Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth; Local or Vegan?

Recently I’ve seen a lot on local foods. I even attended a presentation on the importance of supporting green markets, co-ops and local farmers back in January. As the bumper sticker saying goes: “No Farms, No Food.” And on a basic level I completely agree. But to what point is local meat acceptable? Clearly, murdering an animal within 100 miles of where you live is no more morally acceptable than murdering an animal across the country, but from an environmental standpoint, where do we stand? What is right; local or vegan?

Over the past few years, the popularity of eating “local” has burgeoned. It has doubled in retail sales, and recently even the environmental disaster known as Wal-Mart announced they are increasing the amount of local food they will carry in each store, currently comprising roughly 9% of all their food sales. This recent surge in popularity is most likely related to the tremendous success of authors like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer, both of who urge consciousness when it comes to purchasing food, not to mention the enormous popularity of documentaries such as FOOD inc. With most of our food traveling around 1,500 miles to reach our plates and with gas prices skyrocketing it seems logical that food grown closer to home would have lower transportation costs and would therefore be both more cost effective, but more importantly environmentally friendly.

However, there is one catch. Most “local” eaters also support eating locally raised and slaughtered meat and they typically fail to mention the impact rising animals for food has on the environment. But fortunately, others have begun to make the connection. Ironman triathelte Brendan Brazier’s newest book Thrive Foods and this recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology seem crystal clear. Even the United Nations reported that eating less meat is the most affective way to curb global warming.

While the authors of these works admit most food travels around 1,000 miles and 4,000 miles across the entire supply chain, transportation costs comprise only 11% of the total carbon footprint of that food. Instead nearly 83% of the carbon footprint of food comes from growing and producing it (the other 6% is divided among various steps unrelated to either transportation or production). Essentially, each food has it’s own greenhouse gas intensity level. Red meat has the most intense level, requiring nearly 150% more energy than even chicken. This is in part because cows release a high amount of methane gas. However, they also require more emission-producing care, raising their overall carbon footprint. Thus, beef and dairy are often listed as the two worst foods for the environment, local or otherwise.

The article continues along these lines, and ultimately concludes that shifting your diet away from meat and dairy and towards a more vegan diet even for just one day a week will dramatically lower your carbon footprint- even more than eating 100% local foods.

Livestock consumes more than seven times as much grain as the entire human population eats. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the food that U.S. livestock consumes would be enough to feed around 2.7 times the entire U.S. population if they simply followed a plant-based diet. If you are one of those people who hide behind the fact that you only eat meat from your local farmer (as if to justify participation in terror) Brazier shows, even eating local meat is simply inefficient. Brazier also answers the question about grass-fed beef. “If beef eaters in the United States were to switch to exclusively grass-fed beef,” argues Brazier, “one small steak about once every three weeks is all that would be available. There simply wouldn’t be enough to meet demand. And if more grazing land were to be created, of course deforestation would be the result.”[1]

These numbers speak volumes to me but at the same time, I do not want to suggest people should not buy local foods when they can. Rather, people should put an emphasis on always (or mostly) eating plant-based foods and supplementing their diets with local foods whenever possible. Especially as we move towards warmer months, farmers markets will be offering an increasingly large selection of farm fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, cutting out that 11% will make a difference in your own carbon footprint and you’ll also be supporting local farmers and local economies, two good ideas from any perspective!

Unfortunately for meat eaters (particularly meat eaters who use the label “liberal” and supposedly care about these issues) this science is getting increasingly difficult to deny or ignore. The Inconvenient Truth that Al Gore doesn’t want us to know about, is no matter how many prius’ you park in the garage or energy efficient light bulbs you plug in, it doesn’t add to a hill of beans when compared to your food choices. There is a Convenient Truth, however. That is, eating vegan is delicious, healthy and easy. 

Best wishes and health,

[1] Brazier, Thrive Foods 40.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tribute to the Greatest Kale in the World.

