Wednesday, June 8, 2011



My sister-in-law starts every day washing bananas. No kidding. Before she even makes coffee, she washes bananas, oranges, apples, and whatever other fruit she's going to display in her three tier fruit stand. If the fruit isn't there, it's not to be eaten. Her four sons know that. They're only to eat the fruit that's been washed. They eat a lot of fruit (and veggies). And they are all healthy and handsome and full of energy. Dianne believes strongly in the benefits of raw foods. Seeing how great she and her kids look, you can't argue with her.

I couldn't remember what type of soap she used or if she used soap. So I emailed her, "Dianne do you use soap when you wash fruit and veggies?"  and this was her response:

I do not use anything besides water with the exception of fruits and some veggies with hard/impermeable skins which I will wash with water and a little dish soap, just to get the outsides clean such that when you're handling them and peeling/cutting them, you're not getting any bacteria that's on their outsides into the inside area that you eat.  Examples of these fruits/veggies are bananas, watermelon, other melons, squashes.  Otherwise, for things like apples, grapes, cherries, celery, carrots, etc., etc., I just rinse the hell out of them while rubbing them with my hands. Things like lettuces and herbs, I rinse the hell out of while "fluffing" the contents over and over and over again ad nauseum :-) so as to reach all the surface area as possible then spin the lettuces a lot and paper towel-dry the herbs.  When I am cutting something like a watermelon or other melon or a pineapple (remember, these are the babies that got the dish soap too), I will then rinse under water (briefly) the newly cut face (the inside fruit) as it has now made contact by virtue of the knife with outside hard skin that may not have had all bacteria removed by my neurotic first-washing efforts.  :-)  Potatoes??  Oh those babies get a long-ass old scrubbing as I generally do like the skins in my recipes.

What got me thinking about ways to wash produce is the E.coli outbreak in Germany which as of this writing has killed 24, sickened 2400 and left many of those with permanent kidney damage. The source is supposedly produce, but they still haven't determined which produce.

I've learned a lot about E.coli following this story. Here are some things I didn't know before:

1. Everyone has hundreds of types of E.coli in his/her digestive tract. You're not born with E.coli, but it gets there within the first 40 hours of life.

2. All mammals have E.coli in their digestive tracts. So do birds. Different animals have some different E.coli and some E.coli is common to all.

3. Most E. coli are harmless, many are beneficial. But there are 6 deadly ones (maybe 7 if they count the German one as a new one... they haven't decided that yet). These are called STECs (but I forget why).

4. Because E.coli lives in the digestive tract, mostly in the large intestine, it is spread through feces. That means if it's in your food your food had contact with feces. The feces might have been in the field, in the water used to wash the food, or on the hands of the food's handler. (Ever notice those signs in  restaurant bathrooms saying employees are REQUIRED to wash their hands?)

5. E.coli is not spread by coughs and sneezes.

6. Heat kills E. coli. There's a lot of it on meat (particularly hamburger), so that's why you want to cook it well. Washing works for produce.

7. If you get sick from food, there's no point going to the doctor unless you have bloody diarrhea. You're not supposed to take antibiotics, so there's not much a doctor can do except tell you to rest and drink fluids to flush the E.coli from your system. But once you've reached the bloody diarrhea stage you should be in the hospital and isolated from other people because that's when the thing can easily get out of hand and start spreading to family members, etc. and you'll need to have your fluids replaced via IV.

8. One of the strongest arguments against factory farmed animals is that they must be fed antibiotics because they are in such close quarters that it's impossible to keep them from being contaminated by feces. The antibiotics cause strains of E.coli to mutate into antibiotic resistant E.coli. It's an antibiotic resistant type of E.coli that's making people sick in Germany.

