5 Great Reasons to Join a CSA

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My CSA from yesterday (July 19, 2016) – I am always stunned by the bounty!
What you can see – corn, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, onions, tomatoes, green beans, and a big old bowl of blueberries!
What you can’t see – 2 heads of garlic and a bunch of basil.

Have you heard people talking about their CSA and wondered just what they were going on about? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a mouthful for sure. But despite its complicated name, it’s a simple plan – a program that allows you to buy an entire season’s worth of produce up-front and reap the rewards each week for the duration of the season!

Different farms offer different formats. The usual arrangement is that each share (that’s your portion of the harvest for the week) gets exactly the same stuff as everyone else that week. Basically, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

Many people ask why they should join a CSA. So let’s talk about some reasons why a CSA share might be a terrific choice for you and your family.

1. You and your family enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

I mean, this one is a no-brainer. “In-season” is what a CSA is all about. The grocery store knows no seasons. Sure, you can buy a tomato in January. That tomato was picked green weeks ago – and 2000 miles away – then blasted with ethylene gas to make it red just before it landed in the produce section of the store. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

With a CSA, you receive a bounty of whatever is ripe in that week. Which leads us straight into the next great reason to join a CSA…

2. You want to get more creative in the kitchen.

SweetPotatoChickpeaPattiesEvery week, you’re getting a box full of fresh veggies (and fruits, if your farm offers that). So now, what do you do with it? Perhaps you’ve never tried kohlrabi or purslane. Have no fear – Google is your friend! With these things (and tons of others) in your CSA, you will be pushed outside your comfort zone. And that’s a good thing! Before I was a CSA member, I had never tried kohlrabi – and guess what? I LOVE it!

Got a mystery veggie and you’re not sure what to do with it? Make soup! (This is also a great solution for veggies that you have a TON of, but you have no idea what to do with them – like radishes. Guess what? Cream of radish soup is a HUGE hit with my family – even especially the kids!)

3. It frees up your brain.

Don’t want to think about what veggies to buy at the store this week? That’s pretty much covered for you. You might want to add a head of romaine for some salads here, or maybe some onions there, but for the most part, you will have all the veggies you need for a full week’s worth of dinners, and you won’t have to give it a second’s thought. You pick up your bounty and you work backward from there. (Or if you’re lucky – like me – your farm delivers it to your door and the only thing you need to remember is what day of the week you’re on, so you know when to expect your veggies!) And that means that your brain is free to think about your next workout, or that project you’ve been building in the back of your mind, or that you’ve been meaning to call your mom, or your upcoming vacation. What you do with your free brain-space doesn’t really matter. The CSA takes that one decision off your plate. And in its place you get fresh food that is incredibly delicious and just waiting for you to serve it in whatever way makes you happy!

And it trains you (and your kids) to eat whatever happens to be in season and not expect unrealistic variety at all times. Which brings us to our next point…

4. You want to diversify your diet.

As you wander through the produce department of your favorite grocery store, chances are that your hand always falls on the same few items. You buy the things that are familiar to you, because there’s comfort in knowing that you know what it is and how to prepare it and how it will taste when it’s done. Let’s face it – you’re in a produce rut.

Eating a variety of veggies plays a large role in making sure you are getting enough essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and more. This varied diet can help to protect against many ailments and chronic diseases, such as cancers, digestive issues, illnesses like the flu, declining vision, loss of bone density, and can help with weight management.

It’s time to get over only reaching for apples, baby carrots, and iceberg lettuce every week, and embracing the variety that your local farmer provides. There’s no better way to do that than to be part of a CSA.

5. You like knowing where your food comes from.

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Ed and Lexi Gazy

I’d like to introduce you to Ed and Lexi Gazy, the farmers behind my CSA. Together, they lead the team at Gazy Brothers Farm, going on its fourth generation of farming. Gazy Brothers Farm was established in 1918, when Grandpa and Grandma Gazy purchased their farm in Oxford, CT.

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The Gazy clan

These days, you can usually find Ed at the wheel of the tractor, running the 80-acre farm with help from his brothers, Pete and Tony. Lexi handles the mountain of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes – from seed orders and insurance to running several farmers markets and managing the CSA (including doing the lion’s share of the deliveries each week). Their four children – Dominic, Roseanne, Nicholas, and Albert – help out on the farm – planting, weeding, harvesting – working at farmers markets, and delivering CSAs.

Getting your produce each week at the grocery store is incredibly convenient. But what you’ve gained in convenience, you’ve lost in flavor, freshness, nutritional value, and connection, both to each other and the land. When you subscribe to a CSA, however, you remake those connections. The CSA provides so much more than food, it offers ways for you to become involved in the ecological and human community that supports your local farm and farmers.

Veg: A Beginner’s Guide to Going Meat-Free

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I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, and mostly vegan for the past 5 years. The most common questions I hear about my dietary choices – “But what about bacon?” and “How the heck do you do it?” and “What do you do for protein?” and “WHY?” I mean, we’re Americans – eating meat is what we do, right?

