National Food Day, Magnificent Landcapes and Suspect Orange Juice

October 16, 2011

Food Day is October 24, and Elgin celebrates…a little early

It’s quite possible that you haven’t heard about something called Food Day, which will be celebrated on Monday, October 24. The organizers, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have a goal of educating Americans about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Seems pretty reasonable to me, though, if it were that easy, nobody would be eating Cheetos.

At this point, there are thousands of events scheduled in homes, schools, churches, farmers markets, city halls and state capitals all across this great, wide land. In Illinois alone, you can find something near you pretty much anywhere in the state and nearby environs.

Elgin Green Drinks & Food is jumping the gun–in a good way–by presenting a two-day Food Day kick off and community awareness celebration called Mindful Mouthfuls: Back to Nature FOOD DAY Fair & Tasting in Elgin on Saturday and Sunday, October 22nd and 23rd. The admission is free, although the group is requesting a donation at the door of a jar or can of food for the hungry, which will be donated to Feeding Greater Elgin.

I’m delighted to have Elgin Green Drinks & Food founder and director Kathleen Haerr stop by today to talk about the event. She also runs Hear the Earth, a green essentials shop inside Simple Balance Holistic Center in Elgin, and is the force behind Local Green Connect, offering green living home and garden design, consultation, sustainability workshops and event coordination. Whew.

Anyway, you’ll be hearing a lot about Food Day in the next week. I hope you hear it here first.

The Magnificent Mile® honors the best landscapes for 2011

It’s hard to imagine Chicago without The Magnificent Mile® (and who knew that it was a copyrighted name?). Regardless of where you live in the city or suburbs, this stretch of businesses along North Michigan Avenue is a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Part of what gives this business district its appeal (aside from high-end retail goods), are the landscapes on parkways, in containers, and wherever else landscapers can squeeze in annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees amid the concrete and asphalt.

This doesn’t happen by accident, of course. The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association (GNMAA) has been around since 1912 (!) as a private, non-profit membership organization charged with preserving, promoting, and enhancing a unique Chicago. Within that group is the Public Way Committee, which annually awards the properties with the best landscapes. I’m pleased that co-chair Erik Grossnickle, Arborist Representative at Bartlett Tree Experts, is on the program this morning.

This year, the Public Way Committee handed out 47 Beautification Awards during GNMAA’s annual membership luncheon on September 28. The President’s Award, the highest level of recognition, was given to the 669 North Michigan Avenue Building managed by U.S. Equities Realty, LLC. You can see some of their efforts on the left.

In the past, the Public Way Committee has only hosted garden walks during the spring, summer and fall seasons. However, if you’ve ever shopped along the Mile during the winter season, you know that efforts to spruce up the street don’t stop when the weather gets cold. So the committee is adding a winter/holiday walk, which will create an opportunity to visit the gardens year round.

If you’re like me, you wonder how the trees along the Mile manage to survive at all, with pedestrian traffic, reflected heat, lack of water and automobile and bus exhaust all combining to create a hostile environment.

So I was fascinated to hear that Bartlett Tree Experts conducted a tree inventory for The Magnificent Mile in late 2010. It was the first time a tree inventory had been conducted on The Magnificent Mile, and the team at Bartlett Tree Experts, led by Scott Jamieson (who is a regular listener to my show, thank you very much) and Erik Grossnickle, donated their time, talent and resources to perform the audit.

More than 300 trees were inventoried and data was collected including height, diameter, condition, species and more. This data has been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, which will be able to provide statistics on the value of the trees, such as the ability to capture storm water and pollutants, cooling benefits and more. This information will be used to managed trees along the avenue now and in the future.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
What’s squeezed more: orange juice or the consumer?

I have to thank Producer Heather Frey for this story, as she’s the one who stumbled across an online article titled: Orange Juice a Luxury Item? REAL OJ Already Is on a website called Florida Citrus Mutual. If you want to know why she was reading that publication, you’ll have to ask her.

Anyway, the point is that we know a lot less about the food–and drink–we consume every day than we should. Which should be no surprise to people who have been following the GMO controversy for the last decade or so.

Enter Alissa Hamilton, who wrote a book in 2009 called Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, published by Yale University Press. In it, she answers questions like why so many people drink orange juice and how it turned from a luxury into a staple in just a few years (back in the 1960s) and why we don’t really understand how it is produced.

The weird thing is that Hamilton’s book came out more than two years ago, which is one of the things that the Florida Citrus Mutual article addresses. In fact, they wonder why this book and the ideas it illuminates didn’t become viral at the time. I wonder that myself. For instance, the technology of where the flavor in orange juice originates is fascinating. As Hamilton writes in an article called
Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes, which was published before the book came out:

The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as “deaeration,” so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year.

When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine .

I don’t know about you, but the idea that my orange juice flavor is being provided by Calvin Klein makes me just a little bit queasy. Just sayin’.