How local and wholesome are your fats? Review of Susquehanna Mills Canola Oil

As I’ve gotten a lot more intentional about the foods I buy to nourish my young family the fats I’ve chosen to include in our diet have changed.  I’d replaced all of the fats and vegetable oils with CA olive council certified olive oil (I buy this brand which I love and I got a great BOGO deal on at a local supermarket), organic expeller-pressed coconut oil, local raw butter from grass-fed cows, and lard I rendered from the fat of a wood lot raised pig we bought from local farmers.

When it comes to fats in the kitchen, its comes down to finding the right tool for the right job.  And, for me,  choosing which fats to use and buy for each job comes down to balancing the health benefits of the fats, the cost, and the local impact of each option.  For all these reasons, I was super excited to receive a free sample of Susquehanna Mills non-GMO, expeller-pressed canola oil which hails from only about 40 miles away from where I live. I received the sample from a friend who asked me if I would review the oil on the blog, but all opinions are my own.

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First off, let me admit that canola oil and vegetable shortening (think Crisco) were the first fats to be entirely eliminated from our whole foods diet.  And although I still think vegetable shortening is god-awful stuff that shouldn’t be available for purchase, the jury is still out for me on the health benefits or detriments of canola oil.

But I think that Susquehanna Mills canola oil IS healthy for me and my family.  Here’s why:  According to this Weston A. Price Foundation article  there are some possible negative side effects associated with canola oil possible due to its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.  In the studies cited by the article, “[w]hen saturated fats are added to the diet, the[se] undesirable effects of canola oil are mitigated.” So if your diet, like my family’s, contains saturated fats, like coconut or palm oil, or animal fats, including meat, dairy, eggs, lard, or tallow, you probably do not need to worry about excluding canola oil from your diet.  On the other hand, if you are a vegan and do not eat tropical oils, or you subscribe to a very low-fat diet, you may want to do more research about canola oil.

The above article goes on to explain how the normal industrial process for making canola oil renders much of its supposedly healthy fats into trans fats.  Years ago, I was shocked to learn about the high heat and solvents used in processing most conventional liquid oils, which was one of the reasons I stopped buying conventional vegetable oils.  Fortunately, Susquehanna Mills oil is expeller-pressed at low temperatures, instead of using high heat and solvents.

Lastly, the last concern in the article is about GMO canola.  Since about 90% of US canola is genetically modified, if you buy canola oil or see it as an ingredient in some other food that isn’t organic, you are likely consuming the GMO stuff.  The problem that I and many others have with GMO products is that they are untested and not proven safe to humans or the environment.  Susquehanna Mills canola oil is not GMO, so it scores another point here for safety and healthfulness.

Delicious curried rice salad with Susquehanna Mills canola oil.

Delicious curried rice salad with Susquehanna Mills canola oil.

So how does it taste?  Well, canola oil can be used for both cooking and salads, but because I really wanted to see what it tasted like, I opted to use it in a main dish curried rice salad, recipe via the cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special.  I wish there was another similar recipe on the web but if you can get your hands on a copy of this cookbook, this recipe is really good!  The way I make it, it is brown rice steamed with bone broth and spices, mixed with celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and raisins, then tossed with a very flavorful dressing of canola oil, honey, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and salt.  I’ve made this salad before with olive oil, but the Susquehanna Mills canola oil gave it a light, fresh taste that is very different from my rich, fruity, olive oil.  It was very, very good and the fresh, local canola oil made a big difference.

Would I buy this again?  Definitely, although I need to get through the several gallons of lard that I rendered before I buy any more fat.  But if anyone is interested, Susquehanna Mills has a new Kickstarter campaign to kick off their artisan oil CSA.  Whether you live in PA or elsewhere, this may be the best (or only) way to get such a high quality canola oil.

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Another vegan disappoints

I was excited to request the new cookbook Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family from my library when I learned it had been purchased.  Clearly my love of kefir, bone broth, and other dairy items currently preclude me from veganism.  That being said, I love vegetables and try to eat as many of them as possible.  I am always on the look out for easy and tasty recipes that will work more vegetables into my family’s diet.  In fact, for many, many years, Matt and I cooked almost entirely vegetarian.

I had high hopes that this cookbook would include comfort food vegetable-heavy dishes that would be easy to prepare since they are for the “modern family” who is always on the go.  Much to my disappointment, instead of whole foods dishes filled with natural, minimally processed goodness, this cookbook was filled to the brim with highly processed fake meat, fake vegan cheese, and soy products.  My family does not have time to follow three paragraph instructions on how to craft “vegan hard-boiled eggs” out of tofu shaped into half-egg shapes and then stuffed with spiced tofu and baked.  If we didn’t want to eat eggs, we would just skip the eggs and eat cauliflower, or green beans, or pretty much anything else that comes in the form that it was grown on this earth.

I’m not trying to trash vegans here as I am sure there are many who despise mock meats, cheese, and soy as much as I do. But what does it say about veganism when this is the cookbook that is supposed to appeal to the masses?  Personally, I do not think it is more ethical to eat mass-produced soy, corn, or beans, over-processed and shipped huge distances, then to eat local pastured animals, but everyone is entitled to their own food ideals.  To past muster in my kitchen, a meal must be whole foods, affordable, and delicious.  Tonight, our grain-free, vegan dinner was a turnip, carrot, onion, lentil soup, seasoned with bay leaves, salt, pepper, olive oil, and parsley.  Simply delicious, and no fake smoke, flavor-injector, or soy needed.

