Sugar by any other name …

sugar sugar label

Over the years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the presence of High Fructose Corn Syrup (or HFCS) in their food. As a result, the Corn Refiners Association has seen a marked impact on their sales—and in response has repeatedly tried to shift public perception. For instance, in 2008 the CRA released a series of advertisements (presumably in response to negative public relations about their flagship product) claiming that HFCS is “made from corn, is natural, has the same calories as sugar or honey, is nutritionally the same as sugar, and is fine in moderation.” While the PR tactic may have been designed to boost sales, the backlash against several of these claims ultimately had the opposite impact, and sales of HFCS dropped 9% the following year.

In the fall of 2010, the CRA applied for permission to use the name “Corn Sugar” in place of “High Fructose Corn Syrup” on nutritional labels for foods sold in the United States. According to former CRA president Audrae Erickson, “Consumers need to know what is in their foods and where their foods come from and we want to be clear with them … The term ‘corn sugar’ succinctly and accurately describes what this natural ingredient is and where it comes from—corn.”

The petition was rejected by the FDA in May of 2012, citing both basic differences between crystallized sugar and corn syrup, as well concerns that those with fructose intolerance might be put at risk if they believe the product to be something that it is not. And now the Corn Refiners Association is at it again—not with petitions to the FDA or commercials intended to persuade consumers, but with a subtle name change resulting from some laboratory tweaking of HFCS. As savvy shoppers attempt to avoid products with this particular sweetener, some packaged goods are now touting a “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” addition to labels. But take a closer look at the ingredient list, and there it is: the new isolated fructose.

According to the CRA, the term “fructose” can be used to denote a product that was previously known as HFCS-90 (meaning that it is 90% pure fructose and 10% glucose). Corn sweetener with 42% fructose is a 42/58 blend of fructose and glucose, making it only lightly sweet. HCFS, on the other hand, is a 55/45 blend of fructose and glucose; it is designed to be equivalent in sweetness to sugar, and is used to flavor many processed foods on the market. HFCS-90 is the sweetest of the formulas, and therefore can be used more sparingly. The CRA argues that the use of the name “fructose syrup” is entirely appropriate due to the chemical makeup of the ingredient. Conscious consumers, on the other hand, might not be convinced.

•Landa, Michael, “Response to Petition from Corn Refiners Association to Authorize ‘Corn Sugar’ as an Alternate Common or Usual Name for High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)” Food and Drug Administration-31 May 2012
•“Sneaky Name Change has High Fructose Corn Syrup Hiding in your Health Food” Jan 2015
•“Sweeteners” Corn Refiners Association-2016.
•Warner, Melanie, “For Corn Syrup, the Sweet Talk Gets Harder” The New York Times-30 April 2010.

From Berkshire Organics Newsletter, March 4th


Crocus Focus

crocusHave you seen them yet, peeking out of the ground, looking for spring like the rest of us? Every spring I see them and am reminded of the article below, and I promise myself this will be the year, but each fall I forget to plant these treasures. So now I’m sharing in the hopes that we’ll either remember together, or forget together. They are not easy to come by (some places offer pre-orders), and you’ll want to find the perfect place in your garden for them:
Every hard-core locavore maintains a private list of foods that will simply never be locally-produced, but without which life is not worth living. Which exotics are deemed indispensable varies by palate; citrus, olive oil, bananas, and rice are a few from my roster. We rationalize by buying fairly traded and organic versions of luxurious essentials. We support local companies trading in them. We tell ourselves that the world would not be a better place if we gave up morning coffee.

So isn’t it a pleasure to find that an item—a costly and rare spice—can shift category from “exotic” to “home-grown”? Turns out that it’s not only possible, but easy, to grow a household supply of saffron, right here in my ordinary Plymouth garden with my ordinary skill set. So what if my first harvest last year was little more than a teaspoon—saffron is intense enough that a very few threads impress their distinctive hue and pungency on a paella or a dish of mussels or a creamy pudding.

As an added attraction, the powerful saffron aroma, flavor, and color characteristics come packaged inside sweet little autumn-blooming crocuses, flowers that would be welcome in the October garden even without the edible bonus. Each crocus flower contains three brilliant orange stigmas, slender threads designed to catch pollen, and these, when dried, comprise the actual spice. Perhaps you’ve heard tell of the poor nimble-fingered Valencians, gathering the stigmas out of acres and acres of crocuses every fall; of the Silk Road caravans toting the precious spice out of its native Kashmir year upon year; even of the dispute among archaeologists about whether the monkey depicted in an ancient Cretan fresco sorting through crocus bits is meant to be a literal depiction of period practice or a spoof on archaeologists. . . As is so often the case, knowing these things intellectually doesn’t prepare you for the thrill of dropping to your knees, putting on your glasses, and plucking, exactingly, your own vibrant, deepest red, living saffron threads. How can it be that such exquisite jewels are sequestered between the heading up Brussels sprouts and the dying hulks of tomato plants?

When first I saw Crocus Sativus in a bulb catalog, my reaction was to look at the Hardiness Zone chart (again!) to make sure there was no mistake. How could our chilly clime support these plants, associated as they are with the blistering steppes and plains of Iran, India, and Spain? But then I recalled that saffron had made an excursion to Essex in not-so-blistering England sometime in the Middle Ages. By the late sixteenth century, the commercial success of Essex saffron was such that a market town was renamed Saffron Walden, and the folks who worked in the trade were charmingly dubbed “crokers.” Pondering that cultural habit of the wandering “r”—having lived in southeastern New England most of my life, I am accustomed to hearing my first name pronounced with a terminal “r”—provoked a little more research. Darned if Saffron Walden didn’t contribute a disproportionate number of settlers to the Massachusetts Bay Company in the 1630s (including the celebrated minister John Eliot). The descendants of the “crokers” are all around us, still dropping and adding r’s by their own rules, but unfortunately their forebears left their trade at home in Essex when they crossed the pond. What a shame! Wouldn’t it be great if saffron were part of our local colonial heritage along with cod and corn and rye?

