The True Cost of Food

Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food and are always looking for bargains. In fact, we are the only nation who spends so little upfront on food. Huge costs go into the way our food is produced, but these costs are hidden in the dollar amount charged at the supermarkets. However, we end up paying for the cost of our food in taxes. There are also costs to the environment (pollution, loss of wildlife habitat, wastage, fuel) and public health (cancer, obesity, allergies, diseases, food poisoning).

This is a short animation that  does a great job on showing the true cost of our food. It’s worth a viewing and sharing with your friends and families. Kids will even enjoy it.

The True Cost of Food from Sierra Club National on Vimeo.



Food Hackathon 1.0

San Francisco held its very first food hackathon last weekend. Put on by passionate food entrepreneurs, the hackathon’s goal was to concentrate the energy around food entrepreneurship in one space for 36 hours and build innovative hacks to solve problems in our food system and eating habits. Food is the greatest common denominator to spark creativity, emotion, and passion throughout the world. It was no surprise that 200 food lovers, designers, and developers united on their common purpose to build software and hardware tools to potentially change the way we eat and think about food.

There were many people, like myself, who have never participated in a hackathon before and there were those already part of a food tech company. There were people with strong ideas and there were those who just wanted to be a part of this new wave in food innovation. Most of the ideas pitched focused on the restaurant, takeout, and chef space. There were a couple of pitches that actually focused on the food system and improving health through nutrition. Teams formed quickly after the pitches and everyone settled down to make their idea into a plausible company and take home one of the $25,000 in prizes allotted to the top three winners.


This being a food hackathon, the catered food was impressive. Breakfast was pretty nutritious with green smoothies, granola, organic yogurt, and fresh fruit. Far from the usual fare of pastries and commercial orange juice. Contraband Coffee, a local artisan café and roaster, provided the caffeine fuel for the entire weekend. Callie Waldman, who is a Natural Chef from Bauman College, provided Sunday’s extremely delicious and nutritious lunch. There were also local food sellers sampling their amazing raw chocolates and other healthy edibles.


On Sunday evening, 14 teams pitched their hacks to a panel of judges in front of the 200 people. The more recognizable judges were Dave McClure (500 Startups), Ben Parr (Dominator Fund), Alexa Andrzejewski (Foodspotting), Danielle Gould (Food+Tech Connect), and Naithan Jones (AgLocal).

The overall winner of the hackathon was Vibrantly, an iPhone app to guide people to make nutritious food choices based on food colors. I liked the concept of this app since it focuses on nutrition and not calories for achieving health goals. The next notable winner was Tiny Farms, which makes hardware to make insect farming easier for people around the world who rely on insects for nutrients and income. The team charmed the judges and audience with their homemade “buglava”, baklava made with wax worms. Slim Menu won the new technology hack, which is an app that helps you order from a menu visually. Touchless Ticket built a gestured-based app to optimize workflow and ticket processing in the restaurant kitchen. I collaborated with Leslie Wu on an idea to make gardens out of unused spaces, called Garden B&B, and won the best social hack.


Most of the teams concentrated on recipe search and stocking the pantry. Although, finding a credible recipe and stocking the pantry with utmost convenience are pain points, there are much larger problems that we can solve with innovation in food and technology. We need to focus on food deserts, educating people about nutrition, sustainability, and health, alleviating the environmental toll of food production, and reducing inefficiencies in food distribution. We can change our broken food system. We can build a solution that is affordable, nutritious, and easy for those who need it worldwide.

In a city where great innovations and companies are constantly being built, we were long overdue for an organized food hackathon. This food hackathon proved that technology innovation is no longer limited to the programming genius, but is open to anyone who has the motivation to make a difference. The follow-up Food Hackathon is set to coincide with National Day of Civic Hacking. I will definitely be there and hope more people who want to change the global and local food system will join as well.

Homemade Gluten-Free Citrus Granola {Recipe}

Since I figured out that I am gluten intolerant, I’ve been on a constant search for delicious and affordable replacements. I discovered that most gluten-free packaged food is almost twice the price. Also, most of the ingredients in them are not natural or whole. I will actually discuss this topic in great depth in another post.


