On January 1, Stefanie Sacks will release the highly anticipated What The Fork Are You Eating? An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate. Within the pages, Stefanie provides an aisle-by-aisle rundown of how to shop for healthier items and create simple, nutritious, and delicious meals. It is a book that challenges the assumptions we make when we see descriptors like “natural,” “low-fat,” and “sugar-free” used on packaging. And the book is an attempt to show how small changes in diet can make a big difference.
It seems safe to assume that statements on food packaging are vetted and will invariably help you make healthy choices. Yet some of those seemingly healthy offerings contain pesticides, chemical preservatives, and artificial flavors and coloring that negatively affect your health. In What the Fork Are You Eating?, Stephanie identifies the most offensive ingredients in our food and shows how we can cut (or at least minimize) them from our diets. The book is an overview of what’s really in your food and it’s an action plan with 50 delicious recipes.
As a culinary nutritionist, author, radio show host, educator, speaker, and consultant, Stefanie Sacks has studied food and nutrition for over 25 years. She earned her Masters of Science in nutrition education from Columbia University. Then she went on to become a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Dietitian Nutritionist and graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.
Not only is she a seasoned culinary nutritionist, she’s also a blogger, a radio host, and a longtime friend of Meatless Monday. On her radio program Stirring the Pot with Stefanie Sacks, she recently sat down with Sid Lerner, Founder and Chairman of the Monday Campaigns to discuss the Meatless Monday initiative and how to define sustainable eating.
“We have a much larger responsibility,” Stefanie said during the broadcast, “and if we can all just do a little something we can start to feel some movement. America is the fattest and sickest nation and so it would benefit everyone if they jumped on the Meatless Monday Band Wagon. It would make a difference not only for your health but also for the environment.”
Set to release January first, What the Fork Are You Eating? could very well help you commit to a healthy-eating plan as a New Year’s resolution.
As the holidays approach with all their cheer and good spirit, you might be tempted to overindulge. So invariably you can find tips to avoid overeating and various admonishments that show the benefits of eating less. But we’ll take a softer approach, here—if you do gorge, try to gorge smartly. Vegetables offer more dietary fiber than meats. So eat more vegetables and a little less meat—a little less brisket and a little more cauliflower latkes, a little less ham and a little more green beans. And if that fails, you can always reclaim your dignity by eating light the day after.
Here are five festive dishes that will keep your table light.
BARLEY RISOTTO is a filling meal that keeps the menu light but still provides plenty of flavor. Risotto is the perfect one-dish crowd pleaser, and using barley instead of the traditional white rice adds extra healthy benefits.
BAKED ROSEMARY POLENTA This dish provides everything we typically expect from a holiday meal – aromatic rosemary, savory mushrooms and comforting, creamy polenta.
SPICY LENTIL POMEGRANATE TART This is a festive holiday showstopper that’s worth the extra effort. If you’re putting together a holiday spread, put this on your plate of tasty nibbles, slice it into bite-sized pieces and watch the oohs and ahhs ensue.
ARTICHOKE STUFFING BITES Everyone looks forward to stuffing during the holidays, but it’s not written in stone that the dish has to come from inside a bird, or be served at a dinner table This snackable version is a crowd pleaser, and the artichoke leaves lend the dish a healthful, seasonal quality.
RED PEPPER PESTO PÂTÉ Something spreadable is always a hit at holiday parties, and this festive version relies on layers of pepper purees, not cheese, to create a lighter, healthier, but still indulgent appetizer for holiday guests.
This October, Mario Batali released a cookbook that challenges the standard approach of many other cookbooks. In America: Farm to Table, Mario elevates the farmer onto a stage that was previously occupied—almost exclusively—by the chef.
Acknowledging the importance of local farmers and their connection to the earth and commitment to the craft, Mario presents the recipes within America: Farm to Table in a manner that creates an intimacy between the home chef and the farmer and—by extension—the home chef and the food. In reading the cookbook, you’ll find not only recipes but you’ll discover the personalities and pluck of a few specific small farmers. You’ll gain an understanding of the farmers’ relationship to what they produce, and you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the ingredients that go into what you cook.
Mario writes, “The single most important trick to elevating the home cook’s potential to create quality, restaurant-level food is much simpler: It is the sourcing of quality ingredients.” These “quality ingredients” are not the product of large commercial farming, but the bounty of small farms. Mario’s own relationship with small farms stems from his youth. In the book he reminisces about hour-long drives through Washington State to pick up a few cases of farm fresh tomatoes to cook and can at home. It was a time when the supermarkets hadn’t yet stifled the direct relationship between a family who wants to eat and a farmer who wants to grow.
“The farmer and the cook exchange not only commerce in the form of a trade, but also joy and passion for food, health, and love of life in the form of real communication.”
