New at Costco (September '14)

So as you know, I'm a Costcoholic. I may even be the president and founder of CA (Costcoholics Anonymous). I get my fix at least once per week now that I am shopping and cooking for my meal prep customers. It used to be only 2x per month. Naturally, the more I go, the more obsessed I get. They are constantly bringing in new inventory and expanding their organic product line. They also have majorly stepped up their labeling game and now tell you where most of their meat and seafood comes from, what grade it's rated, how and where the meat was processed and handled, and whether or not the product is considered humane or sustainable. They are doing the same for produce. The are supporting more local farms and being clear about GMOs, pesticides, sustainable farming practices, other environmental impacts, and freshness.

I love Costco.

So these are the two new products I noticed today. They were not there last time I shopped there (which was only about a week ago) so of course I got all excited to play with them.  

  NuttZo  nut and seed butter. Availability and type will depend on the store. The Richmond Costco currently only has this flavor. 

NuttZo nut and seed butter. Availability and type will depend on the store. The Richmond Costco currently only has this flavor. 

I didn't purchase this nut and seed butter because I've had to severely cut back on nuts and seeds due to digestion and gut issues. Sadness. However, it looks amazing and I love that it doesn't have peanuts, added oils, added flavors, or sweeteners. That is RARE for nut butters. You should check it out if your tummy can handle it! (But don't tell me if it's good cos I'll be jealous). 

 SunnyValley uncured bacon. 

SunnyValley uncured bacon. 

I didn't buy this bacon either because I've also cut down on processed meats for my own household.  I haven't done the research yet to find out about the animals and farms who supply meat to this company. The processors seem credible, I'll give them that. The bacon is leaner and even looks a lot better than any of the other bacon they sell (including Niman Ranch). And it is currently the ONLY bacon Costco sells that is free of preservatives. That was enough to make me smile. I encourage you to do your own research before choosing meat products. It's very important as a meat eater to make informed decisions. The "I don't want to know about it just give me my burger attitude" is not cool and never will be. 

What products do you enjoy from Costco?? 

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Meatless Monday...3rd time's a charm!

Alright, so this past was my 3rd attempt at a Meatless Monday. I figured it out, finally. On Sunday, instead of prepping meals containing meats, I prepped foods that contained no meats. Sounds simple, right? Well, I did that last time and it didn't work. I caved and had chicken breast because I was weak. No other reason. So what was different this time?

I was STRONG! I was committed. That's the difference. I didn't have a "real" reason to do a Meatless Monday so my motivation was low. I love meat. But between this week and last week I did some research on the benefits of cutting back on meat consumption and my findings were pretty much in line with the original reasons I wanted to do it in the first place. The problem is that most of the research out right now promoting plant-based diets and the negative effects of meat consumption do NOT take into account the quality of the meats. These studies are often referring to conventionally farmed and raised animals (feedlots...yuck!), processed meat products including hotdogs and deli meats with preservatives and fillers, chicken raised with growth hormones, inhumanely raised animals, fatty meat like burgers and chicken wings, fried meats, farms that do not practice sustainable raising, feeding, and slaughtering, etc. ALL the bad shit that I do not, in any way shape or form, support. EVER.

So I take the research with a grain of salt because I know I don't eat low-quality, processed, nasty meat products. These are the usual conclusions from the studies

Here's what my day looked like in terms of what I ate:

I started the day with 1 tbs of apple cider vinegar with 1/2 cup of warm water. This is my new morning routine and I LOVE it! Click the link to read about the benefits. That was followed by 16oz of decaf tea just like every morning. 

For breakfast I had coconut, chia, flax, and hemp seeds steel cut oats with a few chopped pecans and 1/4 banana. 

Several hours later I had some 90% dark chocolate (no added sugar) with sunflower seeds and 2 dried apricots.

Pre-workout I enjoyed two soft boiled eggs, 4 olives, a raw carrot, and an oven roasted beet. 

Post-workout/dinner I had an egg white frittata that I prepared while my fiancee grilled a beef tenderloin right next to me on the stovetop....it smelled so good! The frittata was LOADED with veggies: yellow onion, yellow bell pepper, crimini mushrooms, zucchini, sweet potato, serrano pepper, beet greens, and green onions. It was SO damn good! I ate it with salsa and white rice. 