Initially, one of the toughest things about practicing a gluten-free diet was finding good breakfast cereals. Like a typical American, I grew up eating corn flakes, pop tarts, and toast for breakfast. As I became smarter about my food choices, I stuck to more natural types of cereal which didn’t contain much added sugars and processed ingredients. All of the gluten-free cereals on the shelf just seemed exorbitantly priced or full of questionable ingredients. Eventually, I discovered gluten-free granola with minimally processed ingredients. It was almost love at first taste, but it was hard to swallow the extra sweet taste (after months of conditioning myself to have a less sweet palate) and price tag. Unfortunately, most gluten-free granola is really, really expensive. I mean really expensive. Also, prepackaged granola is loaded with sugar! Though, I kept eating store-bought granola because I thought it was more convenient than any other breakfast option.

maple syrupI also thought buying granola was more convenient than making my own. I had seen many recipes and heard about people making their own granola (it’s actually become a thing), but I just never got myself to do it. I made it out to be really complicated and time consuming in my head. I had even bought certified gluten-free oats but let them sit in my pantry for 6 months (they don’t spoil easily) before I said I am going to do it. Making my own granola turned out to be a lot simpler than I had envisioned. I have since come up with at least four unique recipes for my own granola and have started giving jars to friends as gifts.

Photo Mar 22, 5 51 45 PM

The thing about homemade granola is that it is highly customizable for YOU. You as the maker are in charge of the ratios. I like granola with more oats, and less dried fruit and nuts. You can choose the types of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, spices, sweeteners, and fats to add to the oats to make your own unique creation. Unlike baking a cake, the measurements of the ingredients mentioned above do not have to be precise. Just pay attention to the wet ingredients so the oat mixture is coated evenly, but not soggy.

I did post one granola recipe on this neat website/iOS app called Snapguide. You can get step-by-step visual instructions on many of my recipes there, particularly my Gluten-Free Citrus Granola recipe with video. The guide is actually being featured on the app/website right now. Please note that I use a whole lot less sugar than the granola you get at the grocery stores. I always use honey and maple syrup, not granulated white sugar or corn syrup, as a binder and sweetener for granola. I like granola to be less sweet and I can always add local honey or fresh fruit on top. I estimate my granola has about 1.5 teaspoons (6.3 grams) of sugar per 1/2 cup of granola. The sugar comes from the freshly squeezed orange juice, maple syrup and dried cranberries. I am working on trying to reduce the amount of added sugar even further. Most store bought granola has about ~4 teaspoons (14 grams) of sugar per 1/2 cup serving size and the sugar is usually from corn syrup, white sugar or barley malt (gluten).

Photo Mar 01, 11 29 24 AM

Please let me know in the comments about your favorite granola recipes, toppings, and cooking methods. How do you like to eat granola?

Farmer’s Market Find: Raw, Local Honey

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The whole row of flowers was buzzing with bees today!

I just happened to be at the Ferry Plaza during their Tuesday farmers market, so I browsed a little and ended up getting raw honey. I actually had been searching for raw honey with pollen. Honey has been revered in Eastern cultures for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, honey is used for many ailments and preventive measures. Raw honey with pollen is prescribed to those suffering from allergies to scrape mucus and to build resistance and immunity. Of course, thousands of years ago, there wasn’t a concept of industrial farms, adulterating food with additives and fillers,or pesticides. Also, honey was never radiated or cooked. Actually, all of this only happened in the last 150 years. Unfortunately, there is now the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder where worker bees are mysteriously disappearing from their hives. The issue of CCD goes beyond just consuming honey. Bees pollinate other many other food (apples,  lemons, chestnuts) and are very vital to our food supply ecosystem.

There is a significant difference between honey produced on large industrial farms and honey produced on small, local family farms. Sadly, bees are treated like livestock on industrial farms. They are forcefully fed corn syrup, not nectar from wildflowers. Shocking. The honey found in most grocery stores comes from China and is adulterated with other substances. In other words, most of the time you are not getting pure honey. That is a huge reason why honey from large, industrial beekeepers is so cheap. The benefit of buying local honey is that you can trace it back to the beekeeper and know that the honey is pure. Pure, raw honey is full of antioxidants and enzymes that are good for your health. You can ask questions about beekeeping and honey cultivation. Also, most small beekeepers take care of their bees, do not use deadly pesticides or treatments and let their bees swarm and drink nectar. In the end, you get pure honey.

Sure, honey produced on small farms that use sustainable and ethical practices will be much more expensive. But then again, how much honey do you really need to consume? An 8 ounce jar of honey lasts us for a full year, if not more.Snyders Honey at the Ferry Plaza Tuesday’s market. Their hives are located at Crystal Springs Reservoir south of San Francisco. Super local. 

Gina and I at the Fort Mason Farmers Market. Gina sells Snyders Honey along with her family’s olives and olive oils.

For more information about bees and CCD check out the film  Vanishing of the Bees. You can also sign a petition to tell the EPA to get to the bottom of CCD.

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Update: We Raised Over $4000 for Doctor’s Without Borders.

