What’s Cooking: Strawberry Banana Smoothies


In today’s society, many individuals are mindful of living a healthy lifestyle. Articles hit the news every day about healthy eating options and the importance of our food choices. Even the Huffington Post has stated that younger Americans are trending towards more health-conscious eating. A well-balanced and nutritious diet is the foundation of good health. We need to consume a variety of protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, along with other heart healthy items to maintain health and prevent disease.

Well…I wouldn’t call myself health conscious, but I do try to do little things to be healthier. One way is to start the day with a nutritious breakfast, like a smoothie. I’d like to share the recipe for one of my faves.. and the agriculture story behind its ingredients.

berry-smoothie“Smoothie” is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a creamy beverage made of fruit blended with juice, milk, or yogurt.”

Yogurt: The word yogurt is Turkish in origin. The discovery of yogurt is thought to be accidental. Early humans stored milk in the intestines of animals. The enzymes that were present in the yoghurtintestines fermented the milk. The milk was thought to last longer and the taste was enjoyed, so they continued making it. Today we make yogurt by pasteurizing the milk, enriching it with powdered milk and then heating it and adding bacteria called yogurt cultures. I prefer fat-free Greek yogurt, which contains three times the protein of regular yogurt without extra calories.

Milk: We’ve all been told that milk is good for us, and there’s a Capturegood reason why. Milk is a natural, nutrient rich, vitamin packed drink that is full with calcium. Milk supports healthy bones and teeth for children and adults. Learn more about milk, from cow to refrigerator, here.

Strawberries: The United States is the world’s largest producer of Strawberrystrawberries, which are primarily grown in the southern and coastal states. Strawberries are the fifth most preferred fruit in the United States, coming behind bananas, apples, watermelons and grapes. Strawberries are packed with vitamins and nutrients like Vitamin C, potassium, fiber and antioxidants. There are many other berries that are great in smoothies too. Check out my “A Very Berry New Year” blog for ideas.

Bananas –Bananas are a creamy, rich fruit that’s good for kids of all ages. 5b620e78c3745dae3a4e6e7156288886They are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Bananas are grown in tropical areas and are produced all year-long. They are the fourth most important crop in developing countries, where they are an important and nutritious starch source. Most of the bananas consumed in the United States come from Central and South Africa. Exported Bananas are harvested in an unripe state. After reaching their destination they are placed in special rooms filled with ethylene gas, which ripens the fruit to maturity.

Strawberry-Banana Fruit Smoothie
• 2 ripe small bananas
• 1 cup frozen unsweetened whole strawberries
• 1   8 ounce carton vanilla low-fat yogurt or Greek fat-free yogurt
• 3/4 cup milk

1. Peel bananas. Cut bananas into chunks. Place banana chunks, frozen strawberries, yogurt, and milk into blender.
2. Cover blender and blend on high-speed about 1 minute or until mixture is smooth. Turn off blender. Pour drink into 2 glasses.


Farming. Why do they do that?

As humans we have to consume food to survive. But why do we farm at all? Why can’t we just live off the land like our hunter/gatherer ancestors?

For thousands of years humans spent most of their lives searching for food – hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. Then around 11,000 years ago people began to settle down and gradually learned how to grow cereal crops (wheat, barley, oats, etc.) and root crops (potatoes, onions, etc.). People began to domesticate animals and raise them close to their settlements. hunter_gatherer_camp_near_Bletchingley__around_5000BC__WSmap_panel_

This domestication of plants and animals drastically changed the way humans lived their lives and gave rise to great cities and entire civilizations. Rice was one of the first crops domesticated. Sheep and goats were some of the first livestock to be domesticated. These animals have a calm disposition and a herd mentality making them ideal partners for humans. Later cattle were domesticated for labor purposes as well as meat and hides.

Cereal and root crops could be stored for months or even years and this provided a stable source of calories. The domestication of plants and animals allowed for more calories to be produced more efficiently. Fewer people were needed to produce food and could start to specialize. People not involved in food production could become involved other activities like art, music, government, trade, and craftsmanship. Trades developed and innovations in technology made leaps forward. Having cattle, sheep and other livestock close at hand also provided a number of by-products for these crafts and trades. Leather and wool were turned into clothing and much more.

This societal shift to agriculture provided huge benefits, but was not without costs. Living close to water sources with lots of humans and animals creating waste was not always sanitary. Wells and rivers were often sources of disease. Water had to be mixed with alcohol to kill bacteria and prevent illness (though germ theory hadn’t yet been discovered). Growing grains and root crops provided the necessary calories for humans to survive but the lack of variety in diet did create some health problems. Early agriculturists were known to be shorter in stature and have more health problems like lost teeth. (Fortunately modern agriculture and trade allows us rich diversity of food. Human health is arguably the best it has ever been with long life spans and diseases of old age rather than malnutrition.)

