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As if we needed another reason to ban BPA
Feb 17th, 2012 by Nancy

Most cans have BPAA new study about BPA hit the presses recently, indicating links between it and the obesity and diabetes epidemic. It’s very worthy of a read, but if you’re pressed for time, I’ll cut to the chase: researchers in Spain believe they have shown that BPA, by mimicking estrogen, compels the body to release almost double the insulin needed to break down food.  Previous research by others indicates that increased insulin production may lead to weight gain and the onset of type II diabetes.

I’m glad to see such a finding making its way into the popular press, I’m a bit disappointed to report that the rest of the article is more editorial than scientific by mentioning implications and suggesting some thinly supported conclusions.  It’s conjecture, not science.

I struggle, furthermore, with some of the comments, mainly those that do more to reveal ignorance than shed light on the topic.   Should we just just eliminate plastic from our lives because of this report?  Well, notwithstanding that the bulk of our BPA exposure comes not from plastic, but through canned foods and cash register receipts, I’m afraid eliminating plastic would be an overreaction to this research.  Yes, this is further evidence that BPA has some very serious issues that warrant a cold hard look at whether any benefit that BPA might offer is outweighed by its cost.

To wit: recall that canned foods are a major culprit for BPA in our diets.  Would you rather have home-grown tomatoes that are canned in glass jars (but the only lids available to seal the jars have BPA), or organic tomatoes packaged in tetrapaks that are BPA-free BUT aren’t recyclable?

In all honesty, I do not have an answer for that – not for myself, not for you.  maybe the only answer is “don’t eat tomatoes out of season.”  Sigh.

Not all plastics have, or are produced using, BPA.  Polycarbonate is the resin of concern, and even then many polycarbonate items have removed BPA from its production.  Polyethyene (#2 and #4) and polypropylene (#5, the plastic used for the food containers in Lunchsense) do not contain BPA.  What’s more, the alternatives to plastics have their own issues that should not be ignored.

Returning to BPA and this most recent finding, you may ask, “Just how much research do we need to convince everybody that this is nasty stuff and it shouldn’t be used?”  Great question, and one that scientists grapple with all the time.  Here’s a recent interview with a researcher who has strong opinions (supported with research) about the dangers of BPA; others draw different conclusions from similar research.

It begs the bigger question still:  ”Can the scientific method, in light of the extraordinarily complex network of causes and effects we have created in our modern life, even adequately examine these relationships and draw meaningful conclusions?”

I’m just chock full of questions.  No answers here today, I’m sorry to say.  Whether we’ve chosen to do so or not, we all have to live with uncertainty brought about by our modern living.

So NOW what do we do?

Avoid BPA whenever possible: Personally, I feel that there’s enough evidence to steer clear of it whenever possible.  I strongly encourage you to read this excellent summary of BPA sources (part one and part two).

Be informed: Just like our food intake should be varied, so also should be our information intake.  Please don’t allow one report dictate your every move, but do give several reports undertaken by independent facilities that reach similar conclusions a measure of credibility.  Furthermore, give yourself permission to think long and hard about these topics.  If there were simple answers we might have found them already.

Help inform others: Share the links.  Discuss, civilly.

p.s.  I chose to title the post as I have because it does indeed reflect my stance on this chemical.  However, I also have another opinion which I feel passionately about, but it makes a really lousy post title: “Living with Ambiguity.”  It’s what we do, so we should learn to abide with it.  Embrace it, even.

Can't Buy Me Love
Feb 14th, 2012 by Chris

cupid1With quiver loaded, Cupid is taking careful aim, but don’t let the barrage of blush-shaded marketing prompts caress you into breaking your heart-shaped budget.  Valentine’s Day has, like so many holidays, evolved into a manufactured excuse to consume more stuff in greater quantities.  We are encouraged by smiling, hugging and kissing couples to purchase jewelry, flowers, candies and all manner of amorous enticement.  It is suggested that we solidify and reaffirm our affections by opening our wallets, yet I maintain that an expression of love need not come with a price-tag attached.

If your sweetheart requires an emailed reminder from FTD to say “I love you” and that sentiment is shared only once a year, your relationship is no bouquet of roses.  The real currency of love is sincerity, shared not on single, date-book occasions but always, and mostly without sparkling accoutrement.  True expressions of devotion are rarely found on racks of greeting cards.  Affection is displayed in showy flourishes, but love distinguishes itself steadily, in all seasons.

I’m not totally frowning on gifts—if you’re feeling flush, by all means, share the wealth.  But you don’t have to buy-buy-buy just because a cut-out Cupid offers alluring promises at 20% off.  No perfume, trinket or charm can adequately prove love (though many jewelers will swear a diamond comes close).  If you want to impress your feelings upon someone special, carefully consider what they might actually need before bringing out the bankcard.  Caring means providing what your significant other really wants without them ever requesting it.  Most importantly, remember that your sentiments are more sincere when accompanied by acts of kindness.

Of course, Lunchsense suggests…lunch.  Perhaps a Chicken Caesar Salad, wedge of French bread, orange slices and chocolate truffle.  Make it any day, include a sweet note and you’re positively proving how much someone is loved.

Foodie Tuesday: Lavender Tuiles
Feb 10th, 2012 by Nancy

7-LavenderTuiles_400

I know, it’s not Tuesday, it’s Friday.  ‘Sorry ’bout that, I got busy.

As promised, here’s my favorite cookie from the Advent Cookie Calendar I wrote about last week.

Tuiles (’tweeluhs’, French for ’tile’) are thin, crisp wafer cookies.  Popular and versatile, this version is a complete sensory experience: delicate and curved like a roof tile, pale in the center and flecked with brown and green, then golden around the perimeter; scented like a garden in summer; crisp and crumbly at first bite and tenderly chewy  towards the center, with a heavenly, buttery, herbal flavor.

