Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going Green Is Good for the Bottom Line

That was the message at the Sustainability Breakfast Forum: “Perspectives on Embracing Sustainability as a True Business Value,” held on June 28 at the Omni New Haven Hotel in New Haven, CT.

This forum, sponsored by The Energy Efficiency Fund in partnership with The United Illuminating Company, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, and the City of New Haven, was designed for New Haven-area business leaders interested in new ideas and sharing best practices related to sustainability. 

After opening remarks from New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Connecticut DEP Commissioner Dan Esty (also author of Green to Gold), presented keynote remarks on how integrating sustainability into business models creates value.

The core of the morning’s program was a panel discussion in which representatives from United Technologies (UTC), Bigelow Tea, and Assa Abloy, (parent company of Sargent in New Haven) presented new and sustainable business practices that are now part of their companies’ daily operations. The panel was moderated by Stewart Hudson, of the New Haven-based Tremaine Foundation.

Sean West, representing UTC, spoke of the shift over time from compliance when sustainability measures were first undertaken in 1991, to compliance and conservation, to value chain, to the goal of eliminating all adverse impacts by 2015. UTC has seen the payback. All seven of UTC’s divisions work together to create a culture of eliminating waste.  

Jm Gildea touched upon Bigelow’s SustainabiliTEA program. Initiatives range from installing solar panels, to rainwater harvesting, to composting cafeteria waste, to reducing use of shrink wrap, to shredding corrugated cardboard for use in gift packaging. The company has reduced its solid waste by half in four years, with the ultimate goal of reducing waste to 10% of what it was four years ago. Gildea was emphatic that sustainability is good for corporate branding. Customers support sustainability measures.  

One message Aaron Smith of Assa Abloy had for participants was that sustainability can be integrated into everything you do; a second was that with complexity comes business opportunity. He cited three books as essential references: The Triple Bottom Line [A brief definition of the term “Triple Bottom Line” can be found here], Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, and Esty’s Green to Gold

Smith stated that Assa Abloy is a Swedish company, and that while sustainability is engrained in that culture [Stockholm has set a goal of being a fossil fuel-free city by 2050.], the movement is market-driven in the US. He discussed various initiatives for reporting corporate sustainability metrics and goals including: Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Global Compact, Carbon Disclosure Project, and Save Energy Now. Assa Abloy uses Red, Yellow and Green auditing in their supply chain and has membership in the US and Canadian Green Building councils. Smith referred to such initiatives as a “regenerative network” for companies who want to be transformative and to show their customers measures of their success.

The speakers frequently touched upon the many resources available for help in reducing waste and making positive operational changes. The Business Sustainability Challenge, a pilot program recently introduced by the Energy Efficiency Fund, was often referenced.(See this link for one success story.)

Participants were also urged to read the CT Mirror and to make their opinions known there.  

The prevailing message was optimistic — although we are in a time of crisis, it is a moment of opportunity to position ourselves to do better. As Jim Gildea of RC Bigelow stated, “Do the right thing and good things will follow.”  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Meatless Monday: Addicted to Quorn

Yes, I’m addicted to Quorn. You heard me. That’s Quorn with a “Q.” Not exactly addicted, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

And now that I have it, let me tell you about Quorn. If you cruise the grocery store aisles as I do, looking for new things to try, you may have spotted this product in the frozen natural food section, near the veggie burgers. It comes in several varieties — Meatballs, Chik’n Nuggets, and Chik’n Tenders. Meatless and soy-free, Quorn is low in fat, high in protein, and has the taste and texture of the meat it is approximating. It does not have any GMO ingredients, but it is not organic, and is not exactly natural. It’s imported from the UK, so its footprint is pretty large. But as fake meat goes, it’s oh so tasty, which makes it one of my guilty pleasures.

Quorn is a little complicated to explain. Quorn’s packages originally used the words “mushroom protein,” but the company was forced to change the label to read: “made from nutritious myco-protein.” Myco is Greek for “fungi.”

The specific fungus chosen for development for the myco-protein in Quorn is Fusarium venenatum, discovered growing in a field in Buckinghamshsire in the 1960s. According to a 2005 article in Britain’s Independent, the discovery was part of “an ultimately abortive race against time to produce artificial protein before population growth overtook natural resources and created global famine.”

Instead, the discovery ultimately became part of a convenience food phenomenon in Great Britain, highly popular with omnivores as well as vegetarians (although not vegans since Quorn also contains egg whites). In 2005, it was estimated that one in five UK households ate Quorn each year, and Quorn was the leading brand in Britain’s meat-free food market. 

