Posts Tagged ‘frozen foods’


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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I recently visited my mother in Detroit.  She’s 76.  Over the years I’ve noticed some changes in her eating habits.  My mother used to be pro-active about cooking and eating whole foods.  She introduced me to Macrobiotics and Annemarie’s books back in the 80’s.  Little by little over the years, however, fresh fruits and vegetables gave way in Mom’s pantry to more and more processed and artificial foods – non-dairy creamer, “butter” spreads, frozen dinners.  I think this trend is increasingly common among the elderly, although it’s prevalent enough among people of all ages.

I always cook for my mother when I visit.  I take everything fresh I can find in the refrigerator and turn it into prepared dishes.  My mother is always so grateful for this small favor.  While she continues to buy fresh produce in stock piles with the intention to cook it, most of it eventually spoils and ends up in the trash.  Day-to-day she’s subsisting, like so many Americans young and old, on “convenience” foods with eternal shelf lives.

My guess is that many elderly people don’t cook because they are alone, they’re no longer motivated or, in some cases, haven’t the well-being to do so.

This got me thinking about the current groundswell of programs directed at improving the way our young are eating.  Many of our students and graduates are committed to the myriad initiatives designed to educate children and young adults about their origins and quality of their food.  Garden projects, cooking classes, nutrition classes for youth – all of these are catching fire both locally and nationally.  Consider the recent Chefs Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids recently hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House or Jamie Oliver’s TED prize project.  The issue is hot.

The quality of our food is obviously important at all stages of our lives but, like the young, the elderly are particularly vulnerable.  So many people are eating foods that don’t support healthier aging.

What can we do to bring older people back into our culinary community, our CSAs, our co-ops?  What would it take to get them cooking again?  I’m contemplating my own role (maybe cooking classes!).  Do you know of programs in this area, or do you have any ideas?

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