February 1, 2005

Organic dog food

Yes, it exists - and yes, it is a big deal. Last year organic pet food sales grew three times as fast as human organic food sales [1]. How big is the market? The domestic pet food market is about $15 billion. Organic pet food is at about $14 million. So, there is a lot more room to grow.

Amazon carries a 33lb bag of Hund-n-Flocken adult dog food for $35.99. It is made of USDA choice lamb meal. Wow. How about Newman's Own Organics Senior Dog Chicken Formula, a 5lb bag for $10.79. That's pretty expensive chicken. It may all seem excessive, but, as Ann Martin and Shawn Messonnier report [2], "many ingredients [in pet food] are potentially harmful and composed of the dregs from slaughterhouses and the rendering business." You think that's bad? Apparently, "it is not uncommon for thousands of euthanized dogs and cats to be delivered to rendering plants, daily, and thrown into the rendering vat -- collars, I.D. tags, and plastic bags -- to become part of this material called "meat meal." Yikes! Likely a response to such sordid news, home-cooked pet food suddenly becomes quite reasonable.

[1] B. Horovitz, Organic pet food gets paws up, USA Today, 13 July 2004.
[2] A. Martin and S. Messonnier, Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts about Pet Food, NewSage Press, 2003.

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January 31, 2005

Organic farms for sale

Where would you go to look for a small organic farm? A google search pops up a handful of sites, none of which are very easily navigated. What would be optimal? It would be nice to be able to search by crop, by location, etc. How does it work anyway? When a farm is certified organic, do they have a piece of paper in hand? It would be nice to see that piece of paper. I wonder if the government has a list of certified organic farms. Michigan has a list of certified organic farms, as does California.

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January 15, 2005

Organic farming: chinese vegetables

Sonja and I have been tossing around the idea of an organic chinese veggie farm for a few years. To be honest, except for the avocado plants, my agricultural experiments have been quite disappointment. That aside, here a few interesting links we found. The USDA has a brief article on the growing popularity of organic vegetables in Hong Kong. Dr. Subhuti Dharmananda at the Institute for Traditional Medicine offers a brief history on organic herb cultivation in China. Earthbound Farm, a familiar name to Costco shoppers, has a short online account on how it all started (2.5 acres and 20 years ago by two kids from Manhattan out of college...). Today, their products sit in 74% of all US supermarkets, and, according to Hoovers, they had sales of $350 million in 2003. Not bad. They are at about 20,000 acres now.

I found a large organic Chinese vegetable operation - Purepak, Inc. Based out of Oxnard, CA, Dean Walsh directs about 5000 acres of farms in California and exports to Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Great Britain. Purepak has a chart of their products. Interestingly, Walsh started in 1986, only a couple years after Earthbound Farm. On the menu, Bok Choy, Baby Bok Choy, Baby Choy Sum, Short Choy Sum, Tiny Choy Sum, Gai Lan, Snow Pea Tips, Sugar Pea Tips, Tung Ho (<-- not my favorite), and Yu Choy. I'm interested in something exactly like the Earthbound Farm product, pre-packed, pre-washed, pre-cut, ready-to-go organic Chinese veggies.

If Purepak can import Chinese vegetables to Japan, the way to go is to import Chinese or other vegetables from China to the U.S. Of course, there will be some trade issues to protect local farmers.

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September 24, 2004

Country Sun

My wife stopped by Country Sun today. It was her first time there. According to her, pretty intimate. They have a large section of herbal remedies. I've heard of Country Sun before, is it a chain? It was "quite organized and clean". Mostly older white women, friendly and nice - "certainly friendlier than Molly Stones". They have steel cut oats there for 99 cents a pound. Is that expensive? Wheat berries were $7.49 a pound. Maybe you only eat a few at a time. They also have a whole lot of beans, navy beans, mung beans, kidney beans, mazuki beans, green split pea, red lentils - all sorts "very beautiful and incredibly good for you." And so many varieties of granola, even one spelled "grinola".

I checked... there is only one.

Founded by a group of local professionals in 1971, Country Sun began as a 'full-service natural foods market', different from the usual fare provided by health food stores at that time. The store quickly outgrew its original address and in 1984, moved a few storefronts down to its current location at 440 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto, California.

"It's not pretentious... I think Andronico's is pretentious."

Update: Unbelieveable. She even found the famous "TastyBite" insta-Indian food there. Madras Lentils Dal Makhani - whole lentils and red kidney beans simmered in a creamy sauce of onions, tomatoes, ginger and herbs. No refrigerator required! I'll definitely blog about this later. It's a product of India - $3-4, make your own rice.