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Last September, Sila Mutungi posted on his Facebook status that he was thinking for doing pancake festival/fundraiser. I contacted him right away wanting to help organize. Sila and I split up in our tasks; he was in charge of organizing the music and I was in charge of everything related to the pancakes. Usually in large food festivals, sustainability is not even considered and I wanted to make sure that all of the ingredients were sourced sustainability.  Through generous donations from local farms and businesses, we had medjool dates, fair-trade coffee, bananas, chocolate, and sugar, organic apples and pears, organic butter, whipping cream, and milk, farm fresh eggs, and buttermilk pancake flour. View more pictures here and here.

Marcus Cohen Presents the Congress

Organizers: SILA and Nimisha

Roger Anthony, of Soul Cocina, was our executive chef.

Despite the rainstorm, hundreds of people walked through the doors, to enjoy live music and eat sustainable pancakes. In the end we raised over $4000. The entire event was run on donations and volunteers. 100% of the $10 cover charge went to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). We had chosen Pakistan as the recipient of the fundraiser. Pakistan was devastated by flooding, triggered by torrential rains, affecting 20 million people. The floods washed away crops and destroyed villages.



Here is a summary of how the money was used in Pakistan in response to the floods:



  • Conducted over 106,616 consultations at five hospitals, seven mobile clinics and six diarrhea treatment centers;
  • Screened more than 97,000 children and pregnant and lactating women and treated more than 8,800 malnourished children;
  • Conducted 434 complicated birth deliveries and 82 Caesarean sections;
  • Admitted 339 new born babies to the nursery;
  • Distributed 2.1 million liters of clean water per day and built 709 latrines, 280 shower sites, and 130 hand-washing points, and installed 271 hand pumps;
  • Distributed 73,708 relief item kits and 22,629 tents;
  • Distributed 2,000 transitional shelters

I would like to thank our donors, volunteers, and musicians again. A special thank you to Sila Mutungi, Roger Anthony (Soul Cocina),  Satish Ambati, and Bruce Hanson (for providing CODA SF).

SILA, Native Elements, Marcus Cohen Presents the Congress, The Dunes, Classical Revolution, Miriam Speyer, Dj Santero, Dj Zeph, and Dj Amar.

Alter Eco
Bob’s Red Mill
Straus Family Creamery
Farm Fresh To You
Whole Foods, Noe Valley
Rainbow Grocery Co-Op
Weavers Coffee and Tea
Bi-Rite Market


Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events. Be sure to sign-up to receive posts and updates straight into your inbox!

Healthier Social Eating: The Holidays

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With so many holiday parties, gatherings, shopping, work, school and kids, eating well, resting, and working out could easily drop off your radar.Though, at this time of the year, it is really important to take care of yourself to prevent health goal relapse and catching a cold or the FLU.  Follow these simple tips for maintaining balance and prevent guilt from overeating.

This is a modified list to Healthier Social Eating: BBQ’s

1. Sleep Well and Rest Enough
If you are tired, lethargic or sleepy, you might  tend to load  up on junk food and caffeine for an energy “boost.” Loading up on empty calories and caffeine will only make you hungrier and cause you to crash after the sugar high starts to wear off. Extra caloric intake (without extra caloric output) will lead to weight gain over time leading to obesity. Sleep deprivation also lowers your immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Also, inadequate sleep has been linked to depression, lowered cognitive (brain) function, higher blood pressure, and irritability. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health and happiness.

2. Eat Regular Meals and Have Healthy Options Available
Many people tend to skip their regular meals in favor of eating at holiday parties and gatherings. Typically, parties tend to only serve junk, cheap, or highly processed food, even if it is in a sophisticated form. A gourmet cookie is still  made of sugar, butter, and flour. And, brie is still a high, saturated fat cheese, even if it’s topped with cranberry sauce. Do not walk into a party hungry, as you will end up eating  the party food  and drinking high caloric drinks to replace dinner. Instead, fill up on healthy, satisfying food beforehand party and only eat the really amazing food at the party.  If it is a potluck party, bring healthy alternatives to desserts, crackers, and cheese. Look at everything that is offered and choose only the items you really want to eat. This way you can fill up on the healthiest foods first, without worrying about bad calories, sugar, and fat.

3. Think Before You Drink
A drink that is not a glass of water has calories and sugar. Drink at least eight ounces of water or so that your thirst is quenched and stomach already feels a little full.  You will  less likely  chug the alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Is that chocolate martini or eggnog rum drink really worth 500-700 calories (equivalent to a meal)? Make your choices worthwhile and sip on a glass of wine or beer.