By approximately 2,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s population had become dependent on agriculture. Agriculture enabled people to produce surplus food. They could use this extra food when crops failed or trade it for other goods. Food surpluses allowed people to work at other tasks unrelated to farming.

Formerly nomadic people stayed near their fields and villages started sprouting up. These villages became linked through trade. New economies were so successful in some areas that cities grew and civilizations developed. The earliest civilizations were near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq and Iran and along the Nile River in Egypt.

For thousands of years, agriculture progressed slowly. One of the earliest agricultural tools was fire. Native Americans used fire to control the growth of berry-producing plants, which grew quickly after a wildfire. Farmers cultivated small plots of land by hand, using axes to clear away trees and digging sticks to break up and till the soil. Over time, improved farming tools of bone, stone, bronze, and iron were developed. New methods of storage evolved. People began stockpiling foods in jars and clay-lined pits for use in times of scarcity. They also began making clay pots and other vessels for carrying and cooking food.

Irrigation systems also evolved. Farmers could water fields based on the needs of the plants and not be dependent on the uncertainty of rain. Early farmers developed and improved varieties of plants. Seeds from the best producing plants from each year were saved and planted again the next season. Plants evolved alongside humans as humans selected for the most desirable traits. For example, the wheat that was most prized had large, plump heads and berries. The berries stayed on the head when harvesting so seeds weren’t lost before thrashing. The wheat plant was stronger than previous cereal grains. Its hulls were also easier to remove so the wheat could be made into bread.

Trade quickened the spread of these plant varieties and the spread of agriculture innovations and technology. New tools were developed. Techniques to preserve nutrients in the soil were spread to different cultures including leaving fields fallow and crop rotation.

31-plant-breeding-and-gm-technology-leaver-4-638Produce, food, spices that originated in one corner of the globe began to spread across the entire globe. Chickens and spices like pepper and nutmeg spread from Southeast Asia to Europe and beyond. Wheat and barley originating in the Middle East are now grown around the world. Maize (corn), squash, apples and turkeys that originated in the North America have become staples in many cultures. Potatoes and peppers that developed in South America are firmly now part of European and Asian cuisines alike. Coffee, tea, tomatoes, beans, peanuts, and tobacco are all examples of crops that originated in one small part of the globe but today are being consumed around the world.

World population has continued to increase more rapidly in the 20th century than at any other time in history. Global population is currently over 7 billion and it is expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2045. Compare those numbers with the fact that world population was still under 2 billion in 1900. This increase in population requires more food to be produced with limited resources.

Innovation and science have been at the forefront of producing more food and agricultural products. Horse-drawn seed drills gave way to fully mechanized tractors which today can practically drive themselves with GPS guidance systems. Corn and other crops have been selected to produce more on fewer acres. Chickens grow faster thanks to better genetics and precise feed rations. Sheep have been selectively bred to produce higher quality meat and long, coarse wool. Advances in agriculture have made leaps and bounds to try and keep pace with the demand for a healthy, safe, and abundant food supply.

In the early 1900s, an average farmer in the U.S. produced enough food to feed a family of five. Many of today’s farmers can feed that family and 155 other people. This great leap came about because of scientific advances and new sources of power. Farmers now use machines in almost every stage of cultivation and livestock management. Electricity has been able to light farm buildings and power machinery like water pumps, milking machines, and feeding equipment.

Today’s farmers can also better protect their crops and livestock from pests and diseases to keep them healthy. Crop losses have declined dramatically. Fertilizers greatly increase the growth and production potential of crops and supplement the nutrients found in the soil.

Farming today is not the same trial and error system that it was. Scientists and researchers now use sophisticated techniques to make plants better. By modifying genes in some crops, scientists can select for traits that will improve yield and make farming better, easier, and more cost efficient and at the same time improve human health. Genes might make a plant more resistant to cold or might be more nutritious. Certain genes can help ward off insects or increase yield.

Agriculture and food production has been 10,000 years of trial and error. But today it is more refined than ever and that has led to a higher quality of life for you and me. So, why do we farm the way we do today? Because we’ve applied the best practices of the last 10,000 years. But there is always more that can be learned and we can always do more to help ensure that agriculture will be able to sustain us for another 10,000 years.


New Year, New Relationship: Food


The holidays are officially behind us and the new year ahead. As we come out of our festive coma, we look at the past year and reflect. We remember the good times, the bad times and everything we didn’t accomplish or did (you go-getter you!). We also remember the savory meals, the delectable desserts and satisfying sweets, and how many pounds we gained eating grandma’s fudge. We resolve to do things differently, the first being that we will never eat sweets again. Well, until we pass the nearest ice cream shop. (And then we will only get one scoop instead of two.) The second typical resolution usually revolves around body image; we are going to get thinner, be healthier, lose weight, eat better, go on a diet, etc. We start the new year, focusing on food, what we will eat, what we won’t, which foods are healthy, which aren’t, fatty or lean, and it goes on and on and on. With so many options it’s no wonder that when we decide to change ourselves we start with what nourishes our bodies.

