Teaching organic farming in the classroom

Teaching organic farming in the classroom

According to the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom grants of up to $1000 are now available for teachers to “creatively enhance the understanding of organic agriculture for kindergarten through eighth grade students.” The purpose is to integrate organic agriculture into regular classroom instruction. The grants are jointly supported by the California Certified Organic Farmer’s Foundation, and the application deadline is May 15, 2017.

From the scientists’ point of view, teaching students about organic agriculture would be intriguing because while historically, experiments led to the procedures, organic farming is essentially pre-scientific and much is based on the naturalistic fallacy.

However, there is a lot to be learned by studying the ideas and best practices of organic agriculture, and herewith we present an outline for an ideal curriculum.

Indore

Much of the earliest work by Sir Albert Howard at the Indore Farms he supervised in India had to do with the development of compost from vegetable and animal waste, and his first book in 1931, The Waste Products of Agriculture may have been his most important work. Howard noted that decomposition of compost only took place at neutral pH and added lime to achieve this. He believed that good soil aeration and quality humus were all that one needed to prevent disease, which was not supported by later scientist’s work, and his book, An Agricultural Testament contained a number of such ideas which caused him to lose support among botanists.

Sir Albert correctly believed that understanding of the mycorrhizae that lived on most plant roots was important and should not be left to mycologists, but his attacks on overspecialization in agricultural science as well as flaws in his later theories caused him to lose much of his initial scientific reputation, but this only increased his stature among non-scientists.

Lady Eve Balfour

Lady Eve Balfour was one of the first women to study agriculture at a British University and upon graduation she used her inheritance (she was part of the prominent Balfour political family) to buy farm land in Haughley Green in Suffolk, where she began experiments comparing her organic methods with conventional farming methods. Many of her experiments were published in her book The Living Soil in 1943.

Lady Eve was also the founder of the Soil Association, which although small in size, is a major proponent of organic farming in Britain, and she eventually donated her Haughley Green farms to the Association. She also attempted to moderate some of Sir Albert Howard’s extreme positions, but because of some of her other extreme spiritualist positions, Howard refused to join the Soil Association.

The Soil Association has also taken some extreme positions that are unsupported by science, suggesting that animals be cared for by homeopathic means (which cannot possibly work) and taken extreme positions on genetically modified crops which have no scientific basis.

J.I. Rodale

In the United States, Jerome Cohen, writing under the pseudonym of J. I. Rodale, took up promotion of organic farming and gardening with his Rodale Press and Rodale Institute, beginning in 1948, with his book The Organic Front, published by his own press. While Rodale promoted organic farming tirelessly, his views were hard to take very seriously because of his huckster style of writing:

Along comes your scientific agronomist, who should know better, but who recklessly throws a monkey wrench into this microbial universe, by dousing it with strong, corrosive chemical fertilizers. He believes that the conveyor belt method must be introduced into every aspect of farming.

Rodale took on all sorts on anti-scientific views, suggesting that the polio vaccine was a bad idea, and that rimless glasses and salt water cause cancer. He was also a racist. While he boasted that he would live to be 100, he died at 72, bizarrely during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show, although that episode never aired.

Rodale’s has also undertaken a study of organic versus conventional farming, which they published in a glossy brochure, but have never published in any peer-reviewed journal. An article by Pimentel and colleagues in Bioscience analyzes their findings: that organic and conventional farming techniques have similar yields and that in drought conditions, organic crops may do better. Pimentel also examined the economics and found that the two systems generated similar income, but only if you include a 10% organic price premium.

In another recent trial, they rotated their organically grown crop out and planted other soil enriching crops in 2 of the 3 years, and compared the yield with conventional crops grown without rotation. This was hardly a comparable trial.

The National Organic Program

Until the year 2002, farmers choosing to use organic techniques followed one of several sets of standards, but encouraged the USDA to set nation-wide standards so that organic crops would be comparable. The Agricultural Marketing Service within the USDA codified these standards as the National Organic Program, carefully noting that

Our regulations do not address food safety or nutrition. 

