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The Community Advocate’s Guide to Feeding the Hungry

Dec. 4th 2015

Canned Food.

It may be difficult to believe, but America has a bigger hunger issue than most people realize. Many Americans face “food insecurity,” which the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. In the United States, this is caused not by a lack of food, but by the continued prevalence of poverty.

In 2014, 48.1 million Americans lived in a food insecure household. This included 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children. It’s an especially alarming thought that millions of children in our own neighborhoods regularly faced uncertainty about their next meals. But there’s good news: you can help! By becoming a hunger advocate and holding a food drive or hunger event, you can put food on the table for dozens, even hundreds of Americans living in food insecurity.

This guide is designed to help you figure out what kind of an event you want to hold, how to plan and execute a food drive, alternatives to traditional food drives, and the best kinds of food items to include in your donations.

Hammering out the specifics: What kind of event best fits your goals?

Start with your general goal: do you hope to hold a large event or a more modest one? The answer to that question ties directly into the idea of a host location for your food drive. For example, are you collecting within your neighborhood, your workplace or your school? This may come down to which group you think you can communicate with best and motivate the most. (So if you’re thinking of holding a large food drive within your company but don’t have a strong mass communication system at work, you might be better off sticking to a neighborhood drive.) Reach out to others within that group to see who may be interested in helping you plan the event.

Establish exactly how you want your drive to work. You could have a single designated day, time and place to collect donations or an extended collection event over the course of several days or weeks. Pick the date(s) of your event, keeping holidays and breaks in mind. (A springtime school food drive would be a great idea, but it wouldn’t be very successful if collection dates were while the kids were on spring vacation.) Collection can be done by dropping off at collection sites, arranging pick-ups, or both.

Consider specific kinds of donation events: at a fill-up-the-truck challenge, participants are encouraged to fill an entire box truck with donations. Five-pound parties require guests to bring five pounds of non-perishable food, with a prize for the guest with the most items. $5 parties follow the same idea, but guests are asked to spend $5 on non-perishable food items and awards are handed out for the most items or biggest box of donations. You could even theme your food drive with how donations are collected, such as by requesting that partygoers fill up a bag you provide them.

Keep in mind that deciding what kind of an event you want to hold is going to depend largely on how much time you have to devote. Don’t take on more than you can manage or be afraid to ask for help. Remember, a small food drive is far more helpful than a failed food drive!

Put it all together: Planning and executing your food drive

Now that you’ve got your food drive wheels moving, it’s time to hold a planning meeting where interested coworkers and friends can gather to help you organize your event. This should include choosing a theme for your drive. This time of year, a holiday theme is a great way to get people’s attention and spread awareness about local hunger issues.

Come up with a catchy, creative slogan that ties together the cause and the organization benefitting from the food drive. You can even hold a poster contest to find the most creative, eye-catching display; it’s an excellent way to get people informed and excited about the drive before you even start collecting! Plus, it’s a fun way to get kids involved and teach them the importance of giving back at an early age.

Elect a committee with several leadership positions: an overall coordinator (this is likely your own title) and team leaders for individual tasks like food sorting, donation collecting and advertising. Establish clear responsibilities for each leader, and ensure they all know and have easy access to key dates and times for your drive. (You may even want to pass out event calendars!) Have a roster of all volunteers, complete with full names and contact information to easily keep everyone in the loop and updated.

Next, finalize the details of your collection methods. When deciding on drop-off locations, think convenient, high traffic, and — especially if yours is a single-day event — have an indoor option, pending poor weather conditions. Local businesses, schools, churches and grocery stores are all great options. Reach out to managers and principals to supply them with information about your drive, including which organization it benefits, your goals and the expected dates it will run, and ask if they’d like to participate.

Food Donations.

Don’t forget to reach out to the organization you’ll be working with. Not only should you let them know you’ll be sending donations, it’s important to ask them if there are any items they specifically need. Local organizations are often in short supply of low sodium and low sugar foods, but this year they could also be low on baby formula and baby food, or maybe something as simple as brown rice. Knowing exactly what they need can make all the difference in donating!

Now to consider one of the most important aspects of your drive: advertising! Promote your food drive in company or school newsletters and reach out to local churches, libraries, and community centers to let them know about your cause. Contact local media; even if they don’t write an entire story about your drive, they could post the information on their website or Facebook page. And don’t forget about your own social media; posting and sharing on Facebook or chronicling your efforts on a blog can be excellent ways to garner community interest and involvement.

