I listened to a radio program back in 2007 that introduced to me the term “locavore.” It was the 2007 “Word of the Year” for the Oxford American Dictionary. A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius. (I have seen 50, 100, and 150 miles mentioned).

Unlike being a vegan, vegetarian, or some other limited food consumer for health or ethical reasons, the locavore movement’s main aim is to support local food producers. It encourages consumers to buy from local farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food. Most locavores would say that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Also, locally grown food is an environmentally-friendly means of obtaining food, as compared to supermarkets that import their food and use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources to obtain it.

It does mean that I won’t have strawberries and tomatoes in Paradelle in December unless they are grown in a greenhouse. And citrus fruits won’t be locally grown here ever. So, there are sacrifices, especially since most of us have become used to a global supermarket experience.

“Locavore” is a fairly new word coined by Jessica Prentice on the occasion of World Environment Day 2005 to describe and promote the practice and is in the pattern of carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.

10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore

Goats and cheesemaking workshop, Maker Faire 2011.jpg
Cheesemaking workshop, Maker Faire 2011 – Note the “Eat Your Zipcode” sign
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Eat 80 Percent

New Jersey diner dessert case

It’s not that I eat bad foods. It’s that I eat too much. I have a Jersey diner mentality. Big portions. There is a Japanese cultural habit of healthy eating called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full (literally, “stomach 80%”).

That is possibly easier to follow in Japan where portions are generally much smaller than in the U.S. and the pace of eating is also slower. One thing it does not mean in Japan is leaving a fifth of your meal on the plate. It is bad form to leave food on your plate. That is a rule my mother seemed to follow. “Clean your plate” was a rule in my house and it has stuck with me – which has not helped my waistline.

Stopping at 80% might be a good way to avoid obesity without going hungry. The stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it is full. That’s why you probably feel really full about 20 minutes after you stop eating.

Pastrami Reuben with disco fries at an NJ diner – not part of the Okinawa diet.

Hara hachi bu is discussed in a diet book called The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry. It’s based on a traditional Okinawa, Japan diet that emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, fish, and limited meats.

Keeping that 80% in mind, I looked at some health statistics for Okinawa that I found: heart disease rates are 80% lower than in the U.S; the rate of stroke is also lower and cholesterol levels are typically under 180. Their rates of cancer are 50-80% lower – especially for breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

When I started searching online for more information on this 80% rule, I came across a blog post that wondered if this principle could relate to other aspects of life. The blogger (who writes about business presentations) related it to the length of a good speech, presentation, or meeting.

He says, “No matter how much time you are given, never ever go over time, and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. How long you go will depend on your own unique situation at the time but try to shoot for 80-90% of your allotted time. No one will complain if you finish with a few minutes to spare. The problem with most presentations is that they are too long, not too short. Performers, for example, know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and doesn’t want you to go, and not after they have had enough and are full of you.”

Does hara hachi bu relate to anything in your life?

I can certainly see situations where I would NOT want it to be a guiding philosophy. For example, I wouldn’t want my students to give 80% of their effort. Then again, in this current economic downturn, perhaps it makes sense for all of us to use the principle in situations like our spending. Maybe, as with food, you only need to buy 80% of what you think you need in clothing, dining out, travel and non-essentials. Spend only 80%, save 20% or donate the 20% to charity.

The 80% food rule is good as long as you can tell you’re at that point. I’m not a fast eater, so you’d think that I could sense I was full and just stop. My wife rarely finishes a meal when we go out. Eat half and take half home for lunch tomorrow. I have to break the habits of my childhood. And maybe go to fewer diners.

Have a Fictitious Meal

A book club I participate in recently asked members what characters from fiction they would like to host for a dinner. I went with Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces), Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing (Fear of Flying), T.S. Garp (The World According to Garp), and Juliet Capulet (Romeo & Juliet) If they are allowed to bring a plus one it would be, in order, Phoebe, his mother, Adrian, Jenny, and Romeo Montague.

But what about the food? I’m not much of a chef and not very adventurous with menus. But how about a fictitious meal?

Fictitious Dishes is a bit of a cookbook without recipes, maybe a coffee table book that people page through, one they borrow from the library or give as a gift to a literary person who likes to cook. It is a pretty book. It has re-creations of meals from classic and contemporary literature with some excerpts from books, information about the food, author, their works, and the food itself.