To quote Tenacious D, “This is the greatest and best [kale] in the world... Tribute”

Anyone who is anyone knows exactly what I’m talking about. Obviously, I’m referring to Sacred Chow’s organic Dijon Marinated Raw Kale Tapa. It is simply heavenly, and this, coming from a person who is firmly on Team Collards. When it comes to the Chow’s Kale, collards cease to exist! 

Anyway, I was recently invited to a friend’s vegan potluck (a little bit of food activism!) and I was a bit short on time so I contacted my nemesis good friend, Abby Bean for a quick and easy recipe. A while back, The Bean become obsessed with Sacred Chow’s kale and after years of sweet, experimentation, millions of dollars, and tons of wasted and radioactive kale (wait I’m thinking of the Manhattan Project), she finally cracked the secret of the Chow’s Dijon Marinade. Not surprisingly, it’s simple and incredibly healthy! 

Start with chopping two bunches of fresh raw kale. 

I always select firm and vibrant curly green kale. Other types of kale, such as Dinosaur kale also work, but I personally believed dinosaur kale is better to cook with than to eat raw.

After you chop the greens, set them aside, put on your lab coat and step into the laboratory we call the kitchen! This is what you will need:

Start by picking high quality mustard. Abby prefers a dijon mustard, which is what they use at Sacred Chow. Because I prefer a little more kick, I chose to use a spicy dijon. Then to increase the antioxidant power of the dressing, use hemp oil instead of Olive Oil. You will also need apple cider vinegar; garlic; paprika; a pinch of salt and I also added some cayenne pepper.

I originally followed Abby’s measurements, however after blending everything, it seems a bit off a a little more "runny" than I wanted. So I added three extra teaspoons of mustard, two extra teaspoons of Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, an extra dash of the spices and an extra clove of garlic. These changes gave the dressing a thicker consistency and a stronger mustard kick! If you have an emersion blender, such as a Vitamix, don’t waste time chopping the garlic, heck! Don’t even peel it, just toss the entire thing into the blender and watch it disappear. 

My slightly altered recipe: (makes enough for two full bunches of kale or several individual servings)

                  8 Tablespoons of Organic, Spicy Dijon Mustrard
                  6 Tablespoons of Hemp Oil
                  6 Tablespoons of Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
                  5 Tablespoons of water
                  2 cloves of garlic
                  slightly less than 1 teaspoon of paprika
                  slightly less than 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
                        pinch of salt

(for an oil free version, replace oil with 4 tbsp of veggie broth and increase the amount of mustard/vinegar)

Blend until the dressing is completely smooth and then slowly pour part of the mixture directly onto the chopped kale. This next part is critical. You can not just toss the kale and the dijon dressing. NO! You must massage it. (Please wash your hands very well and then dive in!) As you massage the dressing into the leaves of the kale, slowly add more of the dressing until all of the kale is well covered, but not saturated. 

After thoroughly massaged, put the entire mixture into the refrigerator to chill before serving. This is the way Sacred Chow and The Bean prepare their kale salad; however I spiced it up by throwing a 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds and a 1/2 of raw chopped walnuts to add some Essential Fatty Acids as well as more antioxidants to the mix!

Seriously, you now have an incredibly delicious and healthy starter, and no one will know it took you less than 20 minutes to prepare!

hope to see you out there!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Carbo-Loading Tradition?

As many of you may remember, I returned from Nepal just a few days before being whisked off to Miami for my first half marathon! Traveling with a large group of friends- all more experienced runners than me- the night before the race I was out voted on what we would do for dinner. Everyone seemed to agree, lentils were out. Italian was in.

We found a small, lovely Italian restaurant somewhere in Miami. Everyone was getting the same thing- pasta.  For those of you who have been with me since my first post know I’m skeptical about the benefits of having pasta in my diet. Actually, to be specific, I think processed wheat products are a detriment to athletes due to their low nutrient value. Anyway, out numbered and hungry I created a custom order. It was a huge bowl of whole-wheat pasta, cannellini beans, kidney beans, spinach, garlic and fresh, diced tomato sauce. In all honesty, it was both beautiful and delicious. 