In America: Farm to Plate, you’ll travel across America making stops at small local farms. You’ll meet Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms, who can go to a local restaurant and tell you who farmed each ingredient in his salad just by sight and taste. And you’ll meet Tim Stark, who started a large crop of heirloom tomatoes in his Brooklyn apartment, seedlings he’d eventually have to move to Pennsylvania so they would have enough room to grow.
Mario holds local farms in high esteem, not only for what they can do for the plate, but in the broader sense what they can do for the world. “I believe,” he writes, “that the fundamental truth of supporting local small farming may in fact be a panacea for many of our 21st century problems in both nutrition and regional economic development.” Regarding health, Mario goes on to write of America’s obsession with processed foods and the connection to a decline in our national health. He points to the lack of plant-based fiber in our diets as a major contributor to heart disease and diabetes.
America: Farm to Table offers over 100 recipes that celebrate local and wholefoods and promises to help rekindle the relationship between farmer and home cook.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently launched Food Scores: Rate Your Plate™, a website and app that scores foods on a 10-point scale, evaluating the nutritional value, ingredients, and processing of foods: nutritional concerns—measures calories, fats, sugar, salt, and fiber content; ingredients concerns—considers food additives, hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides; and processing concerns—estimates how much the food has been processed.
The database contains over 80,000 foods. On the website you can type the name of the food item and they’ll score the food. Beyond the number, they’ll break down reasons why the product received the given score. With the mobile app version, you can scan a UPC code of a food item on a shelf and gain the same information. EWG Food Scores has the potential to change health and buying patterns.
“In many cases what we see on offer in aisle after aisle of the supermarket doesn’t really qualify, in our view, almost as food,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s president and cofounder. “It’s a series of packaged products that convey salt, sugar and other ingredients that often have very little to do with nourishment and everything to do with exactly what Americans want to avoid.”
The food industry spends billions of dollars marketing unhealthy foods as “healthy” and creates packaging that makes highly processed products look and sound nutritious. The word “natural” has become essentially meaningless, though consumers continue to look for it. Hopefully the EWG Food Score resource will change that.
The FDA has just released its final rules mandating that chain restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, convenience stores, and prepared food departments in grocery stores will all have to post calorie counts on their menus. The mandate is part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. After years of delays and strong pushback from restaurants and retailers, the policy will take effect in most locations in one year.
Public health experts say the new requirements will help combat the country’s obesity epidemic by showing Americans just how many calories exist in their favorite foods.
“This is one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Right now, you are totally guessing at what you are getting. This rule will change that.”
In addition to calorie counts for food items, postings must also include the general guideline of 2000 calories a day for adults. This is a crucial piece of information according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Published online in Health Promotion Practice, the study surveyed 246 participants dining in the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria to assess their initial knowledge of the 2,000-calorie guideline. The cafeteria included calorie labels for food choices but no information on the daily context. Fifty-eight percent of participants could not correctly identify the 2,000-calorie value, even those with college or graduate degrees.
“Given the low level of calorie literacy, simply posting calorie counts on menu boards is not sufficient,” says study leader Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD. In order to help educate the public about the 2000-calorie guideline, The Monday Campaigns will soon launch a new initiative called Monday 2000. “When people know their calorie ‘budget’ for the day,” says Dr. Cheskin, “they have context for making healthier meal and snack choices.” Weekly reminders on Mondays could be the key to helping establish that context.
As the holiday season grows near, there is temptation to overindulge in unhealthy foods. But an office potluck doesn’t have to be an unhealthy affair. Do a Meatless Monday potluck and it will test your office’s ingenuity. It will also accommodate any in-office vegetarians.
Here are a few tips on how to launch a successful Meatless Monday office potluck—
1. Get organized: Pick a date, time, and location. Email your participants and ask everyone to sign up for a main dish, salad, side dish, dessert, or beverage. Encourage some attendees to choose dishes that can be served cold to minimize the need for everyone to use the office microwave at once.
2. Keep in mind that prepared dishes shouldn’t be without refrigeration for more than four hours: Check with whomever is responsible for clearing out the office fridge to make sure there will be enough space on the day of your event. If possible, post a sign stating that the fridge will be cleared on Friday afternoon to make room for Monday’s meal.
3. Have some large microwave-safe glass or ceramic dishes available: Attendees may want to transport their dishes in plastic or aluminum, but for those who do bring dishes that must be heated, glass and ceramic are considered safest for microwave use. And don’t forget serving spoons.
4. Use sticky notes: Have attendees label their dishes and list potential allergens—like nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Encourage each contributor to include their name on the label so that those who enjoy the dish can ask for the recipe.