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August 13, 2004

Organic implies non-GMO

Thanks to my lovely wife for pointing this out to me. Once you find something organic, you don't have to worry about it being genetically modified.

"In addition, as mandated in the USDA's National Organic Standards, products labeled organic cannot be grown from genetically engineered seed or made with genetically engineered ingredients. Therefore, choosing any product labeled organic in any supplier's label in the Trader Joe's stores is another way to choose foods and beverages that are not genetically engineered."


Note that the converse is not true. If you find a product advertised as non-GMO, it certainly doesn't mean that it is organic. It may well be loaded up with all sorts of undesireable chemicals. Hmmm... speaking of "converse", where do you think the name Converse for the shoes came from?

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August 10, 2004

Organic tofu - no GMO!

It probably shouldn't go under "organic" but, for what it is worth, Mori-Nu Tofu is made exclusively with non-GMO soybeans.

Mori-Nu, like you, is concerned about the genetic modification of foods. That's why every package of Mori-Nu Tofu is made only with Non GMO soybeans. We bring you the freshest, purest, and safest foods possible and guarantee your complete satisfaction. It's our commitment to you, your health, and the environment.
Now, but what about the pesticides?

For those of you not in the know, Mori-Nu has a patent on aseptic tofu making. The aseptic box, based on a Tetra Pak patent, lets the tofu last for years without refrigeration.

Packaged aseptic soya bean curd containing no bactericidal agents is manufactured by a method which comprises continuously sterilizing a soya bean juice by maintaining it at a temperature of 128 DEG to 150 DEG C for 1 to 6 seconds and cooling to room temperature; homogeneously mixing said sterilized soya bean juice with a sterilized coagulating agent-containing solution in an aseptic atmosphere continuously or in a pipeline; continuously filling the resulting liquid mixture into a container in an aseptic atmosphere and sealing it; and dipping said sealed container into a water tank heated to 70 DEG to 95 DEG C for 20 to 60 minutes in order to coagulate the mixture.
I found it... organic non-GMO Mori-Nu tofu. It costs a fortune though, $2.15 for 12.3 oz.

No, no, no. Don't buy it there. Buy it from Amazon! Remember that there is still shipping. They charge $28.50 for a 24 pack. I think shipping will be about $13.50. So $1.75 per box... not bad. No tax right? Here's the link: Mori-Nu Silken Organic Firm Tofu, 24 pack. And here's a gratuitous image:

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July 28, 2004

The hunt for Oatios

B0000CD04T.01-A2D0W4KS0A45B7.MZZZZZZZ.jpgFor a few weeks now, our cereal selection hsa been limited to Arrowhead Mills' organic Puffed Kamut and Puffed Millet. #2 sure loves it, but I have to say, it isn't really my favorite. Where are the Oatios? I found a source online that seems promising, except they label the cereal as "snack bars", making me a bit worried. Amazon sells the 15 oz. package of Oatios for $4.59. This place, ENK Natural, sells the 8 oz. package of Oatios for $2.29 - with $5.99 shipping up to 6 lbs. You can save 5% ordering by mail with check or money order. Has anyone ever ordered from these folks? Maybe better to stick with Amazon.

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June 28, 2004

Organic mangoes... from Ranch?!?!

Sonja brought home organic mangoes from Ranch 99. That's really something. On the sticker it says "Certified Organic, AWE SUM Organics, #94312, Product of Mexico". These are really big mangoes too, not those puny champagne ones. The whole case (13) was $6.99. The photos are not perfect, but they tell the story.



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May 29, 2004

Organic Oatios, better than Cheerios

We've been getting Oatios at Andronicos since #1 started solids, and I'll have to admit, they were never my favorite. They used to be white and have really sharp edges to them. Strangely, #1 seemed to like it. All that has changed. They've set a new standard for micro-donut shaped oats cereal. The new Oatios taste great! Sonja says, "good, likeable texture". I would say that they taste even better than Cheerios - certainly better for you. It's made of organic whole oat flour, organic oat flour, organic brown rice flour, organic evaporated cane juice, organic oat bran, sea salt. Pretty reasonable.

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May 23, 2004

Yoshino No. 1 - Food of the Gods

The Taipei Times has a nice piece this morning on Yoshino No. 1, a variety of rice that was grown exclusively in Taiwan for Japan's Emperor Hirohito about 70 years ago. Yoshino No. 1, said to be the best rice in the world, is extremely difficult to grow. Wind, rain and fertilizer all affect cultivation. Harvesting is critical, if it is too late, the taste changes and the rice is only fit for chicken feed.