And there are tons of ways to grow involvement throughout your event. If you’re working with a retailer, talk to the manager about possible incentives for employee involvement, internal flyers or posters, or asking customers if they’d like to donate at the register. You could even set up a holiday gift-wrapping station for the price of canned goods.

Incentives and prizes are another great way to gain supporters of your cause. Schools could offer discounted sporting event or dance tickets. Companies could offer a casual dress day if goals are met. Local businesses might be interested in donating items for a raffle. You can even create games with your drive! Challenge coworkers to build sculptures out of the canned goods and then award the most creative. Hold a contest for best holiday photo or cutest pet and vote by canned good donation; whoever’s box gets filled up first wins!

Chronicle the whole process with photos and post them with flyers and in company newsletters to keep up excitement around the drive. Track and post results as they occur throughout the event. Creating a website or Facebook page for the event with updated goal progress and photos would be an easy, interactive way to keep everyone informed.

You can even make donations a form of currency! Instead of tickets, require canned goods as a price of entry for company parties. Incorporate a “swear jar” type of policy around the office, but instead make it a “donation jar.” Anytime someone’s cell phone goes off during a meeting or someone is late to work, require a donation.

Swear Jar.

Think outside the box: Alternatives to food drives

Food drives require a lot of time and devotion, and sometimes juggling work and family life is tricky enough without taking on something extra. Or maybe you just want something more creative than a traditional food drive. Whatever the case, you have plenty of options when it comes to being a hunger advocate!

Be resourceful and go with what you’ve already got: go through your cabinets and donate leftover unopened food from parties and barbeques. Pick up that giant stack of coupons you’ve been meaning to clip, then buy and donate what’s on sale. See if you can set up a stand at a local event like a 5K or music festival to collect donations. Or go with what you’ll get: ask for canned good donations instead of gifts at a birthday or anniversary party.

If you decide you want to go big, you may want to hold your own large-scale community lunch or dinner for the local hungry population. You could plan your own menu to cook, or your meal could be potluck style, with volunteers all bringing in dishes from home. Keep in mind that host locations should be neutral, non-religious and conveniently located. Some organizations will even help you host a dinner where individuals or groups can prepare home-cooked meals for guests.

Hosting a large-scale event can bring in all kinds of community participation. You can set up booths about public health assistance and ID services, or see if local barbers would donate their time for haircut booths. Get radio stations interested; they may even set up a broadcast booth at the event!

Reach out to local celebrity chefs who may agree to cook for the event. Many independent chefs donate time or food to local hunger causes, and some even make it part of their business plan. Even if they can’t do it themselves, they might be an excellent reference for someone who can!

When it comes down to it, though, just volunteering at a soup kitchen can make a huge difference. Even one or two nights a week can be a rewarding way to give back, and many community kitchens have nightly or weekly dinners to which you can donate your time. Volunteers might prepare and serve meals, sort and distribute canned goods and clothing, clean the facility and grounds, fold linens, or help with inventory. Remember, no matter your strengths, there are plenty of ways you can help out at a soup kitchen!

Shop smart: The best foods for your event

Of course all donations are appreciated, but sticking to some general guidelines while shopping can help make your contribution all the more valuable. Canned proteins like tuna, salmon, chicken, peanut butter and peanuts are a great place to start, as well as grains like pasta (regular or whole grain), rice (white or brown), and macaroni and cheese. Ideally, canned vegetables are low sodium or no salt added, and canned fruits are in their own juices or light syrup. Multigrain cereals like rolled oat varieties, corn flakes, raisin bran variations and high-fiber cereals, along with protein-based soups like beef stew, chili, chicken noodle and turkey rice, are also great options.

Evaporated milk is another important nonperishable item to add to your donation list. Healthy snacks like dried fruit, whole grain crackers, trail mix and fruit cups are great items, along with unsweetened apple sauce, low sodium pasta sauce, and chicken, beef, and vegetable broths and stock. Keep in mind that canned goods with pop-top lids are preferable to those that require a can opener, and glass jars aren’t ideal.

You may also want to consider collecting pet food donations. Dry or canned cat and dog food, bird seed and fish food are all helpful pet donations. These don’t have to be a main focus for your drive, but they can certainly find good homes!