4. Mix and Mingle
Choose three or four items you really want to eat, and then step away from the food table so you’re not tempted to graze. You will be less likely to keep mindlessly refilling your plate if you are in the middle of an interesting conversation and standing on the other side of the room from the food. Being with friends and family and having a great time at  the party also contributes to overall good health. Focus on the people at the party instead of the food and drinks.

5. Make Room for Dessert
Cookies, cookies, and more cookies are on everyone’s mind during the holidays and parties are dedicated to just desserts. If you have been good about sticking to your health goal, then a cookie or piece of yule log is nothing to feel guilty about. Don’t let a relapse turn into a downward spiral. In the long run, a piece of dessert is not going to harm you if you follow a healthy, clean diet. It’s pretty clear that sugar is toxic and should be consumed as treats, not regular snacks. Instead of saying “there’s always room for dessert,” actually leave room for it. Eat a little less of everything else so you can have a piece of that cake, cookie or pie. Desserts typically take a long time to make, therefore spend time eating the dessert instead of devouring it at once!

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Eating Rules: Guide to the Nutrition Facts Panel

When I met Andrew Wilder, he was gearing up to launch his October: Unprocessed challenge and I knew we had an instant connection to demystify food and health. Andrew  is a healthy foodie who believes that although diet and nutrition information is complicated, eating healthful, delicious food doesn’t have to be.  He writes about all this and more on his blog, Eating Rules. Follow Andrew on Twitter @eatingrules or find him on Facebook.

Guide to the Nutrition Facts Panel

Once you get in the habit of reading nutrition labels, it becomes like a game. If you know what to look for, you’ll start to see patterns emerge and will be able to tell very quickly if a food is good for you or if it’s full of junk. So before you put that new box of food in your shopping cart, please ignore all the marketing claims on the front, flip the box over, and check out the nutrition facts.

My introductory guide to reading the nutrition facts label is a fun, one-page diagram, designed to give you a quick overview of what I look for on the label. I’m grateful to Nimisha for giving me the opportunity to expand a bit on a few of the points here. I’m a big believer that “knowledge is power” — so I hope that you’ll find some power in the information below.

1. Read the ingredients list first.
This is the best way to know what you’re putting in your body. Ingredients must be sorted by order of descending quantity, so there’s more of the first ingredient than any other single ingredient.  Some ingredients may have sub-ingredients, which are indicated in parentheses or brackets.

TIP: Different types of sugar can be listed separately. In the sample label on the PDF, Enriched Flour is followed by Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Dextrose. It’s very likely that there’s actually more sugar than flour in that product.

2.Memorize the footer information.
The “footer” information is identical on every label. Although it’s generic, it works well as a basic guideline.  In general, women should consume around 2,000 calories a day, and men around 2,500.

Many factors influence this number, including gender, age, activity level, general health, etc., but this is a good place to start. Memorize the appropriate column for you, and then you never have to look at this section of the label every again. (Find some online calorie calculators here).

3. Servings vs. Portions.
There are no precise rules about what companies can say constitutes a “serving,” so it’s sometimes hard to compare products. They are, however, required to show the number of servings per container. Keep in mind that a serving may be different than a portion.  An appropriate serving of meat is four ounces — but a steak served at a restaurant may be eight or more ounces. Be realistic about how many servings you’re actually going to eat.

4. Calories are still king.
If you know how many calories you should eat in a day, and you know how many calories are in a serving, then it just takes some basic math to figure out if this food fits well into your overall diet  A snack should probably be no more than around 200 calories.  TIP: Most whole fruits — a perfect snack from mother nature — are around 100 calories.

5. So much salt!
Sadly, most packaged foods have waaaaaay too much sodium. If a product has more milligrams of sodium than it does calories, it’s probably too high. It’s somewhat unrealistic in the current food climate to think you can do better with packaged foods, but it’s still a good guideline to keep your eye on,  TIP: Breads and soups are the worst offenders, so watch those extra carefully.

6. Fiber is fabulous.
It’s generally true that the more naturally-occurring fiber in a food, the better it is for you. But beware: Manufacturers now add fiber to many products, and there’s no distinction on the label.  If you see inulin, polydextrose, maltodextrin, or modified wheat starch in the ingredients list, it’s got added fiber. Though it’s not likely to hurt, and may indeed be good, the benefits of this extra fiber are not yet proven. Aim to eat 25-38 grams of naturally-occurring fiber every day from whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits & vegetables. Learn more from my Fiber Primer.

7. Sugar is sugar.
Unfortunately, the nutrition label doesn’t distinguish between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars, so it’s simplest just to assume less is better.  TIP: There’s about four grams of sugar in a teaspoon of regular table sugar, so divide the number shown on the label by four and visualize that many teaspoons of sugar. Still hungry?