Well… maybe not. In 2008 the Vegetarian Times did a study – at that time, there were 7.3 million vegetarians in the United States, and 22.8 million more people who say they largely follow a “vegetable-inclined” diet. Some more demographics on vegetarians:

  • 59 percent are female,
    41 percent are male.
  • 42.0  percent are age 18 to 34 years old,
    40.7 percent are 35 to 54,
    and 17.4  percent are over 55.
  • 57.1 percent have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years,
    18 percent for 5 to 10 years,
    10.8  percent for 2 to 5 years,
    14.1 percent for less than 2 years.

So you want to know more. Just what is a vegetarian? What do you eat? Can you get the kind of body you’re aiming for, be healthy, and be vegetarian or vegan?

What exactly is a vegetarian?

Vegetarians follow a plant-based diet, including (but not limited t)o fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, and maybe dairy products and eggs. Generally, they do not eat meat. That includes red meat, game, poultry, fish, and shellfish. The simple way I explain it is that I don’t eat anything with a face. (But I don’t eat oysters or clams or other animals that come without faces.)

There are several “degrees” of vegetarian, ranging from the completely observant vegan, who eats no animal products – that means no eggs, dairy, honey, or gelatin (and most don’t wear leather, silk, or wool). At the other end of the spectrum is the ovo-lacto vegetarian, whose diet includes eggs, dairy, and honey, but no other animal products. (Sorry pescatarians – eating animals, even fish, means that you’re not vegetarian.)

The Big Question – WHY?

So, why would I give up a life of bacon and cheeseburgers and meaty meat-fests?  Well, for me, my decision came when I was a teenager and I came face-to-face with what eating meat really meant. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the beef farm down the street. One day, it was slaughter day – the day where cows become beef. My favorite cow, the calf that I had bottle-fed and spent hours brushing had grown into a full-sized steer and was about to meet his fate. In that moment, I realized that I’d never really stopped to think about how meat gets under that cellophane in the grocery store. I didn’t want to be responsible for a death, for his death. I didn’t want to eat the flesh of another living being. It no longer held appeal.

For other people, it’s the realization that giving up meat might make you a lot healthier. Most vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than their omnivorous counterparts, because dietary cholesterol only comes from animal-related sources. Vegetarians with diabetes also tend to manage the disease, and studies have proven that a combination of a low-fat vegetarian diet and exercise can sometimes reverse type-2 diabetes. On February 13, 2015, the American Cancer Society published their recommendations that cancer survivors should follow “prudent diets,” plant-based diets that are high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains while at the same time being low in red and processed meats, refined grains, and sugars. Beyond the health benefits, there are social, ethical, economic, religious, and philanthropic issues to be considered.

OK, I’m convinced – how do I pull this off?

As easy as it may seem to just exclude certain things from your diet, you probably want to avoid trying to exist on a diet of spaghetti and French fries and PB&J (as delicious as that would be). If you want to be a healthy vegetarian, here are some things you want to consider:

PlantBasedProteinProtein. Believe it or not, protein intake in a vegetarian’s diet is only slightly lower than it is in an omnivore’s. Studies have confirmed that not only do most well-balanced vegetarian diets meet the protein needs of the average person, but they also have enough protein for bodybuilders and athletes. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians have a simple path to proper protein intake, as eggs and dairy give them more variety in the protein department. But vegans also have a ton of great options. Here’s a great article that explains the ins and outs of vegan protein sources. If you don’t want to get fancy about it, any combination of legumes (beans, peas) and grains will do the trick. Even if you separate their consumption by several hours, you’ll still get the benefits of a complete protein. Considering the added fiber and nutrients you’ll get from the legumes, it’s a win-win.

I add vegan chocolate Shakeology to my diet every day – usually for breakfast. With 17 grams of protein per serving, it definitely helps me stay on track with my protein goals. (And it contains a complete profile of all 9 essential amino acids, so it’s a complete protein! Hooray!)

Every one has heard that soy/tofu is a great source of vegetarian protein, but don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of making soy your go-to protein source. There are people who believe that eating too much soy has health risks. And, while it’s a fine complete protein, it can also have a lot of carbs and fat. To get the same protein that exists in, say, 4 ounces of roasted chicken breast, you’d need to eat more than four times as much tofu. So it’s better to diversify. For example, 4 ounces of seitan has roughly 3 times as much protein as the same amount of tofu does. Shaking things up in the protein department will also give you a more diverse set of nutrients.

Iron. Everyone knows that iron comes from red meat, right? You may be shocked to learn that there’s more iron in 1 cup of edamame than there is in 4 ounces of sirloin steak. Most whole-grain cereals come pretty high on the scale, iron-wise. You’ll also find it in pumpkin seeds, white beans, molasses, lentils, and spinach. The fact is that vegetarians with a balanced diet are no more likely to become anemic than meat-eaters are.

Calcium. We all know that calcium makes our bones strong and helps us avoid osteoporosis. If you’re a lacto-vegetarian, calcium is pretty easy to come by. Milk, yogurt, and cheese all contain a pretty decent amount; a cup of milk tops the list, with almost a third of your daily requirement. But know what has even more? One single cup of cooked spinach. Again the leafy green takes the prize. (Keep in mind that’s one cup measured after cooking, not before.) Other amazing calcium-rich foods include broccoli, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, açai berries, almonds, oranges, tofu, and chickpeas. The average person should take in 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, which could be covered in one big green salad if you choose your ingredients well.

