Guest post: Bloom’s (not-so) “healthy foods” tour

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This is a guest post, written by my wife, Huyen. Several grocery stores in our area are actively advertising “healthy food tours” of their store for children to, supposedly, show them how easy and fun it is to eat good-for-you foods. Sadly, that’s not at all how this tour went.

I had a bad feeling as I committed to attending a mom’s group local grocery store “healthy choices” tour at Bloom. But I wanted to support the moms who organized the outing and I was curious how “healthy” this tour was going to be. So we met up with a few other moms and a frazzled store manager who had had a surprise visit from a health inspector prior to our group.

The manager/tour guide began in the bakery aisle (which is right next to the health food section at this particular store). I knew this was a bad sign especially as there are never any baked goods (besides some French or Italian breads) that are vegan in most grocery stores. We got a frosting demo from a bakery person and then they gave out chocolate chip cookies. The tour guide prefaced by saying, “I know this is a healthy choices tour but…” Chocolate chip cookies at 9:45 in the morning. Good, healthy, breakfast food… Not! And definitely not vegan nor allergy friendly but at least it wasn’t donuts, right? They could have easily offered up bagels or some other healthy whole grain goodness but instead we got a dessert for the breakfast hour because preschool aged, high-energy kids need a good sugar kick to start off the day right. Needless to say, my daughter and I were not a happy campers albeit for different reasons (had to quickly grab a Zbar from the health food aisles that I paid for after the tour). They supplied a sugar cookie to the one girl who had peanut allergies- thank goodness the mom asked if they were made with or near peanuts. Of course they had no alternates for vegan children. And forget gluten-free (the mom who is doing gluten-free for her family opted not to join us for this outing and I began to see the wisdom in her decision).

At least the produce was next to the bakery section so we followed along and they opened a bag of organic baby carrots for the kids. Back on the healthy track! Then they opened up a bag of non-organic carrots for the kids to compare and several kids (including mine) decided the non-organic tasted better. Sigh. But not all variables were the same- the non-organic carrots were smaller, thinner and the organic were quite fat- and I know for certain that my daughter prefers her carrots on the cute, petite side. I ate the remainder of her baby carrots and the non-organic definitely had a slightly older taste to them, even if they were cuter.

We then got a tour of a backroom where a worker was cutting up watermelon and mango slices. The kids were given both to sample but most refused the mango. I commented to a fellow Asian mom that ironically we had the Asian kids who didn’t want mango, a sweet tropical fruit that is frequently seen in Asian kitchens and dishes. The kids got a glimpse of the first of several walk-in coolers and we left the work room shivering.

From produce, we visited the seafood area and the worker at that station pulled a live lobster from the tank to show everyone. The kids were scared but slowly gathered courage to touch the lobster. He pointed out how the big claws are tightly rubber-banded together so they don’t snap or fight with each other and there are little claws that can pinch you if you are not careful. He pointed out the gender of the lobster. The worker shared facts like lobsters can live up to 6 months in his tank without any food and the lobsters are not fed because it keeps their insides clean. I think he may have also shared some details about how to prepare and cook them but I kind of zoned out at this point. Then he told an anecdote about working at a different grocery store where a woman complained about animal abuse in regards to the lobsters but she didn’t get far because there are no laws protecting against mistreatment of food-animals. He clearly did not understand why the woman was upset and felt the law supported his own belief that the lobster were not mistreated in any way. He spoke of banging on the glass to make sure the lobsters were still alive and not fighting and how he makes sure to return the lobster right-side up because they can drown in the tank if they return to the water upside-down. Interesting bit of trivia but my daughter didn’t think it was too nice that the lobster was tied up and stuck in a tank with no food. She was shocked to hear people would buy them to eat them.

From there we moved to the meat section where my daughter and I purposely got distracted in another area as they discussed meats and demonstrated some ground beef going through a mill. Of course there were no mentions of healthy, cholesterol-free, sat fat-free, tasty meat alternates like tofu, tempeh, seitan, Gardein, Boca, Yves, etc. I kept thinking, maybe they’ll talk about these items when we come to the health food section since it is a healthy choices tour and the store was beginning to label items with a special symbol to note that it is a good choice, two symbols for a “better” choice, and three symbols for the “best” choice in terms of healthiness. I was attempting to figure out what their requirements were for each symbol designation but did not quite grasp it. I should hope that with this system, the entire produce section should be labeled/rated with three healthy symbols! I have a strong suspicion it was not.

We rejoined the group to briefly peek in the dairy and ice cream cooler (by this time all the adults and children were shivering as we were dressed for 90 degree weather) and walk down the dairy aisles. Unfortunately this particular store did not have any cheese alternatives like Daiya or Follow Your Heart on display and the manager/tour guide did not mention any dairy-free options for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant. So I tried to distract my daughter from the string-cheese giveaway (when is someone going to make a vegan string cheese?!) by perusing the frozen food aisles in search of our Tofutti, So Delicious, and Amy’s.

Finally the tour group came back to the front of the store and I thought, “At last, they are going to do the healthfood section as the grand finale to this healthy eating tour!” Nope. They gave out goodie bags to the kids which had another item in it I had to find a sub for and the manager went to the health food section to point out a single product that had a coupon special to a mom who had requested it. What?!?! The mom who organized said the store was planning to reorganize to incorporate the healthfood section in with the other foods but still, they could have said that to all the moms and shown us the items in that department anyway since it was still grouped together. I cannot imagine why in the world they would skip a section that would bring in some money and promote the healthy eating image they are attempting. Clearly the manager and the store were ignorant of healthy eating options, allergy and special diet options, and we had wasted our morning on this un-veg-friendly tour that made my child feel left out and me feel angry. Needless to say, we will not be shopping at Bloom.

