Homemade Pumpkin Puree

[christine pumpkin photo]Hi everybody!  It’s Christine again, checking in for Sweet-Tooth Friday!  Today we are going to take one of the season’s most popular flavors and give it life outside the can- I’m talking about fresh pumpkin!

While my big bro was busy qualifying for Boston, I spent the weekend at his house chilling with his two dogs.  It was really great to get out of the city for a couple days, and I took advantage of one of the many roadside stands and picked out a couple pumpkins to take home.

Ok I have a confession to make: I’ve never baked with fresh pumpkin.  As far as I know, I’ve never even tasted it.  I hardly use any canned products, but for some reason every October I turn my back on the plethora of fresh gourds available and reach for the ol’ can of Libby’s.

In either form, pumpkin is a great choice because it is loaded with vitamin C and E, lots of fiber, and cancer-fighting heart-disease-battling carotenoids.  That’s both beta-carotene and alpha-carotene!  Canned pumpkin is actually better in that department because during the canning process, the heat turns the beta-carotene into a form our bodies can absorb better.  On the other hand fresh pumpkin is sweeter and has more fiber than canned; it also comes with seeds that are superfoods in their own right!  The seeds have healthy fat, lots of vitamins and minerals, protein and cholesterol-lowering power.

I heard there is a taste difference between the kind of pumpkins grown for jack-o-lanterns and the kind grown for baking, but others say they cook their carved pumpkin after the festivities are over.  So I bought three little “sugar pie” pumpkins and one regular large one to see for myself.

[baking pumpkins photo]

I read up on several ways to “best” cook a pumpkin: roasting, steaming, and microwaving.  Before I could recommend any one way to you dear readers, I tried all three methods.  The results?  The roasting took over an hour and dried the pumpkin out.  The steaming method worked fine but I was concerned that a lot of the nutritional benefits were lost in the water.  The regular sized pumpkin came out flavorless and watery.  In the end, my favorite combination was the ‘sugar pie’ pumpkin in the microwave.  This had the best flavor and texture with the easiest preparation.

Before we get started on the how-to, I have three warning equations for you to consider:

1.  Pumpkins + Knives = Slippery sharp mess.  Count your fingers!
2.  Carved pumpkin + Several days on your porch = Compost, not pie.  Start fresh!
3.  Pumpkin + Plastic Wrap + Microwave = Very hot steam.  Just like your bag of jiffy pop.

How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Choose a firm ‘sugar’ or ‘pie’ pumpkin that weighs about 4 lbs.  If you can’t find this type of pumpkin, use a sweet winter squash like butternut.
Begin by washing any dirt off the pumpkin and drying thoroughly.
Cut a circle around the stem and pull the top off, just as if you were doing a jack-o-lantern.

[open pumpkin photo]
Cut the pumpkin down the middle and pull apart the halves.  Scoop out the stringy gooey stuff along with the seeds and set aside.

[split pumpkin photo]

Cut the pumpkin rind into chunks and put in a microwave safe bowl.

[cubed pumpkin photo]

Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 10 minutes.  Using pot holders, carefully remove the plastic wrap and stir up the pumpkin.  Cover with new plastic wrap and return to the microwave for 10 more minutes.  The pumpkin should be very soft and slightly darker in color.
When the pumpkin is cool, peel off the outside skin.  I found this easier with a sharp knife rather than a vegetable peeler.  The pumpkin can now be pureed in a food processor or mashed with a pastry blender depending on how smooth you want it.

[mashed pumpkin photo]

While the pumpkin is in the microwave or cooling, take the time to separate the seeds from the pumpkin goo.  The seeds can be washed, seasoned, and pan or oven toasted for a yummy and healthy snack.  (I sprinkled mine with a chipotle season-all.)

I got 2 cups of pumpkin puree from each of my 4 lb pumpkins- about equal to one can from each!  I divided the puree into three ziplocks and stuck them in the freezer, ready for any recipe from pies to soup.  Now, was all that preparation and gooey mess worth the effort?

