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UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Farmers markets welcome food stamp shoppers

Don't take any wooden nickels? When the new Oak Park Farmers' Market in Sacramento opened last month, organizers made sure to have wooden tokens ready for opening day. Farmers' selling at farmers' markets and flea markets all over California will gladly accept wooden nickels, plastic tokens, or paper "market dollars" this summer in exchange for good food.

The Stockton Farmers Market under the crosstown freeway is wide awake at 7 every Saturday morning all year round, crowded with farmers and shoppers conducting a brisk business in fresh local fruits and vegetables, fish, eggs, tofu, flowers and lots more, often talking four or five different languages but managing just fine to communicate with each other. Every Saturday, thousands of dollars of sales are transacted using bright green plastic tokens. The tokens are part of a program by farmers' markets throughout California to ensure that the markets are accessible to all Californians.

Paper food stamps haven't existed in California since 2004, but many people still use the old name, food stamp program, when they talk about what is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As a result of high unemployment and hard times, one in eight Americans receives SNAP benefits to purchase food. SNAP benefits are now issued electronically, and SNAP recipients shop using electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, which work like debit cards.

Farmers market vendors usually don't have the electricity, phone lines and authorization from the USDA needed to accept EBT cards as payment, so farmers market managers need to set up scrip systems for customers to use the cards. A market staff person swipes the card using a state-issued wireless terminal and sells the customer tokens to shop with. At the end of the market day, market vendors exchange any tokens received that day for cash from the market staff.

This year, help is available to market managers and associations implementing and promoting EBT access at their markets and welcoming SNAP customers:

  • First, markets need to apply to be a SNAP retailer
  • The California Department of Social Services will provide a free wireless terminal to any California market authorized by USDA to operate an EBT/scrip system. Contact Dianne Padilla-Bates, (916) 654-1396, dianne.padilla-bates@dss.ca.gov
  • The Ecology Center Farmers' Market EBT Project, partially funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, will help market managers and associations with free consultation, free tokens, with setting up staffing, accounting, vendor training and with building community partnerships and designing custom posters and flyers to promote the markets to SNAP customers.
  • To encourage more markets to open their stalls to SNAP customers, the USDA has just released its own How-to Handbook for accepting EBT at farmers' markets

Posted on Monday, June 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM

I’m fat. Whose fault is that?

As the workshop speaker explained that school foods are contributing to the growing epidemic of obesity among children, I slumped in my chair and flashed back to high school. At the 10:20 a.m. break, I could be found standing in line at the high school snack bar ordering a chocolate milk shake and a bag of nacho cheese Doritos. Daily.

UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan and others argue that farm policy is to blame for our corpulence. Many reference a 2002 USDA-ERS study that shows Americans ate 12 percent more (300 calories) in 2000 than we did in 1985, and point out that the federal government subsidizes common ingredients of snack foods -- corn, wheat, soybeans and rice -- making them cheaper and more available to consumers.

But UC ag economists Julian Alston and Dan Sumner, who analyzed the links between farm policies and obesity, disagree.

"Farm prices are a small share of retail prices so even if subsidies made farm prices lower and those were passed on, they would have little retail impact," Sumner told me. "Moreover, for some important products such as dairy and sugar, farm policies raise prices."

Policies are being made to steer us toward more healthful choices. For example, soda cannot be sold in California schools. Growing up, I had unlimited access to soda. As an adult, I eschew soda. It’s hard to say whether my beverage preference changed due to education or just being a finicky eater, but informing consumers can influence their food choices.

The new law mandating publishing calories on menus has had a modest effect on purchases, but over the course of a year, could prevent a person from gaining 4 to 8 pounds, said Gail Woodward-Lopez, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley.

Lucia Kaiser, UC Davis nutrition specialist, reports that low-income consumers will buy fresh fruits and vegetables if given an incentive. In a Los Angeles pilot project, mothers were given $40 to buy fruits and vegetables. The study found that 6 months later, the women continued to consume more fresh produce.

