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Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

For several days I have been hearing lots of commentary about an article written in Time Magazine by Dr Mehmet Oz, who I’ve known for many years.  He seems to say that choosing organically grown foods is elitist because it costs more than conventional, and he seems to assume that in a choice between more expensive foods and cheaper ones most people will choose the less pricey kind.

When I started out noticing food and its effect on health, I didn’t care how much it cost. Even when I was flat broke, I spent the money on organic and health-supportive foods.  I couldn’t have justified giving my children harmful, pesticide-laden foods because they were “cheaper.”  I would imagine there are still people out there like me, who go for good quality regardless of price.

Dr Oz does not seem to think so. He says “a lot of the foods we ate in childhood can be good for you and good to eat” – IF (note the caveat) you know how to shop.  Of course, the food that he and others of his age ate in childhood was better, less contaminated, less industrialized.

It’s true that in many neighborhoods it’s hard to find fresh produce, whole grain bread, and the like.  But why should we settle?  Why not educate people to demand fresh food from the corner bodega?  They’ll stock it if we demand it and buy it.

Dr. Oz considers frozen and canned food equivalent to fresh.  Hm.  Years ago journalist Suzanne Hamlin of the New York Times wrote about someone who was eating only frozen and canned foods, and the health problems this person encountered.  I couldn’t find the article, but I remember it was dire – also, that it disappeared quickly from the archives, for obvious reasons.  Who wants to know that such common food could kill you and, what’s more, that it could cause memory loss and mental confusion.  Frozen meats may be OK – frozen vegetables maybe not.

Go on, Dr. Oz. Try a week eating only canned and frozen vegetables. I bet not even you would be willing to do that. As a “food lover,” he ignores the subtler aspects of food: “Nutritionally, an egg is an egg. Cage free is kinder but much pricier.”   Perhaps, but it also tastes very different.  Commercial eggs taste sulfuric and, if you happen to pass some wind (forgive the indelicate reference) it smells really bad. And if you burp – forget it.  You stink yourself up.  For that reason, I only buy organic or free range eggs. They taste much better. And your whole body smells normal.

Dr. Oz points out that free-range chickens and pasture-fed meats are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics. If that is important to you and you have the money to spend, he suggests, by all means opt for pricier organic meats.  Otherwise, obviously, you’re stuck eating all those hormones and antibiotics.  Considering antibiotics are given to cattle so as to fatten them up, we need to ask what these elements contribute to the epidemic of obesity everyone is wailing about.  I wonder. The heaviest people, young and old, are the ones who eat these “cheapest” foods.  Well, as has often been said, you get what you pay for.

In Dr. Oz’s article, canned foods are considered “winners.” He considers canned salmon equivalent to fish fresh out of the water.  But that is not all that counts.  I will never order a dish in a restaurant that gives me a slab of canned salmon instead of fresh, would you? I find they taste very different, although they may have the same amount of protein. Well, if I’m in a bunker, war is coming, and there is no other food, OK, it will keep me alive, thank you very much.

I appreciate the fact that the risk of famine has pretty much disappeared from our world – but we are left with a completely different problem: How to choose foods that are good for us?   That is just as important as choosing foods that will keep us alive.  The two are not equivalent, as a heart surgeon would know.

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Natural Gourmet Institute CEO and founder, Annemarie Colbin

November 9 marked another milestone for Natural Gourmet Institute – 35 years since our founder Annemarie Colbin anticipated  the current trend by starting a cooking school in her home that emphasized the connection between food and healing.

While “whole,” “local,” “seasonal,” “organic,” and “sustainable” are the watchwords of the day, they’ve been a way of life and a commitment for NGI instructors, students, and graduates for over three decades. 2500 Chef’s Training and several thousand public class students later, we’re still at it and growing stronger.

The anniversary celebration was held at the school with NGI staff, instructors, graduates, and students in attendance. Kudos and thanks go out to NGI staffers Mollie Berliss, Mark Mace, Brandon Reichert, Sue Baldassano, Jeri Rostron, and Merle Brown, who worked together to create a warm, memorable, and festive evening.

The evening kicked off with a reception featuring elegant seasonal appetizers prepared by Chefs Jay Weinstein and Olivia Roszkowski, with the help and talent of Chef’s Training Program students. While guests feasted, schmoozed, and reminisced, they were entertained by the quartet Violet (featuring our own Assistant Director of Admissions Meredith Minogue) and classical guitarist Rudolph Vernaz-Colas.