I still haven’t told you how Quorn is made, and I confess I only found out the details while working on this post.  This abstract of a 2002 scientific paper explains it better than I can:  “Myco-protein is produced in two 150,000 l pressure-cycle fermenters in a continuous process which outputs around 300 kg biomass/h.…after reduction of the RNA content, the fungal biomass is mixed with egg albumin and made into a variety of products.” 

In a so far futile lobbying campaign against the product, the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest has been collecting complaints about Quorn since it first appeared in the US in 2002. According to the Independent article referenced earlier, “The lobby group claims it recorded more than 800 cases of allergic reactions but Britain's Food Standards Agency puts the rate of allergy at one in 146,000 people, compared to one in 3,000 for soya products.” It is also not clear how many of the adverse reactions occur because of an allergy to eggs. 

Despite the fact that I cannot get the image of a giant petri dish out of my mind at the moment, and CSPI’s claims, and Quorn's big carbon footprint, I’m still hooked. It all started with  Quorn meatballs which taste so much better than wheatballs or soyballs. They satisfy my craving for meatballs when I don’t want to eat [or prepare] the real thing. As Sara Dickerman wrote in Slate, “In the world of simulated meat, Quorn is king.” 

Last night I used the Chik’n Tenders in a faux Sweet and Sour Chicken dish. I made my own sauce from a recipe I found through Google with Recipe View, stirfried onions, peppers, and snow peas (from the farmers’ market); baked the Quorn as instructed; and then mixed everything together and served it over rice. It was quick, convenient, pretty tasty, and I didn’t have to worry about salmonella. 

Quorn will likely remain as the latest fermented staple to join my usual grocery list, along with items including beer, blue cheese, bread, tempeh, and wine. That is unless my husband protests after reading the full story behind Quorn. He’s been with me so far…

Have a good week, and please come back soon for more food facts and my latest edible discoveries.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meatless Monday: Beautiful, Delicious Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. This vegetable with its exotic sounding name and alien (as from another planet) visage appeared on my radar about a month ago when a friend sent over this link. Then it showed up as a secret ingredient in a Chopped  box, leading to one chef’s downfall.  

Intrigued, I began looking for it in the market but couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, there it was in the strikingly beautiful purple variety — at CitySeed on Saturday morning for $1.50 a “globe.” I bought four.

Kohlrabi is a German word translating to Cabbage (kohl) Turnip (rabi), not Cool Rabbi as posited on this blog. It comes in two varieties — purple and white (actually pale green).  Although Brassica Oleracea Gongylodes Caulorapa (its Latin name) resembles the turnip, a root vegetable, kohlrabi’s globe grows above the ground and is actually the swollen part of the plant’s stem. That accounts for the globe’s smooth “skin.” 

Kohlrabi’s peak season is June-July. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is an excellent of source of Vitamin C and potassium, and a significant source of vitamins A and E and a number of other minerals. Both the leaves and the globe are edible. 

Kohlrabi has been popular in the cuisine of Eastern Europe ever since its sudden appearance in the middle of the 16th century. Although somewhat less common in the the New World, kohlrabi shows up in all my trusted volumes — from Fannie Farmer to the more recent Simply in Season [unlike nettles and ramps].

James Beard [whom I normally revere] decidedly dissed kohlrabi, writing in American Cookery in 1972: “This is rather a bastard vegetable. It is neither turnip nor cabbage ad is seldom as tender and crisp as it should be. To me it is a mystery why people really care for it. But they seem to, and it is in the markets all the time and has been for generations…” [But JB didn’t like cranberries either]. 

Most older cookbooks (including Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, and American Cookery) offered a variation on the same recipe: Peel, cut into small cubes, cook in boiling salted water until tender, and then serve with freshly ground black pepper under a cream sauce or loaded with butter. Fannie did mention that kohlrabi was also good raw with salt as a snack or salad and was the first place I saw Parmesan cheese suggested as a topping.

More modern chefs have realized that this beautiful vegetable deserves better. This site has gathered a number of kohlrabi recipes.

I decided to prepare my kohlrabi two ways. I first coarsely grated half a globe and added it to a fresh lettuce salad.

Inspired by this recipe, the next evening I prepared roast kohlrabi with fresh Parmesan. I peeled the remaining bulbs, diced them, and then mixed them with a little extra virgin olive oil, two garlic pieces, and a little salt. I roasted them in a casserole dish in a 375° oven, stirring occasionally, until they were lightly browned and tender, approximately 30 minutes. [I did not remove the garlic.] I served them topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese as a side. The salty cheese enhanced the mild turnip flavor. 

There were no leftovers. Yet another hit with my omnivore husband. I’ll be making this again, particularly if it stays as cool as it’s been [ever since the day we installed our A/C]. 

