Shrimp are a safety disaster waiting to happen

via AlterNet

Shrimp are a safety disaster waiting to happen

Most people do not realize the majority of shrimp sold in the U.S. are neither domestic nor wild-caught. They are imported from countries like Thailand, India and Indonesia where they are “farmed” in crowded, filthy pools with antibiotics, disinfectants and parasiticides that are banned in the United States. The shrimp themselves have their eyes removed before being raised in pools so dense and dirty that many die.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of such imported shrimp for human consumption, yet over 96 percent of shipments are not opened or even checked when they arrive on the dock in the United States. Instead, exporters’ identities are stored in the FDA Automated Commercial System (ACS) system and only if a country or company has had prior problems will it receive receive inspections. Even then, the so-called inspection may only be a look at documents or a visual inspection, not lab tests for dangerous substances. FDA inspectors admit that blocked exporters can “transship” their products from another country to fool inspectors. Is anyone surprised that banned drugs and mislabeled products including pet shrimp find their way to U.S. dinner tables?

Like so many food products that are bad for consumers, intensively farmed shrimp also harm the environment, workers and animals. A recent, award-winning Associated Press series exposes slave labor used in the commercial seafood industry in Indonesia and Thailand—and the actual incarceration of captive workers in Myanmar in cages. U.S. officials and human rights activists call on Americans to “stop buying fish and shrimp tied to supply chains in Thailand.” Intensive shrimp farming also harms sensitive mangrove areas.

Just a Spoonful of Cod Liver Oil

Many of us have heard of cod liver oil, perhaps through a story of childhood woes related by our grandparents or great-grandparents that went something like: “Every day my mother would make me take a spoonful of cod liver oil before I walked the five miles through the snow to school.” What this story doesn’t tell you is how lucky they were to have been given this historical super food. Yes, cod liver oil has been around for a long time.

Garum1You could even say it is the stuff of legends or, rather, the stuff legends were built on. The Roman soldiers were known to take fermented cod liver oil, Garum, on their marches across Europe. In the same vein, every Viking family had a barrel of cod livers fermenting by their front door and would take a spoonful of the oil upon leaving the house every day because they recognized its contribution to their vitality.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the benefits of cod liver oil became better understood. Doctors in the 1920s recommended feeding children cod liver oil in order to prevent rickets (a crippling affliction caused by vitamin D deficiency, most notably endured by President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Studies have shown this nutrient-dense food (it is really more of a food, though we take it supplementarily) to contain high concentrations of naturally occurring vitamin A and D. DHA and EPA, two essential fatty acids particularly important for brain health and hormone production, respectively, are also found in cod liver oil. The importance and inherent practicality of consuming a food like this as a supplement is in the synergism of the components. Since vitamins A and D are fat-soluble, our bodies require fat to absorb them. The natural fatty acids in the cod liver oil act as the liaison for the absorption of A and D in your body, much as they did for the cod.

Although there has been some research indicating the possible toxicity of vitamin D and A that can occur from consuming large quantities, many cases are attributable to supplements created from synthesized A and D. This basically means the vitamins are not quite usable by the body (take D2, for example) and require your body to convert the supplement to a more usable form. Taking a supplement that requires your body to do more work seems counterproductive when there are nutrient-dense foods and supplements that can give you what you need without the extra bodily hassle. In addition, the unconverted portion of the synthetic supplement has nowhere to go but to build up in your body fat and create toxic concentrations that will lead to other problems.

As to the benefits of a daily dose of fermented cod liver oil, there are many. Research has shown that daily consumption of cod liver oil in northerly latitudes (particularly in the winter time when sun exposure is reduced) can improve vitamin D levels (thereby attenuating the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that plagues so many of us), as well as increase bone density. A study in the Journal of Neurology looking at people living in the Arctic, found that supplemental cod liver oil taken during childhood may be protective against developing Multiple Sclerosis later in life. In addition, breastfeeding mothers taking cod liver oil show significantly higher levels of DHA and EPA in their breast milk. These higher levels have been shown to greatly benefit the developing fetus and baby. In “a double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed the use of cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation to increase the child’s IQ at the age of four years. In this study, the control received the same amount of fat-soluble vitamins as the cod liver oil group, so the effects are most likely due to the DHA. In Norway, use of cod liver oil during pregnancy was associated with a 70 percent reduced risk of type 1 diabetes.”

I am an avid believer in the benefits of fermented cod liver oil because I have been using it myself over the last few years. At the beginning, I was not consistent, and although I suspected some benefits, I couldn’t be precise about what they were. During the summer, when I am outside more often, I take less simply because I feel that I get enough sun exposure and do not want to over-do my vitamin D levels that are already being accommodated by the sun and my skin. When the days get shorter and I am more bundled up during the cooler months of the year, I increase my intake, and make sure I am consistent. This Fall and Winter were the first that I have been consistent with my daily dose, and it is also the first year that SAD has not knocked on my door.

As a nutritionist, I believe that eating real foods, prepared using time-tested traditional methods is the only way to eat for vital health and well-being. In my ideology, fermented cod liver oil is an important part of building vital health, particularly for people who do not live in tropic zones of the world, where sunlight exposure is high. My preferred brand is Green Pasture because of the high quality of the livers (only wild caught fish livers from fish caught in clean Arctic waters are used), the high quality processing of the oil (using traditional fermentation methods), and the efforts in sustainability the company employs (they only work with companies that are certified members of the Marine Stewardship Council)

Luckily, this product is available at Rebecca’s, and costs less than ordering it online from Green Pastures or Dr. Ron’s. But, no matter how you get it, I highly recommend you do and start your daily dose of what your great-grandmother always knew was best!