We’ll have to wait until next Sweet-Tooth Friday to put our homemade fresh pumpkin puree to the test!

xoxo Christine



Bitten by the Ultra-Bug

Nifty Fifty (Miles)

I know what I want to do next.  Run 50 miles.

Credit: Eustaquio

Credit: Eustaquio

Perhaps the most exciting thing about qualifying for Boston is — well, that I don’t have to do it anymore.  I don’t mean I’m happy that I can sit on the couch and eat potato chips now, though I have done quite a bit of that this week as a little break and reward.  (Replace “potato chips” with “coffee, wine, and pizza” to get a more accurate picture.)

No, fun as that may be for a week or so, what I mean is that now I am free to choose something new to go after.  Not because I love running so much, but because I’m discovering what I kind of already knew — I need to have the next big, scary thing on the horizon.  For seven years, the goal of qualifying for Boston was the guiding light in my fitness life, and now that’s gone.

A lot of people have suggested taking a break, slowing down to enjoy the anticipation of our first child.  The problem is that “maintenance” doesn’t work for me.  Sure, I could get on with my life without setting some crazy fitness goal.  But without one, I wouldn’t be me.

I know because I’ve tried it before.  If I’m not training for something, here’s what happens:  I don’t run.  I don’t eat well.  And I most certainly do not inspire.

A three-hour marathon (a time with a “2” in front!) is something that I’d love to do.  And since my 3:10 marathon last weekend was over ten minutes faster than my previous best, I think I could do it.  But taking more time off my best doesn’t excite me right now; I need something completely different.

A triathlon is also on my list; I’m especially intrigued by the Ironman distance.  (I always pick the easy stuff, huh?)  But that’s too far off right now.  I can barely swim and I don’t own a roadbike.  I’d have to work my way up through the shorter distances, and right now the idea just doesn’t inspire me like it would need to for me to work that hard.

But 50 miles, now that sounds like fun.  When I started running marathons, I didn’t even realize that people ran that distance.  When I first read about it, I thought it was a typo intended to say “50K.”  Not to mention 100+ milers, but let’s not go there (yet).

50 miles lights my fire.  And for precisely the above reason: there was a time when it was inconceivable.  For me, that’s what it’s about.

Giving Back

I’ve felt the strange urge to contribute something recently.  I say “strange” because I’ve never been a giver, first and foremost.  Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m a pretty nice guy and I try to help people whenever I can.  But I’ve just never been the guy who donates to charity much or raises money for a cause.

Anyway, I really want to be a pacer for a marathon, one of the people who holds the sign that tells people to follow them to a four-hour marathon, three-thirty marathon, or whatever it is.  It just seems like it would be so fulfilling to help a bunch of people achieve such a big goal (maybe because I now know how good it feels to achieve a goal like that).  And it’s funny, because I used to think about the pacers and wonder what would possibly motivate them to run a race a half hour slower than they are capable of doing.  But now I think I know.

Along the same lines, I’m thinking about trying to raise money for a cause as part of my training for the 50-miler.  I really don’t know what yet, but something to make it an even more powerful experience.

And finally, this is a great chance to mention something else I just signed up for: Project Feed Me, an idea that Natalie came up for health bloggers and readers to help feed hungry people in the United States this fall and winter.  All you have to do is donate the two recommended food items each week for nine weeks, and commit to getting three other people to do the same.  I just signed up, and I need to get three of YOU to do it too!  So please check out Natalie’s post and consider helping out.

Ok, that’s all for now, sorry for such a long post.  Lots going on, all for the best!



Yeah, about that Boston thing…

Three full days have passed since I qualified for Boston.  And finally, I have a chance to relax and think about it.

This week has been completely hectic for me, so hectic that I find myself forgetting about the race for a while, then remembering it all the sudden and replaying in my mind those last few miles and the moments immediately after I did it.

