Crunchy mama iced capp makeover

If you’ve ever been addicted to frappuccinos, iced capuccinos or any otherwise blended drink (and you’re a crunchy mama), you probably have some idea:

1. That the ingredients aren’t exactly top notch. (Conventional milk/soy milk, sugar(s) and powdered flavours? Ummm, I think I’ll pass.)

2. How insanely expensive they are. I used to tell my husband that frapps were the ‘new smoking’. They cost almost as much (in one blog post, a woman calculated she could spend more than $400/year buying 2 blended coffee drinks per week). They are also addictive (see my disclosure) and can take a round out of your health…

3. That there’s a way to give them a probiotic ‘makeover’.

In fact, I’ll bet there’s almost NO crap food that you still have a hankerin’ for every once in a while that you have to live without. With a little bit of creativity and kitchen alchemy magic, you can upgrade the quality of almost anything….

Some are simpler than others. Like this Iced Capp. Summer Bomb. Thus named, because we were all blown away when we tried it….

Iced Capp summer bomb

  • 1 c yogurt (homemade or organic, full fat, unhomogenized brand such as Saugeen or Jerseyland)
  • 2 organic bananas
  • 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp *Dandy Blend
  • 1 tray of ice cubes (approx)
  • Few capsules of probiotics (optional)

Add ingredients in the order listed into Vitamix or other high powered blender. If you don’t have a Vitamix, try putting the ice in a bag or tea towel and crushing it with a meat pounder/rolling pin or whatnot to break up the large chunks before blending.

Blend until smooth. See? Easy peasy.

*Dandy Blend is a coffee-type substitute made from roasted dandelion root (which has tremendous health benefits). It is made from some grains in addition to the dandelion root so you may want to avoid it if you follow a grain-free diet but apparently it is GLUTEN FREE (I just noticed this on the Dandy Blend FAQ page).

Disclosure: In my late 20s, I spent a small fortune on Starbucks blended drinks. That was before I was a holistic mama. True story.

GF, GAPS-legal peanut butter treats

Last night I had a hankerin’ for something. Anything. I am a recovering popcorn addict so I had to think of something quick- before obsessive thoughts of freshly popped popcorn dripping with butter and sea salt got the best of me…

I rushed over to the kitchen and thankfully, was struck by freestyle snackin’ genius. I blobbed together a bit of peanut butter, shredded coconut, butter and honey. Voila! Disaster averted. Then I got to thinkin’: ‘I should actually make something for my kids too…’

This is what I came up with. It got my hubby’s seal of approval when he taste-tested it at 11 pm (and then commented on the amount of dishes I just messed up).

Grain-free peanut butter treats

  • 2 cups of crispy nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts) *I used a mixture of what I had around.
  • 1/2 c shredded coconut
  • 1/2 butter (or coconut oil or combination)
  • 6-7 dates finely chopped (you can also soak these)
  • 3/4 c crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean powder (extract would be fine too)

Grind nuts in Vitamix or food processor then add other ingredients, First dry, then add wet. Spread either into a cake pan (to cut into squares later) or into small candy or cupcake type liners. Freeze. Take out as needed. I can imagine these might be a bit messy ‘on-the-go’ so you might want to keep them for an at-home snack. Great for kids or moms with popcorn cravings….

Enjoy.

The GAPS Diet- In Dr Natasha’s words

Have you been thinking about starting the GAPS diet? If you’re like most people considering this healing protocol for your family, you have a lot of questions. Now, you can hear what Dr Natasha herself has to say about GAPS in this 4-part video series taped at the 2011 Weston A Price Foundation conference where McBride was a keynote speaker…

*You can visit this page if you’d like to sign up for the waiting list for the ‘Getting Started with GAPS’ e-course. On June 9, we’re offering a full day workshop (including theory and hands on) in Winnipeg, MB.