If you’re cooking your own event, try to include “superfoods” like kale, avocado and raw almonds in your dishes. They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients and are a great way to make the most of a single meal. Other super healthy options that won’t kill your wallet include lentils, oats, oranges, chunk-light tuna (it makes a great substitute for salmon), cabbage, peanut butter, apples, eggs and carrots. The Food Network has great superfood recipes you could adapt for your event, and Campbell’s Soup has plenty of budget friendly recipes.

Fresh Vegetables.

Food drives are a wonderful way to give back to the community, and they can help countless families put food on the table. But whether you hold a food drive or host your own dinner, the difference you’ll make is ultimately immeasurable. However you choose to donate your time, being a community hunger advocate could be one of the best choices you ever make!

Additional Helpful Resources

  • Feeding America has an awesome feature that helps you find your nearest food bank.
  • The Sodexo Foundation distributes awards of $400 to youth-led service projects that bring together young people, families, Sodexo employees and members of the community.
  • Meals of Hope has helped organize food drives across the country and can help you hold your own event.
  • This resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has excellent information on healthy vegetarian alternatives and tips to making a nutritious meal.
  • Buzzfeed created this comprehensive list of common food bank wish list items.
Posted by Brad | in food | No Comments »

The Benefits of Cooking with Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Guide

Nov. 21st 2015

Cooking With Alzheimer's/

In many advice columns and informational resources for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, you’re likely to find recommendations that suggest unplugging the stove. There’s solid reasoning behind this advice: Some people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease may begin to cook but lose track of what they’re doing partway through the process. When the stove is forgotten, the results can be disastrous.

So while there’s a valid safety reason behind preventing loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease from inadvertently putting themselves in harm’s way by cooking alone, there are an abundance of valid reasons why cooking can be a beneficial activity for people who have Alzheimer’s disease – all the better when it means spending quality time with someone they care about.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide encompassing the cognitive, emotional, and other health-related benefits of cooking for people with Alzheimer’s disease, how to create a safe environment for cooking and baking, ways caregivers can assist to make the activity enjoyable, and addressing eating challenges that may arise among individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Elderly Woman Cooking in the Kitchen.

What You’ll Find in This Guide:

Cognitive and Health Benefits of Cooking with Alzheimer’s

The following resources offer information on the cognitive and other health benefits of cooking with Alzheimer’s and the positive effects of being able to continue participating in activities that were once enjoyable.

Senior Couple Cooking.

Emotional Benefits of Cooking with Alzheimer’s

The following resources provide information on the emotional benefits of cooking with Alzheimer’s, such as facilitating positive personal interactions, the ability for familiar routines to stir memories, and the ability to maintain a sense of self-worth and independence.

Elderly Woman.

How to Make Cooking a Safe and Enjoyable Experience for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Cooking offers many benefits for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, yet it can also be a dangerous activity if the person experiences certain symptoms of the disease and participates in cooking activities without proper supervision and preparation. The following resources offer guidance on creating a safe atmosphere for people with Alzheimer’s disease to enjoy the experience of cooking and baking.

Wooden Kitchen Utensils.

Eating with Alzheimer’s: Tips and Tricks for Overcoming Eating Challenges

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease often brings with it several challenges related to eating and nutrition. A change in the senses of taste and smell, for instance, can make certain foods seem less appetizing. Likewise, other challenges, such as difficulty using utensils or swallowing and chewing problems can lead to eating challenges. The following resources offer information on the eating-related challenges that may arise and provide tips for coping.

Peasant's Dinner.

One of the primary concerns for Alzheimer’s caregivers is ensuring the safety of their loved one, but this doesn’t have to mean excluding beloved activities, especially cooking. By implementing the advice in this guide, creating family meals can be a safe and beneficial way for caregivers to share some quality time, as well as delicious recipes, with their beloved friend or family member.

Posted by Brad | in food | 3 Comments »

Knife Skills Every Culinary Artist Should Have

Dec. 19th 2013

Beginning cooks might not know how versatile a knife can become in the hands of a professional chef. Anyone who doesn’t know the differences between knife skills such as mincing, dicing, and chopping has quite a bit to learn. Luckily, it doesn’t take long to start learning these skills. Just because you’ve minced a few onions, however, doesn’t mean that you know how to do it properly. These are skills that chefs spend years perfecting.