Sorry I didn’t think to grab a picture of the actual dish!

The next day I awoke at 4 am for the race and I didn’t feel anymore fueled than usual. While I did fine during the race, and so did all of my companions, it got me thinking about how carbo-loading actually works and so here is my understanding of the science behind the tradition. 

The earliest research on carbo-loading dates back to the 60s when Scandinavian scientists studied non-athletic men’s ability to perform on low carbohydrate and high carbohydrate diets. They found that the low carbohydrate diet resulted in lower muscle glycogen stores which negatively impacted their endurance. When the same men consumed a high carbohydrate diet for several days, their muscles became supersaturated, and endurance times were significantly extended. Based off these studies they created a 7-day program. This program has since been replaced and updated although the general idea has remained the 

Other studies have shown more effective approaches. Tapering your workout regimen while simultaneously boosting your carbohydrate intake can allow you to supersaturate your muscles in as little as three days. When used correctly, this method can amplify your endurance by nearly 20%. In practice, this can help you increase your distance without “hitting the wall” as well as your time. Some studies suggest that your time can improve by as much as 2 or 3%. While it sounds like a small increase, in a multi-hour event that will add up to several minutes!

   Okay, so how and when should you carbo-load? Carbo-loading only works for endurance events. Most authorities agree that the performance needs to last at least 90 minutes before carbo-loading will begin to help improve your performance, so unless you are crawling, you probably won’t need to eat a large bowl of pasta every night for a week before your big 5K that you are training for. Instead just try consuming healthy, high-net value foods. These studies even suggest that the most elite marathon runners, those freaks, mutants, people who run 26.2 miles around the two hour mark also don’t greatly benefit from carbo-loading. This is because it typically takes around 90 minutes of sustained exercise before glycogen levels begin to run low. (More elite athletes will be able to train their bodies to sustain themselves off their fat storages during these endurance events rather than depending on carbohydrates.) If however you are running a marathon and you’re not a super human, carbo-loading is a great idea. 

But before you go running off to your local organic grocer to buy them out of whole-wheat pasta finish reading. Gender also plays a role in how beneficial carbo-loading will be. As evidenced from above, the earliest studies were all conducted on men-and those sexists scientists simply believed that women would experience the same results with muscle supersaturation. However, more recently, studies which focused specifically on women found that females have a more difficult time reaching a supersaturate point than men. Another study was unable to demonstrate any measurable benefit to the women’s performance after reaching supersaturation. Part of the reason has to do with the menstruation cycle. Women have an easier time carbo-loading during and immediately after menstruating. Another factor is that women typically have smaller caloric needs than men and simply can't increase their carbohydrate intake enough to gain benefits from it. As such, women may need to dramatically increase their calorie intake for several days prior to an endurance event, paying particular attention to carbohydrates.

Finally, no matter how much pasta you eat the night before a race, no matter how much you gorge, chances are you will not be able to carbo-load that night. To reach a point where performance will actually improve, one needs to eat roughly 4 g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight each day. In a person who weighs roughly 150lbs, that means nearly 2,000 calories in carbos alone! I don’t know about you, but that seems intense!
note: Rich Roll no longer rides Jamis bikes.

The final verdict, in my opinion, is that most non-professional athletes won’t be able to achieve supersaturation of glycogen and should instead focus on staying hydrated and eating a large healthy meal before and after the event. As a very close friend always tells me, “you should never try anything new on race day.” That seems like sound advice to me! Luckily for me, green lentils are 70% carbohydrate so I’ll be BYOL’ing for my next endurance event!

Brazier, B. Thrive (2007)
Burke, L. Middle- and long-distance running. (2007)
Burke, L. Preparation for competition. (2006)
Coleman, EJ. Carbohydrate and exercise. (2006)