But there’s one thing marring the excitement I’m feeling.  It’s something that I realized a few weeks ago but would not allow myself to think about.  It simply had no place in my head while I was so focused on this goal.  Let me put it in simple terms:

Boston Marathon date: April 19, 2010.

Expected arrival date of Baby Frazier: April 19, 2010.

There you have it.

You can see why I’ve refused to focus on this until now.  A few of you hinted at it in the comments, and I’m sure others have thought about it.  Now that I’ve qualified, I’m prepared to deal with it.

It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.  Boston 2010 will be tough to do, especially if my goal is to remain married through 2011. 🙂 But thankfully, I can defer entry to Boston for one year, so we’ll be able to celebrate our baby’s first birthday in style.

The real reason it doesn’t bother me, though, is this.  This was never about running Boston. Ok, maybe when I first conceived of this goal it was.  But in the years since then, the actual Boston Marathon has been an afterthought.  It was the challenge of qualifying, the goal of doing something that in many ways I perceived to be impossible for someone like myself, that I became close to obsessed with making it happen.

Don’t get me wrong — the Boston Marathon will be incredible.  But for me, it has always seemed like the reward, not the goal.  The goal was qualifying.  The privilege of running the greatest marathon in the world is just the payoff.

Still, it has affected me a little more than I thought it would.  Now that I’ve done it, I want that reward.  Somehow, I can imagine what it would be like to run it so much more vividly now.  It’s not some far-off dream anymore.  I’ve earned it and I want it, more than I anticipated.

But there’s no chance I’d risk missing the birth of my first child. (The second, now that might be a different story…)  And even if the due date were to get moved to, say, a week before the marathon and I had time to train and make plans, I’m still not sure I’d want to leave Erin and the new baby at home while I went and ran.  I just don’t think my heart would be in it; that’s not the reward I’ve envisioned.

I’m still so completely excited that I qualified.  I believe that accomplishing something so great after being so sure during miles 18-22 that I couldn’t do it has changed me in a profound way.  That feeling, I’ve discovered, is like a drug — I need to find a way to get it again.

And thinking about how to do that is what I’m doing tonight.  Thinking about what challenge to take on next.  Something that, if I didn’t know better, would seem impossible.

Only now, I do know better.



Photos and Videos from the Trip!

Feelin’ Groovy

Things have been a whirlwind since I went to bed Sunday night after qualifying for Boston.  Woke up Monday morning, graded some papers while we drove the rest of the way home, went directly to school, skipped my afternoon classes to get home and work on an assignment until midnight, and woke up this morning and started preparing for a talk I have to give tomorrow, which will take me through the rest of the day.

[matt before race]I really haven’t had a chance to sit back and think about this accomplishment.  I have, on the other hand, been taking frequent breaks to read your wonderful comments on yesterday’s race recap.  I can’t tell you how touching it is to know that so many people were cheering for me and that people found so much inspiration in my achieving this goal that seemed so impossible after I ran my first marathon in 4:53:41, almost four minutes per mile slower than I ran on Sunday.  The privilege of motivating and inspiring people just by pursuing a personal goal is really an awesome gift, and I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity.  It’s especially neat to hear from all these first time commenters whom I didn’t even know were following my journey; I hope you find reason to leave me more comments the future!

Congratulations to Holly, Erica, Robin, Megan, Angharad, all of whom ran races this weekend and did some inspiring of their own, and to Pete, who ran his two weeks ago and whose training and actual race eerily mirrored my own.

Trip Recap

We left in the motorhome Thursday night and drove to Williamsport, Connecticut Pennsylvania (oops), where we stayed in a Wal Mart parking lot.  (Wal Mart is very RV-friendly.)  Williamsport is where the Little League World Series is held each year, so we got out for a quick photo op in front of the main field.

[williamsport photo]

From there, we headed up to Corning, NY, where we stayed at a campground.  Much nicer atmosphere than Wal Mart for the marathoner-in-waiting.