B12. Often a deficiency of vitamin B12 has no symptoms, but when symptoms do appear, they can include fatigue, decreased mental capacity, weakened concentration and memory, irritability, depression, and sleep disturbances. Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, the most common foods that naturally contain vitamin B12 are meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products, and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. Vitamin B12, whether in supplements, fortified foods, or animal products, comes from micro-organisms. If you do consume eggs or dairy products, you should be just fine, B12-wise. If you don’t, a vitamin supplement that contains B12 could really help you out here.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption, modulation of neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. And again, vitamin D is most readily available in dairy and egg products. Sunshine, or ultraviolet light, has all the vitamin D you need, and it’s free, and no heavy sunbathing is required. All it takes is about 20 minutes per day on your face and arms. (Keep in mind that sunscreen prevents sunburn by blocking UVB light. Theoretically, that means sunscreen use lowers vitamin D levels.) If you get enough sun during the summer months, your body will store enough vitamin D in its adipose (fat) tissue to last you through the winter. There are also many vitamin-D-fortified cereals, juices, and milk alternatives, as well as vitamin D supplements.

Omega-3s. We’ve been hearing a lot about omega-3s, and for good reason. Research has shown that omega-3s can help prevent heart disease and maintain optimum blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Plants and nut oils, like flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seed, canola oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil, contain omega-3s. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include sea plants like algae.

But how do I prepare all these weird-sounding foods?

One of the great things about being a vegetarian in 2016 is that vegetarian foods are much more readily available than ever before. Most local health food stores carry some form of freshly made meals, or at least the ingredients to create your own. Maybe you’re like me and you prefer to cook your own meals. Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks and websites to help you out:

Cookbooks:
The Moosewood Cookbook, by Molly Katzen.
Horn of the Moon Cookbook, by Ginny Callan.
Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffrey.
Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table, by Moosewood Collective.
Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes, by Dorothy R. Bates.
The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, by Nava Atlas.

Websites:
Oh She Glows – meat and dairy-free, most of the recipes are free of gluten, soy, and processed foods.
Fat-Free Vegan – delicious dishes made with whole foods and without added oil.
Happy, Healthy Life – delicious vegan recipes.
Vegan Yum Yum – need I say more?

Cardio vs. weight training

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When we’re working toward being the best and healthiest version of ourselves, we all have different goals. Maybe you want want to get stronger and build muscle, maybe you’re more focused on ditching some pounds. Who knew that both of these goals use the same strategy?

Regardless of your fitness goals, weight training is important for success! Lots of us – especially those focused on weight loss – have spent a ton of time on the treadmill (or the elliptical, or the stairmaster, or the stationary bike), believing that cardio is the best way to lose pounds and get in better shape. While some cardio in your fitness regimen does have its benefit – as with anything in life – balance is key.

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Nate Miyaki wrote a piece on T-Nation regarding cardio training for fat loss. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from him (and others who share his opinion).

Don’t want to read the whole article? Here’s what you need to know…

  1. A small amount of cardio is okay if you enjoy it, but it’s really not necessary for fat loss.
  2. At its worst, excess cardio “eats” lean muscle and creates a destructive pattern of slow metabolic rate and a yo-yo’ing body weight.
  3. Excess cardio leads to muscle loss which inhibits natural hormone production. Aerobic workouts also elevate cortisol levels.
  4. Strength training raises the metabolic rate for longer periods of time than aerobic work.
  5. Walking has many of the benefits and none of the drawbacks of traditional cardio. With the right diet and weight training, walking is all you need to lose fat.

Studies have shown that weight training can be the ultimate stimulus your metabolism needs. After a solid weight training workout, your body can continue burning calories for hours afterwards (while you’re home, relaxing on the sofa). In contrast, cardio burns a ton of calories in the short term, but stops the process roughly 30 minutes after you step off the treadmill (you might have time to shower before you stop burning calories).

WeightLoss

As you begin to build muscle, you probably won’t see the pounds dropping off quickly. Fortunately for all of us, muscle burns more calories than fat, and before long you’ll start to see an amazing transformation. Your metabolism kicks into overdrive because your body has to work much harder to maintain muscle rather than fat.

Maybe you’re a woman who’s been looking to lose weight. But your entire life, society has told you that weight lifting is “for guys,” that you’ll bulk up and lose your girlish figure. It’s time to ditch that idea and start lifting! As a woman, you have roughly 1/10th the testosterone men have, so your body chemistry prevents you from becoming too bulky. A simple, balanced weight program can be just what your metabolism needs to start burning at its optimal level.

Both men and women can benefit from lifting more weights, while avoiding injuries to joints and muscles that many cardio activities can cause over time. Balance is key, but remember that it all starts with strength. Increasing joint stability and muscle strength can allow your body to take more of a pounding. A good rule of thumb is to spend more time building muscle than on cardio, boosting your metabolism to allow it to work with you on your weight loss journey. You may just find that weight training is your key to success!

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