Thursday, October 21, 2010

American Comestibles = Fat America

(Photo 1)
At 21 years of age,
Ieva went from Lithuania to Buffalo, NY on a student work-exchange program. Her job was cleaning the stairwells, windows, and common areas to a 5-story middle-class apartment dwelling. During her 5 months in Buffalo, Ieva had a profound experience with American food. Although she worked daily throughout the week, she gained 5-7 kilograms (10 - 15 pounds). Restaurant and fast food were not part of her daily meals. Her breakfasts were light, mainly cereals, and she ate sandwiches for lunch. During evening meals, Ieva cooked primarily vegetables, pasta, rice, turkey, ham, or chicken. On average, Ieva consumed meat once a day. Her portions and dishes replicated what she typically consumed in Lithuania. The only deviation in her diet was she began eating ice cream near the end of her work-exchange program. Upon returning to Lithuania, she ate her mother’s traditional Lithuanian foods. Although Ieva ate significant proportions and was idle, within one month, she resumed her normal body weight.

(photo 2)

Milda’s story is similar. Her student work-exchange afforded her two jobs and a 16 hour day. At night, she cleaned a hotel and dined on scrabbled eggs, bacon, sausage, and bread for breakfast. Her day job was at behind the counter in a deli department where she had the freedom to eat what she wanted. Her choice of food were salads dressed with mayonnaise, and occasionally fried chicken. She rarely ate out or at home. Within 5 months, Milda gained 10 kilos (22 pounds). Soon after returning to Lithuania, and without any conscious effort, Milda returned to her normal weight. She noted that her husband had spent two work exchange stints in the US and each time came back to Lithuania overweight, to the extent that he was unrecognizable.

(photo 3) Vilma is a third example of this American food-weight phenomenon. She worked in a hotel and a fast-food restaurant in Maine for 4 months, and worked daily from 8 am to 2 am. Her diet was primarily fries, pizza sticks, chicken nuggets and ice cream. Her clothes size went from 0 to size 6 and her weight increase by 8 kilos. This gain was lost after less than a month back on her Lithuanian diet. Vilma commented about her American food experience that, “you can eat and eat and eat and not feel full.” The most noticeable difference was that the American people “ate from the box for their meals.”

The above stories are examples of the horrors of the American diet. It is not an uncommon experience for Lithuanians who have spent significant time in the US. So, why have these people gained so much weight in such a short period of time under ‘slave-like’ working conditions? The reasons are not transparent, or are they? Could there possibly be ingredients and additives within USA foods which cause metabolic interferences? Can growth hormones fed to factory raised animals cause weight gain in humans? What are the effects of salt, sugar, and fat, saturated in our food, have on our body chemistry? What affects do neurochemicals in additives, preservatives, and artificial flavorings have on the human body?

Obviously there is something catastrophically wrong with American comestibles. A recent news report indicated that 75% of Americans are either overweight or obese. The CDC states that the direct medical cost of obesity per year is approximately $147 billion, 50 billion more than spent on cancer. Former FDA Commissioner David Kesslerk‘s book,"The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite" looks at how fat, sugar, and oil is concentrated in America‘s diet and how this has contributed to our national health crisis. Is it possible to overhaul our food system before we collapse under the weight of fat America? Is the current food system ”terrorism“ against our own citizens? What kind of future can a nation have if the majority of its citizens are unhealthy?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mushrooms Mushrooms Mushrooms

Lithuanians love their mushrooms. Hundreds of varieties of fungi fill the forests, but many are poisonous, and collectors comb the forests only for the best tasting varieties. This year was particularly favorable for these delicacies. Jurgita gave me instruction on the art of mushroom collecting. It is imperative that one understands the edible varieties from the poisonous. Annually, people die in Lithuania from such an error. I found out that even the edible ones must be boiled before use. Directly from the open market, I fried a variety of forest mushroom in butter and later had a stomach ache. Glad it was not the fly agaric,(red mushroom in photo) a very deadly, but beautiful fungus.
Immediately after harvest, mushrooms must be freed of forest debris by scraping or brushing. Next they are boiled in salt water. Mushrooms can now be used in soups or salad or fried in butter. Mushrooms can be preserved in sterile jars in brine, or dried.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vilnius International Food Festival

My olfactory was teasing my stomach as I strolled down Gedimino Street during Vilnius's annual festival for international foods. Local cheese, meats, homemade breeds and crafts embellished all the hearty dishes represented from Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania, to name a few. Pork ruled throughout the festival. The smoked fish was my favorite. Of course, during a Lithuanian festival, tasty Lithuanian beer can be found!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vaiva's Home: My first five days in Vilnius

After 500 kilometers on a bicycle, on top of 3 months of nonstop traveling, I landed onto a plum-colored couch..owned by Vaiva, the best hostess in Vilnius. Vaiva loves cooking, meeting people, and hospitality in immense amounts.
Not only did she afford me quality vitals and a warm, cozy place to stay, she assisted me with finding my own flat, mobile phone, internet service AND the exciting experience of Lithuanian basketball. (See next posting). She is fantastic!!!!
We went to Kalvariju Farmers' Market where we purchased many of the fresh ingredients for her tasty food.(photos)
Vaiva's idea of bringing a weary traveler to life is a bowl of her Lithuanian style soup. This hearty mix contains white beans, carrots, dill, smoked pork, pearl barley and forest mushrooms, and accented with a dollop of sour cream. Yum!
A breakfast with Lithuanian style pancakes, which are more of a wrap than the American version, are eaten with soft cheeses, ham, honey, butter, or jams. Pancakes with Vaiva's homemade apple jam was superb!
Dinner was always robust and delicious. My favorite is Vaiva's beef liver. She soaked the liver in milk prior to battering it in flour,with dashes of salt and pepper. Fried quickly in a lightly oiled skillet, enough to keep a hue of pinkness, the liver is then combined with cooked onions, apples, and zucchini. Next, cream is folded into the dish. It is now ready for serving. (photo)
Some of Vaiva's side dishes included her beet salad, apple sauce, forest mushroom salad or potatoes. Lithuanian breads are some of the finest I have eaten. Full of grains and rich in texture, these aromatic dark breads put US breads to shame. Breads in liquid form embellished evening meals, which include one of the many excellent Lithuania beers, either Svyturys, Utenos, or Fortas. Lithuanian beer now is one of my favorite libations!

Being apple season, we spent an evening peeling and cooking apples for jam. A portion was cooked with forest cranberries to give a nice tart tasting flavored jam with a crimson red color.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lithuanian Salted Pickles

Laima, one of my Couch Surfing hosts, demonstrated how to make salted pickles, a traditional Lithuanian favorite. After washing, nip the ends of cucumbers with paring knife and place whole cuc's in a large bowl. Add brine to cucumbers, approximately 2 tablespoons to a liter of water with a pinch of whole peppers. Tear and add herbs to brine, (hand collected or purchased in ready to use bundles at an open market), of fennel florets, raspberry leaves, rumex leaves, and cherry leaves. Cover bowl with plate to ensure cucumbers are submerged in liquid. Pickles are ready to eat in several days and can last up to 2-3 weeks.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Warsaw to Vilnius: Day # 5

Each day, the weather was ideal for bicycling and each night was ideal for sleeping... every night it rained! This last morning was the first I awoke with a chill, which took some time to shake. It felt like fall. I began at 7 am and arrived into the Vilnius's city center at 9:30. By accident, I met my friends Egle and Darius on the footbridge crossing the Neris River. With almost 600,000 people living in Vilnius, what fate for me to see my friends upon my first moments in Vilnius. They gave me a warm welcome back to my queen city.... the home of my ancestors.