Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:33 PM
Our livers, kidneys, lymph glands, and skin often work overtime to keep us healthy. An occasional break from the daily grind of food preparation and digestion can give them a chance to do even more.
Coming Clean: A Conscious Guide to Food Cleanses
originally appeared at Reality Sandwich. The book, which offers information on various cleanses, was released by Evolver Health e-books, a new series of novella-length digital
The Oxford dictionary definition of “cleanse” is
“to make something thoroughly clean or to rid (a person, place or thing) of
something seen as unpleasant, unwanted or defiling.” You can think of it as a
clean-up, a tune-up or even a clearing out. A cleanse is simply meant to free
your body of the unwanted accumulation of food, toxins, etc. It’s an
opportunity to do right by your body, especially if you don’t treat it well on
a daily basis.
One way to
look at toxic accumulation is from the perspective of a car. You would never
put soda in your car engine and expect the car to run. So why would you put
junk food in your body day after day and expect it to stay healthy? When you
use the wrong fuel, eventually you will need to clean out the system.
A cleanse can bring
attention to areas of your life that you’ve been neglecting. When you lighten
up on food and beverages, you ease the digestive process, allowing for more
time to rest and reset. With this extra time and freedom, the body can work on
a deeper level to cleanse, heal and give you more energy. It’s a way to help
your body run better and feel cleaner. For many detox enthusiasts,
cleansing is considered routine maintenance. We put all kinds of crazy foods,
drinks and chemical into our bodies knowingly or unknowingly and more or less
hope for the best. The body may not react initially but with time it speaks out
through an array of health problems ranging from weight gain to exhaustion to
disease. And even for those on a healthier kick with food, you may still be
struggling with caffeine, alcohol, sugar or other drug-like substances in your
diet. How’s it going with sleep and stress levels? Is your water from a fresh
spring or from a plastic bottle with a picture of a fresh spring? Even before
the world was so toxic, fasting and cleansing were part of the human
experience. In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
wrote, “When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he
fasted between feasts. Jesus, Gandhi, Plato and Socrates all fasted for greater
peace and awareness. Ancient cultures around the world, especially in India and China, have used detoxing to rest
and relieve the body from illness for centuries. Most spiritual traditions have
fasting rituals, especially during high holy days or at certain times of the
year like Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur. Mormons fast on the first Sunday of
each month to feel closer to god or to ask for help on a specific issue. Hindus
typically fast on the New Moon and during festivals like Shivaratri and Durga
Before we had
modern medical techniques, we had to rely on the body’s natural healing system.
Detoxing is one way to enhance the system. Our bodies are already designed to
detoxify every day. Our colon, liver, kidneys, lymph glands and even skin work
hard to keep everything moving through. But an overload of foods, chemicals or
some combination can clog the natural process. So while it might look more
extravagant these days with expensive juice programs or ads for fancy
supplements, we have a long history of helping the body detoxify. But the need for cleansing has
never been greater.
Read the rest of this article at Reality
Suzanne Boothby is a health writer, speaker and regular cleanser. Her first e-book, The After Cancer Diet: How to Live Healthier Than Ever Before, empowers cancer thrivers to improve their health through simple and sustainable diet and lifestyle changes. She also co-wrote Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health and Happiness with Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:29 AM
After news reports and books raised awareness about the link between commodities trading
and starvation, food justice advocates took action and big bank Barclays responded.
This morning I opened my
email to a note from journalist Fred Kaufman that read, “Yes, a book can make a
difference!” Attached was a report that Barclays, a large UK bank, had announced
that they would stop trading in food derivatives markets.
This was good news. Fred and
I had spoken last fall about his new book, Bet the Farm, which
exposed the connection between agricultural derivatives markets and price spikes on staples like wheat—with impacts around the world ranging from
starvation to riots. In the interview, I picked his brain on topics from deregulation
in commodities markets to what everyday people can do to stop unethical trading
schemes. I wrote about it all in “Spinning
Wheat into Gold,” but one big takeaway was that rallies and political
action are going to be the most successful way to get banks to change and to
get tougher governmental regulations back. Looks like he was right.
activist campaigns in the UK
raised awareness about the human cost of speculation on food, Barclays chief
Antony Jenkins announced today that the bank would stop doing it, writes Miriam
Ross for the World Development Movement.
Until now, Barclays
has been the UK’s
biggest bank to buy and sell on the food derivatives market. While the
bank’s agreement to end such trading is a victory, one campaigner with the
World Development Movement emphasized that it is not enough for banks to opt
out of agricultural commodities markets. There must be increased regulation so
that they don’t start again.
Here in the
states—where wheat speculation was born and the commodities index was
invented—we have yet to see a strong movement emerge to end such trading.
theatre at a Barclays protest rally, photo by World
Friday, December 14, 2012 12:11 PM
This article was originally published at Solutions Online.
Caterpillars might not be haute cuisine for many Americans, but a new organization in Africa is promoting them as a simple, nutritious solution to the continent’s high rate of malnutrition. Shea caterpillars are brown, wriggly worms about the size of a child’s pinky finger. They are already sold live at markets in places like Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked West African nation that has a shortage of physicians. The caterpillar larva is recognized as highly nutritious and is eaten with many of the region’s staple foods, such as sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams, and okra.
Two engineers from Burkina Faso who specialize in microbiology and nutrition, Kahitouo Hien and Christophe Mandi, have devised a business to promote local products, and they employ local women as caterpillar collectors. The organization, called FasoProt, will sell a protein supplement made from ground caterpillar to children and pregnant women. FasoProt will also sell a more expensive delicacy, dried caterpillars, to subsidize the protein supplement.
It is estimated that malnutrition in Burkina Faso is responsible for 50 percent of children who die before their fifth birthday. Half of the population lives below the poverty level. The health situation was aggravated in 2009, when the heaviest rainfall in 90 years triggered massive floods that contaminated water sources and forced many to flee. Given local success, Hien and Mandi envision their project being replicated in neighboring West and Central African countries.
Image: Women kneading millet, Burkina Faso, by the CIDSE, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 09, 2012 4:29 PM
There’s something new on tap, though it’s been around for two thousand years. Kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea drink purported to have healing properties, is steadily rising in mainstream popularity, finding success with commercial kombucha brewers, home brewers, and bartenders alike.
Made by fermenting tea and sugar with a culture of bacteria and yeast, kombucha is effervescent and potent, its deep, almost musty flavor lightened by a rush of friendly little bubbles. First-time drinkers soon become kombucha groupies.
Once associated with only the dippiest of hippies, kombucha and other fermented foods have earned the respect of the health-conscious community. Kombucha is thought to detoxify the body, improving digestive and immune systems, and Psychology Todayreported that fermented foods may even be the next Prozac, easing stress and depression.
Although such positive claims lack solid scientific proof, kombucha devotees stand behind it as a miracle cure. Jeff Weaber, founder of Vermont kombucha brewery Aqua Vitea with his wife, Katina Martin (a naturopathic physician), shared this anecdote in an email: “During an in-store demo, a person returned after 15 minuets of trying our ginger kombucha for the first time to report that a stomachache she had been dealing with for three days was now gone.”
Aqua Vitea is spreading the kombucha love. The brewery bottles single-serving containers, “but more of it travels in the kegs to stores, where it’s sold fresh on tap—a niche Aqua Vitea pioneered,” writes Sylvia Fagin in Vermont’s Local Banquet. “Empty bottles and growlers are sold near the taps for customers to fill and refill, saving money and resources.”
Other kombucha microbreweries around the country are thriving, as well. In addition to its tasty finished product, craft brewer Kombucha Brooklyn sells 100-200 kombucha homebrew kits a month and curates an online Brewers Forum where devotees can swap stories and recipes. “One of our main goals for having the forum was to connect ’buch brewers and to have them share their successes and failures,” says founder Eric Childs.
Now kombucha is hitting the bar scene. Sumathi Reddy, reporting for the Wall Street Journal, sees alcoholic kombucha drinks gaining trend status in the New York metro area. Get a jasmine margarita made with kombucha at Taproom No. 307 in Manhattan, a “beer bucha” (50 percent kombucha, 50 percent light beer) at Urban Rustic in Brooklyn, or try a new high-alcohol version of kombucha called “Mava Roka” at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria.
Beware of too much of a good thing, though (even if it’s nonalcoholic), or you'll risk stomach pain, headaches, or other symptoms as your body adjusts to the detoxification process. Weaber warns, “After making kombucha for eight years, I started getting the sense that it’s powerful stuff, and you should probably be drinking only about four ounces of kombucha a day. But, being gluttonous Americans, everybody’s drinking 16–32 ounces of kombucha a day.” In other words, get out the shot glass, not the pint.
Sources: Psychology Today, Vermont’s Local Banquet, Wall Street Journal
Image by Eric Bryan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 3:27 PM
You’ve heard of farm to table. Coming soon: park to table. This spring, in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, seven acres of underused land will be transformed into the nation’s largest urban “food forest”—a community park planted with a cornucopia of produce that visitors are encouraged to harvest and eat, for free.
According to Crosscut reporter Robert Mellinger, the Beacon Food Forest will be “an urban oasis of public food” offering a variety of edibles: apples and blueberries, herbs and vegetables, chestnuts and walnuts, persimmons and Asian pears.
The sprawling project, while ambitious, draws strength from volunteer groups like Friends of the Beacon Food Forest and from simply letting nature take its course. Built around the concept of permaculture, it will be a perennial, self-sustaining landscape, much like a woodland ecosystem in the wild. Companion plants included for natural soil-enhancement and pest-control will help lower the amount of maintenance needed.
“The idea of planting perennials as part of a self-sustaining, holistic system is old hat to many accomplished gardeners,” writes Claire Thompson for Grist, and groups like San Francisco’s Guerrilla Grafters have already dazzled us with novel ways to promote urban agriculture. “But,” continues Thompson, “creating a system on public land that combines the concepts of urban farms, orchards, and natural forest, and depending on collaborative community effort to keep it going, represents uncharted territory for the now-flourishing urban-farming movement.”
In addition to contributing to your family picnic, the bounteous Beacon Food Forest will feature traditional amenities like playing fields, community gardens, a kids’ area, and public gathering spaces. Check out the full site plan below:
Sources: Crosscut, Grist
Image by Liz West, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Friday, January 20, 2012 4:26 PM
How many times have you ordered an entrée at a restaurant only to leave a pile of food on your plate, dump the remains into a doggie bag, or stagger out the door with your pants unbuttoned? The new program Halfsies hopes to cut portion sizes for a good cause.
Halfsies identifies three food-focused problems in the United States. 1) Oversized servings. Most restaurant portions here are 2-4 times the recommended serving sizes, which contributes to our epidemic of overweight Americans. And portion size is a problem that keeps growing: 20 years ago, two slices of pizza added up to 500 calories; today, two slices weigh in at 850 calories. 2)Excessive food waste. Nearly half of the food produced in the United States is thrown in the trash. It’s commonly cited that every day we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. 3)Hunger. More than 50 million Americans—and 1 billion people worldwide—are affected by food insecurity.
Combine these challenges, and “you have a dysfunctional feedback loop of waste, hunger and obesity,” says Beth Hoffman of Food + Tech Connect.
Halfsies wants to break this toxic pattern with a wonderfully simple initiative. When at a participating restaurant, choose a menu item with the Halfsies icon next to it and receive a half-portion. You’ll combat food waste as well as eat a healthier amount. You’ll also fight hunger: You pay full price for the plate, and the resulting proceeds are distributed to local nonprofit partners (60 percent), global hunger organizations (30 percent), and back into the Halfsies budget (10 percent).
Pilot programs will be launched in New York City and Austin, Texas, this spring. To learn more and help bring Halfsies to other parts of the country, view their beautifully commonsensical video here:
Sources: Food + Tech Connect, Halfsies
Image via Halfsies.
Thursday, January 12, 2012 2:43 PM
What must it feel like to be an astronaut: weightless, rocketing farther and farther from home and country, gazing out your craft’s window at the deepness of space, wondering where you can get a good salad...
As astronauts set their sights on a not-so-distant mission to Mars, scientists are wondering what to put on spacecraft menus. Current packaged meal options, while far more advanced than the nutrition pills and pureed-food tubes of early space travel, aren’t practical for an extended trip, says Alexandra Witze in Science News. “Six astronauts eating 3,000 calories a day for three years, the length of a Mars mission, adds up to 20 tons of prepared food that would need to be launched.”