I can see someone doing Mad hatter’s Tea Party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Maybe you can read The Bell Jar while eating its crab-stuffed avocado. Not every selection is elegant. From The Catcher in the Rye, we get a cheese sandwich (on rye?) and drink a malted.

But how about an elegant jazz age party with Gatsby: “glistening Hors-d’oeuvre” and cocktails. Looking to be fancy? Boeuf en Daube from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Some New England clam chowder with Ishmael and Queequeg from Moby-Dick

I love the novel Moby-Dick. I don’t love clams in or out of chowder. Ever since I dissected a clam in AP biology and discovered that people eat the part that filters junk out of the water I haven’t been a fan. I grew up with the Manhattan tomato-based version and the New Jersey variation which has Old Bay crab spices and asparagus and the less clam the better. I can live with the Moby addition of salted pork (Jersey Taylor ham or pork roll?), pounded sea biscuit, and lots of butter. Some good crusty bread and good coffee and I might just reread Melville again with a bowl of chowder in front of me the next cold November in my soul.

As I said, I’m not that adventurous when it comes to food. I tend to like the peasant foods from every culture – Italian, Mexican, French, Indian, German – take your pick. I’m going to go simple American with my meal from a favorite book – To Kill a Mockingbird‘s fried chicken, tomatoes (from my Jersey garden), beans, scuppernong (I had to look that up. They are a Southern big, white grape that is tart) and nice fresh-from-the-oven rolls. Dessert is some apple pie ala mode (coffee or cinnamon ice cream is my preference) from On the Road. Ala mode on the road. Sounds good.

The Nap After Thanksgiving Dinner

Image by Julie Rothe from Pixabay

Are you already prepping for Thanksgiving dinner? That might mean food prep or it might mean sleep prep.

This has always been my wife’s favorite holiday – no gifts, no cards, no religious affiliations, just food and family and friends and a time to count your blessings. In years past, we had quite a crowd with our parents, some bachelor(ette) aunts and friends who didn’t have family and our own two boys. This year the parents and aunts have passed on. Our boys are off with their in-laws, so it will be a quiet holiday.

Thanksgiving is also a day when Americans – who already eat too much – will make and eat too much to an even larger degree. And that often leads to the after-dinner nap on the couch. Sleep after a big meal is never a good idea for digestion, but you cant’ help it after that turkey and fixings. Right?

Did you see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and George force a lot of turkey on a woman so that she will fall asleep and they can play with her classic toy collection? It has long been thought that because turkey has the amino acid L-tryptophan, that it causes that after-dinner hangover. But is the turkey really what makes you so tired?  Maybe not.

Fact: L-tryptophan is an amino acid responsible for producing serotonin in our brains and serotonin is a hormone that affects mood. It makes us feel happy and relaxed and plays a role in helping us sleep and also aids with digestion. And turkey has L-tryptophan. But some research shows that the amino acids and protein in turkey have the opposite effect. They can inhibit L-tryptophan’s ability to produce serotonin which means it would keep you awake.

And yet the after-dinner turkey day snooze is real. What is causing it? It’s carbohydrates. The bread, rolls, stuffing, potatoes, cake and pie, when eaten with high protein foods like turkey will lead to feeling sleepy and sluggish.

How can we beat that sleepy effect? Don’t starve before the main meal because you’ll eat too fast and too much. (I know that you said that you didn’t eat all morning in order to “save room” for dinner.) Eat smaller portions of those carbs. Fight off the habit or urge to nap by getting outside for a little walk or some touch football.

So, now that I have taken some of the pleasure out of the holiday meal, is there any good coming out of traditional Thanksgiving foods? I searched and yes, there is some good news.

I have never met a potato I didn’t like and mashed potatoes are high on my list. Potatoes are full of potassium which lowers blood pressure and nourishes muscles and they have a lot of vitamin B6 which helps metabolism. Note that adding a lot of salt, gravy or butter can cancel out any benefits.

Fresh vegetables have fiber, Vitamins A, B1, B2 and B6 and calcium. The green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and the crunchy onions is not so great for your health.

I love stuffing. I will have a stuffing sandwich the day after Thanksgiving. I know, it’s bread on bread. But stuffing can be made healthier with the addition of whole wheat bread with the crusts and nuts, seeds, meat or vegan protein and carrots, celery and other veggies so that you get more fiber, antioxidants and nutrients. My wife’s recipe has all that and it is delicious.