Have a good week, and please come back soon for more food facts or my latest produce discovery.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Meatless Monday: An Eating Local Challenge

A locavore I’m not. I like the idea but I feel too constrained by time and a limited pocketbook to adhere to the whenever possible part. I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I know the decision she and her family made — living for a year entirely on food grown locally by them or their neighbors — is beyond my reach. My home is in the city, my yard postage stamp-sized and heavily shaded. I don’t live where it is warm year-round, and I have a coffee habit.

But I do aspire to the lifestyle. I do make a conscious effort to buy as much as I can afford from local sources. I may not buy my milk at CitySeed, but at the supermarket I will pick  up The Farmer’s Cow, milk produced and marketed by Connecticut family-owned dairy farms. At the chains in my state, eggs, cheese, and some produce from New England and New York state are also readily available, and local bread is totally easy to find. 

I’d always thought I was doing pretty well at “buying local” — that is until the Elm City Market sent out a survey. The directors and managers of the new co-op market (scheduled to open late this Summer) are beginning to select products with which to stock the shelves. 

The survey asked each member to name 5 local (or regional) grocery items he or she would like to see on the the shelves. Not dairy. Not bread. Not produce. Those questions will come later. The survey was seeking 5 local, non-perishable items — groceries.

This task was not easy. I finally came up with a list of 6 items. I can’t swear that all the ingredients are local: I know that cacao and vanilla beans are not. I also can not swear that all the products are manufactured in the region, but all the companies ARE located in New England.

Here’s my list and the distance from the company address to my home:
  1. Swords Into Plowshares Honey (New Haven, CT, less than one mile)
  2. Newman’s Own Salad Dressing and Pasta Sauce (Westport, CT, 31 miles) I have to say a few words about Newman’s Own. I had always had a thing for Paul (for the few among you who may not know, an actor with gorgeous blue eyes), and when he launched his oil and vinegar salad dressing, I had to give it a try. Little did I know that my then young son would get hooked on it. I’ve lost track of the number of bottles I’ve purchased over the years. A statement Paul Newman made early on is still on my fridge: “It started as a joke and got out of control.” The company took off, launching product after product, and donating all profits after taxes to charity. As of November, 2010, Newman’s Own had made charitable contributions of over $300 million! You can download coupons for Newman’s Own products here. Paul’s daughter Nell Launched Newman’s Own Organics  (now a separate company) in 1993.
  3. Berkshire Bark (Sheffield, MA, 79.8 miles) 
  4. Baldwin’s Vanilla Extract (West Stockbridge, MA, 119.5 miles)
  5. Nejames Lavasch Crisp Flatbread (Venus Wafers, Hingham, MA, 122 miles)
  6. King Arthur Flour (Norwich, VT, 188.3 miles)
While only one of the six companies is around the corner, most are not too far outside the 100 mile radius that some locavores like to use. And every one of them is a lot closer than the estimated 1,838 miles the typical carrot travels to get to an American plate. 

Check out this link as well as this one for information on the miles food travels and its consequences, and for ideas on eating sustainably.

If you are able to come up with some local favorites, please let me know what they are and how close the source is to your home. Remember, for this time, nonperishable items only. I look forward to posting your lists on this blog.

Have a good week, and please come back soon.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Busy Day for Yalies

3,500 Yalies the world over rolled up their sleeves and got to work on May 14 for the 3rd annual Global Day of Service, sponsored by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA). Some of them even got down and dirty with projects ranging from park clean-ups to tutoring at over 200 sites.

Me and a Gingko tree planted in ’10
The Day of Service began as a small pilot program with the Yale Club of New Haven (YCNH) in 2008. This year Chris Coffin, YCNH vice-president and Club Day of Service Coordinator for New Haven since the start, arranged activities for 17 sites around the city at which over 250 alums, employees, and friends volunteered. For each of the four years one of the New Haven sites has been designated for a tree planting project facilitated by Urban Resources Initiative (URI). URI has contracted with the City of New Haven to plant 10,000 trees in 5 years through a program called Tree Haven 10K: volunteer efforts in Middletown Avenue Park that Saturday brought the City six trees closer to the goal. 

Look closely, and you will see a nest.
After having the opportunity to plant a tree on State Street last year, I was hooked on this particular service project. I have a strong connection to  “my” Gingko bilboa and often take the opportunity to check up on it. On a recent walk-by I discovered that it held a nest in its branches, just above eye level, on one of New Haven’s busiest streets. 