I felt great all day, as usual. And had I gone to bed at a decent time, I wouldn't have experienced hunger before bed. Water always does the trick for that though. I am super proud of myself for doing it and sticking to it. I learned a lot about myself and my diet. In the future, I plan on continuing this Meatless Monday and adding in a 2nd day during the week when my protein comes from plants and seafood only. Again, I do NOT believe that consuming quality, local, sustainable, humane, organic, pastured meats is bad for your health in any way. Processed meats should be eaten in moderation, which I do. Sausages, bacon, and deli meat I now limit myself to once a week. And even still those are high in quality just the same but nonetheless processed and full of salt. Which is why I am limiting them. 

I never want to be stagnant in my diet and I always welcome a challenge. Meatless Monday is here to stay! 

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Aidells...a reliable source of clean meat products?

****update (4/18/14)

Earlier today I received the following email:

Now this email definitely contradicts what I was told on the phone (see original blog post below) AND what is written on their "new" packaging! I am led to believe that this company is unclear about their own product and also apparently misleading many people. If you choose to include Aidell's products in your diet, please always choose the organic line of products only. This whole experience has completely reinforced my new dietary goal of further reducing my intake of processed meat products (jerky, deli meats, sausages, bacon, etc). Right now, I'm down to just once a week which I am OK with...for now. I will no longer include Aidells on my list of acceptable brands. You just can't trust processed meats! Certainly not meats processed by the industry. We're much better off cooking all of our food ourselves. If you haven't seen this talk by Michael Pollan...watch it now!  


So, as many of you know, I began investigating Aidells products for "cleanliness" earlier this month after I noticed a discrepancy in their packaging. While making a trip to Costco and Grocery Outlet in another town recently, I realized that Aidells sells BOTH "organic/hormone/antibiotic free" and "all natural" versions of many of their products. I think this is very deceiving as "all natural" means close to nothing in the world of processed meat products and there's no reason to make two versions of the same product in my opinion. Either you produce quality or you don't!

From left to right: Aidells older packaging with no mention of antibiotics, only hormones at the bottom, Aidells new packaging with the antibiotic and hormone info more prevalent at the top, and Aidells organic packaging.

When I realized this, I was a little upset as I know many people rely on them as a reliable and healthy food product without making sure they are picking up the package that is labeled as both hormone and antibiotic free (which, as you can see, looks IDENTICAL to the other package). So, I sent out several emails. When I didn't hear back within 2 business days (not even a confirmation that my email was received), I got on the phone and I called the customer service line. However, the customer service rep didn't seem to understand my question. Our conversation went a little something like this:


Me: "Hi, I'm calling in regards to your products because I am a little confused as to how I am to be certain whether or not they contain antibiotics."

Rep: "Which product are you inquiring about?"

Me: "Well, sort of all of them but let's go with the chicken apple sausage. If I buy the nonorganic sausages, am I to assume they are made with chicken that contains antibiotics because the packaging does not state that they are antibiotic free and your online allergen info doesn't either. In fact, according to that online information page, most of your products may contain chicken raised with antibiotics."

Rep: "No ma'am, all of our products are 'all natural' and made with all natural chicken." 

Me: "I understand that. But 'all natural' by definition, does not mean without antibiotics. I am asking specifically about antibiotics." 

****insert about 2-3 minutes of back and forth about the difference between "all natural" and "antibiotic free" between the rep and myself...****

Rep: "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to do some research to find out the answer to your question because you are right, this information is not listed on the allergen page of our website."

Several days went by I didn't hear back from her. So, I called representatives at the corporate level and I wrote a letter. I mean business, OBVI. I have a right to know what is in these products and exactly how, where, and with what they are made. We all do. Within 3 days, I received a call back and a formal apology for the late response. This is the information that was relayed to me, this is NOT a direct quote as this was a phone conversation: 

All of our products at Aidells have been and are always made with chicken and turkey that is hormone free and raised without antibiotics. We do not use the "all natural" label to imply this fact as you are correct, that is not what all natural means. The reason for the discrepancy in the packaging and allergen info is because neither are up to date, and we apologize for that. We are in the process of changing our packaging and you will now see that the packaging states that our chicken is never raised with antibiotics or hormones so look for that for assurance. 