Homegrown space food could be the answer. Researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are exploring ways for astronauts to raise their own vegetables in orbit, from radishes and lettuce to cherry tomatoes and mizuna greens. The plants, generating oxygen as well as food, are grown hydroponically, with blue, red, and green lights employed to aid production and special implements used to carry moisture to their roots.
But as with Sputnik 1, the Russians got here first. They’ve been growing food in space, on a small scale, for decades and have a miniature garden in their part of the International Space Station. Now, funding for research in the United States—which has been fickle over the years—is reinvigorated, thanks to the prospective trek to Mars.
Researchers suspect that space gardens won’t be the primary source of sustenance on galactic missions, but fresh-picked vegetables will be a welcome addition to the cycle of processed and packaged meals.
“Along with reducing trash and launch mass requirements, such crops would give astronauts a little diet variety and psychological lift,” writes Witze. After all, even astronauts love to eat local.
Source: Science News
Image by Tim Sackton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 06, 2012 3:51 PM
Lots of people think that farming has gotten too industrialized. But there are others who believe it’s not nearly industrialized enough—such as the Iowa inventor who envisions armies of robots growing our food in the future.
Discovery News reports on David Dourhout’s new Prospero, a six-legged farm robot that works in teams to plant and fertilize crops. Scuttling across the land like oversized, high-tech crabs, the group of intercommunicating robots resemble an alien invasion more than a farm crew. Watch them at work in this video:
Dourhout, who based his Prospero design in part on the swarming behaviors of insects, birds and fish, believes that robotic farming will help ramp up food production for a heavily populated planet. He “hopes the next step will be to create more advanced robots that can weed, fertilize and harvest the crop,” writes Eric Niller at Discovery News.
Count me among those who are skeptical that large-scale robotic farming is the answer to our pressing food-supply needs. While I understand that not every tomato and strawberry can be lovingly hand-picked by an organic farmer in a bucolic setting, it seems equally a stretch to think that complete robotic automation is the future of farming.
The popular science press seems perpetually entranced by the prospect of a heavily roboticized future, to the point where my own response to such stories has become automated. When asked “Should robots grow our food?” I have the same answer as I do to the question recently posed on the cover of Discover: “Should robots run airport security?”
Source: Discovery News, Discover
Thursday, December 29, 2011 10:12 AM
What do you get if you cross an apple tree with a littleleaf linden? The Guerrilla Grafters—a renegade urban gardening group in San Francisco—hope the result is a metropolitan food forest. The volunteer activists splice branches from fruit trees onto the non–fruit bearing trees that line their city streets in an effort to grow cherries, Asian pears, and other fresh produce for local residents, free of charge.
“We have tens of thousands of trees in San Francisco,” says Guerrilla Grafter Tara Hui, in a video shot by *faircompanies, “so that’s a huge resource that we could tap into to provide food.”
Not everyone is a fan of the project, reports Yi Chen on psfk: “In some states, it’s illegal to have fruit bearing trees on pedestrian footpaths as fallen fruits become a health and safety hazard, [and are] also believed to attract insects and rodents.” The Guerrilla Grafters, however, believe that enlisting community stewards to monitor the trees will prevent such problems.
To learn more about the project, and find out how you can replicate it in your city, visit the Guerrilla Grafters website and watch this video of Hui and Booka Alon as they lovingly check their grafts and seek out new fruit:
Sources: *faircompanies, psfk
Image by Muffet, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:53 AM
Anyone who has waited tables or cooked in a restaurant kitchen knows the backbreaking work, the questionable conditions, and the meager rewards. Now, it’s easy to find the restaurants that treat their employees right with the 2012 National Diners’ Guide, presented by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). The guide outlines the pay and benefits of 186 of the country’s most popular eateries, from fast food to fine dining.
Before you look at the guide to see where your favorite establishment stands, check out some of the reasons why the ROC says the ethical treatment of restaurant workers is vital:
With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the federal poverty line.
90 percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center report not having paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights issue but a pressing concern in public health!
Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73 percent reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.
Jaeah Lee at Mother Jones has distilled the ROC’s guide into an excellent Zagat-like reference for diners. (See, at a glance, that Starbucks’ employees don’t get paid sick days, but Chipotle’s do.) And, also on MoJo, Utne Reader visionary Tom Philpott takes a moment to look on the bright side of the report, pointing out that the “ROC isn’t just dishing up the restaurant industry’s dark secrets. It’s also working with restaurant owners across the country to come up with fair labor standards.”
For me, waiting tables at the Tic Toc Supper Club at the end of my teenage years was a crash-course in a range of adult matters: wine bottles are harder to open with a tableful of people watching; wearing a skirt gets you better tips; and the boss will rarely give you more than the bare minimum of what is required by law. Thanks to the ROC, restaurants just might be encouraged to give that bare minimum a boost.
Sources: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Mother Jones
Image by rbnlsn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 4:45 PM
From Brooklyn to Portland, Minneapolis to Austin, people are sharing the love and their homemade, homegrown, or foraged edibles at modern-day food swaps. Too many pickled beets in your pantry? Trade a few jars for a dozen duck eggs. An overabundance of hand-foraged mushrooms? Swap them for lavender-infused vodka.
This week, a circle of cooks, canners, bakers, and urban farmers launched the Food Swap Network, a new online community for those who want to trade their wares and connect with likeminded DIYers. The site is a good stop for first-timers, giving tips on how host a food swap, attend a food swap, and find a food swap in your area, and also offers glimpses into thriving food swaps around the country.
Emily Ho, food writer and founder of the LA Food Swap explains the growing popularity of the nouvelle food sharing movement to LAist:
I think people are eager for the sense of community that a food swap provides. A food swap not only gives members a chance to share delicious handmade foods but also is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are interested in gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, and other sustainable, DIY activities. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from and start activities like making their own condiments, baking bread, etc., it’s fun to share this experience with others. (Plus, who needs 20 jars of homemade ketchup?)
Sources: LAist, Food Swap Network
Image by Dennis Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 3:37 PM
I’m sure my stomach knows best. Give me a bad day, and my gut tells me to griddle up a grilled cheese sandwich made with whatever is in the fridge: cheddar, provolone, mozzarella—I’ll even take American singles, as long as they’re melted between slices of thick-cut buttered bread. The more the cheese oozes, the better I feel.
Now, in an emerging field dubbed neurogastroenterology, scientists are finding that the stomach knows more than we give it credit for. “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain,” Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University tells Dan Hurley in Psychology Today. The brain in your gut, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), is made up of 100 million neurons and can work on its own, without any direction from the brain. And it does more than control itself; it can control your mood, Hurley reports.
It relies on, and in many cases manufactures, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain. What’s more, tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression. Even autism, studies suggest, may be wrapped up in the neurobiology of the brain down under.
Certain foods can have a particularly strong effect on emotions, according to researchers in Belgium. So what comfort food works best to bolster our moods? Mashed potatoes? Macaroni and cheese? Mainlined ice cream sundaes? Any of these can work, as long as they contain one key ingredient: fat.
After participants in the Belgian study were fed either a saline solution or an infusion of fatty acids and then listened to neutral or melancholy music, they were interviewed and given MRI scans. Researchers found that the fatty acids activated the brain regions that regulate emotions and reduced feelings of sadness by about half.
“It’s an important demonstration that in a nonconscious way, without knowing whether you are getting the fat or the salt-water, something you put in your stomach can change your mood,” Giovanni Cizza of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tells Hurley.
So go on and take a little solace in comfort food. As it turns out, those cravings aren’t all in your head.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by Chefdruck, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 24, 2011 4:57 PM
In America, more than 49 million people—including nearly 17 million children—go hungry every day. That’s a heartbreaking one in five kids who will go to sleep with bellies growling tonight. In honor of National Food Day, The Daily Meal has compiled 44 things you can do to fight hunger. Writes the food and drink site:
Some are as simple as clicking a link; others are as time-consuming and collaborative as planting and tending a garden. There are products to buy, places to donate, things to watch. You can even make a contribution by going bowling, getting a haircut, eating a candy bar. All these actions will, to a greater or lesser extent, put food on somebody’s table.
Some of the most compelling endeavors include City Harvest’s Skip Lunch Fight Hunger, which asks people to take their lunch to work and donate the money they save to hunger initiatives; Food Forward, a Los Angeles program to glean and distribute unused local fruit from private homes and public spaces; Schools Fight Hunger, which enlists students and teachers to plant gardens and donate the harvest to local food banks; and Move for Hunger, a service that picks up nonperishable food items that might otherwise be thrown away in a move.
If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, try grape stomping or skateboarding to eradicate hunger. And did you know that Meals on Wheels is still in going strong and looking for folks to prepare or deliver meals? According to their website, this group—numbering between 800,000 and 1.7 million individuals—is the nation’s biggest volunteer army.
Check out The Daily Meal’s full list for more ideas on combating food insecurity, and don’t miss their slideshow “10 American Cities That Are Going Hungry.” Then be thankful when you sit down with your fork, knife, and spoon at the dinner table tonight.
Source: The Daily Meal
Image by whitneyinchicago, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 21, 2011 3:17 PM
“Why would someone spend their limited leisure time shoveling horse-shit into a compost pile?” wonders Jason Mark, co-manager at San Francisco’s Alemany Farm, which hosts community workdays twice a week.
More and more, people are clamoring to join in the urban farming movement and get their hands dirty. There’s no doubt that urban gardening has graduated from fledgling trend to part of our cultural landscape, with vegetable gardens taking root everywhere from tiny backyards, to college campuses, to the White House grounds, to fire-escape terraces. Writing for Gastronomica, Mark lays out the motivations behind the movement and why public participation continues to rise:
The new agrarians are seeking a way to refashion the relationships—ecological, emotional—that have been eroded by work without meaning and food without substance. They are trying to accomplish a kind of restoration of the world…. The farm’s gift is the confirmation of our common need for sustenance, for cooperation, achievement, and creativity, and for a visceral connection to the biological systems on which we depend. The farm reminds us of how, when we join together in the spirit of collective action, we fulfill our individual selves.
Mark points to several specific, personal benefits of urban gardening. First, of course, there’s the food. (Who can’t appreciate the crunch of a Mokum carrot or the beauty in a row of ruffle-leaved lettuces?) But behind this real food lies the honest labor that results in real satisfaction, another key reward. Mark writes:
At the end of a workday, the most common sentiment I hear from volunteers is astonishment at how much they have done. They are delighted to witness the immediacy of their accomplishments. When the day started, the onions were a weedy, overgrown mess; by the close of the afternoon, the crop lines are clean and obvious. Most people’s regular jobs don’t provide such clear cause and effect.
Cultivating farmland where we can provides other simple gifts, too: an artistic outlet, an escape from a self-absorbed society, and a much-needed reconnection with nature—no matter how urban it might be. Mark says this of his beloved, if not bucolic, Alemany Farm:
This isn’t the backwoods of Yosemite. We grow food next to a 165-unit public-housing project. I will never forget one college student I spent an afternoon weeding with. I asked him why he came to the farm. “It’s just great to be out in nature,” he said. I almost dropped my hoe. Didn’t he hear the rush of freeway traffic seventy yards away?
(article not available online)
Image by clayworkshop, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 09, 2011 4:21 PM
Farmers are often among the first people to notice a shift in the climate. So while I rely on scientists for my big-picture information about climate change, I also take seriously the cumulative daily—and yearly—field research of a trusted source: My local CSA (community supported agriculture) farmers, Michael Racette and Patty Wright of Spring Hill Community Farm in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin. They are keen observers of wind, water, air, and soil, living so close to the land that they literally sink their hands into it every day.
Farming has of course always been an uncertain business, due to the naturally variable whims of weather, but lately it’s more uncertain than ever—some would even call it wildly unpredictable. Here’s what’s happening in the furrows as reported by Patty in this season’s Spring Hill newsletters:
Sometimes rain is a lovely thing, sometimes it’s not. Last Friday we had about half an inch of rain. It made harvest not very pleasant or pretty, but we appreciated it knowing we were in for a blast of heat over the next week. Then there was Saturday morning. Very early Saturday morning we woke up to thunder and lightning and heavy, heavy rains. When we went out to take a look there was over four inches of rain in the gauge. Our little stream had become something of a river and we were unable to cross it. Our plan to pick peas with the members who were to arrive shortly was curtailed when we sank up to our ankles in mud. Plans to pick cilantro were changed to basil from the hoophouse when we saw the flattened cilantro.