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Peasant Soup very slightly adapted from This Good Food

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup rice (or sub more lentils)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, sliced
  • 2-3 turnips, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional, but recommended: fresh parsley and extra virgin olive oil

Optional step: Soak lentils in water plus a few tablespoons whey (which you can get from straining yogurt through cloth) for about 7 hours. Drain.

Step 1: Combine lentils, rice, carrots, turnips, garlic, bay leaf with enough water or bone broth to cover by an inch in a pot.  (About 12 cups if you did NOT soak the lentils, less if you did 🙂 )

Step 2: Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for about an hour, adding more water or broth if needed.

Step 3: Add salt and pepper and any optional ingredients.

Buying fruits and vegetables on a budget

Picking blueberries was a family affair!

Picking blueberries was a family affair!

This family needs a budget and we have one!  But as we “upgraded” the quality of our fruits and vegetables in response to learning about the most pesticide-covered produce, aka the dirty dozen, I had to adjust my budgeting expectations.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach for determining what to feed a family and how much to spend.  Would I love to buy local and organic produce exclusively?  Yes and I think it is preferable to buying conventional produce.  In the future I may buy only local and/or organic, but right now, our budget does not allow for it.  Instead, I am choosing to steward our food dollars as craftily as I can to get the best bang for our family’s buck. Here’s how I try to meet my family’s first goal for health eating: Eat more fruits and vegetables (and avoid as much pesticides as possible) while sticking to our budget.

My overall strategy for vegetables includes the following:

  • to only buy organic or less-pesticide local alternatives for all items on the dirty dozen
  • to shift as much food dollars to local options from growers who use organic methods
  • to eat seasonally much of the time
  • to buy bulk quantities of seasonal food when it is less expensive to preserve for when it is costly
  • to buy vegetables on the “clean 15” and other vegetables not available locally from the supermarket or discount store when on sale or available

More specifically and practically, here is how I address the items on the dirty dozen:

  1. Apples – I buy locally grown apples from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques.  IPM fruit growers use “reduced risk pesticides” as well as other no risk techniques like using phermones to disrupt the mating of specific pests.  We save money by buying the apples directly from the growers in larger quantities and by buying seconds, which are apples that are slightly blemished or the wrong size for selling at the “normal” price.  Although these apples still contain pesticides, the amounts may be reduced 80-85% from what is used on a non-IPM apples.  In 2012, we dried apples and made applesauce.  We still have a bit left to get us through, but we will be excited to enjoy apples again in the late summer/early fall.
  2. Celery – I buy organic celery at the supermarket. I save the ends and leaves in the freezer to use for making bone broth so nothing goes to waste.
  3. Sweet bell peppers – I buy locally grown peppers from a farmer who is not certified organic but used organic methods.  This year, I was able to buy a large bag of seconds for a great price.  I then washed, stemmed, and halved the peppers and froze them in freezer bags.  I have used these peppers in soups, stews, and grain salads all winter.
  4. Peaches – I  buy locally grown peaches from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques. See apples. We canned peaches in water last summer and we love them.  I can’t wait to can more of them! In 2011, we froze peaches to use in smoothies, although I prefer the canned ones.
  5. Strawberries – I buy locally grown from growers who use organic methods. Last year I did not buy any due to the relatively high cost.  I hope to buy some this year though because we missed them.
  6. Nectarines (imported) – I buy locally grown nectarines about once a year from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques. See apples. Otherwise, we go without nectarines.
  7. Grapes – I do not buy them as a rule, although as with all of the other fruits and vegetables on the list, we have absolutely zero qualms about enjoying them when others offer them to us.  My kids love grapes and they taste good.
  8. Spinach – I buy organic at the supermarket on occasion  or I buy it from local growers who use organic methods.  This year, I’m trying to grow some for myself.
  9. Lettuce – I buy organic at the store on occasion   I much prefer to buy it from local growers who use organic methods and who grow amazingly tasty varieties that would never transport well and so are never available at the supermarket.  Last year I grew some for myself and it was so easy and delicious.  I hope to grow much more this year in our garden.
  10. Cucumbers – I forgot or didn’t know that this was on the list! I rarely buy cucumbers anyway, but I’ll peel the conventional ones and buy more local ones.  I do hope to buy some large quantities of “clean” ones this year to use for canning pickles.
  11. Blueberries (domestic) – I pick my own from a local farm that does not spray and freeze them to use in smoothies, pancakes, and baked goods all winter.  We still have one more bag left from the summer!
  12. Potatoes – I get potatoes in our winter CSA box from a farmer who uses organic methods. Otherwise, I go without potatoes or splurge on organic potatoes from the supermarket.  They are significantly more expensive than conventional potatoes, but I think they are worth it on occasion. Sweet potatoes, which are on the clean 15, are better for you and taste great, so we don’t miss potatoes much.

Although this is how I decided to respond to learning about the dirty dozen, I do not let it dictate how my family eats when not at home.  We do not worry about eating fruits or vegetables at other people’s houses or at restaurants nor do we ask for or inquire about the origins of the fruits or vegetables being offered to us.  We decided to change our buying habits partly to reduce our pesticide exposure and partly to vote with our food dollars about what we want and I feel that our approach accomplishes both in a way we feel comfortable with.

If you are wanting to buy “cleaner” produce, I hope my story gives you some ideas about how to make small changes while sticking to a budget. If you live in central PA, you can also check out exactly where I’m buying my local stuff on the Crunchy Connections page.