Since it’s hard to eat vegetarian and eat well on the road, especially when you’re trying to eat a lot to fuel up for the race, we made a lot of meals in advance.  Here we are chowing down on some carb-heavy orzo (ah, the sacrifices family made for me) on Friday night.

[eating orzo photo]

Contrast this with what we ate on our cross-country motorhome trip out to Arizona for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in 2006:

[eating meat photo]

Can you believe I still married her?  Please accept my sincere apologies, not for eating meat back then (what can I say, I was young and stupid), but for the UnderArmour turtleneck.  Now we know why it’s not called OverArmour.

Saturday we went to the expo, where I picked up my number.

[getting number photo]

There’s nothing like shopping to bond father and son.  Oh wait a minute, yes there is.  It’s called “anything besides shopping.”

[shopping with dad photo]

At least Margaret scored a nice top!

[margaret photo]

After the expo we went to a winery (an obligatory motorhome-trip pastime).  Erin has been telling me since we’ve met how beautiful upstate New York is in the fall, and I think I might finally be convinced.

[everyone photo]

Then we checked out the marathon course and the start line, which made me realize this thing was really happening tomorrow and I started to get a little nervous.

[matt start photo]

Using modern tools to build a campfire: one of the aforementioned many things better than shopping to bond father and son.


I got the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had before a marathon.  Here’s a little video of Erin helping me pin my number on, which she always does because I make it crooked every time.

And another, of me doing some of the weird-looking warmups that I do before I run.

Then before we knew it, it was race time.

[race photo]

A video after four miles:

And another at 19 miles, when things were just starting to hurt.  It was windy; sorry about the noise.

A few shots of my cheering section, who made lots of friends during the race when they drove by, cheering, in the motorhome.

[dad and dogs]

[margaret sign]

[erin sign]

And finally, the finish line.



I posted this photo yesterday, but I love it and it’s such a perfect ending. I’ve never in my life felt so bad and so good at the same time.  What an amazing day.

[matt in grass]

This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  Check out the rest!



Down to the Last Four Miles

When I hit the 22-mile marker, I knew what I had to do to qualify. Two 7:15 miles and two 7:30’s would do it.

[matt running]

Problem was, I was sure I didn’t have it in me.  Having barely been able to manage 7:30’s for miles 21 and 22, and fading fast, I knew was just a matter of time until the complete breakdown happened and my legs turned to lead.

Why was I slowing down like this?  I had eaten almost 200 calories an hour, gotten Gatorade at each water stop, and paced myself well. The stiff wind in our faces almost the entire time didn’t do much to help though. Maybe I just wasn’t in shape to qualify for Boston yet.

The first half of the race had gone just as planned.  I had avoided getting too excited and running too fast, forcing myself instead to slow down and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of upstate New York in the fall whenever I felt myself speeding up.  I ran the first half just a bit faster than the 7:17 pace I had planned on, banking about a minute and crossing the 13.1 line in 1:34:30.  At one point I felt like I wanted to throw up, probably because I wasn’t used to eating so much.  But that urge passed quickly, and though the headwind had caused me to work quite a bit harder than I had hoped, I felt I had put myself in good position to repeat it in the second half of the race.

I kept up the pace through mile 18.  And then it all started to go.  7:15 became 7:20, which became 7:33.  My legs felt crampy, my stride was forced, and it was all I could do to run 7:30’s for miles 21 and 22.

At this point, I felt everything slipping away.  All the work that had gone into this, down the drain.  Not that it really would have been wasted, but of course you don’t think of that when you’re 20 miles into a marathon and facing the realization that you’re not going to do the sole thing you’ve worked for six months (and in some sense, seven years) to do.  I envisioned a sad ride home and a miserable few weeks as I figured out what to do next.  I even thought about what I would tell you, the readers of my blog.  So many of you have told me that you knew I could do it, and having to tell you and my friends that I had failed seemed like the worst thing in the world.  The idea of just abandoning the blog, never posting about the race or ever again, even flashed through my mind.  (I would never do this, but like I said, you just don’t think straight under these conditions.)