How about pumpkin pie? I just read that many pumpkin products are actually made from other squashes and they can legally be labeled as pumpkin. Bummer. Pumpkin pie with real pumpkin contains potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene, which can help lower the risk of cancer. Again, what else you add to the pie (sugars, whipped cream etc.) might tip the scale from beneficial to harmful.

I wish you moderation and gratitude on your Thanksgiving day. Eat well. And after the meal, maybe toss a football around before you watch other people toss one around on a screen from your comfy couch.

Everything You Know Is Wrong

A recent study says that I drink too much coffee per day. Another article I read says that researchers now say eating a few eggs is not healthy. I can find articles from a year or two ago that say the opposite; my coffee would be helping me and those eggs were the perfect food. I feel like everything I know is wrong because they keep changing what is right.

It’s one thing to just believe something to be true because you got the wrong information from someone (maybe in school, maybe online) but it’s different when “they” change the answers.

There is a book titled The Book of General Ignorance which has the subtitle “Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong.” Magellan was the first man to circumnavigate the globe. Baseball was invented in America. Henry VIII had six wives. Mount Everest is the tallest mountain? Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

You may be disappointed to learn that chameleons don’t change color to match the background (it’s more of a mood ring kind of thing) or that a centipede does not have a hundred legs. You assumed that a two-toed sloth has two toes, but it’s either six or eight.

Some of those things I had learned incorrectly along the way. Maybe I was told these “facts” by someone who believed them to be true. There are plenty of things  I never learned right or wrong, so the information is new. I didn’t know that Honolulu is the world’s largest city. That may because it wins based on a technicality – 72% of its 2,127 square miles is underwater.

I am more disturbed by the scientific research kinds of facts that seem to keep flipping. Chocolate and red wine: Good or bad for your health? Depends on when the research was done.

Entire books probably get knocked off the shelf as new research proves them to be incorrect. Take a book like The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain By Dr. Steven R Gundry M.D. This neuro-nutrition book was marked as the “most read” book on Amazon, at one point with 2000+ 4 and 5-star reviews.

It is one of those books that tells you what you know is wrong. You were eating more plants and less meat because that’s the healthy way to go. Right?

This book clues you in on highly toxic, plant-based proteins called lectins. Are they hiding in some strange foods? No, they are in grains like wheat but also in the “gluten-free” foods and many fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and conventional dairy products. These proteins are found in the seeds, grains, skins, rinds, and leaves of plants. Why are they there? They are nature’s way of protecting plants from predators. Humans are plant predators too, I suppose. We’re not talking about genetically modified foods (though the book isn’t happy with those either).

What do they do to us? Like so many other things, they do chemical things in our guts that cause inflammatory reactions (inflammation being the current cause of almost all the evil in your body), and can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions. The book has spawned cookbooks and other guides, but some of its suggestions are simple to follow.

Peel your veggies. And here I thought the skin and seeds of plants were good for you, but that’s where a lot of those lectins are hiding. It saddens me to peel and de-seed my beloved tomatoes to reduce their lectin content. Fruit contain fewer lectins when ripe, so eat your apples and berries at peak ripeness.

Remember how you were told to swap that white rice for the healthier brown rice? Okay, flip that swap.
Swap your brown rice for white again because whole grains and seeds with hard outer coatings are full of lectins.

Does everyone agree with this science. Of course not. In fact, I suspect that as soon as a book like this is published, several other authors start working on the opposite theories for another book.


Spirulina is a blue-green algae that can be consumed by humans and other animals. It is cultivated worldwide as two species (Arthrospira platensis and A. maxima)  and used as a dietary supplement or whole food. It is often used as a feed supplement for animals and more recently it has found a growing place in human food preparations.

Its appeal comes from several of its qualities. It is an ecologically sound, sustainable, nutrient-rich, dietary supplement. It is used to address food security, malnutrition, and as dietary support for dieters, athletes and even as a part of long-term space flights like the Mars missions. It requires less land and water requirements to produce high quality protein and energy.

I first encountered spirulina in a family wedding’s welcome bag. It contained some spirulina in a form called Crunchlina from the company SoulFresh Proteins (formerly SunFresh Proteins). It turned out that the owners were related to the bride, so I got to meet them at the event.