Am I satisfied? Definitely. I trust that their chickens are humanely raised as they say they are and they comply with the standards set forth for all of their claims. I will still always choose the organic line of Aidells products and the same rules will always apply for me when I do purchase processed foods.

ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE LABEL and NEVER be afraid to ask questions!

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Meatless Monday...the ultimate challenge

Or so I thought...

I eat meat, every day. I love meat. I love chicken. I love turkey. I love pork. I love bison. And I especially love all the amazing meatyness that comes from the ocean. I love it all. But I also have this theory that we should be open and flexible with our diet because we happen to live in a time and place where food is always available to us. I could eat strawberries year round if I wanted to. It shouldn't be that way and it certainly wasn't always that way. Humans are incredible machines. Our bodies can adapt to so many different environments, diets, climates, etc. We adapt. But never has there been a time of such overabundance of food. And I know I don't have to begin to list the various ways this is having a negative impact on us.

From what I've learned, early humans who hunted and foraged only ate meat when it was available. AKA when the hunt was successful. When it wasn't available, we had plants or maybe dried meats...who really knows. I just know it wouldn't have been possible to eat the way I do now thousands of years ago, 500 years ago, or even 100 years ago. The same can probably be said about the way you eat. Just think about it...

Enter Meatless Monday. This is nothing more than a personal challenge. Do I think it's unhealthy to eat top quality, sustainably, locally and humanely raised, organic, pastured meat every day? Absolutely not. And you won't find a single shred of evidence that successfully proves otherwise. I'm not doing it for my health. I'm doing it to challenge myself. Because challenging yourself is how you grow. 

My 1st Meatless Monday was this past Monday, March 31. I was surprisingly not nervous at all about it. I knew I would have to come prepared just like I always do, so that's what I did. It was a long day. I worked with my partner as her assistant at a wedding shoot in San Jose, about 1.5 hours drive away. We were out of the house literally all day from 9am til almost 11pm. This is what I did the night before...

 Soaked and sprouted chipotle quinoa crust quiche with curry spiced egg whites, onion, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and beet greens. This was my plan for dinner.

Soaked and sprouted chipotle quinoa crust quiche with curry spiced egg whites, onion, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and beet greens. This was my plan for dinner.

 Dark chocolate, pecans with coconut flakes and apricots, raw carrots, an apple, avocado and salsa for my hard boiled eggs, and quiche all packed and ready to go. This was lunch and 2 more small meals. Some of this was shared with my partner...I didn't eat it all to myself. I also had a banana and 2 cuties. 

Dark chocolate, pecans with coconut flakes and apricots, raw carrots, an apple, avocado and salsa for my hard boiled eggs, and quiche all packed and ready to go. This was lunch and 2 more small meals. Some of this was shared with my partner...I didn't eat it all to myself. I also had a banana and 2 cuties. 

 Steel cut oats slow cooked in coconut milk with hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon and chopped almonds. This was breakfast. 

Steel cut oats slow cooked in coconut milk with hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon and chopped almonds. This was breakfast. 

I was not hungrier than usual. I was not tired or low energy. I was not bloated (my regular diet never makes me bloated, just a side note). I was not thinking about meat all day. In fact, I didn't think about it at all. That was until it was right under my nose. At around 9pm we sat down for dinner while the bride and groom ate with their guests. I was exhausted from such a long day. And the exhaustion from the entire weekend had also caught up with me as I had attended my first funeral which was much more emotionally draining than I could have ever imagined. I could barely keep myself seated upright at the table when our server laid a plate of beautifully presented and wonderfully smelling chicken breast right in front of me. My original plan was to ask for the vegetarian option at dinner. My quiche was the backup plan. We were not given the option as I had initially been led to believe we would, though. The choice was made for us: chicken. Once I saw and smelled that hot chicken, I was absolutely not about to get out of my booth, find my bags, rummage through the cooler, and eat cold quiche. Not a chance. The decision was made quickly and easily. 

