We Are What We Eat

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Food and Drink, Science | Posted on 12-12-2008


by David Brooks

Someone once said, “You are what you eat.” They were correct. Unfortunately, we have become a nation that should be wearing yellow and red suits, big red shoes, and answer to the name Ronald. We all know the general trend in America has been to eat more, eat poorly, add unwanted pounds, which cause health problems that diminish the quality of life, etc, etc, etc. 

Recently food producers and consumers have been providing momentum to the health and wellness trend. Food manufacturers are the first step in wellness adoption, and consumers have been driving profound changes in how today’s food and beverage products are formulated, packaged, and sold.

Food is used as fuel for the body and pleasure for the tongue. People are learning that nothing will affect their health as significantly as what they put in their bodies. The Hartman Group has been tracking the shifts occurring in American’s food consumption for the past twenty years. In the late 20th century, consumers began to reject products they considered sugary or salty. The term ‘junk food’ was coined and attributed to items high in salt, sugar, or fat. Packaging began providing options such as “low fat,” “low sodium,” “fat-free,” and “sugar-free”

Now in the 21st century consumers have begun to take back there personal health and nutrition through better food and, unfortunately, a new found fondness for food additives. Research shows that more and more consumers are deliberately adding ingredients and nutrients to their daily diet. A recent wellness study concluded that the following ingredients are being added regularly by a substantial percent of the population:

  • 70% add fiber
  • 68% add Calcium
  • 61% add Protein
  • 59% add Whole Grains
  • 55% add Olive oil
  • 50% add antioxidants
  • 41% add fish oil or Omega 3 oils
  • 40% add Oat Bran

In the long term consumers want foods that will help them manage weight, lower cholesterol, fight cancer, and extend life. Whole grain breads, high fiber yogurt, brown rice are all good ideas and all beneficial. The one thing all have in common is additives and preservatives. 

In an effort to keep folks growing gardens naturally and organically I will leave you with this last bit of information. Preservatives have what are called negative organoleptic properties brought on by the metallic taste of some additives. Things with names like; potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and calcium chloride have a flavor, and it is not a pleasant flavor. Ingredients are actually added to ingredients to block acidity, bitterness, and astringency. Researchers want consumers to have a pleasant ‘taste event.’ These events have a beginning, middle, and end. Good R & D teams concern themselves with the full spectrum of the experience. So, food is enhanced with additives, which are protected with preservatives, which are flavor masked with more additives so the consumer can have a pleasant experience.

Read the back of any package in your cabinet and it will encourage you to get your shovels sharpened and the seeds ordered. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may God bless you and your gardens in the coming year.

Buy Less, Buy Local, Buy Well

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Finances, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 01-12-2008


by Tricia Dameron

How is it that a country with such pride—heck, we’re proud about how much pride we have—has become so dependent on other countries? Somehow the pride is ignored or repressed as we pass through the big-box sliding doors. Why is this acceptable? How did we get here?

My brain has been assaulted by these questions for the last few days. I know the basic answer: it’s more profitable for U.S. corporations to set up shop in countries with a cheap and plentiful workforce and meaningless or nonexistent environmental and occupational safety standards. Americans demand cheap products, so we export the external costs of our voracious appetite for stuff. Every time we purchase these products we are saying, “I approve this behavior. In fact, let me encourage it.”

I have little appetite for something I used to enjoy—shopping. On Black Friday my mom and I were walking around Hobby Lobby. I could not find a single item that was made in the United States. I laughed at the irony of a pack of red, white, and blue stickers with patriotic sayings like, “America be proud!” The tiny words on the label read “Made in Taiwan.” As I walked around earnestly searching for something, anything, made in the US, I thought of the anthem by James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make it Here.”

