The Quinoa Craze: Doing More Harm than Good?

January 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

For the last few years I have been an avid quinoa consumer. I like to keep my meat consumption low, and quinoa seemed like a great substitution. I love those earthy little grains packed with protein.  My college roommates can advocate that I ate a bowl of quinoa, beans and kale every night for dinner (girl on a budget!). Sometimes I would stray from the stirfry, a favorite being Joy The Baker’s Lemon, Olive and Parsley Quinoa Cakes. Major yum.

But this article that was sent to me the other day may very likely change my eating habits. It addresses the issues surrounding our importation of this Peruvian miracle grain that has taken the United States by storm. Our quinoa craze has made those in Peru and Bolivia quite food insecure. The cost of quinoa has risen, elevating it out of the price range for those in its country of origin where it has been a staple in their diet. Purchasing imported junk food is becoming more cost effective for poor families in these countries. As the article mentions, it is another example of a north-south exchange and how damaging that trade can be.

For me, this article brings up the concern of external costs. There are external costs to whatever we put in our bodies, posing the question: is there really one right way to eat? If it is processed foods or sugary drinks packed with high fructose corn syrup that is so abundant due to subsidized corn, then we are talking about the cost of our health due to the three big ones: obesity, diabetes and heart disease. If it is imported quinoa we consume to curb our high rates of meat consumption, then its the cost of labor and food security in the regions we import the grain from. As the article points out, our demand for quinoa has pushed the price up to the point where many Peruvians cannot even afford to purchase quinoa anymore, having once been a staple in their diet.

We tend not to think about external costs when the foods have such positive connotations. Quinoa has become all the rage for those who want to rid themselves of a guilty conscious.  The earthy grain almost seemed too good to be true, and this article is proving that might just be the case. If anything, it shows that we have developed a very complex food system, in which there may ultimately be no right answer to how we should eat.

How can we embody both a fair and healthy diet? And do we have to choose between the two? It most certainly shouldn’t be so.


I’m Back in the Game!

December 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hello Readers (Are any of you left? It’s been a minute)

My last post was a false promise. I tried to get back into writing over the summer and it was quite short lived. I continued my hiatus for the rest of the summer, and it was filled with family BBQs, backyard fires, beach trips with roadside hot dogs and games of ladder ball. Along with the endless (but very exciting!) networking that comes hand in hand with an undergraduate degree. All of a sudden your world becomes much larger. You get new ideas, new priorities – places to see, people to stay in touch with, work to fulfill you and give purpose to the last four years. The awkward phone informational interview. Elevator speeches. Realizing that no matter how meticulously you construct your post-grad plans, life has a way of sneaking up on you and shaking things up. That’s ok too, we’re just going with it.

Anyways! Let’s get back to food. This blog used to be a space for my Food Health and Media class. I am now reconstructing it into a space where I can bring up different food issues as they come up in the news and in my own life, and hopefully we can engage in a conversation.

It’s great to be back! Expect more very soon.

Broaden Your Food News Horizon!

June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hello! I took a brief hiatus from the blogging world after I graduated last month.  The last four weeks have been filled with short trips, interviews, meetings, and time relaxing.

As I dive into the job hunt, I have come across several great food news sources of which I thought I’d share:

1. HuffPost Food – a staple in my daily morning routine

2. Civil Eats – a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system, founded in 2009

3. Appetite for Profit – Michele Simon’s blog, focused on the food industry and public health issues (I am currently reading her book – for anyone interested in Public Health issues surrounding food and nutrition – read this!)

4. Food Politics – Marion Nestle’s blog, a very similar feel to Appetite for Profit, and one of my food policy gurus

and of course, my favorite food blogs: Joy the Baker, How Sweet Eats, and Kath Eats Real Food


Happy reading!

Reflecting on the Blogging Experience

May 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week I created a word cloud for my blog.  A word cloud is a compilation the most frequently used words in a piece of writing, displaying the ones used most often the largest.

I noticed that my word cloud depicted several different layers of my blogs context. The largest words were the most obvious: ‘food,’ ‘Five Guys,’ and ‘burgers.’ These are the words that are most directly related to the context in which I have been observing health and consumption patterns.

The second layer of words reflected more on how my personal interests shaped my blog content. Words appeared such as health, choices, calories, healthy, consumer, information, article, advertisements, local, and eating.  These words, in my opinion, reflect the direction in which I chose to steer the focus of my blog.

The words in my wordcloud depict an accurate representation of my personal opinions regarding the connection between food, health and the media.  It isn’t easy to obtain the information necessary to guide you to make healthy food choices.  Every day we are bombarded with food advertisements, labels with inaccurate health claims, and countless articles about which foods are “good” and which are “bad.” I was able to take these concepts and apply them to my observations at Five Guys.

Throughout this past semester I have tried my best to become a more critical and educated consumer.  My time at Five Guys has without a doubt helped me with this, and it is apparent in one of my most recent posts: “The Transparency Trajectory.”  The first time I went to Five Guys, I noticed the sign informing customers of where their potatoes come from.  It gave me a sense of comfort to know this one piece of information about my food.  Then, several weeks ago I realized that the sign had not changed in at least a month. I started thinking, is this piece of information enough? What good is it to know where it comes from, if you don’t know how it is grown? I became more skeptical, and quickly realized that I am now a consumer that needs more information in order to feel comfortable with my food purchases.

I am confident that, going forward, I will be a more conscious consumer because of this experience. One thing I have noticed over the past several months is that I have developed a heightened awareness of consumption patterns and consumer behavior in my every day life.  Without my time spent observing health and consumption patterns at Five Guys, I doubt I would have found myself asking these types of questions.