The evening was also an occasion for recognition. The Natural Gourmet Institute Award for Excellence in Health-Supportive Education went to two outstanding people in our field – NGI grad, chef and author Louisa Shafia and whole foods chef, author, teacher, and media personality Andrea Beaman.

Our founder, Annemarie Colbin, of course, was our other honoree. Check out our tribute video where colleagues, students, and instructors share their thoughts and feelings about Annemarie’s contribution,  foresight and leadership in the field of health-supportive eating.

The evening’s festivities were capped by raffle prizes, courtesy of our friends at Maimonide of Brooklyn, Dirt Candy, Pure Food and Wine/Lucky Duck, Fort Reno, Palo Santo, and Chef Rich LaMarita. A gong ritual finished the ceremonial portion of the evening, followed by champagne and celebratory cupcakes topped with the stunning fondant creations of our graduate Sachiko Windbeil of Mimicafe Union. All in all, a good way to kick off the next 35 years.

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On April 18, 2012 Natural Gourmet Institute again supported the annual gala event to benefit Healthcorps, hosted by Dr. Mehmet and Lisa Oz. Founded by the Ozs’s in 2007 to combat childhood obesity and “mental resilience crises” among youths, Healthcorps has to date placed peer mentors in over 80 schools for the purpose of educating students about mental and physical fitness as well as nutritional education.

The gala was held this year at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and attended by NGI Founder Annemarie Colbin, NGI President Jenny Matthau, NGI Vice President and Director Merle Brown, NGI Public Program Director Judith Friedman, and Instructor Elliott Prag. Chef Instructor Barbara Rich presided over the Natural Gourmet table during the cocktail hour where we served up vegan and gluten-free hors d’oeuvres alongside our friends from Candle Café and Pure Food and Wine, among others.

NGI Chef's Training students (left to right) Lauren Friedman, Maudie Green, and Gabriel Anderson

Chef Instructor Barbara Rich

The event is in its 6th successful year, and Natural Gourmet has been proud to be there every step of the way for this important cause.

Merle Brown, Jenny Matthau, and Annemarie Colbin (left to right)

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On the evening of Wednesday, April 13, Natural Gourmet Institute participated in the 5th annual gala to support HealthCorps, a national non-profit founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz and his wife Lisa.  The event was held aboard the battleship Intrepid on Manhattan’s West Side.

This year’s event was the “Fresh from the Garden Gala,” and NGI participated on three levels:

  • Our founder, Annemarie Colbin, is a longstanding and active member of HealthCorp’s Board of Advisors
  • NGI is an ongoing supporter of  HealthCorps
  • NGI’s students were directed by Chef Instructor Barbara Rich and prepared delicious vegan appetizers for the exhibition that preceded the gala dinner.

HealthCorps is an organization that recruits recent college grads to work as “coordinators.” These coordinators defer grad or medical school to work 2 years full-time in high schools with underserved youth. Their job is to share the HealthCorps curriculum, specifically to: educate youth about health, fitness, diet and the environment, motivate them to take part in community outreach, and teach them how to advocate for public health policy changes.

HealthCorps teaches in 41 schools across the nation and plans to expand to all 50 states.

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Our founder and CEO, Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., is committed to making Natural Gourmet a more sustainable enterprise.  Here she shares the latest developments in our ongoing greening efforts . . .

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

For the past three years, we have made a concerted effort to “green” NGI.  First, we hired a consultant, Victoria Kaufman, for advice as to what to do.  Our initial effort was to separate the garbage into recyclables and food refuse for composting.  Our long-time waste management company had a system in place for that, including sending food refuse to a farmer upstate who, coincidentally, is someone I know!  We also separated our used vegetable oil and sent that for recycling somewhere else.

The composting truck picking up NGI's contribution

Then we recycled all our paper waste, including cardboard and printed paper.  We also switched to mostly CFL (compact fluorescent lighting) in the kitchens, which uses 2/3 less power than conventional incandescent bulbs.

Our Operations Manager, Mark Mace, has been working diligently in other ways to make us as green as possible.  He also organized and oversees the following:

  • Switching 75% of our cleaning products to biodegradable products.
  • Reducing paper and plastic product use and only purchasing those that will biodegrade, as opposed to the kind that just sit in a landfill for years.
  • When feasible, purchasing food products in bulk packaging, to reduce landfill waste.
  • Making every effort to purchase animal products raised in a sustainable manner as they are available on the market, e.g., organic, free-range chickens and eggs, grass-fed organic beef, and organic dairy.  All our grains and beans are, of course, organically grown, and as much of our produce as possible.
  • Designing and ordering reusable cloth shopping bags printed with our logo, URL, and street address, to eliminate the thousands of plastic shopping bags we accumulated in our shopping trips to local food stores for specialty items. One cloth bag will last almost two years, thereby eliminating hundreds of bags over its lifetime.