GAPS- In Dr Natasha’s words…

Listen in as Dr Natasha Campbell McBride – author of Gut And Psychology Syndrome talks about her personal experience as the mother of an autistic child and how the GAPS protocol can help heal psychological and physiological disease.

Hear Dr. Natasha explain when you should see a mainstream doctor and how the body can kickstart its own healing process for many degenerative diseases – even when things seem hopeless.


Listen in as Dr Natasha talks about the healing wisdom of our bodies…


Can you get your child off medication? What are the roots of good health?

*Order your copy of the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr Natasha here.

Why use wild plants?

Whether we reside in a rural community or urban center, edible, medicinal and otherwise useful plants abound.

Most of the plants we consider noxious or nuisance weeds are not only edible, but tasty and nutritious, offering stiff competition to our domestic garden vegetables.  Many are also capable of treating or curing common ills that plague our society.  Stinging nettle, for example, is super rich in calcium, while burdock is well known as a “blood purifier” and is used in herbal cancer remedies.

Common 'weeds' like dandelion and burdock have powerful healing properties.

I am a big proponent of the health benefits that come from eating or using wild plants.  However, I am equally convinced that there are many additional health benefits that come from simply getting out there and gathering the plants.

There is something liberating about harvesting wild plants and incorporating them into meals, medicines, baskets, cordage or any myriad of things.  Yes, it is free, but above all, it is freeing.  When I buy anything from a store, I feel little or no connection to it or its origins, and the memory of getting it is often one of haste and overwhelm from marketing pressures and the rush of people around me.

When I gather wild plants, I feel connected to nature.  I feel alive, relaxed and thankful for what I’m harvesting. I also have a sense of being at least somewhat self-sufficient.  When I prepare food, weave a basket or make a salve from these plants, I continue to feel a connection to nature. And every time I eat this food, or use this basket or salve, I relive the gathering experience.

Wild bergamot

I remember, clearly, the sweet yet medicinal smell of the balsam poplars that thickened the spring air, the cheerful sound of the song sparrow singing its heart out in the tree next to me, the reflection of sun and clouds in a tiny pool of crystal clear water, the shocking coolness of a frog on my foot, the porcupine waddling noisily by, and the refreshing flavour of wild mint joyfully plucked from an ephemeral wetland.

It takes time to secure food, medicines and all of the other things we need to live – whether it’s time spent at our jobs earning money for trade, or time spent gathering and preparing things, ourselves.  I hope that, through my website, you will be enticed to spend more time in fields and forests experiencing the joys and benefits of harvesting and using wild plants, yourself.

 About the author, Laura Reeves:

Laura Reeves is a Manitoba-based botanist who shares her love of wild edibles through workshops and classes. Laura is an adept survivalist, having taken courses at Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey and the Kamana Naturalist Training Program with Wilderness Awareness School, based out of Washington. You can find out more about her courses and workshops at  Prairie Shore Botanicals and see what she is gathering and cooking up on her Facebook page.

Up close and personal with Laura:

My passion for wild edibles and other useful plants is rooted in my desire to feel connected to nature at all times. In the process of increasing my consumption of wild foods and practicing wilderness skills, I have not only gained a greater appreciation of food in general, but of local cultural and natural history.

I have become much more aware of my local surroundings, including the effects of seasonal changes, weather patterns, moon cycles, soils, and the interactions between living and non-living things.

I know where I can find a healthy patch of plants, even when the one I normally harvest are not abundant. I have learned to appreciate my own vulnerability and to quickly distinguish my wants from my needs. I value things differently than I used to.  As I got to know the plants and animals around me on a deeper level, any sympathy I might have had for them was replaced with empathy. As a result, I have experienced several philosophical transformations over the years and I am sure there are more to come…

Born to (eat) wild: Laura Reeves

Today we bring you a Q & A with the fabulous Laura Reeves who has written a series of articles for Domestic Diva on wildcrafting. If you’ve been wanting to learn how -and why- to eat and heal with what grows in your own backyard, the woods and the fields around you, well, here’s your chance to steep in it with a woman who has spent her life doing just that…

Laura will soon have a book on wild edibles available on our site. For now, enjoy getting to know her…

Who is Laura Reeves?

