Food Waste Summit Review

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Two weeks ago I was able to attend the Food Waste Summit at Parkview Hospital.  I was not sure what to expect but they did have a lot of high profile people in their panel ready to answer questions about food waste.  Some of these people represented the EPA, Kroger, and Waste Management.

Two items given out were a sticker to place on a bin holding whatever food needs to be used up first (“Eat this first”) and a notepad similar to the menu plan list every homemaker uses.  These two items were supposed to help households throw out less food by being aware of what needs to be used and what is already available to prevent over buying at the store.

One example I found useful was the “blue bin” used by some restaurants to create a visual aid for food waste.  Every piece of produce that would be thrown away for the day (think ends of onions) instead was tossed into the bin.  At the end of the day the crew would go through the bin and see if they were throwing away portions of produce they would actually be able to use.

I also learned that Kroger plans on being “zero waste company” by 2020.  I knew they donated their unsold items to local charities but I was unaware of this initiative.  Under the Good Samaritan law there is also little legal risk to picking up donated (or donating) food to others.  I think if more people knew this more would donate or take the time to pick up donated food from grocery stores and deliver it to those who could use it.

I was not so encouraged about the lack of community composting talk.  It seems that even in places where this has been implemented it is scarcely used and used improperly.  I’d love to have a neighborhood-managed compost heap that everyone can add to and benefit from.

Bee Balm in the Fort

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I had some great conversations this week with new people about herbalism.  One man was from the local ‘The Old Fort’.  He asked me about Bee Balm (Monarda)— which we grew last year and loved! (We actually grew Monarda didyma.)  I encouraged him to use it as a tea, since they were not sure if it was just used as an ‘aromatic herb’ or for cooking.  He told me a story of essential oil distillers from overseas who visited the Fort after attending a work conference at IPFW.  He shared how they were fascinated with the herb since they do not grow it where they are from.  That right there is the beauty of growing North American herbs.  We can continue to pass on herbal knowledge not found in other places.  I told him how it was the preferred ‘patriotic’ drink for a time while the settlers were boycotting British tea tax— which is why another common name for it is still Oswego tea.

He told me of all the educational experiences they offer to school aged children and I encouraged him to continue the herbal study for whatever time period they were using.  Many of the herbs used by the natives and the settlers will flourish on the land and can be useful.  He grabbed some of our seeds and I hope to talk to him again about some possible collaboration.

Growing Chinese Herbs in the US

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Photo Credit: Herbalogic.com

 

I took a holiday job at a local bookstore this season which just recently came to an end.  One fun part of the job was conversing with the customers that came up to the register.  I was able to discuss many different topics and ideas as their books showed their personal interests.  One topic that came up quite often with customers and co-workers alike was where the medicinal herb market was heading in the US.

Being a student of Western herbalism I often start sharing how easy it is to grow herbs that are native to Northern Indiana soil.  There are plenty of helpful herbs that often get mowed over or destroyed simply because they become invasive and do not look as tidy as grass.  Equipped with the knowledge of recognizing these helping plants and being able to properly asses their quality, most people would find that they are already growing something in their yard they could use.

But many times when I talk on herbalism I find that Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is what initially comes to people’s minds.  They think of wild ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, L) which actually grows in North America but is used in TCM, or other herbs that are grown in China and brought over to the US.  There is a bit of romanticism about it, getting foreign herbs to aid healing when “modern medicine” won’t do the trick.  It also helps when beneficial techniques such as the practice of Thai Chi are used along with herbal supplements.  The package deal is unique and interesting.

With rising quality issues concerning supplements from other countries, it is no wonder that there are more American herb farmers interested in growing specific herbs for TCM. These herbs have been well documented for years and carry quite the reputation.  And focusing on a sustainable, local source for these gems is phenomenal.

I’m intrigued with how this will go as people become more interested in herbal supplement use for health in general.  If we use our lands for herbs that do not naturally grow here, I wonder what the outcome will be.  The quality may be better, similar, or worse.  It could also lead to interest in native herbs, many that have the same helpful properties as those purchased from other countries.  An educated customer keeps herb quality in check.

*Edited to add a recent study showing that American ginseng tisane protects cellular DNA within 2 hours from consumption. (Sept 2015)

Anyway, another article popped up on a social network today that got me thinking about a balance of trends.  As we find ourselves interested in securing our own sources for herbs used in TCM, China has just opened a fancy new McDonald’s that rivals anything I have seen here.  In fact, if I had one of these new “McDonald’s Next” close by, I am sure I would visit.  What trends and what sells at each moment is quite interesting, huh?

Some recognizable herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Common Name*

Goji/Wolfberry
Mulberry Leaf
Honeysuckle Flower
Reishi Mushroom
Ephedra
Angelica Root
Cinnamon
Ginger
Astragalus Root
Liquorice Root
American Ginseng
Cassia Seed
Salvia

*These herbs could be recommended in common name, scientific/Latin name, or Chinese name. It is best to double check with the scientific/Latin name to make sure you are getting exactly what was recommended.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners in Indiana

Essence of China Acupuncture & Herb Clinic, Carmel IN
Dr. Angelica Kokkalis, O.M.D L.Ac., Lafayette IN
Munster Medical Acupuncture & Wellness, Munster IN

 

Handling Information & Local Food Enconomy

A worry that many people have when purchasing food that has been packaged and/or processed at a distance is that we do not know who, where, and sometimes how it was done.  In many cases we may not even know if the company handling the food products were using safe practices, or even slave labor.

An example that came up on my Facebook feed recently: Slave-peeled shrimp exported to major U.S. Stores

When faced with the knowledge that cheap food often carries the price tag of cheap or forced labor, what can we do?  Understandably, if the purchaser themselves in a tight bind and can not afford an alternative, what is to be done?  A educated decision must be made for each family personally.

Beyond slave labor there are other issues relating directly with the food.  How many hands touch the food product before it reaches your plate?  How long does it sit waiting to be delivered?  What makes one brand truly different from another?  Ever wonder why when there is a big  E.coli breakout there are many different brands and stores with the same contaminated food product, all under different names?

“Shrimp can mix with different batches of seafood as it is packaged, branded and shipped. At that point, there’s no way to tell where any individual piece was peeled. Once it reaches American restaurants, hospitals, universities and military chow halls, all the shrimp from those four Thai processors is considered associated with slavery, according to United Nations and U.S. standards.

U.S. customs records linked the exported shrimp to more than 40 U.S. brands, including popular names such as Sea Best, Waterfront Bistro and Aqua Star. The AP found shrimp products with the same labels in more than 150 stores across America — from Honolulu to New York City to a tiny West Virginia town of 179 people. The grocery store chains have tens of thousands of U.S. outlets where millions of Americans shop.” – (from the AP article above)

The simple answer to many of these concerns is shopping locally.  If your community has local markets, that is one way to know for sure what, where, and who concerning your food. Of course, the most economical and obvious way to keep track of your food is to grow your own. From a tiny pot on your apartment balcony to a half-acre garden, growing your own food lets you know everything involved with what you are eating… and you will probably find yourself with enough to share.

Easy foods to grow on your own with minimal work:
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Green Beans
Basil
Cilantro
Kale
Mint