Virtually all children attending public schools are offered school lunches. Many California schools have begun farm-to-school programs, working with local farmers to offer students fresh salad bars. Past UC studies have shown that students given a choice of fresh fruits and vegetables will eat them.

“Uniting policy with education is the way to go,” says Woodward-Lopez.

Despite my steady diet of junk food as a youth, my weight didn’t expand into triple digits until my mid-30s. Now I exercise, avoid chips and shakes and eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, but have become fat. Whose fault is that?

Presentations made by Alston, Woodward-Lopez, Kaiser and others at the Farm and Food Policy and Obesity workshop are posted at http://aic.ucdavis.edu/obesity/index.htm.

SchoolCrunchLunch
SchoolCrunchLunch

Posted on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:22 AM

*Advergames* market junk foods to children

On the McDonalds Happy Meals website, children can make themselves the star of a music video. Kids are challenged to send pastries soaring over as many toasters as possible on the Pop-Tarts website's "Daredevil Toaster Jump." Cheetos lets kids upload a picture or video of a Cheeto to have its website’s “state-of-the-art analyzer thingy” determine what it resembles.

These and other “advergames” can have a tremendous impact on children’s preferences and purchasing requests for unhealthy foods, according to Jennifer Culp, a UC Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program training coordinator.

Culp and Diana Cassady, associate professor of public health sciences at UC Davis, analyzed the restaurant, beverage and food websites advertised on the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings between August 2006 and March 2007. In all, the duo reviewed 19 websites, 290 Web pages and 247 advergames.

Close to one-third of the TV advertising that included websites was for food. Eighty-four percent of the food websites advertised included advergames, a blend of interactive animation, video content and advertising which promote corporate branding and products. On average, one nutrition or physical activity message appeared for every 45 brand identifiers.

"I was astounded by how often logos or actual food products were integrated into the games," Culp said.

Some games used candy or cereal as game pieces, while others would require special codes – available only by buying a specific product – to advance to higher game levels, she said.

The study concluded that government regulations are needed for food companies targeting youths and health professionals and parents should monitor food industry marketing practices.

The study, funded by the Cancer Research Program, was published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The UC website EatFit! aimed primarily at teenagers, offers fun activities and information about eating right. Website visitors can find healthy recipes and games, conduct an eating analysis and get exercise tips. It's all free.


Posted on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 5:46 AM

Food blogs everywhere!

Food blog here, food blog there, food blog everywhere — including this one!  The popularity and variety of food blogs has exploded, and proves many of us are little foodies at heart. In doing research for this post, I have to admit, I couldn’t believe what’s out there, especially about cooking. From vegan to Indian to coffee to crock pots to cooking with kids to Asian grandmothers to organic, it’s all there waiting for you.

The popularity and importance of food content is well documented. Last summer, the Huffington Post reported on the results of the July cable news ratings. The Food Network beat out all of the cable news networks - FOX, MSNBC and CNN - in every demographic measurement. This in spite of the fact that July was a big news month because of the death of Michael Jackson.

In most cases, blogs are about much more than food. Sometimes you get to know the writer’s family or garden or politics. When you find a good one, the photos are stunning. Whether or not we make the food that’s being blogged about, we can still have a little “flog” experience right in our own kitchen.

Here’s a link to the best cooking food blogs according to delish.com — guilty, but calorie-free, pleasures!

Posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:08 AM

Reasons for the seasons



California residents not only enjoy an enviable climate and diverse regions, but also a wide selection of fresh produce year around.

As consumers, we want to stretch our food budget and provide a nutritious diet to our families; but we are not always sure about how to select the best fruits and vegetables, how to store them when we get home, new ways to serve them, and the nutrition benefits they offer.

Placer-Nevada Cooperative Extension has come to the rescue! As part of the Nutrition Best program, UCCE nutrition educators have prepared "Reasons for the Seasons - Produce tips for Placer County consumers," a series of seasonal produce handouts that provide practical information for families and children on purchasing, storing, preparing and serving locally grown seasonal produce.