I grew up in East St. Paul, Manitoba where I spent a lot of time exploring the local fields and woods, learning what the local plants were and watching the animals.

When I was 12, I started reading books by Canadian wildlife biologist, R.D. Lawrence, and I dreamed of being just like him, spending my time outdoors, studying wildlife. I continued to work toward this goal and, in 1997, I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science (Botany).

Since 1994, I have worked for the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, conducting plant surveys and monitoring the effects of both weather and management activities on plants and their habitats.  I have taken eight courses from Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey and am currently enrolled in the Kamana Naturalist Training Program with Wilderness Awareness School, based out of Washington. 

Laura Reeves

How did you get started gathering wild edibles?

I have been eating wild plants since I can remember, taking after my dad, who was always gathering berries for jams and jellies or snacking on various plants while walking through fields and woods.

As I grew older, my interest in wild edible and medicinal plants increased, much to the dismay of my mother, who often voiced her frustration at trying to work around my pans of herbs drying on the kitchen counters.  I looked forward to the freedom of moving out on my own and dedicating space in my kitchen for wild edibles.

When I found my own place, I began incorporating increasing amounts and varieties of wild edibles into my diet, making personal vows to completely substitute wild foods for regular fare.  As a result, wild edibles became a necessary part of my diet.  For instance, when I realized how many local plants contain vitamin C, I suddenly saw the absurdity of buying orange juice that had been shipped all the way from the southern states and beyond.  I cut store-bought juices from my diet completely, knowing that I would be forced to learn more about the local plants and gather enough to get me through the long Manitoba winters.

It’s kind of strange that even when something is really important to us, we often have to create a need for it in order to do it.  But that’s what I did.  I created a need for wild edibles.

How much of your diet is wild?

Today, I have no need for the produce section of the grocery store.  All of my produce comes from a combination of garden and wild harvests.  I refrain from buying fresh produce, even in the winter, depending instead on my stores of fresh, frozen, dried and canned foods, much like people did for thousands of years.  I have wild roots, tubers, greens, seeds, spices, nuts, seeds and berries that I incorporate into every meal, including breads, main dishes, desserts and beverages.

Bunchberry

Why gather wild edibles?

There are many benefits to gathering wild edibles.  For the most part, they are free, local, organic and have a higher nutrient content than domestic produce.  However, I believe that the greatest benefits come from the process of gathering them.  While harvesting wild foods, we can’t help but notice how the seasons and weather affect the things we are harvesting.  We also notice how different species of plants, insects and animals relate to each other. As we explore our communities, observe where things grow and ask our neighbours if we can have that pigweed growing in their flower bed, we learn more about our local community.

By simply being outside, we become aware of our surroundings and in tune with nature.  By pausing to say good morning to the robin, admire a flower or hunt down the source of a particular scent in the air, our awareness extends far beyond our selves.  We feel, if only for a moment, a child-like excitement, or an awareness of our primal selves.  We feel a connection to the earth.  And we find ourselves developing empathy that reaches far beyond the plants that we are gathering.

What are some of the things you most love about doing this?

There was a long period when I despised the idea that people can’t or won’t care about wild things until they find a use for them. I found this rather self-centered.

As I learned how to use wild plants for food, shelter, water, fire, medicines, and many other things, I began to understand how it is that one cares more deeply for something (or someone) that they have a personal relationship with.

When we have a need for something, we will go out of our way to protect it.  I have a developed a close relationship to the plants I gather, whether they are for food, fire, baskets, or medicine. They take care of me, and I take care of them. This connection goes beyond the physical and can only be understood through experience. It is this connection to the plants that I love most, and the reason why they are an integral part of my life.

Labrador tea

 

The snack zone: fuss-free eating

Here’s a quick and simple way to empower your children to make their own choices about the food they eat, while giving gentle and non-coercive guidance.