It’s been a big week at the farm, a big week of crazy weather and a big week of garlic harvest. After that most amazing four-inch-plus rain, we were blasted with heat. … We had hoped to finish [the garlic harvest] last Saturday but just as people arrived to help with the harvest day, so did the rain. We got over an inch that morning and then another inch and a quarter Saturday evening. Thankfully we’ve managed to escape damaging winds and hail and we all survived the brutal heat. I know there’s crazy weather every year but this year seems record breaking on way too many fronts.
Rain, heat, mosquitoes! The working conditions of late have not been ideal. We’ve gotten well over ten inches of rain over the last couple of weeks and it’s raining again as I write. The ground is saturated making it impossible to get in and do some of the work we’d like to be doing.
We are starting to see some of the effects of extended hot weather along with all the rain.
Last Tuesday, Mike and I went out to harvest the eggplant. We were able to pick about 75-80 nice eggplant—and that was it. There would be no eggplant for Saturday’s delivery and none in the foreseeable future. The plants have no more eggplant of any size. Peppers are equally puzzling. Some have a decent fruit set, others a couple of big ones and nothing else. Our poblano peppers have no fruit. While it’s true that peppers and eggplant both are heat loving plants, they’re rather particular about the temperature while they’re blossoming. In fact, they’ll drop their blossoms if the daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees and/or if nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees. Beans, it turns out, are equally sensitive. Our first bean planting produced just fine. Our second planting, however, setting its blossoms during that heat spell, is not producing well at all. We’re taking a week (maybe two) off of beans. Hopefully we’ll have some after that. The bees, so important for pollination, also take a vacation when it gets hot. We’ve noticed the effects of that in our zucchini and cucumber patches. Potatoes, we’ve learned, go into a stage of dormancy when it gets too warm.
If this year is any indication, farming in this time of climate change is going to be challenging. While one certainly can’t plan for unpredictability, we’re trying to think about what we ought to be doing as extreme weather patterns become more common.
Source: Spring Hill Community Farm
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Thursday, September 08, 2011 4:03 PM
An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population considers insects a commonplace food source, and soon—as eating meat becomes increasingly costly to wallets and the environment—bugs may hit Western dinner tables, too.
In the Netherlands, the company Bugs Originals recently developed pesto-flavored bug nuggets and chocolate-covered muesli bars made from crushed mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, reports Daniel Fromson for The Atlantic. Bugs Originals has also been successful in selling freeze-dried locusts and mealworms to local outlets. Fromson writes:
The company’s goal is to get consumers to embrace bugs as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional meat. With worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock. Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.
Here in the states, in an innovation and entrepreneurship competition this spring, the University of Chicago awarded $10,000 to student-conceived Entom Foods, reports Carrie Golus in The Core. The team, which won with their well-received grasshopper cookies, plans to start a for-profit business that produces insect meat as a sustainable food source. But implementation will require clearing some hurdles, Golus says:
For Western consumers, the team admitted in its proposal, “the multiple wings, the beady eyes, the slimy legs . . . all contribute to an overall ‘ick’ factor.” Entom’s brilliant solution: food processing. The shelling machines currently used for lobsters and other crustaceans could be adapted for insects, the team proposes. The wings, legs, eyes, and other gross parts would be whisked away, leaving the thorax meat, “which is nutritious and has the same consistency as more traditional meats.”
Entom has yet to decide which insect will be the focus of their venture. “One possibility is the long-horned grasshopper, which reportedly tastes like a hybrid of butter, bacon, and chicken,” Goluswrites. “Another is the giant prickly stick insect; at eight inches long, this creature could supply a lot of meat.”
But Entom is keeping American tastes in mind. “We’re obviously going to avoid the super-stigmatized insects, like cockroaches and flies,” team leader Matthew Krisiloff tells Golus. Those bugs “wouldn’t have substantive meat on them anyway.”
Sources: The Atlantic, The Core
Image by diverevan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 28, 2011 3:08 PM
It’s easy to make fun of biodynamic wine growers: After all, they bury manure in cow horns to absorb “life forces” from the earth, plant and harvest their grapes according to astrological charts, and concoct potion-like preparations according to highly prescribed rules that seem almost like religious ritual.
Wine writer Katherine Cole chooses not to mock but to try to understand these starry-eyed farmers in her new book Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, recently published by Oregon State University Press. Cole is an able and level-headed guide to the biodynamic world, bringing a healthy skepticism to practices that carry more than a hint of woo-woo, yet keeping an open enough mind that she can approach her subjects with respect and inquisitiveness—even when she visits a vintner who uses a “radionic field broadcaster” made of PVC pipe and copper wire to spread “energetic essences” across his vineyard like some sort of magic New Age cannon.
As to the issue of quality, Cole pulls no critical punches: “Biodynamically farmed grapes make for fascinating wines,” she writes. “They also make banal wines.”
She even tackles “head-on” the difficult subject of Rudolf Steiner, the guru-like founder of biodynamics who also developed Waldorf schools, the eurhythmy dance method, and the supernaturally charged school of philosophy known as anthroposophy. Cole acknowledges some of Steiner’s more out-there ideas—that gnomes and Atlantis are real, for instance—but out in the vineyards, she finds “you won’t hear much talk about the spirituality of biodynamics among most practicing vignerons.”
In many of its basic practices, Cole notes, biodynamic is a lot like organic: It allows weeds and wildlife to flourish, it doesn’t use artificial pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers, and it takes a holistic approach to land management. This can’t be all bad, right? I’d certainly rather live downstream or downwind from a biodynamic vineyard than a conventional one.
Writes Cole: “For my part, I like to compare biodynamics to yoga. It’s a way to strengthen and fortify the whole body, to ward off illness and to maintain health.”
Still, she’s not totally drinking the Steiner Kool-Aid—or should I say pinot noir?:
There is value to a traditional foundation of knowledge. … But biodynamic farmers don’t merely rely on a foundation of traditional knowledge; they swear off most modern advances altogether. Or, as one Oregon winegrower so succinctly put it to me, “You really have to know what you’re doing. It’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”
Whatever you think of about practitioners of biodynamic agriculture, you’ve got to admit that they’ve got guts. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even show up at a gunfight with a gun. Biodynamic farming is like a health regimen of yoga, herbs, and nutrition. Nothing else. … It may be laudable, but it also may be foolhardy.
Source: Voodoo Vintners
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Thursday, July 21, 2011 1:26 PM
You’ve heard the old phrase “You are what you eat.” A new photography venture called The Last Meals Project amends the adage into “You were what you ate.” Photographer Jonathon Kambouris juxtaposes death row mug shots with a description of the inmate’s last meal, and then superimposes photos of the food on top. The effect is quieting and humbling, bringing the viewer closer to the humanity behind the menace.
Kambouris first became fascinated with death row inmates and last meals after reading a newspaper clipping about the final day of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “The story spoke of the build up to the execution and described his final moments and last meal,” he told Twenty-Four HoursZine. “When I read that Timothy McVeigh chose two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream as his last meal, it immediately sent a shiver down my spine and left a lasting effect on me.”
“The last meal is the last choice one can make before being put to death, Kambouris explains. “Because of the extreme importance of this ritual, this choice of a last meal is unarguably honest and true.”
(Utne recently covered the moral politics of the death penalty. In one article, Sister Helen Prejean talks about America’s bloody obsession with retribution. In another, a Texas-based writer chronicles a death row inmate’s final twelve days.)
Source: Twenty-Four Hours Zine
Images courtesy of The Last Meals Project and Jonathon Kambouris.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 5:29 PM
“All meat is not created equal,” reads a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” evaluates 20 common protein-rich foods to determine the healthiest picks for the planet and for our bodies.
The best bet is the friendly lentil. The worst offenders? Lamb, beef, and (say it ain’t so!) cheese. The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) they generate—from feed production, ruminant digestion, and manure—along with their fat contents and cradle-to-grave carbon footprints put them at the bottom of EWG’s impact chart:
Eating less meat and cheese can make an astonishing reduction in GHG emissions, says political food blog Civil Eats:
Just like reducing home energy use or driving less, skipping meat once a week can make a meaningful difference in GHG emissions if we all do it. According to EWG’s calculations, if everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles. To present a likelier option, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles–or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
That said, not all lamb chops are evil. On the farm where I grew up, for example, we had a modest flock of fifty sheep and, although they were raised for meat, the cycle was about as humane and environmentally responsible as it comes: We gently moved them from pasture to pasture, where they grazed on grass and alfalfa; we lovingly sheared them onsite, selling the lanolin-soft wool; we lambed them in the spring, midwifing the hardest births; and, finally, we took the lambs to a small processor just eight miles up the road.
If you’re in search of ethical, eco-friendly, health-smart meat, look for local, lean, pasture-raised cuts, given no antibiotics or hormones and, preferably, certified “organic” and “humane.” Want help losing your appetite for meat instead? Read Will Wlizlo’s soberingly graphic Utne Reader post “Inside the Meat Processing Plant.” (Shudder.)
Sources: Environmental Working Group, Civil Eats
Infographic by Environmental Working Group.
Thursday, July 14, 2011 2:50 PM
A growing number of beer makers are incorporating green practices in their brewing operations, but a couple of brothers setting up a brewery in Chicago are setting their sights even higher, reports the Chicago Reader: They’re aiming for a zero-waste facility.
The key is that the New Chicago Brewing Company is not a freestanding operation but part of The Plant, a former meatpacking facility that is being renovated to house a bunch of symbiotic businesses under one roof. One makes pickles, one makes kombucha tea, and one is an aquaponics operation that will produce tilapia, greens, mushrooms, and herbs. The Reader reports:
The idea is to turn the whole compound into a zero-waste facility. The heat for brewing New Chicago’s beer will come from an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria to convert organic waste—produced in the building and by neighboring food businesses—to biogas (and sludge, which becomes fertilizer). The gas is then cleaned, compressed, and run through a high-pressure turbine (repurposed from a military fighter jet engine) to create electricity and 850-degree steam. The brewery, in turn, will produce spent grains—which can be used to feed the tilapia, grow mushrooms, and feed the digester—and carbon dioxide—which will be piped to the plants in the building to make them grow faster.
Sounds like a great idea, though it has a ways to go yet. The brothers, Samuel Evans and Jesse Edwin Evans, don’t expect to be brewing beer till March 2012, and The Plant’s website shows pretty clearly that the facility is a DIY work in progress. But Samuel Evans figures that ultimately their production costs will be “insanely lower—like 75 percent lower” than a conventional brewery.
Once they’re up and running, New Chicago plans to produce 12,000 barrels of beer in the first year, to be sold to city bars and liquor stores. The Evanses also hope to sell beer on-site in a tasting room and to help aspiring brewers make and market their own concoctions.
It’ll be up to beer aficionados to decide how stellar the suds are. But if the Evans brothers realize their ambitions, New Chicago will help set a new standard for sustainable breweries—and others businesses too. “Nothing leaves our brewery except beer,” they write on the New Chicago website. “Imagine if that were true for all production businesses.”
Source: Chicago Reader, The Plant, New Chicago Brewing Company
Diagram by Matt Bergstrom.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 3:54 PM
And you thought the stacks of vacuum-packed pork chops sold at Costco were creepy. At the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, scientists are growing meat in petri dishes, reports Nicola Jones in Conservation.
Utne Reader has been following the in-vitro meat discussion for several years and was interested to read Eindhoven University’s progress. There, researchers like Mark Post harvest myosatellite cells (stem cells responsible for muscle growth and repair) from living pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys, or chickens and turn them into thin strips of animal muscle, only about 200 micrometers thick, through a series of cell division and bundling.
Unsettling as the idea of manufactured meat sounds, the field’s leaders have the best intentions. Post hopes to end the “wasteful production of farm animals for food by helping to develop life-like steaks.” Like vegetarianism and veganism, the prospect could benefit the environment, Jones writes:
Largely because of the inefficiency of growing crops to feed livestock, a vegetarian diet requires only 35 percent as much water and 40 percent as much energy as that of a meat-eater. Future “in-vitrotarians” should be able to claim similar savings.
