August 25, 2009

Fat Tax

Here is an interesting article about a so-called "fat tax": If you don't wish to read it, it is a proposal floating around the various political circles to place a tax on unhealthy food. This is not a new idea. The UK published a study on this, and if you simply google "fat tax" you will find scads of information.

To me, this idea has merit. Currently our political system is embroiled in a heated discussion on revamping the health care system. Whether it fails or passes, either way Americans will spend billions a year on health care. I strongly believe that a great deal of our country's ills are caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD), and we would not be in this mess if we stuck with wholesome and healthy foods, got a little exercise, and curbed our drinking and smoking. There are plenty of studies that back up these thoughts (two books recently reviewed, for instance: In Defense of Food & The Jungle Effect).

Back in the 50's and 60's smoking was as common as breathing. Not only was it a satisfying habit, it was deemed "cool". You can't watch an old movie and not be amazed at the amount of smoking that went on. But now, smoking has been condemned by society in large, and the government has a tax on tobacco products to help pay for the health problems associated with smoking.

The same has been proposed for "junk food". I think in order for this idea to fly, junk food must attain the same social condemnation as tobacco has, and I believe this trend is slowly gaining ground. There is a huge amount of evidence piling up against high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, refined and over-processed foods, preservatives, and GMO farming.

One complaint cited against this idea is the burden it will place on the poor, who are the biggest consumers of cheap, unhealthy food. To me, this argument makes no sense. If the goal is to provide an incentive to dissuade people from eating this food, don't you have to, uh, provide an incentive? Just telling people they are killing themselves doesn't work. Money is a much more powerful incentive, because as a nation we are both greedy and cheap. If sodas and packaged foods are more expensive, maybe people will start looking at cheaper drinks like tea and cheaper foods like whole foods.

Personally, I believe this measure will fail. The corn lobby (creators of HFCS and those idiotic commercials) is too powerful. Plus, there are still too many ignorant people with loud voices in this country. They view the tax as a punishment. But taxes are not a punishment; they pay for government services, like health care.

Perhaps a better approach to a fat tax is a "reverse tax" on healthy food. For instance, government can subsidize healthy fruit and vegetables and other organics. Perhaps also the government can stop subsidizing the huge corn and soy industries, which are the main producers of our junk food.

Fail or not, it is heartening to see a fat tax proposal even come to light. There is still hope that someday Americans will stop poisoning themselves and their environment. I just hope it happens in my lifetime.

August 24, 2009

Monster Chips

If I have one junk food vice, it's chips. Yeah, potato chips are okay, but I get sick of them real quick. My obsession is with tortilla chips. I can eat them with guacamole, salsa, or just plain. I love the simple corn flavor with a hint of salt.

Most store bought brands are way too salty, and the salt-free versions are too boring. And all of them are too expensive. So I make my own. For $0.80 I can get a bag of 12 corn tortillas. I oil these, season them to my liking, grill them to perfection, and snack on them all week.

I leave them whole because they are easier to prepare and cook (less flipping), and it is easier to stick a couple of these into my lunch bag. Due to their size, I call them "Monster Tortilla Chips". You can break them into bite size pieces, or put a topping on them, like salsa, beans, etc to make a little crispy pizza.

Monster Tortilla Chips


bag of corn tortillas
2-3 T olive oil
seasonings to taste


1. Get your grill going. Pour olive oil into a small bowl.

2. On a plate, lightly brush each tortilla with oil on both sides. On the second side, sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili powder, sesame seeds, whatever you like. Stack them up as you go.

3. Place tortillas on the grill in a single layer. Cover and cook a few minutes. Flip several times while cooking and keep a close eye on them. They will burn quickly. Just as they begin to brown, remove them back to the plate. Repeat for all chips. Allow to cool before storing. They will crisp up more as they cool.

August 17, 2009

Bean Sprout and Vinegar Salad

On my sister blog, High Plains Harvest, I have an article on growing sprouts. I've been making sprouts off an on for about a year. The most popular sprouts I make are mung bean and alfalfa sprouts. Not that I know much what to do with them, though.

While reading Dr. Miller's Jungle Effect (previously reviewed), I found a sprout recipe that I recently tried. This dish is excellent and I reproduce it here (without permission, but I am plugging her book). Be sure to use the sesame oil, even though it is such a small amount; that little bit goes a long way and it really makes the dish delicious. You can eat this dish cold, hot, or room temperature.

Bean Sprout and Vinegar Salad

Optionally, you can add 2 cups of shredded carrot or daikon radish.


