(Only) Two Rules for a Good Diet

SAN FRANCISCO — To a large extent, you can fix the food system in your world today. Three entities are involved in creating our food choices: business (everything from farmers to PepsiCo), government (elected and appointed officials and their respective organizations) and the one with the greatest leverage, the one that you control: you.

We shouldn’t discount small farms and businesses, nor should we ignore relatively minor officials like the mayor of El Monte, Calif., who tried (and failed) to establish a soda tax to benefit public health. We do not always know where real change will come from, and certainly smaller operations may be more innovative and show us the way.

But for the most part we know where real change doesn’t come from: Big Food, the corporations that supply most of the food and stuff masquerading as food that’s sold in supermarkets, as fast food and in casual dining chains; and government, especially the federal government, which is beholden to and entranced by big business. Nothing new here.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Do Sweat the Small Stuff

SEATTLE — I’m jet-lagged. Many days I wonder what day it is, or where exactly it is that I’m waking up. I have moments of near giddiness, and they’re likely to be the same moments during which I’m asked to be intensely serious in front of a large crowd. I feel tired, or joltingly invigorated; I may feel loving and kind and even empathetic, or I may quite resent human company and prefer to hang out with a dog. And I may feel any of these ways in unexpected combinations and at inappropriate or at least inconvenient times. Large groups of people I don’t know demand my attention all at once and individually; I feel resentful and needed and sometimes loved.

I’m on book tour.

Book writing can be solitary. Book promotion is anything but: Everyone wants a piece of you. It’s enough to make you think you’re important. Indeed, people seem to care what I say, and so I respond.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Getting Your Kids to Eat (or at Least Try) Everything

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There’s a photo from 1978 of my daughter Kate, taken at about 6 months old. She’s sitting in a highchair, waving a stalk of broccoli in the air and grinning. I’d forgotten that shot, but looking at it recently — Kate, who has become the family historian, frequently pulls out pictures for the rest of us to enjoy — I recognize how unusual it was then and remains now: a baby eating not only normal food but a food that kids normally despise.

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The Truth About Home Cooking

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Just two generations ago, preparing meals was as much a part of life as eating. Now we’ve given up what is perhaps our best excuse to get together and spend time with the people we love—mealtime—and someone else stands at the stove. We’re either watching cooks on TV like we would a spectator sport or grabbing grub, bagged, and eating it alone and on the go.

The fetishizing of food is everywhere. There are cutthroat competitions and celebrity chefs with TV shows, and both social and mainstream media are stuffed with an endless blur of blogs, demos and crowdsourced reviews. So why in Julia’s name do so many Americans still eat tons of hyperprocessed food, the stuff that is correctly called junk and should really carry warning labels?

Read the rest of this article in the October 20, 2014 issue of TIME.

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The Next Battleground for Soda

Tolstoy wrote that time and patience are the two most powerful warriors. The advocates of measures restricting the marketing and sale of sugar-sweetened beverages have had to employ plenty of each, and the payoff may be coming.

It’s difficult for community efforts to fight against big money, and that’s something of which the beverage producers have plenty. But by repeating the same message — that sugar-sweetened beverages are deadly when consumed in quantity, and their marketers will not voluntarily restrain themselves from peddling their wares to children — it becomes evident that something must be done.

The current battlegrounds are Berkeley and San Francisco, where votes will be held on Nov. 4 on local soda taxes. (I’m using “soda” to mean “sugar-sweetened beverages,” including some Gatorade and Snapple drinks — which are not really “sodas” but are also pretty much useless, nutritionally, contain loads of sugar and are certainly taxable sugar-sweetened beverages. “Diet” sodas, which are really sodas but contain no sugar, are not included but have problems of their own — recent studies suggest they may contribute to diabetes and obesity rather than mitigate them.)

Read the rest of this column here.

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A Twist Adds Complexity to a Pasta Dish

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To me it’s the best pasta dish of fall: those late nightshades, eggplant and tomato, cooked until meltingly tender, sweet and bitter at the same time, with plenty of anise-y basil and salt in the form of grated or small-diced ricotta salata.

For whatever reason, it’s called pasta alla Norma — created in Sicily, it’s said, as a tribute to an opera, it’s said — but it’s hard to believe anything more complicated than that eggplant and tomato have been cooked together since they were grown together, and that their sauciness made them a natural on pasta. Most recipes are not recipes at all, but reveal themselves naturally, in the course of things.

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How to Cook Everything Fast is here!

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I’m thrilled because my new book, How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food, went on sale today. Like its predecessors, Fast is a comprehensive guide to everyday cooking. But it’s also an all-new collection of more than 2,000 recipes that come together in 45, 30, even 15 minutes. In it, I’ve reimagined the written recipe and built something that I believe is actually better. The upshot? Cooking is more efficient, intuitive, and fun than ever before. Try it out — and if you like to take photos of your food, tag them with #HTCEFast so I can see what you think.

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Thai-Style Thai

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Pim Techamuanvivit is an old-school restaurateur, a person who knows her cuisine inside out, but she has found an intriguing new way to run a non-European restaurant. Born in Bangkok in the ’70s, into a family where delicious food was cooked and showcased daily, she came to the United States in the early ’90s to study cognitive science, specifically the subject of group collaboration. The skills appear to have set her up perfectly for opening a restaurant.

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When Cooking, Invest Time. Or Work. Not Both.

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We could talk about cooking as a function of chemistry and physics. Better to talk about elbow grease. Specifically, a physical theory of everyday cooking, The Time-Work Continuum.

The premise is simple: You start with food, apply a variable equation of time and energy — guided perhaps, by a recipe — and sooner or later you have a meal. To eat sooner, you will have to expend more of your own energy; if you’re willing to wait, then you have the luxury of letting heat serve as the primary energy, transforming the raw ingredients with minimal input from you.

According to this hypothesis, every dish can be plotted along a single X axis, measured by Time at one end and Work at the other. If you wanted to go for fancier science, put time on the X axis and a work on the Y and plot recipes in quadrants. (Meanwhile, I’ll make a sandwich.)

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Let’s Reject the ‘Inevitable’

This Sunday’s “People’s Climate March” in New York City could be the biggest demonstration yet for action on climate change. The march is scheduled to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit, which begins two days later. Despite the advance billing and the official nature of the summit, the march is what matters. The U.N. Summit will be a clubby gathering of world leaders and their representatives who will try to figure out ways to reward polluters for pretending to fix a problem for which they’re responsible in the first place; a fiasco.

That’s not hyperbole, either. The summit is a little like a professional wrestling match: There appears to be action but it’s fake, and the winner is predetermined. The loser will be anyone who expects serious government movement dictating industry reductions in emissions.

There was a time when governments dealt with international threats. Now, as the columnist George Monbiot says, they “propose everything except the obvious solution — legislation.” Rather, they will talk, commission panels, invoke market-based solutions and even offer subsidies to industry, rather than say, for example, “Wealthy nations are reducing emissions globally by 8 to 10 percent per year, beginning now.” By Klein’s estimates, that’s precisely what it will take to avoid catastrophe and that is precisely what we are not going to see.

Read the rest of this column here.

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