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A Recipe for Making Change

November 22, 2014

I recently had the opportunity to talk sugar, actually excess sugar, with a smart group of people at the James Beard Foundation Food Conference. Our panel, Taming Sugar: Challenges and Solutions, moderated by Jonathan Halperin from the Sustainability Lab and joined by Laurie David, executive producer of Fed Up, and Cindy Gershen, owner of Sunrise Bistro and Catering, discussed the perils of sugar and the possibilities of ways to reduce the amount we consume.

Our conclusion: Education and awareness are the way to win the battle against excess sugar and everything it brings to bear including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

A simple conclusion, yes, but the actual solution is much more complex. So we came up with a battle plan (a recipe of sorts):

Step 1. As individuals we must do our part. It’s people like Laurie David who had the passion to create Fed Up, a documentary that shows us how big of a problem we have to solve. Yes the movie is depressing, but it’s a needed wake up call. It’s people like Cindy who work daily with school kids teaching them how to improve what they eat, teaching them how to cook and what food is good for them. We need thousands of people like Cindy educating kids and adults across the county. The main premise behind my #dessertworthy campaign is the reduction of sugar-laden processed foods and saving desserts for a treat not a daily occurrence. MarionNestle, Robert Lustig and other healthy food advocates agree if we do this there is room in a healthy diet for the enjoyment of occasional desserts.

Step 2. Use our voice and our wallets. Food companies are not going to stop adding sugar in foods until we stop buying them. They are in the business to make money and it’s naïve of anyone to think they will stop on their own accord just because it’s not good for us. They respond to consumer demand. Yes there are food companies that produce good quality food and should be supported and applauded but they are smaller companies and we need everyone on board.

Step 3. Urge your congress person to make the right decisions about food policy. Right now they are debating school lunches. Let them know how you feel and that you’re paying attention. For me, kids need healthy food to grow mentally and physically. We are teaching them the wrong messages by keeping non-healthy highly processed foods in school cafeterias. Introduce treats once or twice a week. There’s still room for bake sales at schools. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about how and when sweets should be eaten. It teaches kids to give to their communities and also raises money for good causes.

Step 4. Support a variety of approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. We need to attack this problem at all fronts. We have to be supportive of all efforts that encourage healthy eating from the White House, food companies, schools and in Congress. Some approaches will be more successful than others but they all will help raise awareness. No one program will solve the problem but together they will and we can.

It is time to get started on this recipe for change. As Sam Kass, President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy and Let’s Move Executive Director said at the JBF Food Conference, “Engaged citizens have an impact.” We can change our diets, what we buy, our food policies and we can save lives

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Say Yes to Sweet but No to HCFS

October 21, 2014

Halloween – and the holidays – doesn’t have to include high fructose corn syrup

I don’t know about you but I love fall. The cooler weather makes me want to get into the kitchen and bake. It starts with a love of Halloween. While I never got too excited about costumes and haunted houses, I was totally into walking through the neighborhood collecting candy, pouring out the bag of goodies on the floor and sorting through them, before launching into elaborate trades with my siblings.

It’s fun and it signals the start of the holiday season. First Halloween, then Thanksgiving and then Chanukah and Christmas -the season of pumpkin turns into peppermint! It’s glorious.

It’s also terrifying. Terrifying because at every turn you are confronted with massive displays of mass-produced candy that are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go or any way to escape buying this stuff but there are options and they are delicious!

But first, why is HFCS so bad for you? Isn’t it okay to have a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup every now and again? Why is Emily Luchetti against fun? These are all questions that I’m sure you’re asking yourself.

I’m a pastry chef. I love chocolate, butter, sugar and vanilla (among other things). I just know that HFCS is a bad thing – a goblin – that we’ve got to avoid.

You can get facts about HFCS here but even the outgoing president of the National Corn Growers Association, Rick Tolman, acknowledged that HFCS is probably a contributing factor although not the only cause of obesity in America: “There certainly is an obesity issue in America and in the world, there’s no question about that. Is HFCS a contributor – absolutely.”

And as for the peanut butter cup, sure, have one. (Ok, maybe not the one-pound version.) The good news is there are versions out there that don’t use HFCS and are fabulous. I have found some treats that are #dessertworthy.

Check out UNREAL, a chocolate company

Chocolate not your thing? Take a look at YummyEarth, which produces lollipops and gummy bears with real fruit extracts, organic ingredients, and without high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors. The products are available at Whole Foods and online.

Trust me: There are tasty treats out there that won’t incite trick-or-treaters to wrap your house in toilet paper or forever remember you as the “bummer” house that gave out boxes of raisins. And remember most candies have a long shelf life so you don’t have to eat them all at once.