We call it the ‘snack zone’ in our house and here’s why I love it:

  1. It helps end the meal and snack time battles.
  2. It honours your child’s hunger rhythms. Most of the time kids have to eat when someone else (parents/teachers etc) say they have to – whether they are hungry or not.
  3. It provides ‘teachable’ moments where children can discover the benefits of self-regulation, cooperation, and the pride of responsibility.
  4. I can actually sit down and eat with everyone else (bonus).

What is a snack zone?

The snack zone is a designated area or container in the fridge that is stocked with kid-friendly, nutrient-dense foods. The philosophy behind the snack zone is that it allows children to make their own decisions about what they eat. If you have a child who regularly rejects what’s put on the table (whether it’s snacks or meals) this can be a great solution. There’s no questions about what to do. Eat what’s on the table or get thee over to the fridge and make your own choice.

How to create your own snack zone

  1. Allocate a space in your fridge that is the snack zone. You can use a basket or container to hold the ‘snack’ foods.
  2. Talk to your kids and get them involved in designing and stocking it. (Of course they are going to like it better that way!)
  3. Put snacks in clear containers so it’s easy for the kids to see what’s available. Mason jars work.
  4. Make sure the snack zone is always stocked with a variety of food (and drinks). Try restocking on the same day so you establish a rhythm around it.

 Snack zone food ideas

  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Homemade dips
  • Homemade granola or lara bars, homemade cookies or biscuits.
  • Homemade crackers (yes, you can even put the pantry items in the snack zone!)
  • Yogurt (you can make it into individual helpings if your child can’t make their own portions yet).
  • Cut up cheese
  • Nori (seaweed)
  • Applesauce
  • Homemade jerky (beef, bison, elk, turkey or salmon)
  • Homemade fruit roll ups
  • Kombucha, juice kefir, water kefir
  • Kale chips
  • Chicken or egg salad

You can see the sky is the limit here…and what you put in your bin will vary depending on the age of your children as well as if they have allergies)

Why kids love it:

  • It empowers them to make their own choices.
  • They get a say about what goes in it.
  • They don’t have to ask someone every time they want something (it teaches self-reliance).

You may have to tweak your snack zone to see what works for your family. For example, some kids might eat five granola bars if there are five available. Rather than you restricting that food however, you might want to consider just letting it run out and allowing your children to learn to self-regulate. i.e “Hmm. If I eat all that in one sitting there will be no more for the rest of the week). This is a tool we’ve tried to adopt from Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline. There might be some crying and protests at first (if they want certain items restocked NOW) but a firm and loving attitude is worth the outcome.

Do you have a tip for nurturing healthy habits in your children that you can share? Please do! We’d love to hear them!

 

 

Honouring traditional women’s wisdom through art…

Have you noticed the beautiful works of art that grace our newsletters and articles about the moon? They are the work of Metis artist Leah Dorion.

We were smitten with Dorion’s work after the universe brought us together. How’d it happen? Well, we were searching for the full ‘seventh generation’ text and instead came across Dorion’s website. I can honestly say it was love at first sight.

Dorion’s work reflects her commitment to reviving and honouring traditional women’s wisdom and the life-giving force inherent in each of us…She is also enormously talented.

We wanted to share a bit more about Leah and her work with you through this interview:

Visionary Metis artist Leah Dorion

Who is Leah Dorion/tell me a little about you so we can understand your work?
Well, I am a Metis gal with Roots to the historic Metis fur trade community of Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. My father (Louis) is a part of the Dorion Clan which has always followed the traditionial matriarchal leadership system.  We come from a line of strong First Nation and Metis women.  Since the passing of my dad I have become ever closer to my aunties (My dad’s sisters) they are teaching me about womanhood and my beauty as life giver.

These women inspire my paintings.

What have been the key influences on your work?
My spiritual traditions are at the heart and soul of my artistic practice.  My life struggles are major sources of power and influence in my work.  My woman gifts and celebrating them are a major focus of my life right now.