Mincing

Minced Garlic.

Mincing gives chefs finely cut chunks of an ingredient such as onions, garlic, or squash. The proper mincing technique varies slightly depending on the ingredient, but cooks can adjust their techniques easily when encountering new foods.

To mince garlic, use a knife with a thin, sharp blade. Cut the garlic into strips, running from the head to the root. Turn the strips at a 90 degree angle and cut them into small pieces.

Chopping

Dicing. Chopping is a versatile technique that works well with a chef knife or a cleaver. Hold the cleaver’s handle securely and place your other hand on the top, dull side of the blade. This lets you control the cleaver easily so that you can create large or medium chop sizes.

Dicing

Dicing is a subcategory of the chopping technique. The major difference is that dicing creates small chunks. Chefs can use smaller knives for this technique, although experts could still dice with cleavers. Regardless of the knife, having a Granton edge helps create smaller, even cuts.

If you need to hold the ingredient while dicing it, be sure to use the “claw hand” technique. This reduces the risk of injury by removing your fingers from the dicing area.

Julienning

Julienning creates long, thin strips. This technique is most commonly associated with cutting vegetables, but chefs can translate the skill into techniques used when preparing ingredients such as fish, meat, and cheese.

Julienned Vegetables

To julienne properly, use your middle, ring, and pinkie fingers to grasp the top of a chef knife’s handle. Your forefinger should rest on one side of the blade while your thumb provides support from the other side. Use the knife to cut off four sides of the ingredient. This will create a block that is easy to work with.

Now, cut the ingredient into uniform, lengthwise sections. Do not “chop” straight down. Instead use a rocking motion that allows the knife’s blade to move easily through the vegetable or other ingredient.

Stack the sections on top of each other and use the same technique to cut them again. This should produce long, slender cuts of the ingredient.

Chiffonade

Chiffonade” is a French word that means “made of rags.” Chefs primarily use the style when cutting herbs such as basil or mint. To chiffonade basil leaves, stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them into a tube. It should look like a green cigar.

Chiffonade.

Use an extremely sharp knife to cut the leaves using the same rocking motion from the julienne section. This will create short shreds of the herb, making it perfect for adding flavor to dishes.

These basic knife skills can make cooking easier and safer. Learning how to use them properly is an essential step for every chef.

Posted by Brad | in food | No Comments »

Cooking and Grill Safety Tips

Oct. 7th 2013

Grill Safety Tips

Every year as we fire up the barbeque in the summer, we might not be aware of the thousands of injuries, fatalities, and fires that are caused due to outdoor grills. In order to enjoy a safe, incident-free outdoor meal experience, it is important to educate ourselves on the crucial points of grilling safety. Apart from this we also need to know how to equip ourselves with the right tools for preventing and handling any potential hazards. In this article we’ll have a look at the basics of safe grilling habits and techniques.

Read the Owner’s Manual

While it may be a bore to flip through the entire manual, this one simple step can go a long way in preventing mistakes. Beyond the assembly instructions, pay special attention to usage advice and safety tips. If there seems to be something wrong with the grill alert the manufacturer instead of attempting to use the grill . Their information is usually available in the manual or on their website.

Only for Outside Use

No matter how small a grill might be it should always be used outdoors. The key is to use it in an area where smoke and emissions can freely escape. This means that it isn’t even safe to use it in an outdoor tent or similar enclosure. The reason for this is because grills create carbon monoxide. The gas is virtually undetectable but fatal for humans and pets. Another important reason to use grills in a well-ventilated spot is to avoid sparks and cinders from setting materials or plants on fire.

Keep Grill Stable

Grills have the potential to cause much danger. They contain hot coals, searing metal racks, heavy parts, and might be connected to a propane tank. To avoid any of these items falling over and potentially causing an emergency situation, owners should take every effort to secure the grill. Keep it on a flat, stable ground area. It is a good idea to place a few heavy rocks around the legs especially if there are wheels to prevent the grill from accidentally being tipped or pushed.

Follow Electric Codes

Take the time to research your area’s regulations and codes about outdoor electric appliances. This is not only to avoid trouble with authorities, but more importantly it helps to avoid dangerous situations. When electric cords are required, wire them in a way where they are protected from water. It is best to place them in areas that do not receive heavy traffic.