So, how does it taste? Don’t ask Post—he hasn’t eaten the pork grown in his lab. Jones explains:
The thing that enthusiasts for fake meat talk least about is its taste, perhaps because they haven’t tried it. In the U.S., researchers have largely avoided eating anything grown in the lab for fear of violating a Food and Drug Administration regulation . . . or of being seen as publicity hounds. Researchers generally believe that, if they can get the texture right, taste will follow—particularly once flavoring is added.
As far as [Post] knows, the only person who has swallowed a strip of the pale, limp muscle tissue is a Russian TV journalist who visited the lab this year to film its work. “He just took it with tweezers out of the culture dish and stuffed it in his mouth before I could say anything,” says Post.
Image by cbertel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 25, 2011 4:48 PM
Some developers are starting to incorporate a new feature into neighborhoods: A food supply. Landscape Architecture magazine reports in its April issue on forward-looking urbanists who are situating working farms next to homes in mixed-use projects.
“Both development and agriculture are broken, and the answer to each is in the other,” architect Quint Redmond tells the magazine.
Community gardens are a familiar manifestation of residential-area agriculture, but many of the new designs are incorporating farms that are bigger and intended to meet more of the community’s nutritional needs.
In one setup, a neighborhood of small lots adjoins land set aside for conservation and agriculture. The land is owned by a nonprofit or homeowners’ association, and the farm management and/or operation is contracted to a professional farmer. Residents can get the produce through a market or by joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Prairie Crossing near Chicago and Serenbe near Atlanta are two examples of this type of approach.
Other proposed communities are still on the drawing boards and attempting to attract support. One designed by Redmond’s firm TSR Group would turn 618 acres of current industrial farmland in Milliken, Colorado, into an “Agriburbia” community using almost half the land for commercial farming. Another 135 of the acres would go to acres to parks and natural habitat, and the rest would host 994 dwellings.
In Vancouver, a 536-acre proposed project, dubbed the Southlands, would host 2,000 housing units ranging from multifamily dwellings to single-family homes to small farmsteads and larger farms. All the residents in this “agrarian urbanism,” as New Urbanist planner Andres Duany has called it, would contribute, in their own way, to food production.
Landscape Architecture hints at some of the conflicts that that could arise in such communities, noting that residents would have to be willing to tolerate farm smells and noises. (I’d add my own caveat: Unless we’re talking organic, non-GMO agriculture, who wants to live near pesticide drift and genetic cross-contamination?) Other significant logistical challenges remain, including “the niggling problem of individualism” in proscribing private land use.
Some critics have larger conceptual problems with the whole enterprise. Duany’s “agrarian urbanist” vision for Southlands attracted some blowback even in the planning stages, having kicked up a spirited row in 2008 between him and Toronto Globe and Mail architecture critic Trevor Boddy in the pages of the design-architecture magazine Arcade. Boddy sees the Southlands development as simply a new way to justify unjustifiably large yards:
My own view is that history will regard the New Urbanism as a last gasp attempt to reform suburbanism from within, before high energy prices and new respect for land compels much denser development.
Boddy’s sharp attack aside, it remains to be seen whether something good can grow from these farm-and-live arrangements, which get down to the basic and long-lived question of how we should organize society. It seems it can’t hurt to start trying something other than big highways, big cars, and big stores.
Sources: Landscape Architecture
(article not available online), Agriburbia, Arcade
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Monday, April 18, 2011 12:54 PM
This article originally appeared at Care2.com
A recent Thomson Reuters World IP Today report found women are 14 percent more likely than men to select environmentally friendly packaging over conventional alternatives.
According to the study, World IP Today: Convenience vs. Conscience – Food Packaging in the 21st Century, men are more inclined to choose the most convenient packages over those that are environmentally friendly, and women tend to do the opposite.
The report showcases the state of the food and beverage packaging industry by looking across a number of information sources, including patents, trademarks, scientific literature, litigation data and more.
The study's findings show that convenient packaging is not just an indulgence, but reduces food waste, aids in portion control and makes food preparation easier for the elderly. The challenge is finding a way to serve convenience while offering consumers a believable way to make conscientious choices.
Advances in eco-friendly packaging have been popping up in many different markets, including food.
A New York company called Evocative Design has created a compostable alternative to polystyrene made from mushrooms.
Since 2005, Earthcycle has developed an innovative way to turn palm fiber waste into environmentally responsible packaging alternatives such as produce packaging, food trays and other applications.
Walkers, a popular division of PepsiCo UK, recently announced plans to use potatoes both inside and outside the bag in an attempt to make its packaging more environmentally friendly.
And just last month, PepsiCo announced that it has developed the world's first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources.
The Reuters poll of 1,011 adults found that while women are more likely than men to select environmentally friendly packaging, overall, people are fairly evenly split between conscience and convenience.
Image by lyzadanger, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 4:53 PM
Whenever I go to the grocery store and come to the refrigerated-foods aisle, I pick up a box of tofu—pale, waterlogged, and lonely in a vacuum-sealed plastic container. Filled with good intentions of going meatless more often, I often buy it. It’s less often that I use it. Tofu may have its benefits (soy purportedly lowers cholesterol, eases the symptoms of menopause, and promotes heart health), but the fact remains that coagulated bean curd is decidedly not sexy.
John Scharffenberger, CEO of the Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, California, hopes to change that.
Scharffenberger is a veteran of the luxury food market. His Scharffenberger Cellars brought critically acclaimed Champagne-like sparkling wine to the masses. His most well-known venture, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, helped steer Americans’ chocolate tastes from sweetly pedestrian to unabashedly dark. Now, Scharffenberger and Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy aim to turn us on to tofu, hippies and foodies alike.
Hodo Soy Beanery is a small tofu factory that uses organic, non-GMO soybeans from Iowa farms to make products including tea-infused soy blocks, braised five-spice nuggets, and yuba strips—crepelike noodles cut from thin sheets of soy. The company has a stylish website, offers public tours of its facility, and just might be the future of tofu.
“The timing is right for tofu,” says California, the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association, “as more people reduce their meat consumption and seek out vegetarian protein sources without sacrificing flavor.” And as the discussion on genetically modified food heats up, non-GMO tofu may get an additional boost.
By no means is Scharffenberger the only player in the new tofu renaissance. According to the San Francisco Gate, there are several artisans bolstering tofu’s image:
Bay area chefs are making their own tofu, and local companies are producing it as it is done throughout much of East and Southeast Asia—for daily consumption…. These producers are bringing the noble bean curd back to its handmade roots, showing that it can involve as much craft as cheese or chocolate.
Tofu like cheese or chocolate? I’ll never pass you by in aisle five again.
, San Francisco Gate
Image by cipher, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 07, 2011 11:55 AM
Cookbooks are hot sellers these days: Americans bought more than 60 million of them in 2010, a 9 percent increase over 2009. But how many people are using them to, you know, cook food? Kelly Alexander at The New Republic has her doubts about some of these glossy tomes, noting that Momofuku whiz-chef David Chang’s new cookbook sometimes leaves out crucial details and routinely aims way over the heads of its audience.
“The recipes are impossible for even an accomplished home cook to prepare on a busy weeknight,” writes Alexander, noting that a recipe for pork buns simply “doesn’t work” and another “calls for the cook to boil a pig’s head and recommends removing the hairy patches with a blowtorch.”
Alexander also singles out for criticism the new cookbook by René Redzepi, a Nordic cuisine hotshot, that calls for a “part food processor, part crock pot” device called the Thermomix that’s unavailable in the United States.
Even foodies who are actually willing to try challenging recipes are noticing that the exotica factor is sometimes just too much. In the latest issue of The Art of Eating, reviewer Jarrett Wrisley is generally complimentary to the $60, 372-page, photograph-packed new cookbook Thai Street Food by David Thompson, but he notes:
Cooking your way through this book could be difficult, especially if you’re far from an Asian market. Occasionally it calls for prep work impossible in the Western kitchen, such as fashioning a barbecue brush out of the leaves of a pandanus plant. And if you use canned coconut milk rather than freshly pressed or if you fail to strain your own tamarind pulp from the dried fruit, you’ll likely disappoint the man behind the words.
Mr. Thompson, prepare to be disappointed.
Ultimately, The New Republic’s Alexander surmises, many of these photo-rich, detail-starved books are more about flaunting one’s gastro-adventurism than anything else:
The popularity of these modern manuals is only tenuously connected to the practice of preparing food for people to eat. It has become common for folks who work in the world of food to brag that they read cookbooks “like novels.” Cookbooks have become objects of kitchen, coffee table, and nightstand décor, in which useful information has been displaced by close-ups of pornographic-looking turnips.
Sources: The New Republic (subscription required), The Art of Eating (article not available online)
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011 12:17 PM
Food is infused with politics these days, so foodie columnist Mark Bittman is getting out of the kitchen and into the fray. Bittman announced this week in his popular Minimalist column and blog for the New York Times’ Dining section that he’s shifting gears because of a shift in consciousness:
My growing conviction that the meat-heavy American diet and our increasing dependence on prepared and processed foods is detrimental not only to our personal health but to that of the planet has had an impact on my life and on that of the column. You can see this in dishes like stir-fried lettuce with shrimp, chickpea tagine with chicken, a number of bean dishes and the dozens of other meatless or less-meat recipes that have become dominant in the last five years.
In part, what I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue. I’ll be writing regularly about this in the opinion pages of The Times, and in a blog that begins next week. That’s one place to look for me from now on. The other is in The Times Magazine, where I’ll be writing a recipe column most Sundays beginning in March.
Here at Utne Reader, we’re quite familiar with the politics of food, having watched the organic, local, and sustainable food movements grow from infancy into cultural phenomena that are making us rethink the American diet. Last year, our “Food Fight” package of stories was one of our most-read cover sections. So we’ll be following Bittman’s coverage in his new role, and likely following his lead on important stories and analysis.
In the meantime, Bittman’s regular readers are distressed that their guru is changing forums. Bittman is more socially and politically aware than most foodies, and vegetarians, vegans, and conscientious carnivores can count on him for recipes that don’t always rely on butterfat, foie gras, and veal for their kicks. In my own household, with two vegetarians and three flexitarians, his cookbooks (especially How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) and recipes have been the foundation of many a meal.
Readers who have followed Bittman’s every sauté, braise, and glaze reduction are sending in their kudos to his final column, making it feel something like a eulogy. But he’ll still be cranking out recipes, and anyway, as one reader points out, “But we’ll always have the cookbooks. And you’ll have the royalties.”
Source: The Minimalist
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Friday, December 17, 2010 4:33 PM
The backyard chicken boom is teaching a lot of urban dwellers about life on the farm—but it’s death that is proving to be the harder lesson for some of them. In “When Backyard Chickens Become Pets,” Meatpaper’s Kassandra Griffin describes the mortal dilemmas that take many a new chicken owner by surprise.
For one thing, predators from hawks to raccoons can break into coops and massacre chickens. For another, hens stop laying eggs when they reach a certain age, and then some hard choices must be made unless one wants to oversee an ever-growing geriatric chicken population.
Griffin interviews a Portland woman who began raising chickens and grew close to a hen named Lucky that no longer lays eggs—but slaughtering Lucky is a no-go. “They’ve been very easy pets to have,” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking when they get killed. I can’t imagine killing one myself, especially not to eat.” Writes Griffin:
In that, she illustrates a new urban problem: People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat—few want to eat an animal they know by name. When older hens stop laying, the owner runs out of eggs, which were the presumed point of having the chicken in the first place.
Griffin goes on to interview less squeamish chicken owners who’ve made meals of past-their-prime birds. Says one, “I feel kind of sad about the chickens but not sad enough to eat them.”
(article not available online)
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010 5:41 PM
The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the slowly simmering tension between people who eat meat and those who don’t. Vegetarians brace themselves for uncomfortable questions about their motivations, while carnivores are certain that they’re being seen as bloodthirsty murderers by the veggies as they gnaw on their turkey drumsticks.
I’m a meat eater, but increasingly I’m a conscientious carnivore, eating meat sparingly and when I can be assured the animal was treated with respect and compassion. That’s why I was powerfully moved by a new video released just before Thanksgiving by the Humane Society of the United States that starkly reinforced an uncomfortable truth: Mass-produced turkeys lead grim lives of discomfort, cruelty, and outright abuse.