 

What do you think are some of the most important things women today can learn from generations past?
We had good ways to relate as women, our lodges were powerful and life affirming and I want to play a role to bring those lodges back into full function.

Leah's work entitled: 'Crushing chokecherries'

What piece of traditional wisdom resonates deeply with you?
Love and trust (These two words are my mantra for this yearly cycle)

What inspires you?
All of Creation is so inspiring that I get compelled to paint it into my life.

Leah's work: Past, present and future


If you could wave a magic wand, what would be your greatest wish for the women of the world? 
The complete restoration of our original ancient ways which helped women fully function and blossom in their families and communities.

I would like to see the moon lodge be revived and its teachings be fully sharing in all ways possible. Meegweetch.

Dancing Women, 2007 Medium: Acrylic on Canvas For many generations First Nations women had their own lodges, societies, and ceremonies. These women are celebrating the erection of the sacred moon lodge. The moon lodge was a place where women on their moon time retreated to pray and connect with their feminine gifts of sisterhood. The grandmothers would make sure all women had this time to say prayers, rebalance, and receive inner guidance. Through the reconnection with the life blood of creation women came out renewed and ready to better fulfill their roles as aunties, sisters, mothers, and partners. It was believed that the moon lodge was a vital part of the family, community, and nation.

How can people see more of your work? 
Mainly my website. I do the odd art show at public galleries. I am still trying to manifest a distributor to carry my art work. I really want a gallery to represent me that can honour my spiritual paintings. I know it will happen in its course.

This summer I am having a big show at the Batoche National Historic Park which honours Metis women. (I am) so excited because many people from around the work will see my art there and hear my story of Metis women….

How can someone purchase your work? 
I usually do direct sales…they can contact me via email.

 

Question: What is your wish for the women of the world? What would be the most valuable tradition we could reclaim for our daughters, and for ourselves so we can honour and sustain the life-giving force and feminine energy inside of us?

*Also: check out Leah’s 10 creativity principles - they are sure to resonate with you as a feminine, creative force….

Lead, lipstick and Burt’s Bees

I once saw a picture in a magazine of a bowl full of broken lipstick. The magazine noted that the average woman ingests between 4-7 lbs of lipstick in their lifetime.

I thought it was disgusting then. Today it’s downright troubling. That’s because many of the world’s top brands of cosmetics contain lead – a known neurotoxin considered especially dangerous for pregnant women and children.

Above: The ingredients in MAC lipstick. Doesn’t look too natural does it?

A new FDA report found lead in nearly 400 kinds of lipstick including the world’s most popular brands such as Cover Girl, Revlon, Maybelline, MAC (my occasional poison), Clinique (my former poison) and even brands marketed as NATURAL like, BURT’S BEES (owned by Clorox Company).

But don’t worry. The FDA says it’s ok. Here’s an excerpt from their Lipstick and Lead Q and A:

Is there a safety concern about the lead levels (the) FDA found in lipsticks?

No. We have assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in both rounds of testing. Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities. We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.

Hmmm. It’s like they’ve never even seen a woman re-apply lipstick after eating. Or leave those pink lip marks on the cheek of their child when kissing them good bye. Maybe they’ve never seen those pictures of toddlers applying copious amounts of lipstick to their face with innocent abandon when they get into their mom’s makeup bag….

If I didn’t know better, I would say it’s like regulators don’t even care…

Meanwhile, why are so many jurisdictions trying to reduce lead in water to 0 ppm if it’s ok? And why can some brands of lipstick be made without lead, while others ‘can’t'?

These are questions I have because even though I don’t regularly wear makeup anymore (in fact, I’ve taken to wearing Fermented Cod Liver Oil Beauty Balm as lip gloss) sometimes I do….

And this isn’t a new issue. Several years ago the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pretty much shamed the FDA into doing some testing. It doesn’t look like the bad press then moved anyone to take action. In fact today, two brands (both made by L’Oreal) exceed the amount considered safe (5 ppm) in personal care products in the state of California.