That big ol’ building was the textile mill that fed our kids and it paid our bills
     But they turned us out and they closed the doors
     We can’t make it here anymore


I’ll stop lamenting about my trip to Hobby Lobby, though, and start seeking out alternatives. I suspect the classic “vote with your dollar” saying still applies. When my husband and I first joined the Oklahoma Food Co-op, our orders would be about $25-$50. Three years later, the monthly orders constitute the majority of our grocery budget. To accommodate for increased food expenses, we decided to cut back in other areas because supporting local farmers and eating clean food is a high priority. Now we need to attempt to make sustainability a priority in all our purchases. Part of this is buying less. But we all need stuff at some point. You can dumpster dive, buy or trade on Craigslist, or buy used. Another option to consider is supporting local businesses and buying handmade. On December 6th in Oklahoma City, there will be an opportunity to support both at the Deluxe Indie Craft Bazaar. All of the 50+ vendors are Oklahomans and all items are handmade. If you can’t make it to Deluxe, you can always shop local and support crafters on Etsy and the Co-op (where there is more than food). There will certainly be exceptions and missteps, but overall, when I need something I’ll look to these alternatives. I’ve already found that my perceived “needs” can be moderated based on what’s available. I believe we can incite change with our purchasing decisions.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has compiled the top ten reasons to support local businesses:

Local Character and Prosperity
Community Well-Being
Local Decision-Making
Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Jobs and Wages
Public Benefits and Costs
Environmental Sustainability
Product Diversity

Do you have anything to add to their list? Have you tried to avoid purchasing anything in particular? What factors inform your purchases?

Financial Trends—Food Trends

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Family, Finances, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Social Justice | Posted on 26-10-2008


by David Brooks

Americans have watched in awe as the financial markets have taken a rollercoaster ride that few expected, or knew how to handle. Families are making adjustments in spending so their paychecks will make it to month’s end. It is not surprising that how well a family eats is more and more based on finances instead nutritional choices. The reason is simple; food is purchased with the families’ finances and finances are struggling. 

One thing we know for sure is that no matter what the state of the economy people are going to eat. Unfortunately, money is often the determining factor in the quality of food that is chosen. From the corporate side we know that when money is tight people select less expensive food that tends to fill them up.  This trend is what makes the sale of Chips, white bread, and pasta increase while the sales of lean meat, fresh produce, and healthy beverages decline. The trend is also apparent in the restaurant business. Sit-down restaurants see their business slow while restaurants with a drive through show strength. Steak gives way to Pizza in tough financial times. However, during the 3rd quarter of 2008, even the fast food groups showed a decline in customer count as well as a decline in the revenue going through the registers.

If this recession continues, those that thought about a garden in 2008 will probably start digging in 2009. The families that worked hard this summer planting, gathering, freezing and canning, will have the opportunity to eat well, and healthily, through the tough times. 

The company I work for partners with the Regional Food Banks of Oklahoma to supply food for kids that do not eat well, or at all, from school lunch Friday until school breakfast on Monday. These kids are now receiving a backpack on Friday with a weekend’s supply of nutritional food that needs no preparation. The number currently receiving backpacks on Friday is a little over 11,000. The waiting list has grown from 2,000 to 7,000 this school year. It is a sign that people are struggling and that next year more families should read this blog, and consider growing a garden.

The food business is constantly monitoring and even attempting to change the food trends in the world. I thought you might like to see what the pundits are saying about the expected trends for 2009:

•    In marketing terms, “organic” has gone mainstream. “Local” will be the term for 2009. Consumers want to know where their food came from and restaurants are beginning to brag about local sourcing. Hence the growth in farmers markets, and community supported agriculture.

•    Unfortunately, the ideal of from-scratch cooking has been set aside for convenience and speed. Encouraged by pre-made sauces, frozen entrees and other conveniences, people will be buying, or assembling, many of their meals. Cost will be high for such convenience.

•    As eco-sensitivity has grown, consumers have questioned whether eating organic grapes from Chile is a particularly “green” choice. In the future, people will want to know how far their food traveled, and the closer the better.

•    There is a chance that “local” will see the same dilution that “organic” has seen once the big box retailers get involved. There were so many labels claiming organic origins in 2008 that consumers doubted the validity.

•    Another predicted trend is the growth of vegetarianism. Deborah Madison’s book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” was re-released recently after having sold over 300,000 copies.

•    Watch for a rating system that will keep score of the “good-for-you-ness” of food.

