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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Ditching paper towels

Jen’s post a few weeks back about ditching paper towels has inspired me to do the same. This week at the grocery I avoided purchasing them even though my wife had them on the list. I couldn’t help but think about how much of a waste they are. Not only are you tossing money in the garbage but also a lot of unnecessary paper waste. With that, they have been eliminated at this household.

Today I was cleaning out one of my t-shirt drawers, ditching any shirts that were faded or had holes in them. Got out the rotary cutter and board and went to town making rags. I’ve got quite a nice pile out of 4 shirts and now after a rag is used it will go in a bucket of borax solution to soak before washing instead of the trash.

Thanks Jen for the inspiration.

* Here’s a little fact I learned this week. 40% of food purchased in the US goes into the garbage. Sad!

Yet another thing to recycle: plastic bags

I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of recycling. I know recycling still uses energy and that I could reduce my own energy consumption better by not creating waste that needs to be trashed OR recycled.  When evaluating my own habits, I try to remember the saying: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle (in that order).  I feel good recycling, better reusing, and best reducing!

That being said, recycling is often a great first step towards reducing.  Once I see how much waste I am generating, I am better able to appreciate the benefits of small changes.  Case in point: plastic bag recycling.

When we lived in RI, recycling most items was easy.  We threw tin, aluminum, glass, and plastic into one bin, and paperboard/cardboard/newspaper into another bin and the city picked it up. I only recycled the items accepted by the city, which did not include items like #5 plastics (i.e. yogurt containers) or plastic bags.  That recycling gravy train ended when we moved to central PA.  We’re working hard for our recycling in these parts!  Long story short, every type of recycling needs to be separated and we have to transport most of it to the recycling drop off during only narrowly defined hours. Similarly, our borough does not accept #5 plastics or plastic bags for recycling.

When we lived in RI, we just threw our plastic bags in the garbage.  They weren’t accepted in our bin for recycling and we reused some for kitty litter or other household uses. I comforted myself with the knowledge that we usually brought our bags to the supermarket and left it at that.  So when I was looking to reduce our overall trash amount in PA so we could comfortably purchase only the smallest trash pickup service, I did not think that recycling bags would make a big difference.  Then I did a little bit of online research.  There are a lot of different types of plastic and plastic bags that can be recycled, including:

  • Bread bags
  • Plastic storage bags, like ziploc bags
  • Bags that hold dried beans
  • Dry-cleaning bags
  • Clear plastic wrapping on paper towels and toilet paper and napkins
  • Those plastic “bubbles” of air that Amazon.com uses as packing material
  • Any bag or plastic labeled with #2 or #4
  • See even more examples here

I had no idea.  I thought that I could only recycle plastic grocery store bags at the recycling bins outside most supermarkets, but not so.  All of the above items and anything labeled #2 or #4 could be dropped off at those supermarket bins for free.

So I quickly set up my “plastic bag recycling center.” I knew I had to find a dedicated space, out of my way, where I could put all of this recycling to keep this new habit going strong.  I simply hung an extra canvas bag on a hook near my basement door.  When the bag is full, I bundle it all up (in a plastic bag, of course) to take to the local grocery store bin.  Because bags need to be dry, I have a clothespin that I keep over there to use for temporarily hanging bags out to dry.

My plastic bag recycling center

My plastic bag recycling center

Seeing all my plastic bags pile up has really motivated me to REDUCE all those bags coming into my life.  Some ways I’ve been able to reduce my plastic over the last year plus of bag recycling include:

  • Storing my re-usable grocery store bags in the trunk of my car.  That way I always have one when I need it at the grocery store, Target, hardware store, farmer’s market, mall, or thrift store.
  • Keeping a  small fold up bag in my purse, just in case I forget my bags in the car!
  • Baking my own bread, so very few bread bags.
  • Not bagging all produce items at the supermarket. A couple of lemons, limes, oranges, avocados, etc, can survive the cart.

Because I know that a lot of these “recycled” bags are probably ending up as “fuel cubes” burned to release toxins into the environment, I want to reduce even further.  I’ve noticed that many of the bags coming into my life are from others (my mom) bringing us items or from the farmers market, where it is impractical to forgo a bag.  Can you imagine me saying, “Well, I see that you have that 15 lbs of apples in a large plastic bag.  How about I transfer each one of them into my little cloth bags, one by one?”  I may not be able to eliminate of these bags and plastics, but I can think of a few more things to try like making or buying “produce” bags for use at the grocery store or buying beans in bulk quantity where they are sold in cloth sacks.  I also need to be stricter about remembering to use my bags every time I go to any store, not just grocery stores, where I am most accustomed to using them.

Any other ideas of how to reduce the amount of plastic coming into the house?