Such was my state of mind when I finished the 22nd mile.  I’ve been there before in other marathons, realizing that the pace I need to run the last few miles in to hit my goal is just not going to happen.  And just waiting for the meltdown.

The meltdown, though, held off.  And then an idea hit me.

If somehow, just somehow, I could do two more 7:30’s, that would leave me with 2.2 miles to go, needing a 7:15 pace for that remaining distance to sneak in under 3:10:59 and qualify.  It would have been impossible for me to run a 7:15 right then and there.  Why I had any faith that I could actually speed up during the last two miles of a marathon is beyond me; the final miles have always been the slowest in my previous races.  But if I knew that I only had two miles left, that all the pain I’d gone through would be worth it if I could just leave it all on the course and really suffer for just 15 minutes before collapsing in the grass, then maybe I could make it happen.

Surprisingly to me, the first part of my plan worked.  Talking to myself, grimacing in pain, and doing what probably looked more like shuffling than running, I hung onto that 7:30 pace for miles 23 and 24.  At this point I was eschewing water stops altogether, not even looking up at the volunteers’ faces to say “Thank you for helping.”  I was really, really hurting and about as focused as I’ve ever been.

When I started mile 25, I said (out loud) to myself, “There’s got to be more.”  I never talk to myself, and when I see it people do it in movies I gag and think that nobody really does that.  But I did.  I didn’t mean “I know there’s more; let’s see it.”  Rather, I meant “If you’re going to do this, then you have got to give more than you realize you have available to give.”

I started speeding up, feeling sort of liberated in the realization that if this pace were too fast and I crashed during the last mile, then it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have qualified anyway if I didn’t go fast.

In other words, I had nothing to lose.

The 25th mile turned directly into the wind for a few hundred yards.  Then just when I thought I had survived and the course turned away from the wind, I found myself looking straight up a hill.  But I didn’t care about any of this.  I just kept running hard, feeling almost reckless, and when I got to the mile marker, I looked at my watch and was overjoyed to see that it read 7:10.

Finally, the 26th mile.  This was it.  If I could do what I had just done, one more time, then the BQ would be mine.  Feeling this good caused me to speed up even more.  I remember almost nothing of the last mile, except that I kept looking at my watch and  being surprised that time was passing so quickly.  A good thing, because I knew I was running fast enough.  When I saw the 26-mile marker and glanced at my watch, I knew I was home.

[matt on bridge]

I sprinted the last 385 yards to the finish across a bridge, lined on one side with people.  Among the chorus of voices, I heard someone yelling “Run fast!” and I later found out it was Erin.  I know I had the most pained look on my face, but inside I could not have been happier.

I raced the clock to cross the line in under 3:10:00 (remember, a 3:10:59 would have done it).  I thought I lost that battle because my watch said 3:10:04 when I finished, but I later found out that my chip time, the official one, was 3:09:59.  I stumbled through the finish corral in a daze while someone put a medal on me and gave me a Mylar blanket.  The first person I saw was Erin, and she came and hugged me, screaming “You did it Matt, you qualified for Boston!”

[hugging erin photo]

[matt dad erin photo]

All I could say back was “I did it.” And as I said it, my eyes welled up, just as they had the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times I had envisioned this moment over the past three or so years.

The reason I finished with “so much” time to spare, by the way, was that a) I made up about 25 seconds during the final 1.2 miles, and b) when I was calculating in my head during the second half, I was using 7:15 as the baseline rather than the true 7:17 that is Boston qualifying pace.  But I’m happy about the mistake, since really pushing it allowed me to break 3:10:00.

I owe a gigantic thank you to Erin, Margaret, and my dad, who drove the motorhome all over and around the course to cheer me on and make sure I had whatever food I needed.  Everytime I saw you guys, even when I was really dying, it gave me a huge boost and lots of warm fuzzies.