78321160Our bodies are rather wonderful things. What a body does with food is astonishing – breaking down components (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) to usable amino acids and sugars. It’s amazing how our cells absorb those amino acids and simple sugars to make energy that keeps our bodies going. What we put into our bodies is really important, and that’s why we resolve to cut back on the ‘bad’ foods and increase the ‘good’ foods. But, which is which? If you have a piece of pizza with kale, chicken, light sauce, cheese, and fresh tomatoes is that bad? What about gluten-free spaghetti noodles with turkey sausage and a tomato 485913907sauce? Or, are canned fruits and veggies better for you than fresh? Or, are free-range organic eggs more nutritious than their non-organic caged counterparts? Talk about first world problems. But what does healthy really mean? ‘Healthy’ means to be in good health. ‘Health’ means “the condition of being well or free from disease”. So when you eat a single Twinkie as a treat, and don’t get sick, does that mean it’s healthy? Or you eat an entire bushel of fresh peaches and get the runs, does that mean it’s unhealthy?

452591071With access to more information and a plethora of sources to get information from, deciding what you eat has become something of a hassle. Throw in economic status and household income and diets can drastically differ between people who live in the same city. Celebrities influence diets, doctors suggest a different diets and many have decided to eat like Neanderthals (know the Croods anyone?). Instead of trying to figure out what’s ‘healthy’ what’s ‘unhealthy’ and which diet will help you lose the most pounds, we should be developing a healthy relationship with food and understand how it affects our body. Maybe there is no such thing as ‘bad’ food. You can eat a variety of foods, considered healthy or unhealthy as long as you understand what it will do to you and for you. Everything in moderation. Those who have a good relationship with their food understand the balance one needs when managing diet.

Here are some tips to improving your relationship with food:

  • Know the difference between a treat and eating the entire pan of brownies (Too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing.)
  • Eat breakfast every single morning (This jump starts your metabolism and helps you burn calories throughout the day.)
  • Eat when you are hungry, but don’t over indulge (Listen to your body. If your stomach growls it means you are running on empty and need to refuel.)
  • Stop eating when you are full (Eat slower so you can better determine when you are full. You can also measure out portions. Tip: most portions should be smaller than you think.)
  • Eat in servings, don’t eat the ice cream straight from the container (Portion control is huge. Simple tricks like using a smaller bowl or plate can really help.)

475901949As we resolve to do better, be healthier and make this year the best it can be, don’t shy away from losing those pounds or eating better. Go out there, get active! Research your foods and decide what you feel is good for you. Go see a nutritionist. Get educated about your food and how it affects your body. Eat in moderation, but don’t forget to treat yourself occasionally. May this year be the year of food and smart eating.

– Rheba Yost is a guest blogger for IALF. She works in ag media and holds a degree in agriculture from Kansas State University.


Breaking up with Bread?

gluten-free-mintel-infographic-Gluten. Of all the health buzz words recently, gluten might take the cake. “Gluten free” marks the packaging of endless numbers of food products. Celebrities and celebrity doctors have warned of the effects of gluten and the risk of having celiac disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten. For people with celiac disease, eating gluten can lead to small intestine damage and eventually prevent the absorption of other nutrients. According to the FDA, there is an estimated three million Americans with celiac disease (approximately 1% of Americans). While this is a very small percentage of people with a disease that keeps them from eating gluten, the gluten free buzz has taken off. The most famous debut of gluten came when Jimmy Kimmel featured gluten on his “Pedestrian Question” where he asked people near a popular Los Angeles work out spot “do you maintain a gluten free diet?” and “what is gluten?”. Kimmel featured four people who were definitively gluten free, but they could not define gluten. So, what is gluten?

GlutenGluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye. We use those grains to make foods like cereal, cake, breads, pasta, beer, pizza – just to name a few. Gluten is the protein that helps give the foods we love their shape and texture. Gluten is highly prized in the baking world because the protein helps give bread a slightly elastic texture. Expert bread makers will seek out wheat flour that has a higher gluten content if there is a specific type of bread that they want to make.

So, why the hype? And where do all of these gluten free foods come from?

whole-grains-rebel-dietitian-dana-mcdonald-RD1Wheat, barley and rye products can be processed to remove gluten and thus be labeled gluten free. Other grains like buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and sorghum are naturally gluten free and can be labeled as such. And of course products that don’t contain any grains (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables) don’t contain gluten either.