I ate the chicken. And it was hella good. Do I think this Meatless Monday was a failure? Absolutely not! Had I been willing to eat cold quiche over a hot plate of food, I would have but I made the choice to save my energy to pick up my fork and feed my tired, aching body. Am I being dramatic? Absolutely. I think part of me also realized how easy the day had gone and that it no longer felt like a challenge considering my quiche was right there ready for me...or maybe THAT was the challenge. 

Next week I will actually be training on my Meatless Monday. That will be a totally different experience I think. I am ready though. Now that I know I can do it and it's not hard or scary.

Cold quiche vs. hot chicken is quite scary though. 

Stay tuned! :) 


Just wanted to address a few questions I got from folks about Meatless Monday. 

  1. There are no "rules" for this challenge. This is a personal challenge for me. If you are joining me, create your own challenge. Maybe you will include seafood. Maybe you will not include eggs. To me, meat is the flesh of an animal. Fish and shrimp are animals. Therefore I will not be eating seafood on my Meatless Mondays. 
  2. Protein. I got plenty of it. My oatmeal breakfast contains about 18g per serving, my quiche has 30g per serving, my eggs gave me 24g, and the rest of what I ate probably gave me an additional 10g or so. That's about 85g for the day. Plenty of protein! More than enough! By the way, I NEVER count protein in my diet, I did for this day because sooooo many people asked. 
  3. Carbs. I don't count carbs either. Did I eat more than I usually do? Definitely. Is it the end of the world? You tell me. 

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shopping priorities

I wish having access to quality food was easy for everyone. I wish grocery shopping was far less of a manipulative process as it is in our country. I wish people were informed so that they could make confident choices. But, so long as there is a demand for cheap food, and the ignorance to what that actually means, most people will never know how corrupt our food system really is. 

Do you read labels? Do you trust brands? Are you lured in by marketing? Most people are. Sometimes, all it takes is pretty packaging, a funny commercial, and a few key words and BAM...people get sucked in like a vortex. 

So what can we do about this? It's simple really. You have to start caring. Most people don't care to read ingredients and labels. They "don't have time," or "don't know what to look for," or "get too frustrated," or simply do not care. They buy what they like and that's that. Well we should all care. Because if you don't care, no one else is going to care for you and we will continue to be taken advantage of. That is exactly what is happening. The information we actually need in order to make informed decisions is hidden, obscure, hard to find, confusing, misleading, too small to read, too difficult to understand...ON PURPOSE. The companies don't want you to know. The government doesn't want you to know. And as long as you don't want to know, we will continue to be taken advantage of. 

One of the services I offer which is easily the most influential is my grocery store visit. I take my clients to a store of their choice (usually the one they do most of their shopping at) and we go through all of the typical products that they buy one-by-one. I teach them what to look for, what to avoid and how to avoid it. I show them healthier alternatives. I teach them how to save money while still making QUALITY a priority. I teach them what quality really means. I show them all of that and how to maximize their time at the store so that they leave each time proud of the contents of their cart and empowered by being a conscious shopper. Ideally, we would all be at that level. Empowered and informed. Because then, the demand for quality would surpass the demand for cheap and companies wouldn't have a choice but to make the appropriate changes. This has happened already...many, many times in the past. A toxic or potentially dangerous ingredient or manufacturing process is revealed and changes take place. Why? Because of demand. We have to demand better because we deserve better. 

First, here's a little infographic I created about food labels. 

And with all of that, here are my general tips for making informed decisions at the grocery store:

 

Meats

If you eat meat, fish, and eggs, prioritize your budget for those items. Choosing high quality animal protein sources should never be something you debate with yourself. You either buy organic, wild, and pastured or you don't buy it. Period. Yes, it's THAT serious. Especially when it comes to beef and chicken. Beef is in such high demand in our country that companies are willing to do whatever it takes to capitalize. They raise the animals in cramped conditions to save space, they feed them GMO corn and grains to save money and land, they inject them with growth hormones so they can be ready for slaughter sooner, and they pump them with antibiotics so they don't get sick in their disgusting, inhumane environment. It is a sad, sad life for those animals and the people who allow this are sick, sick people. Do NOT support that with your hard-earned money. For meat, seafood, and eggs these are the factors of most importance, in my opinion, in the order of priority from top to bottom. 