Use Long-Handled Utensils

Food cooking on a grill tends to splatter and sizzle. By using utensils with long heat-safe handles, grill owners can prevent getting burned. Never reach for food on the grill with bare hands or with standard table utensils. Long tongs with serrated edges are extremely helpful since they can catch and hold on to the food better, to avoid accidental dropping.

Wear Safe Clothing

Long, flowing clothes can easily catch on fire if a person reaches over a grill. While it is important to be fully clothed while grilling, it is equally crucial to wear the right clothes. Roll up shirt sleeves above the wrist and make sure they do not hang down. An apron is handy for protecting skin and clothes, however do keep the strings properly tied and well secured. People with long hair should tie it back so that it does not hang above the flames. Appropriate oven mitts are also advisable to avoid burning the hands.

Keep Fire Under Control

A grill’s fire can very quickly increase in temperature and become out of control if the grill owner does not know how to handle it. In the event of flare-ups, one effective way to cope with it is by placing the grid at a higher level. Alternatively use a long-handled tool to disperse the coals so that the heat is not focused on one central area. Another method is to simply use the grill controls to maintain a lower temperature. For larger flames quickly but carefully move the food off the grill, and then sprinkle a little water over the coals.

Be Ready to Extinguish Flames

Even advanced grillers should be properly equipped in case a fire gets out of control. To this end, a fire extinguisher is vital to have next to the grill. Adults in the family should be familiar with using a fire extinguisher and know how to deploy it at a moment’s notice if necessary. In lieu of a fire extinguisher, a garden hose can work just as well if it is easily within reach. Another simple but effective remedy is a box of baking soda for extinguishing grease fires caused by food. Keep a waterproof, sealed container of sand nearby as well to smother the flames in an instant.

Posted by Brad | in food | No Comments »

A Culinary Guide to Gluten Free Cooking

Oct. 1st 2013

Gluten-free is a term that can be found with increasing frequency in grocery stores on food products, and mentioned in discussions about health. To understand what it means, it is necessary to first define the word “gluten.” Wheat, the wheat/rye hybrid triticale, barley, and rye, all contain a naturally occurring protein that is called gluten. Gluten serves several purposes. When baking, gluten traps gas so that baked goods such as bread will rise and become light and airy. It makes the dough created using wheat-based flour more elastic, and helps make the final baked product more chewy. It is also used as a thickener in some products and may be used to enhance the flavor in some foods. When a person is on a gluten-free diet, he or she only eats foods that do not contain this protein. Because gluten is often found in unexpected items, starting a gluten-free diet is not as easy as it sounds.

A gluten-free diet is not necessary, or helpful, for everyone. Celiac disease is one of the main reasons why people turn to a gluten-free diet. With celiac disease, gluten triggers an autoimmune response in the small intestine. As a result, nutrients are not properly absorbed, the person suffers from gastric problems, may have headaches and suffer from fatigue. A gluten-free diet is critical in the treatment of this disease. People with celiac disease, however, are not the only ones who are gluten intolerant. Some people may have a gluten sensitivity that is not related to celiac disease, and may need to reduce their gluten intake or follow a gluten-free diet. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause people to suffer from stomach pains after eating wheat or other associated grains. They may also experience bouts of headaches, fatigue and grogginess.

In addition to avoiding foods that contain barley, wheat, rye and triticale, people on gluten-free diets should also be aware of other items that contain wheat and/or gluten. Graham flour, bulgur, farina, spelt and seminola all contain gluten and should be avoided when adhering to a gluten-free diet. Unless marked as gluten-free, tortillas, bread, pastries, and cereals will all traditionally have gluten in them. Beer, sauces, oats, gravy, soy sauce, imitation fish, lunch meats, salad dressings, and some candies can also contain gluten. For this reason, people will want to carefully check the labels of foods that they buy and look for items that are clearly labeled gluten-free. Items that can safely be consumed are foods that are made using soy, rice, potato, bean, and corn flours. According to the Mayo Clinic, buckwheat, hominy, millet, rice and flax may all be used as substitutes for wheat.