While the general fiction put about by the organic industry is that organic crops are grown without pesticides, this is demonstrably untrue, as there are quite a number of permitted substances listed as permitted. This is discussed in some detail by Porterfield.

Pesticides

Some consumers think that organic foods are somehow safer because they are not grown using synthetic pesticides, but plants make their own pesticides all the time and most of the synthetic pesticides in use are similar to the ones plants already make: toxic and carcinogenic in large quantities. But as Bruce Ames has shown, the plant-made pesticides occur at 10,000 times the concentration as the traces of pesticides added during farming.

Organic nutrition

You might think that organic crops grown with minimal pesticides and so forth might be more nutritious, but research has shown that there is essentially no difference. Dangour and coworkers systematically reviewed articles on nutrient content and found that “here is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” Similarly, Brevata and Smith-Spangler “found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.”

Organic Yield

Since organic rules prevent the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, you might ask if the yields differ between organic and conventional crops. There are a number of research articles indicating that organic yields are 50% to 80% of those from conventional farming. The diagram below is from de Ponti’s article “The crop yield gap between conventional and organic agriculture.”

COmparison yields

A similar gap was reported by Seufert. DePonti reported an average 80% organic yield and Seufert a 68% yield. And, the USDA’s report on yields was only a little better.

nov15_feature_mcbride_fig02

Carbon Footprint

When you plant and grow crops, and harvest them, you are taking away nourishment from the soil. You need inputs to replace those nutrients. In organic farming, this is usually composted manure and other plant debris. But the composting process itself produces greenhouse gases, as Savage notes. Farmers typically apply about 5 tons of composted manure per acre. In fact, the greenhouse gases generated for one acre are equivalent to those generated in manufacturing enough fertilizer for 12.9 acres. This doesn’t seem to be scalable.

Organic Farming causes more pollution

A study at Ben-Gurion University studied the groundwater runoff in a group of new greenhouses, some using manure fertilization and some using drip fertilizer irrigation. They monitored a zone well below the roots and just above the groundwater for nitrogen contamination, and found that nitrogen pollution in the groundwater was 10 times as much in the organic greenhouses as in those using drip irrigation to fertilize the plants.

No-Till Farming

One of the greatest advances in soil maintenance has been no-till farming, where the ground is not plowed up and turned over every season. When you use crops that are resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, you can kill the weeds before planting and plant using a seed drill without disturbing the soil. This preserves the soil structure and prevents soil runoff. Unfortunately, genetically modified crops that are resistant to herbicides are not currently permitted by organic standards. If soil care is important, this standard needs to be changed.

Organic Marketing

Organic foods are marketed throughout the United States by the Organic Trade Association, and the Organic Consumer Association (which regularly spreads misinformation). The definition of “organic” in the US is products “produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. “ Since a number of pesticides have been approved for organic use, this is clearly misleading. The Environmental Working Group also is a major promoter of organic products, through its “Dirty Dozen,” which attempts to paint pesticide residues far below danger levels as being unsafe. It also clearly contradicts the findings of Bruce Ames we discussed above.

Thought Questions for Students

  1. What advantages do you see in organic crops?
  2. Are you concerned about pesticide levels on conventional crops?
  3. Why does the organic industry say that no pesticides are used?
  4. If a farmer has 1000 acres of farmland, and hopes to grow 160,000 bushels of corn, how much corn would he be able to grow if he switched to organic methods?
  5. If a farmer wants to make the same profit, how much would he have to raise his prices to grow organic corn on the same amount of land?
  6. Farmland is expensive. Would the farmer be justified in buying more land to grow the same amount of crops? Do you think there is unused farmland he can buy?
  7. In this article, Henry Miller argues that organic farming isn’t sustainable. Do you agree?
  8. In this article, Roger Cohen refers to organic farming as a “fable.” Is that fair?
  9. If you have a limited budget for buying food, as most of us do, would you be willing to pay 10% more for organic foods? How about 50% more? Why?
  10. Organic farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by using an Anaerobic Digester to compost their manure. How much do they cost? How big a farm do you need to pay for one?
  11. Roger Cohen argues that “organic” is actually just an ideology? Is that an exaggeration?
  12. How else could no-till farming work?
  13. By 2050, we project that only 2.5% of US cropland will be certified organic. Is that enough?