For more of Huyen’s writings, see her book reviews at vegbooks.org.

Three Things You Should Go Look At Now

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Since I’ve been a slack-arse blogger again and have fallen so far behind on cookbook reviews it’s embarrassing, I thought I’d toss something up here for you to read. A few things I’ve seen recently that I think you should see, as well:

1. Deb’s Lemonade

Don’t be scared by the picture of a yellow liquid in a jar sitting on a windowsill! This is just a simple recipe for not-to-sweet lemonade. I’ve been looking for a good sour lemonade recipe and this one just about fit the bill. I used freshly squeezed lemon juice and used just a touch less than a 1/4 cup, but I think I may want to go just a touch more than a 1/4 cup next time. It’s really nice to have a lemonade that’s not completely sweet.

2. Vegan Butter Recipes

Still trying to throw off the Earth Balance shackles? Give these recipes a shot. They look pretty good. (via Sheryl, I think)

3. King Oyster Mushrooms

Anyone know where I can find these penis mushrooms? I really want to make some Baked King Oyster Mushroom Calamari.

Vegan Halloween

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For the past few years, we’ve taken our daughter around the neighborhood to trick-or-treat for Halloween. Of course, the majority of what she gets isn’t vegan and she’s fine with our agreement of “we’ll swap out the non-vegan candy for vegan candy.” But I like the trend I’m seeing this year of vegan Halloween maps, allowing people to search for others in their area that are handing out vegan (and/or allergy-friendly) Halloween candy.

No Trick Treats! is taking the project on a national level with an easy-to-use (and add to) annotated Google Map. They also provide a few links to stores where you can order your candy if local stores are limiting you to a few crappy “accidentally vegan” options. Apparently, there will also soon be “printable maps for your neighborhood” available. Hopefully this site will stick around in coming years.

Compassion Over Killing is accepting additions to a DC-specific area map. VegDC‘s link points right to the aforementioned No Trick Treats!, so I’m not sure if there will ultimately be a separate DC map from COK or not.

Food Fight Grocery posted some info on a vegan Halloween map in late September. I’m not sure if that map has materialized just yet.

Feel free to add any other favorite Halloween resources. Only 11 days left!

Bar Review: PranaBars and Bora Bora bars

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In my ongoing attempt to review stuff that was sent to me a long time ago and should have been reviewed back then, I thought I’d write up a few notes on a couple of bars that were sent to me earlier in the year to try.

First up is the PranaBar, one of the many new raw energy bars on the market. All ingredients in PranaBars are raw except for the nuts and seeds, “which require slow cooking to denature enzyme inhibitors they contain.” The bars are vegan, GMO-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and contain no added sugar. The result? Probably the tastiest energy bar on the shelves. They sent along Mango Maca and Raspberry Pomegranate bars for me to try and they were both absolutely delicious. They didn’t taste “health foody,” which I think would make these a great choice for kids or people who generally shy away from anything that doesn’t contain HFCS. The bars are a bit pricey, retailing at about two bucks a pop, but hey… not everything should cost less than a dollar. (Note that this company does produce non-vegan bars under their “Boomi Bar” line that contain whey and honey. Stick with the Prana and Prana SuperCharger bars.)

Next up is the Bora Bora bar from Bora Bora Foods. Bora Bora is a small company focused on organic, gluten-free, non-GMO bars without preservatives, artificial sweeteners, etc. Not all bars are vegan (some have honey), but most are. These will appeal to the fans of straight-ahead fruit-and-nut bars. They’re simple, they’re tasty, and they’ll make you happy. Bora Bora sent along a couple of the vegan bars for me to try and they were quite good, with just enough of a twist on traditional nut bars to be interesting (like the Tropical Sesame Cranberry or Tiki Blueberry Flax bar). The Bora Bora bars were kind of hard to come by when they first sent the product along for review, but since then they’ve developed a pretty solid distribution and have gotten much easier to find. Good stuff.

Veg in DC/MD/VA – This Weekend

Two events in the area I wanted to make sure everyone in the area knows about. First…

Vegan Bake Sale Benefit for Haiti (Falls Church)

After having to postpone two times because of, you know, blizzards and stuff, Gary his team will be offering up some great vegan goodies. Get there early! There’s a lot of buzz around this event, so I suspect the foodstuffs will disappear quickly. Benefits go to Food for Life Global.

(My wife and I made some mini-donuts. Try ’em!)

The bake sale is being held outside of the Giant at 1230 W. Broad St. in Falls Church, VA tomorrow from 10:30am–2:30pm.

More info here.

and second…

DC Premiere of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (DC)

Though I won’t be at the showing, I cannot wait to catch the video release of this when it’s available. The original cut of this movie blew me away and I can only imagine what this refined and updated version will be like.

Catch the movie as part of the at the Environmental Film Festival. It shows tomorrow at 12:15pm at the Carnegie Institution, Elihu Root Auditorium (1530 P Street NW (Metro: Dupont Circle), Washington, DC) and is free. First come, first serve, so get there early!

More info here.