Chris Ozyck, URI’s Greenspace manager, was (as always) at the URI Day of Service site to supervise the summer interns as they led the volunteers in their planting efforts. Chris knows what it takes for a tree to thrive, and he has very high standards. Planting a tree correctly takes a number of steps and some hard labor. But it is well worth the effort. If done correctly, the tree usually grows, actually appreciating in value over the years. How many other completed projects share that trait? Check out this recent article in the New Haven Independent for more on Chris and on the dos and don’ts of tree planting. 

Note that the trunk flare is exposed on this tree.
But back to the Middletown Avenue Park. We had three teams of volunteers that day, each led by a URI summer intern; mine was Amy Zvonar, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies ’12. Each team started out by planting a Sunset Red Maple. We de-turfed, dug the hole just to the depth of the trunk flare, threw the grass in upside down, mixed compost with the dirt we had excavated, placed the tree in the center of the hole, added back dirt/compost (not covering the trunk flare), made a donut to create a reservoir for watering, covered the donut with mulch, and watered with BioPak. Whew! But still, not too bad — much easier than the compacted dirt in the State Street tree wells last year. 

Me, Eric Berger, and Amy adding mulch to the donut.
Photo by Michael Marsland/Yale University.
After a brief rest we moved on to the next trees — my team and another planted Dawn Redwoods, the third team a Tulip Tree.

A Redwood — How exciting! Then I saw the challenging planting site — in the center of an overgrown patch of mugwort (believed by some to have magical properties). Magic didn’t play a role in the mugwort removal: this task required me to wield a pickaxe! Once the mugwort was cleared, the rest was pretty easy, a familiar drill by now. [I confess I let someone else fetch the compost.]

Two new Redwoods in a sea of invasive mugwort at the
Middletown Avenue Park's Quinnipiac Avenue border.

I checked back on Saturday to see how “my” trees and the others were doing. They looked great, although the mugwort was kind of high. I’ll let the Parks Department take care of that… 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Meatless Monday: Kale with a Crunch

Crispy, crispy kale leaves, artfully arranged
Kale reigns supreme in the produce aisle right now. Available in several varieties, kale occupies prominent shelf-space in supermarkets year-round, and buying the organic variety will not break the bank. 

My history with kale dates back only as far as September of last year when I bought my first bunch at the farmers’ market. My friend Maggie had been extolling the virtues of kale for some time, and I had finally decided to take the leap. You can read more about how I learned to deal with kale in this post

Kale is both remarkably dense in nutrients and remarkably low in calories. There are a number of links to kale’s health benefits in my earlier post, but to give you an idea of just how ”super” this food is, just compare the nutritional data for one serving of kale chips to that for one serving of potato chips

I have become something of a kale addict and usually pick up a bunch whenever I shop for veggies. Last week at Whole Foods I found a variety I had never seen before. The produce manager urged me to try Lacinato Kale (also known as Dinosaur kale), with long leaves reminiscent of Swiss chard, and passed on some cooking tips. He suggested I purchase a bunch and turn them into kale chips. 

I did. 

I began by googling “kale chips” and found a number of recipes, all virtually identical except for oven temperature, which ranged from 250° to 350°. I opted to try 300°. 

With that change, I pretty much followed this recipe for Tuscan Kale Chips found at Epicurious. [Salad spinner, use of hands, and parchment paper were all my tweaks.]

Preheat your oven to 300°

One bunch of large Dinosaur (AKA Lacinato or Tuscan) Kale 
(Approx. 24 leaves)
One tablespoon good quality olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper 

Carefully wash the kale leaves. 
Cut them lengthwise in half.
Remove all but the thinnest part of the stems. 
Dry thoroughly. (A salad spinner works great.)

In a large bowl, gently mix the kale (Using your hands is good.)
with the seasonings. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (if you have some).
Place the leaves on the paper in a single layer.
Bake until crisp, approximately 25 minutes. 
Check at 20 minutes to see how they are doing.
The leaves should be just crisp, and will retain a bit of their green color. 
Gently place the leaves on a rack to cool.

The leaves were tasty, but mild. Not bad at all for a first run. Next time I might try adding a bit of brown sugar as the Neelys do in their version. Additions suggested by other authors include smoked paprika and Parmesan cheese. These toppings should all be mixed in with the olive oil so the leaves absorb the flavors while baking.

My chips up close
Epicurious suggested serving these chips at a cocktail party, but I would nix this idea unless you are dining outside, and only then with good friends. You will find that the tasty leaves shatter on first bite, and that the little bits stick amazing well to your teeth. 

Kids would probably find this funny although I doubt most grownups would. A crispy kale experiment might be a good way to get the younger ones to try something totally new.

Have a good week, and please come back soon.

I try to blog on food or food issues each Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”