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Peepcorn: another use for Peeps

Peepcorn: another use for Peeps

Every year, people buy boxes of those sugary marshmallow candies and probably eat some of them, discarding the rest: but why not use them in delicious recipes? We decided to look into how you can cook with Peeps.

Each Peep weights about 0.25 oz (7 g) and has about 6.5 g of sugar in it, but the Peeps company thinks that a serving size is 4 Peeps. Wishful thinking perhaps? Peeps are made from marshmallow, corn syrup, sugar and carnauba wax, and in addition to the original yellow color, now are available in a number of other bright colors including pink, green and blue.

If you’ve had Peeps in your Easter basket for many years (even if you never ate them) you may remember that they used to be made by the Rodda Candy Company. It turns out that Rodda was acquired in 1953 by Just Born, a candy company in Bethlehem, PA owned, not surprisingly, by Sam Born. It was under Born’s management that the mass production of Peeps grew

Since they are so pervasive in the US and Canada we decided to see what else we could do with them.

One of our first experiments was to put some Peeps in our popcorn. You may not know this, but you can buy a jar of ordinary popcorn and put some in a paper bag and pop it in the microwave without any special packaging or seasonings. We found that about 1/3 cup of kernels is pretty much equivalent to what you pop in a large bag of microwave popcorn.

DSC_0003

So to use up a few Peeps, we cut one up and put it a bag with the 1/3 cup of popcorn and popped it using the usual microwave popcorn settings. The result was sweetish popcorn, rather like kettle corn.

In our second try, we cut up two Peeps and popped them with the 1/3 cup of popcorn. The result was sweetish popcorn with a caramel coating and was really pretty good.

When you pop corn with 3 Peeps, Peep-fatigue sets in and the marshmallow actually inhibits the popping. Stick with two and you’ll have a nice sweet snack.

 

 

 

Eggs Benedict for a special breakfast

Eggs Benedict for a special breakfast

Eggs Benedict is an easy dish to make, and you probably only need 15 minutes. If you have 30 minutes, you can serve a large household.

What exactly is Eggs Benedict? It is just

  1. A toasted English muffin
  2. Sautéed ham or Canadian bacon
  3. Two poached eggs
  4. Hollandaise sauce

So, what’s so hard here?

A lot of people stumble on poaching eggs, but we’ve already covered two foolproof methods in detail.

Method one: swirling water

vortex

Bring salted water to a boil in a wide 4 quart saucepan. Swirl the water into a little whirlpool in the pan using a whisk. Break each egg into a cup and slip it into the side of the whirlpool. Repeat with the second egg. You can make up to four eggs at a time this way. To make enough for a regiment, see the next section.

The eggs are done when you don’t see any remaining uncooked white. Don’t overcook them to the “golf ball” stage. (This is actually hard to do if you are watching. You’ll see when they are done.

Method two: a kettle of water with salt and vinegar

Fill an eight quart kettle (such as a spaghetti cooker) with water and add ½  cup of salt and ¼ cup of vinegar. Bring to a boil. Break each egg into a cup and slip it into the gently boiling water. The egg will drop to the bottom, and will float back up when it is done. Check it before removing it, as sometimes the “parachute” comes up before the whole egg surfaces.

Keep breaking eggs and slipping them into the pan until everyone’s eggs are cooked. Remove them to a pan of warm water to rinse off the excess salt.

 

Hollandaise

Hollandaise it pretty easy to make. For Eggs Benedict, we use the blender approach, we read the vitamix 5300 vs 6300 review and were pretty surprised.

