Down With Pork? How About Cutting Down on All Meat!



Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images (and The Guardian)

Many years ago, France was so language proud that words from elsewhere were banned. Now, with le hot dog and various other ‘cross-over’ words being very much du jour, the battle for French ‘purity’ has moved to a new front: The school cafeteria.

Where for 30 or more years parents could choose an other-than-pork entrée for their children, some schools have removed that option, leaving Jewish children and, increasingly, Muslim ones, with no meat option at all when, say, roast pork, Strasbourg sausage or ham-pasta bake is on the menu.

When one parent queried at her small town’s administrative office why the change had been instituted, she was told, bluntly,  “From now on, that’s the way it is. Pork or nothing,” The Guardian reported late last year.

The issue, French officials say, is “secularity.” Parents of affected children, who often are themselves too young to understand why their families don’t eat pork, understandably view the matter as a form of discrimination – secularity be damned!

In at least two other jurisdictions – a portion of Germany, and around Houston, Texas – some schools are voluntarily opting to offer other-than-pork options.

An observer in Houston told us that, “Here, we also don’t use pork on a purely voluntary basis to accommodate religious needs. Some of our schools have significant Muslim populations.” was told by the German Embassy in Washington that, “In light of the current refugee situation, several public cafeterias and kindergartens in Germany decided voluntarily to stop or limit the serving of pork out of respect for Muslim migrants. In light of this, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union, a political party) in the state of Schleswig-Holstein submitted a proposal earlier this month to maintain the use of pork in school lunches.

“The disputed application was rejected on March 9th by all the other political parties within the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament. The consensus in the parliament is that each public cafeteria or kindergarten can decide on its own whether it wants to offer pork.

“The reduction of pork in school cafeterias is not based purely on a higher number of Muslim students, but rather on changes in nutrition standards and an overall goal to consume less meat.”

Several American organizations, the American Heart Association being prime among them, are strongly encouraging the consumption of less meat, overall, and less red meat, in particular, for health reasons. The AHA’s D.A.S.H. diet – D.A.S.H. stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension – is widely recognized as being not just a good approach to dealing with and/or preventing hypertension (high blood pressure), it also is very effective for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and managing or preventing diabetes, U.S. News & World Report said earlier this year, when naming D.A.S.H. “the best diet” for the sixth year in a row.

There are at least two other reasons why eating less meat is a good idea. One, a major part of the mission of The Reducetarian Foundation, is to spare farm animals from cruelty. There’s also the fact that, as points out, “The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide. Far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption one a week can help slow this trend.

Essentially making that same argument is the “Take Extinction Off Your Plate” initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity. Its website says, “Wild animals suffer not only the collateral damage of meat-related deforestation, drought, pollution and climate change, but also direct targeting by the meat industry.”

As a long-age advertising campaign said relative to Levy’s Jewish Rye Bread, “You don’t have to be Jewish…” or Muslim, or vegetarian … to favor pork- and even meat-free diet options!


Ultra-Processed Foods Are Killing Us!

ultra-processed foods are...

A newly-reported on study says that more than 50% of American’s calories come from ultra-processed foods, which collectively contain more than 90% of the excess sugar calories in a typical American’s diet. The fortunate exceptions to the rule – people who don’t consume such high volumes of ultra-processed foods or huge excesses of sugar – include vegetarians and vegans. Also consistently outside the crowd of consumers of especially unhealthy foods are those who, like me, have medical conditions (mine is Chronic Kidney Disease) that require close monitoring of what and how much is eaten. By the nature of this kind of diet, ultra- and even highly-processed foods are pretty much off the (dinner) table.

Ultra-processed foods contain high volumes of such things as salt, sugar, oils and fats, plus an assortment of flavorings, emulsifiers and other additives designed to mimic real foods, the researchers quoted by HealthDay said.

Ultra-processed foods include foods include sodas, sweet or savory packaged snacks, candy and desserts, packaged baked goods, instant noodles and soups, and reconstituted meat products, such as chicken and fish nuggets.

By comparison, “processed” foods, which also contain added salt, sugar and other substances including preservatives, use those added ingredients in far smaller quantities than ultra-processed foods serve up.