5 c mung bean sprouts
¼ c rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 T dark sesame oil
1 t sugar


1. Boil a pot of water. Add the bean sprouts and boil for 1 minute.

2. Drain and add vinegar, soy sauce, oil, and sugar. Stir well.

August 13, 2009

Quinoa with Green Beans

Here is yet another quinoa recipe. This is paired with green beans, which typically overpower any dish they are in. But with the tomato and herbs, the green beans are muted into submission to make a well-balanced and flavorful dish. This is another pressure cooker dish, so adjust directions and cook times accordingly if you want to cook this in a regular pot.

Quinoa With Green Beans


1 c water
1 c quinoa, well washed and drained
¾ lb fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 c roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlice, minced
¾ t salt
1 T olive oil
½ c fresh basil, minced
1 T lemon juice


1. Bring the water to a boil in the pressure cooker. Add the quinoa, green beans, tomatoes, garlic, and salt.

2. Lock the lid in place and bring to high pressure. Maintain for 1 minute. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 10 minutes and quick release any remaining pressure.

3. Stir in the olive oil and basil. Add the lemon juice and fluff before serving.

August 10, 2009

Banana Poppy Seed Bread

Quick breads are not my favorite. They are usually crumbly and have that distinctive baking powder taste. However, this is by far the best banana bread I've ever had. It is a great way to use up old bananas that are past their prime. Although this recipe could be gluten free, I don't bother because my wife is allergic to bananas anyway, so there is no need to make it gluten free.

Banana Poppy Seed Bread


1 c mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium)
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c milk
3 T vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 T poppy seeds
1/2 t ground cinnamon
vegetable cooking spray


1. Combine the bananas and sugar in a bowl; stir well. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in milk, oil, and egg; set the mixture aside. 

2. Combine all-purpose flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Make a well in center of mixture; add banana mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. 

3. Spoon batter into 8 1/2"x 4 1/2"x 3" loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool on a rack. 

August 3, 2009

The Jungle Effect

The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World is a wonderfully written book that echoes much of the same sentiment and thoughts that have pervaded the health circles for several years now. Michael Pollan, a journalist, wrote a similar book called In Defense of Food (previously reviewed here). Pollan did what journalists do best: he researched and interviewed and did more research to come to his conclusions. Then he threw in some of his own thoughts and theories for good measure.

But the author of The Jungle Effect, Dr. Daphne Miller, gathers her materials not only from research and interviews, but also from direct experience and working with her patients. Her approach is unique because she visited "cold spots" all over the world and observed their diets. Cold spots are pockets of people that are virtually free of the many debilitating diseases that plague America today: Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, depression, etc.

The cold spots, incidentally, are fairly remote or at least far-removed from modern society. The upshot of this is that the reach of the McDonalds and Coca Cola empires have not quite reached them. Areas include an Amazonian village in Peru, Crete, Iceland, Cameroon, Okinawa, Iceland, and a Indian village in Mexico.

You can probably see this coming, since I harp on it constantly, but Dr Miller's conclusions are that those cultures that eat local, whole foods, and who avoid the incursion of American "junk" food, have little to no cases of the so-called Western Illnesses. I'll repeat that in case you missed it: they have little to no Western illnesses.

Makes you stop and think.

Gosh, could it be that those Twinkies and Colas and hormone-injected cows are what's making us all sick? Is it possible that all those chemicals in my Sugar-Frosted Coco Bombs cereal are not good for us? Is it conceivable that plants doused in pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers are having a negative effect on our health?

The theories posited years ago certainly made sense, and now the evidence is mounting up. Americans need to wake up and smell the fake food for what it really is: poison. The human body cannot withstand a steady stream of unnatural food. It's, uh, unnatural. The cultures Dr. Miller visited all eat different foods, but they shared one thing in common: their diets were completely devoid of tons of sugar and salt, drugged up meat, processed food, and preservatives. All these things are hallmarks of the American diet, and all these things are absent in the cold spots' diets.

Dr. Miller writes almost apologetically as she recommends that people cook more food from scratch. I'm not as tactful as she, so I'll put it this way: People need to switch off their reality TV shows, get off their arses, amble into the kitchen and cook some real food!

Dr. Miller does readers an immense favor by providing numerous recipes from her travels in the back of the book. These recipes are simple and healthy; meaning they will likely taste awful to most Americans. But once you wean your palate off sugar and salt, things start to have some flavor and they actually taste good.

I found Dr. Miller's writing style quite easy to read and clear. For a doctor, she has a knack for explaining medical concepts in layman's terms. But most of all, I can really sense the care and attention she gives to her patients and this book. She's not out to make a quick buck touting the latest and greatest diet fad. She is genuinely trying to help cure this country and reverse 50+ years of damage done by the various non-caring food industries.

This book deserves a place on your bookshelf because it reads like three different books: It's a book about nutrition, a recipe book, and a travel book. Most would not dream of traveling to Iceland or Peru, but it fascinating to read about someone else doing it.