»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
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.

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.       

By request: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
Nov 14th, 2011 by Nancy

I’ve been following along with the Food Studies posts at Grist lately, and the most recent post “What’s Up with Gluten?” landed near and dear to my heart.  Finally!  Some sane, sensible, science-based words about gluten!  Thanks, Mitchell Mattes.   I commented, then mentioned I had a knack for gluten-free pizza crust (my husband was diagnosed celiac about 12 years ago), and a couple people requested it.  This seemed like a better place to post it than Grist.

It is, actually, a recipe from “Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat” by Bette Hagman.  Her book was a lifesaver for me back in the dark ages of food allergies.  Fast forward to the present, and I’m overwhelmed (and delighted) by all the food producers that include allergen information on their labels.  ‘Makes my life much easier.

Anyway, back to the recipe: I’ve made this many, many times and have found a few shortcuts that make assembly easier, as well as additions that (I think) improve the outcome a bit.  Besides all that, today’s The Big Game, which is all the excuse I need to make a pizza.

YEAST-RISING THICK PIZZA CRUST adapted from The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat, by Bette Hagman, copyright 1990.

This makes dough for two 12-14″ pizzas.  The dough freezes nicely, so you can make one pizza now and sleep well knowing you have the makings for another one later.

1. Begin by preparing two pans for pizza.  I use the underside of my lasagne pan (or cookie sheets).  Why the underside? you ask – In truth, I don’t know why I started doing that.  Maybe the heat reaches the pizza better; maybe it’s just because it’s easier to serve pizza off a flat surface.  In any event,

pan and oilI generously coat the the pans with olive oil (tip: if your pans are non-stick, you’ll find the oil doesn’t distribute well; in that case use vegetable shortening), then dust them lightly with cornmeal to give the pizzas that “tavern pizza” finish.cornmeal for panoiling pan

Don’t worry that your pans are rectangles and you think your pizza should be round; go ahead and make a “racetrack” shaped pizza.

11-12 dry ingredients2. Throw in a large bowl (a stand mixer if you have one is perfect for this):

2 C rice flour

2 C tapioca flour

2/3 C dry milk powder

3 1/2 t xanthan gum (Essential.  Found at many grocery stores these days; try the baking aisle or the health foods aisle)

1 t salt

2 T dry yeast granules I recommend, if you haven’t baked in awhile and you have some dusty old packets of yeast in the back of your cabinet, pitch those and by a jar of the granules.  Fresh yeast does make a difference.

water, shortening and egg whites

1 T sugar

Mix with the bread hook or cookie paddle a few times to combine the dry ingredients.

3. Separate 4 eggs; we’ll use the whites in the pizza. Save the yolks for another day -

you were looking for an excuse to make custard, yes? Or maybe lemon curd?

4. Combine:

pizza dough is like really sticky frosting1 1/2 cups hot water (hot tap water is fine – 125° to 135°)

3 T shortening

Water at that temperature will allow the shortening to melt.

5. Add the water and the egg whites to the dry ingredients (turn the mixer on low if you are using one), and blend at high speed for 4 minutes.

Don’t worry that the water is too hot for the yeast – the act of adding it to the mixed dry ingredients cools it rapidly.  As long as you are using fresh yeast don’t worry, either, about proofing the yeast (softening it in warm water+a little sugar before use).  This method described above has worked every time for me. Note that the xanthan gum provides the stretch that the gluten-free flours lack, and it needs time to soften and develop in the dough.  Finally, you won’t need to let this rise; it will do so while you spread the crust and dress it.

After the mixing, you will have a dough that’s much wetter and stickier than traditional wheat dough.  Don’t worry, that’s normal for gluten-free goods.

Divide the goo onto the two prepared pans, then liberally coat your hands in olive oil and gently press and prod the doughs into flat, roundish crusts that are about 1/4″ thick, leaving somewhat thicker edges to hold in sauce and toppings.  Re-oil your hands as necessary to minimize sticking; the finished crusts will be shiny but not drippy with oil.   I find that the dough is prone to tearing, so be gentle and patient; I also find that the heel of my hands works better than my fingers for spreading crusts.  Note that you won’t get a perfect circle and it won’t look “justlike a wheat crust” but it will be fine, and it WILL taste great.11-12 pizza in process 3pizza in process 1pizza in process 2

DRESSING THE PIZZA

Have on hand:

11-12 cheese added

11-12 sauce added

Tomato sauce for pizza (about one cup) I use a good quality spaghetti sauce, and it works just fine.  If you use that and happen to have a little tomato paste on hand, add it to the sauce to thicken it a bit; if not, that’s fine too.  Be careful if the spaghetti sauce is “chunky”, as the pieces, when you try and spread them on the dough, can tear it.  Be careful, and take your time.