Meatless Monday is now served up at the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) cafeteria. This achievement—the labor of Meatless Monday Israel’s founder Miki Haimiovich and MK Rabbi Dov Lipman—was over a year in the making.
Now the 120 seats of the Knesset, whose influence passes all laws and elects the Israeli President and Prime Minister, will hear the Meatless Monday message, and they’ll have the opportunity to try some new meatless options. The Knesset has announced that in support of the Meatless Monday initiative, they will increase their vegetarian entrees on Meatless Monday. These new meatless cafeteria additions are the creation of Sodexo. As the largest food service provider in the world, Sodexo has already helped to usher in its fair share of Meatless Monday change.
The Meatless Monday Israel campaign has picked up a considerable number of supporters since its start in 2012. More than 300,000 individuals have adopted the program and so have dozens of organizations, companies, schools and restaurants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife are likewise on board with Meatless Monday and made their support publicly known near the end of 2013.
Of the achievement, MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) said he was “proud that the Knesset participated in this project, related as it is to environmental quality, health and ethics. When it comes to reducing meat consumption, everybody wins: the planet, our health and animals. One meatless day may not sound like much, but together we can make significant change.”
Let’s lay our stuffing on the table—on Thanksgiving Day in most households, the turkey is king. And that’s perfectly fine. But don’t forget those unsung heroes—the yams, the string beans and carrots, the salads and casseroles.
What do vegetables bring to the party? Well a number of things:
Color—eating a variety of different colors helps to ensure you are getting the right nutrients.Also if you decide to stack your plate only with turkey, stuffing, rolls and gravy, your meal will be a light taupe. While light taupe is a fine color and very respectable in a pressed khaki pant, on the plate (by itself) it is a little boring. And your Thanksgiving does not have to be boring.
Flavor—according to a 2012 study, diners found the main course tasted better when served with vegetables. So you’ll actually be making the turkey taste better by including several sides of vegetables. And when it comes to flavor, what could be more exquisite than biting into a well-seasoned brussel sprout?
Texture—having a diversity of textures on your plate adds a new dimension to the meal. Think of the crispy breadcrumbs on the green bean casserole.
Respect—according to the aforementioned study, serving vegetables with a meal, increases the chances that diners will find the cook more thoughtful and attentive.
This Thanksgiving Day, serve your guests vegetables and you’ll not only be promoting their health and enhancing the meal, you also be encouraging them to think, “What a kind human being, you are”! Here are a few recipes to help you do it.
On November 13, Tony Cárdenas, Representative of California’s 29th Congressional District and fan of Meatless Monday, wrote an editorial piece for the Los Angeles Daily News asking all Californians to do their part to conserve water during the record drought. “We can’t create the rain, but we can take actions in our everyday lives to create a meaningful impact on reducing water usage.” One of those actions was to consider the water resources that go into producing different foods when planning meals.
Representative Cárdenas cited U.S. Department of the Interior statistics about the staggering amount of water resources needed to produce one pound of chicken (400 gallons) or a pound of beef (1,800 gallons.) He compared those amounts with figures from the Water Footprint Network of the water needed to produce a pound of tomatoes (26 gallons) or a loaf of wheat bread (220 gallons.)
“I am talking about making a conscious decision to compare the large amount of water it takes to produce that steak or pork chop you’re eating, with the likely smaller amount of water needed to produce delicious meatless options. In that spirit my staff and I have taken on the Meatless Monday Challenge. Taking off one day a week from eating meat is a small way to cut down our water use and consumption while reducing our water footprint.”
Representative Cárdenas also brought up how going meatless one day a week is good for the environment, helping to combat global warming. “With the drought and global warming creating such high stakes in our state, all Californians must do their part to examine their personal water usage and cut wherever possible.”
From suggestions like turning off the tap while brushing teeth to taking a day off from eating meat, he emphasized that these small steps can really add up. “We all have the tools to make a difference. Sometimes, they are disguised as forks and knives. Let’s put them to good use.”
The American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Exposition gathers in New Orleans this year. From November 15–19, health specialists from across the country convene to exchange knowledge and network to strengthen the profession of public health.
The Monday Campaigns, represented by Rachelle Reeder, MPH and Morgan Johnson, MPH will reveal two poster-presentations on the best practices of marketing public health and how to build a global community around a public health initiative.
Marketing and advertising have long been the exclusive bedfellows of consumerism, but Morgan and Rachelle aim to show the public health field how to leverage the tools of marketing and advertising to help effect widespread and sustainable change.
It’s appropriate that Tulane University, an early adopter of the Meatless Monday program, is hosting the conference. At the Meatless Monday booth attendees will find a wealth of information about the various Monday Campaigns initiatives. Also, it’s rumored that there will be a selfie-opportunity with a Meatless Monday pig in Mardi Gras regalia—this just might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.