Showered with Stories

Another month has come and gone, and wow – Friedman students have been busy! If it’s not clear from the bags under our eyes (Sleep? What’s that?), it should be obvious from the thirteen articles submitted by students for this issue. March brought us four nor’easters, one of which derailed travel plans for quite a few Friedmanites on Spring Break who made it down for the annual DC trip. But, we made it back in full force and now we’re looking dead ahead to April.

Here’s a little taste of what Friedman’s been up to…

Laura Barley and friends took a weekend trip to Vermont to experience the sweet, sweet joys of making Grade A ‘Fancy’ Vermont maple syrup. It’s the real deal, and there are pictures to prove it.

Sam Jones attended the 6th Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference and learned from educators and practitioners whose work supports urban farming initiatives across the state.

Jessica Manly has been de-stressing in the kitchen with an unusual ingredient…. crickets? I’ll say no more about that… you’ll have to read on find out what she did with them!

Nako Kobayashi took some time to hang out in someone else’s kitchen this month. She interviewed Sarah Lynn, a Boston-based Instagram influencer and gluten-free baker extraordinaire. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, just wait until you see these donuts… (and those cookies, omg).

Megan Maisano sets out to bust some myths this month by addressing common misconceptions consumers have about the many confusing labels that adorn our food packaging.

For the Policy Corner, Emily Cavanaugh summarizes a recent report by the Greater Boston Food Bank that enumerates the hidden costs of hunger in Massachusetts. While some of the numbers are staggering, Emily makes recommendations for advocates who want to see food insecurity addressed as the public health issue it is.

In “local” Friedman news, Student Council co-chairs Danielle Krobath, Ellie Griep, and Silvia Berciano Benitez give us an overview of the recent Town Hall meeting, share the progress Student Council has made over the past year, and outline future plans. Have something to share with Student Council? Be sure to reach out – they want to hear from you!

Every year, thousands converge on Boston to watch athletes in prime form run the Boston Marathon. This year, one of Friedman’s own – Sara Scinto – will be among the marathoners running to win! Darcy McDonough caught up with her and Megan Maisano, another Boston Marathon veteran, to detail the intense training and diet regimens that help prepare athletes to be their best.

Got internships on your mind? It’s almost summer, which means many first years are scrambling to figure out what their summers will hold. In this issue, Molly Knudsen shares how she scored the internship of her dreams working on the Today Show with Joy Bauer, and how that experience continues to inspire her.

April Dupee gets in the spirit of spring by spicing up her meals with delicious fresh herbs. Check out these six yummy-sounding recipes for some flavor that will brighten even the chilliest of days (for when spring just isn’t quite warm enough yet…)

The SirtFood Diet is the latest craze to overtake the UK and is promoted by Brit celebs like Adele and Pippa. But what is it? And does the science behind it have any merit? Erin Child takes a look at this new-ish food fad from “across the pond” and tells us what she thinks.

In case you missed it: the Friedman Sprout recently did something we’ve never done before! Editors Hannah Meier and Kathleen Nay had the wild idea to take the Sprout offline, by inviting food media professionals – in print journalism, radio, television, and PR – to speak to students about what careers in media look like and why communication skills are so important in crafting the narrative of our food systems. Hannah gives a recap.

Finally, Liz Learned encourages to take a break from the books by getting out to explore the city. Here, she details the ten best food events happening in Boston this spring. After all, there are only so many hours in the day – do you really need to spend the whole afternoon on regression? 🙂

Enjoy the coming sunshine (we trust that it’s coming), and happy reading, friends.

Kathleen Nay & Hannah Meier

In this issue…

Pure Vermont maple syrup

Pure Vermont maple syrup

Tales from the Sugar Bush: Friedman Takes a Trip to the Heart of Vermont’s Maple Kingdom

by Laura Barley

The maple syrup harvest has been a tradition in New England for centuries, and this March six Friedman students had the chance to help fellow student Hannah Kitchel’s family in their spring ritual.

 

 

The Transformative Power of Urban Food Systems

by Sam Jones

Last month, the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference came to Boston for its sixth year. Topics ranged from bee colonies and school gardens to hydroponics and the farm bill. A synopsis of issues relating to food access to youth incarceration can be found here, while the entire list of topics and more event information can be found online.

 

Cricket Pancakes by Jessica (Photo: Jessica Manly)

Cricket Pancakes by Jessica Manly

Cricket Pancakes (CrickCakes): A New Way to Eat Your Greens

by Jessica Manly

A growing movement of nutritionists, sustainability researchers, activists, and alternative foodies are calling edible insects the food group of the future. In America, one of the biggest hurdles remains how to get people to take a bite. These simple blender pancakes are an easy, delicious way to dip your toe into the radical world of entomophagy.

 

Chocolate chip cookies by Sarah Lynn

Chocolate chip cookies by Sarah Lynn

Gluten-Free or Not, You’ll Want to Try Sarah Lynn’s Desserts

by Nako Kobayashi

Gone are the days that having food restrictions means you have to resort to eating lesser versions of your favorite treats. Gluten-free dessert cookbook author Sarah Lynn develops dessert recipes that are both food restriction-friendly and delicious. The Sprout sat down with this Boston-based Instagram influencer to learn how she developed her successful food business.

 

 

Grocery Grocery supermarket. Source: pexels.com

Grocery supermarket. Source: pexels.com

Food Label Fear Mongering and it’s “Toxic” Effects

by Megan Maisano

You know it’s hard out here for a processed food. These days, most consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s processed. While that may sound promising towards improving food choices and overall health, it also might be contributing to a culture of fear-mongering and food discrimination – none of which is helpful. This month, Megan Maisano investigates common marketing strategies employed by food manufacturers that result in unnecessary fear, doubt, and confusion in the minds of consumers.