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 Tb lemon juice
  • ¼ lb (1 stick) butter
  • Salt and a trace of cayenne pepper

Put the 3 egg yolks and the lemon juice in the bowl of the blender and pulse briefly until mixed. Melt the butter in a glass pitcher in a microwave oven for one minute. It should be bubbling. Turn on the blender and immediately pour in the hot butter. It should cook on the spot to a thick creamy sauce. If it is too thin, you can heat it briefly over low heat in a saucepan.

The final dish

Place the sautéed ham or bacon on the toasted and buttered English muffin and place an egg on each half, using a slotted spoon. Pour the creamy Hollandaise over top. Time? About 15 minutes, unless you have an awfully slow stove for boiling the water. Decorate with parsley.

 

Cadbury Cream Eggs Benedict

Cadbury Cream Eggs Benedict

Here it is an Eggs Benedict recipe that uses Cadbury Cream Eggs! And it’s actually pretty good.

Easter and Passover and other spring holidays are a time for fun as well as religious observances, and why not come up with a really silly dessert that everyone will have fun with.

A classic Eggs Benedict is a poached egg on ham or Canadian bacon on an English muffin, topped with Hollandaise sauce. How to replicate this using candy?

The first thing to do is to “crack” the egg. Cadbury eggs are put together as two halves along a seam, and you can easily open one with a sharp knife. Once the egg is open, scoop out the “yolk and white” and put it in a small, buttered dish, and keep it cool in the freezer or refrigerator so it doesn’t soften too much.

melted chocolateThen melt the chocolate halves in a double boiler. Don’t use a microwave, as it is too hot and the remaining cream filling will burn while the chocolate melts. This particular chocolate formulation melts best at a lower temperature. When melted, pour into a small buttered dish so it will cool as a flat disk. Chill it briefly while it hardens.

on HersheysWe had two ideas about the English muffin layer. One was to use a square of white chocolate, and so we tried a square from a Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème candy bar. This looked really cool as you can see in the slide show, but had the disadvantage of being just more chocolate. It is too rich and all sort of the same flavor.

So instead, we decided to call the chocolate disk an English muffin (maybe a whole wheat one) and come up with a ham layer. The best idea was a Fruit Rollup. Yes, they still make them! And a square of strawberry actually looks a bit like ham! And its tartness cuts the sweetness of the “eggs.”

on fruit

So now we have the muffin, the ham and the egg. What to do for the Hollandaise? Marshmallow Peeps come to mind. If you melt yellow Peeps into a little cream, you will have a nice yellow sauce that looks rather like actual Hollandaise!

 

 

Cadbury Cream Eggs Benedict

melting chocolate

  1. For each person, open a Cadbury Egg lengthwise at the seam. Remove the filling with a small spatula or a melon baller, and chill it on a butter plate or bowl.
  2. Melt the egg “shells” in a double boiler and pour each portion into a small butter bowl to harden. Chill until they can be lifted out.
  3. Arrange the chocolate disks on serving plates and cover with a square of strawberry Fruit Rollup. Use other colors if you are feeling particularly weird.
  4. Place the chilled filling on top of each fruit square.
  5. With scissors, cut up three yellow marshmallow Peeps. Place them in a saucepan and add 2 Tb of cream. Heat with stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool so the sauce doesn’t melt the candy.
  6. Spread a couple of tablespoons of this mock Hollandaise on each “egg” and serve at once with a sly grin.
Delicious bagels you can make yourself

Delicious bagels you can make yourself

Really good bagels are hard to find outside of major East Coast cities. So we decided to tackle making our own, starting with Alex Baldinger and Becky Krystal’s recipe published about a year ago in the Washington Post.

There are only a couple of ingredients you need:  King Arthur Bread Flour (available at most supermarkets) and barley malt syrup (which you may have to order). It is this malt syrup that gives bagels their characteristic flavor, so don’t leave it out. Both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry it, however.