They grow/farm spirulina year round to make products and also forms that can be added to beverages, salads, cereals, sauces, baked goods and toppings.

Before I consumed the Crunchlina, I did some research. Let’s face it, if you ask people if they want to taste some blue-green algae, I don’t think you will get a lot of takers.  There are other sources of protein, such as insects, that are also sustainable, but they are all a tough sale.

One scary fact I found online is that there is some questionable spirulina in the market that comes from some questionable producers. A lot of the bad stuff comes from outside the United States (China, India) and the spirulina is then stored and shipped over long periods of time that destroys the nutrient value. That algae is also grown and shipped using environmentally unfriendly methods. This means that what is sold is unreliable and providing little or no nutritional value. In the worst situations, the product can be harmful.

And that is why I have stayed with products from SoulFresh which is produced in Rhode Island, USA. Their founder came from the agriculture world producing refined vegetable oils to bakeries, restaurants and food product manufacturers. Their Agcore Technologies has been around since 2013. Their original goal was to grow a high protein alga that could be used in human and animal nutrition. (BTW, alga is the singular; algae is the plural. Good trivia fact)  Their research found non-GMO spirulina to be the best choice. The challenge was to grow the blue-green alga in their cool New England climate. The coolness also has an advantage as growers closer to the Equator have to shut down in hot summer months.

It is grown in greenhouses that use the Sun for photosynthesis, rather than artificial lightning. They harvest daily, dry at low temperatures, and provide a very fresh and optimal product.

Cyanobacteria (Cyanophyta, a phylum of bacteria) obtain their energy via sunlight through photosynthesis. The name cyanobacteria comes from the color of the bacteria via the Greek word kyanós means “blue.” They are more commonly referred to as “blue-green algae”

It has been on Earth for a long time. We know that spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans. They would harvest it from Lake Texcoco in Mexico. They would dry it and make into small cakes. Cortés’ soldiers knew of it by the Aztec word “tecuitlatl.”

Spirulina fell away as a food source as those ancient people were pushed into civilization and the draining of their surrounding lakes for agriculture and urban development. Tecuitlalt/spirulina seems to have disappeared from human use or study until the mid-20th century when French phycologist Pierre Dangeard mentioned a cake called “dihe” that was consumed by the Kanembu tribe in Africa. The tribe harvested it from Lake Chad and surrounding small ponds much in the way that the Aztecs did. The dihe was studied and found to be a dried purée of the spring form of the blue-green algae, and it was being combined used in broths, sauces and other foods. In the 1960s, botanists confirmed that dihe is made up of spirulina.

An accidental bloom of algae in a chemical production facility led to a very systematic and detailed study of spirulina. After publishing about the growth requirements and physiology of spirulina, one effect was . the start of large-scale production in the 1970s.

I use their CrunchLina as an energy snack but usually use it as I would use granola in yogurt, salads and cereals. The spirulina is blended with a variety of good stuff like Vermont maple syrup, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, raisins, flaxseed and cinnamon. What it doesn’t contain are binders, artificial flavors or colors. You will not take a bite and think, “Oh, this is algae.” It tastes great.

For the purer form, I use their spirulina powder in smoothies and in things like breads (especially my banana and zucchini breads!). They have added new products including HempLina. As the name suggests, it contains spirulina and full spectrum CBD from hemp. They add cinnamon to mask the “green” flavor. They have also started adding CBD.  Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of some 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants such as hemp and marijuana. Unlike, “pot,” CBD lacks the THC that gets people high, but it does have other properties, including pain relief. CBD is a hot topic these days and is being used to reduce anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain. The Hemplina triple-combo can be used to try to help improve various ailments including inflammation, mood, energy, digestion, skin health and pain relief. The product is water-soluble and so can be blended into liquids (smoothies, juice, coffee, tea all work for me). I also sprinkle it for the cinnamon flavor on cereals, toast and baked goods.

A properly grown spirulina used as a food will have protein levels over 60%. It has more: antioxidants than blueberries, more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more beta-carotene than carrots. It also has more protein than steak on a gram-per-gram basis and it is being vegan-approved.

If you decide to try spirulina, do some homework on the producer.

It is quite remarkable and I can only imagine that interest and use of this spirulina will increase in the future. In fact, it may be, unfortunately, necessary to use it in the future.

I also found some other uses for spirulina, but I can’t personally vouch for its use as a body scrub or facial mask!