WP 5/8

Is Government Involvement in the American Diet a Threat to Consumer Freedom?

April 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

Over the past two decades, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in obesity rates. Currently 35.7% of U.S. adults and 17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese.  With these shocking rates of not only overweight Americans, but obese ones, a debate has emerged over how much say the government should have in the American diet.

I believe that the government should do everything in its power to guide Americans to make healthy choices.  It should be their role to assure that healthy food is affordable and accessible.  Subsidies on corn and soy have made calorie-dense processed foods inexpensive. Many low-income families do not feel as though they have other options.  It should be the government’s responsibility to make healthy food more affordable to expand consumer options.  That being said, America is a free country, and we are still free to make our own choices.

Let’s talk subsidies.  Through subsidizing certain crops, the government is already controlling what we put in our bodies. According to an analysis done at NYU on subsidies and “specialty crops,” the top 5 subsidized crops, corn, soy, wheat, rice and cotton, collectively account for 90% of all subsidy payments. Corn, soy, wheat and rice account for two-thirds of the total calories consumed in the United States. Most of the sugars and fats found in processed foods come from corn and soy that has been converted into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and hydrogenated vegetable oil.  As Michael Pollan puts it, about a quarter of foods found in the supermarket contain some form of corn.  These subsidies are of course making processed foods cheaper.  Not only that, but these processed foods actually contrast with the recommendations for healthy eating set forth in the USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Sugar consumption is a hot topic right now when it comes to this issue.  Two physicians at the University of California, San Francisco argue that societal control of sugar is essential to ease the public health burden. They strongly believe that sugar should be controlled similarly to alcohol and tobacco to protect consumer health. In describing their approach, they said, “we’re not talking prohibition…we’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose.”  Their goal is to increase people’s choices by making healthier options more affordable, and thereby steering consumption away from sugar-loaded processed foods.

There are, of course, two sides to the coin. An ongoing debate online showed that when posed with the question “Should Governments have a say in our diet?” 15% said yes, and 85% said no. Those who answered ‘yes’ posed arguments including the fact that obesity and chronic disease are draining healthcare dollars, and overweight or obese Americans are putting their lives and their children’s lives at danger. On the other side of the spectrum, many people posted counter argument saying that ultimately, what we eat is a personal choice. One person argued that it isn’t about what we eat, but how much, saying that portion control is key. Many said the government has enough control as it is.

The question of government involvement in the American diet is a complex one.  Rates of obesity have reached dangerous levels all over the country, and whether it be government involvement or another measure, something’s gotta give.  Still, the government should do everything in their power to ensure the Americans know what they are eating and know how it affects them.

WP 4/27

Chipotle is Comin’ to Town

April 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

There is a Chipotle opening up in the space next to Five Guys on Shelburne Rd. Frequently when I am conducting my observations, the workers from next door will come into Five Guys to get a drink or use the bathroom. They seem to have a nice relationship with the employees at Five Guys.

Chipotle is praised amongst fast food chains as a model for the future of fast food.  Even food guru Michael Pollan thinks so. In an interview with the Denver Post, saying, “Chipotle does some really good things around sustainability – it’s all fresh, they cook it there. Now on the other hand it’s very high-calorie food. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

The home page of their website boasts: “It’s not just a burrito. It’s a foil-wrapped, hand-crafted, local farm supporting, food culture changing cylinder of deliciousness.”  If they’re going for sustainability, they’re hitting the nail on the head.

Five Guys makes several health claims when it comes to the food, such as the statement on the menu reading “Our fries are cooked in pure, no cholesterol, tasty peanut oil!”  But they are lacking in the sustainability department.

So my question is, what will this new Chipotle do to Five Guys? Which will people think is the healthier decision? Do sustainability claims outweigh health claims? Or vice versa?

For consumers, comparing the two may be like comparing apples to oranges – burgers and burritos. The food is very different, but I believe their message is the same. While both Five Guys and Chipotle are active players in the fast food market, their food is somehow different than the age old McDonalds, Burger King, or Taco Bell.

FN 4/16

The Transparency Trajectory

April 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

As I sat at Five Guys last week eating my burger, my attention was brought to the white board by the soda machines: Today’s potatoes are from Blackfoot, ID – Laverelle, Stecklein. The sign hasn’t changed for at least a month.

This got me thinking. On my first trip to Five Guys at the beginning of the semester, the sight of this sign brought the foodie inside of me some comfort. I enjoyed knowing where the potatoes I was consuming had hailed from. In this case, they seem to always be from farms in Indiana. Buy why did this one piece of information bring a sliver of satisfaction and reassurance to my burger consumption?

On the surface, the answer is simple: I enjoy knowing where my food comes from. But is it enough just to know the location? What about the type of farm? Are they organic, or conventional? Are they GMO crops? Are the working conditions ethical?

All of these questions are ones that I ask based on my own personal consumption preferences and personal health paradigm.  But how transparent is too transparent? I read an article this week in the Huffington Post titled Food Republic: 6 Ingredients You May Not Want in Your Food.  No matter how health conscious you try to be in your food choices, there will always be some elements that slip through the cracks. How much do we really want to know about what we are putting in our bodies? After reading the one on raspberry flavoring, I’m not so sure.

If you look at any ingredient list, there is bound to be some names you do not recognize, and trying to remember all of the bad stuff out there will soon give you a headache. Michael Pollan always says that you should never consume a product that lists more than five ingredients. How realistic is that today in our food world? And do we really want to know what is in everything we are eating?

FN 4/9