Archive for the ‘food’ Category

by Sukumar Kavanoor

Growing vegetables in your backyard is a fun hobby and can be good for your health and the health of the environment. Here are some gardening tips for beginners.

Why grow vegetables?

You might ask why grow our own vegetables, why not buy from a grocery store? The main benefit is that when you grow your own food you get a really fresh harvest. When you buy your vegetables from the supermarket, you are probably buying produce that is days old. Secondly, you know what you are putting into or on your plants. I have read reports that many vegetables and fruits sold in the produce section of the supermarket are loaded with a variety of pesticides and other chemicals (The alternative is buying organically grown produce). Thirdly, you can grow vegetables that are not commonly available in the supermarket or even in ethnic stores (Indian/Chinese).

The fun and exercise you get out of gardening are other factors you might want to consider. Gardening is definitely healthier than sitting indoors on a couch watching television. If you want to grow vegetables to save money, you might be disappointed. You are not likely to save much. Professional farmers are a lot more efficient and benefit from economies of scale which home gardeners lack.

What to grow?

You might have seen in the garden sections of Home Depot or Lowes or Walmart tomato, eggplant and pepper plants plus some herbs. In some nurseries, you might also find cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, okra, onion, Swiss chard and Collard Green plants. But you don’t need to limit yourself to just these. A lot more varieties can be grown from seeds. I have grown or growing the following that are not available in the area garden stores: radish, beetroot, turnip, kohlrabi, spinach, fenugreek green, mustard green, Malabar spinach, red amaranth, green amaranth, three different leafy Chinese vegetables, Indian drum stick (for its leaves), lemon grass, green beans, wax beans, yard long beans, Indian flat beans (paapdi/avarai kai/chikkadi kai), peas, bitter gourd (karela), ridge gourd, bottle gourd (dudhi), snake gourd, strawberries, water melon and cantaloupe. Most of these are disease resistant so you don’t need to spray pesticides. The only plants that are really vulnerable to pest attack or diseases are eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli. I have stopped growing the last two.

Okra plants on a raised bed in my garden this season. The pipes are my attempt at building a small greenhouse over the beds (I removed the plastic cover a few weeks ago). It was effective in raising the temperature by several degrees in April and May – this elevated temperature lets you plant earlier. The small green things are germinating Pak Choy (Chinese greens) from seeds produced earlier this season in the same bed.

When you grow from seeds you not only have greater choices in terms of types of vegetables but also in terms of subtypes of a vegetable. For example, you may buy seeds for sour tomatoes which are good for South Indian cooking. You will not find it in garden stores. You may buy seeds for okra that has good flavor instead of buying the plants available in a nursery. Basically, grow plants from seeds so that you can grow what you really want to grow.

If you have limited space, you may not want to go for vegetables and fruits that grow on vines because the vines do take up space. What you can grow also depends on how much sunlight you get. Most vegetables and fruits listed above need many hours of sunlight. If you have only two or three hours of sunlight or even less, try the greens, tomatoes and peppers.

Also, if your garden is vulnerable to deer, rabbit or ground hog invasions and you can’t construct a suitable fence you may want to limit yourself to hot peppers, bitter gourd, herbs such as mint, oregano and basil. I have found that zucchini and tomatoes are fairly resistant to attack by these animals. If you want to take a laidback approach, you would want to avoid certain vegetables. Okra, cucumber and beans mature very fast and you need to harvest/check them every couple of days. Most other vegetables and fruits are less demanding.

When to grow?

When to grow depends on what you grow. Cool season crops such as spinach, radish, beetroot and turnip can be grown in early spring (April) and again in late summer or early fall. Most other plants can be planted or sown outdoors mid May. Long-duration plants such as peppers and eggplant need to be raised indoors before transplanting outside in mid May. For early harvest, start growing plants 4 to 8 weeks before the transplant date. What you grow indoors for how long depends on the plant. You don’t want to start fruit and vegetable plants that grow on vines (such as cucumber and watermelon) more than 4 or 5 weeks before the transplant date of mid May because they will grow too big for indoors. Seed packets come with instructions on when to plant.

How to grow, protect and care for your plants in the next part.