If you didn’t already know it, bodycare products are like the wild west of labelling. Regulators have all but ignored these products but organizations like the EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have been campaigning to bring attention to the issue and force regulators to act (you can support their work through donations).

To get an idea of what’s going on with your personal care products take a look at this video by the The Story of Stuff and then read about your options (psst: there are lots of them and they’re perfectly natural!)

*If all of this has made you wonder about the products your family uses, take a look at the EWG’s Skin Deep database where you can search more than 69,000 products.

What now?

While we wait for the L’Oreal’s and the Procter and Gamble’s of the world to become good corporate citizens and nix their toxic ingredients, it’s good to know there are plenty of other options.

In fact, the best bodycare is so natural, you could eat it (which is what your skin basically does to anything that’s applied to it!).

For example, I have a regular at home spa regime to share that is super-luxurious and will actually nourish your body.

Not one of the ingredients is made in a lab. It all comes from my kitchen cupboard in fact. Although this isn’t a new concept (I remember being a teenager and using egg in my hair and cucumbers on my eyes) my motivation is different than when I was 15.

Back then I did it to save money. Today, I do it for my health.

We know that lipsticks contain lead, shampoos contain hormone disruptors and children’s products contain known carcinogens. Even labels that say ‘all-natural’, and ‘organic ingredients’ don’t guarantee purity.

Bodycare steeped in tradition

Plant and food-based beauty regimes have been relied on since the beginning of time. They’ve got staying power because they work. Sadly, advertisers have convinced us we need to douse our bodies with products and ingredients we can’t we can’t even pronounce in order to be ‘clean’ and ‘beautiful’.

You may already know that the skin is the largest organ in our body. It readily absorbs almost anything, so the very best policy is not to apply anything to your body that you can’t eat.

I kept that principle in mind when I created this ‘spa treatment’ that you can do at home anytime, with just a few simple ingredients* and tools.

You will need:

  • Unrefined coconut oil
  • Bentonite clay (from the health food store)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • A natural bristle body brush
  • Himalayan Sea Salt (crystals or rocks) or Epsom Salt
  • Emery board/nail file

*All of these things will last a very long time. Use the coconut oil for cooking, the bentonite clay for internal detoxification and the cider vinegar for salad dressings etc).

Step 1: Apply some unrefined, organic coconut oil to your hair. Start at the scalp and massage through to the ends. Leave oil on your hair through the next few steps. This is an age-old tradition that the women in India use to keep their hair in shiny and soft. It’s an incredibly luxurious treatment you’ll wonder why you didn’t know about before.

Step 2: Mix a tablespoon of bentonite clay with a bit of filtered water and a drop of apple cider vinegar (this is optional) until you get a nice consistency. Apply to your face and even your upper back. Avoid the eye and mouth area since this skin is generally more sensitive.

Bentonite clay is the same ingredient used in many of the masks applied at upscale spas. The apple cider vinegar has the same effect as a ‘peel’ but is much more gentle. You can leave this mask on for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Rinse off with warm water and pat your face dry.

You may notice slight redness if you use the cider vinegar. Don’t worry, it will go away after within a few hours and your skin will look bright and beautiful.

Step 3:
Dry brush your skin. Use a natural bristle body brush. Use soft, circular motions starting at the feet, working your way toward your heart. Don’t brush your face. Remember to be gentle – you aren’t scrubbing the kitchen floor here!

Dry brushing is reputed to be an exceptional way to stimulate the lymphatic system. Many people swear that regular dry brushing also reduces cellulite.

Step 4:
Draw yourself a warm bath. Add 2-4 oz of Himalayan Sea Salt or Epsom Salts. Sea salt is used to detoxify the skin, relieve sore muscles and reduce tension. It’s also reported to be an effective treatment for several kinds of infections. Epsom Salt, or magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin and draws toxins from the body. It also sedates the nervous system, reduces swelling and relaxes muscles.