The footage, obtained by an undercover employee at the Willmar Poultry Company in Willmar, Minnesota, shows young turkeys, or poults, being mistreated at the megaplant, where they tumble off conveyor belts, are grabbed by the handful, and have their beaks lasered off in a grotesque spinning machine that dangles them by their heads. It’s a bizarre, highly mechanized, and, yes, inhumane place.
Here’s the kicker: The plant is so huge that according to the Humane Society, it supplies 50 percent of the turkeys sold in the nation. That means there’s a very good chance your family’s megafarm turkey came from the very place shown in the video.
When a story about the turkey video was posted by the Minneapolis newspaper the Star Tribune, comments ran into the hundreds. Many broke down along predictable lines, with unrepentant carnivores and self-righteous veggies staking out their polarized ground. The interesting responses came from people who were truly shocked at how turkeys are treated and reconsidering their holiday main-course options.
To me, it all adds up to one thing: squash lasagna. Happy holidays.
Source: Humane Society of the United States
D. Sharon Pruitt
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Monday, November 22, 2010 12:27 PM
A run-in with Roundup herbicide was a transformative episode in farmer Eric Herm’s shift toward sustainable agriculture. A fourth-generation farmer, Herm tells the tale in the book Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth: A Path to Agriculture’s Higher Consciousness (Dream River Press):
In May of 2009, my neighbor had his Roundup Ready cotton sprayed by Helena Chemical Company less than 40 yards from my home garden. The Roundup herbicide drifted and wiped out over 800 garlic bulbs, and all of my tomato, pepper, potato, bean, and corn plants. Within 48 hours every single plant in my garden curled up into a fetal position. Leaves curled upward, cupped around the edges, and plants showed visible signs of suffering. For three or four days I couldn’t figure out what had happened until I discovered my neighbor had sprayed Roundup a few days previous. I flew into a rage yet maintained my cool talking to Helena company officials. They were very courteous yet proceeded to blame a plane spraying half a mile away to the southwest.
Herm had tissue from his dead crops tested, and the results came back positive for glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Roundup. Still, the local Helena Chemical Company store manager insisted that his product wasn’t to blame.
That’s how these chemical companies work. Did I receive the $4,000 in damages? Take a wild guess. They put their lawyer against yours, and these chemical companies have a lot more money to spend on attorney fees than an individual farmer. Thanks to my neighbor and Helena Chemical Company, I lost an entire season of garlic, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, and corn as months of hard work spiraled down the drain.
Tomato, people, onion, garlic, and potato plants are extremely sensitive to Roundup. One whiff and their leaves curl upward and they are unable to produce healthy, normal-sized fruit. Very frustrating when you begin an entire garden from seed. Money cannot replace healthy food. … As long as we continue to think Roundup Ready crops are the only answer, agriculture is doomed.
Herm’s writing has a folksy, ticked-off tone, kind of a Jim Hightower with a stronger streak of rural individualism, a distrust of big government, and a dash of new age spirituality. But his overall message is positive and forward thinking: Our industrial, chemical-intensive farming practices are destroying the land and harming our health and security, and we must change them:
“It is up to you and me—us. We the people,” he writes. “If not us, if not now … well, then we are all really in trouble.”
Source: Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth
Thursday, August 19, 2010 3:15 PM
The chemical bisphenol A is seemingly everywhere—it’s in our receipts, our toys, our food containers, even our bodies—and it’s increasingly suspected as a factor in many health problems. Now the nasty stuff is even in lobsters, and it may be killing them off.
tipped us to a story in U Conn Today on the research of Hans Laufer, a molecular biologist who believes that waterborne chemicals including BPA is contributing to the shell disease that is killing off lobsters in Long Island Sound. Laufer, reports U Conn Today, has
found that by interfering with hormones crucial to young lobster growth, chemicals such as bisphenol A can slow the lobsters’ molting patterns and interfere with regular development, leading to body deformations, susceptibility to disease, and potential death.
As for those BPA-laden receipts, Treehugger has some promising news, reporting that three large European grocery chains are planning to phase out BPA in their receipts. The move may add to the momentum to do the same in the United States. In the meantime, wash your hands very well after handling receipts from CVS, Whole Foods, Safeway, the U.S. Postal Service, Walmart, Chevron, McDonalds, KFC, and—get this—the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria. See the Environmental Working Group’s website for a full breakdown of which receipts are the most, and least, toxic.
Source: U Conn Today, Treehugger, Environmental Working Group
Image by tuppus, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 09, 2010 3:19 PM
Cows eat grass. You wouldn’t think it’s a big deal to state this, but at Iowa State University a highly qualified job applicant who had the temerity to voice this simple biological fact was ejected from consideration for a post leading a sustainable agriculture program, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
Among those who study sustainability, saying cows should eat grass is not a controversial statement. But saying so in Iowa—which grows more corn than any other state—is likely to attract attention.
Well, it sure did. Ricardo Salvador is a well-respected sustainable agriculture expert and a former professor at Iowa State—and a natural, many observers thought, to lead the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture as its new director. A finalist for the position, however, he didn’t get the post even when the top candidate turned it down. Apparently, his cow comment came back to haunt him:
The remark that may have sunk Mr. Salvador’s candidacy came 37 minutes into his on-campus presentation. While discussing a research project in New York State, he mentioned meat being “produced in the natural way that meat should be produced, which is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops.”
If this were a TV game show, a loud buzzer would have gone off and Mr. Salvador would have been escorted from the stage that very moment. Because apparently he was supposed to say that cows should eat corn. Even if that’s not natural or sustainable, it’s simply how things are done in Iowa, a state built on big agriculture:
Corn allows cows to get fatter faster and be ready for slaughter sooner. But there are downsides, including the fact that cows have trouble digesting corn and must be fed antibiotics to prevent them from becoming ill. What’s more, the beef from corn-fed cows tends to have more fat.
The danger of the truth is so great that the Chronicle couldn’t even get Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of Iowa State’s agriculture school, to go anywhere near it. When asked whether cows evolved to eat grass, she replied, “I don’t have an opinion on that statement.”
Sheesh. Consider, for a moment, the man that the Leopold Center is named for, famed conservationist Aldo Leopold. In 1939, in the essay “A Biotic View of Land,” he wrote:
Each species, including ourselves, is a link in many chains. The deer eats a hundred plants other than oak, and the cow a hundred plants other than corn. Both, then, are links in a hundred chains.
Sorry, Mr. Leopold, but I’m going to cut you off right there before you say anything more inflammatory. Some university officials are not going to be happy about this.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required to read full article)
Image by twicepix, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 05, 2010 11:39 AM
Brooklynite Ranjit Bhatnagar is an avid greenmarket shopper. For the past 10 years, he has been creating art from his weekly produce purchases by scanning what he brings home, and posting the images on his Flickr page. The results are as tantalizing as they are beautiful.
All images courtesy of Ranjit Bhatnagar
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 3:10 PM
Depending on your perspective, Hostess Twinkies are either a) a tasty treat or b) a disgusting abomination wrapped in plastic. But have you ever wondered what makes these spongy snacks so yummy/horrific? Photographer Dwight Eschliman decided to find out. For his 37 or So Ingredients project, he individually photographed each component. Raised by a "health nut," Eschliman says he never saw a Twinkie until he left home for college. Now a father, he thinks a lot about what makes up the foods that we eat. Check out more of his work at his website.
Images courtesy of Dwight Eschliman
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 3:49 PM
Large, invasive Asian carp are overwhelming the Mississippi River and heading for the Great Lakes—and one way to help stop their spread is to eat them, a host of observers are suggesting. But the American palate is not attuned to carp as a delicacy, and the fish’s PR problems begin with its inelegant, harsh-sounding name. So why not rename it? It worked for orange roughy, which once was known as the slimehead, and “rock salmon,” a.k.a. the spiny dogfish.
Big River magazine, which covers the Upper Mississippi, has had a field day with its carp coverage, which recently included a Name That Carp contest that is now down to its finalists. The common carp is the more established but less aggressive invader, while the silver carp is the gigantic, leaping variety that really has river watchers worried. Here are the suggested names:
winged silver roughy
Entries are closed, but Big River is asking the public to vote on these finalists and will announce the winning names in the July-August issue.
It’s not the only publication with carp on its mind. The Chicago Reader did an entire carp issue that included a ten-chef carp challenge. One chef, Phillip Foss of Lockwood restaurant, took the competition to heart and began putting carp dishes on his menu that attracted favorable attention from the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.
But Foss isn’t going along with this renaming business. The Reader notes that “he was excited about selling Asian carp,” but that he wasn’t going to start calling it silverfin, as some boosters already have suggested. “He wasn’t going to sugarcoat it.”
Foss tells the Reader, “This fish has a lot of strikes against it. But this is not a bad-tasting fish. … You want to get it out of the water—why not fish it? Eat it for dinner tonight.”
Sources: Big River, Chicago Reader, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal
Top image by Michael Boyd, www.mboydphoto.com
. Carp dish image courtesy of Phillip Foss from his blog The Pickled Tongue.
Thursday, May 20, 2010 3:13 PM
Developments has some troubling news about women farmers in poor areas. A startling amount (upwards of 80 percent) of the food in poor countries is produced by women, but they often don't have ample resources to work with and some even starve. As farmer Rosemary Mubita told the magazine: “Poor women farmers don’t get any support. They need help with seeds, fertilizer, credit. They are the ones who are growing the crops and cooking the food to feed their families, yet often are forced to go to bed hungry.” Mubita is helping promote a report about the state of women’s hunger and food production, which was recently released by Concern Worldwide—an organization trying to raise awareness and rally support for this important, but oft-neglected workforce.
Image by IRRI Images, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010 12:40 PM
Trader Joe’s is widely viewed as a “green” company, attracting droves of eco-minded consumers who view its cozy, Hawaiian-themed stores as a cheaper alternative to Whole Foods or the neighborhood co-op. But as Sustainable Industries points out, it’s difficult to know how sustainable its operations really are—the company is “notoriously tight-lipped” about where its store-brand products come from.
A report on organic dairies from the Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-agriculture watchdog group, warns consumers to be vigilant about the explosive growth in these sorts of “organic” store brands. Private-label organics like those in Trader Joe’s “seem to contradict what many thought the organic movement was all about: consumers understanding where their food comes from and how it is produced,” the report states. The Trader Joe’s brand of milk, for example, claims to be organic—but it won’t disclose which dairies it buys from. Ditto for the soybeans it uses in its brands of soy milk, tofu, and other products. And a recent report found that its store brand of veggie burgers are made using hexane-extracted soy protein.
“It’s a delicate balance for Trader Joes’s,” notes Sustainable Industries, “because while its customers want low prices for ‘natural’ grub, typically part of the value customers get out of Trader Joe’s is not just that its prices are low, but that they’re low for products that are perceived to be of high value.”
On a few occasions, customers have demanded certain standards: Widespread requests for cage-free eggs and GMO-free foods have been met throughout the company’s stores—according to Trader Joe’s, at least. “Neither claim is backed by a third-party auditing mechanism,” according to Sustainable Industries.
The company did recently agree to revamp its seafood policies, after a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace to get red-list fish out of its stores (“Traitor Joe’s”). Trader Joe’s has already removed the highly endangered orange roughy and red snapper from its shelves, and promises to “phase out” other frowned-upon fish by the end of 2012.
That’s a solid sustainable step—but if Trader Joe’s is going to live up to its reputation, it’s got a lot of fancy frozen meals and bags of trail mix to account for. For now, “customers are accepting that ignorance is bliss,” writes Sustainable Industries. “After all, it’s what keeps the prices low and the Two-Buck Chuck flowing.”
Source: Sustainable Industries
Thursday, May 06, 2010 4:14 PM
So many American farmers are spraying Roundup weedkiller on their fields that they may be effectively creating a monster, the New York Times reports:
Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of … Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.
To fight them … farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.
The superweed revolution appears to threaten what the Times calls the “Roundup revolution” in which many farmers combine Roundup and genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops. These crops stand up to the weedkiller while most of the surrounding weeds perish—or that’s the idea, anyway. Some farmers told the paper that they’re spraying more herbicide and giving up minimum-till farming, which reduces erosion and chemical runoff.
If frequent plowing becomes necessary again, “that is certainly a major concern for our environment,” Ken Smith, a weed scientist at the University of Arkansas, said. In addition, some critics of genetically engineered crops say that the use of extra herbicides, including some old ones that are less environmentally tolerable than Roundup, belies the claims made by the biotechnology industry that its crops would be better for the environment.