About Sukumar: Sukumar grew up in a small village in Tamilnadu, India until he was seven where his father owned farm lands. This early exposure to agriculture and plants is responsible for his interest in gardening. In this country, Sukumar has been gardening for the last twelve years and growing vegetables at his backyard for the last four years.



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Food Drive

We are having a food drive in partnership with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey ending May 28th. So feel free to drop off canned food items at the Metuchen center before then. see

blog post:Volunteers Deliver Lunch to Nearby Shelter


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Got Milk?

by Vikas Chawla
Everything you ever wanted to know about milk (but were afraid to ask)

This all started over a dinner conversation with our dear friend Prashant Bajaj who is a chemist by training and he educated me on the nuances of homogenized and ultra-pasteurized milk. Even though I am a health nut I was quite clueless about these facts so I thought it would be a good idea to do some research and share the findings.

Ever wonder why milk in its natural state goes bad in a day or two but store-bought milk has a shelf life of 4 weeks or more? Think “Ultra pasteurization”.

Ultra pasteurization
Ultra-pasteurization is the sterilization of food by heating it for a short time, around 2 seconds, at a temperature exceeding 135°C (275°F), which is the temperature allegedly required to kill spores in milk. I am sure it kills some harmful bacteria but you can bet your paycheck that it kills some useful bacteria too.

Why do we do it? It increases the shelf life to 60 days. 
I am sure that is great for the grocers and the milk producing companies and also great for driving the local dairies out of business. As a minor side-effect ultra-pasteurization adversely influences the taste of the milk. More importantly, heating the milk at such a high temperature changes the molecular structure of milk.

I remember when I was a kid, a layer of cream floating to the top of the glass of milk but that does happen now. Ever wonder why? Think “Homogenization”.

Milk is not homogenous in nature, that is, when a cow is milked, and as the milk settles, a layer of cream forms at the top of the milk. This used to be the way people would judge the quality of milk. A thicker layer of cream meant better quality milk, and especially when milk was still normally sold in bottles, you could easily see into the bottle to judge the cream layer.

When milk is homogenized, it passes through a fine filter at pressures equal to 4,000 pounds per square inch, and in so doing, the fat globules (liposomes) are made smaller (micronized) by a factor of ten times or more. These fat molecules become evenly dispersed within the liquid milk.

Through homogenization, fat molecules in milk become smaller and become “capsules” for substances that bypass digestion. Proteins that would normally be digested in the stomach or gut are not broken down, and are absorbed into the bloodstream.

In theory, proteins are easily broken down by digestive processes. In reality, homogenization insures their survival so that they enter the bloodstream and deliver their messages. Often, the body reacts to foreign proteins by producing histamines, then mucus. And since cow’s milk proteins can resemble a human protein, they can become triggers for autoimmune diseases.

Why is homogenization done?
With pasteurization, milk could be shipped long distances. In transit the cream rose to the top, which meant that the most valuable part of the milk-the fat-was unevenly divided from one customer to another. Homogenization distributes the cream evenly, so everyone gets a share.

The only benefit of homogenization is that it prevents the cream in milk from separating and rising to the top by keeping its fat molecules evenly dispersed. This is nothing more than a matter of convenience and aesthetics, neither of which justify the alteration of a food’s molecular structure.

Milk and Hormones

The only growth hormone approved for use in dairy cattle is called bovine somatotropin (bST) or recombant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The hormone is administered through injection and simulates another naturally occurring hormone (IGF-1) which the cow uses to convert nutrients into milk. Simply put, cows given bST produce more milk than non-injected cows.

Since November 1993, with FDA approval,[citation] Monsanto has been selling recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), also called rBGH, to dairy farmers. Cows produce bovine growth hormone naturally, but some producers administer an additional recombinant version of BGH which is produced through a genetically engineered E. Coli because it increases milk production. Bovine growth hormone also stimulates liver production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). Monsanto has stated that both of these compounds are harmless given the levels found in milk and the effects of pasteurization,[citation] however, Monsanto’s own tests, conducted in 1987, demonstrated that statistically significant growth stimulating effects were induced in organs of adult rats by feeding IGF-1 at low dose levels for only two weeks. “Drinking rBGH milk would thus be expected to significantly increase IGF-1 blood levels and consequently to increase risks of developing breast cancer and promoting its invasiveness.”[citation]

Why is American Milk Banned in Europe?
American dairy milk is genetically-modified unless it’s labeled “NO rBGH”. Genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in milk increases cancer risks. American dairy farmers inject rBGH to dairy cows to increase milk production. European nations and Canada have banned rBGH to protect citizens from IGF-1 hazards.

