It’s hard to imagine maintaining the current food system without Iowa. Yet that state — symbolic of both the unparalleled richness of our continent’s agricultural potential and the mess we’ve made of it — has undergone a transformation almost as profound as the land on which cities have been built. A state that was once 85 percent prairie is now 85 percent cultivated, most of that in row crops of corn and soybeans. And that isn’t sustainable, no matter how you define that divisive word.
It’s easy enough to argue that one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world could be better used than to cover it with just two crops — the two crops that contribute most to the sad state of our dietary affairs, and that are used primarily for animal food, junk food and thermodynamically questionable biofuels. Anything that further entrenches that system — propped up by generous public support — should be questioned. On the other hand, if there are ways to make that core of industrial agriculture less destructive of land and water, that is at least moving in the right direction.
Every Wednesday, I’m featuring one of my favorite recipes from How to Cook Everything Fast. If you cook it, too, I want to see it—tag it on social media with #HTCEFast. And enjoy!
Tabbouleh is a classic Middle Eastern salad of bulgur, tomatoes, herbs, lemon, and olive oil. If you pulse raw broccoli in the food processor, you wind up with crunchy bits that make a fine addition. Charring the tomatoes and lemon is gilding the lily, but you do it while the bulgur cooks, and it only takes a little extra work.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 cup bulgur
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small head broccoli (about 1 pound)
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 garlic clove
At dinner with a friend the other night, I mentioned that I was giving a talk this week debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the nine billion” — the anticipated global population by 2050.
She looked at me, horrified, and said, “But how are you going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”
I suggested she try this exercise: “Put yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. Are you hungry? Are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”
The answer, obviously, is “no.” Because she — and almost all of you reading this — would be standing in that country with some $20 bills and a wallet filled with credit cards. And you would go buy yourself something to eat.
When a family member was undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer, her oncologist happened to mention in passing that a spoonful of vinegar might improve her appetite. As you know, a naked spoonful of vinegar of the kind found in most households is not particularly appealing. At the time she told me about her conversation, it occurred to me that vinegars could be more palatably “administered” in the form of pickles — my recipe follows below.
I remember when pickles were either something that you bought from a barrel on the street or — if you were crafty — canned in your kitchen. But somehow they’ve become the emblem of all things hipster-artisanal-twee, as much a joke (we can pickle that!) as they are a food.
The reason so many of us have outsourced our pickle making to the waxed-mustache set is that canning is sufficiently daunting; the thought of boiling jars, with its mysterious science and prospect of imminent disaster, is enough to send most home cooks running to the store. Fortunately, canning is not a prerequisite for pickling. In fact, as long as you can commit to eating them within a week or two, there are countless pickles that you can make quickly and store in your fridge.
Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.
For many people, “cooking is fraught” — that’s the core message of “The Joy of Cooking?”, an article written by three academics that appeared in the latest issue of the journal “Contexts”, based on 150 interviews with families “from all walks of life.” The interviews and most of the authors’ conclusions are convincing.
Even those of us with flexibility, decent incomes and easy access to equipment and ingredients often face issues of time, convenience or the particular demands of a family member or guest.
For those with lower incomes, it’s far more challenging. There are tedious bus rides, long days of sometimes grueling work, perhaps second and even third jobs, and neither time to shop nor money to use delivery services. All of this may make cooking near-impossible.
But these are not cooking issues; they are issues of justice and fairness (some of the families in the project could not afford a kitchen table) and gender bias: Although men are cooking more, if they cooked as often as women we’d all be better off.
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.
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.
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.
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.