The third major ingredient is rapid rise yeast, not the conventional yeast you may have in your cupboard. And it is important that you proof the yeast before using, as age and mishandling may have more or less killed it. Our first package (Bob’s), purchased at Stop and Shop did not foam up at all, nor did the packet we had in our cupboard, dated May, 2017. We bought some new Fleischman’s Rapid Rise to make these bagels.

The overall procedure is pretty simple: mix up the dough, let it rest and roll it into bagels and let them rest in the refrigerator overnight.  Boil them and add toppings. Then bake them on a piece of baking parchment on a baking stone in a 450° F oven.

  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • 337 g warm water at 80° F (this is just under 1 ½ cups)
  • 623 g bread flour (a little under 4 cups)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tb plus 1 tsp barley malt syrup
  • 3 Tb cornmeal for dusting the chilling platter
  1. Mix the yeast, water and sugar and let it stand until it begins to foam. If it doesn’t foam in 5-10 minutes, get new yeast.
  2. Add the flour, salt and malt syrup to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  3. Add the yeast mixture and mix slowly for about 4 minutes, and then at medium speed for about 7 more minutes, until the dough has gathered into a smooth ball.
  4. Sprinkle a small baking sheet with corn meal.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 balls. The WP recipe suggested 4-oz balls, and that made 8 4 -oz balls and one 3-oz ball. So, by simple math, if you make each ball 4.38 oz, you should get 8 dough balls.
  6. Place the balls on the cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  1. Roll each ball between your hands into an 11-inch tube, avoiding letting the ends taper.
  2. Fasten the ends together using a bit of water to press them together.
  3. Cover the incipient bagels with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator overnight, for 12-18 hours.
  1. In the morning, put the baking stone (pizza stone) in the oven and preheat it to 450°F. Let it heat up for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, put a large pan of water on the stove, and boil the bagels, 2-3 at a time for about 30 seconds. Drain them on a rack, and roll them in any toppings you like: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, Kosher salt, minced garlic or minced onion. An “everything” bagel has all these ingredients, plus caraway seeds. Put each topping on a plate and roll the bagel in it.

on peel

  1. Place 3 or 4 bagels on a sheet of baking parchment, on a baking peel or the bottom of a baking sheet, and slide them onto the baking stone.
  2. Bake 12-18 minutes. We baked ours for 14, and while they were delicious we might try adding 2 more minutes next time, as the interiors were a bit softer than we prefer. However, toasting them solved that.

ToppingsThe end result of this project is some of the best bagels we’ve ever made. Our only complaint is how expensive the toppings are at the supermarket, about $5 each. We’d order them in bulk next time. We tried a salt bagel using Diamond Kosher salt, and finding the crystals rather small, we also tried a jar of sea salt, where the crystals were probably too big. We’ll look for salt with a somewhat smaller crystal size next time.

Not only was making these bagels fun for us, it would make a great project for kids as well.

Chicken soup for a cold

Chicken soup for a cold

I went to my doctor yesterday because I had a lingering nasty cold, and came away with a couple of helpful prescriptions and a recommendation from both the doctor and his PA that I be sure to have some chicken soup. Well there have been enough studies to know that chicken soup really does help cold symptoms, and that was all I needed to buy 4 chicken thighs (those ridiculous Franken-thighs where 4 weighed 1.7 lbs) and make some soup.

We had made some chicken pot pies a few weeks ago and had frozen the remaining stock and thus had some really good stock all ready to go.