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Dessert Doesn’t Have to Kill You: 10 Ways to Living a Healthier Life (Without Giving up the Occasional Sweet Treat)

September 23, 2014

It is true: eating healthy means saying no to fatty and high sugar foods more times than saying yes. As a pastry chef I am surrounded by 5-pound bags of good chocolate and the enticing smell of cakes, cookies and pastries coming from the oven. And, like all of us, I’m bombarded by images of sweet, salty, gooey treats all day long.

All of this has contributed to the country’s obesity problem, to the rise in Type 2 Diabetes and out of control healthcare costs. All of the sugar and fat is clogging our arteries and our society.

But dessert does not have to kill us! Over the last few weeks, many of you have shared your ideas about what is #dessertworthy and we’re starting the conversation about how to return dessert to its rightful place in our diets.

As this conversation grows, many asked how to resist the urge. It’s hard. I have had to train myself to not constantly eat, eat, eat, as I make the treats that our customers at Marlowe, Park Tavern and Cavalier enjoy.

Here are some of the tricks I have adapted over the years to help me eat healthier and truly enjoy those special treats I make with friends and family or enjoy when I eat out.

• No sugar before noon. I start my day with an egg, tomato and toast or almond butter on toast. (You can make your own almond butter by processing toasted almonds in the food processor until smooth but buying it is simpler. I like Justin’s and Trader Joe’s.) Most muffins are about as healthy as a piece of layer cake. Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit (out of season frozen fruit is available without added sugar). Offer your brain or body some good “fuel” to get you through the morning.

• Create some comfort foods in your food arsenal that are healthy. (For me that’s brown rice with olive oil and Maldon salt, whole wheat pasta with red sauce, avocado and sliced tomato, a handful of toasted almonds with a couple small pieces of 80% chocolate), leftover roasted veggies. If you have a bad day and that chocolate chip cookie is calling your name, it’s good to have other go-to options.

• When I cook veggies for dinner I always make extra. This way I have some to snack on the next day. Here’s a recipe from my friend, Lidia Bastianich, fordelicious veggies that are even better the next day.

• Look at food packaging and avoid all processed food with added sugar. Save your sugar calories for real desserts and real pleasure. I limit my sugar consumption to desserts – not snuck into food as a preservative. When I eat something I ask myself if it’s for physical nourishment or emotional pleasure. Both are important but you have to be honest with yourself.

• When you do enjoy an occasional dessert, don’t feel guilty. Guilt destroys the pleasure both physically and emotionally of the dessert and then it’s a double waste of calories. When I have a dessert I enjoy every bite. Make it a conscious choice. For me an all-time favorite is a simple chocolate chip cookie.

• Portion Control: It works, I promise. Have a few bites or a thin slice of a cake or pie — not a supersized piece. The second half of a big piece doesn’t taste nearly as good as the first.

• Don’t give in. Keep control. When you splurge, recognize your body chemically loves sugar and will want more. After I finish testing a lot of desserts for articles or a new restaurant menu it takes me a couple of days to not crave sugar. Instead of giving in to the craving, I will go for a walk, munch on a few nuts, call a friend or do a load of laundry – anything that keeps my body moving and my mind occupied.

• Don’t eat leftover desserts. Tarts and pies taste much better the day they are made. If you have leftovers, pack them up and give them to a friend or colleague. One pie, split between 12 people at work, is better for everyone.

• At home, unless I am testing desserts or having people over for dinner, I never have desserts in my kitchen. I save desserts for when I go out to a restaurant or am entertaining.

• Know your weak points. Unlike my sister-in-law who has amazing willpower and won’t touch ice cream in her freezer, my willpower is zip. If I am working at my computer or even cleaning the house, the ice cream will be calling my name, trying to lure me in, so I don’t keep it in the house.

• Get pleasure out of things contradictory to desserts. Yes I like a warm juicy pie fresh from the oven but I also like not having a big butt. Life’s a trade-off and you can’t have everything all the time. It’s the same with food.

Overall, make your dessert choices #dessertworthy. We are all so pressed for time and bombarded with quick and easy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just because they are quick doesn’t mean that they are good for you or even that they taste good. By making smart choices along the way you can both eat healthy and enjoy a special sweet treat.

Follow Emily Luchetti on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EmilyLuchetti

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Asking for Your help on #dessertworthy

July 29, 2014

Dear Friends,

Over the last several months, I’ve become especially interested in trying to start a conversation about the proper place for dessert in our lives. The facts are terrifying:

  • One hundred and fifty-six pounds. That’s how much added sugar Americans consumes each year on a per capita basis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Imagine it: 31 five-pound bags for each of us.
  • Nearly one in three (31.8%) U.S. children (23.9 million) ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.
  • All in all, obesity and overweight account for nearly one of every 10 American deaths, and they also drain our society of $223 billion a year.