It’s notable that just last week, Roundup maker Monsanto was defending itself at the Supreme Court in a case that involved the weedkiller’s environmental effects. On April 27, SustainableBusiness.com reported:
Today the Center for Food Safety faces off against Monsanto in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of farmers and public interest environmental organizations. Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms is the first case involving genetically engineered crops that has ever been heard by the Supreme Court.
Lower courts agreed that the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa must be stopped because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had failed to analyze the crop’s impacts on farmers and the environment. Although it remains undisputed that USDA violated environmental laws, and that it must rigorously analyze the genetically engineered crop’s impacts before deciding whether or not to approve it for sale, Monsanto is arguing that the lower courts should have allowed the planting of the illegal crop to go forward in the interim.
Presciently, the threat of the Roundup-resistant weeds covered in the New York Times came up in an amicus brief filed in the case by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Center for Biological Diversity:
In this case, the significant environmental risks that warrant preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, and that also implicate respondents’ interests in particular, involve not only whether Roundup Ready Alfalfa would further contaminate conventional alfalfa (as it already has), but also the risk that large-scale use of Roundup Ready Alfalfa will dramatically increase the use of the Roundup pesticide, which, among other impacts, may result “in the development of Roundup-tolerant weeds.”
Source: New York Times, SustainableBusiness.com, The Center for Food Safety
John D. Byrd
, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 10:29 AM
Face it, Earth Day is kind of daunting, and I think that’s one reason it isn’t as widely or exuberantly celebrated as some environmentalists wish. Merely acknowledging the tenuousness of our existence on this planet makes us confront fundamental issues of mortality and sustainability and the possible end of the world as we know it. That’s not nearly as fun as the mindless consumptive revelry of birthdays, Christmas, or Halloween.
So my concept for this Earth Day—Thursday—is to keep things simple. I’m going to celebrate the beauty and power of dirt. My inspiration for this personal back-to-the-roots movement is Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens series tonight, April 20, and also recently became available on DVD from New Video.
Of course, dirt might seem like the most boring and mundane film topic you could imagine, and indeed, a procession of soil scientist interviews would send many viewers fleeing. So Dirt!—starting with the exclamation point, it seems—goes out of its way to inject humor and visual effects, with microorganism cartoons and goofy interludes that will keep even younger kids interested. Beginning with the Big Bang and bringing us right up to modern agriculture, mining, and other earth-intensive human pursuits, it does a wonderful job of showing and telling us that “the living, breathing skin of the earth” is a fantastic and fragile resource.
The film takes a turn toward gooey eco-earnestness near the end, and cynics may groan as Kenyan “Green Belt” activist Wangari Maathai tells the tale of one brave little hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire drop by drop. But I won’t be joining them. If there’s one time when I’m willing to suspend pessimism and cheer on the treehuggers, it’s for Earth Day.
Sources: PBS Independent Lens, New Video
Thursday, April 15, 2010 5:27 PM
Many veggie burgers are made using hexane, a pollutant and neurotoxin also found in gasoline, Mother Jones reports, citing a recent study by the Cornucopia Institute. Writes Kiera Butler:
In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate the oil from the protein. Says Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys, “If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane.”
These veggie burgers are made with hexane:
Boca Burger (conventional)
It’s All Good Lightlife
Yves Veggie Cuisin
While these veggie burgers are hexane-free:
Boca Burgers “made with organic soy”
Morningstar “made with organic”
Superburgers by Turtle Island
The Mother Jones blog post kicked up a lot of comments and questions and led Butler to do a follow-up interview with Vallaeys. The researcher points out that the hexane process is used to make many cooking oils, margarines, and other products. A key question of course, is whether residues from the hexane remain in the food—and Vallaeys concedes that more testing is needed in this realm.
But personally, I don’t need any more testing to convince me that using a gasoline ingredient to soak the fat out of vegetables is a bad idea, and to cut foods that use this process from my diet.
See the full report (pdf) on the Cornucopia website.
While the rest of us are freaking out about our veggie burgers, we might do well to get outraged on behalf of babies, too. Writes Butler:
More worrisome still: According to the report, “Nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted.”
Sources: Mother Jones, Cornucopia Institute
Monday, April 05, 2010 2:00 PM
One of the many mouth-watering pieces in the Oxford American’s new Southern Food issue reveals Charleston chef Sean Brock’s secret ingredient: a very special, and very old, variety of sesame seeds:
According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, they’re PI 601236 01 SD, a variety that hails from the turn of the century and is a very near cousin to the seeds brought over to America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by enslaved Africans from modern-day Sierra Leone and Liberia. Lighter in color than contemporary sesame, PI 601236 01 SD have none of the overpowering bitterness of seeds such as Kansas 10, a hybrid developed in the 1940s whose high oil content lends itself to industrial applications such as cosmetics, paint, and soap.
Chef Brock claims the flavor of the old seeds is nothing short of a revelation. “It goes in layers,” he said. “The first thing you taste is this grassiness, and you think, This isn’t sesame seed. Then you get this cool, earthy nuttiness, followed by the most pleasant bitter you’ve ever tasted.”
Brock’s heirloom sesame seeds were tracked down by a motley crew of South Carolinians—an English professor, an entomologist, a mill owner—with a special interest in finding and restoring antebellum ingredients. “Nineteenth-century plant breeders tended to breed for taste—the vegetables they produced were vetted strongly for palatability,” University of South Carolina English professor David Shields tells the Oxford American. “In the twentieth century, they’re more concerned with transportability, shelf life, eye-appeal. What interests me is trying to recover the vegetables and grains from the nineteenth century that were known to be linchpins of the American table.”
Chef Brock’s take on Brown Oyster Stew, a classic antebellum recipe made with toasted sesame and oysters, may offer some indication of what’s to come. Brock purees Carolina Gold Rice and PI 601236 01 SD in a blender to a paste, which he then dehydrates and fries until it puffs “like pork rinds,” and scatters over the stew as a garnish.
In Brock’s kitchen, at least, the way forward seems to be neither antebellum nor postmodern, but futurist.
Source: Oxford American
Friday, March 12, 2010 4:37 PM
From the lovely people over at Grist, a slideshow of 12 things you should never put in your mouth. “You cannot imagine the stuff that passes for food,” the environmental news outlet reports. Oh, sadly, yes we can: from the “turducken of the candy world” to what is a funyun, seriously—Grist, we feel your indigestion.
Image by adactio, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 08, 2010 2:18 PM
Americans dropped $100 million on detox and body cleanse products between October 2008 and October 2009, according to Natural Solutions—a market share that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given the preponderance of website ads and spam for the stuff. I find the popularity baffling, especially among people I consider otherwise health savvy.
“No science shows that fasting or subsisting on liquids for any amount of time will scrub a lifetime’s worth of toxins from your cells,” Katie Arnold writes. In fact, “prolonged fasting can do more harm than good by slowing your metabolism, depleting your body of essential nutrients, and, ironically, recirculating toxins into your system.”
A few years ago we reprinted a short article from E Magazine that goes into more detail about the unhealthy strain fasting puts on the body. Natural Solutions adds to the conversation with ideas for “the right way” to detox—kicking sugar, for example, eating more vegetables, or beginning an exercise routine. In other words: living a healthy lifestyle.
Sources: Natural Solutions, E Magazine
Image by FotoosVanRobin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 05, 2010 6:13 PM
Foodmakers are having a tough time finding alternatives to bisphenol A, the chemical that’s been implicated in health issues and is used widely in the wares sold in your grocery store. The Washington Post recently described the frantic rush to find BPA alternatives among major food makers, who use it in container linings, but didn’t find any of them who wanted to go on the record about it:
Major food companies declined to talk publicly about their efforts to find a replacement for BPA linings. “We don’t have a safe, effective alternative, and that’s an unhappy place to be,” the source said. “No one wants to talk about that.”
The Food and Drug Administration has put off a decision on BPA to study it more, and it’s possible the agency will eventually ban the substance. To hear one WashPo source tell it, this isn’t the main issue—food makers are simply trying to preserve their slice of the market:
“It doesn’t matter what FDA says. If consumers decide they don’t want BPA, you don’t want it to be in a can that consumers don’t want to buy,” said one source at a major U.S. food company who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But the unspoken subtext here is the threat of legal action: As Utne Reader reported last November, BPA may become a major cause for plaintiffs’ attorneys, and companies that stick with the chemical despite steadily mounting evidence of its harmful effects stand to lose not just market share but possibly millions of dollars in damages.
Source: Washington Post
Friday, March 05, 2010 12:49 PM
Food is pretty much always on my mind: the proverbial what, where, when, how, and why we eat; who eats (and who doesn’t); and all of the questions of environment, ethics, and health that are bound up in it. I’m reminded of something Siobhan Phillips wrote in a Hudson Review piece I blogged about a few months ago: “What dishes one consumes or refuses, what food products one buys or boycotts, constitute an expression of style, statement of politics, reflection of values, index of environmentalism, pledge of allegiance, and measure of health. . . . Wonder when this got so complicated.”
Well here’s another (complicated-but-compelling) thing to consider: staple crops. Writing for Permaculture Activist, Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger recall relishing the food security that a burgeoning local foods movement—with its farmers’ market produce, meat, and dairy—seemed to offer in 2007. “Then we talked,” they write. “Brandon asked the question: ‘Where do we go to get our beans, grains, and oils?’ The answer: grocers and buying clubs who source from across the continent or around the world.
“That led to another question, which we couldn’t readily answer: ‘Where’s the food security when these foods, coming from far away, represent more than 70% of our diet—the bulk of what we eat?’ ”
Ajamian and Jaeger acquired a modest federal grant and in their home region of southeastern Ohio planted small test plots of “high-nutrition staple seed crops” such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, adzuki beans, and dent corn. Response from local bakeries and restaurants was immediate. As they went, they discovered that growing staples is relatively easy; harvesting and processing them into dry beans, milled flour, or pressed oils, and then transporting and storing those foods is the complicated part, requiring investment in infrastructure and equipment.
In 2008 they formed the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative (APFC), dedicated to building a replicable system for regional staple foods. Recently they opened a processing facility called the Shagbark Seed and Mill Co. As spring hatches here in the Midwest, I know they’ve give me a lot to chew on. (I’ve already turned to Utne’s sister publication Mother Earth News to learn more about the mechanics of growing grains, beans, and rice.)
Ajamian and Jaeger’s article for Permaculture Activist isn’t online, but here’s a short video of these two very interesting people discussing their project with the Athens Foundation, one of their many backers. There’s also an interview with them on the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service’s website, and you can also check out the APFC group on Facebook.
Sources: The Hudson Review, Permaculture Activist, Mother Earth News
Image by llsimon53, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010 5:13 PM
It’s at the root of the familiar phrase breaking bread: Sharing food is one of the most powerful rituals we perform as communities. Which is why the abundance of foods named for President Obama is worthy of a closer look, Mark Morton writes in Gastronomica.
Morton isn’t interested in glib corporate-level promotions—like a German frozen food company’s processed chicken “Obama Fingers”—rather the profusion of small diners, delis, and restaurants that have added Obama dishes to their fare: Obama burgers, sandwiches, fried chicken, cones, and fries. “In Cairo, Egyptian fruit sellers gave the name “President Obama” to their best fresh dates during the month of Ramadan,” he writes. “The honor is not trivial, considering that Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ended each day of fasting by eating dates.”
Eating an Obama sandwich—however suspect it might sound to a cycnic—is a form of social communion, Morton argues, not unlike consuming a piece of birthday cake decorated with a name or a slice of wedding cake topped with figurines of the happy couple. These restaurant owners “are trying to . . . reinvent a familiar custom,” he writes, “namely, the gathering of a community around an individual in order to bestow their collective support as he or she begins a new stage in life’s journey, and at the center of this custom is food.”
“If it were somehow possibly for Obama to share a meal for every one of his millions of supporters, there would be, I suspect, no profusion of homespun foods named after the President,” Morton writes. “But in the absence of that kind of personal opportunity to pledge support by breaking bread with their Commander in Chief, eating an Obama Burger might be the next best thing.”