Thankfully, they are not only easy to create, they convert to gluten-free with ease.  Here’s the recipe:

Lavender Tuiles, as offered by Saveur.com

3/4 C sugar

1/4 t salt (Saveur specifies kosher; I used table salt)

4 egg whites, lightly beaten

1/4 C dried lavender (I used fresh, and about half that much, and straight out of the garden, and I chopped it finely. It worked well.)

4 T unsalted butter, melted

3 T flour (converted: I used a gluten-free flour mix, and added 1/4 t xanthan gum.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl whisk together sugar, salt and egg whites until smooth. Add lavender, butter and flour and mix until evenly combined.  If using GF flour, allow the batter to rest a few minutes to allow the xanthan gum to absorb some of the moisture and do its stretchy thing.

Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto a silicon mat-lined baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon spread batter into very thin 4″ rounds.  Bake until golden brown at the edges, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, and using an offset spatula or butter knife, gently lift the hot cookies off the baking sheet and drape them over a rolling pin or other curved surface and allow them to cool there.

A few more tips of my own:

- I don’t have a silicone baking mat, so I used parchment paper which worked reasonably well – I had to peel the cookies off very carefully, but they didn’t disintegrate (which is noteworthy for GF cookies).

- It’s slow going, but I suggest cooking only one tray of cookies at a time unless you have an abundance of surfaces onto which you can drape cooling cookies. The upside to this batter is that without a leavening agent it will hold well for quite awhile.

- I hear tell you can also drape the cookies into muffin tins and create bowls that would be heavenly filled with custard, fruit, whipped cream, or other filling.

- They’re wonderful in a lunchbox!

Give them a try, and let me know how they turn out for you!

American Giant and Small Business
Feb 3rd, 2012 by Nancy

This came across my sights the other day:

How American Giant Hacked the Supply Chain

For years, it was cheaper to produce goods overseas. But Bayard Winthrop believes that’s changing, in part because of one big culprit: The Internet.

“There’s a general growing comfort level with not only consuming online but buying things like shoes and apparel online,” says Winthrop. “I think one of the reasons we’re so excited about what we’re doing is that we’re in a new time now in that for the first time you can begin to really assess the non-manufacturing related costs. Even two years ago you couldn’t do that.”

American GiantIn a nutshell, start-up clothing manufacturer American Giant, which opened its ‘doors’ this week, is doing the improbable – high quality, reasonably priced, American made clothing – by only having them available online, thereby short-circuiting the overhead of retail space, distribution, and everything else that goes into getting products into traditional brick & mortar retail.

Market forces and cultural forces have conspired against US garment manufacturing for decades.  However, with that loss has been the unfortunate loss of quality and durability.  Sociologist Julie Schor has verified what many of us have assumed for some time: garment prices have flatlined or dropped in the last 20 years, in large part due to cheap overseas labor but also because of cheaply made, low quality materials and deferred environmental costs. We therefore buy many more garments now than we did in the early 90’s, partly in response to the lower (real) prices, but also in part because of diminished quality and durability – the old saw “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to” is quantifiably, verifiably true in the garment and other soft goods industries.

Thanks to the reach of the internet and the comfort level we have achieved with online shopping and financial transactions, however, it’s very possible to do an end-around the biggest costs of bringing a new item to market – namely, renting retail space, hiring and training staff, or hiring sales reps to shlep your shiny new thing to stores in hopes they will add it to their inventory.

I’m really delighted to see this hit the big time, and I strongly encourage you to take a look at the link in the title of the quote above – there’s a succinct video demonstrating the plight of, and the hopefully bright future for, American manufacturing.  The U.S. is full of the hand skills, the machinery, and most of all the people who can, simply put, manufacture great stuff.

I’m also compelled to say, “It’s about time somebody else caught on to what we at Lunchsense have been doing all along, and why.”

After the design for Lunchsense lunchboxes came into being and I realized I wasn’t the only person on the planet who needed a better way to pack lunches, I started scouting around for local manufacturing.  I hit paydirt with Oregon Sewn Products – they are the right size in the right place and the right price, and wonderful, entertaining individuals to boot.

It’s noteworthy to temper my enthusiasm with a shot of reality, though.   If everyone were to do what American Giant is doing, it would be at the expense of American retailers.

I do manufacture a fair number of my lunchboxes in Vietnam, at a factory I visited (trip of a lifetime!) and vetted for its labor standards, working conditions, and environmental initiatives.  I’m pleased to say the factory not only passed muster but holds SA8000 certification.  Yes, the lunchboxes I manufacture overseas cost me far less than the US made lunchboxes.  They do allow me, however, to sell lunchboxes to stores, which then can sell them to you, which allows us both to make an appropriate profit in the endeavor. In other words,

I manufacture in the U.S. (and support a local manufacturer) —–> I sell to you, directly, on the internet

I manufacture overseas —–> I sell these lower cost (but identical quality) items to stores (and support a local retailer) —–> they sell to you.

Doing it this way allows me to support both U.S. manufacturing AND U.S. retailing.  I wouldn’t want to cut either business type out of my model. There are plenty of folks who just want to buy a lunchbox off a store shelf, and I am happy to meet their needs.  There are plenty of others who are fine with buying things online, and I’m here for them too.

Lastly, note that if you want a lunchbox assembled in the U.S., just say so in the comments field when you place your online order, and I promise you will get exactly that.

I wish American Giant all the best, and I really hope they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, because their success is my success, and ultimately, yours as well.       

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