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Sure, processed foods can save you a little time. But what you gain in convenience, you lose in money, environmental impact and maybe even health.
That’s because processed foods require more labor to convert them from their natural state to something that fits in a box, bag or tub. You’re also paying for the chemicals added to the processed food to keep them fresh. You’re paying for the packaging, too, which is totally worthless once you get it home. Indeed, $1 out of every $11 you spend at the grocery store you spend on packaging you throw away.
Speaking of that packaging, it’s probably the biggest source of trash in your home. Think about the pile of empty boxes, bags and wrapping you’re left with after you unload your groceries and put them in the refrigerator or cupboard. Plastic waste is especially egregious since many communities still don’t recycle and it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, it turns into millions of pieces of microplastic that get in the oceans and soil and that animals mistake for food.
Here are eight processed foods that normally come wrapped in paper or plastic that you can easily make at home. They’ll be fresher, cheaper and waste-free if you skip plastic produce bags and take your own when you shop.
Yogurt couldn’t be easier to make at home. Heat a half-gallon of milk to about 180 degrees, using a candy thermometer to test the temperature. You can heat it on the stove, but I usually do it in the microwave to prevent scalding. Let it cool to 110 degrees. Put a quarter cup of the milk in a glass or small mixing bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk if you want thicker yogurt (this step isn’t essential). Add the mixture back into the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and whisk into the milk. Cover the bowl with a towel. Some people then put the bowl in a warm oven. I wrap mine in a heating pad, which I set on its highest setting for a couple of hours and then turn down to low for a few hours. It will take 4-6 hours for the milk to become yogurt. You can spoon it into individual serving jars or keep it in the bowl. Use the whey that collects in the bottom of the bowl in pasta sauces, salad dressings or just stir it back into the yogurt.
Buy raw chickpeas in bulk at your grocery store or food coop. If possible, use your own reusable bag to hold the peas. At home, soak them in water to cover overnight until soft. Or simmer them for a couple of hours until soft. Drain the chickpeas, rinse under running water, then drain and toss into a food processor with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons tahini, salt, pepper, a clover or two of chopped garlic and the juice from at least half a lemon. Process until smooth. Season to taste, adding more lemon, garlic or tahini as desired.
3. Shredded Cheese
Pre-shredded cheese always comes in a plastic bag or tub along with chemicals to prevent mold growth and even the dust from wood pulp which is added to prevent the cheese from clumping. Why not grate your own cheese instead? It will be fresher, cheaper and you can minimize packaging if you buy a chunk of cheese from your deli counter rather than in the dairy aisle.
4. Salad Dressing
Most salad dressing is sold in plastic bottles which are hard, if not impossible, to recycle in most communities. Yet, DIY salad dressing couldn’t be easier to make and it’s tasty, too. For a simple vinaigrette, combine 1 part olive oil to 3 parts red wine vinegar in a clean jar with a lid. Add minced red onion, a sprinkling of salt, pepper and garlic powder and 1 or 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard. Stir vigorously until well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. You can replace red wine vinegar with fresh lemon juice, add finely chopped basil or fiddle with it in other ways you like. For more ideas, see 7 Fantastic Salad Dressings You Should Make Today.
If you’ve never made your own mayonnaise, you’re in for a real treat. It’s fresh, flavorful and very creamy. Check out Alton Brown’s recipe, which whips together an egg yolk, salt, dry mustard, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and of course, oil. Double or triple the ingredients depending on how much you need, keeping in mind it will last just about a week in the fridge. Store it in glass jars with tightly fitting lids. And don’t miss this great Care2 post, 12 Surprising Uses for Mayonnaise.
I find most processed ketchup contains way too much sugar. You can dial the sweetness down and turn up the spices and flavor if you make your own. You can make it from canned tomatoes, but to skip the packaging, use fresh plum tomatoes you get at the grocery store or farmers market. Peel, seed and dice the tomatoes, add a tablespoon or so of minced red onion, a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar, minced garlic and hot sauce if you want some spice. Process in a food processor. If it’s not as thick as you’d like, simmer it on low until some of the liquid evaporates. You can also play with spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, honey and cloves. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can make it exactly the way you like it. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Why buy this in plastic tubs when it’s so much better made fresh? Chop fresh tomatoes into a small dice until you have about two cups. Add around a quarter cup chopped red onion and a smattering of diced green peppers or cucumbers if you want more veggies. Flavor with lime juice, chopped cilantro leaves, a teaspoon or so of ground cumin, a couple of cloves of garlic minced and something hot—Sriracha, Tabasco, chili pepper flakes or chopped chili peppers. Add the heat incrementally so you don’t overdo it.
Most juice comes in plastic throwaway bottles or jugs. You can make your own orange, tangerine and grapefruit juice simply by cutting the fruit in half and using a hand juicer to press out the liquid. For vegetable juices and apple or pear juice, you’ll probably need an actual juicing machine (most food processors will simply puree the fruit or veggies, not juice them). But if you drink a lot of juice, it might be worth the investment to buy an electric juicer.
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A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.