•    Expect more from probiotics, a fancy word meaning friendly bacteria that is good for the gut. So far yogurt is the expected source, but soon to hit the market will be: cheeses, supplements, milk, and even chocolates.

•    Functional Water (vitamins and minerals added) will continue to be the rage.

•    As companies try to make products more healthful, notice that “low-“ a favored prefix for calories, salt and fat will be replaced by “crunchy” and “crispy.” Some products will taste bad, but apparently they will be fun to chew.

•    Last but not least, the trend for America to become even more obese is expected to increase. As consumers purchase foods that fill the belly but are not necessarily healthy, this trend is a natural result of these financial times.

The world food supply is still strong. Distribution, or lack of it, is why parts of the world remain hungry. It is no surprise to people reading this blog that good food is still grown in the backyard, and food laced with chemicals we can’t pronounce, or explain their function, is the primary item on the grocer’s shelf. 

Should these financial troubles continue—and they will—we should all grow more, and share with others at the local farmer’s market. Sometimes good ideas actually do catch on.

One last note: “locavore” was chosen as WORD OF THE YEAR by the New Oxford American Dictionary. It means one who eats locally grown food. 

Corporate Food Products: The Other Side of Buying Local

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Food and Drink, Locavore | Posted on 29-08-2008


by David Brooks

I must admit it makes me a little nervous to be contributing to a site that encourages people to grow backyard gardens and support their local coops. My background is in the big bad world of corporate food production. We are the ones that occasionally let e-coli get into the supply chain, or let salmonella get into poultry products. Because of the large corporate food producing entities, you did not have tomatoes on hamburgers this summer and went without Jalapenos on tacos in July. 

Here is the honest truth. My wife and I shop at farmers markets and gladly cook the garden produce our kids provide. We make our own bread and search the local grocers for the things grown in the area. In reality it would be difficult, if not impossible, to grow enough food, meat, dairy and fruit to be self-sufficient. So, the grocery store is a big part of our lives and our food supply. I won’t suggest where to shop, but there are differences in price, cleanliness, selection and which store supports the local farmers.  Next time you are in your grocery store of choice, ask the produce manager if they buy locally. They will gladly tell you what they buy locally and let you know when more is coming in.

The phrase ”buying locally grown food” is usually associated with produce and dairy. In the year 2000, six local food manufacturers set out to change that.  The Made-In-Oklahoma Coalition (MIO) was formed to create consumer awareness of the locally grown and produced food products in Oklahoma. As one of the founding members I must admit the program was designed as a way to share in marketing expenses and reduce advertising cost by purchasing larger print ad blocks and scheduling more TV and radio flights. However, the cost of fuel, the concern about carbon footprints, and the fear of product contamination has now become a major part of selling products nationwide. We now try to ship shorter distances and keep control of the raw materials.

MIO has now grown to 35 companies. The members range from small companies that sell only a few items, to multi-million dollar producers. Combined MIO companies employ over 18,000 people and have sales revenue of over $2.7 billion.  Here is how we contribute to local sustainability. The major food distribution systems in Oklahoma are located in Oklahoma City. Over 60% of the food MIO companies produce travels less than 60 miles to the distribution point. That is a very small ratio of transportation calories per food calorie. Our companies strive to manufacture using products grown or raised locally. Our companies use Oklahoma beef, pork, poultry, wheat and dairy products. All are shipped short distances for production and packaging and then returned to local tables. Why buy flour produced in a mill in Nebraska when Shawnee Mills is only 30 miles from Oklahoma City? The best mustard available is produced in Muskogee by Griffin. Head Country Barbecue Sauce now commands 72% of the Oklahoma market and is produced in Ponca City. Bar-S operates 5 manufacturing facilities in Oklahoma and out sells all other hot dogs by very large margins. These are just a few of the businesses producing quality food products right here in Oklahoma.

To learn more about these and other genuine Oklahoma products please visit: miocoalition.com. You will find a complete list of MIO companies, recipes, and products that can be purchased on-line from our individual members.

This is my first blog, so be kind to the guy from corporate, and on your next trip to the grocery store look for products made in Oklahoma, by Oklahomans.