Speaking of labeling, is there any standard for labeling? Yes. In August of 2013, the FDA issued standards for labeling food products “gluten free.” FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” It is important to note that foods that have been processed to remove gluten and foods that naturally do not have gluten can be labeled gluten free. For example, a bottle of water can be labeled gluten free. Despite the good intent of product labeling to help the 1% of people with celiac disease and the 5% of people with gluten sensitivity, the gluten free label has more commonly been used by marketers to apply perceived health benefits to a product.

cereals_compWheat, barley and rye that carry gluten still do have many positive health benefits for people without celiac. We’ve all heard the term “whole grain” associated with good health and dietary balance and these grains are a perfect source. Fiber is also an important component for our diets and can be found in the grains that contain gluten. Whole grains can have between 6% and 18% of your recommended daily fiber per serving.

As with most things in life, moderation is key and education is paramount. If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, consult your doctor. But if you are one of the 95% or more who are unaffected, tuck into that bowl of pasta or grab another slice of pizza and enjoy. Now we are in the know. Bring it on Jimmy Kimmel.

Bread group

 – Laila Down is a guest blogger for IALF. In her career she has worked in crop protection sales and ag media. She is passionate about the agriculture industry and helping tell the story of our food, fiber and fuel.

4 Reasons To Care About Where Your Food Comes From

People today are becoming increasingly passionate about the food they eat and where it comes from. There are extreme examples of this everywhere.

Being passionate is a good thing! But, we live in a world of specialization in which we allow segments of the population to focus on one task (i.e. food production) so that the rest of us can be engaged in other pursuits. It is still important for all of us to understand food production and know where our food comes from.  Here are my top reasons you should care:

  1. blog-food_cycleKnowing where your food comes from bridges the gap between farm and fork. The United States has one of the world’s safest supply of food. But that food system relies entirely on trusting the people that were involved along the way. We have to trust the chef who prepares the food (if we aren’t eating at home). We have to trust the farmer who produced the food. We have to trust the grocery store who sold the food. And dare I say, we have to trust the corporations that might have been involved in processing or transporting that food. We have to trust that they have our safety as a top priority and that they care about the quality of the product that they are providing to us. At the end of the day they still need to make a profit and so we sometimes question their motives. But incredibly, each segment of the chain finds economies of scale and how to maintain the U.S. food supply as the cheapest in the world. As Americans become further removed from that process of farm to fork, that trust gap widens. So it is important for us all to know and understand the process that connects farmers to consumers.
  2. In the words of farmer and writer, Wendell Berry, “Every time you make a decision about food, you are farming by proxy.” We should care about what we are putting into our bodies. Health experts promote a varied diet that is balanced. We should be looking at ingredients lists. We should be concerned with our overall health and what is in our food. But, there is more than one way to crack an egg which means we should each be seeking out a diet and lifestyle that works for us as individuals. Organic might be a solution. Gluten-free might be a solution. Cage-free eggs might be a solution. But, none of those solutions should be implemented across the board as the silver bullet (gluten only affects less than 5% of the population). Only by being educated about the system and then understanding our own personal needs can we make informed decisions and farm by proxy.
  3. Anyone who has seen Food, Inc. might have a jaded view of agriculture. The media thrives on the hype of a food safety problem, the scandal of a corrupt corporation, and the fear of a newly discovered hazard. The negative of our food system gets far more air time than the positive. When was the last time you saw a news story covering the fact that more than 300 million Americans had three meals a day all produced by only 1% of that population? It isn’t news because it happens everyday. Movies like Farmland show the everyday farmers who are making the best possible decisions to put food on their tables and yours without the media sensation and hype. Is there room for improvement in agriculture production, yes. Do we still have a problem with food insecure people in America, yes. But the bottom line is that we are working hard to continually improve. Changing the system and production practices for the better.
  4. Food is a part of our culture AND a part of our economy. It is really hard to separate these in discussion because our culture is so emotionally driven. We want food to be safe and delicious. But, the economic discussion appeals to our logic. We want food to be affordable. Researchers utilize technology to address both of these issues and the conversation becomes murky. The safety of GMOs has been proven time and time again. But, fear of the unknown makes us continue to question them. Will we ever find the balance in the conversation?

We each play a part in this debate. And there are things that we each can do everyday.  Here are a few things that you and your family can put into action.

  • edible historyLearn about some of the history that created our modern food system. I recommend An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.
  • Meet a farmer.  Ask them why they do different things on their farm. It makes for a great family outing.
  • Tour an agribusiness or research company. They aren’t always open to the public for tours, but school groups and educational groups regularly take tours. Try to accompany one of them.
  • Buy things in season. This helps minimize transportation costs and can be healthier and more flavorful produce. Try this handy food miles calculator.
  • Take a cooking class and learn how to prepare more things at home.  This can be a lot of fun and you’ll have more ownership in what you eat.
  • Ask questions! The more you know, the better.