[dad and margaret NMA sign photo]

And thank you to every single reader, family member, and friend who wished me luck, gave me advice, or reassured me that I could do it.  Not wanting to let you down was such a motivating force during miles 20-24 when it was feeling impossible.

I had to rush this post to get it up in a timely fashion, so I’ll have many more pictures, videos, and details of my trip and the race to post in the next few days.

Until then, I’ll be resting these sore legs and feeling elated about having succeeded in the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not just in the years of training but in the heat of the moment as well.

And of course, thinking about what’s next.

[matt in grass]

This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  Check out the rest!



It’s Time

Well, this is it.  Here I am in Corning, New York, with just 14 hours to go until I try to qualify for Boston.

[matt start]

We drove up on Thursday night in my dad’s motorhome.  Four people and two dogs in something not much bigger than a van might not sound like much fun, but the accompanying motorhome trip is one of my favorite things about doing these races.  We even drove out to Arizona when I ran that marathon, and we had three dogs with us then!

[motorhome photo]

I did my “last-chance” workout today.  If I were on The Biggest Loser, that would mean carrying Jillian on my back, doing some leg presses with Bob sitting on the machine, or pretty much anything that could get me hurt and/or set a bad example for millions of viewers.  But I’m not on The Biggest Loser, so I just did an easy two miles with Erin in the morning to stay loose.

Then we hit the expo, which was sort of small but nice, and Erin picked up a new jacket.  I met Mel’s friend from RunWorldwide.com, the sponsor.  And every marathoner got a half bottle of New York sparkling wine.  Hooray for whoever decided to call this thing the Wineglass marathon!  Hopefully my bottle will be consumed in celebration rather than in failure, agony, and depression.

[matt erin expo]

Just kidding, kind of.  I like to be optimistic but realistic.  There is a great chance I’ll qualify tomorrow.  There’s also decent chance I won’t.  I’m hanging my hat on the fact that I didn’t eat and drink nearly as much during my training runs as will be available tomorrow, so I’ll be able to go longer and stronger when my muscles are getting the right fuel.  True or not, I need some thought like this to give me confidence.

I have a pretty good idea of how the first half will go.  I should be able to keep up the 7:15 pace for that long without any problem whatsoever.  The part I’m unsure about is what will happen after that.

My plan is to run those first 13.1 miles as efficiently as possible, physically and mentally.  I really want to avoid those “Today is my day, I know it” thoughts, because the more excited I get early on, the more fatigued my brain will be at the end when I need it most.  I made this mistake in the Baltimore Marathon last year, but things are different now.  Back then, the 7:15 pace alone was enough to give me a rush of adrenaline; now I’m far more accustomed to it.  So I hope I can run that pace, enjoy the scenery, and stay relaxed.  Once I hit the halfway point, assuming all is well, I’ll let the adrenaline surge as much as it wants, and hopefully, take me to the end in under 3:10:59.

I can’t imagine how great it would feel to qualify.  I’ve envisioned it a lot in my head, but I’m sure that won’t come close to how the real thing feels.  And if I don’t qualify, I won’t be embarrassed or ashamed.  And no excuses.  I’ll take responsibility and start thinking about the next race to try again.

So that’s it.  That’s really all that’s going on in my head.  The weather looks good, so all that’s left is to get a good night’s sleep and to get out there and do it.

I want to say a quick thanks to Holly, who sent me a wonderful package of goodies on the day I left for New York.  Along with a really nice note, Holly sent me some fine organic chocolate, Clif Shot Blocks (which I like so much better than Gu’s and which I’m planning to eat during the race tomorrow), and my favorite, fully-caffeinated Caribou Coffee.  Getting this package and reading the note really made me smile; it’s so neat when I realize that this blog world is actually the real world.  Thanks Holly, for making my day!