8. Pack on the protein.
Dietary recommendations on protein vary widely, but the easiest guideline I’ve found is to aim for about ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. (Example: A 160-pound person should eat about 80 grams a day). Remember, it’s important get your protein from a variety of sources. Look for beans & legumes, nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and smaller portions of lean meats.

9. Fat Fallacy.
Not all fats are bad (and some are even good), and eating fat doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get fat. Avoid man-made trans fats like the plague, and watch out for the trans fat loophole: If a food has partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils in the ingredients, it has trans fats! (The number shown can be rounded down to zero). Polyunsaturated fats are the good stuff, but mono-unsaturated fats are okay, too. TIP: Fat has 9 calories per gram (carbs and protein each have around 4), so more fat does mean more calories.

10. Vitameatavegamin?
Of course it’s important to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals, but I don’t usually give this area of the label more than a passing glance. Are you really going to sit there and tally up your vitamin and mineral intake?  If you know you’re deficient in a particular one (or more), then you should definitely do it.  But otherwise, if you’re going to count something, it’s probably more worthwhile to count calories and naturally-occurring fiber. Eat a lot of different whole fruits & veggies, and you’ll do better than trying to get all your vitamins and minerals from a packaged food.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide or to replace any qualified medical advice. It’s just an overview, and I’ve left lots of important stuff out. For more in-depth information, check out the FDA’s Consumer Nutrition and Health Information.

Fair Trade 101


Tea Harvest, Kenya

Image by franz88 via Flickr


What Does Fair Trade Really Mean?

Fair Trade provides a fair price for farmers which leads to higher living standards, thriving communities and more sustainable farming practices. It aims to educate and empower disadvantaged producers and connect them to a market, so they too can participate in global trade.

What Are Fair Trade products?

Almost everything you buy can be Fair Trade. The most common items are food products such as: coffee, tea, bananas, chocolate, sugar, rice, spices, cocoa, fruit, nuts, oils,  flowers, and handicrafts. For an extensive list of Fair Trade products look here.

Why Fair Trade?

By buying fair trade products, you are supporting:

  • Fair Prices for Workers
  • Healthy Working Environments
  • Community Development (Schools, Health Care, Electricity, etc.)
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Gender Equality in terms of Wages and Benefits
  • Democratic and Transparent Organizations
  • Higher Quality Products
  • Respect

And you are saying NO to:

  • Cyclical, Inescapable Poverty
  • Environmental Degradation
  • Forced Child Labor and Slavery
  • Unsafe, Unlawful Working Conditions

What You Can Do?

Fair Trade can only be successful if consumers (you and I) choose products that are Fair Trade Certified. Supporting Fair Trade is as easy as buying bananas or a cup of coffee. Just look for the fair trade label on the products you buy or ask your vendor if the product is Fair Trade certified. You can raise awareness in your community or just amongst friends and family by talking about Fair Trade. You can also organize events and initiatives in the classroom, office, city, or place of worship.

Club Dine In! has partnered with Fair Trade USA for a mixer to kickoff Fair Trade Month (October) in San Francisco, Ca. If you are in town, please come by and meet us! Each attendee will receive a special box of Fair Trade Tea and sample high quality cocktails, tea, chocolate, and much more! Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook to save $5 at the door.


You can register for the event at: and share the event with friends on Facebook.


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Meatless Mondays: Kids Love Vegetables

Follow Club Dine In! on Twitter The kids love their veggies and will eat them up without creating a scene, but you will have to show them how. Five years ago, Chez Panisse Foundation, Center for Ecoliteracy, and Berkeley Unified … Continue reading

Make Our Food Edible

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The news and media may no longer cover the massive egg recall, but the issue is still real and “hasn’t gone away”. We vote for change with our forks and dollars, and you really can make a difference. Vote by feeding yourself and your family better, cleaner, safer and ethical food. Checkout this really short video if you are even slightly curious as to what I am talking about.

Where to find safer food:
-Farmer’s Markets
: Most family farms practice sustainability and really love the land and what they produce. Most farmer’s will even let you come to their farm and pick your own eggs or give you a tour!
-Smaller grocery stores that carry local, sustainable meats, dairy, eggs, vegetables, and fruit
-Buy organic, cage-free (really cage-free), pastured eggs
-Make sure your your eggs come from small, local farms that raise their chickens outside of cages and treat them humanely.
-Avoid insanely cheap eggs and meat, which means they were factory farmed and all of the livestock were raised in tiny cages, biting and pooping on each other and then transported to another factory to be sorted and packaged to sell at grocery stores around the nation.

Did you know that Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook? Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events.