Each handout also includes tips for families on the importance of family meals and snacks, a couple of tasty and easy-to-prepare recipes, and a coloring page for the children.


News & Information Outreach in Spanish has started to adapt into Spanish these handouts, and produced short video clips. The first one is for strawberries.

To tickle your interest, here is a sampling of some of the tips and information you'll find:

Apples – Over 7,000 varieties have been identified, however most consumers are only familiar with half a dozen or so varieties. Munching on an apple is a tooth cleaner and a gum stimulator. Apples may last up to three months if stored correctly.

Broccoli – Its name comes from the Latin word Brachium which means "branch" or "arm." Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. Instead of loading it with a cream sauce that is high in fat, try serving it with silvered almonds, sesame seeds, toasted bread crumbs or parmesan cheese. The leaves can also be eaten and contain more beta carotene than the florets. Store broccoli in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer. For boiling or steaming, use a non-aluminum pot or pan. Aluminum seems to increase broccoli's cooking odors.

Cherries – Cherries are among the best foods for a snack. The riper the cherry, the larger the size, the deeper the color and the sweeter the fruit. Sour cherries are lower in calories and higher in vitamin C and beta carotene than sweet cherries. You can extend the cherry season by freezing them. They will keep for up to a year in your freezer.

Tomatoes - Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit. This is because, generally, a fruit is the edible part of the plant that contains the seeds, while a vegetable is the edible stems, leaves and roots of the plants. Tomatoes are the leading source of vitamin C in the American diet because of the quantities we eat. Store tomatoes at room temperature for up to one week; longer if still ripening.

Potatoes - Keep the potatoes in a burlap or a brown paper bag. Do not store onions with potatoes. The gases given off by onions accelerate the decay of potatoes and vice versa.

Melons – Most melons originated in the Near East. They are a good source of vitamin A, C and potassium. Serve melons slightly chilled; if they are too cold, you'll miss their full fragrance. Ripe melons are very fragrant, and the aroma of a cut melon can penetrate and effect other foods

Cauliflower – A good source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber. It has been associated with reducing the risk of cancer. Cauliflower should not be cooked in an aluminum or iron pot. It will turn yellow if cooked in an aluminum pot, and blue-green or brown if cooked in an iron pot.

Beets – Beets come in a glistening array of color, from garnet red, to red-white striped, to deep gold, to creamy white. The entire beet, from its robust and flavorful root to its buttery green top, is sweet and delicious. To maintain firmness, cut off beet greens before storing, but leave at least an inch of the stem attached.

May and June are cherry season, so why not look for new ways to enjoy this delicious and nutritious fruit?

Cherry salsa

1/4 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1- 1/3 cups tart cherries, frozen
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeños, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Coarsely chop cherries. Let cherries thaw and drain, reserving 1 tablespoon cherry juice. When cherries are thawed, combine drained cherries dried cherries, onion, jalapenos, garlic, and cilantro in a medium saucepan; mix well. Combine reserved cherry juice and cornstarch in a small bowl; mix until smooth. Stir into cherry mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until mixture is thickened. Let cool. Serve with tortilla chips.
This recipe can also be served over cooked chicken or pork

Southwestern-style cherry slaw
Yield: 6 -8 servings

Slaw:
4 cups shredded green cabbage
3 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 cups torn fresh spinach leaves
1 cup shredded jicama (optional)
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 avocado, peeled and diced
Toasted pine nuts for garnish

Dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons frozen lime juice concentrate, thawed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 teaspoon each chili powder, ground cumin and salt

In large serving bowl, combine ingredients for Slaw. In small saucepan, combine Dressing ingredients; heat to boil. Pour over salad and toss gently to coat. Garnish with pine nuts and serve.
Recipe: Northwest Cherries Online

Posted on Friday, June 18, 2010 at 8:25 AM

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