Originally published in Edible South Shore & South Coast Magazine, Spring 2013 and written by Paula Marcoux, adapted for our newsletter by Pamela Denholm

Carbon Sequestration

carbonIt’s that time of year again! As the weather warms, those of you who love to garden will feel the familiar tug of the outdoors, and the longing grows to put your hands in the dirt and breathe in its musty, earthy fragrance. Sigh. I know I can’t wait – I’m itching to get started on projects I’ve been dreaming up all winter!

We have spoken of many environmental topics as they relate to farming, gardening, and our food. One of them, was sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and keeping carbon in the ground. We have written about biochar, and how its made (and how amazing it is in your garden), and how carbon in the atmosphere is contributing to the warming of our planet. Well, one of the most efficient carbon sequestering machines, are plants, but they can’t do it alone.  They need the community of microorganisms that live in the soil to help them. Most of these organisms live within the top three inches of soil and they help convert nitrogen from a gas, to something the plant can use, and in return the plant converts carbon from a gas, to something the microorganisms can use – and in using it, they sequester it to the soil. It’s pretty cool.

To help your garden do its bit, here is a question: to roto-till or not to roto-till? This is a contentious issue, but tilling does disrupt the environment and habitat of these organisms, because rototilling churns the top three inches of soil, where they live.  Roto-tilling also accelerates soil erosion and it compacts the soil. I’m not saying you should never roto-till, if you are breaking ground for the first time, or doing it intermittently to achieve a goal, it’s okay, the organisms will re-establish themselves eventually, it is just not a healthy practice to repeat too often.

Another way you can help is to put leafy plants (and as much diversity as possible) on every available surface. Reduce paving, stones, plant living path ways with ground cover and mosses, put plants up vertical surfaces too. Plants naturally add organic matter to the soil, they establish roots which die off and new roots go, they drop leaves and petals – although it is our instinct to pick them up, actually, we should just leave them where they are and add mulch over the top.

Finally, we think it is all up to us, we, who live on land, but did you know that kelp buries far more atmospheric carbon than anything on land? It’s an algae community and a habitat for many sea creatures. Sea urchins looove kelp. A bit too much, because when left to their own devices these spikey invertebrates turn lush kelp forests into sea urchin deserts.  And that’s where our furry friends the sea otters come in.

Sea otters looove sea urchins.  A hungry sea otter crew can dispatch a million pounds of sea urchins in a few months so the fast-growing, carbon-capturing kelp forest can reappear in short order.  Once again, nature proves that everything is connected to everything else . . . just in case we humans aren’t convinced yet.

By Pamela Denholm

Fair Trade

fair tradeWhen Pam asked me to do an article on fair trade my reaction was…. on What? Being naturally curious I started researching the subject and some interesting info emerged.
We know that buying locally from small farmer’s addresses environmental responsibility, agricultural sustainability, and fair wages as well as providing fresh food directly to our tables. But what about the items that don’t grow where we live? Have you ever given thought to where your coffee, tea, and spices come from and what happens between the growing and retailing of these products?

These items are grown in environmentally responsible ways by some small-scale growers mostly in the developing world. We can encourage these good practices by offering a fair wage for their efforts. This approach, termed fair trade, has grown into an impressive international effort to counter the growing exploitation of farmers in these same countries. Consumer support for conscientious small growers helps counter the corporate advantage and sustains their livelihoods, environments, and communities.

Bananas are one of the most popular and most consumed fruits in the world. Yet, large multinational corporations control a large percentage of the banana trade; Dole and Chiquita together control more than 50%. Most bananas are produced in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and reports of unfair labor conditions among the large corporate plantations abound. Fair Trade is cutting out the corporate influence by providing banana farmers a direct connection into the marketplace. The instinct to buy bananas is so automatic that we rarely think about where the fruit we cut up for our cereal or bake into banana bread comes from or who grows it. We head to the farmers’ markets and learn varieties of corn, or check whether meat or poultry is sustainably and ethically raised. But when it comes to bananas — which are cheap, available year-round, nutritious, and wrapped in their own pretty packages — the fruit gets taken for granted. That’s in spite of the fact that the average consumption in the United States is 26 pounds a year. Bananas have a long and tangled history, some of which includes very low wages to workers, political interference, and environmental dangers. But until now, consumers haven’t been able to do anything to show their support for oppressed farmers.
Fair Trade farmers and artisans respect the natural habitat and are encouraged to engage in sustainable production methods. Farmers implement integrated crop management and avoid the use of toxic agrochemicals for pest management. Nearly 85% of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee is also organic. Fair Trade Certified coffee directly supports a better life for farming families in the developing world through fair prices, community development and environmental stewardship. Fair Trade farmers market their own harvests through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers, learning how to manage their businesses and compete in the global marketplace. Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions and fair wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

More and more consumers are not only asking “Is this good for me?” but also “Is this good for others and the environment?” According to a recent study, 90% of Americans say it’s important for companies to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society, and 70% say they’re more likely to support companies that do.

There are thousands of online sites, and retail outlets where consumers can buy Fair Trade products. Since Fair Trade standards vary, educate yourself about the practices included in Fair Trade certifications, products, and vendors. Whenever possible, seek out companies that are 100% dedicated to producing Fair Trade products. With Fair Trade products so widely available, you can also use online search engines to find national and local outlets, especially with keywords “Fair Trade”, product type and your zip code or state.

By Hazel Bacigalupo