[holly note]

[holly gifts]

Holly sent me the note to thank me for helping her get her new site set up, and that was actually what inspired me to start Health Blog Helper.  And wouldn’t you know it, Holly is going to be interviewed this Monday as part of Health Bloggers Dish, the series Alison is doing on Health Blog Helper.  So check that out on Monday!

Also, Holly is running the Twin Cities Marathon tomorrow, so wish her luck!

Alright I’m outta here; gotta eat and hit the sack.  Hope to bring back some good news tomorrow!



Just Food Book Review

‘Just’ Food

Hi guys!  This is Christine here, back for Sweet-Tooth Friday!  Instead of sharing a recipe with you, this week I wanted to share a book I thought you NMA-ers would find interesting: Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams.

[Just Food cover]I originally picked up this book because I thought it was about returning to simpler, unprocessed food.  Instead, McWilliams argues for changes in our food system that will enable the world to feed itself in an environmentally safe manner as its population increases.  He writes, “Only then can ‘just food,’ as in it’s nothing more than food, become ‘just food,’ as in food we can rightly associate with the justice of sustainability.”  Ahh there’s the title pun!

Usually I am interested in theories regarding eating right in terms of eating healthily for my body.  Honestly, I’ve never been too focused on environmental concerns.  I put out my recycling on the correct day, shop with reusable grocery bags, and have the barista fill up my travel coffee mug instead of a paper cup.  That’s pretty much the extent of my activism.  I’ve never thought much about energy used to produce food or how much our current agricultural system is truly damaging the planet.

Just Food sets out to show that eating ethically can’t be solved only by going organic or sticking locally.  Here a sustainable diet is a means for using the smallest amount of land to feed the greatest amount of people, which in the next couple generations will no longer be a choice.  Just Food highlights five main ways to achieve this goal by focusing on the true energy cost of food, looking past organic, researching genetically-engineered foods, significantly reducing meat consumption, and establishing better systems of aquaculture.

Energy costs of food are often calculated by ‘food miles,’ or how far the food traveled to get to your plate.  However, this can be outweighed by the energy producing the food, from what kind of nets catch fish to making the tin can and other packaging.  Transportation is actually the lowest use of energy.  I was disappointed to read that 25% of the energy total in making food comes from home preparation.  Jeez, and my oven is always on!  In the end, ‘100 mile’ diets don’t always make sense, especially when a ton of bananas flown in from another continent may be overall more efficiently produced than the apple at the farmers market.

Regarding organic foods, I always thought by definition it was chemical-free.  Turns out, they just can’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  The botanical chemicals that are used can be just as dangerous to the environment and humans in high doses, just like the synthetic ones.  Fertilizing with manure isn’t completely safe either because of the antibiotics still present.  Organic farmers also till their land more often to get rid of weeds, which messes up the nitrogen level and allows for erosion and chemical run-off.  Finally, organic farming just requires more land to produce the same yields.

Genetically engineered foods have gotten a bad rap, but they can be beneficial.  Most corn and soybeans already come from GM seeds.  Genetically modified crops that are equipped with pest-fighting genes can significantly reduce the use of harmful pesticides as well as frequent tilling.  Genetically modified crops can also increase the yield of a plant in a smaller amount of space, and are then able to feed more people.  Even with these advantages, the book does not neglect the fact that we still need to monitor any chemicals that go in to our food.

McWilliams is decidedly less enthusiastic about the joys of vegetarianism than we NMA-ers are, but admits that “if you want to start changing the environment with your diet, one of the most productive things you can do is quit eating meat.”  The world’s current appetite for meat simply cannot be sustained.  Meat production operates at a net-energy loss, not even counting the high-temperatures it gets cooked at later!  Livestock uses more of our limited water than plants do, as well as contaminating water with their manure ponds at factory farms.  And don’t forget about all that methane released into the air!