Excess sugar in the diet boosts your risk for weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, said lead researcher Euridice Martinez Steele, from the department of nutrition in the School of Public Health at Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo.

Too much sodium (salt) also increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and other negative medical conditions.

“Decreasing the consumption of ultra-processed foods may be an effective way of reducing the excessive added sugar [and sodium] intake in the U.S.,” Steele says.

She notes that people should avoid processed products that require little or no preparation – things such as packaged soups, instant noodles, prepared frozen dishes and sandwiches, cold cuts and sausages, ready-to-eat sauces and cake mixes.

She’s a strong advocate of drinking water, pasteurized fresh milk and freshly squeezed fruit juices, and, avoiding soft drinks, sweetened milk drinks and reconstituted, flavored fruit juices.

The report was published online March 9 in the journal BMJ Open.

The researchers reviewed information from more than 9,000 people. They all took part in the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Study volunteers provided information about their diets.

The researchers found that added sugars make up more than one in five calories in the average ultra-processed food product. That’s as much as eight times higher than the calories from added sugars found in other foods, Steele said.

The recommended upper limit of calories from sugar is 10 percent of daily calories, the researchers noted. In people who ate the most ultra-processed food, more than 80 percent exceeded the upper limit of sugar.

Only people who ate the least ultra-processed foods had below the recommended levels of sugar, the researchers said.

“What many consumers do not realize is that added sugars come in many forms in many highly processed foods that include desserts and sweets, but that also include foods like sausages, cereal bars, ketchup, French fries, salad dressings and frozen pizzas,” said Samantha Heller. She’s a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

This survey highlights the extraordinary amount of ultra-processed foods in the American diet, and the over-the-top amounts of sugar and salt and fat found in these foods, she said.

One serving of a frozen French bread pizza contains 830 milligrams of salt, four different kinds of added sugars, trans fats and 21 grams of total fat, Heller pointed out.

“Another, more nefarious and insidious problem lurks in these foods as well,” she said. “Ultra-processed foods are chemically designed by the food companies to induce cravings for those foods, and sugar, fat and sodium are a big part of those formulas.”

The only way to break the chemical food cravings, and slash the intake of chemicals, calories, added sugars, fat and sodium, is to make more food at home from scratch, Heller said.

‘Want To Be Smarter? Eat Chocolate!


Chocolate consumption can make you smarter? A new study says ‘yes’. (Photo: ALAMAY)

A recently published study showing that chocolate consumption can make you smarter – yes, make you smarter! – revealed a ‘who woulda thunk it’ fact: Women — those in this study, anyway — eat more chocolate than men; At least the ones in this sample did!

That chocolate can enhance your mental and cognitive abilities – including math skillsis surprising. That women tend to eat more chocolate than men is sort of like saying men are more likely than women to urinate standing up!

The study described recently in the journal Appetite, was done in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006. It was an isolated and carefully calibrated sub-set of a study that began in the 1970’s to examine the cognitive abilities of close to 1,000 people, who were followed over a significant number of years.

The chocolate-related part of the study was done at the urging of  Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia. She recognized that the so-called Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) presented a unique opportunity to examine the effects of chocolate on the brain because of its large sample, of slightly fewer than 1,000 individuals spanning a broad age spectrum.

Researchers have long known that chocolate consumption can help reduce one’s risk of strokes, reduces ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels while boosting ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol levels, can protect your skin against sun damage, can help you lose weight, reduces stress in mothers-to-be, reduces blood pressure,  and even help prevent diabetes. But Ms. Crichton’s research provided an exciting new reason to enjoy one of the world’s favorite sweets.

In 2009, 7.2 million tons of chocolate were consumed worldwide (Statista, 2015). Commonly associated with pleasure and enjoyment, chocolate is a frequently ‘craved’ food, possibly due to its rich natural complexity that provides a sweet taste. Its high carbohydrate and fat content and highly palatable orosensory qualities, obtained from its specific constituents, may all contribute to its appeal as a ‘comfort’ food, various sources say. (See above-cited sources.)

