How to make the most of your herbs and spices – experimentation

The Science of Herbs and Spices

Harold McGee, for Lucky Peach:

Have you ever chewed on a sprig of thyme or chomped down on a whole peppercorn or clove? It’s not pleasant. That’s because most herb and spice flavors are actually chemical weapons. Their role is to repel insects and snails and other animals that try to eat them, and to kill microbes—especially fungi—that try to infect them. (The flavor chemicals also sometimes serve as a form of birth control. When the leaves of a thyme plant drop to the ground, thymol prevents the plant’s seeds from germinating, so the plant won’t have to compete with its offspring for nutrients from the same patch of soil.)

 

On GMO Labelling

Should there be mandatory GMO labelling?

Steven Novella:

The very notion of GMOs is a false dichotomy. Opponents then argue that transgenic GMOs, using genes from distant species that could not mix in nature, is different than the other methods. This is factually wrong and logically dubious.

The source of a gene is irrelevant, only its effect in the organism matters. Putting a fish gene in a tomato does not give you a fishmato, as anti-GMO propaganda suggests (and actually has convinced many naive people that such tomatoes would be fishy). Fish and tomatoes already share about 60% of their genes.

Novella draws similarities to the organic food debate, when pro-organic groups professed that organic foods were safer, healthier and more nutritious.

After the USDA organic label came into effect, the organic industry exploded, based on the false impression that organic produce is superior, and supported largely by the legitimacy that the USDA label conferred. All of the USDA caveats were promptly forgotten, if they were ever even noticed.

And Mark Lynas, as linked in Novella’s post:

I have long been of the opinion that GMO labeling is an issue that needs to be addressed with some kind of sensible compromise. (I made a speech supporting mandatory labeling back in 2013 in Chicago.) By taking a stance that appears to be opposing the consumer ‘right to know’, industry has not won itself any friends, and has cemented perceptions – eagerly built on by the anti-GMO lobby – that big corporations are trying to smuggle GMO products into the national food system.
We need better assurances from scientists and government agencies that GMO is safe. As for GMO labelling? I believe it should be voluntary.

USDA diet advice through the years

Illustrating Diet Advice is Hard. Here’s how the USDA Has Tried To Do It.

Maria Godoy for NPR’s The Salt, on the 1992 Food Pyramid:

Carbs were the base of this pyramid, sending the message to eat all you want. And Americans did, gobbling up refined grains and processed snacks like SnackWell cookies — that staple of the low-fat craze — in their quest to avoid the dreaded dietary fat.

We know now that “carbohydrates worsen glucose and insulin — they have negative effects on blood cholesterol levels,” as Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told us back in 2014. In other words, he told us, replacing saturated fats with refined carbs “has not been useful advice.”

Note that the recommendation of milk and dairy (and separately, butter!) is included in the USDA’s 1943 “The Basic 7” food guide, and in every food guide since. With allergies to milk and dairy, what’s the best way to replace those recommended nutrients? Is fortified soy milk (or other ‘milks’) adequate?

A new food paradigm

Just over two years ago our son was born, and with all of the uncertainty of parenthood came an additional challenge – food allergies. At the introduction of solid foods to his diet at 6 months, things started off very well; however, after two trips to the ER, we went to see a child allergist to get more definitive tests to determine the possible allergies our son had. The result? Allergies to several of the top-8 allergens. Our ongoing food introductions to his diet have determined sensitivities to spinach and avocado, among others.

As food-conscious parents, we dove into the allergy issues head-first, reading up on as much information as we could find. The lack of good information and recipes available that were specific to our list of food allergens made things challenging. In addition, many of the common prepared foods included either at least one of the allergens we couldn’t have, or had the words, “may contain…”. As a result, much of the food we eat at home is prepared from base ingredients, and little of what we eat is packaged/prepared foods from the grocery store. Over time, we’ve also had to cull our pantry of all foods with allergens and of any foods that may have been contaminated with allergens (such as spices, etc).

Our philosophy on meals is to be as inclusive as possible – we eat what our son eats. We do the same for our guests if they have any food restrictions. Our journey into finding suitable recipes, developing meal plans, and dealing with allergies has been a difficult one and we’d like to share what we’ve found. Our food interests also encompass sustainability, accessibility, nutrition and cooking, and we plan to share what we find in those realms as well.