Shredded mozzarella I use about a pound per pizza.  It looks like too much; it isn’t.

Shredded fresh parmesan If you don’t have fresh parmesan, you can omit this, but I highly recommend it.

Toppings as you see fit.

The most common difference between homemade pizza and good restaurant pizza is that homemade pizzas tend to have too much sauce and not enough cheese.   Once the crust is spread, apply a modest layer of sauce, then ample shredded mozzarella to within an inch or two of the edge.  Add toppings, then finish off the whole affair with a dusting of grated fresh parmesan (about a half cup per pizza).

Apply another coat of olive oil to the outer edge if it looks dry, then

11-12 pizza ready to bake

Salt and pepper the whole thing, especially the outer edge – I know, I know, you’re thinking doesn’t the cheese have finished pizzaenough salt already? Ignore your concerns.  The results are great.  I haven’t tried any seasoned salts, but I bet they’d work well too.

6. Bake the whole affair at 400° for 20 – 25 minutes.  Check the pizzas at about 15 – 20 minutes, and rotate the pans if they aren’t browning evenly.

Enjoy!

If you’d like to make one pizza now and another later, you can freeze the dough as soon as it’s mixed; OR you can spread the dough, place the cookie sheet in the freezer and harden up the raw, spread crust, then wrap and store it for future thawing, dressing and baking; OR you can “blind bake” the undressed crust  for 15 minutes and freeze it for later use.  I’ve done all three with good results.

I’ve also mixed the dough and divided it into 8 “mini pizzas”, then blind baked them for future use.  It’s more work but a real treat to pull one out for a quick dinner.

slice showing crustLet me know how they turned out!

crust underside - browned, crunchy+chewy

It's everywhere: BPA on credit card receipts
Apr 21st, 2010 by Nancy

Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake.  credit card receipts

The following information hit the presses last autumn (here is the report), and I’m only now finding it and passing it on to you, my fine readers.  The gist of the story (which warrants its own read, as it’s full of information and additional links) is that credit card receipts using  thermal imaging processes – the slick, shiny stuff that creates prints from a chemical reaction when heat is applied to the paper, as opposed to traditional ink-printed papers – are coated with bisphenol-A, the endocrine disrupting chemical.

I regret to say that the jury is still out about a definitive link between BPA and human health – google “BPA health effects” and march down the links, and you’ll get just a sampling of the spectrum  – but I’m comfortable saying it is implicated in a host of troubles.  It’s the same BPA that has plenty of people concerned about use of any plastics; the same BPA that compelled Canada to ban polycarbonate baby bottles and Japan to ban it outright; and the same BPA that is NOT found in any Lunchsense products.

One unsettling (and instructive) point in this most recent report, however, is the quantity of BPA we’re talking about.  The amount which may leach from a polycarbonate bottle or a can liner is measured in nanograms, while that which shows up on a single receipt is 60 to 100 milligrams.

That’s a thousand-fold difference.

Now for a shorthand science lecture:  We all believe in a linear relationship when we think about toxic materials and health effects.  In other words, a small dose of some material has a small effect, and a larger dose of the same material has a larger effect.  Here’s the rub: This dose-response relationship may not hold true for hormone-mimicking chemicals – the greatest effect may occur with a small dose, and our bodies may not respond at all to a large dose of the same material.

So where I can say “that’s a thousand-fold difference” for dramatic effect, I admit it may be meaningless.

The bottom line: we don’t know what’s going on.

If you find that this post is all over the map, then you’re perceptively picking up on my sentiments about the topic.  I DON’T know what’s going on with BPA, but in the meantime I’ll be sure to keep it out of the Lunchsense lunchboxes, food containers, ice packs, and drink bottles.

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa