Real Food Blog

Why People Are Eating Guinea Pigs

April 3rd, 2013

You may best know the guinea pig as a nervous little pet that lives in a cage and eats alfalfa pellets.

Now, the rodents are increasingly showing up on plates in the United States.

South American restaurants on both coasts seem to be pushing the trend, answering to demand mostly from Andean expats for what is considered a fine and valuable food in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Middle-class foodies with a taste for exotic delicacies are also ordering, photographing and blogging about guinea pig. The animals — called cuyesin Spanish — are usually cooked whole, often grilled, sometimes deep fried. Many diners eat every last morsel, literally from head to toe.

Guinea pigs on the grill

Guinea pigs on the grill

Courtesy of Curtiss Calleo

But there may be more to gain from eating guinea pig than bizarre foods bragging rights. According to activists, eating guinea pig is good for the environment.

Matt Miller, an Idaho-based science writer with The Nature Conservancy, says rodents and other small livestock represent a low-impact meat alternative to carbon-costly beef. Miller, who is writing a book about the ecological benefits of eating unconventional meats, visited Colombia several years ago. At the time, he says, conservation groups were expressing concern about local ranchers clearing forest to provide pasture for their cattle — activity that was causing erosion and water pollution.

“They were encouraging people to switch from cattle to guinea pigs,” Miller says. “Guinea pigs don’t require the land that cattle do. They can be kept in backyards, or in your home. They’re docile and easy to raise.”

The Little Rock-based humanitarian organization Heifer International, which assists communities in enhancing their economies and streamlining local food production, is also promoting guinea pig husbandry in Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala. Jason Woods, the nonprofit’s Americas regional program assistant, says guinea pigs — which he says usually weigh no more than 2 pounds — are twice as efficient as cows at turning food, like hay and compost scraps, into meat: To render a pound of meat, a cow, he explains, may require 8 pounds of feed. A guinea pig only needs 4.

To help start a home guinea pig farm, Heifer International typically supplies a family with one male and seven females. In just months, such a collection may have doubled in size. Woods says a guinea pig herd consisting of two males and 20 females can sustain itself while providing meat for a family of six.

In the United States, most guinea pigs intended for human consumption come from Peru as whole, frozen, hairless rodents in plastic bags.

The Salt contacted several federal regulatory agencies, including USDA and Fish and Wildlife, but none seemed to track guinea pig imports. However, we spoke with the owners of two Peruvian food importers who said cuy consumption in the United States is certainly rising. Neither would speak on record, but each said they are now importing more guinea pigs than ever before.

At one company, in Connecticut, imports have nearly doubled since 2008 — from 600 guinea pigs per year then to more than 1,000 today.

Urubamba, a Peruvian restaurant in Queens, wasn’t serving guinea pig at all eight years ago. Since then, demand has climbed every year, according to Carlos Atorga, who opened Urubamba in 1976.

Now, Urubamba customers can expect cuy on the menu about one weekend each month. The animals go for $17 a plate, each cuy splayed down the middle like a lobster and served with a front leg and a back, an eye, an ear and a nostril.

In San Francisco, Diego Oka, a native of Peru and the executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria, serves imported Peruvian cuy every summer around Peru’s July 28 Independence Day. Oka marinates and deep-fries his guinea pigs for a dish called cuy chactado. He says the nose, ears and fingery little hands are the best bites of all — but Oka removes the animals’ extremities to avoid offending sensitive diners.

In Los Angeles, Helen Springut, co-founder of the adventurous eaters club Gastronauts, says guinea pig is a food worth pursuing only as a cultural experience. She says the meat can be tough and stringy.

I ate a quarter of a grilled guinea pig recently during a cycling trip in Ecuador. The sinewy meat was dry and sparse, and I went away hungry. But others describe what sounds like a different creature.

Miller at The Nature Conservancy says guinea pig is “delicious, very tender and hard to compare to anything else” — not even chicken. Chef Astorga at Urubamba says cuy — which he describes as “about the size of a squirrel” — has “tender flesh and very tender skin.” La Mar Cebicheria’s Chef Oka says cuy is “very oily, like pork combined with rabbit.”

While guinea pig may be attaining star status as a hold-your-nose-and-roll-the-camera bizarre food, whether an animal so favored as a pet in the United States will become a mainstream piece of protein is, perhaps, doubtful.

“There’s a clear cultural prejudice against eating guinea pigs, and rodents in general, in the United States,” Miller says. “But finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint is a good idea, and so is eating small livestock, like guinea pigs.”

Source: NPR

Why Do We Eat Meat?

March 10th, 2013

cavemen_rhino

Briana Pobiner questions meat-eating, but not in the way that you may think. She travels the globe investigating how and what our cavemen ancestors ate. Her work focuses on the first major dietary shift in human evolution: meat-eating. She’s a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Briana is interviewed by Lynn Rosetto Kasper on American Public Media’s The Spledid Table

Source: The Splendid Table

Is USDA Organic Label A Complete Fraud?

February 9th, 2013

grade-a-bullshit

Organic food is now a $30 billion a year industry, and you may be surprised to know that the brands Bear Naked, Wholesome and Hearty and Kashi are all owned by Kellogg’s. Pepsi Co. owns Naked Juice.

A recent report from the organic food advocacy and watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute contends that big food companies are corrupting organic foods.

The New York Times also had a recent article looking into how large food corporations may be changing organic foods.

The Cornucopia Institute is especially critical of the system for determining what gets the USDA organics seal, as is Michael Potter, founder of the independent organic food producer Eden Foods. Potter has refused to put the USDA’s “certified organic” seal on his products because he says it’s a fraud.

Listen to: Has USDA Organic Label Been Corrupted? on Here & Now

Cornucopia Institute: The Organic Watergate—Corporate Influence At USDA’s Organic Program

Study Exonerates Butter, Condemns Margarine As Unhealthy For Heart

February 6th, 2013

Eating margarine instead of butter may not be good for you after all, scientists have warned.

For the past 50 years, we have been advised to reduce our intake of saturated animal fats, and eat more of the polyunsaturated vegetable fats found in margarine.

But now scientists in the US claim to have turned that conventional wisdom on its head, with a new analysis of a study carried out between 1966 and 1973. Some of the data had been missing for decades.

The study, conducted in Sydney, followed 458 men aged 30 to 59 who had recently had a heart attack or suffered from angina.

Half were advised to cut their animal fat consumption and replace it with safflower oil – similar to sunflower oil – and safflower oil margarine.

The results, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that those who ate more of these products were almost twice as likely to die from all causes, including heart disease.

They chose the Sydney study because it was the only randomised controlled study to look at the impact of increasing consumption of omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.

Most studies of dietary interventions have involved multiple changes, but the Sydney study looked solely at omega 6.

Omega 6, the most prevalent polyunsaturated fat in most Western diets, is also known as linoleic acid.

It is found in large quantities in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean and in margarines made from these oils.

Once in the body, it is converted into a chemical called arachidonic acid which can trigger the release of other chemicals leading to inflammation, a leading cause of a host of chronic diseases – including heart disease.

The researchers, from the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., say their findings could have ‘important implications for worldwide dietary recommendations’.

But other scientists have criticised the results, saying they did not provide enough evidence to suggest people should change their diets.

Professor Tom Sanders, of King’s College London, said the study was ‘enormously underpowered’, of ‘little relevance to diets today’ and its findings had been refuted by recent better studies.

Professor Brian Ratcliffe, of  Aberdeen University, said: ‘This paper does not provide evidence for changes to the current recommendations for a healthy diet.’

And Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Our understanding of the effect of different fats on our heart develops all the time as new research into this complex issue is published.

‘Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated alternatives is a well-known recommendation for your heart, which is based on many large and in-depth studies.

‘However, this research highlights the need for us to further understand how different unsaturated fats affect our risk of heart disease.

‘Whichever fats you use it  is important to be sparing with them.’ 

Vegetable oils and margarine are supposed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase weight loss and improve overall health.

But they are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets, and critics say they should not be promoted as healthy.

Source:Daily Mail

Food Fraud Up 60% From Last Year

February 5th, 2013

If you are what you eat, you might be having an identity crisis.

A new study on food fraud was released in January by U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a scientific nonprofit organization that helps set standards for the “quality, safety and benefit” of foods and medicines. The group runs a searchable online database of food fraud reports at foodfraud.org and nearly 800 new records were added as part of the study – a 60% increase from last year.

Food fraud, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods. USP further defines food fraud in the study as “the fraudulent addition of nonauthentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser’s knowledge for economic gain to the seller.”

Source: CNN

Californians Can Now Sell Homemade Foods To Restaurants And Grocery Stores

January 5th, 2013

Granola makers, homemade vinegar producers, and other foodies in California have cause to rejoice today. As of Jan. 1, a new state law allows people who make food at home to sell it to restaurants and grocery stores.

Leave it to California to upend decades of public health consensus that food businesses need commercial licenses to ensure their food is safe and free of harmful contaminants. The California Homemade Food Act creates a new category of food production called a “cottage food operation.”

To qualify for a state permit under the law, aspiring cottage food operators must attend a food safety class and pass an exam developed by the California Department of Public Health. They have to label their products, pay a small fee, and submit to an annual kitchen inspection by health officials. Like commercial enterprises, the food producers aren’t allowed to smoke or keep pets in the kitchen. When you consider the slim margins most commercial food businesses operate on, this streamlined regulatory process is probably a good deal for food sellers.

In many cities, the cost of rent itself can be crippling for entrepreneurs. New York has even offered city property free to aspiring restaurateurs through its “kitchen incubator” program.

Unfortunately for meat lovers, cottage food operators are prohibited from selling certain foods that could be hazardous, such as sausages and dairy products. The list of approved items includes jams, baked goods, dried pasta, granola, candy, chocolate, nut butters, mustard, vinegar, and roasted coffee.

The bill was the result of protests from a Los Angeles bread baker-turned activist who did a brisk business selling to local groceries until health regulators cracked down on his operation. And like pot growers, another spottily regulated cottage industry in California that’s also been subject to crackdowns, the food producers have limits on how profitable they can be before they no longer count as small time. In 2013, the revenue limit is $35,000, and it rises to $50,000 by 2015—not enough to get rich, but enough to supplement income without having to leave home.

Source: Business Week

Mosquito Burgers Anyone?

December 27th, 2012

Cardiologist Calls Modern Wheat A Perfect Poison

October 17th, 2012

Modern wheat is a “perfect, chronic poison,” according to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who has published a book all about the world’s most popular grain.

Davis said that the wheat we eat these days isn’t the wheat your grandma had: “It’s an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said on “CBS This Morning.” “This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin. It’s not gluten. I’m not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I’m talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year.”

Asked if the farming industry could change back to the grain it formerly produced, Davis said it could, but it would not be economically feasible because it yields less per acre. However, Davis said a movement has begun with people turning away from wheat – and dropping substantial weight.

“If three people lost eight pounds, big deal,” he said. “But we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people losing 30, 80, 150 pounds. Diabetics become no longer diabetic; people with arthritis having dramatic relief. People losing leg swelling, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and on and on every day.”

To avoid these wheat-oriented products, Davis suggests eating “real food,” such as avocados, olives, olive oil, meats, and vegetables. “(It’s) the stuff that is least likely to have been changed by agribusiness,” he said. “Certainly not grains. When I say grains, of course, over 90 percent of all grains we eat will be wheat, it’s not barley… or flax. It’s going to be wheat.

“It’s really a wheat issue.”

Some health resources, such as the Mayo Clinic, advocate a more balanced diet that does include wheat. But Davis said on “CTM” they’re just offering a poor alternative.

“All that literature says is to replace something bad, white enriched products with something less bad, whole grains, and there’s an apparent health benefit – ‘Let’s eat a whole bunch of less bad things.’ So I take…unfiltered cigarettes and replace with Salem filtered cigarettes, you should smoke the Salems. That’s the logic of nutrition, it’s a deeply flawed logic. What if I take it to the next level, and we say, ‘Let’s eliminate all grains,’ what happens then?

“That’s when you see, not improvements in health, that’s when you see transformations in health.”

Watch Davis’ full interview at: CBS News

Foraging: A to Z

July 15th, 2012

Foraging – a word that evokes images of wild boars scouring for truffles and dawn raids on your local woodland’s wild mushroom supply – is set to become a major food trend in 2012, according to a recent study by food and drink tasting company My Secret Kitchen. Fresh, wild food is an attractive option for those strapped for cash or who simply want to avoid supermarket produce and eat more naturally. ‘During the recession, more people have been buying British produce and cooking homemade dishes so the natural next step was foraging,’ says Phil Moran of My Secret Kitchen. ‘It’s all about people wanting to go back to their roots and to feel more in control psychologically.’

Fortunately though, raiding Mother Nature’s buffet of goodies doesn’t require burying your face into the forest floor wild-hog-style. With plenty of organised courses and books now on offer, it’s easy to get to grips with this back-to-basics activity, which can slash your food miles and do away with plastic packaging all in one go. Here’s our A-Z guide to get you started:

A is for apples
Wild apple trees grow in uncultivated ground and are often the remains of abandoned orchards, or the result of animals or birds eating the seeds and then depositing them onto other land through their droppings. Start your search in late summer, when most apple varieties ripen. Windfalls are the easiest to get hold of but watch out for bugs that might have got there ahead of you.

B is for bramble
A traditional countryside pastime, ‘brambling’ or picking for blackberries can be done between the end of July and the start of November in the UK. The berries are renowned for their high levels of vitamins and are considered to be a superfood by nutritionists.

C is for Cat’s Tail
Better known to most of us as a bullrush, this well-known water plant is not just any old weed.  ‘Most people don’t realise how useful the Cat’s Tail is for survival and culinary purposes,’ says wild plant expert Marcus Harrison, who runs Wild Food School foraging courses. Peeled stems and roots are particularly good to eat, while the boiled and mashed rhizomes can be used to treat cuts and scrapes. Be careful about where you pick them though: bullrush absorbs pollutants so make sure the river you’re foraging in is clean.

D is for dandelion
These tenacious bright yellow plants are bursting with vitamins and minerals. Every bit of the plant is edible and, in traditional medicine, dandelions have been used to treat liver and kidney problems as well as digestive disorders.

E is for elderberry
Elderberries are a familiar late summer sight in British hedgerows. They’re easy to spot, with their distinctive purple-black fruit hanging from the heavily laden branches. For centuries, they have been used to make wine and syrups.

F is for foraying
An alternative form of foraging, ‘foraying’ involves simply observing the wild flora and fungi rather than picking and consuming them, which can be damaging to the woodland ecosystem if done to excess. ‘Some organised foraging parties literally strip the woodlands of anything edible. This can seriously affect the ecology of the area,’ says Michael Jordan from The Association of British Fungus Groups.

G is for Good King Henry
The leaves of this perennial plant can be cooked along the same lines as spinach or eaten raw in salads. Also known as ‘poor man’s asparagus’, the young shoots can be tied together in bundles, cooked and eaten.

H is for hops
Hops are a perennial climbing vine native to England and grow wild in many parts of the world. The female flowers are used as a culinary flavouring and stabiliser, especially in the brewing of beer.

I is for identification
‘The general rule of thumb is: if you don’t recognise it, walk away. It is very foolhardy to put something in your mouth if you can’t identify it,’ says Harrison. Professional forager Fergus Drennan, who runs a series of ‘Foraging the Wild’ courses, agrees: ‘These days there are countless courses and books on offer, some better than others. Ask around before investing in any of them.’

J is for Jack in the Bush
This common hedgerow plant has tasty leaves full of vitamin C that make an excellent addition to any salad. When crushed the leaves have a garlic-like odour and have antiseptic properties.

K is for kelp
Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious and kelp, a form of seaweed from the Laminaria family, is an especially good source of sodium, iodine and antioxidants.

L is for three-cornered leek
This white-flowered plant has a sharply three-angled stem, thus leading to its name. Many parts of the plant are edible and taste similar to garlic or onion.

M is for mushrooms
Wild mushrooms are a treat for the tastebuds but whatever you do don’t put anything in your mouth without consulting an expert. With around 16,500 species of fungi in the UK, edible mushrooms can easily be confused with highly toxic varieties. One such fatal fungus is the Cortinarius, which famously poisoned author and journalist Nicolas Evans and his family after they mistook them for chanterelles. ‘As there are so many lookalikes in the fungus family, we recommend people don’t pick wild mushrooms unless they have a very thorough knowledge,’ says Jordan.

N is for nettle
Contrary to popular belief, nettle is not only used as an ingredient in soup and tea. ‘Nettle can be used to substitute spinach in any dish – I’ve even been trying it as the main ingredient in the Indian side dish sagalau,’ says Harrison. But while they may be good for the tummy, they’re certainly not kind on the skin, so cover up to avoid a nasty sting.

O is for oyster
Gathering seafood such as oysters, mussels, molluscs, clams, winkles and whelks from the seashore is legal and sustainable (as long as it is for your own consumption and done on a small-scale). A good place to catch your own array of marine delicacies is along the west coast of Wales. NOTE: Be aware that shellfish can be the source of bacteria which can be harmful to humans – consult on the appropriate handling / treating procedures if in doubt.

P is for pesticides and herbicides
Watch out for agricultural land or urban parks that may have been recently sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, as this makes any plants or berries in the area unfit for consumption. ‘You need to develop the discipline of enquiring whether the area you’re picking food from is safe,’ says Harrison.

Q is for quince
Quince was commonly grown in Britain in the 16th to 18th centuries, when it was often used for making marmalade. ‘Many people have dwarf quince growing in their garden without even realising it,’ says Drennan.

R is for roadkill
The idea of consuming dead badgers from the roadside may not be for everyone, but for foragers, back-to-nature lifestylers and those with budgetary constraints, eating roadkill can be a great source of nourishment. It certainly stops good meat from going to waste.

S is for survival
‘You get people from all walks of life interested in foraging, most of whom are outdoors enthusiasts or foodies. But there are a small number of survival professionals who learn about bushcraft and foraging out of need rather than gratification,’ says Harrison.

T is for tolerance test
It is advised to test any foraged food that’s new to your diet by chewing and spitting it out in case of allergies or irritants. ‘If you have any allergies or a serious medical condition, it may be wise to steer clear of wild plants, as many contain diuretic components and could also amplify the dosage of any medication you’re on,’ says Harrison.

U is for urban foraging
While foraging is often seen as an exclusively countryside pursuit, it’s actually also possible to gather free fruits, vegetables and other ‘wild food’ around the city – yes, even in London.

V is for vitamins
If you think spinach is good for you, many wild plants have considerably more vitamins and nutrients than those found in the supermarket. ‘Generally people think of spinach as a benchmark for nutrient-rich foods but wild plants usually contain much more goodness comparatively,’ says Harrison.

W is for wild cherries
‘Cherries are a very English fruit and, since the recession, people have been focusing more and more on fresh, British produce,’ says Moran. Find them in local woodland or around the edges of fields.

Y is for ‘you-time’
‘The pleasure of collecting wild food, laughter with friends, the meditative gentleness of mind and body and a sense of being alive are all engendered by foraging,’ says Drennan.

Z is for zest
For those with a zest for food, foraging offers a plethora of tasty treats. ‘Wild foods are rich in flavour, nutrients and other important bio-active compounds and are free of pesticides when carefully sourced,’ says Drennan.

Source: The Ecologist

Can Eating Raw Cheese & Meat Save Heritage Breeds & The Earth?

July 3rd, 2012