It’s a good bet that sectors of the food industry will do what they can to exploit the MSLS and even statistics cited here to further promote chocolate-based products. And why wouldn’t they?

Real Prison Reform: A Real Restaurant, In An Italian One



One of the most in-demand restaurants in or near Milan, Italy, these days is also the city’s most secure eatery: InGalera, Italian slang for “In Prison,” is housed inside the medium-security Bollate penitentiary a short drive from the center of Milan. It is booked solid through this month with future reservations expected to be equally hard to get.

This recently opened full-service restaurant, featuring cloth tablecloths in the evening and paper placemats at lunchtime, is part of an expanding program in Italy aimed at providing prisoners with skills they’ll be able to use upon their release. This prison, like a growing number of others in that country, also has programs where such skills as painting, carpentry, theater-related ones and horse-care and –maintenance. In addition, there are opportunities for a number of the inmates to leave the grounds daily for jobs of various sorts in the nearly community.

ingalera_diningroomAn inmate waiter serves customers at InGalera, a restaurant in Italy’s Bollate penitentiary near Milan. (Photo: Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times.)

At InGalera, prisoners serve as waiters and learn their way around the typical workstations of a high-end restaurant. They work in the front of the house under Massimo Sestito, a non-inmate maître d’, who greets customers and handles all the cash, and in the back of the house under Ivan Manzo, a professional chef.

Manzo told the New York Times that he has no concerns about working with men convicted of serious crimes, because, as he put it, “I’ve seen a lot of crazy people working in kitchens outside of here!”

Authorized by the prison’s director, or warden, Massimo Pariso, the InGalera project is overseen by Silvia Polleri. She chose the restaurant’s name, she told The Times, as a ‘wink-wink’ way of reassuring patrons that this is a serious place in a serious place, but they have no reason to fear for their safety: Inmate workers there are carefully screened, and they are motivated to do well in the program both for their futures and for their present: Prison life with nothing ‘interesting’ to do is boring! And not only are the workers in InGalera anything but bored – every meal sees every seat filled, sometimes with quite interesting people, such as a former Miss Italy – they also are well paid, up to around 1,200 euros a month!

Another recent visitor was the restaurant critic for Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s most important newspapers. She praised the menu (which included, she noted, “chestnut pappardelle with venison ragout and currants, and guinea fowl stuffed with Belgian [endive] and hazelnuts”) and the wine list that, she said, “well-represents all [Italian] regions.”

Her closing advice was, “Spread the word!”

Alfafa Sprouts Linked, In Current Outbreaks, To E. coli, Salmonella



People in several states have contracted Salmonella Muenchen after consuming alfalfa sprouts produced by Kansas-based Sweetwater Farms.  And seven people in Minnesota – four in the Twin Cities area and three elsewhere in the state – have been diagnosed with eColi infections after eating either alfalfa or onion sprouts produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts, of River Falls, Wisconsin, where another three E. coli cases have been tied to this outbreak.

Minnesota officials are working with investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), WDHS, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (WIDATCP). Jack & The Green Sprouts is cooperating with this process and is located in River Falls, Wis., and distributes alfalfa sprouts to states in the upper Midwest and possibly other states. The seven Minnesota cases and at least one of the Wisconsin cases were exposed to the implicated alfalfa sprouts from a variety of locations, including grocery/cooperative stores, restaurants, salad bars and commercial food service.

The CDC reports that 13 people were infected with the outbreak strains of  Salmonella Muenchen in four states: Kansas (5), Missouri (3), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (2). Five people have been hospitalized. Reported illness onset dates range from December 1, 2015 through January 21, 2016.

Collaborative investigation efforts of the FDA, CDC, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Department of Agriculture, and Oklahoma Department of Health indicate that sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms LLC are the likely source of this outbreak. Irrigation water and alfalfa sprout samples collected by the FDA from Sweetwater Farms LLC tested positive for Salmonella.  Testing to identify the specific strain of Salmonella is ongoing.

On February 19, 2016, after discussions with the FDA and other federal, state, and local agencies, Sweetwater Farms LLC voluntarily recalled alfalfa sprouts from lot 042016. On February 26, 2016, Sweetwater Farms informed the FDA that it would recall all of its sprout products from the market. The FDA is working with the company and Kansas officials to facilitate this action.  This investigation is ongoing. The FDA will continue to provide updates on the investigation as they become available.