Yoshino No. 1, unlike other rice varieties, is said to have an appealing smell and unique taste when it's properly prepared. It has a sweet flavor that stays on the palate even after a lot of chewing. Its grains are rounder and plumper than other varieties and are crystal clear, with a white, heart-shaped dot in the middle. Japanese growers claimed the shape of the dot was similar to the sun rising on the nation's white flag and thus cherished the rice even more.

Cultivation actually ceased in World War II, as the cost of production exceeded returns. It was not until 1969 that a Hakka farmer named Peng Yong-chuan reintroduced the seeds. Today six farmers, all mentees of Peng, know how to cultivate this rice. Peng had this facinating anecdote to share:

...when the rice was harvested, Japanese officials would pick a dozen or so local young Japanese girls to pick and package the rice. These young girls were required to take a bath and change into new clothes prior to performing their duties, as a token of their respect for the emperor. They would peel off the husks on the rice, by hand, one by one. No Taiwanese girls were chosen for the job, perhaps because of security concerns.

A traditional Japanese ceremony would be held to bless the rice and to plead for special blessings from the emperor. The handpicked 10kg or so of Yoshino No. 1 rice was then shipped from Hualien to its final destination -- the Emperor's Palace in Tokyo. Whatever was left over was then presented to the Japanese Colonial Governor's Palace in Taipei.

Now that is special rice. Where is rice grown in the United States? Mostly (80%) Arkansas, California and Louisiana. While the U.S.produces only 2% of the world's rice, it is a leading exporter, sending 40% to 60% of its crop overseas. To learn more, check out the USA Rice Federation.

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May 11, 2004

Who is Nachum Kedar?

Wired's Super Organics article had a single paragraph in the introduction on Israeli tomato grandmaster Nachum Kedar.

But the quest for a longer-lasting tomato didn't end there. As the Flavr Savr was stumbling (Monsanto eventually abandoned it), Israeli scientist Nachum Kedar was quietly bringing a natural version to market. By crossbreeding beefsteak tomatoes, Kedar had arrived at a savory, high-yield fruit that would ripen on the vine and remain firm in transit. He found a marketing partner, which licensed the tomato and flooded the US market without any PR problems. The vine-ripened hybrid, now grown and sold worldwide under several brand names, owes its existence to Kedar's knowledge of the tomato genome. He didn't use genetic engineering. His fruit emerged from a process that's both more sophisticated and far less controversial.
Based on how it was written, I expected the rest of the article to give more information, but his name never shows up again. Who is Nachum Kedar?

His website at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem sheds a bit more light. Nachum Kedar, a.k.a. Mr. Tomato, was born in 1920 in Vienna, Austria. Receiving his Ph.D. at Hebrew University in 1958, he continued to lecture there, becoming Associate Professor in 1969, Professor in 1976, and Emeritus in 1988. Ruth Ebenstein, in 1991 [1], described him as "an affable, balding, bright-eyed man... the mastermind of a whole generation of new tomato breeds that stay firm and fresh up to four times as long as the standard fruit." Kedar's obsession with tomatoes was inspired in 1974, after watching a Thai farmer pick his tomatoes green. "The fruit had no taste or smell, but the man said ripe fruit would be quickly ruined in the heat and humidity," remarked Kedar, "That's when I knew we had a real problem." He did not have to wait long. Shortly thereafter, in response to a failed kibbutz attempt to grow tomatoes in the Negev, the Jewish Agency offered Kedar an opportunity to solve the problem. Three years later, after tasting thousands of tomatoes injected with hundreds of combinations of genes, Kedar's four-person research team hit their stride. Over the next decade, the team produced over 400 different varieties of tomatoes were designed, six or seven each year going into the market. The most popular? The DeVine Ripe tomato. Grown in California and Mexico, the DeVine tomato allows farmers to harvest their crop at the vine ripe stage, with no compromise in storage life, thus accomplishing Kedar's original goal [2].

I was able to locate more information on his tomato project at Yissum, the company in charge of technology transfer for Hebrew University under B-1075: Breeding Tomatoes Rich in Vitamins.