How does our immune system react to the coronavirus?<p>The coronavirus is — like any other virus — not much more than a shell around genetic material and a few proteins. To replicate, it needs a host in the form of a living cell. Once infected, this cell does what the virus commands it to do: copy information, assemble it, release it.</p><p>But this does not go unnoticed. Within a few minutes, the body's immune defense system intervenes with its innate response: Granulocytes, scavenger cells and killer cells from the blood and lymphatic system stream in to fight the virus. They are supported by numerous plasma proteins that either act as messengers or help to destroy the virus.</p><p>For many viruses and bacteria, this initial activity of the immune system is already sufficient to fight an intruder. It often happens very quickly and efficiently. We often notice only small signs that the system is working: We have a cold, a fever. </p>
Is there an immunity? How long does it last?<p>The good news is that it is very likely there is an immunity. This is suggested by the proximity to other viruses, epidemiological data and animal experiments. Researchers <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.13.990226v1" target="_blank">infected four rhesus monkeys,</a> a species close to humans, with SARS-CoV-2. The monkeys showed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, developed neutralizing antibodies and recovered after a few days. When the recovered animals were reinfected with the virus, they no longer developed any symptoms: They were immune. </p><p>The bad news: It is not (yet) known how long the immunity will last. It depends on whether a patient has successfully developed neutralizing antibodies. Achim Hörauf estimates that the immunity should last at least one year. Within this year, every new contact with the virus acts as a kind of booster vaccination, which in turn might prolong the immunity.</p><p>"The virus is so new that nobody has a reasonable immune response," says the immunologist. He believes that lifelong immunity is unlikely. This "privilege" is reserved for viruses that remain in the body for a long time and give our immune system a virtually permanent opportunity to get to know it. Since the coronavirus is an RNA (and not a DNA) virus, it cannot permanently settle in the body, says Hörauf.</p><p>The Heidelberg immunologist <a href="https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/immunologie/immunologie" target="_blank">Stefan Meuer</a> predicts that the novel coronavirus will also mutate like all viruses. He assumes that this could be the case in 10 to 15 years: "At some point, the acquired immunity will no longer be of any use to us because then another coronavirus will return, against which the protection that has now been formed will not help us because the virus has changed in such a way that the antibodies are no longer responsible. And then no vaccination will help either."</p>
How can we take advantage of the antibody response of the immune system?<p>Researchers are already collecting plasma from people who have successfully survived an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and are using it to treat a limited number of patients suffering from COVID-19. The underlying principle: <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-drugs-can-antibodies-from-survivors-help/a-52806428" target="_blank">passive immunization.</a> The studies carried out to date have shown positive results, but they have usually been carried out on only a few people.</p><p>At best, passive immunization is used only when the patient's own immune system has already started to work against the virus, says Achim Hörauf: "The longer you can leave the patients alone with the infection before you protect them with passive immunization, the better." Only through active immunization can one be protected in the long term. At the same time, it is difficult to recognize the right point in time.</p><p>PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently used to find out whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. With the help of PCR, it is not possible to tell whether or not there is reproducible viral RNA; it is just a proof of whether the virus is still present, dead or alive. A PCR test cannot tell us whether our immune system has already intervened, i.e. whether we have had contact with the virus in the past, have formed antibodies and are now protected. Researchers are therefore working on tests that check our blood for the presence of antibodies. They are already in use in Singapore, for example, and are nearing completion in the USA. With the help of these tests, it would finally be possible to gain an overview <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/corona-confusion-how-to-make-sense-of-the-numbers-and-terminology/a-52825433" target="_blank">of the unclear case numbers.</a> In addition, people who have developed antibodies against the virus could be used at the forefront of health care, for example. An "immunity passport" is even under discussion.</p>
Is it possible to become infected and/or ill several times with the coronavirus?<p>"According to all we know, it is not possible with the same pathogen," says Achim Hörauf. It is possible to become infected with other coronaviruses or viruses from the SARS or MERS group if their spike proteins look different. "As far as the current epidemic is concerned, it can be assumed that people who have been through COVID-19 will not become ill from it for the time being and will not transmit the virus any further," he says.</p>
How long before you're no longer contagious?<p>A study <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2196-x" target="_blank">carried out on the first coronavirus patients in Germany</a> showed that no viruses that are capable of replication can be found from day eight after the onset of symptoms, even though PCR can still detect up to 100,000 gene copies per sample. This could change the current quarantine recommendations in the future.</p><p>According to the Robert Koch Institute, patients can currently be discharged from hospital if they show two negative PCR samples from the throat within 24 hours. If they have had a severe case of the disease, they should remain in domestic isolation for another two weeks. For each discharge, whether from hospital or home isolation, they should have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.</p>
Why do people react differently to the virus?<p>While some people get off with a mild cold, others are put on ventilators or even die of SARS-Cov-2. Especially people with <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-who-is-particularly-at-risk-and-why/a-52710881" target="_blank">pre-existing conditions</a> and older people seem to be worst-affected by the virus. Why? This is the hottest question at the moment.</p><p>It will still take a very, very long time to understand the mechanistic, biological basis for why some people are so much more severely affected than others, virologist Angela Rasmussen told <em>The Scientist</em>. "The virus is important, but the host response is at least as important, if not more important," her colleague Stanley Perlman told the magazine.</p><p>Stefan Meuer sees a fundamental survival principle of nature in the different equipment and activity of our immune systems: "If we were all the same, one and the same virus could wipe out the entire human species at once. Due to the genetic range, it is quite normal that some people die from a viral disease while others do not even notice it. "</p><p>Achim Hörauf also suspects immunological variants that could be genetically determined. Since interstitial pneumonia is observed with the coronavirus, the focus is probably on an overreaction of the immune system. However, it is also possible that each person affected may have been loaded with a different dose of the virus, which in turn leads to different outcomes. And finally, it makes a difference how robust the body and lungs are: Competitive athletes simply have more lung volume than long-time smokers. </p>
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