I borrowed the latest TIME magazine from my grandmother last weekend. My mom had always been a subscriber, and it's one of my favorite things to read in the morning over coffee. Especially after I've been out traveling for a while and come home to find a stack of them on the counter, untouched.
Since my mom died in April, my dad has not renewed the subscription, because he's (understandably) uncomfortable getting stuff in the mail address to her. So last week, I re-upped.
TIME is a great source of news, and a great way to get a brief gist of what's going on in the US and around the world. It's not to say that I agree with it all the time. The last issue contained a cover story by Dr. Oz, called 'Give Frozen Foods a Chance', which I posted about on Facebook earlier this week. This is my rebuttal to that story.
"Let's take a tour of the supermarket in search of everyday foods we can reclaim as stalwarts of a healthy diet," Dr. Oz begins. He starts in the frozen and canned foods section, arguing (rightly), that frozen and canned foods can be just as healthy (in some cases more so, as flash-freezing veggies better preserves their vitamins) as their fresh counterparts. And usually cheaper.
And that's the whole gist of the article. That you
have to spend a fortune on fancy, organic food that's marketed to the dining elite in order to get a square, healthy meal. This I agree with (to an extent). What I don't like, is how he goes about arguing for it.
"A simple glance at the nutrition label (which itself didn't exist in the salty old days) can confirm which brands are best," he says. But how, exactly, to do that Dr. Oz?
Since I started losing weight my senior year of high school (I was 260 then, 165 now), I began learning how to figure out what was good for me and bad for me. It started simply enough by reading those same nutrition labels. Less sugar, more fiber and less saturated fat. But you need to go beyond that.
What Oz does not say is that
of those canned products contain way too much added crap in them, namely sugar, and that won't be obvious on the nutrition label alone. A can of red kidney beans is a perfect example. We have some at home in the pantry as a matter of fact - two kinds (one of which will never be eaten here).
The first is Giant's own store brand. Ingredients? "Prepared red beans, water and sea salt." That's my kind of food.
The second is from a brand called Hanover, and I do not know how they got into the house. Those ingredients? "Kidney beans, water, sugar, corn syrup, salt, natural flavorings, onion powder, calcium chloride. Disodium EDTA added as a preservative." CORN SYRUP in freaking red beans!? This is necessary because…?
The point is this - Dr. Oz was on the right track, but you've got to read
labels, not nutrition labels. He might argue that it's two different paths to the same destination. But I like to know what's going into my body, and it's everyone's responsibility to themselves to do the same.
A real-food market in Dominica, in the Caribbean.
Then he moves on to "Food on the Hoof, Fin & Wing", and starts writing about meat.
"There's no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed, pasture-dwelling cows lead happier--if not appreciably longer--lives than animals raised on factory farms. They are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics and are less likely to carry communicable bacteria like E. coli, which are common on crowded feedlots.
If these things are important to you
[my bold] and you have the money to spend, then by all means opt for pricier organic meats."
Shouldn't these things be important to everyone? At this point to me, the article feels like it starts to get a little preachy towards consumers - where's the article arguing against the feedlots themselves? More 'happy cows' would certainly bring prices down for everyone, which is the point of this particular piece, right? He continues.
"But for the most part, it's O.K. to skip the meat boutiques and the high-end butchers. Nutritionally, there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety. The calories, sodium and protein content are all very close."
It's too zoomed-in a view. In a vacuum, the end result - bottom-line nutrition - probably doesn't change much (though I'd argue the taste absolutely does). But what about those cows themselves, the ones in the feedlots? What about the farmer's working in those conditions everyday? What about the corn we feed those cows and the government subsidies our corn farmers get to grow it (ever wonder why feedlot beef is so cheap)? It's a very small-minded approach to eating.
What happened to the big picture? And what of the suggestion to eat like our ancestors, and have meat only once or twice per week? Buy it from the happy cows and happy farmers (places like my friend
, for example), pay the premium and don't eat it so often. You'll spend the same amount of money, be healthier for not eating so much meat, and the world will be better off. What about that Dr. Oz?
I do agree on a few points though (and in fact the direction in which the entire article is headed, just that he missed a few points along the way i think). Take this section, about canned fish for example:
"Let's also take a moment to celebrate the tuna-salad sandwich, which is to lunch what the '57 Chevy is to cars--basic and brilliant. Sure, there are ways to mess it up, with heaping mounds of mayonnaise and foot-long hoagie rolls. But tuna is loaded with niacin, selenium, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, and a sandwich done lean and right, on whole-wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes, is comfort food at its finest with little nutritional blowback."
First of all, 'whole wheat bread' is pretty generic. The '100% Whole Wheat' grocery store stuff is definitely better than white Wonder Bread. But go a step further. Look at ingredients. Bread requires merely 4 ingredients - water, yeast, sugar (or honey) and flour. That's it. Take a look at your '100% Whole Wheat' bread sometime and count those ingredients. Ezekiel sprouted grains bread is my favorite, but you can find 'normal' whole wheat bread with far fewer ingredients. It just takes a little searching.
And how about farmed versus wild-caught tuna and salmon? They feed the farmed variety that same corn that the cows are getting, and as for wild-caught, its the best for you, but its running out.
Peanut butter. Here again I actually agree with Oz (kinda).
"But many brands stuff in salt and sweeteners as flavoring agents, so read the labels. Sometimes supermarket brands turn out to be the best."
Those labels, he should have added, should read "Peanuts and salt." I'll still take the organic brand over supermarket brand, but skip the Skippy. Read the ingredients.
Conclusion? Here's Oz's take.
"Even foods that I have described as no-go items are really O.K. in the right situations. I recently enjoyed some fantastic barbecue after a long project in Kansas City, Mo., and I certainly ate the cake and more at my daughter's wedding. As with any relationship that flourishes, respect is at the core of how you get along with food--respect and keeping things simple."
I agree with the keeping things simple, for sure. But what's to say BBQ and a wedding cake are always bad? Mia's mom made our wedding cake at home, and aside from a little bit of sugar, the whole thing was made from simple, wholesome ingredients. Even I ate some. I made a BBQ sauce for my dad's 60th birthday party to put on the pulled pork we slow-cooked all day, and it was fantastic! A little honey, some soy sauce, spicy mustard…it was actually good for you!
Dane Miller, Anton and a happy chicken.
In my own evolution of how I eat, I've finally settled on the idea that if it comes from the earth or the animals and fishes of the earth, then I'll eat it. Farmed fish is out (not natural - in fact, I'd argue it's almost a different thing altogether), and I only eat happy chickens (and their eggs) and happy cows, and we stick (almost) exclusively to organic produce. No matter how nutritionally similar they may be to 'normal' (and why is it that the bad stuff we call normal?) foods, as Dr. Oz says, I don't want the chemicals or the hormones in my body, and I'll happily pay the premium for the farmers out there doing it the 'Right' way to continue making a living. I'll agree that a lot of 'processed' and packaged organic foods are marketed and sold at prices way too elitist and way to high (Whole Foods is the best example of this), but the simple stuff from the earth, bought at the local markets and not processed or packaged is usually surprisingly affordable.
What this article
have been about was how to cook a decent, low-priced meal using wholesome, organic produce and happy animals, where to find them, and how to avoid the marketing hype of the Whole Foods type processed stuff. And how that small premium you're paying for
food goes towards making the world a better place. The big picture.
By the way, if you're not convinced at the difference between a happy chicken egg and a grocery story egg,
(or click the link to see his blog post about it, with pictures), crack one of their eggs open and compare the yolk to the grocery variety. It's all the convincing you'll need.