But what can I, what can we, do about it?

We can start by simply starting a conversation about what makes a dessert worthy to eat and when we should pass and save our calories for later.

Sugar and fat have become something we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and every snack in between. These bad habits are hurting our health and society. It’s time we took control of what we put in our mouths. Desserts with sugar and fat aren’t necessarily the villains. It’s the amount they are consumed which we need to address. We need to recalibrate and enjoy desserts as a treat, not something to be eaten every day or even several times a day.

What is a dessert? By definition it’s a sweet cake, pie, pudding or cookie served at the end of a meal. But with the amount of sugar and fat in most breakfast items, sodas and other processed foods many people are having the equivalent of a dessert during or in place of a meal.

A mass-produced preservative laden chocolate cake or cookie made in a factory the size of a football field doesn’t taste as delicious as it’s homemade equivalent whether you or a pastry chef in a bakery or restaurant made it.

Desserts should taste incredible or we shouldn’t waste our time or the calories. Our health depends on it.

On August 1, I’m going to start tweeting and using social media to spread the word about the proper place for dessert in our lives using #dessertworthy. My feeds will be filled with pictures (and recipes) of delicious and special desserts.

It might seem counterintuitive for me, a pastry chef, to start this conversation but if not me then who? We need to change the way Americans are consuming dessert. This isn’t about forcing people to eat “healthy” desserts. It’s a movement to get people to reduce the amount of sugar and fat they consume and recognize which desserts are worth enjoying, which ones aren’t and when. Considering the amount of food those of us in the food business are surrounded by every day we eat pretty healthily. If we can do it the public can do it too.

You can help me. When you enjoy a dessert using natural ingredients that is truly worthy of the calories take a picture and post it on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #dessertworthy. When you pass on a dessert or something sugar and fat laden post it with the hashtag #notdessertworthy.

This isn’t a big campaign, yet. No corporate underwriting, no sponsors and no fancy websites. Just me using social media and my website to start the conversation. Hopefully you can join me and please ask others too. A few months from now I hope we have thousands of people sharing their pictures.

I’ll be posting on Twitter @emilyluchetti, on Instagram emilyluchetti and on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/emilyluchettidesserts.

Share your posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using #dessertworthy.

Thanks for your help and your support. I am hoping you will help spread the word and become part of the conversation. #dessertworthy is a small thing that over time can have a big impact in helping change the way we think about dessert and healthy eating.

 

 

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Chocosphere

February 7, 2013

Pastry chefs work hard but we get some nice perks. One is the ability to source, buy, bake with, and eat a seemingly endless variety of good quality chocolate.

I feel sorry for consumers who don’t have access to these amazing companies when they go to the store. It can be frustrating too as I write some recipes with a particular chocolate in mind or I just want everyone to enjoy what I have.

Luckily there’s chocosphere.com.

I discovered them years ago when I was writing the Resources section for one of my cookbooks. I googled something generic like “good quality baking chocolate retail sources ” and up they popped. Keep in mind this was around 2000. Now if you type in that same phrase you get 338 million results.

Joanne and Jerry Kryszek started Chocosphere, located in Portland, Oregon, in 1997. Joanne didn’t care for American chocolate and after tasting some imported chocolate given to her by a friend she decided 1) she had to get more and 2) if she liked it others probably would too.

In the first year they sold 5 different chocolate brands. The billiards table in their 800 square foot basement was the shipping and billing department for many years. Today they have 50 brands sourced from around the world that they sell both retail and wholesale. On any given day 1-3 pallets are shipped out. They moved out of the basement in 2003 to a 6000 square foot facility- 5000 square feet of it at controlled 60 degrees and 1000 square feet at 55 degrees.

Chocosphere has the widest selection of Valrhona, Guittard and Callebaut and also more obscure specialty companies like Amedi, from Italy, Caffé-Tasse from Belgium and Chocovic from Spain. They get as much chocolate from the source as they can. It would take too much space to list everything they have. You will have to check it out yourself. Be prepared to me impressed.

But Joanne and Jerry operate more than an impersonal internet sales company that sells chocolate. All you “see” of them is their website but behind that internet page are two people who live and breathe chocolate. Every Thursday morning they sample chocolate with their coffee group.  When I asked them what chocolates (not brands but specific varieties) were their favorites this prompted a 20 minute conversation about the chocolate’s many nuances and how impossible it is to pick one or two. They are truly a passion driven service oriented niche distributor.

I have a goal of trying every chocolate they sell. I’m getting there. I imagine by the time I get near the end of the current list they will have discovered more. I hope so.