Q. Is there any milk not contaminated with rBGH and IGF-1?
 A. Yes. Milk that is clearly labeled “NO rBGH” is free of rBGH and does not contain excess levels of IGF-1.

Q. What about cheeses?
A. American-made cheeses are contaminated with rBGH and excess levels of IGF-1 unless they’re labeled “NO rBGH”. Imported European cheeses are safe since Europe has banned rBGH.

Early onset of puberty and menstruation and milk

It used to be that the average age of beginning of menstruation in the 1800s was 16-17 years, whereas now it is between 12-13 years. Some girls are seen developing breasts as early as 7 or 8 years old. So girls are maturing much earlier than they used to. Something in modern life has made this change, and probably the girls in ages past were better off. An 8-9 year old girl still has a child-like mind that is not ready for the changes of maturity if her body jumps ahead
Linda Folden Palmer, DC (Doctor of Chiropractic), wrote in her May 1999 article in Dynamic Chiropractic, “Coming of Age in America (Much Too Soon)”:

“Girls in the U.S. and other industrialized nations are now reaching puberty at drastically earlier ages… Two factors proven responsible for precocious puberty are detached parenting and consumption of cow’s milk…
Cow’s milk has a high fat content, high levels of biologically available hormones and growth factors, and other chemical contaminants from highly medicated cows fed environmental trash. These are all linked to early puberty.”

Diane Marty, a journalist, wrote in her Apr. 30, 2007 article “Empowered Shopping Tips From the Green Side of the Aisle,” for E: The Environmental Magazine:

“People don’t recognize the importance of organic dairy products… More and more evidence points to a relationship between hormones in milk and early puberty in teens, preteens and even grade schoolers. If you buy only one organic item for your kids, make it milk.”

2% Milk

Whole milk contains, on average, 3.25% fat. Thus, when you hear about 2% milk it is not reduced from 100% to 2% but from 3.25% to 2%. It was a big shocker to me and you have the wonderful marketing apparatus of this country to thank for this.

Skim Milk

Skim milk is a dairy product with an extremely low fat percentage. In some nations, skim milk is labeled as “fat free” milk, since many labeling laws allow foods with negligible fat contents to be labeled as “fat free”. Most grocery stores and dairies stock skim milk, along with low-fat and whole milk products. For people who are concerned about the amount of fat in their diets, skim milk has been promoted as excellent alternative to whole milk.

It is standard practice for dairy producers to improve the protein content of skim milk and low fat milk by adding dried milk powder to it. This dried milk is produced by forcing skim milk through tiny holes at high temperatures and pressures which damages its nutrients. This also causes the milk’s cholesterol to become oxidized which is a legitimate risk for heart disease. Ironically, the milk’s natural and nutritious saturated fat is removed because it is supposedly unhealthy, but then a more likely promoter of heart disease is added. Although the amount of oxidized cholesterol in skim milk and reduced fat milk may be small, there’s really not much point in taking the risk.

Another potential problem with consuming skim milk or low fat milk is vitamin A deficiency. Because vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, its concentration in milk is reduced through the removal of fat. As a result, when skim milk or low fat milk is consumed and digested, the vitamin A needed for the assimilation of its protein is drawn from the liver. This can deplete the body’s reserve of vitamin A, and in turn, increase the risk of autoimmune disease and cancer.


Now that I know this, I have become paranoid and what do I drink?
The answer lies in “raw milk from pasture-fed cows” (Boil it before you drink it )
How do find that kind of milk?
Let me know if you find out.
At the very least buy Organic Milk and go for the pasteurized instead of the ultra-pasteurized kind.

Other blog posts by Vikas Chawla
Snakes and Ladders
The Chaos Theory
Acceptance, Meditation and Guilt


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