Seeing as last month President Obama established a task force on childhood obesity and Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move campaign—a conflux we commemorated on Utne.com with a week of Cafeteria Chronicles blogging—perhaps we’ll see a renewed wave of presidential foods. This time, perhaps, instead of meaty, fried, and sugary fare, an Obama salad?
Image by justafoo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 1:13 PM
The latest video over at GOOD is a "look at the numbers behind our changing diet, and what we can do to make it better." No better time than the food-centric holiday season for this sort of exploration.
Friday, December 18, 2009 11:41 AM
Budgets are stretched thin this holiday season, but a little home-baked goodness is just the antidote for gift giving woes. In the latest issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite, Rafael Alvarez celebrates the thoughtfulness and meaning behind gifting prepared food such as Spanish chorizo, sweet and spicy barbecue rub, Belgian-style homebrewed ale with ginger and honey, stained glass candy, and Irish pudding cake. Hungry yet? Some recipes are included if you’re inspired to serve up your own gifts. So what’s so special about giving edible fare? Alvarez shares the perfect anecdote:
During the recession of the early 1990s, Kathy O’Dell’s brother lost his job as vice president of a successful chain of national retail stores. How Jack O’Dell handled Christmas in the wake of his misfortune was a gift his kid sister remembers as “the best ever.” He filled recycled glass jars with sugar and cinnamon for that great breakfast toast concoction we all remembered from childhood,” says O’Dell, an associate dean at University of Maryland Baltimore County who makes molasses cookies each year in memory of her late mother. “The image of my big, hulking, successful brother carefully sifting sugar and cinnamon into jars and attaching personal notes about how lucky we all were to be alive and healthy and family is a treasured symbol of humility and grace.”
Image (above left) by yoshimov, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 11, 2009 5:43 PM
McDonalds will begin selling their sausage McMuffin for a buck come January, reports Daily Finance, along with other golden-arch staples such as the hashbrown, small coffee, sausage burrito, and sausage biscuit. The preponderance of meat, specifically sausage, “sparks my interest because I have watched as concern about cheap meat has become more and more mainstream,” Sarah Gilbert writes for the AOL-group beta site.
While analysts are chalking the dollar menu up to slumping sales (and, depressingly, unemployment reducing breakfast-time commuters), Gilbert sees another possibility. In the coming decade, U.S. citizens will have to confront industrial meat production with “an unusual-for-us sobriety,” she contends. Which makes dollar menus at McDonalds and other fast-food chains look an awful lot like a sausage-puck shaped “Hail Mary strategy, a last hurrah before the era of cheap meat comes to an end.”
That or the menu, and others like it, will let Americans fall in love with cheap meat all over again, she concedes. But the stage (or perhaps the table), is set to favor the former: More now than ever, “what dishes one consumes or refuses, what food products one buys or boycotts, constitute an expression of style, statement of politics, reflection of values, index of environmentalism, pledge of allegiance, and measure of health,” Siobhan Phillips writes in The Hudson Review. Even priced at a buck, the sausage McMuffin is becoming an increasingly difficult sell.
Yet trying to articulate what a more sustainable, healthy American food culture will look like is a tricky thing in a country “where pizza bagels, pesto hummus, and picante ramen are as authentic as any other version . . . a place where an indistinct assembly-line beef patty is the only common taste,” Phillips writes. She offers, however, a refreshingly prescription-free suggestion for how we might forge ahead:
No one needs another study on the benefits of the family dinner table or another lament for its supposed—and probably fallacious—demise. But many people, as they manage many different sorts of households and meal plans, would like to feel that feeding is more than functional. . . .
Better to advocate subsidized cooking classes, perhaps—along with an expansion of programs that bring local produce to all and an increase in minimum wages so that strapped workers will have a bit more time and money to spend on their meals. These important specifics however, could and should join a more conceptual shift, a materialist attention as applicable in our talking and thinking about food as in our preparing and partaking of it.
Such a focus is egalitarian, possible in the bite of a lettuce leaf as well as the bouquet of a syrah; it is simple, emphasizing the fragrance of coffee as much as the flavors of caviar; and it is general, accommodating those with no further time to spend as well as those who wish to invest more effort. . . . It is also, importantly, always instructive, leading ordinary eaters to expansive convictions.
Reviving and fostering material attention to food, Phillips argues, could lead people to become dissatisfied with the “sweet-and-salt uniformity of mass-produced items” or the “contradictions of ‘natural flavor.’ ” It could lead the way to “an awareness of the tragedy of hunger and a rejection of the truism that being thin is the goal of eating well.” Even to political action. And, it would seem likely, to the end of cheap meat.
Sources: Daily Finance, The Hudson Review
Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:59 PM
The fast food giant KFC has started marketing “Kentucky Grilled Chicken” as a “better-for-you” alternative to their famous fried meals. The meals are billed as having fewer calories, fewer fat grams, and they also contain the cancer-causing chemical PhIP, according to Good Medicine magazine. In fact, all chicken and other meats will produce this chemical when cooked at high temperatures. That’s why the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the company that publishes Good Medicine, is suing KFC, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Applebee’s, and others in an attempt to warn customers about the cancer-linked chemical. PCRM president Neal Barnard is quoted saying, “Grilled Chicken Contains carcinogens, and consumers deserve to know about it.”
Of course, PCRM isn’t too happy about the Double Down “sandwich”—which replaces bread with pieces of fried chicken—either.
Source: Good Medicine
Thursday, November 12, 2009 5:29 PM
Ah, cookbook season. Publishers tend to release a lot of cookbooks right-before-the-holidays, and wouldn’t you know: We’ve been seeing a lot of fine food volumes pass through the Utne Reader library lately. Here are a few highlights:
Multi-cookbook authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero continue their dessert domination with Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, which Da Capo will publish on November 15. Their previous effort, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is a standby in my kitchen; the straightforward recipes deliver delights that shame dairy-laden alternatives. Vegan Cookies contains a lot of promising recipes—including one for graham crackers, yum. Moskowitz also published Vegan Brunch this past June.
Also in the category of sequel cookbooks: Jennifer McCann’s Vegan Lunch Box Around the World, a charming cookbook that Da Capo published in September. McCann’s previous, Vegan Lunch Box, is a collection of simple-to-make, fun-to-eat foods inspired by packing school lunches for her son.
Anyone interested in eating seasonally might want to check out Clean Food by Terry Walters. Walters is a certified holistic health counselor, and Clean Food, published by Sterling this September, is based on the concept that people are “better off eating closer to the source and relying on Mother Nature for seasonal produce to keep us in balance.”
Also seasonally organized: Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food, easily the prettiest cookbook in the bunch. Shafia, a chef and educator, runs an ecofriendly food consultancy and catering company that shares her cookbook’s name. Lucid Food, published by Ten Speed later this month and packed with gorgeous photographs, continues in the publisher’s tradition of coffee-table worthy cookbooks (a la Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking on the Celestial Arts imprint).
Finally, from chef Daniel Orr and Indiana University Press, FARMfood is an ambitious volume of inventive recipes, like tuna steak au poivres and cabbage putanesca. Orr left behind the globe-trotting phase of his career to open FARMbloomington in Indiana, his home state, and FARMfood is a cheerful blend of haute- and down-to-earth cuisine.
Sources: Da Capo, Sterling, Ten Speed, Indiana University Press
Tuesday, November 03, 2009 11:39 AM
You can be forgiven if you’ve grown somewhat cynical about food labeling in the organic and natural aisle: Lately it always seems to turn out that brands with names like Grandma’s Garden are fabricated and owned by Acme Evil Megafoods Inc. At EcoSalon, Vanessa Barrington sizes up 10 big organic and natural food brands to explore who owns what, and what they’re putting into their products.
Can you guess which of the following brands on the list are still independently owned, even though they’ve grown large enough to make it to your local market?
- Arrowhead Mills
- Cascadian Farms
- Nature’s Path
- Newman’s Own Organics
- Organic Valley
- White Wave/Silk
Read Barrington’s full post at EcoSalon for her thoughtful analysis and commentary on these 10 brands. The website has become a must-bookmark destination for people interested in solid, sane advice on living green. Recent topics have included the Purell-ification of flu-panicked America, a new Levi’s clothing tag that promotes Goodwill donations, and seven delicious non-tofu meat alternatives.
Image by arincrumley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009 5:22 PM
Hershey’s chocolates, for the most part, aren’t really chocolate. They’re “the terrible bastard children of chocolate and corporate frugality,” according to
Friday, October 23, 2009 11:31 AM
It’s home canning season, and by some indications a lot more Americans are joining in on the pickle-packing fun. If you’re one of them, you ought to know that your plastic-lined canning lids probably contain bisphenol A, the endocrine-disrupting chemical that’s been suspected in a host of health problems and is under intensive scrutiny by the slow-moving FDA.
“Canning jar lids from the brands Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin are coated with bisphenol A,” writes Organic Gardening magazine in its Winter 2009-2010 issue.
The magazine asks an endocrine-disruptor expert about the potential health hazards. “If the lid doesn’t contact the food, it’s not a problem,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biological sciences professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But that’s unlikely to be the case, so he recommends using a BPA-free product. Organic Gardening suggests Weck brand canning jars, which have glass lids.
It’s too bad that the legions of Americans who are growing and preserving their own produce—often because they’re trying to avoid the mega-food system and eat locally and heathily—have to deal with yet another potential toxin in their diet. And while I don’t know how serious the canning-jar-lid threat is, I agree with Treehugger that Jarden Home Brands, the manufacturer of all four BPA-containing brands mentioned above, is not exactly setting a high ethical standard with its website FAQ statement falling back on highly questionable FDA studies. “Weasely words,” Treehugger calls them.
The FDA, as Utne Reader reported in August, expects to rule by November 30 on whether BPA is safe for food and beverage containers.
It’s enough work learning how to blanch and shock our vegetables and avoid the dreaded botulism. Shouldn’t we at least be able to declare our canning jars poison-free with confidence?
Sources: Reuters, Houston Chronicle, Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, Treehugger, Jarden Home Brands
UPDATE 10/26/09: Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, who wrote about this issue in July, is conducting a test to compare BPA levels in two jars of home-canned pickles: one that's been sloshing around in the trunk of his car and another that's been kept upright. We’ll follow the results here on Utne.com.
Image by TheBittenWord.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:46 PM
Peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwiched between two pieces of white bread, known as the fluffernutter, may be one of the most cherished foods in New England. And when Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett Barrios tried to restrict Marshmallow Fluff intake among school children—limiting public schools to just one serving per week—Barrio’s constituents rebelled. As Katie Liesener eruditely reports for Gastronomica, “fluff runs deep in this country.”
In response to Barrio’s regulation attempt, residents organized a movement to declare the fluffernutter the official Massachusetts state sandwich. Barrio eventually withdrew his anti-fluff legislation, and a loyal aide assured the Associated Press that “He loves Fluff as much as the next legislator.” Liesener provides an engaging and wonderfully crafted profile of the controversy, dubbed a “kerfuffle,” and the enigmatic company behind the iconic Marshmallow Fluff. “Outsiders may know New England for its baked beans and chowder,” Liesener writes, but deep in the hearts and pantries of New England homes lies a jar of Marshmallow Fluff.
Image by jessamyn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 28, 2009 2:37 PM
If thinking about Detroit conjures up depressing images of battle-scarred landscapes, you must read Mark Dowie’s proposal to turn the city into an “agrarian paradise.” Writing for Guernica, Dowie lays out an ambitious argument for why this maligned city—which is home to zero grocery chains or big-box stores and is very nearly a complete food desert—“may be best positioned to become the world’s first 100 percent food self-sufficient city.”
The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, 60,000 owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
Dowie examines a few interesting proposals and checks in with several burgeoning urban-farming movements in the city, from nonprofits and schools to the “backyard garden boom” being spurred by immigrants from Laos and Bangladesh.
He also meets a few skeptics who are wary of a field-filled Detroit, but he remains excited at the prospect of the city’s “rural future.”
“Where else in the world can one find a one-hundred-and-forty-square-mile agricultural community with four major league sports teams, two good universities, the fifth largest art museum in the country, a world-class hospital, and headquarters of a now-global industry, that while faltering, stands ready to green their products and keep three million people in the rest of the country employed?”