When you are ready to get out, rinse the coconut oil from your hair and splash some cool water on your face.

Step 5:
Use coconut oil to moisturize wherever necessary.

Step 6:
Now that you are totally relaxed, take some time to buff your nails with an emery board and then rub in some coconut oil. It’s an instant (non-toxic) manicure/pedicure.

Step 7:
Enjoy the glow!

For a change of pace you can also try using some flax gel as a mask. Soak a tbsp of flax seed in a cup of water for a few hours. Once the flax has been soaked, it becomes gelatinous and is chock full of Omega 3 fatty acids. That gel can be applied to your face and instantly brightens and tightens your pores. It can also be used in your hair to naturally tame your frizzies.

 

How the cereal titans keep your raisins soft (and other tidbits from an industry insider)

Ok. The cat has been out of the bag for some time in my family but boxed cereal is OUTLAWED in my house. As if I needed more reasons to hate the stuff, I got a brand new list when I heard the University of Manitoba’s head of Food Sciences lecture: What’s in Your Cereal Bowl? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

“From sugary loops to bran flakes and raisins, the breakfast cereal industry is a multi-billion business that takes up entire aisles of the supermarket. That bowl of cereal you ate this morning was grown by farmers, developed by food scientists and nutritionists, processed by large food companies and promoted by marketing professionals. Learn about food processing secrets, the truth about health claims and how to make good choices when it comes to breakfast.”

First of all, I’m going to say straight up that I believe there is a special place in H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks for marketers and companies that target vulnerable, rushed, and uninformed parents with health claims , like “A good source of fibre” or “Made with whole grain” on their trashy cereals. That’s not even touching the fact they use cartoon characters, athletes and toys to specifically target children (btw- you can empower your kids to recognize and resist marketing).

Gary Fulcher speaks to a full house eager to learn what's in their breakfast cereal.

Gary Fulcher is the head of Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba and a former General Mills employee.

His talk kicked off a new lecture series. This is where I’ll admit I was tempted to leave about as quick as I arrived. That’s because once I looked around, I realized the series was being hosted by the University’s agriculture department, and the U of M has a long and convoluted relationship with Monsanto. I thought FOR SURE we were going to hear alot about the great things cereal grains and technology could do for people’s health and for cash-strapped farmers looking to move up the value chain…

While Fulcher WAS careful not to outright condemn processed, boxed cereal, (I’m guessing maybe he had received a word of caution from the university’s PR team- several of which hovered nearby throughout the talk), he did manage to share several things that would lead most logical folk to toss it- or at least START questioning what’s in their bowl.

He talked about the plethora of health problems- obesity, heart disease, diabetes, that have arisen as the world increasingly turns to highly-processed convenience foods which almost always include boxed or instant cereals for breakfast.

Fulcher compared his own childhood breakfast- which consisted of a daily bowl of old fashioned oatmeal, “the kind that takes 10 days to cook and after you eat it you’re not hungry for 3 days”, to the highly-processed, high-glycemic, puffed, and sugar-laden cereals that line the shelves of supermarkets today.

The cut-throat world of multinational food giants
The value of hearing from someone who spent time ‘on the inside’ always lies in their willingness to truthfully share what they have seen. For Fulcher, that included things like the ‘disgust’ of executives at General Mills when their chief competitor, Kelloggs decided to hawk Frosted Flakes to kids using the now infamous cartoon cat, Tony the Tiger.

“They said they would never pull the same crap.” Fulcher said, noting the lineup of General Mills now includes such quality products as Lucky Charms, Trix and Count Chocula…

Cereal manufacturing: what really happens

So what happens before that cereal makes it to your bowl?

Grains today are basically ‘mined’ Fulcher said. The germ and the bran – which contains all the oils and fat is stripped off because products are tougher to keep shelf stable when they contain oil.

“All the good stuff is basically thrown away or fed to animals,” Fulcher said.