When first switching to this type of diet, people may find it challenging when it comes to baking or cooking. This challenge is two-fold. In one aspect, depending on where one lives and the presence of health food stores, it can be difficult to locate certain pre-made gluten-free items. This is especially true for gourmet or specialty items. Baking is another area that proves challenging for people who are new to gluten-free products. This is because of the way that gluten affects the final results of baked goods. For this reason, people who enjoy baking will need to experiment with gluten-free alternatives to discover the best ways to make the foods that they enjoy. Fortunately, there are numerous recipes available for not only baked goods, but also healthy, gluten-free meals as well.

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Desserts

Snacks

Kids Favorites

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A Culinary 101 on Being Kosher

Mar. 24th 2013

Latkes. The Jewish religion requires its followers to adhere to a very specific set of rules regarding food consumption. Acceptable foods and preparation practices are known as kosher. The book of Leviticus provides information as to the types of foods that can freely be eaten and how they should be prepared and cooked. The rules and laws are specific enough that Jews have to be especially careful to buy foods labeled as kosher. How an observant Jew cooks and eats is similarly regulated. Read on to learn about why people keep kosher and how to do so.

History of Kosher

People have been keeping kosher for as far back as Biblical times, or around 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. The practice increased significantly in the West when large numbers of Jews migrated to the United States. The first known instance of kosher food in the U.S. dates back to the mid-1600s. The most basic reason for keeping kosher is simply because the Torah outlines that it should be followed. However, many rabbis also further encourage it by suggesting that this type of diet helps to increase one’s spirituality and discipline, as well as furthering Jewish customs. Many also cite the practice’s stringent sanitary laws as a reason to eat foods that are prepared in a very hygienic manner.

General Rules of Being Kosher

The main rules of keeping kosher outline a number of foods that may or may not be consumed. Kosher laws also specify that animals and birds that are slaughtered for food must be killed according to ritual. Before cooking, all of the creature’s blood needs to be drained, and only some parts can be consumed. Mixing categories of foods is also regulated. Dairy products cannot be mixed with meats, while pareve (non-meat or dairy products) cannot be eaten with meats or dairy. For example, vegetables or fruit cannot be eaten with meat or dairy. These practices extend to food preparation and cooking as well, so that separate containers and utensils have to be used for each category of food. Some families color-code their kitchen tools according to food categories to prevent accidentally using them wrongly.

Specifics of a Kosher Diet

In the meat category, Jews are allowed to eat common domestic farm animals that include cows, goats, and sheep, as well as more exotic creatures such as giraffe, ibex, and gazelle. Similarly, common farm-bred poultry such as ducks, geese, and chickens are acceptable. Technically turkey is a kosher meat, but because it was never specifically referred to in the Torah, some sects do not permit it. Standard fish such as tuna or salmon are safe for kosher diets. Jews are only allowed to consume the meat of creatures when a shochet (a Jew who is specially trained and licensed to butcher animals for food) kills the beast with a single slash to the throat. The knife that is used must be very sharp, and as the process very quick and painless, it is recognized as the cleanest and is the most humane way to slaughter the animal. Fruit and vegetables can be freely consumed as long as they are first checked for insects. Eggs from kosher animals are also acceptable, and this even includes caviar if it is obtained from kosher fish. Dairy foods include anything that contains milk. Dairy products are only allowed if they are derived from kosher animals and do not include any type of meat by-products or substances. Other items such as bread and cereal (which are considered as pareve) can be eaten if it does not contain dairy.

Foods Forbidden in a Kosher Diet

Foods that are not allowed within the kosher guidelines are known as treif. When it comes to meat, Jews are not allowed to eat meat from animals that bear cloven hoofs or those that do not chew cud. Furthermore, while they can eat fish, they cannot consume water creatures that lack fins or scales, which eliminates shellfish and squid. Insects, scavenging creatures, reptiles, and amphibians are all excluded from a kosher diet. Since consumption of blood is prohibited, the shochet needs to ensure that recently killed animals are fully drained of their blood before the meat is available for consumption. Since eggs may sometimes contain bloodspots, they need to be carefully checked before eating and discarded if any blood is found.

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A Culinary Guide to Eating Right Every Day

Mar. 10th 2013

Fresh Vegetables. Everyone knows that eating healthy is the best option available for making a positive impact on your health. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, stay fit and just feel better overall. Knowing that you need to make good food choices is different from actually making those choices. When you are ready to change your eating habits, you need to take the time to evaluate all of your habits and to take the necessary steps so that you can embrace a healthy lifestyle. You need to think about the food that you are eating, where it comes from and how it helps you. Once you begin to make conscious choices about your eating habits, it will be easier to make the changes you need to succeed.