Plants with prominent genetic variability, but with no commercial use, are being grown at the faculty's farm. These plants have tomatoes with high vitamin content. To select the desired qualities of these "primitive" tomatoes, classical breeding and molecular biology methods will be employed to result in commercial tomato plants that will produce natural tomatoes with high vitamin content.
His colloborator is Professor Haim Rabinowitch with whom he also worked on long shelf life tomatoes. According to their research blurb,
Israeli tomatoes can now be exported to Europe by ship at a $500 saving per ton over air freight. Furthermore, sale of the fruit or the tomato seeds are at present bringing in more royalty to the Hebrew University than all other commercialized University discoveries combined. Currently, about 40% of European greenhouse acreage, about 70% of tomato production in Morocco and more than 50% of the Mexican tomato acreage is occupied by Faculty of Agriculture cultivars. The value of tomato seed exports is estimated to more than $50 million, annually.

In 1983, Kedar received the National Food Processors Association award (U.S.) for his work on the effect of food-ripening mutant genes. In 1986, he was awarded the Israel's Kaplan Prize for innovative contribution to the economy.

[1] R. Ebenstein, "Just call him Mr. Tomato," Jerusalem Report, pp. 14, Aug 8. 1991.
[2] L. Samin, "Turning thoughts into food," Jerusalem Post, pp. 14, Nov 8. 2002.

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May 8, 2004

Milk Pail - organic?

After realizing that neither Andronico's nor Mollie Stones were truly (or even close to being) organic, I had been meaning to return to Milk Pail Market, which I visited several years back while living off of Rengstorff. TheMilk Pail, being a "European market", gave me the impression that fruits and vegetables there would be organic. Also, we had also recently chatted with a Bulgarian neighbor over dinner who was adamant about how fruits and vegetables from American grocery stores were tasteless, and how she only bought organic... from the Milk Pail.

Not having had apples for smoothies for about a week, I was itching to buy a big bag of organic Red Delicious to incorporate into our smoothies. Guess what, not one organic label in the house. Milk Pail Market is not organic, nor does it claim to be. Interestingly, if you look at the fruit stickers (as I often do) you will see exactly the same stickers as in Safeway. The only difference is a price mark up of about 50-100%.

So, if you are fanatical about really being organic, look for the stickers. If it is organic, it will have the organic seal. Another way to tell? The fruit sticker will have a 5-digit number starting with 9.

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May 6, 2004

Super organics - mmmm

This month Wired has a facinating article on Super Organics - genetically engineered, not genetically modified. With all the hoopla on avoiding genetically modified food, this may take the day. Essentially, this is selective breeding - but powered by knowledge of plant genome and use of fluorescent dye. You breed making sure that the offspring takes exactly the right genes.

Along with a nice overview of the technology, the article also has a fair (though brief) review of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In some cases, GMOs have fulfilled their promise. They've allowed US farmers to be more productive without as much topical pesticide and fertilizer. Our grocery stores are stuffed with cheaply produced food - up to 70 percent of all packaged goods contain GM ingredients, mainly corn and soybean. GM has worked even better with inedible crops. Take cotton. Bugs love it, which is why Southern folk music is full of tunes about the boll weevil. This means huge doses of pesticides. The world's largest cotton producer, China, used to track the human body count during spraying season. Then in 1996, Monsanto introduced BT cotton - a GMO that employs a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to make a powerful pesticide in the plant. BT cotton cuts pesticide spraying in half; the farmers survive.


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April 19, 2004

A week of organic living

4colorsealJPG.jpgIn light of family discussions on pesticides, etc., I've been more conscious of what we eat. I found Diane Diconstanzo's article on "going organic" to be quite informative. My biggest concerns? Cost and living in paranoia. To learn more about what it means for food to be organic, check out the USDA's National Organic Program. Interestingly, the USDA "makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food". There is a point there. One issue with organic food, sine there are no preservatives, is spoilage. In addition, since no ionizing radiation is used, bacteria may be more prevalent.

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April 15, 2004

USDA's Pesticide data program

For well over decade, under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) has been testing commodities in the U.S. for pesticide residues. The PDP has tested over 50 different commodities including fresh/frozen/canned fruits, fruit juice, whole milk, grains, meats and water for over 290 different pesticides. Data are collected from a substantial number of states: California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Mnnesota, Montana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

How does it work? Close to the point of consumption, e.g., large chain store distribution centers, the commodities in question are randomly sampled in quanties of 3-5 pounds for fruit, 1 quart for fluids, and 1 pound for grains, poultry and beef. These are then shipped to a laboratory for analysis. The standard operating procedures are completely transparent. The detail provided on laboratory procedures is especially impressive, which makes sense, since both health and money are at stake. The resulting data, from nine State and two Federal laboratories, are stored in an electronic database in Washington, D.S. via a web front-end and, amazingly, available for download. Nice.

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