That almost nutrient devoid portion is further processed before it is made into the flakes or puffs that wind up on the nation’s breakfast tables.

Because you now have a nutrient-deficient product, food manufactures then ‘fortify’ – or add back ‘pixie dust’ — synthetic vitamins and mineral in place of the ones that were stripped out.

“You would never eat cereal again if you went through the place where the fortification happens,” Fulcher noted.

But he talked about other tricks of the trade too. Like, how it’s possible for raisins to be soft and chewy and flakes crispy and dry inside the same box? Well, it’s simple, Fulcher said. You take the water out of the raisin and replace it with something that doesn’t evaporate as easily. That something is glycerin.

*While glycerin is traditionally made from natural sources like lard and tallow, it is also a main by-product from biodiesel production, according to author Rami Nagel.

Bottom-line driven

Of course, it almost goes without saying that everything is run on a profit margin basis. That’s why cereals are puffed full of air and water (they’re cheaper to produce and ship that way). Just compare a box of Sunny Boy (a collection of grains like flax and rye) or a bag of steel cut oats to a box of Fruit Loops or Corn Flakes.

Extruders- the huge machines that push out the cereal, cost food manufacturers big money but it’s a small overall price to pay, Fulcher said, because they can pump out product around the clock without being serviced for as long as a year. He also noted that they could fill an entire room with extruded cereal in just a few minutes…

What ‘primitive’ cultures knew

I was really happy Fulcher acknowledged that primitive cultures knew how to increase the digestibility and unlock vital nutrients in their grains.

He gave the example of South American Indians who soaked Maize in ash and lime to unlock nutrients like niacin (Vitamin B3), which is completely inaccessible otherwise. This helped the population avoid Pellagra – something that afflicted cultures eating the same grains (exported by Columbus, for example) sans the accompanying critical preparation techniques.

So what now?

Judging by some of the questions that came up, it seemed many people there was eager to have their favourite breakfast cereal absolved – or at least for Fulcher to recommend a GOOD ONE. The sad truth is, boxed cereal is not a food anyone should be eating. There are plenty of other QUICK AND EASY real food breakfasts that will build your health, not tear it down.

“I wouldn’t recommend eating cereals for breakfast at all,” Fulcher said, instead..ignore what you’ve heard about cholesterol “and eat some eggs.”

How is cereal made anyhow? Check it out here although it doesn’t show the ‘mining process’ of stripping apart grains like wheat. (p.s. watch for the pixie dust (or vitamin fortification) being sprayed about half-way through.)

Winter: preservation off-season? Hardly!

Just the other day someone mentioned that winter is a great time to learn a new food preservation skill. I thought that was so insightful. That’s because it seems completely counter-intuitive.

After all – preservation usually focusses on fruits and vegetables  – both of which are not exactly abundant right now (at least not fresh, local produce). Especially not here on the frigid Canadian Prairies.

In reality, there are several reasons why winter is the ideal time to learn the traditional food preservation skill known as fermentation or culturing.

  1. You’re probably spending more time indoors. Learning a new skill is a great antidote to cabin fever and it’s also incredibly gratifying.

    Some of the supplies you might need...

  2. Fermented foods boost your immunity. And that means you could avoid hacking, sneezing, sniffling and coughing your way through what’s too often referred to as “cold and flu season’ (who came up with that anyhow?)
  3. Spring (and warmer weather) is right around the corner.That means you’re going to want to get outside and maybe even plant your garden. If you’ve got a green thumb, spending time in the kitchen (no matter how short a span) isn’t going to be a top priority!

    Can't you just tell spring is coming?

  4. You’ll be confident, prepared and ready to roll at harvest! As produce comes from your garden, your farm share (CSA), or local farmers’ market, you can preserve a little at a time instead of facing a big chore at season’s end. (and you can experiment with all your fresh herbs!)

So there you have it. At least four good reasons to get on it nowHave you learned any new food skills this winter? Or is there one on your wish list?