worry may be “confusing” or “counter-productive.”  The letter states that people are less likely to read the nutrition facts panel  if there is a front of package claim. The ultimate goal is to help consumers make informed decisions and  “build better diets and improve their health.” Smart Choices voluntarily suspended the program citing that they had the same goals as the FDA.

While the companies who had used the Smart Choices labels were interested in luring adults to their products, often times food marketing is geared at children. Corporate Accountability International is launching a campaign to demonstrate how Ronald McDonald  is used as a marketing tool focused on children. They cite Jim Skinner, the CEO of McDonald’s statement that “Ronald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence,” and they are asking people to help document when and where the clown shows up.

– Kerri

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Thinking Outside the Pod.

This Asian-infused lima bean appetizer prepared by the Scripps Memorial Hospital Executive Chef was one many innovative entries in this weekend's cook-off challenge at the Lima Bean Faire in Encinitas, Califorina. Photo by Christopher.

This Asian-infused lima bean appetizer prepared by the Scripps Memorial Hospital Executive Chef was one many innovative entries in this weekend's cook-off challenge at the Lima Bean Faire in Encinitas, Califorina. Photo by Christopher.

There’s nothing like lima beans to bring the community together in celebration of local heritage. Pulling into the dirt parking lot just north of the San Diego Botanical Gardens, we could see the large red and white striped tent, and a huge homemade sign listing the happenings of this weekend’s 2009 Lima Bean Faire. Seated at about two dozen round tables, local residents tasted a variety of lima bean based dishes, deciding which one would get their vote in each category of the weekend cook-off challenge.

“You want people to eat healthy, but you can’t force it down their throats,” said Scripps Hospital Executive Chef E. Dennis van Rummond. His entry into the “ethnic” category of the cook-off was an Asain infused lima bean appetizer. He marinated his beans in a blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and crystallized ginger, and sat them next to a bite-sized salad of red bell pepper, green onion and water chesnuts, all elegantly laid across the top of a baked wonton wrapper.

While his eye-catching presentation stood out from the “savory soup” and “classic” entries, competition from local restauranteurs and community members was fierce.

On one side of Rummond was a representative of When In Rome, a well known Italian restaurant with 23 years of experience satisfying patrons. When In Rome, an affiliate of Slow Food San Diego, and winner of a local Reader’s Choice award, served their Italian marinated beans as a bruschetta imbued with a pecorino cheese.

However, the most palate satisfying, and practical lima bean innovation, was a simple and delicious hummus created at the last minute by local resident Christopher Quicker at the request of Inn of Moonlight Beach owner Ann Dunman.

“I used red, orange and yellow bell peppers and roasted them over an open flame and added them for the color,” Quicker said. The bell peppers however only made up 10 percent of the ingredients. While he used roasted garlic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper, 80 percent of his creation were pure lima beans provided by the California Lima Beans Growers Council, a legume that used to grow abundantly is this coastal area as they require no irrigation, and are a great source of protein.

Each contestant was given a 10 pound bag of dried lima beans in mid-September, allowing them ten days to perfect their entry. While the hundred-dollar grand prize, and the People’s Choice Lima Bean Trophy were enticing, participation in the event for local businesses meant free advertising and connection to the community in a family-friendly setting. A few folks played lima bean bingo, and lima bean poker while awaiting the announcement of the cook-off winner, and the children’s fashion show.

Hildegarde, a volunteer with the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, selling dried lima beans to attendees of the faire. Photo by Christopher.

Hildegarde, a volunteer with the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, selling dried lima beans to attendees of the faire. Photo by Christopher.

Outside of the tasting tent there were several vendors of local crafts, a caricaturist, and displays of local artifacts, and old photos of Encinitas from the late 1800s and early 1900s provided by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum. Today’s festivities however were just part of the weekend long event that included a talent show the night before, and a “follies” program on Sunday including magicians, singers, jugglers and Mr. Balloon Man.

On our way out of the Lima Bean Faire, we stopped by a small booth and spoke with a woman named Hildegarde, who convinced us to buy a bag of dried lima beans for a dollar. Her enthusiasm for the event, attended mostly by people closer to her age than ours, left us feeling thankful for our community, and inspired us to try creating a lima bean dish of our own.

– Christopher

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A Farmers Market for Everyone.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

On Saturday morning, Christopher and I took a trip outside of our usual range of travel. We went to City Heights, a community within San Diego, to learn about their farmers market.

Right away it was apparent that this farmers market differed from the one we are used to visiting. Ours is held at a local elementary school and has a wide variety of vendors and booths. In addition to fresh produce, you can purchase everything from crafts to fresh breads, and there is usually someone playing live music to the legions of locavores.

The City Heights farmers market is located on a blocked off street between a police station and low income housing.  There are significantly fewer vendors (this market is relatively new), and there weren’t many customers. However, as we walked past the booths we saw fresh greens stacked up and boxes of vegetables.

One vendor had long, slender, vibrant purple eggplants and dark green zucchinis at least a foot long.  I made a quick note to stop at that booth with the curly green kale for $1. What I first thought was a place for bike parking was group of  young punk rock volunteers teaching people how to re-build and repair bikes. But that is not why we went.

A table underneath a white canopy stood at the far end. There was a laptop, a wireless card swiping machine, a group of volunteers in colorful City Heights Farmers Market t-shirts and a sign that said “Use your EBT card here!!!”

Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT cards are swiped in exchange for tokens that can be used at any time at the farmers market. It is rare to even find a farmers market in a low income area, let alone one that accepts EBT.  In addition to helping people who already receive benefits, The San Diego chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)  has volunteers helping to prescreen people to find out if they qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and to help them fill out the initial paperwork.  They have volunteers who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali.

This market is a joint effort between the IRC and the San Diego Farm Bureau which is also starting similar projects in two other areas. According to a volunteer with the IRC, San Diego County is  the worst in the nation for food stamp participation. This means that people who qualify are not receiving assistance for a variety of reasons. City Heights has the lowest participation rate in San Diego.

This was one of the busiest booths at the time we arrived. We waited in line to talk to someone. While we were there,  an older woman came up to find out what was going on and learned that she might qualify for a one time senior voucher.  A Somalian man was assisted by two women, one of  whom helped to translate.  No one was turned away as the volunteers explained the processes and helped people with their questions. While we waited we noticed a survey on poster paper asking customers how the market’s prices compared to those at the grocery store. Most of the feedback indicated that the prices were “similar” or “better.” When we spoke with two of the workers, one from the Farm Bureau and one from the IRC, we learned that they do survey’s every week to better serve their customers and vendors.

This particular market is able to offer “Fresh Funds.” Money is donated towards the program  and is distributed each week, so that people who spent $5 at the market get an additional $5 worth of tokens to spend there.  This encourages people to use their money on fresh fruits and vegetables and helps local farmers.

If you live near City Heights or another farmers market that accepts EBT and/or WIC, check them out and support their efforts. The City Heights farmers market Web page has great information about their programs and why it is beneficial to support community efforts that provide healthy food to all people regardless of income.

– Kerri

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