  • humanely & sustainably raised
  • organic
  • grass-fed/pastured
  • local
  • wild-caught (seafood)
  • processed meat products should be kept to a MINIMUM (bacon, deli meat, sausage, etc.) but should definitely still be purchased organic at the very least. Also, make sure the product is free of nitrates, preservatives, and questionable ingredients (anything you can't pronounce or identify). 

Do not be afraid to ask questions at the grocery store. My butcher knows me, and I know him. We talk every time I buy from him. I ask him about what's available because animals are kinda seasonal too...sometimes there's just not a lot of beef or chicken available, so I go with lamb or pork. I ask him about the farms that the meat comes from. I ask about the butchering process. I ask about the storage process. I ask about transportation. I ask because I care and it's important that I know. Why is all of this important? Choosing quality meats, eggs, and seafood means you are concerned about environmentally sustainable farming practices. You want food with the highest nutritional value possible. You care about the fertility of the soil and the welfare of animals. You understand biodiversity and you would rather not ingest synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides, additives, GMO, hormones, antibiotics, vaccines or contribute to soil erosion, irradiation, or water pollution. I think that's more than enough reason.

 

Produce

No food is worse than conventionally raised, factory farmed meat. So, after you've secured your quality animal proteins, produce should be your next consideration. My priority is always vegetables over fruit. They are generally more satisfying, without a doubt more versatile for cooking and preparing, and usually more affordable. Sometimes, I go an entire month and have maybe 4 or 5 pieces of fruit. Frozen is always an option as well and almost always more affordable! Here is what you should be looking for when it comes to vegetables and fruits: 

  • organic: use the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list to help prioritize which fruits and veggies are safe to buy non-organic...I don't think I've ever purchased an organic avocado or onion and my general rule-of-thumb is that if the skin gets discarded, I don't buy it organic. 
  • seasonal: yes strawberries can be purchased year round, but they are in peak season and therefore more nutritious April-June. I almost never eat fruits or vegetables that are not in season because they are always more expensive, and never taste as good. 
  • local: zucchini grows just fine in CA, we don't need to encourage the transportation of foods from outside of our own country! 

 

Fats & Oils

If you eat dairy, you must absolutely choose quality products just as with meat, eggs, and seafood. Your milk, cheese, yogurt, butter/ghee should be:

  • organic: means that the milk is free of growth hormones and antibiotics.
  • whole fat: there is NO GOOD REASON to buy non fat or low fat dairy products. None. Dairy products are already processed as is but removing the fat alters the milk even more, strips the nutrients away, and leaves room for additives!

And let's not forget cooking oils! Coconut oil and olive oil is really all you could ever need:

  • organic 
  • virgin or extra virgin

As far as nuts and seeds go, you don't want to rely too heavily on them as it's quite easy to overdo it. The good news is that they don't need to be organic!

  1. coconut: dried, fresh, shredded, milk, etc. Coconut is generally inexpensive but loaded with healthy fat! It's easily a primary source of fat in my diet.  
  2. all nuts and seeds should be raw or dry roasted. Sprouted is an option as well but you can save yourself a lot of money by sprouting them at home if you want to, same with roasting. And...same with nut and seed butters. You are much better off making these at home. 

Here's another infographic I created about oils. Animal fats are super easy to render at home. You can make your own lard, tallow, duck fat, and ghee right in your own kitchen! The other oils are easier for most people to purchase. 

 

Other food products

You know how I feel about processed foods so I'm not even going to try and sit here and tell you that an organic tortilla chip is healthy. But one thing people don't often consider are food products which are made from plants and therefore have the same priority of being purchased organically:

  1. coffee and tea
  2. chocolate
  3. dried herbs and spices
  4. canned tomatos or tomato sauce
  5. olives
  6. dried fruit

 

I hope you find this blog helpful. My passion is education and empowerment and I strive to reach as many people as possible so I can help make a difference in as many lives as possible. This information is so important, but what you do with it is even more important! Please share this blog with friends and loved ones! Thank you. 

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