Image by photofarmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Saturday, August 22, 2009 10:54 AM
In 1654, people weren’t smoking tobacco. They were “drinking” smoke from pipes. And in the early nineteenth century, English speakers referred to a set of false teeth as a “ratelier,” derived from the French word for “rack.” These insights come from the food magazine Gastronomica, where Mark Morton has compiled a linguistic history of chewing tobacco, false teeth, and other non-food items that people stick in their mouths.
In the article, Morton revives the word “gamahuche,” an awkward and little-known euphemism for oral sex. He also sheds some light on the history of “toothpaste,” a word which appeared in English long after the Romans were using human urine to whiten their teeth. An advertisement in The American Railroad Journal used the term “toothpaste” in 1832, just 13 years after the Family Receipt Book suggested the use of gunpowder as a tooth whitener.
Friday, August 07, 2009 2:24 PM
Michael Pollan and the rest of the organic-food advocates should pipe down, according to farmer Hurst writes, I’m so tired of people who wouldn’t visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food.”
In his screed against organics, Hurst scores a point or two for the industrial farming system. He writes, “the parts of farming that are the most ‘industrial’ are the most likely to be owned by the kind of family farmers that elicit such a positive response from the consumer.” He adds, “If we are about to require more expensive ways of producing food, the largest and most well-capitalized farms will have the least trouble adapting.”
Those large farms also would likely benefit from an economy based on genetically modified foods, which Hurst also advocates. He unfortunately neglects to mention that.
Source: The American
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009 4:18 PM
For most of us, Gary Busey brings to mind big teeth and smaller roles in movies like “Black Sheep” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But for Amelia Fedo, the actor’s name floods her mouth with tastes of cranberry and string cheese.
According to maisonneuve, “Fedo has lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a rare condition that causes units of speech to trigger involuntary sensations of taste.” This explains why she has such a potent reaction to Mr. Busey and other proper nouns—bringing new meaning to the old idiom about leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth. But Fedo’s experience is just one type of the neurological condition:
Neuroscientists have identified more than one hundred synaesthetic variations, and the sensory combinations appear infinite. In the most common, called grapheme-color synaesthesia, numbers and letters are transformed into brilliant colors (Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman claimed to encounter equations as “light-tan j’s, slightly violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s”). With sound-color synaesthesia (or chromesthesia), certain sounds—a doorbell, a barking dog, a guitar chord—elicit powerful visual episodes. Other synaesthetes see their orgasms. Some can hear fabrics, taste shapes, and smell their pain.
Despite what must surely be an inconvenience, Fedo takes great care to use specific descriptions for what she is hearing…err, tasting. Here's a sampling of her flavored names:
Roy: unseasoned kidney beans straight from the can
Derek: raw fennel cut into flat slices, with hints of cucumber
Vivian: vinyl records, coarse nylon or denim, with a faint hint of perfume
Danielle: the rind around the edge of a bologna slice
And she’ll taste your name too, if you like.
Friday, June 12, 2009 3:48 PM
Cooking food is the defining activity that makes us human, according to Harvard biological anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham. In an interview with Seed, Wrangham says that cooking food makes it easier to digest calories, which may have led to our evolutionary dominance over other species. It has also created a system of ownership, where food is saved and owned, rather than eaten straight off the vine like monkeys.
This ownership society also led to our societal system of marriage, according to Wrangham, where dominant males do “manly” things, like hunt, pillage, and talk politics, while relying on females to cook the dinner. Marriage, Wrangham says, is essentially a “protection racket in which the woman is required to feed a man because of the threat of having her food taken by other men.”
No word from Wrangham on why cooking is such a male-dominated profession.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009 1:53 PM
Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, the incoming U.S. commander in Afghanistan, eats just one meal per day. He is called an ascetic and a “soldier monk” in his disregard for the earthly pleasures of three-meal days. Writing for the Morning News, Mike Smith tried to emulate McChrystal’s routine by skipping breakfast, lunch, and all between-meal snacking for one week. He doesn’t make it all the way through to his goal, but the effort makes for an amusing read. Here’s an excerpt:
I probably deserve rebuke from nutritionists, but global security rests on the shoulder of a man who only eats one meal a day! It’s my duty as a concerned citizen to test his methods. Unless McChrystal spends much of the day snacking, I imagine that after he consumes his single meal, he too must need to sleep. But I can’t quite picture him giving heed to fatigue.
In his command roles, says the Washington Post, McChrystal “favors flatter, faster organizations and is known for preferring a small staff that is overworked rather than a large one that has time to grow unfocused.” His asceticism isn’t just eclecticism, but a managerial style and a dieting method, even a productivity seminar. I see a self-help book on the horizon.
Source: The Morning News
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:02 PM
“Obesity and numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are more prevalent in low-income than higher income neighborhoods,” Shannon N. Zenk told Health Day. One reason could be that poor neighborhoods lack access to healthy foods. Even in a big city like Baltimore, research reported by Health Day has found a wide disparity in access to health foods between rich and poor neighborhoods, and between predominantly black and predominantly white areas.
The author of the study Dr. Manuel Franco told Health Day, “If you live in a neighborhood with no healthy options, it'll be tough for you to change your diet.”
Friday, February 13, 2009 10:03 AM
Utne Reader librarian Danielle Maestretti shares the highlights (and occasional lowlights) of what’s landing in our library each week in 'Shelf Life.'
Utne’s library is abuzz with a steady flow of 1,300 magazines, newsletters, journals, weeklies, zines, and other lively dispatches from the cultural front that are rarely found at big-box bookstores, or newsstands.
Featured in this week's episode:
- The "Jobless in America" feature in the February 23 issue of The Nation
- Dollars &Sense on "The New Political Economy of Immigration"
- The Texas Observer on Janet Napolitano and the border fence
- "Entertaining in the Recession" from Houston's My Table (not available online)
-Alpacas. That's right, Alpacas. From Radish
Sources: The Nation, Dollars & Sense, The Texas Observer, My Table, Radish
Thursday, February 12, 2009 4:11 PM
Historically, sex has been subject to strict personal and religious rules. Just 50 years ago, a person’s sex life was thought of as a direct reflection of moral standing and character. Food, on the other hand, was a matter of personal choice. People ate what they were going to eat, and it wasn’t a matter of public concern.
Today, however, the societal rules surrounding food and sex have switched, Mary Eberstadt writes for the Hoover Institution Policy Review. Proper food consumption has become a moral imperative, with vegetarians, vegans, and locavores playing the roles of ethical evangelists. Sex has become a matter of personal choice, one that is best left to the people involved. This dynamic, according to Eberstadt, has resulted in a the popularization of “mindful eating, and mindless sex.”
The problem, Eberstadt writes, is that both food and sex, “if pursued without regard to consequence, can prove ruinous not only to oneself, but also to other people, and even to society itself.”
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Source: Hoover Institution
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 5:07 PM
In the same vein as the recent treatise on the value of pie, Baltimore City Paper food columnist Henry Hong celebrates the much-maligned one-dish wonder, tuna casserole.
His argument was spurred by the growing cache of bacon among hipsters, who “gratuitously foist upon humanity culinary aberrations such as bacon vodka, bacon sausage, and the utterly insulting bacon chocolate.” Hong in turn worries that casserole will be the next blue-collar edible to be co-opted by the elite. He raves about the dish’s simplicity and flavor, and even delves into the long illustrious history of casseroles as a culinary phenomenon (Moroccan tagines through Depression-era penny pinching).
Equally as palpable as his reverence for the dish is his insistence that it stay on the lower rungs of the culinary ladder, remaining the uncomplicated and unclassy meal it’s always been. (Although, somewhat ironically, he includes his own recipe in the column which substitutes salmon for tuna and calls for spinach and sage....)
Image courtesy of Harris Graber, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 4:18 PM
Bringing food to grieving friends and family is a way of sustaining people close to us, both literally and figuratively. Preparing meals for the bereaved is a tradition in many cultures (during the Jewish mourning period called shiva, it’s forbidden to prepare your own food), but there is more to bringing food than simply dropping off a casserole.
Writing for the Jew and the Carrot, a website dedicated to Jews, food, and sustainability, Tamar Fox has compiled a list of tips for considerate food-bearing sympathizers.
In addition to etiquette guidelines (calling ahead, respecting dietary needs, etc.), Fox writes that food-related memories, such as a favorite meal or a funny story, can open up a healing dialogue. Fox writes that it “can be awkward to try to express sympathy without resorting to clichés. But food can be a great vehicle to beginning a conversation about the deceased.”
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008 8:37 AM
San Francisco Magazine is now on its third monthly installment of Dead Meat, a serialized crime novel written by Robert Beringela, a pseudonym of a “well-fed food-world insider.” In the story’s first installment, titled “A Vegan’s Vengeance,” Beringela introduces his readers to Alfie Falfa, a malcontent freegan who happens to have celebrity chef Jock Rapini tied up in the trunk of his car.
Rapini has a reputation for showmanship and his character development amounts to descriptions of his brutish appearance (fauxhawk, earrings) and displays of machismo (hence his name). His personality, combined with his use of animal flesh as food, disgusts Falfa, and through the next two chapters the kidnapper uses him and other hostages to further his anti-animal-product agenda. There’s no indication of how many chapters there will be, but I’d guess at least five total, if not more.
The writing is entertaining if nothing else, although the food puns (running “afoul”) are sometimes so groan-inducing that you’ll be glad you’re not reading it all at once. It’s what Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett might have cranked out if they had been raised in modern San Francisco, read Bon Appetit nonstop, and were really, really hungry at the time of writing.
Image courtesy of rick, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 11, 2008 11:44 AM
Pringles snacks may be many things—addictive, fattening, salt vessels—but a high court in Great Britain has decided that they’re not potato crisps. The Pringles manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble, successfully argued in court that the snack food has a "uniform colour" and a "regular shape" which "is not found in nature" and is also only 42 percent potato, and therefore is not a potato crisp, the BBC reports. Potato crisps are taxed at a higher rate in Great Britain, so the decision likely will save Proctor & Gamble millions of dollars. It could also make consumers think twice before consuming all that maltodextrin and dextrose that make up some of the other 58 percent of the crisp.
(Thanks, Inky Circus.)
Tuesday, July 01, 2008 5:27 PM
When I first came to work at Utne Reader, I hid my occasional trashy-food indulgences from the other staffers—smuggling clandestine bowls of orange-dye-laden, mushroom-soup-spiked macaroni & cheese casserole out of the kitchen. (I’m from Wisconsin. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.)
It was so not necessary. Turns out, Utne Reader staff people are adventurous eaters, devotees of organic, local, and fairly-traded cuisine, as well as bold gastronauts in the weird, kitschy, and gross domains.
I present to you a vending machine discovery made this Tuesday afternoon by our intrepid librarian and crafty research editor: Red licorice rope, stuffed with a viscous Sweet Tarts goo, stuffed with crunchy Nerds.
Ladies and gentlemen: The turducken of the candy world.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 2:50 PM
China’s exporters are increasingly cornering markets on ingredients in prepared foods, some of which will go on to be labeled “local,” reports Wayne Roberts in Toronto’s Now magazine.
Such foods can be deemed local because their packing and packaging costs as much as their ingredients. Customs limitations, however, make it difficult to gauge the quality of Chinese ingredients and the environmental standards under which they were grown.
Chinese ingredients that dominate the prepared foods market, Roberts reports, include apples, apple juice, dried berries, organic frozen broccoli, cinnamon, fish, garlic, honey, vanilla, and xanthum gum.
Monday, January 21, 2008 10:59 AM
Getting in touch with your spiritual side just got tastier with the release of Geez magazine’s winter Taste Issue. The fiercely independent, Utne Independent Press Award-nominated, Canadian Christian magazine showcases its mischievous yet insightful style, covering social, political, and religious ideas, this time through a food-smattered lens. In the issue, Dan Wiens explores common perceptions of farming and the distance people have created between food and its source. Elsewhere, Barbara Kingsolver discusses growing up in the farming sect of the American "caste system" in an excerpt from her latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The articles track food from the North American table, through the myriad channels of distribution, and back to production. They also examine the global tremors created by each of these steps. Mmm…gastro politics.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 2:57 PM
You may find that sticking to your New Year’s resolution to eat local is difficult, especially when most of our food is as local as Dick Cheney’s undisclosed location. Karen Berner at the Daily Green gives burgeoning locavores four web tools to help them find local grub to plug their pieholes. From local-food maps to a list of restaurants that serve local food, your close-to-home dining odyssey could begin here.
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