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Go clean for Earth Day

April 18, 2013
By YVONA FAST , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

You may have heard the terms "clean food" and "clean eating." Just what do they mean?

More than 40 years ago, the ecology movement gave birth to Earth Day as a way to promote environmental awareness. But in 1970, the food industry was still in its infancy. Today, small family farms have been almost wiped out by agribusiness. Our supermarkets are full of boxes, bottles and cans - products of an industrial food age. Much of our food is made in factories - not grown on farms.

But throughout the nation, consumers are beginning to realize that they really and truly are what they eat. Documentaries like "Food Inc." and writers like Michael Pollan are raising awareness about what's in the commercially produced food we eat. Michelle Obama, with her healthy eating campaign, is also helping make us more conscious of what we put into our bodies.

Article Photos

Onion casserole
(Photo — Yvona Fast)

People are beginning to understand how their food choices affect the ecological landscape. They're turning from factory-produced fare to local, seasonal, sustainably produced foods.

Clean eating is based on the idea that it's best to eat whole foods - like vegetables, meat and unprocessed grains - as close to their natural state as possible. Source is important: Who raised it, and how? Clean ingredients equal clean food. Clean eating avoids processed, packaged products. People who choose to eat clean are removing the chemicals and additives in most processed food from their diets and their bodies. They understand that clean eating is a healthy choice.

Clean eating is how our grandparents ate before the advent of the food industry in the 1950s. In the industrial food age, we prolong shelf life with artificial ingredients and enhance the taste of proceed products devoid of natural flavor.

In the summer, it's best to buy produce and meat at the farmers market - these are local, fresh and often organically raised, without chemicals. But right now, farmers markets are shut down for the season and we must make do with supermarket produce. Shop the perimeter. Avoid food that is packaged - it's processed. If you must buy packaged food, read labels carefully.

Cut down on processed foods. Washed, bagged greens and plain, unsweetened yogurt are minimally processed and remain a healthy choice. But prepared, packaged food products like salad dressings, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and boxed or frozen entrees have lots of unhealthy ingredients added to preserve and flavor them. Try to think of alternatives for the boxed and bottled foods in your cabinets and freezer. Instead of relying on prepared meals like frozen pizza, canned soup or boxed mac 'n' cheese, learn to make these at home. And replace chips and crackers with crunchy veggies.

When you must buy a packaged item, learn to read the labels. Watch out for white flour - it can be the second ingredient on so-called whole-grain bread. Watch out for added chemicals like preservatives, food dyes and flavorings. Even "natural" flavor is often not really natural. And avoid added salt and sugar.

Eat lots of plants: fruits and veggies, straight from nature. If it grows, comes from a bush, plant, or vine, it's natural. Stay away from things that humans and the food industry have changed or altered.

Fresh fruit and veggies are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. They're low in calories and will add color and flavor to your meals naturally. Make vegetables the center of the meal rather than a side. Then figure out which protein and carbohydrate foods would enhance it.

Eat fresh fruit - not processed fruit. Processed fruit products like canned fruit cocktail, jams or applesauce often have added sugar and food dyes.

Buy fresh or frozen vegetables. When buying frozen vegetables, buy plain - rather than those seasoned in a sauce - and add your own sauce. In the summer, fresh corn on the cob is a tastier and healthier choice than canned or frozen corn kernels. Tortillas, corn chips and corn flakes are highly processed forms of corn.

Baby carrots are not really baby carrots - they're "cut" to be that size, and some reports say that chlorine bleach is used to keep them from spoiling. It's cheaper and healthier to buy unprocessed, whole carrots. When possible, carrots with attached greens are fresher than those packed in plastic.

Buy and cook whole grains like brown rice, millet, quinoa or barley. Refined grains like white rice or white flour are stripped of their beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals. They add calories but contain little nutrition. Pasta is a refined food. If you must eat it, opt for high-quality, whole-grain pasta without artificial ingredients like colors and flavors.

Meat should come straight from a farm or butcher. Grass-fed is best. Don't buy pre-packaged meat products because you never know what's in them.

Make your own homemade soup instead of using cans or dehydrated soup mixes. Nut butters should contain just nuts - maybe a little salt - but no sugars or flavorings. Buy plain yogurt; add your own fruit, and sweeten with honey or maple syrup. Soybeans (edemame) are more natural than soy products like tofu or soy milk. And veggie burgers are a highly processed soy product - make your own.

Need cream in your coffee? Use dairy cream, and look for brands that are not ultra-pasteurized. Avoid things like fat-free half-and-half - what is that, anyway? Half what? Stay away from non-dairy creamers; they're made with artificial color, flavor and high-fructose corn syrup.

Buy fresh garlic and onions. They're cheaper and more flavorful than jarred chopped garlic or garlic salt.

Changing your diet and replacing processed junk food with real, nutritious ingredients may be overwhelming. Take small steps towards change, and understand that you really are what you eat. Consider where your food came from - who produced it and who prepared it. Be mindful when shopping, preparing food and eating it. Make natural, wholesome, healthy choices.

Below are a salad and a casserole that don't use processed ingredients.


Spinach and Beet Salad


Spinach was from the store and beets still from last year's harvest in our root cellar.



1 small to medium beet (about 1 cup, shredded)

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

10 oz. baby spinach greens

1 to 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1/2 cup walnuts, optional

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, optional



Peel the beet and shred into salad bowl.

Crush garlic with salt and stir into the beet. Stir in apple cider vinegar and honey. Add spinach and toss. Add yogurt and toss again. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Garnish with nuts and/or feta.


Onion Casserole



1 and 1/4 pounds yellow onions (about 6 medium)

1 tablespoon cooking oil or butter

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 teaspoons paprika

1 cup finely diced cooked ham (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)



Peel onions, and cut off root and stem. Slice in half lengthwise. Place on cutting board, and slice thinly into half-rings.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions. Sprinkle with a half-teaspoon of salt. Lower heat, cover, and cook 15 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with paprika and continue cooking another 5 to 10 minutes.

While onions are cooking, butter a casserole dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, beat eggs with remaining half-teaspoon of salt. Beat in milk.

Transfer the onions to the casserole. Sprinkle with parsley and ham, if using. Pour egg-milk mixture over them. Sprinkle bread crumbs and optional cheese over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until eggs are set and top is brown. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with mashed, parslied potatoes and a tossed green salad. Serves 2 to 3.


Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at



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