  1. We pulled out 2 containers of it (about 2-3 quarts) and popped then out of their containers and into the pan of our Instant Pot. We set it on low pressure steam for 5 minutes to thaw the stock.
  2. Then we skinned the thighs and tossed them into the pot, and pressed the Poultry button for 15 minutes cooking.
  3. We pulled the chicken pieces out to cool and decanted the fat from the stock.
  4. When we made our frozen stock, we didn’t remove every bit of fat because it would be fine going into a gravy, but no one wants soup with a greasy mouth feel, so we removed the fat from the stock and from poaching the thighs using a gravy separator. It works by pouring from the bottom of the dish, since the fat floats to the top.

separator

  1. We poured the fat off three batches.
  2. Now to actually make the soup, we cut up
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 large stalk of celery
  1. We added the veggies to the now empty InstantPot bowl along with a Tb or two of butter, and let them sauté until softened.
  2. Then we returned the stock to the pot, along with the cut up chicken.
  3. Then we tossed in the remainder of an open bag of Medium Dutch Maid Egg Noodles (about 5 oz).
  4. We closed the pot and pressed Soup, setting the time down to 10 minutes.
  5. The resulting soup was so beautiful even in the pot we were amazed.

in potIt was even better in a bowl. We served it with a loaf of Wave Hill Bread.

This recipe serves about 4.

Enchiladas, southwest style

Enchiladas, southwest style

Nowadays, you can get all kinds of things named enchiladas, some filled with beef, pork or chicken, or others with downright weird ingredients. We wanted to go back to the enchiladas we had in Arizona which are pretty straightforward, but with the twist that they add a fried egg on top to cut the spiciness.

Of course, spiciness is different for each person, but the idea is the same. You just add some sort of sauce and season it to taste. In our case, we bought soft, premade corn tortillas and two kinds of packaged taco sauce. Neither turned out to be very spicy, so we added some red pepper flakes and some slices of jalapeno.  You can go pretty far into spiciness by picking the right peppers, but since the ones in the supermarket were completely unlabeled, we stuck to jalapenos. However winter jalapenos shipped to Connecticut are pretty mild things.

cheeseHere’s our pretty easy recipe. We used cheddar cheese shredded in our food processor, rather than using a grater or buying the tasteless pre-shredded cheese which has had plenty of time to oxidize on all of its surfaces. You could also use the fairly similar Colby cheese.

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed or minced
  • Taco sauce
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Jalapeno or hotter peppers
  • 4 Corn tortillas
  • 1/3 lb cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 eggs

sauce

  1. Saute the ground beef in a little olive oil. Remove and keep warm.
  2. Saute the onions in the same oil, and add the garlic near the end of the cooking process to keep it from burning.
  3. Drain excess fat from the pan, and add the ground beef and about 1 cup of taco sauce. The bottled sauces have much more body than the powdered ones (like Old El Paso).
  4. Add the pepper flakes and slices of hot peppers to taste.
  5. Heat the tortillas in a pan or on a griddle.
  6. Spoon meat sauce into each tortilla and top with grated cheese.
  7. Add sliced hot peppers and if you like, sliced black olives.
  8. Roll each taco up and place them seam-side down in a baking dish.
  1. Top with more grated cheese and bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the filling heated.
  2. While they are baking, gentry fry the eggs in butter.
  3. Place two tacos on each plate, and top with a fried egg.
  4. Serve at once.

baked

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Recently we were discussing approaches to weight loss with a group of friends in Wilton, and one pointed out that Dr Oz had said that coconut oil was good for weight loss. This seemed surprising since it is an oil made of saturated fats, so we looked into it. You can buy coconut oil  almost everywhere now and from quacks like Dr Mercola.

Dr Oz did indeed endorse coconut oil on a recent show, claiming that unspecified “recent research” said it was good for weight loss, skin conditions and treating ulcers. He didn’t claim it would walk your dog or fold your laundry, but that might be in the next segment.

Dr Oz trained as a medical doctor, and some of his straightforward medical advice can be pretty helpful, but he increasingly has moved to endorse alternative medicine, pseudo-science and even faith healing. Many scientists and physicians feel he has gone completely “over to the dark side,” eschewing science-based medicine for a lot of hokum.

Coconut oil may very well make a good skin treatment, as you often find it in suntan lotions and the like. But there really isn’t much peer-reviewed research to support Oz’s assertions. It has been linked to impaired memory performance in rats. But there are no studies linking coconut oil to the stomach ulcer bacteria h pylori. There are, however, a number of sites hawking coconut oil that make these claims, though.