Caitlin Howell, MS (Human Nutrition)
Assistant Grocery Manager
Rebecca’s Natural Food, Charlottesville VA

DIY Herbal Remedies

“Plants have the ability to synthesize a wide variety of chemical compounds that are used to perform important biological functions, and to defend against attack from predators such as insects, fungi and herbivorous mammals. Many of these phytochemicals have beneficial effects on long-term health when consumed by humans, and can be used to effectively treat human diseases. At least 12,000 such compounds have been isolated so far; a number estimated to be less than 10% of the total. Chemical compounds in plants mediate their effects on the human body through processes identical to those already well understood for the chemical compounds in conventional drugs; thus herbal medicines do not differ greatly from conventional drugs in terms of how they work. This enables herbal medicines to be as effective as conventional medicines, but also gives them the same potential to cause harmful side effects. 

The use of plants as medicines predates written human history. Ethnobotany (the study of traditional human uses of plants) is recognized as an effective way to discover future medicines. In 2001, researchers identified 122 compounds used in modern medicine which were derived from “ethnomedical” plant sources; 80% of these have had an ethnomedical use identical or related to the current use of the active elements of the plant. Many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, including aspirin, digitalis, and quinine, opium.

The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-industrialized societies, and is often more affordable than purchasing expensive modern pharmaceuticals. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care. Studies in the United States and Europe have shown that their use is less common in clinical settings, but has become increasingly more in recent years as scientific evidence about the effectiveness of herbal medicine has become more widely available.”  –Wikipedia

While you can certainly find many herbal remedies in your local store, some of the national brands may contain unwanted ingredients such as binders, fillers,  preservatives, coloring agents and plasticizers (ugh!). The origin of the herbs themselves are almost never disclosed, sometimes coming from countries with lax health and safety laws (think herbicides, pesticides and a host of other contaminants).

Another area of concern is that some compounds degrade quickly. How much time elapses between harvesting, shipping, processing and warehousing before the capsules get to the store where they may sit for many more months?

Lastly, these compounds are expensive.  Sometimes outrageously so.

For all of these reasons, I have started making my own remedies at home using strictly organic ingredients.  I try to buy my herbs in whole form, grinding and encapsulating as needed.

Here’s what the process looks like..



Dining for Life

Austin’s Best Food Event September 12th and 13th

AUSTIN, August 4 2011:  Restaurant reservations are going fast for the 19th annual Dining for Life, voted along with the Hot Sauce Festival as Austin’s Best Food Event in the Austin Chronicle Best of Awards.  Dining for Life is this coming Monday, September 12 and Tuesday, September 13, at select Austin restaurants.

Dining for Life has raised over half a million dollars over the past 19 years, and its power lies in its simplicity: you eat at a participating restaurant and a substantial portion of your tab will directly fund HIV prevention outreach and care services right here in Austin.

The 60-plus participating eateries include Eastside Café, Mother’s Café, Olivia, Wink Restaurant & Wine Bar, Zocalo Café, Foreign & Domestic Food & Drink and Magnolia Café.

Diners are the biggest key to a successful night and Dinner Captains are the liaison between the diners, restaurants and AIDS Services of Austin.

Ann Richards speaks at the first AIDS Walk Austin in 1988

This year’s event offers you the opportunity to be a Dinner Captain by selecting one of your favorite participating restaurants and inviting your friends, family and co-workers to join you in helping to insure the success for both the restaurant and for ASA, whose mission is to respond to needs of the Austin area by providing services that enhance the health and well-being of individuals and the community.

Please visit the website for more information or to register as a Dinner Captain.
Questions? Please feel free to email or call Scott Dinger at scott.dinger AT or call (512) 406-6157


Ethical Consumption – How You Can Help Feed 200 Million Hungry Children

“Of the 24,000 children that die every day from preventable diseases, 60 percent of those deaths are the result of malnutrition and could be avoided if children received the Lauren Waltersprotein and nutrients necessary to help fight the diseases prevalent in the resource-poor countries where they live.

Among the most crucial tools used by Partners In Health to combat childhood malnutrition are ready-to-use foods, such as enriched peanut butter, that provide the essential nutrients needed to save a starving child’s life.

Getting these food packs into the hands of children who need them is the mission of Two Degrees, a health food company devoted to sending one life-saving pack to a child for every snack bar sold in the United States.”  –Partners in Health

Two Degrees says that shoppers looking for healthy, socially-conscious food for their children have a new choice in an all-natural (vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO, I’ve been assured) food bar featuring simple, sustainably-sourced  ingredients such as seeds, nuts and real fruits.  The big difference, however is that company founders Will Hauser and Lauren Walters are the first to adopt the one-for-one business model of social giving to help feed the world’s 200+ million hungry children, donating one medically-formulated nutrition pack to a malnourished child for every one food bar sold.

Working with nonprofit partners Valid Nutrition  and Partners in Health in Malawi, Two Degrees is also expanding into Kenya, where it hopes to quintuple their distribution of the medically-formulated nutrition packs through Shining Hope for Communities.

Two Degrees bars are available online and at various U.S. retailers including Whole Foods.

For more information, please contact

Give Bars, LLC
457 Bryant Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

(415) 913-7566
info @