The government and various other nutrition agencies have outlined the basic guidelines for healthy eating. As a child, you may have learned about the Food Pyramid or heard about the My Plate initiative. The basic guidelines instruct an adult to eat about two cups of fruit a day. You should strive to eat between two and a half to three cups of vegetables each day. You should limit your grains to between six to eight ounces each day. Protein is an important part of any diet, and you should aim for between five to eight ounces each day. If you do not want to eat meat, there are plenty of healthy plant based proteins options available. Dairy is another important food group, and you should make sure you are getting about three cups each day. You also need to make sure you are choosing healthy fats and oils such as the oils found in nuts or certain vegetables. You need between five to seven teaspoons of oils each day.

Once you understand what you should be eating to stay healthy, you need to start thinking about how to eat each of the food groups. The fresher the fruits and vegetables you eat, the more nutrients you will receive from them. If possible, you should eat at least a portion of your daily vegetable intake raw. This will give you the most nutrients possible. When you are eating your grains, look for whole grains instead of items that have been overly processed. Choosing to bake or grill your meat will be healthier than frying it. You can choose organic fruits and vegetables to avoid the pesticides that are on other fruit.

Changing your eating habits may come a little bit at a time. You need to make it easy to consume the healthy foods you want to eat. Take the time each week to slice up the vegetables you are planning on snacking on. Take the time get rid of the processed junk food in your house, and at your office. If you put healthy options in their place, it will be easier to make the changes. The more processed food you can remove from your diet, the better off you will be. Cooking from scratch and cutting out fast food will give you more control over the food you eat.

Changing eating habits can be difficult. Food addiction is a real affliction. You may not realize that you are addicted to many of the processed foods that you eat. Some people find that completing a detox diet of eating only fruits and vegetables and lean meats for a few days can help break some of the worst eating habits. If you do this, you will slowly add in whole grains after one or two days. One of the goals is to completely eliminate processed sugar from your diet. Another approach is to only eat sugar on specific days each week. You may slide as you begin to change your eating habits. The key is to not give up when you make a mistake. Resolve to begin eating better again, and then stick to it. Your body will adjust to the healthy foods that you are eating, and soon you will crave fruits and vegetables instead of sugary snacks and potato chips. If you are still having a difficult time, you should consult with a professional nutritionist. Check with your health insurance company to see if they will cover the cost for one or two appointments, especially if you are overweight.

Here is additional information on making healthy food choices.

Posted by Brad | in food | No Comments »

Sustainable Culinary Practices: Organic Food

Apr. 26th 2012

The Meaning of Organic Food Fresh Local Produce.

In general terms, organic food is food that is grown in an environmentally friendly environment and that is free of synthetic pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers. They are environmentally friendly because they are grown using water and soil conservation techniques as well as reusable resources. In addition, organic foods are not irradiated and do not have genetically modified organisms (GMO) or any form of chemical additives. For a more precise definition, the United States Food and Drug Administration has a National Organic Program that exactly defines organic food. In addition to giving an exact definition, it also explains the regulations that are associated with growing or raising of organic food.

When it comes to products that come from livestock, such as cows or chickens, the term organic has more to do with the way that the animal was cared for and raised. In this sense, organic implies that the animal was treated humanely and given feed that was organically grown. Organic meat and dairy means that the animals were also never given any form of growth hormones or antibiotics.

Deciphering Organic Food Labeling

When buying organic, it is important to understand that not all organic foods are the same. The labeling on organic food will explain exactly what the consumer is getting when the organic product is purchased. There are four levels, or types, of labels when it comes to organic food. These labels are: 100 percent organic, organic, made with organic ingredients and less than 70 percent organic ingredients. They are defined as:

  • 100 Percent Organic: This label is self-explanatory in that it is 100 percent organic. Food items found with this label will exactly meet the definition of organic foods in that they do not have synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics or hormones.
  • Organic: When a consumer purchases organic food, he or she is getting a food product that is 95 percent organic with 5 percent of ingredients being non-organic.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: Consumers who purchase this type of organic food will get a product that is no less than 70 percent organic ingredients and 30 percent non-organic ingredients.
  • Less Than 70 Percent Organic: With this label food will only name organic ingredients in their ingredient list.