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.

In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is higher than the rate in all other people. Children younger than five, the elderly, and those people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons in the United States die each year with acute salmonellosis. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.

The FDA says that restaurants and retailers should not sell or utilize any sprouts from Sweetwater Farms, and they should dispose of any alfalfa sprouts from that company. Restaurants and retailers should also be aware that produce may be a source of pathogens and should control the potential for cross-contamination of food processing equipment and the food processing environment. They should follow the steps below:

  • Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
  • Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
  • Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
  • Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and utensils used in food preparation may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.

People should not eat any sprouts from Sweetwater Farms, LLC.
People who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated alfalfa sprouts should talk to their health care providers. Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts that are served on salads, wraps, sandwiches, and other foods may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, the warm and humid conditions used for sprouting are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including SalmonellaListeria, and E. coli. Any bacteria present can multiply dramatically during the sprouting process. (Organic or locally-grown sprouts are not necessarily less risky, and neither are sprouts grown at home.) Washing sprouts may reduce risk, but will not eliminate it.

Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.

For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated sprouts, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas and items.

Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
  • Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.
  • Cooking sprouts thoroughly will kill any bacteria present and reduce the risk of illness.
  • Persons who think they might have become ill from eating potentially contaminated sprouts should consult their health care provider.
  • Consumers can request that raw sprouts not be added to food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, and want to avoid sprouts, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added.



Food Recycling Is Gaining Favor, in Several Ways



Morrison’s tweet: We’re rolling our food waste initiative out nationally so that any edible unsold food is donated to charities!

In May of last year, an online petition in the U.K. aimed to force the government to require supermarkets to give unsold food to people in need. One hundred thousand people signed the petition, but the government paid them no heed.

But the Morrison’s food store chain did: Six months later, in October, it announced it would donate all unsold food to local charities. A trial run in 126 of its stores had revealed to Morrison’s management that each store more than likely would be able to weekly fill at least four trolleys (carts) with donatable food that traditionally would have been thrown out. Across the chain’s 500 stores, that’s a lot of food that no longer will be going to waste.

A liaison person will be appointed in each store to interact with charities and oversee food deliveries to them.

Now, France has done what the British government hasn’t: Under a law unanimously approved by the French legislature earlier this month, it is illegal for supermarkets in that country to wastefully throw out food that could, and should, be allocated to charities or food banks. And the councilor who initiated the now-mandatory recycling of formerly wasted food says similar laws should be adopted across the European Union and in the U.S.


Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city, what The Washington Post has called “the most interesting supermarket in the world” sells nothing but food other stores would refuse to stock because it is past its ‘sell by’ date, in packages that have been marred somehow, or that, in the case of fresh food, is blemished or old-looking.

WeFood, newly opened a few days ago, was crowd-funded to the tune of one million kroner ($145,742), much of it raised through sales of shares to the public, the company’s website says. Its prices are said by The Post to be 30-50% lower than ‘traditional’ food stores’, and despite the less than pristine appearance of its offerings, demand is high.


WeFood is not only attracting the general public: Among its early visitors was Princess Marie, the wife of Prince Joachim, one of two sons of Margrethe II, the queen of Denmark.

WeFood is staffed by volunteers and its profits support the work of a charity, DanChurchAid, in the world’s poorest countries, the store’s website says.

The Post says the new store “is a not-so-subtle swing at the modern food system, which often prioritizes food safety at the expense of waste.” The paper notes that “roughly one-third of all food produced world-wide ends up in the garbage, complicating efforts to alleviate hunger around the globe.”

In Denmark alone, as much as 1.5 billion pounds of food is send to landfills annually. In the U.S., some 70 billion pounds of food meets the same fate.

Incredibly, The Post notes, Americans “throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass, a fact that reflects poorly on the country’s fussiness about eating only the freshest foods possible.”

French food retailers whose stores are more than roughly 1,300 sq. ft are motivated to comply with the new don’t-waste-food law because to do otherwise would expose them to fines of close to $5000 per incident.