 

Policy Corner: The $2.4 Billion Cost of Hunger

by Emily Cavanaugh

In February of this year, the Greater Boston Food Bank released a report on the hidden costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts. For the Policy Corner this month, Emily Cavanaugh reports on what the report’s findings mean for public health policy in the Commonwealth.

 

Friedman Town Hall

Friedman Town Hall

Celebrating Successes in Friedman Student Life, Making Plans for Further Progress

by Danielle Krobath, Ellie Griep, and Silvia Berciano Benitez

As the 2017-18 academic year comes to a close, Student Council reflects on changes to student life and the Friedman community the year brought. In Town Hall seminar in March, we shared the results of the Student Feedback Survey to foster a conversation between students and the deans to concerns and set goals for the upcoming academic year.

 

Sara Scinto preparing for the Boston Marathon

Sara Scinto preparing for the Boston Marathon

I Don’t Know About You, but Friedman’s Feeling 26.2: Tips from Two Jumbos on Preparing for the Boston Marathon

by Darcy McDonough

April in Boston means warmer weather, the return of the Red Sox, and of course, the Boston Marathon.  The iconic 26.2-mile race from Hopkinton to the Boylston Street finish line is the oldest annual marathon in the world.  On Monday, April 16th, 30,000 runners will take on the 122ndrunning of the marathon, while 500,000 spectators cheer them on.  Last year, second-year Friedman student Megan Maisano completed this grueling endurance challenge for the third time, and this year, one of those runners will be second-year student, Sara Scinto.  We caught up with both of them to find out how they train, fuel, and fundraise for the big day!

 

Molly Knudsen at the internship of a lifetime!

Molly Knudsen at the internship of a lifetime!

Nebraska to New York

by Molly Knudsen

Molly shares her journey of how she went from a kid watching the Today Show before school to ending up on the set in NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza ten years later.  Read on to see how TV, nutrition, and the Friedman School all played an integral role in a career-shaping experience for Molly.

 

 

 

 

Chives in oil. Image: Hirsheimer Hamilton.

Chives in oil. Image: Hirsheimer Hamilton.

Spring for Fresh Herbs

by April Dupee

After spending a long New England winter bundled up and hibernating from the cold, spring is finally here! As the days get longer, the ground begins to thaw and trees start to bloom. This is the perfect time to lighten up your cooking with fresh ingredients.

 

What is the SirtFood Diet?

by Erin Child

The Sirtfood Diet is popular in the United Kingdom, but hasn’t caught on in the United States (yet). The diet claims to activate sirtuins, so called “skinny genes,” that work in the body to reverse the effects of aging and help the dieter lose weight. To activate sirtuins, the dieter builds their meals out of “sirtfoods,” including red wine and dark chocolate, hence the diet’s popularity. Although the diet isn’t popular on this side of the pond, NICBC student Erin Child has decided to learn more about the diet (and its founders and followers), just in case we, as nutrition professionals, start getting questions.

 

Friedman Media Panel March Event

Friedman Media Panel March Event

Write, Speak, Tell Stories: The Sprout Media Panel Recap

by Hannah Meier

It was August 6th, 2017—a month before the start of the semester and Kathleen was showing me the ropes of editorial duties over local beer at Area-4, a restaurant just down the road from Jaharis. We went over timelines, passwords and account names, and shared our hopes and dreams for the coming year. One thing we both agreed on: We wanted to make a bigger impact within the Friedman community. Our big idea? Bring The Sprout offline.

 

Boston Food trucks downtown at an event

Boston Food trucks downtown at an event

The Top 10 Boston Food Events of Spring 2018

by Liz Learned

Attention: Do you love food? Are you looking for fun events to attend in the Boston area this spring? If your answers are yes and yes, then I’ve got good news for you! I’ve searched high and low to compile a list of the top 10 can’t-miss Boston food events this spring. This wide range of food-festivals has something for everyone. Whether you’re tight on cash or an avid charity-donor, a vegetarian or a meat-lover, you’ll find something to add to your calendar!

Tales from the Sugar Bush: Friedman Takes a Trip to the Heart of Vermont’s Maple Kingdom

by Laura Barley

The maple syrup harvest has been a tradition in New England for centuries, and this March six Friedman students had the chance to help fellow student Hannah Kitchel’s family in their spring ritual

 

Maple tree vermont

Photo: Laura Barley

 

Hundreds of trees make up the sugar bush forest that connects the lives of a few devoted Vermont families. The small town of Danville, tucked neatly in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is where second-year AFE student Hannah Kitchel grew up and where her parents continue to manage the neighboring maple stand. In a New England tradition that spans centuries and crosses cultures, the small group of families have collectively invested time and equipment to harvest syrup each spring to last them through the year.

A stand of roughly 50 trees – the sugar bush – all had metal buckets placed waist-high, secured by inch-long taps that drip sap as the weather warms. Historically, sugaring season in Vermont has started the first weekend of March, but the recent shift in warmer weather patterns has meant that sugaring season now begins a few weeks earlier, in late February.

“I remember sugar season used to start in March after [the] town meeting. They said starting in February was a mistake because there would be a long freeze which would mean re-tapping,” explains Fred Kitchel, Hannah’s father and one of the main harvesters in the group. “Now, a February start is common.”

Despite the cozy seasonal celebration that maple syrup receives each fall, the hallmark of sugaring season is this special blend of warmer days and cooler nights that signals trees to prepare for spring. The melted snow seeps into their roots, carries their stored sugars up the trunks to send life into new buds – though not before we take a piece of the magic for ourselves.

 

Maple sap freshly tapped vermont

This is what sap looks like when it first comes out of a maple tree (Photo: Laura Barley) 

 

We headed through the sugar bush armed with five-gallon buckets, excited to see what the trees had produced since the day prior, when the Kitchels last harvested. I’ve always loved imagining trees as straws, sucking water up from the earth to replenish their thirsty leaves; even though you may imagine sap to be a thick, brown, glue-like liquid, the sap that started to drip from the taps was in fact mostly water, clear and smooth. It turns out that a lot of sap is required to make syrup of any justifiable quantity. These particular sugar maples boast a 40:1 retention rate, meaning that the 19 five-gallon buckets we harvested would result in roughly 2.5 gallons of maple syrup in all.

 

aluminum labyrinth for making maple syrup

Photo: Laura Barley

 

Though the families try to share the workload as equally as possible and even manage a worklog together, the core of the operation is at Betty Lou’s (yes, wonderfully, that really happens to be her name) place just up the road. Once the buckets were loaded in the truck, we drove up to her beautiful yellow three-story farmhouse, which had a shed in the back devoted specifically for distilling the sap. What filled most of the inside was a shiny, aluminum that we first had to wash with vinegar, tilting it back and forth to ensure the utmost cleanliness.

Once we’d cleaned the labyrinth, we poured in the first bucket of sap and lit the gas burner that lay underneath. Over the course of a few hours the heat would evaporate off much of the water, leaving a slightly thicker, tanner substance. This was still not the final product – for that we had to head inside to Betty Lou’s kitchen, the laboratory of a woman devoted to the process of perfection.

 

concentrating pure maple syrup fancy

Betty Lou in the thralls of her work (Photo: Laura Barley) 

 

The kitchen was small but meticulously organized. Several burners heated pots of the sap in stages, which Betty Lou frenetically checked every few minutes for exactly the right characteristics. She whipped out what she called a hydrometer, a tool to test the specific buoyancy and density of the syrup’s sugar content, and after a few rounds of checking the hydrometer in small batches, Betty Lou was finally satisfied.

 

Filtering fancy maple syrup

A simple, cone-like apparatus filters the syrup one last time (Photo: Laura Barley)

 

Next the syrup entered one final round of filtering, designed to cleanse and thicken it. And though the process was precise, not all maple syrup is created equally. There is a set of USDA standards that outlines a gradient of maple syrup based on color, sweetness, and viscosity, which depend entirely upon the weather and the trees. Because it was still fairly cold in Danville that first week of March, the syrup we made was delightfully termed ‘Fancy’, the type of Grade A syrup that tends to arrive earliest in the season before the trees release too much sugar. Fancy, also known as ‘Delicate’ syrup denotes a lighter, sweeter syrup than the darker Grade B varieties typically found at the grocery store.

By the end of the afternoon, the kitchen was full of sweet steam and prolonged excitement – most of us had never made syrup before and had spent much of the last hour daydreaming about the buckwheat pancakes and Vermont we’d lather it on later that night. Finally, the syrup was ready to be poured into jars and sent home with us. Our bounty was a small fraction of the gift that the Kitchel family and Vermont’s sugar maples would afford this year, and to them I owe many moments of gastronomic happiness and endless thanks.

 

Pure vermont maple syrup

Some of Betty Lou’s finest products (Photo courtesy of the author)

Laura Barley is a second-year AFE student who loves to eat any food practically any time. She recently fell in love with the rich food culture that Vermont has to offer, and dreams of a time when she has her own land complete with dairy cows and maple trees.

The Transformative Power of Urban Food Systems

by Sam Jones

Last month, the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference came to Boston for its sixth year. Topics ranged from bee colonies and school gardens to hydroponics and the farm bill. A synopsis of issues relating to food access to youth incarceration can be found here, while the entire list of topics and more event information can be found online.

“The price of democracy is eternal vigilance,” says Karen Voci, the president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. At a time when the outcomes of political debates are as predictable as a roll of the dice, the acuity of civil society is of the utmost importance. For the sanctity of democracy and its ability to serve the people, that philosophy is relevant in every aspect of life, particularly in food systems. Food systems have the ability to both enhance egality and take it away.

The Sixth Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference presented a slice of the world of which our eternal vigilance is both crucial and progressing. It was hosted by the Urban Farming Institute in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources on March 16th and 17th at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. Each day of the conference included four sessions and one or two keynote speeches. For each session, attendees selected one of five or six topics to be a part of. This event synopsis is based on my experience from the sessions I chose to attend on the first day of the conference.

During the first session, titled “A New Approach to Food Access: Best Practices to Shift Systems,” the first question asked by the moderator, Raheem Baraka of Baraka Community Wellness, was “What is your vision for a New England Food System?” In founding the Three River Farmers Alliance, a farm product aggregation business in New Hampshire, Andre Cantelmo hopes to achieve community-level food sovereignty in New England. As a farmer himself, he recognized that small farms lack the clout to push through the local food system on their own. In response, his Alliance fills a role that allows farms to specialize, which lowers prices for consumers and increases demand for locally farmed produce.

Cantelmo and Shawn Cooney, of Cornerstalk Farm, both admitted that their business models currently cater to “the middle-class white woman” who can afford fresh local produce at the farmers market. Cooney hopes these “early adopters” can act as funders that help their businesses grow and become more affordable and accessible in the long run. They hope to expand the New England local food system from one that includes their farm’s name on a  farm-to-table restaurant’s menu, to serving their carrots in school cafeterias anonymously, because “that’s just how it should be,” according to Cantelmo.

The topic of commodity crop subsidies soon came up in the discussion. Instead of hoping the subsidy structure will change, Cantelmo accepts it but intends to build a system through local food aggregation that can effectively compete with commodity crop subsidies. On the other hand, Voci argued that there is room for democratization in the food system, adding that the more people who familiarize themselves with the system, the more educated voters our society will have. Perhaps a more educated voter base will be able to demand change to the subsidy structure that disadvantages many small farmers.

On the topic of federal policy intervention, both Cantelmo and Cooney noticed that Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) and SNAP recipients make up a notable proportion of their customer base. However, there is a visible access problem. Cooney noted that customers using HIP and SNAP typically come to his farm store in large groups by bus or van, indicating that significant coordination unrelated to his business must go into providing people access to fresh local produce. Voci, while encouraged by the use of HIP and SNAP, voiced her concern about the future of these programs under the current administration.

When asked if local produce can be integrated into the current large-scale distribution system, the major concern of the panelists was “greenwashing”. According to both Cooney and Cantelmo, large distributors like Sysco have approached them for fresh produce, which puts their names on a list of producers that sell to the distributor. After a while, however, these large distributors stopped sourcing from them, yet their names and the sustainable methods associated with them remained likewise associated with the large distributors. This greenwashing dilemma is one reason why Cantelmo has taken food aggregation and distribution into his own hands. It is also an example of how self-organization can circumvent a much larger problem.

Another session I attended was called “Job Skills and Agriculture: Models for At-Risk and Formerly Incarcerated Youth.” Captain David Granese from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department talked about a different kind of urban farm—one within the walls of a prison. This working farm is completely run by the prisoners themselves, who can earn time off their sentence in exchange for hard work, learning marketable job skills along the way.

UTEC, also represented on the panel, aims to reduce recidivism in Lowell, MA by teaching formerly incarcerated youth specific food-related job skills, while also offering valuable certificates that employers look for. This organization partners with the unemployment office, the division of labor, and employers in the community to identify where people with a criminal record who go through UTEC’s program are welcome to apply for jobs. UTEC also has an arrangement with the community college to get its members on a path to higher education that does not lead them back behind bars. UTEC is effective at achieving its goals—two years after the program, 78% of UTEC graduates are employed compared to just 40% or formerly incarcerated youth nationwide.  

Across every session, I was reminded why I want to study food systems in the first place. Food and farming have the ability to address seemingly unrelated issues, like crime and gentrification, in ways that can be uniquely tailored to each place and situation. Urban agriculture can breathe life back into a community. Food can make a success story out of a kid going nowhere fast. Food and farming are approachable avenues through which we can democratize our system as we see fit. Urban agriculture has the ability to actually create a more equal society while outside forces attempt to divide us. The Sixth Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference illustrated the potential for food systems to act as a vehicle for positive self-organization that puts a person’s health and well-being at the forefront of progress.

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with a passion for sharing others’ stories. She is currently an intern at Culture Magazine and hopes to pursue a career in sustainable agricultural development and food journalism.

Cricket Pancakes (CrickCakes): A New Way to Eat Your Greens

by Jessica R. Manly

A growing movement of nutritionists, sustainability researchers, activists, and alternative foodies are calling edible insects the food group of the future. In America, one of the biggest hurdles remains how to get people to take a bite. These simple blender pancakes are an easy, delicious way to dip your toe into the radical world of entomophagy.

Before coming to the Friedman School, I taught nutrition, cooking, and gardening in several public elementary schools in northwest Montana. Many of the children I worked with were absolutely thrilled to try the kale, spinach, and carrots we grew together outside their classrooms. Others, no matter how many songs we sang, or smoothies we made, or stories we read about friendly vegetables, simply would not take a single bite.

What people choose to eat (and not to eat) is deeply personal, cultural, familial, and emotional. These daily choices are sometimes governed by necessity, ease, and are often immutable. When you really pause to try, it can be difficult to unravel the complicated web of nutritional knowledge, inherited tastes, cultural reinforcement, economic constraints, and effects of globalization that compose our plates. Why do you eat cows but not whales? Why kale now, but not ten years ago? Why lobsters, but not crickets? And what would it take for you to want to chew on an entirely new class of the animal kingdom?

Eating insects, or entomophagy, has many potential nutritional and sustainability benefits when compared to meat consumption. A two-tablespoon serving of ground cricket powder provides 55 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, less than one gram of carbohydrate, and a hefty dose of B vitamins (23% of the Daily Value B-2 and 17% of the Daily Value B-12). Reported sustainability benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions when compared to ruminants, pork, and poultry, low land and water requirements, high feed conversion efficiencies, organic by-product waste reduction, and potential utility as feed for livestock and in aquaculture. A 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessment of insect consumption and global food and feed security reports that nearly two billion people consume over 1,900 species of insects as part of traditional diets.

So why are crickets and mealworms still such a fringy snack choice in America? As a friend said recently: “eating bugs is just gross.” In fact, many of us (the author included) were reprimanded against doing so as children. Cultural barriers remain the largest hurdle for expanding insect consumption in America, in addition to lingering questions about scaling production, the environmental impacts of cricket feed, and concerns about access and affordability.

I buy my cricket protein online because it is still relatively hard to find on shelves in Boston. A friend of mine who works for a ubiquitous natural foods grocery store says they don’t stock insect protein because they don’t yet know how to apply their animal welfare ranking system—apparently they “don’t mess around with cricket welfare.”

Another common objection is to the pungent, nutty flavor pure cricket protein powder can have. As a result, most products sold in the West attempt to mask the taste, and any evidence of actual insects, in high-flavor, processed snack foods with questionable nutritional profiles and plenty of added fats and sugars. Though I don’t personally find the taste or smell of cricket powder offensive, I understand the reluctance to consume it straight-up, especially as a novice. As we work towards culturally normalizing insect consumption in the U.S., experimenting with variations on delicious, familiar, and nutrient-dense recipes will be key. I think these easy blender pancakes are a great place to start.

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes

Serves 1

Ingredients:

1 banana

1/4 cup raw rolled oats

2 eggs

2 tablespoons cricket protein powder

1/4 cup blueberries (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients except blueberries on high in blender until smooth (approximately 15 seconds).
  2. Heat a lightly oiled (butter, coconut oil, or vegetable oil of choice) griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  3. Add blueberries if using. Flip, brown on both sides, and serve hot as is, or with maple syrup or plain yogurt and additional cinnamon.

1/2 cup cooked sweet potato or winter squash can be substituted for the banana. If you want to get really fancy, add in a few pumpkin or chia seeds with the blueberries for extra protein.

Jessica Manly is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment MSc student at the Friedman School. When she is not researching food and agriculture systems with the potential to mitigate climate change, she is most likely running in the woods with her imaginary dog, or trying to get people to eat her unusual vegetable (or insect)-based recipes.

Gluten-Free or Not, You’ll Want To Try Sarah Lynn’s Desserts

by Nako Kobayashi

Gone are the days that having food restrictions means you have to resort to eating lesser versions of your favorite treats. Gluten-free dessert cookbook author Sarah Lynn develops dessert recipes that are both food restriction- friendly and delicious. The Sprout sat down with this Boston-based Instagram influencer to learn how she developed her successful food business.

Sarah Lynn Baketobefit donuts healthy dessert cookbook

Sarah Lynn, owner of BakeToBeFit, with her donuts from one of her healthy dessert eCookbooks (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

When someone asks what she does for a living, Sarah Lynn, a Boston-based food entrepreneur, never really knows what to say. “For most people, it’s a really short answer, but I don’t really know what I am.” That’s because Sarah singlehandedly develops and photographs recipes, writes cookbooks, maintains the blog, and runs the social media accounts for her healthy dessert cookbook company, BakeToBeFit. “I’m kind of an author, kind of an Instagram influencer, kind of a blogger, kind of a photographer,” she explains.

Sarah graduated from the University of Richmond in 2015 with a degree in Studio Art and a minor in Business. She never imagined that she would own her own gluten-free cookbook company. Having always loved cooking and baking, Sarah always dreamed about managing a food blog, but she had no idea where to start. After learning that many bloggers use Instagram to develop a following and gain exposure, she decided to start her own Instagram account during her senior year of college, with the handle @sarahlynnfitness. She began by posting daily meals, workouts, and the occasional recipe.

healthy gluten-free funfetti cake baketobefit

You don’t have to be gluten-free to want to eat this cake! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

The summer after graduating from college, Sarah was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Although she was relieved to find out why she had been feeling ill, she was also devastated that she would no longer be able to consume gluten – a key component of many of the things she loved to cook. Not wanting her diagnosis to keep her from pursuing her food dreams, Sarah started experimenting with gluten-free recipes. She found that the gluten-free versions of some of her favorite baked goods were also lower in calories and more nutritious than the traditional versions. This is due to the use of some ingredients such as oatmeal and coconut flour in the place of traditional white flour.

Baketobefit recipe healthy dessert

A re-post of a photo taken by someone who tried out a #baketobefit recipe
(Photo: Instagram @baketobefit)

Sarah’s Instagram followers loved the photos of her new gluten-free recipes. The most popular were the photos of gluten-free desserts. This led her to write the first of her four eCookbooks, available for purchase online, the Healthy Cake Cookbook. Initially, Sarah didn’t intend on making her cookbook a business. It was simply a way to put all the recipes in one place for her followers. The book quickly gained popularity, however, and she soon wrote her next book, the Healthy Cookie Cookbook. @baketobefit was born when Sarah decided she wanted a second Instagram account to share photos taken by people who had tried her recipes. Around this time, a reporter from Business Insider requested to make a video about her. The exposure she gained from this video allowed Sarah to start focusing on her food business as a full-time job.

healthy chocolate dessert baketobefit

Sarah’s Instagram account will leave you drooling (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Currently, @sarahlynnfitness has 148 thousand followers. Scrolling through the endless feed of desserts, it’s easy to see why. I personally can’t help but drool every time I visit Sarah’s Instagram page, and that is exactly what she says she wants. “I try to make [the desserts] look like the most indulgent things ever, but they are actually made with healthy ingredients [compared to the traditional versions].” Sarah boosts the nutrition profile of tasty desserts while also making them consumable for people with food restrictions. For Sarah, this kind of creative challenge is more fun than developing recipes for food that already looks nutritious.

Sarah is often inspired by photos of really decadent desserts. Other times, she tries to recreate “copycat” versions of her favorite childhood treats. A lot of experimentation is involved in getting the right taste and texture. “I do it by feeling, and what the dough looks like,” Sarah says. Keeping a notebook next to her while she experiments, she writes down what she added or tweaked to a recipe at each step. This way, when the dessert turns out the way she wants, she knows exactly how to recreate it.

healthy high-protein gluten-free donut

This fun donut has 8 grams of protein in it! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Not only are all of the recipes in Sarah’s BakeToBeFit eCookbooks gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and vegan-friendly, they are also packed with protein so they will keep you full for longer and can also be used as a post-workout snack. She accomplishes this by using ingredients like unsweetened apple sauce, gluten-free flour substitutes like oat and coconut flours, and her go-to protein powders (details in her FAQ page) which use minimal ingredients and are free of artificial sweeteners and flavors.

Most importantly, Sarah’s desserts taste amazing. “I feel like there are a lot of diets that are really strict, and they make you feel miserable. I don’t think that’s actually healthy. I think it’s great when you can incorporate food that is still pretty healthy but tastes really good and uses good ingredients.” More than the calorie or nutrient content of her recipes, Sarah is concerned with how her desserts make you feel. Sarah’s dessert recipes use healthier ingredients than their traditional counterparts and are relatively low in sugar so you can indulge in these desserts knowing that they will also help fuel your body.

healthy dessert chocolate instagram food porn

Sarah’s recipes always come with many substitution recommendations so anyone can try them!
(Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Because Sarah has Celiac Disease, she is very considerate of the various food restrictions and preferences her audience might have. The FAQ page on her website thoroughly discusses the content of her recipes and her suggestions for substitutions so that anyone can feel comfortable purchasing her books. In addition, each of her eCookbooks has an “Ingredients and Substitutions” page where she details how the recipes can be adapted to meet individual needs.

While all of Sarah’s recipes are gluten-free, she emphasizes that she wants her recipes to be for everyone. She feels that a lot of people who are not gluten-free tend to avoid gluten-free products and recipes. “I used to be like that,” she explains, “if I saw gluten-free bread at the supermarket, I wouldn’t buy that. I would feel like I didn’t need to.” As someone who has no food restrictions, I can personally attest to the fact that you do not have to be gluten-free to want to devour one of Sarah’s desserts. One of the best brownies I have ever had, gluten-free or not, was one of Sarah’s.

healthy chocolate chip cookie dessert food porn

“These cookies are completely oil/butter-free, gluten-free, grain-free, vegan friendly, no sugar added, and super easy to make” (Photo and caption: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Be sure to check out Sarah’s amazing desserts on her Instagram @sarahlynnfitness and the @baketobefit account. Be warned: soon you won’t be able to think about anything but her brownies, donuts, cookies, and cakes. If you find yourself drooling uncontrollably, visit her website baketobefit.com or youtube channel for access to her four eCookbooks as well as some free recipes!

Nako Kobayashi is a first-year AFE student who is always insatiably hungry. She would like to say that her favorite pastime is cooking but in reality, she spends much more time endlessly scrolling through photos of food on Instagram.

Food Label Fear Mongering and its “Toxic” Effects

by Megan Maisano

You know it’s hard out here for a processed food. These days, most consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s processed. While that may sound promising towards improving food choices and overall health, it also might be contributing to a culture of fear-mongering and food discrimination – none of which is helpful. This month, Megan Maisano investigates common marketing strategies employed by food manufacturers that result in unnecessary fear, doubt, and confusion in the minds of consumers.

Grocery supermarket

Source: pexels.com

Good news: over half of the U.S. population is paying attention to food labels. Bad news: it might be increasing consumer confusion and contributing to unintended health hysteria.

Whether it’s the latest Netflix documentary demonizing an entire food group, an Instagram feed promoting “clean” eating, or your mother’s cousin Carol pushing her latest detox agenda on Facebook, food fear mongering is real.

The problem is that many claims of “toxic” or “unclean” foods don’t come from health professionals or experts. On top of that, their messages are more accessible by the common consumer than, let’ say, the most recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I read Michael Pollen’s Food Rules a few years ago. I loved it. It was simple, easy to understand, and seemed logical. Nutrition science, however, is not simple, not easy to understand, and evolves with advancing evidence-based research… and nutrition research is hard.

While the desire for food transparency is warranted and can lead to healthier decision-making, the marketing response by the food industry has taken advantage of consumers’ unwarranted fears. Instead of highlighting what’s good in the food we eat, product labels emphasize what’s not in our food, and it’s contributing to the chaos.

I decided to explore the research and science behind common food label claims. The results: practices that range from reasonable transparency to questionable marketing tactics that make us say C’mon Man.

 

Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project, which started in two grocery stores in 2007, now has its iconic butterfly on more than 3,000 brands and 43,000 products. GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose DNA has been changed via genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The debate concerning GMO safety remains highly controversial. Without going into too much detail, cynics claim that GMOs have not been proven safe and that people have a right to know whether their food contains them. On the other side, folks like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claim GMOs have not been proven harmful to humans or the environment.

Regardless of the verdict, the Non-GMO butterfly is landing on more and more products that are naturally GMO-free, such as tomatoes, oranges, and milk. This trend leads to the misconception that tomatoes, oranges, and milk without said-butterfly DO have GMOs and are therefore less safe. This deceptive labeling practice not only hurts the consumer, but also competing brands and their farmers.

The Impact – a 2015 nonpartisan analysis reported that only 37 percent of those surveyed feel that GMOs are safe to eat and 57 percent considered them unsafe. Individuals with a higher education, on the other hand, were more likely to consider GMOs safe. Numerous studies also show that consumer knowledge of GMOs is low and that their information is mainly sourced by the media – insert cousin Carol’s shared Facebook article on GMOs’ toxic effects. The fear continues.

Paleonola grain free granola

Source: thrivemarket.com

Gluten Free and Grain Free

In his book Grain Brain, David Perlmutter writes, “Gluten sensitivity represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.” The well-known blogger, Wellness Mama, once wrote an article titled “How Grains are Killing You Slowly” (but has since changed the title). The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, list grains (specifically whole grains) as a part of a healthy eating pattern. How did this extreme divide on gluten and grains come about?

The 1990’s brought about increased awareness of celiac disease and the effectiveness of treatment following a gluten-free diet. This was a major win and relief for folks with gluten-related disorders. What followed was an increase in the amount of research on gluten and its potential effects on other chronic disorders – and that’s when hysteria hit. Books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, both which have been accused of literature cherry-picking and generalization, earned best-selling status and changed the way we looked at a baguette. This frenzy, combined with the highly popular low-carb Atkins Diet, created the recipe for a new villain – gluten and grains.

The food industry responded and so did the media. According to the research firm Packaged Facts, sales in gluten-free products came in around $973 million in 2014 and are expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019 – far exceeding what would be expected in marketing to the less than one percent of individuals with celiac disease. Oh, and these products are about 240% more expensive. Celebrity influences like Gwyneth Paltrow’s book and Miley Cyrus’ tweet, have made the gluten-free diet appear more mainstream, swaying consumer perception and decreasing the seriousness of disorders like celiac disease.

While research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (affecting about six percent of the U.S.) is still mixed, many studies suggest that gluten may not necessarily be the underlying problem and symptoms may even be psychological. In his book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz explains that the significant increase in negative responses to gluten may be due to a phenomenon called Mass Sociogenic Illness – where a physiological response is provoked by mass anxiety and negative expectations.

The Impact – a 2015 Hartman Group survey found that 35% of respondents adopted a gluten-free lifestyle for “no reason,” 26% followed it because they thought it was a “healthier option,” 19% followed it for “digestive health,” and only 8% followed it because of a “gluten sensitivity.”

There is a growing body of research that suggests there is no evidence to support gluten-free diets for the general population and that going gluten-free may even hinder health. Nevertheless, the damage may be done.

 

usda organic label

Source: usda.gov

Going Organic

The USDA Organic label identifies a product that meets federal guidelines for farming and processing. Guidelines include soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. As far as organic packaged foods, 95% of the product must be organic and free of artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.

The organic movement is a step in the right direction towards encouraging more responsible agricultural practices. However, the social impact of the organic label has created unwarranted confusion and fear in “chemically-ridden” conventional foods that aren’t free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The fear is hurting small farmers and our wallets.

A common source of organic fear-mongering comes from the infamous Dirty Dozen published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This list identifies twelve non-organic produce items that are reported to have the highest levels of pesticide residue. What the EWG fails to mention, however, is the type of pesticide and its relation to its chronic reference dose (i.e., safe maximum daily dose for life). A Journal of Toxicology study found that none of the dirty dozen products came even close to their reference dose and that EWG’s methodology lacked scientific credibility. While there is nothing wrong with being mindful of pesticide use, people should know organic farmers use pesticides too and their levels are not tested by the USDA.

From a nutrition perspective, research on organic food is mixed. Both organic and conventional practices offer nutritious produce with plenty of phytochemicals; however, organic produce may come out on top as far as levels of phosphorous, antioxidants and less pesticide residue.

From a health-outcome perspective however, there is no direct evidence that organic diets lead to improved health or lower the risk of disease and cancer. Pesticide residue risk, if a concern, can be reduced by simply washing fresh produce.

Lastly, organic farming, labeling, and products are expensive. If price is keeping consumers from purchasing organic produce and fear is keeping them from purchasing conventional produce, we have a problem.

In a country where less than twenty percent of adults eat their daily recommended fruits and vegetables, all produce should be promoted without adding unnecessary confusion or fear.

 

all natural health claim label

Source: topclassactions.com

“Natural” and “Free of …”

According to a 2014 global health survey, 43% of respondents rate “all-natural” foods very important in purchasing decisions. Therefore, having that green and neutral-colored label considerably influences consumer behavior. In regards to meat and poultry, the USDA defines “natural” as containing no artificial ingredients, added colors, and minimal processing. Unfortunately, there is no regulated definition of the use of “natural” for all other products – hence marketing exploitation and further confusion. Below are just a few assumptions that consumers make about natural products regarding what they’re free of, and whether or not that really matters:

Free of Preservatives: Preservatives in food help delay spoilage, improve quality, and decrease food waste. They decrease the risk of food-borne illness, lower oxidation in the body, and keep us from worrying about things like getting tuberculosis from our milk. Consumers often fear ingredients that have chemical-sounding names; however, lest we forget, we are made of chemical compounds!  Many preservatives are harmless and even nutritious like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), calcium propionate, niacin (vitamin B3), lysozyme, and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Some other preservatives, however, may have questionable effects on health when consumed in high doses, so more research is needed on their safety.

No Antibiotics Ever: This term’s tricky. For a long time, many farmers used antibiotics not just for the treatment of ill animals but also to facilitate growth. The FDA has since banned the use for growth and animal antibiotics sales have fallen considerably. However, sick animals do need treatment and not using antibiotics to treat them would be unethical and pose a risk to food safety. So, here’s the deal to understanding the label: Farm A has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken is therefore removed from the antibiotic-free group for sale (and who knows what that means). Farm B has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken then goes through a withdrawal period and is tested before it can be used for processing, often with the oversight of a licensed veterinarian. Only Farm A can have the “No Antibiotics Ever” label. Is Farm A healthier than Farm B? Probably not.

No Hormones Added: Fun fact: adding hormones or steroids to poultry and pork is illegal in the U.S. Just like tomatoes with a Non-GMO label, chicken and pork products with a “No Hormones Added” label are simply playing into consumer fears.

Free of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS):  Great! But keep in mind that sugar, molasses, agave nectar, cane juice, and honey are “natural” sources of added sugars too. HFCS is essentially a mix of fructose, glucose, and water. It varies from having either 42% fructose (often found in processed food) to 55% fructose (often found in soft drinks) – not too different from sugar with a 50:50 mix or your $10 organic agave nectar.

 

chicken breast no antibiotics non gmo organic

Source: target.com

Conclusion: Fear Mongering Isn’t Helping

When it comes to promoting healthy eating behaviors, fear tactics aren’t helping and may even be harmful. Unlike tobacco or drug use, two issues where fear campaigns were successfully used to impact behavior, we need to eat to live. Instilling unnecessary anxiety about foods that are not Non-GMO, gluten-free, certified organic, or “free from” whatever may keep us from consuming a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson from the anti-fat and anti-cholesterol era because we continue to look for something simple to blame for health problems, and the media and food industry continues to take advantage of that desire. Moderation just isn’t sexy.

Whether it’s the latest one-dimensional diet, a food blogger’s recent witch hunt, or a misleading food label in an earthy color tone, fear-induced messages are not helping. They are harming consumer knowledge, self-efficacy, health, and ultimate trust in food industry and nutrition science. It’s time to stop the food fear mongering and encourage the good in foods that will lead to our “natural” wellbeing.

 

Megan Maisano is a second year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. She has a Wheat Belly and a Grain Brain, but is doing okay. She’s got no beef with Non-GMO, Gluten-free, or Organic products, only their use in scare-tactics that aren’t based in science.

Policy Corner: The $2.4 Billion Cost of Hunger

by Emily Cavanaugh

In February of this year, the Greater Boston Food Bank released a report on the hidden costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts. For the Policy Corner this month, Emily Cavanaugh reports on what the report’s findings mean for public health policy in the Commonwealth.

The Greater Boston Food Bank recently partnered with Children’s Health Watch on a report, released this February, documenting the hidden costs of food insecurity in the state of Massachusetts.  This first-of-its-kind study was commissioned as part of the mission of Children’s Health Watch to “inform public policies and practices that give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives”. Children’s Health Watch is headquartered at Boston Medical Center, where the health effects of hunger can be seen firsthand.

The report states that these health effects cost the commonwealth a whopping $2.4 billion in 2016. High cholesterol, anxiety and depression, asthma, and diabetes were just a few of the conditions the study related to hunger. Indirect costs incurred by anxiety, behavioral problems, inattention or ADHD by food insecure children were also captured. Lastly, the study sought to account for work absence and lack of productivity caused by the related health conditions.

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Though it’s difficult to prove certain causality by these methods, the study concluded that “as with the relationships between smoking tobacco and lung, throat and mouth cancers, the evidence of relationships between food insecurity and these health outcomes is so strong … that we believe we are justified in acting on strong evidence even if it is not absolutely conclusive and unassailable.” The combination of poverty and food insecurity contribute to poor health and educational issues and create a feedback loop, reinforcing the poverty that is the root cause of hunger.  While this study didn’t address racial disparities in food insecurity, a 2017 pamphlet from bread.org states that people of color in Massachusetts are 3 times more likely to face poverty and hunger, and in 2016, Children’s Health Watch reported significantly higher rates of hunger among immigrant families.  Intervening to address food insecurity can help to breaking that poverty-health-education feedback loop, enabling wellness and opportunity for all the Commonwealth’s residents.

Having established that hunger is a public health issue, how do we address it? The study makes recommendations in 3 main areas – healthcare practices, policy at the federal and local level, and academia. In the healthcare industry, we can consistently screen for hunger and intervene as necessary, pointing patients and parents to resources like SNAP and food banks.  GBFB has partnered with nine medical providers in the state, including three in Boston to implement the Hunger Vital Sign two-question that screening tool for food insecurity. As healthcare providers see the evidence of hunger during doctor’s visits, they are uniquely positioned to connect families in need with the available resources. Therefore partnerships between doctors and hospitals, foods banks, and other assistance programs could be very effective.

On a national policy level, the upcoming Farm Bill could contain changes to nutrition assistance programs, and the study recommends that lawmakers be pressured not to reduce SNAP funding. Reduction in funding could lead to reduction in the number of families served or amount of food dollars granted to each family, further reducing support that is already sometimes inadequate.

At the state level, lawmakers can mandate “breakfast after the bell” programs, especially in low-income communities. Several communities, from Boston to Worcester to Chicopee have implemented breakfast after the bell and have seen increases in attendance, and decreases in tardiness and nurse visits. The state could also increase funding for WIC and the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. The CDC has acknowledged the link between nutrition, health, and academic performance, meaning hunger can limit the academic potential of children and should be addressed to provide more equality in our school systems. Access should be improved to state and federal assistance programs, first by creating a common application for MassHealth, SNAP, and WIC benefits. Filling out one set of forms to access multiple benefits would increase participation, particularly for those who are on the edge of qualifying for assistance.

We can all contact our representatives at the state and local level to bring these causes to their attention. You can find your legislator here, or contact legislators serving on specific committees such as public health or education. Contact your city or town officials to inquire about school food programs. Call a SNAP outreach partner organization and help residents enroll in SNAP programs.

Lastly, in academia, we can undertake research that supports these policy recommendations and sheds light on the causes and effects of hunger in our community.  Research regarding vulnerable populations can help target nutrition assistance where it is needed most. Though interventional studies are challenging to carry out, they provide strong evidence for effective solutions. A stronger causal link between hunger and health outcomes would strengthen the argument that food insecurity is a public health issue that needs to be prioritized in policy making.  Lastly, a review of costs to implement some of the recommended programs, compared to the annual $2.4 billion cost of adverse outcomes could make a compelling, black and white case for addressing hunger as a public health issue.

Emily Cavanaugh is a professional in the medical diagnostics industry with a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a persistent passion for nutrition.  After years of reading Marion Nestle books and following FFPAC on twitter, she decided to get involved by writing a Policy Corner article. She is also an enthusiastic home cook, bread baker, and gym goer.