Comparing Organic and Natural Foods

The difference in food items that are called natural and food called organic may seem confusing to some. On the surface, the two terms may seem to be the same, however there are some differences between them that consumers should be aware of before choosing between the two. The primary and most important difference lies in regulations. When it comes to organic food, the FDA has regulations in place and clearly defines the meaning of the word organic. This is not true for foods that are labeled as being natural. Natural foods are neither regulated or defined by any food organizations or federal bodies. This means that manufacturers can label anything as being natural without first meeting any specific standards.

Why Choose Organic?

There are several reasons why consumers should choose organic food. These reasons range from benefiting a person’s health to the environment. Five of the more common reasons selecting organic foods include:

  • They’re Good for the Environment: Traditional farming methods can be dangerous to the soil and nearby streams. Organic farming methods do not use any synthetic or potentially toxic materials that will contaminate these areas.
  • It’s USDA Regulated: As previously discussed, organic foods are governed by the USDA, This ensures that the food is safe for consumption and that the food is being handled properly.
  • Help Increase Organic Farming: As the demand for organic food grows the number of farms that supply it will also increase. Currently in the United States there are roughly 13,000 organic farms that are certified. While this may seem like a significant number, it seems much smaller on a global level where only .7 percent of farmland is organic.
  • For Good Health: When eating organic foods, people reap the benefits of consuming more vitamins and minerals than they get with non-organic foods. As a result, these greater levels of nutrients may help to fight certain diseases. On the other hand, chemicals found in traditionally farmed foods may actually increase the risk of diseases, such as cancer. Chemicals found in conventional foods include synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
  • For the Taste! Taste is one of the most simple reasons for choosing organic foods. Most often, organic foods are more flavorful than conventionally farmed foods. One of the reasons for this is the methods that are used during the farming process.

Helpful Resources on Organic Food

  • Get the Facts About Organic Foods: A page on the North Carolina Cooperative Extension website that reviews facts regarding organic foods. It covers the health benefits of organic food, what the organic food label promises, and defines organic food.
  • Organic? What’s the Big Deal?: A Princeton University page on organic food. It reviews the health and environmental benefits of organic food as well as it’s taste and how it impacts animal welfare.
  • Organic Foods – The Facts: A PDF from the University of Georgia that covers organic food facts. It covers farming facts and health benefits.
  • Organic Foods: A scientific status summary in PDF form that compares organic food and conventional food.
  • Organic Farming: A page on the Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems Education and Research website. This web page explains what is meant by organic and why organic food should be grown.
  • Organic Foods – Are They Safer? More Nutritious?: A page on the Mayo Clinic website that discusses the safety of eating organic food and its nutritional benefits when compared to conventional foods.
  • Benefits of Organic Foods: An article on the National Resource Defense Council website. Defines organic food, the reasons to choose organic and additional choice other than organic.
  • Just the Facts: Organic Fruits and Vegetables: An article found on the Organic Trade Association website. This page discusses organic farming of fruits and vegetables. It also covers the benefit to children who eat organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Organic Food Behind the Hype: A Forbes slide show that covers seven things that people should know about organic food. This ranges from cost of the food to certification.
  • Organic Labeling and Marketing: A PDF from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides information on the labeling and marketing of organic food items.
  • Environment – Organic Products: A page on the California State website that discusses organic products. This page reviews regulations for organic products, types of products and reasons for the higher cost of organic products.
  • Organic Production and Handling Standards: The Environmental Protection Agency standards on regulations for organic farming.
  • Organic Standards and Labels: The Facts: The University of Wisconsin Food Safety and Health. This page reviews facts on organic food.
  • Nutrition Fact Sheet – Organic Food: A PDF page from the University of Michigan regarding organic food. Explains the differences between natural and organic food and reviews whether organic food is more nutritious.
  • About Organic Produce: An article that discusses and explains organic food. A primary focus of the article is the use of pesticide on organic produce.
  • The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food: An article that reveals the increased bacterial risks associated with eating organic food.
  • Is Organic Food Worth All Your Hard Earned Green?: A Stanford magazine article that discusses the cost associated with organic farming.
  • Your Guide to Organic Food: A University of Rochester article that discusses organic food in terms of what it is, the benefits associated with it, and how to shop for it.
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