There is one preliminary study on 20 obese Malaysian males that showed some reduction in waist circumference and another study showing increasing obesity upon ingestion of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Finally there is a study among Filipino women showing that coconut oil improved the lipid profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

However, these are small and preliminary, and no definitive conclusions have been reached. On the web site sharecare.com, the Mt Sinai Medical Center answers a query about coconut oil, suggesting it is unlikely to be useful.

The bottom line, according to the Mayo Clinic and others is this: People on coconut oil diets showed higher arterial fat after just one meal, it can increase cholesterol and, if it is not reducing your caloric intake, coconut oil can actually lead to weight gain.

And the Mayo Clinic web site points out

Although eating coconut oil in moderation for a short-term diet probably won’t harm your health, it may not help you lose weight. And keep in mind that coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than do butter and lard. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

There are some articles on Oz’s web site but mostly by blog contributors, many with only Naturopath training (which is not science based medicine) and even they come back to these same preliminary studies. There is also one by a board certified dermatologist touting essentially the same studies.

The only places strongly touting coconut oil are quack doctor Joe Mercola’s site and the even more suspect site at the Weston A Price Foundation. The paper Mercola appears to be referring to is also the 2009 Brazilian study where 2 groups of volunteers were fed either soybean oil or coconut oil over 12 weeks and instructed to walk 50 minutes a day and follow an otherwise balanced low calorie diet. Both groups lost weight, but HDL (good) cholesterol was higher in the coconut oil group.

In conclusion, there is a bit of preliminary evidence for some benefits,  but since it seems counter-intuitive that eating a high saturated fat diet can help you lose weight, it is probably better to follow the advice of the established experts such as WebMD and the American Heart Association who recommend against it.

 

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut State representative Charles Ferraro has introduced a bill (HB 5759) entitled “AN ACT ESTABLISHING A CONNECTICUT HEALTH FREEDOM AND ACCESS ACT.” In essence, this bill is designed to protect alternative medicine practitioners from being prosecuted for practicing without a license.

Here’s the entire bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That the general statutes be amended to permit a health care provider who is not licensed, certified or registered by the state to provide health care services in the state, provided (1) such provider does not perform surgery, set fractures, perform any other procedure on any person that punctures or harmfully invades the skin, prescribe or administer x-rays, prescribe or administer drugs, devices or controlled substances for which a prescription by a licensed health care provider is required, perform chiropractic adjustment of the articulations of joints or the spine or hold out himself or herself as licensed, certified or registered by the state, and (2) such provider makes certain disclosures regarding his or her unlicensed, uncertified or unregistered status to anyone seeking his or her health care services.

Statement of Purpose:

To provide the public access to practitioners providing health care services with appropriate consumer protections.

In other words, an unlicensed health care provided can practice his quackery without fear of prosecution despite the fact that none of their practices are supported by any science.

If you doubt the bill’s intent, look at statements by NationalHealthFreedom.org. They describe this as

a bill that protects access to the thousands of traditional, complementary and alternative health care practitioners (such as homeopaths, herbalists, energy healers, and more) who are providing great services to health seekers in Connecticut.

Now let us remember that

Alternative medicine is made of up things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If they worked, we would call them medicine.

This bill does nothing but exempt quacks scamming the public with pseudo-science from being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. These charlatans do a great deal of damage by persuading people that they can actually provide science-based medicine when they are actually talking utter nonsense and taking money from the gullible.

The fact that millions of people seek out care from alternative health providers is no evidence that any such treatments actually work. In fact, there is no such evidence. Homeopaths, naturopaths, aroma therapists, herbalists, energy healers and crystal wavers are selling arm waving nonsense for which no scientific studies exists. This also applies to acupuncturists, who may or may not be covered by this outrageously stupid bill. There is also no evidence that acupuncture works.