Though grass-fed and free-range options seem like the better choice, both have issues.  Grass-fed cows take up valuable land to graze, and free-range pigs can be exposed to more parasites.  McWilliams simply says if you do eat meat it should be considered as rare as eating cavier and shouldn’t be eaten more than once a month.

Fish farming is brought into the picture as way to get higher yields of animal protein from less space.  It also protects the destruction of marine ecosystems from modern fishing practices and overfishing. In medium sized farms, aquaculture can be integrated with the crops to share nutrients and make less waste.  It is important to buy fresh water fish from countries with good environmental standards.  You should also avoid farmed salmon, shrimp, and halibut because these species rely on animal-based food, and are therefore less sustainable.

Before these five strategies can be really effective, Just Food acknowledges that government subsidies artificially promoting corn, soy, and cattle must be removed.  Without financial incentives, agribusiness has no motive to change its structure.

I really enjoyed the environmental perspective from Just Food.  It really opened my eyes to issues that the organic movement and locavores haven’t fully addressed.  McWilliams isn’t against organic farming or local movements, he just explains that in the very near future it will be necessary to scale production up.  At the same time, we cannot continue the current practices of big argribusiness.  We need to act now to make this production environmentally sound and sustainable.

There is a TON of information in this book- way more than I can even gloss over here.  Please remember that in trying to lay out the gist of the argument and sustainable plan, I have not included his many defenses and counterpoints.  I full-heartedly recommend you give this book a read for yourself, no matter which side of the issues you stand.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time,
Stay sweet and sustainable!

xoxo Christine




A Surreal Workout

Holy F I got busy!  Between schoolwork, more schoolwork, and getting ready for the trip to upstate New York for the marathon, yesterday was one of those days where every single waking minute was accounted for.

The result — no blog post and a track workout in the dark.  Literally, the dark.  The hour between 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening was the first chance I got to do my final track workout of this training program, and halfway through it I couldn’t read the numbers on my watch anymore without the Indiglo.

It was one of the strangest workouts I’ve ever done. The final workouts before a marathon are always weird; I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this.  The runs are easy, so you have time to think about all the training you’ve done and about previous races and tapers, and most of all, you think about the upcoming marathon.  Exciting and scary all at once.  Thoughts are deeper; the songs you listen to take on more meaning; there seems to be a strange Zen-calm over everything.

Maybe this is what it always feels like to people who love running.  I’d love it too if it were always like this.

The circumstances served only to make the run more dreamlike and surreal.  What’s weirder than running circles in the dark?  How about running circles in the dark when the track is packed with people, all running in the opposite direction?  A running group was there surprisingly late, and for some reason they were all running clockwise on the track while I was going counterclockwise.

Weird enough, right?  Oh no, there’s more.  Right at the beginning of the workout, I heard a marching band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  I couldn’t see them because whatever field they were on was obscured by trees.  But it sounded nice, and I figured maybe that was their end-of-practice song or something, since it was getting dark.  But as soon as they finished, all this cheering erupted.

And then they started playing a lot more, mostly drums, and with lots more cheering.  Then lights came on over their field, and this strange glow and all these drumbeats overflowed the trees onto the track where I was.   A little bit tribal, a little bit Fourth-of-July.  A lot weird.

So I ran my 16 laps like this, alternating 400’s at 1:24 with rest 400’s.  Feeling the Zen tranquility of tapering, the light disappearing, passing people going the opposite direction, the tribal-parade drumming and glow penetrating the darkness of the track where the only sounds were footsteps and people breathing hard.  As I hit the final lap, I realized that this lap would be my last one at the track before the marathon.  This same track where I got hurt back in February and where I have run so many impossible, no-way-I-can-make it laps by myself since coming back from that injury and setting my sights on this marathon that seemed so far off when I started.

I gave that last lap everything I had.  I didn’t need to; I did it for no reason other than that I felt like it and I wanted to go out with a bang.  And as I sprinted as hard as I could, a Bob Dylan came on my iPod.  Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

It was very, very weird.  And somehow, it was perfect.