Unfortunately, though, a significant number of stores are exempt from the law because, in a land where there still are an abundance of small, local purveyors of baked goods, produce, meat and other edibles, France’s food-recycling law won’t catch the probably-sizable volume of still-valid food discarded by those ‘small’ stores.

But trying to capture those stores’ discards would be inefficiently costly, and possibly counter-productive, in that such an effort could conceivable force some small retailers out of business.

There’s always the chance, though, that some of those small-sized food-selling operations could, voluntarily, as their big-store competitors are now required to, establish relationships with food recyclers, to keep even more potentially edible food out of landfills.

Whether small retailers’ economics would allow for that remains to be seen.

Ordering Systems Win Big in QSR Magazine’s Applied Technology Awards



A fascinating assortment of innovations took top honors in QSR Magazine’s Applied Technology Awards for 2016.

One of the winners is a 46-inch outdoor display Starbucks is using to simulate, at its drive-thrus, the over-the-counter, face-to-face experience customers get inside their stores.

The magazine’s explanation for why this entry won: “The enormous outdoor display accomplishes two things that have long been elusive in the limited-service industry: It’s dynamic and attractive, but also tough enough to install in any location. More impressive, though, is the Facetime-style feed that creates a personal connection between customer and employee, allowing Starbucks to engage on a more personal level with guests.”

Almost at the opposite extreme – in that it removes the face-to-face interaction between server and patron – is iPourIt Inc.’s self-serve beer and wine tap system, which allows customers to pull their own pints (or glasses of wine) while the one-time server serves other customers, and the restaurant’s owner reaps the rewards of a more efficient and more productive operation. The self-served servings are, of course, metered, so the customer is billed, as usual, for what’s been ordered – ‘self-served’, in this instance.

The magazine says the iPourIt system “also gives [operators] a fun and interactive way to introduce alcohol to their in-store experience.”

Sure to be popular with Millennials and others who seem perpetually attached to their smart phones is Domino’s Emoji Ordering system that, QSR says, “takes all the hassle out of the ordering process” – particularly for people who habitually order the same thing.

All guests need to do, the magazine says, “is set up an online account through Domino’s and then save an ‘easy order,’ and from then on they will receive that order any time they tweet or text the pizza emoji to the brand.”

Another perceived advantage is that the system “cleverly lets customers order and interact with the brand where they spend an increasing amount of time every day: On their smart phone. Besides,” they add, “who wants to go through the trouble of dialing a phone number anymore?” (Duh! That’s why people store numbers in their phones!)

Oh, and it you want to break the routine and order something aside from the usual, this system won’t be of much help.

Among the balance of the eight winners, the one that strikes us as most useful – and beneficial, cost-wise, is SCA Americas’ Tork Expressnap Drive Thru Napkin Dispenser. It delivers a set quantity of napkins through a drive-in window at the touch of a button – serving to save the drive-thru employee time, prevent them from grabbing fistfuls of napkins that, facility owners surely know, often are wasted and always are costly.

The winners’ list also included an app-based system to allow passengers passing through Atlanta’s airport to order on the fly, as it were, while standing in a security line or somewhere else removed from the source of what they want to eat; An e-learning ‘academy’ “through which both hourly employees and area directors are learning about the culture, standards and core processes driving the [Newk’s Eatery] brand [in Mississippi]”; HMR’s Vuze Table Location System, which lets the likes of McDonald’s – an initial user – use a guest tag and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to learn exactly where customers are so orders can be delivered right to them, and a point-of-purchase software program designed to provide full-color renderings of individual restaurants’ interiors, allowing for the prioritizing of merchandising elements in a way that, QSR notes, “maximizes the potential of each poster, decal, banner and more within the dining room, the front counter area, the drive-thru and the store’s exterior.”

The magazine notes that while POP has never been an exact science, this system gets pretty close to offering one.

This is, of course, but the latest step in the homogenizing of America, enabling restaurant operators to have their facilities as indistinguishable as hotel rooms – and town approach-roads – have long been.

There are those who’d say this trend is not in anyone best interest.

Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.