It should be worth noting that the Organic Consumers Association, an industry funded lobbying group for organic food providers, supports this bill, which demeans both the bill and the lobbying group.

If you live in Connecticut, contact your legislators and tell them  that this “safe harbor” bill protects dangerous quacks from being held responsible for their nonsensical practices. Alternative medicine is bunk.

 

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose has been in Wilton since 2011, although their building has suffered through two plumbing related floods that closed them in 2015 and again in 2016. They were able to retain their staff during this most recent shut-down and we went back to see how they’ve evolved.  In 2011, they started with a fairly elaborate menu, but when we revisited in 2013, their menu has been simplified, along with their service.

However, when we visited Saturday evening (always a challenging night for restaurants) the service was excellent. We had two servers, one who provided water and drink orders, and one who took the food order. Other staff delivered the food, but all of them were pleasant and hard working and genuinely interested in whether you were happy with your food. We arrived about 6:15, and by 7 pm, the restaurant was lively and very busy. But the service did not flag.

Our table was set with two square plates that might have been for some sort of appetizer. However, they weren’t for bread, as none was provided or on the menu. They eventually cleared them when our appetizers arrived.

There are now about 10 dinner entrees, priced from $19 to $29, some of them with a Southwestern theme such as fish tacos, black skillet fajitas, lobster enchiladas, and tequila chicken, as well as salmon, blackened tilapia, paella, baby back ribs, steak frites, littleneck clams and grilled vegetables on a mushroom risotto.

The appetizers included their “most interesting clams,” steamed in Dos Equis, and as we recall, it is very good. They also offer a number of appetizers ($7-$17) including taco and nachos, seared shrimp, lobster quesadilla, seared wild shrimp, and a number of salads ($7-$15).

In addition, they offered a separate menu card of “specials,” including carrot and ginger soup and grilled calamari appetizers, and Seared Prime Filet Mignon ($35), Wild Chilean Sea Bass ($35), Seared Lamb Chops ($30) and Organic Half Chicken ($23).

It is interesting to note that the specials were for the most part more expensive than the main menu items, except for the chicken which apparently had a number of takers. We generally don’t order chicken out because we have it so much at home, and try to avoid any dish labeled “organic,” which is just an excuse to raise the price on dishes that are otherwise identical to conventional ones.

beetsFor our appetizers, we chose the beet salad with candied walnuts, goat cheese,
arugula, cilantro, balsamic glaze ($9). They were happy to omit the cilantro in our portion. While the salad was good, there were more beets there than anyone needed, and we didn’t finish it.

quesadillaOur other appetizer was the Lobster Quesadilla ($17) which was four filled tortilla halves with goat cheese and lobster. There was also a side of some related cheese and some chopped tomatoes (pico de gallo). While there was indeed lobster in every quesadilla, the cheese dominated, and the result was a very filling appetizer that we didn’t finish.

We decided to splurge and order the Sea Bass shown at the top of the article, ($35) served with sautéed spinach and everybody’s favorite trendy vegetable, quinoa, along with a brown sage butter sauce. The fish was a huge tall piece, moist and with a bit of browned skin, but it was essentially unadorned and not all the flavorful.  And the mixture of spinach and quinoa into a sort of risotto was decidedly weird. It didn’t work very well.

Our other entrée were the Lobster Enchiladas ($29) which was really quite spicy, overpowering the lobster flavor. Incidentally, the presentation and amount of spicy sauce has changed substantially since our 2013 visit. This version had bell peppers, onions, jack cheese and chipotle cream sauce. Again, this was too filling to finish.

Their dessert menu was recited, and included crème brulee, churros, cookies, and a few other things, but none tempted us after this filling meal.

cotton-candyThey do still provide a little complimentary puff of cotton candy in a mason jar to finish the meal, and this will undoubtedly impress young diners.

Overall, the staff was uniformly friendly and the service very good. But the food could have been better, we think, and in this sort of menu, less is more. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine and tax, but before tip was $140.

facade