Of course E.coli is not the only reason to wash produce well. There are many other types of germs, not to mention pesticides and herbicides. But no matter how well you wash your food, remember, you are probably not doing a better job than my sister-in-law.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


In Mexico the main meal of the day is called comida and it's eaten between two and four in the afternoon. Schools get out at two and many small businesses close. Lots of people take two hour comida breaks and go home to eat, returning to work from four until eight. By many standards comida is a healthy tradition.

If you can't go home for this main meal, you might very well go to a comida corrida which loosely means cheap, homemade hot lunch on the run. Typically it includes soup, plus a guisado or main course – a little meat in a sauce; or meat, beans and rice; or chili rellenos; or fish, beans, and a little salad. In addition, there are always a basket of tortillas, fresh made salsas, and to drink: agua fresca  a sweet, watery drink made with either fresh fruit, hibiscus, or rice.

The cost in Morelia for a comida corrida is thirty-five pesos which is less than $3.50. We can't put together the same meal at home for that price and for years it was our habit to pick Alice up from school at two and go to a comida corrida for lunch. There's one on our corner that's quite good. It's in the front room of a residence and run by one of our neighbor ladies. Typically her eight tables are all full and turn a number of times each afternoon.

But about this time last year we stopped going. My husband went back to the states while Alice and I had another month to stay in Morelia, and I became determined to use the time to learn vegetarian cooking. I felt Alice and I were both a little too chunky, and I blamed the comida corridas – specifically the meat, rice and all-you-can-eat tortillas. So I watched Mollie Katzen and Alice Waters videos on my computer, visited the fresh food market every day, and had a wonderful time slicing and dicing and trying out new recipes.

That was the beginning of what became the food journey year of my life, and reading back over my journal and this blog I see how many turns it has taken. I've done a ton of research and learned loads about the food industry, about cooking, about who's who in food politics and nutritional science. But what I've just figured out, what took me a whole year to figure out, what I didn't even know I was looking for is how not to be hungry.  I'd forgotten there was such a state. I knew other people weren't hungry all the time, but I just figured they were luckier than me. I assumed my hunger was part of my being.  And it was. So when it left, wow, I felt free!

I picked my hunger up again though just the other day. I'd gotten too busy to cook so we went back to the local comida corrida.  I had a very flavorful chicken consume, some breaded white fish filets, beans, salad, some tortillas and a couple glasses of agua fresca. When I left I couldn't wait to get home and chow down on some chocolate chip cookies that Alice had made. I hadn't felt that degree of craving after a meal for ages – actually since giving up the comida corridas. But this time the reason was not a mystery.

It took this whole year of reading to figure out it was never the meat or the rice or the tortillas mounting up on my hips and gut. It was the agua fresca and its effect on my hunger. Looking at recipes on the internet, I discovered that a typical agua fresca is fresh fruit + 3/4 c. sugar + 1qt. water, which is 3T. of sugar per 8 oz. of water not including the sugar in the fruit.  That's more sugar than in the same amount of Coke! And on a hot day, I could easily drink 16 - 20 oz. And all this time I've felt superior to people who drink soda. Shame on ignorant me. And once that sugar gets into my system (and when you drink it, it gets there fast) I just keep craving food – particularly sweets – the rest of the day.

So, knowing this about myself, I've stopped putting anything sweet in my mouth until late in the day. Goodbye smoothies for breakfast. Goodbye orange juice, jelly on toast, sugar on my oatmeal. I've left those seemingly reasonable habits behind in exchange for the wonderful state of not wanting to eat every piece of food I see. I'm still getting used to going to the market and not feeling compelled to buy anything besides what's on my list.  I love not being hungry!

Mexico is virtually tied with the US for fattest nation on the planet. But the truth is out now. The science all points to the drinks. And it's not just sodas, but sports drinks, iced teas, coffees, juices, and even baby formulas. Next time I visit a comida corrida, I'm packing my water. Then it really will be a remarkably healthy, homemade meal for cheap.

Other posts about this topic: Rethinking Breakfast, My Liver Goes to Camp

To watch a lecture on this subject: Sugar: The Bitter Truth