Sometimes, to fulfill our curriculum, we must occasionally use foods out of season and not locally grown.  As our mission is to teach cooking, we need to cover all techniques.  That, we feel, is our main goal.  Fortunately, as the food industry is getting smarter about organics (when they don’t try to undermine it), it is becoming easier to obtain such foods as time goes on.

In August 2010, we took over the other half of the third floor, so that we now have two whole floors. The architects that worked with us, Ageloff & Associates, are LEED-certified, very attentive to our needs, and careful about sustainability.  We are in a building constructed in early the 1900s, so there were challenges.  We were fortunate that the contractors who did our renovation, DiSalvo Contracting, worked with surprising speed and completed the work in less than three weeks, then handled all the leftover details well and promptly.

Our renovations had many aspects that are sustainable, including:

Rest assured we will continue to pay attention to sustainability and keep doing everything possible to keep our carbon footprint as light as possible.

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NGI's Founder Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

This from Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D. . . .

One of the big problems of our times is that all the chemicals used in industry are found everywhere – in our air and water, not to mention our food.  Practically all people, including newborns, have a variety of these chemicals in their bodies.  I remember a couple of years ago Bill Moyers did a program on this subject, and had himself tested; he found he had more than 60 chemicals in his body.

We don’t really know what these results mean. I imagine we probably should find out – but then what?  What do we do with the information?

Now here is a piece of good news:  diet can make a difference!  A Korean study in May found that five days on a vegetarian diet reduced the amount of toxic chemicals in participants’ bodies quite noticeably.  Five days!  Participants in the study joined a Buddhist temple, and ate the food there.  The study did not describe exactly what the participants ate, or whether it was organic, but it was generally plant-based.

However, another study with school children showed that a few days on an organic diet lowered the levels of pesticide residue in the children’s urine to undetectable levels in a few days;  unfortunately, when the children went back to eating standard school lunches, those levels went right back up.

So this is the take-away lesson:  if we eat carefully, with lots of plant foods and mostly everything organic, we may diminish toxic chemicals and pollutants from our bodies with little effort.   Avoiding commercial produce and animal food is apparently the key.  On this polluted planet, that’s important information.   Let’s keep it in mind!

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Natural Gourmet Institute Founder Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., weighs in  on the subject of artificial sweeteners . . .

At Natural Gourmet, we have been consistently adamant over the years in our opposition to artificial sweeteners for a variety of reasons.  Chief among these is that artificial sweeteners, because of their sweet taste, fool the body into thinking that carbohydrates have been consumed.  This triggers an insulin response in preparation for the expected blood sugar rise.  When that rise does not happen, the unnecessary insulin ends up actually lowering blood glucose too far – a condition known as “hypoglycemia” – which triggers hunger and causes extra caloric intake.

What is the result of extra caloric intake?  Weight gain!  Have you ever noticed all the heavy people guzzling diet sodas?  Diet soda does not work!  This information has been available for more than 20 years.  See the excerpt from New York Times NY columnist Jane Brody, and note the date!

Using artificial sweeteners as substitutes is often not a culinary possibility and may not be desirable from the standpoint of either health or weight. NutraSweet™ (or Equal™), the leading artificial sweetener, can cause untoward brain reactions in some people, who may experience such symptoms as headaches, depression, irritability and seizures.

Moreover, a study at Leeds University suggested that artificial sweeteners may stimulate the appetite. The American Cancer Society found that over the course of a year, users of artificial sweeteners were more likely than nonusers to gain weight.

As far as the “untoward brain reactions” that Brody mentions, depression is a major one – and I know a number of older people who drink diet soda and walk around gloomy and depressed.  And notice that for the past 15 years or so depression has become a public health issue of almost epidemic proportion.  Of course, that’s good news for the manufacturers of anti-depressants, but not necessarily for human beings.  Regular exercise, exposure to sunlight without sunglasses (so that the sunlight filters through the eyes and stimulates the pituitary gland), eating whole grains, high-quality vegetables and sufficient protein, and no sweeteners of any kind would be a better approach.

In the alternative, if you want something sweet, eat pitted dates, bananas, and baked sweet potatoes – very satisfying, non-damaging, and generally healthful.  Worth a try!

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